Posts Tagged ‘Social Security’

Secular Talk on Obama’s Warning Against Democrat Party Becoming Left-Wing ‘Tea Party’

April 25, 2016

Barack Obama last week made a speech warning Democrats against becoming a ‘left-wing Tea Party’. He told the party that they should not adopt policies that would alienate the general public. He also argued that they should not go along with path the Republicans were much further along of adopting more extreme policies and positions. This was a system where you had to compromise, and sometimes you had to take half-loaves. When that happened, it was not because someone had sold you out.

Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski takes very strong exception to this statement, and shows not just why it’s wrong, but also how it supports those who are basically right-wing corporatists like Shrillary and Obama. The Democrats do not have extreme positions that alienate voters, and their most extreme candidates – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, would be considered centrist in most European countries. He states that if you talk to someone from Denmark, they’d say that Bernie Sanders was almost Conservative. Eighty per cent of Americans want the minimum wage to be raised. Free universal healthcare – Medicaid for all – is supported by 51 per cent. Sixty per cent of Americans do not want cuts to the social security and Medicaid budgets. But this is not reflected in official Democrat policy.

He states very strongly that Obama ‘doth protest too much’ when he claims that not having progressive policies is not due to politicians having sold out their political base. Both Hillary and Obama are heavily subsidised by Wall Street, and their policies reflect the concerns of the corporate donors, not want America, or at least, the Democrat base, wants. And so Obamacare, which was a Right-wing policy dreamed up by Richard Nixon, and supported by a whole raft of Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, is the furthest left America goes. But not to universal Medicaid. By the standards of everyone else in the world, Obama’s not ‘left-wing’. He’s centre-right.

Kulinski notes that there is a problem with authoritarian leftism, such as the demands for ‘safe spaces’ at colleges, and intolerant attempts to clamp down on free speech. But Obama’s not talking about that. He’s talking about policy. And the problem is that the corporatist system that pays him and Hillary so well is preventing America from developing the welfare network adopted by just about everywhere else in the world.

I’ve decided to reblog this, because it was noticeable that Obama during his visit to Britain last week met with Cameron, made his comments about why Britain should stay in the EU, but did not meet Jeremy Corbyn.

And I’m not surprised. Corbyn’s too left-wing for him. Obama is a creature of the corporatist system. That’s shown in his policies and his support for Shrillary. Corbyn represents the same threat to that right-wing anti-democratic business stance as Bernie Sanders does back in the Land of the Free. Hence the very telling snub.

G.D.H. Cole on the Demand for Welfare Reform and Its Use by the Tories

March 8, 2016

I found this piece by the radical Socialist G.D.H. Cole on the rising demand for the introduction of increased welfare provision in his 1942 book, Great Britain in the Post-War World (London: Victor Gollancz 1942).

Social reformers naturally echo this mood. The greater part of the progressive legislation of recent years has had to do with the removal or mitigation of the terrible insecurity which besets the lives of men; and programmes of progressive parties follow the same trend. Old age pensions, workmen’s pensions, health insurance, unemployment insurance, widow’s pensions, the assistance board, and many more specialised reforms are examples of the growth of what is sometimes called ‘eleemosynary’ legislation; and the demands for family allowances, guaranteed minimum wages, a national medical service, and a general tuning up of the existing social services figure largely in the reconstruction programmes of advanced parties, and seem likely to appeal to conservative opinion as well, as still the best way of foiling demands for more radical social change. it is widely felt that as long as capitalism can continue to make the concessions in the direction of social security, a large part of the electorate will rest content with the general structure of things as they are, and the more fundamental proposals for social change will meet with no great response among the main body of the people. (pp. 136-7).

Cole was writing while Beveridge was still working on his Report, and that passage shows the great demand there was from working people for what became the Welfare State. He’s also right in that the left wing of the Tory party did support it, although there was still opposition to it within Tory ranks. And Owen Jones made much the same point as Cole in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, when he described how a Tory MP visiting Oxford confessed that his party hung on to power by conceding ‘just enough’ to satisfy the working class hunger for change.

Since then, the Tories have found, following Thatcher, that they were able to repeal all the reforms that have benefited the working class over the past half-century and more, and since Thatcher have been trying to privatise the health service. It stands in the way of corporate profit, and they have learned that they can roll back welfare provision if they maintain the illusion that they are somehow retaining or reforming it at the same time.

And so they’re destroying not just the health service and the welfare state, and plunging millions into poverty, in order to restore the corporate order and social hierarchy.

The Young Turks on Fox News Attacking Obama’s Plan for Free Community College Tuition

February 24, 2016

This is another example of a policy by the Democrats that should be taken up over here. And of the right-wing rage that would accompany it if it ever was. The clip comes from a year ago (2015) and shows Steve Doocy and the rest of Fox and Friends getting very annoyed with Obama. That in itself is no surprise. What is interesting is the reason this time round. Obama had the sheer audacity to state that he was going to make federal funds available to pay for two years’ tuition at community colleges. The federal authorities would pay for three-quarters’ of the tuition fees for those two years, and the individual state would be required to pay the rest. This would mean, according to one of the pundits on the TYT panel, that Americans would save on $15,000 tuition fees each year for those two years.

Doocy on Fox and Friends can’t stand it. He states that he’s only just finished paying off his college fees, and doesn’t see why anyone else should get the chance of a free higher education. The Fox panel also shout that if you’ve just got a baby now, you’re not just going to pay for their education, but someone else’s as well. Students shouldn’t have the right to a free education, because nothing is free.

The Turks’ panel of John Iadarola, Dave Rubin, Jimmy Dore and R.J. Eskow give that attitude very short-shrift. They point out that the estimated $60 billion it’s supposedly going to cost is actually the total amount the American state spends on education. They also point out that investing in education is the way Finland actually boosted its economy by educating its people. They also make the point that the money is better spent on education, which will also ultimately benefit everyone in the areas the students in which the students are studying, than just simply giving it to millionaires in the form of tax cuts.

As for the line that present-day students shouldn’t have it, because it didn’t exist way back when, Iadarola states that this is a profoundly un-American attitude. He states that when American introduced Social Security, nobody argued against it’s introduction because, hey, their aunt had to scrimp and save and go without, so why should others have it easy. Or they came to America as indentured servants or slaves, so why should indentured servitude or slavery be ended. People generally want things to be better for the next generation than they are now, not the same or worse. And in the case of education, they certainly don’t agree that something that important, where primary and secondary education are free, should also be made more expensive to stop people taking it up.

As for Steve Doocy, they point out that he’s 58 years old, and attended one of the better American universities. He’d therefore still have to pay his tuition fees if this came in, because he did not go to Community College. Their producer also makes the point that Doocy was at College in the 1970s, so there’s no way he has only just paid off his student debt. And they also argue that the average student debt is so large, $20-30,000, that the only way students can afford to pay it off is for the luck 0.1% to become Fox News presenters.

I’ve reblogged this because British students are now in the same position since Bliar’s government introduced tuition fees, and the Lib-Dem-Tory Coalition hiked them up massively. In the case of Bliar, he was a member of the British-American Project, a Reaganite initiative for schooling the next generation of British politicians. He and the other leaders of New Labour were impressed with Reaganite American attitudes and policies. In the case of Cameron and Clegg, they’re Thatcherite toffs, who resent the working classes getting above themselves and having opportunities which they feel should rightly belong solely to the well-heeled. And it is a Thatcherite policy. I can remember it being discussed when the Iron Lady was doing her best to destroy everything decent in British political culture. Mind you, there were certain figures in the Labour party even then, who supported it, like David Cox, the Labour MP for Hartcliffe in Bristol.

It’s slightly ironic that as British politics has moved to the right with New Labour, so parts of the Democrats have moved to the Left. This particular policy is rather more left-wing, for example, than the current policy in Britain.

I’ve also reblogged this because I’ve also heard the refrain directed against certain policies over this side of the Atlantic, that people shouldn’t have particular benefits, ’cause ‘we never had it in our day.’ And the reply should be the same: it’s not an argument, as people should want to make things better, as The Young Turks have said about education above.

Secular Talk on Marco Rubio’s Claim that the Republicans ‘Are Not the Party of the Rich’

February 21, 2016

It seems that Marco Rubio, one of the Republican presidential candidates, has taken a leaf out of the Conservatives’ book from over here in Blighty. He gave a speech claiming that the idea that the Republicans were the party of the rich, and the Democrats were the party of the middle class and workers was ‘the biggest lie’. This is pretty much the line the Tories are peddling over this side of the Atlantic. Cameron has been loudly yelling that the Conservatives are now the true party of aspiring working people. So in the interests of attacking Conservatives on both sides of the Pond, here’s what Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski says about Rubio’s claim.

He points out that their claim to be the party of the poor is based on their campaign for tax cuts. The idea is that once people start earning, they’ll keep more of what they earn through the cuts in taxes the Republicans have given them. Except when the Republicans talk about tax cuts, they don’t mean for the poor. Kulinski points out that Obama cut taxes for 90 per cent of Americans and raised taxes on the rich. By contrast, McCain cut taxes, but only for the rich.

He also points out that the idea that a flat rate tax is a fair tax is also a myth, as in effect it actually raises taxes for the poor. Once you do the numbers, it’s always a regressive tax, according to economists. For example, if the Republicans say that they’re going to replace taxes with a flat rate of 15% for everyone, it sounds fair. However, in practice it’s a rise in taxes for everyone with an income under $50,000. It’s another tax cut to the rich.

Furthermore, the Democrats are more likely to spend money on safety net programmes, which benefit the poor and middle class, like Medicare, Medicaid, social security and so on. The Republicans, by contrast, don’t really want to spend money on any of that, except when it’s bailing out their corporate donors. Then the Republican attitude that capitalism is virtuous because it punishes the bad and rewards the good goes out the window. The banks wrecked themselves and trashed the economy, and the Republicans couldn’t rush in fast enough to give them money, because they paid for their campaigns.

This is all true, and applies pretty much to the Tories and Labour over here. The Tories are all about cutting welfare spending. These are welfare programmes that actually help the poor, and the working and middle classes. Not the rich. Under the Tories, the tax burden for the poor has actually risen as tax cuts have benefited the rich. And the Tories over here also like to talk about flat rate taxes. Remember when they were loudly hailing the ‘Community Charge’ – Maggie’s poll tax as ‘democratic’, because everyone paid the same? It was a flat rate, and so in effect raised taxes for working people. Some of the Tories were naturally enthusiastic about it, because it meant they paid the same tax for their mansions as ordinary people in their semi-detached and terraced homes.

And as for the ‘aspiration’ the Tories are making much of, social mobility has stopped. It was pretty much stagnant under Bliar and New Labour, and Clinton in America. It’s completely stopped now. All due to Neoliberal economic policies.

So Rubio, the Republicans and Cameron’s Conservatives are all wrong. They are the party of the rich, and the Democrats and Labour are the party of the poor and middle class. Don’t be taken in by the propaganda that it’s otherwise.

The Foundation of the NHS: The Conservatives’ Reaction to the Beveridge Report

February 16, 2016

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been discussing the origins of the NHS with a presumably Tory critic, who took issue with my statement that Nye Bevan is the NHS’ founder. Among his other points, he argues that Winston Churchill was in favour of it, and the NHS would have happened regardless of who was in government at the time.

I have argued that Churchill was in fact highly ambivalent about it. Sometimes he was for it, at other times against. G.C. Peden, in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher (Oxford: Philip Allan Publishers Limited 1985) has this to say about the public and the government’s response to the report.

The focus for discussion of postwar social planning was the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (Cmd. 6404). The Report appeared in December 1942, at a time when ultimate victory could be foreseen and when new incentives had to be found to maintain the war effort. Despite this, the Government was cautious, if not openly hostile, to Beveridge’s proposals for universal social insurance, without means test, against interruption of earning due to unemployment, ill health or old age. It was true that the Anglo-American peace aims in the ‘Atlantic Charter’ of 1941 had included a reference to ‘social security’ but Churchill thought that such plans should be substantially left until after the War. As Harris (1977) has shown, the Beveridge Report had been very much Sir William Beveridge’s own handiwork. His committee had been expected to deal with technical questions related to workmen’s compensation for industrial disease or injury, and with anomalies in social insurance, such as the well-known one whereby a man whose earning were interrupted because of unemployment received a higher rate of benefit than if he were sick. Beveridge, however, had gone beyond his terms of reference and had called for an attack on Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness as well as Want – the five giants on the road of reconstruction, as he called them in Bunyanesque language. In particular, he stated that no satisfactory scheme of social security could be devised unless there were family allowances, comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, and avoidance of mass unemployment. Indeed, the actuarial soundness of Beveridge’s plan depended upon the average rate of unemployment being no higher than the lowest level in the 1930s; that is 10 per cent of interwar insured labour force or 8.5 per cent of the wider body of insured employees in the new scheme (Cmd 6404, pp. 120, 154-65, 185-6). Uncertainty whether unemployment could be controlled, and memories of the political consequences of an actuarially unsound unemployment insurance fund in 1931, no doubt contributed to the Treasury’s critical reception of the Report.

Nevertheless there can be little doubt that the Report was extremely popular with the general public and, following a backbench revolt in parliament, the Government felt compelled to commit itself to Beveridge’s plan, at least in principle. Widespread support for universal social insurance without means test may have been the result of what Titmuss called a ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’. On the other hand, the fact that so many people in the armed forces and munitions industries could not but be uncertain about their own post-war employment, in the light of post-1918 experience, must have been a factor. In the interwar years the unemployed had always been a minority of the electorate; in the war those who felt threatened by unemployment may well have been a majority. Moreover, the associated prospect of universal health insurance may well have been attractive to people had been finding the cost of private health insurance a burden.

Key interest groups were also generally in favour of Beveridge’s ideas. The evidence presented to Beveridge’s committee showed that hardly any trade unions opposed extensions of national insurance and even business witnesses generally favoured more intervention by the state in matters relating to national efficiency. The one business group clearly adversely affected by Beveridge’s proposals were the industrial insurance companies which had helped to administer national health insurance since 1912. Beveridge not only recommended their exclusion from this, but he also proposed that national insurance should cover workmen’s compensation and funeral grants, thus taking away business from the companies. These seem, however, no longer to have had the influence they had had in Lloyd George’s time, and the state no longer needed their administrative expertise. Wartime experience had created new attitudes about what the state could achieve. All this does not mean, however, that there was necessarily a consensus in favour of a ‘welfare state’ except in the most general terms. Looking at Beveridge’s five giants in turn, one finds that sometimes proposals were agreed for differing motives, or on an inadequate basis, and that sometimes there were serious disagreements between Conservative and Labour members of the Coalition government.

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly war had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital Service beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war casualties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health services in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnson, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnson successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (Cmd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.
(pp 139-40).

The National Health Service Act of 1946, and its implementation on the Appointed Day in 1948, was a considerable achievement of Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health. Bevan’s original nation health proposals differed from those of Willink, his Conservative predecessor, chiefly in respect of the degree of the Ministry’s control over hospitals and doctors, and in the emphasis given to group partnerships of doctors in local health centres. Whereas Willink had wished to preserve the independence of voluntary hospitals, Bevan took over all local authority and voluntary hospitals, except those not necessary for the National Health Service (NHS). Bevan’s biggest problem was with the British Medical Association which, as late as February 1948, organised a poll of its members which resulted in a vote of 8:1 against the Act. Bevan was aware of the need to meet the medical profession on some points. In particular, he was willing to allow private beds in NHS hospitals so as to attract the best specialists into the service. He met the general practitioners’ fears for their independence by promising that there would be no wholetime salaried medical service. In the end the doctors and consultants were given a larger place in the administration of the NHS than Willink had envisaged.

(pp. 155-5). Thus, while the Tories did have a role in the creation of the NHS, the government as a whole only reluctantly accepted its necessity after it won a general acceptance amongst the electorate and parliament. Yes, Willink did play his part, but the ultimate creation of the NHS was under Nye Bevan.

There is much, much more I could write on this, but at the moment this ends the discussion.

Vox Political on the Return of Victorian Diseases in 21st Century Britain

November 1, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has an article on the return of diseases, such as rickets, which were rife in 19th century Britain due to malnutrition, bad sanitation, overcrowding and generally poor conditions. He reports that Samuel Miller, a researcher into social security and one of his commenters, would like this investigated. His article begins with the answer to the question posed by its title, Will the Tories ever admit their ‘welfare reforms’ are reviving Victorian diseases?

Social security researcher and commenter Samuel Miller thinks they are.

He wants health authorities in the UK to investigate whether the return of diseases linked to poverty – and to the Victorian era – such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets and whooping cough.

This Writer flagged up the possibility as long ago as October 2013, after the UK’s chief medical officer formally announced the return of rickets.

I wrote: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritinal value?”

Despite Tory claims that the UK is in better shape than it has been in years, it seems clear that these health issues are getting worse.

His comments about people in the low income groups having to feed their families on foods with poor nutritional value, simply because they can’t afford anything, is entirely correct. Remember when Jamie Oliver did a series on Channel 4 attempting to teach a town oop north to cook properly, because some survey or other had shown it was the place where the most people stuffed themselves and their children with chips and burgers? One of the most revealing pieces of that programme was when one woman burst into tears, explaining that the reason she fed her children such low-grade comfort food was simply because there weren’t any shops near her, which sold the green veg and wholesome meat cuts he was demanding.

You think of the way traditional greengrocers and butchers, like Jones’ is the favourite TV show, Dad’s Army, have disappeared from our high streets, driven out by vast supermarkets like ASDA or Sainsbury’s. These have their advantages in terms of choice and so on, but for many people they can only be reached by car, rather than a simple walk down the road like the traditional shops. In many instances, all that remembers of local food shops is the fish and chip or Chinese or Indian take away.

Not that you can expect the Tories, or probably anyone else to do anything about it, as they’re too busy receiving donations from the supermarkets to ever want to change their policies. I’ve no doubt that there may be other solutions, such as making sure there’s proper access to supermarkets by bus, but that also means interfering in another local service, which the Tories and the rest of them have told us would be improved by its deregulation by Maggie back in the 1980s.

And so it’s far easier for the government to put an extra tax on sugar, and claim they’re doing something about the ‘obesity epidemic’, than to tackle the problem of malnutrition and even starvation in its entirety.

And no, I don’t think you’ll ever hear any of the Tories confess to a link between their social security policies and the return of Victorian diseases like rickets. That would contradict all the lies Ian Duncan Smith has been telling us about how no-one’s really poor in Britain, and the only people using food banks are scroungers and malingerers, who are doing so out of choice.

Tory Welfare Policies Taken From Private Eye Jokes?

March 16, 2015

Among the policies now being considered and implemented by the Tories is cutting welfare benefits to people they judge as obese. Cameron or one of his lackeys tried to justify this piece of vindictiveness by saying that ‘hard-working people’ – presumably foaming Tory bigots – shouldn’t have to pay tax to support people, who can’t be bothered getting themselves fit for work.

This is near enough a joke Private Eye put on their cover coming out of the mouth of Maggie Thatcher in an issue in April 1988. And here’s the proof:

Maggie Cuts Cover

If you can’t read it, the woman on the right is saying ‘I reckon I’ll lose four pounds’. To which Maggie’s answer is, ‘You should lose a stone, you great tub of lard.’

A joke then, Tory policy now.

RoarMag on the Resistible Rise of the Islamophobic Right in the Netherlands

February 14, 2015

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders: the face of Islamophobia

George Berger in his comment to my post about a Swedish Christian church that was sent threats for holding a service of solidarity with Muslims after a Pegida demonstration sent me this link to an article in RoarMag detailing the rise of the anti-Islam Far Right in the Netherlands: http://roarmag.org/2015/02/wilders-fortuyn-nationalism-netherlands/. George is Dutch but lives in Sweden. In his comment he said

I live in Sweden and am a Dutch citizen. It was a pleasure to read about the first Swedish Pegida demonstration, in Malmö last week. Eight Pegidistas versus more than one thousand anti. Contrast that with the current rise of neo-fascism in the Netherlands. Here is the best short article on that reactionary trend that I have seen. It should dispel a few myths.

It’s great to see that Sweden is still living up to its reputation as a place for sanity and tolerance, despite the attempts of Pegida to wreck it.

What is much more surprising to many foreigners is the rise of a large, anti-Islamic extreme Right in the Netherlands. The Netherlands after all has a reputation for being one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. In the 17th century it was one of the very few countries that did not have an established church. This was not because the Dutch were any less religious than the surrounding nations. Indeed, Alexander Graham-Dixon in one of his programmes on the Art of the Baroque, when covering the Dutch art of the period gave a contemporary saying as an example of the deeply religious divisions in the Netherlands in that period. The saying said that if there were three Dutchmen, two of them would immediately form their own churches, and accuse the third of being a heretic. They did not set up an official, established church, because they did not feel that force should be use to enforce religious belief. If a particular religious denomination or sect was to survive, it should do so through peacefully winning over and retaining believers.

Moreover, the Netherlands itself suffered brutally from the Nazi occupation. During the War, the Nazis attempted to break the Dutch people through withholding food supplies to create a terrible famine. When I was at school in the 1980s our school had an exchange scheme with another school in the Netherlands. Despite the intervening decades, memories of the Nazi atrocities were still strong with some of the older generation, and there were people, who bitterly hated the Germans. With this history of persecution by Fascism, it’s amazing how anything like an organised Fascist movement could ever be popular in the Netherlands.

RoarMag’s article explains just how this has arisen. It’s entitled Pro-gay and anti-Islam: rise of the Dutch far-Right. It begins

In the Netherlands, the right-wing PVV (Freedom Party) has steadily garnered power using a hate-filled discourse directed at Muslims and elites alike.

The Dutch far-right has evolved into one of the most successful national movements in Europe. Its leader Geert Wilders is a major political figure with international support. In many ways Wilders is the heir of Pim Fortuyn, a politician who played a crucial role in shaping a new right-wing current, ‘national-populism’, in Dutch politics, and who was murdered in 2002.

Populism here means the idea that society is separated in two camps; the ‘good people’ versus a ‘corrupt elite’. The ‘people’ are not the whole of society, but the part of the society that is considered pure and whose political will is considered legitimate: it is a partial object that stands in for the whole. Who is part of the ‘people’ is not given, the borders of this category are contested. The selection of those considered part of it and who are not is a political act.

Different kinds of populism use different criteria to select and shape ‘the people’ into political actors. In national-populism, the ‘people’ and the nation tend to overlap: the nation is not equal to the citizenry but to the ‘people’, a term with an historical, ethnic connotation. The national-populism of Fortuyn and Wilders calls for the disappearance of an ‘alien’ minority culture to preserve a mythical, homogeneous ‘Dutchness’.

The article traces the rise of extreme-rightwing, ‘gay-friendly’, anti-Islamic populist movements from Frits Bolkestein of the right-wing Liberal party, the VVD, through Pim Fortuyn and to the Partij Voor Vrijheid (Party For Freedom) of the notorious Islamophobe, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bolkestein set the pattern for the development of Islamophobic right in the Netherlands in a speech he made in 1991. In a speech to the Liberal International, Bolkestein contrasted European and Christian civilisation with that of the Islamic world, arguing that democracy and human rights were a product of a single, European culture, rather than emerging from a clash within different cultures.

Pim Fortuyn

Not a Bond Villain: Pim Fortuyn, Pro-Gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Welfare

This was taken up by Pim Fortuyn. A right-wing cultural pessimist lamenting the decline of community cohesion, traditional values and patriarchal authority figures, Fortuyn combined nationalism with neo-Liberal programme of severe cuts to the welfare services. In his 1997 book, Tegen de Islamisering van Onze Cultuur, ‘Against the Islamisation of the Our Culture’, Fortuyn presented Dutch culture as under threat from a homogenous, a-historical Islam. In his view, Islam was not just a religion, but also a worldview and political system. By constructing his attack on Islam as one of culture, not race, he avoided being linked to the racist, neo-Nazi far right. Nevertheless, the article makes clear that Fortuyn also made deeply racist comments, such as his statement to the Dutch paper De Volkskraant that Moroccans never stole from each other.

Fortuyn’s party, the List Pim Fortuyn, disintegrated amidst internal feuding after his assassination in 2002 by the environmental activist Volkert van de Graaf. Fortuyn’s anti-Islam stance was then taken up by Geert Wilders, then a member of the right-liberal VVD. Along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wilders promoted the idea that the conduct of Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands were determined by their religion, and that it was the cause of the sexism and racism in Dutch Muslim culture. The religion was also the root cause of socio-economic poverty and dictatorships and absolute monarchies in the Islamic world. Wilders left the VVD to form his own party in 2004.

The new party received a massive boost with the murder of the bitterly anti-Islamic Theo van Gogh. In the aftermath, dozens of mosques and hundreds of Muslim immigrants were attacked. In 2010 Wilder’s party attempted to capitalise on fears generated by the recession by throwing out their previous, Neo-Liberal policies. The party had previously stood for a flat tax rate, attacks on trade unions, abolition of the minimum wage and making it easier for firms to dismiss workers. Wilders’ party then pledged to defend the welfare state and workers’ rights, while claiming that they were under attack through immigration. The party then attempted to prevent these same civil rights from being applied to immigrants through linking social security to length of citizenship, language skills, and the adoption of secular dress. Those wearing burqas or niqabs were to be ineligible for benefits.

Wilders’ party entered government as the coalition partner of Mark Rutte’s VVD government. In doing so it gave up many of its left-wing demands and committed itself to Rutte’s austerity programme. The Coalition collapsed in 2012 when the PVV withdrew from negotiations about the implementation of further austerity. The following year Wilders’ began to establish links with other, European Far Right parties, like the French Front National, the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the Freiheitliche Partei Osterreichs in Austria. Wilders also went on tour of Holland collecting anti-austerity signatures, and set up a website offering legal advice for blocking the construction of mosques.

The article points out that Wilders’ success is remarkable, considering that his party doesn’t have members or much of an organisation beyond a website. This has given him absolute freedom to choose which candidate to support. It also points out that the success of Fortuyn and Wilders is partly due to appearances on TV and the net. Fortuyn in particular benefited from the support of the mainstream Conservative media. Wilders so far has eschewed appearing on TV and being interviewed by the papers because he distrusts their supposed ‘left-wing’ bias.

The Dutch anti-Islamic far right has also benefited from selectively including parts of the radicalism of 1968. They have taken on board verbal support for feminism, gay liberation and opposition to anti-Semitism, while rejecting the Green movement and anti-racism. Women’s and gay rights, and acceptance of Jews, are seen as intrinsically Dutch characteristics and their origins in the left-wing and progressive movements is ignored.

The article also considers that Bolkestein, Fortuyn and Wilders have also gained through the Netherlands’ self-image as an open and tolerant society, and the taboo on looking too closely at the endemic racism within it. This is particularly acute because the Dutch Left has largely abandoned anti-racism, and even taken over some aspects of the nationalistic Islamophobia of Wilders et al.

It’s a fascinating, provocative article that needs to be read, not just for the light it shines on this ominous aspect of Dutch politics, but also on the links and similarities to the growth in other anti-Islam groups and organisations throughout Europe, such as Pegida in Germany, and the EDL over here.

Despite the PVV’s massive growth, I’ve met many Dutch people, who were bitterly and outspokenly against Wilders and his bigotry. One young woman I knew at Uni said that she intended to leave the Netherlands if he won an election. I hope she didn’t, as no-one should feel forced out of their homeland by bigots.

ayaan-hirsi-ali-005

Ayaan Hirsi Ali considering the size of her next speaking fee.

As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she is a highly controversial figure. Her family have denied that any of the maltreatment she describes as being inflicted on her by her family has ever actually occurred. A non-Muslim friend of mine, who has taught university classes in Islam, is spectacularly unimpressed with her. He sees her less as a principled politician, than as a venal opportunist, who has exploited her supposed escape from Islamic oppression to gain money, influence and political power. She’s made money very cynically from telling the Islamophobic Right exactly what they want to hear. All the while using and discarding former allies than when they are of no use to her.

What has come across from this article is the similarity of approach of the anti-Islam activists across the West, from America to this side of the Atlantic. There is the same denial of racism. They don’t object to Muslims because of their ethnic origin, but because of the social, economic and political aspects of their religion. There is the same view that Islam is uniformly anti-feminist and bitterly hostile to gays. The anti-Islam sites over here and in America carried stories about Muslims beating up gays in Amsterdam, for example.

There is also the same claim that, in order to protect the welfare state, measures must be put in place to limit immigration. In the interview I put up this morning between Nigel Farage, the Fuhrer of UKIP, and Evan Davies, Farage stated that in a decade or so’s time, we may have to introduce an insurance system to fund the NHS due to the expansion of the country’s population to 80, 90. or 100 million. Farage was very careful not to single out any particular religion or ethnic group, but his party does contain any number of swivel-eyed loons with a venomous hatred of Muslims and non-Whites. The message, and that of the anti-immigrant Conservatives, is the same: the welfare state is under threat from immigrants, who are placing far too much strain on the available services. This conveniently ignores the fact that the welfare state has been decimated by decades of Conservative rule, and is likely to be destroyed completely if Cameron’s horde of robber barons are returned to power.

And Wilders has more than his fair share of supporters in this country. About ten years ago there was controversy in Britain, when Wilders was invited to speak at the House of Lords. He, and groups like him, aren’t a problem confined to the Netherlands. They’re all over Europe, and threaten all of our societies.

D-Day and the Creation of the NHS

June 7, 2014

NHS D-Day pic

Earlier today I reblogged Mike’s article attacking the censorship of one of the posters to the Labour Forum. This person, agewait, had had their posts repeatedly removed from the Forum and been told that they were ‘very offensive’. They had created the image reproduced here at the top of this very post, showing the courageous D-Day servicemen about to do battle, and linked it to Harry Leslie Smith’s attack on the government’s reform of the NHS. The Forum immediately deleted the posts, and responded to agewait’s inquiry why they were doing this with the statement:

“D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”

Agewait himself gave his account of what happened in a comment to Mike’s article:

Thank you for highlighting this issue. I am the creator and apparent antagonist by posting this and another related post on the so called ‘Labour Forum’. I was angered by their actions and told them so (without swearing) – I asked for them to be reinstated, but I was threatened with a ban – So I told the jumped-up, swaggering b*****d just what I thought about him and his tin-pot political correctness, knowing full well I would be banned. I was extremely angry with them for initially removing the posts and angered more by the explanation which was not only inaccurate but extremely patronising. I am not anti-labour, but it does appear to be anti-working class… It is time it realised the people didn’t leave them, they left us…. disengaged chatterers…. and out of touch with the passion people have for the injustices against so many people who have witnessed a blitzkrieg attack upon their NHS and their Social Security system with so many, too many so called labour MPs standing by whilst others cash in on their financial interest in the Private Health sector…. Thanks again – Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere. I feel they should apologise for removing the posts – I don’t expect or wish for a personal apology not after sharing a small section of my anger and disgust with their outrageous tactics. Adrian Wait.

The Labour Forum’s censorship is wrong and completely ahistorical. Mike has already pointed out in his article that the Beveridge Report setting up the NHS was in response to concerns about the victories of the German army at the start of the War, which drove us out of France and back to Britain. The Germans were better nourished and healthier, with the support of old age pensions, unemployment and sickness insurance brought in by Bismarck in the 1870s. When the Liberals first introduced these measures shortly before the First World War, the Germans boasted that the Reich had already had them for over forty years.

Richard Titmuss in his 1950 Problems of Social Policy, which linked the creation of the welfare state very firmly to the experience and necessities of providing for the civilian population during the War. G.C. Peden in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher, states

Titumuss argued that the hazards of war were universal and that prewar principles of selectivity could no longer be applied. Bomb victims could not be treated like recipients of poor relief. The Unemployment Assistance Board, which became simply the Assistance Board, was used to pay out hardship allowances, rather than leave these to local Public Assistance Committees, which were associated in the public mind with the Poor Law. When inflation reduced the value of old age pensions, the Assistance Board was empowered to pay supplementary pensions based on need, and by 1941 the Board was dealing with ten times as many pensioners as unemployed men. As Minister of Labour, Bevin insisted on abolishing the household means test, and the Determination of Needs Act of 1941 substituted an assumed contribution from non-dependent members of a family. Titmuss stressed cross-party support for welfare policies. According to him (pp. 506-17), the condition of inner city children evacuated to more prosperous areas shocked public opinion and moved the Government to take ‘positive steps’. Cheap or free school meals and milk were made available to all children and not, as hitherto, only to the ‘necessitous’. Free milk, orange juice and cod liver oil were provided for all expectant mothers and for children under five years. In all these ways, Titmuss argued, the ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’ created favourable conditions for planning ‘social reconstruction’ after the war. (pp. 135-6).

Titmuss’ view has now been criticised, as Titmuss was excluded studying plans for post-War policy, and so his view did not necessarily correspond to the government’s actual intentions. Peden notes that the outbreak of the War halted slum clearance, house building, and may have delayed the extension of national insurance to workers’ families and dependence and the introduction of family allowances. The Tories own Research Department had been worried about their own chances of winning elections before the War, and so had suggested including the above measures in their manifesto. On the other hand, the TUC had opposed Family Allowances, as they feared this would allow employers to pay low wages, and there was little support for them from the government. (p. 135).

Peden does state that the War brought a massive expansion of state hospital provision, and that the government agreed with the Beveridge Report’s recommendation that there should be a free health service, while acknowledging that the Tories and the British Medical Association also wished to preserve private practice and the charity hospitals:

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly was had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war causaulties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health service in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnston successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (CMd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.

Peden then goes on to state that there is little evidence that the War created a lasting consensus in favour of the Welfare State. He does, however, agree that the experience of the war created a more universalist approach to social problems, and that it led to the main political parties meeting on a ‘Butskellite’ centre. (pp. 142-3). He considers instead that the solutions recommended by the Wartime government were merely attempts to deal with temporary insecurity caused by the War.

Nevertheless, the War had led to the demand for the creation of the NHS, and the massive expansion in state hospital provision. And the Labour party played on the desire to create a better society for the servicemen and women, who had fought so hard against Fascism and the Nazi menace, as shown in the poster below.

War Labour Poster

The Tories too, have had absolutely no qualms about using images from WW2 in their election propaganda. I can remember their 1987 election broadcast being awash with images of dog-fighting Spitfires, ending with an excited voice exclaiming ‘It’s great to be great again’. All while Thatcher was doing her level best to destroy real wages and smash Britain as a manufacturing nation in the interests of the financial sector. The satirist Alan Coren drily remarked that the broadcast showed that the War was won by ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’, and stated that it was highly ironic that in reality all the servicemen went off and voted Labour.

All this seems to have been lost on Labour Forum, which suggests that the mods in charge actually don’t know much about Socialism or the creation of the NHS. You could even wonder if they were actually Labour at all. If they were, then it certainly looks like a Blairite group, afraid that linking D-Day and the origins of the NHS will disrupt its part privatisation introduced by Blair. Many of the firms involved in this were American, and there is certainly massive hostility to any inclusion of the NHS as one of the great achievements of British history by the transatlantic extreme Right. They were fuming, for example, at Danny Boyle’s inclusion of the NHS in the historical tableaux at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. The censors over at Labour Forum seem to reflect this mentality, rather than anything genuinely and historically Labour. It’s time the Right-wing censors over at Labour Forum were finally shown the door, and a proper historical perspective and pride taken in the NHS, one of the great legacies left by the people, who fought so bravely to keep Europe free.

Jess on Say’s Law and the Tory Denial that Increase in Food Banks Represents Genuine Demand

April 20, 2014

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog has posted a detailed critique of the economic law behind the Tories’ refusal to admit that the rise in food banks is due to a massive increase in poverty. The Tories cannot admit that there is mass starvation in this country due to their austerity campaign. They therefore claim instead that food banks are increasing simply because there are more food banks, and their mere existence attracts more customers.

In her comment to Mike’s post on Vox Political, ‘Food bank blow is new low for the Mail on Sunday’, Jess attacks this assertion, and shows that it is based on Say’s Law, an economic doctrine that has now been comprehensively refuted in the form it has been adopted under Lord Freud to justify the attacks food banks. She states

“Another claim – that “volunteers revealed that increased awareness of food banks is driving a rise in their use” is unsubstantiated, and is clearly an attempt to support the government’s claim that this is the case. But it is silly. Of course starving people will go to a food bank after they have been told it exists; that doesn’t mean they aren’t starving.”

The DWP appear to be pushing this line rather hard, as their response to the public’s growing awareness of the scandal of food banks. Their argument, based on Say’s Law, is utterly fallacious, and they must know it is.

Say’s Law, roughly formulated, is “”Supply creates its own demand”[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_creates_its_own_demand].
In the present context it seems to have been first invoked by Lord Freud, and then taken up by his department.

It will be familiar to most people through its mention by Keynes in his ‘General Theory’;
“From the time of Say and Ricardo the classical economists have taught that supply creates its own demand; meaning by this in some significant, but not clearly defined, sense that the whole of the costs of production must necessarily be spent in the aggregate, directly or indirectly, on purchasing the product.” [http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/general-theory/ch02.htm]

But even the free marketeers regard Freud’s interpretation of Say as ridiculous;
“W. H. Hutt once referred to Say’s Law as the most fundamental ‘economic law’ in all economic theory. In its crude and colloquial form, Say’s Law is frequently understood as supply creates its own demand, as if the simple act of supplying some good or service on the market was sufficient to call forth demand for that product. It is certainly true that producers can undertake expenses, such as advertising, to persuade people to purchase a good they have already chosen to supply, but that is not the same thing as saying that an act of supply necessarily creates demand for the good in question. This understanding of the law is obviously nonsensical as numerous business and product failures can attest to. If Say’s Law were true in this colloquial sense, then we could all get very rich just by producing whatever we wanted.” [http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/understanding-says-law-of-markets]

How then, did this silly ‘aphorism’ creep into the language of the DWP?

One route may have been through the IEA and it’s then Director David G Green.. He wrote a couple of pamphlets in the late ’90′s advocating the demolition of Social Security, and a return to the Friendly Societies of Victorian England [Benefit dependency : how welfare undermines dependency.1998; An end to welfare rights : the rediscovery of independence 1999]

Most people, at the time, thought Green was ‘off his trolley’, It is tragic that Say, and Green is being used to attack food banks. The last refuge of the destitute.

This last paragraph, where she mentions IEA and its director, David G Green, is also important. I remember back in the 1990s the Daily Mail criticising the establishment of the modern welfare state for the way it sidelined the Friendly Societies. The Daily Mail had clearly been influenced by Green’s bonkers views, and it shows just how extreme and reactionary the Mail is.