Posts Tagged ‘Students’

Justine Greening Wants Tories to Re-Introduce Maintenance Grants – More Lies from the Tories?

October 5, 2017

The I newspaper yesterday reported that Justine Greening, the Tory education minister, wants to reintroduce maintenance grants for the poorest students in order to combat Labour’s popularity with them over the issue of student debt.

The I wrote

Ministers are preparing plans to bring back university maintenance grants. The move is part of the “broader thinking” being undertaken by the Department for Education to implement policies that will have greater appeal to younger voters.

The level of debt in which graduates are leaving university has come under mounting scrutiny in recent months. Tuition fees became a major election battleground following Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to scrap the policy which saw young voters flock to Labour in their droves.

Over the weekend, Theresa May announced plans to freeze tuition fees at £9,250 a year while the income threshold at which graduates will be expected to start paying back their loans was raised from £21,000 to £25,000.

But I understands that the DfE wants to go further and bring back maintenance grants to help the poorest students as the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, battles with the Treasury to push through the plans.

“We didn’t think it is right that the poorest students come out of the university with the most debt,” a senior DfE source said.

The source refused to rule out that the plans could be contained in the Budget next month, although separate sources said the plans were not that advanced.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, bringing back maintenance grants would cost just under £500m. the IFS published research yesterday showing that the Prime Minister’s plans to raise the repayment threshold would cost the taxpayer £2.3bn a year, and lead to 83 per cent of graduates never paying off the full amount of their loan.

The former Chancellor George Osborne announced in 2015 that maintenance grants would be scrapped in time for the start of the 2016 academic year as part of the Government’s austerity drive. The grants were kept by the devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The move to abolish the funding meant students from the lowest-income households were forced to take out loans on top of their tuition fees loans to pay for living costs.

Labour has said it would bring back the grants, and the policy is gaining support from university vice-chancellors. Universities UK, which represents the majority of higher education institutions in Britain, said the return of maintenance grants would be a “welcome enhancement”.

Alistair Jarvis, UK’s chief executive, said: “Students tell us that it is cash in their pockets while studying that matters most.

“It is right to continue to examine how the current system can be improved to ensure that money isn’t a barrier for students.”

See Greening battles Treasury for maintenance grants return, in the I for Wednesday, 4th October 2017, page 4.

So an anonymous source in the Department of Education claims that Justine Greening would like to bring back maintenance grants, as Labour intends to do so, thus becoming massively popular with the young people looking at being saddled with massive debt. And other sources say the plans aren’t that advanced, and the Treasury don’t want it.

This shows that the claims is yet another lie, intended to make the Tories look more like they actually care about providing for the British public, rather than giving more money to the extremely rich.

Just as the article shows that Theresa May’s plan to cap student debt still would leave four-fifth of all students unable to pay it off.

And Mike has shown how May’s claim to freeze tuition fees actually represents an increase. And who’s going to bet that the freeze only lasts as long May decides it’s convenient. Which from the evidence of the rest of her broken promises, means that it’ll be dumped as soon as she gets back into power. Assuming that ever happens.

The Tories are lying to us again. Just like they always do. But students aren’t daft, and I doubt anyone is going to be taken it.

If you want to make sure our young people are able to go to uni to get the education they want, and which this country needs, then vote Labour so that Corbyn can do something about the monstrous level of student debt forty years of Thatcherism have inflicted on students.

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Counterpunch: The More Young Jewish Americans Find Out About Israel, the More They Despise It

July 2, 2017

On Wednesday Counterpunch published a very interesting article by Jonathan Cook about the way Israel’s attempts to promote its image to Jewish American youngsters, and encourage them to settle there, is backfiring spectacularly. He discusses the various books that have been written to deny the very existence in history of the Palestinians and their connection with the land. These included the book, From Time Immemorial, which claimed that the Palestinians were recent immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. Norman Finkelstein, one of the great Jewish American critics of Zionism and Israel, tore that one to shreds when he was a doctoral student.

Now Brand Israel, an Israeli PR group, has found that many young people taking up the heritage tours offered by Israel to American Jews have taken the opportunity to make their own, unscheduled and decidedly unapproved tours of the occupied West Bank. And they are very definitely not impressed with what they’ve seen of the Israeli treatment of the indigenous population.

Cook writes

One can understand why making the Palestinians invisible is the tactic of choice for Israel’s supporters. But a new report suggests that it would be wise for them to keep Israel in the shadows too.

The Brand Israel Group found that the more US college students knew about Israel, the less they liked it. In the six years to 2016, support for Israel among the next generation of Jewish leaders dropped precipitously, by 27 percentage points.

Traditionally, Israel has nurtured bonds to overseas Jews. Over the past 20 years the Birthright programme has brought half a million young American Jews on free summer trips to Israel for an intensive course of indoctrination.

The students are supposed to leave fervent ambassadors for Israel – or better still, devotees who will immigrate to help in a demographic war against the Palestinians.

But organisers are aware that a growing number sneak off afterwards into the occupied territories to discover first-hand a history their elders have kept from them. It can have a profound effect. Many get involved in protests in the occupied territories or become leaders of boycott activism against Israel on campuses back home.

He also notes that when Israel passed a resolution saying that those who supported the Boycott movement against Israel wouldn’t be allowed in, hundreds of youngsters due to go on an upcoming Birthright tour signed a petition asking if that included them.

Cook also discusses the Sumud Freedom Camp, a joint project in the West Bank between anti-racist Israelis, foreign Jews and the Palestinians, to protest nonviolently against Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinians. The camp has been repeatedly torn down by the Israeli armed forces, and this has further reinforced the negative opinion the Jews working at the camp have of the Israeli military. One American Jewish woman wrote a piece in the Israeli media about how her experience with the armed forces had shown her that they weren’t superheroes who’d protect her from harm.

Cook concludes

Increasingly, American Jewry is becoming polarised, between an older generation whose ignorance allows them to advocate unthinkingly for Israel and a young generation whose greater knowledge has brought with it a sense of responsibility. In an ever-more globalised world, this trend is going to intensify.

Young American Jews will have to choose. Will they conspire, if only through their silence, in the erasure of the Palestinians carried out by Israel in their name? Or will they stand and fight, in the occupied territories, on campus, in their communities and, soon enough, in the corridors of power in Washington?

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/28/israels-efforts-to-hide-palestinians-from-view-no-longer-fools-young-american-jews/

Norman Finkelstein has also predicted that the links between American Jews and Israel will gradually wither away. He and other Jewish critics of Zionism have pointed out that Israel only became important to American Jews, and was only supported by American Conservatives, after it successfully fought of the Arabs during the Six Day War. Before then, Israel was very much peripheral to American Jewish concerns.

Tony Greenstein, whose blog regularly tears into racists, Zionists, Fascists and Conservatives, also covered this issue. He wrote

It’s an ill wind that blows no good. Despite the adoption of the new fake definition of anti-Semitism and the attempt to depict anti-Zionism as anti-Semitic, the truth has a way of getting through. The American Jewish community is the most valuable to Israel, since it does its diplomatic bidding as well as helping to fund the pariah state.

What a surprise it must therefore be to Israel’s veteran propagandists, the Hasbarists who cry ‘anti-Semitism’ at the drop of a hat, that young American Jews no longer feel an affinity with Zionism and Israel’s racial nationalism. Settling other people’s land, seeing the vast disparity between poor Palestinian peasants and the rich and lush settlements isn’t a winner amongst progressive young Jews.

The far-Right messianism that believes in a racially pure Israel and building a 3rd temple as the way to encourage the return of the Messiah doesn’t hold too much attraction to secular Jewish kids.

The alliance with the anti-Semitic Christian fundamentalists like Pastor John Hagee of Christian United for Israel isn’t a vote winner either.

http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2017-06-24T03:16:00%2B01:00&max-results=7&start=3&by-date=false

As for the Israeli armed forces not being the gallant heroes ready to defend Jews the world over against oppression and genocide, Mr Greenstein has published very many articles on his blog showing that Zionists have many times shown themselves to be completely indifferent to Jewish suffering, unless the Jews being victimised are prepared to immigrate to Israel. In one essay on the heroic resistance against the Nazis of the Warsaw Uprising, he stated that most of the real resistance was done by the Jewish Socialist party and groups, who wished to defend the right of ordinary, working class, Yiddish-speaking Jews to live in what they saw as their historic homeland, Poland. This pieces is particularly interesting, as he quotes one of the heroes of the Uprising, Marek Edelman, who took over its leadership. Edelman’s part in the resistance against the Nazis has been downplayed, because he wasn’t impressed with the way Israel treats the Palestinians and said so. A few years ago he stated that the Palestinian Intifada showed the same spirit as the fighters in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw.

It’s not hard to see how that might upset patriotic Zionists like Netanyahu’s crew.

Moreover, the early European Jewish colonists in Palestine were quite prepared to use deadly force against other Jews, if it would serve their ends. In one of his other posts, he describes the destruction of a British transport ship carrying Jewish refugees to Israel by the Zionist authorities during the War. The ship was due to arrive in Israel, but the British authorities in the Mandate decided that they should be taken to Mauritius instead. So the Zionists deliberately targeted and sank the boat, killing its passengers, to show their anger at being denied fresh colonists.

It struck me reading that, and other accounts of the brutality inflicted by the Zionists on non-Zionist Jews, that there is an entire book to be written there. The Israeli lobby has worked hard to make sure that their bogus definition of anti-Semitism, which includes criticism of the state of Israel, is the only one accepted. But as they have vilified and attacked other Jews, who do not share their support for Israel to the point, where many Jews feel that they particularly attack Jewish critics, it could be argued that they are also guilty of what they so frequently accuse genuinely anti-racist critics of Israel.

As for Brand Israel, I suspect that many young people, Jews, gentiles or whatever, would become even more sceptical towards Israel if they found out how the authorities were trying to use PR to raise its image. A certain section of the left, and the public generally, has always been against spin and PR. Way back in the 1990s the American comedian, Bill Hicks, joked about the way the PR industry really couldn’t understand him or people like him. Instead of realising that he was genuinely against the right-wing politics of Reagan’s America, and the power of big corporations, he joked that they really believed that he was trying to tap into some demographic as a sales strategy. That was nearly 30 years ago.

And if anything, people have become more cynical since. One of the reasons why the British public became increasingly hostile to New Labour was because the very high profile it gave to spin and PR, at the expense of actually listening to what the public really wanted. Everything had to be carefully scripted and micro-managed to make sure that people were ‘on message’.

And I dare say something similar has happened in America. It’s why many Americans voted for Trump over Killary, as Trump appeared to be more authentic, and more sympathetic to the needs and fears of ordinary Americans. They were wrong. He wasn’t, and isn’t. And the results are disastrous for the American working and middle classes. But for a moment he appeared different from the crafted spin of an increasingly distant political class, whether Democrat or Republican.

The mass surge in support for Bernie Sanders in America and Jeremy Corbyn here in Britain is partly due to the fact that they are genuine in their desire to improve conditions for ordinary working people. They aren’t the smooth-talking products of spin merchants, desperate to appear to be doing something for the public, but who are really deeply opposed to doing anything that will threaten the neoliberal status quo and alienate their parties’ corporate donors.

I suspect that if more people, who are currently pro-, or just indifferent to Israel, were to find out that the country is deliberately using PR to mould the public’s impressions of the country, and counter negative publicity, like the footage of the Israeli armed forces killing innocent civilians in Gaza, they’d also become sceptical of the country. If only in the sense that they wouldn’t automatically take anything its politicians and spokespeople said for granted.

The NME Interviews Jeremy Corbyn

June 3, 2017

The musical paper, NME, last week put its support firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn. They’ve put on YouTube this interview with the great man by their editor-in-chief, Mike Williams.

Williams states that the other parties are ignoring the needs of young people, with the exception of Corbyn. In the course of the interview, Corbyn talks about how support for Labour is surging because, now that we’re in the election period, the reporting has to be a little fairer, and so people are for the first time hearing what Labour’s policies actually are.

He talks about how children are having their future damaged through growing up in high rent, poorly maintained housing, attending schools that are having their funding cut so they are releasing teachers and teaching assistants.

He talks about how Britain spends less on its welfare support than other nations. This is unacceptable, as we are not a poor nation. He states that he intends to correct this by putting more on corporation tax, but 95 per cent of the people of this country will not be paying anymore.

He also talks about how student debt is also damaging young people’s future. It harms their credit rating and makes it difficult for them to get a mortgage. As you have to be earning over £21,000 before paying it back, it means that many people don’t earn enough, and so, as many people also move abroad, it means that there is a mountain of public debt that’s piling up.

He states that Labour will make tuition free for those beginning uni in 2017/18, but acknowledges that there is a problem with existing students, who have already accumulated a debt. He sketches out various ways Labour may try to reduce it, but acknowledges that at this point he can’t give a definitive answer, because an election has only just been called.

Corbyn and Williams also talk about how the Tories are running down public services, including the welfare state, through massive cuts, in order to give massive tax breaks to big companies, which leave the rest of us worse off.

He rebuts May’s dismissal of Labour’s proposals as ‘utopian’, and makes that dry observation that this the first time he’s heard her use the word. Clearly, he has a low opinion of her intelligence and vocabulary.

As the NME is a music paper, Corbyn also talks about Labour’s proposals to protect and nurture music and young musical talent. About 40 per cent of the music venues in London have closed. Corbyn states that he intends to rectify this by putting more funding into live music venues and music education. There will be an additional £160 million given to schools, which will enable schoolchildren to learn an instrument. He also wishes to give money to councils so they can provide affordable practice spaces to aspiring musicians. In this way, he hopes to encourage the music industry to take up the pool of talent that there will be.

Williams tackles him on the subject of pacifism, and asks him why he has said he will put more money into defence. Corbyn states that he believes in and works for peace, but there is the question of what you would do in a war like the World War II and the need to attack enemies like the Nazis. However, he states he has set up a shadow minister for peace and disarmament, and that if Labour wins he will turn this into a ministerial position.

The two also talk about what will happen to the NHS if Labour don’t get into power. How close is it to collapse? Corbyn states that it is very close to collapse already, and that if this goes on, it will become a health service of last resort to people who cannot afford private healthcare. If that happens, you will have the system where the poor will have to receive care from emergency rooms, a prospect he finds appalling.

Williams asks him what will happen if Labour doesn’t win. Corbyn says in reply that Labour will, but people need to get out and vote.

As for the whole question about young people versus old people, he states that he does not believe politics should be so compartmentalised. He describes a public meeting in which he spoke to a wide cross-section of the community, the young, the old, gay, straight, Black and White. We should be talking, he says, about intergenerational support. The young need the wisdom of the old, and the old need the inspiration of the young.

Williams also asks him the burning question that people have been poring over for the past 20 years: which was better, Blur or Oasis. Corbyn things a bit, and then says Oasis, but then says that what he really should have said, was that he’d refer it to a focus group. But he doesn’t do focus groups.

This is an excellent interview. Corbyn is quiet spoken, in command of the facts and figures, optimistic, but not complacent, and with very clear ideas how to make life better in Britain for everyone, not just the poor. And he has the honesty to admit that Labour doesn’t yet have a fixed policy when it comes to the debts students now have built up. You won’t hear such honest from May. All you can expect from her is lies.

All the Tories will give us, by contrast, is more poverty, more starvation, and all to give more money to the rich.

We can stop them.
For peace, a just Britain, and an end to Tory poverty and misrule, vote Labour on June 8th.

Paxo Draws Blood Again and Savages May

May 30, 2017

The Beeb’s crowing about how they caught out Jeremy Corbyn over the costs of free childcare on Woman’s Hour has shown several things that the Beeb definitely wouldn’t have intended. Firstly, it revealed how massively biased the Corporation is towards the Tories. As the French Philosophical Feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, has pointed out, the Beeb never, or rarely ever, asks where the money is going to come from when the Tories announce tax cuts. It sounds counterintuitive, but he makes the point that tax cuts also involve costs as well. Not that this would have mattered – none of the Tories’ policies are costed. But it also shows how desperate the Beeb and the Tories are getting, now that Corbyn is closing the gap between them and Labour.

A poll conducted shortly before the Manchester bombing showed that the gap was down to 5 per cent.

Hence the Beeb trying to make as much out of this minor victory as possible.

Last night, May and Corbyn were interviewed separately by Paxo. And, for many people, May’s performance was a debacle, while Corbyn came out far better. How poorly May performed can be seen on the clips Mike put up on his blog earlier today.

Paxo showed that he still had the power to lay into the great and powerful after leaving Newsnight and becoming the scourge of student quiz teams on University Challenge. Commenting on May’s various U-turns, such as when she announced she wouldn’t call a general election, and then did, and reversals she had made over Brexit, he said that instead of finding someone who was a good negotiator, the EC’s politicos and functionaries would instead find ‘a blowhard who falls down at the first sign of gunfire’. May, at least, had the decency to acknowledge they were U-turns, but tried explaining them away as necessitated by the circumstances.

And the responses from Twitter have been brilliant. WirralinItTogether, in response to Paxo’s brief, pithy characterisation of May as a negotiator, posted a picture of a little girl falling out of her chair laughing. Tory Fibs put up a list of the devastating cuts that have been inflicted on the NHS, and their equally devastating effects, like waiting lists are now at a seven year high. Members of the audience laughed at her, were seen mouthing ‘that’s bollocks’ when she spoke. And Martin Lewis posted the results of the poll.

Asked who they believed won,
48 per cent, who also supported Labour, thought he’d won.
37 per cent, who were not supporters of Labour, also thought he had.
11 per cent, who were Tories, though May had won.
And 9 per cent, who weren’t Tories, believed May had been the victor.

For more information, go to Mike’s blog, at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/30/battle-for-number-10-more-of-a-rout-as-theresa-may-falls-apart-under-questioning/

He has various clips, including a whole video of the interviews, so you can judge for yourself, along with other Tweets and videos showing Labour’s promises, including their pledge to reverse the damage to Britain’s security inflicted by May’s cuts to the police, border guards and armed forces.

The Real News: Tory Lead Slashed to 5% – Corbyn Definitely Electable!

May 30, 2017

This is a very interesting perspective on the massive downturn in the Tories’ lead in the polls here in the UK from the Real News Network. From the looks of things, this is a global Indian news programme based in America. In this video, Sharmini Peries in Baltimore talks to Kam Sandhu, a young woman, who is the founder of Real Media in the UK.

They discuss how the Tory polling lead has fallen from 20 per cent to just 5 due to May’s ‘Dementia Tax’, in which the homes of the elderly were to be seized and sold by the government to pay for their social care. Sandhu makes the point that this policy, and May’s removal of the cap on social care costs, attacked the Tories’ own supporters. The result was that afterwards, 28 per cent of people said they were less likely to vote Tory.

Sandhu also talks about the impact of the Tories’ plans to remove free school meals and replace them with free breakfasts. The Tories’ hadn’t costed this either, and when it came out that there was going to be only 7p spent per pupil on these breakfasts, it caused outrage and the Tories had to admit they didn’t know how much it would cost.

Sandhu admits that the 5 per cent polling lead of the Tories is only in one poll, but she says it has overturned the criticisms against Jeremy Corbyn – that he was too weak to lead, as against May, who was ‘strong and stable’. This has refuted these allegations.

She also states that even if Corbyn does not win, and is forced out of the Labour leadership, he has still set the Labour agenda on tuition fees, the Health Service and other major areas of Labour policy, which will be permanent. This is positive, and Sandhu is very glad that Labour now have a real chance of winning.

Bristol’s Real Steampunk Car: The 1875 Grenville Steam Carriage

May 26, 2017

And now, a bit of fun before I return to hammering the Theresa May and the Tories for their seven years of misgovernment, malice, and general misery.

Steampunk is the subspecies of Science Fiction, which wonders what would have happened if the Victorians had invented computers, flying machines, space travel and so on. One of the founding texts of the genre is William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (London: Victor Gollancz 1990), which imagines what Britain might have looked like if Charles Babbage’s pioneering mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, had actually been built and use by the British government. It’s set in an alternative history in which the Duke of Wellington and the Tory government of 1829 have been overthrown by a party of Industrial Radicals, led by Lord Byron. Instead of government by the landed aristocracy, the country is instead ruled by a scientific elite. Foremost of these is Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer programme for the machine. Apart from the Difference Engine itself, which is used by various government departments to solve not only statistical and technical problems, but which also records images and information like a modern computer, the streets are packed with steam carriages, and the British army also uses steam driven armoured cars to carry troops to suppress industrial unrest.

In fact, as I’ve blogged about previously, a number of steam carriages and cars were built throughout the 19th century before the emergence of the internal combustion engine and the modern car.

R.N. Grenville in the steam carriage with his family and servants outside Butleigh Court c. 1895.

One of these vehicles, the Grenville Steam Carriage, was designed in 1875 by Robert Neville Grenville of Glastonbury in Somerset. He was aided by George Churchward, who later became the chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway. After taking part in the 1946 London Jubilee Cavalcade in Regent’s Park, it was presented the following year to the City Museum in Bristol by Grenville’s nephew, Captain P.L. Neville. Over twenty years later the Museum’s Technology Conservator, F.J. Lester, carried out an overhaul of the vehicle with the ship repairers, Messrs Jefferies Ltd. of Avonmouth. It took part in the Lord Mayor’s Jubilee Procession in Bristol in 1977, before being displayed in the Industrial Museum in Bristol.

The City Museum published a leaflet about the vehicle, written by the director of the Industrial Museum, Andy King, the Curator of Technology, P. Elkin, and with a drawing of the carriage by F.J. Lester.

The leaflet states that Grenville and Churchward had been engineering pupils together at the workshops of the South Devon Railway in Newton Abbott, and remained friends throughout their lives. Most of the carriage was probably built at Grenville’s home in Butleigh Court in Glastonbury, where he had an extensive workshop. Some parts of it, such as the wheels, may have been made under Churchward’s supervision at the G.W.R.’s workshops in Swindon. Although the vehicle was designed in 1875, it was actually built over a period of 15 years, as components were adapted and altered according to a lengthy process of trial and error.

The carriage itself was more similar to the railway engines of the time than horse-drawn carriages. The boiler, engine, shaft-bearings, rear spring brackets and front suspension were supported by a frame of 4″ x 2″ girders. It had three wheels, composed of sixteen section of teak banded with an iron tyre. This was the same as the ‘Mansell’ wheel used in railway carriages from 1860 to 1910.

It possessed the same type of vertical boiler used in the steam fire engines of the time. It was believed that this was made by one of the companies that made them, Shand Mason & Co. The steam carriage also had one of these boilers after it was renovated. The boiler was supplied with water from a tank slung underneath the carriage by an injector.

The carriage was originally powered by a single cylinder engine mounted on the boiler. This was later replaced by a twin-cylinder engine.

Photo from The Garage & Motor Agent showing the steam carriage and an 1898 Benz in the 1946 Jubilee Cavalcade of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The carriage was operated by a crew of three – the driver, brakeman and a fireman, and there were also seats for four passengers. The driver steered the vehicle using a tiller system, as on ships; he also controlled the throttle, cut off levers and a whistle, which he worked with a pedal. The law stipulated that vehicles like the steam carriage had to carry a brakeman, who sat on the right-hand side of the driver and controlled the brakes, which were wooden blocks. The fireman also had his own small seat in the engine compartment.

The car consumed five gallons of water and 6 pounds of coal per mile, and on the flat could reach the astonishing speed of just under 20 miles an hour on the flat.

Grenville probably lost interest in the steam carriage just to its poor performance. It appeared at the same time as more efficient steam cars were being built in America, and the modern cars, driven by petrol and the internal combustion engine also appeared.

Before it was acquired by the City Museum, the carriage was used from 1898 to 1902 as a stationery engine to drive a cider mill at Butleigh Court. It was lent after Grenville’s death in 1936 to John Allen & Sons of Cowley in Oxfordshire, who rebuilt it, replacing the boiler and rear axle.

Next week on Radio 4 there’s a programme discussing the lack of people studying engineering, and asking what could be done to inspire more students to take up the subject.

I wondered if part of the solution might be to harness the immense interest the public has in cars, motorbikes and other motor vehicles as well as steam punk enthusiasts. Many proud owners of cars and bikes spend hours caring for and repairing their vehicles as a hobby, quite apart on the volunteers who give their labour and support to organisations like the former Industrial Museum helping to restore historic vehicles and other machines. There’s quite a large community of people, who design and make their own steampunk SF costumes and machines. And some of them have already built their alternative steam punk cars as a hobby. It might be possible to encourage more budding engineers and inventors of the future by showing some of the amazing machines built by the Victorians, which have formed the basis for this genre of Science Fiction and the worlds of wonder its writers have imagined.

The Industrial Museum was closed long ago, and its site is now that of Bristol’s M Shed, which has many of the old exhibits from its predecessor. I don’t know if the Grenville Steam Carriage is one of them, but it may well be, either on display or in storage.

Paul McGann Makes Powerful Appeal to People to Register to Vote

May 17, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has also reblogged a video by Paul McGann on behalf of the Labour Party, in which he appeals to people to register to vote if they have not done so yet. If they don’t, and therefore won’t be allowed to vote, then they will have no voice in how the country is governed, and over vitally important issues and causes like the NHS.

So please don’t lose your voice, and register.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/17/a-powerful-appeal-for-people-to-register-to-vote-from-paul-mcgann/

This is now more important than ever. The Tories, like their vile counterparts, the Republicans, in America, have changed the voter registration legislation in the hope that this will prevent more people from voting. These changes mean that many people, who believe they are registered to vote, may not be so in fact. If they come to the polling station, they will be turned away.

And I don’t doubt for a single minute that the Tories are hoping that enough of the British people will be apathetic or so fed up with politics, that they will stay away from the voting booths, and so allow them to win by default.

Republican politicians in America have let the cat out of the bag regarding their own electoral reforms, and openly admitted that it is to prevent supporters of the Democrat party, and especially the young, the poor, students and Blacks from voting. I’ve reblogged videos from The Young Turks and Secular Talk that have covered this.

These are the groups in America that vote Democrat, and young people and ethnic minorities are also the parts of the population which are more inclined to vote Labour over here.

And despite all their attempts to appear hip, anti-racist, and entirely cool with gays and the new attitudes to gender and sexuality, I don’t doubt that these are also the groups the Tories also fear and despise. They clearly have absolute contempt for students, as shown by the massive increase in student fees and levels of debt that occurred in the seven years we’ve been ruled by these scoundrels.

So please, if you have any doubt, take McGann’s advice. You really can’t afford not to.

Incidentally, looking at McGann in the video, it seemed to me that with the distinctive haircut, long, angular face and tweed jacked, he was channelling a certain Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, 1984 and the Spanish Civil War memoire, Homage to Catalonia. Orwell was a convinced Socialist, who wrote a book looking forward to a revolution that would bring about a distinctively English form of Socialism in his book, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English. He was a bitter critic of Communism and totalitarianism, because he had witnessed the way the Communist party under Stalin had betrayed its left-wing allies and murdered their members during the Spanish Civil War. Orwell, like so many other idealistic young people across Europe and America, had personally fought in the War, joining a brigade affiliated to POUM, a non-Marxist Socialist party. He was also strongly impressed with the achievement of the Spanish Anarchists in creating a genuinely Socialist society, in which the workers and peasant owned and managed the farms and industry themselves, before they were defeated and massacred by Franco.

Back in Britain, Orwell worked as a journalist as well as a novelist. He was a convinced anti-imperialist through his experiences as a serviceman in Burma, then part of the British Empire. To understand the depths of hardship working people were experiencing during the Great Depression, he lived for a time as a tramp. This led to the book Down and Out in London and Paris, and The Road to Wigan Pier. This last was reprinted a few years ago because of its relevance to the poverty caused by the Tories through austerity. He also satirised British bourgeois culture and values in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

As a political journalist, he argued that its writing should be as clear and lucid as possible. There have been criticisms of his remarks and recommendations about how it should be written, but his comments have been taken extremely seriously. His stature as one of this country’s foremost political writers is recognised in the fact that there is a literary award named after him, the Orwell Prize, for political writing.

So in the above video, you have a brilliant actor, Paul McGann, channelling one of the greatest political writers.

Brilliant! as they used to shout on the Fast Show.

Tim Farron Planning Another Coalition Deal between Lib Dems and Tories

April 24, 2017

Last week I put up a post expressing my extreme scepticism about Tim Farron’s claim that his party will offer ‘strong opposition’ to the Tories. They didn’t when the Tories won the 2010 election. In fact, they went into coalition with them almost immediately. They spun stories about how they had tried to make a pact with Labour previously, but this had fallen through. In fact, this was shown to be lies. They Lib Dems had already decided two months previously that they would join the Tories. And despite claiming in opposition that they would oppose tuition fees, the Lib Dems under Clegg then betrayed millions of university students by raising them, even though the Tories were prepared to concede keeping tuition fees lower to them.

Now it seems they’re getting ready to do the same again. Farron has claimed he won’t go into coalition with either Labour or the Tories. But Mike put up a post on Saturday showing that while Farron is sincere about not wanting to join a coalition with Labour, despite his promises he seems ready to join the Tories in government again. The Independent reported he was refusing to rule out any coalition deal with them. As for Brexit, Farron has changed his rhetoric from ‘opposing Brexit’ to ‘opposing a hard Brexit’. Which suggests that he has profoundly altered his party’s pro-EU stance there, ready to join the Tories in coalition.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/04/22/lib-dem-support-for-remaining-in-the-eu-fades-as-the-party-seeks-another-tory-coalition/

Also worth reading are the comments to this post. One of Mike’s many excellent commenters, Casalealex, wrote:

In 2002, a secret Liberal Democrat document came to light – produced by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors – in which local activists were urged to “be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly” in order to win elections.

In fact, ask anyone who’s been involved in local politics and they’ll tell you Liberal Democrat activists are the most infamous for playing dirty, using underhand methods and being utterly ruthless.

Exactly as they turned out to be nationally in their coalition with the Tories.

I’ve heard Tories complain and describe the underhanded tactics employed by the Lib Dems, and how they fight dirtier – in their opinion – than the other parties, so Casalealex’s words ring true. And as their actions in the government before last has shown, they couldn’t be trusted then, and they can’t be trusted now.

‘Lib Dems Offer Strong Opposition to Tories’ – Who’s Farron Trying to Kid?

April 18, 2017

May’s just called a snap election for June, hoping that she’ll get a 2/3 majority in parliament. She claims it’s about Brexit, and that she needs to challenge the Scots Nationalists and the House of Lords, some of whom – naughty boys and girls – are undermining her, and she wants a united front in dealing with Europe. I’m sceptical about this claim. I think it’s also, as Ian Duncan Smith, the former minister for disabled death, has admitted, about beating the Labour party when they’re weak. The BBC pollsters have put Corbyn 20 to 21 points behind May.

There are good reasons for doubting these figures. Guy Debord’s Cat has written a long article, pointing out that polls are done by newspapers and Conservative interest groups, in order to manufacture public support for the Tories. They aren’t about presenting an objective gauge of how the public feels about politics, as a form of ‘manufacturing consent’, in Chomsky’s words. See https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/how-polling-works/ Even so, I am terribly afraid that the British public will be taken in by the media and Tory spin, and vote for May.

And the lying has already started. Ignoring the lies coming from the Tories, every word of which is sheer is a carefully crafted falsehood, Tim Farron has started lying on behalf of the Lib Dems. He was in Cornwall campaigning. Speaking from Truro, he made the claim that, unlike Labour, the Lib Dems would offer ‘strong opposition’ to the Tories.

Eh? Who’s he trying to kid.

Remember the 2010 election? The first thing Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems at the time, did was arrange to go into a coalition with the Conservatives. He claimed that he had negotiated with Labour, but that they had refused to remove Gordon Brown as their leader. This was, apparently, one of his conditions to entering government with them. Not having got what he wanted, he then switched to the Tories.

Except it was lies. Clegg had already made his decision to go with them anyway.

Just like Clegg also lied about opposing tuition fees for students. Soon as he got into power with the Tories, he was in favour of raising them. Far more so than Cameron, who was prepared to compromise with him on this. But Clegg was determined to raise them, and so student debt was increased to an even more crippling amount.

The Lib Dems were also more than willing to continue the Tories’ and New Labour’s privatisation of the NHS.

They were also eager to join the Tories in getting rid of Habeas Corpus and setting up secret courts, so you can be tried in secret, using evidence withheld from your lawyer, for reasons of ‘national security’. Just like Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And there was a whole branch of Farron’s party – the ‘Orange Book’ Liberals, all slavering enthusiasts for massive privatisation, the destruction of the welfare state and workers’ rights. One of the noxious pratts promoting this bilge was the Lib Dem MP for Taunton Dean, who came from a very privileged background, having grown up in Kenya and other exotic locales.

It might be that Farron has been a new broom, sweeping all this away. But I doubt it. The Lib-Dems claimed to have opposed the Tories before. They also claimed to be a moderating force against Tory excesses when they were in power with them. That was not true. And I doubt it is now.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.