Posts Tagged ‘the Rich’

Starmer’s Flag-Waving and Fixation on Celebrities Shows Hollowness of New Labour

February 11, 2021

I know this is another piece of old news, which Mike has commented on already but there are a few more things to say about it. A few days ago Mike posted up a piece about an idea from the Labour party about winning more members and votes. This new, exciting strategy for gaining the support of the British public was for Starmer to be seen more with the Union Jack. Yep, Starmer’s leadership, which is already determined to copy Tory economic policies, also wants to follow them and be seen as the party of flag-waving – some critics called it’ flag-shagging’ patriotism.

The Tories have been draping themselves in the flag and waving it at every opportunity just about since they emerged in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their aggressive projection of themselves as the party of British patriotism became particularly acute under Maggie in the 1980s. Thatcher was deeply inspired by Winston Churchill’s heroic vision of the British people and their history, and so was constantly invoking his memory and legacy. Thus we had Torygraph headlines quoting the Leaderene, screaming ‘Don’t Call Them Booj-wah, Call Them British’, while the spirit of the Battle of Britain was invoked in the Tory 1987 election broadcast. This featured Spitfires zooming about the sky, while an excited voice intoned ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. It’s a misquotation of the great Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His book, The Social Contract, one of the first works advocating democracy and a major influence on the French Revolution, begins: ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. You can see why Thatcher didn’t want to include the second part of that sentence. Commenting on it on Radio 4’s News Quiz, the late Alan Coren drily called it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ and made the point that all the servicemen, whose memory and sacrifice Thatcher was exploiting all came back and voted Labour. Now Starmer apparently wants to wave the flag as well in order to win over Tory voters.

The new strategy was proposed by a focus group, which were used by Blair’s New Labour to devise party policy, or put the rubber stamp on those the Dear Leader had already decided upon, when the grinning butcher of Iraq was in office. It was part of the Blairite’s centralisation of decision-making, their managerialism and their pointed determination to ignore the demands and recommendations of grassroots members. Now it seems we’re back to the same tired old attitudes and strategies.

Mike and the peeps on Twitter saw past this threadbare strategy immediately. They quoted Dr. Johnson, who said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. But I remember Jon Downes, the frontman for the Devon band Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space making another observation: ‘a patriot is a man with nothing left to say’. This was in a song entitled ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’. It was a commented on Major’s Conservative party, which carried on the flag-waving while handing over vast tracts of Britain’s historic landscape to English Heritage, which promptly erected fences around them to keep the British public out, as at Stonehenge. Major’s Tories were ideologically bankrupt. It was Thatcherism with the nasty bits cut off and a marked paucity of ideas. His big notion for galvanising the British public behind his party was a ‘Cones Hotline’. This was a number you could call if you thought their were too many cones clogging up the roads. It’s hardly a grand vision, and was rightly ridiculed by Spitting Image and the rest of the media.

And Starmer’s leadership really doesn’t have any ideas. His policy so far has been to agree with the Tories, then criticise them in retrospect. He seems determined to copy their disastrous economic and social policies of privatisation, including that of the NHS, the destruction of the welfare state, and low wages, just like Blair. The only difference is that Blair and Starmer claimed that they would be able to carry out these Tory policies better than the Tories themselves.

Starmer really, really doesn’t have anything left to say. A fact also confirmed by another recommendation. This was that he should be seen with celebrities. Well, that was another feature of Blairite New Labour, which was also very relaxed, as Peter Mandelson put it, about people getting rich. Hence Blair’s desire to be seen with such celebrity businessmen as Beardie Branson and Alan Sugar. But Mike and the other Twitter peeps pointed out that, thanks to his attack on Corbyn, Starmer might find recruiting other celebs to endorse him difficult. Robert Webb apparently has torn up his Labour membership card.

I realise Angela Rayner also returned to make a speech claiming that Labour was still behind the policies laid out in last year’s election manifesto – nationalised public services and welfare state, strong unions, workers’ rights and so on, but Mike asked the pertinent question of whether you could trust her or him on this issue. And you can’t. They’ve shown repeatedly that they’re not prepared to honour the manifesto.

The flag-waving and celebrity-seeking isn’t going to win over traditional Labour voters, who will see past it. Some may even be repelled by it because of the way the Tories appropriated British patriotism and mixed it with aggressive imperialist nostalgia and xenophobia. And it isn’t going to win over Tories. There is a hard rump of extreme right-wing Tory types, who regard the Labour party as the enemies of Britain. The anti-immigrant YouTube channel, We Got A Problem, refers to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants as ‘imported Labour voters’. There are people who honestly believe the allegation that Blair deliberately encouraged mass non-White immigration to this country to destroy the largely White society at the heart of Tory visions of Britain. The same type of people, who believe that the Jews are also encouraging non-White immigration to destroy the White race, the Kalergi plan and the Great Replacement. These people aren’t going to be won over by Starmer waving the flag. They are, of course, probably not going to vote Labour anyway because of Labour’s avowed commitment of multiculturalism. Blair also waved the flag during ‘Cool Britannia’, but it also included Blacks and Asians along with more traditionally British images to project the view of a new, multicultural Britain. That was two decades ago, and while it impressed many, the super-patriotic right still regard it as some kind of betrayal of British identity through its inclusion of non-White culture. Starmer waving the flag won’t get them to change their political allegiances.

In fact, there is a sense that traditional Labour was and has always been the true party of patriotism. George Bernard Shaw pointed it out years ago in his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism and Sovietism. He stated that socialists wanted money to be spent here, in Britain, developing its industries and aiding its working people. The Tories, on the other hand, allowed the idle rich to spend their wealth abroad, while undercutting domestic industry with products from the colonies, whose people could be exploited more cheaply. Just like under slavery.

Mike made the point that you could connect British patriotism to a desire for a fairer society where people were supported by a proper welfare state. You could also begin by presenting the Labour party as the party of true British patriotism by saying that it was opposed to the rich hiding their immense wealth away in offshore tax havens, as well as benefiting from tax cuts while the rest of the population have to shoulder the tax burden. Oh yes, and industries that, instead of being owned by the British people, were owned by multinational corporations which simply took their profits without reinvesting in them.

But that would be seen as horribly xenophobic and attacking the free trade and foreign investment the Neoliberals are trying to promote, and so would probably be denounced as horribly racist. Even as the Tories continue to demonise immigrants and asylum seekers.

Dido Harding Didn’t Realise Viruses Mutate – How Did She Get Her Job Again?

February 7, 2021

I realise that it’s an old story, but it’s worth repeating as it shows the level of corruption and plain incompetence surrounding Boris Johnson and his appointments to official post. Mike posted up a piece a little while ago commenting on a statement by Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, that no-one could have predicted that the virus would mutate. Really? Doctors and scientists have known for a very long time that viruses mutate. It’s why there are different varieties of the flu vaccine and they haven’t yet been able to find one that will absolutely eradicate it, as they have with smallpox. The disease mutates too rapidly, so that as soon as an effective vaccine against one strain is found, a new variety, immune to it, emerges. It’s also why the world’s scientists are worried about the declining effectiveness of penicillin, as new strains of bacteria are emerging that are immune to it. I also believe that malaria is also changing so that quinine is becoming less effective.

This isn’t some deep medical secret, hidden by the scientific establishment for some nefarious purpose of its own, along with alien bases on the Moon, the Greys, the Face on Mars and the location of Atlantis. It’s widely known, well-publicised fact. One of the peeps on Twitter, Kit Yates, showed that it was actually taught in his seven year old’s science textbook. Which looks a lot more fun and exciting than some of the textbooks we used when I was at school. And scientific concerns about viral immunity to penicillin and quinine has been discussed on several programmes on Radio 4. This is the public service broadcaster the Tories want to defund and abolish in favour of something far more right-wing and owned by Rupert Murdoch or another millionaire like him. The fact that Tory official Harding doesn’t know a fairly basic fact about disease clearly demonstrates that if the Tories have their way, the abolition of the Beeb will leave Britain dumber and much less informed. But that’s obviously the only way the Tories feel they can win in the long term.

Fortunately for Britain, as Dr Julia Grace Patterson pointed out, doctors had been tracking different strains of Covid since last Spring. She also pointed out that viruses mutate, which was why the flu vaccine changed annually, and concluded that Harding’s remark was ‘awful’. This shows that we can count on our scientists diligently researching and doing everything they can to combat the disease. We just can’t count on their bosses knowing much about it.

If Harding was an ordinary member of the public, her ignorance would be excusable. You don’t expect ordinary people to know everything. They don’t have the time, the energy nor often the education. But Harding’s different. She’s in charge of the government body set to monitor and combat the spread of the disease from person to person. Her ignorance says much not just about her suitability for her position, but also about the cavalier attitude Boris’ government seemingly has to putting the right people in charge of such vital work. It has always looked as though Harding got the job, not through any real skill, knowledge or ability on her part, but because she was a friend of Boris and his wretched coterie. She was put in purely because of personal loyalty, as well as an attitude on Johnson’s part that no particular expertise was needed in this area. Anyone could do it, so it was important that that anyone was a personal friend or supporter of his.

This attitude seems to go back to the 90s. Private Eye in its literary column lamented the emergence of an attitude to bookselling and libraries, which saw them as just another product to be marketed. Managing directors were being appointed to publishers, booksellers and libraries, who had no experience of that sector, from industries like catering. One of them was the head of a sandwich firm. The attitude seemed to be that in the new commercial environment, industries, no matter how different, were somehow at some basic level identical. A man, who knew nothing about books or literature but made great sandwiches was just as good a choice as someone who had been in the book trade all his or her life, and appreciated that books were a social good with a distinct ethos and societal and ethical function far beyond their value as a material ‘product’.

And the same cavalier ignorance pertains here. BoJo and his fellow morons clearly regard NHS Test and Trace as just another business. Anyone from any business can therefore run it. They don’t have to have any personal expertise themselves, as they’ve got scientists below them to do that. But virology is not any kind of business, and while you wouldn’t expect Harding to have the same level of expertise as the scientists underneath, you do want her to have a basic understand of the nature of disease and the way its fought. Even if that comes from seven year old’s science text books.

Harding’s ignorance is amusing at one level, as the jokes about her on Twitter have shown. But it’s also dangerous. The Tories have absolute contempt for experts. Boris, Cummings and the rest of the ratbags supported ‘herd immunity’ against the advice of the overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists, because it fitted their prejudices of letting the poor die to protect the rich. I think it was one of them, rather than an American Republican, who said that people are sick of experts. Even if it was a Conservative from across the Pond rather than our own, homegrown rightists, the Tories certainly share that determined, anti-intellectual attitude.

Tory medical ignorance and negligence has cost something like 50,000 lives. And it’s still going on. Harding’s lack of a basic fact about viruses is symptomatic of a wider cavalier attitude to science and protecting people’s health and lives. They’re a disgrace. It’s time Harding was sacked and Johnson and his fellow cronies also forced out of office in favour of people better qualified to run the country and preserve its people.

Anyone got any ideas who that might be, as it surely isn’t Tory Starmer!

For further information, see: ANYBODY could have predicted that Dido Harding would be wrong on Covid-19 mutation. Here are some of the funniest responses | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Starmer’s Approval Rating Down to 6 Per Cent – Is Anyone Surprised?

January 24, 2021

The noxious Alex Belfield also put up a video last week in which he gleefully told his viewing public how badly Labour leader Keir Starmer was doing in the polls. According to him, YouGov or some other polling company had found that only 6 per cent of Brits think that he’s doing a good job. Actually, there might be some confusion over this, as the clip Belfield showed to back up his claim actually recorded that only 6 per cent of Brits thought Starmer was doing a ‘very good job’. It’s a minor difference, but it could mean that Starmer’s overall approval rating is actually higher, as these questionnaires commonly ask people if they think someone is doing a very good job, good job, all right and so on. Many more people could believe that Starmer was doing a good job, in addition to the 6 per cent who thought he was doing a very good job. But even so, Starmer’s popularity is low. Hardly able to contain his delight, Belfield speculated that he’d be out by Christmas. Labour was finished, especially if it elected Diane Abbott as leader.

Oh, ho, ho, ho. (Sarcasm).

But actually, if Starmer’s popularity has plummeted that far down, then there should be no surprise. Starmer has violated the cardinal raison d’etre of the parliamentary opposition – to oppose. He has simply announced that he cautiously supports the government, and wishes to give them friendly advice. When he does criticise them, it’s all with 20/20 hindsight, as Johnson has mockingly pointed out in parliament. He has no vision, no clear policies, with the exception that he’s waging war on the left in the Labour party, and so absolutely nothing to offer the great British public. And they know it.

And it shows splendidly how bankrupt Starmer’s own political strategy is. He’s a Blairite, which means that he fully supports the destruction of the welfare state and privatisation, including that of the NHS. Blair’s own election strategy consisted of finding out what would appeal to Tories or middle class swing voters and then make it Labour policy. This meant copying the Tories, or reviving failed and discarded Tory policies, like the academy schools, while at the same time telling everyone that Labour would do it better. This gained him the support of the Tory press with the exception of the Daily Heil, and Tory donors. At the same time he centralised authority in the party around himself and his clique. Party membership dropped as the views of ordinary Labour voters and supporters were ignored. But Blair was quite happy with this, so long as he had the support of the rich and the Murdoch media. As for the working class, he blithely expected them to keep voting Labour as they’d have nowhere else to go.

This failed spectacularly, as a sizable section of the British working class either stopped voting, or turned to Brexit and UKIP to articulate their alienation from contemporary parties. Starmer’s continuation of Blair’s policies, and his consequent rejection of Corbyn’s, which were genuinely popular and his determination to purge Labour of genuine socialists under the pretext of rooting out anti-Semitism are losing him working class and left wing support. He’s also losing the support of Black and ethnic minority Labour supporters through his cavalier attitude to Black Lives Matter and his studied inaction against the bullies, who racially abused Diane Abbott and other Black MPs and party activists, as well as the islamophobes.

A number of the speakers at yesterday’s Arise virtual meeting about resisting the Tories and standing for socialism in the Labour party made the point that all the talk about how ‘we’re all in it together’ during this pandemic is an utter lie. We’re not all in it together. The Tories have used the crisis, following Churchill’s dictum that you should never let a crisis go to waste, to cut services and push through policies that are making working people poorer, all with the goal of making the rich even more obscenely wealthy. The left knows this, and so aren’t backing Starmer because they recognise that he doesn’t have their best interests at heart.

At the same time, Starmer isn’t picking up Tory votes as he doesn’t really have anything to offer them either. No vision, no policies and no clear positions either. Mike’s put up several pieces about how Starmer will adopt a policy and then discard it the moment it seems unpopular. Like he was all for sending children back to school until Johnson decided he wasn’t going to send them.

I’m therefor not remotely surprised that some polls are putting Starmer’s approval rating that low. And I’d like him to be out by Christmas, but I doubt that will happen. The Blairites are determined to hang on to power anyway they can, and David Evans, the party secretary, is arrogating to himself powers to veto any Labour candidate he doesn’t think is suitable. Which means, as the good left-wing peeps pointed out yesterday, means that he has the power to stop local constituency parties choosing left-wing candidates. The various coups plotted against Corbyn and the deliberate sabotage of Labour’s election campaigning by the Blairites show that they are perfectly willing to destroy the party just to stop the left gaining power. I don’t think Starmer and his supporters will go without a very destructive, bloody fight.

As for Diane Abbott leading the party, I have my own problems with her, but I’d rather have her as leader standing to be the next PM than Starmer. She really does have the welfare of Britain’s working people at heart. But I’m enough of a realist to recognise that the press and media would have a field day reviling her, just as they’ve been doing for the entirety of her career. This would have an effect. A large number of people wouldn’t vote for her, because the Scum tells them not to. We’d need someone more acceptable to the British public, but Abbott should definitely be part of that person’s team, whoever they are.

Starmer’s popularity is waning, and this incompetent leader, who has no real policies except to advance his own faction in the Labour party, should go as soon as possible. He must be replaced by someone from the real centre of the Labour party, someone who believes in its historic policies of a welfare state, publicly owned public utilities, a genuinely nationalised NHS, decent wages and strong trade unions.

That won’t happen without a fight. But if Starmer’s popularity gets any lower, the party may not have a choice whatever the Blairites mouth to contrary.

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

January 20, 2021

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.

Will Johnson Quit or Be Forced Out, Once He Has Wrecked the Country For Brexit?

December 15, 2020

Also in Lobster 80 for Winter 2020 is a very interesting piece by Simon Matthews, whose observations about Johnson’s real motives for running for PM and supporting Brexit I discussed in my previous blog post. Matthews has a piece, ‘Time for the Pavilion (or: there are 365 Conservative MPs)’ pondering whether Johnson will either retire as PM or be forced out by angry members of his own party, once he has successfully ruined the country with a hard Brexit.

And Matthews makes some very interesting observations. Johnson’s majority looks impressive, but is actually very fragile. 50 Tory MPs, for example, voted against the imposition of the second national lockdown at the beginning of November. And many of the 80 new MPs forming the Tories’ parliamentary majority actually have very small majorities in their own constituencies. He writes

Secondly, and less remarked upon, Johnson’s majority of 80 is actually quite fragile. No fewer than 78 Conservative MPs have a majority of 5,000 or less, and of these 34 have a majority of 2,000 or less. Indeed,
all the fabled ‘red wall’ seats that Johnson gained are in this category. Any MP in this situation would be aware that it really wouldn’t take much of an electoral swing to oust them.

Also, although the background of the typical Tory MP is privately educated, with a background in the financial sector, think tanks and policy groups, and is strongly anti-EU, there are still 102 Tory MPs who support the European Union.

Finally, and a puzzling anomaly, there are still 102 Conservative MP’s who were pro-EU in 2016. Admittedly, some of these may have been so at that time because it was party policy (i.e. now party policy has changed,
their views will have changed, too); and there will be others who were ‘pro-EU’ on the basis of Cameron’s re-negotiation of 2015-2016. But, nevertheless, amongst those 102 there must be some (40? 50?) who would much rather the UK stayed as close to the EU as possible, including membership of the Single Market, Customs Union and the EEA rather than exit everything, in its entirety.

BoJob’s position is very precarious. If things get very desperate, and the Tory party does decide it wants to form a ‘government of national unity’ in a coalition with Labour and the Lib Dems, it would only take 45 Tory MPs to oust him.

The article then goes to discuss the problems Johnson faces from Brexit, and particularly the challenge it poses to the integrity of the UK, and opposition from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the EU and the Americans, and members of both chambers of parliament. He’s also got severe problems with the Covid crisis, and the havoc this and the consequent lockdown has played with the economy. The sacking of Dominic Cummings could be seen as a warning shot to Johnson from Brady and the party’s donors out in the tax havens, who feel they are being ignored by the PM. But he notes that the donors and corporate backers really don’t seem to have an idea of the massive damage that Brexit will inflict on the UK economy. It will destroy 60-65 per cent of UK manufacturing, and although stockpiling of food and other goods has been going on since 2017, these supplies can only last for so long. So that Britain will return to the food queues of the ’60s and ’70s at the borders.

He makes the point here that the majority of British ports are foreign owned. In footnote 7 he writes

The owners of the UK’s main trading ports are Associated British Ports (owned in Canada, Singapore and Kuwait), Forth Ports (Canada), Hutchison Port Holdings (Singapore), Peel Group (the Isle of Man and Saudi Arabia), PD Ports (Canada) and Peninsular and Oriental Group (complex, but seemingly Dubai, China and Hong Kong). The latter group include P&O Dover Holdings Ltd, which operates most of the ferry services out of Dover, and is owned by the Peoples Republic of China. (The other ferry services at Dover, DFDS, are owned in Denmark). The intention post-Brexit of declaring many UK ports ‘free ports’, when so many can be connected back to tax havens anyway, is striking, and one wonders to what extent the owners of these ports have lobbied for that outcome.

Matthews concludes that Boris is on such shaky grounds that he may well decide to jump before he’s pushed.

The truth is that Johnson can now be ambushed by so many different groupings for so many different reasons, that the chances of him remaining PM after he has delivered the hard Brexit his backers require
must be doubtful. And why would he anyway? He looks bored most of the time and wants money. Leaving Downing Street – and the cleaning up – to others, gives him time to spend with his many different families, time to write his memoirs for a hefty advance, the chance of a US TV show and time to kick on, as all ex-UK PMs do, with earning serious money on the US after-dinner speaking circuit. The possibility that some formula will be devised to facilitate his exit, possibly a supposed medical retirement, looks likely.

After all, he’s been sacked from every job he’s ever had. Why would he wait until he is sacked from this one?

See: Time For the Pavilion (Winter 2020) (lobster-magazine.co.uk)

I found this interesting in that it showed that there is grounds for optimism amongst the gloom. The Tories have a huge majority, but it’s fragile. Very fragile. If Starmer actually got his act together and started behaving like a leader of real opposition party, he could start cutting it down significantly. But he doesn’t, perhaps because, as a Blairite, the only policy he has is stealing the Tories’ and winning the support of their voters, and backers in big business and the Tory media. Hence his silence and his determination to persecute the socialists in the Labour party.

It also shows just how much damage the ‘No Deal’ Brexit Johnson seems determined to deliver will do to Britain. It’s going to wipe out nearly 2/3 of our manufacturing industry. This won’t matter for the Tories or Blairite Labour. Blair took the view that British manufacturing was in decline, and that it could be successfully replaced by the financial sector. This hasn’t happened. Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism argues very clearly that the British and other economies still depend very much on the manufacturing sector. The fact that it appears comparatively small to other sectors of the economy merely means that it hasn’t grown as much as they have. It does not mean that it is irrelevant.

And it also shows once again how this chaos and poverty is being driven by a desire to protect the Tories’ backers in the financial sector, and the foreign companies owning our utilities, as well as the British rich squirreling their money away in tax havens. Shaw pointed this all out in once of his books written nearly a century ago, condemning the way the idle rich preferred to spend their money on their vapid pleasures on the continent, while the city preferred to invest in the colonies exploiting Black Africans instead of on domestic industry. He stated that while the Tories always postured as the party of British patriotism, the opposite was the truth: it was the Labour party that was genuinely patriotic, supporting British industry and the people that actually worked in it.

Shaw was right then, and he’s right now, no matter how the Tories seek to appeal to popular nationalistic sentiment through images of the Second World War and jingoistic xenophobia about asylum seekers. The Tories haven’t backed British industry since Thatcher and Major sold it all off. The only way to build Britain back up is to get rid of her legacy.

Which means getting rid of Johnson, the Tories and Starmer.

Did Boris Become PM and Back Brexit Just to Protect the City of London from EU Regulation?

December 15, 2020

That’s the conclusion reached by Simon Matthews, the author of a new book, Looking for a New England, and a regular contributor to the conspiracies/parapolitics magazine and website, Lobster. It was also the opinion six years ago of Lobster’s editor, Robin Ramsay. The main man has updated his ‘View from the Bridge’ column, and included an observation from Matthews in a previous piece by Ramsay from 2014 on what seems to have been going on underneath the surface of Johnson’s decision to run for PM. Ramsay had reported in his column that the Torygraph had published a piece stating that Brussels was planning a ‘power grab’ over the City. Which tohim indicated that Boris, then mayor of London, was running for PM simply to stop the EU clamping down on the City and its role in money laundering and financial crime across the globe. The piece ran

Boris and the City

If you wondered what the subtext was to Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s announcement in early August that he would be trying to return to the House of Commons, the answer lay in a story in the Daily Telegraph on 8 August headed ‘Brussels plots fresh City of London power grab: European Commission calls for greater powers for Brussels regulators in move likely to inflame tensions between City and Europe’. Reading (just)
between the lines of his speech it is obvious that Boris is offering himself as the leader of the Conservative Party who will take the UK out of the EU to preserve the City of London as the financial crime centre of the world economy.

I don’t doubt that both Matthews and Ramsay are correct and that this really is the reason for BoJob’s decision to go for the top job. And this frantic desire to protect the Tories’ City backers is going to wreck our manufacturing industry and agriculture, raise food prices, and create shortages of food, medicines and other goods.

All so that the Tories can make the obscenely rich even richer.

See: ‘Simon Says’ in ‘The View from the Bridge in Lobster 80 at

The View from the Bridge (Winter 2020) (lobster-magazine.co.uk)

‘I’ Report on Walkout by Left-Wing Labour NEC Members

November 27, 2020

Starmer’s attack on the Labour left and his drive to centralise authority around himself and the Blairites continues. On Tuesday the left-wing members of the party’s NEC staged a Virtual walkout at an online meeting in protest against Starmer’s imposition of Margaret Beckett as chair. Starmer’s action had breached party rules stating that the position was elected. The I published a piece about this, ‘Left-wingers ‘walk out’ after Beckett wins NEC chair’ by Harriet Line and Alan Jones in its edition for Wednesday 25th November 2020. This ran

Members on the left of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee staged a digital walkout in protest at the election of veteran MP Dame Margaret Beckett as chairwoman.

In a letter to the party’s general secretary, David Evans, a dozen NEC members said the “longstanding protocol” of the vice-chair being elected as chair was not being followed.

They said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had lobbied for Dame Margaret to be elected to the position, and accused him of “promoting factional division within Labour”.

The members staged a Virtual walkout from the NEC’s “away day”, which was being conducted via Zoom, yesterday morning.

In the letter, they said: “We believe the true reason for the leader lobbying for Dame Margaret, and indeed the reason that had been given by senior party MPs in private, is because the vice-chair, Ian Murray, was a signature to the previous correspondence sent to you seeking admonishment of the Leader.”

Signatories to the letter are believed to include the NEC’s outgoing chiar, Andi Fox, Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, former MP Laura Pidcock and youth rep Lara McNeill, as well as Mr Murray. Ms Fox said the “disregard and disrespect for the left is something we could not allow.”

Some in the NEC had already expressed anger at Sir Keir’s decision to withhold the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, despite the body allowing him to return as a party member.

On Monday, Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown asked Mr Corbyn to apologise for claiming that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” In a letter seen by the PA news agency, Mr Brown said Mr Corbyn’s response to a damning Equality and Human Rights Commission report caused “distress and pain” to the Jewish community.

This looks to me like Starmer trying to keep control of the NEC after a large number of people from the party’s left were elected. As for Starmer’s imposition of Beckett as chair, of course it’s not democratic. Starmer’s a Blairite, and Blair hated grassroots democracy in the party along with anything that smacked of traditional Labour values and policies. He did everything he could to centralise power about himself and the New Labour faction.

Corbyn’s comments about the exaggeration of anti-Semitism in the party for political reasons was absolutely correct, and he has nothing to apologise for. The actual incidence of real anti-Semitism in Labour was very, very low. In 2019 the party had the joint lowest level of anti-Semitism of all of them. And contrary to what we’re now being fed, anti-Semitism, like racism generally, comes overwhelmingly from the fascist and populist right. But the right-wing British political and media establishment exaggerated its incidence in Labour in order to smear Corbyn and his supporters. They took their cue from the self-proclaimed Jewish establishment – the Board, Chief Rabbinate and various other malign organisations – who don’t represent all of Britain’s diverse Jewish community by any means. These organisations just represent the United Synagogue and were not concerned with protecting Jews from real anti-Semitism as protecting Israel from criticism for its barbarous, inhuman treatment of the Palestinians.

The left-wingers on the NEC were entirely right to protest, especially as Starmer is continuing his abandonment of Corbyn’s genuinely popular policies. Policies that this country and its working people, Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or pagan, desperately need.

But Starmer doesn’t want to represent them, only the interests of the elite and affluent, and the neoliberalism that enriches them.

Zoom Meeting with John McDonnel Tonight on Sunak’s Spending Review

November 25, 2020

I got this email message from Labour Against Austerity on Saturday, so I apologise for being so late putting it up.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Hear John McDonnell
 respond to the Tory Spending Review.


Wednesday 25 November 2020, 7pm.
Register here // Share & Invite on FB here // Retweet here to spread the word.

 

With: John McDonnell MP // RIchard Burgon MP // Pascale Robinson, We Own It // Apsana Begum MP.


The #payfreeze news is more proof the Tories will always put the 1% first. The economic crisis we face is set to be the worst any of us have experienced.

What’s the alternative & how do we build resistance? Join us to discuss how we transform our economy and society to ensure that people’s jobs, livelihoods and health come first.

Join over 15,000 others in supporting the #PeoplesPlan at http://bit.ly/planforthepeople
 

Register here // Share & Invite on FB here // Retweet here to spread the word.

An 18th Century Rabbi’s Defence of Religious Criticism of the Rich and Powerful

November 23, 2020

Whenever any clergyman or religious figure dares to criticise them, the Tories always issue this refrain: that the reverend gentleman has no business doing so, and if he stuck to promoting his religion, the seats in his place of worship would have more worshippers on them. This has been largely directed at the Tories’ critics in the Anglican Church, especially since the Church’s report published under Archbishop Runcie about the increase in poverty in Britain. I also recall that arch-Thatcherite Norman Tebbitt also made some insinuations, based on the sing-song voice and other mannerisms characteristic of a certain type of Christian clergyman at the time, that Runcie somehow was totally wet and weedy. This was in complete ignorance that Runcie had been an army chaplain and so ferocious that he was known as ‘Killer Runcie’.

But an 18th century German rabbi, Jonathan Ben Nathan/ Nata Eybeschuetz/ Eybeschitz, had an answer to such accusation. He felt that religious people had the right to attack the conduct of public figures and that this made them more popular with ordinary people, not less. I found this stated in the article on him in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. This says that

In his work as a rabbi, he took the view that religion is n ot confined to ‘the religious’, i.e., that teaching and preaching must reach out to affect the conduct of public life. ‘It is regrettable that our preaching is dealing constantly with out duties to God. Let the preacher protest, with a prominent voice, against the malpractices of prominent men, and the people will come to love him and delight in his sermons. (p. 332).

So clearly criticism of the rich and powerful hadn’t driven people away from religion, at least in his experience. I’m aware that explicitly party political statements by people of faith, or statements that may be interpreted as such, can be divisive. There are as many people repelled as attracted when right-wing Christian ministers start attacking gay marriage, for example. But there should be a place for religious criticism of the powerful and their policies, and especially when they harm the poor and defenceless. That’s been a vital element of the Jewish and Christian witness ever since the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, which states very clearly that the Almighty defends the poor, weak and marginalised against the rich and powerful.

Jeremy Corbyn was in no way an anti-Semite, and he had no lack of Jewish supporters because of the depth of his commitment to defending their interests as part of his staunch opposition to every kind of racism. As did Ken Livingstone, who said on an interview with George Galloway on RT’s Sputnik, that Jews greeted him on the street and told him they knew he wasn’t an anti-Semite.

But these Jews were sidelined and deliberately ignored by a political establishment that feared Corbyn as the radical, genuinely socialist leader working Brits of all colours, ethnicities and religious views need. Instead they parroted the smears of him and his supporters as anti-Semites by a true-blue Tory Jewish establishment. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had even sent a message congratulating Theresa May when she became Prime Minister. And the Board then went berserk accusing Corbyn of snubbing the Jewish community when he chose to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing Jews of Jewdas. Well, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate really only represent the United Synagogue, which has taken upon itself to try and present itself as the sole true Jewish community, despite that there has never been a monolithic Jewish community. No rabbi has more authority than any other, and there is the old Jewish saying I’ve found ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. Jewdas are a part of Britain’s diverse Jewish community, and they almost certainly invited him, so his attendance at their Passover Seder definitely wasn’t a snub to the Jewish community. Only the rich, pompous Tory section.

The Tories should stop trying to shut their left-wing critics, both Jews and Christians, up. They have a right and religious duty to defend the poor and meek against the rich and powerful.

And it’s high time that the media dropped the partisan anti-Semitic contempt for left-wing Jews, and allowed them to speak. Because the Thatcherite, Tory policies Ephraim Mirvis appears to approve of are harming working, sick, disabled and elderly Jews and well as gentiles.

‘I’ Report on Macron’s Vow to Fight Islamist Separatism in France

October 9, 2020

Here’s another piece from the I about extremism, from last Saturday’s edition for 3rd October 2020. Written by their columnist Michael Rose, it discusses the announcement by French president Macron that he intends to fight against the separatism and extremist Islam in Muslim communities on the other side of la Manche. The article runs

President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, which he said was threatening to take control in some Muslim communities around France.

France has struggled with Islamist militancy for years but the government is increasingly worried by broader radicalisation within Muslim communities. Officials cite the refusal of some Muslim men to shake women’s hands, swimming pools that impose alternate time slots for men and women, girls as young as four being told to wear full-face veils, and proliferation of Islamic schools.

More than 250 people have been killed on French soil over the past five years in attacks by Islamist militants or individuals inspired by Jihadist groups. “What we need to fight is Islamist separatism,” Mr Macron said during a visit to the impoverished Paris suburb of Les Mureaux. “The problem is an ideology which claims its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic.”

France follows a strict form of secularism which is designed to separate religion and public life. The principle was enshrined in law in 1906.

Many French Muslims have long complained of discrimination and marginalisation that have contributed to poverty and social alienation.

Foreign imams will no longer be able to train clerics in France and there will be tighter controls on the financing of mosques.

“There is a crisis of Islam everywhere, which is being corrupted by radical forms,” Mr Macron said. But he added France had a responsibility . “We have created our own separatism,” he said, citing the ghettoization of minority neighbourhoods.” (p.30).

We were taught a little about the French suburbs, the banlieus, or at least those in Paris, in Geography ‘A’ Level when I was at school nearly 40 years ago. I don’t know about now, but they were then hit by poverty and marginalisation. They were built simply to house people and so consist of nothing, or at least precious little, except tower blocks. It was assumed that the residents would go into the centre of Paris for their shopping and amusement, and so there are no, or very few, shops or local amenities. As for poverty and marginalisation, Ali A. Allawi describes the deprivation, poverty and underprivileged conditions of European Muslims in his book, The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation.

There’s also been much prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in France. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown described the very cold reception her mixed race family got there when they went for a holiday a few years ago in the Independent. I thought things had improved somewhat, as a few years later she wrote another piece about a recent holiday there in which she and her family were welcomed and treated with courtesy. There was also a series of anti-racist protests a few years ago, the name of which translates as ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’. This consisted of White young people showing their solidarity by standing up to racism and discrimination against their Black and Muslim friends.

But there has also been trouble with Muslim extremism and Islamist violence. Over a decade ago there were protests across France when the government ruled that under the doctrine of laicism, the official policy of French secularism, Muslim girls were banned from wearing the hijab in schools. This broke out despite leading French imams declaring that the ban didn’t contradict Islam and could be observed by pious Muslims. The insistence that girls as young as four should wear full-face veils is definitely extreme and not required by Islamic law. From what I remember from when I studied Islam at college as part of the Religious Studies course, girls up to seven years old can wear whatever they like. The dress requirements gradually come after they reach that age, and I think that they are only required to wear the full veil at puberty.

There have been fears about Islamic separatism in other European countries. In the 1990s there was controversy in the main Germany trade union organisation. This claimed that while the affiliated Muslim organisations or its Muslim members claimed to support integration, in reality they had a separatist attitude towards their non-Muslim brothers and sisters.

I also wonder if the accusation of separatism may not be literally true, in that some Muslims extremists may be pursuing a conscious policy of apartheid. I’ve written in previous posts how, when I was studying Islam, I came across passages in books published by British Muslim presses that demanded autonomous Muslim communities. And way back in January 2000, right at the dawning of the new millennium, the Financial Times included a brief piece featuring Anjem Chaudhry, who never met an Islamist terrorist he didn’t like. Chaudhry was then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, which wanted Belgian Muslims to have their own autonomous enclave with Arabic as it official language, governed by sharia law. Chaudhry’s now in jail for his support for al-Qaeda and ISIS. I don’t know if such demands are still being made by sections of British and European Islam following the 9/11 attacks and the government’s attempts to curb Muslim radicalism and promote integration. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was, somewhere, though the vicious Muslim firebrands like Kalim Siddiqui, who declared that British society was a monstrous killing machine and that killing Muslims comes very easily to non-Muslim Brits, seem to have gone quiet. The imam, who received Salmon Rushdie back into the faith, also recommended that Britain should train its own imams. When he was writing their was a shortage of Muslim clergy in Britain, and he was afraid that religious extremists from places like Pakistan were being allowed in thanks to this.

Macron’s comments also came at the same time that the Spectator published a piece claiming that the Swedish authorities had announced that immigrant communities in some of their cities were dominated by criminal gangs and had turned whole areas into a no-go zones. There was a war going on between a number of immigrant criminal gangs, in which firearms and even rocket launchers had been used. The Swedish chief of police had supposedly appeared on television to state very clearly that the immigrants responsible for the violence were not proper asylum seekers, but had come to the country simply to make money through selling drugs. This was apparently confirmed by the Swedish prime minister, Lofven, who said that his country would not be taking any of the former residents of the destroyed immigrant camp in France. Or so it has been claimed by right-wing, ant-immigration websites.

A few years ago the Islamophobic, ‘counterjihad’ websites Gates of Vienna and Vlad Tepes wrote pieces praising a book by the former mayor of one of the German towns. He claimed that his town had effectively been overrun by Muslims, who maltreated and forced out ethnic Germans. The book was widely attacked and criticised. They also claimed that Malmo in Sweden, or at least parts of it, had been taken over by Muslim immigrants and become violent, crime-ridden no-go zones for non-Muslims. I don’t know how true these reports are as they come from the racist right, websites which did have connections to the EDL. Certainly Fox News’ claim that British cities like Birmingham had been taken over by Muslims and were now no-go zones for White and non-Muslim Brits provoked widespread criticism and hilarity when they made it a few years ago.

It seems to me that nevertheless, even if these claims are exaggerated, there is nevertheless a real fear of Islamic separatism throughout Europe and that Macron is reacting to it in France.

One contributory factor, I have no doubt, is neoliberalism and the destruction of the welfare state. The French scholar, Alfred Kepel, advances this argument in his book on the resurgence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalism, The Revenge of God. When Thatcher started her attacks on the welfare state in the 1980s, she hoped that it would lead to a resurgence of charity. This didn’t happen. But Muslims are obliged to support the poor through the zakat, the alms-tax paid to the local mosque. I think this concern to give to the local poor amongst Muslims isn’t confined just to their own community in Britain. There were Muslim restaurants giving free meals to the homeless at Christmas, and my parents bumped into a young Muslim woman, who was also buying stuff she could give to the food bank, in our local supermarket. But the support provided by the mosques in the absence of state aid does mean that communities may become more isolated and inward-looking.

If we really want to stop Islamic separatism, as well as White racism, not only should Britain and Europe take measures promoting racial integration, but neoliberalism urgently needs to be ditched. It’s dividing communities as it pushes people into real, grinding poverty. But there’s no chance of that, at least in this country, as the very rich are making too much money at the expense of the rest of us, regardless of our colour and religion.