Posts Tagged ‘Upper Classes’

May Abuses Constitution to Cling to Power – Just Like Hitler

June 19, 2017

No, this isn’t another example of Godwin’s Law. This is a very real instance where the Tories and the Nazis pursue similar legalistic tactics to seize power without a democratic mandate.

Remember back last summer, when one of the comments incorrectly cited by the Israel lobby to support their accusations of anti-Semitism against one of Corbyn’s supporters was a quote from Martin Luther King? The great civil rights leader had said ‘Everything Hitler did was legal’. Historically, MLK was absolutely right. Hitler and Mussolini came to power through the skillful manipulation of their countries’ democratic institutions and their constitution. They were even careful to make sure that the Holocaust – the horrific mass murder of six million Jews – had a legal basis in the German constitution. A few years ago the Beeb staged a drama documentary of the Wannsee Conference, the infamous secret meeting of the Nazi leaders to plan the genocide of the Jewish people in occupied Europe. At one point the drama showed the Nazi party lawyer briefly raising a point against the enactment of the Holocaust. He wasn’t against it for any moral reason. His only objection to it was his concern that it wouldn’t be legal.

Far from being popular revolutions, as they claimed, the Nazis and the Italian Fascists before them were able to seize power through democratic campaigning, and exploiting the political weakness of their right-wing rivals as the various coalitions that had governed Italy and Germany broke down. The governing right-wing parties needed a coalition partner to form a government. And Mussolini in Italy and then Hitler over a decade later were asked to join them in government. The Fascists and Nazis then exploited the political impasse to become the dominant party in these new, rightist coalitions, and then used a series of political crises to ensure that they became the only party following their victory in an election. In the case of Mussolini, the Fascists with the aid of the right wing of the Liberal party altered the Italian constitution so that the whole of Italy became a single electoral district, thus giving them the majority they needed to seize power as the only permitted political party. If the constitution had not been altered, and the separate, individual electoral districts had retained, Mussolini probably wouldn’t have one the election at all. In fact, he was personally embarrassed by the results. In Mussolini’s home town of Pridappa, nobody voted for him or his thugs.

It’s very clear how this situation also applied to Black Americans before the ending of segregation. America is a democratic state, which prides itself on its constitution and democratic institutions. Yet it was also state where Blacks, and other ethnic minorities, such as its indigenous peoples, were marginalised and oppressed through a set of regulations designed to maintain White political and social dominance, a set of regulations that were clearly anti-democratic in that they violated the fundamental democratic principle of equality for everyone under the law, but which nevertheless also claimed a basis in democracy through the support of the majority.

Now it seems Theresa May is also trying to manipulate the British constitution so she can cling to power without a clear electoral mandate. The elections have resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives have the largest number of seats in parliament, but lack an overall majority. So May has been desperately trying to form a coalition with the extremely right-wing DUP, a party with connections to Loyalist terror gangs in Ulster, such as the UDA and UVF. And Mike has also reported how she has cancelled next year’s Queen’s Speech, citing the need to maintain a solid government for Brexit, in order to hang on to another two years of power.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/18/desperate-theresa-may-is-playing-fast-and-loose-with-our-constitution-to-keep-herself-in-power/

I don’t think Brexit is particularly important to May. It certainly isn’t to the great mass of the British people. In a poll, only 15 per cent said it was a priority. However, it is a priority for business, and just about the only issue May has left to campaign on, now that a majority of the British public have shown that they don’t like the promises outlined in the Tory manifesto. The Tories are busily revising this to exclude the most unpopular, such as the Dementia Tax.

Meanwhile, the Tory whips are trying to drum up support for May as this country’s defence against ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn.

This really is the tactics of the Nazis. The Nazis and the Italian Fascists were crisis regimes. That is, they claimed their mandate to rule through a desperate crisis – the threat of Communism – which was facing their countries. In both cases, the threat of a Communist revolution or insurrection was gone when they seized power. Nevertheless, they were adept at exploiting the fear of a Communist uprising amongst the upper and middle classes.

And they exploited their nations’ constitutional provision for government by presidential decree for the duration of the crisis. This had been invoked by Hindenburg, the right-wing German president, in the late 1920s and first years of the ’30s when the coalition between the SDP, Catholic Centre Party and the Liberal parties broke down. It was then adopted by Adolf Hitler, who used it to keep the regime in power.

The German constitution dictated that the state of emergency could only last four years unless it was renewed. And so every four years, Hitler had to call the Reichstag, which was composed solely of members of the Nazi party, to renew the state of national emergency that kept the Nazis in power.

Similar to the way May is using the crisis of negotiations with the EU to extend her term in parliament beyond her actual democratic mandate to govern.

The Tories are now showing that they’re an active threat to democracy in this country. Blair’s New Labour and the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, passed a series of legislation providing for secret courts. If it is deemed necessary for reasons of national emergency, a person may be tried in secret, with the evidence against him kept from both him-or herself and his/her lawyer. The accused may also not be told the identity of their accuser.

It is exactly the type of legal system that was set up in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And now May is also seeking to manipulate the British constitution, so she can secure a few more years of rule without the support of the British electorate.

This is another step towards authoritarianism and dictatorship, in which parliament only becomes a rubber stamp, or indeed a democratic façade, for an antidemocratic administration.

This has to be stopped. Now.
May either forms a workable coalition government. If she cannot do so within the next few weeks, then there should be absolutely no question of calling another election.

And this time voting her and her vile party out.

Pro-NHS Political Comment in Paul McAuley’s ‘Something Coming Through’

December 27, 2016

something-coming-pic

One of the books I’ve been reading this Christmas is Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through (London: Gollancz 2015). McAuley’s a former scientist as well as an SF writer. Apart from novels, he also reviewed books and contributed short stories to the veteran British SF magazine, Interzone. He was one of the writers who created the gene punk genre, sometimes also called ‘ribofunk’. This was the genetic engineering counterpart to Cyberpunk, where, instead of using computers, individuals, criminals and corporations used genetic engineering to redesign new forms of life, or spread invasive memes throughout the population to control the way people thought. Back in the 1990s he was one of the guests on the BBC Radio 3 series, Grave New Worlds, in which computer scientists, writers and artists talked about the transhuman condition. This was back when everyone was talking about cyborgisation, and the potential of contemporary technology to produce new varieties of humanity. Apart from McAuley, the guests also included J.G. Ballard and the performance artist Stelarc, who has personally explored the implications of cybernetics for the human body in a series of performances. In one of these he had a mechanical third arm, operated through electrical signals picked up through the stomach muscles. He also gave a modern music performance, in which he was wired up to the internet via galvanic stimulators. A search engine then went about finding images of body parts on the Net. When it found one, that part of the body was electronically stimulated so that it moved. There were also booths in three cities around the world, where participants could also press buttons to move Stelarc via electric impulses. Apart from Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Warwick university, is the person who’s come the closest to being Star Trek’s Borg.

McAuley’s Something Coming Through and its sequel, Into Everywhere, follow the fictional universe he created in a series of magazine short stories about the alien Jackaroo and their impact on humanity. Following a short period of warfare, including the destruction of part of London with a nuclear bomb by terrorists, the Jackaroo turned up and declared that they wish to help. These aliens bring with them 15 artificial wormholes, which act as gateways to 15 worlds, which the Jackaroo give to humanity. Humanity isn’t the only race that the aliens have helped, and the worlds they give to humanity are covered with the ruins and artefacts of previous alien civilisations, now vanished. The Jackaroo themselves are never seen. They interact with humanity through avatars, artificial beings that look like human men. These have golden skin and features modelled on a number of contemporary celebrities. They’re also bald, wear shades, and dress in black track suits. Their motives for helping humanity are unclear. They claim they just want to help, and that it is up to humanity themselves how they use the worlds they have given them. But they are widely suspected of having their own agenda, and despite the protestations of non-interference they are suspected of subtly manipulating humanity.

Accompanying the Jackaroo are the !cho, another alien race, who are equally mysterious. They move about the world in opaque tanks supported on three skeletal legs. Nobody has ever managed to open one up, or scan the tanks using X-rays or ultrasound. It is, however, widely believed that the !cho are sentient colonies of shrimp. Their motives, and their relationship with the Jackaroo, are also unknown.

Something Coming Through follows the adventures of Chloe Millar, a researcher for a company, Disruption Theory, in London, and Vic Gayle, a cop on Mangala, one of the Jackaroo gift worlds. The objects and ruins left from the Jackaroo’s previous client civilisations can be highly dangerous. Some of them are still active, despite the many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years of abandonment and decay. These can infect humans with memes, algorithms that alter psychology and behaviour. The strongest, most intact of these become eidolons, artificial entities that can take possession of their human hosts. Disruption Theory is a company specialising in researching the effects of these memes as they break out to infect people in Britain. This often takes the form of small sects, whose leaders speak in tongues, uttering nonsense as they try to put in human terms the alien concepts running their consciousness. Millar, the heroine, is investigating a couple of orphaned Pakistani children, who have apparently been infected by an eidolon from one of the gift worlds. Out on Mangala, Vic Gayle is also investigating the murder of a man, who has recently arrived aboard one of the Jackaroo’s shuttles.

Unlike much SF, the book doesn’t indicate how far in the future the story’s set. This is, however, very much a world not too far from the early 21st century of the present. The political structures are much the same, with the exception that the gift worlds are under the control of the UN. People still work in recognisable jobs, and shop and purchase the same brands of clothing. Complicating relations with the Jackaroo is a British politician, Robin Mountjoy and the Human Decency League. The League objects to contact with the Jackaroo as a danger to the dignity of the human race. Their leader, Robin Mountjoy, is described as being ‘in his mid-fifties, a burly man with thinning blond hair and a florid complexion, dressed in an off-the-peg suit. Although he was a multimillionaire, having made his fortune constructing and servicing displaced-persons camps, his PR painted him as a bluff, no-nonsense man of the people whose common sense cut through the incestuous old boys’ networks of the Westminster village’. (p. 51). The League isn’t strong enough to form a government of its own, and so has gone into a coalition with the Conservatives. While Mountjoy is clearly fictional, he does seem to be inspired by Nigel Farage and UKIP, with Britain attempting to gain independence from smooth talking mysterious aliens rather than the EU.

One of the other characters is Adam Nevers, a cop with the Technology Control Unit. This is the branch of the British police tasked with protecting the country from dangerous alien technology. Nevers is described as coming from the entitled upper ranks of society, who go straight from university into high ranking jobs. Which looks to me very much like a comment on the privileged upbringing and expectations of absolute deference and entitlement from certain members of the British upper classes.

Apart from the social and psychological disruption caused by alien contact, this is also a world wear the NHS has finally been privatised. McAuley shows the practical impact this has people’s lives. Without the safety net of state healthcare, people are dependent on their employers to help pay their medical bills, or borrowing money from friends. In his acknowledgements, as well as the many other people who helped him with the book, McAuley also thanks ‘the NHS for life support’. (p. 375). Which suggests that he’s also suffered a period of illness, and is very much aware how much he and everyone else in the country needs the NHS.

I liked the book for its convincing portrayal of the world after sort-of personal contact with an alien civilisation, and the frontier societies that have emerged as Mangala and the other gift worlds have been settled and colonised. I was also fascinated by McAuley’s description of the alien life-forms, and the archaeological exploration of the remains of the planets’ previous civilisations for the technological advances these artifacts offer. I was also drawn to it as it offered a different take on the old SF trope of alien contact. The appearance of the Jackaroo is described as an ‘invasion’, but it’s not really that. The aliens have a ‘hands off’ approach. They haven’t conquered the Earth militarily, and political power is still exercised through traditional human institutions and parties, like the UN and the Tories. Nor are they more or less at our technological level, like many of the alien races in Star Trek, for example. We don’t form an interplanetary federation with them, as they are clearly extremely far in advance of humanity, which is very much the junior partner in this relationship.

It’s not really a political book, and really doesn’t make any overt party political statements. With the exception that rightwing xenophobes would probably form a party like UKIP to join the Conservatives against pernicious alien influence, just like the Kippers under Farage came very much from the right wing, Eurosceptic section of the Tories. But its comments on the class nature of British society does bring a wry smile, and its advocacy of the NHS is very welcome. It doesn’t preach, but simply shows the fear the characters have of sickness or injury in its absence.

And with all too real terrestrial morons like Daniel Hannan, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Alan Milburn and the rest of the right-wing politicos, who have done and still are doing their best to undermine the health service, such comments are badly needed throughout the British media.

Vox Political On May’s Grubby Plan to Turn Teachers into Border Guards

December 2, 2016

Mike yesterday also put up a piece commenting on Theresa May’s plan to use teachers as border guards in her campaign to cover up her failure to crack down on illegal immigration. Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, had joined a number of other politicians condemning May’s plan to force schools to withdraw offers of places to the children of illegal immigrants. Rayner rightly attacked these plans as contrary to British values and impractical. She stated it was trying to turn teachers into border guards.

Mike makes the point that teachers are already overworked. It is also unfair and illegal to stop children under 16 from having an education in order to punish their parents. As for teachers demanding to see children’s passports, Mike makes the point that not all children have them. He didn’t until he first went abroad in his twenties. I first acquired a passport when I was at school – in the sixth form – to go on a school trip, so I also didn’t have one until quite late, at least by May’s standards.

And Mike also makes a point about how this reflects on May’s declaration that she is guided by her Christian faith. He thinks that this is less about Christian charity, and more about the Old Testament dictum that ‘the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generation’. But I don’t think it’s even about that. It’s just sheer vindictiveness against the poorest and most defenceless, just to cover her own failings.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/01/the-grubby-little-idea-that-will-tarnish-theresa-may/

Actually, there’s a bit of synchronicity here, as I read this on Mike’s site just after coming back from the first part of an Advent course held at our local church. This was an exploration of the meaning of hospitality in the Old Testament. The minister argued that hospitality has to be at the centre of Christian practice. He made the point that in the Old Testament, hospitality meant much more than it does today. Observant Jews in ancient Israel were expected to entertain and feed travellers, the poor and strangers, including foreign residents, as Abraham, the founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, does in Genesis when he meets the Lord and two angels. The patriarch urges them to stop by his tent, washes their feet, and his wife, Sarah, prepares a meal for them. He invites them to join him, saying that he would be honoured if they’d join him.

At the same time, the Torah – the Mosaic Law -in Leviticus commanded the people of Israel to respect and provide for the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner, ‘for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt’. During the Feast of Sukkoth, Jews were supposed to open their doors and feed widows, orphans and strangers, according to a passage in the Talmud. This is the oral, supplementary law which guides observant Jews as well as the written law revealed by Moses. The passage in the Talmud, which enjoins this states that the man, who does not open his gates to the poor during this feast, is not really celebrating it, but only his belly. And such hospitality is regarded as a mitzvah – a commandment.

It strikes me that this last statement contradicts the various Tories, who turned up during Thatcher’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, to tell us all that Christ’s remarks about looking after the poor and marginalised were all about doing so responsibly, and had nothing to do with government policy. In the context of the time, they don’t. But it’s much stronger than the voluntarism the Tories and New Labour tried to promote.

These passages from the Bible and the cultural contexts in which they are placed, such as the Talmudic laws on the correct observance of the Hebrew festivals, are a very sharp rebuttal to the current xenophobia that is sweeping the nation thanks to Brexit. And the minister leading the service said that he was very worried about the xenophobia which was rising in this country.

I realise that many of the readers of this blog are atheists. The point I am trying to make here, is that Tories don’t have a monopoly on the Jewish and Christian revelations and the Bible. And when it comes to the poor, quite often the commandments of the Bible point away from the abuse heaped on them by the Conservatives and Blairite right.

As for the duty of the wealthy to entertain the poor, this was also taken extremely serious in medieval and 16th century Britain. Great lords used to set aside sums of money so they could be seen to be feeding and supporting the poor. The prior of St. James’ Priory in Bristol, for example, fed 100 beggars at the priory gates every day. Similarly, one town chronicler in the 16th century lamented the burning down one gentleman’s house, because its owner was a generous man, at whose house many people were refreshed. In other words, he took seriously his responsibility as a member of the upper classes to provide for those less fortunate than himself.

Which poses an interesting question. If Theresa May wants to restore society to the quasi-feudal conditions of the 19th century, does that mean that she’s also willing to accept the feudal responsibility of feeding and clothing the poor once again? Not just through food banks, but also at the gates of their homes? Somehow, I don’t think so, no matter what she might say about the importance of charity. You can imagine the screams of rage she’d utter if 100 poor men and women turned up at her house, asking for bread.

Vox Political on Blair’s Proposed New Institute for Centre Ground Politics

December 2, 2016

Mike today put up a piece, which asked rhetorically how we should receive Tony Blair’s statement that he is setting up a new institute to promote centre-ground policies. Blair, apparently, is concerned about the resurgence of left- and right-wing populism. The new institute will be launched in the New Year, but will not be party political.

Mike in his comment to the story makes the point that Blair is a creature of the reactionary right. Margaret Thatcher, who began the decades-long destruction of this country, its institutions and industries, and the impoverishment and immiseration of its working people, considered Blair and New Labour her greatest achievement. And when Cameron came to power, he began by consciously modelling himself on Tony Blair’s mixture of neoliberalism and social reform.

Mike comments that the best reaction to the news is probably that put out on Twitter by Matt Turner. This shows Jeremy Corbyn having a dam’ good laugh.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/02/how-should-we-react-as-tony-blair-announces-new-institute-for-centre-ground-politics/

Actually, you could go a bit further than Mike in the characterisation of Tony Blair. He is indeed a creature of the reactionary Right. He is also a crook of almost Reaganite dimensions. Reagan, remember, implemented Thatcher’s policies in America as a reaction to the liberalism of the 1960s. He was a thug who supported right-wing Fascist death squads all over south and central America, who committed appalling atrocities in order to keep the peoples of that continent in thrall to their upper classes and American corporate and political interests. Just as Tony Blair fully and heartily cooperated with Bush in launching an illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that has similarly seen the rise of death squads armed and supported by our allies in Washington.

Reagan and Blair also deregulated the financial sector. In Reagan’s case, this was the savings and loans societies – the American equivalent of our building societies. And the results were identical. Massive greed and mismanaged by the financial whizzkids resulted in financial crashes in which some of the very poorest lost their money. This included the cowboys, the remaining agricultural workers on America’s ranches, who Reagan’s supporter, Clint Eastwood, claimed symbolised sturdy Republican values – self-reliance, and having a piece of land of your own. Thanks to Reagan in America, millions of Americans had the opportunity to own a piece of property of their own taken away from them. Just as, decades later, Tony Blair did it to the working people over here.

And then there’s the whole process of the mass privatisation of industry. Reagan started that off, along with the attacks on the American welfare system, using arguments that were also repeated over here by the Blairites in the Labour party. He also flagrantly violated the American Constitution with the Iran-Contra affair, although he managed to escape and it was Oliver North who ended up going to the slammer. Blair’s backing of the Iraq invasion was similarly illegal, but under international law, as our country doesn’t have a written constitution like the US. He was also responsible for some of the policies that are chipping away at our liberties as free citizens. Like Major, Blair was a fan of the surveillance state, wishing to introduce mandatory identity cards, for which we, the ordinary citizens, would have to pay for the privilege of having. He also wanted to expand the powers of the surveillance state and introduce secret courts. These have also been taken over by the Tories and Lib Dems. Blair was also a liar, in that his government was determined to privatise the NHS, but like Thatcher, knew that actually telling people they were doing so would lose them the election. And so, like the Tories before and afterwards, he carefully hid what he was doing.

And then there’s the man’s personal character. He and his wife, Cherie, were massively greedy. They took money from businessmen in a series of sleaze scandals of the type that disgraced John Major’s administration. Corporate donors were given favours and places on government committees and quangos. Cherie Blair, who tried to pass herself off as a human rights lawyer, was quite prepared to work for some of the most brutal and reactionary nations and dictators the world over, if the money was right.

And what kind of left-winger, never mind Socialist, spends his holidays enjoying the hospitality of Berlusconi, whose ruling right-wing coalition included the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale, and the Northern League. The latter were so right-wing, they despised the Italian south as foreigners, sneeringly referring to it as ‘Egypt’. Their dream was an independent state in the north of Italy. And the core of their supporters were Fascists. There’s a documentary on YouTube by an Italian journalist, who went in search of the Northern League in his home country. He found them, and they’re very scary. They were, as you’d expect, militantly anti-immigrant. And there’s one scene where he filmed them in a café singing the old Fascist squadristi songs, and reminiscing about the old days under Il Duce. The documentary’s in English, so there’s no problem for Anglophone viewers seeing for themselves how unpleasant these rightists were.
And Blair’s greed was so much that the Italians nicknamed him ‘the scrounger’.

He then followed this up a year or so ago, by being George Dubya’s guest at a Republican Convention, though he wouldn’t say whether or not he was a Republican.

As for being aghast at the rise of populism on both right and left, Blair’s neoliberalism, his attacks on the welfare state and wars in the Middle East are directly responsible for this. His destruction of Iraq, which subsequent regimes have expanded into Syria and Libya, have displaced millions, who can see no future in their home countries. Hence they try to get into western Europe, where they believe they will have safety, jobs and prosperity. At the same time, Blair attacked the welfare state over here, as well as trying to destroy the unions further, and reduced employment rights and working conditions. The result is that millions of Brits are now plunged in precarity, making a meagre living from insecure, low-paid, and often temporary jobs, and saddled with debt. Their scared, and resentful of a corporatist elite, which only offered sanctimonious platitudes about civil rights and racial and gender equality, while making living conditions for ordinary people much worse. And people frightened for their jobs, and acutely afraid that they are being denied welfare payments, are going to be resentful of the immigrants they fear may take those things away from them. Hence the massive xenophobia that has spread alarmingly across Britain in the wake of Brexit.

Blair’s responsible for all that. But he stupidly believes that the answer to this fear and poverty is going to be, well, more of what he stood for: more neoliberalism, more rationed welfare services, more privatised healthcare, more tax cuts for the obscenely right. But somehow made palatable by mellifluous verbiage and lies about increasing opportunity, personal choice, and greater opportunities for women and minorities.

But working people, women and minorities ain’t buying it. There’s an long article in Counterpunch by two of their female columnists discussing why a very large number of American women voted for Trump against Hillary. This was even after it had become abundantly clear that The Donald was a boorish misogynist, who had no qualms about sexual assault. These two women, who both were staunch feminists, made the point that American women were largely unimpressed with Killary’s claim that they should vote for her, because it was about time a woman was in the White House. This didn’t impress the female electorate, who reasoned that Killary’s victory would not be a triumph for all women, but only entitled, rich women. Ordinary, middle class and blue collar women, were still faced with the fear of keeping their jobs and providing for their families in an economic regime in which they could be laid off and their jobs moved halfway around the world. They were faced with the harsh realities of paying the bills and finding affordable medical care when wages hadn’t risen in decades. The two authors made the point that the kind liberalism promoted by Clinton’s establishment Democrats, and Tony Blair and his ilk in Britain, doesn’t actually care about looking after the poor. They care about making sure a fair proportion of those enjoying the top jobs and position are women and members of ethnic minorities, while doing their level best to make sure the majority of people remain in poverty and insecurity for the benefit of the corporate elite.

The reason why Trump and Farage are on the rise on the Right, and Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn on the Left, is for the simple reason that ordinary people have got sick and tired of the lies uttered by people like Blair and the Clintons, that provide an egalitarian cloak for a harshly unequal and exploitative system.

Blair’s intention to launch this new institute also reveals something else about him as well: not only did he take over Thatcher’s politics, he also shares her egotism. Thatcher couldn’t accept that her time was over either when the Tories ditched her in favour of John Major. She kept trying to come back, interfering like a back seat driver. Private Eye made this point on one of their covers, where they showed Thatcher apparently trying to get her way once more by twisting Major’s hand. Plus all the sketches on the latter series of Spitting Image, which showed her as a sad, embittered old woman, constantly saying, ‘I used to be Prime Minister, you know.’

The same thing’s now happened to Blair. He can get used to the fact that he is now politically irrelevant, if not actually a liability.

So let’s treat him like one, and give his institute the derision it deserves.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 2

August 8, 2016

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – an alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others.

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.

Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.

The Miners’ Strike and Times’ Editor Charles Moore’s Hatred of the Working Class

June 4, 2016

Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, argues that the impoverishment and degradation inflicted on the working class by Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Conservatives is due to a bitter hatred of them by the Conservative upper classes. He quotes Balfour as saying ‘Of course there’s a class war going on. We started it.’ Hollingworth’s discussion of the miner’s strike in his The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship adds more evidence to this. He notes that the right-wing press and its editors may also have had a very strong hatred of the miners, a hatred that was displayed in a comment by Charles Moore, a former editor of the Times and one of the Thatcher’s biographers. It was also displayed in a piece written by an academic, who talked about how the miner’s were all tricked into striking because they were the less intelligent pupils from Secondary Moderns and Comprehensive schools.

There is also some evidence, though far from conclusive, that Fleet Street’s hostility was based on simple class hatred towards the miners and their families. Charles Moore is the editor of the Spectator but used to be a Daily Telegraph reporter and writer and still contributes to the paper regularly. Asked about the miners, he replied: ‘I really hate those people, actually. This strike as brought out feelings I didn’t know I had. It seems to me such a lie that these people represent or are the defenders of an oppressed class and so clear that Arthur Scargill is an oppressor, that is has finally brought out all my contempt for the Left. A perhaps more serious example came from the Sunday Times in August 1984. The paper commissioned a feature article by Professor Frank Musgrove of Manchester University. This is what he wrote:

In the past 30 years two social processes have siphoned off men of initiative and ability. Educational selection has left a residue of D and E stream secondary modern and comprehensive school pupils for pit work – there has been a massive haemorrhage of talent from mining communities. And earlier pit closure programmes have set up eddies of selective migration which have drained away the most enterprising men from the more northerly fields.

It is the dilute human residues that remain, especially in Yorkshire and Durham, that have been most effectively manipulated and mobilised by the tactics of the NUM. They have been bounced into a strike without a ballot and have learned to repeat slogans (‘No pit closures on economic grounds’. ‘Cowards hide behind ballots’) whose horrendous implications they do not begin to grasp.

We did not solve the educational problem by raising the school-leaving age to 15, still less to 16. Five years in the E Stream of a comprehensive school is an excellent training in sheer bloody-mindedness if not actual subversion. … This is not education. It is a species of trench warfare. It is anticipatory socialisation for the mass picket line. (The emphasis is added by Hollingworth, pp. 283-4). The Sunday Times was, of course, edited by Andrew Neil, now presenting the Daily Politics for the Beeb.

Vox Political: Former Chair BBC Trust Accuses Government of BBC Bias against Labour

May 12, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also reported that a former chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, has said that he believes that the BBC has been under political pressure from the government to be biased against Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Mike writes

The former chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, has admitted what some of us have been saying for years – that political pressure has been exerted on the Corporation to bias its news coverage in favour of the Conservatives and against Labour.

Sir Michael Lyons was chair of the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011. He spent much of his career in local government, in chief executive posts, but he was also briefly a Labour councillor in the early 1980s.

He said on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One that political pressure was making the BBC biased against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn:

“I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the BBC has sought to hedge its bets of late. There have been some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party, quite extraordinary. I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.”

Mike states that this could apply just to Laura Kuenssberg, who has been the subject of a petition to remove her because of her blatantly overt bias against Corbyn. But the comments could just as well refer to those further up, such as Kuenssberg’s boss, James Harding. He also states that several kites have been flown, by people he believes are close to John Whittingdale.

Naturally, this has been rejected by the Beeb’s head, Tony ‘Head Prefect’ Hall.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/12/political-pressure-making-bbc-biased-against-labourcorbyn-says-former-bbc-trust-chair/

I really don’t take the Beeb’s protestations of impartiality terribly seriously. Not after academics from, I think, Edinburgh University showed that the Beeb was far more biased towards the Tories and business leaders, and was more likely to invite them to speak than Labour or the trade unions. As for Dave Cameron’s cruel and disgraceful austerity programme, Barry and Saville Kushner were moved to write their book, Who Needs the Cuts, because the very people, who should have been challenging the government’s line on austerity, weren’t. That includes BBC broadcasters, who uncritically accepted the government’s assertion that the debt was nearly insurmountable and that savage cuts were needed to bring it down to a manageable level.

Years ago, when the Beeb was under the control of John Birt, the Conservatives were constantly attacking it for being biased against them. They have been particularly annoyed about Jeremy Paxman, whom they regularly accused of bias. These claims seem somewhat risible now that Paxman has admitted being a ‘One Nation’ Tory. Private Eye attacked this claim of Labour influence at the Beeb with a story from one of their readers, who had been shooting in the Scots highlands. A party led by John Birt was also shooting not far away. And after shooting had ended at that location, as well as Birt they saw a whole party of leading Tory politicos, including Peter Lilley, scurry out of the undergrowth.

The Tories regularly accuse the BBC of having a pro-Labour bias, rather in the same way that Accuracy in Media would have Americans believing that the American broadcasters are overwhelmingly liberal with the only exception being the ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News. In fact, you can expect the opposite. The BBC is part of the establishment, and so the most common voice on it is that of the establishment – the upper and upper middle classes, represented politically by the Conservatives. And the BBC probably genuinely believes it’s impartial, because it shares the Tories’ class background, and so considers that their views, or views like them, are really the only views that matter. And so working class and trade unionist political views points are not given the same airtime or consideration, as these are still considered, after a over a century of the Labour party’s existence, as still somewhat outside what the serious classes believe. And so runs the bias, conscious or unconscious, at the heart of the Beeb’s attitude to Labour.

Vox Political on the Tories and Tata’s Proposed Sale of British Steel

March 31, 2016

One of the big stories in industry this week is Tata’s proposed sell-off of what remains of the British steel industry. Mike makes the point that while David Cameron is spouting about how the government is doing everything it can, their actions speak much louder than words. And their actions say that they aren’t concerned at all.

Cameron himself is on holiday in Lanzarote. The Business Minister, Sajid Javid, who one of the wags in Private Eye’s ‘Lookalikes’ column suggested looks like the Claw from Thunderbirds, was thousands of miles away Downunder appearing at a business banquet. It was left to Anna Soubry, the Small Business minister, to make a plea for more time. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn was at one of the steelworks in Port Talbot, and issued a demand to Cameron to recall parliament and take steps to protect the British steel industry.

Mike also points out that other countries have taken steps to protect their iron and steel industries, and that during the financial crisis two banks were nationalised. This raises the question why the government isn’t doing the same for the steel industry.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/these-images-show-how-labour-is-standing-up-for-steel-while-the-tories-are-standing-idle/

Cameron did fly back from Lanzarote yesterday. However, while Soubry had made a vague suggestion that the steel industry would be renationalised, Javid ruled this out. Mike, however, makes the point that by ruling out nationalisation, Cameron is most definitely not doing everything he can. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/if-cameron-has-ruled-out-nationalising-tata-steel-hes-not-doing-everything-he-can/

Mike has also posted a further article showing how even the usually solid Torygraph has turned against the Conservatives for this. Osborne’s refusal to rescue the British steel industry seems to be to avoid antagonising the Chinese. He has for years resisted the kind of legislation the Americans have passed to prevent the Chinese dumping cheap steel to the destruction of their own domestic industry. It looks very much Osbo is deliberately sacrificing our steel industry in order to stay in favour with the Chinese, and encourage them to keep investing in Britain.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/31/britain-sacrifices-steel-industry-to-curry-favour-with-china/

I’m not surprised by Cameron’s blanket refusal to nationalise the industry. The Tories have been consistently against its nationalisation after it was first done by Clement Atlee’s government. Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Supply, proposed its denationalisation in 1952, claiming that privatisation would restore to the industry ‘independence, initiative and enterprise’ which was not possible under nationalisation. He was opposed by Sir George Strauss in the Labour party, who said that it was ‘indefensible for the control of this industry-on which depends our economy- the fate of townships and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of employees-to rest in the hands of people with no public responsibility’. It’s a statement that still applies today at Tata’s announcement they want to sell the plant. The iron and steel industry was renationalised by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1966. The steel industry itself by that time had recognised the need for reorganisation. Moreover, Labour was in favour of nationalisation because iron and steel was one of the ‘commending heights’ of industry, and so should be occupied by Britain. The Tories started privatising the industry again in the 1980s under Ian MacGregor. Their aim was to cut the cost to the taxpayer, while at the same time they considered that the business of the steel industry should be to make steel, rather than create jobs. Clearly, that attitude has not changed.

The manufacturing industries also suffer from the perception, disseminated by neo-Liberal free-marketeers over the last thirty years, that Britain is now a post-industrial society. Deanne Julius, who was one of the chief wonks in the Bank of England under Blair, took this view, and stated that we should now concentrate on developing the service industries, and leave manufacturing to the rest of the world, and specifically America. This is another idea that Han-Joon Chang shoots down in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. He makes the point that manufacturing industry is still vitally important. It only looks less important than the service industries, because these have expanded far more and more rapidly than manufacturing. But that certainly does not mean that it’s unimportant.

Except to the Tories. Cameron is not going to renationalise the iron and steel industry, because as a neo-lib he’s devoted to the idea that government should not interfere – market forces and all that gibberish – and that if the industry goes under, well, that’s how it should be. Some how the market will magically correct the situation and another industry will somehow arise to replace it. This seems to me to be the fundamental attitude of the followers of von Hayek and the other Libertarians. He also won’t want to nationalise the industry, because it will mean not only a fundamental contradiction of Neo-Liberal economic doctrine, but also because it’ll mean more state expenditure. Which in turn will mean he won’t be able to give more tax cuts to his big business paymasters.

And lastly, he won’t want to nationalise the industry, because the last thing he wants is a rise in employment, and the revival of an organised and powerful working class, as it was when manufacturing was the dominant industry. Milton Friedman’s wretched Monetarism dictates that there should be a six per cent unemployment rate to keep wages low, and labour affordable.

And finally, there is the issue of class. Whatever Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith spout to the contrary, the Tories are not the policy of ‘working people’. They themselves admit as much. When the issue of the union’s funding of the Labour party came up again a few years ago, Labour made the point that the Tories were being funded by business. The Tories attempted to defend themselves by stating that this was perfectly acceptable, as they were the party of business. And in this case, business does not want state involvement in industry and the creation of nasty, old-style working class jobs that might actually empower the working class.

And also part of it is that the working class simply aren’t considered a concern, in the same way that the Tories are concerned about the upper and middle classes. Cameron’s a toff, as is Osbo and Ian Duncan Smith. The people, who matter to them are the same people as themselves – other toffs and members of the upper middle class. Those are the only people they see personally and interact with, except those they employ. And so ordinary people and their concerns simply don’t register with them in the same way as those of their own class.

And so, while Cameron has come back from Lanzarote, because this is a major issue, it’s not one that he really wants to solve by going back to nationalising the industry. Not when Maggie Thatcher and generations of Tories took so much trouble to privatise it.

Vox Political: Tories Want to Leave EU to Scrap Workers’ Rights to Paid Holidays

March 1, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political on Sunday posted up a piece reporting that Angela Eagle, Labour’s shadow business secretary, had warned on the Andrew Marr show that many Tories wanted Britain to leave the EU, so they could scrap the various workers’ rights that were written into EU law. These include equal pay for men and women, rights for part-time workers, and the right to paid holidays. Mike concurs, stating that she’s ‘absolutely right on this’.

Tories want to quit EU to “scrap workers’ right to paid holiday”

She is. Very much. UKIP’s leadership is drawn very much from the ranks of the Conservative extreme right, and the hate workers’ rights with a passion. It’s a passion they also share with those organs of the embittered chattering classes, the Daily Heil and the Express. The Mail, for example, has ranted on against the maternity and paternity leave, because of the financial burden this places on businesses. It’s argued that it should be scrapped because maternity leave makes it expensive to employ women, who are then likely to get time when they get pregnant. In addition to paying to support them, the company also has to pay another, temporary worker, to do her job.

As well as UKIP, the Tories and Lib Dems a few years ago were also discussing the possibility of removing the right to paid holidays. Mike put up several pieces about this on his blog. This should tell you how reactionary the Tories are, as the legislation giving employees the right to a paid holiday dates back to the late Nineteenth century. As well as harming workers, the scrapping of this right will, needless to say, damage the tourism industry, including Britain’s own. Resorts like Blackpool came to the fore in the 19th century due to the legislation giving workers the right to paid holiday. Blackpool, for example, thrived because it became the holiday centre for industrial workers from the Lancashire textile industry. Before then, resorts such as the various spas, like Bath and Tunbridge Wells, were places where the wealthy and aristocratic came to take the waters. I don’t think the poorer sections of society could afford to visit them, although they certainly did attract their fair share of customers and patrons from all over Europe.

Presumably, this is what the Tories want to return to. An early Nineteenth-century Britain, where the workers just slave away all day long for the factory masters, without sickness or holiday pay, where only the rich are able to take holidays, safe from the danger of mixing with the great unwashed.

Vox Political on BoJo, Gove and Somebody Else Demanding Public Clean Up Britain for Free for the Queen

February 29, 2016

This is a very bizarre story. The government has, in what it thinks is its infinite wisdom, that we should all get off our backsides this summer and celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday by cleaning up the country for free. Mike over at Vox Political asks the obvious question why the poor should be expected to work free of charge for a multi-millionaire monarch. The scheme was launched today by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and someone called Rory Stewart, wearing hi-vis jackets matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Clean for the Queen’, and posing next to a giant banner of the slogan. Mike points out that this is particularly hypocritical, given that BoJo, Gove and presumably Stewart would never, ever, absolutely do anything themselves unless they were being very generously paid for it.

Go see Mike’s blog for his comments, piccies of the three Tories and the poster, and further information on the way this has been greeted on Twitter. Even one of the hacks on the Graun has had a dig at this.

Tories line up to demand free labour for our multi-millionaire monarch

It’s a bizarre idea. The Tories have clearly decided that something should be done to celebrate Brenda’s longevity. My guess is that in previous ages this would probably have resulted in pageants, fetes and parties up and down the country. Roughly the same kind of jollification that was de rigueur under the Victorians when the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er!) reached a particularly venerable age. They have, however, clearly decided that this is not acceptable in today’s economic climate, because it would cost money.

And as the government’s policy is based on cutting services, and getting the rest of the population to perform them for free, let getting old age pensioners to run libraries under ‘localism’, they’ve clearly settled on this policy instead. So, no street parties like we had a few years ago when it was the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, we’re all being told to get to work, and like it, because it’s celebratory.

It all reminds me of the corvee, the system of forced labour that was part of the serfs’ feudal duties to the lord of the manor during the Middle Ages, and which survived in France and elsewhere until the French Revolution. The Queen is a feudal monarch, and once again, her loyal subjects are being asked to toil for her for free on public works. No doubt Cameron will be making notes, wondering how he can fit it into some kind of universal, neo-feudal system. How about placing each citizen of this glorious nation under the personal authority of a leading businessman, who can use them anyway they like, putting them to work for free, on the pretext that this is somehow promoting public spirit and teaching them how to be good employees and submit obediently to the authority of the upper classes. Or is this too much like workfare?

It also reminds me of one of the more bizarre Communist rituals that used to go on in the former Soviet Union. Every year in February, in the depths of the Russian winter, there was a national cleaning day, when good Soviet citizens had to clean the streets and spring clean their places of work. That included cleaning the windows, and opening them to the bitter Russian cold. You were also expected to bring out of storage – or hiding – all the old statues of Lenin and the tat celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution, putting them proudly on display. The busts of Lenin came in a variety of materials, to suit the pockets of the Soviet purchaser. The really expensive busts were in stone. The cheaper alternative was papier mache. I can remember reading a description of the kerfuffle that broke out during one of the spring-cleans in a travel book on the Soviet Union in one office, wear they discovered that their papier mache bust of the great Soviet leader had got damp and sprouted mushrooms.

This was the Soviet Union, one of the archetypal monolithic totalitarian states. For all that Cameron, BoJo, Gove and their odious cohorts represent the direct economic polar opposite in capitalism, they share the Soviet state’s authoritarianism, its need to control absolutely and its rigidly hierarchical social order. This was a society where the party elite had access to a range of goods and services, including special, curtained shops, from which the ordinary Soviet citizens were barred. This was a state built on slave labour, where the leaders of the various industries had actually put in orders to the KGB for the numbers of new people they wanted arrested to work for them. Workfare has been organised very much on the same lines, where the unemployed are effectively rented out to the ‘work providers’ as unfree workers, who are paid only their jobseekers allowance. And not even that, if they’ve been sanctioned. Mike and the other bloggers have shown that, by law, you are still liable to perform workfare, even if you’ve been sanctioned and are not being given your Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is true slave labour, of which Stalin would be envious.

And it seems this initiative, to get us all cleaning the country up for the Queen, is pretty much more of the same. Now I’ve no objection whatsoever to campaigns to Keep Britain Tidy, like there were in the 1970s. I wish more people had respect for their environment, and there was less littering and fly-tipping. But I don’t see why we should be expected to do it for nothing. And I am very suspicious in case the government suddenly announces that it is very impressed with how well this has worked, and now wants to roll it out as a national scheme.
I can see that coming all too easily.