Posts Tagged ‘Welfare States’

Colonial Ties, Not Oppression, Is the Best Reason for Granting Asylum

April 9, 2021

This has been irritating me for some time now, and so I’m going to try to get it off my chest. A month or so ago I went to a Virtual meeting, organised by the left wing of the Labour party, on why socialists should be anti-war. It was part of the Arise Festival of ideas, and featured a variety of speakers all concerned with the real possibility that the war-mongering of Tony Blair, George W. Bush and so on would return. They made the point that all the interventions in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere were motivated purely by western geopolitical interests. Western nations and their multinationals had initiated them solely to plunder and dominate these nations and their industries and resources. One of the speakers was the Muslim head of the Stop War Coalition, who stated that many people from ethnic minorities had supported the Labour party because historically Labour had backed independence for their countries of origin. And obviously the Labour party was risking their support by betraying them through supporting these wars. After the failure of these wars – the continued occupation of Afghanistan, the chaos in Iraq and Libya – the calls for further military interventions had died down. But now these wars were being rehabilitated, and there is a real danger that the military-industrial complex will start demanding further invasions and occupations.

I absolutely agree totally with these points. Greg Palast’s book Armed Madhouse shows exactly how the Iraq invasion had absolutely nothing to do with liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, but was all about stealing their oil reserves and state industries. The invasion of Afghanistan has precious little to do with combatting al-Qaeda, and far more to do with the construction of an oil pipeline that would benefit western oil interests at the expense of Russia and its allies. And the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy in Libya was also about the removal of an obstacle to western neo-colonial domination. These wars have brought nothing but chaos and death to these countries. The welfare states of Iraq and Libya have been decimated, and the freedoms women enjoyed to pursue careers outside the home have been severely curtailed our removed. Both of these countries were relatively secular, but have since been plunged into sectarian violence.

Despite this, one of the speakers annoyed me. This was the head of the Black Liberation Association or whatever Black Lives Matter now calls itself. She was a young a woman with quite a thick African accent. It wasn’t quite what she said, but the tone in which she said it. This was one of angry, indignant and entitled demand, rather than calm, persuasive argument. She explained that the Black Liberation Association campaigned for the rights and self-government of all nations in the global south and their freedom from neo-colonial economic restrictions and domination. She attacked the ‘fortress Europe’ ideology intended to keep non-White immigrants out, especially the withdrawal of the Italian naval patrols in the Med. This had resulted in more migrant deaths as unseaworthy boats sank without their crews and passengers being rescued. This is all stuff the left has campaigned against for a long time. I remember learning in ‘A’ Level geography in school that Britain and Europe had erected tariff barriers to prevent their former colonies competing with them in the production of manufactured goods. This meant that the economies of the African nations, for example, were restricted to agriculture and mining. As for the withdrawal of the Italian navy and coastguard, and the consequent deaths of migrants, this was very much an issue a few years ago and I do remember signing internet petitions against it. But there was one argument she made regarding the issue of the granting of asylum that was weak and seriously annoyed me. She stated that we had to accept migrants because we had oppressed them under colonialism.

This actually doesn’t work as an argument for two reasons. I’m not disputing that we did oppress at least some of the indigenous peoples of our former colonies. The colour bar in White Rhodesia was notorious, and Black Africans in other countries, like Malawi, were treated as second class citizens quite apart from the horrific, genocidal atrocities committed against the Mao-Mao rebellion. The first problem with the argument from colonial oppression is that it raises the question why any self-respecting person from the Commonwealth would ever want to come to Britain, if we’re so racist and oppressive.

The other problem is that the British Empire is now, for the most part, a thing of the past. Former colonies across the globe formed nationalist movements and achieved their independence. They were supposed to benefit from the end of British rule. In some cases they have. But to return to Africa, since independence the continent has been dominated by a series of brutal dictators, who massacred and looted their people. There is an appalling level of corruption to the point where the FT said that many of them were kleptocracies, which were only called countries by the courtesy of the west. Western colonialism is responsible for many of the Developing World’s problems, but not all. I’ve heard from a couple of Brits, who have lived and worked in former colonies, that they have been asked by local people why we left. These were older people, but it shows that the end of British rule was not as beneficial as the nationalists claimed, and that some indigenous people continued to believe that things had been better under the Empire. But the culpability of the leaders of many developing nations for their brutal dictatorships and the poverty they helped to inflict on their people wasn’t mentioned by this angry young woman. And that’s a problem, because the counterargument to her is that the British Empire has vanished, and with the handover to indigenous rule British responsibility for these nations’ affairs ended. It is up to these countries to solve their problems, and we should be under no obligation to take in people fleeing oppression in these countries.

For me, a far better approach would be to stress old colonial ties and obligations with these nations. Part of the ideology of colonialism was that Britain held these countries in trust, and that these nations would only remain under British rule until they developed the ability to manage themselves. It was hypocritical, and I think there’s a quote from Lord Lugard, one of the architects of British rule in Africa, about how the British had only a few decades to despoil the country. Nevertheless, it was there, as was Kipling’s metaphor of the ‘White Man’s Burden’, in which Britain was to teach these nations proper self-government and civilisation. It’s patronising, because it assumes the superiority of western civilisation, but nevertheless it is one of paternal responsibility and guidance. And some British politicians and imperialists took this ideology very seriously. I was told by a friend of mine that before Enoch Powell became an avowed and implacable opponent of non-White immigration with his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, he sincerely believed that Britain did have an obligation to its subject peoples. He worked for a number of organisations set up to help non-White immigrants to Britain from her colonies.

It therefore seems to me that supporters of non-White migrants and asylum seekers would be far better arguing that they should be granted asylum because of old colonial ties and kinship in the Commonwealth and continuing paternal obligations, rather than allowed in as some kind of reparation for the oppression of the colonial past.

The first argument offers reconciliation and common links. The other only angry division between oppressed and oppressor.

Tories Once Again Demanding Clampdown in Schools for No Reason At All

April 8, 2021

Why do the Tories hate schoolchildren? Why are they so determined to make school as miserable as possible? I ask these questions, ’cause yesterday Mike put up a piece on his blog about the education minister, Gavin Williamson. Williamson has claimed that there’s a lack of discipline in schools because children were allowed greater freedom during the lockdown. Mobile phones are a particularly destructive influence, and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now I agree with Mike about this, who does agree with Williamson. They shouldn’t be allowed in schools because of the danger that children can use them to cheat. Quite apart from the temptation amongst some pupils to play Tetris or whatever at the back of the class instead of concentrating on Miss trying to teach them trigonometry. But this isn’t a new problem. People have been talking about the problems caused by mobile phones in school ever since children started taking them into class in the ’90s. What is remarkable is Williamson going on about the lack of discipline among school students when there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about a decline in schoolchildren’s behaviour in my neck of the woods, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.

In fact, not only is there no evidence that the returning pupils are particularly badly behaved, there appears to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. One of our friends down here in south Bristol is a school governor. They told us that the children coming back to school had actually been better behaved. So where does Williamson’s claim that discipline has declined come from?

I think it’s partly due to an habitual Tory distrust of youth. Ever since the ‘youthquake’ of the 1950s and the emergence of modern youth culture, there’s been a particular distrust of young people on the right. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I remember the annual fights during the Bank Holidays between Mods and Rockers at Weston Super Mud and elsewhere in the country, and those were frightening. There was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and for years the papers were full of stories about the terrible lack of discipline and poor educational standards in many schools. These were real problems. Private Eye devoted a whole section in one issue to complaints from teachers about the problems they were faced with teaching entirely uninterested, disruptive and sometimes violent students, compounded with lack of support from the headmaster or the education authorities. I dare say in some schools this is still the case, but it doesn’t seem quite the issue it once was. But school discipline is something of a Tory ‘talking point’. School standards are breaking down, and it’s all due to modern, progressive schooling. Kids are being indoctrinated into rebellion by Marxist feminist teachers of ambiguous sexuality.

Except that I don’t think they are. I wondered if this was a response to events at Pimlico academy last week, when the children and some staff decided that the headmaster’s new dress code was somehow racist, as was the flying of the union flag, which some idiot decided to burn. I don’t support the protests there – I think they’re unwarranted and show instead a nasty streak of racism amongst the protesters. But as far as I can make out, it was an isolated incident that was a response to very specific circumstances that has not been repeated elsewhere.

But it also seems to fit with the Tory determination to remove any kind of joy from schooling. When the Tories took over ten years or so ago, they declared that they were going to enforce school discipline and make sure the children worked hard, introducing homework for primary school children. There does seem a determination on the Tories’ part to make school as grim as possible.

And this attitude is shared by some of the academy chains that have been brought in to run schools. Before I came down with the myeloma I did voluntary work listening to children read at one of the local school in south Bristol. This was a normal primary school, whose walls were decorated with the children’s work and paintings along with the usual school notices, and the usual hubbub when the children came in from playground or moved between classroom. It came across as a normal, happy British school, full of normal, happy children.

And then the school was handed over to an academy chain, whose headquarters, incidentally, were registered in Eire as the usual tax dodge. The whole ethos changed. When next I arrived, the walls were bare except for the school notices and children were expected to move from class to class in silence. The children still seemed to be as happy as ever, but a vital part of the school experience had been excised. The place seemed far more dour. I suppose this new austerity was to show that there was now an emphasis on learning and the importance of discipline. It now seemed actually rather joyless and forbidding. I think that putting students’ work up on school walls is enormously encouraging – it rewards pupils for their good work but putting it up for the appreciation of the rest of the school. Or the kids’ parents at parents’ evenings. Ditto with the art. I think it helps to create an attitude among schoolchildren that it is their school, and creates a sense of a common school community. It’s what makes a school a school, rather than a prison.

I think this dour, very authoritarian attitude to education comes partly from Tory authoritarianism. The people at the top set the rules, and the lower orders have to obey, work and suffer. Conditions must be made as hard as possible to encourage people to work and improve themselves. It’s an attitude they’ve introduced into the welfare system by trying to make it as hard as possible to discourage people going onto benefits. This means making benefits all but impossible to obtain and doing their best to hide the fact that people are dying as a result. Now they’re introducing it to education.

I think it also partly comes from the Japanese school system that the Tories are desperate to emulate over here. I got the impression that discipline is extremely strict in Japanese schools, with staff even checking the children’s underwear to make sure they’re the right colour. It’s so strict in fact that in one year in the ’90s, five school kids were beaten to death by their teachers. But this discipline, supposedly, has led to the Japanese and other far eastern countries leading the world in high educational standards. However, a friend of mine told me years ago that this isn’t quite the case. Yes, the east Asian countries do lead the world in their educational standards, but the discipline and extremely hard work are actually typical of a relatively few Chinese and Japanese schools, not the system as a whole. And seeing how hard the schoolchildren in these countries are expected to work, you wonder if something is being lost. Hard work is important, but childhood should also be a time for fun.

Except to the Tories and Gavin Williamson, who seems to be so obsessed with a decline in school discipline that he’s seeing it where it doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps it’s another attempt to put state schools down after the failure of the algorithm he introduced a year ago to predict exam results. This aroused massive outrage because it unfairly assumed that pupils from state schools were perform far less well than those from private schools. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have suggested that Williamson might be trying to revenge himself on schoolkids after one of them tore apart his wretched algorithm on social media.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that there has been no decline in school discipline. In fact, I’ve heard that in some schools the kids were actually better behaved. This means, as Mike has pointed out on his blog, that children have actually developed self-discipline. And good for them!

As for Williamson, this just shows how out of touch he is with real conditions in schools, and how determined he is to push the Tory view that all schoolchildren and young people are ill-behaved and need the firm hand of authority to keep them in order.

Trotsky on the Failure of Capitalism

January 16, 2020

I found this quote from Trotsky on how capitalism has now outlived its usefulness as a beneficial economic system in Isaac Deutscher and George Novack, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (New York: Dell 1964):

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential function, the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. (p. 363).

I’m not a fan of Trotsky. Despite the protestations to the contrary from the movement he founded, I think he was during his time as one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and civil war ruthless and authoritarian. The Soviet Union under his leadership may not have been as massively murderous as Stalin’s regime, but it seems to me that it would still have been responsible for mass deaths and imprisonment on a huge scale.

He was also very wrong in his expectation of the collapse of capitalism and the outbreak of revolution in the Developed World. As an orthodox Marxist, he wanted to export the Communist revolution to the rest of Europe, and believed that it would be in the most developed countries of the capitalist West, England, France, and Germany, that revolution would also break out. He also confidently expected throughout his career the imminent collapse of capitalism. This didn’t happen, partly because of the reforms and welfare states established by reformist socialist parties like Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, which improved workers’ lives and opportunities, which thus allowed them to stimulate the capitalist economy as consumers and gave them a stake in preserving the system.

It also seems to me that capitalism is still actively creating wealth – the rich are still becoming massively richer – and it is benefiting those countries in the Developing World, which have adopted it, like China and the east Asian ‘tiger’ economies like South Korea.

But in the west neoliberalism, unregulated capitalism, certainly has failed. It hasn’t brought public services, like electricity, railways, and water supply the investment they need, and has been repeatedly shown to be far more inefficient in the provision of healthcare. And it is pushing more and more people into grinding poverty, so denying them the ability to play a role as active citizens about to make wide choices about the jobs they can take, what leisure activities they can choose, and the goods they can buy. At the moment the Tories are able to hide its colossal failure by hiding the mounting evidence and having their hacks in the press pump out favourable propaganda. But if the situation carries on as it is, sooner or later the mass poverty they’ve created will not be so easily hidden or blithely explained away or blamed on others – immigrants, the poor themselves, or the EU. You don’t have to be a Trotskyite to believe the following:

Unfettered capitalism is destroying Britain – get rid of it, and the Tories.

Basu and Stuckler on the Privatisation of the NHS

July 22, 2016

Body Economic Pic

Earlier this week I put up a piece about The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, by the medical researchers David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu (New York: Basic Books 2013). The book shows, using examples of recessions from the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s, to contemporary Britain and Greece, and the massive privatisation of the Russian economy after the Fall of Communism, how recessions and the austerity programmes that Conservatives use to try and correct them, also cause health crises. Conversely, welfare states that support people, not only give their peoples good health, but also create prosperity.

The two authors are also very much aware that the British National Health Service is being privatised, and are very critical of this. They write

Today the NHS’s founding principles are being forgotten, as the conservative Tory government seeks to make the NHS more like the American profit-driven, market-based system. When the Tory government came to power, they revisited a pamphlet developed under the previous Tory government of John Major that called the NHS a “bureaucratic monster that cannot be tamed” and in need of “radical reform”. In 2004, Oliver Letwin, the pamphlet’s lead author, said the “NHS will not exist” within five years of a Tory election victory. Indeed, after the Tories came to power they proposed the Health and Social Care Act, which embodied the free-market principles of the radical pamphlet.

It was difficult for us to understand this decision. Overall in 2010, before the Tory government began dismantling the NHS, the UK spent less of its GDP on health (8 percent) than Germany (10.5 percent), France (11.2 percent) or the United States (19 percent). Ultimately, the Tories’ position was not based on evidence but ideology-the idea that markets, competition, and profits would always be better than government intervention.

A highly divisive public debate over the Health and Social Care Act ensued. Over staunch opposition from the Royal College of Nursing and almost all of the medical Royal Colleges (the UK equivalents of the American Medical Association), Parliament approved the Act in 2012. Thus began what many regard as a major move towards privatization of the NHS. Repeatedly, David Cameron promised the British public that the Act was not “privatising the NHS” and that he would “cut the deficit not the NHS.” The Liberal-Democratic leader Nick Clegg said, “There will be no privatisation.”

The Department of Health website even stated that “Health Ministers have said they will never privatise the NHS.” But the data tell a different story: increasingly, the government is transferring large swaths of healthcare provision to private contractors.

Private profiteers are replacing dedicated doctors. In October 2012, the government awarded 400 lucrative contracts for NHS services, worth a quarter billion pounds, in what was called “the biggest act of privatisation ever in the NHS.” Virgin, for example, won lucrative contracts to deliver reproductive care (no pun intended). But the result was not the efficiency of private enterprise, but what had already been seen in the US market model-profits at the expense of patients. One journalist found this to be the case at health clinics in Teesside, northeast England. After Virgin won contracts to take over the services, the clinic repeatedly missed targets for screening people for chlamydia. It was a simple task that the NHS fulfilled easily. The journalist found a memo that revealed “staff were asked to take home testing kits to use on friends and family to help make the numbers up.” In Oxford, patients complained about increasing wait times to see their doctors after Virgin took over a local practice. Virgin responded that the practice had been underperforming when it was taken over, and that “there are still improvements to be made but we’re pleased that progress so far was recognised and applauded by councillors.” And so began what continues to be a highly sophisticate public relations campaign.

The UK’s next step toward US-style market-based medicine is moving forward at the time of this writing. It encourages patients to spend out of their pockets for healthcare rather than use the government-funded NHS. The Tory government is extending pilot projects to offer those with chronic illnesses “personal budgets” so that they themselves can make choices about how to manage their care, with few safeguards against profit-seeking swindlers or predatory insurance companies despite a government evaluation that highlighted many problems with this approach.

Early evidence suggests the Health and Social Care Act may in fact be hazardous to the health of the citizens and residents of the United Kingdom. Just before the Coalition government came into power, the NHS had the highest patient approval ratings in its history, over 70 percent. Within two years, approval fell to 58 percent, the largest decline in three decades. There are already warning signs that the healthcare situation in Britain may come to resemble that in the US before Obama. Patients are being turned away from privately managed clinics, some of which simply close their doors after meeting a daily quota to fulfill their contractual obligations. And in the first year of reform, emergency room visits jumped to the highest in the decade- perhaps because more people are neglecting preventive care, like Diane. As the editor of the Lancet warned, “people will die.”

Whether the British people will fully accept this radical privatisation of their healthcare system remains unclear. But once market incentives take hold of a public system, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to reverse course. In the UK, the recession-fueled combination of austerity-and-privatisation seems to be creeping into every dimension of the social protection system. But evidence of its harms should give us all pause. (pp. 105-7).

Part of the way the government is selling its privatisation of the NHS to the public is through artificial funding crises, in which hospitals develop massive budget deficits. They are then amalgamated with another hospital under a PFI scheme, or given over to a private healthcare company to manage. Points West, the local BBC news programme for the Bristol region, last night revealed that Southmead hospital was also in the red to the tune of £48 million. And I suspect a similar fate is being lined up for it here.

This privatisation must be stopped, and those who support it – the Conservatives, and the Blairites in New Labour, must be thrown out of office immediately. Only Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will reverse the NHS privatisation. It is up to us to support him, regardless of the smears from the media and the Right.