Thursday, 7 September 2017

Dealing with North Korea is significantly more difficult because of Libya 2011

The current confrontation over North Korea's nuclear weapons is probably the most serious such crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Unlike in 1962, when the two main actors John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev could be expected to act rationally, the same does not apply to Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.

Under any circumstances, the position would be highly difficult and dangerous. What happened in Libya in 2011 makes a successful resolution - of this or any future similar nuclear stand-off - significantly more difficult.

North Korea claims the same justification as the eight other known nuclear armed countries - the USA, Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan and Israel - for having nuclear weapons, namely that they are needed for its own defence. 

If the world community and in particular the USA is going to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, it needs to persuade him that North Korea will not then be invaded and that he personally will be safe.

However, NATO's action in Libya in 2011 makes this almost impossible. In a recent interview Gary Locke, a former US Ambassador to China and an expert on North Korea, gave his assessment of the thinking of Kim and the North Korean leadership  “they believe that as long as they have a nuclear capability, the United States and South Korea will not invade them. They look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi [in Libya]. He gave up his nuclear weapons, and where did it get him? … North Korea feels like the nuclear weapons represent their safety net.”  

Why should Kim now trust any guarantees given by the US (let alone by President Trump)?

Between 2003 and 2009 the Gaddafi regime voluntarily disarmed its nuclear capability. There have only ever been five voluntary nuclear disarmaments and this was the fifth. The others were three ex-Soviet states which found themselves with nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid era South Africa which disarmed before black majority rule.

The US and the UK promised repeatedly that they would not attack a non-nuclear Libya. In 2011, they did precisely that and Gaddafi was killed.

If Gaddafi had retained his nuclear weapons, in all likelihood he would still be in power and alive today. From the perspective of the regime in Pyongyang, the way the West behaved with Gaddafi must look rather like a sheriff in the Wild West telling the bad guy that if he puts his gun down he will be safe; and then, when he does so and is defenceless, shooting him.

Here is some relevant history. 
  •   Gaddafi led a coup against the US-backed King Idris in 1969
  •   For the next thirty years or so, Gaddafi was an enemy of the West and was held responsible for a number of terrorist outrages such as the Lockerbie bombing in 1988
  •    Libya surprised the world by announcing that it would disarm its nuclear weapons on 19 December 2003. 
  •   The key part of the 2003 deal was George W Bush, fresh from regime change in Iraq, explicitly guaranteeing there would be no such policy in Libya. There were words of reconciliation on both sides. Tony Blair said: -“Problems of proliferation can, with good will, be tackled through discussion and engagement.” 
  •     Professor Jentleson, an expert in the field, wrote in the academic journal International Security in 2005, that in order to understand why Libya agreed to disarm : - “The repeated assurances the US and Britain gave Libya about not pressing for regime change were absolutely crucial.”
  •     When IAEA and US inspectors visited Libya in January 2004 they found that Gaddafi’s nuclear weaponry was significant and larger than they had presumed
  •     On 27 January 2004, a US plane left Libya with the first consignment from its nuclear arsenal. George W Bush attended for a photo op to celebrate the unexpected and welcome victory against non-proliferation. The White House hailed Libya for its co-operation and said its good faith in dismantling weapons would be reciprocated
  •     Libya became an ally in Bush’s “war on terror” and sanctions were lifted 
  •     In 2007, George W Bush sent the first US ambassador to Tripoli for 35 years
  •     In 2008, Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Tripoli
  •     On 9 July 2009, Gaddafi shook hands with Obama during the G8 summit. The White House said that Obama ''wants to see cooperation with Libya continue in sectors such as Tripoli's decision a few years ago to give up its nuclear program, an absolutely voluntary decision that we consider positive."
  •      On 21 December 2009, a Russian plane removed the last nuclear material from Libya
  •       In March 2011, only 14 months after the six year disarmament program was finally complete and Libya no longer had nuclear weapons, NATO attacked Libya and effected regime change. Gaddafi was killed.
In 2011, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, that what happened in Libya “fully exposed before the world that “Libya’s nuclear dismantlement”, much touted by the US in the past, turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.”

Whatever the justification for breaking the pledges made to Gaddafi, doing so has seriously harmed the chances of dealing with nuclear-armed "rogue states" - not only North Korea but potentially elsewhere too in the future.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Let the many and not the few set the agenda and hold politicians to account

Many would agree that all is not well with democracy in the UK. One way to improve our system would be to let a far wider range of people set the national political agenda and hold leading politicians to account. I propose doing this by means of a new programme – on TV or YouTube - which would mix real politics with reality TV.

Just as for centuries, ordinary people were denied the right to vote, now they are excluded from the crucial democratic business of setting the agenda and holding to account. These roles are restricted overwhelmingly to a privileged few in our politico-media elite who almost always share all or most of the following characteristics - well-educated, well-off, middle-aged, white, London-based. Their agenda inevitably reflects their own background and experience.

On the proposed new programme, people would be given proper airtime. They can have their say without having to shout out a question to the PM visiting a hospital at election time or being packaged in a vox pop or trying to engage from the distance of the audience to the panel on BBC’s Question Time.

Party leaders would meet a genuinely representative sample of the public, “the questioners”, in a monthly live show. The leader would be in one-to-one conversation with each of the questioners, one after another.  

If a questioner is shy, inarticulate or angry it will be for the leader to deal with the conversation as best they can. They will demonstrate their own qualities such as empathy.

The programme might include all sorts of people from the whole range of our diverse population, who are not currently heard in the national political debate, such as: an 85 year old pensioner, an 18 year old single mother, a deep-sea fisherman, a paraplegic ex-soldier, a corner-shop owner or someone working hard on poverty wages and relying on a food-bank.

The proposal is rooted in the belief that everyone matters in a democracy and everyone has political concerns. It would dramatically widen the range of voices that are heard in the national political debate, increase political engagement and help people escape their own information bubbles and better understand their fellow citizens.

In the same way that it is not necessary to be on Twitter to be aware of President Trump’s tweets, the programme would affect the political agenda beyond those who watch it.

Here are details of the proposal.
  1. UK would be divided into 12 areas and the programme would come from a different area each month.
  2. An independent body would select (like a jury) ten questioners per show from the area where the programme is based that month.
  3. The questioners should collectively form a representative sample from that area. The factors used to select a representative sample may, for example, include sex, income, race, age, religion and disability. The selection process must be rigorous and transparent.
  4. If someone selected does not want to take part, then someone else similar would be selected.
  5. Each questioner would have five minutes one-to-one with the leader. 
  6. There would be no chairperson and no studio audience. There would be the necessary security.
  7. The programme would go out live (with usual short delay) and there would be an edited version of highlights.
  8. An independent body would deal with any complaints or other issues.

Ideally, the prime minister, Theresa May, would agree to take part in the programme. Unfortunately, it is unlikely she would. She has shown an aversion to unscripted meetings with the public and the current arrangement suits her.

Jeremy Corbyn, however, should, I hope, agree to take part. The programme would be good for democracy and, I believe, good for him too.

There would be an obvious risk for any political leader in taking part. A questioner might launch a furious attack on them and they would be trapped for five minutes and it would all go out live. 

But the likely benefits for any politician should outweigh the risk. They could connect with voters across the UK, speaking to them directly and not mediated by an unsympathetic or hostile media. And as for the risk of a furious attack - even if the person attacking them is unlikely to be convinced, they can defend themselves and may persuade some of the watching public.

We should not fear the people, as those who denied them the vote once did, but should trust them to speak on their own behalf.  Let them ask the questions that matter to them and put their own issues on the agenda.

One day, a programme like this may be seen as an essential part of any proper democracy.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Six facts the commentators ignored when they wrote Corbyn off

The day revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, 14 July 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary a single word to record the day’s events - “Rien”. Sometimes, there can be a profound disconnect between elites understanding of their own society and the reality.

In the UK, the middle-aged solid-middle-class, the Establishment, have for the most part such a visceral dislike of Jeremy Corbyn that they have demonised him. 

But Corbyn is no monster. A .L. Kennedy has described the “threat” from him as “strangely beige and gentle”. What he advocates is mainstream in many European countries; it is social democracy not Trotskyism. Since 1979, the UK has travelled very far to the right. Corbyn is offering a corrective.

Outside the Establishment, in the UK in 2017 there is widespread political, economic and social dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It should have been no surprise that a politician who spoke to voters as grown-ups and offered them achievable ways to improve their lives would do well. 

Corbyn offers hope. The comfortable often sneer at that but hope is the essential element in democratic politics.

It’s true that when the 2017 General Election was called, the polls pointed to Corbyn’s Labour party suffering a landslide defeat. However, there was plenty of other evidence - for those who looked for it - to suggest that Labour might defy the polls and do well. 

Almost all of the UK’s national political commentators inhabit a bubble within a bubble. They work inside the Westminster Bubble where the views of national politicians and their own colleagues inform their versions of reality. 

They also live inside the Establishment Bubble where almost everyone - prior to 8 June 2017 - repeated as a fact the accepted wisdom of the Westminster Bubble since the summer of 2015: - Jeremy Corbyn deserved all manner of criticisms but, in any event, he was unelectable. It was taken as inarguable, that Labour could only be elected if it moved to the political centre and courted the press-barons as Tony Blair had done in 1997.

Then, on 8 June 2017, Corbyn’s Labour party won 40% of the vote. A 10% increase on the vote won by Labour only 2 years before. Labour now leads the polls - polling above what Tony Blair achieved in 1997.

Different commentators responded in different ways to being proved wrong. Jon Snow of Channel 4, with commendable honesty declared: - “I know nothing. We the media, the pundits know nothing. We simply didn’t spot it.”

Most commentators were far more defensive than Snow. Some wrote mea culpas but then went on to excuse themselves on two grounds - first, “everyone was saying the same” and second “there were no reasons to doubt the opinion polls which pointed to a Tory landslide”.

Within the bubble within a bubble, it was true - everyone was saying the same. Plenty outside the bubble(s) were saying something different but the commentators simply dismissed their views, with what seemed to be patronising contempt - not least from the pages of the Guardian.

There were plenty of reasons to think Corbyn’s Labour might do well. Here are six facts which commentators ignored.                
Fact One. 2017 is not 1997. Different rules apply.

When Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock and others repeatedly warned that Corbyn was leading the party to disaster, they would cite the hard lessons that Labour learned in the 1980s and 1990s. They failed to recognise how electoral politics has been changed by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007/8. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, the grip of the ideas underpinning Thatcherism/Neoliberalism was so strong that a party of the left had to accept them in order to win - this they called “moving to the centre ground”.

The GFC, however, has changed the rules of British politics. Some have done well economically since the GFC. The majority are still suffering a decade on and after seven years of austerity.

The very rich have seen their fortunes swell. The middle-aged solid-middle-class (which includes most of the political commentators) have been largely untouched by austerity while the value of their assets, primarily property, has increased.

For most people in the UK, however, living standards have been declining; millions are feeling insecure; and millions - including people working full-time, disabled people, and children - are in penury and are even needing to turn to food-banks. 

It should have been obvious to anyone that the status quo had widely failed.
It was predictable that an argument for change might be electorally appealing and the counter-argument of “steady as she goes” might not.

Fact Two. Across the democratic world the established order was in turmoil - Corbyn would benefit as the anti-establishment candidate.

An anti-establishment wave has touched many countries since the GFC. In Greece Syriza; in Spain Podemos; in Italy Five Star; in the Netherlands, the Freedom Party; in the USA Trump; in France both the traditional left wing and right wing parties performed disastrously in the presidential election; and in the UK, there had been the vote for Brexit.

Elites - political, business, financial - are widely disliked throughout the democratic world. They have done well since the GFC, while at the same time, millions have not only suffered but see no prospect of things improving.

Corbyn was the anti-establishment candidate in the election. It was predictable that he might do well.

Fact Three. Media coverage up to the election had been systematically biased against Corbyn but that would change during the election period due to strict election broadcast rules and fairer coverage would benefit Corbyn.

For almost two years preceding the election, Corbyn was subject to a systematic campaign of bias and in some cases vilification in the mainstream media. 

A study by the LSE concluded that 75% of press coverage misrepresented Corbyn. A study by MRC and Birkbeck showed marked and persistent bias at broadcasters including the BBC. 

No current leading politician has faced as hostile a press as Corbyn. This reflects the fact that he represents the most serious threat to the power of the elites for decades. Corbyn’s unpopularity as reflected in opinion polls before the election was largely created by the mainstream media; previously obscure backbench Labour MPs hostile to Corbyn found themselves near fixtures on the front pages.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the media’s smears against Corbyn. He has been labelled all the following and more.

Joke. Terrorist-sympathiser. Pacifist. Extremist/loony left and/or Communist. Weak.  Anti-semite. Stalinist. Stupid. Cult leader. Misogynist. Unpatriotic. To blame for Brexit. Naive. To blame for Venezuela… Above all - unelectable.

Not a single one of these labels, I would argue, are true - and some, of course, are contradictory.  Naturally, if enough mud is thrown, some of it will stick. Many people in the Establishment repeat these smears as facts.

Different rules apply to broadcasters during an election period - they are obligated to be fair and to give appropriate airtime. This was crucial to the result.

It was predictable that once people had more of a chance to see Corbyn and his message, unmediated, the more they would support him.  The more people saw a decent, reasonable man with a passion to help the poor and comfortable in his own skin, the more ludicrous the media smears appeared.

Fact Four. Corbyn’s policies were known to be popular, particularly his anti-austerity message. He would reap the benefit when he had fairer media coverage. 

Labour’s 2017 manifesto sets out in clear language a pragmatic, achievable vision of a better society. It is not “extreme”, let alone “Communist”.  Nothing in the manifesto should have come as a surprise to the commentators. Much had already been announced or trailed. 

Opinion poll evidence before the election showed that Corbyn’s policies were popular. 

At the centre of Corbyn’s policies is anti-austerity. This was a clear break with Labour in 2015 under Ed Miliband.

At Corbyn’s election count in 2017 he said: - “You know what? Politics has changed, and politics isn’t going back into the box where it was before. Because what’s happening is people have said they’ve had quite enough of austerity politics. They’ve had quite enough of…underfunding our health service, underfunding our schools…and not giving young people the chance they deserve…people are voting for hope…and turning their backs on austerity.” 

Theresa May wanted the election to be about Brexit. Corbyn effectively neutralised the issue for Labour. He whipped the party to support Article 50, thereby signalling clearly to Leavers that he respected the result of the referendum and he argued for a soft Brexit thereby attracting Remainers.

Corbyn attacked the harsh, unforgiving Thatcherite vision of the Tories. He offered an message that was both hopeful and credible. It was predictable he would do this and it was predictable it would be effective.

Fact Five. In the hundreds of thousands of new members and in Momentum, Corbyn had grass-roots support not seen in British politics for decades.

Between Corbyn’s emergence as the likely party leader and the time the election was announced, hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as half a million, joined the Labour Party. The Labour Party had more members than all the other parties combined. This was a remarkable reversal of decades of declining party membership in the UK.

During both of his leadership campaigns, Corbyn attracted large enthusiastic crowds of a type not seen in the UK for decades. People were actually excited about politics!

Momentum, a group set up to support Corbyn’s agenda, had demonstrated before the election that they were savvy and highly effective.

Time and again commentators declared that none of this would be significant when the General Election came. This was frankly a bizarre conclusion. How could a mass, motivated party not make a significant difference? In the event, predictably, it did.

Fact Six. The public had been sold by the media, false images of May and Corbyn - which would predictably be exposed. Corbyn was a known excellent campaigner. May not so.

Before the election, Theresa May had high poll scores. By the end of the campaign she had suffered a precipitate decline - unmatched in recent memory.

May had been seen as “strong and stable”. But the world now knows that she is neither. She is widely seen as wooden, insincere, lacking empathy, robotic and uncomfortable meeting “real people” unscripted. 

Corbyn’s popularity moved in a mirror image of May’s during the campaign. By the end of the campaign, he was seen by many as principled, decent and sincere.

None of this should have been a surprise to the commentators. May and Corbyn’s images before the election were media fabrications. The commentators had access to the “real May” and the “real Corbyn”.

It was predictable that May would be awful in the campaign.

It was predictable that Corbyn would perform well.


Unfortunately, some commentators, know what is expected of them whatever the facts maybe and write accordingly. In the words of the American novelist Upton Sinclair: -“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” 

For those who genuinely want to understand the significance of the 40% vote for Corbyn’s Labour and what may happen next in British politics, it is essential above all that they escape the confines and the assumptions of the Westminster Bubble and the Establishment Bubble too.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Cognitive Dissonance, Corbyn and the Labour big beasts

Cognitive dissonance occurs when someone is presented with evidence that a pre-existing belief is wrong. Holding two contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time is upsetting, even painful. People naturally seek to resolve cognitive dissonance as quickly as possible. One way is to accept the new evidence and amend their pre-existing belief. The other way is to reject the new evidence by rationalising it away, which gives people the comfort of retaining their pre-existing belief - even though the evidence shows it is wrong.

People’s approach to cognitive dissonance depends on how important the pre-existing belief is to them. For example, a UKIP supporter is likely to rationalise away any evidence presented to them which undermines their beliefs about the EU. Such rationalisation might be: - “I don’t believe that is true. You are just saying that because you are a Remainer.”  It is easy to think of examples concerning climate change, politics, economics, nationalism and many other fields. 

The American novelist Upton Sinclair pointed out an additional factor which might prevent someone following an argument where it leads: - "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

For two years, I have argued that the fabric of our society is being gravely damaged by the Tories and that Jeremy Corbyn deserved support as the person best placed to beat them. This has been a very unpopular argument among my peer group - the leftish-leaning, middle-aged, solid-middle-class. I have constantly been told that Corbyn “is unelectable”.

The journalist Gary Younge has clearly been having the same experience as me. In an article published a few days before the election he wrote this:-

For the past two years, it has been received wisdom that, when put before the national electorate, the Labour party under Corbyn was unelectable. Not simply that it would lose, but that there was no plausible way it could compete. These were not presented as opinions but as facts. Those who questioned them were treated like climate change deniers. Those who held the wisdom were the scientists. To take Labour’s prospects seriously under Corbyn was to abandon being taken seriously yourself.

In the event, Corbyn did very well in the election. After a highly impressive campaign, he won 40% of the vote - 10% above Ed Miliband two years ago. He also mobilised millions of voters who had previously not engaged with the political system at all. He has put the party in a good position to win the next election.

If Corbyn had been trounced I hope I would have had the intellectual honesty to admit I was wrong. I know that would have been painful - even somewhat humiliating. It would certainly have been tempting to rationalise away what had happened. Perhaps I would have chosen that tempting option. I really hope not. 

What matters is not who was right and who was wrong. What matters is that Labour people who have opposed Corbyn on the grounds that he was unelectable, now accept the clear evidence that he is certainly electable. There may well be another election within 12 months. Corbyn can win that but he needs all possible support - very much including the influential leftish-leaning, middle-aged, solid-middle-class.

In particular, the Labour big beasts - like Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Chuka Umunna, Owen Smith, Angela Eagle, Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan - need to accept the evidence of this election. They need to now commit and work wholeheartedly behind Corbyn’s leadership and they need to serve if asked. 

It won’t be easy for them. They will need to swallow their pride. It will be painful.

But the country needs them to do this and to do it urgently.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Why I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister

Some weeks after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party - for the first time - in September 2015, I went to a meeting in Harlesden, north west London, called to consider setting up a branch of Momentum, an organisation that supports Corbyn’s agenda and the Labour Party. There were about 60 people there. During the meeting we went round the room with every person explaining why they had come. 

For me - a middle-aged, solid-middle-class left-winger - it was a powerful experience to hear what people had to say. Most of the people were working-class; many were struggling to make ends meet. Some spoke of their struggles and described the kind of scenes as later depicted in I, Daniel Blake. The message that was repeated over and over was that in Corbyn, for the first time in decades, they saw a politician who actually cared about people like them and who gave them hope.

Some people sneer at “hope” but consider its absence - hopelessness. Hope is the essential ingredient behind all progressive change.

If “being left-wing” means anything, it means I believe wanting to help people like those who spoke at that meeting in Harlesden. 

I hope that people will read the Labour Manifesto before voting. It is not a “loony left” document - as some “respectable” publications claim - but a realistic, fully-costed and necessary blue print to save our country from the dark, divisive future that the Tories promise, complete with food-banks and US style public services.

Corbyn has shown remarkable leadership since September 2015. He has faced a constant barrage of lies, abuse and distortions. (Corbyn is no more a “terrorist-sympathiser” than Barack Obama who faced the same accusation in 2008). He has kept his cool and never responded in kind to the personal attacks. He has produced the best manifesto for decades. He has achieved polling figures which Labour has not seen for many years. He has engaged millions in the political process. He has run a highly professional campaign. He is, to coin a phrase, “strong and stable”.

As to the question that Theresa May wants  to be at the centre of the campaign - who would be better negotiating Brexit? Just consider the two alternative teams. May, Davis, Johnson, Fox on the one hand or Corbyn, Starmer, Thornberry, Gardiner on the other.

Is Corbyn “electable”? Often when people ask this, they mean in effect, is he acceptable to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre (who between them control over half the UK press). Since 1979, Murdoch has backed the winner at every single General Election. Tony Blair made a deal with Murdoch - and Murdoch naturally extracted a heavy price.

Corbyn thinks the UK deserves better than to be in thrall to Murdoch and the rest of the super-rich. 

I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister not only for people like those at the meeting in Harlesden but for my family and all of us. Corbyn can create a society which no longer values greed and which has contempt for the poor - as has been the case throughout the decades where Thatcherite values have held sway - but instead a society which values every person, community and simple decency. I would very much like to see that.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

The fundamental issue at the election is a moral one

On 5 July 1945, the great war leader Winston Churchill was, against all expectations, decisively beaten at the polls by his Labour opponent Clement Attlee. The Labour manifesto in 1945 laid out an unashamedly Socialist vision for the UK and by the time the Attlee government left office six years later, it had transformed Britain’s political culture. All governments that followed in the next three decades - Tory as well as Labour - accepted Attlee’s underlying moral vision: in our society, the more fortunate have a duty to help those less fortunate.

The “Attlee consensus” lasted until 1979 and the election of Margaret Thatcher. In an interview in 1981, Thatcher made her aim in government very clear:-“Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”

Thatcher succeeded. Her government was as transformative to the UK’s political culture as Attlee’s. The name for the new governing morality - and the economics and politics that it underpinned - is Thatcherism. The name given to the same ideology internationally is Neoliberalism.

As expressed in Thatcher’s often quoted phrase that “there is no such thing as society”, Thatcherism emphasises individuals over the collective. It sees people as naturally selfish, competing individuals.

We still live in the Thatcherite age. Thatcher (and her key associates like Rupert Murdoch) did not invent greed, nor admiration for the rich, nor contempt for the poor. But what they did, was to make these attitudes socially acceptable. 

Tony Blair and New Labour deserve credit for some progressive measures and investment in public services. However, as Polly Toynbee one of the foremost cheerleaders for New Labour admits, Blair and Brown never challenged Thatcher’s “pervasive political legacy”. Toynbee writes: -“They did much good but stealthily, never shifting the public discourse. … (As a result) how easily David Cameron and Theresa May have grubbed up New Labour’s legacy.”

Under Thatcherism, rich people are admired by virtue of their wealth - and they are given licence.

There was some tax-cheating by the very rich before 1979, of course, but since then the scale has increased dramatically. Now paying tax for the super-rich has become in effect voluntary. No moral stigma attaches to these tax-cheats under Thatcherism. One of them is Sir Richard Branson; yet he is allowed to bid for and profit from UK public services such as trains and parts of the NHS.

Economically, those in the top 1% by income or by wealth have prospered mightily since 1979, with barely a pause at the time of the Crash of 2008. Within the 1%, the 0.1% have prospered even more while the 0.01% have accumulated wealth beyond imagination. 

The rich tend to like Thatcherism, of course: not only has it increased their wealth but it also teaches that they deserve their riches. Many like to pose as if they are swash-buckling, risk-taking entrepreneurs. The vast majority, however, owe their position to luck - luck of inheritance or education or some other factor. Many are rentiers - they live off their capital. “There are two types of rich people. Some who are lucky, who think they are clever. Some who are clever, who know they are lucky.”

Meanwhile, social inequality, which was at an historic low in 1979 has, since then, returned to levels last seen before the First World War and in Victorian times. There are some 13 to 14 million people in the UK living in poverty. 

Since 2010, contempt for the poor by their own government has been on a scale not seen previously in the period since 1979. The bedroom tax, the cutting of benefits, the sanctions regime and the tests that disabled people have to endure have all led to hunger (and the explosion in food-bank use), misery, despair and a sharp rise in suicides.

May’s treatment of refugees - including unaccompanied child refugees - has been shockingly callous.

Thatcherites it seems, find it possible to ignore the suffering of others and withhold natural compassion by convincing themselves that others deserve their fate. Even those who have worked for years and have fallen on hard times. Even the disabled. Even the children. Even those fleeing war and persecution. 

A core Thatcherite claim is that anyone can rise from poverty to wealth if they work hard enough. This is a cruel lie in 2017 when social mobility is very low and most people in poverty live in households where someone is working - often very hard.

The Attlee consensus lasted from 1945 to 1979, that is 34 years. The Thatcher consensus has lasted from 1979 to date, that is 38 years so far. 

I hope on 8 June 2017, something will happen which will be as unexpected as what happened on 5 July 1945. I hope the adherents of the immoral, nasty, soul-sapping Thatcherite ideology lose. I hope that the long road back to a decent society - an Attlee society fit for the Twenty First century - can then start.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Guardian

Jonathan Freedland is a senior commentator at the Guardian. In one of his tweets early in the election campaign he asked, derisively, if “Corbynistas” (a term of abuse) knew that the Labour slogan “For the Many, not the Few” was originally a Blairite slogan. His tweet encapsulates the problem with the Guardian’s coverage of the Labour Party, since it first became clear Jeremy Corbyn would be elected leader in the summer of 2015. Almost everything is seen through the prism of the internal split in the party and time and again the Guardian has got its facts wrong. 

Corbyn has routinely been described on the Guardian news pages as “hard-left” despite his domestic policies being in the mould of Attlee and Scandinavian social democracy. His opponents have been called “moderates” even when supporting harsh welfare measures or further bombings abroad. Previously obscure MPs have been given regular platforms to vent their anti-Corbyn views. The paper ran and ran with vile smears of anti-Semitism against Corbyn; the smears are entirely untrue but real and lasting harm has been done. 

The Guardian’s narrow focus on the internal Labour power play has meant that it has, consequently, managed to miss the real story which is that Corbyn has developed a coherent and electable alternative to the truly dire Tory government.  And they have underestimated Corbyn’s supporters. They are the most serious, committed and numerous body of political activists the UK has seen for decades: not “cult members”; not “Trots”; not “Islington poseurs”.

Anyone who relied on the Guardian solely for information about British politics is likely to be bemused by the fact that the Tory lead in the opinion polls over Labour has shrunk from 24 points at the start of the campaign to only 5 now. Was Corbyn not meant to be incapable of leading, unelectable? Would not anybody - even Owen Smith - be better? Tony Blair made an actual deal with Rupert Murdoch; surely, Labour would have to compromise with the Tory-Murdoch-Dacre agenda to have any prospect of winning? 

The Guardian is not the paper it once was. The fact that it is described as left-wing is because the rest of the press is so right-wing. In an editorial, Labour’s manifesto pledge only to raise taxes on incomes over £80,000 was dismissed as “virtue-signalling” - the sort of comment one would expect from the Mail or Telegraph. In 2010, the Guardian advised its readers to vote Liberal Democrat. It may do so again in 2017.

Of course, the Guardian has had a proud and long history of radicalism. It was originally set up as the Manchester Guardian by a business man John Taylor who witnessed the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 1819, a crowd of more than 50,000 met at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester to support extending the franchise beyond the tiny amount of rich men then allowed to vote. The local magistrates sent in the cavalry to break up the peaceful crowd. At least 15 people were killed. The name Peterloo was given to point out the bitter irony that the same cavalry had fought at the real battle of Waterloo four years before in 1815. Nobody was ever held to account for the Peterloo Massacre.

The source of Labour’s slogan “For the Many, not the Few” is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy, which was written in response to the Peterloo Massacre.

It is a brilliant poem. It has many contemporary resonances. Three monsters terrorise England - Murder, Fraud and Anarchy - but they are conquered by Hope.

“I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh” 

Or “a mask like Theresa May” would scan too. If you think that’s a bit strong, have you seen I, Daniel Blake?  Have you read the reports of multiple suicides linked to May’s cruel welfare system?

“Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them”

For Lord Eldon, one could put any number of greedy, super-rich antisocial tax-cheats. How about Philip Green or Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson?  Their tax-cheating leads to deeper cuts to services and a rising number of hungry little children having to use food banks.

“Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.”

Anarchy in the poem is the anarchy of the rich and powerful, who do what they want. In 2017, Anarchy should stand for Donald Trump - a man who could literally cause an apocalypse and whom May hurried to hold hands with - only predictably to now be treated with the disdain with which bullies always treat sycophants.

But Shelley’s poem is hopeful. Murder, Fraud and Anarchy despite their huge power can be beaten.

“When one fled past, a maniac maid,
And her name was Hope, she said:
But she looked more like Despair

A rushing light of clouds and splendour,
A sense awakening and yet tender
Was heard and felt - and at its close
These words of joy and fear arose

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many and they are few.”

The Guardian would once have been supportive of Corbyn, who has the same anger against injustice and passion for social justice as Shelley. Not only has it not been with Corbyn but worse it has been actively undermining him since 2015.

I hope the Guardian will rediscover its radical roots, as a matter of urgency.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

UK’s National Debt - both a Tory failure and a media failure. Some questions.

Consider these two facts.

When Cameron and Osborne came to power in 2010, the UK’s National Debt was £979 BILLION, which amounted to 65% of GDP.  

The latest figures, which are for 2016, show that the UK’s National Debt was then £1.73 TRILLION, which amounted to 89% of GDP.  By May 2017, the National Debt has doubled - or nearly doubled - after seven years of Coalition and Tory rule.

In 2010, Cameron and Osborne wanted the Deficit (the annual gap between income and expenditure) and the Debt (the total amount owed by the government) to be at the centre of the public debate in the UK.

In 2017, May does not want the two facts above to be highlighted.

The UK’s mainstream media have faithfully followed the Tory wishes both in 2010 and now. Their failure to hold the Tories to account on this and most other issues is an appalling dereliction of their democratic duty.

In 2010 and following, print media and broadcasters talked about Deficit and Debt incessantly. 

They failed to hold Osborne to account when he said that the UK was on the brink of bankruptcy.  That was a barefaced lie.  If the UK’s Debt meant this was true in 2010, how can the Tory narrative that the economy is doing well in 2017 also be true, when the Debt is now double that of 2010?

All this matters hugely because it was the Deficit and Debt narrative that the Tories used to justify their programme of austerity. If anyone had the temerity to oppose austerity they were derided in the media - including by BBC correspondents - as a “Deficit-denier”.

Austerity was a con, perpetrated primarily on the poorest in society but also on many in the middle of society. Austerity did not touch the 1% - UK’s “elites”. 

Austerity was not justified by economics. Leading economists including Nobel laureates warned in 2010 that austerity would not work. They have been proved right with low growth, stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure and a doubling of the Debt in seven years. Admittedly, they were wrong about mass unemployment - instead millions are trapped working in insecure jobs for poverty wages.

The Deficit and Debt narrative was used as an excuse to allow the Tories to impose an ideological Thatcherite vision on the UK. This was to have the State as small as possible. 

Austerity led to an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

By 2013, child poverty was rising sharply, Oxfam and the Red Cross were helping the poor in the UK for the first time since WW2, Sure Starts had closed, as had libraries. Life for millions in UK was very bleak and to get bleaker.

At the same time, the wealth of the rich - the top 1% and particularly the top 0.1% - saw very large increases.

Very few people will get the opportunity to press Theresa May on live TV in this election. I dream that one of them will do so without fear or favour. Here are some questions I would like asked of the PM.
  1. The National Debt has doubled since 2010. Since then the Tories have sold off many public assets. They have not invested much in infrastructure. They have made swingeing cuts. Where has all the money gone?
  2. If depriving severely disabled people of benefits was justified because of the Debt, how could it at the same time be right to slash Inheritance Tax? 
  3. Isn’t the truth that the cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society were not motivated by a desire to reduce the Debt but by an ideological obsession to reduce the size of the State? It was a con, wasn’t it PM?
  4. Have you seen I, Daniel Blake? No? Well, you really should prime minister. Ken Loach has done what Dickens did for the Victorians and Orwell did in the 1930s - that is he has revealed to the comfortable middle class what is going on for the poor and vulnerable in their country. As PM and as a professed Christian, I would urge you to see the film and act on it.
  5. I have here a list of leading Tory donors. These people have prospered greatly since 2010. It looks like some kind of deal - they fund you, you look after them. What do you say PM?
  6. Thank you
Blog amended on 16 May to say National Debt has doubled - OR NEARLY DOUBLED - between 2010 and May 2017

Saturday, 13 May 2017

GUEST BLOG by a Deputy Head about harm that school funding cuts will cause to children, teachers and the country

I am a Deputy Head in a large inner city comprehensive, which has been much praised for the all-round education it provides to its very diverse intake of students. I feel in the current climate that I have to stay anonymous.

I am deeply concerned at the harmful effects that funding constraints - both now and going forward under the proposed new funding formula - will have on the education and life-chances of our students.
The cuts will, without doubt, really affect our school’s ability to do its core work in the classroom. ‎More and more is being done by less and less as the cuts impact on both staff and learning resources.

However, I want to highlight another aspect. It is crucial that we do not forget the importance of extra-curricular activities to educate the whole child. I am profoundly worried about their future. There is almost no money left in the pot for anything which is not a core activity. 

Furthermore, the cuts will take away the vital capacity of teachers to offer more. Due to teachers teaching more hours and larger classes, we are exhausting their goodwill and energy to support those vital extra-curricular projects that are essential for so many of our students. 

As a truly comprehensive school where many students do not automatically get exposed to art, sport, the City and a multitude of experiences that other children are lucky enough to have, my school passionately believes in the whole child and it is projects like Duke of Edinburgh; global links with our partner school in Africa; Community Volunteering; Artsmark, drama projects; enterprise and more that build up resilience, confidence and a sense of wonder.

These funding cuts tear at the very heart of the wonderful community school where I work. We have an ethos and values that put education of the whole child and of every child at its centre. Our vital work will be jeopardised.

I am upset above all for the children but also for the teachers. And I am also upset for the country - surely we can afford to properly fund education of the next generation in the sixth richest country in the world?

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Could Fascism come to the UK? Yes, of course it could

“ It hardly needs pointing out that at this moment we are in a very serious mess, so serious that even the dullest-witted people find it difficult to remain unaware of it ” - George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Orwell writing in 1937 was concerned about the prospect of Fascism coming to the UK. At the time, the continent of Europe was dominated by Fascists in Germany, Italy, Spain and a number of smaller countries.

As I write in 2017, there is a Fascist in the White House and across the Channel another Fascist is in the run-off to become president of France.

It is not necessary to carry out mass murder as Hitler did to qualify as a Fascist.

There is no single accepted definition of Fascism. This five part test can be helpful.
A Fascist leader:-
1. is contemptuous of the democratic process.
2. is contemptuous of the rule of law.
3. stigmatises and persecutes minorities. 
4. lies and fabricates; undermines and threatens those who tell the truth; uses hyper-nationalistic language.
5. regards himself or herself as the source of all “legitimate power”.

Orwell warned that if Fascism came to the UK it might not at first look or feel like Fascism at all - although he expected it to become more recognisable as time went on.

English Fascism, when it arrives, is likely to be of a sedate and subtle kind (presumably, at any rate at first, it won’t be called Fascism)…”

“…Fascism is coming; probably a slimy Anglicised form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika.”

In 1937 the British Establishment with a few exceptions - like Orwell and Winston Churchill - far from opposing Fascism, favoured appeasement of Nazi Germany. The press and the BBC duly reflected that Establishment opinion. (Churchill complained in 1938 that he had been “muzzled by the BBC”.)

In 2017, the UK faces another threat of Fascism. The Establishment - which largely retains control over the media and the narrative heard by the British people - does not even recognise such a threat. It is preoccupied with the danger (to itself) of Socialism.

The Establishment have been attacking the Socialist Jeremy Corbyn with an extraordinary intensity for the last two years. He has been vilified, traduced and misrepresented daily in almost the entire media.  All this has been done by the finest minds in journalism, PR and advertising and, unsurprisingly, he will probably be crushed. 

Meanwhile, the Tory party has adopted the policies and the rhetoric of the once-fringe racist UKIP.

Theresa May is clearly comfortable with Fascists. She can be expected to embrace Marine Le Pen warmly, in the event that she is elected president of France today. She famously held hands with Trump and she then flew straight from the USA to meet Erdogan who has locked up record numbers of Turkish journalists and lawyers who have had the temerity to oppose him.

It is likely that the British people will be subject to huge turmoil in the years after the current election. Scotland - and even Northern Ireland - may leave the Union. Brexit - and the likely failure of the negotiations - will probably mean that the rump of the UK will face a severe economic crisis for the many (while the few at the top continue to prosper).

The people who will have caused the crisis - the Tories, the press-barons and the rest - will naturally cast around for scapegoats to blame. The likely targets will be Muslims, foreigners, and the poor.

The Tories under May have crushed opposition. Not only political opposition but also other types which are essential for a properly functioning democracy.  

The British media’s performance during this election campaign is evidence of just how far it has become subservient to the Establishment. Incredibly, it seems likely May will win this election without facing any real scrutiny. She has refused to take part in TV debates or to take questions from the public or from anyone except for a few favoured interviewers. The media is hardly challenging this insult to democracy and is failing shamefully in its democratic duty of holding the powerful to account. 

Meanwhile, in the legal system, the Tories have made it more difficult to challenge them in the courts and have targeted law firms which have been at the forefront of bringing such challenges. And when judges, doing their job and interpreting the law, were vilified as “enemies of the people” in the press, the government said nothing.

And - chillingly - a year or two ago, the Tories passed the most invasive legislation on mass surveillance in the Western world.

The temptation for the Tories to slide into Orwell’s “sedate and subtle” Fascism, when faced with unrest, will be great. Power corrupts, let alone absolute power.

Of course, there is also another different danger of Fascism in the UK. A demagogue may arise and say that the “hope” that the likes of Corbyn offered failed and instead they will offer the far more intoxicating brew of “hate”.

I am scared where this will all end.

Monday, 24 April 2017

GUEST BLOG - GE 2017: Where to focus for the independent Leftie? by William Bolton

Didn’t expect this election now;  don’t think Labour should have voted for it without extracting some serious concessions from the Tories;  resent having my own plans for the next 6 weeks torn up by Theresa May for her own advantage;  think single member constituency first past the post elections for an unreformed Westminster are a sad apology for democracy.  So, primarily feel sick and manipulated. 

But – you can’t just concede the battlefield to a Tory party running on a close approximation of the BNP’s 2005 election manifesto

If you are Tom London and a rock solid Labour loyalist, the path is easy.  If you are a more free-floating independent Leftie, then more options are available – not necessarily a good thing.  I am grateful to Tom for making space on his blog for a point of view that is not his own.  

What to do?  Where to focus limited time and energy?  Some personal thoughts on the options follow – views on the answers sought!
1) Believe that Labour can hold the line at local level better than the national polls would imply
(a)  Fight the conventional fight in pro-Remain marginals in London or the big cities: defend sitting Labour MPs whose politics appeal and try to make sure the Tories don't make any gains there.
(b)  Fight the conventional fight in pro-Brexit marginals: try to defend sitting Labour MPs in the Midlands & North whose politics appeal and who are Tory targets. 

2) Believe that Labour is going to do very badly and therefore:
(a)  the composition of the PLP rump after the election is the important thing: 
  1. Be positive: defend (or try to get elected) the most appealing broadly pro-Corbyn and pro-change Labour candidates;
  2. Go negative:  encourage tactical voting to take the scalps of the worst, most disloyal Labour MPs.

(b) what comes after Labour is the important thing:
  1. get some Greens into clear second place challenger position, such as Natalie Bennett in Sheffield Central;
  2. try to strengthen the position of left-leaning national & regional parties, such as Plaid, SNP, the Yorkshire Party.

3) Believe that the most important thing is to campaign against the worst aspects of our existing system
(a) We will never get change under First Past the Post, so use the election to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform. 
(b) Campaign against the media system: for example, increase awareness of the scandal of the BBC taking its agenda so directly from the oligarch press – the Sun, Mail, Times, Telegraph, Express, Standard.
(c) Campaign positively for an alternative media: support some kind of alternative election news source. 

A focus on fighting the election in the conventional way, and the immediate need to fight against Tory lies, means working for regular Labour CLPs or supporting Momentum teams to do that.

A focus on trying to break the Tory-Labour duopoly system means working for the Greens in a constituency fight eg Natalie Bennett in Sheffield Central, or for others, say Leanne Wood in the Rhondda.

Rejecting our malign, farcical electoral system as it is presented to us perhaps means working for Neal Lawson and Compass’s progressive alliance for electoral reform

Rejecting our malign, farcical media system perhaps means getting involved with the Media Reform Coalition, and whatever they decide to do during the election campaign.  

Can’t do them all!  Which to choose?