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?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

GE 2017: Socialism - Corbyn, Attlee, Sanders, Orwell, Paine and Loach

The very term “Socialist” had been so thoroughly ridiculed and vilified for decades, that I would never have thought of describing myself as a Socialist at the time of the last General Election in May 2015. (Remember that election? It was when Cameron was successfully marketed as a “statesman” and his backers in the mainstream media persuaded people that Miliband was “odd” and was the one who would bring “chaos”).

I realise now that my beliefs mean I should describe myself as a Socialist. Obviously, I have been influenced by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and by Bernie Sanders in the US. The greatest peacetime prime minister the UK has ever had, Clement Attlee, was a proud Socialist, as was the greatest British writer on politics and society of the last century, George Orwell.

My political hero, Tom Paine - arguably the father of modern democracy and human rights - predated Socialism but he shared some crucial beliefs with it. Paine hated bullying by the rich of the poor. He challenged the assumptions of the powerful everywhere he went: - “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right”. 

Paine’s comments, 200 years ago, were revolutionary and dangerous:-
“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want…When these things can be said, then may the country boast of its constitution and its government.”

Like Corbyn, Paine was viciously mocked and abused - that is the inevitable fate of anyone who dares to challenge the interests of the powerful.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937, Orwell addresses the meaning of Socialism. He defines its essential ideals as “justice and liberty”.  These ideals are to be understood in a very practical sense. In 2017, for example, the courts may give you justice, but only if you can access them and millions of people have been denied effective access since 2010. And someone working all hours on poverty wages has little meaningful liberty. 

Orwell sets a test for himself and others so they can know whether or not they are a Socialist. In the first half of The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell describes the bleak conditions of the working class in the coal mining areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire in the Great Depression of the 1930s. He starts the second half of the book arguing that “before you can be sure whether you are genuinely in favour of Socialism, you have got to decide whether (such) things at present are tolerable or not tolerable.”  

(Orwell is scathing about Middle Class left-wingers who like to advocate progressive policies but always manage to rationalise to themselves why this is never the right time or this is never the right method to actually fight to make them a reality. “Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed”. Orwell would undoubtedly view the Guardian, the spiritual home of such have-your-cake-and-eat-it views, with withering contempt in the current circumstances.)

When Orwell described the grinding poverty in the North, he was consciously following in the tradition of Charles Dickens. He wanted the comfortable middle class to know what was happening in their country. He knew that most of them were oblivious to the reality. They did not see it with their eyes. It did not affect anyone they knew. They could pretend - even to themselves - it was not happening under their noses.

The closest we have to a Dickens or an Orwell today is, probably, Ken Loach.
His film I, Daniel Blake, shows the grim reality of the lives of millions of people in the UK. According to an authoritative study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 13.5 million people are living in poverty in the UK today. This number includes 3.7 million children. And more people living in poverty are in working households than in non-working households - people are working hard for poverty pay. (The facts make a mockery of the facile Tory mantra that if you work hard you can escape poverty.)

I, Daniel Blake shows what Loach describes as the “conscious cruelty” of the Tory benefit system. At the heart of the film is the draconian and arbitrary system of benefit sanctions. The most vulnerable in society including children, the mentally ill and the physically disabled are “punished”. A number of suicides have been linked to these sanctions. They force people to food-banks which since 2010 have become “normal” in the UK. This is one of the richest countries in the world - yet since 2013, the Red Cross has been delivering food parcels to our hungry and well over a million food parcels are handed out each year and the number is rising inexorably.

I don’t think that what I, Daniel Blake describes is tolerable in our country. By Orwell’s test, then I am a Socialist. 

The stakes are incredibly high in this election. On the one side is the Trump-loving, NHS-destroying, public-services-trashing, Murdoch-Dacre-crony May. On the other, the Socialist Corbyn. I am with the Socialist.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

GUEST BLOG A poem for our times - by Anon

11th september 2001
That defining moment when time begun
We dont know what happened and what came before
But from that day on continuous war.
You're either with us or against us, that foolish attitude
That provided no space, no room, no latitude
To think deeply about the problems that affect us,
Perplex us, reflect us, connect us.
Now most of us can't see the wood for the trees
Like when kids are crying and down on their knees
But that doesnt stop us from feeling unease 
Our paradise island and its hypnotic breeze
Thrust into chaos by tabloid decrees,
A dead child on the sand and 'migrants' 
are 'refugees'
Still we are willing to let them freeze in the seas -
Oh what a tease when we claim to be Liberal
It's just so typical
In the land of the enlightened
But we are still so frightened 
Of the alien 'other'
Just a brother from another mother,
And the ones who were losing
Were never the ones choosing
Hate over love or war over peace
It was just bad luck they were born in the Middle East.
It could have been you, it could have been me
But we are so blinded that we just can't see
A sister in faith or a sister in humanity 
We weren't meant to judge based on nationality. 
Who knows what tomorrow brings and what lies ahead
But a noble Prophet surely once said 
'The best richness is the richness of the soul'
The soul that only knows how to be whole
When we live together, breathe together
Feel together, dream for a better
Life for ourselves and the next generation
Humanity, remember we are one nation
One family, one planet, one creation.