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.