Tag Archives: Ed Miliband

anti-Zionism ≠ antisemitism: playing the race card cannot disguise Israel’s guilt

racism n.1 a a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this. b antagonism towards other races, esp. as a result of this. 2 the theory that human abilities etc. are determined by race. 1

As you read on please keep in mind this dictionary definition of racism. Reflect upon it and consider if this definition better fits the supporters of Israel’s policy against the Palestinians, or those who support Palestinian rights and in turn accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Ask too whether in accordance with the strict definition, it is antisemitic, and thus racist, to take either an anti-Israel or an anti-Zionist stance.

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On August 14th 2002, Democracy Now! interviewed Shulamit Aloni, leading Israeli civil rights activist and former Knesset member who headed the Meretz Party. In reply to the question “Often when there is dissent expressed in the United States against policies of the Israeli government, people here are called antisemitic: what is your response?” she said:

Well, it’s a trick. We always use it.

Continuing:

When from Europe somebody’s criticising Israel then we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country [America] someone is criticising Israel then they are antisemitic… It’s very easy to blame people who criticise certain acts of the Israeli government as antisemitic and to bring up the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people and that justifies everything we do to the Palestinian people.

Click here to read a full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website. [The extract above begins at 51 mins in]

Please note that I added the above section with a view to better framing the article. The post originally opened with the dictionary definition directly followed by my own views below.

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Signs of antisemitism?

As the Conservative party divides its time between running the country and tearing itself apart over Europe, Labour has been consumed with a rather different problem. In the past two weeks, it has had to expel two activists for overt racism. That follows the creation of an inquiry into the Labour club at Oxford University, after the co-chair resigned saying the club was riddled with racism. The racism in question is hatred of Jews. 2

writes Jonathan Freedland in a recent Guardian article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem”.

Antisemitism has a diabolical history, so can this really be true? Is the Labour Party deeply infected with racism? Or is this really another salvo in the war against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters – a war that began even before he was elected leader? More later.

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Meanwhile, over at AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Hillary Clinton last week addressed the more than 14,000 delegates gathered for their annual Policy Conference. She said:

Many of the young people here today are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS. Particularly at a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students. To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities. Antisemitism has no place in any civilized society—not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere. 3

Of course antisemitism – and every form of racism – has no place in any society. But since when did boycott, divestment and sanctions constitute racism? And is it true that antisemitism is on the rise again and “especially in Europe”? Where in Europe is it on the rise? More later.

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AIPAC greets The Donald

Attending this year’s AIPAC convention alongside Hillary were all the presidential hopefuls with the exception of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein of the Green Party, the only Jewish candidates in the race. Keen to curry favour with their influential hosts, the rest were soon falling over themselves to heap praise and promise unreserved support to Israel.

Prior to his appearance at AIPAC, Trump had declared that he would remain “neutral” in brokering any peace deal between Israel and Palestine. But fickle as ever, ‘The Donald’ was not about to be outdone by his rivals and overeager to push the right buttons. So besides reassuring the audience of his absolute determination to overturn the Iran deal, here is a sample of what else he said last Monday [March 21st]:

When I’m president, believe me, I will veto any attempt by the U.N. to impose its will on the Jewish state. It will be vetoed 100 percent.

And he said:

When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.

And:

Already half of the population of Palestine has been taken over by the Palestinian ISIS and Hamas, and the other half refuses to confront the first half, so it’s a very difficult situation that’s never going to get solved unless you have great leadership right here in the United States.

We’ll get it solved. One way or the other, we will get it solved.

And:

We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel.

And:

The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable.

And then he said:

They must come to the table willing and able to stop the terror being committed on a daily basis against Israel. They must do that.

And they must come to the table willing to accept that Israel is a Jewish state and it will forever exist as a Jewish state. 4

And finally he told everyone in the room how much he loved Israel and how much he loved the people in the room who shared his love for Israel and then they all applauded him until their hands were stinging.

Here is how Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev reported on Trump’s performance:

Trump entered the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. as a prime suspect but emerged clean as a whistle. In less than half an hour, he took a skeptical and apprehensive audience and turned them into gushing cheerleaders. He went into the arena as a racist demagogue but soon came out as an ostensibly serious contender. He faced a tough test of his mettle but passed it with flying colors and hardly any effort. He came away with a kosher “K” certificate, issued by one of the most powerful and influential organizations in America.

Adding:

In honor of AIPAC… he undertook an extreme makeover, reading a tightly formulated speech from the kind of teleprompter that he usually mocks. He didn’t deviate from his prepared text, which wasn’t any different from the addresses made on Monday by Hillary Clinton, John Kasich and even House Speaker Paul Ryan, another AIPAC favorite. Ted Cruz, usually considered a far better speaker than Trump, suddenly sounded dazed and confused. 5

There were also a handful of delegates who opted to boycott Trump’s appearance on the grounds that Trump himself is a racist. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld was one of the few and he wrote afterwards:

[And] the laws and teachings of Judaism make it clear that Trump qualifies as wicked. He has equivocated about whether he would disavow support from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. He has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He has suggested that torture be made legal and that the U.S. military kill the families of terrorism suspects (a war crime in international law as surely as it would be an ethical crime in religious law). Sure, he walked back some of those comments, but there is no question that his campaign is inspiring and nourishing the bigots and racists of the world. Lately, he has openly encouraged violence at his rallies. This combination of providing sustenance to racists and encouraging violence is a deadly one that represents an existential threat to our country. That certainly qualifies as wicked.

Before Trump’s speech, I asked other attendees at the AIPAC conference whether they would walk out to protest. Some small groups did leave, to study Torah elsewhere during his address. But most stayed, and many applauded. People told me that they wanted to hear what he had to say. They wanted to hear whether he would be supportive of Israel.

Whether he supports Israel is irrelevant to me. If a person inspires bigotry and racism, we should not overlook those character traits just because he says something with which we agree. Just the opposite: that he does agree with us on some issues makes his message even more dangerous, as it can make his bigotry and racism more palatable. 6

Rabbi Herzfeld is correct and I commend him. The jury can no longer be out on Donald Trump. Trump is an unabashed ethnic supremacist and a racist – he ticks all boxes of any definition. Moreover, those who loudly applaud him, whether within the capricious ranks of America’s so-called libertarian right, or its more rabid offshoot the Tea Party, or amongst Monday’s cheering crowd at AIPAC, thereby condone his racism. To oppose racism, you must denounce Trump.

[But] it is important to note that AIPAC inviting Trump is not an aberration, it is in line with AIPAC’s mission to support Israel regardless of how illegal and repressive its policies are.

writes Samantha Brotman from Jewish Voice for Peace in an article entitled “If Trump’s Racism Shocks You, So Too Should AIPAC’s”.

Brotman continues:

The reality is many of the alarming statements and political proposals that have even AIPAC goers up in arms over Trump’s participation are already policy in Israel. Israel’s Law of Return privileges Jewish immigrants over non-Jews, Israel already refuses to open its doors to Syrian refugees (many of whom are of Palestinian origin), and is building  highly militarized walls both on its southern border to keep out migrants and refugees, and throughout the West Bank to seize land and limit Palestinian freedom of movement. There is not much difference between Netanyahu’s racist fear-mongering to get votes in the 2015 Israeli election, and the blatant racism of Trump, or the no-less-racist dog-whistling by other candidates. And AIPAC unquestioningly supports Israel’s rights to continue these oppressive practices.

She concludes:

If Trump’s racism or policy proposals shock us, then so too should AIPAC. If the other candidates’ dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians makes us uncomfortable, then so too should AIPAC. If the claim that the BDS movement—a nonviolent movement that includes many Jews and emphasizes human rights—is essentially anti-Semitic confounds us, then so too should AIPAC. AIPAC represents everything we should seek to purge from politics: racism, inhumanity, fear-mongering, and entrenched commitment to the status quo. 7

Click here to read the full article published by Mint Press News.

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Crying wolf at the ADL

Yoav Shamir is an Israeli Jew and an award-winning documentary filmmaker who set off in the late noughties to answer a nagging question. Having never experienced it, he asked himself, “what is antisemitism today?”

Along the way Shamir posed this same question in various ways to amongst others, political scientist John Mearsheimer, who co-authored The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and Norman Finkelstein, the son of two Jewish concentration camp survivors and a fierce critic of Israeli policy. But central to his search for answers was the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); the biggest organisation in the world fighting antisemitism with an annual budget at the time of over $70 million. Happily, Abraham Foxman, the then-head of the New York-based ADL, had agreed to give Shamir unprecedented access to his organisation.

Yoav Shamir’s film “Defamation” is also available without subtitles by following the link: http://www.disclose.tv/embed/108237

The ADL tell Shamir that they receive reports of about 1,500 incidents of antisemitism a year but are detecting “a spike” in levels which appears to be centred on New York. As Shamir soon realises, however, supporting evidence for this claim is scant. Instead, those inside the ADL have evidently fallen into the habit of mistaking and reclassifying minor irritations and petty disputes as racist assaults.

ADL Regional Director, Bob Wolfson explains the levels to Shamir with the help of a flip chart and a roughly doodled pyramid:

“It starts with an insult, a denigrating statement, and at the very top what you have is genocide—and in between is every bad thing that can happen to someone.”

The film Defamation (2009 – embedded above) is a masterpiece of even-handedness and understatement. What Shamir discovers is how in contrast to very real and often acute feelings of Jewish vulnerability to outside threats and hostility, this sense of jeopardy (certainly in the western world) is for the most part groundless. Moreover, that the ADL itself, having a need to justify its own existence, helps to promote such a culture of suspicion and hypersensitivity by priming a feedback process which promotes and amplifies these anxieties. Unsurprisingly, his documentary was not well-received in all quarters. Shamir answers his critics here.

Today, when Clinton adjudges the BDS campaign antisemitic and places this in the context of the general though unsubstantiated claim that “antisemitism is on the rise across the world” she is appealing to an already heightened anxiety felt by her audience before skilfully playing on its uncertainties and suspicions. In doing so, she further aggravates the situation by saying: “we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.” A quite deliberate muddling together of Israel with the Jewish people that would itself be deemed racist, were it not for Clinton’s pro-Israel stance.

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The Corbyn affair

Jonathan Freedland, who describes himself as a ‘liberal Zionist’, wrote in the aftermath of Israel’s euphemistically named “Operation Protective Edge” military offensive of 2014:

Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war. 8

Yet the “war” he speaks of was in reality a one-sided massacre in which more than a thousand totally innocent Gazans lost their lives. Just another of Israel’s perennial acts of bloodletting that its most heinous apologists describe as “mowing the lawn”.

In a separate piece published a month later (also in The New York Review of Books), Freedland added:

In the toxic environment that characterizes much, if not most, debate on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a special poison is reserved for the liberal Zionist. Such a person, who stands by Israel even as he yearns for it to change, is fated to be hated by both camps: hawkish Zionists despise the liberal for going too far in his criticisms, accusing him of a hand-wringing betrayal of the cause that can only comfort the enemy, while anti-Zionists denounce the liberal for not going far enough, for failing to follow the logic of his position through to its conclusion and for thereby defending the indefensible. The liberal Zionist is branded either a hypocrite or an apologist or both. 9

Freedland’s self-pitying sticks in the throat, the more so after one also reads (within his reflections on “Operation Protective Edge” in the first article):

So there is a weariness in the liberal Zionist fraternity. Privately, people admit to growing tired of defending Israeli military action when it comes at such a heavy cost in civilian life, its futility confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated. Operation Cast Lead was in 2008-2009. Operation Pillar of Defense followed in 2012. And here we are again in 2014. 10

This refrain of the ‘liberal Zionists’ is a familiar one. When we strip it to the bone we see how casually it reduces the murder of civilians to an awkward necessity. “Its futility” – its ineffectiveness – as Freedland says, “confirmed by the frequency with which it has to be repeated”. But because Freedland is an artful wordsmith he is seldom so careless when it comes to abetting Israel’s hypocrisy and defending the indefensible.

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Freedland’s current dispute with the Labour Party is ostensibly about two party activists:

The cases of Gerry Downing and Vicki Kirby certainly look pretty rotten. The former said it was time to wrestle with the “Jewish Question”, the latter hailed Hitler as a “Zionist God” and tweeted a line about Jews having “big noses”, complete with a “lol”. 11

These opinions are abhorrent and offensive and in light of which the Labour Party has acted to suspend Downing and expel Kirby. 12 But these tweets, undeniably antisemitic as they are, represent the views of two individuals and are not ones held by the Labour Party or shared by Jeremy Corbyn.

Incidentally, at the time these cases came to light, the Labour leader was not Corbyn but Ed Miliband – Miliband who is the son of Polish Jews who had emigrated to Belgium but later fled the Nazi occupation. Furthermore, “Red Ed” as the tabloids soon labelled him, was the preferred choice of those ‘on the left’ of the party – the constituency Freedland wishes to hold to account.

However Freedland also has a bigger axe to grind and goes on:

[But] this is the brick wall Jews keep running into: the belief that what Jews are complaining about is not antisemitism at all, but criticism of Israel. Jews hear this often. They’re told the problem arises from their own unpleasant habit of identifying any and all criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish racism. Some go further, alleging that Jews’ real purpose in raising the subject of antisemitism is to stifle criticism of Israel.

So does Freedman deny that critics of Israel are routinely pilloried both on the trumped up charge of antisemitism, or, if the critic happens to be of Jewish ethnicity (as increasingly many are), then on grounds that they are “self-hating Jews”. Well, let’s go on:

What of those who attack not Jews, but only Zionists? Defined narrowly, that can of course be legitimate. If one wants to criticise the historical movement that sought to re-establish Jewish self-determination in Palestine, Zionism is the right word.

But Zionism, as commonly used in angry left rhetoric, is rarely that historically precise. It has blended with another meaning, used as a codeword that bridges from Israel to the wider Jewish world, hinting at the age-old, antisemitic notion of a shadowy, global power, operating behind the scenes.

So being anti-Zionist is equivalent to antisemitism too? Read on further:

To state the obvious, criticism of Israel and Zionism is not necessarily anti-Jewish: that’s why there are so many Jewish critics of Israel, inside and outside the country. But it doesn’t take a professor of logic to know that just because x is not always y, it does not follow that x can never be y. Of course opposition to Israel is not always antisemitic. But that does not mean that it is never and can never be antisemitic.

Any clearer? Well let me translate it. Freedland is saying that if I (a Jew) use the word Zionism to criticise Israel then that’s fine, but if you (a non-Jew) make a parallel argument then there may be grounds for suspicion…

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn.

Of course it does – where else could his meandering diatribe possibly have been heading?

No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But many Jews do worry that his past instinct, when faced with potential allies whom he deemed sound on Palestine, was to overlook whatever nastiness they might have uttered about Jews, even when that extended to Holocaust denial or the blood libel – the medieval calumny that Jews baked bread using the blood of gentile children.

Thus begins Freedland’s repetition of an old calumny against Corbyn about how he once unwittingly brushed shoulders with a holocaust denier called Paul Eisen. 13 Corbyn might not be an actual in-the-flesh antisemite, Freedland argues, but perhaps antisemitism doesn’t matter enough to him, which self-evidently explains why he is rude about Israel.

Guilt by association is a recognised type of ad hominem fallacy, as any professor of logic would also know, and literally proves nothing. Moreover, by mudslinging of this sort, Freedland and fellow inquisitors of the “new antisemitism” commit a second fallacy: precisely the one they rightly accuse their enemies of. By concatenating Israel with Jewishness and Zionism with Judaism, as they do, they conjure up spurious accusations that ultimately trivialise the true meaning and evil of racism.

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This is Jeremy Corbyn being arrested at an anti-apartheid protest demo outside the South African embassy in 1984.

And here is Corbyn talking about the incident in the House of Commons later:

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Racism and the Z-word

Here’s what the Urban Dictionary tells us about the word “Zionist”:

1. A person, Jewish or non-Jewish, who, by some action, supports the State of Israel.
2. A substitue [sic] word for ‘jew’ used by anti-semites who, for whatever reason, wish to hide their racist intent.

1. Robin moved to Israel because he is a Zionist. 
2. Any quote by George Galloway using the word ‘Zionist’.

That qualifies as satire apparently.

For the record, I have never heard George Galloway confuse Israel and Judaism. When he was put on trial last February by BBC’s Question Time, denounced by an unbalanced panel (that included Jonathan Freedland) and heckled by hostile audience, he very assiduously outlined the distinction, saying:

“This is a dangerous conflation. It’s a false synonym. Zionism and Israel are different things from Judaism and Jewishness. And anybody who confuses these two things, whether they are an antisemite, or whether they are so-called leaders of the Jewish community is making a grave mistake.”

[from 6:20 mins in]

As I wrote then in an earlier piece, there are plenty of accusations that can be fairly levelled at Galloway, but antisemitism is not on that list. Galloway is not a racist. Indeed, he has consistently spoken out against all types of racism. However, by speaking out loudly against Israel and Zionism, he is now presumed guilty of the “new antisemitism”.

All that said, Galloway’s roasting on Question Time did provide a rare moment of television for another reason. It had been a very long time since such an extended debate about Zionism was broadcast on the BBC.

Today, the word ‘Zionism’ itself is seldom heard in the mainstream media or anywhere respectable outside of Zionist forums themselves. Although within Zionist circles, it is breezily described as the Z-word. For instance, when Ed Miliband visited Israel back in April 2014 and remarked to students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that “For me, Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people”, adding that:

“I come here very conscious of my family’s history and also with a deep sense of gratitude to Israel for what they did for my grandmother. Israel was a sanctuary for her from the most indescribable grief. So it’s a personal journey for me as well.”

He was rounded on by some pro-Israel voices for “being afraid to use the Z-word”. The Times of Israel afterwards reported:

It was a full and personal answer, but at the same time a dodge and obfuscation. Miliband managed to say he believed in the necessity of Israel and its right to exist without having to use the Z-word. He had landed himself in hot water for calling himself a Zionist once before in March 2013 – a declaration he had to walk back within twenty-four hours, his office clarifying he had “not used the word Zionist to describe himself” – and wasn’t about to do it again. […]

Since he became the first Jewish leader of the British Labour Party in September 2010, Miliband has made a conscious attempt to court Jewish community leaders and institutions. In contrast to the obviously strong relationship between the community and David Cameron and Boris Johnson, Miliband was unknown and is still, to an extent, distrusted.

The big problem for the “Jewish community”, according the same article, was that Miliband had “come out in strong opposition to Operation Protective Edge”:

While it might at first seem incongruous to have come out against Operation Protective Edge at a time when relations with the Jewish community were just beginning to warm up, it should be understood that the considerations of the Jewish community were very much separate and secondary to internal Labour Party politics. Within the Parliamentary Labour Party, it is fair to say, a majority of MPs subscribe to the view articulated by Miliband. 14

The article I quote above is entitled “Ed Miliband has a very Jewish problem”. But does he really? Or might it be fairer and more accurate to say The Times of Israel has a very Zionist problem? A problem that once again involves the all-too casual muddling up of Jewishness with Israel.

There is plenty of reason, of course, for Miliband to have steered clear of the Z-word, since it is one of those words that encourages asymmetric interpretations depending upon who is using it. Zionists may use it freely amongst themselves, but once anyone from an anti-Zionist quarter picks it up, then no matter how carefully they tread, they are more than likely to be accused of the “new antisemitism” – of racism by stealth – a very serious charge and one that is next to impossible to defend against.

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There has in fact been overall decline in the usage of the Z-word that can be traced back to the late 1970s. 15 So what happened to cause the drop-off?

To understand it helps us to go back to 1975 when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelming in favour (72 votes to 35) of a resolution calling for the “Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination”. What was remarkable and perhaps shocking about Resolution 3379 was that it directly pointed to the equivalence between “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa”. The Resolution ended with this uncompromising declaration: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. 16

When this resolution was repealed in 1991, The New York Times reported:

Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who led the American delegation at this afternoon’s session, argued that repeal would bring the United Nations better into line with the realities of the post-cold-war world.

Equating Zionism with racism, Mr. Eagleburger said, “demonstrated like nothing else before or since, to what extent the cold war had distorted the United Nation’s vision of reality, marginalized its political utility and separated it from its original moral purpose.”

Alternatively:

Speaking against repeal on behalf of the Arabs, Lebanon’s representative, Khalil Makkawi, warned that it would hinder the peace process by whetting the appetite of “Israeli extremists wishing to pursue their policy of creeping annexation.”

It would also, he went on, “fuel the passions” of those Arabs “who believe the whole peace process is an exercise in futility which gives Israel more time to expand and achieve its revisionist Zionist project.”

But he said the Arab group “will revise its assumptions” if the sponsors of today’s repeal motion can now persuade Israel to comply with the Security Council’s demands that it cede occupied Arab lands in return for peace. 17

Sadly, post-Cold War history has shown Khalil Makkawi’s forecast to be the accurate one. Palestinian lands do indeed continue to be eaten away by the never-ending construction of illegal Israeli settlements, and as the Palestinian lands are stolen, their non-Jewish population is subjugated in a myriad ways and subjected to collective punishment that includes the partial starvation of those blockaded inside the Gaza Strip. 18

Given the terrible history of racism and oppression that culminated in the Holocaust, it is understandable and justifiable that the Jewish population demanded a right to sanctuary after the Second World War. But to settle the land of Israel those who arrived then callously swept aside a local people and in doing so transformed from victims into oppressors.

Not all Zionists are hawks, of course, and not all endorse the Zionist hawks of Israel’s right-wing Likud government. But Zionists today, liberal Zionists very much included, who unreservedly defend the right to a Jewish homeland are implicitly committed to supporting Israel’s founding principle of division along ethnic lines. They thereby tacitly approve all Israel’s past and current crimes including the horrors of the Palestinian exodus (or al-Nakbah, literally “the disaster”), an ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians during 1948 that was long denied. Somehow after a further half a century of brutal occupation, they can square all of this with their conscience.

Meanwhile, the men running Israel today are avowed Zionists of the most fundamentalist hue and the hard-line agenda they adhere to remains one of segregation and victimisation of the Palestinian people. It is a cruel expansionist apartheid system that is racist by any definition.

As Yousef Munayyer, executive director of U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, replied to political scientist Robert Freedman on a recent episode of Democracy Now! [March 22nd], responding to his claim (like Clinton’s) that BDS means “singling out Israel, when there are so many worse things happening in the world, [and] I think, is in fact antisemitism, and there’s no other way of looking at it”:

It’s the same exact argument, and you can go back and read the op-ed pieces that were written by the apologists for South African apartheid. It’s the same argument that we used to hear back in the ’70s and ’80s. When people were saying it’s time to divest from the apartheid system in South Africa, the apologists for apartheid were saying, “Look, there’s all kinds of horrible things going on in Africa and elsewhere. Why are you singling out South Africa? Don’t you understand the blacks in South Africa have it so much better than blacks elsewhere in Africa?” I mean, the arguments are almost word for word the same. And the reality is that the outcome has to be the same, as well, and the apologists for apartheid cannot be allowed to win. It’s only through the efforts—the nonviolent efforts—of civil society to hold Israel accountable for its violations of abuses—and abuses of Palestinian human rights that we are going to see any kind of change on the ground, especially if governments like the United States government, which is playing such a large role, continue to abdicate in their responsibility of doing something. [from 23 mins in]

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the discussion on the Democracy Now! website.

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The final words I leave with Rachel Sandalow-Ash of Open Hillel:

It’s sort of easy to call anything we don’t like anti-Semitism, but that’s sort of to diminish what real anti-Semitism is. And I think it’s very important to call that out when and where it exists but not to use anti-Semitism, and the fear of it, as a way of shutting down voices that challenge accepted viewpoints in our community.

Taken from an excellent recent article published by Mondoweiss entitled “Zionism is finally in the news, as officials seek to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism”.

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Update:

Since I posted this article, Bernie Sanders – “the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary” (as CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out) – has likewise been accused of “blood libel”. The accuser on this occasion is former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, an American-born historian who now serves in the Knesset. Oren, who is an unrestrained pro-Israel attack dog, claims that Sanders owes Israel an apology after he inadvertently misstated the number of Palestinians massacred in Gaza in 2014.

On April 14th, Democracy Now! invited Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and the former Director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, to share his thoughts on Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s stance on Israel. Beinin said:

Bernie has been evolving. If we remember the summer of Israel’s assault on Gaza, when he tried to shout down people in a town meeting who asked him to be more critical of Israel, he was toeing the Democratic Party line. He has now backed off from that. He wants to be more balanced. He has appointed Simone Zimmerman as his Jewish community outreach coordinator. She recently wrote an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading liberal daily of Israel, saying that we should talk about boycott, divestment and sanctions; very friendly to Jewish Voice for Peace. A lot of what he’s saying is still a good bit away from where I think he should be. But compared to Hillary Clinton, who pretty much parrots the Likud line, he’s in a different place.

And regarding Clinton:

Hillary Clinton was giving you the standard cant. Nobody says Israel has the most powerful military between Morocco and Pakistan. They really don’t need any more armaments. They have 200 nuclear weapons and so on. And moreover, yes, there have been terrorist attacks against Israel. None of them, altogether, represent anything remotely resembling an existential threat to Israel. They’re unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss of civilian life when that happens. But from a security point of view, it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, Israel has aggressively attacked its neighbors in 1956, in 1967, in 1982. On balance, Israel has been the aggressor for most of its historical existence.

Hillary, I don’t know if she knows the history, doesn’t care about the history. She says what candidates need to say in order to get elected. Bernie Sanders is inching his way towards a more reasonable position. He is pointing out that Israel is expanding settlements. He mentioned in the interview with the New York Daily News that the settlements are actually illegal, although he wasn’t clear that every single one of them is illegal according to international law. And that’s not a matter of who thinks international law means what. But he’s moving along. It’s clear that the millennials who support him 85 to 15 are more critical of Israel, and he’s getting closer to their views.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

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1 Definition taken from The eighth edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary published by Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1990.

2 From an article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on March 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn

3 A full transcript of Hillary Clinton’s speech to AIPAC is available here: http://time.com/4265947/hillary-clinton-aipac-speech-transcript/

4 A full transcript of Donald Trump’s speech to AIPAC is available here: http://time.com/4267058/donald-trump-aipac-speech-transcript/

5 From an article entitled “Trump’s Hypnotic Gig at AIPAC Will Go Down in History – or Infamy” written by Chemi Shalev, published in Haaretz on March 22, 2016. http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/u-s-election-2016/1.710222

6 From an article entitled “Donald Trump is wicked. As a rabbi, I had to protest his AIPAC speech” written by Shmuel Herzfeld, published in The Washingon Post on March 23, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/03/23/donald-trump-is-wicked-as-a-rabbi-i-had-to-protest-his-aipac-speech/

7 From an article entitled “If Trump’s Racism Shocks You, So Too Should AIPAC’s” written by Samatha Brotman, published by Mint Press News on March 22, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/trumps-racism-shocks-aipacs/214961/

8 From an article entitled “Liberal Zionism After Gaza” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on July 26, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/07/26/liberal-zionism-after-gaza/

9 From an article entitled “The Liberal Zonists” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on August 14, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/08/14/liberal-zionists/

10 From an article entitled “Liberal Zionism After Gaza” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in The New York Review of Books on July 26, 2014. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2014/07/26/liberal-zionism-after-gaza/

11 From an article entitled “Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on March 18, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/labour-antisemitism-jews-jeremy-corbyn

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At the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday night, MPs urged Jeremy Corbyn to act after it emerged Ms Kirby had recently been given her new post – and that the party had said new evidence was needed of further misconduct to expel her.

The decision to simply issue Ms Kirby with a warning was taken by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee in 2014, under Ed Miliband’s leadership.

But today, as the NEC met for its quarterly meeting, the party changed its position. A spokeswoman said: “Vicki Kirby has been suspended from the Labour party pending an investigation.”

Gerry Downing, who had also spoken of the need to “address the Jewish question”, won an appeal against his suspension as a Labour member, but was eventually expelled after “new evidence” came to light.

From an article entitled “Labour Suspends Party Member Vicky Kirby AGAIN After MPs Urge Jeremy Corbyn To Take Action On Anti-Semitism” written by Paul Waugh, published by Huffington Post on March 17, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-vicky-kirby-anti-semitism_uk_56e80319e4b03fb88ede23bf

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The most shocking accusation, originating with The Daily Mail, is that Corbyn has “long standing links” with Paul Eisen, a “notorious” Holocaust denier involved in the group Deir Yassin Remembered.

Eisen certainly expresses disgusting views, denying the Nazi Holocaust took place and frequently expressing other anti-Semitic opinions on his blog.

However, his only real notoriety is for his attempts to infiltrate the Palestine solidarity movement.

Once it became clear what his views were, he was widely condemned and shunned by a movement which is fundamentally anti-racist in its basic principles. Indeed, even in the blog post which the Mail relied on as the source for its smear, Eisen admits that the movement has long “despised me.”

The only real link between the two men (as the Mail conveniently omitted) is that Eisen happens to live in Corbyn’s Islington parliamentary constituency in North London.

Eisen claims to have met him in that capacity – as Corbyn is his member of parliament. It is nonetheless odd that the Mail would be so keen to take the word of a Holocaust denier when it comes to his relationship with Corbyn.

From an article entitled ‘4 reasons the “anti-Semitism” attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are dishonest’ written by Asa Winstanley, published by The Electronic Intifada on August 19, 2015. https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/4-reasons-anti-semitism-attacks-jeremy-corbyn-are-dishonest

14 From an article entitled “Ed Miliband has a very Jewish problem” written by Liam Hoare, published in The Times of Israel on August 14, 2014. http://www.timesofisrael.com/ed-miliband-has-a-very-jewish-problem/

15 You can find a plot of usage with time here: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&case_insensitive=on&content=zionism&direct_url=t4%3B%2Czionism%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BZionism%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BZIONISM%3B%2Cc0

The graph peaks in 1978 and then declined by about a third in little more than three decades.

16 You can download the document containing Resolution 3379 (XXX) from the United Nations website following this link: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/30/ares30.htm

The full text is also available on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_3379

17 From an article entitled “U.N. Repeals Its ’75 Resolution Equating Zionism With Racism” written by Paul Lewis, published by The new York Times on December 17, 1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/17/world/un-repeals-its-75-resolution-equating-zionism-with-racism.html

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Documents, whose existence were denied by the Israeli government for over a year, have been released after a legal battle led by Israeli human rights group, Gisha. The documents reveal a deliberate policy by the Israeli government in which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are “putting the people of Gaza on a diet”.

From an article entitled “Israeli Government Documents Show Deliberate Policy To Keep Gazans At Near-starvation Levels” written by Saed Bannoura, published by International Middle East Media Center on November 10, 2010. http://www.imemc.org/article/59843

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#JezWeCan: why I’m voting for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader

As ballot papers for the Labour Party leadership contest are sent out, here are a few of the reasons I believe Jeremy Corbyn stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. To judge Corbyn better yourself, my own views are interspersed with a selection of recent interviews he has given.

Click here to read “Why I’m standing” on Jeremy Corbyn’s official jeremyforlabour.com website.

When Jeremy Corbyn announced his last minute intention to stand in the Labour leadership election he was dismissed as a 100-1 outsider, but a few months on and he’s become the odds-on favourite – the latest polls in fact putting him so far ahead of his rivals that it seems he may win outright victory in the first round. This is remarkable, however it shouldn’t surprise anyone.

For in a political age dominated by the “centrism” (so-called) of the “Third Way” (Blair’s not Mussolini’s), and consumed by image über alles with advert-style messages that glide slickly on a well-oiled surface of spin, Corbyn stands apart. He doesn’t expend his energies obsessing over soundbites, or how to gesture and strut more assertively. Nor does he get mixed up with publicity stunts like ordering pasties to prove his close allegiance to the ordinary bloke, or masticating awkwardly on bacon butties to show he’s normal or British (or something), or the unveiling tombstones to soon-to-be sunken promises, and we can be as near as certain that Corbyn never will. Yes, Ed Miliband had some god awful advisors, but then why did he keep on taking their god awful advice…? Short answer: to keep up with the Camerons, of course – bad decision!

Is that a scaffold we see behind you, Ed?

Corbyn comes ungarnished. He doesn’t need props to cling tight to, or even a fancy suit to make him look more dashing. Because instead of daft stunts and the rest of the trimmings, Corbyn wins support by virtue of sincerity, intelligence and the authority which comes from a lifetime dedicated to political campaigning. For Corbyn has always spoken truth to power, which is the bigger reason he stands apart.

Here is Corbyn recently interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s “Going Underground”:

Staunchly anti-“austerity”, anti-TTIP, anti-fracking, Corbyn, who has been an ardent anti-war activist throughout his years as a backbencher, is today a prominent figure both within the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestinian solidarity movement (reasons his name already features so large in my tag cloud right), just as he once championed gay rights and spearheaded the anti-Apartheid movement of the 80s (an era when championing these issues was a recipe for marginalisation).

More courageously still, Corbyn led the vanguard when it came to brokering an Irish peace accord. Unafraid of controversy, he invited Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president and persona non grata, to talks in London a full decade prior to the start of official negotiations which would lead to the Good Friday Agreement (and shortly before Adam’s voice was banned altogether from British television).

Here is a more extended interview in which Corbyn discusses with Hassan Alkatib his personal role in trying to bring about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland; his experiences in Gaza; his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; and his support for Chilean, Palestinian and Irish independence:

Unlike the bulk of today’s career politicians, who plot their narrow course into office with the obligatory PPE degree from Oxford firmly in hand, Corbyn is able to draw upon firsthand experience in many fields both before and since he became an MP. He has worked as a union representative, as an elected councillor, and was a member of a public health authority, but, arguably more importantly, Corbyn is most well-versed in the intricacies of foreign policy. From Ireland to the Middle East, to Latin America, and beyond – across the world, Corbyn has been there and done that; including campaigning to bring former Chilean dictator Pinochet to trial, just as he has more recently (during this Labour leadership campaign in fact) been outspoken in his calls for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.

Indeed, in the most recent interview given on the BBC [Newsnight August 4th], Corbyn explained why Iraq War was illegal and why he believes Tony Blair should be prosecuted:

In short, Corbyn is a conviction politician – a tag so dreadfully sullied by Margaret Thatcher and others on the right, but one that once characterised the most admired and respected figures of the left. He is, as the late Tony Benn (one such illustrious leftist) so elegantly distinguished, a political ‘signpost’ and not a ‘weather vane’. Integrity that is a big part of the allure which persuades many hundreds of thousands of supporters (myself included) to sign up on the Labour register to cast their vote. It is a quality that the mainstream media, so utterly hung up on matters of image and spin, simply can’t get to grips with at all. A quality so rare in contemporary politics that they try very hard to pretend it has never existed.

Click here to read a summary of “15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history”.

For today there is an astonishing dearth not only of talented, imaginative and honourable politicians (“honourable members” – you really have to laugh!) but, and as a direct consequence, an ever-worsening deficit of democracy. A de facto one party line that serves the corporate sponsors and the special interests, while abandoning the rest of us to a counsel of despair. ‘The mother of parliaments’ reduced to the role of little more than a big business facilitator, with its recent cohorts of members determined, so it seems, to lessen themselves of the already diminished burden of real responsibility, preferring to function instead in some lesser capacity as the middle managers of out-sourced state interests.

Rather than serving the public good, as any government in a democracy should, by, for instance, rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure (a long overdue project in Britain), bolstering public services, hospitals, schools, and pensions and generally improving the standard of living for all – actually not very much to ask for in the Twenty-First Century – our governments have instead repeatedly sold our nation down the river (with sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts). But then, our politicians themselves are sell-outs, who seek election in order to get one foot in the revolving doors of the corporatocracy. It is evident, however, that Corbyn is not intent to follow them through it, why would he be? He is not a career politician, but a campaigner turned politician. And with Corbyn as a leader of Labour, “austerity” and “privatisation” – cuts and sell-offs to use their proper names – the chosen neo-liberal means for transferring wealth from the poor to the richest one-percent will not be so routinely passed off as the only remedy for an ailing economy.

Up until now, the electorate has simply sucked it all up and why? Because – and it is hard to over-emphasise the importance of this – (New) Labour, our only serious opposition party south of Hadrian’s Wall, presented no substantial alternative. This is a deplorable situation which last month culminated in Harriet Harman, the Party’s interim leader, capitulating to Tory government’s latest slashing and gouging Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Yes, Harman’s position was criticised by three of the four leadership election candidates, but actions speak louder than words:

Out of the four leadership candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall all abstained on the proposals. Jeremy Corbyn voted against. 1

Corbyn voted against – did anyone seriously doubt he wouldn’t?

And this was Corbyn’s response in Parliament to the Tory’s atrocious budget:

Derided as “hard left”, in truth, Corbyn is rather moderate and, above all, a democrat, whereas most of those who accuse Corbyn of extremism fall into two (overlapping) camps: deliberately mendacious or else suffering from psychological projection. Because whether fully cognisant or unwitting dupe, they are unable to see beyond a prevailing orthodoxy for which Tariq Ali perspicaciously coined the term “extreme centre”. A hollowed out politics with an axis so precipitously skewed to the right that refuseniks are, by comparison at least, ‘extreme’ – ‘hard left’ of an ‘extreme middle’.

Another accusation I hear is that Corbyn is ‘a throwback’ or ‘a relic’, which comes with the latent presumption that progress in politics flows always in one direction. But this standpoint is ahistorical. Movements rise and fall, and many times social change pivots to become something appearing to be its opposite: revolution follows restoration; intolerance begets tolerance; and permissiveness bubbles up after droughts of prohibition; and the reverse applies in every case. ‘Progress’ does not sail unerring onward to the bright horizon, but gets caught up on strong currents, drifts into doldrums, and tacks back and forth to find a better course. This is why history repeats, or, as Mark Twain put it better, it rhymes.

During the last three decades (at least) the western world has been neither progressing nor merely regressing, but careering recklessly down a socio-economic cul-de-sac that ends with a cliff. We need to find reverse as fast as we possibly can. For as hard-line “free market” capitalism rushes us into a second financial meltdown (less than a decade after the last close catastrophe), it reveals itself not merely as an ideology without compassion, but as an inherently flawed system incapable of ensuring basic needs and a comfortable life for a majority of people. Rotten to the core, it is ripe for the dustbin of history.

Thus, Corbyn’s late arrival is propitious. In any case, given such an abiding commitment to peace, human rights, and social justice, it is Corbyn who looks forward, and not his detractors – those are the reactionaries, both in the strict sense and more simply by virtue of being opposed to real change (which are sullied words once again, but can be reclaimed). By any regular definition of the term, Corbyn has always been the true progressive.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win”, said Mahatma Gandhi, although in Gandhi’s day it took a while to proceed through the check list, whereas in our (dis)information age progress has significantly quickened. So once the leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn was ignored only momentarily, and afterwards rather briefly ridiculed, before quickly coming under a sustained barrage of heavy fire – most conspicuously from figures within his own party: the old guard of New Labour being especially vitriolic. “Anyone but Corbyn” – how’s that for negative campaigning?

Then there is the media itself. Here, for instance, is Newsnight producer Ed Brown explaining “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” from BBC Newsnight Live [published on Monday 17th]:

So, in theory, if you, the “stop Corbyn” voter thought that, say, Burnham’s supporters are more likely to have Corbyn as their next preference than Cooper’s, you should put Burnham ahead of Cooper in your preference list even if you ACTUALLY prefer Cooper to Burnham – because it’ll starve Corbyn of the extra votes he’d get if Burnham was knocked out.

The thing is, I am not aware of any decent evidence that this is the case. We have very few polls on the Labour leadership election – and those that exist (necessarily) have small samples of what Burnham and Cooper’s second preferences would be. Very roughly speaking, the polling tables I’ve seen suggest supporters of both split their second preferences about 30/70 between Corbyn and his opponent. So it’s not clear which of these you should give a higher preference to tactically stop Corbyn anyway. 2

Is Ed Brown sticking by BBC’s duty to remain impartial? I let you judge for yourself. Meanwhile, this was Channel 4 news reporter Cathy Newman desperately trying to derail Corbyn by shamelessly playing the anti-Semitism card:

“Mr Corbyn, tell me, have you stopped being a Holocaust Denier?” Unsavoury yes, but these are truly desperate tactics. To return to Gandhi’s famous remarks, “… and then you win.”

I very much hope that Corbyn does win the selection (the result is not due until September 12th), though I anticipate further last-ditch manoeuvres by the both the corporate media and the establishment left as it does everything in its power to block his progress. Whatever the result, however, his campaign has been a resounding success which, in and of itself, marks the prospect for a sea change in political consciousness – another step for a movement that is gaining traction and momentum not only in Britain but across southern Europe as well as vast swathes of the United States – as evinced by the (largely unreported in Britain) momentous surge in support for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The nitty-gritty of Corbyn’s proposals will need refinement and polishing, but keep in mind that this is a campaign for party leadership and not for government. Importantly, Corbyn says that he is committed to reforming the party itself, and his track record proves both a commitment to fighting for the oppressed and a genuine readiness to serve a greater cause (the democratic one).

At present we are faced with two wars, an economic one at home and another comprised of drone attacks and proxy wars abroad which is now forcing millions of people to flee to our shores. These wars are not unconnected. If Corbyn is elected leader then our resistance to both will be reinvigorated. He is the anti-war candidate. Moreover this country will see a political debate once again – absent since the days of Michael Foot three decades ago.

Click here to follow the hashtag #JezWeCan

(For a discussion of the fall of Old Labour I refer readers to a previous post.)

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Update:

What is taking place in the Labour party is a democratic explosion unprecedented in British political history. Last week more than 168,000 registered to vote in Labour’s leadership election – on one day. About 400,000 people have applied to join Labour as members or supporters since May, tripling the size of the party to more than 600,000.

Writes columnist and associate editor of the Guardian, Seumas Milne, in an excellent article published on Thurs 20th entitled “Jeremy Corbyn’s surge can be at the heart of a winning coalition”. He continues:

You only have to go to one of the campaign’s huge rallies to understand that the idea this is the product of political or union manipulation is laughable – and that his supporters don’t only want a different kind of Labour leader: they want to change the political system.

Meanwhile, the claim that the other leadership candidates – steeped as they are in the triangulating “pro-business” politics of the 1990s – can offer a winning electoral alternative to Corbyn’s commitment to what are in fact mostly mainstream public views, looks increasingly implausible.

Andy Burnham has now broken ranks with the “anyone but Corbyn” bloc, while the Blairites are swinging behind the studiedly New Labour Yvette Cooper. But their spat looks like a battle for second place.

And the nature of the coalition Milne refers to in the title to his piece?

There isn’t in any case only one possible coalition of voters that could beat the Tories in five years’ time. And the idea that any of Corbyn’s rivals stands a better chance of winning back support in Scotland, from disaffected working-class and middle-income voters, Ukip or the Greens is hard to credit.

It’s possible, of course, that the relentless attacks will tip the vote against Corbyn after all. But if not, he will face an even more ferocious onslaught thereafter. That will come not only from the Conservatives and the media, but from sections of the Labour establishment that can be expected to launch a parliamentary campaign to undermine and unseat him.

But Corbyn will have an unprecedented democratic mandate if he wins, backed by a movement of hundreds of thousands. And not only is he committed to creating a leadership of “all the talents”, he also plans to open up Labour’s long-dormant internal democracy. Corbyn makes a point on the stump of emphasising that his policy ideas are currently only “proposals” and “suggestions”.

Click here to read Seumas Milne’s full article.

Seumas Milne also appeared on Saturday’s [Aug 22nd] episode of RT’s Sputnik hosted by George Galloway to discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership campaign. In part 2 of the same show, Galloway spoke with Shadia Edwards-Dashti of the Stop the War Coalition:

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Additional:

On Friday [Aug 21st], RT’s flagship discussion show Crosstalk was given over to debate the rise and electability of Jeremy Corbyn. It featured Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition, Scottish left-wing activist and political commentator Chris Bambery, and academic Steven Fielding. The complete episode is embedded below.

One clarification I would like to make is that contrary to host Peter Lavelle’s claim to have heard Corbyn admitting on Channel 4 news to reading Karl Marx [10 mins in], in actual fact Corbyn was responding to a question about whether or not he did read Marx. In response to that very direct question, Corbyn said something to the effect that he felt he perhaps should have read more Marx because Marx was obviously an influential thinker, before turning the question around on the interviewer saying, (and I paraphrase from memory) he has influenced us all don’t you think, you included:

 

To finish I have also decided to embed a short clip of ‘the artist taxi driver’ delivering one his most effervescent and inspirational rants. A set of variations on the theme of “end the madness of Jeremy Corbyn” – I know this will not be to everyone’s taste, but I include it because I don’t disagree with a single syllable:

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1 From an article entitled “Welfare bill: These are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the Tories’ cuts” written by Jon Stone, published in The Independent on July 21, 2015. The opening paragraphs read:

Below are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the second reading of the Conservatives’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

The main changes in the Bill are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/these-are-the-184-labour-mps-who-didnt-vote-against-the-tories-welfare-bill-10404831.html

2 From an article entitled “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” written by Ed Brown, published by BBC news on August 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-politics-33139218

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thought(s) for the day: eleventh hour musings on Election 2015

A few hours ago I picked up a somewhat blunt pencil at a polling station in the constituency of Sheffield Central and cast my vote. Around the country an estimated 30 million other people will have done likewise by the time the polling stations close at 10 pm. Following which, we must wait, expectantly.

It is too late for persuasion and so this article is purely for the record – I meant to post sooner but simply couldn’t finish it (not satisfactorily — and though it needs further polishing I’m out of time, sorry). Yet the message I have been wishing to convey is a comparatively simple one. That whatever else happens, the Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys must be defeated.

This atrocious Con-Dem Coalition government has failed our nation in every conceivable way, and even if we choose to judge only by economic performance (I have included something on this as an addendum). Indeed, were it not for Rupert Murdoch and his central role in a far dirtier campaign than any since the 70/80s, both government parties would surely have been routed in this election. Shockingly, the Tories may yet hold on to power:

It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland: 1

Image and text taken from one of a sequence of excellent articles written by John Lanchester and published by the London Review of Books.

Under other circumstances, I would have voted for a genuine anti-austerity alternative, either TUSC or Left Unity, however, given the nature of our “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, I have opted instead for Labour. The rest is (just) details…

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Five years ago, as the last dregs of the constituency results trickled in at about 4 o’clock, it became clear that there would be no overall victory in the General Election. Instead we had drifted to a stalemate: a hung parliament. And given how our peculiar (and extremely unfair) FPTP system habitually returns majority governments, this state of post-electoral limbo was difficult to grasp, especially as we crawled off late to bed. Next day there was an almost palpable sense that something important had been left undone. Electorus interuptus.

Many of us felt relieved nonetheless, that the Tories had not prevailed with an outright majority, given how the polls had been consistently forecasting a Tory win. At least they had until about a fortnight prior to polling day, when this happened:

Get used to it. The whole 2010 general election changed on the night of Thursday 15 April. It may now stay changed until polling day. Our ICM poll today maps the key elements of this new emerging electoral landscape. The Conservatives, until recently the likely winners on 6 May, now only have 33% support, ensuring a struggle to win enough votes or seats for victory. Labour, previously battling to get on terms with the Tories, have now slumped to 28%, third in votes for the first time since 1983, though strong in seats, courtesy of the first-past-the-post system. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, given and seizing their chance at last, have surged 10 points into second place. It is possible that what Lord Tebbit yesterday dubbed “the Clegg bubble” may burst between now and 6 May, of course. But don’t rely on that. It is just as possible that another strong performance in this week’s debate will give the Lib Dem wagon another hearty push, send their rivals into tailspins and have Whitehall mandarins scrabbling for Lib Dem telephone numbers. Either way, politics has changed. There is a new electoral reality. And about time too. And doesn’t it actually feel rather good? 2

So began an effusive Guardian editorial, and not since David Steele instructed his party members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”, had centrist hyperbole touched such feverish levels. That in-your-face mantra “get used to it” repeated maniacally at the beginning of every paragraph, and all under a banner that read like a flaccid, if truculent, Lib Dem cry for electoral justice: “Labour would come third by popular vote yet still have the most seats – such a result would plunge British democracy into crisis”. As it transpired, of course, the Tories ultimately prevailed instead, limping into office on the arm of Nick Clegg’s hasty acquiescence, and in spite of the fact that the Lib Dems had actually polled rather disappointingly – as usual.

You may recall too that five years ago the party still had their unique selling point – that long-held and dependable commitment to overhaul our unfair FPTP system and replace it with PR (much more to their own liking). But this didn’t happen. Even as the Lib Dems hitched their own ride into office on the back of the Tory’s miserable failure (a decade in opposition, yet unable to defeat one of the least popular governments in modern history), the Lib Dem leadership still didn’t manage to negotiate a referendum on PR… let alone actually get PR!

Nothing monumental occurred in Election 2010. Labour didn’t come third whether by number of seats or in proportion of outright votes. Quite contrary to the Guardian’s excitable speculation, our democracy was no more “in crisis” post-election than before.

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Election 2015 is different. This time around a hung parliament is anticipated and there has been almost non-stop speculation on the eventual makeup of our next coalition. In fact, since the campaign proper started, the media have been collectively hung up on hung parliament. So can we trace the roots of this monomania?

We have the polls, of course. And the polls have been quite consistently indicating two outcomes for this election, certainly since the turn of the year. Firstly, north of the border, the forecast has been that Labour will be mauled by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) – and the size of that mauling seemingly gets bigger every time they run the latest poll (a daily occurrence for some reason) – and secondly, south of the border, the polls suggest Labour are unable to take the lead over the Tories. But then why should we trust the opinion polls? History testifies to their unreliability – as when the Lib Dem share was blown up out of all proportion in 2010:

In the run-up to the UK general election few people would have predicted a Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition goverment – and fewer still that the Lib Dems would actually lose seats despite their popularity in the polls. […]

A record total of nine polls based wholly or mostly on interviewing conducted in the final few days of the campaign were published during its final hours. Their success at anticipating the eventual outcome can only be regarded as ‘mixed’. […]

The exit poll caused such surprise because its projection for the Liberal Democrats was at variance with the predictions of the final polls, which had suggested that the much-vaunted surge in favour of Nick Clegg’s party had carried through to polling day. It was on this point that the polls were wrong, significantly overestimating Liberal Democrat support for the first time in recent polling history. 3

The reliability of polls obviously depends upon people telling complete strangers how they intend to behave at a moment in the future. But then, the only thing at stake when you are cornered by a pollster is your street cred. As a consequence, it turns out, that those polled are inclined to say they will vote for the more exotic alternatives, but then, when it comes to making any real commitment, people tend to revert to habit. Their final X put beside the devil they already knew:

Twenty-seven per cent. That’s the number of people who told ICM/Guardian this January that they intend to vote for what we used to call ‘another’ party. It’s probably not news to anyone that UKIP, the SNP and the Greens are all making the kind of in-roads into traditional voting patterns that many commentators think could result in a complete overhaul of the political map. […]

Will all these people who tell pollsters that their cross will go against an emerging party actually turn out and vote for them? Here are a few examples of when the answer was ‘no’. Most will remember Cleggmania in 2010. Some final polls had the Liberal Democrats on 29% and the average was more than 27%, but the Lib Dems ended up with roughly the same 23% they achieved five years earlier. […]

I’ll leave you with a couple of stats. ICM re-interviewed UKIP and Green intenders after the 2010 election to understand what they ended up doing: only 60% of UKIP intenders voted for them, only 42% of Green intenders voted for their own pre-election choice. 4

Trust in polls also depends upon having trust in the independence of the polling agencies themselves, so what are we to make of fact that this time around many of the polls are sponsored by former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman, Lord Ashcroft – a man with such a unenviable record for dodgy dealing that he is better known to many as “Lord Sleaze from Belize” (Belize being the tax haven he calls home):

[But] by and large, Lord Aschcroft’s increasing influence over British politics has passed unchallenged. And that’s strange, for a number of reasons.

Firstly it’s strange because there are legitimate questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of what have euphemistically become termed “The Ashcroft Polls”. As I say, there was a lot of comment over the weekend about the new Sheffield Hallam poll. But it wasn’t new. It was first published back in November, and at that time showed Nick Clegg 3 points ahead. That week, Antony Wells of Yougov identified errors in the published data, leading Lord Ashcroft to revise Clegg’s lead down to three points behind. Lord Ashcroft then reviewed two other polls, one for Thanet South and another for Doncaster North. A published lead of 5 points for the Conservatives in Thanet should in fact have been 1 point. A published 29 point lead for Labour in Doncaster should in fact have been 30 points.

Nor was this the first time mistakes like this had been indentified [sic]. The Doncaster poll was also first published back in November. It generated a lot of excitement at the time, because it showed Ed Miliband only a relatively slender 12 points ahead of UKIP in his seat. But again, Anthony Wells identified an error in the data. And once it had been corrected, it showed Ed Miliband 29 points ahead, not 12. [that’s quite a discrepancy!]

So writes Dan Hodges in an article published in The Telegraph (traditionally the most rightwing broadsheet of our Tory-centric press). Hodges wonders if Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, might have an agenda of any kind…

What does Lord Ashcroft want? Not a quiet life, certainly. Last week saw him again setting the political agenda, with a raft of constituency polling in Scotland showing Labour heading for electoral annihilation and the SNP poised to emerge as kingmakers after the poll.

And what possible interest could a former Conservative Party Deputy-Chairman and a Tory peer have for providing evidence that “Labour is heading for electoral annihilation”? None at all that I can think of… although as Hodges points out:

Yet just because he has no clear agenda, it doesn’t mean he has no agenda. While donating to the Tory party, he tried to focus his efforts on specific candidates and constituencies. As he said back in 2005: “I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed.”

Lord Ashcroft wants something. It may be an improvement in the nature of our national political discourse. It may be a more informed electorate. It may just be a ring-side seat for the greatest political show in town. 5

Or maybe this “something” Ashcroft wants is connected to his longstanding association with the Conservative Party… who knows, hey?

*

Let us cast our minds back again, to recall how a majority of voices in the media had been quite insistent that the country was heading for ‘another’ Tory victory – I put ‘another’ in inverted commas because although it was routinely presented as something of a repeat performance, little mention was made of the rather awkward fact that the Tories don’t in fact enjoy a majority, having failed to hold one since the heady days of John Major’s government.

Nevertheless, twelve months ago the mainstream was chock-full with opinion that the Tories were all-but home and dry in the forthcoming General Election, until that is, out of a less than clear blue sky, there were UKIP successes first in the council elections and then more spectacularly in the Euro-elections. This dent to Tory morale was swiftly followed up with the Tory to UKIP defections of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, and consequently, an already precarious Tory minority was suddenly a lot more wobbly.

Like an oil tanker changing course, the media apparatus corrected its position, a little. Given that a Tory majority was no longer such a nailed-on certainty, they concluded in unison, we could, in all likelihood, expect a hung parliament. It is this prospect of another hung parliament that the media has latched on to ever since, as if majority governments per se have become an endangered species.

Indeed, “rainbow coalition” has since become the media’s main infatuation, endlessly touted, not merely as inevitable, but as vital to ensuring some renewed vigour in our clapped-out political system. Politics, the media commentators have been routinely informing us, is so completely transformed from five years ago, that (to steal from the Guardian editorial again) we’d better get used to it. To a political landscape that is more “diffuse”, more dynamic, and just more damned interesting (apparently)! We have seldom witnessed such certainty about uncertainty.

Since the election officially kicked off (what feels like a lifetime ago) all of our TV channels have thus been emblazoned with multicoloured logos. Of course, the media enjoys offering its audience the perception of a broader variety of choices. Variety generates interest, which in turn sells election coverage.

In our deeply consumerist society, in which political alternatives are sold to us as party brands, any perception of broader variety actually suits politicians too. As in other branches of sales, greater choice translates into increased customer demand, which means our faltering interest in party politics gets a shot in the arm. The rainbow graphics serve this end: portraying a more multifaceted election. It’s a win-win for both politicians and the media alike, helping each to flog more of the other…

But could the news media be subliminally urging us to vote for a coalition government? I’ve put a question mark there, but only because there is no recognised punctuation mark to more perfectly convey a raised eyebrow. Certainly there are agendas lurking extremely close to the surface. (In fact, long before I finished writing this, one in particular had erupted through that surface altogether!)

*

Tory strategy has been to hurt Labour on two interconnected fronts. Firstly, they aim to weaken them in England scaring voters with the spectre of a Nationalist threat having influence at Westminster. Secondly, they talk up the SNP in Scotland to further undermine Labour. Both increase the prospect of Cameron remaining in Downing Street after the election. This is smart short-term electoral tactics, but one far removed from the pro-union message in the indyref. 6

So writes Gerry Hassan, Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland – but I’ll come back his article later.

Now, when I came across this many weeks ago, I thought it sounded far-fetched enough to need supporting. So I had intended to frame it in such a way as to gently convince the skeptical reader. For instance, I had decided to refer back to BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, when on April 2nd, journalist Peter Hitchens raised the issue of what he saw as “an unholy alliance” forming between Conservatives and SNP. Hitchens was the first political commentator to draw mainstream attention to the strategy.

And why, I then wondered, was Chief Tory Whip, Michael Gove (on the same outing of QT) also gushing with enthusiasm and praise for SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s performance during that same night’s “seven leaders debate” (on ITV immediately prior to QT). What had brought the Tory bigwig Gove to be waxing altogether lyrical about the remarkable talents of (presuming we accept the hype) such a progressive radical as Sturgeon?

Furthermore, it wasn’t just Gove who had been wooed over by SNP leader Sturgeon. A fortnight later, on the QT broadcast immediately following the five leaders debate on BBC1 (a debate which both Cameron and Clegg declined invitations to join, preferring to keep their heads down), it was Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, who was overeager in his praise Sturgeon’s follow-up performance, saying he thought “frankly she ran rings around Ed Miliband”.

So in short, I had noted this canoodling long ago (about the time I first began drafting the post), but then, all of a sudden, what was merely alternative speculation had breached its allotted confinement and the mainstream were pumping for all it was worth, while every man and his dog jumped in to offer their two pennies (Tory old guard being particular keen to chip in). Soon we had John Major, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind and even Norman Tebbit all at it. For instance, Tebbit, who is highly critical of this no longer covert Tory strategy said on April 21st:

“What I find puzzling now is the prime minister’s position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it’s a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it’s not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster – the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster – and the Scots are irritated similarly.’ He said, “the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.” 7

*

Although we can actually trace a love-in between influential figures from the centre-right (Tory right, if you prefer) and leading lights of the SNP much further back again. The love that dare not speak its name is not the novelty it might first appear:

Murdoch and [former SNP leader] Salmond, the Scottish first minister have always had a friendly relationship. In February 2012 Murdoch tweeted: “Alex Salmond clearly most brilliant politician in UK. Gave Cameron back of his hand this week. Loved by Scots.”

In notable contrast to the aloofness which characterises how Westminster MP’s now deal with Murdoch and News UK, Salmond is still (even in this post-Leveson and phone-hacking environment) ready to admit to affection for the media magnate – who had a Scottish grandfather.

Asked by Alistair Campbell in April’s GQ if he liked Murdoch, he stated: “I do. He is a remarkable man. What is wrong with this relationship? Why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media?”

And, let’s remember too, that it was Murdoch’s Sunday Times which on September 7th published the famous YouGov opinion poll which put the “Yes” vote two points ahead in the independence referendum – the only poll during the referendum to put “Yes” ahead, and coming at such a critical moment in the immediate run-up to the vote itself. Not that polls can ever be rigged, of course, how dare anyone suggest such a thing…

Whilst on the evening before that rather remarkable poll, Rupert Murdoch had tweeted: “London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence. If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs.”

And then the next day followed up with: “Salmond’s private polls predict 54-46 Yes. Desperate last ten days ahead for both sides. Most powerful media, BBC, totally biased for No.”

But on this occasion, it was the polls that were wrong (yet again), rather than the BBC. So, aside from the fact that he’s a politician, why exactly has Alex Salmond been kissing up to Murdoch? (Or is it the other way around?) John Jewell, who is Director of Media Studies at Cardiff University, makes the following observations in a fascinating article (from which the quotes above are also drawn) entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum”:

We know from the Leveson Inquiry and subsequent admissions that Salmond planned to lobby the UK government on Murdoch’s behalf in News Corporation’s bid to take over BskyB completely in 2010.

We know, too, that Murdoch and Salmond met in Edinburgh 2012, in a meeting described by the first minister’s office as “very constructive”. Under discussion was: “News Corporation’s substantial economic footprint in Scotland … and the potential for further investment within the country.”

Rumour had it at the time, in speculation fuelled by former Murdoch acolytes Andrew Neil and Kelvin Mackenzie, that Murdoch was prepared to move BskyB to Scotland in the event of independence.

Jewell adds:

Tittle tattle maybe, but there is no denying that the proposal to cut corporation tax in an independent Scotland to 3p below the UK rate would prove attractive to any multinational company. 8

Click here to read the full article at The Conversation.

I do agree with Murdoch on one point here – perhaps the only point we could ever possibly agree on – which is how the BBC is “totally biased”. But then, no matter how hard ‘Aunty’ tries to pretend otherwise, she is, and always has been, a willing arm of the British establishment. Come the independence referendum, and given the first B in BBC, it would be astonishing if they had been otherwise; any break-up of the Union immediately prompting the likely break-up of the corporation itself. Turkeys and Christmas, anyone?

So doubtless the BBC were one-sided during the referendum, although I would say that their coverage since has been more than favourable to the SNP. By contrast, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s own considerable media empire operates as the very epitome of impartiality, as everyone knows…

No, sorry, I meant this one:

Strange hey. How The Scottish Sun is backing “the Nats” as the gallant underdogs, whilst simultaneously The Sun (its sister tabloid in England) talks up our wonderful Tory government and frets about how it might be “brought down by the few dozen MPs of the left-wing [a swearword in The Sun] Scottish Nationalists” who will usher into power their “puppet” Ed Miliband. Now this really is balance – isn’t it?

This pincer attack is the same Tory strategy again, of course. The singular intention to reduce the Labour share of the vote with both editorials effectively saying (in differing ways) that SNP stand on the verge of a landslide victory. North of the border this message continues: “Get used to it” (where have we heard that before?); whereas the southern edition scaremongers that “If the Tories cannot get the votes to stop them [meaning SNP] ruling the roost down here, we are in for five years of mayhem and misery”.

Yet the oddest part of this now wide open agenda is what Peter Hitchens, speaking on BBC’s weekly political panel show, Question Time, on April 2nd, described as “an unholy alliance” between Conservatives and SNP. According to Hitchens, himself a dyed-in-the-wool, old-style Tory (a firebrand reactionary and someone I try not to agree with), there is an unmistakable and curiously overt New Tory attempt to bolster SNP support with the deliberate intention of breaking the Union – the very thing the old party (formally known as the Conservative and Unionist Party) served to protect. A week earlier, writing in his Daily Mail blog, Hitchens even had this to say:

Which UK party do the Scottish Nationalists most want to do well in the coming election? Might they prefer the Tories? And might the Tories, deep down, also prefer a Scottish exit from the UK to the continuing Union they claim to support? Is this the love that dare not speak its name?

The reason, Hitchens claims, is that otherwise there will never be a future Conservative government in Britain ever again (and here’s hoping):

The Tory party’s best hope of a getting a Westminster majority again is to get rid of Scotland.  A UK shorn of Scotland would produce a Tory majority Parliament and so at least temporarily halt the slow but accelerating death of the Tory Party.  But time is short. The core Tory vote is (literally) dying in droves as it is composed almost entirely of older voters. It is not being replaced. And as the new mass migrants become UK citizens, they are unlikely to become Tory voters.  The break must happen soon if the Tory party is to regain its lost ability to govern with an absolute majority, and all the fundraising and other advantages that come with that status.

He concludes:

What if the Tories and the SNP both ended up helping each other to get what they wanted – a Tory majority government at Westminster, and Scotland gone from the UK? A phrase from my childhood – ‘accidentally on purpose’ – springs to mind. 9

*

It is curious that, for different but clearly interconnected reasons, there has been a surge in the support of not one, but two nationalist parties. Nationalists with diametrically opposing outlooks. Yes, UKIP and the SNP are exceedingly strange adversaries. So let us briefly turn from the SNP to consider their grotesque ugly sister nemesis, UKIP.

UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage are hard to separate – impossible, in fact. He dominates his motley UKIP crew more than any British political leader since the days of Margaret Thatcher – and comparison with Thatcherism does not end there. Like Mrs T, Mr F somehow manages to blame the EU for most of our society’s many ills, but then placing blame on an outside menace is a tried and tested demagogic strategy. And as it goes, the EU presents him with a perfect target. Its unelected commissioners are indeed in the pockets of multinationals, while the ECB operates as an unprincipled organ of the financial oligarchs. The people of Greece or Spain or Portugal are in the best position to judge the works of the EU Commission or the ECB – two-thirds of “The Troika” – and a majority would agree that the agencies are not only incompetent and heavy-handed, but callous, corrupt and parasitical. And in Greece, Spain, and Portugal, it is better if you don’t mention the role of the Germans…

One protester recently took her complaint directly to former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs and current President of the ECB, Mario Draghi. Interestingly, Forbes magazine last year nominated Draghi as 8th most powerful person in the world, but they had yet to see him cowering beneath his table when confronted by a smallish woman throwing confetti and demanding that he “end ECB dictatorship”:

A very reasonable demand.

Even Farage’s poisonous alarmism about an insidious invasion by Bulgarian migrants is rooted in a more justifiable concern. For why have consecutive British governments dropped our nation’s border controls with countries significantly more economically deprived than we are? This policy was bound to lead to increased downward pressure on pay and conditions for workers at home, whilst boosting the profits of the exploitative bosses and gangmasters. But none of this is anywhere near to the top of UKIP’s true concerns. Immigrants are the scapegoats, and this anti-Europe line is UKIP’s preferred wrapper, just as the Union Jack is its other wrapper. No amount of make-up can disguise UKIP’s frothing at the mouth.

On the one hand, Ukippers claim to be libertarians, which in Britain translates more than loosely as Thatcherite – free market and pro-austerity – whilst, on the other, they feign to be radicals when are very evidently reactionaries, and thus more Thatcherite still – a mix of Alf Garnetts and Colonel Blimps (more often Major Blimps and Captain Blimps). Little Englanders who simply can’t abide Johnny Foreigner. Which is why UKIP appeals mainly to those who would love to be able to vote for Thatcher, if only she wasn’t quite so dead… and why they offer very little in the way of true opposition to Labour. Instead, the serious threat to Labour’s vote is decidedly north of the border. UKIP, meantime, pose a genuine threat to the Tory’s share of the vote – and in splitting the traditional Tory vote, I personally wish them every success!

The big thing that connects the rise of UKIP with the rise of the SNP is that many who have traditionally voted either Labour or Conservative are likewise desperate for real change. In offering themselves up as alternatives, UKIP and SNP are trying to pool support from disaffected voters with drastically alternative outlooks. But beware: all nationalism feeds upon division.

There was a time, not so long ago, when SNP were shunned by those on the left (as nationalists customarily are) and disparaged for being “Tories in tartan”. But the great wonder of nationalism is that by tying oneself to a flag rather than being anchored to a secure political creed, one is able to flutter freely and change direction at a whim. A quick overhaul of political livery and the flag is still billowing beautifully. Thus the SNP, on seeing how the wind had turned, adroitly put on the guise of an anti-austerity party. Tartan Tories no longer, but relaunched as McSyriza.

Likewise, UKIP, once just a sad and lonely hangout for embittered True Blue Tories, have recently been trying quite hard to reposition themselves within the main current of our times. After all, given how the European Commission and the ECB are two of the worst pro-austerity bullies – this is irrefutable – then anyone who opposes them must be anti-austerity almost by exclusion, or something. But as a tactic, this has its limits, especially when the leader of your party, the son of a stockbroker, is himself an unrepentant City of London commodity trader. Never mind though, the austerity card can still be played, occasionally and with extreme caution. Meanwhile, to get around the background checks, Farage prefers to highlight how he actually held down a “real job” unlike all those Oxbridge pretenders from the other parties – which they are, every other one (approximately) holding a degree in PPE from Oxford University (a degree that puts strong emphasis on that E and with neo-liberal silently prefixed). So no wonder our choice of political alternatives has become dreary, and so narrowly defined. Such a shame our nation is no longer led by real men who drink pints and smoke fags and do “real jobs” like former City of London trader Farage…

As an illustration of this tightening political convergence, just think about TTIP for a moment. Here’s a quick reminder of what we know about TTIP:

Now, if we ask Nicola Sturgeon whether she and her party are in favour of the so-called “free trade agreement” she will reply that she is, although with reservations. She will point out the need for ‘robust’ negotiations ensuring exclusions for the NHS. Ed Miliband will say almost precisely the same thing, if similarly pressed. Alternatively, if you ask Nigel Farage this question, keeping in mind that we are talking about a clandestine EU treaty that will effectively mark the beginning of the end to the very existence of the nation state, rather than challenging it, he instead recommends the UK negotiate our own (secret) free trade deals with America, but in half the time it takes to cut through all of the red tape from Brussels.

In short, there are no mainstream parties large or small that are not captured and beholden to the corporatocracy. All five are sold out to differing degrees (to be fair, the Greens are officially opposed to TTIP but their limited record in power in Brighton is extremely poor and the “Green surge” is, in any case, a will-o-the-wisp). So voting in this election can only be a damage limitation exercise at best. Which brings me to ask simply this: which of the parties is the lesser of these evils? In England the answer is rather obvious, but in Scotland… back to Gerry Hassan:

Beneath this the differences between Labour and SNP are less than first appear, but magnified by language, tribalism and intense electoral competition.

A British Election Survey at the end of last year showed that SNP voters thought they were the most left-wing of Scotland’s mainstream parties and their party the most left-wing with Labour as significantly to their right; while Labour voters thought the same of themselves and their party, and placed the SNP to their right. 10

So, when it comes to which of the two is the more radical (a tallest dwarf contest if ever there was one) it is all in the eye of the beholder, whilst what actually encourages some Scottish voters to discriminate for and against goes back to the positions each assumed during the independence referendum: Labour penalised for its partnership with the Tories (as if it really had a choice given the circumstances) in the “Better Together” campaign.

*

A friend said to me recently, that if we don’t trust the polls, then what do we have to go on? Not much. Mostly, we have those election results in the European, council and bi-elections, all of which came as bad news for anyone hoping to see the return of a Tory government (coalition or otherwise). So the post-referendum rise of the SNP has been a tremendous boon to flagging Tory morale. But what are we to make of the media’s role in other ways?

The media has been hypercritical of Ed Miliband from the very beginning. But given that so much of the media (especially the press) is Tory supporting (much of it overtly so), this ought to come as little surprise. Nor should it have come as any surprise that the same media once gave Tony Blair the thumbs up. Murdoch’s press, in particular, praising him to the rafters. But then, Blair was not merely an establishment favourite, he also managed to ingratiate himself into the Murdoch household to such a degree that he was honoured as godfather to Rupert’s daughter, Grace:

Is any of this reminiscent of another of today’s leading political figures?

In contrast to Blair, Ed Miliband has been dismissed as a nerd who looks like Wallace and worse, he struggles to eat a bacon sandwich with the least bit of conviction (incidentally, he should have sacked his own advisors for that preposterous stunt). He’s just too weak, they tell us, to lead the country. But worse, apparently he quite literally “stabbed his own brother in the back.”

Understood properly, what the media are reminding us here is how the New Labour baton was supposed to have been passed to elder brother David, the designated and rightful heir to the kingdom of Tony Blair. However, Ed somehow got in the way… whatever happened to primogeniture? Neither the establishment, nor the media that speaks for it, have forgiven such impropriety.

Leading the charge against the usurper has been a familiar face. The boss of News Corp who recently tweeted: “Cameron’s Tories bash vulnerable Miliband for months with no effect on polls. Need new aspirational policies to have any hope of winning.”

And according to an article in The Independent, Murdoch may be out to get Ed for reasons other than mere party politics:

It is understood that Mr Murdoch reminded executives that Labour would try to break up News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The party has suggested that no owner should be allowed to control more than 34 per cent of the UK media, a cap which would force News UK to sell one of the titles.

It has also pledged to implement recommendations in the Leveson report for an independent press regulator backed by statute, bitterly opposed by Murdoch. Mr Miliband has made “standing up” to Mr Murdoch over the phone-hacking affair a central plank in his attempts to persuade voters that he is a strong leader. A source said: “Rupert made it very clear he was unhappy with The Sun’s coverage of the election. He basically said the future of the company was at stake and they need to get their act together.” 11

Miliband is weak? Well, not if he really does stand up to Murdoch and News Corp. In any case, as Murdoch unhappily concedes, the Tory strategy of playing the man instead of the ball has largely failed.

Two and a half years ago I personally heckled Ed Miliband during a speech he made at a rally in London. I make no apologies. After all, how dare anyone climb onto the stage of an anti-austerity protest and call for cuts. So it pains me to say that we must hope Miliband is our next PM.

But Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair, and he has already shown backbone when it matters. When he held his ground and – along with the support of a number of Tory defectors (I like to give credit wherever it is due…), though no support from Lib Dems (…but not to forgive easily) – was able to defeat the government on a vote for war, something unheard of. The Nato attack against Syria was thwarted largely thanks to Miliband; winning a Commons’ vote that spared countless lives. Of course, having opposed not only Obama, but the entire Anglo-American war party, he immediately took more flak. The “special relationship” was supposedly damaged beyond repair, the media bleated in unison in the weeks that followed. Warmongering gibberish peddled by a news media drunk on decades of senseless bloodletting.

*

Our public services are close to breaking point (some will say already past it), so what if anything will survive another five years of Tory cuts? And harsher, deeper cuts, as they have kept on promising us. Meanwhile, how divided will the nation be once more wealth has been transferred from the destitute to the superrich, even as the national debt continues rising because of “austerity”. New Labour are very much responsible for this trend too, but in fairness to Ed Miliband, he was hardly central to their neo-liberal programme. I believe we should at least give him a chance (I never said the same for Tony Blair).

My expectations of Labour remain low, but a change of political direction is as desperately as it is urgently required – and what begins as a small change might be accelerated as other nations such as Greece push the same demands. In the longer term, we can obviously do much better than New Labour, but just how “New” Labour is Ed Miliband? When asked why he voted against brother David, he replied that his own political outlook is radically different. I hope there is truth to this – although if Ed Miliband is elected into office, then we must be ready to hold his feet to the fire.

I try to steer clear of making predictions on this blog (for obvious reasons) but I am about to make a slight exception… I believe that Labour can win this election, and that even an outright majority should not be ruled out of hand. After all, prior to the last election our FPTP system delivered majority governments time and again. Has politics really changed so much in just five years? Of course, it could be that the Tories get a majority instead, however, there are other reasons to believe that Labour are more likely to win. Threefold reasons and ones that have next to nothing to do with Ed Miliband himself.

Firstly, the collapse in the Lib Dem share will most likely return to Labour. Secondly, UKIP have wounded the Conservatives – a right-wing split that is reminiscent of the SDP splitting the left in the 1980s. Although I seriously doubt UKIP will gain many, if any, seats (I certainly hope they don’t, but neither did the SDP), even without taking seats they may undermine the Tories who hold marginal seats. Thirdly, one victory which the Lib Dems did achieve during their miserable stint in government was to block Conservative attempts to redraw constituency boundaries. This was in tit-for-tat retaliation after the Tories reneged on their Coalition commitment to House of Lords reform. 12 However, the consequence of this is very much to Labour’s advantage:

Labour can reach a Commons majority with a smaller lead in the vote than the Conservatives can, all else being equal. The past two elections illustrate this: in 2005, Tony Blair turned less than three percentage points into a Commons majority of more than 50, while five years later David Cameron fell nearly 20 seats short of a majority despite a seven-point vote lead. This advantage to Labour has several sources – Labour constituencies tend to have fewer people, turnout is lower in Labour-held seats, and Labour has traditionally lost fewer seats to third parties. The Labour vote is also more “efficient”. The ideal in our system is “win small, lose big” – the fewer votes spent on crushing victories or narrow defeats, the better the return of seats to votes. Labour’s vote is closer to this ideal – fewer mega-majorities, and a better record of wins in tight races. 13

Thus the stage is set. UKIP poised to steal votes away from the Conservatives and hopefully to finally break the party in two. But, and this is the real sticking point, the SNP will undoubtedly grab votes from Labour. So the outcome is actually dependent upon the results of these two lesser battles: Conservative v. UKIP and Labour v. SNP.

I appreciate that many in Scotland will be encouraged to vote SNP either to punish Labour or else in the hope of landing a better deal for Scotland – and why not be self-interested. But let’s face facts, SNP are not Syriza, nothing like them – and perhaps, as I suspect, more closely akin to the Lib Dems of five years ago. As one who fell for the Lib Dem scam, I feel obliged to (rather belatedly) caution you.

Should the vote in Scotland go solidly the way of the SNP then it may pave the way for an unthinkable outcome – Conservatives failing to win a majority (as they likely will) yet winning most seats overall and somehow thereafter cobbling together a second Tory coalition. Can we even begin to imagine how ruined our nation (Scotland very much included) will be if there are five more years of rule by the Tories? I sincerely hope we are not about find out.

*

Addendum:

The national debt figures are out – £1.2 trillion and rising – and although I hate to say it, the Labour Party has a valid point to make. If you don’t adjust for inflation, Osborne has borrowed more in under four years than the Labour Party borrowed over 13 years.

So wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of Conservative mouthpiece The Spectator magazine in an article published in November 2013. To back his claim, the same article featured this graph captioned “Osborne borrows more in 5 years than Labour did in 13”:

Nelson concludes:

Is this recovery real, or another debt-fuelled illusion? The annoying truth is that we just don’t know. 14

For a multitude of reasons we really do know… Indeed, many of the reasons are outlined in an article published almost a year later, as the general election campaigns were just beginning to limber up, by Telegraph (another Conservative mouthpiece obviously) finance correspondent Liam Halligan. He begins with some basic bean-counting:

When the Tories took office, total government debt was £811bn. On last week’s figures, it’s now £1,451bn – an 80pc rise in just five years, with a lot more to come. This national debt matters. It must be serviced with regular interest payments, diverting money from front-line public services. Even at rock-bottom interest rates, the Government spends as much on debt interest annually as on defence. As the national debt escalates, courtesy of £100bn-plus annual deficits, and as interest rates inevitably rise, we’ll soon be spending more on government debt service than on state education.

Halligan then gets stuck into the meat of his own worries (of which I am only providing a taster):

I remain deeply concerned about our national debt, not only because of the absurdity of vast debt service payments, the damage to coming generations and the incentive politicians have to “inflate the debt away”. I also worry that our vast liabilities could ultimately spark another systemic meltdown, not least because such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors. And that makes our public finances extremely vulnerable if there’s a considerable weakening of the pound.

This issue has been on my mind for a while, but recently crystallised while talking to friends at the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank, where I’ve long served on the advisory board. As a result of quantitative easing, around a third of the UK’s gilt stock is owned by the Bank of England. That’s right, 32pc of our government bonds have been bought by our central bank, using virtually printed money. That’s helped to rig the market, keeping interest rates artificially low.

All of which sounds like a “debt-fuelled illusion” to me, and Halligan is justifiably concerned that “such a high share of UK government debt is now owned by foreign creditors”. He continues:

The UK recently chalked up the largest external trade shortfall in our history, with our so-called current account deficit registering well over 5pc of GDP. While our imports have long outweighed our exports, our net income on overseas government investment and assets has recently swung from a surplus of 3pc of GDP to a deficit of over 2pc.

A lot of the explanation for that is the vast interest payments the Government now makes to the raft of foreign creditors propping up our public finances. 15

The systemic failures which led to the banking crisis of 2008 have never been remedied and instead the can was kicked down the road. What Gordon Brown started, the Con-Dem coalition have simply continued, and as a consequence of complete lack of reregulation of the financial markets, we can expect that the next crisis, whenever it comes (and the can might yet be kicked a lot further) will be far bigger than the first. Meanwhile, as the debt burden mounts, there can be no significant economic recovery so long as further money is simply wasted on banker bailouts and debt repayments instead of being invested in infrastructure and services. “Austerity”, meaning cuts to all government spending aside from its debt repayments, is a form of wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

This is why the Con-Dem government have failed by every single count including their own narrowly determined neo-liberal measures. So that not only do we have a million people who have been so impoverished over the last five years that they are now dependent upon food banks; and a workforce so blighted and demoralized by the insecurity and unreliability of zero hour contracts; and even our mediocre GDP figures bolstered on account of drug use and prostitution (two commodities set to grow as the depression deepens); but worst of all, the imposed “austerity” hasn’t diminished the deficit, let alone the debt. In fact, the only real growth this country has seen has been in the wealth gap:

The UK is the only G7 country to record rising wealth inequality in 2000-14. Wealth inequality has risen four times faster in the seven years after the crash compared with the seven years before. The rich in the UK are becoming richer faster than ever. Wealth inequality rose under Labour; it rose faster under the coalition. 16

Under the circumstances, I find it hard to comprehend how either the Tories or their lickspittle accomplices, the Lib Dems, could possibly be re-elected, even with the might of Murdoch’s media empire behind them. Certainly bribery may help and Cameron has been offering temptations like there’s no tomorrow: “right to buy” houses, free childcare and even a quick bonanza from the sale of shares in Lloyds. Fiscal responsibility? For the price of re-election, “austerity” be damned! Hopefully there really will be no tomorrow for this atrocious Tory government, but if they do somehow manage to limp across the line and survive for another term in office then here’s the genius who will be back in charge of rescuing broke(n) Britain:

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Update:

The punch in stomach surprise of a Tory majority shocked and sickened many of us, and not only those on the left. Right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, was also called to account over his prediction (referred to and reprinted in the piece above) that the Tories would probably never be able to achieve such a result. In an extended reply to his critics entitled “Groundhog Day Comes Round Again” [published Friday 8th – the day after the election] he wrote:

I never for a moment imagined that Big Money and Big Lies could so successfully scare, cajole and diddle the electorate of this country. I grew up in a Britain both better-educated and more honest than the one we have today. Perhaps that is why I could not see this possibility. I have not seen, in my lifetime, a campaign so dishonest, so crude, so based in fear and so redolent of third-world and banana republic political tactics.

On which, I entirely concur. Indeed, I find that Hitchens, whose political perspective differs from mine by very nearly 180 degrees, frequently offers a more perceptive and interesting take than other mainstream commentators when surveying the bigger picture. Looking beyond his old school, reactionary opinions, which leave an altogether bitter taste in the mouth, his broader analysis of the wretched state of contemporary politics too often strikes a major chord – as here:

The truth is that both major parties are now just commercial organisations, who raise money wherever they can get it to buy their way into office through unscrupulous election campaigns. They then presumably reward their donors once they are in office. The electorate are a constitutional necessity for this process, but otherwise their fears, hopes and desires are largely irrelevant. They are to be fooled and distracted with scares (‘The other lot will privatise the NHS!’ ‘The other lot will nationalise your children’s toys and then wreck the economy!’ ) or with loss-leader cut-rate offers, like supermarkets (‘Vote for us and get a cheap mortgage!!’ ‘Vote for us and have your rent frozen!’) . Even if these wild pledges are implemented, the customer will pay for them through higher taxes elsewhere, just as with supermarket loss-leaders.

By playing our part in this ludicrous pantomime, we license it to continue forever. I have thought for years that the key to ending it was simple and obvious. We could revenge ourselves on these fakes by refusing to vote for them. The arrival of new parties, UKIP on one side, the Greens on the other, made such a revolt and redemption even easier.

But I must now admit that the people of this country actually seem to prefer to live the same experience over and over again, and seem astonishingly ready to believe the crudest propaganda. I seethe with frustrated amazement at the Tory claim to have fixed the economy, so blazingly untrue that in commercial advertising it would get them into serious trouble with the authorities.

Ailing GDP figures just before the election were barely mentioned in the media, but easily-obtained statistics on productivity, trade, manufacturing and construction, are all bad and the Tories have missed their own target (whether wise or not) on deficit reduction. In any case, the Tory record on the economy is dreadful.

Likewise, Hitchens is quite correct in his assessment of the Tory’s (not so) secret romancing of the SNP:

A Tory Party really concerned about the loss of Scotland would have done as Norman Tebbit suggested, and urged its supporters to vote Labour to stop the SNP. Instead, to the dismay of elder statesmen and experts such as Michael Forsyth, it talked up the SNP, paying elaborate compliments to Nicola Sturgeon after the leaders’ debate (George Osborne and Michael Gove were observed doing this). To claim, while behaving in this fashion, that the Tory Party is a bulwark against the SNP and Labour is in their clutches is absurd. The SNP are delighted by the Tory victory, which makes it all but certain that they will get a repeat landslide in next year’s Scottish general election, with a manifesto commitment to a second referendum, which I think they will then win. Let us see how Mr Cameron now copes with the SNP’s sweeping victory, for which he must take so much of the blame.

At least the Sun newspaper was brazenly open about its ludicrous inconsistency, campaigning for a Tory (and supposedly Unionist) victory south of the border, and for the unquestionably separatist SNP north of it.

Click here to read Peter Hitchens’ full post-election article.

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1 From an article entitled “Episode 18: Panic Stations”, written by John Lanchester, published by the London Review of Books on May 5, 2015. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/05/05/john-lanchester/episode-18-panic-stations/ 

2 From an editorial entitled “General election 2010: All change for new politics”, published by the Guardian on April 20, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/20/general-election-2010-poll-editorial

3 From an article entitled “General Elecion 2010: Did the opinion polls flatter to deceive?” written by Martin Boon & John Curtice, published by Research magazine on July 6, 2010. http://www.research-live.com/opinion/general-election-2010-did-the-opinion-polls-flatter-to-deceive?/4003088.article

4 From an article entitled “Bursting the polling bubble” written by Martin Boon, published in Research magazine on February 12, 2015. http://www.research-live.com/blogs/election-blog-bursting-the-polling-bubble/4012895.article

5 From an article entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s polls are not what they seem” written by Dan Hodges, published by The Telegraph on February 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11401622/Lord-Ashcrofts-polls-are-not-what-they-seem.html

6 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

7 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/election-2015-32394920

8 From an article entitled “How Rupert Murdoch is sticking his oar into Scotland’s independence referendum” written by John Jewell, published in The Conversation on September 10, 2014. http://theconversation.com/how-rupert-murdoch-is-sticking-his-oar-into-scotlands-independence-referendum-31531

9 From an article entitled “The SNP and the Tories – is This the Love that Dare not Speak its Name?” written by Peter Hitchens, published in The Mail on March 23, 2015. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/03/the-snp-and-the-tories-is-this-the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html

10 From an article entitled “The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good” written by Gerry Hassan, published March 20, 2015 on the OpenDemocracy website. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/tartan-tsunami-and-how-it-will-change-scotland-and-uk-for-good

11 From an article entitled “Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election” written by Adam Sherwin and Oliver Wright, published in The Independent on April 21, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/rupert-murdoch-berated-sun-journalists-for-not-doing-enough-to-attack-ed-miliband-10191005.html

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Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015, backed by the Tories, have been defeated in the House of Commons.

MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest.

It was the first time Lib Dem ministers have voted against their Conservative coalition colleagues in the Commons.

The two parties have been in dispute since proposed elections to the House of Lords were dropped last year.

From an article entitled “Conservatives lose boundary review vote” published by BBC news on January 29, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21235169

13 From an article entitled “Election 2015: how Labour gains from UK electoral system in a tight race” written by Robert Ford, published in the Guardian on March 15, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/15/election-2015-hung-parliament-majority-coalition-labour

14 From an article entitled “Osborne increases debt more than Labour did over 13 years” written by Fraser Nelson, published in The Spectator on November 21, 2013. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/11/the-tories-have-piled-on-more-debt-than-labour/

15 From an article entitled “It’s time to come clean about our national debt”, written by Liam Halligan, published in The Telegraph on October 25, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11187727/Its-time-to-come-clean-about-our-national-debt.html

16 From an article entitled “Growing wealth inequality in the UK is a ticking timebomb” written by Danny Dorling, published in the Guardian on October 15, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/wealth-inequality-uk-ticking-timebomb-credit-suisse-crash

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reflections after Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstration in London

Saturday’s anti-cuts march in London attracted more than 150,000 people, which makes it one of the bigger protests I’ve ever been part of and certainly worthy of greater media coverage. With the economic destruction of European nations like Greece, Spain and Portugal already so well advanced, the need for mass protest across the whole of Europe and the rest of the western world having never been more urgent. So these relatively large numbers are still disappointing. I had anticipated that perhaps a million or more might be marching along the streets of London at the weekend – as there had been ten years ago when we marched against the Iraq War – but sadly no.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the people of Britain either didn’t get sufficient notice that a major protest was taking place (and one of my friends told me that the event wasn’t particularly well publicised), or couldn’t be bothered, perhaps because they’ve given up all hope of ever changing anything, or, and most depressingly, are actually opposed to the objectives of the march itself. Those in the latter category remaining convinced that ‘we just need to take our medicine’ like good little boys and girls, whilst leaving everything to the clever men who understand the system better, trusting that as they inflict injury after injury, this process of deliberate evisceration might somehow, presumably as a side-effect, rescue us from the jaws of recession. Which is a manifestly deluded hope, of course, firstly because it mistakes depression for recession (and many have known since well before the crash of 2008 that the world was on the imminent brink of a global depression), but also because it is in contradiction to all the evidence provided by failures abroad. ‘Austerity’ having rescued no country from this worsening crisis, but only serving to sink them ever deeper into trouble.

Even the Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, came out with a statement last week pointing to the obvious failure of the current ‘austerity programme’ in Europe:

“Spain and Greece are in depression, not recession. That impact was brought about by austerity” with the countries now trapped in a vicious cycle of spending cuts and slumping growth, he said.

Stiglitz, who served as a senior advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, was speaking on the eve of a key two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels that will seek to address the eurozone crisis.

“Austerity is bringing Europe down and diminishes chances of making things work — it is the wrong measure,” said the Nobel laureate, who is a professor at New York’s Columbia University.1

Unfortunately, however, there are many who will continue to fail to understand that the so-called ‘austerity’ now being imposed throughout our continent and beyond, is the major cause of our accelerating death spiral into the grinding teeth of a total global depression. ‘Austerity’ being a policy that those holding significant positions of power must already have known would be disastrous for the simple reason that such methods have failed so many times before, and in places as far afield as Chile, Argentina, South Korea, as well as in all corners of Africa. But then it all depends what one means by ‘failed’ I suppose. What fails for the ordinary people generally serves the finance oligarchs very nicely don’t you know.

What the small turnout showed then, is that sadly a great many in Britain (as elsewhere) are still bewitched by those guys in their pin-striped suits pulling their strange levers and twiddling their incomprehensible knobs on the top floor offices of the hedge funds and within such megabanks as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Still ignorant, or else strangely oblivious, to the scale of the fraudulent means by which these same financial elites have saturated the world with their odious debt. Debts being used to hold us to ransom: menacing all of our nations with the threat that if ever their own well-deserved demise should actually occur, then the repercussions would be so serious as to result in the ruin of all of us. “Too big too fail”, no longer a slogan, but thanks to unquestioning media propagation, an inculcated factoid.

Again, I cannot believe that playing the suicide card has worked so well for the bankers, nor that remarkably few of the general public are yet to appreciate just how successfully these same financial giants have inveigled themselves into the highest positions of public office, placing their own puppets Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti directly into the governments of Greece and Italy, whilst former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Mario Draghi settled in as president at the European Central Bank. The self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ more or less openly ruling the world these days, which is why the crisis goes on and on and gets ever worse.

And the money-changers who now swivel in and out of power via the revolving doors of their own convenience have no interest whatsoever in saving the folks at home. Their own funds are safely offshore in any case and when the paper currencies begin to collapse as they sooner, rather than later, inevitably must, they won’t be worrying about this either, because their own stash of wealth will have been converted into more solid and stable forms, by, primarily, turning their assets into gold and silver and real estate. At this moment they lie to you, of course (but then they always did and always will), continuing to pretend that gold and silver are poor investments and using every possible means at their considerable disposal to artificially hold the prices down. But only the foolish still listen to what these people say, the ones who speak for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, instead of wisely judging on the basis of what they actually do. And if you look, you will discover that the leading financial players are suddenly buying heavily into gold because they know what’s coming, and they also know that what’s coming is coming soon enough.

Here’s an example from an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth”, which was published by Investment Europe in late July:

Equity markets cheered after Mario Draghi promised recently to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, but Rothschild Wealth Management believes this was just another sign of central bankers “moving further into uncharted territory”, and that gold could benefit as a result.

Dirk Wiedmann (pictured), head of investments at RWM, said the precious metal could not be manipulated by central bankers, in contrast to paper currencies. He therefore called the environment “extremely positive for gold”, although he cautions investors in it should expect a volatile summer.2

And here’s another entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold” taken from ABC news and published in August:

Once again John Paulson is choosing to heavily invest in gold and fellow billionaire George Soros is making a similar bet.

According to Bloomberg News, Paulson & Co. and Soros Fund Management bumped up exposure to SPDR Gold Trust to 21.8 million shares and 884,000 shares, respectively. Paulson & Co. now has 44 percent of its $24 billion fund exposed to bullion.3

So if you do not already feel the pinch of ‘austerity’ then please believe me that you soon will, and that when it comes, that pinch will tighten until it becomes a deathly hold. ‘Austerity’ not really being an intended remedy at all, but, and as it always has been, the underlying aim of the neoliberal ideology. The savaging of public services, the oppression of workers and the privatisation of whole states simply being the well tried and tested methods which the bankers have long used to build their empires, although in former times the use of these approaches being mostly restricted to places faraway. The imposition of ‘austerity’ making nations ripe for exploitation and ready to be enslaved.

Right now, those same financial elites have, and whether by accident or design, manufactured the perfect storm, and with it comes their greatest opportunity to consolidate what is already enormous power, and this time in order that they may wield it with the same nefarious intent much closer to home. Which is the real reason that this latest crisis will have no end, or at least no end until we are collectively prepared to stand tall and say very loudly that enough is enough. Some kind of organised programme for mass dissent being our last chance of averting the total destruction of society that will otherwise inexorably follow in the wake of further rounds of banker bailouts and imposed ‘austerity’.

I had therefore felt a very urgent need to go to London for Saturday’s protest, travelling down the M1 with four friends from Sheffield who had also decided that it was vitally important to publicly express their own dissent. We did this in good humour, and as it transpired, also in good time, arriving at Hyde Park to hear some of the speeches at the rally – something I’ve never managed on any previous marches, and an indication again that the turnout wasn’t as spectacular as at those earlier protests. But then, as one of my friends pointed out along the way, there were other reasons to doubt that our journey to London would achieve very much on this occasion. The police presence being so low profile and non-confrontational, she surmised, and in reply to my own musings, presumably because the protest itself was a more or less officially sanctioned affair.

And indeed, Saturday’s protest was so significantly endorsed that one of the speakers at the rally turned out to be none other than the right honourable leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband – and we had got there just in time to hear some of what he had to say. This is what we heard:

And you know [the government are] not just incompetent, their old answers don’t work any more. Trickle-down economics, cutting rights at work – David Cameron calls it ‘the sink or swim society’ – you don’t build a successful country with sink or swim, you do it by building one nation. And that is what a Labour government will do.

So far so good, I suppose, but unfortunately this was just a sweetener, his clever way to rally the traditional Labour ranks against the common Tory enemy. So here’s what Ed Miliband said next:

Now, of course, there will still be hard choices. And with borrowing rising not falling, I do not promise easy times.

You know, it’s right that we level with people, that there will still be hard choices. I’ve said that whoever was in government right now, there will be cuts, but this government are cutting too far and too fast.

Many in the park applauded, buoyed on by his words of condemnation for the incompetent incumbents in Whitehall, whilst wanting to show solidarity with the old party. Alongside the faithful, however, many hundreds of others booed and heckled.

I was one of those who booed Ed Miliband, and I am very proud to have done so. For these are nothing but weasel words. Polite but utterly insincere justification for further ‘austerity’ and all dressed up within that old Thatcherite garb of ‘there is no alternative’. Such words prove only how sold-out Ed Miliband and the Labour Party still remain, and as such deserve nothing but our outright contempt.

My friends and I had already left before Miliband went on to explain how his future Labour government would “end the privatisation experiment in the NHS and [we] repeal their NHS bills” and before his entirely hollow “pledge” to small businesses “that instead of a country that serves its banks, we will have once again banks that serve this country”. Even if we’d stayed longer, we would still not have heard him apologise, as he should, for New Labour’s important role in enabling the NHS to fall into private hands, whilst meanwhile permitting the banks to entirely run amok during more than a decade in government.

Our premature departure also meant that we hadn’t, at least, had to suffer his wretched and totally over-worked ‘one nation’ finale – and if you decide to listen to his speech on the embedded video below, then tell me if you don’t, like me, hear his voice audibly distort, almost as if in mimicry, to become indistinguishable from the bleating insincerity of Tony Blair – and I can almost hear the voice of Tony Blair as I read the transcript back again:

One nation is a country in which those with the greatest shoulders bear the broadest burden. One nation is a country where we give hope to our young people again. One nation is a country where we defend and improve institutions like our National Health Service. One nation is a country united not divided. A future that works. A future that Britain builds together.

He might just as well have included mention of the need to go “Back to Basics” and calls for “the Big Society”, before closing with “because you’re worth it”, or something else equally as vacuous. But the final straw for our own little party was when he told us all how he was so tremendously committed to “tax[ing] the bankers’ bonuses”. And not, as he should have proposed, to putting a significant but fair sales tax on the enormous volume of their market manipulating high frequency transactions. Nor to securing any of the unpaid taxes protected by the multitude of convenient offshore havens, the majority of which are, of course, British dependencies. Nor even to prosecuting any of those involved in what we now know – and with the revelations surrounding the fixing of Libor, know beyond all doubt – to be nothing less than a vast criminal racket. And finally, no mention whatsoever of any need for a cancellation of debts, something which must happen if only because the debts are simply unpaidable, as they always have been. In short, Miliband proffered no hope and made plain simply by omission that he has no real interest in bringing any kind of justice at all, social or otherwise.

Yet I remain glad that I made the effort to join in the demonstration, and if only because, as this entirely avoidable and still potentially reversible crisis deepens into greater chaos, and as the British people are slowly gripped by the same despair that those in Greece, Spain and Portugal are already feeling, it will help me again to salve my own conscience. For when all are wondering why we couldn’t have prevented our lemming-like march over the precipice, many will also turn to wonder why they themselves had not done more, or acted sooner, and if only by learning what’s actually going on, or by spreading the message, or more simply by standing firm and saying no. If only more had tried, they will realise too late, we might actually have saved ourselves…

And if you are wondering what kinds of remedies might truly be effective if we are to save ourselves from a fate worse than Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese and others are already suffering, then I refer you to my many earlier posts, and especially to those categorised under neoliberalism, debt cancellation and “austerity measures”. Perhaps the most succinct combination of analysis and suggested alternatives having been put together in this one.

Oh, and here is Ed Miliband selling himself as the new Benjamin Disraeli:

Click here to link to the official October 20th protest website.

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Additional:

The anti-cuts campaign continues on November 17th with a Unite the Resistance national conference in London. The list of speakers are as follows:

Mark Serwotka – PCS general secretary

Hind Adb-al-Gawad Ibrahim – Independent Union of Local Development Information Centre Workers Egypt

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC

Mike Mansfield QC – campaigning barrister

John McDonnell – Labour MP

Matt Wrack – FBU general secretary

Ian Hodson – BFAWU president

Kevin Courtney – NUT deputy general secretary

Zita Holbourne – a PCS executive member and joint chair of BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)

Owen Jones – author of “Chavs – the Demonisation of the Working Class

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC member

They will also be joined by an unnamed South African miner who has been involved in the bitter struggle against British-owned mining firm Lonmin.

Click here for further details.

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Although I do not ordinarily publicise events taking place in other countries, I feel that it is worth making an exception in the case of the UFAA – United Front Against Austerity campaign which begins with its inaugural conference next weekend in New York. Here are more details:

When:

Saturday, October 27, 2012
12:00 pm — 6:00 pm

Where:

Walker Auditorium / INN World Report
56 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013
One and one half blocks south of Canal Street, between Church & Broadway

Purpose:

To organize an effective opposition to the impending austerity offensive; agitate to shift the burden of the economic depression onto Wall Street oligarchs; and to build momentum toward a genuine political revolution of, by and for the people.
Participants will hear proposals from distinguished speakers, engage in floor debate, and vote on vital strategic matters. The UFAA intends to build on Wisconsin and Occupy — with decisions, demands and action.

Speakers:

Cindy Sheehan — Antiwar Activist
Webster G. Tarpley — Author, historian and economist
Dr. W. Randy Short — SCLC, University of Virginia
Don DeBar — Founder, Community Progressive Radio
Anthony Monteiro — African-American Studies, Temple University
Dr. Jay Arena — Professor of Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY
Eric Lerner — Popular science writer and Occupy Wall Street activist
Rev. Edward Pinkney — Benton Harbor, Michigan activist (via Skype)
Murrell Brooks — Political Science, Virginia Wesleyan College
Eric Draitser — Independent journalist, StopImperialism.com
Bruce Marshall, moderator — former Congressional candidate, Green Party of Vermont

We will also play pre-recorded messages from:

Amelia Boynton Robinson — Civil rights leader
Yanis Varoufakis — Political economist, Greek SYRIZA coalition
Glen Ford — Radio host, Black Agenda Report
Stephen Lendman — Research Associate, Center for Research on Globalization
David Swanson — Activist, blogger and author

You can also find out more by visiting the official website at http://againstausterity.org/

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Update:

Click here to watch a recording of that small but very lively inaugural United Front Against Austerity meeting.

The proposed anti-cuts programme agreed upon was stated as follows [2:53 hours in]:

The United Front Against Austerity adopts a jobs for all resolution that specifies that we demand:

  • 30 million jobs at good union wages
  • the nationalisation of the Federal Reserve
  • a Wall Street sales tax
  • that the jobs programme be open to all including immigrants and persons formerly incarcerated.

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1 From an article entitled “Greece, Spain ‘in depression’: Nobel winner Stiglitz” published by France 24 on October 17, 2012. http://www.france24.com/en/20121017-greece-spain-depression-nobel-winner-stiglitz

2 From an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth” written by David Walker, published by Investment Europe on July 31, 2012. http://www.investmenteurope.net/investment-europe/news/2195534/rothschild-bullish-on-gold-as-central-bankers-get-out-of-their-depth

3 From an article entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold”, written by Lyneka Little, published by ABC news on August 16, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/08/billionaires-soros-paulson-bet-big-on-gold/

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a depression by any other name: so what is anyone doing about it?

News that the British economy has now entered a dreaded “double-dip recession” is being greeted with surprise from the government, when it ought really to have surprised no-one. That the government’s own dismal failure is immediately reworked into the justification for imposing more ‘austerity measures’ and more quickly, is, again, something we might all have expected.

David Cameron apparently said that the figures were “very, very disappointing”, whilst adding only that the government would stick with its plans and do “everything we can” to generate growth.1 Everything, that is, aside from tackling the real cause of what is actually a worldwide economic depression, by, for instance, re-regulating our own financial markets and also criminally investigating the banks that are responsible for the crisis. And everything except for making significant investments in infrastructure projects and government services that would actually generate useful jobs at union wages.

Austerity isn’t simply cruel, from a national perspective it is suicidal. Just ask the Greeks… or the Italians, or the Irish, or the Spanish, or for that matter, the Argentinians and the Chileans.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the figures were “catastrophic” and asked Mr Cameron what his excuse was.

“This is a recession made by him and the chancellor in Downing Street. It is his catastrophic economic policy that has landed us back in recession,” Mr Miliband said.

From the same BBC news article.

Fair enough, but where are Labour’s alternatives? During the last general election, the choice was between hardcore austerity meted out by the Torys, or softcore austerity from New Labour. How about no austerity! How about closing down the offshore tax-havens and thereby forcing the major corporations to stump up for the deficit. I don’t hear you, Mr Miliband.

The people are very slowly getting wind of what is really going on here. They increasingly see that the bankers have far too much power and influence over our elected representatives. Indeed, Goldman Sacks have blown their cover completely with the dictatorial appointments of Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti in Greece and Italy respectively, not to mention the more recent appointment of Mario Draghi as President of the European Central Bank (ECB). Yet there remains an almost total political vacuum in this country, with no mainstream party prepared even to question, let alone challenge, the steady ‘technocratic’ takeover of our societies.

So I see every reason to repeat an earlier plea for the urgent formation of a new political party. The party I envisage stands for human rights and social justice. It stands for the people and against the established elite. It says defiantly that enough is enough.

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Economist Michael Hudson spoke about the reasons for the deepening financial crisis on yesterday’s Keiser Report on Russia Today.

In the interview with Max Keiser [part 2 of the show: 13 mins], he explains why the bailouts have failed and, in their current form, must continue to fail. He also points out how there are plenty of alternatives for solving this crisis other than the deathly hammer of ‘austerity’.

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Here is a previous post, written last summer, which breaks down why ‘austerity measures’ will fail to rescue the economy, whilst presenting a few ideas for alternative measures that would genuinely help to turn the country around.

1 According to a BBC news article entitled “UK economy in double-dip recession”, published on April 25, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17836624

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Filed under austerity measures, Britain

greetings from England

“Travellers are advised to exercise special caution, to immediately pull back if confronted with any signs of disturbance, and to especially follow advice given by security forces,” the German foreign ministry said in its online travel advisory.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes… this is advice to German citizens, provided by their own government, for those considering embarkation to our own green and pleasant land. Tuesday’s message from the travel advisory adds:

“Travellers should also look to the media to keep themselves informed about the latest developments and act in an appropriate fashion locally.”1

Which is perhaps not the best advice under the circumstances, given that the local fashion is for looting and arson.

Like many people in England, I am appalled. Appalled by the wanton destruction. Appalled at the copycat dumb-ass materialism and gang culture imported from across the Atlantic. Appalled at the thirty years of neo-liberal economics that has already impoverished us socially, culturally and, dare I say, spiritually, in the lead up to, as well as the cause of, a global economic depression that is now in the process of ruining us materially.

I am also appalled at the lack of a police response. How on earth could a few kids kicking up a commotion create the sheer mayhem we have seen during recent nights? Were the police ordered to stand down and simply observe, as some are claiming? What kind of a police force fails to take action when confronted by acts of mindless vandalism and violence? But now, as a direct consequence of those operational failings, we have calls for the use of baton rounds, CS gas and water cannons.

So to summarise all of this: a marginalised but substantial portion of Thatcher’s grandchildren, possibly in gangs which they have joined because they can’t think of anything better, have thrown a temper tantrum, and the only answer will be more surveillance and the further militarisation of our police force. Words fail me. How has it come to this…?

And then I switch on the news and there is Cameron puffing himself up, and Clegg running away with his tail between his legs, and “Mini-Me” Miliband trying to look like a grown-up, not to mention Boris Johnson, the clown prince of mayors, blathering as only Johnson can, and… and… I am exasperated.

But listen, this is England. The thugs have taken to the streets, quelle surprise. And whereas the Spanish have los indignados, we have only the ignoramuses (or rather, lost ignoramuses); people with no knowledge of anything beyond the corruption they see all around. And yet, the alienation of this growing underclass is real enough, and so these eruptions, mindless as they have been, are nonetheless, an ugly symptom of an entirely cancerous system.

The politicians, who are now politely leaning on one another’s shoulders, speaking platitudes in these times of national need, are just one small part of that system. The media, with its rolling repetition and empty speculation, is yet another part. These are just the products, quite literally, of the free market madness that has invaded every corner of our society and lives. Our whole rotten society has been infected, not to the core, but from the core, which is why there is little in the way of any real and effective opposition.

As a consequence this country has lost all hope and all direction. It is not alone. But the big issue – the colossal elephant in the room – is that we also stand on the verge of being driven into debt slavery because of the criminality of a depraved financial elite. In this we are also not alone. Greece is going the same way, Spain too, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, America, and now even France is beginning to enter into its own death throes. The German travellers were well advised to stay at home, but those who are awake must recognise the near-certain probability that their own country will soon enter into receivership too.

When times are tough, the temptation is always to kick down and to lash out, because this is the easiest and most cowardly way to vent your anger. In the coming months and years, we must unfortunately expect to see still more of what we’ve witnessed already this week. But those with greater understanding and better conscience, and who can see beyond the parochial evils, need to spread the awful message before its too late. This country is going to the dogs, so let’s not get too distracted by the fleas.

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Additional: for an alternative perspective on the underlying cause of the riots, I recommend Peter Oborne’s article entitled: “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom”, published in today’s Daily Telegraph. Click here to read the full article.

Oborne says:

“[But] there was also something very phony and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in parliament. MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.

“I cannot accept that this is the case. Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.”

Overall, Oborne provides a thoughtful and generally fair analysis of what the riots really show about “Broken Britain”. The only pity being, that he focusses so much on the petty cash scandals of our parliamentarians, whilst failing to mention what amounts to a grand larceny being carried out by a banking elite.

“Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain”, Oborne says, but then why stop at Britain (or rather, England). Something is going horribly wrong across Europe and throughout the developed world, and the underlying cause is rather obvious. The really significant difference being, that in Britain (as in America), the programme for dismantling our society was begun a little earlier, in fact, about two decades earlier.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Europe, Uncategorized