Archive 2021

26th June 2021

COVID-19 – co-operation not competition vital

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Vaccine equity – essential for poorer nations

Big Pharma drug firms, led by US companies Pfizer and Moderna, stand to make billions of dollars from their COVID-19 vaccines, boosted by the recent G7 pledge to vaccinate the entire world by the end of 2022, with the global market for the vaccines at an estimated $70 billion (£50 bn).  The G7 pledge to donate a billion doses to the international body Covax, by the end of the year, is still well short of the 11 billion doses the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates is need to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people over the same timescale.

Pfizer and Moderna alone, charging $30 per person for the necessary two shots, could make more than $50 bn in revenues.  Pfizer has already announced that it is likely to make $26 bn in 2021, a third of its annual revenue.  Moderna, funded by the US government to develop its vaccine, is expected to generate revenue of $19.2 bn this year.

The British-Swedish produced Astra Zeneca and the US based Johnson and Johnson have pledged to provide vaccines on a not for profit basis until the pandemic ends. However, even Johnson and Johnson are looking to generate $6.6 bn in revenue this year with a forecast $5.2 bn in sales forecast in 2021 for Astra Zeneca.

Latest data suggests that 2.5 billion doses of vaccine have been administered in 180 countries.  However, distribution is massively uneven, with higher income countries vaccinated 30 times faster than those with lowest incomes.

The campaign to waive patents is gathering some international momentum however.  Estimates suggest that the world’s population could be vaccinated at a cost of up to $25 bn (£18 bn) compared to the estimated $100 bn if drug firms maintain their current level of charges.

From 18th – 21st June a four day summit organised by Progressive International involved the national governments of Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela as well as the regional governments of Kisumu, Kenya and Kerala, India, alongside political leaders from 20 countries, healthcare workers, vaccine manufacturers and public health experts, to make concrete commitments to advance vaccine internationalism.

At the summit Cuba and Mexico offered their nationally developed vaccines in clinical trials, Cuba’s Soberana 2, Abdala, and Mambisa and Mexico’s Patria, to new partners to openly collaborate on vaccine trials and licensing. The offer of open, rather than exclusive, licensing is hugely significant. The majority of Covid-19 vaccines operate as full monopolies, and have not been offered to any other manufacturers to make. The minority of vaccines that have been offered to others, have been licensed on a limited or exclusive basis, such as AstraZeneca’s agreement with India’s Serum Institute, which shuts out other Indian manufacturers from making it.

It has been extensively reported that the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, had originally intended to offer it to the world on an open license basis, but instead entered into an exclusive arrangement with AstraZeneca on the urging of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The summit also saw a pledge from Argentina to share the advanced regulatory capacities of ANMAT, Argentina’s state regulatory entity, to collect data on new vaccines and share this with countries throughout the region, including Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, to speed up the process of approval of vaccines.

Dr. Carla Vizzotti, Argentina’s Health Minister, committed to extending this facility to any country in need. She said,

“We have worked with Summit participants like Cuba and Mexico to synchronise our regulatory systems in order to facilitate stronger cooperation and enhance access of the entire population to vaccines, medicines and new technologies from a regulatory standpoint. Without a doubt, we extend this cooperation to all countries of the world – above all, those in the region of Africa. It’s a pleasure to be able to offer our regulatory capacity to the world.”

Countries at the summit with considerable production capabilities, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela, pledged to increase manufacturing in order to produce enough doses to export to other countries.  Venezuela, in an official government paper tabled at the Summit, offered to lend its manufacturing industry to “ensure the distribution of supplies to the areas of greatest need at any given moment.”

The Progressive International plans to organise further meetings to provide a framework for the proposed integration of capacities and ongoing collaboration between participants, aimed at expanding the emerging alliance for vaccine internationalism.

Meanwhile the economic forecasts of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predict that the world economy is on course to bounce back from the pandemic.  This official optimism appears to be largely based upon the success of vaccination roll out in Europe, China and the United States.  However, even across Europe vaccine success is patchy and the Delta variant is gaining ground across the continent.

Without international co-operation, without a relaxation of patent exclusivity, without a real commitment to ensuring vaccine equity in the world’s poorer nations economic predictions will not be worth the paper they are printed on. 

The striving for market dominance and profit, endemic to the capitalist system, remains the greatest barrier to bringing the virus under control and ending the current pandemic.  The WHO has repeatedly stressed that no-one is safe until everyone is safe.  The fact remains that safety will only come from co-operation and not from competition, a concept the capitalist world struggles with, the result being thousands of unnecessary deaths worldwide.

19th June 2021

More work, less pay, no protection

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Greek workers show their opposition to further austerity

The programme of the European Union, to undermine its weaker economies at the expense of supporting the stronger economies of Germany and France at its core, continues apace this week with the attempt to further impoverish the Greek people.  European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen attempted to sugar the pill saying that,

“The Commission has given the green light for Greece’s national recovery plan”, adding, “This plan…belongs to the Greek people and will transform the Greek economy.”

Von der Leyen may have missed the obvious fact that thousands of the Greek people have been out on the streets in protest against the plan and even the vote in the Greek Parliament only showed a majority of 158 to 142 in favour of the Bill, hardly a landslide by any means and a reflection of the deep divisions in Greek society.

Right wing Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has conspired with the EU to come up with a package which will undermine workers rights.  The Labour Bill will allow for a working day of up to 10 hours, based upon individual contracts between workers and employers, it will undermine the right to strike and restrict trade union activity.

The anti-trade union Bill is aimed at unlocking a further €30.5 billion from the EU to support the business sector, adding to the already staggering €240 billion debt owing to the EU and burdening the people of Greece.

General secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Dimitris Koutsoumbas, was trenchant in his criticism of the Bill in the Greek Parliament, stating,

“The anti-labour bill that you are preparing to vote for today is, according to the Minister of Labour, a bill of the contemporary era! If so, then why do they take the working conditions back a century, turning workers into slaves in the 21st century? Why do they bring about an increase instead of a decrease in working time, work from dusk till dawn, persecutions of trade union, and strike-breaking? In the contemporary era, of the huge development of technology and science, what is contemporary is to reduce working time, to work 7 hours–5 days–35 hours a week. What is contemporary is to secure a job for everyone, with satisfactory terms of pay and rights; and not to return to the working conditions of the Middle Ages. That is why your monstrous law will remain on paper, like so many other unjust laws before that.”

As the Bill was being passed, tens of thousands of demonstrators were participating in demonstrations protesting against the anti-labour bill all over Greece.

The anti-labour bill is the latest step in a decade of attacks upon the public sector and working class in Greece, as EU imposed austerity programmes continue to impose compliance with EU rules and the intensification of exploitation in favour of the Greek business class and European corporations.

Critics have accused Mitsotakis of exploiting lockdowns imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to push the bill through parliament.

While the bill has survived a parliamentary vote, mass action on the streets has continued and is likely to persist, as the campaign by the trade union movement and left wing political parties continues, with the aim of rendering the bill unworkable and ultimately ensuring its repeal.

The austerity programmes imposed upon Greece by the EU may just be a foretaste of what is to come across Europe, as governments adjust their economic projections in order to claw back essential spend to support the public throughout the pandemic.  Being outside of the EU will not save British workers in this regard.  The costs of any crisis are inevitably passed on to the working class.  In spite of the talk of ‘levelling up’ in Britain the Tory leopard is unlikely to change its spots when it comes to the crunch.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, may have succumbed to public health pressure in order to extend lockdown restrictions for a further four weeks but is unlikely to resist the siren voices of the hardline Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs indefinitely.  Once it comes to paying for the crisis their voices will be the loudest in the ‘pro-business’ lobby, a euphemism for anti-working class action aimed at giving employers greater rights to hire and fire.

The language will not be so stark, it will be dressed in the clothing of economic recovery, as being essential for growth, as being key to getting back to business as usual even to, ‘build back better’ in the already worn out Tory phrase. 

The attack on Greek workers is being carried out under cover of ‘modernising the economy’, a modernisation that Greek workers are resisting.

We must ensure that when similar calls for ‘modernisation’ are made for British workers the response will be equally militant.

11th June 2021

China on their minds

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Bonhomie and bluster – Biden and Johnson meet ahead of the G7 in Cornwall

The notional leaders of the so-called free world gather this weekend at the G7 summit in Cornwall to discuss the big issues of the day.  Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and security threats, real or perceived, are all likely to feature as part of the agenda.

In foreign policy terms US President Joe Biden has made the promise, regarded by many as a threat, that ‘America is back’.   The phrase certainly rang hollow in the streets of Gaza recently, as US manufactured missiles rained down upon a largely defenceless population, courtesy of the Israeli Defence Force. 

It certainly plays no better in the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, fuelled by US and UK weaponry, with the Saudi dictatorship this time pulling the trigger.

The UK press has already been effusive about the initial meeting between Biden and British Prime Minster, Boris Johnson, with Johnson himself describing the meeting with Biden as being like a “breath of fresh air.”  The Trump presidency did not set the bar too high in that respect so Biden is going to score initially for simply not being Trump.

The new President’s easy manner and natural bonhomie will no doubt endear him to the liberal press, always desperate to find a glimmer of hope that the leaders of the so called free world can co-operate, can come up with equitable solutions to global problems, can put aside the cut-throat competition which is the basis of capitalism and deliver something new.

It is a hope which can occasionally find its moment.  In World War 2 the forces of capitalism had allowed their usually caged attack dog, fascism, to get out of control and present an existential threat to the world order.  Only through co-operation with the Soviet Union, pragmatically regarded by the West as the lesser of two evils, could the fascist threat be put back in its cage.  It did not take the West long to revert to type however, initiating the Cold War against the Soviet Union and forming the aggressive NATO military alliance as its spearhead.

Following the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1991 however, having supported the forces which turned back the clock on socialist development, initially through the drunkard Yeltsin and subsequently the autocrat Putin, the re-establishment of capitalism in Eastern Europe was not something the West could easily argue against.  The transformation of anti-Sovietism into the routine anti-Russian sentiment which is the common currency of Western politics took a little more time.

The manoeuvrings of Vladimir Putin to retain political control at all costs has made the task of demonising Russia that much easier.  Accusations of interference in elections and of the political assassination of enemies abroad have contributed to the picture being painted of a Russian threat.  Russian actions in the Ukraine, Crimea and intervening at the request of the Assad government in Syria have, for many in the West, sealed the deal, if indeed the deal was ever in doubt.

The extent to which the G7 may agree to co-operate is, of necessity, predicated upon the concept of there being an external threat, against which the economic might of the G7 and the military power of NATO must be in a state of readiness to repel.  The Cold War narrative, subscribed to across the political spectrum, was to hold back the tide of communism, embodied by the Soviet Union.

There is certainly no dissent in the G7 that Russia is anything other than a threat to Western interests.  Capitalism is nothing if not competitive and even a relatively weak capitalist state such as Russia represents a potential threat.  Added to this is the new dimension of the growing economic and technological threat which China poses.

Free from the pressures of monopoly capitalism, China was for many years a source of low cost consumer goods for Western markets. This could be tolerated as being no threat to the market dominance of Western corporations.  That is all changing.

The challenge which Chinese technology represents to the US hi-tech sector has resulted in the pressure to squeeze Huawei out of the 5G market and increase reliance upon US manufactured components.  Chinese investment in South America and Africa is seen by the West as a threat to the interests of Western corporations, while the Chinese Belt and Road programme is seen as a direct challenge to the stranglehold of the West, and its proxy fronts the IMF and World Bank, upon developing economies.

Amid the backslapping, sun bathing and beer swilling of the G7 summit some warm words about tackling the pandemic and addressing the climate crisis will no doubt emerge.  Commitments on both will no doubt find their way onto the summit’s final communique. By all accounts any reference to China will be missing.

There is little doubt however, that on the return flight home on Airforce One, it is China that will be on President Joe Biden’s mind.

6th June 2021

Global tax and worker’s fightbacks

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Amazon – what price prime delivery?

The G7 Finance Ministers of the world’s richest nations, meeting in London this weekend, have agreed to a Global Tax Reform programme which will see more revenue being raised from corporations which operate across national boundaries.  

Finance Ministers have agreed the principles of a two Pillar global solution to tackle the tax challenges arising from an increasingly globalised and digital global economy.

Under Pillar One of the agreement, the largest and most profitable multinationals will be required to pay tax in the countries where they operate, not just where they have their headquarters.

The rules would apply to global firms with at least a 10% profit margin and would see 20% of any profit above the 10% margin reallocated and then subjected to tax in the countries they operate.

Under Pillar Two, the G7 also agreed to the principle of at least 15% global minimum corporation tax operated on a country by country basis, with the aim of cracking down on tax avoidance.  The agreement will now be discussed in further detail at the G20 Financial Ministers & Central Bank Governors meeting in July.

The new system is being touted by the UK government as one which will raise more tax revenue from large multinationals and help pay for public services in the UK.

The principle of taxing international corporations more fairly is one which cannot be opposed though whether that means that such corporations will in reality be paying their fair share remains to be seen.  The scope for clever accountants finding loopholes in the declaration of profit margins has yet to be tested.

The basis upon which the profits of these corporations are generated is also open to question, with minimum wages and poor working conditions often being key to maintaining profit margins.  Recent evidence of Amazon workers using bottles and bags, for fear of not meeting targets if they took toilet breaks, are just one example.

Amazon has been the particular focus for debate about unionisation recently.  No Amazon warehouses in Britain for example are unionised.  The Unite trade union has said that Amazon workers should be able to join a union of their choice “without fear”.  The comments follow a case in Alabama in the United States where workers at an Amazon warehouse voted against unionisation.

However, the RWDSU union, which organised the Alabama effort, accused Amazon of illegally interfering in the vote and lying about the implications of unionisation in mandatory staff meetings.

While Amazon denies the claims, it did hire anti-trade union consultants before the ballot.  In September 2020, Amazon had posted two job adverts for intelligence analysts to track labour “organising threats” in the US.  Spanish media reports have also claimed that Amazon had used private detectives to spy on a strike at a warehouse near Barcelona in 2019.

While Amazon had its most lucrative year ever in 2020, helped by a surge in online shopping during the pandemic, it also faced allegations over poor working conditions, as well strikes at warehouses in the US, Italy and Germany.

The Amazon UK workforce reached 40,000 last year and while there are individual trade union members amongst them, there are no recognised union collective bargaining rights at any Amazon workplaces.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham has written to Amazon boss, billionaire Jeff Bezos, urging him to sign up to a declaration allowing workers the freedom to join a trade union, she wrote,

“Although we do have members in Amazon, workers in your company are not currently free to join a union without fear and without obstruction and propaganda being deployed against them.  So I am asking you to sign up to and abide by the declaration attached, which guarantees British and Irish workers the freedom to talk with and join unions without fear of retribution.”

There is no indication to date that Bezos has responded.

Amazon’s global profits have increased almost 200 per cent from 2019, and CEO Jeff Bezos added £51 billion to his personal wealth during the pandemic. A fulfilment centre employee at Bad Hersfeld, one of Amazon’s German sites, earning €10.40 per hour (£8.95), would have to have worked since around the beginning of the last ice age, approximately 2.5 million years ago, to make as much.

This particular plant does offer some hope however. In 2013 Bad Hersfeld became the first Amazon fulfilment centre in Germany to unionise. Two years later, it was the founding place of Amazon Workers International (AWI), an organisation that has members in 175 fulfilment centres worldwide.

The G7 global tax reform may be the issue which will grab the headlines this weekend but the struggle on the ground, in Amazon and a whole range of other corporations, for better pay, terms and conditions for the workers generating those profits continues.

30th May 2021

The blame game

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Dominic Cummings – keen to point the finger

With 128,000 dead, the highest of any country in Europe, and a third wave bubbling up as the Indian variant of the COVID-19 virus becomes the dominant strain, the British political class is indulging in an undignified display of finger pointing in order to pass the blame.  The appearance of former Prime Ministerial adviser, Dominic Cummings, before a Commons Select Committee this week has been the source of most of the domestic news generated.  More will no doubt emerge as the Inquiry continues.

Cummings has been working hard to lay the blame for the inept handling of the pandemic in the UK at the door of anyone but himself.  Boris Johnson is, according to Cummings, unfit for office, hardly a news headline. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is a serial liar who should have been sacked on at least 15 or 20 occasions, takes one to know one, is the phrase which springs to mind here.  

Cummings’ change of heart is disingenuous to say the least.  He was right at the heart of the decision making, at the start of the pandemic and for crucial months into it, before he became the scapegoat Johnson needed to try and cover his own ineptitude.

The joint inquiry of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee has been established to consider what lessons can be drawn from the Government’s handling of the pandemic that could be applied now and in the future.

MPs are expected to focus on decision-making in the early months of the pandemic; the level of scientific evidence available to the Government; its border policy; and the effectiveness of its public health messaging and communications. The timing of lockdowns and other restrictions, procurement processes, and decisions about community testing and contact tracing are among other issues expected to be addressed.

Cummings’ responses to the Select Committee merely confirm what has been known for some time but the BBC and right wing media are at pains to cover up; that the government’s initial strategy was one of herd immunity, that there was not a functioning system to monitor infection in the early days of the pandemic, that indecision mean the lockdown came too late, that the test and trace arrangements once established were too little, too late.

That Johnson and his cohorts have blood on their hands for the handling of the pandemic is not in doubt but Cummings, in spite of being at the centre of decision making for key periods, is keen to distance himself from any culpability.

There is one point where Cummings touches upon the truth, when he states,

“There is no doubt that the prime minister made some very bad misjudgements and got some very serious things wrong. It’s also the case, there’s no doubt, that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system. And it was a system failure, of which I include myself in that as well. I also failed.”

The system to which Cummings refers is the decision making system within Whitehall, where the realities of the scale of the pandemic were not taken seriously until it was too late.  The real systemic failure is however, far greater.  The failure is a failure of capitalism itself.  The corruption and cronyism, which has characterised much of the handling of the pandemic, is endemic in a system which puts profit before people, which puts the needs of the economy before the interests of public health.   

The great tragedy in all of this, apart from the thousands of unnecessary deaths, is that large sections of the public see no alternative.  A midweek opinion poll saw the Tories lead rise six points to 44%, over a Labour Party whose performance throughout the pandemic was reflected in its abject showing in the local elections earlier in the month.

The irony is that it is the community driven vaccination programme which may save Johnson and his cronies, as the public seek to put the misery of lockdowns behind them and look to the future.   The Select Committee will do its work but how damning its will be of the government’s action remains to be seen.

The Official Opposition on the other hand remains largely supine, pleading that it cannot be too harsh on the government at a time of pandemic, as that may go against the spirit of national unity.  The fact is that Kier Starmer and the Labour Front Bench are being taken to the cleaners while Johnson and his cronies are, quite literally, getting away with murder.   

23rd May 2021

Stick with the data not the dates

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Surge testing – increased across the UK

The race to extend vaccination to younger age groups across the UK, to stop the spread of the so called Indian variant of the COVID 19 virus, has stepped up a gear in the past week.  Six local authority areas are part of a surge testing programme, with mobile testing units and vaccination buses being provided, to increase take up of the vaccines.  More could follow as infection rates associated with the variant continue to increase.

Latest scientific evidence appears to suggest that both Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines are almost as effective against the Indian variant as against the currently more prevalent Kent variant.  This has led Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to pronounce that the government is still on target for its roadmap date of 21st June for lifting restrictions on work, travel and social distancing.

While the more widespread availability of vaccination is clearly necessary, the official optimism displayed by Hancock regarding the roadmap appears to fly in the face of the governments own mantra to follow the data, not the dates.

The Sunday Times estimated recently that the UK government’s failure to close the borders with India soon enough, because Boris Johnson did not want to offend Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, while negotiating a trade deal, allowed in at least 20,000 passengers from India to the UK.  This was at a time when other countries such as New Zealand and Hong Kong were completely stopping all flights from India.

The World Health Organization has identified the virus which originated in India, B.1.617, as a “variant of concern” because it is at least as transmissible as the Kent variant, potentially even more so.  This means it can spread through the unvaccinated population in particular more quickly and potentially accelerate out of control, hence the current race for vaccination.

With indoor social mixing having increased since the 17th May, with the doors to pubs, restaurants and performance venues being open, the conditions for viral spread are far greater than the recent lockdown period.  The potential for a significant third wave of the pandemic is a real possibility.

While public health issues should be front and centre in the midst of a pandemic the Tories, as ever, have one eye on their voter popularity and the wishes of their industry backers.  For many in the Tory camp opening up the economy, almost at any cost, is still the number one priority.  Popular pressure to allow foreign travel, fuelled by intense lobbying from the airline industry, is also pushing the government to be less rigorous than it should in relation to international travel.

The traffic light system currently in place makes little sense and appears to have little logic to it.  A much clearer position would be to ensure that international travel, both into and from the UK, is conditional upon proof of full vaccination and a negative PCR test.  In the short term the emphasis must be on travelling only for essential family or business reasons, rather than encouraging the mass take up of beach holidays.  

At the end of the day, the virus moves when infectious people move, and unless it is possible to be sure that those on the move are not infectious, the clear position should be that people stay put.  Avoiding a third wave and another national lockdown is in everyone’s interest, for economic reasons, but also to protect the mental health of many who have suffered social isolation and loneliness during the lockdown periods.

More important still however is the need to prevent further unnecessary pressure upon the NHS through hospitalisation and to reduce unnecessary deaths. This is especially the case as the vaccination programme is offering hope and, through the efforts of locally co-ordinated NHS, public health and community volunteering, is making a difference.  With the prospect of the finish line in sight the need to stay focussed on the data, not the dates, is more important than ever.  Otherwise, the perceived short term gain will not be worth the long term pain.

15th May 2021

Existential threat to Palestine

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Palestinian youths contemplate the consequences of Israeli bombardment of Gaza

There is not an equivalence of blame, firepower or destruction in the current conflict in Gaza.  One of the world’s most powerful armed forces, the Israeli Defence Force, is bombarding Gaza City.  The city is the main centre, with a population of about 500,000 on a strip of land of 140 square miles which is home to 2m people.  Israel has been illegally occupying Gaza since 1967 and effectively blockading since 2008, controlling airspace and access by sea to prevent legitimate supplies of food, medicine and machinery.

Gaza City has been described as an open air prison.  While notionally governed by Hamas, as part of the Palestinian Authority, the extent to which Israel controls the lives of those in Gaza and the occupied West Bank amounts to the behaviour of an occupying force.

The outbreak of violence this week erupted when the Israelis implemented the further forced removal of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and effectively attacked the al-Aqsa mosque, which has been the centre of Islamic worship in Jerusalem for hundreds of years.

The Palestinian death toll has risen to 137, including eight killed and fifteen injured in an Israeli attack upon the al-Shati refugee camp, early on Saturday morning.

The Israeli regime continues to be deaf to calls for a ceasefire or any mediation.  With the Egyptians being prepared to broker a deal, the response of the Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, was trenchant, stating,

“Israel is not prepared for a ceasefire.  There is currently no end date for the operation.  Only when we can talk about complete quiet can we talk about calm.”

Response in the West has been typically biased, seeking to express concern over the scale of the Israeli ‘response’ while condemning Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.  Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, has described the Hamas rockets targeting Israel as “acts of terrorism”, suggesting that Israel has an absolute legitimate right of self defence.  Quite whether the UK government sees the same absolute legitimate right extending to the Palestinian population remains unstated.

The response of the United States has been to use its veto to block a unified United Nations Security Council statement on the situation, in spite of the warning from Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Middle East envoy that,

“The cost of war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people.  Stop the fire immediately.  We’re escalating towards a full scale war.”  

Attacks upon Arab-Israeli communities across Israel are escalating as right wing Jewish groups destroy Arab homes and businesses.  This represents a new dimension to the conflict.  While the Israeli regime has effectively operated a system of apartheid in relation to Arab-Israeli’s, an estimated 20% of the population, a degree of peaceful co-existence has prevailed, as long as Arabs do not challenge their status as second class citizens.   

This weekend marks the anniversary of the nakba, the Arab word for catastrophe, marking the day in 1948 when the birth of the Israeli state meant the dispossession of Palestinian land and 700,000 Palestinians had to flee into exile, in the surrounding states of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, is not known for backing down.  He is also in the middle of coalition negotiations following recent elections in Israel, seeking to form his fourth administration.  Fanning the flames of conflict and playing the ‘strongman’ card in the face of what he characterises as Palestinian violence may be, in Netanyahu’s view, his best chance of hanging onto power.

Netanyahu claims that the Israelis are targeting Hamas commanders and is trying to pass off the operation as a purely military exercise to combat ‘terrorism’.  The increasing death toll of innocent civilians, women and children, clearly non-combatants by any stretch, gives the lie to Netanyahu’s claims.

The Israeli regime regularly drums up both domestic and international support by demonising those who question its policies and flagrant disregard for international law and UN resolutions, as presenting an existential threat to Israel.  The real existential threat however, is not to the Western backed and massively armed state of Israel, it is to the largely defenceless Palestinian people themselves and their hopes for a state of their own.

8th May 2021

Hartlepool makes a monkey out of Starmer

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Votes stack up for the Tories in Hartlepool

The town of Hartlepool has, up until now, mainly been famous for the story about the locals hanging a monkey during the Napoleonic wars, thinking it was a Frenchman.  The tale has become symbolic of Hartlepool’s insularity and relative isolation on the North East coast. 

The resounding by-election victory for the Tories this week did not come about because the people of Hartlepool thought local Labour candidate, Paul Williams, was a Frenchman, though his pro-EU views in a staunchly Brexit leaning town will not have helped.  They are part of a long term decline in allegiance to Labour in its heartland areas, a tide briefly stemmed in the 2015 – 2017 period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but one which appears to be accelerating under Kier Starmer.

Ironically Starmer is largely the architect of his own downfall in this respect.  When the political establishment took fright at Labour building a mass membership base from 2015 onwards, shattering Theresa May’s majority at the 2017 General Election, Starmer was quick to fall in behind the establishment view that the groundswell for change, which took Jeremy Corbyn as its figurehead, must be stopped.

Corbyn’s rapid rise had been built upon a recognition by many that the leadership of Labour had become politically synonymous with the Tories, offered little different by way of policy and even less difference for many in practice.  As a long standing back bencher, often defiant of the leadership and trenchant in his views, Corbyn did offer a genuine alternative.  The policies and programme which Corbyn and the team around him built reflected a genuine shift to the Left and the possibility of beginning to challenge some of the long held shibboleths of the political establishment.

Crucially, Labour under Corbyn was committed to honouring the outcome of the Brexit referendum, a position central to many in Labour’s working class base, who saw the EU much in the same way as they saw the respective Party leaderships, the privately educated classes booking the best seats on the gravy train.

By 2017 Labour was effectively being led by a Left wing populist committed to leaving the EU based upon the referendum outcome.  The fact that the establishment had failed to manipulate the Brexit outcome in its favour was bad enough, leaving the EU was never really part of the plan.  The prospect of Corbyn and his team being in charge of those negotiations was even more frightening.  Something had to be done, so the campaign to vilify Corbyn, question his patriotism, accuse him of links with terrorists, ramp up the anti-Semitism smear campaign, shifted through the gears with remarkable speed.

Targeting what were clearly a set of popular policies for change was not going to cut it.  Corbyn had to be attacked at his ethical base and to be subject to a barrage of character assassination.  If it was not called Operation No Smoke Without Fire, it could have been.

Starmer joined the fray by becoming a leading light in the so-called People’s Vote campaign, seeking to overturn the referendum result, pushing Labour into an indefensible position by the time of the 2019 General Election and, along with the widespread vilification of Corbyn in the establishment press and inside sections of the Labour Party, effectively brought about the cataclysmic result in that election.

The Tories on the other hand had learned some different lessons.  Seeking to ride the wave of popular desire for change, placing a demagogue with election success behind him in London Mayoral elections and as the figurehead of the Leave campaign, saw Boris Johnson’s rise to the leadership of the Tories.

Although a dyed in the wool Old Etonian and establishment figure, Johnson has enough nous to recognise that playing to the gallery is likely to garner as much support as forensically worked out policy positions.  Being a journalist by trade and media personality by default Johnson is also adept at working a crowd and projecting persona as the key election issue.  Like the fake ‘bloke down the pub’ populism that was the basis of stockbroker Nigel Farage’s appeal to sections of middle England, Johnson covers his privileged roots in talk of levelling up, praising the great people of the North East and looking forward to a pint when the pubs open.

Sidestepping the fact that his government has presided over thousands of unnecessary deaths from the COVID pandemic, Johnson points to the success of the vaccination programme and asks us to look towards a sunny future.  He deludes the people of Hartlepool and elsewhere that his government is committed to a vague notion termed ‘levelling up’, when it will do no such thing.  For Johnson that does not matter, if it wins him the next vote.

Meanwhile Starmer’s anonymity is resounding.  He makes no policy impact, projects no personality, offers nothing but a return to the politics of business as usual, rejected as failed by Labour supporters since 2015 but beloved of the political establishment, as presenting no threat to the status quo.

To get a measure of the depth of the abyss into which Labour is staring it need to look no further than Scotland.  The abandonment of the politics of supporting working class communities and challenging the Tories in Westminster has opened a fissure within which the mould of the Scottish National Party has been allowed to grow.  The blind alley politics of leaving the UK only to join the EU has gathered momentum as the only feasible alternative to Tory diktat for many Scottish voters.

The SNP have only been able to gain so much ground because Labour has presented little in the way of an alternative for Scottish working class voters.

Following Labour’s defeat in Hartlepool the hapless Shadow Communities Secretary, Steve Reed, was fed to Radio Four’s Today programme to account for Labour’s defeat.  Interviewer Nick Robinson’s Tory roots are well known but he barely had to break sweat to have Reed running in circles.  His only answer to what Labour had to do to turn things round was to quicken the pace of change, a euphemism for continuing to purge the Left and pursue the failed policies of the Labour right wing of old.

Kier Starmer has subsequently said Labour needs to move its HQ from London to show that it will be a Party for all of the people.  Really?  Will that make a difference?  Starmer has also said that Labour must listen to people and respond to their views.  Up to a point.  Labour needs to be in touch with its roots but as a political party cannot go forward being only committed to abdicating responsibility to the views of the moment, subject as they may be to change and manipulation.

Labour needs to set out a political programme based upon its assessment of the needs of the working class and then set out to argue the case for that programme.  It needs to be more rooted in local communities and be seen as the natural ally of those in need at all times, not just when an election is around the corner. 

Labour needs to recapture the territory it has surrendered since 2019 and project itself as the party of real change, the real alternative to sleaze, corruption and cronyism, the real option for the many, not the few.  Starmer may move the HQ and reshuffle his front bench but that will not be enough.

1st May 2021

The charge sheet continues to grow

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Boris Johnson – will bluster and windbagging be enough?

Did Boris Johnson really exclaim late last year, “no more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”?  Unnamed ‘sources’ claim they were in the room when he did.  Even the usually Boris backing Daily Mail has been repeating the claims.  The BBC has been unable to avoid the story. 

Johnson’s outburst has vied for media coverage with his latest faux pas, the redecoration of his Downing Street residence, at a cost of £58,000, subsidised initially it is alleged, by Conservative Party donor Lord Brownlow.  Johnson now claims to have covered the cost from his own pocket.  When asked in the House of Commons whether he made the now famous bodies piled high quote Johnson responded with an emphatic “no”.

Twisting, turning and openly lying his way out of a tight spot comes so naturally to Johnson that monumental levels of mendacity at the highest level in British government, while still warranting headlines, do not yet appear to ignite into a scandal.

Sleaze, cronyism and lying are nothing new to the political establishment as the history of slave trading, Empire and exploitation upon which Britain’s wealth is based can testify.  Even more recently the dodgy weapons of mass destruction dossier, the occasion for which Tony Blair sent thousands to unnecessary early deaths in Iraq, was a clear fabrication for which no one has been held directly responsible.

Johnson’s home decorating travails have an underlying significance in getting to the bottom of who pays for what and in whose pocket the Prime Minister of the day may be when it comes to critical decisions.  Yet at times the story appears merely as the sub plot to a soap opera which casts Johnson as the beleaguered man, haplessly manipulated by his scheming girlfriend insisting on £800 a roll wallpaper.

Various inquiries are underway.  Johnson’s characteristic bluff, bluster and windbagging may not be enough to see him thorough.  Whatever influence Carrie Symonds may exert in Downing Street it can only be predicated upon a government which is weak, lacking direction and cares little about the people it is meant to serve.  Typical Tory self serving moral vacuity is nothing new.  It is just that it has seldom been so blatantly on display.

The British media meanwhile, in its universal eagerness to applaud the success to date of the vaccination programme, appear to have missed the point that, whatever Johnson may have said, the bodies have piled high in their thousands.   While the appalling situation in India occupies the news bulletin headlines the official body count per 100,000 population still remains far higher in the UK.

Some attempt to halt the collective amnesia the media are attempting to generate about the pandemic is being made by those calling for a public inquiry into its handling.  The healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund and the Institute for Government (IfG) have both called for an immediate statutory inquiry starting as early as September.

The IfG has stated that,

“Decisions made by the Johnson government have led to more deaths, more economic harm and cost more livelihoods than we might have seen otherwise.  This and future UK governments need to learn from what happened and change as a result in preparation for future crises.”

Those demanding an inquiry include the British Medical Association, the TUC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Labour leader Kier Starmer and the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group.  Johnson insists that now is not the right time for an inquiry, as he continues to try and maximise the PR value of the successful vaccination roll out.

Political memories can be notoriously short and without an inquiry it may be lost that Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings as the pandemic gripped; gave the go ahead for the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid game, leading to significant spikes in infections; spent £849m on the infection spreading “eat out to help out” scheme; and has blown £37bn on a test and trace system which has turned out to be anything but “world beating.”

The charge sheet will ultimately be longer but as a start it is bad enough.  For the moment the nation is being steered down the path of official optimism with the prospect of outdoor festivals, holidays in the sun and relative normality by the end of June being dangled.

Let’s hope it works out that way. Even if it does, the reasons for the path being such a tortuous one need to be accounted for.  At some point Johnson, along with his Tory government and cronies, will need to be in the dock.

24th April 2021

Capitalism – failing on all fronts

A man becomes emotional on listening to his fathers demise due to COVID-19 in front of a government run COVID-19 hospital in Kolkata, 22 April

India – covid deaths increase due to market failings

There are moments when examples of the moribund nature of capitalism as a system conspire to dominate the news headlines in a short space of time. The past week has been just such a period, with international, national and local examples of the prejudices and failings of the system jostling for position on the front pages.

The conviction of former police officer, Derek Chauvin, for the murder of George Floyd in the United States has rightly been proclaimed as a victory for the Black Lives Matters Movement in particular but for the wider cause of civil rights and equality in the US in general.

There can be no doubt that Chauvin’s conviction is a victory but the history of the civil rights movement in the United States is littered with false dawns.  Each step forward can just as quickly be followed by two steps back, as the weight of corporate America re-asserts itself and the tactics that keep black and white working class divided are perpetuated.

The United States may be the world’s most advanced nation economically but socially vast swathes of the country remain politically backward.  There is no doubt that there will be reactionary backwaters that see the conviction of Chauvin as a defeat.  However, the real power at the heart of the military industrial complex in the United States relies on divide and rule to maintain its position. Any progress towards unity in opposition to the de facto apartheid system in the US will be seen as a threat.

Building unity around a working class programme to challenge power and privilege in the US will be vital if the step forward Chauvin’s conviction represents is to be sustained.

The systemic failings of capitalism are in evidence elsewhere in the Americas, specifically in Brazil, where an incompetent, pandemic denying government is effectively perpetrating a genocide against its own population.  The so-called B1 covid variant in Brazil has not only pushed covid related deaths in the country close to the world’s biggest pandemic failure, the United States, but is now exporting the variant across South America, with surrounding nations such as Peru recording increases in hospitalisations and death.  

The same is true in India where a country rich in natural and human resources suffers from both a reactionary government and massive social divisions, condemning the poorest to live in conditions of poverty and overcrowding in which the virus thrives.

The Indian government has introduced a policy to liberalise vaccine sales and deregulate prices, without augmenting supply. The central government has failed for a year to do anything to increase vital vaccine supplies. This is a recipe for the exclusion of scores of people who will find it unaffordable to procure the life-saving vaccine. 

Vaccines so far have been free to the states in India. Now, states have to ‘procure’ vaccine from the ‘open market’ without any price regulation. The vaccine providers according to this latest policy, will declare their ‘self-set vaccine price’. This again, is bound to exclude an overwhelming majority of people. 

The idiocy of the market being introduced into dealing with a pandemic can only lead to more unnecessary deaths.  The exponential increase in the death rate in India this week is evidence already of the policy’s failure.

Once beacons of a new wave of developing countries dubbed BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) both Brazil and India are demonstrating the failings of capitalism and the inability of the system to deliver for their people.

In Europe the remarkable rise and fall of the European Super League (ESL) has allowed British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to divert attention away from the appalling covid death rate to leap on a popular bandwagon and condemn this outrageous monopolisation of the country’s most popular sport.

Monopoly is of course a function of capitalist expansion and the ESL proposal is the logical outcome of the commodification of sport, of which the English Premier League is a prime example.  Fan power and general outrage at the proposal has resulted in the putative ESL backing down but, as the corporations which own football at present look to minimise risk and stifle competition, in every sense, a return in some form is always possible.

Even the ESL debacle however has not allowed Johnson to deflect from the sleaze swamp into which his government continues to sink.  Text exchanges with industrial patriot James Dyson, a Brexit supporter who has moved production offshore to Singapore, reveal Dyson’s concern that his employees may be taxed too much if they redeployed back to the UK to help the national pandemic effort. 

It turns out Dyson could not make the ventilators anyway but the exchange says a lot about his priorities.  It also reinforces what we already know about Johnson and his government, that cronyism, corruption and sleaze are the driving forces behind their every move.  Quite how the Labour leadership is not pressing home this advantage is a scandal.  Should Hartlepool fall to the Tories in the 6th May by-election Kier Starmer should seriously consider standing aside.  His lack of political clout, experience and leadership are becoming an increasing hindrance.

A further failing of capitalism highlighted this week has been the case of the hundreds of post office workers convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting due to the failings of a computer system in local post offices, which suggested they were embezzling funds, when they were not.

To compound the error the Post Office went to great lengths to cover up the error, resulting in many innocent people being imprisoned in a monumental miscarriage of justice.  Campaigners estimate that there may have been 900 prosecutions between 2000 and 2014.  Not surprisingly, in spite of a government enquiry having been launched last year, no-one has ever been held accountable.  The fact that the enquiry is non-statutory, so cannot compel witnesses or evidence is unlikely to help.

The Court of Appeal this week cleared 39 subpostmasters.  Many more still await both justice and compensation.

Justice and compensation are not great mainstays of capitalism and, like the people of the United States, Brazil and India, those suffering injustice and discrimination in Britain will continue to have a fight on their hands.  Working class unity, mobilised around a programme for real progress, in all of these examples is the only guarantee that change can be sustained.

17th April 2021

Sleaze and cronyism, time to make it stick

Cameron and Greensill – happy days in Saudi Arabia

Tory sleaze is back in the news.  It never actually went away but a leading Tory has been caught out, former Prime Minister, David Cameron, no less.  When at No.10 Cameron appointed Lex Greensill, the founder of financial firm Greensill Capital, as an unpaid advisor.  At a loose end after his failed Prime Ministerial stint Cameron then became an adviser at Greensill Capital in 2018.  Using his government connections Cameron arranged for Greensill to meet Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to discuss a new payment scheme for NHS trusts.  In April 2020 Cameron then took to texting Chancellor Rishi Sunak in order to persuade Sunak to allow Greensill to access government financial support.  

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) has also revealed that the head of Whitehall procurement, Bill Crothers, salary £149,000 per annum, became an adviser to Greensill Capital while still working as a civil servant in 2015.  Crothers accrued a shareholding estimated to be worth $8m in 2019.

Cameron also brought in former Morgan Stanley banker, David Brierwood, as an adviser in 2014, around the same time as Lex Greensill and then, no surprises here, two months later Brierwood was magically recruited to Greensill Capital’s board as a director.

Acoba itself is hardly free from scandal, having appointed former Tory candidate and erstwhile leader of Reading Borough Council, Andrew Cumpsty, to the committee.  Cumpsty runs lobbying firm, Cumpsty Communications which on its web site boasts that it “acts as a link between the leaders of UK industry and the Conservative Party Cabinet.”

In spite of having established a network of cronies at the heart of the Tory Party and UK government Greensill Capital has collapsed. This has resulted in the extent of its lobbying network being revealed. Questions are being raised about undue influence being brought to bear upon ministers and whether government decisions have been shaped by those with a financial interest in the outcome..

A number of official enquiries have been ordered as a result.  Always keen to get one over on his one time mate David Cameron, current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has appointed corporate lawyer, Nigel Boardman, to launch an inquiry into the Greensill scandal, to explore the role of Lex Greensill as a government adviser; the lobbying activities of Cameron and others; and the financial arrangements with Greensill.  While purporting to be ‘independent’ the Boardman Inquiry is widely seen to be an inside job with a remit to only rock the boat gently, if at all.

Other inquiries underway include the Treasury Select Committee, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee,  the Public Accounts Committee, a Cabinet Office review and an inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

All of which looks like a lot of concern is being addressed with a lot of activity underway but in reality is likely to generate so much smoke and mirrors.  The raison d’etre of the Conservative Party is to serve the interests of big business and finance capital.  The fact that one bear got caught with his paws in the honey pot is unlikely to result in the lid being screwed on much tighter. 

Some rules on lobbying and access to ministers will change but the bureaucracy will rumble on.  The complexity of some of the accusations will make it difficult to sustain public interest, unless the accusations of sleaze can be made to stick. Rachel Reeves is leading the charge from the Labour Front Bench on this front. In the short term the revolving door between Whitehall and the private sector may be slowed temporarily but it is unlikely to stop.

The latest revelations follow hard on the heels of a string of accusations of cronyism in the awarding of contracts for PPE during the current pandemic and the appointment of unskilled political appointees, such as Dido Harding, to run significant programmes such as Test and Trace, without any public health knowledge or expertise.   

The government has also, not too subtly, been reshaping key positions in the media.  Tory donor, Richard Sharp, was appointed Chair of the BBC while former Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, is Boris Johnson’s choice to become chair of media regulator Ofcom.   More recently the government has vetoed the re-appointment of two women, film producer Uzma Hasan and broadcasting executive, Fru Hazlitt, to the Channel 4 board of directors.  Some doors revolve, others are simply slammed shut.

No Tory government is ever free from financial scandal. It is part of the DNA of the Conservative Party that it cultivates and sustains links with the private sector in order to oil the wheels of capitalism.  A Tory government led by Boris Johnson, not noted for his acquaintance with the truth or any sense of aversion to cronyism, is likely to be worse than most.  Before the window of opportunity closes, Labour need to press home the advantage and make sure that the reality of Tory sleaze and cronyism sticks firmly in the minds of the British public.

11th April 2021

Ruling class chicanery

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British Royals – how long can the show go on?

For the past 70 years the British ruling class has managed its public relations with remarkable efficiency.  Central to that success has been the constant refinement of the aristocracy’s shop window product, the Royal Family.

The Royal Family product did not come ready made by any means.  The post war successes for socialism across much of Europe and the desire for greater policy change and equality in Britain, following the Second World War, squeezed the Monarchy into a space where it was associated with the anachronism of colonial Empire, doomed to be crushed in the onward march of history.

However, the ruthlessness of the British ruling class is only matched by its resilience and its capacity to defend it privileges at all costs.  The transition from the direct colonial rule of Empire to post colonial influence was confirmed with the creation of the British Commonwealth in 1949, the Head of which is Queen Elizabeth II, the role previously having been that of her father King George VI.  The Queen’s designated successor, not surprisingly is Prince Charles.  

The Commonwealth is notionally a “free association of independent member nations” and currently comprises 54 sovereign states, of which sixteen, including Australia and New Zealand, still retain the British Queen as their Head of State.  To have a monarchy at all in the 21st century is anachronistic to say the least, to have a Head of State based half a world away is a political miscalculation on a grand scale.

For the British ruling class however the Monarch as Head of State in far flung territories is a means of keeping former fragments of Empire alive for British influence and economic investment.  This has certainly been a large part of the international role of the British Monarchy for over half a century.  If the nuclear arsenal has been the hardware which has kept Britain’s permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the Queen has provided the ‘soft power’ which has helped sustain a network of power and influence.  

There have been blips of course, the Suez crisis, the often bloody struggles for independence, the struggle to hang on to territory and influence, including the Falklands War.  The craven following of the United States into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.  There have been internal challenges too.  The Miner’s Strike 1984/85 which threw into sharp relief the class divide in Britain, the struggle for a united Ireland, the relatively mild challenge of Jeremy Corbyn’s period as leader of the Labour Party.

While notionally being ‘above the fray’ in all of these instances the Monarchy has nevertheless been wheeled out when necessary as the symbol of national unity, being above politics, not to be challenged or questioned.

The glass has cracked on occasions.  The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, was no stranger to controversy.  The heir to the throne, Prince Charles, was only freed from a dysfunctional marriage by the untimely and suspicious death of his wife Princess Diana.  The current royal rebel Prince Harry, having married an American woman of colour then defecting to the United States, is proving the latest thorn in the side.  In the family praise for the Duke of Edinburgh since his death, Prince Andrew has been conspicuous by his absence.

Even these aberrations however become incorporated into what is portrayed as a great national soap opera. The significance of the Royal Family in constitutional terms, the Queen is both Head of State and the Church of England, is masked by the right wing press rendering every nuance as popular drama.

In this ruling class shop window the Duke of Edinburgh has played the part of showroom dummy for much of the time, although the wall to wall BBC coverage of his ‘life and achievements’ over the past two days would have the casual observer think that beatification was imminent.  Normal programming suspended, including the entire output of BBC Four, anodyne programming across BBC music stations, news coverage reduced exclusively to tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh.

It is unlikely that any working class pensioners, had they lived off the state for 70 years, would attract quite the same glowing tributes in the Mail, Telegraph and Express. A similar suspension of normal activity, along with sycophantic outpourings, is likely to accompany the Duke’s funeral next Saturday.

It is hard to see the State’s response to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh as much more than a dress rehearsal for the day the Queen dies.  For the ruling class that may be the moment when the shop window cracks and a new strategy needs to be deployed.  Charles can neither be sold as popular or the coming man.  While William and Kate are clearly being groomed as the modern face of the Monarchy, constitutional hoops will need to be jumped through.

The Duke’s death has certainly overshadowed the UK pandemic death rate hitting the 127,000 mark this weekend.  However much of a distraction the death of an elderly aristocrat may be there are still millions struggling to feed the kids, pay the rent and hang on to their jobs.  The ruling class have played the Royal Family card to their advantage for many decades now but it is a sleight of hand trick.  Chicanery will ultimately be exposed and the charlatans will be found out.

2nd April 2021

Change without challenging the status quo

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Fighting “the battles of the past” as the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities would see it

The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, published this week, has reignited the debate about the extent of institutional and structural racism in Britain.  The headlines screaming from the popular press, following selected conclusions from the report released 24hrs ahead of publication were clear.

“Scrap use of BAME label”, said the Telegraph.

“Britain is not ‘institutionally racist’”, proclaimed the Daily Mail.

“PM pledges fairer society as race report says UK is role model”, bellowed the Daily Express.

As part of its conclusion the report states,

“Beneath the headlines that often show egregious acts of discrimination, the Windrush scandal most recently, incremental progress is being made as our report has shown beyond doubt. Through focusing on what matters now, rather than refighting the battles of the past, we want to build on that progress.”

This statement is symptomatic of the approach taken in the report, which emphasises the ‘evidence’ from survey and official data but gives a secondary role to the lived experience of those facing discrimination in Britain today.

The report seems to miss the point that what it regards as “the battles of the past” may actually be “what matters now” for many experiencing the reality of discrimination and prejudice today.   Even accepting the report’s assertion that “incremental progress is being made” it remains incremental, and the barriers which ethnic minority communities face in health, jobs, education, policing and day to day discrimination are still unacceptable and require urgent action.

Any progress which has been made is as a result of constant struggle against discrimination and prejudice. Outrages such as the murder of Stephen Lawrence, flare ups in black communities against poverty, oppression and heavy handed policing, the Grenfell disaster, the Windrush scandal, trade union activism to support black workers.  Little of this is acknowledged in the report which no doubt categorises these as “the battles of the past.”

The report does acknowledge that “in some places in the UK, especially in Black inner-city communities, historical wrongs by the state and police have left a deep legacy of mistrust” and recognises that the outpouring of outrage following the murder of George Floyd in the United States, with the associated upsurges in activity around the Black Lives Matter movement, was the trigger for the Commission being established.

However, the actions of those protesting against police violence and reacting to their own experience of racial discrimination is immediately patronised as the report goes on to say,

“We understand the idealism of those well-intentioned young people who have held on to, and amplified, this inter-generational mistrust. However, we also have to ask whether a narrative that claims nothing has changed for the better, and that the dominant feature of our society is institutional racism and White privilege, will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground – a centre ground which is occupied by people of all races and ethnicities.”

In a nutshell the report has summarised it position.  Solutions without conflict, change without challenging the status quo, middle class maxims for the minorities who have made it.  Hope does not lie in such contradictions and the history of all struggle shows that social disruption is necessary to inspire any kind of progress.

Where the report does implicitly touch on the makings of a strategy is the recognition that the white working class face many of the same challenges to life chances as their ethnic minority brothers and sisters, although race remains an exacerbating factor.  A common stand against oppression and prejudice by a united working class, recognising that they share more in common than what they may perceive as dividing them, would be a real challenge to the status quo, building on the gains of the past and looking to a more equal future.  The report does not go there.

The report inevitably shies away from any detailed analysis of class difference and prejudice.  That would require a more detailed assessment not only of the whiteness of the Monarchy, Houses of Parliament, Boards of corporations and City of London high flyers, but the limited circle of privilege in terms of social class from which the occupants of these positions are drawn.  In that sense we can see, in spite of the occasional black face, White privilege and, more significantly, class privilege at play.  

The Commission report has served its political purpose.  It has garnered the headlines about institutional racism that Boris Johnson and his government will feel that they can bask in.  The commissioners were drawn from a range of ethnic minority backgrounds and the government will no doubt point to this as evidence of the credibility of the report.  It has produced a range of recommendations which the government may choose to action and against which it may also choose to measure ‘progress’ in tackling discrimination, or as the report would have it, ethnic disparities, in Britain.

A range of academics, cited in the report as having provided evidence, have already come out and said they were not consulted, from the King’s Fund to the London School of Economics to leading experts on black British history, one of whom said he was “horrified to see his name listed.”

Black Young Professionals (BYP) Network is also cited as one of the report’s stakeholders, but a spokesperson said: “The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report’s ‘findings’ implies that it is ethnic minorities’ own fault for lack of progression, that disparities are due to social class and this is categorically untrue.”

A report on the causes of racism, commissioned by a government not adverse to playing the race card itself if it sees an advantage in doing so, was never going to come up with an objective analysis of the real problems facing the ethnic minority populations in Britain today.  If nothing else the report has reinforced that truth and may at least compel people to take more direct action in order to bring about change.

27th March 2021

Colour drained from the Union flag

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Flying the flag – Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick

In 1987 Paul Gilroy published his now widely acknowledged classic assessment of race in Britain There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack.  The book was not so well received at the time, coming hard on the heels of the 1981 rebellions in Brixton against racial oppression and poverty, the wave of late seventies opposition to the rise of the National Front and the jingoism and flag waving encouraged by the Falklands War.  The title of the book is taken from a racist football chant of the 1970’s and 80’s, ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, send the bastards back.’

Quite where the ’bastards’ were to go ‘back’ to was not the point.  Tribal chanting is part of a mob mentality which does not stand up to scrutiny but simply reinforces the mob’s feeling of righteousness in not being ‘other’.  Over thirty years since the publication of Gilroy’s book many of the black, Asian and minority ethnic populations in Britain are third generation residents, born and bred in Britain. Citizens with equal rights and an equal claim to shape the culture of the country in which they were born.

Except the reality is different in so many ways.  The recent Windrush scandal exposed the latent racism at the heart of the British establishment in the threat to send ‘home’ citizens who have lived in Britain for over 50 years and know no other ‘home’.  The impact of the COVID-19 virus in the present pandemic has had a disproportionate impact upon black, Asian and ethnic minority communities across Britain.  It does not take much research to reveal that the NHS, the care sector and the poorest parts of most of the UK’s cities are staffed and populated by people of colour.

Race has always been a key weapon in the hands of the British establishment to divide the working class.  The progress made in legislative terms, culminating in the Equality Act 2010, which enshrines legal rights and outlaws overt discrimination, do not tackle the underlying attitudes which the British establishment will always use to its advantage when the opportunity arises.

The attempted hijacking of the Brexit debate by racists and xenophobes was a classic example.  A rational discussion about the failings of the European Union, in terms of protecting jobs and worker’s rights, was never on the cards, once the Make Britain Great Again lobby seized the debate, encouraged by the cheerleaders in the right wing media and the usually supine BBC, foregoing any real journalistic challenge in the interests of ‘balance.’

Immigration is, as ever in the hands of the right wing politicians and media, a trope for people of colour, however many generations their families may have been resident in Britain.  So, tackling immigration simply translates into difference of skin colour, religion or cultural practice being an issue and the working classes become divided on the issue of race, when they should be united on the issue of class.

Endemic racism operates in more subtle ways too.  The outpouring of outrage at the recent murder of Sarah Everard, the accusations against the Metropolitan Police and the upsurge in support for the White Ribbon movement opposing violence against women is fully justified.  However, the recent interviews with Mina Smallman, whose two daughters were murdered last June and then suffered the indignity of police officers taking selfies with their bodies, cannot help but raise questions of race.  The response of the media, the police and public figures to the deaths of women of colour did not, and does not, generate the same levels of public outrage.

The recent guidance from the government that the Union Jack should be flown from all government buildings, in the words of culture secretary Oliver Dowden, as “a proud reminder of our history and the ties that bind us” further raises the question of which history and how tightly the ties are bound.

BBC Breakfast presenters Naga Munchetty and Charlie Stayt have already received a dressing down for mildly teasing communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, for the positioning of a Union Jack as a backdrop in a TV interview.   Jenrick has called upon local authorities to fly the flag suggesting that people would “rightly expect” to see it on top of all civic buildings.  Labour leader Kier Starmer has already taken to wrapping himself in the union flag to demonstrate his patriotism.

For Irish nationalists the Union Jack has long been regarded as “the butcher’s apron”, for people of colour across the former Empire it has been a symbol of the Empire upon which “the sun never set and the blood never dried”.  The union flag does not represent those protesting as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The history of which the Union Jack is a symbol is a ruling class history of exploitation, racism and oppression.  It is the history of white supremacy which is still the basis of the school curriculum, it is the history which airbrushes out working class struggle, makes passing reference to the fight for women’s rights and excludes almost entirely the histories of people of colour.

The Union Jack is being deployed in a desperate attempt to reinforce an image of Britain moulded in the image of the Conservative Party, which is white, middle class, supportive of the Monarchy, suspicious of ‘foreigners’ and rooted in the fictional glory days of empire.

Those days are gone, they must not be allowed to return.  Working class unity across age, gender and race is the only guaranteed means of resistance.  In the so-called culture wars which are increasingly becoming part of the armoury of the establishment, the unified homogeneity of conservatism cannot win.  Multi cultural action rooted in working class unity must once again be on the agenda, across the nations of the so-called United Kingdom.

20th March 2021

Global Britain not yet on the roadmap

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Prof. John Bew – diminished reputation

As the British government continues to struggle with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the highest death rate in Europe and fifth highest in the world, the time would hardly seem right to be proposing massive increases in spending on weapons of mass destruction.  Yet the integrated review of foreign policy and defence published this week does just that.

Titled, in typically grandiose fashion, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, the review seeks to carve out an international role for Britain, in a post Brexit relationship with the European Union but not beholden to the United States.

Since 1945 Britain has carved out a role in the twilight of its former Empire as the reliable European military nuclear power in NATO, ready to support US intervention around the globe, while also providing an economic bridgehead into Europe for US capital and a safe offshore haven for billionaires and despots of any description.

Less a case of Britannia ruling the waves than being shipwrecked on the shores of US foreign policy.

At the heart of the new review is the proposal to increase the nuclear weapons capability linked to the Trident submarine programme from 180 to 260 warheads.  Each warhead is immeasurably more powerful than anything which eviscerated the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and provides nothing in the way of defence against cyber attack, terrorist activity or conventional military force.

Military spending in the modern age is euphemistically referred to as ‘defence’ by the political establishment but is as much to do with sabre rattling and a perception of international status.  In his autobiography, A Journey, former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, summed up the position with unusual candour in relation to Trident saying that “The expense is huge and the utility… non-existent in terms of military use.”  However, the crux of the matter came in Blair’s assertion that giving up Trident would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation.”   

The new review, as well as increasing nuclear capability is predicated upon a ‘tilt’ towards Asia, more specifically an area vaguely referred to as the Indo-Pacific.  This would appear to refer to a swathe of territory somewhere from the Indian sub-continent to the South China Sea, in which Britain, apparently, has a key strategic interest.

The real strategic powers in this region are China and the United States, neither of which is going to allow Britain, in its newly found independent upstart role, a look in.  Nevertheless, Boris Johnson has ordered the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship ever built for the navy, to sail to the Pacific with two destroyers, two frigates and two supply ships.  This is in spite of a former chief of defence staff describing Britain’s new aircraft carriers as “unaffordable vulnerable metal cans.”  To suggest that the mission is unclear would be an understatement.

The review has been led by Prof. John Bew of King’s College London in an attempt to give it a veneer of academic respectability and objective credibility.  Whatever the standing of Prof. Bew before the publication of the review, it will certainly not be enhanced as a result.

There is no review of ongoing arms sales to Saudi Arabia or its allied Gulf States, currently perpetrating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in bombing Yemen.  There is no review of how to address the nuclear arming of Israel in the world’s most volatile region or the ongoing human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  There is no reference to the £17.4bn funding gap in the Ministry of Defence’s 10-year capabilities plan, identified by the Commons public accounts committee.  There is clearly no concession to the need for strategic arms limitation which appears to have gone out of the window in the context of the new role of ‘Global Britain’.

An alternative scenario is possible, in which Britain is not one of NATO’s big spenders, or even a member of the military alliance; in which Britain does not see military intervention as a means to addressing political problems; a world is which nuclear disarmament is the cornerstone of foreign policy; a world in which Britain does not have to pretend to be a military superpower and can turn its attention to feeding the poor, housing the homeless, caring for the elderly and paying its NHS staff a decent wage.

It is all possible with the political will and mass mobilisation of those interested in changing the balance of power in the interests of the working class in Britain and the world.  The only truly global Britain will be one based upon principles of working class internationalism and solidarity with those in struggle.  It will not be a safe haven for finance capital, despots, or the military industrial complex, draining valuable resources from the real needs of the people.  

That is a global Britain for which it would be worth developing a roadmap.  

13th March 2021

Solidarity with the people of Myanmar

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Protests continue in Myanmar against the military coup

At its AGM today (13th March 2021) the British based international solidarity organisation, Liberation, adopted the following statement in support of the people of Myanmar who have taken to the streets in protest since the military coup on 1st February 2021.

The mass upsurge in Myanmar against the military takeover has engaged peoplefrom all walks of life, who have been out on the streets in recent weeks protestingagainst the brutal suppression of democracy.

The Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) staged the coup on 1st February, the day the new parliament was to open, after the general election in November 2020.

The election had resulted in a landslide victory for the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD). However, the army declared the results tobe illegal and deposed President Win Myint and State Counsellor Suu Kyi. They andother NLD leaders have been arrested and detained.

The armed forces had ruled Myanmar for decades since the military coup of 1962. The movement for democracy achieved a breakthrough in 1981 but it was brutally crushed by the army. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for sixteen long years.

After much pressure, the army conceded some powers, and a hybrid democratic system was put in place based on the 2008 Constitution adopted by the army. Under this system, the army still held key powers; 25 per cent of the seats in the two houses of parliament were reserved for military nominees.

For the first time, in 2015, the NLD contested the elections, winning over 80 per cent of the seats in the two houses. Suu Kyi could not assume the post of head of government, the constitution barring anyone with a foreign spouse from holding that office, so she was made a State Counsellor and was the de facto prime minister.

In the 8th November 2020 general election, the NLD improved its position by winning 258 out of the 310 seats in the House of Representatives and 138 of the 168 seats in the House of Nationalities. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) only gained 26 seats and 5.9 per cent of the vote in the lower house.

Frustrated by this result, the armed forces declared an emergency under a constitutional provision and said it would last for one year after which fresh elections would be held.

The vested interests exercising political and economic power through the armed forces’ elite were getting threatened by the growing electoral legitimacy of the NLD and its leader. The higher echelons of the armed forces have built up a powerful network of patronage and business interests in the country. Some of the lucrative sectors like precious gems, timber and mineral resources are controlled and plundered by enterprises run by generals and former members of the officer corps.

The armed forces had thought that the USDP would gain enough strength to checkmate the NLD and Aung Suu Kyi, not expecting that, in both the 2015 and 2020 elections, the NLD scored over 80 per cent of the seats in the non-military sector.

That the armed forces are completely isolated from the people has become evident in the recent protests. Significantly, the bulk of civil servants, health workers, power sector employees and railway workers have joined the mass protests and gone on strike.

Faced with the growing protests, the police and the army are now resorting to repressive tactics including firing on peaceful protestors. Hundreds have already been arrested and put in jail.

The return of military rule clearly further threatens the position of the Rohingya population in Myanmar, stripped of their citizenship and subject to human rights abuses since the push in the late 1970’s to expel them from Myanmar.

In giving our full backing to the progressive campaign for the return of democracy in Myanmar Liberation will:-

• encourage progressive MPs to find ways to promote the return to democracyin Myanmar;

• call for an end to military rule and the restoration of democracy;

• demand the release of all detainees; and

• call for the safeguarding of the lives, human and democratic rights, and livelihoods of the Rohingya population as well as the state recognised ethnic minority groups like the Chin and Kachins in Myanmar.

In an impressive show of solidarity the people of Myanmar are bravely facing the might of the military. For decades, the people of Myanmar were under the brutal heel of a military dictatorship. They have now resolved not to allow this to happen again. They deserve our ongoing support and solidarity.

Further information on the work and activities of Liberation can be found here

6th March 2021

Tories test the limits

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NHS staff – lives on the line during the pandemic

The Tory promise to ‘level up’ the country was never more than hollow rhetoric designed to shore up votes in constituencies Labour surrendered at the last General Election.  The Tories are only ever interested in levelling up the bank balances of their friends and backers, in order to keep their grip on the reins of power and keep the balance in the political establishment.

The levelling up confidence trick is underpinned by a £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund, allegedly designed to assist regions struggling to adjust to post industrial underinvestment and austerity, ironically key planks of Tories regional policy for decades.  The fund is designed in three tiers, prioritising those areas which require the greatest assistance.  Local authorities across England will be invited to apply to the fund, which will be competitive, in order of priority.

The outcomes for unsuccessful bids, in areas deemed to be in need of assistance, is the kind of conundrum only the Tories could dream up.  Still, consistency has never been a Tory strong point as any analysis of the 93 areas in the top tier eligible to bid to be levelled up illustrates.

Of the areas designated tier 1 there are 31 which are not in the top third most deprived places by indices of deprivation.  Of this 31 there are 26 which have Tory MPs across the whole area while the others have at least one Tory MP.

Four places in tier 1 are in the bottom third of English regions by deprivation, that is not deprived at all, including Richmondshire in North Yorkshire, which is not only in the top fifth of most prosperous places in England but is represented by Rishi Sunak MP, currently Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Perhaps the people of Richmondshire are feeling deprived relative to Knightsbridge and need to be levelled up within their privileged social sphere?

It gets better.  The Tories also have a scam going called the towns fund, for which Sunak announced an extra £1bn in the budget.  This week saw 45 towns added to the list, of which 39 have a Tory MP.  Any sign of a pattern emerging here?

Boris Johnson has responded in his usual comprehensive manner stating,

“I’ve asked about this and I’m told that the criteria was entirely objective – it takes in data on poverty, employment and so on.”

Sunak has followed up with the assertion that assessments were “based on an index of economic need, which is transparently published.”  What is transparent is the Tories desperate need to find ways to distract the public from their catastrophic handling of the pandemic by pretending that they care about the areas of highest deprivation and vulnerable communities.  It really will not wash.

Not content with handing out contracts worth billions to friends and neighbours to deliver dodgy PPE or run failing test and trace systems as part of the pandemic, the Tories now claim that they cannot afford more than a 1% pay rise for nurses and medical staff.  This is on top of the pay freeze for other pubic sector workers, many of whom have also worked through the pandemic to ensure the delivery of essential services and care to communities.

Quite righty though, it is the cavalier treatment of NHS staff that is drawing public ire and showing the Tories in their true colours.  Warm words at the height of the crisis and polite applause outside 10, Downing St are looking exactly like the shallow gestures they always were. 

It is ironic that the NHS Pay Review Body claims that

“Covid-19 has placed a huge strain on both public and NHS finances.  The economic outlook for 2021/22 remains uncertain and pay awards must be both fair and affordable.”

If only the same were true of the government’s contract procurement process!

The treatment of NHS staff only adds to the national scandal that is the government’s handling of the pandemic.  Is it any wonder that nurses are now talking of strike action?  NHS staff have been taken to the limit, literally putting their lives on the line, over the past year. They deserve better and it is the Tories who must now be taken to the limit and, without ceremony, dropped over the edge.

Solid Foundations

4th March 2021

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Partners in crime – Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak after yesterday’s budget speech

The Budget delivered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday was never going to fundamentally change the UK economy in such a way that it would ‘level up’ in favour of working people.  As expected, Sunak has merely applied a sticking plaster over a gaping wound, by favouring short term measures to alleviate some of the worst excesses of the pandemic, over long term structural change.  

Some of these measures, the extension of the furlough scheme, additional help for the self-employed, extending the £20 per week Universal Credit top up, will be welcomed by those struggling to make ends meet, who live in fear from one government announcement to the next that the safety net may be withdrawn.

Sunak was keen to portray these measures as an indication of government magnanimity, that in the face of the uncontrollable force of the pandemic the government has taken steps to protect those most at risk and most vulnerable.  Sunak was keen to make it sound as if the government cares.  The increase in Corporation Tax, from 19% to 25% in two years time even gave Sunak cover to suggest that the burden would be shared and even the biggest corporations would be made to pay their share.

This political conjuring is only to be expected from the Tories.  Big corporations in Britian have been getting away with some of the lowest levels of corporation tax in Europe for years, abjectly failing to pay their share while the NHS and local authority run services have had to struggle under the burden of austerity, to pay off the bankers gambling debts from the 2008 crash.

It is easy to see the pandemic as an uncontrollable force.  The fact of it happening may not have been immediately predictable but the response to it has been very much in the hands of governments around the world.  Britain still leads the European league table for death rates, at over 120,000, a national scandal barely acknowledged by the right wing press and BBC. 

The hardest lockdowns have produced the most effective results, in China, Vietnam and New Zealand, where it has been recognised that public health cannot simply be sacrificed on the altar of private profit.  Ironically, having put public health first, these are the places where economic recovery is returning most strongly.  Conversely the United States, Britain and Brazil not only see escalating deaths but flagging economic recovery.

Sunak may be able to bathe in the congratulations of the Tory backbenches for a while.  He may even win the praise of a few hard pressed families desperate to hang on to what little they have in the short term.    The City of London and corporations may whinge a bit about corporation tax but they know they can both afford and absorb a modest increase.  There is no wealth tax or windfall tax on companies which have profited from the pandemic.  There is no indication that the billionaires who have increased their wealth by over £25bn during the pandemic are going to feel any pain.

Frontline staff in the NHS, social care and local government did not warrant a mention in the budget.  Yet this is where the real work of recovery is happening.  The vaccination programme being driven, not by entitled members of the House of Lords, but frontline staff and volunteers working to help out in their local communities.

Even Labour leader, Kier Starmer, not famed for his radicalism, accused Sunak of “papering over the cracks rather than rebuilding the foundation” going on to call for a budget “to fix our economy, to reward our key workers, to protect the NHS and to build a more secure and prosperous economy for the future.”

That would certainly be a start.  Those who have lost their livelihoods as businesses fold, find themselves in increasing debt as bills come in, or have lost their jobs as unemployment escalates, may increasingly find that they need even more.  Rebuilding the foundation is all very well but if the foundations are built upon capitalist economics they will be poorly embedded and prone to crumble in the next economic storm.

Solid foundations will need to be built from socialist bricks. That will not only require radical new architects with a vision for the future but a whole new firm of builders.

Trident – Deterrence or dependence?

27th February 2021

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Healey – unshakable committment?

The transition of the Labour Party back towards being a fully fledged party of the UK political establishment took another step this week when Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey MP, committed Labour to re-commissioning the Trident nuclear weapons system.

It may be argued, with some justification, that Labour has never strayed from the political mainstream and Healey’s speech, on one level, was merely reaffirming existing party policy.  Politics however rarely functions on just one level and the subtext underlying Healey’s words were clear.  This is Labour departing from the political direction in which the party was pointing under Jeremy Corbyn.  This is Labour making clear its patriotic credentials.  This is Labour wrapping itself in the union flag.

Corbyn’s opposition to Trident was well known.  As a lifelong member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a profound sceptic in relation to Britain’s membership of NATO and a consistent opponent of military wars of intervention, Corbyn did not cut the kind of patriotic figure in whose hands the establishment could feel entirely comfortable. 

History will no doubt judge that, in the grand scheme of things, the four years of Corbyn leadership was a relatively modest challenge to the political orthodoxy.  The fact that they had to go to such lengths to snuff it out says as much about their sense of insecurity as it does about the scale of the threat.

Nevertheless, Healey’s words at the Royal United Service Institute, were aimed to reassure the military industrial complex that their profits remained safe.  Labour’s commitment to retaining nuclear weapons was described as “non-negotiable”, a degree of emphasis only matched by Healey’s assertion that “Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakable.”  In case the message was not absolutely clear Healey went on to position Labour as “the party of sovereign defence capability.”

The pill was sugar coated in the usual way.  Labour would be committed to international law and upholding human rights.  Why would it not? Labour would be committed to direct investment into British industry as a priority.  Again, why would it not?  The real question is whether either of these commitments are sufficient justification to spend billions on weapons of mass destruction.

Added irony comes from Healey’s speech being set against the debate about what Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, should include in his budget this week and how far tax rises will be necessary to help pay for the consequence of the pandemic.  Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has already said that this is not a time to tax business and families. 

However, Starmer has made no commitment to supporting the recent Wealth Tax Commission report, which demonstrated clearly that a windfall tax upon the wealthiest, levied over a five year period, would go a long way towards covering the costs associated with the pandemic.  Add to that the saving from not buying into Trident and Starmer’s fears for business and families could be easily allayed.  Such thoughts are, unfortunately, too far from the political mainstream for the Labour leader.

A further dimension to the timing of Healey’s speech was the fact that, after a mere 35 days in office, US President Joe Biden ordered his first illegal air strike against targets in Syria, a war in which the US has no legal right to intervene.  The role of the US and its NATO allies in Syria has been to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East, in an attempt to shore up US strategic interests in the region.  As the Stop the War Coalition has pointed out,

“The US still has 2,500 troops in a country which they have devastated since they invaded in 2003.  Biden is following in the footsteps of his predecessors despite all evidence that military interventions do nothing but create destruction and misery and the conditions for future wars.”

This is the alliance to which Healey and Starmer are saying Labour’s commitment is “unshakable”.  This is the alliance which has actual control over the Trident nuclear weapons system, not the UK as an independent nation. 

Buying in to Trident is not about deterrence, it is about dependence.  That dependence is military, political and technological.  It provides no protection in classic military terms and is a threat to jobs due to the constraint upon investment it represents, diverting billions into weapons of mass destruction rather than socially useful production.

Labour’s position on spending billions on Trident is shameful and should be opposed at every level of the Labour movement, linked to a plan for job creating investment in new technology and green solutions to the climate challenge.  That would be the start of a radical programme for change and one to which millions would sign up.

20th February 2021

Labour needs a real contender

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Labour leader Kier Starmer – will he ever be a contender?

Latest opinion polls currently show a Conservative lead over Labour of between 2% and 6% with most leaning towards the upper end of that spectrum.  This comes almost a year after the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown; the infection spreading Eat Out to Help Out farrago in the summer; the slightly less than ‘world beating’ test and trace programme; the debacle over school examinations; the equally diabolical return to campus of university students; a second lockdown; the dithering over who could see whom , where and when at Christmas; a wave of infection sweeping the country since the New Year; a third lockdown; the death toll heading towards 120,000, the highest in Europe; and the poorest prospects for recovery of any G7 economy.  

This catalogue of calamity does not even include the amateur approach to the Brexit negotiations, being shamed into feeding poor children during school holidays or the lack of insight that allowed Dominic Cummings, with his poor eyesight, take a trip to Barnard Castle.

Even with the collusion of the right wing press and the BBC, determined to emphasise the positives of the successful vaccine roll out, the government record of handling the pandemic is nothing short of a national scandal, which should be hitting the headlines as such. At the very least it would be expected that some of the Opposition punches would land and that the government, if not on the canvas, would at least be on the ropes.

The problem is that in the red corner, the Kier Starmer led Labour opposition have not only failed to land any punches, they have not even laced up their gloves!  In fact Labour have spent more time reassuring the government that they are not really in the red corner at all but are merely a paler shade of blue, quite happy to cosy up in the blue corner and try to persuade the audience that there is nothing to see here, there is no fight.

Labour have come to such a pass by flying the flag of ‘national unity’, not wanting to create strife and division at a time of national crisis, not wanting to ‘play politics’ with the pandemic.  This is the politics of ‘playing fair’, obeying the rules, being decent chaps.  The Tories meanwhile are making hay whether the sun shines or not, crisis or no crisis, with contracts awarded to cronies left, right and centre without so much as a tip of the hat to fair procurement practices, experience in the field of PPE manufacture, pandemic management or public health awareness.

However much the business sector whinge about the economy being closed down there are plenty of the Tories’ mates who have made a tidy sum from the pandemic and appear to have no compunction in profiting from the deaths of thousands.

Kier Starmer made a ‘big speech’ this week setting out Labour’s position.  We know it was a big speech because the public relations trailers told us so, but it would have been difficult to recognise as such otherwise.  

So, what is the inspiring vision set out by Starmer?  Well firstly Labour would “forge a new contract with the British people, introducing British Recovery Bonds to give households a stake in our country’s future and a role in creating the infrastructure of tomorrow.”

Really? If this was tripping off the tongues of those in Labour’s focus groups they were talking to the wrong people! However, there is more…

“Together, we would invest in a new generation of British entrepreneurs by providing start-up loans for 100,000 businesses, making sure support and opportunity is spread across the country.”

Top of the list when you cannot pay the rent, feed the kids or find a decent job!  Way to go Kier!

Finally, a modicum of reality poked through as Kier promised that in,

“Reversing Tory cuts to Universal Credit, properly funding local councils, giving our key workers the pay rise they deserve – there is a real alternative to Boris Johnson’s approach.”

On a more philosophical note Kier also acknowledged that,

“Coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on the deep inequalities and injustices in Britain, as a result of a failed ideology that weakened Britain’s foundations and left us exposed to the pandemic.”

That failed ideology is capitalism, if only Starmer would spell it out, the deep inequalities and injustices are as result of its endemic exploitative character.  No amount of recovery bonds will change that.

No Labour leader yet has made a call for revolution and no one is expecting that from Starmer.  However, investment in Council housing; tackling Rachman landlords; investing in comprehensive education; taking away the ‘charitable’ status of the private education sector; committing to abolish Trident nuclear weapons; investment in job creating green technology, all of these things and more are possible under capitalism and would be a popular campaigning platform.

More will be necessary to achieve the real shift in the balance of power needed to move towards a socialist economy.  However, indicating some intent to move in that direction would be a start.  Starmer needs to limber up and get himself into the ring or make way for a real contender.

14th February 2021

Vaccination progress but no quick fix

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Concern for workers at Heathrow as the quarantine programme begins

As the vaccination programme across Britain continues its, so far, successful community roll out, pressure is inevitably mounting from the business sector to open up the economy still further.  The hardline Tory MPs, who make up the so called Covid Recovery Group, are calling for the complete opening up of the economy by the end of April.  That such a move would inevitably expose more workers to the dangers of infection does not seem to be high on the list of their concerns or those of employers, keen to return to profit in order to assuage hungry shareholders.

Those in work, unable to work from home, are already in the frontline.  So far there have been no prohibition notices served upon employers by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regarding workplaces not being Covid Secure, even though there have been 3,500 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.

These dangers mean that many workers, struggle to subsist on reduced furlough income or worse still Universal Credit, while others are forced into calculating the risk of attending a COVID insecure workplace compared to the certainty of ongoing poverty.  The struggle for many to self isolate is a real one. 

There are growing concerns that vaccination take up amongst care home staff is too low, if protection of the most clinically vulnerable is to be effective.  A recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also estimated that 15% of nurses remain unvaccinated.  Both sets of workers are amongst the most vulnerable due to their frontline work but also due to their low pay and the pressure to stay at work.

In the wider community the situation is further fuelled by a barrage of misinformation perpetrated by vaccination deniers, including Members of Parliament, muddying the waters.  Conspiracy theories range from the vaccine being a means of microchipping the population by the government, to the fallacy that the vaccines contain animal products which may contravene the lifestyle choices or religious beliefs of many.

In spite of this ongoing battle with ignorance the army of NHS staff, local government workers and volunteers continue the task of pushing ahead with the vaccination programme.  All over 70 year olds and those in the higher vulnerable groups will have been offered a vaccine by next week, most will have gladly taken up the offer.  More than 90% of over 75 year olds in the UK have had their first dose.

It is notable that the success of the roll out so far has been due to mobilisation at a local level.  No centralised awarding of contracts to national companies with no public health experience, no high profile government crony appointments to oversee the system.  Just local NHS, local government and voluntary sector organisations on the ground co-operating to deliver the best for their communities.

As long as vaccine supplies can be ensured, an area in which national government unfortunately has to play a role, the local vaccination programme will continue to be delivered.  National government action however continues to be necessary in implementing measures to suppress the spread of new variants, to ensure that all of the effort going on at a local level is not in vain.

To that end the pressure upon the government to close borders has resulted in an initial ‘red list’ of 33 countries being identified.  Travellers into England from these locations, from 15th February, will have to undertake hotel quarantine for 10 days with testing on day 2 and day 8 of their stay.  In Scotland all inbound travellers will be required to undertake the 10 day quarantine period. All inbound travellers will continue to be required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test to enter the country.

A new department has been set up within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that will be leading the transfer of passengers from the 33 red-list nations from airports to hotels to begin their 10-day quarantine.  However, neither the police nor Border Force were told who is running the new department, which is understood to be called Managed Quarantine Services.

There are other potential flaws in the plan.  The proposed £1,750 hotel cost may be prohibitive for some.  There are no plans for the regular testing of hotel and security staff.  England’s Department of Health said plans for a “bespoke service” for staff testing were being developed but it could not confirm whether it would be ready for the start of the policy on 15th February.  Over half of the countries with identified cases of the South African variant of COVID 19, against which existing vaccines are least effective, are not on the list.

A spokesman at Heathrow Airport, one of five in England where people requiring hotel quarantine can enter the UK, expressed frustration with the government stating,

 “We have been working hard with the government to try to ensure the successful implementation of the policy from Monday, but some significant gaps remain.  Ministers must ensure there is adequate resource and appropriate protocols in place for each step of the full end-to-end process from aircraft to hotel to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport.”

Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer representing workers at Heathrow said,

“If you’ve got people getting off planes from the red list countries, then being crammed into areas with passengers who aren’t going into quarantine – and staff as well- you’ve failed at the first hurdle.”

Calls for a blanket quarantine of 14 days for all arrivals in the UK are growing, with experts pointing to the stricter measures taken in China, Australia and New Zealand as having had a significant impact in suppressing outbreaks.

With the government promising a ‘road map’ announcement on 22nd February it is vital that the success of the local vaccination roll out programme is not undermined by those looking to relax measures too quickly.  If the elderly, the vulnerable and those in challenging low paid work are to stand any chance of staying safe, the government must not be swayed by those seeking to make a quick profit.

6th February 2021

US Foreign Policy – back to business as usual?

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Biden’s first foreign policy speech – US business as usual?

“America is back, diplomacy is back”; the words of Joe Biden in his first foreign policy address this week as US President.  Biden was clearly using the phrase to draw a line under the past four years and distance himself from the Make America Great Again rhetoric of Donald Trump.  Biden’s words are unlikely to be worn across baseball caps by his supporters but in its own, less belligerent way, Biden’s phrase is still a variation on the theme of making America great again.  Making America great has, in one way or another, been the theme of US foreign policy for over a century.

As Biden made clear,

“There’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take in our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind.”

Which is not to say that Biden will not do things differently to Trump.  In some areas he will. The temporary ban on weapons sales to the Saudi Arabia led coalition which has been bombing schools, hospitals and communities in Yemen since 2015 looks like being firmed up.  Biden did not cut the Saudis loose entirely though, promising to continue to help Saudi Arabia “defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Biden has made no secret of his desire to take a more strident tone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though actual policy substance may not differ greatly.  Biden was clear that Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will conduct a review of the US global force posture to ensure that the US “military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities”, a warning signal to Russia and the growing military and economic power of China.

In the Middle East Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has restated Biden’s commitment to reconsider US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran nuclear deal, agreed with Iran in 2015 before US violation in 2018 led to withdrawal. 

US return to compliance with the JCPOA is by no means unconditional, with Biden wanting to make Iranian compliance in a number of “deeply problematic” foreign policy areas outside of the deal a requirement before the easing of US sanctions, tightened by Trump in 2018 after US withdrawal.

While Iran has welcomed the fact that Biden presents the opportunity to step back from the abyss the two countries were staring into following Trump’s action, they still want a return to the 2015 deal as agreed, without additional conditions.  The Islamic Republic is not short of hardliners of its own, willing to continue a face off with the ‘Great Satan’, though more pragmatic voices recognise that the economy is on its knees and an increasingly rebellious population could threaten the foundations of the theocracy itself. An easing of sanctions is seen as an opportunity to at least buy time.

Biden and his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, have made no secret of their pro-Israeli position when it comes to the politics of the Middle East.  While the love-in Benjamin Netanyahu enjoyed with the Trump administration is unlikely to be sustained, Israel’s role as the eyes, ears and, where necessary, military proxy of the US in the Middle East is unlikely to be threatened. 

Negotiation and diplomacy may be back on the agenda in the Middle East.  However, with regard to the question of Palestine, Israeli withdrawal from the illegally occupied territories and insistence on compliance with international law, flouted by Israel for over half a century, may be a challenge too far for Biden.

The United States has form of its own in this area, which continues to undermine any claim it may have to a moral high ground on the issue of compliance with international law.  As well as the illegal detentions which continue at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, the United States persists in its 60 year long illegal economic blockade of Cuba.  The degree of détente introduced under Barack Obama, a first step towards the normalising of relations between the two countries, was quashed by Donald Trump.

In a final vindictive act, Trump added Cuba to the US list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ in the weeks before leaving office.   Given the number of terrorist acts sanctioned by the United States against the people of Cuba over the years, to suggest that this was ironic would be mild understatement.  Since 1959 over 3,000 Cubans have lost their lives to terrorist acts, most of which emanated from the United States.  It is vital that Biden takes Cuba off the list, ends the blockade and begins the normalising of relations with Cuba, if any claim of a new page in US foreign policy being turned is to be taken seriously.

Famously regarded by the US as its ‘backyard’ the relationship of the superpower to its neighbours to the south in Latin America has historically been characterised by subterfuge and illegal intervention. From the coup d’etat in Chile, undermining the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, gun running in El Salvador, invading Grenada, the list goes on. 

More recent examples include covert support for the coup in Bolivia and ongoing attempts to undermine the government of Venezuela.  Such interventions must stop and Latin America must be free from US interference.  Whether the corporations who have so much investment in maintaining low pay, poor working conditions and under privilege in Latin America will give Biden any latitude remains to be seen.  History points in the opposite direction however.

The rhetorical flourish and embellishment of the daily tweets from Donald Trump may be gone.  The sense of unpredictability about the position of the US in the international arena will go.  The tone of the Biden administration will no doubt aim to be one of calm and stability.  While that may be a relief in many respects, given the rollercoaster ride of the past four years, the message that US foreign policy is back to business as usual will, for many, not be as reassuring as Biden may like to think.    

26th January 2021

Payback time for Tories

Boris Johnson – facing the grim reality?

More than 100,000 people in the UK have died as a result of COVID-19, according to the latest official figures.  The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, claims that the government have done everything in their power to save lives.  That is not true.  At every stage of the pandemic the government have made decisions driven by economic imperatives rather than public health concerns.  

The government dithered initially about locking down the economy; failed to set up an effective test, trace and isolate system; gave out optimistic signals that Easter, Summer then Christmas would be the point at which the death toll would slow down and the government would ‘control the virus’.

Mask wearing took months to become the norm, schools re-opened in September and, along with the impact of the summer Eat Out to Help Out scheme, saw the beginning of the second spike in infection rates.  The furlough system has been a lifeline for some but many more still cannot access support other than through Universal Credit.  Even there the additional £20 which the government provided to help the most vulnerable is in danger of being withdrawn at the end of March.

Thousands of jobs are being lost with 25,000 in the retail sector alone this week.   On the day the death toll crossed the 100,000 line the highest unemployment figures in the UK for five years were announced, with 418,000 people losing their jobs in the last year alone.  That is not a coincidence, that is negligence on the part of a government that can neither protect the population through its public health measures, nor sustain the economy it claims it is doing its best to protect.

The inept test and trace system fails fundamentally because people in a zero hours and low pay economy cannot stay at home and self isolate, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to do so.  Unless the government addresses this fundamental issue infection rates amongst the poorest communities will continue to rise.

The highest death toll in Europe, the fifth highest death toll in the world.  What has happened in the UK over the past year is a national scandal.  The government’s response has not only failed to tackle the issues at the core of the rising rate of infections but at every turn has compounded them, resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths.

It is ironic that Johnson’s Brexit campaign rhetoric placed so much emphasis upon the UK taking back control of its borders.  Any measures to actually do this, which may have helped stem the flow of infection through minimising cross border traffic and quarantining visitors, have only been under consideration in the past week.

The light at the end of this very long tunnel is the vaccination programme.  The government will try to milk whatever credit it can from the fact that the roll out is, at present, reaching thousands every day.  That this is good news cannot be denied, although Big Pharma will no doubt see a profit, but it should not get the Tories off the hook.

The virus has been catastrophic for working class people and their families.  It has hit working class communities the hardest.  Its long term effects in both health and economic terms will stay with the working class for longer and recovery will be slower.  Recovery for employers will mean maintaining low pay and trying to maximise profits, given the additional pool of labour created by the crisis, the additional numbers desperate for work.

This is the very nature of capitalism, exposing the Tories’ protection of their class, their interests, at the expense of those who are the real wealth creators.  The wealthiest have not lost out in the pandemic nor have they been made to pay their share.  The working class have suffered over ten years of austerity, paying off the gambling debts of bankers following the 2008 crisis.  It is time for payback, in every sense.

23rd January 2021

Israeli apartheid exposed

Mural in Gaza highlighting the impact of COVID-19

The Israeli democratic rights group, B’Tselem, which tracks human rights violations, published a report this month claiming that the Israeli state is effectively running a system of apartheid in relation to its treatment of the Palestinian population in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it,” said the body’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad. “It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.”

The response of the Israeli establishment has been predictably dismissive with Ohad Zemet, the spokesperson for Israel’s UK embassy, dismissing the report as “a propaganda tool”, stating that,

“Israel rejects the false claims in the so-called report as it is not based on reality but on a distorted ideological view.”

B’Tselem’s report illustrates that Israel has created a system over all of the state of Israel and the illegally occupied territories, in which Jewish citizens have full rights.  Palestinians on the other hand are divided into four tiers with various levels of rights depending on where they live, but always below Jewish people.

At the lowest end are the roughly 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant group, Hamas, subject to an Israeli blockade, which effectively gives the Israeli state complete control over people, goods and services which can enter or leave the territory.

Only slightly better off are the roughly 2.7 million Palestinian “subjects” in the West Bank, who are described by B’Tselem as living in “dozens of disconnected enclaves, under rigid military rule and without political rights”.

The roughly 350,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem fare marginally better.  Although Israel has offered citizenship to these residents, many have refused on principle and the rejection rate is high for those that try.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, also called Arab-Israelis, have full citizenship and make up about a fifth of the population of Israel. However, as B’Tselem point out, they are also subject to land ownership discrimination, immigration laws that favour Jews and laws that give Jewish people extra political rights.

While Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has put on hold plans to annexe part of the West Bank, B’Tselem argue that there is already a “de facto” annexation, with more than 400,000 Jewish settlers living there and enjoying the same rights, and many of the same services, as other Israelis.

The report comes at a time when the Israelis are gaining huge international media profile for their COVID-19 rapid vaccination programme, with 25% of the 9 million population already having had a first shot and 850,000 a second jab, including 80% of the population over 60 years old.

However, while the Jewish population enjoy the benefits of vaccine protection the Palestinian population are excluded from the programme.  In the West Bank the vaccine is distributed to Jewish ‘settlers’ but not to the Palestinian population.  In Gaza the impact of the Israeli blockade makes a desperate situation even worse, with even routine medical supplies being difficult to access.

The route to the vaccine for Palestinians is through the World Health Organisation (WHO) programme, Covax, designed to support poorer nations gain access to vaccines.  Even this route, should supplies get through, would only see vaccines reaching the Palestinian population by mid-February at the earliest.  Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of office at WHO Jerusalem, said it could be “early to mid-2021” before vaccines on the Covax scheme were available for distribution to the Palestinian territories.

While Israelis claim that they are not responsible for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the ongoing occupation places humanitarian and legal obligations upon the Israeli state.   Moreover, while the Israeli rapid vaccination programme aims for a quick return to some form of normality, Palestinians could remain trapped by the virus. That may have a negative impact on Israel’s goal of herd immunity, as thousands of West Bank Palestinians work in Israel and the settlements, which could keep infection rates up.

Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law include a duty to maintain “public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” (Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has placed particular emphasis upon the plight of those in the blockaded Gaza Strip stating,

“Israel’s blockade on Gaza will have catastrophic effects on the spread and fatality of coronavirus within the besieged strip. We must urge the UK to use its diplomatic power to put end to this, so that Palestinians can gain access to the healthcare they need during this crisis.”

The Israelis continue to claim that they are not presiding over an apartheid regime.  On this evidence it is difficult to see how else to characterise it.

While the likelihood of the British government taking up the Palestinian cause is slim, the same can also be said of the Labour opposition.  Labour leader, Kier Starmer, has just appointed former Israeli spy, Assaf Kaplan, to a key post in his office to manage social media output and surveillance.

Kaplan spent five years in Israeli military intelligence cyberwarfare outfit, Unit 8200, specialising in spying, hacking and encryption.  This included spying on Palestinian civilians living under Israeli occupation.

The appointment hardly inspires confidence that the Leader of the Opposition’s Office will be providing objective information on the situation in the occupied territories and the Middle East generally.

PSC has asked Keir Starmer to make a public statement making clear his abhorrence of the activities of Unit 8200, in accordance with Labour’s stated commitment to an ethical foreign policy rooted in respect for international law and human rights. PSC have also demanded that he should outline the steps he has taken to ensure that these values are held by all of those working in his office.

More information on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can be found here

17th January 2021

Inauguration Day – one more test

Trump supporters – no let up in conflict likely

The self styled “land of the free and home of the brave” will this week inaugurate its 46th President, Joe Biden, inside a capital that has effectively become a military fortress, with the deployment of an estimated 20,000 troops across the city.  Washington DC has been transformed, since the Donald Trump inspired neo-fascist storming of the Capitol building last week, in the failed attempt to subvert the confirmation of the election outcome.

The militarisation of Washington for the Inauguration Day ceremony on 20th January is a reflection of the ongoing threat of neo-fascist violence to which the Trump presidency has given licence.  That threat is, according to the FBI, a real and present danger in the capitals of every state across the so-called United States, with gun toting white supremacists threatening a show of strength across the country in opposition to Biden’s presidency.

The tension across the United States is reflected in the fear expressed by those opposed to Trump, as reported this week by the People’s World,

“One thing Trump has clearly been successful with is instilling fear in anyone thinking of coming out against him. People with anti-Trump t-shirts and bumper stickers and those with Biden-Harris signs in windows or on cars are removing them, also out of fear for themselves or their property. A young couple with a reputation in the Hyde Park section of Chicago for driving a car with no less than 30 bumper stickers promoting liberal causes said they spent time Thursday soaking and removing them.”

Through the variety of social media platforms used by right wing groups, neo-fascists across the US are calling on people to join a so called Million Martyr March on Inauguration Day.   The same right-wing groups have been known to use a wide variety of tactics to achieve their ends, including posing as left or progressive activists to smear the reputation of those groups, as well as mounting attacks on police departments that they think are not right-wing enough for them.

The reality of institutional inequality and racial injustice in the United States has been brought to the fore in recent months with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-Trump coalition which has delivered Biden the presidency. 

However, while the challenge for Biden has been exposed by the four years of Trump’s presidency the underlying rot in the United States had taken firm hold long before.  In 2016, after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Pew Research Center thinktank estimated that the median wealth of white households in the US was $117,000, ten times that of black households at $17,100.  This was larger than in 2007, the year before Obama was elected.

Pew also estimates that income inequality in the US increased by 20% between 1980 and 2016.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that Chief Executive Officers have seen salary rises of 940% since 1978, while the typical workers wage rose a mere 12% over the same period.

Racial division is used by the right wing in the United States to mobilise disaffected poor whites but it is clear that the real divide in the US is along class lines.  Racial prejudice is used, as ever to divide and rule as the US establishment fears, more than anything else, a united working class response to oppression and injustice.

The constitutional consensus which has sustained US capitalism in its one system, two parties approach has been breached in the past four years.  The final days of the Trump administration have been designed to ensure that the breach in the system cannot be closed and that the ‘healing’ of Joe Biden’s rhetoric cannot occur.   

Inauguration Day this week will be one further test but it will by no means be the final battle.  Republicans are already looking ahead to 2024 and planning a way to regain the White House.  Trump himself, or a family member, may be deemed a step too far for some Republicans but acolytes, such as outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, are not just waiting in the wings but are actively planning a path to the Republican nomination.

As a recent People’s World article concludes,

“Unless the mass movements and broad coalitions that ousted Trump and elected Biden remain united and continue their fight for social and economic justice, what happens in this country over the next few years will likely be much worse than what happened in the Capitol last week or what will happen next week in our country.”

The scenes from the United States last week shook the world but they are unlikely to be the last we see the as the struggle escalates.  Working class unity, in the face of the onslaught, will be more vital now than ever.

7th January 2021

US – working class unity the way forward

Trump supporters storm the US capitol building

The United States is not the world’s greatest democracy.  It is, if anything, the world’s most cunning dictatorship.  The scenes on Capitol Hill yesterday were the latest phase in a power struggle within the ruling circles of the US to maintain the grip of a particular faction which represents the hawkish political line as personified by Donald Trump.

To date, the margins in US politics have been slight.  The ‘liberal’ Barack Obama was no less hawkish than many US Presidents before him when it came to foreign policy but clearly had a more open approach on certain social questions.  A presidency under Joe Biden would be expected to continue down a similar path, tough on ‘enemies’ abroad, softer on social policy at home.

This in itself is largely illusory.  Whoever becomes US President has to have garnered financial support from corporations and billionaire sponsors, has little room to challenge the grip of the military industrial complex and will only be allowed to be socially liberal insofar as they do so without undermining the profits of those backers.

The Electoral College system is inherently anti-democratic and can result in the candidate coming second in the popular vote still winning the presidency.  Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016 but Trump has been in the White House for the past four years.

It should not be forgotten that the US has imposed an illegal 60 year blockade against the island of Cuba.  There are detainees held without trial at Guantanamo Bay.  Interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have been examples in recent history of the US using its military might to assert its position in the world.  The US is the world’s most highly armed nuclear power.   This is not a paragon of democracy.

The backers of Donald Trump have nevertheless sought to break with this consensus and push the US even further to the right.  The Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ message has provided the focal point for those in the US ruling circles who fear the US losing its military role as the world’s policeman; who fear it will lose its ability to throw its financial weight around to reinforce US ‘interests’; who fear the growing economic and military power of China.

Trump has been the vehicle by which the establishment consensus has been challenged.  The Trump presidency has tested the potential for a right wing demagogue to occupy the White House.  Trump’s support is still estimated to be 30% of the American people.  That is by no means a majority but it does represent a potentially substantial power base in the wrong hands. 

The claim that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ has no basis in fact and the Trump camp has produced no evidence, yet the claim still resonates with a political base disillusioned with a political system which does not meet their needs.

Trump’s supporters are wrong and misled on many counts but it is a fact that the US system does not serve the needs or interests of the mass of working class Americans.  It has concentrated power in the hands of a rich political establishment backed by a few corporations which protect their vested interests.  The tragedy of Trump’s supporters is that they are being manipulated by an alternative faction which wants to use their disillusionment to destabilise the system, in order to pursue their own interests.

A real challenge to the politics of the US establishment would be a united working class front, with no racial divisions, supportive of progressive policies at home and abroad, and capable of challenging the obscene levels of military expenditure which drain the economy while enriching a few military corporations.

This would be worthy of insurrection, this would be worth storming Capitol Hill to demand.  That four people should die for a fake president perpetuating fake demands is a tragedy.  The working class of the United States deserve better.  They must unite to demand it.

3rd January 2021

Taxing the wealth boom

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and millionaire wife Akshata, not suffering wealth loss at present

In a system which put the health and wellbeing of its population before the profits of business there would be only one course of action.  Close schools, lock down the economy and drive down infection rates to a level which can be managed within existing NHS resources.

A truly planned approach would also ensure that health and care workers, as well as teachers and support staff, would be prioritised for vaccination in order to allow them to get back to their professions as quickly as possible with the least risk of catching the virus.   

Some caveats would also need to be applied.  The children of key workers and the most vulnerable need to be accommodated, both in COVID secure childcare settings and potentially in socially distanced classrooms.  Workers who cannot afford to stay off work due to financial hardship must be compensated by the State, businesses forced to close need to be supported, prioritising the recovery of the cultural sector and workers in the arts needs more attention.  An effective test, track and trace system is long overdue.

It all costs money but the recent report of the Wealth Tax Commission identified a potential £260bn which could be raised from a windfall tax upon the wealthiest, over a five year period.  A more radical approach could raise even more.  Researchers at the Resolution Foundation think tank have this weekend found that the richest 1% in the UK have almost £800bn more wealth than previously thought, due to around 5% of the wealth of the richest households having been missed by official measures.

As a consequence of this research the Resolution Foundation estimate that the total share of UK wealth held by the top 1% of the population is up from 18% to 23%, as economist Jack Leslie put it,

“The UK has undergone a wealth boom in recent decades, which has continued even while earnings and incomes have stagnated.  But official data has struggled to capture these gains, and misses £800bn of assets held by the very wealthiest households in Britain.”

For workers in the NHS, care homes, public health and local government, on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19, the news of a wealth boom will no doubt come as a surprise.  Apart from having had to struggle thorough the past decade of austerity, most of these workers were handed a pay freeze, effectively a cut in real terms, in the recent budget by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

Not that Sunak has any personal interest but a wealth tax would require him to dip into his vast personal and family fortune in order to make a contribution.  Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, and her relatives hold a multimillion pound portfolio of shareholdings in her family’s tech firm.  Murthy’s assets alone are estimated to be £430 million.

A screeching u-turn has seen the government concede that all primary schools in London must remain closed this week, although the same instruction is not being applied to other Tier 4 areas.  The National Education Union (NEU) has advised staff at primary schools that it is unsafe to return to the classroom this week and should resort to online learning.  The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) has initiated legal action against the government demanding to see the safety evidence for the re-opening schedule.

In short the situation is chaotic.  Instead of consulting with the key professionals and workers in the health, care and education sectors the government has attempted to manage by kowtowing to the needs of business and avoiding an unpopular headline in the Daily Mail.  The irony is that the UK not only has one of the world’s highest death rates from the pandemic, it also has one of the deepest recessions and will take longer than most comparable economies to recover.  The government is failing on every front.

A public health crisis, dealt with more effectively, would not have generated such an economic crisis which in turn need not have escalated into an education crisis of such proportions.  There is only one cure for capitalist incompetence, arising from greed and self interest, that is to change the system fundamentally, so that it is based upon the needs of the people not those with vested interests in the status quo.

The case for socialism becomes clearer with each day.  In the meantime the workers having to follow the twists and turns of government policy will continue to deliver services to the best of their ability.  The vaccination programme is underway.  There is hope at least that some relief is on the horizon for those at the greatest risk.  The death count must be brought under control and stopped.