Archive 2021

23rd December 2021

A Year Without Sundays

Literacy brigades celebrate in the Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, 22nd December 1961

On the 22nd December 2021, Cuba marked the 60th anniversary of the literacy campaign initiated following the 1959 revolution which rid the island of the US backed dictator, Batista.  Very early on in the revolution the Cuban leaders realised that without literacy there could be no progress, that the defence of the revolution and the possibilities for social and economic progress depended upon a literate and educated population.

The Year of Literacy was declared in 1961 and an army of young people and students, mainly from Cuba’s cities who had some literacy skills, were transformed into an army of volunteers deployed across Cuba.  Organised into four brigades, to target both urban and rural areas in Cuba, the volunteers were up against more obstacles than just the endemic illiteracy which years of dictatorship had caused.

The defence of the country was a major concern, with counter-revolutionary groups active in the mountains of Las Villas and Oriente, in what turned out to be preparation for the US led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961.  Not all of the literacy teachers and students survived the counter-revolutionary activity with a number being murdered by the reactionaries, determined to turn back the clock in Cuba.

Nevertheless, a teaching force of 268,420 people were organised across the four brigades with a mission to tackle the 14% illiteracy rate, consisting of almost 1 million people, throughout 1961.  By the end of that year the brigadistas had brought that rate down to just 3.9%, teaching over 700,000 Cubans to read and write during the course of the campaign.

One student pronounced that,

“It was a year without Sundays or parties: it was a year for the literacy campaign.”

It was a year which transformed the lives of many of Cuba’s young people and laid the basis for the survival of the revolution, in spite of the 60 year long illegal economic blockade by the United States, which has slowed Cuba’s development.

Cuba’s leaders recognised that without a literate population it was not possible to train people as teachers, scientists, doctors or engineers.  It was not possible to generate great art, music or literature.  The Year of Literacy was one of the key building blocks which has led to Cuba’s healthcare provision being famed across the world, for its infant mortality rate being lower than that of the United States, for the international campaign to award the Henry Reeves Medical Brigades the Nobel Peace Prize, for their work in supporting other developing countries at times of epidemic or catastrophe.

The emphasis which Cuba has placed upon the development of the biotech sector, at the encouragement of the late Fidel Castro in the 1980’s, has resulted in Cuba being the only developing nation to have produced its own vaccines against the Covid-19 virus, vaccines that it is prepared to share, without profit, with other under resourced and developing nations.

Cuba has vaccinated more of its citizens against Covid-19 than most of the world’s largest and richest nations.  Over 90% of the population have received at least one dose and 83% are now fully inoculated.  Infections and deaths have reduced significantly in recent weeks, falling to just 1% of their peak in August.        

“It is a truly remarkable accomplishment, given the size of Cuba and also the US embargo that restricts their ability to import”, said William Moss, Director of the John Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center, a US based university group that works to ensure equitable access for low-income countries.

Like elsewhere, the Omicron variant means that Cuba faces a new challenge.  The ongoing embargo by the US does not help, as access to vital resources remain limited and costly, through having to trade through third parties.  The battle may not be over, but the struggle continues.

There can be no doubt that Cuba’s current struggles will take heart and inspiration from the Year of Literacy in 1961 and the campaign which helped shaped modern Cuba.

On 5th November 1961 Melena del Sur was proclaimed the first town free of illiteracy, followed by municipalities and provinces across the nation.  On 16th December the literacy teachers began arriving in Havana from across Cuba.  On the 22nd December, at a massive rally in the Plaza de la Revolucion, Cuba was proclaimed a territory free of illiteracy.

18th December 2021

Gambling with the health of the nation

Lies, damned lies and parties – another bad week for Johnson

The only thing as certain as the inexorable spread of the Omicron variant of Covid 19 is the lengths to which the Tories will go to cover up their lying and deceit, which has characterised every stage of the pandemic.  It is getting difficult to keep track of the number of parties which occurred in government departments or Downing Street itself, either last Christmas or during lockdown in May last year.

The latest revelation, that the government’s most senior civil servant, Simon Case, allowed a gathering to go ahead in his office, is the icing on the cake.  Case is meant to be investigating the allegations of goings on at 10, Downing St, a brief which is now fatally compromised.

If it was possible to be charged with reckless endangerment when in charge of pandemic, the Tories would be bang to rights.  Apart from the obvious dangers of virus spread from the plethora of office parties and gatherings, which are making the news headlines daily, there is the shattering of public confidence in vital public health messages, which could keep the death count down and reduce pressure on the NHS by controlling hospitalisations.

The Tories one rule for the rich and another for the rest approach however is leading many to forget that two wrongs do not make a right.  Just because the Tories adopt a cavalier attitude towards the health of the nation does not mean that we should all fall into the same trap.  The temptation for many to adopt an attitude that ‘they don’t obey the rules so why should we?’ is great but it is ultimately a self defeating one.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimate that in most regions Omicron infections are doubling in less than every two days, suggesting that cases could reach a million a day by the end of the month.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA said last week,

“The biggest worry is that if we have very high numbers of people getting infected at the same time, with the doubling rate that we are seeing at the moment.  Then it will find all those people who had less immune responses or those people who have yet to get their booster dose or have not been vaccinated yet, remembering that there are still significant numbers in the population – more than 5 million in England – who have not yet received a single dose of vaccine.”

The Tories are doing all that they can to avoid bringing in any restrictions they would regard as unpopular before Christmas.  At the same time they know that, as scientific advisers on SAGE point out, failing to impose any additional measures will undoubtedly lead to a spike in infections in the New Year, resulting in further disease, hospitalisation and death.  The NHS is already creaking, as the unvaccinated take up bed space across the country, and Covid cases displace the health service from giving attention to vital operations and long term conditions such as cancer.

Giving in to the Tories’ relaxed approach to public health will ultimately backfire this time, as it has at every stage of the pandemic so far.  Covid 19 is not a phenomenon which the Tories can simply bluster their way out of, try as they might.  Each stage of the pandemic is just another roll of the dice for the Tories, as they gamble with the health of the nation. The UK’s position as the Covid sick man of Europe, such that the French have now closed borders to British tourists, is the latest testament to this.

It is already clear from the Tories’ catastrophic showing in the North Shropshire by-election, losing a seat they had held for 200 years, that the double standards are hitting home, even with voters who would historically never vote anything but Conservative.

In response, knives are being sharpened inside the Tory Party for Boris Johnson, now being seen as more of an electoral liability than electoral asset.  The focus upon Johnson, bumbling and incompetent as he may be, is nevertheless a diversion.  The Tories will always elect a leader they see as best fitted to serving the interests of the ruling class at any given time and just as quickly dispense with them when they have served their purpose.

Johnson’s mission was simply to ensure the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn at the 2019 General Election and get a Tory shaped Brexit deal across the line, whatever the cost.  He has served that purpose and the pandemic has exposed his failings as a Party leader and Prime Minister.

Johnson’s departure, whenever that may come, will not change the fundamental mission of the Tories or signal any departure from their core modus operandi; to defend the interests of the rich and privileged and use any subterfuge necessary to defend capitalism.    

Getting Johnson out may give the appearance of being a step forward but getting rid of the Tories and the whole rotten system which supports them has to remain the ultimate goal, for the good of the nation’s health.

11th December 2021

Action for Human Rights in Iran

On the occasion of United Nations Human Rights Day (10th December) the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to be a desperate one for anyone opposed to the regime.  Jane Green reports on the current situation.

Protests in Iran – regularly met with force

Human rights abuse in Iran continues to be an issue for young people, women, trade unionists and the political opposition. The regime does not see the judiciary as being independent from the ruling theocracy in the country.  The Islamic Republic’s judicial system criminalises dissent and even imprisons lawyers for doing their job. Few lawyers will continue to take on human rights cases due to the level of intimidation by the regime and its security services.

Anyone remotely critical of the regime is usually tried under trumped-up “national security” charges.  Cases often involve individuals who have been targeted by the state’s sprawling security establishment for publicly criticising the government and it is the state security agencies, not the rule of law, that dictates the outcome of the cases.

In effect, in the Islamic Republic, those detained under trumped-up national security charges are guilty until proven innocent.  Intelligence agents carry out the arrests and fabricate the charges. The judicial process becomes a means to settle political scores.

The targeting of lawyers in order to weaken the chances of effective legal representation is underlined by the fact that, as of November 2021, at least five defence lawyers had confirmed prison sentences based on false charges

Another three human rights lawyers are awaiting trial on trumped-up charges because they tried to sue the government for its failed COVID-19 response.

The case of Iranian-British dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is a further example of the Iranian government’s use of imprisonment for political purposes.  Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is effectively being held hostage as part of negotiations for money owed to Iran by the British government for a weapons deal in the 1970s.  

A recent report from Amnesty International has highlighted the ongoing issue of the unlawful killing of at least 324 members of the public in mass protests which swept Iran in November 2019.  There is no evidence that those engaged in the protests possessed firearms or posed any threat to life, yet the security forces still engaged in the unwarranted use of lethal force.

Two years on from the protests, the families of victims continue their campaign for truth and justice in the face of ongoing harassment and intimidation from the authorities.  The regime has undertaken a ruthless campaign to intimidate families and prevent them from speaking out.  The regime persists in its refusal to reveal the truth about the death toll; conduct thorough, independent and impartial criminal investigations; and bring to justice those responsible for ordering and carrying out these killings.

Given the gravity of the human rights violations in Iran, Amnesty International has reiterated its call to member states of the UN Human Rights Council to mandate an inquiry into the killings, and identify pathways for truth, justice and reparations.

The assault on human rights also extends into the cultural sector with Baktash Abtin a poet, documentary filmmaker and a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, being imprisoned on charges of “gathering and colluding with the intention of committing acts against national security” and “propaganda against the state.  Abtin, along with two other members of the Iranian Writers’ Association’s board of directors, Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Keyvan Bajan, were sentenced to 6 years each in prison.

The evidence to support the accusations were the books published by the Iranian Writers’ Association, including the commemorative work “Fifty Years of the Writers’ Association of Iran,” statements by the Writers’ Association and articles and content published on Abtin’s personal social media accounts.

The rise of labour strikes, including in the automobile maker Iran Khodro, mines, and manufacturing industries, along with popular protests across the country, reflects the deepening crisis in Iran.  The regime is increasingly seen by the vast majority of the people in Iran as a major barrier to progress and the establishment of freedom, democracy, and social justice.

The experience of recent years in Iran is that the macro-economic policies of the Islamic regime have resulted in the destruction of the infrastructure of manufacturing and driven millions of people below the poverty line and into deprivation. This situation is further exacerbated by widespread corruption within the regime, which sees millions of dollars syphoned out of the economy into private hands.

The necessity of expressing solidarity and continuing to publicly challenge and defy the government, is increasingly seen by many as the only means to move away from a regime whose continuation is synonymous with that of disaster, poverty, deprivation, and misery in the country.

In the UK major trade unions unions have added their voices to expressions of support for the Iranian people and in condemnation of the human rights record of the Iranian government.  It is vital that such support continues to build and extends across the labour and peace movement. 

Such solidarity, especially articulated on UN Human Rights Day, will send a clear message to the Iranian people that they continue to have international support in their struggle for peace, human rights and democracy.

For the full version of this article visit

4th December 2021

Party on with Omicron

Keep calm and carry on says the British government

As the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus begins its inexorable journey around the globe the British government insists upon taking up its usual pandemic position of being just behind the curve.  While public health and World Health Organisation (WHO) advice at every stage of the pandemic has been to take hard measures quickly and early, to contain infection spread, the British government continues to adopt an attitude of ‘let’s see how much longer we can spend down the pub’.

Such an approach is fuelled by a beleaguered hospitality sector, less concerned with getting jabs in arms than getting arms pulling pints, and the usual trio of Tory cheerleaders in the right wing press, the Mail, the Express and the Telegraph. 

Keen to undermine the evidence that Omicron is highly transmissible and socially mixing will only accelerate the spread, the Tory press trio are more concerned to demonise the so called ‘cancel Christmas’ brigade.  The message is wrapped in the usual phoney rhetoric of plucky Brits seeing it through, with a liberal draping of Union Jack iconography, just in case the message is not clear that the ‘cancel Christmas’ crowd are not real patriots and are simply out to undermine British tradition.

As more cases of the Omicron variant are identified, the government is pinning its hopes on an acceleration of the vaccine booster programme which it hopes will “buy the time” needed to further assess the impact of the Omicron variant.

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has said everyone who is eligible will be offered a booster jab by the end of January.  The government is hoping this, coupled with new mask measures and restrictions on travel from countries in southern Africa, will be enough to contain the variant.

Minutes from the Sage Advisory Group have suggested that there is a danger of the government “putting all its eggs in one basket” by relying on the booster programme without taking any measures to reduce social mixing.  In particular it has been suggested that working from home would be a minimum measure that could enhance infection control with one adviser stating,

“Working from home is substantially less intrusive as an intervention.  If you can easily do your job from home until Christmas, to me that seems a very proportionate thing to do right now.”  

The government position however remains to sideline such advice and adopt a “keep calm and carry on” approach, a phrase actually used by Conservative Party Chairman, Oliver Dowden, when asked about private parties at No 10 Downing St this year.  Dowden insisted that people should,

“…keep calm and carry on with your Christmas plans.  We’ve put the necessary restrictions in place but beyond that keep calm and carry on.”

Downing St is already on the defensive, having been found to be the venue for parties during lockdown last November, once again exposing the government’s one rule for them and another for the rest, approach to the pandemic.

The Tories’ position is at odds with that of Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency who made clear on BBC Radio 4 that,

“Of course our behaviours in winter – and particularly around Christmas – we tend to socialise more, so I think all of those will need to be taken into account.  So I think we need to be careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to, and particularly going and getting those booster jabs.”

Concerns about the capacity of GPs and the NHS to step up the rate of vaccination to deliver the booster programme are also very real with services already struggling to cope due to reduced capacity.  The NHS has announced it would need an army of 10,000 volunteers and 1,500 new sites to help offer the required 25m vaccines over the next two months.

Prof Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said,

“I am concerned that the intensification of mixing at Christmas social events will provide a boost to transmission at just the time when the Omicron variant will probably be picking up speed, potentially leading to an earlier peak in the new year before we have an opportunity to counteract this through boosters. Such a peak could seriously affect the ability of an already struggling NHS to provide adequate care.”

The determination to put private wealth ahead of public health has been the only consistent position taken by the British government throughout the pandemic, allied with the desire not to take any decisions which may prove unpopular.   

With the UK death rate now past the 145,000 mark and daily infections in their thousands, the government is once again taking a massive gamble with the lives of those who are most vulnerable and have least capacity to fight off infection, in spite of the vaccination programme.  

The government may not be brave enough to take any decisions which could be characterised as ‘cancelling Christmas’, leaving most to have to take the decision themselves when deciding just what level of celebration is safe.

27th November 2021

Hoarders hold back vacccine equity

Vaccines are desperately needed in developing countries

The emergence of a new Covid ‘variant of concern’ in Southern Africa, designated Omicron by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is a direct consequence of vaccine hoarding by the rich capitalist nations, more concerned with addressing the economic consequences of the pandemic rather than the public health impact.  

The Omicron variant is regarded as the most complex seen so far and has emerged in countries with vaccination levels of under 30%, with Namibia at a low of only 12% being fully vaccinated.  South Africa itself has 27% vaccination rates but this is unevenly spread across the country, with some rural areas at levels in single figures.

Worldwide there is no shortage of vaccines but distribution remains massively uneven.  The G20 richest countries currently hold 89% of existing vaccines with 71% of future deliveries scheduled for these countries.  The storage time for many of these vaccines is not infinite.  COVAX calculate that around 100 million of these vaccines will pass their use by dates in December.  The prospect of the world’s richest countries pouring vaccine down the drain while infection rates, hospitalisation and deaths continue to escalate in the developing world, is very real.

As ever, the leaders of the ‘free world’ can talk the talk but they cannot walk the walk.  Promises of vaccine distribution to the developing world are routinely made but are rarely delivered upon.  At a summit chaired by US President, Joe Biden, in September a target of 40% vaccination by December was set for the 92 poorest countries.  In the majority of those countries that target will not be met.

The vaccine hoarding nations of the world are directly to blame for this.  The United States has only delivered 25% of the vaccines promised.   The European Union has delivered 19% of its promise, the UK just 11% and Canada merely 3% of its commitment.  The net effect of this is that only 3% of people in low income countries are fully vaccinated, compared to over 60% in higher income countries.

The early identification of Omicron has meant that quick action is being taken to sequence the variant and test the efficiency of existing vaccines in combatting it.  However, should further vaccine development be required that will take some time to test, produce and disseminate.

The British government was quick to ban flights from Southern Africa and started a domino effect across the world, as steps are taken to contain the spread.  Calls to introduce Plan B in Britain, which would require mask wearing in public, working from home and a Covid passport system, restricting access to public spaces for those without a double vaccination, have already been raised and may yet be part of the response to the new variant.

So far British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has only been prepared to go with a Plan B-lite, introducing mask wearing as compulsory in retail and on public transport; re-introducing PCR tests for anyone entering the country; and enforcing 10 day isolation for any contacts of someone who has tested positive with suspected Omicron variant.

Measures will be reviewed after three weeks, giving the scientists time to see how the new variant behaves and politicians to hedge their bets in the run up to Christmas.

The WHO is meeting next week to consider the current situation but only has the power to exhort and persuade rather than enforce.

It is clear from the international response to the pandemic so far that the world’s richer nations cannot be relied upon to support those at the sharp end of the pandemic.   The current upsurge in cases of the dominant Delta variant across Europe, with Germany already considering a national lockdown, is likely to distract attention from vaccine equity, as the G20 continue to prioritise their own economic salvation above all else.

COVAX, which is led by the World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and in partnership with UNICEF, has 190 participating countries. It needs more than US$2 billion to fully meet its goal to vaccinate those most in need by the end of the year.

The United Nations campaign, Only Together, launched in March continues to press for the scaling up of vaccine access by sharing excess vaccines, transferring technology, offering voluntary licensing or waiving intellectual property rights.  There will no doubt be a majority of UN members who support the goal of vaccine equity but the disproportionate balance of power means that only with the promises of the minority rich capitalist world coming good can the goal be achieved.

The pandemic has clearly exposed the capitalist system as one which is moribund and incapable of meeting the basic needs of its people.  If a pandemic which has claimed 2.5 million lives worldwide, and is set to claim as many again, cannot compel co-operation to support the most deprived it is a damning indictment of the system.

The ultimate solution is that the people themselves take control.  Through socialist planning and co-ordination of resources for the needs of the people first, rather than the profits of the banks and corporations, a different way is possible.  It may be too late for the victims of the current pandemic but it is the only way the same mistakes will not be repeated, when the world finds itself in this position again.

23rd November 2021

Bluff, bungling and bluster

Boris Johnson, bluffing hs way through a speech to the CBI

The bumbling of British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, through a speech to the CBI this week, was characteristic of Johnson’s lack of attention to detail and inability to judge his audience.  Johnson’s political rise to date has often been ascribed to his ability to connect with ordinary people, speak plainly and shake free from established political platitudes.

That such an assessment has gained any credence is only due to the activity of Johnson’s spin doctors and the determination of the political establishment and media to build any alternative to Jeremy Corbyn, after Labour’s showing in the 2017 General Election.

No one has ever suggested that Johnson has a clear ideological stance, other than the default Tory position of hanging onto power and defending the capitalist system, but recent events suggest that the powers that be may be preparing to cut Johnson loose.

As well as the CBI debacle, Johnson also faced a minor rebellion in the House of Commons as 19 Tory MPs opposed government plans for changes to the social care system.  With abstentions a reduction in the Tory majority to 26 was the outcome.  This in itself may not be a sufficient harbinger of Johnson’s departure, governments with large majorities can absorb a certain amount of rebellion, but Johnson does not appear to have strong core support. 

The coalition of disparate Tories which propelled Johnson into No.10 is beginning to unravel as hard core Brexiteers are frustrated by the pace of change; low tax Tories are frustrated by the level of public spending; and the new intake of so called red wall Tories begin to see through the smoke and mirrors of the illusory ‘levelling up’ agenda.  The failure of the governments recently announced rail plan to reach, never mind reinvigorate the North, being just the latest example of policy car crash.

Prime Ministers have survived bouts of bungling, backbench muttering and Commons revolts but they rarely survive indefinitely.  As Johnson blusters his way through his catastrophic handling of the pandemic his credibility with those previously fooled by the blather drains daily.

The political establishment also have other concerns, not least the health of the Head of State, currently being kept from public view as both spin doctors and medical doctors work to keep the Monarchy from slipping into crisis.  Planning for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022 continues apace but sources suggest than a Plan B is being taken off the shelf should the magic 70 year mark not be achieved.

While the media establishment continue to perpetuate the myth of a popular Monarchy, that would soon dissipate should the septuagenarian Prince and his consort get the keys to Buckingham Palace.  An unpopular Prime Minister and an unpopular Monarch may be more than the political establishment could tolerate and one or both could come under pressure to clear the way for a more media friendly alternative.

In political terms that would not rule out a Labour government.  Kier Starmer has made a clear pitch that capitalism will be safe in his hands and any difference in policy with the Tories at present is largely one of nuance. A spell of tame Labour government, while the Tories sort out their differences and find a leader they can unite behind should not be ruled out.

By the same token the easing out of the jaded Charles and Camilla, in favour of the family and media friendly William and Kate, is not hard to imagine.  The notion of the Royal Family as being the embodiment of the nation has always been a conjuring trick designed to divert attention from the real class interest the Monarchy defends and represents.

The British ruling class has survived for so long, in spite of periods of pressure and challenge, because it has been able to change just enough to keep ahead of any demands for a real transfer of power from the ruling class to the working class.    

 There is little sense of pressure for real change coming from within Parliament.  A vote for Labour, when the time comes, will be the lesser of two evils but reliance on Parliamentary action has never been enough for change.  Mass extra Parliamentary action will be necessary to truly shift the balance of power, challenging not only the illusion of democracy under capitalism but the historical anachronism of the Monarchy in the twenty first century.

13th November 2021

The short term is no solution

Over 100,000 gathered in Glasgow to protest against climate change

The famous revolutionary and Marxist philosopher, Vladimir Lenin, in 1913 characterised a revolutionary situation as one in which the lower classes do not want to live in the old way and the ruling class are unable to rule in the old way.  There has been little Leninist analysis applied to COP26 but Lenin’s thinking, while not immediately applicable to the present circumstances, certainly indicates the direction of travel.

There are certainly a significant number of the poorer and developing nations of the world who do not want to live according to the international economic order as it is currently constituted.  The climate crisis for many presents a literal existential threat, as rising sea levels threaten the very existence of their nations.  For others, already impoverished by imperialist plunder of their natural resources over centuries, including enslavement of their people, the hollow rhetoric of the rich nations continues to sound like an exchange of glass beads for gold.

In the current situation, for many of these nations, the climate emergency adds to a triple hit they are already having to deal with.  On top of their historical impoverishment there is the added inequity in vaccine distribution to tackle the Covid 19 pandemic, as the West continues to hang onto and hoard supplies.  For many developing nations Western intervention, either economically or militarily, has resulted in the migrant crisis, which drains many of their resources.  The climate crisis adds another layer to these struggles to survive.

COP26 appears to have done little to move forward the commitments of the rich nations of the Global North to take the climate emergency as seriously as they should.  Their default position remains one of giving as little ground as they can, while appearing to give concessions to the nations of the developing world and Global South.

This tactic becomes more transparent as the crisis deepens and the impact is felt in the richer nations too.  Recent floods in Germany, forest fires in the United States and the loss of coral reef in Australia have seen sections of the population waking up to the fact that real action, real commitment and real change is necessary if the impact of climate changed is to be addressed and reversed.

The demand to ‘keep 1.5C alive’ has gained increasing resonance as the COP26 process has unfolded but commitments so far, if they are actually delivered upon, amount to global warming reaching at least up to 2.0C above pre industrial levels.  Some models predict this may be higher still, which would not only be catastrophic, but potentially irreversible.

Capitalism as an economic system, especially in its imperialist globalised phase, is predicated upon competition and gambling.  The bankers gambling debts were the source of the 2008 financial crisis, debts we have all had to pay back over ten years of austerity.  Capitalist corporations routinely hedge their investments, buying commodities into the future to protect themselves against price fluctuations in the market.  Gaining a competitive edge is the driving force of capitalist philosophy and that edge has been gained, over the past 150 years, through the development and more efficient deployment of fossil fuels to drive economic growth.

Recognition that this phase of human development and exploitation of the Earth’s resources has gone is dawning slowly.  Unfortunately, it is dawning too slowly for those who predominantly control such resources, even where they are prepared to admit it. Like the Covid 19 vaccination deniers of the world, there remain those wedded to the reactionary notion that climate change is all part of a wider conspiracy, which will get sorted without human intervention.

Such ivory tower thinking may be the preserve of a hard core but it is often an influential hard core.  However, the next decade will undoubtedly see the glass fronts of such ivory towers breeched as the real life experience of those at the sharp end of the climate emergency draws more people into the struggle for change.

COP26 was never going to come up with all of the answers in one go.  It was always optimistic to expect a seismic shift in thinking on the part of those in entrenched positions of power.  However, the conference and the waves of protest which have surrounded it have ensured that world leaders cannot keep their heads forever in the sand when it comes to the climate emergency.

The ruling classes are beginning to struggle to rule in the old way and the lower classes are increasingly expressing their dissatisfaction at having to live in the old way.  A revolutionary situation may not be quite at hand but the makings of one are there.  However, Lenin was astute enough to also observe that not every revolutionary situation leads to a revolution. 

Capitalism is ruthless in defence of ruling class interests and, as history shows, will stop at nothing to defend its privileges.  Co-ordination, clarity of purpose and unified leadership are all pre-requisites of transforming a revolutionary situation into actual revolutionary change.  The challenge for those intent on not only saving the planet, but transforming it into one in which resources are equitably distributed for people not profit, is to forge that unity and force change.  

Protest at climate change, raising awareness of the climate emergency, is a vital first step towards drawing many into struggle.  It must be allied however to an understanding that the problems of the climate emergency are rooted in capitalism itself.  Until the means of production are in the hands of those who produce the wealth and society is planned according to the needs of its people, on a socialist basis, there will only be short term solutions on offer.

In an emergency situation short term solutions are never going to be good enough.

7th November 2021

Sleaze, corruption and COP26

Commentary on climate change progress in Glasgow

Former Tory Prime Minister, Sir John Major, has criticised the government of present British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for being “un-Conservative” and “politically corrupt” due to its recent attempts to change the rules governing standards for MPs in the House of Commons.  Major’s comments have been given prominence across all BBC News bulletins and been elevated to the status of insightful comment on this aberration within the Conservative Party.

The reality however is that Johnson and his cronies are not an aberration at all but are simply behaving, albeit a little more flagrantly, in the same way as all representatives of the ruling class Tory Party before them, and no doubt more after, should they be allowed to continue.

As a Prime Minister who presided over a period of significant sleaze, from 1992 – 1997, having inherited the Tory Party leadership from the politically corrupt Margaret Thatcher, Major is in no position to assume the moral high ground.

The current subject of the row, former MP Owen Paterson, was found by the House of Commons Standards Committee to have broken the rules by accepting over £100,000 a year from two companies who were paying him to lobby on their behalf.  In total Patterson is estimated to have netted £500,000 from the two companies, Lynn’s Country Foods and Randox Laboratories.

Nice work if you can get it for sure.  A care worker, nurse, or low paid worker claiming Universal Credit, would take 20 years to earn £500,000 if they managed to scrape together £25,000 a year.  Paterson was rightly taken to task by the standards committee for having his snout in the trough.  The response of the Johnson gang was to try and get him off by proposing to change the rules and lift the 30 day suspension imposed upon him.

That this decision was reversed in a screeching government u-turn, followed by Paterson resigning as an MP, was some justice but is hardly the whole story.  The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is yet to investigate the refurbishment of 10, Downing St, including the now infamous £850 per roll gold wallpaper, and how that was paid for.  Paterson is also implicated in his £8,000 per month retainer with Randox Laboratories, who went on to ‘win’ two Covid testing contracts, worth £480m, without any competitive tendering process.  

With the Tories it is never a case of one bad apple but the whole barrel being rotten.

Johnson’s arrogance was further underlined when preaching that the planet was at one minute to midnight in relation to the climate emergency at COP26, before taking a private jet from Glasgow to London to meet his former boss at the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, at the men’s only Garrick Club.

The protests in Glasgow and across the world this weekend, at the lack of meaningful action from world leaders on the climate crisis, was the most hopeful sign that pressure will continue beyond COP26 to deliver on easily made promises.

At present the rich countries of the capitalist West are still keen to equalise the requirement to take action, rather than recognising that they have benefitted from the burning of fossil fuels and need to do more to support those countries who they have exploited and had their development suppressed as a result.

The position of China, routinely characterised as the bad guy in relation to emissions, is a case in point. At present China is responsible for 28% of new global emissions as it embarks upon its programme of development and poverty eradication.  Looked at historically though Europe has contributed nearly 35% and the United States 25% to the stock of greenhouse gases, in order to build the wealth of a relatively small number of individuals, families and corporations.

It is little wonder that the world’s developing nations are calling upon those who have built their abundant wealth upon burning fossil fuels to shoulder more of the responsibility for tackling the crisis.  Imperialist exploitation and the destruction of resources in the developing world has left many nations ill equipped and under resourced to tackle the consequences of climate change.

Real change will come through a revolutionary shift in the ownership and control of those resources in the developing world, combined with the reversal of the grip of capitalism worldwide.  In the short term some immediate demands still need to be made. The financial obligations promised by Western nations at Paris in 2015 have yet to be met.  They could do so sooner rather than later.  The West could provide debt relief for countries struggling to adjust to the impact of climate change.  Trade deals could be structured to help benefit those nations striving to adapt to climate change.

As COP26 moves into week two the issue of adaptation will be high up the agenda.  United Nations General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, has pointed out that 4 billion people have suffered climate related disasters in the past decade alone.  Guterres has called for greater investment in adaptation measures to prevent vital infrastructure in developing countries from collapse, resulting in irreversible damage.

The hollow rhetoric of Boris Johnson and other leaders, keen to talk up their commitment but slow to take action, will not be enough address the realities of the climate emergency.  Mass popular action, street protests and boycotts of firms not committed to addressing the climate emergency, will need to be stepped up.  That is the only way that the current world leaders can be made to take meaningful action.  It may also be the first steps towards their removal, making way for real commitment to real and lasting change.

30th October 2021

Budget not adding up for the many

Sunak’s budget will not pay the bills for many families

The extent of Tory spin in relation to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget this week would be regarded as breathtaking if coming from any government other than one led by Boris Johnson.  After ten years of Tory driven austerity which has seen a financial squeeze upon local government, education, the NHS and accelerated the low skills, zero hours contract economy, we are now expected to believe that another Tory government will reverse this.

Sunak proclaimed, in true headline grabbing style, that the budget was one to herald “An economy fit for a new age of optimism”.  The impact of the pandemic upon the economy was judged by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to be a long-term hit to the UK of 2 per cent, rather than the 3 per cent it forecast in March.  This gave Sunak latitude to increase spending on public services and offer tax cuts in areas such as business rates.

Sunak based his budget on OBR assumptions that UK economic growth would be 6.5% this year and reach pre pandemic levels by the end of the year.  Sunak failed to mention that the rate of growth only appeared greater because the British economy had tanked further and faster than other G7 economies in the first place.  Still, the Tories have never been ones to allow the facts to get in the way of a good soundbite.

While Sunak made some adjustments to the tapered reduction of universal credit, the budget will still hit the poorest the hardest as they faced a serious cost of living crisis.  While the Tories have been spinning the impact of changes to Universal Credit as benefitting over 2 million low income families, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation offer a different assessment.

Katie Schmuecker, the deputy director of policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said,

“The reality is that millions of people who are unable to work or looking for work will not benefit from these changes. The chancellor’s decision to ignore them today as the cost of living rises risks deepening poverty among this group, who now have the lowest main rate of out-of-work support in real terms since around 1990.”

Even those set to benefit from the £1,000 a year increase Sunak claims his changes represent will see much of that wiped out in rising national insurance contributions, increased rent and energy bills, as well as escalating food costs.  Quite how much of the “new age of optimism” families in these circumstances will see is hardly even open to debate.  The reduced duty on sparkling wine and short haul domestic flights may also be of little benefit to those families struggling on the breadline.

In reality Sunak’s budget will barely go towards shoring up the damage caused to local communities, and the services upon which they depend, by the decade long Tory austerity drive.

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that nearly 4 million low-income households are behind on rent, bills or debt payments, up threefold since the pandemic hit.  A third of the 11.6 million working-age households in the UK earning £25,000 or less were found to be in arrears on their rent or mortgage, utility bills, council tax bills or personal debt repayments.

Even Tory Councils are warning of a surge in homelessness this winter as a result of the end to government support measures such as furlough and the eviction ban.  Just under three-quarters of Councils have reported an increase in homelessness acceptances over the past four months, while nearly two-thirds said people they had housed during the pandemic had recently slipped “back in the homelessness cycle”.

No matter how Sunak or any other Chancellor chooses to spin the figures or cook the books the reality remains that the problems are systemic.  Capitalism is predicated upon competition, exploitation and aggressive individualism.  The problems faced by those in poverty in 21st century Britain cannot be fixed by adjustments and tinkering with the system, they are as a result of the system itself.

Once the dust and the post Budget media spin settles the realities of life under the Tories will continue to come home to people.  Sustained and organised opposition is sadly lacking on the Opposition benches in Parliament.  Increased extra-Parliamentary action will be key to shifting the parameters of the debate and moving the Labour leadership to action.

The Budget has made it clear that the Tories are preparing themselves for an early General Election, with 2023 being the likely date, before the economy takes another nosedive.  Labour need to get themselves into shape well ahead of then.   

24th October 2021

Beyond Plan B

Chancellor Rishi Sunak – little help for working class expected in 27th October budget

The desire of the Tories to get the economy moving, a euphemism for keeping corporate profits high, continues to outstrip the priority they place upon saving lives.  This has been the pattern of the entire pandemic, as the recent Parliamentary report, Coronavirus: lessons learned to date, illustrates.

The report was published by the House of Commons and Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee, examining the initial UK response to the covid pandemic.

The 150-page Report contains 38 recommendations to the Government and public bodies, and draws on evidence from over 50 witnesses, as well as over 400 written submissions.

The Report was agreed unanimously by members of both Select Committees, which consist of 22 MPs from three political parties—Conservative, Labour and SNP.

In what has been widely seen as a damning indictment of the government’s handling of the pandemic the report highlighted some key areas of learning, namely that,

  • The forward-planning, agility and decisive organisation of the vaccine development and deployment effort will save millions of lives globally and should be a guide to future Government practice;
  • The delays in establishing an adequate test, trace and isolate system hampered efforts to understand and contain the outbreak and it failed in its stated purpose to avoid lockdowns;
  • The initial decision to delay a comprehensive lockdown—despite practice elsewhere in the world—reflected a fatalism about the spread of covid that should have been robustly challenged at the time;
  • Social care was not given sufficient priority in the early stages of the pandemic;
  • The experience of the covid pandemic underlines the need for an urgent and long term strategy to tackle health inequalities; and
  • The UK’s preparedness for a pandemic had been widely acclaimed in advance, but performed less well than many other countries in practice.

To date, deaths associated with the coronavirus in the UK stand at more than 150,000, placing the country in the Top 10 worldwide for total fatalities, according to World Health Organization data.

Penny Ward, an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor at King’s College London, has argued the report is self-congratulatory on the ‘success’ of the vaccine and of the foresight of the Vaccines Task Force, going on to state that,

“However,we have failed to ensure sufficient uptake of the vaccination among younger adults and teenagers and some higher risk communities,” she said, “most notably those of African heritage — which is at least one possible reason for the continued circulation of infection resulting in more than 700 hospitalisations and 100 deaths daily on average in the UK currently.”

A full Public Inquiry at some future date has been promised by the government but the assessment at this stage hardly reflects well upon their handling of the crisis.

It would appear however that the critique contained in the report is little more than water off a duck’s back when it comes to the Tories’ response to the rising hospitalisation and death count.

Widespread scientific advice suggests that the government should be implementing its so called Plan B, which would bring in greater enforcement of mask wearing, a return to working from home and an acceleration of the vaccine booster programme.  Instead, the government continues with its blasé assertion that simply ensuring vaccination coverage is increased will be enough.  This is the case for England, which is out of step with the rest of the UK, where stricter measures are already in place.

The Tories latest tactic to divert attention from their mismanagement of the pandemic is to talk up the ‘positives’ which Rishi Sunak is expected to announce in the budget this week.  English regions getting £6.9 billion for public transport has been the recent big announcement, one which will allegedly contribute to ‘levelling up’.

Cutting VAT on energy bills has been widely mooted, as has an increase in the National Living Wage, though not to the Living Wage Foundation’s recommendation of £9.50 an hour.  Assistance for a small proportion of homes to instal heat pumps to replace gas boilers has already been announced.

None of which will address the £20 a week cut in Universal Credit to the most vulnerable, tackle the ongoing inflation crisis which will add to the costs of basic goods for ordinary families, or address the ending of the furlough scheme, which could add thousands to the unemployment figures.

The failure to implement more robust public health measures added into this mix will mean pressure upon the NHS building and the secondary impacts of Covid, longer waiting lists and operation cancellations, growing even further.

As the twin crises in public health and living standards gather momentum one government advisor, Prof Peter Openshaw, has said he feared another “lockdown Christmas”.  For the hungry, the homeless and the hard to reach it may not just be a case of being locked down but continuing to be locked out of access to the benefits and privileges that living in the world’s fifth largest economy should bring.

The key factor of course is the distribution of wealth within that economy and the comfort, wealth and security that being one of the privileged elite can bring, compared to the harsh realities of life for those at the sharp end.

The government may yet be forced into a U-turn and realise late, at it often has throughout the pandemic, that it needs to change course.  Plan B may yet become a reality but more extensive and more revolutionary plans will be needed, way beyond the pandemic, if the working class are to benefit fully from the wealth they create.

18th October 2021

Direct action for climate change

Getting the climate change message across

The COP26 Climate Change summit meets in Glasgow in less than two weeks’ time and equivocation already seems to be the name of the game.  To date it is not clear whether or not leaders from China, India and Russia will turn up.  The leaders of the G20 counties, scheduled to meet in Italy ahead of the COP26 gathering, are responsible for 80% of global emissions and are key to the “keep 1.5C alive” strategy.  This aims to hold global temperature rises below 2C above pre-industrial levels, while working towards the 2015 Paris climate agreement of holding rises to no more than 1.5C.

The British government, as the host nation is expected to show leadership and manage the diplomacy necessary to make the summit a success.  On both counts the Tories appear to be failing dismally.  While the government has set out its ambition to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, aiming for net zero by 2050, the Cabinet is beset by division over the issue.

The strategy for tackling the heating of buildings, insulating homes, phasing out gas boilers, massively expanding offshore wind power and expanding the network of electric vehicle charging points has the backing of the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.  The key elements are another example of the Tories stealing ideas, slightly diluted, from Labour Manifestos under Jeremy Corbyn, when the need for a Green Deal was pushed to the top of the political agenda.

Not all Tories are signed up to the plan, most notably Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is allegedly refusing to come up with sufficient funding.  His recent speech to the Tory Party Conference saw the climate, net zero strategy and COP26 conspicuous by their absence, at a time when significant investment in the development of new fossil fuel free energy technology is vital.

There is also concern that the government emphasis upon conversion to hydrogen power, especially in the case of gas boilers, is not helpful as some hydrogen requires conversion by fossils fuels and the resulting carbon is then stored.  Green methods of manufacturing hydrogen, using renewable energy are available but are potentially less profitable. As such they are certainly not attractive to the fossil fuel lobby.

The nuclear lobby is also making its voice heard and plans by Rolls Royce to build 16 small nuclear reactors across the UK already appear to have both government backing and investment to the tune of over £200m.  This follows the withdrawal of Toshiba from a plant in Cumbria, Hitachi pulling out of building a plant in Anglesey and government refusal to work with China General Nuclear which has a 20% stake in Sizewell C, though the government are looking at ways it can remove it from the project.

While there are obvious dangers to reliance on nuclear energy it remains favoured by many green lobby groups.  However, the unplanned nature of the government’s approach to the energy sector overall, leaving it is the hands of the private sector, means that it is not only chaotic but profit driven, rather than being based upon the needs of the people as a whole.

Nuclear power plants are notoriously expensive to build and maintain, due to the high levels of safety required, which means either significant government subsidy upfront, more expensive energy for the consumer, or both.

Competition and the drive for greater profit is the mantra of the capitalist economy but its failings are significantly exposed when it comes to the energy sector.  Only a systematic, planned, socialist approach with a nationalised energy sector can bring about the level of control necessary, based on need not profit, to ensure the security and safety of energy supply.

The COP26 gathering will once again be faced with the contradictory challenge of getting a world full of predominantly capitalist economies to agree and co-operate towards reducing carbon emissions.  Getting them to stick to the 1.5C target and commit to finding ways to achieve that is the least the conference needs to deliver.

Over a decade ago the world’s wealthiest countries agreed to commit $100bn a year by 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change.  There is little evidence that this commitment has been met.

The scale of the British government’s commitment to getting any outcomes from COP26 has been the appointment of relatively minor Cabinet member, Alok Sharma, to be the co-ordinator.  Sharma has been doing the job part time until recently, combining it with his role as Business Secretary.   

COP26 does at least provide the opportunity for climate change activists to raise the issues and expose the hypocrisy of, for example, the Royal Family who preach climate change on one hand while using private jets and helicopters on the other.

Only a few weeks ago it was revealed that the royal household had used the royal prerogative to demand that the Queen’s Donside estates in Scotland be given an exemption from laws designed to help tackle climate change.

According to the Ecoexperts blog, the annual carbon footprint of the royal family in 2019 was a massive 3810 tonnes. The carbon footprint of the average person in the UK is just 10 tonnes a year.  In 2019, Prince Charles and his wife with their entourage took 17 flights on private jets, three scheduled flights and two trips on RAF helicopters, releasing 432 tonnes of carbon.

As ever, when it comes to action for change the rich and powerful have too many vested interests to be relied upon.  Only mass direct action will force change, as it always has done. Young people in particular are beginning to realise this.   More such action, directed against those profiting from the demise of the planet, not just the the average motorist, would be a positive step. If the likes of Prince Charles think that is uncomfortable, then we are heading in the right direction.

9th October 2021

Toon Army lose their heads over Saudi deal

Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi (PIF) pose for photographs inside St James’ Park having found Newcastle on the map

The long suffering fans of Newcastle United have finally been freed from the dead hand of sports tycoon, Mike Ashley, whose lack of ambition has been like a slow suffocation, squeezing the breath out of a once vibrant, lively club.  The glee with which the takeover by the Saudi led Public Investment Fund (PIF) consortium has been greeted is akin to the glory days of Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson, when the team rode high in the league and played eye catching football, the envy of many.

Expectations are that journeyman manager Steve Bruce will be sacked, an appropriate high flying replacement will be installed and magic will once again be in the air at St. James’ Park.  Suited executives who previously struggled to find Newcastle on a map now talk of their love for the city, its unique character, the special bond with the fans.  Even local legend, Alan Shearer, waxed lyrical about the fans now having their club back, though unless they are stakeholders in PIF, 80% owned by the Saudi dictatorship, that notion is a little fanciful.

The Premier League have had to engage in some fancy diplomatic footwork to approve the deal.  Not least has been turning a blind eye to the scale of the Saudi stake in PIF, being satisfied with assurances that the Saudi regime will play no part in the running of the club.  With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the Chair of PIF, other Saudi ministers being on the board and the Saudi regime the major stakeholder, the Premier League is either being naïve or disingenuous.

The fact that the Saudis have agreed to pull the plug on Middle Eastern pirate TV stations, which were illegally airing Premier League product may have been something of a sweetener too.

The Saudi deal is not the only dubious football purchase in recent years or the only example that money dictates the play on the international football stage.  Roman Abramovich, may have been a knight in shining armour to many Chelsea fans, but less than a hero to many overworked and underpaid Russians.

The oil rich Arab dictatorships have been moving into football in a big way recently.  The Abu Dhabi royal family takeover of Manchester City in 2008 set the trend.  Qatar will host the first desert based World Cup in 2022, in a nation with no history or tradition in the game.  To prove their bona fides the Qataris did proceed to buy Paris St. Germain, to show that they have the interest of the sport at heart!

The Saudi deal with Newcastle United is by no means the only questionable issue of ownership in the Premier League.  However, it does outstrip the others in the open engagement of members of the ruling dictatorship being so closely involved and the extent of their collusion in other dubious practices with the British government.

It is estimated by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) that more than £20 billion worth of arms have been sold to the Saudis by Britain since the bombing campaign against Yemen, started in 2015, a conflict which has seen 150,000 lose their lives and which the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Beheadings, 90 last year alone, and public floggings continue to be the order of the day in Saudi Arabia.  The rights of women are severely restricted and political opposition silenced.  Would a company 80% owned and controlled by Kim Jong Un, with a promise that the North Korean government would not directly interfere in the day to day running of the operation, have passed the Premier League’s fit and proper owner test? Unlikely, unless Kim were to spend more time cavorting with the British Royal Family and buying UK manufactured weaponry!

The only small positive to emerge from the sorry farrago is that even the BBC have had to acknowledge that the Saudis may not be squeaky clean on human rights, though the British government‘s role in propping up the dictatorship with billions in arms deals somehow never gets mentioned.

As a financial operation the Premier League is unequalled in world football.  As an ethical proposition it is sinking ever deeper into a mire of its own making.  The extent to which football as an industry is bound to the world of international finance capital continues to grow.  The recently mooted European Super League failed to materialise this time but the idea in some way, shape or form will be back.  

The Toon Army, with the long held hope of success in their grasp, will only lose their heads in the metaphorical sense.  Those opposed to the Saudi regime are in danger of losing their lives for real for not complying with an Islamic dictatorship. 

It is an irony that Premier League footballers are berated when they are not deemed to be proper role models for young people, or are criticised as being overpaid when others struggle to make ends meet.  It may be that it is time to apply more rigorous standards across the Premier League as a whole.  The fit and proper persons test for owners and directors has clearly failed in the case of PIF.

Amnesty International have stated recently of the Newcastle United deal, it risks making the Premier League, “a patsy of those who want to use the glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral, in breach of international law and at odds with the values of the global footballing community.”

It is a stinging indictment that the once beautiful game which gave hope and pride to working class communities, is increasingly the plaything of the super-rich.    The rules desperately need to change.

6th October 2021

Boris beavers away but doesn’t give a damn

Johnson hails the Party faithful

On the day that the temporary uplift in Universal Credit was snatched away from the poorest families in the country, the well-heeled delegates to the Tory Party conference settled in to hear the Leader’s speech in Manchester.  As usual Boris Johnson was high on rhetoric and low on actual practicalities.  Johnson’s speech was little more than an opportunity to jolly along the faithful.

He spoke of re-wilding the countryside, re-introducing otters, seeing an expansion of the beaver population, “Build back beaver, that’s what I say!” proclaimed Johnson to hearty guffaws.  It is unlikely that those families contemplating their next, significantly higher, energy bill, or whether they have enough cash to cover the kid’s dinner money for the week, were either listening or laughing along.

For a government which has renamed the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), meaningless phrases come ready made.  Whether this change means that local government has been written even further out of the script, or has suddenly become synonymous with levelling up remains to be seen, though the Tory track record to date would certainly suggest the former.

Johnson took no responsibility for the gross mishandling of the pandemic, with Britain still notching the highest numbers of deaths in Europe, in spite of the ongoing reluctance of the BBC to report the fact.  The mishandling of Brexit negotiations and the debacle of a shortage of labour in the farming industry and the haulage sector, resulting in gaps in food and fuel supplies, were not issues Johnson felt inclined to address.  

The crisis in policing, brought to a head by the Sarah Everard case did not merit a mention, nor did the lack of affordable social housing or the real difficulties in saving for a deposit faced by young people trying to get a foot on the housing ladder.

Johnson did claim that the Tories wanted to distribute wealth and opportunity more evenly across the UK.  Regional disparities do play a part and make a difference to the quality of life for many communities.  The real re-distribution of wealth however is not one between regions but between classes.  Part of the so-called levelling up agenda of the Tories is to divert attention away from class distinctions and focus upon regional ones.

Perversely, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn must take some credit for this.  The slogan ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ was clearly gaining sufficient traction to worry the political establishment and the thousands attending Corbyn rallies in the period from 2015 was cause for concern.  The right wing in the Labour Party, incapable of seeing the opportunity for change unfolding before them, concentrated their energies on supporting the conspiracy to undermine Corbyn, playing directly into the Tories’ hands.

While the Labour right have searched in vain to find the key to ‘electability’ the Tories have simply commandeered Corbyn’s appeal for change and diluted it to be rebranded as ‘levelling up’.  Superficially it sounds fair, reasonable and desirable.  Who could argue against being levelled up?

The reality is, as usual, that this is simply sleight of hand on the part of the Tories.  Any amount of levelling up on a regional basis will do nothing to change the disparities endemic to capitalism because of its class nature.  The Tories are also aware that Labour under Starmer will not attack them on the grounds of class ownership of the means of production because they do not have the philosophical acumen to tackle the issue head on.

So, for the time being, Johnson gets away with it.  However, the reality of levelling up being little more than shallow rhetoric will increasingly hit home, as people realise that opportunity is not knocking on their door, that the rich continue to benefit disproportionately under the Tories, that the social care system will not be fixed by an adjustment to national insurance rates and that undermining local government will not help meet the needs of local communities.

The mass action seen outside the Tory Party conference; the opposition to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (2021) which criminalises activity deemed ‘serious annoyance’; the ongoing protests organised through the People’s Assembly, will all be vital to building opposition to the Tories and exposing their lies. 

This train is leaving the station, the Labour leadership need to get on board.

2nd October 2021

Changing values, building confidence

Reclaim the streets protesters demand action

Lack of confidence in the police is nothing new.  As the enforcement arm of the state the police have a long history of intervention in industrial disputes, violence against pickets and covering up their actions from scrutiny.  The Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 is the most significant recent example, the actions of the police against miners on a picket line at Orgreave the most flagrant example of their violation of human rights.

The failure of the police to protect football fans in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 and the subsequent lengths to which the police went to cover up their ineptitude, with falsified evidence statements and false accusations, has taken decades to be fully uncovered.

The murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, which resulted in the MacPherson Inquiry which found the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, has still not seen the perpetrators brought to justice.  The failure of the police to take the initial investigation seriously meant vital time and evidence, which could have led to convictions, was lost.

The level of violence and intimidation that black communities across Britain suffer at the hands of the police has long been a factor in the relationship between those communities and the police being one of mistrust.

The recent conviction of a serving Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens, for the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, has re-activated the discussion about trust in the police, in particular in relation to violence against women.

Couzens is clearly a particularly malign and disturbed individual but the fact that he could not only survive but prosper within the police forces for which he worked points to a deeper, more intractable cultural issue which needs to be addressed.  That Couzens was known ‘jokingly’ as ‘the rapist’ amongst colleagues is bad enough.  That he was implicated in at least two incidences of indecent exposure is hard to believe.  That, in spite of this, he went on to secure a position as an armed officer with the Metropolitan Police is a scandal.

Couzens’ rise through the ranks is symptomatic of the institutional failings of a police force where there is widespread acceptance of sexism and, worse still misogyny, as banter.  The problem however, goes much deeper.  As Anthea Sully, CEO of White Ribbon UK has pointed out,

“86% of women have been harassed in public places, 9 in 10 girls of school age have experienced sexist name calling or sent explicit videos and 1 in 2 women have experienced harassment in the workplace.  1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and every year in the UK 120 -150 women are killed by men.  This violence, coupled with women’s fear of men’s violence significantly reduces women’s freedom to live the lives they want to lead.”

The growing prominence of women in the fields of sport, the arts and politics all helps to change wider perceptions of women’s capability and achievements.  Women visibly being in important and challenging roles are vital and necessary role models for girls but also for boys, many stillcurrently raised on the assumption that it is men who will, and should, do the most important jobs.

Conversely the roles in which women are prominent as the majority workforce, often in the areas of caring, nursing and teaching, should be as valued as any professions in which men currently predominate.

The changes required go deep into the assumptions of roles in family structures and at every level of the education system, including the Early Years.  They require the challenge to long held institutional throwbacks to women as property, to the concept of a family ‘breadwinner’, to the role of both parents in raising children and how that is accommodated by employers and not seen as an impediment to career advancement.

 It requires a change to the teaching of history and bringing to the fore the invisible women whose achievements have been written out of the narrative of society’s progress.

Such actions challenge the very edifice upon which the capitalist system has evolved and the structures which have developed to support that system, denying women their voices as equal citizens.

None of this will bring back Sarah Everard or the many other women who have suffered a similar fate.  It may however accelerate the process of valuing women more highly and reducing the possibility of such acts occurring.

In the short term, reform of the police force and how it deals with crimes of domestic violence and rape will be necessary.  This is a vital first step towards women simply feeling safe in their own homes and their own communities.  It is a vital step towards women being empowered to speak up and know they will be taken seriously.

The longer term eradication of violence against women is inextricably bound up in the ideology, values and assumptions upon which the British state is based, all of which are long overdue for revolutionary change.

29th September 2021

Labour reduces its Corbyn footprint

Kier Starmer – seeking the road ahead

The right wing in the Labour Party have an obsession with keeping out the Left.  Nothing is worse for them than the party having a left wing leader.  They have staunch allies in the political establishment, print media and the BBC, who will always conspire to undermine a leader whose ideas even remotely threaten the status quo. 

Such leaders that Labour have had of this ilk, Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn being the entire subset in the modern era, have been activists.  Michael Foot was renowned as a left wing firebrand, anti-nuclear activist and internationalist.  Jeremy Corbyn has spent a lifetime on the backbenches and championed a range of international causes, not least that of Palestine, worker’s rights, pensioners rights and has been a lifelong opponent of racism in any form.

Idealogues of the Right are acceptable to the British political establishment but never idealogues of the Left.  Those modern Labour leaders who have made it to No.10, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have been safe pairs of hands, safe in their management of capitalism, while the real party of the ruling class, the Conservative Party, prepare for their next assault on working class jobs and living conditions.

There are no prizes for guessing which camp current Labour leader, Kier Starmer, falls into.  His first live Labour conference this week, at a time when the Tories lurch from one crisis to another, has seen Starmer stagger from one controversy to another.  The rot started even before the conference, with the publication of his 35 page tract, The Road Ahead, in which Starmer essentially makes the case for Labour as a safe pair of hands for capitalism and pleads to be seen as electable.

This is not leadership, this is merely surrender to perceived popular opinion.

The motion agreed by a small margin at conference, to change the way in which the leader is elected, is a classic example of the Labour leadership manipulating the rule book in an attempt to keep out the Left.  The one member one vote position was originally introduced in 1993 for exactly the same reason. Introduced under Labour leader, John Smith, one member one vote was seen as the guarantee that the so-called union barons would never be in a position to foist a Left wing leader upon the Labour Party again.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, and subsequent challenge to the establishment at the 2017 General Election, changed all of that.  A radical had slipped through the net and the loophole had to be closed.  Starmer has effectively done the bidding of the establishment.

 It is little wonder that Jeremy Corbyn has written this week that,

“So far this week, Labour’s leaders have shown they want to prop up, not challenge…wealth and power.”

In his conference speech this afternoon (29th September) Kier Starmer made a lot of the right noises about the NHS, education policy, investment in skills and increasing spend on new research and technologies to 3% of national income.  Starmer also warned that public finances “will need serious repair work” and stressed that Labour will run a strong economy.  That would be a strong capitalist economy, not one moving toward socialism.

The Green New Deal which would cut “the substantial majority of emissions this decade” to tackle the “existential threat” of climate change, is perhaps the one clear commitment which parallels policy under Jeremy Corbyn, although the press continue to insist it is a cut and paste from Joe Biden.

However, there was nothing in Starmer’s speech to indicate an independent foreign policy for Britain, dependence on the US Trident missile system and NATO appears to be a given. There was nothing to hint at solidarity with those in struggle or suffering through the migrant crisis.  There was no hint of repealing the right to buy policy, to stem the crisis in council housing.  There was no commitment to reverse anti-union legislation and improve worker’s rights.  There was no hint of a wealth tax or a commitment to tackle tax dodging and offshore money laundering.

In short, Starmer’s speech was not a call to challenge the underlying assumptions and values of a society which functions to maintain status and privilege for the few.  It was a plea to be elected, a signal to the political establishment that the stewardship of capital will remain safe in Labour’s hands.

The road ahead however may have more twists, turns bumps and potholes than Starmer appreciates.

19th September 2021

Gunboat diplomacy back in vogue

Nuclear powered submarines for Australia up the stakes

The priorities of the British ruling class and its Tory government have been reinforced in several ways this week, from the international stage to the very local impact of their attacks upon the working class.   

With characteristic bombast and bluster Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, along with his US and Australian partners in crime, Joe Biden and Scott Morrison, announced the formation of the AUKUS, (Australia, UK, US) alliance aimed at containing the perceived Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific.

Not that China was mentioned as any part of the reasoning for the so called ‘defence pact’ but given the desire of the US in particular to thwart the drive of the Chinese towards becoming the world’s biggest economy, China was very much the elephant in the virtual room.

It is easy to imagine the furore which would break out in the British press if the Chinese were to enter into a defence pact with the French and Germans in order to police the North Sea to counter the threat posed by Trident nuclear submarines.  Yet the North Sea is as close to China as the Indo-Pacific is to Britain.

The difference is of course that the Chinese do not play an imperialist role or see themselves as being the enforcers of order in parts of the globe way outside of their land or territorial waters. While the frontiers of the former British Empire have shrunk significantly in geographical terms over the past century the influence of British corporations, banks and military industrial complex remain significant.  The Tories’ articulation of Global Britain, in their recent defence review, gave expression to the ongoing desire of the British ruling class to retain the capability to intervene whenever and wherever it saw these ‘interests’ threatened.

The Australians will get a fleet of nuclear powered submarines from the deal fuelled by enriched uranium, largely awarding more contracts to US military suppliers, and opening the door to Australia being able to develop nuclear weapons capability.  The fact that the submarines will be nuclear powered is a breach of existing international non-proliferation treaties.  The intervention also subverts a £35 billion deal which was as good as signed by France with the Australians to supply upgraded, although not nuclear powered, submarine capability.

This latest setback in the inter-imperialist rivalry dance has resulted in the French recalling their US and Australian ambassadors for ’talks’.

There can be little doubt that the US element of AUKUS will be calling the shots, with the AUK as junior partners in what is clearly a US power grab to extend its regional influence and undermine continued Chinese economic expansion.

In Britain the Tories, as ever, are content to tag along deluding themselves that if any shooting starts, they will have some influence.  However, like the illusory deterrent capability of the Trident nuclear fleet, it will be American, not British, fingers on the buttons.   

On the domestic front the Tories remain shameless in their anti-working class actions by insisting that the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit, brought in to see the poorest families cope with the impact of the pandemic, will be terminated on the 6th October.  With energy prices escalating, infections rising and deaths from Covid still being a reality of life in many working class communities, the £20 cut is classic Tory penny pinching in the extreme.  The cost of continuation would certainly be less than maintaining aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific and be of more benefit to working class communities.

The Tories press on though with their latest attempt to cover up their failings in the handling of the pandemic by promising vaccines to 12 – 15 year olds as well as offering booster jabs to the over 50’s and those with underlying vulnerable conditions.   On both counts, other than for the most vulnerable, the added protection afforded by these jabs will be negligible, according to most scientific evidence, compared to the impact of getting vaccines to parts of the world where vast swathes of the population have not been vaccinated at all.

A policy which prioritised vaccines to the Indo-Pacific, rather than warships and nuclear powered submarines, would give the concept of Global Britain an altogether different spin.  Unfortunately, it is not one consistent with Tory thinking.

As if all of that were not enough Boris Johnson’s Cabinet re-shuffle consolidated the Tories’ rightward shift, with the appointment of Liz Truss as Foreign Secretary being the most obvious example, closely followed by the elevation of Nadine Dorries to Culture Secretary.

It would be good to think that any Tory re-shuffle would merely be a case of re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as the obvious failings of the government are ruthlessly exposed by the Opposition.  Sadly, the extent of the magic worked by Kier Starmer upon the Labour Party is to shroud it in a cloak of invisibility.  There is no indication that Starmer will come up with any new tricks as Labour Party Conference approaches.  We will see what is revealed….

The leopard learns no lessons

11th September 2021

MI5 Director General, Ken McCallum

Ken McCallum, bespectacled Director General of MI5, looks like a man more likely to advise first time buyers to increase their deposit if they want to secure a mortgage, than a man who heads up Britain’s spook network.  It may be that the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is apt here.  Presumably McCallum has done whatever it takes to qualify as the country’s chief spook and his banker’s demeanour is just a user friendly façade.  Either that or running the nation’s spy network and managing the overwhelming housing debt of young people have more in common than we realise.

McCallum has emerged from MI5 HQ, on the banks of the Thames, to grace the news channels with his two pennyworth on the likely consequences of the retreat from Afghanistan.  The chief spook claims that Islamic extremists had been “hardened and emboldened” by the fall of Kabul, adding that,

“Overnight, you can have a psychological boost, a morale boost, to extremists already here, or in other countries.” 

McCallum also claimed that 31 “late-stage attack” plots had been disrupted in Britain over the last four years. Although he did not explicitly link these actions to the position in Afghanistan, the fact of the UK’s overseas interference across the Middle East has clearly made Britain a target for Islamic extremists.

McCallum went on to warn that,

“Even if the Taliban is absolutely in good faith about wanting to prevent terrorism being exported from Afghanistan, that will be a difficult task to accomplish. Afghanistan is not an easy country to govern and within which to ensure perfect security.”

The US led Western retreat is certainly evidence of that being the case and McCallum took the opportunity to suggest that intelligence agencies needed to plan for an increase in the Islamist threat. 

Typically, what McCallum failed to offer was any suggestion as to how the threat could be averted or any analysis as to why the British state is in the front line of threats from Islamic terrorists.  The same lack of insight is true of the political establishment in the United States, where much of the debate and emphasis around the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is focussed upon the response to those events, rather than any analysis as to why they happened in the first place.

Such an analysis does not play to the 9/11 narrative of outrage that the United States ‘homeland’ could be threatened in any way, or that US imperialist aggression could be culpable for such an outcome.  The targeting and killing of innocent civilians is never justifiable and 9/11 is clearly a heinous act on that basis. 

However, the many and varied massacres carried out in the name of ‘freedom’, as defined by Western imperialism, account for millions slaughtered in order to enrich a few, through slave trading, the exploitation of mineral resources, the struggle to control supplies of oil, to name but a few instances.  The CIA backed coup d’etat in Chile, took place on 11th September 1973, an anniversary imperialism is not so quick to remember.

Having failed miserably in Afghanistan, and more widely in the Middle East, with a boots on the ground approach, it would be sensible for the NATO nations to re-evaluate their approach.  So far their strategy has done little to win friends or influence anyone, other than the few who have stood to gain by being the handmaiden’s of imperialism, and apologists for the rape of their country’s resources.

Initial indications from British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, suggest that the wrong conclusions may already have been drawn.  The Global Britain posture outlined by Boris Johnson earlier in the year does not allow for a reduction in Britain’s nuclear weapons capability.  It does not allow for a reduction in the overseas deployment of British troops.  It does not allow for an end to the financing of proxy insurgents to undermine governments deemed ‘unsuitable’ by the West, as happened in Afghanistan 40 years ago and more recently in Syria.  It does not allow for withdrawal from NATO and a non-aligned foreign policy, based upon non-interference and the right of nations to self determination.  

None of these things are on the radar of the Tories.  Instead, Ben Wallace spent part of this week overseeing one of the first flights of the remotely piloted Protector large drone, capable of bearing missiles.  When Wallace was asked if he was prepared to consider drone strikes in Afghanistan, he responded,

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect citizens’ lives and our interests and allies when we’re called upon to do so.”

On the presumption that Wallace does not apply this philosophy exclusively to Afghanistan he is essentially giving British imperialism carte blanche to launch armed drone strikes wherever “our interest and allies” are deemed to be under threat.  Wallace in fact underlined this position by stating that,

“One of the options is to deploy anywhere in the world where there is an imminent threat to life, British life or our allies, where international law enables us to take action.”

Wallace has ordered 16 Protector drones at a cost of £260m, with a view to them being operational by 2023.  The drones are capable of being loaded with up to 16 missiles with an operating range of 1,250 miles when armed.

Boots on the ground and service personnel in bodybags may no longer be seen to be acceptable but the imperialist leopard is not changing its spots.  The lessons of 9/11 and the retreat from the unwinnable war in Afghanistan need to be re-assessed in the interests of the people, not the few who stand to profit from continued occupation and exploitation.

5th September 2021

Care – the age old issue

Care for the elderly – underpaid and undervalued

One of the few things British governments have been adept at over the past two decades is finding ways to dodge addressing the crisis in social care.  The issues in the social care system are hardly sudden or unpredictable.  Modelling for an ageing population and the consequences that follow has been going on for some time. 

The median age of a population is an index that divides the population into two equal groups: half of the population is older than the median age and the other half younger.   In 1950 the median age in the United Kingdom stood at 34.9 years.  In 2015, the median age of the United Kingdom’s population was 40 years.  The median age of the population is expected to reach 44.5 years by 2050.

By this projection, over 50% of the UK population will be middle aged or elderly be the middle of the century.  While advances in medical science have contributed significantly to the increase in average life expectancy across the population, the numbers who are able to live well into advanced old age, without any care intervention, remains limited.  

While the case for investment has been staring politicians in the face for some time, the realities for the care sector have been ones of outsourced services, underpaid staff and squeezed local authority budgets. 

In their report, Health and Care of Older People in England (2019), Age UK indicated that,

“Most people experience the majority of years spent living with poor health after the age of 65, and can, on average, expect to spend around half of their later years living with a life-limiting health condition or disability. There is significant regional disparity between areas with the highest and lowest levels of disability-free life expectancy at 65, with over 2 year’s difference for men and 2 and a half years for women.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a huge drop in expenditure on adult social care between 2010 and 2015, with spend virtually flatlining since then. Local authority spending on care per person for people aged 65 and over in England is estimated to have fallen by 24 per cent between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

It is no coincidence that the politics of austerity has coincided so neatly with the rapid decline in social care spending.  The Tories consciously shifted the burden of paying off the bankers gambling debts, following the 2008 financial crash, onto local authorities resulting in massive service cuts.  For most Councils social care constitutes around two thirds of the annual budget, so inevitably this sector was hit hard.

In many areas care homes have fallen victim to the Tory penchant for privatising key areas of the public sector, making care provision subject to the vagaries of the market and the need for providers to make a profit.  The pandemic has exposed the dangers of caring as a choice of work, given the proximity of contact with many who are the most clinically vulnerable, and the paucity of pay in the sector, as private companies seek to maximise their profits.

The fact is that care homes are facing a recruitment crisis which could result in 170,000 vacancies by the end of the year.  Part of the reason for this is that work is better paid elsewhere.  Amazon’s new warehouse in Nottinghamshire for example is paying £13.50 an hour, 30% higher than the going rate locally for care home staff, as well as a £1,000 joining bonus.  That is quite a leap from £9.30 an hour when calculating the cost of food, rent and school uniforms. 

There is a sad irony in the fact that a transnational corporation, which has benefitted by billions from the pandemic while paying little in taxes back into the public purse, can effectively be undermining those who have had to risk so much to provide essential care to the most vulnerable.

The long awaited Tory social care plan may be revealed this week.  It is unlikely that the government will turn its sights upon the rich, the tax dodgers and the profiteers from the pandemic, to dig deep in order to fund the ongoing need for better quality social care.  Rumours of a 2% increase in national insurance contributions have been leaked, hitting those on low incomes with an effective tax increase.

This is likely to be followed by Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announcing a break in the pledge to maintain the so called ‘triple lock’ for the rise in the state pension; an annual uprate of 2.5%, annual inflation or earnings, whichever is the highest.  The first policy is likely to hit the youngest wage earners, the second will hit the most vulnerable pensioners.  A classic divide and rule tactic by the Tories, aimed at diverting both young and old members of the community away from the fact that they are both victims of a system which looks after the rich, at the expense of the poor.

Social care, like access to NHS treatment, should be free at the point of use.  It should not be a lottery according to the level of local funding, it should not be a source of profit for the private sector.  The only way to really address the crisis in social care is to address the underlying ethos of society; is it driven by the need to make profit, or is it driven by the needs of its people?

The answer under capitalism is quite clear, competition and the profit motive rule above all else, with the needs of people coming a poor second.   Under socialism the need to make profit is not eradicated, incentives remain necessary, but any surplus does not go into the pockets of billionaires to fund vanity projects of space exploration, it goes to meet people’s needs.  

The difference in emphasis is quite fundamental and is the difference between a future which values people and one which continues to put profit above all else.

30th August 2021

More war, more terror

Afghan refugees await evacuation

The 9/11 attacks which shook the United States in 2001 were swiftly followed by President George W Bush’s announcement of a ‘war on terror’ in response to those attacks.  In his speech to Congress on 20th September 2001 Bush stated,

“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Five days later Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, announced that the anti-terror campaign would be Operation Enduring Freedom, claiming that it would take years to fight.  

The US response was clearly designed to reinforce the imperialist superpower’s assumption that it had carte blanche to pursue action across the globe, wherever its ‘interests’ were deemed to be under threat.  Air strikes in October 2001 in Afghanistan were quickly followed by the deployment of ground forces by the US and its NATO allies.  By December the final Taliban stronghold of Kandahar had fallen and the twenty year long occupation by the US led coalition was underway.

NATO leaders are keen to stress that the occupation was worth it, that getting rid of the Taliban in 2001 put an end to terrorist attacks being launched from Afghan soil and gave breathing space for the development of democracy in Afghanistan.  Much noise is generated about the extent to which the US occupation allowed for the development of freedom for women in Afghanistan, allowing them to access education, training and employment.

As British troops finally departed Kabul over the weekend British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said it was,

“…a moment to reflect on everything we have sacrificed and everything we have achieved in the last two decades.  Twenty years ago, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the first British soldier set foot on Afghan soil aiming to create a brighter future for the country and all its people.  The nature of our engagement in Afghanistan may have changed, but our goals for the country have not.”

Nearly 500 British service personnel have sacrificed their lives to maintain an imperialist grip on Afghanistan.  After twenty years in defence of a puppet regime, outside intervention has achieved the return of the Taliban.

The brighter future for Afghanistan was already being developed by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), in power from 1978 until 1992, when the country was plunged into civil war because the West, through the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, armed Islamic insurgents to do everything in their power to prevent the Afghan people embarking on a road to socialism.   

That road emphasised equality for women, including the right to education, training and employment, all of which were snatched away when the Taliban assumed power in 1996.  Quite how the nature of the West’s engagement will change from 2021 onwards is not yet clear but in the past 40 years it has moved from arming insurgents, to undermining a popular government, watching the country descend into civil war, occupation to sustain a puppet administration, troop withdrawal, chaos and the return of fundamentalist Islam.

To suggest that Western intervention has been a disaster for the Afghan people would be an understatement.

The imperialist ‘war on terror’ did not end with Afghanistan.   In March 2003 the US and NATO allies invaded Iraq, on the dodgy intelligence pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  Presumably these alleged weapons would be targeted against the West, hence the pretext for invasion.  The fact that the West had encouraged and armed Saddam in his eight year long war with Iran from 1980-1988, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, appears to have been a mere footnote for Western hawks, keen to re-establish control over the oil rich Iraqi economy.

In 2011 NATO coalition air strikes against Libya precipitated the fall of the Qaddafi government and accelerated the civil war in that country.  Protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in 2011 escalated into a full scale war of intervention as the US and UK provided logistical support and weaponry to opposition groups. US and UK missiles have been instrumental in supporting the Saudi led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen resulting in over 100,000 dead since 2015.

Western destabilisation of the region facilitated the Islamic State group to gain control of large areas of Iraq and Syria for a period from 2015 – 2019, effectively brought to an end when the Syrians invited Russian support to repel those intervening in Syria.

The ongoing encroachment of the Israeli state upon land recognised by the international community as being part of Palestine, along with the ongoing suppression of the rights of the Palestinian people, the blockade of Gaza and a regime of daily terror, are actions facilitated or not actively opposed by the West.

To suggest that Western intervention has been a disaster for the people of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Palestine, would be an understatement.

As the West extricates its forces from the disaster of Afghanistan the question being asked by NATO apologists is, did intervention make any difference?  The answer to that question must be decisively in the affirmative.  Western intervention in Afghanistan over the past forty years has definitely undermined progressive regimes, it has definitely destabilised the Middle East, definitely fuelled the rise of al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic State.

As the Taliban struggle to reassert control in the face of the imperialist retreat, the ongoing battle for Afghanistan will be joined with Islamic State in Khorasan, already responsible for the murder of civilians at Kabul airport as well as the killing of US troops.  In effect the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has every chance of leaving behind a bloodbath.  

Imperialist intervention has made its mark on the region; the so called ‘war on terror’ has in effect resulted in more war, more terror.  Boris Johnson may speak glibly about a ‘brighter future’ for the Afghan people but imperialist action over the past forty years has been explicitly designed to snuff that out, as it has for people’s across the Middle East.

For those looking to support the cause of peace and progress across the region opposition to war, foreign intervention and the right of nations to self determination must be the guiding principles.  The humanitarian disaster of Afghanistan must be addressed, the rights of the Palestinian people must be addressed, the ongoing refugee crisis as a result of intervention in Syria must be addressed and mass united action must be built to demand an end to imperialist wars of intervention.

21st August 2021

People’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine

Premier League football managers have this week been bemoaning the fact that not enough of their players are getting COVID 19 vaccinations.  This could be seen by cynics as getting their excuses in early ahead of a bad run of results but it is symptomatic of a deeper issue.

Premier League footballers are generally in the under 30 years old age group, the very cohort which appear to be more prone to vaccine hesitancy due to the social media perpetuation of a variety of conspiracy theories.  This is by no means a phenomenon confined to Britain or, for that matter, overpaid millionaires on the sports field.  Anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protests have been an ongoing feature of French weekends for some time now.  Australia is the latest nation to report protests in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Such protests are a luxury only afforded to the richer nations of the West who, in their drive for maximum vaccination, have effectively been hoarding vaccines and denying access to developing nations.

Over the coming weeks 10 million vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, originating from the Aspen factory in South Africa, will be exported to Europe.  The European Union, with a population of 440 million people has administered nearly 500 million vaccines.  Roughly 50% of European adult populations have been fully vaccinated.   

Compare this to the situation across Africa.  With a population of 1.3 billion across the continent only an estimated 1.8% of the population have been fully vaccinated.  No prizes for guessing at which end of the social spectrum that level of vaccination has been concentrated.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a target for September that 10% of citizens should be vaccinated.  Of the 54 countries in Africa, it is estimated that 47 will miss even that modest goal.  Through the international Covax programme, set up by the WHO to minimise inequities in vaccine distribution, the West promised funding to deliver 700 million vaccines to Africa by the end of the year.  So far only 60 million have been secured.

Political intervention by African leaders is beginning to shift the balance slightly.  South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, threatened to ban all exports of vaccines from South Africa until the EU agreed that all Johnson & Johnson vaccines produced in Africa, stay in Africa.  Having come through the realities of political apartheid in South Africa, Ramaphosa is now in the forefront of the struggle against vaccine apartheid.

Vaccine hoarding in the West means that African leaders, through the African Union, are now turning to China for supplies, a deal for 200 million vaccines being imminent.  The West will no doubt cry foul and claim that this is further evidence of the Chinese trying to extend their influence in the developing world.  Any spare capacity in the vaccination programme in Cuba will no doubt be offered to those countries who are most in need, again likely to invite the vitriol of the West.  Support provided across the developing world by the Cuban Henry Reeves Medical Brigades is already demonised by the West as a form of infiltration.

It is no coincidence that, in both instances, the countries most likely to share the benefits of their research and development programmes are coming from a different economic and ethical base to the countries in the West.   To further put that contrast in context the United States has 1.96 billion additional vaccine doses, the EU 1bn extra shots and Canada a surplus 191 million.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is campaigning for pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge free from patents, in order for vaccines to be more widely produced.  Under the slogan “We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine”, the campaign is aiming to transform how vaccines are produced and distributed.  More information is available here

That this campaign runs directly counter to the profit generating ethos of the Big Pharma companies is self evident.  The reality remains however that the biggest danger to defeating COVID is the potential for rapid spread amongst unvaccinated populations and new mutations arising.  COVID 19 is no respecter of corporate profits and the campaign to break the grip of Big Pharma, in this area in particular, is a matter of urgency.

As WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said on many occasions, no one is safe anywhere, until everyone is safe everywhere.  US President Joe Biden’s Chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, made clear this month that,

“If you allow the virus to freely circulate and not try to stop it, sooner or later, there is a likelihood that you’ll get another (worse) variant that could…be more problematic than the Delta.”

Four billion COVID 19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide of which 90% have gone to those in the wealthy West, while less than 1% of people in the Global South are vaccinated. 

Meanwhile the debate in Britain and the rest of the capitalist world remains focussed upon which younger age groups can be vaccinated and which older age groups should receive booster vaccines.  This can only be described as fiddling while Rome burns, on an epic scale.

It is no great leap to see that the failure of capitalism to address the needs of the people with regard to their health and wellbeing is equally true when it comes to their need for peace, jobs and decent housing for much of the world’s population.  More and more people are beginning to join the dots and recognise that the failures exposed by the COVID pandemic are systemic failures of capitalism and require a radical, revolutionary response. 

The future depends upon even greater numbers coming to that same realisation.

14th August 2021

Afghanistan – darkness falling

The Western media are not using the words defeat or retreat when reporting on the withdrawal of US and British troops from Afghanistan but it is hard to characterise the present situation in any other way.

Nowhere in the NATO objectives will the return of the Taliban have been on the list of desirable outcomes after 20 years of occupation.  The British media wheels out US generals and pundits by the hour to wax lyrical about the amount of time, effort and training NATO forces have expended on supporting the Afghan armed forces over this period. 

Yet, when it comes to the crunch, the Afghan army appears to be walking off the job.  Like the Afghan government itself, the army is fragile and reliant on the West to such a degree that it has little or no independent identity.

The Afghan crisis is yet another international humanitarian disaster of the West’s making going back, not to the intervention following 9/11 in 2001, but to the late 1970’s when the will of the Afghan people to choose a new road, a socialist road was thwarted by the machinations of the West and the foundations for what became the Taliban and al-Qaeda were laid.

Geo-politically Afghanistan has for centuries been an important trade route, linking China, India (the long border which is now Pakistan) and Iran as well as the former Soviet Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on its Northern border.   Landlocked and mountainous it has always relied on neighbours for overland trade routes and itself been a conduit for trade between its more prosperous neighbours.

That role has historically meant that, given the tribal nature of Afghan society, key routes were controlled by local leaders, looking to benefit from granting safe passage for goods and travellers passing thorough their territory.  Inevitably this resulted in the enrichment of a few tribal warlords but was of little benefit to the mass of the impoverished population. 

As British imperialism expanded its grip across the Middle East and beyond it was not hard to see that whoever controlled the warlords controlled key strategic trade routes.  One of the key trades through Afghanistan, has been opium, making it a centre for the international drugs trade and into the 20th century a major supplier for the heroin trade.  Much of the enrichment of tribal leaders has historically relied upon access to the opium crop and links to the criminal underworld which has benefitted across the West.

Tensions between the impoverished many and the enriched few came to a head in Afghanistan in 1978 when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came to power, on a programme of stamping out the heroin trade, lifting the population out of poverty and backing education and equality for women, bringing light to the Islamic darkness of the largely feudal structure of the country.

This challenge to the entrenched orthodoxy and the prospect of further socialist expansion into the Middle East was not a prospect the West could tolerate.  Moves were quickly made to strangle any revolutionary momentum at birth with the CIA funding mujahadeen opposition operating out of Pakistan in order to undermine efforts of the Afghan government. 

The decision of the Afghan government under the PDPA to call upon support from the Soviet Union, widely reported in the West as a ‘Soviet invasion’, was precisely to defend against the return to feudalism which the CIA backed mujahadeen represented.  The ten year presence of Soviet troops, until their withdrawal in 1989, provided a bulwark against the worst excesses of the reactionary forces backed by the West.  The defeat of the Soviet Union in 1991 however turned the tide internationally and precipitated a degeneration into civil war in Afghanistan from which the Taliban emerged as victors in 1996.

The five year reign of terror by the Taliban was effectively ended by Western intervention in 2001 following the 9/11 attack in the United States, widely believed to have originated with Islamist militant groups based in Afghanistan, ironically previously funded by the US to fight the Soviet forces stationed there.

For Western politicians and the Western media it is convenient to talk about the past twenty years in relation to Afghanistan, the point at which the West was forced to overtly intervene to defeat the Taliban.  It is less comfortable to focus on the preceding twenty years when Western arms and training effectively built the forces which went on to perpetrate terror attacks upon Western targets.

Taliban forces have captured much of the country again at present and are on the brink of mobilising their forces for an assault on the capital Kabul.  The US are planning to employ 3,000 troops to ensure the safe passage of American diplomats and aid workers from Kabul, the British army is deploying 600 troops to do the same for British nationals.  

Billions of dollars spent, thousands of working class lives lost, in an unwinnable war, and another foreign policy calamity for the West.  The real losers over the past forty years have been the Afghan people who have seen their hopes of progress to a democratic future thwarted at every turn. 

If a Taliban led Afghanistan once again becomes a training ground for Islamist militant attacks on the West the bloodletting may not yet be over. The West halted the possibility of social progress in Afghanistan with its initial interference in the 1970’s.  There can be no doubt though that achieving that objective has come at a heavy price.

7th August 2021

Individual choice vs social responsibility

Vaccination roll out – Britain begins to lose ground

At a community centre in North East England earlier this week a group of masked men with bodycams entered the building.  They proceeded to film noticeboards, question staff about the times of the vaccination clinic and, when challenged, claimed they could do what they liked as they were in a public building.  Police were called but arrived too late to make any arrests.  Staff were shaken by the incident but unharmed.

Similar scenes have taken place across the country as the intimidation tactics of the anti-vaccination lobby underline the governments failure to take a hard enough line on vaccination resistance.  Those opposed to the vaccination programme either hail from the right wing libertarian position of individual choice above all else or, the equally reactionary anarchist view that anything the government suggests must be bad, therefore must be opposed.

There are of course many reasons to oppose governments, not least the British government and its overall inept handling off the pandemic.  However, that should not blind anyone to the necessity of behaving in a socially responsible way in the face of an international public health emergency.  There is rarely, if ever, a good case for putting individual choice over social responsibility.  A pandemic is certainly not the time.

The British vaccination programme has been hailed as the one great success of the government’s pandemic strategy, if it can be described that coherently, but latest data shows that the Britain is starting to lag behind European countries in vaccine take up.

According to figures collated by OurWorldInData there are six EU states now ahead of the UK in having a larger share of their populations with two shots of a Covid vaccine.  Malta, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Ireland are all ahead of Britain in terms of the percentages of their populations who are double jabbed.

Among 18 – 30 year olds in Britain an estimated 33% are yet to get their first shot, yet 20% of those in hospital with Covid symptoms are in this age group.  This gives the lie to the perception, not challenged strongly enough by the government, that young people are not at risk.

Elsewhere in Europe vaccine incentives are becoming the norm with France, Denmark, Italy and Greece all adopting various proof of vaccination measures before permitting access to public events and indoor activities such as cinemas and museums.  Britain has deferred introducing similar measures till the end of September.  In the meantime social mixing proliferates and infection rates amongst younger people continue to be high. The right to infect others, by refusing vaccination, is not a right which should be encouraged.

The anti-vaccination lobby are tacitly encouraged by the right wing of the Conservative Party and, in particular, the so called Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, who have been pursuing a herd immunity strategy, effectively holding Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, hostage if the economy is not opened up further.

Johnson’s libertarian tendencies are only slightly tempered by the rising death count, still the hghest in Europe, but as that slows the temptation to be sucked further into the orbit of the CRG may prove too much for a politician not known for sticking to any fixed position.

The propensity to elevate individual choice over social responsibility is a function of capitalism itself and finds its most heightened expression in the USA around the ‘right’ to bear arms.  It is no surprise that the anti-vaccination lobby in the US is not only vociferous but aligned to the most reactionary elements in the political spectrum.

Even where ‘health pass’ plans have been implemented in the EU there is no guarantee that the population will comply, as recent protests in Paris have illustrated.  Persuasion is still necessary. The push within the British political establishment, away from notions of social responsibility and towards a greater emphasis upon individual choice, has been marked in the past forty years.  The deconstruction of Council housing, comprehensive education, local government, trade union rights and attempts to privatise sections of the NHS are all examples of this.

The idea expressed by the masked men in the North East, that they could do what they liked because they were in a public building, flows from the same mentality.  However, public space is about sharing, co-operating and managing for the collective good.  It is not there for any individual to do as they please, just because it is public.

Sometimes lost in the practicalities of the pandemic is the ideological battle that is necessary to shift people’s thinking away from an exclusive focus upon personal circumstances to the challenge of addressing the collective need.  This banner was raised briefly during the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the establishment moved quickly to tear it down.  In part because they were opposed to it but more significantly because of the resonance they saw it was having with many people.

The idea that things should be done ‘for the many, not the few’ was in danger of becoming more than a political slogan.  It needs to be rediscovered, applied to the present circumstances of the pandemic and carried well beyond if the battle of ideas is to be won. 

31st July 2021

Beating Crime – more hollow rhetoric

Dogged by controversy – Patel watches on as Johnson blusters

Having failed to convince even his own cheerleaders in the right wing press with his big set piece ‘levelling up’ speech, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this week fell back on a tried and trusted Tory reliable; law and order.

Flagging in the opinion polls, the vaccination bounce having deflated and ‘Freedom Day’ having flopped, amongst a myriad of caveats, Johnson was desperate to be seen to be setting the agenda.  Flanked by his Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who had one eye on the media and the other on Johnson’s job, a package of measures amounting to little more than window dressing to placate the Tory faithful was revealed.

Johnson unveiled his plans to relax stop and search powers, allegedly in order to tackle knife crime; increase electronic tagging for released thieves; and make offenders clean the streets in hi-viz, so that they could be seen to suffer.

Writing in the Daily Mail this week Patel asserted that,

“Our Beating Crime Plan contains a range of measures to reduce crime and level up the country so that everyone has the security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home.

From day one as Home Secretary, I’ve made it clear that I will back the police. We have already recruited nearly 9,000 extra police officers as part of our unprecedented recruitment drive to bring in 20,000.”

With a passing nod to the ‘levelling up’ mantra, Patel then fails to acknowledge that the only reason the Tories have committed to recruiting 20,000 police officers is that this is the precise number cut due to Tory austerity measures since 2010.  Having restored 9,000 is hardly a great achievement.

Patel demonstrates further sleight of hand by failing to recognise the fact that the same austerity agenda is the very reason that for many “having a safe street and a safe home”, or even any home at all, may be little more than a pipe dream.  Best estimates suggest that for the last five years core homelessness has been rising year on year in England, reaching a peak just before the pandemic when the numbers of homeless households jumped from 207,600 in 2018 to over 219,000 at the end of 2019.

Those who are not actually homeless often live with housing uncertainty in the private rented sector.  Others struggle to maintain a foothold in Council housing as the Tory Right to Buy policy continues to be a constraint on the ability of local authorities to retain quality housing in the public sector.

Security of health, housing, employment and the opportunities provided by education, are undoubtedly key factors in tackling the desperation, poverty and hopelessness which can be the breeding ground for criminals to exploit working class communities.  That these social gains have been systematically undermined by Tory policy since the 1980’s and exacerbated by the past ten years of austerity is not a reality recognised by Johnson or Patel.

There was some recognition of this by Shadow Justice Secretary, David Lammy, who was critical of the government’s proposals stating,

“Delays in the courts are at a record high, while convictions for the most serious crimes including rape are at a record low. The government’s tinkering proposals do little to reverse the effects of the closure of 295 courts in England and Wales, or to deal with the massive cuts to drug treatment services, the police, the CPS and the whole justice system his government has made since 2010.”

Even police chiefs, usually bastions of support for Tory law and order measures have variously described the proposals as “weird…and a bit gimmicky”, that the proposals do “not address the big issues” and that “Its like there has been an explosion in a strategy factory.”  Hardly ringing endorsements.

Patel had not endeared herself to the Police Federation a week earlier by announcing a pay freeze which the 130,000 strong federation saw as evidence that the government “could not be trusted” and warned “warm words are no longer enough”.  The federation went on to support a vote of no confidence in the Home Secretary.

The realities ignored by Johnson and Patel include a 73% reduction in services for young people across England and Wales since 2010-11, with reductions in budgets for youth provision of up to 85% in some areas of greatest need such as Haringey in London.

The same areas are those where police stop and search powers are disproportionately used to target black working class youths.  The monitoring organisation Stop Watch estimates that police stopped and searched 115 out of every 1,000 black people compared to 17 per 1,000 white people.  That was in 2010-11 making black people 6.7 times more likely to be searched than whites.  By 2019-20 black people were 8.9 time more likely to be searched.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that policing in capitalist Britain is institutionally racist, that government policy encourages this tendency and that policy on crime is only seen by the Tories as a means of containing the legitimate frustrations of working class communities.   

The so called Beating Crime plan provides no comfort for those victims of ruling class crimes of negligence, under investment, cronyism or tax evasion.  It is no more likely to ‘level up’ the chances of working class communities than the Tory handling of the pandemic, which has seen working class lives lost in their thousands due to government ineptitude.

In practical terms the government’s new initiatives, like it’s so called ‘levelling up’ agenda, have no value but even fail as a PR exercise to get their own side on board.  It is simply more hollow rhetoric. Recovery from the pandemic must include recovery from the illusion that the Tories will ever act in the interests of the working class.  That is a message which needs to be hit home hard by the Labour leadership linked to policies which will give Labour’s working class base hope for real change.

24th July 2021

Tories follow the herd

Herd immunity at the heart of Tory strategy?

How much of the British government’s approach to the pandemic is ruling class bias and how much sheer incompetence can be hard to disentangle.  There is no doubt that decision making has been driven more by economic considerations than public health outcomes, at least until the public health question becomes too overwhelming to ignore.

The three lockdowns to date have all followed this pattern.  Clear advice from scientists and public heath experts has indicated that at each stage lockdowns should have happened two to three weeks earlier but the government, in thrall to the private sector, has allowed infection rates to escalate to the point where intervention and lockdown was unavoidable.

The sense throughout the pandemic has been of a government claiming to be led by the science but not really being prepared to keep up with it, especially if it contradicted the desires of the private sector to open up and get back to profit making.

The latest dogmatic adherence to Step 4 of the government roadmap reflects the same thinking.  Warwick University and Imperial College London have been predicting for weeks that, based upon the government’s plans, a spike in infections would occur in mid-August to early September.  The two universities have only diverged on how high the spike might be but a daily infection rate of 100,000 a day is even accepted by Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, and some indicators suggest that could get as high as 250,000 infections per day.

It does not require the skills of a SAGE scientist to figure out that this level of infection will increase pressure upon the health service, due to higher levels of hospitalisation, and that it will result in more deaths, in spite of the relative success of the vaccination programme.

The Tory government have released all mandatory requirements to work from home, wear face coverings or to socially distance.  Nightclubs, theatres, restaurants, bars and events can all function without any legal requirement to impose controls or check vaccination status.  In effect the government has given the virus carte blanche to run riot through the younger population, many of whom are unvaccinated or have only had a single dose.

Young people are more resilient and less likely to die from the COVID virus.  They are less likely to end up in hospital.  However, something being less likely to happen does not mean that it will not.  The scientific understanding of how the virus behaves is still in its infancy.  There is preliminary evidence to suggest that young people are more at risk of the condition being termed long COVID, where symptoms of fatigue and lethargy can persist for months.

It is increasingly being seen that even double vaccination is not an absolute defence against the virus, although severity of symptoms and likelihood of death are significantly reduced.

The Tory government has been keen to present its strategy as the only course of action, that the roadmap is irreversible, although now tempered with some words of caution.  The reality however is that the government has had choices at every stage of the pandemic and has made political judgments to inform the actions it has chosen.

Delaying the widely misnamed Freedom Day from the 19th July to the end of the summer for example, combined with a concerted drive to increase double vaccination levels, would have given greater protection to individuals as well as reducing community transmission.  The argument against this has been that it would simply delay a spike in infection till the autumn.  A spike in a population with higher levels of vaccination would surely be less of a spike in the long term though?

Meanwhile those who thought that the relaxing of controls on 19th July would mean a rush back to normal trading are finding that the streets are not paved with as much gold as they anticipated. 

Greater social mixing increases the scope for community transmission and the so called ‘pingdemic’, where individuals are advised to isolate by the NHS test and trace app, is impacting upon businesses across the country.  More than 600,000 people in England and Wales were advised to isolate by the app last week.

The economic impact upon those workers on low wages, insecure contracts and unable to access financial support remains significant.

The government are now scrambling to set up 200 testing sites across the country with a view to introducing a system of daily testing, rather than isolating, for workers in key sectors of the economy, including food distribution, NHS and care workers.  However, claims from the police, fire service and transport staff are now being made to be included as essential workers, not required to isolate but to engage in the daily testing regime instead.

Capitalism is characterised by anarchy in production, uncertainty and job insecurity for many and decision making which prioritises private greed over public need.  That would be in any normal year.  The pandemic has exacerbated these aspects of the system itself and they have been further compounded by a Tory government which has lacked any coherent strategic decision making focus.

Insofar as the Tories can be said to have had any consistent strategy during the pandemic it has been to fall back on the concept of herd immunity.  That certainly seems to be the strategy for this summer.  It is still less than a week since the government released all mandatory controls on 19th July.  The full impact of that particular political decision is yet to be felt.

18th July 2021

Gesture Politics

Home Secretary, Priti Patel – gesture politics her stock in trade

If British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, spent any time reflecting upon his actions, pronouncements or their consequences, he may find the mantra that a week is a long time in politics weighing heavily at the moment.

It all started so well that Johnson must be wondering how it went so badly wrong.  Just a week ago the nation, or at least the English part of it, was being whipped into a sense of euphoric expectation as the Italy v England Euro 2020 final at Wembley approached.  No one expected a walkover, give the Italians some respect, but the sense that victory was certain was palpable.

So called ‘Freedom Day’, the 19th July, was looming, with even talk of a national Bank Holiday to celebrate.  Cabinet Ministers were buying up England football shirts like they were going out of fashion.

Things began to unravel even before kick off when thousands of ticketless morons manged to breech Wembley stadium security and gain access to the ground.  This in an operation for which Metropolitan Police Chief, Cressida Dick, has boldly stated,

“I am very proud of my officers and the command team.”

As the Euros had earned a place in the government’s herd immunity project, otherwise known as the Events Research Programme, see Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for further examples, the police were presumably unconcerned about the public health implications of the security breech.

Luke Shaw’s goal after two minutes was cause for great national (English) optimism but was soon frittered away as the team’s lacklustre efforts to break down a sterling Italian defence dwindled into extra time and penalties.

That a penalty shoot out was necessary then lost is a discussion for the sports pages.  That right wing Neanderthals on social media drew attention to the fact that those who missed penalties were three of England’s black players, implying that this made them unworthy to play for the national team, took things to a new level.  The so called Culture Wars, which Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel and, ironically, Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, have been keen to stoke in recent weeks were catching fire.

The post match antics of the St. George’s flag waving moron tendency, unable to accept defeat, was accompanied by stamping upon and burning Italian flags.  Violence across the capital resulted in 49 arrests. 

While Johnson and his cohorts were compelled to condemn the racist tweets their hypocrisy was immediately called out by England Centre Half, Tyrone Mings, who pointed out in response to Priti Patel that,

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

Patel had been critical of England players taking the knee in order to demonstrate their opposition to racism in general and racist abuse directed at players, adding that England fans had a “choice” over whether or not to boo players as they made their protest.

With his finger, as usual, on the 21st century pulsebeat Tory millionaire dilletante, Jacob Rees-Mogg, weighed into the debate suggesting that there “wasn’t any evidence” that fans who boo players taking the knee do so motivated by racism.

The subsequent vandalising of a mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester has generated an outpouring of support for Rashford and the other targeted players.  Vacillation over condemnation of racist abuse by Johnson and his crowd, contrasted sharply to the response of the people of Manchester, and across the country, in calling out those responsible for racism.

Johnson may have hoped that a keynote speech on his so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda, scheduled for midweek, would get rid of the weekend blues. Typically though, Johnson waffled interminably, trying to please all of the people all of the time, but not actually getting down to the main business of what ‘levelling up’ was all about.  Perhaps because it is mainly about waffling for so long that no-one will notice?

Such politically incisive phrases describing levelling up as,

“…the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catch-up”

hardly added clarity.  Such promises as could be gleaned included £50m for new football pitches and a National High Streets Day, hardly agenda defining promises.

Of course, ‘levelling up’ is no such thing for Johnson and Co, who are quite content to ensure that the playing field remains as tilted as it is presently and that they retain their power and privileges.  If that means adopting the rhetoric of being on the side of the common people, in order to win a few votes, then they will do it.  This has for a long time been the oldest trick in the Tory book. 

Any real levelling up is not fundamentally about regional disparities but about class differences and where the real levers of economic power lie.  No amount of hot air from Johnson is going to address that.   It is, in fact, expressly designed to detract attention from it.  It could even be described as gesture politics!

The concern for the political establishment is that Johnson’s bluster is being increasingly exposed as shallow and may not deliver the necessary votes to keep the Tories in office.  Alliances in the Tory party are swift to change when there is electoral danger and another term with Johnson at the helm may be too much, even for them.

As 19th July approaches the hollow ring of ‘Freedom Day’ rhetoric continues to echo across the land.  Johnson’s tub thumping has become more cautious as the day approaches and public health experts from across the globe regard the British plan as fundamentally flawed.  At an emergency summit last week more than 1,200 scientists backed a letter to the Lancet warning that the UK strategy could allow vaccine-resistant variants to develop.  

Prof José Martin-Moreno of the University of Valencia, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), said,

“We cannot understand why this is happening in spite of the scientific knowledge that you have.”

With daily infection rates at 50,000 and climbing, Heath Secretary Sajid Javid’s target of 100,000 infections a day by the end of the summer looks all too achievable.  Javid has even gone to the trouble of contracting the infection himself, just in case the numbers drop.

With nightclubs set to re-open and restrictions on social distancing and mask wearing either going or being downgraded to an ‘expectation’, no table service in pubs and cafes required and Premier League football around the corner, who needs the usual round of winter infections and flu bugs to stay busy in the NHS? 

Polish up that George Cross, it must be better than a decent pay rise?  Or even a government that gives a damn about public health?  Gesture politics of the highest order.

Washing their hands of it all

10th July 2021

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid cannot mask reality

The government’s hands, face, space mantra is set to take on a whole new meaning as the government washes its hands of the pandemic, fails to face up to its responsibilities and attempts to put space between its decisions and the rising infection rate.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, last week confirmed that face masks will no longer be legally required and social distancing rules will be scrapped at the final stage of England’s coronavirus lockdown roadmap. The rule of six inside private homes will be removed and work-from-home guidance abolished, as Johnson said he expected the final step would go ahead as planned on 19th July, following a review of the latest data on 12th July.

In what can only be described as a monumental abdication of responsibility at the height of a public health crisis, the government have resigned from any semblance of leadership and exhorted the public to take personal responsibility for their actions.

Air cover for this strategy was provided by Chief Medical Officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, who asserted that maintaining the current coronavirus restrictions through the summer would only delay a wave of hospitalisations and deaths rather than reduce them. Whitty stated at the Downing Street briefing last Monday that while scientific opinion was mixed on when to lift the last remaining restrictions in the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, he believed that doing so in the summer had some advantages over releasing in the autumn.

However, government scientists have said “stronger” restrictions could be needed this autumn and winter. Newly released documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) reveal that ministers were urged to keep “baseline” restrictions such as face masks and working from home, and warn that new freedoms could create “superspreader” events.

With infections likely to rise to a rate of 100,000 per day pressure is building on an already overstretched NHS.  In part this is due to the increase in hospitalisations, in part due to people with other conditions now coming forward and in part due to the staffing pressures as a result of NHS workers having to isolate.   A letter from the Queen and the awarding of the George Cross is not going to solve the crisis.  A meagre 1% pay award is also scant compensation for the challenges NHS workers have had to face.

The rules on self isolation will also affect a whole range of local government workers if the Tories persist in their proposals for the 19th July.  At present teams maintain social distancing in the workplace meaning that, if a colleague tests positive, entire services do not have to be closed down and individuals can be sent home to isolate.  With the relaxation of social distancing in the workplace a worker who tests positive may have been in contact with any number of co-workers, resulting in the possibility of whole services being sent into isolation.

For frontline local government services, such as libraries and leisure centres, add the public into the mix, with no requirement to socially distance or wear face covering, and the potential for whole sections of service to be shut down are very real.  Add to that the risks faced by social work teams, housing repair staff and those running care homes and the mix becomes even more toxic.

The same rules will also apply to the private sector, where there will be no obligation in pubs, cafes or restaurants to socially distance or use face masks, thus increasing the danger of the virus spreading.  While the level of vaccination across the population will provide some mitigation, the dangers of the summer 2020 ‘eat out to help out’ debacle loom large.  It may be that those led by the right wing Covid Research Group of Tory MPs, who have been banging the drum to put opening up the economy before public health concerns, find that their dream turns quickly to a nightmare for many.

In spite of their talk of ‘levelling up’ the Tories know that the risks associated with the pandemic are more prevalent in the poorer parts of the country.  According to a nine-month inquiry by the Health Foundation charity, into the health impacts of the pandemic, the chances of dying from COVID-19 were nearly four times higher for adults of working age in England’s poorest areas than for those in the wealthiest places. The Foundation said a decade of widening health inequalities and cuts to public services had contributed to the UK’s disproportionately high coronavirus death toll compared with similar countries.

Johnson appears to have signalled his intent by putting Sajid Javid in charge of the Department of Health and Social Care, to replace the hapless Matt Hancock.  A clearer example of putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank could hardly be found.  Javid has said that ending lockdown is his “absolute priority”, it would have been good to see saving lives at the top of that list, and that “we have to learn to live with” coronavirus.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday Javid said,

“… no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view. We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”

Rising infections may not be resulting in the number of deaths we saw earlier in the year but the government’s de facto herd immunity approach is still allowing the virus to spread at an alarming rate, especially amongst young people and children.  That, in turn, allows for the possibility of further mutations of the virus, potentially resistant to current vaccines, putting us all back to square one.

With one of the highest death rates in the world, and the highest in Europe, is this really what the Tories mean by ‘levelling up’?

Iran – election turnout further undermines regime

3rd July 2021

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi – a further indication of the regime taking a hardline

The election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, in presidential elections in Iran recently, may indicate a further period of isolation for Iran on the international stage.

The role of the president in a theocratic dictatorship, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, may appear to be superfluous, with ultimate power being concentrated in the hands of Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khameini. However, the selection of president is often an indication of the attitude of the theocracy in relation to its international position. 

While the president may lay claim to having an elected mandate this is illusory in any real sense as the choice of candidates open to the public is strictly controlled by the regime.  Any hint of opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy is weeded out.  Thus, for the recent presidential elections, of the 40 candidates originally submitted, only seven were allowed to stand.  These represented a very narrow range of political views, effectively reflecting varying shades of support for the regime.  Any semblance of genuine opposition was excluded.

The 40 year history of the Islamic Republic has seen the legitimacy of each presidential election questioned as the political differences amongst candidates narrows each time.   Gerrymandering, vote rigging and intimidation have also featured heavily in the election process to ensure that the regime’s preferred candidate is successful.

It was an open secret that the regime’s preferred candidate for the recent election was Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and Chief Justice.  Raisi is infamous amongst the opposition in Iran for having been a member of the notorious “death committee”, which saw the execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners, mainly socialists and communists, put to death in 1988 by being hanged from cranes.

There was a widespread call from opponents of the regime to boycott the election, with a record low turnout of only 48.8% of the electorate voting. 

Iran went into the elections at a time when the country is blighted by economic bankruptcy due to the implementation of macro policies formulated by the clerical regime to serve the interests of the country’s capitalists and powerful super-rich class.  This is exacerbated by the economic sanctions imposed by the United States in contravention of international law, following the unilateral withdrawal of the US in 2018 from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal.

As a result, tens of millions of Iranians live below the poverty line; unemployment levels are sky-high, especially among the youth; and inflation is rampant. In addition, Iran has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, wholly exacerbated by the regime’s feeble response, which has led to the deaths of more than 80,000 people and a further sharp deterioration in the economic situation.

As a consequence, opposition to the regime in the form of street protests, openly denouncing corruption, economic mismanagement and demanding economic equality and social justice, have been growing.  The spirit of defiance, which is building amongst the population as a whole, is met with increasing ruthlessness by the security forces involving both violence and mass arrests. 

Most recently the strike by workers in the oil and petrochemical industries, which began on the 19th June, has spread to numerous sites across the vast oil and gas exploration fields as well as the oil industry in general.  According to a statement released by the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI), 28,000 workers have downed tools and remain determined to stay out until their demands are met.

The human rights record of the Iranian regime continues to be an appalling litany of arrest, imprisonment, trumped up charges and little or no access to legal representation or medical care.

The regime is setting great store by the latest round of negotiations in Vienna, to revive the JCPOA, as a means to reverse the economic decline.  While taking a belligerent stance towards the United States in public the Iranian regime are all too aware that to engage in international markets access to dollars and international financial institutions is vital.

For its part the US is equally aware of Iran’s weakness and this will no doubt form part of US calculations as the negotiations progress.   It will certainly take precedence over any human rights concerns as the US looks to open up Iranian markets and exploit the potential for utilising Iran as a source of cheap labour.

Decades of neoliberal economic restructuring based on IMF prescriptions and internal corruption within the regime, have vastly increased the private wealth of the upper layers of the clergy in Iran, while producing a weak and hollowed-out national economy, fully reliant on the export of crude oil, itself restricted due to the sanctions regime.

The outcome of the election on 18th June has seen the installation of an even more vicious, anti-democratic, and fiercely entrenched Islamist administration in Iran. This will necessitate the beginning of an era of reinvigorated campaigning for the rights of the Iranian people.  This will be for trade union rights, women’s rights, the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of association, and much more. The international campaign of solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people for peace, human and democratic rights, and social justice, must step up and demonstrate its effectiveness.

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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.  

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