Another nail in the coughing

8th October 2017

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Theresa May with ironic Conservative Party slogan

That the Tories were going to have a bad week at their annual conference in Manchester was widely predicted.  That it could have degenerated into something akin to farce, with the speech by leader Theresa May being the coup de grace, can only be regarded as a bonus.  As May coughed and spluttered her way to a conclusion, being handed a mock P45 en route, her Cabinet colleagues looked on aghast before the stage lettering behind her began to fall apart.

Whatever the headline writers and political cartoonists make of the farrago into which May’s leadership has now slipped, the reality has always been that there has been nothing on offer from the Tories to address the needs of the people of the UK and that fact is becoming increasingly obvious.

The desire to leave the EU is not even a mainstream Tory position but one foisted upon the vacillating leadership of David Cameron by a combination of his own right wing and the BBC backed UKIP.  Theresa May took a position that can best be described as ambivalent during the referendum campaign and, following the defeat of the Remain camp to which she was notionally aligned, became Tory leader largely due to the lack of anyone else appearing to be a remotely credible candidate.

May now retains her position because mainstream Tories are increasingly seeing Brexit as toxic and do not want to get their hands dirty with the nitty gritty of negotiation.  The Boris Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s, in spite of the noise they make about Brexit, are incapable of taking the reins because they know that they will not be able to carry the Tory mainstream much beyond the position May is taking.  If they cannot even do that, then they calculate that their chances of winning a general election are even more remote.

It is little wonder that May looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights every time she is interviewed.  She is damned if she stays, while the rest of her party will be damned if she goes.

The only political beacon that has emerged in the last year in the UK is the Labour Party General Election manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, which continues to offer the only credible steps away from the austerity imposed upon ordinary people, to meet the bankers gambling debts, and towards a future that offers young people hope and opportunity.

With the political party conference season over, the coming months will see increased pressure from public sector trade unions to break the cycle of austerity and push for pay rises that at least keep pace with inflation for their long suffering members.    Low pay and low investment in manufacturing and infrastructure continue to be a drain on the economy.  For years the banks have used the excuse of austerity not to lend or invest, now they cower at the uncertainty of Brexit.  These risk takers, these engines of the economy, are a tame lot!

Meanwhile, local councils, straining under the burden of almost ten years of austerity will once again be forced into making unpalatable choices in the coming budget round, which will lead to further service reductions for those at the sharp end.

The national roll out of Universal Credit, widely decried as a debacle in areas where it has been piloted, is scheduled for the New Year.  The prospect of the unemployed, single parents and the disabled having to struggle without access to benefit for up to six weeks has been widely reported but no solution proposed.

Without properly funded options for local authorities to build new council houses the crisis in affordable housing will continue, as Tory dogma dictates that the ‘right’ to buy must continue to be an option for Council tenants, while the private sector know there are no super profits in building houses for the poor.

All of this is on the doorstep of the UK, even before the government take a position on the possible US led conflicts with North Korea and Iran.  Given recent history there is more than an evens chance they will take the line of backing US belligerence.  Given the massive drain upon the UK economy which spending on weapons of mass destruction represents, kowtowing to the foreign adventures of the US gives the UK ruling class the slimmest of justifications for the syphoning of resources away from the NHS, housing and public services which the defence budget represents.

It is ironic that, at its annual meeting later this week, the IMF is likely to call for greater investment to boost education, training and productivity.  Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has spoken recently about the need for economies awash with cash to “use this moment to invest more in their own economies”, although she is widely expected to be ignored.

Capitalists are not even prepared to listen to each other.  Perhaps deep down it is because they know they have no solutions.

 

Opportunity spread thin

1st October 2017

 

MayConf

Theresa May – not spreading much opportunity

The depth of divisions within the Conservative Party are clear, even before a word is spoken at their annual conference in Manchester this week.  Boris Johnson, once again slightly overstepping his brief as Foreign Secretary, has intervened to make clear his position on the Brexit negotiations.  Nothing unusual there, Johnson’s leadership ambitions are as naked as they are well documented.  However, for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to be equivocal in his support for Theresa May suggests a far deeper malaise at the heart of the Tory leadership.

Asked by The Observer (1/10/17) whether Javid believed May was the right person to lead the Tories into the next election the interview concludes,

“He waits several seconds, smiles, then stands and offers his hand.  “I think we are out of time,” he says, leaving us to draw the obvious conclusion.”

The trick for May this week is to attempt to paper over the cracks and convince enough of the delegates and Parliamentary Party that she is the person to lead them in Brexit negotiations and into the next election.  Strong and stable anyone?

One influential Tory, Matthew Parris, has already described May as being “in a hostage situation”.  He may have added that she would not get many takers to pay the ransom.  Only Damian Green appears to be prepared to make any effort to bail out the waters from the sinking ship.  Most others look more or less prepared to simply bail out themselves, when the time looks right.

In a desperate attempt to shore things up with younger voters, the conference is set to announce a series of policy initiatives, including freezing tuition fees; upping the earnings level at which students need to begin paying back student loans; and a £10bn expansion of the Help to Buy scheme, presumably from the same money tree used to buy off the Democratic Unionists votes in Parliament.

For May these are “key parts of my plan to spread opportunity and build a better future for our country.”  For most of us they will be seen as a desperate set of too little, too late initiatives, which simply underline how far out of touch the Tories have been with the concerns of many ordinary people and for how long.

The appeal to the young, at least those under the age of 45, is in part a response to a recent poll by the Social Market Foundation, which confirms the outcome of the June General Election that the youth vote is overwhelmingly with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  Tellingly, amongst voters in this age group, 76% regard the Tories as the party for “richer people” rather than the less wealthy.

Experience is, as ever, a great teacher.  Whatever rhetorical flourish May gives to her desire to “spread opportunity” the reality on the ground is that opportunity is not being spread.  Many younger people find themselves with crippling student debt.  They find themselves unable to get on the housing ladder.  They find themselves increasingly unable to afford rent or must opt for poor quality accommodation as the social housing market contracts.  Whatever it is that May means by spreading opportunity, it simply does not accord with the lives many young people are forced to live.

The resonance of the Labour message, For the Many, Not the Few could hardly be more relevant.  A positive conference for Labour has seen the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his keys policies endorsed.  As things stand in the UK at present this is the only flag around which the working class, young people, women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those hoping to change the basis of society for the better, can unite.

The Tories will struggle to keep it together in Manchester this week.  The reality is that the sooner it falls apart, the better for all of us.

The Brexit Roundabout

23rd September 2017

MayJohnson

She’s behind you…Boris Johnson and Theresa May

Pundits, politicians and pollsters love to refer to the summer as the ‘silly season’.  This is the time when Parliament is not sitting, party leaders go on holiday and, short of a national catastrophe, the business of government just ticks over.  This year the silly season featured nothing quite as silly as the talk of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP being a prospective Tory leader.

Rees-Mogg, the self styled representative for the eighteenth century, is the man who regards abortion as morally indefensible, whatever the circumstances.  This includes rape victims.  This is the man whose pretentions to upper class respectability lead him to name his sixth child Sixtus.  As if having Rees-Mogg as a father would not be burden enough in life.

Rees-Mogg, being a dyed in the wool Brexiteer of the right wing Little Englander variety, is a darling of the hucksters running the Leave EU campaign, a thinly veiled excuse for a diatribe against foreigners and a desire to restore the ‘glory days’ of Empire.  Every utterance of JRM, as Leave EU trendily refer to Rees-Mogg, infects the Twittersphere and feeds the myth that the desire to leave the EU is the prerogative of xenophobic fools.

Rees-Mogg’s candle flickered briefly but has been comprehensively snuffed by the return of the big beast in the Leave EU jungle in the form of Boris Johnson.  With his boss Theresa May priming the BBC, and anyone else who cared to listen, that she would make a definitive position speech on Brexit in Florence yesterday, Johnson sharpened his quill and penned a note of his own.  More than a note in fact, over 4,000 words, published by that faithful hound the Daily Telegraph just a week before May’s Florence curtain raiser.

The proverbial Zebedee  to May’s Florence, Johnson suddenly bounced back from his summer perambulations in hurricane hit tax havens, calling ‘time for bed’ on the fragile Tory truce around Brexit.  Not only did Johnson beat loud and hard on the Little Englander drum, he even resurrected the widely discredited claim that £350m a week was being spent on the EU and, upon leaving, this could be diverted to support the NHS, amongst other things.

Clearly a lot of UK taxpayers money is being diverted into the EU and it could be more usefully employed.  Harking back to the £350m per week claim however was a clear provocation on Johnson’s part, purely a piece of internal politics rather than an appeal to the people.  It is no secret that Theresa May’s tenure as Tory party leader is only sustained due to the fact that no one else is currently prepared to take on the dirty work of Brexit.

However, as Johnson knows, the merest slip could change the balance and being in position to step in could give him an advantage.  For many the Johnson brand is toxic, even in some parts of the Tory party, but others may conclude that his high profile may be enough to help the Tories cling to office.

May’s address in Florence attempted to placate the ‘leave at all cost’ lobby on the one hand, while balancing out the demands of British business and capital, to be given more time to prepare for the changes Brexit will bring.  The two year transition period proposed by May sees her please no one, with the hardline leave camp seeing it as too long and many businesses seeing it as being too short.  On this timetable the UK would not fully leave the EU until 2021, five years after the referendum vote of June 2016.

For British capital the EU departure process is one of working out ways in which the City of London and UK corporations can have their cake and eat it.  They want to enjoy the benefits to exploit a captive market, which the EU provides, including the free movement of cheap labour, but not be constrained by the limited social and human rights legislation, which are part of EU law.  The irony is that the fabled social protections of the EU, much beloved of the Remain camp, are built on shifting sands and are uneven across the EU.  The unemployed of the second rank EU states in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland are testament to the EU’s failings.

Outside of the EU, able to determine its own public spending priorities; able to determine an open and fair immigration process; able to set its own trade union and human rights agenda; able to disassociate itself from the aggressive NATO alliance; it is possible to see a different future for the UK based upon socialist values.  Not surprisingly, Theresa May’s speech made no reference to this.  There is no room for such values in the script being prepared by Boris Johnson.  Labour has its own internal struggles in uniting around such a vision but getting the Tories out and seeing Jeremy Corbyn in 10, Downing Street would be a start.

Hurricane Irma update

17th September 2017

From Cuba Solidarity Campaign

 Irma17

Thank you to everyone who has donated to CSC’s Hurricane Irma Appeal. An amazing £15,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours, all of which will be sent to Cuba to help with relief and recovery projects.

Make a donation here

The category 5 storm was the worst to hit Cuba in recent history. Unlike previous storms where damage has been limited to specific provinces, Hurricane Irma tore along 800 kilometres of the northern coast, making its impact felt across the entire island.

 

Coastal communities have been devastated by winds and flooding. Many are still without water and electricity as central power stations sustained major damage. Authorities and communities are working around the clock to restore electricity, water supplies and reopen the 400 schools which were also affected.

On Wednesday 13 September, power had been restored to 70 per cent of the country, however in the worst affected areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, up to 70 per cent of buildings were still without power three days after the storm.

The storm surge pushed seawater half a kilometre inland in some places, taking rubbish and sewage with it.

On Monday Cuban authorities announced that ten people had died as a result of the storm, mainly from collapsing buildings in Havana.

Nearly 300,000 hectares of sugar cane plantations have been affected, with nearly 40 per cent of the plants ruined or damaged. Communities have set to work harvesting and collecting what can be salvaged and distributed.

The Cuban ambassador to Britain, Teresita Vicente said that solidarity would be important over the coming months, since recovery efforts would be hindered by the impact of the US blockade: “The blockade makes it more difficult to recover but the spirit of the Cuban people is the same as it has been when we face many adversities.”

The ambassador reminded people that Cuba was also suffering from “Hurricane Trump” as the US increases its “aggressive policy” toward the country.

Just as Irma was about to hit, President Trump quietly extended the blockade for another year by signing the Trading with the Enemy Act.

“Political solidarity is very important but also this appeal is vital and will help to alleviate the difficulties faced by the Cuban people.”

CSC reiterates its solidarity with the Cuban people in the mammoth task they have ahead to rebuild their communities. We call once again for the US government to end its inhumane blockade of the country so that the Cuban people can access the building materials and equipment they will need to reconstruct their country following this tragedy.

You can make donations to the CSC Hurricane Appeal below. 100% of all donations will be passed on to relief work in Cuba.

Donate online here

Other donations

Cheques should be clearly marked on the back: ‘Cuba Hurricane Relief’. Please make cheques out to CSC and send to: Cuba Solidarity Campaign c/o UNITE, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, UK

For credit card or bank transfers call +44 (0)20 7490 5715 or email office@cuba-solidarity.org.uk

Further reading

Cuba in Recovery, report from Granma

Ambassador responds to Hurricane Irma Appeal

Trump extends the Trading with the Enemy Act

Further updates on hurricane relief and donations will be posted on www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk, our Facebook and Twitter pages and in the October issue of CubaSí magazine.

 

Hurricane Irma hits Cuba

10th September 2017

IrmaCuba

 Hurricane Irma batters Cuba

News that Hurricane Irma has reached Cuba has meant that BBC reportage has had to include the island in its assessment of the impact of the hurricane in the Caribbean.  The progress of the storm to date has focused upon the impact upon Barbuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands and the potential impact upon mainland USA, in particular Florida.

Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes and its government is famously well-prepared.  Even the United Nations once praised Cuba as a “model in Hurricane risk management” in 2004.  Jacobin Magazine notes that only 35 Cubans have died from the last 17 hurricanes.  Last year’s Hurricane Matthew did not kill anyone in Cuba, although it killed 271 people in nearby Haiti.

As the New York Times noted in 2013, the National Prognostic Centre of Cuba’s Meteorological Institute in Havana is responsible for monitoring the weather there.  Before President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, hurricane preparedness was one of the few things American and Cuban officials worked together on.

Despite an older infrastructure, its hurricane preparedness plans that are taught to children in schools have saved countless lives.  Children are even taught to identify at-risk trees and hazards in their neighbourhoods.  During a storm, schools, hospitals and hotels become members of the Cuban Civil Defence force and are responsible for caring for residents.

The Cuban government issues a seven days warning, during which time local communities are given ample opportunity to prepare for the worst.

Local leaders are the protagonists of disaster warning processes based on constant drilling, which takes place under the rubric of “risk-reduction” in every province, city, town and village.

These constant drills are coupled with an integrated response from local fire departments, health, transportation and other vital public services.  Above all, Cuba places tremendous emphasis on educating the population to keep communities and families, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.

While Cuban preparation places less emphasis upon evacuation, but rather focuses on “protection,” which includes reinforcing a local school capable of accommodating local communities and pets, the force of Hurricane Irma means that some evacuation measures have been necessary.  Sources from Cuba Solidarity Campaign suggest that one million Cubans have been moved to temporary shelter or higher ground for safety.

The Cuban National Defense Council for Disaster Reduction recognises that sea penetration, strong winds and rain will affect the electrical supply in affected territories.  To prevent any distribution to the service, the Cuban Electric Union (UEC) has set up 25 emergency towers to distribute electricity.

The UEC has formed 155 brigades, composed of 1,066 electricity workers, who will be distributed among the most affected provinces.

“The contingents are ready to go out and work on the quick solution of any difficulties that may arise,” noted Jorge Hernández, senior civil defense specialist at the UEC.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health, in conjunction with the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries Group, has organized 67 medical-surgical brigades to ensure medical assistance in difficult-to-access communities, officials reported.

This Ministry has also relocated 177 health system units (pharmacies, clinics, etc.) to solid and safe institutions in the affected territories.

Unlike the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by tropical storm Harvey, all of whom must apply for federal aid, Cubans, despite the country’s vastly inferior economic resources, do not feel as though they will be abandoned “no matter what,” nor subjected to market-driven price gouging of vital supplies as witnessed in Texas .

The Cuban approach to prevention policies demonstrate a thoughtful insight into the sheer power of nature and the impact of climate change.  The U.S. philosophy of disaster relief, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought.

In 2005, Cuba, which has suffered over half century of a U.S. economic blockade, offered to send 1,500 medical professionals from the Henry Reeves Brigade to help the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  The former U.S. President George W. Bush, swiftly rejected the offer.

Keep up to date with developments at

http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2017-09-09/irma-continues-to-pose-a-threat-to-cuba

 

 

 

Labour Limbers Up

28th August 2017

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Shadow Brexit Secretary, Kier Starmer, with Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn

The announcement yesterday, that the Labour Party will back continued membership of the single market and customs union beyond the date of Brexit in March 2019, signals the first move in preparation for an Autumn General Election.  Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, writing in The Observer yesterday was unequivocal about the clarification of Labour’s position stating,

“We need a transitional Brexit deal that provides maximum certainty and stability.  Labour will deliver it.  If we are to deliver a deal that protects jobs and the economy, we must be clear about the hard choices that need to be made.”

The failure of the Tory government to come up with anything other than vacuous options papers over the summer, further fuelling the uncertainty about arrangements from March 2019 onwards, has left the door open for Labour to capture the centre ground and stake a clear policy position.

The length of any proposed transition is still unclear but the fact that there will be a period for negotiation, rather than the ‘cliff edge’ scenario proposed by the Tories for March 2019 will give UK business some reassurance.

The Labour position is clearly one that is transitional in every sense, designed to maximise party unity in the build up to the conference season and the return of Parliament.  Key sections of the Labour leadership understand the contradictions of the EU, as a capitalist alliance aimed at shoring up its trading position against the US and Far East, whatever the cost to its weaker economies.

However, a hardline anti-EU position will not mobilise the constituency which backed Jeremy Corbyn at the last election.  While the Labour Manifesto proved massively popular with a wide cross section of the population, not least young people, many of those have still bought into the concept of the EU as positive force.

An elected Labour government, which aims to implement its programme of nationalisation and public sector investment, will quickly come up against EU regulations that will provide barriers.  At that point the struggle for a clear understanding of Brexit, and the right of a Left wing government to implement the programme upon which it has been elected, will open up a whole new front in the understanding of the role of the EU as a protectionist capitalist cartel.

Politically the promise of a transition post March 2019 will aim to keep both the Parliamentary Labour Party and voters on board long enough to see a Labour Government elected.  The situation that government inherits, particularly in relation to jobs and the economy, will determine how negotiations with the rest of the EU proceed and how a transitional period will play out.

The political priority for the coming period is the ousting of the Tory government who will continue with austerity for the many, inside or outside of the EU.  The Tories’ inability to govern, or even give a coherent gloss to negotiations with the EU, is becoming more evident with each day.  It is time to ensure that those days are numbered.

 

Cracks in the system exposed

21st August 2017

Cville2

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency last year was in part due to the failure of the US liberal establishment to produce a credible alternative candidate.  Trump’s characterisation of Hillary Clinton as ‘crooked’ had enough resonance with enough of the electorate to leave the door open for Trump’s particular brand of populism to succeed.  Clinton may still have won 3 million more votes than Trump but the Electoral College system worked in his favour in enough key states to ensure victory.

While the liberal intelligentsia and much of the media in the United States continue to characterise the Trump presidency as dysfunctional, it is becoming increasingly clear that Trump does not acknowledge that being President means playing by the usual rules.  In fact, there is little in the first few months of the Trump presidency to suggest that he gives a damn about the rules.  On the contrary, there is every indication that Trump and those backing him are looking to change the rules entirely and shift the ground of debate in US politics firmly to the right.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia last week were not, in themselves, unusual in the history of racism and apartheid in the United States.  White supremacists, Nazis and the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan have lurked beneath the surface of areas in the Southern United States for decades.  However, this racism is being met by a new assertiveness, on the part of those from non-white heritage in the US, to address symbols of the nation’s slave owning history resulting in a number of moves to remove public symbols of this past.

General Robert E. Lee, the slave owning Confederate leader, is seen as a hero of the Right.  The decision to remove his statue in Charlottesville is the latest in a range of moves to de-toxify public images and monuments in the United States.  Confederate monuments, statues and images are up for discussion in many US cities including Baltimore and San Antonio, as well as Lexington, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida.

The response of the Right to defend this legacy has been emboldened by the election of Trump and the initial actions of his administration.  As the Communist Party of the USA has noted recently,

“The Trump policies of mass deportations, voter suppression, Muslim bans, investigating “race-based discrimination” against whites, “law and order”, reviving the “War on Drugs” and encouraging police brutality are all geared at mobilizing a white nationalist constituency and slowing down, stopping and reversing the vast demographic and cultural shifts to ensure permanent white nationalist rule.”

The difference for the Right is that they have a President who is openly prepared to defend their position and publicly attack those who stand up to oppose racism.  Equating those who were protesting against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville with the racist mob, Trump stated in his press  conference on the issues,

“I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it.  And you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”

While Trump and the alt-Right racists around him attempt to shift the agenda and legitimise racist attitudes, resistance continues to grow.  A so-called “free speech” rally in Boston over the weekend, organised by the alt-Right, was abandoned as over 30,000 anti-racist protesters turned out in opposition.  Business leaders, previously associated with the Republican Party have deserted Trump’s economic advisory councils in the past week, forcing Trump to disband them.

The opposition within the business world is not always a matter of principle but a growing recognition that Trump’s overt racism is bad for business.  The Trump agenda of de-regulation is widely welcomed but fomenting racial unrest is not conducive to business stability.

As C.J. Atkins, writing in the CPUSA People’s World notes,

“Because if he has accomplished anything, it is this: Trump has blown apart the idea that the United States has moved past racism or that discrimination is a relic of our troubled past.  By emboldening white supremacists and fomenting racial animosity on the part of white workers, he has exposed the tactic of dividing working people by race.  The threat for capitalism is that more people begin to put together the pieces and realize that it’s not only Trump who is the problem, but the system itself, which thrives on built-in racial divisions.”

Even the New York Times last week was moved to comment,

“Comparing the Trump administration to the Nazis may be a stretch, but many business leaders are concerned that stirring up deep-seated racial and nationalist animosities could be destabilizing, leading to riots, property damage, and widespread civil unrest reminiscent of the late 1960s.”

On the one hand the liberal establishment is attempting to re-assert itself and stabilise capitalism in the United States.  On the other, the hard core around Trump and his more vociferous supporters in the country remain keen to push the alt-Right agenda, reverse the limited social and political gains of the civil rights era of the United States and move towards a more openly institutionalised form of apartheid.

Neither of these options will meet the needs of the mass of the people of the United States.  Removing an overt racist from the White House is only the first step and the growing demand for his impeachment must be supported.

However, in order to build a movement which can unite the interests of the working people of the USA, from across the range of ethnic communities, the struggle will need to be seen as something far more fundamental, taken beyond the White House and into the communities of the United States.