Blog

Direct action for climate change

18th October 2021

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.

Toon Army lose their heads over Saudi deal

9th October 2021

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.

Boris beavers away but doesn’t give a damn

6th October 2021

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.

Changing Values, Building Confidence

2nd October 2021

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.

Labour reduces its Corbyn footprint

29th September 2021

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.

Gunboat diplomacy back in vogue

19th September 2021

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.

Care – the age old issue

5th September 2021

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.

More war, more terror

30th August 2021

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.

People’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine

21st August 2021

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 https://peoplesvaccine.org/

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.