Hartlepool makes a monkey out of Starmer

8th May 2021

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.

The charge sheet continues to grow

1st May 2021

The charge sheet continues to grow

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.

Capitalism – failing on all fronts

24th April 2021

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.

Sleaze and cronyism, time to make it stick

17th April 2021

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.

Ruling class chicanery

11th April 2021

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.

Change without challenging the status quo

2nd April 2021

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.

Colour drained from the union flag

27th March 2021

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.

Global Britain not yet on the roadmap

20th March 2021

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.  

Solidarity with People of Myanmar

13th March 2021

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

https://liberationorg.co.uk/

Tories test the limits

6th March 2021

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.