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Taking a broader perspective…

Government will outlaw squatting once and for all…..

Jamie Potter is a graduate in Journalism and Politics, a member of the Labour Party and his blog can be found here.

Grant Shapps has written in the Telegraph of his government’s plans to outlaw squatting ‘once and for all’ to alleviate the ‘distress and misery’ squatters cause to people who can’t be bothered to do anything with their building until it’s occupied by somebody in need of one.

This comes not long after the Tory Westminster council announced their intention to dispose of any human empathy in their collective soul and ban food donations to the homeless. Apparently it ‘encourages them’, much like scraps of food encourages rats and other vermin I guess. It’s hardly surprising then that the government want to crack down on squatters making use of empty homes whose numbers are startling.

According to local authority data (.xls) compiled by Empty Homes, a campaign group working to convert empty buildings into habitable properties, there were over 700,000 neglected houses stood idle in 2009. Meanwhile, there are over 1.7 million families waiting for social housing and hundreds more people spending nights on the street. Does something strike you as discrepant here?

And these are just the figures for homes. There are also countless empty shops, offices and other commercial (even industrial) buildings twiddling their thumbs in towns and cities across the country. The problem is apparent to anyone with eyes and the means to get around town, with buildings falling into disrepair and horrifying the well-to-do homeowners who fear for their own image and affected property prices.

On the other hand, many squatters have seen to it that such buildings are put to a good social use, acting as green education centres, women’s refuges, places of education and creativity which otherwise wouldn’t be there (cough, big society, cough). Guy Ritchie’s abandoned Fitzrovia mansion made more of a contribution to the neighbourhood when it was briefly taken over by protesters than it has at any previous point in its unremarkable, forgotten and couldn’t-care-less state.

For so many homes to be stood idle, waiting for investors, the market or local authorities to wake from their slumber, while so many homeless and marginalised people crave a roof over their heads is a disgrace. Are we really suggesting that it’s absolutely fine for property developers and the rich to buy up houses and forget about them while people across the country cry out for their own home?

In many cases, that people are squatting is a symptom of a wider malaise of deep rooted and systemic inequality, one that Grant Shapps and his colleagues in government are only going to exacerbate as budget cuts bite. Cracking down on squatting is nothing more than a doffing of his cap to the rich and landed, a policy that once again reveals the inner spite of the government and their refusal to consider the needs of the marginalised and impoverished in society.

Bollocks to it.

Filed under: Big Society, Conservatives, Economy, Welfare, Westminster

Questions for William Hague….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.This article was cross-posted with the kind permission of the author from Left Foot Forward and can be found here.

William Hague has come under increasing pressure in the last few weeks, criticised for a series of blunders over Libya, Egypt and the whole Middle East, culminating in the disastrous SAS mission, which further unravelled yesterday, The Sunday Times reporting (£) that rebels had accessed secret MoD computer codes on “scraps of paper” captured from operatives on the bungled operation, described by one expert as “so inept, it is unbelievable”.

The questions facing the under-fire foreign secretary include:

Why was he so slow to grasp and show any support at all for the Middle East / North African democratic revolutions?

Even Cameron got there quicker, showing sympathy for the Egyptian protesters and antipathy toward Mubarak, even while Hague was still virtually parroting the Israeli line of support for Mubarak.

How can Hague justify having visited the autocracy of Bahrain to assure them of British support at the very time when the widely predicted (and then brutally suppressed) Bahrain democracy protests were getting underway? See here and here.

What is Hague’s explanation for his bizarre and jejune outburst about Gaddafi’s allegedly having fled to Venezuela? Was it any more than an opportunistic attempt to smear Chavez?

(Not that Chavez needs much help: since then, he has smeared himself disastrously, by in effect aligning his regime with Gaddafi’s.)

Why didn’t Hague oversee a more effective operation to evacuate British civilians from Libya? Surely someone must carry the can for this?

Why did Hague send the SAS into free Libya, rather than simply phoning up the revolutionary forces’ HQ in Benghazi to establish good diplomatic relations with them? Craig Murray’s hypothesis is a particularly worrying one.

Why has Hague, unlike Cameron, been so slow to support the free Libyan forces? Why has he not pressed for most of the measures advocated by Carne Ross to be implemented by Britain and the EU, and why has he not enthusiastically backed Cameron’s call for a No-Fly Zone to help save the Libyan revolution?

Labour is of course in a poor position to attack Hague over Libya, for reasons I document here; as a Green, thankfully, I am not.

But, crucially, it is not even just over issues of foreign policy that Hague is now in trouble. As I pointed out recently over at Open Democracy, Hague has been spreading untruths about the BNP and AV, too. It would be extremely unwise (to put it mildly) of the prime minister to repeat these untruths, as I point out here.

He would be better off in fact distancing himself from the completely unsound Tory BNP-AV canard which Hague has promoted, for sooner or later he will surely have to admit the truth: that AV is demonstrably the worst of all possible systems for the BNP, because voters can gang up against them, and don’t have to try to figure out which party is best-placed to beat them and vote tactically for that party.

Ed Miliband, Caroline Lucas and Nick Clegg may even need to be ready to call Mr Cameron and Hague outright liars, if they go on pretending AV will electorally benefit the BNP.

If, as the charges against him mount up, Hague eventually had to go, who should replace him? Surely the time is ripe for the coalition to start to consider moving beyond the usual suspects, and picking a figure of genuine weight not tainted by Hague’s prototypically-Conservative failings.

The huge but also hopeful ongoing crisis that the world now faces, with revolutions in the Middle East and the possibility of an enduring war and humanitarian crisis in Libya – in which we should break with Britain’s sorry past and side with the free Libyan forces – brings to mind two names which would actually carry some international weight.

I am talking about two senior figures who would be believable as more than just narrow interpreters of Britain’s ‘national interest’: Ming Campbell or Paddy Ashdown.

Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, International Politics, , , ,

Tory lies: AV & The BNP

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

PM Cameron is apparently preparing to outright-lie in his increasing desperation over potential defeat in the May 5 referendum. For the truth is the very opposite of his big lie. As I’ve shown in detail (See here & here & here & here) AV is the worst of all possible systems for the BNP. Which is presumably why the BNP are vigorously and paranoidly opposing it…

William Hague has already pioneered the big lie that AV will help the BNP: See here. Hague’s position in British politics is increasingly vulnerable: one of the reasons why he may have to go as Foreign Secretary is because of his bizarre lie a fortnight ago that Gaddafi was flying to Venezuala, which was clearly calculated simply to smear Chavez. Does Cameron really want to start looking as bad and frequent a liar as Hague?
Cameron would be well-advised not to try to use the BNP card against AV. It will haunt him, if he does. For, once more: the truth is that AV, being a system in which voters can gang up on unpopular Parties, will help ensure that the BNP never gets elected to Westminster – and moreover, if introduced in local government elections, would lead to the defeat of virtually all their Councillors.

Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, , ,

Two replies to the #NotoAV camp….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter. You can view the original posts here and here.

This exchange between the excellent Jonathan Bartley of #Yes2AV and the spinning sneering smearer Charlotte Vere of #No2AV was on the BBC this morning.  As you’ll see if you watch it, in the course of a general swipe at ‘minor Parties’, Vere comes pretty close to suggesting that Green voters’ second choice is likely to be…the BNP! Specifically: The ‘example’ Vere gives of how AV is ‘unfair’ (!) to large Parties and partial (sic.) toward small Parties is of a voter whose first preference is Green and whose second preference is BNP and so on…

She’s a repeat offender regarding this sort of thing, as Greens know from her often-dreadful campaign against Caroline Lucas in Brighton, and as anyone knows who follows for instance the seemingly-endless string of misrepresentations on her twitter-feed in the course of this AV referendum campaign.

The truth of course is that there is very little demographic intersection between Green and BNP voters  (See Pat Dade’s work in Cultural Dynamics, for confirmation of this; the geodemographic profile of the BNP is, for illustration, quite similar to that of Tea Party supporters in the States – who are hardly like to be Green-leaning!.

Potential BNP voters are proportionately more likely to vote Conservative (or UKIP, or indeed Labour) than they are to vote Green. Not, presumably, the kind of fact that Ms. Vere, a Conservative, likes to broadcast… So, on live TV, she smears small Parties in general and the Greens in particular (perhaps she is still smarting at having been beaten by one?), instead…

A reply to William Hague.

Dear_________,

Without your help, Britain’s traditional voting system could be ditched for something that is unfair, expensive and allows candidates that finish third to win elections.

On May 5th, there’s a nationwide referendum on whether to replace the system of First Past the Post with the ‘Alternative Vote’ – or AV. The Liberal Democrats demanded this referendum as part of the Coalition agreement – but the Conservative Party are actively campaigning for a ‘No’ vote. Here’s why:

AV is unfair. With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while other people’s vote would only be counted once.

RR: This is nonsense. It is like saying that if you go to a restaurant, and find that your preferred dish is not available because it wasn’t popular enough, then you shouldn’t have the chance to have a 2nd preference. AV is STV for single constituencies: It could equally well be named STV. Each person has only a SINGLE Transferrable Vote. (It is also worth noting, seeing as Hague gratuitously mentions the BNP here to try to smear the #Yes2AV campaign, that the BNP are campaigning FOR FPTP and AGAINST AV. This isn’t surprising: because the BNP will suffer badly under AV, which is the worst of all electoral systems for extreme Parties hated by the majority of voters, as explained here.

AV doesn’t work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner.

RR: Yes, of course, the person who finishes 2nd or 3rd ON FIRST PREFERENCES could become the winner – IF they get enough transfers from other candidates. That is exactly HOW AV works. So, for example, David Miliband got more 1st preferences than Ed Miliband in the Labour Leadership election. But Ed won more transfers, and so came out the eventual winner. What this shows is that there were a lot of people who _didn’t_ want David to win, whose first preference was for Balls, Abbott, or Burnham. If the Labour leadership contest had been conducted via FPTP, then those people would have been forced either to tactically vote for Ed (thus being deprived of the ability to express their actual 1st preference) or would have risked ‘wasting’ their vote. AV ends those kinds of painful betrayals of democracy, and facilitates people expressing what their actual preferences are. (It therefore also, crucially, allows smaller Parties over time to build up their 1st preferences until they become contenders to actually win. This is how the Green Party has grown in Australia – see my recent letter in PROSPECT magazine).

AV is expensive. Calculating the results is a long, complicated process, which would cost the taxpayer millions.

RR: Actually, AV would be barely any more expensive at all than FPTP: see here. The very small additional cost – basically, the extra staff time to count the more complex ballot papers on election night – is surely a price worth paying for democracy. (Of course, it would be much cheaper to dispense with elections altogether – this seems to be the ultimate logic of this particular ‘argument’ of the No2AV side…)

No-one wants AV. Even the ‘Yes’ campaigners don’t actually want AV – they see it as a convenient stepping stone to yet more changes to how we vote.

RR: Well, it is certainly true that there are a good number of Yes2AV campaigners who would in the longer term want PR, myself included. But the question before voters is what stance to take IN THIS REFERENDUM. The Green Party’s preferred policy is PR: but AV is our second preference, above FPTP!… Hague is trying here to make the best as we see it the enemy of the good. His argument fails: just because AV is not perfect is no reason to vote for a worse system (FPTP) on May 5th! Given the alternative on offer, I DO want AV. (Also, we need to bear in mind that there are plenty of ordinary voters out there, and some members of the Yes2AV campaign, who DON’T want PR, and who do want AV. The AV referendum is about AV – let’s not let Hague distract with irrelevant remarks about PR.)

_______________________________________________________________

Thank you,

William Hague

Foreign Secretary

Comment on William’s message on the Blue Blog

Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, Green Party

Three reasons why the child benefits fiasco is Tory master-stroke….

This article was cross-posted from Liberal Conspiracy with the kind permisssion of it author, Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

The Tories right now are laughing all the way to the ballot box. Whether they intended it as such or not, this cut in child benefit for the richer is proving a political masterstroke.

That sounds an extraordinary thing to say, given the sustained attacks they are suffering over it, and the apologies that they are being forced to make.

But consider the following three points:

1) As they deal with these attacks from the Mail et al, and are forced over and over again to respond to criticisms from broadcast journalists, what do the top Tory brass say? Over and over, they say: ‘Look; with this deficit we have to make tough choices; and it is only fair that the richest 15% give up this benefit in order that there is more money to go around.”

It enables Tories to identifying themselves with fairness and remove the impression that they are all about helping the rich. If they have to suffer a few days’ media discomfort in order to rebrand themselves in this way, it is a price well worth them paying.

Contrary to Sunny’s argument here, this attack on child benefit for the rich may be the way that the Conservatives finally escape the label ‘the nasty party’.

2) Meanwhile, the frenzy that the Mail et al are lathering themselves into works tacitly to the Tories advantage too: because the Mail are going on and on about protecting ‘Middle England’, while quietly ignoring the fact that someone earning £45k a year (the very least that someone now about to lose child benefit will earn) is earning twice the median income.

Twice the median: that is hardly the middle. So, the media furore is quietly stoking a sense of the country as richer than it really is, and of the rich as just part of the ‘middle class’: perfect for Tory ideas of how to reposition Britain’s sense of who it is, and of who matters.

3) Most crucially, all the attention on those poor parents earning anywhere between £45k and £Infinity is taking attention away from what really matters about this: the negative impact it is going to have on the welfare state because of a universal benefit being taken away from the rich. The poorest welfare states are in fact those which are designed only for the poor.

Thus the Tories get the best of both worlds: they get to look tough but fair, while actually doing something that profoundly undermines fairness and the entire Beveridge / Attlee agenda. Truly a masterstroke.

Lefties/greenies etc need to stop gloating on about how the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot and about those poor stay-at-home Mums, and start talking simply about defending the principle of welfare state universalism.

Otherwise, this cut will be the thin end of a very large wedge, and before we know it we will be looking at taking away NHS provision from the richest, on the grounds that they can afford private healthcare… I hope it is at least obvious to readers why THAT would be bad for us all. But it is nothing more than an extension of the logic of Osborne’s clever move here on child benefit.

Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Welfare

Is ‘Big Society’ a fix for a false prognosis?

By Andrew Harding

Andrew is known under another pseudonym which he blogs under – 2me2you. Andrew has been a member of the Labour Party since shortly after May 6th 2010, after voting Lib Dem to keep the Tory out. He currently does analysis, research and support based work for Bournemouth University, whilst about to embark on an MSc in Citizenship & Democracy from the University of Southampton.

Firstly, we were told that Britain was ‘broken’, but that was dropped as it was largely false and actually quite offensive. Social cohesion has benefitted under Labour since 1997.

But is Britain or its society broken? I believe we are more tolerant than we were – the introduction of civil partnerships illustrates that. Labour introduced a minimum wage, the NHS in the mid 90s lagged behind the rest of the western world – we are now in a situation where we have a comparatively good quality health service at a relatively cheap cost. Pound for pound we get exceptional value from the NHS, do not let Andrew Lansley tell you otherwise. Education has made real strides since 1997. We are also told that crime is at historically low levels bearing in mind we have just come out of a recession. I’ll let you make your own mind up.

For one moment let us believe the Tories and assume Britain is ‘broken’. Why? Because you can see the (albeit skewed) logic behind the ‘Big Society’. Is the ‘Big Society’ supposed to be the cure to ‘Broken Britain’? It is hard to see otherwise, even when we are still not exactly sure what the ‘Big Society’ is. So will the prescription fit the ailment, will the bitter pill solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and finally can you really expect to get something for nothing?

The short answer to the last question at least is yes. Currently volunteers across the land put a shift in at the local hospice shop, run the after school club or are involved in countless activities usually in their own free time.

At the other end of the spectrum there is the relatively new phenomena called work experience, designed to empower people to gain a cutting edge in entering a career or profession. Excluding the work experience brigade, we already have a sizeable volunteer army.

Whilst it is not a new idea, it is quite naïve to suggest we can significantly add to their numbers. More often than not people will want to benefit for a particular action – work experience is the best example of that. Internships and work experience have become a necessity to progress in specific careers, they can be exploitative and act as a barrier to certain groups but with growing competition it is also very necessary.

‘Exploitative’ is a key word here, as is ‘empower’. Is ‘Big Society’ just a dressed down version of work experience, or rather a way of getting something done for nothing that previously you would have had to pay someone to do. I think so. ‘Empowering’ in both contexts is just ‘exploiting’ but in a different guise.

You undertake work experience to gain a valuable insight into a career and hopefully a cutting edge over other prospective candidates in the employment market. You could say it empowers you. Interestingly David Cameron chose the word ‘empowerment’ in his recent attempt to explain exactly what the ‘Big Society’ is. Valid comparisons can be made between the two.

Will people want to run our public services under the guise and rhetoric of being ‘empowered’?

The vast majority of volunteers tend to be people of retirement age, disposable time is a major factor. I suspect a large proportion of the retired population have had ample opportunities to volunteer, and why would the ones that do not already suddenly be empowered by empty rhetoric?

It is fair to suggest adults who have a family do not possess enough free time to volunteer either, and will teenagers drag themselves away from their Playstation to pick up litter for a day? Where will this nationalised parish council come from without taking away from the number of good causes they are already affiliated to?

Charities are set to take a hefty hit in George Osborne’s recent emergency budget. Cash flow among charities and not for profit groups may also be a stumbling block.

In 2005 the Conservatives correctly attacked the then Chancellor (Gordon Brown) for proposing to raid dormant bank accounts in order to set up a ‘Community bank’ to fund local projects. It is then ironic that David Cameron has proposed the very same method to channel funds to the ‘Big Society’. Is it moral, or even legal?

So what is the ‘Big Society’ apart from a simple cost cutting measure and a prescription for a sickness that was falsely diagnosed? It is a lot of hot air. It is very hard to distance the ‘Big Society’ from its cost cutting criticisms. The government has not turned into a pound shop just yet, but they are certainly parking the Jag at Lidl.

In trying to dissect the ‘Big Society’ I am aware that it has led to more questions being asked than answered, which is symptomatic of the ambiguity in this policy.

Taken in the right light it is an admirable concept, but appears to be one that has not been thought out properly. It is as much naive as it is ambiguous. The Prime Minister says it is designed to provide “communities with oomph” – the Prime Minister’s own words conclude the critique of a loose concept very well indeed.

Filed under: Conservatives, , , , , , , , , , ,

Political lies, media manipulation and the ‘shock doctrine’…

By Jay Baker

Jay is a British media activist who has almost ten years of experience as a professional documentarian, writer, youth worker, social justice campaigner, and social entrepreneur.

It’s true that lies are often perpetuated. In fact, if they’re repeated enough, these lies can be regarded as truths, and rarely even questioned at all.

An example of this is the great lie perpetuated on the people of Britain concerning the economy.

In the build-up to the general election this year, New Labour finally realized that their right-wing re-positioning and re-branding was – as expected by many – its greatest weakness. Without its heart, “the people’s party” created by the labour workforce to represent the working class mass majority now had no alternative argument to counter the Conservatives, due in part to its commitment to its doomed brand.

As a result, shocking Tory claims – on immigration, on taxes, and most of all, on the economy – went largely unchallenged. And by the time the Liberal Democrats had “sold out” (as many of its own supporters would say) in forming a coalition with the Tories, the only challenges of facts and logic in the public eye were from the likes of Caroline Lucas or Salma Yaqoob on forums such as BBC’s Question Time; lone voices in a fog of misconceptions.

So: what is the truth? First, we have to look at the lies, key lies that are perpetuated by the mainstream media:

  • Lie #1: The latest economic crisis was a freak act of nature we had to endure, a “Credit Crunch,” like a breakfast cereal we must swallow before going about our day, business as usual.
  • Lie #2: If the Credit Crunch was anyone’s fault, it was the fault of New Labour for failing to regulate the banks properly.
  • Lie #3: The only way to cope with the recession is to cut government spending and sell off public services to private interests, even if this means higher unemployment.

These are all essentially preconceived notions perpetuated by the press. Linguistics professor and political activist Noam Chomsky talks about this often: whether it be using slogans like “Support our troops” or asking the question “Can we win in Iraq?” those in positions of power and influence must use propaganda to create presuppositions and stifle or restrict and marginalize debate.

For example, Chomsky explains, a mantra such as “Support our troops” is vacuous, because it doesn’t mean anything more than asking if we, say, support the people of Iowa; there’s no counter to it – asking if we support the war policy would draw a plethora of offence, but to ask if we support the brave men and women of the armed forces offers no such room for argument. Likewise, Chomsky also suggests that asking “Can we win in Iraq?” completely ignores the greater question of whether we have any right to be there in the first place. And so, a “questioning” media indeed questions, but the questions it asks are chosen carefully to frame the debate inside a certain context, giving an illusion of media investigative journalism and “fair and balanced” coverage while propelling the debate in a particular direction.

Another example I’d offer is when firebrand politician George Galloway, love him or loathe him, showed intestinal fortitude by appearing on US airwaves via “fair and balanced” (yet pro-Republican) Fox News to talk about Afghanistan, and was repeatedly asked the question, “Is Afghanistan better without the Taliban in charge?” – meaning that Galloway the Great Orator, on a rare occasion, was defeated by having to reply conceding Afghanistan was indeed better without the Taliban, ending the interview again within that carefully conceived framework. No discussion was to be had on the fact that US taxpayers’ money went on creating the Taliban in the first place, or that the reasons for ousting them was for the next phase of what is often described as US imperialism. Fox News was faux news – merely maintaining the status quo.

This is exactly what the media has also done with the economy.

The fact of the matter – which is rarely, if ever, addressed by the press – is that the cleverly-spun “Credit Crunch” was, in fact, caused by a range of capitalism-induced conditions from removal of workers’ rights, shipping of jobs overseas, and increasing debt dependency, to US economic conditions, to, yes, Tory deregulation of the financial sector under Margaret Thatcher that started it all. Thatcherism was only saved by the success of North Sea oil, having ideologically attacked the unions by destroying key territories, from coalmining to steelworks; removing jobs, bringing unions to their knees, and decimating entire communities, sickeningly declaring “There’s no such thing as society.” It was every man (and woman) for themselves, she suggested: sink or swim.

This kind of Social Darwinism is what the Tories love: the dangerous act of applying Darwinist theories onto sociology and politics as a whole that historically gave rise to such other right-wing ideologies as Nazism. By no means an irresponsible, sweeping generalization of categorizing all right-wingers such as Thatcher as on the same page as Hitler, this is actually a very serious threat, when politicians start using Social Darwinism as a justification – that might makes right, and it’s survival of the fittest. Alarm bells must go off, because today’s Thatcher (a friend and admirer of Chilean dictator Pinochet) could be tomorrow’s Hitler.

The Tories were the ones who embraced Social Darwinism in the 80s, and financial deregulation – letting the bankers run amok, in accordance with Milton Friedman’s now-discredited economic theories – was part of it.

Yes, the Tories criticized New Labour for failure to regulate the banks, but New Labour had no response besides an immature one: “You started it.” Might doesn’t make right, and neither do two wrongs. New Labour were unable to attack the Tories because they’d come too close to attacking themselves.

But the Tories didn’t just get away with exploiting New Labour to cover up their contribution to the crisis; they were able to capitalize on it by shifting the debate – essentially aided and abetted by New Labour – towards the realms of necessary and unavoidable cuts. The fact that investment creates jobs and benefits the economy, while a deficit can be reduced through fairer taxation, was completely ignored. No, we weren’t supposed to have that discussion, and the corporate media did their job as enforcers.

While reeling from a recession, worried about their jobs, the Tories were able to apply what Naomi Klein calls the Shock Doctrine in her book of the same name: while a people are in shock, it’s possible for the Friedmanesque “Market Bolsheviks” to push through sweeping, radical reforms and policies that benefit elite interests. Eventually, the shock wears off, Klein suggests, but it’s often only after the damage has already been done.

This is what is happening to Britain today. The Tories – after criticizing New Labour for failing the NHS or universities, in addition to pointing the finger over financial deregulation – are now passing policies that reflect their ideology, and able to do it in the name of crisis (what Klein calls “disaster capitalism” exemplified by the profits made in post-Gorbachev Russia, in post-invasion Iraq, and even in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina).

The Tories have come to power at the perfect moment for them: just as 9/11 was America’s shock, allowing Bush to get away with illegal invasions and surveillance of his own people before the shock wore off there, David Cameron, supported by Nick Clegg, can use the economic crisis as an excuse for almost anything: from discussions on “innovative” universities (read: privatization) to “modernizing” the NHS (read: privatization), to cutting public services (again, privatization), these are the same old public school elitists with nothing in common with the working class people who suffer the most from the recession yet have their jobs under threat, and welfare cheques, too. Those with plenty in common with the coalition, of course, are Big Business. Their recent budget was, top to bottom, an ideological one, straight and simple – applied to a people still in shock.

Perhaps the most unfortunate fact, though, was that New Labour had little in common with the people either. Its election-winning machine had no heart, and only through its electoral destruction can it be resurrected, the new becoming old. Their choice of leader of the Labour Party has never been so important in all its history. The best choice could mean a landslide victory in 2015 – when the shock has worn off and the people destroy a likely already-imploded coalition.

Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Media, , , , , , , , , , ,

Lefty co-operation against the Tories; why we need to fight on our own turf…

Adam Ramsay is an Editor of Bright Green Scotland.

When Philip of Macedon – father of Alexander The Great – fought his opponents, he always won. His army had the longest spears. His opponents gradually made longer, and longer spears. But the Macedonians were the world experts in this game. And wherever they went, they won.

Until the Romans came along. For unlike their previous opponents, the Romans didn’t attempt to beat Philip at his own game. They simply threw javelins to disable their shields, then walked between the spears to kill the Macedonians with their short swords. The lesson is obvious – you don’t beat your enemy at their own game.

Today, the same lesson is famous among political hacks, and is most often expressed as: every election is a referendum, the winner is the person who sets the questions.

And this political rule applies every day. For the battle between left and right is not so much a contest of answers as a fight between questions. While we ask how to protect rights at work, they ask how to limit immigration. While we ask how to end poverty, they ask how to unleash business. While we ask how to cut crime, they focus on how to punish criminals. While we ask how to respond to climate change, they ask if the climate is changing. While we ask how to create jobs, they ask how to cut public spending. Every time we try to fight them on their turf, we accept the premise that this is a matter of significant debate. And, like Philip’s early opponents, we are likely to lose.

One of the great mistakes of New Labour was to cede such rhetorical ground. Tony Blair seemed to believe that if you sound like a Tory, you can sneak through some Labour policies. So he switched from “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” to announcing initiatives to march ‘hoodies’ to cash machines. And while these statements were Daily Mail fodder which never actually happened, a whole generation of people began to believe that attacking those who commit crime is the appropriate response, as no one led them to the evidence that such an obsession with enacting societal vengeance increases crime, and we must deal with causes.

And the same is true of the economy. Does the lack of concern about relative poverty, perhaps, correlate to the fact that there are precious few politicians today making the case against inequality? Well, in the one area where Labour was (relatively) bold – LGBT rights – we saw a massive shift in attitudes. Thus we see the power of the pulpit of the Prime Ministership – of the leadership legislation can provide.

And so every gain Labour sneaked through the back door – increased spending on public services, for example – is under immediate threat from this government, as no one remembers why we wanted them in the first place. If “use the language of the right and you can deliver a manifesto of the left” was the idea, then the reality was “use the language of the right, and you make us a country of right”. Where Labour got things right, the problem was not so much the painfully slow progress along the road to a better world, as the failure to remind us all of the destination.

And now that the Conservatives have the Downing Street podium, they will not make the same mistake. They have already succeeded in turning the great crisis of capitalism into a problem of ‘profligate’ public spending. They have already shifted the goal posts from “how do we fight unemployment” to “how do we cut the deficit”. While the White House has internal debates about how to pay for the increases in public spending the global economy desperately needs, right-wing governments across Europe have shifted the spotlight off the problem of unemployment which has caused the deficit, and onto the deficit itself. The right don’t ask whether to cut spending, but how. And as swathes on the left rush to answer the ‘how’ they shut out from the debate those – including troops of Nobel winning Economists, Central Bankers, and Barack Obama – who argue that we shouldn’t be cutting at all.

And so it is through setting the terms of debate that the right is winning.

We waste our time refuting climate sceptics, and so the public shift to what they see as the middle ground – doubt. We accept some of their cuts in the hope of sounding moderate, rather than asking the real question – how do we create (green) jobs? We talk about – and this is the most bizarre – a “left narrative on immigration”, rather than forcing the right to explain why we shouldn’t sue RBS’ executives for billions in lost earnings through the unemployment they created, and why we shouldn’t mutualise all the major banks. And that is extraordinary – our national economy is destroyed by free market capitalism, and the best the British left can muster is a wet explanation of how immigrants shouldn’t be given all the blame?!

Where we agree on solutions, we should work together. But for me, it is in re-shaping the debate – choosing the debate – that the broad left can best co-operate. For we don’t agree on answers, and, no matter how many conference break out sessions we sit through, we will not agree on tactics. But while we don’t agree on how to tackle it, we can agree that poverty is a bigger problem than immigration. While we don’t share solutions, we can agree that achieving greater equality of income is a crucial goal for our society. While we don’t agree on PFI, we can agree that the question should not be whether, but how to fund public services. We don’t share solutions, but we do agree that climate change is a great challenge of our age.

And if we can, in our battles with the Con-Dem government, ensure that political debate in this country focusses on our questions, then we will ensure that once more, Britain truly has a progressive majority. Because like the Romans, we won’t be caught on the political spears of arms races we can never win.

Filed under: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, The Left, , , , , , , ,

The counter intuitive nature of ConDem’s welfare cuts, and delayed LibDem rebellion…

By Jane Watkinson

Reading the ConDem ‘defenses’ of the budget, and more specifically – welfare cuts, the illogically of the arguments couldn’t be any clearer. There is a central argument that somehow cutting welfare will lead to growth and prosperity and somehow is ‘fair’ – this lies on a right wing ideological assumption that most people on benefits want to be so, and enjoy ‘lazing’ around whilst Osborne puts it, their neighbours go to work and look in disbelief as the ‘scroungers” curtains remain closed at 9 in the morning.

There is no economic sense behind the slashing of welfare bills. It is not unavoidable, as Osborne put it. It is fairly obvious that if you cut welfare spending, cut benefits, and make it generally harder for people to find assistance when out of work (such as the cuts to the Future Jobs Fund) then you make it harder for the most vulnerable to live above subsistence. You then account for the fact that public sector jobs are going to be cut so dramatically that 60,000 jobs, it has been estimated, will be lost at the end of parliament – then the situation looks even more disastrous and illogical. You can’t complain that people are on benefits and then cut jobs and hammer the supply side so as to make the job market even worse than it is. But the government will seek to punish the most vulnerable for this, as many who will lose their job will go onto benefits which will be increasingly cut due to the new index linking that will see benefits have a new relation with inflation.

Furthermore, Osborne has said today that they will look into further ways to cut the benefit bill, which is worrying when considering the October budget to come. This is in aid of reducing the 25% departmental cuts that are going to take place – Osborne believes that the welfare bill is largely responsible for this high figure. Again, this shows the government’s ideological desire to pass the buck to the most vulnerable, whilst claiming that everything they are doing is actually in the best interests of the vulnerable.

It is interesting to watch LibDems increasingly criticise the coalition. This was rare occurence when I left the LibDems immediately after the coalition agreement. Instead of assuming the ‘best’ in people, I thought it would be naive to somehow assume that the LibDems could ‘tame’ the Tories. The Tories had more seats, Clegg and other high LibDem officials had changed their mind on the cuts with a devastating effect (however, what is happening now makes you doubt whether they ever believed in what they campaigned for anyway). Thus, when the LibDem MPs and the LibDem members signaled their support for the faster and deeper cutting agreed by the coalition, what did they actually expect would happen? They agreed to allow the government to press ahead with very regressive measures such as VAT increase, it is all well and good arguing that they are against it now – but they signed the deal that made it all possible. Only Charles Kennedy really can commend respect as a LibDem MP – as he was the only one to vote against the bill.

Richard Grayson, vice-chair of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee, said that:

“Liberal Democrats may soon realise that a centre-left party is being led from the centre-right.”

I think this misses the point that the LibDems themselves are now centre-right. I don’t think that the LibDems have credibility to claim that they represent progressive values, especially after high-profile LibDems such as Clegg and Cable have argued that measures such as VAT are somehow part of a progressive budget. With the October budget to come, the situation can only get worse. The illogically and counter intuitive nature of the government’s proposals and creed will only become clearer as time progresses.

Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Liberal Democrats, , , , , , , , , , ,

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