Broad Left Blogging


Taking a broader perspective…

Cuts are not the Cure Video

Great video from False Economy on why cuts are not the cure….




Filed under: Economy

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

Memo to Mervyn King: Pick up the phone and call Caroline Lucas….

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Monetary policy is essential. Since 1997 the UK economy has been run primarily not by the government but by the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Nine men and even sometimes a women meet monthly and vote whether to put interest rates up, down or on hold. It is never revealed what kind of coffee they drink but it is no secret that their grail is the inflation target. They have to achieve an inflation rate measured by the Consumer Price Index of 2% plus or minus 1, i.e they have to keep inflation within a band between 1 and 3%. If they fuck up, they must write a letter of grovelling apology to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was quite scary when the incumbent was Gordon Brown, I suspect he would have taken out his glass eye and thrown it out them in rage, when the letter was delivered. It is doubtful perhaps whether George Osbourne or his likely Labour successor would get stressed when it was delivered.

Nonetheless, they have been writing a lot of letters of apology, virtually every month they miss the target and January’s figures of 3.7% were unexpectedly high. Their policy tool the interest rate no longer works. The golden age of monetary policy from 1997 to 2008 saw them stay on target virtually every month, they would nudge the interest rate up a letter to discourage spending by the public. Lower spending means lower demand for goods and services and pushes inflation down. Likewise if inflation looked to be too low, with a dangers of recession they would push interest rates down, we would collectively spend a little more and inflation would stay on target.

There are many criticism that can be made of the MPC, is it democratic that something as important as economic management via monetary policy is decided not by elected politicians but selected bureaucrats. Why is inflation more important than unemployment (answer it isn’t). However for eleven years by its own standards the MPC delivered but it isn’t delivering even according to its own criteria any longer.

The MPC didn’t spot the financial crisis and subsequent chaos. But now they are in perhaps even deeper trouble and if they want to sort things out, I believe that they should invite evidence or even direct instruction from Caroline Lucas, Britain’s Green Party MP.

If they push up interest rates they will almost certainly crash the economy (they seemed to have worked this out, unlike George Osbourne who is likely to drive the vehicle into reverse with spending cuts). Interest rates though are virtually irrelevant because this isn’t demand driven inflation but supply side. Oil prices are rising, food prices are accelerating, clothes are going up dramatically in price. Yes this caused in part by a falling exchange rate that makes imports into the UK more expensive and the earlier rise in VAT has affected the figures.

Mainly its oil and chaotic weather patterns. Unless we become less dependent on fossil fuels, rising oil prices are going to cause sharp rises inflation. Climate change is going to lead to more crop failures, more fires like the ones in Russia that have pushed up wheat prices, more floods like those in Pakistan that have pushed up cotton prices. More climate chaos, less supply of cheap commodities, result inflation and negative growth, stagflation (stagnant economy + hyper inflation, it hasn’t got anything to do with deer).

We need to produce more of a food sustainably in the UK and we need green energy. Such policies are outside the remit of the MPC but unless we green the economy the economy will wither and die.

So Mervyn King, pick up the phone, call Caroline and ask her how a Green New Deal can be used to fight inflation.

Filed under: Economy, Green Party, , , , , ,

Mutual attraction….

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Lenin’s Tomb has condemened the recent advocacy of mutuals and cooperatives on the left. As a hombre who loves to give his Co-op card a good spanking on the trip to buy a Morning Star, some mushrooms and unfeasible quantities of beer, you might expect me to lay into Lenin’s Richard Seymour with abandon.

However my feelings are a little more complex.

I am sceptical for reasons which are complex but include the problem of enclosure of the commons (whether of cyber space or rainforests), speculation, inevitable exploitation and inequality that markets are ever fully effecient or desirable. I am also critical of traditional ideas of central planning as an alternative. The bankruptcy of market economics is leading to calls for alternatives but there is scepticism about traditional forms of socialist economics as well.

For me the alternative is commons, alternative property rights based on economic democracy, think wikipedia, think the web and think forms of communal land management. These alternatives sound utopian but from Tim Bernes-Lees to the work of the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom the commons is back in fashion.

Nonetheless, the commons based commonwealth will not be created over night. So alternatives are needed that are may be less radical. If communism is about economic democracy, surely economic alternatives based on common ownership and control like mutuals and cooperative are appropriate.

It is also worth remembering that Marx was an advocate not of state control but an economic democracy accompanied by the ultimate ‘withering away of the state’. In Venezuela there has been an explosion of new cooperatives; 21st century socialism in Latin America is about popular economics with decentralization of the means of production in contrast to the Soviet experience.

I think institutions like the Co-op or Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership), where profit is shared, are good examples that show that even within capitalism, profit sharing rather than share ownership can work.

However, Lenin’s Tomb is correct to identify that coops, mutuals and partnerships have some practical weaknesses. The John Lewis Partnership has virtues but is not workers control (its still way ahead of Tescos though!), the Co-op is not an instrument of Marxist advance, although I like to shop there. I once went into a socialist supermarket in down town Caracas but even this I guess was not the whole of a practical utopian alternative for food retail (although they did have some very neat cartoons explaining the new constitution on the packets of rice).

In a capitalist society, cooperatives while laudable are going to find it tough going. We live in a society where competition distorts what we do, in a market society, we dance to the tune of the market. Co-ops can involve self-exploitation, workers working longer hours and cutting corners to survive in globalised markets.

Co-ops, mutuals and partnerships have their virtues and communism is more about self-management than hierarchichal control. However, Richard is correct to challenge those who would mutualise state controlled institutions that work well such as the Royal Mail. By arguing that postal services need to be mutualised, this seems to be pushing a state owned institution in a more market based direction.

This is a dangerous strategy for fighting neo-liberalism.

Filed under: Economy, The Left, , , , , , , , , ,

“Why don’t they start with the bankers?”

Adrian Cruden is a senior manager in the charity sector and also a former parliamentary candidate. He blogs at Viridis Lumen and this post is cross-posted from there with his kind permission.

The British Government has announced its programme of cuts in public spending last week. Carefully crafting a wide range of substantial reductions in spending so that the average cuts per Government department come in at 19% over four years rather than Labour’s planned 20%, the Con Dems betray the essential unity of the three main parties around a monetarist, free market agenda. Their little school boyish prank may make waves in the Westminster Village, a bit like waving condoms about in a Prefects’ Room, but the impact on a wide range of poor and vulnerable citizens will be even worse than feared, with £7 billions more than expected off disability payments – £50 per week taken from people on Incapacity Benefit for more than 12 months – and a 50% reduction in the social housing budget. At the same time, precisely nothing is done to tackle the massive tax evasion and corporate tax exemptions that plague Britain.

So amidst the gloom, it was good to see in a video made by the Green Party leader (see my blog)Caroline Lucas MP railing passionately against the cuts as socially damaging and economically illiterate – worsening the crisis of the deficit rather than tackling it. Clearly angered by the Chancellor’s approach, she calls for action on investment in sustainable jobs and action against tax evasion. Government led spending on a range of activities such as improving public transport and developing renewable energy would pay dividends in a multiplicity of ways – generating jobs and tax revenue, cutting the deficit, reducing our dependence on foreign energy and cutting our carbon emissions.

This type of Keynesian economic theory,on which the “Green New Deal” is based, used to be the economic orthodoxy that worked for a coherent society. By contrast, Monetarist theory adopted by right wingers in the 1970s onwards changed that – placing economic objectives above social ones and seeking to reduce government involvement in the economy and socirty as a whole. As Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor, explained on BBC Radio 4 last night, “I wasn’t much bothered about damaging solidarity and social cohesion.” All he was bothered about was creating space for tax cuts for the wealthy and a chance to flog off the national assets.

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats contemplate the biggest sale of public assets ever, as well as cutting deep into the welfare state, the Con Dem regime is emerging as one of the most avowedly ideological governments in British history, rolling back the shrinking public sector further than Mrs Thatcher ever dared imagine.

At least, hearing Caroline Lucas’ speech, there is clearly a voice in Parliament showing that there IS an alternative to an agenda that turns citizens into numbers and shuts its eyes to real human suffering. Let’s hope it keeps getting louder. And heard.

Filed under: Economy, Green Party, Labour, , , , ,

Comprehensive Spending Review: Leeds’ Reaction…

Key Policies

Whilst George Osborne made a bit of a thing out of having a 1% lower than Labour (minimum) expected average department cut level, the means by which this average was achieved are extremely worrying. Furthermore, there is nothing to be pleased about when announcing 19% average departmental cuts, unless, of course, you were doing it for ideological reasons; as the Chicago school, with the likes of Milton Friedman, helped initiate through Pinochet. The average ignores the disparity between the departments as well – The Guardian have a useful breakdown of this.

The other very concerning fact, which Osborne attempted to cover up by rushing through the announcements, is the scale of the welfare cuts. Now, it is important to remember that, in this context, welfare is talked about in a very restrictive sense. In fact, as people pointed out – Osborne bases his atypical judgements of welfare ‘muggers’ on an invalid £5bn ‘fraud’ figure, as only £1.5bn of that £5bn is through fraud – the rest is due to overpayments and errors. The poorest are set to be the most affected by the CSR in general, as well as being the most affected by the welfare cuts (as set out by the government’s own analysis) – the latter are set to account for basically more than a 1/4 of the cuts. Added to the welfare cuts that have already been announced are:

A new 12-month time limit for the one million people on employment and support allowance to find work or face benefit cut. 10% cut in council tax benefit budget. New threshold on housing benefit. Maximum savings award in pension credit to be frozen for four years. Increased working hours threshold for working tax credits for couples with children. New total benefits cap per family.

Many of the policies have been drip dropped throughout the last few weeks – so many were unsurprising; but the gravity of the economic madness introduced is still unbelievably hard to get your head around. When it came to being the ‘greenest’ government ever – they announced £1bn investment into the Green Bank whilst undermine public transport through rising railway fares, whilst promoting more environmentally damaging uses of transport, such as cars. Ernst and Young had previously stated that for the Green Bank to be a success, it needed commitment of around £4-6bn, with New Economic Foundation musing around a possible £10bn investment. The potential this had for real investment and growth (something this CSR’s supposed to champion in its complete faith with the private sector) has been lost for now; it is very disappointing.

There was talk of giving councils freedom, but cutting their budget by 7.1%, regardless of the removal of the ring-fencing around grants, will reduce council power – not enhance, contra to what this government seems to think. The government talks about giving the police more power, but then announces annual 4% cuts to their budget alone! Then there is the special attention given to counter terrorism, which Osborne was so keen to promote, which when looked at in detail will also face cuts of 10%!

There is much analysis around the net, so above is only a brief sketch of the damage that was announced in the CSR.

Labour’s Response

Alan Johnson did well as a performer in response to the CSR. It can’t be particularly ideal having to respond like that on-the-hoof so what Johnson did he did well. The problems in Labour’s response are not in the performance of Johnson’s delivery but what he actually has to say and the problems it is now causing for Labour’s economic narrative. All of the graphs released post the CSR totally agreed on one thing; that it is the poorest 20% who are shouldering the heaviest burdens next to the very rich. So, one might be tempted to conclude, rightly in actual fact, that the ‘squeezed middle’ is a load of hokum and exists purely in the realms of fantasy and the rather fevered imaginations of Mr Johnson and Mr Miliband.

The emphasis of the ‘squeezed middle’ leads Labour worryingly astray when it comes to how it responds. Pointing to the manifest unfairness of the cuts may well score points rhetorically but, in reality, Labour isn’t committed to doing anything about it. It supports the welfare reforms which are placing such a heavy burden on societies sickest and most vulnerable and so it’s manifestly hypocritical of it to criticise the unfairness in the first place.

When you look at the wider picture worrying problems emerge. Sure, Labour want to increase the tax burden on the rich but saying ‘tax can do most of the heavy lifting’ is accompanied with the sum total of zero strategies for dramatically raising revenue. The Coalition hasn’t got a growth strategy but neither has Labour and when people move beyond being angry at the pain they are suffering this approach is going to be found desperately wanting. Instead of a growth strategy we have this glass-half-empty narrative and angry sounding soundbites.

Having given Johnson some praise it is now time to recognise the sad truth; he simply isn’t capable of taking Labour where they need to go on the economy and Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were and remain so. Johnson will not last in his post and is very much the caretaker and put plainly, he looks it. However, the wisdom of appointing a ‘caretaker’ to such a vital role is highly questionable and it will sadly backfire on Ed Miliband and Labour.

Leeds’ Protest

To vent our frustrations, we headed off to Leeds City Centre for a protest against the unnecessary, ideological driven CSR. It was a very well attended protest (as you can see from the pictures included – don’t be fooled by the meeting room below, we were early!), and it looks like it will be outdone by the upcoming protest on Saturday in Sheffield at 12.30-3pm! There was the usual rally and collective spirit, with some very enthusiastic talks from activists involved in unions and so on. Also, something that was very impressive, is the level of convergence with other themes such as the gender inequality of the cuts. As Fawcett Society have comprehensively explained, these cuts are going to hit women so much harder. Given that women are already often in unequal positions in society, this is untenable, and hopefully we can see a convergence of mobilisation amongst the movements so as we can create a much broader and encompassing resistance to the ConDem government.

Specifically, something that draws many different movements together will be the onslaught on the public services – as the government sets out a massive 490,000 cut in public sector workers! Their reliance on the private sector however, is very unfounded – especially considering the contractual and dependent relationship the private sector has with the public sector expressed in schemes such as PFI. This will actually reduce private sector jobs, consumer confidence and demand, as well as welfare increasing; and so the whole thing will spiral out of control, as it did in Ireland, and as it has in many countries who have initiated IMF policies. On the bright side, these IMF polices often brought about a popular resistance, where broad-based collective movements fought alongside each other to bring down the government, and replace it with a more socially just government.

However, as the union laws are so regressive, it is not as easy to organise strikes as it is in France. There were even a few police organising around the protests today, but even they might become a bit more sympathetic when their own cuts start to bite! What we need is a progressive alliance amongst the left so as to undermine these regressive cuts and to show the government that ordinary people will not just accept these ideological driven devastating actions.

Leeds Coalition of Resistance

It was frankly, a bit surprising to be invited to a Coalition of Resistance meeting in Leeds at the end of the demonstration given that if you scout the internet there are absolutely no signs it exists at all. This is probably a problem for it from the off. Indeed, one comrade who mentioned the need for a communications strategy was wrongly ignored by the main speakers in their summing-ups.

We were one of the very few non far-left comrades in attendance. It seemed that Workers Power were doing the heavy-lifting with enthusiastic support from the Socialist Workers Party. The meeting made the valid point that what we need to build is a broad movement. However, the lack of a comms strategy is a serious problem especially as the COR is looking to draw support from people who are likely to be net savvy ie, students.

A good point was made about the establishment of college networks which is something that should be pursued and it was good that one comrade mentioned broader political issues like the boundary review in terms of the concerted assault on the wider labour movement. Encompassing a broad range of issues might well be another key plank of building the kind of movement everybody at the meeting was agreed that we wanted to see. The demonstration was a good start in that direction however, in particular, the lack of a comms strategy could well hamper the growth of that movement if it is not something that is quickly addressed.

Filed under: Activism, Economy, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Climate Camp – Why RBS?

This post was cross-posted from Bright Green Scotland with the kind permission of Adam Ramsay who co-edits Bright Green Scotland.

The camp for climate action came to Scotland this week.

To those wondering why so many people are angry with this bank, the answer is pretty simple: when it comes to climate change, RBS make it happen – and they do it with taxpayers’ bail-out money. RBS is Europe’s biggest financer of the fossil fuel extraction driving climate change. According to a report last year by banking expert Nick Silver, the bank is financing projects and companies which deliver 3% of carbon emissions worldwide: more than the whole UK economy.

And RBS also seems to specialise in facilitating and financing the most destructive projects. Since they were bailed out, they have used €2.3bn of our money to prop-up companies operating in Canada’s tar sands. This mega-project in Alberta – the largest in human history – is up-rooting an area of crucial carbon-sink forest the size of England and Wales. It’s poisoning the land and water and so killing the indigenous people who live there. It’s doing this to extract vast quantities of oil mixed with sand and mud – a substance so dirty, and so plentiful, that NASA scientists tell us that, unless we stop extracting these tar sands, we can’t stop runaway climate change.

RBS is also behind disastrous oil projects inflaming war in central Africa. When they lent around $100 million of our money to Tullow Oil earlier this year, they were financing a project drilling for oil right on the border between the DRC and Uganda. The resource war between these countries has killed roughly 5 million in the last 15 years. That’s nearly 1 in every thousand people on earth. When Tullow moved in with their partners Heritage Oil, they decided to arm both sides in the conflict as they mobilized around the area where oil was discovered. Which helped.

Most recently, they were the funders behind Cairn Energy’s deep drilling project in pristine Arctic waters. Cairn’s Chief Exec recently welcomed climate change. He said that the melting ice will give access to more oil. Nice.

And since they were bailed-out, they’ve been doing all of this with our money. At a time when the Government claims it can no longer afford to finance the much needed switch to a low carbon economy, it is allowing RBS to throw billions of our money down the fossil fuel drain – which can only lead to long term losses, if the world is weaned off fossil fuels, or to catastophic climate if it isn’t.

RBS is a failed bank. Their insanity with sub-prime mortages kick-started the credit crunch. They are 84% owned by the taxpayer because we had to bail them out with billions. We must stop mis-using this money, or my generation will pay a much bigger price.

Filed under: Activism, Economy, , , , , ,

The environment and the neo-liberal doctrine..

By Jane Watkinson

There is an interesting article on Climate and Capitalismaddressing the use of climate change by the right as a way to foster in illiberal and illogical immigration policies – such as the controversial Conservative immigration cap. However, in much the same way, but also in a very different way, the current Conservative line to defend the immigration cap is that if we don’t decrease immigration, public services will be undermined, not that the environment will suffer. That is interesting in itself, but the central argument – that climate change can be used as a way to actually support capitalism, is very insightful.

Capitalism has a very strong link to the environment, the neo liberal policies are key to why the right are often so against policies to rebalance the economy so that it is more sustainable. It is also a major reason for why the climate change agreements decided at Copenhagen have regressed. There were already concerns that the rich countries’ commitments weren’t good enough anyway, but the fact that these discussions have regressed further illustrates the problems that capitalism can pose for environmental policies.

Whilst Immanuel Wallerstein does have some legitimate critiques, he has an interesting neo marxist theory about the nature of the capitalist system in a world-wide form. He has been incorporated by the anti globalisation movement, which I think rather misses the point – as there needs to be an anti neo liberal globalisation movement, one that focuses on theories that aren’t often backed up with evidence, such as the “race to the bottom”, with a more positive pro globalisation movement.

However, Wallerstein can provide some thought into such a movement, as he talks about there being a world system, where there is only one world – so the “Third World” doesn’t exist, for example. Instead, the world system/economy in existence is the capitalist system – and for it to function, there has to be core, semi peripheral and a peripheral zones. The cores are the rich countries, such as the UK and America, whereas the peripheral is what we commonly call the ‘Third World’. Thus, capitalism needs poorer countries in order to construct the hierarchy and for some countries to emerge as power blocs of the world.

In much the same way that the environmental policies have been downgraded, many rich countries, including the UK, rejected (mainly through abstaining) the UN vote on whether water should be a human right. We may say that we provide them with aid, but it isn’t really providing proper access to water. Instead, much more capital investment should go into building proper infrastructure for the poorer countries, much more thought and action into sorting out the environmental policies of the richer countries should occur – if we really want to improve the living standard of poorer countries.

Capitalism and neo liberal doctrines underpin the environmental and world-wide policies. Richer counties rely on poorer countries, they require them to be weak to promote their own dominance. We have so much potential as a nation and as collective forces, such as in Europe, to really restructure and change the lives of so many through proper investment and proper environmental policies. But we are scared by business and capitalist rhetoric that it will somehow undermine our interests, that aid should be cut, as we supposedly have too little money ourselves. Totally illogical.

Filed under: Economy, The Enviroment, , , , , , ,

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.

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