Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Centrism is a duff concept right now

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader, centrist Labour politicians and a lot of political commentators have been extolling the virtues of 'third way' ideas and there has inevitably been talk of break-away centrist parties. With the Brexit negotiations going terribly, some Conservative remainers have finally joined in. In the last week or so, James Chapman, former advisor to David Davis and George Osborne, has been touting for interest in an anti-Brexit 'Democrats' party and this has stoked a lot of media interest. Some have been talking about Macron's success in France but it is hard to draw many significant parallels with what has been going on politically in France and the UK over the last 40 years. And already, Macron is quickly losing popularity.

To me, any talk of centrist politics as a viable option at the moment is another indicator that some people simply cannot understand what has been going on politically for some time now, at least since the 2007/8 financial crash. The 2017 snap election, which was contested by the Conservatives, supporting Brexit and with some of the most right-wing ideas we've seen in decades, the Labour party, reluctantly supporting Brexit and with a more left-wing platform than we've seen since the 70s, and amongst others, the anti-Brexit centrist Lib Dems. The result was that the biggest proportion of votes went to the two largest parties since 1970. Yes, that's right: there is already a centrist, anti-brexit party people can vote for and overwhelmingly, they chose either the left or the right instead.

We are living in a very divided country and the election shows that it is a time when the public either support a party who makes the poorest poorer, increases homelessness, cripples the NHS, worsens the housing crisis, kisses the arse of Donald Trump and cosies up to dictators in the middle east, or a party who would invest heavily in health, education, housing and the environment and would stop selling arms to the Saudis and make sure Donald Trump knows what they think of his words and his actions. What evidence is there that a new centrist party would win anyone over? Surely it's now far too late in the day to come out fighting for our membership of the EU: the time for that was when the little Englanders on the Tory backbenches were discussing UK sovereignty with UKIPpers over pints of Bombardier. They might even have staged an intervention when David Cameron promised the referendum before the 2015 election. Or they could have stood down after winning the election, reducing the slim majority to nothing and stopping the referendum from happening. They could also have worked harder in the referendum campaign.

And this key issue takes me back to the start of this blog: the referendum was lost because those behind it (the Labour side of the campaign was under the command of self-professed 'moderates') simply don't understand the lives of ordinary people and are completely out-of-touch with how most ordinary people think.

Essentially, centrism, as with Tony Blair's 'third way', claims it is possible to marry hard neoliberal economics, which always favours the few and never trickles down to the many, with progressive and fairer policies. In reality, the left agreeing with the right and expanding rather than reversing the deregulation of the financial sector is how we ended up with the recession, huge inequality and the resulting Brexit vote. As many are pointing out - although unfortunately they are not the loudest voices in the press/media - that to propose a solution from the centre is to think that you can fix the problem with more of what caused it.

James Chapman and anyone else who even considers jumping onto this project are completely deluded if they think a new centrist party would be a good move. But hey, if it takes away some of the Labour right and removes and few Tory MPs, you go for it.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Preparing for a week in the company of Tory voters

I'm mentally preparing myself for a week with family, who we can be pretty sure voted conservative in the general election.

It's difficult. I feel very very strongly that they are helping to perpetuate misery for the most vulnerable in society. I don't want to think that they don't care about the poor, the disabled, the young...but if they did vote conservative, these would be logical assumptions to make. I'll be staying in their house for a week, eating their food, probably getting a night out with my wife while they look after our little boy and anyway, they're family and I don't want to end up arguing with them. But we haven't been in the same room since the election and I'm sure it will come up in conversation.

One way I hope to handle it is to calmly offer just a few key reasons why I think Labour was a better choice:

1) The Tories say because of their policies there are record numbers of people in work. My question about that is why, then, is there not enough tax revenue being generated to wipe out austerity and pay off the debt? We still have austerity and the debt is still rising. Where has our money gone?

2) Conservative voters might point to a few Labour policies they don't agree with. First, ask why they don't agree and if it's on affordability, point out tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, over £1bn for the DUP deal, point out that the debt is still rising so austerity isn't working.

3) Ask whether they agree with taking money from disabled people, working people using foodbanks, rising unemployment, untrained teachers, the dementia tax, frozen pay for nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters which has actually resulted in around a 12% pay cut since 2010? Ask whether they're happy with all of the u-turns which have made lies of most of their manifesto. The Tories have done this after each of the last three elections: why give them another chance and another, and another? Why is it that we have to take the government to court to overturn their cruel policies?

I can't keep quiet but I'm dreading talking about it because I find it hard to stay calm when we're talking about people's lives and real hardship...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Right wingers call the TV licence fee a "stealth tax". Let's examine that.

There are some things we can't do without in order to live the lifestyle the Tories want us to live in capitalist Britain.

I would argue the TV licence is not one of them.

Food and water is obviously needed.

Electricity is needed to cook and keep our food fresh, for lighting so we can work in the hours before/after sunlight and for work (increasing numbers of people are self-employed and work from home) and for looking for work (a computer, charging a phone, ironing clothes for an interview).

Internet access is needed for applying for jobs, for work - especially all those self-employed people - and often, for filling in mandatory forms such as tax returns.

Mobile phones are needed for keeping in touch with clients, employers, prospective employers (Tories would like anyone not currently working to always be "out looking for work" so if we only had a landline, we'd be missing phone calls).

TV licence is for entertainment and if we need to stay informed for work we have the internet. It's not needed, therefore it cannot be a tax.

So if any of these things could be described as a "stealth tax" it certainly isn't the TV licence. Right wing people who come out with this sort of claptrap think we're stupid.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

More humble pie for the 'moderates'

They were wrong and we were right. The same faces, given a platform on the BBC week after week, didn't give Jeremy Corbyn a chance: repeatedly criticising his inability to lead when they refused to follow. Politicians, pundits and columnists were almost all on the same page: socialist policies will kill off the Labour party and he must be stopped at all costs. They came close but they failed, and look what happened.

Corbyn and his small, loyal team had to battle the following:

Most of the PLP
The Conservative Party
The Liberal Democrats
All of the mainstream media (more or less: a couple of Guardian columnists supported him but as a whole, the paper did not)

Word has it that inside Labour Party HQ, those with contacts in the media were either wilfully obstructing the party messages or undermining them at every opportunity. This blog I wrote at the time explains the repeated failures by the self-proclaimed 'moderates' which left the Labour Party looking an utter shambles and therefore, completely unelectable. It is a blessing that this stuff probably evaded the notice of enough of the electorate to stop the Tories getting another majority: imagine what Labour could have achieved with that manifesto and the backing of the majority of the PLP.

Why didn't they back him? Given that he is invariably described as "a good man", "a principled politician" etc, I think the truth is that many of those Labour MPs didn't want policies that would fundamentally tear up Thatcherism; they wanted, broadly, to keep the status quo. This article by Diane Abbott from 2014 came a while after I cancelled my Labour party membership having become sick of Labour failing to challenge the idea that the last Labour government were at fault for the global financial crash and more or less backing the economically illiterate austerity policies of the Coalition government. As a Unite member, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn and when he became leader, I re-joined the party as a full member. You see (and I'm still a little smug), I KNEW that austerity didn't work. I KNEW that Labour needed to support the many and not the few and I KNEW a strong left-wing Labour party could win - and we would have if the PLP hadn't been so desperate to cling to Thatcherism.

A few in the PLP who didn't support Corbyn may have felt that socialist policies would not appeal to the electorate. Either way, they were wrong and should be big enough to say so. Sadly, since the results came in, most have been very quiet indeed.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Labour will still lose because people are deluded and misinformed.

Despite what the polls say, I think the Tories will get another majority - although it won't be the increase they were expecting when they called the election.

Obviously those earning ludicrous sums of money who want to pay less tax support the Tories, as do people whose businesses want to donate thousands of pounds to the Tories rather than pay millions in tax. And there are racists (returned from UKIP) and short-sighted hate-filled people who don't see that they too might need benefits if they fall ill or lose their jobs. But I'm constantly baffled by the misguided others who support the Tories. Take this 18-year-old who managed to get an article published in the Huffington Post yesterday: I sent him a series of tweets challenging areas I thought he didn't have the full picture. He replied to a few and we had a short to-and-fro but in the end, he wasn't able to back up his article against my responses. I'm pleased that people like him are engaging with politics but, like I was at 18, doesn't seem to get that he can't believe what he reads or hears and needs to build up his own understanding with further reading from independent sources and inform his opinion that way.

The same goes for the frankly distressing ideas in this Guardian article. There are people saying "I've voted Labour for 50 years.....but now they're too left-wing." REALLY?! He really needs to look at tax levels, funding of education and the NHS and policies on privatisation vs nationalisation over that period. Another contributor says "I'm left-leaning" but goes on to explain how business should be the focus and not the NHS. Sorry mate but big business has been THE focus of the last 38 years and look where that got us. Another doesn't seem to have read the independently-checked figures in Labour's policies but does believe the Tory manifesto which has one costing: that of the 6.8p child's breakfast.

Unfortunately, we cannot take our politicians' words as truth. And we cannot trust the press and the media to adequately and fairly analyse their policies. Sadly it seems too many people are still going to vote without first checking that what they believe isn't total bollocks.

Friday, 12 May 2017

'Back to the 1970s' comments are utter BS

First, let's pretend this idea that Labour's policies will take us back to the 1970s is accurate.

1) In the 70s, the Tories broadly agreed with nationalised rail, energy and postal services, free higher education, higher taxes on the rich (way higher than Labour are proposing now) and on corporations etc.
2) The 70s actually were a pretty ok time for most of the population with fewer unemployed, many fewer underemployed, many more in secure work, affordable homes*, low homelessness, no need for foodbanks etc etc
3) And this is the big one: the politicians and media goons who are saying this want us to be out of the EU, they're small-state, fox-blood-hungry, want low tax and are anti-immigration. I mean, is getting dressed up in smart red jackets and hats with expensive horses and dogs, tooting horns and chasing foxes their idea of how to behave in the 21st century?! They want take us back to the 1800s if not earlier.

*Example: my Dad worked in a long-gone UK commercial vehicle factory and with two kids and as the sole bread-winner he could afford a mortgage on a 3-bedroom house with a garden, take us on holiday every year and buy us Christmas and birthday presents.

Labour's policies for this election are a response to the mess created by Thatcherite policies which have brought huge income inequality, completely unaffordable housing, increased homelessness and class sizes, weakened the NHS, increased transport and energy costs, brought us insecure jobs with the longest wage stagnation since the Napoleonic wars, taken away UK industry...I could go on. And what's more, they are at least as carefully-costed as Tory policies - although don't expect anyone in the media to push the Tories on how they'll pay for more tax cuts for their mates because their mates in the media will be those benefiting.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Baffling anti-Corbyn sentiment will leave us with another Tory government

Whatever you think about Jeremy Corbyn as a 'leader', or as a communicator, literally doesn't matter in the context of what we are up against in this country at the moment.

The first question is: What are people afraid of?

Governments are made up of many cabinet ministers, junior ministers and MPs and they are all supported by large numbers of advisors and other civil servants, so even if you believe that Jeremy Corbyn is not tough enough or not a good enough communicator to be Prime Minister, does it really matter? The people around him will do much of the work they feel he is not so strong at. Look at John Major: was he tough? Is Theresa May a good communicator? But apparently they are both acceptable Prime Ministers, whereas Corbyn is not.

The second question is: What about the policies?

So let's pretend that none of the anti-Corbyn sentiment is down to the media (as we know, 80% of UK media is owned by 5 billionaires) being fearful of a socialist government who might force them to pay their share of tax. Let's pretend he really is a weak leader and a poor communicator, and anything else he's been accused of being. Is that still worse that the alternatives? I cannot fathom why anyone other than the very rich, or the racist and stupid, would believe it is.

Let's look our options:

Bless the Greens, with their solid socialist policies and caring for the environment - but they're just not in contention. And bless UKIP, with their racism, xenophobia, homophobia and all sorts of other horrid characteristics but a) they got what they wanted, so are a one-policy party whose sole policy is no longer an issue, and b) the Tories have stolen their racism, xenophobia and quote possibly other horrid characteristics too.

So UK-wide, we just have the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.

Tory policies:
A hard brexit and quite possibly - once their hard-bargaining fails - the UK as a tax haven
Tearing up our human rights
Less money for and more private profit from the NHS
Fewer accident and emergency centres
Fewer maternity units
Less money for state schools
More grammar schools to help wealthier children get further ahead
More free schools to waste money where some overly-confident person feels they can do better than than the local authority
Continued austerity for local councils (particularly in poorer areas)  despite their claims the economy is recovering
Lower taxes for the rich
Higher taxes on the poor (VAT, income tax and national insurance could all rise)
Less money for the sick and disabled
No affordable housing
Crushing the Trade Unions who fight for workers' rights
No controls on low pay and insecure work
Ever-increasing homelessness*
More foodbanks*
Increasing pressure on charities*
Electoral fraud*

*I know these aren't actual policies but they are all the result of Tory election campaigns.

Having listed these things, of course, we might get completely different policies because their manifestos aren't worth the paper they're written on.

Labour policies:
A Brexit deal that works for the majority, not just the richest few
A £10 living wage for over 18s
Repeal of nasty policies including:
The Trade Union legislation
The bedroom tax
The NHS white paper
Halt the NHS private tendering
Stop the building of free schools
Add VAT to private school fees
A ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts
Reversing the corporation tax cut
Increasing income tax on the highest earners
An increase in the carers' allowance
Renationalising the railways
Building 200,000 homes per year
4 new national bank holidays
Closing deals between HMRC and huge corporations to make sure they pay their tax
Eradicate gender pay gap

Lib Dem policies:
Ignore the result of the referendum and hold it again.

So, come on, even if you hate Jeremy Corbyn (and I don't know why anyone would: he seems like a decent, principled guy), surely unless you're very rich or very stupid, you must vote Labour?