Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Try again, and again, and again.

Crying at my desk again. Took my glasses off, wiped my eyes, put them back on. Try again. And again. And again. And again until it, or I, am done.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Parenting (and grandparenting) in the 21st century

The rising costs of childcare while wage growth continues to stagnate has been a big topic lately, and the reliance on grandparents for help with childcare has been part of that. But for many, this is not an option. And I think our story, and many like it, will increasingly become the norm.

I think there are three key reasons why parents raising young children now have a more difficult and costly experience of organising childcare than their parents and grandparents:

  • Income vs cost of living: housing costs have risen far more quickly than wages, meaning that for most modern families, both parents need to work at least most of the week if not full time
  • Centralisation and availability of work: it is now more common for us to take up completely different careers to our parents and more work is now concentrated in cities and large towns than ever before, meaning that more people are likely to move away from the family home 
  • The above factors are also key reasons that people are now older when they become parents and that means their parents are also older and their health may mean they are less able to take on childcare responsibilities.

All three of these factors are part of our story.

I grew up in a working class household but the sort of work my dad, grandparents, great-grandparents etc all did when they left school just didn't exist anymore and have never been replaced. I was all too aware of the struggles of working class people as industry collapsed under Thatcherism and so I went to University and at the earliest opportunity, I got a job in Manchester and moved here. After various career-related moves and delays (I was made redundant aged 30 and had to start at the bottom in a totally new career), we now have a house and a two-year-old boy.

Sadly, my wife's mum passed away nearly ten years ago and my own mum died earlier this year. Although my mum at least got to know our son as a baby and toddler, she wasn't well enough to play a bigger role in his life. My parents' house is nearly an hour's drive away (sometimes more, depending on traffic at the time) and my dad is losing his confidence behind the wheel - particularly as the traffic around Manchester seems to get worse every year. And as an old-fashioned working dad, where my mum did the majority of the parenting, he'll probably never feel comfortable or confident enough to take on any kind of 'grandparenting' role at least until our son is quite a few years older.

My wife moved up from Somerset for a job here in Manchester.When we do see her dad and step-mum, it's usually for a weekend or even a week, and they have been able to look after our son for a few hours during the day, or have kept an ear on the baby monitor after we've put him to bed. It may be that they are still fit enough to look after him for longer periods when he is old enough to be happy with that himself but due to the distance, it will never be a regular thing.

I do have friends whose parents are able to look after their children, some on a regular basis but I probably know more who don't have that option due to some or all of the factors mentioned above. And I'm somewhat surprised that for all the popularity of the topic in recent times, I haven't read very much that discusses how, unless our economy and the geographic distribution of employment opportunities re-balance, parents are going to be less able to rely on grandparents for childcare.

It is also worth pointing out humans are instinctively social and for the vast majority of human history (and it is still the case for many), large family groups have lived in close proximity and one of the benefits of those groups is the sharing of childcare responsibilities. So what we are currently seeing is not unusual, in fact society urgently needs to address the issues that are making us less able to enjoy the benefits of having our families around us.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

We need more funding for services and better education on mental health.

I am suffering with depression. Having experienced it in the past, this time I spotted it early but was still powerless to stop it happening.

It feels like there's a mild fever dream playing out in my mind whenever I'm trying to think or focus. It's noisy but at the same time silent: only I can sense it as it scrabbles around in my brain. And all the while I'm trying to hold down a stressful job and be a good parent and husband.

I was hoping anti-depressants would help. In the past, I've preferred to push on on my own: managing to carry on working and inflicting my ill mind on friends (not that I talked to them about being ill) until, eventually, coming out the other side without having to think about when it might be safe to come off the tablets. This time I have a little boy at home whose future could be affected by having a less able parent, and unlike during previous episodes, work is more difficult to manage when I'm unwell (and taking time off would just give me something else to worry about). Unfortunately, the side-effects were making everything much harder. You know in films where someone is possessed or inhabited by a demon or they have a horrible illness inflicted upon them by a curse or something and the only cure is something that looks even more painful? Well Sertraline was a bit like that for me. I had sickness, diarrhoea, blinding headaches, dizziness and when I read there were more side-effects to come and that some could last for weeks, with some potentially lasting until after I'd stopped taking them I knew I couldn't continue. It's hard enough trying to get through the day while doubting your ability to do your job (due to life-long and deeply-embedded self confidence issues) and being unable to focus on a task for long enough to complete it (I'm procrastinating right now) without feeling physically dreadful as well.

For some people, the symptoms won't be so bad and for others, it might feel worth it. I've come to realise that although I'd dearly like to erase parts of my history so that the way I acted in the worst periods and certain things I said or did could be forgotten by anyone who witnessed me in those phases, I have managed to get through without medication in the past. And wiping history is obviously impossible (I am so lucky that social media didn't exist when I was a teenager and in my early 20s - I would probably have had to disappear to rid myself of the shame of it all).

Having done a lot of thinking and a little digging, it's become clear to me that both my Mum and her Mother had mental health problems so it's perhaps not such a surprise that I have too. I have thought a lot about my childhood in recent years (in fact I'm a bit worried by how fixated on my early years I have become at certain times) and there is no question in my mind now - and I've doubted myself all my life so I have not come to this conclusion lightly - that as a child, when I cried far too easily, felt lonely, struggled to sleep at night and worried about things small children shouldn't be worrying about, it was - at least partly - because I was depressed.

I feel a crushing anguish when I think about that little boy suffering for so long and I want to go back in time and talk to him about it and get my parents to see that I needed help. My parents had a lot going on: their own health concerns and big financial difficulties being the two major themes. But I would like to think if my son was mentally unwell that my wife and I would both be aware and would make sure he saw an appropriate professional.

Today at the train station I heard some high school or possibly sixth form girls talking about someone at school: "...someone took her favourite pencil and she started crying!" I would like to have heard at least one of them say "Why would she be upset about that; maybe she's not well?" So finally, I have arrived at my point: children need to be taught more about mental health from an early age. I'm not expecting children and adolescents, who have enough on their minds, to suddenly become junior psychologists overnight but some awareness would go a long way. If my teachers had a better understanding of possible childhood mental health issues, they may have raised concerns with my parents. I hope that these days, with everything else they are expected to do in terms of safeguarding, teachers might be more likely to spot potentially unwell children and help to ensure that the matter is being dealt with.

There is a huge amount of money spent and lost in our economy to mental health issues. A little money spent on research, better funding for mental health services so that people are seen earlier and treated earlier would save a lot in the long run.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Take me to your ('moderate') leader

They still think they're the voice of reason in a (constantly expanding) room of deluded fools but, as many before have asked: show me your alternative. I still meet Corbyn detractors who idolise Blair, or talk of Ed Milliband's time as the halcyon days of sensible opposition. Let's compare recent leaders for what they were/are:

Tony Blair: successful, war monger, Thatcherite.
Gordon Brown: smart, out-of-date, inflexible.
Ed Milliband: decent, conflicted, push-over.
Jeremy Corbyn: principled, genuine, improving.

Blair is a Thatcherite. Whilst New Labour initially reached out to everyone, there were no long-term solutions for post-industrial decline and their (seemingly keen) embrace of deregulation ensured the global financial crash brought down our economy, and hit the poorest hardest (you understand I'm not blaming Labour for this: but they didn't take the opportunity to reverse the deregulation started under the conservatives - in fact the tories cheered as Brown announced the removal of further regulatory control). It was under his leadership that the Labour party moved to within a sliver of the electoral spectrum from the conservatives and created the opinion that "they're all the same" which eventually, under financial strain, would lead to UKIP, Brexit and Corbyn.

Brown is a smart man, albeit one who listened to the established neoliberal 'experts' and chose to dismiss any cautious voices. Even if I disagree with some of the decisions beforehand, his reaction (along with Alistair Darling) to the financial crash avoided much more disastrous immediate consequences and briefly returned the UK to growth before the Tories chopped down the forest. But he was out of his time: Blair's media persona worked well as television moved into the era of 24 hour rolling news; Brown wasn't comfortable on camera and came across as dour - ironically his personality would have been suited to the austerity politics brought in by his victors.

Milliband found it hard to balance his progressive, socialist ideals with the party powerbase who were willing to besmirch their own economic track record by agreeing that austerity was the only way to fix the broken economy. He wasn't a leader behind the scenes, he wasn't sure how to defend the Tories' attacks on Labour's economic credibility, and we only saw rare glimpses of the sort of leader he could have been.

Corbyn never bought into Thatcherism and he opposed the Iraq war. These two key areas meant members saw him a clean break not only with Labour's recent failures but as a fresh option that might appeal to an apathetic electorate. His detractors saw him as a relic, clinging on to a failed socialist ideology. They felt he was unelectable and they told the world that nobody in their right mind would vote for him. He struggled to begin with: the vast majority of the PLP didn't want him; he was not used to appearing in the media; his internal opposition controlled communications and he had a hard time competing with the tories' savage and well-drilled spin artists.

While the unpopular establishment told a disenfranchised population how to vote in the EU referendum, Corbyn was portrayed as a loose cog in the remain campaign. Whether he truly believed the UK should remain part of the EU or not is uncertain: critical in the past, he would now claim he is broadly in favour. It would be true to say we didn't see the passion that we have seen since Theresa May called the election - although during the EU referendum campaign he was undoubtedly hindered by an uncooperative Labour press office.

In those early days, it seemed the only way for the left to succeed would be to carefully position a younger, more dynamic successor who might be more palatable to the sceptics in the party. Instead what seems to have happened is the resignations designed to bring him down have played into Corbyn's hands. He may have had to turn to new and unknown MPs to fill his shadow cabinet but they performed very well and Labour managed to force the government into u-turn after u-turn on key policies. As the membership grew and Corbyn survived repeated internal attacks and a defence of his leadership, he has grown in stature. Perhaps it is the confidence gained in these successes that has helped him to handle himself in interviews and at the dispatch box in a way that suits him and promotes his authenticity.

Brexit continues to be an area of uncertainty: Labour appear to be trying to walk a tightrope between supporting the outcome of the referendum and keeping disgruntled remainers onside. Whatever Corbyn's true opinion on the EU, it must be recognised that somehow, perhaps by accident, he has, so far, been able to appeal to both remainers and Brexiters (though clearly not everybody in either camp). There is more work to do: remainers are beginning to question the certainty of Brexit, given the sheer ineptitude displayed by the Tory government, and so - as appears to be the case at the Labour conference - Labour need to show they will do what they can to keep us in the single market at least.

There are no strong centrist challengers being touted, as far as I have heard. Since the last round of coordinated internal attacks failed, Corbyn's brand of genuine, progressive, compassionate socialist politics has confounded media commentators and 'moderate' Labour members alike. Some fail to see that it was Thatcherism and New Labour's embrace of it that brought down our economy and gave us the widespread disillusionment which led to Brexit, Whether they like it or not, we need a fundamental shift in British politics: tinkering around the edges of dogmatic neoliberalism will not reverse the damage done by the tories to our public services, job security and wages and to the lives of the most vulnerable.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Oxford Road, Manchester: how one road can be so important

This is another of my rare departures from Politics (although politics doesn't escape completely!). A project at work (which I won't link to, in order to keep this blog and my opinions neatly separate), looks at Oxford Road in Manchester and the people who live, work, study and spend leisure time there and in the immediate vicinity. This made me think about my own relationship with the road and it's incredible how much of a story there is to tell.

Manchester was a revelation: moving here changed my life. From feeling like I didn't belong in the town I grew up in, with little or nothing in common with my peers, here – on or within a stone’s throw of Oxford Road, I found myself at home. 

I moved into a shared house in Chorlton, a kind of student house for recent graduates. One of my housemates worked at the University on Oxford Road and so did his girlfriend*. These new friends welcomed me to the area and introduced me to, directly or indirectly, to almost everyone I now know in Manchester. In those early weeks and months, I went to see bands including Elbow and I Am Kloot at The Main Debating Hall and The Hop and Grape (now Academy 2 and 3 respectively). I ended up invited to be in the audience at the Dancehouse Theatre for the filming of the music video for Elbow's re-released 'New Born'. I chatted with musical heroes from The Charlatans in The Academy and resisted bothering Supergrass in Big Hands. I was testing my expanding musical tastes (and inadvertently damaging my hearing) at Electric Chair in Music Box. All on Oxford Road.

My ex-housemate's *ex-girlfriend introduced me to some former school friends of hers who had just moved to Chorlton. Almost overnight I became part of their larger friendship group and part of their band. We went on to play in Oxford Road venues The Thirsty Scholar, The Attic, Academy 3, The Oxford (that was a rubbish gig), Jabez Clegg (almost on Oxford Road), The Font (close enough), The Greenhouse (there or thereabouts), Saki Bar and The Whitworth. I bought my two electric guitars at Sound Control (now a music venue) and Johnny Roadhouse. 

For a while after being sacked from my first proper job (their loss), I worked at the University - on Oxford Road  - and had an office to myself with the internet, a set of pc speakers, mind-numbing tasks to perform and no one checking up on me. I whiled away the hours finding new music via burgeoning online tools (this was long before Spotify, YouTube or even MySpace) and emailing friends in similarly menial jobs. Although I was quite poor, I felt young and life, on the whole, was a bit of a lark. 

In 2004, at one of the band's many gigs (on Wilmslow Road which, as if we needed more, is the continuation of Oxford Road), a work colleague of one of the band (who, let's remind ourselves became a friend thanks to my friends who met at the University on Oxford Road) brought along a friend who had recently moved to Manchester for a job, at the University on Oxford Road. Although we weren't really introduced on the night, we started dating soon after (our first date was also on Wilmslow Road).

As my life turned part of one group to being part of a number groups of friends, Oxford Road continued to play a significant role, though not always positive. My girlfriend was taken ill and needed an operation, at St Mary's on Oxford Road. The following year, after being badly let down by her supervisor, she almost failed her PhD (at the University on Oxford Road). Another year later, however, she resubmitted and passed and we celebrated with bottle of prosecco in Kro 2 - on Oxford Road (Sand Bar wasn't open yet; it wasn't quite noon). Despite having her PhD, however, Manchester turned her down for the next opportunity she applied for an instead, she took alternative opportunity in Edinburgh where we spent the next three years.

We visited Oxford Road a couple of times during those three years: once to celebrate her 30th (at the KroBar on the Science Park, just off Oxford Road), and again when we broke up the journey back up north by spending the last night of our honeymoon in the Midland Hotel (ok so the Midland isn't on Oxford Road but it's really really close!). Shortly after returning to Manchester I got a job at the University (on Oxford Road, of course) and on my daily walk down Oxford Road, I couldn't help but notice the huge increase in homelessness in Manchester, with many people sleeping under the Mancunian Way than there had been before we left. Oxford Road had changed in just two years of the Tory-led coalition government (there is is: the only political bit!).

Knowing we were planning to buy a house and start a family and with many of our friends already settled down and rarely making it into town, the two of us spent the next year making the most of our last year or so of 'freedom' in Manchester. Highlights included the Dot to Dot festival (set in several venues on and around Oxford Road) and Adam Buxton's 'Bug' at the RNCM (on Oxford Road).

Our little boy's first trip into Manchester was to a baby sensory group at the Whitworth Art Gallery (on Oxford Road) and our first night out together as parents was to see Gaz Coombes at Academy 2. I'm still working on Oxford Road and hope to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Alongside her main job my wife also teaches and supervises students here.

Oxford Road brought us together and it's hard to see a time when it won't play a significant role in our lives.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Left vs Centre (my longest ever post: lucky you!)

Ever since the chasm in UK politics started to open up between the left and the right, I've often been surprised to find that people from similar backgrounds to myself and who traditionally vote Labour hate the rise of the left. After the snap election, some of those people had a change of heart but for many their anti-Corbyn views are stronger than ever and some say they would not vote Labour again under the current leadership.

I recently had a brief debate with one such person - lets call her Ms X - who felt that the left had abandoned aspiration. Aspiration had got Ms X from her working class background to where she is now: in a middle-class career with a middle-class lifestyle. The message was that everyone should aspire to 'better' themselves and the Labour party should be the party to help them to do that. I (and I wasn't alone) countered this idea by pointing out that there simply aren't enough middle-class jobs for everyone and not everyone wants to do them anyway. Sadly we didn't have time to debate further. I was left feeling that Ms X was puzzled by my alternative views. I hope I backed them up with enough clear knowledge to show that I wasn't simply a crazed Corbynite. Perhaps not; perhaps Ms X was puzzled as to how I could hold down my job while suffering while suffering from delusions.

I have a similar back story to Ms X: working class background; first in my family to go to University (not quite true: my Mum had gone back into education and enrolled the year before I did thanks to my artsy three years at college); moved from a small provincial town to a metropolitan city and now have a middle-class job and a middle-class lifestyle. Growing up, my parents were (and have always been) Labour voters. They were also Christians and while I don't share those beliefs, I do share the strong morals and underlying messages of equality and compassion espoused by true Christians (I say "true" Christians because if any Tory or Trump supporter claims to be a Christian, they need to read the bible and actually take it on board).

I grew up in an area with no grammar schools and that meant the affluent and the less fortunate all attended the same schools (I accept of course that some people would not move to that area as a result). A pupil who had spent their childhood being shifted around council estates in Chorley and Coppull could sit next to a child whose parents had a big detached house in Charnock Richard (ooooh) with land and their own horses. Of course, the children tended to feel more comfortable in friendship groups which more-or-less conformed to their parents' societal status. But to an extent, they understood how each other lived and the divisions were more nuanced: what sports you played, what hobbies you had, what music and clothes you liked. The differences were as much down to preference as wealth.

The grammar system divides children at an early age into the successful and the unsuccessful. From that point on, the differences can become deeper and more important. The grammar school children would go to University; for the state school children it might feel like University and the sort of career opportunities more available to them thereafter were out of reach. I went on to college where there were the majority who wouldn't go on to University, but also many who did and so for me, University felt achievable.

In the last 30-40 years, the UK has been in the grip of neoliberalism which (whether they like the word or not), is the basis on which both Labour "moderates" and the centre right build their policies. What we have learned in those decades is that neoliberalism is not compassionate and its principles do not align with the notions of collective endeavour that rebuilt the UK after the war and made it economically strong. The rich have become far richer and far more influential, while the poor have become disenfranchised, ignored at best and often vilified as spongers, a dirty underclass whose lives are worth so little that their safety is compromised in the name of saving/making a few quid (see Grenfell). The Labour centrists (for want of a better term) might feel a little sympathy for the poorest people and as they've done before, might secure the welfare safety nets and schemes aimed at helping people to help themselves. They might take some steps to make sure they're safe at least. The right would not feel sympathy and would continue to shrink the state and erode support for anyone struggling to get by.

It is important to note that for a decent chunk of my young adult life, I too was dismissive of the class I had left behind. I didn't fit in at school and while throwing myself into my new life with middle class friends in a middle-class area, I had a similar level of derision for those I had left behind as they had had for me. I absorbed the easy rhetoric that was all around (not coming from my new friends, I should add) about unemployed benefit 'scroungers' without engaging my brain long enough to do some easy logical thinking about why people might not - as far as we could tell - aspire to what we consider a better life. Thankfully I don't recall sharing these opinions widely, and I was always charitable (possibly more then than ever: I had spare time and causes I wanted to help) but it took time to replace the ideas that sheer proliferation had implanted in my head.

Ms X and I are no more worthy of praise for aspiring and achieving than anyone else is to blame for being unemployed or struggling with insecure work. Some people have opportunities presented to them. Some are shown that they are achievable. Others are neither presented with nor made aware that opportunities could (or at least should) be within their reach. People need to feel that there is a future for them. It would help if they felt represented. Politicians and media pundits are too white, too male and too middle-class: at present the left is led by white middle-class men but the ethos of their policies is inclusive and at least there are prominent female, working class and black and minority ethnic MPs coming to prominence in the party since Corbyn became leader. At the moment, we live in a country where Angela Raynor's outstanding performance since becoming a shadow minister has been broadly ignored because she has a regional accent. This has to change.

We desperately need to address the uncertain future for our large working-class population: there are not enough 'middle-class jobs' for all of the middle-class and working-class people in the country. My family laboured in mills, mines and factories and it was workers like them, not clerks and bankers, who grew our economy into one which could support everyone in it. We can't build an economy around middle-class jobs with too many people fighting for them and only the scraps for the rest. The 'gig economy' is regressive. More and more people are self-employed, which effectively means there is no minimum wage, no paid leave, sick pay, maternity pay or pension schemes, no health and safety and no maximum working hours (if someone needs to work 100 hours a week to make ends meet, their physical and mental health will suffer - and what if they're drivers or working in construction?). We need a strong industrial strategy, with well-paid and secure work for millions of people. We would need to invest heavily and we might see the economy take a temporary dip (undoubtedly a smaller one than 2007/8/9) but if more people are earning more, they will pay more tax and need less benefits and they will spend their disposable income, which will grow the economy. And as we have seen exports fall with the decline in industry, we would expect to see growth there too.

It is still not clear to me why people like Ms X are so put out by the current Labour leadership. They are very defensive of New Labour, but so are the left. In fact, people such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are far more likely to defend New Labour's economic record than the previous party leadership. Let's not forget the confused, apologetic austerity-lite offered by Milliband and Balls. It wasn't until the last days of campaigning before the 2015 general election that I heard either of them challenge the notion that Labour caused the global financial crash. When it finally came it was both half-hearted and way too late.

One of the most glaring issues in my view, is that there really hasn't been an alternative. Had the "moderates" had anything to offer, Corbyn wouldn't have stood a chance. But having lost the previous two elections, the other leadership candidates seemed to be offering more of the same. Many still can't take Corbyn seriously but only he was the only one who offered something exciting and hopeful that potentially appealed to the public and could repair the damage caused by neoliberalism. We are where we are because of the financial crash and the failure of austerity policies. Centrists didn't see Brexit coming. The establishment didn't see Trump as a serious contender. The "moderates" believed that Corbyn would be a complete disaster and yet, despite their repeated attempts to bring him down, he came within a whisker of winning the election. Centrists feel there's a place for an anti-brexit party but the Lib Dems actually ended up with a reduced vote share (albeit while winning a couple more seats) with a centrist anti-brexit manifesto.

The assumption is that a compromise from the centre is the wise and sensible thing to fight for. But UK politics has moved so far to the right in the last few decades that we have to move it back to the left in order to reduce inequality and disillusionment. We've tried centrism and it left us with a handful of unspeakably wealthy people and a huge number homeless and hungry. We can't fight populism from the right with more unpopularity from the centre. Let's try something different.

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?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Examining the Lib Dems' role in bringing Brexit to Britain.

The Lib Dems have been touting themselves as the only party to properly oppose Brexit ever since the referendum. Labour meanwhile have seen their so-called heartlands vote for Brexit in huge numbers and, rather than accelerate the speed at which their vote share is falling in those areas, they have broadly supported the public decision, albeit with some notable caveats.

But let's go back a little bit to examine whether the Lib Dems have a right to be so proud of their position.

Back in 2010, we had a hung parliament: the Tories failed to win a majority at a time when most of the media were backing their claim that Labour's spending had crashed the economy (and most of the media still does, even though Tory austerity has made our economy worse). The heroic Lib Dems stepped in and joined forces with the Tories, bringing us a mostly Tory government with decidedly Tory policies. As the anti-immigration voices from the right (UKIP and a few swivel-eyed loons on the Tory backbenches) got louder, the Coalition government chose to tag along, with plenty of anti-immigration rhetoric, vans telling people to go home etc. They did not oppose the lie that immigration was having a negative effect on the economy; it suited them to allow people to believe it was that rather than their woeful management of the the country's finances. The Tories, desperate to appease the far-right and take the blinkered flag-wavers' votes for themselves, pledged to hold the EU referendum. Right up until the election, Lib Dem junior ministers continued to act as a shield, regularly taking the flak for failing Tory policies and in the general election in 2015, they were completely trounced, losing the vast majority of their seats to the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives in England. The Tories secured a majority and despite UKIP's expected surge failing to materialise and reneging on a lot of their other promises, the referendum went ahead.

So you see, without the Lib Dems, we wouldn't have had the referendum at all.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Tories are haggling with us to see how much they can take.

First they took money from the poorest.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they came out as racists.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they gave tax breaks to the richest in society.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they took money from the disabled.
They won a majority in the 2015 general election.
Then they took money from working parents.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they took money from Junior Doctors.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they went for a hard brexit.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they backed Trump.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they took money from Schools.
Their poll ratings weren't affected.
Then they took money from pensioners.

With the media working harder than ever to support them and/or crush their opponents, they obviously feel untouchable. Who will they go for next?

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Infuriating slant on all political stories

I'm so tired of the way Jeremy Corbyn and the current Labour cabinet is talked about in the media. Robert Peston tweeted that it's ridiculous that a Labour win in areas which have always been Labour would be seen as a victory. But he needs to realise how much times have changed. The Mail and the Sun constantly tell readers to hate anyone who's not British. The BBC constantly present Nigel Farage as the popular voice. Labour's inclusive, hopeful, nuanced arguments gain no traction in the face of this onslaught so although I do agree that Corbyn has not made the best job of battling back against, this, with opponents from all sides, he hasn't stood a chance.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Brexit wasn't my choice but we have to live with it

I can only think of a couple of good reasons for leaving the EU but I can think of many for staying in. But it's happened, so much of the talk in the media has been on whether we can overturn it, so let's focus on reasons I think the vote isn't an accurate reflection of public opinion:

1) At least some of the people who voted for it did so because they believed one or more of the following:

  • That we would 'take back control' from unelected bureaucrats (MEPs are elected, unlike Theresa May who has chosen a bunch of Brexiters to oversee proceedings) but in fact, we will be left desperately trying to sell ourselves to other countries - and this has already started with the PM's desperate early meeting with Trump shows
  • That we would remain in the single market but on our own terms and would save on our EU membership cost whilst making more money than before (playing hardball with the EU is not paying off and we look like being out of the single market and unable to trade freely with EU nations)
  • That we would give £350m per week to the NHS (not sure where they got that idea)
2) At least some of the people who voted to leave will be dead by the time we actually do and be replaced in the electorate by young people who would more likely have voted to remain

3) 16-18 year olds (whilst old enough to marry and have children) were denied a vote on their future. They would most likely have voted to remain.

However, I don't think the vote should be overturned. Whilst I think this is the worst episode in post-war British political history (created by the worst Prime Minister in post-war British political history), lies in the media and from politicians is nothing new. Virtually every government is elected on promises they either had no intention of carrying out, or fail miserably to do so. It's all words and Brexit is no different.

What is different is that, for the first time in a very long time, the forgotten millions from Berwick to Bexhill and Solway to Sennen have had their voices heard. Yes, maybe many of them did so because they were misinformed about what it would mean. In some cases because they're a bit racist. But a lot of those who voted to leave the EU did so because they have been forgotten by successive (Conservative, Labour, Coalition and Conservative again) governments, left to fend for themselves in areas with decreasing opportunities and devoid of meaningful or worthwhile investment and support.  Meanwhile the capitalist classes reap the benefits new infrastructure projects, lower corporation taxes, tax cuts for the highest earners and our senior politicians going to the EU to argue on behalf of special treatment for their industries. As the invisible majority saw it, the establishment wanted them to vote remain, so they told them to shove it.

Leaving the EU will fall hardest on the areas which voted strongly for Brexit but if those in power and those with influence were to even try to ignore their vote, it would only further their belief that the political classes hold absolutely no value in them whatsoever. Millions of people would be even more separate from political decisions made in this country. They would be less likely to vote in elections than they are now and as a result, would be less likely to get a government who might actually do something to help them, and so the situation would snowball.

The difference between the affluent and the rest is already too wide and it is widening quickly and overturning Brexit would only make that worse. Instead, let's listen to what the public voted for and most importantly, make sure they are part of what happens next.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Words fail

My ramblings on here are becoming increasingly rare. Part of that is because I'm more busy than I used to be (I didn't think it was possible to cram much more in but I was wrong) but it's also partly because I just don't know what to say.

We have politicians who no longer seem to care that we know they're liars, or care that we know what they say bears no relation to what they think or what they plan to do. We have a hard brexit where we're apparently playing hard-ball with Europe when they hold all the cards: our government and a lot of the people who are in their circles seem to think that our financial sector is crucial to the single market when actually, it will just move to Frankfurt or somewhere else on the continent. We have a situation where parliament voted to renew trident for eye-watering sums of money at a time when that could be spent on areas we really need it - only to find out now that the government hid details of an enormous fault which saw a test missile heading off to the wrong CONTINENT. We have a National Health Service completely on its knees which pretty much everyone in the country - including all medical experts - feels is vital and a government who seem intent on letting it fall apart so the heroic private health vultures can step in and make massive profits from our misfortune. The US has a lying, misogynistic, sexist, racist, needy, narcissistic moron for president and our PM is cosying up to him, pimping out our NHS and whatever else she feels the UK could sell to preserve our 'special relationship' that most of the UK public would rather turn their backs on. We have a government who want to turn the UK into a tax haven - a sort of off-shore Luxembourg - in order to keep their paymasters happy once their profits take a dive post-brexit. We have homelessness rising rapidly, GPs, teachers and prison wardens quitting their jobs.

The 1980s were a dark, depressing time for anyone other than the wealthy and well-connected but this is so much worse.

But hey, we've got Facebook and Netflix these days so we're all better off. Right?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

I want to criticise Teresa May more...

But what if people think I'm only doing it because she's a woman? There will definitely be men out there (possibly some women too) who are more critical of the Prime Minister because she's a woman. For me, this is not an issue, in fact I'm delighted that we have a female Prime Minister. Of course, I can't possibly support a Tory PM because they want a very different UK to the one I want but it's worse than that: Teresa May is proving to be completely incompetent.

David Cameron was a useless Prime Minister too: he failed on his own terms (he said he would sort out our economy and it's now in a worse state than 2010), he brought us Brexit and he's probably caused the perfect conditions for a second Scottish independence referendum which this time will result in the break-up of the UK. But at least he managed to sort things out for himself by leaving at the right time. Teresa May has come into office with Brexit to deal with, the largest national debt we've ever had (and by some margin), a divided party and no idea about how to deal with any of it.

It's a shambles. She's very lucky that all of the mainstream media is focusing on Jeremy Corbyn.