Tuesday 30 April 2013

Johnny Hates Jazz: The Comeback

This is weird. I doubt there have been many people who, over the last 20 or so years have thought "you know who I really miss from my yuppie bar days? Johnny Hates Jazz". And yet, remarkably, they're back with a new single, video and album. I don't know, maybe it's just me - I think this is a very weird comeback. Not because the song is particularly bad or far out, it's not like they drop a few wub-wubs or anything. It's inoffensively pleasing Radio 2 fodder for the shoulder pads and hairspray generation. But the question I ask myself is is there any need for a new Johnny Hates Jazz record? And if them, who else might crawl out of pop's graveyard? Glen Medeiros?

Monday 29 April 2013

If Labour Were In Power ...

This is what its programme of legislation would be right now, as announced by Ed Miliband during his visit to Newcastle-under-Lyme today:

Housing Bill

• The housing market has changes significantly in recent years. There are now 3.8 million households in the private rented sector, including more than one million with children.
• Many are being ripped off through hidden fees, which are costing tenants £76m per year.
• More than a third of all privately rented homes are not up to decent standards, with more than 15 per cent lacking minimal heat in winter.

The Bill would:
• Introduce a national register of landlords, to allow LAs to root out and strike off rogue landlords, including those who pack people into overcrowded accommodation.
• Tackle rip-off letting agents, ending the confusing, inconsistent fees and charges.
• Seek to give greater security to families who rent and remove the barriers that stand in the way of longer term tenancies.

Finance Bill

• Since the government’s Spending Review in the fourth quarter of 2010, the UK economy has grown by just 1.1 per cent – compared to the 6 per cent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility at the time.
• The lack of growth means that the Government is now borrowing £245bn more than they planned.
• Prices are rising faster than wages and people are now £1,700 a year worse off than they were in May 2010.

The Bill would:
• Reintroduce a 10p rate of income tax, paid for by taxing mansions worth over £2m.
• Stop the cut to the 50p rate of income tax for those on the highest incomes to reverse cuts to tax credits.
• Reverse the Tory-led Government's damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period - a £450 boost for a couple with children.
• Provide a one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance - to help homeowners and small businesses
• Put in place a one year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers - helping small businesses to grow and create jobs

Consumers' Bill

• Families are facing record fuel bills while energy companies are enjoying huge profits. Since the election average energy bills are £300 a year higher.
• Rail fares are rising by up to 9 per cent a year, after the Government gave back to private train operators the ability to increase some fares by up to another 5 per cent above the fare increase ‘cap’.
• Upon retirement a pensioner can discover that up to almost half the value of their pension fund has been wiped out by hidden costs and charges.

The Bill would:

• Abolish Ofgem and create a tough new energy watchdog with the power to force energy suppliers to pass on price cuts when the cost of wholesale energy falls
• Require the energy companies to pool the power they generate and to make it available to any retailer, to open the market and to put downward pressure on prices
• Force energy companies to put all over-75s on their cheapest tariff helping those benefiting to save up to £200 per year

• Apply strict caps on fare rises on every route, and remove the right for train companies to vary regulated fares by up to 5 per cent above the average change in regulated fares.
• Introduce a new legal right for passengers to the cheapest ticket for their journey.

• Tackle the worst offending pension schemes by capping their charges at a maximum of 1 per cent.
• Amend legislation and regulation to force all pension funds to offer the same simple transparent charging structure so that consumers know the price they will be paying before they choose a particular scheme.

Jobs Bill

• There are nearly 1 million young people out of work.
• The number of people out of work for two years is half a million – the highest since the end of the last Tory Government in May 1997.
• Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, the number of unemployed people has risen.

The Bill would:
• Introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, a paid job for every adult who is out of work for more than two years. People would have to take up those jobs or lose benefits. The £1 billion costs can be funded by reversing the government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent
• Guarantee a 6 month paid job for all young people out of work for over a year, paid for by a bank bonus tax. Those offered a job would be required to take it.
• Require large firms getting government contracts to have an active apprenticeships scheme that ensures opportunities to work for the next generation.

Banking Bill

• Lending to businesses is falling month on month, including a fall of £4.8bn in the three months to February according to the latest Bank of England figures.
• The Government’s schemes, such as the Merlin deal, the National Loan Guarantee Scheme and the Funding for Lending Scheme have all failed to help businesses.
• The Treasury has allocated just £300m in funding to their Business Bank, which isn’t a real bank, is staffed by BIS civil servants and is still not up and running.

The Bill would:
• Create a real British Investment Bank on a statutory basis, at arm’s length from government and with proper financing powers to operate like a bank.
• Set out that one of its purposes is to support small and medium sized businesses, including across the regions of the UK through regional banks.
• Provide a general backstop power so that if there is not genuine culture change from the banks they can be broken up.
• Put in place a Code of Conduct for bankers so that those who break the rules are struck off.
• Toughen the criminal sanctions against those involved in financial crime.

Immigration Bill

• In certain sectors there is evidence that workers, particularly migrant workers, are being exploited by being paid less than the minimum wage. A recent Kings College study found that between 150,000 and 220,000 care workers are paid less than the minimum wage.
• Enforcement is weak. There has not been a single prosecution for non-payment of the National Minimum Wage in the last two years.

The Bill would:
• Double the fines for breaching the National Minimum Wage and give local councils the power to take enforcement action over the NMW
• Extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other sectors where abuse is taking place.
• Change NMW regulations to stop employers providing overcrowded and unsuitable tied accommodation and offsetting it against workers’ pay.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Ed Balls in Stoke

Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour Party and the potters' union Unity hosted a members' and supporters' question and answer session with the "most irritating man in British politics" yesterday. And as today is Ed Balls Day, there has never been a more opportune moment to look at what the shadow chancellor had to say.

On trade unions The last Labour governments did not strike the right balance between the party and its trade union support, acknowledging there was some understandable frustration on their part. Labour should never take the link for granted, nor, for that matter, trade unionist support. For instance, in 2010 the majority voted for a party other than Labour. Ed went on to say that he was proud to be financially supported by working people through their voluntary contributions to the political fund, and would be happy to debate that any day with the tax dodger-funded Conservative Party.

On Tories The Tories know they should have won in 2010 against the backdrop of economic crisis and an unpopular government, and since then they've moved into further crisis. Comparing Labour and the Conservatives, their average member tended to be older and much less active when it comes to traditional electoral campaigning. Hence, as a sign of a growing desperation, the rhetoric has switched from 'all in it together' to overtly divisive sloganeering around 'strivers' vs 'shirkers'.

On policy In contrast to the narratives pushed by the press and Labour's opponents, more policy has been announced than the Tories during the same point in the previous electoral cycle. For example, Ed cited the mansion tax, the jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed, repealing the Tory part-privatisaion of the NHS, merging social and health care, and scrapping the energy price regulator. But he believed producing a shadow budget would be a mistake. Making spending commitments now when no one knows what the public finances will look like in 2015 is irresponsible as it is quite possible Labour would not be able to afford what it wants to do. For example, it was not until January 20th, 1997 that Labour committed itself to a set of spending plans.

On exporting jobs Asked about the local Npower operation, where rumours persist of closure and outsourcing to India with the loss of hundreds of jobs, Ed ruled out using the law to force companies to prevent the exporting of jobs. But he was for toughening up the law to ensure there is a level playing field where it comes to hiring local and foreign labour. He also believed the outsourcing trend was starting to unravel and that the savings many companies thought they would make are undermined by local difficulties and consumer backlash.

On housing Ed did not oppose 'right to buy' on principle, but agreed with ring fencing monies raised from sales for further council house building. He also said that were Labour in power now, the money raised from 4G licences would be pumped into building new homes. Reflecting on Labour's record in office, he suggested it didn't do enough for two reasons. The first, well-intentioned one, was to pump billions into refurbishing Britain's dilapidated social housing stock. This, unfortunately, came at the expense of new builds. The second mistake was the anti-council mindset many ministers had, meaning from the outset they did not trust the capacity of local authorities to deliver. Ed also used this opportunity to suggest that the large numbers of housing benefit-subsidised landlords need "looking at".

On schools Ed prefaced his comments by noting markets don't work in every area of social life, and education is one of them. As a distillation of the difference between Labour and the Tories, Labour provided resources to the most poorly-performing schools on the basis of plans to turn around their results. In contrast, Gove believes in funnelling more money to the schools that are doing well. This will enable them to expand their provision and pull in pupils from failing schools. If it works as intended, this means schools in a poor way will get worse and worse, trapping large numbers of children who can't access a better school into a spiral of failure and underachievement.

And if the Tories, or Tory/LibDem Coalition win in 2015? The overt privatisation of the NHS, a two-tier education system, further damage to Britain's economy, and a permanent blunting of its ability to compete in global markets.

Friday 26 April 2013

NHS Commissioning: Why You Should Care

One of the reasons the government have had an easy ride over its plans for the systematic looting of the NHS by Tory-friendly private health companies is the sheer complexity of their restructuring. Unlike, say, the Department for Work and Pensions, where there is a single bureaucracy responsible for administering a particular public service and a clear line of accountability stretching from the job centre complaint form to the Secretary of State. It's not a perfect set up by any means, far from it. But to use a well-trodden phrase, you know where you stand. The NHS on the other hand was transformed into a patchwork of semi-autonomous, competitive trusts and hospitals under the Blair/Brown governments. As of the beginning of the month, matters have taken an even more retrograde step. The trusts have gone and in their stead are hundreds of GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups. It is the role of these organisations to buy in (commission) NHS services from any number of public and private providers. So, while treatment is free at the point of need in the vast majority of cases - for the moment - a new health market underpinned by the taxpayer is the mechanism for its delivery.

The idea on paper isn't entirely without merit. As a socialist who would like to see more democratic decision-making in the NHS led by patients and staff, the devolution of budgetary responsibility to CCGs theoretically brings resource allocation closer to the public. And more opportunities exist to link NHS spend to the public health strategies of local authorities to address the particular needs of their areas. But that's as far as the commendation goes. Because in North Staffordshire we have seen where letting the market in could leave NHS services, and it isn't pretty.

I doubt many readers will have heard of Turning Point. They are a self-described social enterprise run by Lord Victor Adebowale, who was gonged in 2000 and ennobled the following year for his work among the unemployed and the homeless. Reflecting his record, Turning Point, which he has led for the last 12 years, specialises in assisting recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, the mentally ill, and vulnerable people with complex needs. Exactly the sort of worthy-sounding not-for-profit I think most people, whether they like the CCG commissioning model or not, would be relaxed about providing NHS services.

Unfortunately, amid the beaming faces and success stories plastered all over their website a reader will find nothing on today's strike action by their Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire employees, nor the bitter dispute it has foisted in its 2,600 staff. Under the previous system of commissioning, Turning Point were contracted to run residential services for patients with severe learning difficulties and other complex needs. But, as John Gray notes, Turning Point are determined to make sure the workers they "inherited" from the NHS are re-engaged on far worse terms and conditions. The employer seems determined to trample all over transfer of undertaking (TUPE) protections, including redundancy rights. They are refusing to negotiate with their nominated representatives from Unison, despite their role being one of the protections backed by the law via TUPE. I have also been told the original decision by the dearly departed commissioning body awarded Turning Point the contract on the understanding existing provisions would be honoured.

The terms Turning Point want to impose include cuts to overtime pay, out-of-office payments (sleep-ins, on-calls), the removal of enhanced redundancy terms, end to unsociable hours’ payments and the disregarding of existing pay agreements and incremental structures. In sum, a number of workers could be out of pocket to the tune of £10,000/year. Quite how a charity with a 50 year track record of helping the most vulnerable thinks it can deliver a responsive, sensitive and professional service by treating its staff so despicably is beyond me.

Without a clutch of shareholders to satisfy and a very healthy turnover (£70m in 2010), you have to ask why a charity is hell-bent on bulldozing workers' rights? It is worth noting last year Lord Adebowale was paid £165,000, and his three assistants shared between them £473,000. For some, charity really does begin at home. What's going on? Is Turning Point accumulating capital so it can splurge on CCG contracts? The truth will out.

While this contract was granted before the Tory reforms, the proliferation of CCGs means the exponential multiplication of disputes of this kind. Collectively, hundreds of thousands of workers presently employed by NHS organisations could see their pay and job security peeled back. You don't need me to spell out what this could do to staff morale, patient care, service quality and workers' collective spending power. And, of course, taxpayers' money released from providers chopping into staff this way will not be returned to the CCG - it will go into the service provider's pockets. It's horrifying.

On the upside, the government will be able to pretend it's created more private sector jobs.

If Turning Point get away with raiding their staff this way, other providers will follow suit with all the consequences that entails. They must be stopped.

Messages of support can be sent to situ@unisonwmc.org.uk. There is also a video from today's Turning Point strike rally at their Manchester HQ here.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Smash Facebook!

In my experience, anarchists are either the funsome tricksters of revolutionary politics; or the most terribly po-faced, super serious folk going. There is no happy medium. So I can't quite decide if Anarchists: We need to talk about Facebook is serious polemic bemoaning the lack of revolutionary responsibility, or a wind up.

The argument runs like this. Anarchist collectives have expended enormous reservoirs of labour and resource constructing a parallel architecture of tough-to-crack servers and hard-encrypted email facilities. And yet, to their dismay, rather than hang out at the black flag intentional community safe from the prying eyes of the state (or, more likely, nosey parents), most anarchists prefer organising bedroom tax demos or playing Farmville on Facebook. Not only is this wrong because Facebook is a for-profit business, it collates data on one's personal networks and interests. It's a security hazard. But more than that, the information freely handed over could be analysed to model social relations and, in turn, enable predictions to be generated about the resonance, depth, and mobilisation potential of one or a set of social/political issues.

I don't know about you, but I'll never look at Facebook likes the same way again.

Well, for one, our anonymous anarchist collective can relax. I've been at this sociology lark for 20 years and have some knowledge of the literature on how movements mobilise around an issue. For example, this old post on the value-added approach to social movement mobilisation is demonstrative of the complexity of the dynamics involved. It would take more than number crunching tens of millions of Facebook status updates to predict the emergence of a movement, simply because the key mobilising processes involved occur outside social media's purview. Analytics may be able to suggest the reach of an issue, but cannot predict its mobilisation potential. Well, not yet.

There's an element of sniffiness to all this, that if you are on Facebook and use Yahoo Mail you can't be a proper revolutionary. But our anarchists nevertheless make an oft-overlooked point. If you are engaged in radical politics of any kind, Facebook is convenient but it is not neutral. It's in the business of making money from a system of open, voluntary surveillance and is always at all times subject to the laws of the United States. A conspiratorial frame of mind is not required to realise it exists within a market and institutional context whose interests lie in business-as-usual transactions. Not in disruption or their violent overthrow.

But in warning of Facebook's hazard, their polemic pushes the stick too far in the direction of revolutionary purity. I'm sure dedicated secure servers for anarchists are nice, non-hierarchical safe spaces where one can debate muesli and the SWP interminably. But the participation pool is somewhat limited to, irony of ironies, that elite of anarchists trusted enough to be involved. Facebook and Twitter on the other hand are, basically, the world. As I've previously put it, "every political conversation on Facebook, every tweeted challenge to the media's narrative will, from time to time, catch the attention of an activist's non-political friend and follower who might read, act, and share with it others in their networks. Information traditionally crowded out by broadcasters and newspapers is cascading and diffusing among wider and wider layers at different levels of remove from the traditional core of radical politics." Anarchist internet spaces are echo chambers. Mainstream social media are an opportunity.

I suppose one's take on the political "permissibility" of Facebook rests on what you're in politics for. I use mainstream social media and my blog because I have something to say and a particular kind of politics to promote. I aim to build a bigger audience to convince as many people as possible that, ultimately, the route to a better society is through the labour movement and Labour Party. And like almost everyone else, I manage my social media footprint as carefully as I check my day-to-day behaviour. But if you're involved because you're attracted to the alternative lifestyle of ritualised revolutionary activity and getting people's backs up, then it's just as well you stick to your own squirrelled-away servers.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Stoke's Homes for a Quid

It's not every day Stoke-on-Trent makes national headlines. Even rarer it does so for the right reasons, but the new homes for £1 scheme has certainly caught the media's eye. As the BBC puts it:
More than 600 people are interested in buying rundown homes in Stoke-on-Trent for £1 each, the city council has said.

Thirty-five derelict homes, mainly two-bedroom terraced properties, will initially be sold off in the Cobridge area, with a further 89 to follow.

Under the £3m project, the local authority is offering loans of up to £30,000 to help complete essential repairs on the houses.

Applications opened for potential buyers on Monday.

People have until 12 May to apply for one.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council said the initial 35 homes would be randomly allocated to the successful applicants.

The majority are two-bedroom, but there are also a few three-bedroom houses and possibly some flats.

Anyone applying must have lived in the city for the past three years.

Other criteria they must satisfy include:

A joint income of £18,000 to £25,000 a year - £30,000 maximum if they have children
Applicants must have been employed for the past two years
They must not own another property
They must have the right to live permanently in the UK
The new house must be their main home for at least five years
More here.

The Portland Street area, to which this report refers has some of the very worst housing I have ever seen, let alone in Stoke-on-Trent. I recall door knocking in the area back in 2008 before the boards went up and speaking to a householder whose next door had a massive hole in its roof. There was another house, boarded up and covered in moss from a broken drain pipe that had, according to my fellow canvasser, been like that when he lived on the street 20 years previously.

As housing for families on modest incomes, with loan repayment rates far more attractive than any mortgage, and as a relatively self-contained area a stone's throw away from the city centre this represents the innovative sort of regeneration Stoke has needed for years. It's just a shame it's taken until now for the scheme to get kickstarted. Nevertheless credit where credit is due.

Monday 22 April 2013

The State and Anti-Racism

One of the first things imbibed at far left school is that the state is essentially and irreducibly racist at an institutional level. But is that really the case? Well, officially, yes, it was. According to the 1999 Macpherson Report into the police handling of the Stephen Lawrence case, whose appalling murder took place 20 years ago today, institutional racism was “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”. I am sure large numbers of socialists would accept the Macpherson definition, but sharpen it up by replacing 'collective failure' with 'active discrimination'.

That said, at the time and not long afterwards on the then-notorious UK Left Network discussion list, debates around institutional racism, anti-fascism and 'bourgeois' vs 'proletarian' anti-racism were among topics visited and gone over time and again. Looking back at those arguments, which were pioneered by the cpgb/Weekly Worker on the far left, I thought there was some merit to their view that the ideology of the British state was officially anti-racist as part of an establishment-friendly embrace of multi-culturalism. And 20 years after Stephen, and one year after the bravura London Olympics opening ceremony, I still think that now.

Some thoughts.

1. Capitalism and the capitalist state emerged soaked in the sweat and blood of peoples colonised, exploited, and enslaved by the early bourgeoisie. This was still the case until capitalism's recent history, where overt forms of colonialism have largely given away to the "hidden" economic exploitation by the west of the east and the south, and the subsequent rebalancing of the world economy away from the west and toward the east. In the former colonises, 'freedom' often led to weak state structures that tended to found themselves on a particular (local) ethnicity to give new governments a base of support. More often than not, the link between ethnicity and governance stretched back to the control of the colonial powers. Obviously the legacy of this has left deep, racist imprints on the ideologies of coloniser and colonised countries, be they labourist/social democratic, liberal, or conservative.

2. Capitalist societies are in constant ferment. As the dynamic nature of capitalist production ascends peaks and tumbles down troughs, state hegemonies, power balances, the relations of classes within and across borders are forever shifting. Befitting this state of affairs a constant churn of ideas rise and fall with the ebb and flow of conflict and economics. The state, as the first and last institutional guarantor of the prevailing system of things reflects change as much as it effects change. Its limits are the material wealth of the economy it rests on and the character of the class relations that structure it. Within a certain range states can possess large differences while retaining their identity as thoroughly capitalist entities.

3. The operation of markets spontaneously generate an indefinite number of appearances (ideologies), some of which will be racist. The state, which can embody, co-opt, and be changed by political and cultural struggles "from below" is also a political instrument with the weight of a diffuse commonality of powerful economic interests behind it. But unlike the day-to-day operation of the market, state power can be consciously utilised for policy implementation. For example, a diffuse official ideology can be promoted via the state's ability to legislate education, and therefore determine the content of what can be taught in schools, colleges, universities, etc. (The power to do so is not limitless, it is always conditioned by the struggles between classes and fractions of classes). Racism and sexism will always find an echo in the capitalist state apparatus, but because it is flexible it can institute policies that seek to tackle the attitudinal and material effects of prejudices, for example. However, total eradication is impossible because ultimately they are perpetually generated by the unconscious operation of capitalist relations.

4. The 'choice' of the British state to promote an officially anti-racist ideology is not really a choice at all. It is a culmination of a long process rooted in post-war immigration; of the identification by far sighted members of the establishment of the need to integrate racialised minorities (e.g. The Scarman Report); the slow but steady embourgeoisement and mainstream integration of *layers* of these communities; the struggles of these minorities and their allies against racial discrimination; the decline of organised labour and the inability of the labour movement to code race as a 'class' issue; the colonisation of mainstream politics and the state's administrative apparatus by, in the main, liberally educated people; and the decline of overt racism in popular culture.

5. Official anti-racism and multiculturalism were a specific political/cultural orientation pushed by Blair and New Labour to modernise the British state. As Thatcher had accomplished a new economic settlement but had put the legitimacy of the British state into question through her overt pursuit of class struggle policies, so Blair sought a new constitutional settlement. This meant devolved administration for Scotland, Wales, and London; peace and self-governance in Northern Ireland; city mayors and regional assemblies across England, a more modern-looking monarchy, and the promotion of a new British nationalism. Where it was once unashamedly white, protestant, imperialist, and xenophobic, the "new" nationalism presents itself as multi-cultural and multi-racial. In this view colour and religion doesn't matter anymore: liberal tolerance and self-identification does.

6. Since 1997 and after, as far as the state was concerned institutional anti-racism was the game. This was institutional in the sense it was consciously and actively promoted by policy and guaranteed by statute (and, in some cases, came attached with criminal penalties). This was not a mere matter of appearance behind which the taint of the racist state remained hidden. Rather the practices traditionally described in leftwing analysis as racist underwent a significant revision of content and were re-branded in accordance to the logic of "inclusive" Britishness. But like all nationalisms, there are always some outsiders. The new nationalism defines itself culturally against foreigners in general, but also groups portrayed as antithetical to western civilisation per se (radical islamists) or an economic threat to Britain in particular (asylum seekers, East Europeans). When government attacks these groups it doesn't do so out of malicious racial hatred in a manner akin to the BNP but to separate them from those minorities the state wishes to officially co-opt. i.e. "Law abiding" muslims, "genuine" asylum seekers, "hard working" Poles.

7. Some "native" Britons lie outside the new, anti-racist nationalism. The BNP and the far right are beyond the pale of mainstream politics because they do not accept the logic of official anti-racism. They argue minorities can never be a fully integrated part of British culture because of blood/culture/religion/whatever, and should therefore be removed. They are a crude throwback to the kind of ideologies the state used to promote when it presided over a colonial empire, and is therefore completely at odds with the new national project. To demonstrate how powerful this line of demarcation has become, public displays of overt racism by Tory and UKIP activists tend to be met with a swift boot.

8. While the state promotes official anti-racism, racists continue to occupy posts in the state apparatus. The police are still more likely to target asian and black people. Immigrants from non-white backgrounds have a harder time securing UK citizenship. Racialised glass ceilings still persist. This itself is not a solely a product of individuals with power and influence holding racist views, but reflects the racist ideologies spontaneously generated by capitalism as a system. In other words, the state as an entity that is part of and presides over capitalism finds itself officially combating racism and embodying it at the same time. The state therefore is not unproblematically anti-racist, and neither is it straight forwardly racist. It's a contradictory unity of both.

Sunday 21 April 2013

A Quick Note on Ed Miliband and George Galloway

According to the Daily Mail, George Galloway had a "secret meeting" with Ed, sparking "rumours that Mr Miliband is considering allowing Mr Galloway to rejoin the party". It must be a slow day in Mail land if this is the best they can do.

For the benefit of Labour supporters horrified at the prospect of the Gorgeous One's return, and those on the far left ready to sound the 'betrayal' alarm, folk need to chillax. Gallows isn't coming back.

The Leader's office regularly facilitates meetings between Ed and MPs from other parties. Whisper it, Ed has even had private meetings with Nick Clegg. 

It's good politics to explore areas where some form of cooperation can be reached across party lines, even when a MP is from an organisation many times smaller than your own. And, needless to say, it is an utterly mundane and common occurrence. The only surprising thing about Ed and George's meeting is that it hadn't happened before now.

Against Legal Loan Sharking

Payday loans have become something of a sexy political topic. Stella Creasy has done a great deal of work to get it in the spotlight and Ed Miliband kicked off Labour's local election campaign with a pledge to give councils the power to push payday lenders (and bookies) off the high street. Like the SWP, I'm always happy to clamber aboard a passing bandwagon and, to this end, I invited Carl Packman to come and speak to Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour Party's meeting on Friday night. As readers may be aware, Carl has become the 'go-to' man for payday loan comment and recently had his Sky News debut cut short by the expiration of Margaret Thatcher.

Carl opened by noting how payday loans have been a real growth industry. In 2004, the sector collectively was worth approximately £100m. Now the figure is somewhere in the region of £2.2bn. While some of this could be laid at Labour's door, it has grown to the tune of £1.3bn since 2009. Clearly, the recession and wage stagnation have played their part and will continue to do so until economic policy changes course. As an illustration of how lucrative payday loans are, it costs the industry between £50 and £60 for each number they buy off telecommunications providers. While nearly everyone who receives automated phone calls or text messages would just delete and block, for the number of people the lenders net this is still a profitable outlay. Unfortunately, some one million are in hock to our legal loan sharks.

Now, there is a great deal of official concern over payday loans. But, unfortunately, while the government likes to talk tough it has been completely hands off. For example, Uncle Vince's department for Business, Innovation and Skills was able to insert an amendment to the Financial Services Act 2012 that empowered the Financial Conduct Authority to enforce regulation and good practice on payday loan companies, but have opted not to do a thing. The official line from Whitehall is that the FCA's use of powers would limit credit availability to those who most need it(!)

But this is no philanthropic service to those on very low incomes. Far from it, they're deliberately targeted. The marketing materials, the speed and convenience at which a loan can be approved, the assurances about unsecured loans (and the fact they don't come and brake your legs like real loan sharks) are all designed to make them very attractive to those fallen on hard times.

Therefore as this government are deliberately unwilling to take any concrete steps against the industry, what is to be done? On the policy side, Labour needs to look at why people feel payday loans are taken up as an option and push hard on the living wage campaigns. More also needs to be done to roll out banking services to the poor, and take up financial education in schools. On a more immediate level, we can all join credit unions and support their work by saving with them. For example, credits unions are capped at 26.8% APR for the loans it provides. Compare this with Wonga, who are uncapped and charge up to 4,000% APR in interest. Councils too can give them vacant shops for nothing or peppercorn rents. Carl also noted that some lenders are run on a franchise model, and individual manager/franchisees can be pressured by local action into taking promotional materials for credit unions. The Money Shop, for example, structure their business this way.

The subsequent discussion brought out a large number of issues. Brother S observed how the wide shift from weekly to monthly pay has no doubt exacerbated hardship for many, and Brother J added that the move to Universal Credit's monthly pay structure will deepen the problem. Brother M, a former JobCentre worker, said that even with the old system of (now abolished) zero interest crisis loans, some people had difficulty paying those back. Brothers T and A talked about how working class communities used to pull together to help out those in direst need; a practice that, Brother A noted, was still common among Muslims. An interesting observation from Brother L covered the Tory 'shares for rights' wheeze. He suggested the report pushing this, overseen by Conservative donor and Wonga proprietor Lord Beecroft, had more than a conflict of interest about it. For example, if hundreds of thousands of workers were to lose their statutory employment rights, aren't they likely to be placed in a more insecure situation, be more at risk of unemployment, and therefore more likely to require the services of a payday loans company?

The fact Labour are taking this issue seriously indicates how the party is generally heading in the right direction. But as Carl made clear, payday loans exist because its customers often live very precarious existences. Driving them from the high street and replacing them with credit unions does not address this. While 'making work pay' is a sexy slogan, the eradication of payday lenders depends on pursuing a sensible economic strategy with job creation at its heart, raising the minimum wage substantially and legislating for greater job security.

Friday 19 April 2013

A Message from the SWP

Remember the 'Lynch mob 500' list of SWP members who were quite happy to go along with their central committee's shameful handling of serious sexual assault allegations? Well, after a couple of months in the public domain the following comment was posted this morning.
It has just been brought to my attention that you have published an internal Socialist Workers’ Party document including my and other signatories, on to a public blog without permission. I would like to make the following clear:

a) The signatories who are members of this union continue to support the SWP’s handling of this difficult issue, but would like to make it clear that it would be inappropriate to infer that this means the EIS has a view on it or has a locus in this issue.

b) The signatories that you have published including EIS next to our first names and surname initials, signed the document in a personal capacity and not on behalf of our trade union, the EIS.

If you are not prepared to take down this document from your blog, or remove all references to the EIS, I request that the above is publish the above to make this clear.

Penny Gower, Edinburgh
As a scrupulously fair blogger, I'm always happy to clarify matters so readers can weigh up the arguments and make their own mind up about the stuff I write and reproduce. However, Penny would have been wiser to take this matter up with Charlie Kimber. After all, he was the one responsible for compiling the list, appending union affiliations without a personal capacity note, and circulating it to hundreds of email addresses. But, as we know, there are too many papers to sell and campaigns to hijack for SWP members to find the time to hold their leaders to account.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Thatcher on Society

Of course, Thatcher's supporters have been right all along concerning her 'no such thing as society' declaration. "It's been taken out of context", they bleat. Be that as it may, it got traction that still resonates because it fit with the times she brought about. It was a more accurate summation of the dog-eat-dog economics her policies were generating than the standard Tory view of what society was about she actually subscribed to.

Well, for the benefit of those who's never read the
Woman's Own interview from which it was lifted, here is 'no such thing as society' *in context* - and with the later clarification carried by The Sunday Times.

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—“It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it”. That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people: “All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!” but when people come and say: “But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!” You say: “Look” It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!”

There is also something else I should say to them: “If that does not give you a basic standard, you know, there are ways in which we top up the standard. You can get your housing benefit.”

But it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate. And the worst things we have in life, in my view, are where children who are a great privilege and a trust—they are the fundamental great trust, but they do not ask to come into the world, we bring them into the world, they are a miracle, there is nothing like the miracle of life—we have these little innocents and the worst crime in life is when those children, who would naturally have the right to look to their parents for help, for comfort, not only just for the food and shelter but for the time, for the understanding, turn round and not only is that help not forthcoming, but they get either neglect or worse than that, cruelty.

How do you set about teaching a child religion at school, God is like a father, and she thinks “like someone who has been cruel to them?” It is those children you cannot ... you just have to try to say they can only learn from school or we as their neighbour have to try in some way to compensate. This is why my foremost charity has always been the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, because over a century ago when it was started, it was hoped that the need for it would dwindle to nothing and over a hundred years later the need for it is greater, because we now realise that the great problems in life are not those of housing and food and standard of living. When we have[fo 31] got all of those, when we have got reasonable housing when you compare us with other countries, when you have got a reasonable standard of living and you have got no-one who is hungry or need be hungry, when you have got an education system that teaches everyone—not as good as we would wish—you are left with what? You are left with the problems of human nature, and a child who has not had what we and many of your readers would regard as their birthright—a good home—it is those that we have to get out and help, and you know, it is not only a question of money as everyone will tell you; not your background in society. It is a question of human nature and for those children it is difficult to say: “You are responsible for your behaviour!” because they just have not had a chance and so I think that is one of the biggest problems and I think it is the greatest sin.

[Addendum: Sunday Times, 10th July 1988]
All too often the ills of this country are passed off as those of society. Similarly, when action is required, society is called upon to act. But society as such does not exist except as a concept. Society is made up of people. It is people who have duties and beliefs and resolve. It is people who get thing, s done. [ Margaret Thatcher] She prefers to think in terms of the acts of individuals and families as the real sinews of society rather than of society as an abstract concept. Her approach to society reflects her fundamental belief in personal responsibility and choice. To leave things to ‘society’ is to run away from the real decisions, practical responsibility and effective action.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Margaret and Me

I'm in London on Wednesday. Not for Thatcher's funeral, but for reasons more mundane. That said I cannot let the jamboree pass without saying something, especially as I first became interested in politics under her reign. But not as a critic or an activist that stood with the labour movement. Quite the opposite, actually.

When I was 10, my junior school ran a parallel contest to the 1987 general election. Obviously, before then I was aware of such a thing as politics - of the blonde lady in Downing Street, of something called the 'Labour Party'. I have hazy memories of the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike and Spitting Image (I can remember this send up of McDonald's then advertising jingle). But I didn't really understand what it was all about until I asked my Nana about who I should vote for.

Nana was of the sort that many on the left find incomprehensible. A life-long working class Tory.

She admired Thatcher and fully subscribed to the view that her policies would ultimately benefit everyone, despite the short term pain. Labour on the other hand wanted to get in everyone's way, and had "made a mess" last time they were in government. Thatcher was a woman of action who had sorted out the unions and empowered council tenants by giving them the right to buy their own homes. In short, my Nana was an archetypal working class Tory supporter. They aspired to better things for themselves and their families and it was Thatcher who was clearing the way for them. The state, the unions, Labour: they were the real conservatives holding Britain and British people back. And at election time, she was one of the few in our former pit village who proudly displayed Tory literature in her bungalow's windows.

The conservatism she weaned me on was firmly in the bootstraps mould. I've never been one to doff the cap, and neither was Nana. She believed in taking the world as it was, rolling up your sleeves, and making your own way. It was your oyster if you worked hard enough. But also her conservatism had little time for bigotry. As far as she was concerned what you did was always more important than your background. She firmly believed education was the passport to a better life that was denied her, my granddad, mum and uncle and was properly chuffed when I became the first family member to go to college AND university.

Until shortly after the 1992 general election, I was a true blue believer. Thatcher bestrode the political stage as a colossus, and she exemplified everything my young mind valued: hard work, conviction, patriotism. To my mind, poor old John Major paled (or rather greyed) in comparison.

My politics are a million miles away from that now, but you can never completely eradicate your political DNA. Tiny fragments of it still kick around my head. The remnants of bootstraps conservatism helps explain why I'm very sceptical towards those who more or less see socialism as a service performed by them to liberate the lower orders. I am a big fan of mutualism, less so of 'nationalise this' panaceas. I don't believe in chopping up welfare, but it shouldn't work to disempower people who are forced to subsist on it. And I've always favoured the organising model for trade unions, though, of course, services have their place. In other words, my socialism is about approaching people as people in all their complexity - not drones who'll never know what's good for them, and therefore should be written off if they do not behave the "correct" way.

Sure, I came to hate Thatcher for the damage she wreaked on the people my younger self thought she stood up for. And I equally detest this foul, elitist, incompetent abomination of a government bent on deepening her legacy. She is expired, but her politics are not. Yet I cannot deny my history. Thatcher was the nearest thing I ever had to a political idol and even though I was incredibly young, an indelible mark remains imprinted on my basic politics. So no, I did not and will not mourn her passing. But I can't say I feel pleased that she's dead either.

Monday 15 April 2013

UKIP's Catch-All Makeover

Ugh, UKIP. They have a new party election broadcast peddling a shopping list of "nice things". Not a single policy gets an airing (apart from leaving the EU, of course), but it does mark UKIP's transition from an avowedly right-wing populist formation to an organisation that is all things to all people. Interestingly, this also includes the passing of Thatcher.

Now, you might expect UKIP and Farage to be effusive in their praise of the dear departed Margaret. After all, they are a principled "libertarian" party in the Hayekian mode. They love the idea of the "small state", of a rampant free market, bugger all rights for workers and a massive tax cut for the rich. Though, bizarrely, the most important part of their website - the manifesto pages where this is spelled out - all turn up 404 errors. Find out and click for yourself. Could it be UKIP are afraid to stand on principle lest it upset their tedious bandwagon?

I digress. UKIP put out this rather perfunctory statement, and that's about it. Well, apart from this fan pic courtesy of Hillingdon branch. Shame they couldn't get their heroine's name right.

So why are UKIP laying off the Thatcher love? Because, well, it complicates matters. I recall a meeting at a local conference venue in 2005. The star turn was the odious Robert Kilroy-Silk, fresh from his UKIP resignation and pushing his new political vehicle, Veritas (amusingly, almost immediately dubbed 'Vanitas' by the unsympathetic). The conference venue was packed but the audience was truly the political equivalent of liquorice allsorts - a seemingly heterogeneous bunch sharing an underlying bitterness. For example, I was sat next to a youngish bloke who told me he was a massive Thatcherite. Several patrician conservatives were dotted around the auditorium who contributed to the subsequent discussion, and the front row was made up of cackling former Labour supporters who hated one thing more than immigrants - Tories. How Kilroy held the meeting together without fisticuffs was testament to his skill and star power, but it starkly demonstrated how unstable a formation it was. Sure enough, Veritas disappeared up Kilroy's backside after that year's general election and has continued a twilight existence ever since.

UKIP is fundamentally the same beast. It is way more popular than its Veritas mini-me ever was, but will avoid any hard and fast position, apart from Europe, that could burst it asunder - hence no big Thatcher eulogy. But as UKIP grows its membership and electorate, and the more it plays on "common sense" populism, the tougher it is to stave off instability. Already, since its foundation 19 years ago, UKIP underwent more splits and expulsions than the SWP's forerunners in its first two decades. Between 2004 and 2009, UKIP lost four of its MEPs through fallings outs and fraudulent activity, and has continued this fine tradition since, losing Marta Andreasen to the Tories but landing that cartoon blimp, Roger Helmer. Every cloud, eh? And under the hood there lurk all manner of unpleasantries and shenanigans that, curiously, do not merit as much media attention as Farage's tub thumping.

The disappearance of previous manifestos, the switch to catch-all populism, and their sliver of praise for Thatcher is very deliberate. Nothing can be allowed to scupper their bid for the big time. They, as in Farage and his cronies, believe they are on an inexorable march to the top of the political tree, displacing the Conservatives as one of Britain's top two parties. That is extremely unlikely to happen because of their incredible fragility, and the real revulsion more moderate Tory voters have for this ragtag and bobtail of a political party.

But then the line between ambition and delusion is a fine one.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Psy - Gentleman

The Americans haven't made a series of surgical strikes against the North's nuclear facilities. And neither has Kim Yong-un let loose an artillery barrage as prelude to a ground invasion. But there has been a horrifying development on the Korean peninsula all the same: Psy has a new single out. Here is his official video for Gentleman.

Does it match Gangnam Style for sheer awfulness? And can it be construed as an ideological weapon in the North/South cold war?

Individuality and Doctor Who's Companions

A note from @Catherinebuca on the characterisation of Dr Who's companions under Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat respectively.

Remember Donna? She became the most important human in all of history. And it worked because she wasn't the point of the whole series - she wasn't trying to get into the Doctor's pants and actually had some character. She was just another random everywoman, who didn't have a lot of faith in herself. She followed the Doctor around and slowly grew into someone who was kinda awesome in her own right, who worked as a foil for the Doctor and also as our eyes and ears in their journey around the universe. Since Donna, the companions have become the Doctor's reason for existing. They are the reason he goes anywhere, does anything, says whatever he says. His entire life is dedicated to working out why the companions are the way they are, who they are, and what they are.

It's perhaps not surprising the show has come to this. The cult of the individual has never been so prevalent as it currently is. All our TV shows are aimed at convincing us that we could be famous for being nothing at all, that our story is important, if only someone would listen ... the cult of the individual companion since Moffat's reign is what you would expect from that.

The companions are no longer important because they have a certain strength that comes from their abilities, from what they achieve. No, latterly they are seemingly born with this amazingness already built into them. Donna, Rose, and Martha (love them or hate them) all went from ordinary to extraordinary, capable of being worthy companions in the actual equal companion sense of the Doctor, because of how they grew through their experiences with him. Amy and Clara both appear to have some sort of inherent importance right from the get-go, which frankly leaves them utterly boring and incapable of development in any meaningful way. Rory fit the Donna/Rose/Martha mold, because he was a seemingly ordinary person who wasn't that great, and ended up doing some very great things, which perhaps shocked even him because he didn't think he had it in him.

If you can take any message away from what the companions are supposed to signify, it might be, perhaps idealistically, that each of us has the potentiality to grow and realise our own importance and worth. Each of us can be great in our own way. Unfortunately with the last two companions that message has got turned on its head. Their characterisation suggests that some people are born great. You don't need to work for this, you get it handed to you if you are lucky. And that "specialness", endowed by providence, places you at the centre of the universe.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Sexism and the Dead Thatcher Celebrations

Is this necessary?

I'm no stranger to hating Thatcher, but come on. Since when was it the done thing to malign the enemies of working people in this way?

In mitigation, there are those who might argue the passion her death has stirred up is to blame for the sexist "exuberance". But that doesn't make it any more acceptable. Had Thatcher been black (she wouldn't have been prime minister, but allow me this), damning her to hell in colourfully racialised terms would have raised a chorus of condemnation from those who took to the streets or raised a glass. Unfortunately, sadly, sexist abuse and gendered hate is regarded much less seriously.

So, you celebrate if you want to ...

Tuesday 9 April 2013

A Note on Thatcherism and New Labour

It is oft-noted that when asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thatcher replied "Tony Blair". But is this really the case? Was the dearly departed having a laugh? Or were New Labour and the 'Third Way' a continuation of Thatcherism by other means, one that was all smiles, celebrity-savvy and had a better soundtrack? No. And yes.

Steve Bush's provocatively-titled Progress piece, Labour Ended Thatcherism is interesting for drawing attention to the discontinuities between Thatcher and Blair, but for all that ventures a fundamentally flawed position. Steve's argument is that Thatcherism was discarded and buried by 13 years of Labour government. He writes:
For 18 years, the Thatcherites tried to tell us that public services were at their best as a safety net. In the next 13, New Labour built more schools than a government had ever built before. It established academies that can go toe-to-toe with the private sector in terms of facilities and results. It built and rebuilt hospitals and clinics that rivalled any in Europe. Thatcherism thought the state couldn’t end poverty in Britain, Blairism helped to reduce it overseas. Thatcher thought that children shouldn’t be told they had ‘an inalienable right to be gay’. Blair led the greatest expansion of civil rights since the 1960s. Thatcher’s successors oversaw appeasement in the Balkans, New Labour stepped into the killing fields in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Kurdistan. For Thatcherites, the private sector was an end. For Blairites, it was one of a number of means. Thatcher let the police grow into a underregulated and shadowy arm of the state; New Labour introduced the Hillsborough Inquiry and tackled institutional racism in the Met.
If you put it like that ...

Sure, the New Labour years chalked up some worthwhile achievements. It's one of history's little ironies that my erstwhile comrades on the far left still bang on about there being no difference between Labour and the Tories, while they busy themselves defending the very services 13 years of Labour governments rebuilt. Nevertheless, Steve makes a very serious error. What was it that Clinton said about the economy again?

If we accept New Labour wasn't Thatcherite, then it was certainly Neoliberal. While in his first term Blair signed the Social Chapter, introduced the minimum wage, legislation for mandatory trade union recognition and a populist windfall on the privatised utilities, the common sense of the period, of the deregulated market as the master, went fundamentally unchallenged. The neoliberal core of the Thatcherite project was accepted as the natural order of things, and was fostered by further deregulation, the spread of Private Finance Initiatives, and a whole bunch of measures that saw capital penetrate the fabric of the state to a degree that was not possible even under the period of high Thatcherism. Yet while New Labour was busy creating new business opportunities where none existed previously, the social democratic side of the project tried ameliorating the effects of increasingly free markets (where possible, using market-based solutions), while equipping workers with the education and skills that would enable them to compete successfully in a globalising economy.

Therefore, New Labour and Thatcherism are different and it's daft to pretend otherwise. But strip away the peculiar trappings of both and you bring out the fundamental identity of each. As the Tories once accepted the basic premises of the post-war settlement, so the centre left under Blair and Brown took the neoliberal settlement Thatcher successfully imposed as their starting point. In that sense, Thatcher's premiership was transformative, whereas the New Labour years were not.

Monday 8 April 2013


Let's be blunt. I hated Thatcher. I hate her politics. I hate her legacy. So no, I'm not about to mourn her passing or say nice diplomatic things. You knew where you stood with the Iron Lady, so it's only proper you know where you stand with me. Though, let's be truthful too, the Thatcher I grew up under, the Thatcher who left behind a record of no discernible merit whatsoever, died many years ago. Thatcher had long sinced slipped into senility, becoming a frail old woman with little of the person she once was. But as Thatcher declined, as the fog of confusion descended over her faculties she would have felt comforted that hers was a job well done. Regrettably, she did not live to see her "achievements" come crashing down, and she died at the moment the politics that indelibly bears her name is as strong as it ever was. Almost 30 years after her 1983 election triumph, the Coalition government's reheated Thatcherism is battering the poor as it forcibly redistributes resource from those at the bottom to them at the top. Not everything changes. The past isn't always a foreign country.

Thatcher exemplified the class she came from - the nation of shopkeepers - and came to embody the class she married into; big business. By chance, shrewdness, connections, so-called great men and great women can climb the greasy pole. But to become feted and deified as Thatcher was, something else is needed. One needs to be the condensation and repository of the interests, the passions, and aspirations of social movements, class fractions and entire strata that work, flow, and shape societies. Thatcher came to concentrate those interests in her person not by superhuman ability, but through a fortuitous set of circumstances. She was lucky to be at the right place at the right time when she successfully challenged Edward Heath for the Tory leadership. She was fortunate that a Labour government badly bungled the so-called Winter of Discontent, which handed her the 1979 general election on a platter. She was blessed that the Argentine Junta chose to invade the Falklands at just the right point in the electoral cycle. And she was doubly charmed that her opponents - the Labour Party, the labour movement - were divided, split, and walled off in sectional ghettoes. Propitious times for Thatcher. Less than propitious times for the country.

In warfare without and conflict within, the Thatcher myth was carefully midwifed in mainstream politics. Here was a woman unafraid of saying the unsaid, of wrapping herself in the flag and standing up for Britain, whether it be against dictators, terrorists, trade unions, or Europe. She was the strong hand who would lead the country out of stagnation and chaos, restore our pride and Make Britain Great again. And in so doing, she served her class well. Under the guise of a 'popular' capitalism that asset stripped state-owned businesses and utilities, Britain's infrastructure was sold off at bargain basement prices. Council housing got flogged at knock down rates to tenants, ultimately benefiting a burgeoning strata of petty landlords. These two measures - creating a layer of small shareholders, extending the number of property owners - represented Tory attempts to socially engineer enough Conservative voters to return them to power time and again. It didn't pay off, but the consequences of these policies; spiralling energy prices, housing shortages, out-of-control rents, these disasters ultimately lay squarely at her door.

Appropriately, the most divisive of politicians gifted us a divided society. The Britain she found was cut across by class. The Britain she left is scarred by dog-eat-dog paranoia, scapegoating, the twins of fear and despair, and crucially, insecurity. Overt class warfare has given way to the multiplication of points of conflict. Class against class was replaced by all against all. The strangest kind of Tory, she ushered in the era of market fundamentalism at the expense of people's sense of place in the established order. By strategically defeating the labour movement, and, perversely, shackling it in the name of "flexibility", millions upon millions of working people live in a permanent state of insecurity. Short term work, part-time work, low pay, the obscenity of the zero hour contract, all of these are the real children of Thatcher.

This afternoon, Obama and Cameron both have hailed her as an example who will echo down the centuries. I would sooner forget her, but she does need remembering: as a warning to be heeded and a phantom to be exorcised.

But tonight, as her admirers can't help themselves heap tribute on effusive tribute, as the Thatcher family prepare a round of soft soap interviews about their wonderful mummy, my thoughts are with two families who have also known loss and in all likelihood, had that brought back to them today. Davy Jones and Joe Green were killed in the course of the miners' strike almost 30 years ago. They died defending their communities from the ruin Thatcher determinedly visited upon them. On this day it is these two men we should be toasting. And the most effective way of showing our respect is trying our damnedest to bury Thatcherism once and for all.

Sunday 7 April 2013

The Demonisation of Paris Brown

Blogging twice about The Mail in a single week is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, but here we are. It's Sunday, and that means prime time for the right-wing press to hypocritically vent at an unfortunate hate figure. And for 7th April, that most unwelcome of spotlights has fallen on one Paris Brown (pictured), Youth Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. Her crime? The Mail thunders "Is this foul-mouthed, self-obsessed Twitter teen really the future of British policing? Youth crime tsar's sex and drug rants".

With the chutzpah only The Mail could manage, they attack Paris for "foul-mouthed rants" and "disgusting outbursts", as well as tweeting about under-age drinking, "feeling horny", mucking about at work, and using playground language to describe immigrants, travellers, and gay men. Big deal. Paris Brown turned 17 three days ago and I expect is as daft and dumb as me, you, Daily Mail hacks, and everyone else was at that age. So what. Paris should have been more circumspect considering her Youth Commissioner role but luckily, her boss, Anne Barnes, has taken a measured approach. "I think that if everyone's future was determined by what they wrote on social networking sites between the ages of 14 and 16 we'd live in a very odd world", she says. Pity Keith Vaz couldn't help shoot his mouth off and give this attack some credence. Still, for Paris this is a most salutary schooling in online personality management, and I hope she can bounce back from getting mugged by one of Britain's biggest bullies.

Bullying, for that is what this Mail story is. The story is nothing more than a creepy shakedown of a young woman barely out of school. You have to ask what kind of man is prepared to scour the personal Twitter feed of a 16 year old for anything that smacks of salaciousness, and what sort of paper would employ him to do so. Let's not beat about the bush: it's sick. In fact, what makes it all the more disturbing is the tone of the tweet below sent from Paris's official account yesterday afternoon:

If that doesn't sound like someone unaware of the ambush The Mail was about to spring, I don't know what does.

It's been an appalling few weeks for Mail "journalism". First we had the tragic suicide of trans woman Lucy Meadows, apparently due to a Richard Littlejohn article. And last week the the death of six kids was turned into a moral crusade against what remains of social security. Today's attack on Paris Brown is not because the paper particularly cares about casual racism - it, after all, has done more than nearly any other publication to stoke its fires. Rather it's zeroing in on yet another favourite hate target for the tabloid press: the young.

Everything Paris is accused of ticks the core readership's panic boxes - drinking, drugs, sex, anti-social behaviour, violence, disrespect. The Mail have done their damnedest to portray her as a feral teen that could be your child (why mention the value of her parents' home?) And she even lies too. On the one hand "Miss Brown claimed that she chose to put on hold plans to do A-levels to take up the year-long post" but then "in another posting she told of her intention to work as a holiday rep on the Greek island of Kavos or the Spanish island of Ibiza, both renowned for their hedonistic, party atmosphere." If a young woman like Paris, ostensibly from a nice middle class home, can end up as some latter day Lady Libertine, then there is no need for Mail readers to extend sympathy or understanding to the million or so layabout youths drawing the dole, and the even greater numbers trapped in insecure, low paid work. How unlike them at their age, who were able to get work straight from school, work hard, raise a family and own their own home. If only the youth of today followed their example, Britain would be a much nicer place to live in.

A front page attack on a 17 year old is cowardly and despicable. But in The Mail's mad rush from scapegoat to scapegoat, and as the economy stubbornly sticks in the doldrums, it will excel itself in producing two, three, many Paris Browns. What another awful low in the history of Britain's gutter press.