Immigration is the Hardest Issue for The Left. Corbyn’s Recent Insights show Real Promise

The debate around migration in the UK (and indeed much of the Western world) has become so toxic that writing about it feels like stepping onto hot coals.

Not only is immigration an issue that pertains to real peoples lives, but it affects people who are are right here in our communities, and suffering. The ‘native’ Londoner who cannot obtain help with housing from their local council. The second or third generation immigrant who is told to go back to ‘their’ country. The war refugee. All are in our communities. All have very real, very valid problems and grievances.

This is no longer a debate that can go on in an impersonal fashion, in dusty classrooms and lecture halls. The feeling of division, of tribalism, the risk of falling on the ‘wrong’ side and alienating family or friends, is palpable. But so too is the threat of violence, bubbling up, regularly now, on our streets. Ignoring such a difficult issue is a far more dangerous choice than engaging with it, difficult though that may be.

Growing up in a community composed almost completely of white faces, casual racism was the norm. Yet I feel that it was predominantly a racism of ignorance, a racism of absence, of imagining that no one was getting hurt because no one (with the maligned cultural of ethnic background) was present. Hopefully the offending children grew up and went on to make friends with those of other races and went on to seriously question, or at least to conveniently forget, their previous racism.

The racists of London often have more social nous than those children did. They know when it is ‘acceptable’ to air their views, and when it is not. The comments come out in private or in moments of passion and conflict. This is a racism that can develop where there was once friendship, often where there still is friendship. It is a racism that can emerge even when one has grown up side by side with those of other races. It requires massive cognitive dissonance. It is a very dangerous racism and which is in many ways far more frightening that the crude childish version that I used to be horrified by. It is worrying because it is being constantly stoked and reinvigorated by a broken economic system, by broken narratives and by fractured communities, and which can seemingly flourish even when it’s assumptions run against the upbringing and the values of the perpetrator. It is a racism borne of powerful and undeniable forces.

We cannot ignore these issues.

When I left my childhood home and moved to London, I naively thought I was leaving racism, ignorance and all of that unpleasantness behind and entering an enlightened world. The great cosmopolitan city. I now realise that I have in some ways been a part of the problem.

The issues of migration and racism are intimately linked. I now have an indistinguishable English accent (I’ve been here a while, and that’s just how I’ve turned out) and white skin. I am rarely a target for racism (some argue never, because I am in the racial ‘in’ group). Yet I have travelled to this city, squeezed of housing, and fought with the rest for a space in which to live. If I were part of a visible ‘out’ group, visible in public, visible in number, I would be a target. It easy to see how this situation has emerged, wrong though it is.

Racism and ignorance are on a spectrum. The historical, institutionalised and systemic racism all set the scene. A squeeze on resources, austerity, a few adverse events and someone can become radicalised against their fellow man (and woman). The hatred may be irrational or coldly psychopathic. The hater may feel guilty for their hating, or evangelical about it. The situation is complicated by the abundance of those who are sceptical about mass immigration, yet certainly do not consider themselves to be racist. Many conflate these various scenarios, but there is no one scenario. There is no one answer.

The liberal left needs to be more honest. We cannot ‘teach’ these issues away. The hatred is a feeling. It is often immune to facts. Indeed, being presented with facts may sometimes even exacerbate the problem.

Much of the liberal, middle classes seem to have their heads in the sand over this. They fail to see what even some of my immigrant friends have told me. That we are (in their words) ‘letting too many in now’, which is increasing tensions. It is very hard to hear, but hear we must. This perception becomes the reality. The ‘real’ reality is a matter for debate, and a matter of how much store you put on abstract notions of economic growth and hypotheticals whereby more houses are being built.

It is amazing how far people will go to use charts and tables to prove a political point, often using them to ‘prove’ what the ‘normal person’ thinks. Try being friends with the ‘normal person’ and listening to them talk. People often don’t care about the charts and the tables. People go with their instincts and their gut. The right wing press stokes the flames, but they don’t have to stoke hard (of course, they do stoke hard. As hard as they can- which hardly helps matters).

High levels of migration, chronic underspending and a selling off of our national assets all alter the fabric of our communities, enabling a perfect storm. The liberal dogma of the happy clapping Blair years, a smiling face while neoliberal economics ate slowly yet steadily through the fabric of our lives, may be almost as responsible for the racial tension we now find ourselves with as the UKIP, Tory and Coalition years have been. The difference is in the speed of the march toward what now looks like wilful economic destruction and in rhetoric which has replaced shallow slogans and dismissiveness with the openly inflammatory language of the latent facist.

These are not easy problems. There are no easy answers. There are certainly no ‘sticking plaster’ solutions. Lecturing, soundbites and spin don’t stand a chance of cutting it.

Jeremy Corbyn yesterday told how through collective bargaining, wages of Italian and Romanian workers in Fawley Oil Refinery were been brought into line with British workers. They received a retrospective increase. This is a victory for workers, ex workers and would be workers everywhere.

It almost feels as though there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The necessary strategy goes far beyond using the ‘right’ language, for example, talking about migrant exploitation instead of just saying ‘immigrants’ (the Ed Miliband position, not always consistently taken. See ‘controls on immigration’ mug)

Rather, it requires real, concrete examples of how the real, material interests of the British worker and the interests of the migrant worker can actually align. It is my view that the answer to the terrifying ‘post Brexit’ reality we find ourselves in is in searching passionately for such examples and acting on them urgently.

If we really think on think on this, we may arrive at two conclusions. One, that the right wing position of simply maligning and shutting out the ‘out group’, while quietly eroding workers rights, is definitely going to make racial tensions worse, not better. We must not,  allow this to happen, or we are in effect welcoming a return to the bad old days of overt racism, beatings, people being spat on in the streets (yes, we’re half way there as some of my friends can regularly attest. Thanks UKIP et al).

Allowing ourselves to be useful idiots in the increasingly transparent ‘divide and rule’ strategy of the right is surely the road to fascism. Corbyn was absolutely right to say that voting for UKIP is ‘a counsel of despair’.

The second conclusion should be that there is hope. There is common ground and we must not give up. A grown up foreign policy, a crusade against cronyism, and international workers solidarity are all things to strive for. Yes, old school politics needs to evolve. The areas in which it needs to do so involve working patterns, technology, womens equality and so on. But the research showing that where labour is strong, ordinary people fare better, has not changed.

We must find ways to show solidarity with our fellow workers in Poland, in Romania, in Greece. We can let go of the dual fantasies of both communism and ‘the invisible hand’. Democratic, mixed economies work, and make up the clay from which our societies are shaped now. Investment, small and medium sized business and entrepreneurism all must be firmly established within language of the left. Perhaps there are ways of supporting the development of European economies who now suffer such chronic, crisis led outward migration.

We still need the ‘Third Way’ that never was, a creative, pragmatic policy making approach which sidelines some of the outdated, divisive notions of left and right, but which this time recognises the reality of structural economic problems and which isn’t a flimsy veneer for the privitisation creep and asset stripping which has characterised recent years. With the numerous economics forums and conferences hosted by John McDonnell, we have seen some signs of such a new, much needed politics.

Migration should be a choice. It should never be a requirement for anyone. By repackaging the mass movement of Labour as an unmitigated good, neoliberalism has sold us a pup and it has used left wing, social liberalism as the vehicle with which to do so. It is a positive that any individual who wishes to leave their home country in search of work may do so. It is not a positive that many need to do so in order to eat, to support their families or to escape war.

Even within the UK, where investment is a 1000 times higher per head in London that it is in the regions, it is tragic that some are forced to leave their families in search of increasingly poorly paid and insecure work, while battling what is looking more and more like Rachmanist housing policy, just to avoid being left to rot in deserted terraces on shrinking social security payments. Let’s have open borders, open cities. But let’s not allow neoliberalism to make mass migration a necessity.

Jeremy Corbyn has shown this week that there is no need to malign the migrant worker in order to defuse the anger that has marched us into Brexit. Instead, we simply need to support him (and her). That he has done so with an appeal to traditional left wing values shows that he is not the elitist, ‘metropolitan liberal’ that many think he is. His intervention shows that many of us lefty liberals have some serious thinking to do. Some of the answers to the seemingly intractable challenges of our times have been staring us in the face.

It is now time the liberal left rejected the fake feminism, fake anti-racism and fake anti-ablism weaponised by the neoliberal movement, all while it’s agents in government impoverish the very groups it claims to champion. It is time for us to get back to real action that works, supporting one another through the unions while retaining the very real, modern values of equality that come not from identity politics but from genuine solidarity, both material and otherwise.

None of this on its own will solve racism or any of the other unwanted isms, but if there is one thing the last year in politics should have taught us, it is that some of the empty liberal rhetoric of the ‘new’ left has us all used and abused and turned on each other. It is time to get back to our roots and to something real that works. The word is solidarity.

The problem of attracting a UKIP voter back to Labour is not just one of politics, but one of trust. The issues run deep. But in his recent piece on strengthening workers rights, Corbyn has shown some promising hints that the left has the real answers.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/30/jeremy-corbyn-strengthening-workers-rights-labour-priority

Whatever The Result, We Still Need to Fight for Democracy

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This EU referendum campaign has, in many ways, been extremely dispiriting. I have pointedly avoided TV’s throughout, not wanting to start shouting and attracting the ire of my neighbors. From snippets on the radio, links on Twitter and the news, I have gathered that the process of trying to persuade the British public to vote one way or another has brought out the very worst in everyone.

As a nervous ‘Lexiteer’, watching videos of Farage addressing extremely large, extremely homogeneous, unhappy looking crowds made me shudder. These were ‘my people’. The massive thunderclap as he reached his rhetorical climax seemed to be a warning from God himself that I was becoming a complicit tool in a creeping wave of fascism. Meanwhile, my usually very laid back family were sending me last minute pleas in text form to try and persuade me change my mind. That is, the ones with whom I was brave enough to share my choice. Yes, the world seemed to agree that I and all Brexiteers were pariahs.

On the other side of the argument, we had the self- proclaimed International Saint of Peace and committed Hague Dodger, Tony Blair, declaring himself to be firmly in the remain camp, to the apparent and understandable dismay of some remain campaigners. We witnessed some journalists sneakily managing to imply that anyone considering a Brexit vote should consider themselves directly responsible for the death of Jo Cox. Just when we thought a week couldn’t get any worse, her brutal murder reminded us all of things we would all probably rather forget and seemed to bring the very worst violent, intolerant and misogynistic sentiments of our society into full view. While the nation mourned, we were told that this referendum would be the most important of our political lives, and a huge chunk of us were still undecided.

It has been heartening to see the high levels of political engagement this week and to hear predictions of the high turnouts that we could expect. But it has been emotionally grueling and nerve racking (for at least some of us) trying to decide. I’m sure I am not the only one who has felt divided from friends and family, even if I suspect that many members of my party (Labour) if not the PLP, share my sentiments. As I listen to the results coming in on the radio, it seems that large swathes of the country do too.

While my educational level and age should place me in the Remain camp (according to the typical analyses) I don’t mind admitting that I find the prospect of some kind of ‘working class’ victory, after decades of a diminishing share of GDP, low participation in unions and a general contempt for workers rights, heartening. I believe that the assumption that most Brexit votes are anti immigration and nothing more to be patronising and false. I strongly believe that while they may not all have degrees in political economy, economics etc, many of the ‘working classes’ that Labour have supposedly lost touch with, do not have a problem with immigration per se, and in fact are more than capable of taking a common sense view on the democratic credentials of the EU.

I do not deny that we have a problem with racism in this country, I have seen and heard some terrible things and I know that we do have a serious problem with it. But some of the sneering, superior and essentially head-in-sand, and frankly, intellectually dishonest arguments I have heard from the so called ‘liberal elites’ this week have been truly sickening. The biggest fault line that this referendum seems to have revealed has been between those who consider themselves to be above the concerns felt in the regions and other ‘poor’ parts of the country, and those who reside in or otherwise empathise with those (physical and ideological) places. This referendum campaign has, in my opinion, really shown just how sneering and dismissive people are capable of being toward those who are, in all likelihood, not in a substantially different position from themselves financially, even though the tastes, educational background, location and so on may be different.

We need to get a grip. Labour costs as a % of GDP have been going down for decades. Real living standards have not risen for decades. If we cannot suspend our bourgeois pretensions for 5 minutes and realise that there are people living in the North, in Wales, in parts of London with radically different views, who ARE intelligent, who ARE well read, who may even have degrees, and have concerns about immigration and other issues we find unpalatable, we will be stuck with Tory rule for ever.

We need to find some common ground and some solidarity. We are all being fucked by neoliberalism. We are allowing ourselves to be fooled by a regime that promotes identity politics and anti racism when it suits it, yet will demonise refugees and disabled people in the next breath. We need to find real working class solidarity, genuine shared values of anti-racism and workers rights again if we are to avoid falling for this fake empathy and love bombing that is dropped down on us from time to time like crumbs from a far away table.

University degrees or not, capers on our salad or not, most of us are suffering with high housing costs, low wages and displaced communities caused by poor tenancy rights. I am a fully paid up, card carrying member or the yoghurt weaving, Guardian reading brigade but even I know bullshit when I see it, and it has been coming from the remain camp by the truckload this week (yes, the Brexit camp too, but they don’t speak for me).

Whatever the result of the referendum, we can’t go away thinking that we are living in a country that is half racist. It just isn’t true. There are many, many reasons why people may have voted for Brexit. People do not generally believe what they read in the Sun, despite what some of my fellow Guardian readers may think (incidentally, it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to believe what one reads there too these days).

Whether we win or lose, I believe that a substantial percentage of Brexiteers genuinely are concerned with the democratic deficit. Instead of assuming the worst, let’s run with this. If we remain, we need to reform the EU, to make it more democratic, and Britain too. If we exit, well, we need PR, to abolish the house of lords, the list goes on…

People are asking for democracy, so let’s show some solidarity, and each do our own part to make this happen. There is a silver lining to the clouds that have formed, literally and figuratively, this week and it is down to each and every one of us to find it.

Why I’m Voting for Lexit

This was emailed to me today by a friend, who found it on facebook. It covers the issues better than I could today, so in lieu of writing a new post I am pasting it here. Unfortunately the author isn’t credited, if anyone can help with this please step forward:

‘In the fuzzy world of European identity and future though unspecified “reforms” the EU can sound great. But I’ll be voting on what the EU is, and what it does, and what it wants to do.

There seem to be two clear camps on the Brexit question: those who loathe the EU, and those who don’t know much about it. Even its highest profile supporters feel the need to list its profound shortcomings as part of their rallying cry to Remain. The most surprising thing about the debate so far isn’t that the left have, in general, sided with Remain. It is that so many of them have shown complete indifference to fundamental democratic rights.

Having followed the EU’s ruthless crushing of Greece and her workers, having watched the shameful and shadowy progress of TTIP through EU chambers, many Remainers have no love for the EU. They see the EU as a least bad option – it is not something to be cheered or romanticised. And I have every sympathy with that position.

The angry liberals, however, the ranty remainers, are another story. The EU is the embodiment of human progress, it has saved 500m people from bitter war, it is the post-national dream made reality; it’s the EU or the gas chambers! There seem to me two chief drivers of this view. One concerns identity. As seen in the discourse on the Scottish referendum, for many English the Scots were their lifeline, their ‘Britishness’, their ‘internationalism’ – their non-Englishness, ultimately. As Simon Hattenstone wrote in the Guardian, a Scottish Yes would “reduce me to my core Englishness. I would be a little Englander – an identity I’d always despised”. The same is true of Europe.

But many voters have more material concerns – wages, jobs, and access to housing and public services. This is why Labour is again being pulled in two directions, and you can’t win an election on the Guardian circulation. In the north of England Leave is a widespread and popular stance amongst Labour voters; it is now estimated 44% of Labour voters are for Leave. The prospect of a collapse in the northern Labour vote is very real, #indyref round 2. It does not help matters that Labour has imposed such discipline on the issue: a scenario which has given rise to the awkward scene of lifelong Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn pretending to be an EU supporter.

The second driver of anti-Brexit rage is ‘the Tories’, or more accurately, the notion that without the EU all this country amounts to is ‘Tories’. Just like opposition to an English parliament, three words settle the argument: ‘permanent Tory rule’. If you can’t get democratic support in your own country then simply outsource power to an unelected elite whose outlook you prefer. Never let it be said that Remain are overly constrained by principle.

So this segment of Remain is part identity – Europeanism – and part fear that the witless public will endlessly elect Tory governments. Neither make much sense to me. Europe has been around long before, and will be around long after, the EU. To be a European is a matter of culture, geography and history. It is not something bestowed by an unpopular and undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels. This is about the EU, not Europe. We are not proposing to hook up an armada of tugboats and haul Blighty out into the Pacific or the South China Sea. As for permanent Tory rule, they have a 12 seat majority from an allegedly illegal election campaign, and have only just returned to power after 13 years in the wilderness. If you don’t like Tories you can vote against them. You cannot vote against the EU Commission.

“There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties” (Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission)

The EU doesn’t deem the little people of Europe worthy of electing their own executive. It is the unelected Commission, not the elected parliament, that makes the laws and wields the real power. Those trying to pass off the Commission as equivalent to our Civil Service are being profoundly dishonest. To forego such a fundamental democratic pillar as electing your own law makers you’d better be getting an awful lot back in return, and you’d better be very sure indeed that your unelected masters will always act in your interests. The former is highly questionable, the latter is demonstrably untrue.
TTIP

Take TTIP. A colossal trade deal between the EU and the US, negotiated with extreme secrecy, which is likely to reduce standards and regulations down to the lowest common denominator, and which will allow businesses to sue European states for passing legislation that limits their profits, even if it is in pursuit of entirely legitimate goals: for instance curbing pollution, or nationalising a failing utility company. Canada has already paid out over £100m to US corporations as a result of similar measures in the notorious North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Of those at the table on TTIP, 92% were corporate lobbyists.

The official report into TTIP commissioned by the EU itself suggested it would lead to the loss of 1.3m jobs in Europe – that it is still pursuing the deal speaks volumes about which interests it serves and its understanding of what ‘economic progress’ looks like. Similarly, NAFTA is reported to have led to the loss of a million jobs in the US. When asked about European opposition to TTIP, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom replied, “I do not take my mandate from the European people”, just in case anyone was labouring under the illusion that the Commission works for the European people.

TTIP poses such a clear danger to the NHS that activists across the country are up in arms against it. As outgoing Green party leader Natalie Bennett argues, TTIP threatens to “blow apart the power of our democratic decision making.”

Yet TTIP is not some passing aberration, a moment of absent mindedness from our worker loving overlords in Brussels. On the contrary, TTIP lays bare the guiding principles of the modern EU: creating the best possible corporate environment with minimal barriers to profit. Sadly this often trumps the interests of working people, citizens and taxpayers. This is all entirely of a piece with globalist economic designs, of which the EU is a key protagonist: higher profits, lower wages, less people on the payroll and a weakened labour force. That is the primary function of free movement, it is not a fluffy multicultural project.

It is often implied that Brexit would be abandoning our social democratic European brothers and sisters, when the reality is that there is strong feeling against the EU – not Europe – across the continent. Whenever given the chance to vote on the EU – Dutch, Irish, French – the usual result is a No. A poll has just showed nearly half of Italians want to leave, as well as 41% of the French, and the Dutch are now overwhelmingly in favour of their own referendum. Norway, a paragon of left wing virtue, refused to join the EU in referenda in 1972 and 1994 and the Norwegians remain firmly committed to staying out to this day. If the EU really is so wonderful and indispensable, why aren’t the Norwegians buying it? Maybe they’re just an ignorant mob of racists too.
Norway

As we face laughable claims from the British government it’s worth bearing Norway’s experience in mind. Our government has claimed Brexit would lead to losses of over £4,000 per year per household by 2030, a report so flagrantly dishonest in its figures it has caused little but sniggers from economists. This is the same government which has consistently got its predictions completely wrong even when its crystal ball is only peering 6 months into the future, let alone 14 years. The same scaremongering was aimed at the Norwegians in 1994: thousands of jobs will be lost, investment will crumble, interest rates will climb, and so on. It was all nonsense. As a financial newspaper put it in 1995,

“Everything has gone better for the Norwegian economy since Norway said no to the EU on 28 November last year. Interest rates have fallen, growth has increased, the budget deficit has evaporated and investments are rocketing sky high.”

The exact same threats were issued to try to force us to join the Euro, an utterly disastrous project. On the big questions of our time economists have had about as much predictive power as Mystic Meg on a heavy dose of ketamine. There are some good arguments for Remain, but not many, and they have nothing to do with ‘trade deals’ or ‘war’.
Trade deals

The idea that Britain could not trade with the EU is possibly the biggest nonsense of the Remain campaign. Of course we would have a trade deal, we are a big economy and a big importer of EU goods: we could join the EEA, EFTA, or simply strike bilateral agreements. Belarus is the only non-EU state in Europe that doesn’t have tariff free access to the single market. It’s not easy to raise existing tariffs under WTO rules even if you want to. As Aaron Bastani argues, yes, the EU will want to punish the UK for Brexit, but I just don’t think it has the economic or political strength to follow through. Punishment would only boost the Leave camps in every disgruntled nation in Europe. And which unelected middle manager is going to break the news to EU exporters that they’re losing their jobs to “make an example of Britain”? (The vindictive nature of the EU is being deployed, strangely, as an argument to Remain).

But let’s assume hypothetically that we couldn’t strike a deal or join any European trade grouping (for reasons never explained). Neither Britain nor the EU has trade deals with the USA, China or Japan, to name just three; yet these are some of the EU’s biggest trading partners. Any country in the world can trade with the EU. Why? Because you don’t need a trade deal to trade – tariffs have been declining around the world for some time. Of all the reasons to vote Remain, trade deals is one of the poorest. When you look at the contents of the TTIP deal (in fact, you can’t, nor can our MPs) you will probably consider a lack of trade deals a supreme act of mercy.

The economic gains of leaving include regaining control of our fishing waters, the ability to strike trade deals with anyone we want (for those who believe such things critical), a slow down in house prices, and a rise in wages – that’s according to Lord Rose, head of the Remain camp (Remain promptly shut him away in a bunker for the duration of the campaign). Rose did make clear rising wages were a bad thing, just to be absolutely clear on the economic agenda of the Remain leaders. And we also save around £160m a week, net. Finally, it should be remembered that as we are a net contributor the EU does not actually “fund” anything in this country at all: it simply reallocates some of our own money without our say so, after it’s taken its cut.

As for “social Europe”, the EU could hardly be a stronger expression of neoliberal orthodoxy: a single market of competition, harmonisation, privatisation and cross border access; a single large pool of labour, from which business can and does employ the cheapest; the formal removal of power away from the democratic sphere and into the hands of technocrats; ultimately, the subordination of the social to the market. The EU has shown it is quite willing to simply impose governments on member states – basic democratic values be damned if they anger the banks. Instead of judging the EU by utopian views of what future society should look like, it is better judged on what it actually does and what it plans to do.
Rail

The great British train robbery of privatisation has been an obscene fiasco that has transferred billions of pounds to private rail operators and shareholders. Fares are now the highest in the world, according to UBS. If you want rail renationalised, if you want a return to the sort of sane, cheap travel that you can see across Europe, then you need to think again. By 2019, the EU’s Fourth Railway Package requires market access to all passenger rail across the continent. The EU’s privatisation of European rail is well under way, just ask the rail unions across Europe.

“It would be ludicrous for a union like ours to support staying in a bosses’ club that seeks to ban the public ownership of our railways, and attacks the shipping and offshore sectors” – Mick Cash, Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) General Secretary

The EU is taking the worst model on the continent, the British, and imposing it on the best. Why? Profit and ideology.
Mail services

Similarly, the Tories cut price sell off of Royal Mail, in which George Osborne’s best man made a handsome windfall, caused outrage around the country. If you think the EU is the solution to this sort of crony capitalism and botched cartel ‘markets’ then forget it: the EU’s Postal Service Directive, in its own words, “fully opens the sector to competition”. Indeed, EU directives played a key role in Royal Mail’s privatisation.

“…our membership of the EU would prevent us from ever taking Royal Mail back into public ownership.”Trade Unionists Against the EU

The EU is not a barrier to privatisation, it is one of the main drivers.

To be clear, the EU’s desire to marketise vast swathes of public life has not been requested by the European people, nor is there any ballot in which they can stop it happening. The EU’s understanding of how economies should operate is wholly in line with globalist free market dogma. So it was entirely predictable that Remain is supported by the Bank of England, the IMF, the Treasury, the OECD, the World Bank, the White House and the fantastically sinister Tony Blair, the oligarch’s oligarch. Elite institutions tend to favour elite institutions: these are the architects and protectors of a failed 30 year experiment of market fundamentalism. So it comes as no surprise to learn of Remain’s big funders: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

Step aside, trade unions, the archangels of workers’ rights have descended…
Remain is not a ‘safe’ option

The big picture here is an EU on a dangerous and oppressive path, towards imposed market liberalisation, secret trade deals, workers’ rights ignored when fiscal demands are deemed more important, vicious austerity imposed whatever the costs, national governments and referendums ignored when the banks or Brussels don’t like the results, governments removed when they anger the EU, a vindictive European Central Bank that threatens member states with bank runs for disobedience, a profound contempt for democratic process and an ever-present power creep. If this is what ‘social Europe’ looks like, let’s hope the Commission doesn’t take arightward direction. And in the absence of a meaningful vote, let’s be frank, hope is all we have.

The EU is now a bullying, unstable menace: no one knows what laws the Commission will pass, what secret corporate deals it will sign, or which new countries it will bring in. The collapse of the Eurozone is a question of when, not if: it is a fundamentally flawed project. There is nothing remotely “stable” or ”safe”about the EU.
Remain but ‘reform’

If genuine reform of the EU was a serious proposition then none of this would be quite so important. But it isn’t. Cameron tried with a gun to their head – and failed. Greece tried and failed. The Irish, Dutch and French all tried and failed. The EU will not be reformed. It is becoming more aggressive, less democratic, more militantly neoliberal, and millions of Europeans would be overjoyed to see us stand up and say ‘no more’. What we have is an EU of elites, by elites and for elites. And I don’t think they’re losing any sleep over DiEM25, however tempting the ‘remain but reform’ position may be, and however decent the intentions of those behind it. It’s hard enough reforming the UK, let alone coordinating a mass European reform movement, against a rising far right tide, and which will need to somehow force significant treaty change on the proudly undemocratic EU. That’s not going to happen, and it isn’t an option at this referendum.

So I will be voting Leave on the 23rd of June, for two main reasons: firstly, the EU represents a failing economic orthodoxy that is harmful to public welfare, that is unjust, and that is indifferent to social needs and norms. Secondly, the EU is not simply undemocratic, it is actively contemptuous of democracy. Better to fight our own battles here, under our own imperfect democracy, than rely solely on the benevolence, wisdom and competence of men we can never elect, and we can never remove.’

Why Palestine?

I am currently halfway through reading a book by Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé which was published last year ‘On Palestine’. This prompted me to write a blog post to answer the question- why Palestine?

When there are so many atrocities committed around the world on a daily basis, what is this obsession among ‘liberals, ‘progressives’ or ‘leftists’ or whatever you want to call us with this tiny, fractured bit of land and it’s inhabitants?

This has always felt clear enough to me, even though the whole issue itself sometimes seems as clear as mud. Unlike many countries in which atrocities and human rights abuses take place, there is a strong historical, British link with the region and the fate of it’s inhabitants. There is a strong history of western support for Israel, special interest groups which influence our politicians and promote the interests of Israel and companies which operate in the UK which financially benefit or do trade with Israel. This is not an issue affecting some far flung, remote country which has nothing to do with us. We are politically, historically and financially intertwined with Israel and we have always been.

Of course, human minds are not perfectly rational. No doubt my mind is willfully and unjustly ignoring many issues which may be far more pertinent to my survival or sense of moral justice than this one. That is just human nature.

The question of ‘why Palestine’ is one that the authors themselves attempt to answer within the book and in reading their answer I could not help but be reminded of something I had myself learned during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014.

An ex IDF soldier called Eran Efrati has some very revealing videos online which gave me a new and very disturbing perspective on this ‘conflict’. He has given various talks in which he tells his story; from growing up in an Israeli Jewish family (his grandmother was a holocaust survivor) to being stationed amongst the Palestinians and ordered to raid their houses, to his current mission of sharing his insights with anyone who will listen.

I found these talks enlightening and watched a few at the time. They provide a fascinating and disturbing portal into life as an Israeli soldier and growing up within the Israeli-Jewish community. But it is toward the end of one of these talks that provided a nugget of information that really disturbed me and let the gravity of the situation really sink in. This is where he reveals the connection between the military activity of the Israeli army and the broader military industrial complex and security industry. I had never really realised prior to this that Gaza is not just an open prison but a weapons testing facility for the entire world. The technologies and techniques that are being tested there are then being exported to the US police force and who knows where else.

In ‘On Palestine’, the Israeli government is described as using the Palestinians as ‘guinea pigs’. This reminded me of the Eran Efrati videos and one further, compelling answer to the question ‘why Palestine’?

Clearly there is an element in our global society for whom further militarisation of all of our national communities would be a desirable goal, because it means further profit. We should stick up for the Palestinians because we care, because we are human and because it is the right thing to do. But if you want to think about your own self interest too, stick up for them becuause next time you go to a protest to voice your view on the actions of your own government, the tear gas used by the police might just be approved by the IDF and tested in Gaza.

Personally, I feel this adds yet another sinister facet to the whole issue. Rational or remote or otherwise, I can’t help joining the dots in a way that gives me a different perspective on not just Palestine but on Ferguson in Missouri, on the proposals to further arm our police force in the UK and on the future of our respective societies.

I would urge anybody reading this, whatever your view, to seek out and watch the Eran Efrati talks for yourself. His powerful testimony may give you a valuable new perspective on this so called ‘conflict’.

Labour’s Lost Generation

As a student, I was politicised by Iraq. I stood up and spoke at rallies and at meetings. I went on protests and wrote letters to my MP. But there was no where for me to go afterwards. There was no mainstream way for me to channel my passion. I should have been able to join the Labour party, my natural home, but I just couldn’t. I knew first hand what the Tories had done to my local community. Labour seemed like the only viable alternative, yet they had dragged us into this pointless war. I simply couldn’t join.

I remember the placards from the marches, many of them screamed ‘No More Blood For Oil’. We knew then that these wars were predominantly about resources and power. We knew that there was a ‘hit list’ of countries, people would tell each other about ‘Project for a New American Century’ and exchange leaflets. We would speculate as to who would be next. Iran? Libya? The American government seemed to be spoiling for a fight.

There was this huge gulf between the John Pilger style narrative and the official one. I tried to get onboard with the official one sometimes, suspend my disbelief, just to end the mental exhaustion and the constant oscillation. To escape the sense of a horrendous unreality unfolding before me in the papers and the news. I almost wanted to capitulate to the Orwellian nightmare, just to feel like I wasn’t fighting the world anymore.

I marched side by side with organisations like Stop The War and The Socialist Workers Party. I admired their commitment and their ability to mobilise people, but they were no substitute for real democratic representation.

Not being able to participate properly in the decision making process of your country, not finding representation is pretty emasculating. It’s unhealthy. For years I couldn’t even watch the news, it was just too frustrating. The fact that over a million people from all over the UK- old, young, some who had never been on a march before- and the government hadn’t given a toss, was extremely disheartening. We’d lost. I decided to focus on other things.

This week, parliament voted for airstrikes over Syria. I dearly hope that this time things will be different. That civilian casualties will be minimal. That we won’t inadvertently arm more future terrorists. That mission creep doesn’t set in (although the result was itself in a way a form of mission creep). But that hope may well be in vain.

The young people of the UK seem, rightly, appalled. I am consoled by the fact that for young people and others particularly moved by this crisis, there is now somewhere for them to take their frustrations. There is somewhere for them to go. They don’t need to be cut out of public life like I was. My exile may have been purely psychological, but it was very real to me.

In my teens I often thought that things would eventually get better as the internet slowly increased it’s influence. That that gulf between what the John Pilger’s of the world were saying and what was reported in the news wouldn’t matter so much anymore. I feel as though to an extent, this has happened. While the TV news and the papers continue their sycophantic style, faithfully repeating the press releases handed down by government, it takes just moments to share important information with a stranger. Today’s children are likely far better informed than we ever were about events affecting our public life.

Perhaps the election of Jeremy Corbyn, in which the existence of social media, blogs and emails was crucial, is symptomatic of this change. Of course he and McDonnell are not perfect, but there they are. For decades they have been hanging by a thread, refusing to leave Labour just as I refused to join. A little careworn they may be, but without them, the left would truly be split, with many more people of conscience forced to carp from the sidelines.

When I was protesting every weekend, it seemed important and right, but I was always exasperated by the futility of it all. The likes of David Cameron and Tony Blair are very comfortable with the likes of me being on the streets, protesting. It is important but it isn’t real power.

It is hard to describe just how therapeutic Corbyn’s victory has been for me.  Of course I have plenty of things in my life apart from politics, but it still feels as though a severed limb has rejoined my body. I no longer have to block it all out, to turn off the news, to scrunch up the paper or to distract myself from what is happening on the world stage. I feel I have a shot at democratic participation, that some kind of substantive representation may actually be within reach. Years of apathy have magically dissolved away and I feel like a whole person again.

I know that some are unhappy with the current state of the Labour party or it’s leadership. They talk about an ‘ideal candidate’, someone with the right politics, no ‘history’ for the press to deride and media savvy to boot. But how can we expect an ideal candidate to emerge from a vacuum of political participation? If ordinary people do not feel that there is any point in being involved, who will take their place? While there are many very good Labour MPs, the Labour party is still not yet what it could be.

We have to support each other and realise that there is no sole savior, there is no ideal candidate. Nobody is perfect. Everybody is human and has flaws. The individualism of Tony Blair and his presidential style of governance is something that we must leave behind if we want real democracy to take it’s place. I am heartened to see that Corbyn seems to be open to this happening. For me, this is the most important quality in a leader of all and it is something that has been missing in British politics for a very long time.

A generation was lost and the Labour party was strangled. And this isn’t just an age thing. There were people who dropped out of politics no matter what their actual age. If you are on the left and despair of the state of the Labour party, look to it’s recent history. How many more stories are there like mine? People who care, people who are interested, but who simply dropped out, exhausted and disheartened? In towns, cities and villages across the country, people are becoming involved in politics again and a new generation is coming up. It will take time, but little by little this new generation, along with those returning, will transform the left.

 

A Plea To Junior Doctors

Some days ago, I had an appointment in town and went to get some lunch afterwards. This was in one of those places where the food is so good for the price that there is always a queue, and the tables are always packed very closely together. I take a book with me everywhere so didn’t mind eating alone, but struggled to read it on this occasion. As soon as I sat down, the conversation on the adjacent table made it impossible for me to concentrate.

Two young women in their twenties or perhaps early thirties were talking, but most of the talk was coming from the lady facing me. It became clear very quickly that she was a medic of some sort, and she was talking about the dispute between Jeremy Hunt and the junior doctors.

I didn’t want to be rude and listen to the conversation, so I tried really hard to focus on my book while I was waiting for my meal. But the woman was talking passionately and animatedly, and she was so close, that every now and again her speech would catch my attention again.

She had many grievances that, coming from a family in which almost everyone works within the NHS, were familiar to me. The stress. The long hours. The difficult decisions. The state that some patients are in when they turn up in A&E. All kinds of stuff. This wasn’t too hard to ignore, since I did grow up with that sort of talk around the dinner table for years at home.

Then it started to get interesting and I’m afraid it became impossible for me not to listen. She started to talk about media bias. Lies and hypocrisy from government. Facts being misrepresented to the public. Pretty deep stuff, yet everything about her voice, demeanor and choice of words told me that she was ill used to criticising the government in such a passionate manner. This confrontation over doctor pay and conditions was clearly something of a political awakening for her.

Now, although I think that the government’s treatment of junior doctors is appalling, and I certainly wish it wasn’t happening, I couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that she was clearly so awake to the dirty tricks that others groups also endure from the government and media on a daily basis. The divide and rule tactics that we have seen over and over again that see jobseekers pitted against pensioners, workers against the disabled and parents against teachers.

But then, Bam. A deep sigh, and a longish pause.

‘Something must be done,’ she said. ‘I mean, we simply can’t afford the NHS anymore in its current form the way things are going. It’s unsustainable. They just want a Waitrose service for a Lidl price. They’ll have to start charging people. Cut services. I don’t know… something.’ At which point she presumably started eating (I wasn’t actually watching them).

I really wanted to say something at this point. I desperately wanted to explain that, this shouldn’t end up being a struggle between doctors and their patients. I wanted to tell her that the whole premise that we need to cut everything for the sake of the economy is a lie. That most mainstream economists would be (and in many cases are) appalled by our government’s approach to the economy. That the Tories are boosting their balance sheet by selling off public assets like trinkets to their friends, at knockdown prices and are not the great custodians of the economy they present themselves as. That they are following short term strategy of  slash, burn and neglect that will cost us all so much more in the long run. ‘Look at the state of the rental market!!!’ I wanted to scream.

I really wanted to tell her that the real crisis in the economy is not how much we pay public sector workers, but the dire state of our productivity figures, and that the way to reverse this is through investment in people, including their health!

I wanted to tell her that the whole idea of austerity is based on a dog eared bunch of scraps from the academic dinner table, collected over decades and fudged together and foisted on unsuspecting voters like rotten leftovers. I could have gone on and on and on and on, for days! But, one, they were having dinner and two- I learned long ago that most people don’t want to discuss the ins and outs of macroeconomic policy for days and that it is rather unfair to attempt to do so.

So, I kept quiet. But now I make this plea.

Please, please, please junior doctors. Whatever your political affiliation,  do not fall too easily for any of the proposed ‘solutions’ to the problems in the NHS coming from government over the next few years. If it involves painting a picture of selfish, feckless patients, please do not fall for it hook, line and sinker. If it is based on trite and discredited economic soundbites such as ‘tightening our belts’ or ‘living withing our means’, be particularly suspicious. We all know that the population is getting older, and that running the NHS to cost will be a great challenge. But with a decent society that values staff over giant, wasteful contracts and dodgy private finance deals, it can be done.

I am not saying you are all right wingers, or gullible (I know from personal experience, family and friends, that you are not) But I am saying that the government almost certainly knows exactly what it is doing in pushing the NHS up against a wall. There is massive, massive waste in the NHS, sure. But that is not the fault of doctors. Overall we get a great service for the money, but that is in large part because it is not yet wholly privatised. Bringing more markets in, or charging at the point of use, will not solve anything. It will just mean easy profits for the few lucky firms close to government while deepening the issues that already exist.

In fact, if we spent more in the first place on training, recruiting and retaining people, we wouldn’t need to hire them from agencies at unsustainable cost. PFI is costing unnecessary billions already. More marketisation isn’t the answer. As for charging at the point of use, the inequality of health outcomes is already a major problem for society. Charging at the point of use, say, £10 for a GPs appointment, won’t affect the middle classes that much, or the rich (who already go private for many things) but it will worsen health outcomes  among the poorest. It will exacerbate the inequalities and will probably end up costing the NHS more in the long run. It will certainly cost society more in the long run, and I do mean financially. It will just mean inappropriate services having to pick up the slack, which always ends up costing more, as is happening currently with hospital beds and social care.

Junior doctors, many of you are probably far better informed on much of this than I am but, all I ask is that you do not fall for the seductive government lies on the economy that have taken in so many. I know that you are under pressure and you don’t have time to moonlight as amateur economists on the side, but, you are smart and you can be great advocates for all of us on this.

The truth is, paying wages is good for the economy. Tax receipts go up. Wages get spent. This money often ends up paying more wages and they, too, get taxed and spent. This boosts the economy. It’s called the multiplier effect. So paying doctors, nurses and other health professionals is not bad for the economy, whatever the government may say. This money is not wasted. It is vital and as every single one of us knows, it saves and enriches lives far beyond those of the staff to whom the wages are paid.

What is bad for the economy is paying far more than we should to companies for products and services that we could administer ourselves directly. If the companies we enlist in doing so  are international and do not even pay their taxes here, it is further hemorrhaging cash for no good reason, because much of that cash will not even end up back in the local economy. No multiplier effect. Sadly, many of these companies have links to the politicians who supposedly represent us in government, and on whom we rely on to make decisions about our NHS. A clear conflict of interest. So we cannot rely solely on them for the solutions.

It would have felt very rude to interrupt the conversation I overheard the other day and say all of this to the young woman on the table next to me. I hope you do not find me rude in saying now, please do not fall for any Tory lies on the economy. Instead, resist them. The economy is a complex and dynamic system, not a pie over which we all have to fight for the last slice. The good news is that in knowing this, whether doctors, nurses, patients or otherwise, we can be friends and allies in resisting.

 

 

Why We All need to ‘Do A Corbyn’

In the constant furore over every word uttered and step taken by the new leader of her majesty’s opposition, I think it is worth remembering a crucial point.

Jeremy Corbyn has found himself in his current position not because he was in rabid pursuit of power, but because it was ‘his turn’ to do his duty and represent the left of the party.

Tristram Hunt and others have emphasised the importance of ideas to the future of the Labour party. They are right to do so. Ideas matter in politics. Margaret Thatcher was influenced by Hayek. Tony Blair was influenced by Giddens. For better or worse (yes, the latter in those two cases, in my humble opinion) these academics and thinkers have influenced policy albeit in mangled, impure ways.

Yet, I don’t think that we have a poverty of ideas on the left at all. Does anyone on the left argue with Thomas Pikkety in his pointing out that income inequality correlates more closely with every social ill than any other statistic? Would anybody at least moderately well versed in economics argue with the vast majority of mainstream economists who would identify current conditions as being ideal for infrastructure investment? What fool would rip up every macroeconomics textbook and ignore the idea that money spent into local economies has a multipler effect, thus boosting overall economic performance? Making the whole idea of ‘cuts for the economy’ a self evident nonsense? We are not short of good intellectual ideas on the left. No Trotsky required.

So, the left has ideas on its side, and modern ones at that. Yet we are out of power, standing on the sidelines while the most nefarious Tory government we have ever seen systematically dismantles everything that is good about our country.

If we are failing anywhere, it is with our skill at communication. It is with feet on the pavements and our presence in the media. It is in the quality and reach of our messages.

We need journalists of every variety. Positive, constructive, citizen, populist- across the board we are outnumbered. We need good copywriters. We need speechwriters. We need film makers, web designers and broadcasters. We need amateurs, we need triers. We need thinkers and speakers. We need wordsmiths, poets and photographers. We need people.

The thing is, we already have people.

What we really need is for everybody to get involved. To get stuck in. To  volunteer and participate. To do their thing. In short, more of us need to do a Corbyn. Criticise him if you will, but he saw a vacuum and he filled it. He stood up and got in. He is doing a difficult but essential job. Few would choose to do it for him.

Corbyn is the quintessential reluctant leader, which can mean that his message comes across in a way that is too measured, too reluctant, too modest to suit the soundbite hungry media age in which we live today. But there wasn’t anybody else who we could trust.

We didn’t want any more equivocation over issues like cutting disability benefits, demonising of the poor or the expensive cronyism that has seen Osborne selling off national assets at a knockdown price.

I believe trustworthiness was key to Corbyn’s election as Labour party leader. The members were willing to put aside differences of opinion on policy, simply to have a representative that we knew could not be bought by corporate interests.

By encouraging the wider participation of Labour party members, Corbyn has taken a huge step in the right direction. His moves to include the members of the party more in policymaking are a clarion call to all of us to get more involved.

If you don’t like Corbyn, his views or the way he expresses himself, there has never been a better time to get involved in the Labour party and make your voice heard. Don’t listen to the scare mongering in the press. Yes there may be people who disagree with you. Yes you may face criticism, even abuse. Anybody who stands up to state their view in today’s world has to deal with this. Just look at what Corbyn has to put up with!

It doesn’t matter if you are a ‘moderate’ or a ‘centrist’. You still have something to contribute. But Labour is out of power at the moment, so perhaps it is best if we focus most of our criticism on the Tories, not on each other. It makes us look bad to swing voters and harms the left overall.

So instead of criticising Corbyn, copy him. Get involved. Be positive. Do a Corbyn.

The left needs you. So if you can write, knock doors, build websites or contribute any other skill, please do. Stand up and do your bit for the left in your way. Put forward policy ideas and questions. Dispel Tory and mainstream media myths. Find the hidden truths and spread them far and wide. Whatever your style, whatever your views and whatever your skill set, there is a place for you on the left. Join the Labour party and help them to improve. Or don’t join, but pitch in in some other way that suits you. There has never been a better time.