It’s the VE Day long weekend. There’s been lots of talk about ‘Blitz Spirit’ and the UK government is sending signals that the lockdown might be coming to an end. There’s an interesting lesson from this about the assumptions we make about human behaviour.
During the London Blitz the Anderson Shelters provided by the government (a sheet of corrugated iron to be placed in a garden) and the brick street shelters proved inadequate. I have vivid memories from school of reading accounts of the York Street brick shelter in Belfast which was hit and many of those inside killed.
There was an obvious solution to this in London: the Underground was deep enough to allow people to shelter in the stations. And that is eventually what happened. But only after a major campaign by working class communities to be allowed to use the Underground. The patrician government of the day feared that people, once underground, would never come back up. They would abandon their jobs and live subterranean lives, with Sir John Anderson, after whom the shelters were named, complaining that it would be impossible for people to “maintain the productive capacity in a troglodyte existence deep underground”.
It turned out that the patricians were wrong. The working class wanted to stop fascism enough to keep working, and when the bombers passed, they returned to ground level.
Interestingly this assumption that normal people would prioritise safety over work and spending is exactly the opposite of the assumption about people’s behaviour ahead of the Covid-19 lockdown.
There has been much discussion of the role of ‘behavioural economics’ and nudge theory in delaying the lockdown. I’m not as much a sceptic as many are of nudge theory. It is a tool that can be used for good or ill. But the perceived impact of decisions on behaviour is what interests me.
Every day the Daily Telegraph makes ever more shrill demands that lockdown end and people’s lives be sacrificed. But it has emerged that the assumptions that delayed the lockdown were wrong: most people think their health is their wealth. Polling consistently shows that people want the lockdown to last longer.
In the 1940s the population were thought to prefer safety. In the 2020s the population were thought to prefer work. The patricians of the 1940s were wrong. The behavioural economists of the 2020s are wrong.
And that should make us all think very carefully before we base decisions on what we think people will do in any given circumstance. Right-wing newspapers project an unbreakable confidence that they know what people think. That confidence is often misplaced.
The findings of a leaked, 860-page report compiled by the British Labour Party on its handling of antisemitism complaints is both deeply shocking and entirely predictable all at once.
For the first time, extensive internal correspondence between senior party officials has been revealed, proving a years-long plot to destroy Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader who recently stepped down.
The report confirms long-held suspicions that suspected cases of antisemitism were exploited by head office staff to try to undermine Corbyn. Anyone who was paying close attention to events in the party over the past five years already had a sense of that.
But the depth of hostility from party managers towards Corbyn – to the extent that they actively sought to engineer his defeat in the 2017 general election – comes as a bombshell even to most veteran Labour watchers.
Hankering for Blair
As the report reveals, party managers and a substantial section of the Labour parliamentary party barely hid their contempt for Corbyn after he won the leadership election in 2015. They claimed he was incapable of winning power.
These officials and MPs hankered for a return to a supposed golden era of Labour 20 years earlier, when Tony Blair had reinvented the party as New Labour – embracing Thatcherite economics, but presented with a more caring face. At the time, it proved a winning formula, earning Blair three terms in office.
Many of the officials and MPs most hostile to Corbyn had been selected or prospered under Blair. Because Corbyn sought to reverse the concessions made by New Labour to the political right, his democratic socialism was reviled by the Blairites.
In 2017, one of the architects of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, unabashedly declared: “I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his [Corbyn’s] tenure in office. Something, however small it may be – an email, a phone call or a meeting I convene – every day I try to do something to save the Labour Party from his leadership.”
That sentiment, the report makes clear, was widely shared at the highest levels of the party bureaucracy. Senior officials actively sought to sabotage Corbyn as leader at every turn.
Bid to rig leadership contest
The Blairites found a plethora of self-serving reasons – aggressively shared by the media – for arguing that Corbyn was unfit for office. Those ranged from his unkempt appearance to his opposition to Britain’s recent wars of aggression, resource grabs repackaged as “humanitarian interventions” that had been a staple of the Blair years.
Corbyn was falsely presented as having a treasonous past as a Soviet spy, and of being at the very least indulgent of antisemitism.
While members of Corbyn’s inner circle were busy putting out these endless fires, the leaked report shows that Labour officials were dedicating their time and energy to unseating him. Within a year, they had foisted upon him a rerun leadership election.
Corbyn won again with the overwhelming backing of members, even after party officials tried to rig the contest, as the report notes, by expelling thousands of members they feared would vote for him.
Even this second victory failed to disarm the Blairites. They argued that what members found appealing in Corbyn would alienate the wider electorate. And so, the covert campaign against the Labour leader intensified from within, as the extensive correspondence between party officials cited in the report makes clear.
In fact, senior officials frantically tried to engineer a third leadership challenge, in early 2017, on the back of what they expected to be a poor showing in two spring byelections. The plan was to install one of their own, Tom Watson, Corbyn’s hostile deputy, as interim leader.
To their horror, Labour did well in the byelections. Soon afterwards, a general election was called. It is in the sections dealing with the June 2017 election that the report’s most shocking revelations emerge. Antisemitism claims have one goal: To stop Jeremy Corbyn winning power Read More »
Again assuming Labour would perform badly, senior staff drew up plans to stage yet another leadership challenge immediately after the election. Hoping to improve their odds, they proposed that an electoral college replace the one-member, one-vote system to ensure no leftwing candidates could win.
These same staff had boasted of “political fixing” and interfering in constituency parties to ensure Blairites were selected as parliamentary candidates, rather than those sympathetic to Corbyn.
It was already well known that Labour was beset by factionalism at head office. At the time, some observers even referred to “Blue Labour” and “Red Labour” – with the implication that the “blue” faction were really closet Tories. Few probably understood how close to the truth such remarks were.
‘Sick’ over positive polls
The dossier reveals that the Blairites in charge of the party machine continued undermining Corbyn, even as it became clear they were wrong and that he could win the 2017 election.
According to the report, correspondence between senior staff – including Labour’s then-general secretary, Iain McNicol – show there was no let-up in efforts to subvert Corbyn’s campaign, even as the electoral tide turned in his favour.
Rather than celebrating the fact that the electorate appeared to be warming to Corbyn when he finally had a chance to get his message out – during the short period when the broadcast media were forced to provide more balance – Labour officials frantically sent messages to each other hoping he would still lose.
When a poll showed the party surging, one official commented to a colleague: “I actually felt quite sick when I saw that YouGov poll last night.” The colleague replied that “with a bit of luck” there would soon be “a clear polling decline”.
Excitedly, senior staff cited any outlier poll that suggested support for Corbyn was dropping. And they derided party figures, including shadow cabinet ministers such as Emily Thornberry, who offered anything more than formulaic support to Corbyn during the campaign.
‘Doing nothing’ during election
But this was not just sniping from the sidelines. Top staff actively worked to sabotage the campaign.
Party bosses set up a secret operation – the “key seats team” – in one of Labour’s offices, from which, according to the report, “a parallel general election campaign was run to support MPs associated with the right wing of the party”. A senior official pointed to the “need to throw cash” at the seat of Watson, Corbyn’s deputy and major opponent.
Corbyn’s inner team found they were refused key information they needed to direct the campaign effectively. They were denied contact details for candidates. And many staff in HQ boasted that they spent the campaign “doing nothing” or pretending to “tap tap busily” at their computers while they plotted against Corbyn online.
Writing this week, two left-wing Labour MPs, John Trickett and Ian Lavery, confirmed that efforts to undermine the 2017 election campaign were palpable at the time.
Party officials, they said, denied both of them information and feedback they needed from doorstep activists to decide where resources would be best allocated and what messaging to use. It was, they wrote, suggested “that we pour resources into seats with large Labour majorities which were never under threat”.
The report, and Trickett and Lavery’s own description, make clear that party managers wanted to ensure the party’s defeat, while also shoring up the majorities of Labour’s right-wing candidates to suggest that voters had preferred them.
The aim of party managers was to ensure a Blairite takeover of the party immediately after the election was lost.
‘Stunned and reeling’
It is therefore hardly surprising that, when Corbyn overturned the Conservative majority and came within a hair’s breadth of forming a government himself, there was an outpouring of anger and grief from senior staff. Stepping down as Labour leader, Corbyn can hold his head high Read More »
The message from one official cited in the report called the election result the “opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years”. She added that she and her colleagues were “silent and grey-faced” and in “need of counselling”.
Others said that they were “stunned and reeling”, and that they needed “a safe space”. They lamented that they would have to pretend to smile in front of the cameras. One observed: “We will have to suck this up. The people have spoken. Bastards.”
Another tried to look on the bright side: “At least we have loads of money now” – a reference to the dues from hundreds of thousands of new members Corbyn had attracted to the party as leader.
Investigated for antisemitism
In short, Labour’s own party bosses not only secretly preferred a Conservative government, but actually worked hard to bring one about.
The efforts to destroy Corbyn from 2015 through 2018 are the context for understanding the evolution of a widely accepted narrative about Labour becoming “institutionally antisemitic” under Corbyn’s leadership.
The chief purpose of the report is to survey this period and its relation to the antisemitism claims. As far as is known, the report was an effort to assess allegations that Labour had an identifiable “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn, currently the subject of an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
In a highly unusual move, the commission launched an investigation of Labour last year. The only other political party ever to be investigated is the neo-Nazi British National Party a decade ago.
The Labour report shows that party officials who helped the Tories to victory in 2017 were also the same people making sure antisemitism became a dark stain on Corbyn for most of his leadership.
No antisemitic intent
Confusingly, the report’s authors hedge their bets on the antisemitism claims.
One the one hand, they argue that antisemitism complaints were handled no differently from other complaints in Labour, and could find no evidence that current or former staff were “motivated by antisemitic intent”.
But at the same time, the report accepts that Labour had an antisemitism problem beyond the presence of a few “bad apples”, despite the known statistical evidence refuting this.
A Home Affairs Select Committee – a forum that was entirely unsympathetic to Corbyn – found in late 2016 that there was “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”.
Even that assessment was unfair to Labour. Various surveys have suggested that Labour and the left have less of a problem with all forms of racism than the ruling Conservative Party.
For those reasons alone, it was highly improper for the equalities commission to agree to investigate Labour. It smacks of the organisation’s politicisation.
Nonetheless, the decision of the report’s authors to work within the parameters of the equalities watchdog’s investigation is perhaps understandable. One of the successes of Corbyn’s opponents has been to label any effort to challenge the claim that Labour has an antisemitism problem as “denialism” – and then cite this purported denialism as proof of antisemitism.
Such self-rationalising proofs are highly effective, and a technique familiar from witch-hunts and the McCarthy trials of the 1950s in the United States.
‘Litany of mistakes’
The report highlights correspondence between senior staff showing that, insofar as Labour had an “antisemitism problem”, it actually came from the Blairites in head office, not Corbyn or his team. It was party officials deeply hostile to Corbyn, after all, who were responsible for handling antisemitism complaints.
These officials, the report notes, oversaw “a litany of errors” and delays in the handling of complaints – not because they were antisemitic, but because they knew this was an effective way to further damage Corbyn. Labour’s next leader has already betrayed the left Read More »
They intentionally expanded the scope of antisemitism investigations to catch out not only real antisemites in the party, but also members, including Jews, who shared Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights and were harshly critical of Israel.
Later, this approach would be formalised with the party’s adoption of a new definition of antisemitism, proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), that shifted the focus from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.
The complaints system was quickly overwhelmed, and delays worsened as officials hostile to Corbyn cynically dragged their heels to avoid resolving outstanding cases. Or, as the report stiffly describes it, there was “abundant evidence of a hyper-factional atmosphere prevailing in Party HQ” against Corbyn that “affected the expeditious and resolute handling of disciplinary complaints”.
The report accuses McNicol of intentionally misleading Corbyn about the number of cases so that “the scale of the problem was not appreciated” by his team – though the scale of the problem had, in fact, also been inflated by party officials.
The report concludes that Sam Matthews, who oversaw the complaints procedure under McNicol, “rarely replied or took any action, and the vast majority of times where action did occur, it was prompted by other Labour staff directly chasing this themselves”.
Amplified by the media
Both McNicol and Matthews have denied the claims to Sky News. McNicol called it a “petty attempt to divert attention away from the real issue”. Matthews said the report was “a highly selective, retrospective review of the party’s poor record” and that a “proper examination of the full evidence will show that as Head of Disputes and Acting Director, I did my level best to tackle the poison of anti-Jewish racism which was growing under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”
But there is too much detail in the report to be easily dismissed and there remain very serious questions to be answered. For example, once Matthews and McNicol had departed, Labour rapidly increased the resolution of antisemitism cases, dramatically stepping up the suspension and expulsion of accused party members.
The earlier delays appear to have had one purpose only: to embarrass Corbyn, creating an impression the party – and by implication, Corbyn himself – was not taking the issue of antisemitism seriously. Anyone who tried to point out what was really going on – such as, for example, MP Chris Williamson – was denounced as an antisemitism “denier” and suspended or expelled.
The media happily amplified whatever messages party officials disseminated against Corbyn. That included even the media’s liberal elements, such as the Guardian, whose political sympathies lay firmly with the Blairite faction.
That was all too evident during a special hour-length edition of Panorama, the BBC’s flagship news investigations programme, on Labour and antisemitism last year. It gave an uncritical platform to ex-staff turned supposed “whistleblowers” who claimed that Corbyn and his team had stymied efforts to root out antisemitism.
But as the report shows, it was actually these very “whistleblowers” who were the culpable ones.
‘Set up left, right and centre’
The media’s drumbeat against Corbyn progressively frightened wider sections of the Jewish community, who assumed there could be no smoke without fire.
It was a perfect, manufactured, moral panic. And once it was unleashed, it could survive the clear-out in 2018 of the Blairite ringleaders of the campaign against Corbyn.
Ever since, the antisemitism furore has continued to be regularly stoked into life by the media, by conservative Jewish organisations such as the Board of Deputies, and by Israel partisans inside the Labour Party.
“We were being sabotaged and set up left, right and centre by McNicol’s team, and we didn’t even know. It’s so important that the truth comes out,” one party source told Sky News.
Stench of cover-up
The question now for Labour’s new leader, Keir Starmer, is what is he going to do with these revelations? Will he use them to clean out Labour’s stables, or quietly sweep the ordure under the carpet?
The signs so far are not encouraging. Jeremy Corbyn’s exit: Farewell to a friend of Palestine Read More »
The intention of current party managers was to bury the revelations – until someone foiled them by leaking the report. Predictably, most of the media have so far shown very little interest in giving these explosive findings anything more than the most perfunctory coverage.
Unconvincingly, Starmer has claimed he knew nothing about the report until the leak, and that he now intends to conduct an “urgent independent investigation” into the findings of the earlier inquiry.
Such an investigation, he says, will re-examine “the contents and wider culture and practices referred to in the report”. That implies that Starmer refuses to accept the report’s findings. A reasonable concern is that he will seek to whitewash them with a second investigation.
He has also promised to investigate “the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain”. That sounds ominously like an attempt to hound those who have tried to bring to light the party’s betrayal of its previous leader.
The stench of cover-up is already in the air.
Fear of reviving smears
More likely, Starmer is desperate to put the antisemitism episode behind him and the party. Recent history is his warning.
Just as Williamson found himself reviled as an antisemite for questioning whether Labour actually had an antisemitism problem, Starmer knows that any effort by the party to defend Corbyn’s record will simply revive the campaign of smears. And this time, he will be the target.
Starmer has hurriedly sought to placate Israel lobbyists within and without his own party, distancing himself as much as possible from Corbyn. That has included declaring himself a staunch Zionist and promising a purge of antisemites under the IHRA rules that include harsh critics of Israel.
Starmer has also made himself and his party hostage to the conservative Board of Deputies and Labour’s Israel partisans by signing up to their 10 pledges, a document that effectively takes meaningful criticism of Israel off the table.
There is very little reason to believe that Labour’s new leadership is ready to confront the antisemitism smears that did so much to damage the party under Corbyn and will continue harming it for the foreseeable future.
The biggest casualties will be truth and transparency. Labour needs to come clean and admit that its most senior officials defrauded hundreds of thousands of party members, and millions more supporters, who voted for a fairer, kinder Britain.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net
This seems a small detail to have fuelled my sense of burning impotence, but the more I consider it alongside all the other small details that together form the steady, incessant drip-feed that gurgles just below the surface of what we are presented for news, the more incandescent it made me.
On 8th April 2013, Margaret Thatcher died. It was Monday and I’d been out of work for seven weeks. Not, I hasten to add, because of any hard-luck story or dastardly deed by an employer. No, it was my own stupid fault and the only reason I mention it is that I had time on my hands and was able, for the first time in a long time, to watch a big news story unfold in this age of 24-hour rolling news. I flicked around the news channels, mainly between sky, BBC and Al Jazeera, interested in how differently they would examine and present the story. As I watched that day I simmered, then effervesced and finally, boiled with anger and indignation.
From the outset, I must be brutally honest in stating my intense dislike of Margaret Thatcher. I despised her because of her methods and policies and I’m not about to revise that viewpoint now that she’s dead. However, neither am I about to launch into a vitriolic attack on her. What made me boil over that day was nothing to do with my politics, or indeed the politics of any of the contributors to the programming. Something more subtle was going on and I slowly realised that many of the participants, including some of the presenters, were parties to it unintentionally.
The first thing to hit me was the immediate, obvious difference between how the two English channels went for blanket, full-on tabloid, whilst the more international Al Jazeera merely inserted it periodically (as an important item nonetheless) into its output. Al Jazeera’s coverage was therefore less frenetic and, usually, by the time they revisited the item there had been some fresh development or interview, which made their analysis less repetitive. Whilst I appreciated this style more, I couldn’t help becoming drawn to a comparison exercise between the other two. Over the years, in a similar fashion to the two main political parties, the BBC and Sky News have become frighteningly alike. While the Tories and labour have been involved, first in a serious head-on pile up in the centre ground, then a sickening lurch towards UKIP on the right, the two broadcasters’ styles and formats have become increasingly familiar.
Frankly, the tabloidesque style is hardly surprising in Sky’s case, given its ownership and its eccentric American cousin, Fox News. Interestingly, the BBC has gradually come to the same conclusion as the Tories and Labour that, if the punter can’t tell the difference between you then they won’t particularly care which they’re watching and just vegetate and stop switching from one to the other. So, like the tabloids with their red tops and cover pictures of meaningless ‘celebrities’ being sick in the backs of taxis while the plane disaster is on page 23, they have grown indistinguishable. If you flick the television over nowadays, the picture doesn’t alter. The same thick, brightly coloured band is across the screen with the same teleprinter style legend: ‘Breaking News’. The same ticker-tape message is scrolling underneath it. The same Ikea furniture is arranged feng-shui. The same strange whooshing noises accompany those disembodied heads in the corner of the screen. And the same pair of idio sorry, presenters – are staring at you. I mean staring at the autocue.
The similarities that day didn’t end there. On both channels, the clear presumption was there from the start that any person in possession of their full faculties was going to “recognise” the “towering figure” that had cast a “long shadow” and would surely “acknowledge” her “great achievements”. I use the quotation marks because these terms simply littered the content of both programmes and were used by contributors and presenters in equal abundance. What was also disturbing was the even clearer presumption that anyone who wanted to say, “Hey you know, I didn’t really like this woman and I think her policies were discriminating and vindictive” was a freak who should really keep quiet on a day like this.
These presumptions were never actually laid out or stated, but they were there all right. They were evident in the language and behaviour of presenters and admirers whenever one of these ‘ne’er-do-wells’ had spoken and they were patently obvious in the allocation of airtime. People who thought that Mrs Thatcher had actually not been good for the country were bizarrely asked if they identified with the tiny minority of gormless yobbos who celebrated on the streets of a few cities, which they clearly didn’t.
The important thing to remember here is that when your old aunt Mabel whom you dislike dies, you can either simply not go to the wake, or go along for your mum’s sake and just smile when everyone says how nice she was. However, when the person who dies has been the most controversial and divisive Prime Minister in generations, to let only those who come with praise do any of the important speaking and pooh-pooh any who dissent as small-minded irritants is an act of political and historical vandalism. The canonisation of Mrs Thatcher on both channels went on apace, with the gushing admirers demanding that anyone who held unsympathetic views about her be silent “out of respect”, whilst they themselves held forth with gusto, airbrushing away – with no respect themselves for the victims of her vindictive policies – the more distasteful actions from her term of office to all who would listen. Then something very curious happened.
No account of the Thatcher years would be complete, without some reference to her long-running battle with the city council in Liverpool, in particular the members of Militant. It was no surprise therefore, that the BBC contacted the former deputy leader of that council, Derek Hatton – who had many bitter clashes with her government – for a statement. If they were hoping he would appear on screen swigging champagne and singing hallelujah, they were to be disappointed. Mr Hatton answered the (by now) de rigueur question of whether he’d joined a street party by saying he would not celebrate the death of a human being (What a pity Thatcher failed to observe this maxim as she encouraged Britons to “rejoice” over the deaths of over 300 human beings on ship outside and sailing away from the Britain’s “total exclusion zone” around the Falklands). He did go on, however, to say that didn’t stop him from stating how profoundly wicked and cruel he found her policies to be, ruining lives and destroying communities. Nothing surprising there then. That’s exactly what one would expect him to say. He added that she had instigated more change than anyone who preceded her but qualified that by saying that was all well and good if we agree change was actually required, particularly change that made ordinary people worse off. The change implemented by Mrs Thatcher, in his opinion, was vindictive. That was where it got curious.
All morning, the admiring honourable members had been queuing up to pay their tributes and, almost to a man, each one told how she had instigated “more change” in her term than any other leader for a century. It was the one great thread, the ongoing theme from guest to guest: ‘more change than anyone’. Only Derek Hatton had qualified that statement by criticising this change.
As pointed out earlier, the presentation by both channels was more-or-less, a continuous loop, resulting in the same items and interviews recurring with annoying frequency. Each item was edited and/or shortened slightly after the first, live interview and inserted into the loop. The curious thing about Mr Hatton’s interview lies in this editing. I obviously can’t state that whoever edited this piece acted deliberately, but if you edit something, surely you must make sure its inherent sentiment remains intact and, ergo, proof-run it.
Within an hour of Derek Hatton’s interview, this edited version (which was to be replayed throughout the day, whilst the full interview was only aired the once – live), had become a fixture in the loop. In the edit, Mr Hatton says that Mrs Thatcher instigated an unbelievable amount of change, with the item ending on that word. No qualifying statement. No criticism. The result, when shown repeatedly all day alongside all the other items in the loop, gave the impression that Mr Hatton was repeating Mrs Thatcher’s many admirers; that he held her in the same respectful awe as they did. This editing, whether deliberate or not, totally altered the complexion of the interview and distorted Mr Hatton’s contribution for later viewers, the majority of whom would not have seen the original, live interview. One could be tempted to say this was an early example of BBC ‘creative editing’, were it not for their report on the miners’ strike at Orgreave 29 years previously, when they showed footage of the miners defending themselves, before showing the initial police mounted charge, thus fostering the indelible impression the miners had initiated the violence, not, as was the case, the police.
Here we are then. We’ve all sobered up, rubbed our eyes and taken stock. Everyone still hates the Tories, the party that cut everything from aid for the disabled to the taxes of the rich. But they won. Eighteen months ago I wrote that the government, without a hint of irony, would come to us in 2015 and ask to let them “finish the job”; the job of decimating our public services, welfare safety net, health service, care for the elderly and disabled and working conditions. I also said the scary bit was that with our track record as an electorate, we probably would. Guess what? They did – and we did.
The capacity of the British people to vote in large numbers against their own interests is mind-boggling. If we thought zero hours contracts were bad, just give it eighteen months and we’ll be begging to get on one of them for some job security! The jugular is about to be gone for, by a party that had to pinch itself to see if it was awake after the election result. Despite struggling to keep a straight face, they’ve started their mission to deliver “A brighter, more secure future” (their 2015 election slogan).
To this end, the queen will today sit on a golden throne to announce:
Vicious cuts in support for some of the poorest members of society.
The abolition of the Human Rights act.
Draconian Legislation curbing the ability of trade unions to protect their members’ pay & conditions.
Tax cuts for rich people.
She will be wearing a hat made entirely of precious jewels.
Recently, it was again mooted that a museum be established to honour former PM.
The measure of any society, it is said, lies in how it looks after its poorest and most vulnerable members. John Locke opined that when we decided that we wished to organise and call ourselves civilised, we had to abandon the rights we had against each other in our state of nature in order to live together without fear or destitution. In effect, we subscribed to a form of social contract, a usually implicit agreement among the members of an organised society or between the governed and the government, defining and limiting the rights, duties and responsibilities of each. This is how we secure mutual protection and welfare, ensuring that those who fall ill or become unemployed can be helped, keeping some semblance of their dignity intact. Quite simply, we all pay into the system when we are able through our taxes, and make ‘withdrawals’ in the form of services and pensions or welfare when we need them. These ‘withdrawals’ are ours by right, but are these days referred to as ‘benefits’. Of course, with the rights come the duties and responsibilities, such as respect for each other and the law, the education of our children, the well being of our elderly and so on.
Over the years, certain people have been chipping away at our perception of this ‘social contract’. Most of it has been very gradual and very subtle. The Tories have always been set against the principle of the state providing for the less fortunate and, more recently the Labour party, in a bid to be seen as ‘electable’ in the eyes of the rich owners of the press, has been shedding several of its core principles. This gradual shift became an outright onslaught with the election of Margaret Thatcher, remained unaddressed under New Labour (to its eternal shame), and is now being viciously completed by the present rotten, corrupt coalition government.
The scale of Mrs Thatcher’s assault should not be underestimated. In her determination not just to emasculate the trade union movement, but to completely stamp it out, she also attacked the heartland where they were at their strongest: the manufacturing industry. The result, as we can see, was the complete laying to waste of this sector, along with a rapid decline in the living standards of the millions of decent, working people employed therein. Where we once built ships and manufactured steel, machines and electrical appliances with tradesmen and women on proper wages paying proper taxes, we now sell each other mobile phones (manufactured elsewhere) or make coffee and burgers on minimum wages paying little, if any tax. Mrs Thatcher and her friends in the elite-owned press convinced people by drip-feeding that the unions, which had achieved the decent pay and conditions that were now being stolen from them, were actually the villains, and that we should look after ourselves individually and not each other.
The Thatcher administration then proceeded to sell swathes of state controlled industries. The eminently viable names (which could have been still delivering billions in income and duty to the exchequer) to be hawked off for private companies to trouser the profits included:
Cable & Wireless
Associated British Ports
The Water Board
These all belonged to the nation, but are now in the hands of (largely foreign) private companies. People are suggesting that we have a museum or a monument – to this?
The NHS is being prepared for total privatisation, care for the elderly is decimated, the ambulance service is collapsing, our children are being charged £27,000 to educate themselves – a birth right in my day, fire stations are closing, coastguard stations are closing, libraries are closing, police numbers are being slashed, the terminally ill are being told to find a job, people will be forced to work ’til they’re 70 and young people will be forced to work for nothing as interns. Nixon bugged one office and was impeached; our government is spying on all of us and laughs in our faces. To the people considering the Margaret Thatcher Museum I have a simple message: Take a look around you. . . . .YOU’RE LIVING IN IT ! ! !
It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody awful. Last week (9th Feb) the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair (where else?) played host to the Tory Party fundraiser entitled the ‘Black & White Ball’. It’s an apt title, as there, for all to see in black & white, was the very reason we’re not “all in this together”: a gathering of as many money-grabbing, benefits-sanctioning, hedge-fund-managing, tax-dodging bastards as you’ll ever see in one place this side of Davos.
You know the sort. The type who will see you sanctioned or imprisoned for claiming benefit incorrectly, then say, “oh, I made a mistake, I’ll just pay it back” when they’re found to have embezzled £20,000 from us to pay for their castle portcullis to be polished. The sort who, after lecturing us about the ‘feckless, idle layabouts’ falsely claiming a few million over the top, will then shovel billions out of the country without paying tax on it, into the accounts of their wives’ companies registered in the Cayman Islands. The ones who wanted to tax pasties, for Christ’s sake! They all arrived in their limos, having paid up to £15,000 for a table at the ‘do’, to bid for lots at an auction to raise funds for the Tories.
It would be in bad taste for me to list the items for which they were bidding (you can see them here); suffice it to say that one of them was your own private jet to Santorini and five nights at ‘The Villa’, a luxury suite with it’s own private spa at the 5 star Grace Hotel. Now I don’t know about you, but I would have to work overtime for the next 500 years or so to even contemplate bidding for that! The sheer arrogance of holding such an ostentatious cash-fest whilst simultaneously hectoring us to tighten our belts and be glad of our zero-hours contract jobs, proves that they’ve given up even trying to keep a straight face about inequality. The only thing missing was George Osborne lighting his cigar with a £50 note.
Whilst we all strive to strive to get on with our lives and cope with the loss of our public services as a result of austerity, it is worth remembering that if the majority of party donors, attendees and bidders at this noble event simply paid the tax that they should, there would be no need for a single cut. Not one.
On Remembrance Day, I was listening to a local affairs phone-in programme on BBC local radio. A debate evolved about the wearing of the poppy, arising from a news report about Sunderland’s Northern Irish footballer James McLean wearing a shirt without an embroidered poppy in contrast to the rest of his teammates. The general mood was one of condemnation. During the debate, a gentleman caller related the fact that, whilst he was waiting on a railway platform this week, most of the people on the platform were not wearing poppies. His tone of disbelief implied that it was despicable of them to be in a public place without one. Another gentleman (ex forces) said he wears one “out of respect”. Where then, is the respect for the position of people who don’t wish to wear a poppy, for whatever personal reason they may have?
Personally, I don’t wear a poppy, even though my father and grandfather were servicemen (one in each war). This is for my own reasons, which I don’t wish to force upon others. I do, however, observe the silence, which is a personal thing, allowing the individual to honour privately, whomever they choose, without having to make a public declaration of blanket loyalty without question. I don’t try to influence people to this point of view, and I would be grateful if they, in turn, would stop treating people like me as if we were low life for not sharing their blind beliefs and loyalties. Anyone who prefers not to wear a poppy is considered anti-British and subjected to a form of poppy bullying by jingoistic poppy-wearing nationalists.
I have no religious beliefs, but it often amuses me that these little Englanders are often the same people who witter on about immigration and that it’s an attack on Britain’s “Christian” values. They should stop and think that the present xenophobic rush to defend these “Christian” values, by the press and the political parties competing to have the most austere and nationalistic policies, would see Jesus Christ not even allowed into this “Christian” country.