Monday, 25 December 2017

A sad thing to do on Christmas Day.

It seems almost perverse to write a blog on Christmas Day, okay there is not much television, there are no newspapers today and its many hours before I confront my Christmas partridge( not mercifully on a pear tree) . However this Christmas I am more than a little disturbed, a few days ago we had a conversation with an old friend in California, Skype is a wonderful tool. Susan, our friend, who is usually the spirit of optimism, the sort of American who could well have been up along there with the founding fathers( except of course she would be a founding mother) who left the old autocracies and tyrannies of Europe to create a new world in a new continent in the spirit of the Enlightenment.

Friends of mine are often quite surprised when they hear me a hardened cynical old leftist speak warmly of the creation of America. Of course it has a history much of which is hideously reactionary that includes the destruction of the Native American people, the ruination of much of the natural resources of the country and of course the horror that was slavery.

Yet yet it's hard not to admire the courage of those men and women who founded the country, who resisted the imposition  of the British Empire and who wrote the constitution that has never been bettered in the history of mankind, although sadly today much of it is ignored and treated with contempt and outright hatred. I know Thomas Jefferson kept slaves( although his death  gave them their freedom) and John Adams may have been a bit of an old detail merchant( yet in the constitution he wrote for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts it enshrined equal education for girls) and even George Washington was a bit autocratic at times.

Yet America produced heroes who challenged the old world  and sought change for the benefit of all mankind, dear old Tom Paine, an East Anglian by birth would have been a remarkable man at any time in history.

So when Susan talked last week about the fears she has for her country drifting into some sort of tyranny, ruled by a despot it seemed to me that her world view was far too pessimistic even for someone living in the belly of the beast.

Then in Sunday's Observer there was an article by Heather Cox Richardson a professor of history at Boston College and sent shivers down my spine and I've been thinking about Susan's words  and also Prof Richardson's piece the last few days. If you have missed the article consider please the opening sentence:

'Since January there have been frightening signs that America is becoming an oligarchy overseen by dictator. From the first, Donald Trump has followed an authoritarian playbook,, beginning with his rejection of objective reality.'s early on to defend the assertion that the crowd at Trump's inauguration was the biggest ever witnessed, presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway explained that the administration used"alternative facts". Since then, the president has repeatedly attacked fact-based media as"fake news". Indeed, with his insistence  on alternative reality, from sometimes seems like an elderly Fox news- addled neighbour suddenly given power to make his bizarrely warped view of America  real'.

Prof Richardson goes on to say chillingly:

'But now, it feels all too real, with from delivering on the economic core of his vision.  He has slashed regulations that protect workers, walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership,attacked theAffordable Care Act("Obamacare") and gutted the government. Finally in a dramatic"win" for his administration, the Republicans last week passed a major tax overhaul that slashes taxes primarily for the wealthy and is projected to create an almost $1.5 trillion deficit. Republicans have already said that the only way to address that4 will be with cuts to Medicare and Social Security you.

Prof Robinson pointed out that for decades he has been the policy  of the Republicans that government needed to be small and that regulations and taxes weakened the power of big business to prosper because of course they argued that strong business would eventually ensure a wealthy economy that would trickle down to the poorest in society(sound familiar ?) That's why they were bitterly opposed  FDR'sNew Deal that got America out of the 1930s depression. She went on to draw attention to the policies of Ronald Reagan, whose Conservative policies which argued that government was not the solution to the contrary is problems government he argued was the problem. Of course what that meant was that the poorest in American society got poorer and the rich richer, and more than that it was a white racist policy, because of course so many  Afro-Americans were indeed the poorest and most dispossessed  section of the community.

Reagan personified the rugged Individualist, The myth of the American cowboy hero riding outTo save the virtue of the beautiful white girl.

Trump represents the spirit of Reagan with balls on(an unfortunate image), he has used in a few short months racism and misogyny and as Prof Robinson puts it:
"Brags about how he knows better than anyone how to run a successful business, how to find Isis, how to find  the"best people"for office...... Turning the government over to small cadre of wealthy businessmen, unhampered, to run the country so see fit. When Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore will his cowboy hat and rode his horse to the polls in Alabama, he was deliberately embodying Republican individualist principles.'

If you add to the tribalism and racism inherent in the American Republican right  then it's only a small short step after trashing the press, the State Department, the security services and the FBI and relying only on a small group of unreconstructed Alt-right Crazies(And remember that Nigel Farage is one of them) then the stage is set at some time in the near future for America  to fall apart in chaos  and then the strong leader will emerge taking all power in his own hands(and those of his chums) and declaring that America has redefined democracy in terms of what you would call it- how about neo-fascism?.

Best try and see the musical'Hamilton' before Trump removes the passports from the actors and declares them non-Americans.

Monday, 4 December 2017

A not very clever man has taken over the White House, could things get any worse?

Listening to Trumpy is not something I recommend to anyone of a nervous disposition. Everyday and in every way he seems to be getting more and more disconnected, not merely with his so-called job as president of the United States, but even as a mediocre passing the time of day human being.

It would seem to me that he has lost all touch with whatever reality passed between his ears. In fact the world of the Donald reminds me acutely of what used to be my favourite film, shorthand title was always Marat/Sade and it was based on the play by Peter Weiss and directed by Peter Hall. In case you don't know or have forgotten the story was about a play but on in the asylum by the inmates and directed by the Marquis de Sade. An engaging sexual pervert who gave his name to the practice of sadism. The film was in many ways cruel, complex, and yet very entertaining and the politics were probably on the right side of goodness if not morality.

What is happening in the White House today reminds me of the activities in the asylum and the disconcerting reality is that Trump has none of the finer qualities of de Sade. The play was of course a satire both on postrevolutionary France, and to some extent modern Europe. What however is happening today is very far from satire indeed it is beyond satire. There is no comedy  writer who could invent Donald Trump, I can think of no scriptwriter working in the cinema are on television who could recreate a creature like POTUS , Indeed if the most powerful man in the world needed to wear a baseball cap to remind himself that he was the president of the United States then I fear we will need for the zeitgeist.

A lot of words have been bandied about to describe just who what the president is, I have no doubt what he is he is to put it bluntly an unreconstructed fascist. People are pretending that when he tweeted the videos first put on Facebook by the woman who is the deputy leader of Britain First He could not have been unaware of who she was and what her organisation represented, it is an avowed extremist organisation that exists to spread racism, and to create division amongst people. It is a fact that it has gained the support and approval of no less an organisation in America than the Ku Klux Klan – that must say all you need to know about this organisation. By implication it would seem impossible that the most powerful man in the world would not know the source of his fake news and its purpose.

But then he already has a track record of supporting racist extremism in America, just think Charlottesville. Of course we should all realise where his political trajectory comes from, to use the phrase America First is not an echo of the American fascist movement before the start of World War II. Woody Guthrie, whose guitar always had the slogan'this machine Kills Fascists'wrote a brilliant song about the American First movement who did not want America to enter the war against Nazism and as Woody said"They say America first but they mean America next."

In an ever more complex and interconnected world isolationism is a lousy solution it breeds vision and ultimately war, there is no middle ground. It has echoes all over Europe and many other parts of the world today, it is the underlying meme that is Brexit – the political equivalent of being a Millwall football hooligan who thinks everyone hates him. Let's build big walls, customs posts, padlocked the doors and block up the windows let nobody in and with a bit of luck the rest of the world won't know we're here and then we don't have to speak to them. Whilst the notion of ourselves alone might have worked 50 or a hundred years ago it is no longer valid in this century. Those who want to cut off the rest of the world can only do so by creating a ghetto, Trump wants a ghetto where he can rule supreme for as long as his hair doesn't fall out. Farage longs for a little Englander nation that doesn't have to talk to foreign people (but of course he still happy to take a pension of £73,000 from those foreigners across the channel!)

The world has never been more interconnected and it seems more than ever that the human species must hang together almost certainly it will hang separately.

Monday, 6 November 2017

It's about time I spoke again to the Nation

Well, what a tangled web some people seem to weave.Whose covering what up?In a world dominated by a 'superpower' that manages to elect a 100 carat moron as it' President and 52% of the British population can believe a phoney statement written on the side of a bus  I suppose anything can happen.
And that appears to be the new reality,fake news has always been with us, the only difference today is that the fake news is probably the real news and the pillocks who denounce the news as fake are themselves fakes .
Right now we are in the middle of the crisis of confidence in the behaviour of members of Parliament and Cabinet ministers and who knows who else? I have no doubt that there are some shady people operating within the palace of Westminster, But that's hardly news fake or otherwise. People with power tend to abuse that in the process of self-aggrandisement and the usual construct of ego tripping.
Why should we be surprised, what bothers me, from a socialist perspective if the anyone should be surprised. Way back at beginning of the last century when the Labour Party was created it was set up to represent the interests of working people unlike the Tories and the Liberals who represented the then, as now, the power elites who owned most of the wealth and behaved with the arrogance of the ruling class. Parliament is not a neutral benevolent institution designed to promote fairness and equality or justice. For a century the Labour Party has tried to amend and to make Parliament more representative of the interests of working people. It has made some progress over the years it has sometimes defended the interests of those who elected it to represent them and has fought against the worst iniquities of the class society which we still find ourselves in.
There are some who believe that the class war is a historic war, over and done with and we all live in the Sunny uplands of a benign meritocratic society. That we are all equal, that we will have the same chance, that we all benefit from the system equally
. Yet the news about the way the rich and their hedge funds and their secret companies and their offshore investments are able to salt away billions of pounds without paying taxShould really remind us all about the society that we live in. Why even our own beloved Mrs Saxe-Coberg Gotha can manage to hide millions of pounds in some territory in the Caribbean really demonstrates what's going on. Of course we are told that dear didn't know where money was going, the old dear who guards seriously her wealth and her position, to believe that she didn't know her advisers were stuffing chunks of fortune in offshore accounts is a bit like believing in fairies are the divine right of kings.
By now Parliament should be able to put a stop to the shenanigans of those who rule, be they the old aristocracy or Lord Ashcroft. But then that is assuming that Parliament has the will or the capacity to change the power structures in this country.
And so I come back to my original point about what's going on in Westminster today that it attracting so much prurient interest, the sex lives of the denizens of the Gilded Palace. What I find disturbing is Not simply the arrogance and exploiting of positions of power but the dreadful reality that the reasons why so many of those young people who are assaulted do not report what happened to them is that they will damage their career chances. Working as an intern should not be seen as a step towards a parliamentary career, for a socialist working in Westminster is not a job in itself but a task to help the liberation of the people that they are supposed to be working for,And that is the core of the problem, MPs certainly from the Labour Party should be not professional bourgeois .politicians but rather representatives of their communities.It seems to me whether Labour representative calls himself herself a politician then that's where the rot sets in. The poet EE Cummings said of politician" he's an arse on which everyone sits except a man."
Politics is not a trade or profession, it is not a route for someone to make a career, or to get rich, or to be powerful, or to be idolised – the best people in parliament have been those who came from being elected by their workmates to represent them against the bosses to fight for their rights in the workplace and to serve not for themselves but for those who have no voice and need someone to act as a spokesperson. I despise those in the Labour Party who see themselves as politicians and not socialists, who see a career structure be it as a full-time union official, being a councillor, or being an intern or a Parliamentary Assistantis that will look good on their CV When they go for interview to a constituency party.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

PCC – who needs them?

In a piece in the Times a few days ago Jawad Iqbal, a former BBC executive wrote' Police and crime commissioners, your time is up'. It struck me that it's taken the mainstream media a long time to realise that PCC's really never had time, it was an ill-conceived, dumb beyond belief, idea whose time had never come.

Of course we know what was behind the concept it was an idea that originated in the United States where they elect police chiefs, local dog catchers, and even dangerous and mediocre TV celebrities as President. The whole notion was designed to centralise political power over a public service into the hands of one person, which of course means that he or she is easily manipulated and will do what central government wants him to. PCC's are a shameless political appointment designed for greater central control and of course to allegedly save money.

The whole experience has been a disaster during the first round of elections the average turnout was 15%, during the second batch of elections the percentage went up to an average of 26%, because of course it was held on the same day as the county council elections.

We in Northamptonshire had probably the most inept and useless PCC in the short history of PCC's. His name was Adam Simmons, and his experience such as it was, he had been the political assistant a.k.a. gopher for the leader of the council, to the Tory group on the county council. Added to which it would appear now that he actually lived in Leicestershire, so much for being the local police and crime Commissioner.

Nationally PCC's control a policing budget of £12.5 billion and they have the final say in appointing a chief constable. They can also appoint their own staff and in Northampton shire's case that meant for instance one of the deputy PCC's just happened to be the Tory election agent for Simmonds election. You may have noticed by the way that Neil the PCC's deputy had any actual experience of policing, or indeed any experience of running a large complex organisation, but no matter they were loyal party placemen and women. Simmonds made a number of appointments to his staff which resulted for instance in him having the largest public relations department of any PCC in the country and indeed larger than any previous police authority.

He also had grandiose plans, to recruit hundreds, maybe even thousands of special constables, to create a policing college at Northampton University, to target crime and to bring down the crime statistics, to create a faith commission under his auspices and to pretend that he was the reincarnation of President John F. Kennedy and I understand he even installed a rocking chair in his office as well as a photograph of the late president and he called his office the West Wing.

And of course he decided to sell off the police headquarters, build a new one outside Northampton and indeed many miles away from the M1 motorway. Of course he wasn't simply moving the headquarters which by the way include a training suite, a training ground for practising riot control, a firing range and dog kenneling and motor vehicle repair shops. All of those as well as communication centre were to be spread all over the county and staff moved accordingly. Of course he wasn't going simply to close the headquarters he was going to convert the building into a free school based on religious principles (he being a passionate Evangelist) in an area where there is actually no need for extra school places. The fact that he got the county council(remember who you work for) to build a roundabout outside the putative school at a cost understood to be around a quarter of million pounds.

I suppose the creation of a super high powered mock presidential crime Commissioner might have been worth having had he not managed at the same time to reduce the number of full-time police officers, to demoralise those who still worked for Northamptonshire and all this while crime figures went up. The simple reality is that there are fewer police officers on the beat, and those that are are working larger areas with fewer officers.

Northampton-shire's experience is not unique, in Iqbal's piece he points out that crime figures in England and Wales show the biggest annual rise in a decade, with rising levels of the most serious and violent offences:
"All the more reason for precious funds to go into front-line policing – not into a discredited vanity exercise that flatters the egos of compromised busybodies and failed MPs".

Of course there has always been an argument to democratise policing in this country, in a county like Northamptonshire it is possible to organise a directly elected police authority with each district having one or two elected members who by the way could be elected on the same day as  county council elections and that way the entire county could have representation without maintaining the farce of a police commissioner that at best was a lousy experiment. We now understand that the PCC is going to take over the fire service – such a proposal is the way of madness. I hope that the next Labour government will move to a directly elected police authority and this tragic wasteful experiment will be ended for ever.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

A fable for our times

Once upon a time there was a garden with potting shed at the end of it, that was where the man who worked in the garden kept his tools. It was also where the other tools lived, and they were commonly known as the Cabinet.

Outside the potting shed there was a number of strange -looking orange pots, and in the middle of the strange -looking orange pots there was a little weed, she was commonly called a Mayflower, but the naughty boys and girls  who lived across from the potting shed and sat on rows of green leather toadstools will forever ragging the little Mayflower, who many regarded as a weed and every time she got up to speak to warn the naughty children across from her that she was strong and stable they just laughed.

Most of those naughty boys and girls were roses of one sort or another, and mix with them were a bunch of very jaggy Thistle's also jeered at the little weed and her strange orange pots that lurked in the shade of the potting shed where all her other little friends were hiding and plotting to chop the little weed down. They were almost no probably more naughty than the roses and thistles who sat on the green toadstools opposite. They her friends in the potting shed believed that she, poor little weed had betrayed them and had promised to be strong and stable and had turned out to be a heap of meaningless manure stop

The little weed could do nothing right, well that's not exactly true everything he wanted to do was right, indeed almost as right as her almost friend Nigel the poisoned fruit bat(sorry fruit tree) but Nigel was not in the garden, not even in the potting shed and in fact he had cleared off to be with his friend across the water Trump the termite(who thought by the way he was in fact the terminator but of course he couldn't spell that when he tweeted and so he settled for being a termite)

When the weed had decided that she was going to show all those naughty boys and girls who were bullying her and laughing at her shoes and making rude remarks about her expensive leather trousers and she decided that the best way to do that, the most austere way to do that was in fact to call all the naughty boys and girls bold the ones across from her on the green toadstools and the raggedy arsed mugwumps back in the darkness of the potting shed, to impose on all of them a day of reckoning, which she decided would be 8 June.

However things did not go quite to plan, and all those millions who lived outside the garden decided it was time to rain on her garden and instead of planting hundreds of new austerity plants and harvesting even more helpless, hopeless, homeless, unemployed, poor, useless mugwumps who would do their duty and lie down for the weed, the buggers listened to the bearded rose grower sitting opposite and they, the great unwashed mugwumps turned their back on little weed.

All the things she wanted to do like punish the young mugwumps and punish the old mugwumps and punish the sick mugwumps and of course build a big tower out of Lego to stand proud in the garden which you called a Brexit tree.

Four weeks she had been telling all the mugwumps that there was no such thing as a money tree, but there were hungry trees, poverty trees, austerity trees, coffin -shaped trees for the old mugwumps but certainly no money trees – zero, nada, absolutely zilch.

As her dreams fell apart like her friends in the Cabinet in the potting shed, she had even less friends than when she started, so she looked around the garden and saw standing grimly in their bowler hats and unusual orange sashes 10 likely looking new friends. And so while the garden fell into chaos and disorder she asked her strange pot -shaped new friends if they would like to play with her in the garden.

"Surely wee weed, we'll come and play in your garden,but ye ken we'll want to see your lovely money tree first. And we will need to shake that money tree a wee bit"

"Of course strange barrel-shaped orange coloured fellows and fellowess(by the way I view related to my orange friend across the sea?) What would you like from my lovely newly discovered money tree? A free ride in one of the Queen's aeroplanes? Would you like that my new orange friends?"

"Away to F**k, as our revered Master Dr Paisley would have said, we don't want much just a wee bit to get by on, so wee weed we'll settle for a nice round figure, give your money tree a good shake and we'll depart with a nice round billion poonds!".

And they did and nobody lived happily ever after in that garden until the weed was sprayed weed killer and the strange bowler hatted orange coloured men and women were returned to their box.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Even Peter Hitchens can be right sometimes.

The events in Manchester tragic though they are her produced a welter of handwringing and piety, everyone in the dog has had to get into the act and of course in the middle of an election campaign it has seemed as manna for the political opportunists that inhabit just about everywhere.

Reading the Mail on Sunday I got much of what I expected, the prattling of Amber Rudd and the usual bellicose pronouncements of those who believe you can somehow have a war on terror, which in reality means war against small groups often one or two men, not an army, not an identified force simply mavericks who have a distorted and perverted view of the world. You cannot legislate against such insanity, the best preparation can only be within the community.

Oddly enough the person in the Mail who seemed to understand the nature of what is happening appears to be Peter Hitchens, the right-wing libertarian irritant but on this occasion he appears to have it absolutely right. He argued in his column but the presence on the streets of Britain by armed squaddies carrying an array of weapons and dressed in jungle fatigues would somehow make things better, a show of military force would somehow subdue the individuals who threaten such atrocities and their presence in uniform would somehow replicate a war zone.

Of course that is a nonsensical idea and is Hitchens quite correctly pointed out it is but the first step towards a state that accepts willingly the sight of armed troops on the streets, in the stations, in the shopping malls, and even on the beaches. What the young soldiers are going to be able to do in a crowded town centre is anybody's guess, it might frighten the jihadists but it terrifies me.

Hitchens argues quite correctly that the best thing we can do is to ensure there are many more community policeman in our neighbourhoods who know what to look out for and who to look out for, for instance a local lad with a beard and a wild eyed look with siting verses from some religious tract loudly might well draw attention and a community beat officer would be aware that it was something unusual.

We can never eradicate the problem of the young man who for a variety of reasons be it a mental condition or a problem connected with for instance drugs or alcohol or even simply completely alienated from the community around them.

For years we had what used to be called community policing and it worked, local beat officers stayed in the areas they policed four years and got to know and were trusted by the people they were charged with policing. Knowing your local community is the only real and genuine prevent strategy, not people swaggering around with machine guns or driving fast cars with sirens blazing.

That is why Jeremy Corbyn is actually giving a strategy that can assist and prevent the problem that we see today. Let me make it clear that the notion of a war against terrorism is absolutely barmy and an unsustainable strategy for a government to pursue.

Which brings me on to the other sensible piece of writing I have read this weekend in the Observer Kenan Malik asked the question of why so many young people see radical Islam as being the root for changing society


"The institutions that shaped what are now called  'Muslim Communities' were not mosques,but secular and political organisations such as the Indian Workers Association and the Asian Youth Movements.The struggles of Asian communities were intimately bound up with wider working class struggles."
Malik makes the point very clearly that often in spite of reactionary right wing forces in many trade unions it was the unity of working people that brought together al workers in a common struggle.He cites  the Grunwick strike of 1976 when Asian working women took a year long action against a rapacious boss which then alerted the broader movement to the injustices those workers were faced with,and a solidarity movement grew from there.
It wasn't Imams or clerics or any religious impulse that created that solidarity, it was old fashioned working class unity in action.
it seems to me that despite what the yellow dog press bark about,and the dog whistle politics of the nasty party, the last few days have revealed more that just the resilience of the people of manchester but the dawning recognition that more and bigger guns on the street is not the solution, or indeed the fatuous suggestion from a UKIP member that we should re-introduce capital punishment for suicide bombers (!)
It is possible that come June 8th many more people will have seen through the no-solution solution of May and we will be once again a country of the Enlightenment-for all!


Monday, 15 May 2017

The phenomenon of the working class Tory

Theresa May is trying to pretend that she is trying to entice a new creature  called a 'patriotic working class tory' to break their historic links with the Labour Party and throw in their lot with the proletarian party of Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli,Churchill,Thatcher and all the other monstrous creatures of wealth and privilege.
I'll let you in toa secret-there have always been such snivelling patriots crawling about,always willing to believe that their lords and masters care about them, and value their hard-working contribution to the nation,as long as they work hard,keep their mouth shut and are grateful for what little they are given.
Oscar Wilde knew well all about 'the deserving poor' who accepted their lot without question,did what their masters told them and never questioned anything.Wilde admired those who rebelled, who refused too acquiesce in their own subjugation and always seek to find someone worse off than themselves so they could give them a good kicking.
That is of course the root of all racism, if your at the bottom of the pile,don't ever question those at the top with their boot firmly on your neck, find someone that you can plant your depressing little trotter on-it'll make you feel that wee bit more superior and allow yourself to puff out your patriotic hest a wee bit more.

What do these working class tories really think when they wrap the Union Jack round their 'patriotic carcasses and sing 'God save the Queen' and talk about the superiority of the 'British way of life' in some sort of ritualistic religious fervour ?
Do they really think that the Royal house of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha  really gives a toss for those loyal working class toilers who wave their pathetic wee flags whenever a royal personage deins to nod in their direction?
Do they really think they have a special connection with a monarchy so remote from real life that a TV series that portrays them as cartoon characters in a make believe world is worth being connected to?
Do they really believe that when asked to go and risk their life in a foreign state thousands of miles away they are really doing it for their queen and their country ?

In case any working class tory gets round to reading this here blog let me make it clear.I am very patriotic- but my patriotism is not the superficial toadying to the rich and powerful who will lie and cheat working people out of their rights,the things they have fought for over generations, their aspirations and their hopes for a fairer and more equitable country in which to live.
When they burble on about the virtues of Brexir and taking back control of their country they are deluding themselves.Working people have never had control of this country although they, we are capable of doing so.
I am a patriot, but my patriotism starts and ends with my class, and my understanding starts and ends with working people all over the world.I have a common interest with teachers,woking or retired,in America or Sri Lanka or Croatia or anywhere than I have with Donald Trump,Theresa May or even Lord Mandelson.
To put it as simply as I can,so that even the dimmest working class patriotic tory can understand my definition of patriotism is solidarity-end of story.