Tag: Ed Miliband

Conservatives forced to say they’ll ‘end austerity’ because they face electoral extinction

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I think it’s safe to say that election opinion polls are no more useful than paying heed to Boris Johnson on a brandy binge, solemnly casting the runes and making wide ranging wishful but witless declarations. Theresa May made a decision to hold a snap election because Labour were polling badly, she saw an opportunity to increase the Conservative’s majority. She looks rather weak, wobbly and vapid now.

David Davies has loyally taken one on the chin, claiming it was his idea that May called the very ill-advised snap election. I didn’t know that Mr and Mrs May took him on walking holidays with them. That’s a bit weird and implies a kind of kinkiness that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Two of May’s close senior advisors were pushed onto their swords, too, in a bid to divert the blame for such a dreadful election result for the Tories. I wasn’t aware that the government permitted spin artists to write their policies as well as putting them through the PR machine. Still, the privileged class have always sacked their servants whenever they need to re-channel their own accountability.

I’d be more convinced that a sincere change in Tory campaign approach was due by the sacking of the wedgie and dog whistle king, the lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby. He should go and take Murdoch with him.

The right-wing tabloids also announced the Conservative aim to “destroy” the Labour party, in savage, squawking and despotic headlines such as “Squash the saboteurs” and “Blue murder”. Brendan O’Neill gleefully announced the end of the Labour party in the Spectator back in February. The midstream media predictions and Tory plan backfired spectacularly, though many on the left were very anxious at the time.  

Media soundbites bite back hard

Here is a small sample of comments from journalists, now having to eat the toxic bile they spat out, wearing their disguise of professional contrarians. They were just glorified and well-paid trolls after all, attempting to stage-manage our democracy:

Jason Cowley, The New Statesman, March 30

“The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming. From the beginning we were opposed to the Corbyn leadership but, in the spirit of plural debate, happy to open our pages to him and his confidants. Our view was that Corbyn was ill-equipped to be leader of the opposition and, indeed, an aspirant prime minister…There was nothing in his record to suggest that he could remake social democracy or under­stand, let alone take advantage of, the post-liberal turn in our politics. The decline of Labour pre-dated Corbyn’s leadership, of course, but he and his closest allies have accelerated its collapse into irrelevance.”

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times, April 30

“Corbyn’s cadre await the rout with open arms. A growing sense of puzzlement pervades Conservative campaign headquarters. Is their traditional Labour opponent at general elections really fighting to win? Or is something else going on? Obviously the individual Labour candidates will be trying their utmost to get the most votes they can. But the Tories have the peculiar sense that the Labour leadership is not properly trying.”

Dan Hodges, Daily Mail, April 29

“I’d been hearing increasingly wild stories about feedback on the doorsteps. One Tory MP told me any seat with a Labour majority of 8,000 or less was a target. Labour MPs said they were drawing that line at 10,000. Then I was told about the Bunker Project. So great is the potential scale of the meltdown, Labour moderates have identified a select group of MPs whose seats must be defended at all costs. They will receive additional financial resources and extra activists.”

Sebastian Payne, Financial Times, March 17

“The opposition leader has taken his party deep into the realms of unelectability and irrelevance. Some say he is a nice man, trying his best in a difficult job that he never wanted. That would be true if he had stepped aside by now for someone more suited to the role. Even Mr Corbyn must realise how incompetent he is at leading a serious political party.”

Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph, January 6

“Corbyn’s Labour Party faces electoral annihilation. Their poll ratings will deteriorate even further when the public finally starts to pay attention properly in the run-up to the next election. Corbyn would be lucky to get more than 26 per cent of the vote – and the Tories will be back over 40 per cent for the first time since John Major…The truth is that it is no longer possible for any sensible Labour politician to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet while retaining their self-respect.” 

Suzanne Moore, The Guardian, January 11

“This is painful to watch. Labour now dwells in a kind of limbo. Nothing can move forward until he goes, and he will only go in an electoral wipe out…What vainglorious egotism, this willingness to kill a party for the thing he loves. One fundamental of populism is simply that it is popular. He is not.”  

Nick Cohen, The Observer, March 18  

“The Tories have gone easy on Corbyn and his comrades to date for the transparently obvious reason that they want to keep them in charge of Labour. In an election, they would tear them to pieces. They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state, the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA, and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement, while presenting itself with hypocritical piety as a moral force. Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.”

The death toll of the meanstream media resonates with the chimes of freedom.

 

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The view through the Overton Window: the landscape of politics is fundamentally changed

The election results were a surprise to many, including some of those who support Labour. But Corbyn’s real achievement has been that the political landscape has changed forever. It’s a luxuriant and verdant pasture that defies the laws of neoliberal gravity – it’s a new land without the clutter of elite economic enclosures.

Ever since they won a small majority in 2015, the Conservatives have struggled to pass further austerity measures. They were forced to abandon planned cuts to tax credits and disability benefits. Philip Hammond dropped the proposed increase in National Insurance on self-employed citizens only a week after the Budget.

Now, Theresa May announces to her ministers that austerity is over. Take a moment to let that sink in. Corbyn’s aim when he put himself forward as Labour leader was originally to shift the debate about our economic organisation and to challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy.

Austerity is an intrinsic feature of neoliberalism, and has been presented as our only choice of economic organisation, since the Thatcher era. Blair’s continuation, albeit a watered down version, tempered with a handful of social protections to spare us from the worst ravages of unbridled capitalism, seemed to consolidate an “end of history” consensus that it was the only viable option. Of course it isn’t and never was. 

Corbyn has succeeded. The consensus is no more. What an extraordinary achievement. His alternative narrative has demolished the rights’ defining ideology and their reductive economic model of enclosure. 

Ed Miliband was hated by the Tories, especially because of his manifesto promise of a progressive, tax among other things, and the mainstain media hated him because of his intention to implement the Leveson recommendations. I think we should give him some credit for planting seeds in a ground that wasn’t quite fertile enough back then for the growth of a perenial bipartisan politics to flourish. It has now.  

Theresa May is poised to bring to a close seven years of ideologically driven, painful and pointless austerity after Conservative MPs warned that they would refuse to vote for further cuts. Gavin Barwell, her new advisor, explained that a key reason the Conservative party lost their majority in the election is because it “struggled” to convince people that their “quality of life” would improve under the Tories, while Jeremy Corbyn “tapped” into their concerns.

However, as we learned, it takes rather more than “convincing” rhetoric and “tapping into concerns”: it requires a genuinely alternative narrative and policies that demonstrate a commitment to the promises made. Corbyn did all of that.

Barwell has told the prime minister: “We are in danger of being deserted by the millions of working people who have deserted Labour because they don’t feel we are on their side.  

“They feel they [the Tories] are the party of BHS and not the NHS – by BHS I mean the corporate, awful revolting people like that Phillip Green and the dodgy guy he sold it to.”

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The Conservatives have finally realised the inevitable: that their ideologically fueled austerity programme has made them pretty much unelectable by large sections of the population. What they hadn’t expected, though, is that young people would mobilise to participate in democracy and register their disaffection and alienation as a consequence of seven years of Tory-inflicted punishment and loss.

An attempt to re-brand the party because of the election result, however, is unlikely to be successful. The Conservatives have never been particularly accountable and transparent, and the public won’t forget the last seven years of punitive austerity that the Tories have now revealed to be neither necessary nor “in the public [or economic] interest.” Given that people have died as a consequence of the relentless austerity programme, such political expediency is highly unlikely to be forgiven.

The Conservative manifesto attack on pensions, the “dementia tax” and proposed winter fuel cuts also demonstrated to everyone that they had no respect for a section of the traditionally more right leaning electorate. If anything should have triggered the recognition that the Conservatives are callous and indifferent to the needs of the electorate, it is their utterly brutal treatment of disabled people for the last few years, leaving many of us suicidal and in utter despair. A moral boundary was crossed with impunity. It was always inevitable that other social groups would be targeted for damaging cuts to their lifeline support sooner or later.

There’s a big difference between having your hand forced to present an image that is simply more palatable to voters and facing difficulties in pushing controversial policy through the legislative process because of a diminished majority, and actually having a genuine motivation to make changes that genuinely benefit the public. Historically, the Conservatives have always been inclined towards authoritarianism, with a view that “there’s no gain without pain”. Their gain, our pain, that is. As for the declaration that austerity has ended, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The prime minister spent yesterday apologising to her cabinet and backbenchers, saying that she took full responsibility for losing the party’s Commons majority and running a poor campaign. “I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who will get us out of it,” she told a meeting of the 1922 Committee last night.

With Parliament being hung, the Conservatives don’t have much of a say, and austerity will all but end because they won’t be able to get further cuts through the legislative process with the ease they experienced previously. The DUP, who the Conservatives will depend on for their majority, have long opposed aggressive spending cuts, despite their controversial roots and extreme social conservatism. Their manifesto called for the abolition of the “bedroom tax” and the maintenance of universal pensioner benefits and the state pension “triple lock”.

Sources have said that Theresa May accepted that the electorate’s tolerance of austerity was “at an end” after Boris Johnson, David Davis and a series of Tory MPs told her that she had “misjudged the public mood.” So it is only the prospect of facing electoral annhilation and “minority related difficulties” that has prompted the so-called U-turn on austerity.

However, I wonder when May will apologise to the public for her party’s last few years of painful and pointless idologically driven austerity programme? Telling her MPs who lost their seats that they “didn’t deserve it” indicates that she still clings to power for the sake of power – authoritarianism – she clearly doesn’t understand democracy and does not respect the needs and wishes of the public.

Voters strongly signaled that they are tired of excruciating budget cuts. May has announced to her Ministers that austerity has ended solely because Jeremy Corbyn presented a viable and resonant alternative narrative for voters.

After accusing Labour of “magic money tree” economics, the Tories are now forced to reluctantly divert their own magic money away from the privileged 1%.

The Labour party’s anti-austerity manifesto helped propel Labour to its highest share of the vote since Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 2001.

There has already been some backlash, however. Fraser Nelson was bastard signaling on behalf of the beneficaries of neoliberalism yesterday on radio 4, telling anyone who was listening to his tedious tirade that “we have to balance the books”. He even defended the devastating cuts, controversially claiming that the decision to limit public expenditure has somehow helped the poorest citizens. 

He’s part of the grotesque pro-neoliberal parade, they are currently out in force, telling us it’s okay that we have such a grossly unequal society, that people can’t meet their basic living needs and that working people need to use foodbanks, because the wealthy want to pay less tax and take more of our public funds to park offshore. Selfservatism at its most transparent and it’s very very ugly.

This privileged establishment mouthpiece thinks it’s acceptable that disabled people die prematurely and without dignity because of cuts to their lifeline support, that young people can’t afford a place of their own; that students have to take out the equivalent of a small mortgage just to study for a degree and extend their almost non-existent opportunities; that elderly people are faced with policies that stop just short of a government recommended euthanasia programme, just so the bleating, hectoring minority of beneficiaries of neoliberalism like him, with ridiculous affected accents and a culture of entitlement, pay less tax.

Nelson won’t like the fact that the run-up to the election also exposed a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to base emotion, particularly in the painstream media, and has been disconnected from the details of policies on offer. The Conservatives and the press ran campaigns based on telling people who they should and should not vote for, attempting to stage manage our democracy.

Politics was reduced to fear, smearing, lying and gossip-mongering about individuals. All of the media used the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals were ignored. The media have fueled a post-truth approach to politics, which differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of fact by rendering it of “secondary” importance. The electorate responded, and it’s hard lines for those media hard headlines. Farewell to the authoritarian Tory domination of authoritarian festering fake news.

The targeted dark ads campaign, which reflect a longstanding political misuse of psychology and personal data, were also doomed to fail for the very same reasons. People really don’t like to be told what to think and do, after all.

While post-truth has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. Over recent years, we have been propelled into a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda aims of the day. But now, the public are starting to see this and are resisting the attempts at micro-management of their perceptions and voting behaviours. 

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Corbyn has established himself as a plausible, respectable, authentic and decent potential prime minister, despite the press gang telling us we shouldn’t under any circumstances see him that way. In the end, the likes of the Spectator, the Sun and Daily Mail did him a favour in scraping their evidently bottomless barrel of totalising ruthlessness, hatefulness, outrageous accusations, lies, half truths and misquotes. They went too far in telling people who they should vote for. Authoritarianism doesn’t work once people see it for what it is.

The Tories have tripped themselves up and lie winded and chaotically sprawling for all to see. They have lost their step on the road to hard Brexit, and lost their momentum. They won’t be able to implement their manifesto, and will struggle desperately to get any new austerity measures through parliament. Even the DUP won’t support more cuts.

But none of this will undo the damage already done.

In contrast to the Conservatives, Labour costed their detailed manifesto meticulously, though it needs a little more work to ensure that the Institute of Fiscal Responsibility (IFS) see it as fully viable. However, the IFS have endorsed it overall, so far.

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Barry Gardiner, shadow trade secretary, today spelled out a good Labour line for “achieving the benefits” of the single market: putting jobs and the economy first allows Labour to savage every authoritarian Brexit move that makes people poorer.

Quite properly so. Meanwhile, Labour can now get on with preparing for government.

An old spiritual that sounds so fresh in a new political context of hope.


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The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

Daily Mail crush the saboteurs
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith invents the heroic historical figure Comrade Ogilvy, who had “no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting-down of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally”. Theresa May’s world, too, seems to have shrunk to one in which the greatest enemies are the enemies within and democracy must be democratically eliminated for the good of the people.” Steven Poole.

The Daily Mail headline calling those who oppose the government “saboteurs” is the kind of oppressive tactic and despotic language that is commonly used in totalitarian regimes and by dictators. It’s not the kind of media headline expected in liberal democracies, where opposition to the status quo is necessary for the best interests of the country and essential for any meaningful democratic exchange.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK. Fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right wing system of government and social organisation, though not all authoritarian governments are fascist. However, the two terms are quite often used interchangeably. 

Controlled mass media is one example of a key defining feature of authoritarianism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. There is often an identifiable obsession with “National Security” – along with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public, and also, as a justification for greater degrees of censorship.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. However, unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to a functioning democracy – information and ideas help to inform political debate and are essential to public accountability and transparency in government.

Just to clarify, I don’t, however, condone any incitements of hatred. This is not the same thing as free speech. In fact hate speech is designed to close discussion down by intimidating and silencing targeted social groups. In the Uk, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, or abusive, and which targets a person on account of disability, ethnic or national origin, nationality (including citizenship), race, religion, sexual orientation, or skin colour. 

Yet just last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised the  right wing Daily Mail and the Sun for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The ECRI report said hate speech was a serious problem, including against Roma, gypsies and travellers, as well as “unscrupulous press reporting” targeting the LGBT community. 

The report also concluded that some reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection”.

It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a blistering response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”. It seems that the tabloids have confused their frequent incitements to hatred, their many contributions to growing social prejudice and hate speech with free speech.

We have witnessed the political right and the tabloids using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest citizens, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political discrimination and exclusion of the constitutive Other. 

Only some people have the right to freely express themselves, apparently.

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

This includes the right to communicate and to express oneself in any medium, including through words, pictures, images and actions (including through public protest and demonstrations).

However, the UK government is more generally failing to live up to its human rights obligations. Social groups with protected characteristics, such as disabled people and asylum seekers, have fared very badly over the past few years. The tabloids have preempted draconian Conservative policies which target those social groups with extensive stigmatising and scapegoating campaigns. This is another indication of the Conservative’s radical authoritarian turn. 

The News Media Association (NMA) say: “Threats to press freedom include attempts to strip back journalistic exemptions under the EU and UK data protection legislation, efforts to water down Freedom of Information legislation which the NMA is campaigning against, new court reporting restrictions, a review of the D-Notice Committee, strengthening police powers to obtain journalistic material, the use of RIPA powers to uncover journalists’ sources, and the continuing campaign to introduce jail sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Journalists in the UK are also subject to a wide range of legal restrictions which inhibit freedom of expression. These include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and development of privacy actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

There is some special provision for journalism and other literary and artistic activities, chiefly intended as protection against prior restraint, in the data protection and human rights legislation. There are some additional, judicial safeguards requiring court orders or judicial consent before the police can gain access to journalistic material or instigate surveillance in certain circumstances, but, in practice, the law provides limited protection to journalistic material and sources.”

The new proposed Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

The UK government are proposing to change the four Official Secrets Acts, which date back to 1911. They want them scrapped and replaced with a “modernised” Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

However, the Conservatives have been accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published in February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups have warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. 

In the new government recommendations, the threshold for being prosecuted for revealing state secrets will be changed from “having caused definite damage” to the likelihood of causing damage to national interests. The Law Commission also stated that a defendant should be prevented from making a defence that they believed they were working in the public interest. 

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.

“The National Union of Journalists is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.” 

“This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists’ sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporter’s’ emails, mobile phone and computer records.

“We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists’ records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.”

The consultation on the UK Government’s new proposals closed earlier this month. Organisations such as Amnesty have submitted their statements and expressed their opposition. 

Campaigners say the bill would make any investigation of government culpability harder and lower the amount of accountability in the civil service, military and government.

From the consultation document: “Chapter 6 – Freedom of Expression Enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is a fundamental right. We consider whether compliance with Article 10 requires the introduction of a statutory public interest defence for those who make unauthorised disclosure. Our conclusion is that Article 10 does not require the introduction of a statutory public interest defence. Our view accords with that the House of Lord in R v Shayler.” 

Once you hear the jackboots…

Three years ago, I wrote an article  – Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late – which discussed the unannounced visit by government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices, though it hit the news unsurprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

My article also outlined another extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian, instigated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, who called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the establishment-directed Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that forced Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern was raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth production industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.

He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”  I completely agree.

Those that criticise the unscrupulous right wing status quo, on the other hand, are being increasingly filtered out from the media, or censored. Yet journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them.

The erosion of democracy and the Press Freedom Index

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. RSF publish an annual Press Freedom Index (PFI), which provides a ranking for every country, calculated to indicate how much governments restrict the media. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, this year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press.

This won’t surprise many, especially given the numerous public announcements in the press by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith over the last few years regarding the government’s “monitoring” of the BBC and other media for “left wing bias”. We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

I’m sure Chris Patten, Rhona Fairhead and Sir David Cecil Clementi, successive government appointed chairpersons of the BBC Trustto act as the ultimate decision makers regarding the BBC’s strategic direction, are just the kind of people who are not tied to political ideologies and corporate interests. After all, everyone knows what a veritable hotbed of communism Chris Patten secretly nurtured. (Sorry, my tongue appears to be momentarily stuck to my cheek).

That the UK government felt the need to announce even more surveillance of the BBC indicates a creeping and considerable degree of authoritarianism, and worryingly, it demonstrates how supremely unconcerned and utterly without shame they are in building a public bonfire to burn what remains of media impartiality in the UK. 

The current RSF report says that the decline in respect for media freedom in democracies is not new. It was already noticeable in previous Indexes. But what is striking in this year’s Index is the growing scale and the nature of the violations seen.

The erosion of democracy and subsequent muting of the media isn’t a problem peculiar to the UK, it’s happening on a global scale. The RSF report says:

“Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled today by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a survey questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

The report says: “The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

Framing and tilting the media: asking the million dollar questions

Robert Mercier is the plutocrat and right wing US computer scientist and media “strategist” at the heart of a US-based multimillion-dollar propaganda network, who expresses an “unwavering commitment to neutralising left wing bias in the news, media and popular culture”. He funded the setting up of Breitbart and has close links to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. See: Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media.

It is a very troubling development, give the US had a global reputation for promoting a strong free press, protected by the First Amendment. This said, it’s certainly not a recent development that political leaders of western so-called democratic countries have intervened directly in an attempt to modify and direct media reporting. The US is ranked at 43 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. 

RSF now ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. The Nordic countries have the most favourable PFI ranking, with Norway being at the top, followed by Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. It’s an indictment of both UK and US claims to democracy and freedom of the media that three former Soviet countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania rank more highly. The British press were also outranked by Uruguay, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Namibia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago.

RSF’s report says: “Media freedom has never been so threatened and RSF’s “global indicator” has never been so high (3872). This measure of the overall level of media freedom constraints and violations worldwide has risen 14% in the span of five years. In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by 2.3%.”

“It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history”, with a law that lacks sufficient protection mechanisms for journalists and their sources. Even more alarming, in early 2017, the Law Commission put forward a proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ that would allow the courts to imprison journalists and others for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked information.”

It goes on to say: “The past year also saw a continuation in the trend for media ownership to become concentrated in ever fewer hands, which is exacerbating the media’s dependence on political and economic power holders.”

“A heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security – has resulted in the UK slipping down the [PFI]. Parliament adopted the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, the Investigatory Powers Act… posing a serious threat to investigative journalism. Even more alarming, the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ would make it easy to classify journalists as ‘spies’ and jail them for up to 14 years for simply obtaining leaked information.”

The extensive report also warns that:

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” (RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire).

“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

The press freedom map below is a visual overview of the situation in each country in the Index. The darker the colour, the worse the PFI ranking. 

The mass media are often referred to as the fourth branch of government because of the power they wield and the oversight function they exercise. However, democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should encourage citizens to engage in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilising the public.

The notion of the media as a watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between governors and the governed was once deeply ingrained. The reality, however, is that the media in democracies are failing to live up to this ideal. They are hobbled by stringent and often repressive laws, monopolistic ownership, and too often, the threat of brute force. State controls are not the only constraints. Balanced and impartial reporting is difficult to sustain in a context of neoliberalism because of competitive media markets that put a premium on the superficial and sensational.

Moreover, the media are manipulated and used as proxies in the battle between political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. The media significantly contribute to public cynicism and democratic decay.

Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

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Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

On average British people are more likely than any other country to see the media as skewed towards the right (26% compared to 23% for Finland and 19% for France). Britain’s media is viewed as having a right wing bias, most of all on the subject of economics (net 15 points to the right).

The media have recently portrayed Jeremy Corbyn as both a pacifist and as someone with a paradoxical tendency to “love terrorists”, but then logic and accuracy have never been apparent in most media attacks of the left. (See the Zinoviev letter, for a historic example). 

You know the world is in big trouble when diplomacy and negotiation skills are considered a “threat” to security. It seems that the establishment prefer bombing civilians to get other governments to comply with their wishes. I know which is probably going to contribute to keeping peace the most, and it isn’t “humanitarian” bombing. 

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” according to a very worrying report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The report goes on to say: “The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups.

Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work. The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.

The report went on to say: “The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

The UN report comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals. 

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The report also stated an expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.

You know, I think diplomatic skill is a far better quality to look for in a leader, speaking from the perspective of a civilian, in these troubled times. 

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In most newspapers, including even The Daily Mirror and The Independent, Labour voices that are unreasonably anti-Corbyn outweigh those that are pro-Corbyn. Corbyn’s voice is often absent in the narratives and reporting on him, and when it is present it is often presented in a highly distorted way. 

We all want and need a strong and a critical media, a watchdog of the powers that be, but maybe we do not need an “attack dog” who kills off anyone who dares challenge the status quo and dares to suggest we need a different kind of politics.

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Ed Miliband eating a bacon butty on Channel four’s The Last Leg

The coming of epistemological totalitarianism in the UK

Epistemology relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. In the UK, our “knowledge” is being framed by the right wing media. The media doesn’t exactly tell us how to think, but it does tell us what to think about, by a selective agenda of topics and the framing of public debate.

The UK establishment news media are highly centralised and dominated by elites who serve and maintain the status quo and who detest democracy.

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In 2015, I wroteOne particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy, to “naturalise” them. The Conservative election campaigns are a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also almost completely dominated the narrative; they construct and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the left, such as welfare, trade unionism, collective bargaining, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right wing scorn, derision and ridicule. This form of linguistic totalitarianism discredits any opposition before it even arises.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa. The political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.”

The London School of Economics (LSE) media and communications department undertook a research project, aiming at contributing to the ongoing public debate regarding the role of mainstream media and of journalists in a media-saturated democracy. In Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From “Watchdog” to “Attackdog”, the research team say:

“We set out to recognise and acknowledge the legitimate role of the press to critique and challenge the powers that be, which is often encapsulated by the metaphor of the watchdog. Our systematic content analysis of a representative sample of newspaper articles published in 8 national newspapers between 1 September and 1 November 2015, however, shows that the press reacted in a highly transgressive manner to the new leader of the opposition, hence our reference to the attackdog metaphor.

Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.

All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.”

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See Cameron ridiculed for hypocrisy and quoting Corbyn out of context.

According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), newspapers are obliged to “make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact and this has not been applied to media discussion of Jeremy Corbyn, by and large.

You can download the full LSE report here.

Also worth a read: How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies do you actually disagree with?

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups, and draconian policies.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “saboteurs”, “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions. It also serves to further discredit the narrative of the left.

However, there is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality.

The Conservatives commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. It has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like “a country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

With this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them and for what and whose purpose.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you who to vote for in the coming General Election. However, I will ask that you please very carefully consider what you vote for. 

Independent media organisations like Novara Media, Evolve Politics, Media Diversified, Media Lens, CommonSpace, The Canary, Bella Caledonia, Real Media, The Dorset Eye, Welfare Weekly, Scisco Media, Ekklesia, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, Now Then, the Manchester Mule, and many others are taking the fight to the establishment. The new independent media have freedom from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers.

The independent media collectively reflect a model that is democratic, prefigurative, often collaborative and that has a mutually supportive approach to public interest and conscience-based, as opposed to market-based, media.

We are a collection of diligent witnesses writing a collective, qualitative social testimony, marking and evidencing an era of especially historic political upheavals on a global scale.

The Canary says that independent media “have been ably assisted by an array of skilled and committed bloggers like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge and Politics and Insights (Kitty S Jones) to name but a few.” (Takes a small bow). I would add THE SKWAWKBOX to the list, too.

Related

Don’t buy the lie. To oppose the government is not sabotage –  video by Paul Mason

The bias in our mainstream media makes a lot more sense when you see who owns and runs it – Kerry-Anne Mendoza

We need to talk about the mainstream media and the election. Because a disaster is looming – Steve Topple

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

Hypernormalisation – Adam Curtis

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


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Dead cat conditioning, attention deficit and the social order

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Last week I wrote about hundreds of people dying of malnutrition in the UK over this past twelve months alone, as a consequence of government policies. I wrote about how our universities are no longer permitting free speech and critical thinking, and how dissenting academics have taken to blogging, using pseudonyms and writing anonymous letters because of the repressive political developments in the UK.  I am now about to write another piece on how our Human Rights Act is to be scrapped and replaced by a Conservative Bill of Frights.

The Labour party needs to be collectively opposing the government and addressing these pressing, socially calamitous issues, raising public awareness regarding the profound damage that this authoritarian government are inflicting on our society and drafting remedial policy outlines which extend social justice and equality. 

In the Labour Party Forum – a Facebook group for party members – I was told that my post about the implications of the Government Higher Education white paper, along with an analysis of the illogic of neoliberalism and its consequences is “irrelevant” to the Labour party.

There is a problem with that. 

If the Labour party is to reach out and persuade the electorate that they have an alternative which is better than the current government, they will need to recognise and to fully understand issues that are affecting the wider public. In the Labour Party forum, every single post (except mine) is about about the leadership debate. But being engaged with what is culturally popular isn’t always in our best interests.

The comments from members are dripping with bad feeling, oozing impotent anger and bleeding bitterness. The party infighting is clearly visible on every thread, the hostility is palpable, and all of this in a group that was once united in fighting the real enemy of ordinary people: the Tories. The old, easy camaraderie among members has seeped away.  Cooperation has plummeted sickeningly down the chasms of division. Fallen socialist values, lying broken. Many who claim they are fighting for a “socialist party” seem to have forgotten to practice what they preach. 

I do understand the anger that many feel in the face of a neoliberal, right wing establishment openly demonstrating a hegemonic stranglehold via the media, with endless streams of poisonous propaganda. We witness overt claims, subtexts and a level of perpetual subliminal messaging about who is fit to lead our country and who isn’t. The attacks on Corbyn in particular highlight just how the powers that be in the UK  have ensured that alternatives to the status quo never become established as a part of our mainstream conceptual and linguistic universe. The media write them out. There is a war going on, for sure. But this is nothing new.

The roots of our current crisis of democracy and class warfare go back a long way, and many of these have been embedded deeply in the changes to Britain’s sociopolitical economy since the Thatcher era. Neoliberalism is a doxa, it didn’t come into being as a means of social and economic organisation because it works: it became mainstreamed “common sense” because the establishment won. 

I gave an interview last year to Phil, who is a very public sociologist on the All That Is Solid site, outlining my own position on developments within the Labour party. Since then, I have written just two articles about party ideology, values and the leadership issues. I do write regularly about ideology, propaganda and the techniques of persuasion that are used by the establishment and media to maintain the status quo. This is an issue that extends well beyond the arising claustrophobic parochialism of Labour party disunity, leadership battles and current disarray. 

The media is the message

Social control is maintained in part by the use of a strategy of distraction, which is designed to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, using a technique of flooding continuous diversions and insignificant information. Distraction strategy is also used to prevent public interest in essential knowledge that is then used to exercise control, whilst ensuring those being controlled are also completely disarmed.  The media maintain public attention, and divert it away from real social and economic problems. The public become an audience captivated by matters of no real importance. I’m probably loosely paraphrasing Noam Chomsky, here. 

From within the Westminster playpen, originating from the likes of Conservative babysitter, Lynton Crosby, the dead cat strategy is basically deployed as a major distraction tactic, usually entailing insulting diversion from a government’s political controversies and failings. So when, for example, the government are investigated by the United Nations for contravening basic human rights, they will scream that the opposition leader is somehow a threat to our national security. 

Everyone will gasp, clutch their brand of indignation and moral panic, and bang on about that for the rest of the week. The fact that democracy is gone for a burton, or human rights are being sidestepped and people are dying because of austerity policies is buried under a pile of furry corpses piling up on the allegoric political table, whilst commentators across the land discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s tweed jacket and beard. 

Then there is the age-old strategy of dīvide et īmpera. Every person on the left of the political spectrum knows what “divide and rule” means. It refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, undermines democracy, and especially prevents smaller power groups from organising, collaborating, cooperating and forming alliances, by creating rivalries, fostering discord, distrust and enmity among the groups. Hello.

Thing is, despite these strategies being common knowledge, this hasn’t stopped many Labour party supporters using the disgracefully unreliable and establishment-collaborative media to present their own personal preferences. The Labour Pary Forum is filled with trivial articles about Owen Smith, this, Jeremy Corbyn, that and Tom Watson, the other, the comment threads full of screaming  indignation and neatly blinkered participants.

Socialist politics is supposed to be conscientious, and rather more about the social, not the personal.

This week, we see  the Independent, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Huffington Post, Politics Home, the London Economic, Channel four, amongst many others, report an audience booing the mention of a perceived political rival at a rally comprised of his opponent’s supporters. I’m all for freedom of speech, but for crying out loud, why and how is this by now mind-numbing tittle tattle considered to be NEWS? And even more importantly, why do social media campaigners think it is?

Don’t look away now

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Only a matter of weeks ago, a Labour MP was murdered by a far right fanatic, because of her political work, and because we are a distracted society that permits a right wing authoritarian othering and outgrouping demagoguery.

But now there are no ripples on the pond.

How can so many people seemingly forget such a horror? It’s almost as if this outrageous, politically motivated murder was a normal event, expected and accepted. Why are we allowing an ideology-driven and opportunistic establishment to divide our society into hierarchies of human worth and value? There’s an underpinning message in policies and political rhetoric that some lives are worth more than others; it’s has crept in unchecked, almost unnoticed, and we have allowed that to happen because we look the other way. In fact many of us seem quite determined to look the other way.

It’s not only migrants that are being politically and socially outgrouped. Disabled people are experiencing an unprecedented increase in hate crime and people are dying of malnutrition in the 5th wealthiest nation of the world. People are dying because of a government’s policies here in the UK. Prejudices are flourishing, violence growing. This is the kind of society we have become. Yet many people are still not paying attention. We are being conditioned not to look and not to see.

Whilst so many people are so happily distracted and so easily diverted by the most trivial details, our democracy is being quietly dismantled, the social gains of our post-war settlement have been almost erased from history, our human rights are being sidelined and re-written to shift the balance of obligation and responsibility from the state to the individual. Such profoundly damaging developments with such dire and toxic implications for our country ought to be recognised and challenged. Citizens are dying prematurely because of class contingent Conservative policies in a post-welfare, low waged Britain.

Those of us who reject austerity and neoliberalism are not “Trot entryists” , “revolutionaries” , “militants” or “extremists”. We are simply people who see beyond prejudiced ideologies and doxas. We recognise neoliberalism only works for 1% of the population. Furthermore, I am certain that in a world where people paid attention, instead of being distracted by mainstreamed, dominant narratives and  the mind-numbingly mediocre, homogenenised X factor culture, almost everyone else would recognise this, too.

I support Corbyn. Not because I invest in a superficial cult of personality type of politics. Not because I see a Corbyn-led Labour party as an end in itself. I have always maintained that a Labour government would simply mark a viable starting point  – the means – for a concerted campaign for social justice and equality.

I support Corbyn because I object to the destruction of people’s lives and the dismantling of protective civilised and civilising social structures because of a neoliberal and social Darwinist politics that invariably creates, through class contingent policies, inequality and social injustice – a few winners and many losers, the latter are then blamed by the state for the faults that are actually intrinsic to the system and extended by the state. I believe that in democracies, governments are elected to meet public needs, we don’t elect them to manipulate public perceptions and nudge us into meeting political and narrow, economic needs. I also believe that progress won’t happen unless we actively participate in democratic processes and work to extend them. Democracy (rather like intelligence) isn’t something we have: it’s something we must DO.

 The current infighting will kill the Labour movement. Vote for Corbyn, (or don’t), but there’s no need for the endless and insular justifications of your voting choice. Let’s keep some perspective and deal with what we NEED to – the  much bigger picture –  instead of impotently bickering among ourselves about a single issue. Socialism is surely all about a vision of the kind of society that is just and fair for the majority; it’s not about personal preferences and narrowly individualist perspectives.

Right now, the establishment have got us exactly where they want us. Their corporate media mouthpieces have made sure of that. The infighting, meanwhile, is destroying the Labour movement from within. 

But we can resist dead cats, Conservative bouncing bomb propaganda and such blatant techniques of persuasion… really, we can do so much better than this.

We won’t do so if we ignore the wider social realities and policy impacts being shaped by an authoritarian government.

sociologyexchangecouk-shared-resource-5-728It’s time to fight back

 

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The real progressive in the leader’s debate is Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband has faced some vicious opposition over the past five years. Not just from the Tories, the press, big business and the establishment, but from the rival fringe parties claiming to be on the left. It’s because Miliband wants to create a new post-Thatcherite settlement for Britain. The Labour manifesto clearly signposts that intention.

Miliband understands that the growing chasm between the incomes of rich and poor and obscene levels of wealth inequality have shown that political collaboration with the wealthy has not delivered any “trickle down” to the poorest at all. As a society, we cannot afford to indulge the millionaires’ something for nothing culture.

We all know by now that despite the fact that our economy was in recovery from the consequences of the global crisis by the last quarter of 2009, due to the competence of the previous government, the Tories duped the public, using a narrative founded on panic-mongering and malicious lies  about an “economic firestorm” and “financial mess” to formulate further justification for redrafting the social contract on behalf of the elite, and extending an exclusive, undemocratic politics of privilege.

(See A list of official rebukes for Tory lies to appreciate something of the full extent of recognised lies the government have told the public.)

The cosseted elite are now engaged in an all out war to maintain the socio-economic status quo. Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.

Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable, and who frame the parameters of debate in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they regard as an unacceptable threat to their power.

Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband is likely to win the 2015 election.

The fringe “alternative left” parties in competition for Labour votes have focused debate on the issue of cuts they claim Labour are proposing, which perhaps purposefully misses the more important point: Miliband’s whole approach to government isn’t about austerity at all: it’s about changing the status quo by shifting the balance of how the economy works and adjusting who the economy works for.

It struck me, listening to the televised debate earlier, that Miliband needs to reclaim the word “progressive” from those parties such as the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens, especially given that his economic plan and redistributive tax policies are the most progressive of all the opposition parties.

Indeed Miliband has bravely chosen to rehabilitate the word “taxation” and reintroduce the fundamental post-war settlement tenet that in order to have civilised and sustainable public services, everyone has to contribute their share, and the burden should not be placed on the poorest via consumption taxes (VAT for example) and policies such as the punitive, unfair bedroom tax. Wealthy people and big businesses, after all, use our infrastructure: roads, railways, schools, hospitals and other services. Yet far too many consider the very idea of paying income or corporation tax worthy of moral outrage. The real outrage is the Thatcherite consensus that social responsibility and duty should be regarded only as a moral framework for the vulnerable: the obligations of only the poorest.

During the televised debate, the fringe party leaders regurgitated electioneering lies, too. For example, Natalie Bennett deliberately misquoted Rachel Reeves, and not for the first time, claiming that Labour “ignored” the plight of those on benefits. (See Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories – Debbie Abrahams, which addresses this misquote, Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP and Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green.)

Miliband was accused by Farage of introducing Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), adding a “creeping” and “back door” privatisation element to the NHS, under New Labour, when in fact it was John Major that introduced PFI in 1992.

A priceless claim from Farage, since he does not want an NHS. Farage wants an Americanised private insurance system.

Sturgeon parroted the lie that the Labour Party had “voted with the Tories” for cuts totalling “£30 Billion,” accusing Miliband of being “Tory lite.” As was pointed out by Miliband, and again, later, on Question Time by Yvette Cooper, the Hansard record shows clearly that the vote was not about cuts, nor did the motion contain any reference to any sums of money.

However, the debate surprised me in that Miliband was not attacked quite as vigorously or as much as anticipated. Farage drew the most fire, causing deep discomfort amongst the audience and other leaders with his dogged and prejudiced pursuit of single issue politics, he was accused, rightly, of being divisive. Farage managed to further alienate UKIP by patronising Sturgeon and Bennett on the issue of immigration, and accusing both the studio audience and the BBC itself of “heavy left-wing bias.” Laugh out loud.

Leanne Wood responded scathingly to Farage’s anti-immigration rhetoric with: “Well I would disagree with my friend on the far right,” which met with applause and cheers from the audience, at her capturing of a neat double meaning.

Farage claimed: “My opponents are abusing me,” moments after he had himself been abusive towards the audience and other leaders, to which Wood responded with: “You abuse immigrants and those with HIV and then complain UKIP is being abused,” with deep disdain evident in her voice.

Miliband, described by many political commentators as the only prime ministerial party leader, responded in a measured, honest way to Farage’s drone about immigration with:  “The problem is, Nigel, you exploit people’s fears rather than addressing them,” raising more applause and cheers from the audience and creating a moment of tangible solidarity amongst the left leaders. Farage’s usual swagger departed.

On the subject of defence, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru are clear that they would not renew Trident. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the general public are not inclined towards unilateralism, no matter how persuasive the proposition and reasoning is. Labour have long-standing and close ties with the CND, but their previous unilateral disarmament philosophy lost them two elections, they were therefore pushed to adopt a position of multilateralism. That’s a by-product of genuine democracy. This said, some 75% of Labour parliamentary candidates do not support the renewal of Trident.

By far the most memorable moment of the debate came when Nicola Sturgeon declared that she will do anything to “kick the Tories out” – including proposing a coalition with a party she’s spent years fighting and telling lies about – she’ll do anything, except of course to honourably put aside electioneering for her own party in an election it can never win, to kick the Tories out.

She had previously said: “If Labour won’t be bold enough I think people should vote for parties that would hold them to account.”  As Ed Miliband pointed out, she meant vote SNP in Scotland, Green in England, Plaid in Wales, as she has previously urged the electorate, thus increasing the likelihood of another Tory government.

Sturgeon attempted to turn conventional wisdom on its head, despite her previous appeal to voters to fritter away the opportunity to get shot of the Tories, she proposed a Labour/SNP coalition, pleading: “We have a chance to kick David Cameron out of Downing Street. Don’t turn your back on that. People will never forgive you.”

Miliband, turning conventional wisdom the right way up again, gave a powerfully forthright response: “You fought Labour all your life, Nicola,” he said, adding: “I’ve fought the Tories all my life.”

“You want to gamble on getting rid of a Tory government; I can guarantee getting rid of a Tory government.”

“I’ve got fundamental disagreements with you, Nicola, because in the last few weeks you’ve revealed that you haven’t ruled out having a second referendum,” he said.

“We have profound differences – that’s why I’m not going to have a second coalition with the SNP, because I’m never going to put at risk our United Kingdom.”

Sturgeon has said that the SNP would not form a coalition with Labour, or agree a confidence and supply deal, without a deal on Trident, and Miliband has said categorically that it’s not on offer. That means that, effectively, that the SNP is reduced to supporting Labour on a confidence motion and then restricted in dealing with everything else on a case by case basis.

And if the SNP are genuinely not prepared to let in the Tories, they will support Labour on a confidence motion. It was difficult to miss the hint of pleading in Sturgeon’s pitch at the end the debate.  Miliband is in the much stronger position.

Miliband reminded Sturgeon that the SNP worked with the Tories in Edinburgh, their vote in 1979 put Thatcher in office.

Sturgeon isn’t consistent: either it doesn’t matter whether Labour or the Conservatives win the election or it does. Half the time the SNP would like you to believe it makes no difference; the rest of the time they acknowledge it does. Which is why we see ludicrous contradictions like the SNP leader advocating a vote for the Greens – a vote that, if delivered, would render the SNP’s notionally-preferred outcome less, not more, likely.

So, my enemies’ enemy is not always my friend, except when he can be useful. Now that’s a career politician who claims far too loudly that she isn’t.  Ho hum.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

And one more thing. Mr Cameron:

The Conservatives are guilty of great deceit in blaming Labour for the deficit – Ed Miliband.

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The first part of this article was originally posted in the Guardian, on Thursday 6 January 2011:

Ed Miliband accuses the Conservatives today of a “great deceit” in blaming Labour for the national deficit and warned that they have concocted a false narrative to justify politically driven cuts. Speaking at Labour’s campaign centre in Oldham yesterday, the Labour leader  attacked the Tories for rewriting history.

In announcing a raft of swingeing public spending cuts the coalition government has repeatedly sought to portray that its hands are tied because of the size of the deficit it inherited from the last government.

The same argument was rolled out this week to defend this week’s rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20%, after warnings of the likely impact on low and middle-income families and the fragile economy. Amid Labour concerns that the opposition has not been forcefully contradicting the coalition’s narrative on the deficit, Miliband insisted that it was not caused by Labour overspending but by the global financial crisis.

“My concern is that a great deceit designed to damage Labour has led to profoundly misguided and dangerous economic decisions that I fear will cause deep damage to Britain’s future,” he writes in today’s Times (paywall).

The Labour leader says that by blaming the deficit on overspending the Conservative-led government is seeking to win consensus for its policy of cutting the deficit “as far and as fast as possible”. But he accuses the chancellor of “gambling on a rapid rebalancing of the economy” and says he is going “too far and too fast on the deficit”.

Accusing the Tories of attempting to rewrite history, Miliband points out that Britain’s debt at the outset of the economic crisis was the second-lowest in the G7 and lower than it was under the Conservatives in 1997 and says neither of the parties in the coalition government called for lower spending at the time.

Miliband repeats his warning from earlier this week that the VAT increase will squeeze families on middle and low incomes and says growth will be restricted as a consequence. He argues that while some would argue those are prices worth paying in the short-term, the effect will be to store up greater problems for the future.

He says Labour is not opposed to every cut, but that he does oppose those being inflicted on the county’s poorest. He added: “but neither is it true that Labour is to blame for the deficit or that the deficit-reduction programme being pursued by this government is necessary and fair. Because this Conservative-led government is trying to deceive people about the past, it is making the wrong judgments about the future”.

David Cameron said yesterday that the joint impact of increases on duty and VAT meant things were “very painful and difficult” and raised the prospect of introducing a fair fuel stabiliser which would keep fuel duty down when oil prices rise. He also admitted that the rise in VAT to 20% this week was regressive in terms of people’s income but “might not be if it was looked at in terms of people’s spending.”

See also: Ed Miliband’s speech on the deficit and economy: George Osborne’s cuts are extreme and ideological.

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Ed Miliband’s speech shows that he is a very perceptive and conscientious leader.

The claims made by the Conservatives that Labour “left a mess” don’t stand up to scrutiny. Here is a little evidence which demonstrates that the Tories have a track record of lying, and of blaming everyone else for their own ideological preferences, policy decisions and economic incompetence:

https://i2.wp.com/www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Screen-Shot-2014-10-06-at-09.36.30.png

Thanks to Richard Murphy, who produced this graphic, all data is from the HM Treasury Pocket Bank for 30 September on the Government’s own website.

See also: Labour is not responsible for crash, says former Bank of England governor

OBR head rebukes Osborne: the UK was never at risk of bankruptcy. Osborne was rebuked by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for telling the great big lie about Labour leaving the country “near bankrupt”, yet Cameron has used that same lie in the televised leaders debates. You’d think that a near “bankrupt” country would have had the Fitch and Moody triple A credit ratings downgraded …oh hang on, didn’t that happen … under the TORIES?

And haven’t the Tories borrowed more in 5 years than Labour did in 13? Surely we must be bankrupt now, by the Tories’ own reckoning.

Then there is the oft-cited Liam Byrne note. The jest recalls a similar note left by Tory Reginald Maudling to his Labour successor James Callaghan in 1964: “Good luck, old cock … Sorry to leave it in such a mess.”

Byrne clarified at the time that the note was meant in jest: “My letter was a joke, from one chief secretary to another,” he said. “I do hope David Laws’s sense of humour wasn’t another casualty of the coalition deal.”

Treasury sources said the full text of the letter from Byrne – dated 6 April, the day Gordon Brown called the general election – was: “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam.”

Byrne’s notes have caused bemusement before. When he was promoted to the cabinet in 2008, he gave officials a set of instructions entitled “Working with Liam Byrne”, which included the lines: “Coffee/Lunch. I’m addicted to coffee. I like a cappuccino when I come in, an espresso at 3pm and soup at 12.30-1pm … If I see things that are not of acceptable quality, I will blame you.”

Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News remembers that former chancellor Alistair Darling had also left a note for his successor, George Osborne, as well as a bottle (how very civilsed) – but, in Gibbon’s words, “no revolver.”

It’s an indication of how desperately determined this government are to blame the previous government for the consequences of their own policy decisions and economic catastrophe, that the Tories have to seize on a traditional and humorous exchange between outgoing and incoming ministers as “proof” to bolster their spurious claims and to prop up such deception.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has said that David Cameron has presided over an economy with the weakest productivity record of any government since the second world war, and revealed that output per worker fell again in the final three months of 2014.

In a separate blow to the credibility of the government, two-thirds of leading UK economists said they believed George Osborne’s austerity strategy had been damaging for the economy.

The Centre for Macroeconomics polled 50 leading economists, asking them whether they agreed that the government’s deficit-reduction strategy had a positive impact on growth and employment. One third disagreed and a further third strongly disagreed.

Furthermore, 77% feel that the outcome of the general election will have serious (“non-trivial”) consequences for the economy, and are clearly not in favour of the Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan.”

The Tories seem to think we have forgotten that it was they that lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13.

I remember that we were very well sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government. It’s remarkable that despite George Osborne’s solid five-year track record of failure, the Tories still mechanically repeat the “always cleaning up Labour’s mess” lie, as if increasing the national debt by 11% of GDP in 13 years, mitigated by a global recession, caused by bankers, as Labour did, is somehow significantly worse than George Osborne’s unmitigated record of increasing the national debt by 26% in just 5 years. Osborne has ironically demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically cut spending and massively increase debt. Austerity doesn’t work as a means of reducing debt, but works exceptionally well as a smokescreen for an ideologically-driven reduction of the state.

econ lies

The Tories have seized an opportunity to dismantle the institutions they have always hated since the post-war social democratic settlement – institutions of health, welfare, education, culture and human rights which should be provided for all citizens. The Tories attempt to destroy fundamental public support for the health, education and welfare of its people. Offering and inflicting only regressive, punitive policies and devastating cuts, the Tories lie, lie and lie some more to attempt to justify the unustifiable.

proper Blond

The Conservatives have not encouraged investment in the UK either:

 

The Tories have told many lies. Here’s a list of those that have earned them official rebukes – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies.

Further reading:

The Austerity Con Simon Wren-Lewis

The Tory election strategy is more of the same: Tories being conservative with the truth.

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit.

One of the most destructive Tory myths has been officially debunked.

“The mess we inherited” – some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies.

Political scrapbook: Telegraph business leaders letter ‘was padded out with Sam Cam’s luvvie friends’

Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

The word “Tories” is an abbreviation of “tall stories”.

10689499_731152076954323_875040546185242333_nWith thanks to Robert Livingstone 

Not “weird” but wonderful: Miliband will win the battle for number 10.

I’ve often heard people remark how surprised they are at just how handsome, sincere and at ease Ed Miliband is when they meet him in person. That’s because the controlled and  biased media have worked hard to purposefully present a purely fictional image of an opposition leader that is weird, arkward, geeky, weak, unattractive and unelectable. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The large discrepancy between Tory media portrayals and reality are a key reason why Cameron didn’t want the televised head-to-head debates with Miliband to go ahead. During his interview with the self-declared “one nation”conservative Jeremy Paxman, Miliband very cleverly highlighted the disparity in fictional creations of the media by his casual dismissal of them, stating that he didn’t care what the media says about him: he cares what the public think.

This not only demonstrates that Miliband values sincerity and solid, needs-led public policy content over superficial image management as a leader, (Cameron by contrast certainly favours PR style-management over content,) it draws a clear dividing line between what is real and what is not, what really matters and what does not, for the public to plainly see.

The public finally got to see the real Ed Miliband – confident, strong, keen to listen rather than just keen to answer, eloquent, sincere, spontaneous (indicating his fundamental honesty) and remarkably, he remembered people’s names.

Even dealing with the deeply personal and undoubtedly difficult questions about his relationship with his brother from the audience, Miliband was positive, smiling – his honesty, warmth and being at ease with his own emotions shone through.

He said: “I thought someone needed to lead the Labour Party who would move us on from New Labour.”

Many people will agree with that. David Miliband is a Blairite, had he been elected party leader, the Labour Party would have stood still, rather than progressing as it has with Ed Miliband at the helm.

Paxman’s attempts at making Miliband look weak failed spectacularly.  Miliband gave some excellent responses regarding questions about Labour’s borrowing record during the global banking crisis, (I particularly like his reference to the fact that it was a global recession, and that he said there is need for reform of the banking and finance sector,) and he disclosed Labour’s intention of redistribution policies with reference to the question about Labour’s mansion tax proposal.

Paxman then attempted to intimidate and bruise, using very personal questions to try and undermine Miliband and make him appear “weak”, inadvertantly allowing him to show his genuine strength instead. I was delighted to hear Miliband point out that he had refused to back proposed bombing raids on Syria despite immense pressure from Barack Obama – the “leader of the free world” – and Cameron. Miliband led the revolt against attacking Syria, which included a handful of Tories, much to Cameron’s fury at the time. (See: David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of ‘siding with Russia’ over Syria).

Miliband confirmed his potential to be a strong PM with a definitive, slightly corny but nonetheless pleasing, applause-inducing best line of the night: “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough”. 

Five years of Tory media reverse psychology on the public have been reversed masterfully by Ed Miliband in just a few minutes.

Miliband was very assertive and responsive, allowing nothing to faze him when Paxman turned the heat up:“You don’t get to decide the outcome of the general election: the public do. You’re important, Jeremy, but you’re not that important,” he retorted when Paxman suggested that a hung parliament was pre-destined.

Miliband intelligently turned what others would see as daunting media portrayals of his “weakness” into an opportunity to his advantage, re-framing himself as a strong leader who had been continually underestimated – someone whose warmth, decency and calm, rational responsiveness is mistaken for weakness. This is a man who was told he couldn’t beat his brother during the leadership vote (he did) and who was told he couldn’t become prime minister (he can and will).

Miliband presented himself as the decent conviction politician that he is, as someone who has clearly defined principles and integrity. He was passionate, warm, sincere, assertive, positive and at times, very witty and good humoured.

David Cameron, who had an easier ride from Paxman, emerged rattled, red-faced and bruised by Mr Paxman’s questions – particularly on the rise of food banks and zero-hour contracts. He displayed a fundamental hypocrisy when, after dismissing criticism of the impact of zero-hour contracts on others, he was forced to admit that he couldn’t survive on them himself. Cameron evaded answering  and floundered when he was pressed. Miliband did not, providing clear, incisive answers throughout.

Miliband came across an honest, contained, very human, responsive, fluent, warm and inspiring leader, who refused, largely, to be placed on the defensive. He conveyed the key values behind his politics very well: a passionate desire to reduce inequality, which resonates with many voters and it sincerely reflects Miliband’s personal principles, as well as the rationale for his distinctive brand of democratic socialism.

Cameron, in contrast, came across as out of control, disingenuous, incoherent, lacking in principles and sound judgement, as well as integrity, especially when Paxman said that many voters found it “problematic” that Cameron had chosen to surround himself with people like Clarkson, ex-HSBC boss Lord Green and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Paxman asked: “What do you have in common with all these rich people?”

But although Cameron was quick on the uptake, he couldn’t bluster a defence, replying with: “The aspersion you are trying to cast is completely ridiculous.”

I think not. A corrupt scoundrel that has surrounded himself with other corrupt scoundrels is an accurate measure of it. The elitist “old boy network” world of Cameron, here, contrasts starkly with Miliband’s world-view, with strong emphasis on the core principle of equality.

Cameron’s sense of class-based entitlement has always been weakness which he has tried and failed to parade as a strength.

Mr Cameron was forced to confess that he had not asked Lord Green about tax avoidance in HSBC’s Swiss branch at the time of his appointment as a trade minister but said that: “all the normal processes and procedures were followed” and said that allegations the bank helped clients dodge tax had emerged only “subsequently.”

A good exposure there from Paxman. And in fairness, he did grill Cameron on broken promises concerning the NHS, VAT, debt, food banks, zero-hour contracts and immigration, which tore open the coalition’s presented record showing them as being somewhat conservative with the truth.

Paxman claimed that Miliband had made erroneous estimates of unemployment and the level of wages, and I was satisfied when Miliband corrected him, stating what most of us know is true: wage levels have dropped since 2010. There was little opportunity for Miliband to discuss unemployment, however, once again, most of us know that insecure types of self-employment, benefit sanctions and workfare, amongst other things, have been used to massage the coalition’s employment figures. This was the recent finding of the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, recently.

I think Paxman knew he had been out-manoeuvred by the end of the session. Not by cunning and strategy, but by fundamental honesty and unflinching courage: Miliband didn’t flounder or falter once. It’s revealing that the session closed with Paxman asking Miliband: “Are you okay?” 

This was probably a face-saving tactic on Paxman’s part, as Miliband had trounced his attempts at showing him as “weak”, but it was also a revealing, apologetic attempt at compensation for the fact that he went too far with the personal elements in his questions in a deliberate attempt to undermine him. Miliband was quick to retort, perceptively: “I’m fine thanks, are you?”

Miliband’s pronounced strategy for overcoming a poor, most evilly contrived media-invented image is “be yourself.” It works very well, as everyone else is taken …

And Cameron, being a PR man, can only offer us superficial soundbites that don’t connect up, he has no real self to fall back on: he’s all ego and no soul.

Regardless of polls, I have faith that the British public will recognise a winning, decent, sincere Prime Minister with depth and principles that will serve in the best interests of the country rather than the best interests of his privileged peer group, like the ever-corruptible Cameron has.

Miliband has promised to fight a campaign founded on hope and optimism: he is determined to show that Britain can do better. He is so right.

Well done Ed Miliband!

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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

Update: It’s been reported that Ed Miliband was punched and pushed by protesters wearing Alex Salmond masks, prior to the televised debate, by the Telegraph, Mirror and Express. The earlier incident, described as extremely aggressive and intimidating, did not hamper Mr Miliband’s performance in the first TV set piece of the election campaign. There is some speculation that the masked men that carried out the attack were Tory supporters, rather than Scottish Nationalists.

It does, however, possibly change the context in which Jeremy Paxman asked Ed Milband if was okay at the close of the session, as he may have known about the undoubtedly harrowing experience that Mr Milband had encountered just hours before. That would of course change Mr Paxman’s motive entirely.

Either way, the opposition leader turned up for the debates, apparently undaunted, and his performance was excellent. This is further indication of what an admirable, strong and courageous man of character Ed Milband is.

Narxism


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Socialism is not just about what you believe or what you say, it’s about how you see, treat and relate to OTHERS.

Socialism has never been about division and exclusion, yet there are some that have rigid ideas about who and what can properly be labelled “socialist.”

I call this elitist perspective “narxism,” as protagonists, drawn from several scattered, disparate camps, tend to be perpetually disgruntled, often aggressive and they don’t half nark a lot. Narxists tend to have a highly selective, limited and unsophisticated grasp of what Marxism entails. They tend to use nasty personal insults and call you a “class traitor” in discussions, which is a tactic aimed at closing down debate.

Included under this rubric are some of the neomilitants, Trotskyists, nationalists, some of the more nihilistic anarchist revolutionaries, some of the Greens and the “none of the above” group. (NOTA, who advocate voting for no-one in order to register “protest” but end up helping the Tories back into office.)

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Robert Livingstone compiled a list of some of the various fringe parties, each claiming left-wing status: Behold, the united Left.

Oh, and there’s The People’s Front of Judea.  Image result for small wink emoticon copy and paste

We certainly don’t need any more new parties of the Left: what we do need is people that are willing to get behind Labour, to contribute and to take some responsibility by having a positive input – to engage in democratic dialogue with the Party – rather than expecting some silent and spontaneous process of political osmosis to happen.

A Labour government would be only a starting point for us to build a strong movement, not an end to our effort. They are certainly not the best we can do, but they are currently the most viable challenge to the Conservatives that we have, and their policies would make things easier for many people currently struggling under the authoritarians. Not ideal, but an improvement on what we have now. For the moment, we only have an available route comprised of small steps.

Meanwhile, we can contribute to setting a policy agenda and shaping priorities. Democracy doesn’t just happen to us: it is an ongoing process that requires our responsibility-taking and active participation.

There are some people amongst the various fragmentary fringe groups that state plainly they would rather see another Tory government than see the Labour Party in Office, some believe that this will “speed up the revolution”, others think that another Tory term will push Labour far left, sufficiently enough to fulfil their own personal wish list of limited, undemocratic, identity politics; reflecting undemocratic, cherry-picked ideals and an aggressive, highly circumscribed kind of socialist perfection.

Over the last five years, we’ve seen the public view shift rightwards though the Overton window. Many welcomed the welfare “reforms”, for example. If the Tories get back in office again this year, it will be almost impossible to get them out by 2020. There’s already a big gap opened up between electoralism and ideological integrity. Meanwhile, the Right only push further rightwards. That process will continue to factionalise the Left. It will continue to polarise the moderates and the socialists. It will ultimately fragment the Labour movement.

Narxists don’t like to be inclusive, they tend to see socialism as some kind of exclusive, highly idealised, olden-days “working class” club with a membership of people that use a distinctive and adapted language, incorporating heavily utilised and negative terms such “blue labour,” “red tories,” “new labour,” “tory lites,” and they also have a penchant for endless unforgiving discussion of both Clause 4 and “Tony Blair” (Blair blah blah…). Sure some things should change, but we need to take responsibility for making that change, instead of simply bleating about all that’s wrong.

Narxists tend to spread a lot of propaganda and outright lies, which they often parade as “criticism.” Narxists can become very aggressive and personal when their continually repeated soundbites are effectively challenged with solid evidence. That gets us nowhere fast. And it’s not very genuinely socialist either.

There is an identifiable strand of classist anti-intellectualism amongst the narxists, too: an inverted elitism. It’s something of an irony to hear that Labour are “no longer the party of the working class”, when you consider that Marx, who is quoted quite often by such ideological purists, wasn’t remotely “working class”, nor was Engels, for that matter. Or Kropotkin and Bakunin, whose family owned 500 serfs. Most academic neo-marxist theorists were terribly middle-class, too, you know.

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Narxists claim to be “real socialists.” Yet in their insistence on orthodoxy and their quest for a kind of socialist supremacy, the claim to being “principled” does not generally extend to those foundational socialist values of collectivism, cooperation, organisation and unity. Instead we see a mandatory ideological purism, monocratic perfectionism and bellicose individualism rather than collectivism, that simply divides the Left into competitive factions, which serve only to dilute and disempower us, ultimately.

Narxists seem to have no awareness that the world is populated by others, and it really has moved on. Nor do they seem to pay heed to the more pressing circumstances we currently face. Sick and disabled people are being persecuted by our current Tory-led Government, and many have died as a consequence of this Government’s welfare “reforms.” Many are suffering distress and hardship, and that must stop.

For the record, I hate party politics. My own political inclinations lie somewhere along an anarcho-socialist axis. However, I’m a realist, for the moment the only viable means we have of improving social conditions is to vote, whilst organising, awareness-raising, agitating and promoting progressive ideas for positive change.

Who we choose to vote for has profound implications for everyone else, too. This is the most important general election of our lifetime: the outcome will have historic ramfications. It will affect generations to come. If we allow the Tories another unforgiving (and unforgivable) five years, our once progressive and civilised society will be reduced to a neo-feudalist hinterland, where market forces maintain serfdom and increase pauperisation for the majority and the government of aristocrats select who lives and dies.

Remarkably, narxists prefer to endlessly criticise Tony Blair, who left the building some years back, rather than address and oppose the atrocities of the current government. We have an authoritarian government that are unravelling the very fabric of our once civilised society, dismantling democratic process, abusing human rights and destroying lives. People really are suffering and dying because of Tory policies. The typified, dogmatic response from Narxists everywhere? “Yeah, yeah, but I won’t vote for Labour, because that Tony Blair was a tory lite….” or “Yeah, but they’re all the same…” Ad nauseam.

Oh but they are not the same at all.

And the Labour Party has moved on since Blair.

The only viable means currently available to us of preventing another five years of Tory dystopic vision being realised and the destruction of all that reflects the very best of our society – the blueprint of which is our post-war settlement – is a collective act: a Labour vote. The electoral system is the way that it is – we don’t have proportional representation – nonetheless, we have to use what we have intelligently , strategically and conscientiously. For now. Small steps.

I didn’t like Tony Blair either. I am strongly opposed to neoliberalism more generally, and felt he betrayed the working-class by advocating an economic system that invariably creates social hierarchies of wealth. Some of his social policies were okay. But this isn’t about dogma: it’s about doing the very best we can, acknowledging our circumstances. There is so very much at stake. The Tories want to completely destroy our NHS, public services and support provisions. They want to repeal our Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention. Many of us won’t survive another Tory term. Unfortunately, I don’t see a revolution on the horizon. I do see a very fragmented, disillusioned, apathetic, disengaged and indifferent population.

We need to be responsive to our current situation – in the here and now, and clinging to tired and past-their-usefulness doctrines isn’t going to achieve that. The world has moved on, we have to adapt, respond and move with it.

Let’s try for some genuine solidarity, let’s unite in our common aims, let’s recognise our basic similarities as fellow humans with the same fundamental basic needs, and fight the real enemy, instead of bickering about what socialism is or ought to be about, and what our only current hope – the Labour party – ought to adopt as its brand and mantle. We don’t have a choice, we have to be strategic and tactical at the present. It sucks, but that’s how it is.

Socialism isn’t about what we think and say: it’s about what we DO. Collectively, and for each other.

I’m not a Blairite, but I’m no “Narxist” either. Socialism isn’t about ideological purity, it isn’t about what you think or say, or even what you want: it’s what you DO. It’s about how you relate to others and how you view community and society. It’s about solidarity, cooperation, mutual aid and all of those other values that we should practice instead of just preaching. It’s not ever about competitiveness and exclusivity.

The hardline “real socialists” have damaged our movement every bit as much as “blue labour” have, in their advocacy of factionism.

Without cooperation, solidarity and unity, the Labour movement will die. That must not happen.

In solidarity.

Upwards and onwards.

Related

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Human rights are the bedrock of democracy, which the Tories have imperiled.

47 more good reasons to vote Labour

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street

Ed Miliband’s policy pledges at a glance

Electioneering and grandstanding: how to tell the difference between a moral political party and a moralistic one.

You’d have to be Green to believe the Green Party: two more lies exposed.

 10635953_696483917087806_7307164383030383606_nMany thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant memes

A country where the next generation is doing worse than their parents is the definition of a country in decline – Ed Miliband

63268_113108112092059_4514415_n (1)Labour pledges to cut tuition fees

Ed Miliband has confirmed that if elected, Labour will cut tuition fees in England to £6,000 from autumn 2016. He has also promised that the policy would be non-negotiable in the event of a coalition. Mr Miliband explained that the fee cut would be funded by reducing tax relief on pensions for those earning more than £150,000 per year.

Speaking in Leeds, at the College of Music, Mr Miliband said that the tripling of higher education fees by he Coalition has been a “betrayal of an entire generation”, as students struggled with average debts of $44,000. He added that Nick Clegg’s broken promise to abolish university fees caused young people to doubt anyone in politics can be trusted.

“I made you a promise on tuition fees. I will keep my promise,” Miliband has vowed.

Non-repayable maintenance grants would also be extended by £400 per year for families with a total income below £42,000, to help cover students’ living costs.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has welcomed plans for a cut in fees.

“Forcing debt on to students as a way of funding universities is an experiment that has failed,” said NUS vice president, Megan Dunn.

“Higher education is a public good which should be publicly funded and shouldn’t involve any additional charges for students or graduates, but lowering tuition fees and a move away from the market in higher education is a positive step forward.

We would also welcome any improved financial support measures like an increase in maintenance loans, as we know that students are currently in the throes of a cost-of-living crisis.”

Ed Miliband set out the true cost of the Government’s disastrous tuition fees policy which has not only burdened graduates with debts unimaginable for previous generations – but the taxpayer, also, with billions of pounds more in national debt.

In his speech in Leeds, he warned that young people have been betrayed by this Government from their first days in school through declining training opportunities, the trebling of tuition fees, rising housing costs and even changes in voting registration which is denying them a voice in the coming election.

Unveiling Labour’s fourth election pledge, he set out details of Labour’s Zero-Based Review into Higher Education funding which show that under the system introduced by this government:

  • A total of £281 billion will have been added to the national debt by 2030.
  • Students will graduate with an average of £44,000 of debt.
  • National debt will grow by £16bn more by the end of the next parliament than the Government predicted only a year ago.
  • Write-offs from student loans are set to jump to £21bn a year over the next three decades – almost double the total spent now on police services in England and Wales.

Key extracts from the speech:

Ed Miliband said that this is the first time in almost a century when the next generation cannot expect to do better than the last – a huge issue not just for young people themselves but for their parents and grandparents too.

This used to be a country where it was almost taken for granted that the next generation would do better than the last. This was the Promise of Britain. Now we are a country where it is almost taken for granted they will do worse. 

This is a promise unfulfilled: all that talent, ambition, hope for the future going to waste. Plans put to one side, dreams dashed; the Promise of Britain is being broken. Today I appeal to every parent and grandparent in  Britain: we can turn this around for your children and your grandchildren. None of us want to see our kids treated like this. 

This is a disaster for them and a disaster for the future of Britain too –  a country where the next generation is doing worse than their parents is the definition of a country in decline.”

Ed Miliband said the Government is responsible for a betrayal of  young people.

“What has happened over the last five years is more than just a betrayal of election promises, it is a betrayal of an entire generation: a betrayal from their first steps to the time when they stride into the world of work; a betrayal from nursery to school, from college to university, a betrayal to the jobs or homes they hope to have afterwards – and even on their ability to vote.”

Ed Miliband criticises the Government for failing to act.

“All the young people of Britain have had from government during the last five years is blame, denial and broken promises. Young people out of work? Blame them for not making an effort. Apprenticeships for young people falling? Rebadge some training schemes for older workers and claim they’re going up. 

The cost of going to university? Promise one thing in an election and deliver exactly the opposite immediately after. Worried about being held to account by young people for all those broken promises?  Change the rules and it is harder for them to vote.”

Ed Miliband set out how the trebling of tuition fees has affected millions of young people.

“We all know that under David Cameron and Nick Clegg the fee cap for full-time undergraduates was trebled to £9,000 per year. With most universities charging close to the maximum, graduates now leave university with more than £44,000 debt on average. 

My generation would never have imagined beginning our adult life with that amount of debt. But this government expects it of this generation.”

Ed Miliband said this is not just burdening young people with debt but also the taxpayer.

“Today we are publishing our Zero Based Review into the current tuition fees system. Its findings are stark. It reveals beyond doubt that the scourge of debt is not just holding back young people, it is holding back our country. 

The Government has designed a system which is burdening students with debt today and set to weight down the taxpayer with more debt tomorrow.

This is a system that will have added an extra £16 billion more than predicted to public debt by the end of the next Parliament. If left unchecked the system will have added £281 billion to debt by 2030. And much of this money will never be paid back.  

By the late 2040s student loan write-offs will be hitting £21 billion a year – almost double the entire cost of police services in England and Wales. It must go down as one of the most expensive broken promises in history.”

We must extend equal opportunities to young people, widening access to higher education is one way of doing this. It also ensures we progress as an inclusive society, each generation building on the achievements of the last.

Full text: Ed Miliband’s speech pledging tuition fees cut.

rob miliFabulous memes by Robert Livingstone

Ed Miliband announces that Labour will put democratic leaders’ debates on a statutory footing. And Cameron is a coward.

chickenEd Miliband is quite right to call Cameron a chicken. Tory MP Rees-Mogg appeared on Channel 4 News and laid bare the reason for Cameron’s “predicament” regarding the pre-election debates – it’s all because of a “left-wing conspiracy.” Really.

Gosh, does that mean the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, once chairman of the Young Conservatives, has undergone a radical Trotskyist transformation whilst we slept?

Since when was debate, open discussion of pressing issues that affect the electorate, democratic discussion of policies, political transparency and  accountability deemed a “left-wing conspiracy”? Given the priceless claim of “BBC bias”, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s ongoing intensive monitoring campaign to keep the beeb “right”, I had to chuckle very heartily at that. It gave me quite a sarcastic turn.

I’m sure that emminent communist Lord Patten of Barnes must be delighted that standards haven’t slipped since he resigned last May as the Chairman of the BBC Trust, which is the appointed governing body.

Mind you, the government appointment of Pattern’s successor, following backroom negotiations, certainly raised a few eyebrows. Renowned socialist, Rona Fairhead (appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012) is one of the government’s business ambassadors and a director at the Cabinet Office, advising Francis Maude. There may be a glimpse of a political hinterland, however, from the fact that her husband, Tom, a director of the private equity firm Campbell Lutyens, was a Tory councillor.

Andrew Neil, the presenter of the BBC’s flagship political programmes Daily Politics and This Week, is chairman of the Spectator magazine. His editor is Robbie Gibb, former chief of staff to Francis Maude. And after the BBC’s economics editor Stephanie Flanders left for a £400,000-a-year job at that communist hotbed, JP Morgan, she was replaced by its business editor Robert Peston.

Peston himself has said: “Any suggestion the BBC has a left-wing bias is bollocks and the broadcaster actually veers towards a right-wing, pro-establishment view for fear of criticism.”

Research does indeed indicate that the BBC’s output is heavily biased towards the establishment and right-wing sources. Cardiff University undertook an extensive study, revealing that whilst there is always a slight bias towards political incumbents, the ratio in favour of Conservative politicians appearing on BBC news is significantly far greater than it was in favour of Labour figures when Gordon Brown was prime minister. Business representatives appear much more than they do on commercial news, and appear 19 times more frequently than trade union spokespersons on the BBC Six O’Clock News.

The evidence from the research is very clear. The BBC tends to reproduce a pro-Establishment, Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world. Furthermore, the Queen appoints the regulatory body – the BBC trust –  advised by government ministers, and the BBC trust then appoints the Director General. This has led to a public service run by people with strongly right-wing political and business affiliation.

Tory insiders say that Cameron is “determined” to avoid participating in the televised debates on equal terms with Miliband before the election, as he believes the Labour leader is the only one who would benefit. Chief election strategist Lynton Crosby and the former party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft both insist Cameron should not risk taking part in a head to head, even if he endures “short-term criticism” for not doing so.

Ed Milband has announced that a Labour government would take legal steps to make sure leaders’ debates become a permanent feature in general election campaigns following David Cameron’s flat, arrogant refusal to take part in the three showdowns proposed by broadcasters.

A Labour government will move to put “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing in an effort to avoid them becoming subject to the kind of “political wrangling” that has characterised the programmes scheduled for next month in the run-up to polling day.

The new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts, under which parties are consulted but not given the power to veto them.

This may be done by establishing the body which negotiates the terms of debates as a trust in statute with responsibility for determining the dates, format, volume and attendees.

A Labour government would set a deadline of 2017 for changes to be put in place, giving more than enough time to plan the debates for a 2020 election.

Meanwhile, the four broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 – have said they will stick to their previously-announced plans for three debates during the election campaign, and urged the Prime Minister to “reconsider” his refusal to take part in these shows, including a head-to-head showdown with Mr Miliband.

Miliband told the Observer: “In recent days the British public has been treated to the unedifying and tawdry spectacle of a prime minister seeking to duck out of the TV debates he once claimed to support with great enthusiasm. Yesterday the broadcasters made it clear they would not be cowed by his tactics but it is wrong for them and the British public to have governing parties use this kind of pressure in campaign periods. It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people not the prime minister of the day.”

But Cameron hasn’t exactly led a democratically inclined, transparent and accountable government for the past five years. He knows that in agreeing to just one debate with seven parties, questions will get such a short time for responses that he can evade any meaningful, in-depth scrutiny regarding his appalling policy record, entailing the myriad U-turns, inflicted cruelties and crass, prolific dishonesties of his leadership. And the one debate that Cameron has agreed will take place before his party manifesto is published, which again dodges accountability to the electorate: a profoundly (and consistently) undemocratic approach.

As Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College, London says: “Debates should not be subject to the tactical calculations of party leaders. There is certainly the case for a statute requiring debates between leaders of all parties with over 5% of the vote; and a separate debate between the PM and leader of the opposition. That statute is best administered by the Electoral Commission rather than the broadcasters who can too easily be accused of bias.”

Cameron clearly dare not debate head-to-head with Ed Miliband – which is remarkable, given that the Tories’ entire campaign is predicated on portraying the Labour leader as “weak and incompetent.” So why is Cameron too afraid to confront him in public?

Last year I wrote that people often mistake Miliband’s decency and refusal to engage in negative smear campaigning as “weak”: it isn’t. This year, Ed Miliband has acknowledged that perception – fueled by a desperate Tory party and right-wing media barons that have endeavoured to portray Miliband as “unelectable” – asked us not to make that mistake, in an interview with Simon Hattenstone  – Ed Miliband: don’t mistake my decency for weaknessIt’s worth reading the entire interview, what shines through is Miliband’s genuine warmth, honesty, decency, strength and conviction in his principles.

Miliband is no “career politician” and Cameron knows that formal debate with him would serve to juxtapose unfavourably – exposing the vast differences between his own unprincipled archetypal anti-heroic Flashman character – a manipulative scoundrel and liar, a cunning cheat, a corrupt and coarse coward  – and a steadfast, decent, true partisan, conviction politician with principles and integrity. Miliband is precisely the prime minister that this country so desperately needs. Cameron knows it. He doesn’t want the public to know it.

Cam weaknessThe right-wing media campaign, aimed at attempting to undermine Miliband’s credibility as a leader, arose precisely because Miliband is the biggest threat to the UK power base and status quo that we’ve seen for many decades. He’s challenging the neo-liberal consensus of the past 30 years – now that is a plain indication of strong leader, and someone with personal strength and courage. Qualities that Cameron so conspicuously lacks.

I wonder if the Tories consider their imminent loss on 7 May due to their own callous policies, prolific lying and unmitigated economic disaster these past five years a left-wing conspiracy, too?

Laugh out loud.

 

Further reading:

Cameron’s chief spinner on leaders’ debates: No no no! The PM should hide and throw things at Miliband

The establishment are ‘frit’ because Ed Miliband is the biggest threat to the status quo we’ve seen for decades

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street

Miliband is an excellent leader, and here’s why

The Tories attack Miliband because they’ve got no decent policies

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

tory liesThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

You’d have to be Green to believe the Green Party: two more lies exposed.

PANews+BT_N0321471377269205233A_I1“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money. But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.” Ed Miliband. Source: Hansard, 12 December, 2012

The Tories have trashed the economy, damaged the very structure of our society and destroyed people’s lives. We have seen the return of absolute poverty, malnutrition and illnesses not seen since Victorian times. People have died as a consequence of Tory policies. What do the Green Party do? Lie about the Labour Party.

The Green Party are not opposing Tory austerity: they are opposing what is currently the only credible alternative instead. They prefer to undermine those that ARE challenging the Coalition regarding policies that are having devastating consequences on the poorest and most vulnerable citizens. That’s very telling. I fully support some Green policies, and wish that the Left generally would work in a much more collaborative way. Really that’s the only way of effectively challenging the current neoliberal conservative dominant paradigm.

Given an opportunity to engage in genuine political conversation and to cooperate in opposing the Tory-led draconian policies, those parties claiming to be “further left” than Labour have instead behaved exactly like the Tories. They chose to undermine Labour. These are parties that prioritise grandstanding and electioneering above the needs of the public. That has entailed lying and smearing campaigns. Yet we all share many of the same aims and objectives, values and principles. The infighting simply weakens a broader and more important progressive Movement.

Here are two examples of lies that are currently being circulated on Facebook and elsewhere by the Green Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP), amongst others:

Lie number 1: “Rachel Reeves said she would be tougher on welfare.”

Rachel Reeves has NEVER said she will be “tougher on welfare.” Those saying that she did are lying. She issued a statement shortly after being misquoted. It was Natalie Bennett who perpetuated that misquote too, originally from the Observer. (See Bennett’s article: Rachel Reeves is clear: Labour would set the struggling against the poorest.)

What Rachel actually said was she would be “tougher on the CAUSES of high welfare spending – such as low wages, unemployment, high private sector rents, private company contracts and outsourcing – especially that of Iain Duncan Smith: his vanity projects have cost us millions because contracted private companies have failed to deliver services, the policies are ill-conceived, creating higher costs, ultimately, rather than making any savings as the Tories claimed – the bedroom tax being an example.

The fact that Rachel Reeves was misquoted was clarified to Caroline Lucas too, so the Green Party have no excuse for shamefully lying about the Labour Party’s policy intentions.

In the middle of crucial debate about the Work Capability Assessment and the plight of disabled people because of Coalition policies, initiated by the WOW campaign, Lucas lost all of my respect when she chose political point scoring instead of constructive debate and said this:

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green); I was disappointed that Rachel Reeves, on taking up her post as shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, used the opportunity of her first interview to say that she would be tougher than the Tories on people on benefits.

Kate Green (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); Stretford and Urmston, Labour); My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West did not say that. She said that she would be tougher on welfare spending, not on people on benefits.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour); Does the hon. Lady agree that there are some forms of welfare spending that we should bring down? In my view, one of those is the excessive amount that is paid to private landlords through housing benefit. I am certainly in favour of reducing that form of welfare spending. Is she not?

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green); I am very much in favour of that if the hon. Lady wants to put it under the heading of welfare spending... Source: Hansard which is the parliamentary record. (See: 27 Feb 2014 : Column 457  at 1.29 pm, on the 2nd page.)

Nonetheless the Green Party has continued to misquote Reeves, to my disgust, using negative campaigning and smear tactics akin to the Tories to promote their own party. It’s time that some people distinguished between welfare spending and benefits, to conflate the two purely for political gain is deplorable, dishonest and not in the best interests of the electorate.

Lie number 2: “Labour voted for austerity.”

This is such a blatant lie. The vote, clearly stated on the Hansard record (see 13 Jan 2015: Column 738, Charter for Budget Responsibility), was pertaining strictly to the motion: “That the Charter for Budget Responsibility : Autumn Statement 2014 update, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.”  That isn’t about austerity.

The charter sets out that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) will continue to monitor our fiscal rules. As we know, the  OBR has written extremely critical economic forecasts and analysis of austerity and the Tory spending cuts, clearly expressing the risks that the Chancellor is running and the scale of the damage his strategy will inflict on what remains of our public services.

It’s worth noting that whilst Ed Balls challenged Osborne, there was a curious silence from the  SNP and the Green Party. It was Ed Balls that challenged Osborne’s outrageous claims regarding “halving the deficit”- such a blatant lie, upon which even the exceedingly Conservative Spectator spluttered contempt. Or any of the other lies, some of which have already earned the Conservatives official rebukes from the Office for National Statistics. (See “bankruptcy lie” for example, on the hyperlinked article)

Furthermore, it’s about time that some MP’s, including Caroline Lucas, amongst others, recognised that there is a fundamental difference between the meaning of the word budget and the word austerity. Conflating the two for the purpose of politicking is unprincipled and dishonest.

It’s also worth noting from the same debate on the Hansard record:

13 Jan 2015 : Column 746

Caroline Lucas: Does the Chancellor agree with me that with the feeble and inconsistent opposition coming from the Labour Front Bench, there is a very good reason for seeing the SNP, the Greens and Plaid as the real opposition on this issue because we are clear and consistent about the fact that austerity is not working?

Mr Osborne: That shows why we want the hon. Lady’s party in the TV debates.

Yes, I just bet they do, to collaborate with the Tories in attacking and undermining the Labour Party, not the Coalition, who are, after all, the ones responsible for introducing austerity measures. I don’t imagine for a moment that Osborne values further challenges to his outrageous claims of efficacy regarding austerity measures. What is very evident when you read through this debate, is that Ed Balls and a couple of other Labour MPs presented the ONLY challenges to Osborne on this matter, just to reiterate this important point.

10940505_767712909964906_6225427822143651262_n

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ed Miliband established the International ANTI-austerity Alliance. Back in 2012, Miliband said: “There is a grip of centre-right leadership on Europe which has said there’s only one way forward and that’s austerity, and you’ve got to have a decisive move away from that.(See also: Labour leader Ed Miliband’s anti-austerity alliance will fight for the European dream.)

And why would Miliband be attending ANTI-austerity protests if he supported austerity?

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

 Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage to over 150,000 at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

It’s interesting to see the Chicago Tribune’s article: Ed Balls, UK’s anti-austerity finance chief in waiting.  Balls dismissed Osborne as a “downgraded chancellor”after Britain lost its triple-A credit rating.One of his main charges has been that the government is unfairly spreading the economic pain it deems necessary to fix the economy. Austerity cuts are the burden of the poorest.

Balls says that a decision to cut the top tax rate amounts to an unjustified “tax cut for millionaires”, whilst his party has been scathing of reform of the welfare system. A point echoed many times by Ed Miliband, too. Accusing the government of making lower or no income groups pay for the recovery while shielding the rich is a claim which strikes a chord with some voters who view Cameron and his government – many of whom were educated at the same top fee-paying school – as out of touch.

Caroline Lucas was born in Malvern to Conservative parents and attended Malvern Girls’ College (which became Malvern St James in 2006), a fee-paying private school. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, went to a comprehensive school. Polls also show that many voters approve of the government’s drive to rein in welfare costs and the government has demanded Labour spell out what it would do to fix the economy. They have, but with understandable caution.

Labour’s careful, costed and evidence-based policies include: a Bankers’ Bonus Tax; a Mansion Tax; repeal of the Bedroom Tax; a reversal of the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires; a reversal of the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds; freezing gas and electricity bills for every home a the UK for at least 20 months; the big energy firms will be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging; banning exploitative zero hour contracts; introduction of a living wage (already introduced by some Labour councils); a reversal of the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires; reintroduction of the 50p tax; scrapping George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion; ensuring Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills; breaking up the banks and separating retail banking from investment banking; introduction of measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance, scrapping the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015 and many more.

These are not austerity measures. They are strongly redistributive policies.

It’s difficult enough opposing the manipulative, lying authoritarian Conservative-led government, without having to constantly counter lies and smears from parties claiming to be on the left, too. Shame on the Green Party and the SNP.

As I have said elsewhere, there’s a clear gap between professed principles and their application amongst the parties that claim to be “real socialists”.  How can it be principled or moral (or “socialist” for that matter) to collaborate with the Tories in attempting to damage, smear and discredit the only viable option of removing the Tories from Office in May? Bearing in mind that many people are suffering profoundly, some have died as a consequence of Conservative-led policies, we can see what the Green Party’s priorities actually are, here.

They don’t include the best interests of citizens and consideration of their well-being, that’s for sure.

403898_365377090198492_976131366_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

Public perceptions of party positions on the political spectrum: Labour’s leftward shift under Ed Miliband, the Conservatives’ rightward swing since 2010.

Good to see the public generally don’t swallow the “allthesame” myth.