Tag: Labour

Cuts under Universal Credit are discriminatory and may be illegal

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The Labour Party released details of research last month, showing how new claimant families will get lower in-work benefit entitlements when tax credits are replaced by the Universal Credit benefit system.

Owen Smith, the shadow Work and Pensions secretary, said research commissioned from the House of Commons library shows that next year, thousands of working families will be at least £2,500 a year worse off as a result of the government’s cuts to Universal Credit.

Mr Smith MP, responding to Iain Duncan Smith’s recent claim on the Andrew Marr show that “nobody loses a penny” from cuts to Universal Credit, said:

Iain Duncan Smith is completely wrong to say nobody loses a penny from his cuts to in-work support.

 Cutting Universal Credit raises £100m for the government next year and that money has to come from somewhere.

What the Tories aren’t telling us is that the £100m – and a further £9.5 billion over the next five years – comes from the pockets of low- and middle-income families.

That means those currently on Universal Credit face losses of up to £2,400 come April.

Just like tax credit cuts, working families will be worse off next year and just like those cuts, Labour will fight them at every turn.

Earlier this month, analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, (OBR) suggested the changes to universal credit announced in the July budget would save the Chancellor close to £3bn by 2019-20.

The Labour Party is taking advice from lawyers about the legality of the benefit cuts under universal credit. Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said it is discriminatory that a single mother working full-time on the minimum wage could be almost £3,000 worse off under universal credit than a mother in precisely the same circumstances on tax credits.

The challenge raises the possibility that the new welfare system could be challenged in court.

Although the Chancellor abandoned plans to cut tax credits affecting millions of working families, in his Autumn Statement, it was due to  pressure from the opposition, because the cuts were rejected by the House of Lords and a number of uneasy Tory backbenchers also raised concerns about the negative impact the cuts would have on working families.

Labour MPs have highlighted that claimants will be substantially worse of claiming Universal Credit, the  in-work benefit payments are much lower.

In his autumn statement speech, the Chancellor said: “The simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in but to avoid them altogether.” But he added: “Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit.”

The OBR’s analysis show that by 2021 the changes to Universal Credit will save the Treasury almost as much each year as the controversial tax credits policy would have done.

Mr Smith said:

Those lucky enough to stay on tax credits will be massively better off than those on universal credit … That disparity cannot be fair, it cannot be right and it may not even be legal, and we are seeking advice as to the legality of that move.

Mr Smith also confirmed that a Labour government would reverse cuts to benefits happening under Universal Credit. He said:

We will press for the same reversal for the victims of the universal credit heist that will hit precisely the same Tory and Labour constituents just before the next election.

He made the comments in a debate about the welfare cap, after the government sought approval for a motion that said the breach of Osborne’s own fiscal rules were justified because of the reversal of tax credit cuts.

Junior Work and Pensions minister, Shailesh Vara, has confirmed that on current forecasts the cap will not be met for three years.

Universal Credit is to be rolled out gradually, with about 500,000 people on the new benefit by next April. The government has insisted they will be compensated for lower payments through a special scheme called the flexible support fund.

However, Owen Smith said the only money on offer was a £69m grant for job centre managers to help people who are close to getting into work with costs such as bus fares and new clothing.

He said:

Even if it were permissible to use that money, it is in no way going to make up for the £100m shortfall next year, the £1.2bn shortfall the year after, and certainly not the £3bn shortfall in 2020. It is completely impossible and I fear it is also misleading to the public.

Mr Smith also queried the Chancellor’s absence from the House of Commons during the debate, saying he had “carelessly, ignominiously fallen into his own welfare trap” and “slipped on his own smirk”.

He said:

But inexplicably, he’s not here to account for it. Last spring he was quite definite that he should be. He said: ‘The charter makes clear what will happen if the welfare cap is breached. The chancellor must come to parliament, account for the failure of public expenditure control’”.

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Debbie Abrahams MP Calls Slow Disability Payments “Unjust And Inhumane”

536738_306169162785952_999031084_nOldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams is calling for an end to the ‘injustice of delayed payments to disabled and terminally ill people’.

Mrs Abrahams has spoken in a Westminster debate detailing her concerns about the quality of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), how assessments are processed, and the huge toll slow payments are putting on thousands of disabled people and their families.

In her speech, the Labour MP said: “Along with other Labour MPs I welcome welfare reforms where we can see there will be genuine benefit.

“But the PIP process has been beset with problems since it was introduced – the toll of process cannot be overestimated.”

The National Audit Office report, which came out in February last year, described it as a ‘poor early operational performance’ with ‘long uncertain delays’ for new PIP claimants.

At that time, the average wait was 107 days – for terminally ill claimants, claims were taking 28 days on average.

Mrs Abrahams added: “I heard from a woman whose partner has cancer and is waiting for radiotherapy – they have been living on £113 a week since they applied at the beginning of April.

“There is also an effect on passported benefits such as a carer’s allowance, disability premiums and concessionary travel.”

It is estimated that 602,000 people currently receiving Disability Living Allowance will not be eligible for PIP, by 2018 – £24billion will have been cut from 3.7million disabled people.

Mrs Abrahams noted that about a third of respondents to a survey of more than 4,000 Parkinson’s suffers said they are ‘financially worse off’ since being diagnosed.

She said: “For more than a quarter of them money concerns are having a negative impact on their Parkinson’s.

“Some 42,000 people are waiting more than 42 weeks, and four out of 10 people are still waiting for their PIP claim to be processed.”

After the debate Debbie said: “How the government expects people to manage with no money for so long is a complete mystery to me.

“It was clear from this debate that there is no remorse from the government. I still find it hard to comprehend their injustice and inhumanity.

“There is evidence of a culture of intimidation and general hassling of claimants on JSA, ESA and DLA/PIP – the delays are just another way of making people ‘give up’.

“If there is one message I would like to get across it is that this could be you or me!

“We could become ill, or have an accident and become disabled, or lose our jobs and then we’d rely on our welfare system.

“We should be proud not just of our NHS but of all parts of our welfare system. This is what a wealthy, humane society such as the UK should do for its citizens. 

“Yes, there will always be people who misuse the system but they are a tiny, tiny minority and not as the government always tries to imply the majority. The evidence just doesn’t support them.”

Thanks to Neil Athey.

10177255_710935002309364_996655242459079802_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

Sturgeon’s threats demonstrate the anti-democratic, uncooperative inflexibility of nationalism

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Thanks to Dr Éoin Clarke for the infographic

Nicola Sturgeon threatened that she would be prepared to have her MPs vote down a Labour Budget if Ed Miliband was not prepared to cut a deal with the Nationalists at Westminster. Taking part in a live televised debate in Edinburgh with the leaders of the other three main Scottish parties, Ms Sturgeon said she intended to block Labour’s first Budget before negotiating a series of amendments. The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader’s position, revealed just days ahead of Thursday’s general election, was immediately seized upon by the Conservatives as the tedious stuck record styled electioneering “evidence” yet again that a Labour government supported by Ms Sturgeon’s party would result in “absolute chaos” for the country.

Bravo, Nicola Sturgeon. She seems determined to allow a Conservatve victory because of her constant and unqualified attacks on the Labour Party, the issuing of threats like this one, and the perpetuation of nationalist myths aimed at undermining the chance of a Labour victory. It’s bad enough with the Tories’ scaremongering in the press about the prospect of a Labour/Scottish National Party coalition, without Sturgeon fueling it.

I have to add that Cameron’s claim, repeated ad nauseum, that a minority Labour government would be held hostage by the SNP is purely propagandarised tosh. The truth is that the SNP will not in reality be able to hold a minority Labour government hostage unless the Tories allow them to do so, because of course, the Tories also get to vote on things like budgets, defence and so forth, in Parliament.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said that Sturgeon had already threatened to block his party’s Queen’s Speech.

It’s worth a reminder at this point that crucially, the Scottish National Party’s spending plans imply deeper cuts than Labour’s plans entail over the next five years, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said in a report last month, highlighting a “considerable disconnect” between the nationalists’ rhetoric on austerity and their policies.

“The “anti-austerity rhetoric” of the Scottish National Party is not matched by its detailed spending plans and it would impose deeper cuts than Labour,” said the respected independent fiscal watchdog. The IFS also said that austerity would last longer under the SNP than under the other parties.

Furthermore, the IFS stated: “There is a considerable disconnect between this [SNP] rhetoric and their stated plans for total spending, which imply a lower level of spending by 2019–20 than Labour’s plans.”

This exposes Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to portray Labour as “Tory-lite” on spending cuts for the outright lie that it is. Sturgeon is no longer credible on every claim she has made, parading the SNP as the only alternative to austerity. In plain language, Carl Emmerson, deputy Director of the IFS said: “There would be more spending cuts under the SNP than under Labour or the Liberal Democrats according to the numbers in the SNP manifesto.”

Shadow Scottish Secretary and Scottish Labour Glasgow East candidate Margaret Curran said: “For all the bombast and the bluster of the SNP it has now been conclusively shown that their anti-austerity posturing is nothing more than a front. Their plans would extend austerity and harm Scotland. And as is always the case the cuts would be felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. We cannot let that happen.”

She added: “The choice is now simple – continued austerity with the SNP, or an end to Tory austerity with Scottish Labour.”

Nicola Sturgeon claimed to have committed her party to kicking the Tories out of Downing Street. It might be a tad tricky for her to explain to her supporters a Commons vote which could, in theory, allow the Tories back in again. That’s why, it’s was a positive move on Miliband’s part to call her bluff.

And let’s look carefully at the details: Milband has not ruled out the possibility of discussions, consultations, or taking into consideration SNP views when framing future legislation. But he has made it clear he will not be manipulated or threatened.

The Conservative plans to eliminate the deficit implied at least £10bn a year of unspecified cuts to child benefit, tax credits, housing benefit, disability benefits and other working age benefits out of a total budget of about £100bn,” the IFS said in their report

Even if these cuts were achieved, the Tories would have to cut unprotected departments’ budgets by another 18 per cent in real terms, about the same amount again as over the past five years. These cuts are also unspecified by the Conservatives, who have chosen, undemocratically, to hide the details from the electorate. We simply cannot risk another term of devastating Tory cuts to our welfare, public services and the NHS. Especially considering that risk would be founded on misinformation and lies.

Sturgeon’s most recent revelation that the party could bring the Budget of a Labour government down came under fire from Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s deputy leader in Scotland.

Ms Dugdale said: “Many people who have trusted Nicola Sturgeon will be shocked to hear her say she will vote down a ­Labour Budget. A Budget which will bring in measures such as the mansion tax and the bankers’ bonus tax.

“This shows that the people of Scotland should not gamble with the SNP.”

Ed Miliband, a principled internationalist, said: “Nationalism never built a school. It never lifted people out of poverty. It never created a welfare state that healed the sick and protected our most vulnerable. Nationalism cannot create the jobs we need.”

“Labour believes in “the principles of sharing and solidarity”, he added, “that underpin the partnerships of four nations in the modern UK.”

He said: “If we set England against Scotland, if we set any part of our country against another, it does not help working people, it harms working people. It undermines the ability to share resources. It drives down wages and conditions in the race to the bottom.”

Mr Miliband hit back at Ms Sturgeon’s claims that if Labour “fails to work with the SNP,” this would see David Cameron win a second term as Prime Minister. He added that if the Scottish Nationalists win dozens of seats from Labour in Scotland, this would increase Tory chances of being the largest party.

Mr Miliband vowed: “I will never put the Tories into government. I have spent my entire political career fighting them.”

However Nicola Sturgeon has spent most of her career fighting the Labour Party and propagating lies about them. (See A crib sheet of responses to the crib sheet of lies about the Labour Party: Part one and Part Two.)

Sturgeon has suggested that though the SNP could be relied upon to help “lock out” the Tories from power, she would “be inclined,” if voting in England, to endorse the Greens.

Doing the latter, it should be observed, makes achieving the former rather less likely. The more Green MPs there are the fewer Labour MPs there are and the fewer Labour MPs there are the more probable it is that David Cameron somehow stumbles his way into a second term. Sturgeon has some strange logic.

Given that the IFS have said that the true scale of the gap between Labour and the Tories has been further revealed – director Paul Johnson said at the post-Budget briefing: “Our latest estimates suggest that Labour would be able to meet its fiscal targets with no cuts at all after 2015-16,” Sturgeon’s ridiculously unevidenced, pure electioneering claim that Labour are “Tory-lite” – so easily refuted – is just one of the many lies she has told, and gives us good reason not to trust her.

If the SNP remain so aggressively uncompromising, divisive, chancing manipulation instead of cooperation, they will usher in another Tory government at Westminster, and in that event, they will certainly face paying a heavy political price among their supporters – as happened in 1979. Unfortunately, the rest of the UK will also pay a heavy price.

Despite Sturgeon’s undoubted rhetoric skill, Scottish nationalism continues to be what all nationalism always has been: parochial, vicious, ugly, divisive and insular. It’s evident that this has fostered a narrow tribalism, an inability to negotiate, or to build cooperation, and an inability to understand and comprehend the rational, logic and legitimacy of differing opinions, which is very evident in the non-democratic threats that Sturgeon has issued. It’s a pity she doesn’t oppose the Conservatives, rather than attacking the only viable progressive party for the UK. Sturgeon presents a superficial progressive rhetoric with no integrity, and no grounding in reality. The SNP’s self-claimed progressive credentials don’t stand up to scrutiny. When Sturgeon was asked at her manifesto launch to name a redistributive policy enacted by the SNP in Holyrood, she was unable to cite a single example.

Sturgeon simply chats about progressive ideas to advance the regressive goal of separatism. It’s all style, with no real substance at all. Other than a clan SNP nationalist agenda.

For people living in England, NOTHING is more important than getting the Tories out. I suspect that is true for many in Scotland, too.  So please make sure that your vote is a considered, informed and responsible one. If the Tories get another term, we will lose all of the gains of our post-war settlement. We will see our Human Rights Act repealed, (Labour’s legislation, and Cameron has also pledged to leave the European Convention.) That is why we MUST ensure that the Tories don’t get the opportunity, preferably ever again.

The only sure way of defeating the Tories is with a Labour majority.

Related

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

SNP appeal to Tory voters: We are just like you

If you think the SNP are a left-wing force, think again – David Clark


 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes

Everyone matters: it’s time to vote for our lives – vote Labour

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)I published an article earlier this month from Debbie Abrahams and added a short piece by myself: Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories.

Benefits and Work published a very good article this week: Vote for your life – “dramatic”, “life-changing” cuts are coming, I have  reproduced the most salient parts of it here for those who don’t have access to their site. I’ve also added a few links with information.

“Dramatic” and “life-changing” benefits cuts will be imposed if the Tories are running the country after 7 May, Iain Duncan Smith has warned.

They could include taxing DLA, PIP and AA, axeing contribution-based ESA and JSA, cutting the work-related activity component of ESA to 50p, cutting carers allowance numbers by 40%, and making people pay the first 10% of their housing benefit.

For many, these will be life-threatening cuts, rather than life-changing ones.

But claimants are in a position to prevent them happening.

And it won’t take a miracle.

In fact, just an additional 5% turnout by working age claimants could have a dramatic and life-changing effect on Iain Duncan Smith and his plans instead.

But a higher turnout won’t happen by itself.  Many of the major charities and disability organisations have been scared into silence by the Lobbying Act. And the media has little interest in benefits cuts, other than to applaud them as a good thing.

So it looks like it’s up to ordinary claimants to make sure as many other claimants as possible understand the threat they are facing.

Dramatic cuts
Iain Duncan Smith told Andrew Marr last week he didn’t become a minister to make “cheese-paring” cuts. Instead he has ‘dramatic’ and ‘life-changing’ plans for claimants.

And the tool for those dramatic changes is £12 billion of cuts to benefits in the space of just two years.

So far, we only know where £2 billion of the cuts will come from – a freeze on working age benefits. But the Conservatives are refusing to say where the other savings will be made.

Hit list
A document leaked to the BBC, however, set out some of the cuts the Conservative party are considering, including:

  • Taxing DLA, PIP and AA.
  • Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits.
  • Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40%.
  • Limiting child benefit to the first two children.

There are other proposed cuts too, including replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.

Not enough cuts
But all of this will still not be enough.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS):

“If all of these were implemented, the total saving would be likely to fall well short of the missing £10 billion per year that the Conservatives intend to find by 2017–18”

So, what else might be in the firing line?

Housing benefit and ESA cuts
We know that pensioners benefits are protected. And JSA costs such a tiny amount compared to other benefits that further cuts there would make little difference.

Cuts to housing benefit are one possibility that the IFS have highlighted, however, as this makes up a large and growing proportion of the benefits bill.

The IFS have estimated that making everyone pay the first 10% of their housing benefit would save £2.5 billion over two years.

Another extremely strong contender is to cut the work-related activity component (WRAC) of ESA to just 50 pence.

We know that the Conservatives are keen to slash the WRAC, because they’ve considered doing it before.

Cutting the WRAC wouldn’t save huge amounts, probably less than £1 billion a year.

But combined with cuts to housing benefit and all the other cuts listed above, it would probably be enough.

What you can do
Is this all nothing more than unnecessarily distressing speculation? After all, we don’t know what cuts will be made until – and unless – the Tories are elected.

But by then it will be too late. As Andrew Marr said in his interview with Iain Duncan Smith, if the Conservatives won’t tell us which benefits will be cut, sick and disabled claimants will have to expect the worst:

“What I’m saying to you is if I was on welfare, if I was on disability benefit and I was told that you were taking £12 billion out of the budget, I would really need to know before I voted was I going to be hit. Or if I didn’t know that, I’d have to be assume that I was going to be hit.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Osborne and Cameron have all now said no details of the cuts will be given before the election. So there’s no time to lose.

Clearly, the most important thing is to make sure you are registered to vote and then actually vote for a candidate who can keep the Tories out, if that’s possible, in your constituency.

But there’s more.

Above all, alert other claimants and carers to the dramatic threat they face – because many people still have no idea how huge £12 billion in cuts in two years really is.

And then try to persuade them that voting isn’t a waste of time. Because it is no longer true that all the parties are the same.

Here at Benefits and Work we have no trust for either of the major parties. But Labour, regardless of your political preferences, don’t drool at the thought of cutting welfare in the way that the Tories do.

And the £7 billion savings Labour say they plan to make are very much smaller than the Conservative cuts. Even if every single pound Labour saved was from cutting benefits, instead of from other measures such as raising taxes from the wealthy, it would still amount to just over half the benefits cuts the Tories have guaranteed.

[To clarify, Labour have stated they will not be cutting benefits, but they will address the overall costs to the welfare budget, tackling high private sector rent, repealing the bedroom tax, reducing costs such as private contracts within the Depatment of Work and Pensions, for example. See: We can reduce the Welfare Budget by billions: simply get rid of Iain Duncan Smith. Kitty]

You can make a difference
And don’t imagine that your voice can’t make a difference.

Bar chart:  Tory Majority 333, claimant count 6840 Lancaster Fleetwood

This is a very close election so far.

There will be many seats where the winner’s majority is in the low hundreds, some where it will be less than a hundred. Even a 5% additional turnout by working age claimants – amounting to perhaps 400 voters in many constituencies – could make the difference between Labour and the Conservatives being the largest party.

If you can convince a handful of people to vote and to talk to other claimants, you could genuinely help to change the course of this election.

Remember, you’re not trying to persuade hard-faced, right wing tabloid readers that cutting benefits is wrong. That undoubtedly would be a waste of time.

You’re talking to people who already know how painful the Coalition benefits cuts have been – because they’ve been hit by them.

You just have to persuade them that it’s not time to despair.

It’s time to fight back.

It’s time to vote for your life.

Related

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

As predicted, Mandatory Review has effectively destroyed independent Tribunals

Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Committee

Osborne’s razor, smoke and mirrors

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

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

Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

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.)

vote
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

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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

Labour MEPs secure support to reject the ISDS clause in the TTIP

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In January, Labour MEPs called on the European Commission to provide alternatives to the inclusion of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), following its response to a Europe-wide public consultation.

Glenis Willmott, Labour MEP for the East Midlands, reports that Labour have secured the support of their colleagues in calling for the ISDS clause to be removed from the EU-US trade deal.

The controversial ISDS clause of the TTIP would allow private companies to sue governments if they felt that a decision or law impacted on their ability to make profit. It will now be opposed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, which Labour MEPs are a part of.

On the 4 March, the S&D group in the European Parliament decided to oppose ISDS in an almost unanimous vote. The proposal was supported by 78 votes to five against. The adopted position was drafted by Labour MEP David Martin, who is the group co-ordinator on trade issues.

The S&D working group was headed by UK Labour Party MEPs including David Martin (chair), Jude Kirton-Darling (spokesperson on TTIP and CETA – The Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement: the negotiated EU-Canada treaty) and Richard Corbett (Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament).

David Martin said: “We have always been opposed to ISDS as a group, although we didn’t have a chance to adopt a formal decision on this matter since the last European elections in 2014. In doing so today, we are responding to the thousands of constituents and the many civil society organisations that have asked us to clarify our position.”

Jude Kirton-Darling added: “This decision … will prove to be a real game-changer, not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also with respect to the ratification of the Canada agreement.

The European Commission and Europe’s Conservatives will need our support in the end if they want to see TTIP through. Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message that we can only contemplate support if our conditions are met. One such condition is we do not accept the need to have private tribunals in TTIP.”

 Richard Corbett said: “Today the Labour Party has demonstrated that engaging with our neighbours across the EU yields tangible results in the interest of the general public. Labour were instrumental in securing this outcome, and this is a tribute to the hard work, commitment and resolve of Labour MEPs.”

Glenis Willmott summarised : “This decision by the S&D group will be a real game changer not only in the negotiations between the EU and the US but also for the approval of a trade agreement with Canada. The European Commission and centre-right group in the Parliament will need our support if they want to see TTIP through.

“Today, we are sending them a loud and clear message we can only support it if private tribunals are left out of TTIP. Labour has proven that engaging with our neighbours gets real results in the public interest. We were instrumental in getting this agreement and we will continue to stand up for the NHS and our public services.”

This is an excellent achievement. The ISDS contradicts principles of democratic accountability and would potentially allow one government to bind another for decades to come. Unlike the great majority of other treaties, investment treaties have very long minimum lifespans ranging up to 30 years.

Much debate has arisen concerning the impact of controversial ISDS on the capacity of governments to implement reforms and legislative and policy programs related to public health, environmental protection, labour and human rights.

It’s been of particular worry that the current Tory-led mass privatisation process has been a total failure. In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. We have witnessed scandalous price-rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. This is because the Tories will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not public needs, as we know.

In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State.”

Where the ISDS has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big global corporations, already with too much power, to sue Governments in front of secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass our domestic courts and override the decisions of parliaments and interests of citizens.

Not that this would be a particular issue of concern in the case of the UK, with the current Government always favouring policies that promote the interests of such powerful businesses, anyway.

But this mechanism would also remove any chance whatsoever of public interests being a consideration in the decision-making process.  In short, it would bypass what remains of our democratic process completely. And it would bind subsequent governments.

Worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation process into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to “free trade.” And to reiterate, it would be carried out behind closed doors. Corporates can go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of “free trade” and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.

The Labour Party understand that no matter how economically beneficial the Conservatives have claimed the TTIP to be, potentially, such serious threats posed by the ISDS clause to civil rights, citizen well-being and democracy are untenable.

252299_486936058042594_609527550_nThanks to Robert Livingstone.

Old New Labour: some thoughts on myths, strengths and weaknesses.

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Most people like to criticise New Labour. In political debates with the right, and people loosely assembled on the “left” and pseudo-left, with a variety of affiliations, ranging from the Green Party, the SNP, the Socialist party, TUSC, Left Unity to UKIP and the Judean People’s Popular Front, you can bet your bottom, top and middle dollar that Tony Blair will be wheeled out and painted in curses as the High Priest of “neoliberalism” sooner rather than later, I set my watch and warrant on it. But it’s become difficult to separate party politicking and opportunism from the genuine and useful commentaries.

Labour Party supporters and members also criticise Blair, of course. Quite properly so. However, it’s about time we learned that in order to learn constructively and move on, we must also balance those criticisms with some acknowledgement of New Labour’s achievements. We have tended to focus on the negatives. That puts us in a defensive position – apologising endlessly for the same things over and over again, and it’s difficult to advance from such a position. Even the term “Blairite” has become a deprecatory one. Yet Blair gave us the Good Friday Agreement, Every Child Matters, the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Gender Recognition Act, the Fox Hunting Ban, among many others.

This said, much of that depreciation is probably justified, but not fully. I’ve watched centrists and those of us further left polarise more and more, and that can only weaken us and lead to diversionary infighting in the long run. Our focus ought to be on making progress, not on “Progress.” I have nonetheless been concerned that the core of centrists have contributed to negative media campaigns directed at the left of the party. But this said, some of the more aggressive amongst the so-called “hard left” haven’t done the party any favours either, on the whole. For the record, the “hard left” are also in a minority. Most of our membership are anti-neoliberals and occupy a loose left of centre position, which is not the same as “hard left”.

No party is or ought to be above criticism, but it’s not wholly constructive or appropriate for Labour to be placed in a position of endlessly defending itself from critics for the same misdemeanor from years ago, over and over, because New Labour also had some rarely mentioned, outstanding and comprehensive flagship policies and achievements very worth celebrating, such as the Climate Change Act, free prescriptions for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer and many more. Despite the shift towards neoliberal values on an economic level, (and even much of that was a media manufactured consensus) after the heavily and relentlessly neoliberalising Thatcher years, most of Labour’s social policies have never relinquished our core values of equality, inclusivity and valuing diversity, human rights, cooperation, support of public services and all that our post-war settlement entailed.

It’s worth keeping this in mind now that we have moved on and approach the General Election, just a few months away. If we don’t, we will simply see the Tories returned to office, with more devastation being inflicted on the country to follow. We do need to think more strategically here and spend a vote on something better than that.

And no, I’m not a “Blairite”, just someone who likes to analyse in a conscientious, honest, thorough and balanced way. I’m not a “black and white”, reductionist thinker. People are rarely one just thing, they don’t have only one quality or characteristic, political parties possess a similar kind of complexity. I’m much further left than Blair, with some anarchist principles chucked in the mix. I believe in participatory democracy, and I’m also an advocate of prefigurative movements. If we want a society that is more tolerant and equal, for example, we must practice what we preach and treat others with tolerance and regard them as having equal worth. We must be the change we want to see.

Blair’s policy virtues – which are manifold – seem to have dropped out of our collective memory. Ask a psychologist, and they’ll explain this as a cognitive bias whereby certain positive associations, or in this case negative ones, disproportionately colour an overall opinion about someone.

The Iraq war presents the cognitive short-cut when we talk about Tony Blair. Indeed, the aftermath of Iraq has been so appalling that it has even distorted our understanding of Blair’s role in the war itself. Regardless of how it started and worked out, the 2003 invasion evolved from a debated and democratic parliamentary decision. I didn’t like that decision. Many of us didn’t. Many in the Labour party broke ranks and voted against the war, all of the liberal democrats also did. The Tories all voted for the war.

Most major intelligence agencies also believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – many of Saddam’s generals believed he did. This probably wasn’t a lie fabricated by Blair’s inner circle. That doesn’t mean he didn’t get it wrong, however. He very clearly did.

But it’s also worth considering the fact that Thatcher and other western leaders sold Saddam Hussein the materials to build weapons of mass destruction, including the components for chemical weapons, which were used in a genocide campaign against the Kurdish people. Without that, the first Gulf War under John Major would never had been deemed “necessary.” That war was equally unforgivable. I don’t think the second war would have happened either. The Scott Report brought to light the illegal arms sales from the early 80s, and it undoubtedly contributed to the confusion about Iraq’s capabilities and arsenal. There’s a much bigger picture which also needs some scrutiny. Blair was by no means the only one who should be held accountable for what has happened in Iraq.

Of course, a lot of the intelligence was wrong, we learned in hindsight. However the evidence from the UN and other sources showed that Saddam planned to develop nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as soon as sanctions yielded. Chemical weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction, had already been deployed against the Kurds. The attacks killed at least 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians. Thousands more died of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack. Dead livestock, contaminated land and subsequent grinding poverty is still a problem in the villages that were attacked, too.

The incident, which has been now officially defined as an act of genocide against the Kurdish people, was and still remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history. The Halabja attack has been recognised by the UK, amongst other countries, as a separate event from the Anfal Genocide  – also known as “Chemical Ali” due to the use of chemical weapons, too – that was also conducted against the Kurdish people by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.

Furthermore, the New York Times and other sources reported recently that from 2004 to 2011, UK and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier during Saddam Hussein’s rule. American troops reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

140 Labour MPs voted against the Iraq war. I protested against it, as did many of us. But nonetheless I would have an accurate and reasonable account of it, rather than some of the almost hysterical accusations of “war criminal”, “illegal war” “there were no weapons of mass destruction” and so forth, that I very often see. It’s far more complex and horrifying than that.

Like him or loathe him personally, by all means, disagree with and protest the invasion of Iraq, sure, but you ought not let that interfere with being honest and objective about policies and events. It’s great myth that Blair didn’t achieve anything in whilst office; the truth is he fundamentally transformed the country after the Thatcher and Major years. And the Tories really DID leave a “mess”.

It’s not just the Good Friday Agreement, workers rights, tax credits and the minimum wage either, that credit him: he left a vast legacy. Civil partnerships. Bank of England independence. The Welsh Assembly. The Scottish Parliament. Every Child Matters. A mayor of London. A plunging crime rate. Abroad, his brand of interventionism in Sierra Leone and Kosovo successful. He is a hero to Kosovan Albanians, many of whom have named their children “Tonibler” in his honour (well, according to Charlie Burton of GQ fame). Personally I object to wars on principle. But that includes John Major’s Gulf War, which many seem to have forgotten about, and Thatcher’s Falklands war. I also object to illegal arms deals with known despots. I mean, what could possibly go right there? If we want to avoid wars, we need to ensure those most likely to start them aren’t handed weapons of mass destruction from “free marketing” western leaders.

I remember that we didn’t need austerity measures under Blair or Brown, despite the depth of the global depression. That in itself tells us that Tory austerity is entirely ideological. Blair and Brown protected citizens to a considerable degree against the worst ravages of deep global recession. This is something many seem to have forgotten, too. Brown instead proposed an economic stimulus, which is the use of monetary or fiscal policy changes to kick-start a struggling economy. Governments can use tactics such as lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and quantitative easing, to name a few, to accomplish this. Our public services were not cut, Labour continued to invest in them.

I think the myth that Labour “borrowed excessively” has been well and truly exposed, since it’s become common knowledge that the Coalition has borrowed more in just 4 years than the last government, indeed, the Tory-led government borrowing has exceeded that of  every single Labour government combined since 1920.

Thanks to the Labour government’s excellent management of the consequences of the global crash caused by the banks and financial institutions,  we were out of recession by 2009. So the Tory austerity measures, which targeted the poorest people, were completely unjustifiable. Osborne used the “bankrupcy lie” to legitimise an entirely ideological Tory-led program of “shrinking the state“, cutting social support for those who need it and slashing public services. However, whilst the poorest paid dearly, this government handed out £107, 000 each per year to millionaires in the form of a “tax break”.

Cameron has been rebuked twice for lying about “paying down the debt” already. The national debt is still rising. It currently stands at more than twice its level than when the Coalition took office.  Osborne is responsible for more debt than every Labour chancellor in history combined. Even the staunchly Tory Spectator commented that it’s “… a depressing point: the Tory leadership is prepared to use dishonesty as a weapon in this election campaign.”

Miliband denounced New Labour in 2010 and has done so since. He presents a break from the established neoliberal paradigm, which is why the establishment hate him so much. Miliband will extend the best of our long-standing tradition, whilst learning from the worst of our mistakes. His tax proposals, for example, are progressive and fair. His proposal to implement the Leveson recommendations is also a plus. He demonstrated learning from the past when he took a principled stance on Syria in 2013 and led a rebellion that even included some Conservatives, too. Cameron was furious at the time with Miliband, because he was thwarted, and cleverly.

Anyone still believing the biggest myth of all: “allthesame”, needs to actually look at a comparison of policies here, and read this: The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.he

The Labour Party have moved on, progressing since 2010. We need to do likewise. They aren’t perfect and certainly not the solution to everything that’s wrong. But a Labour government would be a start for us to build a strong, united labour movement. We would have a bigger platform from which to push for our common aims of social justice, equality, civil rights and so on. If the Tories remain in power, we will continue to become fragmented, isolated, increasingly silenced and disempowered. My view is that sometimes we have to vote for what’s better for us all, rather than what’s our own prefered best. Taking small steps in a much bigger journey, closing the gap between the ideal and the real is better than seeing the regressive Tory authoritarians returned to office on May 7.

Until ALL of us on the Left learn a little about strategy, learn to look at a bigger picture, learn to organise and unite, the country’s nightmare fate is endless authoritarian neoliberal Tory governments.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes