Sunday, 31 July 2016

One Nation Labour: The Party We Need

My piece for The Socialist Perspective, who are so young that it makes my eyes water.

They'll go a very long way, those boys.

Unlike A Stopped Clock

It has taken The Observer's spoof columnist, Nick Cohen, 962 words.

But he has got to his real point in the end.

You'll never guess what it is.

That Our Time Demands

Jeremy Corbyn writes:

The economy isn’t working for millions of our people.

Real wages have fallen, insecurity and low-paid jobs are spreading, investment is stagnating, corporate scandals are multiplying and Britain is heading for another downturn. 

Economic failure is a central reason why people are no longer prepared to accept politics as usual.

It’s one of the reasons I was elected Labour leader in a landslide 10 months ago – and why there can be no going back to a broken economic model or the politics of the past. 

Even Theresa May understands she has to pay lip service to change in the workplace and the boardroom. 

In the past couple of weeks, a string of high street corporate names – Sports Direct, BHS, Lloyds, Byron burger chain – has driven home the reality faced by a huge number of workers today: a race to the bottom in insecurity, low pay, stress and exploitation. 

We have record employment, but also record levels of poverty among those in work. More than 6 million workers earn less than the living wage.

Work for millions has become insecure and stressful. We have to change that. 

Sports Direct’s huge Shirebrook warehouse is on the site of a colliery that employed large numbers of well-paid, unionised, skilled workers.

Today, thousands are employed as agency workers and on zero-hours contracts.

Migrant workers are often targets for that exploitation – underpaid and brutally discarded, as we saw in the past week at Byron. 

The Fawley oil refinery provides an alternative. Unionised workers on £125 per day saw workers brought in from Italy and Bulgaria on just £48. 

Last week, impending industrial action won backdated pay parity for their co-workers. 

By working together through their union, the workforce stopped established workers being undercut and migrant workers being exploited. 

Unite has called on the government to stamp out zero-hours contracts, as has been done in other countries, a call backed by Labour under my leadership. 

But we cannot replace zero-hours contracts with one-hour contracts. 

People need to know what their hours and earnings are from one week to the next and they need security in their earnings; rent and other bills still need to be paid whether you have worked 30 hours or three. 

Workers need not only minimum guaranteed hours, but also reasonable compensation for being available.

These exploitative practices are spreading through our economy and Labour under my leadership will back action to end them.

Sectors such as social care, whose workforce is overwhelmingly female, have long been scarred by insecure work, low pay and minimum wage loopholes to avoid paying people what they are entitled to.

To turn that round means reversing the wave of government-sponsored privatisation and outsourcing that has fuelled it, backed by a real living wage across public services.

Unions such as the GMB are resisting the race to the bottom in the labour market by representing Uber drivers, for example, in their fight to win holiday and sick pay rights. 

But the best way to guarantee fair pay is through strengthening unions’ ability to bargain collectively. 

That’s why it should be mandatory for all employers with over 250 staff to bargain collectively with recognised trade unions. 

Last year, I joined low-paid McDonald’s staff demanding £10 an hour organised by the bakers’ union, and this summer I’ve been invited to join their US counterparts campaigning for $15 an hour.

These sorts of wages are not unaffordable to many of these large companies.

They choose to pay less because of a business model that sees the workforce as a cost to be driven down in the pursuit of ever higher profit, often linked to bloated bonuses and share options for a gilded few at the top – and subsidised with billions in publicly funded tax credits.

Last week, Lloyds bank, an institution that would probably not exist but for government support, announced a 101% increase in its profits. 

On the same day, the bank announced it would be sacking 3,000 workers, on top of 9,000 other redundancies. 

But nowhere has the need for reform of corporate Britain been more cruelly exposed than at BHS. This was the goose that laid golden eggs for Sir Philip Green

Knighted under Tony Blair, Green was appointed by David Cameron as his “tsar” for government efficiency. 

Green efficiently avoided his taxes, asset-stripped the company and left the government to pick up the pieces for 11,000 discarded workers and 20,000 worried pensioners. 

The former BHS owner will never know the insecurity faced by his ex-employees or millions of other workers legally exploited by bad bosses. 

That is why Labour has set up Workplace 2020, a national conversation with the self-employed, business and the public, supported by the trade unions, to develop a new settlement for business and the workforce. 

We are committed to strengthening employment and union rights and reforming company law so companies cannot be used as private cash machines. 

Changing the rules on “financial assistance” in company law, for example, would prevent companies being made to take on their new owner’s debts, BHS-style. 

And Labour would reform the takeover code to ensure any corporate buyer has the means to acquire a company without saddling it with debt.

Corporate Britain has to change if it is to work for the majority.

That will also benefit the many companies that do innovate and invest in their staff and pay their taxes – and should not be undercut by the unethical practices of a few.

But it isn’t only stronger employment rights and corporate reform that will deliver decent jobs and rebuild the communities left behind by economic failure and corporate globalisation. 

That’s why Labour will put public investment in infrastructure and the industries of the future centre stage, driven by a national investment bank in every region of the country. 

It’s only through raising investment to a new level that we can transform our economy, provide the high-skill jobs and end the race to the bottom.

And it’s by focusing relentlessly on the needs of millions of people across the country – and how to meet them – that Labour will come together for the new politics that our time demands. 

That’s what I will be doing in the coming weeks.

Thought and Effort

As well as skewering Donald Trump, Peter Hitchens writes:

At one point a few days ago I feared to turn on the radio or TV because of the ceaseless accounts of blood, death and screams, one outrage after another, which would pour out of screen or loudspeaker if I did so. 

And I thought that one of the most important questions we face is this: How can we prevent or at least reduce the horrifying number of rampage murders across the world? 

Let me suggest that we might best do so by thinking, and studying.

A strange new sort of violence is abroad in the world. From Japan to Florida to Texas to France to Germany, Norway and Finland, we learn almost weekly of wild massacres, in which the weapon is sometimes a gun, sometimes a knife, or even a lorry.

In one case the pilot of an airliner deliberately flew his craft into a hillside and slaughtered everyone on board. 

But the victims are always wholly innocent – and could have been us. I absolutely do not claim to know the answer to this.

But I have, with the limited resources at my disposal, been following up as many of these cases as I can, way beyond the original headlines.

Those easiest to follow are the major tragedies, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Nice, Orlando, Munich and Paris killings, the Anders Breivik affair and the awful care-home massacre in Japan last week. 

These are covered in depth. Facts emerge that do not emerge in more routine crimes, even if they are present. 

Let me tell you what I have found. 

Timothy McVeigh, the 1995 Oklahoma bomber, used cannabis and methamphetamine. Anders Breivik took the steroid Stanozolol and the quasi-amphetamine ephedrine. 

Omar Mateen, culprit of the more recent Orlando massacre, also took steroids, as did Raoul Moat, who a few years ago terrorised the North East of England. 

So did the remorseless David Bieber, who killed a policeman and nearly murdered two others on a rampage in Leeds in 2003. 

Eric Harris, one of the culprits of the Columbine school shooting, took the SSRI antidepressant Luvox. His accomplice Dylan Klebold’s medical records remain sealed, as do those of several other school killers. 

But we know for sure that Patrick Purdy, culprit of the 1989 Cleveland school shooting, and Jeff Weise, culprit of the 2005 Red Lake Senior High School shootings, had been taking ‘antidepressants’. 

So had Michael McDermott, culprit of the 2000 Wakefield massacre in Massachusetts. So had Kip Kinkel, responsible for a 1998 murder spree in Oregon.

So had John Hinckley, who tried to murder US President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and is now being prepared for release.

So had Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who murdered all his passengers last year. The San Bernardino killers had been taking the benzodiazepine Xanax and the amphetamine Adderall.

The killers of Lee Rigby were (like McVeigh) cannabis users. So was the killer of Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo in 2014 in Ottawa (and the separate killer of another Canadian soldier elsewhere in the same year). 

So was Jared Loughner, culprit of a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. So was the Leytonstone Tube station knife attacker last year. 

So is Satoshi Uematsu, filmed grinning at Japanese TV cameras after being accused of a horrible knife rampage in a home for the disabled in Sagamihara. 

I know that many wish to accept the simple explanation that recent violence is solely explained by Islamic fanaticism.

No doubt it’s involved. Please understand that I am not trying to excuse or exonerate terrorism when I say what follows.

But when I checked the culprits of the Charlie Hebdo murders, all had drugs records or connections. The same was true of the Bataclan gang, of the Tunis beach killer and of the Thalys train terrorist. 

It is also true of the two young men who murdered a defenceless and aged priest near Rouen last week.

One of them had also been hospitalised as a teenager for mental disorders and so almost certainly prescribed powerful psychiatric drugs.

The Nice killer had been smoking marijuana and taking mind-altering prescription drugs, almost certainly ‘antidepressants’. 

As an experienced Paris journalist said to me on Friday: ‘After covering all of the recent terrorist attacks here, I’d conclude that the hit-and-die killers involved all spent the vast majority of their miserable lives smoking cannabis while playing hugely violent video games.’

Now look at the German events, eclipsed by Rouen.

The Ansbach suicide bomber had a string of drug offences. So did the machete killer who murdered a woman on a train in Stuttgart.

The Munich shopping mall killer had spent months in a mental hospital being treated (almost certainly with drugs) for depression and anxiety.

Here is my point. We know far more about these highly publicised cases than we do about most crimes.

Given that mind-altering drugs, legal or illegal, are present in so many of them, shouldn’t we be enquiring into the possibility that the link might be significant in a much wider number of violent killings?

And, if it turns out that it is, we might be able to save many lives in future. Isn’t that worth a little thought and effort?

And, echoing Giles Fraser on this week’s Moral Maze:

If a trendy charity announced that it was holding seminars for burglars, to show them how to avoid being hurt in the course of breaking into our homes, you wouldn’t expect the police to approve.

They may not care all that much about crime these days, but they’d have to put a stop to it.

Yet when a trendy charity offered to test illegal drugs for ‘quality’ at a music festival in Cambridgeshire, the local police gave their blessing.

The ‘tests’ duly went ahead, and hundreds of squalid, selfish people went unpunished for blatant breaches of criminal law.

All that users of illegal drugs need to know about quality is that they are dangerous. That’s why it is illegal to possess them.

For drug-taking, like burglary, is not a victimless crime.

The victims are the families of the users, who must often spend many years picking up the pieces of broken lives, and us, the taxpayers, who must look after them, too.

Whatever we pay the police for (and this is increasingly unclear to me) we do not pay them to undermine the law in this way.

The Cambridgeshire force should be reminded that their salaries and offices are funded by taxes that would not be paid if the law was not widely obeyed and enforced.

If they undermine the law, they undermine themselves.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

A Refreshing Approach

Referring to his excellent interview with Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Oborne writes:

The attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn seems destined to fail.

Indeed, it looks as if he will entrench his position as Labour leader and score an even more decisive victory in the forthcoming leadership election than he did last year when he won by a landslide with 59 per cent of the votes.

This will pose a dichotomy for his enemies in the parliamentary party.

They will have no mandate to challenge the result. Equally, after such disloyalty, surely they won’t be able to pledge support for Corbyn?

But if Labour MPs refuse to serve him, they will plunge the party into the gravest crisis in its history, dwarfing even the historic split of 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour broke in two over austerity cuts.

In all likelihood, the Labour Party as we know it will not survive if that happens.

For his part, I believe Corbyn should rise to the challenge by being more radical and incisive in his attacks on the Tory government.

I mentioned this to him when I met him this week — urging him to be more clinical in his critique of its foreign policies.

He agreed that the dismissal of Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary (who embarrassingly opposed him over intervention in the Syrian civil war) would allow him more freedom to speak up for Palestinian rights.

Corbyn told me that he plans to ask searching questions about the Government’s relations with Saudi Arabia.

He will also support families of British military victims of the Iraq war if they mount a private prosecution against Tony Blair and others.

This is a refreshing approach, because for far too long there has been an unspoken consensus over foreign policy between the two main parties (i.e. pro-EU, pro-meddling in the Middle East), which, I believe, has been profoundly damaging to Britain.

By the way, ignore Oborne's crowd-pleasing nonsense about the historic significance of Nigel Farage, of all people.

But consider that that of Roy Jenkins was thought to be his economic and not his social policy record until decades after the Swinging Sixties, when newspapers such as that for which Oborne now writes decided to pretend that both they and their party had opposed the Permissive Society.

In fact, at least where abortion and divorce were concerned, hardly any MPs of any party had turned up to vote on the Bills in question.

They had certainly not been officially opposed by the Official Opposition, and they were barely covered in anything other than the weekly Catholic newspapers that were and are distributed, almost exclusively on church premises, to hardly anyone.

Catholics, however continued to vote Labour overwhelmingly, as they still do. And why not? What cause has the other lot ever given them to defect?

By no one much else were these changes even considered news at the time, and scarcely anyone in Parliament thought them worth turning up to vote on, whether for or against.

They formed no part of Jenkins's own reputation until long after the events. In fact, he very nearly won a largely Catholic seat in 1981, he did win one in 1982, he retained it in 1983, and he nearly retained it again in 1987.

Think on.

With All The Passion He Demonstrated

A thousand people, including Jeremy Corbyn and much of the best front bench in at least a generation, turned out yesterday to see off the legendary Davey Hopper. Dave Temple, himself a figure of some significance, writes:

Dave Hopper was born on April 8 1943, the first son of Timothy and Barbara, in a small colliery house directly opposite the gates of Wearmouth Colliery, Sunderland, where his father worked.

His primary education was basic and, at a time when fewer than 10 per cent of Sunderland’s children were awarded a place at a grammar school, Dave spent a year in the local secondary modern before passing the entrance exam for Villiers Street Secondary Technical School.

He was an able pupil, a keen footballer and was already honing that legendary acerbic wit that delighted his classmates and annoyed the teaching staff in equal measure.

Sunderland’s many shipyards and engineering factories were enjoying a post-war boom and there were ample jobs for Dave to choose from.

However, he decided, at the age of 15, to follow his father down the pit.

As a teenager, he enthusiastically embraced the age of rock ’n’ roll — Edwardian “drapes,” beetle crushers and all. 

One night, on the dance floor of the Seaburn Hall, he met Brenda Lough, fell in love and after a short courtship they married on December 1 1962 — he was 19, Brenda 18. 

At the pit, Dave’s first job was stone picking on the surface screens amid the din and dust, a job he detested. When 16 and allowed down the pit, he first worked at the shaft bottom loading tubs into the cage.

From there, he progressed in-bye and finally, at the age of 19 and fully face-trained, he began hand-filling on a three-foot-high coalface — the most physically demanding job at the pit. 

In Durham, the men picked the face teams and the whole team shared piece-rate earnings equally. 

Comradeship and co-operation were essential and Dave forged bonds that lasted his lifetime. 

Gary, his first child, was born in March 1963 and 18 months later Brenda gave birth to their second child, Deborah, in September 1964 and their third child, Beverley, in March 1966.

With a growing family to feed, Dave moved on to drilling in the development drifts and later operating a Dosco road-header in the new 15 70 horizon that was heading for the high coal reserves under the North Sea. 

In 1967, the introduction of the National Power Loading Agreement replaced piecework and halved Dave’s take-home pay. 

By the time Jason, the fourth child, was born in April 1970, large-scale dissatisfaction was spreading throughout the British coalfields. 

Miners who had been so compliant since Vesting Day 1947 (when coalmining was nationalised) were at breaking point and, in January 1972, they struck for seven weeks for higher pay and won substantial increases.

Dave now began to take a keen interest in the union, encouraged by his father, Timothy, who was a union safety inspector and a member of the lodge committee. 

He read avidly about the history of the labour and socialist movement and became convinced that capitalism was the enemy of working people the world over, never wavering from this view. 

His growing militancy brought him into conflict with the moderate area leaders and after the Incentive Scheme was introduced in 1977, by stealth, after twice being rejected by national ballot, Dave and a group of young miners decided to form a discussion forum — called the Durham Left — dedicated to creating a more combative area leadership.

By 1981, they had succeeded in changing the rules governing the election of the union’s area executive committee making it more democratic, enabling Dave to be elected in 1982.

Most importantly, in 1983, the Durham Left was instrumental in getting the first Durham rank-and-file miner elected to the national executive committee, giving the left a vital majority of one.

This was to prove decisive in the coming struggles.

In that year, the influence of the left was further strengthened when Dave was elected secretary of Wearmouth’s 3,000-strong lodge. 

In 1984, the Wearmouth Lodge was among the first to strike against pit closures. 

Throughout the strike, Dave remained dedicated to achieving a successful conclusion while Brenda, an active trades unionist herself, worked tirelessly raising money and feeding miners and their families. 

When the strike ended, Dave was elected general secretary of the NUM (Durham Area) and with Dave Guy, the newly elected president, formed a strong area leadership in the most difficult of circumstances. 

They opposed all the subsequent pit closures, the new draconian discipline procedures and the attempts to lengthen shift times underground. 

Above all, they stood by all those miners who had been sacked during the strike, getting many reinstated and supporting the others financially. 

When the last pit in Durham closed in 1993, all appeared lost. 

The union’s resources had been consumed in the strike, there were no miners to pay subscriptions and it would have been easy to have walked away. 

However, that was not how the two area leaders saw it. 

The building assets of the Durham Area were put up as collateral and the union fought a court battle for compensation for members suffering from the industrial disease vibration white finger. 

When they won, £1.7 billion in compensation was paid to miners throughout the coalfields of Britain.

A similar success with bronchitis and emphysema was to follow.

In 1997, disaster struck Dave’s family when Brenda, after a four-year battle with cancer, died on November 23 at the age of 53.

The family was heartbroken and Dave struggled to face life without his wife to whom he had been devoted for 31 years.

Dave was passionately against the British intervention in Afghanistan and, when Tony Blair took the country to war in Iraq, he was incensed and left the Labour Party in which he had been an active member and office holder for over 30 years.

He was totally opposed to the policies of New Labour and saw its refusal to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union legislation as a betrayal of the very people the party was formed to protect.

He referred often in his Gala messages to the disgrace that, after 13 years of Labour government, the gulf between rich and poor had actually widened.

Under Dave’s leadership, Durham miners played an important role in providing aid for Cuba, donating money to buy ambulances for its health service and computer equipment for schools.

It was during a visit to Cuba that Dave met and fell in love with Maria Zarzabal whom he married in the Cuban embassy in 2006 and became a stepfather to her two children, Samuel and Esther.

This gave Dave a new lease of life that they enjoyed for 11 happy years together.

Dave was a passionate internationalist and anti-fascist who hated racism of all kinds.

He supported all working people fighting oppression and was widely admired for his straight talking.

Above all, he believed that the capitalist system, based on the exploitation of working people for the enrichment of the few, is not and can never be the highest level of civilisation that humankind can achieve.

Whatever the difficulties and problems, he was adamant that we have to strive to replace it with a socialist system under which the weak are protected and everyone can enjoy the full fruits of their labour.

The Durham Miners’ Gala, which under his leadership has grown and developed into Europe’s largest celebration of community and trade union values, is his legacy and he leaves it to us all to cherish and guard with all the passion he demonstrated throughout his life.

Dave leaves behind his beloved wife Maria, four children and two stepchildren, 11 grand children and six great-grand children.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Shoulder To Shoulder

In the last hour or so, Jeremy Corbyn has posted the following on Facebook, and he has tweeted the screenshot of that post:

I recently had the honour of meeting the Durham Teaching Assistants at the Durham Miners’ Gala [ahem, a meeting arranged by your humble blogger], who are resisting the imposition of term time pay, and campaigning to be employed during every week of the year.

The government must fund Teaching Assistants every week of the year; recognising the crucial work these dedicated public servants do in our society - not pushing them into poverty.

Most school workers employed on so-called term-time contracts are women, paid for just ten months of the year.

My friend Davy Hopper, General Secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, who passed away only last week, said: 

“Education is one of the most important public services we have and frankly it is unbelievable that a Labour Authority is behaving in this way.

“They should immediately start renegotiating with the Teaching Assistants and sort out this mess. My solidarity is with the Teaching Assistants.” 

Easington MP Grahame Morris said:

“I whole-heartedly oppose the decision to substantially cut the income of low paid Teaching Assistants and I'm appalled that the council would threaten to dismiss and re-engage.

“The Government must now step up to the plate and commit to funding the wages of teaching assistants all year.” 

I give this commitment.

I will be standing shoulder to shoulder with their campaign - backed by UNISON which was agreed at their conference this year - to end the imposition of term time pay and for school workers across the UK to be employed during every week of the year.

And earlier this evening, Councillor Owen Temple of Consett North, a Liberal Democrat, wrote: 

As the holiday season starts, councillors get an email out of the blue telling us that there is a Special Council Meeting on September 14th, the only subject matter being Teaching Assistants.

I don’t know when we’ll hear any more, but I know which side I’m on.

With others, I did good things as a Parish Councillor and as a school governor. Small ones, in the great scheme of things. But good ones.

If, however, I have played even the smallest part in securing justice for the Teaching Assistants, then that will be by far my proudest political achievement, and quite possibly the proudest achievement of my life.

Essential for the Very Survival of the NHS

We urgently need a Labour party that is prepared to undo the damage done to our NHS by successive governments.

Cuts, privatisation and opening the NHS up to the market, against public and professional opinion, has made the NHS less safe, less efficient, and at risk of becoming less caring.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 speeded up a process of destruction that had already started.

The junior doctors’ dispute, still unresolved, reflects the impossibility of providing the same level of routine services over seven days, when the resources scarcely exist to provide this over five.

So we, as NHS doctors from all branches of the profession, whether we are in the Labour party or not, urgently need an opposition that is united, with clear policies to increase funding to the NHS, repeal the Health and Social Care Act, reverse the privatisations, and get rid of markets in healthcare.

Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow secretary of state Diane Abbott have declared an intention to do all of this, and have displayed exactly the type of decisive leadership the NHS is calling for.

We believe the re-election of Corbyn as leader of the Labour party is essential for the very survival of the NHS.

Dr Kambiz Boomla General practitioner, London 
Dr Jacky Davis Radiologist, London 
Dr Louise Irvine General practitioner, London 
Dr David Wrigley Chair of Doctors in Unite, Carnforth, Lancashire 
Dr Ron Singer Retired GP, London 
Dr Youssef El-Gingihy London 
Dr Anna Livingstone GP, London 
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis Specialist registrar, infectious diseases; junior doctors committee, BMA, London
Dr Aislinn Macklin-Doherty Oncology, London 
Dr Pete Campbell Acute medicine, Newcastle 
Dr Megan Parsons Junior doctor, Manchester 
Dr Jackie Applebee GP, London 
Dr Pam Wortley Retired GP, Sunderland 
Dr Haroon Rashid GP, Ilford 
Dr Saul Marmot GP, Bromley by Bow health centre, London 
Dr Sasha Abraham GP, London 
Dr Gerard Reissman General practitioner, Newcastle upon Tyne 
Dr Sheila Cheeroth GP, Limehouse practice, London 
Dr Robert MacGibbon Retired GP, Westleton, Suffolk 
Dr Maureen O’Leary Retired consultant psychiatrist, Sheffield 
Dr Jack Czauderna Retired GP, Sheffield 
Dr Mona Kamal Ahmed Forensic psychiatrist, London 
Dr Muna Rashid GP, London 
Dr Alex Hardip Sohal GP, London 
Dr David Kirby Retired GP, London 
Dr Robert Hirst Emergency medicine, London 
Dr Iain Maclennan Consultant in public health and retired GP, Sandown, Isle of Wight 
Dr Hennah Bashir Emergency medicine, London 
Dr Kelly Cruickshank Psychiatry, Salford 
Dr Max Thoburn Junior doctor, Manchester 
Dr Kathryn Greaves Anaesthetics, London 
Dr Shamira Bhika GP, London 
Dr Mary Edmondson Retired GP, London 
Dr Rishi Dir Orthopaedics, London 
Dr Helen Murrell GP, Newcastle upon Tyne 
Dr John Puntis Consultant paediatrician, Leeds 
Dr Thabo Miller Paediatrics, Somerset 
Dr Ben Hart GP, London 
Dr Paul Hobday GP, Horsmonden, Kent 
Dr Hilary Kinsler Consultant, old age psychiatry, King George hospital, Ilford 
Dr Michael Fitchett GP, London 
Dr Soraya Boomla GP, London 
Dr Kevin O’Kane Consultant, acute medicine Emma Runswick Medical student, Salford
Dr Coral Jones GP, London

Don't Be Trumped

A second referendum on EU membership would undoubtedly result in a vote to Remain, probably by the same margin as the vote to Leave last month.

It might be argued that that would make no practical difference, since Article 50 has not been invoked, nor is there any intention to invoke it. It becomes less likely with every passing day.

In itself, that is perfectly true, and indeed blatantly obvious.

But if only Conservative and UKIP-minded areas had voted Leave, then Remain would have won comfortably.

The referendum was swung by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru voters. Who, of course, remain so, and will remain so. This issue was not a party one, or there would not have been a referendum on it.

The Conservative Party, of course, was also in favour of a Remain vote.

To such an extent that David Cameron resigned when there was a Leave vote. And to such an extent that he has been succeeded by another Remainer without a contest.

Jeremy Corbyn's victory last year, the swinging of the EU referendum result, and Corbyn's even bigger victory this year, have been and will be the cries of the areas, the communities, the families and the individuals that have been abandoned, ignored, denigrated and oppressed since 1979.

At least unless the political and cultural, and not least the media, structures through which they could now be heard were already firmly in place, then a second referendum, with its inevitable result, would be a catastrophic setback to the advancement of those areas, communities, families and individuals.

It would silence them, right at the moment that they had found their voice.

But already to have those structures firmly in place would be a very big ask between now and the early part of next year.

The event most likely to force a second referendum, in the early part of next year, would be the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Any possibility of a bilateral trade agreement would then be ruled out entirely, at least for four years.

In that situation, the Remain vote in 2017 would be higher than the Leave vote in 2016.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Fox Is Shot

Liam Fox's funny delusions about "the Anglopshere" have been confronted with reality.

Even Canada has sent him away with a flea in his ear.

As for the United States, Donald Trump would not be doing trade agreements at all, pretty much.

While Hillary Clinton, if she were anything like her husband, would prefer Germany as an economic and as a diplomatic or military partner alike.

Fox now says that no trade deal could begin to be negotiated with anywhere else until we had left the EU, and that that will not happen before 2019 at the earliest.

Of course, before the invocation of Article 50, it cannot begin to happen at all.

But Article 50 will not be invoked until several such deals, and most especially the one with the United States, were already signed, sealed and delivered.

She is no fool, that Theresa May.

The ramifications of the referendum result will be felt for decades. But there is already something quite tragic about anyone who still talks about actually leaving the EU.

Barely a month later, and they are back to being pub bores again.

The last thing that we need, however, is a second referendum. That would deliver a Remain vote.

Thereby killing any recognition of the need to listen to the areas that voted Leave while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for parliamentary or municipal purposes.

As they will undoubtedly continue to do. Of course. If the issue had been a party one, then there would not have been a referendum on it.

Davey Hopper’s Funeral

For anyone who does not already know, what promises to be Davey Hopper’s enormous funeral will take place on Friday 29th July at the Miners’ Hall, Red Hill, Flass Street, Durham, DH1 4BE, starting at 9:45am.

It will be a humanist service conducted by Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former General Secretary of Unison.

Please make donations in lieu of flowers to the Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala.

Please arrive early, and note that unfortunately there will be not be any parking available at the Miners’ Hall or in the immediate vicinity.

See here for parking in Durham City. Or here for the Park and Ride.

The Miners' Hall is 10 minutes’ walk, if that, from Durham railway station, and it is less than five minutes’ walk from Durham bus station.

The evening before, on Thursday 28th July, there will be a celebration of Davey’s life at Sacriston Workingmen’s Club, Edward Street, DH7 6NW, from 7pm to 11pm, which will include live music and a buffet.

Daddy Dearest

Milo Yiannopoulos is Damian Thompson's gift to the world, and, in my experience, remains fiercely protective of the man who was his Daddy before Donald Trump.

Hammond Egg On His Face

The author of this piece ought always to have been the Shadow Foreign Secretary. With any luck, she finally will be once Jeremy Corbyn has won again, by an even wider margin than last year.

He will of course have beaten a prominent courtier of the arms industry.

Crowdfunding For The Teaching Assistants

Mr Nasty

If you want to hide all manner of corruption and vileness in the plainest of sight, then position yourself on the right wing of a left-wing party.

The Right's media juggernaut is aimed squarely at the Left, while the Left's inexhaustible energy and commitment, no matter how lacking in resources, are aimed squarely at the Right.

In between the two, you can get away with anything.

Look, if you can bear to do so, at the Clintons. Or look, if you can bear to do so, at Owen Smith.

Smith faked his CV. He buys up fake accounts to cheerlead for him Twitter. He professes himself "normal" because he has a wife and children, unlike Angela Eagle (although she, in her way, is another one).

Smith prolonged people's cancer in order to maximise corporate profits. And he wants to "smash Theresa May back on her heels".

Today, he has been to Orgreave, in an attempt to hijack the memory of the Miners' Strike. There, he announced no fewer than 20 of Jeremy Corbyn's and John McDonnell's policies as his own.

Don't believe a word of it.

The MPs who have nominated him would not have done so if those were his views. Nor would he be receiving the media support that he is. Nor would he enjoy the backing of the most right-wing seven per cent of Labour councillors.

The Socialist vs The Sociopath

It says it all, both about Owen's Smith campaign, and about his character, that he booked the most hilariously overlarge hall for his campaign launch, or whatever it was that has just occurred.

Smith, who faked his CV, and whose support on Twitter comes from bought and paid for fake accounts, also has the classic personality of a perpetrator of domestic violence.

Whether or not he is one of those, he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

And whatever else Jeremy Corbyn may be, he is certainly not that.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Introibo Ad Altare Dei

As the martyr priests of the non-Islamic French Revolution were wont say while their heads were being laid on the block.

Martyred while saying Mass, Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered by a Muslim.

Martyred while saying Mass, neither St Thomas of Canterbury nor Blessed Óscar Romero was murdered by a Muslim.

Orate pro nobis.

Winning Power For The Good?

At least where the ones from the North East are concerned, it is laughable to suggest that these councillors are engaged in any "fight against austerity" in the first place.

Just as it is to make that suggestion of Owen Smith, who fights for nothing except the privatisation of the NHS in the interests of his past, future, and possibly present employers.

It is not difficult, nor even necessary, to imagine what these 500 councillors would have said to any suggestion by Jeremy Corbyn that there be, "a radical vision for a £200 billion investment programme, renationalising our railways, and putting the decision to make war firmly in the hands of elected MPs, not the Government of the day."

"Tackling inequalities in wealth"? "Increase taxes on the wealthy"? Whom do they think that they are kidding?

Speaking of kids, at least one of the five Durham County Councillors listed here is not expected to contest his seat next year, and would certainly be defeated if he did.

But it is on his little CV now, along with his having taken his university girlfriend to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

(Not that there is anything wrong with Buckingham Palace Garden Parties. But one really ought to have worked for them, as cannot have been done in a mere 20 or so years on this earth.)

And along with his having run away and hidden from his own council's notoriously aggressive Teaching Assistants. He had previously called the Police in order to prevent them from attending his surgeries.

To think that only four years ago, he was driving into school in his MG. A veritable little Michael Foster or Reg Race.

Other old Durham hands can draw their own conclusions from the fact that he needed to have his A-levels re-marked in order to get into Durham.

Other old hands from St Bede's can draw their own conclusions from the fact that he managed to have his A-levels re-marked in order to get into Durham.

If he is still a member of any political party in 10 years' time, long after any breakaway funded by Foster and Race, Pfizer and Amgen had gone the way of all flesh, then I shall humbly eat the top hat that he wore to Her Majesty's afternoon knees-up.

The same goes for all of the other four.

Right and Fair

The attempted coup has taken Labour from three points ahead to 16 points behind.

Angela Eagle did not have a brick through her window, did not receive homophobic abuse at a meeting that she did not attend, and was not advised by the Police to desist from holding constituency surgeries.

Likewise, Mr Speaker Bercow has today told someone called Seema Malhotra that, "Having taken advice, I am satisfied that there is nothing in your letter, or in the information subsequently elicited by the deputy Serjeant at Arms, which would justify regarding these events as a possible breach."

As John McDonnell puts it, "It's only right and fair that Seema now apologise for the stress that she has caused to my staff over the last few days. As I said on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Labour Party needs to unite, and actions like this, which are only being used to try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, must stop."

The Eagle-Malhotra Tendency's last hope is that a High Court judge will rule on Thursday that only candidates funded by megabucks personal friends of Benjamin Netanyahu were permitted to contest the Leadership of the Labour Party.

Frankly Labour

A lot of people, over many years, have doubted whether Frank Field was quite Labour at all.

They need to take a look at his battle with Philip Green.

Now, try and imagine that battle's being waged by Owen Smith.

Field was one of 10 overtly pro-Brexit Labour MPs, one of whom is now a member of the Shadow Cabinet, while another chairs the Parliamentary Labour Party.

When Jeremy Corbyn has won again, then all 10 need to be appointed to an advisory body.

Not so much dealing with the EU itself; this side of Article 50, on what would there be anything to advise?

But dealing with the fact that, "The referendum result sent a clear message from parts of Britain that have been left behind by globalisation."

Again, try and imagine such a body's being created, or that statement's being made, by Owen Smith.

Monday, 25 July 2016

In Spirit and Actively Supporting


Dear Jeremy,

We are writing this letter in support of your campaign to remain Leader of the Labour Party and a future Prime Minister of this Country.

You have supported deaf and disabled people’s causes for many, many years. You have spoken in Parliament.

You have voted against vicious welfare reforms that have blighted our lives, often having to rebel against the Whip to do so.

You have campaigned with us during court vigils, at street protests and you spoke at the ‘10,000 cuts and counting’ memorial for people who had died as a result of welfare reform.

During our campaign to save the ILF when we asked the then Labour Leadership for help and got none, you publicly supported our campaign.

We also recognise the long term and steadfast support of one of our, and your, strongest allies – John McDonnell.

You have supported deaf and disabled people in so many ways over so many years and now it is time for us to have a chance to rally in support of you and John.

We know that you have devoted your political life to supporting people and causes that really do matter to people in this country and around the world.

So we know that when you talk about a new kind of politics that you mean a politics that puts people, people like us, first.

As you fight to retain leadership of the Labour Party, please know that Deaf and Disabled people and our allies are with you in spirit and actively supporting your campaign.

In Solidarity,

Anita Bellows (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Linda Burnip (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Ellen Clifford (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Bob Ellard (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Andy Greene (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Debbie Jolly (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Roger Lewis (Disabled People Against Cuts)
Paula Peters (Disabled People Against Cuts)

On The Remaking of British Capitalism

Frank Field writes:

Theresa May arrived at Downing Street with a promise to the nation: that the government she leads will initiate a complete rethink of how capitalism is conducted in our country, so that it can be made to work for all of us, rather than a mere privileged few at the top.

That rethink is now urgently required, in the light of our select committees’ findings on the losers and winners from the tragic demise of BHS. 

Among the losers is Mrs C Patel, who is 56 and has worked for BHS since leaving school. She told us how she felt “so helpless about what is happening”. 

She is among 11,000 mainly low-paid workers whose jobs are now at risk, and 20,000 former and current pensioners whose pensions face cuts of up to 77%

One current BHS pensioner wrote to me to say her modest retirement had been put in “utter jeopardy” by the collapse of the company and its pension fund. 

No such concerns afflict Sir Philip Green, the man who ran BHS for 15 years from 2000. 

He and his family accrued enough wealth on the back of BHS to propel them towards the very top of the Sunday Times Rich List. 

They can count their wealth in billions.

Sir Philip and Lady Green clearly emerge as the biggest financial winners from BHS, although many others involved in its demise – including Dominic Chappell – also pocketed huge sums of money. 

Much of the Green family’s enormous wealth was built up during the early years of Green’s stewardship of BHS

And yet there is no evidence whatsoever from this period of the improved turnover, market share, or major increase in investment that might be expected from a leading retailer. 

Investment was evidently either inadequate in scale or ineffective in improving the competitive edge of the business. 

Here we are introduced to our second group of losers from this sorry tale, the BHS customers. 

Our select committees received reports from across the country of how the lifts in their local BHS had been out of service for five years, of gaping holes in the doors of the ladies’ changing rooms, of carpets being taped down, and of air conditioning systems being out of service and left to decay. 

The decay which set in at individual BHS branches mirrors that of its pension fund – it was allowed to decline from a surplus of £43m in 2000, when Green bought the business, to a £571m deficit last year. 

Companies that are suppliers to BHS are now also under threat.

So the picture that was presented to us in evidence was clear – the Green family’s wealth escalated beyond the dreams of avarice, while the health of BHS and its pension fund was neglected. I believe that two immediate responses are now required.

The first is for Green to write a large cheque to make good the shortfall in the BHS pension fund.

This most basic gesture is well within his capabilities – the Green family recently acquired a private jet and another luxurious yacht for a cool £146m – and would restore a sense of justice for those 20,000 workers whose pensions are at risk.

Next, we need the government to initiate a review of company governance in this country.

This review should be undertaken with one key question in mind: should directors be deemed fit and proper persons if they are prone to racking up huge pensions deficits while adding handsomely to their own personal wealth?

And should not such questions be applied to private limited companies, as well as publicly listed ones? 

Both of these questions will require answers if May is to fulfil her promise on the remaking of British capitalism, in particular the corporate greed we have witnessed throughout the sorry demise of a once great high street name.

Why Don’t You Help With The Clear-Up?

Grace Dent writes:

As public scrutiny of Philip Green grows crosser each day, it’s difficult to know whether the billionaire’s rhino hide has been remotely wounded. 

Being described by Frank Field MP as “much worse” than Robert Maxwell has to sting, surely? 

And what about the growing demand for Green’s rather jarring knighthood to be removed in light of the 22,000 pensioners who’ve watched their financial security be steadily obliterated while Green threw parties such as his £6m, three-day long, superstar-laden 60th birthday? 

Kobe burgers on the barbecue; Stevie Wonder providing the cabaret; Leonardo, Gwynnie and Naomi on the dancefloor. 

Green, for a time, really was a very popular man. Avuncular, even. 

Rarely seen publicly without Moss or Campbell stuck to his elbow like expensive impetigo. 

And he was never as popular as when he had a birthday and whisked all his super-close, completely sincere buddies off for a gigantic, sun-drenched freebie. 

One of the small positives of being a “little person” shafted by Green – rather than by a less conspicuous fat-cat – is that one never needs to raise one’s palms skywards howling, “But where did the money all go?” because it’s all there, lovingly documented in the gossip columns and in its bystanders’ breathless memoirs. 

Revellers said Green’s 60th in Mexico was even bigger than Green’s 50th in Cyprus and his 55th in the Maldives! 

They drank Pol Roger in Mexico in 2012 as your pension was pissed down the drain. 

They ate Kobe beef and now you’re making a Lidl basket last three weeks.

So does Green, I wonder, now feel a bit sheepish about this? Probably not.

The scenario reminds me of a wonderful part in the very underrated Nora Ephron movie You’ve Got Mail where lefty, anti-capitalist tub-thumper Frank Navasky meets the corporate mega-boss Joe Fox at a cocktail party.

After accusing Fox – a business Goliath – of a litany of misdoings, Navansky snaps, “Tell me something, really, how do you sleep at night?”, to which Fox’s cold-eyed girlfriend, mistaking the question for non-rhetoric, chirps, “Ah, I use a wonderful over-the-counter drug, Ultradorm. Don't take the whole thing, just half, and you will wake up without even the tiniest hangover.” 

Whether Green sleeps fitfully or like a baby is unknown. 

But we do know that he has not been left remotely poor by BHS’s downfall. 

The estimated £571m needed to plug the black hole in its pension fund could be transferred, I would imagine, via one brisk phone call, made from a sun-lounger, in the time it would take for Green to order a large pre-lunch gin and tonic. 

Of course, Green, due to his fabulously slippery business dealings, is not legally culpable for this debt.

My conscience, if I were a disgraced business mogul faced with the truth that many of my ex-workers were in financial ruin, would prompt me to pay up. But that’s just me. 

If Green has a cash flow problem preventing him charging in like a white knight to clear up the mess he made centre-stage, can’t his celebrity buddies pitch in, all those who lived high on Green’s hog? 

Is it not time for BHS-Aid, a night of charity giving and lavish prize donations? 

I’m not certain if Leo and Gwyneth will understand what BHS is, but perhaps their advisers could explain that it was a department store once found on every high street in Britain, selling cheap clothes and umpteen shelves of nicely packaged novelty tat: “World’s Best Dad” tankards, for instance, and stackable biscuit tins with “Love You Gran” on the lid. 

BHS sold the sorts of things normal, working-class people get for their birthdays, as opposed to “150 close friends flown to Mexico andHappy Birthday sung by Enrique Iglesias”. 

It was staffed by everyday people who got up early and worked hard on busy tills or on shop floors, with sore feet and repetitive strain injuries from scanning three-packs of pop-socks. 

The workers paid into a pension scheme which has now curiously and quite bewilderingly vanished. Not stolen, Gwyneth, oh no. 

Let’s just say your holiday buddy Philip Green has “consciously uncoupled” these workers from their future security.

Still confused, Leo? Try to think of your hit film Catch Me If You Can,where a slippery sort fooled everyone that he was a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, but instead, imagine the protagonist fooling people that their monthly pension deduction would prevent them dying in poverty.

As for Moss and Campbell, they know full well what BHS is. You’ve all enjoyed the party. Why don’t you help with the clear-up?

Inalienable Rights Into The Workplace

Paul Mason writes:

What they should have said was: a Georgian-era factory. Or a Shanghai factory in the 1920s. Or a Bangladeshi sweatshop today.

In the history of work, the practices owner Mike Ashley appears to have tolerated have been common: underpayment, fines, refusal of “excessive” toilet breaks, childbirth on shift, harsh discipline and sexual harassment. 

They most typically prevail where a political system is stacked so heavily against the workforce that there can be no countervailing voice, and where an economic model in its infancy requires the urgent extraction of profit through coercion. 

You need under-resourced inspection agencies; unions forbidden to organise; and a ready supply of cheap labour. 

So it was in the England of George III, so it is in Britain in the second decade of the 21st century. 

What is striking, when you consider the modern reality of precarious work and coercive management, is how the concept of human rights stops at the factory gate. 

The workers of Georgian England had no democratic rights or access to law. But the 21st century is supposed to be an age of universal rights.

Every one of the practices described at Sports Direct appears to not just have broken employment law, but also violated the human right of the citizen not to be bullied, shamed, endangered or sexually harassed.

And Sports Direct is not alone. 

There is the fast food outlet where, should one of the workers fail to smile, a “secret shopper” can deduct the bonus of everyone on the shift. 

There are the construction sites, bedecked with “considerate contractor” signs, where blacklisting is a way of life, and the hotels cleaned by migrants who face relentless verbal violence, deductions and inadequate protections. 

Why do we tolerate, between worker and manager, practices that would not be tolerated between the citizen and the state? 

The clue is in the physical geometry of the very first factory, in Cromford, Derbyshire

Richard Arkwright, who built it, was a benign employer – but the historic site contained three devices crucial to how work would be governed under capitalism: a high wall, a clock, and a cannon loaded with grapeshot.

The wall was to prevent people seeing in. The clock was to remind workers that their body clocks would be overridden by machine rhythms.

And the cannon was there to prevent the local population storming the premises and tearing it to pieces.

Today’s equivalents needn’t be so crude.

Instead of the cannon and the clock, you have the camera in the cab of the truck driver; the GPS transmitter on the arm of the warehouse worker, tracking their speed and movement as they shift parcels; the barcode a home-care worker has to scan as she enters and leaves a client’s home in strictly timed 15-minute slots.

But secrecy endures at work.

From the warehouse to the software house, the principle of confidentiality is enforced.

As a TV journalist covering workplaces, you face a binary choice: the official story or the undercover one. 

There is no negotiated space in which workers can talk freely about their work.

This arrangement is tacitly endorsed when politicians visit.

They arrive in hi-vis, shepherded by layer upon layer of corporate goons, speak to a selected worker for the cameras and then address a rally in which – strangely but predictably – nobody ever raises an actual political disagreement.

Rights to heckle, to disagree, to boo – which would be normal at a public meeting – are removed in this private and unequal space.

It is hard to remember now that it was once different.

Long after my grandfather died, my grandmother would wander into the offices of the coal mine where he had worked to ask a favour, complain, or just talk to his friends.

At my father’s factory, I don’t recall there being any security on the doors: you could nip in and bring him a sandwich.

What went on in those factories and mines was public knowledge anyway, because the workplace stood at the centre of a stable community, with a rich institutional life of its own. 

Precarity works in favour of today’s employers, both inside and outside the workplace. 

Virtually instant sackability, the absence of unions, and the erosion of legal rights, mean you shut up and put up with it while at work.

The breakup of solid communities, the mercuriality of urban life, and the detachment of the business elite from everyday society, all contribute to the reduction of moral pressure on employers from the communities their businesses serve.

In a few cases, against all the odds, workers organise.

Cleaners at 100 Wood Street, a City of London office block, last week won the London Living Wage of £9.40 an hour via the tried-and-tested method of striking (in this case for 43 days). 

The Unite trade union was instrumental in bringing the action that exposed Mike Ashley at Sports Direct. 

But so much modern work is casual and temporary that unions alone cannot right the wrongs. 

We need new legal rights for workers.

Those that exist have been undermined by reduced access to employment tribunals, and by the exemption of small firms and agency businesses.

And compared to post-2000 human rights law, the entire corpus of employment law, existing separately and conditionally, looks archaic.

A new charter of workplace rights should start from principle of universality: that our human rights extend to the workplace unconditionally, and that human rights law can and should be the first line of defence against bosses like Mike Ashley – rather than a final option, pursued after months or years of sub-legal grievance procedures.

Unfortunately, the Brexit process will throw all workplace rights derived from EU membership into jeopardy [because the EU was doing so well at it, as the rest of this article illustrates]. 

If, as promised, Theresa May maintains Britain’s signature on the European Convention on Human Rights, then it’s up to all of us – not just unions and lawyers – to force the concept of inalienable rights into the workplace.