Monday, 30 May 2016

To Make An Informed Decision


Allowing immigration to overshadow the EU referendum debate is not only bad for community relations — it’s bad for those who want the public to make an informed decision on June 23.

EU membership should be about much more than how many people can or should enter Britain every year, however important that question is.

Thus the Morning Star makes no apology for asking other important questions: how and in whose interests does the EU function? What does this mean for people’s jobs, living standards and quality of life?

Does EU membership help or hinder strategies to develop a balanced, sustainable economy that serves the interests of working people, their families and communities? 

We have condemned the neoliberal, free market and monetarist economics cemented into the basic treaties of the EU. 

As the late Tony Benn once pointed out: “The EU has the only constitution in the world committed to capitalism … it destroys the prospect of socialism anywhere in Europe, making capitalism a constitutional requirement of that set-up.” 

Such a set-up also requires that enormous powers lie in the lap of unelected and — in practice where not in law — unaccountable bodies, namely, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. 

Remain campaigners point to the powers of our own unelected Civil Service, Bank of England, House of Lords, Supreme Court and monarchy. 

But the crucial difference is this: in Britain, these institutions are not constitutionally beyond the reach of our elected representatives. They can be reformed and even abolished. 

The recent Queen’s Speech raised the prospect of Britain having a Bill of Rights in the near future, drafted by this Tory government. 

What if this Bill were to specify that Britain shall have a “competitive market economy” based on the free movement of capital, goods and services? 

Any steps towards a planned economy would, in effect, be unlawful. 

Neither the Westminster, Edinburgh or Cardiff legislatures would be allowed to direct or impede the movement of capital in, out or within the countries of Britain. 

What if clauses in the Bill made it unconstitutional for elected governments to run an “excessive deficit” in their public finances, or to subsidise public or private enterprises for strategic economic, social or environmental reasons? 

What if another clause banned governments from using our central bank to fund investment projects through the purchase of public-sector bonds (what shadow chancellor John McDonnell calls “people’s quantitative easing”)? 

Indeed, the Bill would make clear that the central bank must be independent of Parliament and government altogether, guaranteed by a constitution that can only be changed by near unanimous agreement. 

Furthermore, this Tory draft Bill would also grant sweeping new powers to the Civil Service, including the sole right to propose legislation, draft the national budget and monitor the compliance of the British, Scottish and Welsh governments with strict limits on their borrowing and debt.

The Civil Service would also have the right to intervene in the legislative process, address MPs on its own insistence and prevent the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry.

Henceforth, too, as a matter of constitutional imperative rather than government policy, security and defence policy would have to be compatible with Nato policy.

Indeed, it must “contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic alliance.” 

Who on the left in Britain would vote for such a Bill of Rights?

Yet such clauses are to be found in the two basic treaties of the EU and apply to all member states.

This is what socialists and trade unionists will be endorsing on June 23 if they vote to remain in the EU.

To Think Beyond

Nick Dearden writes: 

As the great powers gathered in Japan for last week’s G7 summit, a series of massive trade deals were under attack from all sides. 

And yet, from Donald Trump to Jeremy Corbyn, there is a recognition that “trade” has become little more than a synonym for big business to take ever more control of society. 

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement.

More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. 

A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago.

But TTIP is not alone.

Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). 

Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. 

It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months. 

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. 

Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. 

Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. 

Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. 

And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected.

The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers. The European commission has made changes to this “corporate court” system that it believes makes it fairer. 

But researchers have found it would make no difference to the dozens of cases that have been brought against countries in recent years under similar systems. 

Canada itself has fought and lost numerous cases from US corporations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) – for example, for outlawing carcinogenic chemicals in petrol, reinvesting in local communities and halting the devastation of quarries. Under Ceta, such cases are on their way here. 

The whole purpose of Ceta is to reduce regulation on business, the idea being that it will make it easier to export. 

But it will do far more than that. 

Through the pleasant-sounding “regulatory cooperation”, standards would be reduced across the board on the basis that they are “obstacles to trade”. 

That could include food safety, workers’ rights and environmental regulation. 

Just consider financial regulation. The ability of governments to control banks and financial markets would be further impaired. 

Limiting the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail” could land a government in a secret tribunal. 

Indeed the onslaught has already started.

Tar sands oil is one of the most environmentally destructive fossil fuels in the world, and the majority of this oil is extracted in Alberta, Canada. 

There is currently little tar sands in use in the EU, but that’s changing. 

When the EU proposed prohibitive new regulations to effectively stop tar sands flowing into Europe, Canada used Ceta as a bargaining chip to block the proposal. If Ceta passes, that decision will be locked in – a disaster for climate change. 

Finally, through something called a “ratchet clause”, current levels of privatisation would be “locked in” on any services not specifically exempted. 

If Canadian or EU governments want to bring certain services back into public ownership, they could be breaking the terms of the agreement. 

So why have so few people heard of Ceta?

Largely because Canadians and Europeans think they’re quite alike. They don’t fear the takeover of their economy in the way they do when signing a trade deal with the US. 

But this is a big mistake, because these trade deals are not about Europeans versus Americans or Canadians. 

They are about big business versus citizens.

If you needed proof that modern trade agreements are actually nothing more than an excuse to hand big business power at our expense, you need look no further than Ceta. 

No wonder the public outcry is growing, and opposition to TTIP is spilling over to the Canadian deal.

When Ceta goes to the EU council (of all EU governments) for ratification in late June, Romania – which is in dispute with Canada over visa issues – has threatened to veto it.

The Walloon parliament voted a critical motion on this deal that could tie the hands of the Belgian government and force its abstention.

The Dutch parliament has also passed a motion rejecting provisional application of the deal, which would allow it to be implemented before parliament had a chance to vote on it.

David Cameron takes the most aggressive position on Ceta – not only supporting it entirely but pushing for provisional application in the UK.

On this basis, Ceta could take effect in Britain early next year without a Westminster vote. 

In fact, even if the British parliament voted Ceta down, the corporate court system would still stay in effect for three years.

Cameron’s Brexit rebels are not going to like that much.

The G7’s problems show that many of us have recognised that trade deals have made the world a playground for the super-rich – they are part of our staggeringly unequal economy. 

But the G7 is unable to think beyond the interests of the world’s elite.

It’s up to us to reclaim our democracy as citizens, and the movements against TTIP and Ceta are the frontline.

Where There's Life, There's Hope

And where there isn't, there isn't.

The American pro-life organisations have played no small part in bringing America to its present, sorry pass. 

They need to be made answerable for that.

Whatever the views of Bernie Sanders on abortion, there would be less of it under his economic arrangements.

Nor is he in favour of every other way of killing people ever devised, as, for example, Ted Cruz is.

Clinton and Trump are, of course, in favour of every such way, including abortion.

They're Fired

If you want to see quite the extent to which Donald Trump's supporters are in a world of their own, then consider that they prize the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

For being disliked by everyone who was not in it, the NRA now rivals the Ku Klux Klan.

No Presidential candidate whom it has even vaguely supported has been elected in 12 years. And counting.

Like the not unrelated practice of capital punishment in the United States, the American thing with guns is on the way out. That is just a fact.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Stab In The Front

The right wings of both main parties are now effectively separate parties in themselves.

Each owes allegiance to a former Prime Minister. One of those Prime Ministers is dead. The other is the living dead.

The opinion polls were right. If last year's General Election had been conducted according to electoral law, then there would indeed have been a hung Parliament.

In 2020, there will be a hung Parliament, or (not very probably) a Conservative overall majority on paper but dwarfed by the size of that Thatchobite Party, or a Labour overall majority on paper but severely tested by the size of that Blairobite Party.

In any of those circumstances, even one MP could exercise very considerable influence. If that MP were of sufficiently definite views and character.

The Crooked Trail

It is now possible to walk from Land's End to the Scottish Border without ever leaving an area where the Police were investigating electoral fraud by the party whose Leader was the Prime Minister.

With Or Without

Of course Donald Trump will not debate against Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton would merely laugh at him. But Sanders would mix that with going very, very hard. It would be glorious to watch.

With Clinton, Trump just intends to bloviate about the menopause or what have you. But what would he say to Sanders, who has been arguing against neoliberalism and neoconservatism in great detail forever? 

This is a Presidential Election without a Republican candidate, as such. Trump is effectively an Independent, as of course he can afford to be. The party refuses to have anything to do with him.

Likewise, his only connection to it is that he is going to take down numerous of its candidates for other offices, and not least for both Houses of Congress, along with him in November.

Of course, unlike Clinton, Sanders beats him in every national and state poll. If Sanders won the California primary, or even came close, then all bets would be off.

Trump would have been on the ballot with or without the Republican Party, and is, for all practical purposes, on the ballot without it.

Likewise, it is looking more and more as if Sanders is going to be on the ballot with or without the Democratic Party.

But quite conceivably with it.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Countenance The Spectacle

The Electoral Commission knew what it was doing when it recognised as the official Leave campaign a star vehicle created for a sinister buffoon who had been expressing exactly the opposite view into the present calendar year.

Huge numbers of people would be unable to countenance the spectacle of Boris Johnson's victory, and would either stay at home, or else vote the other way.

Of course, the same thing would have been true of Nigel Farage. But that never happened.

Get ready to thank Boris Johnson for the thumping Remain victory that he has always wanted, even as he attempts to use his fronting of the Leave campaign as the basis of his bid for the Premiership.

Making It Official

In Official Opposition, the Ulster Unionist Party will presumably be adopting what is now the time-honoured position of whichever major Unionist party is not providing the First Minister at the given time.

That position is one of ever-so-slight scepticism about the whole arrangement, but nowhere near enough as might call it into question in principle.

Even Traditional Unionist Voice is like that, albeit to a more intense degree. Outright Unionist opposition is simply no longer a factor in the place where people would have to live with the consequences.

Meanwhile, what of the SDLP in Official Opposition?

The rising force in, for the time being, Nationalist areas is the People Before Profit Alliance, in reaction against the austerity programme of Sinn Féin.

There are clearly votes to be had there.

That Was The Weak That Was

Last night, I watched Have I Got News for You? for the first time in several months.

It is utterly exhausted.

A picture of a woman with the doll's cushions that she had bought because she had thought that they were full size, provided the only laugh in the whole half-hour.

The latest Private Eye is equally weak, and seems to think that the #toryelectionfraud hashtag is all about the polling day cock-up in Barnet.

In failing to report the real story behind that hashtag, Private Eye is as bad as the BBC, and is in fact indistinguishable from it.

The Donald Feels The Bern

I intend to emulate Bernie Sanders in Lancaster, California, by entering an election rally in Lanchester, County Durham to the strains of Where The Hood At?, by DMX.

After all, I am a lot younger than Bernie Sanders. Come to that, I am several years younger than DMX. And unlike him, I never quite did get ordained.

So much for Donald Trump. He is running scared of a debate with Sanders, who articulates the politically informed versions the positions on which of Trump's relative good points are half-baked and amateur variations.

The outright refusal of that debate ought to be absolutely disqualifying of Trump, and may yet turn out to be so.

A Dangerous Experiment

I am banned for life from the Labour Party, and, like George Galloway, I am loving every second of it.

Rod Liddle is "suspended", apparently forever. I hope that he enjoys being out of it as much as we do.

For, you see, Tony Blair remains a member in good standing.

What is the party waiting for? The Chilcot Report?

Well, I for one am honoured and delighted to be barred from any club that has Blair in it.

Crisis In Venezuela?

Venezuela has always been like that for most people.

But only when the champagne stops flowing at the country clubs do the American and the wannabe American Right and pseudo-Left suddenly sit up and take notice.

What would replace the present Government? What has replaced overthrown left-wing governments in Latin America and the Caribbean in the past?

At whose instigation? And to whose benefit?

An Extremely Good Start

Carlyn Harvey writes:

On 26 May the recent Queen’s Speech was voted on in parliament. It passed by 297 votes to 237. 

But the approval was conditional: Cameron’s government had to accept an amendment to its plans that explicitly protects the NHS from the toxic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated with the US. 

This marks the first time in centuries that a UK government has accepted a concession of this nature to its Queen’s Speech.

In fact, until fairly recently parliamentary wording on amendments to the Queen’s Speech were as follows: If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign. 

But apparently that statement has just been removed. A footnote on the parliament’s web page acknowledges: 

This page was amended in May 2016 to remove the sentence ‘If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign.’ Although it could be seen as a test of a new government’s strength, amendments to motion on the Loyal Address do not necessitate a resignation. 

Cameron’s government rewrote the rules on parliamentary procedure in the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act. 

This act essentially changed the terms of what is considered ‘no confidence‘ and weakened the actions that could be taken as a result of amendments like this. 

However, the removal of the article at the very moment this NHS amendment is being tabled shows the Prime Minister is very aware of how precarious his position is. 

The amendment was backed by Labour, the SNP, the Green party, and around 40 Tory MPs. The Conservative government currently only has a parliamentary majority of 17.

If it had resisted the proposal it would have been faced with a crushing defeat over its plan for the next session of parliament. 

The development is great news for the NHS. Cameron has previously refused to consider any clause in TTIP that exempts the health service from its conditions.

This would leave our national treasure in serious danger of being completely swallowed up by the private sector. Labour MP Paula Sherriff, a signatory to the amendment, explained: 

It is clear that a majority in the Commons, as well as in the country, do not accept the government’s position on TTIP, and believe that the trade deal that is currently on the table is a clear threat to the NHS and other public services. 

However, the NHS is not the only aspect of civil life threatened by the controversial deal. 

Climate change protections, food standards regulations, workers’ rights and our digital privacy are all at risk of being diminished under TTIP. 

And although this particular trade deal has received publicity, and opposition, it is not the only one on the table. 

A similar deal called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is currently under negotiation with Canada.

Recently documents have been leaked from these talks which show that the UK is demanding the “fastest possible implementation” of this particular trade agreement.

Both deals are being discussed under the EU umbrella. But the UK is one of the countries most fiercely pushing for the green light. As Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden has noted: 

Toxic trade deals like CETA are inherently undemocratic. But Cameron seems perfectly happy to go beyond what the EU requires — he seems to be interested in handing over sovereignty for the sake of it. Again, Britain plays the role of making the EU less, rather than more, democratic. 

Under pressure from a potential Tory revolt, Cameron has capitulated to demands that will protect our NHS from total corporate capture.

But be under no illusions. He is hell bent on ensuring that the desires and rights of big business have precedence over ours.

So, whether in or out of the EU this fight is far from over. But shielding our NHS from this rotten deal is an extremely good start.

Let’s carry on the momentum and protect the rest of our public services and democratic sovereignty from US giants.

Nick Cohen Is In Your House

Sam Kriss writes:

This is urgent, so I’ll get straight to the point. Nick Cohen is in your house.

Yes, that Nick Cohen, the Orwell Prize-shortlisted writer, journalist and commentator, the author of five books, frequently published in the Observer and the Spectator, the one who looks like a kind of malignant egg, with his pervert’s dent of a top lip, his strange remnant of a haircut, and those eerily mild eyes, the faint twirling eyes of a man who likes more than anything to observe, to spectate: he is in your house.

I don’t know exactly how he got in there. I can’t tell you exactly where he is.

Nick Cohen might be hiding under your bed, rolling a carelessly drooped bit of fabric between his gleeful fingers. He might be in your closet, his breath hard and ecstatic through the slats as you unthinkingly undress in front of him.

He might peek through cracks in the plaster, he might take photos while you sleep. You think you know your own home, but so does Nick Cohen, and there are a thousand places he might be, film camera in hand, watching you.

He could be standing right behind you, pale bloated fingers hovering just above your shoulders. Don’t turn around. You won’t see him unless he wants you to see him.

But you can speak to him if you want. Take out your mobile phone and call your home number. You’ll hear it ring, and then his voice.

‘I told you I was in your house,’ he’ll say. ‘I’m in your house right now. You need to listen to me. The regressive left poses a very real threat to free speech.’

Nick Cohen is a bad writer with terrible opinions, but there are teeming thousands of those; there’s something else about him that makes the man so creepy.

His views are, broadly, those of the liberal commentariat in general, and arguing against them would just mean repeating the same lines, endlessly, until every newspaper columnist in the country has heard them. An utter waste of time.

This is why you have to resort to personal attacks. ‘So you’ve got a problem with what I have to say?’ Nick Cohen asks. ‘You want to silence me?’

And it’s true, I don’t agree with what he says, but that’s not the problem: the problem is that he’s saying it while inside my house.

If you’ve seen the 1997 David Lynch film Lost Highway, you’ve met Nick Cohen before. He is the Mystery Man, the sinister deathly-white figure at the party who is, simultaneously, in your house.

I’m not just saying that Nick Cohen looks absolutely identical to him – although he really does; they have the same bulbously terrifying face, with its deep-set eyes and its obscene red gash of a mouth – but that they are, quite literally, the same thing.

(A brief detour. Lynch scholarship is still very much dominated by Slavoj Žižek, and under this Lacanian rubric  ... Reducing the Lynchian vertigo to oneirocriticism is actually deeply boring. Dreams are just a rearrangement of reality, but if you fold the process of representation you get mise en abyme, the image emerging from the void.)

The Mystery Man tells you that he is in your house, and that you invited him in, even though you’re repulsed by him, even though you don’t want him there.

Later, he shoves his camera in your face. ‘And your name,’ he barks. ‘What the fuck is your name?’

Nick Cohen is in the political left. It’s not that he’s part of it, exactly; he doesn’t fight in the left’s struggles, he doesn’t seem to care about leftist causes, but he’s there, within, watching.

This has been, for some years now, his journalistic gimmick.

He’s on the left, yes, but he’s also possibly the last journalist in Britain to still defend the 2003 attack on Iraq, he endlessly whinges about student no-platforming of fascists or the censure of Charlie Hebdo’s state-sponsored racism as a threat to freedom of speech, and he’s never met a socialist government or a popular resistance movement that he didn’t loathe.

But because he’s on the left, his global hostility to actual socialism must therefore be an authentic leftist position.

A strange, greasy three-stage manoeuvre: first he’s in the left, then he is the left, then you’re not.

Nick Cohen’s favoured term for people who don’t think exactly like Nick Cohen is ‘pseudo-left’: people who oppose imperialist wars, for instance, or defend successful socialist revolutions – what the fuck is your name?

This was the subject of an entire book, but it seems the theme hasn’t yet exhausted itself.

In his most recent article, an utterly bizarre outburst, politically useless but the kind of parapraxical emission that’s always been of interest to psychoanalysis, he writes that Westerners who have solidarity with the progressive government in Venezuela are exactly like sex tourists.

During the Labour leadership contest, he dismissed support for the socialist Jeremy Corbyn as a kind of ‘identity leftism’ on the part of the narcissistic youth, people who just want to see their opinions reflected in someone else – a strange critique, coming from a man whose only real connection to the left is that he identifies himself as being within it.

But there he is. Nick Cohen is in your left. As a matter of fact, he’s there right now.

Nick Cohen is a Jew. He’s not halachically Jewish – one paternal grandfather, enough to claim Israeli citizenship, not enough to help make up a minyan – and neither is he in any sense culturally Jewish.

It’s not only that he never spun a dreidel or had to ask why his penis looked different to all the other boys’; as anyone who’s read his columns will know, he has no connection at all to the great Jewish literary, comedic or radical traditions.

But he has decided to be a Jew. In fact, he’s decided to do so not once but twice.

He’s not actually converting, you understand; no siddur will pollute his atheist’s hands.

He’s becoming a Jew first of all so that he can claim for himself a slice of Jewish oppression, so he can rub oily indignity all over his face – but also so he can have a peek at his newfound co-religionists, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

In his most recent statement of conversion, he spares a few lines for those actual Jews who oppose the state of Israel, people like me.

‘Whenever I hear Jews announce their hatred of Israel’s very existence,’ he writes, ‘I suspect that underneath their loud bombast lies a quiet plea to the Islamists and neo-Nazis who might harm them: I’m not like the others. Don’t pick on me.’

If this invective was coming from someone who was not Jewish, it would be recognised for what it is: a collection of classically antisemitic tropes, the cringing Jew, the cowardly Jew, the conniving Jew, the Jew who will lie and grovel and dissimulate to protect himself and his miserly little pile of belongings.

That would be unacceptable; surely nobody would publish him, not even the Spectator.

But Nick Cohen is in your Judaism. As a matter of fact, he’s there right now.

Nick Cohen is in your house.

You might not think you want him there, but you invited him in. It is not his custom to go where he is not wanted.

And it’s been a pleasure for him to talk to you.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Substance of The Matter

Do many Catholics still believe in transubstantiation? Well, if such things were ever taught in Catholic schools, then more of them might.

But anyway, so what? What matters is that the Church teaches it.

Catholics who dissent from the Teaching of the Church are just wrong, objectively speaking. That is all that there is to it.

Only the Catholic Church provides such objectivity, which is perfectly encapsulated in transubstantiation.

It was only from Christianity in general, and from Catholicism in particular, that science acquired the idea that some propositions were just plain true, so that others were just plain false.

And it was only from Christianity in general, and from Catholicism in particular, that science acquired the idea that there was an investigable order in the universe; even if that order is a law of chaos, then the point still stands.

Faced with a changed intellectual environment which denies those foundations rather than simply presupposing them, science must return to the system that first asserted them in the midst of a former such environment.

That system is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Thus, for example, while and by affirming the objective existence of the substance distinct from the accidents, transubstantiation also affirms the objective existence of the accidents, which are the objects of scientific investigation.

Transubstantiation is the bulwark against the Postmodern assault on science.

Nothing else is.

Could Not Have Created

When Remain wins, then thank Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, pretty much for existing at all.

When Hillary Clinton wins, balanced or not by her allies' massive control of both Houses of Congress, then thank Donald Trump, pretty much for existing at all.

The Remain campaign could not have created an opposition better suited to its own needs than Vote Leave.

And the plutocratic, hawkish wing of the Democratic Party could not create an opposition better suited to its own needs than the organisation that now laughably purports to be the Republican Party.

Beyond Blair

Tony Blair was last elected to anything 15 years before the next General Election.

Yet he is younger than two of his three successors as Leader of the Labour Party, including the present one. He is quite conceivably younger than the next one.

If those who insist that he remains a massively popular figure truly believe that, then they ought to ensure that he contest the next available by-election, so that we might all see exactly how many votes he would take.

Blair did some good, and Jeremy Corbyn voted for it. On everything except the EU, when Corbyn voted against Blair, then the Conservative Party voted with Blair.

Look at Corbyn on the EU now? Well, look at the Conservative Party on the EU now, when that party is in Government.

Blair has been the Labour Right's embarrassing relative for quite some time. And that has been before the Chilcot Report.

If the Labour Right wishes to have any kind of future, then it urgently needs to get over Tony Blair, and move on.

Courage and Solidarity


We are writing to express our great appreciation and support of the Morning Star for its exceptional courage and solidarity with women everywhere in publishing two recent articles [here and here] highlighting the problems of current political dogma regarding gender identity.

Along with the writers of those articles, we are watching with some alarm as the few hard-won rights and protections that women have managed to gain are being eroded through political and social developments that will have very serious consequences for women indeed.

We very much appreciate your efforts in giving a platform for a sex-class based analysis of women's position, in the face of the convergence of neoliberal individualism and alienation from class consciousness which we believe is very clearly at the heart of gender identity politics.

Those of us who speak out in defence of women are no strangers to the particular viciousness of the backlash that such speech is invariably met with. 

We applaud the Morning Star for taking a courageous stand against the erasure of women as a class, and stand in solidarity with you in the face of this inevitable backlash.

Please note that some signatories were only able to provide their initials, for fear of possible repercussions were they to be identified. This, sadly, reflects the climate of fear and intimidation that we are currently living in.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Very British Form of Corruption

Simon Jenkins writes: 

Now we know. 

The glitzy 50-storey tower that looms over London’s Vauxhall and Pimlico is, as the Guardian revealed yesterday, just a stack of bank deposits. 

Once dubbed Prescott Tower, after the minister who approved it against all advice, it is virtually empty.

At night, vulgar lighting more suited to a casino cannot conceal the fact that its interior is dark, owned by absent Russians, Nigerians and Chinese.

It makes no more contribution to London than a gold bar in a bank vault, but is far more prominent, a great smudge of tainted wealth on the city’s horizon.

In 2003 London’s first elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, was dazzled by a dinner invitation to the Villa Katoushka outside Cannes.

His hosts were the titans of London’s property world and he was reportedly soon in thrall to them.

He said he would offer them “the potential to make very good profits” in his new London. He especially wanted tall buildings; the taller the better. 

The developer Gerald Ronson lauded him for his remarkable “vision”. Tony Pidgley of Berkeley Homes called him “refreshing”. 

The mayor was as good as his word. 

He backed Ronson’s monster Heron Tower in the City. He backed Prescott’s Vauxhall tower. He backed the Bermondsey Shard

He even spent taxpayers’ money on lawyers to support developers at public inquiries. 

At the time the Tory leader of Wandsworth, Eddie Lister, assailed Livingstone’s obsession with towers as a “one-man dictatorship”. 

David Cameron’s then cities spokesman, John Gummer, compared Livingstone to Mussolini, and spoke of the towers as “the vulgarity of bigness”. 

Yet when Cameron came to power, this was all forgotten. 

In London, property is the most potent lobby. The Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, increased Livingstone’s rate of tower approvals, while Lister gratefully took office as his tall-buildings champion. 

There was no published plan for the drastic surgery being inflicted on London’s appearance. No limit was set to the towers’ location or height. 

No one took care of their appearance or bulk, their civic significance or their role in the life of the capital. 

Some 80% of the approvals were for luxury flats, chiefly marketed as speculations in east Asia. 

Such has been the rate of unrestricted growth, there seems no reason to doubt the dystopian vision of London’s future depicted in the last Star Trek movie. 

Johnson’s current legacy to London is 54,000 luxury flats priced at over £1m, about to hit a market that even before the present downturn needed just 4,000 a year. 

This bubble simply has to burst. The waste of building resources, energy and space, the sheer market-wrecking bad planning, beggars belief. 

Towers have a perfectly reputable place in the history of cities.

By their nature they dominate. They mark victories and royal palaces; they signify civic centres and clustered downtowns. 

The tallest towers, in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Singapore and China, reflect the priapic obsessions of dictators and the celebrity cravings of banana republics.

Civilised cities such as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam – even New York, Boston and San Francisco – either ban new towers from historic areas or zone them into clusters. 

Above all they show some consideration for the aesthetics of place. No such considerations applied to the Vauxhall tower. 

Some people like towers, though few want them everywhere. 

Architects love them as “icons”, as bankers love money. Some cities desperate for space, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, build high to cram in the poor, often in dire conditions. 

Studies from Jane Jacobs to Lynsey Hanley catalogue the impact of high living on family life and community cohesion. 

In London, as the Guardian shows, these buildings have nothing to do with housing supply, let alone low-cost supply. 

Their front doors are manned not by concierges, but by security guards, like banks. 

They are the product of speculative flows of often “dodgy” cash, seeking an unregulated property market that asks no questions and seeks a quick profit. 

That is all. 

Most cities, ironically including Hong Kong and Singapore, in some way restrict foreign or non-resident acquisition of property, as do most New York condominiums. 

In London gullible politicians and venal architects have conspired to suborn a great city, simply because towers seemed vaguely macho and money smells sweet. 

Nor do towers have to do with population density. 

The idea that modern cities must “go high” as part of the densification cause is rubbish. External landscaping and internal servicing makes them costly and inefficient. 

The densest parts of London are the crowded and desirable low-rise terraces of Victorian Islington, Camden and Kensington. 

The recently proposed Paddington Pole, the height of the Shard, had just 330 flats on 72 storeys. Adjacent, Victorian Bayswater could supply 400 on the same plot.

London has seen nothing yet. A row of giant blocks is about to rise around the Shell Centre behind the National Theatre. 

The 50-storey cucumber-shaped One Blackfriars is emerging on the bank of the Thames opposite the Embankment. It will intrude on views of the City far more than does the Shard.

The line of the Thames will be marked by a series of jagged broken teeth. Prescott’s tower at Vauxhall is to be joined by two more apartment stacks next door, one even higher. 

Next to Battersea power station is a crowded over-development on an almost Hong Kong scale, named Malaysia Square and aimed at the Asian super-rich. 

Johnson helped sell it in 2014 by actually unveiling the development not in London but in Kuala Lumpur. It will probably go bust and end up as slums. 

At least the poor may one day live there. 

Livingstone and Johnson promoted these towers not because they cared where ordinary Londoners would live, or because they had a coherent vision of how a historic city should look in the 21st century. 

They knew they were planning “dead” speculations, because plenty of people told them so. They went ahead because powerful men with money and a gift for flattery just asked.

It was very British sort of corruption.

The appearance of these structures on the London horizon must rank as the saddest episode in the city’s recent history.

We must live with them forever.

But we shall not forget their facilitators.

The Right Move

Remember, we must remain in NATO in order to defend us from Russia. Even though, as Daniel Larison writes:

The Swedish government is ruling out making a bid to join NATO:

Sweden will not make a formal bid to join NATO for fear of escalating further the already tense situation that exists between the West and Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the continued crisis in Ukraine, the country’s defence minister said on 17 May.

That’s the right move for Sweden to make, and it does remove a potential cause of friction between Russia and NATO.

Pursuing membership in the alliance would have caused the Swedish government nothing but headaches in exchange for a guarantee that it doesn’t need and wouldn’t receive for many years.

Formal neutrality has worked very well for Sweden over the last century, and it would be strange for them to abandon that tradition after all this time.

The Finnish government recently endorsed much the same position:

My personal attitude toward NATO membership is negative,” noted [Finnish Prime Minister] Sipilä. 

“It is precisely the zone of unincorporated countries made up by Finland and Sweden which supports the stability of the Baltic Sea region.” 

And so Finland will not be moving any closer to joining the alliance anytime soon, despite the report published in Finland on the possible effects of NATO membership, which, without outright suggesting it, considered membership likely. 

One obstacle is public opinion, and Finns who would be supportive of possible Finnish membership remain very much the minority.

And Sipilä, at least, intends to take public opinion into account.

Expanding the alliance into more of northern Europe doesn’t make sense for these countries, and their governments are smart to recognize that.

The good news for the alliance in this is that this closes the door on one path to further expansion that the alliance doesn’t need and shouldn’t be seeking.

Athwart

Having got drunk with Tom Slater, with Owen Jones, and with choirboys, I am firmly of the view that they ought all to get drunk together:

William F Buckley Jr wrote: ‘A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop.’ 

Swap ‘conservative’ for ‘media lefty’ and you’ve basically got the pathetic spectacle we’ve been confronted with over the past few weeks of the EU referendum campaign. 

As 23 June approaches and the polls are increasingly too close to call, the strangest thing has happened. The last few prominent Eurosceptics on the left have started to peel away [because the media ignore the rest of them, since they are not as entertaining as Boris Johnson, who in any case does not believe a word of it]. 

They’ve been confronted with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to smash power, to strike out for democracy and to put the future of European politics firmly in the hands of the people, rather than a faceless, byzantine bureaucracy.

And they’ve bottled it.

First there’s Yanis Varoufakis, the flash stepdad of European leftism and the former finance minister of ailing Greece.

This is a man who has experienced the tyranny of the Brussels set firsthand.

His modest proposals for rescuing debt-laden Greece from EU-enforced austerity were ignored. ‘Elections’, he was told by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, ‘change nothing’. 

He quit government in protest as his Syriza comrade Alexis Tsipras signed an agreement that would once again shackle Greece to Troika diktat. 

What is the self-styled ‘erratic Marxist’ up to now? 

He’s touring the UK, telling Brits to say ‘Oxi’ to Brexit so that we can ‘reform the EU from within’. 

Then there’s Owen Jones, the Corbyn choir boy who has followed the Labour leader’s transformation from Bennite Eurosceptic to apologetic Remainer. 

Last summer Jones called for the left to campaign for Brexit. 

After the horrors of Greece, he wrote, it’s time to ‘reclaim the Eurosceptic cause’. 

Now, just 10 months on, he’s joining Varoufakis on the campaign trail. 

His flirtation with principle over, he wants to ‘unite with people across the continent to build a democratic, workers’ Europe’. 

How propping up a democracy-thwarting institution puts you in line with the little guy is beyond me. 

Not least when said institution has effectively abolished workers’ rights in austerity-battered countries like Greece.

But perhaps the most glaring retreat of them all has come from Paul Mason.

The former Channel 4 economics editor and ‘radical social democrat’ actually had the brass to pen an article titled ‘The left-wing case for Brexit (one day)’. 

One day. Those two, trembly words sum up the sentiment of these fair-weather Eurosceptics.

Yes, yes, democracy – one day. Not now. 

Especially when, as Mason sees it, a Brexit would allow Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to ‘turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island’. 

He’s in favour of democracy, you see, just not when the pesky demos elects a government he doesn’t like. 

This is hypocrisy dressed up as strategic nous. In fact, it’s worse than that.

It’s often said that the shift in left-wing attitudes towards the EU over the past few decades has been the result of pure political contingency.

When, in the 1970s and 80s, the EU was seen as an avowedly capitalist project, Labourites and trade unionists took arms against it.

Now that it’s been given a social-democratic lick of paint, replete with talk of workers’ rights and free movement, it gets the nod.

But there’s something even more sickening going on here.

These turncoat Remainers, these radicals for the status quo, don’t just bristle at the turn of public opinion, on economics or migration – they’re scared of it.

Their Brexit-phobia is really a fear of the demos itself. You see this is in their panic-stricken talk of the furies Brexit might unleash. 

‘We don’t know… how the plebeian end of the Leave campaign will react if they lose. My instinct says: badly’, writes Mason. 

Varoufakis, meanwhile, is even more pessimistic. Only fascists and racists, he says, will profit from the demise of the EU. 

A Brexit now would mean ‘anti-migrant racism, pandered to by the political establishment for decades’, writes a commentator in the New Statesman.

There is constant talk of chaos. Democracy is seen not only as disagreeable, but as dangerous. 

The left, once intent on stirring the passions of the people, now wants to keep a lid on them at all costs. 

This is why you shouldn’t take the left appeals to ‘reforming the EU from within’ seriously. 

Not only because Cameron’s paltry renegotiation revealed an EU incapable of making even minor concessions. 

Not only because the only salient proposal Varoufakis’s Democracy In Europe Movement has managed to come up with is livestreaming council meetings. 

But because the cowardice of the left in the face of Brexit is bred of the very same fear of an unshackled demos that forged the European Union in the first place. 

Whether it was the fear of the German public following reunification or the loathing of indignant Eastern European states today, the EU has always legitimised itself using the spectre of what an unleashed demos might do – or who it might elect – given half the chance. 

That same fear grips the left today. 

From freedom of speech to economic growth, the left has already jettisoned many of its founding principles [again, you are paying attention to the wrong people, especially now].

But the Brexit retreat is, in many ways, a more stark betrayal.

The modern left’s detachment from the masses, its sneering distaste for our habits and desires, has fostered a profound fear of change itself. 

Their paranoia about where unleashed public passions might flow has led them to cling to the status quo for dear life. 

These are progressives terrified of change – and terrified of us. 

Faced with the opportunity to demolish an anti-democratic order, they are standing athwart, yelling Stop.

History will not be kind to them.

Legalised Larceny


Almost everyone who gives the matter serious thought agrees that George Osborne and David Cameron want to reshape Britain.

The spending cuts, the upending of the NHS, even this month’s near-miss over the BBC: signs lie everywhere of how this will be a decade, maybe more, of massive change. 

Yet even now it is little understood just how far Britain might shift – and in which direction. 

Take austerity, the word that will define this government. Even its most astute critics commit two basic errors. 

The first is to assume that it boils down to spending cuts and tax rises. The second is to believe that all this is meant to reduce how much the country is borrowing. 

What such commonplaces do is reduce austerity to a technical, reversible project. 

Were it really so simple all we would need to do is turn the spending taps back on and wash away all traces of Osbornomics. 

Austerity is far bigger than that: it is a project irreversibly to transfer wealth from the poorest to the richest. 

It’s doing the job very nicely: while the typical British worker is still earning less after inflation than he or she was before the banking crash, the number of UK-based billionaires has nearly quadrupled since 2009. 

Even while he slashes benefits, Osborne is deep into a programme to hand over much of what is still owned by the British public to the wealthiest.

Privatisation is the multibillion-pound centrepiece of Osborne’s austerity – yet it rarely gets a mention from either politicians or press.

The Queen mentioned it in her speech last week, but the headline writers ignored it.

And if you don’t know that this Thursday is the closing date for consultation on the sale of the Land Registry, our public record of who owns what property, that’s hardly your fault – I haven’t spotted it in the papers, either.

But without getting rid of prize assets, Osborne’s austerity programme falls apart.

At a time when tax revenues are more weak stream than healthy flood, those sales bring much-needed cash into the Treasury and make his sums add up. 

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has ruled that the only reason the chancellor met his debts target last year was because he flogged off our public assets. 

And what a fire sale that was, with everything from our last remaining stake in the Royal Mail to shares in Eurostar shoved out the door in the biggest wave of privatisations of any year in British history.

And more, much more, is to come.

The all new and mostly grotesque housing bill will force local authorities to sell “high-value” council houses once a family moves out – which will basically hand over whatever remains of social housing in central London to investors. 

Osborne also wants local authorities “to dispose of potentially surplus assets”, of which he calculates they have £60bn “in property not used for schools or housing”. 

That would be property such as our public libraries and swimming pools – but to a government hellbent on asset-stripping such communal necessities are merely unsold inventory. 

At Whitehall, ministers plan to sell a big chunk of Channel 4, and the public stake in the national air traffic control.

And that’s just the start, because here’s something else you probably won’t have read about: Osborne has bundled up all of our public holdings – in every company from the collapsed banks to the Royal Mint – and put them under the control of a government organisation called UK Government Investments. 

Its CEO (what else?) is a former doyen of the City called Mark Russell. 

In a rare interview in 2013, Russell declared:

“We don’t believe government makes for a particularly good shareholder. Our belief is that unless there is a good policy reason for government to have a shareholding then really we should be seeking to divest those shareholdings.” 

Everything must go is no longer the cry of distressed shopkeepers – it is now public policy.

As an employee of the taxpayer, Russell earns up to £159,999, which is far more than the prime minister’s salary. 

Yet the one thing he has done that you will have heard of was an unmitigated disaster. 

He was among those in charge of selling 70% of Royal Mail three years ago – a sale that, even the government now admits, brought in less money than it should. 

We let a 500-year-old public service go at a £1bn discount, a select committee of MPs calculated in 2014.

And that takes us to the heart of the problem with such sales. At best, privatisation is a short-term gain for a long-term loss.

The public sells one of its prize assets in order to enable the chancellor to bank some cash immediately. 

In a report published on Monday, the campaign group We Own It calculates that if Osborne sells the Land Registry, National Air Traffic Services, Channel 4 and the Ordnance Survey the public will kiss goodbye to control over £7.7bn in dividends and profits in the next 50 years. 

Sure, we pocket a couple of billion now – but we lose far more in the long run. 

These are services that have taken many decades, even centuries, of public investment and management to build up. 

The Land Registry dates back to Victorian times; the Ordnance Survey’s aerial photographs of enemy territory helped Britain win the first world war. 

All that accumulated effort and ingenuity will be handed over to a small group of investors – and for what? Better management? 

A recent study of the evidence by the University of Greenwich concludes there is “no significant difference in efficiency between public and privately owned companies in public services”.

For more investment? Ministers selling off everything from railways to water have promised privatisation will bring greater investment. 

It comes – but it’s always the public that ends up paying for it. 

Thatcher claimed that selling off BT, British Gas and the rest would turn Britain into a shareholder democracy. 

Official figures show that Britons now own less than half as much of the UK stock market as they did before Thatcher’s first privatisation. 

Osborne’s privatisation, like the rest of his austerity programme, will enable him to transfer wealth from the public to a far smaller group of private investors. 

The employees can look forward to cuts in jobs, pay and conditions – as we have seen across the privatised utilities. 

The rest of us, the customers, will endure higher bills and paying for hidden subsidies.

And the chancellor? He will have brought in enough cash to enable him to make some pre-election tax cuts – to literally buy himself votes.

Osborne calls this privatisation. I treat it as part and parcel of austerity.

But there is another term you and I might use.

Because this making off with our public property is nothing more than legalised larceny.