Category: media

Why Owen Smith is a Red-Tory

By Daniel Margrain

Last week a prominent independent journalist claimed on Twitter that my assertion Owen Smith was effectively a Tory was “intellectually lazy”. Coincidentally, a few days later on Thursday’s (September 8) edition of BBC’s Question Time during the Labour party leadership debate between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, a studio audience member and Corbyn supporter accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”.

Smith responded angrily to this suggestion by denying this was the case and asserted that the claim amounted to a term of abuse. Smith’s view was supported the next day (September 9) on Twitter by Smith supporter, John McTernan who said that such a suggestion was “ludicrous”. Of course, nobody is claiming that Smith, in the literal sense, is a Tory, but his voting record in the House of Commons and his commercial activities outside it, would indicate that he might as well be.

So let’s take a look at his record. Since at least July, the public relations professional, Smith, has pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn. This implies that Smith is first and foremost concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position.

The ‘soft-left’ Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them. This is one of the significant passages from a section of the study that Smith was keen to promote:

“The focus groups… explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

In other words, Smith favours direct payments from the public to doctors as a replacement for current NHS services. This policy strategy is consistent with the 1988 Tory ‘self-funding’ privatization blueprint for the NHS drawn up by Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. In the document ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’, Letwin and Redwood suggest that the aim of charging is to “replace comprehensive universal tax funding for the NHS.”

Smith’s conflation of greater choice with an ability to pay, represents one more stage in the execution of Letwin and Redwood’s plans. The implementation of these plans were accelerated by Blair and Brown as documented by Leys and Player in their book The Plot Against the NHS. Smith intends to continue where Brown and Blair – then Lansley and now Hunt – left off as part of the final stages of the wholesale Letwin-Redwood privatization blueprint of which the 2012 Health & Social Care Act  is a major component part.

Since the 2015 general election, the Tory government have explicitly admitted that the NHS should be modelled on US-style “accountable or integrated healthcare” which is where Smith’s connections to Pfizer come in. In addition to his Policy and Government Relations role for the giant US corporation, Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right-wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £52,287 while the latter has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and the privatisation of NHS services.

So while Smith’s image is largely predicated on his attempt to convince the Labour membership that in policy terms he publicly supports Corbyn’s position that the NHS should remain a universally free at the point of delivery service, in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies that have continued under the Tories as well as assiduously courting the arms industry of which his support of Trident is a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July last year by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In an Orwellian rejection of socialist values, Blairite Iraq war apologist and establishment gatekeeper, John Rentoul, affirmed his support for the policies of Owen Smith on Twitter:

As the graphic above shows, and as Craig Murray correctly posits:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The graphic below highlights the hypocrisy of Smith and, by extension, his total contempt for ordinary Labour party members.

 

 

Smith’s acquiescence to corporate power is indicative of a wider democratic deficit within the liberal democracies of the West in an era of globalization more generally. But his close relationship to the PLP and the Tory-Labour establishment consensus that they represent, reflects a relatively recent historical pattern in which governments of both the left and the right have prioritized the interests associated with private capital over and above that of labour.

Thus the first serious attacks on the welfare state in Britain came not in 2008, or even with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but several years previously, with that of a Labour government in 1974. Contrary to popular belief, dismantling the welfare state was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that Thatcher and her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School.

These ideas were subsequently picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair following his election victory in 1997. It was during this point that the introduction of competition into public services, ideas about the state as purchaser of public services and the outsourcing and privatization of health and social care services, became the norm.

The privatization of the NHS, made possible by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, arguably poses the most immediate threat to the welfare state in the UK in its totality in which the outsourcing of services becomes the default position. The functioning of a welfare state that increasingly serves the minority interests of capital at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the majority of the population, is a process driven by a neoliberal-driven ideological consensus rather than any pragmatic attempts at ameliorating deficits and the encouragement of socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

It’s the continued satisfying of minority elite interests rather than the wider public good that Owen Smith and the establishment – of which he is a part – are embedded. That’s fundamentally the reason why there is nothing that separates Owen Smith from the neoliberalism of Blair, Brown, Miliband, Major, Thatcher and May.

Whether one agrees with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics or not, he at least offers a genuine alternative to the consensus view that Smith represents. Even the right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, recognizes that the emergence of Corbyn is important to the adversarial nature of political discourse and, by extension, to democracy itself. If the UK was a healthy democracy instead of an effective corporate-political-media oligarchy, this development would be welcomed. Instead, Corbyn is demonized and smeared at almost every opportunity.

 

Black Friday & the Red Scare

By Daniel Margrain

The decision last Friday (August 12) by three Appeal Court judges to overturn High Court judge Hickinbottom’s determination four days earlier, ostensibly to prevent the right of 130,000 members to vote in the forthcoming Labour leadership election, is arguably among the most strangest of decisions to have been made in an English court. The five Labour members – Christine Evangelou, Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and an unnamed minor – who initially brought the case and whose legal fees were crowdfunded, had claimed that Labour’s rulebook made no provision for treating them differently and none had ever been made in any of the party’s previous leadership elections.

They also argued that when they joined, the Labour website and other communications said they would be ‘a key part of the team’, and thus eligible to vote in any leadership election as the graphic below illustrates:

Mr Justice Hickinbottom agreed. In last Monday’s initial written judgment on the six-month cut-off point, Hickinbottom said:

“At the time each of the claimants joined the party, it was the common understanding as reflected in the rule book that, if they joined the party prior to the election process commencing, as new members they would be entitled to vote in any leadership contest. That was the basis upon which each claimant joined the party; and the basis upon which they entered into the contract between members. For those reasons, the claimants’ claim succeeds.”

Hickinbottom said that a refusal to allow the 130,000 a vote was an unlawful breach of contract, adding that any attempt to reverse the decision “would have no chance of success at appeal”. And yet four days later after Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol had used Labour members’ money to fund the appeal to challenge the right of members to vote, the anti-Corbyn plotters were celebrating the reinstatement of a six-month cut-off point.

The bizarre nature of the judgement that is widely acknowledged to disadvantage Corbyn and to vindicate McNicol – at least temporarily – effectively endorses ballot rigging and gerrymandering as well as setting a precedent in terms of allowing the retrospective altering of contracts. Announcing the appeal court’s decision last Friday, Lord Justice Beatson said:

“On the correct interpretation of the party rules, the national executive committee has the power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote in the leadership election in the way that it did.”

This announcement came on the back of revelations by Wikileaks that the second of the three Appeal Court judges, Sir Philip Sales QC, who overruled the previous High Court decision, had been a Blair insider for years, having been recruited as Junior Counsel to the Crown in 1997.

The literature cited by WikiLeaks  reveals that Sales used to be a practising barrister at law chambers 11KBW, of which Tony Blair was a founder member and, as a key part of Blair’s legal team, he defended the Government’s decision against holding a public inquiry into the Iraq War in the High Court in 2005.

The conflict of interest issue that is raised by Sales’ close connection to Blair is bound to raise eyebrows given the nature of what clearly amounted to a breach of contract which was nevertheless overruled in favour of the NEC of which the Blairite establishment is embedded.

It has since come to light that the Labour machine broke the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) code after having advertised that a promise to vote for a leader was a condition of membership. There are also serious questions to be answered in terms of the basis in which the appeal which was instigated by the ‘NEC Procedures Committee’ was brought. But, as Eoin has highlighted, no such Committee is mentioned on the official list of NEC Committees.

The wider context to all these shenanigans stems from the moment Corbyn was elected leader of the party. From the outset, the intention of the Labour Party establishment has been to depose Corbyn through a sustained strategy of subversion and attrition. The latest wave of attacks began following the failed attempt – instigated by multi-millionaire donor, Michael Foster – to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper.

This was followed by ballot rigging in which 130,000 members who joined the party after Corbyn’s election victory were prevented from voting. The Labour machine did this by invoking a back-dated retrospective six month rule. Members were then informed that there was a legal problem with that because these members were told when they joined they had a right to vote in leadership elections.

In order to get around this, the machine introduced a 48 hour window in which anybody at all could join if they paid £25. Then they discovered that an enormous amount of people had paid the £25 and so began to ‘weed out’ anybody who they discovered had used the word ‘Blairite’ on social media sites. This was regarded as sufficient enough reason to debar members from voting.

Finally, the 130,000 members got justice in the High Court last Monday only to be confounded four days later. The attempt by Labour members of parliament to overthrow their democratically elected leader using this kind of war of attrition strategy will start all over again the day after Corbyn is re-elected next month.

We know this because Blair apologist John Rentoul – who is himself heavily implicated in the propaganda offensive against Corbyn – conceded as much on George Galloway’s Talk Radio Show last Friday evening when he insisted that Corbyn will continue to be subjected to a war of attrition including yearly elections that “will result in his eventual defeat.”

Rentoul tripped up on his own propaganda after admitting to Galloway that there are no more than 4,000 Trotskyite entryists out of a total of 600,000 members who have joined the party under Corbyn. He then contradicted himself by claiming that the small minority of ‘dormant’ Trotskyist members had ‘flooded back’ into the party having “taken advantage of naive and idealistic new members.” This is classic ‘reds under the bed’ scare politics.

The notion that hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised, social media savvy members are having their arms twisted by a relatively tiny handful of ‘shady individuals’ influenced by a revolutionary political figure who died more than a century ago, is clearly ludicrous.

Nevertheless, this is all part and parcel of a far reaching ‘scorched earth’ media propaganda offensive against Corbyn and his supporters, the latest and arguably the most repugnant of which was the recent Mail on-line edition in which anti-Corbyn Labour donor, Michael Foster, was quoted as describing Corbyn’s team as ‘Nazi Stormtroopers’. Clearly the irony is lost on Foster that during the 1930s, the Daily Mail supported Hitler and campaigned against the admission of Jewish refugees into the UK.

The establishments demonization of the left is not new. It fits into a wider media narrative that depicts all those who oppose the neoliberal hegemony of the state as subversive, dangerous and an inherent threat to civilization  As Craig Murray argues:

“A key weapon of the neo-liberal establishment in delegitimising the emergence of popular organisation to the left, is to portray all thinkers outside the Overton window as dangerous; actively violent, misogynist and racist.”

Murray illustrates, by recourse to various evidence-based case studies, “the obvious and glaring disparity” between what the media purports are the kinds of violent actions activists supposedly engage in, and the actual peaceful protests they collectively involve themselves in.

George Galloway emphasized that the kind of biased anti-Corbyn propaganda, which he claims is an integral part of a coup that has been coordinated by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandleson is:

“unremitting, it is Goebbelian; it is a shame and a disgrace on anyone who calls themselves a journalist or a broadcaster. All rules have been thrown to the wind; all journalistic norms have been abandoned. It is open season on a good and honest man. It fills me with disgust.”

The abandonment of journalistic rules outlined by Galloway is not restricted to what is considered by many to be the tabloid end of the spectrum. On the contrary, it often includes the ‘respectable’ and ‘liberal’ journalism of which Channel 4 News, for example, is part. The analysis of the Cathy Newman interview below is an excellent dissection and exposition of the propaganda system as it operates as part of the latter:

Whether, the media will wear Corbyn down leading to his eventual removal as Rentoul suggests, or whether the former wins the war is an open question. The fact that Corbyn has recently secured a majority of his supporters on the NEC is a massive boost to his leadership and would seem to indicate that Corbyn’s arch enemy, Iain McNicol’s days are numbered. Nevertheless, it’s clear to me that the time has now come for Corbyn to come down much harder than he has done thus far on the traitors who are unremitting in their determination to undermine his authority.

 

 

Blair damned. But did the Chilcot report go far enough?

By Daniel Margrain

Having mounted sustained attacks on Jeremy Corbyn since he became the Labour leader, the Blairite factions within the right of the party stepped-up their campaign of vilification and hostility in the wake of the much anticipated release of the Chilcot report in what they hoped would be one last concerted push to depose him. With Corbyn remaining defiant and showing no indication that he plans to step-down, the strategy has clearly been a monumental failure. With grass-roots membership of the party set to increase to an estimated 600,000, Corbyn currently heads the biggest movement of the left in Europe.

The Chilcot report was utterly damning of Blair and, by extension, was also critical of the plotters opposing Corbyn who either abstained or voted in favour of the Iraq war. However, the report fell woefully short of offering any justice for the families of British soldiers who lost loved ones or for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed. For many, it wasn’t necessary for Chilcot to have taken seven years to oversee a report comprising 2.6 million words at a cost of £10m, in order for the public to grasp the fact that the war amounted to what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51). Neither of these conditions applied to the US and UK. Both governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point, the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection.

Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation. We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that a legal justification for invasion would be needed: “Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the Prime Minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.”

Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation. A series of leaked documents shows that the Bush and Blair governments knew they did not possess legal justification. Chilcot repeated the lie outlined in the Butler Inquiry that the intelligence was not knowingly fixed. The contents of the Downing Street memo, puts that lie to rest. The memo, which outlines a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The Downing Street memo reveals that Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression; that the only legal reasons for an attack didn’t apply. The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Blair. In March 2002, as another leaked memo shows, the UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war:

“i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent;
ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable;
iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.” A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that:

“there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

Apologists for Blair often claim that war was justified by recourse to UN resolution 1441. But 1441 did not authorise the use of force since:

“there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”

In January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council” Such a determination was never forthcoming. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed that the Iraq War was illegal having breached the United Nations Charter. The world’s foremost experts in the field of international law concur that “…the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression.”

As well as their being no legal justification for war, it’s also worth pointing out that the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that it would cause terrorism – a point amplified by Craig Murray:

“The intelligence advice in advance of the invasion he received was unequivocal that it would increase the threat to the UK, and it directly caused the attacks of 7/7.”

Nevertheless, this determination was followed by a benevolent course of action. As Chilcot made clear, the process for coming to the conclusion that Saddam had in his possession WMD as the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, was one in which his Cabinet was not consulted. Chilcot also revealed that flawed intelligence assessments were made with certainty without any acknowledgement of the limitations of the said intelligence. Third, that the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council, and fourth, that Blair failed the Cabinet about Lord Goldsmith’s rather perilous journey by saying the war was actually legal having previously said it was illegal having mulled over it for over a year.

However, even though Chilcot can be applauded for the fact that it did something that most other societies in the world didn’t do, ultimately the report can be defined by the fact that it fudged the legal question. Chilcot didn’t explicitly say that the war was illegal. As such, Blair in his post-Chilcot speech was still able to dishonestly depict the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil in the knowledge that the real culprits of 9-11 were the Saudi elite who finance him.

In the run up to the report being published in which various worthies were wheeled out, Chilcot said“the circumstances in which a legal basis for action was decided were not satisfactory.” In other words, the establishment, which Chilcot and his team represent, hid behind processes as opposed to stating loudly and clearly that the British government at that point was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq irrespective of what the evidence said about WMD or anything else.

It’s quite astonishing that the comments made by an authoritative figure such as General Wesley Clark who tells how the destabilization of the Middle East was planned as far back as 1991, was not mentioned by Chilcot nor has been examined and debated in the mainstream media. Perhaps just as pertinently, both Chilcot and the media ignored the claim made by Scott Ritter who ran intelligence operations for the United Nations from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, that by the time bombing began, Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed”.

In the post-Chilcot context, it’s clear that no lessons from the guardians of power in the media have been learned, despite claims to the contrary. This can be seen, for example, in the reluctance of the media to allow the expression of dissenting voices that extend beyond the restrictive parameters of debate the media create. In highlighting the inherent bias, Craig Murray said:

“The broadcast media seem to think the Chilcot report is an occasion to give unlimited airtime to Blair and Alastair Campbell. Scores of supporters and instigators of the war have been interviewed. By contrast, almost no airtime has been given to those who campaigned against the war.”

Similarly, Stop the War’s Lindsey German pointed to the lack of balance on the BBCs ‘Today’ programme. For the most part, the guardians of power are only too eager to fall into line by acting as establishment echo-chambers rather than challenging the premises upon which various stated government positions and claims are based.

Anti-Corbyn plots & the myth of the un-electable left

By Daniel Margrain

 

Corbyn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and Rally in 2015

 

In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent in order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. Sharon Beder outlines the reasoning behind the coordinated political, corporate and media attacks on democracy:

“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”

This is the context in which the UK political and media establishment are attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demeaning the membership who had the temerity to vote for him, securing the biggest electoral mandate of any Labour leader in British political history. It’s the possibility that Corbyn will break the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that scares the establishment the most. As Mike Sivier has shown, the significant role the media have played in undermining Corbyn’s leadership, as well as their failure to explicitly acknowledge the establishment coup against him, can be traced back until at least April.

But arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began the moment he became leader after a hardcore group that included shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker, all refused to serve under him. Others included shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh and shadow Cabinet Office minister Lucy Powell.

The corporate media also played their part in what has arguably been the most vitriolic and biased reportage ever witnessed against any British political figure in history. What Media Lens accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest right across the corporate media spectrum,” actually began during Corbyn’s campaign to become leader. As the media analysts noted at the time, “the full extent of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of attacks on him as compared to those directed at the other three candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.”

The intensity of the media attacks on Corbyn increased after the election despite the fact that he secured ‘the largest mandate ever won by a party leader’. The focus of these attacks included what colour poppy Corbyn would wear, his refusal to sing the national anthem or whether he would wear a tie or do up his top button. All of this was granted national news headlines and incessant coverage. Not to be outdone, in October last year, the BBCs political editor Laura Kuenssberg featured in an almost comically biased, at times openly scornful, attack on Corbyn’s reasonable stance on nuclear weapons. The BBC then broadcast five senior Blairite Labour figures all opposing Corbyn without any opportunity for an alternative viewpoint.

Kuenssberg followed up this hatchet-job three months later when she helped to orchestrate the live resignation of Labour shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty on the BBC2 Daily Politics show as a pre-requisite to accusing Corbyn’s team of ‘unpleasant operations’ and ‘lies’. Then came the April 12 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.

Allied to all this, have been the attempts by the Blairite Friends of Israel rump within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Arguably, among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by Tony Greenstein (who remains at the forefront of moves to combat genuine cases of antisemitism on the fringes of the Palestine solidarity movement) in addition to the brilliant investigative work of journalist Asa Winstanley.

In an excellent piece published by the Electronic Intifada (April 28, 2016), Winstanley outlined the links between right-wing, anti-Corbyn and pro-Israel forces within the Labour party. He meticulously showed how this lobby manufactured an ‘antisemitism crisis’, pinpointing the individuals involved, the tactics and dirty tricks used and the connections to powerful individuals whose ties lead to pro-Israel groups both in London and Israel.

The latest attack on Corbyn centred on another contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation, this time made by Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth who Wikileaks have revealed is a ‘strictly protected’ US informant. Smeeth staged a highly publicised walk-out during Corbyn’s launch of a review into the Labour party’s supposed ‘anti-semitism crisis’ last Thursday (June 30) which, as Jonathan Cook pointed out, was in fact, “a crisis entirely confected by a toxic mix of the right, Israel supporters and the media.”

A few days earlier another manufactured and staged anti-Corbyn story made the headlines. This time it centred around a Corbyn ‘heckler’ at Gay Pride, who in fact, as Craig Murray observed turned out to have been Tom Mauchline who works for the public relations firm, Portland Communications, whose ‘strategic counsel’ is Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former media chief who helped to sell the illegal invasion-occupation of Iraq.

In addition to all of this, Corbyn’s pro-Remain position with respect to the EU referendum provided his critics with the ammunition they needed in their attempts to undermine him further. Chief among these critics is Angela Eagle, one of the many Oxford educated Blairite plotters who resigned her post in order to position herself as a potential replacement for Corbyn and who claimed to be dissatisfied with Corbyn’s performance during the EU referendum campaign. However, as the graphic below would appear to indicate, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:

According to a YouGov poll, Eagle commands just 6 per cent support from Labour members while a greater number than last time said they will vote for Corbyn if he were to stand again. In other words, just like last time, Corbyn would likely win more votes than all the other candidates combined. This grass-roots popularity for Corbyn must be seen against a backdrop in which the Labour party gained 60,000 members in one week following the attempted coup against him. Membership of the party currently stands at about 450,000 – a figure that is higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.

This would almost certainly translate into Corbyn receiving more votes than his Blairite predecessor Ed Milliband did at the last General Election. With the proportion of the Labour vote increasing under Corbyn, the two main parties are neck-and-neck at 32 per cent. This undercuts the recent claims of elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock that Corbyn is an electoral liability for Labour.

This narrative is consistent with the notion that the left are un-electable more generally. Such a narrative is a myth. As Craig Murray posited, the idea that you have to be right-wing to win elections is belied by the fact that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon won the people of Scotland over on a left-wing ticket. Secondly, as he rightly says, there is no point being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents. Third, the British public’s ‘enthusiasm’ for somebody like Blair in 1997 was not based on policies known as Blairite. As Murray astutely points out:

“The 1997 Labour Manifesto  was not right-wing. It did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions. It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election.”

Murray continues:

“Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts. The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.”

The reality, as one commentator on twitter put it, is that in corporate media and political establishment parlance, “‘un-electable” is media-political code for ‘likely to be highly electable but ‘will not serve elite interests.'”

This description applies to Corbyn. The ‘un-electable left’ meme is likely to intensify the longer Corbyn manages to hang on. In these unsettling and unpredictable times, it’s the one propaganda weapon the establishment is certain to cling to as their means of attempting to prevent democracy from breaking their grip on power.

The hidden hands that feed racism

By Daniel Margrain

Those who have been following the flamboyant political showman, Donald Trump, whose heavy-handed approach to demonstrators at his rallies and outrageously racist remarks many are familiar with, might be surprised to learn that similar comments, albeit hidden ostensibly under the cover of liberal respectability, have gone largely unnoticed within media circles. Nine years before the widespread condemnation of Trump’s remarks, Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, echoed Trump when, in an admittedly less demagogic fashion, he argued for the banning of Muslim immigration into Europe.

Murray, who heads the avowedly neoconservative and CIA-funded organization that has links to the US and European far right, has also defended the use of torture by Western intelligence agencies. One might think that leading figures within the political and corporate media establishments – particularly on the liberal-left of the spectrum – would be keen to distance themselves from such a right-wing organization. On the contrary, both the hierarchy within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and political commentators not only cite the Henry Jackson Society when commenting on Islamic affairs, but actually embrace it as well.

The role call of pro-Syria bombing Blairites within the PLP who sit on the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society include Margaret Beckett, Hazel Blears, Ben Bradshaw, Chris Bryant and Gisela Stuart, while the BBC regularly give air time to Murray on mainstream political discussion and debating programmes like Question Time, This Week, Today and Daily Politics. The organization also acts as a front for the security services via the Quilliam Foundation think tank whose role, in return for tax payers money, is to publicly denounce Muslim organisations and, with the collaboration of the neo-fascist, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson who heads Pegida UK and was formerly the head of the racist and fascist English Defence League), talk up the Jihadi threat. It’s extremely revealing that establishment figures within the hierarchy of the Labour Party who have in the recent past complained about the alleged infiltration of left wing elements within the party, are willing to align themselves with racists and fascists.

The racist outlook of Murray et al and the means to promote it within media circles are far from unique and rarely, if ever, challenged. Former UK diplomat, Craig Murray quoted the “darling of the Mail and the BBC”, Melanie Phillips’ incitement to religious hatred:

“Romney lost because, like Britain’s Conservative Party, the Republicans just don’t understand that America and the west are being consumed by a culture war. In their cowardice and moral confusion, they all attempt to appease the enemies within. And from without, the Islamic enemies of civilisation stand poised to occupy the void…With the re-election of Obama, America now threatens to lead the west into a terrifying darkness.”

To my knowledge, apart from Murray, not a single prominent commentator alluded to Phillips’ Islamophobia and racism.

Another example was the sympathetic treatment the BBC afforded to the ‘doyen of British fascism’, the BNPs Nick Griffin. In 2009, Griffin appeared on the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme, Question Time despite the fact that the Standards Board for England’s 2005 description of the BNP as Nazi was “within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate”. The European Parliament’s Committee on racism and xenophobia described the BNP as an “openly Nazi party”. When asked in 1993 if the party was racist, its then deputy leader Richard Edmonds, who has been convicted for racist violence, said“We are 100 percent racist, yes.”

Prior to his appearance on the programme, Griffin expressed delight with the decision of the BBC to have granted him a major political platform with which to air his party’s views. These views went unchallenged by the other guests on the show that included Labour’s Jack Straw, who had subsequently insisted that female Muslim constituents visiting his constituency office in Blackburn remove their veils and claimed that Pakistani men saw white girls as “easy meat”. At the time of Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the BBC attracted an audience of almost 8 million viewers, three times its average. Following the publicity generated by Griffin’s appearance, the Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed the results of a UK Gov opinion poll which indicated that 22 percent of British people would “seriously consider” voting for the BNP and that 9,000 people applied to join them after the programme aired.

Many of the individuals who were directly responsible for overseeing Oxbridge-educated Griffin’s appearance – including BBC director-general, Mark Thompson – had themselves been educated at one of two of Britain’s elite educational establishments – Oxford and Cambridge. Griffin, who graduated in law, told the Guardian newspaper that he admired Thompson’s “personal courage” by inviting him. Nicholas Kroll, then director of the BBC Trust – an organization that supposedly represents the interests of the viewing public – was also educated at Oxford. At the time of writing, at least three of the 12 members of the government-appointed trustees, were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, while the remainder have a background in either law, business or economics. Two years before the Question Time appearance, Griffin had generated a significant amount of publicity following the controversy surrounding Oxford universities decision to allow him a public platform to address students at the universities campus.

Despite the links the establishment has to fascism, the notion that fascist sympathies are rooted within the high echelons of the former has not been widely recognized within public discourse, even though last July, the British royal family were shown giving Nazi salutes as part of a home movie. The problem for the elites is not that these links exist, rather the concern is the possibility that the media will shine a light on these relationships.

As Craig Murray put it:

“It says a huge amount about the confidence of the royal family, that they feel able to respond to their Nazi home movie with nothing other than outrage that anybody should see it…. The royal family is of course only the tip of the iceberg of whitewashed fascist support.”

Fascist ideology is the bedrock on which our political and media culture is deeply embedded. The reality is right-wing establishment think-tanks like the Henry Jackson Society and MigrationWatch UK use racist based arguments around the issue of immigration as as their justification for arguing either for, on the one hand, British withdrawal from the EU or, on the other, for the implementation of greater neoliberal reforms as a precondition for maintaining the countries continued membership within it. This, in turn, provides the intellectual echo chamber for the racist UKIP and BNP as well as the ultra right-wing factions within both of the main political parties.

What this illustrates is the contradictory nature immigration plays as part of the function of the liberal democratic state within capitalism which transcends party political lines. Both the official ‘left’ and ‘right’ are prepared to use false and contradictory arguments around the issue of immigration in order to whip up divisions within society for naked opportunistic short-term electoral gain. Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair, for example, Gordon Brown opened up the UK labour market to potentially millions of workers from the Accession 8 (A8) countries that comprised the former Soviet Bloc as the basis for restoring Britain’s economic status against a backdrop of sustained industrial decline.

Brown did this as the means of addressing Britain’s demographic problems in terms of its ageing population as well as to fill existing skills gaps. However, by the time he had taken over the reigns of power from Blair, he began using the racist language of division by emphasizing the need to secure “British jobs for British workers”. This was after oil refinery workers in 2009 protested against their replacement by foreign workers that he – Brown – encouraged. Short-term electoral interests encourage politician’s to play the race card which does not necessarily correspond with those of their paymasters in the boardrooms of the corporations whose primary concern is to secure the most plentiful, skilled and cheap workers possible.

In pure economic terms, immigrants make a positive contribution, not least because the state has been spared the considerable expense of educating and training them. Political leaders know this and that is precisely why the shrill talk deployed at elections is invariably at odds with the policies they actually implement when in office. That, in turn, is why it is so easy for the bigots within racist parties like UKIP and the BNP to expose the hypocrisy of the mainstream parties while also providing organisations like the Henry Jackson Society and MigrationWatch UK the ammunition they need as their cover for pursuing a racist agenda of their own.

Too readily, those at the top are quick to exploit voters’ concerns about the supposed threat that immigration poses in terms of undermining ‘social cohesion’. But they do this so as to engender a sense of division to make it easier for them to rule over everybody. When tensions arise from time to time, it’s those at the bottom who are routinely condemned for their prejudice and bigotry in the media, whereas the more significant racism which emanates from the policies of those at the top who foment it, goes virtually unnoticed.

It’s not my intention to absolve working class racists of their actions, but rather to point out that the more significant forms of racism is formed in the corporate and media boardrooms, think-tanks and elite political sphere indicative of ruling class power. Although this racism is given political expression in the form of scare stories almost daily in the gutter press of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express that perpetuate them, it’s not restricted to these tabloids. The Chair of MigrationWatch UK, Sir Andrew Green, for example, is regularly granted a media platform in order to push an anti-immigrant agenda, albeit a subtle one.

Similarly the likes of Douglas Murray and Toby Young who newspaper proprietors and TV executives consistently employ to espouse their right-wing views, do a great deal to distill the more overt expressions of racist scare stories so as to appeal to the realms of their middle and upper middle class viewers and readers. It’s deemed irrelevant by corporate executives that the ‘journalists’ they employ proffer spurious and deliberately misleading information, simply that they give their demographic what they think that want to hear and read to increase their customer base and so boost their profits in order to satisfy the demands placed on them by their advertisers.

And that, I submit, is hardly the foundation on which to build a civilized, multi-cultural and inclusive society. Donald Trump may be an oaf and a racist, but is he really much different to the elite that rule us?

 

Assange’s stitch-up is a lesson for us all

By Daniel Margrain

Yesterday’s UN ruling (February 5) that deemed the deprivation of liberty of Julian Assange to be unlawful is a legally binding vindication of all those activists who have supported the quest of the Wikileaks founder to bring into the public domain the illegalities of Western power under the guise of democracy and freedom. Of course, establishment figures who represent the gatekeepers of the said powers, like Phillip Hammond, invariably attempt to undermine the findings of the UN body – of which the UK government is a signatory – when their conclusions fail to go in their favour and thus deny any wrongdoing on the part of the imperial powers that they represent.

On the other hand, praise will be heaped on the UN during the occasions they rule in their favour. This is, perhaps, to be expected. But what was shocking in terms of Hammond’s sheer Kafka-esque dishonesty was the extent to which he was prepared to sink in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable at the behest of his masters in Washington. According to former UK diplomat, Craig Murray, Hammond’s lies were “utterly astonishing”. The official statement by the UK Foreign Secretary, states: “I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

Hammond’s statement belies the fact that every single one of the UN panel is an extremely distinguished lawyer. His statement was clearly made in order to undermine the UN ruling which by so doing, as Edward Snowden acknowledges, “writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings...and hence sets a “dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.” Craig Murray states that: “Countries who have ignored rulings by this UN panel are rare. No democracy has ever done so. Recent examples are Egypt and Uzbekistan. The UK is putting itself in pretty company.”

Previous rulings by the panel have gone against countries with some of the world’s worst human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt. Recent cases where the UN has ruled in circumstances in which individuals have similarly been detained, include the Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian in Iran in December last year and former pro-democracy president Mohamed Nasheed last October (both subsequently released).

The contextual underpinning of the ruling vindicating Assange stems from the fact that he has never been charged with any offence. The UN findings confirm that his detention has been unlawful since his very first arrest in the United Kingdom in 2010 and that there has never been any genuine attempt by the Swedish authorities to investigate the allegations against him. For all those commentators who have been following the case closely, it has been obvious that from the outset the establishment have had it in for Assange. The rape allegations were merely the Casus Belli.

This was given credible weight early on by Naomi Wolf, a prominent American writer, feminist and social commentator, who argued that the allegations against Assange bore all the hallmarks of a set-up. This was further elaborated on by Craig Murray who thoroughly demolished the case against Assange. As John Pilger outlined, the reality is, there was no genuine judicial process in train against Assange in Sweden, a point that was advanced by Assange’s lawyers before the UK supreme court:

“The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden – where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything” – and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.”

justice4assange.com provides some background:

Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been detained without charge in one form or another since 7 December 2010…In Sweden, Julian Assange is not charged with a crime. But in a highly unusual move, Sweden issued an Interpol Red Notice and a European Arrest Warrant, immediately after WikiLeaks began publishing a cache of 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables on 29 November 2010. Such warrants are usually issued for persons whose whereabouts are unknown. But Julian Assange’s whereabouts were known (he had given a press conference and hundreds of interviews in London). His lawyers were in communication with the prosecutor and had communicated that he was available to answer questions from the Swedish prosecutor through standard means.

Questioning people within European borders is a routine and uncomplicated process, which is standardised throughout the European Union. Sweden often uses these means to question people. In the initial ten days after 20 August 2010, the police opened the ’preliminary investigation’, it was assigned to three different prosecutors in quick succession. The penultimate prosecutor found that the case had no basis, and that there were no grounds to place Julian Assange under a criminal investigation.

The final prosecutor however, Marianne Ny, took over on 1 September 2010 and reopened the investigation. The Swedish investigation has been frozen since 2010. In November 2014, Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecutor had failed her professional duty to progress the investigation against Julian Assange.

Given the astounding level of media misinformation, demonization, smears, deceptions and outright lies in the mainstream corporate media’s reporting of Assange, one might be under the impression that the man in question is the devil incarnate, a misogynist, who is using his work as a cover in order to avoid facing justice for the crime of rape that some commentators have seen fit to pronounce a verdict of guilty on the head of the whistle blower in advance of any hypothetical future trial. The self-appointed Witch finder General, Joan Smith of London Women against Violence, for example, was allowed to express her opinion, unchallenged, that he was guilty of the crime he has been accused of.

Much of the vitriol stems, not from the traditional right-wing of the media terrain, but rather from what many people consider to be the liberal-left of the political spectrum. Owen Jones, for example, who appears to be the latest poster boy for left wing opinion throughout the liberal media, penned, in August 2012, an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, titled “There should be no immunity for Julian Assange from these allegations.”  But Jones’ inference that diplomatic immunity is a feature of the Assange case is, in reality, a red-herring since neither he, his supporters, legal team or anybody else outside the media bubble, have ever suggested that his case is predicated on a claim of immunity.

The lie was repeated by the Guardian’s legal expert, Joshua Rozenberg, presumably in an attempt to add a certain degree of gravitas to the claim. The truth is that all Assange has ever requested from the outset, is a guarantee from the Swedish authorities that if he agrees to travel to Sweden to answer the rape allegations made against him, he won’t be extradited to the United States. Assange’s request for this assurance from Sweden is supported by Amnesty International. However, the Swedish authorities have consistently failed to give Assange such an assurance.

Despite all this, the Sky News journalist and LBC stand-in presenter, Tim Marshall, implied that callers to his programme on February 5 who suggested that should Assange step foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy, he would ultimately be extradited to the U.S predicated on the trumped up charge of rape and subsequently be imprisoned, were mad conspiracy theorists. The incandescent, Marshall, is apparently unaware of the case of Chelsea Manning who was imprisoned for 35 years in 2013 for leaking information to WikiLeaks.

He is also seemingly unaware that, according to Edward Snowden, Assange is on a US “manhunt target list” or that the Independent revealed that both the Swedish and American governments’ have already discussed Assange’s onward extradition. If Marshall had bothered to avail himself of the views of Mats Andenas, the Norwegian chair of the UN Working Group for much of its investigation, he would have realized that the panel had to resist intense pressure from the US and UK to arrive at a decision contrary to the one they actually reached.

Marshall’s tone throughout was one of incredulity that the “liberal” Sweden would place Assange at risk of extradition to the US or for that matter that the latter under the liberal-progressive Obama, could ever preside over an administration that has imprisoned more whistle blowers than all his predecessors combined. In terms of the former (something else that Marshall is apparently oblivious to), is the subject matter of Amnesty International’s 2013 report which highlights Sweden’s damning record of extraditing people to other countries and its cooperation with the US in extraordinary renditions.

Jonathan Cook sums up just how far down the perilous road towards fascism our governments’ and their accomplices in the media are prepared to go in order to augment the interests of the powerful:

“The degraded discourse about the UN group’s decision does not just threaten Assange, but endangers vulnerable political dissidents around the world. The very fact that…[liberal media commentators]… are so ready to sacrifice these people’s rights in their bid to tar and feather Assange should be warning enough that there is even more at stake here than meets the eye.”

 

David Bowie: sound, not vision

By Daniel Margrain

The eulogizing in the media of David Bowie since his death last week has predictably been widespread. The consensus view is that Bowie was a trailblazer of musical trends and pop fashion, an innovator and visionary, an artist of unparalleled significance within the musical landscape of rock and roll and electronic music. Adam Sweeting in the Guardian, said of Bowie: “His capacity for mixing brilliant changes of sound and image underpinned by a genuine intellectual curiosity is rivalled by few in pop history.”

The obituary section of the Telegraph, described Bowie as “a rock musician of rare originality and talent”, while Jon Pareles in the New York Times claimed that “Mr.Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could”.…According to Pareles, “He also pushed the limits of “Fashion” and “Fame,”

Mark Beaumont of the NME appeared to go one further by claiming that Bowie’s influence on popular culture:

“simply cannot be overstated. From psychedelic folk rock to glam rock, plastic soul, avant garde experimentalism and beyond, Bowie’s relentless innovation and reinvention was one of the great driving forces of modern music and his impact reached into fashion, performance art, film and sexual politics. While his songs, consistently accessible no matter how difficult the style he explored, inspired countless musicians across a vast tapestry of rock music which he helped weave as he went.”

On the morning following Bowie’s death, and in echoing the kinds of platitudes of superficial pop stars like Madonna and Lady Ga Ga, LBC host James O’Brien devoted half of his three hour programme eulogizing about the alleged innovator and genius, inviting fans to phone in and reminisce about the pop star. With an apparent straight face, O’Brien, a former music critic, stated that Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory was “probably the greatest rock album of all-time.”

These kinds of comments have been the excepted wisdom in mainstream critical circles since Bowie hit super stardom in 1972 with the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a work that in many ways came to define him. Under the tag line, David Bowie: Visionary singer and songwriter who for five decades exerted a huge influence on pop and rock, Chris Salewicz reminded his readers of the historical continuum that underpinned the iron clad critical consensus:  “The man is a stone genius,” effused New York’s Village Voice, in the parlance of the times, “and for those who have been waiting for a new Dylan, Bowie fits the bill. He is a prophet, a poet – and a vaudevillian. Like Dylan, his breadth of vision and sheer talent could also exercise a profound effect on a generation’s attitudes.”

In Britain, the critical acclaim bestowed on Bowie is arguably only second to the Beatles. But in the cold light of day, to what extent does the man and his work stand up to proper investigative critical scrutiny? The independent music critic, Piero Scaruffi, whose words I transcribed and edited below, offers some invaluable (and corrective) insights into the mythology that surrounds the man, his music and his art. This is Scaruffi’s critique of Bowie. It’s a critique that I share:

“David Bowie turned marketing into the essence of his art. All great phenomena of popular music, from Elvis Presley to the Beatles, had been, first and foremost, marketing phenomena (just like Coca Cola and Barbie before them); However, Bowie  turned it into an art of its own. Bowie with the science of marketing becomes art; art and marketing had become one.

There were intellectuals who had proclaimed this theory in terms rebelliousness. Bowie was, in many ways, the heir, no matter how perverted, of Andy Warhol’s pop art and of the underground culture of the 1960s. He adopted some of the most blasphemous issues and turned them upside down to make them precisely what they had been designed to fight: a commodity.

Bowie was a protagonist of his times [who] embodied the quintessence of artificial art, raising futility to paradigm, focusing on the phenomenon rather than the content, and who made irrelevant the relevant, and, thus, was is the epitome of everything that is wrong with rock music.

Each element of his art was the emblem of a true artistic movement; However, the ensemble of these emblems constituted no more than a puzzle of symbols, no matter how intriguing, a dictionary of terms rather than a poem, and, at best, a documentary of the cultural trends of his time. As a chronicler, the cause of the sensation was the show, not the music.

In fusing theatre, mime, film, visual art, literature and music, the showman Bowie was undoubtedly in sync with the avant-garde. However, Bowie merely recycled what had been going on for years in the British underground, in what in particular had been popularized by the psychedelic bands of 1967. And he turned it into a commodity: whichever way you look at his oeuvre, this is the real merit of it.

Arguably, his most famous album, Ziggy Stardust (1972) represented a relative quantum leap forward from what went before. The culmination of a behind the scenes refining of his image by a new manager, his signing to a new and more powerful label, the utilization of a much more sophisticated production and, with the talents of Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Mick Ronson on guitar at his disposal, Bowie’s “art” represented the peak of the fad for rock operas.

The album is nevertheless a cartoonish melodrama that recycles cliches of decadent and sci-fi literature. Its popularity was due as much to the choreographic staging as it was to the music. The latter relies on magniloquent pop ballads (such as Five Years , the piano-heavy Lady Stardust , almost a send-up of Warren Zevon, the shrill gospel hymn Ziggy Stardust, Moonage Daydream (with a folkish sax solo reminiscent of the Hollywood Argyles and a shower of strings), arranged in such a manner to make the baroque ‘Tommy’ by the Who sound amateurish.

Bowie’s melodic skills shone in the grand soaring refrains of Starman and Rock And Roll Suicide, that were de facto tributes to the old tradition of Tin Pan Alley. The album displayed the half-hearted stylistic variety of latter-day Beatles albums, from the soul-jazz tune Soul Love to the martial folk-blues shuffle It Aint ‘Easy. Hang On To Yourself is a whirling boogie dance as is Suffragette City. The latter, in particular is a quintessentially hysterical breathless Who-style boogie and perhaps his career standout.

The track exudes the languid existentialism of the ballads, confronting Bowie’s erotic futuristic cabaret from the vantage point of teenage angst. Certainly the whole worked well as a postmodernist analysis of show business’ cliches. Credit for the production quality goes to Ken Scott (who Bowie defined as “my George Martin”) and new guitarist Mick Ronson: all the arrangements were designed from them (the string arrangements are all Ronson). Scott did all the mixing alone.

Bowie’s “heartbreaking” vocals were so exaggerated that they sounded like a parody of sorts. Ditto the kitschy arrangements. The concept was, first and foremost, a caricature. By fusing Scott Walker’s melodramatic style, Jacques Brel’s weltschmerz, Zen mysticism, McLuhan’s theory of the medium, Andy Warhol’s multimedia pop art and Oscar Wilde’s fin de siecle decadence, Bowie coined the ultimate revisionist and self-reflective act of the most revisionist and self-reflective decade.

For better and for worse, Ziggy marked the end of the myth of rock sincerity and spontaneity: the star was no longer a teenager among many, a “working-class everyman,” and, above all, the star was no longer “himself” but rather a calculating inventor of artificial stances and attitudes. His stance indirectly mocked and ridiculed the messianic aura of rock music.

Not much of a musical genius, but certainly a terrific showman, diligent student of Hollywood’s mythology, living impersonation of the Gothic iconography (Dorian Gray) and of the Parnassian iconography (Pierrot), Bowie owed ​​little to his frail and easy compositions: he owed ​​almost everything to the “image” that he had created and was nurturing with non-musical factors.

Although the music was almost always banal and embarrassing, the scene in which it played out was at least funny while at the same time solemn and murky. Bowie’s world was a frightening one, devastating and senseless, populated by outcasts and alienated human wrecks. Bowie’s vocal tone resembled an existential horror that could modulate detachment, cynicism and yearning.

Bowie had rediscovered the “crooning” of pop and soul singers of the ’50s, perhaps a less innovative style of singing that one could have imagined in 1975, that nevertheless also managed to combine a form of cabaret in the service of the theatre of Brecht. Mindful of the dramatic experience and clearly with Lou Reed in mind, Bowie consciously evoked “Brecht-ian” alienation that was fashionable in those years. The songs of Bowie deliberately calculated a striking contrast between music, text and image which would lead the public to think critically about “illusions” as presented.

Inspired by the alienated rock of Reed, the Dionysian like performance of Iggy Pop and the meticulous electronics of Brian Eno, Bowie forged a new type of ritual mass that paradoxically conceptually morphed into a kind of kitsch Hollywood entertainment. Skilled at riding fashions, as opposed to creating them, Bowie always arrived one or two years after someone else had invented the phenomenon (for example, decadent rock, soul-rock, electronics).

As with the Beatles before him, Bowie knew how to best present the phenomenon to the masses via the bourgeoisie media and turn it into an international “fashion”. Essentially, Bowie’s major contribution to the annals of rock music was his popularization of the notion of the eclectic and refined musician. Many other rock musicians have explored and referenced pop art, literature and painting in a more thorough and original way than Bowie but have not garnered the critical recognition that came his way.

Bowie was said to have written the first “space ballad” but space-rock had been invented a few years earlier. Before the release of Space Odyssey, the Rolling Stones had recorded 2000 Light Years and the inventors of space-rock, Pink Floyd had, in 1967, released Interstellar Overdrive and Anno Domini. Moreover, long before the media had coined Bowie as being the inventor of the ‘glam’ concept, Mick Jagger, and many other contemporaries of the period, had been sexually ambiguous and had worn make-up.

Also decadent rock had long preceded Bowie with the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Doors. Bowie’s “uniqueness” was that his antics were the first to be publicized by the media. As often happens with the pop star, Bowie has falsely been attributed with creating the merits of an entire population of musicians. One of the most overrated artists of his generation, Bowie’s sound was largely Visconti’s (or Eno’s). Without that Sound, Bowie was a second-rate pop vocalist singing for a second-rate audience. 

For more analysis and reviews, go to: http://www.scaruffi.com/

 

Frank who?

By Daniel Margrain

In light of Iain Dale’s recent posting of BT Sports brilliant ‘Farewell to Upton Park’ video piece on West Ham United Football Club, the forthcoming move to the Olympic Stadium and the thought of Leicester City riding high in the Premier League in my mind, I couldn’t help but think of the “Boys of ’86”.

The sustained top four challenge of the Foxes this season can certainly, in my view, be compared to West Ham’s challenge for the title in 1986 which was all the more surprising given the fact that the team had an abysmal pre-season that led up to it.

Having been outplayed by Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road (merely Orient as they were know then) where we lost 3-1, the expectation among both the press and many West Ham fans in the build up to the 1986 season was that we would struggle with a likely relegation battle on the cards.

The backdrop to the 1986 season was one in which the Heysel Stadium that preceded it played a significant part. But what the fans and critics alike didn’t take account of was the return to the team from injury of the magnificent Alan Devonshire (in my view only second to Sir Trevor in the Hammers all time list of greats), the signing of Mark Ward, and arguably most important of all, the arrival at the club of the former cab driver, and boy about town, the mercurial, Frank McAvennie. These three players represented the new creative spine of the team.

It’s perhaps ironical then, that the one player who probably above any other was responsible for the record highest level finish in the clubs history was, at the time, virtually unknown among domestic football fans for a significant part of the season. This was because English football at the time suffered a widespread media black out as a consequence of the hooliganism of others.

This meant that the ‘playboy’ Frank was able to maintain his legendary hedonistic status unhindered by the media spotlight. But it also meant that a large chunk of the goals scored by the second most prolific scorer in the league at that time was not televised in England during the first handful of games of the 1986 season. As incredible as it seems today, I remember getting second hand reports about Frank’s prowess in front of goal from people in Denmark and Sweden. For many football fans in Britain, it was a case of Frank who?

It’s almost forgotten now that the former St Mirren ace was inches away from putting pen to paper with Luton Town. Apparently somebody reminded him of the world cup winning legacy that will forever will be associated with the club from east London.

Despite having been turned away by bouncers on the door of Stringfellows which as legend has it, was the main reason why he decided to head south in the first place, Frank finally saw sense having had a last minute change of mind. The rest, as they say, is history. Frank went on to net 26 league goals that season which was only bettered by Gary Lineker at Everton who went on to score 30.

It’s perhaps interesting to note that the starting eleven for West Ham at the time was not particularly a distinguished one containing few internationally renowned players of note. Yes, we had our record signing colossus Phil ‘Cossack’ Parkes in goal and the ever dependable hot shot penalty king in Ray ‘Tonka’ Stewart at the right side of the defence. And yes, we had the ever dependable Alvin Martin on the left and maestro and play-maker Devonshire in midfield, but the rest of the team was largely a hitherto untried experiment.

The 1986 season might have ended differently had manager John Lyall played Frank in his accustomed midfield role (his position at St Mirren) which was the reason why he was brought to Upton Park in the first place. But Frank wanted to score goals as much as he craved the adoration that comes with it, and a midfield position wasn’t going to cut the mustard for him.

So having asked management if he could play up front instead, John Bond obliged. The intention was to play him deep in the hole behind the underrated Paul Godard. Frank has since joked that playing in the hole was something he had done all his adult life. But as it turned out, injury to Godard, meant that it wasn’t to be.

Having lost two of our three opening games, the omens weren’t looking good. By mid-September we had only reached the dizzying heights of 17th while Manchester United had won their opening ten games on the bounce. Thereafter, the fortunes of West Ham United began to change after the club went on what can only be described as an incredible run of form.

Tony Gale has since described the team that was to be part of this magnificent run as being better than the championship winning team he subsequently went on to play for, Blackburn Rovers. The 84 point total the team acquired at the end of the 1986 season was a tally that would have won the league the previous season.

What also must be kept in mind is that the team lost ten games that season which shows just how many games they won, as opposed to drawing. By the years end, just four points separated West Ham from the league leaders. It was only Liverpool’s amazing run of ten victories in their last eleven games that prevented the Hammers from claiming the title.

Everton – arguably West Ham’s historical bogey team who were also on an amazing run – beat us in our penultimate game which finally sealed our fate and we went on to finish third behind Liverpool and Everton. I know that the table rarely lies, but that particular season it did. Many neutrals old enough to remember have said to me that the West Ham team of ’86 were the best team never to have not won the league in any given year.

To add salt to the wound, West Ham were denied UEFA cup action the following season due to the ban on English clubs in European competitions, which had started a year earlier due to the Heysel tragedy.

The following season, having finished 15th and with Frank scoring just seven league goals from 36 games and eleven from 47 games in all competitions, the inextricable slide of the club began. But that’s another story for another day.

Why Tories & Blairites are an affront to democracy

By Daniel Margrain

In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques developed in 20th Century America with revitalized free market ideology that originated in 18th Century Europe.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. According to Sharon Beder:

“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”

The under resourcing and under funding of large swaths of the public sector is part of the Tory strategy to run down public services as the precursor to their dismantling prior to them being sold off, precisely with the aim of furthering the business interests of those involved. In fact, as Noam Chomsky put it, the defunding process is standard practice within Western liberal democracies:

“[T]here is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

A century or so ago, the Russian Marxist Nicolai Bukharin realized that the growth of international corporations and their close association with national states were symptomatic of how both aspects hollow out the parliamentary system. It is now widely recognized that the power of private lobbying money draws power upwards into the executive and non-elected parts of the state dominated by corporations. Consequently this leads to a reduction in democratic accountability and public transparency.

Internal markets, market testing, contracting out, privatisation, encouraging private pensions and all the rest, are mechanisms that are intended to depoliticise the process of social provision, so making it easier to refuse it to those deemed not to deserve it on the one hand, and to clamp down on the workers in the welfare sector on the other.

Tied into this ethos is the move to dismantle the welfare state completely, which contrary to popular belief, was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the ideas which were to be picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair. Dressed in the language of ‘public-private partnerships’, the state under Blair was envisaged as the purchaser rather than direct provider of services.

To enable this to happen, whole entities within the public sector were outsourced, health and social care services privatized and competition and the business ethos introduced into public services in the form of managerialism and New Public Management; and the recasting of patients and clients as customers.

It would be foolish to understate the changes that more than two decades of neoliberalism have wrought on the welfare state. Areas such as residential care are now overwhelmingly located in the private sector, with one study suggesting that “the privatisation of social care services is arguably the most extensive outsourcing of a public service yet undertaken in the UK”.

The outsourcing process emanates from the policy of defunding which consequently is leading to a crisis in social care resulting, in part, to a shortage of nurses within the NHS that have reached dangerous levels in 90 per cent of UK hospitals. The aim is to expand the ethos of competition into residential social care and to ensure the domination of the market by a small number of very powerful multinational corporations (including, for example, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Qatar Investment Fund). The primary concern of these corporations is not the welfare of the residents in the homes which they own but rather with maximizing their profits.

When they fail to do so sufficiently or where there are larger profits to be made elsewhere, then they will simply pull out, creating massive instability in the sector and undermining the continuity of care which is a key element of good quality social provision. The collapse in 2011 of Southern Cross, until then the largest provider of residential care for older people in the UK, is the most glaring example.

Under the Tory government of David Cameron, every aspect of the welfare state is under attack. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act removes the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive health service, while the requirement in the act that up to 49 percent of services can be tendered out to “any qualified provider” will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales. Already between a quarter and a half of all community services are now run by Virgin Care.

A combination of cuts of around 30 per cent to local authority  social care budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets, will leave millions without the support they need and increasingly dependent on the family, and in particular women family members.

And in place of what was once called social security, unprecedented cuts across all areas of benefits, especially disability benefits, the introduction of sanctions regimes which as Christmas fast approaches has, according to figures from the Russell Trust, contributed to over a million people being given emergency food and support in 2014-15.

Meanwhile, a bedroom tax affecting around 600,000 people will increase the number of children in poverty by 200,000 as well as harming their learning amid stress and hunger. It has recently been reported that a DWP study indicates that nearly half of those affected by the tax have gone without food so that they can make ends meet.

What drives the different rationales—economic, political and ideological—behind the current Tory government’s assault on the public sector, is the desire of the one per cent to shift the costs of a global economic crisis onto the 99 per cent. One important political consequence of this socioeconomic realignment in favour of those at the top of the pyramid is the shifting of the relationship between the state and multinational capital.

This has heightened the sense of popular alienation from the huge bureaucratic structures that dominate the lives of ordinary people which has magnified by the sheer scale of the institutions – state and private – that confront the mass of the population. Consequently, public confidence in big business and the civil service has declined dramatically, particularly since the 1997 election of Blair.

The appalling treatment meted out by Facebook to the family of Hollie Gazzard, is an example of how there seems to be no way to successfully complain or protest against these kinds of mammoth institutions and corporations. Changes supposed to make them more accountable to the public, in practice only make them more subject to central control. Far from increasing public trust, they often have the opposite effect.

Democracy & the media.

By Daniel Margrain

Representative democracy is bad for parliamentary democracy because it implies the shifting of power from the elite towards the masses. People power has the potential to tear down the ivory towers of privilege that the rich construct for themselves which is why the establishment is fearful of such an eventuality. The extent to which a political system that functions to support the lifestyles and privileges of the elite ensconced within these towers is determined by the level of passivity and apathy of those on the outside.

Due to the UK’s appalling electoral system, a right wing government in the UK exercise absolute power with just 24.4 percent of those eligible to vote. The attitudes of many of the 38% who did not vote at all in the last general election towards the entire political class, was a combination of indifference, passivity and apoplexy.

Many others who were politically active and mobilized were nevertheless resigned to the fact that the deeply corrupt and flawed ‘winner takes all’ system does not give them a political voice within parliament. The end result of the combination of all these factors, is a system that’s corrupt and rotten to the core.

Although the government’s legality cannot be called into question, it’s legitimacy most certainly can. A government’s legitimacy rests on the popular consent of the governed. It’s clear that the Tories austerity measures that consist of deepening and widespread cuts will do far more harm to far more than the 24.4 per cent of the population that supported the government during the last election. To that extent, there are valid questions to be asked about what right the conservative government has to rule.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity showing few signs of subsiding, we seem to be returning to the feelings of optimism and confidence of the kind witnessed during the 30 year post-war settlement period. Public mobilizations that question and demand more from the system, initiate a crisis in democracy for our unrepresentative leaders, establishment figures and their corporate mainstream echo chambers’ who don’t know quite how to react to the potential threat to their own distorted vision of democracy. This vision can accurately be defined as being reminiscent of the feudal system. As Noam Chomsky put it:

On the one hand, we have the King and Princes (the government). On the other, the commoners. The commoners may petition and the nobility must respond to maintain order… Real participation of “society” in government is nowhere discussed, nor can there be any question of democratic control of the basic economic institutions that determine the character of social life while dominating the state as well, by virtue of their overwhelming power.

Chomsky was actually referring to a 1975 Trilateral Commission report about the nature of American democracy by author Samuel Huntington, but he might as well of been discussing the UK political system of governance in 2015. Political ‘outsiders’ like Jeremy Corbyn and the newly appointed, Ken Livingstone, are regarded as a threat to the narrow careerist interests of not only the Blairite political elite within the Parliamentary Labout Party, but also the metropolitan London media elite of ‘insiders’ who sing to the Blairite-Tory tune.

As Medialens have suggested, this is reflected in an obvious media bias that favours the Red-Tory consensus outlook which can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of media attacks on both Corbyn and Livingstone against the more conciliatory and friendly approaches of those who don’t rock the metaphorical boat. Of all the preposterous apocalyptic media attacks and McCarthy-style guilt by association smears on Corbyn thus far, the piece titled Will a Corbyn victory be the end of Labour? by Rachel Sylvester in The Times on September 1, written during the build up to the Labour Party leadership election, surely takes the award for the most idiotic. Sylvester comments:

“Just as the Vikings and the Mayans brought about their own extinction by destroying the environment on which their cultures depended, so the Labour party is threatening its survival by abandoning electoral victory as a definition of success. If Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn – a man who will never be elected prime minister – as leader next week, its end could be as brutal and sudden as those other once great tribes.”

One question arises from Sylvester’s piece. How can an attack by the mainstream media on an authentic voice of Labour values possibly be regarded as the ultimate threat to Labour values?

Sylvester’s smear was just the beginning of a widespread barrage of abuse that has come the way of the ‘outsiders’ since Corbyn’s historic election victory. The Telegraph’s November 18 edition went as far as to use the fascist language of Goebbels when referring to Corbyn’s long-standing ally. “Ken Livingstone is a hate-filled cockroach” was the headline. The latest smear from the Guardian, adding to their already long list, was their description of Corbyn as “like a good Marxist” who “is securing his revolution from within.”

Nick Cohen preposterously claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most dishonest politicians you will see in your lifetime”, while the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s transparently biased interview with the labour leader was little more than a scornful attack on his stance on nuclear weapons. Her incredulous responses to his reasonable points, belies the BBC’s claim that it is impartial. Analysis by Medialens show how “mainstream media performance alternates between two distinct modes of reporting”. They point out that:

“the first, ‘fig leaf’, mode presents a view of the world that is overwhelmingly biased in favour of the powerful interests that control, own and support the media, and of which it is a part. Within this bias, room is made for powerful nods and gestures in the direction of honesty and balance.”

An example of this mode was Kuenssberg’s token gesture during the Corbyn interview in which she used the phrase “some voters may think…” which was clearly intended to give the impression of balance as a means of offsetting her aggressive line of questioning in response to Corbyn’s reasonable commitment to the spreading of international law that preceded it. The impression given is that we live in a free and open society where genuine dissent is tolerated.

Medialens continue:

“The second, ‘full propaganda’, mode involves straight forward, no holds barred bias. This is seen in time of war, on royal occasions, on the anniversary of great military victories, and at times when leaders pass away.

On these occasions, balance and impartiality are deemed unnecessary, disrespectful, unpatriotic, irresponsible, even treacherous…Mode 2 reporting, then, sets an essentially totalitarian standard against which public and journalists alike judge media performance…The most powerful weapons in support of mode 2 performance are patriotism and shame…”

Andrew Neil’s impassioned eulogy during the opening sequence of the BBCs flagship political discussion programme, This Week broadcast on November 19 is an example of the second, “full propaganda” mode. Neil’s linking of the nuclear power state to a succession of great French thinkers was his way of showing support for Hollande’s foray into bombing its former colony. Neil’s “inaccurate nonsense in the form of nice memorable words strung together with angry sad words” was critiqued in a brilliant piece of polemical writing by Frankie Boyle.

What both Boyle’s article and the Medialen’s analysis highlight, is that parliamentary democracy in the absence of a democratic media creates the illusion of popular consent while enhancing the power of the state and the privileged interests protected by it.

The battle for media control is akin to the analogy of the fight for territorial domination between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The one that wins is the one that is fed. Democracy is that way. The wolf that wins is the one we feed. And media provides the fodder.