Tag: neoliberalism

Hell of a state: What the tragic story of Don Lane tells us about Tory Britain

By Daniel Margrain

Don Lane

Don Lane, who suffered from diabetes, earned his living by delivering parcels to peoples’s homes and businesses throughout the country. Although Mr Lane was paid a salary by the giant courier company he worked for, according to the law, he was “self-employed”.

The amount he was paid depended on how many parcels he delivered. Mr Lane received no holiday or sick pay and was under constant pressure to meet targets. Drivers for the company get fined by them for rounds they miss. Mr Lane was recently fined for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes where tragically he collapsed and died.

The scandal that underlies the story is one which the bosses and shareholders of giant multinational companies like the one Don Lane worked “self-employed” for, have seen their dividends and pay go through the roof, while workers at the bottom, have experienced a real terms drop in their income over many years. The ideology that drives this “gushing up” of wealth towards the top, is called neoliberalism.

Before its onset four decades ago, the UK was a much more equal society than it is at present. The available data shows that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly.

As measured by the Gini Coefficient (see below), the redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest, rose sharply under the Thatcher government in 1979. The trend continued, albeit less drastically, under successive Tory and Labour governments where it reached a peak in 2009-10.

Figures show that GDP, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016. This increase in wealth, however, has become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands.

Inequality

SourceIFS 2016

Impact of inequality

report by Oxfam highlights the significant role neoliberalism plays in perpetuating inequality and suggests that the societies most affected are more prone to conflict or instability. The report also points out that extremes of inequality are bad for economic growth, as well as being related to a range of health and social problems including mental illness and violent crime.

Moreover, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the book, The Spirit Level. argue that other impacts of inequality include drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer well-being for children.

Left Foot Forward has cited studies that illustrate the close correlation between inequality and unhappiness. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to, and treat, each other.

But rather than introducing socioeconomic policies that help reduce inequality, the Conservative government under Theresa May, has deliberately and consciously continued with the failed high borrowing-low investment/high debt economic neoliberal model that gives rise to it. Under the guise of austerity, the government have instead turned on workers, the sick and the disabled. The result has been increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicides.

Fragmented

The existence of fragmented and atomised communities outside the confines of the workplace, the reduction in organised labour within it (illustrated by the long-term decline in trade union membership) and the lack of any safety net, means that ordinary people are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of “market forces”.

The ideology that underpins the neoliberal assault is the pseudo-science concept known as biological determinism, the legitimacy of which rests on the assertion that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, as opposed to the result of inherited economic privilege or luck.

Thus, biological determinism reinforces the notion that inequality, injustice and the existence of entrenched hierarchical social structures of government, media and commerce are “natural”.

But it also highlights the artificial limits that a system driven by profit imposes. Any rejection of biological determinism and the rigged market system that reinforces it, is regarded by its promoters as being the fault of the individual, not the social institutions or the way society is structured.

Thus, according to evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists and those within the elite political and media establishment, the solution to overcoming inequality and injustice is not to challenge existing social structures upon which “reality” is based, but rather to alter the chemical composition of the human brain to accommodate it to this reality.

In extreme circumstances it has been used to justify the elimination of individuals altogether who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and/or whose values are perceived to be a “drain on the taxpayer”.

Social Darwinism

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its killing of ‘undesirables’ or ‘low hanging fruit’. These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories.

The said theories adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Intellectual challenges to neoliberalism and evolutionary psychology help undermine the notion that rigid social stratification, inequality and injustice used to justify them, are inevitable. Indeed, prominent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs have for a long time been raising their voices against the neoliberal experiment.

What is self-evidently clear is that the current rigged economic system in which power is increasingly concentrated at the top, is not sustainable. The only thing preventing our ability to tackle extreme inequality is political will.

At the next election voters will be faced with a clear choice – either to maintain the status quo by returning the Conservatives to power or, alternatively, to engender a paradigm shift by electing a Labour government. If future Don Lane’s are to be avoided, then we have no alternative other than to ensure a Corbyn victory.

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Theresa May’s Mansion House speeches: Is Putin an agent of the British state?

By Daniel Margrain

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1959 film, North By Northwest, Cary Grant plays the part of an advertising executive who inadvertently gets caught up in a web of espionage after he is mistaken for “George Kaplan”, a fictional persona created by a government agency in order to thwart the nefarious activities of a spy, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason).

After reading the transcript of Theresa May’s recent Mansion House speech in which she alluded to the alleged nefarious activities of Vladimir Putin, one might reasonably conclude that real life imitates art and that the Russian leader is a creation of Britain’s secret services.

Hard power

Resplendent with cliches and insubstantial rhetorical flourishes low on substance, May’s projection of hard power harked back to the days of the British Empire in which, as George Galloway famously remarked, “the sun never set because God would never trust the English in the dark”.

May’s vision of a post-Brexit Britain in a globalized world, is marked by ‘humanitarian interventionism’ predicated on military pre-emption, or as one US administration official put it, “pre-emptive retaliation”. Such a foreign policy strategy is one in which the ‘responsibility to protect’ is informed by a notion of imperialist exceptionalism couched in the language of economic liberalism and free markets. This is regarded by the political establishment as the best way to counter (largely imaginary) military threats.

Last years Mansion House speech

Thus, in the tradition of Kipling, May emphasized that the historic role of Britain was to nurture ‘less enlightened’ societies by invoking in them the virtues of neoliberal ‘trickle-down’ economics. This sentiment echoes the substantive part of the Mansion House speech May made this time last year:

“Over our long history, this country has set the template for others to follow”, said May.

The PM continued:

“We demonstrate to the world that we can be the strongest global advocate for free markets and free trade.”

But as income inequality has continued to increase inexorably since last years Mansion House speech, the PM has been left to ponder as to whether ‘trickle-down’ is not really a case of ‘gushing-up’. Regardless, there is scant evidence she intends to do anything about it, preferring instead to regurgitate the requisite caveats:

“There have been downsides to globalisation in recent years, and that – in our zeal and enthusiasm to promote this agenda as the answer to all our ills – we have on occasion overlooked the impact on those closer to home who see these forces in a different light”, said the PM.

May added:

“If we take a step back and look at the world around us, one of the most important drivers becomes clear – the forces of liberalism and globalisation which have held sway in Britain, America and across the Western world for years have left too many people behind.”

But rather than acknowledge that neoliberal ideology is the catalyst for growing inequality, May persists with the illusion that the rules-based international capitalist system on which it is based, represents the solution to the problem:

“Liberalism and globalisation…underpin the rules-based international system that is key to global prosperity and security and which I am clear we must protect and seek to strengthen,” claimed May.

White man’s burden

The alleged merits of a 19th century rules-based liberal system rooted in the Kipling-esque “white man’s burden” notion of modern international relations, was a topic May returned to during her November 13, 2017 speech:

“So as we reach out into the world and write this new chapter in our national history, the task of a global Britain is clear – to defend the rules based international order against irresponsible states that seek to erode it”, said May.

Clearly, the PM had one country in mind as one of the more significant of the worlds “irresponsible states” who she regards as potentially undermining neoliberalism’s global reach:

“The comprehensive new economic partnership we seek will underpin our shared commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of those who seek to undermine them. Chief among those today, of course, is Russia”, said May.

Ratcheting-up

Ratcheting-up Russia’s imaginary threat to Western civilization, May remarked:

“Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe.”

This simplistic analysis conveniently overlooks the subversive actions of the US in the Ukraine and broader geopolitical and strategic contextual objectives of the Western-led alliance which meant that Putin was left with little option other than to incorporate Crimea in order to attempt to fend off an encroaching NATO.

Also, by limiting her critique to Europe, May ignored the attempts by Britain, France, the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia among others, to destabilize Syria in addition to the US-led coalitions decades-long illegal wars of aggression against the sovereign nations of Iraq and Libya.

May stepped-up the anti-Russian line by reproducing unsubstantiated soundbites against the country. The PM falsely inferred that Russia’s supposed state-run media propaganda is unique to a country whose official enemies constantly use the rhetoric of war against it.

May’s anti-Russian tirade during the latter part of her speech culminated in what were clear threats against Putin – an arrogance akin to that of a 19th century imperial overseer. Seemingly eager to continue justifying the reinforcing of the British industrial-military complex, May added to the fear mongering rhetoric:

“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise”, she said.

That it’s Britain and it’s NATO allies, not Russia, that represents the greatest potential threat to world peace, is unmentionable in mass corporate media parlance.

Weaponising information

Ironically, the Russian state broadcaster, RT, who Theresa May in her speech alluded seeks to “weaponise information…in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”, revealed the collusion between the Western powers and ISIS. This was a fact that the BBC only began to belatedly acknowledge many years later.

So, as Patrick Henningsen astutely pointed out with an air of sarcasm, using May’s logic, the much maligned Vladimir Putin – who the PM effectively accused of ‘weaponising information’ – is presumably meddling in the BBC?

Another possibility is that he is a double agent, who like the Cary Grant character in North By Northwest, is unknowingly working for the British government. The third, and most likely possibility, is that Theresa May is a hypocrite and liar.

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Why Corbyn Will Win the Next Election

By Daniel Margrain


Jeremy Corbyn at the thousands-strong Leeds rally on Saturday

Jeremy Corbyn at a thousands-strong Leeds rally (Pic: Neil Terry)

During the Labour leadership nomination process last year – much to the consternation of Harriet Harman – forty-eight opposition MPs who genuinely desire an alternative to the austerity-driven policies of the Tories, did the honourable thing by voting against the governments welfare reform legislation. One of the other numerous prominent Labour MPs who refused to vote against the Tories was Owen Smith. Needless to say, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t one of them.

As I alluded to at the time, the kind of concession to the Tories made by Harman and Smith was predicated on the belief that Labour has to move to the right in order to be electable.

Given the Liberal Democrat’s close ideological proximity to the Tories during their power sharing term, and their subsequent virtual demise following the last election, the strategic move by Harman and the party hierarchy was clearly a calculable risk.

Harman’s assumption appeared to have been that there was no longer any more political and electoral traction to be gained by appealing to a diminishing band of traditional left wing voters. However, subsequent events proved that she was wrong and that these, as well as other voters, many of whom are young had, prior to Corbyn, been largely abandoned by the political class.

If it is to be accepted that the class structure of British society remains largely intact and that the real life experiences of the vast majority in the country were made worse under the austerity-driven policies of the Tories, then rationally the notion would be that the voices of those adversely affected by these policies would eventually at some point make themselves heard.

And so it came to pass. The rise of Corbyn gave voice to the voiceless and hope that things could change for the better by transforming apathy into a mobilizing political force. Corbyn went on to oversee a growth in the party’s membership to well over half a million – making it the biggest left-of-centre party in Europe, while Harman, Smith and the rest of the New Labour ideologues are fast becoming a footnote in history.

Outside the relatively small band of Labour party dissenters, the opposition to welfare cuts and austerity in England have come from the SNP, Plaid and the Greens. Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997 predicated on a left-wing mandate, the dominance of the SNP in Scotland and the popularity of both Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon, all put the lie to many of the claims in the corporate media that you have to be right wing to win elections. The official announcement this morning (September 24) that Jeremy Corbyn had convincingly beaten his right-wing rival, Owen Smith with a second mandate of 61.8 per cent is likely to bring this myth into even more of a sharper focus.

The reality is the people of England are inherently no more right wing than the people of Scotland. But the mainstream media commentators who marginalize, ridicule and smear those with left wing views, most certainly are. So it’s not a question of their being no appetite for left-wing views among the public, rather, the issue is one in which an inherently right-wing mainstream media attempt to manufacture the public’s consent through a process of propaganda and censorship by omission. As self-publicist, John McTernan illustrated on last Wednesday’s (September 21) Channel 4 News, rather than bringing political power to account, the media’s role is that of its gatekeeper.

As has been well documented, the orchestrated and systematic media vilification of Corbyn has been virtually incessant since the moment he was elected as leader. Moreover, the decision to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was planned by a core group in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) almost as soon as he won his landslide victory in September last year.

Corbyn’s second decisive victory within a year is unlikely to deter his detractors in their quest to continue to smear and undermine his leadership at every opportunity. Those who pre-planned and coordinated the coup and the subsequent war of attrition against him were so confident in succeeding that they briefed the Daily Telegraph about their plot to overthrow the Labour leader.

As journalist Steve Topple has shown, the attempt to depose Corbyn continues to be orchestrated behind the scenes by among others, public relations company Portland Communications whose Strategic Counsel includes former Blair spin-doctor, Alistair Campbell. The war of attrition also involves the McCarthyite purging of Corbyn supporters, a tradition of disdain for the grass roots membership which has a long history within the hierarchy of the party.

As Corbyn’s vindication by the memberships overwhelming support of him shows, the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of his opponents serves nobody other than the narrow careerist motivations of an out of touch elite who have their snouts embedded in the trough and don’t want to give up their privileges without a fight. And that, as far the likes of Harman, Smith and the rest of the New Labour establishment are concerned, is clearly the crux of the matter.

A sincere and incorruptible politician like Corbyn represents a potential threat to these privileges and the gravy train that sustains them. This explains why the New Labour bubble would prefer a Tory government over a Corbyn government and thus are happy to continue with the ‘divided party at war with one another’ meme. This was what the challenge to Corbyn’s authority within the right-wing of the party is really all about. It’s not that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t.

In that sense, the political battle lines have been drawn, not between the Tories, MSM and the opposition, but between the Tories, MSM, opposition and the rest of us. In the weeks and months prior to the election of Corbyn, I hadn’t remembered a time when the disconnect between the political establishment and ordinary people that Corbyn’s popularity represents had been greater. The former argue that he is unelectable while the latter put the lie to that myth.

The notion that Corbyn is unelectable is a joke. In his constituency of Islington North, Corbyn inherited a majority of 4,456, which is now 21,194. He’s one of the few Labour MPs whose vote increased between 2005 and 2010, when he added 5,685 to his majority. It’s true that Corbyn is currently well behind in the polls and it’s going to be tough – in my view, impossible – to unite the right-wing of the party that appears unwilling to work alongside him.

But it must be remembered that pre-coup, Labour led the Tories in three polls in a row over 41 days. Also Corbyn’s record at elections is exemplary. London and Bristol now have Labour mayors, rolling back years of Tory dominance, while Labour’s majorities in by-elections have uniformly increased. Moreover, as George Galloway pointed out, last Thursday Labour won three local government by-elections – two off the Tories and one off the SNP. In May’s local elections, the party overtook the Tories in the share of the vote, coming from seven points behind at the last election.

Meanwhile, the party which haemorrhaged 4.9 million votes between 1997 and 2010 under the ‘triangulated’ leadership of a man who lobbies on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, claimed in a moment of Orwellian irony, that Corbyn is a disaster for the party. This can only be beneficial for the current Labour leader. Finally, Corbyn’s Tory counterpart, Theresa May’s unpopular campaign focusing on grammar schools and the uncertain situation around Brexit is also likely to play into Corbyn’s hands.

So the implication the public don’t necessarily favour Corbyn’s politics is wrong. On the contrary, his position on issues like the NHS and the re-nationalization of the railways are universally popular. Rather it’s more the case that the establishment know Corbyn is incorruptible and therefore feel they are unable to win him over on their terms. Consequently, they realize that the longer Corbyn remains at the helm the more likely it will be that those sympathetic to him and his policies will be elected into positions of power.

It’s unlikely that the Tories will call a snap election given that the proposed boundary changes will benefit them electorally at a later date. This means that Corbyn will potentially have time to initiate the changes required in order to unite the party or, more likely, rid it of the plotters before the likely election in 2020. Four years is a lifetime in political terms and I’m convinced that if Corbyn and those close to him can see off the plotters, he can win.

 

September 12, 2015: the day Blairism died

By Daniel Margrain

The momentous nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory  one year ago should not be underestimated. It has to go down as one of the most sensational and politically earth shattering events in modern British political history – the impacts of which sent tremors throughout the entire establishment. After the announcement was made that Corbyn had won, it was obvious that the smiles, handshakes and applause of the vast majority of the calculating and opportunistic labour elite were as a fake as Blair’s claim that Saddam was about to attack Britain within 45 minutes.

A pointer to the overwhelming inspiration underlying Corbynism was the fact that no less than 160,000 volunteers who seemingly emerged out of nowhere, were recruited to the cause. The grass roots support that Corbyn engendered – by far the biggest of its kind in history – was almost certainly the catalyst that propelled him to victory. Although the activists were mainly young people, they were by no means exclusively so. In fact the demographic was wide ranging.

Corbyn’s straight talking, lucidity, and unambiguous commitment to a programme of anti-austerity brought many older activists who had felt betrayed by the direction the party had gone under Blair, back into the fold. To put Corbyn’s victory into context, he secured a higher percentage of votes than Blair in 1994  Even more significantly, the 554,272 votes he achieved was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76 per cent of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair received.

This suggests that ‘Corbynmania’ is no ‘flash in the pan’. On the contrary, it represents a new hope for people that society can make a great leap forward from the decades of Blairism where nothing happened, to weeks where decades happen. Neoliberal ideology and the cementing of the Red-Tory axis, which for many was perceived to have been fixed and immutable has, with the rise of Corbynism ,the potential to be swept into the dustbin of history. All that is solid really can melt into air.

When Corbyn was first nominated, he was seen by his opponents – both inside and outside the party – as a joke candidate. But an indication of how seriously he has been taken since he became leader is the extent to which the mainstream corporate media and Tory establishment continue to unanimously attack him.

Tories such as Gove, Fallon, Cameron, Osborne and Patel who thought an opposition party lead by Corbyn could only enhance their political careers, were the ones who subsequently read out an unsubstantiated claim contained within what was clearly a widely circulated Whitehall-issued memo which asserted Corbyn was a threat to national security. Gove then went on to misquote the Labour leader by implying he was economically incompetent and an apologist for Osama bin Laden.

The smearing wasn’t restricted to the media and Tories. On the labour side, around twelve MPs ‘lent’ Corbyn their support ostensibly to widen the contest. Blairites such as Margaret Beckett who nominated Corbyn clearly as a tokenistic gesture, described herself as a moron after Corbyn won. His victory had therefore rebounded back in her face.

No sooner had Corbyn’s victory based on clear and unambiguous principles been announced, then threats to resign by ‘modernizing’ frontbenchers followed. According to the Daily Mail at the time of Corbyn’s election victory, among the Labour figures refusing to serve in his team were high profile prominent Blairites Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Vernon Coaker, Michael Dugher, Shabana Mahmood, Mary Creagh and Lucy Powell. I’m sure the Tories will welcome these unscrupulous careerists with open arms.

The resignations were undertaken on the basis that Corbyn’s programme was too ‘extreme’. Is a refusal to be a part of the Labour friend of ethnic cleansing (sorry, Israel) rump within the party ‘extreme’? Is supporting the nationalization of the railways and utilities ‘extreme’?

Is it also ‘extreme’ to oppose nuclear weapons, war, the growing wealth gap and supporting the need for a massive affordable house building programme that benefits the mass of the population? How can it be that as far as the PLP are concerned, all these things are regarded as ‘extreme’, yet the bailing-out of bankers that benefit nobody other than bankers, is not?

It’s precisely the kinds of principles Corbyn espouses that has resulted in the regurgitation of the official/media meme which criticises him for voting against his party 500 times. This is represented as disloyalty. The notion that he might have voted against the Tories, while most of his Blairite colleagues, many of whom are war criminals, voted with them, is quietly forgotten.

The notion that the Blairites within the PLP will willingly work alongside Corbyn after having spent a large part of the past year conspiring against him – despite the elected leader’s continued attempts at reconciliation – is, I would suggest, delusional. If he wins the election on September 24, as expected, it’s almost certain that the war of attrition against him will continue. Any reluctance to act decisively against the destabilizing elements is likely to be seized upon resulting in a possible split within the party.

Corbyn might be banking on the possibility that a newly elected pro-Corbyn NEC will reinvigorate the party further from the grass roots up leading to a dissipation of the Blairites by stealth, akin to the melting of ice enveloped by steam. As the parties grass roots expand, the reliance on corporate funding and large individual donations lessens. This will give more confidence for Corbyn and his allies to expose, as John Moon put it“the ongoing immoral motivations and machinations of their elected Blairite MPs”, thus initiating the possibility of deselection at the grass-roots level.

A year ago, I heard Ken Livingston on LBC say that under Corbyn the party will unify with little signs of any attempts to undermine him. In terms of the latter, he has been proven wrong. We await the outcome of the former. My fear is that in the absence of any purging of the Blairite clique, the gap between the ideology represented by the elite within the hierarchy of the party and the multitude of its members is so vast, as to be irreconcilable. I strongly suspect that something will have to give as the party moves forward, but we will see.

The idea that a highly principled leader of a party who espouses peace and reconciliation can reconcile two diametrically opposing forces, seems to me to be a bridge too far. But equally, the notion that these irreconcilable forces are able to keep Blairism teetering on the edge of the precipice by its fingernails indefinitely, is as misguided as the insistence that a free-falling object is able to resist the gravitational pull of the earth.

As I type this, I’m watching Corbyn being interviewed by the BBC in relation to the proposed boundary changes against a backdrop in which fellow comrades are seen uniting behind those protesting against the police brutality at Orgreave. A year ago a newly elected Corbyn was protesting at a rally about the terrible treatment of refugees created by Cameron and Blair’s wars. Could, you dear reader, imagine Owen Smith or any of Corbyn’s predecessors post-Michael Foot doing that?

 

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.

 

Victorian Holocausts & the Tory killing machine

By Daniel Margrain

Author Milan Kundera’s aphorism that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” might well have been written for Britain’s poor, mentally ill and disabled who lately have slipped from the media headlines and hence the consciousness of the wider public. To their credit, shortly before the last General Election, the Mirror newspaper reminded their readers how many ordinary mentally-ill and disabled people who had nothing to do with causing the financial crisis had committed suicide which the Tory government had attempted to cover-up.

Although initially the opposition from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to releasing figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who had died between November 2011 and May 2014 was solid, increasing political pressure from below meant that they were eventually forced into releasing the information by the Information Commissioner (IC). The DWP Secretary at that time, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that his department has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the governments work capability assessment (WCA) and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide, despite the fact that the coroners findings stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause”.

It’s clear that the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith practiced ‘chequebook euthanasia’  in which “WCA assessors used psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the ‘burden’ on society caused by these “useless eaters”.  A year down the line, and with Duncan Smith gone, many people hoped that there would be a change in policy direction. But this has been to no avail. After announcing that the government had “no further plans” for benefit cuts in March of this year, Duncan Smith’s replacement, Stephen Crabb has recently said to have gone back on his word.

Crabb has implied that six years of “welfare reforms” (euphemism for £12 billion of cuts) look set to continue for the sick and disabled which will almost certainly result in yet more unnecessary deaths among some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Mike Sivier has correctly, in my view, described this Tory policy as a “war of attrition” that “may clearly be seen as a genocide”. This form of ‘chequebook euthanasia’ would not be possible without the intervention of Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, who oversees the writing of the cheques.

The attempts by the Tories to humiliate and inflict immense suffering on the weakest in society, in what film-maker Ken Loach described as the British governments “conscious cruelty” towards them, would not have come as any surprise to Osborne’s Victorian counterparts. These Victorian politicians would have shared with the Tory Chancellor an ideological commitment towards ending ‘welfare dependency’ which then, as now, lofty sounding morals were regularly evoked.

One of Osborne’s prominent 19th century counterparts was ‘India’s Nero’, Lord Lytton. Queen Victoria’s ‘favourite opium-smoking poet’, vehemently opposed efforts to interfere with ‘market forces’. In 1877-78 he rubber-stamped the export of a record amount of wheat grain to Europe rather than relieve starvation in India. During the late 19th century, India, under Lytton, had effectively become a Utilitarian laboratory where millions of lives were wagered against dogmatic faith in omnipotent markets overcoming the “inconvenience of dearth”.

A similar Utilitarian laboratory had been established by Britain in Ireland during this late Victorian period. Under the tutelage of free market zealot, Chancellor Lord Charles Trevelyan, the Irish famine ‘relief effort’ was put into place that resulted in a politically-induced genocide no different in principle to the ‘chequebook euthanasia’ policy of the modern day Tories. The tragedy of the famine is commemorated by people from all over the world who, next Saturday (May 21), will descend on the beautiful County Mayo coastline in the west of Ireland to take part in the annual ten mile Famine Walk from Doo Lough to Louisburgh – the town where on the night of March 30, 1849, hundreds of starving people arrived seeking relief and workhouse shelter.

They were met at the shelter by the local Poor Law guardians whose role was to ‘inspect’them as certification for their ‘official pauper’ status. This would then supposedly entitle them to a ration of food to be eaten the following morning at a fishing establishment called Delphi Lodge owned by the Marquess of Sligo, ten miles away. Many didn’t arrive at their destination having died from exposure to the harsh elements or through starvation. The few that did make it were refused the relief they were told they were entitled to and they died on their homeward journey, with the bodies remaining where they fell.

Such tragedies were common in Ireland in the mid-19th century. By 1871 the population of Ireland had halved, with at least 1.5 million dead. Two million fled to America, many of them dying during the voyage or on arrival. The historian and critic, Terry Eagleton, describes the famine as “the greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe, an event with something of the characteristics of a low-level nuclear attack.”  In echoing the kind of detached but scornful class-based attitude the contemporary ruling elite have towards their working class minions Trevelyan, in a rather casually racist manner, said of the Irish:

“The great evil with which we have to contend, is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Lord Clarendon, an establishment Anthony Wedgewood (Tony) Benn, of his day, pleaded with the Liberal PM, Lord Russell to intervene, stating:

“Surely this is a state of things to justify you asking the House of Commons for an advance. For I don’t think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in such a policy of extermination.”

Clarendon’s call for Russell to intervene wasn’t heeded and neither were similar calls to prevent famines in other nations during the Victorian colonial era – China, India, Egypt, Korea, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the latter two countries alone, an estimated one-third of the populations died. The European empires, together with Japan and the United States, rapaciously exploited the opportunity to wrest new colonies, expropriate communal lands, and tap novel sources of plantation and mine labour. As Mike Davis points out:

“What seemed from a metropolitan perspective the nineteenth century’s final blaze of imperial glory was, from an Asian or African viewpoint, only the hideous light of a giant funeral pyre. The total human toll…could not of been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.”

The famines of the Victorian era continue to resonate today. Then, as now, they are a symptom of social and economic policies that result in unnecessary deaths. Even in the 19th century this was well understood. The radical journalist and humanitarian, William Digby, principal chronicler of the 1876 Madras famine, as well as famed naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, for example, both viewed mass starvation as an avoidable political tragedy not ‘natural’ disaster. Published in 1898, Wallace characterized the famines in India and China, together with the slum poverty of the industrial cities, as “the most terrible failures of the century.”

Millions died, not outside the capitalist system but in the very process of being forcibly incorporated into its economic and political structures. Indeed, they were murdered by the theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Bentham, Malthus and Mill in much the same way as hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of today’s poor, mentally ill and disabled have, under the Tories, died as a result of the neoclassical economic Chicago School’s application of the sacred principles of Friedman and Stigler. The consensus view among the ruling class of the Victorian era was that famine was deemed to be morally justifiable as a “salutary cure for over-population.”

Today, over 3 million of the world’s children die (needlessly) from hunger. Indebted countries are forced to export food as a ‘free-market’ commodity while the producers are denied their own produce and many of them go hungry, and their children starve. That is what happened in Ireland and India. In Trevelyan and Lytton’s day it was known as Liberalism. Today it is known as ‘neoliberalism’. “England made the famine”, wrote the Irish socialist, James Connolly, “by a rigid application of the economic principles that lie at the base of capitalist society.” In essence, nothing has changed. The ruling class attitude towards the poor and sick who suffer as a result of the political consequences and actions of those who rule over them, is as embedded today as it was a century and a half ago.