Tag: tories

“Time to trash the Tories” by *not* voting: Steve Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper at the General Election

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By Daniel Margrain

It came as a complete bolt out of the blue for this writer to learn that one of the most politically astute, articulate, insightful and widely respected journalists in a generation is to abstain from voting at the forthcoming General Election.

Steve Topple, who in many ways I saw as mentor, and who has often promoted my work on twitter where many others ignored it, yesterday (May 1, 2017) came out publicly on social media to effectively state that he sees no political value in voting at elections.

According to Topple, placing a cross next to the name of a candidate at elections is akin to endorsing a corrupt capitalist system.

In response to criticisms from readers, Topple announced the following on Facebook (May 1, 2017):

“Oh dear.

So, seemingly because I’m going to spoil my ballot at the election, I must have come to this decision from a position of privilege.

NOPE. I’ve spent years at the hands of the DWP, living off crisis loans, money people have dropped in the street, hand-outs and generally eating thin air.

I now live on a council estate with my GF and her ten-year-old son, the former who has just had all her benefits stopped. So we’re living off my Canary wage.

SO DON’T COME ONTO MY TL TELLING ME THAT BY SPOILING MY BALLOT I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALL THE BAD SHIT THAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE TORIES GET IN AGAIN.

I’ve spent 12 years living at the hands of Labour and Tory governments. And the DWP. So probably know far better than half the people commenting just how FUCKING BAD things can be.

So you can take your assumptions about ‘virtue signaling’ journalists and shove them up your prolier-than-thou arses. Or come to my estate, knock my door and try telling it to my face.”

To a certain extent, I understand and sympathize with Topple’s predicament, particularly as I learned through recent exchanges on twitter (May 3, 2017), that Steve lives in a safe Tory constituency. Just for the record, I’ve not spent twelve years living in the hands of successive Labour and Tory governments like Topple has, but thirty-eight years having first voted in 1979. So if anyone can claim to feel embittered and disillusioned, it’s people of my age who have suffered for far longer.

I, like Topple, have abstained at elections in the past in situations where no meaningful choices have been offered to the electorate. I understand the arguments that override his rejection of a capitalist system that benefits the elite ruling class minority at the expense of the rest of us.

Under normal circumstances, his arguments could be seen as a legitimate response to the actions of corrupt Labour party leaders who have put the interests of the establishment above the electorate. But these are not normal circumstances and Corbyn is far from being the usual Labour leader.

Those who have argued that the reason Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper on the basis that he is doing so from a position of privilege, are barking up the wrong tree. Anybody who has followed Steve’s journalistic career, will know that his various articles focusing on political and current affairs issues that rally against injustice and inequality are sincere and heartfelt.

This makes it all the more perplexing why Topple hadn’t decided to make an exception by refraining from spoiling his paper this time around given circumstances in which a Labour government under Corbyn would almost certainly usher in a much needed transformative kind of politics.

Apart from what I regard as Steve’s lack of wisdom in relation to his decision to spoil his ballot paper, I also reject his justification that underpins this decision. Topple’s apparent insistence that the inherent structural failings of capitalism cannot be reconciled with a democratic polity to help rein-in the systems worst excesses is, in my view, indicative of a narrow defeatist outlook.

There is no reason to believe that engaging in the political process and putting the case for a revolutionary transformation of society cannot go hand in hand. It might not be the kind of revolution Steve imagines, but that is cold comfort to those who have lost loved ones as a direct consequence of Tory austerity.

The notion that increased hardship and suffering is a necessary prerequisite to the onset of revolution, which is what Topple seems to be implying is, I would argue, ultimately selfish and, should in my view, be rejected. Too many people who are suffering untold pain under the Tories, cannot afford to wait for people like Steve Topple to be awoken from their slumber at the point at which the revolution begins.

People are suffering under the Tories in ways not witnessed since the Victorian era and they are desperately hoping for some light in what is a very long tunnel. Corbyn is the first Labour leader in decades that provides them with some much needed optimism for the future.

What we are currently seeing unfold, is potentially one of the greatest periods in British political history. An honourable and decent man who has fought off two coups against him, has too many decent folk riding on his success at the election for him to be dismissed out of hand by people who should know better.

In the hope that Steve might reconsider his decision to spoil his ballot paper, Corbyn supporter, Felicity A Wright, wrote on Facebook (May 1, 2017):

“Listen, Steve, I get it. I’m a crip and on benefit and I felt so let down by Labour that I spoiled my ballot last time by writing “None” across it. My husband, who is my full-time carer, spoiled his with more panache by writing “Clement Attlee” across it. And that’s the thing: I believe Jeremy Corbyn IS the new Clement Attlee. Have you seen his record? He’s been on the side of the poor, the weak, the voiceless from the beginning. He has been arrested for protesting against Apartheid & for refusing to pay the Poll Tax. I believe he is a genuinely good man and that, unlike the Kinnock/Blair side of the Labour Party, he cares about making a fairer society. So I’m voting Labour & so is my husband, in the hope that Jeremy really is what he seems to be. Please do the same! The Canary is one of the things which has given me this hope and is the only news outlet I actually subscribe to. Keep the faith. xxx”

Felicity is right.  There are literally millions of voters out there who see in Corbyn somebody who is not just another self-serving careerist politician, but a man who is sincere and whose is motivated by a need to make society better for the many as opposed to the few.

Having read Topple’s often brilliant polemical articles, it would seem highly improbable that he is oblivious to the differences between New Labourism exemplified by Blair and the old Labour of Corbyn. Moreover, given the political landscape since Thatcher, the notion he intends to abstain from voting, particularly as his anti-Tory polemics are so incisive, means that I’m at a loss to rationalize his thought process.

The truth is, as ill-judged as I think Topple’s decision to spoil his ballot paper is, it’s not my main point of contention. What I find particularly strange are the contents of a recent tweet of his in which the slogan “Time to trash the Tories” is invoked. It’s bizarre that “trashing the Tories” is seen by Steve as being concomitant to spoiling ones ballot paper.

Topple is not just any old bloke, but a highly influential and respected journalist who many people look up to for inspiration and guidance. In short, in the age of social media where more people than ever rely on alternative sources of information to counter the fake news of the mass media, opinions of the calibre of investigative journalists like Steve Topple matter.

Despite it’s supposed non-corporate credentials, the on-line publication Topple often writes pieces for, the Canary, is still heavily dependent on advertising revenue streams for its existence. As such, the news outlet is interwoven into the very fabric of a system Steve purports to hate.

Further, it is reasonable from the perspective of his many readers, to deduce that his effective absolving of responsibility of the election outcome, is undermined by the content of his polemical articles in which he consistently prosthelytizes against the Tories. Unfortunately, because of the contrarian position he has taken, Topple’s visceral attacks on the Tories from here on in, will lack credibility.

Yesterday (May 1, 2017) was a very sad day for me personally having learned that a writer I have long admired and respected made the incredulous decision to spoil his ballot paper – a decision that can only benefit the Tories.

I sincerely hope Steve changes his mind in the days ahead.

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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?

 

‘No one is left to speak for me.’

By Daniel Margrain

The systematic redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest which began under Thatcher, continued under Blair and currently is increasing at a pace under Cameron, is emblematic of the relationship between welfare state retrenchment and the notion of the role of the state as facilitator of welfare handouts to the corporate sector.

Farm subsidies, public sector asset stripping, corporate tax avoidance and evasion, government share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies are just some of the ways in which the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the economic crisis of 2008.

Meanwhile, in June this year, the UK government announced £12 billion of welfare cuts that included the abolition of working tax credits to the poorest and the top down reorganisation of the NHS brought about by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act which removes the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive service. The act requires up to 49 percent of services to be tendered out to “any qualified provider” . This will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales.

The punitive attacks on the unemployed, sick and disabled have been stepped up resulting in 500,000 people using food banks in addition to increasing rates of depression, anxiety and incidences of suicides among those on benefits. In social care, a combination of cuts of around 30 percent to local authority budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets will leave millions without the support they need.

Finally, the reduction in housing benefit to the unemployed allied to the bedroom tax is a double whammy that has resulted in growing rates of homelessness and/or the social cleansing and displacement of entire communities, many of them long established.

What are these attacks on the welfare state about? The government have long argued that they are needed in order to reduce the budget deficit. But on the very same day that the bedroom tax was announced in parliament (estimated to “save” the Treasury £480 million) the top rate of tax in the UK was cut from 50 percent to 45 percent, resulting in a loss of revenue of £1 billion.

The only rational explanation is that “austerity” is being used by the Tory government as a pro-corporate ideological weapon against both the welfare state as a concept and the general population who, in one way or another, rely on it in some shape or form. Those affected are not just the poor and traditional blue collar workers but also the lower ranks of the middle classes highlighted by the fact that the cuts are now beginning to have political repercussions within David Cameron’s own Oxfordshire constituency.

An obvious example of how Tory cuts are beginning to impact on the community at large, is in the field of social care for the elderly. In an increasingly aging society, the pressure on the social care system will become more acute as demand for its services increase. But a service motivated by profit is necessarily compromised in terms of its ability to provide a universal service of care predicated on need.

Another example, are the government’s proposals to cut the police budget by 40 per cent with the predicted loss of some 22,000 front line police officers to be replaced by private security firms. These firms will be drafted in by communities in suburbs and villages to fill the gap in neighbourhood policing left by the budget cuts. In an Essex seaside town, more than 300 residents have effectively been forced to club together to pay for overnight private security patrols.

The implications of the drive towards a privatized police force motivated primarily by profit are clear. The tendency would be for any crime not committed on the patch where customers pay privately for their service to be ignored or underplayed. The potential for the creation of protection rackets and vigilantism exists in situations where people who are not in a position to be able to afford for protection live near to people who can.

Justine Greening’s Kafkaesque contention on last Thursdays (November 5) Question Time programme that the reduction in policing in areas where crime is falling, justifies cuts to those areas, illustrates further the political undermining of the concept of universal provision. It’s my view that outsourcing is part of the Tory strategy to run down public services as the precursor to their dismantling prior to them being sold off. In fact, as Noam Chomsky put it, this process is standard practice:

“[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.”  

What underlies the privatization strategy are the various vested interests involved. For instance, the husband of the woman responsible for cutting police budgets – Home Secretary Theresa May – is a major shareholder in G4S. Moreover, 70 MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms, and more than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords “have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England.” 

For the Tory government, the ideological crux of the matter is that profit maximization for the corporations they represent is regarded as taking priority over the concept of a properly functioning and accountable welfare state and public sector. Profit has become the guiding principle for the organisation of society from which everything is judged including perceptions of success and happiness.

This is reinforced daily on television programmes and in the lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers. Moreover, power that profit implies, is linked to the concept of biological determinism in that it tries to convince us that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, so that inequality and injustice cannot be eliminated.

Any rejection of this model is regarded by the apologists for the system as being the fault of the individual and not the social institutions or the way society is structured. The solution is thus to change – or even eliminate – the individuals, not to challenge the existing social structures.

It’s the current form of social organisation that biological determinism reinforces which ensures the David Cameron’s of this world secure their place at the top of the food chain. It also highlights to the rest of us the artificial limits that the system driven by profit imposes.

The Rich Get The Carrot And The Poor Get The Stick

The juxtaposition and double standards in our society between those at the top and those at the bottom is stark. The gap between the rich and poor continues to increase to the extent that the top earners in the footsie 100 companies’ earn a massive 183 times more than the average earner [1].

The argument of some of those who attempt to justify this massive discrepancy is that the top of society have to be incentivized in order to increase their performance. That’ll be news to the bosses of the publicly subsidized privatized railways and loss making banks whose performances in many instances are found wanting.

Nevertheless, those at the top are invariably given inducements to work better. But that rule of thumb never seems to apply to those at the bottom. Why don’t we try, as Jeremy Corbyn has proposed, “a bit of quantitative easing” for the poorest instead of the richest [2] so that the former will be incentivized to kick start the economy?

But to do so would be an admission of defeat and would therefore undermine the ideological consensus that exists between the New Labour hierarchy and the Tory establishment. If there are good and well paid jobs for people to go into, it would mean that the Tories proposed introduction of their inappropriately named “boot camps”, would not be necessary.

Chris Grayling, the Tory welfare spokesman, has stated that these “boot camps” are in reality compulsory community service programmes for young welfare claimants aged between 18 and 21 aimed at improving work discipline and giving them basic skills to get a job [3].

The term “boot camp” is intended as a soundbite whose aim is to give reassurance to the Tories’ natural constituency of middle England Daily Mail reading voters that they intend to come down hard on “benefit scroungers”.

Why does the establishment always appear to give the impression of using the “stick” approach when it comes to inducing a prescribed behaviour among the poorest in society, whilst the rich are incentivized with the carrot?

If you were to look beyond the headline, the boot camp proposals are, to a limited extent, likely to be beneficial to young people who have difficulty with numeracy, literacy and basic communication skills. But that’s as far it goes. The boot camp idea, in other words, is necessary but not sufficient.

What the concept does not address is the fundamental issue relating to the lack of government investment in proper training and apprenticeship programmes that lead to the opportunity for stable, skilled and well paid jobs, thus giving hope to our young people instead of alienating them.

The Tory language is invariably about “toughness” and “coming down hard” on young people as opposed to the language and policies of hope. Not so for the richest in society who are always offered the “carrot”..

Equality And Social Justice – Cameron Style

The mainstream media today confirmed the Tories commitment to equality and social justice with their announcement of their plans to ensure that UK citizens aged 18-22 are (in line with anti-EU discrimination law), to be exempt from the same rights to tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit as their immigrant counterparts.

Government lawyers have stated: “Imposing additional requirements on EU workers that do not apply to a member state’s own workers constitutes direct discrimination which is prohibited under current EU law” (1).

So, apparently, in order to be compliant with EU law, UK citizens within the 18-22 age group must forgo these benefits on the basis that it’s discriminatory because immigrants are not entitled to them.

But instead of raising the bar by insisting that both UK citizens and immigrants within this age range be entitled to benefits on an equal basis, the Tories have decided to lower it by insisting that neither group are entitled to anything. In other words, equality in the gutter as opposed to equality at the dinner table.

The reason so many immigrants – many of whom risk their lives –  want to come here is because of the perception that the UK is a relative economic powerhouse. However, any cuts to benefits will not deter people who are primarily motivated by the need to improve the lives of themselves and their families as a result of perceived greater work opportunities this country allegedly offers.

The government have done nothing to dispel myths that the UK is a land of milk and honey. This would suggest that their plan to cut welfare across the board in order to adhere to EU law was planned. As blogger Mike Sivier put it: “The migrant situation is a crisis of the Tories’ own making and they are using it to hammer their own fellow citizens” (2).

So what next do the government have in the pipeline you might reasonably ask?

The Tories are ideologically opposed to the welfare state. This latest move is, I would suggest, part and parcel of their intention to get rid of it altogether by stealth. It’s a remarkable state of affairs when our only hope out of this morass appears to be Jeremy Corbyn.