Labour are rebuilding Britain. We must support them.

For the last two years I have spent an inordinate amount of time campaigning in elections or organising for internal party contests. I’ve lost more than I’ve won, but I hope I can say I gave it a bloody good go.

But this election tomorrow, well that’s different.

On Friday many people in this country could have years added on to their lives. Children will be born who would not have otherwise. Homes will be built that will be the birthplace of the history makers of tomorrow.

You can be part of that – but only if we get Labour into power. Only if we secure the most unlikely victory in British electoral history.

It can be done, but not by people like me. I’m the faithful. It’s those of you reading this who think I’m half mad that will tip the scales. You’re the key characters in this now rapidly concluding act.

And why should you? Because we have the most transformational set of policies we are likely to ever see from a major party, and the personnel to deliver it.

Image result for corbyn crowds

When I was a younger man I worked in warehouses, shops, bars, and before I realised I was better off with the books than the breeze blocks – manual labour.

Without exception I was underpaid, undervalued, and as a result felt I contributed little to society and in return society didn’t care all that much about me.

I was, without going into the theory, alienated. Many people are. In fact most people are. It’s this sense of alienation that some accept in return for a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but few actually receive.

Giving workers a £10 minimum wage will transform this country. It will tip the balance towards the many, not the few. Getting rid of the under-25 exemption would have changed my life drastically and the lives of many of those around me.

I was fortunate enough to have a Labour government at that time who helped me through the Future Jobs Fund and decreased tuition fees, but it wasn’t half of what Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are offering young people now.

This platform truly is life altering, and these young people deserve a break. Like you or your parents, they just want steady employment, a decent home, and enough spare change to put a smile on their loved ones faces. There’s nothing ‘radical’ or ‘fantasy land’ about that – it’s common decency.

Yes, Corbyn didn’t take the traditional path to power. Yes, he probably liked Gerry Adams more than he liked Margaret Thatcher – but that does not make him the caricatures he is depicted as in the papers.

I saw this man speaking to a crowd as far back as 2008. All you could get out of him was the need to end the war and the state of housing in this country. A decade later we’re still seeing young working class men come home in coffins, and those who get back alive have nothing but a damp prefab to go into.

Corbyn is leading this party because the country has left a whole generation – millions of people – out in the cold. We have created a society of precarious living in which the measure of a person is whether they manage to scrap together a meagre living in the face of insurmountable odds that sought to push them off a cliff. I accept prosperity should not be handed to you, but you should still have the energy left to enjoy it once you get there.

Labour is a party for those who work, and we want to enable people to do that. We won’t achieve it by pushing their faces into the dirt with the soles of our boot.

Just look at these policies. We could completely redefine Britain.

No income tax rises for anyone earning under £80,000 p/a

£250 billion National Transformation Fund

A genuine industrial strategy based on plugging skills deficits

Introducing a ‘right to own’ for employees

A National Education Service

Removing the pay cap in the NHS

Doubling the number of apprenticeships

100,000 council houses built a year

ALL FULLY COSTED – with a guarantee of no borrowing on day to day spending.

I accept Corbyn has his flaws.

Whilst being a wonderful champion of the solutions to the ills that afflict our worst off communities, he at times fails to understand the cultural preoccupations of working class people. He is a bit too much of a dove in a time where strength is in short supply. Christ, he thinks free instruments for school kids is an important political issue, and he even supports Arsenal…I digress.

Yet despite all this, this strange old man from Islington North has acted with utmost dignity and principle throughout his years in Westminster and the leaders office.

Could anyone else have put up with May’s attacks on his character after Manchester and so adeptly laid into her heinous record on police cuts? Could anyone other than Corbyn have answered a man frothing at the mouth about having to pay increased wages to his staff and come out the other side having convinced both he and the country that in fact investing in people is the key to driving profits?

This is a time for new ideas.

This is a time for Labour.

Please cast your vote for your Labour candidate tomorrow.

There are a lot of people who won’t survive another 5 years.

Thanks to the grafters who have campaigned all the way with me, they know who they are.

Labour lost the battle in Copeland, but it revealed a blueprint for winning the war

On 23rd February 2017 Labour became the first party in opposition to lose a by-election since 1982. That is a disastrous result, and it should have never happened.

Three years from now Labour will regain Copeland and take this country in a fresh direction, forming a government that will be remarkable in both 20th and 21st century history.

But only if they learn the lessons from Copeland.

Image result for copeland by electionWhere it went wrong

A Labour campaign predicated on a message of saving public services presents a strong foundation, but without a decisive and eye catching economic message it will often not be enough.

Labour will win seats like Copeland, Stevenage, Bolton West, and Midlothian by rooting their argument in the day to day reality of those struggling to get by and those who are worried their children will grow up worse off than them.

You rebuild trust, by pointing to a new destination, a promised prosperity that everyone has an investment in. Ordinary people in this country will reject austerity if they see the apparatus to resist it in the hands of those ready to use it.

There is only one way to make Labour that party – and that is to support a candidate and a set of ideas that have never strayed from that path.

In Jeremy Corbyn and the new politics we have that.

But things will have to change if people are to be convinced.

In Copeland voters were unsure, and though many stuck with us because they understand the fundamental truth that under a Tory government they and theirs suffer, they needed to see a greater clarity of purpose from Labour to become positive in that belief once again.

A question many campaigners in Copeland heard repeatedly was ‘what are Labour for?’ or alternatively phrased as ‘who are Labour for?’.

The answer has never changed. I’ll let Eugene Debs say it better than I:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

Labour are not against meritocracy, we are not against the accumulation of wealth – what we are against is privilege and the obscene unaccountable amassing of wealth at the expense of the wider society. If we can convince voters of that I believe we can recast the shape of this society for all.

Our message must now move away from the protestation of the banner and bawl, to a clear and relentless strategy of popular alternative that can address the desire of ordinary communities to prosper again.

It must be the case that by 2020 a significant number of voters who have turned their heads away from Labour since 2010 are able to say – Labour are for me, Labour are for mine.

In approaching Brexit realistically we have taken the first step along that path, and it was my impression that voters in Copeland respected us for that even if they fear what is to come.

There was a time that people would reluctantly accept the closure of a factory in Birmingham or Cardiff because it was part of the maturation of the British economy. They pushed local concerns aside for the betterment of a central driving force, and expected to be rewarded down the line.

Why did Brexit occur? Well, that reward never came.

Quite simply many people are poorer than they were. It’s no good telling ordinary workers that 100s of millions have been lifted out of poverty by globalisation when well paid technical jobs in their area have become rarer than an original idea from the Liberal Democrats.

We lost Copeland for not dissimilar reasons. We were more interested in us than them. The squabbles of Labour over the concerns of the working people of this country.

Here are a few ways we can rebalance that.

Identity

One thing that did come up in Copeland is that Labour are not seen as a party proud of Britain.

Does this mean we should adopt nationalistic/patriotic rhetoric at every turn? No.

What we need is to be proud. Proud in what we are and who we seek to represent. What is patriotic about working in the interests of the minority as the Tories do? If there is any patriotism left in the Palace of Westminster it is represented by the Labour Party, not by those who would seek to defund entire regions so they can polish the taps in the citadel.

The new pride in nation should not be of culture, or warfare – but pride in the fact that we can say people in Britain do not starve, people in Britain do not go homeless, and people in Britain born into the worst circumstances around are able to be the last in their families to do so.

No waving of flags will ever make a Tory a patriot. They want nothing more than to take your money and send it abroad, to feather the nests of the mega rich, in the vain hope it will give them a seat among the global elite.

Enough with the cultural nationalist rhetoric of UKIP, the SNP, and the Conservative Party – let us forge a new national identity that challenges this country to grow our communities over the next decade and make certain that the trajectory for inequality is always downwards. If we can promise that, and make people believe we can achieve it, then this party can go anywhere.

Had that blueprint been more obvious in our recent Brexit battles in Parliament I believe we would have won in Copeland and romped home in Stoke.

Activism

Activism will never be replaced as a fundamental necessity of political struggle. It is what sets the two major parties in this country out from their competitors.

Forgetting my native disdain for the Tory party, they are a campaigning force who will hit the streets and defend their ideas – this we must respect, yet they are no match for Labour on their day. The Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and the Greens are simply not engaged at the same level. Their electoral appeal reflects their effort on the ground, and from this there is a lesson we can learn.

We must never fall into the trap of withdrawing from locales, leaving them to be adopted by another. I saw this brutal reality first hand in Scotland between 2014-16. I saw some of it again in Copeland when a number of men in a local pub said to me “Well where have you lot been for the last 30 years?”. That wasn’t hyperbole – this was the first time they had encountered Labour campaigners. We cannot let that go on.

It was Labour’s new mass membership, inspired to join by Jeremy Corbyn, that enabled Labour to knock on every single door in Stoke a couple of weekends ago. This is how we will build a movement that can win the next general election. I fear without it things could have been a lot worse in Copeland.

We must accept that there are those who are detached and disinterested by the prospect of campaigning. Labour can do better for these people by offering alternative engagements that can contribute to the overall electoral push, but these people must also reflect on their key role in a historical conflict.

For all the conjecture about whether Jeremy Corbyn can ever lead this country there is one consistent truth – if you do not turn up and fight, your hopes will be crushed under foot ruthlessly, and the Tories are the most ruthless collective force in this land. If we are not willing to stand up to their assault on Labour communities, and the communities we seek to speak for, we are not worthy of our title of opposition.

Image result for labour party activismLabour must use increased activity to expand our support in the industrial/service sector/self-employed working class many of whom remain as yet untouched by the message we champion. That’s a root back to power, and a pathway to relevance in a rapidly changing economy.

How can it be that an area such as Clacton-on-Sea is a straight fight between UKIP and the Tories despite having some of the worst deprivation in all of England? . How can it be that a city the size of Glasgow, built on the very hardcore of the British working class be close to becoming a no-go zone for Labour politics? How can it be that Labour do not have a single MP in the South West outside of Bristol when Cornwall suffers such poverty? And how can it be in Copeland that we had nothing to say to those who did not work in urban areas?

Let’s never make that mistake again.

Public and Party

It is not our economic message, but our social one that is failing to bring us to the attention of our traditional voters and beyond.

That is a message introduced, supported, and clung to by the last vestiges of New Labour and it simply will not cut it. We cannot speak to the realities of British politics without coming to a working settlement on immigration that recognises why it is this country voted to leave the European Union. We will not get a hearing from the quiet majority if we attach ourselves inexorably to the identity politics of university debating clubs – whilst ignoring the identity politics that built our party up from nothing – class.

We must continue to hold the key support we have maintained amongst the young middle class, and start to speak to rural communities about the industries they are dependent upon. Our narrow view of class as steel and smoke simply will not do. Simple as it was, and at times overly so, Bernie Sanders harnessing of the 99% vs the 1% took an eccentric Senator from Vermont to running the most heavily backed US presidential candidate in history close in the Democratic race for the White House.

In Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Kate Osamor, Ian Lavery etc we have authentic and relatable voices who can buttress our image as a party of the people. If the new move towards a more populist message is to be fulfilled, it must be MPs like this alongside Corbyn who are speaking for the 99% against those who would seek to send Britain back into a feudal age.

That gives rise to perhaps the most important point. There must be no more talk of coups, deselections, and resignations. The most common reaction the team I was with heard on the doorstep in Copeland was “why should I vote for a party whose MP stepped down after less than two years because he didn’t fancy it anymore?” and those people were right – why should they?

Every single Labour MP is a delegate for their community who has pledged to speak for the voiceless in Parliament. This is not a sabbatical, and you are not a celebrity. You will stand and fight with those people until they say no more at a general election.

And for those of us who play a supporting role, we must fight, fight, fight – until there is nothing but the final step in front of us. If we cannot garner the respect of the people of this country through the media, we can take hostage their attention through our effort. We must all believe that in order to succeed.

If our MPs cannot muster that belief they must return to their constituencies and look around at what may befall such a place if the Tories take it over. They should require no further motivation than that.

Media

The ground war has long since been surpassed by the air war in electoral importance, and we are losing it by some distance.

There is no perfect left wing government. Realising this is a journey Corbyn’s supporters like myself will have to make. It’s a journey we will have to take the centre on with us. In order to do that we will have to support this remarkable man to the hilt.

Far too often I see figures in the more explicitly socialist wings of the party openly discussing quite obvious rumour articles churned out by our opponents with all seriousness. Rarely a day goes by when I do not take note of someone giving credence and attention to the opinion of Owen Jones – a pseudo-journalist working for a newspaper that receives about as much attention from the dispossessed in our society as a Contemporary Art Installation in a Humanist community centre.

I never see the Tories or the SNP doing this – so why should we? Discipline is everything. The media will treat us seriously when everyone from the newest volunteer, to the General Secretary start acting seriously. As one man said to me at the Oldham by-election some time ago “You can be weird, wild or owt in politics – just don’t be a mess”.

We must squash this desire to self-mutilate. We are our own worst enemy on a weekly basis. If you think returning to a New Labour approach of economic liberalism and social patronisation is a terrible idea then you should never ask yourself ‘When would be the best time for Corbyn to go?’ ever again. The only answer is, when he’s finished the job of changing the course of destruction this country is on.

Was Corbyn hated on the doorstep? Certainly not. Corbyn has an enviable narrative – one I fear the Labour Party have not adequately celebrated. There is no one like him in UK politics whatsoever, and that is a unique point of interest and division that we must exploit mercilessly.

The reason Corbyn became leader in the first place is exactly the same reason we must look to in order to make him Prime Minister. He has continuously been on the right side of history.

Were there people with reservations about him? Certainly. It is our job to convince them.

For what it is worth, and though it may be dismissed, those I have met who were unsure about Corbyn were also unsure about Miliband. We can learn the lessons of the 2015 campaign to make sure the result is different this time.

Image result for tory cutsWill Labour turn the polls around by the end of the year? Probably not.

Will Jeremy Corbyn become the next Prime Minister? I believe so.

Yet it will require a continuous and targeted campaign of popular appeal that sets Labour against vested interests in favour of defending the concerns of working people and those just managing to get by.

Will we need the media on side to do it? We certainly should not give up on that desire, but we must also set ourselves against their pettiness.

Were the media ever on the side of those whose heating was shut off in the middle of winter?

Were the media ever supporting us when we begged a foolhardy government to stop bombing poor people in Iraq on the whim of a Texan fantasist?

And the media won’t be on the side of the people of Copeland when the West Cumberland hospital is finally closed.

But we were…and so was Jeremy Corbyn.

That won’t be forgotten.

In Defence of a Corbyn Future

When James Connolly awaited his execution at the hands of British soldiers in Kilmainham Gaol – 1916, his wife Lily broke down in tears remarking “But your beautiful life James…your beautiful life…” to which the injured and weary Connolly reminiscently replied “But hasn’t it been a full life Lily, and isn’t this a good end?”

In this anecdote I have always found sustenance, and it came up again in a recent conversation with a gentleman who worked on the Diane Abbott leadership bid back in 2010. He remarked to me that in that campaign, and the mutterings surrounding John McDonnell’s sadly doomed 2007 leadership bid, there was always a sense of ‘we fight because we must’. A classic example of the much maligned leftist defeatism, but profoundly attractive all the same. We knocked back and forth the notion that were Connolly alive today rather than being shot he would be put through the rigmarole of a Labour leadership contest – it would have the same effect on his consciousness. Yet in this light hearted discussion it seemed to have slipped our grasp that in fact this was not the case, we had not lost this time round, quite the opposite. We were exactly where individuals like us had always hoped to be, in a position in which we could live a full life in formal politics – a position in which winning would not simply mean we had prevented a Tory government, rather that we had in fact pierced the very horizon of possibility – that something truly transformative could begin.

That might seem an unusual thing to forget, but these are unusual times, and I suspect it will take many years for any of us to get used to the idea that in 2015 the Labour world turned upside down.

Those are years we must secure not for ourselves, but for those coming up, so that they can imagine working class oriented politics as a commonality, for socialism to become one of the dominant binaries in this dogfight that we call parliamentary democracy once more. For that to ever happen, Jeremy Corbyn must be re-elected tomorrow, and I can say with some confidence that I suspect he will be.

Image result for corbyn rallyJeremy Corbyn is a flawed individual. A man seemingly in constant protest at the dark arts of political riposte, failing to wear a jacket your mother would approve of. Yet below such cursory concerns Corbyn is the magnificent crisis the Labour Party has long required. Above the maelstrom of personal ambition and collective manipulation of a once proud instrument of working class mass representation, he stands as a relatively unblemished curiosity exuding potential whilst hinting at calamitous confusion.

It was no great surprise in hindsight that the gradual party reforms of Miliband, and now remarkable plans of Corbyn for party engagement both within and without the official structures, would bring a great many broadly sympathetic people home. In order to manage that unwieldy beast you must bear witness to a sympathetic and resolutely open leader, one who can point to an extended history of engaging with and proactively pushing forward such organisations. Corbyn is in essence the only person who could lead such a forward march at this time. The future of the Labour Party, by which I mean a set of people and ideas that can lead us into the half century in much the same way as Attlee et al did in 1945, is somewhere in that tranche of new members, they aren’t sitting in a committee room at Westminster tweeting #SavingLabour.

For a long time Labour were eminently virtuous simply due to the fact they were not the maligned Conservative Party. This created a generation of politicians whose primary role as representatives was to be applauded and welcomed as elements of a broader shift towards the light. For all his very laudable efforts to align with the changing political landscape in the party, this is what Owen Smith is a product of. When Jeremy Corbyn inevitably wins tomorrow, keep this in mind; you can never defeat a popular figure with a moral basis for leadership whilst harbouring nefarious intent.

Via the still unclear, yet decisively regressive motives behind the recent coup, Corbyn has once again ignited that smouldering fervour some refer to as socialism. At this early stage however I believe it is better seen as a perception among ordinary people that there is a simmering injustice at the heart of our society. One which in many forms takes on a right wing slant, but when given voice can be just as easily taken for the forces of advancement on the left. It’s no more complicated than the fact Corbyn is the first to do so for quite some time. Whilst Farage was touring the country from the 00’s onwards telling people immigration is the font of all their sins, the best the left could muster were fringe figures who were often little more than circus acts in relation to the hard graft of daily political contestation.

By accentuating the collective nature that constructed our shared services Corbyn has managed to revisit the dialogue of the commons, whilst articulating the questionable dependency we maintain on the relentless pursuit of profit. In him we have seen the rebirth, on a mass media stage at least, of the English radical. It is in this guise he is very comfortable, but it cannot be his only cloak.

Labour’s fractures might worsen if Corbyn does not rapidly realise that leadership of this burgeoning movement will have to take the form of individual inspiration in some sense. A strongman/strongwoman approach if you will, and by fate’s decree that individual will have to be him. I see little evidence to suggest that the British public are prepared for the levels of hyper localised individualisation that more liberal-left strains support. It is not Corbyn’s reliance on left wing economic critiques that hamper him, it is his occasional inability to see that power used wisely sometimes has to take on a forthright form. Corbyn has survived his suffering, now he must find meaning in it, a meaning that can only arrive by overcoming the basis of the enmity that divides us in the party. For each one of us that will mean something entirely different, but I trust that more shrewd operators such as John McDonnell understand we cannot go on like this and have an understanding of what has to be done.

Part of this overcoming germinates from the desperate need to defeat the economic dogma that very narrowly defines what can and cannot be done. It is in the economic arena that we must categorise the ‘new politics’, not least because it is a subject the media cannot actively deny is in need of radical reform from right or left.

The first and most important stage in this fight is addressing Britain’s absolute inability to discuss tax in an adult way. It will not, and will never be, an easy argument – yet it is the duty of us all to rebuild the infrastructure that made this country prosper, we simply cannot achieve that by ignoring the vital role of fiscal investment. The Conservatives are engaging in managed decline at Westminster, whilst the SNP are facilitating a watered down version in Scotland. A 50p top rate of tax is not going to cut it. The insistence from corporations and the mega-wealthy that they will leave these islands must be tested. The politics of justice must not be held to ransom by the terminally avaricious.

Image result for john mcdonnellTo say the media is bias against Corbyn (or more precisely the left) is not worthy of being referred to as a suspicion, we are not asking to smell the breath of journalists like an anti-heroical Ian Paisley, we simply wish to see a shred….a slither of balance, in a torrent of insults and childish meanderings often fed directly to unquestioning journalists by the Labour backbenches. In redefining what injustice means, namely quantifying it for each and every individual and family, you are losing X and receiving Y, I fundamentally believe we can reimagine this country as a crucible for the revival of an active and disgruntled working class. That is our engine of change, it always has been. If we regain that, the media cannot continue to mock so cluelessly.

Unfortunately in order to do restart this engine the identity obsessed concerns more akin to liberalism than socialism that permeate youth politics and hardly anywhere else will have to be diminished in importance. We cannot regain the trust and energy of the working class and time deprived emerging middle class by telling each and every one of them they are fundamentally bad people due to holding thoughts or feelings that do not fit into an ill-defined collective sense of morality. If someone is wrong, we must be concerned not only with addressing the outcome but the cause of their belief. Such a project takes time, education, and the remapping of the economic landscape in order to be made a core part of our lexicon and practice. These concepts will be difficult to diminish (observe any university based political debate for more than ten minutes and you will understand what is meant by this), but they must be – at least in a sense of the elusive ‘core message’. The Green Party are a model of how to win a university town council ward, not a national election and we should eschew the content of their message that does not regard very important environmental alterations proactively.

The problem at the heart of Corbyn’s political philosophy is the problem of the curiously unsatisfactory nature of achievement. Corbyn is not a man prone to the religion of winning, yet win he must. However we cannot assume that it is Corbyn or bust, this is a long term project and contingencies must be in place to continue it beyond 2020, even if we fail to take power. For many such a remark contains the condemnation of a thousand hangmen, but that only survives the analysis of the cretinous urban narcissists that for so long populated every greasy pore of the Labour Party. If your only political goal is the arrival of a vacuous individual to the black front door in SW1 to dictate to the disadvantaged the quantity of their required sacrifices in order that they can send themselves to a slightly later grave then I do not think this party should cater for you. It is a cliché, but a bloody good one – Labour is a moral crusade or it is nothing, and at this moment I want Corbyn to continue the crusade apace. Be strong, lead with vigour and force, and do not defer to the chattering classes who see economic inequality as a debating concept, not a day to day reality which is much better expressed as living on the bread line.

If Corbyn can manage this, we can vastly alter the age we live in, and the sodden land we pass on to those who come afterwards.

One of the many reasons I will vote to Remain

Many will feel detached from this referendum, disinterested even. Up until last week I had sympathy for that approach. I am approaching peak political fatigue myself, and I love nothing more than a bit of red vs blue. Yet tomorrow we vote, perhaps in the biggest single referendum any of us will ever have the opportunity to engage in.

Last week a young woman, an MP elected by her community, was brutally murdered in a quiet West Yorkshire street. She wasn’t killed because of atrocities she was complicit in, or personal mendacity leading to injustice elsewhere. She wasn’t even killed simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was killed because of her political views, a set of views that include aiding refugees and a commitment to minimising conflict and division. She was killed because underneath our social artifice their still lies a small but active fascist sentiment that permeates throughout the land.

It is impossible not to draw comparisons as a result with the events of the 30s and 40s when fascism and the unending desire for territory reached its zenith in Europe. Those events in some part, but a very decisive part, led to the creation of what has now become the European Union. Anyone who says otherwise does a disservice to the concerted efforts of millions.

Not since the 10 day war in 1956, when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, have European countries gone to war with one another (there have been internal conflicts of course such as that of Yugoslavia).

This may all be a startling coincidence, and peace could simply be the result of US domination of capital and arms. Neither is completely true, and equally neither is entirely false.

I only ask that you watch this video and absorb just how many died in those 6 fateful years between 1939-45 and ask yourself – is removing one of our only proven bulwarks against this a good idea?

Rough estimates suggest 61 million people died during those 6 years. Many of them were non-combatants, the vast majority were Europeans. 388,000 were citizens of the UK and its dependencies. The average age was 23 years old of those who died in combat. Many of horrific injuries. The deaths that occurred later due to not immediately lethal injuries is perhaps as many again.

All you have to do is go and vote…if you think this could not happen again you are repeating the very same delusions many in Europe suffered at the end of the Great War.

I hope you vote Remain. Many whose children, and their children after them, who were never born would certainly envy your opportunity to make that choice.

p.s Nigel Farage is a catastrophic fuck nugget and we should all celebrate any opportunity to destroy the man’s pin striped Home Counties wet dream.

‘The Non-Life and Death of Scandinavian Scotland’ and Other Tales From #SP16

In 2014 I wrote an article entitled ‘Heroes of a Deferred Nation in which I opined that far from having the potential of a Nordic social-democratic economy, an independent Scotland was better placed to remain a rainy small C conservative outpost – not dissimilar to the one it would have recently left. I feel that last week’s Holyrood elections proved I and many others correct in this regard. You may thank me later, but here is why:

Blue is the colour
Scotland has always had Tories. I see them walking their nonsensically named dogs through the park, clad in tartan jackets for that Walter Scott feel you need when dressing a Yorkshire Terrier. Occasionally you will also see them on the news postulating social cynicism and economic mania, but in that guise they are more likely to say they are SNP or Labour. That works as follows:

David Cameron: “We need to make savings in public expenditure to secure the future prosperity of Britain”

Reaction: “Booooo, bloody Tory filth. Go back to London and shag a pig”

Nicola Sturgeon: “We cannot increase tax, it will make high earners flee Scotland”

Reaction: “Goan yersel Nicola! One of us, one of us, one of us!”

It’s a simple yet effective equation.

For a great deal of time this hedging brought many a traditional Tory voter to the door of Labour or the SNP, and as long as taxes remained relatively low, and petrol was reasonable at the pump – all was well. That is of course until the constitutional issue became precipitous. Once the prospect of independence barged down the door of sedantry Edinburgh politics, many true blues decided simply trading off their vote to the most steady handed of the two dominant parties would not cut it. The churn of this rising vote has its origins in a number of as yet ill defined demographics, and it is fair to say it was not simply a matter of a Labour to Tory swing. If we strip away the party clothes and poke at the naked flesh of ruddy political policy there is a clear swing towards economic conservatism, the final destination of which usually depends on your position on independence.

Labour seemed to be ashamed to say they are avowedly unionist (secret sources have told me they very much are), and the SNP for all their middle ground omertà cannot go a day without scaring the flock with talk of another referendum. There are a great many people who genuinely do not wish to leave the United Kingdom, there was a big vote on this and everything – you might be surprised. It is therefore not shocking that a party running on a platform of ‘we are going to oppose the dangerous separatists at the gates’ did quite well with those who go in for all that.

A short addendum to this: it is nothing new that parties seen to be competent often do well, and regularly win. Can anyone honestly say that any party in Scotland at the moment looks competent outside the SNP and Conservatives? The Tories knew this and tailored their election materials around competence and their inexplicably popular leader Ruth Davidson.

A lot of people are tight

If we take a very base analysis of what defines the social-democratic ‘Nordic’ economies it has to pivot on the fact they are much more willing to pay higher rates of tax. This assumes a modicum of affectless cynicism about the complex and varied contributory factors, so you will have to bear with me.

Denmark (61.12%) , Sweden (56.8%) both have average top rates of income tax between 1995-2015 well above our own current top rate of 45%. That should be the jumping off point for any comparison. Scotland belly flops in the first round here without any help from Gordon Strachan.

We should not only focus on income tax however, the Scandinavian welfare apparatus germinates from a wide range of personal taxes and employer contributions, many of which are higher than what we pay here. A better overview is how much tax constitutes the various countries’ overall GDP. For this purpose we will also include Finland, which may not strictly be ‘Scandinavian’, yet does follow a very similar socio-economic model:

UK – 37.5%
Scotland – 37.7%
Denmark – 49%
Finland – 43.6%
Norway – 43.6%
Sweden – 45.8%

It would be heart-warming to assume that there is swelling desire within Scotland for greater taxation which might emulate the Nordic economies, but last week 68.5% of voters in the constituency ballot, and 64.6% on the regional list voted for either the SNP or Conservative parties…both of whom promised a 45p top rate of tax. If philosophy is the discovery of the obvious, you may cry EUREKA.

The SNP are an economically conservative party, and their supporters like them that way. If you have convinced yourself otherwise may I interest you in a timeshare in Bulgaria?

Dominic Hinde posits this more effectively when he writes:

High basic wages, free education and good housing were the  foundation of the Nordic model from the 30s onwards, and in time environmental responsibility and greater gender equality were added to the mix. To the wealthy these things are prosaic details, to those less well-off they create a life worth living.

Look through the SNP manifesto though and it is very difficult to find anything that would make Scotland more Nordic in the immediate future.

The two parties proposing a 60p top rate of tax (something I personally agree with) the Scottish Green Party and RISE managed 7.1% on the regional lists between them. Tommy Sheridan’s, Solidarity, may have also proposed this but every time I seek to uncover this information I find myself lost in Tommy’s treacherous gaze.

Parties positing such ‘radical’ policies are regularly forming governments and oppositions in the aforementioned Nordic countries. This is not the case perpetually, many softer conservative governments have attempted to draw back the social-democratic consensus (Swedish Moderates 0614, Danish Venstre 0111), but few have lasted long enough or commanded the majority needed to overhaul it entirely.

Perhaps we can sustain a cognitive dissonance that sees this disparity as a by-product of a British political tradition during cross-party referendum campaigns, yet when manifestos are printed and Ponsonby deployed, it becomes evident that the predators in this ecosystem closely resemble their southern genus.

Leave them kids alone’

It is reasonable to wonder if this election had any big issues whatsoever (Buzzfeed tells me Willie Rennie and a slide was an ‘unforgettable’ moment). At a cursory glance around Glasgow I would guess that Nicola Sturgeon’s face was atop the agenda quite a lot, otherwise why would I need to look at it as I approach Ibrox? I don’t need another reason to avoid Ibrox after all.

For all the posturing from parties across the spectrum, education only briefly appeared in any meaningful sense during recent months, most notably when Calamity Constance got her face on television.

Education requires fundamental reform in Scotland. Whether it needs to abandon the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as seemed to be hailed by Sturgeon’s desire to bring back standardised testing for primary school pupils, is another matter.

Continuously saying that the cuts threaten educational attainment is important, honest, and true…..but it does not actually say a great deal about what any of the parties wanted to do to improve teaching and schools. Here are some of the manifesto examples that I would put in the ‘non-policy’ category:

SNP:

Oversee a “revolution in transparency” about school performance

Ensure that every child in early education in the most deprived communities will have access to an additional teacher or childcare graduate by 2018

Scottish Labour:

Bridge the gap between “the richest and the rest” in classrooms

Give every primary school the opportunity to establish a breakfast club

Scottish Conservatives:

New measures should be put in place to ensure the best possible teachers are recruited

The Scottish government should be “far bolder” in measuring progress in the education system

Scottish Greens:

Help for all pupils experiencing poverty

Fair funding for college and university students

I suppose I was not alone in thinking ‘and how are you going to do that?’ when reading these pledges. Of course each party had other policies which were more cohesive. I would particularly welcome the plans from Labour and the Greens to considerably increase apprenticeships. Despite this there seemed to be no other area quite as mottled with pecuniary detail as that of education. A trend I dare say will continue in Scotland for some time to come.

The unending appearance and disappearance of SNP education policies has oft left me wondering if these are to follow the purpose of Dewar’s ‘Pied Wagtail Preservation Order of 1968’ – existing only to distract or delay some inevitable banality. Yet what rankles with greater torment is how soft, and I mean ‘Carry On…Up the Khyber’ soft, the press in this country are in regards to these half steps and mistruths. If the mainstream press have at any point questioned continuously the obscene gaps in attainment between rich and poorer areas in Scotland, I simply have not seen it.

As you were

To conclude, not much went on, not much at all. Scottish politics remains dominated by the question of sovereignty – and divvies will continue to write books and think pieces claiming there is a ‘rennaissance’ of activism and political debate north of Carlisle.

There really isn’t.

No one cares.

They care so little they reelected the government for the third term running.

Scotland? Bit boring really.

Until next time.

The Blunt Sword of Anti-Semitism

This week Ken Livingstone, ex-Mayor of London and long-time campaigner for those at the sharper end of capitalism’s rusty knife said the following in reference to comments by suspended MP Naz Shah – it was stupid and wrong, and he should apologise:

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-semitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Ken said other things that are apparently offensive in the interview, largely about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but they are so blatantly factual that any one finding themselves offended by them is clearly Islamophobic (see what I did there? Read on to see the divine logic).

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Ken Livingstone, a very bad lad

Livingstone’s comments were a one day front page story at best – especially given the decades awaited verdict this week apportioning blame to South Yorkshire Police in the case pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster.

How this could possibly have garnered more attention than the race baiting Zac Goldsmith has attempted in his London mayoral campaign requires contortions the likes of which only the British media can manage. This however, I expect. After all – it is the very same media that decided 96 deaths at an FA Cup semi-final were most probably the fault of drunken hooligans.

What disappoints me so much more is to see Labour members, and supposed Labour advocates in the press (special mention must go to Owen Jones here), helping virulently hostile media machines to keep the story going throughout the week. Further continuation of this thread – that bonds together the alleged Labourite anti-Semitism conspiracy – serves only those who seek to destroy Labour and working class representation in this country. These people should really know better. I suppose there are not many column inches in saying ‘calm down and be serious’.

Ken was suspended, and rightfully so. Corbyn has set up an inquiry into anti-semitism and racism in the party, again rightfully so. What more is required here? The media have decided in unison that Labour is now a hotbed of anti-semites before a moment of investigation has taken place, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn must also be an anti-semite, yes? Well as you are likely beginning to understand it is not particularly important wherther he is or not. What is important to his detractors is that he falls on that sword, even if most of the reported incidents occurred before his leadership began.

Here I would like to ask the question, what does it mean to be anti-semitic in the context that someone like John Mann means it, by which I mean a very narrow political-media context? How sharp is the sword destined for the leader of Labour Party’s knape when the term anti-semitism is so carelessly stapled on the backs of those who dissent from the UK line on Israel?

With this territory comes a certain inevitability. Observers may read my subsequent words, and those of others simply seeking to balance out the torrential attack, and think – “he’s clearly trying to mask obvious anti-semitism”. In the face of charges of that ilk no satisfactory justification will ever be provided. I have attended meetings packed with relatively representative cross sections of society on the issue of Israel/Palestine for years, meetings that largely displayed no philosophy more radical than simple peace advocacy. Very few of the attendees felt Israel had ‘no right to exist’ at all – as is often claimed. I was called an anti-Semite for attending those. After the fifth or sixth occasion I stopped hearing it. I believe something similar is happening in our political culture.

But let me say, I am not interested in winning some moralistic debate about the correct terms and accordance for various treaties and myopic 20th century decisions in a contested land more foreign to me than the Arctic circle. I just want to prevent people from being murdered and having their homes stolen because we have so internalised the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-semitism to a point at which we cannot reasonably criticise these actions. I am not interested in winning the approval of such catastrophically pathetic individuals as Wes Streeting and Luke Akehurst. They would appear as tadpoles in a teaspoon of water. So please call myself and others what you like, I am not the sensitive type.

I see a great deal of evidence both anecdotally and in the current media hyperbole, that attacks such as those laid at the door of Labour this week have served to nullify the term ‘anti-semite’ to the point of near redundancy.

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John Mann. King of the gobshites

There will be few who may describe themselves as pro-Palestinian activists who will not have been called an anti-semite on numerous occasions. At this point trying to decipher between those who are principled peace activists, and the tiny minority who are ‘THE ROTHSCHILDS ARE RUNNING THE WORLD’ delusionists is utterly impossible. For decades the tarpaulin of shame has been cast over each and every one of them, unsuccessfully. If you want a serious discussion about this issue then let us have some respect and admit that pro-Palestinian activism is a legitimate and worthy cause, and allow for some media reflection on the imperialism club that is Labour Friends of Israel. Until that day your claims are beyond hypocrisy, they are ashes in the mouths of lemmings.

So when I am told that you can be anti-Zionist, and not be an anti-Semite – I wonder why it is so many people who are the former are referred to as the latter? I can only conclude therefore that an anti-semite, at least in one variety, is someone who critcises the current borders of Israel. If I am wrong then there is hope yet.

Livingstone is most definitely a buffoon. There is little of intellectual merit or even contemporary relevance about discussing whether or not Hitler had Zionist sympathies (for my own money I see no evidence of this, only the fact Hitler was happy to utilise it as an apparatus of manipulation), no matter what you say you are going to end up discussing Hitler in some sort of revisionist light. Ken should know better both as a seasoned politician, and as a man of principle that this would not end well for him, or the party, and would undoubtedly upset a constituency of people who demand respect on this issue. Gladly the Jewish Socialist’s Group  and a number of concerned and prominent Jewish members of Labour have written to express a more balanced approach in recent days.

There is one big aspect missing from all of these balanced accounts however, and that is how the media seek to report this entire debate. Stories such as those detailing the air assaults on Gaza hospitals in 2014  received only cursory attention in the British press in comparison to this week’s pantomime (thankfully Channel 4 were a rare exception), while the moralistic chieftains of ‘sensible’ Labour so vocal this week could not have been quieter in their opposition at the time. Where it did exist, it was meek and cautionary.

Is it fair to take these two events, anti-semitism in British politics and Israeli aggression, and draw indicative comparisons? I would say yes, it most definitely is. The reason I do so is simple. The same individuals today chaining themselves to the fences of social media in opposition at the evil that is Ken Livingstone, were tacitly justifying this barbarity as ‘self-defence’ but two summers ago.

Where lies the moral compass of these individuals? The Nick Cohen’s and Tim Stanley’s of this world? Do they expect us to believe that a foolish statement from a politician is tantamount to the collapse of credibility on the left, yet tangential support for child murder is significant of political maturity? I am no pacifist, far from it, yet I would have to witness irrefutable evidence not seen since Bernadette bumped into the Virgin Mary at Lourdes before you could get me into a conversation about the strategic and moral legitimacy of firing missiles at hospitals.

If those of us seeking balance are justifying anti-semitism, then the logic that defending Israel justifies such egregious attacks, holds true also. You simply cannot have it both ways.

The reason Ken Livingstone will be dragged out for the next year or more for summary tar and feathering, is the exact same reason the bombing of hospitals is swept under the carpet. That reason is the oldest of all, power.

Muslim bashing is de rigueur in this country, it’s almost an entire media sub-industry. Very few people, beyond those with some sense of consistency, find this troublesome whatsoever it seems. Naturally many will opine that each subsequent attack has ‘gone a bit far’, but you will never see a week long media circus and resignations aplenty over it. Let us take the case of Zac Goldsmith’s race baiting in London again, where he claimed the Labour candidate and Muslim Sadiq Khan did not want to talk about Tamils when in government and expressed a desire to tax jewellery and heirlooms in leaflets directed at Hindus. Policies one onlooker stated “seemed as though he picked the brains of an adviser and has played on the anxieties of the south Asian community.” I have neither the time nor inclination to quantify the relative column inches, tweets, and television minutes the two tales received in comparison – but I am willing to make a healthy bet that the one which gave succour to those wishing to dethrone Corbyn received a great deal more.

These power dynamics, and resulting slavish devotion to ignoring them from our pensmiths and politicians, create perverse situations such as Saudi Arabia, a despicably anti-Semitic country, being treated as friends and welcomed with open arms. It’s the same reason Hillsborough will finally reach some sort of conclusion in the coming years, yet those murdered by the state in Northern Ireland will die without answers.

Power and politics, that’s all it is. Keep your eyes away from the petrol being poured on the fire, it’s the flames that are important…..nothing more. There are people holding anti-Semitic views who are members of the Labour Party. No one can deny that. There are also members of the SNP and Conservatives who have publicly exhibited such inclinations, facts that appear fundamentally disinteresting when not coupled with an emerging coup opportunity.

As long as we focus on Livingstone’s peculiar understanding of history, not the junior doctors leaving the country because they are being overworked and understaffed this perpetual idiocy will continue, and with it so too the intelligence vacuum that is Tory rule will continue.

After all, it makes for a better headline – and that’s what really matters…

Addendum: I did not have time to comment on the actions of John Mann here.

How We Respond to Woodcock and Smith

Very simply this is a turning point for Corbyn’s leadership. Now that hostilities are out in the open, we can safely assume the right have begun the process of lining someone up to depose him. The safe money is on Dan Jarvis for now.
This leaves us with clarity on the way the party must progress.

1. Woodcock and Smith should apologise and seek reconciliation with the party, at which point we can continue on with the task at hand, preventing another Tory government. If they do so…their intended goal of placing a more ‘moderate’ figure in charge will be greatly improved at such a time that Corbyn leaves. The membership will see consistent principle in their approach – this is after all why Corbyn won so convincingly in the first place – and potentially reward them for it.

 

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Angela Smith, John Woodcock, and Jamie Reed. Three of the MPs who disavow democracy in favour of their own entitlement. Unfortunately, there will be many more.

2. They can cross the floor or disavow the whip and seek the protection of their constituents as independents or members of another party. I wish them luck in that endeavour. This would be wholly democratic and fair. Should they choose to continue their onslaught yet carry the banner of Labour then they will naturally at some point have to face the accountability of members in their constituency. I again…wish them luck in this endeavour.

The left will not cower to this nonsense, not after so many years in the wilderness. If there is an ideological war to be had then I for one am happy to wage it, unfortunately I do not think it would benefit those we are seeking to represent.

Let’s get round the table and bash this out. If the belligerents in opposition to the leadership are unwilling to do so then the full force of the membership should be levied against them.

As I wrote recently, there is a worrying trend among young members and purportedly sympathetic journalists to attack Corbyn no matter how well he does. The Labour Right have replaced the Conservative 1922 Comittee as the problem child of British politics. This is not a dissatisfaction reflected in any reality, it is pent up adolescent aggression against a world that does not accept focus groups and opinion polled slogans can truly change anything.

There is no space for this when we are doing so well elsewhere. I understand that there are many signs of our electoral frailty, but for the sake of all logic and reason….Corbyn has been in charge for 7 months. They gave David Moyes more time than that. Were this principled opposition over a war, or a significant policy affecting the poor I could entirely sympathise. Unfortunately it is self serving and childish.

Let everyone make it known that this is the state of play. We cannot continue being kind and fair to individuals who do not treat us with the same respect.

Things must change, and change quickly.