The Labour right-wing still doesn’t get it

Let’s face it, the New Labour cabal, the right-wing of the party and the ‘power at all costs’ sections of the Labour Party (often they are one and the same) just do not want Jeremy Corbyn or his socialism. They’ve tried every dirty trick in the book and according to their official spiel he is ‘an honest man, but just not leadership material’.

Okay then, working on that assumption, it clearly does not occur to the Labour right that the answer to the question is: another leader who embodies everything Jeremy Corbyn stands for; all the things that are the reason so many people have made an effort to support him. Of course there have been claims from all quarters claiming that this person or that person actually believes in all the same basic things Jeremy Corbyn believes, which if true makes you wonder why they so urgently need to replace him.

Do they just think he’s the wrong figurehead or is it really the policy they hate? Because they also keep making digs about ‘the politics of last century’ and ‘a dated approach’ etc etc. Unfortunately for them the ‘politics of last century’ is the real core of Labour. It is also the real core of right-wing politics too because despite the giddy excitement about the advent of broadband internet and accelerated globalisation, the gritty local problems of last century have not gone away. If people take the trouble to remove their PR-drenched media goggles for a moment they’ll see that things like the 21st century job market bears an uncanny basic resemblance to the pre-WW2 job market. Casual labour, work uncertainty, no real contracts, poor or non-existent sick pay, companies shirking employee welfare issues, suppression of organisation and industrial action through negative PR. Oh it’s a long list.

All of this disintegration of rights and conditions built up over 150 years – part of that including the foundation of the Labour Party to uphold these very values and achievements – has also occurred and been accelerated under Labour governments. Select representatives keep popping up on telly repeating that New Labour introduced the minimum wage, something they failed to implement in every previous Labour administration. Big deal. It didn’t stop the growth of zero-hour contracts or other capitalist trickery to bend the rules. New Labour homed-in on that little policy (of offering working-age people not much more than a fiver per hour) to cover the fact that they had no plan to offer any other traditional Labour Party policy and a master plan to cut loose with a host of neo-liberal shenanigans, which is exactly what happened. Then a crash and depression happened and a lot of people lost patience with the same old lies.

Unfortunately it took that economic crash to shake awake a good portion of the people who are sympathetic to what Corbyn represents and also created enough discontent to prevent the bigwigs at the top of the Labour Party from dismissing it as ‘fringe elements’ and carrying on unabated with the New Labour debacle.

On Saturday morning (that’s later on this morning), if the polls are correct, Corbyn is going to sweep Owen Smith and his cheerleaders into obscurity. If we are to believe the anti-Corbyn offensive he is also going to also sweep the Labour Party into obscurity. Well we’ll see. He’s the one calling for unity, they are the ones predicting collapse. It’s because they’ve fully absorbed and adopted the New Labour/right-wing economic rhetoric that social justice and national prosperity is achieved through deregulated market capitalism, privatisation, austerity for poor people etc ad nauseum. Jeremy Corbyn, or what he represents, is the backlash to all that. They still don’t get it.



Jeremy Corbyn: A very British coup?

Jeremy Corbyn

If age is not on your side you might well remember the 1982 novel by Chris Mullins to which this post’s title alludes. A solidly left-wing and principled leader of the Labour Party becomes prime minister and sets in motion a cabal of secret service agents, high-level mandarins and establishment aristocrats conspiring to plot his downfall.

Well…Jeremy Corbin isn’t quite that far, but he seems set to do a version of it within the Labour Party. Those ‘senior figures’ within Labour – like Harriet Harmon and most of Corbyn’s other current competitors –  rather shot themselves in the foot when they initiated the ‘open forum’ that allowed Jeremy Corbyn to be propelled into the front running position he now occupies. His core supporters are firmly rooted in the values of what is now called Old Labour, as a contrast to New Labour, that banal and mediocre media transformation atop the policy transformation that saw Blair and Co., shift the party firmly in line with dominant neo-liberal ideology. Whatever New Labour is supposed to represent its very existence attempts to drop the guillotine on the party’s prior history, declaring its entire raison d’etre to be outmoded and out of line with the politics (though in truth they mean the economic hegemony) of the modern world.

Jeremy Corbyn has taken to the podium to tell us that this is nonsense, and he has a lot of willing listeners. These are not just disgruntled old pre-Kinnock Labourites, they are young people too; those who may have voted for Blair in 1997, or who were too young to vote and really are ‘Blair’s children’. What they all share is the disillusionment produced from those three Labour governments that oversaw monumental lies leading to war, a near-complete hollowing-out of social infrastructure, financial corruption and ending ignominiously in financial meltdown. Not content with having presided over this, the very same repertory of rotating faces is now trying to pretend that they offer something different. These are people who served in Blair governments and were touted as the new faces of New Labour. The Blair coup fully integrated the view that there is one way to win elections (because this is all they care about) and that is to court plutocrats and media-moguls and rub-shoulders, in a friendly way, with the people and institutions that Labour as a party was created to moderate.

In his book Feeding Frenzy Will Self remarked that “Never before has style so fantastically glossed substance.” That was New Labour’s real legacy for politics, a media realignment achieved by a full-scale in-house demolition project. Instead of holding principles and damn the media, the line was taken that it is the media that wins an election. It is the media that shapes public opinion and any party seeking office has to be in line with the ideological interests that now saturate the corporate media. In 1997 it was tempting to believe that some sacrifice was worth it just to end Tory rule and perhaps undo at least some of the damage of their privatisation frenzy and corporate cronyism. Never was an electorate so misguided as in 1997.

In Chris Mullins’s book the protagonist is a character modelled upon Tony Benn who at the time had just lost the deputy leadership to Denis Healy (by 1%) and had come in fourth in the leadership contest of 1976. Like Corbyn now, Tony Benn was always popular with grass roots Labour activists, but his fate in terms of leadership positions shows just how difficult it is for a principled politician to secure the position that directs the party; let alone capture the wide support that leads to 10 Downing Street. Generation upon generation of the regular voting public has been persuaded that anyone like Tony Benn is ‘bad for business’ and business (specifically dancing to its tune) is really all that matters. Under this supposed home truth everything has to be sacrificed to market ideology, or in reality a hegemony of massive corporations, banking giants and other financial institutions who cajole and blackmail any government not following orders. More usually its representatives hop back and forth between boardroom and Westminster. Tony Benn kept his principles and eventually became a back bench ‘voice of reason’ and fierce critic. Jeremy Corbyn has already been a back bench voice of reason and fierce critic for some time, so it’s interesting to see his ascent.

Radio 4’s The Report recently produced a programme about the ‘Corbyn effect’ and looked at the sorts of people supporting his leadership bid. It focused on two young people, essentially disillusioned young people produced during the Blair era who see those years in much the same way my generation saw Thatcher; which is a poor show indeed for the Labour Party. My generation also saw a Labour Party out of office for nearly twenty years, but at the time, despite the desperation and dashed hope, it mattered that you took a genuine stand rather than buying into the club just to be able to make some paltry difference, like New Labour eventually did.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins, the Labour Party will have a crisis on its hands because the rest of the shadow cabinet is largely made up of Blairites or Blair-lites who have fully signed up to the so-called new paradigm of British politics. The middle-class voters wooed to Labour by Blair (those who haven’t already gone back either to the Conservatives or onwards to UKIP) are a new generation of people who have no clue about class or a ‘right-left divide’ because they’ve been weaned on a culture of individualism and personal consumption of everything including political needs. It remains to be seen if enough damage has been done by Thatcher-Blair-Cameron to have pushed these people far enough, through austerity, housing shortages, unemployment and political corruption, to be able to accept a principled left-wing Labour Leader as man whose vision they can share. In Mullins’s book the status quo is maintained and his hero is removed by the establishment.

Unhealthcare, the corporate insurance way

Healthcare and its affordability has been an omnipresent issue in the United States and beyond since the ascension of Obama. To have reformed the system to a collectively funded one would probably have had implications far outside of America. In Europe, health services funded in-part or wholly by taxation have been constantly and gradually eroded and ‘reformed’ over a 30-year+ period; Obama’s hijacked plan is like a green light to the European privatisation lobby.
In England particularly, the previous and the current government have had to conjure a lot of PR to try to make it appear that the NHS is still more-or-less the same service that people rely on, whilst at the same time engineering as many budget cuts or part-privatisations as they can possible achieve.
In one sense, England is a lot better-off than many other places. America’s swathes of uninsured are a ubiquitous phenomenon, the internet is filled with forums requesting and offering medical advice for people with no insurance or people with bad insurance hoping to save a few dollars. Dentistry is notoriously expensive, and since regularity of care is a must in preventing problems, regular, comprehensive care simply stands outside the affordability of many families.

The Dutch system operates on a private insurance system, much along the lines of the American system. The system is very lightly regulated, so that the ruthlessness of insurers is tempered somewhat, but not by much. Of course the succession of centre-right governments has never presented any real obstacle for the insurance companies. In 2005 a nationwide push tried to make sure everyone in the Netherlands was insured; not by increasing affordability or widening coverage capabilities, but by sending out ‘checkers’ to make sure people were buying insurance, and to fine them for not doing so. These people turned up at places like homeless hostels to find out who was insured. They enquired at a charity medical clinic I was supervising, asking how many were insured – an odd question for a place offering charity care for the uninsured.

Beginning this year the dental provision offered as part of the insurances packages will disappear. Previously insurers would pay ‘part’ of the costs, something which seemed to turn on its head the very point of having insurance. This latest move amplifies that absurdity. So now individuals will be expected to pay out-of-pocket for costly dental treatments; and it is costly. Molar removals, with added costs, easily amount to 250,- euros, and check-ups can be as much as 70-80 euros. Whomever can afford it gets treatment, those who can’t won’t – it’s another view of the tiered health system between the haves and the have-nots. Richer people have an emergency pot of money, the poor and the working poor generally live from month-to-month, with no emergency funds. They have two choices: bad teeth, or health debts, often eventually paid to a debt-recovery agency, with interest.

Health insurance is undoubtedly a racket. But if healthcare is to be a privately purchased commodity, and increasingly so since the coverage insurance offers is shrunk down further, then unaffordable insurance offering scant coverage ought to disappear, since it is poor financial investment. It is of course maintained through a mixture of politico-legal and economic ideology, maintained by corporate interests. Health is not really a purchasing choice in the same way electronics and other consumer durables are purchased. Like food and shelter it is a captive market that operates on fear or peace of mind. Just as the housing markets are dominated by neo-liberal swindling and financial speculation, so the health industry has its own money speculators, with a captive customer base, some bullied and cajoled or legislated into providing an endless supply of money for international money markets.
Their aim appears to be a situation where insurance premiums constantly rise as coverage constantly decreases in proportion. In 2010/2011 the Dutch will see another rise in insurance premiums that will leave tens of thousands either in healthcare debt or completely uninsured and in ill-health, facing unfair prosecutions as ‘wanbetalers‘ (people who don’t pay their bills), rather than people who simply can’t pay their bills.

Incomes are not rising, they are freezing or shrinking. So we reach a typical point of absurdity in neo-liberal economic policy: people actively lose spending power, but are asked or coerced into purchasing the ever more, and ever more expensive, commodities (including ‘services’) that keep the neo-liberal economic merry-go-round turning. Since the collapse of the banks and financial markets there has been a constant discussion about the levels of personal debt and the near-complete absence of a culture of saving money. The culture of ‘living on credit’ was initially wheeled-out as a contributing cause of mass indebtedness, yet health insurance is itself a contributor to indebtedness that cripples the very extra spending power the neo-liberal machine desires to keep it going. So at the bottom end it comes apart at the seams as the poorer sections of society live in a constant cycle of debt, credit-fuelled debt, forced payment of impossible living costs through the filter of debt-collection and all its resulting misery and poverty. The architects remain untouched.

Britain’s Con-Dem coalition have been talking big this week. Vince Cable has been dubbed “red” for his attack on the ruthlessness of capitalism left-to-its-own-devices. Danny Alexander talked about rectifying the enormous tax gap created by super-wealthy tax-dodgers. No matter how well-meant, the Lib-Dem critics are allied with a senior partner committed to preserving neo-liberalism by making the little taxpayer suffer for little in return.

They will privatize the Post Office and push through the budget-cuts, criticised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among others, as unfairly targeting the poorest sections of the society. And health will not go unscathed. The trajectory of the Post Office has not followed British ‘national’ policy, it has followed the policy of the European Union’s commitment to economic liberalisation, and within this the UK’s NHS is viewed as an obstacle. It doesn’t matter that it is funded without requiring a tax rate any higher than the Netherlands or France or Germany. It is simply a target because it does not fit in with economic ideology. An ideology where national well-being and even ‘customers’ come last in order of importance.

What’s inside the Con-Dem big-top?

There is a lot of frivolous talk going on in the UK media about the amazing new ‘fair centrism’ of the Tory-Lib coalition. The official consensus dripping from many lips is that it’s all about stability in the face of difficult financial  decisions, and all the other similar talk we’ve been hearing for the last six months.

It’s astonishing though to see who is coming up to pat the Tories on the back for their little policy sweeteners.

Billy Bragg, the  left-wing activist/musician appeared on This Week expressing pleasure at the idea that I.D. cards would be dropped, and of course the demise (?) of the plan for a  third runway at Heathrow Airport. Andrew Rawnsley declared that the coalition had placed the Tories “back to the centre”. The centre of what exactly?

Leaving aside issues like I.D. cards, to pretend that “new” Tory economic policy is somehow a magic wand of ‘freeing up free-enterprise’ for the good of all is a sign of having no sense of history and an even weaker sense of Tory economic policy, including the economic plans of this weighted coalition.
Labour had its Peter Mandelson, and the Tories have Oliver Letwin, precisely that sort of right-wing, rabid privatising lunatic, obsessed with cutting everything and who thinks a government of more than four people and a dog is ‘big government’.
I suppose he’s the sort of arch Tory the LibDem presence is supposed to be taming…which makes one ask why he’s been installed as as ‘policy developer’, sitting round that crowded cabinet meeting table? Read his book Privatising the World to get a better handle on his beliefs. The only difference is that this time, unlike 2001, Letwin doesn’t need to go into hiding when he says he wants to slash spending into oblivion and privatise the world. For Letwin this is a dream come true because now he has the perfect vehicle for offering up all his cherished privatisation and public service budget-cutting fantasies.

Let us make no mistake about this: it is the public sector, and thus finally the public, which is going to be forced to pay for the private sector’s money-circus meltdown. It will happen because no government will touch the sacred cow of the private sector – that so-called “engine of wealth creation” which runs and operates on taxpayer handouts whilst protecting its private wealth stores.

It is a re-run of the 80s in spirit, no use in fooling ourselves that it’s new just because the dates are different (although many of the faces are actually the same).

UK voters turned away

[UK General Election: SR in Manchester]

Voters in several constituencies have found themselves literally locked out of polling stations before they had the chance to vote. Concerns began when the BBC reported that voters in Nick Clegg’s constituency in Sheffield had been left out as the polling station closed its doors at 10p.m. Since then several other areas: Withington in Manchester, the London borough of Hackney, and Leeds have all reported similar situations, with as many as several hundred voters in Manchester.

David Dimblebey, who is chairing the BBC election coverage, remarked that it was like “third world politics”, a disgrace and that  an Inquiry ought to be carried out. Labour’s Harriet Harmon reportedly has said that some seats could face legal contest if they prove close under circumstances where people hadn’t voted. Peter Mandelson also remarked that as conservative voters tended to vote earlier in the day, whereas Labour voters mainly make use of the later hours, it could show a bias.

The exit polls for the UK’s general election has the Conservatives on a roughly 50-seat lead over Labour, with Lib Dems who were predicted to have performed better, on a exit poll low at 58 seats. The initial prediction is that it will be a hung parliament. This is denied by the Tories, George Osborne, shadow chancellor, said Labour politicians should “get real” based on the exit poll,  though in contradiction also said that it was too soon to call.

Brown’s “bigoted” remark will drown more policy

There’s no escaping it – a microphone left switched-on in Gordon Brown’s campaign car caught him making a remark about a woman voter who had confronted him on his trail through Rochdale. According to the Daily Politics he referred to the woman as “bigoted”, presumably in relation to her views on immigration. That’s hard to verify because the news snippet only showed the Prime Minster doing his “list” routine in response to questions about health, education and the rest.

It’s going to be a blow for the Labour campaign, because as we know the television and newspaper election is one that concentrates on hairstyles, smiles and how much you can make someone stutter with a question. The Daily Politics has made quite a concerted effort to run special policy-analysis debates (today’s features health), but these are not providing the stories of the day. What has made the polls yo-yo up and down has been showmanship and gaffs. This gaff will cost the Prime Minister and the Labour campaign dearly for a few days in the last week up to the election as it is dissected in great detail by a stream of Tory bloggers, Twittered by twits and given a likely front page by the Daily Mail.

In short it will bury more policy.

Labour Manifesto – Now and then

UK Labour’s 2010 manifesto boasts a distinctly nostalgic art-deco style cover – a little like the political documents of that era, but the similarities end on the first page.

In the Ed Miliband-drafted 75-page document (pdf available by clicking the image) the all-party rigmarole of promising to be all things to all people is maintained. So we have the usual schtick about education standards being ‘raised’; clamping down on poverty; improving healthcare; law and order; community regeneration; immigration and the obligatory nod to green issues at the end. Of course, the fact that this manifesto appears in the wake of both a major recession and the biggest politicians expenses stink of the modern era, means that it has had to make yet another commitment to ridding politics of ‘sleaze’ and of those with their hands wandering unauthorised into the the public purse to fund their private leisure activities.

We’ve been here before: several times in fact. It was sleaze and dirty cash deals associated with publicly shamed ex-MP Neil Hamilton, that helped topple the John Major-led Tories in 1997 and the New Labour government promised ‘change’; which was never going to happen with the likes of freebooters like Geoff Hoon being trusted with power. As Hamilton fades into obscurity some people seem to have forgotten that the Tories were the original masters of UK political sleaze and the Cameron-led Tories now appear to some as ‘honest blokes’ – a trick once pulled by Tony Blair when he took office in ’97…so short is political memory.

Now that New Labour has fully given itself over to the market as the ‘engine of wealth’ (which they clearly allowed to run around without a driver until it was running on fumes), it really is difficult to see where the parties really differ outside of the piddling micro-policies. It’s just tiny slices of legislation with everyone claiming to be for the small man, for “fairness” and empty promises to make sure that the super-rich are not too greedy without actually implementing any policy that will “harm growth” and innovation and “job creation” and all the rest of the blah-di-blah.

Of course, some ideological traces remain; it’s still possible to ask whether the Tories would have nationalised Northern Rock and spaded money into the banking industry had they been the government of the day – the answer is probably yes, with perhaps an even bigger role for the private sector to cream-off any goodies in the process. And the same sort of tax-policy that puts an extra pound a week in Tom, Dick and Harry’s pockets, while those in “The City” still get away with tiny taxes, are never far from the minds of Tory policy agendas. Their ‘toff’ image has not been erased as much as they’d like.
The Labour Party now no longer knows what it is, but there are still the faint gestures to the working class (or the middle class) and the claims of not being a party for the rich, which is by now barely-believable.

As a historical contrast here is Labour’s manifesto from 1945 (click the image to download pdf). A message aimed at a more united post-war population in a different era. Some of the language  and phraseology is actually quite recognisable (especially the word future) except that here they weren’t afraid to refer to themselves as socialists.