Why Britain needs Jeremy Corbyn

A lot of people in the media (e.g. in the Telegraph, the Spectator and even in the Guardian) seem to be very invested in telling us how Jeremy Corbyn, if elected in the Labour leadership contest, would ruin Labour and render the party unelectable for decades.

I don’t agree. And even if I did, I wouldn’t care. For me the existence of the enmity shown towards him shows exactly why Britain is in desperate need of him.

Why, in a healthy democracy, are we so afraid of different ideas? Why are we so afraid of the word ‘socialism’? The association with the USSR is false – giving a young mother, born into poverty and low education, a roof over her head is not tantamount to declaring full Marxism – and anyway the socialist USSR died a long time ago. Why is the very suggestion that we should consider people’s total needs as well as the needs of ‘the economy’, as if that has any existence apart from people, met with such insults?

Tony Blair has got in on the act too. The man who forced the Iraq War on our heads says that Labour will be unelectable if Corbyn wins. But Tony, why oh why do you think Labour should be elected in the first place for goodness sake? What does it matter whether Tory or Labour wins when they both espouse the same policies? Why do we need two right-of-centre parties? The Houses of Parliament are named for talking – are they not supposed to discuss different ideas and different priorities and needs, attempt to find the best solutions that work for most of the people most of the time, compromise for the benefit of all? How can they even begin to do that if only one set of right-wing ideas are being presented on all sides, are in fact continually presented as the only possible way to live?

When did British politics become all about holding the power, rather than what we should do with it? Does anyone believe that there is only one right way to live all the time for everyone? Does anyone believe that we can all continue living like this forever, while the sword of climate change hangs over our heads and people are thrown onto scrap heaps for being born into the wrong, poor, families, because technology changes, or for being unlucky in their health?

Questions, questions. Could it be in fact that we do not have a healthy democracy? Could it possibly be that we are slowly being taken over by a rich oligarchic elite who have no interest in the needs of the people of Britain, only in lining their own pockets at our expense? Who have, in fact, no idea of the needs of the people of Britain, having been born to wealth and privilege well beyond the dreams of most of us, and no interest whatsoever in attempting to find out? What other excuse do they have for holding on to their political ideologies around economic austerity in the public sector no matter what evidence is presented by whom? These increasingly desperate attempts to smear alternative voices look like increasingly desperate attempts by an oligarchy to hold onto power for its own sake no matter what, and that could have huge repercussions for us all in an age of environmental fragility – read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” for several accounts of where it can lead.

We need a strong left voice heard in British politics again at long last. We need some integrity brought back into the system. We need some democracy.

 

As a quick update to this, several leading economists have backed Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies according to a Guardian article of 22/08/15, saying they are ‘not extreme’ – in fact, “his opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF. He aims to boost growth and prosperity.”. May hope prevail.

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Childrens’ Incessant Need to Embarrass their Parents

Anyone who’s been through it knows that childbirth marks the total destruction of women’s dignity. Sitting around half or fully naked in a culture formed in a cool northern climate. Having one’s private parts, access to which have been zealously guarded since early childhood, suddenly available to anyone and everyone if it would only help for five minutes. Lying around half-drugged in pools of one’s own vomit/ piss/ shit/ blood (choose own humiliation as appropriate) while yelling like a loon.

And now I’m just starting to discover how much worse it gets.

My adorable pair of darlings, no doubt having noticed that I’m getting a little bit blasé about them wandering around declaring every passing adult(ish) male to be their daddy, were asking their own daddy a few days ago about their ‘other daddy’. They had just been watching Coraline (a film based on Neil Gaiman’s book and featuring a button-eyed ‘other mother’ and ‘other dad’, if you didn’t know). As if that was not enough, I was summoned by said individual last night to answer for their referring to their ‘three daddies’. It seems that the unique combination of lighting had produced a triple shadow on the floor. I am still hoping to get through this phase without being summarily divorced.

While I have been fortunate to avoid public toddler tantrums, there was the episode a couple of weeks ago when darling daughter announced loudly at the supermarket (why do they have to talk so loudly) that I mustn’t push my trolley or I’d hit ‘that lady’s fat bum’. Whoever you were, wherever you are, I am so sorry for my failure to teach my children better manners. Actually I hope she didn’t hear. She was less than 2 metres away. Dammit.

The latest public exposure of my parental inadequacies came at the school party where daughter danced around singing, in the sweetest possible and of course loud voice, ‘bite my shiny metal ass’. She got it off Futurama. Which has a 12 cert. Her dad let her watch it: it was all her dad’s fault (perhaps I’d be able to counteract those divorce proceedings). Many thanks fellow parents for the solidarity you all displayed in almost completely failing to hide your smirks. My time will come…

Our wonderful little son got into the act on the train. A very crowded train, naturally. We had of course thought ahead and brought entertainment for him so that he shouldn’t be too antisocial, so he thoughtfully took it upon himself to provide some for others. He is learning to talk and delighted our fellow passengers with his discovery of a new word – ‘bogey’. After several noisy explorations of this new sound dad suggested gently that a more polite term would be better appreciated in public. His response was to stand up tall and proudly announce at top volume ‘bum, bum, bum’ while slapping his own. Repeatedly. At least on this trip he managed to hit the ’emergency’ button in the toilet (which he greatly enjoyed visiting, also repeatedly – I never anticipated having to point out that ‘toilets are not toys’ pre-children) only once.

I can only assume that this is all designed by Mother Nature to steel my nerve so that in future years I will happily engage in public off-tune singing, stupid dancing with arm waving and other activities designed specifically to embarrass them. In order that they may become stronger individuals. Nothing whatsoever to do with base revenge and getting some of my own back. I wouldn’t be so petty. Honest.

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A Quick Rant About… yet more Tory moves to increase inequality

They just don’t get it and just don’t care do they? Hot on the heels of press reports about plans to curtail housing benefit for the young and the poorest rather than, for instance, bringing in rent controls on rich landlords to stop the housing benefit bill increasing, we get a new report relating to housing. Now inheritance tax is to be scrapped on family homes worth up to £1m.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osbourne say “It can only be right that when you’ve worked hard to own your own home, it will go to your family and not the taxman.”

‘Only be right’? Only be right that without measures to stop the rich elites from passing wealth on to the people who never earned it – the children of wealth – and redistributive measures to help the children of poorer families avoid the lack of opportunities and misery offered by poverty, which they equally never earned, what you get is a steady husbanding of wealth into the hands of the few?

It is a classic example of the more subtle bribes of right-wing thinking, the kind that has even poor lower-class people voting for them, ultimately against their own interest. I can see the appeal. Do your work, earn your pay, keep your money to yourself, support your family, look after your own and everyone else can and should do that too. Who can argue with that?

But there are obvious flaws in the logic. ‘Earn your pay’ – is it possible to earn an honest day’s living from an honest day’s minimum wage without top-ups or food banks nowadays? Why do some jobs earn so much more than others, for instance why is management so highly paid now in all forms compared to just about any profession (let alone the minimum wage)? Are any jobs paid what they’re actually worth – think about how long a company would last without its front line workers, its administration staff, and finally its managers, and the huge disparity in pay between those three areas. ‘Look after your own and everyone else can and should do that too’ – really? Does everyone have the same opportunities in life? What about those who really can’t, for whatever reason, whether through physical, emotional (e.g. as a result of abuse) or mental health problems or just sheer poverty? Do the people espousing this logic really expect never to suffer any problems themselves? We all need a helping hand occasionally.

And of course, then we have the ‘keep your money to yourself, support your family’ idea, which is the point with this housing policy. Supporting your family is a natural impetus, but there is a point where passing on wealth to grown-up children who never earned it is counter-productive. It is not difficult to see that, however attractive this is on the personal level, on the social level it leads directly to inequality. There is a balance between personal and social needs, and Britain has forgotten how to maintain a balance. This is how more and more wealth becomes concentrated into the hands of a narrow elite. This is how we end up with increasing inequality. This is how social mobility stops. This is how we go back to the land Charles Dickens knew. Britain is already the most unequal country in Europe, do we really want more?

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General Election 2015 results (a late look at “democracy” in action)

The general election results in May were a surprise, and depressing. We were all expecting a hung parliament at worst, with the possibility of a left-wing coalition or even a left-wing victory at best. Instead the people of Britain spoke, and apparently spoke in favour of 5 more years of misery suffering and general hell for the young, poor and vulnerable. Yes to more food banks, yes to more kicking the disabled, yes to greater freedom for the rich and the powerful to exploit everyone else. Most recently yes to cuts in child tax credits, representing further financial loss to the poor, and possibly cuts in housing benefit for the tenants ‘because the housing benefit bill is too big and climbing’ while the rich landlords causing that are left free to buy up the housing stock and raise rents. Go Britain. What an amazing country to be proud of.

I thought I’d have a closer look at the figures to see how representative the result is.

Firstly and obviously the turn out was only 66%. That means a whole third of the electorate said nothing at all. Why that should be we can only guess, but I am guessing that discouragement and disillusionment played a major part.

Next, let’s look at the vote percentages. Only 36.9% of those who voted actually voted for the Tories. 30.4% voted for Labour. Yet there is a huge difference between the vote percentage and the percentage of power actually gained thereby. 36.9% of 650 seats available = 240 (to nearest seat!). 30.4% of 650 seats available = 198. The Tories actually won 331 seats and Labour 232. Further, the Tories’ gain of 91 represents 14% of available seats whereas the Labour gain of 34 represents 5%. Not only was there a big difference between the vote and seat percentages but that difference hugely favoured the tories this time.

Not that all the problems are on the side of the left. UKIP gained 12.6% of the vote, yet that only gains them 1 seat. This is to me a major indication of problems. How can we claim to be living in a democracy when 12.6 % of the vote results in virtually no representation at all? I am not a fan of UKIP, I find their positions ill-thought out, contradictory, plain wrong and positively dangerous (I also find it blackly amusing that it should be they who demonstrate the problems with our democracy best), but if they had been given the representation that percentage deserves they would be free to demonstrate their stupidities for all the world to see. Instead the simmering resentment felt by the many who, for whatever reason, chose to vote for them will now continue to be pushed underground and ignored by the establishment for as long as possible until the next election. The reasons people are voting for them are not going to go away and need to be addressed (by better education and information, in my opinion).

In Scotland, too, the SNP only took 50% of the vote yet gained 56 out of 59 seats. Labour took 24.3% – virtually a full quarter for goodness sake – yet only gained 1 seat. The Tories and Lib Dems also took 1 each with 14.9% and 7.5% respectively. How is this representing the will of the people?

You can see similar problems in Northern Ireland. The DUP and Sinn Fein took 25.7% and 24.5% respectively, so should be reasonably well matched. Yet the DUP has 8 seats and SF 4. SDLP gained 13.9% yet have 3 seats, more on a par with the SF while UUP with 16 took only 2. I know nothing of NI politics so cannot comment further beyond the numbers, but the mismatch is clear.

I find the vote percentage increases on the 2010 results interesting as well. The big losers of course were the Lib Dems, no surprises there, so most other parties gained. Yet the Tories only gained 0.8% of the vote percentage compared with 2010. How did that translate into gaining an extra 24 seats? Labour actually gained 1.5%, almost double the increase of the Tories. So exactly how could that manage to translate into losing 26 seats?? For the record, the SNP vote increase which translated into that huge seat gain of 50 was only 3.1%, UKIP’s increase was 9.5%. The Greens more than doubled their vote share by 2.8% but still have only the 1 MP.

I am sometimes told, in tones of justification, that there have always been problems with vote and seat mismatch percentages. This is true. You can have a quick look at this website summarising Election results since 1945 and the contrast between the vote percentage and seat percentage gained. Is that really an excuse to ignore the problems?

This is not a trivial question. If the seats gained had more accurately reflected the vote share, the Tories would not have won outright this time in 2015. We would not be listening to David Cameron going on about repealing the fox hunting act, privatising schools and cutting child tax credit and housing benefit for the poorest right now. In 2010 the Lib Dems should have had a much bigger presence, nearly equal to that of Labour. In 2005, when Blair secured a historic 3rd term in office, it should have been a hung parliament, again with a much larger Lib Dem presence in play.

Do we want democracy or not? Is there realistically a better system, even with all its vulnerabilities around education and information currently on show? We can argue about whether hung parliaments are better for the country or not, but the point is that when these huge mismatches exist, when parties are apparently winning elections and imposing their particular policies and ideologies when they shouldn’t, we are clearly not living in even the minimal democracy we are claimed to be. Particularly now, as the right-wing neoliberalists finally get to tear down the last of the public sector and take us straight back to the pre-Gladstonian values of oligarchy, wealth, nepotism and patronage, is this not important to us?

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A Rant About People who Blame India and China for Climate Change

You know the sort. “Oh it’s no use us doing something because India and China and all the rest are emitting more than us. It’s all their fault. Let them cut back their emissions and then we can talk about cutting ours”

Let’s face it, they are not looking for arguments. They are looking for excuses. Always more excuses, to justify doing nothing themselves and carry on their comfortable, convenient, complacent lives. Let’s try examining those excuses.

First of all, remind me: who started anthropogenic climate change? Which country first sent carbon emissions soaring? Which country started the Industrial Revolution? Oh yes, that’s right: it was the nation on the little island on the north-eastern edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Great Britain by name. We began it in oh, about 1760. Have the people complaining about China and India considered just how much we’ve contributed to global warming in all the time since? For the record, since 1850 the EU has contributed about 25% of the total cumulative CO2 emissions. The US has added another 27%. China has contributed 11% in the time since its industrialization and India has emitted just 3%. Substantially less than we have.

They might also stop to consider just why China and India are emitting so much now. They emit because they manufacture things. We all know this – we all know ‘everything is made in China’ nowadays. We all know that huge amounts of what we have here in Britain are created in China. To put that another way, we here are creating the demand for China to manufacture things: we here are creating the demand for China to increase its emissions. Davis and Caldeira particularly have tried to assess emissions by consumption. Look at how much we import.

Next, why is so much manufacturing done in China and India now? Because it is cheaper to do it there. Why is it cheaper? Because these countries have fewer human rights, fewer workers rights, and fewer environmental laws (although that is beginning to change in China). From a global perspective, you could say that the West has deliberately exported our manufacturing there for that purpose, whether it is owned by western or chinese or indian companies or whoever.

The cheapness of chinese goods for us here is bought at a cost. Because the worker protection laws and environmental protection laws are poorer, companies operating there are free to hold life cheap. In environmental terms, manufacturing there causes more emissions to pour into the atmosphere than it would to create the same items back in the west. The manufacture of solar panels has been particularly noted for this. That’s even before you factor in the ecological cost of transporting the goods made there over to here.

What all this means is that we have farmed out our responsibility to China and India, and are now asking them to carry the can. It is not their fault alone. I don’t mean to imply they are entirely passive actors in the drama – China is steadily moving into a world dominating position as a result – but the emissions they are creating are not created for them alone, they are created for us. Who then sit back and whinge that they have to do something about the global problem we face all by themselves.

It is pathetic.

China is beginning to wake up to the damage that is being done to their environment and is beginning to move more to renewable power, with rather more enthusiasm than we have done so far . Perhaps given the huge amount of resources we have transferred out of China since the Opium Wars (do look them up) particularly, we should be asking how we can help them. Perhaps we could support them in the transition to the sustainable state we all need. Perhaps we could even start to experiment on that transition ourselves instead of making poorer people the world over our guinea pigs, and swap success stories. Anthropogenic climate change is a western-created problem originally and one we should have woken up to and started trying to solve years ago. We have been warned often enough.

Next time I hear someone whinge about India and China’s emissions I swear I will interrupt and tell them to grow the hell up.

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Benefit Sanctions: the good, the bad, don’t let it get ugly

The good news about benefit sanctions can be summed up pretty quickly, so let’s get it out of the way now. The Work and Pensions Committee have got past their second of three oral evidence sessions into benefit sanctions, and have received a huge body of evidence that the sanctions are not working, and in fact in the opinion of researchers and witnesses the whole sanction culture is counter-productive. Further, this story is appearing in the press, though not featuring as strongly as it should. It should be front page news in every news outlet.

That’s it. The good news.

The bad news is that they were ever allowed to exist in the first place. For goodness sake, people on benefits have the absolute minimum income that it is decreed by the state is necessary to live. And they take that away from people?? What were they supposed to live on, thin air??

It was with horror that I started to hear about people dying as a result of sanctions. Many more are suffering or turning to crime. This has been known for 2 years or more: Johnny Void’s old-ish post includes a link to CAB report.

Moreover, the inquiry suggests strongly that this should have been anticipated, and most probably was. Here’s that transcript again, look at the top of pg 22, where Alison Garnham quotes from the DWP’s decision-making guide ” ‘It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer a deterioration in their health if they were without essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or…essential items. The decision maker must decide if a person with a medical condition would suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult and would suffer hardship.’ It is assumed deterioration in health is part of the result of a sanction regime.” I have been blithely hoping that gross incompetence was the issue, and certainly wilful ignorance must have been, at every level in the decision making process. But no, the people on the Black Triangle’s list were effectively murdered by a state that likes to pretend we are a poor country, unable to feed our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Whether the specific cause of death was hyperglycaemia, suicide, or heart attacks, they were deliberately abandoned in situations that were known to be deleterious to health.

Britain is the 6th largest economy by GDP in the world. We are not poor. There has never been a good excuse for sanctions. Benefit fraud is not a major problem for the nation’s finances. It’s not even as if there were an over-supply of jobs. The OECD, of all groups, has recently put out a report saying that redistribution of wealth, a benefits system and public services is beneficial to an economy: just in case you weren’t paying attention to the lessons of British history in the post-war to 1980ish period when we had these things and did quite well actually thank you. Or to all the people studying inequality before.

Now there are no excuses left at the political level. Come on MPs, Members of Parliament, representatives of the people. Show us that you are representing the people of Britain – all of them, not just the rich Eton-attending elite. Show us that there is some integrity left within this tortuously slow political process. Show us that there is power and will to effect necessary change. Show us that there is some intelligence left somewhere! Show us that there is some compassion for the most poor and vulnerable, and ultimately for all workers – for workfare is impinging on the idea of the minimum wage. Prove your worth. Stop these benefit sanctions immediately.

Stop this war on the poor.

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The nature of power in a democracy: where New Labour went very, very wrong

Just as Ed Miliband starts to show signs of being able to listen (the cynic in me thinks that it is for the all the wrong reasons, but we have to live in hope) and even, maybe, Labour representatives having an idea or two, up pops Tony Blair announcing that he thinks Labour can’t win on a traditional left platform.

In one sentence he sets out all that is wrong with current politics, current parties and far too many current politicians (ta for that and I suppose for Northern Ireland. Now go away).

You aren’t there ‘to win’. You aren’t there just to grab power – power to do what? You are there to represent us, the people of Great Britain, and our collective public interest.

In a truly representative parliamentary democracy what should be happening is that 1) voters vote for the candidate they feel represents their views; 2) those views are then taken to parliament; 3) parliament together debates issues of national interest, bringing together all the different points of view and information on how issues will affect everybody; and 4) ideally those views are then taken on board by the executive and influence policy. At the very least the voices in parliament (of whatever side, I don’t like whips) should always be scrutinising the executive’s decisions, voting against the policies they disagree with, and forcing compromise.

All of these steps appear to be missing or non-existent. Instead we seem to have simply a mad rush to be the first to grab the executive central power, in what everyone now refers to as Britain’s ‘first past the post system’, which then imposes whatever madness it feels like upon the whole population. Might I ask exactly what Tony Blair wants to see that power used for? Why oh why didn’t he just join the Tories in the first place?

Labour were originally the voices of the working people of this country. When Tony Blair ditched the “traditional left platform”, he was ditching them, and not just for himself. In seizing the centre of politics for his battleground he cut the views of the majority of Britain’s population out of the decision-making process completely. In continuing with traditional centre political policies he deprived all the people of Britain of different voices, different compromises. And in doing so he directly caused the loss of faith and confusion among voters that we see today.

I can see what I believe to be his point of view: his predecessor Thatcher of course was another one who ran roughshod over opposition of any kind and refused to listen to any point of view, any ideas, but her own. And so the only way Labour was going to claw back any real influence was abandoning the parliamentary model of debate and reason and grabbing executive power itself. He may have believed that the only way to do that was to grab the central ground.

If I am right, it is a classic re-statement of the old question “Does the end justify the means?” together with its refutation. Unless we are talking about actual survival (and the specific case would need to be proven even then), in the large-scale social and hence political arena the end can never justify the means. Because the means never stop. There is never ‘an end’. There is only ever the process, the means, the now. In forgetting the lower classes New Labour disenfranchised the poor. In disenfranchising them New Labour laid the groundwork for abandoning the poor to their deaths.

If we had real different voices with different points of view, experiences and information in parliament right now talking seriously about all the problems that affect all the people of Britain, including the environmental problems, we might be able to find some different solutions. With a weak central executive and leadership some of those solutions might even be heard.

This is why I urge people to wake up in 2015, start informing yourselves and look very seriously at all the parties. Let’s make 2015 the year that change starts. We need new voices with new solutions – and old ones that have been proven to work – to be heard in parliament. Surely the majority of British people see the problems that unrestrained Tory, unrestrained greed, and free market thinking have brought (even if they never learned or forgot that it did the same thing in the, incidentally, pre-public sector years just after the industrial revolution). Surely we can see that the economic golden age from the end of the war through to the 70’s was, incidentally, the time of the public sector and a restrained approach to the free market. Surely the majority of people can still see the environmental problems that surround us. And Ed Miliband and co – I may be cynical, but we need hope. It certainly does not need to be this way. Keep going, please, keep going.

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