Politics & History

Trade Union Facility Time

Last week the Taxpayers’ Alliance published another withering attack on trade unions, on this occasion their ire was directed at the concept of facility time; this is the time off during work that a trade union rep or officer can take to complete their duties. The amount of time needed to complete those duties really depends on whether the employer in question is any good or not, since duties usually include representing members in some way. If an employer was perfect, in some imaginary world, facility time would be a thing of the past.

The Taxpayers Alliance, which is certainly an alliance, but not made up of taxpayers, often has a pop at trade unions when they’ve run out of other areas of workers’ protections at which to direct their anger. Facility time crops up ad infinitum in their documents, alongside publishing the wages of union officials (which is authorised by the membership), lobbying for the Trade Union Act to become law long before it was in its formative phase, which areas trade unions are strongest (and thus dangerous) etc. etc. – I want to use this blog post to explain why facility time is not only necessary but a force for good in the workplace but first I’d like to mention something about the Taxpayers Alliance and its structure.

The TA is the most perniciously named body in public life. It makes sure it operates just inside the “small company” tranche of employment law so it is exempt from… tax audits. Its funders are a mixture of Tory donors and shady businessmen including construction magnates (aka blacklisters) McAlpine and Bamford. We only know this because those people themselves have come forward – The “Who Funds You” project which aims to promote transparency in the funding of think tanks have labelled the TA less transparent than most other think tanks. Whoever it is that does fund the alliance, they have the cheek to claim TAX RELIEF on their own donations to the right-wing group. But then, that should no surprise given their non-executive director, Alexander Heath, has not paid any British taxes for years since he is self-exiled to the Loire Valley.

The TA show everything that is wrong with our current “churnalism” style of media – get the story out, and fact check it later when the damage is done and people have moved on to another scandal. TA Press Releases are treated as statements of fact; there is never any caveat about what the group is, for whom they work and the ulterior motives for their “research”; which is a smaller state, lower corporate taxes and less regulation on business. They are not an independent body and they represent a small clique of ideologues who lack the grace to even tell us who they are. The TUC on the other hand, which represents over 6 million paid-up individual British workers, is rarely given the platform to respond, and when they are it is with obvious contempt by the broadcaster in question, whoever it is, from BBC to Sky to Talk radio.

Now, on Facility Time, the TA often insinuate that trade unionists are given paid time off for all sorts of things, this is nonsense. There are very specific parameters to FT and they have to be covered with what are termed trade union “duties”, as opposed to trade union “activities”. Generally the difference can be summed up as duties being dealing directly with members and the employer on things such as pay, terms and conditions or grievance and discipline while activities are internal union matters such as branch meetings, union policy making, recruitment and campaigning. Some individual workplaces may have an agreement with the recognised union(s) that includes some activities in to their paid facility time, but this is a local issue and time off for duties only is the legal responsibility. A full list of what duties means can be found in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Just as a quick aside to this as well; when the TA and other Tory related groups talk of “paid time off” they allude to trade unionists being paid to take time off; they are not paid anything. Being a trade unionist is a completely voluntary role (unless you are a paid officer and that money comes from union members), often involving high-stress situations and use of negotiating and mediating skills that will often be way above the pay grade the trade unionist is on. All it means is that the trade unionist isn’t losing what they would normally be earning while away on trade union duties – usually this is for a quick meeting with a member or HR representative, not for days or weeks at a time. While the trade unionist is away someone else is supposed to cover their work; this is rarely if ever done, so the work still needs to be done by that individual later on.

In 2007 a rare, but full, cost-benefit analysis of trade union facility time was done by what is now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The report stated that “the overall benefits from the funded provision of trade union facility time in the public sector will be a proportion of those – when updated – from the BERR report because this included both the public and private sectors. The working assumption used to divide the calculated accrued benefit is that of 60% – this being related to the proportion of union members to be found in the public sector…. In using this working assumption, it should also be borne in mind that the accrued benefits for the taxpayer relate to the entire workforce in the public sector and not just union members because of coverage of collective bargaining. Any ‘benefits’ of union representation are spread across the whole workforce, not just those in membership.”

The report also goes on to mention the following facts:

  • Dismissal rates were lower in unionised workplaces with union reps– this resulted in savings related to recruitment costs of £107m-£213m per annum
  • Voluntary exit rates were lower in unionised workplaces with union reps, which again resulted in savings related to recruitment costs of £72m-143m per annum
  • Employment tribunal cases are lower in unionised workplaces with union reps resulting in savings to government of £22m-43m per annum
  • Workplace-related injuries were lower in unionised workplaces with union reps so resulting in savings to employers of £126m-371m per annum
  • Workplace-related illnesses were lower in unionised workplaces with union reps so resulting in savings to employers of £45m-207m per annum

Essentially this equates to every £1 spent on facility time by employers (using even the dodgy analysis from the Taxpayers’ Alliance) equates to between £2 and £5 gained by the same employers. It is worth remembering also, that this report is 10 years old now so inflation dictates that these benefits have only increased over time. Also, benefits that cannot be quantified in areas such as increased productivity and working confidence are bound to have increased alongside the fiscal gains in unionised workplaces, both in the private and public spheres. Not to mention the amount of discipline and grievance cases that are dealt with early on thanks to efficient union representation, meaning less endless “he said, she said” cases for HR to deal with.

More recently the University of Leeds carried out research to point out the amount of work trade union reps do for which they are paid nothing amounts to over 250,000 hours, or £3.84m a week. Proper paid Facility time covers just 0.1% of weekly hours worked and the money spent on this by employers nationally equals just 0.07% of the national wage bill. Meanwhile workers education through the Union Learning Fund benefits employers with increased skills sets and creates an additional £895 million to employees in the form of enhanced life time earnings – this means higher tax returns for the Chancellor and a lower unemployment benefit bill as those unlucky enough to find themselves out of work, won’t be for long.

What groups like the Taxpayers Alliance’ really want, when you read between the lines of any of their output, is the destruction of the last bastion of defence for workers and their rights. Were it around 150 years ago the Taxpayers Alliance would have been publishing reports on the benefits of child labour, the 14 hour day, why days off were for the workshy, why workplace accidents were useful in keeping people on their toes and why deaths at work kept poor relief down – this is what work was like before trade unions. They don’t have workers’ interests at heart, and they certainly don’t have taxpayers at heart when you look at the contempt with which they hold the philosophy of taxation. Trade unions are a force for good; join one, before it’s too late, because we are only as strong as our members allow us to be.

The Left Must Change If It Is To Change The World

Those of us on the left have had real cause to do serious soul searching in recent months, and the past week in particular. The election of Donald Trump, although in a distant, and some might say crazy, land, reverberates across the Atlantic and on to our sceptred shores. I have been trying to think about what is happening in the world and why those of us who call ourselves progressives, are losing the battle for hearts and minds. Clearly it’s not an easy thing to work out and my own thoughts will barely scrape the surface, but for those interested; here they are.

Emotive messages

The left are terrible at emotive political messages. We think everyone will be of the mind to fact-check everything they read, listen to reasoned argument and come to a logical and critical conclusion. Most people don’t have the time, or the will to do this. I’ve read Phillippe Legrain’s book “Immigrants: Why Your Country Needs Them” – it sets out in great detail, empirically detailed as to why immigrants are on overwhelmingly good thing for every nation that accepts them, historically, presently and in the future if trends are to be trusted. It is a brilliant and perceptive piece of writing and incredibly hard to refute. So what do the political right do? They don’t refute it, they just don’t mention it at all. Instead they point at an area of high immigration and say that public services in this area are under strain – they don’t tell you how under strain they are in relation to neighbouring areas, they don’t tell you what level of strain was on them prior to recent immigration, they don’t tell you how local levels of funding have dropped despite an increase in users, they just explicitly say that there are more people here and not enough school places, correlation equals causation in their book – this is emotive, it works; people buy in to fear much more than they buy in to unity thanks to millennia of evolutionary protectionism. I’m not saying man is inherently selfish, but nor are we inherently self-less either and we will look to protect our own quicker than newer people we know less about. The facts of it are neither here nor there, it’s a gut reaction not a coherent one and the gut will win 99 times out of 100.

On the left we are too fact-based; pragmatic research, theory, statistics, peer-review, tables, graphs; it’s great and someone needs to do it to back up what should be, first and foremost an emotive response to hate. Every now and then we will hear a heart-warming story about how a community has got together to support an immigrant in their area who is facing an unjust deportation by the home office. His or her supporters aren’t natural left-wingers or progressives, not even political animals at all half the time, but they are moved to action by a story of common humanity. They didn’t look at how many people the home office sends back to war-torn or unsafe countries for the people in question, they just know the person they are trying to help is a nice person whom they respect and have to come to know. We need to be more like this when discussing mental health services, the NHS break-up and sale, immigration generally, benefits and welfare, our public services etc. etc. We can back up our argument with statistics but statistics in and of themselves never won an argument.

We need to be less shy about taking pages from the right-wing play-book, including attacking those who oppose us with vehemence. The right seem to have ownership of playing the man and not the ball; it’s unpleasant but plays well with the public. David Cameron was allowed to get away scot-free when he left his daughter in a pub, when he pretended to support two separate football teams and even when he was accused of shoving his tally-whacker in a dead pig. The left find it unsavoury to utilise such personal flaws, but do you think, if Jeremy Corbyn had made any one of these errors we would have been allowed to forget it so quickly? If a left-wing figure fails to wear a poppy in early November they are cast as enemy of the state right through to January – I’m afraid we must start using these sorts of tactics if we are to combat them in the longer term. Jeremy Corbyn may want a kinder, gentler politics but frankly he is clearly the only one who does.


I remember being in a bar in Leeds and listening to two people have a discussion about a seminar we’d all been on regarding the “future of the left”. The event was positive, filled with lots of messages of solidarity and unity; the two chaps stood at the bar in the Fenton pub were having a right old natter, until one of them hypothesised that Leon Trotsky in fact was not a true revolutionary, at which point his interlocutor slammed his glass down and stormed off; up until this point they had agreed on everything! It illustrated perfectly to me the problem with many people who are considered left wing that we would often prefer to fight potential friends than confirmed enemies, and usually over some random esoteric and marginal element of Marxist theory.

One only needs to look at the recent machinations within the labour party, which now seems to have more segments than a chocolate orange. Instead of uniting around a common goal, the party backbenchers appear to prefer attacking their party leader, front benchers and paty lay-members interchangeably. If not they turn their ire towards minor left wing groups such as the Socialist Worker Party. Similarly, trade unionists often reserve their strongest hatred not for bosses or HR managers, but members and reps of other unions, when the unifying goal of all unions should be the emancipation of the toiling classes. We must challenge this factionalism that has gone on for far too long on the left; there is far more that unites than divides us; in the US many Bernie Sanders supporters said they would vote for Trump because they felt Hillary Clinton stole the Primaries vote from their candidate – this is akin to being in a pub and asking for salt and vinegar crisps, the barman then hands you ready salted and instead of eating them anyway you set your face on fire.

Shutting down debate

The left have lost the art of debating. We no longer know how to win an argument without shouting down the person holding the opposing view. I hold my hands up here and admit that I have dismissed those who have disagreed with me in the past as either stupid or racists because I didn’t like what they were saying. It’s a short step from this to the “re-education” of high Maoism. How many of us have blocked a family member on social media, or given up a friendship because they have said something abhorrent on Facebook or Twitter? This is tragic and entirely the wrong response. If you don’t listen to their arguments, how can you expect to convince others that their way is something to be opposed, and if you don’t challenge hatred, how to expect to rid society of it? There are racists out there; bigots, fascists even, but even they will have their argument heard one way or another. Ignoring it, or no-platforming won’t make it go away.

There is a legitimate argument to say public service broadcasters shouldn’t be fuelling hate, and should be stronger in challenging the pedlars of spiteful stereotypes and lies, but dismissing anyone who disagrees with you is wrong on so many levels; and as we have seen with Trump does not work. We need to re-engage with oratory and push back the boundaries of acceptable discourse. If someone is telling lies about a particular minority to further their political career, don’t shout “arsehole” and walk away thinking you’ve told them what’s what; challenge it calmly and try to work out why they are saying what they are saying; talk to the people listening and tell them why you believe something different. MPs will tell you often that they encounter difficult viewpoints on the doorstep when they are campaigning, or in their surgeries. Once you get down to it, the person complaining about “Polish people coming over here” are really complaining about a lack of investment in their local services and a paucity of job opportunities for their kids. At face value it can sound unpleasant but there is usually a legitimate and burning concern that pushes people towards the politics of division.

Political correctness

When political correctness first reared its head it was a healthy, positive thing, and if nothing else it was funny watching the Conservatives being forced into articulating their inherent racism in to a more acceptable form of expression. However, it has now got to the stage where people are scared to say what they feel. Words such as “nigger” or “puff” remain unpleasant and broadly unacceptable outside of the realms of societal reclamation, however we have enabled those who would otherwise use such words to escape opprobrium via their skilled use of dialectic obfuscation. As a result the truly nefarious elements in our politics such as Nigel Farage can eschew the disdain of the many by hiding their true feelings. Prior to the age of political correctness the Farages and Le Pens would have had minority support from fellow racists because it would be clear from the beginning who their constituency was. Now instead of talking of black people they talk of “gangland thugs”; we all know what this means, but they didn’t use a bad word so it’s OK. Instead of Jews they talk of “global financial elite” – they can still get away with being directly derogatory about Muslims since every age has to have its go-to scapegoat. Lack of morals is usually far-right parlance for a critique of gay people. Political correctness only aids the agendas of the unpleasant – let everyone come out and say what they think, then we’ll see who has the public’s support.

Self congratulation

I go on demonstrations and marches from time to time about causes I feel strongly about. I write things such as this and watch other self-organised groups from a friendly distance who are protesting one such thing or other. The atmosphere after these things is a heady mix of adrenaline and confidence. It’s great to be surrounded by like-minded people and know that you’re not alone when protesting disability cuts or foreign policy for example. However we all go away then and think “we really showed them today, bloody government”, and we convince ourselves we’ve done something amazing. We didn’t begin a revolution, we didn’t bring down a corrupt leader, we just shouted, blew whistles and repeated some inane rhyming couplet behind a man with green hair because he happens to have brought a megaphone.

We have to stop this intellectual onanism and accept that such things don’t change anything in the short term, only continuous, concerted, inventive and wide-ranging pressure can change things. Every little victory – The Sun being removed from sale by a national news outlet, the government been found guilty of discriminatory practices are small, small beer. If you have one goal, you can win that specifically but don’t win and think society’s shitty edifice has suddenly been scrubbed clean. We will still wake up in the morning surrounded by the same little Englanders as before, they just might have to go somewhere else for their daily newspaper. Don’t spin our own victories like New Labour spun theirs; spin is the enemy of change and makes you search for success among the losses, makes you accept the intolerable and makes you blind to the achievements you could reach if you accepted defeat with more grace, and more determination.

On Labour, The Left and Anti-Semitism

The Conservatives, their press-pack satraps and the increasingly pathetic Blairite wing of the Labour Party are in the process of building and encouraging passengers aboard another bandwagon to try and discredit the Labour Party and its leadership. This time it centres around completely fabricated accusations of anti-Semitism insinuating that it comes from the leadership of the party and stretches down to affiliated groups and grass roots members. The latest in a string of attempts to label “the left” as anti-Semitic are the observations around Naz Shah’s no doubt ill-judged comments on “moving” Israel to the United States. Obviously such a proposal is unworkable, not least because when the USA had the opportunity to take extra European Jewish refugees prior to the Holocaust, they refused, despite evidence of increasing anti-Semitic policies being enacted by the Nazi party in Germany. If they didn’t want more Jewish people in their country at such an awful period, then the USA is hardly likely to take them now.

What is evidenced by the accusatory nature of the political right is that they, yet again, conflate Judaism with Israel, which does a disservice to both. Jewish people historically have benefited any society in which they entered. They have been generally and falsely mistrusted and yet have, again generally, remained a liberal and tolerant people associated with what is usually termed “the left”. Adolf Hitler equated Judaism with Bolshevism; certainly progressive thought has never been far from Jewish circles; see Red Vienna as an example. Israel however, has become a reactionary state governed on racial and xenophobic lines which is anti-something before it is pro-anything. The state discriminates against the displaced Palestinian refugees, and the Palestinian population within its own border. It refuses entry to people involved in the Palestinian struggle and is even now turning on Jewish people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. It is a nuclear state, which lied about its WMD programme while supporting, through business links and diplomatic ties,  Apartheid South Africa. Indeed, Desmond Tutu who knows a thing or two about discrimination labelled Israel as worse than South Africa was at the height of its Apartheid system.

If any Labour MP or member has said anything to insinuate that all Jews are typical of certain characteristics or responsible for the plight of a group of people or claims the Holocaust didn’t happen, they should absolutely be thrown out of the Party and frankly I would be in favour of prosecution for hate crimes. We remain one of the few European countries where it is still legal to claim the Holocaust was a hoax. If any Labour MP or member criticises Israel then it is a legitimate criticism of a nation state and its foreign and domestic policy. The whole point of being politically engaged is that you can be critical in your thinking and in your comments. Israel attracts criticism from across the political spectrum and particularly the left because progressive people naturally empathise with the disenfranchised, the destitute and downtrodden; namely the Palestinian people in this case.

Israel and its supporters have made hay in recent decades now with labelling anybody who disagrees with them as anti-Semitic. That accusation should retain real authority, it should be something that strikes fear in to the hearts of those who receive it. Instead, through overuse and misuse it has become a blunted barb that results in nothing more than a shrug. As Norman Finkelstein has identified it is Israel’s way of shutting down debate on its own behaviours. Disagree with someone’s comments – call them anti-Semitic and watch the press do the rest while you crack on with continuing illegal land-grabs and mass murder of civilians on an industrial scale.

There is a macabre humour to see who is first out of the blocks with any accusations of anti-Semitism of Labour Party figures. The Daily Mail never miss an opportunity; that’s the Daily Mail whose historic owners openly consorted with and supported Hitler and even published a front page declaring “Hurrah for the blackshirts”; Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists’ footsoldiers. The Tory Party obviously get in there, never mind that Zach Goldsmith is currently running an openly racist campaign to be London mayor, turning lifelong Tory Peter Oborne against him (but it’s racist against Muslims so that’s OK apparently) or that half of their MPs were fond of Hitler prior to World War II. Anti-Semitism is a right wing ideology, as are all ideologies related to nationalism via racism are. The Palestinian cause has and does attract people who have an ulterior motive, this much is true. They will join any cause they see as giving their hatred a legitimacy and these people should be rooted out.

However, we know the real reason this is now being focused on so vehemently by the press and the Tories; it’s about Jeremy Corbyn. It’s about the fear of a genuine socialist in opposition who has the common touch and asks the right questions for the majority of British people. It’s about stopping a new working class spirit that has come to dominate Labour politics over the last year that has the ruling classes running for their shields. It is standard right-wing operating procedure, they can’t play the ball so they play the man. Jeremy Corbyn’s arguments are coherent, rational and most crucially connect with voters; this is why he must be stopped, at any cost. Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire life battling racism in all its heinous forms. It is a joke, a sick one, to try and tie him and any of the Labour Shadow-Cabinet to anti-Semitism. Collating Judaism with Israel is just plain wrong; there are many, many Jewish people who disagree with the policies of Israel, and the increasingly theocratic nature of the state it has become.

This madness must end, because one day someone will come along who is genuinely anti-Semitic and we won’t be able to separate it from the slur and slander that has gone before.

Why Politics Needs a New Romanticism

In 1798, in the first issue of Athenaeum, Friedrich Schlegel used a term for the first time to describe a movement that would go on to revolutionise literature, art, sculpture, music and the very cultural boundaries in which people lived. The term was Romanticism and was employed to describe the rejection of neo-classicism in the arts, which harked back to a Greco-Roman view of the world as factual, empiricist and formulaic, governed by rules enforced rigidly in the academic sphere and maintained by official patronage. Romanticism by contrast became associated with the senses, with emotions, the freedom of the imagination and expression, it valued the ugly and challenging on a par with the beautiful and serene. Delacroix, Constable, Turner, Shelley, Blake, Wordsworth and many more were able to invest themselves in their work, interpret their very being and project it on to canvas or page, to the general marvel of the viewer.

Today we live in an overwhelming political domain, assailed constantly by the thrum of current affairs, so keenly monitored that everything is codified and classified, focus grouped in microcosm and researched, peer reviewed and collected with an eye on future policy formulation. The empirical a posteriori way of thinking, so beloved of enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Hume has been suffused into the body politic itself to the extent that there is no room for nuance and variety, no room for genuine radicalism and progressive intent. Regardless political parties at differing ends of the spectrum may sign up to different policies; the midwifery of their parturition are the same drawn out systemised techniques of governance that stultify emotive invention and deny a policy built firstly on empathy and understanding.

Politics needs a Romantic awakening to fully embrace the senses in creating policy that concern above all, people. We must remove the obsession with enumeration and see the lives that lay behind this or that strategy to compliment the more robust architecture of classical governance. Our political leaders can quote statistical anomalies constantly but are lost when it comes to connecting with people; little wonder so many of them look so uncomfortable and out-of-touch when placed in an “ordinary” situation such as a factory, a building site or dare I say it, eating a bacon sandwich.

Romanticism provides a framework for human identification and understanding, it gives the user the tools to interpret the world around them and apply what they have learned accordingly. It gives access to heroism and invention – surely Nye Bevan in his creation of the NHS, without perhaps realising it, was envisaging a Romantic ideal of government than championed the public above the wellbeing of the short-term State. The best creations come from those who can imagine, who can see the necessity of planning for multiple identities, who carry their souls with them in to the boardroom or Cabinet meeting and can invest their very selves in to what they say, and what they believe. Utilise the tools the information age can give, yes! But, in conjunction with the authenticity, integrity and inner truth of a forgotten cultural phenomenon. A revival of Romanticism in the political sphere could just be the political movement of the 21st century.

Populist Paranoia

As much as the US has a long tradition of democracy, liberty and civic freedom; it also has a strong connection to authoritarianism and discipline arrived at through the politics of fear. Largely this fear takes the form of the political condition of the “other”. As each wave of migration has settled in America they have taken on the mythos contained within a pervading if adoptive narrative of nationalist sentiment. For those who understand the sclerotic history of domestic politics in America, it comes as no surprise that the latest incarnation of Republican politics is a continuation of what can be called a populist paranoia that has been a constant at the heart of the American body politic both since and prior to independence.

Native peoples notwithstanding, anti-Catholicism was its first incarnation following the Puritan migrations – bringing with it those people’s own prejudices from their British and European homelands. This fear of the Catholic Other continued for over 100 years, by which point Catholic numbers had grown only to 2% of the population at the time of the first American census in 1790. As Irish and Italian migration soared in the 19th Century these numbers grew leading to further anti-Catholic movements in the form of the Know Nothings and the early Ku Klux Klan. Only with the advent of World War I had Catholics proved themselves in battle and were worthy of integration, or at least toleration.

We have seen waves of hatred regarding The Other which have at various times included black people, women, communists, Jews, hippies, Latin Americans, witchcraft, Japanese, Chinese… the list goes on and if prejudice is the fruit then the tree is party politics which collectively and frequently utilises an inherent distrust of alien customs and religious practices to fan the flames of hatred in exchange for a “quick win” at the ballot box. The previous generation of migrants have always joined this chorus as they have been slotted in at the lowest rung on the ladder in menial and unstable careers, and are thus the most vulnerable to an influx of unskilled labour. The American Dream is not about climbing to the top from that bottom rung, it is about maintaining by any means necessary your place on the ladder.

Donald Trump, and to an equal but less blunt extent Ted Cruz, represents the modern flavour of populist paranoia with his comments on Mexico sending their rapists to America (it’s amazing how often the trope of “THEM raping OUR women” comes up in the racist’s discourse) and calling for a “complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the US. In addition, by connecting The Other with the economic precariousness of everyday Americans he is tapping in to a fruitful vein of discontent that he has no plan to alter; right to the point where he claims that Washington is corrupt and he’s the man to “clean it up”.

In every American election there is a candidate who claims to be the “outsider”, the “rogue” who will take a pampered political class to task and kick it in the keister. This is the plot of Frank Capra’s Mr Smith Goes To Washington from 1939, an ordinary man who goes to the Capital and gives them what for. He is the very model of the political outsider; he is the bait for the American dream itself and every election throws up another Mr Smith, but he doesn’t really exist. Cruz, Bush, Trump, Clinton, Obama etc are all members of the national elite; the 1% if you like. None of them want to change the system because the system works for them, and if they can keep the little people concerned about The Other then all the better because they have a ready-made scapegoat for when things go wrong. There are two things Americans are taught to fear by the political right – The Other and the Federal Government; parasites all.

The Republic party is the predominant home for this kind of hate-fuelled reactionary politics, but the Democrats have had their turn too. It was a Republican that abolished slavery, and isn’t it interesting that Lincoln, possibly the most fondly remembered of all the presidents, got his reputation by practicing the exact opposite of paranoia politics – if he had wanted to have an easy time, to gain simple popularity in the short term, he wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the slave owning class. Instead he bravely chose the moral principle over dogmatic race-based hatred.

America can have another Lincoln, one who really can clean up American politics but not in the way fringe Republicans want. They can have someone who will face difficult choices with empathy and compassion as opposed to a doctrinal and reactionary decision making process. I fear though, that America will keep on with its peculiar brand of populist paranoia with all the success of a tramp pissing into the wind; they will laud another “outsider” at the next election and the rest of the world will look on in paroxysms of post-nuclear horror at the potential of a Trump, a Palin or a Bachmann entering the White House.

The Student as Sovereign

It’s very difficult not to admire the Machiavellian nature of the Conservative agenda. They are scrupulous in their attention to detail and their ability to make others do their dirty work for them. In particular I am referring to government plans for higher education, presented to us in the form of a Green Paper Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. The contents of this paper are the next steps on the path to a complete liberalisation of higher education, which began with fees being introduced, first under Labour and then increased to £9000 a year under the Coalition government lead by the Tories.

The Machiavellian element of which I speak is the ambition to alter the entire basis of learning within the higher educational institution. It transforms the philosophical nature of the student as a learner and rebuilds them in the corporate image as a consumer; a buyer; the sine qua non of a capitalist entity. In doing so the government transforms the student into a calculated weapon aimed squarely at the very concept of higher education.

The method for this metamorphoses is presented in the form of the Teaching Excellence Framework, run alongside and in the style of the Research Excellence Framework – a mechanism, apparently, for reviewing the quality of research output from individual institution across their subject areas, scoring and ranking them, then providing funding based on these ratings – the higher the quality of the research the higher your funding. Unfortunately the REF has become a costly, over-bureaucratised spending exercise that proves how well institutions can jump through government hoops, but does nothing to increase the quality of our national research output. Similarly the methodology behind the TEF will be aimed at anything other than improving teaching quality.

The government proposes three metrics within the TEF to assess institutions:

  • Data on ‘retention’ (i.e. drop-out rates)
  • National Student Survey (NSS) scores
  • Data on graduate employment.

Because these are easily-quantifiable areas does not mean they are barometers of teaching quality. Drop-out rates can be affected by many socio-economic factors dependent on an institutions geography, its student demographic and funding. NSS scores can be excellent for courses where gaining good grades is too easy, or the tutor “good fun” – those that teach well and in difficult areas are less likely to be perceived as excellent by the student filling in the survey – or take those who have existential disagreements with their tutors, particularly in the arts and social sciences; that you disagree fundamentally with the content of a course does not mean that said course is being taught badly, but a student has the power through the NSS to alter the perceived quality of said tutor. Lastly, data on graduate employment is the most worrying. Graduate employment can be determined by many other things than the quality of your teaching at university; social contacts, class background, the name of an institution, family ties and money can all contribute to your employability, contribute much more than the quality of what you were taught at university in most cases. The only reason for this being a measure of institutional success seems to be to increase the gap between the well-funded Russell Group universities, particularly Oxbridge colleges, and the rest. It sets in permanence the domination of our most ancient schools, and gives further succour to those private preparatory, elementary and secondary schools that exacerbate social inequalities throughout our society. It is worth pointing out here that those institutions that are rated most generously in the TEF will get permission to increase their fees; at the moment this will be tied to inflation but there is plenty of wiggle room in the Bill to manoeuvre in to a more financial propitious position. It seems that the pitifully small handful of working class kids making it to Oxbridge is already too high a number for the garlanded elites to stomach.

So why are students being given, and forced to use, the tools of destruction for so many HE bodies? The reason presents itself in the government’s obsession with marketising everything. The Victorian mercantalist assumption that we are in a global race for power rather than producing adults capable of free-through and critical faculty. The Paper suggests that governments can push funding for, and the existence of, courses towards the economic needs of the society at any one time. So knowledge, learning and self-governance is to be turned in to the market-driven, right-wing supply and demand economics of the capitalist schema. The conversion of the concept of learning in to a for-profit, nationalist ideal – all through the obliteration of the student as a progressive, thinking individual and into an automaton concerned only with future employment prospects and national growth forecasts. Students, like Trade Unions, are the last real bastions of progressive influence in the national debate and isn’t it interesting that the Green Paper for HE, which forces students into being right-wing agents of change, comes as the Trade Union Bill, curtailing the rights of trade unionists everywhere, is going through parliament.

The Tories in their disguise as enablers here are trying to portray themselves as knowing what is best for students; that they are empowering them by giving them the stick of dynamite and the matches. Tory attitudes towards students haven’t changed; they are still a dangerous mob that could bring a government down. Look at how George Osborne behaved in the Spending Review last year, when he said quietly that the terms of loans taken out since 2012 are to be varied retrospectively. The personal income rate at which loan repayments start will not be increased in line with average earnings or inflation, as was promised at the time, adding overnight several thousand pounds to many students’ eventual repayments. A bank or building society that retrospectively changed the terms for existing borrowers in this way might fall foul of prosecution, but not HM Government.

I don’t think anybody imagines that university teaching is perfect and there certainly needs to be some kind of assessment process. Too much time and money has been spent on research, or rather providing evidence that your research is meaningful; box-ticking and bureaucracy have become part of the academic calendar – coupled with the fact that administrative and support staff have been cut back, more and more academics are required to do their own paperwork reducing further their ability to teach. Secondary schools have a robust network of inspection in place which involves a physical presence in classrooms from the regulator; clear observation and reporting. Teaching quality can only be measured on judgement and not metrics but the latter is all the TEF will rely on, and the institutions will provide the evidence themselves alongside students, creating a whole new layer of middle and senior management. It’s another example of the Tories identifying a genuine problem, but rather than sort it out, they are utilising it to further their own political agenda, and to hell with the educational consequences.

Further carelessness with the fruits of educational labour are present in the relaxing of rules around who and what can become universities and award degrees. It turns out that the Green Paper includes a section on gaining “new providers” (see corporations) who will have access to lucrative student loans in exchange for a worthless degree that is only applicable in their business area, or worse their own company. Given that new providers can be wholly owned by a single parent company, using that parent company’s finances as collateral makes a mockery of any kind of sustainability rules which present universities have to abide by. The usual guff around increased competition ‘driving up quality’ and ‘driving down prices’ is dusted off and as always, is borrowed from the lie used to sell any ill-judged privatisation to a public too bathed in ennui to care.

The Green Paper in short is a recipe for disaster in higher education, the way constant upheaval has been for adult further education, but on a much larger scale. More managers, business intrusion in teaching, further needless policy making within institutions, more propaganda to ensure high NSS scores, further pressure on academics to do what the institution expects as opposed to what is good for their students (should be commensurate; isn’t), further league tables and ratings mechanisms giving opportunities for institutional boasting. What it won’t do is make teaching any better, and it certainly won’t make higher education any better, more worthwhile or adaptable. What business need comes from learning Shakespeare; none are obvious, but the person, the soul is nurtured indeed by such study of wisdom. Surely on reading this mockery of a proposal for better teaching, the great Bard would turn to the government and utter wearily, et tu!

A Visit To Parliament

I was fortunate enough, if that is the right word, to pay a visit to parliament recently. I was there as a representative from my Trade Union to lobby the Shadow Minister for Education regarding pay disparities and inequality in the sector. I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts of “the mother of all parliaments”.

Although I have seen the Palace of Westminster before from the outside, it never fails to inculcate me with a form of reverence for its grandeur. It was built by Charles Barry in the Perpendicular Gothic style between 1840 and 1870 after a fire wiped out most of the original palace in 1834. Barry was aided by the eminent Augustus Pugin who designed the decorations and furnishings. The three towers atop the long riverside building are directly intimidating but retain a sense of beauty, of glory and most of all, power. It is not as threatening as the Brutalist Ceausescu Palace where the Romanian Parliament still sits, but nor is it welcoming like Capitol Hill seems, on the surface at least.

First of all everyone who is not a member of staff or a minister enters through the visitors entrance, manned by two of many armed police, where you snake down a metal ramp towards the security checkpoint. This is rather like an airport with a conveyor belt for your jacket, bags, metal and electronic devices. There is still a police presence in this room but it is now largely staffed by a private security company; yet another example of government outsourcing, this time at the heart of government real estate.

If you are deemed not to be a security risk you are allowed entry to Westminster Hall, the oldest, and perhaps grandest part of the building dating back to 1097, during the reign of William II. It is the only area in the building that can fit both Houses in to it, though this probably hasn’t been tried since the latest load of Tory flunkies were thrown in to the Lords to make passing legislation easier. The roof of this magnificent structure has been in place for centuries has been held in its present state as a hammer-beam roof since the reign of Richard II, prior to this it is believed that pillars held the roof in place, but no one can quite work out how. Given the architectural knowledge of the time there is no way a structure of that size could have been kept intact. It is one of parliament’s many mysteries. The dimensions are 250ft x 672ft x 90ft and sadly the name of the original architect appears to be lost to us forever.

You enter at the northern end of the building and progress to the opposite end known as St Stephen’s Porch, past cafes and lobbying tables, to a set of concrete steps, many of which have plaques on them commemorating specific occasions of state and speeches by foreign dignitaries and leaders. There is a macabre plaque on the spot where Charles I was sentenced to death before being carried out to the scaffold in front of the Banqueting House to be beheaded. The stained glass window above this area, designed by Sir Ninian Comper, is a memorial to members and staff of both Houses who died in the Second World War, after the original was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940. Beneath this window stands the Recording Angel Memorial which commemorates those who died in the First World War, designed by Sir Bertram MacKennal, and emblazoned with an alarmingly large list of names. Something most people miss in this area is up and to the right of the window, a huge painting by Benjamin West of Moses Receiving the Law on Mount Sinai (1784). You are always surrounded by art in the Palace of Westminster thus beautiful pieces like this can afford to be tucked away, almost out of sight.

Turning left here towards the main reception in the Central Lobby you pass through St Stephen’s Chapel, the site of the former royal Chapel of the same name which, again, was destroyed by the 1834 fire, and the original location of the House of Commons. Any older paintings depicting the Commons are actually of this room rather than the present chamber in which the Commons sits. It was last used officially in 1950 while the bomb-damaged Commons Chamber was repaired. Statues of famous parliamentarians line the walls intimidatingly, while behind the figures of Walpole, Fox, Pitt etc. hang paintings showing key events in British history. Above these are 10 stained glass windows featuring the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs. The cloisters here are now largely part of the Speaker’s residence and another surviving relic of the medieval palace, tapering up to a beautiful ornate ceiling embossed with carved Tudor roses, fleur-de-lys and pomegranates; the latter being a heraldic symbol of Queen Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII.

Into the Central Lobby which is a huge, vertical space with four corridors leading off from it. One of which we’ve just come from, the two either side of us to the Lords (right) and Commons (left) chambers, while straight ahead lay the East Corridor leading to committee rooms and both Lords and Commons libraries, which we sadly did not get to see. Ditto the division lobbies, bars, restaurants, speaker’s court, peers court and royal court. The Central Lobby itself is octagonal in shape and covered, floor to ceiling in statues, mostly of kings and queens of England and latterly, Britain. Above the four main exits are mosaics of the four patron saints of these sceptred isles; George, Andrew, David and Patrick, still clinging on despite the best efforts of Irish Republicans. The ceiling is a beautiful domed gold leaf affair dominated by an enormous three-tier chandelier; clearly the Trotter family have never been allowed in to clean it as it remains intact. It is a roof within a roof really as the whole thing is encased within the central spire of the Palace.

Digital displays within the Central Lobby tell people the order of business for the day and if there is a division, which will result in the ringing of the division bell and clear the lobby for MPs to pass in to the voting areas. A more curious throwback in this room are the “Ladies Gallery window grilles”, which were formerly the only place within the Commons that women could sit and watch the proceedings. In 1908 activists from the Women’s Freedom League chained themselves to the grille of the Ladies gallery and since the police were unable to undo the chain they had to remove the grille with the women still attached. There are a handful of women’s suffrage monuments in Westminster, including an illegal plaque put up in a broom cupboard by Tony Benn in memory of Emily Davison who threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby to draw public attention to injustice suffered by women at the hands of the government of the day. Announcing his act Benn addressed parliament thusly: “I have put up several plaques—quite illegally, without permission; I screwed them up myself. One was in the broom cupboard to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison, and another celebrated the people who fought for democracy and those who run the House. If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum.”

The Admission Order Office is just to the left of the Commons Corridor, which in turn leads to the public gallery. We were in the fortunate position of having time to spare after our meeting with the Shadow Minister for Education and promptly sought free tickets to see the “workshop”, as Mr Benn referred to it, in action. A winding stairway leads you to the gallery, before which you must place your belongings in the cloak room. It was the day of Prime Ministers Questions but they were long past; there was a smattering of MPs in the Chamber to witness an SNP member speaking as part of Opposition Day debates, on the subject of trade in his constituency. He was rather disparaging about Her Majesty’s government, prompting a request to the speaker for censure from Anna Soubry – the denial was swift and sweet from Madam Deputy Speaker who more or less told her to shut up. There’s one thing to be said for Anna Soubry; she’s sometimes right and she’s often wrong, but she’s always certain. The rest of the MPs in the chamber looked largely uninterested, and appeared to be simply waiting for their turn to speak rather than engaging fully with the debate – many indeed were fiddling about with a plethora of electrical devices – important constituency business or Angry Birds? It was difficult to tell from our screened vantage point.

We hadn’t the time to stay long in the public gallery but enjoyed our opportunity there, watching the wheels of democracy turn, if ever so slowly. We had earlier seen some of Portcullis House which is really a building full of meeting rooms for committees and such. There was an array of shops and cafes knocking about in there too but time was against us as we set off towards the Blade Runner-esque Westminster Tube Station back to King’s Cross for our train back through bucolic middle England to our various provincial lodgings. There was so much more to see; Parliament is an amazing place. Though it remains difficult not to be sceptical about the goings on in Charles Barry’s civic masterpiece, the buildings all over the City of Westminster are pregnant with the echoes of history and the people within them continue to forge our future for better or worse. It is our principally our parliament, and the people should never forget that; though I fear that all too often we do.

Why Not Try Feminism

I remember being in (Catholic) school when I was eight, maybe nine years old and seeing what I now know to be my first example of sexism. I had probably been witness to many prior illustrations but this was the first time something made me step back and go “that’s not right”. We were being spoken to by Father Michael, a kind, softly spoken Irish priest who had not a whiff of scandal about him. He was doing the usual thing of saying God was watching us and wanted us to fulfil our dreams, and he asked us what they were. There was the usual chorus of Fireman, footballer, ballet dancer etc. when a friends of mine called Rebecca who was very pious, or as pious as someone can be on a council estate in Leeds, said “I want to be a priest like you father”, which flattered the blushing cleric who sadly then went on to explain that she couldn’t become a priest but that there were many other opportunities in the church to show God your love. I don’t know how Father Michael felt in himself about this state of affairs but Rebecca was devastated and although I can’t describe it as an epiphany for me, I realised something was wrong when a matter of gender was stopping people achieving their goals.

I haven’t always maintained the feminism that this awoke in me, and on many occasions I’ve fallen well short of what I would expect of myself when dealing with issues relating to women, though I at least I think I know where I went wrong. The event described above happened in the late 1980s and the Catholic Church still hasn’t reformed but nor has the rest of secular society when it comes to treating women and girls as equals to their male counterparts. We still have 52% of the global population at a structural disadvantage from birth; and that’s before any other hindrances are taken in to account like poverty, skin colour, sexual orientation etc.

Women are taught from birth that they are the “fairer” sex. Conditioned by advertising to accept their lot of housework and being baby-producers. How many advertisements for the latest creepy doll that cries or shits just like a real baby feature a boy in the apparent father role? None; because the girls are being taught to think that this is their domain. Thankfully the world of work is not off limits in most places now. Of course, go have a career as well, work full time hours for good money, but you’re still the one that will be changing junior’s nappies sweetheart. Pink toys and clothes are thrust at girls as well as make-shift cooking and cleaning implements whereas boys are given things that massage their developing masculine ego; muscle bound action figures and toy guns or swords are just as damaging as the obscenely proportioned Barbie dolls are for girls. The more women are told to live up to this symbol of unachievable perfection, the more men are too; and when young men can’t reach this level of masculinity laid down by Mattel or Marvel their ego becomes fragile and all too easily wounded, leading to dysfunctional personality traits, and then we tell girls to cater to this all-too fractured male ego.

Women’s unpaid labour is worth tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy ever year through things like child care, domestic work or looking after elderly and sick relatives. Similarly women are more likely to be affected by the impacts of government austerity measures at a rate of 80/20 according to the Fawcett Society. Traditional women’s roles in the workforce are still viewed as low-wage jobs despite the fact that this work could involve teaching our children the most important basic steps in education, morality and social awareness; as a result of viewing such key work as menial, benefits tend to make up one fifth of women’s income as opposed to one tenth for men. If women’s unpaid work is looked at on a global scale, which The Gates Foundation has done, it estimates that labour to be worth $10 trillion to the global economy.

Some people seem to think this is changing, some think is already has, while others think it has changed too much, leading to ridiculous columns like that in The Spectator by white privileged male, Brendan O’Neill telling us “white male privilege” is a myth. Meanwhile ex M&S CEO and all round capitalist poster-boy Stuart Rose insists that the glass ceiling is a thing of the past – while operating in a world where only 17% of members of boards of directors for FTSE 100 companies are women, a figure currently falling rather than rising as some maintain.

There are only two industries in which women are paid more than men, one is pornography, the other is prostitution. It should come as no surprise that these areas require female subjugation rather than empowerment to achieve such imbalanced remuneration. The ease with which boys can now access hardcore pornography is a ticking time-bomb of sexual abuse. Porn can be a healthy addition to a relationship, or indeed a useful addendum to one’s solo-activities but we must educate all children, particularly boys, on the nature of sex, emotion, consent, rights and responsibilities before they ever see porn and get the false impression of what it is, what it is for and the difference between positive and negative sexual behaviour. There are enough sexual aggressive men in the world without facilitating the conditions to create more.

Though this cannot all be boiled down to earnings and wealth whether in the first or third worlds. Women are being killed by their partners or ex-partners at a rate of two a week in the UK; one dreads to think what that figure may be in a so-called less civilised country. Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced far and wide leading to huge physical and mental health issues in later life. Female infanticide is still ongoing, predominantly in the largest countries in the world, India and China. In 2012 a female child in India is 75% more likely to die by age five than a male child of similar social status. Girls are still being murdered for going to school, surely the most basic of desires in any child. The will to learn should be celebrated, not punished by the actions of a philosophically brittle theocracy whom no God could love. Abortion is illegal, or highly restrictive in 25% of nations, while it still comes under constant attack in more enlightened countries, most significantly in the US, more than 40 years after the passing of the famous Roe v. Wade and the less well known Doe v. Bolton which together gave women access to safe abortions for the first time in American history.

Women are the weaker sex. But only because they have been forced into that position by, and I know it’s an uncomfortable word for a lot of men, patriarchy, patriarchy both contemporary and historical. We live in a world made for and by men, and what’s more men have made an arse of it. Climate change is out of control, global poverty by any measure is massive, inequality is growing, we are one wrong war away from a nuclear holocaust and the financial footing of pharmaceutical corporations means more than the lives they could save. It is time the world acknowledged its mistakes on gender equality, and acknowledge exactly what that has cost us as a species. Christ! Things can’t get any worse by having true gender equality.

A Call For Labour Unity

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided”. OK I know, that’s a quote Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but it’s no less poignant for that when we look at the current situation the Labour Party finds itself in. We shouldn’t need a fictional wizard to tell us that we need to act in unison against The Tories, or “they who shall not be named” (OK, I’ll stop). The plans they have already enacted, what is currently being proposed and what their intentions are for the future should give every Labour MP, activist, members and supporter pause for thought. We are living in the age of the most extreme right-wing government this country has ever seen, and they are acting without a coherent opposition, they are acting against the poor, the sick and disabled, minorities, public services and the best interests of the nation – all with a majority of just 12 seats. Such a government should be paranoid about losing a key vote at any moment, or that a by-election comes up, but due to the disjointed nature of the opposition they are cock-sure of themselves and ready to pass any law they want, no matter how extreme (I refuse to use the term radical, to me progress is radical and this aint progress).

Jeremy Corbyn won by a huge margin to become leader of the Labour Party from all supporting sections, no matter how the electorate was broken down. The majority of the Parliamentary Party couldn’t believe it, and seem to be acting as though they refuse to believe it. The PLP has always been to the right of the membership but they should still be committed to the central tenets or clauses of the Labour constitution. Those clauses are built around socialism and progressive politics; not free market ideology or aggressive foreign policy. Watching the parade of Labour MPs lining up to denounce the leadership openly, or resign because of some fabricated reasoning is frankly sickening and delegitimises the whole Party in the eyes of the British people.

In the past week since a minor reshuffle took place in the Shadow Cabinet four Labour figures have resigned their parliamentary roles. Stephen Doughty, Jonathan Reynolds and Kevan Jones quit last week while Catherin McKinnell quit today, all from positions of protest against their leader – McKinnell going so far as to say one of the reasons for resigning was because of a lack or party unity – how resigning helps that unity is anyone’s guess. Doughty resigned live on TV during PMQs leading some to accuse the Labour right of working with the BBC to orchestrate the situation that would damage Corbyn the most – a move that put the Daily Mail out of joint because it couldn’t criticise Jeremy Corbyn AND the BBC, but had to choose one and defend the other.

These self-styled rebels, whom no one had ever heard over prior to last week, seem hell bent on destroying the party from within. Their actions are anti-Democratic and anti-Labour. They call themselves “moderates”, and in opposition to the “extreme left cabal” running the party. Who knew to be on the extreme left of politics was to support nationalised railways, a fully funded NHS incorporating social care, full employment, council house building, free university places, fairer taxation, decent pay, terms and conditions, the living wage, land reform, closing tax loopholes and havens, tackling climate change, freedom of information, British industries, robust health and safety legislation, strong trade unions, an ethical foreign policy and House of Lords reform. If the so called “rebels” don’t want any of these things then they are in the wrong party because this is what Corbyn’s Labour stands for, and what Labour should always stand for.

The Labour Party was set up by the people, by trade unions so the poor would have a voice in parliament. We didn’t give our voice to such people that would foment civil war within the Party. Where Corbynite or not the one thing members want right now is robust opposition to the lies, spin and nastiness of Tory Government policy. There is too much to oppose to waste time in-fighting – and yes, I know it’s not all one way traffic on that front. A line has to be drawn under recent weeks of problems and we must re-focus on the real enemy. Presently the government has plans to:

  • Make trade unions unable to functions by stripping them of their money and remaining power
  • Demolish all social housing in London to socially cleanse the Capital
  • Continue to cut public services so that public spending is 35% of GDP, last seen in the 1930s
  • Demolish the welfare state that working class people fought centuries to get
  • Close borders to anyone other than white English speaking nations
  • Bring in surveillance laws that are terrifying in their scale and potential for abuse
  • Privatise the NHS through a toxic mixture of underfunding and overinspecting
  • Reduce the top rate of income tax further
  • Force schools to become private academies run for profit by G4S, Capita etc
  • Gerrymander political boundaries to keep themselves in power for decades
  • Enter in to ill-thought out foreign conflicts, endangering civilians abroad and citizens at home
  • Cut benefits to the point where disadvantaged and disabled people at severe risk of death through neglect and starvation
  • Remove health and safety legislation further and increasing deaths and accidents at work
  • Abolishing green targets and giving subsidies to fracking companies, while removing subsidies for renewable energy

That’s just for starters. The Labour Party can’t afford to waste time fighting among itself. Its needs to regroup and defend those sections of our society that need defending. They are the only ones that are going to do it. The so-called moderates and letting the SNP look like the real opposition in Westminster and the Tories are laughing at their useful idiots in red ties who are undermining an entire movement. Some are doing it deliberately, others think they have the long term interests of the Party at heart, but they lost the election. Jeremy Corbyn is leader and should be given the chance to be elected. If he is as unelectable as they seem to think he is then the electorate will confirm it in 2020, but he has won the right to put the question to the people of the UK.

Labour has for too long been in the pocket of the policy wonks and the spin doctors. People demanded change and got it. The “rebels” must ask themselves this – do they want to see Jeremy Corbyn as the next Prime Minister of this country, or Boris Johnson (or whoever the Tory leader is in 2020). If any of them pick the latter then they should resign from the Labour Party immediately because they have gained office under false pretences.

Paris and the Pain of Repetition

I chose not to watch a great deal of the news output over the weekend. I heard obviously about the horrendous attacks on Paris and its citizens but couldn’t face the hours of guess work, pontificating and harrowing imagery that 24 hour rolling news directors believe the public wants. All I knew was that somewhere, families were grieving for their loved ones who would never return, and that somewhere, someone or some people were responsible for attacking civilians in the most despicable and cowardly ways, in the name of a God who surely cannot love them.

Our own nation, and those of our allies now turn to what they can “do” to stop such events coming to our streets, our theatres and music venues, our cafes and pubs. What their answers amount to is to remove those of our freedoms that groups like ISIS are reported to hate, and to carpet bomb those nations where ISIS currently resides; neither of these actions will be successful and both are counterproductive and down-right dangerous.

The government of the United Kingdom means to fast track their new laws on surveillance, dubbed by some “The Snoopers Charter” which would enable the government to view, utilise and control vast swathes of data produced by British citizens. They say that these new powers would help the security services identify and halt terrorist threats more quickly (they sometimes throw in paedophilia too, as a fine glaze on the tempting security pudding). The changes they are proposing would bring the UK roughly in-line with security services in… France, where such powers made not a speck of difference to what came on Friday night; ask the public servants still scrubbing the dried blood from the walls.

The second, and most dangerous response, to bomb those countries which have some level of ISIS presence would be to perpetuate a cycle that repeats with more and more death on all sides every time. We bomb cities in Syria or Iraq and ISIS recruits bomb our citizens or our soldiers, when we bomb again we also kill civilians and make ripe the conditions for terrorist recruitment. Bombing ISIS locations is just a temporary salve to a sceptic wound; a wound created by western involvement where it was not wanted or needed for decades.

Even Tony Blair admits that the rise of ISIS is one of the results of the invasion of Iraq, despite which he still pathologically defends. Much further back than this though we and our European and American allies have removed, assassinated, or sidelined every elected, secular leader that Arab and other Middle Eastern countries have had. We have placed tyrants on thrones and as heads of state and given people no hope but that last hope of the desperate, rage! Which is manifesting itself in a grotesque interpretation of Islam; such interpretations can also be found among our allies in Saudi Arabia; but we cannot question them because they have the oil we want and own the government bonds of western nations to such astronomic levels that for them to pull their Arab billions out of our economies would be to precipitate a financial crash that would make Lehmann Brothers look like lost change down a sofa. We have no intention of grasping the nettle of Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that much evidence points to direct funding between the Saudi State and the Sunni extremists who now call themselves ISIS. The truth is that western governments tolerate a certain amount of terrorist aggression against their own citizens as it is a useful pretext for the continuing growth of the military industrial complex and a boon to those who wish for ever greater powers over their own publics. It’s not a conspiracy theory, nor is it a conspiracy, because it doesn’t need to be; everyone knows their roles, and they play them so naturally.

Of course another proposal is to close the borders of Europe to new refugees, taking away any possible sanctuary for those people who live in conditions which we helped to create is the most heinous form of over-reaction and panders to the fear-mongering far-right in all nations (and just on that, if your poll ratings improve after death and destruction – you’re part of the problem, not the solution). In some ways this is a tacit admission that governments believe their own actions enhance the terror threat, but they’d never be able to put it in so blunt a way. Since September 11th 2001 the USA has resettled 745,000 refugees, of them only 2 people have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism related crimes, which themselves were overseas. Refugees don’t up sticks and leave their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing to commit the crimes they are running from in new lands.

What happened at the weekend was bad people doing bad things in response to bad foreign policy reached by bad planning enacted by bad politicians. Do we now repeat the process over and over ad infinitum or do we finally get smart and stop exchanging blows in a never-ending cycle of violence and ineptitude? If our governments want to go after ISIS then they must go after the root causes of political violence in the Middle East, and own up to the large part they themselves played in creating the power vacuums into which ISIS or the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Al-Shabaab have spread. They must be prepared to allow the people of the Middle East to self-govern, properly and effectively and if they vote left, then they govern left as Nasser and Mossadeq wanted to do; a secular leftist nationalism if far better for global peace than a rightist satrapy or a fundamentalist fascism. Above all the west needs to tackle its obsession with appeasing Saudi Arabia. Any good words or actions we carry out are tainted by our sycophantic relationship with the House of Saud; a far better card in tyrant Top Trumps than Assad or the Iranian Ayatollah’s are. They crush domestic dissent with barbaric responses and are currently committing war crimes elsewhere in the Middle East, most notably in Yemen; and they are doing it with British and American weapons, with our tacit approval.

We must do all this before we get on to the hoary old chestnut of Israel and Palestine, though that’s a whole other blog post; but it is worth pointing out that the lack of ISIS communique on Palestine is a deafening silence and proves, perhaps above all else, that their quest is neither holy nor righteous, but is a simple quest for power, control and domination; and like it or not, our likely response will only make them stronger.