Politics & History

The Hateful Eight (so far)

Today is the 20th February and the eighth person to resign from the Labour Party has been announced; Joan Ryan, she follows Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker out of Labour and into this new “Independent Group” of MPs which they are keen to tell us is not a political party; and indeed it isn’t, it’s a private company which means they don’t have to worry about any of those pesky rules political parties have to adhere to like revealing what their funding streams are. It’s unlikely that the number of people who ultimately leave remain at eight; I imagine the likes of Ian Austin, Jess Phillips and Wes Streeting are poised and awaiting the nod for their role in this coordinated attack on Labour, which is reminiscent of the coup attempt a few years ago where shadow cabinet and junior shadow ministers resigned over a period of days to cause maximum damage to the Labour leadership, which survived and came back stronger after overwhelming support from the membership in a leadership contest against Owen Smith.

None of this should shock our members or the Front Bench. Every one of the names included as or potentially part of this assault have been working against Corbyn from day one, for a variety of reasons which I will come on to shortly but chiefly it is one of economics. They stand for a form of neoliberalism that has been tried, tested and failed; it failed over ten years ago now with the global financial crisis and centrist or centre left parties who followed such orthodoxy at the time have been obliterated all over Europe and allowed a far-right surge to fill the vacuum; yet still they cling to this dogma whether it be the “New Labour” flavour or the economics of the European Union which still refuses to allow member states to pass budgets which increase public spending and take services back into public ownership. They are wedded to their beliefs blindly and unaware of the irony in calling those who support a change, a fresh look “cultists”.

But it is not just economics where they differ from Jeremy Corbyn and his team. We cannot speak of the wreckers without mentioning Israel and its pernicious influence on our body politic. The majority of the splitters are a part of Labour Friends of Israel and Joan Ryan is the Chair of that group; a widely distributed video of her talking to an Israeli spy discussing £1m in perks for destabilising the Labour party from Al Jazeera has remained largely untouched by the mainstream media in the UK despite being around for several years now. The conflation made regularly is that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and to be opposed to the government of Israel is to be opposed to the Jewish faith. This in and of itself is anti-Semitic and deeply troubling when considered alongside values of democratic discourse and accountability. I have written extensively on what is going on with the Israeli / Palestinian issue so won’t go in to detail here but to label anyone critical of Israel, especially other Jews, as anti-Semitic or self-hating is a vile slur that cheapens the word itself and does a disservice to that generation who survived the Holocaust against the odds. The brutal truth is nothing Jeremy Corbyn ever does will be good enough for some pro-Israeli politicians short of him joining the IDF, picking up an assault rifle and shooting a Palestinian child in the face.

The toxicity of Blairism still permeates the corridors of the Labour Party. There is an ongoing battle for the soul of the Party, and has been for decades. While Blair and his coterie of special advisers ran the party as their luxury plaything, the left sat back and worked for what they have always worked for; a more democratic party and a fairer country for those that come after us. They kept their disagreements within the framework of party democracy and didn’t, as these eight MPs have done, take their ball and go home. That their clique is no longer in power is deeply wounding to people who see it as their destiny to lead. Their arrogance cannot let go of their wishes, and their wishes remain beyond their capabilities so instead of fighting for a Labour government, any Labour government, they would rather undermine the current leadership and keep the Tories in power. If you prefer any Tory leader to any Labour leader then you are not, and should not hold a position within the Party.

Aside from why they have done what they have done, we also know we can do better, let’s have a little look at some career highlights of these political giants:

Joan Ryan: In 2006 she was responsible for bringing about the doomed policy to give all citizens of the UK ID cards. While in 2007 she was outed as the highest London-based claimer of expenses; she claimed £173,691 in a single tax year, treble her basic salary as an MP at the time. It was also revealed she was one of the controversial “flippers” of her mortgage, changing what was classed as her second home and raking in public money for herself. Enfield is 24 miles from Westminster; about the same as my daily commute. The Telegraph reported there were dozens of attempts to remove the section on Wikipedia detailing her involvement in the expenses scandal from within parliament, so from her or her staff it can be assumed, which won her the “sweeping things under the carpet award” from entertainer Tom Scott. She also doesn’t live in the constituency she claims to represent. On top of her Israeli embassy dealings that’s quite the catalogue of bad judgement.

Mike Gapes: Mike can probably be called king of the freebies, he has accepted parliamentary trips to, but perhaps not limited to, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Angola, and Sierra Leone. One wonders where he finds the time to represent the good men and women of Ilford. In 2001 and 2005 elections he was the subject of campaigns by Muslim groups who felt he was racist towards them and their faith. Mike claimed £1600 a month for a second home in London, – Ilford is just 13 miles from Westminster, and he claimed £17.97 for a tea caddy, which is just odd.

Gavin Shuker: Hasn’t been in public life long so hasn’t had chance to show his true colours much, but this fundamentalist Christian did so when Ed Miliband was Labour leader when he threatened to resign the whip if Equal Marriage became party policy so it seems homophobia may be an interesting policy area for the new Independent Group. He supported Liz Kendall in the leadership elections in 2015 which gained 4% of the vote.

Ann Coffey: More expenses news, Coffey claimed £1000 a month for the interest on the mortgage of her London home and £160 a month for a cleaner. In addition to her £60,000 salary she claimed £150,000 in a single year on expenses. She consistently voted for the Iraq war and voted against all investigations into the Iraq war.

Luciana Berger: Went to the prestigious Haberdasher’s Aske School for Girls and began her career with a management consultancy, so not a traditional working class route in to Labour politics. She was Director of Labour Friends of Israel three years before she was nominate and elected to the Wavertree seat so supporting Israel in spite of its international war crimes is not a new stance. Being an MP in Merseyside you’d think she’d be aware of the sensitive issues around The Sun newspaper but she appeared on the same Radio 5 Live show with Kelvin McKenzie who was then editing the paper. On her way to the 2018 Labour conference she was pictured near a police officer and insinuated they were there for her protection, a claim which was later debunked by the police. That said, Luciana can claim to having suffered horrific anti-Semitic abuse, from people that include Labour members or voters and anyone who denies this is incorrect.

Chris Leslie – eighty members of his own constituency went to the extraordinary length of signing an open letter condemning his undermining of the Labour Party; a few weeks later he resigned. Unloved then, in Nottingham East and by the people of Shipley, his previous constituency, where he was defeated by, of all people, Phillip Davies, misogynist in chief of the House of Commons; if you can’t defend a seat against him in a working class constituency, you really have no business being an MP at all. His record suggests a classic Liberal Democrat who is wedded to precisely nothing except keeping things as they are, and of course personal gain.

Angela Smith: Seems to be involved for comedy value given her performance on the Daily Politics where she referred to mixed race people as “funny-tinged”. It’s quite the look to leave one party you claim is racist and then committing an act of racism in the party you just helped to form. Mixed race Chuka Umunna didn’t seem to mind though so it seems there won’t be zero-tolerance on racism in this new party and we can all expect Tommy Robinson to join up very soon at this rate. On top of this she is an ardent campaigner for the privatisation of water; that natural resource that we all need to survive; Angela thinks private companies should be able to lay claim to it wherever it falls and charge us for the privilege of drinking their newly acquired tasty beverage. She voted in 2007 to try to keep MPs expenses secret, and no wonder as she entered a claim for a four bedroom property which actually had just one bedroom. She employs her husband as a £40,000 parliamentary assistant, a practice widely condemned but all too prevalent among MPs; her biography lists the Rolling Stones as one of her favourite bands, it doesn’t mention her favourite song but I’m willing to bet it’s Money.

Chuka Umunna: Patron saint of Centrism Chuka has more faces than Arya Stark. After the Brexit vote in December 2016 he said he “had no time for a second vote” which would be “disrespectful to those who voted leave”. He then went on to join the launch of the People’s Vote campaign and is now co-chair of that movement alongside Tory austerity and disability-death enabler Anna Soubry. He flirted with the idea of running for party leader in 2015 but suddenly dropped out of the running mysteriously, saying he was “uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny” the candidates were facing; it could be that he was concerned members had found out he belonged to an exclusive gentleman’s club in London, M-Den, located behind the Bank of England which charges £150 for a steak dinner, and he had engaged in conversations on ASmallWorld (marketed as MySpace for millionaires at the time) where he appeared to call working class people “trash”. Only yesterday he failed to answer the question, which Labour policies do you not agree with? He couldn’t name one, which shows this isn’t about policy, it’s about personality, ego and ideology.

They are just some of what these MPs have spent their time doing, alongside the general undermining of Jeremy Corbyn, the support of Tory Austerity either through direct complicity or silence, and becoming self-obsessed one issue politicians like the most myopic of nationalists. They have chosen to act as enemies within the Labour party, so now that they are enemies without is no great loss. Not one of them has the guts to face the electorate on their record and yet all seem deluded to the point where they believe their own charisma gained them increased majorities at the last general election, rather than it being a national swing in favour of the policies put forward in the Manifesto they all stood on. For the people who voted for them, campaigned and door-knocked for them, they are let down more than the rest of us. They voted for a Labour MP to hold this cruel Tory government to account, and they got backstabbers and Quislings instead. The people of Wavertree, Stockport, Ilford South, Nottingham East, Enfield North, Luton South, Streatham and Penistone + Stockbridge deserve so much better.


On Brexit

We are dealing in weeks now rather than months, and it seems we are no closer to negotiating a viable exit deal from the EU than we were in the days after the cataclysmic result in 2016 which saw the resignation of David Cameron, one more Prime Minister sacrificed on the alter of hubris; go sit on the naughty step with Anthony Eden and Lord North. We are on our third Secretary for Exiting the EU in two years, David Davis and Dominic Raab have gone, the latter disagreeing with a deal he helped to negotiate and the former put in a few hours work in 18 months and showed up to meetings unbriefed and unprepared. Currently Stephen Barclay is the front man for a negotiation which is clearly lead by our hapless Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Parliament is in the midst of its second five-day debate on the deal she has negotiated, the first being pulled half way through as she knew it would fail when the vote eventually came. She promised to go back to Europe to seek concessions and reassurances, not least on the issue that was always going to be the stumbling block, Northern Ireland. Reassurances came there none, so nothing has changed and a further month has been wasted. Fortunately, a vote recently, on which the government was defeated, will force Theresa May to put any “no deal” exit to be put to parliament before it can go ahead; there is a huge majority in the House that will reject any form on No Deal and thankfully Article 50 can be unilaterally extended without the need to involve the other 27 EU states.

However, I don’t want to use this post to review what has and has not been, or even what is perhaps to come, although I have a suggestion. Brexit is something I have struggled with in many ways and I wanted to talk about this personal view to clear my own foggy head on the issue. When the vote came around in 2016 I thought hard about it; I didn’t feel I could be 100% one way or the other, and I doubt many people who ended up voting remain, as I did, were actually in love with the EU. Can you remember anyone at the time, not now, but in 2016 who was extolling how wonderful the EU was? I can’t, but I can name plenty of people who were 100% against it, and that passion has a massive effect on the electorate, even if it was backed up with a pack of lies written on the sides of buses or in the Daily Mail.

I feel you can judge an issue by who is on which side on any debate. I don’t feel I can ever be in a camp that includes Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith and Paul Golding. The only way I may have voted for Brexit in the end was if we had a socialist Labour government at the time, as I felt they could build on the workers rights enshrined within EU law and regulations, that is the hope of the so-called Lexiteers, left wing brexit supporters like George Galloway but it all smelled like pipe dreams on a sewage farm, the Conservatives were and still are in charge and the cases of their senior figures wanting to use Brexit to disenfranchise workers and remove their protections are many and varied. Also, knowing more now about exiting the EU than I did in 2016, a socialist government couldn’t protect us from the market based punishments that a self-defenstration would cause.

When Jeremy Corbyn said he was seven out of 10 on the EU, that chimed with me. No one could argue the EU was a perfect model of transnational governance. The political right hate it due to a mixture of colonialism, patriotism and xenophobia and the left dislike it because it is seen as promoting free markets at the expense of fairness, community and cohesion. No one could come up with any reason to overtly support the EU as it involved maintaining a status quo that people were rightly sick of. We had experienced almost a decade of austerity at the time, people had no money and the whole of our consumer based economy is propped up by a shaky scaffold of personal debt. People witnessed and suffered so many things going against them and at times like that if you offer them a vote, for anything, they will deal you the bloody nose you want to avoid. It wasn’t so much that people wanted to leave the EU but they wanted to “stick it to the man” as the phrase goes.

From there, there has been a growing love of the EU from the centre-ground but they fail to escape the fact that their movement, whether People’s Vote or FBPE on Twitter, it is a movement being promoted most vociferously by people who were happy with how our society was in 2016, it is being lead by discredited and faded politicians who no one has any love for, whether they’re on the left or right like George Osborne, Tony Blair and Nick Clegg. The seeming commonality all these people share is a certain level of wealth; it is no wonder they were happy with things in 2016 as they were doing well, in fact they are still doing well, and so they have no idea what drove a certain constituency of people to vote for disaster two years ago, and what is more they are the least best placed people to try to readjust attitudes now. Every time Alistair Campbell speaks on Brexit he entrenches views, because as much as I could never be on the same side as Nigel Farage, there are people across the political spectrum that could never jump on a bandwagon being driven by Tony Blair’s dossier sexing, war mongering attack dog. As is often the case with a centrist movement they have proven themselves more concerned with what the left are doing, who do not have power, than with the right who do. So both movements have been turned in to an attack on the current left wing Labour leadership. What would be very interesting would be to see if they would prefer a government within the EU lead by Jeremy Corbyn, or a government out of the EU lead by Theresa May; my money would be on the latter.

But I digress. I still prefer remaining. I work in higher education and my sector will be decimated by leaving the EU (I’m not a lecturer, I’m a librarian). There are numerous research collaborations based on EU funding that will be pulled, high-fee paying foreign students will stop coming and our wonderful academic staff, world leaders in their field, will move to other countries where their talents and origins are more welcome. So many industries will be completely screwed by Brexit, and mine is just one; on top of a decade of below inflation payrises. However, without a TARDIS, how do we put a stop to this madness without invoking serious civil conflict? Right wing figures and the feral press have whipped people up in to such a state that any move towards even slowing the process down is seen as treachery; a direct result of Brexit is the rise of the right, and not just the right but outright fascism. Such ideology never went away but it was consigned to the sidelines in the darker corners of Wetherspoons and having a few hundred people have a sad little gathering in some distant municipal town square. Now we have a murdered MP, death threats against other public figures daily and I’ll be amazed if we make it March 29th or beyond without something else horrific happening that is similar to Jo Cox

What I would like to see is a Brexit that has a route back if it doesn’t work. I realise the EU is unlikely to acquiesce to something like this at first glance but given that there are movements growing for leaving the EU in other European nations it would be a perfect example for populations in those countries to see what happens. Our economy will tank on leaving the EU, one way or the other, that is what all the economic models predict to one level of disaster or another depending on the deal. I think our people need to witness this before they will see the ludicrousness of our position; not the foaming at the mouth racists who shout the loudest about Brexit, but the ones who have believed the lies that everything will be OK; and they are the majority. As soon as their house prices fall, their businesses struggle and their sons or daughters jobs are under threat they will quickly change their minds. It’s rather like the film It’s a Wonderful Life; but instead of seeing what our loved ones lives would be without us, we see what our life would be like without the EU. I don’t think there is a way to avoid some form of Brexit now, but we should move towards it being an inoculation rather than a full dose of the disease. If not, and we exit permanently, then the ensuing economic collapse will again be blamed on the poorest and least able to cope in our society as it was in 2008; but that collapse will look like a walk in the park compared to the potential Brexit has to destroy our country, and more importantly our people.

Settlement, Colonialism, Occupation: Israel and Palestine

Demographics governs so many policy decisions both domestic and foreign in Israel. There is an obsession with numbers; with how many of its population are of one religion or another and we have seen recently how self-determination is offered only to people who identify as Jewish inside the country. To look at the demographics of Israel / Palestine before the horrors of the Third Reich and before Zion was anything other than a biblical reference gives us a stencil of history, before the cleansing began. It is a common misconception that Palestine was a land without people. According to Ottoman record keepers, in 1878 the population was 462,465 – 87% Muslim, 10% Christian and 3% Jewish. It was cohesive, relatively secular and presented a rich, fertile basin for growth in farming and industrialisation, before the arrival of Zionism.

Zionism, to be understood as the project of colonisation of the Palestinian lands by the Jewish diaspora, has started lately to be used as an identifier; an identifier of those with anti-Semitic leanings; if you use this phrase you must be anti-Jewish. In reality, the opposite is true. Zionism began as a racist Christian project of eschatology which proclaims that the Jews must be in the land of Judea to instigate the end of days, at which point all Jews will convert to Christianity and be saved, or wiped out in Armageddon; convert or die. Speeches and works in support of transferring populations of Jewish people to the Holy Land didn’t begin with people such as Theodor Herzl, one of the apparent founding fathers of Zionism; they can be traced further back to Lord Shaftsbury in England or François-René de Chateaubriand in France who influenced Napoleon to support his Zionist views. To illustrate the underhanded and devious nature of their proposals, Shaftsbury wrote the following in The London Quarterly Review “Jews must be encouraged to return in yet greater numbers and become once more the husbandman of Judea and Galilee… though admittedly a stiff-necked, dark hearted people, and sunk in moral degradation, obduracy, and ignorance of the Gospel, [they are] not only worthy of salvation but also vital to Christianity’s hope of salvation”, he successfully persuaded Lord Palmerstone to acquiesce to his plans whose own desire for agreement was more political than religious, in being able to use the Jewish migration to buttress the failing Ottoman Empire.

There can be no doubt that Jewish-led European Zionism later in the century came from a place of honesty, alongside fear and anger, particularly at persecutions in Russia and anti-Semitic nationalism in Western Europe illustrated neatly by the Dreyfus affair in France. But also another tranche of Zionism was through socialism and agrarian communalism. Indeed, only very recently has this changed and many leftists still maintaining a soft spot for an Israel that is either long-gone or never really happened. They still see the ideal of the nation, rather than what the nation has become. Many early settlers chose to buy land in Palestinian villages and work and trade openly with the local population. A minority however relied on Jewish industrialists overseas to sustain them. The British connection to the immigrants soured local feeling, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Tahir al-Hussayni II who felt this was all part of a European project economic imperialism, British Consul James Finn didn’t help when he invoked the language of the crusades into his Christian minded project. The religious and the racist elements of the project coalesced into the British and other European nations wanting rid of the Jews from their lands, and those Jews being persuaded a better life could be had in Palestine; both strands of which disenfranchise the population already living there and alienate the indigenous people to the newcomers; this attitude was cemented by the infamous Balfour Agreement, seen still as an act of extreme treachery and racism on the part of the British towards the Muslim population of Palestine (Lloyd-George as Prime Minister supported the agreement on the basis that he would prefer a Jewish colony to a Muslim one, out of no other desire than his inherent racism).

The early history of Israel, and what increasingly appears to be the later history of Palestine, is tangled and difficult but it is essential to understand why we are where we are in the conflict. There is a chronology of myth which are central to Israeli propaganda, and they begin with their supposition that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily in 1948. It may be the greatest lie ever told and it is easily shown to be a falsehood. From the start, talk of transfers of Palestinian people were regular at the highest levels of officialdom. Berl Katznelson, considered the moral conscience of the movement is on record at the Twentieth Zionist Conference calling for the Palestinians to be made a “distant neighbour” rather than a “nearby enemy”. When he heard that the British were considering internal transfer to other areas of Palestine he complained that he saw the future for Palestinians being in Syria or Iraq. David Ben Gurion sent his son a letter in 1937 stating that if the British would not move people on behalf of the Israelis then it would be necessary for them to do it on their own, by force. Early inducements for people to move voluntarily created the conditions for mass ethnic cleansing at a later date that became the Nakba of 1948. Declassified documents in the 1980s show clearly that the Palestinians lost their homes and homeland through “expulsions, intimidation and fear”.

An interesting side note here is the early involvement of the USA. United Nations resolution 194 supports the right of return to Palestinian refugees to their homeland after their expulsion in 1948. In 1949 the Americans supported the resolution but with growing concerns over the USSR and the beginnings of the Cold War they quickly lost interest until Kennedy became president; he attempted to exert pressure on Israel to live by this resolution and remains the last president to refuse vast levels of military aid to Israel, this is probably the reason Mossad are often linked to one or some of the plethora of conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. What is not a conspiracy theory, but a plain falsehood is that the Palestinians were to blame for their own expulsion. Some say they were punished for a rejection of a UN sponsored partition and peace plan in 1947, but this canard takes no account of the colonial nature of the Zionist movement and ignores conveniently that the plan was concocted with no consultation with the Palestinians or their representatives. A further myth is that Israel extended an olive branch to the Palestinians after the 1948 conflict; quite the opposite is true. When it was evident that Palestinians wanted to negotiate a more rounded peace agreement, the UN negotiator, Count Bernadotte was murdered by a Jewish terrorist group and Israel then refused to play any part in further proposals, they chose not to recognise the body that replaced Bernadotte, the Palestine Conciliation Commission or the resolution that ultimately transpired from their initiatives; UN Resolution 194 concerned with the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

At the end of the British Mandate period, in fact just before the official end, the Israeli’s put in to action Plan Dalet, or Plan D which meant that Israeli forces moved in as soon as a British post moved out and began cleansing that village or town. The process began with small villages and progressed eventually to Haifa, Jaffa, Safad, Beisan, Acre and West Jerusalem. Plan D was prepared by Ben Gurion and the high command of the Haganagh, the military wing of the Jewish community. The plan included the following clear and crisp instruction to clearances “Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously … Mounting search and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the village and conducting a search inside it. In the event of resistance, the armed force must be destroyed and the population must be expelled outside the borders of the state”. This was all carried out before Arab armies from outside the country could mobilise, and in some areas, particularly the Jordanian Army under British leadership, ignored the issue altogether rather than engage with Israeli forces. Let us be clear, this was a war crime, indeed a crime against humanity and to fail to recognise it as such means we are unable to get to the nub of the way the Israeli’s see the Palestinians, for to accept their role in human rights abuses in 1947/48 is to accept the illegitimacy of their own national founding. The Balkan war of the 1990s provides clarity for such human rights abuses “ethnic cleansing is any action by one ethnic group meant to drive out another ethnic group with the purpose of transforming a mixed ethnic region into a pure one. Such an action amounts to ethnic cleansing regardless of the means employed to obtain it—from persuasion and threats to expulsions and mass killings”. But there can be no grey area here for which a nuanced understanding is required. In the space of seven months, 531 villages were destroyed and 11 urban areas cleared. The expulsions were accompanied by massacres, rapes, terrorising and the imprisonment of males over the age of 10 in labour camps for over a year. It is ethnic cleansing at its most stark.

We come then to the well written about and opined upon 1967 war, which Israel’s accomplices say proved that Israel had no choice but to occupy Gaza and the West Bank until those residing there could make peace with the Jewish state. The take-over of the whole of historic Palestine was a desire from long before the 1967 conflict. A post-mandate deal keeping Jordan out of the 1948 war meant the West Bank was kept under Jordanian control was referred to as bechiya ledorot by Ben Gurion; a fatal historical mistake. The complete control of the Palestinian majority inside Israel was an apparatus that had long been preparing for take-over of the West Bank and Gaza and machinations elsewhere in the Middle East through Nasser and the new Ba’ath movement gave the perfect opportunity for the transfer of these powers. Israel struck on June 5th while peace initiatives were still being led by the US, it all but destroyed the Egyptian air-force and followed up with attacks on Syria, Jordan and Iraq. This air assault coupled with the invasion of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, later they took control of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Minutes of a meeting following the occupation are now in the public domain and they call for permanent control of the West Bank, without which “Israel cannot exist”, but they also go on to state the citizens of occupied areas cannot be given Israeli citizenship, upsetting the demography of what is intentioned to be a Jewish state. It was clear to the people at the meeting that this left the people living in these areas under control of a foreign power, without a state and essentially condemned to be citizens of nowhere. Only once has the desire to consistently rule over and occupy the West Bank been acknowledged, by Levy Eshkol as Prime Minister in 1967. The international response was rightly robust and since then Israeli leaders have seen it as unhelpful to make their true goals known with regards the West Bank. To this day Israel have maintained this is a temporary solution to a problem which will be resolved when the Palestinians become a proper partner for peace, so for over 50 years the people of the West Bank are imprisoned as rightless nowhere people; neither refugees nor citizens.

Having rightless citizens both inside and outside of their own rather fluid borders is a feature of Israel and gives proof to the lie that they are the only democracy in the Middle East. It was not a democracy for the Palestinian population within Israel prior to 1967, as people lived under military rule with all the abuses of power that entails, and further away did it slip from democracy post-1967, with regards to the increased population it controls, even if it does not count them as citizens. Surely the litmus test for any democracy is the way it treats minorities for which it is responsible? Not only does Israel prevent the right of return to properties and lands stolen from those both outside and inside Israel, it goes to an extra level of un-democracy; granting what it calls a further “right of return” to every Jewish person in the world wherever they were born. An equivalent would be for the people of Lancashire to be removed from those borders and their lands given to any person from Rome, because 2000 years ago they may or may not have had ancestors that lived there. Aside from these most heinous acts of un-democracy, there are other areas of discrimination that compound the fact. The most prosperous Palestinian community is that of Me’ilya in Galilee; but this village is still worse off than the most destitute Jewish town in the Negev. The average income of Jews is between 40 and 60% higher than Arab income in comparative areas. More than 90% of land is owned by the Jewish National Fund and it is illegal to engage in transactions with non-Jewish citizens. What this means in practice is that as Palestinian towns grow in population, they are unable to expand in the same way settlements do. Nazareth has tripled its population but not grown one square mile since 1948. This is before we start to factor in the way people are treated who live outside the official boundaries of Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza with all the well documented collective punishments they have to endure, and have had to endure since the beginning of the occupation.

When people in the occupied territories resist they are targeted as though they were combatants in a military conflict, when in reality they are disenfranchised and stateless peoples. During periods of non-resistance the house demolitions, the farm destructions, the arrests without trial, the assassinations, water-well draining all continue regardless. Each year Amnesty International documents the harsh realities of the occupation, this is from their 2015 report: “In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli forces committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested against or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill-treatment remained rife and were committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank, and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement, further tightening restrictions amid an escalation of violence from October, which included attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinians and apparent extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces. Israeli settlers in the West Bank attacked Palestinians and their property with virtual impunity. The Gaza Strip remained under an Israeli military blockade that imposed collective punishment on its inhabitants. The authorities continued to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank and inside Israel, particularly in Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting their residents”. The figures on imprisonment without trial are staggering; every fifth person in the West Bank or Gaza Strip has undergone unlawful detention, proportionally that is more than the numbers of Japanese citizens locked up in the US during World War II which Gerald Ford as president later declared a “national mistake… which shall never be repeated”. Middle East Monitor has published 200 known methods of torture used by the Israeli state on the Palestinians held in detention.

All this while road maps and peace processes are supposed to be negotiated in good faith. Israel likes to put about the story that the Oslo process fell apart because of Palestinian intransigence, particularly on the part of Yasser Arafat who they say orchestrated the Second Intifada as a way to derail the negotiations. Some more liberal minded critics in Israel shared the blame between him and Benjamin Netanyahu but the accusation of Arafat not keeping his side of the bargain doesn’t hold water. According to the “agreement”, the Palestinian forces were to act as Israel’s subcontracted security force in the occupied territories as well as accepting the Israeli interpretation of whatever the final settlement was; this amounted to a demilitarised state for the Palestinians, a capital at Abu Dis, a small village well outside Jerusalem, and to give up huge swathes of West Bank territory that had already been illegally occupied. In addition the Palestinian state, such as it would be, would have no independent foreign or economic policy but be dictated to by Israel. In return Arafat was expected to forgo the right of return for which Palestinians have agitated for 70 years now. As this final proposal in 2000 hit the table, alongside the Bantustan-isation of Palestinian territories no Palestinian leader could have accepted it and maintained the faith of their people. The right of return is key; in 1949 it was a precondition for Israel to sign up to Resolution 194 which, as stated above, calls for unconditional right of return of the Palestinian refugees from 1948, or for significant compensation to be given. Israel signed this and was accepted in to the UN; effective legitimacy and international recognition. The day after this happened Israel retracted its commitment to the Resolution and that retraction governs its political manoeuvres to this day.

Since the Second Intifada Hamas has grown as a force in Palestine and particularly the Gaza Strip. In terms of a political solution it differs from Fatah who govern the West Bank in a specific way. Fatah support a two-state solution still whereas Hamas has demanded a full withdrawal from occupied territories followed by a 10-year armistice before further solutions can be discussed. By 2006 it had won a majority in the Palestinian parliament and had the right to form a government, this quickly fell apart and it was ousted by Fatah leaving the latter in charge of the West Bank and the former in power in Gaza. Hamas is often demonised (as Fatah) once was, as a terrorist organisation that refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist. In reality it is a multi-faceted organisation of resistance, and is a reflection of complexities arising from the everyday reality of occupation and blockade. Israel and the west are often mistaken in their psephology of the Middle East and particularly Palestine. The very first municipal elections in the Palestinian Territories allowed by Yitzhak Rabin in 1976 went the way of PLO and not, as predicted, in favour of pro-Jordanian/Egyptian parties. Israel and the West have never understood that if you use your power to restrain the ability of secular, socialist movements in the Middle-East, a power vacuum will be created and filled by a more radical religious movement. Hamas for its part, while being undeniably violent in its attitude towards Israel, also pushes its charitable side in the Gaza Strip and encourages community cohesion among different groups of people; it provides schooling, medicine and welfare in the same way any reasonable state operator would; and it does so hand in glove with its own internal resistance movement, however the most violent acts Hamas have carried out have been against their own opponents in Palestine, and not against the state of Israel.

The Gaza Strip amounts to just 2% of the Palestinian landmass. It had always been a more cosmopolitan place than the rest of the country before the occupation, being a port region with trade connections across Europe and North Africa, this is to be expected. The prosperity and diversity of Gaza was destroyed in 1948 and this destruction has continued into the 21st Century. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were pushed from Jaffa and surrounding towns and villages into to the area we know as the Strip today. Sandwiched between Israel and an apathetic and at times hostile Egypt, the abilities of people to access normal routes of assistance and justice have been eroded.  Meanwhile the population has since doubled making the Strip one of the most densely populated regions of the planet with no economic or infrastructural policies in place to support them. These days it is entirely separated from the West Bank via the Israeli security barrier / wall and the network of checkpoints placed strategically to make movement between areas impossible. The people of Gaza are trapped in a huge open air prison and are routinely used as a testing ground for new Israeli weapons which are then sold on the open market at events such as the DSEI Arms Fair in London. People are trapped, electricity and gas are scarce, medicines are restricted from entering and food is in short supply; all of this is controlled at the borders by the Israeli Defence Force. Even fishermen trying to work in the eastern Mediterranean are shot at to halt their work. The military attacks on Gaza are more and more extreme each time, and more and more civilians are casualties with every new “operation”. Israeli exceptionalism allows it and the international community either backs them wholly in the cases of the US and UK or shrugs and wonders what it can do in the case of the EU. Other Arabic states are more interested in maintaining economic ties to the western nations who support Israel than coming to the aid of their fellow Muslims and what is left is a destitute, traumatised and attacked people who are no more than play things for a criminal military occupation. Three military incursions in six years added to a decade long blockade has led the UN to declare that it expects Gaza to be uninhabitable by 2020. De-development is taking place with the economic wellbeing of a person in the Gaza Strip being worse than what it was two decades ago. The coup in Egypt by the military has meant the only avenue to easing the blockade has also now been closed. Western flotillas are refused entry with their cargoes stolen by Israel at any port they choose to redirect the boats to, and they are not above attacking such humanitarian acts; nine people onboard the Mavi Marmara were killed while trying to deliver things such as food, car parts and medical supplies to Gaza.

What began as settlement, however unjust became an occupation, but that word is no longer viable over 50 years down the line. What the Palestinians suffer now is occupation, and military occupation at that. The War on Terror, in reality a war on Islam, gave Israel the veneer it needed to escalate matters to a tipping point of exploitation and ruthlessness. Settlements continue to grow and Palestinians continue to be slaughtered. Recent protests and the violent response to them in Gaza prove the international community is entirely toothless in being able to condemn, in any meaningful way, what is happening to the Palestinians. As the far right in America and Europe gains new degrees of respectability it should come as no surprise that they find a common ally in Netanyahu; old anti-Semitisms can be brushed aside when a common enemy of their own mythologies is found. Israeli flags pop up at far right rallies with alarming frequency, and in Israel itself a startling number of young people, who we are used to seeing as left wing and tolerant, are showing attitudes of bigotry and chauvinism on previously unheard of scales. Whether this translates into a fully-fledged far right movement, or an Israeli fascism remains to be seen but that is the route being etched into the future’s map. Already we have the apartheid era self-determination laws reserved only for Jews and more liberal voices in newspapers and universities being curtailed. Wherever the politics of Likud and its right wing partners in government end up, one thing remains certain, the people who suffer will remain the Palestinians until Israeli’s themselves wake up to their own national memory they continue to supress, or until the international community grows a pair and starts acting in a humane and fair way towards all nations, and un-nations too.

The Vampire Rich

Some statements are spoken so frequently they lose the power that their meaning should convey. One of the consistent, factual, accusations of recent times has been that the UK has suffered the longest period of decline in recorded economic history. Levelled often at the Tories it should carry the power of a Mike Tyson uppercut but its constant repetition without explanation has softened it. “Recorded economic history” could mean anything; is it the last few decades, is it since we started using spreadsheets, is it post-war, is it the 20th Century? No, recorded economic history goes back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. No generation of workers has suffered such a steep or prolonged decline in their real income in all that time, until now.

Also, something that is never mentioned in conjunction with this is the reason why we have suffered such a drop in our wages. We were told austerity was absolutely necessary to balance the books, that we all had to tighten our belts because of the global financial crisis and people largely accepted this. The levels of quantitative easing flooding the banking system was essential to keep the banking system afloat, with some notable flotsam and jetsam. However, at no stage have those at the tip of this giant sub-prime pyramid scheme had to tighten anything, excepting their desire to lend to one another in good faith, unless that loan was guaranteed by the state.

While we, and by which I mean the homeless, the precariat, the working class, the squeezed middle and whatever box you want to put people in who aren’t obscenely rich, continue to see our ability to afford what we used to afford disappear, those at the top see quite the opposite. According to the latest Sunday Times Rich List the wealthiest 1000 families in the UK have seen their income increase by an eye-watering 180% since the financial crisis; they are worth, collectively, £724bn or the same as the bottom 40+% of all society. So while the vast majority of us have lost around £1000 per year in the last 10 years, the super-rich have been laughing all the way to the bank; the bank they own the profits of but have passed on the losses to us.

There is more money now than ever before in the global milieu, and we are told that absolute poverty is declining the world over. Some of that last point is subject to interpretation of what constitutes poverty – a previously happy subsistence farmer in the third world forced from his land and into a sweatshop now no longer lives in “absolute poverty” only because he has now become a member of the global proletariat instead of having his plot of land with which he feeds his family but earns no quantifiable money. Nevertheless, the fact that more people are earning money is true, however small and we are told that in the west we are in a global race now with the workers of the world; who must not unite but separate and fight, fight one another in a race to the bottom. The rich are taking no hit on this, they are still scooping up commodities and securities all over the world, indebting new swathes of populations to profit from, keeping more people under the jackboot of capital with the goal not of servicing traditional market economies and thus society, but to service the rich with their labour. The simple basic Marxist economic principles remain true whether condensed into one factory or the impending global workshop; the surplus capital goes to the owner of the means of production; the worker as soon as that surplus is created is then alienated from the use value of their labour, it continues and renews and solidifies with each passing crisis.

We were told by Margaret Thatcher that a rising tide lifts all boats and that wealth trickles down. The wealth has never trickled down but has consistently been funnelled upward in to a psychopathic class of leeches at the top of our societies, who run politics, who own the means not only of production but of the ability to print money when they need it (not when we need it), and who run the media. The capitalist class is an enormous vampire, and unburdened by the threat of global socialism it has been able to turbo-boost its blood sucking activities knowing that revolution is now a distant option for many.

We are kept on low and declining wages because we must then turn to easy but restrictive forms of credit flows, because indebted people don’t demand their rights, or strike, or rise up; no surprise that unions are being targeted across the world with ever more restrictive legislation. We are told it will be all OK tomorrow; the pain is necessary for the pleasure later or Jam Tomorrow as it used to be called. We must flagellate ourselves before the alter of extreme wealth like some kind of Opus Dei off-shoot that has written god out of religion and replaced him with a balance sheet.

Once upon a time the rich invested in building great structures aimed at the betterment of society. The Carnegie’s and the Rowntrees may have been red in tooth and claw capitalism but they understood that a civilisation needs certain basic structures if it is to succeed. Libraries, railways, schools, hospitals, in short public services. The modern capitalist class, with its hidden wealth mountain estimated to be $8.7trillion, is absolving itself of all such responsibilities; this is all money that should have been tax, and thus the publics. The only way to get at any of this is to have international cooperation across boundaries and financial institutions; but the people hiding this money own those very states and institutions.

The British are past-masters at tax avoidance but what government would be foolish enough to try and throttle the banks in search of their financial skulduggery merchants? The financial sector in the UK is currently 10 times that of our GDP; the bank, as philosophical entity, is now bigger than the state; that’s before you look at the shadow banking economy; banking done by companies that don’t have a formal banking licence and are thus unregulated; the size of this economy is estimated to be £160trillion – twice the size of global GDP. Nobody has the guts to tackle any of this, we don’t even yet have the vocabulary to tackle this, let alone the skills.

The question I have is how much longer will people take it? How long before people stop caring about their indebtedness and start wrecking the machinery of capital. There is a tipping point; it has arrived at different points throughout this short period we can call “modern history” and it will come again because the controllers of wealth don’t know how to stop kleptomania. The rich live in their gated communities behind security fences but they won’t hold back a mob, they won’t hold back a revolution, and they won’t hold back an idea. Communism was once the shadow that made capitalists squeal and give a little back. That shadow is gone and they are unafraid of the people they exploit now; it’s time they were afraid again, it’s time we had a seat at the table and didn’t just get the crumbs that fall from it.

The Massacre of the Innocents

I had in mind a piece about the history of the Palestinian people since 1948 but events, dear reader, have overtaken us. Two days ago Israel massacred 58 people and injured over 2000, many of them critically; among the dead and injured are babies, children, women, and of course unarmed men. Today the PR exercise is underway to cleanse the image of Israel as their army continues to cleanse the nation of Palestine of its historic inhabitants.

People massed on the border of Gaza and the occupied land that Israel holds yesterday, as they have done for weeks but in great number due to the mixture of the date; it being 70 years almost to the day since the Nakba; the great expulsion of Arabs from their ancestral state as the nation of Israel was officially recognised, and it was also to protest the movement of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, itself illegally occupied territory. The American President has no right to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel any more than he has to call Paris the capital of Italy. Jerusalem, even under a pro-Israel world is still split with 307,300 Palestinian Muslims to 524,700 Jewish people (alongside 12,400 Palestinian Christians). East Jerusalem, the capital of any future Palestinian state, is still majority Palestinian and contains many major holy sites for the three Abrahamic faiths.

Demographics aside, we are speaking of the aftermath of America’s foolhardiness yesterday. The blood drying on to the desert sands of the Gaza Strip is also on the hands of Donald Trump as much as it is on Benjamin Netanyahu. These two men knew what would happen, and authorised the lethal force which the despicable Israeli Defence Forces utilised. On one side there was tear gas, and on the other the Palestinians were trying to hit back tear gas canisters with old tennis rackets. On one side there were drones piloted by soldiers a hundred miles away dropping bombs, and on the other side were people peacefully demonstrating as is their right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On one side they had snipers picking people off one by one, and on the other were people in wheelchairs with slingshots. Never has the analogy of David and Goliath been so apt.

The cowards and Israeli satraps in the Western press have decided Hamas is to blame, accusing them of paying people to go protest or threatening them. Palestinian people do not need persuading to demand their sanctified right of return, they have been fighting for 70 years and will continue to do so. Regardless, any attempt to blame any Palestinian for this atrocity is sick. If the school bully punches you in the face every day for four years, and one day you turn around and kick him in the shin only for him to stab you to death; that would not be your fault, and nor is this the fault of the Palestinians, who were as I say peacefully demonstrating. In the past people have said to the Palestinians, put down your rockets and demonstrate without fighting; well, they did, en masse in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and so many more; and their rewards is to be cut down in their dozens and injured in their thousands. When the rockets do come again, and they will, to the precariously placed illegal settlements along the borders of Israel, they will ask why; and the answer will be in the memories of the dead of May 14th 2018.

Israel has also allegedly used White Phosphorus, a chemical weapon banned for military use. Pictures of heavily scarred people are finding their way out the Strip despite communications being stifled. Will the condemnation of Israel be the same as it was for Syria if Chemical Weapons use is proven? Will Netanyahu be the Chemist of Gaza as Assad was the Butcher of Douma, or will we let the IDF carry out its own investigation and find nothing wrong, as so many times before?

Also, at the time of writing this, the United States has blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent enquiry and asking all sides to observe “restraint” – the Americans don’t even want Israel to show “restraint”; of course the IDF through propagandists such as Mark Regev maintain they are the “most moral army in the world” and their “response” is entirely “proportionate”. If this is the IDF showing restraint, I’d hate to see what they look like when the dogs are off the leash. Nadav Weiman is a former Israeli sniper for the IDF now working for Breaking the Silence, a group who expose what happens and happened in the IDF going back decades, he spoke to Sky News yesterday and said Israeli snipers were picking off unarmed protesters who were 300m from the so-called border fence, so the protection of the border excuse simply does not wash. He added “that’s a huge change from when I was a sniper and I think that this is a red line that I personally thought we were never going to cross”.

On the issue of the Embassy move, which exacerbated a situation that was always going to be fraught with tension and violence, it is worth noting who the people are who support this move from the American side. They are not, for the most part, prominent members of the Jewish community, they are extremist evangelical Christians who base their entire foreign policy on the book of Revelations and making the horrors contained therein come to pass. They need, according to Christian eschatology, all Jews to be in the Holy Land before the second coming of Christ can occur, followed swiftly by Armageddon and the days of the last judgement when anyone who is not a Christian, or converts to be so, will be consigned to the bowels of hell to burn for all eternity – there is nothing more anti-Semitic than this group and yet the Israeli leaders are happy to jump in to bed with them for their short term policy gains of continued exploitation and expropriation of Palestinian lands. Make no mistake, these people and the IS death cult are two cheeks of the same arse. They are also though the modern Republican base and as moderate support drifts further from Donald Trump, his ego will only allow him to move further into those pockets of radicalism that are beyond the pale for much of decent society, but that will still support him as long as he continues pushing their ideologies and beliefs.

The image of the powerful Israeli and American leaderships smiling and cheering as the new embassy was unveiled at the exact same time as this state sponsored massacre was taking place in the context of a wider and more drawn out genocide, and it is burned into my retina. Whatever the future holds for those involved in this period of the human story, history will judge it harshly, and those who supported Trump, Netanyahu, or the IDF will be written boldly into those blood soaked chapters as the instigators and continuators of never-ending war and of soulless evil.

World Book Day: My Story

For World Book Day, rather than dressing up as a very poor and overgrown version of Ron Weasley I thought I might write something about the relationship I’ve had with literature. Some of my earliest memories are of books. I remember my mum reading me the most basic books at a very young age and then trying to learn the words myself with her and in my nursery, attached to the side of Our Lady of Good Counsel Primary School in Leeds; Mrs Walsh going through the famous A is for Apple book with me, with her customary saint like patience. When I went to the school itself we were encouraged to go to the tiny library and every now and then there was a classroom based booksale funded either by charity or the Catholic Church via local donations.

At home, we didn’t have any kind of book collection and they didn’t keep pride of place like some people will recall of their parents houses. We put more stock by music and videos than the written word. My parents had books, usually in an upstairs bookcase and almost exclusively factual material; encyclopaedia, dictionaries, cricket books and some epic folder-bound multi-volume sets on war, lovingly collected weekly by my dad when he was a young man. I don’t know what newspaper my parents “took” but I always remember a local paper knocking around, either the Yorkshire Evening Post, or the local free sheet (Skyrack / Leeds Weekly News) usually open at the TV pages. Events of the day were rarely discussed with my brother and I; we knew the Tories were bastards, Maggie Thatcher chiefly, and that’s where it ended.

Fortnightly my mother took me to Seacroft library with my little orange ticket so I could get up to four books out at a time. I discovered Spot the Dog was an early favourite as a young boy and no doubt several other simple and likeable stories which I can no longer recall. As a junior I fell in love with the TinTin graphic books; unaware of their colonialism, they were just ripping good stories to my formative eyes. The first wholly text based books I read were the interactive adventure books that let you have some control over the narrative; turn to page 76 if you would turn left, turn to page 84 if you would turn right and so on; an early sign of my desire for adventure-based computer games perhaps.

On occasion I would venture out of the sheltered area of the children’s section into the adult books; curiosity guiding me to wonder what these shelves contained. My mother was keen to usher me back to the kids area; behaviour that I recognise now as not wanting me to grow up; something she was always reluctant to allow, but through a sense of love and protection rather than anything else. There wasn’t any time I can recall that we didn’t go to the library other than on a week’s holiday in Butlins my mum and I were upset we were missing our scheduled trip; and that we would owe a fine for the books we’d not be able to return.

At school I will have read what are termed young adult books I suppose; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe perhaps but I have little recollection of any of this. School was not a great time for me, and high school was much worse. At Cardinal Heenan in Leeds, you were sorted straight away in to what I can only describe as a class system; the kids from poor areas all seemed to be shoved in to the lowest level academic groups and most of us remained in them. The teachers gave us books to read but offered little in terms of explanation or getting us to think; it wasn’t all down to them, I was becoming a tearaway and happy to be given the opportunity not to learn. Other than devouring atlases with my brother and naming capital cities, I fell completely out of love with books until Christmas 1996.

I had just turned 16 and my mum and I were Christmas shopping. I had some paper round money to buy presents and mum realised I was better off picking something rather than her guessing what I wanted; I suspect I wanted to get a video game of some description. We called into WH Smith, probably to look at board games and stationery and I saw a book on special display, new in paperback and just £3; half price. The book was The Lost World by Michael Crichton, his sequel to Jurassic Park which I had recently seen and fell in love with. I pointed at it and said “can I have that for Christmas”, mum was taken aback, not able to understand why I suddenly wanted a book, and presumably unaware of how much I wasn’t reading at school (one day the teacher said, bring something of your own to read for next lesson, so on the way to work I had bought a copy of the Sun, and with it a ticket to detention). She acquiesced and I opened it among other, more usual things, on Christmas morning.

I don’t think I’d ever read an adult book; although classed as a mass market thriller it took me a long time to read, around six months I think and I found my attention span not ready for it but I persevered and enjoyed it. I’d like to say I then went on a literature binge having fallen back in love; but I didn’t. I read more Michael Crichton books, knowing I was in safe territory, not knowing how right-wing the author was becoming but then I had little knowledge of politics in those days. I read some books based on my favourite films, or that those films were based upon and a few biographies, specifically on John Lennon. So I was slowly reading again, easing myself in perhaps but gaining little in truth.

Cue, early 2000, struggling with a break up just after Christmas I somehow got a job in the Civil Service. I made friends with people who were from backgrounds I was unfamiliar with; more middle class to put a basic term on it. When we went on work nights out, which in those days was a regular thing, I realised I was hopelessly disarmed when the subjects turned to anything beyond what appeared in the tabloid newspapers. I knew nothing of politics and history; sport and lewdness were my stock-in-trade. Most of my colleagues had been to university and I realised I needed to book up.

Perhaps with reluctance, perhaps with enthusiasm, I forget which, I began reading, not only reading but studying. I was lost in my pursuit, not of knowledge initially but just so I didn’t look or sound stupid in front of these people I respected. I didn’t know where to begin or what to read so I reached for all sorts of stuff, a lot of it rubbish. What changed things was when I read my first serious history book; The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Lady Antonia Fraser; I got a cheap copy from an antiquarian bookseller in Helmsley on a day trip from his modern history section. I was utterly, utterly fascinated and realised that the truth is not only stranger than fiction, but it’s often more dramatic too.

Via a newly found love of history, I started to ruminate on how events impacted on us today; something as long ago and seemingly esoteric as England’s break from Rome, had it not happened, would render our nation unrecognisable from the one we live in today. Through this I developed an interest in current affairs, read with the eye of an amateur (very amateur) historian. I read a book on slavery and followed it up with No Logo by Naomi Klein, and was taught that slavery belongs firmly in current affairs and not history. Every new book was a new learning experience and I was finally hooked again.

It took a friend to inform me that as much can be learned from fiction as it can from books of fact; food for the brain yes, but we need food for the soul as well. At the time I was sceptical, while reading a book on the history of the Monopoly Board but I took her recommendation to read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes; it was the right book at the right time for me and I’ve not looked back. Poetry I’ve always been distantly keen on, always written it but rarely understood it. I remain a keen reader of it but as an analyser I’m no Terry Eagleton.

So, I love books now. I didn’t for a long time and always thought I was playing catch up to large extent with my more formally educated friends. I left school at 16 having spent 10 years under Conservative government run, catholic education, being told that the likes of me weren’t for higher learning, aesthetics or intellectualism; we were the road sweepers, the bin men and the assembly line staff of the future. The latter group is fine, but why not both? It is only through a mixture of inspiration and self-doubt that I decided to up my game. People who know me now seem to think I am well read, autodidact though I am. I think they mean it as a compliment and I take it as such.

There is no healthier activity for the mind than reading. The growth we make as individuals, within our chosen circles of society and our spiritually is enhanced immeasurably by standing on the shoulders of those giants who have committed their wonderful, bizarre, eccentric, insightful and whimsical thoughts to the page. Beginning a new book for me now is like that moment at the start of the rollercoaster, after the first big climb up to a great height and being tipped gently forward before the first major drop; what I feel at that exact moment is the same as what I feel when I hear the spine flex or the binding crack slightly on a brand new tome. Bliss is a hazily lit corner of a pub, a dark hardwood table with wrought iron legs, a comfy armchair, a pint of something friendly infront of you and nothing else but you and your book, and the barman sitting quietly awaiting your next request.

The Presidents Club Dinner

The only surprising thing about the goings on at the Presidents Club dinner is the surprise of our media commentariat that such things could happen. How is it that so many well-heeled men at a charity gala be such terrible people, with such awful attitudes towards women? Either they are pretending they don’t know that this goes on in every walk of life where men hold positions of power or they are very, very stupid people.

The sort of people at this event were very wealthy, very powerful men. The way very powerful men often treat women should be a national scandal without needing an undercover reporter from the Financial Times (of all news organs) to show it to us. These are the people that decide on promotions, on board membership, council and senate bodies and such. They are happy with their boys clubs and will do what they can to maintain them. They see women as beneath them, the see people poorer than them as beneath them and they see society as beneath them.

What is not acknowledged and won’t be anywhere in the post-mortem of these events, played out in the outrage-by-numbers method at which our media excels, is that our society is built to ensure that people such as this become the power-brokers, the decision makers and ultimately our rulers. Only a system such as capitalism with its contradictions and selfishness at its heart can promote sociopaths to positions of supremacy. Men like this are misogynists to start with and at no stage during their progress up the greasy pole of influence does anyone pick them up on their behaviours; quite the contrary they are rewarded for their bigotry, their sexism and their egocentricity. They are seen as go getters; managers who take no prisoners, natural power brokers rather than the borderline criminals they actually are, and always have been. The dominance they acquire along the way only emphasises to them that their behaviours are not just OK, but expected within the communities they move and the philosophical paradigm they inhabit.

Another aspect of the usual trajectory of a story such as this is that there is the event, the rage and opprobrium, followed by the reactionary kick-back from the usual suspects who will defend anything that “has always been like that” as something that shouldn’t change. These people would be the same people a hundred and fifty years ago defending child labour as something that “had always been”, that would have defended slavery 200 years ago as “something that had always been” that would defend male only property owning suffrage not that long ago at all, and all the better if the person you can get to write this garbage is a woman; the highest paid women in journalism are those that are willing to be hired to shame other women, who live under the mantra: the pen is mightier than the whore! Even Germaine Greer can pipe up and victim shame; Greer can be summed up as a person who adores her narrow, single strand of feminism but at the same time seems to hate all women. Why is it the case that women-shaming women are the best paid female journalists? Because newspapers are owned by the type of people who go to these “gentlemen’s parties”; and the hill they choose to die on is anything remotely right-wing.

Quite how defending sexual assault became an issue for the right to tie its colours to is beyond me but it seems to be that anything remotely progressive needs to be attacked from the right, no matter how ludicrous a position it is. Perhaps it’s that the most obscene elements in a society; the knuckle dragging openly racist violent scumbag is no longer something that carries the requisite shame it once did, so it goes with sexists. As the atrocities of World War Two drift out of living memory the caverns open and the same goblins appear, with the same old politics of dominance and social Darwinism turned up to 11. It comes from the top; Britain First wouldn’t have the following they did if it weren’t for the successes of UKIP, the KKK wouldn’t be in the ascendency in the US were it not for Trump, and parties like this wouldn’t be tolerated if year after year misogynists weren’t thrust into positions of national and international importance; everything from “Grab ‘em by the pussy” to David Cameron’s “Calm down dear” gives extra room to manoeuvre for the disgusting, slobbering suited feral rich, who if they had done the same thing in a working men’s club would either have been punched or arrested and placed on the sex offenders register.

Outside of a reform of capitalism, or indeed a collapse; unlikely since the ruling class will prop it up with every piece of rusting austere scaffolding available, this all comes down to education. No matter the wrath and indignation that comes from the Daily Mail and their ilk, boys at a young age have to be taught feminism, and have to be taught how to behave around women; because generation after generation of women hating misogynists are being shot out of our educational establishments and then welcomed into boardrooms and directorships because the previous generation reproduces itself, not as tragedy or farce but as a reinforcement of regressive dominion. It’s not good enough. Women deserve better, society deserves better.

Sir James Dyson et. al.

Yesterday, James Dyson appeared on the Andrew Marr programme, the BBC’s flagship political Sunday morning show and it was remarkable for the lack of humanity from the subject, and the inability of the interviewer to hold that person to account. Sir James, such as he is, called for the country to abandon Brexit talks now and for us to walk away in to the wide blue unknown in which people like him can dictate our laws, as opposed to have them created and controlled by parliamentary scrutiny under democratic checks and balances. He called for a more flexible workforce in which hiring and firing is easier, and went further in suggesting the complete abolition of corporation tax.

Dyson represents that class of capitalist who sees themselves as above the social contract. They see society as something that happens outside of their sphere of influence, and it should be for those other people to consider. He has a personal fortune just shy of £8billion and has decided that clearly isn’t enough; if that is the case, one can only imagine the extravagance of his outgoings. James Dyson moved his vacuum making workforce from this country to low-wage Malaysia in 2003. While making this move he promised the arm of Dyson that makes washing machines would remain in the UK; that moved just 12 months later. In addition he has just opened at research and development facility in low-tax Singapore but not satisfied with all this he now demands his company should be absolved of tax requirements on sales, and this is the man that today, in the Daily Mail after hearing his interview, that esteemed organ named “the businessman who speaks up for Britain”; if he speaks up for Britain I’d hate to meet the man who talks us down.

I just don’t understand this mentality of a certain type of wealthy person, who seem to think the rest of us had no part to play in their success. That their contributions in tax assist us all to bring on the next generations of workers, of business leaders and entrepreneurs. They disregard entirely the fine balance that needs to be struck between workers and management, and why strong trade unions are the last bastion of keeping that relationship the right side of fair. Dyson is probably an extreme outlier for this sort of thinking; what the architects of a hard Brexit really want isn’t to abolish corporation tax but once he has suggested it and it gains traction in the media; much of which is owned by uber-rich individuals who also have interests in avoiding tax for their failing industries; they can then legitimately suggest halving corporation tax to around 10%; knowing it sounds a lot better than the zero percent suggested by their pace-setters such as Dyson; it’s long game tax dodging for the elite.

Less than a week ago we were all up in arms about the Paradise Papers; that has quickly left the news hasn’t it? We were wondering why the government hadn’t published the 58 Brexit impact statements. That disappeared too because neither of these things fit the ongoing narrative of tax reductions for the wealthy, worship of British foreign policy, the scapegoating of minorities or the demonisation of anything remotely progressive in society. Throw Lewis Hamilton and the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys to the masses and let the plebs feast on them. Nothing about Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch, HSBC, various private investment/equity firms or any other areas of global finance leadership. A few people get blamed for their individual choices, but it’s as though the problems weren’t completely systemic, and the logical conclusion of the cult of personal wealth, remember TINA?!

Next they will suggest something like a flat rate of tax for everyone. They will use words like “simplification” and tell us how “complex” current tax rates are; “unwieldy and ineffective” they will proclaim. All flat tax rates do is abolish higher rates of tax, and usually increase tax for the poorest. It does for income tax what VAT does for the poor – makes it unequal and makes the poor worse off at the expense of the rich. Furthermore, a flat rate of tax is a Trojan horse for reducing the role of the state even further than now. The man who coined the idea of a flat tax, Alvin Rabushka, says this on the role of the government:

I think we should go back to first principles and causes and ask what government should be doing and the answer is “not a whole lot”. It certainly does way too much and we could certainly get rid of a lot of it. We shouldn’t give people free money. You know, we should get rid of welfare programmes, we need to have purely private pensions and get rid of state sponsored pensions. We need private schools and private hospitals and private roads and private mail delivery and private transportation and private everything else. You know government shouldn’t be doing any of that stuff. And if it didn’t do any of that stuff it wouldn’t need all of that tax money so that’s the fundamental position and as long as you’re going to have government do all that stuff you’re going to have all those high taxes.

A flat tax is the enemy of democracy and accountability, and so are the first manoeuvres to further reduce corporation tax, or indeed god forbid, the abolition of such a tax. I have no intention of living in a squalid little tax haven on the shores of Europe; the black sheep of global diplomacy and standard bearers for inequality and rampant, exploitative capitalism. Next stop work-houses and children up chimneys!

Tax, Spending and the Universal Basic Income

At the moment it seems par for the course that you wake up and bemoan the state of the world. Turning on the radio in a heightened state of anxiety and utter the burdensome refrain “what now?” The US president and nominal leader of the free world is lunatic who creates conflict wherever he turns; protecting the far-right at home and flirting with nuclear war abroad. Brexit is an omnishambles worthy of the TV show which coined that very phrase; a weakened country being governed by an increasingly weak Conservative Party on behalf of the rabid xenophobes and emotionally illiterate. Creeping up alongside this is the slowly dawning realisation that a new sexual abuse scandal is about to grip not just UK politics but a whole host of industries world-wide. Wherever that leads it will prove one thing beyond all else; equality has a lot more heavy lifting to do before it becomes the reality as opposed to the desire.

In the wake of all that, that being the very anglo-centric view of current disasterpieces of the political art, it seems almost banal to discuss such prosaic things as tax and spending, and yet that is what I am about to do. We are creatures caught in the epoch of economics; every decision made by governments at local, national or international level is ultimately an economic one; whether that is to mend the pot holes on Station Road or to take the drastic decision to go to war, each and every decision is underpinned by fiscal realities. Often we aren’t given the full picture of these realities or they are somehow shrouded, translucent or at worst opaque. Those with the governing hand keep a tight grip on the truth, truth that trickles down in the same way wealth does; not often.

To begin, something must be said about the taxation and spending system we currently employ in Western liberal economics broadly, but the specific model that has evolved in the UK. We labour under the false impression that the government’s budget must be run in the same way as a household budget. The false economy of “living within our means” does not work for a modern capitalist economy – this belief that taxation comes first and we decide what to spend it on is wholly backward – you set spending and then tax appropriately while creating the fiscal reality in which you can stimulate or curtail the market as required; unless there is full employment and at fair pay then it cannot result in inflation. This differs from a household budget in a few ways, but fundamentally in this: a household cannot create money out of thin air to repay debt – the government can, as long as it has its own currency and central bank, which we do!

And create money it did, to the tune of $435billion handed straight to the banks to kickstart lending again after the economic crash of 2008, which didn’t work as it was given to the wrong people; it should have gone to citizens who spend, not banks who horde. This creates government debt; all money is essentially debt, it says so on bank notes. Our government has run a debt making budget since 1694, which is a good thing as it fortifies the value of our currency and to repay that debt would be to essentially obliterate that money. If you believe in growth you do not want the repayment of debt or to run a budget surplus; the only need to do this would be to calm an economy that is overheating and growing too quickly, which ours is certainly not doing. When an economy is stuck, the government racks up debt and the economy grows once more. There is an argument that the system of growth itself is fundamentally flawed but this being a modern barometer of international success, it is fair to show how even on their own terms the government get this arse about face.

On top of the basic relationship of tax we have a coming jobs apocalypse through the dawn of mass automation. The https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/ is a handy tool to see how threatened your current job is from automation; robots essentially. Many believe this to be the next big economic revolutionary moment after the agricultural, industrial and technological ones we have already experienced in our species history. Some, the capitalists and shareholder class at the top of the heap, welcome it with open arms – no more staff costs, benefits and other personnel overheads; just multitudes of unpaid automatons who require no labour laws, take no breaks and never get sick or take holidays. There are others, everyone else, who see this, or should see this, as the biggest threat to our jobs and security that there has ever been. If we don’t make preparations to cope with what is coming then we will see a new, extreme Luddism in the first instance, outright revolution the next, and complete anarchy the result; since emotionless robots will also be the military force defending the ruling classes from any dictatorship of the proletariat to put it in stark Marxist terminology. Do you trust the current rulers of the world; its capitalist elite to look after their newly redundant workforces? It is only through a progressive system of taxation and via a universal basic income that we can avoid this.

To begin with taxation. The wealthiest people in the land often quote a very misleading statistic that the top 1% pay 27% of tax in the UK. Why is this misleading? Because it considers only income tax as a direct method of taxation and ignores all the other taxes which hit the poorest the hardest, such as VAT, council tax etc. When all forms of taxation are taken in to account, the lowest quintile of all households pay 36.6% of their income in taxes while the wealthiest quintile pay 34.6%. A proper, progressive tax system would reverse this and go much further than that. There is more to progressive taxation than just whacking a few percent on income tax and expecting that to work – this is only part of the solution.

In addition to increased income tax for high earners we require a financial transactions tax to take a small percent (less than 1%) from each transaction involving a UK based financial operator, this would raise several billion pounds alone for the exchequer. Obviously the UK’s nexus of tax havens must be closed for good; and we must avoid becoming one ourselves in the wake of an increasingly right-wing Brexit – this can be achieved by arming the HMRC with enough people to do the job of tax collection again – opening regional offices and offshore offices in those areas where so much capital sits, untouched by the Chancellor. Their role can be enhanced with stricter penalties for tax evasion – current laws are weak in this area and evasion should cover a wider scope with custodial sentences the norm. Not paying tax is theft from the public, pure and simple.

Capital gains tax should be taxed at the same rate as income; at the moment many people can alter what is in essence a wage, turn it into a capital gain and have it taxed at a lower rate; this is another legal dodge of tax which must be stamped out. On inheritance, specifically housing, it should also be subject to tax with people exempted only if they choose to live in that house as owner / occupier; otherwise the government collects an income tax rate on that property when it is sold; alternatively the government could buy the whole property at 80% of market value to create much needed social housing. Full VAT should be charged to all share dividend pay-outs too; for too long the idle owners of capital have gone untouched while doing nothing for their earnings.

A wealth tax should be in place alongside income tax. Anyone with holdings in property, shares or cash of more than £1m will be subject to a 2% rate per annum on their wealth, or at the bank of England base rate, whichever is lower. This way, the person doesn’t lose out in terms of the growth of their portfolio, but the exchequer gets something back for creating the economy and circumstances in which this individual got rich. If anything is discovered to be undeclared it immediately becomes property of the state.

The regressive council tax could be abolished and replaced by a land tax aimed at those who own land but use it for no decent purpose. The current council tax system encourages rogue landlords who amass property and need pay nothing towards the upkeep of individual areas – the tax being passed on to their tenants. The more the land is worth, the more tax the owner shall pay – or the they can sell the land to the government to create social housing on it for one half of the market rate. Interest relief on mortgages has long been offered to landlords and denied to owner-occupiers; this should be reversed, costing the exchequer less and putting the burden where it belongs.

The biggest change our society needs to avert the potential chaos however is a universal basic income. We already have something in this country called the Living Wage Foundation which is what it says on the tin, it ascertains what is needed, financially speaking, to live a wholesome life in our society; there is a London rate and a rate for the rest of the country. There is a growing body of evidence that this amount should be granted to every citizen, every week or month, for free. This is the complete opposite of austerity, which has failed everyone in this country other than the already wealthy. It guarantees the money needed for life, and anything earned on top of that is just extra cash. It is pure socialist radicalism, and at the moment is being trialled in an area of Finland very successfully.

This is where a progressive tax system can lead. It can give us the money to be truly innovative with individual, universal and unconditional payments to all citizens of this nation. The political right like to talk about freedom but they speak only of the freedom of capital when you boil their jargon down; this creates freedom of the person and of the intellect. Imagine what people could do with their time if they didn’t spend 12 hours a day getting to, coming from, and working in a job they hate. They could spend their time with their families or their friends, they could create great art, they could continue to work but they would have the chance to find work that rewarded and was absolutely necessary to their own, and their company’s growth, in all senses of that word. We will rethink how and why we work, ensure the best conditions for the workforce. A universal basic income will be fraud resistant and reduce inequalities; for the first time men and women will be paid the same, not just for their work, but just for being. It will abolish poverty and give rise to, as well as reward mass charitable behaviour. It will strengthen our democracy by giving everyone a stake from birth in their nation, and how it moves forward. It will be a truly glorious revolution, finally replacing that nonsense in 1688 as owner of the term.

Those who currently own capital will be against it on instinct, but they need not lose out themselves. They can go on owning the things they own and making what they make but the necessity of their produce will be tested. Minimum wage work will be a thing of the past once automation fully arrives. We need to decide now whether we throw huge swathes of people on the scrapheap or we start living the utopian idealism that was once only dreamt of, but could, for the first time, become reality.

Election Reflections

Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Maggie Thatcher, Jim Davidson, General Pinochet, Jimmy Savile… your boys took one hell of a beating. Well, no, not ultimately they didn’t but it was certainly a bloody nose for the reactionary and hateful among us. For two years, the progressive left have had mud and worse slung at it by all corners of power and came out fighting in the election campaign; fighting to the point that just another 3000 more votes in key marginal constituencies would have meant a working parliamentary majority for Jeremy Corbyn. That, frankly, is incredible when you consider where Labour were at the start of the campaign just 8 weeks ago.

There was much bitterness following election night with the spin machine going into overdrive. News presenters and comedy shows were still battering the Labour Party, trying to massage the result into an out-and-out defeat but 318 v 262 seats does not tell a whole story, despite what Ian Hislop and his ilk might think. Jeremy Corbyn’s party achieved the highest increase in votes for the Labour Party since 1945, and the most votes overall since the landslide win of 1997. It’s a peculiarity of our system that Corbyn achieved more votes in 2017 than Tony Blair did in 2005, and yet 2005 was a Labour landslide. Our voting system is broken; when the Green Party can get more than double the vote of the DUP but only have one MP to their 10 something is very wrong.

Some people have been gracious enough to accept they were wrong about Corbyn, people in his own parliamentary party in particular. Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna and like-minded MPs were quick to say they were wrong. However, Chris Leslie was stupid enough to say a different leader would have won the election and it is unlikely that the hateful Ian Austin will change his tune, despite the fact that left-Labour MPs, particularly Corbyn supporters, increased their majorities and Austin’s for example slipped from over 4000 to just 22; this has much to do with his own spiteful attacks on progressives, his cowardly attacks and threats on Labour members and his wholly unparliamentary approach being a representative MP. There is clearly some work still to do on the attitude of what out media like to call “Labour moderates”, who are in fact a hard-right faction.

The media too were contrite, even in the so-called liberal papers. John Rentoul, Owen Jones, Nick Cohen, Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee et. al. were all dining out on humble pie after writing such scurrilous diatribes in the last year about the Labour leader. While apologies are welcome and will be no doubt accepted from the magnanimous Mr Corbyn, questions must be asked about these “pundits”; they were wrong at the 2015 election, wrong on the EU referendum, wrong on the American election and wrong again; why do these people (who command huge salaries in a dying industry) continue to be given the paper, not to mention TV breakfast sofas, to tell us about politics when they clearly have little more clue than Barry down the pub, and he has a tattoo on his neck. It’s not good enough; I’m a librarian – if I am shit at being a librarian I’ll be fired. Plenty of librarians have been laid off without being shit at it come to that. They apologise for being wrong and in the same breath tell us what to expect next; my advice would be to expect the opposite of what they say.

Little should be expected of the right-wing press going forward. We expected their virulent attacks in the final week of the election and they duly got stonking great hard-ons for putting pictures of Jeremy Corbyn next to terrorists and other undesirables to try and invent a connection between them. Thankfully much of the public saw through this, now standard Linton Crosby technique of playing the man and not the ball. Whatever happens, they won’t change because their guarantee for subservience to the Tory cause was no doubt a promise to not implement the more regulatory elements of the Leveson recommendations. Certainly younger voters are too savvy now for this level of contemptible bile; the new media age is here and what terrifies the press barons is that they have no power over it – cue the Tories and their surveillance measures. It sometimes feels as though Rupert Murdoch has been the de-facto prime minister since the early 1980s. Communication is changing, faster than the old methods can keep up with and with each passing generation they lose more of their power.

So now what? Currently we have a situation where Theresa May called an election to strengthen her majority in Parliament, she has utterly failed to do so and has in-fact lost seats which makes it a hung parliament. She claimed if the Tories lost just six seats she would no longer be prime minister, but here she is clinging to her crumbling nest like a dying fledgling on Springwatch. Yet more evidence, were it needed, that Theresa May is a liar; and a power hungry one at that. Like her predecessor David Cameron and his love affair with hubris, she thought she could arrogantly go to the country and tell them how to vote, and she, like him, was found out.

The parliament isn’t as hung as the numbers suggest with Sinn Fein not taking their seats and the speaker unable to vote, so we see this squalid, filthy exercise of doing deals behind closed doors with the bat-shit crazy DUP; a party who think women need the state in their vaginas, want to abolish love between the same sex and think beer has no place at a beer festival! The price they will extract from the Conservatives, from our Parliament and from British people can only be guessed at from behind a sofa.

The price the Tories may pay in a party political sense could be much greater. While the Tories are the nasty party, we’ve seen nothing yet, the DUP make UKIP look like Lib Dems. The British people are about to get a lot of exposure to the DUP and they will be horrified with what they see. Already a DUP councillor has put a doctored image on Twitter of number 10 Downing Street with the flag of the Ulster Volunteer Force flying above it – this is a proscribed terrorist group under UK law, but the DUP are staunchly loyal to it. There are many in the Conservative Party that will not tolerate a retrograde step on issues such as LGBT rights, abortion etc. Alan Duncan and Damian Green are proof that the Tories, and many of their voters have moved on; either they are fully accepting of LGBT rights or they understand it is a battle lost – the DUP want to drag us all back decades in this area. It won’t be surprising if they bring back witchfinders – throwing women in lakes to see if they float.

A week on we have already had a long delay for the Queen’s speech which is now scheduled for Wednesday 21st June and that will be the first real test of the robustness of this parliament. If it is in any way controversial it will be rejected by progressive Tories and it won’t take much to tip the balance of power away from their party as I would fully expect the prospective legislative agenda to be voted against by all parties other than the DUP, and Sinn Fein with their permanent abstention. If it fails, Jeremy Corbyn may be invited to form a minority government but it is unlikely there would be wide parliamentary support for radical reform; a general election would be the more likely outcome. Personally I hope Theresa May does survive for the time being, and I will enjoy watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart for maybe 12 months as the demands of the DUP become ever more outlandish and the fiscal woe of Brexit bites us further. We are already seeing wage growth lag far behind inflation and this shows no sign of letting up. This parliament is doomed to a failure out of its own control, let the Tories take ownership of the disaster they begun.