Politics & History

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.

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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.

Higher Education since 2010

Since 2010 Universities have undergone some of the largest upheavals of any area of the public sector. The changing nature of funding and fees has seen great uncertainty across HE which has been used to justify restructures, pay cuts against inflation and increasing demands on staff. The squeeze on staff comes from the newly “business orientated” management style which has quickly gained prominence as the way to run Higher Education Institutions in the UK and also from increasingly challenging students who now, rightly, expect top level service for their ever-increasing tuition fees.

To take the first, and to many staff, the most important area of pay, UNISON has calculated that the last time university staff received a pay rise in line with the RPI (retail price index) figure of inflation was 2009-10, during the last Labour Government. Since the Conservative-led coalition and their full administration in 2015 university staff have lost thousands of pounds in real terms due to falling pay settlements.

Had pay rises only kept up with inflation, someone on the lowest pay point of £14,767 p.a. would now be earning £16,194. To some that extra money would be a family holiday, but to many on the lowest level of the pay-ladder it is the difference between eating and heating: it is no coincidence that UNISON is once again this year running a loan scheme for the purchase of school uniforms for members’ kids.

Below is a table of sample wages; what they currently are, and what they would be if those salaries had kept up with inflation. The third column is the difference.

Current Salary Inflation Matched Loss
£14767 £16194 £1427
£17310 £19640 £2330
£20400 £23207 £2807
£23620 £26902 £3282
£28143 £32085 £3942

Of course, matching inflation wouldn’t solve the problem of low pay and would in-fact increase the pay gap between better off and poorer workers. UNISON would like to see a progressive pay deal that recognises the lowest-paid workers in our universities. Matching inflation is no panacea but it would have been a start. In the last seven years all support staff and most academic staff have had to make do with an average of 1% p.a. while the pay of those at the top of the HE disappears over the horizon and heads for Never Never Land.

We should also consider students that are impacted by these unprecedented fees; fees levied by a generation who received their degrees completely free for the most part. The average cost of a single year tuition at a university in England (still free in Scotland for Scottish students) is now $11,534. (the Student Loan Repayment Calculator uses dollars to ascertain fees around the world). This has shown that England is the most costly place to study in the world; ahead of even the USA. Denmark, France, Norway, and Sweden maintain free education while a nominal fee of less than £500 covers Germany, Belgium and France. All of which is an indictment of those running the fifth largest economy in the world and speaks to their unwillingness to accept that education is an investment by a country in its own future.

As things stand, before increased fees come in, and before there is any sell-off of student debt and a change in interest rates, the Intergenerational Foundation has conducted research to suggest the average graduate will still owe £60,000 in tuition fees alone 30 years after leaving university.

In the coming election the Conservatives have pledged to keep the public sector pay cap and raise tuition fees. Labour have pledged to remove the public sector pay cap and make higher education free for those who wish to study.

Student Loan

 

A Personal Political Post

Whenever I write about politics I try and source the things I am saying, and I use statistics a lot to emphasise the points I am trying to make. I don’t pretend that there isn’t a personal slant to it, or a bias involved but I very rarely write about my own feelings concerning politics in any kind of coherent way; I react, shout, get angry etc. but those are hear of the moment responses to an ongoing situation or a developing narrative. I thought I might take some time to document my own experiences with politics and why I feel what I feel about Labour, The Tories, Jeremy Corbyn and so on.

I used to work for the civil service, the Department of Health to be exact, from 2000-2006. Prior to this I wasn’t very politicised, I knew little and read less about politics. My newspaper of choice was The Sun and my favourite journalist was Richard Littlejohn. I knew nothing about immigrants and wouldn’t have considered it a bad thing to “send them all back”, or words to that effect. What I noticed while working for the civil service was that the people around me didn’t think like that, it wasn’t an echo chamber for what I now know to be right-wing views, but rather a place where people exchanged ideas and thought much more deeply about the cause and effect of government policy. I found myself unable to talk to colleagues on nights out after work, because the conversations didn’t revolve around football, cars, tits and immigration; I didn’t like that and I realised that when I tried to contribute I made a fool of myself, despite my colleagues being very inclusive at all times.

I decided to start reading things, I didn’t really know what to read or where to start, I read a variety of books, some with a right-wing feel, some with a left wing feel; I tried the Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian while they were still all proper broadsheets – the Financial Times scared me. Eventually I settled down to the Independent and swallowed its comment pages whole; Steve Richards, Johan Hari, Robert Fisk were my favourites, particularly on foreign affairs; by this time we’re in a post-9/11 world and everything is about extremism and the war on terror. I found the Middle East to be much more complicated than “we should just bomb the lot of them”; that sounds stupid but that was my attitude, and the attitude of so many of my (non-work) peers, and it remains the attitude of so many who refuse to grow intellectually and try understand the issues at play in a global context.

Fast forward to the present-day I have read and understood a lot more than I ever thought I was capable of. I was brought up in a school system that taught me I was stupid and my place was in factories, on an assembly line for the rest of my life, building things for the upper classes to buy. My school had the attitude of “if you’re already clever, we’ll help you be cleverer, if you don’t show a natural aptitude for learning, fuck you”. I was inculcated with the message that “higher education isn’t for the likes of you”. Now, when I tell people I left school with no GCSE’s they find it hard to believe.

My experience with the education system shows what the Tories do to working class kids who aren’t exceptional. As soon as a Labour government came in, as I left the school, new buildings shot up, the curriculum changed, the levels of support for children who weren’t succeeding was increased. Still some kids fell through the net, but they weren’t plucked out of it and thrown overboard in to the deep blue as the Tories did. The Tories are terrified of an educated working class; because an uneducated people is much easier to manipulate and cajole through the politics of fear. This is the Tories all over, they protect and help those that need neither protection nor help; it is their policy for children and their policy for everything else; from the sick to security needs, from taxation to wealth distribution.

I hear people, usually older people (sorry but it’s true), complain about Labour and generally regurgitate what they have read in the Express or that other proto-fascist rag they read on a day to day basis. I hear them and I struggle not to turn my nose up at them. I know I understand the arguments better than they do, I know I have read more about it, I know that they are turkeys voting for Christmas in most cases, particularly the working class elderly. I have no doubt that comes across as arrogance, it isn’t meant to, if all you read are editorials in the Daily Mail on immigration, then I’m sorry but you don’t understand immigration enough to make an informed comment on it. You wouldn’t let someone replace the exhaust on your car just because they subscribe to Top Gear magazine, but you’re happy to let people vote in a government who open their eyes to the tiniest, narrowest corner of the national debate. And those of us that take the time to understand things are considered “the liberal elite”; there is nothing elite about me, or my friends; just a desire to understand things, learn and make things better – the smarter people are, the more likely they are to be left wing.

Going back to working for the civil service, it is where I met my partner, now my wife. She stayed there until very recently (laid off and now there is no one to do the job she left, but it still needs doing) and while the type of work was never her cup of tea; the bureaucracy and red tape really is a problem, since 2010 when the Tories got in I watched her really struggle. Week after week she would cry herself to sleep on Sunday nights knowing that the next day she had to go in, and give her all towards implementing a government policy she knew was wrecking the NHS, there were other factors too but I witnessed what the Tory machine does to workers first hand – of all my ex-colleagues that remained at the Department of Health, I don’t think there was one that didn’t suffer some kind of mental anguish about what the Tories were doing; and yet none of them can speak out because of the apparent independence of the civil service.

I look at people such as Theresa May, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson; any of them, and think; would I want you to be my boss, could I go to you with a problem, would you understand if I am struggling mentally, financially? I don’t think they would get it, I think they would ignore it or tell me to pull myself together. I look at their opposite numbers in the Labour Party, Corbyn, Thornberry et al. and I know they would be sympathetic; capable of understanding what I was saying and empathising. Most of the time choosing who to vote for is based on who has the best ideas, but it is also about the people themselves and I see no warmth at all in 90% of Tories; that figure is almost exactly reversed when I think of Labour MPs.

It is only because of progressive governments and indeed oppositions that the Conservatives have moved anywhere at all politically. If it wasn’t for the expansion of the vote, the creation of trade unions and their Labour Party, we would still have a Tory government arguing for the retention of child workers in cotton factories, for denying the franchise to women, for marginalising Jews, black people and all other faiths and races, for continuous Empire and colonialism, for the differentiation between deserving and undeserving poor, for the disabled and unmarried to be locked away. It comes down to this; conservatives enter politics to see what they can get out of it for themselves, progressives go in to politics to see what they can give of themselves for others. I’ll forever be with the latter, under whichever party banner or leader it may be; to be anything else would be as foolish as it is immoral.

On Prevent

In 2015 a tranche of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy known as Prevent came in to force. It claims to respond to and grapple with the ideological challenge our society faces from terrorism, and seeks to prevent (hence the name) vulnerable people falling in to bad ways; it is supposed to stop those who have negative thoughts against the state turning them in to negative actions. What it also does is demand of anyone in a public service provision role to be a judge of whether someone seems “dodgy” and to report that person to the police. The requirement covers a wide range of sectors; schools, the NHS, job centres, universities etc and it is this part of it where the problem arises. No one has the skills to be able to tell who is an extremist and who is not. Terrorism experts study for years to try and work out the mind of a potential terrorist, their motivations and drivers, and even they get it wrong much of the time; so how can an hour’s training spent with a (private sector) government course provider possibly get the results the government wants?

Here is a for instance; I am a university librarian, I see a young Asian man, long beard and robes reading a book called Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam – that man is potentially someone who should be reported according to the Prevent agenda. However, that is a real book and it is on real academic reading lists that are teaching real counter-terrorism methods. The man is more than likely reading it as part of his coursework for one of these modules; with a view to perhaps moving into the field of counter-terrorism after his studies have concluded; but I am told I have to assume he is up to no good “to be on the safe side” and “for the greater good”.

Perhaps that sounds far-fetched to you, but I’m afraid it is happening. In February 2015 in Portsmouth, a GCSE student (not even an adult) was reading a school library book on terrorism that was part of the curriculum. The librarian informed the school principle and the principle in turn called the police who then visited the student and his family to question why their son was reading said book. If my experience of school was anything to go by the librarian should have been grateful he/she had a customer at all rather than assuming that customer was engaging in nefarious activities, and plotting some kind of “event”.

It isn’t only teenagers that are at risk of base assumptions too. A refugee child was at a nursery after fleeing his home country with his family from Syria; one of the few lucky ones we allowed in I suppose. The child spoke almost no English at all and was drawing pictures quietly on his own.  The keen-eyed -nursery staff spotted that these drawings were of planes dropping bombs; rather than alerting a medical professional to what was clearly some kind of post-traumatic stress, the staff phoned the police, who subsequently questioned members of the family and children independently, raising their voices because the family couldn’t understand what they were being asked; the police officers in question coming from the ‘Allo ‘Allo division I’m thinking. Presumably the authorities believe ISIS has opened some kind of half-arsed YTS scheme aimed at the under 5’s.

Presently an average 60 children a week are referred to the police through the Prevent agenda, of those in the most recent year, out of 2311 child referrals, 352 were aged nine or under. I went to an Irish Catholic school in the 80s; the police never came and asked me my opinions on Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness; teachers we’re expected to work out whether I held deeply sectarian views and threw darts at a picture of William of Orange of a night. It was never assumed I might have been harbouring industrial quantities of Semtex or C4 or that my sketches of soldiers were paramilitaries instead of the poor attempt at a Battle of the Somme artwork we were drawing in art class.

Criminalising children because of nothing more than their racial or religious origins is abhorrent and worse, with regards to the government’s goals, counter-productive. If you target people from a young age they will know nothing other than to mistrust the security services. You will breed in them a level of hatred for authority that can only manifest itself negatively in the years to come; whether that anger is externalised is another matter but by criminalising the banal we are ghettoising the thought process leading to anger and a deep-seated loathing of traditional power structures. Black people still inherently mistrust the police for the years of institutionalised racism; we are creating now an Asian/British mix of people who are slowly being taught to despise all our public services, and view them as areas of society in which they are not welcome. This is exactly how you create terrorists, not how build a culture where they cannot thrive.

As a nation we expect people to look at themselves and be better; but we are unwilling to turn that mirror on ourselves, afraid of what that reflection might show. Our own domestic and foreign policy for decades now has shown people of other races or creeds that they are not welcomed or permitted to be different. We believe our actions in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq etc. have had no effect on the people who trace their origins to these countries; indeed one of the things to look out for explicitly according to Prevent is a pro-Palestinian bias on the subject of the Middle East peace process. A perfunctory reading of one of our tabloids on any given day will show a nation with a deep unease of religious difference, particularly of Muslims; these are the type of stories that used to be told about Jews pre-1940s but still they are written and read as though they were gospel. Do we think people don’t notice these things; and then they are told they don’t integrate; would you want to integrate with people who have shown you time and again you are about as welcome as a vegan at a barbecue?

We must move past this fetish for trying to pre-empt the criminal mind and finding ways of halting its progress that are inclusive as opposed to divisive, that are no longer reductive and see a much wider picture. There will always be crack-pots who utilise something they don’t understand, or a cause they feel narrow affiliation to, to justify their own murderous intent. These people are criminally insane first and foremost, anything else they claim are just the ravings of a lunacy wedded to its own victimhood. But if this is about preventing ideology then why do we keep adding fuel to their dogmatic fire through our own actions both at home and abroad? It is only through accepting and treating people equally from day one that we will defeat terrorism. Terror is man-made through political and societal intolerance, and the solution can only be found in its antonym.