Politics and Economics

Bring on the Next One

I’m feeling nostalgic! And it’s not just the pops and hisses of vinyl as one of my old cherished albums enjoys a spin once again. There is something satisfying about the ritual of getting a disk out of the sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable lifting the arm into place and settling back to enjoy the music. The contemporary option of a few clicks that will let you hear anything that you want on Spotify just isn’t the same. Now it seems to me, that another of my youthful rituals may have been revived.

 

When I was younger, quite a bit younger in fact, I had number of jobs that saw me experience an variety of different workplaces. I have worked in factories, offices and shops; I have been employed, self-employed and, at times unemployed. Whilst I was a student, for example, I worked on the track at Vauxhall Motors making body shells for the infamous Vauxhall Chevette; after my studies I managed overseas aid projects for the British Council, for the last 20 years I have been a self-employed builder.

 

From age 18, I was a member of the Labour Party and a Trades Unionist. In my various workplaces that was always a common thread. As an active trades unionist, I was always busy with politics and never more so than in the run up to a general election. Then, I, and others, would be mobilised, we would be talking to our colleagues on the shop floor, holding meetings and reminding people of the need to vote Labour. There would, of course be dissent, there would be debate and there would also be apathy but, by and large, there was, at least, engagement with the process. We would also invite speakers along to talk to our members and anyone else who was interested. Indeed, when I was chair of NUPE at the University of London, we had none other than Jeremy Corbyn along on a number occasions. Thatcher’s destruction of the Trades Union Movement, aided and abetted, of course by Kinnock, Blair et al, put paid to most of that. From the early eighties until very recently, in my experience, talk of politics in the workplace has been almost conspicuous by its absence. I have to admit that, from the advent of Kinnock, I too lost interest and let my membership and with it my political activism lapse somewhat.

 

This latest election campaign has been a revelation to me. I have for the first time really engaged with social media. The debate on platforms like Facebook and Twitter is lively and it is simply wonderful to see new online outlets like The Canary, Open Democracy and even the seemingly tireless one-man band that is Another Angry Voice presenting us with a real alternative to the billionaire owned mainstream media, not to mention the Tory supporting BBC. And all of this seems to have worked, it has been instrumental in motivating, yes, certainly the youth, but even old baby boomers like me into action. It was so heartening, for the first time in decades to see friends and family of all ages debating politics and posting and sharing articles exposing the nasty and lying Tory media for what it is. I thank god political debate is alive and well and I can look forward to the long absent ritual of discussion and argument even if it is on a keyboard rather than the factory floor. Technology isn’t all bad.  Perhaps, at last, the www is fulfilling the purpose that it’s founders hoped for.  Fingers crossed the next election campaign is not too far over the horizon.

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Politics and Economics

Labour and Electability

Probably the most recent indicator that New Labour are not so committed to that elusive electability that they seem to keep insisting that Jeremy Corbyn must embrace, is the fact that during the recent leadership election they prevented new members, supporters and affiliates who had previously expressed support for other parties from voting. The basic maths that dictates that they lost the last election and are unlikely to win the next one without the support of voters who cast their ballot for other parties last time seems to have escaped them. However, they seem to have a history of being blinkered in respect of the need to gain and retain supporters.

Following the landslide election of New Labour in 1997 with Blair’s personal promise to “govern in the interest of the many”, the Labour Party began to lose popularity and even managed to shed over half of it’s own membership. In the ’97 manifesto, Blair had boasted of over 400,000 members; a number swelled, no doubt, by those desperate to bring an end to 18 years of Thatcherite policies. Unfortunately for them, by 2007, as New Labour was forging ahead with a neoliberal agenda, membership had fallen to an all time low of 180,000. The rose tinted glasses had also fallen from eyes of the electorate; the 2nd and 3rd Blair victories were taken with a shrinking percentage of the vote (1997–43.2%, 2001–40.7%, 2005–35.2%). If an enterprise was losing market share at this rate, it would be seriously concerned. After all, if you want to fill a bucket with water, first thing to do is stop any leaks, otherwise you are on a hiding to nothing. Incredibly though, New Labour’s strategists seemed to be offering nothing to try to stem the flow. It appeared that New Labour were more committed to destroying the party’s socialist heritage and alienating their core vote than taking on the Tories or even winning elections? According to Ed Miliband, 5m voters were lost by Labour in the Blair years most of whom did not migrate to other parties, they just stopped voting.

One of the first moves of the New Labour’s “government of the many” was financial deregulation; they handed the, snouts in the trough, city fat cats free reign to extract all the wealth they could from the less well off and hive it away to their offshore havens. The finance sector is non-productive, it creates no wealth, it only creams it off. Inequality has rocketed since deregulation. All the way through to the 2008 recession and since, even in these times of so called austerity, the rich have continued to get richer whilst both Tory and Labour insist that “we must live within our means”.

Blair’s Labour had embraced what they called modernisation. What, it seems, was meant by this though was, first to allow the Tory right to dictate the terms of political debate, then to adopt the right wing neoliberal agenda as their own; socialism was old fashioned, adopting free market philosophy was modern. Traditional leftist, and trade unionist parliamentary candidates were ditched in favour of a new professional political class. New Labourites were drawn from what most would consider privileged backgrounds; they appeared be more focussed on their own post parliamentary careers than in any form of democratic socialism. New Labour had become a stepping stone into the higher echelons of big business.

Another big turn-off for voters was, of course, foreign policy. The nation was obviously divided over the Iraq war. The biggest demonstrations ever seen in the UK were mounted in opposition to the invasion. Polls showed a huge split in public opinion. It would surely have been obvious even to Tony Blair that the bigger percentage of those opposed to war would be Labour supporters; he chose, however, to defy not only senior figures within the party and public opinion but also the UN and his decision to join Bush and go to war once again alienated many Labour supporters.

Labour having lost so much ground, the 2010 election produced no overall winner and in the biggest blunder of his political career, Clegg took the Lib Dems into a coalition with the Tories, an act for which they would be severely punished in the following election; their vote plunged from 23% in 2010 to just 8% in 2015. It would be expected that the Labour Party would benefit from this popular rejection of Tory neoliberal policy, New Labour, however, failed to capitalise and managed only a feeble 1% increase in the popular vote. Perhaps the reason that they became so insistent that, in order to win, they must take votes from the Tories was more of an admission that with their political agenda , their was little hope of gaining them from anywhere else.

It would appear that New Labour were happy to lose voters, whether by purging new supporters or, by offering no opposition to the Tories, thereby invoking voter apathy, . The less well off, the disenfranchised and hard done by workers no longer saw the Labour Party as their political voice. New Labour may have embraced the free market and may bleat on about “choice” but it would seem that when it comes to political parties and policies and even to elections, real choice is something to be strictly avoided. Given their way, the electorate would be restricted to a choice between bad and worse.

The resurgent popularity of Labour with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader has seen the right wing of the party go to the most extraordinary lengths to wrest back power. In an incredible act of sabotage they have conspired with the Tory media in undermining not just Corbyn but, at the same time the Labour Party itself. Following his second leadership election win, one of New Labour’s memes has become “he doesn’t have a monopoly on principle” but their willingness to lie and cheat their way back into power seems to go a long way towards demonstrating that maybe he does. They would do well to look back at their own 1997 election manifesto; the one that saw Labour sweep to victory and in which Blair himself said “people are cynical about politics and distrustful of political promises…I want to renew faith in politics through a government that will govern in the interests of the many”.

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Politics and Economics, Uncategorized

It’s my Pension!

I was talking with a friend recently about his buy to let in the South West and got the not uncommon repsonse that it was his pension. He had nothing to look forward to other than the state pension and so, to improve his situation, had bought a modest house to let in order to give him some income. There is a lot to be read into that situation, not least that he didn’t expect the state pension to suffice, despite him being a relatively modest and frugally living person. That, however, is for another day. The issue that I found interesting that day was that, my friend, a decent person, was happy to consider living off of someone else’s hard work.

In the UK today, the average renter pays 50% of their take home pay on rent (considerably more if they live in the south east). So all day monday, all day tuesday and half of wednesday the tenant is working for their landlord. That, you may think,is fair enough; they have to stay somewhere. But is 50% of their income really fair? What, after all, is the landlord giving them in return? Not very much really; the house or flat remains the property of the landlord, who can, and usually does, dictate the decor; they often insist that their furnishings remain and that nothing can be hung on the walls thereby keeping it just a roof over their head and preventing the tenant from making it their home. Despite paying an average of £900 per month, many tenants will attest that landlords grumble and complain when they have to spend money on maintenance or repairs to their property. For the most part, it would seem, they want to take and take and give nothing. On top of all this, of course, they have, in the property, a growing asset.

The tenant on the contrary gets little in return for devoting half of their working life to the landlord, usually on Short Assured Tenancies, they have no little or no security. They have all sorts of restrictive clauses foisted on them, at the landlord’s will, forbidding pets, children, smoking or whatever the landlord fancies really. They live in fear of losing their jobs because housing benefit is rarely enough to cover these excessive rents. It doesn’t appear to be what one might call a win win situation; there is only one winner in these transactions. It really doesn’t seem fair.

And things are becoming less fair. Home ownership is falling in the UK. More and more people are being priced out by the buy to letters and with no low cost or social housing to speak of, they have no option but to rent from a private landlord, someone who just happens to be lucky enough to have the capital or the creditworthiness behind them to buy the property. Can it be fair that the tenant has no option but to hand over at least half of their hard earned wages to ensure that someone already better off than them has a very comfortable retirement indeed?

My friend, that day, was quick to tell me that he hadn’t really thought of it in these terms and I’m sure he hadn’t. He had just thought that he was charging a “market” rent so that must be fair and, of course, “lots of other people are doing it”. I doubt that he will give up being a landlord but I do hope that he has come to understand that the property is not funding his retirement, his tenant’s labour is.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jul/16/tenants-in-england-spend-half-their-pay-on-rent

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/02/home-ownership-in-england-at-lowest-level-in-30-years-as-housing-crisis-grows

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Uncategorized

Corbyn

I am old enough to remember when the Labour Party was the party of the workers. I, back then, was a NUPE branch secretary and, it so happens, Jeremy Corbyn was our organiser. Unfortunately, those days have most certainly gone and union membership has plummeted but Jeremy has changed little.

I am ashamed to say that my generation became the most selfish and greediest generation in history. We have sold off the public utilities, the building societies and social housing; we have pushed the price of property out of the reach of the next generation, and so, we rent it to them and make ourselves, wealthier in both cash and assets in the process. We also want to give less of our wealth to the needy; basic income tax rates have halved in my lifetime. Furthermore, we have amassed both personal and national debts at levels which would have been inconceivable to my parents generation. On the back of all of this avarice, the Labour Party has slewed to the right and has adopted the tailored suited, media savvy posturing that has been dictated by right wing press. Fail to look the part or to measure up to the media model and you are right royally ridiculed.

When Jeremy Corbyn, the complete antithesis of that model, stood for the leadership, I, like most, assumed he had little chance of winning. I was delighted to be proven wrong and more delighted that it was the younger generation that secured his victory. The young know that we need change, we need to pull this country back from the neo-liberalist agenda that my generation, aided by New Labour, has been instumental in pushing forward. It may be an uphill struggle, we may be facing a hostile media but that should not mean that we give up. Don’t take hope away from the new, young left by sliding back towards the right and leaving them disenfranchised once more just in order to appease the media bosses. It may take a while, Rome, as they say, was not built in a day but what we must do is to persevere. We have to make it clear that we are not going anywhere and not only that but also that we are a growing voice calling for a more compassionate, kinder and tolerant politic. We have to stop the rich enriching themselves even more at the cost of the less well off.

It was notable that, in what I witnessed, of the little media coverage that Jeremy was afforded over the referendum, he talked almost exclusively about jobs and workers rights and conditions. That is exactly where the labour party should be. Let the parasitic marketeers and currency traders look out for themselves. The Labour Party was and can be again the party of the workers and those who don’t think it can or don’t want to be part of it should just go. The rest of us need to keep shouting the message loud and clear that there is an alternative and more will join us.

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Uncategorized

Electability

I had a meal with some friends last night. The discussion, of course covered the EU, brexit, and Boris. But when the topic eventually arrived at Corbyn, almost in unison, the cry was “he has to go!” Why? Because “he is unelectable”. This, of course, is the message now being broadcast far and wide by the media. Odd, as it may seem, on the very day following such a momentous vote, when most people, even those who voted leave, were concerned with the what, the when and the wherefore of the United Kingdom detatching itself from the EU, the British media, almost as one voice, were rounding on Jeremy Corbyn. It may indeed have seemed a little odd shift of focus but it is not altogether surprising because it had also become apparent that there was an early election in the offing and there is always the potential that we could witness yet another surprise result.

So the media behaved exactly as we would expect, attacking the Labour Party because, post Blair, it has had the impertinence to move leftwards, away from the dominant political ideology of neoliberalism. The acceptable political spectrum is now very narrow. Step outside of it and you will be belittled, castigated and ridiculed. The consequence of the media onslaught, peppered coincidentally with the phrases “he has to go” and “he is unelectable”, is that there becomes a correlation in people’s minds between the name Corbyn and those phrases. Even those on the left blurt it out, almost unthinkingly. I would suggest that, if Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable, that is the reason why and it has little or nothing to do with personality, charisma or even policy.

We have witnessed a surge of support, particularly among younger voters, for the left as personified by Corbyn and that is something that should be celebrated. The youth of today, faced with a world of unemployment, austerity, growing inequality and environmental destruction, are saying “enough”. It seems that they may be less corrupted by the media because they are very adept at sharing ideas outwith the traditional means controlled by media moguls. So, this is not the time for shifting the Labour Party to the right until the media deem it acceptable. Even if the arguments have not yet been won, the left of Labour Party need to carry on until they are, they need to stand their ground, hold on to their principles, because it is principles that matter not, power at any cost. If Labour are unelectable this time around, they need to work hard to make sure that they are next time and, of course, more and more of the younger generation are becoming eligible to vote day on day on day; Labour must not alienate them.

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