Health Privatisation, It’s International.

Written by: JT White
- November 14, 2013

There was hardly any outrage in the air when the Health and Social Care act of 2012 was passed. The act stipulates that NHS doctors take control of their budgets as well as permit them to buy services from private companies. Another stipulation is to allow hospitals to use up to 49% of hospital beds and theatre time to generate private income. The section 75 regulations stipulate that the sectors of the NHS which can’t be ‘provably’ run exclusively by public provision will have to face competition from the private sector. Lord Phillip Hunt said that the regulations will “promote and permit privatisation and extend competition into every quarter of the NHS regardless of patients interests.” He added that the reform will make privatisation the default position as the burden of proof is placed on the shoulders of any commissioner opposed to private health provision.

 

The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has stated that these reforms “remove the legal framework for a universal, publically provided, publically managed, publically planned, democratically accountable health service.” Concurrent to these reforms the Coalition has been underfunding health services. In the first budget of the Coalition government, George Osborne announced a 1% increase in funding for the NHS. Yet that amount falls short of the pace at which health costs rise, which is sometimes 2% or 3% above inflation. There is a correlation to this policy. Waiting lists increased by 43% from 2010 to 2012. Fortunately for David Cameron the media has yet to raise more than a whimper of questions about these reforms. It was Lansley who claimed that the NHS has to face cuts for a shortfall of £10 billion to be avoided. Then this year came talk of a £30 billion shortfall at the end of the decade. The government’s prescription: cuts, cuts, cuts.

 

This is the apogee of decades of health-care policy in this country. The Thatcherites first introduced private companies in the area of cleaning services and even went further to provide contracts to private companies willing to invest in the construction and operation of services. Public-private partnerships were established, effectively subsidising private companies with tax-payer money. The cleaning contracts commissioned from the private sector have led to rising costs for hospitals and a decline in hygiene standards. Out of this came the rise in MRSA. New Labour continued and furthered these developments. The performance targets based on market standards were expanded and health-care professionals were left jumping through even more hoops. The rhetoric of New Labour was decentralisation they offered to ‘free’ hospitals from central control and allow local people to ‘own’ their own hospital.

 

As of 2005 the UK government was looking to shift 10% of the work of existing NHS organisations to the private sector. The NHS signed contracts with eight different health-care providers to set up fast-track treatments centres to treat 250,000 patients over five years. The programme forced some NHS hospitals to close down wards. In 2011 Andrew Lansley was forced to admit that 60 hospitals were on the “brink of financial collapse” as a result of public-private partnerships first started by John Major and expanded under Blair. The hospitals could not meet the high payments being demanded by private companies. The cost of these gluttonous companies feeding off of the public health service has been bared all along by the British tax-payer. Care homes for the elderly have been privatised just as prisons and now the post office have been. The pig-out goes on.

 

Yet these developments are not unprecedented around the world. In Canada it was the Conservative Mike Harris who introduced the public-private partnerships in Ontario to open up public assets to corporations in the financing of new facilities and the operation of support services. Diagnostic clinics for MRIs and CT scans were opened up to private companies. Many have introduced all kinds of hidden costs, with one place even charging $100 for an orange juice. These measures were expanded and deepened by Liberal and Conservative administrations. Almost 30% of Canadian health expenditure came from private payments in 2010. More and more there are user fees for those without private insurance and physicians can block treatment if you don’t pay up. Private health-care payments account for 3.1% of Canadian GDP. The spread and scope of private clinics is being expanded still.

 

Meanwhile in Australia the government of Tony Abbott has confirmed that they will be pursuing the privatisation of Medibank and has not ruled out any further privatisation schemes. Just as the British health system has been underfunded the Australian equivalent has endured cuts in the number of public hospital beds from 74,000 to 54,000 from 1983 to 2009. Effectively this means a 60% cut when the growth in population is taken into account. The Rudd government excluded from the commission’s review, the current 30% rebate for private insurance, which currently costs $3.7 billion annually, so as not to antagonise the insurance companies. The successive Gillard government initiated an austerity programme leading to cuts being set to health budgets in New South Wales of $3 billion, $1.6 billion in Queensland and $616 million in Victoria. So the incremental process of privatisation is not contained to this tired little island.

 

The forces behind these shifts are not just national but international. The yet to be finalised free-trade deal between the US and the EU may well have troubling implications for the future of universal health-care throughout the EU and not just in the British Isles. It looks like the agreement will open up public services – including health – to private investment and ownership. It would appear as though the Bolkestein directive has only been reconstituted in its mission to see the European Union become a mere managerial edifice for a liberal market economy. At the same time we can see Obama has initiated a series of conservative health reforms in one of the few civilised countries without universal coverage. In the sectors that have profited from the chaos of the American situation there are keen eyes for the potential gains in plundering the NHS. We have been denied a debate on the privatisation of health-care, but as we aren’t going to be given one. We should decide for ourselves what kind of society we want to live in and take action.

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Free schools: Won’t somebody think of the children?

Written by: Owen
- October 19, 2013

If you were to ask a member of the current government whether they would ever run the risk of their own children getting a worse education for the sake of upholding a political principle (for example by sending them to an under-performing secular school instead of a higher-achieving religious one, or a dreaded “bog standard comprehensive” instead of a private school), do you think it’s likely they’d say yes?  Most likely the response you’d get would be some variant on “well, principles are all very well, but when it comes down to it you’ve got to do what’s best for your kids, haven’t you?”

This isn’t a completely unreasonable position to take – wanting to do what you think is best for your children is, generally, an admirable trait. The funny thing is, though, that it’s becoming increasingly clear that in his infinite selflessness Michael Gove is perfectly at peace with sacrificing the educations of any number of children for the sake of his political principles. The Al-Madinah Free School debacle has made it abundantly clear that (shockingly enough) giving people state funding to set up and run Free Schools wherever and however they like results in some of these new schools doing a monumentally awful job of educating their students.

What’s truly extraordinary is that no one in the government seems to have considered that there might be a risk of this sort of thing happening to Free schools until now. If you introduce market forces into a sector because you think that’s the only way to spur dynamism and innovation, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock when that sector starts behaving like a market and produces winners and losers. The trouble is that the real losers aren’t the failing schools themselves (though it seems extremely likely that Al-Madinah won’t be the last of those) but rather the children attending those schools. They not only get a poor education while they’re at the failing school, but if it closes down they have their education (and social lives) disrupted by having to move school (if there are even spare school places available where they live, which all too often there won’t be).

There’s an obvious, glaring tension between this and the state’s supposed duty to provide a decent education for every child. Local authority-run state schools can fail too, of course, but there’s massively more scope for things to go wrong at free schools – the staff at local authority-run schools are generally actual qualified teachers, for one thing. Yet the government is pressing ahead with this policy all the same, despite the risks to the education of the children who attend the potentially-failing Free Schools. Presumably that’s OK in Michael Gove’s eyes if it’s not his children who are involved.

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Gee Thanks, Geoffrey.

Written by: JT White
- October 7, 2013

Now that the dust is just about settling in the row over The Daily Mail‘s attack on the Miliband family we might ask what the significance of these events have been. First some background. The attacks came after Ed Miliband made his conference speech wherein – according to right-wing circles – he affirmed some of the most left-wing proposals since War Communism. The gutter press have long had it in for the non-Blairite centrist who resembles a background character from Wallace and Gromit. The accusation frequently hurled at Ed Miliband has been that he is a closet ‘socialist’ in the rabid sense of the term. No amount of cajolery on the part of Miliband could prove to them otherwise. He reached out to Maurice Glasman and embraced Blue Labour to try and wrestle the Conservatives for their newfound Red Toryism and its appeal. Then little Ed was yelping about ‘predistribution’ – redistribution without redistribution in other words – and then he pilfered the prime slogan of a 19th Century Conservative administration. The advent of ‘One Nation’ Labour prompted the hack Matthew D’Ancona to accuse the Labour leader of being “divisively left-wing”.

The days since Miliband’s last speech have been marked by right-wing hysterics about the prospects of a coming socialist state making land grabs and killing off the energy industry in just 20 months. The conservative media had set out to recreate all the hooligan atmosphere of the Cold War and characteristically The Daily Mail went as far as to go after Old Man Miliband. The attack was peculiar in its accusation of anti-British sentiments on the part of a 17 year-old Ralph Miliband. It was first highlighted by The Jewish Chronicle that there was a “whiff” of anti-Semitism around the suggestion of disloyalty on the part of Ralph Miliband. At The Nation, DD Guttenplan noted that “the Mail was careful—the initial attack was written by a hack named Levy, and when it was challenged by the BBC the paper but up not Dacre but a Jewish deputy editor, Jon Steafel, to defend it. (Though even Steafel eventually admitted that the use of Ralph Miliband’s grave was “an error of judgement”).” But it wasn’t just progressives who were perturbed by this smear. It soon became apparent that the Mail had overreached itself.

Around 72% of the public believe that The Daily Mail was wrong to call Ralph Miliband the “man who hated Britain”, while about 69% of people in general and 57% of Mail readers think that the newspaper should apologise. That’s not to say that the article doesn’t have its vociferous defenders. If you have had the noteworthy pleasure of communicating with the kind of people who want to micturate upon the headstone of this grave socialist you may have noticed something. The man’s war record is not enough for them, you may suggest it at least implies loyalty to this country that Miliband fought on our side. Yet the rightist will immediately respond “He fought for Communism, not for Britain” or some other facile attempt to make the charge stick. The fact that the War effort may not have gone our way had it not been for the Russians fighting for motherland – and sustaining more losses than any other army in the War – so this position is vehemently ahistorical. It is no coincidence that the application of abstract principles to this case often comes from the puny minds of those who reckon the Soviet Union was as bad as the Third Reich if not much worse.

The Judeophobes are never too far from the ghouls of anti-Communism. It should be stressed that it is not necessarily racist in intent, but it does fit with a long history and we can’t rule it out for that reason. It has long been a part and parcel of cultural reaction to first claim that the wells are poisoned and then seek out the perpetrators. Again, not necessarily racist as this same logic is at work when conservatives blame the decline of small entrepreneurship on the European ‘superstate’. If you conceive of society as an organic whole where everything is delicately in fine balance then you need a way of accounting for its decay. This is why conservative journalist blamed the riots on everything from Wayne Rooney’s lack of moral fibre, welfare culture, video game violence, ‘black culture’ and the liberal intelligentsia in their agenda to promulgate gay rights and women’s liberation. The case of Geoffrey Levy’s attack on Miliband falls into this special mode of unreason. It is an attempt to associate all the fragmentation of British society with a leftward lurch within the Labour Party, especially if little Ed wins in 2015 then all the mistakes will suddenly be gulag in scale.

All in all it just goes to show that the Mail still identifies with the system to an almost subversive extent. The attack has provoked much sympathy for the departed and his offspring, the books of the Old Man have been rising in sales ever since. The Telegraph responded by re-running its original obituary of the “man who hated Britain”. It was addressed on BBC Question Time where Mehdi Hasan railed against the imbecilic Quentin Letts to much applause. And there was a small protest outside the Mail‘s offices in Kensington. The public sympathise with ‘Red’ Ed even more than they did after his vague pronouncements on the cost of living and promises of a brief energy cap. The people calling for an apology from the Mail overlook that the article has backfired (though not as much as it could have), and that in itself should be seen as a good thing for all concerned with the honour of the late Ralph Miliband. An apology would only serve to redeem the Mail of its lowly behaviour, and we should be grateful for the ferocious stupidity of the paper from time to time. In some ways its good that the right-wing press is not a gliding eagle of civility and integrity. Far from it.

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On the shocking revelation that Mehdi Hassan is a jobbing journalist

Written by: Reuben - October 4, 2013

So the knives are now out for Mehdi Hassan, after he took the opportunity on Question Time to articulate the disgust that millions of British people feel for the Daily Mail.

The Telegraph is gloating, and the twitter right is going wild, over a Daily Mail journalist’s revelations that Medhi Hassan once applied for work with the paper, and in the course of doing so, privately said some fairly flattering things about the paper.

Well golly. Who would have thought that a jobbing journalist might apply for work with a paper that he dislikes and disagrees with. Presumably Tim Shipman – the man who made these explosive revelations – has never applied for a job with any organisation that he happens to dislike. And if he ever did so, his strategy for getting the job would be to walk into the interview room, and tell his prospective employers that he thought they were gits.

Being able to tell people exactly what you think of them all the time is a privilege that is enjoyed by few people other than professional sociopaths and spoilt heirs. And showing a bit of dishonest decency towards one’s prospective employers is nothing compared with using one of the biggest platforms in the country to continually attack the most marginalised people in society.

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David Rovics On the US government shutdown

Written by: Reuben - October 3, 2013

Here’s David Rovics’ rather awesome response to the US government shutdown.

Why don’t they shutdown the military too?!

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Our response to Conservative benefit-baiting must be far more than a defence of welfare

Written by: Reuben - September 30, 2013

If it was not associated with so much human misery, the Tory Party’s approach to the question of unemployment would be pretty amusing. This is the organisation that never misses the opportunity to tell the unemployed that they need to get off their arse. And yet, by any objective measure, it is also the party of mass unemployment. Though their current headline slogan asserts that they are the party that “for hardworking people”, the opportunity to actually work, hard or otherwise, diminishes substantially whenever the Tories are in power.

Yet the power of ideas within society is not simply a function of their validity. Just because we easily show the Tory rhetoric on benefits to be nonsensical, we should not kid ourselves that such rhetoric can simply be swept aside. Benefit baiting carries sway, and not simply because of the Mail and the Sun. Historically, the idea that paid work justify’s the individual’s place within mainstream society has not simply been part of the dominant discourse. It has also, whether we like it or not, figured prominently within the political culture of Britain’s organised working class – from the chartists, who presented themselves as the spokespeople of Britain’s “productive classes” (unlike the financiers, merchants and aristocrats), to the trade unions of the 20th century who typically deployed some kind of labour theory of value to legitimate their claims for higher pay.
This offers some explanation as to why many of Britain’s unemployed millions are reluctant to identify politically as “benefits claimants”. An unemployed man complained to me in Brixton market that other unemployed people who choose not to work were ruining his reputation as an unemployed man. Many of those who are unemployed would much sooner complain about a lack of work than about inadequate, or excessively conditional benefits.

The problem for the left, is that while we have, quite rightly, got very good at rebutting the arguments for slashing benefits, by explaining that unemployment is not the fault of the unemployed, we have said less about the otherside of the equation. That is to say, we haven’t about how UK Economy can be reordered in such a way as to offer decent meaningful work. This is not something that can simply be achieved through legislation – for example a banning of zero-hour contacts – but instead through much more fundamental intervention to reshape the British economy.
This means, for example, drastically reducing the role of markets, both in driving the production (and non-production) of goods and services, and in allocating capital. A publicly funded British Investment Bank, could allocate scarce investment funds to those industries that created the most good jobs, rather than those that simply generated the highest profit for the least risk. A willingness to intervene in the sphere of international trade could protect workers in those circumstances where markets move faster than human beings and industries can readjust. We need a government that actually creates, or at least subsidizes, socially useful, job-rich, industries, such as green energy – even where they make a financial – and thus supports the development of those industries that have a future but right now have no beginning.

In short if are to respond adequately to the benefit-baiting of the tories, then we need to call loudly for policies which, as economist James Meadway put it to me, “make serious inroads into the perogatives of capital”. If we don’t do this then not only will we fail to offer a convincing alternative to the programme of austerity and privatization. We will also miss a huge opportunity. After all, the unemployment and underemployment of 5.5 million people illustrates l to well the dysfunctionality of the current economic order – and very much opens the door to a fundamentally different vision of how (and by whom) the economy should be wrong.

And finally, the treaty scholars amongst you will recognise that most of what I propose might potentially be vetoed by the European commission on account of Europe’s State Aid laws. This is hardly surprising. As with the People’s Budget of 1908 – or indeed the reaction of power companies to the proposed price freeze – measures to seriously redistribute wealth tend to provoke a clash with the least democratic organs of political power. And as always this is the kind of clash that we should be ready to throw ourselves into, rather seeking to avoid.

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The Racist and His New Clothes.

Written by: JT White
- September 29, 2013

Postcards-440-02

In recent years Britain has become a hotbed for anti-Muslim bigotry like many of its neighbours on the Continent. It has become the primary means of mobilisation for marginal elements on the radical Right. Old canards against immigrants are being recycled and directed purposely to siphon off disenfranchised working-class and lower middle-class support for mainstream parties in this way. For instance, the BNP’s accusations that there are South Asian paedophile gangs were transformed into ‘Muslim’ paedophile gangs as if the grooming and rape of non-Muslim children has any basis in theology. It is now a staple of right-wing commentary that there are ‘Muslim’ paedophile gangs in the shadows of every city in the country. Naturally, the mainstream media has plenty of time to feed its own rape-mania and has no qualms about fanning the flames of anti-Muslim racism in doing so. No real concern for the victims of child abuse.

Given that the Muslims have become the main target of groups like the BNP the old targets have had to take a backseat. The main reason for this is that it has become more acceptable to express disdain for Islam than the West Indians who settled here in the 1950s. Likewise it has become completely unacceptable to engage in old-fashioned Judeophobia. Meanwhile bashing Muslims has become an umbrella for spreading enmity against South Asian British citizens. The slur ‘Paki’ has been replaced with ‘Muslim’ in the vocabulary of every racist in the country. The EDL have attacked Sikh temples in the past and have marched under the chant ‘We love the floods! We love the floods!’ in reference to the floods which devastated Pakistan in 2010. Of course, the EDL has no qualms about exploiting the sectarian tensions on the old Indian subcontinent and soaking Sikh and even Hindu support. In that way the rabble of aging football hooligans and skinheads can claim to non-racist in its joy at the prospect of Mother Nature drowning Pakistani children.

This is the same reason the EDL has been filmed wagging Israeli flags, and making Nazi salutes. When Lee Rigby was killed the EDL was quick to jump on the scene and soon there emerged a video of the goons yelling for the ‘black bastards’ to be deported. Mostly unreported went the attempts by the EDL to make headway in electoral politics. The British Freedom Party was founded in 2011 with Paul Weston, a former UKIP blogger, as well as with an influx of ex-BNP members. In one of the speeches given by Paul Weston he said “In fact, Islam is worse than Nazism” before sounding off about the stoning of women. He went on to claim that the growth of a Muslim population will lead to the breakdown of British society, pointing to the Lebanese Civil War and the collapse of Yugoslavia. In other words, Weston places the blame for the collapse of these societies on Lebanese Muslims and Bosnian Muslims. That would imply Weston takes the side of the neo-Fascist groups in Lebanon and the nationalist fantasists of a ‘Greater’ Serbia.

In spite of his courageous support for the ‘lesser evil’ to Islam the new party soon evaporated. Its existence lacked the strong presence of a fart in the wind. Not content with this failure Paul Weston formed Liberty GB with much of the same herd and little deviation from the comradely affection for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. The new group soon found plenty of friends in soaking up the right-wingers of the blogosphere united in their hatred of Muslims and non-whites. Soon Mr Weston was on YouTube again looking to beat the competition posed by various videos of cats flushing toilets. He had some more revealing words too. By the summer of 2013 Paul Weston was giving talks on what he described as the “racial and cultural war against the indigenous people of this country.” Going on to deem this “genocide” Weston goes on to claim the cities are “inundated with the Third World”. He lists the places which have been “inundated” as follows: Tower Hamlets, Bradford, Birmingham, Luton and Leicester. The plot thickens.

All the while Paul Weston is adamant that it’s not just the Muslims that are the problem. Oh no, most certainly not! The Muslims are only the means in Weston’s mind, a foreign race imported to undermine and destroy white Britain. The people responsible are broadly pinned as ‘liberals’, ‘hippies’, ‘multiculturalists’ and ‘Marxists’. In his more blunt moments Mr Weston claims that it’s all the Frankfurt school. From beyond the grave Jewish Marxist intellectuals such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse are responsible for political correctness, multiculturalism, feminism and mass-immigration. It’s all a part of a calculated plot by the Jews who deems ‘cultural Marxists’ who created critical theory to wage ‘cultural terrorism’ against Western civilisation. He claims “the Left control pretty much everything”. Yet again the raison d’être of National Socialism resurfaces in the clever language of a counter-Jihadist.

The anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that the Frankfurt school are responsible for a vast array of problems has become increasingly popular and mainstream on the Right. It originates in the mad ramblings of Lyndon LaRouche and in the twenty years since it has been taken up by American shock-jocks and the reactionary press in Britain. It has been promulgated by many cultural conservatives such as William Lind. Naturally the BNP have moved in on this. In 2011 Nick Griffin put across his non-understanding of the Frankfurt school in a talk with Simon Darby and posted it on the Party’s YouTube channel. This year the BNP appears to have gone on to hold a knuckleheaded talk on the Frankfurt school where the Jewish intellectuals were painted as belonging to an international conspiracy alongside the Freemasons, the Illuminati and Bilderberg. If anything it’s good to see that the Illuminati conspiracy theory has finally been given the audience it deserves.

Not coincidentally, Anders Behring Breivik promulgated the same theory in his manifesto and considered ‘cultural Marxists’ to be “traitors” deserving of execution. In that same manifesto Breivik praises the EDL as a ‘blessing’ and quoted Paul Weston’s Gates of Vienna blog posts predicting ‘a European civil war.’ Fortunately, the economic crisis in Britain has not been so severe as to produce the conditions necessary for a full-blown fascist resurgence as we have seen in Greece for instance. The rabbles organised by the EDL come nowhere near the ranks of Blackshirts led by Sir Oswald Mosley. It’s primarily an online phenomenon with the potential to influence psychopaths and thugs to take action. It was this that led to Breivik’s rampage and the numerous attacks on mosques and Muslims since the Woolwich murder. It would seem that this could get a lot uglier before the liberals wake up to find what they have allowed to flourish and take it seriously.

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The Evacuation of Meaning.

Written by: JT White
- September 27, 2013

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You may have heard recently that the Labour Party has rediscovered itself as the revolutionary vanguard ever ready to play dictatress to the proletarians of the UK. Unfortunately the slogan won’t be ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ exactly because Ed Miliband has pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months, to protect the minimum wage, repeal the bedroom tax and to incentivise private companies to develop on the land they own. No promises to reverse course on tuition fees, certainly not on ‘free schools’, the coming sale of Royal Mail and the on-going privatisation of the NHS so ignored by most of the mainstream media. If you read The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express you will of course know this is the most radical position ever taken in the last thirty years. That is only demonstrative of just how deeply the termites have spread and how well they have dined. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have condemned Ed Miliband’s positions for abandoning the New Labour script of triangulated means to compete for the Conservative vote and, naturally, taking the working-class vote for granted. The Blairites are totally on board for the Cameron prescription of fiscal conservatism (for the poor anyway) to restructure the welfare state and public services.

The right-wing commentariat are on the offensive to safeguard the existing order (or should that be disorder?) of bloated energy oligopolies and the particular approach Cameron has taken to pumping up a housing bubble in London. The bedroom tax has appeal because gutting the benefits system will make some in the public feel good that Nicky Welfare isn’t getting away with spending his £60 a week on lager anymore. That’s the only discussion we’re allowed about benefits. No one wants to talk about the fact that Nicky Welfare’s housing benefit doesn’t go on his drinking habits, but it does go straight into the pockets of a landlord. The housing crisis is not up for discussion anymore. The Conservatives and Lib Dems have been hard at work trying to patch up the system as it was when Gordon Brown was in the Treasury. All of them will talk the talk about the need to build more houses to stoke the chronic shortage and lift people out of dilapidated housing. There is no serious commitment to extending public money to building more social housing. Instead the government and the so-called left-wing opposition are signed up to selling off these houses thereby feeding the same processes of debt and property speculation which laid the basis for the last crash.

At the same time, the Labour Party has not reclaimed Clause 4 to recommit itself to the nationalisation of industries and assets. Instead Miliband waffles as the NHS is sold off bit by bit and even as the delegates vote unanimously in favour of renationalising the railways the Labour leadership looks for the door. Yet ‘Red’ Ed can’t help himself from affirming a vague commitment to an even more vague democratic socialism. It seems like just five minutes ago Ed Miliband was calling himself a “modern progressive social democrat” and affirmed a commitment to a “responsible capitalism”. It shows how far things have gone, Tony Blair knew what he had to say to get ahead back in 1983 when he described himself as a socialist influenced by Karl Marx. Keep in mind ‘Red’ Ed is the same leader looking to chuck out the troublesome unions, while he has taken the side of Boris Johnson in his support for a “use it or lose it” policy on land ownership. Even Margaret Thatcher maintained a 60p tax for nine years, but Ed is so ‘red’ for supporting the 50p rate. The truth is the spectrum has moved considerably to the Right and now the much lauded centre is hardly a bastion of moderation. At best Labour offers to hold back a bit more than the Conservatives: austerity lite, rather than austerity.

Meanwhile the liberal press is in just a bad shape as it agrees with the right-wing analysis for the most part. The liberals love the idea that the socialist movement and its project are long dead. To them Ed Miliband is a nuanced centre-left politician, better than Tony Blair but not as bad as Tony Benn. It’s just another variation on the Third Way paradigm of New Labour and New Democrats. There is virtually no difference in rhetoric as Miliband has been oh so very careful not to distinguish himself from the odious stench of Blairism. Nor has he set out to distance himself from the Brown mound. He doesn’t want to define himself or to be defined and yet he expects to win an election on the same old pablum. The conservative press have already laid down their script, as they had done from day one, Ed Miliband is a leftist and his failures are to be taken as failures of the Left. The liberals more or less have swallowed so much of the premise as to tie themselves to this conclusion. When it came to Syria the Labour leader was distinguished not by his success but by his failure to push through his ‘yes’ motion. It would’ve made his father proud. It might only be reasonable able to hope Miliband can produce more of these fuck ups once in office.

 

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The crackdown on spurs fans shouting “Yid” is just the latest idiotic attempt to sanitize the public sphere.

Written by: Reuben - September 18, 2013

It is not often that I find myself agreeing with Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, let alone the Prime Minister, but the attempt by the Football Association to crack down on Tottenham fans yelling “Yid Army” – with threats of criminalisation – really is worthy of derision and opposition.

As various commentators have explained in recent days, the word “yid” in “yid army” is a reclaimed term of abuse. Early in the 20th century Tottenham became known as the “Jewish club” mainly on account of their huge Jewish fan base. In response to the abuse this provoked, Tottenham fans – Jewish and non-Jewish – took the position of “yeah we’re the yids and we’re fucking proud of it”.

I can understand where David Baddiel is coming from when he claims that Tottenham’s identity as the “yid army” legitimises the racism of other fans. Going with my dad to watch West Ham vs. Tottenham in the West Ham stands, I encountered a mad level of racism directed against Tottenham and its fans, which as a Jew made me feel more than a little uncomfortable. Yet the most offensive chants were not about “yids” but about “gassing the Jews”. In other words it was the very identity of tottenham as a Jewish club – not the word Yid – that provoked racist chants. And the right response to bigotry is surely not to suggest that football clubs and other public institutions cease to identify themselves with any minority groups that might come under attack. The correct response to anti-Semitism is never to de-judaize.

Yet this is about more than anti-semitism and the response to it. Recent years have seen renewed attempts to heavy handedly clean up the terraces, with fans increasingly being thrown out or warned for swearing and for abusive chants. In Scotland the government passed laws, aimed at Rangers and Celtic fans, that can put people in Prison for five fucking years if they are found to have engaged in “sectarian chanting” – a category into which the authorities place IRA songs.

And this is also about more than football. For it is a legacy of New Labour’s attempts to make Britain a generally duller place. Lacking any desire to transform society at large, nulab and its allies managed to quench their thirst for reform by trying to imbue the entirety of the public sphere with the atmosphere and values of an Islington coffee shop. 24 hour drinking was introduced not to liberate us but to encourage a more moderate, “french” drinking culture, with then-minister Vernon Coaker explaining that he wanted to stop people thinking it was “acceptable” to drink to get drunk (if he’d ever listened to that fine 16th century drinking song Martin Said to His Man, he would understand that drinking to get-drunk-is-a virtue that runs far too deep in the English spirit to be pushed aside by a mere minister of state and his petty Norman bureaucracy). Meanwhile pubs suddenly became a place that you couldn’t light a cigarette in, nor put on any live music without going through an onerous licensing process. Hunting with hounds was banned not because killing animals was wrong (after all we eat meat) but because we urbanites didn’t like the mental world of those who did it – the fact that they got some kind of non-utiliatrian pleasure for killing a fox.

New Labour have of course been ejected from office. But the political atmosphere that they established – wherein social spaces that are not dominated by the metropolitan middle class are there to be intervened in and fucked around with – remains. Let’s keep the “Yid Army” on the terraces. And while we’re let’s kick those who want to sanitise the game as far away from football as possible.

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To contact Reuben email reuben@thethirdestate.net

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Working tax credits subsidise big corporations to exploit poor people

Written by: Salman Shaheen
- September 13, 2013

HM-Revenue-and-CustomsEd Miliband’s summer of silence has been criticised from the left as the perception grows that Labour has failed to provide a coherent and effective alternative to austerity.

The standard riposte to those who claim there is little that now separates Labour from the Tories is to say look at the party’s achievements in government: working tax credits, the minimum wage.

Certainly both policies have been vital to offer some modest protection to the lowest paid workers from the full brunt of market forces. Certainly both are a darn sight kinder than the Tory bedroom tax.

But the minimum wage, at £6.31 an hour, is not enough to meet the basic needs of Britain’s working people. Harder still for struggling families in London as rent rockets and the cost of living soars.

Working tax credits are a life line to people on the bread line. Around 5 million people claim working tax credits, costing £6 billion a year. This is a cost the taxpayer shoulders because we rightly accept that the tax system should be redistributive, that those who earn a little more should help those in more precarious positions. This is a cornerstone of social democracy.

But, in reality, working tax credits effectively subsidise big corporations to exploit poor people. Companies don’t pay their workers enough to live on, so the government tops up their wages, easing the pressure on employers to pay employees fairly.

Now, as the government prepares to roll out its chaotic universal credit system, is the perfect time for Miliband to end his silence and enter the debate for a bold alternative.

Let’s stop subsidising some of the world’s biggest companies to exploit some of Britain’s poorest people. Let’s scrap tax credits. And let’s bring in a mandatory living wage that will ensure everyone has enough to lead a decent life.

Of course, people will worry about the small family-owned cafes or the niche bookshops who struggle to turn a profit next to the likes of Starbucks and Amazon. But there are better, more targeted ways to support small local businesses than through tax credits.

Miliband has pledged to back a voluntary living wage. But when was the last time a big corporation voluntarily stopped exploiting someone?

Labour needs to find its voice and it needs to deliver real policies that help people. Replacing tax credits with a mandatory living wage would be the perfect way to demonstrate a commitment to helping the crushed bottom under the boot of austerity, whilst at the same time saving £6 billion a year.

But in signing up to Conservative spending plans and refusing to pledge to repeal the bedroom tax, Miliband has shown he lacks the vision necessary to make policies that resonate with Labour’s core working class supporters.

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www.salmanshaheen.com
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