Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Last Days of the United Kingdom

Glasgow's George Square had a certain balmy calm when I arrived on Friday afternoon. The late summer heat had cast a faint grey mist across the sky, and there was a certain air of poignant expectancy as I wandered by the statues in front of the City Chambers, the great Victorian building that has for over a century and a quarter housed the council of Scotland's largest city. I reflected how, with the polls becoming ever tighter, it might be the last Friday that the city would see as truly part of the United Kingdom; for even if a Yes to independence vote still leaves months of negotiations before formal separation, no one would doubt that by Friday coming everything would have changed anyhow. "Scotland on the cusp of  making history" read the news-ticker above the corner of St Vincent Place.

Reaching for the future; Glasgow 13 September 2014
And on Saturday, the relaxed atmosphere of Friday evening transformed into something else - still oddly relaxed, yet passionate and positive too. Thousands of YES SCOTLAND supporters, swathed in blue saltires, or blue and white hats, scarves (in spite of the heat), tee shirts and tops, with balloons and flags, gathered on the steps of the Concert Hall. Cheery, singing everything from Flower of Scotland through Proclaimers' melodies to Singing I-i-yippy-ippy-i, there was almost two hours of simple communion. And smiles. Even when two BETTER TOGETHER supporters made their way into the middle of the crowd to hold up their Vote NO placards, the reaction was of  mutual amusement and pantomine, not the subliminal violence that the media has darkly suggested. But that didn't stop the Sunday Times the next day characterising the campaign as just so, in spite of offering little beyond some damaged posters and an egg broken across Labour MP Jim Murphy's highly sensitive shoulders.

So much for the traditions of Scottish politics where banter and flour bombs harmlessly demonstrated the passion at their heart. My own great uncle was arrested for impersonating former PM Asquith during the Paisley by-election of 1920 in a stunt that involved driving a coach and two horses through a crowd and ended with an evening in the police station. It was tame stuff compared to some of the events of those days, but likely to have seen him demonised as a menace to public order, or worse, in our era of corporately-owned, sanitised and paranoid politics.

Now, you shouldn't get too passionate about anything, because you need to be reconciled to nothing changing. Now, with this referendum, you are to vote NO out of fear of not being able to get a mortgage/ losing your job/ paying more for your milk and bread/ not being able to see Dr Who on the TV/ your telephones not working/ being more prey to terrorist attack/ facing border posts at Gretna Green/ experiencing massive economic collapse/ oil running out/ zombie plague attack...

But in the end, it isn't actually much about Scotland being separate or not. Not really. It is about a polity, a community democratically voting to defy the wishes of the Establishment - not just the political one, but the economic, the financial, above all the Corporate one too. They could countenance Scotland going - and some Tory MPs such as Nadine Dorries have sarcastically reiterated the old myth of Scottish dependency culture to ask "Why are we paying them to eat deep-fried Mars Bars when we don't have a decent NHS (in England)?"

But what they can't countenance is the massive blow to the Establishment a YES vote would be: at least in part because what has become an extraordinary mass movement might inspire similar demands  in other parts of the remainder of the UK, and even beyond - Catalonia especially is following the campaign closely, and on social and regional media the talk is increasingly of who next? Northern Ireland seems likely. Wales, possibly. But also there are stirrings for greater local governance in Cornwall, the North East, Yorkshire, and onwards, reflecting a reaction to the messy hodge podge of half baked devolution arrangements put in place by Labour and untouched by the Coalition.

YES supporters gathered at the Concert Hall
And so, in typical technocrat fashion, a plethora of tired out grey men in grey suits trooped up to Scotland to utter a myriad of panicky promises of future powers to the Holyrood Parliament. Lots of technical details about at least three if not more possible amendments to the remit of the Scottish legislature - a timetable even for its consideration; but nothing concrete, nothing agreed. And just as their pitch has been one of relentless fear of the future beyond a Yes vote, equally they have offered nothing meaningful in return - and nothing at all to foster any notion of a shared future, or celebrate the UK's achievements. It reached a culmination in a performance today by David Cameron in which the Prime Minister pleaded on behalf of the Union - supposedly the most successful democracy in the world, stopping slavery in the 19th century and facists in the 20th. 

But no mention of now - no mention of our becoming the second most unequal society on the planet; no mention of his Government's privatisation of our health service (hobbled with tens of billions of debt by the last Labour Government's Private Finance Initiative); no mention of the tax cuts for millionaires and the continuing assault on the poor which have been the hallmarks of the Tory-Lib Dem regime, and are set to continue with Labour signed up to the same spending agenda. And no mention of the true history of the British people - of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, or the Peterloo massacre, or the Matchstick strikes, or the sufragettes, of the men, women and children who fought tooth and nail against Cameron's predecessors to wrest democratic rights and some limited form of social justice from an ever resistant elite.

And so on Thursday, Scotland's voters - people of all religions, origins and social classes -will  have a dual potency. First, to Scotland and deciding on a choice to retake their lost sovereignty; and second, to deliver a body blow to the smug, corrupt complacency of the British political class.Whatever the outcome, the political system of the UK is broken irreparably. The three Westminster parties will be - already are - in existential crisis. Fixed parliaments or not, the end of the Coalition and a General Election may be just a few weeks away.

These are the last days of the United Kingdom. However the vote goes - and it is to be hoped it will be "Yes" - nothing will be the same again. Whichever side of the Border we find ourselves on, the challenge is how we fashion what comes next and make it better for all our people, for the poor and the vulnerable, for the creative and, above all, for the generations to come. Whether Britain continues to exist as a political entity or not, surely that would truly be a legacy worthy of the best of what has gone before - the Britain of the NHS, of the welfare state, of free education and of social change?  A largely vanished Britain of compassion and progress, now little more than a finally fading memory. A golden isle set in a silver sea, a hope of what might have been, but sadly never was.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Scotland - Trust the Bankers?

The men who forgot Scotland
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” 
- Noam Chomsky
Over a year ago in Weimar Britain and again in April this year in On The Eve, this author, like many other progressives, previewed the momentous times we are living through now. As our world and the societies within it continue to convulse and shatter in the face of the growing crises of an economic system in terminal decline, we have seen the panic of the banking collapse, the wars for oil, and the demolition of human rights to ensure control not only over terrorists but over peaceful domestic opponents as well - in particular opponents of corporate interests.

It was indeed all going as well as the Establishment could have hoped - better in fact, as the electorate continues, on balance, to be convinced by the espoused case for austerity and denigration of the public enemies of migrants, disabled people and the unemployed. With political revolt gingerly contained, even if only transiently, in the even more neoliberal Aunt Sally of  UKIP, the private island-owning, off-shoring elite has gleefully seen its wealth grow to become larger and more obscenely skewed than at any other time in British history. The "free trade" TTIP treaty is set to seal it all for good. Divide and rule indeed.

But then, last weekend, a YouGov poll put the pro-Independence camp in Scotland narrowly in the lead for next week's referendum. Of Scottish voters expressing a preference, 51% said they will vote in favour, while two thirds of those still to make up their minds were tending towards the independence option. It was just one poll, though it confirmed a trend of some weeks of rise in the Yes vote. But it slammed a Panic Button among the Establishment in Westminster and ever since, as Alex Salmond has put it, everything including the kitchen sink and the whole lounge has been lobbed frantically at the Yes Scotland campaign.

First we had the faux homage of the three Westminster leaders - Cameron, Miliband and Clegg - to Scotland on Wednesday, dramatically cancelling PM's Question Time to make apparently passionate pleas for the Union to be preserved.  

Cameron nearly wept as he begged Scots not to use the vote to "kick the 'effing Tories"; Miliband said he might even stay the whole week; while Clegg dashed just inside the Borders to promise, with the others, the exciting prospect of a timetable for proposals to give Scotland's devolved parliament additional powers, although none of them could quite explain what these would be. Labour's Gordon Brown was also wheeled out to remind people that he is Scottish too, although at least unlike John Prescott  he didn't need to remind himself that he was supporting the "No" campaign, Better Together by writing its name in biro on the back of his hand.

But much, much more has since been deployed to stop secession. The Governor of the Bank of England, a Government appointee, has warned of financial chaos for Scotland after reiterating that there will be no common currency; while Lloyd's Bank and RBS (bankers to the Tory Party) have said they will move their headquarters south if there is independence. Next, at Cameron's prompting, Asda has said its milk prices might go up in a separate country. Morrisons and John Lewis made somewhat more ambiguous statements about divergence rather than disadvantage, but the increasingly shrilly pro-Union BBC reported these as warnings of higher prices.

And yet, and yet... wasn't this entirely foreseeable? A combination of bribes and threats spawned the Union in 1707, so it seems appropriate and unsurprising that the descendants of the elite that pushed through the creation of the UK would use the same methods to prolong its existence. Even more so, in fact - there is a commonly held misconception that neoliberal capitalism seeks to minimise the state and its powers. In truth it minimises the state only in terms of its responsiveness to the masses and their needs and wishes. It maximises the deployment of coercive state power to ensure the continued dominance of the Establishment - and this has never been as nakedly in evidence in British politics as in the last few days over Scotland.

Bankers, politicians, city traders, journalists and multinational companies have come together to warn of everything from economic apocalypse to "difficulties" for Scottish viewers wishing to watch Celebrity Come Dancing on the TV. 

The bankers and traders whose sociopathic greed and lawlessness created the crash of 2008 and nearly busted the world economy; the politicians who deregulated finance so completely that the crash happened, and who then spent tens of billions of tax money and loans to bail the banks out before billing the rest of us for it; the industrialists who rage against any form of consumer or employee protection and who have plundered our society via PFI arrangements, outsourcing and tax evasion; and the journalists who, when they are not hacking celebrities' telephone messages are busy telling us all that there is no alternative to what we have got.

Yes, all the people who obviously have the best interests of the rest of us engraved on their cold, cold hearts and foremost in their absent consciences. These people are stepping forward to tell Scottish voters that they are too crap, too lazy, too...Scottish...to hope to govern themselves. And if they don't listen to their friendly warnings, there will be a less friendly price to pay. The bankers, traders, and industrialists will make sure their political puppets send the bill personally.

The message, of course, is not just for the Scottish voters. Indeed, if Scotland could be got rid off, perhaps tugged out into the mid-Atlantic and quietly sunk, many of the people currently hoarsley calling for the Union to be preserved would be first in the queue to pull the plug. However, as geography dictates otherwise, the last thing the Establishment want the rest of the UK to see is part of it defying our Masters' wishes and giving us ideas above our station. Even a mildly social democratic Scotland would not just be an annoying neighbour - it could become an existential threat to the neoliberal consensus. Hence, it must be strangled at birth - or preferrably before.

The big question is whether enough Scottish voters will be browbeaten or scared into voting against independence to stop it happening. The trend over the last fortnight has been a clear and big upswing for separation - one based on seeking a more inclusive, fairer society than the one emerging in the UK as a whole. It remains to be seen if the crisis response from Westminster and its paymasters will stem the flow, or be seen through as the insincere, last gasp blandishments of panicking machine men.

A frequent refrain from the Better Together camp is that an independent country would be moving into uncertainty; taking risks, and be a journey rather than a destination. But isn't that just life? Life for all of us. Salmond (who is no socialist but is equally no neoliberal either) has ackowledged that independence is the start of something, not the finish. Meanwhile the Radical Independence Campaign of leftwing parties like the Greens and Scottish Socialists as well as cultural groups like the National Collective positively embrace the nascent potential of such a future. 

Besides, if there are no guarantees for a free Scotland, what is guaranteed about Britain as it is? A harsh, low wage, "flexible" economy increasingly unkind to the poor and vulnerable, suspicious of strangers, and selling off what little remains of its public services? A State whose main functions involve spying on its own citizens and vying with the USA for the number one spot as the most unequal developed society on the face of the Earth?

Better together? For who?

Monday, 1 September 2014

You Will Be Commodified

CSR, corporate social responsibility, was the buzzword of the "Third Way" of the Clinton and Blair days. Grasping capitalism got a makeover as it moved its p.r. budget into sponsorship of everything from opera performances to litter picking, supposedly "giving back" to the communities it had expropriated its massive profits from. Its agenda was approvingly marked out by Tony Giddens, guru of the “Third Way” in his writings in the 1990s. Through an "End of History" prism so popular at the time, Giddens claimed that "when no one knows of any viable alternative to a market economy, demonising the corporations makes no sense.” He proposed that corporations should engage with the voluntary sector to foster social programmes, such as one from the US where a computer firm provided equipment to schools in return for a slew of exclusive advertising.

The cynicism of this seemed to bypass many writers on the genre. Giddens drew from the work of Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who identified a new, business focused strategy by corporations towards involvement in social development. Whereas the traditional approach to community involvement viewed the voluntary sector as “a dumping ground (for) spare cash, obsolete equipment and tired executives on their way out”, Kanter’s “new paradigm” involved using social needs as a basis for development of business ideas and opportunities. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "giving back" or discharging any accepted "social responsibility". Rather, it is simply a laboratory for profit maximisation - in the UK, Blair and Mandelson of course enthusiastically embraced, intensely relaxed as they were about the filthy rich.

Never mind that, around the world, most of these mega-monstrosities continue to rip off consumers, drive down wages and ravage our environment of irreplaceable resources: they give money to charities! They endow hospital wings (in place of paying taxes for public health). They plant trees, give kids "jobs" as unpaid interns...

Capitalism has much to atone for.
Capitalism is based on the commodification of everything that can be described as scarce. If something is not completely abundant, such as (for now) oxygen, it can be appropriated by someone who by the law of capitalist states becomes its "owner". That commodity remains in the ownership of that person (human or corporate) until it is sold with the seller's objective being to maximise the difference in value between what it took to acquire the item and what can be obtained from a purchaser. On such an elevated and considered level are the wonderful, diverse products of our unimaginably complex biosphere costed, traded and eventually used up, in spite of their often being irreplacable. This is why, for example, oil companies have no fear about the melting of the ice caps - rather they see this as a brilliant market opportunity to drill for oil in the deep waters of the Arctic.

Similarly, as water becomes scarcer, we have the head of Nestle, which uses massive quantities of water in Third World countries to produce fizzy drinks and even "water" for use by First World consumers, declare access to water is not a public right. Rather, it can be commodified, bought and sold by rich multinationals - and as this same corporatocracy has bought up governments as well, the law makes any attempt to bypass the overweening power of big business' ownership of even the basic essentials of human life increasingly difficult. For example, in one African country, a western firm running the privatised water industry for a time even succeeded in banning impoverished peasants from collecting rainwater. Popular protest led to their eventual ejection and the renationalising of the water industry. But it remains a fact that the neoliberal elite will happily deploy state power on behalf of itself - in fact, while preaching the virtues of free markets, these privateers in truth skew and bypass markets in ways Stalin only dreamt of. (It is notable that bans on "rainwater harvesting" are now spreading to states within the USA, with Utah and Colorado criminalising anyone who puts so much as a bucket out to collect water in the driest states of the Union - where water, as a commodity, could scarcely be more precious or profitable).

But in the midst of this we get companies claiming to care, offering well-branded "help" to the very people they are screwing over - like the fracking company Chevron, which sent a pizza voucher to residents after an explosion near their town. If it wasn't so devastatingly tragic, it might be laughable - but it isn't. It is real. Can anyone seriously argue that this system with its mindset of dog-eat-dog acquisition can be sustained or reformed? In any other context would anyone even remotely buy the farcical claim that lots of cut-throat competing individuals acting to the maximum of self-interest somehow synergise into fostering the public good? Or enhance and share the common weal?

This video by the Australian 350.org environmental movement sums up the truth and says what the sociopaths on the make who control such a swathe of our economic activity and own so much of our planet are really saying to the rest of us, the suckers they leech from day after day after day. Some of them are even trying to copyright our DNA - yours and mine; our very essence, owned by someone else. But then this is the very imperative of the system - to extract value from others and accumulate endlessly; to view everything as ultimately capable of being finitely priced; where need rewards greed. Where everything is costed, but nothing, in the end, is truly valued.

So watch this and get to the heart of how it works. No apologies for bad language. It's what they are doing to all of us, our world and its future right now as you read this.

My thanks to Jack Lindblad, candidate for Los Angeles City Council, for linking to this video. More on his campaign HERE

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

999 for the NHS - "The Spar of Sickness"


Patients & staff wave to marchers at Pinderfields in Wakefield
After spending two days on a "feeder walk" from Halifax and Huddersfield through Dewsbury, I joined the Jarrow to London People's March for the NHS at Wakefield last Saturday. Then on Sunday, in blazing sunshine, we moved on along city streets and country roads to Barnsley, ending with a rally at the hospital. Green colleagues who did the next leg the following day met grey skies and rain, but the crowds appeared to have grown and today saw the marchers exit Yorkshire after a rousing send off from Sheffield on their way out of the county towards Chesterfield.

The march was set up by some mothers from Darlington in north-east England, who had grown increasingly concerned about the deterioration of the NHS over the last few years. Through the 999 Call for the NHS, they are retracing the steps of the 1936 March for Jobs from Jarrow to London to highlight the health service crisis engulfing England.

Darlo-Mums: the founders & organisers of the People's March
It was especially powerful to walk for a time with Jo Adams, one of the Darlington Mums who told me about her family's terrible experiences recently with an increasingly chaotic, disjointed health service and her fears for the future. And it was very moving indeed as we went through Barnsley with people coming out of their houses to cheer and applaud us on, and cars sounding horns in support. Following the route of the original march, Jo and her group will reach London on 6 September - if you are near the route, please go and join them, even if just for an hour or mile or two. Find out where you can meet them at http://999callfornhs.org.uk/ and follow them on Twitter via @999CallforNHS.

There was a huge mix of people taking part - disabled activists, current and past patients, councillors, parliamentary candidates, health workers, GPs, Greens, Left Unity, Communists, Labour, parents, children, citizens - and even some Americans. Balloons proclaimed our love of the NHS, its visceral hold on what is left of community in modern Britian self-evident as was the obvious fact that in spite of the paramount importance of our public health service, it is symbolic of a wider campaign to restore genuine public services in areas now so frequently sold off or leased out to profit-seeking
privateers such as education, social services and transport.

Among the most frequently cited concerns among people on the marches were the deliberate underfunding and privatisation of health services at all levels in England. Under the "Nicholson challenge" set by the Blair/Brown Government, and gleefully continued by the current one, the NHS is required to return £2,000 millions from its budget each year, supposedly in efficiency savings. The result is hospitals in crisis - our local Mid-Yorkshire Trust is £17 million in debt and running down services accordingly.

The Coalition Government has removed the duty to provide universal care free at the point of use and so we now see an ongoing debate to charge up to £25 for GP visits and possibly more for the apparent crime of going to the A&E department. The latter is often used by the Coalition as a supreme example of wasted resources, conjuring up the image of drunken chav teenagers descending on A&Es across the country from Friday lunchtime to the final effusions on a hazy Monday morning. Notwithstanding the brave struggle of medics and paramedics with the byproducts of our neoliberally deregulated entertainment industry and its excessive focus on flogging as much booze as possible, the truth is somewhat more prosaic - research by the College of Emergency Medicine shows that fewer than 15% of A&E visits could be dealt with by GP intervention; hardly enough to justify charges to deter alleged timewasters.

The Stockport Undertakers bear the NHS cake cruelly cut & carved by the Coalition
Even worse, as required by the 2012 Health & Social Care Act, NHS services - even cancer care - are being put out to tender and since April last year 70% of the contracts have been awarded to the private sector, to companies like Virgin and Vanguard, Spire and Specsavers. The NHS is fast becoming a brand name for a profit-seeking franchise rather than an integrated public service: a sort of Spar of Sickness, if you like.

But to me personally this crisis is as strikingly in evidence in some small but nevertheless important ways. My father-in-law passed away last year after a long illness with cancer. During his treatment, I recall one evening visiting him in hospital and having to go out to a local supermarket to buy pillows for him as the hospital did not have any spare. On the way back, in the lift, I met a woman who had brought a duvet for her husband because they had run out of clean blankets. Even the ward toaster was not replaced when it broke.

We are the sixth richest country on planet Earth. But, depending on which measurements you use, we are also the second or third most unequal. Our Governments have sold off public asset after public asset, telling us the private sector will run them more effectively in spite of its ever growing need and ability to take out more and more for profit. Energy, telecommunications, the railways, the bus service, huge swathes of our universities and colleges, the post office, the probation service, Job Centres, the passport agency, and now the NHS have been or are being sold off or leased out at often bargain basement rates to the very people who are funding our political parties and/or in whom our politicians hold substantial financial interests. Even opposition politicians like Labour's former health secretary Alan Milburn and former Chancellor Alistair Darling have taken contracts of one sort or another from private health firms.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt - a tragi-comic target
And now, if they have their way, the three Westminster parties want to sign the TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership treaty, part of which will require states to put public services out to tender - if they don't or if they bring in regulations to protect employees or consumers, even via the ballot box or a referendum, the State-Investor Disputes mechanism will allow big companies to sue for compensation for loss of profits. As blogged previously, some examples of these from existing "free" trade agreements around the world have seen governments having to pay corporations hundreds of millions of dollars as reparation for such heinous acts as wishing to protect forests and put health warnings on cigarette packets.

Some Government Ministers and Labour MPs (Labour are almost as keen on TTIP as the Tories and Lib Dems) have suggested the NHS could be exempted from the TTIP. However, the agreement covers all commercial enterprises and by marketising and contracting out NHS services, the NHS is subject to commercial law and, as such, can not be exempted from the TTIP. Any attempt to do so would almost certainly lead to legal cases running into the hundreds of millions in terms of costs to the Exchequer as well as possibly years of uncertainty. Besides which, when did the Tories really not want to sell off the NHS in any case?

We can and must do better than this. There is no real need for austerity - only for redistribution: of wealth and of ownership. The 999 Call for the NHS is a brave and imaginative initiative: it reaches deep into the hearts of tens of millions who have always assumed we live in a society where you will be cared for if you fall ill. Terrifyingly, under our very noses, duplicitous politicians are taking all that away, replacing the motive of public service and community with the selfish drive of profit. It is time to purge ourselves of this parasitical class of professional legislators and, in its place, create genuine democracy far beyond the simplistic notion of five yearly trips to the ballot box; democratic ownership is absolutely central to a society that uses its resources for the common good.

And such a society is still possible, even essential. Perhaps the journey towards it began a couple of weeks ago on the streets of Jarrow.

Just to confirm what they won't tell you - the National Health Service IS being sold off, right now, under our noses.

Professor Ray Tallis, author of NHS SOS, spoke to the rally at Barnsley Hospital.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

We Will Remember. And One Day Learn.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod.
All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!---An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
 Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

--- My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
 To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen died fighting in the trenches on 4 November 1918, just one week before the end of the war. 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Proud to Pay Their Taxes

A curious item pops up on social media this evening - an anti-Scottish independence group called "Proud to be Scots, Proud to be United" offers "volunteers" £25 to help out at events, plus £10 towards travel costs.
"Right guys for anyone that wants a quick buck we are now paying volunteers £25 to help out at events. Its very easy work (just giving out car stickers to those who want them) Let me know if you are interested!" says Jack.

It's an odd thing and you just sort of hope that these respectable adherents of the union are not getting themselves into a fluster as they try to buy their help. So a few gentle words of advice to them. No suggestion at all that they haven't already sorted all this out, but it is a potentially complicated area, so just as a wee reminder of the pitfalls of paying "volunteers"...

1. "Paying volunteers". Erm, not really - paid volunteers are more commonly known as "staff" or "employees". And while I am sure neoliberal Unionists are quite keen to do things like abolish taxes altogether and have unlimited labour from folk for £25, when you pay someone like this, it is pretty advisable to have a clear, written agreement about their employed or self-employed status, including any liability for tax and who pays it.

2. Watch the national minimum wage (NMW) - again, something the neoliberals are not happy about, but the law is the law and, for now, we have the national minimum wage. How many hours are they making these poor souls leaflet for continued communion with David Cameron and wee Cleggy in the U of K?

At £6.31 per hour, I reckon four hours or so of shouting against Wee 'Eck for 25 quid and you're right on the borders of British law (sorry folks). Unless of course you are using folk under 21 or, even better, kids under 18 - you can pay them less and get more out of them in the finest tradition of British fair play. And let's face it, with Britain the third most unequal society on the face of the Earth, these youngsters need to get used to grinding poverty if the Union continues, so they may as well start now.

Important to ask: what would Ian do?

3. Expenses - you can pay towards or even all of volunteers' travel expenses. But only if they are real. If someone spends £5 getting there and you give them £10, sorry but that's a payment, not an expense. Tax, tax, tax. (yes, I know...)

4. Benefits - do remember to advise your volunteers that if they accept payments for work done, it may affect their benefits. At times like this, you really need to ask, what would Ian D-S do? After all, he's on record suggesting that £25 for a few leaflets and you are set up for the next three days and a fourth one, up until about lunchtime. We don't want the Union being campaigned for by people in breach of social security rules, however inadvertently, now do we?

5. Declare to the Electoral Commission - I'm not fully au fait with the finance rules of the referendum, but if they haven't already, it would be a good idea to check about declaring these costs. It is a public vote and campaign. Any expenditure incurred needs to be accounted for usually. Even if its paying people to do stuff most other campaigns, charities, churches, sports groups, coffee mornings, etc don't pay for - because their volunteers work for free doing stuff they believe in.

Yes. All in all, it's quite complicated once you start paying people to work for you. Of course, give the Westminster mafia another few years with "benefits reform" and welfare to work, and I am sure it will get a lot easier to bung folks some cash and get them to do whatever you need for a total pittance. But in the meantime, the last thing we need is for some bunch of progressives to come along and point out that there are pesky, bureaucratic rules and red tape preventing the sort of entrepreneurship that wants to save the Union.

For obvious reasons.

Monday, 28 July 2014

No Wind Turbines to Spoil the View

The British Government, which once upon a time audaciously and falsely claimed it would be the greenest government in history finally today slipped aside the very little last shred of its minuscule fig leaf and revealed its truly appalling dark side - it has opened up half of the UK's land, including national parks and major cities, for applications for fracking  licenses. If granted, oil and gas companies such as Cuadrilla hope to drill for shale gas by pumping huge quantities of water and chemicals under ground to force the fuel upwards.

The proponents of fracking claim it is safe - but we know from numerous studies  now that there is both anecdotal and scientific evidence that this is far from the case, with water courses poisoned, minor earthquakes and major disruption and damage to the environment. Both energy companies and the Government admit that the heavily state-subsidised process will not lead to reduced costs to the consumer. Nor will it cut carbon emissions at a time when global warming is reaching and breaking through more and more dangerous thresholds infinitely earlier than anticipated - both May and June of this year, for example, were the warmest May and June since records began and 2014 is set to be the warmest year on record. After what scientists had warned would be a temporary pause in warming, the seas, the largest carbon "sink" in the planet, have suddenly begun to warm exponentially - with serious threats to marine life and to global warming-inducing emissions.

North Dakotan fracking looks like a city from space
Greens and environmentalists have offered a range of alternatives especially around investing public funds in developing cleaner energy as Germany is successfully doing, with ownership in community hands and generation decentralised to both protect supply and undercut the oligopolistic powers of huge energy firms. An energy mix focused on solar, wind and wave energy, as well as supplemental sources such as waste and biomass, and perhaps above all, energy conservation (we waste about 40% of our energy), would be both clean and free us from needing to pay either big energy companies AND the likes of Vladimir Putin for our power.

By contrast, the Coalition, with Labour's blessing, are open to drilling in places like the centre of archaeologically highly sensitive York, or in supposedly exceptional circumstances (no explanation of what these might be is given) in the middle of our precious national parks. The Government has tried to portray the decision on national parks as protective, as pro-fracking Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will have the power to veto applications approved by local authorities - what it doesn't mention is that he will also have the power to over-rule local authorities who don't find circumstances sufficiently exceptional to justify fracking.

The irony of this advocating of massive fracking, which will involve potentially tens of thousands of wellheads popping up across the country, is that the very MPs backing it are in large measure the same ones who complain about wind turbines blotting the landscape.

Well, if they have their way, at least that won't be a worry in the future landscape of our once-green-and-pleasant land.

Well-heads and access roads across the Wyoming landscape

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Bloody Brothers

The last few weeks has seen a seemingly exponential upsurge in violence not only across the Middle East but also in Ukraine and west Africa. Most have been going on outside the gaze of western media for some time and a wide range of very different interests and outlooks are involved - from the "Caliphate" of ISIS in the north of the Fertile Crescent, through the Syrian and Ukrainian civil wars to the pummelling of Gaza by far superior Israeli forces and the kidnapping of girls and others by Islamists in Nigeria as part of a wider cross-border conflict.

But one thing unites those taking part, whether the neo-fascists aligned to Kiev, or the religious fundamentalists of Boko Haram - a belief that spilling the blood of others is a legitimate way to impose their version of the world on others. It is an outlook that cuts across the religions involved - the extremist Jews who this week have called for the mothers of dead Palestinians to be killed as well and their houses destroyed; or the Koran testing of terrified Nigerian villagers by insurgents who separated those they deemed to be unbelievers before shooting them; or the "White Christians" supposedly championing European civilisation against Russian "Asiatics" as they ethnically cleanse eastern Ukraine.

Whether religion drives this behaviour or is incorporated to sanction it, isn't the issue. What is, is the willingness to deny the humanity of opponents - the Israeli Prime Minister breathtakingly complained about "telegenically dead" Palestinian corpses, while Boko Haram decreed the girls they seized from a school to be the "property" of their male captors.

This first video powerfully evokes the fundamental problem that drives the conflict - the belief in divine sanction being on your side consequently sanctions just about any form of behaviour, no matter how inhumane or extreme. I might disagree towards the end about the apparent equivalency portrayed between Israel and Gaza (Hamas do not have missiles like that, although they may well wish they did), but the video is about motive as much as method.

The second video isn't a cartoon. From Syria, it is real life for millions of people, including huge numbers of children - over half of Gazans are under 25- right now. It isn't as graphic as some of the recent footage from Gaza, but it is deeply upsetting and perhaps more powerfully than some of the more explicit images we have seen, it sums up the truly ceaseless tension and terror and the inhumane, dreadful and totally unjustifiable cost exacted on the innocent by the bloody brothers who would make this world their own.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Balkan Echoes

The Mothers of Srebrenica - the surviving relatives of the 7,000 Muslim men and boys butchered in 1995.

A Dutch Court has today ruled that the Dutch state is liable for the actions of Dutch soldiers, operating as part of the UN peacekeeping forces during the Bosnian war, who delivered some 300 Bosniac men and boys into the arms of their Serb murderers in Srebrenica back in 1995 were guilty of war crimes. The decision, taken following a case brought by the "Mothers of Srebernica", is welcome and long overdue. But it also highlights the ongoing hypocrisy and disregard of western governments towards the victims of European wide nationalist and neo-Nazi groups.

Who can forget these days back in  late June and early July1995? TV cameras covered the crowds of scared and hungry civilians crammed into the supposed safe zone; while the Dutch UN commander promised that he would not leave the terrified Muslims, mostly unarmed and surrounded by heavily weaponised Serbian paramilitaries. For months, they had been terrorised and starved until now their tormentors moved in. In the midst of this, 300 men ad several thousand women took refuge inside the UN compound itself - only to be herded out by their supposed protectors, the Dutch troops. They were assured that General Ratko Mladic himself had guaranteed their safe passage in spite of the obvious hollowness of his many, casually proffered previous promises.

Forced out of the compound in untypically decisive action by the UN in Bosnia, the three hundred joined the queues outside. Ominously, the women were separated from the men, supposedly to go to safety on different buses.

Except, as we know, the men's ones never turned up on the other side of the warring lines. Instead, 7,000 males, from teenage boys to crippled elderly men were led into the hills and then, as Christian priests blessed their executioners, they were shot and bludgeoned to death in the single worst act of genocide in Europe since the close of the Second World War. Their bodies were abused and dumped in mass graves and down old mine shafts in a clumsy attempt to put any evidence beyond the reach of any future investigators.

And, of course, the Dutch commander did not stay, instead getting as far away as possible.

The media of course was more than equivocal about the whole event - just as with Gaza now, the one sided nature of the Bosnian war, in which over 85% of casualties were Bosniac Muslims, the BBC and other western outlets suggested that the arms embargo favoured by the EU somehow "levelled the playing field" (or killing zone would have been more appropriate). In truth, given that the Serbs started with the full panoply of the well armed former Yugoslav army behind them while the Bosniacs started with a few police pistols and partisan rifles from World War 2 museums, the embargo in fact ensured ongoing Serb supremacy. This was only brought down when, finally shamed into action by the shelling of Sarajevo market, the UN finally approved the bombing of Serbian gun emplacements around besieged Sarajevo. A ceasefire and peacetalks leading to the Dayton Accords swiftly followed, but, of course, it has taken nearly twenty years for the families of the men butchered at Sarajevo to find even a smidgen of recognition of the UN's collusion with the Serb rebels.

And, as this Court finding is finally given, another tragedy with very similar traits and motives is playing itself out several hundred miles to the east of Bosnia - on the steppes of the Ukraine, the rightwing regime that came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected President has, with much western backing, more or less consolidated its hold over Russian speaking areas in the east. In spite of much hostile media coverage of Russia's attempts to protect ethnic Russians from the predations of fascist and far right vigilantes favoured by the Kiev irredentists, Putin has not overtly intervened and the Russian militias portrayed as extremists by the west have been almost completely eliminated.

But one look at who is busy fighting for the Ukraine regime immediately raises serious concerns about what is going on, and where Ukraine is headed - Scandinavian "volunteers" proclaiming that they are engaged in a race war for "the white Christian people". This statement does seem all the more odd given that most Russians are fairly white; until you reflect on Hitler's views of the Russian Slavs as what their name originally meant - an underclass, or under-race of slaves.

The Azov Unit uses the Wolfsangel banner once favoured by the Nazis.
Operating as part of the Azov militia, an outfit echoing the Serbian Arkan Tigers of the Bosnian genocide, they openly parade Nazi flags and symbols. Indeed, Nazi views are widespread among the European right - anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, persecutors of the Roma minority, many of their proclamations make the chilling "manifesto" of Utoya murderer Anders Breivic seem like a children's book by comparison.

The West, keen to get its hands on Ukrainian shale gas (the new regime has signed a 50 year deal with western energy bosses, including the son of US Vice-President Joe Biden and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry, which hands over their national treasure to big foreign corporations), has happily backed all manner of misfits and extremists. The coup d'etat in the Ukraine by a mob including racists, anti-Semites and out and out neo-Nazis, some of whom are now members of the Government, highlights very much what the true focus of western interventions in states around the world are actually about. As John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN under the Bush Presidency said of the Iraq war, it was never about freedom and democracy; it is about American (Western) interests. And money.

Dangerous genies were let loose two decades ago when Britain in particular connived in the destruction of Bosnia; and as we remember the ghosts of Bosnia today, the news from the East remains as grimly unsurprising as ever as the tragic cycles of history repeat, again and again.

Chilling echoes - right-wing militia round up ethnically suspect Russians.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Global Warming - Seeing the Unseen

As our emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise, perhaps one of the biggest problems in getting across the impact it has on our planet is the fact that it is invisible. Particulate pollution, often from burning coal, used to cause smog to visibly affect day to day life in many large western cities, leading to public demands and support for clean air action - and we can see similar developments, including public protests, in emergent economies like China now.

However, by sharp contrast, the very fact that we cannot see, smell or taste CO2 somehow relegates the immediacy and scale of what we are doing to our habitat. We don't need to turn a blind eye to what we cannot see.

This video (below) by the US Environmental Defense Fund sets out to show what it would be like if we could indeed see greenhouse gases. It takes the CO2-equivalent emissions of New Yorkers over a timescale from one hour to one year and represents these with very visible one tonne spheres to show the spread of these gases.

The cumulative effect is powerful, to say the least, and silently exposes the folly of the global warming deniers who continue to claim that somehow we are having no effect on the planet, on this, the only place we have to live.

And, bear in mind, it is not only C02. Other invisible greenhouse gasses like methane are just as transparent, but many, many times more warming - and around us in ever greater quantities every moment of the day. Time to stop denying and start acting.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Flexible Working: giving with one hand

From today, everyone with more than 26 weeks service has the right to request flexible working and their employer needs to seriously consider it. Consider - not grant it. If there is a good reason (and the definition of a good reason is extremely broad), it can still be declined.

Unfortunately, if you have less than two years' service, as the Coalition has severely restricted access to employment tribunals and knocked employment protection rights back from 12 to 24 months, there is nothing to stop your employer sacking you for making such a request and getting away with it.

Give with one hand...
- the right to request flexible working, and next year a slight, over-hyped variant on existing provisions on shared parental leave

And take away...
- protection against unfair dismissal in your first two years with any new employer
- free access to an employment tribunal to claim unfair dismissal (now £400 charge)
- free access to redress against sexism, racism, homophobia, disablism or religious discrimination in the workplace (now a £1,200 charge)
- legal aid for employment cases (already sparse, now virtually abolished)
- reasonable periods of consultation before large scale redundancies (periods halved)
- the employers' obligation to protect staff from harassment from clients and customers in the workplace (abolished)

All this to drive us to the "flexible economy" that Cameron and Farage hope can make massive profits for their corporate paymasters as they undercut the (slightly) fairer conditions on the European mainland.

So don't be fooled by Lib Dem Employment Minister Jo Swinney's honeyed words of workplace progress today. In the scheme of things, it is just some spit and polish on yet more Coalition crap.

First they came for the trade unions; and now they are coming for us.
85% of us are employees; but more and more, our rights are history.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Water Cannons: Doing what it says on the Tin

So London Mayor Boris Johnson has ordered three water cannons to be bought from Germany to be deployed on the streets of London. It has caused a lot of controversy, but like many others who don't know any better, or just don't care, Johnson has made out it's all a bit of a joke - though, after agreeing to be fired upon by one of these new weapons when he was caught off-guard by a radio interviewer, he may not be just quite so nonchalant.

The true nature of water cannons is really explained by, well, their name. These are CANNONS, a weapon invented in the Middle Ages to bring down the walls of besieged cities.

They are not, for example, garden hoses. Nor are they water chutes like in swimming pools. They are not even like the sprinklers the Mayor may have his people water his lawns with.

No, these are cannons. Weapons, firing high velocity jets. And they do what cannons do.

And it ain't funny at all.

Dietrich Wagner, a Stuttgart environmental campaigner, was blasted in the face by a water cannon during a demonstration against plans to cut down some trees. He lost his sight.

Seeing Through The Illusion of Choice

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”


Isn't this Britain now? An oligarchy centred on acceptance of a full-blown market system where all decisions, in all aspects of life public and private, are ultimately commodified, priced and sold. The health service, even now the jewel in the crown of the nation, is subject to not just creeping but full-on tendering out of its services to Virgin Clinics and other profit-seeking privateers; public buildings are in hoc to construction firms for tens of billions for decades to come; Serco, Capita, Balfour Beatty and other mega-corporations run our benefits system, our education authorities, our passport offices. A food company executive scripted the Government's policy on public health, a brazen act of corporate power imposed on the Body Politic.


Everything is up for sale, often to the same companies that fund our political parties - even Labour Party conferences have been sponsored by supermarket chains.


What then is left? US linguist and activist Noam Chomsky characterised such a world thus:


Neoliberal democracy. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless. In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy, not just in the United States but across the planet, and will be for the foreseeable future.”


Today, the Murdochs' News International company's mass circulation rag, The Sun, is seeking to boost its circulation by having a special World Cup "This Is England" copy delivered by the privatised Royal Mail to every house in the country - some postal staff are reportedly threatening strike action. This paper, after all, is the one that demonised the victims of Hillsborough, that publishes wildly inaccurate stories about migrants, scapegoats benefits claimants and even gleefully over-reported on an internet countdown-to-legal-sex-with-Charlotte-Church clock as the child singer approached her 16th birthday - one of many lurid stories it has published with no regard to the impact on the people covered.   


In so many, many ways, The Sun epitomises the neoliberal system described by Chomsky, reinforcing the status quo, trivialising society into a succession of scandals, celebrities and celebrity scandals. Its owners, who also control the equally sensationalist and right-wing Fox News in the USA, have grown rich on its sales and, needless to say, the last thing they want to challenge is the way the world works.


But - look who wants you to buy this large piece of toilet paper? I wonder why.


You know what to do. Membership applications can be found here: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/civicrm/membership/joining

CAUTION: This man (below) is just as neoliberal as the rest of them. Former stockbroker, he is keen to increase your taxes and cut them for millionaires, cut regulations on the banks and roll back support for mums and dads in the workplace. He also voted against action to stop female genital mutilation. Neoliberal Nigel is not the friend of ordinary people. He is just the Authorised Opposition by Appointment to the Establishment.


A Reminder for SCOTTISH READERS - It's on 18th September...

Thursday, 5 June 2014

D-Day 70 Years on: Why Britain Fought

In recent weeks, the bravery of the troops who went ashore against the Nazis at the D-Day landings seventy years ago this morning was the subject of largely vain attempts by people on the Far Right of politics to appropriate history for their own political benefit. In spite of the fact that a good number of them had previously expressed admiration for the very Nazi regime the British and other Allied troops were battling in 1944, pictures of soldiers and of the iconic wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the shamelessly tried to align anti-European politics with the British war effort and the personal bravery of allied servicemen and women.

Churchill himself urged people to "Study history! Study history!" as the key to statecraft and politics. Well, it seems that both the anti-Europeans who have tried to seize him for their own cause and the seemingly silent pro-European "mainstream" politicians are all equally ignorant of what Churchill actually said and stood for.

Churchill was an imperialist, with some pretty questionable and unpleasant views and actions alongside his undoubted achievements. Yet he was also a realist and as the Second World War ended with the collapse of Nazism, he was central to twin efforts to both unify Europe and define and protect human rights to prevent the recurrence of the terror that had engulfed the Continent. Consequently, for those who argue to leave Europe and abrogate our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, Churchill's views might come as something of a surprise.

So, as we recall the brave and terrible sacrifices made on the Normandy beaches all these decades ago, it is also a time to recall what we nearly lost and why, as European unity and the commitment to the rights of all comes under increasing pressure, we should not forget the reasons these things came about in the first place. We must learn from history; only then we may also learn to not repeat the mistake of listening to the siren voices of xenophobia, bigotry and rampant nationalism that were the cause of so much harm all that time ago.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Farage Photos

Just in case you've been missing Nigel Farage, who hasn't been on the TV for over 4 hours now, here are some photographs. Please share with your friends and acquaintances, who may be getting worried about where he has gone.

You may also want to consider asking the BBC for a partial rebate of your licence fee following this disgraceful failure to maintain normal wall-to-wall coverage of Mr Farage, his cigar and pint glass.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Don't Let The Lights Be Dimmed

The last 24 hours has been filled with repeated fanfares and breathless TV newspeople proclaiming about the earthquake caused by the increase of the United Kingdom Independence Party's vote in the British stage of the European elections. A group of millionaires and friends of millionaires, funded by a multi-millionaire, have managed to win a 27.5% vote share (on a 34% turnout = 9.5% of eligible voters)  - up from 16.5% last time (on a 35% turnout - 5.8% of eligible voters) and have the biggest grouping of MEPs from the UK in the European Parliament.

But UKIP's historically lazy MEPs are not the real issue - the issue is the attitudes and culture they foster and amplify. And these are ones of manufactured anger and fear of difference; of lies about EU regulations which often are the sole protection for workers and consumers against the big predatory multinational corporations that UKIP loves; and of a willingness to berate and bully their opponents in the name of a twisted democracy.

During the campaign, UKIP candidates successfully had the police visit a Green blogger to have him delete an internet posting about UKIP policy, even although the police themselves admitted no crime had been committed. And then another issued a letter to voters calling for both his opposing candidates and anyone who voted for them to be hanged for treason. If they are like this in opposition, what sort of country will they run if they ever come to power?

And they are not alone. All across Europe in these elections, we have seen the rise of bitterly angry, right-wing eurosceptic parties, perverting the troubles of the poor into a crusade against equally poor migrants while shoring up the real problem - the tax-dodging, austerity-imposing rich. Although Greece has turned more to the leftwing Syriza coalition in response to the neoliberal European Central Bank's savage public spending cuts, the far right has grown there too. Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has taken one in ten Hellenic votes and there is even talk of an army coup - according to Forbes Magazine the "only half joking" preference of some international financiers.

In France, the Front National under Marine Le Pen has taken first place with a quarter of the vote, wiping out the Greens and pushing the governing socialists into third place. In Denmark, the far right People's Party topped the poll while the extreme-right Jobbik, widely accused of racism and anti-Semitism, finished second in Hungary. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Freedom Party of Geert Wilders' - which plans an alliance with Le Pen - finished joint second in terms of seats. Similarly the far right has performed well in Finland.

All these parties, and similar ones in other EU states, have common themes of taking back their countries, which generally translates into a call to continue with free trade by big business but to do away with laws such as the working time regulations and common product safety standards. This is because these, apparently, destroy the culture of their respective countries. But they don't talk about consumer protection, they talk about bureaucracy; they don't refer to safety in the workplace, but rather decry job-destroying red tape. They use the fears of ordinary people to reinforce the power of the elite.

Perhaps most troubling of all, rightists from Flanders, Denmark and elsewhere happily endorse Vladimir Putin as a true democrat after their own hearts, echoing as he does their calls to "take (his) country back". And perhaps it is Putin's Russia - also praised by Farage - that provides us with the nationalist right's  ideal template for a "country taken back". Putin's nationalism uses the language of patriotic freedom to crush many of the values and freedoms we have achieved, however tenuously, here. Gender equality, gay rights, respect for cultural diversity, freedom of expression, any attempt to seek economic or social justice - these are all subordinated to and largely suffocated by the National Will, expressed by a Leader selected via a managed democracy on behalf of a super-rich elite. "Difference" is tolerated very narrowly: and those who find the courage to kick against the limits placed on them end up out of work, in jail or exile, or dead in a ditch.

As growing numbers of Europeans embrace the xenophobia and monoculturalism of the Far Right, and the Establishment parties flounder, hoist on their outsourced elitist petards, now more than ever is it vital for the Left to advance the true alternative. That has to be one that focuses on a renewed drive towards egalitarianism, traversing national and cultural barriers to challenge the unbridled capitalist economic system and the thousand multinational corporations to whom our planet is so in thrall. It is possible - and if the elections show one thing, it is that, with their low turnouts, even the allegedly surging far right are still supported by minorities of national populations. We must not cede a narrative that allows the corporate media and the Tory rightwing to use UKIP's 9.5% share of the electorate to dictate yet further assaults on the rights and welfare of ordinary people.

As twice before, Europe sits on the fault-line: we can eradicate the gross inequality of wealth and power at the centre of our economic orthodoxy; we can put co-operation rather than competition at the heart of our Continent and yet become a beacon to the world. But equally, if our Demoi, our voters, commentators and political class, continue to indulge the grinning masks of Farage and his internationally franchised ilk, if we turn our world into one of closed borders and closed minds, we may once again sleepwalk into a nightmare from which, this time, there will be no coming back.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

UKIP - To the Barricades or the Boozer?

The local election results were declared yesterday with the media trumpeting a fanfare of stories about UKIP breaking through, parroting Nigel Farage's claims that UKIP are foxes in the "Westminster hen house" and that the main parties will need to adopt UKIP's agenda, especially on immigration, for any of them to have any chance of success next year in the General Election. Although no one has quite yet suggested UKIP will be swept to power itself, the prospect of "Kingmaker" Farage has emblazoned many a headline today. Additionally, there have been some pretty sycophantic interviews with Farage including such searching questions as "Is this a big breakthrough for UKIP?"; and "Have people voted for you because you say what ordinary people are thinking?"

 By contrast, although Labour won almost as many councillors as everyone else put together, reading some papers today, the impression given is that Ed Miliband is in crisis. And today the BBC even stooped to giving airtime to a complete lie that the Leader of the Opposition had pinched some Fanta from a Subway outlet (perhaps subliminally trying to link Ed to Fanta's dodgy origins as the soft drink of choice of Nazi Germany when the local Coca Cola franchise was isolated from its US parent at the outbreak of hostilities in 1941 - oh, as if they would be so subtle or well-informed!). At least they had to apologise afterwards.

UKIP's media people are pretty crap at their work, but it hardly matters when journalists seem more than a tad keen to do their job for them. In the case of print/online corporate media with its deregulatory agenda, this is no surprise, but with notionally impartial broadcast media (other than the notable exception of LBC) it falls into the category of a disgraceful breach of quality and possibly even regulatory standards. In fact, beyond someone in the newsroom telling them UKIP has done well, you seriously wonder if many of the TV interviewers actually took any time to check any facts before fawning over the beer-swilling former stockbroker. Little wonder that a twitter account parodying the BBC's Chief Political Correspondent Nick Robinson tweeted today;

But the whole narrative, the whole story, is fantasy. UKIP have done reasonably well - and certainly as a Green supporter, this blogger would have been delighted to see the Greens making the gains UKIP did (although, hidden away from the headlines, the Greens have actually polled very well indeed and more than doubled their councillors). But the rightwing, pro-business, anti-NHS Faragista party's showing is not exactly, to borrow an old phrase, "breaking the mould of British politics."

The facts are:
- UKIP won 162 seats out of 4,200 contested: 3.6% of the total
- UKIP polled an assessed national vote of 17%. That's up 13% on the last time the seats at stake were fought, but it is nearly 7% DOWN on their showing this time last year at the county council elections.
- Turnout was 36% across the country, meaning just 6.12% of the electorate chose UKIP
- UKIP polled extremely badly in London; their own spokesperson has bizarrely said this is because they struggle to win the support of educated people, something of an insult to his own supporters.

Who would have guessed Labour won the elections?
However reluctantly, no one would deny UKIP had a good night. But it was not the Spectacular! they were anticipating, nor the Breaking-News-Fest that the 24 Hour News media are portraying it as being. This isn't sour grapes - but rather a concern that by giving yet again a completely false impression of a groundswell for UKIP, a fiction will inform even further the panic among the three establishment parties, who will respond with ever more illiberal, rightwards shift in policy and action. Already senior Labour MPs are saying they must "talk more" about immigration, and Tories are even calling for a pact for the general election next year.

The truth is that UKIP have no functional party machinery across whole swathes of the country - in Kirklees they managed to put up in just 5 out of 23 wards (Greens and even the Lib Dems fought all of them) - and other than a big donation for the Euro-elections from a single donor, they are not flush for money. Their members tend to be semi-activists, reflecting the armchair location of many of them, and large quantities of their leaflets were delivered by commercial companies (including those with low wage, zero hours Eastern European staff).

Just as its arguments and policies depend on appeals to blind emotion rather than any informed facts, its organisation such as it is appears to be haphazard and chaotic. While the feelings of its voters obviously deserve to be taken note of and given the same weight as others, UKIP's showing should not be allowed to dictate the terms of political discourse - notwithstanding, of course, that more than a few in the three old parties in truth share much of UKIP's neoliberal worldview. Whatever happens, even if as is likely they perform better in the European results announced tomorrow, the polling of this revanchist, populist party should not be allowed to legitimise or necessitate an even further lurch rightwards in our politics.

So it's not a revolution - 6.12% is a theatre-outing rather than the People's Army march that Farage hubristically declared it to be. UKIP is lazy politics and the equally lazy (or biased, surely not?!) media would do well to take note. No one is going to the barricades when the leader is already down the pub.