Monday, 20 June 2016

Lexit or Fixit?

Thousands of columns have been written now on just about every aspect of the referendum. The main focus has of course been the visceral scrap between two gangs of public schoolboys led alternately by David Cameron and his erstwhile Etonian classmate Boris Johnson. Between them they have truly put the "bully" into Bullingdon with ever more ludicrous and shrill statements on both sides; only the appalling murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, brutally shot and stabbed in a Birstall street, has tragically given any pause.

But there have been other debates taking place, unreported by the mainstream media, and the one on the Left is one which has generated its own divisions between colleagues and comrades.

Broadly, no one on the Left seriously supports the EU as it is. The division is between those like Another Europe Is Possible and Diem25, who argue for reform to build a social Europe focussed on tackling the power of international capital, and those like Labour Leave and others on the Lexit (left exit) side who argue this is both structurally and politically nigh impossible.

Both are valid arguments, but to my mind the first approach is the right one to take, for now. 

1. Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalised economy where around one thousand huge transnational mega-corporations effectively own and control our world. They sit far above any national legislature, functioning in many ways as like sovereign states in their own right (and might). We need multinational institutions like the EU to be transformed to counter their power and eventually transform our system of ownership and economics. Now more than ever the idea of achieving socialism in one country seems even more unlikely than changing the EU. 

2. Politically, come Friday, if Britain votes to leave, it will be a Tory regime that is in power, not a socialist one. And, if you can imagine it, it will be even worse than the current one - Brexit Tories, after all, tend to be those who view Cameron and Osborne as appallingly moderate for their likes. Boris Johnson is unlikely to become leader and PM in the event of Brexit, nevertheless. More likely is Theresa May, whose silent support of Remain speaks volumes - watch her emerge as the Tory unity candidate to lead a rightwing government on to the 2020 election. Boundary changes will entrench them further, as might a pragmatic ennoblement of Nigel Farage to bring UKIP into the new politics.

So then welcome to the promised bonfire of employment and consumer rights, safety regulations and human rights law - the "red tape" so often decried by these revanchist neoliberals. And to assaults on immigration and a shutdown on refugees. Some Lexiters talk of the People resisting such outcomes. Possibly, except that the Tories are adept at divide-and-conquer, all the more so shorn of any restraint required by EU regulations and reinvigorated by an albeit imaginary new post-referendum mandate to do maximum harm. And don't forget they will still have their cruel hands tightly gripping all the levers of power.

This is not alarmist fantasy. This is the likely reality post-Brexit. The scenario of millions marching on Downing Street on Friday to demand an election is the real fantasy, sadly. (The only good news though is that, win or lose, Cameron's premiership will be at an end given the deep divisions in his party this has brought to the surface in a most brutal and typically ugly way).

3. We can leave the EU anytime. If reform doesn't happen or if we elect a leftwing government in Britain that looks to take us out for rather more progressive reasons than those that fester in the skulls of Gove, Johnson, IDS and Patel, all we need to do is hold a referendum and leave. But first let's try to see if instead, in solidarity with socialists, greens, trade unions and other progressives and leftists across Europe, we can take the first steps to build a better, fairer and sustainable Europe. A Europe for people and planet.

A final recommendation: please watch this video of Spanish Podemos radical MP Pablo Bustinduy as he speaks on why in spite of the austerity of the eurozone his party wants Spain to remain in the EU and powerfully calls for Britain to do the same.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Videos: Another Europe Is Possible - the Radical Case for Remain

In the last month or so of the European referendum debate in the UK, we have been treated, if that is the word, to a contest of rumour, complaint, exaggeration and pettiness between two male gangs of Hooray Henry Old Etonians. Prime Minister David Cameron has gone head to head with his old Bullingdon Club mate, former London Mayor and would-be Tory PM Boris Johnson, in a reprise of their old party game of smashing everything up - except that this time, its' not Boris setting the toilets on fire in a jolly rich arsed jape, but our country and its' future that are at stake.

The Eurotunnel at Manchester
So it has been refreshingly positive this last week to witness the Another Europe Is Possible campaign swinging fully into action. This grouping of Greens, Labour, Left Unity, trade unions, artists and other progressives of a left-wing viewpoint has been powerfully articulating why we need to stay in Europe to work hard for a better, fairer and more sustainable social Europe. To leave, they argue, would be a fatal error on the part of the country and especially any left wingers contemplating supporting Brexit.

In theory the UK could elect a socialist government and seek to create a socialist society, but the reality on 24 May should we vote to leave is that it will not be socialists who will be ascendant, but the hard right of Farage, Johnson, Patel and Gove. These are all people who have spent their political careers destroying the public NHS, seeking to reduce workplace rights, opposing EU action on stopping tax evasion by the rich and longing to withdraw us from the European Court of Human Rights. With President Putin of Russia, would-be President Trump of the USA and Rupert Murdoch of global capitalism all lining up with them, any progressive hoping Brexit would mean a blow to neoliberalism would be sorely disappointed.

Owen Jones: TTIP is dead
 So Another Europe offers a different path - one of working together to create a more progressive European Union. It is not as some would claim a bosses club - it is for now a vehicle proposing austerity purely because the majority of Governments in the EU, including our own, support austrity platforms which, in turn, they have been elected to implement. The challenge for the left is to change national governments, not leave the EU.

There has been a marked success already - the loathsome TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) looks dead in the water after mass protests by left wingers across Europe, culminating in the French Government making clear it will veto it if it is pursued in its current form. Ironically - or perhaps deviously - many of the Brexit leaders, when representing the British Government, have been the most enthusiastic proponents of TTIP, which they now claim to be a major EU-created threat to the UK.

So, here are a few speeches from the Another Europe  rally at the Peoples' History Museum in Manchester yesterday afternoon. The videos start with perhaps the most powerful contribution - from Pablo Bustinduy, an MP of the Spanish radical Podemos Movement, which has shaken the very foundations of his country's political system - but which continues to want to remain in the European Union and very much hopes that British socialists and progressives will remain as well to work in genuine international solidarity.





YANIS VAROUFAKIS (DIEM25 - Democracy In Europe Movement 2025)


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Boris Brexits His Past

No buffoon - Johnson advocated passionately for Turkish entry to the EU
Boris Johnson infamously spent a weekend transforming from a Europhile to a Eurosceptic a few weeks ago and of course since then has headed the Vote Leave campaign.

The former Mayor has never been one for consistency. He is now heading up a team that yesterday put out a broadcast scaremongering about the currently non-existent prospect of Turkey joining the EU and millions of Turks rushing to use the British NHS. But this current incarnation seems in truth to be a breath-taking piece of cold, calculating re-invention.

What would Great- Grandpa think?
Johnson, some of whose near ancestors come from Turkey and whose great-grandfather Ali Kemal was a liberal Minister in the Ottoman Turkish Government, far from worrying about Turkish immigration has spent some years passionately calling for Turkey to be admitted to the EU. He has decried French concerns about Turkey's human rights record, dismissed calls for greater gender equality and bizarrely hailed the importation of Turkish manufactured fridges to the UK. Opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, according to Johnson, is down to "snootiness" against Islam and demonisation of Muslims.

These are not throwaway remarks and are fully recorded in his own words.

Consider these comments:

The French object to the Turks because of the Armenian massacres, as though France were guiltless herself. Brussels occasionally launches another of its sermons about gender equality, though it should be remembered that Turkey gave women the vote before Belgium.


We need reconciliation, not repulsion. We need reciprocity, not rejection. Instead of intensifying the differences, by burbling on about alien “values”, we should see that we are coming to a critical moment in our discussions with Turkey. We either shore up the Ataturk achievement, and reinforce Turkey’s huge success in becoming a secular democracy with a Muslim population. Or we wrinkle up our noses at the Turks because of their religion.

And if we do, what are we saying to moderate Muslims all over the world? What are we saying to those who believe it is possible to make an accommodation between Islam and democracy? What are we saying to the millions of Muslims who have made their homes and lives in western Europe, including Britain? Are they a kind of geographical error?

Should they be barred, by their alien “culture”, from living here? We would be crazy to reject Turkey, which is not only the former heartland of the Roman empire but also, I see, one of the leading suppliers of British fridges. One Turkish company alone has 15 per cent of the UK fridge market.
Think of all those Turkish fridges, thundering through the passes of the Balkans to Germany and Britain. Think of the intimate interdependency it sets up between the workers of Turkey and the kitchens of Britain.

Think of the colossal numbers of Britons now buying property in Turkey.

Granted, Johnson cautions against unlimited migration, but as well as wanting Turkey in the EU, the Old Etonian appears to anticipate welcoming North African countries into economic union too:

One day, if we get it right with Turkey, we could rebuild the whole ancient harmonious union around the Mediterranean, the rich and free dissemination of produce described by Henri Pirenne, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosphorus; from Tunis to Lyons.

We could heal the rupture created by the Muslim invasions. We could create, once again, the Roman Economic Community built around Mare Nostrum (n.b., the Mediterranean Sea).

Over time, we need to develop a new and deeper relationship between the EU and the Maghreb countries of North Africa, based on the old Roman idea of tolerance.

You don't need to take my word for it. You can read it in his 2007 book, The Dream of Rome, (published by Harper Perennial) or, rather than spend money on that, you can even now read it on his own website,
Buzzfeed have a link to him making similar comments in his TV documentary of the same name, HERE.

So, what does Boris really think? What is his abiding belief?

Ah yes - perhaps that he should be the next Prime Minister?

Vote Leave broadcast graphically warns of mass Turkish migration to use Britain's NHS

Sunday, 22 May 2016

What Did EU Do In The War, Father?

from 1870
The European Union has in recent weeks come under more scrutiny than ever as the British referendum on membership draws closer. Yet, as Conservatives fight a bitter proxy leadership battle through the respective Remain and Leave campaigns, much hysterical rhetoric has rained down from both sides.

But perhaps one of the most appalling fables has been the comparison of the European Union to the attempted Nazi conquest of the Continent under Adolf Hitler. Boris Johnson, as widely reported, drew this analogy and it has informed the thinking of a good number of Brexiters for some time.

Yet the whole purpose of the EU, from its very conception and no matter how befuddled it has become in its support of multinational big business, was quite the opposite; and perhaps it is our only deeply flawed hope for the Continent remaining at peace. For Johnson and his colleagues' lazy history does deep disservice to the generation that faced the great conflagration that took tens of millions of European and other lives between 1939 and 1945, and to the people who worked to establish a different means for European states to settle their differences.

That we have not had a war between any of the major European nations, or any members of the EU, for over 70 years now is unique to our troubled continent's history. The so-called Pax Europa is unparallelled not only in recent times but in all time. Where there have been conflicts involving member states, such as Britain in the Falklands or France in Algeria (or both in Libya), these have been about their pursuit of national (and corporate) interests outside of Europe.

So, who were the people who set up this project?
The EU has eleven so called Founding Fathers (sadly reflecting their more patriarchal times). None of them could be seen as having any sympathy at all for the ideas of the Nazis; and quite the opposite. In their different ways, each of them either fought or suffered (or both) in the struggle against Hitler's Reich. Politically they ranged from conservative Christian Democrats to Communists.

Here they are along with their respective war records:

Konrad Adenaur (Germany)
Arrested twice by the Nazis and imprisoned following the 1944 July Valkyrie plot (though he was not personally involved in it).

Joseph Bech (Luxemburg)
When Germany invaded in 1940, he escaped to London and later served as Foreign Minister in the Government-in-exile.

Johan Beyen (Netherlands)
After the German invasion, he fled to London and served as a member of the Government-in-exile.

Winston Churchill (United Kingdom)
Well, what can you say? Architect of the war against Hitler, he called for a United States of Europe in 1946 to prevent future wars. In 1948, he was foremost in advocating a European Charter of Human Rights, backed by a European Court, on which the European Convention on Human Rights was later based. It is this which his Tory successors now wish to scrap.

Alcide de Gasperi (Italy)
Headed an anti-fascist group within the PPI predecessor of the Christian Democrats. In 1927, after severe harassment, he was jailed by Mussolini for 4 years - the Vatican negotiated his release when he became seriously ill after 18 months, and he lived inside the Vatican until the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943.

Walter Hallstein (Germany)
He was an academic in Nazi Germany. He declined to join the Party and his appointment to a professorship at Frankfurt was opposed by local Nazi officials (his colleagues prevailed however and he was given the post of Faculty Dean). He was drafted into the army in 1942 but he surrendered to the Americans in 1944 and worked as a teacher in Project Sunflower, an early denazification programme among German prisoners of war.

Sicco Mansholt (Netherlands)
He was a farmer who became an active member of the Dutch Resistance during the Nazi occupation, helping to hide people wanted by the invaders and organising a massive clandestine food programme in the western provinces.

Jean Monnet (France)
In London in 1940, he worked with Churchill on the British PM's proposal for a political and military union with France, which was thwarted by the German invasion that spring. Monnet remained in London as a member of de Gaulle's National Liberation Committee, returning to Paris following the 1944 flight of the Nazis.

Robert Schuman (France)
Resigned from the Reynaud Government in 1940 over its collaborationist stance with the Nazi invaders. He was arrested and, after initially being marked by the Gestapo to be sent to the Dachau concentration camp, was instead imprisoned by the Gauleiter of Occupied France. In 1942, he escaped and joined the French Resistance, speaking at secret meetings to organise political opposition to the Nazis and the Petain regime.

Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium)
He was Foreign Minister in 1940 when the Germans invaded and conquered Belgium. He fled across France and from there to Portugal, concealed in the false bottom of a truck along with the Prime Minister (Hubert Pierlot) to avoid capture by pro-Hitler Spanish fascists. He reached London and served in the Belgium Government-in-exile.

Alberto Spinelli (Italy)
A Communist writer, in 1927 he was imprisoned for ten years by Mussolini's fascist regime. Then again, in 1940, he was interned with 800 other political prisoners on the island of Ventontene. While there, at great personal risk, he and a fellow anti-fascist prisoner, Ernesto Rossi, wrote a manifesto secretly on cigarette papers concealed in a tin, calling for "A Free and United Europe." This was smuggled out and circulated by the Italian Resistance.
Spinelli himself was released in 1943 and at a clandestine meeting in Milan in August he and others founded the left wing European Federalist Movement. He argued that a new settlement was needed or else Europe would soon see war again.

No one can convincingly argue that the European Union is not deeply flawed, nor that it isn't in trouble. But before Britain rushes to exit, a step where we would almost certainly be just the first of many leavers, do we really want to unravel the whole thing?

Brexiters say we will leave and establish a new relationship with the EU. But what if there is no European Union and instead thirty or forty nation states with nothing to settle their differences but guns and tanks?

We might do well to remind ourselves of the reasons the Founders had for doing what they did, and why, taking a lesson from history, we should not mistake the fury of debate between EU members and the difficulties of joint decision-making for the existential, life-and-death struggles of the not-so-distant past.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Video: Hitler Hears Sanders Won't Stand Down

Bernie Sanders won a further primary victory this week and ran Hillary Clinton agonisingly close in Kentucky, less than 2,000 votes behind her out of over 550,000 cast. With just ten primary contests to go, he trails her by over 250 in the elected delegate count, but with more than 750 still to be selected, it is at least technically feasible for him to win - although with her 9 to 1 inbuilt majority among the unelected "superdelegates", Clinton seems guaranteed to have a majority when the Democrat Convention gathers in Philadelphia in July. Consequently, although Clinton fought to the very end in 2008 against Barak Obama, she and her media allies are increasingly trying to pressure Sanders into stepping down now, rather than see the electoral process through to its supposedly democratic conclusion.

It is not how the script was meant to be, of course: from the outset, the Democratic National Committee and the mass liberal media had crowned her the heir presumptive to President Obama before a single vote was cast. Sanders' socialist-inspired insurgency, drawing in millions of independents and socialists who would otherwise never vote Democrat, has torn asunder the Establishment's plans, just as his mirror opposite Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party.

Notably, while the two men could not be further apart in almost every way, their respective insurgent platforms appeal to a surprisingly large number of "crossover" voters: people who, like growing numbers throughout the world, feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political elite,and are more than ready to support anyone who challenges the status quo. Consequently, opinion polls show that, while Sanders would comfortably see off Trump in the full Presidential election, as an establishment candidate, Clinton could potentially struggle and even lose to the eclectic Republican maverick.

But perhaps this is what happens when liberalism, like the market capitalism it depends upon, draws towards its close. Just as the economics no longer work, nor do the politics. People are less and less inclined to trip once every four or five years to ballot boxes to simply confirm the elite's right to rule over them, bar the odd, minimal policy variation. The politics of tomorrow, if not quite yet today, will again be the politics of ideas and vision; not the politics of managerialism and consumerism.

But that is not to say that the current Establishment will give way gracefully or democratically. As evidenced by the shutdown of voting procedures at the Nevada Democratic Convention (backed by sinister looking security personnel and police) and the media campaign to deflect criticism from Sanders' supporters by labelling their anger as extremist, the kick-back has already begun and it is likely to get much, much worse in the times ahead.

Police State: the Nevada Democratic Party Convention last weekend.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Last Brexit to Bullingdon

Bullingdon Boys - Cameron (2nd left back) & Johnson (front right) at Oxford together
 "This is the most important decision Britain will make in a generation," quivered the worried voice of Tory grandee Lord Heseltine on the radio this evening. "But it is turning into something nasty."

The plaintive plea of a serious man, perhaps, but one likely to fall on deaf ears as the European referendum campaign grows ever more shrill.

Remain have deployed the Project Fear tactics of the Scottish referendum (forgetting how that in fact almost lost Scotland from the UK). Unlearning, the Remain camp has choreographed an endless succession of bad Brexit days on what would happen if the Eurovote is to leave the European Union: we will all be £4,000 worse off, we will pay more for our goods, we won't get a trade deal with the USA, we will lose influence, European scientists won't talk to British scientists any more, and, today, according to Prime Minister Cameron, the bloodthirsty terrorist leader of Daesh will apparently be delighted if Britain opts for Brexit.

So far, so fear.

Brexit are no better however: we are long used to Farage and Co proclaiming the imminent death of Britain as more Bulgarians and Romanians than actually exist allegedly prepare to decant to Margate. But now we are also told by the increasingly hysterical Boris Johnson that the EU is in fact the realisation of Napoleonic and Nazi dreams of conquest (although curiously he seems to applaud the Roman invasions) and now today he has claimed Cameron has been bribing business leaders to support Remain in return for public contracts.

So what are we seeing here?

Just two men define the debate: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

All along, the referendum has been David Cameron's high-risk tactic for managing his party. Aware of how Euroscepticism and "bastards" round the Cabinet table did for the last Tory PM, John Major, his offer of a referendum was only ever designed to rally his own dissidents and take the sting out of the rising UKIP. But, now that the time is here, the real reason for this national vote is as clear as crystal. The debate they really care about isn't Europe, but rather who will be Cameron's successor?

Boris Johnson supported remaining in the EU until over a weekend in February he decided to campaign to leave, largely to give him a platform to promote himself to succeed Cameron as leader and PM when the latter stands down, as he has pledged to do sometime before 2020. Similarly wearing his convictions lightly, Cameron reportedly prepared two articles for publication, one for staying and one for leaving, until he assessed his chances (and those of his friend and desired successor George Osborne) after the concluded his notional negotiations with other EU leaders.

So now, instead of a meaningful debate of the merits and possibilities of In or Out, their shrill, personalised and ever more ridiculous baiting of each other exposes not only the immature level of their European debate, but also the truly nasty natures of both men. This should be of little surprise, of course.

These men were contemporaries at Eton and in the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. The latter institution, which takes stipends rumoured to be up to £10,000 pa from each member, distinguishes itself with schoolboy rituals, such as smashing up the rooms of new members, holding an annual breakfast involving such excess that each person is given a sick bag to allow them to vomit without leaving table and, allegedly, burning money in front of a homeless person.

Our protagonists were no exceptions. Boris Johnson's biographer notes:
"I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men."  Meanwhile Cameron has reminisced fondly that,Things got out of hand and we'd had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.”

These men are bullies. They have grown up in a culture where self-entitlement and bullying (thinly disguised as upper-class joshing) are de rigeur. It has shown in how Cameron has run a Government targeting the vulnerable with his relentless austerity economics and in how Johnson allegedly ran City Hall via eclectic demands for half-baked ideas to be implemented and then growing angry with those who failed him.

Both men have tried hard to cultivate more positive self-images - Cameron as a regular family guy, Johnson as a happy buffoon on a bike. All too often their masks have slipped for a moment - such as when Cameron described a handful of desperate refugees as a "swarm", like human insects; and Johnson when he screamed abuse at a taxi driver for no reason other than his own pomposity. But of course, there is nothing as bitterly vitriolic or fascinatingly unpleasant than two former allies scrapping jealously with each other. Whatever the outcome of the Eurovote, the medium term future not only of both men but of their party and its Government must now be in serious doubt. We can but live in hope.

In the meantime, however, we will have been required to make a major decision on our national future with the arguments mired in mutual loathing between different wings of the Tory Party. It is to be hoped that in the weeks remaining more sensible voices, on all sides, can come to the fore and debate the issues without the distraction of either of these smug egotists.

Let them go back to Bullingdon, shout bullshit at each other and vomit together. Then the rest of us can get on with the grown up stuff. Like deciding the future of our country and Continent.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Godwin's Downfall - Boris Johnson, Or The Historian Who Should Know Better

There is in social media a term called "Godwin's Law", which asserts that anyone with a tenuous or false observation to make on the internet will eventualy invoke Adolf Hitler.

We've had two former London Mayors cite the Austrian Corporal in the last two weeks:

Labour's Ken Livingstone ended up suspended by the party after extrapolating from an arrangement permitted by the German Fuhrer to let Jews leaving Nazi Germany in late 1933 go to Palestine as meaning Hitler endorsed the Zionist belief in a Jewish State. While the Havaara accord is undeniably historical (if short lived), the claimed Zionist intentions of the author of the virulently anti-Semitic Mein Kampf were rather more dubious.

And now, this weekend, Ken's successor, Boris Johnson, less than a week after leaving office, has derided the European Union as being akin to Hitler's Nazi project to conquer Europe. In a lazy attack, the Brexit leader compared the EU bureaucracy to the Napoleonic and Nazi wars of conquest, indulging in cheap rhetoric and ignoring key aspects of history which he is more than well acquainted with.

For Johnson is a historian and is more than aware that the genesis of the European Union was one of ensuring peace and reconstruction after the end of the devastating Second World War. Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime Prime Minister, called in 1946 for a United States of Europe to ensure the reconstruction of the European family - whether he wanted Britain to be part of it or not is open to debate, but it makes the EU hardly the pursuit of a Nazi dream as Johnson has so crassly claimed. Indeed, most of the founders of the EU were people who had actively resisted Hitler and Mussolini or been persecuted and imprisoned by them, the like of which Mr Johnson has had the historically unusual good fortune never to have experienced. Several of the eleven so-called Founding Fathers were resistance fighters, while others were arrested and one fled Nazi-occupied France concealed in the false bottom of a truck.

So it is a travesty of the truth for Johnson to compare the European project with the dictatorships of the jackbooted militarists - all the more so as it is the Nazis' own spiritual heirs in the growing neo-fascist and far right movements who are keenest of all to destroy the European Union.

If Britain leaves, the likes of Le Pen and the AfD will see that as the first of many dominoes to fall until the whole Union is undone and we return to dozens of nation states peering suspiciously at each other over reinforced borders. If this is what Johnson wants from his call for British voters to be "heroes of Europe" (like something out of a bad 1960s war movie), he should know better.

For as a historian, Johnson will also be more than aware that we have never before now had over 70 years without a large-scale war on the European Continent. To be sure, there have been bloody localised conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in Ukraine and parts of the Caucasus (all outside of the EU), but for the first time in history there has been no major war blighting our previously blood-soaked part of the world. Go back, as Mr Johnson curiously does, to the glorious days of authoritarian Imperial Rome, which he does for some reason seem to laud as a "golden age", and not only under that Empire but in every subsequent century you can find not one or two but dozens of large scale military conflicts between European states. That is until 1945, and the new emphasis on a Europe that shares its future rather than fights over it.

Has the EU realised that future?

The simple answer is No, of course not. The EU is beholden to big business interests. It is not sufficiently democratic and in some respects, especially in the Eurozone which Britain is not part of, it is over-centralised and obsessed with austerity economics (like our own Government). But that is a case for staying in and making it change; it is not a case for deriding it as the realisation of a one-balled bloodthirsty narcissist's dream and walking away to do deals with these nice democrats in Beijing and shake hands with President Trump.

On so many issues - tackling climate change, taming big multinational corporations, keeping the social and political peace on our fractured Continent - a democratised EU is essential. Leaving it won't somehow magic an alternative into being. We need to campaign, argue, push for change. And if in the meantime we argue ceaselessly with other Europeans, well, equally we will work with many others too, and in any case, surely shouting is better than shooting?

Mr Johnson, as changeable as his spliced-at-conception twin Trump, should take his tawdry careerism elsewhere and leave history alone.

Nexit Nightmare : Premier Johnson and President Trump?

Saturday, 7 May 2016

American Psycho

The USA has seen two of the most tumultuous and ultimately troubling primary contests in recent history, both now drawing to a close in terms of voting and with the formal nominating conventions on the other side of summer.

On the Democrats' part, Bernie Sanders has led a incredibly powerful insurgency against the establishment candidate Hillary ("It's my turn") Clinton. The DNC's response has been to put up all means of obstacles to Sanders en route, and we have seen voters disenfranchised, claims of vote-rigging and of course the power of the appointed super-delegates, whose utterly unwarranted say in the process rips away any shred of democratic pretence. Like so many liberals, these people see elections as a mere ritual where the grateful masses confirm their right to govern - democratically, of course. As soon as they start choosing the "wrong" candidates, the people are being "unrealistic", "not taking it seriously" and, by some paradox, even "undemocratic".

Clinton is now likely to be the Democrat nominee - though as Sanders' unexpected win in Indiana last week shows, it ain't over until it is over. And, in spite of the establishment, there is even now a faint possibility that the FBI may yet subpoena Hillary over its investigation into her emails, an unprecedented situation for a Presidential candidate (well, other than for early 20th century Socialist Eugene Debs, who fought one entire election from his prison cell).

This opens up the terrifying prospect of a Republican Party Presidency under their own insurgent nominee, Donald Trump - for the polls all show that, while Sanders would pull enough independent voters to the Democrats to trounce The Donald, Clinton struggles to stay just ahead. The very latest poll gives Trump a two point advantage over her.

Trump. What can you say?
An Ego, wrapped in an Id, inside a toupee...

This man has built his entire career on an unwarranted image of entrepreneurship that never happened, trust that was actively betrayed and success that went down the toilet. Yet, it shows the depths of disconnection of the American political class and system from ordinary people that his rambling, incoherent rage and bile simply piles up more and more votes for him. The Republican party establishment is in meltdown even more than the DNC, but they have only themselves to blame - it was they who created the narrative of xenophobia and global aggression that Trump is now simply taking to a logical, if extreme, conclusion. That Ted Cruz, a man who thinks Jesus had sent him to bomb the deserts of Syria "until they glow", was his only serious rival shows just how hollow the party of Lincoln now is.

So, much more on this in the weeks ahead. For now, a little gallery of the American elections memes on the Viridis Lumen facebook page, collected here to amuse and terrify, possibly in equal order.

1. Atomic Finger...
There was a time it just seemed too incredible.

2. Netrump
Donald had problems with the internet of ideas. Best to shut it down. Or bits of it. Maybe.

3. Game of Trumps
Republicans aren't good on tackling climate change. Donald saw some snow in December, so what the heck's all the fuss about?

4. Gremlins Ex Machina
Jeb Bush was meant to be the Republican candidate. It was his turn after all. But if you feed an Ego, it can multiply without warning...

5. No Muslims. Mates excepted
Building on years of paranoia whipped up by the Establishment, Trump has used Islamophobia to announce he will "shutdown" American to Muslims. Did he mention his extensive business links with the Muslim world? And the people there who are, erm, Muslims?

6. Major Cruz to Ground Control...
Latterly, the only semi-serious challenge to Trump's nomination was Senator Ted Cruz. He dislikes most people apart from Jesus, though Jesus has been quiet on his own thoughts about Cruz.
Ted notably wants to visit the Holy Land so he can help along that whole Armaggeddony process thing.

7. Comedy of Terrors
Someone organised a Shakespeare for Republicans Day to highlight the tragedy and face. But are we laughing?

8. Feel The Bird
Bernie Sanders had a major comeback after a little bird hoped onto his lectern during a rally. Quick to the moment, the Socialist Senator announced that although it didn't look like it, it was a dove of peace. Here's Birdie Sanders...

As Sanders' poll ratings, votes and delegate count started to ratchet rapidly upwards, the Clinton camp was in panic, trying to pull all manner of stunts to make Hillary look sort of regular.

9. Office for Sale
Sanders has raised virtually all his campaign finance from small individual donors. Clinton by contrast has taken millions from corporate America to fund her drive to supposedly represent ordinary people.

10. American Psycho
We won't know the final outcome until November, and many variants from police investigations to third party runs may yet skew what happens. But one thing is for sure - Bernie aside, the collection of truly bizarre, corrupt, narrow-minded and frankly dangerous egotists running this year has put any and all attempts at satire, parody or allegory far beyond the pale. There is a very good chance of someone becoming President who categorically refused when asked to rule out dropping a nuclear bomb on Britain, let alone scores of other places.

“I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.” - Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate.

“What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?” - Katrina Pierson, Trump spokesperson.

(Both statements 20 December 2015)  

Perhaps only the dark dreams of apocalyptic science fiction-turning-to-fact can give us any warning, if little in the way of any comfort.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Don't See This Film

Just a friendly warning. Don't make the same mistake I did earlier this week....


Original art located HERE

28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is more than generous.

I guess not having seen Man of Steel didn't help, but this latest issuing from the DC franchise appeared to be a sort of mash up of sequences from all the other Superman and Batman films ever made, inserted in entirely random order. Jesse Eisenberg impersonates Heath Ledger visiting what looks like Sydney Opera house but is actually a Kryptonite spaceship (I think) to get something important in order to do something bad. Meanwhile Ben Affleck tries his best but not so good take off of Christian Bale, growling deeply meaningful phrases like "My parents taught me life only has meaning if you make it." (a sentiment equally applicable to this film).

It is never clear why the two superheroes dislike each other so much - some sort of misunderstanding between Batman's habit of branding paedophiles and Superman's involvement with a rendition programme on the face of things. It culminates in a chaotic fight where Batman is set to bash SuperQuiff to death with a toilet cover. How the mighty have fallen!

Into the middle of all this, for no clear reason, someone arrives who I thought was meant to be Xenia the Warrior Princess but turns out to actually be a leather-togged version of Wonder Woman. She has some gurning friends, one of whom lives in a sunken ship and prods anything that comes close to him with a trident. Who knows why? We never see him again.

The theme score by the omnipresent Hans Zimmer isn't bad, but does lend this mish mash of high speed scene changes the fullest sense of being a shot at the longest music video in history. Complete with moody Bat dreams and Super-brooding - who needs kryptonite to squeeze the franchise into senseless oblivion?

But, perhaps most implausible of all is the conceit that a committee of American senators would spend time agonising over the deaths of some Arab civilians. Utter fantasy if you ask me....

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

My Daddy Was A Tax Dodger

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

So I’m rich and you are poor
And that’s how it will stay
Cos my cheating accountant
Is the only one I’ll pay

So you’ve come to shake us up
And think we’re going to grovel
But instead we'll hammer you
With the judge’s gavel

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

You might think that you can
Bring our system to the ground
But we’ll put you in prison
And we’ll grind you right down

And we’ll never give you bail
Or let you work together
Cos the feral elite
Know that'd not be so clever

So we’ll charge for your rocking chair
Cos what we’re spinning
Is we’re all in it together
And that Britain's winning

My daddy was a tax dodger
And he never paid the HMRC
He just loved to live that way
And keep the public's money

Run bolshie run
Hide out in the hills
I can use the hole in the wall
But you poor never will

Vote Tory Vote Tory Vote Tory Vote Tory (repeat & fade)

"The Capitalist Guard" (1918, Netherlands)


With fullest apologies to The Clash...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

We Can Export You Wholesale - the bitter future of Theresa May

The British Government is busy advertising on TV at the moment, promoting the idea that trade is automatically good - maybe a debate for another time.

But a centrepiece of this is an Indian man standing in a railway station, for some reason specifically seeking British partners to develop the rail metro network in his country. Here he is...

Often for the wrong historical reasons, India and Britain have strong links, not only in modern trade and (frequently violent) imperialist history, but in personal, human terms with 1,400,000 British citizens tracing their family back to South Asia. Their cultural diversity has enriched our country and somehow, in spite of all the prejudice spat out by so many on the right, you sort of hope that we are slowly getting to a point where the value, in so many different ways, of this and many other communities in the UK is being accepted.

And yet, today we find from the now online-only Independent newspaper that Home Secretary Theresa May used the flimsiest of excuses from a BBC Panorama expose of irregularities at one, single language school to deport some 46,000 students illegally - seven in ten of them from India. Apparently the tests used to decide on deportation were so flimsy that the Upper Tribunal for asylum and immigration has thrown out the Government's case. 

This of course follows on from May's other schemes to ban overseas students from working while studying here and force them to leave almost as soon as they complete their degrees - ignoring the economic, commercial and cultural benefits we gain from graduates who remain and work for some months in the UK. Coupled with a relentlessly hostile media, most of us don't realise just how damaged our country's image is abroad now, seen as we are as rather inward-looking, prejudiced and unwelcoming place - in sharp contrast to an increasingly confident, outward-looking India. Even before the myopia and sociopathic behaviour of the Tory Government, one assessment was that, for all its problems and all our past, India wasn't looking to Britain or anywhere else for ideas or help.

Now of course, with rightwing media hysterically and repeatedly claiming that no one at all is ever expelled from the UK, the figure of 46,000 illegal deportations in under two years may cause a degree of overload in Mail readers heads. Given the disinformation they read each day, they might be surprised to learn that in 2014 alone 38,000 people were deported from the UK, before the student case arose - over 7,300 were from India, and over 5,000 from Pakistan.

But it also represents yet again the deep, deep racism and prejudice seemingly at the centre of our Government and in the heart of Theresa May, assuming of course that she actually has one. (Notably, even the rightwing Daily Telegraph was moved last year to describe some of her plans for illegal migrants as "chilling and bitter").

It is ethically wrong, damaging to tens of thousands of people who came simply to study and learn our language - something more generous minds might see as both a compliment to us rather than a threat, and as something highly positive. Instead, Britain yet again is seen to be at odds with people because of their nationality, their colour and their race, and quite possibly religion too. Our Government's pathetically narrow-minded (and factually wrong) view of foreigners as scroungers out to double cross us will, in the end, damage us far more than them. 

It is their appalling mindset that leads to utterly disgusting tragedies such as that of Bhavisha Ben Patel and her husband Pinakin. This young couple arrived in the UK for a 10 day holiday in Scotland early last year, but were immediately whisked to Yarls' Wood detention centre. This was done because Mrs Patel, naively wanting to be sure she had all the right documents for passport control, had brought her education certificates with her. 

Sady, this was a sure sign, in Theresa-land, that she planned to work here illegally, in spite of having return air tickets and children back in India. Two months later, several weeks after they were due home, they remained in detention and Mr Patel died of a heart attack aged just 33 years. Mrs Patel remained incarcerated for several weeks longer, unable to bury her husband or get home to her family, and prompting a hunger strike in support of her from fellow inmates.

That man in the railway station may not wait for us much longer. After all, if we can't abide his daughter or son coming here to learn for a year or two and lock up compatriots who come for a holiday, why on Earth would he want us to go and work in his country? Soon, despairing of us, he may board one of India's brand new trains and, bound for the future, leave us behind in the dead end siding that is Tory bigotry.

And, of course, as with any Government, it is all done in our name.

Friday, 18 March 2016

"My Country Is A Company" - The Forgotten Genius of Jericho

Contemporary television is littered with half-remembered would-be masterpieces, some celebrated by ever-decreasing circles of knowing fan communities as secrets they share with each other in an ignorant world. Perhaps Firefly is the most well-known "lost" opus magnus, but currently showing on Netflix is the later offering from CBS Paramount Network, Jericho, a post-apocalyptic tale set in small town Mid-West America. I don't know if it has a fan community exiled in cyberspace, nor if it is held to be a cult by anyone, though it would be nice if both were true. Because on many levels this was close to perfect television - a combination of strong characters, everyday life, mysterious plots, plenty of action and a battle of ideas and ideals.

Set in the fictitious town of Jericho in northern Kansas after unknown terrorists have detonated nuclear bombs in 23 American cities, effectively destroying the federal government, Jericho takes the time afforded by TV as opposed to cinema films (which it was originally conceived as) to develop some complex, highly credible characters and plots. From  Skeet Ulrich as leading protagonist Jake Green and the mysterious Robert Hawkins, played by British actor Lennie James (currently appearing as Morgan Jones in The Walking Dead), to Easi Morales as a conflicted army Major and Pamela Reed as Jake's family matriarch, there are numerous powerful performances aided by scripts that flow naturally and with some humour alongside the nuclear night. Notably, the growing relationship between farmer Stanley Richmond, his sister Bonnie and girl friend Mimi Clark is one of the most empathetic subplots to have graced TV.

But underlying the series of disasters, threats and triumphs encountered by the people of the little town, the story is a powerful exploration of some major political themes that had already taken hold of the USA when it was originally broadcast a decade ago, and which are now coming to a possibly Faustian climax in the elections of this current year.

For, without giving the plot away, the terrorists who have nuked the USA are not the obvious post-9/11 suspects and the "Axis of Terror" involving Iran and North Korea is debunked early on. But looming large is the corporate takeover of democratic government and the corruption of politics by populist demagogues. In the 22 episode long first season, this is less apparent - it manifests itself mainly in the arrival in town of mercenaries from the Blackwater-style Ravenwood Security Company, which murders and loots in its wake. In the shorter, tighter and significantly more political second season, Ravenwood's parent company, the Jennings & Rall Corporation (see its fake website here!) emerges from the shadows as the moving force behind a breakaway Allied States of America.

Lennie James and Skeet Ulrich as Robert Hawkins and Jake Green
This entity, headed by President Tomaccio, a former J&R executive, has emerged west of the Mississippi and is vying for control of the former USA with the remains of the old Federal Government based in Ohio and a re-established Republic of Texas. J&R's doublespeak, preaching democracy and freedom while violently establishing corporate control over public services, the military and encroaching on, for example, Stanley's farm, is related back to contemporary American foreign policy. Jake's own backstory is as a corporate mercenary in Iraq and Afghanistan and his demons from his time there resurface as Fallujah comes to Kansas. Confronted by a soldier trying to impose the writ of his political masters, Jake retorts that the ASA is an illegitimate entity - "Can't you see my country is a company?"

But equally important is the small stuff - the way the townspeople pool their resources and support each other, and welcome refugees in spite of the shortage of food and power. And, conversely, when the chips are down, how an attempt by a young storekeeper to profit from scarcity is given short-shrift and money no longer matters. To be sure, in uncertain times, we do see a "well-regulated militia" understandably arm itself against the dangers of the unknown, but when the neighbouring town lapses into Tea Party vigilante-ism, the people of Jericho respond by downing their own weapons to stay true to civilised values. It is a survivalist tale, but it takes on the would-be survivalists and shows them to be nothing more than angry, hollow men, scared and empty of any true values.

The series was cancelled in the second season, but was given the chance to reach some endings and this becomes evident in the elevated pace of the final three or four episodes. However, this paradoxically heightens the urgency of the plot and doesn't particularly detract: the slower first season had built up both the story and characters well enough, and in many ways it ends at the right moment, although for true fans there was a brief continuation in the form of some graphic novels.

Jericho takes on both the corrupt realities of the contemporary neoliberal world and the fantasies of the libertarian alternatives - showing how completely each crumple into barbaric nightmares. Instead, the underpinning theme is that, deep down, most people want to do good by each other, and we do that best when we stand together - even, and perhaps most of all, in the worst of times.

Jericho is currently available on Netflix.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Sleepwalking the EU

The European Union referendum debate is sputtering slowly towards half-life. Still largely framed as a debate between two parts of the Tory Party, with echoing accompaniment from their familiars in UKIP and the remnants of the Lib Dems, it has to be so far the most turgid, depressive experience in recent political history. None of the aspiration and joy, or even the passion and anger, of the Scottish referendum or the US elections. Just a bunch of men in suits, accompanied by the odd woman in a suit, trying to outdo each other with predictions of our imminent demise if we leave, or if we stay.

In the Scottish referendum, the so-called Project Fear, where the Westminster parties combined to try to scare Scots into opposing independence, so insulted voters that there was a huge swing against remaining in the UK. In the final six weeks, support for independence grew by about 50% and the final result was infinitely closer than expected.

Bizarrely, the same parties that instigated the negative campaigning in Scotland have now adopted the same tactics for the Eurovote - the big difference being that this time it is being used by both sides. Consider tonight's Guardian debate which pitched Labour's Alan Johnson and Lib Dem Nick Clegg for "Remain" against UKIP's Nigel Farage and the Tory Alison Leadsom for "Leave".

The messaging was as appalling as the last few weeks' worst:

- Brexit will justify the break up of the UK with a new Scottish referendum (Johnson)
- The UK Government won't allow the Scots to have another vote (Leadsom)
- Britain's security is at threat if we don't leave because of a combination of a European Army and poverty-stricken Turkey being allowed to join (Farage)
- Nigel Farage is "deeply, deeply dishonest" (Clegg)
- Nick Clegg has made a living out of telling lies (Farage)

Even the options on the paper - Remain or Leave - are somehow uninspiring. Should I remain or should I leave?  as the song never went.

The polls are bouncing around, and this is not surprising - voters are unclear of the issues because the politicians and the media are so used to simply printing and echoing horror stories about abroad that there is little ability to have any informed debate. The most progressive elements of the Remain camp, especially the trade unions, talk about the EU granting workers rights, and this is correct in the sense that a lot of employment law such as equal pay, anti-discrimination and health and safety rules is derived from EU regulations and directives.

However, implicit in the agreement signed up to by Cameron is an even greater ability than before for Britain to opt-out of many of these (as we have already over swathes of the working time regulations, for example) as well as a commitment to sign up to the appalling TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership treaty (TTIP). Both provisions significantly threaten the rights we have gained.

But on the Leave side there is equal dishonesty - they say we can leave and have a trade agreement with the EU which will somehow inevitably continue to trade with us, ignoring the fact that, as with all trade agreements, we would need to sign up to many of the same rules we apparently detest now but without having any say in them at all. Norway even pays billions a year to the EU for the privilege of trading with it while not a member.

Neither side to date has either given a compelling argument. The remain side largely ignores the positives - such as the record-breaking length of time the Continent that started two world wars has now enjoyed peace; we may haggle over budgets but no one is shooting at each other. Or the fact that freedom of movement has allowed millions of Britons to live in the EU as well as permitted Europeans to come to Britain. Some half million UK pensioners live in Spain and enjoy its free health service as a right. Similarly, the urgent international action required to tackle global warming has a headstart with an international institution like the EU acting as a springboard for action.

Equally, the Leave side could talk about Britain out of the EU developing more localised economies and strengthening rather than diluting workers and consumers rights - except that its leaders are pretty hostile to these things and detest the minimal rules the EU requires now.

So, in the coming weeks, it has to be hoped that the campaigns improve, lift their sights and provide some vision of the future that might get people along to vote - and more than that, think about the future. The Scottish referendum was noted for its massive engagement of people, on both sides, in an unprecedented way. But as things stand, it is not impossible that the biggest group in the EU vote will be the non-voters and, whatever the result of the ballot, the issue will remain unsettled.

Corbyn's Labour Party is silent as it increasingly turns inward. The Greens, by contrast, have produced a fairly optimistic video in support of remaining, though perhaps they could be doing a bit more to talk about the sort of EU they would like to build rather than fairly uncritically lauding the pretty messy and undemocratic structures we have now. The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon, meantime, has been a constructive voice for a more informed debate, but even she is talking more about the benefits of the status quo than what needs to change to benefit citizens' rather than big business interests.

Sleepwalking in or out of the European Union may not be the issue - the neoliberals and the banks remain the winners. The issue, as ever, is how we break past them and start to build a new, fairer, sustainable society - nationally and internationally. The different Europe of Varoufakis, not the corporate straight-jacket of Cameron, or Farage.