Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Man Who Couldn't Be Bothered: Boris Johnson and the Lives of Others

Our country has been annexed into the Eton FPs' Form Room. A place where the Great and Good can play fast and loose with truth and lies - and with the rest of us. 

Boris Johnson's irresponsibility in first switching sides on the EU in a naked act of shameless self-promotion, and then running away from the consequences of his actions somehow sums up just how completely our pseudo-democracy is now the plaything of the rich.

It would of course come as no surprise to anyone watching Johnson at the press conference last Friday where he, Michael Gove and a token Labour person responded to the vote for Brexit. Here was a man who had won what he apparently wanted, a man who had got one over his prefect-room rival Dave Cameron in their lifelong existential struggle to captain the cricket team. (Cameron's own hubristic psychodrama has, of course, led in turn to his own not unwelcome undoing.)

Yet here too was a man rudely awoken to the dire crisis he has been personally deeply involved in creating - the need to extricate our country from the European Union with the huge economic, social and political ramifications of doing so. Quite aside from whether it will work or not, or how bad or not Brexit might be in the end, one thing was and remains absolutely certain.

Brexit will be a lot of hard work.

And when you come from a world of self-entitlement, where your early days were shaped wrecking restaurants and setting toilets on fire with your hooray-Henry mates, while good-old pater paid the bill, hard work is the last thing on your mind.
VL comment from Saturday

Johnson had foreseen a close vote but one that would have been for Remain. Then he could have continued to pose a threat to Cameron from the back benches. But he overplayed his hand and his decision, amidst yet more of his tiresomely pompous, lightweight Shakespeare-quoting bluster this morning, that he will not stand for Tory leader is nothing astonishing - yet nevertheless appalling in its sheer, self-centred gall.

This man has wrecked the social peace of Britain: he has been instrumental in unleashing forces that will be hard indeed to contain when it becomes clear that, whatever form of Brexit occurs, it will not solve the problems Johnson and his ilk have promised it would. He has tugged more too at the plug holding back a tide of ugly nationalism that may now burst across our Continent.

As blogged previously, as a historian (or at least someone who pretends to be), Johnson should have known better than his easy "EU-is-Hitler" analogies, his blatant lies about Turkey joining and his patent fakery in claiming to head some kind of anti-establishment insurgency. And same too his brazen willingess to deceive on the net contribution rate to the EU (exaggerating it by a factor of ten times) and his claim this could be spent on the NHS. That some people were willing to buy this snake oil is more a measure of their desparate alienation than of any significant talent on his part.

When he embraced Brexit, he should have thought about the potential for job losses in Sunderland and other non-Etonian places. Perhaps the people losing their livelihoods might not be able to ride the storm of economic uncertainty with quite the level of accumulated riches he and his mates have to tide themselves over. The economy, after its faltering recent unequal recovery, is now predicted to go into recession and contract by 1% next year according the Economist Intelligence Unit (one of those experts Johnson so often rubbished), with investment down 8% and the public spending deficit rising from 90% to 100% of gdp by 2018. Yet more austerity beckons, harming evermore the vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the very fabric of our society.

He should have thought about the license given to people ready to put notices through Polish people's letterboxes calling them vermin or tell a German born woman in her mid-eighties to go "home" after living here for fifty years with her late husband, leaving her scared to go out. Or the ones ready to daub "f--- off " slogans on a Polish centre, or firebomb a halal butcher's shop in Birmingham. Or, more widely, of the shot in the arm to the likes of the French Front National and eastern European neo-Nazis, all now clamouring to break up the EU and replace it with a brave new world of fortified borders and angry armies.

He should have thought about the young people who will not be able to access free university courses in the Netherlands or get jobs in Paris or Berlin. He should have thought about the half million British pensioners living in Spain and other Mediterranean states who will lose free healthcare and need to pay for insurance instead, so expensive in your later years.

He should have thought about them. All these people, all these lesser mortals without his privilege and innate sense of entitlement. He should have thought about the damage to their lives, the disruption and fear, the uncertainty that perhaps wasn't worth it as part of his pathetic game of besting David.

He should have thought about them. These ordinary, worried and confused British people.

But who wants tiresome details about the lives of others, of the mundane little people, when there's tennis to play and a good lunch to be eaten? And when one of his own Tory colleagues is quoted as saying Johnson would be too lazy to clean up his own vomit, why on earth would he take on the challenge of repairing our shattered country?

So, in the end, Boris just couldn't be bothered. On one level, we should be grateful for being spared more of him. Hopefully now he will fade in the shades; but our country is somehow all the poorer, diminished even, for the sake of this dilettante's infantile, jolly jape.

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)