Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Death of Grass

The Death of Grass is a little known novel written by the British author Samuel Youd and published in 1956 under his pen name John Christopher. Its plot center's around a worldwide ecological disaster which has been wiping out grass and crops across the world. Suddenly the 'developed' world is facing chronic food shortages and society in places like US and the UK starts to implode. The novel charts this grim scenario through the experiences of one family. The book was adapated into a film - 'No Blade of Grass' - in 1970.

Recently it was reported in the Royal Society Biology Journal that a team of US researchers have found that the pace of climate change is impacting on the world's grass species with wheat, corn and rice among those being affected - crops which supply almost half the calories consumed by humans. We would do well to heed the warnings outlined in Samuel Youd's excellent novel and the later and unfortunately hard to find film.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Armed with nukes in the "conference chamber"?

The major headline from Labour's UK conference in Liverpool on Monday will no doubt be John Mcdonnell's pledge that a labour government will raise the living wage to 10 pounds, a welcome and progressive measure we should all support. In economically deprived parts of the UK like the south wales valleys and the north east of england too many employers get away with paying the basic mimumum wage, leaving many people in work still well below the poverty line. Of course it's one thing to adopt a living wage but it's another thing to enforce it, and the current tory government at westminister has unsurprisingly failed miserably in that task. Enforcing a living wage is something a Corbyn government would have to address if its going to make real a dent in the huge numbers of the working poor.

Equally welcome were pledges to abolish the tories Trade Union act, a promise to ban fracking and to embark on a large scale public investment programme. Course to enact any of its radical economic programme Jeremy Corbyn's labour is going to have to win a british general in the first place - no easy task under first past the post (but the unfair electoral system the UK parliament at Westminister uses for elections is a matter for another post).

Sad to report however that some of John Mcdonnell's good work was undone later on by the frankly extraordinary speech given by Labour's defence spokesperson Clive Lewis. The MP for norwich south and former Sandhurst trained army officer announced that labour was committed to maintaining the costly trident nuclear submarine programme and furthermore that a future labour government would match the tories commitment to spending 2% of the UK's GDP on defence. He also went out of his way to reaffirm labour's support for NATO, lavishing praise on the US led military alliance.

To say Clive Lewis speech was a disappointment would be a massive understatement and both the Greens and CND rightly condemned Lewis's pledge on Trident - in a speech which frankly could have been made by any labour defence spokesperson under Tony B-liar. The case against renewing trident is overwhelming and is ironically a case Jeremy Corbyn has made many times in recent years. It's cost is exorbitant - 100 billion and rising - and of course it could never be used well not unless a future British PM wanted to unleash a nuclear holocaust. It wasnt for nothing that scores of former UK defence chiefs lined up to oppose Trident's renewal last year. No one is going to invade our beloved island - nuclear weapons serve no purpose at all. And just why a Corbyn led government would maintain cold war levels of defence spending is hard to fathom - even tory George Osbourne watered down that commitment on 2% of GDP while he was still chancellor.

And Clive Lewis's impromptu fawning over NATO was a particularly depressing spectacle. NATO was set up primarily to pursue and preserve US military and economic interests in europe after the second world war. It was under the umbrella of NATO that the US has been able to station hundreds of thousands of troops and missiles - sometime nuclear ones - all over europe. NATO is an aggressive military alliance with a first strike nuclear policy. It was under this same NATO umbrella that the Reagan administration drew up plans to conduct a 'limited nuclear war' in europe in the 1980s.The thinking behind this insane idea being that parts of western europe would be sacrificed and incinerated in order to allow the US the opportunity to nuke the Kremlin and much of the soviet union. 

While since the cold war ended NATO forces have particpated in the illegal invasion of iraq and the equally disastrous intervention in libya. Perhaps worst all NATO forces dropped cluster bombs on Serbia in 1999 - or rather the RAF did as part of nato - another war crime which tony blair seems to have avoided being held to account for. So leaving NATO should be a given for any progressive political movement in the UK and in Europe. Interestingly and historically speaking nuclear weapons and membership of NATO were the issues closest to the hearts of what used to be mischievously called the CIA wing of the labour party ie the grouping of right wing labour mps in the 1960s who it later transpired were funded by the CIA and some of whom went on to launch the breakaway SDP in the early 1980s.

News emerged tonite that Clive Lewis wanted to be even more gung ho on trident and related issues but was prevented from doing so at the last moment - much to Lewis's chagrin - by Jeremy Corbyn's office. Frankly it would have been better if they'd ripped Clive Lewis's speech up in its entirety - in the form it went out it could have been written by someone in the Pentagon.

Emily Thornberry Labour's shadow foreign secretary who co-authoured Labour's defence 'review' with Clive Lewis later tried to put a gloss on the decision to maintain Trident by making reference to Nye Bevan's about-turn on the subject of nuclear weapons at the 1957 labour party conference. But it's the sad examples of Nye Bevan - and Neil Kinnock - which show that abandoning deeply held beliefs on nuclear disarmament and embracing nukes has never done anyone on the left any good.

And the really depressing thing is that 60 years after Nye's infamous and frankly tragic climbdown at Brighton people are still putting forward the same discredited case for so called 'multilateral nuclear disarmament'. Meanwhile there are more nuclear weapons in the world than ever before and more and more countries are acquiring nuclear weapons than ever before. So why not give unilateralism a try? Things could hardly get any worse! Because let's face it multilateral nuclear disarmament means no nuclear disarmament.


It has been pointed out to me by one very irate Corbynista that despite the decision of the Labour conference both Jeremy Corbyn and John Mcdonnell personally remain very much opposed to trident and will still campaign against its renewal. Amen to that.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Jeremy Corbyn - a record breaking Mandate

Well in terms of badly executed coups the one which a gang of seething blairites launched to try and depose Jeremy Corbyn must rank as among the most inept since a cabal of right wing press barons and rich oilmen tried to overthrow Roosevelt after he introduced the 'new deal' in the US. Far from weakening Jeremy Corbyn the labour leadership contest has made him stronger than ever - his victory margin this time round was even more decisive than it was last year.

And but for the fact tens of thousands of people were denied from voting because of  bureaucratic shenanigans by his opponents at Labour HQ his margin of victory over Owen Smith would have been even greater. Furthermore Corbyn has now achieved something which no other person in the history of the labour party has achieved before - he's been elected via a ballot of the entire labour party membership on two separate occassions.

It's an often overlooked fact that until relatively recently labour members had no say in deciding who their leader was, it was Labour MPs who elected the likes of Atlee, Wilson and Callaghan. While the elections which saw Kinnock and Blair elected labour leader were conducted under a system which saw ordinary members votes account for only a third of the total ballot - MPs and affiliated Unions accounting for the other two thirds. So it can legitimately be claimed that Jeremy Corbyn has a stronger mandate to lead his party than any previous labour leader has ever had - indeed given the number of votes he received a stronger mandate than any leader of any party in British political history.

And speaking of 'mandates' contrast Jeremy Corbyn's democratic endorsement with that of another prominent british political figure - namely Theresa May. She became the leader of her party without a single vote being cast in her favour and she became the British PM without a single vote being cast in her favour. Indeed it can legitimately be said that May doesnt have any democratic mandate whatsoever to lead the tories or be British PM. But you wont be hearing that in most of the British media - they're too busy hounding Jeremy Corbyn and questioning his 'legitimacy'.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Will anyone Save the children?

Viewers of Channel 4 news this week would have seen the heartbreaking story from Aleppo of the 8 month old Syrian girl Nour.This week Nour's home received a direct hit from Syrian government forces (so much for the ceasefire). Her mother died instantly in the attack and Nour herself received terrible shrapnel injuries from the explosion. Doctors at the overwhelmed Al-Quds hospital in Aleppo worked heroically to treat Nour's savage injurues and she was returned to the care of relatives.

Tonite Channel 4 reported Nour died in another direct hit on the home she'd been taken to after being discharged from hospital. At times like this words arent enough to convey the outrageous manner of her death or the unimaginable pain and terror this little girl must have endured during her brief time on this earth. I think Marvin Gaye summed things up better than i ever could

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Likely UK Brexit 'deal' played out in Wales

It's a fair bet that not many people outside Wales follow debates in the Welsh National Assembly, indeed it's's a fair bet that not many people in Wales follow debates in the Welsh National Assembly but that as they say is another story. But a debate took place in the Senedd  this week which could well be a pointer to how events pan out in post brexit Britain.

The Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price tabled a motion calling for Assembly members to 'support full membership' of the EU's single market (Adam hit the headlines a few years back when as an MP at westminister he tried to impeach tony blair for his lies over Iraq). And from the standpoint of the welsh economy this motion certainly makes sense - over half of all welsh trade is with the EU single market, and for still important industries in Wales like agriculture the figure is a massive ninety percent. But of course and as EU leaders have made clear the UK retaining full membership of the single market would involve allowing the continued free movement of people for EU nationals.

What was most striking about the debate however was that Labour Assembly members and the sole liberal democrat AM refused to back the Plaid motion, instead backing a tory motion which merely supported future 'access to the single market'. You dont have to be a political einstein to work out there's a big difference between the two motions and also what it might say about the different approaches to the June 23rd result parties are taking.

The tory stance is not surprising - with much of the tory membership and supporter base highly eurosceptic some kind of 'access' to the EU single market would be about the only thing May could get away in the forthcoming brexit negotiations. The Conservative grassroots, and Ukip fellow travellers now apparently flocking back to the tories, certainly wouldnt counternance any deal that doesnt kill 'freedom of movement' virtually stone dead.

But the labour and lib dem stance is somewhat more surprising. As a party Labour - despite Jeremy Corbyn's historic and well documented euro scepticism - supported the remain campaign and is still in favour of membership of the single markert. While the lib dems are a passionately pro EU party, a party which not only wants to retain membership of the single market but wants a second referendum on UK membership of the EU. And while both labour and the lib dems in Wales enjoy a degree of self rule it's reasonable to think they would be unlikely to take a stance completely at variance with their leaderships in London - particularly on an issue as significant as this.

It could well be then that the events which played out in Cardiff bay this week are a foretaste of what we can expect in Westminister in the coming months. After months of wrangling Theresa May will present a 'deal' which offers the UK limited 'access' to the single market - probably confined to 'city traders' desperate to retain London's status as a highly lucrative centre for european finance capital. Following the lead of their colleagues in Wales Labour and the lib dems will cave in and not try to block this 'deal' with only the SNP, Plaid and the Green MP Caroline Lucas voting against.

But free movement will be dead, and the legal status of millions of EU nationals who have settled in the UK will probably remain worryingly uncertain for years. And if the 'hard brexit' crowd get their way wholesale deportations of EU nationals in the UK cannot be ruled out in the coming years.So when you hear figures in Labour and the lib dems saying 'we must listen to the message voters sent us on june 23rd' what they are really saying is they are capitualting to the likes of Ukip and the hard right on immigration.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Mccarthy style Red-baiting

Given the manner in which it was trailed in the right wing press - and on the sewer dwelling guido fawkes blog - the much heralded channel 4 Dispatches 'expose' on the left wing political movement Momentum proved to be a complete damp squib. Certainly there was nothing remotely shocking about the content the Dispatches 'plant' who infiltrated Momentum secretly recorded. And certainly nothing which Jeremy Corbyn would or should feel embarrassed about. Footage of lots of mainly young idealistic people who want to bring about progressive political and economic change - progressive change thru entirely legal and democratic means it should be said. And involving such apparently 'dangerous' aims as getting Jeremy Corbyn elected as the British Prime Minister in 2020.

I'm honestly not sure there is a 'story' in that, well not unless you're a paranoid right winger or multi-millionaire who has nightmares at the thought of thousands of young people organising to bring about a fairer more just world. The Programme's presenter also forgot to tell viewers that the dispatches employee spent months befriending Momentum supporters before spying on their every move and then lied to get a job with the campaign. She also made a sly and obviously pre planned attempt to inviegle Corbyn in a conversation about ISIS - the Dispatches plant was obviously no 'passive' observer.

You also have to ask is this a proper use of the still publicly owned channel four's resources? If they are really looking for a story why not infiltrate and secretly film the freemasons for instance. Lots of top coppers and judges are apparently 'on the square'. I'm sure clandestinely filming the men in aprons would throw up something genuinely disturbing and which the public should know about - like growing evidence that the masons have helped protect some of those involved in the hillsborough cover up

Or maybe dispatches could investigate and secretly film meetings of the shadowy people behind plans for a new nuclear power station at hinkley point? It'll produce the most expensive electricity in europe and no one has the faintest idea what to do with the tons of radioactive waste it will produce. Surely rich pickings for any aspiring investigative journo there i would have thought?

Lord Bedwelty aka neil kinnock was given an uninterrupted platform to indulge in his joint favourite past time of denouncing the left (his other favourite pastime of course being denying the welsh devolution). While Alistair Campbell's brother in law the Barrister Gavin Miller was trotted out in an attempt to give the show's meagre offerings some legal gloss. Yet no one from Momentum was interviewed to rebutt any allegations made against them. Um arent there supposed to be rules about impartiality in the broadcast media?

Funnily enough it's almost exactly 30 years since the same channel 4 carried out a near identical 'undercover investigation' of socialists in my home town Swansea. In 1986 the current Asia correspondent for the Torygraph - Dean Nelson - went 'undercover' and joined militant in Wales. And after spending weeks befriending local members he proceeded to spy on them and their families and secretly recorded a  meeting of militant supporters in Swansea. The details of nelson's 'investigation' were then rather helpfully forwarded to a certain peter mandelson, who was at the time overseeing the mass expulsion of militant supporters and other socialists from the labour party.

Indeed its an oft neglected fact that newlabour started long before Tony B-liar was ditching any vestige of socialism and borrowing the tories clothes in the mid 90s. Nulabour started when Baron Kinnock - having kept his mouth firmly shut during the entirety of thatchers war on the miners - suddenly found his voice again and denounced liverpool's labour council at the 1985 labour conference. The late great Tony Benn probably summed up Kinnock perfectly when he said that Kinnock was someone who abandoned everything he ever believed in and then no one believed a thing he said again. But no doubt the producers of dispatches will continue their channel's 'honourable' tradition of demonising the left and getting socialists kicked out of the labour party and pass their heavily edited recordings on to Corbyn's enemies in and outside the labour party.

A free and independent media is vital to the well being of any democratic society but be aware if you challenge the unequal status quo in the UK - as both jeremy corbyn and momentum are currently trying to do - you'll find large sections of that same media will be turned on you and will seek to destroy you. In the last 30 years the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, George Galloway, Arthur Scargill, Derek Hatton, Gerry Adams, Peter Tatchell, Natalie Bennett, Bob Crow, Alex Salmond and Nicole Sturgeon have all been the targets of vitriolic attacks and smears by the right wing and largely billionaire owned british media.

I'll leave the last word on this to the young supporters of Momentum, some of whom have now endured infiltration and clandestine spying by deceitful 'journalists' twice in the space of a few months.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Ghost of Thatcher

It looks like we are seeing a party disintegrate before our eyes, and no i dont mean labour. Jeremy Corbyn being re-elected as labour leader wont result in labour's disintegration despite the wishful thinking of the blairites and the right wing media. Under Corbyn's leadership labour has become a mass party of the kind we've not seen in the british isles in decades - a party of nearly 600,000 members is going to survive no matter what the polls are currently saying. But the huge challenge for Corbyn and his 'army' of volunteers in momentum is overcoming the inbuilt unfairness of the British first past the post electoral system - and imminent boundary changes. Boundary changes that will give the tories dozens of new seats before a vote has even been cast. That is why if the corbynistas are serious about stopping the tories winning a majority at the next british general election they should embrace the idea of a 'progressive alliance' and reach out to parties like the greens, plaid cymru and the snp.

The party in an obvious state of disintegration i refer to is UKIP. This week it's director Steven Stanbury resigned and defected to the tories live on air And a couple of days later Nigel Farage aide Alex Phillips announced she too would be joining the tories And it was revealing to see Alex Phillips speaking of a 'mass exodus' with thousands of ukip members joining the tories.

That ukip should have begun to implode post brexit isnt a surprise. A party set up to get the UK out of the EU has no reason to exist now that is going to happen. But what is really interesting about the decision of the likes of Stanbury and Philips is what it says about the tories under Theresa May. Both Stanbury and Phillips made a point of saying they were joining the tories because it was the best way of carrying the kippers hard right political project forward.

Both phillips and stanbury are - like many in the ukip leadership - unapologetic thatcherites. And with the UK now out of the EU and a british government free to pursue a brutal hard right agenda in areas like workers rights and the environment without any risks of restraint from the eu parliament it's clear the likes of Phillips are joining the tories to 'finish what Thatcher started' to quote Nigel Lawson Sadly the areas of the UK likely to suffer most from what promises to be a neo-thatcherite onslaught will be places like the north east of england, the south wales valleys and cornwall. All areas of course which voted heavily for brexit - a case of 'turkeys voting for christmas' as James Callaghan famously once remarked.

In announcing plans to reintroduce grammar schools in England Theresa May has already signalled her intentions to shift the tories sharply to the right post brexit - a sharp turn to the right that will surely only be intensified with thousands of ex kippers flooding their ranks. Indeed it tells us a lot about the post brexit tories that they would so readily admit someone like Phillips.The anti fascist Hope not Hate blog revealed that she has routinely mocked the disabled and people with autism, made light of the sufferings of Anne Frank and described the French neo fascist Jean Marie Le Pen as a 'charming frenchman'

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Culture is for sale

I have to admit i've never seen the tv show 'the Great British Bake Off'. Personally i find a programme all about food a bit distasteful when there are millions of people across the UK who cant afford to eat

I could be wrong about this but i get the impression your typical 'bake off' viewer is middle class and middle aged with a comfortable standard of living - the kind of person who put the tories in power last year and who took the UK out of europe this year. In a previous age they would have no doubt sat down to enjoy the exploits of the Medwins in Purley aka 'Terry and June'.

Set in affluent suburban croydon Terry and June was middle england's very own sitcom - the day the Medwin's lawn mower broke down was about as interesting as things got in terry and june land. And despite the fact the show appeared in a decade riven with major economic and political upheavals - the miners strike, mass unemployment - 1980s reality never intruded on the medwin household. And there were no blacks no gays and no lefties - yes Terry and June was a kipper dreamland.

But enough of historical detours in the home counties because 'middle england' has suffered a terrible shock this week. No it's not that house prices have dropped again - it's much worse than that! The news that will have sparked wholesale panic among owners of semi detached dwellings across the land is that the great british bake off will be leaving the BBC - and moving to channel 4. And it's moving because the company that produces 'bake off' have had a better offer from channel 4, a better offer to the tune of 10 million pounds

That bake off was effectively up for auction will probably come as a surprise to a lot of people but since the so called 'birt revolution' of the 90s the BBC doesnt actually make that many shows anymore. Rather it commissions shows made by other companies - in this case the 'bake off' by Love Productions. And in this instance the owners of Love Productions have seen an opportunity to get fabulously rich very quickly and grabbed it with both hands.

Dont let anyone tell you it's 'art for arts sake - because in a capitalist society it really is all about the money. Entertainment and culture are 'commodities' which can be bought and sold like anything else. Look at how the most popular sport across britain - football - has virtually disappeared from terrestial tv screens, and if you want to watch european or premier league football live you have to take out an expensive subscription to the likes of Sky or BT. 


PS. news came today that the presenters of 'bake off' wont be presenting the show on its new home on channel 4. In a statement issued this morning Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins stated "we're not going with the dough". Amen to that - would that others would do the same!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

"Deplorable" and worse

Before being diagnosed with Pneumonia Hilary Clinton was in the news over the weekend for describing some of the people supporting Donald Trump as 'deplorable'. Then following the predictable counter attacks by right wing news outlets - like the Murdoch owned Fox news - Clinton very unwisely in my view promptly retracted this statement. For when you look at some of the people and groups supporting Trump's campaign you can see that Hilary Clinton was in fact correct to label them as deplorable.

Like former Ku Kux Klan leader David Duke 

Like Rocky Suhayda the leader of the US Nazi party

Like Jared Taylor who manages the neo fascist website 'American Resistance' and who recently offered such pearls of wisdom as the following "one of the most destructive myths of modern times is that people of all races have the same average intelligence”.

Like the self styled 'union busting' firm Cruz and Associates

Like Troy Newman a deranged evangelical christian,and President of the fundamentalist anti abortion group 'Operation Rescue', who apparently thinks it's acceptable to murder doctors involved in performing Abortions in the US

Looking at that lot 'deplorable' is if anything an understatement. 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning"

I dont see any great conspiracy in Facebook's initial decision not to allow people to post the famous and heart-rending image of a terrified napalm drenched vietnamese child fleeing a burning village. I'm willing to accept what Mark Zuckerberg says when he stated it was previously banned from facebook because it contravened the popular social network's policy on nudity.

It goes without saying that - because of the vile trade which exists on the internet in explicit images of children - any responsible site has to be vigilant when the matter of nude images of children arises.That said it was good to see common sense prevail and the site lift its 'ban' on this image, hopefully the row surrounding the photo will serve to remind people of the circumstances behind this iconic and haunting image.

During the vietnam war it was deliberate policy of the US military to target civilians - part of the deranged policy of 'destroying a village in order too save it'. At the time US government spokespeople casually passed civilian vietnamese deaths off as 'collateral damage' - a seemingly benign term which sought to conceal the terrible fact that this bombardment of vietnam and its villages resulted in the deaths of over 1 million vietnamese people.

While a further insight into the sheer insanity of US military policy in vietnam can be gauged from its policy of 'denying the enemy camouflage'. It was decided the jungles in which north vietnamese forces might be hiding should also be destroyed and so millions of tons of the defoliant 'agent orange' were dropped on vietnamese forests - a policy which arguably represents the most murderous act of environmental destruction in human history. It resulted in the incineration of  5 million acres of vietnam's forests. And if that wasnt grotesque enough a chemical included in agent orange - dioxin - has been responsible for thousands of vietnamese children being born with serious birth defects, indeed it's still doing so today.

Furthermore innocent vietnamese are still being killed or injured in vietnam's countryside, a terrible legacy of the fact the US dropped more bombs on vietnam than all the bombs put together in the second world war.

The brilliant film Apocalypse Now tries to capture the mindless insanity and staggering brutality of much of the US military campaign in vietnam - illustrated perfectly in the shape of the terrifying character Lieutenant Kilgore. Have there ever been more chilling words uttered on celluloid than "i love the smell of napalm in the morning"?

It would be nice to thnk that after the terrible carnage the US military inflicted on vietnam it's political leaders would never dare to undertake anything so murderous again. But alas less than 3 decades after its forces were kicked out of vietnam George Bush was authorising the illegal invasion of Iraq - an invasion and occupation which it is estimated resulted in the deaths of at least one million Iraqis. But at least they couldnt drench Iraq in Napalm in the way they did Vietnam - its use against civilians was banned by the United Nations in 1980.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The 'anti elitists' in favour of elitist education

The true hard right nature of the post brexit tories at westminister can be seen with the confirmation yesterday that Theresa May's government will lift the ban on new grammar schools. And scores of tory MPs have this week spoken of their support for a system of education which when all is said and done is based on 'selection'. Odd to think that many of those cheering at the news yesterday - like the tory mp graham brady - denounced the Remain campaign in the EU referrendum as being run by 'elites' and the establishment'. Yet here we have these same so called anti elitists like brady championing an education system which is all about promoting 'elitism' and the advancement of children from middle class backgrounds at the expense of children from less affluent homes.

Independent study after independent study has shown that children from affluent backgrounds will do better than children from less well off backgrounds in school not because they are born with greater intelligence but because they have the resources at home that can make a difference to a child doing that little bit better in school. In a contemporary context one obvious example is the fact that virtually every middle class home will have internet access but millions of people in the poorest fifth of the population cant afford this. So given what a valuable resource the internet can be in terms of research and gathering information it stands to reason that children in homes with internet access will have an advantage on those who dont.

Another obvious example comes in the shape of access to books. Children from poorer backgrounds will live in homes which simply cant afford to buy text books - indeed in contemporary britain many families are struggling to be able to afford to eat let alone buy expensive text books. Needless to say children in middle class households will face no such problems. So guess which children from which backgrounds will have the best chance of passing the 'selection tests' which will be a requirement of getting a place at one of the proposed new grammar schools?

And it was because of nakedly unfair things like this that the comprehensive education system was introduced in the first place by the labour government's of harold wilson in the 1960s. Needless to say there were a hardcore element on the british right who never forgave wilson for progressive policies like this, and they used their contacts in the media to plant smears about his private life while deranged hard right elements in the british intelligence services harassed Wilson throughout his entire period as British prime minister.

But dont let anyone tell you the introduction of the comprehensive school system wasnt popular - it saw the introduction of a system of education which meant that for the first time in the history of the modern british state children would receive a decent education no matter what their social background. Hence by the early 1970s even the tories 'woke up and smelled the coffee' so to speak - it being a little known fact that it was Margaret Thatcher as education secretary in Heath's early 70s tory government who closed down more grammar school than any other politician.

Thankfully the new emboldened post brexit hard right tories at westminister cant get their hands on education in my own wales or in scotland, education being a devolved matter in these countries. But  people in those countries shouldnt get complacent or think what's happening in England wont affect their largely egalitarian school systems. In Wales in last May's elections to the Welsh Assembly both the tories and ukip stood on a platform of the reintroduction of grammar schools in Wales - and between them they currently have nearly a third of the seats in the Assembly.

What's really striking about yesterday's announcement on the creation of new grammar schools in england is that it's a throwback to the most reactionary kind of toryism - a world view which positively celebrates the idea that an affluent minority should do well while the majority will be left with what is likely to be an inferior and grossly underfunded education system. Now if that aint 'elitist' i dont know what is!

What was it a great Welsh socialist once said about the tories never changing and if anything being 'slightly worse than they were'? Looking at yesterday's announcement it would be hard to disagree with what Nye said all those years ago.

"That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now. If you are selling shoddy stuff you have to be a good salesman. But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were".

Thursday, 8 September 2016

At last a job for Yosser!

Older readers might be familiar with a certain Yosser Hughes, a character in the brilliant Alan Bleasedale drama Boys from the blackstuff. Set in early 80s liverpool the series depicted the terrible human cost of Thatcherism in industrial britain. As an unskilled labourer 'Yosser' soon found himself surplus to requirements in the local building trade and spent the entire 6 episodes of the series vainly searching for a job. And his desperate plea to prospective employers of 'gissa job' entered popular 80s vocabulary. I recall that in one memorable episode Yosser arrives on a building site and tries to pass himself off as a 'brickie' and proceeds to build probably the worst wall you will ever see.

But if poor old Yosser is still around things are looking up for him or indeed for anyone who can lay a brick because 'walls' - huge walls at that - are it seems de rigueur among the right wing political leaders. The Israel government started it when they erected a 280 mile long 26 feet high wall to keep those pesky palestinians from crossing into israel from the west bank. The fact that this would prevent thousands of palestinians from crossing into east jersusalem to work, visit relatives or receive vital healthcare - something they had been doing for decades - not seeming to bother successive israeli government's one iota. Just as Israel ignored the International Court's verdict that the structure constitued an 'apartheid wall'. So there you have it if you though the brutal and racist system of apartheid had disappeared 1990s South Africa you'd be wrong - because it apartheid it seems is alive and well courtesy of the Israeli government.

The next wall enthusiast came in the shape of the republican candidate for the US presidency Donald Trump. The neo fascist trump has a pathological obsession with people entering america - well he does if they're muslims or mexicans. So to stop mexicans getting into america he has vowed if elected president to build a 'beautiful wall' going the length of the US Mexican border - nearly 2,000 miles. And Trump has gone one further than the israeli's in saying he'll get the mexican government to pay for it. How exactly he'll achieve that he hasnt said but given his worship of all things military - tho like most white rich kids in the states he dodged the draft himself - presumably he'll threaten to bomb mexico 'back to the stone age' if they dont pay up.

And this week Theresa May's increasingly right wing government has announced plans to  build a wall to replace the 'calais camp' which houses thousands of refugees waiting to enter britain. And in some senses the tories would be outdoing both the israeli's and trump in that they'd actually be building a wall in another country!

So if you see Yosser and he still needs a job tell him that - so long as he doesnt mind travelling - it looks like there'll be plenty of job opportunities for would be brickies coming up!.

PS worth noting that nearly 2000 years ago the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep the 'marauding scots out' - which shows just how far some of our modern day political leaders have come in 2000 years.  

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Echoes of the 1930s - the Rise of Right wing demagogues.

I recall being told by a veteran socialist back in the mid 80s that as difficult as things were at the time - the miners had just been defeated and thatcherism seemed unstoppable - that things would be worse for many working class people in the future.The footsoldiers of free market capitalism would become even more brutal and truly terrible right wing politicians would emerge he warned. And afraid to report that in many senses my erstwhile comrade was right.

There were no zero hour contracts back then, young people in education were getting full grants, council housing was still available, the private sector wasnt allowed near the NHS, millions of workers were still organised in trade unions, the railways and buses were still publicly owned, there were no foodbanks and the super rich were still paying their fair share of tax. And on the international front the US military was still licking its wounds after being kicked out of Vietnam a few years earlier while the medeival homicides of Daesh and Al Qaeda didnt even exist.

And looking at the world today we can see these terrible political figures i was warned of in the shape of the likes of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Rodrigo Duterte. In fact all over the world we are seeing the rise of brutal right wing demagogues of the kind we have not seen since the 1930s.

Most prominent among these is the real estate salesman Donald Trump. Trump built on the fortune he inherited from his father by being a ruthless exponent of the callousness and greed which marked both thatcherism and reaganism - in fact trump's career in business makes the character gordon gekko of 'wall street' infamy look like a social worker. His presidential campaign has been characterised by explicit misogyny, undisguised racism towards latinos and muslims and a disturbing preoccupation with using nuclear weapons against what he perceives are the US's enemies.

The President of the Phillipines Rodrigo Duterte made international headlines this week after calling US President  Barak Obama a "son of a whore".The Obama administration had rightly expressed concerns about human rights under Duterte, who was swept into power recently on a strong law and order ticket and a promise to crack down on crime. But under Dutere cracking down on crime has meant public and private death squads summarily executing thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade. Indeed the positively psychopathic Duterte actively encourages people in the phillipines to kill 'criminals' without worrying about the niceties of the law or a legal trial.

Marine Le Pen is the daughter of the french neo fascist and veteran holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen. Marine Le Pen wants to strip millions of french muslims of their citizenship and wants to restore the death penalty in france. While the Ukip leader Nigel Farage has spent the last few years whipping up public hostility towards muslims in britain and nationals from EU countries. He produced a deeply racist poster during the recent referendum campaign that was condemned even by other leave europe campaigners. While the party he has spent years leading is also strongly in favour of the restoration of the death penalty in Britain.

What marks all these emergent right wing figures out is an extreme national chauvinism, racially charged views and the scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities, a complete disregard for human rights and strong support for the death penalty. It's entirely reasonable to say that none of these deeply disturbing and reactionary traits would have been out of place among right wing politicians in the 1930s, a decade which saw fascist movements emerge and seize power across europe and the world. We know how that turned out - so we cant say we haven't been warned.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Ditch Nuclear - Invest in Renewables

The revelations on Monday's edition of Panorama of safety breaches at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria will not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the murky history of nuclear power in Britain over the last 6 decades. A whistleblower revealed to the programme that staffing levels at the plant are dangerously low and pose serious safety risks, while even more worrying it was revealed that hazardous radioactive materials at the plant were being stored in degradeable plastic bottles.

The latter revelation is absolutely astonishing given some radioactive waste can remain poisonous for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. It is not for nothing radioactive waste is often stored miles underground or on the seabed. But even these measures have not been enough to prevent clusters of leukemia in the vicinity of nuclear power stations. The radiation expert Chris Busby has compiled a wealth of research revealing the incidence of such clusters among children around Trawsfynydd in North Wales and across the Irish sea in the Irish republic from radioactive pollution from Sellafield in Cumbria

With the development of renewables as an increasingly viable source of energy the UK should join the growing trend across the world of moving away from nuclear power and invest in renewables. Germany has phased out nuclear power completely and the US has not built a new nuclear power stations in decades. As for doubts about the reliability of renewable energy well it's worth noting that Denmark now produces all its energy from renewables while last year more of Scotland's energy came from renewables than all other sources put together. Let's face it you cant get anything more reliable than the tides.

Not only is nuclear power prohibitively expensive but it can never be made completely safe. Another good reason to oppose nuclear of course is the fact that plutonium is extracted during the production process for use in nuclear warheads. In the long run renewable sources are simply safer and cheaper - and they cant be used to help create weapons of mass destruction. The UK government should ditch the proposed new nuclear reactor at Hinckley point, and abandon similar plans for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey. In the case of Wylfa it should really be the Welsh Assembly that is making that decision but sad to report that despite 20 years of devolution the Welsh government still has no say on important matters like nuclear power in Wales.

For those who missed the Panorama show it can be seen here

Links to groups campaignimg against Hinckley Point and Wylfa B

Saturday, 3 September 2016

When multinationals control governments

It goes without saying that taxation is important to any government - as without taxes coming in no government would be able to function. If we didnt pay tax there would be no public health services, no free education and no welfare benefits for the poor. Basically society would return to victorian times when a privileged idle elite lived in the lap of luxury while tens of millions lived in squalor and abject poverty. That's why as a socialist i never gripe about paying taxes as there's no question that in a capitalist society taxation can be a very progressive tool if used properly. 

So you would think the Irish government would be doing cartwheels at the decision of the EU commission to instruct the mega rich multinational company Apple to pay the irish 11 billion in unpaid taxes - 11 billion amounting to almost the entire annual budget of the republic of ireland. The Irish government could no doubt do a lot of good with that 11 billion - like abolishing the water charges imposed by Irish Water or address the fact that almost a third of Ireland's population lives in a state of 'enforced deprivation'

Indeed levels of poverty in Ireland have reached such shocking proportions in recent times that even the Archbishop of Dublin has called for a 'revolutionary campaign' against poverty

Astonishingly however Enda Kenny's government is joining Apple in appealing against the EU commission's ruling. Reading between the lines it seems that the ruling Fine Gael administration is afraid Apple - and maybe other multi nationals - will up sticks and leave ireland and move to somewhere where legally paying tax isnt a problem (and we can be sure there have been 'off the record' briefings from Apple to the Irish government to that effect).

For years successive irish government's have pursued a policy of adopting the lowest levels of corporation tax in europe in a bid to make Ireland an attractive place for mega rich multi and trans national companies to 'come and do business'. But as we see with this case multi national companies will still do all they can to avoid paying even the low levels of tax they are legally obliged too. We've seen the same thing in the UK with companies like Starbucks and Amazon making the headlines, indeed as this report makes clear multi nationals are trying to get away with not paying tax right across europe

The EU isnt perfect but at least it has tried to impose some controls on powerful super rich multinationals and make them nominally accountable - and this is one of the reasons why the political right in the UK  hate the EU so much.The likes of Nigel Farage - and former Thatcherite Chancellor Nigel Lawson - think rich and powerful companies and indviduals should be able to behave how they like and be free from any constraints on how they treat their workers or what level of taxes they should pay.

No surprise to learn then that the self styled scourge of 'elites and the establishment' Nigel Farage is backing Apple in its bid to get away with paying the taxes it owes to Ireland 


Friday, 2 September 2016

Remembering Alan Kurdi

It is a year today since we woke up to the haunting image of 3 year old Alan Kurdi lying face down and lifeless on a turkish beach. He and his family were among the millions who had fled their Syrian homeland to escape the double agony caused by a catastrohic civil war and the murderous activities of the medieval homicides of daesh. Ive departed from what seems to have become the customary practice when writing about Alan ie using the image from the turkish beach as i wanted to show him as he was shortly before that terrible event a year ago - a smiling child full of joy, playfullness and excitement in the way that any 3 year old child is.

And this time last year following the heartbreaking images of the drowned Alan there was an outpouring of compassion towards syrian refugees, and it seemed people in every village, town and city across the UK were queuing up to provide a home for syrian refugees. So it would be nice to think this genuinely spontaneous and compassionate reaction had been sustained and that people were no longer listening to the hate filled claims made about refugees by the assorted neo nazis, social darwinists and 'little englanders' that makes up the british right and far right.

Alas this mood was not sustained. Bigots like Nigel Farage and others in the Brexit campaign exploited fears - totally unfounded as it happens - of 'scores of crazed jihadists' infiltrating syrian refugees coming to europe. While despite a very public commitment made at the time to take in more syrian refugees the UK government is way behind in its promise to take in 4,000 syrian refugees a year up until 2020 (this figure itself of course being utterly derisory and basically the least they could get away with).

But what's most disappointing - and disturbing - about public attitudes towards refugees hardening again is that it appears that worrying numbers of people in britain are only too ready to believe the lies peddled by assorted bigots and racists in a way that they have not done in decades. We saw it in the brexit campaign (see my previous post) and you can see it daily in the revolting comments left by people on discussions on social networks like facebook whenever the issue of refugees or asylum seekers or immigration in general comes up.

I'm not saying the UK is on the brink of a mass neo fascist movement but it should be clear to anyone with eyes to see that their is something very dark and ugly taking shape in the minds of a worrying number of people - and we ignore this at our peril. Indeed this growth n racist and right wing ideas needs to be tackled head on. And in that respect we could perhaps do worse than heed the advice of a certain Lev Davidovich Bronstein - aka leon trotsky - on such matters.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Leading Brexiteers have blood on their hands

We should of course be careful of jumping to conclusions when a crime occurs but it does seem as if this week's fatal attack on the polish man Arkadiusz Jóźwik in Harlow was a hate crime. In the run up to the EU referendum and since police forces across the UK have reported a 10 fold increase in incidents motivated by racism.

And of course it's not only people from EU countries like poland and romania who have been racially abused and in some cases physically attacked - members of britain's muslim, afro caribbean, asian and african communities have also experienced more racism since june 23rd.

This of course is not to imply that everyone who voted for brexit is a racist, as there's certainly plenty of evidence to show that some working class voters were motivated to vote leave because of feelings of complete alienation brought on by years of austerity and a desire to give the likes of David Cameron and 'Baronet' Gideon Osborne a political kick in. But every poll of opinion before and since June 23rd has shown that 'immigration' was the principle reason for people voting to leave the EU. And while this blogger is no particular fan of the EU - its undemocratic aspects, the austerity it helped impose on people in greece, spain and ireland - i supported the remain side because of my belief that a leave vote would give rise to an ugly and nascent british nationalism and to racist incidents of precisely the kind we have seen.

Thus it was no surprise to see that members of british fascist and neo nazi groups like 'Britain First' threw themselves into the brexit campaign with a vengeance. As the following report made clear

While the most appalling incident of the Referendum campaign itself - the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox - was committed by a hitler worshipping member of a neo nazi splinter group the so called 'National Alliance'. 

Shortly before EU polling day, when he was unvieling his blatantly misleading and racist poster, Nigel Farage stated anger over the EU would lead to 'blood on the streets'. Well sad to report that in view of all the hate crimes in the UK in recent months it looks like he's got his wish. Lets hope the likes of Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Gisela Stuart are one day held to account for the racial hatred they've undeniably whipped up as a result of the poisonous, xenophobic and deeply misleading campaign they waged.