What Have We Become: Wheelchairs Chained to Railings
From the Suffragettes chaining themselves to railings in Edwardian times, to disabled protestors chaining their wheelchairs to railings in the twenty-first century, how far British society has come in terms of ever more grotesque social injustices. And how far we have regressed socially and morally in just four years of Tory-led government from a reasonably tolerant society to one of the most reactionary and intolerant in Europe, with ‘scroungermongering’ against the unemployment and immigrants and disability hate crime both peaking at un-precedent levels.
Hot on the heels of its white out on the recent 50,000-strong Peoples’ Assembly march, the British media managed to ignore the disgraceful spectacle of severely disabled protestors trying to bring public attention to the imminent axing of the Independent Living Fund (which will have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable citizens in the country) being kettled by the Metropolitan Police as they occupied the grounds of Westminster Abbey, some chaining their wheelchairs to railings. We already know that the Met has prolific form in mistreating black and ethnic minorities and the mentally ill –but now it appears their remit extends to the physically disabled too.
The full Grand Guignol of Zero Tolerance Tory Britain was on display at one of the most prominent landmarks in London, and yet not a whisper about it from our so-called “free” press… with one notable exception of course, that of our newspaper, the Morning Star, which splashed a front page exclusive by Joana Ramiro on the despicable incident, without which coverage, no one but the people involved would have known about it:
MET POLICE KETTLES DISABLED ANTI-CUTS ACTIVIST
Monday 30th June
Cops target people fighting for lifeline independent living fund
SEVERELY disabled activists were brutally attacked by police officers this weekend after occupying Westminster Abbey grounds in their fight to save the independent living fund.
Hundreds of supporters of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), UK Uncut and Occupy London took over the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Saturday.
But while many thought the Church of England-owned space would welcome the protesters, instead the police were called in to forcibly remove everyone.
“The idea was to establish a fully accessible camp,” said DPAC national committee member Ellen Clifford.
But activists were never given the chance to set the camp up. Police reportedly denied wheelchair users passage and arrested those facilitating the demonstration.
Organisers said they were swamped with “at least 200 police” officers on the site.
Onlookers said that police even arrested a man who was just complaining about them stopping wheelchair users from moving around.
And officers stopped journalists from getting close to some activists who had chained their wheelchairs to the abbey’s railings.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed it had arrested two men on suspicion of assaulting officers but refused to made any further comment.
Dean of Westminster Dr John Hall was asked to support the campaign and provide sanctuary to the many disabled activists but refused to let them stay.
An Abbey spokeswoman told the Morning Star that, while the church supported the right to protest, “the Abbey can not allow its precincts, which are private property, to be used in this way.”
Labour MP John McDonnell, who was at the protest, tried to arrange a meeting with Dr Hall but without success.
“No contact from Dean of Westminster so it looks like at the most iconic site of Christian worship in Britain the church is evicting disabled,” Mr McDonnell wrote on Twitter.
The protest was staged in the fight to save the independent living fund, which provides financial support to seriously disabled people to help them lead normal lives.
The Court of Appeal last year blocked minsters’ plans to close it following a challenge from activists.
But the nature of the ruling meant that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was able to propose to close the fund again after carrying out an equality impact assessment.
Ms Clifford said that if the fund is shut disabled people would face segregation from other members of society.
DPAC will return to Westminster on Friday — this time to the nearby DWP headquarters — for a protest tea party.
This was accompanied by a Star Editorial appropriately entitled ‘A Draconian Disgrace’:
FEW scenes have illustrated the draconian cruelty of austerity Britain better than the weekend’s kettle of disability protesters in Westminster.
Disabled People Against Cuts activists demonstrating against the government decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) — a literal lifeline for 18,000 severely disabled people — were deemed such a threat that hundreds of police descended on the scene.
Thuggish officers not only encircled the 60 or so brave individuals who refused to budge but prevented food or drink being delivered to the protesters, many of whom were disabled.
Reports that police charged into the crowd, causing several people to fall on top of wheelchair-users, and attempted to remove access ramps to the grounds of Westminster Abbey, shame the force.
And the craven response of Dean of Westminster John Hall — who refused to meet activists or take action to prevent the police brutality — is an absolute disgrace.
Under the vicious assault on social security piloted by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, a self-proclaimed Christian, disabled people have seen their right to live in dignity snatched away.
The punitive “fit for work” programme carried on by disgraced privateer Atos has cost thousands of lives — it is impossible to say how many, since after November 2011, when 10,600 people had died within six weeks of being declared “fit for work,” the government stopped counting.
The same government that is supposedly so desperate to get disabled people into the workplace launched sweeping closures of Remploy factories built to facilitate exactly that, casting thousands of people onto the dole.
At the same time government rhetoric about “scroungers” — designed to turn working-class people against each other and distract them from an elite which continues to make billions in profit in the so-called austerity era — has seen a rapid rise in hate crimes reported against disabled people, which last year was unfortunately combined with a decline in convictions.
Closing the ILF, with the contemptuous rider that the funds will now be the responsibility of local authorities being starved of cash by the very same government, is simply another kick in the teeth for those most in need of state support.
Like the other anti-disabled measures spewed out of Mr Duncan Smith’s poisonous department it will cost lives.
The Dean of Westminster should take his cue from the many religious figures of all faiths — including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — who have taken the side of the government’s victims, rather than turn his back on them.
Ex-Housemartins and Beautiful South songwriter and committed socialist Paul (P.D.) Heaton couldn’t have brought out his rhetorically titled album What Have We Become at a more appropriate time, as British social and political attitudes plummet to new depths of intolerance towards the unemployed, homeless, immigrants, Roma, gypsies, the mentally ill, sick and disabled –in short, towards any ‘type’ of person which the Tories and the red-tops instruct people to scapegoat for perceived ‘economic non-productivity’. But often such attitudes spill over into outright verbal and physical aggression –and by no means all of it perpetrated by the police!
As said, disability hate crime is at an all-time peak, having doubled in the past four years. This made the spectacle of the Atos-sponsored Paralympics something of a toxic curate’s egg; but more particularly, David Cameron’s assertion at the time that, in his own parallel reality, the UK is somehow “more tolerant” today towards those in need than ever before (as if one should need to be ‘tolerant’ towards the poor or disabled anyway!), and that people now see “the child” rather than “the wheelchair”. That may well be the case: it’s probably because the child has already been rhetorically tipped out of the wheelchair!
That our media didn’t deem the kettling and generally aggressive treatment of many severely disabled protestors in the centre of London newsworthy enough to either broadcast or report on in print tells us two things: that it has now become ‘acceptable’ in British society for the physically vulnerable to be publicly intimidated, deprived of access to water (in pounding sunshine), and some even tugged into the back of police vans simply for trying to make a perfectly fair and peaceful point about the further iniquities to be visited on them by the most vicious and morally bankrupt government in living memory. And, as well, that the media, by way of ingratiating itself to government, simply wants to bury the incident, partly out of a sense of private shame at the brutality of current establishment responses to public protest, irrespective of the vulnerability of the protestors in question.
What next? Boris Johnson using the wheel-chaired as target practice for his water canons?
This is yet another moral scandal, not to say blatant abuse of basic disability and human rights, in broad daylight, perpetrated by the very service supposed to protect us (not start throwing their truncheons around among severely disabled people in wheelchairs) that simply has to be brought to wider public attention –and The Recusant commends yet again the brilliant and compassionate journalism of the Morning Star in bringing this disgrace to light.
We also pay tribute, not for the first time, to those anti-cuts disability campaign groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts, and of course the exceptionally courageous UK Uncut and Occupy, for standing alongside the disabled protestors, in spite of the full force of the law bearing down on them in disproportionate siege-numbers.
The Recusant is also appalled at the compassionless moral neglect of the Dean of Westminster John Hall, who reportedly refused the protestors their right to sanctuary within the Abbey, and spinelessly conspired with the authorities to have them removed from the Abbey premises. This is especially peculiar, too, at a time when the Church of England is perhaps at its most politically outspoken against the Tory and tabloid ‘scroungermongering’ hegemonies and the replacement of our welfare state with a shadow social-infrastructure of food banks and soup kitchens.
Presumably Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, commendably critical of this Government since he succeeded the equally critical Rowan Williams, is none too impressed by Dean Hall’s distinctly procuratorial interpretation of his position. Whatever way Dean Hall might try to cut it, the facts are his gross Christian negligence was, biblically speaking, a proverbial case of ‘Pontius Pilate ‘hand-washing”, and, in that, completely antipathetic to basic Christian principles, and certainly not the attitude or behaviour one should expect from a man of the cloth.
Most heinously, Dean Hall opted to uphold property over human rights; and isn’t it surely a complete contradiction that Westminster Abbey and its grounds should be treated as private property when a Church, especially such an iconic one central to the national faith, is implicitly a place of public worship?
But no, apparently the Abbey is the property of the City of Westminster, and as we know from not-too-distant historical memory, that patch of the Capital has previous form for its Malthusian clampdowns on the street homeless through Shirley Porter’s pioneering ‘gentrification’/‘social cleansing’ policies of the late 80s and early 90s; something of a Westminster tradition upheld today, to an even more draconian extent. It seems in the tightly-drawn bounds of our ‘Little Big’ Society, while “squatters” are barred from empty buildings, protestors are barred from claiming their fundamental right of sanctuary in empty churches.
The Recusant will be keeping an eye out with regards to this coming weekend’s further protest against the axing of the ILF outside the Department for War on the Poor (DWP) offices at Caxton House, which is also in Malthusian Westminster, and will comment on events as and when we are aware of any –though the Morning Star’s exceptional reporters will no doubt be on the scene from the outset to provide full and exclusive coverage as with the first otherwise universally brushed-under-the-carpet spectacle.
In the meantime, in the same week, both George Osborne and Inane Duncan Schmidt issued two more world-beating counterintuitive assertions. Osborne has claimed this week that equality has improved under his Chancellorship: and that is no doubt has, in the sense that there are now far more people pauperised and living in poverty of a fairly equal abject level to many others in their community.
While IDS’s claim that the poor and unemployed carpet-bombed by his Malthusian artilleries of mass-impoverishing welfare cuts, benefit caps and bedroom tax are being ‘lifted out of poverty’ –again, they may well be being lifted out of relative poverty but are however being tipped into absolute poverty instead. Or does IDS honestly believe that mushrooming food banks, escalating street homelessness (doubled in the last four years!) and children fainting in classrooms from malnutrition, are signs of a reducing in poverty? Delusional as he is, he no doubt does: IDS is the Humpty Dumpty of the DWP: whatever he says means whatever he wants it to mean, and ditto with whatever he believes.
Comment Has Been Removed: ‘Off Topic’ or Just Polemically Inconvenient?
I’ve often written polemically on what I perceive to be the politico-cultural disconnect of so-called ‘progressive’ magazines and newspapers, by which I mean a certain contradiction, if not hypocrisy, of titles which purport to aspire to a more socially egalitarian society but with the unspoken though implied proviso that they would still be able to maintain their metropolitan journalistic monopolies in any forthcoming socialist utopia. That their largely non-empirical, middle-class, left-leaning intelligentsia should be left intact and unmoved by a ‘revolution’ in every other sphere of society. In short, such ‘progressive’ outlets appear to labour under the misapprehension that society can be fundamentally transformed for the good of all and towards egalitarianism but without them being obliged to sort out their own backyard.
In my opinion –and no doubt that of Marx– this simply isn’t possible, nor desirable, and, moreover, such a ‘bourgeois’ grip on the cultural sphere in fact permanently arrests any possibility of creating a fundamentally more equal and socially just society. So it seems that these alleged ‘flagship’ journals of ‘the left’ or ‘centre-left’ are, in terms of their distinctly exclusive and even nepotistic protocols, the enemies of the very purposes they promote. A handed-it-on-a-plate complacency predominates and seemingly such titles are content to score only pyrrhic victories on behalf of the ‘working-class struggle’ which they claim to champion, albeit non-inclusively, and no matter how hard they might try through empathy and theory, simply cannot represent in terms of empirical understanding.
To my mind, there are two chief offenders in this politico-cultural disjunction: The Guardian and the New Statesman. I used to be a regular reader of the New Statesman, which I felt was steadily improving in terms of its politics (i.e. moving further Left) in the early stages of the Con-Dem regime; but too soon its predominantly middle-class Oxbridge-educated contributors started getting taken in by the confused nonsense that was Maurice Glasman’s notion of ‘Blue’ Labour; then later started waxing apologetically for Ed Miliband’s leadership, even when it showed signs of bouncing back from the centre-left and rattling into the centre again as ‘One Notion’ Labour.
I also, bluntly, began to grow fatigued by what appeared to be a transparently Oxbridge-centric pecking order of young up and coming columnists –not that the views expressed by these stars ascendant weren’t pretty spot on in political terms; but simply that after a while I just grew very weary of reading relatively privileged young people with limited life experience and probably no personal understanding of social hardship pumping out weekly rhetoric which, no matter how apposite, is still largely theory rather than personally tested political conviction. A case of the empirically virginal postgraduate preaching to the ‘University of Life’ converted.
The Guardian is also fairly well-known, as is the NS, for its exclusivity of candidature in terms of columnists suddenly thrust up from nowhere, with little or no journalistic training, even less ‘life experience’ outside of Oxbridge, who are seemingly where they are –at the very least– as much for the auspiciousness of their social and educational backgrounds (Oxbridge again) as for the quality of their writing or originality of their insights, or even due to other more advantageous associations (i.e. nepotism). Such un-meritocratic privileges are to be expected from the right-wing media, but when equally prevalent in the self-proclaimed ‘left-wing’ or ‘left-leaning media’ it’s really a contradiction too far and verges on duplicity.
I say all this here as I experienced this week what I felt to be the final nail in the coffin with regards to any verisimilitude that The Guardian’s public comment threads are in any authentic sense open to proper and open polemical debate when it comes to certain topics uncomfortably close to backyard of the world’s ‘leading liberal newspaper’. I have come to this conclusion after posting a comment on an extract from a new book by the ubiquitous but at least politically astute young journalist Laurie Penny, who has long been a regular columnist in the New Statesman, The Guardian, The Independent and elsewhere (she 'cut her teeth' on the Morning Star, contributing some excellent articles countervailing anti-welfarism some years before).
The extract was discussing what Penny perceives to be a still thoroughly entrenched partriarchal, chauvinistic and even misogynistic society and culture, which puts inordinate pressure on young women to look ‘pretty’ and be ‘thin’, and which limits their career and financial opportunities due to a still endemic inequality in pay and promotion –all of which, to a greater degree, I agree with; particularly the scandal of unequal pay. But it later occurred to me that the inordinately high amount of ‘This Comment has been removed….’ messages throughout the comments pages after the promotional extract might not have all been due to the proverbial misogynistic and sexist right-wing trolling that Ms Penny and other female columnists often unacceptably attract.
This is because my own comment, which was written sensibly and reasonably, and simply expressed how interested I would be to read Penny also discussing how certain aspects to her own well-heeled Oxford-educated background had, opposite to her self-perceived ‘gender disadvantage’, no doubt compensated in many ways as boosts to her journalistic prospects and meteoric rise. I was simply trying to broaden the discussion on all forms of unfair and unequal prejudices of protocol in society, those related to gender and to social and educational background (race and disability being others of course).
The Guardian moderator didn’t like this comment one bit: it was removed almost as soon as it appeared! At which point one begins to ask oneself, just how much influence over the ‘moderator’ does, say, the writer of the column hold? Not an unreasonable question considering Ms Penny is a regular Guardian columnist and no doubt by now on first name terms with many working at the paper.
Perhaps that’s an unfair presumption –but what I definitely detected from this heavy-handed and knee-jerk moderation (considering there was nothing rude, crude or insulting in anything I wrote, nor were there any expletives or any comments that could possibly be construed as ‘trolling’ or ‘offensive’ –‘off topic’, possibly, but then no more so than many of the other comments left on display on the same page) on a comments thread related to a book excerpt by one of the Guardian’s own in-house journalists/writers, was a strong sense of ‘closing ranks’ against unwelcome questions, and closing down a comment which perhaps came a bit too close to the bone for the paper’s own culpabilities.
I swiftly posted a follow-up comment, equally polite but polemical as the first, in which I very politely complained about the unfathomable removal of my original comment –and lo and behold, that comment was also promptly removed within seconds of appearing! I actually counted this time, and it was ten seconds! The first comment had also been removed so absurdly quickly that it’s difficult to believe that it was actually read properly (it was about three rather lengthy paragraphs long). So much for open debate and polemical engagement on The Guardian comments pages then!
This is not the first time that I have been disappointed by The Guardian for its seeming tendency towards censorship of inconvenient polemics under the subterfuge that the comment is ‘off topic’. It’s precisely this apparent inability or even wilful refusal of such ‘progressive’ outlets as The Guardian and New Statesman to ‘join up the dots’ between political and cultural dialectics and acknowledge that many ‘topics’ brought into discussions on its threads are not irrelevant simply because they take a lateral and wider scope, but are often actually inextricably linked –as are most topics in society –which is also symptomatic of the broader politico-cultural disconnect of which I spoke earlier.
One of my remarks was that if this was meant to be purely a promotional piece, then there shouldn’t have been a Comments thread placed under it. The fact, as mentioned, that the moderator promptly removed that comment too, really just goes to confirm all the points I was trying to make, and have been making here. But The Guardian’s moderator hasn’t long enough arms to remove my editorials from The Recusant… yet! (Though with the proposed new right for people to request certain items on Google be taken down because they dislike what’s been written about them doesn’t bode particularly well in this regard –nor for The Recusant in general!).
A.M. 2-4 July 2014
The June of Many Questions
This is proving to be the June of many questions, all thorny but vital ones, with regards to various vicissitudes, particular in the last week. To the BBC: Why did you provide zero coverage of a 50,000-strong Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity march which started outside your own HQ? To David Cameron and George Osborne? Why did you not put Andy Coulson through the proper security checks when appointing him as Tory spin doctor and allowing him into Downing Street? Was it because you both feared such checks would shed greater doubt on his innocence in the phone hacking scandal and thus preclude his appointment to help you woo the working-class vote? To Rebekah Brooks: Just how quickly can a post-verdict party be arranged without seeming dubiously prearranged? Perhaps there will be a July of answers, but we’ll not hold our breaths.
British Bread and Circuses: The BBC's Zero Coverage of the Peoples' Assembly
Now that, for the moment, the BBC is not under the thumb of a Tory Chair –though no doubt will be again very soon if the uber-right-wing Culture Secretary Sajid Javid gets his way– why was it the case that at the weekend, with over 50,000 people thronging to the national Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity march, which started outside the BBC’s very own HQ, the publicly funded Corporation provided absolutely zero coverage of it? Seemingly, the BBC simply ignored the throngs of protestors of all types, ages and backgrounds braving the pounding June sun to pound the tarmac of London in opposition to the austerity agenda. No doubt most of those 50,000 people were also BBC Licence Fee payers! We suspect that if those 50,000 people now chose out of understandable disgust at the BBC’s absence of coverage of their demonstration to stop paying their Licence Fees, the BBC would suddenly notice all of them very quickly indeed, and send out 50,000 red reminders!
Petitions against the apparent ‘neutrality’ of the organisation now seemingly extending into the realms of socio-political solipsism notwithstanding, the BBC clearly has many questions to answer, if the public is not to conclude that this was a distinctly un-‘neutral’ gross neglect of a highly significant event on its own doorstep. In ‘defence’ of its apparent white-out of the Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity, the BBC disingenuously argued that it had chosen to prioritise other national and world events of significant importance. I say ‘disingenuous’ because, by way of example, one of these so-called ‘important’ events was a thinly attended gathering of Druids at Stone Henge to mark the Summer Solstice! The Recusant thinks the BBC should recalibrate its full name to either British Bread and Circuses or the British Bourgeois Censorship!
But we only have to compare the BBC’s previous form in recent years in terms of ‘prioritising’ to see where its ideological allegiances clearly lie: the wall-to-wall coverage of the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, to the exclusion of practically everything else going on in the world at those times. Compare the binge-mentality of those three jingoistic BBC bean feasts to the Corporation’s inexplicable decision to provide no coverage whatsoever of 50,000 people marching through the Capital in protest against austerity. It speaks for itself.
It seems the BBC, which has over the past four years athletically mutated from a reasonably ‘neutral’ and sceptical broadcasting body into what might be described today as the equivalent to a slightly more genteel televised red-top, is more inclined to give continuous coverage to Nigel Farage and his extreme right-wing UKIP than it is to any political party, campaign or mass movement of the left-end of the spectrum. The Recusant says to the BBC: less Purple “Peoples’ Army” and more Peoples’ Assembly, please! Is Points of View still going? We’d be intrigued to catch up on the episode following the Beeb’s airbrushing-out of the march against austerity.
Indeed, where is the BBC’s coverage of the Green Party? Isn’t it interesting that when a right-wing fringe party such as UKIP gets the wind behind it, the BBC is out en masse covering every single swig of beer by laughing Farage, and yet when a left-wing party such as the Greens makes equally considerable strides in the local and European elections, there’s not even so much as a one-minute snippet of a green rosette! Green Party Leader Joe Gill contributed an excellent piece to the Morning Star somewhat belatedly trumpeting her party’s highly significant success in recent local and European elections, and its de facto status as the “fourth party” of British politics, having now overtaken the votes of the endangered species of Liberal Democrats. Gill’s piece is also extremely instructive in terms of how the Greens might play a major part in the galvanisation of the broader Left Unity movement, and the dialogue between Gill and the leader of the Communist Party, Bob Griffiths, is also of much significance here:
There Must Be More To Politics Than This
In the aftermath of the local and Euro elections, JOE GILL talks to the Greens and left parties about building a radical alternative
WATCHING the news during last month’s local and Euro elections it was easy to get the impression that the only option for voters who wanted to reject the mainstream parties was Nigel Farage’s so-called “People’s Army” of right-wing nationalists.
But this misleading perception ignores the fact that Ukip got nowhere in Labour inner-city heartlands in London, the north and the Midlands.
In the local elections Labour gained 330 seats, more than double Ukip’s gains, and made a net gain of five councils with triumphs in London where the party won back Tory flagship council Hammersmith & Fulham.
While Labour came second in the Euro elections behind Ukip, the real unsung winners in those polls were the Greens. Arguably the only major national party offering a strongly left-leaning platform of policies, they put the Lib Dems into fourth place in the Euro poll, with 1.2 million votes to the Lib Dem’s 1.09 million, and gained a third seat in the European Parliament with Molly Scott Cato’s victory in the South West region.
In the locals the Greens gained 23 council seats and are now the official opposition in five councils — Liverpool, Solihull and the London boroughs of Lewisham and Islington, as well as Norwich, where the party has been the main opposition for some time.
The party now sees itself as the fourth party in the country. Party leader Natalie Bennett told the Morning Star: “We have clearly finished ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the last two major elections, the European Parliament election and the London mayoral and assembly election.”
This has been achieved in the face of a media that consistently ignores the Greens.
The problem of media exclusion led Brighton Green Portia Cocks to launch a 38 Degrees petition that has gathered almost 50,000 signatures calling on the BBC to “Stop this media news blackout of the Green Party.”
When Cocks and others took the petition to Broadcasting House recently they were met by a host of BBC security staff and several police officers. “We were told we were not allowed on BBC property and would not be permitted to enter the building to deliver our petitions — instead a member of staff was sent out to collect them.”
The BBC representative even asked for the petition envelopes to be opened so she could look inside. “I was shocked,” said Cocks. “The BBC is essentially owned by the public and as a member of the public, representing a further 50,000 licence fee payers, I did not expect to be treated as a potential terrorist.”
Bennett points out that the BBC and other media ignored critical issues at the elections including “the disastrous proposed EU-US free trade deal, the importance of strong renewables and energy efficiency targets, the very nature of the EU and the need to reform it to make it work democratically for the people of Europe rather than in the interests of big corporations.
She adds: “Is it any wonder that more than 60 per cent of voters decided to opt out of this seemingly stale game and stay at home?”
Despite this, Bennett says the party is winning over not just disillusioned Labour and Lib Dem voters but people who previously didn’t vote at all. “Increasing numbers of Labour voters and members have had enough of positions like that taken by Rachel Reeves, who said a Labour government would be tougher on welfare than the Tories.
But we’re also attracting increasing numbers of former non-voters, who often have looked at the Ukip advance and felt it was time to take a stance.”
For left critics of the Greens, the party’s record running a minority administration in Brighton & Hove council shows that in office they are not prepared to make a stand against the coalition’s cuts and, by imposing cuts to allowances for its CityClean workforce, they provoked a damaging strike.
Bennett rejects this criticism. “I don’t think the option of handing the council over to Eric Pickles and then probably the Tories was one we could have contemplated, and the bin strike arose from a need to sort out unfair, gender-discriminatory allowances that previous councils had failed to deal with.
“I’m proud of the record of the council in becoming a living wage council and promoting the living wage in the city, in keeping open all branch libraries, and in improving GCSE results in the city.”
Looking toward the general election, she says the party’s main task is to hold onto Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton.“Obviously our first target is to hold Brighton Pavilion, where the Labour Party is throwing vast sums into their campaign, but we also will be running strong campaigns in Norwich South, in Liverpool Riverside and Oxford East, just to name a couple.
“A lot of people have also been pointing out that we got the most votes in the council elections this year in Bristol West, and in a swathe of London constituencies were a clear second.”
Bennett concedes that the party does have a challenge to reach more working-class and minority voters. “Like all political parties we need to do a great deal more to reach and involve ethnic minority voters, but I think more and more working-class voters are looking at our policies like making the minimum wage a living wage, renationalising the railways and defending the decent levels of benefits for everyone who needs them and choosing us.”
The Green leader says voters looking for a socialist alternative to break with austerity and neoliberalism should now support the party. “We are the alternative to the three business-as-usual parties, who let loose the bankers, are comfortable with soaring levels of inequality, and don’t see the need for radical transformation to a society that works for the common good, not just the few.”
The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition put together what it describes as the biggest left electoral challenge to the mainstream parties since the Communist Party in 1950.
It stood 559 candidates in the local elections and received 68,000 votes. It supported Southampton rebel Labour councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, who were expelled from the Labour group for voting against council cuts and presenting an alternative budget.
Morrell, who sits on the Tusc steering committee, was re-elected as an independent on a landslide with 1,633 votes.
Nationally, however, Tusc’s candidates scored an average of just 3.4 per cent.
The Tusc steering committee met last month to discuss the election results. Tusc election agent Clive Heemskerk tries to put the result into perspective, saying: “If there were 68,000 people at the People’s Assembly demo it would be considered a great success.
“To search out this many voters who are looking for candidates who are standing on a clear anti-austerity platform in the context of a complete media blackout is a real achievement.”
While Nigel Farage received wall-to-wall coverage on television and the press, Tusc was excluded almost entirely from the election coverage.
“Go to the BBC website and there are only four entries for Tusc this year. There are more for the English Democrats who only stood 31 local council candidates. There is no justification,” says Heemskerk.
Tusc’s original target was 625 seats — or one sixth of contested seats — the threshold number of candidates for a party to be included in BBC election coverage according to the broadcaster’s rules on political “balance”. It wasn’t easy to work out the figures since there is no national database of local election results, explains Heemskerk. “We fell short.”
Although Tusc contested many more seats in 2014 than in previous local elections, its average vote was down to 3.4 per cent from 5.2 per cent in 2011.
“The reality is disappointing — the Ukip effect hit Tusc as well as the other parties, there’s no doubt about it. It’s too simplistic to say that only reactionary people vote Ukip. It’s also those who want to lash out at the Establishment parties.
“We know what Ukip really is but by calling itself ‘the People’s Army’ and claiming to be anti-Establishment, it’s positioning itself as a receptacle of protest against the established parties and unfortunately it impacted on us.”
Heemskerk believes there was a media blackout against Tusc, but adds that this is nothing the left is not used to. He dealt with BBC producers and the BBC’s chief political adviser Ric Bailey, who produces guidance on electoral coverage. “I spoke to him and he gave us soft soaping stuff.”
Dave Nellist, Tusc’s national chair, is due to appear on Question Time in July, says Heemskerk. “When I asked the BBC why he wasn’t going to appear before the elections, the producer said we can’t do it because of the balance issue.” After further probing, Heemskerk was told that the BBC position was that Nellist could not be invited onto the Question Time panel “under any circumstances.”
The Tusc agent argues that the rise of Ukip is partly a result of the failure of the labour movement to capitalise on the momentum built up in the TUC-backed March for the Alternative in summer 2011, when half a million people took to the streets of London to protest against coalition attacks on public services. “It was the biggest demonstration in the history of the trade union movement.
“Until there is a revival of working-class struggle, there is no magical solution to contest the rise of Ukip. But we can’t just hold up our hands — working-class people need representation in Britain.”
Heemskerk makes clear that Tusc, founded on the initiative of late RMT leader Bob Crow and other trade unionists including retired POA leader Brian Caton, does not claim to be a mass party for working-class representation.
“At most we are a precursor,” says Heemskerk. “We could play a role like the Independent Labour Party. Certainly it is not by a long stretch a finished vehicle. It needs the involvement of the big unions. But everywhere there is a struggle to save libraries and health services, we will be involved.
“There are people who say that Ed Miliband has made noises about the bedroom tax, but the cuts still goahead in Labour-run authorities. We want to offer the widest possible opportunity for people to vote against austerity.”
The steering committee decided to send a letter out to all Labour candidates for the 2015 general election asking them their views on key issues.
“As part of our campaigning we will be sending local delegations and lobbies to prospective Labour candidates asking if they are prepared to sign up to John McDonnell’s Trade Union Freedom Bill, agree to support the reversing of all the cuts in public services and benefits that have taken place under the Con-Dems, and support an incoming Labour government banning zero-hours contracts and immediately introducing the living wage (£7.65 an hour, £8.80 in London).
“If the Labour candidate says no or refuses to meet us, then their seat will become a potential target for Tusc.”
Tusc no longer has its standard bearer, Bob Crow, although his union the RMT remains officially in support of it following a 2012 conference decision. The union holds seats on the national steering committee, along with other individual union figures including PCS assistant secretary Chris Baugh, POA leader Steve Gillan and assistant secretary Joe Simpson.
“The loss of Bob makes an incredible difference,” says Heemskerk. “You could always say to people, whatever you think of Bob Crow, he gets results for his members and isn’t that the kind of person you would want to represent you? It’s a massive loss in terms of his public profile.”
Other political organisations on the committee include the Socialist Party, Socialist Resistance and the SWP.
“Tusc is not the finished product,” says Heemskerk. “But who would have thought when the ILP was formed in 1893 that within seven years it would become part of the Labour Representation Committee (the precursor to the Labour Party).
“Labour after the Collins reforms makes it even clearer that the trade union movement will not have a role within the Labour party.”
LEFT UNITY was launched with some fanfare last year with the support of film director Ken Loach, held its founding conference in November and a policy convention in March. It now claims more than 2,000 paid up members.
The new party did not aim to contest the local elections nationally in 2014 but where branches were active, some decided to stand candidates.
However, the overall results were modest with the best result in Wigan West, where the party scored 8.8 per cent in part thanks to local members’ involvement in an anti-fracking campaign and the popular Diggers Festival.
The majority of Left Unity candidates won what John Tummon, writing on the party’s website, described as a “bus full of votes.”
Left Unity spokesman Tom Walker says: “Judging Left Unity by the election results doesn’t show what’s going on, where the main project is to do much more campaigning.
“Left Unity are in it for the long haul, not just popping up at election time. We’ve been quite open about this result as a modest beginning.”
So what is the long-term goal of Left Unity? Walker says there was a strong feeling at the founding conference that people wanted a party, not a loose alliance. “People were looking around for something that had a permanent presence. Some came out of far-left groups and some from the Greens and Labour.
“It was established as a party because people looked at the experience of the radical left in Europe and saw that it was about doing patient work on the ground in the community over years.
“What the election results show is that across Europe and in Britain people are moving away from the centre ground. You can see this in the rise of the far right and the radical left.
“Each country is different but in each case people are abandoning the mainstream pro-austerity parties and this is leading to the rise of parties outside the neoliberal consensus.
“Left Unity has a lot of internal democracy so an individual can join and have a say. It is open to anyone — there is no requirement to leave other parties or organisations. We all have one vote.”
Stephen Hall campaigned in Wigan where the party got its best result — 8.8 per cent. “Given that what we did was put leaflets through 30,000 doors in every ward wrapped around the Hope Not Hate leaflet, that’s a good result. If we had gone out and canvassed we’d have probably bumped that up three times — but we didn’t have the manpower.”
However the very low number of votes for Left Unity nationally might suggest that it has jumped the gun in launching a new party when the labour movement and left is not united in support of an electoral challenge to Labour.
Hall disagrees: “When is the right time? You’ve got to start somewhere in my view. It means doing a lot of work in your local community, getting stuck in and working on the ground is the key.”
Hall says electoral alliances across the left and with the Greens will be necessary for the 2015 election. “In my view we need to campaign for a Labour victory and only stand in safe Labour seats. We’ll support Labour when it stands up for ordinary people and argue for the right policies.
“If Labour doesn’t deliver this time the unions are going to say why are we still paying money to the party when it is not delivering policies we want.”
How does the Communist Party view the results of the Euro and local elections?
The elections indicated that Labour must put some clear red water between itself and the Tories if it is to win the general election. It should campaign against austerity policies, for taxing the super-rich and big business and taking energy, public transport and sections of the City into public ownership. The Lib Dems should be finished off as a credible progressive force, not thrown a lifebelt by Labour. Ukip benefited from public discontent with the established parties and with rule by a distant bureaucracy in Brussels. Labour should be mobilising and politicising that discontent, not joining the Tories, Ukip and the right-wing press in gutter bashing immigrants and Muslims.
Did the party stand candidates — where and how did they do?
The Communist Party played a leading role in the No2EU — Yes to Workers’ Rights electoral alliance and we stood a small number of candidates in the English local elections. It was important to use the EU campaign, including our well-received election broadcasts in Scotland and Wales, to expose the anti-democratic, pro-big business character of the EU and to put the left case against EU membership. Our low votes reflected No2EU’s lack of resources and publicity, demonstrating the need to build a perennial anti-EU movement of the left, one rooted in the trade union movement. Local CP candidates fared better, with between 2 and 4 per cent of the poll.
What do you think left strategy should be in the run-up to the 2015 election?
This Tory-led coalition must be removed and the only realistic alternative is a Labour government. The fight should be on to secure the most progressive Labour manifesto possible — and that requires a rising tide of mass political and industrial action, led by the trade unions and People’s Assembly, politicised by a stronger Communist Party and the non-sectarian left. The CP will be looking to stand some candidates of its own in bold, high-profile local campaigns.
Can you see a time in the future when the trade union and socialist movement will have to agree on a united strategy to challenge Labour from the left?
The immediate task is to secure a Labour victory on a left and progressive manifesto. Unless the labour movement shows that it can and will reclaim the Labour Party as its own within the next 18 months, trade unions and the left will have to begin taking the necessary steps to re-establish a genuine mass party of labour. Such a historic necessity cannot be fulfilled by sectarian groups who exaggerate the immediate possibilities and their own importance. I also suspect that such a party will need to understand and reject the unreformable and imperialist EU if it is to offer a popular, progressive alternative to Ukip, the Tory right and the fascists.
Joe Gill was speaking to the Communist Party of Britain’s Robert Griffiths
Of course, there was a general media white-out of the Peoples’ Assembly –bar a brief bit of coverage by TV’s only worthwhile news programme, Channel 4 News– but that’s nothing too unexpected given most news is controlled by private corporate interests, and as for the newspapers, well, what can we expect from a 98% right-wing industry (and even The Guardian has neglected to cover the march until the morning after the night before the night before, with a token piece appearing after much criticism from its online comment pages). But the BBC is a national publicly funded institution, and therefore has a core responsibility to cover all newsworthy events domestically and abroad, no matter how politically polarising they might be.
As ever, the Morning Star –the only British newspaper to cover the Peoples’ Assembly in any detail, and considerable detail at that, both before, during and after the event– put it perfectly, appositely framing it within the fallacious received wisdom of the UK having anything even vaguely akin to a “free press”:
We Will Not Be Silenced
Media ignores 50,000-strong march against austerity
MEDIA silence on the 50,000 who marched against government-imposed austerity at the weekend tells us all we need to know about Britain’s “free” press.
Only one weekend newspaper — the Morning Star — led on the People’s Assembly demo. The Guardian consented to run a report on the march online, though it was not mentioned at all in the group’s Sunday title The Observer.
Other papers ignored it completely — as, initially, did the BBC, before a flood of complaints forced it to post a grudging acknowledgement on its Facebook page.
Broadcasting pundits and well-heeled newspaper columnists were quick to cry foul at the idea of state regulation of their sector after the revelation of mass illegal snooping at the now defunct News of the World and other Rupert Murdoch titles, citing the vital importance of an independent and diverse media which could hold the powerful to account.
Who could disagree with that? But Britain’s major newspapers, owned by a handful of mostly foreign-based billionaires, are not diverse and do not hold the powerful to account.
Most of the biggest titles — Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Times — are open cheerleaders for the Tory Party, which is hardly surprising since it is the party which best represents the class interests of their owners.
To this end evidence-free hate-mongering about immigrants and “benefit cheats” and hysterical attacks on workers who dare to flex their collective muscles through their trade unions are all the rage.
But tens of thousands of people marching through the centre of Britain’s capital demanding an alternative to the ruling class war on working people? That’s not news, apparently.
Indeed, the publicly funded BBC claimed that it was unable to provide “extensive” coverage of the march because of other more important stories on the day — which included significantly smaller crowds gathering to watch the solstice sun come up that morning.
The excuse does not explain why a BBC News tweet about the march was subsequently deleted, suggesting deliberate censorship rather than a simple case of odd priorities.
Even newspapers which are not consistently Tory act to perpetuate the poisonous narrative of the ruling class, whether this takes the form of the Independent’s cheerleading for marketising our public services or The Guardian’s support for the fascist-backed coup in Ukraine and the bloody war that country’s new leaders are waging against their opponents in the east. Other examples could be added ad nauseam.
The fact is that Britain’s rulers do not need to regulate or censor the press, because they own it.
As Lenin once said: “In capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion.”
Only one daily newspaper is owned by ordinary working people — our own Morning Star, owned and accountable to its readers through the People’s Press Printing Society co-operative.
So it’s no surprise that only one newspaper backs the People’s Assembly, just as only we have supported and campaigned for the victims of blacklisting, backed trade unions fighting to defend their members’ pay and pensions and stood firm for peace and socialism and against imperialist war.
Saturday’s magnificent march was only the beginning of a summer of strikes and demonstrations, a summer in which the labour movement will seize the initiative and take the fight to the Tories.
The mass media’s response was to pretend it didn’t happen. This weekend’s events show more clearly than ever how important it is that working people have their own voice.
This was joined by left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn’s piece, ‘We’ll Keep Marching’:
The People’s Assembly demo was buried by the BBC but ignoring protests won’t stop them happening
LAST Saturday an estimated 50,000 people marched from Portland Place, adjacent to the BBC London studios, to Parliament Square.
On a glorious midsummer’s day we were protesting about austerity and the call for an alternative.
Numerous speakers at the rally challenged the need for cuts in welfare state spending, privatisation within the NHS, the treatment of those with disability, the scapegoating of migrants and asylum seekers, and the continued attack on a young generation who are suffering unemployment, underemployment and zero-hours contracts and desperately low wages.
The speakers ranged in age from teenagers to older people, and showed a unity and breadth of a political alternative in Britain which is not represented by any part of the coalition government, and only to some extent by Labour in Parliament.
The media reporting of this event was fairly limited but it did get coverage on ITV, Channel 4 and on international channels.
The BBC gave it no coverage whatsoever, until the following day when it showed a very poor-quality short video of some of the march in response to the thousands of tweet messages it got as to why it hadn’t covered it.
The reality is that most of the media only want to report political debate in terms of studio discussions, party leaders’ speeches, or sometimes what is happening in Parliament.
They never want to report trade union action — except in a negative light — or marches and demonstrations that challenge the comfort of acceptance of the economic narrative of austerity.
In a remarkably supercilious article by William Foxton in the New Statesman on June 23 he claimed there was no organised media blackout just that demonstrations aren’t much of a story.
Many would disagree with Foxton who went on to claim that the numbers were not as big as was claimed and that the left had an obsession about demonstrations, denying there is a conspiracy of silence.
Foxton’s dismissal of the role of protests and an alternative voice completely ignores the way in which social progress and change has come about in Britain.
On the basis of his dismissal of tens of thousands marching in London I assume he would dismiss the civil rights marches in the US in the 1960s, the anti-apartheid demonstrations that helped defeat the racist South African regime and the protests in the Arab world that brought down several regimes.
He needs to be sent on a course on the history of popular protest.
We’re in the midst of a media blackout on the alternatives to austerity in that most newspapers happily report that the economy is “growing.”
There are vast numbers of “new jobs” created and Britain is an economic “success.”
The reality is that very large numbers of public-sector jobs have been destroyed and replaced by zero-hours contract work in the private sector, and more and more people are dependent on the minimum wage, which has to be topped up by benefits as it falls below subsistence levels.
At the same time there is an unprecedented media interest in allegations of benefit scrounging and the apparent lifestyle choice of people to survive on DWP benefits rather than working.
Any self-respecting journalist would look at the increased levels of poverty, homelessness and numbers of people who are under Department of Work and Pensions sanctions at any one time, and thus receiving no income at all.
The other nastier side of this new supposed consensus is for there to be a constant attack on all migrants and asylum-seekers, as though
they are the cause of the economic difficulties faced.
Ukip has been reaping the benefits of this and the best way to challenge it is to demand higher wages and investment, particularly in housing, to reduce the levels of unemployment.
The anti-austerity march, if the media had bothered to report it, included many calls for proper taxation of the biggest businesses such as Vodaphone and Starbucks, and a real attack on inequality in Britain.
We will keep on marching.
The Verdict on Cameron’s Accomplice
Following the guilty verdict of his former No. 10 spin-doctor Andy Coulson for systemic phone hacking under his aegis as editor of the News of the World, David Cameron was so quick to step out before a camera and try and damage-limit this latest and arguably irreparable tarnishing of his reputation for being perhaps the worst judge of character of any British prime minister in history –Coulson, Brooks, Emma Harrison, Jeremys Hunt and Clarkson et al– that he has now himself been accused by the judge of the hacking trial of effectively causing its judicial “collapse”. You would have thought that the son of a magistrate, who always loves banging on about the unquestionable “rule of law”, would be a little more careful with judicial etiquette and a little less ramshackle in his athletic attempt to immediately dissociate himself from his form spin doctor and “friend” in order to save his own skin, while simultaneously flouting his avowed respect for the “rule of law” in the process.
If Gordon Brown was Mr. Bean then surely David Cameron is Jacques Clouseau, and hot on the heels of the Coulson verdict, he was certainly prompt to ‘send out a clear “massage”’ as to his own apparent ‘innocence’, or rather, breathtaking incompetence, gross negligence and thoroughly abysmal judge of character. It just goes to show the depths Cameron’s reputation have sunk to in recent years that he’s in a mad rush to admit to a list of his own character failings as if it will only enhance his public standing! Indeed, only Cameron can ‘apologise’ in such a prime ministerial manner which almost comes across as if he’s somehow the offended party. That’s aristocratic genes, Etonian education and priming in PR for you! The old ‘sense of entitlement’ unique to our inherited social elites –a veritable Brasenosed cheek!
So this is another mooted ‘offence’ to add to Cameron’s more fundamental one of having been the first prime minister to have –to paraphrase Ed Miliband– “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street”. Prevaricate and bluster as he might at his Eton Debating Society –sorry, Prime Ministers’ Questions– the facts remain that Cameron inexplicably neglected to do the rudimentary security checks on Andy Coulson prior to appointing him as his spin doctor at No. 10, and, further, wilfully ignored a “mountain of evidence” against Coulson, as well as arrogantly brushing aside several warnings against his appointment by close colleagues. The Prime Minister is thus culpable, through gross negligence of his office, for having potentially compromised the security and safety not only of government but also of the nation as a whole.
For this reason alone The Recusant believes his position as prime minister is now completely untenable (though we believed this to already be the case due to his highly compromised position as being a close friend of both Coulson and Brooks, not to say his almost unfathomable stubbornness with regards to Jeremy Hunt’s own formerly compromised position as Secretary of the Department for Culture, Murdoch and Sport).
Put simply, Cameron now simply HAS to answer this question: Why did he not follow fundamental routine protocols of full and proper security checks of Coulson, particularly seeing as he was at the time of appointment to No. 10 already under suspicion of direct involvement in phone hacking?
And there is also a similar question to be put to Cameron’s hitherto un-interrogated right-hand man, George Osborne: Why did you push so aggressively for the appointment of Andy Coulson, a Murdoch lacky and phone-hacking suspect, as Tory spin doctor?
The next question, to be put to both Cameron and Osborne: Just how much did both of you know the truth behind allegations of Coulson’s culpability in phone hacking at the point you head-hunting and appointed him as your spin doctor?
Cameron keeps reiterating that he “believed” in “giving” Coulson a “second chance” which, quite apart from the fact that this phrase in itself implies a tacit recognition that his former spin doctor could have been guilty of the phone hacking allegations, also reminds us of the double standards of this hypocrite of a prime minister. Let’s not forget it was Cameron who urged the Courts to hand down “exemplary sentences” for any one so much as caught nicking a bottle of water in the 2011 riots –no “second chance” for them.
As for believing in “innocent before proven guilty” and “giving the benefit of the doubt”, if the despicable protocols of his Secretary for the Department of Whiphands and Punishments (DWP) is anything to go by, one can imagine Cameron wouldn’t give a second thought at giving only ‘the doubt’ to any claimant suspected of ‘over-claiming’ so much as a fiver in benefits, who are always perceived as ‘guilty until proven innocent’! Yet when it comes to his ‘friends’ and political allies, it’s an entirely different tone altogether: suddenly Cameron transforms from reactionary condemner to petitioner for leniency.
But the fact remains that it was Cameron’s and George Osborne’s blind greed for gaining power through cynically appointing a right-wing tabloid editor with ‘nous’ at hoodwinking the working classes into supporting a party which is antipathetic to their class interests, and the subsequent ‘expediting’ of his appointment without due security clearances, that caused this whole Eton Mess in the first place. Moreover, all the facts of this rushed appointment of Coulson as Tory spin doctor, in spite of the shadow of phone hacking hanging over him, and the wilful neglect to have him properly security-checked, really says much more than Cameron or Osborne would like us to suspect: that, imputably, the two top Tories suspected Coulson was the culprit behind phone hacking at the News of the World, and so did all they could to avoid doing proper security checks on him for fear that if this cast him in a more dubious light they’d not then be able to appoint their first choice for Tory spin doctor.
If this was not the case, then it remains simply inexplicable that due protocols were not followed: if Cameron and Osborne were convinced of Coulson’s innocence and genuinely believed his claims to be innocent of phone hacking, then they would have had nothing to lose in putting him through proper security checks. The fact they didn’t do this speaks for itself: that they did suspect he was guilty. And until such time as either Cameron or Osborne can prove otherwise, we must conclude that this is the most likely explanation for the ‘collapse’ in basic security protocols. Under such a potentially enormous shadow of suspicion as this, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, in our view, should both be suspended from office with immediate effect.
On a less political but more psychological note, the old adage goes one is ‘known by the company’ one ‘keeps’: and really, the likes of Coulson, Brooks, Harrison and Clarkson are not the best of character referees are they? And talking of ubiquitous xenophobic petrol-head and general philistine loud-mouth Clarkson, the sight of him, for once tongue-tied, gingerly peering round at some cameramen as he waited to be let into Rebekah Brooks’ private post-verdict party served as one of the most dismally symbolic images of the ‘Chipping Norton Set’ that currently lords itself over so much of our culture closing ranks against the public on whom they privately look on with the utmost contempt. Why doesn’t Clarkson put his money where his capacious mouth is, quit his infantile antics on Top Gear, and just stand for the Tory Party in 2015? At least then he’d actually be obliged to engage his brain before opening his mouth.
Apart from anything else, wasn’t this private function rather precipitously arranged for a defendant who –apparently– ‘didn’t know’ that she was to be found not guilty? Or are we to presume that this was a very last-minute arrangement literally made minutes after she left the Court cleared of all charges on her mobile? Because the impression gained from the footage of Clarkson turning up on Brooks’ doorstep so promptly with bags full of bottles was that this was a pre-arranged ‘do’. It is to be hoped that the same couldn’t be said of the trial which found her implausibly innocent of all charges.
But the fact remains that Coulson, ex-spin doctor for the Tories and the Government, has been found guilty of masterminding systematic phone hacking, and this casts an extremely dark shadow of the moral legitimacy of the Prime Minister. It is also yet more ringing proof of the unacceptable corruptibility of our newspaper industry, and a ringing endorsement of the full implementation of the Leveson recommendations. And let us not forget that when Rebekah Brooks was first charged with having played a part in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone, the first priority of our prime minister was to text Brooks to offer his ‘moral’ support –it was only his second priority to comment publicly in sympathy to the Dowler family. That just about says everything we need to know about the ‘character’ of David Cameron.
But the Dowler injustice will not go away, and quite rightly, a recent broadcast statement from Milly Dowler’s sister, Gemma Dowler, urging action on the Leveson recommendations in light of this latest revelation in the phone-hacking saga and indictment of ex-News of the World editor and Tory spin doctor Coulson, putting particular emphasis on the “incestuous” relationship between the press and politicians (as touched on in my previous sentence): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/phone-hacking/10925002/Milly-Dowlers-sister-hits-out-at-David-Cameron-in-video-message.html
Moreover, now that we know that phone hacking at NoTW wasn’t simply down to one or two “rogue reporters” but was a conspiracy overseen by the paper’s editor, this of course brings more questions for the plutocratic owner of News International (now ‘News UK’ –God help us!), Rupert Murdoch. Increasingly the Australian mogul’s own claims of innocence (or ‘wilfully ignorance’) to the whole affair seem ever more untenable.
The Myth of Our “Free Press”
To which, Hacked Off has now rightly cranked up their campaign again, and are resurgent after their languishing in the long grass of the past couple of years: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/12837-demand-levesonnow?locale=en. In light of all this, the pathologically disingenuous line trotted out by Fraser Nelson, editor of the right-wing Spectator, who seems not only to have a perpetually blocked nose but also a perpetual blocked dialectic, that he and his Tory-supporting corporate hacks are opposing the Leveson regulations out of some ultra-democratic principle of the sanctity of a “free press”, is beyond laughable. Especially when one only has to remember that while billionaire oligarch Rupert Murdoch still owns two of the loudest and most belligerent titles in the land, The Times and The Sun, the rest of our newspapers –bar The Guardian and the Morning Star (even The Independent is now labouring under a misnomer!)– are owned by an assortment of indistinguishable right-wing media oligarchs –and given that, therefore, the ‘news’ delivered through such papers is inescapably readjusted to fit right-wing ideological narratives, we can already demonstrate amply that the UK does not have anything resembling a “free press” (The Guardian and Morning Star excepted).
Why else do those such as nasal Nelson think so many journalists today are crying out for greater press regulation, and, crucially, for observance of a proposed ‘conscience clause’ whereby they can no longer be browbeaten by threat of the sack into peddling the right-wing propaganda of their editors and employers? Because many of them want greater freedom, freedom of conscience, not to have to compromise themselves by composing politically manipulated ‘copy’ that is often antipathetic to their own personal principles.
What we are discussing here is not greater regulation of the press per se, least of all in terms of its remit for investigative journalism in pursuit of the public interest: we are actually debating greater regulation of the unaccountable, self-appointed, anti-democratic and ideologically biased billionaire oligarchy who own our newspapers and who use them not to propagate ‘news’ but intrusive gossip, tittle-tattle, social scapegoating and right-wing propaganda. The IPSO option championed by the recalcitrant right-wing media moguls who don’t want to lose any of their disproportionate influence over British political and social attitudes would ipso facto not only be as “toothless” as the utterly obsolete PCC that it would be replacing to the point of duplication, but would certainly perpetually arrest any attempts to regulate the oligarchic right-wing stranglehold on our media.
Arguably the greatest threat to our ‘democracy’ (such as it is) is our so-called “free press”, which has, most particularly under the auspices of Rupert Murdoch, for decades now (and for my own entire lifetime) vicariously run our society by poisoning the well of “public opinion” against any genuinely progressive or left-wing political agendas. Debatably, if it wasn’t for the stranglehold Murdoch had on our newspapers, Thatcherism might well have been truncated much earlier, before it was able to permanently infect our social and political fabric with its divisively acquisitive virus; the repercussions of which we are now contending with through an apparently permanent and ruthless austerity ‘necessitated’ by a banking collapse Thatcher’s vile doctrine made inevitable since the “Big Bang” of 1986. Perhaps the press-regulation debate needs to be framed more in this paradigm?
I’ll end on this topic with the latest statement from Hacked Off, which The Recusant robustly supports:
Murdoch's company has been found guilty: now he must do what Lord Justice Leveson told him. That’s the only way to protect the British public from press abuse in the future.
For years the Murdoch press clung to the story that one rogue reporter was responsible for phone hacking. We now know this was a lie. Far from being an isolated incident involving a few ‘bad apples’, the trial has shown that the entire orchard was rotten.
The trial also shone a light on the appalling, systemic newsroom culture of bullying, lies, intimidation and intrusion that has devastated the lives of many people. From royalty and Cabinet ministers to victims of crime and bereaved families, nobody was safe.
Has Rupert Murdoch done what is necessary to ensure it won’t happen again? No he hasn’t. Instead he has joined with the other press groups to create IPSO – another sham regulator, like the PCC, designed to block the changes demanded by the Leveson Inquiry, backed by all parties in Parliament, needed by victims of hacking and supported by the public at large.
Unbelievably in response to the Coulson guilty verdict and the guilty pleas of five other senior employees, News UK (News International's hasty re-brand) has now stated that their "solution" is IPSO, a re-run of the PCC
It is time for Rupert Murdoch and all newspapers to show the British public they are doing the right thing. They must show some humility and accept full Leveson-style independent scrutiny of their regulatory system.
Helter-Shelter and Oxfam’s FIFA
The Recusant is a passionate supporter of the work of homeless charity Shelter, and is pleased to see that it is currently campaigning on behalf of the UK’s 9 million renters for new restrictions to be brought in against private slum-landlords being able to use the ‘section 21 notice’ which enables them to evict tenants without having to give any specific reasons. However, we think Shelter is being a little too sheepish on this particular point: The Recusant would argue not simply for restrictions on section 21 but for its scrapping altogether –bar purely for those occasions when a landlord decides for whatever reason to sell up their property, though then of course it would not be an eviction but a notice of an upcoming end of tenancy. Shelter also recapitulates its argument for a massive house-building programme, and while The Recusant of course supports that proposal, we still believe that most fundamental means to reforming our private rented sector is the reintroduction of private rent controls, and the council appropriation of all empty properties left to neglect for the housing of homeless families.
The Recusant also notes Oxfam’s latest campaign, the Inequality World Cup, which puts all nations in the spotlight in terms of how much each is currently doing towards narrowing the gap between rich and poor. It’s a kind of Chart of the Charitable, and it’s no surprise that while the UK Government is –rightly– maintaining an annual contribution towards relieving extreme poverty in the developing world (though probably purely for reasons of maintaining British influence than any real sense of altruism), it’s record on relieving poverty on its own doorstep leaves much to be desired: ‘the richest 10% had 1.4 times the income of the 25 million people that make up the poorest 40%’.
Indeed, if there was a Chart for showing which countries are the highest contributors to and even generators of domestic poverty and a widening wealth gap, then the current UK Government would undoubtedly be the permanent non-mover at No. 1. The fact that for the first time in its history Oxfam was compelled by mushrooming food poverty at home to focus some of its efforts away from the international causes and to the domestic front through its unprecedented UK Aid arm evidences that, and also demonstrates just how efficacious the Government’s welfare ‘reforms’ have been in terms of abjectly pauperising whole sections of British society within just four years. As it stands currently, 2 million families are living in food poverty in the UK.
There was also a grittily enlightening piece in the Morning Star (26 June) by Stephen Walker on the utter hopelessness of reaching the child poverty targets aspired to by the last Labour Government, after four years of Tory mass-pauperisation of the children of the poorest families in the country:
Remember the buzz phrase of the 1990s — social exclusion? It was part of the political narrative 20 years ago when politicians were talking about dealing with the causes rather than the symptoms of crime and anti-social behaviour.
Fine words flowed from the mouth of Tony Blair at his earnest best, looking and sounding the part of a reforming Labour Party leader.
Social exclusion referred to those in society who were marginalised, separate and stuck in a poverty
trap unable to reach any of their aspirations.
The Blairite approach tended to see the excluded as the problem, rather than linking poverty directly to the structural inequalities in our capitalist society.
The latest report by the Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) in the UK project is one of the most authoritative and comprehensive pieces of research in recent years.
It demonstrates how those fine words 20 years ago failed to do anything about tackling poverty.
It is one of a series of reports conducted by a variety of academic institutions, government research bodies and charitable groups which work to provide evidence of the hardships endured by millions of British and Northern Irish citizens.
Put together they form a powerful indictment of government policies and the underlying capitalist economic model that is based on the concept of creating unemployment and enriching a minority of individuals.
The PSE project is the largest research project of its kind ever carried out in Britain and Northern Ireland. The results provide the most detailed and comprehensive picture of poverty and exclusion in these isles in the 21st century.
According to the study, 33 per cent of households endure below-par living standards — defined as going without three or more “basic necessities of life,” such as being able to adequately feed and clothe themselves and their children, and to heat and insure their homes. In the early 1980s, the comparable figure was 14 per cent.
The research shows that almost 18 million Britons live in inadequate housing conditions and that 12
million are too poor to take part in all the basic social activities, such as entertaining friends or attending all the family occasions they would wish to.
It suggests that one in three people cannot afford to heat their homes properly, while four million adults and children are not able to eat healthily.
The evidence suggests that the gap between rich and poor is widening, there are more children living in poverty and disabled people are more likely to live in poverty or be unemployed than non-disabled people.
Children from working-class families are less likely to receive a further or higher education and black families are more likely to live in poor housing.
Recent attention to the under-performance of working-class schoolchildren emphasises the pernicious impact of poverty.
Gimmicks such as reintroducing free milk in primary schools and suggestions by Ofsted’s chief inspector that parents should be fined for not properly supporting their children’s education are a distraction from the real problem.
Poor, hungry children cannot learn, especially when they live in households where parents are stressed, demoralised and feeling hopeless.
The result is that mental health problems affect three times as many children in social class V (manual and unskilled) compared with those in social class I (professional) according to the authoritative Social Trends government data.
Further official evidence on social inequalities from the Office for National Statistics states that one in 10 children in the United Kingdom suffers from a poverty- related mental health problem.
According to other research from Unicef Britain is fourth from the bottom of a league of relative poverty among the 19 richest nations and has children who are among the unhappiest in Europe.
The Labour government target was to reduce child poverty by a quarter by 2004, to halve it by 2010 and to abolish it by 2021.
That aim has been consistently revised and recently abandoned as unattainable on the basis of current government economic policies.
Meanwhile the gap between rich and poor has widened to such alarming levels that social scientists argue that these are the conditions in which social order begins to break down, creating a dysfunctional society where levels of crime, violence and mental health problems increase.
The Save the Children charity recently took existing Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) projections of a third more children in relative poverty by 2020 and factored in planned welfare cuts, a calculation which it says could add 325,000 children to the IFS figure.
The current measure for calculating relative child poverty — defined as children living in households with incomes below 50 per cent of the national median — does not reveal anything about the depth of poverty.
Welfare spending cuts will exacerbate child poverty levels.
Child poverty is also caused by low pay, and two-thirds of poor children now live in working households.
In addition, fresh evidence emerged in a recent report showing that 3.5 million children are expected to be in absolute poverty in Britain by 2020 — almost five times as many as the target.
The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said the absolute child poverty goal was “simply unattainable” and that this was on course to be the first decade since records began in 1961 not to see a fall in absolute child poverty.
This is important given the cumulative psychological effects of persistent social exclusion which leads to despair, suicide, violence and a lack of motivation.
So the latest spin from government about poverty being unrelated to poor school performance is more akin to Orwellian newspeak in which truth is inverted, the reality ignored and the powerful punish those who are the victims of injustice.
Ministers’ recent attempts to muzzle the Trussel Trust which reported last month that nearly one million people used its foodbanks, and government attacks on Oxfam’s austerity campaign, are further evidence that this government wants to airbrush the poor from the news.
It will not succeed.
What other government but a Tory one could have the utter heartlessness to impoverish tens of thousands of children to the near-Dickensian point that many have been fainting in classrooms due to malnourishment? But breakfast clubs and food banks, obviously well-meaning interventions, are not the long-term answer to a wholesale state abandonment of vast sections of the young and vulnerable: only a new social contract of recalibrated social security with particular focus on the poorest sections of society can solve that, accompanied by a massive social and council house building programme, the reintroduction of private rent controls, and a Basic Citizens’ Income to ensure that no citizens fall through the fraying ‘safety net’ into abject poverty again.
The Tory Party –Sponsored by Wonga/ IPSO Pacto
Finally, a brief note on the egregious Wonga: just as a prime ministers are known by the company they keep and who they appoint, governments are known by the companies that fund them, and, again, as it is in the case of Cameron, so it is in the case of his parasitic party. On the back of a new scandal revealing this week that corporate usurers Wonga have been ordered by the regulator to refund millions of pounds to tens of thousands of customers sent red reminders for loan repayments letter-headed under completely made-up solicitor practices –which is a criminal offence– it has also trickled out that considerable sums amassed from the exorbitant three-figure interest charges levied on those poor souls desperate enough to take out loans with them have gone into donations for the Tory party! Now we know why Wonga has Tory in the background of its logo, and why its adverts are populated by small plastic caricatures of aging ‘grey voters’. Vote Tory, Go Wonga, might be the Tories’ election slogan next year.
No doubt, if they returned to government, the next step would be the privatisation of what’s left of the welfare state and its corporate sponsorship by Wonga, whereby all benefit claimants get heaped with three-figure interest repayments per giro –they might call it the ‘Wonga giro’ and do adverts in which some near-destitute underemployed person is slapped around the face with giant blue gloves to the Yahoo-ish scream of “You’ve been Wonga’d!” But it’s not only the victims of Wonga’s usury who have been ‘Wonga’d’, but all of us, since unbelievably the watchdog which apparently ‘held’ the company ‘to account’ simply gave it a slap on the wrists, with no formal charges of fraud. We’ve all been Wonga’d!
A.M. 26-27 June 2014