Trump’s ‘Democratic’ Despotism/ Shame on May/ Corbyn’s ‘Brexit’ Solecism
The Recusant stands with most of the free, sane world in passionately opposing and condemning Donald Trump’s absurd, vindictive and persecutory ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations –Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
This is not only a deeply prejudiced policy, it is also fascistic and has uncanny echoes of the attitudes of the Thirties; attitudes and consequences which we’d all hoped, in the Western world, never to have to witness again. But certainly the manner in which Muslims are now being treated in the customs orbit of the United States isn’t a million miles away from the treatment of the Jews in Thirties and Forties Germany.
(In spite of our being a republican webzine, we commend Prince Charles for his impassioned reminder of the dark chapter of our European recent-past which incomprehensibly seems to be being rapidly forgotten or airbrushed out of collective memory by certain political factions and their followers in the West only 70 odd years on).
The Recusant is an internationalist webzine, something of which we are very proud, as evidenced by our list of nations from which we have drawn contributors over our first ten years of online publishing (and yes 2017 is, incidentally, the tenth anniversary of The Recusant). The Recusant stands shoulder to shoulder at this time with those Arabic nations currently being scapegoated and offended against by Trump’s Islamophobic stance; and, more particularly, extend our solidarity to our many Arabic contributors.
Trump is of course modelling his presidency on the similarly pugilistic Putin, the two, of course, also being mutual admirers. The US Government’s unprecedented move to prosecute journalists for covering the anti-/Muslim ban protests is quite blatantly a signal of Trump’s anti-democratic, dictatorial intent as president; as is, of course, the almost daily shots of the new despot of the White House signing off his extreme ‘executive orders’ (a recent article somewhere quite convincingly likened Trump to some of the Roman Emperors).
Nestling uncomfortably between these two crypto-despotic, Thirties-esque ‘Strong Men’, is our increasingly ineffectual prime minister Theresa May, whose refusal in the last few days to openly condemn Trump’s reprehensible policy is nothing short of a national disgrace; as is her extension of the invitation for a state visit to Trump. We can now clearly see that May is every bit as unprincipled, unscrupulous, opportunistic and spineless as her predecessor.
May has also exemplified those qualities in her complete and utter capitulation to the extreme Right of the Tory Party by going for a “hard Brexit”. The one day debate begrudgingly given to the House of Commons on the back of the Supreme Court ruling was nothing short of a democratic insult and a complete mockery of parliamentary sovereignty.
The Recusant is also deeply unhappy to report that perhaps for the first time since Jeremy Corbyn became Leader of the Labour Party, we strongly disagree with his decision to pressurise his MPs with a three line whip to coerce them into voting in favour of triggering Article 50. We do not believe this was the right approach, but that Corbyn should have allowed his MPs to vote with their true beliefs on this singularly most important vote of our lifetime.
Bizarrely, we find ourselves agreeing with the Labour rebels in this instance (whose number included, ironically, former leadership challenger, Owen Smith), many of whom we promptly opposed at the time of the front bench rebellion. But the issue of our membership of the EU goes well beyond usual loyalties, and on this particular matter, The Recusant believes Corbyn was resoundingly wrong. We believe these Labour rebels, along with the highly principled Caroline Lucas of the Greens and, it pains us to add, the Liberal Democrats, were right and indeed brave to vote against the heavily whipped bill. Tim Farron is outspokenly pro-Europe and it seems the Lib Dems are now the party of 'Remain' and will no doubt continue to gain more supporters and members, including many pro-Europe Labourites.
The triggering of Article 50 is the single most catastrophic parliamentary move in generations; but tragically an almost inevitable outcome after the worst act of political cowardice in parliamentary history, which was the disastrous and spineless decision of the Cameron Government to throw open the monumentally complex and obfuscated choice as to whether to remain in the EU or leave it to a British public which is comprehensively oblivious, abjectly uneducated and tabloid-brainwashed on the nature of the EU and of our membership of it.
The Recusant, a pro-European webzine, believe that the UK needed to remain in a reformed EU in order to both sustain the continued peace of Europe and protect and improve human and employment rights in the UK. God knows what will happen to such protections and rights, not to mention the stability of peace in Europe, now that the UK is on course to cast itself adrift from the rest of the Continent.
On the domestic front, how refreshing it was to read a mainstream article on the hardly ever discussed scandal of claimant-vetting by letting agents and private landlords –an issue The Recusant campaigned about for years:
There are also fresh new welfare cuts on the way this April, as covered in the Morning Star this week:
Coinciding with these latest welfare cuts, this editor/writer’s next poetry collection, which is themed around the last six years of remorseless welfare cuts under Iain Duncan Smith’s despotic reign at the DWP, Tan Raptures, is coming out with Smokestack Books on 1 April. The book can be pre-ordered here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/tan-raptures/alan-morrison/9780995563506
We shudder to think just how worse things will get for the future of our welfare state and NHS post-Brexit. These are indeed dark times but The Recusant sees a ray of light in continued cultural resistance.
Good Riddance to 2016 –The Most Catastrophic Year Since 1986
In many ways 2016 has been the most politically bleak year since 1986, which saw the catastrophic ‘Big Bang’ deregulation of the stock markets consolidating the final phase of the Thatcherite monetarist revolution, in the wake of the unions’ and debatably British socialism’s last ditch stand against the Thatcherite onslaught with the defeat of the miners (oh, and 1986 also stands out for many for marking the nadir of popular music which would take at least another two years to even start to recover from the drum-machine acrylic slickness, gloss and sheer commercialism that almost killed it off for good).
The catastrophic results of both the UK EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election are more than enough cause to consign 2016 to Room 101 several times over. Optimists might wish to celebrate seeing the back of such a horrendous year, but realists will remind them that 2017 promises to be even worse, with the full consequences of the tectonic shifts in political and economic spheres inescapably crashing down the line towards us the further we drag ourselves into the New Year. “Brexit”, the single most disastrous decision our nation has possibly ever made collectively, is threatening to kick into full throttle by the end of March, that is, if the Tory Government gets its way; and Trump’s presidency will be upon us by the end of January –there’s no escaping it! The new era of political ‘strong men’ playing brinkmanship with all of our hopes and fears –a blond-rinse orang-utan in Washington and an unchallenged poker-faced ex-KGB baboon in Moscow– is rapidly approaching as the world hurtles ever more explicitly into a repeat run of the apocalyptic 1930s.
Just to make things even more depressing, we must remind ourselves of those more gracious souls who have left us, a myriad of some of the more likeable and humane famous, many actors and musicians among them –and, just to add more sourness to the departing year and the start of its trepidatious successor, actor/writer Carrie Fisher and writer, poet and critic John Berger (whose superlative Collected Poems is reviewed elsewhere on this webzine). And, of course, the departure of admittedly a more ‘marmite’ persona, Fidel Castro, Communist revolutionary and President of the Republic of Cuba –one of the few socialist states left on the map– for over forty years in the face of continual embargos and sanctions imposed by capitalist America. Whatever one’s view on Castro, and certainly there have over the years been many rumours of autocracy, oppression and abuses of human rights, it is difficult for anyone to deny the accomplishments of this almost singular socialist state, which include the best health service and the highest rates of literacy in the world; not to mention, arguably, the most socially equal society in the world, with wages broadly the same across all types of job, from manual labourers to surgeons. The Recusant salutes Castro’s socialist accomplishments over the decades.
Castro’s death, very much the end of an era, comes darkly at a time when Far Right populism is on the march across Europe and America. Virtual antichrist Trump aside, in the UK we still have to contend with the ever-aggressively chauvinistic UKIP, now led by the rather ghastly, acid-tongued Paul Nuttel, while also having to put up with the continued unabashed outspokenness of its former leader and perpetual purple-faced mascot, Nigel Farage, who, following his insulting the widower of a victim of politicised violence fomented by UKIP-type propaganda and scaremongering during the EU Referendum campaigns, then decided to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury for his “negative” Christmas message! This message imparted the fundamental principles of Christianity and highlighted how far Western societies are moving away from this and ever further into the swamp of Mammon, materialism and discriminatory politics. Evidently Farage sees the latter blights on humanity as things to celebrate –cue, perhaps, Virtual Antichrist Mark II?
Since our last editorial addendum, there have been further reports on how DWP sanctions are completely ineffective in terms of incentivising jobseekers to suddenly find non-existent work, even if they are still very effective at driving untold numbers of claimants to either starving to death or taking their own lives! In the meantime, we learn that the unconscionable mastermind of said DWP sanctions, e-Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, is now charging £500 per hour for corporate speeches on welfare cuts and benefit sanctions! But The Recusant feels very certain that IDS will get his comeuppance in due course, one way or another…
There have also been some vital reports in the newspapers on the scandalous explosion in street homelessness under the Tories, and the ‘growth sector’ of what is euphemised as ‘defensive architecture’, designed to ‘protect’ public buildings from the scourge of the homeless who might attempt to rest or sleep on or nearby them –features such as homeless spikes, benches with iron arm-rest partitions, and the growing prevalence of narrow plastic bum-perches at bus stops instead of proper benches, all designed to keep the street homeless away. This is how rotten our society has now become: buildings are being armed against homeless human beings, spiked and castellated to repel rough sleepers! During the Christmas period there were numerous stories of various street homeless persons dying in the cold. Here are some relevant links:
The one and only single good policy which came in an otherwise desultory Tory Autumn Statement was the abolition of letting agent fees. This is a genuinely positive move forward and extremely surprising from a Tory Government; however, much more needs to be done in terms of reforming the private rental sector, such as more secure tenures for tenants, and, most vitally of all, the reintroduction of private rent controls! Until we have the latter, renters will still be perpetually tyrannised by unaffordable and unmitigated high and rising private rents. Abolition letting agent fees is a great first step but should not be the only step –though The Recusant is pretty certain that it will be, at least, as long as we have the Tories, political force of the landlord class, in power.
One brief ray of sunlight glinting through the otherwise fogbound political landscape was the Lib Dem bi-election victory in Richmond, which was resoundingly symbolic of the recalcitrance of the UK’s Remain camp, surely the most massive ‘minority’ in political history!? Long may such defiance continue…
On a final note, The Recusant feels sure that the late poet Philip Larkin would have approved of his investiture into Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Larkin was nothing if not an arch-traditionalist and patriot, and his frequently powerful, highly accomplished and occasionally profound poetry certainly in our view deserves such posthumous tribute, even if we have considerably less taste for his personal politics.
With the shock triumph of the modern day Citizen Kane, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, in the US elections, progressives the world over might justifiably now feel –excuse the pun– trumped. Now we have the deeply disturbing situation where the two world super powers are reigned over by demagogic ‘Strong Men’: the blonde-rinsed silverback primate Trump in the West, and the baboon-faced expansionist Putin in the East. And with the continued chaos in Syria, something of a vicarious war between the US and Russia, the trajectory of future international disputes and domestic stalemates will no doubt all come down to who sulks the loudest in the White House and the Kremlin. Well yippy! What a prospect for 2017 and beyond...
And well might the West go rather overboard as it has with this year’s Remembrance Day(s?) (like Halloween and Bonfire Night now seemingly lasting an entire week), since with the equally unexpected (the criminally inaccurate exit pollsters really need to be shown the door now!) Brexit vote in June’s catastrophic EU Referendum, now followed by America’s mass electoral self-harm in voting in the most right-wing, xenophobic and misogynistic presidential candidate in history, who vows protectionism, trade wars, a wall across the Mexican border and a mass purge of Mexicans and Moslems, world peace, let alone European, is at its most precarious since 1939.
But it is, more immediately, the precariousness of peace in Europe which The Recusant is particularly concerned about at this time; a peace which has lasted –bar the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s and some latter day infractions in Ukraine (the Balkans are, of course, historically fractious)– since 1945 and arguably has been in part maintained by the emergence and expansion of the European Union. The Recusant is the first to argue that the EU has not operated as fairly or harmoniously as it might, and certainly the Troika-blackmail of austerity-wracked Spain and Greece, and particularly its anti-democratic mishandling of the latter nation state, left much to be desired and rightly infuriated many, particularly the European Left.
However, ultimately we believed in remaining in the EU and reforming it towards a more social-democratic economic model, which was far more likely to achieve eventually than it will, tragically, be in the now post-Brexit UK, where patriotism, jingoism, racism and xenophobia are now well and truly ‘out of the bag’ and almost normalised by the outcome of the referendum. What’s more, Ukip’s Nigel Farage is still on the warpath, in spite of having finally got his blinkered little way and set Blighty adrift from the dastardly clutches of ‘Brussels bureaucrats’; the self-entitled Farage (French surname, German wife, O the irony!) now threatens a “march” on the Supreme Court following the perfectly legitimate and rational ruling that the UK Parliament must be involved in the Brexit process, and not simply have it cobbled together by a bunch of uber-right-wing Brexiteers at one dingy dog-end of the Executive.
This “march”, likely to come on 5th December when the verdict on the Government’s appeal is announced by said Court, is also likely to be peopled as much by members of the English Defence League and the British National Party, as it is by ordinary common or garden Brexiteers (just as Trump celebrations are likely to consist mostly of rednecks and the Ku Klux Klan -not hyperbole, as deeply disturbing footage of 'white supremacists' in suits giving Nazi-style salutes and chanting "Heil Trump" in Washington paid testament to this weekend).
Not content with having already stoked up the dormant flames of racism in some sort of homage to Enoch Powell and Oswald Mosley, with his inflammatory BREAKING POINT posters during the Referendum campaign (and generally help fuel a febrile climate which led, albeit convolutedly, to the political murder of pro-EU Labour MP Jo Cox in her constituency –her assailant, a self-proclaimed ‘political activist’, having shouted "BRITAIN FIRST" as he attacked her), Farage now wishes to whip up another hate-filled atmosphere while simultaneously publicly undermining the rule of law, foundation-stone of our very democracy.
The Recusant believes Farage has his sights set on future high office in the UK, and his very public visit to president elect Trump even before prime minister Theresa May has got round to meeting him, says everything, in terms of symbolism, we need to know about Ukip’s interim leader and his personal political ambitions. Certainly he will be buoyed on Trump’s victory in terms of envisioning how his own bogus ‘popular front’ or “people’s army” against an invisible and indeterminate “Establishment” might somehow one day mushroom into similar electoral triumph –though he would need Proportional Representation for that happen, as it’s not likely to ever come about through First Past the Post.
Both Brexit and Trump’s triumph -Trumpit...?- are now being openly cited by Far Right leaders in Europe as milestones in some sort of “global revolution” through the ballot box, but of course, it’s a ‘revolution’ which is entirely on the Right of politics; not to say, the Far Right of politics. So now we have to listen to the likes of the unnervingly Aryan-looking Geert Wilders of the ascendant anti-Islam Dutch Party for Freedom and the similarly Aryan-looking Marine Le Pen of Front National in France eulogising on the significations of these two recent vicissitudes pointing towards further national exits from the EU, most notably their two nations which have elections coming up in 2017, as does core EU player, Germany.
Then we only have to remind ourselves of Far Right ascendancies in Hungary (Jobbik), Greece (the dormant Golden Dawn), Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), and even in normally progressive Scandinavia, all fuelled by mass paranoia about the refugee crisis, Islam and immigration in general, to envision how sizeable parts of Europe generally might be heading in the near future. The very real prospect facing us at the moment is not only the possible disintegration of the European Union, but also the possible emergence of Dutch and even French neo-Fascist states. If this sounds hyperbolic then one only has to look to history –many thought it was hyperbolic in the mid Thirties to predict that Hitler would try and take over Europe.
It is certainly timely that the Left Book Club has recently been revived by Pluto Press, since its original incarnation was founded by Victor Gollancz in 1936 emphatically to publish polemic opposing the rise of Fascism in Europe. So now could not be a more fitting time for its return.
Of course, the sick, disabled, unemployed and poor of this nation have already been subjected to fascistic policies for the past six years in terms of benefit cuts, the bedroom tax, mandatory unpaid work placements, sanctions, penalties, work capability assessments and the ‘rough music’ “scrounger”-mongering culture of discrimination and hate promulgated by government and right-wing tabloids. Disability campaign groups have fought hard to keep the catastrophic human consequences of these inhumane policies in the mainstream spotlight, and have now been helped in this continuing crusade by the filmic intervention of Ken Loach with I, Daniel Blake. Another disability protest outside Parliament this week against the imminent further cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit which most sick and disabled claimants are on, which will see their incomes devastating to below subsistence levels, received little coverage in the mainstream media, but was at least covered by the Morning Star:
In the wake of Brexit, and now the epoch-crushing Trump presidency, we are seeing parties on the Far Right throughout Europe becoming more confident of future electoral success, and a ubiquitous Nigel Farage popping up on every mainstream news bulletin when the man isn’t even a party leader any more, let alone a British MP. We have also been seeing a surprising and deeply disturbing ‘normalising’ of extreme right-wing sentiments and anti-immigrant attitudes, not to mention sporadic incidents of racial hatred (e.g. the Nazi-esque phrase NO MORE POLISH VERMIN appearing in graffiti and on cards posted through letterboxes post-Referendum).
The Daily Mail, ever a gentrified organ of hate, even decided to ‘name and shame’ our judiciary as ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ –and pretty much got away with it: the Government barely batting an eyelid at this undermining of our law system which normally they are the first to champion. Then the likes of Farage and Duncan Smith hinting at future civil unrest if Article 50 isn’t triggered soon or is delayed in Parliament (you know, that old ‘democratic process’ which they should theoretically be the first to defend since that’s the main claim under which they campaigned to Leave the EU!). Then the threat by Farage to lead a march of the Far Right on the Supreme Court should it chuck out the Government’s undemocratic appeal against the High Court ruling.
Fascism, or at least, attitudinal fascism on certain fundamental political and constitutional issues, is coming home to roost now in the mainstream, which does rather remind one of Martin Niemöller’s famous speech: ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist./ Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— /Because I was not a Trade Unionist./ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— /Because I was not a Jew./ Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me’. One might easily readapt this –as Niemöller did so himself on different occasions:
Scratch the surface of our much-trumpeted “tolerant society” and you get attitudes which wouldn’t be out of place in the late Weimar Republic of Germany. What happens in the coming months in this country in terms of the febrile political atmosphere will depend on how firm the progressive forces of democracy are prepared to stand in the face of attitudinal fascism. For there is an epidemic of right-wing populism sweeping the West at the moment and we must all work to ensure it does not get to a tipping point.
Now we can all see quite plainly the true reactionary and anti-democratic nature of the Daily Mail as it stamped its latest tantrum of a front page headline, ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE, under photos of the three judges who ruled that the UK Parliament had to have input in deciding on the nature of the Brexit process, as opposed to simply the Government, blackmailed by a cabal of Brexiteer right-wingers, in spite of an ostensible “wet” Remainer prime minister in Theresa May.
That May –let alone Justice Secretary Liz Truss– has failed to publicly condemn the Mail and other newspaper repeat offenders (including the usual suspects, The Express, The Sun and The Telegraph) from their reprehensible campaign of mob-fomenting contempt for the rule of law simply because they don’t agree with the verdict, betrays her instantly as an opportunist prime minister who is more concerned about keeping power and position than standing up for basic democratic principles against febrile populist posturing and, frankly, fascistic attitudes currently venting themselves through the popular press and social media.
Clearly May is petrified not only of the ultra right-wing cabal in her own Cabinet, but of the right-wing mainstream press, particularly those eurosceptic papers which could slip from supporting the Tories to supporting UKIP at the slightest provocation (the Express having jumped that ship a while ago). Even one senior Tory, Dominic Grieve, was quoted in The Guardian today as comparing the Mail’s stance as “smacking of the fascist state”. One wonders if that is indeed, deep down, the kind of state that Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail actually wants to have at the end of the day: a Fascist England. At the end of the day, most sane and right-thinking people in this nation will recognise the true ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’ in the likes of the Daily Mail.
Certainly one can imagine the likes of Paul Dacre, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage being high-ranking members of a Fairly Secret Army-style initiative, and with some right-wing Brexiteer fruitcakes on social media calling for a ‘military coup’ to enforce Brexit, it seems they’d have many willing rankers (not to say cranks). This sense of national entitlement among the pro-Brexit hard Right of politics is currently paralleled over the pond in the United States where the deranged uber-right populist Citizen Kane of his time, billionaire demagogue Donald Trump, has already ‘warned’ of a possible popular backlash (i.e. mass civil unrest/riots/God knows what) should he fail to become President after the general election on Tuesday, and apparently such vitriolic pronouncements from America’s prime chauvinist mouthpiece has put the US Nazi groups and the Ku Klux Klan on amber alert for a possible insurgency against American democracy (the KKK newspaper declaring its support for Trump and for a ‘white, Christian Republic’).
This state of affairs is all the more reprehensible when we recall the tragic assassination of Labour MP and Remainer Joe Cox just a week before the disastrous EU Referendum vote; although the individual responsible for the crime was clearly severely mentally troubled, at least ostensibly his actions were triggered by the very febrile atmosphere whipped up by the tub-thumpers of the Vote Leave campaign, most notably, of course, Nigel Farage of UKIP with his incendiary BREAKING POINT poster.
Demagogue for Essex Man, Farage has of course wasted no time in attempting to whip up further pressure-cooker populism in response to the High Court ruling that Parliament must be involved with the Brexit process before Article 50 can be triggered by publicly planting the rhetorical seed of a ‘popular uprising’ if Parliament attempts to block or even simply frustrate the passage of Brexit. Is Farage waiting for the balloon to go up so he might unleash his “People’s Army” –his Purpleshirts?– on an unsuspecting British public? On Sunday Farage did more fomenting of Brexiteer 'fury' by suggesting if Brexit didn't happen then this nation would see a public backlash "the likes of which none of us have seen before in our lifetimes". This is rhetorical wish-fulfilment on Farage’s part of course, and his political threat that he will “be back” if Brexit hasn’t happened by 2019 speaks volumes for his still latent long-term ambitions; as it is wish-fulfilment when the contemptible Iain Duncan Smith half-smirked while warning of a “constitutional crisis” should Article 50 not be triggered. Despicable shit-stirring from two of the nation's most self-entitled shit stirrers. At least now we know the likes of Farage and IDS ultimately don't believe in the rule of law if it decides against their petty interests, but see it perfectly fit to stir up some kind of 'popular' revolt, a mass tantrum, just because they can't get their own way to the letter.
Time and again we have Brexit right-wingers like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox disingenuously stating that “the British people voted to leave the EU”, when it is actually the case that a small majority of the UK voted to leave –a not insignificant 48% of the nation having voted to remain. What is more, a poll this week showed that now support for remaining in the EU has gone up since the referendum and now, with devastating irony, slightly exceeds those still pro-Brexit. But with even more irony, anyone would think half the time that the Remain camp won the Referendum, given that since the Brexiteers were proclaimed the victors, there’s been a disturbing but also bizarre spike in racist incidents in the UK, such as the beating up of some Polish people and the despicable paint-spraying of POLISH VERMIN on a Polish shop in direct homage to Nazi tactics against the Jews in the Thirties.
But there seems no residue left of the remorse felt by the nation following the politicised murder of Joe Cox. With chilling promptness, lead claimant in the High Court case for giving Parliament input into the triggering of the Brexit process, Gina Miller, has received multiple death threats from sundry social media ‘trolls’. Sadly, such is the intolerant state of our nation today such outcomes are completely predictable, and no doubt as much in Miller’s mind, which shows just how courageous she and her fellow claimants are in making themselves publicly visible throughout the process.
The Recusant commends their courage, and particularly that of Miss Miller, who has maintained an admirable composure in the face of frothing-mouthed (mostly right-wing) opposition. She has done our nation a vital service by pursuing this constitutionally complex matter to the Courts in order to arrest the irrationally speedy process put in place by May’s Government, not to say the bluntly undemocratic attempt to completely bypass Parliament on the single most important national matter since the Second World War, which demonstrated a complete contempt for the sovereignty of Parliament, for the integrity of parliamentary debate and accountability on most pressing matters of state, and is comparable only to the Daily Mail’s unmitigated contempt for the rule of law.
And why the need for such a rush to trigger Article 50 and the Government’s unwillingness to properly debate Brexit and all its myriad implications for our nation’s future? One can only deduce that this is because the Tory Government knows full well the whole process will not stand up to political scrutiny, and that, moreover, if put to a vote, it is almost inevitable that Parliament would vote against leaving the EU. Theresa May is in fear of being seen to be a prime minister in contempt of “the people’s” wishes should she ‘permit’ such a debate to go ahead in Parliament (even though it’s not up to her anyway), not least of facing a Cabinet mutiny from her uber-right-wing Brexiteer ministers, and a traducing in the mainstream right-wing press to boot.
She already has a wafer-thin majority weakened by two recent resignations; the most recent, Tory MP Stephen Phillips, in protest against her Government’s attempt to bypass Parliament in the Brexit process –and that from a Brexiteer Tory! Phillips, clearly a man of some principle in spite of his political affiliation to date, said something to the effect that he could be called many things but could no longer stand being called “a Conservative”. Well, better late than never to see the error of one’s ways. Phillips quite rightly is appalled at May’s undemocratic approach to the Brexit process which demonstrates contempt for Parliament and its sovereignty.
May wants to remain prime minister no matter what, and in such blatant protecting of her position, betrays herself as both ruthlessly ambitious and markedly lacking in principle (not entirely unlike her predecessor, or, indeed, the ex-Chancellor whom she was so swift to put into exile on becoming prime minister –though we’re thankful to her, at least, for that). May already has ‘form’, even this early, for appointing the blimpish jingoist Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, presumably to keep her ‘enemy close’ and hope his predictable pratfalls in the post make him a sufficient public laughing stock as to count him out for a future stalking horse. But with Russian warships sailing close to the Dover cliffs and Vladimir Putin palpably putting on an international show of Russian military might, dropping in a blond bombshell into the heady diplomatic mix is almost tantamount to trying to provoke World War 3.
But for those who have been unfortunate enough to have been sick, disabled or mentally ill and claiming state assistance during the past six years, Britain has in many ways been a socially intolerant and discriminatory nation; not to say, in some respects, attitudinally fascistic, for quite some time now. But now that open prejudice against the unemployed, sick and disabled has spilt over into open prejudice and hate crime against immigrants, foreigners, and even some pro-Remain campaigners that more of the mainstream commentariat and political class –even many Tories!– are starting to sit up and take notice…
Except, of course, for the implacable Toby Young. Ever-scowling, dissenting son of late left-wing sociologist Michael Young, author of the seminal The Rise of the Meritocracy, right-wing ‘writer’ Toby Young wrote of Ken Loach’s Palm D’Or-winning exposé of the contemporary benefits system, I, Daniel Blake, in one of his columns for whichever interchangeably right-wing newspaper it is he writes columns for (the precise title escapes us) something along the lines that ‘only lefties can get all misty-eyed about Benefits Britain’, thus managing to insult both the Left and Loach while also further reinforcing the very blinkered ‘scroungerphobia’ promulgated by the red-tops, their readerships and the right-wing politicians they support, which the film addresses and challenges, and all in just one sentence! A sentence nevertheless reinforced with its own concrete-thick ignorance and flint-heartedness.
The Recusant is heartened that Loach’s post-retirement return to the Director’s chair has resulted in what we have long felt to be the elephant-in-the-room of our time, what we term the ‘welfare hate’, as opposed to welfare debate. No doubt I, Daniel Blake will continue to rattle the right-wing press –pace Young again– and political establishment, particularly as it is been announced this week that there will be yet further governmental carrot-and-stick initiatives to get more sick and disabled claimants “back into work”, as was discussed in an apposite piece in the Morning Star this week. Another apposite piece responded more directly to ongoing tabloid stigmatisation of the unemployed, sick and disabled, in the context of Ken Loach’s polemical-cinematic intervention on the issue:
Just as The Recusant was starting to think that, finally, after six years of lacerating cuts, sanctions and penalties, a new Work and Pensions Secretary in the relatively much less threatening aspect of Damien Green (much less hateable a figure than his reprehensible and unapologetic predecessor) announced promptly after taking office that there would be no more twice-yearly work capability reassessments of the long-term sick, at least, those with “chronic conditions” who are in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (even if many of those in the Work-Related Activity Group (the notoriously abbreviate ‘WRAG’) also have chronic conditions!).
But no, this was a little too good to be true, and lo and behold, the sting in the tail came only a week or so later with the disturbingly ambiguous signals as to an overhaul of existing protocols designed to get the sick and disabled back to work, based on a new consultation process, but which some disability campaigners and experts already interpret as a possible expansion of said ‘WRAG’ group and annulment of the more protected Support Group whose incumbents are paid better rates of benefits and are also left relatively un-hassled by the DWP.
Satirically, one only wonders if and when Green’s spiky predecessor will put out his own filmic testament to his time as Work and Pensions Secretary by way of putting across ‘the other side of the story’, of how he was coerced into overseeing the welfare cuts and punitive sanction regime which he devised by bullyboy Chancellor Osborne (well, the latter is a bully, but so is IDS), but we don’t expect -nor wish- to see I, Duncan Smith anytime soon…
The Recusant congratulates Jeremy Corbyn for securing an even bigger mandate in his re-election as Labour Party Leader, trouncing Owen Smith by 61% to 32%. But this must not be a time of complacency for Corbyn and his team: having won the hearts and minds of the British Left, they must now win the hearts and minds of the PLP if we are to finally see an end to the interminable internecine conflict within the party.
The Recusant backs Corbyn’s policies, as it would back the policies of any socialist Labour leader, and it is important to remind ourselves, as Corbyn himself frequently does, that this Labour movement, inclusive of Momentum, is not about one single person, it is about socialism and its re-establishment as a mainstream political force. Corbyn would be the first to assert that as the first authentically left-wing Labour leader since Michael Foot, he is as much a symbol for socialism as an embodiment of its principles.
The Recusant iterates these points since at times we fear there is an element of demagoguery amongst some so-called ‘Corbynistas’ which could, if unchecked, obfuscate ease of succession when the time comes for another Labour politician of same politics to take up the socialist mantle so excellently cemented by Corbyn and his supporters, as will inescapably happen eventually.
The Recusant also wishes to assert that we firmly believe now in a Progressive/Rainbow Alliance between Labour, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and possibly Tim Farron’s Lib Dems, as probably the only realistic possibility of keeping the Tories from power in the next general election. Supporters of the Greens prior to Corbyn’s ascendancy, The Recusant, as with most left-wing organs, returned to the Labour Party on the advent of this new democratic socialist chapter in its history; but we are also supporters of the Green Party, since we do not subscribe to party tribalism, only to socialist politics, wherever they exist.
This is also why we believe the time has surely come now for all progressive parties to come together in a strategic alliance, as is being proposed by the Greens’ Caroline Lucas et al. We’ve had the debacles of ‘New’ and ‘Blue’ Labour –but how about Green Labour? Now that, we’d say, really does have more than just a nominal ring to it: it chimes perfectly with the most urgent cause of today: eco-socialism. Socialism not simply about improving society but also our heavily polluted natural environment; green socialism seems the perfect ideological composite for our times.
The Greens have been campaigning for some time now for a Basic Citizen’s Income, the most radically progressive policy proposal of any mainstream party, and one which promises to be genuinely transformative in its dual task of both countervailing welfare stigmatisation while at the same time ensuring that every individual receives enough basic income to keep them alive.
Corbyn’s Labour is currently considering this policy proposal, but why not go one better and open the Labour door to the Greens? Corbyn’s Labour group has more in common with the Green Party than it does with the majority of its own parliamentary party: both are arguing for the nationalisation of public services/transport, higher taxes on the wealthiest, a reintroduction of private rent controls, and a commitment to meeting climate change and environmental targets.
The Recusant wishes to express support for Labour’s besieged Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, a spirited and passionate socialist politician who has been known and still is known for speaking his mind in no uncertain terms. McDonnell might have gone a bit verbally overboard at times, but we certainly do not think his recently criticised epithet for palpably uncompassionate ex-disabilities minister Esther McVey, that she is “a stain of inhumanity”, in any way warrants the opprobrium presently being heaped on McDonnell.
Given that McVey oversaw some of the most vicious cuts to disability benefits of the Tory-DWP-Atos axis, which resulted in over 91,000 sick and disabled claimants dying prematurely and/or committing suicide between 2011-14, part of which was during her watch, some might argue that “a stain of inhumanity” is actually letting McVey off quite lightly... We presume McDonnell means the moral fabric of our current society on which McVey’s “inhumanity” is a “stain”?
Syntax aside, it is symbolic of our morally back-to-front culture of today, seemingly oblivious or simply indifferent to the mass suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, that rather than heaping opprobrium on the culprits of the most heinous fiscal culling of a voiceless minority in British political history –the McVeys, Millers, Graylings, and, of course, Duncan Smiths– people instead heap the opprobrium on the politician who has the basic moral courage to call them out for administrative manslaughter of legion claimants. If that sounds hyperbolic, then we remind readers of the fact that ours is the first government in Europe to be investigated and sharply berated for abuses of disability rights.
The Recusant also found it extremely ironic that McDonnell, a politician who has unstintingly argued on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, was accused of being “a very, very nasty piece of work” by the Thatcher-esque Tory MP Anne Sourby on last week’s Question Time.
But then we suppose that Sourby, being in the same party as the truly despicable likes of George “Let’s slash the benefits of the most severely disabled in order to give more tax breaks to the super rich” Osborne, Iain “Let’s sanction claimants for no reason whatsoever and drive them to near-starvation or suicide” Duncan Smith and Chris “Let’s ban books for prisoners” Grayling, no doubt Sourby knows a lot about ‘nasty pieces of work’.
Nevertheless, it is important to differentiate between righteous anger and indignation, as in McDonnell’s case, and just plain nastiness, as in Osborne’s, Smith’s and Grayling’s. Sourby urgently needs this pointed out to her.
Lastly, McDonnell’s conference speech was exceptionally upfront in terms of its socialism, and his “you don’t need to whisper it –it’s called socialism” trope marked a watershed in the difficult rebirth of true Labour after the Blairite hiatus when the term socialism was almost never mentioned by any frontbench MPs or ministers.
What can one say about Jeremy Corbyn’s inspired and inspiring speech but that those on the left of Labour never thought they’d hear again such a rousingly socialist speech from a Labour Party leader in their lifetimes.
For those of us who endured the interminable socialism-busting Thatcher years and then the long slow burn to nothing of the New Labour era, to hear a Labour leader use the term “socialism” not just once but four times in a conference speech, most notably as the signature phrase of the entire speech: “socialism for the twenty-first century” –a phrase to make the right-wing tabloids shudder! (And the sight of one Labour member standing on stage alongside Corbyn, wearing a red t-shirt with I’M A SOCIALIST AND PROUD, is something which wouldn’t have been dreamt of during the Blair and Brown years).
He was also spot on in his priorities: “Our job is now to win over the unconvinced to our vision. Only that way can we secure the Labour government we need”. The biggest battle Corbyn’s Labour now faces in not so much against the Tory Government as against its cheerleaders in the predominantly right-wing press. It is British newspapers which represent the biggest, seemingly immovable and ruinously influential propagandist and rhetorical obstacle to a Corbyn-Labour Government.
It is was genuinely moving too to hear the conference chorusing ‘The Red Flag’, followed by the heart-tugging strains of ‘Jerusalem’, surely the two most integral Labour anthems, and a choral antidote to the ‘God Save the Queens’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’s of post-Brexit uninhibited patriotism.
Occupy-supporter Reverend Giles Fraser’s written a very apposite column in The Guardian on the irony that Jeremy Corbyn, an atheist, is more Christian in his social politics than most church-going politicians in parliament, particularly the Tories; Fraser touches on the inherent contradiction of being a ‘Christian Tory’, puts this down to a mental ‘compartmentalisation’ of principles and values (something this writer has formerly anatomised in terms of Cartesian Dualism e.g. a separating of belief and behaviour), and also asks the ringing question that, since Corbyn’s politics are indeed the closest to Christ’s teachings of any political leader, why then does the British mainstream write him off as “unelectable”? Clearly because ‘politics’ is compartmentalised and inhabits a very different compartment to spiritual beliefs…
By wholly negative contrast, The Recusant can’t help but mention the utter absurdity of the concluding sing-a-long at the UKIP party conference a week or so ago: a UKIP ‘choir’ made up mostly of septogenarains and octogenarians (no doubt the party’s average membership ages) performing the strange up-and-down bodily motion employed in the protracted flourish of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance as a lead up to the chorusing of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ more resembled a keep fit class for the over-80s than the Last Night at the Proms.
This priceless display of patriotic decrepitude and general jingoism was a timely reminder of the kind of tin-pot Ruritania our post-Brexit British society is rapidly returning to. For in spite of the superficial the ‘change’ campaigned for by the Vote Leave camp is, let us not forget, a regressive one, not only politically, socially and economically, but also historically: it flings us back to a pre-1975 Britain, which in many ways would be a great thing, if it wasn’t for the unfortunate fact that everything BUT non-entry into the European Common Market was being airbrushed out. What UKIP really want, of course, is to go back much further, probably to more like pre-1945, or thereabouts.
Anyone with a sense of British history –that is, outside of the highly selective chauvinistic revisionist narrative versions as supplied by the likes of David Starkey and Dominic Sandbrook– will appreciate the present day parallels with the English Civil War and Commonwealth periods. Quite apart from the fact that the likes of Corbyn and McDonnell uncannily remind one of the politics and general austere demeanour of the Puritan parliamentarians and Leveller and Digger figureheads such as John Lilburne and Gerard Winstanely, the EU referendum very much divided the nation in a similarly binary way as did –obviously more bloodily– the English Civil War.
Even the terms attributed to both sides echoed the dichotomous nomenclature of said conflict: for Cavaliers read Brexiteers and for Remainers read Roundheads or Puritans. Only this time round the roles of each wing, in our view regressive in the Vote Leave case and progressive in the Remain camp, were, if not reversed, then slightly muddied. What was reversed, unfortunately, was the end result. This time, tragically, the Cavaliers won!
We’d like to draw attention to a very interesting and incisive article on the nature of literary publishing and its overt commercialisation in recent decades by Fiona O’Connor in the Morning Star of 26 September 2016: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-2c74-Will-creativity-be-written-off#.V-kFKi_rtdg
The Recusant is heartened that Ken Loach’s film about life at the sharp end of welfare reform, I, Daniel Blake, continues to provoke wider debate about the evils of benefits stigmatisation and the demonization of the welfare state under the Tories. We hope to furnish a review of the film once it is on general release. Good to know it's being given advanced screenings by the People's Assembly. It can only be hoped that it will come to influence wider public debate, and even government policy, as Loach's Cathy Come Home did in the Sixties, and Jim Allen and Roland Joffé's brilliant The Spongers in the late Seventies.
There does seem to be a belated dialectical backlash against Tory welfare reforms and associated red-top "scrounger" rhetoric in recent times, and by way of his own modest contribution to this polemical pincer movement will be this writer/editor's next poetry collection, which is particularly focused on the notorious DWP 'brown envelope' scourge and charts the various vicissitudes of the Tories' dismantlement of the welfare state from 2010 up to 2016, Tan Raptures, forthcoming from Smokestack Books early next year.
There seems to be a turning tide at the moment, which the Tory Government is detecting, as evidenced in a softening of its policies in relation to the disabled, with new DWP Secretary Damian Green’s announcement that there will be no more six- monthly reassessments of claimants with “chronic” conditions. The Recusant will, however, believe it when we see it; while we are also sceptical as to how precisely the Government will define “chronic”.
Many health conditions, and certainly most neurological and mental health conditions, are by definition “chronic”: schizophrenia, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive disorder –just to cite three mental health conditions, is each usually a chronic condition, for instance. And yet many claimants with these conditions are not automatically put into the Support Group of ESA, for those deemed to be permanently too ill to work (i.e. to have 'chronic' conditions), but are instead put in the Work-Related Activity Group ('WRAG' for short), which is for those deemed too ill to work for the moment but who might be able to work in the future (hence presumptions their conditions might improve), and who are thus expected to attend monthly work-related interviews and undergo periodic reassessments for their ESA. So Mr Green will need to look closely at such dysfunctional demarcations.
Curiously, the ‘chronic’ conditions cited are ‘severe Huntington’s, autism or a congenital heart condition’. While it is heartening to see the relatively little-known incurable degenerative neurological disease Huntington’s given a primary mention, the phraseology, ‘severe Huntington’s’, is disingenuous and misleading, since Huntington’s Disease is always ‘severe’, since its prognosis is of gradual but fairly rapid neuro-degeneration of cognitive and motor faculties, a remorseless descent through psychosis and diminishing physical mobility and coordination, culminating in premature death, most often through pneumonia, caused by food and liquids settling in the lungs due to problems swallowing. (This writer knows this disease only too well: his late mother passed away in 2013 after a 15 year battle with Huntington's, a condition which he himself has a 50/50 chance of inheriting, and which forms the main theme of his most recent poetry collection, Shadows Waltz Haltingly (Lapwing Publications, 2015).
What this phraseology seemingly implies is Huntington’s at a certain late stage of perceived severity –but that is to completely misunderstand the illness, which is ‘chronic’ from the first onset of symptoms (life expectancy thereafter is around 15 years maximum of increasing incapacity to the point of a near-vegetative state), as there is no known cure for the disease, nor is there even yet any pharmaceutical means by which to slow its development or treat its worst symptoms. So Huntington’s Disease is implicitly ‘chronic’ from diagnosis/onset of symptoms.
Nonetheless, this new announcement of belated but welcome leniency towards the chronically sick, disabled and mentally ill of the nation is certainly a massive breath of fresh air after Iain Duncan Smith’s six-year persecution of the most vulnerable in society.
Finally, this editor is happy to share with readers and contributors that he was recently asked for permissions by the British Library to archive The Recusant “for posterity” in the British Library poetry webzine archive. This is a great honour and shows just how far we’ve come since our inception in 2007 in terms of readership and reach. Of course, The Recusant is itself an online archive rather than a conventional webzine, in that we don’t do ‘issues’ or ‘editions’ but just periodically update our pages as and when the editor has time to.
To which, the editor –who runs The Recusant without any assistance– would like to apologise to all those who have submitted work in the past year or so but who have yet to receive responses to their submissions but he is doing the best he can to plough through his Recusant email inbox in between numerous time-consuming projects and commissions of his own –so please bear with him.
The Recusant also extends its congratulations to Caroline Lucas (who in 2010 was the patron of our first anti-austerity anthology, Emergency Verse) for securing her second run as leader of the Green Party –in a rather novel job share with one Jonathan Bartley, as announced at the party’s conference in Birmingham yesterday. We also pay tribute to Natalie Bennet whose former leadership of the Greens saw their membership mushroom and their manifesto further radicalise.
What was also particularly striking about the rhetoric at this conference was its contrapuntal echo of that of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, most specifically on the topic of welfare. One trope of Bartley’s –former Green work and pensions spokesperson– was particularly resonant: ‘The Tories have weaponised welfare’, which was couched in the following part of his speech:
‘For those for whom the ground is always shifting, the British welfare state, set up in momentous times, is a lifeline. In these equally momentous times, we want to reclaim our welfare system from the clutches of those using it to attack and threaten those in need.
But the welfare state is about the kind of world we want to live in. A contract we strike with one another, to stand together when the going gets tough. It’s based on collective agreement and consent.
Such rhetoric is a welcome counterpoint to Corbyn and McDonnell’s recent modernisation of the Beveridgean Five Giant Evils (covered in our previous editorial). The full coverage of the Green conference and speeches is here:
It is indeed the case that the Greens have led the way with the most radical progressive ideas over the past several years –and up until Corbyn’s leadership– such as the urgent need for a reintroduction of private rent controls, and the introduction of a basic citizen’s income (both policies proposals The Recusant and its anthologies have campaigned for several years too). But now that Corbyn’s Labour have already championed the former proposal, are seriously considering the latter, are also re-arguing the case for nationalisation of the railways, and have adopted a comprehensive anti-austerity position to the Government, the Greens have hit a kind of hiatus in their own political momentum with the re-emergence of an authentically left-wing Labour Opposition.
Hence the rational proposal for a progressive alliance with Labour and one which The Recusant wholeheartedly supports. The Recusant –up until Corbyn’s election as Labour leader– supported the Green Party primarily as the only genuinely left-wing force in parliamentary politics during New/Blue/One Nation Labour’s long slumber of neoliberalism. The Recusant didn’t stop supporting the Greens since Corbyn’s Labour came about, but we felt it our duty as a socialist webzine to put our support behind the first authentic socialist leader of Labour since Michael Foot; and as long as Corbyn and McDonnell remain in their positions, The Recusant will continue to support Labour as the most viable diametric alternative to the Tories.
But since we have long recognised the imperative of the Green Party’s ecosocialist agenda and its robustly radical and transformative agenda for the future –most particularly the aforementioned rent controls and basic citizen’s income– allied to an incontrovertible conviction that anarcho-capitalism is rapidly destroying not only our societies but also our very eco-system, The Recusant would most prefer of all options for the future of British progressives and alliance between Labour and the Greens. Surely the time for something along the lines of Green Labour has now arrived?
The Recusant is also wary of tribalism in politics: our prime loyalty is to the politics of socialism above any specific party nomenclature –which is why we put our primary support behind the Green Party during the past few years, since its policies were far more left-wing than Labour’s were. It’s not the Labour name, not even Corbyn’s, which brought us back to supporting Labour again under the latter’s winning of the leadership: it’s the socialism which Corbyn symbolises, as does McDonnell, which brought us back to backing Labour.
But the reality is Corbyn and McDonnell have far more in common with Caroline Lucas of the Greens than they do with most of their own party –as has been demonstrated abundantly and shambolically by the rebellion of the PLP. In our view, the best end result would be for Labour to maintain its shift to the left and strengthen it by absorbing into its ranks Lucas –who would be a first rate Shadow minister, not to say actual minister– and, in turn, any other newly elected Green MPs the next election might procure by way of some electoral pact between both parties.
On a final note The Recusant would state that we also passionately believe in the Greens’ proposal for Proportional Representation over the utterly ineffective and democratically obsolete First Past the Post system we still have. The defeat of the Alternative Vote –which would have been a reasonable compromise between the two systems and at least ensured smaller parties such as the Greens would have stood a much better start of getting a handful more MPs– was a disaster for our democracy; it was a demonstration that this nation will only ever seemingly vote for radical change if it is a regressive and backward-looking change, such as Brexit, but not if it is a genuinely progressive change being proposed, such as AV.
The Greens are absolutely right to bring up the issue of our democratically defunct and antediluvian voting system and PR would indeed be the much-preferred option of The Recusant, and a step up from the previously proposed compromise of AV. We await Corbyn’s endorsement of this Green policy/referendum proposal, as surely it is the most progressive and democratic way forward for our voting system.
The Recusant commends Labour’s new radical stance against Britain’s vicious anti-welfare culture as addressed in Corbyn and McDonnell’s new covenant with regards to reinventing the welfare state for the 21st century. Most striking is their updating of Beveridge’s vintage Five Giant Evils –Want, Squalor, Disease, Idleness, Ignorance – as defined in the 1940s for his eponymous Report which served as the blueprint for the post-1945 Attlee Settlement. Corbyn and McDonnell have industriously defined five new social ‘ills’ for today’s food bank-and-zero hours contract society: Inequality … Neglect … Insecurity … Prejudice … and Discrimination… We excerpt below the salient parts of this timely speech delivered by Corbyn in his bid for a re-election as party leader:
That was Labour making a real difference for those at the sharp end … mobilising our supporters and those losing out to lobby Parliament … challenging the Prime Minister week after week in the House of Commons … and our Labour Lords winning the votes … and defeating the government in Parliament.
Just over a year ago there were those in our party in parliament … who were unsure about whether to oppose a Bill …. that threatened to take £12 billion from welfare … cash support for the less well off, low paid workers and the disabled.
We have helped change the debate on welfare … no frontbench politician is now using disgraceful, divisive terms like ‘scrounger’, ‘shirker’ or ‘skiver’. They have been shamed by the reality of life … for millions of our people in left-behind Britain.
Over the next couple of months, our campaign will set out how we plan to defeat the Tories … and elect a Labour government that will act to tame the forces holding people back: … of Inequality … Neglect … Insecurity … Prejudice … and Discrimination …
… In my campaign I want to confront all five of those ills head on … setting out, not only how Labour will campaign against these injustices in opposition … but also spelling out some of the measures … the next Labour government will take to overcome them … and move decisively towards a society in which opportunity and prosperity is truly shared …
From a year ago … when Labour was too cautious in criticising cuts … Now, you’re hard-pressed to find even a Tory to defend it … as one fiscal target after another has been ditched … first by Osborne, and now by Theresa May. The long-term economic plan is dead.
But it is Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell who led the way … and who earlier this week made the case for a National Investment Bank … and a network of regional investment banks … to redistribute wealth and power …
We overtook the Tories in the May elections. We won all four mayoral contests – in Liverpool and Salford, in London for the first time since 2004 and in Bristol for the first time ever. We also won Bristol Council for the first time since 2003.
It is apt that this speech, laying emphasis on the state of the welfare state and attitudes towards its claimants, should be made only a week or so after the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published an absolutely damning report on Tory austerity policies of the past six years, particularly the welfare cuts and sanctions –all roundly condemned by the humanitarian UN as amounting to a governmental abuse of basic human and disability rights. But to the fact that Britain is the first country in Europe to be investigated and condemned by the UN for breaches of human rights through its economic and fiscal policies doesn’t get so much as one mention on the BBC News, nor pretty much in any of the right-wing red tops and newspapers. What a surprise!
The Centre for Welfare Reform, cited in the above linked article, is a thinktank which is actually more of a watchdog of current so-called welfare reform, and which publishes papers on radical ideas for reinventing the welfare state along egalitarian and progressive lines (as opposed to the simple demolition job by the Tories), key to which is its espousal of a Basic Income for all British citizens, something The Recusant passionately supports, and which has hitherto been championed by the Green party and latterly Corbyn’s Labour. Theirs is a fascinating and quite uplifting site in the current climate of benefits-stigmatisation: http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/projects/basic-income.htmlhttp://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/type/pdfs/lets-scrap-the-dwp.html
Is new prime minister Theresa May going to alleviate the generation-stunting effects of six years of rightwing Tory social policy and dismantlement of the welfare state, with a trail of “One Nation” platitudes enunciated with apparent sincerity outside No. 10? With so many rightwing Brexiteers in her Cabinet, one would presume emphatically not. The Recusant felt at the time that May demonstrated a detectable air of humility, empathy and sincerity not witnessed in a Tory leader, let alone a Tory PM, since –at a push– John Major, but failing that, Ted Heath, back in the Seventies. And yet her choice for her first Cabinet almost instantly belied her Downing Street promises as pretty much empty.
May will only reinvigorate the very “nasty party” she once so aptly disparaged by appointing such frankly ‘nasty’ Tory rightwingers as Chris Grayling and Liam Fox to her Cabinet. The only relief is that the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and George Osborne have thankfully vanished from sight, for the time being at least. Together, Duncan Smith and Osborne have to symbolise the very worst ‘nastiness’ the Tory party has perpetrated in government in living memory.
The Recusant also found the manner in which May conveyed her taunts to Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs unattractively catty and ominously reminiscent of the mock-theatrical dispatch box cat-and-mouse approach of Thatcher. So, all in all, not a good start for May, in spite of an unwontedly ‘compassionate’ and ‘progressive’ maiden speech for a Tory PM (at least, since Harold McMillan in the 1950s, that is).
But returning to the current Labour rift: as to the great Labour rebellion, the mass resignation of most of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, the vote of no confidence in Corbyn, the smears, threats and general verbal abuse of the custard-pie-slinging internecine party disputes, and the leadership challenge, The Recusant is quite at a loss to comment. That the Labour party is in possibly the worst mess it’s ever been in and at a time when they could have quite easily been united against the EU-split Tories and taken the battle to their parapets instead of imploding their own, hardly needs reiterating as it’s patently clear to all of us.
The Recusant condemns any sort of intimidation from either side in the Labour Party split; in the pursuit of democratic socialism, not simply the rhetoric but also the protocols and methods must be conducted with an impetus of compassion and comradeship –noble and high-minded ends do not justify intimidating means. While The Recusant still backs Corbyn as Labour leader, it is what Corbyn symbolises, the ideals he represents, which we believe in and follow, and so-labelled ‘Corbynistas’ (a patronising sobriquet at best) must beware blind demagoguery. At this moment in time it just so happens that British democratic socialism is embodied in Jeremy Corbyn because he is –against all odds– the first authentically leftwing leader of the Labour party since Michael Foot; but in the future, it will be embodied by someone else, by another figurehead. Socialism remains essentially the same, but its figureheads inevitably change.
Corbyn is as much a symbol as he is a flesh-and-blood embodiment of democratic socialism, as is the same for any such leaders. The Recusant, as mentioned, backs Corbyn, and supports Momentum, and gives the benefit of the doubt to the latter mass-mobilising ginger group in spite of accusations of Trotskyite entryism into the Labour party (and certainly its name and evangelical energy as a movement-within-a-movement does seem to be generating a kind of ‘permanent revolution’ atmosphere within the Labour party).
But at the end of the day, the behaviour of the PLP has been nothing short of utterly deplorable. Supported with brazen bias by The Guardian and elsewhere among the metropolitan centre-left cognoscenti, there appears to be an attempt at generating an anti-Corbyn ‘momentum’ which is, nonetheless, woefully failing, as did the risible PLP coup attempt, and Angela Eagle’s very ‘entitled’ but utterly uninspired brief bid for the Labour leadership.
Owen Smith is a Shadow Minister whom The Recusant has appreciated for his demonstrative leftwing zeal and Welsh passion at the dispatch box, for his being an admirer of the great Labour Welshman Nye Bevan, but he would have served much better as a future appointed successor to Corbyn rather than as his premature usurper. His talk of a “practical revolution” of socialism through parliament as opposed to a mere “evolution” is all well and good, but many would argue this already been at least half-achieved by the very fact that a leftwinger is currently leader of the party –the very leader he is standing against! What’s more, his corporate pharmaceutical associations of the past bespeak of a capacity for supreme compromise of his so-called ‘socialism’. We need Corbyn to remain Labour leader as much as for what he symbolises as what he personally offers (as the now similarly split Democrats in the US needed Bernie Sanders).
But both Corbyn and Smith’s proposals to scrap the punitive DWP and replace it with newly constituted Ministry of Labour and Social Security is one of the most genuinely progressive policy proposals from Labour in decades and is commended by The Recusant. Of course, much of the irony of this Labour leadership split is that we basically have two leftwing Labour MPs battling against each other, as opposed to what it would have been had Angela Eagle not dropped out but replaced Owen Smith as challenger. There was an extremely insightful piece in The Guardian last week on the deep complexities of the Labour civil war, as also paralleled currently in that of the Democrats in the US:
The Labour NEC’s slapping of what is derogatorily termed the “democracy tax”, basically an extra £25 per head for those members who joined the party post-January this year is another shoddy and anti-democratic caveat designed to deter Corbynistas from voting in the upcoming leadership contest and in that sense is a direct parallel to the equally anti-democratic tactics used by the NEC in trying to ‘root out’ alleged ‘entrysists’ in the original leadership ballot which in spite of such risible attempts at gerrymandering the result still resulted in Corbyn’s triumph and enormous mandate. From the outset, even before Corbyn had secured the leadership of the Labour party, the PLP, NEC, Westminster establishment and press and media simply had it in for him.
The recent LSE report regarding media coverage of Corbyn since he became Labour leader reveals that among all the main British newspapers a staggering 75% of articles on Corbyn both mocked and misrepresented his political views and associations to a degree. The LSE concludes that this mass-misrepresentation is not simply an affront to Corbyn, but to our very basic tenets of democracy, since it has led to the media ‘de-legitimisation’ of the official Leader of HM Opposition,which,accompanied by the ubiquitous epithet 'unelectable' -deployed almost continually by red-top hacks, disgruntled Blairites and other rebellious Labour MPs- which effectively renders him obsolete in the eyes of the voting public, which thereby destabilises any sense of checks and balances in terms of governmental accountability to oppositional scrutiny, any sense of the public feeling they have an alternative political option to the current government, and thus also giving the general impression that we’re effectively a one party state (which, if the PLP does eventually split, we could well end up being). So the LSE’s verdict is that our overwhelmingly right-wing press and media is grossly undermining our democracy by de-legitimising Corbyn.
We might think we have been here before, and to some extent we have been: The Recusant recalls the similarly disrespectful depictions of equally leftwing Labour leader Michael Foot, as Leader of the Opposition, back in the early 1980s, particularly in how the rightwing red tops made fun of his slightly scruffy, professorial appearance, his duffle-coat at the Cenotaph etc. Then even his successor, the less radical Neil Kinnock, was continually mocked for the basic playground irrelevancies that he happened to be Welsh and had ginger hair!
Finally, Ed Miliband, who was still far more moderate than Corbyn in his political views, was nonetheless depicted as “Red Ed” simply because he was slightly to the left of the centre-right New Labour, and was of course compared disparagingly to Wallace from Wallace and Grommet (even though, ironically, he actually bore more resemblance to Grommet!), and also ignominiously probed through the prism of a poorly disguised anti-Semitism.
Of course, even Gordon Brown was often publicly mocked and verbally abused by rightwing tabloids and rightwing politicians and celebrities for being “one eyed” (Jeremy Clarkson), ‘mentally unstable’, “a squatter in Downing Street”, and also famously humiliated in Parliament by Lib Dem Vince Cable for being “less Stalin, more Mr. Bean” (The Recusant is no fan of Gordon Brown and his neoliberal brand of Labourism, however, we always found the way he was baited by the tabloids and other agencies deeply distasteful due to the very personalising nature of such baiting).
But in Corbyn’s case we really are entering a whole different stratosphere of public pillorying of a leftwing Opposition leader (and it’s pretty much always and only the leftwing or centre-left leaders who seem to get this treatment from the primarily rightwing press!), as the LSE have pointed out in their report. And if Corbyn ever did become prime minister, we would almost certainly be in the territory of A Very British Coup, with the establishment (the real establishment that is) dead set on covertly unseating any openly leftwing premiership as soon as it possibly can; though preferably, in their minds, preventing it happening altogether.
We already know as much since an army general not long ago came out publicly implying that if Jeremy Corbyn ever became prime minister he believed there could be a military coup against him! Almost beyond satire and yet barely anyone except those on the left batted an eyelid at this truly unprecedented rhetorical intervention in the democratic process by a military head. We know in retrospect that the military elites were tentatively sketching a military coup against prime minister Harold Wilson back 1974-5, which apparently prompted his unexpected resignation in 1976, but that had been kept secret for decades afterwards. These truly are unprecedented times.
Hence the aforementioned self-fulfilling prophecy/wish-fulfilment epithet attached to Corbyn by members of the media and political establishments: 'unelectable'. That is the electorate effectively being told the outcome of the next general election before they've even voted, as if to say 'the establishment deems Jeremy Corbyn 'unelectable' so voting for him is pointless as whatever the results we will find a way of blocking his passage to power' or 'If you want Labour back in government, then you need to get Corbyn out and get someone in who we'll be able to accommodate (i.e. who isn't as genuinely left-wing)'. This 'unelectable' tag is pernicious in the extreme and detrimental to the fundamental notion of democratic choice; it is also mass-brainwashing of an unprecedented scale in this country since it is being generated not only by the right-wing media but also by many centrist outlets too. This is the Neoliberal Establishment -which encompasses the political Right, Centre-Right and Centre- doing everything in its power to prevent an authentically left-wing Labour leader challenging its stranglehold on our society.
Lastly, on a different note, The Recusant has watched with circumspection the ubiquitous television advert for the upcoming Paralympics, in which a Sinatra-voiced man in a wheelchair sings ‘Yes I can’ to the backing of a physically disabled orchestra –the advert then ending with the almost crypto-Nietzschean phrase, ‘We are the superhumans’! It comes across almost like some kind of subliminal DWP propaganda emphasizing Paralympians’ “fitness for work”.
One almost expects to suddenly see the logo of Atos, Capita or Maximus underneath by way of ‘can do’ patronage! At a time of vicious cuts to disability benefits through the medically illegitimate work capability assessments, of rising suicide rates among the sick and disabled, unprecedented hate crimes against the visibly disabled, and stigmatisation of incapacitated and mentally ill benefit claimants, it is deeply disingenuous, counterintuitive of current societal realities and, bluntly, distasteful to have a national advert for the Paralympics constantly asserting the phrase ‘Yes I can’ when the Tory Government has done everything within its power to ensure that the sick and disabled definitely CAN’T do what they otherwise would be able to do had they not had the Independent Living Fund axed, for starters!
The ILF kept countless disabled people in their own homes living as independent lives as possible –by axing it the Tories condemned many of those people prematurely to care homes. Just as it condemned those disabled people employed by Remploy, the factory the Tories ruthlessly scrapped, to unemployment. ‘Yes I can’? No I can’t –because not even so-called ‘superhumans’ can lead full and active lives without any basic financial support! That’s just a FACT of life. But our Tory society of today functions on false premises and Newspeak, on counterintuitive rhetorical codas and catchphrases that have no substance in reality –“better off in work” being one of those chestnuts in our zero hour contracts society.
The DWP-patroned Newspeak phrases such as “fit for work”, ‘fitness notes’ which were once ‘sick notes’, all bespeaks a cultural narrative which seeks to constantly justify cuts to benefits and state support for disability by somehow asserting that most so-called disabled people aren’t actually that disabled, or at least, aren’t so disabled as to not be capable of doing any work at all, and certainly not so disabled as to have some automatic right to taxpayers’ subsidies through state benefits. It’s the kind of counterintuitive Newspeak and propaganda, which implicitly denies reality and facts, let alone morality and ethics, in order to suit of a popular and convenient narrative in an apparently cash-strapped economic climate that, bluntly, can trace its rhetorical ancestry back to fascism and Nazism.
By subverting narratives so that ‘sick’ is now “fit” and disabled is enabled, reality is denied en masse, countless lives are financially and psychologically devastated all just to serve as a parliamentary sop to the hard-pressed taxpayers. So virulent is the current cultural germ or meme of what might perhaps be termed ‘verbal enablement’ that there’s even now a new ‘disability lifestyle’ magazine called Enable which deploys the facile catchphrase ‘forget can’t, think can’. The fact that this magazine defines itself as a ‘disability lifestyle’ magazine is also slightly disturbing in that this phrase could imply via subtext that some ‘disability’ can be equated with “lifestyle choice”, that chestnut meted out to the long-term unemployed by the Tories.
Of course, ostensibly it is very positive and optimistic to place much emphasis on what disabled people can do as opposed to what they can’t do –but the barely subliminal implication of all this ‘can do’ propaganda is not much if anything to do with holistic occupational authenticity but pretty much only to do with an atomistic tub-thump for a Protestant Sweatshop Ethic from which not even the physically disabled should be excused. It’s not really about proper human empowerment and occupational fulfilment, it’s about browbeating the disabled “back into work” and “off benefits” just to shut up the perpetually resentful British taxpayer (even if DLA is non-means-tested and can be received even if one is in work).
The basic reality appears to be at the moment that our ever tight-fisted, anti-immigrant, anti-claimant, anti-anything-that-requires-taxpayers-to-contribute post-Brexit Britain just doesn’t really want to pay to support those most in need, inclusive of the sick and disabled.
Such distinctly un-Christian attitudes are the inherited anti-ethics of post-Thatcherite neoliberal society. May will need more than “One Nation” platitudes to turn 'Two Nations' Toryism around, she’ll actually have to start putting into practice the Christian values of her late vicar father –but is it possible for a Tory prime minister to enact Christian values without seriously compromising their Conservatism?
It comes as no surprise to The Recusant that Ukip’s Nigel Farage should have revealed himself to be the modern day Enoch Powell-cum-Oswald Mosley when he revealed an appallingly xenophobic and racially profiling poster with BREAKING POINT writ large over hundreds of distinctly non-white refugees in his no-holds-barred contribution to the "Brexit" Campaign.
Farage’s pathetic attempt to deflect from the incendiary effects of his bare-knuckle kind of campaigning rhetoric by claiming that the Remain camp were somehow ‘cynically using’ the tragic politicised assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox to strengthen their cause, completely backfired today (20th June) in the political and media storm which has gathered around his racial hatred-inciting BREAKING POINT poster.
One Brendan Harkin quite correctly identified the inspiration behind Farage’s choice of image and rhetoric by posting on his Twitter account stills from footage of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, taken from a six-part documentary on Netflix, Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution’, over which are the subtitles: ‘…who flooded Europe’s cities after the last war – parasites, undermining their host countries’, which is referring to European Jews of the Thirties.
Farage really has sunk to gutter level this time and we sincerely hope the British people will start to finally see through his synthetically jocular and ‘approachable’ façade. More to the point, we also hope sincerely that many people will begin to learn from the tragic and hugely symbolic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, a passionate humanitarian, democratic socialist and champion of immigration and of the Remain cause whose death can only be seen as a political martyrdom.
Jo Cox’s moral example in life and in death should also be a clarion call to this nation and, in particular, its socially divisive and polarising Tory government, that British politics seriously needs to be reformed in terms of tone of rhetoric, that is, if we are to reassert as a nation our too-often-neglected common values of tolerance and compassion… In the past six years these two cardinal virtues have been markedly absent in the political and media mainstreams while the scapegoat politics of discrimination and stigmatisation have dominated in order to rhetorically justify six years of relentless fiscal assaults against the most needy and vulnerable people in society as part of the “austerity” agenda to clear our so-called “deficit” –but what of the chasmal ‘moral deficit’ that has opened out as a result of such ruthless policies?
It’s significant that Chancellor Osborne, when interviewed over Farage’s reprehensible poster, refused to be drawn into verbally agreeing with Mr Harkin’s juxtaposition of the Ukip line with that of the Nazis, since Osborne, along with the prime minister, and of course Iain Duncan Smith and his DWP cronies (and their political supporters in the red top press –the Express, Sun and Mail in particular), have been employing almost identical hatred-inciting rhetoric against the unemployed and, by implication, the sick and disabled, to that used by the Nazis against the Jews –and the sick and unemployed– in 1930s Germany.
If this sounds at all hyperbolic –as if that’s not the operative word for the Tories’ anti-welfare “scrounger” rhetoric of the past six years– then one only has to remember such deliberately deployed dysphemisms as “strivers and skivers” used by the Tory front bench in recent times, and such deplorable rhetorical tropes as “curtains shut during the day” “mugging the taxpayer” etc. which were verbatim phrases spat poisonously out of the lips of George Osborne the Chancellor on various occasions, not least his Budgets and Statements at the dispatch box. IDS has also, of course, stepped up to the plate with such plain nasty propaganda as to “weeding out the workshy” when referring to the unemployed.
And as for the right-wing gutter press, well, remorseless “scrounger”-baiting headlines of countless front page ‘scoops’ of the Express, Mail and Sun and frequent use of terms such as “feckless”, “workshy”, “parasites”, “spongers” etc. aside for a moment, just see how a column by one Janice Atkinson in the Daily Express of 8 March 2013 reads when compared to a speech by chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels –this editor underlines certain terms to show the near-identical tone and nomenclature employed by both reprehensible pieces of propaganda:
One might well ask why are there any Jews in the world order? That would be exactly like asking why are there potato bugs? Nature is dominated by the law of struggle. There will always be parasites who will spur this struggle on and intensify the process of selection between the strong and the weak. The principle of struggle dominates also in human life. One must merely know the laws of this struggle to be able to face it. The intellectual does not have the natural means of resisting the Jewish peril because his instincts have been badly blunted. Because of this fact the nations with a high standard of civilization are exposed to this peril first and foremost. In nature life always takes measures against parasites; in the life of nations that is not always the case. From this fact the Jewish peril actually stems. There is therefore no other recourse left for modern nations except to root out (auszurotten) the Jew…
…benefit vouchers to fund essentials such as food and fuel – not for those who have paid into the system all their lives and need help when they lose their jobs but for those who are drug users or alcoholics, those who have mental illness and those who have previously committed benefit fraud. …Neither should the state fund uncontrolled childbirth. …When the state funds feckless families there is no limit to the children they can have as they are guaranteed funding. Child benefit should be restricted to three children. A larger family is a lifestyle choice. …If you start to withdraw benefits and instead channel the money into schemes that directly benefit the children then that is a first step to weaning them off the taxpayer. …You cannot imagine many deadbeat parents using benefits to buy a book to help their children read before they start school. …Until it is made worthwhile for everyone to work, to contribute and to be decent neighbours there will be more parasites…
Most reprehensible of all is Atkinson’s tarring of the mentally ill with the same brush as so-called “benefit cheats”, almost implying, by juxtaposition, that mental illness is some sort of optional predilection conducive to deviancy.
The Nazis not only stigmatised and persecuted the Jews, but also perceived “undesirable” members of the wider populace, including the incapacitated, disabled and mentally ill, millions of whom were deported to concentration camps and ultimately exterminated; and as well the Nazis singled out what they termed the “arbeitsscheu”, which essentially translates as “workshy” (a term used many times by Iain Duncan Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary), and “asocial”; and, indeed, this category swelled into a broader categorisation termed Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich (“work-shy Reich”), which comprised those deemed ‘fit for work’ but who had ‘refused’ jobs more than a couple of times, and whom the Gestapo finally ‘dealt with’. The so-called “arbeitsscheu” had black triangle badges sown onto their prison camp shirts. Is there really such a vast difference in terms of implicit stigmatization between stitching badges on the long-term unemployed, or issuing them with very visible and item-limiting vouchers? The Recusant doesn’t think so.
Parliamentary and newspaper overtures of unity in the face of “anti-Semitism” (see this writer’s satirical piece on the media-hyped Labour “anti-Semitism” row elsewhere on this site), and the ‘politics of hate’, then, still ring hollow when one notes the moral hypocrisy of those politicians and red-top columnists who routinely employ rhetoric and propaganda which appears to be based on the same fundamental template of fascist rhetoric.
The Recusant only wishes, sincerely, that our politicians and newspapers would truly learn from the tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, an outspoken champion of the poor and disadvantaged against the politics of hatred-incitement and division practised so routinely by them today. But in a society in which it is perceived to be ‘fair comment’ and entirely ‘acceptable’ for politicians and red-top journalists to habitually allude to the unemployed as “scroungers” and “spongers”, and attitudinally imply that the sick, disabled and mentally ill are simply burdens on the public purse, with only a handful of voices on the radical fringes of the Left to speak up in opposition to such ten-a-penny scapegoating while the mainstream media barely bats an eyelid, well, bluntly, there’s a very long way to go to morally retune our rhetorically very ‘uncivilised’ society of today…
The Recusant hopes that the growingly symbolic martyrdom of such an emphatically compassionate parliamentary voice of the voiceless will leave as its long-term legacy the gradual rehumanising of parliamentary and red-top discourse, not least on such toxic topics as unemployment and “welfare”… For surely Jo Cox would be one of the first people to speak up against the continued societal stigmatisation of the poor and unemployed, just as she would no doubt only echo those courageous enough in the past couple of days to make a link between the recent rhetorical incursions of “Brexit” and Ukip campaigns and associated poster propaganda and the toxic atmosphere which, at least in part, percolated into one individual’s primitive outburst of violence which snatched her life away…
This evening, Jo Cox’s bereaved husband voiced his conviction that his late wife was killed because of her political beliefs –and it surely leads us to ask some deeply troubling questions about the attitudinal state of our nation that an MP who espoused principles such as social tolerance, compassion and empathy should be picked out by an unbalanced member of the public to be a victim of the ultimate expression of voter disaffection. But it is an even more disturbing fact that not only was Jo Cox actively campaigning for Remain in the EU referendum only days before her murder; she had also spoken up in defence of immigrants against Leave campaign propaganda such as Ukip’s deplorable BREAKING POINT poster.
As some commentators have put it in recent days, “Rhetoric has consequences” –let that potent trope root itself deeply from now on in political and public consciousness; since far too few of us for comfort know the full consequences of “scrounger” rhetoric over the past six years in particular: it has resulted in the premature deaths and suicides of over 91,000 sick, disabled and/or mentally ill British citizens –though one has to search far to find the real details of this fiscal holocaust hidden in plain sight under a political and media conspiracy of silence.
You can visit the websites of certain fringe campaign groups such as Black Triangle, War on Welfare and Calum’s List to glimpse just the tip of the iceberg of details on the unreported epidemic in claimant mortality which should shame our nation… On another note, we are the first nation to have its government investigated for suspected infringements of disability rights, as the United Nations is currently doing…
Thanks to Channel 4 News we have now learned that the Conservative Party basically cheated its way to electoral victory by not declaring expenditure –in excess of legal spending limits– on local campaigning in around 18 key seats, the very seats which they subsequently won and which ensured their nationally disastrous victory last May. That certainly makes the bitter pill of their majority government even bitterer to swallow. We can only hope bi-elections will be called in all those key seats and the Tories lose their slender majority, forcing a general election.
If there was a general election tomorrow, The Recusant is confident Corbyn’s Labour would stand a strong chance of getting into power, in spite of the PLP and media’s best efforts to sink the new socialist leader of the party. And what a time this is for the Opposition –finally a true Opposition and True Labour, with the excellent John McDonnell providing a textbook example of Marxist economic policy. Even one lesser known front bench shadow minister in a debate a week or so ago quite emphatically stated that he was a “socialist” during his brilliant condemnation of Osborne’s diabolical budget. Would we ever have heard that word under Blair or Brown? Or even Miliband? No. Now it’s ‘respectable’ again to say you’re a ‘socialist’ (not that it should ever have been otherwise).
Good on Jeremy Corbyn for emphasizing his republicanism on the Queen’s yawn-provoking 90th birthday; his obligatory tribute to her was nicely concise and respectful as of any 90 year old person who had devoted themselves to public service all their life (not that she had much choice in it anyway). Thank God we now have a socialist republican leader of the Opposition to tilt the monarchy dialectic back into the realms of common sense and detract from the national expression of absolute subjugation to unelected royals who are funded in their super-rich lifestyles by the taxes we as a nation are only to happy to donate to them, in spite of their vast capital and properties and wealth, while denying it to the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled. And I bet the Queen doesn’t have to pay the bedroom tax on her several hundred rooms at Buckingham Palace…
The Recusant is republican as well as socialist in sentiment and encourages those sympathetic to the notion of a monarchy-free democratic republic of the British Isles to join Republic: https://republic.org.uk/
We now know where we are: almost back in feudalism with a network of distant cousins ruling us from every prominent public and political platform: let us not forget that both David ‘Panama’ Cameron and Boris Johnson are distant cousins of the monarch, and both, significantly, occupy the two most powerful political positions in the land! At risk of repetition: thank God for Comrade Corbyn at such a politically and socially dire time as this!
The mark of just how dire a time this is was of course reinforced by the tens of thousands who protestors who marched through London last Saturday –tens of thousands and yet the only coverage of this mighty show of resistance to austerity was in The Guardian and the Morning Star, not a whisper on BBC News. But of course, when mere thousands throng in Windsor to celebrate the longevity of our monarch just a few days later, it’s wall-to-wall coverage on all channels from dawn to dusk (though we were heartened to see Channel 4 News put the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations as its penultimate headline).
This is as much a time of radical ideas as it is of old repressive ones, as not only seen in the mass protests of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, or in Corbyn’s Labour, but also in the once fringe notion of a basic citizen’s income (formerly only championed by the Green Party) now gathering currency throughout the community of mainstream economic theory. The Recusant directs readers to the official Citizen’s Income Trust website where the full details and arguments for this fundamentally radical idea are laid out –and it is an idea which The Recusant heartily supports: http://citizensincome.org/
The Recusant would also draw readers’ attentions to the following new polemical book, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Verso), reviewed on the CIT website: http://citizensincome.org/book-reviews/nick-srnicek-and-alex-williams-inventing-the-future-postcapitalism-and-a-world-without-work/ It seems this book offers a timely dialectic on the modern nature of work –the veritable ‘religion’ of secular Northern European societies (bar the more humanistic and holistic Scandinavia)– as defined solely in terms of employment i.e. jobs done almost entirely for the purpose of economic necessity while mostly lacking any of the meaningful qualities to be found in authentic human occupation (e.g. work employing one’s particular talents and interests), or vocation.
This book ambitiously and bravely argues for ‘full automation, the reduction of the working week, the provision of a basic [Citizen’s] income, the diminishment of the work ethic’. This is, after all, a ‘work ethic’ (and a particularly Protestant-Calvinistic ‘ethic’ as originally defined by Max Weber in his seminal polemic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1904-5) which does not concern itself with occupational authenticity, nor with worrying at all about the chronic inbuilt obsolescence of occupational alienation, what Karl Marx termed entfremdung (German: estrangement from Gattungswesen, the “species-essence”). The Recusant believes the modern day atomistic definition of most ‘work’ or employment in capitalist society has become damagingly sacrosanct –just as, oppositely, the depiction of all those out of work or employment, no matter how justifiable the reasons (e.g. sickness, disability etc.), as uniformly “scroungers” is largely unquestioned in the mainstream and media (the very media which perpetuates such a myth).
This stunting of open-minded and objective debate on the subject of the perceived inalienability of the ‘work ethic’, coupled with its implicit denial of the reality that most people privately resent having to work, that is, those who have to do jobs purely for financial necessity and with no sense of intrinsic human reward or satisfaction from doing so, (hence why so much of the population passionately resent paying taxes, particularly if to –albeit very circuitously– part-subsidise benefits for those not in employment), is, symbiotically, every bit as stunting as the perfunctory notion of what constitutes “hard work” in contemporary capitalist society. To somehow ‘diminish’ this deeply entrenched, recidivistic ‘work ethic’ would be a Herculean accomplishment in itself; but The Recusant certainly agrees that there needs to be a radical, even revolutionary overhauling of how we define ‘work’, as something inherently useful, productive and meaningful to the person performing it, the wage for which is not the only incentive but, if anything, more of a bonus for the opportunity for persons to fulfil their natural talents and potentials through meaningful employment (or, more ideally, self-employment).
Like the Golgafrinchams in Douglas Adams’ classic Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, modern capitalist workforces are increasingly becoming more and more surplus to requirements of society by filling superfluous jobs such as call centres, sales, marketing, PR, baristas and the like. Most such jobs are ultimately pointless and, far from being useful to societies, if anything serve as impediments to smooth-functioning, efficiency and progress. In such a parlous context, the “zero hours contracts” are really the icing on the cake of capitalist model of occupation, or what we might term, ‘free market entfremdung’ –or rather, the ultimate capitalist piss take: zero hours to match zero purpose employment, almost a tacit admission that the position itself has no true worth.
Having said all this, in spite of progressive dreams of full automation, a new Wilsonian “white heat of technology” through which humanity might be more fully liberated from the shackles of perfunctory ‘work’ to fulfil their true talents and potentials –a la a William Morris-cum-Oscar Wilde-cum-Bertrand Russell-type socialist utopia where all human occupation is authentically matched to talents and becomes a kind of collective expression of personal expertise as productive contribution to the Commonweal, there would always, inescapably, be the need for a certain quantum of skilled professionals in certain rudimentary fields, such as, for example, farmers and doctors.
The atomistic Tories don’t only ‘not get’ the notion of entfremdung, or at least don’t care about it because it mostly only affects the working classes, they don’t even show much respect towards society’s most necessitated workforce: the medical profession –and hence we see the unprecedented spectacle of a national junior doctors’ strike this week, plus a mooted permanent strike by the BMA…!
With junior doctors set for a showdown strike against risible minister Jeremy Hunt for his imposing a new contract on them, the still-felt moral fallout from Osborne’s diabolical budget, and revelations about Cameron’s father’s lifelong tax-avoidance which in part accrued much of the prime minister’s financial inheritance, and now the potentially rollersmashing revelations about tens of thousands of undeclared electoral campaign expenditure of the Tories in the key seats that ensured they scraped their small majority, and also, of course, the party’s split over the EU referendum, this has been and continues to be a deeply wounding period for this government and we hope will intensify to the point that a vote of no confidence might be called. We all have to keep the pressure up to push this nasty little government out of power.
In the meantime, The Recusant continues to support the campaign for Britain to remain in a socially reformed Europe, primarily in order to retain our nation’s EU-facilitated employment, union and human rights protections which would otherwise likely be relinquished under unfettered Toryism following a “Brexit”. Again we would remind readers of the type of politicians who are arguing for an exit from the EU: Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Chris Grayling… need we go on…? Right-wing, chauvinistic, ‘macho’ mavericks to a man!
Okay, so the otherwise persuasive leftist George Galloway is also, uncomfortably no doubt, in their camp –but we can forgive him this somewhat naïve expression of left-wing libertarianism and remind ourselves that even he, as passionate and eloquent a politician as they come, can sometimes be emphatically wrong (as he was now and then on foreign affairs). And, given, there is the matter of another George (Osborne) being in the Remain camp –but we’re reminded his sense of patriotism is ultimately subordinate to his implicit worship of capitalism at the global altar, as well as apparently being an Americaphile. There’s always going to be those in both camps one either admires or despises, and of course the motives for remaining or leaving massively differ between those on the Left and those on the Right.
Let’s just hope not-so-‘lovable’ blond buffoon ‘Boris’ (note how Johnson is singularly afforded the nominal familiarity normally exclusive to the Royals by being commonly referred to by his first name) fatally wounded the “Brexit” camp this week by dropping his oratorical bombshell into the debate: the fatuous Mayor of London and Tory leadership stalking horse broke ranks with the already threadbare rhetorical etiquette of the “Brexit” camp, Trump-style, expressing brazen racial profiling by alluding to Barack Obama’s intervention on behalf of the Remain camp as some sort of evidence of the US President’s genetic grudge against our long defunct British Empire due to his part-Kenyan ancestry. You couldn’t make it up –but of course Nigel Farage applauded the ignorant remark, being almost worthy of one of his own xenophobic quips.
The Recusant is convinced that –necessity for radically reforming the reach of the Troika notwithstanding– a future in Europe is essential for both social and economic progress, and that if we were to cast ourselves adrift from the Continent politically, we could truly turn into a chronic, culturally stunted, perpetually right-wing tin-pot Ruritania and general irrelevance that bunting-strung days such as the Jubilee and the Queen’s Birthday so disturbingly adumbrate…
The Recusant is –as its contributor community demonstrates– internationalist in perspective, and believes in the collective sovereignty of Europeanism as something more than the sum of its parts, in which no one nation should have primary power or influence, and that the future of a socially reformed and just Europe is infinitely more likely than that of a socially just Britain outside of the EU, mainly because ‘social democracy’ is still very much alive on the Continent –in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France et al– but has, tragically, long receded in the UK since Thatcherism entrenched neoliberalism in our isles; what is more, even in economically near-bankrupt Spain and Greece, left-wing governments ensure that socialism is still a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
The Recusant aspires to a future democratic socialist Europe, and that is what we will play our part in campaigning for, should we remain in the EU. Remaining in the EU is the first hurdle; then will come the bigger battle for a Social Europe, or better still, a People’s Republic of Europe. Let’s not let the UK miss out on being a part of that future possibility.
While many of us have been heartened by the government u-turn on the PIP cuts, we’ve overlooked an equally pernicious cut coming down the line in just a year’s time –but The Guardian, for one, have reminded us about it by way of advanced warning:
The Recusant noted Chancellor Osborne’s risible remark when squirming his way in Parliament this week when he said something to the effect that it is a classic socialist delusion to think you do not need savings. The Recusant would like to point out that it’s a classic Tory delusion to think you can relentlessly cut the incomes of the sick and disabled but still somehow be a “compassionate, one nation Tory government”. Moreover, the fact that Cameron has to keep asserting this is in itself emphasis that “compassion” isn’t normally something associated with the Tories.
The sight of the vampire-pale Chancellor finishing his pathetic reedy-voiced speech in Parliament the day after the day after his notable absence for the Budget post mortem debate on the synthetically ‘triumphant’ note that “this is a modern, compassionate, one nation Tory government” rang deafeningly hollow as it appeared Osborne was almost choking on words which he knows full well are not only utterly and demonstrably untrue (climb down on cuts to disabled people who need help toileting notwithstanding!), but are also anathema to his entire political DNA, he being an unreconstructed Thatcherite to the very core of his being (albeit a semi-aristocratic Thatcherite).
Osborne really doesn’t convince as anything even remotely “compassionate” or “one nation”: you certainly can’t seriously call yourself ‘one nation’ after spending six years rhetorically and fiscally playing with reprehensible and deeply divisive paradigms as “striver” versus “skiver”, for a start… We all know whose side Osborne is on: his own: the hereditarily propertied and moneyed. He claims it’s “hardworking people” he and his government side with, and yet it’s precisely those people his government has been hammering for years now, through such capitalist con tricks as “zero hours contracts”, for instance.
Meanwhile, while it is good that at least the ex-Work and Pensions Secretary seems to have ultimately recognised the moral faults of the Tory government he’s been a key part of, Jeremy Corbyn really does sum up what many of us are currently thinking at this seeming ‘Damascene moment’ of Duncan Smith’s:
“I think he has done the right thing to resign, because after all this is a man who has presided over some fairly appalling policies but this latest example of cutting the personal independence payments of a very large number of people ... is shocking…. He has taken so much away from people with disabilities and he has suddenly found a conscience now – I wonder where that conscience has been hiding for the past six years. He has resigned, but I really think the problem is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne…”
It seems strangely fitting that IDS’s reprehensible six year grip on the DWP should be bookended by two apparent ‘Damascus moments’ or ‘Damascene conversions’: the first was his supposed epiphany in the slums of Easterhouse prior to becoming WP Secretary –then he followed this with an apparent lapse back to right-wing form on actually getting his mitts on the welfare brief by way of evangelical petitioning of the prime minister (no doubt)– and now, it would seem, IDS has experienced a second ‘Damascus moment’ on supposedly realising the full extremity of his administrative crimes of the past six years and that, surprise, surprise, the nation isn’t “all in it together” after all, but simply the Tories and their pals in the banks and the City are in it together, while the poor, unemployed and disabled are up to their necks in cuts and caps and sanctions and all round material destitution and psychical despair…
Should any of us be fooled by IDS? The short answer: no. Isn’t it convenient he suddenly –to paraphrase Corbyn–finds his conscience just at a point that he’s under pressure from the Courts to release certain documents he’s kept back from public view, and while his department is under investigation by the UN for possible abuses of disability rights…? And since when has IDS, on the Right of the Tory party, been a “one nation” Tory? He’s been doing the dirty work of a government intent on dividing the nation –and not just in two, but in three, even four– for the past six years, so can hardly claim innocence or ignorance now…
At best, IDS has been a partially protesting accomplice to the most vicious attacks on the unemployed and disabled by a government in living memory; at worst, he has been a very active and evangelical architect of some of the nastiest welfare policies since the Thirties, not least the heinous regime of sanctions, which have seen the lives and wellbeing of thousands unfortunate enough to be unemployed under this government devastated beyond repair, countless claimants driven to food banks, evicted and tipped out onto the streets, or, in many cases which the DWP have been keen to suppress, driven to suicide…
IDS’s interview with Andrew Marr on 20/3/16 was certainly damning of Cameron and Osborne, but only really confirmed what many of us already knew, that the Tories look after their own, their fellow super rich, and particularly their Tory voters, and so to discover that they were plotting to dump on the poorest in society yet again simply because they can and because that section of society is ‘unlikely to ever vote for them’ anyway, is no real revelation to those of us who have opposed the ‘Osmeron’ masterplan from the very outset, way back in 2010.
The spectacle of Iain Duncan Smith attempting to destroy George Osborne’s reputation was comparable to Darth Vader throwing Emperor Palpatine down the centre of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi –only, sadly, IDS’ efforts weren’t enough to see the Chancellor hurtle all the way down his £4 billion budgetary black hole… Mores the pity… But Osborne’s time will come…
It beggars belief just how credulous and myopic the British public actually is that it so stupidly voted the Tories back in last May in spite of it having been pretty evident long ago that the most vulnerable in society, the poor, mentally ill and disabled, were effectively being ‘cleansed’ from the balance sheets of the national budget.
Only now, after a Tory victory locks us in for another four years of further remorseless fiscal cuts for the most vulnerable, are many Tory supporters and MPs starting to wake up to the utter viciousness of the governing Conservatives, and only once one of their most evangelically intransigent dogmatists decides to belatedly speak out (significantly, a fair bit after his party has secured a slim mandate to govern for another parliament).
Simply because Stephen Crabb “grew up on a council estate”, child of a “single mum” who was “on benefits”, is no indication that he will therefore be a more empathic Secretary for Work and Pensions, though we might at least hope so I suppose; the fact he’s come out from that background only to become a Tory MP doesn’t particularly point towards an empathic persuasion –but then, as with the Tory MP who spoke out on the news yesterday denouncing IDS as not as ‘principled’ as he might wish to paint himself, but as the dogmatist we all thought he was, whose meetings with said MP often degenerated into “arguments”, and who was indeed the very keen architect of some of the nastiest aspects to the welfare cuts, such as the bedroom tax, just shows that, contrary to what those of us on the Left might think or feel most of the time, there are some backbench Tories who do still have their social consciences at least partially intact… Let’s hope Crabb might prove to be one of them –though admittedly it’s unlikely since it is Cameron, of course, who has appointed him…
The Recusant is delighted to see that IDS’s resignation has triggered a Tory civil war, and at precisely the same time that tensions in the party are high already due to its split over Europe. This weekend has seen a triple-whammy in the resignation of the vindictive and dangerously ‘evangelical’ despot Duncan Smith; the subsequent serious undermining of the morally unfit Chancellor’s chances of becoming the next prime minister; and the indirect defeat of the Chancellor’s despicable policy suggestion that some of the most disabled people in the country would have their incomes savagely cut in order to fund tax breaks for the richest people in the nation.
As for the parliamentary debates and statements today (21/3/16) in the wake of the Government’s ‘Long Weekend’, the spectacle of witnessing the prime minister’s undaunted temerity in claiming that his government, just caught short trying to get through cuts to the most vulnerable people in our society in order to fund tax breaks for the superrich, is somehow “a modern, compassionate, one nation Tory government” was quite something, though no one, not Tory ministers or MPs, not even Cameron himself, honestly believes this now… and most of us certainly never believed it at all, even before the Tories started eviscerating our welfare state back in 2010.
The U-turn on the disability cuts is certainly a significant victory –literal and moral– for the disabled of this nation, their supporters, campaigners and activists, but we mustn’t be at all complacent in light of the still oncoming cuts to ESA which could prove devastating to millions tangled up in the infamous no-man’s-land of the “Wrag” (Work Related Activity) group.
As for the legacy of Iain Duncan Smith: such epithets given by his fellow Tories as “principled” and “honourable” must of course be taken with an enormous pinch of salt given IDS’s ‘previous’, but what The Recusant is almost inclined to concede is that perhaps, just perhaps this self-righteous, evangelically intransigent dogmatist genuinely perceived himself as an unlikeliest ‘champion of the poor’ of the nation, but simply didn’t have a clue what he was doing and couldn’t or wouldn’t see until it was far too late the absolute havoc his ‘reforms’ have wrought throughout the unemployed, sick and disabled communities of the UK.
Because what is left in IDS’s wake is social devastation on a mass scale among the poor, unemployed and incapacitated not seen since the Great Depression, statistics of fatalities of the disastrous Atos-administered WCAs stretching into the tens of thousands of those fraudulently declared “fit for work”, and the unaccounted for deaths of over 92,000 sick and disabled claimants between 2011 and 2014. For him then to try and play the moral paragon in his resignation letter really is taking the biscuit and expecting the rest of us to choke on the crumbs.
But The Recusant does think it possible that, ultimately, Iain Duncan Smith’s most heinous crime has been his self-righteous intransigence and arrogance in believing himself to have some sort of ‘divine insight’ into solving intergenerational poverty and unemployment after his eight ‘quiet’ years at the so-called Institute for Social Justice. While George Osborne’s fiscal crimes are quite clearly just down to political expediency, cynicism, callousness, vindictiveness and just plain nastiness of narcissistic personality, Iain Duncan Smith’s crimes have been down more to hubris in thinking himself somehow “chosen” to solve the social insolvency of a massive section of the population and in the bluntest means he could find.
Ironic, given his much-trumpeted “Christian” approach to politics and self-proclaimed ‘Roman Catholicism’, that during his Andrew Marr interview IDS said at one point, in a military fashion (he being an ex-Scots Guards Officer), that he leaves “questions of morality” “to Churchmen” –well, he certainly does, demonstrably, but not without, at the same time, claiming the opposite. Rather than eradicating unemployment, Osborne and IDS’s policies simply eradicated vast sections of the unemployed and disabled, hounding thousands to premature stress-accelerated deaths or suicides via the processing factories of Atos, making thousands destitute and homeless and/or dependent on food banks…
This is by no means intended in any way to suggest some vindication for the atomism of IDS’s welfare policies, but simply to concede that it seems to be the case to some extent that the most damaging and brutalising Work and Pensions Secretary in living memory went into his role with what was to him a ‘sincere’ sense of ‘calling’ to give some sort of pull-them-up-by-their-boot-straps type of ‘salvation’ for the chronically insolvent sections of society through the rather perverse ‘incentivising’ of benefit cuts, caps and sanctions –the “cruel to be kind” approach to Christian ethics.
The trouble –and irony– is it is precisely all these policies that have now led to the state of affairs IDS himself decries and claims are the reasons he had to leave his post, those being that Tory malversation of the past six years has now driven our society into the most polarised “have and have not” society since the 80s and thus the most divided. IDS played a vital part in that administrative divisiveness, even if tries to claim in hindsight that he didn’t intend it to get that way, the fact remains he helped more than any other minister other than the Chancellor to create it.
Of course, Osborne was pushing the fiscal buttons all the time, and is ultimately the more responsible –but that doesn’t somehow transmogrify IDS into some sort of put-upon puppet and reluctant accomplice: he knew full well what he was doing when he used the divisive term “something for nothing”, even if that, too, was put in his mouth by Osborne. And where was “Boy George” on the morning after the Budget before? Licking his wounds in the shadows of the Treasury –like all bullies, Osborne is a coward, spinelessly not showing up at the Commons the day after his moral shambles of a Budget and leaving it to the new Work and Pensions Secretary, upstart Stephen Crabb, and David Cameron, to deflect attention from him and defend his risible budget in his absence…
The Recusant sheds not one tear for the synthetically ‘principled’ resignation of universally detested Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith this evening (18/3/16), since, in spite of his last ditch attempt to portray himself as somehow “compassionate” by claiming in his resignation letter that he’s stepping down from office due to the disability cuts announced by Osborne in this week’s Budget, he has personally overseen the most brutalising, atomistic, inhumane and devastating welfare cuts and “reforms” since before the days of the welfare state and the similarly draconian treatment of the unemployed and incapacitated under Stanley Baldwin’s Tory Government of the 1930s.
In short, Iain Duncan Smith might scuttle away from Caxton House into the night hoping to be seen to have taken some sort of ‘principled’ stand against ‘indefensible’ disability cuts, but the fact remains he has been directly responsible for six years’ worth of ‘indefensible’ welfare “reforms” that have seen the stress-accelerated premature deaths and suicides of countless sick and disabled claimants over his perfidious reign at the Department for War on the Poor (DWP).
The Recusant still hopes that IDS and his fellow Tory cohorts Chris Grayling, Maria Miller, Esther McVey and, let us not forget, despot of the Treasury, George Osborne, and David Cameron, will all eventually be impeached by the European Court of Human Rights and by the UN –who are currently investigating the DWP for abuses of disability rights, funnily enough– for administrative crimes against the unemployed, sick and disabled.
But while we say good riddance to the widely despised IDS, we must not forget to now turn our attention from the ‘performing monkey’ of welfare reform to the organ-grinder of the welfare cuts that ideologically drove them and have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people in our society: George Osborne.
The Recusant sincerely hopes that Osborne’s ‘compromise too far’ (to quote from IDS’ resignation letter) of announcing swingeing disability cuts in the same Budget in which he also announced utterly unmitigated and unnecessary tax breaks for the richest people in the country, will prove his political bête noire and decisively dissolve his chances of becoming the next prime minister.
The Recusant also hopes –no doubt, unfortunately, in vain– that this latest budgetary shambles of Osborne’s might even prompt his own resignation as Chancellor, though we suspect a man who is so demonstrably cut from the cloth of narcissistic personality will never under any circumstances so much as think of falling on his sword.
Mores the pity, but we might hope for this possible double-trophy from the top of the Tory party and certainly IDS’ resignation is a significant moral and political victory for all those who have over the past six years continued to campaign against the scabrous and immoral welfare “reforms” and cuts.
One last word. As moist-eyed Tory backbenchers sing the praises of IDS, seriously expecting us to swallow their epithets that he is somehow a “principled” man who cares about social justice, let us all spare a thought for the 92,000+ deaths among sick and disabled claimants between 2011-14, never forget them, and never forget under whose watch they lost their lives… We will remember them...
Hardly a surprise that Chancellor Osborne’s 16 March 2016 Budget was the usual nasty litany of immoral and socially devastating cuts for the poorest and most vulnerable but yet more tax breaks and concessions for the Tory-funding Rich. But most reprehensible of all was the announcement of billions of pounds in cuts from the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people which is, with Dickensian grotesquery, specifically targeted at those who have difficulty toileting themselves! What kind of unethical, unscrupulous and plain nasty entity thinks it’s “fair” and perfectly morally sound to make savage cuts to the incomes of the physically disabled to the tune of -£3,500 a year (!), which is -£50 odd quid a week (someone on just over £70 PIP a week to be cut down to less than half of that, around £20 odd a week!!!) in order to give tax breaks to the top 5% richest people in the country? The answer: Chancellor Osborne, the heir apparent to the premiership.
These are the new ethical depths that inherited millionaire and Baronet-to-be Osborne has sunk to in his bid to cast such penny-pinching, usurious Dickensian grotesques as Scrooge, Tigg, Quilp, Heap and Pecksniffe as veritable pygmies of miserliness by comparison. Disability charities are of course justifiably speaking up promptly against such morally despicable policy (at which no doubt Iain Duncan Smith is rubbing his hands with glee while at the same time realising he has his work cut out in this latest lap of his and Osborne’s continuing race to out-nasty each other), while there is even a mooted Tory backbench rebellion against this vile piece of ‘disability cleansing’ –when even some Tories pipe up about the rights of the disabled you know the budget proposal MUST be pretty perfidious.
As for the prime minister, one can only assume that his interest in or sense of justice with regards to disability rights must have been completely extinguished with the sad death of his own disabled son a few years ago… or is it a case of chronic compassion fatigue? Or, perhaps, simply that, as with most of his tribal Tory breed, he only cares about his own. Too bad for the tens of thousands of disabled children in this country today that its prime minister’s own firsthand experience of bringing up a disabled child, and then losing him, seemingly did nothing at all for his ‘empathy quotient’.
A post-Budget article in The Guardian (17/3/16) goes into detail on the implications of the cuts to the PIP –as well as mentioning Jeremy Corbyn’s response, charity reactions and a possible Tory backbench revolt– here:
We all knew of course that it would take a Tory majority win at the 2015 election to show just how NASTY the Tories really can be if left to govern alone. Yesterday, Osborne proved this emphatically with a cut tantamount to administrative eugenics. 92,000 sick and disabled deaths and suicides in four years isn’t enough of a death toll to satisfy this despicable man’s thirst for notoriety –and to think he has his sights on being the next prime minister…! Is that how he seals his public approval: punishing the disabled and wheelchair-bound? What a cut-throat country we’ve become under the Conservatives!
Osborne’s only ‘ethical’ concession in his moral disgrace of a budget was a “sugar tax” on sweet fizzy drinks which, apparently, is the morally illiterate Chancellor’s personal notion of a ‘moral policy’ as witnessed in his rasping, shaky tone, which almost sounded as if he felt suddenly emotional, when taking a rhetorical synthetically 'moral' highground about not wanting to neglect sorting out sugar-related “disease” for children in this generation when he’s personally in parliament and has the power to do so… This from the Jamie Oliver School of "Pucker" Ethical Rhetoric… It also seemed a distinctly bitter sweetener in terms of metaphor for the Tories’ long-standing mantra about “not leaving it to the next generation to pay of our debts” we’ve had to swallow for the past six years…
But The Recusant was heartened to see Jeremy Corbyn’s robust response to this despicable budget, quite rightly seizing on the cuts to PIP as of particular opprobrium, a point backed up equally robustly by the excellent John McDonnell in his Shadow Chancellor response to the Obscene Budget today, referring to the disability cuts as “morally reprehensible”.
STOP PRESS: The news has been taken up this evening with widespread outrage at the cuts to PIP, and on BBC News the Chair of Conservative Disability Group, Graham Ellis, a lifelong Tory voter, was interviewed during which he stated he would never vote Tory again after these cuts to the disabled, and had promptly taken down the CDG website this evening due to the announcement of the cuts. He said he would only ever vote Tory again if the party “morphed into a more caring and compassionate party that cares for its citizens” –which of course it never will, as he’s belatedly realised; while this is all good and only further heaps opprobrium on Osborne and in turn hopefully permanently damages his bid for the premiership, The Recusant wonders at the credulity of such Tory voters as the Chair of the CDG –where’s he been for the past five years, for instance? Did he think the atrocious cuts to disability benefits through the last Parliament was somehow down to the Lib Dem influence in the Coalition? Of course not, all of that was pure Tory policy and over 92,000 sick and disabled claimants lost their lives as a result of that. But still, better late than never… And this in The Guardian today (18 March) on the unusual spectacle of Tory backbenchers sticking up for the disabled poor against their own party’s heir apparent:
Great news that three disability charities asked for the immediate resignations of three Tory patrons who voted for the disability cuts –but what surprises The Recusant is that three charities had Tories as patrons in the first place! The topic is of course also covered with robust polemical tone in the Morning Star:
As for the Tory proposal to turn all existing state schools into academies, thus effectively privatisation the entire state school sector –well, this really is extreme Thatcherite ideological policy in full throttle and The Recusant predicts will not only prove culturally disastrous in terms of any hopes left that this society might progress towards an equalised educational system entirely state/council-run and without the outdated “old school tie” doctrines and disparity of private schools giving the children of the rich and powerful head starts in life and career (we remain incredulous to any supposition that Osborne’s proposed policy is intended to achieve parity of opportunities across the classes by bringing every school up to the ‘standards’ of private and public schools), but also probably un-implementable in the long-run. Nevertheless, this is Thatcherite Osborne’s attempt at a recumbentibus to the state sector in yet further strides to smother this nation’s public institutions with the patchwork pillow of socially divisive privatisation…
The urgent need for the basic fairness and sanity of private rent controls in the midst of the UK’s escalating housing shortage and continually spiralling private rents is becoming more and more newsworthy by the month, and to a point that even some notable MPs are starting to join housing campaigners in the call for the necessity of their reintroduction. This insightful article in today’s Guardian (15/3/16), in conjunction with research done by Generation Rent, which The Recusant supports:
The Recusant is pleasantly surprised by the usually counterintuitive Labour MP Frank Field being one of the first MPs (apart from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Caroline Lucas) to call for the reintroduction of rent controls.
“The cost of housing is high for everyone at the moment, whether you rent or have a mortgage, so frustration about affordability is understandable. However, rents alone are not to blame. They have risen broadly in line with inflation over the past decade.
“Instead the government is preoccupied with championing home ownership, leaving those genuinely in need of affordable rented housing left clinging to tired political rhetoric like rent controls,” he said.
Right, let’s get this straight: arguing for the reintroduction of what was a rudimentary and long-standing national policy of successive British governments of both colours from the 1920s through to their abrupt and utterly short-sighted abolition by the Tories in the early 1990s, and one which is still prevalent throughout Europe and Scandinavia, even in the pathologically anti-regulation USA, is somehow tantamount to “tired political rhetoric”; whereas the absurd and utterly unfair absence of rent controls and in turn the continual escalation of private rents throughout the UK far outstripping Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit) rates which in turn creates enormous monthly rent shortfalls for both unemployed and working tenants and drives tens of thousands to food banks, even stops many young couples reproducing, is somehow NOT in itself akin to “tired rhetoric” –and of a distinctly Dickensian ilk!? How about the “tired” old notion of the corpulent exploitative private landlord growing fat on the proceeds used to support a dispossessed rental class; of the obese feudal Baron chucking fleshless chicken bones at his famished peasant tenants?
There’s nothing “tired” about the basic fairness and common sense of something so fundamental as rent controls; and if the argument for them is “rhetoric” then it’s thus because it is a perennially sound, sane and socially just argument.
Nevertheless, so entrenched to the point of national pathology is the notion of the unfettered “free market” that even many on the centre-left of politics draw short of arguing for a reintroduction of private rent controls –as if the mere term ‘controls’ immediately makes everyone think of Stalinism, Oceania, the “Red Peril” and the like. Absurd notions, of course, and even more ironic given that, in reality, far from being a true “free market” or laissez-faire society, the UK of today is in many ways effectively a manifestation of ‘state-monopoly capitalism’ whereby the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News International are given special treatment by the reigning right-wing government whose in return for support and promotion of their policies through the latter’s newspapers, while other tax-avoiding oligopolies like Google are given massive tax breaks by the HMRC just because it can’t be bothered to plough through its own voluminous rules and loopholes to properly crack down on them, while it is oppositely overtly ‘forensic’ when scrutinising the tax owed by the low-waged self-employed.
The Tories, as political representatives of the propertied landlord classes, champion deregulation across the board in their incessant and outdated pursuit of privatisation for privatisation’s sake (in spire of its historic inefficiency and increase in prices), and constantly rail against “state regulation”, but when it comes to policing the poorest citizens in the country, they’re eminently happy to roll out regulations, particularly allowing their precious dog-eat-dog social Darwinian “free market” (big misnomer considering it’s monopolised by a select of corporates!) to enable private landlords and letting agents to openly discriminate against prospective tenants in receipt of LHA (e.g. ‘No LHA’ and the phrasally outdated “No DSS” epithet etc.). This is ‘regulation’ by the backdoor of deregulation; subcontracted proscription. But the irony, or rather, paradox is, many private landlords absolutely rake it in from housing benefits.
Only last night Chanel 4 Dispatches’ Housing Benefit Millionaires exposed the national racket of private landlords and letting agents milking millions from the housing benefit budget each year by partitioning two bedroom houses into up to four or five ‘studio’ flats (actually bedsits) in bids to make as much profit as possible out of powerless tenants’ abject misery of cramped living space and hazardous conditions in blatant breach of Health & Safety laws.
When is the elephant-in-the-room of private rent controls (or ‘caps’ as Guardianistas are referring to them) going to be finally and thoroughly addressed through parliamentary debate and legislation? Under a Tory government, never: because 9 out of 10 Tories are also private landlords! Instead of focusing –as C4 Dispatches has been doing– on the exorbitant profits made by private landlords and letting agents from the housing benefit budget, the Tories constantly bang on about how much housing benefit is spent on unemployed families/claimant tenants, even on those who are in work but on low wages and thus needed benefit top ups to cover rent shortfalls –all as if, disingenuously, housing benefit goes into the pockets of the claimant tenants, when of course the reality is these tenants never see any of this money themselves as it goes straight into their slum landlords’ pockets –many of whom are Tory supporters of course, or, in some cases, actual Tory MPs –so what are they complaining about exactly? Twinges of conscience at profiting on the back of taxpayers?
The whole topic is deeply paradoxical to say the least. But it’s an issue which simply won’t go away until something very comprehensive and fundamental is done about it –and the cause of reintroducing private rent controls is something The Recusant, alongside Generation Rent, will continue to champion until it comes about…
With fresh new assaults on disability benefits mooted in Chancellor Osborne’s budget on Wednesday, The Recusant takes note of a Change.org petition to the DWP by the sister of one of tens of thousands of late victims of ESA cuts and sanctions, David Clapson, which has been delivered to said offending government department this week –the full details are here:
The Recusant promoted this petition when it first started, via our front page, and, moreover, a poem specifically about the case of David Clapson will be included in this writer’s forthcoming political poetry collection, Tan Raptures, due out with Smokestack Books next February.
The Recusant and its anthologies have long campaigned for the reintroduction of private rent controls to stem the incessant tide of rising rents and static Local Housing Allowance rates which mean a relentless widening of rental shortfalls for the millions of private tenants throughout the country (particularly in the South-East); not to mention an underreported increase in landlord and letting agent discrimination against LHA tenants, even if in work. The Morning Star carried a pertinent article on Wednesday 17th February on this elephant-in-the-room which simply won’t go away –until something is done about it, though the only chance of that is under a Corbyn-led Labour government:
There was also a quite fascinating article by Paul Mason in The Guardian on the same day on the almost-taboo subject of a possible future ‘post-work’ society in the wake of automation and how our modern day obsession with ‘work’ –something of a substitute secular religion– is arguably impeding humanity’s material and technological progress:
But no doubt the capitalist and corporate architects of our masochistic Western society would still find reasons to create millions of completely pointless marketing and call centre jobs in spite of these being eminently suitable to be performed by automated voice systems (and indeed many humans who perform these roles today already sound automated anyway). Mason also argues –as does the Green Party– for a basic citizens’ income to supplement subsistence free from the now tragically entrenched stigma of “welfare”. Enlightened stuff from a mainstream media economist, but, sadly, our politicians, in the main, remain distinctly unenlightened in this regard, and still believe in work for its own sake as some sort of ‘moral salvation’ for citizens; more specifically, a form of behavioural control/social policing in the same sense that school performs such basic functions for those too young to work.
Elsewhere in the news, as the media salivates over the potentially catastrophic vicissitude of a “Brexit” from the EU via the absurdly rushed 23rd June 2016 British EU Referendum, and political grotesques such as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith lining up to campaign precisely for this outcome, we can see that this is just the latest of so many ways in which neo-Dickensian Tories and xenophobic Ukippers are trying to drag our country back to some sort of 19th century nightmare. These “Brexit” grotesques have been referred to in the right-wing press as “the Magnificent Seven” –we think they’d more accurately be described as the ‘Maleficent Seven’. If anyone was doubting which way to vote in the upcoming referendum, surely a poster image of the aforementioned Blue –and Purple– Meanies should be more than sufficient alarm signal to persuade them to vote to stay in the EU.
The thoroughly unlikeable Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was rightly pilloried in The Guardian last week as basically a political ‘thug’, and when we remind ourselves that it was he who banned books being brought in to prisons by relatives of inmates, not to mention his general attitudinal pugilism towards the unemployed while DWP Deputy, one couldn’t really think of a better way of summing him up. The Guardian took particular issue with a society in which someone as downright unpleasant and politically belligerent as ‘thuggish’ Grayling is lauded as some sort of poster boy for a post-EU, there’s something deeply wrong.
In spite of the capitalist brinkmanship of the Troika and the appalling economic treatment of Spain and Greece, The Recusant –alongside Corbyn’s Labour, the Greens, SNP and Left Unity– is for remaining in the EU, mostly because we have much greater chance of having workers’ rights protected if we remain under EU laws, not to mention human rights and protections for immigrants and the unemployed. We’ve never fathomed why the Morning Star –with which we agree on practically every other political issue– is so vehemently anti-EU. Do communists and those socialists who want to leave the EU seriously believe that anything will be improved in the UK by doing this? If anything, we will simply drift even further and faster backwards into a trough of perpetual right-wing dogma and political monopoly, with greater chance of continued Tory rule, playing into the hands of the worst of the right-wing press (the Express and Mail) and the worst elements among our political elites (IDS, Johnson, Farage et al).
Not to mention the very likely possibility that the EU might implode or disintegrate altogether and various nations fall prey to Far Right movements such as Front National in France, by way of just one example. There’s more chance of an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim Far Right “Fortress Europe” without the EU than there is within it. So The Recusant fully supports the campaign for a “Social Europe” and backs Jeremy Corbyn’s push for this, as well as standing shoulder to shoulder with our comrades at Left Unity. We fully understand the Communist Party’s opposition to the hyper-corporate aspects of the EU, but at the end of the day, many nations in the EU are still essentially social democracies, unlike the UK, which is a de facto liberal democracy, and will only likely become more so if it sets itself adrift from the Continent and immerses more in a protectionist island mentality.
Do those for a “Brexit” on the Far Left seriously believe there’s some chance of a future socialist Britain outside of the workers’ and human rights protections of the EU? Such optimism, in spite of how far to the Right the UK has already reverted since the entrenchment of austerity capitalism post-2010, seems beyond the quixotic. While it’s hardly a case of coining a catchy phrase like “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Brexit”, since there are some fundamental problems with the EU (particularly the Troika), Europe still has vestiges of ‘social democracy’ which tragically the UK has lacked for decades, and these are implicit in greater workers’ protections, stronger unions and rent controls –all things either long-extinct or on the way to near-extinction in the UK.
As if things aren’t repressive enough at the moment for immigrants, and, most heinously, EU Nationals (who should have freedom of movement throughout the Continent without restrictions just as Brits on the Continent do), this monster of a Tory government is now pushing through so-called ‘Right to Rent’ legislation which will enable them to interrogate private sector rental tenants as to their right to residency in the UK. This despicable piece of legislation takes it name, of course, from Thatcher’s pernicious ‘Right to Buy’ scheme which resulted in the current dearth of council housing stock we face today in the eye of the storm that is the modern day housing crisis. And on this subject, The Recusant wishes to bring readers’ attention to the latest component of campaign group Generation Rent, which focuses on the underreported, ‘racket’ of fees heaped on private rental tenants by unregulated letting agents: http://lettingfees.co.uk/
Meantime, ‘mean’ being the operative word, Axeman of Caxton House, Iain Duncan Smith, is in the process of dragging some elderly victors against the Tory bedroom tax back into court; “nasty” really is an understatement for the Work and Pensions Secretary –what an irony that once termed “quiet man” of Tory politics should turn out to be the nastiest of the ‘Blue Meanies’. Not content with redefining what “poverty” is by removing from its definition the prime contributor of ‘income’, the Tories/DWP are now attempting to define unemployment, so often either a result of or contributor to mental health issues, as a form of mental illness in and of itself! You really couldn’t make it up but that’s the latest redefinition of reality being promulgated by this moral cancer of a government: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-a3e3-Joblessness-branded-a-mental-illness#.VtbwHxYrFdg It can’t be too long now until the Tories make unemployment a punishable ‘crime’ –although it’s already effectively treated as such through the despicable sanction regimen and the forced labour of ‘work placements’.
Of final note was Pope Francis’ inspirited and principled oratorical intervention against the toxic rhetoric of US President-hopeful Donald ‘toupee’ Trump after he’d risibly suggested building a wall across the Southern border of the US to stop Mexicans and refugees getting in –the Pope quite reasonably responded that –to paraphrase– anyone who talks only of building walls and not bridges is not being Christian. Trump predictably responded to this papal intervention in a suitable tantrum befitting his infantile politics. The prospect of an egoistic right-wing billionaire businessman becoming the next US President is, in short, an apocalyptic one. The question is, is this a Neo-Con trajectory privately approved by the so-called Illuminati…? It would seem that Trump would be an obvious choice of Puppet-President for such dubious shadow interests… But what is certain is that if Trump ends up President then this will be final confirmation that the most powerful nation on the planet is certifiable…
Axeman of Caxton House and architect of the administrative manslaughter of over 91,000 sick and disabled claimants (2011-14), Iain Duncan Smith, was justifiably heckled as a "murderer of the disabled" outside a jobcentre he was visiting yesterday: http://www.watsupeurope.com/news/uk-protesters-heckle-murderer-iain-duncan-smith-during-job-centre-visit/
The (continuing) crimes of Iain Duncan Smith during his time as Secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions are arguably without British political precedent and go far beyond the more traditional nastiness of Tory policy to something more in the realms of psychopathy. If IDS wanted to attain notoriety then he has dones so in spades, and if there is any justice in this world, he will ultimately be held accountable under UN and EU Human Rights Conventions, and, as well, it is hoped, finally excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
But in the meantime, as the notorious and thoroughly discredited Atos Solutions passes the baton onto equally notorious US firm Maximus for the medically illegitimate neo-Mendelist Work Capability Assessments, more administrative atrocities, tragically, await exposure by those few fringe media outlets that have not opted into a systemic conspiracy of silence and cover up of this silent holocaust in our midst.
Meanwhile, in our increasingly immigrant-hostile climate of Tory England, The Guardian has reported today on the deeply disturbing emergence of front doors to immigrant households in Middlesbrough painted red, as if to mark them out for stigmatisation and local discrimination: http://www.newsguardian.co.uk/news/local/red-doors-marked-out-asylum-seeker-homes-in-north-east-to-yobs-1-7685105
After a 10-and-a-half hour debate in Parliament yesterday, the Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting the Americans and French in a blitz over Syria. Apparently this is to target Isis redoubts, in part-response to the appalling Isis-facilitated massacre in Paris last week, by way of a 'show of solidarity' towards a nation and people most Tories, ironically, wish to disassociate from in most other respects, particularly via a mooted "Brexit".
Much as The Recusant was shocked and appalled by that barbaric and cowardly act of terrorism (and hence why we draped the tricolour on our front page for the subsequent week, as a show of solidarity to the French, our fellow Europeans), we do not think that chucking some bombs on Syria will solve anything at all, but, if anything, just foment yet more morally-blind inhumanity towards Europe and the West from the Isis camp -quite apart from the more urgent matter that the bombing will inevitably result in the maiming and killing of countless innocent civilian Syrians. The Recusant agreed with Jeremy Corbyn's principled humanitarian opposition to Cameron's knee-jerk and gung-ho motion.
That our prime minister demonstrated typical playground politics in having a tantrum and name-calling any MPs who argued against bombing Syria "terrorist-sympathisers" -and petulantly refusing EIGHT TIMES to apologise for his deeply offensive remark- simply emphasised for the umpteenth time why Cameron is morally and intellectually unfit for office. We also noted with disdain such new Labour has-beens as Alan Johnson accusing the Labour front bench of "finger-jabbing" while finger jabbing himself and, quite apart from anything else, back-stabbing Jeremy Corbyn and being generally disloyal to his party, along with legion other Blairite relics. We think Mr Johnson and his fellow Labour back-stabbers should cross the floor to occupy the benches their risible neoliberal beligerence demonstrably owes more allegiance to...
Meanwhile, to the lives and fates of those British citizens whom the Tories make no pretence of trying to 'keep safe' from harm, but who, oppositely, their policies continue pushing to the brink: the unemployed, disabled and mentally ill: the rapidly stacking human cost of the Malthusian benefit caps, sanctions and cuts. As we now know, over 90,000 sick and disabled claimants were driven to premature stress-accelerated deaths and/or suicides over the past four years of remorseless benefit culls, sanctions and Atos attrition. The latest case to put a name and back story to the victim/casualty/fatality of the Tories' mass administrative manslaughter of the sick, disabled and mentally ill is detailed in an item in today's Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/03/dwp-apologise-linda-cooksey-tim-salter-benefits-cut.
The late and grievously mistreated Tim Salter's grieving sister is apparently to receive an 'apology' from the DWP for its having driven her mentally afflicted brother to suicide through sanction-caused destitution. But is the intransigent and self-righteous Iain Duncan Smith, axeman of Caxton House, going to deign to put his signature to that 'apology'? We doubt it. In a sane and humane democracy -which ours certainly is not- IDS would be summarily dismissed from his position and promptly impeached for his crimes against the sick and disabled. The man is an unmitigated disgrace to the nation and we can only hope that the U.N. investigation into the dark arts of the DWP under his despotic reign of terror will produce sufficient evidence to drag him in front of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Tories talk of 'keeping us safe' from terrorist attacks, yet they can't even keep countless incapacitated claimants safe from destitution, premature death or suicide. And what about those thousands their policies have made homeless? Do they keep them safe from harm as they're left to sleep on the city streets each night? The Tories only protect their own, we know that only too well. As far as they're concerned, the 'economically unproductive' don't count.
Hot on the heels of the woeful cuts to working tax credits (which we predict will significantly wound the Tories politically in the long-term), today saw the passing of the new 'English votes for English laws' or 'English veto' (funny how 'vote' and 'veto' are anagrams of one another) which will see Scots MPs potentially excluded from voting on England-specific policies in what is, nonetheless, still a British Parliament. The Tories think this is only "fair" -which is of course ipso facto evidence enough that it isn't. This is of course yet another of the Tories' deeply anti-democratic attempts to further strengthen the right-wing stranglehold on England, along with their other effort to disengage a large section of the population -significantly, mostly younger voters, who are more likely to vote for Labour or the Greens- from the electoral register. It seems the Tories are so unconfident about their hold on power that gerrymandering constituency boundaries -as is every Government's prerogative- oh, and having a still-unregulated 90% right-wing/pro-Tory media, isn't enough to make them feel electorally secure.
The Recusant pays tribute to left-wing Labour MP Michael Meacher who sadly passed away today after a short illness. Meacher was a stalwart Bennite, a highly competent politician and economist, and, along with Nye Bevan and Tony Benn, arguably one of the best long-standing contenders for the leadership of his party. But no doubt Meacher departed, at least, safe in the knowledge that the party he had served for decades is now at last 'true' Labour again. And Meacher more than played his part in this belated but timely reconstitution of the movement at its root. Meacher was also a regular and insightful columnist for the Morning Star. His compassionate politics and socialist integrity will be sorely missed, while we can feel confident that his peers and fellow socialists, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Leader Jeremy Corbyn, will continue the fight to put the Left firmly back into mainstream politics.
There have been some important and incisive features in the Morning Star this week on the catalogue of disability rights abuse by the government's DWP-Atos axis, its statistically shocking repercussions, and the imminent U.N. investigation:
This year is also the centenary of the 1915 Glasgow Rent Strike -here is an informative website on the historic event: https://remembermarybarbour.wordpress.com/mary-barbour-rent-strike-1915/. The strike helped to bring about the first ever legislation introducing rent regulation, or private rent controls, in the same year, under the radical Liberal Government of the time. So 2015 is also the centenary of the introduction of rent controls. What a pity, then, that in 2015 such fair, reasonable and sane regulations no longer exist in the UK (though do still exist in much of Europe).
This is of course due to the Tories abolishing them altogether in the late 80s, after many attempts previously in government to water them down -unsurprising considering the Tories are, after all, the landed party, or the party of private landlords. And no thanks either to New Labour who failed to reintroduce controls throughout its 13 years in power. Today, not only do we not have rent controls, but we also have the Tories' pincer-movement on social and council housing rents, their latest assault on the hard up of this nation being a proposal to increase social housing rents to 'market rates', thus pricing tenants out of their homes. The penny-pinching Tory Scrooges are calling this "pay and stay".
As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now arguing the case for a reintroduction of rent controls, this long-ignored 'elephant in the room' of today's housing crisis is once more on the debating agenda in mainstream politics. And not before time! The Recusant/Caparison still plan in the near future to produce a third e-anthology focusing on the issue of today's escalating rents and the glaringly grotesque absence of private rent controls, to be titled The Rent Book - Verse for the Evicted Generation. We will announce an open call for submissions at the appropriate time, but it will not be until into 2016, since this editor is currently concentrating his energies on Militant Thistles.
'Duplicity Cameron' struck once again with a sickeningly hypocritical speech at the Tory conference: it appeared to have been penned in a parallel world to the 'Big Foodbank Society' he has unleashed on us in just over five years as prime minister. Cameron had the temerity to talk at his podium as if he is somehow genuinely concerned about social inequality, which has skyrocketed during his premiership due directly to his government's remorseless attacks on the welfare state, and on disability and homeless rights.
This duplicitous cad of a prime minister had the bare-faced cheek to preach about greater equality of opportunity and dealing with poverty, when he has resided over the most relentless regime of benefit cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable since the 1930s, which has seen foodbanks mushroom throughout the land to help hundreds of thousands of people, both unemployed and those in low income work, depend on tinned substitutes to keep them alive. The speech he made being very much a 'tinned substitute' for the true social message of Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader whom our ever low-swinging prime minister slandered at the podium as "terrorist-sympathising" and "Britain-hating". Such public defamation of an Opposition Leader by a prime minister has arguably never been witnessed before in British politics.
Cameron's risible attempt at trying to seize a "common ground" in politics by spouting 'One Nation' Tory rhetoric fell emphatically flat against the brutal realities of the marginalised social apartheid his policies have created. His is no 'One Nation' Toryism of the likes of Disraeli, Macmillan or Heath, infinitely more courageous and enlightened old Tories than claimant-stigmatising and disability-bashing Cameron can ever hope to be.
His is emphatically a 'One Per Cent Nation' Toryism, which has seen the richest 1 per cent in the country increase their wealth several times over since the recession, while hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the country have been pushed into abject poverty, and over 91,000 sick and disabled claimants hounded to premature deaths by his DWP-Atos axis -the most heinous fiscal holocaust in British history. While the bogus "national living wage" trumpeted by the Chancellor is undercut entirely by cuts to working age tax credits, even the Tories' 'Help to Buy' scheme purported to bring "affordable homes" within the reach of first time buyers will, by dint of its high mortgage benchmark, only be accessible to the top 1 per cent of wage earners.
Cameron should be hanging his head in shame, rather than affecting crocodile tears for his betrayal of more 'compassionate Conservative' values which he once apparently held. He'd need far more than another half a term in office to rectify the social destruction his government has wrought in the past five years; destruction that will scar so many of his citizen victims for decades to come.
As for Draculic Chancellor Osborne's pathetic claim to somehow be giving "power to the people" --again, 'duplicitous' is too weak a term for so forked a tongue. The Tories' claim to now be "the party of the workers" rings hollow when their actual policies are pauperising most workers through the cutting of working tax credits -any 'true blue' 'blue collars' who are taken in by such empty rhetoric really have themselves to blame for being stupid enough to swallow the effluence they're spoon-fed by the right-wing red-tops which led so many of them to idiotically -and massochistically-vote the Tories back in.
And as for Iain Duncan Smith's tirade against the Mancunian protestors, calling them "vile" -well, all we can say is, it takes one to know one: 'IDS' is single-handedly responsible for the 'sickness cleansing' of over 91,000 disabled claimants in just four years. This insidious Orc of a Work and Pensions Secretary is so vile that he practically has the word tattooed on his domed head. We wait in anticipation for his future impeachment by the European Court of Human Rights following the U.N.'s special investigation into his crimes against disability rights.
Whatever way Cameron wants to spin it, there's just no getting away from the fact that his party is now once more permanently stained with the epithet of "the Nasty Party". No wonder he's frothing at the mouth to defame Jeremy Corbyn, a man whose mission is to expose the Tories for the social-cleansing Malthusians that they are, while himself offering this nation a true alternative to austerity and a truly Good Society built on equality and social justice.
The right-wing press were leading with headlines today claiming that Jeremy Corbyn's impassioned inaugural socialist speech at the Labour Party conference yesterday -the best this writer has heard in his lifetime from a Labour leader!- was partly 'written in the Eighties'. To which one simply has to reply, if that is so, then what does that tell us about the parlous state of Britain in the Twenty-Teens? That precious little has changed since the Thatcherite Eighties. Moreover, under continued Tory rule, we're now seeing a rapid return to that deeply divisive decade: attacks on workers and union rights, help to buy of council housing stock, "scrounger"-mongering against the unemployed, escalating street homelessness, and so on... So it seems if part of Corbyn's speech was written in the Eighties, well, fair enough, because it still applies to today! That's how little British politics has moved on since Thatcherism and the neoliberalisation of 'New' Labour! We have not only Thatcher, but also Tony Blair, to thank for that. But let's all hope that this time round the politics of compassion and social justice win through against the mouldering neoliberal hegemonies stacked against them. All power to Corbyn's elbow!
[Question: What do you call a party so despised by the people of a north-west city (Manchester) that it has to have its conference ringed in barbed wire and armed police? Answer: The Conservative Party].
An incisive and compendious feature in the Morning Star this weekend reminded The Recusant that Saturday 26 September was the centenary of the death of James Keir Hardie (15 August 1856 – 26 September 1915), Labour's first MP and first parliamentary leader, who is perhaps the closest any British socialist politician comes to 'secular sainthood' in the minds and hearts of the historical British Left (though Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan, and, to some extent, Tony Benn, aren't far off from such hagiography).
Hardie hailed from an impoverished Scottish coal-mining family and educated himself while working down the pits as a boy, teaching himself literacy and even shorthand; he then progressed onto being a correspondent for The Miner, and from there, moved into politics and ended up heading the Labour Representation Committee, later to be known as the Labour Party (the LRC still exists under the more than capable chairmanship of John McDonnell MP). Hardie was eventually elected Labour's first MP, and thereafter, its first leader. He retired prematurely from politics in pacifistic protest against the First World War.
This editor/writer furnished a long poem about the life and struggles of Keir Hardie in his 2010 Smokestack volume, Keir Hardie Street, which was also since recorded onto CD by acclaimed actor Michael Jayston -both book and CD can be borrowed from the Poetry Library, though attempts are afoot to try and get the recording uploaded for free download on this writer's personal website, in due course, prompted in part by the centenary. But by way of celebrating the life of Keir Hardie, more succinctly than Keir Hardie Street, a short acrostic poem about the great Labour leader is now up on this site as signposted on the front page -the poem is taken from the collection, A Tapestry of Absent Sitters (Waterloo Press, 2009).
It is certainly fitting that on Keir Hardie's centenary we can now safely say that we once again have a true socialist at the helm of the Labour Party, one who also hails from a fairly humble background, albeit not as starkly inauspicious as Hardie's. At this time, no doubt Jeremy Corbyn will have Hardie in mind as he takes to the podium at his first Labour Party Conference. We at The Recusant wish him well and will support his leadership every step of the way. As for Keir Hardie, his great legacy will never go away, this man who was a century ahead of his times in his advanced socialist politics, and whose politics might indeed in future come to some fruition in meeting the social imperatives of our austere times.
Barely a fortnight into Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Leadership and a General in the British Army has already said that if Corbyn ever became prime minister he and -by implication- his fellow Generals would "mutiny" against his government on a proleptic charge of 'threatened' "national security"! "Mutiny" is a slightly quaint euphemism for a coup de tat! This was diligently reported on in the Morning Star but -surprise, surprise- barely a whisper from the mainstream media about it! So much for our British sense of democracy -we can now plainly see that the right-wing press isn't the slightest bit interested in protecting it from neo-Francoist/Falangist-style military nutcases who would impose martial law on our nation just because of the prospect of a left-wing government! It beggars belief!
This sort of military-establishment collusion against left-wing governments is, however, sadly, nothing that new in Britain. In the mid-Seventies, we learned much later, there had been plans set in motion among the military and establishment elites to topple then-prime minister Harold Wilson due to suspicions that he was a Soviet agent/'mole' for Moscow! (This is partly where the late David Nobbs' Fairly Secret Army idea sprang from; and, not least, Chris Mullins' A Very British Coup). Tellingly, Wilson suddenly resigned halfway through his second term -which took people and pundits completely by surprise at the time- and handed over to the more centrist James Callaghan (and the rest, thereafter, is Thatcherite history...!). Decades later we learned why this happened: to avoid a coup of the elite against his government...!
Equally ludicrously, this week's Sunday Telegraph had a front page diatribe/'story' somehow trying to link Jeremy Corbyn to a poem highly critical of the Queen and Royalty written by Heathcote Williams for the Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn had hitherto been patron. Corbyn stood down due to an understandably busy schedule as new Leader of the Opposition. The poem, 'Royal Babylon', is certainly a spirited and vitriolic verse-tirade against the monarchy for its perceived complicity with the arms trade, but makes some important polemical points -and in any case, what is the establishment going to do about it? Ban it? Charge the poem (or poet) with 'high treason'? Pathetic. But certainly Williams' poetic hero, Percy Bysshe Shelley, would have applauded the demonstrable efficacy of an antiestablishment poem. Williams -a former Robin Hood Book contributor- has also contributed some excerpts from a long poem, 'Revolution', to our new polemical-poetry sister-site, Militant Thistles.
For all those Recusant contributors reading this who would like to submit polemical/political poems touching on such common memes and themes as poor doors, homeless spikes, the bedroom tax, Atos, "gentrification" ("social cleansing") and other topical issues of Tory society, please email them in the body of the email with 'Militant Thistles' in the header, to: [email protected]).
The Recusant is not only impressed by Labour's new left-wing Leader and his impeccable speeches so far, which have already marked out hitherto 'taboo' issues such as welfare 'reform' for deserved opprobrium (Corbyn's even invoked the phrase "social cleansing"); we are also highly impressed by the equally left-wing new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Slate-eyed McDonnell has something of the gentle flintiness of a Seventeenth Century Leveller (as Corbyn does the measured dignity of a Digger), an authenticity not seen on the Labour front bench for decades; in fact, one would have to go back to the Fifties or Sixties, or even to the late Forties, to find his natural antecedents. Who could have dared dream only months ago that we would now have at the head of the Labour Party the modern day equivalents of John Lilburne and Gerard Winstanley?
So inspired has this writer been by this New Model Labour that he has for the first time in his life actually joined the Labour Party, and as long as Corbyn and McDonnell lead Labour, The Recusant will back them all the way (while also maintaining ethical consanguinity with the equally left-wing Green Party). This writer was formerly a member of the left-wing Labour Representation Committee -the political source from which the Labour Party was grown- up until his membership lapsed. The LRC is Chaired by McDonnell himself, and this writer anticipates rejoining at some point. McDonnell has put a firm left foot forward as Shadow Chancellor by wasting no time in depicting Osborne's fiscal policies as "immoral". So far, so good!
Finally, revelations emerged today, via a new biography of David Cameron, that our pigeon-faced prime minister once 'put a "private part of his anatomy" into a dead pig's mouth... [that] was resting on the lap of a member of the Piers Gaveston Society – a dining club at Oxford... during a bizarre initiation ritual' (and that's from the Tory Express!). Porcine right-wing curmudgeon Toby Young (dissenting son of the brilliant left-wing sociologist, Michael Young, author of seminal Pelican primer, The Rise of the Meritocracy) was glimpsed on BBC News counterintuitively claiming that -to paraphrase- "if anything, this can only reflect well on the prime minister"!? Eh? Well goodness only knows then what even viler excesses the chaps of the Piers Gaveston Society got up to! Eating poor people perhaps? (No, they'd be too lean!).
So Corbyn staying respectfully silent during the national anthem is more evidence of 'not being fit to be prime minister' than Cameron having a former fetish for burning fifty pound notes in the faces of street beggars and dipping his member into the mouths of dead pigs!? Oh it'll all blow over, nothing would have been said of it at all if it had been a better news day, was the line trotted out by the BBC News presenter today on Cameron's debauched antics as a student... No one bats an eyelid it seems -Cameron is certainly as 'teflon-coated' as ever Tony was, since he even gets away with being literally 'caught with his trousers down'! But cameras just have to get a stray shot of Jeremy Corbyn not miming the national anthem alongside establishment sycophants and tropes such as "he isn't fit to be a prime minister" and "he's a threat to our national security" are hurled about left, right and centre across the red-tops. Pathetic, and yet more evidence of our thoroughly lop-sided and unscrupulously biased right-wing media.
The Recusant is heartened to learn that the UN is about to send a rapporteur to investigate charges against the Tory Government and, more specifically, air-punching, disabled-snuffing Work and Pensions Secretary, Herr Iain Duncan Smith, of 'abuses of disability rights' in its remorseless pursuit of the medically illegitimate Atos Work Capability Assessments and other related administrative Mendelisms. Yet barely a whisper about this from the mainstream press! What a surprise! It's difficult to know which is the worser crime: that of a government committing mass administrative manslaughter against the most vulnerable people in society (remember, over 91,000 sick and disabled claimants have DIED between 2011 and 2014!) alongside a right-wing press egging it on and a general public largely complicit in said bureacratic holocaust, or the abject lack of any proper media coverage or public outcry in response to the shocking death statistics among disabled claimants and a subsequent UN investigation of possible governmental 'abuse of disability rights'...!?
This silent holocaust of sick and disabled claimants will be a permanent stain on the moral fabric of this nation for decades to come and we predict the stain will continue to blot and spread until its perpetrators are brought to justice. Until the likes of 'IDS' are dragged before the Hague, disability rights campaigners and families of relatives administratively liquidated by the DWP will not rest. And neither will The Recusant. But at least this investigation is a start along the road to future justice...
If now is a time to finally start seeing the beginning of the end of post-Thatcherite austerity narratives then it is with the historic victory of left-wing outsider candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the race to become Labour leader. Not only is Corbyn the first true socialist to be elected Labour leader since Michael Foot, but he is also the first Labour leader in a long while who hails from a fairly modest background, who was not educated at a top university (but dropped out from polytechnic), and so cuts a very different and more authentically radical cloth than most Oxbridge-educated political leaders of recent times.
And not only all this but, in the face of furious opposition from the right-wing media and Blairite grandees of his own party, Corbyn secured the biggest ever leadership percentage of the vote, beating even Tony Blair's win in 1994). In the early Eighties socialist Labour stalwart Tony Benn stood for the leadership, but narrowly lost. But this time round, the most left-wing candidate of the four won a landslide vote. This is something to be celebrated for many reasons, not least because now there will at last be the opportunity for an official parliamentary Opposition to actually act like an Opposition and start constructing an alternative anti-austerity narrative and dialectic in mainstream British politics. (Added to this momentous triumph is the icing on the cake: fellow left-winger and Chair of the socialist Labour Representation Committee, John McDonnell, has been appointed Shadow Chancellor! It's out with the Red bunting for Corbynomics!).
And Corbyn's wasted no time at all: already his Labour Party's line on issues such as welfare are emphatically contra received mainstream narratives and re-emphasising the vitalness and fairness of a strong welfare state, while Corbyn is also arguing now for rent controls, the 'elephant in the room' that no mainstream party leader (save Caroline Lucas and then Nathalie Bennett of the Greens) up until now has even hinted at (and the re-introduction of rent controls has been something of a long-standing cause of The Recusant and Caparison's anthologies). This is all truly momentous in its adumbrating a final smashing of the Thatcherite-neoliberal 'consensus' which has blighted these isles for over 35 years! We do indeed now live in interesting times...
Indeed, 'warnings' have been issued from sources of vested interest in the neoliberal establishment that Corbyn's rise potentially 'risks' an end to the 'post-Thatcherite consensus'...! As if that's somehow a bad thing!! The 'consensus' -a kind of Satanic substitute to the social democratic 'post-War consensus' that it supplanted- which led us to the banking crisis and "Great Recession", and to Britain being one of the most socially unequal societies in Europe, with hundreds of thousands reliant on food banks to survive while the City continues to rake it in... The 'consensus' which has brought us to a grotesque 'Us' and 'Them' society where such abominations as "homeless spikes", "poor doors" and food banks are casually accepted by much of the public as just par for the course of capitalism... That 'consensus'? We think we're best rid of it!
The Recusant has been flabbergasted -though not entirely surprised- by the sheer viciousness of smears and attacks against Corbyn in the right-wing press, most scabrously the Daily Mailthusian, which headlined on Sunday with 'RED AND BURIED'! (They wish!). This is of course the same Mail which effectively won the May General Election for the Tories by its absolutely shameless, gutter-level scaremongering against a Labour-SNP Pact/Coalition 'threatening the stability of the nation'. It then only took unprincipled prime minister David Cameron hours to go from calling Corbyn to congratulate him on his victory, to going on Twitter and scaremongering against the new Labour Leader by claiming he is a 'threat to national security'!
Rightly condemned across the board for such a risible tweet, Cameron and his frenzied Tories have launched something of an online Twitter-led 'campaign' of scaremongering against Corbyn which smells of genuine fear, and which comes across as if the current Tory Government half-expects its own imminent implosion! Such hysterical response from a government only recently elected with a small majority towards a new leader of the Opposition has to be unprecedented. Not to say, despicable and low in its opportunistic spite and unrestrained vindictiveness. But then that's what the Tories are all about.
But what we as supporters of the Corbyn Labour leadership and this new resurgence of the anti-austerity Left in mainstream politics must be cautious of and campaign against at every juncture is what is already blatantly going to be a kind of A Very British Coup-style political, rhetorical and journalistic witchhunt against Corbyn and everything he stands for.
And so much for the BBC being somehow "left-wing" as Tories always claim: watching the BBC News 24 coverage of Corbyn's triumph, replete with rapidly gathered oppositionists -cue token Blairite party grandee and scowling right-wing bigot Toby Young- to this new socialist ascendence in Labour, it had more of a funereal than congratulatory air about it; whether this was more to do with a perceived 'electoral death of Labour' than the Tories getting rattled by the belated return of a socialist Opposition, is anyone's guess, but the coverage stank of establishment ill-feeling towards Corbyn and everything he represents. None of this, of course, bodes well, but is, sadly, to be expected.
But what we are actually witnessing here is the rebirth of British mainstream socialism, something to be entirely celebrated, even more so when one bears in mind the kind of mean-spirited and unlikeable persons who come out so promptly to deride and condemn it. May a good man be known by the unpleasantness of his enemies -and all of Corbyn's enemies are indeed deeply unpleasant.
Now the fight for the soul of this nation begins and we must all on the Left, of all factions and parties, unite behind this new hope for a more compassionate and equal society. The Recusant is fully behind Jeremy Corbyn and will now be supporting this timely reconstructed Labour Party and Movement. We echo Nathalie Bennett of the Green Party -which we have hitherto supported in the former absence of a true Labour Opposition and as the only left-wing option in mainstream politics- and will be behind Corbyn and everything he attempts to do to re-balance this nation's 'moral deficit'. We are also, of course, 100% behind him in his Opposition to both the Welfare and Trade Union Bills.
We hope and anticipate a new united front across the Left -Left Unity, the Greens and the SNP alongside Labour- to oppose and defeat the Tories every step of the way over the next five years. Just as the neoliberal establishment -politicians and newspapers all- have so promptly united against this new 'threat' stalking Parliament, we on the Left must be thoroughly united in determined opposition to the austerity narratives and right-wing hegemonies, and all do our bit to promote our daily mouthpiece, the Morning Star, which, in a very timely manner, had its first ever Sunday edition on 13 September (and it's biggest ever bumper issue the following day). Let's all work together now in our various avenues to fight -as the MS's strapline puts it- For Peace and Socialism!
Official Published DWP-Atos “Death Stats” Astound Even the Gloomiest Predictions: 91,740 sick and disabled claimants DIED between January 2011 and February 2014! That’s 22,935 each year for the past four years!
The Tories of course haven’t wasted any time unleashing fresh new attacks on every one from underpaid workers and unions to their favourite victims of all, the unemployed, sick and disabled, with a new round of ‘sanctions’ planned for ESA claimants by the DWP’s resident Mendelist, Iain Duncan Smith. ‘IDS’, as he’s affectionately abbreviated (whereas we feel inclined to stretch his initials to ‘I-nsi-D-iou-S’), once more shows no contrition or shame whatsoever in the face of increasingly stark and shameful facts –which drove one Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams, in a Select Committee recently to call on him to resign (specifically for recent revelations that his department had fabricated testimonies of fictional -and apparently masochistic- ex-benefit claimants thanking the DWP for being sanctioned!) – such as the finally released –or rather, wrenched-out-from-fists– official “death stats” of all those who have died within six weeks of being declared “fit for work” by Atos-DWP, plus all those who died while either undergoing or awaiting assessment by Atos-DWP, and all those who died while in either the Support Group or Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA; information which the DWP has continually wrestled to withhold from the public in spite of its’ legal requirement to publish them.
We pay tribute to the Change.org petition which kept this ‘taboo’ issue in the spotlight up to the point of the DWP’s capitulation (as well as to other long-standing anti-Atos campaigns such as the Black Triangle, Calum's List and the Spartacus Report) –and the figures really are staggering: 91,740 ESA claimants died between January 2011 and February 2014! This is even more than the 40,000+ The Recusant had reckoned on the basis of an already published/recorded 10,000+ deaths from –as we recall– 2011; it means the amount has massively accelerated since 2011, and this is surely the most damning indictment of Tory-driven austerity cuts on welfare and disability benefits to date.
It is quite simply a moral stain on the nation, made only worse by the fact that the nation inexplicably returned the Tories to office with a small majority back in May! What’s the bet no national newspaper –bar the Morning Star and possibly The Guardian– will have these figures on their front pages tomorrow? Here’s a link to one of the first online sites to source the facts and figures compendiously, Vox Political Online, which also incorporates editorial points against the DWP’s risible attempts to airbrush the figures or claim no responsibility, such as its’ deeply disingenuous/delusional comment that “any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics”.: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/08/27/known-number-of-deaths-while-claiming-incapacity-benefits-nears-100000/
The Recusant joins Debbie Abrahams and all those anti-Atos campaigners in calling on the Prime Minister and Government to sack Iain Duncan Smith, and also hopes that the insidious Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and all his cohorts be brought to justice before the European Court of Human Rights under the charge of ‘mass administrative manslaughter’. It is also hoped that in time Pope Francis will seriously consider various calls on him to excommunicate Duncan Smith from the Roman Catholic Church, his ‘membership’ of which tarnishes the faith. In terms of his strategies and protocols, IDS is without doubt a modern day social Mendelist (eugenicist). And the methods of propaganda employed by IDS throughout the past five years to cover up his mass culling and fiscal liquidating of tens of thousands of sick and disabled claimants have, bluntly, been comparable to the Nazis’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
The Recusant, as mentioned previously, fully supports Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership and believes his victory will ensure a new alternative anti-austerity mainstream narrative which will offer the electorate in 2020 a very clear and vastly different choice for voters; it will also inevitably bring back many Labour apostates on the political Left to the Labour fold –those who voted either Green, Left Unity or for other socialist parties last May, this writer included– and thereby increase the Labour vote next time round. We were startled but not especially surprised to read this week that among the mainstream right-wing tabloid scaremongers against Corbyn’s political rise, the excremental, Malthusian Daily Express led the charge by sourcing the Jewish Chronicle’s allegations that Corbyn had attended pro-Palestinian liberation meetings which were also attended by a ‘holocaust denier’.
The risible implication that somehow, through ‘guilt-by-association’, Corbyn is some sort of ‘closet anti-Semite’ is not only desperate and reprehensible, but also deeply hypocritical for a newspaper (if it can really be called one) which routinely couches its ‘scrounger’ stories in eugenicist lexicon almost indistinguishable from that used in the 1930s by the Malthusian League, the Mendelists, and, indeed, the Nazis. One only has to take an average Express ‘story’ on so-called benefit ‘scroungers’ and substitute the term ‘Jew’ in its place to have an effective reproduction, almost verbatim, of speeches made by the likes of Joseph Goebbels in the Thirties (or indeed substituting ‘gypsies’ or ‘Roma’ for ‘illegal immigrants’ -the Express also of course being Ukip-supporting). And as for the Daily Mail, well, we all know that it was Britain’s leading supporter of the British Union of Fascists and, indeed, Hitler’s Nazis, during the 1930s. It seems Britain’s two nastiest right-wing tabloids are editorially and journalistically irony- and hypocrisy-proof (and, sadly, so are its readers, as the devastating election result –buoyed on the back of the Mail’s irrational scaremongering against ‘Red’ Ed and Nicola Sturgeon –i.e. ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’– tragically proved in May).
Talking of hypocrisy, generally reviled ex-prime minister and “war criminal” Tony Blair quipped this week that those Labour supporters whose ‘hearts’ were for Corbyn should ‘have transplants’! This coming from a man who, as we all know well, metaphorically had his own ‘heart transplant’ some two decades ago, when, as Labour leader, he scrapped Clause IV of the Labour Constitution, thereby effectively performing a political heart transplant on the entire Labour movement, swung the party disastrously to the Right of politics, and, a little later, colluded in having ‘that dossier’ half-fabricated in order to justify the invasion –and incremental destruction–of Iraq. The Recusant applauds the spirited and defiant PCS firebrand Mark Serwotka, who is currently waiting for a heart transplant (while also fighting a rearguard action against the Tories’ latest anti-union attack on the basic human right to strike), for his recent riposte to having been prevented from voting in the Labour leadership context for Corbyn, which was, to paraphrase, that he would go into hospital with his heart for Corbyn, and would come out with his new heart for Corbyn.
Ironic again that the still-entrenched Blairites of the Labour Party ‘machine’ are employing Stalinistic protocols of figurative ‘purges’ in order to try and put a stop to the piling support for Jeremy Corbyn –but then ‘New’ Labour, famous for its’ spin-machine, was ever the employer of Stalinistic protocols, in spite of being generally neoliberal in its policies. The attempts of the Labour Party ‘machine’ to bar certain supporters and members from voting for Jeremy Corbyn tarnishes any verisimilitude of its’ internal sense of democracy, even if partly ‘explained’ by the recent scandal of numerous Tory-supporting ‘entryists’ singing up as Labour members to boost the votes for Corbyn, believing him to be Labour’s next Michael Foot-in-waiting. The fact that this almost Trotskyite-inspired tactic of the political right-wing might backfire spectacularly if Corbyn ends up replicating his popularity with Labour supporters with the rest of the electorate beleaguered by five years of merciless Tory austerity cuts, is a prospect too tantalising at this stage to think on (though it is not impossible).
On a final note, the campaign Generation Rent currently needs urgent donations to keep going and is only days away from running out of funds, so please do visit it and give what you can: http://www.generationrent.org/
The Recusant is delighted to learn from an article in the Morning Star this weekend that the legendary Left Book Club is returning through the auspices of radical Pluto Press. The LBC was founded in the 1930s by publisher Victor Gollancz in response to economic depression and the rise of fascism. It is therefore a most fitting time for the radical polemical publishing enterprise to reemerge in response to a sadly very similar period in our history to that of the Thirties. Among its legion titles were such seminal works as George Orwell's The Road To Wigan Pier, Clement Attlee's The Labour Party In Perspective, Arthur Koestler's Spanish Testament, G.E.R. Gedye's Fallen Bastions, and Wal Hannington's incomparable The Problem of the Distressed Areas -and this writer is fortunate to have original copies of the last two titles, plus a few others, in his possession.
The new LBC's first title is Syriza, an expose of the groundbreaking radical left Greek coalition which eventually won power, led by Alexis Tsipras. Of course, now we know that in many ways this surge in socially progressive democracy in Greece is more tokenistic than authentic, as seen in the recent capitulation of the Greek Government to yet further punishing austerity inflicted by the Troika. This, in spite of the Greek peoples' overwhelming 'Oxi' ('No') vote against austerity. So much for democracy! If the 'demos' ('people') speak, it seems to matter little as long as the markets and Troika don't like what they've said. So it seems modern Greek 'democ(k)racy' is purely nominal and, as we have realised for some time, that Greece is now nothing more than a debt-bonded vassal state of the Troika. (It is also highly significant, and deeply depressing, that the razor-sharp-minded and incisive Marxist economist Yanis Varoufakis felt the need to resign in spite of the 'Oxi' vote -no doubt he knew in his gut beforehand that the vote would prove null and void in the event of the Troika's inevitable intervention).
But to return to the more promising subject of the new LBC. Among the other forthcoming new LBC titles mooted is The Rent Trap which promises to be a thorough exposee of the parlous state of affairs in today's unregulated dog-eat-dog private rental market. Ever-rising private rents, and the continued -and frankly insane- absence of private rent controls is a subject which has very much been at the forefront of this webzine's own polemic for the past few years, not to mention Caparison's two anti-cuts anthologies (and if and when a third anthology surfaces, it will inescapably be forcused primarily on this subject and likely be called The Rent Book).
At this deeply pessimistic time in our social and political history, it is at least some consolation that, by way of counterpoint to the far more negative and destructive aspects to the 1930s resurfacing today -e.g. austerity, economic depression, punishing welfare policies, extreme poverty, social meltdown, and the rise of the Far Right across Europe- we can least take heart in a resurgence in socially progressive polemical publishing, with the recent resurrection of the Pelican imprint, and now, even more encouragingly, the return of the Left Book Club.
It can only be a matter of time until a new Images of Welfare-type title appears through the LBC, since such a polemic on today's culture of 'scroungerology' is even more urgently needed today than it was back in the early Eighties when Pete Golding published the aforementioned and indispensable work. It would also be an apt time given the recent passing of the scabrous and unconscionable Welfare Reform Bill through Parliament, which will see an entire generation of already impoverished children throughout the country brought to an even more decisive destitution. Shame on all those MPs who voted for that abomination of a Bill!
Meanwhile, eyes look left to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race, and The Recusant sincerely hopes his apparent popularity among Labour Party members proves decisive and puts the party back firmly on the left of the political spectrum.
The Recusant commends Christians for Economic Justice (formerly Christianity Uncut) for condemning David Cameron and his scabrous Tory administration for 'unchristian' policies against the poor and vulnerable of this nation, as already announced prior to the next welfare-slashing 'emergency' budget due in July. This latest fiscal onslaught of flint-hearted George Osborne's certainly will prove to be an 'emergency' for the millions it will further impoverish in the Tories' psychopathic mission to materially wipe out the poorest of our society. CEJ rightly cite the totemic episode in the New Testament when Christ overturned the tables of the money-changers and lenders in the Temple as a resonant biblical symbol of Christianity's fundamental anti-greed/usury, or anti-capitalist, message. The Recusant, being essentially Christian Socialist in its ethics, fully supports CEJ, and will keep a link to its website on the front page from hence on.
The Recusant also salutes the 250,0000 (!) people who tramped the streets of London on Saturday rightly demanding an end to austerity. This has to be one of the largest marches to date against Tory austerity. The Tories might think with a flimsy little majority that they now have some sort of 'democratic mandate' to do what they will, but they'd be well advised on the sheer scale of the turnout on Saturday 20th June to take note of the growing opposition to their policies and all they stand for. It was heartening to hear spirited and defiant speeches by Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Labour leader candidate Jeremy Corbyn both publicly denouncing the "scrounger" rhetoric of the Tories and tabloids -Lucas making the valid point that -to paraphrase- 'it's not people on jobseekers' allowance who wrecked our economy'. Quite right too -but yet so many British people still swallow the "scrounger" rhetoric of the right-wing press, while completely forgetting about the true 'scroungers' of our society, those speculators continuing to cream off the nation's wealth in the City -a nation which they bankrupted in the first place.
The Peoples' Assembly -already organising for mass protests on the day of the 'emergency' budget- has rightly pointed out that this is a new movement of opposition to Tory austerity and will only keep growing and swelling in numbers the more the Tories continue their dismantlement of our welfare state. Now it's not only the poorest, the unemployed, sick and disabled who are bearing the brunt of the cuts, but also those on 'in-work benefits' -yes, the Tories are now targeting those they normally talk up as "hardworking taxpayers", the 'working poor', for more fiscal salami-slicing. The reason so many millions of workers are forced to claim some state assistance, mostly in the form of Local Housing Allowance (as well as working tax credits) is due to escalating private rents. The only real solution to this problem is to reintroduce the sanity of private rent controls -something The Recusant and its associated anti-cuts anthologies have been campaigning for for years.
The Recusant of course fully supports this Saturday’s March to End Austerity, which will see hundreds of thousands of British citizens from across the country head to the capital to make what promises to be perhaps the largest collective statement against Tory austerity to date.
We are heartened to learn that left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has secured the 35 MP backers in the race for the Labour leadership. If Corbyn were successful, this would see a definitive return to a socialist Labour Party, not seen, arguably, since the days of Michael Foot. Corbyn’s trademark cloth cap in itself echoes the habit of Labour’s original leader, the great socialist Keir Hardie, who entered the House of Commons in a working man’s tweed cap. Mr Corbyn has The Recusant’s full backing.
The Recusant has long campaigned against the scabrous DWP-Atos Work Capability Assessment regime, and we note that the Morning Star is leading the way at the moment in attempting to bring the truth of the hundreds of thousands of deaths (inclusive of suicides) of sick and disabled claimants within six weeks of being declared “fit for work” and having their benefits stripped illegitimately by Atos, into the legal light. There are two very incisive and probing pieces at the following links:
Both these pieces pull no punches in pursuit of the truth with regards to IDS’s punishing sanctions regime, and it can only be a matter of time before the Work and Pensions Secretary is brought to account for the appalling human cost of his ruthless welfare scourge.
What is there to say about the disastrous general election result on 7 May but that the British capacity for political masochism is surely unrivalled? That and the fact that, as is almost always the case, the overwhelmingly right-wing British press ‘won it’ for the Tories through one of the most ghastly and hyperbolic negative press campaigns in living memory: a press coup comprising the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph shamelessly scaremongering against so-called ‘Red Ed’ and what was presented as tantamount to a potential Scots takeover of England with regards to the rising SNP and their spirited leader being uniformly tarred as ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’ (no, that was Margaret Thatcher!).
The Mail excelled itself with a last-ditch front page headline shouting ‘For sanity’s sake’ and warning that a possible Labour-SNP government would not only wreck our economy but even our country! And unfortunately for all of us, people vote through their paper preferences! The result: the Tories scraped a small majority and now have a slender mandate to wreck the lives of the poor and vulnerable in an even bigger way than they’ve already managed in the past five years. We can now expect to see more food banks opening on a regular basis, rising homelessness and probably tens of thousands further broken lives through the scabrous Atos-Maximus-DWP work capability assessment regime (40,000+ deaths due to bogus Atos assessments in the past five years clearly isn’t enough for the likes of Cameron, Osborne and IDS –they’re going to go for another 40,000+ no doubt, all in the name of sorting out ‘the deficit’ and ‘balancing the books’.
But the other key factors were a weak and ill-focused austerity-lite Labour campaign (far from the ‘left-wing’ direction the right-wing press claimed it to be), and, contrary to Blair’s claim it was a failure to keep to the political ‘centre’, a haemoraging of votes leftwards to the Greens (around 1 million!) and other left-wing parties across the country (particularly among the younger voters). This is all signifies that the way forward for progressive political parties now is leftwards and anti-austerity, not the opposite, and The Recusant will continue to support any parties that wish to create a broad left-leaning anti-austerity opposition to the Tories. After all, the main reason for Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity north of the border is chiefly down to her anti-austerity stance.
Resistance might seem futile at this juncture, but The Recusant will fully support the Peoples’ Assembly and Left Unity’s (et al) mass protest on 20 June, and of course the mass demonstration against the Queen’s Speech on 27 May. Given our current democratic deficit –i.e. that our right-wing press pretty much controls public opinion when it comes to politics– it is indeed timely that the National Theatre is staging Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, a play about the Levellers and Diggers of the mid-17th century, who tilled waste land in common only to be eventually evicted by Cromwell’s troops. This play has particular resonance too given the Occupy movement of recent years, and even the group calling themselves Diggers, who attempted a similar project on a university campus near Runnymede a couple of years ago (and in many senses, the Green Party represents today’s ethical Levellers). And by no small coincidence, its production has coincided with this year’s Levellers Day, just passed on 16 May. Also doing the theatrical rounds is a Strike a Light by Joyce Adcock, a musical based on the 1888 match-girls’ strike in London –both of these radically charged productions received notices in last weekend’s Morning Star.
Lastly, it’s been interesting to see some sort of resurgence of political poetry in the past couple of months, mostly in the Morning Star’s Well Versed columns (in which some younger poets much less known for their ‘political verse’ have recently contributed in the run up to the election). Even the creative writing course circuit put in a contribution with the Emma Press’s Campaign for Poetry anthology –even if, as Andy Croft writing in the Morning Star noted on its publication, to paraphrase, it was more an anthology pointing towards political apathy rather than true engagement. But still it was at least a tokenistic statement on behalf of a younger more mainstream authorship.
What is there left to say but that we must now lick our wounds, recharge our batteries, and then get back to the fight. This fight will be an even tougher one than the past dreadful five years, but at least this time we really know who the enemy is as they’re much more firmly and clearly in our sights.
The Recusant awards ex-Tory prime minister John Major this year's Hypocrite of the Year Award fresh in the wake of his speech this week in which he accused Labour of being "a class-based divisive party". Talk about the pot calling the kettle blue!
This is the same week in which it's reported that now a staggering One Million British citizens are reliant on foodbanks [http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-6d00-Tory-recovery-one-million-rely-on-Trussell-foodbanks#.VTegxSdFBdg].
Now if the mushrooming use of foodbanks under this Tory-led government isn't evidence of life under a 'class-based divisive party', then we don't know what is! Not to mention bedroom taxes, benefits sanctions, poor doors, homeless spikes, and just about everything else...
UK Uncut has come up with an ingenious campaign to counter austerity narratives in the run up to the general election, a series of anti-austerity posters put up throughout the capital which it terms 'subvertising' -as covered in the Morning Star of Thursday 9 April:
The colourful ads feature thought-provoking statistics about today’s Britain and include the slogan: “They bailed out the banks with our money. A third of UK children live in poverty. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Cut Austerity spokeswoman Sandra Felling said: “This election season we will see the same old guys in ties — Cameron, Farage, Clegg and Miliband — pushing their brutal policies which promote austerity and punish the poor, women, migrants and children for the actions of bankers and politicians.
Tuesday's (24th March's) Morning Star led with a no holds barred headline, KILLERS OF THE POOR, over a photo of DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, with regards to the national scandal of bogus benefits sanctions and a shocking parliamentary report on the matter. This is the most robust headline to date of any newspaper on this particular issue: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-714f-KILLERS-OF-THE-POOR#.VRRyUyc5Bdg
Hughes contrasts this New Labourish stance with the very opposite position the original Labour Party took towards the cause of the unemployed –many of whom helped to form the party in the first place– under its original leader, James Keir Hardie:
This once again emphasizes that no parliamentary party, other than the Greens, and Plaid Cymru, appears to represent in any sense the struggles of the nation’s stigmatised and victimised unemployed, and sick and disabled. While, of course, the Tories are actively the party seemingly intent on destroying unemployed rights entirely. It’s a grim state of affairs for anyone on the wrong side of the fence in today’s anti-welfare society.
Finally, a brief mention that Left Unity has now launched its 2015 Manifesto which readers can access via the Left Unity Manifesto link on our front page. The Recusant fully concurs with Left Unity’s Manifesto.
The Church of England has launched a strongly worded attack on Britain’s political culture, criticising politicians of all parties for offering only “sterile arguments” that are likely to make voters more apathetic and cynical in the run up to the general election.
In an unprecedented intervention, the church’s bishops have published a joint open letter warning that “our democracy is failing” and attacking the “growing appetite to exploit grievances” and “find scapegoats” in society. They call for “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be”.
It is the first time the bishops have intervened in this way before a general election, but one said the church had felt the need to counter the “sex appeal” of people such as Russell Brand, who have argued that people should disengage from Westminster politics.
While the bishops insist the letter is not targeted at any party in particular and criticise successive administrations for political failings, the 52-page document can be read as an indirect criticism of the government’s welfare policies.
“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed,” the bishops write.
When those who rely on social security “are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent and ought to be self-sufficient”, the language deters others from offering informal support that in turn could relieve the welfare budget.
Britain has become “a society of strangers” and “individualism has tended to estrange people from one another”, proof of which could be seen in “the extent of loneliness in society today with the attendant problems of mental and physical health”.
They give credit to political leaders “that the impact of the [financial] crisis has been less severe in Britain than in some other European countries”, but argue that “the greatest burdens of austerity have not been borne by those with the broadest shoulders”. Instead, the less well off “have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession”.
But the letter also calls for a return of the values of the “big society”, which the bishops say was dreamed up by “thoughtful Conservatives” who drew “from earlier Christian tradition”. “The ideals the big society stood for … could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek,” they write.
The letter, addressed to all Church of England members and “others who may not profess church allegiance”, argues that all parties “have failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see, or distinctive goals they might pursue. Instead we are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best. There is no idealism in this prospectus.”
Speaking at the letter’s launch, the bishop of Norwich warned that turning away from politics, as Brand and others have advocated, is not the answer. The Right Rev Graham James said: “We’re conscious that there are a number of voices around, probably the most famous of which is Russell Brand, telling people that they shouldn’t bother with voting and shouldn’t bother to exercise their hard-won democratic freedoms.
While the bishops stress that their letter is not intended as “a shopping list of policies we would like to see”, they do advocate a number of specific steps, including a re-examination of the need for Trident, a retention of the commitment to funding overseas aid and a reassessment of areas where regulations fuel “the common perception of ‘health and safety gone mad’”. They also call for the promotion of the living wage to counter “the burgeoning of in-work poverty”.
On immigration, they write: “The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as ‘the problem’ has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration.”
There is a warning, too, for those trying to resolve the constitutional questions thrown up in the wake of the Scottish referendum. It is a “mirage” to think there is an easy solution, write the bishops, and “the idea that the future shape of the union and the relationship between its constituents can be solved in weeks or months is a fine example of politics ignoring the importance of history in favour of the calculated advantages of the moment”.
The bishops are not optimistic about the months ahead: “The election campaign is likely to entrench the apathy and cynicism with which many people approach politics today. To accept such attitudes is a counsel of despair.”
But there were some words of consolation for those seeking election on 7 May, where the bishops acknowledged that in their experience “the great majority” of candidates seeking election do so inspired by “a passion to improve the lives of their fellow men and women.”, adding: “They will disagree wildly about how to achieve this, but, with few exceptions, politicians are not driven merely by cynicism and self-interest.”
“Our country is hungry for a new approach to political life that will ‘change the political weather’ as decisively as did the administrations of 1945 and 1979 … No such thing is yet on offer for 2015.”
There’s also been more coverage on the iniquitous anti-homelessness spikes/studs and a ‘suicide timebomb’ due to continued austerity, in this week’s Guardian, as well as news on the Tories’ announcement that all JSA claimants will be made to do community work in return for their benefits if the party returns to power after May, as covered in the Morning Star this week. All in all, pretty grim reading.
But The Recusant commends much (bar its' tacit endorsement of the 'big society' concept) that is in the bishops’ pastoral letter which, in specifically addressing the upcoming general election, has to be one of the most unprecedented interventions from the Church of England in our political culture to date. If only the actual (main) political parties would listen to them!
We did it! As you may have heard, the amendments to ban revenge evictions passed in the House of Lords. We would like to thank you for signing our petition to ban revenge evictions and lobbying your MP on this issue. The amendments being introduced were due to overwhelming pressure and publicity that renters like you placed on the Government.
Although the Deregulation Bill still has to be debated as a whole in the House of Lords on 4th March and then race back to the Commons before 30th March, the banning of revenge evictions is now official government policy.
Whilst the amendments are not as strong as the original Private Members Bill from Sarah Teather, the main elements are there and the message that the Government is protecting renters from revenge evictions is clear. We hope that this signals the movement towards redressing the balance of power between landlords and tenants.
• They will prevent a landlord from serving a no-fault section 21 eviction notice for 6 months following the issue of a local authority improvement notice. However, unlike in the bill presented by Sarah Teather MP, hazard awareness notices will not be a trigger for this protection, it is only the stronger local authority improvement notices that will do so.
•There is also some stronger legislation than in the bill with measures to invalidate section 21 notices if the landlord has not complied with the basic legal requirements, such as providing an EPC or Gas Safety Certificate.
•Additionally, there are measures to invalidate section 21 notices if the landlord does not provide their tenants with certain ‘key information about the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants’. What exactly this key information will be, we don’t yet know but we hope this will improve knowledge and awareness as well as provide local authorities with another way of catching poor-performing landlords.
Meanwhile, Left Unity is rightly calling for an anti-austerity electoral alliance with all left and centre-left parties, particularly the Greens, and left Labour candidates. The Recusant, which supports the Green Party, but also the aspirations of the broader Left Unity movement, agrees with this strategy and wholeheartedly supports it. Here is the gist of Left Unity's strategy:
As a sister party to Syriza, sharing its wide range of radical left politics, we hope you will join us in Left Unity and support our member-led election campaigns. But we know that to win our central priority, defeating the big parties’ consensus on cuts, a wider alliance will be needed.
So we make this public pledge: we will support any candidate, whether they are from the Greens, the Labour left or a smaller party committed to equality, who states clearly that they will never vote for austerity and whose record leads us to believe that they are sincere.
We will make every effort to negotiate with other parties who are prepared to enter into democratic discussion, with the aim of uniting around one anti-austerity candidate in each constituency. We call on the whole left to do likewise.
Just as the Tories announced their plans to lower the already iniquitous welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000 should they be re-elected in May, and it's revealed through independent findings that the true rate of homelessness in the UK stands at a shocking 280,000 households (!), the Morning Star today (5 Feb) reported on the Rent Freedom Day of the day before -a much-needed initiative, if only the politicians were listening:
Generation Rent’s policy and campaigns manager Seb Klier told the Star that the diversity of p eople attending the event illustrated “that the housing and renting issue isn’t just something for young professionals anymore.
“It’s people all over who are affected — families, older people, people in their middle age are really feeling the pinch because of really high prices and insecure conditions particularly in the private rented sector.”
Mr Klier also suggested the creation of a “national landlord register” so that “we actually know how many private landlords are out there, so we can actually start to make sure that we regulate them properly.”
The Recusant has argued these past five years for a reintroduction of private rent controls, perhaps the most direly needed but chronically obfuscated policy demand of today. Together, Rent Freedom Day and March for Homes combine, in the same week, to voice the social crie de coeur of our times.
Today, 31 January 2015, is March for Homes, in which the tens of thousands of victims of the Tory gentrification of London have been marching in protest against the "social cleansing" of the capital. A massive banner was hung from Tower Bridge pleading for 'Social Housing Not Social Cleansing', an unprecedented sight and sign of a society in social and moral meltdown under Tory rule. Here is the Weekend Edition of the Morning Star's take on the day and events:
The reasons for this crisis are clear. Council housebuilding has ground to a virtual halt, the Tory right to buy has significantly depleted the housing stock and housing associations are incapable of filling the gap.
They want to put a stop to the demolition of quality council homes and their replacement by expensive private developments, the introduction of rent controls, the scrapping of the bedroom tax and benefit caps, secure tenancies for all and a national programme of council housebuilding.
As Engels identified in 1872, housing shortages under capitalism are an inevitable consequence of rapid industrialisation as mass migration occurs from rural to urban areas, increases in land values lead to colossal increases in rents, downward pressure on wages reduces workers’ ability to pay these rents and the availability of workers’ housing is reduced as it is replaced by speculative building.
Labour, in typically timid fashion, has committed only to building a mere 200,000 homes a year by 2020, introducing a fair deal for renters with longer tenancies and banning rip-off letting fees. But it could do so much more.
Let’s remind ourselves of the vision of Aneurin Bevan, post-war minister for health and housing, who famously promoted a radical vision of new estates where “the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other.”
This must be based on building or renovating a million council houses a year for five years, reinstating local authority direct labour organisations and ensuring local authorities are properly funded.
Let’s require all private landlords to register with their local authority to ensure they meet housing decency standards and reinstate government regulations on minimum space standards for all residential property. Let’s end private, gated developments in cities.
The Recusant applauds those who have organised and taken part in the March for Homes, as we also fully support The Peoples' Assembly Against Austerity's statement in the same edition of MS today calling on the reintroduction of private rent controls, increased social and council housing building, and an end to the welfare caps -demands The Recusant and Caparison anthologies have also been making since 2010.
Another pertinent piece in this weekend's MS by Luke James on the growing call among supporters and activists for Labour to take a sharp left turn and announce anti-austerity policies in the run up to the May General Election (no doubt to fall in deaf ears!), perhaps partly prompted by the Syriza victory in Greece last weekend:
Originally built for London’s working class, Balfron Tower in east London has been cleared of its social tenants and is being refurbished and sold off as private flats more befitting its ‘iconic’ status, writes James Walsh
Take London’s Shard. Owned by the Qatari government, which has just added Canary Wharf to its property portfolio, it serves as a plaything of the super-rich, with luxury hotel and restaurant and as-yet-unsold penthouse apartments.
There is a glut of new towers going up around London, most of which are as socially unnecessary as the Shard. London Mayor Boris Johnson has been happy to waive the most derisory of affordable housing requirements for major projects on “viability” grounds. Developers are able to plead “commercial sensitivity” to justify their questionable figures. “Fully private block with no social housing,” boasted one new development in Greenwich to potential “off-plan” investors.
The fate of the brutalist Balfron Tower, built in Poplar, east London in the late ’60s to a design by the famed architect Erno Goldfinger, seems just as insulting as the Shard’s rise. This Grade II-listed tower is a reminder that London’s most high-profile building projects were once for a very different purpose — to house its working-class citizens.
Balfron has been cleared of social tenants — “decanted,” in the language of the day — and is being refurbished and sold off as private flats more befitting its “iconic” status. It has become synonymous with the idea that certain types of property — and certain types of view — are not good enough for normal people.
The building also tells us a lot about the narrative of social housing in recent years. After years of neglect and underinvestment by a cash-strapped Tower Hamlets Council, ownership of the tower was transferred, along with other local estates, to housing association Poplar HARCA, in 2007.
Poplar HARCA initially claimed that residents in the Balfron would be able to move back in after refurbishment, but eventually admitted that the whole block would need to be sold off to private developers.
The block’s sale will “serve a catalyst to revitalise the local community,” according to Rick de Blaby, the chief executive of United House Developments, whose website claims the tower will be refurbished “in a manner that is in keeping with Goldfinger’s original vision for the space.”
Fellow redevelopers “luxury residential property” company LondonNewcastle prefer to concentrate on the tower’s “edgy” appeal, pointing out that it has appeared in a gritty music video for Oasis and Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic zombie thriller 28 Days Later.
“For the most beautiful building with an incredible potential to develop and sustain a vibrant community, to be sold off to the rich, and this to be celebrated in the architectural press — this is the sign of our times.”
Also symptomatic is who has been living in the block as it awaits its new rich owners. Alongside property guardians happy to give up tenancy security for cheap rents, the Bow Arts Trust brought in artists as residents to “celebrate” those who once lived there, provided the work remained vague enough not to feature the plight of the departing tenants.
In fact, the wider background to this privatisation party has been one of local people fighting back. The New Era estate in Hackney, east London, became a focal point in the fight against gentrification. Protest and campaigning led to a humiliating climbdown by the US asset management firm Westbrook.
Many have been inspired by the work of the Focus E15 mothers, whose occupation of the Carpenters Estate brought stark attention to post-Olympics attempts at social cleansing in Newham. Focus E15 mothers will be among those leading today’s March for Homes, when people will march on City Hall to demand affordable rents, a new building program and an end to the sell-off and demolition of social housing.
While it may be too late to save Balfron Tower from its fate, it must not be allowed to become a monument to a past era. We must all keep on campaigning, organising and protesting to ensure that future Londoners can look up and see a skyline that does not exclude them.
Finally, there was a very interesting column by Derek Wall, the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Windsor, celebrating the recent 'Green surge' in the UK and calling for a broader electoral alliance of the Green Left and a more leftward stance from Labour:
Biff Vernon, who was party membership secretary in the 1970s (when it was called the Ecology Party) recalled how membership broke through the 200 barrier and the shoebox system of cards had to be replaced by a computer.
So what does this mean for the wider left in Britain? The Socialist Workers Party has attacked the Greens but forgets that rather than moving right like most political parties, we have become more socialist, not less.
From Peter Hain and Owen Jones, advice to Ed Miliband on how to defeat the Greens has been forthcoming. Such contributions have ranged from the subtle to the frankly bitter. Conor Pope from Labour List has suggested that his party can win back Green voters through “less lovebombing, more bombing.”
British politics is often portrayed as football. We are arranged into teams, the point is to win and if fans start to become aggressive towards each other then that is to be expected. So should the Green tribe respond in kind to its Labour detractors? It is tempting to do so.
Labour proudly promotes Nato, Trident, tougher migration policies and the need for fiscal prudence. If Labour has been strongly campaigning against the Infrastructure Act currently going through Parliament, which will privatise public space and put corporate growth at the centre of policy making, it’s certainly gone under the radar.
We need to oppose neoliberalism, which asserts that economics takes precedence over everything and measures economic success in terms of how much we help the rich and powerful, especially corporations. This is done on the assumption that a little gravy drips down to the rest of us.
An ideological challenge is necessary, irrespective of party, and everyone on the left needs to promote alternatives to the kind of crony capitalism that recent neo-liberal governments have celebrated.
Political pluralism is also a necessity. Politics on the left works best in coalition. Diversity is not a secular sin but a positive virtue. The Greens have been most impressive when working with, or at least talking to, others.
The Green Party worked positively with Ken Livingstone, both when he was an independent and later Labour mayor of London. There are a range of criticisms to be levelled at the SNP and to a lesser extent Plaid Cymru, however the fact that three parties can articulate a vision beyond austerity is positive.
The Greek Green Party has gone into electoral coalition with Syriza. No one political organisation is likely to have a monopoly on virtue or wisdom, and different perspectives are necessary for problem solving. As a left Green I am more than happy when left and green ideas win through in other organisations.
We also need to focus on structures. British politics has for too long looked like a process where prime ministers meet billionaires on yachts, take tea or something stronger with them and seek to make their ugly desires come true.
Power is concentrated in Britain and that needs challenging. Our democratic system is top-down. It needs to be transformed to provide real power to local authorities, more proportional elections and decentralisation to regions.
The media is concentrated in the hands of the billionaires who work hard to shape public opinion and rubbish people-centred alternatives. Most shockingly, police infiltration of protest and pressure groups is common.
Bob Lambert, who organised police infiltration of animal rights groups, environmental groups and even the Stephen Lawrence campaign, is just one well-publicised example. So rather than just arguing about how one party can win more votes, let’s think about once elections are won and how change to make Britain a more democratic country can be achieved.
It is said that there are just over 20 constituencies where a Green vote could make the difference between Conservative and Labour victory. Who knows if that Labour claim is true, and if it is that still leaves 620 constituencies.
It would indeed seem to be the case that 'Green' is the new 'Red' on the UK political spectrum. Labour has much to learn from the Green Party's principled stance against austerity... but the clock is ticking...
There have been at least two new political developments in the first month of 2015 which give cause to be cautiously optimistic: the final buckling of the British media to permit the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and SNP to take part in the televised general election leaders’ debates, and the near-complete victory of far left Syriza in the Greek elections.
The Recusant is in the perplexing position of actually agreeing with the prime minister that there should be no leaders’ debates in the run up to the May general election which do not include Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, while of course being minded of Cameron’s possible opportunism in his somewhat implausible ‘stance’ (given the Greens represent the polar opposite politics of the Conservatives), and disagreeing with Ed Miliband’s hypocritical and counterintuitive accusation that said stance is ‘un-democratic’, when he and Nick Clegg are both apparently sanguine about the exclusion of the Green Party (and yet the toxic inclusion of UKIP!) from the televised debates; a stance which is itself implicitly un-democratic, in our opinion, especially given that the Greens have doubled their vote in the past year alone and have also had an MP in Parliament for several years longer than UKIP’s two recent Tory-turncoat MPs.
Additionally, this also means Miliband and Clegg, supposedly both to some degrees representative of the so-called ‘progressive centre-left’ in Parliament, appear to be united in keeping the leaders' debates strictly restricted to a pro-austerity consensus –the Greens being markedly and almost singularly anti-austerity.
Does Cameron have a point about Miliband and Clegg being keen to exclude the one true parliamentary party standing for genuinely progressive and left-wing policies –i.e. the Greens– so as not to pose a visible threat to their electoral hopes? Of course, debate-shy Cameron is undoubtedly being opportunistic here –but then so are Miliband and Clegg.
Suffice it to say The Recusant, which supports the Green Party, firmly believes it should be included in the televised leaders’ debates, and that its exclusion is tantamount to a pro-austerity media conspiracy.
What an irony it’s been that at the time of the 700th anniversary of British ‘democracy’, we have been facing a situation where the overwhelmingly right-wing British media has been actively preventing the inclusion of the leader of a democratically elected parliamentary party –the Green Party– in the televised general election leader debates, which just so happens to be both left-wing and anti-austerity, thus shutting down a truly ‘democratic debate’ on the pros and cons of capitalist austerity.
In the Commons, Miliband – the Labour leader – said Cameron’s insistence on the involvement of the Green party was a “pathetic excuse” for not taking part in the debates. Cameron accused Labour of being “chicken” for refusing to consider the participation of the Greens.
At the same time, broadcasting insiders described a “flurry of phone calls” between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky after the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence party (Ukip) said the TV companies should go ahead with the debates without Cameron, if he refused to show up.
Roger Mosey, the BBC’s former editorial director, called on the broadcasters to run the debates without Cameron – and provide an empty lectern for him – if he pulled out. “Those who are willing to put themselves on the line should be allowed to do so,” he wrote in an article for the Guardian. “Those who don’t can watch at home and see what an empty chair looks like over 90 minutes of prime-time television.”
The developments came after an unprecedented set of identical letters to Cameron from Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, saying they were prepared to press ahead with the debates without him, if he will not agree to the format set out by the broadcasters – which does not involve the Greens. The three political leaders challenged the television companies to provide an empty podium to represent the prime minister in case he does not attend.
Speaking in the Commons, Miliband accused Cameron of using the absence of the Greens to dodge the debates, while Clegg was heard to shout “excuses, excuses” from his place next to the prime minister on the front bench. Labour backbenchers made clucking noises.
Cameron hit back, saying that Miliband was “chicken” for refusing to contemplate the inclusion of the the Greens. The opposition leader said: “I’ll debate anyone the broadcasters invite. But the man who said it would be feeble to back out of the debates was you.
As the two men argued across the dispatch box, the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett, released her own letter to Labour, the Lib Dems and Ukip saying their refusal to include her party was putting the whole idea of the debates at risk.
“Staging the debates without the prime minister might score a point but would not serve the public, who rightly expect the political parties and the broadcasters to find a format that is acceptable to all concerned,” she said.
“As a substantial majority of the British public would like to see the Green party included in the debates, an alternative way forward would be for you to agree to this. This is the way forward which serves both democracy and the electorate best.”
Privately, one broadcaster said: “We are still obviously very keen that David Cameron takes part. The whole point of the leaders’ debate is that we hear from the leaders of the main political parties.”
But the absence of Cameron may be problematic, particularly for Channel 4 and Sky News, which, under proposals published by broadcasters last year, plan to host a head-to-head debate featuring only Cameron and Miliband.
The BBC, under the same plans, would host a debate with Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, while on ITV the three of them would be joined by a fourth party leader, Ukip’s Farage. Separately, the Guardian, the Telegraph and YouTube have offered to host a digital debate with all five party leaders.
Any change to the format of the debates is likely to involve tortuous negotiations between the broadcasters, who took around six months of discussion to come up with the original three-debate plan published in October last year.
In her letter, Bennett said the Greens believed ITV was open to adding the party to its debate lineup. “In our discussion with ITV, they made it clear that they have not made a final decision on which parties to invite and would be prepared to change their current position in the light of fresh developments. If you indicated that you were open to the inclusion of the Greens, then I feel sure that ITV would respond.”
The BBC’s draft election guidelines do not specifically cover debates. They say: “Candidates or parties declining to take part in constituency/ ward reports or debates cannot, by doing so, effectively exercise a veto over such coverage. However, this does not weaken in any way the BBC’s obligations of fairness in ensuring the audience is informed of all main strands of argument.”
The corporation’s guidelines add: “If a party declines to put forward a representative or nominates someone in a way which risks unfairness to other candidates, the item/ programme may go ahead without them.”
Former BBC controller of editorial policy Phil Harding told Radio 4’s PM programme he hoped the BBC would have the courage to “empty chair” David Cameron if it came to that. “I certainly hope the BBC would have the courage to do that if necessary. [BBC Director general] Tony Hall made a very strong speech in the light of charter renewal saying they might come under pressure but would resist that pressure and be politically independent.
Ofcom’s rules say “due weight must be given to the coverage of major parties during the election period”. The media regulator attracted criticism last week when it said it was minded to confer major party status on Ukip, but not the Green party.
Ofcom stressed that these were its initial thoughts as it launched a public consultation on its list of major parties. The Greens have until early February to make their case before a final decision in early March.
The list of major parties is important for Ofcom’s regulation of election coverage, in particular requiring the relevant broadcasters to allocate at least two party election broadcasts to each major party.
In Scotland and Wales, respectively, the major parties are joined by the Scottish National party and Plaid Cyrmu. In Northern Ireland, they are joined by the Alliance party, the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour party, and the Ulster Unionists.
Nonetheless, it was announced this week that the Green Party will indeed now be invited to the leaders’ debate, along with Plaid Cymru and the SNP, making for seven parties’ representation. This can only be good for our battered democracy at such a crucial time in the austerity debate. How deeply ironic it is that this opportunity for a full democratic debate on the politics of austerity has in part come about by an apparently ‘pro-democratic’ posture of the prime minister’s, or rather, a backfiring opportunistic trump card.
Whatever his true motives, it pains The Recusant to have to say at this time that David Cameron actually –and for the first time ever– made the right call in arguing that if Ukip is represented at the leaders’ debates then so should be the Green Party. By contrast, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg were both found wanting in what appeared to be purely opportunistic stances prioritising attempts to (rightly or wrongly) discredit Cameron as being debate-shy over promoting full democratically representative Green-inclusive debates. Here both Miliband and Clegg (not to mention Farage) have put party electoral interest before those of representative democracy.
We can only speculate as to whether Cameron is privately pleased at this outcome, or as thrown by it as the other pro-austerity party leaders whom he sought to wrong foot. But certainly The Recusant is heartened by this latest turnaround. Now that the anti-austerity Greens and Plaid Cymru and the austerity-sceptic SNP are, belatedly, to be included, let’s just hope the leaders’ debates do actually go ahead now, as this will be the first proper opportunity for a full comprehensive public debate on the pros and cons of continued austerity.
Once again the emphatically EX-‘Tory party at prayer’ CofE has spoken out comprehensively against the Tories’ ‘Big Food Bank Society’, most particularly the eloquent, thoughtful and morally arresting Archbishop of York, Most Rev John Sentamu. Here’s British Bread and Circuses’ (BBC’s) coverage of the story:
In a YouTube video released to coincide with the release of his book, the archbishop says: "We need to rediscover the true meaning of the word economy - it means a household, a community whose members share responsibility for each other.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's The World at One, Dr Sentamu said: "Unless we address it, we're still going to find our people trapped, making these choices which I think are not really good for them, for their family, for everybody else."
Archbishop of York, Most Rev John Sentamu is, as ever, a forthright and morally enlightened voice in the wilderness of contemporary British austerity politics, voicing what are essentially Christian socialist views. It comes to something when, apart from a small clutch of MPs from minority parties, such as the Greens and Plaid Cymru, the nation's most vocal opposition to the politics of austerity of the three largest parties in parliament comes from the established Church.
The Recusant has long argued that we have entered a pernicious period in our political history which uncannily echoes many of the twisted ideas of 1930s Mendelism, ‘Social Hygiene’ and eugenics theories (which were prevalent among the British intelligentsia of the Thirties almost as much as in the late Weimar Republic and Hitler’s Germany); it is interesting to have come across a comment piece in the Morning Star by left Labour MP Michael Meacher this week in which he impeaches modern-day Malthusian Toryism for its inculcation of eugenics-inflected attitudes into government and specifically DWP policy and rhetoric:
Occasionally the mask slips and the truth becomes clear. We had already been told that the Tories planned to limit child benefit to the first two children because it would save money. Then IDS (Iain Duncan Smith) let the cat out of the bag: he said it would promote “behavioural change”. This element in the Tory DNA – that the poor are over-dependent on benefits and should have their breeding excesses curtailed – has quite a history.
Keith Joseph made a pitch for the Tory leadership in 1974 with this appeal: “A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world…Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment….The balance of our human stock is threatened”. The message hasn’t changed in the last 40 years – control the lower orders, suppress their breeding, check their spending, moralise against their life-styles.
The same message was driven home by Baroness Jenkin, wife of Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who opined last month: “poor people don’t know how to cook”, and regaled us with the story that she had had a large bowl of porridge which cost 4p. Astonishingly she was presenting the Church of England report on foodbanks which found that 4 million people in the UK are currently going hungry. Back to the stereotype that poverty is caused by fecklessness, not by rates of pay so low that families cannot survive on them. It may come as a shock to Lady Jenkin to discover that there are now more persons in poverty in working families than in workless families.
This Tory prejudice again has a long history. It underpinned the Poor Law for three centuries till it was challenged by Beatrice Webb and others in 1908, and was only finally overthrown by the national insurance and income support laws of the Attlee government in the 1940s. Now in the Cameron government this deeply embedded Tory instinct to vilify the poor as a degenerate class which needs to be punished to kick it out of its fecklessness has come to the fore again with a vengeance. Unprecedented cuts in public sector pay and in benefits, combined with ‘sanctioning’ (i.e. depriving claimants of their income for weeks on end and sometimes months even for the most trivial infringements), have been constantly spun on the canard of ‘shirkers/scroungers versus strivers/hard-working families’.
But this time Osborne may have overplayed his hand. A sceptical public, already anxious about the claim that further deep cuts will still be necessary, are gradually learning the truth about the bedroom tax (some 500,000 families liable to eviction, a third of them disabled) and the huge DWP bureaucratic delays before benefits due are paid out (over 300,000 currently being forced to wait 9 weeks before IDS’ personal independence payments are actually paid). This is not just about money or reducing the deficit; it’s the class prejudice oozing out of the Tory psyche as their last throw before the election.
The Recusant has long argued that private rents and the necessity and sanity of private rent controls are perhaps the most urgent issue of our time in terms of disenfranchising whole sections of society and particularly the younger generation (i.e. “generation rent”), and dispossessing them for the long-term future of any hopes of ever being able to own their own homes but instead be lifelong tenants at the mercies of unscrupulous and unregulated private landlords.
Indeed, if there is to be a third Caparison anti-cuts anthology, it will be in the cause of petitioning for a reintroduction of private rent controls. It is heartening therefore to know that there is currently a campaign group well underway to keep these issues in the public spotlight, namely ‘Generation Rent’ who are holding a ‘Rent Freedom Day’ on 4th February http://www.rentfreedomday.org/schedule?utm_campaign=rfd22jan&utm_medium=email&utm_source=npto . We urge those reading this to engage with this campaign and event.
While the pro-austerity capitalist European media tries to paint it black on the momentous and absolutely necessary victory of the “far left” Syriza in Greece, The Recusant oppositely sees this as a moment to cautiously celebrate as Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity party ‘paint it red’ in Athens and promise to turn the tide of years of heinously draconian austerity policies in the world’s most ancient seat of democracy. This is a victory which couldn’t have happened too soon. It is a big bold red democratic two fingers foisted at the anti-democratic, markets-dictated Troika.
The only downside in this, however, is the fact that Syriza (which apparently comprises ‘Maoists, Marxists, Trotskyists, Socialists, Eurocommunists and Greens’, though not the Greek Communist Party, which refuses to cooperate with it) have fallen short of an overall majority and are therefore forced to form a coalition with an unlikely ally, the right-wing Independent Greeks Party, which is, however, also an anti-austerity party (albeit also anti-immigration). This is a slightly odd result since it’s not altogether different to if the Green Party in Britain formed a coalition government with Ukip!
Syriza’s financial planning official, Giorgos Stathakis, said the new government had no plans to meet with negotiators from the “troika” of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF, and would instead seek talks directly with governments.
The message here is that austerity capitalism has absolutely failed to convince Greek voters of its necessity, pretty much because it has decimated the living standards of the populace over the past five years, driven up the suicide rate to almost epidemic levels, and gutted Greece of any sense of hope or direction:
Swingeing spending cuts and soaring unemployment have seen around 3.1 million people, or 33% of the population, lose their social security and health insurance, leaving the country on the brink of humanitarian crisis. Some 32% of Greece’s population now lives below the poverty line, while 18% are unable to afford basic food needs. (The Observer, 25 Jan 15 –day of the Greek election)
That’s why Greece needs Syriza! The Recusant congratulates Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party for this historic moral victory over the draconian capitalist yoke. This is also, significantly, the first time a European nation has elected a far left government since that ever-frequently cited decade thesedays, the 1930s.
Now we need a red-green surge in the UK in May –which might now be helped by the forecast appearance of the three female leaders of Britain’s three most progressive centre-left parties in the televised leaders debate –Natalie Bennett (Green), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)– whom together form something of an all-female anti-austerity riposte to the four pro-austerity male party leaders, Cameron (Con), Miliband (Lab), Clegg (Lib) and Farage (Ukip).
An anti-austerity ‘rainbow alliance’ of Bennett-Sturgeon-Wood could well prove a formidable phalanx against the male-dominated pro-austerity brigade, and an ultimate foil for the chauvinistic right-wing of the Tories and Ukip. Here’s hoping. Suffice to say, The Recusant backs the Green Party, and is heartened to learn this week of a new surge in its support.