The Point
Last updated: 19 September 2017.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter

 

Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Consequences of Capitalism: creating mental health issues for millions

BRITAIN'S "MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS" IS A DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF MATERIAL INSECURITY writes Rob Dewar.

Every day there are more reports in Britain's newspapers about the growing mental health crisis. There is little written about its fundamental cause.

Which is: the extreme material insecurity that affects more and more people.

Food is the most basic human need of all. After that, comes shelter/housing.

More and more people in Britain cannot afford to eat. The number of people needing help from food banks has risen by 7% in the last 12 month period alone. Between 2010 – 2016, the number of people reliant on food parcels has risen from 41 000, to more than 1 million.

Britain's largest food bank provider, the Trussell Trust, says that the 2016 – 2017 rise in numbers of food bank users is in great part a direct consequence of the chaotic new Universal Credit system of administering social security benefits, introduced by the Tory Westminster government: this system succeeds (a) in instituting lengthy benefit payments delays, and (b) in bringing about radical benefits cuts (always a vote-winner with Tory party supporters). 

In a report in today's papers, we find that there are more millionaires in Britain than in any other European country. The Malthusian paradigm (which it has long been popular to discredit) does now appear to hold true in Britain: it can sometimes appear that there is indeed only so much wealth that can be distributed, and as the rich get hugely richer in Britain, the poor become correspondingly poorer and more numerous - in order, one is tempted to conclude, to finance the rich.

I'm no psychologist - but even so, I'm fairly sure that fear of gradual starvation can lead to extreme mental health problems.

But fear of hunger is not all that Britain's poor have to contend with: fear of homelessness (with shelter - ie, a home - being the second most basic human need) continues to rise in Britain, where many people - even people working at two jobs - can no longer afford the astronomical rents being demanded by private landlords for renting a home. That such high rents can be demanded is only possible due to the grossly inadequate number of council housing units.

But even if poor people can afford to pay these mammoth rents for housing, tenants enjoy no security of tenure. Poor people almost always rent their homes from private landlords (for lack of Council housing), on a basis of a 6 month tenure that may thereafter be "rolled over", but which the landlord can discontinue (ie, serve the tenant with notice to quit their home) on a month by month basis.

The very real threat of imminent or likely homelessness that afflicts tens upon tens of thousands of people in Britain must surely pose a major threat to their mental health.

The Westminster establishment does not in fact so much as fail to address this problem, as simply refuse outright to concede such a problem exists, perhaps on the grounds that something like 30% of MPs are themselves private residential landlords, and residential and buy-to-let rentiers constitute one of the Tory party's major electoral constituencies.

"More must be done about Britain's mental health crisis!" cries the media.

"We shall address the mental health crisis" declaims the Tory government.

Bah.

The Scottish administration is bucking the national British trend: in the last 7 years of the SNP-led Scottish administration, more than 34 000 social housing homes were built (19.5% more than during the preceding 7 years of the Labour-led administration).

And yet, between 2015 – 2016, according to the Scottish government, 28 000 people were assessed as homeless. In 2016, for example, 1 215 council houses were completed in Scotland.

http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Housing-Regeneration/HSfS/NewBuild

It is plain to be seen that the Scottish administration is not building council houses in the numbers needed, or anything like the numbers needed (indeed, only a huge rise in tax-take could begin to fund such a project), and homelessness, or the potential threat of homelessness at short notice that private tenants suffer from, afflicts many thousands of people in Scotland.

The ever-present threat of hunger and homelessness that burdens so many people in Britain and Scotland today is surely the major cause of the "mental health crisis".

Underlying these material causes of the growing mental health issue is the fundamental cause of widespread poverty in general in both Britain and Scotland: namely, an economic system horribly skewed in favour of Capital – an economic system prejudiced against the worker. A symptom of this unbalanced economy is to be seen in the employment market, wherein the number of part-time, temporary and zero hours jobs (in relation to the number of full-time jobs that earn the worker a genuine living) continues to rise.

Attempts to address the problems of poverty (of which hunger and homelessness are the major symptoms) will not succeed unless the economy is re-structured; the pro-Capital bias eradicated, along with the rise in numbers of jobs that cannot earn the worker a living. Truly draconian legislation to this end is required, but discussion of such legislation requires a good deal more time than I can afford here and now.

Suffice it for now for me to say: Britain’s (and Scotland’s) widespread and growing economic imbalances, and the poverty these imbalances cause (of which the end result is what the papers like to call the “mental health crisis”), cannot be addressed until we get genuine socialist governments in power.   

We know what to do, but until we get a socialist government in Britain, and a socialist government in an independent Scotland, we cannot do what must be done.

www.rabbiedeoir.com   

Stiffen The Sinews, Summon Up The Blood: There's More To Come from Corbyn Yet

Scottish Corbyn supporter and YES voter, Bruce Wallace, looks at the scale of Corbyn's achievement, argues that Brexit played a role, and sets the stage for battles still to some.

“In terms of share of the vote, Labour’s result in June will draw comparisons with Michael Foot’s disastrous campaign against Margaret Thatcher in 1983.” – Former Labour MP Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph, 19 April. (Labour’s share in 1983 was 27.6 percent).

“The Conservatives are likely to gain a series of key target seats in the general election, capitalising on their strong position in the polls. An analysis of the 2015 general election results by the Telegraph has shown that around 58 seats in Labour’s North and Midlands heartlands are under threat due to the Brexit effect in the upcoming snap election on June 8.” – Ashley Kirk and Patrick Scott, “data journalists”, Telegraph, 2 June

“We have to face up to the fact that Brexit, in its own way, was a revolutionary act and the trouble with revolutions is that they tend to breed further revolutionary acts as a consequence.” − Dominic Grieve MP, Anti-Brexit campaigner and member of the Tory cabinet 2010-14,  Daily Politics 13 June 

In Beyond Brexit published just after the June 2016 EU referendum I wrote:

“In Britain, amidst the crisis of the Parliamentary Labour Party, we are experiencing a historical realignment of workers and young people in a new mass movement that is crystallising within the grassroots of the party. The traditional far left, which remains outside of the Labour Party, has been sidelined. It’s very difficult to say what will happen next. But if Corbyn survives as leader of the Labour Party, it cannot be ruled out that a new General Election will sweep out the Blairites and bring a radical reformist government into power: a Syriza moment in the world’s fifth largest economy”.

This hypothetical trajectory was the object of some mirth at the time and I’m loathe to say I told you so.  However, we need to move on…as Jeremy Corbyn is now within sight of political power just one year after the Brexit result!

With her coronation as Tory leader following the Brexit result in the referendum in June 2016, May appeared unassailable. But her disastrous result in the UK General Election revealed to all the venal decay at the heart of the Tory government. May was exposed as having her own camarilla closeted with her special advisors. She decided policy initiatives without even consulting her cabinet, and it was her decision alone to call the General Election after publicly stating, time and again, that she had no intention of doing so. Her mind was made up on a walking holiday with her husband somewhere in Snowdonia. The result, she assumed, was preordained - as Corbyn was ‘unelectable’ according to all the pundits, polls and most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

The Tory election strategy was based on the simple idea that May should declare this the Brexit election and call for a national endorsement of her leadership as she began Article 50 negotiations with the EU later this month.  Far from it being the Brexit election it will be forever known as “May’s folly”.

The Tory plan was to target a selected group of voters in key Labour marginals where there was a significant Brexit vote. They doubled down on winning over the UKIP vote and Labour Brexiters, seeing themselves as the natural representatives of jingoistic nativism. It was a no brainer that, as UKIP weren’t standing in many constituencies, their voters would automatically shift over to May as she bathed in the aura of Brexit. Add on the 13 percent UKIP vote and win Labour supporters who had voted Leave then the Tories would win by a landslide as Labour languished up to 20 percent behind in the polls.

Hence May’s verbal diarrhoea about the Tories being the real party of the working class as the hapless PM was teleported into northern Labour constituencies, like Halifax, where she launched her now notorious Dementia Tax U-turn manifesto only to become a national laughing stock.

It might not have been the Brexit election that May had hoped for, but it was Brexit that shaped the political dynamic…as it now mutated into almost everything but Brexit. Brexit was revolutionary in the sense that it was a revolt against the elites and the status quo where a majority in the UK voted against the position of every major political party save UKIP. It forced a major breech in the dam of the Blairite consensus that had dominated British politics for the last twenty years and, as I argued, opened up a significant opportunity for the left to pose an alternative. It had forced one Tory PM to resign and has now thrown a weak government into political and constitutional crisis after their reversal at the polls. The natural party of government can no longer govern as a majority and needs to rely on the DUP just to survive. What a nightmare (for everybody). 

Batley Women's Guild re-enact "The Strong and Stable Leadership of Theresa May"

The Tories completely misunderstood the meaning of Brexit. Rather than being the natural standard bearer for Brexit May was regarded as a typical representative of the political elite and even presented herself as the Strong and Stable continuity candidate of the status quo that Brexit had defied. Her real motivation for calling the election was to bolster support within her own party against Europhile MPs lukewarm about Brexit. It had absolutely no basis in terms of strengthening her position in the negotiations with the EU as Article 50 had triggered the process of leaving by the deadline of 2019, a full year before the end of the government term.

A welcome outcome for the elites would be the crushing of Corbyn and his resurgent Labour Party. If, as was widely predicted, Labour had an electoral wipe out like 1983 Corbyn would either be deposed by another internal coup or the LP would split. A Blairite plot for a split and the formation of a new centre left party was in process. In any case May was assured an easy win. It was just a question of how big?

An extraordinary achievement.

The effect of Brexit on UKIP was predictable and it quickly began to disintegrate after the referendum.  It was never an ideological political grouping but had built up a populist base of support made up mainly of both ex Tory and Labour voters opposed to EU membership. With Brexit decided upon UKIP supporters were bound to examine what was being offered by the other main parties in this election. And this time there was a distinctive choice on offer where many of UKIP’s policies, which are more to the left than most people think - apart from on immigration - cohered far closer to Labour’s electoral programme than the Tories. The result was a split in the UKIP vote along class lines.  So while the Tories benefited to some extent from the UKIP  collapse, so did Labour, especially in  traditional working class areas.

Take the constituency of Hartlepool for instance. In the 2016 referendum this was one of the most hardened Leave areas with 69.57 percent for Leave and only 30.43 percent for Remain. Ideal territory for a Tory coup you would think if the main issue was Brexit?  In 2015 there was a Labour majority of only 3,024 over UKIP who had gained 30.2 percent of the vote and the Tories on only 22.6 percent in third place. Hartlepool was held by Labour in 2017 with an increased majority of 7.650 against the Tories who came second. UKIP’s vote had practically halved. Labour was up to 52.5 percent with an increase of 16.9 percent. The Tories were up by 13.3 percent.

Portsmouth South was a Labour gain in solid Brexit territory, but the size of the surge to Labour was a staggering   21.5 percent with a 9.4 percent swing from the Tories to Labour. The UKIP vote had collapsed and obviously most of it went to Labour who had come third behind the Lib Dems in 2015. A detailed analysis of the election results is needed but they appear to support the point I made in Beyond Brexit that the working class, using the referendum as a conduit, had found a way to give the people it didn’t like (the Tory government and the political elites) a kicking . In the election the working class returned to Labour in droves to deny the Tories an outright victory. Rather than Labour being annihilated it emerged strengthened, while the Tory government has been plunged into another crisis.

40 percent of the vote usually automatically wins a majority but nevertheless it was still the biggest vote for Labour since Attlee’s historic victory in 1945 with Corbyn adding 3 million votes.

True Labour didn’t win a majority of seats and the Tory government continues, but under a zombie caretaker PM with a Tory party riven with division over Europe amidst rumours of an impending civil war. Politically, the result far outweighs the fact that the numbers were slightly against a Labour victory. It didn’t diminish the scale of Corbyn’s political triumph. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, rightly described the result as “an earthquake”.

 Policies Decisive

The leak of Labour’s manifesto a few days before the official launch, depicted by the MSM as showing that the Labour campaign was a shambles and that Corbyn planned to take Britain back to the 1970’s, actually had an electrifying effect. The BBC headlined the key policies such as nationalisation of the railways, post office, the national electricity grid, build 1,000,000 homes, £10 minimum wage, increased taxes on the rich, increases in corporation tax, the abolition of student tuition fees in England and Wales, a fully funded and non-privatised NHS, fully funded social care and the ending of the public sector pay freeze.

Far from damaging Labour it was their manifesto, usually just a footnote in the election process since Blair, that ignited the campaign for Labour. Not only were the electorate presented with a manifesto that attacked Tory austerity directly it also tore neo-liberal economic orthodoxy to shreds. It announced that class politics and socialism were back centre stage in British politics.

The manifesto contained policies that had significant majority public support but, more importantly, was in stark contrast to the Scrooge-like thin gruel of more austerity offered by the Tories; of vicious attacks on the disabled, pensioners, children and just about everybody who wasn’t a billionaire . This programme inspired the youth, workers and layers of the lower middle class expected to share the burden of a disintegrating health and education system. True, the manifesto was relatively modest in many ways - but commentators noted that it meant that it had not just buried Blairism, but that Thatcherism was dead too!

No longer did we have a Tory and Labour Party offering either austerity or austerity -lite. Now we had a struggle between the Tory hereditary foe of the working class in the form of May’s government and a Labour Party that had recovered its soul (except for the leadership in Scotland and Wales for specific reasons).

Corbyn was prepared to indulge in some realpolitik on nuclear weapons. It was a compromise with the Blairite right  to support the £167 billion cost of replacing Trident. Everybody knows Corbyn is opposed to Trident and he had voted against renewing the (non)independent nuclear deterrent in Parliament on a free vote, but it was LP policy to support it. Corbyn was standing as a Labour leader and throughout the campaign he presented party policy not his personal position. Although Labour’s defence policy will come under greater internal party scrutiny in the future, I’m sure.

And then there was the campaign itself.

Labour’s clear left anti-austerity programme created genuine enthusiasm, even fervour, amongst the working class. As the polls started to narrow, it became clear that people had at last seen hope that this brutal Tory government could be beaten. Tory campaign headquarters was warned via focus groups that Labour’s policies were proving very popular but this was ignored, along with critical polls that Labour was dramatically reducing the Tory lead.

Leon Trotsky wrote in 1938, of capitalists "tobogganing towards disaster with their eyes closed". Here the Tories totally underestimated what the movement for Corbyn, and the man himself, represented. Described by the MSM as “preaching to the   converted” Corbyn’s campaign in June energised a mass movement on the political plane in opposition to the Tories. Mass rallies, sometimes only at a day’s notice, had turnouts in the tens of thousands. Captain Ska’s  “Liar Liar” remix (you can’t trust her. Tories Out!) went to number two in the independent music charts (the BBC banned it) as the Tories tobogganed with their eyes closed towards an electoral disaster. They received the biggest shock in the history of British politics. All the better that it was completely unexpected.

Corbyn has now emerged as a Labour leader of profound historic significance, in the tradition of Thomas  Paine, John Bright, George Lansbury and Keir Hardie; a very British phenomena of the outsider, anti-establishment troublemaker who just won’t go away, no matter what’s thrown at him.

What about Scotland?

Alex Salmond was a victim of the Tory recovery − I would hardly call it a resurgence − in Scotland. I was a wee bit sorry to see this SNP big beast go, especially to a Tory, not least because he had some insight into the obstacles that Corbyn needs to overcome. He thought it wasn’t what lay before Corbyn that was the problem but what was “behind him”. In other words the Blairites of various hues within the PLP and the Labour apparatus generally. In England there was evidence of the party HQ funneling resources to anti-Corbyn candidates while Welsh Labour excluded pushing Corbyn in an autonomous campaign. Other Blairite candidates excluded any mention of Corbyn in their own campaigns only to be flabbergasted that their majorities had ballooned. A wave of faux contrition followed.

In Scotland, Kezia Dugdale distanced herself from Corbyn’s campaign and didn’t even attend his election rally in Glasgow. Labour in Scotland was not doing well in the early stages of the campaign. Then the Corbyn effect, based on the manifesto, took hold in Scotland, bypassing the bankrupt policy of Dugdale, which was to place the defence of the Union above all else. Instead of Labour getting 18 percent as polls had initially predicted they got 27 percent of the vote with big shifts in support back towards them from the SNP in the West of Scotland and Fife. They won seven seats but could have done much better, coming very close in a number of other constituencies.

There were many independence Yessers who gave their votes to Labour on the 8 June. They didn’t endorse Dugdale, but Corbyn and the manifesto. Imagine if Labour had campaigned recognizing the right of Scotland to be independent, and to be prepared to enter discussions with the Scottish government to examine our demand for greater devolution and independence? It could have transformed the political map of Scotland.

It still could transform the political map of Scotland.

Corbyn has a far more nuanced position on self-determination than the Unionist/Blairite cabal leading Scottish Labour. Yes, the manifesto opposed independence but that is still national Labour policy given that Scottish Labour is only an “accounting entity”: not an independent party of the Scottish working class but an extension of British Labour.  Conversely, the rabidly Unionist Dugdale leadership actively unites with the Scottish Tories in blocking the democratic demand of the Scottish nation for self- determination. 

The SNP suffered major reverses, mainly due to polarisation over the national question, which benefited the Tories in their traditional rural areas and that more than cancelled out the limited Labour recovery.

The SNP suffered partly because they were bound to lose ground after the freak result of 2015 where they nearly swept the board save for three seats but their policy of tying a second referendum to the question of Scotland’s membership of the EU has been a disaster.

Like the Tories they have put party before country and played with the possibility of an indyref2 when there is neither a majority in favor of it, nor a proven majority – as yet - in favor of independence. They are being exposed as endangering Scotland’s path to independence and showed themselves up as just another establishment party. Were Sturgeon to attempt to call a premature indyref2 successfully, which I now doubt she will achieve, it would be a major strategic blunder, putting back the chance of independence for decades. The Brexit decision is NOT the decisive issue on which a referendum should be called.

In my view socialists in Scotland have everything to gain from a Tory defeat in the next General Election and I do believe that Corbyn’s Labour Party can win it.  Only a 3 percent swing to Labour nationally could mean a Labour government, and for me that is a mouth watering prospect. Socialists in Scotland should reflect on what they can do to help him achieve it.

We await the next act of this enthralling political drama, whether it be on the parliamentary or extra-parliamentary plane, but burning questions remain. When will May be deposed? Who in the Tory party has the gravitas to take on Corbyn? What are the possibilities of another UK general election?

The Tories will attempt to cling on with RoboMay for as long as possible. They fear, rightly, that in another election, defeat is a real possibility.

All I can say is bring it on.

Tories Out! Viva Corbyn!

 

 

Grenfell: Courage and Grief, and the Desire for Justice

Regular Point contributor and Editorial Board member Graeme McIver visited the scene of the Grenfell tragedy today to show solidarity with the victims, their families, and the working class people of the borough and of London. This is what he found.

 

Saturday, June 17th 2017 - The acrid smell of smoke has largely dissipated - but it is still there. It catches you unawares with a sudden change of direction of the wind or when you turn a corner or pass a road end.

There are other smells too. Sweeter scents of candles and flowers.

There is a reverential hush as you walk the streets from Latimer Road Tube Station towards the Westway and the walls of remembrance that have sprung up all around.

 Everywhere there are posters of the missing. On lampposts, trees, taped to walls and shop windows. Their smiling faces staring back at you as the sun beats down on Bramley Road.

 Jessica Urbano aged 12. Mr Raymond "Moses" Bernard. Morjorie and Ernie Vital. Desperate family members and friends have covered the area in these posters. Heartfelt pleas for news. Any news.

"It's too much", says one women being comforted by friends. "It's just too much."

Messages of condolence and remembrance are everywhere. We are used to these appearing on our streets during times of tragedy. Football tops, candles and flowers. But there is something different about the messages on the streets of this part of West London. There is a rage and demand for justice.

Tory politicians and their lackeys in parts of the media have criticised the politicisation of the tragedy at Grenfell.

But the blackened tower stands as a monument to politics. And this community knows it and it won't be silenced.

"People's Lives Don't Matter Under Capitalism" screams a sign attached to the railings. "Theresa May has blood on her hands...She is Responsible."

"The Wealth of the Rich in Kensington will never match the love in Ladbroke Grove."

"The crowds will pass but we will continue to fight for justice!"

The quiet reverence of streets surrounding the tower stand in stark contrast to the anger that has erupted in other parts of this borough, areas of which are amongst the richest in the developed world.

Yesterday protesters stormed the council building demanding answers whilst protests erupted across London. There are plans for bigger demonstrations tonight and in the future. The flames in Grenfell have at last been extinguished but the burning anger in this community and others across the country is rising.

I watch as a man pins a series of demands aimed at Kensington and Chelsea Council to a wall. "Be prepared for a period of buck passing" he states. "Did they have regular checks on the subcontractors on their ability to manage and safely implement these improvements? Did they have regular meetings to discuss fire prevention, access to all floors and include the wishes of the tenants? Did they audit the suitability of the materials used carry out proper fire inspections once the work was completed? Did they endorse the advice for tenants to stay in their flats during a fire?"

These questions and many others should be put to politicians at an inquest, not a public enquiry and messages stating that are everywhere.

"Tenants die when landlords don't listen - full funding for fire safety".

"Cuts Cost Lives".

"Murderers"

If the council and the government are held in contempt then there is a genuine respect and affection for the fire fighters who risked their lives to save others in Grenfell. Years of cuts have impacted on the service but the fire fighters who attended did everything they could...and more.

A red London Fire Brigade t-shirt attached to the railings contains a message from the crews in attendance. "We did our best...", it states. Everyone here knows that to be true. 

The community response to the fire has been astounding. Notices abound thanking those who have contributed for donations and stating that local centres can no longer accept any more food or clothes as they have been overwhelmed with generosity from ordinary people in West London and beyond.

I do not seek to interview those looking at the tributes or staring at the tower. It seems crass and intrusive at this time. The mainstream media is everywhere, and you sense growing numbers are resentful to their presence.

My friend Stewart and I make our way back to the tube station and travel back towards the city on the Hammersmith line. As we pass under the tower a woman with tears and anger in her eyes looks at us both.

"I watched it burn from my own block. At first a small fire. I left to make a cup of tea and came back to the whole building ablaze...all of it. I couldn't believe it."

"I tell you, if we have to wait as long for justice as those poor people at Hillsborough then this community will go mad."

"I hear the contractor was a Tory donor. I wish the election was this week...not last. She'd be out...they'd all be out."

She leaves the train at Ladbroke Grove, too upset and unable to say any more.

But this is a community that has much more to say.

Grenfell is a monument to Tory Britain

by John Wight

Neither oversight, negligence, nor malfeasance lies at the root of the Grenfell Tower fire in West London. Strip away the sickening obfuscation and platitudes, peddled by the usual parade of confected politicians, and the roots of this disaster lie in the virulent disdain, bordering on hatred, of poor and working class people by the rich in a society which in 2017 is a utopia for the few and a dystopia for far too many.

What will future historians say about a culture in which there is more than enough money to pay for nuclear weapons, to finance the bombing of other countries, to fund tax cuts for the rich, but not enough to provide decent housing for people whose only crime is that they happen to be poor and on low incomes? Given the scathing nature of the evidence, it’s a fair bet that the verdict issued will be a scathing one —and rightly so.

If this mind numbingly awful event does not mark the end of 7 long years of callous cruelty that describes the previous and current Tory government—unleashed in obeisance to the god of austerity—then nothing will and we deserve to end up in the abyss where, make no mistake, we are headed unless we rise up with a collective and resounding cry of “No more!”

No more living in a country in which cruelty has been raised to the level of a virtue and compassion relegated to the status of a vice, in which foodbanks, benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts, homelessness, and crumbling public services are justified on the basis of moral rectitude and fiscal responsibility, when in truth they are symptoms of the class war unleashed by the Tories on working people and which up to now working people have been losing.

The hollowing out of the state, deregulation, the near free rein accorded to property developers and private landlords, all at the expense of people’s wellbeing and safety, is tantamount to a crime committed by the rich people who govern us in the interests of other rich people.

Don’t politicise the Grenfell Fire, they tell us. Are they serious? Are they having a laugh? This event is verily dripping in politics. Indeed it could not be any more political, coming as it does as the logical conclusion of decades of under investment in social housing that is a badge of shame and refutes any claim by Brexit Britain to the status of a civilised country.

The one hope we can cling onto is that despite the inordinate and sustained efforts by the Tories and their rancid media cohort to pit working and poor people against one another in recent years—Muslim against non-Muslim, low waged against unwaged, migrant against non-migrant, refugee against native—it has failed. Out of Grenfell, along with the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, has come incontrovertible evidence of the innate solidarity of people of every background, ethnicity, faith, and creed when the chips are down. The outpouring of kindness, support, and humanity in response stands as a rebuke to those who want us to believe there is no such thing as society, that we are not connected by a common humanity but instead are merely a vast agglomeration of individuals, just like so many atoms spinning in the air.

Then, too, as a further rebuke to these rotten Tory values we have our emergency services. Made up of men and women who have no hesitation in risking their lives when tragedy strikes, they deserve better than a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich—and so do we. They stand in sharp contrast to a Prime Minister who cannot even summon the decency to face angry and traumatised residents during her recent visit to the scene of what bears all the hallmarks not of a disaster or a tragedy but a crime.

The survivors of this crime are traumatised, angry, and broken with grief. They will carry with them forever the scars of what has not only been a physical, emotional, and psychological ordeal, but the knowledge that they were casualties of a system that considered them less than human, mere flotsam in the eyes of a Tory establishment that wages war not on poverty but on the poor, not on hunger but on the hungry, and not on injustice but on the victims of injustice.

In memory of those who perished and whose deaths are indistinguishable from the fact they were poor and working class, let Grenfell be the line over which Tory greed and mendacity does not pass.

Yes, Theresa May you are right: enough is enough.

Is Britain about to have its own October 'Revolution'?

Green Party Activist Adrian Cruden celebrates and analyses the tumultous events of the General Election...and sounds a small note of caution.

 

OCTOBER COUNTRY

“October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.”

 -  Hal Borland 

I was driving home from the station after working with the Green Party in Sheffield Central, hard fought by our former leader Natalie Bennett, fatigued from the day and apprehensive of the night ahead, when the somehow ever-calming tones of Jim Naughtie announced the BBC/Sky Exit Poll. “The Conservatives will be the largest party, but will not have a majority…”

I whooped aloud. Yet, although the Corbyn surge had been palpable on the doorsteps and streets for at least the last fortnight, I still didn’t dare to assume anything. But later, at the Kirklees Met count in Huddersfield, the glum faces of the Tory workers cemented the fact that Mrs May’s great gamble to become the British Erdogan had failed and failed badly. In a borough where a few weeks earlier there had been talk of going from 3 Labour MPs and 1 Tory MP to 3 Tories and 1 Labour, the outcome ended up with a clean sweep for Corbyn: the stone faced Tory MP who lost and the would-bes who went home empty-handed lighting up at first-hand the unexpected outcomes that were popping up across the UK.

   Tories lose Colne Valley

Unexpected? Certainly at the start of the campaign, with the Blairites still sounding off and the Tories’ hubristically planning an electoral coup, the outcome we ended up with seemed fantastical. So the euphoria of a Tory Government denied its seemingly inevitable victory is both understandable and deserved. The blow to the Establishment, delivered by a coalition of young and old, reversing the divide-and-rule strategy propagated by the Tories post-Brexit, is substantial and to read of tearful Theresa anxiously awaiting the blessing of the Red Hand is a joyfully terrifying mix of farce and tragedy.

And yet, in the midst of left-wing celebration and a chipper Corbyn popping up everywhere to announce the end of the ancient regime, a note of caution which may surprise some of the more vocal celebrants.

Labour did not win the election. Labour remain a long way from reaching the level of support it needs to win outright. And if the Tories cling on long enough to implement the boundary changes, Labour will by default be even further away from the winning-post.

No problem, some will say, pointing to post-election polls showing Corbyn equal to May finally in popularity stakes and his party now six points ahead. Yet this ignores the long-established pattern of a short-lived swing in favour the outperformers in elections – just look back at the temporary rises in Lib Dem showings after by-election successes in the 1980s and 1990s, or UKIP’s after Euro-election advances through the 2000s. Whether in six weeks, six months or two years, there is little left for Labour to squeeze on the figures of last week, and arguably a further advance in Scotland could in fact propel the Tories back to an outright majority.

The headlines suggest that this election has seen the British electorate in England and Wales and even partially in Scotland, re-embrace the two-party politics of 1945 to 2010. The SNP shed 19 seats, UKIP evaporated, the Greens stalled on the Brighton ring-road and the #Libdemfightback didn’t get out of the paper bag. The 82% Tory/Labour showing was the highest since 1970.

            Were you still up for Clegg?

And yet, there can be little doubt of that electoral volatility has never been greater. Quite aside from the polls themselves, graphically outlining first the UKIP collapse into the arms of the Tories, followed by the rise of Labour, anyone on the ground could sense the swirling, changing instincts of many voters. From Ukippers in the former BNP strongholds in North Kirklees switching to strong and stable Brexiteer May before finally delivering near record majorities to Labour MPs; to Green switchers on polling day telling us in Labour-held Sheffield Central that they were “voting for Jeremy” (when in truth they were helping re-elect a profoundly anti-Corbynite MP), the absence of the tribalism beloved of political activists was decisively absent from many electors. While Labour had rebuffed Green and Nationalist offers of a progressive alliance against the Tories, it seemed many voters had decided to make their own. Ironically though in a slew of Scottish seats this handed SNP constituencies to the Tories, yet another cruel twist of our lottery of a voting system.

And this is where, now, the Left need to take stock. We may rightly ridicule the spectacle of the Coalition of Bigots for a few days or weeks yet. We may wonder if the DUP-sponsored regime will make it past the start of the Brexit negotiations; we may furiously fulminate at any return to Direct Rule in Northern Ireland as the Good Friday process unravels; and we may continue to try to will PM Corbyn into reality. But in truth, the Tories are as resilient as cockroaches at survival and it will likely take far more than “one more heave” to dislodge them in favour of a genuinely progressive government.

The greatest risk now is that Labour continue on a tribalist path which excludes all others. In Scotland, Dugdale’s proxy approval of tactical voting against the SNP rather than the Tories, as well as the backwash of the Corbyn surge itself, clearly boosted Conservative numbers in Westminster by as many as five or six of the seats lost by the Nationalists. There needs to be a recognition that Corbyn will need the SNP if he is indeed to ever walk into Number Ten.

In England, Labour’s refusal to even discuss a pact with the Greens may have cost them half a dozen new MPs by one analysis of seats where the Green vote exceeded the Tory majority over Labour. By contrast, the Greens’ decision to stand down unilaterally in Labour’s favour on nearly three dozen seats, and perhaps more controversially in a few for the Lib Dems, seems to have swung nine Tory seats to the opposition, decisively depriving the Theresa May of her majority.

 

                   Caroline Lucas campaigns

The time for a formal progressive alliance is almost certainly gone, as indeed it was as soon as Corbyn denounced the SNP and insisted Labour would try to unseat Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. The tragedy could yet be that by doing this, he has blunted the anti-Tory tide and buttressed his own detractors within his party, who remain largely in place and who will in due course re-emerge, while freezing out potential political soulmates. In any case Labour’s invocation of their constitutional requirement to always fight every election everywhere is a troubling sign of bureaucracy trumping the generosity of spirit that should be at the heart of a genuinely pluralist movement for social change.

Yet it would be pathetically sour grapes for those of us outside Labour to not welcome and celebrate the successes of last Thursday. The surge in the final fortnight was breath-taking and Jeremy Corbyn played every card right, his genuine radicalism shining through and striking a chord even with those Brexiteer ex-BNPers in Batley who hopefully all along were more raging against the effects of liberal capitalism than embracing the racism of Griffin and Farage. Just as the juxtaposition of Trump and Sanders’ voters in last year’s US elections showed that rightist populism is only effectively neutered by a socialist antidote, Corbyn’s rise, finally winning back a big chunk of the Kipper vote, shows we are on a journey leftwards. Still, it is one with a far from straight path and with the destination as yet unknown.

For underpinning the election outcome, the same concerns continue. The same shifting tectonic plates that threw up Cleggmania, Occupy St Paul’s, the BNP bounce, the IndyRef revolution and the SNP Westminster tsunami, the Green surge, the march of the EDL, the rise and fall of Ukip, Brexit and now Corbyn – all these remain in place, grinding up against each other to produce ever more unpredictable outcomes. And in this context the real danger is that, as quickly as the Corbynista tide surged forward, so it might ebb to who knows where. To paraphrase Marx, himself channelling his inner Shakespeare, all that is solid melts into the political air and Labour are no less vulnerable to that than any of the previous beneficiaries of the collapse of all that was once holy and profane.

Corbyn understandably wants another election by October; but we need a path not for the next four or five months or years – we need one that will take us on for four or five decades, creating a new socialist consensus for an equitable and sustainable society. As we face a world sliding into deeper and deeper crises around climate catastrophe, resource scarcity and millenarian violence, a party still with Blair, (Hilary) Benn, Dugdale and Tom Watson in its ranks is not yet the transformative answer to Rosa Luxemburg’s eternal question of socialism or barbarism.

Genuine change doesn’t come in a night nor in a fortnight, and the forces of reaction are already marshalling, and not only behind a row of Orange banners and badly tuned flutes. We need to urgently adopt a clear programme to engage and embed the genuine majority of progressive, if not yet radical, left voters in Britain. While the NHS and welfare may be urgent social concerns, absolute political priorities must be electoral reform, heavy regulation of campaign finance, state funding of political parties and democratisation of the mass media.

Only this way can we ensure that, once dislodged under our current system of pretend polls, the Tories and their ilk are driven permanently from power through genuine elections founded on the principle of equal votes and proportional representation. With all votes having the same value, the progressive majority will be able to turn once and for all to the dismantling of the power structures of crony capitalism with no drift to the antiseptic centre nor fear of a Tory regime re-installed by less than a quarter of the electorate. If such a democratic voting system was in place now, Jeremy Corbyn would have just announced his new Cabinet of Socialists, Greens and (temporarily, perhaps) Nationalists. Who knows, he might even have been clutching the repossession notice for the Palace as he kissed the Queen’s hand.

Let’s enjoy the Tories in trouble for a few days yet. We are privileged not only to be witnessing the lingering death of neoliberal capitalism, but to have the chance to participate in its final rites. The old certainties are gone indeed and the choices facing us are growing ever sharper, ever clearer. But euphoria can fade too easily into complacency and in the end deliver only defeat. Perhaps the biggest risk in the internet age is of faddism logging off in the absence of instant gratification. If we want our own October revolution, there’s still a lot of work to do.

So be ready, comrades, but persevere too - it might not be this October.

General Election 2017? Tommy Sheridan reminds us there is much to be cheery about

While there are - and will be - many articles on socialist media analysing why the SNP lost seats or how the Corbyn movement builds from here, Tommy Sheridan writing in the weary hours of Friday morning after the UK General Election, reminds us there are many reasons to be optimistic. 

 

REJOICE, REJOICE, REJOICE

As a committed socialist all my adult life it is essential to develop the ability to see the positive in all situations and remain optimistic about the future. This morning, tired and bleary eyed like many thousands of others, I strongly suggest we have much to celebrate and rejoice about.

Blairism is finished. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, a real and honest socialist, to lead the Labour Party, twice, was a challenge to Blairism. The dastardly attempts to undermine him and force him out of office from his enemies within were the unprincipled actions of the Blairite old guard and clique. They failed. They were injured. They secretly hoped Corbyn would fail miserably. They toured TV studios and courted journalists everywhere like a dark cloud trying to undermine the man and his ideas. This morning they stand exposed as sick bystanders whose time has passed. Corbyn and his radical socialist manifesto is what inspired the 10% increase in vote share despite the obscene and hysterical campaign of the British media and Establishment to demonise him.

Corbyn and socialist ideas won last night. Blairism is finished. Rejoice.

May is politically finished. She is now damaged goods. Shorn of political authority and credibility. She may try and cobble a lame duck government together with the support of the right wing DUP but she is in reality finished. Her tactical nous, personal talents, ability to lead have all now been put under the microscope and the result is abject failure on all counts. From a parliamentary majority to a shambles of a campaign during which her exposure guaranteed even more lost support, May is now on borrowed time. She is a cold, callous, cruel and calculating politician on the Tory right and her standing is now in shreds. June really was the end of May. Rejoice.

UKIP, the media-promoted bunch of bigots and bumbling racists, has been decimated. They now muster less than 2% of the popular vote. Their regular reserved chair on prime programmes like Question Time must surely be over for good. Their poisonous attempt to divide ordinary communities along racial lines and blame immigrants and immigration for the problems caused by an economically rigged and unfair system designed to benefit the elite and impoverish the rest is now lying in ruins. These horrible racists are finished as a political force. Rejoice

Despite the disappointment of Tories winning seats in Scotland the dust will eventually settle and anyone with an operational brain cell will have to admit that the main party of independence in Scotland actually WON the election in our country. In the history of the SNP before 2015 the largest number of Westminster seats they had ever won was 11. Last night they won 35 seats. It is their 2nd best result ever. They won more seats than all the rest added together. They will now be a reduced force in Westminster but a potentially influential force. They as a party cannot any longer oppose austerity cuts in words but implement them locally at council or Scottish Parliament level. If the SNP wants to retain loyalty from working class voters it must promote defiance of Westminster Tory cuts and not compliance with those cuts any longer. Independence as an aim and a means to delivering a better and fairer Scotland is not defeated. Far from it. Young people in particular want an independent Scotland but for the SNP to remain the vehicle for independence they must be more defiant and radical and less compliant with cuts. Class politics is now firmly back on the Scottish and UK political agenda. That class concern will eclipse the constitutional question for a while but the 35-strong group of SNP MPs simply can't do anything but support a Corbyn-led minority government and display complete and utter opposition to the continued governance of the Tories. Scotland voted decisively anti-austerity last night. Defiance of austerity is now the order of the day. Rejoice.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their election campaign team have fought a simply incredible election and delivered a political miracle in such a short space of time. From 24 percentage points behind and a minus 40 popularity rating, Corbyn, in less than 7 weeks, has taken his radical and socialist manifesto the length and breadth of the UK and received a warm and enthusiastic response. Socialist ideas and socialist policies are firmly back onto the political agenda and the neo-liberal nonsense of privatisation, public service cuts, low wages for the poor and low taxes for the rich is now blown asunder. Politics has changed for the better. Jeremy Corbyn is the most radical and left-wing leader in the entire history of the Labour Party and he has secured a brilliant result in the face of incredible barriers both from within and outwith his party. What a brilliant achievement. Rejoice.

Whatever the next few weeks and months hold, and I would not rule out another general election which Labour will win, the idea that Tory austerity will be meekly accepted any longer is gone. Hardworking public service workers within the health service, social care, local authorities and other essential services will no longer accept that they, the low paid, students and pensioners should pay the price of economic greed and incompetence of the rich and their political friends. Austerity will now be fought tooth and nail with a renewed vigour. Trade union leaders not up the fight should prepare to step aside. The political landscape across the UK is now changed. The rich will have to not just start paying their bloody taxes but paying considerably more, so ordinary folk can have a secure and decent standard of life. At long last the carbuncle of an expression, 'the working poor' will be challenged and hopefully removed from the dictionary forever. No one in work should ever be poor. Real and living wages must now be the norm not the exception. Sharing out the vast wealth of society is an idea whose time has come. Rejoice.

The great Muhammad Ali once said, "Inside or outside the ring there ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's is wrong" That is the spirit that underscored Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. Those who believe in socialism, fairness, public services, peace, trade union rights, independence and internationalism have much to rejoice about this morning. Thank you, Jeremy Corbyn. You have brought honesty, integrity, intellect, compassion and radically just and fair ideas to the political table and you have been rewarded with mass support. You are a credit to politics.

Tommy Sheridan

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Local Elections 2017

Confused about the voting for the local elections? Member of the Scots diaspora and fellow independenista and socialist, Derek Stewart Macpherson, has had thirty years to get his head round the system in Australia, and offers this sage advice...
 

Since 2013 these 'Hitchhikers' electoral guides (for both Scotland and Australia) have become a bit of a tradition on my blog (thebabelfishblog.wordpress.com). I've now covered two Australian federal elections, a European Parliament election, a Westminster general election (No.2 coming soon), a Scottish Parliament election and of course two very different referenda. This will be the first time I've written a guide to local elections, and the first one I've also shared with readers of The Point, but it would appear the need is great, so time to step into the breach.

People are unsure of how best to use their vote. I’ve already been answering questions on social media. What’s become clear is that the parties still don’t understand the system, and their confusion is confusing everyone else. Now in the lead up to publishing an election guide there is of course a bit of research involved. I have a number of pollsters and psephologists I look in on, the better to advise on tactical and strategic options. One of the latter is James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop, where I found this rather frustrated sounding article. He’s getting a bit sick of fielding questions about it. Well, I’m here to help.

You see the thing about this STV (no, not the TV channel, Single Transferable Vote) is that it’s a system I’ve been using for 30 years. It’s the system for all Australian state and federal elections. What’s more, in recent years (and at successive elections) both my kids turned 18 and got to vote for the first time. Both came to me for advice, so I have been thinking about this. It’s really not as complicated as it seems. Let me walk you through it.

When I was a kid my father once said a properly wise thing to me. He said his job was to teach me how to think, not what to think. I’ve always taken the same view with my kids. They’re smart, they know what they think, they didn’t need me to tell them who to vote for, just how to use the system to get to their desired outcome. So what I needed to work out was the simplest, most explanatory thing I could possibly say about it, and it’s this :It’s not who you put first that matters, it’s who you put last.

Now in the UK we’ve been used to a very simplistic voting system known as ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP). We get one vote, which we indicate with an ‘X’ (as though it was designed a very long time ago, for an illiterate electorate). Whoever gets the most Xs wins. Simple. It has it’s disadvantages though. It makes it very difficult for minor parties and independents to get a foothold, and it often allows an extremely unpopular candidate to be elected. How? Because it’s designed to elect the most popular candidate, and in a three or four-way contest, the most popular candidate can often be the most unpopular too. Think of the Tories. STV, on the other hand, is designed to elect the least unpopular candidate.

Here’s how it works. You get your vote, and let’s say you vote for Candidate A. FPTP says ‘Right, next!’ STV says ‘Right. But if you couldn’t have Candidate A, who would be your second choice? And your third? Your fourth?’ and so on. Now, the No.1 question seems to be, ‘Do I have to number all the boxes, and what difference will it make?’ To which the answers are ‘No’ and ‘Potentially quite a bit.’ I have seen some major party candidates asking their supporters to vote 1 for them, and leave the rest blank. That is bad advice. No, you do not have to number all the boxes. But number all the boxes!

To understand why, you need to understand the counting process. To make a preferential system (that’s what we call it in Australia, if you call it STV nobody will know what you’re talking about) work, counting has to be a process of elimination. So they count all the first preferences, the 1s. Now with FPTP that would be it. And if everybody took that bad advice I mentioned, only voted for their favourites and left the rest blank (which won’t happen), that would also be it. But in an STV system that’s not it. The candidate with the highest first preference total hasn’t won yet, unless he/she has over 50%, which is rare.

What happens next is that the candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated. All first preference votes for that candidate are then redistributed to whoever each voter put at No.2. Then they update the tally and repeat the process, eliminate the new last placed candidate and redistribute all their votes, including the ones they gained from the first candidate to be eliminated, which now go to those voters’ 3rd preferences. Repeat the process until only two candidates (or 4, if there are 2 seats – I’ll come back to this) remain. You then have what we call a Two Party Preferred (2PP) tally, and that is the result.

One important point about all this is that the candidate who was ahead in the first preference count, the one who would have won under FPTP, may well be overtaken by preferences flowing from defeated candidates. Another is that your vote cannot possibly end up with your last preference. Second last is the lowest down the order it can possibly go, because by that time you’re down to only two remaining candidates, and in order for it to get that far all of your other higher preferences would have to have been eliminated. It is, remember, a single transferable vote. It can’t be counted twice. It stays with your first preference as long as they remain in the contest.

Does STV Lend Itself to Tactical Voting?

Yes. Very much so. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this system is that it allows you to be far more flexible about expressing your true preferences than FPTP does, because as I said, it’s not who you put first that matters. It’s who you put last. Let’s imagine an example. Let’s say there’s a great local independent you have your eye on. And maybe you quite like a minor party like the Greens too. Realistically however, you think it’s probably going to come down to a battle between the major parties. With FPTP the logic is that you have to vote for the major party you want, not your wishlist candidate, because that would probably be a wasted vote, and might help the bad guys.

With STV there are no wasted votes. You can afford to give your first preference, or your first few, to whoever you like, as long as you put your major party preference ahead of those you definitely don’t want. Once they get used to the system, the parties will work out how best to direct their preferences to their advantage, preference swap deals will be done between them, and they will distribute ‘How To Vote’ cards showing exactly how they’d like you to fill out your ballot paper, just like they do here. Of course, by then you’ll be getting the hang of it too, and you can do what I do – refuse all their cards and work it out for yourself.

However, they don't understand it yet. The SNP, Labour and the Tories seem to be following three different tactical approaches, all of them wrong. It's now that we have to discuss multi-member constituencies, but don't worry, it's basically the same. In Australia we have single member constituencies in the House of Representatives, and multi-member ones in the Senate. Senate elections are usually for six members, or twelve in the case of a Double Dissolution (don't ask if you don't need to know, it's very boring). I've been using the single member example for the sake of simplicity. In Scotland wards have two or more councillors, three or four in Glasgow for instance. That just means it's your last two, three or four preferences your vote can never go to, instead of your last one. Now, this is where it starts to get a bit weird.

Remember I said back at the top that the parties don't understand the system? Well, it turns out I didn't know the half of it! Certain things have been pointed out to me since then (thanks Steve) which make that the understatement of the year. I was hoping to avoid talking about the Senate, because if you think next week is going to be complicated, this will give you the heebee jeebees. At the election last July my Senate ballot paper was well over a metre long. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is important, so bear with me.

In a normal election we have a House of Reps election and a half Senate election, because the HoR has a three year term, but Senators have six year terms, so half of them go up for election every time the HoR does. However, in certain circumstances (again, don't ask if you don't need to know), the government can call a Double Dissolution election, which means HoR plus a full Senate election. That's twelve Senators to be elected for each state. But that's not the important bit. This is - every party or grouping which has the resources to do so fields a full slate of candidates. Six in a normal election, twelve in a DD. That's why I found myself wrestling with a four foot ballot paper with about 90 boxes on it. But that is how you do it. Not to field a full slate is at best incompetent, at worst it's running up a white flag. It breaks a political golden rule, namely never to concede a seat, not a single vote, until the polls close.

And yet none of the parties are doing this. Apparently when the STV system was introduced, nobody thought to take a look at a country that already had it, and where political strategists have had decades to work out the optimum approach. The Tories are only fielding one candidate in many wards. That makes some sense for them I suppose, as they are unlikely to be in a position to win two anywhere in Scotland, and they know that, and we know that, and they know that we know it. Labour are typically fielding two, which is the white flag option. Even if they were all to get elected, which isn't likely, they still wouldn't have a majority.

The SNP seem to be fielding three candidates in the four member wards I've looked at. That at least gives them the possibility of forming a majority, but it's far from ideal. It makes no sense not to run a full slate, and I've never seen anyone do it here, apart from independents and minor parties who lack either sufficient members or sufficient funds for the deposits. But if you are going to do it, you'd better be 100% sure that all your supporters know what order to rank them in, otherwise you'll split your own vote, and it will cost you seats. Perhaps what one friend suggested was right, and they are trying to adapt their (spectacularly unsuccessful, as I predicted) Holyrood AMS strategy of SNP1&2. Just... be really careful. Remember, it doesn't matter whether you put them first, as long as you put them ahead of their unionist opponents, but it very much does matter that you put them in the right order. Similarly there is a tactical advantage in putting your opponents, if they're fielding more than one candidate, in reverse order.

Is There A Strategic Angle?

Always. In Scotland, in the interests of consistency with my previously stated strategic objectives, I'd like to see the unionist parties removed from the political scene. The basic strategy for that would be to put all pro-indy parties and candidates ahead of all unionists. But consider also the value, especially in these local government elections, of a greater plurality of pro-indy representation. If we are to wipe out the unionist parties we'll have to replace them with something. These elections are a good opportunity to get some good local independents and maybe some minor parties elected. You can take the chance, and if they don't make it your vote will end up with the SNP anyway. In some cases you might even get, say, a Green and an SNP member. They clearly should be doing a preference swap anyway, but you don't have to wait for them to realise that. And it might increase the overall number of councils with a pro-indy majority.

Tactics vs. Principle

This is perhaps the No.2 question I've been asked. What if there's a UKIP candidate standing? Should I put them last on principle (many people, including myself, consider them a fascist party after all), or is it more important to put the Tories last for tactical reasons? The answer is that in Scotland it's highly unlikely to matter, but the elections aren't only in Scotland. They are taking place in some parts of England and Wales too, and it might matter there. The thing is, it would only matter if it came down to a contest between a Kipper and a Tory. That would mean you're down to your last two preferences and all your others have already been eliminated. I sincerely hope that doesn't happen to you, but it just might (see local polling I suppose). Then it might matter, but only if the Tories are running a full slate. And there I'm afraid you're on your own. Personally I think I'd put the Kipper last, but it's ultimately a moral question, isn't it? I can give you tactical and strategic advice, but moral issues are between you and your conscience. The third option, not making a choice, by leaving them both out, would be abdicating from that moral judgement. Of the three, I'd say that would be the least morally justifiable choice. But that's just me.

Hitchhikers' Guide to UK #GE17 Coming Soon!

The Politics of Envy?

 

Bill Mair of Solidarity argues it is time to be introducing a maximum wage for top Council Officials 

“Like Harry Enfield’s Brummie Millionaire character, they don’t accept that £80K is more than enough for anyone, because they need to know they are “considerably richer than you””

How many of us would be absolutely delighted with a household income of £80K pa?

If we had that amount coming into the house, we wouldn’t have money worries; we could pay off our debts, fix the car, mend the windows, even afford a decent holiday for the family.

Now imagine if just one member of the household made that amount of money. In most families across Scotland that would mean easily surviving on just one salary. The other members of the household wouldn’t need to work

Well, Solidarity calls for a maximum wage for Council and ALeO (arms-length organisations, such as Cultural Trusts and Sports & Leisure Trust) officials.

We feel £80,000 is more than enough money for anyone to live on. It is 5x the Living Wage of £16K pa.

Furthermore, if we take Fife Council, the third largest in Scotland as an example, we see they employ 30 people on over £80K, including the Chief Executive, who makes £147K. Delving into our FoI enquiry results, we calculate that they would save OVER 1/2 million pounds EVERY YEAR if they adopted our policy

That’s more than 30 jobs on the Living Wage. That’s a library up and running in just one council.

We don’t have exact figures for the  rest of Scotland but we know that Glasgow City Council pays more than 32 council chiefs over £100K, so the savings in Scotland’s second city would be exponentially greater were they to impose Solidarity’s wage cap.

So, what’s stopping them taking our advice? Do people think they can’t survive on such a paltry amount as £80K when the rest of us are counting our pennies as pay day comes around?

No.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that the upper-middle classes want to maintain the differential. It’s not enough that they have more than enough to live on: they need to have more than the people below them on the income ladder. If you gave everyone a pay rise so that they now earned £90K but so did everyone else, they wouldn’t be happy. It’s about being better. They need to be able to look down on people to feel good.

It’s the Politics of Envy.

The Politics of Envy is when the rich and middle class complain that refugees have phones so they can’t be genuine. It’s when the Daily Mail or Benefit Street shows us that benefit claimants have a TV or they smoke, so they’re not deserving poor.

Like Harry Enfield’s Brummie Millionaire character, they don’t accept that £80K is more than enough for anyone, because they need to know they are “considerably richer than you”

Smug politicians say that socialists suffer from the Politics of Envy when we complain about the unnecessary inequality in society. They’ve got it the wrong way round.

Bill Mair is the National Co-Secretary for Solidarity, Scotland’s Socialist Movement.

Come to the All Scotland Protest against The Tories!

Claire Thain of the action group Scottish Militant Ninja Turtles explains why SMNT are calling for a mass protest against the Tories the first week in March, and why you should come along, and bring your friends and your banners. 

 

The North British Tory Conference will take place on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), Exhibition Way, Glasgow.

We are calling on ALL those who support Scottish independence and ALL those who oppose Tory ideology to join us as we say unequivocally, “TORIES, TORIES, TORIES, OUT OUT OUT” on Saturday the 4th of March.

Reasons to stand in direct opposition to the Tories in the YES city of Glasgow are varied and plentiful. Just some of those reasons are outlined below:

Brexit

Whether you voted Leave or Remain in the Brexit referendum, the Tories at Westminster and in their northern outpost stand against the express will of the majority of the Scottish people.

Theresa May has made no commitment to work with the Scottish Government to respect the wishes of the people of Scotland, whilst Ruth Davidson and her red tory allies here in Scotland have made it clear that chauvinistic British Nationalism, and preserving British interests in Scotland, is preferable to serving the interests of those they have been elected to represent.

 

Welfare

A commitment by the Tories to continue cutting tax credits is driven by a desire to crush the low-paid. Their heinous commitment more widely to “austerity” is making the lives of those struggling to get by even more difficult and with the “Bedroom Tax 2” on the horizon the trajectory of punishing the poor against a backdrop of the rich getting richer is clear for all to see.

Westminster’s plans for a fresh round of highly punitive welfare cuts threatens to undermine housebuilding projects, increase homelessness and weaken the resolve, power, and cohesiveness of working class communities.

 

Standing with Workers

During the recent waves of strikes by thousands of rail, post and airline workers, Theresa May despicably attempted to turn worker against worker by accusing those striking for fair pay and conditions as having “contempt” for ordinary people. We say it is Theresa May, Ruth Davidson and extreme right wing Tory ideology that displays the most vicious contempt for ordinary people.

We must not let them gain any sort of foothold in Scotland and we must show solidarity to our neighbours in England who are suffering.

 

NHS

The privatisation of the NHS in England and the knock on effect that will have in Scotland is a scary prospect. NHS services are missing targets for life-threatening emergencies and recently The British Red Cross declared a humanitarian crisis in the NHS in England.

The return of the Red Cross to Europe recently is the first time since the Second World War and is the extreme and ugly face of Tory austerity.

 

Trident Renewal

Theresa May has said she would be willing to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 people and was part of the vote to replace Britain’s expensive and immoral Trident programme.

The scandal is backed by the North British Tories and based only miles down the river Clyde from where they intend to host their conference. The question is, if we do not unite and fight NOW then when?

 

Our Rally Cry?

Freedom from Westminster and Holyrood Tories!

For those that think turning up to resist Tories in the flesh is a pointless exercise or who prefer to submerge themselves in electoral politics or centrist tinkering, I give to you Nye Bevan, the Welsh Labour Party politician and Minister for Health in the post-war Attlee government from 1945 to 1951 who famously and aptly said,

"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down".

Don’t get run down!

 

JOIN THE TORY RESISTANCE on Saturday the 4th of March from 11am at the SECC.

 

See event page for details:

 https://www.facebook.com/events/245491802542512/permalink/248849392206753/

Remember to join, invite and share, or create your own event under whichever anti-Tory banner you see fit.

Claire Thain is an independence activist from North Lanarkshire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Private tenancies are largely a bum deal, argues Rob Dewar, and the Scottish Government needs to massively expand its ambitions on social housing.

I wish in this piece to show the scale of the need for a massive ongoing programme of social and council house build in Scotland; and to show also why the current reliance on private landlords in the housing market is very damaging indeed both to the people who must rent from them, and to the nation’s economy.

I suggest that in embarking on an extensive programme of social and council house build, the present large-scale need for private landlords will ultimately disappear. I suggest also that it should be made very much less attractive for private landlords to enter the rentals market.

The 2011 census estimated there were 2.4 million households in Scotland. 62% of these, or 1.5 million, owned their home; either outright (28%) or they owned with a loan or a mortgage (34%).  24% (576 000) lived in social rented accommodation, and 14% (325 000) lived in private rented accommodation.

In Scotland, the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade to more than 300 000 households. (The Independent 26 February 2014).  It is unacceptable that so many people live without long term security of tenure, dependent on fate and on their landlords for their ongoing health and happiness.

Scotland needs a radical solution to the housing crisis, not the half-hearted measures the SNP promotes – measures carefully calibrated not to overly offend the rentier class (for fear of alienating its vote). 

Social housing is certainly more prevalent in Scotland than in England, comprising almost 24% of all Scottish housing stock, compared with 17% in England. The proportion of housing in the private rented sector is 12% in Scotland, compared with 17% in England  In 2011, just under a quarter (24%) of all households in Scotland were living in social housing, down from 41% in 1991. Within the same period, the proportion of households who rent their homes privately had doubled, from 7% in 1991 to 14% in 2011. These are figures that ought to incense every Scottish socialist as much as they incense me.

Shockingly – but perhaps not surprisingly - average private sector rents are 86% higher than the average cost of renting a property in the social housing sector, according to the research by the New Policy Institute. In a 2013 report by the Auditor General for Scotland, it was estimated there would be an additional half a million households in Scotland by 2038. Single person households over the same period would almost double.

The SNP announced towards the end of the previous parliament that it would build 50 000 “affordable homes” during the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament, of which – it said – 35 000 would be social housing; that works out at 7 000 social housing units a year planned to be built.

During the previous parliament’s life, the SNP administration claimed that it would have built 30 000 additional “affordable homes” between 2011 – 2016, of which 20 000 were to have been for social rent; that’s 4 000 social housing units a year. However, in the year ending September 2015, only 1 450 new council houses were commenced building, of which 1 051 were completed.

In other words, the SNP commits to only increasing the number of houses for social rent to be built during the current parliament’s lifetime by 15 000 over the previous parliament’s target. That’s only 3 000 extra social housing units planned to be built a year over the number planned to have been completed each year between 2011 – 2016. It remains to be seen whether there will be any more success in meeting this target than there was with the unmet 2011-2016 target.

To give an idea of the scale of the need for social housing in Scotland, I quote these figures. According to the Liberal Democrats (3-7-14), of the 170 352 people on Scottish local authority waiting lists for social housing, 33 334 had been on the list for at least 5 years, with 13 021 on it for a decade or more.

It is true there is one achievement the SNP administration can indeed rightly boast of, that the right of council tenants to buy the homes they rent, is to be abolished.

Thatcher’s Housing Act of 1980 (right-to-buy) savaged council housing stock, as tenants rushed to make use of the generous discounted purchase prices for their homes. New council tenants in Scotland are already denied the right to buy their homes; the right-to-buy scheme will have been totally abolished by 2017.

The SNP’s Private Housing (Tenancies) Bill of this year (2016) claims to make provision for protecting 700 000 people from the prospect of unforeseen and unfair eviction, and from unpredictability over rent increases. These claims are however only minimally met. Should a private landlord wish to sell his property, the tenant, if asked to quit his tenancy, would have no choice but to comply – and thus, lose his or her home. Should the private landlord’s new legally permitted annual rent increases ultimately cripple the tenant, there is little the tenant can do about it but leave, unable to afford to pay the rent any longer.

I consider that this bill is if anything biased in favour of the rentier class, even if in extreme cases yet to be evaluated in practical terms, it allows for the authorisation by Scottish ministers of rent controls to be applied by local authorities in “rent pressure zones”.

It seems to me that an investment considerably exceeding the £1.7 billion the Scottish administration claims to have invested in affordable homes over the lifetime of the 2011 - 2016 parliament, must be made during the lifetime of the current parliament – and the next again – if we are to match the greater part of growing demand for homes in Scotland; especially in demand for social/council housing.

But, however you cut it, the existence of a growing rentier class in Scotland – that class which waxes rich off the most fundamental human need after food and clothing (I refer to the need for secure shelter) – is a national disgrace. As mentioned earlier, in Scotland the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade to more than 300 000 households. The percentage of home-makers living in private rented accommodation is far too high. In as much as many of these will be receiving housing benefit to help pay their rent, this high figure equates with an unjustifiable state subsidy ultimately passed on to private landlords.

So many of Scotland’s social ills are linked to the insecurities, frustrations, hardships, fears and anger associated with the dearth of affordable homes, above all, of the shortage of affordable homes to rent. More and more young people are coming to realise that they are unlikely ever to own, or even to be able to rent, a decent home in which they can hope to raise a family. For tenants of private landlords, life is almost always insecure and cripplingly expensive. And these tenants’ numbers are growing.

True, Westminster has closed a number of tax loopholes associated with residential property ownership, along with having imposed an extra 3% stamp duty surcharge. However, these measures are too few, and too modest by far, to address the problem.

(Which, considering that one of the Tories’ major constituencies comprises buy-to-let residential property owners, and that many Tory MPs are major landlords in the residential market, is not surprising).

I would point out that the growing attraction of “buy-to-rent” is economically damaging also. Cash to invest in manufacturing goods for local and export consumption, and for associated research and development, is being choked off at source, channelled into speculative home ownership. Investment in buy-to-let needs to be made less financially attractive

The Resolution Foundation has warned that nine out of ten people under the age of 35 on modest incomes in Scotland would within another ten years find it impossible to ever own their own home, being unable to save for a deposit on a mortgage due to high rents – especially in Scotland’s cities.

It is becoming critically urgent that something be done to eject private landlords from the homes rental market, whilst providing many more social housing units to rent.

The most effective way to achieve this – after more stringent fiscal and financial restraints being imposed – is for the Scottish administration to embark on a truly massive programme of building social and council housing. 

The housing charity Shelter Scotland, in its outline in February this year, has highlighted four challenges for the (current) Holyrood parliament:

  • Build at least 12 000 affordable rented homes each year for the parliament’s lifetime, with most of these being socially rented homes. If the SNP administration meets its target, it plans to have built only 7 000 social housing units a year during the lifetime of the current parliament.
  • Improve conditions for private tenants by greater enforcement of standards on landlords, and more support for tenants’ rights.
  • Put homes at the heart of strategies on addressing child poverty and advancing social justice.
  • Tackle homelessness with a strategy that includes better temporary accommodation and more support for the vulnerable.

In my view, if we are to loosen the stranglehold that private landlords currently apply in Scottish home rentals, the most effective way to do so would be to hugely increase the supply of council housing. No matter which way you look at it, the demand for social housing (including council housing) still far outstrips Scottish administration plans for new social housing build. Until this shortfall is addressed, 12% and rising of available housing in Scotland (this is the proportion for private rentals) offers little to no long-term security of tenure to home-makers, and provides them with inadequate protection in law.

I yearn for a Scottish administration bold enough and radical enough to make buy-to-let very unattractive indeed, and to force private landlords almost entirely out of the homes rental market. The primary means to accomplish these ends is also the answer to the shortage of affordable homes to rent.

 It is to engage in a huge programme of social housing and council housing build.

 http://www.rabbiedeoir.com/

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books