Thursday, 30 June 2016

Morning Star letter on Corbyn

The action of two backbenchers tabling a motion of no confidence in Corbyn`s leadership and trying "to pin the blame on him" for the referendum result, not to mention the even more recent attempted coup against him by members of his cabinet, is both despicable and misguided (Morning Star,25/06/16). Presumably they would have been happier with him if he had tried to out-Ukip the Brexiteers by sacrificing all principles and opposing the free movement of people from the EU? Perhaps he should have gone on the same platform as Cameron, forgetting the dreadful consequences of similar action taken by Ed Miliband during the Scottish referendum? Had the mainstream press given Corbyn half the coverage they gave to Johnson and Farage, his contribution to the EU debate would have been appreciated far more.
    At a time when the Tory party is imploding, could there be a worse time for Labour MPs to show their disloyalty? Don`t they think a Blairite-type Labour party has lost enough general elections already?


Monday, 27 June 2016

Referendum letter not printed in Guardian

As the first two of Polly Toynbee`s three column article consisted of listing the damage Tories` "relentless small-state austerity" inflicted on the country`s communities, thereby "tilling the ground" for the Brexit vote, it was rather disingenuous to lead with such a dramatic heading (Dismal, lifeless, spineless - Corbyn let us down again,25/06/16). Of course, the Labour leader should have been more forceful in countering the Brexiteers` nonsense, but there can be no doubt where the real blame lies.
    The arrogance of Cameron and Osborne has been apparent in their policies since 2010, treating ordinary people as mugs, and it led them in 2016 to think that they could continue their assault on the revenues of Labour councils and the rights of trade unions, even when it was clear non-Tory voters` support would be needed to defeat Brexit. Why should voters in the north-east, for example, have supported Tories` remain claims when they know, first hand, that the "northern powerhouse" policy is a figment of Osborne`s imagination?

    History teachers (like me!) should share some responsibility; the British are a mixed-race, Britain did not win the world wars on her own, she was not alone in 1940, there is no "special relationship" with the USA, and so on. Just as workers can only improve their conditions by collaboration, Britain`s success in the past, and hopes for the future, lay in partnership. What have we done?

Friday, 24 June 2016

New Statesman letter on Referendum

George Eaton appears convinced that the referendum campaign has "exacerbated" the "angst" of the Labour party, blaming Corbyn for "not getting out of third gear", with the result that the immigration issue has become "a nightmare" for them (Politics,17th June,2016). Eaton`s criticism is substantiated by quoting Liam Byrne`s view that Labour is "the party of the working class" and their job is to "address their concerns".
   Some of this is correct, but Labour is not the party of the white nationalist working class, and attempting to out-ukip the Brexit camp, or emulate Miliband`s error by campaigning too closely with the Tories (on the Scottish referendum) would be disastrous. It must be remembered that there is so much dissatisfaction in Labour`s "working-class base" because of governments` austerity policies, the stalling of the country`s economic growth, the decline in real wages, and the failure to invest in sufficient schools and hospitals. A largely biased press has allowed the bankers and others responsible for the worst slump since the 1930s to escape blame-free, whilst allowing immigrants to face culpability for the country`s ills. 

     Corbyn is right to oppose limiting the free movement of EU workers; sacrificing the party`s long-held principles, in order to appease the desire of little Englanders to put the "great" back in Britain, would signal the end of the party as we know it, and ruin its chances of election success

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Blaming Labour, Unions, Wilshaw, Gove1s alarmism, ASOS, etc

In typical fashion, Andrew Rawnsley suggests that if the Remain camp fails to gain a victory in the EU referendum, "the finger of blame" will point briefly at Cameron, and then "it will turn to the Labour party" (Labour needs to seize the day and make a powerful case for Remain,12/06/16). A huge amount of evidence has to be ignored, and a fair amount of biased opinion added, before Labour should even share responsibility for such an event. This referendum campaign has revealed not only the prime minister`s political naivety, but his complete lack of foresight.

    Stupidly announcing his pre-resignation prior to the referendum taking place was the first of many mistakes. Did Cameron really expect loyalty from all of his cabinet, with so many opportunities available to any Tories willing to sacrifice principles for popularity? Should he not have prepared in advance for the ambitious Johnson to play the role of the 1846 Disraeli to his Robert Peel? Tories talk so much about the importance of national history in the school curriculum, but team Cameron appear to have learned very little from it. Then there`s Michael Gove, whose time as Education Secretary will best be remembered for the amount of expert advice which went unheeded!
   Another obvious point is whether Cameron ever considered whose support would be needed if Remain was to prove victorious, when evidence suggested, months ago, that non-Tory voters would have to be persuaded. Even Rawnsley admits he has "rather banged on about it"! Yet Cameron`s government continued its assault on trade unions, and offered no regulation to prevent the exploitation of private tenants, whilst the prime minister himself continued to ridicule the very man whose support, arguably, he needed most of all, at PMQs. 
     Blaming Labour, and Corbyn in particular, will undoubtedly dominate headlines if Brexit is victorious, with fairness again the loser. 

If there really is, as your editorial suggests, a "new Tory critique of rapacious capitalism", this government would not only strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood, regardless of whether he gives evidence to the select committee this week or not, but would also scrap its attempts to send trade union rights back to the nineteenth century (Tycoons want respect as well as money but they must earn it,13/06/16). The proposals in the current Trade Union Bill have their origins in Gladstone`s Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1871, a law so pernicious even Disraeli saw the need to repeal it at the earliest opportunity.

The out-going chief of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, may well have found "the most difficult thing" about his job to have been saying "uncomfortable things to government", but he certainly found it easy to generalise about schools and teaching (Schools inspector; keep my post independent, 11/06/16). The number of government ministers he has upset by "telling truth to power" has to be multiplied thousands of times to reach the number of teachers he has demoralised with his simplified and damning generalisations. His successor should first ensure she acknowledges the huge improvements which have been made in schools generally, always due to the hard work of brilliant teachers, before adding any relevant, specific and detailed criticism. Had Wilshaw done that, schools would probably not be having to deal with the huge recruitment crisis they now face.

Sorry, Martin Kettle, but Michael Gove has not "morphed in the space of a few weeks into a Donald Trump-style scaremonger" (Narrow, nasty, unprincipled: whatever has happened to Michael Gove? 10/06/16). Teachers will never forget the way Gove justified his wholesale changes to the examinations, curricula and assessment methods, when appointed Education Secretary in 2010; standards were apparently falling, examinations were too easy, pupils were not being stretched and teaching was in need of massive improvement. The fact that none of these alarmist claims were substantiated by any empirical evidence was irrelevant; "frightening British voters" appears to be his default policy!

The dehumanisation of the workforce, as illustrated by Sport Direct`s treatment of its staff, is more common than is realised. Felicity Lawrence states that Asley`s company "is not alone", but "may be on one extreme", but sadly this appears to be untrue (A brutal and inhumane way to treat staff, and Sports Direct is not alone, 08/06/16). Monday`s edition of the Morning Star focused on the online retailer`s abuse of its employees, and its refusal to recognise the relevant union, GMB. At the warehouse in Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire, workers are subjected to frequent body searches, security checks before going to the loo, and "flexi" shifts, where they use up holiday time when they are not required, often at a few hours` notice.
      With the Tory government, whether led by Cameron or Johnson, intent on reducing trade union rights back to the nineteenth century with a bill not totally dissimilar to Gladstone`s Criminal Law Amendment Act, it is high time, as Lawrence suggests, for workers to exercise their "collective muscle".

 So desperate is Cameron for his political career not to end in an ignominious sacking by his party, he is now prepared to offer almost anything to persuade voters to shun the idea of Brexit (Morning Star,07/06/16). The man who a few months ago was going all-out for a Bill to take trade unions` rights back to the nineteenth century, now has the gall to say that after a vote for Remain, under his government, "workers` rights will be protected". His hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds,The revelations of the terrible working conditions of the ASOS workers exposed in your paper (Morning Star,06/06/16), as well as earlier news of similar slave labour in Sports Direct and Amazon warehouses, and the refusal to recognise trade unions by so many firms, reveal a Tory government caring not a jot for the quality of life of working people. Shrinking the state back to 1930s` levels means the return of de-regulation and laissez-faire.
  As Cameron needs Labour support so badly, Labour should be giving it on some terms of their own: why not demand the withdrawal of the Trade Union Bill, and instead insist on a promise to legislate ensuring no company or employer can prevent workers, by threats, bullying or any other tactics, from joining a union?
   Ironic, isn`t it, that the Remain team need young people to vote in huge numbers, when prior to the general election, and the Tories didn`t, electronic voting was rejected as the obvious way to take elections into the twenty first century. Had Cameron shown some boldness then, his job would be less on the line now! 


New Statesman letter on Cameron`s naivety

David Cameron might well "dislike the frequent comparisons" between himself and Harold Wilson, but as Stephen Bush says, he should have realised that he has "stronger opponents and weaker allies" in his referendum campaign than the Labour leader had (Politics,10thJune, 2016). In fact, what this campaign has revealed, above all else, is not only the prime minister`s political naivety, but his complete lack of foresight.
    Having announced his pre-resignation, did Cameron really expect loyalty from all of his cabinet, with so many opportunities available to any Tories willing to sacrifice principles for popularity? Should he not have prepared in advance for the ambitious Johnson to play the role of the 1846 Disraeli to his Robert Peel? Tories talk so much about the importance of national history in the school curriculum, but even with their expensive education, team Cameron appear to have learned very little from it. Similarly, why would he think Gove was going to heed expert advice on Europe when he had dismissed it on education?
   Another obvious point is whether Cameron ever considered whose support would be needed if Remain was to prove victorious; plenty of evidence, months ago, suggested non-Tory voters would have to be persuaded, yet Cameron`s government continued its assault on trade unions, and offered no regulation to prevent the exploitation of private tenants, whilst the prime minister himself continued to ridicule the very man whose support, arguably, he needed most of all, at PMQs. 
Cameron will probably be remembered as the "premier who took Britain out of Europe", by hardly "by accident"!


Saturday, 18 June 2016

In defence of Disraeli

Jonathan Freedland`s suggestion, in his review of Cesarani`s "The Novel Politician", that Disraeli "climbed the greasy pole by defending the very culture that had shut Jews out" isn`t totally accurate (Review, 11/06/16). He only managed to win an overall majority in the 1874 election, after enfranchising the skilled working class with his 1867 Reform Act, and promising trade unionists the repeal of Gladstone`s Criminal Law Amendment Act, which had oulawed peaceful picketing. His visions of "Tory Democracy" and One Nation" Conservatism, albeit limited in scope, were hardly the policies of a prime minister "standing firm against notions of democracy, equality or radical change".

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Labour needs to prove its electability

The Trident issue, about which there is "disturbing silence" according to Labour`s shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry, is likely to be back in the news this summer, when Cameron desperately attempts "to reunite his party after the fractious EU referendum campaign (Morning Star, 03/06/16). The likelihood is that, providing he is not immediately replaced by Johnson following a Brexit vote, or even a close victory for Remain, the prime minister will be fighting for his political life, and Labour needs to be prepared.
    If Cameron survives, Trident renewal will be on the agenda, but so will all the other Tory favourites likely to gain the majority of Tories supporting them. HS2 will be on the cards, and the main Labour focus should not only be on its unaffordable cost, but its dubious economic worth. Will shortening the London to Birmingham journey by twenty minutes or so really help to spurt economic growth? Isn`t the sixty billion plus it will cost needed, and better spent, elsewhere?
With Osborne at his side, Cameron is bound to use the "northern powerhouse" myth as a unifying factor.Surely Labour can be ready to denounce this for what it is - a sham idea, which Tories never expected to have to implement, and certainly never to back financially; the cuts to Labour-controlled councils in the north verify this.
  The third runway, something again which counters Tory claims to care about people in non-Tory voting areas, will reappear, as will the "One Nation" nonsense that Cameron uses to convince us that he cares.
 Whatever happens, the weeks following the referendum will be crucial for Labour. Preparing now for such eventualities will at least help to prove its electability.


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Morning Star letter: naming and shaming

The commitment by the new mayor of London to build "thousands of new affordable homes to buy and rent" is to be welcomed, but his promise to "stop those rogue landlords who are exploiting renters" by "naming and shaming" them is less encouraging (Morning Star, 01/06/16).
   When first mooted as a method of ending unsavoury behaviour, probably around twenty years ago, the idea that embarrassment, caused by widespread  public knowledge, would deter such activity sounded plausible. For most, possible discovery by close family and friends would be sufficient, if self-control proved inadequate, so if millions were likely to learn about objectionable conduct, habits and actions would improve. Or so it was thought. The trouble is, they haven`t!
   Naming and shaming, under the guise of transparency, fails as a deterrent, and this has been proved time and time again. The public know about the obscene amounts paid out to CEOs, but does that stop them taking home around 183 times the pay of their average worker? Have bankers stopped demanding bonuses, and getting them, even though it is public knowledge that their greed played a hugely significant role in the 2008 crash, and that their jobs are actually "socially useless"? Have the expensive tastes of MPs been changed by the expenses scandal of 2009? Has the Speaker stopped claiming for travel expenses after it was discovered that he claimed more than £31000 in travel and accommodation expenses between April 2014 and April 2015, including such arduous trips as the 0.7 mile trip to Carlton House from Parliament, for which he claimed £172?
      Many companies and individuals have been named as tax avoiders, but the practice of denying governments vast amounts of revenue has not abated. There is no shame when it is claimed no laws have been broken; there is no moral responsibility to pay towards workers` education, health and transport, nor even to the firms` security from vandalism , robbery, fire and such like. Being named as a tax-avoiding company holds no fears. "Morally repugnant" their actions certainly are, but none have "smelt the coffee", with the government preferring to make "sweetheart deals" rather than enforce proper payment. Sadly, boycotts of such firms by the British public are so badly supported as to have minimum effect.
      Will the possibility of having their exploitation of tenants exposed in local and national media stop landlords from charging exorbitant rents from desperate families for rooms in properties failing to meet the basic standards of health, safety and habitation? There are countless examples, and the answer is invariably "no".

    Where there is action disagreeable to the majority, a reliance on the fear of discovery to change it, is laughable. What is needed is legislation and regulation. Stopping tenants` exploitation should be easy given the amount of expertise in this area at Westminster; the number of MPs earning extra income by renting out properties rose by a third in the last parliament, increasing to 153, and of course, including Cameron, Osborne, and the present Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis! 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

New Statesman letter on need to stay united

Chuka Umunna is right, both to criticise Cameron for claiming to have a "One Nation vision for Britain" whilst endorsing Zac Goldsmith`s appallingly divisive electoral campaign, and for recognising that "One Nation" should be "more than a platitude" (Tolerance is not enough, 27th May,2016). The problem is that his vision for the Labour party, as we saw during the leadership contest, and in his reaction to Corbyn`s victory, is not too dissimilar to the one the electorate rejected in the last two general elections.
    It is all very well for Umunna, and others on the rightwing of Labour politics, to admit that they meet people who feel abandoned "to a broken future" by those in power, but unless they offer strategies which can change this situation, they should concentrate on getting their leader elected as prime minister. How many white working class ex-Labour supporters have defected to Ukip, because they felt Labour had deserted them? How many Labour voters supported Corbyn because he offered a break from the party`s leaders being too closely allied to big business, with policies too similar to those of the Tories?
     Ironically, Umunna quotes from the Labour membership cards that more can be achieved "by the strength of our common endeavour", and all Labour MPs should take note, but nowhere in the article does he mention Corbyn! He is correct to support the concept of "One Nation", just as Ed Miliband was, but if it is to be fully embraced, it has to offer hope to all, not just aspiring middle-class voters in Tory-held constituencies!


Friday, 3 June 2016

Guardian letter on realignment of British politics

The "realignment of British politics", with the Tories "dividing three ways", as Tim Montgomerie forecasts, and as Owen Jones reports, ignores the lessons from history (Why Labour may have to divide before they conquer, 02/06/16). The in-fighting in the Tory ranks, with its increasingly unsavoury attacks on the leadership, is very reminiscent of 1846, and the split over the repeal of the Corn Laws. The then-leader, Robert Peel, was savaged by a group led by the unprincipled and exceedingly ambitious, Benjamin Disraeli, who aspired to reach the top of the "greasy pole" by whatever means possible. The consequent split in the party led in the long term to an alliance of Peelites with some Whigs to form a less conservative Tory party, calling themselves Liberals.
   The likely result today is that the Disraeli-equivalent, Johnson, will go on to lead the right wing of the party, whilst the centre group could well see the electoral benefits of joining with right of the Labour party. Clearly the likes of Mandelson, Tristram Hunt and Kendall have as much in common with Cameron as they do with Corbyn. Jones`s hopes for proportional representation are slim, requiring as it would, Tories` support, so, whilst his prediction of Labour splitting into "a centre-left and a left party" is probable, the end result could well be a new middle ground party.

  Labour MPs would be better advised to unite around Corbyn; it was twenty eight years before Disraeli could manage a majority government! 

Labour needs to take advantage of Tory chaos

Charley Allan is right to say that Labour must take "maximum advantage of current Tory traumas", and that that means drawing a line "under last year`s unpleasantness" (Morning Star, 30/05/16). It also, of course, involves ignoring the right-wing nonsense spouted by Tristram Hunt, something that the party should have been doing for years.
Patience is of the essence, here; let the Tories commit hari-kari, allow the gaps to widen, the insults to multiply, and the rift to become deeper with every passing day. Chaos in the Tory party following a Brexit victory, or even a narrow win for Remain, will almost certainly lead to a split in the Conservative party along 1846 lines, and will be deemed just desserts for the unnecessary hardship they have caused. When the Tories split in comparable fashion, over the repeal of the Corn Laws, with the Boris Johnson role played by the similarly unprincipled and ambitious Benjamin Disraeli, there was a gap of twenty eight years before a Tory prime minister managed a majority government!
    Corbyn is no fool; he clearly realises too much involvement in this civil war amongst the Tories would damage his credibility, and he will certainly not make the mistake Sadiq Khan has already made and share a platform with an extremist by the name of Cameron..

A wise decision; the way things are going, a general election is looking a lot nearer than 2020.