NHS – happy birthday 72 today!

July 5, 2020
Thoughts on the pandemic – on the 72nd birthday of the NHS

What is Blairism and how do we fight it?

June 10, 2020

I became active in left politics in 2004 – angry at the Iraq war, I joined the million plus people marching in Hyde Park. The largest demonstration in British history. But the Stop the War Coalition had no real strategy of how to oppose New Labour, it made no difference to the policies of Blair – no threat to the system. Demonstrating is important in raising our spirits, in realising our collective strength – but unless we harness that power – either by forming a political party to challenge the status quo, or using the power of the unions to strangle the bosses’ profits at source – leaders can ignore democracy.

I joined what was the Socialist Party – I thought that, in small way, I needed to get involved in building an alternative to New Labour. I was persuaded of the need for revolution as opposed to gradualism, which was an important step in my political awakening – previously, I would have described myself as Old Labour.

Labour was formed, in 1900, as the Labour Representation Committee, a party of the trade unions, bringing together Britain’s left wing parties, including Marxists, in order to represent the interests of the common people, as opposed to the interests of the bosses. Keir Hardie was its first leader – Keir Starmer, in claiming to be socialist, said that he was named after Hardie. This morphed into the Labour Party in 1906.

Labour’s peak was the Attlee government of 1945-51, the post-war deal which brought in the welfare state, the NHS and nationalised much of the economy – but crucially didn’t go far enough, for example leaving the banks under private control. This radical change was brought about by huge anger at Churchill’s government, particularly by the armed forces, who returning to Britain, voted overwhelmingly for Labour.

The architects of this victory leant on Clause IV of Labour’s constitution, “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”. This crucially called for the economy to be brought under state control. This came out of a similar desire for change after World War I, in 1918. In 1959, the right-wing Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell attempted to remove this from the constitution, but was blocked by the trade unions – which at that time, still had a say in the Labour Party.

The predecessor to the Socialist Party, Militant, had a policy of entryism within Labour during the 1980s. This meant that they could not openly organise within the Labour Party and meant campaigning for right-wing Labour MPs. On the plus side – a big plus, we saw the election of Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall as Militant MPs, reflecting the huge anger against Thatcher in working-class Liverpool, Coventry and Bradford, which had seen Britain’s manufacturing industry decimated by the Tories and campaigned for decent public housing, and investment in schools and services. Militant also had control over Labour Party Young Socialists, the youth wing of the Labour Party, and a sizeable membership of around 8,000 at its height. 1990 saw an important victory in the defeat of the Poll Tax, and the demise of Thatcher.

Neil Kinnock sowed the seeds of Blairism when he expelled Derek Hatton, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, removed Labour’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, began the process of watering down Clause IV, and attacked Militant. By 1992, the leadership of Militant had been expelled, causing a split between those who wanted to remain within the Labour Party, and those who saw the need to build a new party of the working class. The majority, under Peter Taaffe, decided to form the Socialist Party.

Tony Blair introduced what was euphemistically called The Third Way – social democratic policies, a mixed market economy, and supported militarisation and cuts to services. He rebranded Labour as New Labour – Any commitment to socialism was scrapped. Thatcher famously described New Labour as her greatest achievement. Blair massively reduced the power of the trade union movement at conference, and made conference decisions non-binding. Labour became a safe pair of hands for the capitalists. Blair saw a decline in Labour membership. “Blair, in common with all modern party leaders would have liked a mass membership, but had no desire to delegate any form of responsibility or power to it”. Gordon Brown brought in PFI which has strangled our NHS and led Labour, after Blair’s resignation in 2007, to electoral defeat.

In response to Blair, the railway workers’ union and fire brigade union both disaffiliated from New Labour. The late, great Bob Crow led the fight for a new workers’ party, supporting TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) – this later suspended electoral activity in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was a fluke of politics that brought Corbyn to leadership – desperate to restore funds to Labour, Milliband ruled that you could become a registered supporter of Labour for less than the price of a pint (later increased to £25 by the right-wing Labour NEC in time for the 2015 leadership ballot) – and it was fortunate that a few right wing MPs such as Frank Field, actually nominated Corbyn to be on the ballot in 2015, in the expectation that he would be crushed.

But Corbyn made mistakes – he was too accommodating: not expelling right-wingers, but attempting to keep the Labour Party “united”, this only emboldened them; campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit; going along with the constant media cries of anti-semitism, even being apologetic for it and not speaking out against the witch-hunting of left-wingers; not appealing to the wider movement enough, not calling for strike action to bring down the Tories and relying instead on Parliamentary democracy. Corbyn also failed to nominate a successor, which paved the way for the right to win back control of Labour.

So this brings us to Keir Starmer, who has talked of a national unity government given the coronavirus pandemic, has put forward no real opposition to the government’s policies, only mild criticism at best, and every indication is that there will be a return to Blairism. The crying need for a new workers’ party re-emerges.

Find out more about the fight for socialism here – http://www.socialistalternative.net

Should have gone to Barnard Castle (with apologies to Frank Zappa)

June 8, 2020

I dreamed I was Dominic C
I dreamed I was a Tory MP
The paparazzi, gathered round see
Under my gate and around my door
Snaps they took, of bobble hat
A hundred degrees, fish-eye view. Ooh!
Oh-oh-Dominic-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
And the public cried,
Oh-oh-ooh-oh-oh
And the public cried,
Dominic – oh, no, no, no!
Watch out where the tourists go, and don’t you take the A68
Dominic – oh no, no. no!
Dominic – oh no, no, no!
Don’t be a naughty spin doctor.
Doo, doo, diddy de wah wah, de diddy
Check your eyesight, don’t travel too far.
Well, I turned around, and I said
Ho, ho. Ooh!
Well I turned around and I said
Ho, Ho. And the northern wind commenced to blow.
And we said, boop, boop, diddy, de woop woop a diddy – with tears in our eyes
Dominic – oh no, no, no!
Watch out where the Tourists go, and don’t you take the A68
Watch out where the tourists go, and don’t you take the A68

Well right about that time, people,
A photographer, who was strictly from the Daily Express
Strictly from the Daily Express
Had the unmitigated audacity to jump up from right behind my BMW
peek-a-boo, wooo-ooo-ooo
and he started taking photographs of my favourite bobble hat
With a Canon EOS 4000D,
I said, with a Canon, EOS, 4000D.
He said, peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
He went right outside my front gate, and he went snap!
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
And he snapped me from the side and he made sure to get my bobble hat in,
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
And that got me just about as evil as a wannabe-Tory-MP can be
So I reached down inside my brain and I made up a preposterous story about the deadly lockdown rules which I helped to instigate.
The deadly lockdown rules.
The deadly lockdown rules, designed to be as confusing as rules can be, so that the public get blamed for herd immunity, just to take the heat off of Boris Johnson.

I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do
Oh woe is me, COVID-19 has blinded me, temporarily.
Here he goes now, all the way to Durham – drive it!
And then, in a fit of anger, I pounced
And I pounced again. Great googly-woogly
I jumped up and down on the chest of; well I injured the photographer.
Well, he was very upset, as you can understand, and rightly so, because
My excuse was about as prepostorous as any excuse can be.

The deadly virus had deprived me of my sight,
So I got in the car, and I drove around and I said
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do-do, yeah!
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do-do, yeah!
Oh woe is me, I can’t see. No, no, I can’t see.
COVID-19 has blinded me, temporarily.

Well I stood there, with my car keys in my hand
Across the bleak wasteland of the powerhouse of the North
Trying to figure out about what it is I am going to do about my afflicted eye.
And it was at that precise moment that I remembered an ancient Tory legend,
Inscribed into the head of every devious, lying politician
Wherein it is written: that if anything bad ever happens to your eyes in some sort of global pandemic
The only way you can get it fixed up, is to go drive along the motorway, mile after mile
Drive along the motorway, mile after mile.
Right down to the parish of County Durham
Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle!
Get in your car and drive to the funky Barnard Castle.

I can’t breathe

June 6, 2020

“I can’t breathe”, said George Floyd, neck pinned to the floor, his face caught in a rictus of pain.
“I can’t breathe”, he cried out, as he fought for his life, a plea which we take up again.
We can breathe, sweet, fresh air, we protest, we revolt, but the White House, enclosed in a wall, spews venom and hatred, anger and gall.
Workers rise up in the land of the free, where Kaepernick bravely took the knee.
Killer cop charged with manslaughter, third degree; the others get away, scot free.
And thousands of black men, confined to their cells. Don’t think it is solely an American crime.
Mark Duggan, Charles De Menezes, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
So let’s fight for a world which treats us all equally, police elected from the whole community.
Let’s fight to get rid of this capitalist system, it breeds inequality and hate.
Let’s fight for a world that is free of oppression, sow seeds of freedom, rather than a police state.

Cummings and Goings

May 24, 2020

Oh dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

First excuse, I had to get a child minder
I’m only the monkey, not the organ grinder.
On the internet, I just couldn’t find her,
And nobody knew he was there.

And it’s oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

Second excuse, just nipped out to shops, you see?
But a faulty sat nav, ended up on the A43
From there, short hop up the A1 motorway,
And nobody knew I was there.

And it’s, oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
Nobody knew he was there.

A precedence made by a scientific aide
Neil resigned, he couldn’t resist getting laid.
Why don’t you follow the rules which you made?
‘Cos nobody knew I was there.

And it’s, oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

And then there was Catherine Calderwood,
Visiting second home, ‘cos she thought she could
Get away to Fife, but soon she would
Find everyone knew she was there.

And it’s, oh dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
Nobody knew he was there.

A morality tale, for the great and the good
Follow the rules, that you said we should
Don’t try to hide behind spin and falsehood,
Someone will find out you were there.

Stay alert!

May 10, 2020

Stay alert for virus particles, invisible to the eye,
Stay alert for propaganda, deluding you and I.
Stay alert, not stay at home, so it’s OK to go out?
Stay alert in green, that’s safe, right? Rules which we can flout?

Work from home if you can, but don’t use bus or train.
Work from home if you can, road network not to strain.
Work from home if you can, but cycle if you must.
Work from home if you can, Tories we should never trust.

Limit contact with other people, so it’s OK we should meet?
Limit contact with other people, but friends live down our street.
Limit contact with other people, what about our human rights?
Limit contact with other people – is COVID kryptonite?

Herd immunity by another name, is what our rulers preach.
Herd immunity for their gain, vague rules which people breach.
Herd immunity threatens those who fought for you and I.
Herd immunity is fatal: are loved ones invisible to the eye?

Hubris in face of coronavirus

March 27, 2020

Jonas Salk made no money out of the polio vaccine, but regarded it as knowledge to help the whole of the human race, to be provided: gratis, free of charge, nada, zilch, diddly-squat, zero.Might not some of the same compassionate spirit be in order now?

Such public-minded sacrifice is in all too short supply, it might seem, with a desperately underfunded and privatised NHS, and money-grabbing vultures such as Jeff “unsafe conditions in Amazon warehouses” Bezos, Tim “refusing to pay staff and suppliers” Martin, Richard “eight weeks unpaid leave” Branson; not to mention incompetent politicians: Boris “herd-immunity” Johnson, Donald “coronavirus is a hoax” Trump, Jair “Brazilians never catch anything” Bolsanaro.

But then there is the magnificent solidarity of the general public in defence of the NHS, the small acts of kindness between neighbours, looking out for each other and being there (even if it is only over social media) that reminds me that ultimately there is a greater force than the rich and powerful – it is the cleaners, the supermarket workers, NHS staff – the working class, who are truly essential to society.

Socialism, not capitalism is the only way forward for humanity.

Join us – https://internationalsocialist.net/en/

What is fascism and how to fight it

February 16, 2020

(Talk given to Leicester Socialist Alternative, Feb 2020)

Fascism is one of those political words which is much abused and misused. We need to know its origins and what it represents in order to arm ourselves with the tactics necessary to tackle the threat it represents. We must not overstate and oversimplify events by labelling draconian measures taken by right-wing governments as “fascist”.

The term “fascism” was coined by Mussolini in the early twentieth century. Fasces is a Roman term for a “bundle of sticks”– one stick can be easily broken, but tied together, they are much stronger – like the communist symbol of the fist – one finger can be easily broken, together, they can pack a punch. Fascism deliberately employed socialist iconography in its early days in order to gain a foothold in a section of the working class. It drew support also from the upper-middle class and was funded by donations from big businesses such as IG Farben.

In a short time, it is only possible to give a sketchy outline of complicated and prolonged events – for more inspiration and information – read: Trotsky’s authoritative pamphlet What is Fascism and How to Fight It; Jan Valtin’s, Out of The Night; Jack London’s, The Iron Heel; Clara Zetkin, Fascism

Hitler came to power in 1933. This was only possible due to a smashing of the German labour movement, which made tragic mistakes. Firstly, the premature attempted revolution of 1919 ended in the execution of its leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht.

There was a period of hyperinflation and Germany suffered from the reparations demanded by the West after the First World War. The German Communist Party (KPD) and social democratic parties had a huge base, but the were fighting each other instead of the Nazis, treating them as if they were another democratic party. Fascism is based on violence rather than discourse.

The KPD labelled centre parties as “social fascists”, in accordance with the Stalinist dogma of the time, and attacked their meetings. Trotsky described it using an analogy of cattle being driven to the slaughter house. The fascists are represented by the butcher, the social democrats as the cattle dealer. Let us close ranks and jack this executioner up on our horns. “How is he worse than the cattle dealer who drove us here with his cudgel?” “We shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards”. “Nothing doing”, replied the bulls, “you are trying to shield our enemies from the left, you are a social-butcher yourself. They refused to close ranks. According to the Communists, the choice would be between fascism and communism, once social democracy had been smashed. Their vote in the last democratic elections held in Germany before the Second World War increased and they won 100 seats, but they did not reckon that the Nazis would destroy all open opposition to their regime, executing trade union leaders, attacking and imprisoning the Communists.

After WWII, there was an attempt by capitalism with the UN Declaration of Human Rights to ensure fascism would not happen again. Freedom of assembly (curtailed to specific places), freedom to protest (curtailed by police’s powers to stop public protests). Impossible to overcome the contradictions and limitations of this capitalist system, however. The roots of both right wing populism and ultimately fascism, and are still around today, and the threat of the far right will keep popping up in different forms. You cannot legislate away discrimination: it is illegal to discriminate against people in the UK on the grounds of disability, for example, yet the government do this all the time!

The biggest threat to the working class today is right populism, not fascism in the classic sense. However, fascism still exists in the form of the far-right BNP, National Front, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Austria’s Freedom Party, Jobbik in Hungary, Vox in Spain, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France (who is trying to get rid of her father’s fascist ideology, and trying to portray her party as right-wing populist). It is still a threat. It is characterised by a militaristic presence, intolerance of democratic opposition, and the use of violence. Fascism is a last resort for capitalism, when normal methods of governing – elections, the media, tame socialist and trade union leaders, in the mould of Dave Prentis or Tony Blair – have failed and there is a risk of losing control. It is very unlikely that fascism will consciously be used as a tactic by capitalism and big business again. However, the same processes, due to the acute failure of capitalism to provide for the vast majority of people – are still in play. And the threat of right-wing populism only makes fascist ideology more acceptable.

So what is populism and how is it different? Bolsanaro, Nigel Farage, Trump, Boris Johnson, Modi. How can a political programme which only benefits a small minority sustain itself in a democracy? Capitalism has always divided people by religion, racism, culture, etc. It is in the interests of a small establishment to seek to blame a country’s problems on outsiders and set the working class against itself.

A local example is the Operation Dharmic Vote campaign, set up by a Tory supporter from Rugby, angry at Labour’s proposal to outlaw the caste system, which claims that Hindus, Sikhs and Jains should vote against the pro-Muslim Labour Party. It has campaigned in London and in Leicester East, where Keith Vaz was friendly with Mahendra Modi’s BJP. This is playing a very old and very dangerous game: splitting communities along ethnic / religious lines. Fortunately, the left-wing MP Claudia Webbe was still elected in Leicester East – but across the country Farage’s Brexit Party dealt a blow to Labour’s chances – because of Labour’s muddled position on Brexit, and because the Brexit Party did not stand against the Tories. It shows, for all Farage’s pretence at being in touch with ordinary people, that Brexit’s class interests stands with the bosses.

By contrast socialists and trade unions emphasise the unity of workers, that we share common concerns and the need for tolerance of different religious and cultural traditions. We oppose racism. We confront fascists and seek to no platform them when they try to speak, by organising mass demonstrations of people, such as when we played a part in opposing the English Defence League when they came to Leicester and we stood with the community of Highfields.

Members of our party have gone over to Ireland in the past weeks to aid in the campaign to re-elect non-sectarian socialists to the Irish Parliament. A small fascist party, the National Party in Ireland reported one of our candidates, Mary Vallely, in Limerick to the police, misquoting “a Trotsky novel” – you can only assume she got Trotsky mixed up with Tolstoy! – as saying, “we need to acquaint fascist’s heads with the pavement”- what the quote refers to is that where persuasion fails, we need to defend ourselves against violent attacks and be wary of the threat that fascism poses to the ideas of socialism and to any civilised society. This has also been summarised more succinctly as “socialism or barbarism”.

The best way to defeat the poisonous ideas of fascism is to build strong trade unions and to develop socialist ideas, to build an international workers’ movement which will be capable of transforming people’s lives across the globe.

Poem for Art’s Birthday 17/1

January 19, 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSjCgQuvhh0

On the 17th January 2020, Art is 1,000,057 years old!
Fold a paper hat. Make an inane grin.
Put the hat on your head like Napoleon.
Let Filliou be your guide.
Celebrate. Rejoice in the making, the process.
Find wonder where and while we can.
Explore, invent, contrive. See things anew.
Revisit the ordinary. Your breakfast – for example:
Where did it come from? What was involved?
Measure, observe – the change as it flows from your mouth
To be expelled in a smelly heap, which we do not mention at dinner parties.
Look at the world with the eyes of a child.
Australia is on fire. The Amazon – razed and bulldozed for profit.
Jeff Bezos – he’s richer than you think!
A billion seconds is 31 years. Each second, you get a crisp, green dollar:
How long would you have had to live to match his wealth?
The screen you are watching would turn black and white
And then morph into a loom of punched cards.
It would swell until it burst through the roof; a riot of wiring and hot valves.
Air raid sirens would wail above the whistle of deadly doodlebugs.
The great depression would bring capitalists to their knees.
Lines of shabby figures queue against the cold, waiting:
Work never materialises.
Mud, trenches, Maxims rattle. Pointless, bloody conflict, over long-forgotten empires. Lives Wasted.
Let’s not speak of that – it is Art’s Birthday, after all!
Why aren’t you smiling? Put your hat back on!
Where were we? Film would be lost to the spinning thaumatrope,
Babbage would be labouring vainly over his engines.
Ironbridge gorge, no longer spanned with iron, would just be . . . a gorge.
Factories, looms would give way to spinning jennies.
Fire would engulf London’s narrow alleyways.
Shakespeare would be drawing on his pipe, candlelit at a writing desk.
Plague would remind us that we are all made of dust.
Chaucer’s pilgrims would be in the Tabard, downing small beer as they
Embarked on their footsore slog to Canterbury.
Viking longships with bright spears, intricate brooches sparkle in sunlight.
Hadrian’s Wall would spring up from the rubble of centuries.
But that is all gone, dead, unimportant.
Why dwell on the past – it is Art’s birthday!
Where were we? Pythagoras, Archimedes, or some long-forgotten thinker
Crafted wheels of clockwork, set in motion to mimic the planet’s orbits
Only to be lost below the Mediterranean. The first computer.
But you are still nowhere near his fortune. Nowhere near early enough.
We need to go back to Ur, Sumer and clay tablets. Millenia before
Modern silicon enabled Amazon to feast on their rivals.
To swallow whole companies in a single, ravenous gulp.
Democracy does not have a price – regardless what Bezos may think.
Something within always resists the stench of value and profit and greed.
Amazon’s blank, grey panopticons are encircled by shanty towns of tents
As their workers, on the pittance doled out, cannot afford to rent.
But Art lives on. Rebellion lives on. Protest lives on.

Carols for Corbyn

December 12, 2019

God rest ye merry workers

God rest ye merry workers, let nothing you dismay.
Get to a polling station, cast your vote on Thursday.
Let’s get rid of Boris Johnson, as we got rid of Theresa May
The Tory party’s had it’s day, its had it’s day.
The Tories have had their day.

God rest ye merry workers, let nothing you dismay.
Remember that next Thursday, it is time to vote away
This cruel and callous governmment, divided and corrupt.
Good tidings of Corbyn and joy,
Corbyn and joy.
Good tidings of Corbyn and joy.

O come all ye workers

O come all ye workers, ye poor and downtrodden
O come ye, O come ye to a polling booth.
You don’t need any ID, you just need a conscience,
Its time for us to speak out, its time for us to shout out
Its time for ordinary people to have their say.

Stand up for common decency, stand up for fair society
Stand up for public services, and our NHS.
Fight against greed, fight against hatred
Fight to end austerity, fight to end austerity,
Fight to end austerity and fair pay for all.
Fight to abolish the anti-trade union laws
Fight to reclaim profits the bosses stole.

O come all ye workers, ye poor and downtrodden
O come ye, O come ye to a polling booth.
O come let’s vote for Corbyn,
O come let’s vote for Corbyn,
O come let’s vote for Corbyn:
Tories Out!

Once in [insert adjective] [insert name of place] city

Once in diverse Leicester City
Stood a lowly polling booth.
It’s not special, it’s not even pretty,
A precious chance to make our mark.
Vote for change, an end to austerity
Vote against greed and inequality
Vote for Corbyn, vote for Labour
Vote for socialist policies to begin to change the world.