Divine Interference

May 29, 2018

To our so-called Superiors, and their “god-given” right,
To abuse power and profit, while hidden from sight.
To those who would question how we live our life,
To pass judgement on doctors for using the knife.

Their medieval morality no longer holds sway.
Their perseverance and courage at last won the day.
Their banner said ROSA, and true was their cause;
Their vision: freedom, end to outdated laws.

The women of Ireland, no longer enslaved;
The millions of people, who battled and paved
The way forward to victory in historic vote,
The thousands returning by plane and by boat.

Who abolished dark memories of Magdalene Laundries,
Who cleansed those captive, communal memories.
Who were determined the world must at last hear their voice,
Who campaigned for a new, generational choice.

As we sing, voices carry cross ocean’s blue swell,
As our demands for equality will one day surely tell.
As we challenge authority’s hypocritical boast,
As it is always the poor, who suffer the most.

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Another royal wedding . . .

May 20, 2018

Windsor council should install a bright, brand-new, blue plaque
To commemorate the homeless bus, sadly given the sack.
That marvellous day they cleared the streets of anyone not draped in Union Jack.
Our noble flag, the blood-stained butcher’s apron,
Citizens of Empire – commodities, not a person
With feelings, loves and honesty, someone to depend on.

So why all the fuss about this royal family?
They are just another couple, the same as you or me.
Footmen, flags, and frippery cannot mask the simple fact:
While were living in austerity, ruling class puts on a tired, old act.
To make us forget about our problems, and cuts to the NHS,
Us commoners, up to our necks in a right royal Eton mess.

But Royals bring tourism to Britain’s white-cliffed shores
And you lefties are such moaning, whinging bores
Bleating on about equality, rubbing salt into old sores.
Forget about public health, forget about community,
Goodbye to socialist ideas that block free opportunity.

We face the power of the one percent under this rotten system
The bosses drive down wages, let’s get rid of this fiefdom.
Time that we all progress, end corrupt lineage;
Time for us to mobilise, end class privilege.
Time to build socialism, and real democracy
Time for you to get involved, to change society.

Attempt at communication

May 19, 2018

Connection lost. Background static,
Footprints of big bang. Space-time:
Expansive, easy to lose ourselves.
The random hiss speaks volumes
Of long-vanished nebulae,
Impressions of bare-footed runners,
Distant smoke signals,
Hooves of stagecoach thundering,
Telegram’s staccato flourishes.
Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower
Sparked with potential.
Wireless, an invisible tight-rope walker
Tries to bridge the gap . . . but falls.

Fragile signal is drowned in white noise.

Should Ken Livingstone be expelled from the Labour Party?

May 14, 2018

The furore over alleged “anti-semitism” in the Labour Party stems from accusations following Labour MP Naz Shah sharing a facebook post, suggesting that Israel be relocated to the United States, as this would save the US billions in defence expenditure, in other words pointing out that Israel is a client state of the US. Shah apologised for any offence caused and after a period of suspension she was readmitted to Labour.

Ken Livingstone stepped into her defence in a radio interview with Vanessa Feltz. After this interview, John Mann, a Blairite Labour MP, angrily confronted Livingstone, hectoring and bullying him. If you watch the televised coverage of their argument, Livingstone is admirably restrained in his response. He says “it is a matter of historical fact”, “should I apologise for saying that the Normans invaded England in 1066?” and he does not deny that the Holocaust happened. Yet, he is accused of being mentally ill, “you have lost the plot”, “you need some help”; of being a Nazi apologist and of being a conspiracy theorist – he is guilty by association!

Livingstone claimed that there was a secret meeting between Nazis and Zionists, at the time of the Nazis coming to power, to discuss the removal of Jews from Germany. He points out, in a later interview, in 1935, Hitler banned flags from flying in Germany, except the Zionist blue and white flag and the swastika. He said that Naz Shah was “over the top”, but she was not being anti-semitic, adding that, in over 40 years of membership of Labour, he personally had not encountered anti-semitism. There is a medal with a Nazi insignia on one side and the star of David on the other:- http://northshorenumismaticsociety.org/little-known-medal-marks-nazi-zionist-co-operation-in-1933/

Livingstone explained, “Hitler was a monster from start to finish”. But, however unpalatable it may be to the Labour right, there is strong evidence that the Nazis engaged in secretive deals to relocate German Jews to Palestine (the Haavara agreement of 1933). You can argue that this may have not been the most diplomatic argument for Livingstone to pursue, but he has facts on his side, even if he was slightly muddled in the details, having being pounced on by Mann. Hitler was not above accommodating those who he vehemently disagreed with; the infamous Hitler – Stalin pact is clear evidence of this.

For pointing out these links, Livingstone was accused of not knowing his historical facts, being anti-semitic, a holocaust denier, believing in conspiracy theories and being a Nazi apologist. Who is behaving like a school bully, bringing the Labour Party into disrepute here? Isn’t this a calculated effort by a Blairite MP to bring down one of Corbyn’s most articulate allies?

This is an important attack, not just on Corbyn, Livingstone and the Labour left, but also on freedom of speech. It is not anti-semitic to criticise the Israeli government’s policies, to point out the American defence budget contributions, and the way that the state has attacked unarmed Palestinian protestors.

Ken Livingstone should be reinstated as a Labour party member. John Mann and the other Blairite MPs, who have constantly sought to undermine Corbyn at every opportunity, are the ones who should be subject to deselection, as they have “brought Labour into disrepute”.

You are being lied to about Syria.

April 16, 2018

syriaAs we slide inexorably into renewed conflict in the Middle East, it might be worth revisiting some of the lies, fabrications and half-truths that took us to a decade of war in Iraq. These are worth remembering, as you watch a politician on the news decry the Assad regime in Syria for using chemical weapons, while not mentioning inconvenient truths: precursors to chemical weapons were sold to Syria by the UK in the 1980s, the attack by Israel on Gaza using white phosphorous or the use of depleted uranium shells in Iraq by the US.

We see a tendency by commentators to oversimplify, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”; the logical fallacy of the excluded middle. Socialists oppose individual acts of terrorism. Instead of mass action to remove dictators, the actions of a few “heroic” individuals or suicide bombers (depending on your viewpoint), are supposed to bring down those in power. There is nothing progressive about terrorism. It destroys innocent lives, it does not empower the working class and rather than an attack on the establishment, it only strengthens racism. It divides rather than unites us.

It is worth re-reading Trotsky’s articles Marxism opposes Individual Terrorism and the Bankruptcy of Terrorism. In place of individual action, socialists propose mass action through the organised working class, to transform the lives of millions and end this brutal, warmongering, uncaring system of capitalism. We propose a rationally planned society, worldwide, in which the collective productive forces of humanity can be used for the good of all, rather than killing people. “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people”, as Tony Benn argued.

Just as Theresa May is ignoring the democratic process now, so Tony Blair refused to acknowledge the mass demands in 2003 to Stop the War, the biggest demonstration in British history. Just as then, the conflict in Syria is not about chemical weapons, it is not about bringing democracy or peace, but it is about US prestige, the “special relationship” between the US and UK and a struggle with Russia for control over proposed oil pipelines in Syria. The destruction and casualties of war in the Middle East go back a long way, to British imperialism, the carving up of the Middle East by Britian and France, with the Sykes – Picot agreement in 1916, to carve up the spoils of the First World War, and the advocacy of mustard gas by Churchill to attack Kurds in Mesopotamia (Iraq).  The US is not without its own hypocrisy; as in the 1980s they supported Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq, as a bulwark against the USSR.

What was lacking in 2003, and what is urgently needed now, is a call to action on the part of the left. Tony Benn was the leading figure of the Labour left in those days, but he mistakenly put his faith in the UN and bringing Bush and Blair to task through legal and Parliamentary channels. This is wholly insufficient. We need to hit the capitalist powers where it hurts, in their wallets. Mass strike action is necessary to bring down Theresa May and Donald Trump. The working class alone has the power to end war and austerity. What is lacking is the political leadership and will to see the struggle through to its logical end. I hope Corbyn, as leader of the Labour movement in the UK, will call mass demonstrations, and use these as a platform to enthuse mass opposition to this war.

During the Iraq conflict, in Motherwell, the actions of a few, determined train drivers organised by the ASLEF trade union caused delays to the plans of the US, when they refused to carry munitions destined for the war zone.  If this spirit had spread to other unions, and mass resistance was shown – like the student walkouts, and if the trade unions had the necessary leadership – Britain’s involvement in the war could have ended. There would not have been years of needless suffering. Worldwide there were also similar actions – In Italy, people blocked trains carrying American weapons and personnel, and dockers refused to load arms shipments. US military bases were blockaded in Germany. Unfortunately, such examples were all too few – too little, too late to stop that bloody conflict.

There is also the question of what happens when, with the military might of the Western superpowers, they “win” the war. There were lies about carefully targeted “precision bombing” in Kuwait and Iraq, there were lies about “shock and awe” and “mission accomplished” – in reality the war dragged on year after year, millions of people died through sanctions and warfare, and millions more became displaced refugees.

During the Iraq War a central slogan of the anti-war movement was “No War for Oil” – this latest conflict is no different, it is not about the use of chemical weapons. It is more about who controls the oil supply, as pipelines are planned to run through Syria by Russia and the US.

The Socialist Party, to which I belong, does not support undemocratic, despotic regimes. We denounce terrorism. Our enemy are not innocent people in the Middle East who are caught up in a brutal, sectarian civil war. We point out that bombing will only intensify and risk further conflict – even the spectre of a Third World War and war with Russia is raised. We do not support imperialist Western powers imposing military might on people in an effort to impose freedom and democracy, as if that was possible – clearly the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Korea and Kuwait have taught them nothing. The only beneficiaries of further conflict are private security companies, the arms industry, and the oil companies, whose donations help fund the Democratic and Republican parties in the US.

We need to build a mass movement to bring down those in power, and we need to do it now.

A World Where News Travelled Slowly

April 15, 2018

I have just been reading Lavinia Greenlaw’s collection  A World Where News Travelled Slowly – and must recommend her poetry wholeheartedly. Her poems are an overheard conversation, conspiratory and private. She beckons us into a private, old-school world of Greek myths, apothecaries, alchemy and subtle eroticism.

The title poem is probably her most famous. A World Where News Travels Slowly harks back to the stagecoach and calligraphy, the human connection with the message, the act of delivery. We travel forward in time to “the clattering mechanics of the six-shutter telegraph”, beautifully mirrored in the rhythm of the line, to the present day. Now we take for granted the ability to connect with each other – but “we’re almost talking in each other’s arms” – the contemporaneous nature of news makes everything immediate – “nets tighten across the sky” – we are too close, trapped by proximity.

“Acquisitions” explores origins and the appropriation of artefacts, in relation to marriage, traditionally the possession of a spouse. “Is marriage by capture, exchange or purchase?” It alludes to American imperialism, Fordism and a denial of history.

One thing that stands out in this collection is Greenlaw’s shatteringly confident ability to make us see things afresh. “Reading Akhmatova in Midwinter” is an incredibly precise, measured description of the cold. Nature hangs in a cryogenic state, “each leaf carries itself in glass / each stem is a fuse in a transparent flex”. Always she harks back to the specific – in Last Summer, she reminisces of “the housemartins that flew semicircles / over the garage eaves, building or feeding”, while in a broken-down car with her daughter; “the thing’s running on fresh air!”. A snapshot of a commonplace incident, becomes a rhapsody on the freedom of nature vs. mechanism, her daughter’s childish exuberance trapped inside the car, “her fables, her wolf-dance”.

If there is a common theme to these poems, it is that humanity triumphs. In What We Can See of the Sky Has Fallen, a paean to Luke Howard, a Quaker who came up with the names we use for clouds, “somewhere between Income Tax and the Battle of Trafalgar”. He finds himself “skybound, abstracted”, striving to classify the unclassifiable. We impose our way of seeing on the world, it is interpreted through our eyes.

There is a tension between the abstract and the specific throughout this collection, the snapshot and the timeless, hot and cold, romantic and scientific. It does not provide you with easy answers, as in the ironically titled poem, “Guidebook to the Alhambra”, but it will introduce you to unfamiliar ideas, make you think anew and reconsider our position in the world. Isn’t that what poetry should be about?

 

On Fat Cat Thursday

January 5, 2018

Fat Cat Thursday,
Boss gets more pay.
Let’s change the way
Things run. Equality.

The fifth of January
Should not be a black day.
Senseless ignominy,
Fat cats’ gluttony.

Slaving for obscene wealth.
Stop this evil cult of self,
Question this mad belief,
Overthrow the thieves.

Their citadels we can tear
Down. We fight for our share,
A fresh start, morning.
A new world dawning.

A celebration,
Bold expression,
Our liberation.
End oppression.

Fascism

September 26, 2017

A heavy word. Not one to be tossed easily,
Grenade-like into polite conversation.
A threat, a lie, a swindle to
Set us against each other.

But tyrants are mortal.
You cannot set in stone,
When wind erodes,
Time crumbles to dust.

National pride wrapped in bundles of sticks.
Together we are strong, individuals can be broken.
In basements, under spotlights, in gas chambers.

The Roman salute, Hail Caesar!
Mussolini stole such
Patriotic guff. Clothed his men in uniform
To inspire fear, to stand aside from
Crowds of unbelievers.

For fascism to take hold
It first has to rid itself
Of opposition. Crush resistance
From those who conspire and
Dream of freedom, democracy.
Label others with stigmata.

Hitler failed at art.
If only his school teachers
Praised his scribblings,
Galleries showed his work,
His ego may not have found
Such an outlet.

He was also a thief.
Cloaked distasteful ideas, at first,
In talk of socialism,
Freedom from wage tyranny.
But hate and terror prevailed,
The world blazed in agony.

Together, humanity defeated such ideas:
Or so we may talk ourselves into believing,
Sitting here, discussing politics and struggle.
Yet still there are people

Who swallow lies of superiority,
Deceit of supremacy.
Visions, of returning to
Non-existent golden era.

Rome taught them the art of carving up
Ruling supreme. Keep tribes squabbling
With petty concerns,
Or if revolt threatened,
Throw their chieftain a juicy bone.

Corruption still gnaws at our society.
But there is human solidarity,
Kindness, and comradeship,
Which, if it stands firm,
Can overcome racism and division.

When we realise that we are all just
Part of a fragile, blue bauble in space.

 

Hillsborough and Grenfell

August 28, 2017

On June 14th, 1989, Liverpool were set to play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final, which took place at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Liverpool were allocated less tickets than Nottingham Forest, despite having more supporters. The police rejected a request from the Football Association to allow more tickets to Liverpool fans.

As a result, 24,000  Liverpool fans were squeezed into the Leppings Lane end of the stadium (before all-seater stadia, fans were corralled onto terraces, and pens were employed to keep rival supporters from clashing with each other). Congestion in getting to the ground meant that many Liverpool fans were delayed in arriving. A further request to postpone the start of the match was denied, and instead 2,000 football fans were herded into an already full “pens”. The people there could not leave the pen, as there was only one exit door, which was locked. Before the match started fans were shouting to the police to open the gate, their demands were ignored. The police’s reaction was to assume that there was crowd trouble.

The match was recorded on television by eight BBC cameras, but the resulting footage was considered “too distressing” to broadcast. The game started but lasted just seven minutes before it was halted. The coroner’s report showed that some fans had already succumbed to injuries even before kick off. The Superintendent in charge of the game, David Duckenfield, who was inexperienced in managing such a major football game, tried to claim that ticketless Liverpool supporters had broken into one of the gates and stormed the pitch – this was a lie. A major incident plan should have been put in place immediately, allowing ambulances to enter the pitch. Police officers and stewards should have been giving first aid, instead of forming a cordon to prevent a pitch invasion, as they initially saw it. In the event, only three ambulances were allowed onto the pitch despite dozens of ambulances being parked outside – the first did not arrive until 3.15pm, a quarter an hour after kick-off.

A nearby gymnasium was used as a makeshift holding area, and alcohol tests were carried out on all the bodies at the request of the police, including children, who made up many of those who tragically lost their lives. The purpose of this was to try to pin the blame on Liverpool fans for the disaster. The accusations of the police were later supported by the right-wing tabloid press – The Sun published a disgraceful headline “The Truth”, claiming that police officers were urinated on, that fans pickpocketed victims and attacked a police officer who was giving the kiss of life. In reality, it was fans who were administering first aid, carrying away the injured on makeshift stretchers made from advertising hoardings. The police were determined to try to shift the blame away from themselves and on to “drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters”, for which they “had to find evidence that this was the case”. No proper emergency response ever happened. Those who tried to tell the real truth were ignored, slapped down or browbeaten. One doctor who was in the crowd had his reputation attacked and was accused of publicity seeking, in an attempt to discredit him or shut him up.

Senior police officers also falsified the evidence of their colleagues – police were not told to write down witness statements in the normal way, but to put their recollections of the incident down on plain paper, which was then redacted. The Taylor enquiry was set up, but in such a way that one police force was investigating another, and the South Yorkshire Police Force could take its own officers’ statements. Criticisms of the policing operation, such as, “It might have been better to direct fans into flank areas which were not full” and “Why were the sliding doors at the back of the tunnel not closed when those sections of the ground were full?” were censored, but any criticisms of the fans were left in. Despite these attempts at whitewashing, the Taylor Report still found that the main cause of overcrowding was due to the failure of police control. Margaret Thatcher made a handwritten note: “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome?”

Prosecutions were expected to follow, but then the chauffeur of the Chief Constable and the Law Lord claimed that they were determined to blame the police force. Again, this was a lie, but it ensured that no criminal charges were brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Subsequently, calls for an independent inquiry were raised by families of the 96 victims of the disaster. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair scribbled “Why what is the point?” on a paper requesting a review of the evidence.

Is it a coincidence that it was Liverpool the right tried to blame, in the aftermath of the influence of the 47 Liverpool Councillors who resisted Thatcher’s government and wrested millions of pounds out the Iron Lady for the city, who built 5,000 council houses, leisure centres and nurseries?

The need for public housing leads on to a more recent disaster, also entirely preventable, the Grenfell Tower fire. Cladding was put on the ageing tower block to improve the view of the area for the gentrified parts of Kensington and Chelsea. The tower blocks are home to a very impoverished community, in the middle of one of the richest parts of London, where billionaires buy empty properties as an investment.

The fire began with a faulty fridge on the fourth floor. the advice given was for people to remain in their rooms, but the heat spread the fire to the exterior cladding and rapidly the whole building became engulfed in flames. A tenants’ group had previously warned that the cladding was unfit for purpose and dangerous, yet this warning was ignored.

Thatcher’s right to buy policy, introduced in 1980, allowed tenants to buy their own council homes at a discount. Finance to local authorities for building council homes was cut, the responsibility being passed to housing associations and private landlords. The result has been a return to Dickensian housing standards, overcrowding and slum landlordism. Homebuilding has steadily fallen. 171,000 homes were built in 2015, of which just 2,700 were built by local authorities. As demand has outstripped supply, property prices and rents have soared, along with the problem of homelessness. No-one took the place of local government in providing housing.

Cost-cutting on projects has become the norm, as a direct result of her policies – the combustible cladding used saved just £300,000 from the cost of refurbishing the Grenfell tower, and there was little discussion of the implications for the safety of residents. A sprinkler system would have saved lives; a revision of evacuation procedures following the cladding being installed would have saved lives; retaining three nearby fire stations, which were closed by Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London (out of 10 across the city, with the loss of 600 firefighters’ jobs) would also have saved lives.

A true, official death toll of Grenfell may not be released until 2018. Millions of pounds of working-class people’s money, collected for the residents have still to be distributed to those in need.

We cannot have another cover-up, as happened in the 28 years it took for those responsible for Grenfell to be brought to justice, with David Duckenfield being charged with manslaughter and five others being charged with perverting the course of justice and lying about the incident. Yet there signs that this may already be happening. Firefighters who attended the incident were banned from speaking to the media about the true death toll. We must demand an independent inquiry, led by trade unions and residents, which would look into the causes of the disaster and expose the crimes that were committed in the interests of making cuts and protecting profits.

(Speech given to Leicester Socialist Party branch meeting Saturday 26th August 2017).

Conning the public

August 9, 2017

DSCN1003

 

Iain Conn is the Chief Executive of Centrica, the parent company of British Gas. Before joining the company, he was the Chief Executive of British Petroleum. In 2017, his salary increased by 40% to just over £4m a year. He also received a £1.4m recruitment award when he was head-hunted from BP in 2015. British Gas recently announced they are putting electricity prices up by 12.5%.

The £4m Conn receives each year matches the number of households in Britain who are deemed to be in fuel poverty (where more than 10% of income is spent on fuel costs). Recently the government changed the official definition of fuel poverty, to include only families who have fuel costs that are above average, and whose fuel consumption would take them below the poverty line. However, in the real world, over 4m households (15% of the country) cannot afford to heat their homes. Whatever statistical method used, it is safe to assume that Iain Conn is not in fuel poverty.

The glaringly obvious message from all of this (well, to this blogger at least) is that the energy companies need to be taken back into public ownership. We have an illusion of choice – the idea that we can simply switch energy providers, when there is a cartel operating against our interests which hike up prices in response to each other. Better to have democratic control over energy, and for everyone to afford to heat their homes.

Nationalisation need not cost us anything. Why should fat cats like Iain Conn get any compensation – they have already robbed the British public of millions of pounds? Compensation should only be on the basis of need, not greed.

Nationalising energy companies would also allow the government to plan based on long-term needs, and to help save our environment. New Scientist recently estimated that the growth in renewables has, unfortunately stalled, as the ending of government subsidies is “strangling investment”. We may struggle to even meet 10% of energy consumption with renewables, under the so-called “free market”.

Capitalism is only interested in the bottom line, short-term profits at the expense of our futures. In order to prevent climate change going over 2°C, which could potentially be catastrophic, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, stop fracking and invest all our energy and resources in making renewable energy work. To do this, the energy companies would need to forget about profits for shareholders. Under this grossly unfair and unequal economic system, that isn’t realistic. We need socialism.

I am a member of the Socialist Party in Britain, which is part of a growing, worldwide movement for socialist ideas, the Committee for a Workers’ International. If you agree, please join us. Together we can change the world.