General Election and the NHS

It’s early days in the general election, but there are signs that the Tories are rattled. Their intention was to fight it on the issue of Brexit, not their record of imposing austerity, de-regulating employment and creeping privatisation in the NHS. Yet it is these issues that keep dominating the headlines.

The hysterical editorial in City AM on Monday under the banner “Labour’s Shameful NHS Scaremongering” demonstrates their sensitivity to NHS privatisation. Anyone who thinks the Tories’ plans for the NHS are benign only has to read the article by John Furse in the current edition of The London Review of Books, link below. As Furse demonstrates, the Americanisation of the NHS is not something waiting for us in a post-Brexit future, it is already in full swing. Denials by City AM which rely on selective quotes from reports by the Kings Fund about there being “no evidence of widespread privatisation of NHS services” miss the point. The complexity and lack of transparency of Tory plans are intended to conceal what has been going on, and hard statistics have been deliberately suppressed or made impossible to collect; but campaigners such as those in Keep our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) have not been fooled. KOSHH’s tenacity has won the admiration and support of both Croydon TUC and Croydon Communists. Their next public meeting in Epsom on 12 November, link below, will be well worth attending.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n21/john-furse/the-nhs-dismantled

https://koshh.org/

 

The General Election on 12 December

The Parliamentary Labour Party, with the abandonment of the pledge in the 2017 Labour Manifesto to implement Brexit, has significantly undermined the prospects of a Labour government implementing the other important pledges in that manifesto. These were to

  • Extend state aid to industry
  • Take the railways into monopoly public ownership
  • Reform VAT
  • Reform public procurement rules
  • Rebuild regional development policy
  • Negotiate fair trade agreements with dynamic and emerging economies beyond Europe.

These pledges were welcomed by the Communist Party at the time, and we have made clear subsequently that our support for Labour in the forthcoming election is dependent on the Labour Party not watering them down. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that none of these six pledges can be implemented if we remain in the EU. It will be interesting to see how Labour will try to square the circle in its new manifesto.

The prospect of a Tory government after 12 December does not, of course, bear thinking about. Johnson may enjoy playing the fool – his picture on the cover of City AM today giving the Benny Hill salute is no doubt intended to amuse and reassure, but he is a dangerous and slippery enemy of the working class who is clearly prepared to break any rule to secure his ends which include a trade deal with the USA that would make our current EU suzerainty appear benign. Nor can we expect another hung parliament to rein him in – both the Lib-Dems under Cameron and the Democratic Unionists under May demonstrated the ineffectuality of coalition government. Tory coalition partners quickly morph into Tories before they are dumped when no longer needed.

Fortunately, we are not quite back to the bad old days when the choice was between Tory Tories and Blairite Tories. Many Labour candidates in the coming election are worth supporting. Croydon South is solid Tory and Croydon North has a healthy Labour majority but with a right wing MP, Steve Reed, who voted to remove Corbyn. Croydon Central is a marginal constituency currently held by Sarah Jones for Labour. She’s not the most progressive of MPs but she seems to have realised that to get re-elected she needs to listen to her young, left-leaning supporters. Communists in Croydon will be tramping the streets for her. Let’s hope she doesn’t let us down when she gets re-elected.

 

Elections and all that

The defining issue of our age is not, contrary to current preoccupations, Brexit – it is climate change. Twenty years from now our relations with the EU, assuming that, against all odds, it still exists, will be of little significance compared with the consequences of global warming if we have not ended fossil fuel extraction by then. For that is what it will take to keep the rise in average global temperature from breaking through the 1.5% ceiling. As we argued in our paper on this topic (link below), it doesn’t matter how many windmills we build or how well we insulate our homes, if profits can be made from fossil fuel extraction, capitalist society will continue to do so. All solutions other than keeping fossil fuels in the ground are cosmetic. Only a universal and escalating carbon tax set sufficiently high to ensure that fossil fuels are left in the ground, the proceeds of which are then distributed to working people (the so-called Hansen tax and dividend carbon tax) can achieve an end to fossil fuel extraction; and only under socialism could such a revolutionary remedy be implemented.

On Thursday and Friday, with the BBC failing to report the XR demonstration surrounding its own headquarters, we were treated instead in the BBC’s London News programme to Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, complaining about the police being deflected from fighting knife crime by the need to control these peaceful demonstrations. No further comment is necessary.

On Friday the Guardian, which is smart enough to recognise that there is a global warming problem but too interwoven with the Establishment to identify the solution, had a four page feature pointing out that big oil companies extract oil (!) and are planning to pump more: an extra 7 million barrels a day over the next twelve years. This isn’t news: projections of fossil fuel extraction have consistently shown such growth. If there is money to be made from pumping oil, the capitalists will pump it – and to hell with the rest of us!

On Saturday the Guardian continued its statements of the obvious by estimating that Tory MPs are five times as likely to resist action on climate change as MPs of other parties. Of course they are! If Brexit were not a reason to kick the Tories out in the forthcoming general election, climate change certainly is – but not if we replace them with the middle-of- the- road Blairites and Yellow Tories favoured by the Guardian. Corbyn’s proposals on global warming don’t go far enough, but they are a start. Let’s get him elected and go from there.

 

 

The CUiSL Discussion Paper on Climate Change is at https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

Croydon and the General Election

The Communist Party has announced that it will not be standing candidates in the next General Election – provided Labour retains its left leadership and fights the election on a left and progressive manifesto. This is fully in accordance with the principles expressed in the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels wrote that communists fight for the current interests of the working class while taking care of the future of the working class movement.

This does not mean that communists in Croydon will be passive by-standers at the next general election. If the conditions mentioned above are met, we will be actively assisting Labour in Croydon while, at the same time and in the words of the Communist Manifesto, disdaining to conceal our views, aims and membership of the Communist Party from fellow campaigners.

Croydon has three constituencies. Croydon South is a safe seat for the overtly ambitious Chris Phelps who has recently been campaigning Nimby-style to oppose housing developments in his leafy constituency, blaming the local Labour Council while failing to point out that it is Tory relaxation of planning regulations that is facilitating these developments.

Steve Reed MP in Croydon North is on the right of the Labour Party and supported Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour Party leadership election. He has caused trouble for his leader, most recently when calling for a second EU referendum . It is to be fervently hoped that his local party will de-select him but, until then, he is sitting on a comfortable majority and would expect to get re-elected without the need for any active support from the Croydon Communist Party.

Sarah Jones MP is harder to pigeonhole. She was first elected as MP for Croydon Central, a marginal constituency, in the 2017 general election following heroic efforts by local Labour Party members, mostly on the left  and many in Momentum, with active support from Croydon communists. She subsequently disappointed these local activists by immediately removing her Constituency Office from Ruskin House, the Labour and Trade Union Centre for Croydon which has played a key role in the rise of Corbynism. She appears to be have shaken by the resulting furore and has subsequently sought to bridge the gap between herself and those who worked to get her elected. While she remains hard to pin down politically, her appointment in May 2018 as Shadow Minister for Housing provides some modest ground for optimism.

The real problem with MPs generally is that they mostly see themselves as members of a profession in which they can build a career, not as delegates representing those who chose them. This, of course, won’t change until we achieve the communist aim of overturning the entire existing social and political order.

BREXIT DEBATE at Ruskin House

To reiterate our previous posting, communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, change to break the power of the capital. It was good to hear Dave Ward, the General Secretary of the communications and postal union, CWU, express not dissimilar sentiments at the public meeting at Ruskin House last night. The other speaker, Cllr Patsy Cummings, running for the Croydon and Sutton GLA Labour candidate and widely acknowledged as a sound left winger and easily the best candidate on offer, simply declared that “Labour is a remain party”. Dave Ward showed a greater awareness of the difficulty for the Labour Party if they too blatantly abandon the commitment in their 2017 election manifesto to respect and implement the referendum decision to leave. He finessed the position significantly, stressing the need to negotiate ‘credible’ leave arrangements and referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the TUC this week where he confirmed the sequential strategy comprising

  • Stop a no deal Brexit in October.
  • A general election once this had been accomplished – Tom Watson’s argument for a general election first was dismissed.
  • Negotiations by a Labour government for a ‘credible’ exit from the EU.
  • The Labour negotiated deal to be “put to the people” – presumably a second referendum but there appeared to be some wriggle room here. There was, however, no mention of the nonsensical strategy advocated by Emily Thornberry of campaigning for remain regardless of any deal Labour might reach.
  • A programme of fundamental reform by the Labour government, including trade union freedom and the reintroduction of sectoral bargaining. This presumably (still) includes re-nationalisation of key industries, but the point was not stressed.

 

This strategy requires quite a few dominoes to fall in line and in sequence. As Marx wrote, we make our own history, but not in conditions of our own choosing. The weak spot in the Corbyn-Ward strategy is, first, that Labour could lose the next general election if they try to pass themselves off simply as a “remain party”. A substantial proportion of working class Labour voters, especially in key constituencies for Labour in the North, are Brexiters and, anyway, the LibDems got there first. Second, and even more critical, if we stay in the single market, as Labour favours, we would remain subject to the EU’s Four Freedoms. These comprise free movement within the EU of goods, services, people and capital. While free movement of goods and services can confer economic benefits, the EU referendum was fought by both the official campaigns, often dishonestly, around the issue of the free movement of people. It is, however, the free movement of capital that would undermine any attempt by a future Labour government operating within the single market to curtail the power of capital. This happened in Greece when the government found itself unable to halt the flight of capital following their own referendum in 2015. In consequence, in 2016 34,000 Greeks aged under 40 left the country to look for work. While many of them were no doubt grateful for their “right of free movement “, it’s pretty certain that most of them would have preferred a right to work instead.

FLOPPY JOHNSON CAN’T GET AN ELECTION!

Not my words, but the tasteless banner headline today in the Scottish edition of the Sun. It’s an interesting contrast with their banner headline in the English edition: Is this the most dangerous chicken in Britain? beside a childish photofit picture of Jeremy Corbyn. How gullible does the Murdock press think we are? Don’t they realise that in the internet age we can spot the contradictions between their English and Scottish editions?

2019 has not been a good year for parliamentary democracy. With Teresa May’s government, shackled by its dependence on the Ulster Unionists following an ill-judged (by her) general election, it wasted the years following the EU Referendum in 2016 failing to negotiate a credible withdrawal agreement that parliament would approve. Now her successor, elected by a few thousand moribund Tory Party members, has been thwarted by the Tories’ own Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 from calling a general election intended to run the clock down to 31 October. How ironic that this Act was never intended to deprive future prime ministers from calling mid-term general elections, it was passed to shore up an unpopular Tory-Lib Dem coalition while it implemented the austerity programme to pay for the bailout of the banks.

Communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, to break the power of the capital. Johnson may very well find a way to wriggle out of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. He might even find a way to free us from the political and economic constraints that the EU imposes on us – but only with the intention of again requiring ordinary working people to pay the price and of seeking to subordinate us to US capital. We need to be rid of him and his loathsome government but not necessarily at a time of his choosing.

Greening the Labour Party

A key argument in the Communist University in South London paper on global warming at https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/ is that capitalism is incapable of responding to the threat because:

  • There are no technological fixes for global warming – the only solution is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
  • There is too much profit to be made from fossil fuel extraction for capitalists to do this.
  • Market based and capitalist governmental assessments under-estimate the damage of global warming due to the implicit (and in the case of governments, explicit) discounting they apply to future costs .
  • The super-rich may not necessarily believe these assessments and may reckon they can survive catastrophic global warming with the help of technological innovation without the need for 6 billion workers worldwide to support them.

Some of these conclusions appeared to be gradually dawning on at least some of those attending a public meeting at Ruskin House last night , 27 August, convened by Croydon Central CLP. While the consensus appeared to be that we should focus on local initiatives and trust in social democracy and a Corbyn government to tackle the bigger issues, one platform speaker, James Meadway, clearly understood the need for substantial structural and social change if global warming is to be addressed.

James Meadway has written an interesting paper at https://common-wealth.co.uk/greening-the-green-book.html proposing some modest reforms intended to weaken the dead hand of HM Treasury on government policy in this area. Sensible stuff – but we need to go much, much further if we are to avoid global catastrophe.

Work ’til you drop

In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.

Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.

The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of  economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.

ENTER THE CLOWNS

Clowns and jokers are intended to amuse but some of us find them scary, especially when they pop up in the wrong place as happened on Thursday this week.

Boris Johnson may appear clownish, but he isn’t stupid. Reckless, yes, but stupid, no, not when it comes to protecting the class interests he represents. In a series of statements and actions, including his appointments to the cabinet, his intention to do so was crystal clear:

  •  Money for the NHS and schools? We cannot afford it. Tax cuts for the rich?  No problem!
  • Humanitrian relief for refugees? Too expensive. Military adventures to protect oil reserves?  No problem!
  • Social security instead of food banks? It would encourage laziness. Printing money to keep bankers’ bonuses flowing? No problem!

But perhaps the most chilling policy statement from our new Prime Minister came in his answer to a question from Anneliese Dodds MP in his first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Asked why he had said so little about global warming, he replied:

The Conservatives are the only party that believes that private sector driven new technology can provide a solution to the problem.

This astounding answer deserves unpicking. Why do Tories alone believe a technological fix will be discovered? Belief (for some) is a wonderful thing, but communists prefer scientific analysis and evidence and they indicate that no such technological fix is possible, at least not one that would result in a stable climate. Of course, it is possible to believe in anything -fairies with magical remedies for example – but even Tories are not that self-deluded. Some further unpicking is called for.

The emphasis on the private sector to find and implement the imagined technological fix assumes that markets can be relied on to do this. Markets are great for meeting the immediate, inessential needs of consumers but they cannot distinguish between immediate, containable costs in the medium term and catastrophic cost in the more distant and less certain future[1]. Are Tories really willing to leave global warming to a mechanism with such a serious defect to address global warming?

These extraordinary beliefs might better be explained by examining the nature of the ‘solution’ they seek. Could this be not global temperature containment but rather the survival of the 1% (0.1%?) on a mountain top (not necessarily metaphorically speaking) and the extinction of the rest of us? Such a solution might not be so implausible in a world in which automation and robotisation rendered most of the 8 billion world population redundant. In other words, could the solution be a ‘final solution’ in name and deed?

So don’t be amused and distracted by the grease-paint. Clowns and jokers can be really scary.

[1] By way of example, markets reflecting a risk adjusted discount rate of 10%markets, cannot distinguish between a cost of £1 million incurred in eighty years from now, when someone born today might expect to still be alive, and one of £480 incurred today.

CHANGING THE WORLD, NOT MERELY UNDERSTANDING IT

The collapse of the class-based, slave -owning society of late antiquity might appear on casual reflection to hold few lessons about the future of capitalist society in the first quarter of the 21st Century, but a recent book by Professor Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma (The Fall of Rome – Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, Princeton University Press) can give us pause for thought.

Professor Harper is no Marxist, but his approach is evidence-based, scientific and socio-economic. He does not directly address, as a Marxist might, whether the collapse of the social structures of Late Antiquity  arose from a failure of those structures to protect and grow the economy, but his findings can readily be considered from this perspective. The fundamental cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire, according to Professor Harper, was not, as has often been suggested, the growth of Christianity within its borders or Islam beyond its crumbling eastern edge; nor was it some intrinsic fault that only worked itself out in the fullness of time, suggestions for which have included contested imperial succession and the abandonment of the short sword and armour by Roman infantry. Drawing on both the latest archaeological and paleo-genetic evidence and on classical sources including judiciously assessed eye witness reports, Professor Harper convincingly demonstrates that the collapse was caused by climate change and pandemic disease: first the Antonine Plague in the mid-second century (probably a voracious smallpox pandemic), then the hammer blow of bubonic plague from 558 until 749. The way in which the consequences of disease and climate change interacted and undermined the economy of the Roman Empire, including its tax and fiscal structures, is dealt with in an admirably dialectical way; and the resulting class struggle– especially the efforts of the Roman land owning class to cling on and even expand their estates at a time of economic crisis and population decline is not ignored.

Professor Harper concludes his book with a muted but cautionary warning to the 21st Century reader. This concerns the recent discovery of the speed with which history’s great pathogens have evolved. This evolutionary facility to exploit opportunities opened up as society changes represents a threat to us today although it is one that Professor Harper only hints at. He is even more reticent about the threat today of climate change due to CO2 emissions even though the effect could be far greater than that which contributed so significantly to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire following the Antonine Plague.

We are indebted to Professor  Harper for an excellent book which helps us understand why the Roman Empire fell. We, his readers, need, however, to bear in mind Marx’s advice: it is not enough to understand the world – what we have to do is change it.