Student fees: putting the genie back in the bottle

The admission by Lord Adonis, the Blairite minister responsible for introducing them, that mushrooming tuition fees and student loans to pay for them were a terrible mistake is a long overdue admission. The Labour Manifesto contained a commitment to abolish student fees from this autumn. There was, however, no commitment to write off existing loans, although Jeremy Corbyn has publicly acknowledged here the problem and said he would deal with it if elected.

Putting the genie back in the bottle will not be easy. As restrictions on fees were progressively relaxed, the universities came to see themselves more and more as businesses competing with foreign universities, not public services. As businesses they felt entitled to pay their top executive whatever ‘the market’ would allow. Vice Chancellors now trouser £275,000 per annum on average and in some cases over £400,000. There will be tremendous resistance to returning universities to institutions whose purpose is to educate and support research, not businesses that sell degrees internationally and earn money from royalties.

Universities are not alone in being captured by ruling class interests and ignoring their social purpose. It will take more than the single term of a progressive, social democratic government to rid all our public services – education, health, social and infrastructural – of the corrupting influence of capital. Capitalism itself needs to be dismantled, but this cannot be achieved without a clear understanding of capitalism’s current trajectory, how we can influence it and (arguably) a clearer idea about what is to replace it.  What Comes After Capitalism will be the first subject we tackle in the new series of classes at the Communist University in South London (CUiSL) on 20 July. See link  for details.

TWO REVIEWS YOU MUST READ

In the Morning Star today is a glowing review by Andy Hedgecock of Dr Peter Latham’s new book Who Stole the Town Hall?  Peter is a member of this branch and an expert on local government. The review concludes that

Neoliberalism is unsustainable and this book uses compelling and accessible evidence that a  different form of politics is both possible and essential.

This is spot on. Copies of Peter’s book will be on sale at the Communist University in South London class at Ruskin House on 20 July but don’t wait until then: buy your copy now.

The other review you must read is Andrew O’Hagan’s review in the London Review of Books (1 June) of Adrian Addison’s book Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’. It’s not so much a book review, more a full on, in-your-face demolition of the Daily Mail and its editor Paul Dacre. Yet again the London Review of Books has shown itself to be unafraid of rocking the establishment and untainted by the timidity that grips the Guardian and the BBC.

Saturday 24 June: discussion analysis and some modest celebration

As we pointed out on 22 May, we are living, in an age of political upsets. So it has proved. Well done everyone who campaigned here in Croydon Central and across the country for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and shame on those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who campaigned over the previous eighteen months to undermine him. Without this disruption, Labour might well have won this election. But don’t let us deceive ourselves: as we pointed out in that same blog, we have been participating in a flawed process. The weight of the capitalist press, apart from the late conversion of the Guardian, was so biased that, if our elections were properly regulated, the cost of printing these disgraceful rags would have been charged as an election expense. The BBC’s coverage of Corbyn’s Labour was pitiful and continues to be biased in favor of the Right – just consider the coverage currently being lavished on Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of an ex-party. The Electoral Commission has shown itself incapable of controlling election expenses; Big Business continues to buy influence, even inside the Parliamentary Labour Party; and neo-classical economics retains its grip on economic theory and will continue to be palmed off in the mass media and on the BBC as independent and objective analysis.

Local government remains enfeebled. The NHS is still being dismantled. Education still faces cuts. We are saddled with a Tory-Orange coalition for which no one voted. If the LibDems couldn’t check the Tories in coalition, how much restraint can we expect the Orangemen to provide? So the battle now turns on building an alternative to the feeble ‘democracy’ provided by parliamentary and local government elections. The Croydon Assembly and Festival for unity, diversity and democracy at Ruskin House on Saturday 24 June is another step on in this direction. Communists, our friends and supporters and everyone who wants a real democracy are encouraged to register for the Assembly here and turn up on the day for discussion, analysis and some modest celebration.

Hypothetical Questions

At last, and after much hostile criticism, the Guardian has begrudgingly endorsed Jeremy Corbyn and called for a Labour vote on Thursday, concluding the editorial on Saturday with

 
…Mr Corbyn has shown that the party might be the start of something big rather  than the last gasp of something small. On 8 June Labour deserves our vote.

 

Well done, Guardian! It must have hurt to print this after so much carping ; but perhaps it has dawned on them at last that, as good as their arts and sports coverage is, much of their readership has been despairing at their politics and won’t put up with much more of the same.

The transformation is not, of course, total. In the same edition, in the Review Section, one Stephen Poole criticises Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to answer hypothetical questions. The example given was Paxman’s question on whether he, Corbyn,  would order a drone strike on a suspected terrorist. This, of course, was a simple ‘got you both ways’ ploy by Paxman: no possible answer can satisfy the questioner.

The trick in asking a hypothetical question is to imply one set of assumptions and then re-define them in the light of the response. It is the oldest trick in the book and Paxman should be ashamed for indulging his masters by resorting to it. To ask a hypothetical question fairly, the assumptions have to be both stated and comprehensive. Here’s an example of how one question put several times to Jeremy Corbyn should be linked with the assumptions surrounding it.

Question: Would you authorise nuclear retaliation – i.e. push the nuclear ‘red button’?

Assumptions: You are Prime Minister and have survived an attack on Britain with nuclear weapons. Tens of millions of people have been killed. The country is in flames and most of the surviving population are dying of injuries and radiation poisoning. Your military advisors tell you it’s obvious who launched the attack, but, as the first casualty of war is the truth, you cannot be completely sure of this. Similarly, you do not know the purpose of the attack. It could be accidental. You do know, however, that if you retaliate against the nations identified by your military advisers, millions of innocent people will be killed and the resulting nuclear winter will probably render all human life extinct in a matter of years.

Answer : Yes – this indicates you are either a psychopath or lying.

Answer: No – this indicates that you are sane.

But as you won’t have the assumptions stated before the question is asked, the best course of action is to refuse to answer hypothetical questions. Well done, Jeremy Corbyn!

Meanwhile, the best (albeit utterly chilling) advice on what to do following a nuclear attack is contained in the Introduction to Martin Amis’s 1987 book Einstein’s Monsters. There’s a copy to be found here but readers of this blog are recommended to buy a copy of the book which is still available in paperback (Penguin, ISBN 0-14- 010315-5).

The Power of the Capitalist Press

.

The article by Peter Lazenby in the Morning Star yesterday Free-media? More-like-guard-dogs-of-the-Establishment neatly summarised the distortion and lies in the capitalist press about Jeremy Corbyn since the Manchester Bombing. To these we can now add today’s headline in the Daily Torygraph: Corbyn is making excuses for terror attack, says May. Not actually a lie, as Theresa May did say this, but constructively a lie as anyone who heard what Jeremy Corbyn actually said can confirm.

As Peter Lazenby pointed out, eighty percent of national newspapers are owned by companies controlled by billionaire proprietors. Given this skewed ownership, it’s not surprising that we get distorted news. The rest of the national newspapers (Morning Star excepted) are hardly more balanced – the Guardian’s coverage of the general election, for example, has been sour and disappointing. But are the days when our national newspapers dictated the result of general elections (It’s the Sun wot won it) over? With declining circulation, now only 7 million and falling, is their remaining influence now largely confined to the establishment itself?

Even if the power of the press is diminishing, there still has to be a reckoning if Labour wins – although there will be plenty of Labour MPs who associate themselves with the establishment rather than their own members and voters and who will resist any interference with our so-called ”free” press. Prohibiting anyone from owning, directly or indirectly, a newspaper when they don’t pay UK taxes or cannot vote in our elections would be a start.

The Age of Political Upsets

I joined Labour activists outside Croydon College today in a last ditch attempt to get students at the college to register to vote before the deadline at midnight tonight. While 1.5 million young people have registered to vote in the forthcoming general election since it was called, this still leaves, according to the Electoral Commission, 7 million people unregistered, a large proportion of whom will be young, first-time voters. But why was this last ditch and modest effort left to a few, idealistic political activists?

The truth is that the government is quite happy to see young people disenfranchised. Most of them face a working life in insecure employment, loaded with debt for college fees and unable to afford to rent, let alone buy a flat. They are not going to vote Tory. Even Tories understand that Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!

It’s worth taking a moment out from electioneering to reflect on what it would be like to participate in a truly democratic election. The government would, of course, have a legal responsibility to encourage young people to register, but it would feel very different in many other ways. There would be vibrant debate on every street corner; fly posters would be everywhere; the law requiring the BBC to be impartial would actually be enforced; there would be no election deposits to restrict voter choice; every vote would mean something; election spending would be drastically capped; and the mass media would reflect the views and interests of their readers, viewers and listeners, not those of a bunch of tax dodging billionaires. Finally, the parliament we would be electing would be drawn from ordinary workers, not a wealthy, privately educated elite, many already in the pay of big business or willing to join up once elected.

But enough of daydreaming! Back to the unequal struggle to get Labour elected in a flawed process. As the Tory wobbles this week demonstrate, including opinion polls published today in Wales, and contrary to what we are reading in the mass media, it’s not yet all done and dusted. We can win this unfair and undemocratic election. As the American and French elections demonstrate, this is the age of political upsets.

 

GO TO IT!

According to the Morning Star today (Tuesday, 9 May), the Crown Prosecution Service may not be able to defer their decision on whether as many as 20 Tory MPs will face prosecution for breaching election spending limits in the 2015 general election until after the election on 8 June. Does this mean we can look forward to a repeat of the sight Theresa May being bundled into the back of a car by burly policemen, last witnessed following the tragic incident outside Parliament on 22 March? Given our supine mass media and captured BBC, probably not, but we live in hope. The best explanation for why Theresa May called a snap election when she had a perfectly adequate parliamentary majority guaranteed for the next four years is not her need to negotiate ‘toughly’ with the EU or even an opportunistic attempt to destroy the Labour Party for ever, it is that this parliamentary majority could have been destroyed by such prosecutions. If she can increase that majority sufficiently, she will be able to ride out any post-election scandal with the support of the mass media and the BBC. One wonders whether waiving through Murdoch’s bid to acquire the rest of Sky TV could be part of such a strategy.

Meanwhile, we face a pending poster storm from the Tories, financed by huge donations from non-dom millionaires – all completely legal, of course, having been routed in ways approved by our feeble Electoral Commission. Fascistic calls for ‘strong and stable government’ and huge portraits of our reptilian leader can, however, be defeated. We can win the forthcoming election, but it will take unceasing grass-roots activity in the marginal constituencies. This isn’t democracy – everyone’s vote should count, and real democracy isn’t confined to putting a cross every few years on a piece of paper listing a restricted choice of candidates. But that is the current system and we have to go along with it if we are to defeat May and the big money backing her. This is why the Communist Party is calling on its members and supporters to assist Labour in this election. For Croydon CP, this means assisting in Croydon Central, doing the low profile jobs for Labour like leafletting. Go to it, Comrades! There is a world to win, and this could be the first step!

STRONG AND STABLE?

We are used to right wing bias in the capitalist press. The hysterical response of the Daily Express to news that we would not be putting up candidates in the forthcoming general election was an extreme but not untypical example. Tory MPs were quoted by The Express as warning that our support was a sign of how extreme Labour had become under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Amanda Milling, the nervous Tory MP for Cannock Chase (majority only 4,923) bleated:

“Let this sink in: Jeremy Corbyn has been endorsed today by a party who want   to close down businesses, leave the protection of Nato and hike up  taxes to a level never seen before in this country.”

One and a half out of three, Amanda!

Yes, we do want to quit Nato whose original purpose was to contain the former USSR and whose purpose now is to confront Russia by rolling our tanks and missiles up its borders. Yes, we want to hike up taxes on the likes of Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, who employs trusts and holding companies located in Guernsey to avoid paying UK tax. No we don’t want to ‘close’ businesses, but we do want to see their employees treated fairly and with respect, represented by trade unions with negotiating rights and given a say in the running of the business, with public ownership as an option where the so-called ‘business’ is actually a public service.

Jeremy Corbyn is a decent, principled politician with deep socialist convictions, but he’s not obviously a Marxist; and he’s certainly not a communist. Our programme would go much further as it’s aimed at creating a society run by those who do the work, not those whose families have accumulated the proceeds of other people’s work. Corbyn may not share our entire world-view; but compared with a prime minister who wants to starve state education while promoting grammar schools, privatise the NHS and who confesses to being willing to commit mass murder by launching a retaliatory nuclear attack, he’s well worth supporting.

Strong and stable government under May? For the few, perhaps, but not for the rest of us.

BRING IT ON

Did anyone think the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 requiring parliamentary elections not to be held before five years have elpsed would inhibit an opportunistic  Prime Minister from calling a general election? Like many aspects of our “democratic” system, it was all appearances and no substance. True democracy is not achieved by an opportunity every five years (sic) to choose whom from the ruling class should rule over us. The forthcoming election called by Mrs May today won’t be fair, won’t reflect the needs and wishes of the electorate and won’t be reported fairly in the capitalist owned mass media and the government  controlled BBC. Nevertheless, if we can get May kicked out and  Jeremy Corbyn elected Prime Minister, it will be a useful step forward. Bring it on!