Our “Free” Press

It would be a mistake to believe that the power of the capitalist press has been irrevocably damaged by its failure to deliver the Tory vote at the last general election. Social media may have enabled the Left to function without national newspaper support on that occasion but it must not be forgotten that the Tories still gathered 42.4 % of the popular vote against 40.0% for Labour. In the event of a Labour victory next time, unless something is done popular discontent will soon be whipped up against it. If anyone doubts this, look what is happening in Venezuela.

As Rob Griffiths, our General Secretary, reminded readers of the Morning Star this weekend, there is an old aphorism that the Express is read by those who think the country should be run like it used to be run, the Telegraph by those who think the country still is run like it used to be run, the Mail by the wives of those who run the country, the Guardian by those who think they should run the country, the Times by those who do run the country and the Financial Times by those who own it. While this is merely an amusing adage, it retains a germ of truth. But as Bill Barnett pointed out in a letter published in the same edition of the Morning Star, in times of falling readership, the “power of the press” is now largely dependent on the status it is afforded by national broadcasters, especially the BBC. ‘What the papers say’ is still treated as something of consequence to be faithfully reported. The continuing decline in readership is ignored. Every attempt to get the BBC to extend coverage to the Morning Star, despite well supported Early Day Motions in Parliament, is ignored.

A lot of nonsense is talked about the value of a “free” press. If a Corbyn led government is not to be undermined from the start, it should be a matter of priority for it to improve press regulation, require balanced reporting, establish an equal prominence right of reply, dispossess expatriate owners and, if any newspapers are to remain in private ownership, to properly tax the benefit of such ownership. As was pointed out in the Communist Party pamphlet From Each According To Their Means[1], newspapers are not owned for any (modest) profits they may generate, they are owned for the political power they confer on the owner. This pamphlet called for a public debate on newspaper ownership and how it should be taxed. One possibility would a substantial per copy levy on the number of copies distributed (rather than actually sold) in the UK with an exemption for reader owned co-operatives. An extra levy could be charged on any free bottles of water accompanying the purchase!

Footnote

[1] £2.50 including postage Follow link

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It’s impossible to say whether the extreme destructiveness of Hurricane Irma was due to global warming, but its intensity demonstrates the forces we can expect to be unleashed now average global temperature is above that 125,000 years ago during the last interglacial. During this interglacial, when homo sapiens was confined to Africa, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted. The current interglacial which we are now living through began only 11 thousand years ago. The Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps have yet to melt, but, accelerated by human CO2 emission, this is now happening. When the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted 125,000 years ago, sea levels rose some 4 to 6 meters above the current level. If they melt again, as is expected, sea levels will again rise by a similar amount.

No one knows for sure how quickly the ice sheets will melt or where the process will stop. A completely ice free world would result in a drowned world with sea levels some 70 metres above current levels. Unless a tipping point is reached first, this is currently thought unlikely in this century, but the direction of travel given our dependency on fossil fuels and the profits that can be derived from their extraction is clear enough.

Can humanity cope with increases in sea levels of 4 to 6 meters or more? Go to http://flood.firetree.net, feed in your own predictions and fears and judge for yourself the effect on shorelines and how you and yours will be directly affected. But the amount of currently dry land that will be below sea level is only part of the problem. As Hurricane Irma and recent floods in Texas, the Caribbean and India demonstrate, water moves and it is surges, precipitous rainfall and wind that cause the real damage rather than the slow encroachment of the sea. Living a few hundred feet above sea level will not secure your future or that of your children – unless, that is, you are part of the capitalist elite.

One reason for the lack of enthusiasm in tackling CO2 emissions – look for example at how the issue was ignored in reaching the decision on Heathrow expansion – is that capitalists, those who own the means of production and thus don’t have to sell their labour to live, are pretty confident that they will survive the coming global climatic catastrophe. They are strengthened in this view by robotisation, the accelerating substitution of labour by machines, giving them an implicit belief that they can become self-sufficient provided they are supported by a servant class. The 1% need, say, 2% to serve them, leaving the 97% superfluous to their needs.

Scared? You should be. Global warming is probably unstoppable even if the political will existed to try. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot be slowed or that our world will shortly (i.e. by the end of the century) become uninhabitable. The choice is between: letting the 3% survive and the rest of us perish; and starting out on the road to building a communist society which meets the needs of everyone. Given where we are starting from, that means building the Communist Party – now, in Croydon and everywhere.

Open Universities?

The CUiSL class on 20 July on What comes after capitalism? was well attended and got the new term off to a lively start. The next class will be on 21 September, 7 pm at Ruskin House. The topic will then be Universal Basic Income – do we want it?

CUiSL is an open, free university which treats its students as a resource, not empty vessels to be filled by experts. It is therefore very different from what we have come to expect from commoditised university education. These differences have been highlighted by two items covered in news reports over the summer. The first is the report that I have personally had confirmed by the supposedly Open University: that it is refusing to accept students from Cuba on the grounds that the OU, a British institution funded by British taxpayers, lacks a license from the US Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control to do so. Such supine acceptance of US extraterritorial jurisdiction is breath-taking and says much about the independence of thought we can now expect from that once noble institution. The second event is the ongoing debate on student fees and who should pay them. Writing in City AM today (23 August), Paul Omerod, Visiting Professor at the UCL Centre for Decision-Making Uncertainty, acknowledges that universities have no incentive to reduce their fees as to do so would signal that their degrees were less valuable than others. His half-baked solution is to offer discounts to students with higher grades. How this fits with the ethos that universities are businesses left free to charge “what the market will bear” defies logic. A better solution would be, as we have argued below, for universities to reassume their responsibilities for providing the nation with further education and research and for the state to pay fees and subsistance grants financed by progressive taxation, including that on graduate incomes. One useful saving that could, however, be made would be for future free university education to be confined to those educated in state schools. For as long as we tolerate private education, why should those wealthy enough to pay for private education (i.e. ‘public’ schools) for their kids be allowed once more to access state funded further education for free?

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

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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.