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.

 

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!

Can we have our votes back please?

Interviewed yesterday on Channel 4 News, Naom Chomsky identified global warming and nuclear war as the two greatest threats to humanity and criticised the presidential contenders in the US for ignoring both. While I’d be inclined to add two more – growing inequality and the threat to humanity posed by the potential collapse of anti-biotics – it has to be pointed out that these concerns did not feature in our last general election either. The only election I can recall where they were raised was that for Labour Leader, won decisively by Jeremy Corbyn. He, however, faces an uphill struggle to persuade the Parliamentary Labour Party. Most Labour MPs and many of their elected counterparts in local government cannot wait to unleash a coup to topple him, and to hell with the members and supporters who so decisively elected him.

The recent mayoral election in London was largely about personalities and race, not policies. The successful Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, promised to freeze fares and build more affordable homes. Neither appeared very likely, but the significant number of left inclined voters in London voted for him anyway on the grounds that he wasn’t Zac Goldsmith, the millionaire Tory candidate; and, if he failed to get elected, the Parliamentary Labour Party would use it as an excuse to try and unseat Jeremy Corbyn.

Having won on Corbyn’s coat tails, there were some immediate signs of trouble ahead. At his inauguration Khan cold shouldered Corbyn and, in his public statements then and thereafter, showed little understanding of why he had been elected. His acceptance speech was full of self-congratulation for his personal achievement as the “son of a bus driver” for having risen so far. He was now, he told us,  “living the dream”. He has, however, waited until today to reveal in the Guardian his true colours. He wants Labour to return to the policies Blair and Brown. In other words, he sees war, growing inequality, privatisation and protecting the rich as a fair price for a Labour victory at the next general election and the further personal advancement that appears to mean so much to him. He has fired the starting gun for the campaign to topple Corbyn.

The Guardian should be ashamed for giving him a platform for this act of treachery. He should have been politely directed to the Daily Mail or The Times where his true audience awaits. Meanwhile, can we have our votes back please?

 

Demise of The Independent

News that The Independent is to close in March, lingering on only as a phantom, digital only, newspaper, should shake any lingering view that we enjoy in the UK a free and independent press. But how significant is this development?

The Independent has long since dropped from its masthead the claim to be “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The former claim was always problematical – a free press in this country demands some political bias as a counterweight to that exerted in favour of the Tories by most of our media, including the BBC. The latter claim was clearly unsupportable after the newspaper was acquired in 2010 by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev who also, by then, owned the London Evening Standard. Although following Lebedev’s acquisition  The Independent never sunk to the level of anti-working class vindictiveness employed by the Standard, it failed to respond to the opportunity presented for progressive politics by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and it has failed to take the lead in opposing the government’s attacks on working class interests such as trade union rights, housing, education and the NHS. With the Guardian mired in Blairite nostalgia, it has been left to the tiny (but perfectly formed)  Morning Star to lead on this. It could therefore be argued that the loss of The Independent doesn’t really matter. There is, however, another way of looking at its pending disappearance.

The Independent has around a 5% share of the readership of printed newspapers. Assuming this is acquired pro-rata by the remaining newspapers, it will leave 73%  controlled by four multi-millionaires: Rupert Murdoch (Sun and Times), Lord Rothermere (Mail and Metro) both with 29% each; Richard Desmond (Express and Daily Star) with 10%; and the Barclay Brothers (Telegraph) with 5%. Of these, only Richard Desmond lives in this country – yet they all exert tremendous influence over the UK government and its social policies and tax regime.

In any other situation where 73% of the market was controlled by four individuals, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), successor to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), would step in and the result would probably be enforced divestment. This would, however, require evidence of exploitation of market power and this is notoriously difficult to prove with newspapers as the benefit of ownership is not in the dividends received. Billionaires, even ones called Rupert, don’t make their billions from owning newspapers, they own newspapers to protect the billions they have made (or, in the case of Lord Rothermere, inherited). Lebedev’s closure of The Independent was not because it has not been yielding him sufficient monetary dividends, it was because it was no longer yielding him enough political dividends.

Regulatory agencies will never intervene to provide the truly free press we need. It can only be provided by government action to require national newspapers to be owned collectively by their readers. If the Morning Star can do it, so can the rest. But such government action will never be forthcoming under a Tory, or even a social democrat government. The remedy, as always, is a socialist government or, best of all, a social revolution led by the communists.

New Year Dishonours

On learning that Lynton Crosby, the slimy spin doctor who ran the Tory’s 2015 election campaign, had be awarded a knighthood under the New Year’s Honours List, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that it would make the public think that the awards system had become “an old boys’ club”. He did not go far enough. The entire awards system is rotten to the core. It should be abolished and the titles that go with it. While it limps on we can only marvel at the lack of self- respect of those who accepted these tarnished baubles.

Lynton Crosby aside, it’s true that, for example, Imelda Staunton is a fine actress and Tony McCoy is an excellent jockey. The time has, however, long past when actresses were a despised group in need of public recognition and sportsmen performed for the fun of it and to scratch a subsistence living. We have Oscars, Emmys etc to recognise the former and the Sports Personality of the Year (such a tautology!) to recognise the latter. As for the other 1,193 recipients, some are, no doubt, worthy individuals, some (but not all) pay their UK tax and not all of them will disingenuously claim that the award is a form of recognition for their colleagues and employees. Let them have their day at Buckingham Palace, but those we salute today are those who see honours for what they are and decline them. Well done you lot!

Happy New Year.

Love’s Labour’s Lost? Not yet!

The clear message to emerge from the Croydon Assembly held at Ruskin House on Saturday was that people are desperate for an end to austerity and want progress towards a more equal and democratic society. Equality of opportunity, once thought sufficient by New Labour, just won’t do. Star speakers, all echoing this theme, included John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT , Philipa Harvey , President of the NUT, and Andrew Fisher, economics adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and currently suspended from the Labour Party. This followed a complaints by Emily Benn about a tweet he made about her prior to General Election when she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Tory stronghold of Croydon South. One wonders what her grandfather Tony would have made of her efforts in support of the malign Stop Corbyn lobby inside the Labour Party.

Whether the Labour Party is actually reformable by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is an open question. He received a massive endorsement from Labour Party members and supporters and, as the event on Saturday showed, he continues to have wide support amongst ordinary working people inside and outside the Labour Party. Labour’s payroll membership – MPs, MEPs, councillors and those like Emily Benn seeking well paid jobs within the structure –  are the huge obstacle. While they are a pretty uninspiring bunch, they do represent a powerful interest group within the party. Due to their privileged positions, they are, however, completely out of touch with needs and interests of ordinary working people. This was never better illustrated than when, on Saturday, Jamie Audsley, Labour Councillor for Bensham Manor and a leading light on the ruling Labour Group running Croydon Council, joined in the debate and told the Assembly that he would be happy to ‘consult’ them and others on where the next round of cuts imposed by the government should fall. His inept intervention duly received the response from the meeting one would expect.

Even if Lost Labour can be brought back from the Blairite abyss, it would be a mistake to think that this would be sufficient for progressive change. Even if Corbyn holds on and wins the next general election, his party will remain a coalition of disparate interests – more Methodist than Marxist as Morgan Phillips once put it – and full of class collaborationists, opportunists and self-promoting careerists. As Marx and Engels argued 167 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, while we should support parties of the working class where they exist, real progressive change requires a strong and independent Communist Party. Fortunately we have one and we are not going away.

Jeremy Cobyn’s Patriotism

Patriotism, love for one’s country, is a virtue when uncontaminated by xenophobia, but when trumpeted by those whose personal contribution to the welfare of their countrymen and women is, at best, tenuous, it is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the last refuge of scoundrels. It was the latter form that was employed last week in many of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn in the capitalist press. This was perhaps inevitable given the foreign ownership and non-dom status of most of the owners, but we had a right to expect better of the BBC. They may be desperate to ingratiate themselves with the Tory government prior to their charter review, but surely they appreciate that a day of reckoning from a successor to this present, venal government awaits them.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘patriotism’ was questioned on three occasions: first by his questioning the need for obsequious flummery before he could be appointed to the Privy Council; second by his failing to sing aloud the National Anthem in the approved ‘patriotic’ manner ; and third for undermining Britain’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent by asserting that he would never, as Prime Minister, launch a nuclear attack. The first two questions arose from the continued conflation of the nation with the Crown. This may have been the formal position at the time of the Norman Conquest when England became William the Conqueror’s personal property and its people his ‘subjects’, but that this arrangement should linger on into the 21st Century is almost beyond belief. A heredity head of state may be defended by the establishment as both a symbol of the nation and a device to ensure continuity of government, but this does not mean that this symbol/device should substitute for the nation itself and her people treated as mere ‘subjects’, not citizens . As an intelligent individual, of course Jeremy Corbyn questions these absurd arrangements. We in the Communist Party share his views.

The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, including those from his own front bench, for asserting that, as Prime Minister, he would never launch a nuclear attack are either disingenuous or condoning the crime of global genocide. The disingenuity arises because the British Independent Nuclear Deterrent is neither British nor Independent – does anyone seriously think anything would actually happen if a British Prime Minister pushed the red button without US approval? If Volkswagen can hide software in our cars to defeat US emission testing, the US can surely incorporate failsafe software in the missiles they sell us. Condoning the crime of global genocide arises either because a first strike by Britain is envisaged or because, without such a strategy, retaliation would be a genocidal war crime of monstrous proportions. By the time a future British Prime Minister has to consider whether or not to retaliate, most British ‘subjects’ (for once the term would be appropriate) would already be dead. In this situation, in a bunker under a mountain in Scotland, he or she must choose whether to extinguish Homo Sapiens completely or allow some of the descendants from a common ancestor to survive and possibly re-build civilisation. If the patriotic response would be to push the red button because these survivors would not be British, the capitalist press is right for once: Jeremy Corbyn is not a patriot. And, by this definition, neither are we in the Communist Party.