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.

Advertisements

Debate and the future of CUiSL

The BBC’s news coverage is practically indistinguishable from that of the capitalist press, and even its topical comedy output is full of jibes about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed “unelectability” , so it is gratifying when a programme that questions, however modestly, the capitalist status quo occasionally slips through. A recent example was a 30 minute programme on Tuesday, 14 December when the self-styled “Global Philosopher” Professor Michael Sandel asked Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

Professor Sandel is no Marxist, but he does share with us the approach Question Everything. It is not Professor Sandel’s method to provide answers: rather, he poses questions to a worldwide, selected audience, albeit a predominately middle class one, and examines their responses. This programme was essentially an exploration of whether we should be aiming for a society in which there is equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Capitalism cannot, of course, provide either, but to facilitate debate, the Professor hypothesised a society in which everyone started equally and then asked whether his audience whether they would prefer a meritocracy or a lottocracy, the former, being a society in which a minority ‘won’ through ability and effort and the latter being one where chance determined success.

The Professor’s hypotheses, stated and unstated, were flawed. We cannot have a society in which everyone starts with the same chance of success unless inherited wealth is banished. This obvious point was left unstated, probably because it is incompatible with all class-based societies, including capitalism. Another unstated assumption was that society must inevitably be based on competition between individuals. Again, while this is an implicit assumption under capitalism, it is not the way in which we will organise society under socialism. As Marx said in his Critique of the Gotha Program , in the transitionary period it will be from each according to their ability to each according to their work and, under full communism, to each according to their need.

If we overlook the failure to state awkward assumptions, the discussion in this programme was the type of probing debate that the Communist University of South London was supporting last year. CUiSL took a breather in 2016 but is considering if and how it might be re-activated in 2017. One possibility is a return to student presentations followed by debate; but another possibility is to conduct some collective research into a specific issue. One that has been suggested is the economics of the housing crisis and how to address it. If you have views on these or other possibilities, please email them to cuisl@communist-party.org.uk .

Political Discussion on 15 September

At the branch Meeting on 15 September the political discussion centred on the leadership contest in the Labour Party.

It was agreed that, although Communist Party members were simply observers in the struggle going on inside the Labour Party, and we had no interest in entryism, we were well placed to speak out on what was going on. While the reports to the meeting were essentially second-hand, they drew on excellent contacts across the labour movement and, in many cases, the experience of family and friends who were Labour Party members and members of Momentum.

It was reported that Momentum were advising its members to keep a low profile in the internet and not to refer in public or on the internet to ‘plotters’, ‘coups’, ‘traitors’ or ‘Blairites’ when discussing the election. Fear of being expelled, or at the very least being disenfranchised in the current election, appeared to be widespread amongst Labour Party members. Fortunately, the CP, at this meeting and in the pages of the Morning Star, was not susceptible to such intimidation..

It was reliably reported that Labour Party members were still receiving telephone calls asking whether they had voted yet and, if so, which way. When challenged about the purpose and legitimacy of enquiring about votes already cast in a secret ballot, the callers had, it was reported, hurriedly rung off. The evidence points to these calls coming from the Smith campaign, but how they got hold of names and telephone numbers of Labour Party members was unclear. Breaches of the Data Protection Act could not be discounted.

The attention of the meeting was drawn to the extensive anecdotal reports that Corbyn supporters were being expelled for trivial reasons and to the exclusion of some 130,000 new members because they had joined in the last six months. Doubts were expressed over whether the elements in the Labour Party opposing Corbyn would succeed in expelling enough members to swing the election in favour of Owen Smith. Whether this was so won’t be clear until the Labour Party Leadership Conference on 24 September.

It was noted that, in seeking comments on political developments, the BBC had reverted to those who had participated in the staged and phased mass resignations from the Shadow Cabinet. The self-imposed silence from Hilary Benn and his fellow conspirators had ended. Little surprise was expressed over this development, but it was pointed out that, when the BBC draft Royal Charter was enacted, the likelihood of the BBC  reporting  without bias on political developments would be further reduced.

The most disturbing aspect of the Labour leadership election for many at the meeting was the failure of the challenger, Owen Smith, to confirm that he would respect the result of the election. He had previously stated his refusal to serve in a future shadow cabinet under Corbyn and, in the televised debate with his ‘unelectable’ opponent, he had left the stage after being thoroughly trounced, mumbling about offering Corbyn the non-existent role of ‘president’ of the party. As the Co-op Party had refused to go along with the plotters’ proposal to use it as a vehicle to legitimise a Parliamentary Labour Party in revolt against its elected leader, the meeting was concerned that the Blairite wing of the Labour Party would simply trigger successive leadership elections until they finally win one.

Concluding the meeting, it was proposed that, in response to ideas discussed at the Party Cadre School on 10 September, the Croydon Branch should in future hold public meetings to debate and discuss political developments and analyse them in the light of Marxist theory. It was suggested that this might be done by re-activating and re-branding the classes previously held by the Communist University in South London, but possibly introduced this time by named speakers. This proposal will be investigated by the Branch Committee. Views of members were invited.

 

No More Mr Nice Guy

The Tory government, having secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate, is hell bent on making irrevocable changes to our society by the time of the next general election. These changes are intended to permanently disadvantage working people and their families and to secure their continued exploitation. They include

  • Handing over every school and the council owned land on which they stand to Multi Academy Trusts run by unaccountable and profit hungry businesses.
  • A Trade Union Bill which puts insuperable legal barriers in the way of industrial action and which will make most strikes impossible or illegal. One feature, the requirement of pickets to give their names to the police, is a step along the road to a fascist state.
  • Cuts to disability and welfare payments – don’t trust them not to go further despite the reassurances following the Budget fiasco
  • Underfunding of social services and resort to food banks
  • A Trade Union Bill which is also intended to slash trade union funding for the Labour Party while turning a blind eye to corporate funding of the Tory Party
  • Dismantling the NHS
  • A commitment to sign up to TTIP
  • Undermining social housing and an end to secure, affordable housing, whether to buy or to rent
  • Education cuts and crippling student loans
  • Cuts to arts funding and library closures
  • intimidation of the BBC
  • An abject failure to address global warming – the greenest government ever? I think not.

The aim of the last New Labour government under Blair and Brown was to halt the direction set by the previous Tory administrations under Thatcher and Major but not to roll their policies back. This was a critical mistake and the Tories have duly taken full advantage of it. What is there for them to lose? Our aim next time should be not only to roll back the Tories’ policies but this time to go further. We need to oppose every Tory advance with one for ordinary working people which will hurt the Tories and their modest number of supporters. Simply by way of illustration, here are some of the policies we could promote now in opposition to theirs:

  • Education – public schools to be nationalised and turned into comprehensives
  • Trade unions – a requirement for every employee to be in a union
  • Welfare payments – a living wage for all
  • Social services – public servants, not charities, to provide comprehensive social care
  • Party funding – a total ban on corporate donations and corporate lobbying
  • NHS – a tax on private health care
  • TTIP – a free trade area with Cuba and Venezuela
  • Social housing – a huge, high quality council housing programme
  • Arts funding – a public theatre, library and art gallery in every town and a tax on ownership of works of art not open to the public
  • BBC – national newspapers to be published only by co-operatives owned by their readers
  • Global warming – a ban on flying and other conspicuous carbon consumption by wealthy individuals unless they can demonstrate real need.

Perhaps then the Tories will understand that Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies to societies as well as to inanimate bodies: for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. We’ve had enough and we are pushing back: no more Mr Nice Guy.

Responses to Paris

In the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 30 November to 11 December, the BBC is today heavily spinning some survey findings it has commissioned from the Research Group Globe Scan indicating that only  just under half of all those surveyed across 20 countries viewed climate change as a “very serious” problem, compared with 63% in 2009. Despite this spin, the report concedes that a majority in the UK still consider it “very serious”.

One must question why a supposedly cash strapped BBC has commissioned this survey and why it has given it such a negative spin. Could it be that it is seeking to curry favour with its paymaster, the one-time “greenest government ever” when it is about to sell out in Paris?

Opinion surveys are, of course, very dependent on the questions asked. Other recent research has drawn very different conclusions. For example, that published last month by the Pew Research Center, identified climate change as the biggest concern of peoples across the globe, far more serious than global economic instability or the threat of ISIS. While in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Paris this may not currently be the majority view in the UK, it must surely be the rational one after considered reflection. ISIS could murder thousands of people in the UK over the next few years. Unchecked global warming has the potential to extinguish all human life in a few generations.

The responses of our government to terrorism and to global warming are indeed very different. The response to terrorism is “something must be done” while taking the opportunity provided to effect largely unrelated but advantageous “regime change”. 9/11 was a horrific crime but declaring a “war on terror” and going on to invade Afghanistan and Iraq was such a response. Had President Bush simply called in the FBI to identify and arrest the culprits, we would not now be confronting ISIS and mass migrations of people from the Middle East. The wish to bomb Syria is also motivated by the “something must be done” principle and a scarcely concealed wish to topple President Assad of Syria. Both are consistent with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing something over and over again and each time expecting a different result. The response to global warming, on the other hand, is to try to spin the problem away. This is criminally inadequate but so would be “something must be done”. Real action to curb CO2 emissions has to be negotiated in Paris and then implemented or humanity is in deep, deep trouble. Furthermore, unlike meddling in the Middle East, there really is a regime change that would help: ending capitalism!

 

BYPASSING THE MASS MEDIA

An exception to the near total absence of comment in the mass media (Morning Star excepted) of the BBC’s “institutional bias” in its coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been Paul Myerscough’s analysis in the current edition of the London Review of Books. The fact that LRB is a low volume, specialist literary monthly illustrates the extent to which the capitalist press, including the Guardian, is united in its hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and explains why Corbyn’s team must bypass them and the BBC if they are to reach out to voters.

Myerscough’s article cites a number of occasions when the BBC’s editorial independence and objectivity when dealing with Corbyn’s leadership has broken down. Readers of this blog could no doubt provide many more examples. Interestingly, Myerscough identifies the cause not as the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views but rather the dislocation between the new state of party politics following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes ‘impartiality’. The BBC’s idea of impartiality remains centred on the fine gap between the Tory-big business nexus and the Blairite rump in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They have failed to take account of the fact that the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall option, more of the same from Labour, was totally rejected by Labour members and supporters.

An opportunity to assist Jeremy Corbyn in his strategy of bypassing the mass media will present itself on Saturday, 7 November when John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s principal ally in parliament, will open the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House, Croydon. Registration is from 10.00 am and the Assembly will close by 4.30 pm. Other speakers include Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, Andrew Fisher, economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, and Candy Udwin, the PCS shop steward the National Gallery sacked and were forced to re-instate. This is a stellar line up and, although you can turn up on the day unannounced, it would be appreciated if you could register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/croydon-assembly-fighting-the-tories-a-manifesto-for-action-tickets-18754943541. There is no entry fee.

The Croydon Assembly is an initiative by Croydon TUC to make contact, radicalise and organise the wider community. It has the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party members on Croydon TUC. A manifesto has been prepared over the last few months and will be debated and voted on at the meeting. This is definitely one meeting worth attending.

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.

That was not democracy

Whatever it is we have been experiencing over the last six weeks, it was not democracy. Democracy is rule by people. It requires the people to have free, unbiased and digestible information enabling them to engage in discussion and debate before reaching their decisions. What we have just experienced satisfies none of these criteria. It was nothing more than a quinquennial  circus, largely  paid for by big business and wealthy individuals with vested interests in the outcome. It fell well short of true democracy for the following reasons:

  1. Under our first-past-the post system, most voters are deprived of any influence over the outcome. In consequence, a significant proportion of voters have not registered to vote or, if they have, will not bother to vote.
  2. The winners will claim legitimacy even though the majority of the population have not have voted for them. This is in sharp contrast to Tory plans requiring workers to secure a majority of those who are entitled to vote in every workplace before industrial action can be taken.
  3. Voters will have no say in any deals stitched up after the election.
  4. Once elected, MPs will be insulated from and hence largely insensitive to the views of those who elected them.
  5. The reporting of the election has been dominated by privately owned mass media whose owners are neither UK voters nor UK taxpayers and by a BBC running scared of changes to its charter and license fee by the winners of the election. To make matters worse, most journalists in every media are unrepresentative of the nation to which they report, being predominately white, middle class and Oxbridge educated.
  6. The MPs we elect, whatever the result, will also be unrepresentative. Not only will they earn around three times the average wage, they will have more job security and much better pensions than most of those who elected them. They will be drawn predominately from professional and managerial backgrounds. Like journalists, they will be predominately men, privately educated, Oxbridge graduates. Many like the (hopefully outgoing) Prime Minister will come from wealthy backgrounds.
  7. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level unless it is underpinned by local government democracy. The latter has been gutted as Peter Latham describes in great detail in his excellent book[i].
  8. It is impossible to have democracy at the national level if it is denied us in the workplace. The anti-trade union legislation in place in the UK conflicts with international agreements freely entered into by previous governments. For more information on this illegality, refer to Union Rights…and Wrongs[ii]
  9. Power no longer lies with elected MPs. They are whipped into conformity by the political parties, and they can no longer legislate in a number of areas due the EU.
  10. The dominant political parties are financed by big business and wealthy individuals.

In the light of these shortcomings, don’t expect too much from the forthcoming election. Austerity must be opposed whoever wins, but this will be much harder if the Tories form the next government. A Labour government is a necessary but insufficient condition to oppose austerity. A vote for the Communists, when available, will help with this. But the real fight starts after the election. In Croydon this means building the Communist Party locally and supporting the Croydon TUC and its Croydon Assembly initiative on Saturday, 6 June.

[i] The State and Local Government by Peter Latham, Manifesto Press, 2011. £14.95 from the Communist Party

[ii] Union Rights…and Wrongs: the reform of Britain’s anti-union laws by John Hendy QC 2001. The Institute of Employment Rights.

BBC: jumping before being pushed?

The BBC has recently announced plans to scrap quotas for in-house production. John McVay, the Chief Executive of the independent producers’ trade body described it as an “historic moment” and said that the BBC had “jumped before it was pushed”. BBC insiders have commented (off the record) that it is “a short hop, skip and jump to the BBC becoming a publisher broadcaster.”

To assess the significance of this move, we need to ask ourselves what exactly the BBC is for. When founded, the first Director General, Lord Reith, considered that it was there to inform, educate and entertain. As the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ row between the government and the BBC demonstrated, frequent reviews of the Charter, the power to appoint the BBC Board and Director General and the dependence on the license fee give the government of the day tremendous influence when it comes how it ‘informs’. In a recent survey for the BBC by Ipsos MORI in February, the BBC scored an average 6.5 out of 10 in response to the question of how impartial it was. To give this scale some meaning, that great fabricator of misleading information, the Daily Mail, scored 4.1! The BBC’s pitiful ‘balanced’ reporting of the Israeli attacks on Gaza can only have further depressed the BBC’s impartiality rating. The contempt with which the BBC’s flagship political programme, Question Time, is now held by a significant proportion of its potential audience (just look at the tweets than accompany this pitiful programme) is tangible and demonstrates how our confidence in the BBC has slipped.

On education, the BBC continues to play a useful but minor role. Its nature programmes are generally good and its coverage of science is sound if uninspiring. But surveys show that even on information and education, it is now treated with less confidence than Wikipedia.

On entertainment, the role played by the BBC is essentially to set a minimum quality standard that commercial stations have to take into account. In this it has been quite successful, prompting both ITV and even Sky to raise their games in drama and comedy and not to rely exclusively in cheap imports from the USA. Whether this leadership can be retained when the BBC is no longer constrained by an in-house quota is problematical. The BBC could indeed be on its way to becoming a “publisher broadcaster” and, from there, oblivion.

What is the way forward for the BBC? Obviously, it should not be handed over to Murdoch or Sky as many on the right would like to see. Its modest independence from the government of the day needs to defended and strengthened. The license fee needs to be retained, but an element of progressivity included. While it is not realistic to think that a public broadcaster can be truly independent of the capitalist interests that control everything else in our society, we should continue to press for a fair hearing for the left and progressive causes. A good place to start would be for the BBC to respond at last to Early Day Motions in parliament calling on it to include the Morning Star in its coverage of the UK press.