Meeting the challenge

For an excellent report on and pictures of the Croydon May Day march and rally at Ruskin House last Saturday, you can do no better than see this report on the Sangha Kommune website. I was within earshot of the author of the report when he had his reported encounter with the passer by who, on seeing the hammer and sickle flag, declared that we were “forty years too late” and challenged us to provide an example of where communism had been successfully implemented.

There is not a lot one can do in such situations other than respond with confidence and good humour. This the comrade did with much skill and courtesy. Marches and street demos are not ideal situations for educating and persuading confrontational members of the public who have swallowed the anti-communist propaganda that permeates capitalist society. Of course, we could have pointed out that, without the attempt to build socialism in the USSR, we would have lost the Second World War and he and his family would not be around to challenge us. One could also point to the considerable achievements of Cuba where, by prioritising health and education, life for ordinary people is far better than it is for ordinary people in other developing countries. Finally, one could counsel caution about writing off too soon China’s attempt to build socialism. Of course China faces problems, but we should not let the distorted reporting in our mass media persuade us that China has given up on building socialism. China is taking its own, long term path, and we wish them well. As Marxists, it is, however, our critique of capitalism and our understanding that it is a historical phase that will eventually collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions (and the shove we will give it at the right moment) that leads us to believe that we can and must build something better and more permanent before the capitalists destroy the world.

For a more comprehensive statement of the Case for Communism, try the CP pamphlet of the same name by John Foster, available from the CP shop for £2 plus 50 pence postage. He puts it much better than I can.

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Croydon North communist candidate Ben Stevenson calls for revolution in our democracy

 

Croydon North Communist candidate Ben Stevenson spoke to assembled national and international media at an event in Westminster today organised to promote the CPs election manifesto.


Whatever government manages to be formed come may 8th 9th – whether it’s blue and purple; red and orange; green, pink, black, gold or yellow 

What’s clear is that what we wont get is a government that will break the neoliberal consensus which has dominated our politics for the last 35 years. We won’t get a government that will represent the interests of ordinary working people over that of the city spivs, big business or any other section of the top 1% who own and control nearly all of Britain’s wealth. Why is this, well over the last 35 years we’ve seen a sustained and gradual selling off, erosion and rolling back and of our democracy by Tory, new labour government and now this unelected coalition government.

What we need is a revolution in our democracy. If we’re serious about tackling tax havens why don’t we start with the 2nd largest one in the world – the city of London – that resides just a couple of miles down the road. A revolution in our democracy that challenges the power of the city and punctures through the Westminster bubble

That’s why the Communist Party puts forwards the creation of a truly democratic relationship between the nations and peoples of this country. A truly federal Britain, which will include extensive economic, financial and law-making powers for Scotland, Wales and the regions of England (where it is wanted).

To those that say regional government in England doesn’t work, just look at London even with a blithering idiot like Boris Johnson as mayor – public transport in London (despite its many faults) is streets ahead of other cities and regions of Britain.

Of course as a communist MP I would go even further in my constituency setting up local street level bodies and fighting to transfer power back to the people.

What’s more all three nations would benefit from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and NATO, enabling us to pursue domestic, foreign and non-nuclear defence policies free from pro-big business diktat and aggressive foreign wars. These are the kind of policies that the Communist Party is putting forward at this election and that we will be fighting for whatever government is formed on May 8th.

THE HOUSING CRISIS

House prices in Croydon in 2013 were 7.57 times average local earnings, more than twice the same affordability ratio in 1997. Yet the Bank of England has instructed banks to lend no more than 4.5 times annual salary. This means first time buyers in Croydon with average local earnings will have to save three times their annual salary to find the deposit. They will then face interest repayments that would consume more than half their pre-tax salary when interest rates exceed 11% – as they are likely to do when the government’s policy of quantitative easing ends.

Looking for a home in an adjacent borough won’t help. The affordability ratios in Sutton, Bromley and Merton are 8.56, 9.99 and 11.29 respectively – and their house prices tend to be higher.

The government’s solution is the Help-to-Buy scheme. This enables first time buyers to put down a deposit of ‘only’ 5% on homes costing up to £600,000. That’s great for wealthy first time buyers (and the banks) but not much use to the rest of us. In order to buy a two bedroom flat in Croydon costing, say, £220,000, an income of £49,000 and, even with the government scheme, a deposit of £11,000 is required. Meanwhile the Help-to-Buy scheme is helping to fuel mushrooming house prices.

What are the alternatives facing young people desperate for housing? There is little prospect of a council house: the stock is still being eroded by Right-to-Buy and waiting lists are long and have tough criteria that are tending to get tougher. In Croydon 5,015 were on the list at March 2014, a significant proportion of who were officially classified as homeless[1]. The despicable bedroom tax is symptomatic of the shortage of council houses. Then there is shared ownership and the private rented sector. The former is a useful compromise between renting and buying but monthly outgoings can be high. The latter is largely unregulated, expensive and offers almost no security of tenure. Finally, for those with secure family backgrounds, there is living with Mum and Dad. Currently a quarter of all 20 to 34 year old working adults in England – 1.97 million people – are living with their parents[2]. Hardly ideal!

Labour and the Tories continue to make claims about the number of affordable houses that will be built if they are elected, but the private sector makes more money from building larger and luxury homes. Their claims are spurious and, even if fulfilled, would not be sufficient to house our growing population. So how would Communists do things differently? As Marxists we see housing as something that should be cherished for its use value, not its exchange value. For us a house is a home, not a slice of capital on which to speculate in the hope of passing on some capital to our heirs. Our strategy as communists would therefore be to resume the building of council houses for those who want them, and for others who value a sense of ownership and security, we would seek to uncouple ownership from speculation, thereby make homes more affordable. This could be achieved by land nationalisation, but much the same effect could be achieved, at least initially, with a Land Value Tax (LVT). LVT ensures that the community at large benefits from increasing land values – the primary cause of increasing house prices. This is as it should be. The gains home owners accumulate don’t come out of thin air: they represent transfers of wealth from those who don’t own houses to those who do. If not eaten up in care home fees, these unearned gains end up as inherited wealth – inherited in many cases by the same people who couldn’t afford to buy their own home when they were younger.

If you wish to find out more about LVT, have a look at the pamphlet From Each According to their Means I mentioned last week[3] .

[1] Freedom of Information Request https://docs.google.com/document/d/1T1dlZ0QH2zhW5jyW1A4ZG1RS_RqhW5aIGVPhkoA-0n8/edit?pli=1

[2] http://england.shelter.org.uk/news/july_2014/

[3] Available for £2.50 including post from the Communist Party, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD, http://www.communist-party.org.uk

Hope and Opportunity

As we wallowed in the ‘commemoration’ of the start of the First World War (when does commemoration tip over into wallowing and celebration?), another anniversary slipped by largely unnoticed. August 2014 not only marked 100 years since the start of WW1, a conveniently long enough time to ensure that no one is still around to recall what a huge disaster it was, it also marked three years since the Croydon Riots. Take a stroll up London Road: the devastation is still apparent. The only green shoots in evidence are those growing out of abandoned and run-down buildings.

It is worth recalling that Boris Johnson, the then and regrettably still Mayor of London, was on holiday in the USA at the time. Our elites don’t like to stint on their holidays!  After all, it cannot be easy to hold down public positions, well paid second  jobs and consultancies at the same time as has become their custom and expectation. They also need lots of time to invest their grotesquely huge pension savings ready for the time when they will no longer be ‘serving’ us. In Johnson’s absence, the BBC turned to his predecessor, the principled and independently minded Ken Livingstone. Ken condemned the violence, but dared to point out that it was caused by depriving young people of “hope and opportunities”. For this he was roundly condemned in the capitalist press and media.

Ken, of course, was right. A report earlier this week from KPMG, an organisation that generally concerns itself with reducing in any dubious manner that remain just inside the law the taxes of corporations and wealthy individuals, not with the plight of workers, found that 22% of those in work receive less than the living wage of £7.75 an hour (£8.80 in London). in 2012 the number of teenagers staying on in school after the age of 16 fell for the first time in a decade and the proportion of 18 year olds not in education, employment or training’, so-called NEETS, rose by 8% in the same year. It would take a very optimistic youngster, not having been born into the 1% of the population that comprises our ruling elite, who did not to feel deprived of hope and opportunity by these findings.

Meanwhile, to end on a positive note, see you all at the Croydon Assembly on Saturday 15 November when we can discuss what is to be done about the mess we find ourselves in..

Academies and Free Schools: the cracks begin to show

The Guardian reported today (18 July) a leaked draft report commissioned by Gove before he was sacked as Education Secretary into the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists. The draft report was confirmed as apparently genuine by the BBC. It is written by a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command, Peter Clarke, and predictably finds a “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” to introduce an “intolerant Islamist ethos” into the schools. Perhaps little else could have been expected given Clarke’s expertise and perspective, but, displaying an unexpected objectivity, he calls on the Department of Education to “review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status” and comments that “in theory academies are accountable to the Secretary of State, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect”.

Whether these comments are removed from the final version remains to be seen. Presumably whoever leaked the draft feared that they might be excised by Gove or his successor. If, however, even a counter-terrorism policeman can conclude that academies are unfit for purpose, perhaps the penny will eventually drop with the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in a further serendipitous link between the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Education, we learnt this week that South Norwood police station will be gifted to a new ‘free’ school in Croydon – a form of school also responsible to the Secretary of State for Education but under even less control than are academies. Labour policy on free schools is to retain them and call them “parent-led academies”. If this is intended to reassure us, it has failed!

The key to improving education is to get Westminster politicians of both major parties to end their continuous, we-know-better-than-the- professionals meddling and sucking up to business interests keen to leech on public money. What’s needed is a statutory framework for comprehensive education and restoration of democratic, local authority control, managed by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) staffed by teachers and other appropriate professionals. Oh, and as a forthcoming report by the Communist Party will recommend, let’s end charitable status for public schools and charge VAT on school fees!

Martin Graham

OPERATION TROJAN HORSE: WHO ARE THE REAL VILLIANS?

Operation Trojan Horse refers to a leaked anonymous letter – which some say is a hoax – claiming to be sent between Muslim extremists seeking to take over Birmingham schools. Among the claims by whistle blowers are that sex education is banned and boys and girls are segregated in the classroom. Responding to these revelations, Education Secretary Michael Gove has ordered Ofsted inspectors into 15 schools in Birmingham to investigate them and there are now four inquiries underway overseen by a former counter-terrorism chief.

Over-reaction? The idea that our schools are being penetrated by religious groups can hardly come as a surprise to Mr Gove. Impervious to the consequences of religious segregation in Northern Ireland’s schools, he has encouraged the destruction of our predominately secular education system under local government control and is handing it over to a motley band of religious and business interests including, in Croydon, quite literally, carpet salesmen. Our once democratically accountable schools are disappearing – in Croydon this process is largely complete at the secondary level – to be replaced by academies and so called free schools outside the control of the local authority. As part of this programme, pay in what remains of the local authority sector is being held down, Ofsted is employed to keep teachers in this sector focused on the narrowest possible definition of educational attainment and the unions representing the staff in these schools are undermined and attacked.

Croydon TUC has published a list of ten policies which it asks candidates in the forthcoming local government elections in Croydon to endorse. Number 9 is to support our local schools still under democratic, local government control and to oppose the introduction of any more academies and free schools in Croydon. This call has so far been ignored by candidates standing in these elections except for the Communist Party candidates in Bensham Manor, Broad Green and Selhurst. This should not come as a great surprise. The Tories and Lib-Dems are complicit in this strategy and Labour started the whole thing off by starving Local Education Authorities of resources and initiating the academy programme.

Trojan Horses are for hiding in but also, it appears, for hiding behind.

Martin Graham

Croydon and beyond

by John Eden

I don’t have my own computer, so my blogs are going to be rather intermittent. my first blog was to draw the the compassion between events that might seem unconnected to some, that the connection between the cuts being imposed in Croydon and the events in the middle-east,and that they have a common cause the economic crises of the capitalist system, and this is the underlying reason of the riots in Croydon and the Arab spring. There are many who don’t share this view of course, they may agree that the riots in Croydon are caused by the economic crises, but not the latter or vice-versa, or they don’t agree at all with the proposition. I have for the last four weeks been reading and re-reading two books, one about the ” History of the Arabs” by Peter Mansfield said to  be a very good introduction to the subject, and another by Nickolaos Van Dam, the “The struggle for power in Syria” and I have also researched on the web

There are those who think that the crises in the middle-east is the creation of imperialist intervention particularly by the United States,Britain and France, paraphrasing the Syrian regime,Russia and China,and that it as nothing to do with the impact of the economic crisis on the internal contradictions of Syrian society. Russia’s defence of the regime as more to do with the retention of their only military base outside the former Soviet Union, and the desire to be a great nation in world affairs, and to sell arms, here is an example of the importance that arms can play in the internal politics of Syria. In the struggle for the power in Syria in 1970,  between the cilvilian Bathist Party led by Salah Jadid and the Military Bathist Party led by Hafiz al-Assad, the Soviet Ambassador sided with the former, the USSR was the main supplier of arms to the regime, the chief of staff of the military was sent to China, and waving the “Little Red Book”,proposed to by arms from there, the USSR backed down. Salah Jadid fell shortly afterwards, this may have been only one factor in his demise, but it was a factor in Syrian-USSR relations. More to follow later, comments welcome!