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.

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.

 

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.

AGM and discussion on LVT

Croydon Communist Party held its AGM on Thursday, 19 January. Routine business was swiftly despatched, including the confirmation of Martin Graham as Branch Secretary, leaving the rest of the meeting for the political report and discussion, including a discussion of Land Value Tax (LVT) and the response earlier that week by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the report A Land Value Tax for London? published by the London Assembly Planning Committee.

The London Assembly Planning Committee report, published in February last year, appears largely to be the work of Tom Copley, a Labour Assembly Member with some progressive ideas – he is, for example a republican – but who has been opposing and undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party to the extent even of accusing him of lying. It was therefore unsurprising that the report adopted a timid and unimaginative approach to LVT, seeing it as little more than a device to bring forward land for development in London. Mayor Khan’s response was equally limited: he welcomed the report but cautioned that he lacked powers even to undertake a pilot scheme. He would “hold talks with the Treasury”. but as the last thing the  Tories want to do is tax the people who bankroll them, don’t hold your breath!

LVT has significantly greater potential than simply a means of accelerating property development in London. As the Economics Commission of the Communist Party argued in the pamphlet From Each According to their Means, it has a part to play in creating a truly progressive national tax regime. You can read this report here or order a printed copy for £2.50 postage paid from the Communist Party here.

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.

 

TUC Congress 2016

Largely ignored by the capitalist press and the BBC, who have again declined to reinstate their live coverage of the event, the annual TUC Congress is taking place this week in Brighton. Despite these efforts to discourage public attention, Congress is particularly significant this year as the government struggles to implement the EU referendum decision and while the Parliamentary Labour Party struggles to sustain its self-appointed role as Tory Lite, contrary to the wishes of its elected (soon to be re-elected?) leader. Fortunately, the CP has no such internal conflicts and, as ever, will be in attendance at Congress, distributing each day Unity, our well received briefing for Congress delegates.

One of the most significant issues facing Congress is reflected in Motion 17 and its amendments, grouped together under the heading Protecting worker and trade union rights in the EU Brexit as Composite 7  The composite resolution calls on unions to ‘oppose any assault on the rights of workers arising from the decision to leave the EU. Our rights as workers continue to be among the most restricted in Europe and any further restrictions through Brexit negotiations would be totally unacceptable. The resolution calls for the trade unions to be recognised as key stakeholders in the Brexit negotiations and for

  • a campaign to ensure that the UK government does not repeal any current rights guaranteed by the EU;
  • the rights of existing EU workers to remain in the UK to be protected; and.
  • the IER Manifesto for Labour Law to be promoted.

The CP welcomes these proposals which we anticipate will be adopted by Congress and thus become official TUC policy. In this event, at the local level we will be asking Croydon TUC to acquire, study and seek to implement the IER Manifesto locally. I will report back on the outcome of this initiative..

Bring it on

Having jumped the gun last week and been recalled to the starting line, Angela Eagle finally left the starting blocks today in her bid today to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader. If the intention of those behind the unrest in the Parliamentary Labour Party really is to replace Jeremy with someone more “electable”, they could hardly have found anyone less suitable. Their real motive is, of course, money. The plotters fear that Corbyn won’t deliver the needs of Big Business, on whom the careerists in the Labour Party depend and whose interests they represent. If Corbyn cannot be kept off the ballot paper (an issue that may be resolved by the NEC tomorrow) and the ballot cannot be rigged, their Plan B will be to form an SDP Mark 2 comprising Labour MPs, managed by the existing Labour office staff and funded by Big Business. This new party will, however, require a more “electable” leader than the hapless Angela.  Whatever the outcome, her leading role is likely to be very temporary.

The outcome of the EU referendum came as a surprise to many commentators and has been blamed by the plotters on Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to join Project Fear, the Tory led attempt to frighten electors into voting to stay in the EU. The conspicuous absence of a similar strategy to block Theresa May from becoming Tory Leader and, by default, Prime Minister, on similar grounds is significant. The difference between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn is that the former will act in the best interests of Big Business and the latter cannot be relied on to do so.

What the referendum vote to leave the EU actually reflected was the growing gulf between the middle classes and the working class. This gulf has been growing apace under ‘austerity’, the policy pursued by the Tories and, until Corbyn was elected leader, by Labour. Under austerity social spending benefitting the working class and the taxes paid by Big Business are both cut. That this is the explanation for the significant working class vote for exit has escaped much of the liberal intelligentsia. Their spokespersons – the likes of Will Self and the hacks at the Guardian – have not blamed Corbyn  – instead they  have turned on the working class itself, attributing their support for Exit on endemic racism.

What the liberal intelligentsia overlook is that it is easy to be liberal about the free movement of labour when you gain from the arrangement. For the middle classes it provides lots of well paid jobs for UK graduates and professionals across the EU. Together with a rather woolly feel-good attitude about European togetherness, the EU also provides them with cheap building labour, cheap, unchavvy nannies and cheap fruit picked in the UK by sweated labour. If, on the other hand, you are not a member of the middle class and are denied access to further education, or can acquire it only at the cost of incurring crippling debt, the glittering job opportunities in Europe are irrelevant. The attractions of cheap, unskilled labour are also diminished when it’s you who have to compete for the zero hours jobs on offer. If you are in a trade union, the EU’s failure to recognise and respect collective bargaining and its opposition to trade union solidarity is also a major concern. To be told by those who are unaffected by these issues that you are racist is insulting. There is nothing inherently anti-racist or honourable in supporting the free movement of labour when you happen, personally, to gain from it at the expense of your fellow citizens; and there is nothing inherently racist or dishonourable in opposing the free movement of labour when it damages the collective interests of your class. The liberal intelligentsia need to wake up to these facts and, like the Communist Party, show the working class some respect.

The liberal intelligentsia could also usefully follow the Communist Party in rallying to the defence of Corbyn. This does not mean that the CP is going to indulge in mass entryism which, according to the Guardian today, Labour HQ claim to fear. This is simply scare tactics on their part. Had Labour HQ ever read the Communist Manifesto, they would know that communists “disdain to conceal their aims and views”. What was true in 1848 is true today: communists don’t do entryism. We will, however, openly and defiantly campaign, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, including those represented by Croydon TUC, with ordinary Labour Party members and in the pages of our newspaper, the Morning Star, to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected. Bring it on.