The Day After Tomorrow

Despite the obsequious coverage in the mass media, it self-evident that the government has bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case when they had the opportunity. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. Perhaps influenced by Dominic Cummings, they appear initially to have thought “herd immunity” would protect the rich while letting the old and poor perish. They failed to contact trace. They now have a new plan, Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate, but this was agreed too late and has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients. My view? No – those of experts. See link below.

What happens when the pandemic is over? The Tories will want to return to ‘business as usual’, ring fence the rich and powerful and require workers – survivors from the NHS, social services and the “unskilled” (SIC) workers to pay for rebuilding the capital owned by the 1%, just as they did after the 2007-8 banking crisis. A helpful strategy to this end will be to start a generation war. Sir Max Hastings on BBC Radio 4 yesterday argued that his generation had benefitted from the previous one’s efforts to defeat Hitler, benefited from the post-war booming economy until 2007, extracted from taxpayers “free bus passes” and other perks and now expects succeeding generations to pay for the cost of protecting them from the ravages of the pandemic and restoring the economy.
It’s not the elderly per se who have benefitted most in the last 75 years, it’s the wealthy – the owners of capital. Sir Max is, however, partially right. After the pandemic is over, we must establish a steeply progressive inheritance tax that covers wealth secreted away in trusts and other avoidance measures and use the huge amounts this would release as a true inheritance and ‘thank you’ for younger people who enabled the older and wealthier amongst us to survive.

As Solomon Hughes writes in the Morning Star today, it won’t be easy, but we must resist with all our might the coming attempts to revert to “business as usual” after the pandemic. We must build a better society for all working people – a society that can avert or withstand the next crisis coming over the horizon, global warming. If we can also bring to account those responsible for undermining the NHS, creating the gig economy, destroying free college and university education, undermining trade unions and destroying social housing and social welfare, so much the better.

 

References
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30727-3/fulltext
https://morningstaronline.co.uk

John McDonnell at Ruskin House

Speaking to a packed meeting at Ruskin House on Tuesday, John McDonnell defended Labour’s decision to campaign on a remain/second referendum ticket at the general election. It was necessitated, he argued, both by the Labour Party Conference decision in 2019 and evidence the leadership had gathered on voters’ intentions. A firm leave line would, he argued, have resulted in an even worse outcome. The important thing now, John McDonnell said, was for the Labour Party to rally behind the new leader, whoever he or she was, and campaign vigorously outside parliament for the next four years. His assumption was that, regardless of the Fixed Term Parliament Act,  the Tories would call the next general election at a time of their choosing, not at the end of the fixed five year term.

While taking full responsibility of the electoral defeat, there was, understandably, a measure of denial and excuse in McDonnell’s speech and in his answers to the questions that followed. As Tariq Ali argues in the current edition of the London Review of Books (1), one of the few progressive voices left in the UK’s printed media (the other shining example being, of course, the Morning Star), if Labour had stated clearly that the referendum and the chaos that ensued were the result of a Tory split and if Labour had then let them get on with it, Theresa May’s deal with the EU might have gone through and the general election scheduled for April 2020 could have been fought on the NHS, education and other public services.

On one point made by McDonnell there can be no dispute: his warning that any Labour leader who threatened the capitalist status quo would be subject to the same level of vitriolic abuse as that directed at Jeremy Corbyn. One of numerous examples of this was the absurd question relating to nuclear buttons put to Jeremy Corbyn and are now directed at his potential successors (2).

As Tariq Ali observed, the question would be more meaningful if expressed as “Are there any circumstances in which you would refuse US orders to fire the missiles?” However, as we have pointed out previously on this website, our nuclear missile technology is supplied by the USA. Does anyone seriously doubt that the Americans would not have installed a disabling switch in the Pentagon? A more worrying question is whether they have installed another switch enabling the US President to launch “our” missiles regardless of the wishes of a future UK Prime Minister.

Notes

(1) Short Cuts, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, Volume 42 Number 2, 23 January 2020
(2) With depressingly successful results. Unlike Corbyn, they all appear willing to declare themselves potential war criminals.

Work ’til you drop

In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.

Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.

The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of  economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.

Bring it on!

Writing in the current edition of the London Review of Books (6 December 2018), Rory Scothorne comments that, despite Corbyn and McDonnell’s ambitious proposals to transform Britain’s economic structure, constitutional reform is not amongst Labour’s priorities, and the electoral battle-bus “trundles down the same old parliamentary road towards the same old disappointments”. This moment of constitutional breakdown, he argues, demands a constitutional revolution. Instead the Labour Party is constrained by “adjectival manoeuvres”: Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Chaotic Brexit, No Deal, Tory and People’s Brexit. As communists, while recognising that they are dialectically related, we tend to give primacy of economic structure over constitutional superstructure, but Scothorne may have a point when he criticises Labour’s historic tendency to stick with existing constitutional structures. Reform not revolution has always been the Labour approach and , even under a Corbyn-led government, this will doubtless continue.

In his extended editorial in the Morning Star on Saturday, Ben Chacko warns against the expected siren calls for Labour to enter a national government when May’s transitional agreement is rejected on Tuesday and the constitutional superstructure begins to wobble. Ben Chacko’s advice, which we can reasonably assume reflects that of the Communist Party’s Political Committee, is sound. The short-term priority for us following Parliament’s rejection of the May deal has to be to agitate for a general election in which we can exert maximum pressure on candidates (especially Labour ones) to ensure that the interests of the working class are given priority as we leave the EU, not the interests of those responsible for eleven years of austerity – the unsavoury gang comprising Big Business, bankers, the 1% and their spokespersons in Parliament, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour Blairites.

So bring it on!

BBC or BgovBC?

In response to the news that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain, an increase of 13,000 or 4% on last year, the BBC dutifully reported the government response that it is “investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness”.

In response to news that Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur, said that the government should not rely on organisations like foodbanks “to keep people alive”, the BBC dutifully reported the government response that “it had lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and into work”.

In response to news that Dame Donna Kinnair of the Royal College of Nursing said that hospitals this winter were facing a shortage of both beds and staff with “patients waiting on trolleys in corridors”, the BBC dutifully reported the government response (made through a NHS spokesperson so as to distance itself from direct responsibility) that they had “brought forward £145m of funding for hospitals in England to upgrade emergency departments and wards”.

One is tempted to speculate that there a secret clause in the BBC’s Charter requiring it to conclude every news item reflecting badly on the government with the government’s response, however irrelevant, inadequate or anodyne it might be. In any event, it is self-evident that such responses will now invariably be included.

Some bias is, of course, to be expected in all mainstream news reporting in a capitalist society, and “public broadcasting” is no exception. Furthermore, pro-establishment bias isn’t going magically to disappear on Day One of a Corbyn government. Even if the top people at the BBC could be replaced – and they will probably manage to cling on to their well-paid jobs – the class bias in the composition of BBC staff could take a generation to correct.

Is there anything we can do about it? Not a lot other than to switch off BBC news and seek out other sources of news. Channel 4 News is far from perfect, but is far less biased than the BBC. The internet provides many sources of objective reporting if you access it critically and judiciously; and there is the one national daily newspaper that is worth reading: the one the BBC is forbidden to review or even mention – the Morning Star.

 

References:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46289259.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-46130355

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-46277828

Our “Free” Press

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

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

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

Footnote

[1] £2.50 including postage Follow link

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.

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.

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!

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.