Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Green With Envy?

It would take the Queen more than eight years to get a council house.

But remember, all seats for parties not in the present Coalition will be seats for Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.

That might not, perhaps, have applied to UKIP. But unlike the Greens, UKIP is not going to have any seats.

Local Interest

In principle, I do not  much care for local referendums, or indeed for national ones.

Nor for foxhunting, although I am not keen on banning it, and I despise the way in which that ban was used to persuade disgraceful Labour MPs to support the Iraq War.

As for fracking, it is one among the many potential ancillaries to coal and nuclear power. Even if there is more than an air of superstition about its proponents.

UKIP and sections of the Conservative Party want county-by-county referendums on foxhunting, while Labour in Scotland, and probably Labour in general before long, want local referendums on fracking.

Both of which sound good to me.

Not because I should necessarily welcome, or even very much care about, the vote against foxhunting in each and every county without exception.

Nor because I should necessarily welcome the vote against fracking in most or all of the areas that were ever asked about it.

But because those results would shot the fox of what might be called the Breitbart Tendency, as once there was a Militant Tendency.

That Tendency would be told to frack off.

Why, then, do those areas generally vote Conservative? Insofar as they still do, that would then become very starkly a question for the Labour Party.

Seventy Years On

There is to be another British State memorial to the Holocaust.

Britain's main contribution in relation to that was Churchill's refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, a refusal which much later moved Menachem Begin to inform Margaret Thatcher that her country and her hero had caused the deaths of two million Jews.

Very soon thereafter, our Armed Forces and others were bombed out by the founders of modern terrorism, people who had tried to do a deal with Hitler at the height of the War. On one of them, see above.

No memorial exists, anywhere in the world, to the British victims, on British territory, of those pioneering terrorists.

Instead of a second one to the Holocaust, how about so much as a first one to them?

All In This Together

Alan Milburn certainly found a novel way to celebrate his fifty-seventh birthday.

Who cares?

But since Labour is in any case going to win any General Election fought over the National Health Service, there is no reason to go into it being outflanked on the principle of universality.

Least of all by, of all people, David Cameron.

Ed Balls, who is not uniquely capable of being Chancellor of the Exchequer, take note.

The Living Wage Is Good For Business

Roxanne Mashari writes:

Yesterday Brent council became the first local authority in the country to pass a policy which will see businesses in the borough who pay their staff a living wage receive discounts on their business rates of up to £5000.

We know that it makes business sense to pay staff a living wage, living wage employers notice a significant drop in staff turnover, an increase in morale and productivity and enhancement of their brand recognition and reputation.

In Brent we are not attempting to build a business case for the living wage from scratch – that case already exists – but we are giving businesses one more reason to make the jump to becoming a living wage employer.

We want to make the transition to becoming a living wage employer as attractive and financially viable for local businesses as possible.

The key here is to approach the issue from a pro-business perspective.

We know that fundamentally, paying staff the living wage has to stack up financially for businesses, especially small and medium size enterprises.

Brent’s new business rate discount scheme for living wage employers forms the anchor of a wider package of incentives that the council will be putting on the table.

Yesterday I chaired a roundtable discussion with businesses, union representatives and the Living Wage Foundation to discuss what more we could collectively add to this package of incentives.

Some ideas included free advertising on the council’s website, assistance with press and publicity, pop up advertising space inside local banks, discount on council rooms for conferences and events and access to business mentoring opportunities, just to name a few.

Now that cabinet approval for the anchor initiative of the business rate discount has been obtained this package will be developed in consultation with local businesses and partners to be put in place by April to coincide with the discount coming into effect for the new financial year.

Every business in Brent will receive details about the rate discount and wider package of incentives with their business rate bill in April.

With the majority of people in poverty now in work, is more important than ever that councils examine how they can utilise their various powers to support businesses to pay the living wage.

Councils have powers in relation to planning and inward investment, procurement and supply chain opportunities, advertising and promotion, as well as some control over business rates.

We must examine how each of these levers of power can be tweaked in favour of maximising social value and addressing the root causes of poverty.

At the heart of this policy is the belief that businesses are part of the local community in which they operate. 

Businesses must recognise their responsibility to the wider community and their role in helping to address some of the major problems faced by local people and the local economy.

In Brent we will continue to forge strong links with our businesses in order to work together to tackle in-work poverty across the borough.

The Role of Rail in Rebalancing Britain

Andrew Allen writes:

There is much political consensus around the need to rebalance Britain’s economy. The question is how.

Infrastructure investment is one of the few tools politicians are willing and able to use and rail investment is at the centre of this, unpinning both the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse and One North’s plans to bring together city authorities in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield.

This attention is long overdue and timely.

As new research commissioned by Campaign for Better Transport shows, the north’s rail network has been getting a raw deal for decades, denied the programme of renewal and upgrades seen on much of the south east’s network.

The Invitation to Tender to run Northern Rail and TransPennine Express services from 2016 is expected imminently.

This will need to redress cost cutting going back 40 years, which has resulted in widespread use of low quality diesel Pacers trains, de-staffing of stations, and removal of station buildings.

Reversing all of this will come with a hefty price tag. Previous failure to invest means Northern Rail is lumbered with aged rolling stock, 87 per cent of which needs to be refurbished or replaced by 2020.

The prime minister has said the cost of replacing outdated trains is one ‘everyone has to share’. This implies Northern Rail fares will be raised to pay for improved services.

This would be unfair, demonstrating an approach not applied anywhere in the country.

For instance, when a major part of the Southern’s train fleet became due for replacement 15 years ago, the total costs were far higher than those needed to update Northern Rail’s crumbling fleet, and came hand-in-hand with a major re-electrification programme. Yet recognition of wider benefits meant no thought was given to asking southern commuters to pay higher fares for significantly improved services.

So, why is the Northern Rail franchise being treated differently from Southern?

The answer – based on the Department for Transport’s analysis – seems to be the belief that Northern Rail is heavily subsidised compared with other franchises and must do more to pay its way.

This logic has already been used to introduce an unfair and counterproductive evening peak ticket price on Northern Rail, increasing some fares by up to 117 per cent for passengers travelling both into and out of many city centres.

Northern Rail’s fares were not low to start with.

When the differences in average wages are taken into account, Northern Rail passengers already pay significantly more per mile than their London commuter counterparts.

In reality, Northern Rail’s relatively high subsidy is a direct consequence of the large geographic area it serves, the complex nature of its network (with no single ‘hub’ network to operate) and the fact that, with shorter trains, its revenue per train is lower than the national average.

It is also worth noting that the higher earning intercity network in the north was separated out as TransPennine Express when the franchise was created a decade ago so no cross subsidy can be achieved, unlike many other franchises.

Failing to make the necessary upgrades to services and rolling stock on Northern Rail would also undermine the benefit from big investment which has already been committed.

The Northern Hub around Manchester, and north west electrification schemes are already underway and will come on stream in the 2020s.

These are designed to greatly improve the frequency and quality of services, but this will only be realised if the Department for Transport commits to more and better trains as part of the new franchise.

Rail has an important role to play if we are to rebalance Britain’s economy.

The government must support growth through high quality, more sustainable transport infrastructure.

That means investing to create modern, high capacity rail services for the north of England, of the type which already benefits most of the south east.

Something Much Bigger Than That

Rachael Blyth writes:

With the cost of a single room in London now reaching the realms of the utterly unaffordable, increasing numbers of tenants are being forced to rent just half a room, with a 71% rise in searches for shared bedrooms reported over the past two years.

Several years ago, while (barely) working as an actor, I accepted a live-in bar job at a busy Soho pub, lured by the proximity of West End life.

The fact that I’d be sharing a small room with another girl struck me as romantic – a tad Moulin Rouge with only a hint of EastEnders.

Aware of my hermit-like tendencies, I saw the interruption of my private space as an interesting experiment rather than the miserable economic necessity it was.

Soho’s sex and sleaze formed a huge part of the attraction, and in terms of filth I certainly wasn’t let down.

The room was disgusting, filled with the remnants of all those gap year boys-on-tour who’d occupied it before me.

My roommate, Viktoria, who drank pints for breakfast, was a riot grrrl turned pacifist.

She seemed pretty unfazed by the mice, the cockroaches, the gross stuff growing in the fridge an inch away from my nose. I hoped her nonchalance would be contagious.

We spent long days smoking on our roof terrace and admiring the Soho skyline. Viktoria would order drinks to be sent up from the bar in the dumbwaiter.

Our boyfriends came to visit, and sleeping over they too practised the art of nonchalance. Sex was hush-hush but not hidden, and if friends came round they’d sleep on the floor, insulated by a cosy cloud of Rentokil cockroach spray and cigarette smoke.

We once heard that a nearby West End landlord had been sacked by the brewery for allowing his staff to sleep on the floor while porn was being filmed in the rooms they were meant to be sharing.

In comparison, we felt blessed. When it came to each other and our Brewer Street abode, Viktoria and I had lucked out.

Of course, it wasn’t all bohemian bliss behind the Piccadilly lights.

Despite our miraculously low rent, like everyone else I knew both Viktoria and I were up to our eyeballs in debt.

Every change of landlord threatened to unhinge our entire existence, and the thought of being able to ever afford a room of our own remained an impossibility. Unlike our friends, we had no deposit to act as a springboard into the rental market.

I started to avoid phonecalls from my mother for fear of the dreaded d-word (“drifting”, for the non-acquainted).

In fact, when my parents came to visit I was too embarrassed to let them see my room. Sometimes, listening to the sordid racket in the alleyway below I felt nothing short of completely screwed.

After a year or so, the guy living upstairs moved out and Viktoria was offered his room. We both breathed a sigh of relief and returned to our private worlds.

I bought an armchair and a little desk to fill the newly empty space where Viktoria’s bed had been. I took down posters and put up framed prints. My boyfriend came round more often.

Shortly afterwards, my room was broken into and burgled – that roof terrace hadn’t been so secure after all. No longer feeling safe and unable to face the rental market, I left London shortly after.

For those of us who never had any intention of climbing the graduate career ladder, seeking out alternative living arrangements has been the only feasible way to sustain life in the city for much longer than these recent trends would suggest.

But London is closing in on everyone now, not just the least wealthy.

But fear not, there is life outside London, off the ladder, if you look for it.

As for me, I quit acting and started teaching yoga. And after a brief foray into normality, I’m scoping out the shared life again.

Looking back, it seems that of all my gurus, Viktoria has been the finest of them all. It’s not the stranger who is suffocating you, it’s something much bigger than that.

Their Toll On Household Incomes

Ian Lavery writes:

Nothing quite characterises the levels of poverty in austerity Britain better than the dramatic growth in the use of food banks in recent years.

With record numbers visiting local food banks in many areas over Christmas – and January looking set to be their busiest month yet – it is clear that they remain a much needed resource for many working people as the Coalition Government’s cuts, poverty pay and harsh benefit sanctions take their toll on household incomes.

In 2013-14, 913,138 people visited a food bank to receive emergency food provision – a figure which stood at just 346,992 the previous year.

Numbers of food bank users almost tripled in that period and, worryingly, are continuing to rise. There are over 400 food banks currently in operation in the UK and around two new ones having to open every week to meet demand.

It is, quite frankly, an outrage that it we live in the 6th richest country in the world and yet so many people are reliant on food banks in 2015.

People are struggling to make ends meet and are so financially precarious that they are unable to guarantee where their next meal will come from and how they will feed their families.

The majority – 30% – of those counted in these figures over the past year cited delays in receiving their benefits as the main reason for their reliance on a food bank.

The second most common reason was low income and the third was benefit changes – all while the Department for Work and Pensions stated that there was no evidence to show that welfare reforms or benefit administration was even linked to increased food bank use.

This is a scandal as it could not be clearer that this government has a lot to answer for when it comes to food poverty and their failure to recognise this shows how far they are from solving the problem.

As if this wasn’t enough proof of how out of touch the Conservative Party is, listening to Conservative politicians discuss this issue in the media is even more worrying.

They continue to shamelessly perpetuate damaging myths and misleading stereotypes of those who have been forced to turn to a food bank, simply to feed their families.

Former MP, Edwina Currie stated that the rise in demand was down to people who had never learnt to cook or manage and instead spent their spare money on food for their pets – or “another tattoo”.

She’s not alone in her views as Conservative Peer, Baroness Jenkin claimed increased dependence on food banks was a product of the fact that “poor people do not know how to cook”.

Most recently, Conservative Party Councillor Mark Winn tweeted that food bank users were made up of “those with drug, alcohol and mental health problems” and despite the statistics I mentioned before, Iain Duncan Smith described food bank use in this country as “tiny” – which is increasingly concerning given his position as Secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions.

These comments are highly offensive and completely disgusting.

These people can’t live in the real world because if they did then, like me, they would have seen the unacceptable levels of poverty in local communities for themselves and know just how hard people are working to make ends meet.

Just to take one of the countless cases of poverty in my constituency, a man whose benefits were shamelessly sanctioned whilst he was in hospital with a heart condition then lived for three days on field mushrooms and borrowed eggs as he couldn’t afford to buy any proper food.

The worst part is that stories like this are not uncommon.

How the Government can stand by and refuse to act while so many people are struggling to make ends meet is beyond me.

We need to work to boost wages, raise living standards and put an end to in-work poverty, food poverty and the cost of living crisis once and for all.

We want a recovery that everyone can benefit from – not just the richest – and that is what I, alongside the whole Trade Union Group of MPs, will be fighting for in the run-up to the General Election and beyond.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Healthy Choice

There we have it. The public's Number One issue is the NHS.

Meaning a Labour win.

Them's the rules. Always have been, always will be.

Independent Greeks

No more "right-wing" than Syriza is "Far Left".

If either party were as it was being presented, then this coalition would be impossible.

Well, here it is.

And to ice the cake, it has annoyed Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

The Setting Sun

An astonishing communication from inside The News Building, the British seat of Anglophonia's very own prostrated to, yet tottering, House of Saud, the House of Murdoch.

Look out for men, older women, larger women, disabled women, women of colour (including in hijabs), breastfeeding, and This Is What A Feminist Looks Like on-and-off pictures.

Plus works of art as Page 3 Through The Ages.

Oh, and examples of nudity and near-nudity from The Guardian and Comment is Free, where I am the first to say that there is no shortage of such material.

The Sun is demob happy. If half of this happened, then, especially once Ed Miliband was Prime Minister, I'd give it two years.

Or even less than that, if King Rupert went to his reward.

In Living Colour

My relatives in the Western Cape absolutely insist on the word "Coloured", with a capital C.

In the United States, the community that was previously called "Colored People" decided that it wanted to be called "black" (historically worse than the n-word, as is still the case in certain corners of what was once the British Empire), then "African-American", and now "people of colour", which is remarkably close to "Colored People".

A people that is confident in its identity does not change its name every 15 or 20 years.

There Goes The Neighbourhood

Is there not legislation to deal with nuisance neighbours?

The occupant of 10, Downing Street, London suffered a prank call from a man who was coked off his face.

And who is the occupant of 11, Downing Street, London?


I do not understand the fuss about today's appearance at York Minster of that longstanding minor national treasure, the Reverend Paul Williamson.

There is a very long tradition of even entire congregations shouting "No" to new bishops, usually because the civil power had sought to impose someone politically unacceptable to the locality.

That was fairly common until quite recently in topical Greece, where it may well reappear in the coming months and years.

On which note.

The New Masters Now

Owen Jones writes:

To go from a country like Britain where politics is a source of profound cynicism to one where it is a cause for hope: well, it is chastening.

Outside the Greek finance ministry are cleaners who used to work there, until 16 months ago – like so many Greeks – they lost their jobs. “We were just numbers, not human beings,” one tells me.

Ever since, they’ve camped outside, battled riot police, and become iconic figureheads of the struggle against austerity.

Plastered around their camp are defiant posters: a clenched fist in a kitchen glove, a cleaner sweeping away Greece’s discredited, despised political elite.

“We hope to take back our lives, our jobs,” I’m told. “After so many years, to be happy again.”

But here’s the thing. Middle-aged working-class women have hardly had much of a political voice in Greece, or most other western societies for that matter.

Yet rather than become victims, they have organised and demanded to be heard. There is a real sense that maybe – just maybe – the likes of these sacked middle-aged cleaners could be the new masters now.

Greece is a society that has been progressively dismantled by EU-dictated austerity.

Outside one polling station, I speak to Georgia, who works at a hospital clinic manned by volunteers which caters for the impoverished.

For unemployed Greeks denied access to the public healthcare system, such clinics are lifelines.

Georgia has one clear ambition – that after a year or two of a Syriza-led government, her clinic will no longer be needed and will close.

Syriza supporters speak often more as though they are in a disaster zone than competing in an election. Dealing with the “humanitarian crisis” is described as the new government’s number one priority.

This was not just an election victory: this was a historic watershed.

From the late 1980s onwards, the Soviet totalitarian satellite states began to collapse.

The end of the cold war was cleverly spun into the final, absolute victory of not just capitalism, but its most undiluted, rapacious form: “The End of History” – the sense that even the most democratic left project was somehow buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

Deprived of any organised ideological counterweight, capitalism was liberated to chip away at all the constraints that had been placed upon it: like nationalisation, progressive taxation, workers’ rights, social security and regulation.

The culmination of this hubris was the financial collapse, as triumphant free-market capitalism went into meltdown.

But the left did not exist as a viable mass political force in the west: its battered remnants could get together a few placards complaining about the bankers, but it had no Syriza’s victory is the biggest challenge to the era of “There Is No Alternative” yet.

Syriza are presented as “far left”, while those they replace are presumably “moderates”.

It is a fascinating insight into what the western media regard as moderation: plunging over half of young people into unemployment, almost doubling child poverty, stripping away basic social protections.

The politics of despair peddled by elites mean you are supposed to regard such injustices as inevitable, irresistible, impossible to overcome.

But the re-emergence of the left as a political force – at least offering the possibility of a different sort of society – represents a substantial punch in the face to an economic order that has prevailed for a generation.

No wonder so many leftists – from Britain, Spain, France, Italy, and all over Europe – travelled to Athens for this moment.

For many of them, neoliberalist triumphalism is all they have ever known.

The stripping away of hard-won social rights and the ever-growing dominance of the market are things they have almost taken for granted.

Some looked rather dazed as the victorious Alexis Tsipras took to the stage, because they have grown accustomed to losing.

Syriza is not about to build a new socialist society.

It has assembled a coalition with a rightwing party; it faces the determined opposition of EU leaders and powerful interests within Greece itself.

It will be battered by the markets, and will compromise in a way that will undoubtedly alienate many of its own supporters, both in Greece and abroad.

Nonetheless, a left that was no longer supposed to exist has returned. Neoliberalism is no longer without formidable enemies.

In Spain, Podemos – which has closely aligned itself to Syriza – is surging in the polls, and similar forces may gain traction in other European countries too.

Neoliberal hegemony is – gradually and unevenly – being chipped away.

It is still hard to see a world free of it.

But it is no longer impossible.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Red Tories of Greece

According to our spoof Prime Minister, we should weep for the death of King Abdullah, but fear the election of Syriza.

It is not inherently left-wing to uphold the basic social fabric by opposing a failed policy programme based on an ideology of "to hell with what works".

In fact, in an historically classical sense, it sounds quite Tory.

Like, for example, opposing wars to make the world anew in order to conform it to some academic blueprint.

People who would certainly be Tories in Britain have voted for Syriza.

Whereas the supposedly more "moderate" Pasok has taken fewer votes than the unreconstructed Communists of the KKE.

After tonight, the Greeks ought to have a specific word for "people power".

Wrong Number

I reckon that it was the caller who was hoaxed.

He had thought that he was going to be speaking to a Prime Minister.

Hellenic Hysterics

I hate to break the news to the hysterical media, but there really is a Communist Party in Greece.

Hardly anybody voted for it.

"Far Left" parties do not win big like this.

Nor do mainstream British Labour figures of some seniority tweet their delight at such parties' victories.

A Conflict of Interest

This is taken apart by Jack of Kent.

The public has finally been confronted with the reality of this country's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Ed Miliband needs to expel Tony Blair and anyone who fancies going with him, and undertake to cancel this obscene deal as the first step in taking back the sovereignty of this Kingdom from that one.

Age Appropriate

An email from an old friend who turns out to be a regular reader, pointing out that the Page 3 models who have turned out to be so articulate in the last few days are no younger than many writers on things like The Huffington Post, but unlike them have ever done a day's work in their lives.

That makes them no younger than Johann Hari, who is now being welcomed back as if nothing had happened, and Douglas Murray, who has never gone away despite a dozen years of spectacular wrongness about absolutely anything, were when their generationally downright freakish foreign policy views saw them elevated to the position of The World's Greatest Experts On Everything.

It makes them the same age as many a young man was when he somehow managed to wangle a Telegraph Blog. Again, with little or no previous sign of ever having needed to earn a crust.

Being old enough to appear on Page 3 at all makes them older than Carola Binney was when both the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator took her on.

A topless photograph of Miss Binney would at that point have constituted a child abuse image. Yet her opinion was sought and, no doubt, bought. She had not left school, and we may safely say that she had never been a shelf-stacker on Saturdays. Still, good luck to her.

Yes, very young people have written for The Lanchester Review. I have no problem with that. I am also aware that they have been fairly or very middle-class, and that up to now they have been male.

But it is hardly as if I have the resources available to me that Fleet Street has.

If it can find very young working-class women with strong views and the ability to express them, but find them in order, bluntly, to get their tits out, then it can also find very young working-class women with strong views and the ability to express them, in order to give a platform to those views.

The Propaganda War Against RT

Neil Clark writes:

Propaganda. At its best – a wonderful German pop group of the 1980s who had their biggest hit with a track named ‘Duel’.

At its worst – the comments of the new BBG chief Andrew Lack, which put RT in the same category of ‘challenges’ as ISIS.
“We are extremely outraged that the new head of the BBG [US Broadcasting Board of Governors] mentions RT in the same breath as world’s number one terrorist army. We see this as an international scandal and demand an explanation,” says Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief.

Anyone who supports genuine pluralism in the international media should be demanding an explanation too. 

It would be easy to say that Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi Minister of Propaganda would be proud of Lack’s comments.

But in fact the propaganda war against RT – of which Lack’s comments are only the latest example, actually – ‘out-Goebbels’ Dr Goebbels’. 

The reason for these attacks is fear.

What is clear is that the success of RT has caused real panic in the ranks of the west’s neo-con/‘liberal interventionist’ elite. 

RT urges us to question more – and questioning more is the very last thing that the elites in the west want us to do.

They want us to accept hook, line and sinker THEIR narrative of world events – a narrative which told us that Iraq possessed WMDs which could be deployed within 45 minutes and which posed a threat to the entire world.

A narrative which told us that Muammar Gaddafi was ‘massacring his own people’ and so, for the benefit of the Libyan people, who our leaders cared so much about – we had to have a ‘humanitarian intervention’. 

A narrative on Ukraine which casts Russia and its ‘evil’ President as the aggressors and which portrayed a violent, anti-democratic putsch financed by the west and spearheaded by some very nasty far-right extremists as a victory for ‘democracy’. 

Again, we’re expected to accept these narratives and not to question them. 

For years, the serial-war lobby, which has been at the forefront of the attacks on RT, had it easy.

Mainstream news media in the US and other western countries faithfully parroted the official NATO line while neo-con / ‘liberal interventionist’ pundits provided the vast majority of the commentary. 

But then along came RT – and millions of people started to watch it. 

Voices that we didn’t hear very often – if at all – on the other channels, now had a platform. Voices that actually reflected majority public opinion on foreign policy issues.

So the attacks on the station began.

The same ‘free speech’ crowd who had campaigned against Iran’s Press TV now had a new target for their poison pens. 

These attacks intensified after Russian diplomacy – and a vote in the British Parliament – helped to avert planned air-strikes on Damascus in the summer of 2013.

As I noted here, the war lobby were furious that for once, they hadn’t got their way.

Something I observed from quite early on was the very strong overlap between obsessive RT-haters and people who supported the Iraq war and who wanted western military intervention against Assad’s forces in Syria.

Whenever you read an attack on RT I suggest you put the authors’ name into a search engine with the words ‘Iraq war’ and ‘Syria’. It's usually quite revealing.

Neo-con propagandists writing for neocon propaganda sheets accused RT of peddling ‘propaganda’, showing that the age of satire was not dead. 

McCarthyite gatekeepers obsessively monitored RT programmes, using a variety of smears to attack guests and pundits who held the ‘wrong’ views, i.e. views that the McCarthyite gatekeepers didn’t agree with.

Those who committed the ‘crime’ of re-tweeting a RT interview or article, or citing RT with approval, were admonished. 

Journalists were urged not to appear on the station, and were attacked when they did so.

All by people who claimed to be in favour of ‘free speech’ and ‘media pluralism’!
Even the Secretary of State has joined in with the RT-bashing.
In April last year, John Kerry called RT a ‘propaganda bullhorn’. 

That‘s the same man who said – with a straight face – “you just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.” But of course, that wasnt ‘propaganda’, was it? 

The latest, desperate elite attack, equating RT with ISIS, is deeply ironic considering the way RT has covered the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

RT was reporting on the significant jihadist presence in the Syrian uprising’ at a time when the neo-cons wanted us to believe that the ‘rebels’ opposing President Assad were all cuddly, peace-loving democrats.

RT pundits – myself included – also challenged the dominant’ narrative that Assad had little public support in Syria.  Neo-con and ‘liberal interventionists’ repeatedly told us that Assad would soon be toppled .

You had to go to RT to find the truth, which was that the Syrian government, whatever our own opinions of it, did have substantial support, and that support for it was growing due to people being turned off by the brutality of the ‘rebels’. 

The fact that radical jihadists were a leading part of the ‘popular democratic uprising’, ‘against Assad and his government’ did not fit the official good guys vs. bad guys narrative, so it was left out.

Only when IS started to threaten the oil fields of Kurdistan did the elite western narrative change. Then it DID become acceptable to talk about jihadists in Syria, and to publicise their massacres.

Where just a few months earlier almost all the atrocities in Syria were blamed on Assad and government forces, it was now fine to report on the violence of those opposed to Assad. 

But RT, once again, was telling us the truth long before we were supposed to know it.

The attacks on RT are evidence that the channel is doing an excellent job.

If only it had been around in 2002/3 to challenge the dominant narrative back then.

Whenever people call President Putin a  dictator or something similar, then check out their view of King Abdullah.

Whenever people launch into one of those tirades against RT, then ask them, or look up, what their position was on the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

That tendency remains incandescent that it has been denied its war against Syria by mere Members of Parliament who ought to know their place.

Such remains the authorised view, even now that we are bombing the very people whom we were supposed to have been aiding last year, and even though we are now prosecuting those who return to this country having gone to fight for the side that our Government was backing at the time that they went.

In September 2013, RT gave me my literal 15 minutes of fame, to talk about the worsening situation on Ascension Island.

There, people who hold full British nationality were and are being gravely mistreated on sovereign British territory, by and on behalf of the security apparatus of a foreign state.

It is a national disgrace. As is the fact, grateful though I was and am, that only RT has run this story. The BBC has never done so.

Sky News directly refused to do so, because I tried. A former student of mine, who was then on the staff there (he has since moved on), told me to seek psychiatric help, and bizarrely copied his email to former employers of mine, among other people.

Not for the first time, and doubtless not for the last, thank goodness for RT. If you do not like it, then better it. You could start by examining the situation on Ascension Island.

Fit and Proper?

In 2012, George Galloway removed Amjad Bashir as a Respect candidate, calling him “not a fit and proper person to represent Respect”.

In 2014, Bashir became a UKIP Member of the European Parliament. It is inconceivable that UKIP in Bradford was unaware of his history.

But now, this MQM stalwart has gone back to the Conservative Party. His journey to it is entirely unremarkable.

Around the country, local factions of various Asian and other origins routinely defect from Labour or other things to the Conservatives on frankly communal grounds, and are always welcomed with open arms.

David Cameron’s vehicles toured Ealing Southall blasting out in Asian languages that Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals would be made public holidays under his party.

His “Quality of Life Commission” (don’t laugh, it’s real) then proposed giving the power to decide these things to “local community leaders”.

What else will those figures be given the power to decide in return for filling in every postal voting form in their households in the Bullingdon Boys’ interest, and making sure that all their mates did likewise?

To the statelets thus created – little Caliphates, little Hindutvas, little Khalistans, and so on – people minded to live in such places will flock from the ends of the earth, entrenching the situation forever.

Cameron has also signed up Mohammad Asghar, a Member of the Welsh Assembly who has moved seamlessly from Plaid Cymru.

Rehman Chishti, now a rising star as MP for Gillingham and Rainham, was Francis Maude’s Labour opponent in 2005 while working for Benazir Bhutto, whom he assisted from 1991 until her assassination in 2007 in her leadership of a party the motto of which includes both “Islam is our Faith” and “Socialism is our Economy”; he was still doing that job when he defected to the Conservative Party in 2006 and became an aide to Maude as its Chairman.

And so on, and on, and on.

Built In From The Start

Greg Palast writes:

Europe is stunned, and bankers aghast, that polls show the new party of the left, Syriza, will win Greece’s parliamentary elections to be held tomorrow.

Syriza promises that, if elected, it will cure Greece of leprosy.

Oddly, Syriza also promises that it will remain in the leper colony. That is, Syriza wants to rid Greece of the cruelty of austerity imposed by the European Central Bank but insists on staying in the eurozone.

The problem is that austerity run wild is merely a symptom of an illness. The underlying disease is the euro itself.

For the last five years, Greeks have been told that, if you cure your disease — that is, if you dump the euro — the sky will fall.

I guess you haven’t noticed, the sky has fallen already. With unemployment at 25 per cent, with Greek doctors and teachers eating out of bins, there is no further to fall.

In 2010, when unemployment was a terrible 10 per cent, a year into the crisis, the “troika” — the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund — told the Greeks that brutal austerity measures would restore Greece’s economy by 2012.

Ask yourself — was the troika right?

There is a saying in the US: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Can Greece survive without the euro? Greece is already dead, but the Germans won’t even bother to bury the corpse.

Greeks are told that if they leave the euro and renounce its debts, the nation will not be able to access world capital markets.

The reality is, Greece can’t access world markets now — no-one lends to a corpse.

There’s a way back across the River Styx. But it’s not by paddling on a euro.

Many nations do quite well without the euro.

Sweden, Denmark and India do just fine without the euro — and so does Turkey, which had the luck to be excluded from the eurozone.

As long as Turks stick to the lira, even President Tayyip Recep Erdogan cannot destroy their economy.

Can Greece just dump the euro? It has happy precedents to follow.

Argentina was once pegged to the US dollar much as Greece is tied to the euro today.

In 2000, Argentinians, hungry and angry, revolted. Argentina ultimately overthrew the dollar dictatorship, the IMF diktats and the threats of creditors and defaulted on its dollar bonds. Free at last!

In the decade since, the Argentinian economy soared.

Yes, today, Argentina is under attack by financial vultures, but that is only because the nation became so temptingly wealthy.

I was in Brazil when its president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the IMF to go to hell and rejected privatisation of the state banks and the state oil company, rejected cutting pensions and thumbed his nose at the rest of the austerity nonsense.

Instead, Lula created the bolsa familia, a massive payout to the nation’s poor.

The result — Brazil not only survived but thrived during the 2008-10 world financial crisis.

Despite pressure, Brazil never ceded control of its currency. 

It is a sad irony that Brazil is only now faltering. That’s the fault entirely of Lula’s successor President Dilma Rousseff, who is beginning to dance the austerity samba.

The euro is simply the deutschmark with little stars on it.

Greece cannot adopt Germany’s currency without adopting Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble as its own.

And Schaeuble has determined that Greece must be punished.

As my homie Paul Krugman points out, there is no credible economic theory that says that austerity — that is, cutting government spending, cutting wages, cutting consumer demand — can in any way help a nation in recession, in deflation.

That’s why, in 2009, Barack Obama ordered up stimulus, not a sleeping pill.

But austerity has nothing to do with economics.

It is religion — the belief by the stern Lutheran Germans that Greeks have had too much fun, spent too much money and spent too much lazy time in the sun — and now Greeks must pay a price for their sins.

Oddly, I hear this self-flagellating nonsense from Greeks themselves — we are lazy, we deserve our punishment. Nonsense.

The average Greek works more hours in a year than any other worker in the 34 nations of the OECD; Germans the least.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, would like to pretend that austerity and the euro are two different things.

Apparently, the Syriza chief is blissfully ignorant of the history of the euro.

The horror of austerity is not the consequence of Greek profligacy — it was designed into the euro’s plan from the beginning.

This was explained to me by the father of the euro himself, economist Robert Mundell of Columbia University.

Mundell not only invented the euro, he also fathered the misery-making policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, known as “supply-side economics” — or, as George Bush Sr called it, “voodoo economics.”

Supply-side voodoo is the long-discredited belief that if a nation demolishes the power of unions, cuts business taxes, eliminates government regulation and public ownership of utilities, economic prosperity will follow.

The euro is simply the other side of the supply-side coin.

As Mundell explained it, the euro is the way in which congresses and parliaments can be stripped of all power over monetary and fiscal policy.

Bothersome democracy is removed from the economic system.

“Without fiscal policy,” Mundell told me, “the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

Greece, to survive in a euro economy, can only revive employment by reducing wages.

Indeed, the recent tiny reduction in unemployment is the sign that Greeks are slowly accepting a permanent future of low wages serving pina coladas to Germans on holiday cruises.

It is argued that Greece owes Germany, the IMF and the European Central Bank for bailout billions. Nonsense.

None of the billions in bailout funds went into Greek pockets. It all went to bail out Deutsche Bank and other foreign creditors.

The EU treasuries swallowed 90 per cent of its private bankers’ bonds. Germany bailed out Germany, not Greece.

Nevertheless, Greece must pay Germany back, Mr Tsipras, if you want to continue to use Germany’s currency, that is.

Greece’s ruin began with secret, fraudulent currency swaps, designed a decade ago by Goldman Sachs, to conceal Greek deficits that exceeded the eurozone’s 3 per cent-of-GDP limit. 

In 2009, when the truth came out, Greek debt holders realised they had been cheated.

These debt buyers then demanded usurious levels of interest — or, if you prefer, a high “spread” — to insure themselves against future fraud.

The compounding of this interest premium brought the Greek nation to its knees.

In other words, the crimes committed to join and stay in the euro, not Greek profligacy, caused the crisis.

The US, Brazil and China escaped from depression by controlling their money supply, government spending and currency exchange rates — crucial tools Greece gave up in return for the euro.

Worse, once the Trojan hearse of the euro entered Athens, tourism, Greece’s main industry, drained to Turkey where hotels and souvenirs are priced in cheap lira.

This allowed Mundell’s remorseless wage-lowering machine, the euro, to do its work, to force Greece to strip all its workers of pensions and power.

Greece fell to its knees, with no choice but to beg Germany for mercy.

But there is no mercy.

As Germany’s Schaeuble insists, democracy, tomorrow’s vote, means nothing.

“New elections change nothing in the accords struck with the Greek government,” he says. “(Greeks) have no alternative.”

Ah, but they do, Mr Schaeuble.

They can tell you to take your euro and shove it up your Merkel.

Challenging The EU

It was raining yesterday in central Athens, which creates a problem for those feeding the homeless.

“Normally, people living on the streets stay at a single spot where they can get heat from an air vent from underground, so they’re easy to find,” says Yanis, a diver and engineer in the navy who runs a charity.

“But with the rain coming down, they may have moved to seek shelter under a bridge or somewhere like that, so it’s more difficult to bring them food.”

Yanis is hoping that Syriza, the party of the radical left, will win today’s election and reduce both mass poverty and the general sense of hopelessness.

“I don’t think that tomorrow will bring green valleys and golden cows,” says Yanis. But he does hope, with Syrizia in power, to see some improvement.

He may well get his wish by the time polls close at 7pm today.

The Greek radical left is likely to defeat the centre-right governing party in today’s elections, challenging the EU over repayment of Greece’s €240bn debt and enforced reduction of living standards.

Opinion polls show that, in the past few days, the left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, has been increasing its lead over the party of the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, who for two years has imposed austerity on Greece in return for loans from the EU.

Unfortunately for him, the Greeks haven’t felt that they were benefiting from their sacrifices.

Mr Samaras appears to have failed to convince voters that he had no choice but to bow to the EU’s demands and that putting Syriza into power is “national suicide”.

At the last government rally, inside a sports stadium built for the Olympics in 2004, Mr Samaras told a crowd of wildly cheering supporters waving a forest of white and blue Greek flags that “the opposition say that rather than a bad deal [with the EU] it is better to die”.

He added, for good measure, that Syriza is going to disarm the police, let a flood of immigrants into Greece and turn the country into a Mediterranean version of North Korea.

The mostly middle-aged crowd applauded, loudly chanting: “Greece! Greece! Samaras! Samaras!”

Fear of the unknown and of a final rupture with the EU won the elections for Mr Samaras in 2012.

But today Greeks are weary of attempts to frighten them into accepting a status quo that has brought misery to so many and shows no signs of ending.

The very fact that the general elections are being held early is a consequence of Mr Samaras’s inability to muster enough parliamentary support to elect a new president last month.

This was a result of his failure to win satisfactory compromises over the bailout, austerity measures and debt write-offs, as well as to get the much detested International Monetary Fund removed from the “troika” of the European Central Bank (ECB), the IMF and the European Commission which supervises Greece’s adherence to its agreement with the EU.

With the troika seen by Greeks, with some reason, as the equivalent of overseers in the workhouse in Oliver Twist, Mr Samaras appears as their willing agent.

It is not just the poor and unemployed who are angry and demanding change.

In a large tent housing the Syriza campaign headquarters in Koumoundourou Square in the centre of Athens, a party worker called Alexis says that he himself is not badly off.

A 64-year-old air traffic controller, he has seen his monthly salary cut from €5,500 to €4,500 (£4,100 to £3,360), and he pays higher taxes.

He is more upset by the fact that no new air traffic controllers have been appointed for years and, as a result, he and his colleagues get only a few days’ holiday a year.

He said that crucial to Syriza doing even better in the election than it did in the European parliamentary elections last year was the introduction of a new property tax.

Not only did it seem to be yet one more particularly onerous tax – and Greeks have long seen buying property as their ultimate insurance – but there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

Syriza supporters brush aside talk of a run on the banks on Monday.

While Mr Samaras has warned his supporters that “liquidity can be cut off and it will only take days for Greece to be asphyxiated”, this no longer has the resonance it once had.

Syriza may be radical, but it has been doing its best not to sound revolutionary and to avoid frightening middle-class voters or the international markets.

In any case, sympathetic commentary by financial experts on debt forgiveness and better terms for payment of existing debt is becoming much more the norm.

The eurozone has a bailout fund, and the ECB will buy the bonds of countries in trouble.

Syriza may not win an absolute majority in parliament and will be reliant on smaller parties.

It will also be constrained by a commitment to balanced budgets and securing a €7.2bn loan tranche, as well negotiating on the €320bn debt.

But the early elections called by Mr Samaras and the likely victory of Syriza are strong pieces of evidence that the sort of reforms the EU has been trying to implement in return for its money are vastly unpopular within Greece, where they are seen as a humiliating symbol of servitude.

It is also obvious that Mr Tsipras is right in saying that the Greek debt is “not just unbearable, it objectively cannot be repaid”.

Meanwhile, he has a list of reforms, such as giving free electricity to people whose power has been cut off, providing food stamps for children, healthcare to the uninsured, and some form of accommodation for the homeless, as well as raising the minimum wage from under €500 a month to €750.

The mystery in Greece is how so many people manage to survive without jobs or unemployment benefit. The answer is that most rely on their families.

Yanis says: “The family is what counts here – that is what saves us. If we followed the English model, half the people would be in the street.”

Leaving aside the questionable implication that family bonds don’t count for much in England, the Greek state has shown itself largely incapable of coping with the needs of the 26 per cent of the population who are out of work or the three million who live below the poverty line.

Lena Ekonomigou, a 63-year-old unemployed cleaning lady who used to clean the tax offices in the Ministry of Finance, recalls how she “used to earn €325 a month, but two years ago I was sacked. We were laid off as if we were garbage. That is why I believe in Alexis [Tsipras].”

Lena did not wholly explain how she has survived, but says “the church helps” and she made a little money looking after a woman who has difficulty walking. She says: “All I really want is to get my job back.”

Even those jobs that do exist are often temporary or poorly paid. Manya Kavvathea is 27 years old and was trained as a historian.

She is getting by on short-term jobs doing marketing surveys. Many of her friends have emigrated “to Holland, France and Germany”.

If there are few jobs in Athens, there are even fewer in her home town of Nafolio, a pretty tourist resort where “the only employment is waitressing in the cafés”.

These elections are a measure of the failure of the EU, which has sought to bludgeon Greeks into policies that they see as being against their interests and which, in any case, they had not assented to.

The supervision of the troika provokes the same sort of ill feeling that countries feel for colonial rulers, regardless of the justifiability of the changes they want to introduce.

There has also been a certain amount of hypocrisy involved since, at the time of the previous general election, the EU was seeking to keep Syriza out of power while simultaneously claiming that radical reform of the old corrupt clientist Greek political system would be implemented by the parties that had created and still benefited from it.

If the EU really does want to change Greece, they need a party with the same commitment.

Where To Get Off

John Prescott writes:

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker made his name for being a bit of a conspiracy theorist.

He supported a judicial review against me as Secretary of State for Planning for granting ­permission for a new ground for Brighton and Hove Albion FC

Part of the proposed ­stadium’s car park was in Baker’s constituency, Lewes, and he accused me of enjoying sumptuous hospitality at the old Brighton ground when Hull played there. It was a steak and kidney pie!

I now discover Mr Baker’s local Lib Dem Party received a sumptuous contribution of £3,500 from Sir Brian Souter, the chairman of Stagecoach trains and buses.

Souter has made millions from creating one of Britain’s biggest ­privatised transport operators with Stagecoach buses, East Midlands Trains, South West Trains and owning half of Virgin Trains.

Virgin Trains lost its franchise on Cross Country trains, were refused the East Coast route in 2002 and was about to lose the West Coast line in franchise bidding.

But under this government, Souter’s luck has changed. Virgin and Stagecoach have won the franchise to run the East Coast line from publicly-owned East Coast Trains.

Labour took it back into ­ownership in 2009 after two – private – companies, GNER and National Express, overbid and under-­delivered.

They’d begged for more subsidy and we rightly said no.

Since then nationalised East Coast Trains has seen the best performance ever, record passenger satisfaction levels and has given £1billion profit back to the taxpayer, which was reinvested.

On the West Coast route, Souter’s Virgin Trains only managed to give a third of that back in a dividend to its shareholders. Not one penny of that improved the service.

And who was the rail minister while the East Coast franchise was being put out to tender? Yes, Norman Baker.

The same Norman Baker who, when asked to comment about train fares increasing above inflation, with some up by 50 per cent, said they were “not nearly as ­expensive as is being presented”.

During Baker’s time as a transport minister from 2010 to October 2013, Souter was paid £876,000 a year and Stagecoach was making a pre-tax profit of £202.5million.

Three months after Baker left his transport job, Virgin and Stagecoach’s joint bid for the East Coast franchise was shortlisted.

And a month after Souter won the route, Baker ­registered the £3,500 donation to his local party.

Asked about Souter’s donation, Baker reportedly said: “He thought I was a good transport minister and he wants me back in Parliament.”

I bet he bloody does!

Souter – who says he made the donation as a friend after Baker left the Department for Transport – is also a major donor to the SNP, who would like to take control of Scottish trains.

The East Coast and West Coast contracts, now in Souter’s control, run through Scotland. Surely that could become a conflict of interest.

A similar story can be found with Souter’s Stagecoach bus company and its competitors.

Since Baker became a transport minister in 2010, more than 1,300 routes have been cut, fares have risen 25 per cent but the private bus firms still demand millions to subsidise unprofitable services.

As with all privatised transport, it’s all about profit not performance, with fewer services, higher fares and the taxpayer paying a lot more.

It’s time to make bus companies cross-subsidise less profitable routes from profitable ones – some councils in the North are now doing this.

Labour’s transport spokesman Michael Dugher’s plan to give more powers to local authorities to put pressure on bus firms is spot on.

Our focus must be on boosting passenger movement, providing a good service and keeping fares low.

Souter and the other bus barons should be told exactly where to get off.