Sunday, 22 May 2016

And Who Lost It For Nothing

We are already in NATO with Turkey, and that causes much more trouble than Turkish accession to the EU ever would.

Neither Boris Johnson nor Michael Gove has any desire for us to leave NATO. But then, neither of them has any desire for us to leave the EU, either.

Even the Mail on Sunday is fiercely for Remain today. I say "even", but of course it is.

I told you that the right-wing papers would fall into line as polling day approached. Only the Morning Star will hold firm. Again, of course.

Johnson and Gove want a Remain vote, and are indeed doing a very good job of ensuring one simply by their presence in the Leave camp. Who would want to vote the same way as either of them?

But they also want to be seen by the remnant of the Conservative Party as having gone down gallantly for a cause that they curiously imagine that remnant to support.

Yet, in point of fact, that party elected David Cameron over David Davis, and a large number of Davis's supporters have since left or died.

The people who are in it now are mostly in it because of David Cameron, on everything from same-sex marriage to the EU.

Moreover, behind the scenes, and increasingly back in front of them, Michael Heseltine remains at least as influential as he ever was.

The people who fund the Conservative Party have funded the Remain campaign, with none other than Michael Gove handing out sweeties to them in return.

A Conservative Party led by a Brexiteer would be as bankrupt as UKIP is on the brink of going.

Expect the funding of George Osborne's and Theresa May's Leadership campaigns to be limitless. One or other of them will become Prime Minister.

By contrast, Gove and Johnson will be remembered as nothing more than the men who lost a referendum. And who lost it for nothing.

No Comparison

Let us be clear: HB2 cannot be compared to the injustice of Jim Crow.

In fact, it is insulting to liken African Americans’ continuing struggle for equality in America to the liberals’ attempt to alter society’s accepted norms.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch compared HB2 to Jim Crow. Jim Crow laws were put into place to keep an entire race positioned as second-class citizens. 

HB2 simply says that men and women should use the restroom of their biological sex in government buildings and schools. 

This comparison is highly offensive and utterly disrespectful to those families and individuals who have shed blood and lost lives to advance the cause of civil rights. 

I take this as a personal slap in the face because I was an active participant in the civil rights movement.

In 1960, I participated in the sit-in at the Woolworth Diner in Greensboro. As a student attending North Carolina A&T University, I experienced the cruel, vicious reality of segregation first hand. 

No comparison

During the Jim Crow Era, we stared down the nozzle of firehoses, felt the piercing bite of police dogs, dangled from trees after being strung up by an angry mob, all because of the color of our skin. 

Our businesses were burned, churches bombed, communities destroyed, all because of the color of our skin. 

We had to drink at separate water fountains, shop at different stores and even had to sit at the back of the bus, all because of the color of our skin. 

All this and more took place after enduring 400 years of arguably the most heinous crime in history – slavery. 

In comparison, transgender individuals do not have to fight dogs, can shop anywhere and can use any water fountain. 

They are free to work, shop and ride the bus. 

And to my knowledge, they have not experienced 400 years of slavery and the ongoing fight for parity 151 years after emancipation. 

It is a further insult that the left chooses to ignore the continued absence of African Americans at the top levels of corporate America including the companies that took a public stand against HB2. 

Look at their boards of directors and executive teams. Where are the African Americans? Women? Transgender people? 

To them, I say fix these problems in your own house. 

Loretta Lynch’s political pandering to arouse African American interest in what has been proven to be lukewarm support for the supposed Democratic presidential candidate is an obvious attempt to elicit an emotional response.

You cannot pimp the civil rights movement.

Throughout my life, I have noticed that even smart people say dumb things. And you, Ms. Lynch, have once again proven me right.

Well done.

To Further The Cause

Neil Clark writes:

It was a news story which didn’t get too much coverage in Britain, but it was one which should give progressives and socialists who are planning to vote Remain in June’s EU referendum food for thought. 

On December 14 2015, the British profiteering train and coach company National Express (which has been taking us for a ride for some time here in Britain) began operating two regional lines in Germany — taking them over from the state-owned DB Regio. 

“The German rail market presents significant further opportunity,” enthused NX chief executive Dean Finch. 

“Germany is Europe’s largest rail market and is an important part of our strategy. We are working on the start-up of our next two German rail contracts on the Rhine-Ruhr Express. 

“These bring our already secured revenues from German rail to €2.6 billion.” Finch foresaw an “active pipeline of attractive opportunities throughout 2016.” 

He’s right to be optimistic — because EU policies are driving the privatisation of rail services throughout the continent. 

The EU, in its own words, is committed to “opening up national freight and passenger markets to cross-border competition.” 

In the same way that “open skies” led to the demise of historic state-owned airlines in the continent, so “open rails” will mark the end of historic, nationally owned railways.

But whereas in the air industry, extra competition could — and did — lead to lower fares for consumers, the same does not apply to rail, which is a natural monopoly.

As we’ve seen in Britain, privatised rail services mean more expensive rail services. 

Last year, the Financial Times could hardly conceal its excitement at the “opening up” of Europe’s rail market. 

The paper talked of the “big growth opportunities for operators such as Stagecoach, Go-Ahead and National Express of the UK, and Keolis of France.” 

Now here’s the deal: public ownership may not be explicitly prohibited by Brussels — but the combined effect of the various “pro-competition” articles will be to gradually eliminate state-owned companies and make it extremely hard, if not impossible, for governments to embark on a programme of renationalisation. 

If you think that’s bad enough — and it is — we haven’t even got on to the subject of TTIP, and the powers it would give multinationals to sue nation states for measures, such as nationalisation, which would be detrimental to its profits. 

The EU is currently negotiating TTIP with the US. Which brings us back to the vote on June 23.

The official Labour position is to support continued EU membership. But at the same time, the party has pledged to renationalise the railways. 

Jeremy Corbyn has also said he supports “the public ownership of gas and the National Grid.” Would such policies be possible under current EU rules? 

“The facts are simple: the EU creates real legal problems for any nationalisation agenda and will bind the hands of a future Labour government that attempts to deliver on such a manifesto policy,” says Labour’s Kate Hoey, a Leave campaigner. 

If Labour’s renationalisation is piecemeal and does not seek to establish a public-owned monopoly, then it might get away with it — but why take the chance? 

Put another way, why would supporters of public ownership wish to stay in an organisation which is clearly hostile to the idea of state monopoly providers of services and which is pushing governments of member states to privatise and not nationalise? 

There are other practical reasons for supporters of public ownership to vote Leave on June 23. 

At present, Britain pays around £9 billion a year to be a member of the EU. Think of the good that money could do if were spent instead on publicly owned, public services. 

Our once excellent library service — now teetering on the brink due to Tory cuts — could be rescued. 

The money could also be used to buy back assets which previous governments have privatised, such as Royal Mail.

There’s also the domestic political repercussions of a Leave vote to consider. 

Almost certainly, if Britain says No to the EU, David Cameron would be out of a job — and George Osborne too. 

“Call Me Dave” knows that to stay at No 10 he desperately needs Labour votes, which is why this week he took to the pages of the Daily Mirror to plead with Labour supporters to support Remain. 

How absurd it would be if Labour voters — the vast majority of whom oppose privatisation — do indeed save the bacon of the most fanatically pro-privatisation prime minister in our history — by voting to stay in a pro-privatisation organisation! 

Labour voters have it in their power to topple Cameron and Osborne and they should take it. 

The claim that a post-Cameron Tory government would be even more right-wing doesn’t really add up to much — as it underplays the extremism of the present gang, who make Margaret Thatcher look like a social democrat. 

Only a few weeks ago, the government announced its plans to privatise the Land Registry — in public hands since its inception in the days of Queen Victoria. 

That’s after having sold off the Royal Mail and NHS Blood services — a move which gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “vampire capitalism.” 

In any case, if Leave does win on June 23, the Tory Party is likely to implode into a brutal no-holds barred civil war, which would greatly increase Labour’s — and Jeremy Corbyn’s — chances of victory in 2020. 

However, if Remain triumphs, Cameron will be strengthened and it will be “business as usual.” 

Osborne, the man who by the end of last year had sold off nearly £40bn of public assets and who wants to flog off even more — will be the favourite to be his successor. 

What a dreadful prospect. 

We heard this week that Tariq Ali, a long-standing friend of Corbyn’s and fellow anti-war campaigner, said that privately the Labour leader is “completely opposed to the EU.” 

That would make a lot of sense because if we were free from having to obey Brussels’s neoliberal directives in 2020, it would make a left-wing Labour programme easier to implement. 

We only have to look at Greece to see what happens when a government puts a commitment to being “good Europeans” before its commitment to progressive policies. 

Syriza was elected in January 2015, promising not just to end austerity, but to halt privatisation, including of the Piraeus port. It did neither. 

Last December, Greece’s government sold off 14 airports to a German company, while the controversial sale of Piraeus has gone through, leaving dock workers who voted for Alexis Tsipras’s party feeling utterly betrayed. 

“It’s the same things the old governments told us: Lies, lies, lies, lies! 

“Syriza told us that they will not sell the port. We had a lot of meetings with the minister and now after the third memorandum they have told us that ‘we can’t do anything,’” dock worker Christos Tzimovaslis told Red Pepper magazine in March. 

Britain is unlikely to have the same debt problems in 2020 as Greece, and we won’t be in the euro — but even so, if we’re still members of the EU, Corbyn will come under enormous pressure not to renationalise and indeed to water down his anti-austerity programme. 

What a crushing disappointment it would be if, having overcome all the obstacles put in its path by Rupert Murdoch and the neocon Establishment to regain power, Labour is prevented from carrying out important parts of its programme by neoliberals in Brussels and lawsuits brought before the ECJ. 

A Syriza-style let-down here in Britain can’t be ruled out, but the best way to reduce the chances of that happening and to further the cause of public ownership is to put your cross by “Leave the European Union” on June 23.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Patron of My Campaigns

I am honoured and delighted, almost beyond words, to announce that the locally legendary and nationally well-respected Councillor Alex Watson OBE has today become the Patron of my campaigns for election to Durham County Council in 2017 and to the House of Commons in 2020.

Do get in touch:

Uncommon Insecurity

As the intensely anti-NATO Enoch Powell might have put it, "We must be mad, literally mad."

NATO is conducting exercises on the very border of Russia.

And, of course, NATO not only contains Turkey, but very largely revolves around Turkey.

Get the hell out of it.

Leave it to Montenegro, that world class military power, which is now to join the Organisation that bombed it a mere 16 years ago.

Asking Plainly

Lurid images of disease will be most unwelcome.

But if compulsory plain packaging will make no difference, then why were the tobacco companies so desperate to prevent it?

Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Celebrity threesomes have nothing to do with public policy.

Anything with a desire to report them may be called many things.

But it is not a newspaper.

Pretty Much Make My Life

I don't know why the media think that anyone much remembers Gillian Duffy.

Labour actually picked up the seat where she lived, from the party into Coalition with which the Conservatives were forced to go because they had failed to beat Labour outright.

Far from having abandoned Labour, the white working class is now a more stalwart base of its support than was the case in the 1970s. Just look at a map.

The thing is that that class itself is smaller than it was then.

And I expect that the man whom Pat Glass encountered was a racist. There are plenty of them about.

Way back in 2003, Pat's predecessor as the MP here, who was the Government Chief Whip at the time, forbade me from being a District Council candidate because I was mixed-race.

She, Hilary Armstrong, insisted instead on a member of her staff. He is now a senior Labour Party employee, and he refers to me to this day as a "mulatto".

Since he recently moved back to Lanchester, I am hoping for him as Ossie Johnson's forlorn running mate that the Labour Party insists on fielding in this ward even though no such person stands the slightest chance of beating Richie Young.

Getting more votes than "Break Dancing Jesus", not for the first time, but for the first time above allowance-free Parish level?

Now, that would pretty much make my life.

Set To Fail

Fierce criticism has greeted the claim by the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, about the dangers of giving Turks easier entry to Europe.

He said that for the EU “to offer visa-free access to 75 million Turks to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean seems perverse, like storing gasoline next to the fire.” 

He warned that extreme right wing populist parties in Europe would benefit from the hostile reaction to a fresh wave of migrants as has happened already in Austria and beyond. 

In response to his remarks Dearlove was denounced for speaking in “tabloid language” and indulging in demagoguery. 

It was even suggested that his outspokenness was a cunning attempt to divert attention from the upcoming publication of the Chilcot report which is expected to criticise him over his role in Britain taking part in the Iraq war of 2003. 

Somewhere along the line – as with much of the rest of the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU – discussion has become disconnected from reality. 

The issue of visa-free entry of Turks to the EU should raise a number of important questions. 

It pushes the outer barrier to the entry of migrants, as well as Isis and al-Qaeda terrorists, further south and east to Turkey’s 717-mile long border with Iraq and Syria. 

More than twice the length of the French-German border, this is highly porous and abuts on the world’s biggest war zone. 

This war is no longer confined to Syria and Iraq, but has spread since last summer into south east Turkey where the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are locked in a savage guerilla war. 

Large parts of Kurdish cities in Turkey like Cizre and Diyarbakir are in ruins and at least 200,000 Turkish Kurds have fled, some of whom have been found in the boats trying to reach Greek islands in the Aegean. 

There is something bizarre about EU policy when it comes to migration from this part of the world.

It seems to be based on the supposition that refugees are in flight from the war in Syria, but in practice the battle zone is today far larger.

The conflict is at its most intense in Syria, Iraq and south east Turkey, but there are at least seven wars and three serious insurgencies being fought out in the swathe of land between Pakistan and Nigeria.

In Syria, Iraq and SE Turkey, with a total population of around 60 million, people fear that the only prospect is war and economic breakdown and want to get out.

I was talking earlier this year to a group of women the town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan who were Arab and Kurdish refugees from Syria and Iraq.

All were living in houses not camps and had some form of employment, but – with the exception of one woman from Fallujah whom the other refugees gently mocked for not being frank about her travel plans – all of them wanted to make their way to Europe.

Officials in Brussels and Berlin may imagine that lines on the map in the Middle East denote real barriers to movement.

But the smuggling of people and goods is one of the main businesses in the Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian border area, fuelled for decades by the profits to be made by evading sanctions imposed on Iran and Iraq. 

Note also that central government authority in this area is limited because the dominant ethnic group are Kurds at odds with Ankara, Baghdad and Damascus.

A further problem with the EU’s proposed front line is that on the Turkish side of the border the Turkish army has proved either incapable or unwilling to stop people crossing to, or from, Turkish territory.

The PKK moves freely between its bases in the Kandil Mountains in Iraq and its hideouts in Turkey.

In Syria Isis still controls a 60-mile-stretch of the border west of the Euphrates, fighting successfully over the last month to keep control of its populous and fertile territory in northern Aleppo province.

The advance of the Syrian Kurds along the border has squeezed Isis’s access to Turkey but its fighters and supporters can still cross.

In fact, Isis may not have to send terrorists from its heartlands across the frontier since it already has ethnic Kurdish and Turkish cells in Turkey.

Some of these were involved in suicide bomb attacks there last year and in future they can easily do the same inside the EU.

EU policy towards Turkey – centred on the migrant crisis and the threat of Isis terror attacks – is based largely on wishful thinking.

The surge in migrant numbers and Isis terrorism will only be brought under control when the wars end in the Iraq-Syrian-SE Turkish triangle.

EU leaders were briefly energised by the influx of migrants last summer, followed by the Isis killings in Paris and Brussels, but present proposals will be at best ineffectual and probably counter-productive.

The implementation of the visa-free regime in the 26-nation Schengen zone of the EU is currently being delayed by Turkish unwillingness to modify anti-terrorism laws that target all forms of criticism of the state. 

Nevertheless, EU officials speak confidently of the scheme going ahead with one saying that “it’s not the first time there has been quite provocative talk from the Turkish side, then we sat down and found a way forward.” 

By making the southern border of Turkey the new barrier against migration and terrorism, EU leaders are deluding themselves by including part of the Middle East battle zone within their outer defences and pretending that there is no war in SE Turkey and the Turkish border is impermeable. 

Dearlove is right to say that the EU's ill-judged response to the twin crises over migrants and Isis is set to fail and the political beneficiaries will be the proto-fascist right across Europe.

Benn’s Dystopian Vision Proved Entirely Accurate

Larry Elliott writes:

The elephant in the room.

Everybody knew what Mark Carney meant when he paused halfway through his regular three-monthly update on the state of the economy: the implications of Brexit. 

The governor of the Bank of England did not pull any punches.

He warned of a potential run on the pound and of possible problems financing the UK’s whopping balance of payments deficit. 

He said the Bank expected growth to be materially lower and inflation to be notably higher. 

Voters trust the Bank of England. They sat up and took notice. The opinion polls started to move in favour of remain. 

When the history of the referendum campaign is written, Carney’s may be seen as the decisive intervention. 

In truth, there was more than one elephant in the room. 

Carney was right when he said there was a risk that the upheaval caused by Brexit could tip an already weakening economy into recession. 

But as elephants in the room go, this was the smaller, Indian version. 

The equivalent of the bigger, African elephant was the shocking state of the eurozone after the failure of the single currency experiment. 

This went unremarked by Carney, although it is relevant to the debate about Europe. 

Why? Because, although Britain is likely to stay in the EU, Brexit will remain a live issue unless the eurozone can sort itself out. 

That means either admitting that the euro has been a terrible mistake, or going the whole hog and integrating further, with a single banking system, a Europe-wide treasury, and a democratically elected finance minister with the power to raise money in Germany and spend it in Greece. 

This is not going to happen any time soon, and perhaps never. 

Countries that joined the eurozone gave up a considerable amount of economic power when they adopted the euro, but they retained the right to raise their own taxes and make their own spending decisions. 

Britain is not in the euro, for which we should all be thankful. But let’s be clear: staying in the EU means hitching the wagon to a currency zone unable to go forwards or backwards, and which will continue to struggle as a result. 

The euro brought to fruition the idea of ever-closer union, a plan that dates back to the early 1950s. 

Lots of things considered good ideas back then are no longer considered quite so clever: system-built high-rise flats as the answer to slum housing; nuclear power to meet energy needs. 

Put ever-closer union in the same category as the Birmingham inner-city ring road: it seemed a good idea at the time. 

Dan Atkinson and I spent the winter working on a book about the single currency commissioned in the wake of last summer’s Greek crisis. 

The brief was to look at what had gone wrong from a left-of-centre perspective; to explore the widespread disquiet about the way in which a country that voted in January 2015 for an end to austerity ended up seven months later being forced to accept even deeper cuts in wages and spending. 

The eurozone crisis is about more than Greece.

It is about Italy, where the economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the single currency was introduced. 

And France, where unemployment is double the level of the UK or the US. 

And Finland, one of the most tech-savvy countries in Europe, where the economy is 7% smaller than it was before the start of the financial crisis. 

And even Germany, where an export boom and high corporate profits have been paid for by workers in the form of below-inflation pay increases.

Our investigations took us back to the last time Britain held a referendum on EU membership, when during the cabinet discussions Tony Benn warned that Britain was signing up for something that was undemocratic, deflationary and run in the interests of big business. 

“I can think of no body of men outside the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do,” Benn said. 

Benn’s dystopian vision proved entirely accurate. 

When the architects of the new Europe looked to the future, they envisaged a new and better version of the United States of America. 

Europe would have all the good bits about the US – such as the economic dynamism, a large barrier-free market and a single currency – without any of the bad bits: the inequality, the high levels of incarceration, the poverty and the inadequate welfare safety net. 

This dream lives on. 

Yanis Varoufakis, the deposed finance minister of Greece, thinks the eurozone could be recast along Keynesian lines, with the rich and strong countries obliged to provide financial help to the poor and weak. Good luck with getting Germany to agree to that. 

Economic policy has been relentlessly deflationary. The interests of bankers have been given a higher priority than workers’. 

Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have been the laboratory mice in a continent-wide neoliberal experiment of a sort Tea Party Republicans in the US can only fantasise about. 

Given the obscene level of long-term unemployment, the idea of Europe as the guardian of labour rights is laughable. 

The gap between the US and Europe has widened, not narrowed, since the launch of the single currency. 

Populist parties of both left and right are gaining in support. 

One left-of-centre argument against Brexit is that it would result in the breakup of the euro and by doing so set off a chain reaction that would lead to the next global crisis: a perfectly fair point. 

Those who fear that another recession and even higher levels of joblessness would threaten a return to the totalitarian politics of the 1930s are right to highlight the risks. 

Some on the left who want Brexit say that the time is not yet ripe. 

The left-of-centre case for divorce is that Europe doesn’t work, is not remotely progressive and is heading for an existential crisis anyway. 

Last year’s threat was Grexit. This year’s threat is Brexit. Next year’s threat will be something else: Italy leaving the single currency, perhaps, or Marine Le Pen’s tilt for the French presidency. 

This presents an opportunity for those who believe that the way ahead still involves closer integration.

Jean Monnet, the godfather of the EU, always said that ever-closer union would be forged through crises, which is what Brexit would undoubtedly trigger. 

If the polls are right, Britain seems unready to trigger this act of creative destruction and it will be left to Varoufakis to do out of office what he could not do in power: prove a different Europe is possible. 

A different Europe is needed, but it is stretching credibility to imagine that the Europe of Greece and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can easily morph into America with the nice people in charge. 

The eurozone is economically moribund, persists with policies that have demonstrably failed, is indifferent to democracy, is run by and for a small, self-perpetuating elite, and is slowing dying.

The wrong comparison is being made. This is not the US without the electric chair; it is the USSR without the gulag.

Five Myths About The EU

Robert Griffiths makes the arguments that would win, if the whole thing had not been hijacked by Michael Gove and, especially, Boris Johnson, both of whom are determined to secure a vote to Remain: 

1. Three million jobs in Britain depend on membership of the EU and would be lost if we leave.

More jobs in Britain now depend on exports to the rest of the world. The share of Britain’s exports going to EU states has dropped steadily from over half (55 per cent) in 2007 to less than half (44 per cent) in 2015. 

Britain’s trade deficit with the EU has trebled, while that with the rest of the world has been cut by two-thirds. Britain’s non-EU exports are growing by 5 per cent a year — while exports to the EU decline.

By far the biggest growth markets are China, Switzerland and the Middle East. We don’t need to become part of the USA or China to have trading and other relations with them — why should the EU be different? 

Just under half the stock (48 per cent) of foreign direct investment in Britain is from the EU, unchanged for a decade or more.

But while the flow of new investment from the EU has shrunk to 19 per cent (latest 2014), the inflow from US companies remains constant (around 55 per cent) and continues to grow from the Far East (22 per cent). 

All the EU structural funds spent in Britain (£4.6bn forecast for 2016) are dwarfed by our annual net contribution to the EU budget (£15.2bn in 2016). 

In other words, Britain outside the EU could spend four times more on these agricultural, social and regional programmes by redeploying this net contribution. 

EU treaties and laws prohibit member state governments from taking measures to save or create jobs which “distort” competition and the free movement of capital, labour and commodities. 

This includes subsidies, import or capital controls, public procurement contracts favouring local workers or firms etc. 

Such restrictions have helped destroy millions of jobs in Britain in steel, coal, manufacturing and agriculture since joining the European Economic Community in 1973. 

Outside the EU, Britain could negotiate mutually beneficial agreements with other countries instead of secretive EU pacts that benefit big business, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA. 

2. Even outside the EU, we would still have to abide by EU trade rules in order to trade with it. 

Most countries around the world require imported goods and services to comply with their own domestic standards and specifications. 

At the same time, European countries which trade with the EU such as Norway and Iceland still prefer to remain outside it and pursue their own economic, financial, social and foreign policies. 

The EU runs a trade surplus with Britain on which four million export jobs on the European continent directly depend.

It would be in the EU’s own interests to conclude a non- or low-tariff trade agreement with Britain.

Any EU tariffs on imports from Britain would be limited under WTO rules and a British government could compensate exporters from its own tariff revenues.

As a major economic and political power and trading partner, Britain would be in a far stronger position than most other countries to reach a wide range of mutually beneficial agreements with the EU. 

3. EU membership has brought many rights and benefits to ordinary people, especially at work. 

Our main democratic, employment, trade union and welfare rights in Britain have been won by the sacrifices and struggles of the people — not gifted to us by our rulers here or in the EU. 

Most of our employment, trade union, health and safety, equal pay, minimum wage and anti-discrimination rights have been enacted by British legislation. 

This includes the 1998 UK Working Time Regulations, which improved upon the EU Working Time Directive (28 days’ paid leave instead of 20 — although statutory bank holidays were not excluded); better rights for farm workers; and longer daily rest for young workers. 

The original EU Working Time Directive allows member states to permit workers to opt out of a maximum 48-hour week, as the Blair government did. 

In many areas of labour law, Britain is ahead of the EU, including in trade union recognition, collective bargaining rights and maternity leave, where we have the second longest entitlement of any country in Europe — 52 weeks with up to 39 of them paid, compared with 14 in the EU Directive (a rise to 18 has been under discussion since 2010!). 

At the same time, EU directives have not closed the gender pay gap in Britain, limited the average working week to 48 hours or raised paid holidays to the average European level — only trade union action and national legislation can be relied upon to do that. 

Furthermore, neither EU nor British legislation has prevented the average full-time worker in Britain having the third longest working week in the EU, behind only Greece and Austria.

Workers in 21 other EU states have more statutory days off with pay (total leave and public holidays) than in Britain.

The EU has never sought to enact or enforce a statutory minimum wage, the right to strike or the right to join a trade union; nor does it protect workers against lock-outs. 

Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) explicitly forbids EU action in these areas. 

The EU has done nothing to protect workers in Britain from at least eleven Tory anti-trade union laws since 1979 and it will not defend us against the current Trade Union Bill. 

Only the strength of our own unions and the election of a different government at Westminster can do that. 

4. Leaving the EU would jeopardise our freedom to travel, work and reside throughout Europe. 

The “free movement of people” principle in the Treaty of Rome (1957) has always been a cloak for the “free movement of labour,” so that workers can move more easily to where business can make a bigger profit from them. 

This goes alongside the free movement of capital and commodities, which also enables big business to maximise profits in the “Single European Market” created after 1992. 

The result has been mass migrations of capital, jobs and labour across Europe at the expense of national and regional economies, local communities and union-negotiated terms and conditions of employment. 

Cheaper, more flexible and super-exploited imported labour has been used as a form of “incomes policy,” holding down wages as profits and dividends go up. 

Freedom to travel, work and live elsewhere need not depend on membership of a political and economic union. 

Visa and residency arrangements exist between Britain and most countries across the world, while the EU has reached similar agreements with Norway, Switzerland and other non-EU states in Europe. 

5. Outside the EU, Britain would be isolated in a globalised world. 

Most of the world is outside the EU, including six of the world’s 10 biggest economies. Britain, the fifth biggest, would make that seven. 

The Brics economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) account for 31 per cent of world output and more than half of global economic growth. 

The EU share of global GDP has fallen continuously from 28 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2015. 

Less than half (48 per cent) of Britain’s external trade is with the EU — even less (46 per cent) if non-EU trade routed through Rotterdam is excluded. 

Britain would retain its membership of the UN security council, the OECD, the International Labour Organisation, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and many other major international bodies, and regain its own independent seat at the World Trade Organisation. 

Instead of being represented by the EU in international trade matters and bound by EU common foreign, defence and security policies, Britain would be free to negotiate its own agreements in partnership with other countries across the world.

The Politics of Transgenderism Is Harmful

Jennifer Duncan writes: 

The concept of gender identity is being enshrined into law in several countries now, giving new legal protections to transgender people on the basis of their identities. 

In the United States, the Obama administration recently signed a declaration that all public schools in the country must recognise the gender identity of their students. Canada has recently announced new legal protections for transgender people. 

In Britain, there is interest growing in allowing people to legally define their own gender.

As a person on the political left and as a member of the LGBT community, I am expected to applaud these changes to legislation, but instead I am critical.

This is because the concept of gender identity is poorly defined, and the politics of transgenderism is harmful to women and girls and rooted in individualism rather than collective action. 

The NHS defines gender identity in the following way: “Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. Gender identity is the gender that a person ‘identifies’ with or feels themselves to be. 

“While biological sex and gender identity are the same for most people, this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, some people may have the anatomy of a man, but identify themselves as a woman, while others may not feel they’re definitively either male or female.” 

This is typical of definitions of gender identity offered by other organisations. 

The concept of gender is not precisely defined, but we are to understand that gender identity is the individual’s feeling of being either a man, a woman, or neither of these. 

The problem with this is that male and female aren’t feelings — these words refer to the two reproductive functions of mammalian species: those who produce sperm which can fertilise ova, and those who produce ova and can bear young. 

When someone has a gender identity, that means they believe their sex to be the opposite of what their physical anatomy is, or that they are neither sex. 

The belief that one is the opposite sex is often called gender dysphoria, which is a discomfort and anxiety directed toward the body and its sexed characteristics. 

Some people with gender dysphoria wish to alter their bodies to reflect the appearance of the sexed body they feel they should have. 

There is no conclusive research on why some people are deeply unhappy with their bodies, but self-reporting, such as videos and articles created by people who are transitioning, gives us clues as to where their unhappiness is coming from. 

When transgender people talk about how they knew they were trans, they often report identifying with the stereotypical behaviour and appearance of the opposite sex, such as boys who wanted to play with dolls and wear dresses, and girls who wanted to wear baggy clothes and cut their hair short. 

The strong identification with characteristics they are taught don’t belong to them leads them to conclude they must have a “boy’s brain in a girl’s body” or vice versa. 

Transition seems like a way to reconcile their personal characteristics with what they have been taught about what men and women are, to avoid the feelings of discomfort and the negative treatment that come from being different. 

Feminists have given the name “gender roles” to the collection of traits and behaviours that are assigned to men and women based on our reproductive role. 

The feminine gender role is to be kind and nurturing — the personality of one who is meant to stay at home and raise children. 

The masculine gender role is to be aggressive and independent — traits that are good for people whose role is to work outside the home and be the head of the family. 

These gender roles are a part of the system of patriarchy which separates the two sex classes, male and female, and gives men the upper hand in the sex hierarchy. 

Some people are deeply uncomfortable with the role they are given, and there are two major ways of dealing with this discomfort — one way is collectively working to change society so that these roles will be abolished, and the other way is changing the self in order to better survive the system that is in place. 

If it were simply a matter of a few rare individuals having sex-reassignment surgery to deal with overwhelming feelings of dysphoria, this wouldn’t likely have any effect on society. 

But the politics of transgenderism that are sweeping North America right now are bringing along with them a multitude of problems for women and girls. 

One of the issues for women is the loss of sex-segregated spaces, such as public bathrooms and changing rooms. 

When bathroom use is based only on a subjective belief that one is a woman, this effectively allows men to claim a gender identity and enter women’s spaces any time they want to. 

There are already many North American schools and recreation centres allowing males to enter female spaces because of their “gender identity,” and this is causing distress for women, who do not feel safe undressing in front of strange men. 

In transgender politics, the physical anatomy of the body can be reinterpreted based on the subjective identity that one has — for example, a male body can be referred to as a female body if the man has a gender identity as a woman, and vice versa. 

This is a problem for women and girls because our female biology makes us vulnerable to men, regardless of how we identify. 

The fact that we are generally smaller, have less upper-body strength, and can become pregnant make us physically vulnerable, and we are also vulnerable socially due to widespread sexual abuse of women by men that is based on our female anatomy. 

Seeing a man in a private, female-only space such as a locker room is uncomfortable for women, regardless of how strongly he feels about his gender identity. 

In the United States, “bathroom bills” are causing major clashes between those who want to protect the identity of transgender people and those who want to protect the privacy of women in female-only spaces. 

The other problem for women caused by the concept of gender identity is that it becomes difficult or impossible to name biological sex as an axis of oppression when people can supposedly choose to be any sex they want to be. 

Women are not oppressed based on our identities, we are oppressed on the basis of our female biology; for example, in situations where our fertility is controlled by men (in forced marriage, laws against abortion [feminism will largely have come round on that in 20 years], etc) and in situations where we are sexually exploited (in human trafficking, rape and incest, etc). 

These human rights abuses do not occur because of our “identity” as women, but because men know that we are female and they have the power to use our female reproductive systems for their sexual pleasure and to create their offspring.

If people can simply decide to be the opposite sex, then a material analysis of women’s oppression cannot be done. 

Men who commit violent crimes against women can be recorded legally as women due to gender identity laws, which obscures the statistics on which sex is really committing those crimes, and violent males who are imprisoned can be imprisoned with other women, making incarcerated women vulnerable, because transwomen cannot be named as males. 

Without being able to name humans as male or female, women have no hope of being able to protect ourselves from the crimes men commit against us. 

It is important to stay away from individualism and remain focused on class analysis, especially for those of us on the left. 

In the United States, communism was all but eliminated decades ago, and the notions of individualism and consumer culture have taken over the political landscape. 

This means that we see people as being free agents making their own choices rather than classes of people with collective interests. 

Just as the working class is oppressed based on its position in the economic class system, women are oppressed based on our position in the sex class system. 

Gender roles, which serve to reinforce the sex hierarchy, make people uncomfortable on both sides because they limit how we can behave and express ourselves. 

Eliminating oppression based on gender roles will not be achieved by a few individuals changing themselves to fit into a different role — collective action is needed to dismantle the gender system.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Putting Up, Not Shutting Up

I have known Pat Glass a long time. We were Parish Councillors together, and we still live only a few streets from each other.

But I am a left-wing Eurosceptic of the old school who will be voting to Leave, and who wants a huge taking back of powers even if there is a vote to Remain.

I believe in balanced migration in order to protect workers' rights and public services, which are at least as essential as anything else to the character and identity of this country.

And I was already planning to stand for the new seat containing Lanchester in 2020, if I could raise £100,000 in the next year in order to campaign full time between then and the General Election.

Do get in touch:

Blond On Blond

What is this thing, "the political Cabinet"? It seems to exist purely for the purpose of having Boris Johnson in it.

But Johnson is now just another backbench MP, and not even well-liked by the other backbench MPs.

If there is a Remain vote, then it will be Johnson's fault, although the Remainers who run his party hate Michael Gove even more.

Yet it will be preposterous to suggest that David Cameron ought to be succeeded by anyone who had, at least ostensibly, campaigned for a Leave vote.

Johnson's brother is the politically distinguished one, while his sister is the journalistically distinguished one.

By contrast, Michael Heseltine works several days per week in and from an office at the Department for Communities and Local Government, complete with a Civil Service PA.

Think on.

So Much For Michael Gove

He is reduced to giving Serco and Capita the ability to lock people up.

Such is those corporations' reward for having backed the Remain campaign.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Hands On The BBC

The Queen and Dennis Skinner.

Each has a distinct role in the State Opening of Parliament, as the latest, but not the last, in a long, long line.

Skinner is the reigning head of Radical and republican, populist and these days more or less pacifist tradition that is our Constitution's very British, and especially very English, feature of inbuilt self-criticism and even self-mockery.

Either he or the Queen could and should have demanded the protection of the BBC, as such. In the event, it was Skinner who did so. 

But with the next big scandal's shaping up to be Orgreave, no one needs to tell him that the Liberal Establishment and its precious broadcaster are very far from perfect.

In appointing six members of the new BBC Board, the Government needs to bypass the Liberal Establishment by appointing at least one figure from Left.

Very preferably, the working-class Left.

Just for once, the Blairobites would be rendered speechless.

Don't ask, don't get. You have to play the game if you want to win the game. Be at the table, or be on the menu.

Get on board, so to speak, or get under the bus.

A Perfect Opportunity

Dave Nellist, who will be on Any Questions? this week, shows us why TUSC ought to have been the officially recognised Leave campaign, instead of anything involving Boris the Bananaman, who was pro-EU well into the present calendar year, and who gives every impression of being a spoiler in that cause:

Paul Mason outlines several of the powerful socialist arguments for a leave vote in the EU referendum

To Paul’s list could be added the EU drive for market liberalisation, or outright privatisation, of services such as rail, post, energy and water, as well as the threat to a publicly owned NHS that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) poses. 

But having explained how undemocratic and big-business-oriented the EU is – in effect, Thatcherism on a continental scale – Paul backs down and asks us to accept all that, because exit threatens a change of Tory leader. 

As if the marginal difference between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, in the context of all Paul has identified, is in any way fundamental. 

Cameron’s government was elected with only 24% support.

It’s a government that is, in reality, weak and divided – maintained in office not by its own strength, but the weakness of the opposition, particularly at the top of the trade unions.

A leave vote would topple Cameron and further exacerbate the divisions inside the Tory party, not heal them.

It could provide a perfect opportunity for Labour to demand not a mere change in Tory leader, but an immediate general election to choose a new government.

I campaigned in the past against the EU alongside labour movement giants like Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and I’m proud that TUSC is carrying on that struggle today, while faint hearts fall by the wayside.

Dave Nellist
National chair, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Almost Nothing Weaker Or More Pathetic

Daniel Larison writes: 

Last week, David Cameron warned that “Brexit” might lead to war in Europe.

This was a ridiculous claim and widely panned as such, but that hasn’t stopped Cameron from resorting to increasingly stupid fear-mongering to sway the public to the side of Remain:

David Cameron has said the leader of Islamic State would be happy if the UK voted for Brexit. So, according to the Prime Minister, would Vladimir Putin. 

Both of these claims are very questionable, but the appropriate response to both ought to be: “So what?” Suppose that Cameron is right about this. Why should that make someone want Britain to stay in?

There is almost nothing weaker or more pathetic than to insist on Britain’s membership in the EU because of what some foreign leader or terrorist prefers.

Besides the rank fear-mongering involved, the problem with Cameron’s claims is that they don’t make a lot of sense.

If Britain leaves the EU, it makes absolutely no difference to jihadists in Raqqa or anywhere else. Jihadists gain nothing from “Brexit,” and it is difficult to see how Russia actually gains anything from it.

It is revealing that Cameron keeps trying to make the case for Remain with warnings about the supposed foreign policy implications of “Brexit.”

That suggests that he doesn’t have a lot of confidence that British voters can be persuaded that withdrawal from the EU is bad for Britain on the domestic front, and so he has to resort to making desperate claims that it is bad for the rest of the world.

It also suggests that he thinks he is losing the argument on the merits and has to fall back on trying to frighten the public into siding with him.

Maybe it will work, but the side that has to rely on alarmist rhetoric like this doesn’t have much else going for it.

Run and Run

I’m on the left and I want out of the European Union.

Although Paul Mason made the same case in the Guardian this week, it is a rather lonely position to take these days.

A generation ago that wasn’t the case.

In the 1980s “Get Britain Out” was up there with “Refuse Cruise” and “Coal Not Dole” as the good lefty’s badges of choice, and leaving the EU was part of the Labour party’s programme until 1988

The trouble is that this means I am now on the same side of the argument as people I fundamentally disagree with, even on the subject of the EU itself. 

I have no problem debating with such people or sharing panels with them, but that does depend on showing a basic level of empathy and respect. 

And when it comes to Nigel Farage – I don’t think he has it. 

I was asked to appear on the same panel as Farage at a debate organised by the Daily Mirror on whether we should stay or leave the EU. 

I realised that I might have some explaining to do when Mirror readers saw me on the same side as Farage, the Ukip leader, and the Tory MP Andrea Leadsom – while current and former Labour politicians Peter Mandelson, Ayesha Hazarika and John McDonnell were on the other, though McDonnell has had profound differences with Mandelson on defining subjects such as New Labour and the Iraq war. 

I expected all the issues to be examined in a free and lively debate but, perhaps naively, I was reckoning without Farage and the particular dynamic he brings to these occasions. 

He was civility personified before proceedings began, indeed, he was encouraging to some degree, recognising the challenges that face a non-politician like me on a highly charged political occasion. 

But once we were under way, his tone was different, as was his demeanour. 

He seemed less concerned about a debate in terms of an exchange of thoughts or ideas, and more concerned, consumed perhaps, with scoring points. 

No blow too low.

You wanted to rub our noses in diversity didn’t you, Lord Mandelson,” he said. The remainers were outraged and so, sitting right next to him, was I. 

You get a distinct and sinking feeling sat next to someone who wants to blame workers like your own parents for Britain’s problems. 

“Why shouldn’t we have people of different ethnic backgrounds, different colours?” Mandelson shouted back at Farage, the two exchanging fire across me. 

“You’ve shown your true colours and you owe her an apology,” Mandelson added. 

Amid the hullabaloo, all the warnings from friends – who cautioned: “Don’t get into this issue, Dreda, you’ll be fitted up by rightwingers” – seemed right. 

I was also forced to take issue with Leadsom, my other fellow panellist, who spoke of public services being “overwhelmed” as a result of immigration. 

Some Brexiteers may choose to speak this way, but not in my name. 

When I suggested that the EU was actually a class issue, it was McDonnell, from the opposite camp, who picked up on the idea. 

I’m fed up with hearing about what’s good for big business and high-flying professionals; at street level, views are far more mixed. 

I don’t know many kids from the estates who are excited about starting their own media company in Milan. 

McDonnell believes in a different kind of EU. I respect that position. I just don’t think it’s possible. 

But at the same time, I was wondering if it was possible to swap chairs around so I could enjoy more congenial company. 

Farage and I didn’t speak again, and after the event I stayed up late into the night responding to criticism from angry Ukippers. 

They accused me of being there just to embarrass Farage. That wasn’t my intention. 

But I hope that’s what transpired. I don’t regret participating, and I’ll be doing more debates, not least because I’m unwilling to give the impression that women can’t hack a little argy-bargy on a panel.

I am also unwilling to cede the leave argument to rightwing Conservatives when there’s a long and proud tradition of leftwing opposition to the EU. 

The arguments made by Tony Benn, Barbara Castle and Peter Shore a generation ago still stand as far as I’m concerned. It’s for other leftists to explain why they don’t.

And if not me, who like me? 

For often, when I’m approached to appear on the media or at public events and have to decline, I am then asked: “Do you know any other minority pundits who share your views?”

Or any who are working class, council-housed or comprehensive educated?

Whether we leave or remain, the issue of diversity in public life – or the lack of it – will run and run.

The Pantomime While Time Burns

Tom Strong writes:

So, going on holiday with your family is coming dangerously close to being a crime, unless you do it when the state tells you to.

The Department for Education (DfE) is now threatening to toughen up the law on parents taking their children out of school during term time, in light of Jon Platt’s refreshing victory over the Isle of Wight Education Authority. 

If you want to know why the government’s decision to tighten the law on term-time absence should be opposed by parents and teachers everywhere, you need only look to the statement provided by the DfE following Platt’s case: 

‘The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.’ 

‘Extra’ is a small word, but here it belies a massive hypocrisy.

In using lesson time for purposes other than the formal transmission of knowledge, Jon Platt was only following a practice that has been endemic among school authorities for years. 

The days Platt’s daughter spent out of lessons were in addition to ones she had spent out of lessons because of the state. 

When it comes to the pillaging of the timetable, it is not parents but the state that is the guilty party. Here are five ways in which schools are the real lesson-snatchers. 

1) Rubbish training 

Every parent knows that there are five days in the school year when they have to arrange childcare because school is closed.

What is so important that it means children are kept out of school for a week each year, denting their GCSE grades and life chances?

The in-service training of teachers (‘Inset’). Inset days take place whether or not the teachers require them. 

In my own experience, this vital ‘training’ has involved, among other things, banging a drum as part of a Latin American street band; covering a wall with Post-It notes, bearing the definition of the word resilient; and play-acting at being a difficult student.

And that’s before we get to the obligatory safeguarding training about how to spot signs of child abuse, which has consisted of the same Powerpoint, every year, in every school, for the past eight years. 

If we scrapped Inset days, every child could go on holiday during term-time for a week each year without incident.

2) Snake oil 

Motivational speakers, Brain Gym sessions, charity workers going on about cognitive behavioural therapy, body-image consultants, yet more self-appointed safeguarding ‘experts’… 

Schools routinely open their doors to anyone who wants to grab whole chunks of the school day to push their fashionable fancies on the young. 

Added up over a year, it amounts to days’ worth of fretting about personal problems. 

Perhaps a fraction of it might have been useful to a handful of children. Nevertheless, it is no substitute for real subjects, which can truly expand students’ horizons. 

3) Edutainment 

For more than a generation, what happens in lessons has been dictated by Ofsted, government and state-approved education specialists. 

Their watchword is engagement: unless your teaching panders to low-attention spans and serves up non-challenging content, you’re guilty of not catering to students’ individual needs and learning styles. 

Hence the plethora of poster-making, DVD-watching, faux-debating and role-playing that passes for education in many schools. 

This is all a profligate use of time, which, as teacher-commentator Tom Bennett put it recently, is ‘lighting cigars with fivers made out of children’s opportunities’. 

So what if a student visits Greece in term time? At least their inevitable poster of the Acropolis will be better informed. 

4) Support and feedback

As a result of the DfE’s Every Child Matters policy, and the statutory requirement that all pupils make sufficient progress at school, today’s teachers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to ensure students maximise their exam success.

In addition to teaching and assessing a topic, a teacher is now expected to offer detailed written feedback to each pupil, provide reams of evidence of work, offer bespoke support, run revision classes and issue individualised targets.

There are two unintended consequences of this new regime: first, it undermines students’ autonomy and discourages them from taking responsibility for their intellectual fate; secondly, it means wasting time revisiting old material again and again in a bid to 

5) Behaviour 

An hour a day is lost to poor behaviour in today’s classrooms, according to Ofsted

How come? Are students today really naughtier than in previous generations? Of course not. What has changed is the exercise of adult authority in the classroom. 

With government-inspired talk of a mental-health crisis among young people, schools have developed an institutional paralysis when it comes to exerting authority over disruptive pupils.

Bad behaviour is a result of low self-esteem, say the state-sponsored psychologists, and we must therefore do all we can to boost the morale of errant pupils.

So, rather than tell them off, teachers are encouraged to pander to the offender with ‘learning conversations’ about their emotions and anger-management.

Meanwhile, the rest of the class is forced to endure the pantomime while time burns.