Thursday, 28 July 2016

Don't Be Trumped

A second referendum on EU membership would undoubtedly result in a vote to Remain, probably by the same margin as the vote to Leave last month.

It might be argued that that would make no practical difference, since Article 50 has not been invoked, nor is there any intention to invoke it. It becomes less likely with every passing day.

In itself, that is perfectly true, and indeed blatantly obvious.

But if only Conservative and UKIP-minded areas had voted Leave, then Remain would have won comfortably.

The referendum was swung by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru voters. Who, of course, remain so, and will remain so. This issue was not a party one, or there would not have been a referendum on it.

The Conservative Party, of course, was also in favour of a Remain vote.

To such an extent that David Cameron resigned when there was a Leave vote. And to such an extent that he has been succeeded by another Remainer without a contest.

Jeremy Corbyn's victory last year, the swinging of the EU referendum result, and Corbyn's even bigger victory this year, have been and will be the cries of the areas, the communities, the families and the individuals that have been abandoned, ignored, denigrated and oppressed since 1979.

At least unless the political and cultural, and not least the media, structures through which they could now be heard were already firmly in place, then a second referendum, with its inevitable result, would be a catastrophic setback to the advancement of those areas, communities, families and individuals.

It would silence them, right at the moment that they had found their voice.

But already to have those structures firmly in place would be a very big ask between now and the early part of next year.

The event most likely to force a second referendum, in the early part of next year, would be the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Any possibility of a bilateral trade agreement would then be ruled out entirely, at least for four years.

In that situation, the Remain vote in 2017 would be higher than the Leave vote in 2016.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Fox Is Shot

Liam Fox's funny delusions about "the Anglopshere" have been confronted with reality.

Even Canada has sent him away with a flea in his ear.

As for the United States, Donald Trump would not be doing trade agreements at all, pretty much.

While Hillary Clinton, if she were anything like her husband, would prefer Germany as an economic and as a diplomatic or military partner alike.

Fox now says that no trade deal could begin to be negotiated with anywhere else until we had left the EU, and that that will not happen before 2019 at the earliest.

Of course, before the invocation of Article 50, it cannot begin to happen at all.

But Article 50 will not be invoked until several such deals, and most especially the one with the United States, were already signed, sealed and delivered.

She is no fool, that Theresa May.

The ramifications of the referendum result will be felt for decades. But there is already something quite tragic about anyone who still talks about actually leaving the EU.

Barely a month later, and they are back to being pub bores again.

The last thing that we need, however, is a second referendum. That would deliver a Remain vote.

Thereby killing any recognition of the need to listen to the areas that voted Leave while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for parliamentary or municipal purposes.

As they will undoubtedly continue to do. Of course. If the issue had been a party one, then there would not have been a referendum on it.

Davey Hopper’s Funeral

For anyone who does not already know, what promises to be Davey Hopper’s enormous funeral will take place on Friday 29th July at the Miners’ Hall, Red Hill, Flass Street, Durham, DH1 4BE, starting at 9:45am.

It will be a humanist service conducted by Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former General Secretary of Unison.

Please make donations in lieu of flowers to the Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala.

Please arrive early, and note that unfortunately there will be not be any parking available at the Miners’ Hall or in the immediate vicinity.

See here for parking in Durham City. Or here for the Park and Ride.

The Miners' Hall is 10 minutes’ walk, if that, from Durham railway station, and it is less than five minutes’ walk from Durham bus station.

The evening before, on Thursday 28th July, there will be a celebration of Davey’s life at Sacriston Workingmen’s Club, Edward Street, DH7 6NW, from 7pm to 11pm, which will include live music and a buffet.

Daddy Dearest

Milo Yiannopoulos is Damian Thompson's gift to the world, and, in my experience, remains fiercely protective of the man who was his Daddy before Donald Trump.

Hammond Egg On His Face

The author of this piece ought always to have been the Shadow Foreign Secretary. With any luck, she finally will be once Jeremy Corbyn has won again, by an even wider margin than last year.

He will of course have beaten a prominent courtier of the arms industry.

Crowdfunding For The Teaching Assistants

Mr Nasty

If you want to hide all manner of corruption and vileness in the plainest of sight, then position yourself on the right wing of a left-wing party.

The Right's media juggernaut is aimed squarely at the Left, while the Left's inexhaustible energy and commitment, no matter how lacking in resources, are aimed squarely at the Right.

In between the two, you can get away with anything.

Look, if you can bear to do so, at the Clintons. Or look, if you can bear to do so, at Owen Smith.

Smith faked his CV. He buys up fake accounts to cheerlead for him Twitter. He professes himself "normal" because he has a wife and children, unlike Angela Eagle (although she, in her way, is another one).

Smith prolonged people's cancer in order to maximise corporate profits. And he wants to "smash Theresa May back on her heels".

Today, he has been to Orgreave, in an attempt to hijack the memory of the Miners' Strike. There, he announced no fewer than 20 of Jeremy Corbyn's and John McDonnell's policies as his own.

Don't believe a word of it.

The MPs who have nominated him would not have done so if those were his views. Nor would he be receiving the media support that he is. Nor would he enjoy the backing of the most right-wing seven per cent of Labour councillors.

The Socialist vs The Sociopath

It says it all, both about Owen's Smith campaign, and about his character, that he booked the most hilariously overlarge hall for his campaign launch, or whatever it was that has just occurred.

Smith, who faked his CV, and whose support on Twitter comes from bought and paid for fake accounts, also has the classic personality of a perpetrator of domestic violence.

Whether or not he is one of those, he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

And whatever else Jeremy Corbyn may be, he is certainly not that.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Introibo Ad Altare Dei

As the martyr priests of the non-Islamic French Revolution were wont say while their heads were being laid on the block.

Martyred while saying Mass, Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered by a Muslim.

Martyred while saying Mass, neither St Thomas of Canterbury nor Blessed Óscar Romero was murdered by a Muslim.

Orate pro nobis.

Winning Power For The Good?

At least where the ones from the North East are concerned, it is laughable to suggest that these councillors are engaged in any "fight against austerity" in the first place.

Just as it is to make that suggestion of Owen Smith, who fights for nothing except the privatisation of the NHS in the interests of his past, future, and possibly present employers.

It is not difficult, nor even necessary, to imagine what these 500 councillors would have said to any suggestion by Jeremy Corbyn that there be, "a radical vision for a £200 billion investment programme, renationalising our railways, and putting the decision to make war firmly in the hands of elected MPs, not the Government of the day."

"Tackling inequalities in wealth"? "Increase taxes on the wealthy"? Whom do they think that they are kidding?

Speaking of kids, at least one of the five Durham County Councillors listed here is not expected to contest his seat next year, and would certainly be defeated if he did.

But it is on his little CV now, along with his having taken his university girlfriend to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

(Not that there is anything wrong with Buckingham Palace Garden Parties. But one really ought to have worked for them, as cannot have been done in a mere 20 or so years on this earth.)

And along with his having run away and hidden from his own council's notoriously aggressive Teaching Assistants. He had previously called the Police in order to prevent them from attending his surgeries.

To think that only four years ago, he was driving into school in his MG. A veritable little Michael Foster or Reg Race.

Other old Durham hands can draw their own conclusions from the fact that he needed to have his A-levels re-marked in order to get into Durham.

Other old hands from St Bede's can draw their own conclusions from the fact that he managed to have his A-levels re-marked in order to get into Durham.

If he is still a member of any political party in 10 years' time, long after any breakaway funded by Foster and Race, Pfizer and Amgen had gone the way of all flesh, then I shall humbly eat the top hat that he wore to Her Majesty's afternoon knees-up.

The same goes for all of the other four.

Right and Fair

The attempted coup has taken Labour from three points ahead to 16 points behind.

Angela Eagle did not have a brick through her window, did not receive homophobic abuse at a meeting that she did not attend, and was not advised by the Police to desist from holding constituency surgeries.

Likewise, Mr Speaker Bercow has today told someone called Seema Malhotra that, "Having taken advice, I am satisfied that there is nothing in your letter, or in the information subsequently elicited by the deputy Serjeant at Arms, which would justify regarding these events as a possible breach."

As John McDonnell puts it, "It's only right and fair that Seema now apologise for the stress that she has caused to my staff over the last few days. As I said on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Labour Party needs to unite, and actions like this, which are only being used to try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, must stop."

The Eagle-Malhotra Tendency's last hope is that a High Court judge will rule on Thursday that only candidates funded by megabucks personal friends of Benjamin Netanyahu were permitted to contest the Leadership of the Labour Party.

Frankly Labour

A lot of people, over many years, have doubted whether Frank Field was quite Labour at all.

They need to take a look at his battle with Philip Green.

Now, try and imagine that battle's being waged by Owen Smith.

Field was one of 10 overtly pro-Brexit Labour MPs, one of whom is now a member of the Shadow Cabinet, while another chairs the Parliamentary Labour Party.

When Jeremy Corbyn has won again, then all 10 need to be appointed to an advisory body.

Not so much dealing with the EU itself; this side of Article 50, on what would there be anything to advise?

But dealing with the fact that, "The referendum result sent a clear message from parts of Britain that have been left behind by globalisation."

Again, try and imagine such a body's being created, or that statement's being made, by Owen Smith.

Monday, 25 July 2016

In Spirit and Actively Supporting


Dear Jeremy,

We are writing this letter in support of your campaign to remain Leader of the Labour Party and a future Prime Minister of this Country.

You have supported deaf and disabled people’s causes for many, many years. You have spoken in Parliament.

You have voted against vicious welfare reforms that have blighted our lives, often having to rebel against the Whip to do so.

You have campaigned with us during court vigils, at street protests and you spoke at the ‘10,000 cuts and counting’ memorial for people who had died as a result of welfare reform.

During our campaign to save the ILF when we asked the then Labour Leadership for help and got none, you publicly supported our campaign.

We also recognise the long term and steadfast support of one of our, and your, strongest allies – John McDonnell.

You have supported deaf and disabled people in so many ways over so many years and now it is time for us to have a chance to rally in support of you and John.

We know that you have devoted your political life to supporting people and causes that really do matter to people in this country and around the world.

So we know that when you talk about a new kind of politics that you mean a politics that puts people, people like us, first.

As you fight to retain leadership of the Labour Party, please know that Deaf and Disabled people and our allies are with you in spirit and actively supporting your campaign.

In Solidarity,

Anita Bellows (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Linda Burnip (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Ellen Clifford (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Bob Ellard (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Andy Greene (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Debbie Jolly (Disabled People Against Cuts) 
Roger Lewis (Disabled People Against Cuts)
Paula Peters (Disabled People Against Cuts)

On The Remaking of British Capitalism

Frank Field writes:

Theresa May arrived at Downing Street with a promise to the nation: that the government she leads will initiate a complete rethink of how capitalism is conducted in our country, so that it can be made to work for all of us, rather than a mere privileged few at the top.

That rethink is now urgently required, in the light of our select committees’ findings on the losers and winners from the tragic demise of BHS. 

Among the losers is Mrs C Patel, who is 56 and has worked for BHS since leaving school. She told us how she felt “so helpless about what is happening”. 

She is among 11,000 mainly low-paid workers whose jobs are now at risk, and 20,000 former and current pensioners whose pensions face cuts of up to 77%

One current BHS pensioner wrote to me to say her modest retirement had been put in “utter jeopardy” by the collapse of the company and its pension fund. 

No such concerns afflict Sir Philip Green, the man who ran BHS for 15 years from 2000. 

He and his family accrued enough wealth on the back of BHS to propel them towards the very top of the Sunday Times Rich List. 

They can count their wealth in billions.

Sir Philip and Lady Green clearly emerge as the biggest financial winners from BHS, although many others involved in its demise – including Dominic Chappell – also pocketed huge sums of money. 

Much of the Green family’s enormous wealth was built up during the early years of Green’s stewardship of BHS

And yet there is no evidence whatsoever from this period of the improved turnover, market share, or major increase in investment that might be expected from a leading retailer. 

Investment was evidently either inadequate in scale or ineffective in improving the competitive edge of the business. 

Here we are introduced to our second group of losers from this sorry tale, the BHS customers. 

Our select committees received reports from across the country of how the lifts in their local BHS had been out of service for five years, of gaping holes in the doors of the ladies’ changing rooms, of carpets being taped down, and of air conditioning systems being out of service and left to decay. 

The decay which set in at individual BHS branches mirrors that of its pension fund – it was allowed to decline from a surplus of £43m in 2000, when Green bought the business, to a £571m deficit last year. 

Companies that are suppliers to BHS are now also under threat.

So the picture that was presented to us in evidence was clear – the Green family’s wealth escalated beyond the dreams of avarice, while the health of BHS and its pension fund was neglected. I believe that two immediate responses are now required.

The first is for Green to write a large cheque to make good the shortfall in the BHS pension fund.

This most basic gesture is well within his capabilities – the Green family recently acquired a private jet and another luxurious yacht for a cool £146m – and would restore a sense of justice for those 20,000 workers whose pensions are at risk.

Next, we need the government to initiate a review of company governance in this country.

This review should be undertaken with one key question in mind: should directors be deemed fit and proper persons if they are prone to racking up huge pensions deficits while adding handsomely to their own personal wealth?

And should not such questions be applied to private limited companies, as well as publicly listed ones? 

Both of these questions will require answers if May is to fulfil her promise on the remaking of British capitalism, in particular the corporate greed we have witnessed throughout the sorry demise of a once great high street name.

Why Don’t You Help With The Clear-Up?

Grace Dent writes:

As public scrutiny of Philip Green grows crosser each day, it’s difficult to know whether the billionaire’s rhino hide has been remotely wounded. 

Being described by Frank Field MP as “much worse” than Robert Maxwell has to sting, surely? 

And what about the growing demand for Green’s rather jarring knighthood to be removed in light of the 22,000 pensioners who’ve watched their financial security be steadily obliterated while Green threw parties such as his £6m, three-day long, superstar-laden 60th birthday? 

Kobe burgers on the barbecue; Stevie Wonder providing the cabaret; Leonardo, Gwynnie and Naomi on the dancefloor. 

Green, for a time, really was a very popular man. Avuncular, even. 

Rarely seen publicly without Moss or Campbell stuck to his elbow like expensive impetigo. 

And he was never as popular as when he had a birthday and whisked all his super-close, completely sincere buddies off for a gigantic, sun-drenched freebie. 

One of the small positives of being a “little person” shafted by Green – rather than by a less conspicuous fat-cat – is that one never needs to raise one’s palms skywards howling, “But where did the money all go?” because it’s all there, lovingly documented in the gossip columns and in its bystanders’ breathless memoirs. 

Revellers said Green’s 60th in Mexico was even bigger than Green’s 50th in Cyprus and his 55th in the Maldives! 

They drank Pol Roger in Mexico in 2012 as your pension was pissed down the drain. 

They ate Kobe beef and now you’re making a Lidl basket last three weeks.

So does Green, I wonder, now feel a bit sheepish about this? Probably not.

The scenario reminds me of a wonderful part in the very underrated Nora Ephron movie You’ve Got Mail where lefty, anti-capitalist tub-thumper Frank Navasky meets the corporate mega-boss Joe Fox at a cocktail party.

After accusing Fox – a business Goliath – of a litany of misdoings, Navansky snaps, “Tell me something, really, how do you sleep at night?”, to which Fox’s cold-eyed girlfriend, mistaking the question for non-rhetoric, chirps, “Ah, I use a wonderful over-the-counter drug, Ultradorm. Don't take the whole thing, just half, and you will wake up without even the tiniest hangover.” 

Whether Green sleeps fitfully or like a baby is unknown. 

But we do know that he has not been left remotely poor by BHS’s downfall. 

The estimated £571m needed to plug the black hole in its pension fund could be transferred, I would imagine, via one brisk phone call, made from a sun-lounger, in the time it would take for Green to order a large pre-lunch gin and tonic. 

Of course, Green, due to his fabulously slippery business dealings, is not legally culpable for this debt.

My conscience, if I were a disgraced business mogul faced with the truth that many of my ex-workers were in financial ruin, would prompt me to pay up. But that’s just me. 

If Green has a cash flow problem preventing him charging in like a white knight to clear up the mess he made centre-stage, can’t his celebrity buddies pitch in, all those who lived high on Green’s hog? 

Is it not time for BHS-Aid, a night of charity giving and lavish prize donations? 

I’m not certain if Leo and Gwyneth will understand what BHS is, but perhaps their advisers could explain that it was a department store once found on every high street in Britain, selling cheap clothes and umpteen shelves of nicely packaged novelty tat: “World’s Best Dad” tankards, for instance, and stackable biscuit tins with “Love You Gran” on the lid. 

BHS sold the sorts of things normal, working-class people get for their birthdays, as opposed to “150 close friends flown to Mexico andHappy Birthday sung by Enrique Iglesias”. 

It was staffed by everyday people who got up early and worked hard on busy tills or on shop floors, with sore feet and repetitive strain injuries from scanning three-packs of pop-socks. 

The workers paid into a pension scheme which has now curiously and quite bewilderingly vanished. Not stolen, Gwyneth, oh no. 

Let’s just say your holiday buddy Philip Green has “consciously uncoupled” these workers from their future security.

Still confused, Leo? Try to think of your hit film Catch Me If You Can,where a slippery sort fooled everyone that he was a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, but instead, imagine the protagonist fooling people that their monthly pension deduction would prevent them dying in poverty.

As for Moss and Campbell, they know full well what BHS is. You’ve all enjoyed the party. Why don’t you help with the clear-up?

Inalienable Rights Into The Workplace

Paul Mason writes:

What they should have said was: a Georgian-era factory. Or a Shanghai factory in the 1920s. Or a Bangladeshi sweatshop today.

In the history of work, the practices owner Mike Ashley appears to have tolerated have been common: underpayment, fines, refusal of “excessive” toilet breaks, childbirth on shift, harsh discipline and sexual harassment. 

They most typically prevail where a political system is stacked so heavily against the workforce that there can be no countervailing voice, and where an economic model in its infancy requires the urgent extraction of profit through coercion. 

You need under-resourced inspection agencies; unions forbidden to organise; and a ready supply of cheap labour. 

So it was in the England of George III, so it is in Britain in the second decade of the 21st century. 

What is striking, when you consider the modern reality of precarious work and coercive management, is how the concept of human rights stops at the factory gate. 

The workers of Georgian England had no democratic rights or access to law. But the 21st century is supposed to be an age of universal rights.

Every one of the practices described at Sports Direct appears to not just have broken employment law, but also violated the human right of the citizen not to be bullied, shamed, endangered or sexually harassed.

And Sports Direct is not alone. 

There is the fast food outlet where, should one of the workers fail to smile, a “secret shopper” can deduct the bonus of everyone on the shift. 

There are the construction sites, bedecked with “considerate contractor” signs, where blacklisting is a way of life, and the hotels cleaned by migrants who face relentless verbal violence, deductions and inadequate protections. 

Why do we tolerate, between worker and manager, practices that would not be tolerated between the citizen and the state? 

The clue is in the physical geometry of the very first factory, in Cromford, Derbyshire

Richard Arkwright, who built it, was a benign employer – but the historic site contained three devices crucial to how work would be governed under capitalism: a high wall, a clock, and a cannon loaded with grapeshot.

The wall was to prevent people seeing in. The clock was to remind workers that their body clocks would be overridden by machine rhythms.

And the cannon was there to prevent the local population storming the premises and tearing it to pieces.

Today’s equivalents needn’t be so crude.

Instead of the cannon and the clock, you have the camera in the cab of the truck driver; the GPS transmitter on the arm of the warehouse worker, tracking their speed and movement as they shift parcels; the barcode a home-care worker has to scan as she enters and leaves a client’s home in strictly timed 15-minute slots.

But secrecy endures at work.

From the warehouse to the software house, the principle of confidentiality is enforced.

As a TV journalist covering workplaces, you face a binary choice: the official story or the undercover one. 

There is no negotiated space in which workers can talk freely about their work.

This arrangement is tacitly endorsed when politicians visit.

They arrive in hi-vis, shepherded by layer upon layer of corporate goons, speak to a selected worker for the cameras and then address a rally in which – strangely but predictably – nobody ever raises an actual political disagreement.

Rights to heckle, to disagree, to boo – which would be normal at a public meeting – are removed in this private and unequal space.

It is hard to remember now that it was once different.

Long after my grandfather died, my grandmother would wander into the offices of the coal mine where he had worked to ask a favour, complain, or just talk to his friends.

At my father’s factory, I don’t recall there being any security on the doors: you could nip in and bring him a sandwich.

What went on in those factories and mines was public knowledge anyway, because the workplace stood at the centre of a stable community, with a rich institutional life of its own. 

Precarity works in favour of today’s employers, both inside and outside the workplace. 

Virtually instant sackability, the absence of unions, and the erosion of legal rights, mean you shut up and put up with it while at work.

The breakup of solid communities, the mercuriality of urban life, and the detachment of the business elite from everyday society, all contribute to the reduction of moral pressure on employers from the communities their businesses serve.

In a few cases, against all the odds, workers organise.

Cleaners at 100 Wood Street, a City of London office block, last week won the London Living Wage of £9.40 an hour via the tried-and-tested method of striking (in this case for 43 days). 

The Unite trade union was instrumental in bringing the action that exposed Mike Ashley at Sports Direct. 

But so much modern work is casual and temporary that unions alone cannot right the wrongs. 

We need new legal rights for workers.

Those that exist have been undermined by reduced access to employment tribunals, and by the exemption of small firms and agency businesses.

And compared to post-2000 human rights law, the entire corpus of employment law, existing separately and conditionally, looks archaic.

A new charter of workplace rights should start from principle of universality: that our human rights extend to the workplace unconditionally, and that human rights law can and should be the first line of defence against bosses like Mike Ashley – rather than a final option, pursued after months or years of sub-legal grievance procedures.

Unfortunately, the Brexit process will throw all workplace rights derived from EU membership into jeopardy [because the EU was doing so well at it, as the rest of this article illustrates]. 

If, as promised, Theresa May maintains Britain’s signature on the European Convention on Human Rights, then it’s up to all of us – not just unions and lawyers – to force the concept of inalienable rights into the workplace.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

What Does This Face Say To You?

See also here. How very Andrea Leadsom.

The People's Palace

The last time that I was in the Palace of Westminster, admittedly down (or up) at the Lords end, I wandered around entirely unimpeded even by the machine gun wielding policemen, who were really very pleasant.

I have never held a pass there. I was just in for a day conference. It wasn't particularly hard to get in, either. Easier than boarding an international flight, in fact.

Seema Malhotra needs to get over herself.

The Post-Referendum Realignment

The less said about the Leave campaign, the better. Never has a victory been more Pyrrhic, including those at Heraclea and Asculum.

What matters now is that, "The referendum result sent a clear message from parts of Britain that have been left behind by globalisation."

The key figure is the man who said that. He is most certainly not to the right of Theresa May.

Just as there are people to the left of Jeremy Corbyn and of the ghost of Tony Benn, so there are people to the right of May and of the political ghosts of David Cameron and Tony Blair.

But not, in either case, so as to make any electoral difference.

Of course we are in the throes of a realignment.

That realignment is the complete transformation, not least through the exponential enlargement, of Corbyn's Labour Party.

A few Labour MPs, and perhaps one or two Conservatives (although almost certainly not), might try a new party, but it would sink without trace.

But no, of course those Labour MPs would not join the Conservative Party! Why on earth would they do that?

Merely because of philosophical or policy agreement? That level of naivety is positively touching.

Owen Smith Needs To Be Challenged Robustly

Liza Van Zyl, a disability rights activist, has made this statement:

Owen Smith needs to be challenged robustly on his position on the Work Capability Assessment and on his commitment to disabled people’s rights.

I was a Labour Party activist who had no choice but to resign from the party after a very unpleasant encounter with Mr Smith.

I am recounting it now because I believe it is very important that his views are robustly challenged if he stands for the Labour leadership.

On Saturday 7th March 2015 I attended a Labour meeting in Pontypridd at which the guest speaker was Owen Smith MP, then Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

When questions were invited from the floor, I asked Mr Smith why, given that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been responsible for a great many more deaths than the Bedroom Tax, Labour had pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax but had said nothing about pledging to scrap the WCA. 

Mr Smith replied that Labour could not pledge to scrap the WCA because this would make Labour appear weak on benefits in the eyes of the media and compromise Labour’s General Election chances.

I posted this on Facebook and a journalist took it up and posted the story online. Subsequently the journalist was threatened with legal action by Mr Smith if he did not take the story down.

I was very intimidated by the prospect of defending myself in court, and I had no money for a legal defence. 

In addition my Labour colleagues were terribly keen to maintain good relations with Mr Smith and would probably have backed Mr Smith and not me if it came to a court case (one of them had even contacted the journalist and briefed against me). 

So I asked the journalist to pull the story and I deleted references to it on Facebook.

I am publicising this incident now because I am very concerned about Mr Smith’s attitude toward disabled people, and particularly to his views that the deaths of disabled people are less important than Labour’s “tough on benefits” standing in the right-wing press.

If he threatens me with legal action again it will be incredibly stressful and will probably exacerbate my disability-related ill health.

But I believe it is important that Mr Smith’s attitudes to the WCA and to disability rights (and freedom of speech!) be robustly challenged if he stands for the Labour leadership.

And because we should be able to discuss things that profoundly impact on us, like the WCA, without being intimidated into silence by threats of legal action.

I am happy to provide more details to journalists who can contact me at

See also here.

Suspended Animation

Durham County Council is gleefully driving its Teaching Assistants below the minimum wage and into the foodbanks.

But among those members of staff whom the political non-Leadership obeys unconditionally, £65,000 is regarded as a mere grading difference.

The cowardly "Leader", Simon Henig, who fled the balcony at the Miners' Gala when the Teaching Assistants marched past, secured his position by having both of the obvious candidates, Alan Napier and the late Albert Nugent, suspended from the Labour Party for the duration of the "contest".

Both were at least broadly from the Left, and both were former miners who had close ties to the Durham Miners' Association and to the late Davey Hopper, who was a very strong supporter of the Teaching Assistants.

Well, it will be payback time a few weeks from now, when the new National Executive Committee of the Labour Party will greatly strengthen the hand of the re-elected Jeremy Corbyn, who is another very strong supporter of the Teaching Assistants.

All 57 Labour councillors who passed this spiteful measure ought at least to be suspended from the Labour Party, and preferably expelled.

Beyond doubt, they have brought the party into disrepute.

Their number includes Alan Napier, but that is the choice that he has made.

They could not then defend their seats as Labour candidates next May. Few, if any, of them could hope to be re-elected as anything else.

Leading Questions

Until last year, there was always a Leader of the Labour Party, and a Leader of the Left.

The Leader of the Labour Party had been elected, after a fashion. The Leader of the Left, by no mean only the Labour Left, had emerged as simply the obvious holder of the office in that generation.

For many decades, the Leader of the Left was, of course, Tony Benn. Jeremy Corbyn is the only person ever to occupy both positions.

Or, at any rate, he is the first to date, and, albeit as a result of his candidacy for Leader of the Labour Party, he has been the Leader of the Left for slightly longer.

He would undoubtedly retain the latter, which is for life, even if he were to lose the former.

It is now inconceivable that anyone could become the Leader of the Labour Party without at least the blessing of the Leader of the Left.

It is now difficult to see how anyone other than the Leader of the Left could ever be the Leader of the Labour Party, unless the Leader of the Left really did not want to be the Labour Leader as well.

But the office of Leader of the Left extends well beyond the Labour Party, although it is notable that every holder of that office has been a member of that party.

That office is elected, as such, by no one at all. It is held until the moment of death.

Interesting times, brothers and sisters. Very, very, very interesting times.

Ways Round

In Britain, the elitism and the populism are the right way round.

Conservative elitism delivers Theresa May rather than Boris Johnson or even Andrea Leadsom, while Labour populism delivers Jeremy Corbyn rather than David Miliband or even Owen Smith.

That correctly reflects the twin poles of British politics.

But in America, the elitism and the populism are the wrong way round.

Republican elitism would have delivered any of a dozen perfectly plausible possibilities, while Democratic populism would have delivered Bernie Sanders.

Instead, however, the world has to watch and wonder whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be inflicted upon us.

Vacant Thinking

We know that Angela Eagle's broken window story is a barefaced lie.

I rather suspect the same of Seema Malhotra's ill thought out yarn about how someone on Jeremy Corbyn's (or was it John McDonnell's?) staff disturbed hers when she had locked them in her office.

If Malhotra had not vacated her Shadow Cabinet office, then why ever not? She had by then vacated the Shadow Cabinet.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Broken By Banks

Even Arron Banks has pretty much given up on UKIP.

Owen Smith's Family Values

His first job on leaving university in 1992 was as a radio producer for BBC Wales.

In that same year, his father became Head of Programmes at BBC Wales.

We Won't Set With The Sun

Even today's Sun editorial strongly implies that the paper was never in favour of Brexit in the first place.

Those who say that it is simply never going to happen look more and more as if they may be right.

No second referendum. No early General Election. No Commons vote. Nothing.

The continuation of the present, wholly effective, strategy of doing nothing.

What must not be lost, however, is the new-found recognition of the needs of the areas that swung the referendum.

Those were the areas that voted Leave while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for parliamentary or municipal purposes.

They have been left behind by globalisation, and they have taken the opportunity to express their pain, anger, frustration and disaffection.

They would do it again. We would do it again. As many times as necessary.

These Are Great Days

Owen Smith stepped over a far more experienced woman in order to contest the Labour Leadership.

What are these "Great Offices of State" to which he undertakes to appoint women?

Is one of them Health? Is another Education? Jeremy Corbyn has appointed women to shadow those not once, but twice. 

By the way, Liz Truss is not the first woman to be Lord Chancellor. That was Eleanor of Provence, who stood in for her husband, Henry III, in 1253.

Of the Offices that apparently count as Great, only one is of any real antiquity.

It, the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be conceded its greatness, as of course may that of Prime Minister.

But the Home Office was cut in half nine years ago, and the Foreign Office is nothing like the power that it once was, especially now that Theresa May has cut it in three.

Apparently, providing services to the plebs does not count towards qualifying an Office as Great.

What matters is being a job to which the less deep-thinking 14-year-old public schoolboys might aspire, or of which they can even so much as see the point.

Well, those days are gone.

Exchange of Ideas, Ideas of Exchange

In the latest edition of what is possibly my favourite magazine in the world, The American Conservative, are three immensely thought-provoking articles to be read in order, by Daniel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Bronitsky, and Samuel Goldman.

A Pimpled Part of The Problem

Tom Slater writes:

For all of our 15 years, spiked has championed freedom of speech – with no ifs or buts.

For us, it’s an indivisible liberty, a freedom that crumbles once you caveat or qualify it. More profoundly, it’s the foundation stone of politics, progress and solidarity.

It is through having the freedom to speak our minds that we create the space to experiment with new, transformative ideas, and decide, collectively, what is important. 

That’s why the insidious creep of censorship – from hate-speech laws to Twittermobs – so troubles us. 

Each and every act of censorship chips away not just at free speech, but democratic life itself. 

The news this week that perma-tanned provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos has been banned indefinitely from Twitter is yet another grim reminder of the plague of censorship today.

But not just because another out-there individual – in this case, a self-proclaimed Dangerous Faggot, wont to fume about the ‘cancer’ of feminism and the threat of Syrian ‘rapefugees’ – has been silenced.

But also because Yiannopoulos and his horde of pimpled ‘alt-right’ acolytes now seem to be part of the problem.

In the fallout from Milo’s suspension we’ve seen that he and other right-wing warriors against PC are not so much puncturing the PC bubble as inflating it.

Let’s get one thing straight: Yiannopoulos shouldn’t have been banned.

He stands accused of ‘siccing’ his followers on Leslie Jones, a black stand-up and one of stars of the new feminist-lite Ghostbusters reboot.

He slated the film – deeming it an affront to masculinity itself – and goaded Jones on Twitter.

Then some of his fanboys bombarded Jones with abhorrent racist abuse – many likening her to an ape.

This was straightforward, pond-scum racism.

Forget all those thin-skinned feminists who call the police when someone calls them an idiot. This was the real deal. 

But these 140-character c***s still had free will, and there’s no evidence Yiannopoulos engaged or even encouraged their attacks.

This was just an opportunity for Twitter execs to shut up someone they, and the entire liberal Twitterati, hate.

So, yes, this is a free-speech issue.

While Twitter is a private platform, able to make its own rules, one can’t ignore the role it has played in snuffing out un-PC voices, and facilitating the Twitch-hunting of those with unfashionable views.

It’s become a microcosm of the bratty, censorious nature of contemporary debate.

So much for it being the ‘free-speech wing of the free-speech party’.

But the felling of @Nero has made something else clear: members of the so-called alt-right, the self-styled ultra-right online warriors against PC, aren’t really opposed to political correctness at all.

Why would they be? It’s their entire reason for being.

For all their sub-1930s views, the alt-right isn’t full of vicious, goose-stepping ideologues.

They’re sociopathic wind-up merchants, looking for any opportunity to send ‘social-justice warriors’ – what they call illiberal liberals – or ‘cuckservatives’ – who they see as traitors to the right – into apoplexy.

Their weapon of choice is not just salty, un-PC language, but full-blown racism.

When, a few months ago, US conservative journalist Ben Shapiro denounced Donald Trump – who alt-righters creepily call ‘daddy’ – he was called ‘Cuck Jew’ and bombarded with a favoured alt-right meme called Shlomo Shekelburg, a foul, anti-Semitic caricature.

On the one hand, the alt-righters are actually a product of political correctness.

The politics of victimhood nurtures victimisers; the more people talk up their emotional and moral vulnerability – as a result of their gender, race or sexuality – the more saddos will try to have a pop.

A culture of You Can’t Say That will inevitably embolden some people to Say That – again and again and again.

So, the liberal journalists currently penning self-righteous takedowns of the alt-right need to have a word with themselves.

By contributing to the cult of victimhood, they helped make these monsters.

But, on the other hand, the alt-right is the mirror image of political correctness, specifically the victimhood that underpins it.

They don’t just want to have a pop at self-styled victims – they want to claim victim status for themselves.

Their broadsides against feminists, Black Lives Matter or Islam are underpinned by the idea that straight, white males are an oppressed group – that ‘white culture’ is under attack.

They may take up arms against weepy identitarians, but they share the same, deadening sense of victimhood – just with another set of dreamt-up grievances attached.

The most tired, anti-free speech argument in the book is that those who believe in free speech are simply covert bigots.

By gleefully embodying that stereotype, the alt-right has done the fight for free speech no favours.

But the problem runs deeper than this.

In their ugly, juvenile war on political correctness they have emboldened the very things that underpin political correctness.

What’s more, for a group that likes to claim the mantle of free speech, many alt-righters share the illiberal-liberal disdain for those who disagree with them.

Just try criticising the mythical male suicide epidemic – which has become the alt-right’s all-purpose proof of white, male victimhood – and you’ll see what I mean.

The PC war has turned into a farce, with self-righteous liberals and right-wing keyboard warriors locked in a deathly embrace.

They need each other. They feed off each other.

And this is bad news for free speech – and for politics.

The crisis of free speech underpins so many of the political problems of today.

The pressure to conform, to shut up and shuffle on rather than have out the debates that matter, plagues our politics.

First we had PC liberals hectoring us when we didn’t say the right thing.

Now we’ve got idiotic right-wingers desperate to say the wrong thing, even if they don’t really mean it.

What we’re left with is a politics of bad faith, which has, in turn, rehabilitated some genuinely ugly prejudices.

They All Have Good Cause To Fear This Man

Kevin McKenna writes:

Words like "unedifying" and "unpleasant" don’t even begin to describe the campaign that the British establishment have undertaken to destroy Jeremy Corbyn. 

Try "sinister" and "malevolent" and "venomous" instead. 

Yet, when you assess the nature of the forces which are lined up against him and then observe how his very name brings them to a point where they begin to boil and froth, then you know Mr Corbyn must be a good man. 

 As well as the entire Conservative Party at Westminster and the editors and leader-writers of Britain’s right-wing press, Mr Corbyn is reviled by corporate Britain’s executive class and held in barely concealed contempt by the BBC in London.

You can almost smell their fear and you begin to understand that they are out to stop him at all costs. 

Under no circumstances can an authentic Socialist, red in tooth and claw, be allowed access to the levers of power in the UK. 

For then, who knows what he might bring down upon these his enemies; each of whom has a stake in the way that business is done in this country and thus has much to lose if Mr Corbyn were ever to gain the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Around two thirds of Westminster’s parliamentary Labour Party loathe him too and seem to vie with each other daily in the chamber in their little acts of petty vindictiveness. 

They all saw how much Hilary Benn was cheered by the forces of the Right when, after dinner, he courageously stepped forward that night to show his support for the bombing of Syrian women and children from his green leather seat in the heart of London. 

Perhaps they too might have a moment in the sun if their own little well-rehearsed insult could be picked up by the microphone. 

Later, they would also have a chance to brief the Mail and the Telegraph about how Mr Corbyn had lost the dressing-room.

“By the way, that’s Austin with an ‘i’. Yes, and it’s Dudley North and I’ve been a member for 11 years; yes really.” 

That vote was taken in the House of Commons late at night.

Mr Corbyn has experience of those late-night votes. This is what he said not long after he was first elected to Parliament: 

“Late at night here it's quite disgusting, after the dinners are over and the division bell rings for 10pm, fleets of limousines draw up and out get large Tory MPs with even larger stomachs wearing dinner jackets, and they stride in to vote.” 

Acquiescent Labour MPs didn’t sacrifice their law and teaching careers and spend all those hours at constituency meetings only to discover they would have to follow a proper Socialist.

My God, the man would get them all hung and anyway, hadn’t Tony assured them all Socialism was dead? 

My God, this man Corbyn actually believes in all that stuff about fairness in the workplace and fighting inequality and making Big Business pay and not wanting to, you know, invade other countries while pretending that they are a threat to the security of the realm.

Why can’t Corbyn be just like the rest of us?

After all, it said on the brochure that by keeping your head down, not rocking the boat too much and meeting the punters on the doorsteps once every five years you could have quite a nice life and a decent standard of living. 

Corbyn’s ruining all this. We want to be like Tonee and Gordon and Peter and David. 

Ah yes; the real spiritual leaders of the anti-Corbyn MPs: Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown and David Miliband all revile him too.

For they stand for everything Mr Corbyn probably detests.

Mr Blair has built a multi-million pound property empire since he demitted office. Lord Mandelson, on the other hand, spent much of his time in office trying to scramble up the property ladder.

Mr Brown is working for Pimco, one of the world’s biggest asset managers who advise very rich people how to protect their money.

Mr Miliband gets a salary of several hundred thousand a year as the CEO of International Rescue, a humanitarian organisation that is obviously very successful at what it does.

You can’t even say Mr Corbyn is a loser; yet they all do.

Every by-election on his watch has been won by Labour and four mayoral elections too.

George Osborne, the man whom he held responsible for enslaving millions of families with austerity has been defeated, sacked by a new leader who has promised to introduce a fairer deal in the workplace.

This is what Mr Corbyn has been all about since he became Labour leader and, as head of the opposition, he has enjoyed success.

The party coffers are now swilling with cash to fight future elections thanks to the huge increase in Labour Party memberships.

Many of the new members are young people who have been energised by a politician who actually believes what he is saying, rather than one who makes endless compromises with the corporate interests who manipulate Parliament for their own ends.

To them, the mother of all parliaments is a place for racketeers and exploiters and those who prostitute their influence in return for a few grand and who claim for milk and paper clips.

Mr Corbyn isn’t like that.

When the scandal about the extent of MPs' expenses claims first broke he was found to be among the lowest claimants.

He wants to renationalise the railways, a policy that chimes with a public that has grown weary of profiteering and inefficiency by the train companies.

He is supported by many economists who have stated his theories and policies surrounding public sector investment and managing debt and money is a much more equitable matrix for economic recovery.

Yet, the public are being given no opportunity to assess and measure Mr Corbyn’s policies for themselves. Instead they are told he is dangerous and he can’t be taken seriously because he doesn’t wear pinstripe suits and doesn’t know how to be properly obeisant to Her Britannic Majesty.

BBC London seems to reserve a special contempt for him.

His critics regularly whine about how nasty it is inside the party and that Corbynistas have engendered an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation.

It’s always unnamed sources and the tales are always told to the same contacts in the right-wing media.

Yet some of these critics were around when Tony and Gordon spent their time in power squabbling with each other for possession of Number 10 while employing a gang of enforcers to slander and destroy opponents within the party.

Instead of working for the people who elected them, they created two separate wings as monuments to their pride and vanity.

My God, I hope Mr Corbyn sees off this challenge to his leadership and that he makes all those people masquerading as Labour MPs walk the plank of re-selection.

His enemies know only too well what he is about.

And what he is about is ending the influence and corruption of the self-serving elite who have annexed Westminster.

They all have good cause to fear this man.

To Puff Us Up

Ian Jack writes:

Railway locomotives, cruise liners, oil tankers, cotton cloth, airliners, container ships, model trains, heavy-lift cranes: these are a few of the items that the United Kingdom used to make in profusion and now doesn’t.

Here are a few more: Bendicks Bittermints, machine tools, television sets, nuclear power stations, HP sauce, sewing thread.

Britain’s decline as a manufacturing economy has been remorseless – the future of its very foundation, steelmaking, is uncertain – and those industries that do survive tend to be owned elsewhere.

And yet, remarkably, a British company employing British workers is set to build some of the most complex, expensive and hazardous machines in the world – the four Successor class nuclear submarines, approved by parliamentary vote this week, which with their armament of Trident missiles will ensure that the United Kingdom remains a nuclear power into the second half of the century.

At least, that’s the plan.

It used to be said of the Soviet Union that though it could make superb nuclear missiles it never managed to make a decent fridge.

Fighting the cold war absorbed so much Soviet money and technology that eventually it became unsustainable in the face of an unhappy population of citizens-consumers who yearned as much for a good fridge as for greater civil rights.

The British situation is different.

Imports and reckless trade deficits have – for most people, for now – taken care of the fridge side of things.

But in the maelstrom of de-industrialisation has Britain actually retained the ability to build a new generation of that cold war creature, the ballistic missile submarine?

The portents aren’t encouraging.

British warship construction is now entirely in the hands of BAE Systems, which builds surface ships on the Clyde and submarines at Barrow-in-Furness.

The careers of vessels from both yards have recently been blighted by mechanical failures and accidents that go beyond the description “teething troubles”, to leave the navy, already shrunk by the 2010 defence cuts, with a tiny operational fleet: 17 usable frigates and destroyers by the latest count, compared to 60 similar ships at the time of the Falklands war.

Six of them – the Type 45 destroyers, each costing £1bn and among the most sophisticated warships ever built – will need to be expensively re-engineered to cure them of the engine breakdowns and electrical blackouts that after only a few years in service have left them suddenly powerless and vulnerable at sea.

The Astute-class attack submarines have also had a difficult history.

The first in a fleet of seven was ordered in 1997, but nearly 20 years later only three are in service with the Royal Navy.

This week the second to be launched, HMS Ambush, collided with an oil tanker off Gibraltar.

In their recently published history of the submarine service, The Silent Deep, the writers Peter Hennessy and James Jinks award part of the blame to a well-known feature of modern Britain, the hollowing-out of public institutions. 

Traditionally, the Ministry of Defence supervised warship design via its own naval architects in the office of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors.

But by the time the Astute class came along a lot of this responsibility had been transferred to the builder.

The MoD, in the words of a US industry report, had lost its “ability to be an informed and intelligent customer”.

But the builder was also in trouble.

Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, the Barrow yard was building the four Vanguard-class submarines that comprise the present Trident fleet; at its peak, the project employed 13,000 workers.

A few years later, that number had fallen to 3,000.

A gap in the order book forced many skilled engineers and technicians to look for work elsewhere, taking their expertise with them.

The Astute programme was running three years late and several hundred million pounds over budget by 2002, when the MoD requested the intervention of the US submarine builder General Dynamics Electric Boat.

It saved the day by lending the services of 200 technicians and sending over a senior member of its staff to manage the project.

The same is happening with the Successor submarines.

Engineers from Electric Boat in Connecticut have been involved from the beginning – about 40 of them are now believed to be working at Barrow on the challenging project of marrying still-untested pieces of British and US machinery.

From its inception as a submarine system in the 1960s, Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent has depended on US technology, and that dependence is increasing.

The missiles have always been US-built, but now the submarines themselves will have a greater US input.

Rough estimates suggest that a third of the costs of the present Trident system can be ascribed to US companies; if the Tory MP Crispin Blunt is right and the total build and running costs of its successor reach £179bn over a 32-year life, then by this reckoning around £60bn of that will end up in the US.

Why not, then, go for broke and simply buy everything – submarines as well as missiles – from the US?

As it happens, the US navy is replacing its Ohio-class Trident submarines at roughly the same time as Britain is disposing of its Vanguards, with the first of the new US class (the Ohio Replacement) due to enter service in 2031.

A total of 12 are planned at an estimated cost (in 2010 dollars) of $6.2bn each.

Add another four and you reduce the unit cost.

There are many variables and unknowns here, and I am no economist, but the official estimate for Britain’s Successor submarines puts them somewhere between £7.5bn and £10bn each, which even at dollar-pound parity makes the US vessels a bargain.

Surprisingly, for a government so committed to the principle of free trade, this has never been an option.

“There is a lot of steel in Successor submarines, so will the prime minister commit to using UK steel for these developments?” the member for Scunthorpe asked the prime minister on Monday.

“Obviously, where British steel is good value, we would want it to be used,” Theresa May replied carefully.

Chocolate, sewing thread, railway engines, merchant ships, machine tools: these things can go the way of all flesh.

But Trident submarines live on a higher plane, protected from vulgar competition.

To build them in the US would take another big bite out of the notion of Britain’s nuclear independence, which isn’t quite a fiction – a British prime minister has command and control – but given our absolute reliance on US goodwill and technology certainly amounts to an impracticality.

Then there are the jobs.

Apart from the unknowable future, jobs were the most popular reason at Monday’s debate for building more submarines.

Defence was one of the few industries “reliably and consistently creating sustainable, highly skilled and well-paid jobs outside London,” said the pro-Trident Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, and sadly this is true.

He had figures: 26,000 jobs, including 13,000 in advanced manufacturing.

The apparently insurmountable problem of what would happen should Scotland become independent was never properly addressed.

“We would love to have all the jobs that would come with [a relocation]. We would be more than happy to have it,” said the Tory member for Plymouth Moor View, and it may yet to come to that.

In the past, Wales has been mentioned as a possible site, but now the Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said that if Trident left Faslane, “the Westminster government will need to find a base in England, because we are not so poor in spirit as to accept the toxic status symbol of Britain’s imagined standing on the world stage.”

Brexit made many on the Tory benches keener.

It seemed as though they saw a reduced country and reached to the top shelf of the medicine cabinet to find a steroid.

Trident can always be relied on to puff us up.