Tuesday 31 May 2016

Altogether Another Question

Everything is falling into place, as the mere sight of the Conservative Right pushes huge numbers of people into voting for whatever that Right is against.

That has been the pattern for the whole of the present century to date, but never more spectacularly than in this case.

These people have been given the opportunity to hog the limelight as never before, not even in the 1980s, when they or their predecessors were the handful of Tories who joined the entire Labour Party in voting against the Single European Act.

Had those who had remained in that latter tradition, every word of which has been vindicated by events, been given the opportunity to state their case, then there might have been a vote to Leave.

But in order to prevent any such realistic possibility, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, both of whom were strongly pro-EU into the very recent past and neither of whom will hear a word against Margaret Thatcher, have been recognised at the head of a campaign of people whom the electorate at large regards as even madder and nastier than they are.

Vote Leave.

But when Remain wins, think of it as least the message, once and for all, that no one likes Johnson, Gove, and those to whom they have lately attached themselves.

Although it will be altogether another question whether or not they will get that message.


Being my new word for whenever Nick Cohen claims to be something merely by saying that he is, and then to be the arbiter of its authenticity.

Cohen is already transleftist.

He has no link to any known left-wing campaign, and he is actively opposed to many of them.

Yet he is published in the respective senior organs of Toryism and of Anglophone liberalism, not merely as a voice of the Left, but as the man who decides what the Left is and is not.

Cohen is already transjewish.

He is a militant atheist who, more to the point, has neither been born of a Jewish mother, nor ever undergone any conversion to any form of Judaism.

Yet he not only insists that he is Jewish, but, again, he is increasingly setting himself up as some kind of quasi-Rabbinical authority.

And Cohen has attached himself to the Women's Equality Party.

Expect him, therefore, to become at least transfeminist, in accordance with his usual pattern.

In fact, while named, pronouned, dressed and equipped exactly as he is now, Cohen could claim to be a woman, and then to be definitive as to who was or was not a woman.

After all, he is exactly as much a woman as he is either left-wing or a Jew.

Out of Gear

The new Clarkson vehicle, so to speak, will attract even fewer viewers than the new Top Gear, since it will not even be on proper television, never mind the BBC.

The world turns.

Adding It All Up

The numeracy figures from Scotland are shocking.

The SNP's record on public service delivery is, in general, shocking.

It is very high time that the SNP, long Scotland's government now, were called out on these matters.

The conversation has been diverted onto the constitutional question for far too long.

The Most Corrupt Country In The World

Joel Benjamin writes:

Mafia expert Roberto Saviano was right this week when he said that it’s Britain, rather than Afghanistan, the South of Italy or Nigeria, which is the most corrupt country in the world.

The fact of the matter is that the British public think they are detached from the mafia problem and corruption, yet London is the drug money laundering capital of the world, and 90 per cent of drug cash ends up in the US and Europe via London. 

In Saviano's native Italy, the Naples based Camorra have a warrant out for Roberto's life, after he exposed the inner workings of members of the mafia in his book Gomorrah

He is a man willing to risk his own life for truth – and we should listen. 

In London, the financial mafia don't take out death warrants on truth tellers, but powerful financial firms will destroy the lives and reputations of whistleblowers without a moment’s hesitation, ensuring they never work in the financial services sector again. 

According to a 2012 Newsnight report from the BBC's Joe Lynam, these City firms have a 100 per cent success rate.

It turns out Britain's perceptions of corruption, which are based on the NGO Transparency Internationals global corruption perceptions index only measure perceived corruption based upon the abuse of public office for private gain, i.e. the payment of bribes.

I grew up in New Zealand, a country ranked 4th top in TI's index, above Great Britain in 10th. Comparatively, Britain generally, and London specifically, feels more corrupt than New Zealand.

Britain's institutionalised corruption is grounded in the so-called "old boys’ network" that runs the political establishment and controls the City of London.

John Key, a close political ally of David Cameron, and a former Executive at Merrill Lynch London, trading foreign exchange, is now Prime Minister running New Zealand, promising to turn NZ into the "Jersey of the South Pacific."

In other words, a tax haven, styled on Britain, and a node in the British-run network of global tax havens.

While nepotism and subservience to finance capital is rife in Britain and its overseas dependencies, it is not illegal.

Many of the criminal corporate activities within the City of London which have dominated the headlines over the past decade are not classified as corruption by Transparency International. Instead, the media and financial regulators refer to these institutionalised corporate crimes as "inappropriate conduct" or "mis-selling".

As an alternative metric for financial corruption, the Financial Secrecy Index developed by the Tax Justice Network instead ranks countries  based on the number of tax havens and financial secrecy jurisdictions, with

Britain and its spider web of crown dependencies and overseas territories including Jersey, Guernsey, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands finishing top of the list.

What we need now is firm action from David Cameron, who talks a big game when it comes to transparency and accountability, yet has singularly failed to deliver it.

Rather than cleaning up the UK’s global network of offshore secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens under British jurisdiction which allow criminal cash to flood into London property.

Instead Cameron is planning to privatise the UK Land Registry which tracks the (often foreign) ownership of UK properties.

An investigative journalist hired by 38 degrees found the four companies (General Atlantic, Hellman and Friedman, OMERS and Advent International) in line to buy up the UK Land Registry are all based in or have close links to the offshore tax havens of Jersey, Cayman Islands or Delaware.

Before we make London an unliveable city – something it’s hurtling its way towards because of this culture of corruption and secrecy – we must hold the Prime Minister to account for the consequences of such decisions.

He can talk about transparency until he’s blue in the face, but actions speak louder than words.

Fullest and Fairest

Liam Young reviews Richard Seymour’s Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics:

Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics is the fullest and fairest account of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise released to date.

In avoiding much of the rhetoric espoused in similar accounts focusing on Corbyn’s early career this book provides a frank account of how the unlikely leader took charge of the Labour party.

It is a very readable account too.

Richard Seymour writes plainly but effectively and his writing is both accessible and incredibly informative. 

Seymour attempts two monumental tasks in this piece: first he attempts to account for Corbyn’s rise and then he attempts to predict where such a rise will take him, the Labour party and the wider left. 

Zoe Williams wrote that Rosa Prince’s Comrade Corbyn was an account of “ex-girlfriends, the state of his flat” and featured “very little ideological insight”.

Seymour does the opposite.

In simultaneously engaging with Marxist and Gramscian theory, Seymour provides readers with something of academic value in the place of such gossip.

For any supporter of Corbyn, the first few chapters are a trip down Memroy Lane. Reading of the last minute rush to get Corbyn on the ballot paper sends the heart beating once more.

While perhaps a niche political event, supporters know where they were the minute Corbyn’s place on the ballot was confirmed.

The fact that we know the outcome of the uncertainty that surrounded the leadership election doesn't detract from the reading.

Seymour’s work is not simply the polar-opposite of Prince’s hit-job though.

It would be wrong to suggest that it is a positive, self-fulfilling account of Corbyn’s rise. In many ways it is a hard hitting and realistic look at what lies ahead.

For supporters of the Labour leader much of Seymour’s analysis will be discomforting; indeed the writer concludes that it is likely “labourism” will outlive “Corbynism”.

Such a view is hardly surprising though. Seymour’s repertoire of anti-establishment work suggests that it was always unlikely he would find a comfortable home in an establishment party.

In this sense it suffers from being an account written by an outsider looking in.

While the Marxist analysis of the Labour party is thought-provoking it seems too lengthy and seems to fit with an orthodox view surrounding the inevitable death of the Labour party.

Seymour’s concentration on “movement-building” is pertinent though. Utilising Jeremy’s own words on such a phenomenon is an effective tool.

In drawing this distinction Seymour pokes at an open wound on the left asking exactly where all of this fits.

It is about time that frank discussion on this topic was had. While there is a range of different opinions on the matter, Seymour’s intervention is an important initial step.

It is an awkward conversation that the left can put off no longer.

The criticism levelled at the media is also well founded and long overdue.

Seymour’s take on long established journalists who refused to accept Corbynmania makes for entertaining reading.

On a more important note the fact that he credits social media as a central part of Corbyn’s campaign is interesting.

The importance of this often overlooked element has been a point of debate within “Team Corbyn” and Seymour is right to poke at it.

Seymour’s work is, on the whole, a refreshing take on the events of last summer and a thought-provoking piece on the future of the Labour party.

It is important to note that rather than viewing this book as an account of Corbyn’s campaign it should be seen as a review of the context surrounding Corbyn’s victory.

Given that context is open to interpretation it is only fair to add the caveat that it should be read with an understanding of Seymour’s ideological foundation.

Though I disagree with his conclusion concerning the Labour party’s future, I found it an important read.

With an accessible yet authoritative tone Seymour manages the task of providing an academic insight into Corbyn’s election.

Such analysis is far more valuable than words wasted on rumour and gossip – Seymour does well to avoid this and should be proud to have done so.

The Start of The Long Death

Aditya Chakrabortty writes:

What does it look like when an ideology dies? As with most things, fiction can be the best guide.

In Red Plenty, his magnificent novel-cum-history of the Soviet Union, Francis Spufford charts how the communist dream of building a better, fairer society fell apart.

Even while they censored their citizens’ very thoughts, the communists dreamed big. 

Spufford’s hero is Leonid Kantorovich, the only Soviet ever to win a Nobel prize for economics. 

Rattling along on the Moscow metro, he fantasises about what plenty will bring to his impoverished fellow commuters: 

“The women’s clothes all turning to quilted silk, the military uniforms melting into tailored grey and silver: and faces, faces the length of the car, relaxing, losing the worry lines and the hungry looks and all the assorted toothmarks of necessity.” 

But reality makes swift work of such sandcastles.

The numbers are increasingly disobedient. The beautiful plans can only be realised through cheating, and the draughtsmen know it better than any dissidents. 

This is one of Spufford’s crucial insights: that long before any public protests, the insiders led the way in murmuring their disquiet. 

Whisper by whisper, memo by memo, the regime is steadily undermined from within. Its final toppling lies decades beyond the novel’s close, yet can already be spotted. 

When Red Plenty was published in 2010, it was clear the ideology underpinning contemporary capitalism was failing, but not that it was dying. 

Yet a similar process as that described in the novel appears to be happening now, in our crisis-hit capitalism. And it is the very technocrats in charge of the system who are slowly, reluctantly admitting that it is bust.

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. 

Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. 

And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF. 

What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. 

The very headline delivers a jolt. 

For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism.

Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. 

What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. 

Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. 

In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition.

The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible.

Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off.

It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree.

And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. 

And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”. 

Two things need to be borne in mind here.

First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. 

Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does.

Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses.

The authors even defend privatisation as leading to “more efficient provision of services” and less government spending – to which the only response must be to offer them a train ride across to Hinkley Point C. 

Even so, this is a remarkable breach of the neoliberal consensus by the IMF. Inequality and the uselessness of much modern finance: such topics have become regular chew toys for economists and politicians, who prefer to treat them as aberrations from the norm. 

At last a major institution is going after not only the symptoms but the cause – and it is naming that cause as political.

No wonder the study’s lead author says that this research wouldn’t even have been published by the fund five years ago.

From the 1980s the policymaking elite has waved away the notion that they were acting ideologically – merely doing “what works”. 

But you can only get away with that claim if what you’re doing is actually working. 

Since the crash, central bankers, politicians and TV correspondents have tried to reassure the public that this wheeze or those billions would do the trick and put the economy right again. 

They have riffled through every page in the textbook and beyond – bank bailouts, spending cuts, wage freezes, pumping billions into financial markets – and still growth remains anaemic. 

And the longer the slump goes on, the more the public tumbles to the fact that not only has growth been feebler, but ordinary workers have enjoyed much less of its benefits.

Last year the rich countries’ thinktank, the OECD, made a remarkable concession

It acknowledged that the share of UK economic growth enjoyed by workers is now at its lowest since the second world war. 

Even more remarkably, it said the same or worse applied to workers across the capitalist west. 

Red Plenty ends with Nikita Khrushchev pacing outside his dacha, to where he has been forcibly retired. 

“Paradise,” he exclaims, “is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of shit is that, when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise?”

Economists don’t talk like novelists, more’s the pity, but what you’re witnessing amid all the graphs and technical language is the start of the long death of an ideology.

Past The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Tune in to BBC Two at nine o'clock for a very thing indeed.

Albeit recorded, and not live as in the past, Laura Kuenssberg will be on air.

That has not happened in weeks.

And after tonight, will it ever happen again?

Monday 30 May 2016

To Make An Informed Decision

Allowing immigration to overshadow the EU referendum debate is not only bad for community relations — it’s bad for those who want the public to make an informed decision on June 23.

EU membership should be about much more than how many people can or should enter Britain every year, however important that question is.

Thus the Morning Star makes no apology for asking other important questions: how and in whose interests does the EU function? What does this mean for people’s jobs, living standards and quality of life?

Does EU membership help or hinder strategies to develop a balanced, sustainable economy that serves the interests of working people, their families and communities? 

We have condemned the neoliberal, free market and monetarist economics cemented into the basic treaties of the EU. 

As the late Tony Benn once pointed out: “The EU has the only constitution in the world committed to capitalism … it destroys the prospect of socialism anywhere in Europe, making capitalism a constitutional requirement of that set-up.” 

Such a set-up also requires that enormous powers lie in the lap of unelected and — in practice where not in law — unaccountable bodies, namely, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. 

Remain campaigners point to the powers of our own unelected Civil Service, Bank of England, House of Lords, Supreme Court and monarchy. 

But the crucial difference is this: in Britain, these institutions are not constitutionally beyond the reach of our elected representatives. They can be reformed and even abolished. 

The recent Queen’s Speech raised the prospect of Britain having a Bill of Rights in the near future, drafted by this Tory government. 

What if this Bill were to specify that Britain shall have a “competitive market economy” based on the free movement of capital, goods and services? 

Any steps towards a planned economy would, in effect, be unlawful. 

Neither the Westminster, Edinburgh or Cardiff legislatures would be allowed to direct or impede the movement of capital in, out or within the countries of Britain. 

What if clauses in the Bill made it unconstitutional for elected governments to run an “excessive deficit” in their public finances, or to subsidise public or private enterprises for strategic economic, social or environmental reasons? 

What if another clause banned governments from using our central bank to fund investment projects through the purchase of public-sector bonds (what shadow chancellor John McDonnell calls “people’s quantitative easing”)? 

Indeed, the Bill would make clear that the central bank must be independent of Parliament and government altogether, guaranteed by a constitution that can only be changed by near unanimous agreement. 

Furthermore, this Tory draft Bill would also grant sweeping new powers to the Civil Service, including the sole right to propose legislation, draft the national budget and monitor the compliance of the British, Scottish and Welsh governments with strict limits on their borrowing and debt.

The Civil Service would also have the right to intervene in the legislative process, address MPs on its own insistence and prevent the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry.

Henceforth, too, as a matter of constitutional imperative rather than government policy, security and defence policy would have to be compatible with Nato policy.

Indeed, it must “contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic alliance.” 

Who on the left in Britain would vote for such a Bill of Rights?

Yet such clauses are to be found in the two basic treaties of the EU and apply to all member states.

This is what socialists and trade unionists will be endorsing on June 23 if they vote to remain in the EU.

To Think Beyond

Nick Dearden writes: 

As the great powers gathered in Japan for last week’s G7 summit, a series of massive trade deals were under attack from all sides. 

And yet, from Donald Trump to Jeremy Corbyn, there is a recognition that “trade” has become little more than a synonym for big business to take ever more control of society. 

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement.

More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. 

A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago.

But TTIP is not alone.

Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). 

Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. 

It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months. 

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. 

Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. 

Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. 

Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. 

And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected.

The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers. The European commission has made changes to this “corporate court” system that it believes makes it fairer. 

But researchers have found it would make no difference to the dozens of cases that have been brought against countries in recent years under similar systems. 

Canada itself has fought and lost numerous cases from US corporations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) – for example, for outlawing carcinogenic chemicals in petrol, reinvesting in local communities and halting the devastation of quarries. Under Ceta, such cases are on their way here. 

The whole purpose of Ceta is to reduce regulation on business, the idea being that it will make it easier to export. 

But it will do far more than that. 

Through the pleasant-sounding “regulatory cooperation”, standards would be reduced across the board on the basis that they are “obstacles to trade”. 

That could include food safety, workers’ rights and environmental regulation. 

Just consider financial regulation. The ability of governments to control banks and financial markets would be further impaired. 

Limiting the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail” could land a government in a secret tribunal. 

Indeed the onslaught has already started.

Tar sands oil is one of the most environmentally destructive fossil fuels in the world, and the majority of this oil is extracted in Alberta, Canada. 

There is currently little tar sands in use in the EU, but that’s changing. 

When the EU proposed prohibitive new regulations to effectively stop tar sands flowing into Europe, Canada used Ceta as a bargaining chip to block the proposal. If Ceta passes, that decision will be locked in – a disaster for climate change. 

Finally, through something called a “ratchet clause”, current levels of privatisation would be “locked in” on any services not specifically exempted. 

If Canadian or EU governments want to bring certain services back into public ownership, they could be breaking the terms of the agreement. 

So why have so few people heard of Ceta?

Largely because Canadians and Europeans think they’re quite alike. They don’t fear the takeover of their economy in the way they do when signing a trade deal with the US. 

But this is a big mistake, because these trade deals are not about Europeans versus Americans or Canadians. 

They are about big business versus citizens.

If you needed proof that modern trade agreements are actually nothing more than an excuse to hand big business power at our expense, you need look no further than Ceta. 

No wonder the public outcry is growing, and opposition to TTIP is spilling over to the Canadian deal.

When Ceta goes to the EU council (of all EU governments) for ratification in late June, Romania – which is in dispute with Canada over visa issues – has threatened to veto it.

The Walloon parliament voted a critical motion on this deal that could tie the hands of the Belgian government and force its abstention.

The Dutch parliament has also passed a motion rejecting provisional application of the deal, which would allow it to be implemented before parliament had a chance to vote on it.

David Cameron takes the most aggressive position on Ceta – not only supporting it entirely but pushing for provisional application in the UK.

On this basis, Ceta could take effect in Britain early next year without a Westminster vote. 

In fact, even if the British parliament voted Ceta down, the corporate court system would still stay in effect for three years.

Cameron’s Brexit rebels are not going to like that much.

The G7’s problems show that many of us have recognised that trade deals have made the world a playground for the super-rich – they are part of our staggeringly unequal economy. 

But the G7 is unable to think beyond the interests of the world’s elite.

It’s up to us to reclaim our democracy as citizens, and the movements against TTIP and Ceta are the frontline.

Where There's Life, There's Hope

And where there isn't, there isn't.

The American pro-life organisations have played no small part in bringing America to its present, sorry pass. 

They need to be made answerable for that.

Whatever the views of Bernie Sanders on abortion, there would be less of it under his economic arrangements.

Nor is he in favour of every other way of killing people ever devised, as, for example, Ted Cruz is.

Clinton and Trump are, of course, in favour of every such way, including abortion.

They're Fired

If you want to see quite the extent to which Donald Trump's supporters are in a world of their own, then consider that they prize the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

For being disliked by everyone who was not in it, the NRA now rivals the Ku Klux Klan.

No Presidential candidate whom it has even vaguely supported has been elected in 12 years. And counting.

Like the not unrelated practice of capital punishment in the United States, the American thing with guns is on the way out. That is just a fact.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Stab In The Front

The right wings of both main parties are now effectively separate parties in themselves.

Each owes allegiance to a former Prime Minister. One of those Prime Ministers is dead. The other is the living dead.

The opinion polls were right. If last year's General Election had been conducted according to electoral law, then there would indeed have been a hung Parliament.

In 2020, there will be a hung Parliament, or (not very probably) a Conservative overall majority on paper but dwarfed by the size of that Thatchobite Party, or a Labour overall majority on paper but severely tested by the size of that Blairobite Party.

In any of those circumstances, even one MP could exercise very considerable influence. If that MP were of sufficiently definite views and character.

The Crooked Trail

It is now possible to walk from Land's End to the Scottish Border without ever leaving an area where the Police were investigating electoral fraud by the party whose Leader was the Prime Minister.

With Or Without

Of course Donald Trump will not debate against Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton would merely laugh at him. But Sanders would mix that with going very, very hard. It would be glorious to watch.

With Clinton, Trump just intends to bloviate about the menopause or what have you. But what would he say to Sanders, who has been arguing against neoliberalism and neoconservatism in great detail forever? 

This is a Presidential Election without a Republican candidate, as such. Trump is effectively an Independent, as of course he can afford to be. The party refuses to have anything to do with him.

Likewise, his only connection to it is that he is going to take down numerous of its candidates for other offices, and not least for both Houses of Congress, along with him in November.

Of course, unlike Clinton, Sanders beats him in every national and state poll. If Sanders won the California primary, or even came close, then all bets would be off.

Trump would have been on the ballot with or without the Republican Party, and is, for all practical purposes, on the ballot without it.

Likewise, it is looking more and more as if Sanders is going to be on the ballot with or without the Democratic Party.

But quite conceivably with it.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Countenance The Spectacle

The Electoral Commission knew what it was doing when it recognised as the official Leave campaign a star vehicle created for a sinister buffoon who had been expressing exactly the opposite view into the present calendar year.

Huge numbers of people would be unable to countenance the spectacle of Boris Johnson's victory, and would either stay at home, or else vote the other way.

Of course, the same thing would have been true of Nigel Farage. But that never happened.

Get ready to thank Boris Johnson for the thumping Remain victory that he has always wanted, even as he attempts to use his fronting of the Leave campaign as the basis of his bid for the Premiership.

Making It Official

In Official Opposition, the Ulster Unionist Party will presumably be adopting what is now the time-honoured position of whichever major Unionist party is not providing the First Minister at the given time.

That position is one of ever-so-slight scepticism about the whole arrangement, but nowhere near enough as might call it into question in principle.

Even Traditional Unionist Voice is like that, albeit to a more intense degree. Outright Unionist opposition is simply no longer a factor in the place where people would have to live with the consequences.

Meanwhile, what of the SDLP in Official Opposition?

The rising force in, for the time being, Nationalist areas is the People Before Profit Alliance, in reaction against the austerity programme of Sinn Féin.

There are clearly votes to be had there.

That Was The Weak That Was

Last night, I watched Have I Got News for You? for the first time in several months.

It is utterly exhausted.

A picture of a woman with the doll's cushions that she had bought because she had thought that they were full size, provided the only laugh in the whole half-hour.

The latest Private Eye is equally weak, and seems to think that the #toryelectionfraud hashtag is all about the polling day cock-up in Barnet.

In failing to report the real story behind that hashtag, Private Eye is as bad as the BBC, and is in fact indistinguishable from it.

The Donald Feels The Bern

I intend to emulate Bernie Sanders in Lancaster, California, by entering an election rally in Lanchester, County Durham to the strains of Where The Hood At?, by DMX.

After all, I am a lot younger than Bernie Sanders. Come to that, I am several years younger than DMX. And unlike him, I never quite did get ordained.

So much for Donald Trump. He is running scared of a debate with Sanders, who articulates the politically informed versions the positions on which of Trump's relative good points are half-baked and amateur variations.

The outright refusal of that debate ought to be absolutely disqualifying of Trump, and may yet turn out to be so.

A Dangerous Experiment

I am banned for life from the Labour Party, and, like George Galloway, I am loving every second of it.

Rod Liddle is "suspended", apparently forever. I hope that he enjoys being out of it as much as we do.

For, you see, Tony Blair remains a member in good standing.

What is the party waiting for? The Chilcot Report?

Well, I for one am honoured and delighted to be barred from any club that has Blair in it.

Crisis In Venezuela?

Venezuela has always been like that for most people.

But only when the champagne stops flowing at the country clubs do the American and the wannabe American Right and pseudo-Left suddenly sit up and take notice.

What would replace the present Government? What has replaced overthrown left-wing governments in Latin America and the Caribbean in the past?

At whose instigation? And to whose benefit?

An Extremely Good Start

Carlyn Harvey writes:

On 26 May the recent Queen’s Speech was voted on in parliament. It passed by 297 votes to 237. 

But the approval was conditional: Cameron’s government had to accept an amendment to its plans that explicitly protects the NHS from the toxic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated with the US. 

This marks the first time in centuries that a UK government has accepted a concession of this nature to its Queen’s Speech.

In fact, until fairly recently parliamentary wording on amendments to the Queen’s Speech were as follows: If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign. 

But apparently that statement has just been removed. A footnote on the parliament’s web page acknowledges: 

This page was amended in May 2016 to remove the sentence ‘If the Queen’s Speech is amended, the Prime Minister must resign.’ Although it could be seen as a test of a new government’s strength, amendments to motion on the Loyal Address do not necessitate a resignation. 

Cameron’s government rewrote the rules on parliamentary procedure in the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act. 

This act essentially changed the terms of what is considered ‘no confidence‘ and weakened the actions that could be taken as a result of amendments like this. 

However, the removal of the article at the very moment this NHS amendment is being tabled shows the Prime Minister is very aware of how precarious his position is. 

The amendment was backed by Labour, the SNP, the Green party, and around 40 Tory MPs. The Conservative government currently only has a parliamentary majority of 17.

If it had resisted the proposal it would have been faced with a crushing defeat over its plan for the next session of parliament. 

The development is great news for the NHS. Cameron has previously refused to consider any clause in TTIP that exempts the health service from its conditions.

This would leave our national treasure in serious danger of being completely swallowed up by the private sector. Labour MP Paula Sherriff, a signatory to the amendment, explained: 

It is clear that a majority in the Commons, as well as in the country, do not accept the government’s position on TTIP, and believe that the trade deal that is currently on the table is a clear threat to the NHS and other public services. 

However, the NHS is not the only aspect of civil life threatened by the controversial deal. 

Climate change protections, food standards regulations, workers’ rights and our digital privacy are all at risk of being diminished under TTIP. 

And although this particular trade deal has received publicity, and opposition, it is not the only one on the table. 

A similar deal called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is currently under negotiation with Canada.

Recently documents have been leaked from these talks which show that the UK is demanding the “fastest possible implementation” of this particular trade agreement.

Both deals are being discussed under the EU umbrella. But the UK is one of the countries most fiercely pushing for the green light. As Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden has noted: 

Toxic trade deals like CETA are inherently undemocratic. But Cameron seems perfectly happy to go beyond what the EU requires — he seems to be interested in handing over sovereignty for the sake of it. Again, Britain plays the role of making the EU less, rather than more, democratic. 

Under pressure from a potential Tory revolt, Cameron has capitulated to demands that will protect our NHS from total corporate capture.

But be under no illusions. He is hell bent on ensuring that the desires and rights of big business have precedence over ours.

So, whether in or out of the EU this fight is far from over. But shielding our NHS from this rotten deal is an extremely good start.

Let’s carry on the momentum and protect the rest of our public services and democratic sovereignty from US giants.

Nick Cohen Is In Your House

Sam Kriss writes:

This is urgent, so I’ll get straight to the point. Nick Cohen is in your house.

Yes, that Nick Cohen, the Orwell Prize-shortlisted writer, journalist and commentator, the author of five books, frequently published in the Observer and the Spectator, the one who looks like a kind of malignant egg, with his pervert’s dent of a top lip, his strange remnant of a haircut, and those eerily mild eyes, the faint twirling eyes of a man who likes more than anything to observe, to spectate: he is in your house.

I don’t know exactly how he got in there. I can’t tell you exactly where he is.

Nick Cohen might be hiding under your bed, rolling a carelessly drooped bit of fabric between his gleeful fingers. He might be in your closet, his breath hard and ecstatic through the slats as you unthinkingly undress in front of him.

He might peek through cracks in the plaster, he might take photos while you sleep. You think you know your own home, but so does Nick Cohen, and there are a thousand places he might be, film camera in hand, watching you.

He could be standing right behind you, pale bloated fingers hovering just above your shoulders. Don’t turn around. You won’t see him unless he wants you to see him.

But you can speak to him if you want. Take out your mobile phone and call your home number. You’ll hear it ring, and then his voice.

‘I told you I was in your house,’ he’ll say. ‘I’m in your house right now. You need to listen to me. The regressive left poses a very real threat to free speech.’

Nick Cohen is a bad writer with terrible opinions, but there are teeming thousands of those; there’s something else about him that makes the man so creepy.

His views are, broadly, those of the liberal commentariat in general, and arguing against them would just mean repeating the same lines, endlessly, until every newspaper columnist in the country has heard them. An utter waste of time.

This is why you have to resort to personal attacks. ‘So you’ve got a problem with what I have to say?’ Nick Cohen asks. ‘You want to silence me?’

And it’s true, I don’t agree with what he says, but that’s not the problem: the problem is that he’s saying it while inside my house.

If you’ve seen the 1997 David Lynch film Lost Highway, you’ve met Nick Cohen before. He is the Mystery Man, the sinister deathly-white figure at the party who is, simultaneously, in your house.

I’m not just saying that Nick Cohen looks absolutely identical to him – although he really does; they have the same bulbously terrifying face, with its deep-set eyes and its obscene red gash of a mouth – but that they are, quite literally, the same thing.

(A brief detour. Lynch scholarship is still very much dominated by Slavoj Žižek, and under this Lacanian rubric  ... Reducing the Lynchian vertigo to oneirocriticism is actually deeply boring. Dreams are just a rearrangement of reality, but if you fold the process of representation you get mise en abyme, the image emerging from the void.)

The Mystery Man tells you that he is in your house, and that you invited him in, even though you’re repulsed by him, even though you don’t want him there.

Later, he shoves his camera in your face. ‘And your name,’ he barks. ‘What the fuck is your name?’

Nick Cohen is in the political left. It’s not that he’s part of it, exactly; he doesn’t fight in the left’s struggles, he doesn’t seem to care about leftist causes, but he’s there, within, watching.

This has been, for some years now, his journalistic gimmick.

He’s on the left, yes, but he’s also possibly the last journalist in Britain to still defend the 2003 attack on Iraq, he endlessly whinges about student no-platforming of fascists or the censure of Charlie Hebdo’s state-sponsored racism as a threat to freedom of speech, and he’s never met a socialist government or a popular resistance movement that he didn’t loathe.

But because he’s on the left, his global hostility to actual socialism must therefore be an authentic leftist position.

A strange, greasy three-stage manoeuvre: first he’s in the left, then he is the left, then you’re not.

Nick Cohen’s favoured term for people who don’t think exactly like Nick Cohen is ‘pseudo-left’: people who oppose imperialist wars, for instance, or defend successful socialist revolutions – what the fuck is your name?

This was the subject of an entire book, but it seems the theme hasn’t yet exhausted itself.

In his most recent article, an utterly bizarre outburst, politically useless but the kind of parapraxical emission that’s always been of interest to psychoanalysis, he writes that Westerners who have solidarity with the progressive government in Venezuela are exactly like sex tourists.

During the Labour leadership contest, he dismissed support for the socialist Jeremy Corbyn as a kind of ‘identity leftism’ on the part of the narcissistic youth, people who just want to see their opinions reflected in someone else – a strange critique, coming from a man whose only real connection to the left is that he identifies himself as being within it.

But there he is. Nick Cohen is in your left. As a matter of fact, he’s there right now.

Nick Cohen is a Jew. He’s not halachically Jewish – one paternal grandfather, enough to claim Israeli citizenship, not enough to help make up a minyan – and neither is he in any sense culturally Jewish.

It’s not only that he never spun a dreidel or had to ask why his penis looked different to all the other boys’; as anyone who’s read his columns will know, he has no connection at all to the great Jewish literary, comedic or radical traditions.

But he has decided to be a Jew. In fact, he’s decided to do so not once but twice.

He’s not actually converting, you understand; no siddur will pollute his atheist’s hands.

He’s becoming a Jew first of all so that he can claim for himself a slice of Jewish oppression, so he can rub oily indignity all over his face – but also so he can have a peek at his newfound co-religionists, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

In his most recent statement of conversion, he spares a few lines for those actual Jews who oppose the state of Israel, people like me.

‘Whenever I hear Jews announce their hatred of Israel’s very existence,’ he writes, ‘I suspect that underneath their loud bombast lies a quiet plea to the Islamists and neo-Nazis who might harm them: I’m not like the others. Don’t pick on me.’

If this invective was coming from someone who was not Jewish, it would be recognised for what it is: a collection of classically antisemitic tropes, the cringing Jew, the cowardly Jew, the conniving Jew, the Jew who will lie and grovel and dissimulate to protect himself and his miserly little pile of belongings.

That would be unacceptable; surely nobody would publish him, not even the Spectator.

But Nick Cohen is in your Judaism. As a matter of fact, he’s there right now.

Nick Cohen is in your house.

You might not think you want him there, but you invited him in. It is not his custom to go where he is not wanted.

And it’s been a pleasure for him to talk to you.

Thursday 26 May 2016

The Substance of The Matter

Do many Catholics still believe in transubstantiation? Well, if such things were ever taught in Catholic schools, then more of them might.

But anyway, so what? What matters is that the Church teaches it.

Catholics who dissent from the Teaching of the Church are just wrong, objectively speaking. That is all that there is to it.

Only the Catholic Church provides such objectivity, which is perfectly encapsulated in transubstantiation.

It was only from Christianity in general, and from Catholicism in particular, that science acquired the idea that some propositions were just plain true, so that others were just plain false.

And it was only from Christianity in general, and from Catholicism in particular, that science acquired the idea that there was an investigable order in the universe; even if that order is a law of chaos, then the point still stands.

Faced with a changed intellectual environment which denies those foundations rather than simply presupposing them, science must return to the system that first asserted them in the midst of a former such environment.

That system is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Thus, for example, while and by affirming the objective existence of the substance distinct from the accidents, transubstantiation also affirms the objective existence of the accidents, which are the objects of scientific investigation.

Transubstantiation is the bulwark against the Postmodern assault on science.

Nothing else is.

Could Not Have Created

When Remain wins, then thank Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, pretty much for existing at all.

When Hillary Clinton wins, balanced or not by her allies' massive control of both Houses of Congress, then thank Donald Trump, pretty much for existing at all.

The Remain campaign could not have created an opposition better suited to its own needs than Vote Leave.

And the plutocratic, hawkish wing of the Democratic Party could not create an opposition better suited to its own needs than the organisation that now laughably purports to be the Republican Party.

Beyond Blair

Tony Blair was last elected to anything 15 years before the next General Election.

Yet he is younger than two of his three successors as Leader of the Labour Party, including the present one. He is quite conceivably younger than the next one.

If those who insist that he remains a massively popular figure truly believe that, then they ought to ensure that he contest the next available by-election, so that we might all see exactly how many votes he would take.

Blair did some good, and Jeremy Corbyn voted for it. On everything except the EU, when Corbyn voted against Blair, then the Conservative Party voted with Blair.

Look at Corbyn on the EU now? Well, look at the Conservative Party on the EU now, when that party is in Government.

Blair has been the Labour Right's embarrassing relative for quite some time. And that has been before the Chilcot Report.

If the Labour Right wishes to have any kind of future, then it urgently needs to get over Tony Blair, and move on.

Courage and Solidarity

We are writing to express our great appreciation and support of the Morning Star for its exceptional courage and solidarity with women everywhere in publishing two recent articles [here and here] highlighting the problems of current political dogma regarding gender identity.

Along with the writers of those articles, we are watching with some alarm as the few hard-won rights and protections that women have managed to gain are being eroded through political and social developments that will have very serious consequences for women indeed.

We very much appreciate your efforts in giving a platform for a sex-class based analysis of women's position, in the face of the convergence of neoliberal individualism and alienation from class consciousness which we believe is very clearly at the heart of gender identity politics.

Those of us who speak out in defence of women are no strangers to the particular viciousness of the backlash that such speech is invariably met with. 

We applaud the Morning Star for taking a courageous stand against the erasure of women as a class, and stand in solidarity with you in the face of this inevitable backlash.

Please note that some signatories were only able to provide their initials, for fear of possible repercussions were they to be identified. This, sadly, reflects the climate of fear and intimidation that we are currently living in.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

A Very British Form of Corruption

Simon Jenkins writes: 

Now we know. 

The glitzy 50-storey tower that looms over London’s Vauxhall and Pimlico is, as the Guardian revealed yesterday, just a stack of bank deposits. 

Once dubbed Prescott Tower, after the minister who approved it against all advice, it is virtually empty.

At night, vulgar lighting more suited to a casino cannot conceal the fact that its interior is dark, owned by absent Russians, Nigerians and Chinese.

It makes no more contribution to London than a gold bar in a bank vault, but is far more prominent, a great smudge of tainted wealth on the city’s horizon.

In 2003 London’s first elected mayor, Ken Livingstone, was dazzled by a dinner invitation to the Villa Katoushka outside Cannes.

His hosts were the titans of London’s property world and he was reportedly soon in thrall to them.

He said he would offer them “the potential to make very good profits” in his new London. He especially wanted tall buildings; the taller the better. 

The developer Gerald Ronson lauded him for his remarkable “vision”. Tony Pidgley of Berkeley Homes called him “refreshing”. 

The mayor was as good as his word. 

He backed Ronson’s monster Heron Tower in the City. He backed Prescott’s Vauxhall tower. He backed the Bermondsey Shard

He even spent taxpayers’ money on lawyers to support developers at public inquiries. 

At the time the Tory leader of Wandsworth, Eddie Lister, assailed Livingstone’s obsession with towers as a “one-man dictatorship”. 

David Cameron’s then cities spokesman, John Gummer, compared Livingstone to Mussolini, and spoke of the towers as “the vulgarity of bigness”. 

Yet when Cameron came to power, this was all forgotten. 

In London, property is the most potent lobby. The Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, increased Livingstone’s rate of tower approvals, while Lister gratefully took office as his tall-buildings champion. 

There was no published plan for the drastic surgery being inflicted on London’s appearance. No limit was set to the towers’ location or height. 

No one took care of their appearance or bulk, their civic significance or their role in the life of the capital. 

Some 80% of the approvals were for luxury flats, chiefly marketed as speculations in east Asia. 

Such has been the rate of unrestricted growth, there seems no reason to doubt the dystopian vision of London’s future depicted in the last Star Trek movie. 

Johnson’s current legacy to London is 54,000 luxury flats priced at over £1m, about to hit a market that even before the present downturn needed just 4,000 a year. 

This bubble simply has to burst. The waste of building resources, energy and space, the sheer market-wrecking bad planning, beggars belief. 

Towers have a perfectly reputable place in the history of cities.

By their nature they dominate. They mark victories and royal palaces; they signify civic centres and clustered downtowns. 

The tallest towers, in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Singapore and China, reflect the priapic obsessions of dictators and the celebrity cravings of banana republics.

Civilised cities such as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam – even New York, Boston and San Francisco – either ban new towers from historic areas or zone them into clusters. 

Above all they show some consideration for the aesthetics of place. No such considerations applied to the Vauxhall tower. 

Some people like towers, though few want them everywhere. 

Architects love them as “icons”, as bankers love money. Some cities desperate for space, such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, build high to cram in the poor, often in dire conditions. 

Studies from Jane Jacobs to Lynsey Hanley catalogue the impact of high living on family life and community cohesion. 

In London, as the Guardian shows, these buildings have nothing to do with housing supply, let alone low-cost supply. 

Their front doors are manned not by concierges, but by security guards, like banks. 

They are the product of speculative flows of often “dodgy” cash, seeking an unregulated property market that asks no questions and seeks a quick profit. 

That is all. 

Most cities, ironically including Hong Kong and Singapore, in some way restrict foreign or non-resident acquisition of property, as do most New York condominiums. 

In London gullible politicians and venal architects have conspired to suborn a great city, simply because towers seemed vaguely macho and money smells sweet. 

Nor do towers have to do with population density. 

The idea that modern cities must “go high” as part of the densification cause is rubbish. External landscaping and internal servicing makes them costly and inefficient. 

The densest parts of London are the crowded and desirable low-rise terraces of Victorian Islington, Camden and Kensington. 

The recently proposed Paddington Pole, the height of the Shard, had just 330 flats on 72 storeys. Adjacent, Victorian Bayswater could supply 400 on the same plot.

London has seen nothing yet. A row of giant blocks is about to rise around the Shell Centre behind the National Theatre. 

The 50-storey cucumber-shaped One Blackfriars is emerging on the bank of the Thames opposite the Embankment. It will intrude on views of the City far more than does the Shard.

The line of the Thames will be marked by a series of jagged broken teeth. Prescott’s tower at Vauxhall is to be joined by two more apartment stacks next door, one even higher. 

Next to Battersea power station is a crowded over-development on an almost Hong Kong scale, named Malaysia Square and aimed at the Asian super-rich. 

Johnson helped sell it in 2014 by actually unveiling the development not in London but in Kuala Lumpur. It will probably go bust and end up as slums. 

At least the poor may one day live there. 

Livingstone and Johnson promoted these towers not because they cared where ordinary Londoners would live, or because they had a coherent vision of how a historic city should look in the 21st century. 

They knew they were planning “dead” speculations, because plenty of people told them so. They went ahead because powerful men with money and a gift for flattery just asked.

It was very British sort of corruption.

The appearance of these structures on the London horizon must rank as the saddest episode in the city’s recent history.

We must live with them forever.

But we shall not forget their facilitators.