Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Copenhagen Summit and the Last Tree

For all the mighty hopes that were pinned on it and the massive demonstrations that took place in connection with it, nothing substantial except disaster emerged from the Copenhagen summit. A token agreement of a very minimal sort, with no targets and no binding force, quite inadequate to address an accelerating environmental crisis, was hastily cobbled together as a last resort while the delegates fell to screaming at each other, barely avoiding physical assaults.

If this is the best that our leading statespersons could do, it doesn’t leave much hope for the planet. The amour propre of the Chinese and the witless complacent greed of the US Senate appear to have been the prime obstacles. According to report there are some background elements in the Chinese political class who believe that global warming is a myth manufactured by the Americans to retard Chinese economic growth. In the West the Daily Express, most toxic of the toxic tabloids, similarly informs its readers in shrieking headlines that though global warming may be a reality it has nothing to do with human activity.

During past centuries of human history for all but the most fortunate minority (and even they had little protection against devastating disease) life was precarious in the extreme and generally short – filled with toil, pain, discomfort, sorrow and superstitious terrors. Not surprisingly there has also been a constant struggle to alleviate such conditions through technological advance, social struggle and cultural enlightenment.

In the last 150 years and especially in the twentieth century, for the majority populations in the industrially and technically advanced countries that objective is at last achieved. For those, including our fortunate selves, food supply is unproblematic, the wastes we generate both through our bodies and our activities, are smoothly disposed of; the flick of a switch or turn of a tap provide us with levels of comfort and stimulation unimaginable to past generations – and unavailable to our contemporaries who cannot access them. Our lives are significantly extended and with them our opportunity to enjoy those benefits. In previous eras one was fortunate to survive past fifty; now one is unfortunate not to.

It all seems too good to be true and indeed it is. There being no such thing as a free lunch, a price has to be paid and we are paying it now. Irreplaceable natural resources are rapidly being exhausted, the rainforest lungs of the planet are in process of extermination, and pollution generated to a degree which is acidifying the oceans and threatens life on earth. If the present level of global warming, serious enough on its own account, unlocks the methane frozen under the arctic permafrost then what we are experiencing now will look like child’s play in comparison. The consumer society is consuming the planet.

We would not be the first culture to have self-destroyed its environment. The inhabitants of Easter Island are a notorious historical example. When the Polynesian settlers arrived the island was heavily forested. They used the wood to construct the fishing boats on which their food supply depended, but also plundered the forests for timber to move and erect the monumental ancestral statues for which the island is renowned. Social competition is believed to have stimulated the frenzy of construction. In the end the island was deforested and no further fishing boats could be made. One wonders how those watching felt as the last tree was being cut down. The islanders did survive, but at a decidedly lower level of population, comfort and culture.

Perhaps that is the best that we too can hope for, with the collapse of civilisation being among the more optimistic scenarios. Certainly, and Copenhagen underlines this all too vividly, there is no sign whatsoever that the will can be found for the drastic measures that would be necessary to avert the threatened environmental catastrophe. Only a massive but not wholly irrecoverable calamity seems to have any hope of generating that degree of commitment. Otherwise, if things continue as at present, the world will gradually slide downhill until it is much too late. At least that’s how it looks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Monty Python

Earlier this month an anonymous MP (words spoken by an actor) appeared on the Today radio programme to complain bitterly about the proposals in the Chris Kelly report to curb MPs’ greed. The fact that anonymity was regarded as necessary tells us a lot about the nature of today’s politics. Was it not dreadful, this parliamentarian lamented, that MPs, with all their responsibilities, should be paid so much less than persons in high-grade employments elsewhere? How would we be able to get adequate representatives if talented individuals could earn so much more elsewhere?

Without too much difficulty, one presumes, since there is never any shortage of people willing to offer themselves for election and it is doubtful whether the curtailment of expenses claims will affect this reality all that much. Nobody, after all, is compelled to become an MP. It is not by any means as though all parliamentary expenses are to be abolished, and on top of a not ungenerous salary they should, even in a curtailed form, be sufficient to satisfy any honest legislator. Moreover, a large number of these have other sources of income in addition.

The demand for salaries commensurate with those of top civil servants or top executives in the private or public sectors is wholly unreasonable. MPs may be subject to special restrictions and regulation, but a representative of the people is not in the same situation as a private citizen, and anybody who aspires to occupy the former role should be prepared to make appropriate sacrifices. If they are not it says something about their commitment. The legislature in the USA may be a pork barrel and a gravy train, but that is hardly a reason for the UK to adopt similar standards.

The political scene in general increasingly comes to resemble a Monty Python script. Recently the question of the Premier’s handwriting has erupted as a major issue. A crucial rail franchise, the North East line, collapses and the government is compelled to take it over. Far from seizing on this as an opportunity to restore the franchise to public ownership, the person put in charge boasts on the radio of how the line will be improved and upgraded ready for return to another set of fat cats. She sounded delighted at the prospect.

It is the same story with another North East facility, the Tyne and Wear Metro. This light railway has worked extremely well as a publicly-owned enterprise and has an excellent record. At the same time, its infrastructure needs rejuvenation and funding for this has been made conditional on privatisation. What is clear is that this government does not regard privatisation as an unwelcome necessity but is dogmatically convinced that private ownership of public assets is the preferable option. This regardless of the fact that whatever questionable advantages private capital may have in manufacture and retail, when it comes to public services it is profoundly bad news for workforces and consumers. That was predicted in advance and that is how it has worked out.

Gordon Brown is reported to be about to apologise to the people who as kids were sent to suffer abuse in Australia in previous decades. One wonders how long it will be before the same is done for refugees nowadays being deported back to torture dungeons or their deaths.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hard choices?

Oh, why don’t you work, bum, like other men do?
How the hell can I work when there’s no work to do?

Joe Hill

A year after the great credit crunch it is becoming increasingly clear that so far as the bankers responsible for it are concerned, despite having been saved by the state at enormous cost from total perdition, things are to go on pretty much as before with no more than a few cosmetic regulatory improvements. The insatiable and sometimes suicidal greed exhibited by the masters of the universe truly stretches the imagination. Such reversion to perilous practice and mega-bonuses is being justified too with the old rhetoric – they are necessary to keep the system running, reward risk-taking and attract the highest quality of executive (presumably of the same sort who achieved such a magnificent results last time round).

Instead, it is no less clear that it is the public at large who are going to be made to endure the price of the colossal bailout figures that proved necessary to keep the financial centres, and through them the economy in general afloat. That was made apparent at the autumn conferences of all three factions of the Thatcherite party, each striving to outbid the other in the pain of inflictions they mean to inflict on the workforce in terms of cutting their incomes and social entitlements.

Hard choices
The rhetoric of ‘hard choices’ was much in vogue. It is especially infuriating to hear that phrase being used by individuals sitting in their comfort, security and large incomes when the hardness is to be imposed upon the most vulnerable and defenceless. Unemployment, already more persistent than at any time since 1940 will take off like a rocket and unemployment and disabled benefits will be cut to the bone and into the bone. Before long, no doubt, you’ll be expected to be ‘genuinely seeking work’ (to use an interwar governmental phrase) even if you should be ninety years old, blind, deaf and paraplegic (okay, I made up that last bit, but nowadays it sounds all too plausible).

Mark Perry in his Bread and Work: The Experience of Unemployment 1918-39, (published nine years ago) wrote that, ‘Much of what is offered by way of reform and innovation is clearly a regression to the situation pre-1945. The means testing of benefits, the rhetoric of the irresponsible growth of social services, the scare stories of dole abuse … are repeated now as then’. – and nearly a decade later it remains as true as ever. His quote from an American newspaper editorial of the thirties no doubt still represents the secret thoughts of some in high places, ‘Can’t let the utterly worthless starve? Maybe not, but if some plague were to come along … and wipe them all out, that would not be a tragedy but a big relief’.

Long term considerations
The establishment attitude to unemployment still remains in the Victorian era. According to this work is always available to anyone who searches for it diligently enough. According to classical economic theory genuine unemployment is impossible, what is required is willingness to accept reduced wages (an update in relation to Britain is that minimum wage legislation eliminates the threat of real starvation wages and removes any excuse for being workless). In the real world no doubt work always is available – in drug dealing, robbery, prostitution, pornography and suchlike, but these occupations are probably not what the proponents of this notion have in mind.

It seems all too probable that there will never be any real recovery from the current global depression, to give it its real name, (and if there were it would most likely only accelerate the approaching environmental catastrophe). In that case an implicit bargain in the developed between capitalism and its workforce will have decisively broken down – the promise that wage labour, whatever its disagreeable aspects, offers a long term future of security and tolerable living standards with the continuing prospect of further material improvement.

What that might mean in political terms is quite unforeseeable at present, but there is little to suggest that it is likely to be a very welcome prospect.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Splendid Triumph for Western Values

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi will be dead very shortly. Nevertheless his recent release from a Scottish prison as a dying man continues to reverberate. Even today we hear that the firm marketing Harris Tweed in the USA has had to issue a denial that it was planning to remove the word ‘Scottish’ from its publicity in response to a campaign (abortive in any case) for a boycott of Scottish products in that country.

The Scottish Executive showed great courage and principle in undertaking the release, though its justice minister, Kenny MacAskill had to refrain from stating the actual truth, that the Lockerbie trial was a travesty and the verdict manifestly perverse. To satisfy American diplomatic requirements an innocent individual was effectively deprived of the last eight years of his life. The idea that the government in London had anything to do with it is laughable – anybody who imagines that the Nationalist government in Holyrood would jump to do the bidding of its enemies Downing Street must be a very believing kind of person.

The outlines are well known. The Americans’ first suspicions were directed (probably accurately) at a Palestinian terrorist group operating from Syria, but when Syrian compliance was sought over the first Gulf War in 1991, accusation was switched against Libya, then a pariah state as far as the Western powers were concerned, and it’s regime forced to accept responsibility as the price of being received into the ‘international community’ – ie states acceptable to the USA, what used to be known as the ‘free world’. In the course of the trial vital evidence was withheld on the usual specious pretext of ‘national security’ and the witness on whom the conviction depended was a notorious liar who had received large quantities of dollars from government US sources.

More Middle East
The other day a commentator on Radio 4, an Iranian oppositionist, was pointing out that despite the bitter and often lethal divisions in Iranian society, all too clearly displayed around the recent presidential election, all Iranians are united in determination to assert the country’s sovereignty in face of threats and blackmail, particularly in regard to the country’s nuclear programme (which, its government insists, does not include nuclear weapon ambitions). This latter point is brusquely dismissed by US spokespeople in a manner which would never be applied to any state (apart from George Bush II’s ‘axis of evil’) and is diplomatically insulting in the extreme. The Iranians might well ask the US government and public how they would feel if a foreign power tried to instruct them on what they might or might not do on their own territory. To be sure, the current Iranian regime is a seriously repressive one, but a lot less so than the Saudi, and its presidential election undoubtedly fraudulent – but no more than the one that NATO has just promoted in Afghanistan at enormous cost in blood and treasure.

Meantime ethnic cleansing continues on the West Bank, the Saudi tyranny proceeds unabated, energetically spreading its superstition wherever it can, and NATO gets bogged down in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. A splendid triumph for Western values.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Crimes and Metaacrimes – part 2

In the summer of 1990, by which time the Soviet bloc had collapsed and the Soviet Union itself was in its death-throes, Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded and quickly overran the adjacent southern micro-state of Kuwait, mainly composed of desert but with lots of oil under its sand. By this time too Soviet forces had been pressured into withdrawing from Afghanistan (their losses had contributed to the Soviet unravelling) though the civil war there continued until 1996 when Kabul fell to the Taliban.

During the eighties Saddam had been a close Middle East ally of the United States, despite the aggressiveness of his rhetoric against her even more important ally, Israel, a state which like Ba’ahist Iraq invaded its neighbours and seized their territory, defied UN resolutions, cruelly persecuted populations under its control and possessed weapons of mass destruction (even more devastating ones).

He had been willingly sold weaponry light and heavy by the USA, supplied with intelligence, protected at the UN (and readily forgiven for mistakenly attacking a US warship and killing 37 personnel) for he was at that time engaged in an all-out military assault on the Iranian Islamic Republic, an American bĂȘte noire ever since the 1979 revolution which had destroyed Western influence and compromised oil access in a very strategically important area – and was also a sponsor of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Israel’s most effective enemy. The war was immensely destructive both in life and materially, yet Saddam (and the US) failed in their objective and Iraq was counter-invaded, the war eventually ending in stalemate.

Saddam thereafter was a busted flush. The Iranian regime remained in place and no less a source of annoyance to Washington. The Iraqi dictator by now was an embarrassment to his sponsors for his abominable human rights record, but refused to tone down his anti-Israel rhetoric and continued threatening to use force against it as well as the USA’s other Middle East client, Saudi Arabia.

Iraq had suffered grievously from the war, its economy was in a mess, its oil revenues insufficient. Not surprisingly the regime’s attention turned to Kuwait, slopping with oil and effectively defenceless. There was some justice in the argument (so far as these things are ever a subject of justice) that it should have been part of Iraq from the start. There is certainly evidence that the US hinted to Saddam that it would have no objection if he repaired his fortunes by seizing it, knowing well what this would mean and the opportunity it would open up. It is a plausible scenario. In any case, Saddam fell into the trap, whether or not it was deliberately set. He could not then meet the demand for withdrawal without hopelessly losing face.

In early 1991, having annihilated the Iraqi forces in Kuwait, a ‘turkey shoot ‘ as one US officer described it, the elder George Bush failed to follow up by moving on Baghdad, or by supporting the Kurdish uprising in the north or the Shia insurgency in the south. The reason was that the Americans reckoned that popular overthrow of the regime would result in Iraq being dominated by forces friendly to Iran or, in the north, hostile to its Turkish NATO ally. What Washington were hoping for was that Saddam, disgraced by defeat, would be removed in a coup by more accommodating elements in his military. When that failed to occur, the pressure was continued by a regime of economic sanctions and occasional ariel attack, occasioning over the years civilian deaths running into the hundreds of thousands. Meantime an enormous US military base appeared in Kuwait.

The same kind of thing happened in Kosovo, where Slobodan Milosevic’s persecution of the ethnic Albanian community under Serbian rule supplied the pretext for military intervention. The humanitarian justification would look more convincing and less opportunist if another massive US military base had not subsequently been established in Kosovo, on the border of Macedonia.

US success in Afghanistan at first appeared to be comprehensive when Islamist clients it had armed and funded throughout the war destroyed the modernising communist regime. The success was greatly compromised however when these in their turn were replaced by the hyper-Islamist Taliban, sponsored by another US client government, that of Pakistan, or more specifically by its security service, the ISI. The Taliban had their own agendas, and moreover gave sanctuary to the Al-Qaeda network of the Saudi Osama bin Laden, which though also a US creation had turned against its sponsor because of the presence of the latter’s infidel troops in the holy Saudi state.

Then came 9/11. Without any suggestion that the US state itself engineered the atrocity it is nevertheless true that it did for the Bush presidency what the Reichstag Fire did for Hitler, enabling it, under the ‘war on terror’ pretext, to launch a furious attack upon civil liberties in the USA itself, extend the powers of the secret state and generate the public momentum for war in Afghanistan – and Iraq as well, though there was of course absolutely no connection except hostility between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. However the subjugation of Iraq, resulting in a few more hundred thousand deaths, was central to the neoconservatives’ ‘Project for a New American Century’ as well as the Israeli lobby, and they had been advocating it since 1997.

Tariq Ali as long ago as 2002 quoted a former Washington insider, who asserted that ‘Blowback is shorthand for saying that a nation reaps what it sows, even if it does not fully know or understand what it has sown’. Whether the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election will lead to any substantial reorientation is still too early to say, though the signs are not particularly hopeful – but what can be assumed with certainty is that the world financial meltdown of that year marks the end of the ‘end of History’.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crimes and metacrimes - Pt 1

Everyone (well nearly everyone) would agree that Stalin’s regime represented the greatest disaster of the communist movement and indeed – both on account of what it meant for its victims and its long-term repercussions – ranks among the great disasters of recorded history. Over subsequent decades its record supplied much of the fuel for the relentless ideological offensive conducted from 1945 up to the collapse of the Soviet Union – and beyond – by the West in general and the USA in particular.

What is remarkable is the speed at which matters changed for the better following Stalin’s death, although the USSR remained an intensely authoritarian society with a basically unviable economic system and continued to exercise by force a hegemony over eastern Europe which bitterly affronted national feelings. Still, it ensured to its citizens the necessities of life together with a range of basic amenities, often of a relatively high standard.

How then did the USSR’S record from the mid-fifties onwards compare with its great rival? In terms of average well-being there seems on the face of things – despite large sinks of poverty and racism continuing to exist in the fortunate West, not least in the fabulously wealthy United States itself – to be a situation of ‘no contest’.

On closer inspection though the verdict appears less evident, for while there is no doubting the unprecedented high average living standards enjoyed in the Western metropoles, the indescribable deprivation and near-starvation prevailing throughout the Third World were no accident but a product of Third World relations with the industrialised West, particularly for the societies held in colonial bondage.

The episodes of Soviet malpractice that stand out in the post-Stalinist decades were the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Berlin Wall in 1961 and sponsorship of the 1981 military takeover in Poland, of which communists never ceased to be reminded. Far worse crimes were committed by Mao’s regime during the Great Leap Forward of the late fifties (the Soviets advised against that initiative) and during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the late sixties (by which time the two communist powers were enemies) – but none of that prevented Nixon’s administration from embracing Mao (literally and figuratively) immediately afterwards, nor from a later President, rather than congratulating Soviet-supported Vietnamese for overthrowing the genocidal Khmer Rouge providing instead all possible diplomatic and material support to the guerrilla remnants these pseudo-communist genocides once the latter could be employed as a tool against the unforgiven Vietnamese, meantime ensuring the continuance of various murderous regimes throughout Latin America, especially in Chile Argentina and Brazil, not to mention the discreet underpinning (in spite of platonic verbal condemnations) of South African apartheid.

Back to the fifties. Even as labour camps were being shut down in the Soviet Union worse ones were being constructed in Algeria and Kenya by the US vassals France and Britain. In these, starvation, torture, mutilation and arbitrary murder were all routine. A CIA sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954 unleashed a right-wing terror that killed innumerable thousands over several decades. The point has been made that Stalin’s blood-lettings in the East European satellites after 1945, were on nothing like the scale, nor nearly so indiscriminate as those practised by ‘our bastards’ (Roosevelt’s term) in Central and South America.

The US atrocities in Vietnam are well remembered (not least because the USA lost). Less so is what was certainly the worst one of them all when in late 1965, under CIA supervision the Indonesian military within a few weeks slaughtered at least half a million suspected leftists – that was the minimum figure; the maximum estimate is two million – and confined the few survivors for decades in horrible gulags.

The grisly record goes on – US administrations seem to have had a particular taste for the most murderous, sadistic and corrupt tyrants they could elevate – Suharto in Indonesia, the Saudi royals, the Shah of Iran, Saddam in Iraq, Mobutu in the Congo, the rebel Savimbi in Angola, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile and his Argentine equivalents, Zia in Pakistan and his creation, the Taliban in Afghanistan – the list goes on endlessly. Beside that record Hungary and Czechoslovakia look almost like petty misdemeanors, and only one Soviet ally post-1956, Mengistu in Ethiopia, came near to rivaling the USA’s array of bloodthirsty kleptocrats.

Overall, it is possible to conclude that after 1953 and certainly after 1956 the Soviet bloc for all its crimes and shortcomings, its lack of democratic institutions and its notably inferior material wealth, had on a global scale a record that was far more positive and humane than that of its Cold War antagonist. A case could even be made for the command economy despite or even because of its gross inefficiencies – for although the actual environmental record of the Soviet bloc was deplorable, in principle if that problem had been adequately addressed the inefficient centralised economy at least gobbled up irreplaceable natural resources less insanely.

Part 2 will look at the record since 1991.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Current discontents

Margaret Thatcher once declared, when asked what she considered to be her greatest political achievement, that it was New Labour. And she was absolutely right. New Labour meant Thatcherite Labour; the electorate voted in 1997 to dispose of Thatcherism and what they got – apart from devolution, the minimum wage and some improvement in cultural repression – was Thatcherism intensified. As Jon Pilger has written, ‘Since Margaret Thatcher, British Parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies’, or as Malcolm Burns put it, ‘they were voting against 18 years of dismal Tory misrule … they are now about to vote against 13 years of Labour misrule’. Labour and the Tories were not two distinct competing parties offering alternatives, they were different wings of the big-property party.

The Euro elections were not the predicted catastrophe – they were much worse. Only in one region, the North East did Labour come out ahead, though with a nine percent drop from 2004. In Cornwall they came out behind even the Cornish nationalists, and overall behind UKIP. The worst calamity of a calamitous night was that the collapse of the Labour vote permitted the successful election of two neonazis, even though those candidates’ vote was itself somewhat down on 2004. The prime minister’s survival, in question for some time, became even more so.

Not that any sympathy should be wasted on Gordon Brown, largely the author of his own misfortunes. Away back in the 1980s when Labour was still in opposition the leftist journal London Labour Briefing used to run a feature entitled ‘Class Traitor of the Month’ (which I thought at the time was rather absurd). On one occasion it treated Brown and Blair together and combined them into a cartoon animal with a head at either end. It was a perceptive insight. Much was made at the time of personal rivalries and explosive arguments between the pair, but in political outlook they were joined at the hip and Brown, despite occasional rhetorical flourishes pretending to distance himself, followed Blair in every particular in their descent into the lethal swamp of authoritarian unregulated global capitalism, dragging the Labour Party behind them.

His first action as Chancellor was to remove government control over the Bank of England, followed shortly thereafter by authorising cuts in benefit payments for single mothers. He set about piratising every amenity that Thatcher and Major had overlooked and which could be sold off. For those which couldn’t he went on to extend the Tory-invented PFI policy when public financing would have been immeasurably cheaper, thereby pouring unnecessary billions into the pockets of speculators, bankers, insurers and legal firms and saddling the said amenities with mountainous debt into the indefinite future. Above all, Brown was certainly the one individual in the country who, by threat of resignation, might have put a veto on Blair’s determination to drag the country into the Iraq war. If he had any reservations he kept quiet about them and instead set about organising the financial measures needed for the criminal act. Now he appoints the unelected Alan Sugar to his government. It is truly beyond parody

It has been suggested that Brown’s problem is that he is dour and Scottish, insufficiently salonfĂ€hig, therefore unacceptable as prime minister among the higher reaches of the British establishment. There is probably a measure of truth in this, but were he presiding over policies which favoured Labour’s natural constituency and the mass of middle-class electors rather than the super-wealthy, working to improve the infrastructure of public amenities and making them democratically answerable, then the crises besetting the country would be containable, establishment attitudes would be a matter of indifference and the BNP nowhere.

Instead, one insider is reported as saying that he lacks the qualities to appeal to ‘middle England’. It seems somewhat unlikely that middle England is panting for a NHS which is falling apart and its pieces being thrown to the financial wolves, mass closure of post offices and the end of a universal service, a rail system where the passengers are ripped off in order to rides in extreme discomfort, an educational structure being steadily removed from any vestige of democratic control, financial starvation of local authorities so that essential services are progressively run down, an extending Orwellian bureaucratic society and merciless persecution of unemployed and disabled people, to be treated as suspected criminals the moment they apply for benefits. At any rate if there have been mass demonstrations demanding the imposition of these things we haven’t noticed them. What we do have is mass voting abstention by an electorate which in 1997 saw its hopes at the time embodied in Labour and subsequently found utter disillusion.

A collapsed party with scarcely an activist to be found anywhere, the total squandering of the unprecedented public acclaim of twelve years ago, the worst electoral performance since the First World War, a lame duck prime minister dependent on the grace and favour of the unelected and toxic Mandelson, and certain electoral annihilation within the coming year – New Labour’s legacy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

'Social Fascism'?

‘Social Fascism’?
It was fascinating, if at the same time nauseating, to listen to such as Jack Straw and John Prescott pronouncing in radio interviews that Labour Party members and ministers should ‘stop complaining and start campaigning’. If only there was something worth campaigning for. These two in particular might have made a start when they were in a position to do so by implementing the pre-1997 promise which Jack Straw broke, to abolish private prisons. In Prescott’s case returning the railways to public ownership when he had the opportunity would have been immensely popular and far cheaper, as it has turned out, than conducting criminal wars or stuffing with money the mouths of bankers responsible for the current financial meltdown.

Instead as the government and the party leadership unravels all we have is the announced determination to continue with a worse-than-Thatcherite agenda, in particular the intention of James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (who even looks like Alan B’Stard) to load intensified grief upon the victims of the government’s policies. The expenses claims scandals, the antics of Damien McBride and Derek Draper, hypocritically denounced by the leaders who hired and promoted them in full knowledge of their habits, are no aberration but indicative of the systemic rot and corruption at the heart of a so-called ‘Labour’ government. They are a bunch of scoundrels and conscienceless liars, total strangers to truth and integrity. As Lenin was fond of saying, the fish rots from the head down, or as Trotsky described the Tsarist court, a ‘leprous camarilla’ (though that is most unfair to lepers). In comparison they make Ramsay MacDonald look like a leader of exemplary principle.

Nor are these things, the foul economic policies and the festering corruption, by any means the worst of it. There is now a widespread recognition that Britain has been turned into a police state, characterised by arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without trial, official intimidation of political protest, creation of a general climate of fear and insecurity over mythical terrorist plots and the quiet establishment of CRS-style police units of professional sadists.

In the late twenties and early thirties the then Communist Party was – quite properly ¬– denounced for terming the Labour Party and government ‘social fascists’. Today the designation would be a lot more pertinent. The ultimate beneficiaries are likely to be the real fascists.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Malice in Plunderland

The intention to privatise – or, as I’d prefer to say, piratise – Royal Mail, contrary to manifesto promises, comes as the culmination of a quarter century of laying waste the public services. As to be expected, the postal affairs minister Pat McFadden, when interviewed last Monday on the Today programme dodged all the questions put to him and didn’t even attempt to explain why a private company could do what public resources could not.
A day later at a strategic moment it was declared that a massive deficit exists in the pension fund, and government support will be dependent on acceptance of piratisation.
Ever since the first piratisations went into effect in the 1980s the outcome has been the same – from BT, water, gas, electricity, through municipal bus services, hospital catering and cleaning, etc. etc. to the railways – deteriorating services, price hikes and megaprofits for the pirates. Slowly, bit, by bit, the same is being done to the NHS and education as well.
In spite of its manifest failure what Thatcher began Blair and Brown have continued on the same course with, if anything, even greater enthusiasm. No surprise that the current piratiser-in-chief under Brown is the notorious Mandelson, twice disgraced and sacked for unethical conduct, a dogmatic exponent and promoter of predatory capitalism and all its grisly manifestations.
Meanwhile David Freud, formerly chief adviser to James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and author of the latest project for further immiserating the least fortunate members of society, suddenly morphs into a Tory frontbench spokesperson in the Lords. That just about says it all.