Archive for February, 2009


Barring a major unilateral turnaround in the economy or Gordon Brown appearing on X-Factor singing a barnstorming version of  Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ it appears fairly clear that the Conservatives will win the next election and David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister.  The parallels with the transformation of the Labour Party under Tony Blair are quite evident, even down to using much of the same PR machine that Labour used to mastermind their metamorphosis into the party that was elected in 1997.  Certainly the Cameron publicity machine has been in overdrive with interviews and appearances almost ubiquitous, and yet amongst the commentators and the observers as well as for some of those of us lay members and interested parties there remains a nagging question about what Cameron and his new “Compassionate Conservatism” really stand for.

Cameron wants to be all things to all people, this is fairly natural as an opposition politician does not wish to alienate voters who may mean the difference between overall majority and landslide victory, moreover his own political career and stature rests very much on the Tory victory, for failure now would rank alongside the greatest political defeats in British history.  However to allow the party an almost unimpeded run into government as appears to be happening is tantamount to not contesting a opposition lineout in rugby on your own five metre line and not expecting your opponents to score a try.  If the public are mindful to remove the Labour party because they disagree with their politics or their decisions would it not be prudent to ensure that the opposition have a tangibly different way of doing things?  Thus the onus is on the electorate and the Fourth Estate to find out just what the country may be letting itself in for, and the truth is that few of them seem at all bothered.  Dissatisfaction with the incumbent and vacuous promises have won British elections before and look likely to again and this spells serious trouble.  The Metropolitan Police have already predicted a middle-class “Summer of Rage” against the economic problems and if this is to come to pass the analogy of 1978 will be almost complete, economic meltdown, trouble with the unions and workforce etc.  The stage is set for a perceived ‘Summer of Discontent.’

What bothers most British people at the moment, and therefore likely to “inform” their decision on who to vote for, are the old chestnuts such as the economy, immigration, unemployment, crime and taxation.  It would be nice to think people may care about the welfare state, healthcare, pension provision, education and social cohesion but these tend to be very much more marginalised than the big isolationist dogmas.  I say isolationist because the key points I have listed above fall into 2 very distinct categories, the first list contains the ‘me’ items, ie specific concepts that affect me personally and the second the ‘us’ items ie concepts that affect us much more as a whole.  That may sound far-fetched when you look at wooly tag words such as economy and crime but people are not worried about the overall rate of crime in general, they are worried about whether or not they, and most often their property, is really safe.  Likewise the economy is of interest in terms of what it means to their pay packet, their house price and how much the contents of their trolley or their fuel tank is going to cost not what it may mean to the family next door or in the next city.  Likewise in taxation, the primary concern is not whether tax revenue is spent wisely and for the good of society and public services but just how much they are going to have to pay from their wage.  I believe you can tell a lot about a society if you look at which of these concepts are more important to people.

It is difficult to believe that the Tories would have handled the economy very differently, the precedent in recent times is 1992 where billions of pounds of taxpayers money was pumped into sterling in an unsuccessful attempt to prop up the currency.  The Conservatives are a party wedded to business and the city, they have hitherto been given credence as a safe pair of economic hands, but this mantle has come from the city financiers and analysts who are as resistant to changing the status quo as the Conservatives are.  One could say that one of the reasons Britain has faced such a severe hit from the economic downturn is because the Conservatives did not seek to carry out any far-reaching reform of the financial institutions and sector in general in the wake of the last recession and Labour have merely continued that inaction.  Even when openly criticising the government little is given as to what would have been done differently had the Tories been in charge, Tory grandee Chris Patten has stated that he never thought he would be voting on nationalising the banks but he offers no idea as to how that situation would have been avoided by his party and was himself in the government that presided over Black Wednesday in 1992.  Norman Lamont, astonishingly now in the House Of Lords, is also quick to criticise anyone else’s handling of the economy and even quicker to forget the quite catastrophic mishandling of it that he himself made of it as chancellor in 1992.  The man bends like a reed in the wind suiting his answers to the questioner concerned, implying loyalty where necessary and dissent where expedient.  Why are these people trotted out, why do such imbeciles have any relevance?  During the current crisis one has not seen David Cameron leading the calls for a salary cap on the directors of nationalised UK banks, nor to suggest that huge bonus payouts and golden parachute pension plans are an anathema to the outgoing directors of failing businesses, so whilst Cameron in public is keen to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails through the wind of change, he is a reactionary in every sense of the word.

Perhaps some of the electorate are under the impression that the New Conservatives have learnt the lessons from the fall of the old guard.  However in a recent program conducted by the then inside man Michael Portillo interviewing his former cabinet colleagues the matter of the Poll Tax was mentioned.  All were quick to infer that they had told Thatcher it would be a bad idea and that she had lost touch with the electorate but critically none seemed to understand just why this met with the level of vitriol that it did in 1990.  Their summations suggested that it was because it involved charging people that had not paid before, like women in the home etc who had previously let their breadwinning husband pay the rates.  Leaving aside the very misogynistic element of this stereotype not one of these dinosaurs suggested for a moment that the tax itself was hated because it was utterly iniquitous in its foundation and draconian in its implementation.  Households of two adults and a child of eighteen still at school that had once paid £250 for their annual rates were expected to pay £1200 without prior notice and without any amelioration of circumstances or amenities, others in single-occupancy in large houses found themselves no longer paying for what they received in their area but a flat-rate based arbitrarily on the levy of the incumbent council.  (I must at this point declare vested interest – I was one of the eighteen year olds still in full-time education expected to pay without having the luxury of any wage.  I refused on principle and my local council sent a summons to my then address in the United States for a court appearance that had taken place whilst the letter was in transit.)

Cameron is the master of talking a good game, one would expect it, he went to Eton and Oxford obtaining the best education money can buy whilst also coming from a wealthy family that gave him every advantage to succeed in life.  It is easy for someone with such a background to eulogise about opportunities and fairness as he himself has rarely seen the daily adversity most of the country contends with, it would be like expecting the Queen to have a handle on how it is to live when you’re waiting for a decision on housing benefit.  There are examples of those coming from the establishment turning their back on the established system and all its flaws, such as Tony Benn who renounced his title and held cabinet office in a comparatively left-wing Labour government in the 1970s, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule.  Cameron is no radical and delving into his past as well as his present illustrates this quite graphically.

His stance on immigration ticks every box, he wishes to make clear that “immigration has been good for Britain” right that’s kept the immigrants and moderates happy, but also “there must be more controls” thus keeping the rapid xenophobes in their cages.  How does Cameron expect to square these two points of view, he will inevitably alienate one faction the question is which?  Arguably this question also impacts very much on the economy, many migrant workers work below the minimum wage and a great many businesses will feel that being forced to consider British labour in the current financial climate will put unnecessary pressure on their ability to survive.  They tried the same trick when the minimum wage was to be introduced and almost succeeded in derailing it, companies claimed, without a sense of irony, that if they were forced to adopt a minimum wage for their workers they were likely to go out of business.  Very few did.  This was also legislation under a Labour government, the Conservatives had many opportunities to implement it before but had always ducked it claiming that they would not bow to trade union pressure.  Now they have pledged that they will not abolish the minimum wage, which is hardly sign of any commitment to eradicate poverty and more to do with the fact that to abolish it would be seen as a U-turn and necessitate a huge amount of bureaucracy for the companies involved

The Conservatives have before tried to convince the electorate that those who wear leopard print can change their spots.  Anyone who witnessed the apparent Damascine conversion to the forces of moderation that Michael Portillo wished to have us believe will know what I mean here.  The difference between Portillo and Cameron is that Portillo had form, he had held office, he had been questioned very specifically about policy before and in that regard we knew what they were really thinking.  Cameron has not held senior office and neither have many of his front bench team, however the old faithful working behind the scenes have.  A working group headed by former cabinet minister Francis Maude is already planning the Tories first months in office and the decisions they will take but we hear little about what these decisions will be.  If the old guard are making the decisions then do the british electorate really believe that to go back to 1992 would be a good idea, or do they believe Cameron will disregard these views as he seeks to plot a new course?  Either way to vote Cameron and the Tories in now is equivalent to placing Johnathan Aitken in charge of the Press Complaints Commission or Jeffrey Archer in charge of Culture, Media and Sport or to put it another way not just letting the lunatics take over the asylum but in fact run the asylum system at a national level.  I may well have just predicted the first Tory government cabinet reshuffle!

Song Of The Day ~ Bricolage – Flowers Of Deceit

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I am quite aware that such a use of inflammatory words in my title will like as not mean people will not even bother to read anything I write subsequently.  I feel that this is their problem and not mine.  Whilst I appreciate that the word holocaust is generally used to denote genocide on a massive scale such as in Nazi Germany, Rwanda or Bosnia the definition of the word is “any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life” and therefore I feel its use is apposite.

I find it deeply and troublingly ironic that on the weekend of Holocaust Memorial day the BBC and Sky chose to uphold their decision not to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee for aid to Gaza in view of the humanitarian crisis that has happened and continues to happen there.  The DEC itself is a group made up of major British charities which generally issues appeals for the severest of catastrophies.  It is usual when the DEC asks the major broadcasters to air an appeal that they do so.  However they reserve the right not to should they consider such broadcast to be against certain guidelines and criteria.

The Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson issued a statement justifying the BBC’s decision citing concerns “whether aid raised by the appeal could actually be delivered on the ground.”  Since the BBC had similar concerns over the Burmese cyclone appeal but chose after consideration to air the appeal this seems something of a red herring, after all there will always be such concerns after a disaster, the greater the disaster the greater the likelihood of problems and yet of course the greater the need.  That the BBC should have in the end agreed to the Burmese appeal showed this is precedent even when one does not agree with the regime.   The main reason used however was a more cloak and dagger one, that the BBC did not wish to have its “impartiality called into question” as this was an “ongoing news story”.  Again there is precedent of the BBC broadcasting appeals in similar conflict situations as it did in the case of Darfur where there were warring factions, of course there was little support in the UK for either of the particular factions at war in this conflict and therefore this was a non-issue in the political sense.  Likewise the Burmese government would I’m sure have a very different view of the BBC’s impartiality than the editors and Director-General and in fact in the case of Zimbabwe the BBC has been banned for allegedly broadcasting on very partisan lines, would the BBC refuse an appeal on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe on the grounds of the possible impact on impartiality, I think it highly unlikely, but  as has been shown before in a country without political or economic capital there is little prospect of international pressure.

In such cases the BBC will always be accused of bias, after all were it to have broadcasted the appeal there is no doubt that the right-wing lobby and that of the pro-Zionists would attack it for in some ways bolstering Hamas, however the appeal is not for the Palestinian state or its elected representatives it is for humanitarian aid for those within Gaza and few if any are questioning the appalling state of the infrastructure there now.  What seems clear is that faced with a decision to offend the pro-Gaza lobby or the pro-Israel lobby the BBC chose to buckle under the pressure that was likely to come from the latter.  It should not come as a surprise, the pro-Israel lobby is extremely politically and financially powerful, it is also extremely reactionary and frequently uses threats and legal action to prevent any deviation from a Zionist bias.  I have shown how this has impacted on academic freedom before.

The BBC underestimates the very nature of the problem, firstly looking at itself the BBC has set itself open to criticism once again from those who feel the BBC is not representative of the public at large and therefore see no justification in its method of funding through the licence fee.  I have always been a strong advocate of the licence fee in order to preserve at least the structure to be impartial and autonomous even if the incumbent board choose not to use it, in this instance the BBC has weakened my position and that of all those that have previously given it support along these lines.  Secondly and incomparably more important is the failure of Israel and the Zionists to look at the more long term implications of a poverty-stricken infrastructure-starved Palestine.  If this is not the breeding ground for extremism then I am at a loss to explain what is.  How could one possibly expect any young Palestinian now growing up not to see Israel as his/her mortal enemy without a strong and independent education system to help them out of the poverty trap in which they will as things stand inevitably fall?

Poverty breeds anger and anger that is not dealt with or channelled breeds hatred, lack of education breeds ignorance and these two combined breed fascism whether you choose to call it by its name or use a more watered down term like fundamentalism be it political, religious or social.  If you wish to look at an example look no further than the Western world itself where due to the poverty of the working class during the recession-filled 1990s far-right wing parties have seen a resurgence that rivals their catchment in the 1930s.  People choose not to see it that way because the fascists now wear suits not swastikas, they talk about jobs for workers not killing foreigners but underneath the rhetoric the ideals are the same, intolerance, mistrust and anger because they are fuelled by at best ignorance and at worst hatred.  British workers are now standing up against their Italian counterparts rather than standing against a system that would allow the company the ability and the desire to undercut its workforce.

One cannot expect the Israelis to learn the lessons of history as they choose to see themselves only as the victims of it, this is a bad mistake.  The Irish question shows all too well that no matter how much you claim to be refusing to cede to the demands of terrorists if you rule by force you will face armed insurrection.  Had the Irish not chosen to take up arms the British would certainly not have seen the error of their ways and left and unpalatable though it may be had the IRA not waged its campaign on the British mainland in the 1970s and 1980s it is unlikely that the nationalist community in Ulster would have been able to gain a proper voice in the democratic process.  The more you suppress people the more people you will push past breaking point.

Part of the problem is outlined by Henry Siegman in an article published by the London Review Of Books in which he describes the fact that Israel’s version of events is simply not questioned.  Siegman is certainly no anti-semite being a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, so for him to level this attack in an article entitled Israel’s lies should really make those who acquiesce to the Zionists sit up and take notice.  One need only look to the recent reports concerning Israel’s justification of the bombing of the UN building in Gaza with its spurious claims of having been fired on from the compound.  Whether or not this had been the case there is no question whatsoever that in firing so heavily on the building the Israelis were fully cognisant of the impact this would have on the civilian population.  Personally I would liken the bombing to that of Dublin by the Germans in May 1941, a clear signal sent to ensure that the occupants knew only too well of the consequences of incurring the wrath of the aggressor.

The Israeli response is disproportionate the death toll of Palestinians to Israelis since December stands at more than 10:1 and it is immoral as they are not even bothering to seek military targets as well as firing white phosphorus into civilian areas.  Israel will find itself paying for the atrocities as more Palestinians are drawn to the notion of jihad, and people across the world see Israel as coming ever closer to representing the systematic ethnic cleansing policies of the state of Nazi Germany in whose aftermath it was established.  The settlements already represent the very embodiment of Lebensraum as described by Hitler in Mein Kampf.  The use of more aggressive and inhumane military hardware to massacre the population is not something we have not seen before, indeed phosphorus was itself used in Dresden by the Allies in WWII (because the atom bomb was not yet ready) but at the very time of year we are supposed to be remembering the most significant example of systematic killing in world history and perpetrated by the very people who had suffered this example in the first place I cannot remember the victims of the holocaust without a sense of knowing that we have learnt nothing from the barbarism of our own recent history.

*[I have referred mostly to the BBC thus far in this article to draw a distinction with Sky which one would, with any sense, expect to be wholly biased towards the right-wing agendas of its parent company in much the same way Fox News functions in the United States. It is rather ironic that Sky is suddenly concerned with maintaining a position of political objectivity now when you consider how its parent company has acted over the last twenty-five years.  One cannot call such channels news programmes, they are useful only in so far as they offer the opinions of the neo-conservatives and tolerate little or no dissent of that position, their goal is to indoctrinate not to educate and the “news” they appear to provide is skewed almost exclusively to provide a supporting of the message they want you to hear.]

Further reading – Quotes and reactions to the BBC position; Mainstream Media Headlines surrounding the reaction.

Song Of The Day ~ Julian Lennon – Salt Water