Theresa May: Dancing to the Tune of her own Bullshit

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All I’ll say about the dancing is – the absolute state of the Tories that you know that went through several levels of sign-off and was seen as ‘humanising’ Theresa May.

Instead, a quick parsing of some of the central lines from May’s speech, of the kind you won’t find much of in our media:

“You do not have to agree with a word Diane Abbott says to believe passionately in her right to say it, free from threats and abuse.” – the Tories explicitly and relentlessly targeted Abbott in the 2017 election campaign. The lines were so frequent and so uniform that it was very clearly coordinated at the highest levels. The racist and sexist abuse Abbott was receiving was very clear and at no point did Theresa May care to call off the dogs.

“I know that no party has a monopoly on good ideas. That getting things done requires working together – within parties and beyond them. When our politics becomes polarised, and compromise becomes a dirty word, that becomes harder.” – Theresa May called a snap election last year explicitly to crush the opposition and enable her to ram through whatever Brexit she wanted. There’s only one reason she now claims to care about compromise – she lost her majority and her party is constantly scheming against her.

“Conservatives will always stand up for a politics that unites us rather than divides us.” – ‘Citizen of nowhere.” “The closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits.” Go Home vans. Deporting British citizens to please the UKIP vote. Don’t make me fucking laugh.

“The Jeremy Corbyn Party rejects the common values that once bridged our political divide.” – Yeah, Jeremy Corbyn not sharing values with the Tories is KINDA THE FUCKING POINT, THERESA.

“Would Clement Attlee, Churchill’s trusted deputy during the Second World War, have told British Jews they didn’t know the meaning of anti-semitism?” – I dunno Theresa. Would he have claimed to care about anti-semitism while supporting rabid anti-semites  like Viktor Orbán, as you do, being the only party in Western Europe to vote in support of his government in the European Parliament recently?

“When the Leader of the Labour Party is happy to appear on Iranian state TV, but attacks our free media here in Britain” – It wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn who forced a newspaper to smash up computer servers due to its whistleblowing – that was the Tories. And yeah, appearing on Press TV wasn’t too smart – but authorising the selling of military and surveillance equipment to Iran seems a bit worse (that’ll be the Tory-led coalition).

“They want to support a party that is decent, moderate, and patriotic. One that puts the national interest first. Delivers on the issues they care about. And is comfortable with modern Britain in all its diversity.” – Yeah, I’m going to call attention again to that snap election called entirely for perceived political gain. I’m going to call attention to the nativist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy which has so characterised Theresa May. I’m going to draw attention to the fact that, even in 2018, most Tories don’t support equal marriage.

“A party of patriotism, but not nationalism.” – a minute ago you were bleating about the fact Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have a hard-on for the British army.

“A party that believes your success in life should not be defined by who you love, your faith, the colour of your skin, who your parents were, or where you were raised – but by your talent and your hard work.”  – The Tories have plunged hundreds of thousands more children into poverty, social mobility has worsened and the government’s own social mobility advisor quit in protest, your background continues to massively impact your life chances and most people in poverty are in working households – the highest proportion on record, in fact.

“The freedom to make decisions for yourself, rather than have them made for you by government.”Righto, Theresa. Aside from mass surveillance and your efforts to ‘regulate’ the internet, your party’s policies on education from school through to university have been to monetise and oppose critical thinking as a good in itself.

“And if we are secure and we are free, then opportunity is opened-up. The opportunity to take your future in your hands. To dream, and strive, and achieve a better life. To know that if your dad arrived on a plane from Pakistan, you can become Home Secretary. That if you spent time in care, you can be in the Cabinet. That if your grandparents came to our shores as part of the Windrush generation, you could be the next Mayor of London. That if you are pregnant with your first child and engaged to your girlfriend, you could be the next First Minister of Scotland.” – To boast about the opportunities afforded to immigrants when your government has already made it much more difficult for people to come here, and has been deporting the Windrush generation, is almost sociopathic. Your Home Secretary just announced further plans to toughen up immigration rules which his own dad wouldn’t have met. And bold of you to reference a lesbian couple having a child when you voted for a homophobic amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would have made access to IVF for lesbian women far more difficult.

“Indeed, Conservatives have looked after our NHS for most of its life. And this year we gave the NHS a seventieth birthday present to be proud of: the biggest cash boost in its history. An extra £394 million every single week.” – The Tories have presided over the largest decline in NHS funding as a % of GDP since records began.  Even taking into account this year’s additional funding, the Tories since 2010 have offered historically low increases in health spending at a time when it has never been under greater pressure.

“So today I can announce a new Cancer Strategy, funded through our 70th birthday investment, will form a central part of our long-term plan for the NHS.” – That’s nice. It’s a shame it comes after Tory cuts to Public Health budgets and to cancer spending in the health service.

“The free movement of people will end, once and for all. In its place we will introduce a new system. It will be based on what skills you have to offer, not which country you come from. Throughout our history, migrants have made a huge contribution to our country – and they will continue to in the future. Those with the skills we need, who want to come here and work hard, will find a welcome. But we will be able to reduce the numbers, as we promised.” – So, moments after banging on about opportunity, not being a nationalist party and being moderate, you’re actively boasting of restricting opportunities and hammering immigration for zero reason other than to appeal to petty prejudice.

“Our wonderful public servants are the best in the world. The compassion of our NHS staff, the dedication of our teachers, the bravery of our police, and the matchless courage of our armed forces.” – That’ll be why you capped public sector pay for almost a decade, public sector jobs have been cut by over a million since 2010 and falling teacher numbers have left schools in crisis.

“Thanks to Labour, the country was not prepared.” – The Tories, of course, spent most of the Labour years berating them for their ‘red tape’ and demanding further deregulation of finance. The 2005 Tory manifesto boasts of offering ‘less regulation’. In the year leading up to the crash, the UK’s public debt was less than it had been when Labour took office

“Our economy is growing.” – The slowest economic recovery on record, the longest fall in living standards on record, wages have declined in real terms and austerity not only dampened and delayed recovery but led to a loss of around 5% of GDP forever.

“Unemployment at its lowest since the 1970s.” – The figures the government use for this exclude underemployment, economic inactivity and sickness, and the fact that (for example) record numbers are on zero hour contracts. Independent research suggests an unemployment rate of approx. 800,000 higher than the government claims. Of course, more jobs don’t necessarily mean much when you’ve built a low-wage, low productivity, low investment economy.

“The parent who swaps a benefit cheque for a regular wage.” – To re-iterate – most people in poverty live in a working household.

“But when you nationalise something, people pay for it twice – once when they use the service, and again every month through their taxes.” – To take the railways as an example, government support for privatised rail dwarves what it was for nationalised rail – and if you include the spending of Network Rail which benefits privatised companies, it’s even larger.

“Of course, everyone should pay their fair share (of tax)” – The Office for National Statistics’ own figures show that, taking into account all taxes, the poorest in society pay 38.6% of their income in tax, as opposed to 34.2% for the highest earners.

“They would also have to increase borrowing again. We already spend more each year on debt interest than we do on our schools. After all the sacrifices we have made, they would take us back to square one.” – UK debt as a % of GDP in 2010, after the financial crisis – 64.6%. UK debt as a % of GDP now, after almost a decade of austerity and ‘sacrifices’ to lower borrowing – 85.3%. Yes folks, the Tories have massively increased the public debt and they don’t have the excuse of bailing out the banks after the financial crisis.

“The money raised will go towards tackling the scourge of rough sleeping” – Homelessness has increased every single year since the Tories came into power.

“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it.” – For an in-depth look at the housing crisis and its roots in the government of 1979, read this.

“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years.” – Just to hammer it home again – borrowing has increased under the Tories. Borrowing has increased a LOT under the Tories.

“Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up.” – I mean really, it bears repeating – DEBT AS A SHARE OF THE ECONOMY HAS GONE UP. Spending on healthcare as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on education as a share of the economy has gone down. Spending on welfare as a share of the economy has gone down. Central government funding for local authorities as a share of the economy has gone down.

“Because, a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.” – Paid off with lower living standards and wages but a government debt which is considerably larger than before? As for austerity being over, independent analysis of the most recent Budget saw no end in sight.

Tory England

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Tomorrow there are local elections across England, the first since Theresa May called her disastrous General Election in the arrogant assumption that her putrid brand of racist, xenophobic nationalism would see her sweep aside all opposition. She was, thankfully, proved wrong. Yet we still live in a Tory England.

We still live in the Tory England where over 71 people can burn to death in their own homes in the context of a tangible contempt for social housing tenants, the deregulation of the building industry in order to place profits above people and ideologically-motivated cuts to local authority budgets, the fire service and legal aid. The Tory England where, almost a year on, people continue to wait to be rehoused in a way they would not be if they were wealthy, and if they were largely white.

We still live in the Tory England where people can lose their jobs, their homes, their right to healthcare, even their right to stay in this country because the government perceives that fuelling  ignorant racism is worth more to its survival than basic human decency. So hateful and self-defeating is this perception that the government seeks to deny doctors, nurses and students the ability to live here if they happen to have been born somewhere else.

We still live in the Tory England where people die waiting for ambulances, die in the back of ambulances, die in hospital beds sitting in corridors, because the government places its ideological drive to destroy the public sector above the enduring (just) dream of good healthcare, free for everyone. After a decade of increases, NHS funding has declined steadily since 2010 just as an ageing population sees it facing its biggest challenges. The British Medical Journal has linked these cuts to at least 120,000 excess deaths in England, “with the over 60s and care home residents bearing the brunt”.

We still live in the Tory England where the number of people sleeping on our streets has increased every year since 2010 and the number of these homeless people dying has more than doubled in the past five years.

We still live in the Tory England where the number of children living in poverty has soared since 2010, with just under a third of children currently living in poverty and almost two-fifths forecast to be so by 2022. A majority of teachers report that child poverty is noticeably worse in their schools, with children attempting to steal food because they’re hungry or even turning up with no shoes because their families can’t afford new ones. This is a Tory England where foodbank use is at record levels, as families turn to the kindness of strangers just to eat. Tory economic policies, meanwhile, continue to hit the poorest the hardest – an analysis made by the government’s own economists.

We still live in the Tory England where austerity has led to a lost decade, with economists suggesting a cost to GDP equivalent to over £10,000 per household. Wages have stagnated for a decade and living standards have faced their most sustained and deepest decline in over 60 years. Young people have been particularly hit by this, facing low wages, precarious employment and soaring housing costs. After a rapid decline following the economic crash, personal debt has soared in the past few years as people turn to loans and credit cards just to live.

We still live in the Tory England where Theresa May clings desperately to the DUP for survival, refusing to take forward equal marriage in Northern Ireland to satisfy her bigoted pals.

We still live in the Tory England where Theresa May cosies up to the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia, ramping up arms sales as it murders people indiscriminately in Yemen while professing to care about ‘humanitarian concerns’. In Tory England’s glorious ‘Brexit Britain’, the UK cosies up to the UAE, Indonesia, Kuwait, Bahrain – no regime is beyond the pale when there’s money to be made.

We still live in the Tory England where the new Home Secretary can be a documented tax evader, moving within a cabinet flush with multi-millionaires who slash and burn public services in order to ‘outsource’ them to their pals (or themselves), talking tough on people funnelling their money offshore while doing everything possible to avoid doing much about it.

The UK is an enormously wealthy country. It will remain an enormously wealthy country even if and when Brexit hits our economy. There is nothing inevitable about any of the above. Soaring child poverty is a political choice. A crumbling NHS is a political choice. Councils going bankrupt and ramping up council tax to cope with slashed central government funding is a political choice.

Tory England is a political choice and one which I don’t believe most people in England actively want.

Labour is far from perfect and it falls on everyone who cares about social justice to maintain pressure on them to do better. Yet Corbyn’s Labour is not only a clear and present difference to Tory England, the General Election of 2017 underlines that it’s a viable one. Things can be better. We just have to want it. Just before GE2017 I wrote a blog which began with words from Eugene V. Debs – words I wrote with what felt at the time like hopeless optimism. Now that optimism doesn’t feel hopeless. Reject Tory England and vote Labour.

“Let the people everywhere take heart of hope, for the cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning – Eugene V. Debs

My Songs and Albums of 2017

In no particular order.

Songs:

Albums:

Happy Birthday, Madonna

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In the recent ‘celebrations’ of the 50-year anniversary of (partial) decriminalisation of homosexual activity, one of the central themes which emerged was the importance of pop culture to LGBT* life. It has provided much-needed recognition and an outlet for expression while helping transform the world. In so doing, and in ways too numerous, too tiny, too enormous to express, it has transformed us. Anyone who knows anything about me knows how large a role Madonna has played in my life. She was there when I started to question the Catholicism I’d been raised with; she was there when I started to realise I was ‘different’; she was there when I started having sex and battled both the religious and societal conditioning that doing it with men, and with many men at  that, was wrong. She provided my own ‘Ziggy on TOTP’ moment, the men passionately kissing during In Bed With Madonna, the first time I can remember seeing not just gay men, but gay men expressing their sexuality. At every step she was there, both as an enormous, alien, mighty figure looming large over (seemingly) the entire world and as a small voice whispering to me, “you are ok, you are going to be ok and you are allowed to be ok.’ And she did it, and continues to do it, with a gold-plated soundtrack which remains an unparalleled testament to the power of pop; one which can still fill a club in Hackney with people dancing joyously; one which still thrills me and shakes me to my core. I love Madonna, and I always will love Madonna, with a sincerity and earnestness which you’re not really supposed to express in 2017. Happy birthday and thank you @Madonna

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Article 50 and Scotland

Rory Scothorne, one of the insightful authors of Roch Winds, has written an interesting blog which serves as a counterpoint to my argument on Article 50. It’s compelling in parts but on reflection I disagree and I wanted to outline why:

1 – It stands as one of those arguments which should have been made prior to the referendum happening, appearing as a desperate afterthought now. As a basic point of principle, it’s difficult (not impossible, of course) for your opponents to condemn you for doing what you said you would. Much of the capital Rory believes Labour could win by professing to ‘stand up’ for Scotland and Northern Ireland could have been won previously by insisting on the mooted ‘quadruple lock’. Yet Labour was largely mute on this, due in large part no doubt to the fact that it was seen to fuel ‘separatist’ ideas: Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland are not members of the EU except as part of the UK, so the referendum was framed as a ‘UK-wide’ question. Scotland is no more being ‘dragged from the EU against its will’ than London or Newcastle is, yet the idea Labour would oppose Article 50 ‘on behalf of London and Newcastle’ would be widely viewed as absurd.

2 – Having not previously been loudly making the ‘quadruple lock’ argument, hinging opposition to Article 50 on it now would be viewed as weak and opportunistic. Crucially this would not only be the case in England – it would 100% be how it was framed by the SNP, which never misses a chance to stick the knife into Labour. It would further destroy Labour’s base in England without offering any certain uplift in Scotland, where Labour would be viewed as very late to the party and dependent on the whims of its Westminster leadership. In that regard it could actually further strengthen the Nationalist cause.

3 – Rory argues (rightly) that Corbyn and Labour are not well-placed to capitalise on English nationalism. It does not follow that it should then attempt to capitalise on Scottish nationalism, on which it is always going to be outflanked by an SNP which does not have electoral or indeed moral considerations beyond Scotland’s borders. If “your average English petit-bourgeois” considers Corbyn to be unpatriotic, the exact same could be said of his/her counterpart in Scotland. Indeed, Rory himself speaks of “the current lack of interest in Scottish politics coming from Corbyn and his supporters down south”. I don’t think this is entirely fair because, as it stands, Corbyn speaking on ‘Scottish politics’ is easily presented as ‘Westminster interference’ while leaving it to Scottish Labour is viewed as either not caring or outright contempt. Such are the dynamics of nationalist politics and feeding the SNP narrative of Brexit as a ‘Scotland’ vs ‘England’ issue fuels both English and Scottish nationalism and only further destroys any possibility of a future Labour recovery in either.

4 – Rory speaks of how it would be necessary to ‘abandon socialism’ in order to appeal to ‘English populism’. While this isn’t incorrect, the implicit counterpoint is that this isn’t the case in Scotland. Yet as the past few years have amply demonstrated, while Scottish nationalism may posture as far more left-wing and radical than its English counterpart, when it has actually come down to practical action and policy it has proved itself to be largely cautious, conservative and not far removed from the right of the Labour party. There is little evidence to suggest that Corbyn pursuing radicalism offers any more electoral gain in Scotland than in (parts of) England (and indeed Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto, clearly to the left of the SNP’s, tells us that Labour’s problems in Scotland go far beyond offering any move towards socialism).

5 – The fundamental point remains that both parliamentary and electoral maths mean Brexit is going to happen, whatever Labour’s position. If, as Rory states, Brexit is “is unavoidably a symbol of anti-immigrant sentiment, nostalgic fantasies of foreign despotism, and the least useful (though still, admittedly, politically interesting) sort of anti-elitism”, then that reflects dominant trends in politics more widely which won’t be swept away by opposing Article 50. If anything they will, as I argue, be further emboldened. Labour’s great failure in the Scottish independence debate was to largely co-sponsor the Conservative Party’s doom-laden vision of Scotland outside of the UK rather than pushing a positive, left-wing argument for a UK rooted in the solidarity which is essential for any large-scale left-wing platform to succeed. It is crucial that it does not now make the same mistake and distinguishes itself from the Tory vision of Brexit as loudly as possible – a case which simply won’t be listened to by many (including many Remainers who have accepted the result) if they are viewed as trying to reverse the referendum.

6 – The idea that opposing Brexit offers a way back for Labour in Scotland seems more rooted in the nationalist narrative of Scotland than in anything tangible. It’s worth remembering that behind the ‘Scotland voted Remain’ story, 1/3 of the electorate there didn’t vote and the difference between Leave and Remain was approx. 600,000 votes (1.66 million for remain vs 1.01 million for leave). As I noted in my blog, last week’s Yougov poll suggested that while a majority in Scotland still want to remain, clear majorities also endorse Theresa May’s main ‘negotiating points’ for Brexit, including on immigration where Scottish public opinion remains regressive. We can also note that behind Scotland ‘relative europhilia’ lies a more complex history where a plurality or majority have wanted to leave the EU or reduce its powers. I have long argued that Brexit becoming tightly associated with right-wing English nationalism has far more to do with a majority in Scotland falling ‘in love’ with the EU than any substantive support for it. It’s also been clear in polls that a majority in Scotland currently have no appetite for leaving the UK in order to join the EU, hence even the SNP focusing on the single market rather than EU membership. Rory even notes that it’s the Tories, not Labour who seem most likely to experience a significant revival in Scotland – a fact which owes much to the centrality of the ‘national question’ in Scottish politics. As it stands, a significant % of those who currently support the SNP will never vote Labour unless it supports independence, and many of those going to the Tories want nothing less than total opposition to further devolution.  Labour opening itself to countless, easy attacks in England on the basis of Scotland’s support for the EU would seem to me to be a battle lost before it even begins.

7 – Nicola Sturgeon has indeed been successful at positioning herself as ‘Scotland’s chief lobbyist’ on this issue. Yet, given what I’ve outlined above, the answer to this isn’t to seek to join her but to hammer home the contradictions inherent in her position. As I’ve said, there is no doubt in my mind that the SNP would not welcome a commitment from Corbyn to oppose Article 50 but would instead quickly find a new angle of attack. A (welcome) commitment to federalism does not mean pretending we currently have it – Labour is best placed to argue that the current set-up in the UK isn’t fit for purpose while constructively offering solutions, just as it is best placed to argue that if Brexit is (regretfully) going to happen, it should happen on as social democratic a platform as it can secure (which admittedly is perhaps not much of one). These may not be compellingly instant positions but I think they will stand the party in good stead in the long run, just as hammering home the SNP’s incoherent position on the UK vs the EU and its singular fixation on referendums will.

8 – As Rory argues, the current Labour position is weak and subject to attack by both political and media opponents. I don’t dispute this, instead arguing in my blog that their current position is the least bad of the terrible options. Yet in speaking of the position most likely to bring Corbyn to power Rory ignores his own compelling arguments, both with regards to the UK and to the wider environment for socialism, as to why that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Labour should have been positioning itself on Brexit, on the English and Scottish questions (and on a whole lot else) for the past 2 years but has instead been consumed by infighting. It has likely squandered its chance and, barring any seismic occurrence, it is not going to come to power any time soon. It is not unreasonable, then, to be concerned with minimising losses and seeking to guard against a reactionary post-Corbyn future for the party. It’s clear that some on the left harbour illusions that a socialist leader without Corbyn’s baggage or presentational issues would be a compelling figure for the electorate, yet it is undeniable that the stakes are piled formidably high against any such leader. This is why I argue that turning the tide is going to take time (something I think Rory agrees with) and that it requires all of us committed to socialism to engage in social movements. So, while I think Rory’s course of action would only make the terrain more treacherous for socialism in the long run, I fully agree with his conclusion:

The world that socialists must navigate is increasingly one of hermetic subcultures, economic decline and political crisis as a form of governance. I suspect that the most effective responses will be closer to the traditions of anarchism than socialism. If national struggles for constitutional power are not working, then localised extra-legal resistance which emphasises subcultural or community solidarity must take precedence. If national identities cannot be mobilised for the left then they must be disrupted and subverted, their institutions disrespected and their everyday cultural manifestations ruthlessly undermined. There may be no more room for good patriots; only good traitors. Corbyn has shown the occasional, accidental flash of treason — it’s up to those who have supported him this far to start doing it deliberately.