An Open Letter to Harriet Harman

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Jo’s moving and humbling  letter to Harriet Harman: Previously published here

Dear Ms Harman,

Who am I to be writing to an important woman such as yourself? I am just a name amongst a sea of insignificant people, who dare to call themselves supporters of the Labour Party.

I am what the Tory party class as a “young person”, despite being 34. I am old enough to shape young minds, or at least that’s what teachers like me used to do before Michael Gove destroyed the education system, whilst the Labour Party looked on.

I am disabled, no longer able to do the job I love. Just another name to suffer under the sweeping destruction Iain Duncan Smith has wrought on the welfare state, whilst the Labour Party looked on.

I am on the housing list, deemed a danger to myself while I live alone in a non-disability-adapted property, but since the bedroom tax there’s nowhere for me to go. Just another person without a suitable home thanks to Kris Hopkins failing to build affordable homes, whilst the Labour Party looked on.

I am the daughter of a mother dying from Mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos whilst working as a teacher in the 70’s. We have the highest rate of Mesothelioma in the world. Michael Gove and now Nicky Morgan have failed to remove asbestos from our schools, whilst the Labour Party looked on.

I am a user of food banks, just another statistic forced to plead for food thanks to the disastrous delay in ESA and PIP ATOS assessments overseen by a callous Iain Duncan Smith, whilst the Labour Party looked on.

I am an NHS user who no longer has a fully operational local hospital. The Tories, like carrion-eating scavengers, have picked the carcass dry leaving destruction in their wake. Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt disrespects and bullies the phenomenal team of NHS staff who help me, whilst the Labour Party look on.

My question for you, Harriet, is when will the Labour Party stop looking on and actually act? Our party’s name should remind you who the party is supposed to be fighting for. What has happened to the party who fought for bread and roses? Losing the fight for roses was a painful blow but to no longer fight for bread is reaching a real low for the Labour movement.

I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn for next Labour leader. When I became disabled I thought the chronic neuropathic pain and a body that let me down would be the biggest challenge I would face. I never thought the biggest challenge would be to watch the Labour Party allowing the Conservatives to dismantle the welfare state I so desperately rely on. I am deeply concerned and more than a little disgusted by the attitude of senior members of the Labour Party toward Corbyn’s supporters and to the democratic process. Several MPs like Simon Danczuk, John Mann, Chukka Umunna and Liz Kendall have been less than respectful of the democratic process and of those of us who back Corbyn. Perhaps they would do well to remember what democracy means and that they are supposed to represent the wishes of their constituents not their own careers. Danczuk appears to be calling for a coup, which is ridiculous. After all, no coup came from Labour MPs when the Tories won with a far lower percentage of votes than Corbyn is predicted to win with.

There is constant hand-wringing and mutterings as the party comes to grips with losing the last election. Questions about how Miliband lost. The anti-Corbyn reaction from some members of the PLP shows why Labour lost the last election and were utterly routed by the SNP. The people of this country, the ordinary Labour supporters, feel that as a party you don’t understand or fight for us. You don’t see the upsurge of support for Corbyn as a sign that we are crying out for a party who support the ordinary folk against the Tories. A party that says, “Enough is enough. Those in need should be cared for with compassion!” A party that stands for hope not despair. For some of us, supporting Corbyn feels like we are fighting for our very lives. If the Labour Party doesn’t start to take a stand and defend the most vulnerable there will be more suicides. More disillusionment. More fear. Is that really the cause the Labour Party wishes to die fighting for?

As acting leader, we look to you to steer the ship, to remind the PLP why you need to respect the voters’ wishes. There are only a few entryists backing Corbyn, the majority of us are nobodies in the eyes of the party, but unlike the other candidates Corbyn sees us and welcomes us to be somebodies to change the landscape of hate and fear that so many high profile Labour members are actively promoting in the press. I urge you to remind the PLP to abide by the voters’ wishes. You said you wanted a democratic process. As a party you misread the mood of the country and the need for change, but that doesn’t mean that the democratic process itself was wrong. If you allow those who oppose Corbyn to actively refuse a democratic decision then you allow them to destroy the very foundation of the Labour Party. A betrayal of the electorate will only signify the end of a party that I and many others felt was still worth fighting for!

A Labour Supporter

http://misadventuresinthewelfarestate.blogspot.co.uk/

Support Jo’s campaign for mesothelioma https://www.justgiving.com/Jo-Hoyle/

The Changing Face of Europe – As Greece says NO, what will we say?

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The Changing Face of Europe – and The World

Socialists differ from nationalists in that their concern for the welfare of others is not confined to arbitrary boundaries of nations and states. In modern times, as transport and technology has advanced, so the time , scope and range of communication and trade has expanded. One world, one community, one people is a possibility. But the reality is that it is not national boundaries which define and divide us, but wealth, class and property. And above all – power.

(1) In April 1970, during the 1970 general election, Edward Heath said that further European integration would not happen “except with the full-hearted consent of the Parliaments and Peoples of the new member countries.” However, no referendum was held when Britain agreed to an accession treaty on 22 January 1972 with the EEC states, Denmark, Ireland and Norway, or when the European Communities Act 1972 went through the legislative process. Britain joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973, with Denmark and Ireland. This later became the European Union.Ted Heath’s Conservative government entered the Common market in 1972. At the time many felt that was unconstitutional, and even questioned the legality. ( See (2) Vernon Coleman’s comments)

 Clearly external pressures were being exerted on Heath’s government. Britain and American intelligence services supported Britain’s entry into EEC to oppose the Communist bloc. Funding was put in place to influence public support.

The Cambridge Clarion (3) describes how the MI6 pushed Britain to join Europe.

“A secretly-funded Foreign Office unit used public money to mount a covert propaganda operation aimed at ensuring Britain joined the European Community.

British and American intelligence services had traditionally supported Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community us a bulwark against the Communist Eastern bloc.

The CIA funded the European Movement, the most prominent extra-governmental group, seeking to influence public opinion for a European Community. Between 1949 and 1953, it was subsidised by the CIA to the tune of £330,000. In June 1970 Edward Heath’s Conservative government had been elected with a pro-European manifesto. But public and parliamentary support for Europe was slipping and Britain’s entry was in doubt. Although the Cabinet was dominated by pro-Europeans, Heath presided over a party that was deeply ambivalent about the “Common Market”.

Later that year, a meeting of senior information officers in Whitehall was convened to discuss what could be done. An official present at that meeting says the only department that seemed capable of achieving something effective was the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department. IRD had been set up in 1948 by Christopher Mayhew, then Foreign Minister, to place covert anti-Communist propaganda throughout the world and was funded by the intelligence budget – the secret vote. IRD was closely linked with MI6 and shared many officers – including at one time the double agent Guy Burgess. By the late Sixties, IRD had more than 400 people occupying River-walk House opposite the Tate Gallery and undercover officers in embassies all over the globe.

The civil servant who ran the covert pro-Europe campaign was Norman Reddaway, Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, with a brief covering IRD and other FO information services.

Mr Reddaway, who later became ambassador to Poland, and is now retired, set up a special IRD unit to propagandise in favour of British entry and counter those who opposed it. In an unpublished interview, Mr Reddaway says: “The researchers were extremely good at researching the facts about going into Europe”

The unit worked closely with a number of pro-European politicians to rebut anti-EEC arguments. IRD wrote and brokered articles which were placed in the press “There was no shortage of MPs who were pleased to see something published under their name in The Times and elsewhere,” a former insider said.”

The Labour party were split on the issue, with many grassroots opposing remaining in Europe and Wilson called a referendum on the issue of whether to remain:  The Common Market Referendum on 6th June 1975.  (4) At that time, I voted “No”, feeling that it was a treaty backing private business and had little to offer working people. The No campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, including the cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, and Barbara Castle. Some Labour “No” supporters, including Varley, were on the right wing of the party, but most were from the left.

The funding supporting European Entry clearly was effective, and even the Daily Mirror attacked those opposing the entry as lunatics and extremists.

Much of the “Yes” campaign focussed on the credentials of its opponents. According to Alastair McAlpine, “The whole thrust of our campaign was to depict the anti-Marketeers as unreliable people – dangerous people who would lead you down the wrong path … It wasn’t so much that it was sensible to stay in, but that anybody who proposed that we came out was off their rocker or virtually Marxist.”.[ Tony Benn controversially claimed “Half a million jobs lost in Britain and a huge increase in food prices as a direct result of our entry into the Common market“, using his position as Industry Minister as an authority. His claims were ridiculed by the “Yes” campaign and ministers; the Daily Mirror labelled Benn the “Minister of Fear” and other newspapers were similarly derisive. Ultimately, the “No” campaign lacked a popular, moderate figure to play the public leadership role for their campaign that Jenkins and Wilson fulfilled in the “Yes” campaign.

The establishment control of the press has been effective at attacking those using democratic means as extremists. Michael Foot, Tony Benn, and Neil Kinnock were neither loony, extreme-left, dangerous  nor undemocratic. Later, at the time of their deaths, when they could no longer challenge the establishment, Michael Foot and Tony Benn were admired and appreciated as men with intelligence and courage. The strength of that courage is precisely why the press attacked them, and continue to attack anyone who questions the status quo. That is the reason we have plunged blindly into neoliberalism, with a Labour Party impotent and fearful of the media.

The No campaign also included a large number of Labour backbenchers; upon the division on a pro-EEC White Paper about the renegotiation, 148 Labour MPs opposed their own government’s measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.

The Guardian (6) reported the outcome of the 1975 referendum with a smiling Margaret Thatcher . thatcher europe 

…and reported that Wilson needed to take on the opposition from the Left.

left paper eec

Certainly, I can recall that within Labour meetings, more positive aspects of being more closely allied within Europe began to emerge. It is a long time ago, I wonder how many others can recall how opposition to Europe from the Left began to crumble, as there was talk of a Social Contract, treaties supporting workers’ rights and a renewed solidarity across Europe? As socialists, the fraternal support of the left across Europe seemed a positive force – the idea of “united we stand, divided we fall” and so on. The greatest influence, was no doubt the danger at home – an extreme, right-wing reactionary government with Thatcher privatising everything in sight with Reagan encouraging  her from across the ocean.

Our own Labour Party of the 80s and 90s no longer opposed the neoliberalism game. Enthusiasm for Europe and monetarism was pursued by a Labour Party led by John Smith and later Tony Blair. Labour had joined the race and power for Blair was an addiction, and the Left voice against Europe was silenced – gagged even.

Europe seemed the friend and the US the enemy.

The truth was very different, in that the US was always the driving force of the European Community.  As previously mentioned, the US was involved in the instigation of a Europe wide force from the beginning, and has continued throughout. Their intervention was opposed as long ago as 1950s and 60s by De Gaulle, The American Challenge Le Défi Américain, published in 1967 by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, and referred to by Bill Mitchell’s blog  Europe’s EU imported Nightmare. (7)

Because of a technology-gap, the US would achieve a hold on Europe. Servan-Schreiber’s main predictions were based around three main points

1. The flow of profits out of Europe to the US-owned firms.

2. The colonisation in an economic sense of Europe by US firms.

3. The cultural invasion.

And so it has come to pass. The power of a US led neofeudalist plutocracy (8) is now so great that treaties such as TTIP are being readily signed by politicians with arms held behind their backs.  Our NHS of 67 years now may be privatised, in such a form we could not repeal legislation because governments can be sued?  What democracy exists at all? (9)

The real crisis now in Greece (10) was inevitable in hindsight, as far from a united people in Europe, some were very much stronger than others.The most powerful economy in the Eurozone was Germany, and so served its own interests. Weaker countries such as Greece struggled, and neighbours withheld aid as the global financial crisis struck. Greece has been abandoned, and even when Greece democratically elected a party opposed to austerity measures, the financial power base of the ECB pressures those people against their democratic will.

If we take a look at Spain, (11) where gagging laws have been compared to the days of Franco’s dictatorship, we see  another example where democratic expression becomes a sham. There is a limit to  freedom of speech and curbing the right to peacefully protest with the introduction of fines ranging between €100 ($111) and €600,000.

1) Fines for protesting Under the new law, anyone who organizes or takes part in an “unauthorized protest” could be fined between €30,000 and €600,000 if the protest takes part near institutions such as the Spanish parliament.

2) Disrupting public events Disrupting events such as public speeches, sports events or religious ceremonies could face fines of between €600 and €300,000.

3) Botellón The Spanish tradition of getting together with mates for outdoor drinking sessions looks to be officially over – drinking in public will be hit with fines of €600 under the new law. And teenagers won’t escape – Parents will be held responsible for the payment of their offsprings’ fines.

4) Social media activism Using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to call on people to protest will be fined under the new law, an attempt to put paid to the spontaneous protests that have proved very powerful in building the indignado movement.

5) Photographing police People will be fined for taking unauthorized photographs of the police, a measure introduced with the argument that being publicly identified could put officers and their families in danger.

6) Smoking weed It puts an end to the laissez-faire attitude that has seen Spain become a nation with one of the largest potsmoking populations in Europe. But from now on lighting up a joint in bars or on public transport could result in a fine of between €600 and €30,000.

7) Leaving furniture in the street It is a tradition that has existed in Spain long before the current upcycling trend but from now on dumping unwanted furniture in the street could come with a penalty. Those caught obstructing streets with old furniture, cars or other unwanted items will be fined.

8) Trying to stop an eviction People trying to stop an eviction from taking place could be fined between €600 and €300,000. The number of evictions in Spain has skyrocketed since the beginning of the economic crisis.

9) Not having your ID

Spaniards who are asked to show their ID card and do not have it on their person could be in trouble under the new law. If they cannot immediately locate it at home and have failed to report it missing, they are liable to be fined.

10)  Disrespecting a police officer Showing a “lack of respect” to those in uniform or failing to assist security forces in the prevention of public disturbances could result in an individual fine of  between €600 and €30,000.

Is Big Brother watching us? Undoubtedly. How many recall the passing of 1984, and thought of Orwell’s predictions of Big Brother? The Orwellian world in which we now find ourselves is more terrifying than the books we read at school. There again, it cannot be long before the books  disappear and history rewritten, so when those who can remember have gone nothing else remains.

It is not that everything in Europe is bad news for Britain, or vice versa. It is right that we continue to travel, to befriend, to trade with and support those across Europe and the world. But what is wrong, is to continue to play the game, like counters in a game of Risk, pushing people to despair, withholding their livelihoods in the name of a European Economic Community. The European Union is both anti socialist and anti democratic.(12) It is not for the Labour Party, founded to protect working people to continue to pursue policies which blackmail states and their democratically elected representatives.

This is why, while I will not walk away from Europe,  or turn my back on people in need in Europe, the world, or next door – when the next  referendum comes I will vote “No” again.

  1. Wikipedia Referendum 1975 
  2. Vernon Coleman “Did Heath’s government enter the common market illegally?
  3. Cambridge Clarion: How MI6 pushed Britain to join Europe using public money to mount a covert propaganda operation.
  4. BBC On this Day: Referendum 1975
  5. New Statesman : 1975 Referendum on Europe
  6. How the Guardian reported referendum in 1975
  7. Bill Mitchell “Europe’s EU imported Nightmare”
  8. Capitalism, NeoLiberalism, Plutonomy and Neofeudalism
  9. Are we already in the post democratic era?
  10. Bryan Gould – the Real Greek Crisis
  11. Spain – the ten most repressive points of Spain’s gagging law
  12. Kelvin Hopkins: The EU is Anti Socialist and Undemocratic

Hand in Hand

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Hand in Hand

hand in hand

When I was growing up my Mom often spoke of the memories of her mother’s face and tears following the announcement of WW2. Nan remembered WW1 and all it meant. My unhappiness, and tearful face in 1992 having returned from the count was so evident, that my daughter, then aged 10, can remember it clearly even now. Now my daughters weep for their children. Why is the world doing this to the mothers? Or the fathers, the brothers and the sisters? Time people started supporting each other is now. No more listening to the lies about money, deficits, and banks. People matter.

Stand together, hand in hand.

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Rachel Reeves is Aiming at the Wrong Target for Labour

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Aiming at the Wrong Target

By Bryan Gould, previously published here

and reproduced on Think Left with kind permission.

Labour will be “tougher than the Tories” when it comes to forcing long-term beneficiaries back into the labour market; so Labour’s new shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, was reported as saying last week.  The comment, which was presumably made deliberately to secure the headline, seems to be a mistake on a number of levels.

The report suggested that the comment was a response to polling that showed that voters were twice as confident of the Tories’ effectiveness in dealing with the issue as they were of Labour, and was presumably an attempt to nullify the supposed advantage that the Tories enjoyed.

But my own political experience, and particularly experience of campaigning, suggests that the initiative was based on a false premise.  Most voters, unlike those who are politically active and committed, do not have coherent political positions that are consistent across all issues.  They are perfectly capable of adopting attitudes that contradict each other from one issue to the next.

What determines the way they vote is not necessarily what they think on a given issue but which issues are uppermost in their minds on polling day.  History shows that, with their allies in the right-wing media, the Tories are expert at tweaking the issues that give them an advantage at the crucial time.

So, immigration, supposed benefit “scroungers”, trade unions bent on strike action, all attract headlines as part of a deliberate attempt to raise the salience of issues that suggest that our deep-seated problems are caused by failing to rein in the nefarious activities of ordinary people and are in no way the responsibility of the powerful people who run our economy and take most of its benefits.

It is an important part of this well-proven strategy that Labour should be lured into contesting such issues so that public attention is focused on them.  I recall that, in the run-up to the 1992 general election, the Tory press provided the “oxygen of publicity” to fears that a new Labour government would raise income taxes.

The Labour response was to launch, at the beginning of the election campaign, a plan to raise National Insurance contributions.  The idea was to use John Smith’s Scottish prudence to show that this was a sensible initiative that should not be regarded as an increase in taxes.

Not surprisingly, this proved difficult to sell to the electorate.  Labour’s tax plans became the dominant and continuing theme of the election campaign, with the result that John Major’s government was re-elected.

The lesson to be drawn is that election campaigning is largely about controlling the agenda.  A successful opposition campaign should be about exposing the government’s failures and focusing on those elements in its own policy that are likely to strike a chord with most voters.

Time spent on trying to negate vulnerability on issues peddled by the Tories, in other words, is likely to be wasted at best and counter-productive at worst.  And that is never more true than on the issue on which Rachel Reeves thought it wise to make her own demarche.

Her comment spells bad news for Labour.  It focuses attention on an issue which can only benefit the Tories.  No one will believe that on this issue the Labour opposition will be as ruthless as the Tories (and heaven help us if they did!) The most the voters should hear from Labour on the issue of benefit fraud is that, as in every part of public spending, dishonesty will be punished and value for money will be insisted upon.

But what it does do is to validate the Tory insistence that benefit fraud and supposed “scrounging” is an issue that deserves to be at the top of the government agenda.  The more Labour proclaims its “toughness’, the more voters will believe that this is an issue that deservedly requires priority government attention – and the more likely they are to think that Labour is simply posturing and that only the Tories are to be trusted to take real action.

Worse, it diverts attention from what Labour should really be saying about the fact that so many people are victims of unemployment and are therefore forced to depend on a generally miserable level of benefits in order to keep house and home together.

The most effective means of reducing the number of beneficiaries would be, in other words, not punishing the unemployed further, but restoring something approaching full employment; and the most important obstacle to that is a damagingly under-performing economy, the direct consequence of failed government economic policies and of their insistence on austerity as a response to recession (now disowned by the IMF, no less) in particular.

Nor is it the case that this is an accidental by-product of Tory policy.  It is an essential part of the Tory strategy that the burden of getting our economy moving again is to be borne by working people.  According to this doctrine, it is their responsibility to price themselves back into work by accepting lower wages, and accepting fewer rights and protections at work – “zero hours” contracts are a good example.

The pressure on beneficiaries is all of a piece with this approach to our economic problems.  In the absence of new jobs, forcing the unemployed back into the labour market can only mean that those with jobs will be compelled to withstand that competition by accepting lower wages if they wish to stay in work.  The result?  Downward pressure on wages as a whole.

Is this the strategy that Rachel Reeves intends to endorse?  Wouldn’t she do better to focus on unemployment and its causes, and persuading her colleagues to develop a strategy for dealing with it?

Bryan Gould,

14 October 2013