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My Christmas Homework, 2016 (or, why we still look back in anger )

Homework, set by members of my CLP 4 years ago: Read Tony Blair’s biography, and write us a piece for the young Corbynites who want to know just who this beast in the shadows is, and how, if he’s good and gone, he’s managed to leave this handful of people in key executive positions all over the party who are so damned good at out-playing the party’s every attempt to change.

I rejected the challenge as not worth the pain – but then happened to find a copy of the book in a junk shop, when we’d jumped on a train for a jolly day out shopping. Oh god! That psycho face gimlet-staring out of the cover pic! It was only 50p, so I caved in and said “oh alright then.”

Even the shop lady thought I was mad. “You won’t learn anything – he’ll only be bigging himself up,” she said, as I handed her the 50p.

First Impressions

It’s called A Journey. What with that, and the gimlet stare on the cover, I decided to discard the dust jacket on the train home. I could cope with the plain blue cover underneath – or so I thought. I nearly chickened out and left the whole book on the train when I realised it had TONY BLAIR embossed on the spine in 2-inch high letters, which fellow passengers were staring at in horror.

If ever the first line in a book was perfectly prescient, this one is. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: “When it was first suggested that I write this book, Bob Barnett, lawyer, friend and negotiator extraordinaire, expertly steered the negotiations that brought me to Random House.” There you have it – Tony Blair in a nutshell. Never mind policies, never mind principles, the one and only quality he notices in everyone and every event, is the potential for effective manipulation – for winning. I had a quick flick through. My eye was caught by the nature of the captions on the photo pages. Here’s an example:

“Clockwise from above right: some of the inner team. Peter Mandelson could tell you what people would be thinking tomorrow; Anji Hunter, possessed of a naturally intuitive political instinct: Jonathan Powell, a key operative in government; Sally Morgan, superbly attuned to the party; Philip Gould, chief pollster, and central to our strategy”

The words of praise are extraordinary – “operative”, “superbly attuned” – remember how the phrase “on message” kept turning up in political columns when Blair was “team building”? Remember how, when the 2015 Labour leadership election was a three-horse race, the three candidates were shunting and shifting, playing chess for the “winning message”, and nobody was unusually stirred… Until a forth contender came along, one who messed up the chess-game by just saying what he thought, regardless of whether it was popular, or part of a pre-agreed “message”. The membership scented truth, and they were in the mood for it. From that moment on, despite the other candidates’ attempts to adapt, taking hasty lessons in appearing unrehearsed, Corbyn was the man: too old and too relaxed to fit the conventional model but, unbelievably, unstoppably popular – because in certain circumstances, people are ferociously loyal to truth, once they’ve spotted some.

Looking at the photos of Blair’s chosen inner circle, I am reminded of a famously machine-oriented councillor I came across at the Labour South East regional party conference. He got on fine with the group he and I were both working in that was about winning council elections – some fine, efficient advice on campaigning… but he was the only one at conference who took to the main stage and advised a (largely Corbynite – as the majority of members are) audience to “stay off social media, it’s just an echo chamber.” The advice was greeted with a stony silence. We knew where and how the membership at large got one up on the Blairite machine, and why he wanted it to stop. If he noticed that manipulative tactics stick out a mile these days, he didn’t show it but then, come to think of it, he didn’t show his own feelings once, all weekend. Educated for politics, groomed, trained and funded for his position, he is a text-book example of Blair’s machine men.

Back cover text: “On 2 May 1997, I walked into Downing Street as prime minister for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junior of junior ministers. It was my first and only job in government.”
The back cover sports an early example of the fashion for the hubristic scorning of experience and expertise that has been a feature of every government since Blair’s: “On 7 May 1997 I walked into Downing Street as prime minster for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junior of junior ministers. It was my first and only job in government.”

The Message

Pondering this, my eyes strayed to the page opposite the photos, where Blair is describing the role of Foreign Secretary, and explaining why it’s the job everyone wants. “…you basically spend your time with people who are polite to you…generally dispensing goodwill and opinions to those who seem relatively keen to receive them.” Sounds like the queen’s job to me – aren’t politicians supposed to be doing important, responsible things? Not the Foreign Secretary apparently – “…Not for you the horny handed sons of toil badgering you over fuel prices, or complaining about the government’s clearly ill-motivated refusal to spend money on this service or that, the minutiae of road schemes…” Is that, then, the root of the resentment Blairites hold for the Corbyn/McDonnell movement? Is it that they hold the people and their need for services in such total contempt they resent Corbyn’s expectation that all politicians lower themselves to actually running the country and providing services?

Asked at a dinner what was her greatest achievement. Thatcher replied: “Tony Blair and New Labour”.

Not getting off to a very good start, this book review of mine, is it? Let’s see how Tony’s getting on: INTRODUCTION “Most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down. So what you see here is not a conventional description of who I met or what I did…” That, Tony, is pretty much what the lady in the bookshop said. “There is only one person who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that’s me.” Well okay, on the subject of Tony Blair’s experience of being Prime Minister, I suppose he has a point but is he going to keep the idea under control, and not write as if he is god of the real world? “I describe, of course, the major events of my time, but I do so through the eyes of the person taking the decisions in relation to them…”The person? Doesn’t this sound a tad like the memoir of a dictator? – “…I hope it is fair.” I doubt it, old son.

The Truth

I will try to be fair. But that’s my problem, not yours. You need not read the whole book with me, I’ll just tell you what was going through my mind while I laboured (sorry!) through the pages. The point is, if “truth” is the agreed, polished, message of the establishment, then it is in trouble. It has been struggling since the early days of newspapers. For most of our history since the invention of printing, the right to print and distribute was strictly controlled. From the 1700s onward, business people agitated increasingly loudly for a right to print news and politics – they scented big profits – but statesmen were initially quite open about their horror of the idea. How could they keep people “on message” if their own doings and sayings in government were passed around freely? You can see some stunning examples of this argument throughout the 1800s if you look for histories of Stamp Duty Law, which is where a lot of the attempts to control newspapers appear and get debated. One of the more recent examples comes at the end of the first world war, where a British politician is on record as congratulating the editor of the Guardian for keeping “on message” during the war. “The British people,” he said, “would never have stood for it if they’d known what was really going on.”

After the shameless drive for profit, technology was the next phenomenon that threatened “the message” of the ruling minority. Popular radio and then television, ease of travel, with roving reporters turning up everywhere, began to be a regular embarrassment to business leaders, politicians and royals. The British Royal family did their very best to keep behind their camouflage but have lost bags of face and loyalty in the last generation or two, largely thanks to the press and the media spreading the shabby reality of their being typically human, only richer.

A feature of technological progress is that new inventions quickly become available to larger numbers of people. That’s what happened to publishing and communications technology. Soon, everyone could do what a few decades back only the professional investigative journalists could. Corporate law would stop ordinary people getting rich by using it, but it could not stop them using it. Even disaffected US soldiers could communicate and publish stuff – and so, via Wikileaks, we received Bradley Manning’s truth, and then even wars started losing the support of a controlled “message”. That was the moment we saw Tony Blair’s tower really starting to crumble.

People’s Truth

People in general have never been particularly insistent on truth. Most of the time, a good story will do but the demand for “truth” arises when people feel conned, or when they’re having a hard time and, with the rise of social media, there are now millions, rather than thousands, out there angrily looking for their truth. George Michael dies, a tabloid paper immediately prints spread after spread of “how we loved George” and an army of social media punters hit back by sharing archive posts of that same newspaper’s “Pits and Perverts” front page at the time of the miners’ strike, and memes with messages such as “Tabloid papers told us Jimmy Saville was a force for good and George Michael was a pervert. They’re still trying to tell me stuff now.”

And once people start doing that, the first response is the “post-truth era” idea – they have just discovered they’ve been conned, so they think “truth” died quite recently and shout about its tragic death. But once you start looking, you can’t find the start of it. Tony Blair may have been a pinnacle of message-over-truth but he didn’t invent it. Take the “Pits and Perverts” incident. People who aren’t currently on a truth mission, still believe the media version of the government-versus unions battles of the 1970s but people who are currently “off message” can quite easily find the archives, look at the history and discover, for example, that the vast majority of those nasty, aggressive miners who ended up in hospital had wounds to the backs of their heads – clobbered by police swinging long truncheons from horseback as they ran away.

Next, the amateur researcher will find that the famous BBC footage of the “battle” at Orgreave was doctored by the BBC (whether with or without government instruction is still being investigated). The police drove miners into a dead end, corralled and beat them, and then furious, cornered miners started throwing stones. The BBC chose to crop the film and show the stone-throwing first, then the police charge, with the obvious effect. Once your amateur researcher knows this, they know they need to adjust most of what they’ve ever been told.

The Post Post Era

Of course, there is a kick-back. The establishment minority know that one game is up, and serious moves are now in evidence to curb social media and the technology that has allowed so many to start down the path of re-adjusting what they thought they knew – but communications technology is a hydra now. It’s going to be a hard job getting every filming, recording and dissemination device back into the hands of the minority. The only alternative is to oppress the majority into silence by starving them of services, homes, health care etc

But – when do people go after truth? When they’re desperate, when they’re cornered and when the stories aren’t working any more. When people are hungry, they’re hungry for truth. Once they start feeling that, you get movements like Occupy, People’s Assemblies, the Anti-Austerity  Movement, the Corbyn-McDonnell movement: fresh, new, up-to-date forces demanding truth and its partner, fair play. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last but, win or lose, they are proof that truth isn’t over, any more than history turned out to be over when Fukuyama wrote its obituary. It’s still there, it just goes in and out of fashion according to how people are faring, and how well the stories are working.

The era of using the word “post” to dismiss inconvenient things is over. It’s time we started giving our history a serious place in our thinking.

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Listen, question, test

This idea is so important I have given it one of those fashionable three-word slogans to help me remember it.

It’s unlikely you’ll agree with every statement I’m going to make in this article. If you’re the kind of person who needs trigger warnings to protect you from the trauma of being disagreed with, please try to keep calm and tell yourself they are just examples, not weapons. Spoken or written facts can’t hurt you – really they can’t. Nor can spoken or written lies, unless everyone lets them lie there unchallenged. Nevertheless, I’ve labelled the statements below as controversial examples one to four, in big headings, so you can take them one at a time and go and have a lie down in between if you’re easily distressed.

Listen, question, test

If you’ve ever read anything about education, you’ll know that the central aim of most lesson plans is to encourage students to listen, question and test ideas, so that their knowledge is on firm, well understood ground. On that basis, all good teachers present students with both true and false statements, so they can learn to test information and find truth.

If you’ve been in politics for more than a few years, you’ll remember a time when it was understood that debate was central – allowing a variety of people to put forward their views, then allowing everyone to listen, question and decide things.

‘Listen, question, test’ is also the best way to gently and usefully point out to someone that they’re arguing for a wrong idea.

And yet today, Angela Rayner has expressed a new view that has taken over from all that.

Unacceptable truth?

That may be true, but to say it is unacceptable, because it causes distress, she argues.

The most obvious problem with that is that you end up having all your organisations controlled by ‘cry bullies’ – those unscrupulous and/or neurotic people who are professional distress generators whenever disagreed with.

The deeper, and perhaps more important problem is that we none of us can develop firm, properly understood views on anything if we’re not allowed to listen to a variety of views, then question and test theories.

Controversial example one

Prejudice in political parties

It may be true that anti-semitism was exaggerated in the Labour Party but we mustn’t say so because it upsets people.

Consequence: many people believe that the Labour Party in particular is rife with anti-semitism, and the papers are so full of this opinion that we’ve all but forgotten we have a serious, systemic problem with anti-black racism, and that the Tory party is trading in every kind of prejudice imaginable and largely getting away with it.

Controversial example two

Israel- Palestine

It may be true that the government of Israel is breaking human rights and international law, but it’s best not to say so because it stirs up arguments about anti-semitism.

Consequence: Jeremy Corbyn is suspended and no-one’s very clear why, leaving the Labour Party deeply bitter and split, and unable to effectively oppose the most dangerous government in our lifetime – meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer voices free to speak up for Palestinians who are losing everything in an unmentionable dispute over illegally occupied territories.

Controversial example three

Women’s rights

It may be true that women still need their legal rights as a sex-class and our children may be at risk from pernicious lobbyists but it’s unacceptable to say so because it upsets the no-debaters in the trans rights movement.

Consequence: we are left with a Labour Party manifesto that contradicts itself, because we haven’t worked out properly how self-ID can go alongside the current, legal, sex-based rights. Many people – including a fair number of trans people – who are unhappy with the unresolved situation are afraid to ask the questions that would take us forward, so we’re all stuck.

Controversial example four

Virus response strategies

It may be true that some of the things we’re doing to halt covid are not appropriate, but don’t contradict ‘the advice’ because it encourages anti-mask conspiracy theorists.

Consequence: we are all very unclear about what we should be doing and why, now, because most of us don’t trust the government but we can’t question lockdown rules, even for the purpose of testing and improving them, without presenting ‘unacceptable’ ideas.

Don’t make yourself stupid

You can’t learn without listening, questioning and testing. The no-debaters, presumably because they’ve stopped themselves listening, questioning, testing and learning, regularly show themselves up in their resultant ignorance.

Last week, during the free-school-meal debate, Rayner called someone ‘scum’, and was unmoved when Tories cry-bullied their objections at her – and yet at the last UNISON conference she was telling women not to express their gender-critical views because it would upset people and they’d be kicked out. Why is it okay to upset people sometimes, but not others? Now, when it’s desperately important that we identify and clear out *real* prejudice, including anti-semitism, she tells us its unacceptable to express views on it.  

She’s only a no-debater when it suits her.

The best way to argue is to listen, question and test

Please listen, question and test – it’s the way to dismantle bad ideas and the way to learn about and take on board good ones. Above all, please never trust people who say there are truths you cannot tell.

You may know what my position is on the ‘controversial points’ above. That doesn’t matter. Please consider the idea that we need to listen properly and please do feel free to question my views when you think they’re rubbish.

In fact, I object strongly when you don’t. If I’ve got a wrong idea, I trust my friends to question and test it until I figure out where I went wrong. Why not do all your friends the same favour?

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In the Absence of Hard Evidence

In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.

This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.

It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.

Are books better?

Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).

How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.

From Ely to South America and Back

While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.

And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.

Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.

Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?

And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d  had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.

That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.

And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.

And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.

Think global, act local

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Many of our Circaidy Gregory and Earlyworks Press books are now available to buy online at bookshop.org

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What’s with all the whitewash?

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says we mustn’t whitewash our history.

In a recent interview conducted by Hastings in Focus, Hart repeatedly used the term ‘whitewash’, apparently to criticise the taking down of offensive statues. This felt really bizarre to me, because listening to political conversations around the place, the term ‘whitewash’ appears to have two almost opposite meanings. One is to cover up the wrong-doings and the shady bits where we’re half-aware of corruption and injustice, the other is to deliberately or unconsciously remove the contributions and experiences of black and ethnic minority people.

Which does she mean? Statues are official markers of how a country, city or organisation sees itself. They mark up the kinds of people citizens are expected to know about and honour. That is why the ritual of pulling down statues is a global, traditional custom to mark a sea-change in a population’s awareness and attitudes.

Perhaps that important piece of information has been ‘whitewashed’ out of our history curriculum. Let’s consider it now.

Colston

The people of Bristol have long been campaigning to remove that statue they recently, famously, threw in the river. As per usual, the establishment was slow responding – it’s always easier for those in office to leave something where it is than to make a potentially controversial change, so the people did what people do – they picked up the mood of the moment, and removed the statue themselves. Problem solved.

That wasn’t whitewash as in hiding our history. It led to a week in which vast numbers of people across the country were talking about our history of slave trading.

That wasn’t whitewash as in ‘airbrushing out’ black history. It helped black people start talking about how deeply British glorifying of slave traders has affected their own families, and led to more white people trying to understand those feelings and their still-manifest consequences. It was a fantastic, nationwide history lesson.

Churchill

In my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three big demos where the Churchill statue in Parliament Square has received the attention of ‘political artists’. Sitting where it does, right opposite the seat of our parliament, it’s the perfect subject for a protesting movement to use to display their message about an unchanging, unresponsive establishment.

That’s not whitewashing as in airbrushing out corruption – it’s done on demos that are highlighting that corruption. And it’s not whitewashing as in ignoring black history – quite the opposite, in most cases.

What Hart was trying to say

 “We’ve all got history. We don’t whitewash it,” she reckons if we know our mistakes, “we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Right, let’s learn something

Ms Hart says she was grateful the “march in Hastings was peaceful” she says there was “horrendous violence all over the country” she says the agenda is to combat racism but “all the violence is undermining that message” that the “conversation is not about racial equality, but violence and statues.”

She says “We have a history in this country, we can’t brush it under the carpet, she says “we’ve got to learn from the past.” She says “It’s up to local communities to decide what they want to do with a statue.”

What can we conclude from Hart’s words?

Firstly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what BLM did in Hastings. Yes, it was very peaceful and very well organised. The main event was not a march – was there a march?

Secondly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what happened anywhere in the country. Where was this horrendous violence? There were a few unfortunate incidents in the London demo, the worst of which happened in, and many think were caused by, a reckless police charge. Other than that, the only violence I’m aware of came from a crowd of completely not BLM white blokes who ran rampage in London the next week, for no very clear reason and among other things, tried to goad police into a fight. I conclude Hart is part of a tradition that takes any rumour of violence and seems to vaguely suggest black people were to blame.

Thirdly, when she says “the conversation is not about racial equality, it is about violence and statues”, I realise that she is only talking to the people who have not yet grasped what BLM is about – because it is only those people who insist on talking about violence and statues, rather than about what is happening to black people in our country. so be warned –  our MP and her following have not even begun to get the message about BLM. We need to keep that conversation going, and really, deeply learn what people who want to teach anti-racism should be doing in Hastings and Rye.

She is right about one thing. We must not brush our history under the carpet. It is a very racist, sexist and classist history, and we urgently need to sort out the consequences of that.

What Sally-Ann Hart said about refugees

What Sally-Ann Hart said about child poverty

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

Hastings Black Lives Matter event…

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All Hart and no Information?

Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary

In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.

Cornered and anxious?

This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.

On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.

Virus risk

Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.

Asylum seekers seek asylum

It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.

France is a safe place?

Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:

So Sally can wait

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Hastings media Politics Uncategorized

So, Sally Can Wait…

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says….

Get a job, feed your children

Hart says it’s sad if children are not fed by parents because of choices they’ve made. She says the amount of Universal Credit granted to Hastings is very high and that HBC is very slow getting everyone jobs. She says…

We need to reopen our economy

Hart’s message on coronavirus is that we need to be confident. to get ourselves back out there, live with the virus, be brave and move on. She acknowledges that a large proportion of Hastings’ income is tourism related, that we’ve lost Easter and we’ve lost May Day and we need to get out and earn some money now.

There are two glaring problems with this

  1. On going child poverty

Even before coronavirus, there were many, many parents in Hastings who, whether working or not, were not getting a decent, reliable income that allowed them to look after their families properly. The fact that they then missed out on the usual ‘big earning’ weekends in the spring has made that worse, and brought more people into the danger zone.

The school summer holidays are almost upon us and there is no way, not with even a Tory-sized ego, a family can make up for three months losses on top of ten years of Tory austerity and be sure to feed their kids properly.

There is no way that Hastings Borough Council, struggling with swingeing losses to government grants over ten years of austerity, can magic up thousands of well-paid jobs overnight to solve these acute and immediate and devastating problems.

Sally-Ann Hart, please understand those families need help NOW.

2. We need to protect our depleted health and social care services

Both services have been run down during the ten years of austerity and, when Hastings people set up those admirable volunteer services to help people not properly compensated by the government to stay home safely, they weren’t doing it because they lacked confidence, they were doing it because they had an eye on the small number of available hospital beds and other services. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t all fall ill at once, and keep within the limits of the Tory-depleted services we have, and to avoid overwhelming our hard-working, under-paid NHS and social care staff.

Sally-Ann Hart, please understand our health and social care services need re-funding NOW.

Sally can wait – we can’t

The landlord won’t wait for the rent. A hungry child can’t wait for economic measures to filter through. Sally-Ann Hart, please understand – Hastings does not lack confidence, but Hastings can’t wait.

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about refugees

All Hart and no Information

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Liz Truss has been listening to women

Well done, Liz Truss, for implementing some of the vital elements of the 2019 Labour Manifesto.

If today’s leaked document is correct, Truss is proposing to maintain women’s protected spaces under existing sex-based rights; retain the current basis on which individuals can affirm changes in legal gender, and make so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ illegal.

Now, just watch a load of ill-informed people go to war over imagined losses.

A bit of context

right wing press announces new Tory policy

We are all being seriously misled by jockeying politicians and a malevolent media. At some level, we understand that the people who need support and redress now are, as ever, oppressed groups including black people, women, LGBT people, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and those denied a decent education.

Establishment in crisis

The coronavirus situation has brought many of those issues to a head, especially in the United States and the UK – it has also shown up the helplessness of either Trump’s people or Johnson’s people in the face of a real problem that needs managing. My, how the politicians and the establishment would like to deflect all that into an argument about statues rather than address the more deadly #BLM issues, and how grateful they are for any other available spat, like furthering the pretence that there are large groups of women trying to be nasty to trans people.

…but where have we seen this policy before?

TERFs?

Let us be clear, most women wish to preserve sex-based rights and safeguarding for women and girls. Most women defend trans people whenever they come across them having a hard time. Those two ideas are not in conflict. What is in conflict is what constitutes ‘trans rights’.

Labour Party manifesto, women and equalities page, committing to ensure that single-sex-based exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2010 are understood and fully enforced in service provision
…in the 2019 Labour Party manifesto.

Stonewall, LGBT Labour and many other well-funded, US-inspired groups have been touting the idea that cancelling sex-based rights (a necessity to make legal self-ID meaningful) is a ‘right’, rather than a ‘demand’, of a group they never actually define – Stonewall, under their favourite banner of ‘acceptance without exception’ include absolutely everyone who might fancy hanging around the girls’ changing rooms as under ‘the trans umbrella’ – thus providing an open door for rapists, abusive husbands, peeping Toms and whoever else. THAT is what you hear women getting angry about.

Progressives?

Cartoon with protest banners: 'terf' 'bitch' 'ban her' 'cancel her' 'kill her'

Ironically, it’s likely that the ‘woke’ left, including some otherwise very good socialists, are now going to set about attacking the Conservatives for protecting women’s rights. Is there any chance at all that they’ll put a significant amount of their energy into supporting this excellent decision by Truss to crack down on gay cures, and help her find a solution to the degradation of sex-based rights, a solution that also leaves room for helping trans people? Somehow, I doubt they’ll do that much thinking or debating before they act.

Conflict?

Protestors' banner - "The Media Is A Virus"

It’s my opinion that Labour created a conflict for ourselves by committing to both sex-based rights and on-the-spot sex self-ID in the same manifesto, without thinking through how both those things could work. It’d be really great if Labour’s self-avowed progressives would now resist the media-fuelled frenzy, sit down and do that thinking before they start shouting. If they do, I think they’ll realise that Truss’s announcement is largely good and that (as our manifesto also states) we have yet to come up with the best answer for trans people.

If you are one of those who insist there is no conflict between the ideas of sex self-ID and sex-based rights, please consider what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s policy manager when he set about the perfectly normal process of running impact assessments on those policies…

Focus please, socialists!

Defend black people, women, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and anyone else who is being discriminated against. Defend anyone who is attacked – but where ‘rights’ and ‘demands’ conflict, don’t go in with hobnailed lefty boots on; check the law, check the policies, do some consulting and real thinking.

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activism Corbyn economics Housing media Politics Uncategorized women

Extreme blog post

What we’re all gradually realising…

We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.

Newspaper headline: 'Cummings draws condemnation from across UK society
Cummings draws condemnation away from the rest of the govt

Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?

Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.

Boris Johnson attempts an apology

Extremism

Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing Domestic extremist tea towelpatience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?

Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.

There is another option

If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.

 

 

Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.

Activists with 'broken heart' placards commemorating those killed by DWP austerityOne  conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.

Local ACORN team 'taking what's ours'
Properly socially distanced activism

We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to them and choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).

Healthy extremes

The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.

Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.

Does it work?

Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…

 

 

…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.

 

 

 

Which one do you believe?

Yellow jackets being extreme in FranceMaybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.

It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…

Local action

The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.

Corbyn addresses a crowd of thousands

Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.

And at the other extreme

Pragna PatelOne of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.

Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.

Dominic Cummings pictured inside a Nato summit he wasn't supposed to be at
Extremely annoying and distracting

 

Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…

The Spirit of '45 by Ken Loach
Well worth a watch

Stories from home and abroad

Socialist pol ed from the Labour Left Alliance

Blogs and podcasts by and about women at FiLiA

… but the choices are endless – just get Googling.

 

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activism economics Hastings Housing Labour media NHS Politics Privatisation Uncategorized

My post-lockdown manifesto

(It’s a work in progress – I want to hear about yours, too.) What do we change, what do we scrap – what can we do?

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activism economics Hastings Housing Labour media NHS Politics Privatisation Uncategorized

If…

Thoughts for VE Day…