Monday, 28 February 2011

Gaddafi: ‘I Blame the Parents’

As the violent struggle for control of Libya continues, rebel forces opposed to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime seem to make progress on almost a daily basis. A torrent of Libyan diplomats have resigned and declared their allegiance to the ‘Libyan people’ as the eastern part of the country is now beyond the control Gaddafi and increasing numbers of towns in the west and south fall to the rebels. Senior figures from Gaddafi’s government and military as well as soldiers on the ground, have also joined the people in what appears to be an unstoppable momentum towards regime change. Much of Libya’s oil and gas industry is under the control of the rebel factions now, thus starving the regime of foreign revenue.

Forces loyal to Gaddafi still control most of the capital Tripoli and some other towns, most notably Sirte, birthplace of the dictator, and they are mounting counter attacks on some of the towns that have been taken over by the opposition. It is difficult to know whether the rebels can complete the revolution and take the remaining areas still in the regime’s control, as they are heavily defended by well-armed fighters, many of whom are African mercenaries and the fear is of a bloodbath should the rebels march on Tripoli to try and liberate the city.

The United Nations and the international community generally have condemned the regime’s use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, with sanctions announced and the determination to pursue those responsible for ‘war crimes’ through the International Criminal Court. Tony Blair, ex UK Prime Minister, has revealed that he has twice telephoned Gaddafi to urge him to step down; in what must have been a ‘one war criminal to another’ chat. Much of the western response to the crisis smacks of hypocrisy; nevertheless, the pressure is mounting on those in the regime surrounding Gaddafi, if not the tyrant himself.

Meanwhile, the Colonel has made public appearances making speeches in his rambling, ranting style, where he blames a mixture of al Qaida terrorists and the country’s parents for not controlling their off spring. This shows the deluded state of mind of a despot who has brutally ruled his country for over forty years, and just cannot understand that his people have had enough of his tyranny. Al Qaida has been notable by the lack of any comment from its leadership whatsoever on the wave of anti-government protests across the Arab world, and clearly they must know that these uprisings are not orchestrated by or favourable to militant Islam.

At the same time, Gaddafi accuses Bin Laden of running around dishing out acid tabs to the young people of the country. It would be almost comic, were it not such a serious situation, that the uprising in Libya could be stopped dead in its tracks by parents clipping their sons and daughters around the ears, and telling them to behave themselves and stop making trouble for the ‘great leader’.

The genie is out of the bottle now, the people have tasted victory and freedom in large parts of Libya, and there is now surely no going back. It looks to be only a matter of time and horribly much bloodshed, before Gaddafi’s regime falls completely. He has stated that he will fight to the last bullet, and I think he means it. He may well get his wish and die on Libyan soil in the near future, and only then will the people be truly free.

Photo from Reuters

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Green Party is the Real Opposition

This is an excerpt from Green party leader Caroline Lucas’ speech to the party’s spring conference in Cardiff. She lays into the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems as all pursuing the much the same policies. Thanks to Tower Hamlets Greens for the footage.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Oil, Arms, Blood and Hypocrisy

As the people of North Africa and the Middle East rise up against their despotic leaders, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron,has flown into Abu Dhabi where the Index 2011 arms fair is taking place, to perform his salesman act on behalf of British arms and ‘security’businesses. Aerospace Defence Security(ADS)the body that promotes UK arms companies calculates that this market is worth £7.2 billion a year to the British economy, half of which goes to the Middle East.

Liam Fox, the British defence secretary, is reported in The Daily Mail (not a newspaper I normally read, but I received a tip on Facebook) as saying the UK needs a ‘healthy slice’ of this Middle East market. He went on to say 'I want to make sure the United Kingdom - within the limits that we set ourselves ethically on defence exports - is getting a healthy slice of that.’ Well, that depends on what kind of ethics you have, but I can’t see how any right minded person can justify selling the means of violent repression to undemocratic authoritarian regimes.

Denis MacShane, Labour MP and well known apologist for ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been quick to criticise the ‘timing’ of Cameron’s visit to the arms fair in the region, and crass it certainly is, with a hastily arranged detour to Egypt, in an attempt to bathe in the feel good publicity atmosphere surrounding the deposing of autocratic President Mubarak. This mention of ‘timing’ is of course an attempt
to throw a cloak over the last Labour government’s enthusiasm for the same trade, and largely follow the same approach as the present government. The truth is, the UK has long been involved in supplying arms, security and torture equipment to these despotic regimes, all in the name of ‘stability’ in the region, despite the last Labour government’s self- proclaimed ‘ethical foreign policy’.

Which brings us to oil (and gas). Stability of energy supply and therefore price, has been sought by all Western governments so as to facilitate growth in their economies, after the energy crisis in the 1970’s caused ‘stagflation’ and recession, and if that means supporting autocratic authoritarian regimes, so be it. Now that joyous scenes of the people throwing off their chains in the Middle East have been transmitted by Western media, the politicians have been making speeches about freedom and democracy, but we have been instrumental in oppressing these same people for generations.

Indeed, the world oil price has reached a two and a half year high, at over $100 per barrel as this crisis has developed, and Western government’s like our own, are more worried about the effects that this will have on the fragile economic recovery, than anything else that is happening, bar perhaps the rise of ‘Islamist’ governments in the region. There has been remarkably little appetite for a move to this type of regime amongst the rebellious Arab people, but if we did end up having to deal with governments of this persuasion, we no doubt would, to keep the oil flowing. After all, the US government was quite happy dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, when they wanted to build a gas pipeline across the country. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of the business of making money.

You can sign Amnesty International’s petition against the arms trade here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Unemployed Blamed for Rising Unemployment

A day after it was announced that unemployment had risen by 44,000 to just under 2.5 million, or 7.9% of the workforce (rising to over 20% for 18 to 24 year olds), the government has launched its Welfare Reform bill plan, with the mantra ‘make work pay’. The plan aims to amalgamate several benefits into a new ‘universal benefit’, although it is not entirely clear which benefits, or how exactly the new benefit will operate.

Plans to reduce Housing Benefit by 10% for those claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) for over twelve months, which I reported here on this blog, have been scrapped though, and the government insists that no one will be worse off under the new arrangements. I think this is a highly dubious claim, but it is difficult to prove one way or the other at this stage, with details of the changes being too vague to make accurate calculations.

One definite proposal is that those ‘refusing to work’ face a maximum three-year loss of benefits, although how people are meant to survive in this event is less clear, but I think we can expect an increase in crime as one of the consequences. This particular proposal, which will no doubt attract plenty of popularist support, with phrases like ‘workshy’ and ‘scroungers’ doing the rounds, is not as black and white as it is being portrayed.

I worked on a short term (15 month) contract at Jobcentreplus which expired just before Christmas last year, which took in the Labour government and now ConDem government regimes, so I am well placed to compare the two administration’s approaches to unemployment.

Under Labour, the service was largely target, rather than customer focused, but the targets were mainly based around getting people off JSA and back into work. They did though arm the Jobcentre Advisors with some tools to help people get into work. Things like work focused training courses at local colleges were available, free of charge to claimants, and a daily lunch allowance for those who undertook ‘work trial’ opportunities with employers. There was also a discretionary fund which could be used to pay for things like security badges for those wanting to work in security, which is a minimum requirement for work in that sector.

Under the ConDem government, all of the advisor’s tools were systematically taken away, to the point that I felt there was very little I could offer clients in the way of positive help. The target for getting people into work was incredibly abolished, but new targets, of taking people’s benefit off them for not trying hard enough to find work, were introduced. We were encouraged to find jobs that clients could do, and print them off for them. Then we were told to check whether they had applied for these jobs, and if they hadn’t, they were to be referred for ‘not actively seeking employment’, and ran the risk of having their benefit stopped for a maximum then of two years. There might be good reasons why the person didn’t apply for a particular job, maybe when they thought about it when they got home, they reflected that they didn’t have the skills or experience for the job, but that wasn’t an acceptable excuse.

The regime became much more negatively sanctions focused, rather than positively helping claimants, all stick and no carrot under the ConDems. It sounds as though the regime is about to get more brutal, at a time when the government’s own policies are to blame for the lack of job opportunities, not those claiming JSA. At the same time this government is reducing tax inspectors and increasing benefit fraud investigators, although vastly more is lost to the public purse in tax evasion than in benefit fraud.

Same old story I’m afraid, make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. The nasty party are back in government.

The video/song above is ‘One in Ten’ by 1980’s UK reggae band UB40.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bail Ins not Bail Outs

This short guide from UK Uncut on how to start a protest is useful and shows just how easy it is to plan and execute highly effective protest campaigns.

We need thousands of these type of mini protests up and down the country to make a real impact on the public consciousness, ahead of the TUC demonstration on 26 March in London.

Hat tip to the Coalition of Resistance for the video link.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Revolution Will Be Televised

I’ve spent the last few weeks dropping in and out of Al-Jazeera’s live streaming news of the Egyptian revolution. Quite amazing footage has flashed across my computer screen of this exciting and moving event, which shows the irresistible force of people power, when the masses unite in solidarity and even the most brutally entrenched governments can be toppled. Great credit goes to the demonstrators, for their bravery, determination and largely peaceful behaviour throughout the eighteen days of passionate struggle.

One of the most interesting aspects of this revolution and the preceding one in Tunisia, has been not only the older media coverage of events, but the widespread use of new media to connect and spread the protests. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been used by activists to impressive effect, and the authorities were so afraid of this tactic, that they tried, unsuccessfully, to close down access to
the internet, and we now see why.

Egyptian protesters got around this government tactic, by using old dial up connections and using proxy servers, and so stayed one step ahead of the authorities. That at the forefront of the revolution, it was the young people, who never having known any other government than Mubarak’s, but were crucially encouraged by, and were savvy enough to know the possibilities of new media, helped immeasurably the eventual magnificent success of the people.

They will need to be watchful of the interim military government, and may need to bring people onto the streets again in huge numbers, just to keep the generals honest in their stated intentions to move quickly to a democratic society, but I think they are aware of this, and again new media will play its part in that mobilisation.

What lessons does all of this teach us about protest in the UK then? Well, of course it is already happening. It is doubtful whether we would have found out the truth about the police’s involvement in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London in 2009, without the intervention of ‘citizen journalism’ footage of the events leading up to his death.

The website Indymedia, is a hub for activists who are organising direct action protests, and social networking sites, blogs and email lists are widely used in communicating information to and in between activists. I have also heard of plans to make laptops mini portable internet hubs, so information can be communicated amongst demonstrators, even when the authorities close down the regular internet and mobile phone provision in areas where protests are taking place. Tactics are changing too, with smaller ‘flash mobs’ appearing suddenly, and taking the police by surprise, like the UK Uncut protests over corporate tax evasion. And climate activists often operate in a semi- autonomous, horizontal network, that is difficult to monitor and contain.

Internationally, the Wikileaks ‘hactivists’ who closed down corporate websites for hours, and obtained secret information on the true thinking behind our politician’s actions, have changed investigative journalism forever.

The establishment in the UK has much to worry about now, and we can follow up the student demonstrations of last year about tuition fees, by staging even bigger, though more nimble at the same time, protests about the public spending cuts, beginning with the TUC march on the 26th March this year. Look at what the Egyptian people have achieved, the ConDem government should be easy to topple.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Cracks Begin to Appear in ConDem Coalition Government

Turmoil within the ConDem government has become increasingly apparent in recent days. 88 Lib Dem councillors, with some 17 council leaders, in a letter to The Times newspaper, complain that the government’s cut to local authorities’ budgets are too deep saying, "These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable." They also accuse Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary of State, of “letting down” users of council services and of refusing to work with local councillors.

This mini rebellion comes a day after the Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott resigned as the Lib Dem’s treasury spokesperson, after criticising the government’s pitifully weak deal with the bankers, branding treasury negotiators as “incompetent”, for “not being able to negotiate themselves out of a paper bag”. Furthermore, Oakeshott is known to be close to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and deputy leader of the Lib Dems, whose fate now looks to hang on the outcome of the government commission on the future of banking, under the chairmanship of Sir John Vickers, which is due to report later this year.

I also noted with interest, that Francis Maude, Cabinet office minister, was heckled on BBC television Question Time, when he was trying blame the last government for the public spending cuts that are being enforced by the coalition. He also seemed to lose it the previous night on BBC Newsnight, when he was debating the cuts.

The Labour leader Ed Miliband advised the Prime Minister, David Cameron, at PM’s questions in Parliament this week, “not to get so angry,” when responding to questions. Of course Cameron specialises in the ‘Flashman’ role of public school bully, but it does seem to me that both the coalition government’s parties are getting rattled. This should come as no great surprise, opinion polls continue to show a draining of support for the Tories and particularly the Lib Dems, and the bulk of the public spending cuts have not even been felt fully by the voters yet.

The honeymoon period for this government, which has not been in power for a year yet, is well and truly over. Contrast this to the last Labour government, which was riding high in the opinion polls for several years after it was elected, and we can, I think, see the beginning of the end for the ConDem administration.

They have had some success with the ‘blaming the previous government’ line for everything for a while, but I think this is wearing a little thin now. People are coming to realise that this government is ideologically committed to hacking back the state, and with it, the welfare state, whilst lining the pockets of the rich at the expense of lower and middle income people.

If the referendum on the Alternative Vote is lost, and either way, this is bound to cause some turmoil within the coalition, we could well see the coalition torn apart later this year. A general election can’t come quick enough for me, and I look forward to 57 ‘Portillo’ moments as the Lib Dem MP’s are kicked out, and this odious government is ejected.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tax Justice

Tax Justice from PCS Union TV on Vimeo.

This video is from the PCS trade union. It challenges the myth put around by the government (and other establishment bodies) that ‘there is no alternative’ to draconian public spending cuts being imposed on the ‘little’ people, to tackle the budget deficit.

Government ministers are fond of referring to people who do not accept their prescription, as ‘deficit deniers’ but there is another way as this video points out. Tax avoidance and evasion costs the country billions of pounds, but there is no real attempt to stop this. Contrast this with the time and effort which goes into the relatively minor loss of revenue that is down to fraudulent benefit claims.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

ConDem Government to Facilitate People Trafficking

I read in The Independent on Sunday that the government is to scrap safeguards for people who are trafficked into the UK for use in the sex industry and elsewhere, and could not believe what I was reading. This government has really sunk to the depths of callousness. Below is a letter I have sent to Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and Minister for Equalities. When she replies, I will publish it here on this blog.

To: Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities

Dear Ms Featherstone,

I am writing to you after reading a very disturbing story in the Independent on Sunday, about the coalition government’s plans to scrap safeguards on human trafficking into the UK.

The piece reports that some 4,000 people, mostly women are brought into the UK each year to work in the sex trade, and many more, including children, are smuggled in to work as domestic servants, farm hands and drug cultivators.

It goes on to say that government plans will:

Close The Gang Masters Licensing Authority

Close The Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit

Close the government’s Human Trafficking Centre.

Cut funding by almost a half for The ‘Poppy Project’ which provides shelter for trafficked women

The Border Agency’s ‘reflection’ time for deciding whether a person has been trafficked is to be reduced from 45 to 30 days

The EU directive against trafficking has not been adopted in the UK

The Independent does say that there is some disquiet amongst Lib Dem MP’s and ministers, but is disquiet going to be enough to put right this disgraceful state of affairs?

I am asking you, as my constituency MP and Minister for Equalities, to use all the means at your disposal to reverse these planned changes, which would be a callous dereliction of duty to the abused people who suffer this abhorrent treatment.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed

This video song is by UK folk band Show of Hands, and is about our old friends the bankers. The lyrics are reproduced below:

All I wanted was a home
And a roof over our heads
Somewhere we could call our own
Feel safer in our beds

There was a storm of money raining down
It only touched the ground
With a loan I took I can’t repay
And the crock of gold you found

At every trough you stopped to feed
With your Arrogance, your Ignorance and Greed.

I never was a cautious man
I spend more than I’m paid
But those with something put aside
Are the ones that you betrayed

With your bonuses and expenses
You shovelled down your throat
Now you bit the hand that fed you
Dear God I hope you choke

At every trough you stopped to feed
With your Arrogance, your Ignorance and Greed.

You're on your yacht, we’re on our knees
Through your Arrogance, your Ignorance and Greed.

Toxics springs you tapped and sold,
Poisoned every watering hole
Your probity, you exchanged for gold

Working man stands in line
The market sets his price
No feather bed, no golden egg
No one pays him twice

So where's your thrift, your caution
Your honest sound advice
You know you dealt yourself a winning hand
And loaded every dice

At every trough you stopped to feed
With your Arrogance, your Ignorance and Greed.

I pray one day we’ll soon be free
From your absolute indifference
Your avarice, incompetence
Your Arrogance, your Ignorance and your Greed.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

What are Left and Right in Politics?

I noticed a post on The Daily (Maybe) the other day, where Jim writes about a Yougov survey asking whether people consider themselves to be either left or right politically, and to what extent. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that 30% of the people surveyed were ‘don’t knows’. This got me to thinking is the left/right terminology out dated, and not particularly relevant to the politics of today?

Admittedly, there are many grey areas when trying to categorise a person’s views on a number of issues, for example something like being pro freedom and civil liberties could be a right or left wing position, but equally being authoritarian and in effect anti civil liberties could be a right or left wing position (think of Hitler and Stalin).

Concern for the environment tends to be a left wing position, for example if you asked people on the climate change demonstrations, the vast majority would say they are on the left. Karl Marx had a green side to him too, take this quote from his third volume of Capital as an example:

“From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”

On the other hand, environmentalism has a right wing strain, the Nazi’s in 1930’s Germany extolled the importance of the soil, German soil particularly and the importance of working the land. The England and Wales Green party’s precursor party (PEOPLE and then the Ecology party) was started by the Tory Teddy Goldsmith (uncle of Zac, Tory MP) and Jonathan Porritt is a close friend of the Prince of Wales.

The Green party these days is a party of the left though, and I was amused whilst watching the Daily Politics show on the BBC last week, on which Green party leader Caroline Lucas was a guest. A man from the audience said, ‘you’re just green on the outside, but red in the middle’. To which Caroline replied, ‘do you have a problem with that?’

So things are not clear cut when trying to place people and opinions into convenient categories of left and right, but I think there is still something useful in the labels in getting a feel of where people are at. For me, an absolute left position must include a commitment to equality. Equality of opportunity, not discriminating on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, age etc, but more than this equality of income and lifestyle. I’m not saying everyone should be paid the same wage, but the gap between lowest and highest is now a scandal.

The scary thing for me is, that if 30% of people don’t see it this way, then politics just becomes a meaningless managerial exercise, no passion or belief, and I might as well pack up this blog and go and find another hobby.