Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Something's Coming....

"Could it be? Yes it could, something's coming, something good....if I can wait!" 
(Leonard Bernstein: from West Side Story)

Something is happening. Something big and important and exciting. Something that has been enthusing ordinary people of all ages, colours, creeds and persuasions all over the country. It feels new, it feels strange but also somehow very familiar. It's rough around the edges and incomplete. It's inspiring, it's reassuring, and perhaps what is best of all, it scares the living bejasus out of the previously complacent Establishment.

I am old enough and cynical enough not to get taken in by fads, cults, fashion, etc.... I have always been highly doubtful of the motives and motivations of the majority of politicians - the spin, the fancy suits and the soundbites have never held any sway with me. That said, I am wise enough to recognise 'the real thing' when I see it.

And contrary to what his detractors want everyone to believe, 'IT' ISN'T Jeremy Corbyn. IT is rather the socialist values, principles and policies that he brings with him that haven't seen the light of day for 30 years, and which many of us thought we would never hear again from a Labour or any other politician. We're not blindly following everything the man says: we know he has his faults, as everyone does, we don't agree with him on everything, but we do believe that he he will do his best to deliver what he promises, if we just give him the opportunity. 

It's the sense of community and hope that sees people genuinely excited about what is possible. It isn't the same old 'let's do what the tories do only a bit less nastily', it represents a real change to how politics can work and how the governance, infrastructure and economy can be made to work better for everyone.

Drastic change isn't just desired, it's essential

Recent statistics have shown that poverty is on the rise again in the UK. One in 5 people live below the poverty line. There are 3.7 million children living in poverty, a quarter of all children in the UK. Yet we are one of the richest countries in the world. We are also one of the most unequal countries in the world.


Yet the increasingly heartless tories continue to divide and conquer, claiming no longer to be following a politics of austerity, yet at the same time seeking to re-introduce the socially divisive grammar school system, tearing up the Human Rights bill and hammering the final nails in the coffin of the NHS and welfare system. Tory policies are actually killing people - the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, and they're getting away with it too. 

"Something's due, any day, I will know, right away, soon as it shows"




In any normal universe, this mass movement of the people towards a political party would have been welcomed equally with enthusiasm and hope. Other parties would be snatching people's hands off if they were prepared to stump up £3, let alone £25 just to have a say in who the leader is. Figures show that around 800,000 people should have been eligible to vote in the upcoming Leadership Election: an indication of the phenomenal and growing support out there for this 'new' old type of socialism. Even the glory days of the Blair Government which came after 18 years of tory devastation could only muster half that number. The Labour Party's membership is much greater than all the other UK parties combined and is now the largest socialist democratic party in Europe. 

I said that 800,000 members and registered supporters 'should' have been able to vote for the Labour Leader, however as we are all by now well aware, this simply did not suit the Parliamentary Labour Party who knew that the majority of these new members would vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Hence, the NEC have been busily finding new, and more questionable means of 'purging' as many likely Corbyn supporters from the party as possible, denying them their vote and reducing the number of pro-Corbyn delegates at September's conference. 

The problem is, these are apparently not the 'right sort' of members for the current Parliamentary Labour Party, which has drifted so far to the centre it forgot when to stop and now occupies a space somewhere to the right of the Lib Dems (depending on which MP, sometimes even heading towards the tories!). This position led to hundreds of thousands of members leaving the party since the Blair Government, and would no doubt have seen off many others had it continued. It is the failed neo-liberal stance that scuppered any chances Labour had in the 2010 and 2015 general elections and lost Labour's Scottish heartlands to the more progressive, anti-austerity SNP. Corbyn's politics in sharp contrast have captured the imaginations of the public, their hearts and minds (I do hate that cliche but it fits here). New members aren't just along for the ride, huge numbers want to or already have become actively involved in campaigning. Sadly their efforts at present are spent making cold calls on behalf of Corbyn or Smith as part of the leadership battle. 

The latest phase of suspensions is the most insidious of all: striking at individual members, many of whom have actively supported the Party for 20, 30, 40 years and more, telling them they're no longer wanted in the party because of some random remark they may or may not have made on Twitter in 2015. It is insidious because it is an attempt to demoralise and upset people who have long awaited the chance to feel excited about Labour politics again. It is also extremely obviously to anyone who cares to look that it is entirely unfair and one-sided. The best we have is that Michael Foster has been 'suspended' for comparing Corbyn's supporters to 'nazi stormtroopers'. He made that comment weeks ago in full public glare, yet it has taken NEC until this week to take any action, very publicly, so we can all see it and I expect they think we should all be satisfied with that. It took NEC's compliance unit far less time to trawl through members individual social media accounts looking for key 'forbidden' words, often taken out of context, to find a tenuous excuse for purging them. 

Take for example Claudine, who received an email on the evening of 12 September informing her that she had been suspened from the Party for "Racist, abusive and foul language" and cited 27 June as the date of the 'offence'.  This is what it refers to - a retweet of a tweet condemning racism and fascism. 


If I am minded to be generous, I would say that this tweet had simply triggered some weird 

algorithm, but even the most cursory glance at Claudine's timeline and the posts in question would clearly show that she is far from being one to use racist or abusive language. Nobody should be sending out such allegations (racist abuse being a criminal matter) without being in full possession of the facts and providing clear evidence to back it up. 

Claudine is rightly extremely upset by this allegation, not only because it denies her democratic right to vote, but also because it is an unfair and unfounded attack on her character. Bad enough the people being denied their vote because they once mentioned that the Green Party might have done something good, at least having some 'green' sensibilities is something most decent people can live with. To be accused of racism when that is the very thing you have been vocal against, without providing any evidence is nothing short of libellous and absolutely wrong. 

"Are we nearly there yet?"

Thankfully, we are now just 7 days away from the deadline for votes. Although we were told ballots would be sent out by the end of August, two weeks later many have STILL not received their ballots despite countless emails, phone calls and web-forms asking for 're-issues' when they hadn't been issued to begin with. Some are still coming through, some are still being purged. If you receive your vote, please use it - preferably to support Corbyn obviously, but even if you don't - vote anyway in consideration of those who have had the right unfairly taken away from them.

If you have been 'purged' - please fight the decision every way you can: Reply asking for evidence, use the FOI request form, contact Liz Davies for advice via whycantivote.com 


If you haven't received your ballot yet, keep chasing it. You have until the 19th to ask for a re-issue. If you have already requested this
(preferably request by email to Leadership2016@labour.org.uk, that way you should receive a reply that should serve as proof that you requested it before the deadline in case of any issues.)


There should be absolutely no question that in a fair vote, Corbyn will walk it. It remains to be seen just how many supporters in total are suspended, and thereby how 'fair' that vote actually is. We've come through a lot this last couple of months but we've held firm and supported eachother. Let's not lose sight of where we're going.



Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Labour Party:Just how broad should a 'Broad Church' be?


My blogging has fallen by the wayside in recent weeks, mainly because every time I start writing something, another bizarre, more compelling and noteworthy episode unfolds in the crazy world of the Labour Leadership Election. I started trying to put together a single source of rebuttals to those criticisms we are always hearing about Corbyn, ie that he: 

is unelectable; unpatriotic, anti-semitic, 'hard left', doesn't connect with voters etc.
It very quickly became clear however that we have moved beyond these unfounded arguments that only the hardiest trolls are still intent on broadcasting.

I then started on an enthusiastic piece about the influx of new members to the Party, the Corbyn supporters who bring a range of voices that we haven't heard in British politics for a very long time. Also the MPs who represent these voters, for example the wonderful Angela Rayner, shadow Education Minister who speaks candidly and openly about her working class background, one that many other women can readily identify with. But then things took a nasty turn with the Great Labour 'Purge', with many long-term members, including Trade Union leaders being suspended and losing their vote for what appear to be the flimsiest of excuses, and it no longer felt the right environment for such a positive piece.

So now I find myself here, thinking about that old chestnut:

The Labour Party's 'broad church' 


[Note to Picture Editor: No, not THAT Broadchurch - although the quote at the top taken from the series feels uncannily appropriate]. 

The 'broad church' is something we have been hearing a lot about recently from Labour MPs, Councillors and members. Mainly a concept favoured largely by those to the right of the party (or I expect they would be more likely to call it centrist or moderate). This 'broad church' approach has, I feel, caused Labour to remain in a state of permanent flux and struggle, barely tolerating views that are seen as 'extreme left' whilst increasingly embracing more and more right-wing, capitalist values resulting in the neo-liberalism of the last 20 - 30 years.

The Labour Party's foundations lie in the trade union movement of the late 19th Century when TU leaders started to stand as MPs endorsed by the Liberal Party. Labour itself was founded in 1900 as an opposition party to the Conservatives and won just two seats in the General Election of that year (one being Keir Hardie).  Now, no political party will ever achieve full concensus on every issue, there are always disagreements over certain policies, war in particular which saw a split in Labour at the time of both WWI and WWII. With the Conservatives however, you have a far more united overall vision, which is based on the power of the free market and 'Trickle-down' economic theory.


Basically, the tories like to privatise things, create wealth for themselves and their already wealthy friends and families whilst removing funding from public services, local authorities, health and social care. The extreme aim of Conservatism would see the return of the work-house and 'natural selection' taking care of the poor, the vulnerable and the elderly, fox-hunting becoming a weekly event and anyone daring to speak up against it being incarcerated (no more human rights you see). So they're all pretty clear about that, and whilst they may pay lip-service to being 'the party for working people', it's evident that the only 'working people' they support are CEOs of PLCs, bankers, media tycoons and billionaires. Similarly 'the NHS is safe in our hands', except they have already sold most of it off to private concerns to make profits out of.

With Labour however, we have a party that exists to support working people, the ordinary workers, the 99% as well as the poor, unemployed, disabled and vulnerable. Or at least that's what I have always thought? This the Labour Party that Jeremy Corbyn wants and that the majority of party members now want. Apparently it doesn't suit some.

Which brings me to my point - can this 'Broad Church' really be so broad as to encompass and embrace viewpoints such as John McTernan, former advisor to Tony Blair, who recently said in an article in that well regarded socialist publication 'The Telegraph': 


The NEC have given a number of spurious and vague reasons for suspending members which have included:
  • Previously showing support for the Green Party (in 2013)
  • Re-tweeting a tweet from the Green Party
  • Unacceptable comments made on social media
Seemingly, even so much as sharing a tweet against fracking has been deemed inappropriate. It makes you wonder exactly who at the NEC is making these seemingly arbitrary decisions. Also, I cannot help but be left with a nasty taste in my mouth to think of party officials trawling through thousands of my tweets trying to find a reason to get rid of me from a party I have only just returned to after years of feeling disenfranchised.

Last night, I came across a Labour Party Councillor who had this to say:


Now as many have pointed out, whilst it might be understandable for someone who has sympathies with some Green policies to switch to Labour, how can a Labour Councillor possibly even consider voting for the tories? (he even gives them a capital 'T' which I never reward them with!)

As a socialist, the idea of ever voting tory fills me with abject horror. It just will never happen. I'd sooner gnaw off my own arm than lift a pencil to put an X in that box.

Yet here we are, a Labour Councillor, supposedly representing the views of constituents, who sees it as a quick and easy step from one extreme to the other if he doesn't get the result he wants in the Leadership Election. Even an 'anti-Corbyn' on twitter said "He should just have said he wouldn't vote at all, NEVER that he would vote tory!"

So in conclusion - this church may out of necessity be 'broad', but there still have to be limits to that breadth. I suggest that those supporting tory policies, out-of-date neo-liberalism and anti-democtratic practices have no place in a democratic socialist party, ie The Labour Party.

We have both the means and the opportunity now to build a real socialist movement that captures the imagination of people who have felt distanced from the political process for decades. Let's not waste it.



Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A few words about Trolls

First, I want to tell you a true story.

Some years ago I did a bit of evening bar-work in a friendly little Liverpool pub with a good mix of students, locals and a number of regulars. One quiet Tuesday evening, I was on my own behind the bar when a very smartly dressed little old man walked in. He ordered half a bitter and a whisky chaser and asked me, in clipped South African tones

“What sort of pub is this?”
Not entirely sure what he meant, I replied that it was just an ordinary northern pub. He laughed to himself and shook his head. Minutes later, one of our regulars, a young man of West Indian heritage came in and I noticed the old guy eyeing him suspiciously.

YOU boy! Where are you from?” he demanded.
“I’m from Liverpool” came the reply
“No! I mean where do you COME from? Where were you born?”
“I was born at Walton Hospital in Liverpool!”

The old man was again laughing to himself. I exchanged ‘a look’ with the regular as he went and sat down. Next, another regular appears and gets the same eye-balling from the man. It wasn’t long before:

“OI YOU! Short-arse! You need a ladder to reach the bar!”
            “Er….not really” came the polite reply.

"YOU!” he said turning to me “You’re not a proper barmaid!” I asked him what he meant
“You should be standing here talking to me!” I explained I was working and had glasses to collect, people to serve.
“You’re no barmaid!” he said, laughing to himself.

Sensing that nobody was of a mind to take him on, the old fella decided to step things up a gear:

“You English……you can’t run! You can’t play cricket!….” <chortles>

He threw a challenging look over his left shoulder at the people seated behind him and announced:

“You lot over there…..You’re all Baaaarstards”.

Before he got the chance to tell the other half of the bar what he thought of them, I frog-marched him out the door with the help of aforementioned regulars with clear instructions never to return. I don’t know whether he went on to repeat this behaviour in a neighbouring pub, or even whether he made it out of the city alive, but I was heartened by the measured response of everyone around me in the face of such bizarre provocation.

The end

The moral of the story is that there are some people out there who get their kicks from baiting, offending and upsetting people and the best way to deal with them is to deny them an audience and ignore them.

What brought this story to mind recently is the amount of ‘trolling’ going on in social media, particularly on Twitter, which I have only really started using properly in the last few weeks. Now most people I speak to are great, funny, witty, friendly and it’s a joy to converse with like-minded folk I wouldn’t otherwise have met. The down-side is that there are also many ‘trolls’ waiting to trip us up, so I thought I would try to come up with a semi-serious quick troll-spotter’s guide to the different varieties, their natural habitats and what to do with them when you find them.

How to recognise the 4 main types of Troll

  1. The Haters: Professional trolls, often ‘celebrities’ known only because of their ability to piss off as many cross-sections of humanity as possible. Driven by sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies, narcissm, self-aggrandisement and general arrogance, these trolls’ worst nightmare is being ignored. Their modus operandi is to post outrageously offensive comments that are lapped up by their often large following of eager, bile seekers who then broadly share them across the internet. These tweets are widespread and can be difficult to avoid and many innocent souls are drawn in through sheer horror of what has been said and find themselves at sea in amongst some of the most unpleasant scare-mongers and wind-up merchants on the web.
    Examples of this type include: Katie Hopkins, John McTernan, Louise Mensch. What to do:  just don’t go there! Ignore, block, anything other than responding to them. Pre-emptive blocking works best, you know who they are, save yourself the bother of being regularly left aghast at their latest outpouring of venom.

  2. The Fakers: Semi-professional trolls, often ‘employed’ by interest groups,  particularly political parties and factions but also sporting clubs etc. These people tend to have unconvincing looking profiles, accounts that were often set up in the last few weeks and have very few followers. Twibbons sometimes proclaim their allegiance to a particular group, but upon engaging with them it becomes clear that their agenda is only to cause trouble. Fakers target people who are genuine supporters of their ‘opposition’ – Corbyn vs Smith supporters / Tories vs Labour / UKIP vs everybody. The aim is to try to draw you into a pointless argument or series of contradictions, progressively increasing the level of personal insult and condescension until you flip your lid and say something you shouldn’t. They then Sub-tweet you claiming to the world that you are abusing them and take cleverly edited screenshots of your tweets to use out of context to defame or belittle you.
    Examples – when someone bursts in to a perfectly pleasant tweet conversation with an inflammatory opposing view or posts a malicious reply to one of your tweets/re-tweets. Fakers frequently operate in small groups, often two of them will attempt to trap you in a pincer movement, designed to get your back up quickly as possible.
    What to do – As soon as you have identified a Faker troll, ignore and block. Do not whatever you do attempt to engage with them! If they are seriously abusive towards you or someone else, report them.
    (However, bear in mind that some people may not actually be Fakers, but ordinary twitter folk with a particular axe to grind. (See categories 3 and 4 below).

  3. The Moaners: I class these as genuine Twitter account users who from time to time get a bit ‘angsty’ over some issue (eg Brexit, Labour Leadership contest, UKIP, the Tories). Whilst ordinarily they would be found tweeting pictures of their cat and proclaiming their love of Harry Potter / Harry Styles, suddenly they find themselves reacting when they see any tweet that challenges their current world view. Often found in #Hashtag conversations, rather than simply ignoring the views they don’t agree with of people they don’t know or follow, they feel the need to post an angry retort, often implying that the tweeter must be an idiot, liar, ‘trot’, tory etc. It is easy to confuse these with the Fakers, however a quick check of their profile will show they have well-established accounts and tweet about a broad range of subjects. You just got them on a ‘bad day’.
    What to do -
    Some of these people I have found turned out to be absolutely fine in the end and discussions have ended perfectly amicably with both sides agreeing to disagree. We don’t all have to agree on everything and debate/challenge is a useful exercise to prevent ourselves getting complacent in our own ‘Echo chambers’. If however it looks as though they are progressing into Faker territory, again, ignore and block.

  4. The Loners and Stoners: These can be seen as ‘casual’ or ‘occasional’ trolls.This is a bit of a ‘catch all’ for those who don’t quite fit in to any of the above. I include those who flood onto Twitter after the pubs shut on a Friday night, buoyed by excessive alcohol intake and being with their mates. They are easily recognised by their inability to understand and respond appropriately to what is being said or to type anything approaching a coherent sentence. Also, some people who from time to time seek ‘a bit of devilment’. Oddly also, some people that you follow and who follow you that mysteriously turn on you! Yes, it really happens!
    What to do: Default position is as always – ignore and block. Or if you can tolerate them for a while, they might just prove entertaining. Just make you take screen-shots of their stupidest tweets to embarrass them with later.
Summary
With any troll, my recommendation is never to just Mute them. Muting means that they can lurk unseen like stalkers in your Twitter conversations, causing aggravation for others and talking about you behind your back! These people are never going to learn from your good sense so deny them access to your sparkling personalities and witty repartee. It’s their loss.
 

Be safe out there people!


Monday, 15 August 2016

So children - today's 'put-down' comes to you through the Margaret Beckett window....

Let's get this out of the way first of all as a brand new blogger:

I am a socialist, always have been, always will be, would never vote tory.

When I say 'socialist' I mean I support the policies and principles of Jeremy Corbyn and respect his mandate as Labour Party Leader.


So now any tories or Neo-liberals who have stumbled across this in error - please feel free to leave and never return, no hard feelings.

----------------------------------------

I went to bed last night having just recovered from being referred to as a 'Nazi Stormtrooper' in an article by Michael Foster - millionaire, 'new Labour' funder, crony and icon of modern socialist values. The article, amusingly enough, was in the Daily Mail.  I surmised that they have long been awaiting an opportunity to air some of their extensive photographic library of Nazi propaganda. They must have been rubbing their hands in glee when Foster tipped up with some psychotic style ramblings.

This slur (and we were wondering how long it would be before the nazis came up) came after almost daily, continued, relentless and ever more bizarre accusations of Corbyn's supporters being:

....Trots, entryists, jihadists, rabble, scum, dogs, Militant, SWP, misogynists, anti-semitic, bullies, morons, uneducated, middle-class, lower class, no class......etc etc. The list goes on but I shan't as it is well documented elsewhere.



In eager anticipation, I wondered what I would wake up as this morning.

It seems today I am a member of the Jeremy Corbyn Fan Club (Membership only £25, I'm still waiting for my badge, t-shirt and set of official photos of the great man himself). Margaret Beckett is of an opinion that many (most?) of the 300,000 new Labour Party members have joined as an homage to Corbyn and would leave Labour should he be deposed.  What she, and so many others either fail to recognise or choose to ignore, is that the vast majority of these new members joined because of the policies and values that Corbyn was speaking of. For the first time in 20 - 30 years, People who had been driven away from Labour from seeing them Progressively (pun intended) metamorphose into a slightly less nasty tory party could see a change.

I have to admit, Last May/June after the dismal General Election failure, I didn't know very much about Jeremy Corbyn.  I fathomed he was added to the Leadership list as a kind of joke 'Citizen Smith' type of figure to give the semblance that all elements of Labour's 'broad church' were represented whilst being absolutely certain that nobody would actually vote for him.  I didn't think much of his chances and to begin with supported Andy Burnham for leader.  Then Corbyn started talking - to us, the voters, the members and lapsed members, the young and the old, about his vision of a socialist Britain. And people started listening, and liking what he was saying. The onslaught of media and PLP criticism had already begun well before Corbyn was elected Leader with a resounding majority. Once elected, that onslaught became nastier, more venomous and vindictive.


Corbyn's words resonated with ordinary people because we could tell that he actually meant them and we believed that he would actually see them through. In this age where politicians are supposed to be slick and shiny-faced media-machines, Corbyn stands out like a sore thumb with his relaxed appearance and refusal to court and play the games as dictated by mainstream media. Corbyn has integrity and is genuine, as opposed to Owen Smith who began by saying that 'Austerity is right' and then changing his mind 3 weeks later, and making a series of highly dubious misogynistic remarks. His views seem to change with the wind, largely according to what Corbyn has said and has gone down well with the public. The first time I have heard the word 'socialism' used in a positive way since the 1980s was at a pro-Corbyn rally.  As soon as Smith saw how well it went down, suddenly he was a socialist too!  

I have supported Labour since I was old enough to understand what it was all about. Equality, fairness, opportunity, respect - for all, not just for those who can afford to buy it. I never thought in my lifetime I would see calls for re-nationalisation again, yet Corbyn has put this back on the agenda and voters like it. 

I lost faith in labour when 'New Labour' took hold of the party. At first, naively, I thought that Blair was just doing what the tories have always done to get elected - ie lying about all the things they would do and then doing the total opposite once in power. Clever I thought, using their spin and dishonesty to beat them. I was as thrilled as anyone in 1997 when Labour won, after '18 years of hurt' under the tories.  It wasn't long until I realised how wrong I was. Their introduction of university tuition fees in September 1998 went against everything I believed in. Even the nasty party hadn't attempted that. Now Corbyn talks about scrapping fees and introducing a National Education Service - music to my ears.

So, Margaret Beckett, Owen Smith, Tom Watson etc........

Yes, I have joined a fan-club. It's called the Labour Party and I joined because I believe in what it's all about, its principles, values, vision.  Corbyn has led the way and shown that such socialist principles can be popular and vote-winning and he should be allowed the opportunity and the freedom to lead the party into the next General Election. Instead of this unnecessary, unwelcome and pointless leadership challenge, PLP, Smith etc could put their energies into supporting and working with Corbyn to attack the real opposition (ie the tories) who are literally getting away with murder at the moment, largely unchallenged by a party turned in on itself.  

With over 500,000 members, you should be celebrating a change in fortunes, not finding new and more nonsensical ways to smear us. Those people are the ones who will be out on the ground campaigning for Labour provided you don't alienate them all now.