Sunday, 21 April 2013

Coda: Thatcher Triumphans

The "Iron Lady" was as everyone knows laid to rest this week with £10 million of taxpayers cash funding her cremation and a further £15 million now proposed by David Cameron to pay for a completely unprecedented publicly funded Thatcher museum (even when we already have the historically themed National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield in Yorkshire, which probably tells more truths about Her Legacy than any new foundation ever would). 

Unprecedented and unwarranted. Where is the Churchill Museum or the Attlee Memorial Library? Both were politicians who, whatever their failings, achieved infinitely more in unifying the nation than she ever did. And yet here we are with this hagiography, the State paying to remember someone who detested the State. 

All you need to know about Thatcher - the National Coal
Mining Museum is sited in a closed pit.
And yet, her mark is indeed indelible. "Thatcherism" has redefined the country and has been followed by every Government since - more and more, our public services are opened up for profit by privateers with virtually our entire NHS now up for compulsory competitive tendering courtesy of the Coalition Government, its extreme neoliberalism the culmination of the Thatcher Project. And our society is atomised - the rich are smaller in number than ever, but wealthier than at any time since the Feudal Age; while everyone else is set against each other by the media owned and run by the elite: Asian against white, able bodied against disabled, worker against unemployed, old against young. She said there was no such thing as society and, in her years and the times since, she and her successors have worked hard to bring her words to fruition.

She was an agent of change; but not the only one. And this is where focusing on her alone and her demise is a mistake - Thatcherism would still have happened without her; and long after her "friends" knifed her in the back and threw her out of office, others have carried on, taking her work further and further, to places maybe even she never imagined possible. As radical comedian Jeremy Hardy pointed out, her funeral was an opportunity to remind ourselves of just what unpleasant company she kept - a grim assortment of (nearly entirely male) plutocrats, including criminals, racists, tax dodgers and arms dealers. These men are the rulers of our nation, the people who shape the agenda and control the communications that set the tempo of what passes for national debate. Her funeral was as much a celebration of their omnipotence as it was of her life, their presence perhaps a final thank you to their masthead.

Can the tide be turned back? Of course it can, and maybe in the ashes of our society, a new collective will can yet emerge to rebuild a country where citizens look out for each other even when they will never meet; where a spirit of generosity exists, recognising it may be better that 0.5% of benefit claims are fraudulent rather than live in a society where illness or unemployment threatens hunger and homelessness; and where we find a way to marshall our finite resources for the good of all rather than meekly accept the obscene wealth of a tiny elite.

This will come. But for now, we still live in Thatcher's Britain and we need to oppose her legacy and any attempt to lionise it or turn it into some sort of Diana-esque beatification of someone who, as they say, was no saint - no saint at all.

I watched the video below in a pub with some friends waiting to go to the election count in Glasgow in summer 1987. We were in good spirits - the BBC had just announced an exit poll pointing to a hung parliament; at last, after eight years, Tory Britain might be drawing to a close. Sadly though, the Conservatives were to win again and in the next three years Thatcher was to preside over the rise of the yuppies, the end of the Cold War and finally over-reach herself with the ill fated poll tax.

But the song in the video, a satire by the sadly missed Spitting Image team based on a scene from the film Cabaret and incorporating the Nazis favourite ditty, remains as powerful today as all these years ago. Long after she fell from power, and now even in death, the day does indeed belong to her and her poisonous ilk.

But, eventually, in its darkest hour, every day comes to an end.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

For Liberty, Equality...and Survival - Vote Green
This week has seen a tirade of bad news even in the richest country in the world. The Boston bombing, the explosion of a chemical fertiliser plant in the aptly names town of West, and the continuing drought in the American Mid West which now seriously threatens world food supplies in the second half of this year.

And, too, the longer term looks little better across the whole planet - with a UN report setting out how the last decade has seen carbon emissions reaching unprecedented levels and governments turning away from reducing greenhouse gas production towards the sci fi scenario of tech fixes such as, somehow, sucking carbon and similar damaging gases out of the atmosphere in unimaginable quantities. The self-interest of a capitalist system, driven by seeking in every transaction, every resource and every atom an opportunity to extract value rather than use for the common good, has bought up the political system around the planet. Everything is for sale; even the future.

We need a new politics. The change we need won't come from the current system or parties. If we are to survive and thrive, we need to make fairer and sustainable use of our resources and build real, genuine freedom - from want, from wage-slavery, from the vested interests of the few.

Next week, in England and Wales, the Green Party goes into the local county elections on 2 May with an unashamed platform calling out to those who want public services renationalised and put to use for the common good; for those who want to scrap nuclear weapons rather than waste tens of billions on destruction; and for those who support a redistribution of wealth through fairer taxes and investment in sustainable green jobs.

A vote for the Greens supports these and more moves towards a world where the interdependence of ecology and social justice are not just recognised, but embraced and nurtured. It is just one small step but it is on a journey where every single one matters. Every inch gained is an inch towards a future that will work, where humanity can survive and thrive.

The broadcast is here. The Polling stations are near wherever you live.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

R.I.P. - The Prime Minister who Changed Britain for Good

Clement Attlee, Deputy Prime Minister through the war, Prime Minister of the first majority socialist government from 1945 to 1951, made Britain a safer, kinder and more equal country; a Land Fit for Heroes after the struggle with Hitler. His story here:

It is a thinner veneer than we often care to think about that divides civilised society from the harsh and fearful chaos of survival of the fittest. Attlee's government went a long way to ridding our country of such fear - fear of losing your job and going hungry, fear of not being able to pay for a doctor if you were sick and the many fears born of the ignorance that exists when there is limited education. It is forgotten that before his Government, women did not even enjoy the same legal property rights as men - how easy it is to to take for granted things that past generations had to struggle tooth and nail for.

Margaret Thatcher set out to roll back the achievements of Attlee - she despised his belief in community, denouncing his legacy with the statement that "There is no such thing as society, just a collection of individuals."

And with that cri de coeur, she set about a process of lauding self-interest at the expense of others that carried on through the dull days of Major and the self-congratulatory smirking of Blair's Nu-Labour, to the ever harsher neoliberalism of the Coalition. In their hands, the social veneer is worn and chipped, and thinner than ever.

We commemorate her and forget Attlee at great peril to ourselves, our country and our future.

Rest in peace, Clement Attlee. And thank you for all the chances you gave to all of us to make our lives and our nation better.

Monday, 15 April 2013


A chick, fed to death by the plastic stuff we threw away.
I defy anyone to watch this video and not feel nauseated. This is the consequence of our wasteful, trash-ridden consumer society: albatross chicks, killed just days after their birth by their confused parents feeding them bits of plastic rubbish they collect from the ocean, mistakenly thinking they are pieces of food that will nourish their young.

Instead they kill them - in droves.

As one person put it: "Birds do not have as high of a range of taste buds as humans do. Albatrosses eat these plastic fragments because they look similar to the fish they eat. They cannot distinguish between food and plastic as well as humans can. They don't even understand what it is. If it's in the ocean and flowing along like a fish, how could they know?"

The Pacific is known for its ten million square mile plastic garbage patch - the Gire - where the currents of the seas have gradually gathered a vortex of human waste from around the world. See the second video below for more on this.

But it is far from alone. Whether Chinese lanterns sent into the sky by British revellers, only to fall into fields and fatally pierce the mouths and gullets of animals that chew them; or the "dead zone" of chemical waste that extends out from Texas hundreds of miles into the Gulf, humanity's cast asides are killing millions of innocent creatures whose only crime is to have been mistaken. Just today, hundreds of dead birds - mostly guillemots - were found washed ashore in thick chemical waste on the south coast of England.

So, next time you can't be bothered to recycle, or you object to reusing a supermarket bag, remember this. And if someone tells you the environmental lobby talks rubbish, ask them where they think theirs ends up.

Read more about THIS PLASTIC EARTH here.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Urgent Warning - Food Security at Risk from Global Warming, say scientists

As blogged here previously, global warming is likely to have a major impact on world food supplies in the coming decades - not only will it become more expensive, increasingly, it will become less available regardless of money, especially if we retain a free market system to determine supply and distribution.

The lead article in today's Observer newspaper sets out new, updated warnings that we are heading for disaster and, as ever, the poor will be the first to be hit. But only the first - climate change, if not checked, is set to overwhelm our civil systems well before the century is out. And the timeframe to stop runaway climate change is now perilously short. If we don't stop it, then when the time comes and famine sets in, it will be truly human-made and driven, both by human-induced climate change and by our short-sighted failure to act on both global warming and the harsh, vicious nature of unregulated 21st century market capitalism.

As Andrew Sims explored in his chilling report Nine Meals from Anarchy, the consequences, for everyone, will be beyond dreadful.

For the full Observer article, click here.

Other articles: from Viridis Lumen - Green Left Watermelon article on World Food Day
                                                     - Eat All You Can
                                                     - Salmond's Leap
                                                     - Supermarket Sweep
                                                     - Mass Produced Horse shit -guaranteed
From New Economics Foundation - free Nine Meals from Anarchy pdf download here.

Todays' Guardian

Thatcherism After Thatcher - Challenging the Legacy

Nelson Mandela is invited to Mrs Thatcher's funeral - but some of her supporters wanted him dead years ago.
The last week has seen a surge of controversy as Britain stands totally divided on how to mark the passing of former Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

The Coalition Government recalled Parliament specially to eulogize her and in spite of our austere financial times has also found over £8 million to pay for her funeral (most of it on security arrangements, in itself a telling statistic of her ability to divide even after life). By contrast, the Left has been left somewhat bamboozled on how to respond. A few have taken to the streets in apparent celebration, with a handful of instances of violence; while others have preferred the option of downloading a song from the Wizard of Oz, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead, in such numbers it is expected to reach the top of the charts.

Most of the Left have been somewhat more restrained - Miliband, if he counts as left at all, unsurprisingly giving her qualified praise in the Commons debate, whist others have been rather subdued, cravenly overawed perhaps by the bullishness of the press in granting Thatcher a sort of Diana-esque beatification in death.

One in memoriam stands out, however, for being apposite in marking her passing not by gloating over the death of another human being, however flawed and unpleasant she was, but rather looking to the impact of her continuing legacy.

This was the statement issued by the National Union of Miners, the legitimate union which she once smeared as "The Enemy Within", ironically at the same time as criticising the Polish Government's suppression of the Solidarity trade union movement.

"To her family our condolences.

The legacy of what the Conservative Government did to British Industry under Thatcher is not one to be proud of if you really did want the best for the people. Of course Thatcher was the symbol of “free enterprise” and set out to serve those whose interests were profit for the few. The coal mining industry is not on its own in suffering the decimation of a world class industry in the name of the “free market”.

Thatcher lived long enough to see her beliefs demolished when the “free market” collapsed and came running to the State for support.  Unlike the Banks who gambled, cheated and were bailed out – Coal mines were closed and communities were left to suffer.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher is gone but the damage caused by her fatally flawed politics sadly lingers on."

And of course, with us now reeling under the oppressive boot of the most rightwing Government in history, this analysis is as pertinent as ever. The Coalition parties are rolling back the State further than Margaret Thatcher ever tried, but working fully in the spirit of her neoliberal ideology with its concept that Government should do as little as possible while profit-making should be introduced into every conceivable social transaction. It must have been with some satisfaction that in her final days she witnessed both the near destruction of the social welfare system and the effective privatization of the NHS with nearly all frontline services being put out to compulsory competitive tender from 1 April.

But of course, as with so many leaders, there are many myths about her which do not quite bear up to scrutiny.

- Contrary to myth, her Government borrowed vast amounts of money whilst preaching parsimony, needing it first to pay for  the record unemployment caused by her initial monetarist economic policies; and then to pay for tax cuts when she finally gave up on the doctrine so she could court re-election in 1987. She did reduce borrowing for a short time artificially by one-off sales of privatized state assets like the telecomms, energy and transport sectors, a policy castigated by her One Nation Tory predecessor Harold MacMillan as "selling off the family silver." Only in her last two years out of ten in office did she balance the books paying off £8 billion of the national debt, barely a quarter of what Gordon Brown managed (but for some bizarre reason never seemed to speak about in the 2010 election - we forget that just as she was the Iron Lady, Brown was for some years titled the Iron Chancellor).

Borrowing by Governments - since the war, Labour's financial record has bettered the Tories on running surpluses until having to bailout the banks. (Source - Guardian Newspaper)
- Contrary to myth, the Tory regime did not conquer inflation: it was suppressed to low levels for some years by her inducing a recession which put millions out of work, but overall it was just above 10% when she came to office, and just under 10% (and on an upwards spiral) when she left. 

- Contrary to myth, in spite of "hand bagging" the European Community, it was Thatcher's government that passed the Single European Act ushering in free movement of labour and capital across the Union, the single biggest step towards the Europe we have now. She also took us, albeit with reservations, into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the precusor of the single European currency. She was no Euro-federalist, but in spite of the rhetoric and image, her support of the EU defies her adoption now as the masthead of the Eurosceptics: the EU we have now is in no small part down to her actions in office.

It was her Government that began the process, continued by the Major Conservative Government, of moving the long-term unemployed off the unemployment register and onto long term disability benefits. Disability/sickness benefits nearly trebled in pounds cost under Thatcher, rising from 15% to nearly 22% of the total social security bill (and to 26% under her successor John Major) as the Tories massaged the unemployment figures for political ends. This supreme example of statistical manipulation, as well as the manipulation of the lives and wellbeing of millions of vulnerable people, has now reached a viciously twisted denouement with her successors' assault on people they now decry as the LTB - lying thieving bastards. 

We could also remind the public that, as the ailing political giant Nelson Mandela, who led his nation to remarkable reconciliation, is invited to Mrs Thatcher's funeral, they might reflect that some of her supporters were keen to hold his funeral many years ago. After she derided Mandela as the leader of a "terrorist organisation" and refused to boycott the apartheid state, Mrs Thatcher was content to permit the Federation of Conservative Students to campaign for his execution by hanging.

By their works shall ye know them - and so we did and should continue to. This then is her legacy.

And yet, rather than partying at her death, the real challenge for the Left is to disseminate that legacy. The privatization of the NHS, for example, has been decades in the making - it was Thatcher who first brought in the internal market in health and ever since then hospitals and doctors have been pushed into ever-decreasing circles of both chasing the lowest price and proving their worth in terms of money rather than quality of care. Administration costs have nearly tripled while billions of pounds of public money have been robbed from the public coffers in the form of the Private Finance Initiative, yet another child of Thatcherism.

The risk now is that by courting controversy with tasteless "death parties" and the like, the Left allows her politics to be converted into some sickening hagiography that belies the truth of it : how many times have you heard ordinary members of the public saying things like Maggie would have sorted out the bankers or how she would have stopped the mess the Coalition have got us into? 

These of course could not be further from the truth - Thatcher led the way in deregulating banks and breaking the mutual building society sector; and more widely the Coalition are simply fulfilling the process which she began (and Blair continued), taking it to its next, ideological stage. Like Thatcher, they laud inequality and seek to destroy the social bonds between people, just as she once declared that there is no such thing as society. Britain under her Government became a place which was less kind, less united, where sterling replaced community. Memorably, her bleak take on the parable of the Good Samaritan had more to do with cash than care: “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions - he had money too”

It is what she leaves behind that we should be debating. Instead, by focusing on (and, even worse, publicly celebrating) the death of an elderly woman, someone whose place would simply have been taken by someone else had she never existed, we cede the real debate about now and the future of our society. The anger may be real, understandable and shared, but it is tragically misdirected. And, in spite of all the fluster in the right wing press, the Iron Lady herself would doubtless have thoroughly approved.

Her Legacy Remains

Friday, 5 April 2013

Red Maggie - Thatcher's Part in the Great Socialist Warming Conspiracy

Climate change is a "left-wing conspiracy to de-industrialise the world" (US Senator Minchin, 2009)

Santorum: Climate Change is a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy(US Republican Presidential Primary candidate Rick Santorum, 2012)

"....a disgraceful scam whereby the global depression was prolonged and deepened, where thousands of people died in artificially induced fuel poverty..." (James Delinpole, British journalist, 2013)

Just a smattering of not unfamiliar headlines echoing the now nearly hackneyed claims by right wingers around the world that global warming and climate change are some sort of mass Socialist/Communist conspiracy, which somehow has co-opted virtually the entire scientific community, to de-industrialise the planet - why socialists would want to do such a thing is never actually explained. Indeed, Green Parties often emphasise re-industrialising their home countries - reviving local manufacture rather than destroying it; instead ending the ludicrous and polluting long-distance import of goods made in sweatshops on the other side of the world.

If right wingers are concerned about de-industrialising left wingers, they might look to history and explain why it was the Communist Soviet Union that undertook perhaps the most rapid and massive programme of industrialisation in history, whilst Marxism itself is predicated on the development of an industrial proletariat. By contrast, in recent decades the right wing neoliberal governments in the UK and USA have led the way in shutting down a lot of industrial manufacturing in their countries in favour instead of big multinationals shifting industry overseas to countries with low wage, low safety and insecure protection for workers.

There was always something about Maggie...
This conundrum aside, the right wing's lack of historical awareness in their paper-thin claims is also evident in their ignorance of who was the first major British politician to raise the issue of global warming. It was that wild-eyed Red Menace, Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Now, she was/is a scientist by qualification and pre-political profession, so it may well be that, along with almost every other scientist on the planet, Maggie was in fact co-opted into the vast left wing conspiracy to promulgate climate change and use it as a means of de-industrialising Britain: personally, I always thought her economic policies did a pretty good job of that without needing global warming, but who knows?

I have to say, if she was a sort of British Manchurian Candidate, Maggie Thatcher has to have been the most effective socialist sleeper agent of all time. Objectively, she must have been in such a deep sleep that she never actually woke up. Perhaps, rather, she was hypnotised when she spoke to the United Nations in 1990, warning that 
"... the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man's activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.
We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late.
Promises are easy. Action is more difficult. For our part, we have worked out a strategy which sets us on the road to achieving the target. We propose ambitious programmes both to promote energy efficiency and to encourage the use of cleaner fuels.
We now require, by law, that a substantial proportion of our electricity comes from sources which emit little or no carbon dioxide, and that includes a continuing important contribution from nuclear energy.
Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently; it's sensible to develop alternative and sustainable and sensible ... it's sensible to improve energy efficiency and to develop alternative and sustainable sources of supply; it's sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it's sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it's sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them ‘no regrets’ policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect.
We are, as the poet said, in symmetry with nature. To keep that precious balance, we need to work together for our environment. The United Kingdom will work with all of you and all the world besides in this cause—to save our common inheritance for generations yet to come."

This call to action was part of a speech to the Second World Climate Change Conference in Geneva in November 1990 and echoed sentiments she had voiced in speeches over the previous two to three years. It's importance was overshadowed by the crisis that was engulfing her collapsing Premiership, which was to come to an end shortly afterwards. Only in 2003 did she ever suggest any contrary views and then only in a rather rambling diatribe pitched mainly at the disputes raging between her devotees (who had adopted climate scepticism as an ideological cri de coeur for a non-interventionist state) and (slightly) more liberal elements in the Tory Party.
Greens disagree profoundly with Thatcher's economics, which deregulated markets and encouraged the conditions which have led to an ever upwards spiral in global greenhouse gas emissions; nearly all would also disagree with her support for nuclear power as a useful, safe or efficient alternative to carbon fuels; but none would disagree with her analysis or her apparent call to action on global warming. To be fair, she called for further research - which has been done and has done nothing but confirm her analysis and fears for the future. And in the 22 years since, both warming and emissions have continued upwards. 
So, Daily Mail readers, Mr Delingpole, UKIP leader Farage and all the other right wingers who laud Thatcher as your role model, inspiration and guru, if you won't listen to the Greens, perhaps you might take some time to read Thatcher's speech - in full here. And then ask yourselves, if global warming really is a load of Bolshevik propaganda and part of some bizarre conspiracy too fantastical for even a Dan Brown novel, how on earth did we manage to get Margaret Thatcher on board the vanguard of revolution?