Sunday, 26 October 2014

Purple Haze: UK Voters Want to Stay in the EU

Just in case you've been missing him; a photo of Nigel Farage
We have been bombarded now for months, even a couple of years, of relentlessly being told that UKIP is surging a tidal wave of anti-European sentiment.With their powerful victory at Clacton likely to be followed up with another, probably less emphatic, win in Rochester in a few weeks time, print and broadcast journalists - especially the excitable, ill-read types who seem to inhabit the BBC these days - jabber about the "Brexit".

This, according to the BBC yesterday, is Britain's apparently more or less done deal on leaving the European Union (BRitish EXIT, geddit?) following a referendum, promised by David Cameron if the Tories win the next election and almost certainly a demand from any UKIP MPs in a Tory-UKIP Coalition (although it is to be noted that UKIP do not actually support a public vote: they would just withdraw as soon as they had the legislative power to do so).

And yet, as the Faragistas have risen and fallen and risen again through the year, almost completely unreported and certainly ignored by the mainstream media, has been another more substantial shift in public opinion. And that is, while UKIP have scrabbled up the polls from 10% at the start of the year to 16% in this weekend's UK Polling Report average, support for staying IN the European Union has risen exponentially among British voters.
Ipsos-MORI October 2014

Consider this: between September 2010 and February 2014, thirty out of thirty-three national opinion polls - showed clear majorities for Britain leaving the EU. Survation in January 2013 gave 54% for out and just 36% for staying in. And a whole slew gave the anti-EU vote in the mid to high 40%s with the pro-EU camp hovering in the low 30%s.

But since March this year, as the BBC hammered home UKIP's apparent inexorable rise ahead of and since the European elections, there has been a sea-change - possibly in response to the not-so-popular populism of Nigel Farage.

Of the twenty-seven polls published since March, only six have shown a majority for leaving the European Union, and even these have given margins well below half of the 15 to 20 points in polls of previous years. A single poll from June gave a dead heat, but all the others - 20 out of 27 - have shown majorities for Yes to staying in Europe. An Ipsos-Mori poll taken between 11th & 14th October gave 56% for staying and just 36% for leaving, with 8% unsure. Excluding the unsures, that is a 61 to 39 margin for remaining part of the EU, not far off the 66 to 34% margin in the 1975 referendum that confirmed our original membership of the Community. (note - these figures relate to polls about leaving the EU without any prior renegotiation of membership terms; a set of figures covering a renegotiated but continuing membership unanimously show big margins for Britain remaining part of the EU.)

Of course, these are just polls, but they perhaps point to a few things that our media should ponder long and hard if they intend to continue to emit the smokescreen over truth that is their evident obsession with UKIP.

1. UKIP may well be expressing the discontent of significant groups of people, but many more do not support its narrow, xenophobic take on the ills of our country. And indeed, even among UKIP voters, the EU is rarely top of their list of concerns - many, when you scratch the surface, actually support left of centre policies quite alien to their current party of choice.

2. The majority of British voters remain as they have always been - broadly progressive, fair minded and tolerant. The rise in support for the EU may be an expression of this - anti-Tory, anti-UKIP, pro-international engagement.

Source: Another Angry Voice
3. As traditional party politics collapse, UKIP has benefited as an officially sanctioned channel for discontent, a bit like the Czar tolerated the liberal Octobrists and Kadets in his Duma for a few years. But much deeper undercurrents are at work. A glance at the opinion polls will confirm that UKIP polls by far best among people aged 55 and over, while among young people support fades away and is negligible among first time voters - one recent poll tied them on 4% with the Lib dems. The Greens by contrast are chalking up figures in the mid-teens, often ahead of the Tories as in this month's Channel 4 survey. Simultaneously, membership of the party's youth wing, the Young Greens, has reached record levels. A new narrative is being written, one centred on a need for greater equality, tax justice rather than tax cuts; one in favour of public ownership, community service and personal freedom.

4. Public opinion has probably not been as volatile in over a century. And this uncertainty is disquieting to lazy journalists schooled in the comfort of an Establishment that is now peeling away. It's potential is also what should in contrast give heart to anyone with a socially progressive agenda.

5. All the above apply even more fully to younger people - almost two generations on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and nearly sixty years since the Windrush, we have the rise of a new age of people at ease with diversity and used to travelling, learning, working, living and planning a future in and/or with other Europeans. Coupled with the radicalisation of Scotland in the recent referendum and the inspiration of actions like the Occupy Democracy protests outside parliament last week, the politics of grumpiness represented by Farage and his acolytes are dating faster than a dusty old reel of Alf Garnett. (Who he? - ed)

This is not to say that the European Union is something which progressives, Greens, ecosocialists or other leftists, should happily embrace in its current form. It is overweeningly pro-big business, as witnessed by the current shenanigans over the mooted TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). Yet it provides some minimum degree of employee, consumer and environmental protection which would otherwise be absent (notably, these are the things UKIP and Tory Euroskeptics are keen to do away with while keeping the pro-business stuff). And we need transnational bodies like the EU if we are to have any hope in hell of countering the existential threats of resource scarcity and environmental collapse in the years ahead.

But it does give the lie to the narrative that UKIP represents some silent majority. It plainly does not. A focus group on UKIP voters a while back found them to be relentlessly negative about Britain - too much rubbish on the pavements, too much political correctness, too many immigrants, too many loutish youths, too many gay people, and so on. When they were asked if there was anything they liked about our country, the one thing - the only thing - they could think of was "The Past".

And, even now as Nigel makes his plans and swills another pint down his gullet to wash out his livid liver, that is indeed what they are - the past. A final burst of actually rather tragic melancholia, looking back to a  tarnished "golden age" of offices filled with Madmen, cigarettes smoked by doctors and women in pinnies in the kitchen. As the polls show, purple is the colour of the sunset.

The morning is green.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


As we run up to the General Election in May next year, the main TV broadcasters - the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and SKY - have made a joint proposal for three leaders' debates in a sort of World Cup eliminator style (except the winners have already been decided).

They want three debates: the first with UKIP's Nigel Farage, Lib Dem Nick Clegg, Labour's Ed Miliband and Tory PM David Cameron.
Round Two would be Clegg, Miliband and Cameron; while Round Three just Tweedledum Ed and Tweedledee Dave by themselves.

Riveting stuff: four besuited white middle aged men with barely a cigarette paper between their views of the ideal neoliberal society droning on about how in fact there are really, honestly massive differences between them all and it is so exciting, etc, etc.

"Crowd-pulling" Lib Dems get a place but not Greens & SNP
No space for the Greens, who outpolled the Lib Dems at the last nationwide election - the Euros - in May and have been jostling with them in the polls for fourth place party ever since. No space for the SNP, now the third largest in terms of membership and with six times as many MPs as UKIP. No voice for anyone but the Westminster parties, with a reluctant nod to UKIP, the Licenced Opposition-by-Appointment to the Establishment. Rather, the format is set up to reinforce the status quo, to regulate and direct voters' choices.

Still Better Together?
The Greens and SNP are threatening legal action if they are not included - their two female leaders would provide perhaps the only left of centre voices as well as an added dimension to the gender of the Lads' debate.

Arguably of course the Leader's debates themselves are not welcome - shifting focus in a parliamentary democracy to the live performances of just a few individuals - but if they are taking place, then it is only right that all shades of opinion are included.

There are a couple of petitions circulating so please sign up and help to open just a chink of light on the debate. On Twitter, follow the hashtag #fairdebate2015

To include the Green Party:

To include all parties:

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Men In Grey

Shades of grey - 4 variations on the same theme; even if there is a more "exciting" range of suit shades; sort of.

Nick Clegg famously (well, sort of) "realised" that austerity was a necessary remedy for Britain's banking crisis one morning as he was shaving during the 2010 election campaign - although he neglected to share his insight with the rest of us until after the polls had closed. After all, perhaps sales of "I Agree with Nick" memorabilia (for that is all it is now) would not have been so brisk at the Lib Dem shop.

Wind forward to earlier this year - the morning of 27 March to be precise, and you might have wondered what Nick was thinking as he looked in the mirror that morning - perhaps he had to look twice when he thought he spied a little Nigel Farage dart behind him with a broad smile requiring no toothpaste. After losing the first of their two televised debates by a wide margin (57 to 36% favoured Farage), Clegg must indeed have pondered about what he had let out the linen cupboard.

Fact-stuffed to his finger tips, Clegg had set out to disabuse the public of Farage's claims about the EU. In typically misguided technocratic fashion, he thought that he could blow away the UKIP leader by showing his claims to be little but castles of sand: £55 million a day for Britain's membership of the EU? Nonsense, it's a snip as £33 million net after deductions and repayments! 70% of British laws set by Brussels? Nonsense - anyone could tell you that it is between 10% and %50 depending how you catgeorise things. How could Farage possibly win the debate after getting such facts wrong?

Clegg like so many in the political class, inured to years of tick box politics, is blinded by facts: but the fact is that their much-loved evidence-based research can prove just about anything: hospital queues have increased or decreased;  poverty is better or worse (or absolute or relative and if so what sort of relative?); people are better or worse off - all dependent on which sleight of hand or "weighting" is applied. All these statistics, they believe, can justify what they have done, how they have behaved and prove pesky people like Nigel Farage wrong.

Except it doesn't work. Because Farage cleverly represents how some people feel and very powerfully in some respects. Like so many populists, he has caught a mood, played on it and capitalised on it. Fear of the (supposed) unknown: foreigners taking our jobs, foreign governments telling us what to do while supposedly breaking all the rules themselves, and so on. And as we have seen this week even in a town with few migrants indeed, Clacton-on-Sea, it works powerfully to UKIP's gain - and nearly did so hundreds of miles away in the north at the Heywood & Middleton by-election on the same day as well.

Now these feelings may not be based on facts (although years of spurious facts being peddled by the media has very effectively created the impression that they are). They may even be factually incorrect - but that still doesn't matter; because facing declining living standards and joblessness, some people will indeed turn to the most visible scapegoats offered up by UKIP (and reinforced by the media) in their midst, however wrong it may well be to blame them. Similarly, the "fact" that UKIP stands for tax cuts for millionaires, deregulation for bankers and cuts to the NHS may not go far unless there is an alternative narrative that says we can feel ok about ourselves and others, that we can trust our neighbours and unite against disproportionate inequality. So far, none of the main parties offer such, nor, with all of them united on things like the benefits cap, are they likely too.

And what our stats-driven, pseudo-technocratic elite don't understand, perhaps because to their Vulcan-mindsets it isn't logical, is feeling. How emotional can you get over a table of even the most damning figures set against a tearful human face, or a photo of an empty factory, or a queue at a food bank? Yet they will happily, even sociopathically, reel off lists of these things, their smug, knowing faces turning to perplexed confusion when it dawns on them that it isn't working. For while facts are important, especially in laying low some of the lies propagated by UKIP and others on the right, if they are all you have, then shorn of any Vision all you have is an encyclopaedia of today, not a manifesto for tomorrow.

New Labour started this trend among our politicians of putting figures up in place of politics; of citing "key performance measures" over political change. And little wonder, given Blair's abandonment of political ideology - performance targets were all he had left to try to make out it doesn't matter if your liver scan is done by the NHS or by profit-seeking Virgin Clinics or whoever. The result is the Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, flailing about on national TV this morning trying to outdo UKIP on tackling immigration rather than offering a counter-view. But how could she? After so many years of evaluating stats and focus group analyses, she may well not actually have her own view any more, her original thoughts, feelings even, long since lost in the smoke and mirrors of think-tanks and policy wonkery.

So now we face the outcome of this: bereft of belief or values, the self-created, self-serving "political class" (the two words that say it all, really) spread among the two and a quarter established parties are left floundering as UKIP and others advance. UKIP triumphed last week and at the Euroelections in May. Simultaneously, both at the May vote and in many opinion polls since the Greens are vying to overtake the Lib Dems nationally in spite of a virtual media blackout - quite the opposite of UKIP's wall-to-wall coverage of Nigel's every pint.  Meanwhile in Scotland, the enthusiastic Yes campaign seems almost undiminished in spite of the referendum defeat as all the three Westminster parties can, still almost literally, bring themselves to say is, indeed, No or possibly Not Yet. The three Yes parties - the Greens, the Scottish Socialists and the SNP have each experienced an exponential growth in membership - the latter party now approaching 100,000.

 People are looking for alternatives - to my mind, some of these seem very unpleasant alternatives indeed whilst of course I have my own preferences; but what they all do, is touch on humanity (both its good and bad aspects) infinitely more than the anodyne, focus group media politics of the established parties. With UKIP, the challenge for the left is to avoid the pathetic denunciation of their voters as "f***ing thick" and "just fascists" (both cited on a supposedly progressive webpage today) and look beyond vote totals to the actual beliefs of many UKIP voters (as distinct from UKIP itself) - pro-welfare state, pro-public NHS, pro-rail nationalisation and in favour of a higher living wage, in some cases more emphatically so than Labour voters. These are people who feel abandoned because the Labour Party especially took the view so eloquently articulated by that Tribune of the People, Lord Peter Mandelson, when he suggested that "traditional" Labour voters had "nowhere else to go". Well, they've gone and they won't come back to Labour or any other party that treats them so off-handedly.

We need to offer a different story; the one that says ordinary people's problems are not caused by their disabled, migrant, ethnic minority or unemployed neighbours, but rather by the tax-minimising elitists who, among other big parties, fund UKIP. And that UKIP, offering yet another Man-in-a-grey-suit, are not a challenge to the current system - rather just more or the same with a little extra bile and bombast.

The collapse of the political system that has effectively prevailed for the last century marks many dangers ahead - but also the greatest opportunities yet to build a new, fairer society: we can only achieve that by providing a positive way ahead, an end to the politics of fear and loathing and transition to the inclusive, more egalitarian democracy that so many are so desperately seeking.

Below: looking for a new way; so many people turned up at the first post-referendum meeting of Glasgow Green Party that surprised party officers had to move the meeting outside the booked venue.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Nazis - A Warning from Yesterday

Above - the first meeting of Hitler's Coalition Cabinet in January 1933. On the front right sits Franz Von Papen, his Vice-Chancellor, who thought he could control the Nazis to promote the interests of his own corporate sponsors and fellow nobles. A year later, it was Hitler who sacked Von Papen, who then was exiled as Ambassador to the Vatican City.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

1905 Again

"Well, we don't need's all over..."

Ruling classes:  faces change but the song remains the same
The Tory Party speaker on the Scottish referendum programme, sometime in the wee small hours of Friday 19th September, could not have been more brazen as he dismissed off hand a question about how soon the "devomax" powers promised by the Westminster leaders would be delivered following the NO vote. Subsequently, his colleagues from the Lib Dems, Labour and his own party stumbled to correct him, assuring people that of course the incredibly tight timescale would indeed be honoured.

But already it hasn't been, nor will it be. Because it was, from the start, a cynical lie. Nothing has been brought forward as promised. Each of the three parties has come up with at least one, in some cases more, sets of differing proposals, while understandably some English MPs have begun to question even more the already existing imbalance in the so called West Lothian question - whereby Scottish MPs can vote on matters affecting England when English MPs have no equivalent say on Scottish matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The whole thing is gridlocked and, as many including this blog had predicted, it is almost certain to disappear as fast as snow in summer as the political crisis moves to UKIP and the future careers of David Cameron and Ed Milband.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP has seen its membership rocket to over 60,000, so that  it is now the third largest UK party. The Scottish Greens, in less than a fortnight, saw their membership more than treble to over 6,000, while hundreds of others joined the Scottish Socialists. At the same time, the cultural movements Radical Independence, the National Collective and Common Weal continue to grow and promote a social collectivism that has become a political awakening at the grassroots unprecedented since the rise of the trade unions a hundred years ago.

Across the rest of the UK, there are similar if as yet less precipitate progressive advances - the Greens have grown by nearly 50% in the last year to over 20,000 members, while campaign groups like 38 degrees, the 999 March for the NHS and Global Justice Now mobilise thousands of people to oppose the privatisation of public health and the corporate coup d'etat promised by the TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). Building on previous campaigns by Occupy and UKuncut, these extra-parliamentary groups are starting to shine some light on the hollow heart of our rotten, so-called democracy. Many are set to join trade unions on the TUC Day of Action on 18th October - Britain Needs A Payrise - which offers a signficant chance to put social justice back on the political agenda.

Getting equality, or inequality, back on the political agenda is key to campaigning for transition to a fairer, more sustainable society and, crucially, an economics that works for people and planet. For, just as Labour talks about squeezing public services only a tad less harshly than the Tories, and the Tories promise to cut benefits for the poorest and taxes for the richest, Britain is firmly set to move from its already appalling second to an eye-wateringly shameful first place in terms of being the most unequal society in the so-called developed world. Never has our country been wealthier; but never, possibly not even in the Middle Ages, has that wealth been more obscenely and destructively skewed into the hands of a tiny, tiny number of super-rich people.

In the latter days of the Roman Empire and the Royal Court of Versailles, the elite excluded themselves from more and more taxes while imposing ever greater burdens on the rest of society, pillaging the state for ever more destructive privileges. Now, in this century, we see the very people who offshore their accounts and avoid taxes on billions of profits from state-private contracts rewarded with garish medallions and ludicrously outdated Imperial titles, or with seats in the unelected House of Lords. (And still one of them complains their £300 a day allowance is not enough to satisfy her needs).

The corollary of this isn't about the politics of envy - although why should we not be angry about such revoltingly unequal outcomes? - but about its destructive effect on our social fabric and ordinary people's lives. As Hobbes explained four centuries ago in Leviathan and as The Spirit Level demonstrated so conclusively just 5 years ago, more unequal societies have greater violence, crime, ill health and unhappiness than those with a fairer distribution of wealth. From this, people in a poorer but more equal country like Cuba live longer and happier lives than those living in the superficially more prosperous but far more inegalitarian USA. The only response to poverty in this paradigm is seeking ever more economic growth, regardless of the often irreversible damage done to the environment and without addressing the need for fairer distribution - left unchallenged, the utter conceit of "trickledown" economics will only end when it eats itself, and all of us, in the process.

Thomas Hobbes - he "got it" back in 1651
But it seems our leaders don't get this. Referendum over, forget the crowds and forget the promises. The conventional wisdom likewise for three upcoming English by-elections, where the dangerously populist UKIP is challenging, is that protesting voters will dutifully revert to type at the General Election next May.

Our intellectually sclerotic, emotionally barren Masters may be disappointed. They may like to think that they can smuggly mouth a few platitudes like the "no more business as usual" mantra so beloved but long forgotten by errant bankers from 2009, but it seems people are listening less and less.

Possibly sensing this, their response is to look not to democracy, but to repression - with the Tories talking about powers to imprison people deemed to be anti-democratic while simultaneously proposing to abolish human rights legislation. The irony is of course lost on the dourly unimaginative Theresa May, but given that the existing Domestic Extremists register already includes thousands of people such as a Green Party Peer with no criminal record whatsoever and an 87 year old pensioner put under surveillance for going on public marches, the Establishment's definition of anti-democratic may well be very different to the common understanding of the word. Like similar American legislation, it is more likely to be used in defence of big business than any real threat to the illusion that increasingly passes for British democracy.

In 1905, facing an existential threat to his regime from the St Petersburg Soviet, a spontaneously created body of workers and soldiers, Czar Nicholas II conceded a Duma, an elected legislative parliament with near universal suffrage. The liberal parties, such as the Kadets and Octobrists, rushed to sign up, cutting the ground from under the feet of the more radical parties like the Social Revolutionaries that warned it was a ploy to buy time. The Soviet, latterly chaired by Leon Trotsky (at that time not a Bolshevik), was surrounded by Czarist troops and its leaders arrested, tried and imprisoned or exiled. Meanwhile, after reluctantly tolerating but taming the Duma for a few years, the Czar replaced it with an essentially consultative body and returned to business as usual.

We know how that turned out.

1909 Russian revolutionary view of contemporary society. Plus ca change...?