As a general rule, it’s the political right who object to attempts to explain crime by reference to the social, economic or political context in which it occurs. This is, they say, to make excuses and to let evil people off the hook. Individuals must be accountable for their actions and distractions like poverty and unemployment should not enter into the equation.
Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)
Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..
They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.
Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).
The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.
A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?
A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”
The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.
Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.
But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.
It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.
The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.
Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”
Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.
But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.
The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.
The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.
We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.
• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”
Some truly crazy ideas have been bouncing around various Whitehall policy departments. Taken together they give a sense of a general trend.
Back in December we had the welfare card proposal, so that unemployed people couldn’t spend their benefits on cigarettes and alcohol. This week: an idea that fat unemployed people should be ordered to exercise or else lose benefits.
Many people will approve of these ideas, because they would make life difficult for people on benefits. The rationale is ‘You are dependent on the state for your income, so we have a right to dictate how you spend it.’ But there is no way that the government will stop with welfare claimants. Plain packaging, minimum pricing, proposals for legal limits on sugar and fat content will affect working people too. If unemployed people should have a welfare card, why shouldn’t working people get paid in food vouchers? After all, otherwise we would just waste our salaries on Camel Lights, pizzas and red wine. And we are all dependent on the state to some extent. Even Jeremy Clarkson drives on publicly maintained roads.
Under a Tory led austerity government you would at least expect negative freedom. They won’t empower you, or help you out in hard times. You could at least expect them to leave you the fuck alone. But they won’t leave you alone. The Fabian authoritarianism that New Labour brought into public life has not been abandoned: quite the reverse.
So they cut essential services – sickness benefits, debt advice, legal representation, you know, things that people use, stuff that matters – while grasping for more and more control over what people do in their free time.
It is a kind of government by brainstorm or thought camp, where bizarre and silly ideas are implemented with seemingly no thought for the science, the economics or the practical reality of people’s lives.
Of course sometimes we need to be protected from ourselves.
But people also need the freedom to make their own mistakes.
DoH launches new public health poster campaign
Let’s be clear: the welfare cuts announced by Osborne last Wednesday in his autumn statement mean that for the first time since 1931, the income of the poorest people in Britain will fall as a result of deliberate government policy. All working-age benefits, including Employment Support Allowance for the disabled, will be capped at a 1% uprating per year until 2015. Inflation is expected to be at least double that.
Miliband’s response seems, at first hearing, to be encouraging. He’s denounced the plans as an attack on the poorest and made it clear that he finds Osborne’s jibe about people lying in bed with the curtains drawn while others go to work, pretty distatesful. But what Miliband and the rest of the Labour front-bench have not said is that they’ll vote against the proposals when they come before parliament next month.
It seems that Miliband’s caution is, in part at least, due to the still-pervasive influence of Blairite forces terrified of the party seeming to side with “scroungers.” So far, the craven Work and Pensions spokesman, Liam Byrne has had little to say, and what he has said has been thoroughly evasive.
Miliband and the party leadership are going to have to make their collective mind up pretty damn soon. This is a “what is Labour for?” moment and if Miliband flunks it the repercussions (not least in the unions) will be disastrous for the party -never mind the poor sods who’ll have to suffer the cuts.
A fudge of the kind envisioned (disapprovingly) by John Harris in yesterday’s Guardian (opposing the cap on working tax credits and the like, but letting yet more blows rain down on the unemployed) will not be acceptable to the vast majority of Labour supporters and trade unionists. We must demand that all Labour MPs and spokespersons, starting with Miliband, vote and campiagn against these cuts. Nothing less will do.
And if that means taking on and smashing the Blairite scum who still infest Labour, then so be it.
As Harris (not someone I always agree with) asks: “If each and every Labour politician does not oppose this in its entirety, what exactly are they here for?”
By Anne Begg MP
For a couple of years disabled people have been reporting increased levels of both verbal and physical abuse from members of the public. This has been confirmed this week in the results published by the charity Scope from a survey of 500 disabled people and their carers across the country. The research showed that 46% of those polled said that attitudes towards them had worsened over the past year.
Why should this be? With the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics taking place, and particularly Channel 4 rebranded as Paralympics broadcaster, has been full of positive images of disabled people, some doing remarkable things. I think the Channel 4 advert for the Paralympics (below) is fantastic and get a lump in my throat every time I see it.
However, for a longer time there have been a large number of very different stories about people who receive disability and sickness benefits in the press. In the government’s attempt to show it is getting tough on benefit fraudsters and the work shy the print media have been very willing to run stories on every release of statistics which they say show that most people who claim sickness benefits are perfectly capable of work, statistics which in reality show no such thing.
A study “Bad News for Disabled People: How the newspapers are reporting disability” by Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit found that there had been an increase in the number of disability related stories in the press with a decrease in those presenting a more sympathetic view. There had also been an increase in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” all adding to an impression that disabled people were “underserving”.
So who are the targets for this abuse? Is it the benefits cheats featured in the various stories about “sick note Britain”? Is it the man who claimed to be too ill to cut his own food caught on camera playing golf or the man who claimed to need a wheelchair filmed Jiving? Of course not. Their friends, far less passersby, will have no idea what income or benefits they receive and certainly won’t know what they said on an application form and pretended in an interview. Who would believe they would have such a brass neck? No it is not the real fraudsters, estimated to be less than 1% of benefit claimants, who are the target for the abuse, it is those with an obvious physical or learning disability. That’s why some of the irresponsible reporting has been so dangerous. It is the person who clearly has a disability, who may actually be in work, who is having to suffer the taunts, the name calling and being spat on.
Those with genuine disabilities were told there was nothing to fear from the new Work Capability Assessment for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability. It was being introduced, we were told, to weed out the scroungers and work shy but those with the greatest disability would get more help and support. However, two television programmes this week, Channel 4’s Dispatches “Britain on the Sick” and BBC Panorama “Disabled or Faking It?” have given the lie to this. Something which many people who have been through the new system already knew.
Rather than showing that those with severe disabilities had nothing to fear from the new assessment, Panorama found a number who were being found fit for work, such as the man with severe emphysema who keeps having to take his case to appeal as he scores no points every time he goes through the assessment.
The Dispatches programme showed that the WCA was declaring people fit if they could work from a wheelchair even if they don’t use a wheelchair. Are wheelchair services across the country ready for the influx of applications? And what happens if the wheelchair assessment says the person doesn’t qualify for one on the NHS?
But most worrying was a woman who featured in the Panorama programme who, among other things, could not go to the toilet on her own. Yet she was put in the Work Related Activity Group. There must be something seriously wrong with a system which makes that kind of mistake. I wasn’t allowed home from hospital recently until I could safely toilet myself.
These were not isolated examples. I received an e-mail this week from a man who was highly anxious because he had just been called for this third WCA in three years. It is not surprising he was feeling persecuted as he had had to give up work as he has the particularly cruel degenerative Huntington’s disease.
Much of the misleading press coverage blames the victim of the system for the failings of the system. So someone who begins a claim for ESA because their Statutory Sick Pay has run out but returns to work before their ESA claim has been determined is counted as someone swinging the lead. Nor is the WCA very good at dealing with people with progressive diseases. It doesn’t make any acknowledgement that people with MS or Parkinson’s or Huntington’s have probably just lost their job precisely because they have a degenerative disease so their employability will not improve no matter how many reassessments they go through.
One thing about disability worth bearing in mind is that in a blink of an eye it could be you. An accident or a diagnosis can change your life for ever. At the very time you want to be wrapped in the care of the NHS and supported by the welfare state is the very time when a complete stranger in the street might spit the word “scrounger” at you.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee, MP for Aberdeen South
H-t: David Kirkham, Sheffield Uncut
Meet My New Favorite Music Critic!
And he loves Cab Calloway. The man knows his stuff.
Ask him if he knows the date of the recording, or if there are any alternate takes. Find out if he thinks the arrangement used any interesting techniques, or if the soloists were innovators. Ask if he wishes the lyrics were more political, or if he remembers Calloway’s skin color.
Those are all important, often enlightening facts this person may not have access to at this time in his life. Yet his suddenly open, instantly joyous eyes somehow seem far more important.
JD adds: I notice that towards the end of the clip Henry starts singing Cole Porter’s ’Rosalie.’ As far as I know, Cab Calloway never recorded that particular song, but here’s a great version by Artie Shaw’s Orchestra (vocal: Tony Pastor) that I think is what he may have been remembering. This is for you, Henry:
Today, Monday 19 March at 8pm, there will be a series of coordinated NHS Vigils, across the UK to draw attention to the importance of halting the Tory NHS Bill. Everyone interested in peacefully registering their opposition to the NHS Bill is welcome to attend (DETAILS BELOW).
The purpose of the meetings is to demonstrate to the House of Lords peers, the night before their crucial vote on the NHS, that people do not want this bill to become law. Only 14% of UK voters in the last YouGov poll actually wanted the NHS Bill to succeed. Two thirds of NHS workers also think the Bill will make things worse. We hope that peers look favourably upon the peaceful nature of the gatherings and give Lord Owen’s amendment, to halt the NHS Bill until the NHS Risk Register is published, the support it deserves.
Email if you’d like to attend. Please click the location of the demo you are interested for more details. Click tweet details of your local vigil to tweet your followers with details of your event.
Southampton Guildhall Square (contact @LaurEvans311) tweet details Brighton: Sussex County Hospital at 8pm (contact @JaneWuster) tweet details Worcester Royal Hospitalat 8pm (contact @HummingBird1969) tweet details
H-t: Left Futures
Cross-posted from Benefit Scrounging Scum
By Matthew (Workers Liberty website)
Jin Liqun, chair of China’s sovereign wealth fund (the body which manages the Chinese government’s overseas investment of its spare loot) told Al Jazeera: “If you look at the troubles which happened in European countries, this is purely because of the accumulated troubles of the worn-out welfare society. I think the labour laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence, rather than hard work. The incentive system is totally out of whack.
“Why should, for instance, within [the] eurozone, some member-states’ people have to work to 65, even longer, whereas in some other countries they are happily retiring at 55, languishing on the beach? This is unfair. The welfare system is good for any society to reduce the gap, to help those who happen to have disadvantages, to enjoy a good life, but a welfare society should not induce people not to work hard.”
Welfare provision, and laws which give workers some protection from unfair dismissal or unsafe work conditions, exist in Europe thanks to two hundred years’ struggle by labour movements across the continent. Eroded in recent decades, they still exist.
China has never had a free labour movement. Since the victory of Mao Zedong’s Stalinists in 1949, all working-class organisation outside the official state-run trade unions (fake “trade unions”) has been suppressed.
In recent years, strikes have become common in China, with the growth of a vast urban working class facing enormous social inequality and corruption. The government, nervous about unrest, is sometimes subtle about dealing with them: but they all happen, at best, in a legal grey area. Chinese workers have no rights.
Welfare provision is minimal. Health care has to be paid for (though some prices are subsidised). People complain that they have to bribe teachers if they want their children to get a decent education.
The Chinese state puts more people to death than all the rest of the world put together. It publishes no information on its use of capital punishment, but Amnesty International reckons that executions in China run into thousands a year, maybe ten times as many as in the next-worst country, Iran.
Jin Liqun’s statement shows what the Chinese bureaucrats think about this. To them, the oppression in China seems normal, and the still relatively civilised conditions of European workers look like an outrageous departure from what is normal and right.
Would-be leftists (like these and these) in Europe who still regard China as “communist” or “socialist” or left-wing should learn the lesson. “Communism” which relies on such oppression of the working class that Merkel, Sarkozy, and Cameron look outrageously “soft” by comparison is not “communism” at all, but a system of exploitation by a bureaucratically-organised ruling class.
Information about industrial action in China here.