The DUP: the *really* nasty party

June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am (Christianity, Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, Tory scum)

By Micheál MacEoin
(This was written shortly before the desperate deal was finalised, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website):

The Conservative Party’s loss of their parliamentary majority has left Theresa May reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right organisation which has 10 MPs in the House of Commons. So who are the Tories’ new unionist bedfellows?The DUP has its roots in a politicised form of evangelical Protestantism which arose again in the 1950s and 60s, but has a long tradition in the Protestant areas of Ulster. In these years, the future DUP leader Ian Paisley was involved in a myriad of fringe loyalist organisations, which existed to protect Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland.

In March 1963, a slightly more liberal Unionist Party leader, Terence O’Neill, became the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His aim was to adopt a more moderate course in order to undercut support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and absorb sections of the Catholic middle class into the Northern Ireland state.

Paisley came to the fore as a rabble-rousing preacher, acting as a pole of attraction for discontent within working-class Protestantism. He articulated a form of religious-based Unionism with a more plebeian character than the aristocratic or business-oriented ruling Unionist Party. As O’Neill’s reforms encouraged the growth of a Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Paisley helped set up the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC), to co-ordinate street protests, rallies and counter-demonstrations against any moves towards liberalisation, ecumenism or attempted rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.The UCDC had an arms-length paramilitary section, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), led by Paisley’s longstanding ally, Noel Doherty.

Doherty was later jailed for his involvement in a bombing campaign in 1969 designed to undermine O’Neill, which was carried out with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Paisley implausibly denied knowledge of Doherty’s paramilitary activities. This is a pattern repeated by the DUP leader during the Troubles, of fraternising with violent loyalists while maintaining enough of a distance so as to deny knowledge of illegal or murderous acts. For example, in 1974, Paisley would sit on the so-called “Ulster Workers’ Council”, along with representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and other armed loyalist groups. It organised a general strike against the short-lived power-sharing executive, which in reality was initially more of a lock-out enforced by paramilitary intimidation.

Again, in 1986, Paisley was present at a huge meeting in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to establish Ulster Resistance, a vigilante group set up to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement which promised Dublin more of a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Paisley was famously recorded calling for a paramilitary “Third Force” to oppose Irish republicanism, before placing a red beret on his head and standing to attention. In 1987, the UVF and the UDA proceeded to smuggle weapons for Ulster Resistance from Lebanon in to Northern Ireland with the aid of Apartheid-era South African state agents. Most were intercepted, but some of the Ulster Resistance arms cache has never been found. By the late 1980s, pressure mounted on Paisley to condemn the group’s activities, which he did in 1989. Presumably, after calling for a paramilitary “Third Force”, Paisley only ever intended it to attack republicans peacefully, without weapons!

As the peace process took shape in the 1990s, the DUP came to the fore in opposing any agreement between unionists and republicans. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when even the UDA was formally in favour. This placed the party on the side of dissident anti-Agreement loyalists such as Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Indeed, in 1996, DUP representative Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright, mere months after the LVF murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

Support for the Good Friday Agreement fatally undermined Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in the years after 1998. Unionist support for the Agreement was already weak, and the UUP could not stand the pressure from the DUP, who attacked them for sharing power with republicans while there were continuing delays in the decommissioning of IRA weapons. By the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP had overtaken the UUP as Northern Ireland’s most popular unionist party, a position they further cemented in future European, local government and Westminster elections.

2007 marked a watershed for the DUP. Having effectively destroyed their electoral competitors, the road was open for Ian Paisley to cut an agreement with Sinn Fein, and share power with republicans for the first timeThe DUP, then, has its roots in an evangelical fringe of Ulster loyalism. What does it stand for today?

For one thing, the DUP’s position as the largest unionist party, with support rooted in both the working-class and the Protestant business class, has led it to adopt a pragmatic blend of neoliberal pro-business policies such as corporation tax cuts, with an often populist approach. Its opposition to Tory plans to cut winter fuel payments, for example, will allow the Tories an excuse to reverse on some of their more unpopular proposals to attack universal benefits.The DUP combines this right-wing economic pragmatism with a ferocious blend of religiously-inspired social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion in all circumstances. One-third of DUP members are drawn from the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church, founded by Ian Paisley, which accounts for only 1% of the Northern Ireland population. Half of its elected representatives are members of the Orange Order, a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organisation, and some are connected to pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation which exists to promote “the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”, including support for creationism.

The DUP voter base, however, which is now larger and more varied, does not necessarily share all of these sentiments, at least not to the same degree.Since becoming the dominant partner in government in Northern Ireland, the DUP’s time in office has also been plagued by a number of political and financial scandals, which will undoubtedly receive more UK-wide attention in light of recent events. These include connections between senior DUP figures and the sale of properties owned by the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), and an ongoing investigation into DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role in the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Despite the DUP’s reactionary positions on social issues, it is most likely that the party will push for financial concessions for Northern Ireland as the price of any confidence and supply deal.A 2015 DUP position paper outlined its priorities as being more capital spending for Northern Ireland, more funding for hospitals and schools, and cuts to air passenger duty. The DUP realises that social issues, such as same-sex marriage which it has repeatedly blocked, are devolved to Stormont. The party will gain little or nothing from drawing attention to these issues as part of a UK-wide deal with the Tories, and wants to present unionists as acting in the British “national interest”.

This does not, of course, mean that we should ignore the DUP’s social positions, or cease to condemn the Tories for cutting a desperate deal with such a reactionary party.It is possible, too, that the DUP will come under pressure from its own base, including the Orange Order, to push for concessions on contentious issues, such as parading, flags and other areas of symbolic cultural importances to unionists.

The DUP supported Brexit in 2016, but opposes a hard Border in Ireland because of the economic damage that customs duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic would inflict. However, its demands for a soft Border will be tricky to reconcile with its insistence that there be no new checks at ports and airports in Great Britain on citizens travelling from Northern Ireland into the UK after Britain exits the EU.

The increased importance of the Irish dimension will, then, serve to further complicate the already chaotic state of the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit.Finally, the prospect of a Tory government propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP puts profound strain on the already faltering power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and challenges some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement rests on the conceit that the British government is a “neutral broker” in the peace process. Republicans already deny that the Tories are in any sense neutral, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been widely attacked for showing a pro-unionist bias on issues such as the prosecutions of soldiers for activities during the Troubles. The fact of the Tories relying on DUP support for their parliamentary majority will complicate Brokenshire’s role in the ongoing negotiations between the parties at Stormont, especially if a condition of the DUP’s support for May is a statement ruling out any prospective vote on Irish unity.

Ironically, however, the DUP’s influence over the British government could hasten the return of Stormont’s power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein repeatedly rubbished any claim during the general election that Northern Ireland parties could wield any influence at Westminster. With the alternative to Stormont being direct rule from London by a DUP-backed Tory government, many Sinn Fein voters would understandably prefer Stormont as a lesser-evil. Republicans now too have reason to avoid a further Assembly election, as the DUP made a stunning comeback last week, increasing its support to unprecedented levels.

Any deal between the DUP and the Tories will be a limited one, restricted to votes of confidence such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget. On individual issues, the Tories will be weak, and open to attack. The labour movement, in the UK and Ireland, should drive a wedge between May and her DUP allies, using parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means to drive the Tories out of office.

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SNP fakers and cybernats try to blame Labour for Tory re-election!

June 26, 2017 at 8:34 pm (AWL, conspiract theories, identity politics, labour party, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, scotland, SNP)

Steve Bell's If ... 13/11/2014 Copyright Steve Bell 2014

By Dale Street (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Scottish Labour and/or its leader Kezia Dugdale bear the blame for the re-election of a Tory government on 8 June. That’s the line currently being systematically promoted by cybernats. And it’s not confined to the fringe elements of cybernattery.

SNP MP Angus McNeil and SNP MSP and Scottish Government minister Mike Russell have both tweeted about how Scottish Labour supposedly backed a vote for Tory candidates in the general election. The cybernat argument runs as follows: • If the Tories had not won 12 new seats in Scotland, then Tory MPs plus DUP MPs would be a minority in Westminster. • The Tories were able to win 12 new seats in Scotland because Scottish Labour and/or Kezia Dugdale backed Tory candidates. • Scottish Labour and/or Kezia Dugdale are therefore to blame for Theresa May being back in Downing Street.

Scottish Labour’s vote increased by 10,000. The Scottish Tory vote increased by over 300,000. Scottish Labour could therefore persuade only an extra 10,000 voters to vote Labour. But it supposedly managed to convince more than 30 times that number to vote Tory. The only “evidence” that Labour did anything like encouraging Tory votes is a brief televised interview with Kezia Dugdale in which she said that with the exception of a few constituencies in the north east of Scotland, Labour was best placed to beat the SNP. The problem with this statement was not that Dugdale was calling for a vote for the Tories. She wasn’t. She was merely stating a fact. The problem with the statement was that it summed up the weakness of the Scottish Labour election campaign: it identified the SNP as “the enemy” to be beaten, instead of offering a positive alternative (a Corbyn-led Labour government) to win back ex-Labour voters who had switched to the SNP.

The cybernat campaign to blame Scottish Labour for the election of a Tory government signals a further lurch by the SNP activist base into fantasy politics. It also diverts attention away from the helping hand which the SNP has repeatedly given to the Tories (and vice versa).

In 1979, the SNP voted with the Tories in Westminster to bring down a Labour government. Without support from SNP MPs, the Tories would not have succeeded in winning their motion of “no confidence”. Between 2007 and 2011 the SNP minority government in Holyrood relied on support from Tory MSPs to get its annual budget through Holyrood. As the then Scottish Tory leader Annabelle Goldie later explained: “When the chips were down, he (Alex Salmond) had to find support for his budget … he took those Tory votes and was glad to get them. Our position was very clear. In return for supporting their budget, the SNP would include Conservative policies in their budget. It was as simple as that.”

From 2014 onwards the SNP deliberately polarised Scottish politics around national identities. In opposition to the SNP proclaiming itself the champion of Scottish-identity-politics, the Tories were able to rebuild support by playing the same role in relation to British-identity-politics. In the 2015 election campaign the upsurge in support for the SNP was exploited by the Tories – as their election strategists subsequently boasted – as an opportunity to whip up English and British nationalism in opposition to Scottish nationalism, thereby garnering more Tory votes.

In the 2017 election campaign SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed that Kezia Dugdale had offered – in a private conversation after the EU referendum – to ditch Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence. This revelation — irrespective of whether or not it was true – was a boost to Scottish Tory efforts to portray themselves as the only reliable opponents of Scottish independence. It was a cynical ploy by Sturgeon to undermine support for Scottish Labour, even though it meant boosting the Scottish Tories’ electoral prospects And the Tories certainly made a point of exploiting Sturgeon’s revelation to the hilt.

There is no political party in Britain as fake as the SNP. There is no “social democracy” as fake as that of the SNP. There is no “anti-Toryism” as fake as that of the SNP. And there is no election analysis as fake as the cybernat version which blames Scottish Labour for the Frankenstein monster of a Scottish Tory revival created by the SNP’s own tunnel-vision, flag-waving nationalism

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Even after Grenfell the Tories still lust after a “bonfire of red tape” – and will use Brexit to pursue it

June 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm (Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, nationalism, populism, rights, Tory scum)

Above: Cameron’s stunt that backfired

“In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation … Under that rule, when the Government introduce a regulation, we will identify two existing ones to be removed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has gone further and removed an even higher proportion of regulations. In that context, Members will understand why we want to exhaust all non-regulatory options before we introduce any new regulations” – Brandon Lewis, the then housing minister (now the immigration minister), in 2014, rejecting calls to force construction companies to fit sprinklers.

Apart from racism and xenophobia, the other driving force behind all wings of the Leave campaign was deregulation – the idea that EU rules and regulations restrict Britain’s freedom. This idea was central to the Leave campaign, and its implications were spelled out plainly by the influential Conservative Home website.

Boris Johnson has spent years writing and telling lies about EU “red tape”, and his old employer, the Daily Telegraph launched a campaign for a “bonfire of red tape” in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Post-Grenfell that expression “a bonfire” leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (as Jonanthen Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “well they’ve had their bonfire now”).

But don’t be deceived into thinking that the Tories and their Brexiteer press are having second thoughts post-Grenfell.  That would require a degree of honesty and common decency that is beyond them. The Daily Express, bizarrely, suggested that EU energy-saving regulations were to blame for the use of the cladding that spread the fire (despite the fact that it’s illegal in Germany). But what is known, as George Monbiot pointed out in the Guardian, is that in 2014 the government rejected the idea of obliging construction companies to install sprinkler systems in new buildings – as part of its commitment, it explained, to a “one in, two out rule for regulation”. It is surely just a coincidence that, according to Property Week magazine, the Tories received more than £1m in donations from property and construction companies in the year to the 2015 election.

That “one in, two out rule” was part of the tape-burning zeal of the Tories, summed up most crudely in the 2011 Red Tape Challenge dreamt up by former David Cameron adviser and Brexiteer Steve Hilton. He and the rest of the “new Tory right” had wet dreams about transforming Britain into a Singapore-style paradise of minimally regulated offshore swashbuckling. In 2013, Cameron himself stood in front of an exhortation to “Cut EU red tape”, so he could hardly complain when such arguments were deployed mercilessly against him in the referendum.

The Tories’ plan to use Brexit as the opportunity for a “bonfire of red tape” has not gone away, even if, post Grenfell, they’re a little less brazen and gung-ho.

The proposed Great Repeal Bill, transferring EU law into British law so as to avoid a legal vacuum on day one of Brexit, is the means by which the Tories intend to continue their deregulation programme.

Under so-called “Henry VIII powers”, the government will assume unfettered powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and rewrite laws originating in European legislation.

It’s a pretty good bet that they have the Agency Workers Regulations, the Working Time Regulations and uncapped compensation in discrimination claims, in their sights.

A briefing from Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now warns of the possible consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, arguing that it “has the potential to grant the government an almost unprecedented level of unaccountable power, using a political process that will chill democratic scrutiny”.

The briefing makes the following recommendations:

1. The government must reveal specific details of the content of its Great Repeal Bill, and it must be a clear and detailed bill (not a ‘skeleton bill’)
2. This must happen very soon, with a clear proposed timetable to ensure proper time necessary for the task with a minimum 6 months for consultation and 6 months for debate
3.  The transfer of EU law into UK law must be transparent, clear and accountable:

  • it must include provisions to ensure that delegated power to the government  is clearly and precisely defined in scope and purpose.
  • Henry VIII powers should be avoided, and when used, subject to the super-affirmative procedure.
  • Sunset clauses should be used to ensure that the delegated legislative powers do not last indefinitely.
  • There must be enhanced processes and resources for screening and scrutinising delegated legislation, including through new or existing parliamentary committees.

4. The government must guarantee, on the face of the bill, clear explicit provisions to prevent the bill affecting human rights, equalities, or environmental laws and standards, and to prohibit the use of delegated legislation to change or undermine such laws and standards.

A simpler approach, however, would be to use May’s election humiliation and the present volatility of British and international politics to campaign to stop Brexit altogether. The received wisdom is that it can’t be done and, indeed, that to attempt to do so would be undemocratic. But the definition of democracy is that people are allowed to change their minds. Why should the narrow verdict of 12 months ago be sacrosanct for all time? If we want to stop the Tories’ plans to deregulate society, the obvious way to do so is to stop Brexit. Of course, that will require that Labour comes off the fence and drops its present stance of studied ambiguity on the subject.

  • JD would like to acknowledge this excellent Guardian article by Steven Poole, which he used extensively in the preparation of this post.

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Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes: master of the political cartoon and the jazz clarinet

June 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm (Art and design, good people, jazz, Jim D)

Wally Fawkes is presented with his award for 'Caricaturist Of The Year' by Dennis Norden at the annual Cartoonist Of The Year award in 1997

Above:  Wally is presented with his award for ‘Caricaturist Of The Year’ by Dennis Norden at the Cartoonist Of The Year award in 1997 (Photo: Christopher Cox)

Belated birthday wishes (he was born 21 June 1924) to a hero of this blog, Wally Fawkes. Wally has at least two claims to fame: he was, until failing eyesight forced him to give up a few years ago, the (mainly, but not exclusively) political cartoonist ‘Trog’ …

    'The Hand Of History', a cartoon by Wally Fawkes (Trog) about Tony Blair appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 12th April 1998.

 Above: cartoon from 12th April 1998 (Sunday Telegraph)

… and also one of the finest jazz clarinettists Britain has ever known. Here he is with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 1954. The tune, appropriately enough, is his own composition, Trog’s Blues:

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Reassessing Corbynism: success, contradictions and a difficult path ahead

June 21, 2017 at 7:35 am (class, conspiracy theories, democracy, economics, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, left)

A worthwhile (and generally leftist) critique from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI):

Corbyn’s success in building an alliance that extends from Greens to UKIP voters only postpones the moment of Labour’s reckoning with Brexit

By Matt Bolton, Doctoral Researcher, University of Roehampton

The trickle of mea culpas from the rapidly diminishing band of Corbyn-sceptics following the election result has now turned into a flood, and not without cause.  Once widely-held truisms – Corbynism is a ‘movement’ more clicktivist than canvasser, Corbyn himself is electorally toxic, Labour face a 1931-style demolition and the collapse of its Parliamentary presence – have been shown to be categorically wrong.  Corbyn ran an energetic, positive, smart campaign, founded on an unashamedly tax-and-spend manifesto.  The quick-witted air war was backed up online and through unprecedented numbers of volunteers taking to the streets to engage potential Labour voters and getting them to turn out on polling day.  Such mass activism had long been promised by Corbyn’s most vocal supporters, but aside from his own leadership campaigns, had been in sparse evidence on the ground.  But there is no doubt that when it came to the crunch, Corbynism cashed its activist cheques.  This level of enthusiastic political engagement would simply not have taken place with another leader – although the suspicion persists that a lot of the urgency was the product of retrospective regret on behalf of younger Remainers that they had not done the same (or perhaps even voted) during the EU referendum.

The election result also clearly demonstrates that Corbynism has not destroyed the party’s parliamentary presence.  Labour has made some promising gains, particularly in England, and as Paul Mason notes, seem to have somehow picked up votes both from the liberal and green metropolitan left, and a decent sized portion of the former UKIP vote.  This was undoubtedly a remarkable and wholly unexpected achievement, one which few in the top echelons of either party thought possible up until the moment of the exit poll.  But while Labour are rightly still celebrating a welcome electoral step forward, not to mention capitalising on the total collapse of Theresa May’s authority as Prime Minister, unpicking the reasons why Corbyn was able to bring this unlikely electoral coalition together reveals that many of the criticisms levelled at the Corbyn project continue to hold.  Indeed, in some ways this election has merely postponed a true reckoning with the contradictions and regressive tendencies that run through the Corbynist worldview.  In particular, Corbyn’s success postpones once again the moment of reckoning at which the left finally recognises that the acceptance of Brexit and the end of free movement constitutes a fundamental, generational defeat, one for which gains in the House of Commons, however welcome, are scant recompense.  With this in mind, then, this article is not yet another mea culpa.  It is rather an attempt to take stock of what has changed and what has not, in the form of some first thoughts on how this election result – and in particular Corbyn’s Green-UKIP alliance – was possible.

This was the first post-deficit election

Direct comparisons with previous elections (whether on seats or vote share) are misleading.  Each election takes place in an entirely different context, which shapes what can and cannot be said within the campaign, and what is regarded (rightly or wrongly) as ‘credible’.  Much of the day to day grind of politics consists of the battle to shape that context (as can be seen with the struggle  over the ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ interpretation of the referendum result, a battle which until Thursday night at least, May seemed to have comprehensively won).  The 2015 election was dominated by discussion of the deficit and debt.  The endless repetitions of how the Tories were still ‘clearing up Labour’s mess’ trapped Ed Miliband in political-economic territory from which he could never win  –  every word from his mouth was framed by the context of how Labour’s supposed overspending had led to the crash and the ‘deficit’.  This frame has, incredibly, now virtually disappeared. Labour were careful to cost their manifesto nonetheless – demonstrating that the difference between their position and Miliband’s cannot be explained by mere hard left ‘will power’ – and the Tories failure to bother doing the same, lazily assuming the line from 2015 still held sway, left any attacks they made on Labour’s spending plans seem hollow and hypocritical.  But it was the combination of austerity finally starting to bite the lower middle classes in a way it hadn’t in 2015 (school cuts and the NHS winter crisis cut through in a huge way) and Brexit that really wiped the economic slate clean.  The Leave promises of an extra £350m a week for the NHS, regardless of their veracity, put public spending for services back on the ‘credible’ electoral playing field in a way that we have not seen since 2005.  Add in May’s own desire to boost infrastructure spending, and Corbyn and McDonnell had the space to make spending commitments that were just not available to Miliband.  They made the most of it.

The left’s instinctive trust in Corbyn allows him to successfully triangulate

The idea that Corbyn is a truly authentic man who has stuck to his principles through thick and thin is prevalent even amongst his fiercest critics.  It is also his greatest weapon when it comes to keeping the left (and the youth vote) onside while in reality triangulating as ably –  if not more so –  as any Blairite.  Labour’s policy on immigration in this election was well to the right of the 2015 manifesto.  Miliband was pilloried by the left for proposing ‘controls on immigration’, which slogans on mugs aside, amounted to a two year ban on EU migrants receiving benefits.  Corbyn’s manifesto went even further than May herself by pledging to end free movement of people from the EU come what may in the Brexit negotiations.  While the effect of this was to almost entirely drain the ‘immigration debate’ from the election in a way unimaginable even six months ago, this was only due to the total capitulation of both Corbyn and the broader left on the issue.  The immigration policy in Labour’s 2017 manifesto was more extreme in concrete terms than what most of the Leave side were proposing in the referendum -  in essence assuring full withdrawal from the single market, whatever the consequences -  and yet Corbyn’s supporters on the left accepted it because they refuse to believe that Corbyn himself, as a man of principle, can really mean it.  While every word Miliband (or indeed virtually anyone else who is not Corbyn) is treated with suspicion, despite the pro-single market arguments of the contemporary Blair being inherently far less punitive on immigration than Corbyn’s position, Corbyn is given the benefit of the doubt every time, even when the policy is written down in black and white.  This is triangulation of the highest order, enabling Labour to appeal to hardline anti-migrant UKIP voters while also keeping the trust of the ‘cosmopolitan’ urban left.  It is doubtful any other Labour leader would have been capable of achieving this.  Yet the faith in Corbyn’s supposedly unshakeable core beliefs is such that his party’s policies on immigration barely register amongst people who would be incandescent with rage if another Labour leader even vaguely gestured towards them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Khadija Saye: artist

June 18, 2017 at 8:08 pm (Art and design, good people, humanism, posted by JD, RIP, tragedy)

Khadija, pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fireKhadija Saye , pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fire (Credit: Facebook )

Waldermar Januszczak in today’s Sunday Times:

Amid the preeners and posers, she warmed hearts
I never met Khadija Saye. My only qualification for writing about her id that I knew her art. But I can say that she was not, as the MP David Lammy well-meaningly puts it, “an emerging artist”. Real artists are never emerging. They have already emerged.

To understand why I say that you need to imagine the Venice Biennale. Every two years the entire international art world descends upon the tiny islands of Venice to argue about who is best at this or that. They call it “the Olympics of modern art”. It’s a crazy, frantic and occasionally horrible event that chews up artists and spits them out.

This year Khadija Saye showed up in Venice. Indeed, she is still showing there, until November 26, in an exhibition at the Diaspora Pavilion. I’d never heard of her before. She was showing a set of small and haunting photographs of women in African dress. Some were self-portraits., Others were pictures of her mother. All had an ancient look to them as if they had been discovered in some 19th-century scrapbook left behind by a retired colonel.

This ancient look was the result of a process called wet collodion tintype. It’s an early photographic process that results in an especially soft and haunting array of grey and black.

In my review in Culture on May 21, I said Khadija “heaps poetry and sadness onto her imagery”. In a biennale full of posturing and preening, games-playing and posing, her heartwarming portraits, with their palpable sadness and their sense of a lost colonial past, saved the day.

So no, I’ve never met Khadija Saye. But I know she stood out from the crowd. And that she was a true artist.

Image may contain: one or more people
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Image may contain: one or more people
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Billie Holiday: I’ll Be Seeing You

June 17, 2017 at 9:18 pm (culture, jazz, posted by JD, song, Soul)

Any musical interlude, just at the moment, needs to be sad. This version of I’ll Be Seeing You, by Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood’s Orchestra in 1944, is certainly that; Billie was a jazz improviser first and foremost, but she also respected the lyrics:

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Letter to the Telegraph: “The fire would not have occurred under the London Building Acts and bylaws.”

June 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm (engineering, environment, history, law, London, posted by JD)

  Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The Daily Telegraph Letters to the Editor, 16 June 2017

SIR – The construction of buildings in London was controlled between 1667 and 1985 by the London Building Acts and associated construction bylaws.

These were administered by district surveyors, appointed by the superintending architect to the Greater London Council but independent as statutory officers who not only helped write the acts but also had the final say over any forms of construction. Many sections of the bylaws included the phrase “to the satisfaction of the district surveyor”.

The 28 district surveyors (all highly experienced construction professionals, usually both chartered engineers and chartered surveyors), working with the GLC’s buildings regulation department, ensured that all buildings built in the old London County Council area were safely built.

The old maxim in the service was: first, make sure it does not fall down; secondly, make sure it does not burn down; and thirdly, use your common sense for all other matters.

This excellent service was abolished in 1985 and replaced with the inferior National Building Regulations system. The London district surveyors were not responsible to any council and so could always do what they saw fit, free from political or financial pressure.

The fire at Grenfell Tower would not have happened  under the London Building Acts and bylaws. Proper fire breaks in the cladding would have been insisted on and, more importantly, enforced. Controlling fire-spread was the foundation of the  of the 1667 Act for the Rebuilding of London and its basics were still in place when I stood down as district surveyor for Chelsea in 1983.

No combustible materials would have been allowed on the outside of a building, no cavities in cladding allowed to create vertical fire or air pathways. Vertical and horizontal fire breaks were the foundation of the protection principles.

A building would have been regularly inspected by the respected London Building Regulations Department of the GLC and if found wanting, the owners, whoever they were, would have been prosecuted.

My former district surveyor colleagues will not be surprised that this disaster happened. Whenever politicians and accountants are in ultimate control of complex building matters, in place of experienced construction professionals who do not have to answer to them, we will see more disasters like this one.

Terence Jenkins
Tring, Hertfordshire

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Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

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Grenfell Action Group: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears”

June 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm (class, environment, Human rights, London, posted by JD, privatisation, Tory scum, tragedy, workers)

It is becoming apparent that the residents of Grenfell Tower had made repeated representations to the (Tory) Council and the so-called Tenant Management Committee, about their fears over the safety of the building. But these were poor working class people, isolated within a prosperous borough. They were ignored, as the Grenfell Action Group’s blog demonstrates:

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Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel

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