The “erratic and chaotic” Trump administration

August 13, 2017 at 7:24 pm (identity politics, nationalism, plutocrats, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Republican Party, Russia, strange situations, Trump, United States)

 Martin Rowson 05.08.2017 Illustration: Martin Rowson (The Guardian)

Martin Thomas spoke to Andrew Gamble about the character of the Trump government. Andrew Gamble is a Professor in Politics at the University of Sheffield and the author of many books on political economy. [The interview was recorded at the end of July, before the North Korea crisis blew up, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website]

MT: Since the 1940s the world markets have been structured by a series of institutions: the WTO, the IMF, the G20, the G7, NATO. The USA has been central to all of these. Is Trump going to blow them up?

AG: He hasn’t been tested by a major international crisis yet, but almost certainly there’ll be one during his presidency. How he will react is unclear: how much he will be guided by people like Mattis and McMaster and how much he’ll do something unpredictable. There is a risk it could be the latter. While he hasn’t done much that’s very radical yet, he has certainly disoriented the complex web of international alliances that the US has put so much store by over the last 70 years. He has upset Australia and Germany: very long-standing allies. He has given comfort to Russia and some other states which are normally not close to the US at all. This has been very unsettling for lots of other states. The likelihood is that that’s going to continue because of the erratic and chaotic way the Trump administration works.

MT: The Economist (26/1/17) commented that Trump was bringing to political dealing his approach from business bombast and brokering: “he aims high, pushes and pushes, but then settles for less than he originally sought”. But, as the Economist comments, “dealing with countries is a higher-stakes game than bargaining over Manhattan building plots”.

AG: I think it is partly that. He clearly had so little actual political experience. His business background was fairly low-level – real estate – he wasn’t CEO of a major international company or anything like that. Tillerson is a different category of a businessperson from Trump. Trump’s experience was as a reality TV host. That too has coloured how he has approached things. He approaches relations with other leaders with an eye on how it’s going to play with his base and how he can make himself look good. He uses bluff and does outrageous things partly in the belief that this will enhance his ability to do deals. This is in itself a very unsettling way of conducting relations.

In the first six months he sent out more than a thousand tweets. These things are superficial in one way, but they betoken a style which is deeply unsettling: the fact that he is prepared to put things into tweets which normally, in previous presidencies, would have been private communications, the fact that he’s prepared to go public. I had wondered whether his behaviour might start to change as he learnt more about what the US Presidency was like. But it seems at the moment that this doesn’t seem to be happening. Every time his behaviour has become a bit more normal it has been followed by reverting to some of his old techniques and habits. I conclude that he probably isn’t going to learn very much and what we’ve seen in the first six months is likely to carry on.

All US Presidents have had courts. But Trump’s court is particularly fluid and has some very opposed factions within it, which, in policy terms, point in quite different directions. Trump seems to pivot from one of these factions to another, so that no faction is dominant for very long, and he plays the factions off against one another. That makes the policy even more erratic and hard to read for foreign observers. Where this is all going is strange. We should expect some major shocks, and particularly if crises of one kind or another test Trump.

MT: The Russia connection? What’s in it for Trump? And what’s in it for Russia?

AG: It is mysterious how difficult it is for Trump to shake the Russia connection off. That has led me to believe that there is something going on which we don’t understand yet. The likely thing, although there isn’t firm evidence for this yet, is that Trump’s business empire is reliant in some way on Russian money – not government money, but oligarch money. There were stories at one time, of links through Deutsche Bank, which is one of the main funders of the Trump business empire.
The multiple links of people associated with Trump with Russia are extraordinary. There is probably something of substance behind it all. He has also got people, particularly Mattis and McMaster, who represent the American political security establishment and a traditional US policy towards Russia, and that of course chimes with what a lot of Republicans want.

So Trump has been forced to concede on the sanctions. But it doesn’t stop him! The latest revelation, that at the G20 meeting [7-8 July in Hamburg] he had a second 60-minute chat with Putin in which Putin used a Russian translator and Trump wasn’t accompanied by a translator. That in itself was a breach of state department protocol. What is going on? Why would you do that, when there is so much focus on his links with Russia and his associates? Read the rest of this entry »

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The net closes on Trump: either a traitor or a useful idiot

May 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm (Asshole, corruption, fascism, Jim D, nationalism, plutocrats, populism, Putin, reaction, Russia, strange situations, Trump)

It’s pretty obvious that former FBI director James Comey was sacked because the FBI’s investigation of Russian government interference in the 2016 election was closing in on Trump. All other explanations – and in particular, that the cause was Comey’s handing of the Hillary Clinton email affair – are simply preposterous.

Trump has denied any collusion: but he would, wouldn’t he? All the (admittedly, so far largely circumstantial) evidence points to Trump being either a traitor or Putin’s useful idiot.

Putin has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election: but he would, wouldn’t he? Albeit, with a smirk.

Comey spoke in March at a rare open hearing of the congressional intelligence committee, which is also investigating the links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give the committee details that were not already publicly known. He also said he could not give a timetable for its completion. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

Also testifying before the committee was National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to damage the presidential  prospects of Hillary Clinton.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing ones in order to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

Since then, Trump has faced well-sourced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he is in no doubt that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic Party during the election, but that at the time he left his post in January, he’d seen no evidence of collusion.

However, Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said the material he had seen offers circumstantial evidence that US citizens collaborated with Russians to influence the vote.

If the Trump campaign were found to have colluded with Russia it would eclipse the Watergate scandal and be the most outrageous act of treason in US history.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election, because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, but now – outrageously – turns out to have been heavily involved in the Comey sacking.

Flynn was fired after he was exposed as having lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser. Flynn has a long history of close and friendly relations with the Putin regime, and has received payments from the regime’s propaganda channel RT.

flynn.jpg Flynn (left) dines with Putin

He lied about having discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January, when he said he had “no communications with the Russians”:  it later emerged that he had met Kislyak during the campaign.

Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed (‘recused’) himself from the FBI inquiry into Russia’s interference in the election: now it transpires that he’s played a key role, at Trump’s behest, in getting rid of Comey.

Trump could be heading for impeachment over his corruption and treacherous links to Russia. But, unlike even Nixon, Trump doesn’t play within the rules of bourgeois US politics.

Trump is still very popular with his base. He can argue plausibly that he has tried using Executive Orders to do what he said he would do. Where these orders are being reversed by the courts or bureaucracy he will point to the key idea that the system is broken and dominated by a liberal elite.

The Russian issue doesn’t currently  impinge on his supporters’ admiration for him as they are in general isolationists. He’s on 80% approval ratings with Republican voters.

Trump won’t go quietly and the ace up his sleeve is the movement behind him. It is a  genuine mass movement, plebeian in character (often sole traders, shop keepers, small business owners, lumpen blue collar workers, the unemployed, farmers etc) and radical in the sense they don’t defer to authority. If he wanted he could probably mobilise enough of them to turn up outside the Capitol with guns and set up camp. There is a history of this kind of thing happening in the US at state level.

The impeachment of Trump would in all likelihood enrage his mass base, fuelling ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories and resentment against bourgeois democracy: fertile ground for American fascism.

That doesn’t mean that the left shouldn’t use the charge of treason and collaboration against Trump, or not campaign for his impeachment. Some on the left (and even the liberal-left) have recoiled against this, on grounds of supposed “McCarthyism” (a claim that Trump himself has raised): but that’s nonsense. The suggestion of collusion with Putin is not comparable to the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and ’60’s: Putin is behind an ultra right wing international campaign to promote reaction, nationalism and isolationism wherever he can. He’s backed Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and a host of other ultra-right and semi-fascist movements.

It’s not McCarthyism to denounce Trump for his links with Putin, up to and possibly including outright treason. But it’s not enough: the US left must also engage with Trump’s working class base and convince them that this billionaire racist, shyster and charlatan offers nothing worthwhile to American workers.

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Chinese ruling class shuffle the pack

November 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm (AWL, capitalism, China, imperialism, Jim D, plutocrats, reblogged, stalinism)

Adapted (by Jim Denham) from an article originally written before the announcement of the new leadership, by Camila Bassi

One in five of the world’s populace now have new leaders for a decade’s term.

The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was an assembly of the ruling class so tightly regulated that all that China’s people and the rest of the world saw was a well-orchestrated display of bureaucratic power.

Behind-the-scenes faction fights between the elites within the Party had already been settled for the sake of the ruling class’s survival.

The previous Vice-President Xi Jinping (a candidate accceptable to all of the Party’s factions) succeeded Hu Jintao as leader of the CCP.

After Xi and the No. 2 official, Li Keqiang, who becomes premier, the other top officials on the ageing Politburo Standing Committee, in order of their new rank, are Zhang Dejiang, 66, a North Korean-trained economist now running Chongqing; Yu Zhengsheng, 67, the Shanghai party boss; and Liu Yunshan, 65, the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, which is in charge of censorship. The final two on the seven-member committee are Wang Qishan, 64, known for his economic management skills, who will be in charge of anti-corruption efforts as head of the party’s discipline commission in the new government; and Zhang Gaoli, 66, the party boss in Tianjin.

Now seems an apt moment to pose the question, what defines the present political moment in China? I’ll provide a response through seven key observations.

China's politburo

Above: China’s new politburo standing committee at the Great Hall of the People

1. The Princelings, the Populists, and the Bo Xilai affair

Two defining factions at the top of the CCP are the “princelings” and the “populists”.

The princelings tend to have familial roots in the Party and geographical origins in the economically prosperous coastal areas of the country. They are seen to represent business interests.

The populists tend to have climbed the ranks of the Party and to have come from more inland (poorer) Chinese provinces. They are perceived to speak more for the vulnerable social interest groups.

Bo Xilai, while head of Chongqing, had ambitions for the Politburo Standing Committee. Bo (a princeling) represented — through the since-coined Chongqing Model — one avenue for more general political reform in China. In this major city he drove through a combination of high state control, which included a high-profile (but selective) clampdown on organised crime, the promotion of Maoist “red culture”, and the courting of foreign investment alongside large-scale public provision.

Bo’s downfall came from the death of a British businessman and his related corrupt business dealings, but also from factional fighting and his challenge to Party convention. The significance? The reaction of many of the populace, which questioned the deep-seated corrupt nature of the Party itself and how Bo had risen to such prominence.

His downfall was the biggest event in China since the 1989 revolutionary uprisings centred on Tiananmen Square. With approximately 500 million Chinese netizens, the Party cannot control everyday life as it once could.

2. Troubled times for the Chinese economy

China’s economic growth has been slowing down for seven consecutive quarters and this year it will have  the slowest economic growth rate since 1999.

The huge spending package launched in 2008 has, it is estimated, led to the building of half of all of the country’s physical assets within the last six years.

The “inevitable side effects of that stimulus — non-performing loans and potentially deflationary overcapacity — have not yet taken hold” (Pilling, 2012). Take housing as an example. About 30% of the country’s housing stock is currently lying empty. If we add to this that the economy has still to be rebalanced by the CCP from investment to consumption, and the economy’s dependence on exports to a recession-hit Europe, troubled days surely lie ahead.

3. working class protest and militancy

As surveyed in my article in Solidarity 258, both the quantity of working class protests in China has significantly increased this century and the qualitative nature has changed, with these protests becoming more militant.

As previously noted: “Whilst worker protests in the early 2000s predominantly involved laid-off workers from state-owned enterprises and rural migrants employed in the private sector, by the end of the decade a new group, or a ‘new generation’, emerged. Those born in the 1980s and 1990s have altered the nature of the migrant worker to one younger, better educated, more connected, and with higher expectations and more willingness to take on proactive demands.”

4. The rise of “middle class” discontent

This is less militant. So-called “middle class” protest in China is more about better government than the overthrow of the existing one. But the rise in discontent amongst middle-income Chinese includes currents desiring some form of bourgeois democracy.

Intense political discontents on housing, health, education, and the environment, are all fundamentally driven by a concern that the CCP pursuit of economic growth is at the expense of ordinary people.

The recent NIMBY protest in Ningbo against a petrochemical plant led to a concession by the local government to stop the plant’s expansion. This decision can be explained both by the fact that it occurred in the run up to the 18th Congress, during which the Party seeks an especially compliant population, and by the Party’s more general strategy (unlike the more violent one towards militant working class demands) of keeping the peace by piecemeal allowances.

5. Anxious maintenance of internal stability

Based on observations 1, 2, 3 and 4, an increasingly more assertive Chinese population — able and willing to take on its government — might well indicate that China is on the verge of a revolution.

One further factor needs to be brought into play for such an assessment, which is the ability of the CCP to (in its own words) “maintain internal stability”.

The Ministry of Public Security records the number of “mass incidents” rising from 8,700 in 1993, 32,000 in 1999, 50,000 in 2002, and at present 100,000 annually. More to the point, the Party is increasingly serious (paranoid even) about keeping control; currently spending as much if not more on the maintenance of internal stability than its defence force.

So, while my article in Solidarity 231 assesses the potential of an inspiring struggle against land seizures and for local democracy in Wukan village, any suggestion of meaningful political reform is tempered by the introduction of militias in Wukan since August of this year. This reflects, more generally across China, “the newest incarnation of a venerable approach to population control and social management” (Wagner, 2012).

6. The Sino-Japanese islands dispute and Chinese nationalism

The CCP is creating new facts on the water in its long-running maritime disputes with the Philippines and Japan.

Could this situation escalate further and draw China, Japan and the United States into a war? It cannot be ruled out.

Not unrelated is the nature and volatility of Chinese nationalism, which has deeply embedded within it a popular anti-Japanese racism, as seen in the recent wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations across the country. Herein lies a means for the CCP to unify the populace and distract them from the problems within by the problems without.

7. China in Africa

Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times (21 October) states: “The big picture remains the Pentagon’s AFRICOM spreading its militarized tentacles against the lure of Chinese soft power in Africa, which goes something like this: in exchange for oil and minerals, we build anything you want, and we don’t try to sell you ‘democracy for dummies’.”

A widespread view on the left, based on observations like this, is that US imperialism is the big bad evil, while China remains a palatable alternative. A serious assessment of Chinese imperialism is avoided.

China is now Africa’s largest trading partner and lends the continent more money than the World Bank. Chinese companies have entered profitable oil markets in, for instance, Angola, Nigeria, Algeria and Sudan, made big mining deals in countries like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are constructing what is claimed to be the world’s biggest iron mine in Gabon; additionally, land is being sought for large-scale agribusinesses, and physical infrastructure — to swiftly move capital and labour — is rapidly developing (French, 2012).

In terms of global geopolitics and imperialism, we need to take stock of what this means.

It is not so much the implications of any one of these observations but rather the consequences of them all climaxing and cumulating which makes China’s present moment so critical. Watch this space.


Associated Press (2012) ‘Successful pollution protest shows China takes careful line with rising middle class’. The Washington Post.

Bassi, C (2012) ‘China’s new worker militants’. Solidarity 258.

Bassi, C (2012) ‘Chinese workers fight for democracy’. Solidarity 231.

BBC (2012) ‘China’. BBC World Online.

French, H (2012) ‘The Next Empire’. The Atlantic.

Pilling, D (2012) ‘Xi should draw up a new social contract for China’. Financial Times.

Wagner, D (2012) ‘The Rise of the Chinese Urban Militias’. Huffington Post.

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Mikhail Prokhorov and The Guardian

January 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm (censorship, Cross-post, Free Speech, Guardian, plutocrats, Russia)

By Respresenting the Mambo

I think it’s worth drawing your attention this little tidbit, dear reader.

Yesterday evening [the day before yesterday, now – JD] an article appeared on the Guardian website supposedly written by prominent Russian tycoon and politician, Mikhail Prokhorov. You can read it here if you are so inclined. It is pretty desperate stuff however.

Prokhorov is an extremely dodgy man indeed with longstanding links to the Kremlin and has been guilty of some frankly unbelievable things in his attempts to enrich himself over the years, just check this out, and it is bewildering that he is being given column inches by a publication that claims to be a great believer in democracy and liberal values. The man is a Kremlin stooge and part of a generation of gangsters who enriched themselves enormously at the expense  of ordinary Russians, many of whom were impoverished by the wave of privatizations of the Yeltsin years. His possible candidacy for the Russian presidency next year is fairly obviously a ploy by the Kremlin to deflect liberal anger into a safe cul-de-sac and thus ensure a Putin re-election.

Naturally the article, and the bare-faced hypocrisy of its contents and past record of it’s author drew a rapid, righteous and abusive response on the comment pages. Many valid points were made about his record and the ridiculousness of such a man being given a platform by the Guardian of all people. I joined in with my usual mixture of biting wit and searing political commentary, and made the point that sadly the Russian opposition was fairly weak, and linked to my earlier article on the sad state of the Russian Communist Party.

And then the comment fuction was promptly shut down with no explanation. A large number of the critical comments were deleted. They contained nothing that normally invokes the ire of the moderators, just honest, left-wing political criticism of the man and his appalling record.

Why was this? What were they so worried about?

It was then re-opened the following morning and has been ever since. But instead of being blocked subsequent critical comments have just vanished. I put my comment back in mid-morning (it was a quiet day at work……) and a short while later it had completely gone, along with numerous other comments backing me up. Normally the entry is there but the contents have been blocked. These have just vanished. There is a gap between 1105 and 1305 of no comments at all.

All very mysterious. Why did the Guardian do this? Are they really trying to protect this man from criticism? Have they lost their minds? Or is something else going on here?

It’s sad indeed that even the Telegraph allows basically a free-for-all in its discussions but the Guardian runs a section called “Comment is Free” that is moderated in such a crass and anti-democratic fashion.

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M Jelly on Scots nationalism

September 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm (Jim D, middle class, parasites, plutocrats, populism, scotland)

Over at Dave‘s:

scotCH nationalism is shit. in all its forms. disgusting little wannabe hitlers the lot of them. Och aye the noo we are ohpressed!

opposition parties twice reject his £30 billion spending plans.

Alex Salmond has threatened to resign and call an early election if his Budget is rejected twice

NO> YOU ARE NOT YOU THICK FUCKING DRIVEL MERCHANTS. No more than the fuckking ENGLISH Northern regions are anyway you tossers.

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Richard Branson – the people’s capitalist

July 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm (capitalism, celebrity, James Bloodworth, parasites, plutocrats)

Cross-posted from ‘Obliged to Offend’

Sir Richard Branson is widely held up as an example of entrepreneurial success.
Not in the mould of the ruthless tycoon sat atop a shiny tower counting piles of
cash, but as the face of a new breed of capitalist who, at the end of the
20th-century, “tore off their ties, threw open their shirt necks and fretted
about their employees’ spiritual well-being,” as Terry Eagleton puts it.

Richard Branson is essentially a man of the “Cool Britannia” era. “We
are seriously relaxed about people becoming very, very rich,” Peter Madelson
said at the time; and this was reflected in people like Branson. It was no
longer a source of shame to have “loadsamoney”. Class, that old chestnut of
20th-century politics, was no more, or so the establishment liked to think.
Still lingering here and there like a bad smell, but on the way out,

Unsurprisingly perhaps, it didn’t take long before the rich
began to view the payment of tax as something they could be seriously relaxed
about, too. What would at one time have been shameful became over the course of
30 years something like a badge of honour. This did not restrict itself to those
at the top of society, either. Even members of the working class – those on the
receiving end of today’s government cuts – can at times be heard referring
disparagingly to the “tax man”, implying a dark, shadowy figure in it simply for
what they can get. Perhaps it is indeed language that is of greatest importance
in this respect, for one can hardly boast of “asset maximisation” when
well-aware they are depriving not an anonymous and shadowy “tax man”, but
terminally ill children of otherwise affordable cancer treatment, or pensioners
of the ability to heat their homes for more than a few hours a day.

Recently I wrote an article highlighting the behaviour of Bono and U2
when it came to the payment of tax. In it I quoted Jim Aiken, a music promoter
who helped stage U2 concerts in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. What he said
epitomised Bono and the new breed of ego-driven capitalist in a sentence: “U2
are arch-capitalists – arch-capitalists – but it looks as if they’re not.”
Looking beyond the self-glorification and ferocious publicity campaigns that
characterise Bono’s “charitable giving,” U2 were simultaneously cutting the feet
from under their own government’s ability to provide for the very poorest in the
world – the very people Bono feigned the greatest concern for.

A similar thing could be said of Branson, whose first company, Virgin Music, started amid
a sophisticated purchase-tax fraud that Branson himself admitted in 1971. The
company was sold in 1992 for £560m and Branson went on to build his business
empire from there. Despite a public persona as the amiable People’s Capitalist,
Branson, according to Tom Bower, author of the book Branson, has spent “a lifetime building

a fortune on hype, misrepresentations and…a criminal conviction for tax

Branson’s business interests would always come ahead of any
notion of the public good. For years Branson campaigned in Westminster for the
privatisation of the rail network, one of the most disastrous sell-offs of
public assets during the Thatcher era. Today Virgin Rail remains dependent on
state money, aggressively protects its monopoly, and is subject to an exorbitant
number of passenger complaints. (Bower, 2005)


Another of Branson’s obsessions, his “lifetime ambition,” according to a millennium
lecture he gave at Oxford, was to take over the running of the National Lottery.
As Bower points out, “possessing the lottery would bequeath a vast cash flow in
management fees and endless free publicity to Virgin by association while
Branson anointed the lottery’s millionaires. By controlling the lottery, Branson
would never again need to bother with dicey enterprises like cola, clothes,
cosmetics or even mobile phones. Most important, he would reverse the crushing
humiliation he suffered by two rejections”.

News surfaced today that Branson is planning to
move Virgin’s brand division to Switzerland in a switch that is likely to save
the company millions in tax revenue. The move is being undertaken, in the words
of Virgin, “to co-ordinate…international growth and brand management,”
whatever that means.

Commenting on Virgin’s historical tax record in
Britain before the latest move was announced, Richard Murphy from Tax Research
was already less-than complimentary, saying: “I didn’t think
Virgin paid any tax here, let’s be blunt about it. It’s been remarkably poor at
doing so.”

Whatever the case, the British treasury – and by that I mean
hospitals, schools and care homes, to name but a few – is about to become
several million pounds lighter, and no amount of rolling-up the shirtsleeves,
hairspray or aspirational rhetoric is going to change that.

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Brooks arrested: enjoy!

July 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm (crime, gloating, Jim D, media, plutocrats)

Play this clip over and over again…

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Sweet Smell of… Murdoch

July 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm (cinema, crime, jazz, Jim D, media, plutocrats)

Back in 1957: an amazing premonition:

All we lack right now is the Chico Hamilton Quintet.

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Stopping Murdoch is not enough

July 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm (crime, democracy, James Bloodworth, media, plutocrats)

Cross-posted from ‘Obliged to Offend

In a matter of weeks the political class has gone from cap-doffing servitude to outright hostility to Rupert Murdoch and News International. It feels almost surreal watching Ed Miliband and David Cameron publically attacking Murdoch when until recently they would have stopped at nothing to curry favour with his newspapers. Tony Blair’s former special advisor, Lance Price, even said in his memoirs that Mr Murdoch was the “third person to be consulted on every major decision” during Blair’s time in office. Asking who voted for this – after all, the most obvious question for any serious democrat – was apparently off-limits for our politicians until last week. Now they are asking nothing else.

Anyone who has ever read a copy of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper, if read is the correct term, would be hard-pressed to find any worthwhile contribution to British cultural life within its pages. Those who have felt the wrath of the Sun in recent years have ranged from asylum seekers to benefit claimants to the straightforwardly eccentric. The Sun and the NOTW also tap very successfully into a layer of public veneration of the military and a proud hatred of anything remotely French or German. This mentality can be seen most visibly during football World Cups or on the eve of a war, when a failure to applaud or cheer at the correct volume is treated as high-treason or a sign of closeted homosexuality; usually both.

The problem for the left – and it is a real problem – is that the public buys this sort of thing in droves. Several years ago the then-editor of the Mirror Piers Morgan tried to include more “serious” news in his paper, only to see circulation decline dramatically as a result. Going by the sales figures at least, if it’s a contest between hard news and peado-bashing the latter tends to shift more copies.

Some on the left are celebrating Murdoch’s setbacks as if the destruction of one man will solve the problem of a biased, corporate media and usher in a new, progressive era. In reality, the problem is not so much Murdoch but a notion of “freedom” that allows wealthy barons to use the media as their business propaganda-wing. As Hannen Swaffer, one of the early 20th century pioneers of British tabloid journalism, put it, “freedom of the press in Britain is the freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to”.

The resulting copy often brings to mind the description given of the Cuban Communist newspaper, Granma, by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman, who described his morning encounter with the newspaper as “a degradation of the act of reading”.

Despite what the political right will inevitably say, the call for a democratisation of the media to prevent a few wealthy barons controlling the entire political and cultural information-gateway is not a call for the destruction of freedom of the press, but a demand for a truly free and democratic mass-media.

In the clamour to get rid of Murdoch, though, let us on the left not forget the real issue here: media plurality. When Murdoch is gone, it could quite easily be someone else.

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Ashcroft: did the Tories ever simply …ask him?

March 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm (Conseravative Party, Jim D, plutocrats, Tory scum)

Don’t be vague, ask Hague:

Nice try, Paxo, but Hague may as well be speaking in Italian…

‘You must have asked him … yes or no?’

William Hague Shadow foreign secretary,
Andrew Marr Show, BBC1 November 2009

Andrew Marr One further confusing question to many people: you’ve been out and about with Lord Ashcroft. Do you know whether he pays tax in this country yet?

William Hague I’m sure he fulfils the ­obligations that were imposed on him at the time he became …

Marr Have you asked him?

Hague I have asked him.

Marr And?

Hague … because I’ve been asked whether I’ve asked him before. My conclusion having asked him is that he fulfilled the obligations that were imposed on him at the time that he became a peer.

Marr So does he pay taxes in the UK?

Hague Well that, well that, I imagine that was the obligation that was imposed on him.

Marr So you think he does?

Hague So I think he’s fulfilled what was asked of him.

Marr I don’t understand …

Hague Well, you can’t expect me to know every detail of somebody’s tax affairs. But I have asked him and he has …

Marr But you must have asked him … yes or no, surely.

Hague I’ve asked him and he fulfils the ­obligations that were imposed on him …

Caroline Spelman Shadow cabinet minister, Daily Politics, BBC2, June 2009

Interviewer Where does he pay tax at the moment?

Spelman Well, Lord Ashcroft has a duty to comply with British law, in respect ofpolitical donations, and the Conservative party also has a duty as a recipient of those donations to ensure donations are done with compliance to the law, and … both we as a party and he as a donor has complied with the law.

Interviewer So is he resident in the UK and paying taxes here?

Spelman A donation has to be made by an individual who is, who pays, tax in the United Kingdom.

William Hague Newsnight, BBC2, June 2009

Jeremy Paxman Your deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft, a man whose peerage you lobbied for, saying that he would become resident in Britain for tax purposes – can you just tell us, is he resident in Britain for tax purposes now?

Hague I have no reason to think that he has not complied with the commitments that he made.

Paxman That is not the same as an assurance that he is.

Hague Well, it’s the truth as I know it.

Paxman Have you asked him?

Hague I have no reason to think that he hasn’t complied with the commitments that he made.

Paxman Have you asked him?

Hague I’ve discussed it with him and that is the conclusion I have come to.

Paxman Have you asked him directly?

Hague I have discussed it with him and I have no reason to think that he hasn’t complied.

Paxman Did you say to him, ‘Are you resident in Britain for tax purposes?’

Hague I said to him at the time that of course I expected him to fulfil …

Paxman Now.

Hague … commitments …

Paxman Have you asked him?

Hague And I have no reason to think that he hasn’t done.

Paxman I’m asking for evidence from you that you have at least been intellectually curious enough to discover whether or not your deputy chairman is resident in the ­country for tax purposes.

Hague As you know I’m rather an intellectually curious person and I have no reason to think that he hasn’t complied with the requirements.

Paxman You’ve never asked him?

Hague I’ve discussed the matter with him and made clear the expectations.

Paxman You got him the peerage on the basis that he would become resident in this country for tax ­purposes. And you’ve never asked him.

Hague And I’ve just given you the answer about that. I certainly have no reason to think he hasn’t complied.

Eric Pickles Conservative party chairman, Today programme, Radio 4, December 2009

So far as I know, he has fulfilled all of his obligations being a member of the House of Lords … I dare say that if you get his lordship on the programme, he will be very happy to answer for you.

David Cameron Politics Show, BBC1, December 2009

Lord Ashcroft’s tax status is a matter between him and the Inland Revenue. What I can say and what he has said is that the undertakings he gave at the time of being made a peer are undertakings that he is meeting.

William Hague Andrew Marr Show, BBC1 February 2010

Andrew Marr The information commissioner says that ‘statements by senior politicians concerning Lord Ashcroft’s undertaking’- that’s on tax – ‘have been evasive and obfuscatory’. Now can you therefore tell me whether or not he pays tax in this country?

Hague Well let me give you something that’s not at all evasive and obfuscatory. David Cameron has called, and the government have then come into line with that, for all members of both houses of parliamentto be treated as if they’re fully residentand domiciled in the United Kingdomfor tax purposes, with no ifs and butswhatsoever, from the next financial year.Lord Ashcroft has said that causes him nodifficulty at all, and that he will still besitting there in the House of Lords under those rules …

Marr Does he pay tax as a British taxpayer, as a British citizen, which is a very straightforward question

Hague Well, I’ll give you another clear statement, which is that when he was made a peer in the year 2000, he was asked to give certain guarantees about that, and he then implemented those guarantees – and he’s assured me that he did. Although what they were in detail was defined between him and the Inland Revenue at the time. I am not a party to that.

Sir George Young Shadow leader, House of Lords, Today programme, Radio 4, 8 February 2010

Evan Davis Of course there’s one bigquestion that hangs over your party, doesn’t it, which relates to your deputy chairman, Michael Ashcroft, and what his tax status really is. What are the conditions that were applied when he was awarded a life peerage?

George Young On the question of tax status, there was an all-party amendment on Tuesday to the corporate governance and constitution bill that’s now going through, that makes it clear that, as from next year, anybody in the House of Lords is deemed to be domiciled for tax purposes. I hope that resolves the issue. They’ll all have to pay tax, like they were you or me.

Davis But it’s still quite interesting to know what the man financing a lot of the election campaign activities – what his status is?

Young I think his total funding since the last election is about 5% of the Tory party.

Davis That’s a considerable amount offunding to come from one individual, isn’t it? Conditions were applied to him, as I understand it, when he became a life peer, that he was resident for tax in the UK. Is that your understanding of it?

Young My understanding is that there is, at the moment, a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office, to clarify exactly what the undertakings were. I think one has to let that take its course.

Davis Wouldn’t it be better for your deputy chairman to just tell us what the conditions were, rather than digging around in theCabinet Office? He’s perfectly free to tell us, isn’t he?

Young Well, I think that’s a matter for Lord Ashcroft rather than for me to clarify.

Davis He’s your deputy chairman. It’s a party matter!

Young But it’s an undertaking which he gave to another body, and that body has been asked for documents. I don’t know what those documents contain. We have to wait for the freedom of information process to complete its course. I’m sorry, but I just can’t shed any light on this.

(Quotes above from the Graun, 9 Feb 2010)

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