Philip Green: archetypal British capitalist

July 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm (capitalism, corruption, economics, posted by JD, reblogged)

By Phil Burton-Cartledge at All That Is Solid (first published 26 April 2016, and now even more relevant):

Philip GreenOn global capitalism in Lenin’s day, the Bolshevik leader had this to say: “Imperialism is an immense accumulation of money capital in a few countries … hence the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by “clipping coupons”, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness …” If only the money men of 21st century Britain remained excrescences on the economy, of directing their stooges to invest capital and growing fat off the labour and talent of others. At the risk of being wistful, this ideal-typical view of your average capitalist is long buried and have gone beyond mere uselessness. Drunk on their parasitism, they are oblivious to how their appetites are not just imperiling the health of the enterprises they gorge upon, but threaten to kill them outright.

The latest example is the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS), a venerable department store that has graced the high street for 88 years. Not that I ever went there, which I suppose is a microcosm of the predicament it finds itself in. Lately, not enough of anyone have come through its doors to buy outfits and lampshades. Yet the Darwinist cut and thrust of the retail market can only shoulder so much of the blame. The reason why BHS is looking down a barrel, and its 11,000-strong workforce face uncertain futures is in large measure down to its erstwhile proprietor, the fly-by-knight Sir Philip Green. Acquiring the struggling BHS for £200m in 2000, Green and his family shook the firm down for a billion quid. All the profits, all the wage squeezes, every saving that could be wrung from the business passed through head office en route to Tina Green’s capacious purse in Monaco. And when there was nothing left, Green offloaded BHS on his tax-dodging wife’s behalf for a quid. The new owners, a ragtag-and-bobtail outfit going by the name of Retail Acquisitions, failed to raise the cash BHS needed to start turning itself around.

It goes without saying that Green’s behaviour was grubby and disgusting, and he could face action from the pensions’ watchdog amid suggestions that the firm dodged its obligations (this would be on top of the pensions holidays many large firms took in the late 90s/early 00s, all with a nod from Gordon Brown). Seemingly aware he could be on the hook for something, Green has offered to stump up £80m toward the BHS pension fund’s half-a-billion deficit. I hope the sop is rejected and he gets rinsed.

As you can see, Green went well beyond the “coupon clipping”. His ownership and running of the brand suggests little if any interest in preserving the business for the long-term, of increasing products, introducing new lines, investing in new technology, and battling it out for market share. You know, the things Max Weber told us capitalists are supposed to do. If BHS was in difficulty 16 years ago, self-evidently a business that has a billion pounds sloshing around is a business that was not a basket case. Instead of treating BHS like a bile bear with the tap left on full for the Green durée, the monies could have been used to add value by expanding its range, aggressively marketing itself, and venturing properly into online retail. Instead, Sir Phil was to his host a tax-dodging, celeb-stalking, yacht-bothering tapeworm.

Ah, but he’s a one-off, a bad apple, yes? In the interests of fairness, BHS’s problems can’t all be laid at his door. The so-called death of the high street is the result of policies pursued over the last six years. The cost of living crisis (remember that?) was always more than a soundbite for millions of people. As meagre wage rises/freezes have bitten, people don’t have as much cash to splash, hence middlebrow stores like BHS were always going to face what the experts call a “challenging retail environment”. The second is the brash new competitor, Amazon, have got away with ripping off the Treasury. Without as much of a tax liability, they have built an infrastructure on the back of exhausting, low-paid work, which has given them an unfair competitive advantage. Having got caught dithering over steel, the Tories are not about to invite more scrutiny of their complicity in this situation. Which probably helps explain why Anna Soubry’s been very quick to discuss the issue in the House and dampen speculation about redundancies.

There’s a wider point. Green is the “cultural dominant” of what a capitalist looks like in 21st century Britain, the sort valorised, flattered, and admired by the City and its helpers. The pursuit of profit, of realising returns on investment, comes not from building things but of tearing them down. As David Harvey points out, global capital from the 1980s on snapped up sold off state infrastructure and coined it from the introduction of markets into public services. New markets were conquered, but these were provided by governments as they let capital swoop in and profit from institutions under their stewardship. Capitalism ate the infrastructure that sustained it. As Britain is the epicentre of global finance, we find here these necrotising social relationships have achieved their fullest expression: an economy whose GDP is dependent not on production, but the selling of houses between buy-to-let landlords, a state bent on selling off what’s left of the public domain to politically suitable bidders (one doesn’t have to be the highest, as the Garden Bridge fiasco demonstrates), and a financial industry that sucks in Britain’s best brains to design fiendishly complex but socially useless “products”, “packages”, “vehicles”, and “instruments”. Funny how the intangible has annexed the language of the concrete. In sum, the owners of capital have become dysfunctional and decadent from the standpoint of British capitalism itself.

Green is not a one-off. He’s archetypal.

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Lansman on Labour and the Jews: from ethnic cleansing to truth and reconciliation

May 31, 2016 at 6:17 am (history, Human rights, immigration, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, war, zionism)

Jon Lansman, writing at Left Futures, shows how Labour’s commitment in 1944 to a Jewish national state in Palestine wasn’t due to Zionist agitation or imperialist self interest but the effects of the holocaust; an important and well-researched piece: 

97i/16/huty/6851/17Who is responsible for the Middle East conflict? And how do we help resolve it? We can do worse than to begin by looking at Labour’s own history.

On this day [ie 30 May] in 1944, Labour’s annual conference was taking place in London. A week before D-Day and two weeks before V1s started hitting London, the Allies were making progress through Italy and were bombing targets in France in preparation for the invasion. And amidst all that, Labour delegates were focussed on “The International Post-War Settlement“, on how to build a post-war world.

They knew about the Holocaust though they had not yet really understood its magnitude. And in building a new world, they were prepared to contemplate some drastic measures. I recently purchased a copy of the NEC statement which was agreed at the conference. It included, in a section headed “Palestine”, the words I found profoundly shocking when I first read them:

There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home”, unless, we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, , less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.”

And so, without opposition, Labour’s conference committed itself to not only ethnic cleansing, but to a Greater Israel extending even beyond the boundaries that it currently occupies in 2016. It did so not because it was persuaded by the “Zionist lobby”, not in order to serve British imperial interests (which had been the only objective of the Balfour declaration in 1917), but because of the Holocaust, and the refugee problem that they expected.

This nevertheless shocking commitment to ethnic cleansing should be seen in the context of an earlier section of the report in a section headed “Frontiers“:

All Germans left outside the the post-War German frontiers, unless they are willing to become loyal subjects of the state in which they find themselves, claiming no special privileges, should go back to Germany. Indeed they will be well advised to do so in their own interests, for, in the early post-War years at any rate, there will be a depth of hatred against Germans in the occupied countries, which it is impossible for us or for Americans to realise.

Germans in many of those areas may have to face the choice between migration and massacre.

The organised transfer of population, in the immediate post-War period, may, indeed, be one of the foundations of better international relations in a later phase. Nor would this be a new departure. Between the Wars the transfer of population between Greece and Turkey was an undoubted success.

In any case, there will be a vast problem of repatriation and resettlement in Europe, when tens of millions of refugees, slave labourers and prisoners of war return to freedom and their own homes. Compared with this, the transfer even of substantial national minorites, German and other, to the right side of the post-War frontiers will be a small affair. “

Shocking as it may be to those of us who observe from a safe distance the fall-out from the ethnic cleansing that did in fact take place in 1947 in Palestine and the conflict that followed, it was seen as a relatively “small affair” in the context of the end of World War II. Ethnic cleansing had allegedly been an “undoubted success” in Greece and Turkey in spite of the deaths from epidemics in transit and the resulting poverty and hardship on arrival.

Churchill who had promisedthat we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people” – with the backing of Labour’s leaders and conference – agreed with Allied leaders to back the ethnic cleansing of 12-14million Germans across central and eastern Europe after the war.

The largest forced migration in history” was “accomplished largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” including being herded into camps including former Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz or Theresienstadt, victims being subjected to beatings, rapes of female inmates, gruelling forced labour and starvation diets.

Estimates of those who died in transit vary upwards from 500,000 though the German government clings to earlier estimates of 2million. This included those who died of disease or malnutrition which included a high proportion of children and the elderly. What’s more, other minorities were expelled on the back of this forced migration: Hungarians from Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Romanians by the USSR. And that is on top of the forced repatriation of Soviet POWs.

Labour was right to expect massacres from populations that had suffered German brutality under occupation. And the League of Nations and post-World War I treaties had utterly failed to protect ethnic minorities subjected to the racism of right-wing nationalist governments right across central Europe in the new ethno-centered nation states Western leaders had created in the dismemberment of the old empires. On the altar of “self-determination”, Allied leaders had handed multicultural cities and towns across Europe to be ruled by strident ethnic nationalists.

By 1944, they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Not in Europe, and not with the Jews. And so it was they that created Israel. Of the Allied leaders, it is true that both Bevin and Attlee were persuaded by the complexities of managing inter-communal conflict in the Mandate of British Palestine (rather than by Ernie Bevin’s antisemitic prejudices though he had them) to abstain on Israel’s creation. In addition to the pressure of US diplomats on countries like Haiti, Philipines and Liberia, it was the three votes controlled by Stalin (cast on behalf of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus) which ensured that the two-thirds majority for resolution 181 was achieved.

And so what of the role of Zionism? For all the diplomacy and organisation of the World Zionist Organisation for half a century, it was not that which led to the creation of Israel. It was the Holocaust, the plight of the survivors seeking safe refuge, and the guilt of the American, British and other Allied leaders who did not wish to take them in (though many would have been satisfied with that).

So they did for the Jews what they were not prepared to do for the Kurds, nor for the Roma. And the Jews, a majority of whom in almost all countries had not supported Zionism prior to the War, rejoiced at the prospect of a safe place to live. And who with the knowledge of their circumstances cannot understand that?

And the Palestinians understandably saw and still see the loss of their land as a catastrophe. The Nakba. And who that reflects on their circumstances and what they have experienced since cannot understand that?

If there is to be peace, justice, democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine, both of those realities need to be acknowledged. Only truth can bring reconciliation.

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Junior doctors: is the deal a sell-out?

May 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm (health service, reblogged, solidarity, unions)

From A Healthy Blog, republished with the permission of the author, Dr Peter Campbell:

Sell Out?

During the past year we have learnt an incredible amount. From how to organise a picket and dealing with the media, to contract law and equality impact assessments.

On Wednesday (last week) we were taught a lesson by the Government. A lesson on media management. The power of the Government to define a story in its own terms. When the news of the deal broke and we were faced with an onslaught of media and press reaction. ‘The war is over,’ ‘the deal is done,’ ‘BMA agrees terms with NHS Employers.’ It left a lot of Junior Doctors scratching their heads. Is it? Have we just lost?

The appearance of Jeremy Hunt on the national news did nothing to reassure us. His usual mix of factual inaccuracies and scorn for Health Professionals driving many into a frenzy. How could the BMA have done a deal with this man, and how could any deal be any good with the claims Hunt has made?

But if you look beyond the spin, the picture is a lot less clear cut, and there are parts of the deal which are very good for Junior Doctors, and directly oppose Hunt’s narrative on the contract. There are bits of the contract which quite frankly are not good enough and will the apparent return to a position of a cost neutral contract leave Junior Doctors open to more attacks down the line?

hunt plan.jpg

There is a lot for Junior Doctors to consider, and there is much to discuss as we plan the way forward. Industrial action and tough negotiation has won us concessions from the government that I did not believe were possible. The Junior Doctors Committee will meet on the 3rd June prior to the referendum of all Junior Doctors (and penultimate and final year medical students) to articulate a way forward.

Here are my thoughts on some of the issues:

Pay & Weekends

Currently junior doctors receive a pay uplift for unsociable hours (called banding.) The new contract splits this pot of money into sections. A pay premium for hours worked at night, retains a banding for Non-Resident on-call (NROC) and introduces a graded banding for weekend work.

This graded banding, based on the number of weekends worked is vital for Junior Doctors. It means there will be an escalating cost to increased weekend working, putting trusts off from rostering more doctors at weekends. Because it is a banding system it applies to the entire weekend. The risk of a junior doctor being asked to work repeated Saturdays as plain time has gone. Junior Doctors have got what they wanted, a financial disincentive to routine weekend working, and Jeremy Hunt is left trying to spin a defeat into victory.

Pay for all work done

When we look back at this contract negotiation I believe this will be seen as the biggest mistake made by the government.

Late last year the Junior Doctors Committee stated that it wanted pay for all work done. A reasonable request. The previous version of the contract honoured this on paper, but not in practice by stating that if a Junior Doctor could predict the hours they were going to be overworked they could request to be paid for these hours. Any junior doctor could tell you this was a joke, and would never work in practice.

The ACAS agreement states that we will now be able to claim for these hours before, during or after the period of extra work. This means the system will now be able to cope with the realities of the work. Doctors will be able to ask for this time to be added to annual leave or claim it back as pay if there is no space in the rota for them to take the leave.

This will be overseen by the Guardian. This newly created role with have oversight over a number of aspects of safety, rotas and exception reporting. The mechanism of reporting overworking. This was rightly described as a weak point in the previous contract. But it has been beefed up, and crucially will now be under scrutiny by Junior Doctors.

Equality

Unfortunately it is here that the ACAS document doesn’t stand up so well to scrutiny. The March contract offer was rightly attacked for its discrimination towards women, lone carers and the disabled. While this contract makes some moves in the right direction, many of these are of speculative benefit.

The reality of the loss of annual pay progression is a less equal contract. A week point of the new contract is also evening working. Particularly important for carers. The governments desire for the political victory will currently see this contract implemented before much of the work around rotas, equality issues or safety has been completed. Not a good starting point for a complicated, divisive new contract.

Cost Neutrality

Jeremy Hunt argues this contract is ‘cost neutral.’ What he means by this is that compared to October 2015, this new contract would not cost any more than our current contract. Therefore if we were to transport ourselves back to October 2015 and put all Junior Doctors on the new contract the pay envelope would be the same.

Nobody believes this contract is cost neutral. An accurate estimate of the extra work done by Junior Doctors is difficult, but there is clearly a lot of it. If we start paying out for that cost neutrality is blown out the window.

But by saying it, and if Junior Doctors do not oppose it, it gives the Secretary of State political leverage for further cuts. In a years time when the pay bill has grown due to the NHS actually paying doctors for the work they do how will the government respond. In order to keep the pay bill cost neutral will it cut doctor numbers? Will it ask hospitals to cut services? Will it try and close whole wards or hospitals?

Junior Doctors have put themselves in an incredibly powerful position. We should not lose faith in our collective power now. Baring any surprises in the terms and conditions released on or before the 31st May I will be voting ‘no’.

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Khan victory in London brings horrible prospect of Kate Hopkins and sausage

May 7, 2016 at 2:57 pm (labour party, London, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, reformism, secularism, Sheer joy)

I can’t improve on Comrade Coatesy’s coverage of this superb result:

Sausage Identical to the one said to be on Way to Kate Hopkins’s Bum.

It was a joy to see Sadiq Khan won the London Mayor election.

For readers not in the UK (roughly half those reading this blog) this is a report,

Sadiq Khan became the first Muslim mayor of London in the early hours of Saturday after a bitter campaign marred by accusations of dog whistle racism on the part of his rival, the millionaire environmentalist Zac Goldsmith.

The Labour MP for Tooting in south London finished comfortably ahead of his Conservative rival whose camp accused Khan of “pandering to extremists” and tried to depict him as a Jeremy Corbyn loyalist who planned to use the capital for a “dangerous experiment”.

In his victory speech, Khan said he was “humbled” to be elected. In sharp remarks, he directly addressed Goldsmith’s campaign saying that he was proud “that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division”.

He added: “I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear does not make us safer, it only makes it weaker – and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city. I promise to always be a mayor for all Londoners, to work hard to make life better for every Londoner regardless of your background.

“I have a burning ambition for London. I want every single Londoner to get the opportunities that our city gave to me and my family.”

Referring to his late father, who came to London from Pakistan, Khan said he would have been proud “that the city he chose to call his own had now chosen one of his children to be mayor”.

Guardian.

Owen Jones notes,

Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign? No chance

Zac Goldsmith has lost, his reputation ruined, a political disgrace consigned to the history books. He had a choice. He could have capitalised on his reputation as a liberally minded, eco-friendly Tory, crossing partisan divides, love-bombing a city that has increasingly become a Labour heartland. Initial polls suggested he had a chance, even a significant lead. The cheerleaders for Tessa Jowell, the Blairite candidate in Labour’s selection race, wrongly suggested Sadiq Khan was unelectable.

Instead, Goldsmith waged a campaign soaked in racism, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities on Earth, shamelessly exploiting anti-Muslim prejudices in an effort to secure a shameful victory. Khan was a candidate who “repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views”, he wrote in the Mail. London was offered a campaign of fear, smear and bigotry. And London overwhelmingly told it where to go.

A more detailed analysis of the national results will follow, though it is clear that attempts to drive Labour down to the ground have not born fruit.

For the moment we note that critics of Jeremy Corbyn claim any successes as their own work, and any set backs as his.

This is one reaction from a leading British commentator after, on Wednesday she tweeted:

French co-thinkers of Hopkins yet to react: Two Hours of a Muslim London Mayor and Daesh have not yet blown up Big Ben.

Then there is this, from the Weekly Worker, no doubt endorsed (?) by the ‘Labour Party Marxists’.

Both of them.

Vote Galloway

The Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, meeting on May 1, agreed to call for a vote for George Galloway (first preference) in the London mayoral election and Sadiq Khan (second preference).

We call for a first-preference vote for George Galloway in spite of his notorious alliances with the Iranian regime, with Ba’athists and other oppressors in the Middle East, and in spite of the political differences for which we have repeatedly criticised him.

We do so because the witch-hunt around allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ currently being conducted by the Labour right and the mass media is an attempt to smear any opposition to US policy in the Middle East as racist, and is part of a class struggle conducted by the capitalist class to recover full control of the Labour Party by its paid agents.

Sadiq Khan has come onside for capital in this witch-hunt; Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have collapsed in the face of it. In contrast, George Galloway has responded robustly and broadly correctly. In this context a first-preference vote for Galloway is a useful, if limited, protest against the witch-hunt.

It is not yet known how the ‘Provisional Central Committee’ will react to the results, including Galloway’s 1.4%  (Wikipedia):

Mayor of London election 5 May 2016 [183]
Party Candidate 1st Round  % 2nd Round Total  First Round Votes  Transfer Votes
Labour Sadiq Khan 1,148,716 44.2% 388,090 1,536,806
Conservative Zac Goldsmith 909,755 35.0% 250,214 1,159,969
Green Siân Berry 150,673 5.8% 468,318 618,991
Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon 120,005 4.6% 335,931 455,936
UKIP Peter Whittle 94,373 3.6% 223,253 317,626
Women’s Equality Sophie Walker 53,055 2.0% 198,720 251,775
Respect George Galloway 37,007 1.4% 117,080 154,087
Britain First Paul Golding 31,372 1.2% 73,883 105,255
CISTA Lee Harris 20,537 0.8% 67,495 88,032
BNP David Furness 13,325 0.5% 36,168 49,493
Independent Prince Zylinski 13,202 0.5% 24,646 37,848
One Love Ankit Love 4,941 0.2% 28,920 33,861
Labour gain from Conservative

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Hillsborough: the truth finally confirmed

April 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm (cops, Murdoch, posted by JD, reblogged, sport, tragedy, truth)

The truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the police cover-up (aided by The Sun) has gradually emerged over the years since 1989, but today’s inquest verdict of Unlawful Killing is a brilliant vindication and a tribute to the families’ resolute campaigning. The blog Guy Debord’s Cat carried this article in September 2012, as the truth became undeniable:

Hillsborough: the truth at last

Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees.  You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.

It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.

In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.

Phil Pellow's photo.

Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his  version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.

Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.

Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary.  Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,

“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”

Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,

“I think the police are a very easy target.”

We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.

Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.

Justice for the 96!

Don’t buy The Sun!

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Good riddance IDS: long may this Tory warfare continue

March 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm (Conseravative Party, David Cameron, reblogged, Tory scum, welfare)

By  Phil Burton-Cartledge (at All That Is Solid)

When you’re the head of a department that has meted out cruel and inhumane treatment to disabled people, when you’ve sat in the Commons and nodded through cut after sanction regime after tightened eligibility criteria, at what point do you say enough and call time over your complicity in these proceedings? Does one draw a veil over the old ministerial career by claiming principle and love for the charges you’ve spent six years abusing, or stick the boot in to cause maximum political damage?

Iain Duncan Smith, the so-called quiet man who’s done catastrophic harm to the position of disabled people in this country, has elected to do both. Uncharacteristically, an attempt to fund tax cuts for the well off by taking monies from payments to disabled people has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Which is interesting, considering their previous attacks have gone by with nary a murmur from outside the ranks of disability campaigners, the left, and the labour movement.

Okay, so let’s look at IDS’s “good reason” for resigning – the statement he’s put out himself.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Blimey, IDS is lining up with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn! Almost.

He goes on …

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working-age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money-saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

To understand where IDS is coming from, one has to step inside his head. It’s scary, so come walk with me. Having previously corresponded with his ministerial office on dozens of occasions, I got the sense that IDS was acting out of ideological zeal. All of his letters would come back extolling the virtues of work, and ironic considering that IDS’s prescription for others is something he’s never really availed himself of. No matter. Work was the route out of poverty. Work was the route to self-respect. Work was the route to good health and mental well being – views typical of someone for whom low-paid drudgery is but a rumour. And IDS knew this better than the medical establishment and disabled people themselves. If only they could be liberated from their can’t-do mindset, hundreds of thousands drawing down disability support could become fully productive citizens. It is a sick joke when you think about the fates of some unfortunate ESA recipients, but IDS absolutely, genuinely believed he was designing a social security system that would “save lives”.

IDS has sat uneasily (to a degree) in Dave’s cabinet. He is an ideologue who takes his twisted principles seriously. Dave and Osborne are a touch more mercurial. They are wedded to broken Tory economics, but are quite willing to ditch principle for expediency. In Wednesday’s budget, Osborne was interested in shoring up a Middle England constituency ahead of the EU referendum as well as making a play for succeeding Dave. As he was prepared to give nice middle class people like me another tax cut and have disabled people pay for it, this clearly was too much for IDS. Just so Osborne was prepared – again – to throw IDS’s life work under a bus, so the Quiet Man has finally returned the favour.

What about the real reason? A little bit has to do with Europe, innit? Exit is another of IDS’s cracked priorities, and again must be frustrated that a number of ambitious Tories – not least the Mekon-like Sajid Javid and other heir-presumptive Theresa May – have dumped principles for position. By strengthening Osborne’s association with attacks on disabled people, he’s calculated that the chancellor will not pass the work capability assessment for Tory leader and the way be open to someone who’s either a bit more ideological, or will allow him space for his continued misadventures in social security. If only there was an unprincipled, opportunist celebrity chancer in the running for the leadership who fits the bill.

To be sure, IDS’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Dave’s leadership and the his hopes of keeping the Number 10 sofa warm for Osborne. Long may this internal warfare continue.

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The Nightmare of Cologne: Denialism and Bigotry are not the only choices

January 9, 2016 at 10:55 pm (Anti-Racism, Germany, Human rights, immigration, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, religion, thuggery, women)

This article has been re-blogged from the Rambling Infidel:

A member of a German-Tunisian association handed out flowers Thursday near the site of scores of holiday assaults in Cologne, Germany. 

Above: a member of a German-Tunisian association hands out flowers near the site of the assaults

By The Rambling Infidel

Writing this article will be like walking through a minefield because this is a very sensitive issue. As it touches on sexual violence, multiculturalism, immigration and intergration, which are not easy subjects to talk about.Let me make one thing VERY clear from the start: I am not interested in spreading propaganda or spreading hatred and bigotry towards people. Nor am I interested in endorsing far-right narratives about immigrants, muslims or whatever group they wish to persecute. However, I believe we must have a serious and scrupulous discussion about this, as for too long now this issue has been swept under the rug, deflected and dodged. We cannot remain silent on this.

What happened?

In Cologne, there were reports of shocking sexual assaults taking place during the New Years celebrations prompting 90 legal complaints by women to the police. Dozens of young women in Cologne were groped: and in one case raped, by hundreds of men described in testimonies as having a “a North African or Arabic” appearance.

The attackers are believed to have organized themselves into gangs then stalked, molested and eventually mug women as they were enjoying New Years celebrations. The accounts of these assaults seem very reminiscent of the sexual molestation -with the intent to intimidate women- that went on in Tahir Square during protests that brought down President Mubarak and Morsi respectively in Egypt in 2011 and 2013.

Similar attacks were reported in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart on the same night. In a seperate incident a gang rape of two teenage girls in the southern German town of Weil am Rhein on New Year’s Eve is believed to have occured. Police have arrested four Syrians, aged between 14 and 21, as suspects.

Shocked German authorities called these assaults “unprecedented in nature” saying “hundreds of young men appeared to have participated”.

Who did it?

The identification through testimony of the attackers in Cologne as “North African or Arab men” will inevitably raise the question of whether they were refugees from Syria and Iraq or recent migrants from North Africa. As of now, we are not sure all the attackers were recent migrants into Europe, but it is clear that at least some will be if we go by suspects currently detained by German authorities.

German police initially claimed there was no evidence that asylum seekers were involved in the violence, only for it to emerge that they had in fact detained several (mainly from Syria) on the night.

This does not mean there have not been cases of sexual assault committed by migrants in Germany, never mind in other European countries and amongst refugee women also. We are seeing a growing number of anecdotal cases where this is happening. I stole my anecdotes from this piece.

In November a club in Bavaria started turning refugees away after a string of complaints of sexual harassment from female clients.

In Baden-Württemberg at least one hospital has hired guards to protect nurses who feel intimidated by the refugees they treat.

The Woman’s Council in Hesse claimed in an open letter to the state parliament in September that they have substantial evidence of sexual abuse, including forced prostitution, in refugee shelters.

In August a regional paper in North Rhine-Westphalia also reported police covering up a serious sexual crime. After hearing about the rape of a 13-year-old girl by a refugee, the paper enquired with police as to what crimes they knew of in the refugee shelters.

There have been other reported cases in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland  and within refugee camps and shelters. This is a full blown European problem.

Why?

It is true refugees and migrants are no more likely to commit sex crimes or any other crimes than the local population. Sexual harrassment on the street is obviously not exclusive to Arabs and Muslims. In recent years India (last I checked it was a Hindu majority state) has had huge problems with sexual violence. However, there are certain truths that must be stated. This by no means discredits my previous points but it gives a more nuanced picture of this crisis. That is what is often missing from these debates- nuance.

One plausible reason why there is this sex crime phenomenon among migrants is because of a gender imbalance in favour of males among the migrants and refugees. According to the International Organization of Migration 66.26 percent of adult migrants registered through Italy and Greece over the past year were male. Many are young, unmarried, military aged males. Some are fleeing being coerced to join militias in Iraq and Syria, some have come from refugee camps in Turkey and hope to bring family members with them and others are simply fleeing the dangers of war.

Politico had a great article explaining why having such a massive gender imbalance is a problem. It argues a skewed gender imbalance in favour of males can lead to an increase in violence. It references the research of Valerie Hudson in her book which focused on China’s surplus male population which found an imbalanced sex ratio can lead to more violence, crime, rape and danger for women.

“There are also clearly negative effects for women in male-dominated populations. Crimes such as rape and sexual harassment become more common in highly masculinized societies, and women’s ability to move about freely and without fear within society is curtailed. In addition, demand for prostitution soars; that would create a deeply ironic outcome for Sweden, which invented the path-breaking Swedish abolitionist approach to prostitution.”

It is important to take this into account when dealing with the migrant and refugee crisis.

There is also a cultural dimension to this sadly.  Many of the men come from The Middle East and North Africa which are not exactly known for their exemplary treatment of women. I know this sounds like a racist thing for me to say, but it is absolutely true.
In many of these countries arcane and backward ideas about women and sexuality are widespread. Women’s bodies are shamed, women are taught as girls to revile their sexuality and to feel guilty if a man is “seduced” by their “fitna”. This then leads to men feeling  they have the total right to sexually harass any woman who is not in a burqa or the “correct hijab” or anything that does not meet the “modesty” standard. They are all asking for it. Hell! even women in burqas get harrassed so women never get a break from this oppression. Sexual harrassment for women in the Middle East and North Africa is so much a part of daily life that, for example, the Cairo metro is gender segregated in a reactionary measure to try to address this.

While a cultural element does undoubtedly exist, one has to be careful of not exaggerating it to the point of evoking old stereotypes of dark-skinned, foreign men out to prey on white women. This struggle will not be won by sinking down to racism and collective punishment. Like I said before a nuanced understanding is what we need not propaganda.

The responses

What I found particularly unhelpful was when the mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker was asked by journalists what women could do to protect themselves better from this. She said. “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length”and that she would soon be issuing a “code of conduct” for women “so that such things do not happen to them.”

Yeah…I intend to molest and mug a women, but shit! She’s an arm’s length away from me! therefore I can’t do anything. Reker’s comments reeks of utter stupidity. She is essentially saying “German women watch you behavior, dress modestly, dont look cheery and keep quiet”. I can’t believe I have to say this in 2016 but women are not to blame in any way for sexual assaults they expierience. The blame LIES exclusively WITH the creeps who violate a woman’s bodily integrity and no one else.

This is the same backward and medieval mentality used to excuse sexual harassment of women all around the world whether in Egypt, Nigeria or India.

There are two responses one often sees in reaction to events like this, both are unhelpful and feed off each other.

The knee jerk reaction from immigration sceptics was “I told you so, you PC Liberals were wrong”, therefore we should “shut the borders”, as  “they cannot adapt to a civilised society”.

Pegida and their likes will definitely be more mobilised as they have announced a protest on the 9th January where they will to spread their alarmism, bigotry and their Eurabia conspiracy theories which is very scary.

As you can see Pat Condell with his terrible shirts jumped with glee to “prove us all wrong” about “third world muslim men” invading Europe through sex Jihad of western women.

On the other hand, the extreme left wing spasm was “we do it too”, “we are no better”, embodied in articles such as this. This piece basically argues “white people also commit sex crimes”, which is true. No one is saying the west is perfect when it comes to sexual harrassment but all of a sudden it is a problem if you point out sexual harrassment done by someone of a different culture.

This wasn’t the only absurd reaction.

Laurie Penny I am afraid to say does have a whisk of a point here. Of course, anti muslim bigots like PEGIDA will faux concern for women so that they can exploit this in order to attack muslims. However, it is dangerous to imply that anyone who explores the plausible cultural phenomena behind sex crimes done by muslim immigrants is automatically a bigot.

Conspiracy theories like this certainly do not help. This is pure denialism and a refusal to face up to reality. A very common trope among the left these days.

Then we have this from The Independent which instead of blaming the specific people responsible for the crime, it blames all men and says to point out the “difference” is to play into the far right narrative. The problem is not about race. While gender is part of the problem there is also a cultural one. Cultures can have specific ideas within them that are harmful and can be changed for the better. It is not “racist” or “bigoted” to point that out as the slimy writer implies.

This piece in the Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff was marginally better than the various tepid responses from Liberals but still it veered into apologetics.

Again, we have this refusal to give the attackers any sense of autonomy and free will. Gaby is arguing these attacks happened as a result of German women being materially better off than their attackers. In fact many of the refugees have I Phones and the latest Samsung devices, even if they did not have them that is not excuse or an “explanation” for their action. There are many people around the world who are much poorer than the refugees from the Middle East who are capable of moral restraint. This is moral bankruptcy.

Maajid Nawaz’s take in the Daily Beast was so much better. His argument is we should take a level headed, sensible approach to this grounded in data and facts which does not stigmatize all refugees but also doesn’t pretend there is not a problem. For example, creating citizenship and employment courses to help these refugees intergrate better into European societies.

What was quite worrying about the Cologne case was how reluctant authorities were to give out information. This sparked accusations of a cover up done by the police which has lead to the Cologne police chief announcing his resignation.

Even the German public broadcaster, ZDF, on Wednesday apologised for delays in reporting on the wave of sexual assaults and for deciding to postpone a news segment until Tuesday.

This discrepancy will inevitably be noticed by right wing media outlets who will use it to feed their narrative that the mainstream media and the multicultural Liberals are liars who are not interested in protecting European citizens but rather in appeasing the “Islamic invasion of Europe” that will destroy western civilisation.

We are right to fear the far-right who will exploit this for their own despicable agenda. If you follow the faces of the “Counter-Jihad” movement like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Tommy Robinson or Pat Condell on Twitter you will notice they had a field day with this story

In saying that, I do not think the response should be that we are held hostage by what the far-right may or may not do and just ignore the problem or not say anything about it in order to maintain the PC, so called “multi-cultural” status quo. I certainly do not think there should be any censorship under any circumstance. We should know the truth even if it is uncomfortable to us.

Germany is now at a stage where we want to be so sensitive that they will arrest people for hate speech against migrants. You can arrest as many people as you want for saying things you don’t like but it is not going make the sex attacks done by Arabs magically dissappear. This enforcement of political correctness using state coercion will backfire as it will just breed defiance; because you cannot punish people for simply having opinions.

Silence and suppression will only embolden racists, fascists and anti-immigrant/refugee propagandists. Their legitimacy only comes from the fact that they claim to “speak the truth” on the supposedly rapid “Islamization of the west”. As with all propaganda there are certain grains of truth to what they say and if Pat Condell or Anne Marie Waters is the only person you hear speaking on this then do not be surprised if considerable numbers of people sympathise with them even if it is only a little bit with their views.

What is to be done?

I don’t have all the answers but I am skeptical the anti-immigrant response of “keep out the muslims” will actually do anything. It doesn’t solve the problem, it just transports it somewhere else. It essentially says you can rape or harass “your women over there” and amongst “your people” but just dont’t bring it to “our women over here”. Of course, I am not suggesting we take all of them in, as that is impractical. But it is also wrong to have a “shut the borders” policy, not only is it impractical, it is plainly immoral as it punishes those who desperately need refuge from war, fascism, theocracy and anarchy.

We must firstly, affirm without excuse or exception the right of women to their bodily integrity and their right to public safety. Secondly, confront and refute these backward, medieval ideas about women, honour and shame that lies under these crimes. Thirdly, urgently address integration, citizenship and social cohesion. Until we do that, then this problem will fester which will lead to more racism, more hostility towards migrants and refugees and the bolstering of reactionary forces within Europe.

In Norway which has went through similar problems is now offering newly arrived migrants classes on sexual violence. You may think this isn’t perfect but it is certainly better than silence. I would suggest we make them compulsory for all refugees and migrants. In addition, we should have comprehensive citizenship and integration programs for these people to improve social cohesion.

I would also propose that we should prioritise families in particular women and children in order to achieve a gender equilibrium like Canada has done with its own refugee policy. This to me is a fair and balanced policy as we are able to help the very vulnerable fleeing the Middle East, not have an absolutist rejectionist stance but keep things under control.

We must be sensible, level headed and calm without giving in to populism and demagoguery . Denialism and bigotry are not the only choices we have.

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The Syrian ‘opposition’ – how long can the Saudi deception continue?

December 21, 2015 at 10:28 pm (islamism, Middle East, posted by JD, reblogged, Syria, war)

Pete Radcliff (Observations from a Third Camp Perspective) writes:

The premise on which the British Parliament agreed to join bombings in Syria was that there would be little risk of a military escalation. Clearly bombings can drive the army and the administration of the ‘Islamic State’ into bunkers or into temporary physical dispersion. But a physical territory can only be captured if taken over by military forces on the ground. Cameron and others supporting the war made out that such a force was in existence.

Salman At Riyadh Conference

Saudi’s King and Foreign Minister welcome delegates

Rarely has it been possible to get a snapshot of the Syrian military forces supported by US, UK and France. Cameron played with illusions and words in the British parliament but illusions are insufficient for the US. They need to strengthen their bargaining power in the continuation of the earlier Vienna talks on Syria that may resume in New York next week.

For that reason they authorised Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the Syrian “opposition” at a meeting in Riyadh on 8th and 9th December. The very fact that they passed on such an important task to the regime at the centre of world Wahabbism and Sunni Islamist sectarianism revealed a lot about both the likely outcome of the West’s bombing campaign in Syria but it also revealed much about the majority of the Syrian militias.

There is little doubt that the Saudi regime is enjoying these times. The royal family have been very active in strengthening their relationship with many politicians across the western world, particularly the US, UK and France. Several US spin doctors have been employed by Saudis to cultivate these relationships. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the King’s son, has come out with a manifesto for rapid business growth in conjunction with their US and European allies.

But the key issue that currently has western politicians fluttering around the Saudi regime is their claim that they can unify a powerful section of the opposition in Syria – where the West, i.e. US, France and UK, are now embroiled in a war without explicit objectives.

After the huge popular opposition in the US/UK to the earlier Iraq War, the western governments are reluctant to repeat the error they made then by sending in troops to Syria. When the Saudis claim that they can unify a powerful opposition to Daesh and Assad in Syria, that has obvious attractions to western governments. In the continuation of the Vienna negotiations in New York that they hope to call next week they will enter them along with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in a far stronger position.

The war of that West is currently claimed to be against Daesh. But the Saudi coordinated allies are not so much bothered by Daesh. So a war of the West against Daesh with these allies on the ground will continue to be intertwined with one also against Assad.

If Turkey has its way, the war may even develop into one also against the Syrian/ Rojovan Kurds. Already the Kurds are claiming that the two Al Qaeda backed militias, Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are preparing an offensive against them.

The Saudis are less parochial than Erdogan with his obsession with the pummelling of the Rojovan Kurds. The war Saudi wants, along with the array of Islamist forces they are pulling together in Syria, is hugely different to the avowed war aims of the West. Daesh is not their concern. In fact there will be probably continuing covert approaches to elements of Daesh to join with them in a jihad on the increasingly Shia forces around Assad.

But the strains within the wider alliance will not only be between Saudi Arabia and the West but also between Saudi Arabia and the militias in Syria pulled together this week in Riyadh.

There is a shared objective between those militias with their two main sponsors, President Erdogan of Turkey and the Saudi regime. All of them want an authoritarian and sectarian Sunni state. Saudi Arabia is the dominant one of the two state sponsors of these Syrian militias both in their ideology as well as their financing. So the eventual objective will more likely be a satellite state to the Saudi Wahabbist homeland.

However the statement that came out of the Riyadh conference was clearly couched for western consumption. US Secretary of State Kerry was in regular and frequent phone contact with both the Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir and the powerful Prince Mohammed Bin Salman throughout the Riyadh talks.

The statement that emerged from the conference called for a “democratic mechanism through a pluralistic regime that represents all sectors of the Syrian people”.

The statement is not truthful. An openly avowed statement for a sectarian Sunni state, never mind a Wahabbist one, would blow away the unprincipled alliance between Saudi Arabia and Turkey with the West. Opposition to Saudi Wahabbism in all western countries is growing and their governments would be subjected to fierce criticism if the real aim of the alliance that the Saudis are building was known.

So the statement is little more than what the Saudi tyrants excel in: two-faced double dealing. One might speculate that the conference was probably more of an educational in diplomacy by the Saudis to their Islamist co-thinkers on how you pretend to the West to do one thing whilst you really intend to do the exact opposite.

The coalition declared in Riyadh will be closely controlled by the Saudi regime. Its office will be in Saudi Arabia not in Syria. But central control by Saudi along with their money, arms and ‘volunteer’ fighters will be unlikely to keep the alliance together.

Many of the Islamist militias in Syria will say that they accept the objectives declared at the Riyadh conference and Saudi leadership – after all they want Saudi arms and money.

Despite the spectacular growth of Sunni Islamism in Syria there has also been ever increasing divisions. Possibility of Islamist unity is attractive to many of them but in the ideologies of those movements are strong memories of of what they consider to be past Saudi ‘betrayals’. The fact is that the Saudi regime, the Turkish-sponsored Islamists, the Al Qaeda offshoots and other sectarian forces that attended the Riyadh conference consider each other as treacherous. Read the rest of this entry »

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When Stop The War encourages kids to go to war … and other true tales

December 15, 2015 at 3:35 pm (anti-fascism, Human rights, imperialism, Paul Canning, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, thuggery, truth, Ukraine)

By Paul Canning


Book by STWC leader Andrew Murray. Cover picture shows the burning trade union building in Odessa “where 40 people died after supporters of the Kiev putsch government, Right Sektor activists and Chernomorets football ultras attacked.”

The past two weeks has seen a unprecedented amount of attention on the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), because of their association with the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Endless press stories and media appearances for a leadership under siege.

The STWC response to the spotlight has been to label every criticism a ‘smear’ or a ‘lie’, however it has also been to engage in some tragic PR tactics. When the focus has shifted onto what they publish on their website the STWC response has been to start cleansing the website – and firing the poor Web Editor.

At the instigation of ‘Soupy’ a blog has been set up to cover what STWC are trying to hide or may be about to try to hide.

The Real Stop The War launched at the weekend and here is the content on Ukraine which I contributed.

When Stop The War directs kids to war

The STWC website has a number of posts about Ukraine,. The most egregious by far are by John Pilger.

Pilger methodically repeats a series of Kremlin war propaganda* memes: That the 2014 Revolution of Dignity was a fascist coup (see the response to this pap by Ukrainian socialists and anarchists I link to in my post on Corbyn’s Ukraine fantasies); That there were pogroms against Russian speakers – a line lifted from Putin himself and a vicious fantasy.

The idea of NATO ‘expanding Eastwards’ and ‘threatening Russia’ – central to Pilger but also STWC more widely- not only ignores the agency of Eastern Europeans but also indulges one of the central myths used by Russia’s imperial rulers to maintain their rule.

It’s his post on the so-called ‘Odessa massacre’ that is the most dangerous. The violent events of May 2, 2014 were immediately seized on by Russia to paint Ukraine as fascist, Russia even toured exhibitions around Europe. Citizen investigations have shown that what happened was nothing like Russia says (and Pilger loyally repeats).

Among the mountain of falsehoods, Pilger includes the supposed eyewitness testimony of a doctor. This lie was very quickly debunked as Kremlin disinformation. There’s a weasel note on the post, copied from The Guardian, which fails to say that this information has been proven false.

The May 2 events have been widely used as propaganda and have led to a number of left-wingers (including Brits) traveling to Ukraine to ‘fight the fascists’. In reality they have arrived in ‘Republics’ where actual fascists wield power, anti-Semitism is endemic, homosexuality is illegal as are free trade unions and humanitarian agencies are banned because they might ‘foment counter-revolution’.

Those thug ‘Republics’ are backed by STWC leaders Lindsey German and Andrew Murray. They, along with Pilger, back war on ‘fascist’ Ukraine and couldn’t care less for the fate of any mugs encouraged by their website to participate.

*See this fantastic Lithuanian documentary for more on Russia’s war propaganda machine (in English).

See Also:

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France: Front National leads vote but fails to win regional power – Coatesy’s analysis

December 14, 2015 at 6:41 pm (Andrew Coates, democracy, elections, fascism, populism, posted by JD, reblogged)

Out blogging friend and expert on French politics, Coatesy, provides the following analysis:

Embedded image permalink

Final results graphic from second round

The BBC reports,

The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on 6 December as more people voted, according to the ministry of the interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73% to 27.36%. The Republicans increased their share from 26.65% to 40.63% and the Socialists from 23.12% to 29.14%. The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on 6 December to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures are based on a count of 98% of votes so far.

France 24.

Despite leading in the first round of regional elections last week, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) failed to gain a single region in the second round of voting in France on Sunday.

The head of the FN, Marine Le Pen had hoped to make history on Sunday night by gaining control of a region for the first time. But after winning 28 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of elections, the FN was pushed back in the second round as voters rallied behind the conservative Les Républicains party and President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).

The FN had been riding high, exploiting an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. The party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But that initial success failed to translate into any second-round victories.

The FN was defeated in three key regions where it had come in first place last week: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur and Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. The Socialists had pulled their candidates out of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur races to defeat the FN and it appears that many of their voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.

Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, while rival conservative Xavier Bertrand took around 58 percent.

Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won about 45 percent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region against conservative Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who received around 54 percent.

In Alsace Champagne-Ardenne Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, had refused to pull out of the race, even after trailing in the first round of elections. Despite that refusal to follow the Socialist Party’s orders, the FN candidate in the region, Florian Philippot, was defeated by Les Républicains candidate Philippe Richert, earning 36 percent of the vote against his 48 percent.

After her defeat Sunday night, Marine Le Pen insisted that the National Front was the first party of France. She said the election results would not discourage the “inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement” behind her party.

Pause for breath – there is worse to come:

“Nothing can stop us now,” Le Pen said after polls closed. “By tripling our number of councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France.”

Equally defiant, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who ran in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, urged supporters not to be disappointed. “We will redouble our efforts,” she said. “There are some victories that shame the winners.”

The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.

The election was seen as an important measure of support for Le Pen ahead of 2017 presidential elections.

Tactical voting boosts Sarkozy’s Les Républicains

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party won seven of mainland France’s 13 regions, giving them the largest share. However, it’s almost certain Les Républicains would not have been as successful without the tactical support of the ruling PS.

Conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand acknowledged as much in a speech after his victory against Marine Le Pen in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.

“I thank the voters for protecting our beautiful region,” said Bertrand. “I also want to thank the voters of the left who clearly voted to create a rampart (against the FN).”

On the left there is not much relief.

Une nouvelle fois, le sursaut républicain a bloqué l’avancée du FN. Mais ignorer l’avertissement serait dévastateur pour les partis traditionnels. Comments Libération.

The Republican ‘surge’ has blocked the FN’s progress. But the traditional parties ignore the warning at their own peril.

L’Humanité notes, “La mobilisation d’une proportion assez importante des abstentionnistes a fait la différence.” But deep difficulties remain: the left has to mobilise amongst the people to fight the far-right’s ideas.

We also observe that the Corsican nationalists now control the regional council in Corsica (le Monde).

Observations.

  • The Front National has failed to take over some of the levers of the established French political structure. This is a victory for their opponents. Regional councils, it has been observed, are a relativity cost-free platform for the display of  administrative stagecraft. Control of their budgets gives an opportunity to show off policies, reward patrons, and attract attention. Control of one of them would not have tested the FN’s national policies. It would have given the far-right party momentum. They do not have this.
  • The cost of the “sursaut républicain” is not to be underestimated. Despite reports that the FN is now attracting members from highly educated and .experienced French  administrative sectors (traditional sources of political cadres) the party continues to claim that it stands alone against the other parties, the political elite, the equivalent of the Spanish ‘casta’. With the Parti Socialiste calling its supporters to vote for Sarkozy’s  Les Républicains in the regions where they were alone capable of beating Marine Le Pen’s party, the claim will continue to appeal to their electorate.
  • The FN still headed the results. Indications that they performed well in the first round amongst young people (34% amongst the 18-24 year olds), the unemployed, workers (43%) , self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers (35%), white collar public sector workers (30%) and indeed all social categories. While the party is most supported amongst the young and the “popular classes” the results  suggest a party with a broader national appeal than any other French political force. (Elections régionales : qui a voté FN ?)
  • From a rate of 57% in the first round, to 50% in the second, abstention marked these elections. That workers, the out-of-work, and above all the young, are amongst the biggest groups of abstentionists, is thin against the above evidence of their far-right voting.  (le Front national, premier parti chez les jeunes… qui votent.Le Monde. 7.12.15.)
  • Claims that there is a “left wing’, ‘national’ socialist (protectionist and working class) strain in the far-right’s language in the formerly left North, and a more traditional hard right (xenophobic and morally reactionary)  line in the South East, have been eroded in this election. They were always doubtful – given the homogenising effects of modern politics. ( Les trois visages du vote FN Joël Gombin  Le Monde Diplomatique November 2015.) But both the protectionist, and above all the xenophobic  themes in the FN’s policies have had a nation wide impact.
  • The results have produced a crisis on the French right and left. On the right there are growing voices to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to run again for the Presidency. . The former is a serious political project, led by Sarkozy’s long-term more emollient and apparently more ‘moderate’ rival, Alain Juppé after what is widely seen as a personal set-back for Nicolas Sarkozy (Nicolas Sarkozy face à un échec personnel).
  • On the left, there are those in the ruling Parti Socialiste who wish to create a new centre left party free from the historic baggage of the left, and indeed the word socialist. This skirts over the more difficult task of re-connecting with the popular electorate. A government headed by one of the few politicians in France to admire Tony Blair, Manuel Valls, that has failed to offer substantial reforms to improve the quality of life for wage-earners, reduce unemployment, and has been unable to relaunch economic growth, is not in a strong position to appeal to these lost voters.
  • The left, taking stock, did not suffer electoral annihilation, although it lost in important regions, including the Ile de France (surrounding Paris, perhaps the consequence of a big, 10.2% drop in the FN vote between rounds). With 5 regions for the left against 7 for the right it may seem as if their formal political strength has stood up. The Socialists, in agreement with the Greens (EELV), 6,81 %, and the Front de gauche,  nevertheless did not shine in the electoral scores (around 7%). Inside the Front de gauche Jean-Luc Mélenchon has complained that the complex regional alliances and lists that the bloc has entered into prevented getting a clear message across. It is very doubtful if this was a major factor in their results – although perhaps somewhere in France Mélenchon’s personal message of the Bolivarian Revolution, on the Venezuelan model has support. His own refusal to give any recommendation for the second round was not universally appreciated.  The Greens lost half their votes – they had 12,18% in 2010.  ( Elections régionales : la débâcle des écologistes).

There is no argument that a fundamental reason for the FN’s rise in support lies in its encouragement and use of anti-Muslim feeling. This reached a crescendo after the slaughters of the 13th of November. (Le Front national se déchaîne sur l’islam. Le Monde. 4.12.15.)

President Hollande responded to the massacres with a state of emergency and airborne retaliation in Syria against Daesh.

His personal popularity leapt, but his party, the Socialists, did not benefit.

The FN have been able to take advantage of the popular mood because of a boarder package of polities. This can be seen in the social composition of their electorate. Unless one believes that young people, workers and the unemployed are particularly hostile to Muslims, and that this was the reason for their ballot box choice, we would look into what this demagogy in embedded within.

The theme of “security” against ‘Islam’ and, more widely, “foreigners” is tied to a deeper set of ideas, a national ideology, that animates the party of Marine Le Pen, nationalist ‘sovereigntism’ (the principle that the ‘nation’ should be the source of all political, economic and social decison0making and virtue). Their attraction for the young, the working class and all shades of “precarious” employed people lies in the call to protect the French nation from outside forces, foreigners, refugees, migrants and economic powers. That is, to give them jobs, and preserve living standards, and social security.

The FN claims not be primarily ‘anti’ other nations, religions or peoples: it is for France. It claims to be the best political force to protect French citizens from outside threats; not to seek out new areas in which to expand French power. The FN has been supportive of Russian interests (for which they have been rewarded), over the Crimea and Ukraine, which they see in terms of another nation standing up to foreign menaces.

In this sense the Front National is sometimes described as ‘national populist’ , not fascist; defensive rather than overtly imperialist.

Its policies centre on  ‘national priority’ for French citizens in jobs, and welfare, stricter controls of immigration, ‘Laïcité’ (secularism) but recognition of France’s ‘Christian’ roots, strict laws on ‘security’ including reestablishing the death penalty, and a long list of measures designed to protect French industry and make French law supreme against EU legislation.

These reactionary ideas are by no means unusual in Europe today.

Many of the FN legislative plans – stricter immigration control and cutting migrants’ right to social benefits – are shared by the mainstream British right, and are policies of the present Cameron government.

The ‘sovereigntist’ approach to the European Union – blaming the EU for France’s poor economic performance and allowing migration are at the heart of the right-wing campaign in the UK to leave the Union.

Before British leftist indulge in their customary lecturing of the French Left there is another aspect of the FN that it’s important to note. Some of the FN’s views on Europe, which see migrant labour as a “tool” of the capitalists to undermine French workers’ living standards, are shared by the anti-EU ‘left’ in the UK. The idea that ‘national’ control of the economy is the way to confront the problems of globalisation is also popular amongst  some ‘left-wingers’ here and in France. There is as yet no equivalent of the kind of overt cross-overs from left to right which is a feature of French political life amongst ” souverainistes” but this could easily develop.

Populism, as they say, is about being popular.

In this respect, with 27% of the vote,  the prospect of Marine Le Pen emerging at the main challenger in the French Presidential elections on 2017 is strengthened, not weakened by this weekend’s results.

The Communist Party Leader and supporter of the Front de gauche,  Pierce Laurent has called for a “new progressive project” to unite the left to stand up against the right and the extreme right, fighting austerity, and engaging in measures to tackle the problems of the world of work  (Régionales : Déclaration de Pierre Laurent.).

Ensemble, also like the PCF, part of the Front de gauche,  have equally called for a new approach, “Pour rassembler, il faut un projet commun de tous ceux qui à gauche et dans le mouvement social ne renoncent pas et aspirent à une alternative politique de rupture avec le libéralisme, un nouvel espoir.”

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