All we Are Saying…

Reading Time: 1 minute

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

 

 

On this episode, introduced by Neil Scott,  we’ll have the late, great Ron Mackay talking utterly opposing war, Simone Charlesworth discussing fox hunting, Steve McAuliffe’s Spin Cycle, an election night broadcast, Em Dehaney performing Richard Wall’s poem Strong and Stable and Fuad Alakbarov will be speaking about the NHS.

We’ll also have Red Raiph, reminding us to Get the Tories Oot, Teresa Durran will be talking about Making a Difference, and Chuck Hamilton will be telling us The Meaning of Life, Part 2.

With music from Woodie Guthrie, Roy Møller, Kes’s Conscience, Atilla The Stockbroker, The Dolls, Thee Faction, Gladiators Are You Ready, and John Lennon.

Left, Right and Centre

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Ok, let’s get this left/right political spectrum thing sorted out. Some people believe that the centre ground has shifted, especially since Thatcher, and that is certainly one way of looking at it, but I’m not convinced. You see, the evidence of 2015’s election just doesn’t support that explanation. Labour did not lose because they were too left wing (the very thought! Hilarious!!), they lost because they were unable to articulate any coherent alternative to the policies of the incumbents. And the statistician in me rebels at the idea of this free floating centre anyway. That’s just not the way a spectrum tends to work. A spectrum can return a data set, that data set can be plotted as a graph, and plotting that graph will produce a bell curve. The top of the bell curve defines the centre. It’s where most people are. And where most people tend to stay.

Politics is a special case anyway. We long ago defined what were left wing and right wing ideas. By default that defines the centre. Now, let’s have a look at the last 50 years, which happens to be roughly my lifetime. When I was born a one year old centre left Labour government was in power. They had replaced a Tory govt. which was widely regarded as centrist. We’re talking about Harold MacMillan’s ‘One Nation’ Tories. In opposition the Tories shifted somewhat to the right. Fast forward to the two elections of 1974. I want to look at those because they are the first I can remember clearly plus, I would contend, that was the last time voters in the UK were offered any kind of balanced choice, centre left v. centre right. And they were both close, but the centre left edged it.

During those five years that Labour were in power they were pushed to the right. This was, I think, in large part due to a fashion (Friedmanism) which was influencing economic academia. Yes, the centre had shifted, but only amongst academic economists, not for real people. They (the economists) managed to push Labour from the centre left into the traditional centre, sometimes through their influence over bodies like the IMF (and what an interesting case study the IMF would make, today forcing policies on Greece that they openly admit they no longer believe in, but that will have to wait for another day). We all know what happened to the Tories during this period – Margaret Thatcher. She enthusiastically embraced that economic fashion, which we now call neoliberalism, and dragged the Tories all the way from the centre right, through the mainstream right, to the hard right in a single bound.

Now despite superficial appearances, hard right policies have never actually been that popular in the UK. This was amply demonstrated in the polls of the time. Mid-term she was the most unpopular PM since records began and with the Labour Party under Michael Foot moving to reoccupy the centre left, she was heading for a catastrophic defeat. It has since become axiomatic that her subsequent victory was due to Labour’s swing to the left, even amongst Labour Party members. But that’s simply not how it was. She won in 1983 for one reason and one reason only, the oldest refuge of her political fellow travellers, a good old-fashioned war. Labour could simply have stuck to their guns and waited for the electorate’s natural distaste for extremism to deliver government back to them in 1987. Instead they chose to buy her narrative and tear themselves apart in an orgy of self-recrimination (today’s party take note), ensuring they would be out of power for another decade. This erroneous belief – that they’d lost in ’83 by being too left wing – led them into moving to the right during that decade, and not just a little bit. They went from centre left, through the true centre, to the traditional centre right by the time Blair was elected. And by the time Brown was defeated, that trend having continued, they were firmly ensconced on the mainstream right.

Now all of this has been going on for so long, with so few voices in the mainstream media to contradict the notion that the centre has shifted dramatically, that we’ve all become used to it. But our own views, individually and as a collective polity, have not really shifted that much at all. Result? We have become progressively more alienated from the mainstream political parties. In May 2015 we were presented with a choice between centre right and hard right, when what many of us actually wanted was a left of centre alternative. The media portrayed Ed Milliband as that alternative, on the basis that he was slightly less right wing than his brother, but we instinctively knew it wasn’t true. The exception was, of course, Scotland. There was a left of centre alternative for Scottish voters, and they grabbed it with both hands. Alienated English working class voters had only the fake populism of UKIP to resort to, though many clearly did so. That won’t happen this time.

So has the election of Jeremy Corbyn really made Labour unelectable, as all the journalists and pundits have been so eager to insist for the last two years? I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you guys. Because although you keep telling us how people won’t vote for left wing policies, there was very little actual discussion of what those policies might be. All the criticisms were trivial. ‘Look at his clothes!’ ‘And look at this, we’ve managed to photoshop out the WW2 veteran he was helping to the Cenotaph, and it looks like he’s doing a jig!’ You know, anyone who’s old enough will immediately get this three word reference, but if you’re too young to remember 1983 just google the three words: Cenotaph, duffel coat. You will immediately see why this campaign is so eerily reminiscent of that one. With a few differences. No Falklands War, just the slow buyer’s remorse of Brexit. And May is no Margaret Thatcher. You can tell by the fear in her eyes. And now she’s backflipped on a manifesto policy, and denied that it was ever any different. What is that, some sort of bizarre ‘1984’ reference? But, as I was saying, like 1983 very little discussion of actual policies. Until, that is, some of Corbyn’s enemies inside the Shadow Cabinet unwittingly did him a favour by leaking theirs, and they turned out to be extremely popular!  A lot of pollsters and pundits have got a lot of things very badly wrong in that time. A wise commentator might very well conclude that this was a time to step back, wait, watch and listen. Reorientate yourselves, reconnect with the real centre, then perhaps next time you won’t end up with quite so much egg on your faces.

May’s Day Celebrations

Reading Time: 1 minute

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

In this episode, Mark Little will be leading us in 20 seconds of hate, we’ll hear part one of The Meaning of Life according to Chuck Hamilton,  Teresa Durran will remind us that seven weeks is a long time in politics, Joe Solo talks about how optistic he is feeling in the run up to this electionRed Raiph reminds you that if you vote Tory, you’re a Tory, Artist Taxi Driver shares his poem on the zombification of Britain, Nick Durie discusses “nationalism” in the UK, and Victoria Pearson asks people to think carefully before throwing the vulnerable people under the Brexit bus.

Neil Scott will be giving us a short reprieve from the election by talking about the red Elvis, Debra Torrance talks Scelection scelectrix and playground politics, Steve McAuliiffe gives us a #fakenews Conservative party political broadcast, Eric Joyce draws parallels between May’s brexit mandate and Scotland’s independence mandate, George Collins discusses his part in the struggle, Simone Charlesworth talks about staying engaged in politics, despite voter fatigue, and why the Scots are the most political aware country in the UK, Mara Leverkuhn talks about the importance of nagging with people outside of your echo chamber, Derek Stewart Macpherson gives us the Hitchhikers Guide to Local Elections,  and we have an Independence Live interview with Roza Salih and Euan Girvan.

With music from Joe Solo, XSLF, Marshall Chipped, Pilgrims, Roy Møller, Steve White and the Protest Family, Thee Concerned Citizens, The Hurriers, The Tuts, The Exiles, The Cundeez, Gerry Mulvenna, Wilde Sammon, and Dean Reed.

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The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The 2017 Local Elections

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Since 2013 these ‘Hitchhikers’ electoral guides (for both Scotland and Australia) have become a bit of a tradition on my blog.  I’ve now covered two Australian federal elections, a European Parliament election, a Westminster general election (No.2 coming soon), a Scottish Parliament election and of course two very different referenda. This will be the first time I’ve written a guide to local elections, and the first one I’ve also shared with ‘Ungagged’ readers, but it would appear the need is great, so time to step into the breach.

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Judge Tories on their Record

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Victoria Pearson

Theresa May is in hiding, too scared to appear in public, refusing televised debates, public appearances or questions from the electorate, asking that we judge her on the Tories record instead. So let’s have a look at that.

May has been PM for nine months, and during that time she has consistently insisted she is a strong, safe pair of hands. The reality does not match up to May’s fantasy, however, as during her time as PM we have seen absolute chaos.

Under May we have seen zero hour contracts rise by one fifth, putting nearly 900,000 people in positions of insecure working hours, but struggle, because they are in employment, to qualify for any help from the state. This has pushed almost a third of the UK population below the poverty line.
Obviously people not having money in their pocket has knock on effects to our economy. We aren’t spending, because we’ve nothing to spend. Businesses are collapsing, so more people are going into insecure work, and round and round we go. Add that to the instability in the markets in the US due to Trump, and Sterling tanking due to Brexit, and we’ve all the ingredients for a global financial crash before Christmas. So go far, so stable, I guess?
The knock on effects, unfortunately, don’t just stop at destabilising our economy. We have seen a massive rise in foodbank usage, with Trussell Trust reporting a million people being forced to feed their families donated food this Christmas. Period poverty has soared in the UK, with girls being forced to skip school due to inadequate sanitary protection and women risking infection using tissue paper, socks and old rags because they can’t afford pads or tampons. Health visitors are also reporting parents struggling to afford nappies, leading to babies being changed less frequently and ending up with serious health complications through infected nappy rash.
Rather than helping desperately struggling families, Theresa May – who promised a society that works for all just a few months ago – has capped tax credits claims to just two children. This will save virtually no money, due to the administration – but will see families already struggling become even poorer. The cap not only means that a mother will be forced to fill in a form stating that her third or subsequent child was the result of non-consensual sex if she needs the extra £13- £20 per week, but also that she will have to name that child on the form, and prove she was raped. This move is not just heartless, it shows wilful disregard for advice from women’s charities and the low reporting and conviction of sex crimes.

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The child cap doesn’t just attack rape victims though – it also places yet another barrier on parents trying to escape violent or abusive relationships. Someone with three or more children who are already claiming tax credits can continue to claim, but if their circumstances change, they must submit a new claim, and will only receive support for their first two children. That means that parents who already have more than two children are effectively trapped in their current relationship, unless they can afford to make up the shortfall. If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship with more than two children, you now have to be able to find very well paying work before you can get your children out of a dangerous situation. If nothing else, trapping children in abusive households is a mental health time bomb.
The Tories like to see themselves as strong on the economy and good for business, so while our economy is crashing down around our ears, and they have tripled the national debt to £1920billion despite promising to wipe it out, the Tories have lowered corporation tax again, making us by far the lowest corporation tax in the G7. Having borrowed more than any government in the last 70 years, and reduced corporation tax to a trickle, there is now no money to spend. Still the Tories have decided we have £370million available to refurbish Buckingham Palace, £200million for Johnson’s garden bridge vanity project, and suggested that we spend tens of millions from our foreign aid budget on a Royal Yacht.

Jake Berry, the Tory MP who is leading the campaign for the yacht said

“But here in Britain – the fifth largest economy in the world – we feel it [a royal yacht] is something that we can’t afford. I feel that is a national disgrace.”

Personally, I think it is a national disgrace that, in the fifth largest economy in the world, we have an NHS that is so underfunded that doctors were forced to leave a two year old with suspected meningitis in A&E on two plastic chairs for 5 hours because there were no beds. I think it’s a national disgrace that paediatric surgeons have been forced to cancel babies heart operations because there are no paediatric intensive care beds available in the country. I think it’s a national disgrace that people are being discharged from hospital because there are no beds and dying in the hospital car park. I think it’s disgrace that people in severe mental health crisis are calling up hospitals for help with suicidal thoughts only to be told there are no beds, try again next week if you are still alive. I think it’s a national disgrace that over Christmas The Red Cross described the chaos in NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”.
But the Tories have never cared about the NHS, many of their parliamentary party have argued for an insurance style system in the UK. The Tories have always prided themselves on law and order though. After seven years of a Conservative Prime Minister we should have a strong, well functioning justice system.
Instead we have a prison system in absolute crisis, with overcrowded conditions and inexperienced staff, radicalisation and drug issues worse than they have ever been. We saw five major incidents in six months, culminating in Birmingham prison seeing the worst prison riot since Strangeways 25 years ago. The Tories will argue that this is due to factors they can’t control, but the fact is they have repeatedly ignored pleas from front line staff for mobile scrambling equipment to stop the use of drones bringing drugs, weapons and mobile phones into jails, they’ve sacked the majority of experienced officers to replace them with cheaper, inexperienced staff who don’t know how to deal with the problems, and cut funding for mental health programs and drug rehabilitation in prisons. Things are at such crisis point, prison officers are threatening industrial action, a catastrophic blow for the prison system.
The justice system has been further undermined by Liz Truss’ refusal to back the Article 50 judges when certain ‘news’papers branded them “Enemies of the People”. Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said;

“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”

It is was Truss’s duty, as lord chancellor, to defend the judges, he said.
One of the most senior judges in the UK agreed.

“The Lord Chancellor has a particular duty to speak up in those circumstances”, Lord Neuberger said.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has since butted heads with Truss again, saying she had misrepresented changes to the law surrounding victims of sexual violence giving evidence in court. Lord Thomas said her department had “misunderstood the thing completely”, forcing him to write to all judges to correct the mistake.

“It was a complete failure to understand the impracticalities of any of this. And that is very troubling,” he told an inquiry by a House of Lords committee.

Despite this breathtaking incompetence, Downing Street not only backed Truss, but insisted her misrepresentation of events was in fact correct, with their spokesman insisting the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Truss – and that he believed the legal profession had full confidence in her.
The Tories aren’t just failings on the economy, NHS, and law and order though. Schools have been hit with the biggest cuts in 20 years. 99% of schools have had their funding cut, by an average of £103,754 in primaries and £470,433 in secondaries.

Schools have been asked to find an extra £3billion in funding, and many are writing to already squeezed parents to beg for help – by fighting Tory cuts and by funding everyday necessities like pens and paper. One deputy head in a well off area, who wished to remain anonymous, told Ungagged exclusively that she hasn’t seen a crisis like this since Thatcher’s day.

“Its heartbreaking to see.” She said “there are children coming to school hungry, and I’m having to ask their parents for money. We don’t have adequate books, pens or paper, let alone computers or enrichment equipment. These children are being failed and there is nothing teachers can do about it.”

Helen Ingham, head of Ivydale primary in Nunhead, south London, told parents in a newsletter that the school faced a 14% cut in its budget by 2019-20.

“To put this in context, that is 30% of what we spend on teachers each year or 65% of what we spend on TAs.” She said,  “Since staff costs make up 70% of our budget a reduction in funding of this magnitude leaves us with impossible choices which will inevitably impact on your children’s education.”

Despite protecting school budgets being in the Tories manifesto, the Tories firmly have their head in the sand, with their only “solution” to the crisis bring to propose new grammar schools, which of course disproportionately advantage wealthier children and draw scarce resources from where they are needed.
The Tories ask you to let their record speak for itself, and hope you’ll just focus on their shambolic brexit and ignore all the real problems in the country. I say I’ve looked at your record, Mrs May, and I’m appalled. The Tories have failed on health, social care, education, welfare, the economy, the justice system, and inequality. Everything that we can be proud of has been neglected, sold off or run into the ground. If May really wants us to judge her on her record, I can only assume she is unaware of it – or is hoping we are.

GE17: The Brexit Distraction

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Victoria Pearson

And so Theresa May has made yet another u-turn, calling a snap general election just 7 weeks from now, despite promising not to just 4 weeks ago.
There has been much speculation over the timing of her announcement, with many saying she has chosen this moment because she is ahead in the polls, and believes she could win. On the surface, this would seem like a reasonable explanation, however, a closer look quickly makes this narrative collapse.
Just hours after the announcement, the CPS told Channel 4 news that they are considering pressing charges against more than 30 individuals regarding election fraud. The allegations were passed on by the Electoral Commission, after they fined the Tories £70k, and, if proven, may result in criminal charges and even jail time.

Any investigation would have triggered a wave of by-elections which could have seen May’s already slim majority drastically reduced. The CPS has said a snap election will not halt their investigation, but May has today refused to say, when pushed by Denis Skinner MP during PMQs, whether MPs currently standing are implicated in the fraud scandal. So much for her assertion that the electorate have a right to know what they are voting for, her reasons for denying Scotland an Independence referendum just a few short weeks ago.
May has found it nigh on impossible to control the dissent from her back benches, facing constant back-biting for being unelected – even by her own party – despite criticising Brown for not calling a GE as soon as he took over leadership of the Labour party. As she loses control over her own party in regards to her hard Brexit, the income based child cap that sees rape victims forced to name and shame their children as being the result of non-consensual sex for a pittance (as low as £13 per week, depending on circumstances) and traps vulnerable parents and their children in abusive homes. Her own party forced her into u-turns on NI contributions, leaving a budget black hole she has yet to bridge. It seems increasingly likely May had to jump into a snap GE, or be pushed out of the leadership.
The Tories are doing their best to present a strong and confident face to the electorate, but less than 24 hours after the GE was announced, the wheels already came off the their campaign. Despite crowing about Labour being weak and the SNP being a single issue party, May has refused to debate the other party leaders on TV. If Corbyn is so weak and the SNP are so ineffectual, why wouldn’t a strong, confident PM want to debate them? It’d be the ideal opportunity for May to showcase her Debating skills, which will ultimately underpin what kind of deal a post-brexit UK will achieve. If May is too afraid to debate party leaders she has spent months disparaging as weak and incapable, what does that say about her leadership? Or her ability to debate with and persuade all 27 member states of the EU?
It says she knows she is weak on schools, housing, poverty, inequality. It shows she is not up to the task of doing the day job. During May’s time in office we have seen the income based child cap come into force, seen £30 per week taken from disabled peoples pockets, zero hours contracts rise by 1/5th, doctors cancelling babies heart operations because there are no recovery beds in the whole country, they’ve even started stealing people’s wheelchairs. May knows that all of these points, every single Tory failing, would be brought to light and scrutinised. She knows her only chance of forming a government is to keep the conversation firmly centred on brexit. She is hoping that by keeping the campaign as short as possible, all of her many, many failures will be kicked under the carpet.
May is clearly hoping that holding a general election at such short notice will allow her to avoid scrutiny. The Conservatives even said they won’t participate in the televised debates because “The choice at this election is already clear.” It’s clear to me the Tories think they are entitled to your vote. That they can mercilessly crush the poor and vulnerable as long as they keep brexit red, white and blue. They think that will be enough to get them a majority. Maybe they are right. But I don’t think the electorate are that stupid, or that apathetic.
Screeching “Brexit means Brexit” and having tantrums because the opposition are opposing you, and our legal and political safeguards are keeping you in check is just not good enough, Mrs May.

We deserve a government that will respect our laws and look after the vulnerable. That’s the day job. Trying to dangle Brexit like a shiny bauble to distract from the appalling human rights record of the Tories is not going to work.
We’ve never had a PM with such breathtaking arrogance. We’ve never had a PM show such open disregard for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable. We have a chance to pull back from the brink. We can end the Mayhem now. Let’s make June the end of May.