Category Archives: Politics

Betting the House, Review

By Tim Ross and  Tom McTague .

Betting the House never once veers from its purpose – to explain what happened during the 2017 general election, including the campaign and the night itself. The authors are political journalists who produced this work within six months; an incredible accomplishment, no doubt in part to their partners who held down the fort, and a bunch of editors.

There is little heart in this book; little acknowledgment of the deaths and the pain and the destruction that a Conservative government has brought upon the country and its people. There is no acknowledgment of the unnecessary austerity measures brought into force by the Conservatives, supported by their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and often unchallenged and supported by the Labour ‘moderates’*; no acknowledgment that austerity brought on suffering to such an extent that the British voters chose to leave the European Union in a shocking referendum. The referendum is mentioned often but the policies that led to it not at all.

In this respect, the authors ignore the vile nature of the political part of the election results.

The right-leaning bias of the book is no surprise, Ross previously wrote about the 2015 election, Why the Tories won https://www.waterstones.com/book/why-the-tories-won/tim-ross/9781849549479

The ways in which the bias permeates the book is a curious one. The images of May and the Tories are consistently positive. She is strong and steady and just wants to get on with her job. She avoided the cameras and interviews because all she wants to do is her job and she wants to do it right. She is strong throughout Lent and even though she is diabetic and can only have crisps as a snack, she resisted even in critical moments.

Corbyn on the other hand, is not given such positive treatment. The epithet ‘socialist’ is nearly always applied to him even though ‘free-market loony’ is never once applied to May. The concept of the free market is used un-ironically when a Conservative MP disagrees with the idea of providing specific help with struggling regions because it’s meant to be the free market that decides these things.

I can’t tell if Betting the House is the voice of the right-wing, devoid of any interest in anyone but themselves — or simply a very efficient way of telling the story of the election. It is a book that leans heavily right in an almost immoral sense but it also reads well.

I feel I learnt a lot about elections and what I mostly gleaned is that those who spend the most money win the elections; something Trump and social research have always known too. Lynton Crosby’s campaign for Theresa May was not the winning one he’d hoped but the PR magnate and his company made £4m for two months of work. The Australian PR man was the one who won it for David Cameron in the previous election.

Some of the insights are maybe unintentionally fascinating such as when Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s most senior civil servant, and the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, get together to decide who would form a government because “the country needed a government, and it must not be left to the Queen to decide”.

It’s these fascinating little tidbits that make me wish the authors were on the better side of the political spectrum.

Betting the House by Tim Ross and Tom McTague is out now.

Book Review, Of Women

Book cover of Of Women“It is autumn again. That shouldn’t matter and yet somehow it does”, starts Of Women and instantly I love this notion that we are involved in our world and its cycles far more than we imagine or than is mentioned. The weather and its personal associations becomes more relevant as Chakrabarti later on writes of how bailiffs are not meant to kick people out of their homes when it’s raining.

I thought of this as I listened to a council meeting on our upcoming budget where our Finances Director Denise Murray and Deputy Mayor Asher Craig talked about bringing bailiff services in-house in a way of providing a more ethical service for families. They were shunning the inclusion of private companies who were just in it for the money. There was also an ever-increasing need for bailiffs.

Our council is battling the effects of austerity and the 90% reduction of our central government fund that helps us pay for local services such as roads and schools and charities and children in care and children in nurseries and community police officers and a myriad other functions. Bristol has to find a way to make up for £108 million of further cuts over the next five years and this is a direct result of government policies.

Yet, Of Women doesn’t deal with that. The inequalities, subjugations and suffering of women are presented as some kind of inevitable vague structural outcome that is as amorphous as it is unnamed. Sales tax on tampons is criticised and yet the process and policy of its imposition — it is in fact the lowest possible taxation the governments in power could impose after EU regulations on tax had been settled — are not mentioned.

I am surprised at how disappointed and impressed I am by Of Women at the same time. It’s a tough task to cover every theme that affects women and Chakrabarti does a pretty good job of identifying those at least. Each topic could be a book all of its own and the issues are in danger of being oversimplified when managed within only a few pages.

She also includes some personal observations and also statistics from international bodies in order to encompass the whole world. This isn’t easy and either the ignorant or hypocritical nature of the assessments come shining through when she can state that the failure of Clinton (H) to come to power was the result of sexism and that much of the developing world’s problems come from poverty and inequality, without equating US imperialist tactics with the cause and effect of these situations.

In the metaphorical activist’s handbook, the weakest call to arms is that of ‘someone should do something‘ and unfortunately, Chakrabarti’s inability to delineate the forces that have led to women’s inequality, and more importantly to class inequality, leads us directly to this statement.

Someone; somewhere.

The great invisible forces that she does not name are neoliberalism, the patriarchy, and US imperialism.

Chakrabarti laments the housing sector, the lack of mental health support, the elimination of free school meals and the school and social situations for many girls and women but does not state that neoliberal policies are specifically designed to strip money away from public services in order to benefit corporations and the 1%.

We have to rely on Oxfam,  among others, for a better attack on neoliberalism,.

Those who advocate for the strictest neoliberal policies are the Conservative government and before them the coalition government (and ‘New Labour’). The austerity program that slashes spending on public services, directly contributes to women’s inequality and yet Chakrabarti’s only mention of the Conservatives is to point out what a great friend Baroness Warsi is and how she has written about Islamic feminism. Nevermind that Warsi voted for tuition fees and for raising the amount to be paid. Nevermind that tuition fees disadvantage the caring professions and the women who are more likely to study locally rather than be able to travel.

Chakrabarti even mentions with no apparent sense of contradiction that in the movie I, Daniel Blake, with which Ken Loach quite explicitly calls out the ‘conscious cruelty‘ [YouTube] of the Conservative Government policies, a woman has to decide between food for her children and sanitary products for herself.

The call for better public services is made through Of Women over and over again: “Worldwide, women have even greater need of safe streets, public transport, adequate social and affordable housing, policing and access to real justice”; “Work in the caring professions should be better valued and remunerated and we should aspire to greater gender balance therein”; “we need to the see children, the elderly and the disabled as our shared societal responsibility”; “Police and law enforcement authorities around the globe should be better resourced”; “the struggle for gender justice asks for a social engagement of a completely different order. It is not a ‘single issue’. It cannot be separate from politics and economics in the deepest and broadest sense.”

Chakrabarti says “Gender injustice is structural, social and economic” but does not refer to what those policies are and how to overcome them.

We come away thinking ‘something needs to be done by someone‘ but she provides no roadmap for how things got to this state and, therefore, there is no implication for further action. This is really a work of pointing out inequalities and then stepping aside and saying ‘nothing to do with me’.

The most damning part of the book, for me, was the lack of discussion on Hilary Clinton’s role while in power. When a woman can attract “upwards of $225,000 for a speech to Goldman Sachs” then she is not just an ordinary woman who is the victim of sexism.

Journalist John Pilger writes on the fake feminism of Hillary Clinton, and this is ever more relevant in Of Women, because it has a worldwide approach. Chakrabarti tries to cover all women.

In The New York Times, there was a striking photograph of a female reporter consoling Clinton, having just interviewed her. The lost leader was, above all, “absolutely a feminist”. The thousands of women’s lives this “feminist” destroyed while in government – Libya, Syria, Honduras – were of no interest.

Chakrabarti writes about Isis and the oppression of women and yet as we read from Pilger:

The leaked emails of Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, revealed a direct connection between Clinton and the foundation and funding of organised jihadism in the Middle East and Islamic State (IS). The ultimate source of most Islamic terrorism, Saudi Arabia, was central to her career.

[emphasis mine]

The article by Pilger is worth reading in full, as are his other works. The role of a woman who had a hand in destabilising the Middle East and causing untold suffering for millions of refugees is left out of Of Women. Instead, we hear just of the refugees who face sexual abuse and danger in their passage out of their torn countries. The author talks of mothers putting young children in boats to get them out of the country, without knowing if they’ll ever see them again, but not once does she talk about the causes that led to these refugees. This is an appalling and offensive omission.

Chakrabarti talks about poverty in Colombia without mention of US imperialism’s hand in wreaking havoc in that country. There is no sense that female inequality has a structural basis from her writing, and this lack of engagement with context limits what we think we can do. If inequality just happens, rather than is a byproduct of policies worldwide that seek to destroy public services and infrastructure in pursuit of profit for the 1% then there is nothing we can do. We can wait for the affirmative action lists and hope that men stop hitting women after being educated for a few years.

Of Women fails women in a way that the world has failed us since politics/Politics began. Our private struggles are not linked to politics at the structural or public level. Conservative and neoliberal policies and US / UK imperialism harm women all around the world. We need better ways of saying this and better methods to combat it.

My solutions are simple; information and engagement with political processes starting at the lowest levels. Then vote the Tories out and — after the Labour Party are in power — get the Greens in. [I’d say vote Green right from the start but people don’t have enough faith yet.] Then we can have equality. The Labour Party’s support for neoliberalism gave us the Tories’ version of austerity although now apparently Corbyn will change that. We’ll see.

All I know is that the policies that put people on the street are those same policies that put refugees on the boats and let them drown as they crossed. Oxfam and much of the world has a name for it but Of Women does not.

 

 

 

 

Of Women was provided by NetGalley for review. Published 26 October 2017.

Cutting benefits to the very rich, by George Monbiot on farmers’ subsidies

“The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. Over the past ten years, it has received €1.5m in income support from taxpayers.”

George Monbiot writes today about the farming subsidies which go to the richest landowners:

“Some of them are millionaires from elsewhere: sheikhs, oligarchs and mining magnates who own vast estates in this country. Though they might pay no taxes in the UK, they receive millions in farm subsidies. They are the world’s most successful benefit tourists. Yet, amid the manufactured terror of immigrants living off British welfare payments, we scarcely hear a word raised against them.”

At the same time the payments to the poorest in society have been cut and no one seems to be complaining.

The only things I don’t agree with in his article are the reasons for why this is happening. He implies some kind of cultural illusion about the beauty of farms and that’s why people aren’t protesting. I think it’s the same reason why plain packaging for tobacco hasn’t been implemented in the UK and indeed why smoking is still not banned even though it’s a deadly habit: the rich lobby and get what they want.

Read more here: http://www.monbiot.com/2013/07/01/robber-barons/

Untitled

Noam Chomsky in conversation with journalists 1988

A very interesting transcript of a debate / discussion with journalists and Noam Chomsky about the elite media. 1988.

Anger and art, yin and yang

There are two subjects that keep coming up for me and they both have to do with femininity but in very different ways. One is art and the other is anger.

Art in Bristol is everywhere. You walk the streets and another bit of creativity has just popped up opposite a fish and chips shop or a fake moon rises over College Green or men and women sit in a darkened theatre watching short film nominations for the Oscars.

Anger seems to come up whenever women discuss oppression or violence against women. Anger is that last resort of communication when nothing else has worked and destruction is the only way to get your point across. Anger makes you act, escape, respond. It’s full of energy. It can push you out of depression for a moment.

There’s plenty of anger in the ‘feminist’ world. I am qualifying the word feminist because I don’t believe the angry ones represent the movement as such. There are plenty of people out there supporting and promoting women’s rights but anger attracts attention because the media loves a good argument – inflammatory words and rage and everyone making as much noise as possible is perfect for a news machine that needs impact.

The ‘feminist’ movement in the media tends to get attention for being angry. They point out injustice and rage against men and other women and keep pointing out how women are victims – constant, constant victims. Suffering abuse and violence and having to fight their way out of this oppression.

No part of me denies that there are problems and that women in the roles they mostly make up (service, caretakers, creative industries, social anything) are disproportionately disadvantaged. It’s not just domestic and other violence against women, which is recently starting to take a prominent place in political agendas around the world, it is also in the destruction brought on by capitalism, by the military industries, the wars brought on by domination of resources, the neglect of the environment and so much more.

But women are more than just victims. They are better educated, they are more likely to enter higher education than men, they are better trained, they drive better, they save better and ultimately they survive better.

But then when everything in the world is involved at some point it must involve everyone else in it as well. The women’s movement can’t be seen in isolation. Any impact on women is spread towards everyone. Women’s anger, which does not rise up in isolation, is directed and absorbed by those around them and those around them tend to be children who go on to pour out the same.

Then there is the other side of the feminine; art. There is a £35 million cut in our local budget in Bristol and yet the beauty keeps growing and spreading and no part of it screams out I am a victim and I will destroy you.

As far as the newspapers and the channels see: the art movement which captures the media’s attention is, like the urban graffiti movement, mostly male. It’s the men that draw on the walls and bring colour to the city and it is the women who are screaming and ranting and unleashing sarcastic tirades in the media.

Can that be right? I don’t see how that can be true in reality. There must be more in real life than what we are seeing in the media. I’m going to keep looking.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Noam Chomsky: Palestine 2012 – Gaza and the UN resolution

Noam Chomsky’s latest piece on the UN resolution on Palestine:

An old man in Gaza held a placard that reads: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”

Read more by following the link.

With Liberty and Justice for some, Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a hard-hitting, lawyer turned blogger who has recently signed up with the Guardian after leaving his writing platform of Salon. He has been described as excellent by the liberal-media critics Medialens and regarded with much defensiveness by already established journalists.

In With Liberty and Justice For Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, Greenwald takes on the effectively two-tiered US legal system which leads to elites facing no repercussions to the most extreme of law breaking while those of society who are the poorest and most powerless are ever increasingly and more harshly subject to incarceration and the full brunt of the law.

He begins by contemplating the type of society the founding fathers of the United States wanted, by tracing the principles of the constitution – equality before the law for all citizens and especially in order to subject those in power – and then contrasts this with the practises of the US governments in recent years.

The wire tapping practices which while blatantly illegal saw no one convicted and even had legislation passed to retroactively protect the perpetrators.

There is the Iran contra scandal and the conviction against the United States for arming Nicaraguan guerillas which was simply ignored.

There was the illegal war in Iraq; the torture which was widely admitted but which saw no one in a position of power convicted; and the use of arbitrary and secret extra-judicial killings by Obama: the infamous kill list. (see this brilliant Gawker video where a journalist asks Democratic delegates whether they would trust Romney with the kill list).

There is also an examination of the prison industry and Obama’s failure to prosecute Bush’s crimes.

“To date, Obama has succeeded in blocking and suppressing virtually every investigation into Bush crimes, whether by congressional committees, courts, international tribunals, or even internal executive branch inquiries.”

This is a thorough and motivating read as Greenwald’s anger gives it a vibrant tone. I had to put it down* a few times when the examples were so repugnant that it was hard to comprehend the type of society the United States have become. Some of the more heartbreaking points were statistics about people being jailed for life for small crimes. One person’s life destroyed, just like that, by an unfair system.

You can find Glenn Greenwald on Twitter

5/5

*figuratively speaking as I was reading an ebook on my Kindle app on my phone

Who rules Bristol?

10 million people paid to vote for the 2010 X Factor final, 14.5 million people watched Britain’s Got Talent final in 2012 and the 2010 elections drew only three times as many as the latter at 45.5 million people.

A lot of people enjoy interacting when it comes to entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with being entertained, amused, numbed, distracted, unoccupied with thinking about power relations and disadvantage in the world but there’s no part of me which believes that those people are promoting democracy by voting for Pudsey the dog.

To bring this a little closer to home, because that’s where I’m heading, the Bristol mayoral election had a voting turnout of 24% with 41,032 people voting in favour of a mayor, and 35,880 voting against.

All this flashed through my mind when I read on Bristol Democracy that “the Bristol Democracy Project as a whole isn’t going to be about discussion and debate, as it looks like every organisation and their dog wants to host a debate with the candidates for Mayor on their own area of interest. These debates only ever tend to attract people already interested in the subject, whilst this project is about connecting with the people who aren’t interested in decision making in Bristol at the moment.”

This is followed up on another blog post about blogs: “So, what does any of this mean for democracy and public involvement? Well, first of all, I think it’s important that as many people as want to be encouraged to blog about Bristol. The more we talk to each other about the things we see, the better informed we will all be.”

Right.

“A healthy local media is a sign of a healthy local democracy, and blogs are an important part of local media in any area.” Bristol Democracy Project

Really?

Blog 1: Lady in Bristol – latest post is on the Travis song Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Blog 2: What to do if you post to the wrong account on Twitter.
Blog 3: blah blah
Blog 4: a politician’s blog

There are a few more social blogs, cultural, comedy, food, and one or two by politicians. Few question our political process. Few question what will we do about power relations. Many are the equivalent of voting for Pudsey, including a lot of posts on this here blog as well.

The media is an important part of a democracy, which is why it’s sometimes called the fourth estate (alongside the judiciary, executive and legislature) because questioning our rulers is a huge part of ruling our world.

Talking about who wore what, who ate where and who listened to something or other is not part of democracy. Even freedom of speech is not an inherent part of democracy.

Questioning people who are about to gain powers over a city about what they plan to do with them is part of a democracy. It is the very thing which defines the media. So while I laud the Bristol Democracy Project for its intentions, I can’t help but think that they are very wrong with criticising the first hustings which have been organised and promoting any and all types of blogs as a sign of democracy.

And if you ever wonder whether any type of talking and sharing is part of democracy just go search for Pudsey or wait for his memoir. You won’t have to wait long.

The Bristol Council House

Does anyone know what a Bristol mayor will do?

Described by Lord Beecham as one of the localism bill’s ‘stupidest notions’, the idea of elected mayors is struggling to make itself reality.

In May 2010, the Coalition set out its commitment to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors. They enshrined it in the Localism Act and have been busy with consultations while society has been busy with debates.

Bristol had its own Question Time-style debate at the Bristol Council house on February 22 with the audience armed with electronic voting mechanisms and the panel there to answer questions. There was George Ferguson, founder of the Tobacco Factory and Mark Weston, deputy leader of the Conservatives in support; while Barbara Janke, council and Liberal Democrat leader, and management consultant Deborah Hallett were against.

This was a local event geared towards building up interest in the new potential arrangement. The initiative is nationwide to the extent that referendums will take place on 3 May 2012 in 11 cities – Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.

Leicester already has an elected Mayor in Peter Soulsby who has been in power since May. Soulsby runs the city council and makes decisions on how it delivers services but he cannot make any decisions on licensing or planning issues nor set the budget. Apparently he is seeking more areas to influence such as transport and the ability to decide which buildings are compulsory purchased.

This is not to say, however, that the Bristol mayor will have the ability to set bus ticket prices since each location will be encouraged to find its own way to determine its own powers.

So what will the mayor do?

The government have suggested the mayor will have ‘visible’ and ‘democratically accountable’ leadership (source).

What powers would the elected mayor have?

A consultation has been run by the government about what the mayor can do for us. The responses suggested that the mayor could have powers in areas such as: planning, transport, employment, economic growth, health and policing.

The mayors are being introduced, where wanted, in order to aid decentralisation. How this will happen is up to them so the voters do not know the practicalities for which they are voting until after the fact. The mayors decide what they do once they are elected. All the people know is that it will cost £400,000.

The consultation, What can a mayor do for your city?, suggests ” the Government does not intend to reach any view about specific powers that might be devolved, or about a council’s scrutiny and accountability arrangements”.

It is a lot to take on faith so it will have to be a very trusted candidate voted for by those who have lost their trust in the current local government arrangements. Note that Manchester have decided they do not need one and Stoke have gotten rid of theirs. The London mayor seems to be a world on to his own and there is a whole section in the Localism Bill about all the new powers that role will achieve so I won’t mention that one.

Feminism, a question of diversity or nudity?

The following statement resonates with me and points to inequality and gender bias:

Do women have to be naked to get into U.S. museums? Less than 3% of the artists in the Met. Museum are women, but 83% of the nudes are female (Observer, January 8, 2012).

The following does not resonate with me as as a complete and legitimate statement of the issue (gender inequality):

The #diversityaudit search term on Twitter – some examples

@hepvintage #diversityaudit @BBCRadio4 panel show The Unbelievable Truth. The sadly believeable truth is 1 host = male and 4 guests = male

@renarde
Mentions of women so far on #QI: escorts, strippers, an explorer’s wife. I wish I was making this up. #diversityaudit

Can anyone tell me why?