September 27, 2015
The great hypocrisy of neoliberals is that they actually *want* people to be unemployed, as they think that a standing army of jobless people acts as a brake on inflation, and yet they keep attacking people for being jobless.
c/o Origin Of Specious.
I’m excited, of course, about the possibility of Labour taking a new direction in the UK. But I can’t be too excited until it challenges the worst economic policy of recent history, one that hasn’t been challenged within official circles since the 1970s.
The policy is very simple and repellent. Most people I’ve spoken to didn’t know it was a policy and find it hard to believe that it is. The policy is: Keep unemployment at around 5% at all times. Yes, actually. Let’s have that again. Make sure that 5% of people who are looking for an honest way to earn a modest living are unable to find one. That is the policy.
Think about what it means. On one hand, you have governments that complain endlessly about the number of people on unemployment benefits and the cost this imposes on the nation. You have them spouting rhetoric…
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September 27, 2015
‘…”contrary to IDS claims at last years Tory Party Conference that more than 1,000 employers” had ‘signed up’ to the campaign, the reality is fewer than 400 actually joined, and only 68, are currently “active partners” ‘
c/o Jayne Linney
it absolutely astounds me when Iain Duncan-Smith is being interviewed on live television that the broadcasters don’t have a team of experienced fact-checkers on standby to investigate everything he tells them. Nothing he says in defence of his own work ever proves to be true, so the news broadcasters should have cottoned onto that fact by now and started preparing a lot more rigorously before speaking to him.
Warning – The post below contains swearing
Just what the Fuck has Iain Duncan Smith on fellow members of the Conservative Party? Thanks to John Pring at Disability News Service, we know this excuse for a man in charge of the DWP has LIED AGAIN. This time not only to us the people and the media, but also to his own Party!
This round of Lies is regarding the ‘success’ of the Disability Confident Campaign which, claims” the government is working with employers to remove barriers, increase understanding and ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.” John, via freedom of information requests has revealed, contrary to IDS claims at last years Tory Party Conference that more than 1,000 employers” had ‘signed up’ to the campaign, the reality is fewer than 400 actually joined, and only 68, are currently “active partners”!! The article is…
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September 25, 2015
by Martin Odoni
I should know better than to watch BBC Question Time. I have largely stopped watching it, especially over the last two years, as I have become fed up of its thinly-veiled bias – its tendency to give incredibly disproportionate exposure to members of the UK Independence Party in particular – and its considerable dumbing-down since the late-1990’s. Habitually inviting pop-culture celebrities, where once it might have included scientists or public workers, often lends the programme an air of triviality.
But today I decided to give last night’s episode a viewing on iPlayer , and yes, it was a mistake, as I was soon listening to one of the most obtuse audience-members Question Time has ever had.
He said, as follows; –
Economics is really simple. I’ve got ten pounds in my pocket. If I go out and buy three pints of beer in Cambridge, I’m probably borrowing money. If I carry on doing that, then I’m gonna run out of money, and I’m gonna go bust. It’s not difficult, guys.
So to sum up, his very basic argument was that spending cuts, greater than any done so far since the start of the period we call ‘Austerity’, are necessary, because if spending costs more than the amount of money the Government has, that would mean borrowing is necessary, and the more we borrow, the longer it will take us to pay off the National Debt.
Wow. Shrewd calculation.
(There is a clip of him that has been shared on YouTube.)
So yet again, Joe Public thinks the words ‘economics’ and ‘budgeting’ are freely interchangeable. I was mentally screaming at my PC screen as he spoke, something I do a lot when watching Question Time, which is one of the reasons I tend to avoid it these days. But this was particularly maddening, as it reminded me that way too many people still think that they can use their private incomes as an analogy for a national economy.
The guy in the audience did not help himself in that he chose to make the comparison while arguing with Yanis Varoufakis, one of the better-informed economists in all of modern Europe, and sure enough Varoufakis slapped him down with relaxed ease. But we should still make no bones about this; the guy in the audience is completely illiterate economically. Not just slightly, completely. And so is anyone who agrees with him. For not only does a national economy work differently from a household budget, it in fact works the opposite way in several critical respects, as any activity put in has feedback effects that do not happen to the money people spend when they ‘go out for a few drinks’.
Let us compare; –
A household budget is linear; the household receives money at the beginning of the line, what we call the ‘income’, saves it for a while, then spends it at the end of the line, what we call ‘outgoings’. Before and after this line, the money is not part of the household budget.
An economy is a circle. The Government issues money via the Central Bank to pay for services, the money goes round and round the population, and then eventually it arrives back at the Government in the form of tax, whereupon more money is issued to pay for more services, and round it goes again, ad infinitum. The money does not leave the economy at any point in this circle (except when used for foreign trade, but even then it will probably soon be back).
The amount of tax a Government receives is directly proportional to the amount of activity there is in the economy. In which case, provided it is targeted sensibly, more spending will mean more activity in the economy and more money coming back in than was paid out.
This is little different from profit margins for a private company; a factory is useless for making money, unless money is invested to begin with on machinery, staff, raw materials and the like, and continued payments are needed for more raw materials, maintenance, ongoing wages and so forth. Without that investment, all you have is an empty building. A national economy without an outlay is also an empty building.
So when our esteemed audience-member with his checked shirt says, “It’s not difficult, guys!” he is wrong. Cutting spending in your private life is likely to result in you having more money, certainly. But for the nation’s Exchequer, cutting public spending usually means also reducing the income heading the other way, so it may not result in having more money. In fact, it can be a very delicate calculation, sometimes even dependent on luck, establishing what to target spending on, how much to spend in order to get the right feedback, and predicting precisely how much the feedback will be.
What is this calculation? Well, the term whose meaning we can be sure the guy in the checked shirt is unaware of is ‘fiscal multiplier’, which is roughly the public sector equivalent of a ‘profit margin’ in the private sector. A fiscal multiplier is the calculation of how much Gross Domestic Product activity is ‘fed back’ from an investment by the state. A multiplier of 0.5 means that the GDP activity generated is only fifty per cent of the amount invested. A multiplier of 1.0 means that the GDP activity generated is equal to the amount invested. A multiplier of 1.5 means that the GDP activity generated is fifty per cent greater than the amount invested. A multiplier of 3.0 means that the GDP activity generated is three times the amount invested. And so on.
Now, the International Monetary Fund revealed in 2012 that the average fiscal multiplier during the years of the Labour Government was 1.3, meaning a ‘profit’ of thirty per cent on average. And our current Chancellor of the Exchequer, the ever-beloved George Osborne, has spent the last five years hacking away at the services that generated these margins. The result has meant a net loss of wealth for the country. The growth in GDP that began two years ago only became possible after he slowed down the pace of cuts. (Even then, he was still lucky that the banks decided to start lending again.)
In fairness to Mr Checked-Shirted-Expert-On-Cambridge-Beer-Prices, he was not the only one in the audience who seems just to assume that spending cuts automatically mean less of a deficit. A few minutes earlier, a guy with glasses and what appeared to be a black eye was arguing that Austerity should carry on, and perhaps be spread to pensions. Pensions are funds that the retired have spent their lives paying into under a strict guarantee of regular payments in their old age, and therefore there are no moral or legal grounds for cutting them. But also, our bespectacled audience-member seems not to have considered what would happen to the economy if millions of pensioners suddenly lost money and had to reduce their spending accordingly. That would be an awful lot of businesses suddenly selling less to them, getting less revenue from them, and therefore forwarding less Value Added Tax to the Government. And lower tax-receipts for the Government by definition mean the deficit is going up, offsetting much or all of the downward pressure the initial cuts have applied.
See how it works?
Indeed, the latest figures released this week show that the deficit is going up again, even though spending is not. The reason for the increase is quite explicitly because tax receipts are going down, which was always going to happen sooner or later with Osborne’s occasional cutting frenzies. When you reduce spending that has a healthy fiscal multiplier, you make it more difficult to close the deficit. (That is, if you truly believe that closing the deficit down completely is a necessary thing to do, but I have discussed the drawbacks of that idea abundantly elsewhere. As has Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who has a greater mind on this subject than mine will ever be).
The fact that fiscal feedbacks still need to be explained is depressing. Until a far wider expanse of the population grasps how economic cycles and state-spending really work, audience-panel shows like Question Time, at least when discussing economic issues, are never going to be worth the bother of watching.
September 19, 2015
by Martin Odoni
Media people often get hot-under-the-collar when they are blamed for what goes wrong in other walks of life, and in all fairness to them, in many cases, they are correct to take umbrage. In the sporting world in particular, when a team or player is off-form and the coach is asked uncomfortable questions about it, the questioner is liable to be given a nasty rebuke for asking. “You media types, you make such a fuss about so little!”
That accusation is sort of true as well though, and we have seen a lot of that this week. Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of the Labour Party for precisely seven days now, at the time of writing, and during that time he has been on the receiving end of attack after attack in the media, be it over the way he dresses, his refusal to sing along with the National Anthem, his decision ‘only’ to appoint more than half the positions in his Shadow Cabinet to women, or his decision not to attend the opening match of the Rugby World Cup.
My personal response to the, clearly-manufactured, outrage expressed in the media over these largely trivial details has been, “Oh will you people please grow up?” But of course the media will not grow up, and so they are throwing tantrums when they see things are not going their way. They do not like socialism, by and large, and so when they see a socialist doing well, they have to invent reasons for other people to get angry with him. In the cold light of day, Corbyn has done nothing notably wrong all week – certainly nothing that merits one-tenth of the controversy that should be raging over David Cameron violating an Election pledge – and it is clear that all of the controversies surrounding him are entirely artificial. And yet even supposedly ‘reasonable’ assessments are making Corbyn’s start as leader sound hapless and blunder-riddled.
Tantrums have been the general tendency of the media, especially the right-wing tabloids, for at least a hundred years, and they have sad consequences that go far beyond Jeremy Corbyn.
Now it has been commented on this week, including by Corbyn himself, that there was a time in the distant past when David Cameron had argued for an end to what he called ‘Punch-‘N’-Judy’ politics in Parliament. Once Cameron was a regular at Prime Minister’s Question Time, he seemed to lose interest in that reformist idea rather rapidly. However, Corbyn, very conscious of how nauseated many in the public are by the stagy artificiality of debates in Parliament, decided for his first appearance at PMQ’s as Opposition Leader to attempt a fundamental change-of-approach. Instead of following the usual formula of theatrical outrage and verbal laying-of-traps, which has not fooled any member of the human race in decades, Corbyn decided to, as it were, throw the despatch box open to the public, by asking them to submit questions to him that they would like put to the Prime Minister. This they did in their many thousands, and he chose six of them to ask.
It was a simple, ingenious, and yet on reflection rather obvious move to make, and one that previous Opposition Leaders would surely have attempted had they truly wanted to end the alien theatrics of Parliamentary debate. Not only does it discourage the childish tendency of Prime Ministers to mock and belittle questions, if they know the questions are asked by the electorate, thus pushing against the theatrics, but it is also morally sound. The purpose of PMQ’s is to hold the Government to account, and in a democracy, it is the people to whom the account is due. This is something that has arguably never happened properly until this week.
Most independent observers, as best as I can tell, seemed rather to enjoy the different tone and more mature atmosphere of PMQ’s this week, at least in the exchanges between Cameron and Corbyn. But the reaction from the so-called ‘professional’ political correspondents seems more mixed. Quentin Letts at The Daily Mail, for instance, called the whole session, “gutless, bloodless, bland and beige“. Ben Riley-Smith at The Telegraph moaned that “the lack of intonation in [Corbyn’s] delivery during PMQs lacked the obvious full stops that act as a hint to the Labour benches to roar in approval.”
What remarks like these underline is a fundamental and never-questioned failing in the British media. Both Letts and Riley-Smith are showing a closed-mindedness that reflects the reason why they are regular political commentators in the first place. It is a failing that works against any attempt to reform the way the Houses Of Parliament conduct their business, while also reducing political commentary to the superficial bitching and belly-aching of football supporters whose favourite team just does not play in an exciting-enough style.
This problem is sort of a parallel of the old saying that people who want to govern are liable to be, ipso facto, the people least-suited to do it. (Most of our recent Prime Ministers have been evidence of that.)
Our media show that, equally, people who want to comment professionally on Government are liable to be, ipso facto, the people least-suited to do it.
Most media people, while paying mechanical lip-service to the almost-universal view that Commons debates are silly, immature and stagy, do in reality love watching them. Do not ask me why, but the theatrics, the snide remarks, the tedious evasions of plain facts, and the tiresome pomp-and-ceremony language-of-discourse all really appeal to them. They would have to, because otherwise the glaring artificiality, the boyish, macho bullying, the posturing and pretend mocking laughter would be so off-putting that they would never have wanted a career reporting on politics.
That inexplicable fascination with Parliament’s counter-productive procedures is what draws many media people into political reporting, while also making them resistant to the idea of seeing it change – even when there appears to be a desire among the wider population for reform, or at least a majority alienation from it.
Letts’ remarks in particular betray this failing. While he makes out that the proceedings were less effective at holding the Prime Minister to account, he fails to demonstrate exactly how Cameron has been made to answer more by the standard confrontational style. “Gutless, bloodless, bland” sounds very much like a complaint about a shortage of entertainment rather than a shortage of substance. “His backbenchers had nothing to cheer,” Letts complains, which makes the backbenchers sound like the crowd on the terraces of a football stadium, becalmed by a shortage of scoring chances during a match. But PMQ’s is not a game, and Letts is showing a narrowness of outlook by insisting it should have the same type of atmosphere. (For what it is worth, I thought Cameron looked decidedly uncomfortable at various points during the session, because he knew he was unable to insult the questions asked without insulting members of the public, and when insulting the question is not an option, he often lacks an alternative.)
Riley-Smith commented similarly about the lack of cheering opportunities, but again, that shows that he is missing the point. He is demanding that Corbyn choreograph and synchronise everything, up to and including pre-arranged cheering. By appealing for this, Riley-Smith is saying he knows better than the people around the country to whom Corbyn has been speaking. They do not want that sort of set-piece, pretend fervour. They do not want to hear opposing benches of MPs hurling cries of “Hear! Hear!” or “Shame!” at each other. Instead, they want debates to be framed around the issues they wish to see discussed, and above all, they want them discussed in language that everyone will find accessible. The contradictory mixture of yobbish bleating from backbenchers, and questions-and-answers directed in starchly-formal tones, makes a very jarring, confusing, and even alien experience to a lot of people, and gives the impression that the whole process is an exercise in avoiding real discussion.
Is it any wonder that much of the public has become so estranged from politics? It is not, I am convinced, because people are complacent, it is because the process of discussion is so obsolete, so hard-to-follow, and so cold and unfriendly. At best, people find it tedious, at worst they find it hooligan-like. Either way, proceedings will seem irrelevant, and with so much done over the last thirty-five years to limit and ineffectualise political activism, it leaves an awful lot of people feeling that there is nothing in politics for them. So they ignore it.
But Letts and Riley-Smith do not care about that. They want a show, and as the theatres of the West End are clearly too expensive for them, Westminster will have to do instead.
So Corbyn’s efforts to change the tone and approach from a ‘Punch-‘N’-Judy’ Show towards a civil and accessible debate are demeaned as somehow ‘neutering democracy’ – Letts’ own words. This accusation is an incredible reversal of the facts, for it was the first PMQ’s in a very long time in which the explicit concerns of the voters were put first. If that is ‘neutering democracy’, what have decades of Opposition Leaders failing to consult the public done?
With the general chorus from the mainstream media being at certain points hostile, any attempt to persist with and develop the new approach is being discouraged. If Corbyn gives in to that, the questions people want him to ask will be overlooked, the process will become a theatrical chorus of bleating noises again, the public will remain alienated, and democracy really will be neutered.
But then this is why reform of Parliamentary conduct never seems to start; because political reporters in the media will not be getting their way again if the process changes, and so they throw tantrums. To rid ourselves of that, we need a new generation of political reporters who do not want to watch the childish posturing, but the Catch-22 obstacle is that it will be difficult to get them interested in a career reporting from Westminster in the first place unless they do enjoy it.
I am truly sorry that they do not like it when this is said, but it remains true; the media really are to blame for why political discourse in this country refuses to grow up. It is because the media themselves refuse to grow up, and because they want our politicians to operate on a similar level.
September 16, 2015
by Martin Odoni
Forced patriotism is often sneered at by the British media when it is not British patriotism. For instance, film from the old Soviet Union of vast crowds of fervent Russian troops chestily roaring The State Anthem is Exhibit A when wanting to prove the phenomenon of Marxist brainwashing. Exhibit B will be examples of the Soviet Government lying to its population about its successful policies and what policies will be enacted in future. Exhibit C will be examples of the Soviet Government burying evidence of promises they have failed to keep.
So on reflection of this, I will ask a question; out of David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, which of the two most prominent leaders of political parties in the United Kingdom would you say is more Soviet Union-like in his conduct?
Regularly read a ‘newspaper’ like The Telegraph or The Daily Mail (heaven help you), and you would think the question so laughably easy to answer that it hardly merits asking. “Why, Corbyn of course!” you would scoff. “The USSR was Left, Corbyn is Left, so Corbyn is the Kommissar!”
Au contraire. The economic leanings of the Soviet Union might have been the opposite of Cameron’s unquestioning Free Market worship, but in all other respects, Cameron’s conduct and outlook are far closer to the USSR’s than Corbyn’s.
Cameron is the sort of rosy-eyed Conservative who could hardly resist the impulse to sing along whenever he hears a rendition of God Save The Queen, or Rule Britannia!, and he will sing them with so little pause-for-thought that the distinction between him and a lifetime Stalinist in the Red Army is purely a matter of parameters.
Compare that to Corbyn, who, in stark contrast to the brainwashed devotees of ‘Mother Russia’, refuses to sing his national anthem, even when hemmed in on all sides by the peer-pressure of a large crowd singing it with unrestrained gusto. Well in fact, he has apparently agreed he will sing it in future, but we can be sure it will be without the slightest trace of jingoism in his heart. He is a lifelong republican and does not see what a song idealising a talentless elderly woman – whom people have only heard of due to the accident of her being born a distant descendant of a Franco-Viking warlord who conquered England in the Eleventh Century and brutalised much of its population (oh, our Royals and their philanthropic heritage!) – has to do with being respectful to people who died during this nation’s many, many wars. The non-necessity of most of those wars is one of the reasons why Corbyn is no jingoist.
So, in our ‘How-Much-Do-You-Resemble-A-Soviet?’ contest, after the mindless-patriotism category, Cameron is one-nil up.
How about the breaking-promises-to-the-population category? Well in all fairness, as Corbyn has, to date, never been Prime Minister, it is difficult to provide an even assessment; he has not broken any notable promises to the electorate because he has never been in the position of having to. But nevertheless, were we to compare Cameron with Stalin and other Soviet leaders, we find plenty of common ground. For instance, only yesterday Cameron’s Government pushed several important cuts to tax credits through Parliament. One of the credits that is being reduced, after a fashion, is child tax credit.
Now the exact nature of the cut to it is quite complicated – here is the Daily Mirror’s attempt to decode it for us – and it can be presented in such a way that it could be argued that it is not a cut as such. But whatever the case, it does clearly run contrary to what was implied before the Election when David Cameron was speaking on the BBC. Once again, the Tories are punishing the poor for a gigantic National Debt created mainly by the mistakes of the rich, in a way they had specifically promised not to.
Apparently, this move merits less attention in the media than Jeremy Corbyn showing precisely as much Royalist patriotism as he has always claimed to possess. (I glanced through a copy of The Metro on the way into work this morning – I know, I know, The Daily Mail without cash, but it was either that or stare at the tram ceiling for fifteen minutes – and while I concede I was not looking very closely, I could see no sign of tax credit cuts even being mentioned, while several pages were devoted to the apparent ‘scandal’ of Jeremy Corbyn not singing God Save The Queen.)
But surely this broken promise by Cameron marks him out as behaving in a manner similar to Soviet propagandists, which is a reason in itself to highlight it.
Two-nil to Cameron in the race for the title of ‘The New Stalin’ then. This makes the third and final category – the change-of-historical-facts event – something of a ‘dead-rubber’, but even there, Cameron is a clear winner. Remember November 2013, when the Tories deleted a whole archive of speeches from before the previous General Election? Well, at least Cameron did not issue a whole line-up of replacement speeches to fill the gap, and claim that they were what he and his colleagues had actually said – that would be truly Orwellian – but deletion is half the crime. (My brother argues that it was not deliberate censorship, but simply routine server-maintenance by Conservative Party staff who had no idea what it was they were deleting. Possible, and I must stress that my brother is an I.T. expert and is no more a Tory sympathiser than I am, but I remain unconvinced.) While I am unaware of any examples of Corbyn rewriting history, Stalin would certainly be proud to call Cameron ‘a creature of his own’. Remember what Stalin did to the memory of Leon Trotsky, and others?
So, it is three-nil to Cameron, a far more impressive victory than either of his General Election performances. Surely that is worth consideration, next time Corbyn is attacked in the press as a ‘Trotskyist‘?
September 15, 2015
So long, and thanks for all the memes!
by Alec Downs
Last night, Australia’s Prime Minister Toby Abbott, he of the infamous ‘budgie smugglers’ (NSFW), onion-botherer and international laughing-stock was firmly ousted in a leadership spill by communications minister Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull won the ballot 54-44, securing his position as leader of the Liberal Party and the country.
Abbott and Turnbull have long been rivals; Abbott snatched leadership of the party from Turnbull by a single vote in 2009. A spill motion was tabled in a Liberal Party meeting earlier this year, but did not pass. Speculation about a coup has been rife this year, and it was no secret that Turnbull has had his eyes on the top job.
Given the history between the two men, one can’t help but wonder if Turnbull’s internal monologue was far less gracious than what he said out loud when he paid tribute to Abbott:
“I want to say at the outset what a great debt the nation owes and the party owes, the Government owes to Tony Abbott and of course, to his family Margie and their daughters…
..The burden of leadership is a very heavy one. Tony has discharged that as leader of the party and, of course, as prime minister over many years now and the achievements of the Government that he has led have been formidable.”
Achievements, hmm? Can’t think of many. Anyone? Bueller?
Instead what we got from one of the most polarising PMs in recent times was an astonishing back-flip on election promises and an overarching theme of screwing over the people who could least afford it. Abbott used his first budget to – among other things – introduce new taxes, cut funding to hospitals, pensions and the national broadcasters ABC and SBS.
The website Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage systematically documents his myriad misdeeds.
The consensus among my cohorts is that Abbott’s term in office feels much longer than it actually was, and that he will not be missed. Abbott has done a great deal to damage Australia’s international reputation, not least in the area of climate change, where our climate policy did not extend beyond 2020, and Abbott actively moved to prevent investment in renewable energy.
So, off Tony goes into the night, with his massive pension. Good riddance. Not that we’ve had a change in government, merely prime minister. Malcolm Turnbull is a stalwart of the Liberal Party, albeit of a more libertarian bent, so while his reign promises to be more reasonable than the far-right Abbott, I predict we’ll see much of the same, policy-wise.
Turnbull is a former lawyer, investment banker and internet entrepreneur. He is very much more popular with the electorate than Abbot ever was, and while he paid lip service to bipartisanship on certain issues in the past, it remains to be seen if he can shift the LNP away from the perennial opposition mode of the past few years.
Personally I abhor Turnbull for his destruction of the visionary National Broadband Network, Australia’s largest-ever infrastructure project, designed to bring Fibre To The Home (FTTH) to 93% of Australians. Rather than admit that the Labor government did the right thing to improve our woeful broadband, Turnbull installed cronies of his onto the board of NBNCo, the government business enterprise (similar to a Quango in the UK) and used them to change course towards a so-called ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ or MTM, which utilises our decades-old rotting copper to provide a marginal speed improvement at massive cost ($56bn+). The NBN/MTM is a topic I could go on about for days, and I will probably make it the subject of future articles. It’s a classic example of Liberal opposition to nation-building projects and neatly illustrates how the LNP are bereft of vision or ideas. We saw the same objection to the rollout of telephone wires 100 years ago, or to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.
The inevitable cabinet reshuffle will be announced on Thursday, and it promises to oust Abbott’s strongest supporters such as Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Speculation abounds as to who will get what ministerial posts. One thing is for sure – Turnbull is going to have a job on his hands to make the LNP re-electable. After months of horrendous polling, many commentators are predicting a landslide towards Labor in the 2016 election. Let’s see if we make it there without another change of PM!
Here’s a choice pic of Turnbull in his younger days. It’s sure to be an interesting ride!
September 13, 2015
by Martin Odoni
No one should have any illusions about the sheer enormity of what happened yesterday. It is both an astonishing outcome, given the huge odds against it at the outset, and a potentially gigantic turning-point in British politics, in terms of where it might lead.
Jeremy Corbyn, for so long the most veteran of backbench MPs, yesterday was made the new leader of the Labour Party by a margin so wide that he had roughly eighty thousand more votes than all his rivals polled put together. Corbyn had only decided to stand as a candidate at the outset in an effort to broaden the leadership debate from the very limited ‘pick-the-Blairite’ contest it had shaped up to be. He had no expectation of winning, or even of getting particularly close. He was the epitome of the rank outsider.
There was also the very suspicious and undemocratic ‘Labour purge’, which was, in an all-but-open secret, a very obvious attempt to bar eligible voters from taking part in the ballot if the Party elite deemed them likely to vote for Corbyn. This took at least forty thousand – some estimates suggest up to one hundred thousand – voters out of the process, most of whom would almost certainly have preferred a left-wing candidate. The vague justification that the Labour bigwigs put out – that they were attempting to filter out people who did not share Labour’s ‘values’ after a massive increase of party registrations during July – was exposed as the clumsy sham it undoubtedly was when it was discovered that, while countless lifelong leftists such as Kerry-Anne Mendoza were barred, an actual former member of the Tory Cabinet was not.
To the hopeless starting position and the unashamed election-rigging, we can add the protracted, persistent, and spiteful campaigns by mainstream media and rival candidates alike to discredit Corbyn, often through misleading accusations and ‘mined’ quotations.
In the face of all this, the possibility of Corbyn merely finishing outside of last position sounded incredible.
But he did more than just finish outside of last position. He did more than merely win the leadership. He absolutely annihilated his opponents by any and every sensible measure that can be used. Even with the complexities of the Alternative Vote system, he won in just one round. Not only did his total number of votes received blast their way to way beyond fifty per cent of the total, but he won on all the breakdowns as well. Even without all the new ‘affiliated voters’, he scored over fifty per cent. Indeed, even if all of Corbyn’s affiliated supporters were discounted, but the other candidates’ affiliated supporters were included, he would still have won in the first round. Come to that, he would almost have won in the first round, even if only the Full Members’ votes were counted. It was an absolute, complete, unlimited victory for a candidate who had spent three months in what seemed the most impossible of positions.
A miracle? Well, I find ‘miracle’ is just a label used to describe an unlikely event when people are unable to understand how it happened. I think I have a possible explanation that is rather more coherent, but I will come to that shortly.
So a phenomenal turn-up on reflection of the recent past, but today also has enormous potential for the future, because it means the ‘real’ Left is back in one of the key positions in British politics, something that has probably not been true since the demise of Michael Foot in 1983 (whatever the Tribune links his successor Neil Kinnock might have had). We should not get carried away; it is certainly a very long way from being the death certificate of neoliberalism in Britain, and it is perhaps not even the birth certificate of the second generation of the Left. We can only say for certain it has happened if Corbyn can establish a stable and predominantly left-leaning Shadow Cabinet.
In that endeavour, it is no loss at all to Corbyn that there have been predictable and petulant rejective noises from many of the present Shadow Cabinet, with the likes of Jamie Reed (whoever he is – joke; oh, I do hope the hashtag #JamieReedWho catches on on Twitter) and Tristram Hunt announcing their resignations, or that they are returning to the backbenches. Corbyn does not need them in his team, they are yesterday’s news, plastic headline figures who had their turn and in practise have shown little conspicuous talent for anything other than appearing much the same as each other. New, fresher figures emerged at the General Election, and many of them have arrived via the left wing of the Labour Party. It is from there that Corbyn should look to recruit most of his new Shadow Cabinet, with maybe one or two appointments from the neoliberal wing as a peacemaking concession.
But even if yesterday was not the birth certificate of the ‘Second Labour Left’, the crushing defeats of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and most particularly the hapless Liz Kendall – and the retreat of the rest of the Blairites to the backbenches – are the probable death certificate of New Labour. The watered-down neoliberalism project that has had jealous control of the Labour Party for over twenty years appears to have broken a mirror; since the Credit Crunch, it has suffered seven years of purgatory, which reached their apex yesterday. This is a hugely significant development in its own right, one that had to occur before the rise of the ‘Second Labour Left’, and the eventual demise of neoliberalism in Britain as a whole, could become possible. The struggle, in that sense, has only just begun, but yesterday was the turning point that has allowed it to begin. If Corbyn and his allies can just get the next few months right and have the Labour Party in good shape from the early months of next year, the opportunity is now there to revive the wrongly-discredited social democratic consensus of the 1950’s-to-the-1970’s. Margaret Thatcher’s infernal dismantling of social democracy, replacing it with the dice-rolling guesswork of neoliberalism, has caused economic instability, chaos, and pointless hardship for over thirty years.
Reflecting on why the Blairites failed is as important as fist-pumping the air over Corbyn winning. Early on, Burnham looked like he was a nailed-on winner, but from the moment that he chickened-out of voting against the Tories’ draconian Welfare Reform and Work Bill, one could almost feel the country, and most particularly the grass-roots of his Party, turning their backs on him in deep, deep disappointment. This was the man who had once had the fortitude to ear-bash an unsympathetic Cabinet into suspending the Thirty-Years Rule so that the Hillsborough Disaster could finally be properly-investigated. For him now to show such a dearth of courage when vulnerable people’s lives were endangered by cruel legislation in Parliament was bound to do his campaign severe damage.
But then the campaign-performances by all the Blairites were awful, and in a strange, overlapping way that underlined why Corbyn was so much more appealing; all the Blairites kept saying the same sorts of things – especially the teeth-grinding over-use of the word ‘aspiration’ – kept failing to answer questions, kept flip-flopping on positions of principle, and kept making the same paranoid anti-Corbyn noises. In so doing, they gratifyingly demonstrated exactly why Corbyn had felt he had to stand in the first place; they really were all much the same, and none of them were particularly far removed from Ed Miliband. They came across as negative, cowardly, android-like, and devoid of ideas or conviction – just more of the same Red Toryism that had put the Party into this long-running mess in the first place. Even with so much of the media preferring them to Corbyn, it was just impossible for the Labour support to see the Blairites in a favourable light.
Looking again at the ‘Labour Purge’, I should mention that I was not one of the people who tried to register as a voter in the Labour Party. As a paid-up member of the Green Party, it felt somehow wrong to me that I try to switch to Labour for the sake of one candidate, when at the time I doubted he could win. If he lost, I would have to go back to the Greens again, which would all feel a little frenetic and volatile. That was a matter of personal choice, and while it was not for me, I fully respect the decisions of those who decided to register with Labour and try to bring about change. Now Corbyn has won, I have made a pledge that I will vote for Labour at the next General Election, should he still be their leader. I will remain a paid-up member of the Green Party in the meantime though, as they still need regular support and funding, and I still agree with many of their values. Call that a foot-in-both-camps if you like, but I am content with the position I am taking, both ethically and tactically.
This leadership contest will, I suspect, be remembered as a tipping point in the media, as well as in politics. What stood out throughout the course of the campaign was how much verbal ‘manure’ was hurled at Jeremy Corbyn throughout, especially by right-wing tabloids, and how utterly ineffective it all proved to be. When its effects on the wider public are assessed, we may find things are a little different, but by and large, the pattern was clear; nobody who had a vote in this contest was impressed or swayed by the rumour-mongering or scare stories. In fact, Corbyn’s support almost seemed to increase every time he was smeared, and some voters may even have transferred their votes to him from other candidates in protest against the very undemocratic nature of the ‘Purge’.
I honestly doubt that Corbyn could have brushed off with such cool aplomb all the attacks had this campaign happened in the 1990s or earlier, because the nature of the media back then was different. Twenty years ago, newspapers and television pretty much were the media, all news was relayed to the public through them. When a right-wing tabloid chose to smear someone, a rebuttal could take days while research was done to fact-check the claims, and to write up a response and get it published in print. With debunking being such a slow process, mud was able to stick far more viscously.
In the modern era of social media, however, the smear is not quite as effective as it once was. When a false accusation is published now, the internet offers a very quick and simple repository from which facts can be checked without ever having to leave one’s seat. Far more people use the Internet than have ever worked in TV or newspapers, so that leads to far more potential fact-checkers being on-hand at any one moment. And while it is true that false rumours can circulate around the world at far quicker speeds than they used to as well thanks to the Internet, debunking efforts can be published and proliferated in response so quickly that damage can be contained. If anyone wants to publish a rebuttal to a false story they have encountered, they no longer have to submit it to a newspaper and cross their fingers that the Editor decides to print it. Instead, they can create their own blog in just five minutes, write up their rebuttal, self-publish it, and then share links to it far and wide over social media, like Facebook groups, Pinterest and Twitter.
In short, the ground of media propaganda has shifted some way since about 1995, and the print-media in particular is now too slow to be the receptacle that is always first with the news. When a tabloid is in the mood to do a hatchet-job (and we can be sure that many, many more of them will be printed against Corbyn in the next few years), a story that its writers take days developing and putting about is then getting debunked within a couple of hours; see how completely the accusation that Corbyn described Osama bin Laden’s death as a ‘tragedy’ was debunked, on the same day it was published. It happened because thousands of people checked the story, realised the quotation was presented out of context, and then bombarded Twitter and Facebook with so many furious rebuttals that it was scarcely possible to miss them.
My hunch is that the mainstream media is a bit slow cottoning on to the new reality, hence the general futility of their crude, obsolete smear-methods, and their breathless shock at yesterday’s result. The mainstream media, while still a very powerful organ, is no longer as unchallenged as it once was. The world of online journalists and bloggers has started to siphon off some of the old media’s previously-unchecked influence, and because it is a world in cyberspace and shifting software, rather than printed on paper or spoken in studios, the reach of social media is not always easy to keep track of.
My hope is that this changed reality continues to elude the mainstream media. Its ignorance of its own lost powers is the very weakness that can eventually be played upon to curb its excesses. If such excesses are truly curbed, then the chances for Corbyn and a ‘second era’ for the Left will be transformed, and the prospects for a better, fairer Britain will be transformed with them.
“#JezWeCan,” they said, and #JezTheyDid. And I hope, with the blossoming power of social media on their side, that #JezTheyWill.