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Labour Representation Committee Backs Kurdish Struggle.

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Kurdish Fighters: Our Kith and Kin. 

Yesterday the Labour Representation Committee AGM voted to back the Kurdish struggle.

Cagdas Canbolat from the Daymer Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre made a moving speech describing the current situation of the Kurds in Northern Syria. He talked of the importance of the heroic struggle of the people of Kobane against Isis (Da’esh). Warning against the manoeuvres of the Turkish state and the support of Qatar and Saudi Arabia (all (implicated in allowing the jihadists to flourish),for he stressed the need to be wary of the actions of the Western powers. But, with the common socialist objectives of his organisation and the British left, our priority must be support the Kurdish people’s fight.

In the afternoon the LRC’s views on international affairs were debated.

There was no full resolution on the Kurdish issue, although comrade John McDonnel (MP) has held a welcome meeting in the House of Commons on the topic.

There as however a general declaration in support of the Kurds’ fight, and for their right to self-determination.

During the discussion the Tendance regretted that the LRC had not had time to adopt the very recent Fire Brigades’ Union resolution ,

The FBU Executive Council is appalled by the ongoing siege of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria by ISIS forces.

The Executive Council notes:

  • The ISIS attack on Kobane and resistance of Kurdish and other local forces.
  • The role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE (all UK/US allies) in building, assisting and encouraging the growth of ISIS.
  • The particular role of the Turkish government in allowing money, arms and fighters across the border to build support for ISIS.
  • The role of Turkey at various times in obstructing the flight of Kurdish and other refugees and in blocking any support for predominantly Kurdish defenders of Kobane, thereby increasing the power and influence of ISIS and likelihood of collapse of opposition to it.

As the union of firefighting humanitarian professionals, we believe it is right to warn of the prospects of a massacre and to demand that governments (including the UK government) act to prevent atrocities. As professionals who have to deal with international humanitarian disasters as well as the effects of terrorism on our own doorstep, we cannot passively fold our arms and do nothing in the face of a likely massacre.

We send our message of solidarity to the workers’ organisations in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, including the Kurdish workers’ organisations. We believe these are the progressive forces that can oppose oppressive governments and reactionary and sectarian forces of all types, and can best guarantee workers’ rights and ensure democratic relations between the peoples of the region.

We support the right of Kurdish people across the Middle East to self-determination, including their right to defend themselves against attack from ISIS.

We oppose the horrific brutality of ISIS and its sectarian and murderous behaviour towards peoples of the region.

We condemn the Turkish government’s comments equating Kurdish fighters (including the defenders of Kobane) with ISIS.

We have no confidence in a US/UK/French bombing campaign against ISIS, based on the bitter experience of such efforts in the last decade and on the appalling role played by the Turkish government and other key western allies in the region.

We demand that:

  • The Turkish government lifts border obstructions to refugees.
  • The Turkish government allows relief efforts, including by opening a relief corridor to the Kurds and other forces defending Kobane.

We call for the TUC to raise these matters urgently, including with the Turkish embassy, the UK government and with trade unions in Europe and elsewhere. We call for international trade union solidarity and support for the defenders of Kobane.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

Matt Wrack
General Secretary

FBU

Afterwards I interviewed comrade Cagdas Canbolat.

He reiterated the importance of Kobane, the Kurdish defence of diversity in a region where this is threatened, and the role of women in leading their struggle against the genocidal Islamists.

Back in Ipswich that evening – at nearly ten o’clock – I went into a Kurdish run Newsagents/Off Licence on my way home.

Having already in the recent past already discussed the Kurdish fight with the people there I mentioned the debates at the LRC Conference.

Immediately the proprietor grasped his mobile and showed me pictures of him and his wife at last Saturday’s London day of Solidarity with Kobane.

He began talking about the bravery of the women fighters of the YPG – People’s Protection Units.

I asked if he had seen the video of the Kurdish comrades with the Italian Partisan Song, Bella Ciao.

He sang the first words!

I said that what I liked about the Kurds was that they are “normal people”.

By this I meant – and was understood to mean – that they are simply ordinary decent people.

He liked that expression and repeated it.

A phrase I used in the LRC debate was that these are our “kith and kin“.

That is, people who know, people we feel at ease with, not a special ‘heroic’ ‘victim’ group.

They are friends, neighbours – in my case a number of allotment holders, those who come to the Ipswich Trades Council May Day events, and those I have taught English to.

Nothing special – just plain decent people.

We in the labour movement and left do know the Kurdish organisations – they have supported us, they are part of us.

Ordinary or not the Kurds of Northern Syria are called on to do extraordinary acts.

As our flesh and blood they must be supported to the hilt.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

Isis: ‘Manufactured” by US, says Counterpunch.

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From US ‘Tool Box’ Says Counterpunch. 

Counterpunch published over the weekend these latest wise-guy revelations…

ISIS: the Useful Enemy

by ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH

The dark force of ISIS is apparently an invincible and unstoppable war juggernaut that is mercilessly killing and conquering in pursuit of establishing an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In reality, however, it is not as out of control as it appears. It is, indeed, carefully controlled and managed by its creators and supporters, that is, by the United States and its allies in the regions—those who now pretend to have established a coalition to fight it! 

Plumbing the depths Hossein-Zadeh tries to make political capital out of Kobane and the brave Kurds fighting there,

While the Kurdish city of Kobani in Northern Syria is being attacked by the disproportionately better armed forces of ISIS, and thousands of its besieged residents face certain mass killings if it falls, the forces of the “coalition to fight ISIS” are watching—in effect, playing a game of hide-and-seek, or perhaps trick-or-treat, with ISIS—as the outgunned and outmanned Kurdish forces are valiantly fighting to death against the attackers. Only occasionally the coalition forces carry out bombing missions that seem to be essentially theatrical, or just for the record.

Further,

The inaction or half-hearted action of the United States in the face of the preventable slaughter of the Syrian Kurds, which makes it complicit in the carnage, can be explained by its political horse-trading with Turkey in exchange for the Turks’ collaboration with the pursuit of its imperialistic interests in the region.

It is self-evidently true that the Islamist government of Turkey is viscerally hostile to the PKK and those in Syria allied to it. But Hossein-Zadeh does not propose any measures to alleviate their plight, or indeed express any solidarity with the people of Kobane.

How one could help them – leaving aside the inconvenient truth that the Peshmerga are actually there – are not his concern. He simply wallows in it.

The ‘argument behind all of this?

That, the US and its tentacles are at work. If  you thought Seamus Milne’s Theory of why the USA is against the ‘multi-polar world’ is half-baked read this:

The U.S. approach to ISIS would be better understood when it is viewed in the context of its overall objectives in the region—and beyond. That overriding objective, shared and reinforced by its client states, is to undermine or eliminate “the axis of resistance,” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and, to a lesser extent, Shia forces in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Achievement of this goal would also be achievement of another, even broader, goal: undermining Russia’s influence and alliances in the region and, by extension, in other parts of the world—for example, its critically important role within both the Shanghai Cooperation Council (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

And one doubts if many would go as far as this

To intervene in order to achieve these goals, the U.S. and its allies need pretexts and/or enemies—even if it means inventing or manufacturing such enemies. Without ISIS, resumption of U.S. military operations in Iraq and extension of those operations into Syria would have been difficult to justify to the American people. A year or so ago, the Obama administration’s drive to attack Syria was thwarted by the opposition from the American people and, therefore, the U.S. congress. The rise of ISIS quickly turned that opposition to support.

Viewed in this light, ISIS can be seen as essentially another (newly manufactured) instrument in the tool-box of U.S. foreign policy, which includes “global terrorism,” the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear technology, Al-Qaeda, and many other radical Islamic groupings—all by-products of, or blowbacks to, imperialistic U.S. foreign policies.

Let us, generously, assume that this article is not the famous Hope-Tipping (Hat-tip Rosie) famous for saying the opposite of what everybody else believes (accusing”D H Lawrence of showing  a neglect of “the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life).

So it is not to strike a pose the author claims, “Just because everybody thinks that Isis is virulently anti-US means….that the US created it……”

No we will not claim this. Counterpunch has published extremely well-informed material on the origins of Isis in the Iraqi and Syrian Matrices.

Well, okay,l one that I can find quickly:  The Rise of ISIS and the Origins of the New Middle East War Tariq Ali talking to Patrick Cockburn.

…..they come most immediately from al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was at the height of its influence in 2006 [and] 2007 when it was an element–but not the only element–in the Sunni resistance to a Shia government and the American occupation. Ideologically, it comes out of the Jihadi movement and actually its religious beliefs are not that much different from Saudi Wahhabism, the variant of the Islam which is effectively the state religion of Saudi Arabia with its denigration of Shia as heretics, [along with] Christians and Jews.

It’s just carrying these beliefs to a higher and more violent level but it’s very much in the context of the Jihadi movement. …. ISIS has a number of different kinds of support. It has support of the alienated Sunni community in Iraq and also in Syria.

That at least their victors, after all these people have been defeated – they were defeated in ’91 by the Americans, they were defeated again in 2003, they were marginalised, persecuted – so victory is important to them. I think also they appeal to jobless young men, I mean sometimes referred to as the underclass, but actually just the poor, poor young men.

One could develop further from this that the group has an internal totalitarian dynamic,  a machine of “disciplining and punishing” grounded in Islamism, that represents,as Cockburn suggests,  not a radical break with other forms of Islamism, but an extreme exaggeration of their repressive efforts to shape human beings according to Divine Law. Or, failing that to cage them within it.

We can discuss for a long time the geopolitics, the Invasion of Iraq, and at present, the Syrian civil war, the stand of Turkey’s government, that have favoured these developments.

The contradictions within the Iraqi Kurdish power  and the various Kurdish  movements (including their own Islamists) and the complex issue of the Kurdish movements, the PKK’s inspiring programme of egalitarian social measures, decentralised power, secular freedom and sexual equality would fill pages.

But the point now is to mobilise support for the Kurdish fighters against Isis/Islamic State.

All this is blown to the winds by Hossein’s ramblings. – more than typical of the contributions on the site.

Is this deliberate?

That the real wish is to pile all the misery of the beloved peoples of the Middle East on the ‘West’s’ back?

Who can be certain?

Counterpunch – just when you thought unpleasant conspiracy theorists had had enough.

Global Day of Solidarity with Kobane: Pictures.

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A world day of solidarity with Kobane

Thousands of people took to the streets throughout Europe today in a demonstration of support for Kurds in Kobane, the Syrian border town under siege from Islamic State (IS) fighters for more than a month.

This is a crucial moment for Kurdish activism. We are coming together as never before and with global support as never before,” Aysegul Erdogan, a Kurdish human rights activist and one of the organisers of the demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square, told Rudaw.  Thousands of people waved multi-coloured flags and placards in the sun as they listened to speeches from members of parliament and human rights activists.

 In Turkey, there were fears that protests in the capital Istanbul and Turkey’s biggest Kurdish city Diyarbakir could turn violent. Several hundred people, mainly leftist groups and supporters of the banned PKK marched through Istanbul’s main shopping district waving PKK and YPG flags and pictures of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, despite warnings from the government the protest was illegal and it would come down hard on any civil disturbance.

Water cannons and hundreds of riot police armed with tear gas stood watch only metres away stopping the group’s advance while protesters shouted anti IS slogans as well as “Free Kurdistan”.

 Ankara has said it will hold the main pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) responsible for any violence after it made a call earlier this week for people to take to the streets. Some 40 people were killed during riots over Kobane in Kurdish cities last month following a similar call by the HDP.

 The Dogan news agency reported that some 20,000 protesters had also gathered in Diyarbakir.

 Elsewhere in Europe, demonstrators carrying green and gold Kurdish flags and placards saying “Hands Off Kobane” thronged the streets in major cities from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, with some protestors supporting or criticising their own governments’ actions in the crisis.

More on Rudaw (Kurdish News Service)

See also: Manifestations en Turquie et en Europe en solidarité avec Kobané

Update:

YPG and YPJ commanders Mahmut Berxwedan and Roza Kobane saluted everyone that joined the “World Kobane Day” demonstrations across the world. The commanders said, “We promise victory in Kobane to the millions that have expressed their support and solidarity”.

The commanders also said that the scenes that came through from across the globe has boosted the morale of the YPG and YPJ fighters and that the resistance of the fighters in Kobane and the activities of the millions of supporters of the resistance were complimentary to each other.

YPJ commander Roza Kobane especially thanked all the women in the world who participated in the 1 November activities by saying that, “we give our word to the women of the world to continue our struggle for the liberation of women”.

Kurdish Question.

mcr 5

Manchester

Thousands protest in Turkey to show solidarity with Kobane Kurds

Istanbul.

kab1

Kabul (Via, Initiative Communiste Ouvrière)

Perth, Australia.

World shows solidarity with Kobane

Cologne Germany. 

Northern Kurdistan, Diyarbakir.

Rally in LA

Los Angeles.

Paris. 

© AFP

Toulouse.

1414879704-thousands-rally-in-london-in-solidarity-with-kobane_6158578

London (thanks to beloved comrade Gemma).

Speakers included Mark Thomas, Peter Tatchell  and representatives of Kurdish organisations.

More on London here.

Unite, Britain’s Biggest Trade Union, Backs the Struggle of Kobane.

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The biggest trade union in Britain, UNITE, has issued a statement of support for the Kobane resistance.

The statement came after representatives from Centre for Kurdish Progress met with UNITE officials and briefed them on the developments in the town of Kobane, where Kurdish fighters have been holding off an ISIS onslaught for the past 48 days.

In the statement, UNITE said it “offered its support and solidarity to the brave people of Kobane” and that “The bravery shown by the Kurds in Kobane in defence of the entire community is to be commended”.

The statement also highlighted Turkey’s role in the developments and said, “we were appalled that the Turkish government put its own nationalist politics ahead of the plight of Kurdish people”.

Kurdish Question.

Photo : Frederic Lafargue

Leader of French Communist Party, Pierre Laurent, went this week with a delegation to as near to the Kobane front-line as they could get to express solidarity with our Kurdish sisters and brothers.

Humanité.

 

 

World Kobane Day (1)Screen_Shot_2014-10-31_at_20.36.44

Written by Andrew Coates

November 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

Suffolk Libraries Face New Crisis as Disinvestment Fails to Deliver.

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Ideal Happy Suffolk Library User.

In 2012 Suffolk LIbraries were taken away from public ownership (‘divested’) and direct control by elected councillors under a hard-right leadership of Suffolk County Council. They were given to an Industrial and Provident Society

Or as they put it,

In the first arrangement of its type in the UK, and after extensive consultation with the people of Suffolk, on Wednesday 1 August 2012, all of Suffolk’s 44 libraries and the mobile, school and prison library services were put under the direct control of the Suffolk’s Libraries IPS Ltd, an independent company registered as a charity.

Suffolk’s Libraries has a long-term contract with Suffolk County Council to ensure the service is delivered to an agreed specification and to work with local community groups to develop locally-focused services at each library.

The county council remains the statutory library authority, and monitors the performance of the library service through a framework that forms part of the contract.

The board of the IPS is currently appointed (that is, nominated, not elected) but will be elected by members of the IPS in late 2013.

These are the members who elected the Board  (essentially Friends of local libraries) and here is the Board.

As a member of the Ipswich Friends, who are on the list, I would be interested to know how this election took place – certainly it would be hard to recall being consulted, let alone presented with a ballot paper.

It would be possible to go further into  this arrangement, whose transparency has been unfavourably compared to the Kremlin’s under Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.

Our concern is the future of the libraries.

It would seem that a number of problems have come to a head: Ipswich Library is opening late tomorrow, because a special ‘Staff Meeting’ is taking place.

It is known (I have seen a copy of the, non-public, minutes of the meeting) that part of the Library is to be transferred to a business ‘hub’ of some kind (as if Ipswich needs another one….).

Appropriately commerce will replace part of the Arts section.

In the meantime a large number of books from all over the Central Library are ‘disappearing’ and some books on the shelves are ‘not-recognised’ – about to be withdrawn for sale.

One loyal member of staff say that these volumes have gone to a better, happier, place.

Others, less favourable to management, suggest that the “disappeared” will never  be seen again.

The computer provision, which last year’s annual public report (a rare glimpse into the Provy’s workings) needs upgrading, is in a mess.

Some new terminals are available (though 2 have already broken down) with super, indeed excellent, service, exist (though their censorship filter blocks some left-wing sites).

Some of the old ones still function.

There is a shortage of free computers and great competition to use them – an essential activity for Jobseekers.

But near to them are the dead carcasses of extinct terminals, a sad reminder of former days.

We suspect a funding crisis is in the offing and “profit centres” are seen as the way out.

Note the word “suspect“, not “certain”.

It is said – from the Management – that “nothing has been decided yet” about the libraries’ future.

We have heard that one before: it is no doubt taught in many ‘dealing with a crisis’ master classes for managers.

As American Help is Dropped to Kobane Kurds, Stop the War Coalition Enters New Crisis.

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US state department file photo.

US Drops Help to Kobane: Not in Our Name? 

“…the airstrikes by the US, Britain and their allies are not intended to save lives or to defeat ISIS, but to strengthen the west’s domination of the Middle East region strategically and control its resources, most notably its oil.”

Wrote Aaron Kiely (Socialist Action) on the Stop the War Coalition site on the 15th of October.

Why students should oppose bombing Iraq and Syria and whipping up of Islamophobia

Kiely does not mention any alternative way to aid the Kurds and others to defeat Isis.

His main concern apparently is that there is a “disgusting smear campaign against the Stop the War Coalition, CND, prominent NUS student leaders and others, accusing the anti-war movement of supporting the barbaric terrorist group Isis.

Speaking for “Muslim communities” he says they are “are strong opponents of terrorism”. He adds, “Young people and students want a future free from the scourge of war, terrorism and Islamophobia.”

Keiley is infamous for  Tweeting his opposition to an “Islamophobic”  motion at the NUS – that is one supporting the Kurds, drafted with the close help of/and by Kurds.

He may well “oppose” Isis, but if there was no evidence of supporting the Kurds then, there is none now.

Their right to freedom from Islamist racism and mass murder (Isis/Islamic State)  is not mentioned.

What, then,  does the Stop the War Coalition (StWC)  think of the Kurdish plight?

 Leading figures of the StWC, Lindsey German and Robin Beste, have argued (3rd October),

  • The issue of the Kurds is central to countering ISIS expansion in the region. The Iraqi Kurds are close allies of the west, but there is a very different attitude to the Kurds in Turkey and Syria. The PKK, which has been struggling for Kurdish self-determination for decades, is still listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US. This is despite the PKK and its allies being prominent in the battle against ISIS. Turkey has oppressed the Kurds for many years and will not help those in Kobane, now under imminent threat of seizue by ISIS. Turkey could open its border to the Kurds, but refuses to do so, in contrast with its support for ISIS in the past. Instead the Turkish parliament has voted to create a ‘buffer zone’ at the Syrian border which will involve the disarming of the Kurds.
  • Bombing will prove counter productive because it will do nothing to help the people already suffering, but will lead to far greater levels of death, injury and destruction. This has been the experience over the past 13 years, not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan and Libya too.

Today we learn (BBC),

US military aircraft have dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State (IS) militants in the key Syrian town of Kobane.

US Central Command said C-130 transport aircraft made “multiple” drops of supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.

US air strikes have helped push back IS in the town near the Turkish border.

Correspondents say the airdrops are likely to anger key US ally Turkey.

The drops of supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq were “intended to enable continued resistance against Isil’s attempts to overtake Kobane,” Centcom said in a statement. IS is also referred to as Isil and Isis.

All the aircraft involved had returned safely, it added.

The US air drops represent a significant shift in Washington’s policy towards the Syrian Kurds.

Syrian Kurdish fighters confounded the bleak predictions about Kobane’s imminent fall, and the air drops are now taking place despite objections from the Turkish government: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said his country would not agree to any US arms transfers to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Nevertheless, the US state department recently declared that it had held the first direct talks with the Syrian Kurdish Party – considered an ally of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which fought a three-decade war against the Turkish army until 2013.

Reporting on this today the French left paper Libération states that the French government has put an ultimatum to Qatar to stop all support for the Islamic State/Isis.  Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated to the Emir of the country  that one does not have to “choose” between the Syrian dictatorship and Isis terrorism, but should oppose both.

The Kurdish News agency, Rudaw has stated,

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The Turkish government has agreed to give Kurdistan Region Peshmerga forces passage to the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, a well-placed source told Rudaw today.

The official source said that Turkey has responded positively to a request from Kurdish President Massoud Barzani to allow Peshmerga forces pass through Turkish territory to relieve Peoples Protection Units (YPG) fighters in their battle against the Islamic State (IS).

According to the source who didn’t want to be named, Barzani and Peshmerga Minister Mustafa Sayid Qader have coordinated the plan with Salih Muslim, leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and his YPG commanders.

Muslim met with Barzani in Duhok last week where the two discussed the fighting in Kobane between the YPG and IS militants who have besieged the town for more than a month.

There are good reasons to be very cautious about this report on Turkey’s change of attitude.

But nobody can contest that the US action has taken place.

It may well not stem the offensive of the Isis genociders.

But is the StWC right to claim that this bombing will prove to be “counter-productive”.

I don’t think so.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 20, 2014 at 11:20 am

The Establishment. And how they get away with it. Owen Jones. A Socialist Review.

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The Establishment. And how they get away with it. Owen Jones. Allen Lane 2014.

Last Tuesday supporters of the Suffolk People’s Assembly and the PCS trade union lobbied Ipswich Conservative MP, Ben Gummer. Part of the TUC campaign “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” we were there to raise concerns from the decline in the real value of public sector pay, the growing cost of living, declining working conditions, to the attacks on those receiving welfare benefits. Gummer, after admitting that he had the privileged background (Cabinet Minister dad, public school and Cambridge in case you ask) understood our worries. He knew “where we were coming from”. But tight budgets and a squeeze on spending had been needed to deal with the legacy of the last government. Now the country was on the mend.

The Honourable Member ended by evoking his recent visit to a local school Academy. Its intake includes many of the less than privileged. Yet these students were rearing to compete on the global market. Equipping them to stand up their counterparts on the East, to give them “opportunity”, was, Ben’s words suggested, a task his government had begun in earnest.

Right in the first chapter of Owen Jones’ The Establishment, one comes across Gummer’s other constituency: the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Jones meets it founder, Matthew Elliot, who founded this “unashamedly populist” campaign for lower taxation. Inspired by the American hard-right Tea Party, its influence began before the 2008 Bankers’ crash. The Alliance now boasts that it got the Tories from saying they wanted to “match Labour’s spending plans to talk about spending cuts”. The ‘shock’ of crashing banks gave them a golden opportunity to go further and further.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance awarded Ipswich MP Ben its monthly  ‘pin up’ status a couple of years ago for his attempt to rename National Insurance a Tax. (1) This is not the only link. Jones signals their campaign to end Trade Union facility time. Mr Gummer – the members of the PCS present at the lobby were well aware – has very publicly pursued this demand locally.

Needless to say the socially and (genuinely) caring liberal Ben, can quickly turn into a ferocious tigress protecting her young when the interests of one group of taxpayers, finance, are at stake. It was not so long ago that he floated the idea of reviving the ‘business vote’, an extra ballot paper for companies (no doubt with an eye on Labour controlled Ipswich Borough Council).

Dig a little and what is the core of the up and coming Conservative’s politics? For Ben Gummer the City of London, which Jones describes as marked by a “reluctance to pay taxes and an acute hostility to any form of government intervention” (Page 241) is the foundation of UK prosperity. Above all he ducks the banks’ responsibility for the economic crisis, and the government’s deficit (critics might begin with the bank bail-out….), and loads it onto the ‘tax and spend’ policies of Blair and Brown.

It is not a long journey from The Establishment to Ipswich. The previous story is an illustration of how the author succeeds in showing “how they get away with it”. Activists on the left will find many similar echoes from their own experiences of contact with professional politicians (not just Conservatives and Liberals), and “movers and shakers” in the country.

Outriders.

As most reviewers, even if they might disagree with many of Jones’ views,  have said, The Establishment is a thoughtful and thorough exploration of the world of “powerful”, who “manage democracy”. This “oligarchy”, a self-selecting elite, as Ferdinand Mount has described it, it is one profoundly changed since the 1980s (The New Few or a Very British Oligarchy. 2012) To Jones it’s “politicians who make laws, media barons who set the terms of debate; business and financiers who run the economy; police forces that enforce a law which is rigged in favour of the powerful.” What ties them together is a belief in their own rightness that they are “worth” their positions.

In their ‘heroic age’, Thatcherites could consider themselves as radicals sweeping away the old system. Now the free-market consensus has taken on a life of its own. It’s an apparatuses, helped by ‘hired hands’ and driven by the undoubted profits of financial institutions and, increasingly, a revenue flow from the state into private owners of public assets.

It is striking that “outriders”, from the Tax-Payers’ Alliance, ‘free-market’ think tanks, still consider themselves to be living in this time when they had to fight off the remnants of the post-War settlement, beat down trade unions, and remove left-wing politics from the national life. The Daily Mail, Jones observes, still thinks it is battling away at a ‘Liberal’ Establishment.  Paul Staines (aka “Guido Fawkes”)  also on the hard right says of the the political class: “I hate the fucking thieving cunts.”

The first chapter of Jones’ book underlines the contrary. The hard-right have succeeded in defining ‘common sense’, from the media, much of the public, to the highest reaches of power. They have “shifted the terms of debate and softened up public opinion” with the willing collaboration of media outlets, the BBC at the forefront, which never loses an opportunity to provide them with a platform. “They have helped shift the goalposts of debate in Britain, making ideas that were once ludicrous, absurd and wacky, become the new common sense. In the terminology of right-wing political thinker, they have shifted the ‘Overton Window’.”(Page 44)

Overton, we learn, was the vice-president of a US right-wing think tank, the grandly titled Mackinac Center for Public Policy. His concern was to ‘shift’ what is reasonable, opening a new Window of opportunity. But for policies to be Policy the outriders, scouting out the way, have to find collaborators willing to work with them.

If The Establishment covers the ideological and economic conditions for the rise of the free-market ‘counter-revolution’ in the 1970s and 1980s it does not stop there. Blair and Brown were happy to go along with what the Conservatives, starting with Thatcher, had created. “The government of both Blair and Brown were instrumental in transforming Thatcherism into a permanent settlement.”(P 61)

Owen Jones is not afraid to confront the Labour Ministers who profited handsomely from this agreement on free-market foundations. Tony Blair, and his immediate followers, are probably the most notorious. But it’s the special merit of Establishment to focus on less well-remembered instances.

Former Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt ended up as a lobbyist for private health companies. Perhaps even more startling in this particularly area is the case of Paul Corrigan a one-time activist in the Communist Party of Great Britain, and sociology lecturer, who is now deeply involved, a leading figure,  in the NHS privatisation process itself (see Wikipedia). Corrigan is married to Labour Peer,  Hilary Armstrong and is a  Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Pride of place must go to David Blunkett, former Home Secretary and subsequently in charge of the DWP. Jones meets the man himself. Blunkett can never resist the opportunity to re-enact the Monty Python Three Yorkshiremen sketch. After talking of a life existing on “bread and dripping” the former Minster bushes away how he personally profited from the largesse of the notoriously incompetent A4E (amongst his many other well-rewarded private posts, from News International onwards). There is no interrogation of how A4E’s exploitation of state revenue only happened because of his own legislation. The MP proffers only this, “I’m not living a flash lifestyle, but I’m very comfortable.”(Page 76) Though not quite as comfortable as David Miliband, reported by Jones to have made a million in two and a half years after his failed Labour leadership bid in 2010.

This ‘revolving door’, by which former Cabinet Ministers end up being rewarded by companies their legislation has helped, works for politicians of all parties. If the Tories do badly next year, and when the Liberals are drubbed, we will see another crop. Jones remind us that 46 of the top fifty publicly ranked traded firms in the UK had a British parliamentarian as either a director or a shareholder.

The problem is not that politicians are especially venal as such – a pretty hollow claim given the opportunities for far easier money-making in other walks of life. It is that, as Jones says, “Mainstream politicians had been transformed by policies that once belonged to the dreams of the outriders. A mentality of greed had been promoted amongst the business elite, now this mentality had infected the political elite too. Politicians became unapologetic lobbyists for private interests both inside and outside Westminster.”(Page 83)

When one reads this it’s hard not to think of this, possibility, cited in Tomas Picketty’s influential Capital in the Twenty First Century. That some would “privatise all pubic assets. According to the national accounts of various European countries, the proceeds from selling all public buildings, schools, universities, hospitals, police stations, infrastructures, and so will be roughly sufficient to pay off all outstanding public debt. Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541 –2 Capital in the Twenty-first Century. 2014).

In many respect we are paying rent to private owners for an ever-growing number of ‘public’ services. What this means is that wealth is transferred from the majority to this minority through the mechanism of taxation and charges for indispensable common goods (health onwards). If Picketty is right about the tendency of modern Capital to favour the transformation of entrepreneurs into the holders of such claims (‘rentiers’) the free-market system may be encouraging its own cannibalism. One could also investigate the way these profiteers are directly shaping a whole range of public social policies, for the institutions they themselves run.

Democratic Revolution.

There are many other themes brought up in The Establishment, covering the media, the increasing harshness of Law and  the Police, and their use to suppress protests, the demonisation of the poor, and an array of illuminating sections on the Oligarchy’s inner courts, the City, and the Tax-dodging Tycoons and corporation. I was impressed by the grasp – not common amongst political writers – of the last decade’s coercive and shambolic changes in the Benefit system and the obstacles and misery these have created for millions of people.

But it is the political alternative to the present system that should provoke the most attention. Is the ‘elite’ at fault for the way it’s recruited? There is one area where this appears blatant: professional politics. Jones, following many others, observes is that MPs are increasingly drawn from a narrow stratum of society, often with no experience of anything other than politics, and even fewer from working class backgrounds. That this is an international phenomenon can be seen in an article in Le Monde yesterday (16.10.14). It notes that only 2,6% of French MPs come from manual or ordinary clerical occupations. But can this be changed by the kind of “equality of opportunity” that the free-market’s supporters promote?

But, as he points out, we should start by considering the corporate influence on law, from the UK to the European Union. Jones is not clear on how the EU should be approached. If it inspires unbridled hatred form one section of the Establishment, in the area of Britain’s sovereignty, another endorses it, precisely because it is remote from any democratic control. He concludes, not very confidently, that, “It is the Establishment that really reigns supreme.”(Page 294).

This sounds as if he would, or is edging towards abstention on any conflict – that is the Referendum – on UK membership. The loudest yelps for liberty come from those who wish to follow the worst aspects of US policy and politics, including its boss class of slave-drivers.  What other vehicle for ‘internationalist ‘ ambitions could be offered, other that is than a refounded and transformed Social European Union, remains to be seen.

For a democratic revolution we need democrats. The grip of the free-market outriders has, Jones, considers, to be challenged by bringing the “fragments” of opposition together. One thing that implies is that more solidly organised left-wing think tanks should be formed, and backing existing ones such as the New Economic Foundation and Class. More fundamentally The Establishment advocates public ownership. But perhaps we need the kind of public owners who can run them democratically. That is, the creation of a counterpart to the ideal of dedicated public servants of the past, educated with a feeling for the common good – and kept under control by open public mechanisms. “service users and workers”.

There are plenty of other policies to develop. Probably equally ambitious is the demand that along with clamping down on tax Avoidance we should “drive the power of Big Money from politics” (Page 311).

Will these and other proposals shift the ‘Overton Window’ “away from the Establishment” and “open up been more radical possibilities”? Change Owen concludes is “not won through the goodwill and generosity of those above, but though the struggle and sacrifice of those below.” In Le Monde Diplomatique (October 2014) Jones has written of the weakness of Ed Miliband’s alternative to the Right, and even UKIP. The French Socialist government and President Hollande, for all their initial rhetoric about challenging ‘finance’ never tried these policies, and is now drifting  ever rightwards. Will those prepared to go out on the streets to act now help turn the tide to the left, or at least stem the headlong plunge to the right? Are the embers of socialism about to be relit? 

The struggle of those people in Ipswich who lobbied Ben Gummer and all those who will be at Saturday’s TUC demonstration indicates some who are doing their best to do so……

Photo: Ben Gummer was photographed outside his office last week, when supporters of Suffolk Peoples Assembly and the Trades Council lobbied for the "Britain needs a Pay Rise" demonstration.</p>
<p>Ben’s smile seemed a little forced, possibly because the latest polls show Labour’s David Ellesemere is 7% ahead in polls for the Ipswich seat, with around 38% to Gummer’s 31%.   </p>
<p>UKIP are currently on 19% and the Lib Dems 6%.</p>
<p>(photo by Tony Dooley)” /></p>
<p class=Lobby of Gummer.

(1) Wikipedia. “Gummer first proposed annual tax statements to UK taxpayers, due for introduction in 2014. These will show shares of government spending in proportion to the amount of tax the taxpayer paid in the year. it was opposed by the Labour Party. Gummer’s proposal was favorably received by the press. He became The Suns Westminster “hero of the week” It was included in the 2012 Budget with George Osborne calling it “an excellent idea”. The TaxPayers’ Alliance subsequently honoured Gummer as their ‘Pin-Up of the Month‘. It also got the support of the Prime Minister.