Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Undercover at Royal Mail: The Army Comes to Town…

Intriguing to see the Guardian’s Steven Morris going undercover and getting a job via Manpower as one of the new Royal Mail casual workers supposedly not hired to counteract the effects of the postal strike. 

Undercover at Royal Mail: parcel basketball, scabs and yorks | UK news |

More intriguing, however, is the information passed on to me from some postal worker friends: in some branches across the country, the ARMY are making visits this week to offer “employment advice” to striking workers.

Hmmm, the government supports the intentional self-destruction of Royal Mail, mass redundancies masqueraded as “modernization” and now, when the workforce is finally used up and spat out, intends to ship all the able bodies off to Afghanistan. 

Is that what they call “balancing the budget” these days?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Moving The Goalpoasts of Modernization

The following was sent to me by postman, Adam Brazier, for anyone wanting a real insight into what has led to the current dispute between the CWU and the Royal Mail. One man’s story of what “modernization” really means…


By Adam Brazier

I have worked for Royal Mail for well over a decade. In that time, I’ve seen some changes, gone the extra mile, and entered into the spirit of the change I was sold. The first was what they described as ‘The Way Forward’. This tagline soon ended when they realised the nonsensical ‘Consignia’ name-change was commercial madness. If the management had bothered to ask any of us, we would have told them, when we weren’t laughing. The Consignia thing, always struck me as a clear sign of management intentions; privatisation. After all, they wouldn’t really be able to use the ‘Royal’ bit if they were in the private sector would they?

Then they invested millions in a computer system for post office benefits payments, that didn’t work. More money wasted (and one of the real reasons they couldn’t turn a profit for years). Then attention began to turn to us, the humble donkeys, who had it easy... doing all the work. The new tagline ‘modernisation’ came into being, and we were all convinced, over a period of years, by more and more ‘team talks’, ‘briefings’ and ‘huddles’. Week on week, we were sold the big new idea, along with phrases like; ‘the way the business is going’, repeated ad nauseam as justifications for every necessary evil.

Then came the time when they took away your second delivery and Sunday collections, not to mention changing mail delivery times to long to after you’ve all gone to work. The carrot on the stick, to accept taking up to half an extra workload for zero remuneration, later in the day, was the next mantra; ‘job and finish’. The concept of job and finish, was that we would accept all this, and in return, management would turn a blind eye to us getting half hour here, or half hour there, as an incentive to get the new increased workload done, in a speedy and efficient manner. The agreements were signed. We were moving towards the future and there were to be four phases.

Before the ink had dried and while we were struggling with our new workload, a new phrase came into being; ‘we just want you to work the hours you are paid’. We never heard ‘job and finish’ again, which now gets used to somehow portray us as lazy, work-shy, corner-cutters, eager to swan off down the boozer at midday complaining that we have to work our hours. Since the revision about four years ago, when we had an extra half of our workload added on top, we have had two further ‘revisions’ in our office. And each time, we get extra work, same pay (there’s been a freeze for a while now, but we understand, these are tough times). The latest revision happened to us this last spring, I willfully took on the new round, and signed the new contract, in the spirit of change which I had been sold. A month later, I took the family away and on my return, I was called into the manager’s office; “While you were away, we had some teething problems. We’ve added two streets to your walk, trialed it, and it works.” “How can it not work?” I thought, “you’re just giving me more to do”. I now deliver to going on 500 houses 6 days a week.

As well as the threat of instant dismissal if we forget to put our cycle helmets on in the early hours (‘health and safety’ or insurance claim worries?), there are other things that have happened recently. There’s a certain TV guide that we have always delivered monthly, and ever since I have worked there, we have had three days to deliver them unless they are late and it’s near the end of the month. Last month, I was again summoned to the manager’s office. A pile of these TV magazines were in front of me. It was what I had left from the day before, and was due to finish that day, a day ahead of schedule. My contract was waved at me and I was told I could be sacked on the spot, but they would let me off this time. Apparently the rules had changed, and from now on I had to deliver them all in one day, and if I did it again I would be sacked. I asked why I hadn’t been told, but apparently I had, and I must’ve not heard it. A common occurrence in our workplace. I guess the manager’s must walk down the aisles whispering our new diktats for that week. It got to the point a while ago, where I started joking to my workmates on a Monday morning; “So what’s new since last week? What are we doing differently today?”

Very recently, a new imposition came into being. If we fail to get a Special Delivery signed, we now have to phone the office by 1:30pm so they can tell the computer ahead of it’s return by the van driver. I had some difficulty remembering when I got home (probably due to being a bit tired), and last week I phoned in 45 minutes late. Yet again, I was whisked into the manager’s office and told that as a punishment, they had no choice to make me report back to the office every day at 1:30pm. My round is a couple of miles from the office and I cycle. The reason for this is apparently that for every failure to report Special (non) Deliveries, the boss gets £15 docked from his bonus. Management go to great lengths to repeatedly tell us about ‘bullying and harassment’. Maybe this is what they are on about. These constant changes in rules and regulations brings to mind my favourite Ayn Rand quote: "There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws."

A few months ago, I couldn’t take the pressure and the backbiting culture of the letter sorting anymore and decided to buy my hours down. In return for cutting my hours to 30 a week, I got a pay-off and took the kids on that holiday I mentioned. I take home £200 a week (as well as being a regular Royal Mail customer too, putting a fair chunk back). I don’t consider myself lazy. Like my workmates, most days I work like a dog. We don’t have breaks. We don’t sit down at all from the time we walk in the office to the time we walk into our houses. And we definitely don’t get to sit on the internet in offices posting about how lazy workers in other jobs are. Of course, we are entitled to breaks, but if we take them, there is no way we will finish on time, and then questions will be asked, and punitive measures implemented.

What about the ‘volumes are falling’ mantra you ask? Well, we’re delivering more than ever. You’re getting more junk, more bills and many many more packages, and that’s good for the company surely? They just do to the mail volume figures what is done to crime and unemployment figures. Reassign certain things, give other things different names, and then, as if by magic, they aren’t counted in the figures anymore. Check the postmarks on your mail. All those non-Royal Mail logos are companies that ‘deregulation’ allows to make a profit for sorting, only to hand back to Royal Mail to deliver for peanuts. The internet is like a golden goose for a company like Royal Mail. I’ve always wondered why, apart from delivering the eBay packages, the management didn’t really go to town with the possibilities of the web for a company positioned like it is.

Doublespeak is also a common managerial tool. This last few months we’ve had a spate of people apparently ‘talking out of school’ where we’ve been called into meetings to be punished by being made to watch videos before we are allowed to deliver the mail due to people apparently doing this. ‘Talking out of school’ is apparently one of our number talking to postmen from other offices about working practices in our office. The line we are sold is that we have it better than other offices, and therefore ‘loose lips sink ships’. Somehow, I see this as simply divide and conquer. Each office is isolated and encouraged, by threat, not to communicate with others. And by the way, as soon as there were murmurs of this strike months ago, our boss announced in a meeting about it; “I just so happen to be reading a book on the miner’s strike at the moment, and this is the way I see this going, to the bitter end.” Dressed as an observation, I believe this was a briefing, and quite a lot of manager’s ‘happened’ to be reading that same book. The implied threat. The invisible stick. That same observation is now getting regular airplay in the media, including The Sun’s feature on how the police are being prepared to deal with us. Isn’t Mr. Murdoch a shareholder in TNT? Isn’t Mr. Mandelson too? I’m sure I read that somewhere. Funny how that company name keeps popping up as the favoured buyer. You, the public, are being primed.

A dark chapter for me was before the last general election, when, as usual, I refused to deliver the racist BNP leaflets. Something which is getting harder and harder to do, even with the CWU’s ‘conscience clause’ (this last local election my bosses words were ‘f*** that’ in response to my citing said clause). As usual, I left the leaflets on my work fitting, then one morning I came into work and someone had graffitied it with the words “You F***in’ C***!” with three swastikas underneath. I was shocked. The room span. I don’t know if you know what it feels like to be surrounded by people and not know who would do something like that, but it’s not pleasant. I told my line manager at the time. He laughed and mumbled something about it being childish. I asked him if there was anything that could be done as I’d photographed the graffiti. He told me to write a letter and he would put it on the notice board. I told him that advertising it would hardly solve the problem. I then asked him; “What about the CCTV cameras you are always tell us are watching us?” He replied with a wry smile; “They’re not on.” I lost a little bit of faith right there. I didn’t tell the union as I just felt like no-one would help me at that point, and I didn’t want to attract anymore attention to myself.

Another great moment was being put on a stage one disciplinary (three strikes and you’re out) for nearly dying, but being saved, within hours, by a lifesaving operation. This operation meant I had to take six weeks off to recover. It was the only blemish on a spotless sick leave record, but I was treated the same as if I’d pulled a sickie and just felt like some time off. Hauled in the office on ‘unavoidable’ disciplinary charges. This was after six weeks of daily phone calls asking me when I would be back in work, when I could barely move to pick up the phone.

The problem with Royal Mail is not the workforce, the problem lies with the people who’ve spent the pension I’ve been paying in for years. Those with a vested interest in running this all into the ground to get their hands on the loot before the Tories do when they get into power. Chairman Allan Leighton has gone now. He used to run the Royal Mail, the UK’s largest employer, from Canada a couple of mornings a week for a million quid while running his real businesses over there before going on the telly to tell us that we needed to get ‘significantly more motivated’ than we were. Adam Crozier seems to be doing alright. He gets bonuses for closing Post Offices. Good money if you can get it I guess. Although a practice reminiscent of making us stand by our work fittings every day, waiting to be allowed to leave and deliver the mail. Sometimes we wait for an hour, sometimes it’s half an hour. Either way, how many companies do you know that rewards inefficiency? It’s like a race to the bottom. A race to the bottom for a reason. It’s the same class of people who stand to gain in this, as the bankers and the politicians caught with their hands in the till.

And that’s why I personally think that ‘modernisation’ is simply a buzzword for preparing the company for a sell-off. It’s the same old story: Get public finances to buy all this shiny new machinery they keep talking about, while destroying public confidence. Demoralise the workforce, sideline the trade union, and get everything positioned perfectly for a bargain price quick buck for government debt, and then all the private profit can go out un-noticed once the deal is done. A deal that will miraculously see the private sector sort out all the problems and turn the company around. The old ‘the rich take the credit and the poor take the blame’ axiom. Next in line once they’ve sold Royal Mail will be the NHS, once they’ve convinced you that the ‘filthy hospitals’ need ‘modernisation’.

Do you know what the fourth phase of ‘modernisation’ is? It’s supposed to be the last phase, but something tells me that this is a permanent revolution, until it gets sold. Apart from the automated sorting machines to again increase the amount of mail we can deliver a day, the next phase is to take the postman’s bike away and stop those postal workers who use their own vehicles (at their own cost). The postmen will then go out in teams of four in vans, and be tied to those vans, returning back and forth to get mail for delivery until everyone is done. These four postmen will not take out four rounds, they will take out five, and the fifth will be split between the four in the spirit of one of the many new buzzwords ‘Flexibility’. Why? To slow down the postal service so that we ‘work our hours’ and you get your mail even later, and in an even more disorganised manner. Why? Because when they come over the tannoy every day asking if any of us want EVR (Early Voluntary Redundancy), those of us who leave, will not be replaced. Every full-timer who leaves, his or her round is ‘absorbed’ into the surrounding postal worker’s duties. The only people coming into ‘the business’ now are on 20 hour contracts. What is the end result? A part-time workforce with no rights, no pension and no union. This is what they really mean by ‘modernisation’: death by a thousand cuts. Their vision for the future is a mail service akin to working at McDonald’s. How much will your privatised ‘postman’ care about ‘the service’? I don’t know, as I doubt any of us will be working there by then.


For more interesting reading check out:

John Pilger: The New Statesman

Victoria Coren: The Observer

Friday, 23 October 2009

Intelligence and Decency Won Last Night on Question Time…but at What Cost?

So the Question Time BNP debacle has now been and gone.  By all accounts, including my own, Nick Griffin was well and truly trounced.  He was shown to be cowardly, evasive, manipulative, disingenuous, grimly unfunny, racist, ignorant, and, surprise surprise, a homophobe as well.

All week long the BNP have, quite rightly, been demonized in the British media.  As speculations grew about exactly what questions might be asked of the racist party leader come Thursday night, the press was filled with reminders of the veritable catalogue of repugnant thoughts, quotes and deeds that might come back to haunt Nick Griffin, exposing him and his views before he’d even stepped foot on the Question Time stage. 

Another leak of the BNP membership data added to the embarrassment, exposing the charlatan methodology the party uses to fix its numbers – as the Nazi Party did before it – in order to create the false appearance of a party much bigger than it really is.

This morning, reflecting on last night’s broadcast, a smorgasbord of offensive and dull-headed sound-bites have played across the media, further exposing the hollowness and toxicity of the BNP and it’s leader: Griffin’s shady use of language in claiming that he was not “convicted” of holocaust denial; his refusal to explain his position on the holocaust on the basis that such talk would be illegal, despite Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s repeated assurance it was legal to do so; his ridiculous cartoon image of “indigenous” British people that had no basis in either history or reality; his outright admission that he was courting the support of former Ku Klux Klan leaders, with the ludicrous added caveat that this particular Klan was a “non-violent” one; his ignorant denunciation of Islam on the basis of selective passages from the Qur’an that have near-identical (and just as explosive) corollaries with passages from the Christian bible; his inability to disavow statements he has made in the past claiming that the only way to get the real agenda of the BNP across would be by first presenting a facade of electability to the British public in order to get voted; and, amongst other obnoxious incidents of evasiveness, idiocy and outright racism, the declaration that homosexuality is “creepy”.

Oh yes…Nick Griffin and his BNP have been well and truly exposed this week, and every single person in the Question Time audience and Question Time panel made sure that the feelings of the majority of the British public were made clear: you are a racist, your party is a racist party, and we reject your views and your politics of hate entirely.


I’m still not sure that Question Time was the right place to do this.

The reason is: last night what I saw on TV was not Question Time.  What it was, was what I said it always should have been: a live television debate about the BNP’s legitimacy and politics, wherein their views were expressed and then routinely exposed and destroyed.

The usual Question Time format went completely out the window – although, ironically, it was only because of the BNP’s appearance on there that it was: Question Time usually spends its hour asking its panel questions about the week’s politics.  As the decision to include Nick Griffin on the panel became news in itself, the story dominated the week’s news, and thus also, logically, dominated the Question Time questions.

The facts are though (and they have been at the root of this controversy since the decision was first announced): including someone as poisonous as Nick Griffin on a show like Question Time, as if his views on the week’s most pressing issues were as valid as anybody else’s, is an incredibly dangerous game.  It absolutely gives his parasitical party of hate – self-admittedly putting on a front of false respectability in order to become electable first, and then enact their true agenda later – the appearance of a legitimacy that they not only do not deserve, but that they simply do not have as a political organization in this country.

Taking previous week’s Question Time questions: do I want to hear an unashamed racist’s opinion on Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton Du Beke calling his fellow dancer a “paki” backstage and the controversy sparked by Bruce Forsythe’s radio comments on the subject; do I want him adding anything to the debate about MPs expenses, from which the BNP have currently benefitted under the false narrative that they are an “outsider” party who can save us from “elite” expenses-swindling politicians; do I want Nick Griffin’s thoughts on how we can best cut public spending in this country and sort out the growing deficit, when I know that the BNP’s position is that “foreigners” are “coming over here” and “stealing” all our money in benefits?

No.  Because it is not adding anything to these debates other than age-old lies and propaganda; lies and propaganda that have long been rejected and dismissed as illegitimate. 

It is not simply another opinion in a wide spectrum of differing opinions, that deserves an equal hearing; it is an intentionally malicious and misleading opinion that remains as disreputable and dangerous now as it was when it was first rejected after the Second World War seventy years ago.

Now, again - and this distinction is important – I am not saying that these opinions should therefore be banned from TV and repressed entirely; I am simply saying that there is no more place for them on a show like Question Time than there is for the opinions of a man with severe brain damage who can answer questions on the politics of the day, only by linking every answer he gives to the imagined betrayals of his wife.

Should a man with weird brain damage who blames his innocent wife for all the world’s evils be allowed on TV?  Yes, of course he should.  But should he be up on the Question Time panel debating the issues of the day with prominent politicians as if he is their equal?  Probably not.

The BBC clearly began to realize this, however, for, as I said, the Question Time that was on last night was not the usual Question Time format.  All the questions were directed at the BNP and its policies, and all four of the other panellists couldn’t help but demolish Griffin and his ignorance.  Even the one “non BNP” question – about Jan Moir’s appalling Daily Mail article about Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s death – was really about exposing more of Nick Griffin’s intolerance and homophobia; continuing the attack that reduced him to a hate-fuelled and preposterous clown rather than a serious political threat.

Now, all of this was to the good, and it made for excellent viewing: but it wasn’t Question Time, it was something else.  So why not call it something else?  Why did the BBC insist on “putting Nick Griffin on Question Time” instead of fulfilling its self-professed commitment to give air-time to all elected officials by airing a one-off special debate about the recent rise of the BNP and what it means for British politics?  The results would have been the same: racism and stupidity simply cannot hold up under scrutiny.  But there would have been none of the bad taste in our mouths about the staining of the Question Time legacy, nor the ready-made spin for Griffin and the BNP this morning where they – almost rightly – claimed that the Question Time appearance was an ambush.  Indeed, I worried as I watched Griffin get pounded time after time with truth and exposure that left him floundering and useless against the sheer force of his four fellow panellists’ denunciations, that some people might even begin to feel sympathy for the man.

With the BNP already positioned as the “outsider” party for “indigenous” (white) Brits who feel alienated by the political establishment; did the appearance of that political establishment, and the BBC, throwing away the usual Question Time format to gang up on their leader not add to that narrative marvellously?

Will it not be used for months, or even years, to come as propagandistic evidence that Griffin is some sort of courageous underdog, standing up to the system that wants to keep “people like him” down?

For someone like me; last night was like pornography.  An idiot racist was getting eviscerated by intelligence and fact in the face of his ignorance, evasion and lies. 

But I could have happily watched that same pornography in another time-slot and left Question Time to be Griffin-free late…discussing things like the postal strikes; bonuses for bankers; why the 10:10 bill was defeated in Parliament; suicide bombers in Iran, etc.  The usual Question Time fodder.

Instead of that, we had a week in which the BNP dominated the news, Question Time, and everything else. 

Sure: for most of us, it just proved what we always knew: the party is racist, disgusting and vile.  For some though, perhaps this week of exposure has been like an ongoing advert for a party they never realized existed.  A party who share their racist views; who are saying the things the other parties aren’t saying; a party who they will choose to vote for next time…

Freedom of speech should never be abandoned, and Question Time, though arguably the wrong venue for this debate, acted admirably and successfully in letting the British National Party have just enough rope to hang itself…  But only time will tell if, by doing so, it has also allowed the party to expand its poisoned message, increase its visibility and legitimacy, and simultaneously generated sympathy for its hideous party leader.

Last night we anti-fascists certainly won the battle, but the war, I fear, is still very far from over…

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why Small Businesses are (Apparently) More Important than Postal Workers…

Why is it that we’re supposed to feel sorry for all these small businesses that might go under because of the postal strikes, but not for the postal workers themselves, whose jobs are equally at threat?

The answer is obvious – one set of job losses is a long-planned component of official government and Royal Mail policy, whereas the other set of job losses will come as a result of industrial action which opposes that official government and Royal Mail policy.

Jobs are clearly only worth saving when they assure no threat to power.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Yet More Change We Can Believe In…

Thanks Obama…while we’re still waiting on that healthcare, the end of the war on terror, and the real economic recovery for working people that you promised, why don’t you go and allow some offshore oil drilling in the Arctic to pass the time.  Oh you did?  Fantastic…

US gives Shell green light for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic - Guardian - 20/10/09

Dispatches: Ready For a Riot

I couldn’t help but thinking as I watched Channel Four’s Dispatches documentary last night, Ready For A Riot, that when the police spoke of there being only two ways of dealing with “public order offences” (protests) – containment or crowd dispersal – they were forgetting secret option number 3: do nothing and let the protest run its course.

I have not been to a single protest yet where the police presence has helped keep the peace; yet almost every protest that I have attended in which the police have been involved has ended in either a riot, or running violence.

The assumption made – at least in public, where the admission of plain and simple oppression of dissident opinion would be too damaging – is that protests need policing, or else they might get out of hand.

How about we start making a new assumption though, one actually based on evidence: police turn peaceful protests into riots time after time after time.  Protests do not automatically need to be contained or dispersed, they need to be listened to and embraced – without any policing at all – because they are the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.

Now I would be perfectly happy for police to come in – riot vans and all – and restore law and order after an un-policed protest erupted into a genuinely threatening riot (were that ever to happen), but until the citizens of a country are trusted enough that they can voice their political opinions without fear of threat or violence from the State, then we will never truly live in a democracy.

Working for the Royal Mail: An Insider’s Perspective…

I was pointed in the direction of this anonymous diary entry from the London Review of Books after making some enquiries about the impending postal strikes.  I wanted to know what life was like these days for the average postman/woman working for Royal Mail.

London Review of Books - Diary by Roy Mayall - 24/09/09

  From what I’m told, this is a pretty accurate picture.

  Something for us to think about when we don’t get our post this Friday.

How To Tackle Climate Change (Without Tackling Climate Change)

I read this weekend that if the Tories win the next general election they are thinking of privatizing the MET Office

One has to wonder what will happen if the findings of the MET happen to conflict with those of their new private owners?  Is it too crazy to imagine a company who might buy the MET Office in order to make a lot of money selling business-friendly weather forecasts, but who aren’t so interested in the work the MET are also doing on Climate Change that might mean re-thinking other business interests the owner company might hold.

Once that information becomes the property of a private company and no longer belongs to the public, then it becomes information the private company can publish or suppress as it sees fit.

Don’t be surprised then, if the Tories get into power, to see Global Warming start to disappear almost overnight… 


Thanks to the good folks at FAIR for passing this bit of information on…

FAIR Blog » Bon Jovi Is News?

  It appears that Jon Bon Jovi is going to be saturating the NBC network soon, in order to promote a new movie…including appearances on the news. 

  First it was Starbucks on Morning Joe on sister network MSNBC…now this.

  Whatever happened to real news?

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Monday, 19 October 2009

US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to 'fraud' over climate hoax | Suzanne Goldenberg | Environment |


US Chamber of Commerce falls victim to 'fraud' over climate hoax | Suzanne Goldenberg | Environment |

Questioning Question Time…

On Thursday, Nick Griffin, MEP and leader of the racist British National Party, will take a seat on the much-hallowed panel of BBC Question Time…and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

The BBC’s argument for including the party on the show is that, having recently won two seats on the European Parliament, the BNP are now a legitimate UK political party, with undeniable voter support, whom they cannot simply ignore.  Just as they occasionally allow members of UKIP and the Green Party to sit on the Question Time panel, it is only fair, they say, to offer the same courtesy to the recently elected BNP, no matter how reprehensible their views might be to the majority of the British public.

But are the BNP really the same sort of entity as UKIP or the Greens?  Should an illegally constituted and inherently racist, white supremacist political party really be sharing a podium on national television with members of the Labour Party, Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats?

On the one hand, my dual beliefs in both freedom of speech and in the inherent paucity of substance that lie at the centre of idiotic far-right views lead me immediately to an I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it kind of position: the only way to deal with deplorable and fascistic points of view is to expose them to the glare of public scrutiny and watch them shrivel and die. 

Once Griffin and his followers receive a loudspeaker from which to publically hurl their hate, reasonable people, it is hoped, will then hear their assorted nonsenses and see them for the empty-headed fallacies that they are. 

It is only by repressing and hiding vile and unsustainable philosophies such as these that we give them their power.  They become the “truths the powers-that-be don’t want you to know” instead of what they really are: hollow ciphers of ignorance and intolerance that manipulate political confusion and prey on the intellectually vulnerable.

By taking away the cloak of mystique and and disallowing fascists to hide in the shadows of their marginalization, we educate the public and expose racist scoundrels for what they are.  We see that these unjustifiable intolerances have no viable foundations on which they can be defended logically, rationally or morally, and that, under the most basic line of questioning, their positions indubitably fall apart. 

The issue vis-a-vis Question Time, however, isn’t so cut and dried.

Although I agree that the best way of destroying the BNP is by exposing their heinous views to public scrutiny and convincingly discrediting them through argument and debate, it does not necessarily follow that Question Time is the correct platform on which to do that.

Whilst, say, a documentary-style feature that demolished BNP positions one by one – allowing people like Griffin to defend their poisonous views as much as possible, only for them to inevitably fall victim to the vastly superior arguments and indisputable facts put forth by their opponents – (or even a one-off live debate special between BNP leadership and a collection of anti-fascist campaigners, human rights advocates, and members of the general public) would be a possible way for the BBC to acknowledge the depressing fact that two of these racists now have seats on the European Parliament, Question Time is a different beast altogether.  Question Time is not meant to be about putting each individual panellist on trial, but rather about answering the political questions of the day with a distinguished panel of politicians and cultural figures; the underlying assumption being that everyone on the panel is similarly qualified to answer the questions being put to them.

By appearing on the Question Time panel, your political voice becomes inherently legitimized.

Question Time is not a show designed to dissect BNP policies and Nick Griffin’s personal racism, but a show where the panellists are supposed to give their opinion on all the issues of the day – tax, immigration, law and order, foreign policy, the NHS, postal strikes…whatever.  When we sit there and ask someone like Nick Griffin what he thinks about the ongoing dispute between the CWU and Royal Mail, or what the BNP’s position might be on the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, we are not exposing the British National Party to the glare of public scrutiny – we are accepting them into British political establishment as equals, whose views are as legitimate as those of the current Cabinet, or the major opposition parties, and something about that gives me a slightly sick feeling in my belly.

It is one thing to recognize that, unfortunately, a small minority of the British public voted for the racist British National Party in the European Elections this year, and to want to create a dialogue about that fact instead of sweeping it under the rug…but it is quite another to pretend that this is a political party like any other.

The BNP are, without a shadow of a doubt, a white supremacist party, who have only now, under the threat of legal action, started looking into changing their constitution of their party to allow non-white members.  Not because they want non-white membership (or because they actually think there are any non-white people who would want to join once the constitution is changed), but because they must either do that or face drastic criminal charges that will end their political life.

Let’s just say that again for those who are hard of hearing: in 2009, the same year that the United States voted in the first African American President in history, the BNP quite literally do not allow people who aren’t white to be a member of their party.

Whilst I still do think that exposing people like Nick Griffin and the racist British National Party to public scrutiny is the best course of action, and that no view, no matter how reprehensible, should ever be censored…I remain unconvinced that denying a guest-spot on Question Time to the BNP is censorship.  There are many other television-based platforms and many other ways in which this discussion about the BNP could have been constructively held, but the one which gives these unashamed racists the appearance of political legitimacy leaves a very sour taste in my mouth indeed.

Still, I think it’s wise here to remember the words of John Stuart Mill:

the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Though Question Time might well be the “wrong” platform on which the BNP should be trounced, it is still as good a place as any for Nick Griffin to have his litany of errors collide with the shining light of truth.  The BBC could have handled this better, sure, but either way the conclusion is the same: we can only defeat ignorance by exposure and education, and it is my hope that on Thursday night, the BNP will be exposed.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Royal Mail hires 30,000 workers to crush strike | UK news | The Observer

Well…yesterday I speculated about whether the recent job ads I had received from Royal Mail might be an attempt to hire a union-busting replacement workforce…it appears my speculations might have been bang on the money…

Royal Mail hires 30,000 workers to crush strike | UK news | The Observer

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Queen is a Patron of Terror!

With a week that has seen one environmental activist arrested for suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, and four other climate activists detained for attempting to travel to Copenhagen in advance of the UN climate talks being held there this December, I was amused to see a flier today in my local library advertising the huge “The Wave” event planned for December 5th in London.

My amusement was not at the event itself; in fact, my wife and I are planning to attend the protest ourselves, and I highly recommend anyone reading this who cares about the environment to do the same.  For those who don’t know, it’s a mass march planned in London on December 5th (dress-code: blue), starting at Grosvenor Square at 12pm, and ending at Parliament by 3pm, with the aim of encircling Parliament and forming, quite literally, a human wave of change.


My amusement was because this particular flier was on behalf of the RSPB, a charity whose Royal Patron is none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

As eco-activists are more and more being treated like criminals and terrorists in this country, being arrested under Prevention of Terrorism laws and conspiracy charges – indeed, as protest itself is being increasingly repressed and criminalized – it will be interesting to see what happens on December 5th. 

If “The Wave”, like every other radical mass-protest on London before it, is deemed in any way criminal by an over-reactive police force, or if any of its organizers or participants find themselves arrested on yet more jumped up charges of conspiracy-to-reduce-climate-change, one has to wonder: as Royal Patron of an organization involved in these allegedly despicable acts, will Queen Elizabeth herself now be culpable as a sponsor of radical eco-extremists?

Government Sponsored Union Busting

Last night the BBC revealed on its Newsnight programme, a secret internal document from Royal Mail management regarding their strategy to force through so-called “modernization” reforms, with or without the engagement of the unions; a leaked “Strategic Overview” which has led some to believe that the company is preparing for a stealth de-recognition of the Communication Worker’s Union, a move that Royal Mail has strenuously denied.

The contempt for the CWU is clear, however, when the document explains that they will: “through a mix of pressures bring union to the point where doing a deal on our terms is preferable to the alternative…if they refuse, we have positioned things in such a way as there is shareholder, customer and internal support for implementation of change without agreement.”

The document also embraces the idea that the impending strikes can be used as an “enabler” to push forward their own aims.

strikes make things worse – the more we can demonstrate this to our people the better.”

I wonder if this internal planning has anything to do with the sudden Royal Mail job openings that have recently come up in my own local area? 

As it happens, until the past couple of years, I used to think that being a postman would be kind of a dream job for me.  I get up early anyway; I love post; and any job where I can spend a couple of hours each morning taking a brisk walk whilst listening to my iPod, and then have the rest of the day to myself, seemed like a pretty perfect deal.  As such, I signed up to the Royal Mail jobs alert emails thinking, if ever I was looking for work and a local postman opportunity arose, it would be well worth looking into.

Well, three days ago I received word that there were new postie jobs all around me and at first I assumed it was something to do with Christmas.  Now, however, I wonder if it is something to do with union-busting – hiring a replacement workforce in the event of prolonged industrial action?

I obviously have no evidence that it is anything other than honourable…but I do know that if someone like me were to apply for one of the posts now suddenly on offer all around Birmingham, they would not be – as yet –a member of the CWU, and thus possibly ineligible for taking the strike action?  It’s just a thought – but if Royal Mail’s plans are to force through their changes with or without union agreement, what’s to stop them from hiring non-union workers too?

This is pure speculation at this point, but what I think is important to remember is that the true colours of this company were revealed last night on Newsnight.  They are planning a war.  They are planning on making no compromises and they are planning on getting what they want by any means necessary.

It should also be noted that the “shareholder” referred to in the leaked document is the government.

Royal Mail is planning on ignoring the unions, smashing the rights of every single British postal worker, and disrupting the lives of all of us by refusing to make a fair agreement on modernization…and they are doing all of this with the blessed consent of our leaders.

US mixed race couple denied marriage licence

Literally: wow.  This is 2009 and jackasses like this still exist….

US mixed race couple denied marriage licence  - The Guardian 16/10/09

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Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Number of Issues…

A busy week has left little time to blog, but here’s a quick round-up of some of the issues currently weighing on my mind…

First of all, I was pretty sickened to hear Gordon Brown begin the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new season by solemnly announcing the names of all the British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the last session of Parliament…only to then pledge to send yet more troops into the region and continue a ninth year of this unjust and unnecessary war.

If we’re going to have somebody announce the names of the dead, let’s not make it be the very same man who sent them to their death!  And if it has to be that same man, then don’t let his encore performance be the pledge to send 500 more lambs to the slaughter!


I was, however, heartened to witness the blogosphere and twitterati do wonders for freedom of speech on Monday with the case of Trafigura’s failed attempt at gagging the Guardian newspaper. 

After reading a bizarre story in the paper that morning, claiming that it had been legally barred from reporting a certain story (and couldn’t even explain who was involved and why they were not allowed to report it), my Facebook page began to come alive with people forwarding information released across the internet, exposing the details of the case.  In short, the MP Paul Farrelly had tabled a question regarding the implications for press freedom following a previous court order obtained by the oil company against the Guardian and other media outlets, regarding a report about the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.

The gagging-order had been meant to silence the newspaper, and prevent any public discussion about these allegations of waste-dumping; instead, it served only to highlight the issue, and by lunchtime that day the court order was overturned thanks to an influx of blog posts and tweets making the original ban redundant.

What would have probably only been a small, two or three paragraph story, quickly forgotten, became a much spotlighted scandal instead.  Freedom of speech: 1.  Trafigura: 0.


One of the myths that continues to harm feminism in the twenty-first century, is that sexism is dead, and the fight for equality has therefore already been won.  The argument goes: women are no longer barred from applying for, and getting, top jobs, so sexism in the workplace clearly no longer exists.  Research into the area, however, shows that whilst women can apply for these jobs, and technically the prejudices of the past have now been overcome, in reality the mere fact that such jobs are open to women is not the same as giving women equality, because other social expectations forced onto women (childrearing, for example) still conflict with the high time demands of the majority of executive jobs.  Although the opportunity remains there to apply, to do so would require impossible sacrifice.

I mention this because I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that the racist British National Party were finally thinking of changing their constitution and allowing non-white members to join, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission began legal proceedings against them.

Though the BNP may well open up their membership to non-whites now that they have been forced to…do they really think that any self-respecting black or Asian person in this country would want to join this actively racist party?


Speaking of racists and idiotic white people, I am so glad to hear that the Barack Obama Whitehouse have finally come out and publically acknowledged that the FOX News Network should not be treated as a real news network, but as a propaganda-peddling partisan arm of the Republican Party.

That this is true, is, of course, obvious.  But as long as Presidents and other Democratic politicians continue to legitimize its delusion by appearing on the network, it remains a dangerous presence.  Now that the gloves have come off and the veneer of respectability had been removed, perhaps the rest of the American people might take note and wake up from its hate-spewing stupor?


Of course, Obama is far from perfect.  Considering that al-Qaeda basically is Pakistan these days, it’s hard to see how today’s announcement of a $7.5bn aid plan for Pakistan isn’t aiding and abetting terrorism?


And why, exactly, are we supposed to be happy that Goldman Sachs announced a $3bn profit?


Finally…for those following the long history of UK police using anti-terrorism laws to repress political protest, take note.  A report in the Guardian today suggests that they are now using conspiracy to commit criminal damage laws that carry ten year jail sentences against climate change protesters.  The reason: conspiracy charges means that you can arrest potential protesters before the protest actually happens; stopping an organized protest when it is still only in the planning stage.

What freedom of speech wins with one hand, appears taken away by another…

Monday, 12 October 2009

Shock and Poor

Gordon Brown’s announcement today that he will be trying to sell off £16bn worth of government-owned assets is another worrying sign of the people in power using the current economic crisis to push through any old policy that they want, all in the name of saving our economy.

Echoing the MO illustrated so thoroughly in Naomi Klein’s excellent book, The Shock Doctrine, the chaos of last year’s banks and business collapse has already seen the mass plundering of the welfare state by our governments in order to needlessly bail-out the rich.  Now, with the public’s coffers completely depleted through the expense of all these bailouts (and the continuing funding of two seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) we are seeing phase two of disaster capitalism at work: the manufactured claim that the welfare state – no longer financially solvent – cannot, therefore, be afforded.

The money isn’t there, we are told. 

The country is in terrible debt. 

Things will have to change.

But instead of raising the taxes of the rich business-owners and bonus-claiming bankers who created this economic mess in the first place, and who have benefitted tremendously from the daylight-robbery of the bailouts, we are told that the only solution to our financial problems is to make cuts in public spending for the poor; to enact drastic pay freezes for public sector workers; to enforce cost-cutting redundancies all across the workforce; and now, to sell off yet more of the public’s collective assets to private businesses so that they can use them for private profit.

These are not the only solutions, but the sheer shock of the the scale of economic disaster – or at least the perception of such a disaster, as was sold to us in the press – has made us vulnerable and bewildered.  In the wake of all this trauma, we’re too stunned and confused to question the policies are leaders continue to insist are “good” for us, or “vital” for economic recovery, but by the time we wake up from the numbness of our stupor, it will already be too late and the theft will be complete.

Our benefits axed, our assets sold, our pensions stripped and our jobs lost forever; we will finally come to our senses and find that, in its sleep, the country has been robbed.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Technorati and Amazon: WTF?

A few weeks back I got an email from the folks at Technorati and in it they mentioned that they were looking for new writers for a new and improved Technorati Blog.

Remembering the first time I ever wrote a politics column for a fanzine (an ad in the back of Scanner – I applied on a whim and, whadda ya know: I got the post!  Suddenly, I panicked, I actually have to do this: what the hell am I going to write!?! …but maybe that’s a story for another time, on another blog…) I thought: “why not!”, and sent off an application to be a UK Politics writer.  I was doing stuff about politics anyway on my old blog, and was already thinking about starting up this new politics-only blog, so I figured – why not get a little more exposure and work with Technorati too?

Well – here’s why not.

Yesterday, I received an email from the Technorati folk: “The Time Has Come To Write for Technorati”, it told me.

How exciting, I thought, I’m really going to get to do this!

But then I read the small-print.

At first it all seemed fine and dandy – apply for a special new account, send an email to the executive editor explaining who you are and what you do, fill in your online bio stuff and then blog away….

But it was the “blog away” stuff that caught my attention, because the following little gem lay waiting for me in the new Technorati “Posting Instructions”:

“4. Please LINK TO AT LEAST ONE AMAZON PRODUCT in every post.

“a) To get the code (ASIN) for your item(s), go to (U.S. Amazon), do a search for the product or topic using the search box. Click on the appropriate item(s), which will take you to the product page. On the product page, scroll down to the "Product Details" section and find the ASIN. (Speed hint: this ASIN is always in the URL of the product.) Some books in Amazon don't have an ASIN, use the ISBN.

“b) Type or paste the ASIN code into the Amazon ASINs and/or Review ASINs fields. The ASIN/ISBN is always 10 digits long -- please do not include any additional code.

“c) You can list up to 10 ASINs on any given post. Separate them with a COMMA: no space, no line break, and please make sure there are NO EMPTY SPACES OR LINE BREAKS after your final ASIN. “

Later on in the list of instructions for new writers, alongside no-brainer things like: “Read Technorati regularly, participate in the conversation by commenting on stories…respond to comments on your own posts, and link to individual Technorati stories that catch your eye from your own site as often as possible”, another Amazon-friendly instruction awaited:

“Purchase Amazon items through Technorati. We get credit for any Amazon item you purchase if you access Amazon via Technorati: just click on an Amazon product at the top or bottom of any story, or use the Amazon links on the sidebars. This helps cover our ever-growing expenses. Thanks. “

Now maybe I’m over-reacting here, but I signed up under the impression that I would be writing about UK Politics for a well-known blogging engine, not becoming a salesman for!

Needless to say, I will not be taking this thing any further.

Exposure might be nice, but not when it means imbedding forced advertising all around my chosen article.

I know that the Technorati guys have to pay their bills – but it is one thing to have ads on your site, and another to get individual bloggers to include Amazon-only links in every single one of their posts – by executive order.

Here, on my own blog, I may not get the traffic Technorati hopes to achieve, but at least I know that I can link to what I like, and don’t have to work as an unofficial marketing-man for an ethically dubious company like Amazon.  It may not be much, but it is something…and as this blog is as easy for anyone in the world to plug into as Technorati, I just don’t see why I’d want to sacrifice that integrity just to take a short-cut to numerical popularity?

Advertising is everywhere in this godforsaken world – can’t we just have a few decent spaces where we can read some stuff in peace – without having something someone wants us to buy forced down our throats?

Well, here on The Tone of Our Oppression you can.

I am assuming on the new Technorati, however, you cannot.

George Osborne’s £3bn Mistake

Hilarious news in this morning’s Guardian:

Revealed: £3bn mistake in George Osborne's budget plan - The Guardian, 10/10/09

Oh dear - It appears that, alongside all the other problems with Osborne’s Conference speech, Mr. Austerity got his numbers wrong :-)

Friday, 9 October 2009

The X-Factorization of British Politics

I don’t mean to sound insensitive here: I think the death of a child is a heart-breaking tragedy.  What bothers me though, is the amount of play David Cameron’s empty, platitude-filled speech on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference has been getting vis-a-vis the “emotional” moment when he spoke about the death of his disabled six year old, Ivan.

“When such a big part of your life suddenly ends nothing else – nothing outside – matters. It's like the world has stopped turning and the clocks have stopped ticking."

I couldn’t help but feel – every time the news report said something to the effect of: “but then Cameron spoke of the loss of his six year old son” – that we were seeing that bit in X-Factor where the contestant rolls out their sob story to gain the sympathy of the voting public.

“I’m doing this for my dead father who would’ve wanted me to follow my dreams….”

“It’s been a really hard year for me because my sister died of cancer just after Christmas and my dog got run over by a school-bus in May…”

I was almost expecting a few bars of Coldplay in the background and a slow-mo shot of Cameron wiping away devastated tears as he gets comforted by Dermot O’Leary.

The X-Factorization of British Politics is complete – emotive sob stories that blind you from any real substance the candidates might have, a limited pool of real talent from which to vote, and a foregone and manipulated conclusion as to who the winner will be.

Now here’s a deficit-busting solution for the 2010 General Election: a premium number phone vote! 

Put the election on a Saturday night, reel off a few well produced VT packages to sell the respective parties, have Simon Cowell and a few other unqualified guest panellists share their irrelevant sound-bite opinions and then let the public pay £1 a call to vote for their favourite MPs!  Democracy’s already a farce of public relations and spin, but at least this way we might raise a little money without public spending cuts?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Skirting the Issue…

Has anyone else noticed that today’s coverage of the impending postal strikes has been heavy with the “oh my god – what about the Christmas cards and utility bills!” type-arguments and basically non-existent with the Communication Workers Union’s actual reasons for wanting a strike?

Certainly the TV news I was watching this morning simply referred to “a dispute over pay and pensions”, whilst simultaneously showing contradictory images of a demonstration by postal workers holding banners that quite clearly said: “THIS DISPUTE IS NOT ABOUT PAY”.

Indeed, the BBC’s own website paints a slightly muddier picture once you delve deep enough to find its Q&A on the Postal Dispute:

the CWU “while it accepts the need for job cuts in principle…has called a national ballot because Royal Mail managers are refusing to meet its demand for a signed agreement determining the scope of cuts, and job and pay security guarantees for those workers who will ultimately remain in their jobs…The CWU instead accuses the Royal Mail of trying to drive through redundancies.”

Already we see a shift in emphasis and sympathy: a dispute over redundancies is a very different thing than a dispute over pay.

When one hears about a group striking and causing massive disruption all around the country because they want more money, the immediate inclination is to think of them as “greedy” and dismiss the strike as a selfish inconvenience.  When you hear it is over possible redundancies, however, and realise that it is not about selfishness, but about people’s livelihood, suddenly the sympathy rises and the strikes swell with popular support.

Even then though, it is not as simple as the BBC makes out.

As the CWU’s own website adds: “Royal Mail is trying to impose change by dictate, constantly driving down [our] terms and conditions and imposing unfair work rates to meet unrealistic local budget demands. [Postal workers] are delivering more mail, handling more work and working harder for longer whilst doubling annual profits. Where's [their] reward for this?”

This is not just a dispute about pay, pensions and jobs – it is a dispute about the “£2.1bn modernisation plan that is introducing more and more automation in sorting offices” (BBC)

For “modernization” read “private takeover and desire to make profit”.  Last year, for the first time in twenty years, Royal Mail made money…now the managers want to make lots, lots more.  This “modernization” plan to do so involves laying off human workers to replace them with high-tech sorting machines, firing individual posties who make their deliveries on foot or by bike and replacing them with “more efficient” postal vehicles, and making impossible demands of those postal workers who still keep their jobs, like the unsustainable delivery speeds of 2.2 miles an hour plus, reported last year.

What the CWU have asked for, is proper consultation between the union and management regarding the extent and necessity of lay-offs.

How many workers will be fired? 

How much will the pay of those who stay be effected through these “streamlining” efforts? 

How will their conditions improve and what guarantees can be made for their job safety in future?

They are not trying to arbitrarily push up their workers’ wages; they are not trying to be unreasonable and demand that no one lose their jobs.  They are simply asking for a fair and up-front consultation and compromise between management and workers about a highly volatile issue.

For this, their cause is ridiculed or misrepresented in the press.

Worse: it is actively undermined by the media’s emphasis on how the strikes will effect consumers (will I get my credit card bills in time; will my mother’s birthday card get lost in the mail forever?) instead of why the union is feeling the need to strike.

By doing this, the public are left with an incomplete, and very negative view of the strikes – greedy postal workers are going to ruin Christmas and lose me my early payment discounts on utility bills because they want more pay and a bigger pension – instead of the more accurate view: the part-privatization of Royal Mail has led to a bunch of greedy managers ruining Christmas and disrupting the mail because they want to fire as many people as possible to make as much blood money as they can.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Afghanistan: Eight Years On…

The questions of whether or not to increase troop presence in Afghanistan and how we can possibly “win” there at this stage are distractions from the real issue that hasn’t changed in eight long years:

We have absolutely no right to be in Afghanistan.

For some reason this war maintains a sheen of respectability and justification around it, even as we balk in horror at the atrocities we have knowingly committed in Iraq.

That we were brought into Iraq through lies about weapons of mass destruction is now a matter of undisputed fact; that the war there continues to be an unjustified act of aggression – a hostile invasion – is pretty much impossible to deny.  Yet Afghanistan, invaded eight years ago today, in the shadow of 9/11, is viewed as a different story altogether.

There were no lies told here about secret weapons programmes or violations of UN agreements, there were simply the deaths of nearly three thousand Americans and the desire to make the perpetrators pay.

But this simply isn’t the truth.

The country of Afghanistan was not responsible for the shocking attacks on America made by nineteen individual hijackers (none of whom were Afghani) on September 11th, 2001.  These hijackers worked alone; one autonomous cell out of many loosely affiliated groups around the world who are financed, in part, by extremists like Osama bin Laden. 

Their horrific acts of terror were not the aggressive first strikes of a hostile nation’s war against America, but the desperate and deadly stunt of nineteen very disturbed individuals with a personal political vendetta against the United States.

They were criminal acts – deserving of the most severe punishments of law enforcement.  Though the attackers themselves were now dead, their supporters and financers could have been tracked down, arrested, and brought swiftly to justice.  Their assets could have been frozen, their networks severed and destroyed, and not a single person would have opposed such legal and righteous actions as they remembered the awful images of that nightmare September day.

The FBI could have been heroes; the 3,000 dead could have had their tragedies avenged…

Instead though – the decision was made to attack Afghanistan, under the claim that they were harbouring 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and “if you harbour terrorists, you are a terrorist”.

This claim contains two assumptions, both demonstrably false.

Firstly, the idea that Afghanistan was “harbouring” bin Laden. 

In reality, the ruling Taliban offered to extradite him several times, providing the US could furnish them with sufficient evidence that proved bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

The US refused to offer any proof, so Afghanistan refused to hand Osama over.  Which brings me to assumption number two: the idea that Osama bin Laden’s culpability was, at this point, indisputably proven.

Any proof the US government had, if any, on October 7th, 2001, that the 9/11 attacks were definitely and indisputably masterminded by Osama bin Laden, however, is hard to find.  Bin Laden himself hadn’t even admitted any culpability yet, and as late as June 2002, FBI director Robert Mueller was testifying in Senate hearings to only “thinking” and “believing” that bin Laden was responsible, not yet knowing.

To this day, no definitive proof has been offered to the general public that ineluctably proves bin Laden himself asked for and planned the 9/11 attacks.

It certainly wasn’t offered in October, 2001; not to us, or to the Afghanistan government who asked for it.

That is not to say that bin Laden wasn’t guilty – only to say that, without knowing for sure, then we can’t then say that the Taliban were “harbouring” those responsible for 9/11 in October, 2001. 

And even if they were, there is still another crucial step in the chain of responsibility that is missing from the decision to bomb the country of Afghanistan for the crimes of the individual, Osama bin Laden: as a sovereign nation with its own system of law and order, the Afghani government does not have to extradite anyone within their borders if they don’t feel there is sufficient evidence against them, but that does not equate to their giving support for, or involvement in, any of the crimes the suspected individual might have committed under international law.

We have not, to this day, had any proof that the Afghani Taliban themselves had any involvement in the masterminding of the 9/11 attacks, nor any of the Afghani people (for, again, not a single one of the nineteen hijackers, or bin Laden himself, is Afghani).  So the leap from the extremist Taliban “harbouring” bin Laden to declaring war on the entire country of Afghanistan is spurious at best, a war-crime at worst.

Afghanistan had not attacked the United States, not had it threatened to do so in the future. 

In October, 2001, it was merely a country in which Osama bin Laden was alleged to be hiding; an allegation the leaders of that country wanted conclusive proof of before they handed him over.

There was no justification – either legal or moral – for the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001, and now, eight years later, there remains no legitimate justification for our being there still. 

Troops to Teachers?

I wonder how long it will be before putting soldiers in every classroom turns into: “everyone should do a little character-building military service to iron out these discipline problems.  Hey, I know!  Why don’t we bring back conscription?”

This morning, shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, announced that, under a Tory government – alongside a stealth privatization plan to end the “state monopoly” of schools and turn more and more “failing” schools into privately sponsored “academies” – a new emphasis on student discipline will see Army professionals entering the classroom in a “troops to teachers” programme designed to use military-style regulation to keep our children in line.

On top of a renewed emphasis on school uniform – blazers and ties (straightjackets and leashes) – this comes, of course, alongside an earlier announcement to reintroduce learning by rote, and assorted other 1950s educational methods, into contemporary schooling if the Tories get elected to power in 2010.

Do we really want a generation of robot children – regurgitating whatever they are told, without question, under the watchful eye of intimidating soldiers?  Do we really want a “state monopoly” of schools to be replaced with a curriculum designed by private enterprise, looking only to create the next generation of workers instead of well-rounded human beings? 

I will admit, there are countless problems with the education as it is, and has been, under Labour – but lack of discipline is not the problem; it is a symptom.

School kids misbehave and act unruly only when they are not engaged; when the lessons they are being taught seem pointless and removed from anything useful or interesting in their lives.

I say this from experience – I am a fairly bright and inquisitive person who got straight As at A-Level, a first class BA, a Masters degree (with distinction) and a Ph.D., yet I absolutely hated school. 

Whilst I got As in the subjects that I enjoyed at GCSE level, in subjects where the teachers were dull, the content was mind-numbing, and the purpose was unclear, I couldn’t give a damn. 

I messed around; I chatted; I played up.

I had the capability to be a fantastic student at school, but even someone like me became undisciplined under the yawn-fest that was British secondary schooling between 1993 and 1998 (the majority of which was under a Tory government, by the way).

As soon as I became engaged in my education, however, by an exceptional foursome of Sixth Form College teachers (Dermott O’Keeffe, Elaine Varty, Mike Wright, and Sandra Phillips from Solihull Sixth Form College, if you must know) I was unstoppable.  I worked my ass off, above and beyond the call of duty, and I never looked back.

Getting kids to pay attention in school doesn’t come from military drills, smarter uniforms or the repetition of dry facts until they are memorized by rote…it comes from engaging pupils with a substantive and meaningful education that is intrinsically valuable in itself, and not merely a stepping stone to future jobs and qualifications.

With so much talk these days about the “value” of GCSEs, A-Levels and University Degrees on the job market, is it any wonder that our children don’t see their schooling as anything other than an instrumental means to this other – apparently more important –end; working so that they can get the piece of paper that will impress a future employer, not so that they can amass their knowledge of the world and engage their natural curiosities.

As a result, schoolwork is seen merely as an obstacle – a stultifying journey to a dull but necessary destination: qualifications, and thus employment. 

Students mess around in class and don’t respect their teachers because they have been taught by society that nothing they do in the classroom is as important as what they will have to do once they leave it. 

No Troops to Teachers programme is going to change that. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Alternatives to Austerity

Here’s why the debate has to change: cuts, pay-freezes and benefits witch-hunts are not the only solution for sorting out the mess of debt and deficit that we are told ails the treasury. 

Indeed, they are not even the best solution.

In a twenty-four hour period that has seen Labour announce a year-long pay-freeze for top civil servants, then be derided for doing so by the Tories, only for Conservative shadow chancellor, George Osborne, to pledge to do the exact same thing in 2011 if the Conservative Party get elected, it is easy to get wrapped up in the panic-stricken dominant narrative that our economy is in trouble, and the only way to save it is by taking a hatchet to our out-of-control spending.

But that is simply not true.

The economy is in trouble alright, big trouble.  Some of it has to do with the crisis of faith that led to last year’s global downturn, and some of it has to do with the billions of pounds pissed away on unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but none of it has to do with paying out too many benefits, paying public-sector workers too much money, or – despite the International Monetary Fund’s myopic and ideologically distorted opinion – providing decent healthcare.

We are not drowning in a mire of debt and destitution because we spent too much on schools and libraries; nor are we suffering because of the BBC’s licence fee.

The economy is in trouble because billionaire investment bankers decided to gamble with poor people’s mortgages; the economy is in trouble because taking control of the Middle East turned out to be a little harder than we thought, and the richest 2% are not yet getting the return on their investment.

At bottom though: the economy is in trouble because, although the money is there, no one has been bold enough to get it.

I am talking, of course, about raising the taxes of the rich.

Not George Osborne’s meaningless “man-of-the-people” gestures from earlier today – taking the Child Trust Fund away from wealthy parents who don’t need it anyway; denying tax credits to those who earn over £50,000.  Those sorts of superficial measures merely take with one hand whilst giving with the other (ask a person earning £50k a year whether they’d rather have a £250 Child Trust Fund Voucher and a thousand pounds in Tax Credits each year, or get to keep £5,000 more of their money at a lower rate of tax and guess which option they’ll choose?)

I’m talking about finally saying enough is enough, and taxing the rich properly.

I’m talking about finally admitting that, if you earn £100,000 a year or higher, you’re probably earning too much money.  That there is a point at which wealth becomes an obscenity; there is an acceptable limit to how many homes you should own; how many cars; how many yachts.  That, if you can’t live well on a salary of £5000 a month (£100,000 a year, taxed at 40%, and divided by twelve) then you have probably lost all sense of perspective.

When one considers that the much-lauded Tory proposal to cut down on Incapacity Benefit fraud is based around the idea that the £17.50 a week difference between Jobseekers Allowance and Incapacity payment is important enough to claw back that annual saving of £910 per person, it puts such figures into perspective. 

Raise the 40% “higher rate” of income tax to 50% for those earning 100k a year (as it is if you hit the £150k number), and you can add an extra £10,000 a year per person into the national budget immediately: the equivalent of nearly eleven individual Incapacity cuts, and all without having to pay the salary of an “assessor”, or the subsidies for the New Deal on top.

If the Conservative figures are correct, and one in five of the 2.6 million currently claiming Incapacity Benefits can be moved to standard Jobseeker’s Allowance, then they are claiming that taking £910 a year from 520,000 people will raise £1bn over a five year period. 

Yet if you taxed just 20,000 people earning £100k a year that £10,000 (10%) extra, then you would be able to get that extra billion over five years without making a single cut.

In 2007 there were 500,000 people earning £100,000 a year in the South-East of England alone!  By raising their income tax that extra 10%, over a five year Parliament, you would bring in a monumental twenty-five billion pounds in extra funding – twenty-five times the amount of the Tory Incapacity Benefits plan; and that’s not even the whole of Great Britain. 

But the Tories would rather force a disabled or mentally ill person to live on a £3,297 a year Jobseeker’s Allowance than force someone who earns £100,000 a year to pay an extra £10,000 in taxes and still keep £50,000 a year – a take-home salary almost £20,000 higher than the current pre-tax national average.

And this isn’t even mentioning the earnings of the super-rich.

Do you know what ten percent of a million pounds is?  It is £100,000.  Ten percent of a billion: one hundred million.

By raising the taxes of the super-rich millionaires and billionaires to 60% or 70% – even 80% – you could fix the hole in public spending immediately and still leave the ludicrously wealthy with ridiculously high annual incomes.

One million pounds a year, taxed at 70%, would leave our humble millionaires with £300k a year to live on.

One billion pounds a year, taxed at 80%, would leave billionaires with an eye-popping annual income of two hundred million pounds! 

One moderately taxed millionaire (a 20% raise) and one moderately taxed billionaire (a 30% raise) would therefore bring in one billion, five hundred and one million pounds worth of brand new money over a five year Parliament, on top of what they might already pay.  Two millionaire and two billionaires would bring in over three billion pounds in new investment.

I cannot understand why we don’t start talking seriously about doing this, and why taking £17.50 a week from the worst-off in society and freezing the pay of doctors and teachers is the best economic solution our political leaders can come up with?