The Politics of ...

The Politics of ...

Monday, 18 April 2016

Conspiracy Theories

"As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted" From a George Monbiot column in The Guardian.
Ask yourself this: when a government releases information about plans or policy changes, buried beneath some major news story dominating the headlines and reducing other news to minor status - is that any different than a conspiracy theory turned inside out?

We are currently living in an era of fear and because fear is all around is we allow things we would normally question without hesitation to ensure that fear doesn't get us, personally. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse arrived ages ago given the amount of Famine, Pestilence, War and Death (disguised as Poverty) we get subjected to on a weekly basis. Since 2001, it's like the news has to be like a Die Hard film or people will switch off. Sometimes life almost seems to be orchestrated and not by some omnipotent god, but probably some multi-billionaire with media interests and a cold dead heart.

Sometimes the world seems a little like a massive soap opera and at other times like the lunatics have been running the asylum, for a while. The concept of the 'conspiracy theory' has always been more attractive when the world is more crisis prone and, of course, in the 21st century even having a conspiracy theory is either madness or, if you have any evidence, not really a conspiracy theory at all. Some conspiracy theories are quite benign and highly plausible, others are as desperate as a 1996 post-match Kevin Keegan interview; most depend on a chain of information, a string of people and an unfathomable amount of probability that, if it's true then, someone will at some point talk. The biggest problem with a conspiracy theory is the longer it exists without a whistleblower or someone to throw something to give it credence, the more likely it's not going to have anything more than a grain of truth - if that. Wishful thinking mixed with the need for plausible (even if implausible) answers.

However, how about something that on the surface seems unlikely, doesn't have a big chain of potentially loose-lipped co-conspirators, but could ultimately reap the goal that is desired. Confused? Good.

I want you, if you can be bothered or even remember, to cast your mind back to when David Cameron was 'negotiating' the deal with the EU that he was going to use as the main reason for us staying in the EU, when he calls the much-heralded referendum. The man looked destroyed and beaten; like a leader who had lost. He hasn't looked even remotely in control of things since then and while he comes across business-as-usual in PMQs, he's uncertain and a bit dithering when confronted with unscripted questions and situations. He's also been the target of some interesting attacks, which have led to even more interesting public solidarity scenes within the Tory party which, behind closed doors, appears to be tearing itself apart.

Then look at George Osborne and how his star has descended like it was actually a housebrick. Look how he has gone from Dave's logical successor to being almost toxic. Now Theresa May is under scrutiny and even if Nick Clegg's allegations come to nothing; that's another one of Team Cameron who is seeing leadership chances dwindle.

How better to ruin the Remain vote than show those in favour of it on the ropes? But that's just a wee bit too obvious and quite see-through. It could, however, be made to look like this because there has to be a post mortem. I've said for years that Tories play the long game and in this instance maybe a strong faction within the party is playing that game, one that looks beyond the increasingly unpopular leader team?

The reason I mentioned Cameron's late night negotiations is because he went into that meeting asking for not a lot and he was given next to nothing. One of the leading nations in the EU and he couldn't change it how his party wanted it - which was essentially to opt out of anything we didn't agree 100% with - and that meant things were going to go badly wrong for him. You see (and this is the only part of this theory I'm in two minds about), I think Dave's election win was a bit unexpected for the party. I think, as did many others, it was going to be a hung parliament and they would be the party to form another coalition. It would also trigger a leadership contest and it would give the party the opportunity to either big up Boris or find go the other way and find someone less charismatic, but more pragmatic for the coalition to come. Contrary to some popular conspiracy theories, the voters occasionally surprise people. There are some who believe the Tories weren't really prepared for power in 1992, despite having been in for 13 previous years. John Major was not seen as a valiant and fearless leader and almost from the beginning of that government's reign it was plagued by scandals that Thatcher's team would have shrugged off. Parallels have been drawn.

Dave is elected and makes his own plans to go leaving his own legacy in the shape of Osborne or May, but this isn't fast enough for the party or even what it really wants. Things are not going as planned and something has to be done. Except, the only wrinkle in this is an unexpected opportunity and that is the EU referendum. The Tory Party - not necessarily all their MPs and members, but the Party is probably anti-EU. It throws up too many obstacles to prevent them from having the country they believe we should have and while many are pro-EU, the old school have a very narrow view of it, possibly skewered by a sense of empire or entitlement - we are British after all. What if the current government don't care what way you vote? Vote in and nothing changes, vote out and they benefit even more.

The Tories aren't exactly setting the world on fire with their pro-Europe campaigning. It seems to be down to MPs of other persuasions, celebrities and business to make the case. Dave is doing his bit, but he's being constantly distracted and implicated to the point where Jeremy Corbyn is more trusted on Europe and Corbyn is a bit of a sceptic. But what if Dave has no real reason to fight? What if he knew back in January that his days were numbered? The MPs can talk him up and give him public backing, but it all seems a little false when the next minute the Out campaign are criticising their own party/government because of some Euro tragedy. It all seems to be stage managed to give subtly different appearances to whoever interprets it and all slightly negative.

The Out call the In campaign 'Project Fear' when in actual reality it is 'Project Fact'. The Out campaign seem to be basing their campaign on the fact that people will still trade with us wherever we are and that they'd be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Um... France? They'll be the first in the queue to renegotiate and they'll be setting the price high or go away. Not one single Out campaigner has said categorically that prices won't rise. Ask your neighbour this - if you're £20 a week worse off for leaving the EU and there's just as many foreigners here, will voting out be worth it?

I can't reiterate this point enough (because it seems to be neglected in the coverage) - we have no guarantees whatsoever we're even going to be able to renegotiate the same terms we currently have, so to expect us to get stuff cheaper is ludicrous. Plus, consider this - we give Europe two fingers, how desperate are they going to be to deal with us at all? How confident are you that nothing will change, things will get cheaper and everyone will be happy again? Do you really believe Michael Gove when he says that £50billion of the money we won't be paying the EU will go to the NHS? Or will it go to the private companies who have taken over parts of the NHS?

The way the Tories are dividing up the country and selling off what's left; it won't matter if we're in or out for them. They will still clean up; so it could be they're doing what they hoped to do last May, but now with added incentives. That's a conspiracy theory that could have some weight.

Friday, 8 April 2016

The Casual Racist

My grandfather was a goldsmith and a Freeman of the City of London; and I believe he also made the Queen’s engagement ring or wedding ring – he made something important that got him that Freeman status. His political preferences were private; he belonged to a generation that didn’t discuss things such as sex, religion or politics publicly (and knowing how Victorian my family has been in the past probably not privately either), but that didn’t preclude him from discussing politics.

My gut feeling was that Harry Rodway was a socialist and voted Labour. I think his reluctance to talk about voting intentions stemmed from his workplace environment; goldsmiths were usually working class lads - like diamond miners are the least wealthy in their chain - but many had aspirations, because we should all have aspirations and they rubbed shoulders with the Hoi-poloi on a daily basis, because of the nature of their job.

One of my grandad’s sage-like opinions thrown at me when I was about 10 was that it didn’t matter who was in power they all took advantage of the poor. Some were less obvious about it, but it didn’t matter what year you were in you could always identify the repercussions to the working man before you could find anything else. My grandad used to say that it didn’t matter which chancellor was in #11 he’d always put money on fags and booze because the working man needed to know where his place was.

I remember when the MOT test was introduced, despite never having driven a car, he saw this as a direct attack on the pockets of the poor, because the poor were more likely to have a car that failed the test and I don’t care what political persuasion you are that is a difficult statement to argue with. Yes, you could say that people should aspire to own better, less troublesome motors, but we’re not talking ideology we’re talking reality and the reality is the poor simply can’t afford a better car. Therefore my grandad saw the MOT as an indirect tax directed at the poor.

My feeling is he would have felt the same way about the national lottery and probably would have wanted to see just how many winners would have been regarded as working class in his day. The thing about my grandad was he had these opinions but he didn’t have any ill feeling or disdain towards those better than him – that was how it was and it was up to him to make it better for himself and his family, if that was what he had to or wanted. Greed existed when he was young, but it wasn’t a vocational option.

I have always blamed Thatcher for how society is now, but in reality all she did was highlight some of the more restrained human traits; she might have helped destroy the concept of ‘community’ but she didn’t make people do this – it was a choice and one that appealed to the basest of human nature. What happened after Thatcher was far worse and for 13 years of it there was a ‘Labour’ government. Before and after the war, governments behaved like they had a reasonable duty of care for all the people who voted and while the Tories have always been the party of the better off they had socialist values – once you could vote Conservative without fear and also care about people.

Since the 1980s caring about other people, especially people you don’t or will never know, has become difficult and many people – of all political persuasions – are more concerned about their own lives than anyone else’s. The ‘I’m Alright Jack’ culture created by the City of London, which spread throughout the country faster than a zombie apocalypse had a far worse social effect – not only were people becoming dispassionate about neighbours and other humans, they were also getting to the position where they didn’t care what the governments did as long as… they were alright. Sell off everything? As long as I’m ok. Privatise the NHS? As long as I get what I need when I need it. Cut jobs? As long as it isn’t my job. This might seem harsh, but we want to prosper as well as survive; comfort is better than squalor.

But that isn’t the only reason why we have got to where we are. I like to blame Rupert Murdock for a lot of our problems and unlike Thatcher I can’t mitigate some of the blame. Before the Australian billionaire bought into the British press in the late 60s, our newspapers were indeed run by Tory peers or philanthropist peers or aristocrats. They covered politics 99% of the time as news and news didn’t warrant that much of an op.ed; rarely did you have campaigns as disingenuous as they are now. The media controls the way news is delivered and what is deemed worthy of exposure - it is growing more and more obvious especially when horrendous sanctions directed specifically at the poor and disenfranchised are overlooked in favour of the colour of Jeremy Corbyn’s tie or the size of Kim Kardassian’s arse and the reason behind this is the people don’t need to know about that serious politics stuff unless it’s to condemn it for wanting to change or, as recently we have seen, it highlights the true divisions between us and them.

Extreme politics doesn’t tend to wash in this country; it is a rare thing to see a large uprising of communists or fascists – these people exist, but are seriously outnumbered normal people trying to live normal lives who really have no interest in politics apart from when it affects them. What we have got is a growing amount of ‘allowable racism’ in the guise of nationalism and a reason for withdrawal from the EU. The Out brigade are doing a good job of manipulating the press to make it sound like the In party are orchestrating a campaign of fear, when, in reality, it is the Out brigade who are causing all the fear, because quite simply we know what it’s like to be in Europe, we have no idea what it would be like to be out of it, because this isn’t the 1970s and the world has changed considerably.

There is a degree of hypocrisy shown by people who are going to vote out because ‘there’s too many foreigners here already’, because most of them have never given a fig about people struggling to make it through a day let alone an entire parliament because of penalties aimed exclusively at those not in a position to fight them. They’re now concerned about ‘other’ people and that is through fear. Can you imagine what it must be like to be an EU migrant worker in this country? It sounds crazy, but it must be a little like living in Germany in the early 1930s and it’s mainly being driven by people over 40. The blatant and vile racism I’ve seen, just in small corners of the internet, is breathtaking if you have a shred of human kindness in your bodies.

Back in a time when our borders had just ‘opened’ up to other EU residents, I was working in Corby with young people, mainly unemployed, who essentially now blamed Polish immigrants for their lack of employment rather than Margaret Thatcher, who their parents and grandparents blamed. Yet, when put on the spot and either asked or be taken to one of these jobs being done by Poles, every single one would reply with a variant of ‘I’m not doing that for the money they pay.’ So, you need to ask yourself a serious question: if the unemployed don’t want to do the jobs the foreigners are doing, do you force them to do the work and would you feel comfortable and happy about a workforce doing jobs you depend on who don’t want to do the job? Do you enforce sanctions on these people if they don’t enjoy the work but have to do their jobs to the fullest of their capabilities or face penalties. Isn’t that a bit like beating the donkey with a variety of sticks while hiding the carrots away?

I remember a farmer in Lincolnshire speaking on the radio after UKIP won a number of council seats in towns heavily-populated by migrant workers. He was obviously a Tory and he was furious about peoples’ short-sightedness. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of, if you want to pay £5 for a punnet of strawberries in the summer then kick out all my migrant workers and force me to employ an army of disinterested kids who I have to pay a higher wage to without the reliability then kick them all out.

If you want a clear indication of how it is ludicrous to suggest prices won’t go up if we vote to come out of Europe it’s our farming industry; the people who put the vast array of foods on our tables who rely on good, hardworking foreigners who might not be more likely to stick a bogey in a pre-packed lasagne than a 17 year old yob from an underfunded council estate with a junkie mother and no hope, who has been told – this is your job, do it or you will have to depend on charity.

The Out brigade tell us about deals set up in the 1950s that we can resurrect or the fact that the EU will still want to deal with us because our business is sacrosanct and yet, answer me this, if coming out of Europe means we can negotiate trade deals better than we currently get, why isn’t the rest of the EU up in arms at the fact if they weren’t in this club they could get things cheaper – why even have this union if all it’s doing is skimming money from countries to sit around Strasbourg drinking beer and watching schnitzel cook? Because it’s like a big buyers club and the combined buying power of the EU means things will be cheaper; if we could negotiate any deal that would be anything close to that we’d still end up with food prices going up.

The reality is simple; most people aren’t really interested in the politics about the EU referendum and they’re not really interested in the mechanics, they just think it will magically stop the flow of foreigners coming over here, clogging up our system, flooding our schools and hospitals with unwanted additions. It’s not like these people don’t pay their taxes, you know? Unlike many of the people associated to the party that got elected into government, most foreigners contribute a damned sight more than some Tory peers. Yet we want to try and kick them all out, keep whatever respect we still have in Europe and expect people to want to trade with us under far better terms? Seriously, what planet is the Out brigade on?

As for my grandfather; it’s sad to say he was a casual racist, as most of my family are at times. He could have had a best friend who was Asian, yet would have called people Pakis or Nignogs without the faintest whiff of realisation. He probably would vote to come out, but he would have been astute enough to realise that there is more at stake than the belief that stopping foreigners will solve all the problems; he’d also be aware that a vote to come out will have its own brand of problems, ones we have no idea about.