Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Democratic Party “Leadership” Is Upside Down, by Norman Solomon

When Democrats take control of the House in early January, they’ll have two kinds of leadership -- one from the top of the party’s power pyramid, the other from its base.

With formal control, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer can brandish huge carrots and sticks to keep Democratic lawmakers in line.

With grassroots support, a growing number of those lawmakers can -- and should -- strategically step out of line to fight for progressive agendas.

Pelosi and Hoyer have been running the Democratic machinery in the House of Representatives since 2003, and they’re experts at combining liberal rhetoric with corporate flackery.

Pelosi is frequently an obstacle to advancing progressive proposals. Hoyer is significantly worse as he avidly serves such “constituents” as giant banks, Pentagon contractors and other Wall Street titans. 

The duo has often functioned as top-drawer power tools in the hands of powerful corporate-military interests. 

Pelosi is a longtime wizard at generating and funneling hundreds of millions of election-cycle dollars, and as speaker she’ll wield enormous power over committee assignments.

But she must keep Democratic House members minimally satisfied -- and along the way that should mean yielding more power to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Buoyed by wins in the midterm elections, the caucus includes two-fifths of all Democrats in the House.

That’s where the other kind of leadership comes in -- if a hefty number of self-identified progressives in Congress go to the mat to vigorously represent progressive constituencies.

For that to happen, a dubious aspect of the Progressive Caucus past must not repeat itself.

“When historic votes come to the House floor, party functionaries are able to whip the Progressive Caucus into compliance,” I wrote six years ago. 

A grim pattern set in during the Obama presidency, “with many Progressive Caucus members making fine statements of vigorous resolve -- only to succumb on the House floor under intense pressure from the Obama administration.” 

Backing down had tragic consequences for the nation’s healthcare system. In September 2009, Progressive Caucus leaders sent a letter to President Obama pledging not to vote for any healthcare bill “without a robust public option.” 

They wrote: “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates -- not negotiated rates -- is unacceptable.” 

Six months later, every member of the Progressive Caucus abandoned the demand and voted for a healthcare bill with no public option at all. 

In recent years, the leadership of the Progressive Caucus has become more impressive. 

The current mix of leaders and new members -- which includes veteran lawmaker Raul Grijalva, more recent House arrivals like Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna, and notable incoming progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley -- seems to augur well. 

There are encouraging signs that Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders are using new leverage to gain more power for progressives. 

After meeting with Pelosi on Nov. 15, Co-Chair Pocan and First Vice-Chair Jayapal released a statement saying “we are pleased that Leader Pelosi shares our commitment to ensuring that CPC members are represented proportionally on the key exclusive committees -- including Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, Financial Services and Intelligence.” 

Progressive leaders can gain persuasive influence largely because they’re advocating for proposals that -- as polling verifies -- have wide support from the U.S. public, such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage (59 percent), Medicare for All (70 percent), progressive criminal justice reform (65 percent) and higher taxes on the wealthy (76 percent). 

Behind such political agenda items is an activist base eager to achieve many programs that have been obstructed by most top-ranking Democrats in Congress. Clearly, much of the Democratic Party’s momentum is now coming from the left. 

And many of the positions that the timeworn Democratic leadership has staked out are now being overrun -- outmatched by the cumulative power of dynamic social movements that have generated electoral clout. 

Medicare for All is a case in point, with numerous likely Democratic presidential candidates climbing on board. 

Ultimately, the most profound progressive leadership for Congress isn’t in Congress at all. It’s in communities and movements across the country -- nurturing diverse progressive strengths in many aspects of social change, including at election time. 

No matter how intense the top-down pressure gets from Speaker Pelosi, we should insist from the bottom up that members of Congress stand their ground for progressive principles.

And -- no matter how fervently they embrace the “progressive” label -- if congressmembers aren’t willing to fight for those principles, then the grassroots should mobilize: to create an outcry, to lobby and to consider launching primary challenges.

No elected officials should be immune from scrutiny and accountability.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

What It Means That Hillary Clinton Might Run for President in 2020, by Norman Solomon

Twenty-five years ago -- when I wrote a book titled “False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era” -- I didn’t expect that the Democratic Party would still be mired in Clintonism two and a half decades later. But such approaches to politics continue to haunt the party and the country.

The last two Democratic presidencies largely involved talking progressive while serving Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. 

The obvious differences in personalities and behavior of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama diverted attention from their underlying political similarities. In office, both men rarely fought for progressive principles -- and routinely undermined them. 

Clinton, for example, brought the country NAFTA, welfare “reform” that was an assault on low-income women and families, telecommunications “reform” that turned far more airwaves over to media conglomerates, repeal of Glass-Steagall regulation of banks that led to the 2007-8 financial meltdown, and huge increases in mass incarceration.

Obama, for instance, bailed out big banks while letting underwater homeowners sink, oversaw the launching of more missiles and bombs than his predecessor George W. Bush, ramped up a war on whistleblowers, turned mass surveillance and the shredding of the Fourth Amendment into bipartisan precedent, and boosted corporate privatization of public education.

It wasn’t only a congressional majority that Democrats quickly lost and never regained under President Obama. 

By the time he left the White House (immediately flying on a billionaire’s jet to his private island and then within months starting to collect giant speaking fees from Wall Street), nearly 1,000 seats in state legislatures had been lost to Democrats during the Obama years.

Thanks to grassroots activism and revulsion toward President Trump, Democrats not only won back the House last month but also recaptured one-third of the state legislative seats that had been lost while Obama led the party and the nation. 

During the last two years, progressive momentum has exerted major pressure against the kind of corporatist policies that Bill Clinton set into cement atop the Democratic Party. 

But today, the party’s congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are still in a mode loosely replicating Clinton’s sleight-of-tongue formulas that have proved so useful -- and extremely profitable -- for corporate America, while economic inequality has skyrocketed.

As 2018 nears its end, the top of the Democratic Party is looking to continue Clintonism without the Clintons. 

Or maybe Clintonism with the Clintons. 

A real possibility is now emerging that Hillary Clinton will run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. On Sunday, the New York Times printed a Maureen Dowd column that reported:

“Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee…. And Bill has given monologues to old friends about how Hillary knows how she’d have to run in 2020, that she couldn’t have a big staff and would just speak her mind and not focus-group everything. (That already sounds focus-grouped.)” 

Dowd provided a helpful recap:

“After the White House, the money-grubbing raged on, with the Clintons making over 700 speeches in a 15-year period, blithely unconcerned with any appearance of avarice or of shady special interests and foreign countries buying influence. They stockpiled a whopping $240 million. Even leading up to her 2016 presidential run, Hillary was packing in the speeches, talking to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the American Camp Association, eBay, and there was that infamous trifecta of speeches for Goldman Sachs worth $675,000.” 

A cogent sum-up in the column came from former Washington Monthly editor Charles Peters:

“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed. They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” 

That’s where we are now -- not only with the grim prospect that Hillary Clinton might run for president again, but more fundamentally with corporate allegiances still dominating the Democratic Party leadership. 

The only way to overcome such corporatism is for social movements to fight more resolutely and effectively for progressive change, including in the Democratic Party.

If you don’t think that’s a path to real breakthroughs, consider Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, winners of Democratic primaries this year who’ll be sworn in as members of Congress next month. (Compare those successes to two decades of Green Party candidates running for Congress and never coming close.) 

Whether or not Hillary Clinton runs for president again, Clintonism is a political blight with huge staying power. It can be overcome only if and when people at the grassroots effectively insist on moving the Democratic Party in a genuinely progressive direction. 

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

GOP and Corporate Dems Gain When Democrats Run Against Putin, by Norman Solomon

Progressives should figure it out. Amplifying the anti-Russia din helps to drown out the left’s core messages for economic fairness, equal rights, environmental protection, diplomacy and so much more. Echoing the racket of blaming Russia for the USA’s severe shortages of democracy plays into the hands of Republicans and corporate Democrats eager to block progressive momentum.

When riding on the “Russiagate” bandwagon, progressives unwittingly aid political forces that are eager to sideline progressive messages. And with the midterm elections now scarcely 100 days away, the torrents of hyperbolic and hypocritical claims about Russia keep diverting attention from why it’s so important to defeat Republicans.

As a practical matter, devoting massive amounts of time and resources to focusing on Russia has reduced capacities to effectively challenge the domestic forces that are assaulting democratic possibilities at home -- with such tactics as state voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, and numerous barriers to suppress turnout by people of color.

Instead of keeping eyes on the prize, some of the Democratic base has been watching and trusting media outlets like MSNBC. An extreme Russia obsession at the network has left precious little airtime to expose and challenge the vast quantity of terrible domestic-policy measures being advanced by the Trump administration every day.

Likewise with the U.S. government’s militarism. While some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have put forward legislation to end the active U.S. role in Saudi Arabia’s mass-murderous war on Yemen, those efforts face a steeper uphill climb because of MSNBC.

This week, under the headline “It’s Been Over a Year Since MSNBC Has Mentioned U.S. War in Yemen,” journalist Adam Johnson reported for the media watchdog group FAIR about the collapse of journalistic decency at MSNBC, under the weight of the network’s Russia Russia Russia obsession. Johnson’s article asks a big-type question: “Why is the No. 1 outlet of alleged anti-Trump #resistance completely ignoring his most devastating war?” 

The FAIR report says: “What seems most likely is MSNBC has found that attacking Russia from the right on matters of foreign policy is the most elegant way to preserve its ‘progressive’ image while still serving traditional centers of power -- namely, the Democratic Party establishment, corporate sponsors, and their own revolving door of ex-spook and military contractor-funded talking heads.”

Corporate media have been exerting enormous pressure on Democratic officeholders and candidates to follow a thin blue party line on Russia. Yet polling shows that few Americans see Russia as a threat to their well-being; they’re far more concerned about such matters as healthcare, education, housing and overall economic security.

The gap between most Americans and media elites is clear in a nationwide poll taken after the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, which was fiercely condemned by the punditocracy. As The Hill newspaper reported this week under the headline “Most Americans Back Trump’s Call for Follow-Up Summit With Putin,” 54 percent of respondents favored plans for a second summit. “The survey also found that 61 percent of Americans say better relations with Russia are in the best interest of the United States.”

Yet most Democratic Party leaders have very different priorities. After investing so much political capital in portraying Putin’s government as an implacable enemy of the United States, top Democrats on Capitol Hill are hardly inclined to help thaw relations between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.

It would be easy for news watchers to see that the Democratic Party is much more committed to a hard line against Russia than a hard line against the corporate forces imposing extreme economic inequality here at home.

National polling underscores just how out of whack and out of touch the party’s top dogs are. Last month, the Gallup organization asked: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” The results were telling. “Situation with Russia” came in at below one-half of 1 percent.

The day after the Helsinki summit, the Washington Post reported: “Citing polls and focus groups that have put Trump and Russia far down the list of voter priorities, Democratic strategists have counseled candidates and party leaders for months to discuss ‘kitchen table’ issues. Now, after a remarkable 46-minute news conference on foreign soil where Trump stood side by side with a former KGB agent to praise his ‘strong’ denials of election interference and criticize the FBI, those strategists believe the ground may have shifted.”

Prominent corporate Democrats who want to beat back the current progressive groundswell inside their party are leading the charge. Jim Kessler, a senior vice president at the “centrist” Third Way organization, was quick to proclaim after the summit: “It got simple real fast. I’ve talked to a lot of Democrats that are running in purple and red states and districts who have said that Russia rarely comes up back home, and I think that has now changed.”

The Democratic National Committee and other official arms of the party keep sending out Russia-bashing emails to millions of people on a nearly daily basis. At times the goals seem to involve generating and exploiting manic panic.

At the end of last week, as soon as the White House announced plans (later postponed) for Vladimir Putin to meet with President Trump in Washington this fall, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired off a mass email -- from “RUSSIA ALERT (via DCCC)” -- declaring that the Russian president “must NOT be allowed to set foot in our country.” The email strained to conflate a summit with Russian interference in U.S. elections. “We cannot overstate how dangerous this is,” the DCCC gravely warned. And: “We need to stop him at all costs.”

For Democrats who move in elite circles, running against Putin might seem like a smart election move. But for voters worried about economic insecurity and many other social ills, a political party obsessed with Russia is likely to seem aloof and irrelevant to their lives.

Norman Solomon is the national coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Has Jeremy Corbyn “Gone Full Trump”?, by David Lindsay

Has Jeremy Corbyn “gone full Trump”? Well, what if he has? In 2016, the American Democratic Party was defeated in the person of the most economically neoliberal and internationally neoconservative nominee imaginable. The lesson needs to be learned. The workers are not the easily ignored and routinely betrayed base, with the liberal bourgeoisie as the swing voters to whom tribute must be paid. The reality is the other way round. The EU referendum ought already to have placed that beyond doubt.

There is a need to move, as a matter of the utmost urgency, away from the excessive focus on identity issues, and towards the recognition that those existed only within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace, including co-operation with Russia, not a new Cold War. Working-class white areas that voted for Barack Obama did not vote for Hillary Clinton, African-American turnout went down while the Republican share of that vote did not, and Trump took 30 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Black Lives Matter meant remembering Libya, while Latino Lives Matter meant remembering Honduras.

The defeat of the Clintons by a purported opponent of neoliberal economic policy and of neoconservative foreign policy has secured the position of Corbyn, who is undoubtedly such an opponent. It is also a challenge to Theresa May, to make good her rhetoric about One Nation, about a country that works for everyone, and about being a voice for working people. But only one of them is able to deliver.

Here in the areas the votes of which decided the EU referendum, we voted to reject 39 years of failure under all three parties, going all the way back to the adoption of monetarism by the Callaghan Government in 1977, the year of my birth. Brexit needs to meet our needs, which are not for chasing after the unicorns of the “Anglosphere” (the old Dominions have moved on, and anti-British protectionism is America’s historical norm), but for trade deals with the BRICS countries even while remaining thoroughly critical of their present governments, for integration into the Belt and Road Initiative, for full enjoyment of our freedom from the Single Market’s bans on such measures as State Aid and capital controls, for an extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service, and for the restoration of the United Kingdom’s historic fishing rights in accordance with international law: 200 miles, or to the median line. May cannot do that. But Corbyn can. And he has made a very good start.

No more British Government contracts for foreign firms when there were British ones ready and willing to take them on; none of this could ever have happened without privatisation, Compulsory Competitive Tendering, the Private Finance Initiative, Best Value, and so on. No more importation of the products of ununionised cheap labour, and no more hand-wringing about the “weak” pound when a Government with any idea what it was doing would take the opportunity to rejuvenate British manufacturing on the basis of this newfound competitiveness of sterling; none of this could ever have happened if we had kept import controls and capital controls, or if we had never moved away from common sense Keynesianism. And no more importation of ununionised cheap labour itself; none of this could ever have happened if it had still been a case of “no union card, no job”, or if the unions had still been able to take industrial action worthy of the name.

The Brexit Dividend, indeed. Announced, of course, in Birmingham. Announced, of course, by Jeremy Corbyn. And opposed, of course, by the globalist, unpatriotic, un-Tory, “value of nothing” Conservative Party that was created by Margaret Thatcher. Although many of Corbyn’s own MPs, including one thoroughly over-publicised member for a Birmingham constituency, are at least as bad. But there is going to be another hung Parliament, and we need our people to hold the balance of power in it. I need £10,000 in order to stand for Parliament with any chance of winning. My crowdfunding page has been taken down without my knowledge or consent. But you can still email davidaslindsay@hotmail.com instead, and that address accepts PayPal.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Climb Down From the Summit of Hostile Propaganda, by Norman Solomon

Throughout the day before the summit in Helsinki, the lead story on the New York Times home page stayed the same: “Just by Meeting With Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead.” The Sunday headline was in harmony with the tone of U.S. news coverage overall. As for media commentary, the Washington Post was in the dominant groove as it editorialized that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is “an implacably hostile foreign adversary.”

Contempt for diplomacy with Russia is now extreme. Mainline U.S. journalists and top Democrats often bait President Trump in zero-sum terms. No doubt Hillary Clinton thought she was sending out an applause line in her tweet Sunday night: “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

A bellicose stance toward Russia has become so routine and widespread that we might not give it a second thought -- and that makes it all the more hazardous. After President George W. Bush declared “You’re either with us or against us,” many Americans gradually realized what was wrong with a Manichean view of the world. Such an outlook is even more dangerous today.

Since early 2017, the U.S. mass media have laid it on thick with the rough political equivalent of a painting technique known as chiaroscuro -- “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition,” in the words of Wikipedia. The Russiagate frenzy is largely about punching up contrasts between the United States (angelic and victimized) and Russia (sinister and victimizer).

Countless stories with selective facts are being told that way. But other selectively fact-based stories could also be told to portray the United States as a sinister victimizer and Russia as an angelic victim. Those governments and their conformist media outlets are relentless in telling it either way. As the great journalist I.F. Stone observed long ago, “All governments lie, and nothing they say should be believed.” In other words: don’t trust, verify.

Often the biggest lies involve what remains unsaid. For instance, U.S. media rarely mention such key matters as the promise-breaking huge expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the brazen U.S. intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election, or the U.S. government’s 2002 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or the more than 800 U.S. military bases overseas -- in contrast to Russia’s nine.

For human survival on this planet, an overarching truth appears in an open letter published last week by The Nation magazine: “No political advantage, real or imagined, could possibly compensate for the consequences if even a fraction of U.S. and Russian arsenals were to be utilized in a thermonuclear exchange. The tacit pretense that the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations does not worsen the odds of survival for the next generations is profoundly false.”

The initial 26 signers of the open letter -- “Common Ground: For Secure Elections and True National Security” -- included Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, writer and feminist organizer Gloria Steinem, former UN ambassador Gov. Bill Richardson, political analyst Noam Chomsky, former covert CIA operations officer Valerie Plame, activist leader Rev. Dr. William Barber II, filmmaker Michael Moore, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen, former U.S. ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Alice Walker and Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, former senator Adlai Stevenson III, and former longtime House Armed Services Committee member Patricia Schroeder. (I was also one of the initial signers.)

Since its release five days ago, the open letter has gained support from a petition already signed by 30,000 people. The petition campaign aims to amplify the call for protecting the digital infrastructure of the electoral process that is now “vulnerable to would-be hackers based anywhere” -- and for taking “concrete steps… to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers.”

We need a major shift in the U.S. approach toward Russia. Clearly the needed shift won’t be initiated by the Republican or Democratic leaders in Congress; it must come from Americans who make their voices heard. The lives -- and even existence -- of future generations are at stake in the relationship between Washington and Moscow.

Many of the petition’s grassroots signers have posted comments along with their names. Here are a few of my favorites:

* From Nevada: “We all share the same planet! We better learn how to do it safely or face the consequences of blowing ourselves up!”
*  From New Mexico: “The earth will not survive a nuclear war. The weapons we have today are able to cause much more destruction than those of previous eras. We must find a way to common ground.”
*  From Massachusetts: “It is imperative that we take steps to protect the sanctity of our elections and to prevent nuclear war anywhere on the earth.”
Secure elections are a fundamental part of a democratic system. But this could become meaningless in the event of thermonuclear war.”
*  From California: There is only madness and hubris in talk of belligerence toward others, especially when we have such dangerous weapons and human error has almost led to our annihilation already more than once in the past half-century.”

Yet a wide array of media outlets, notably the “Russiagate”-obsessed network MSNBC, keeps egging on progressives to climb toward peaks of anti-Russian jingoism. The line of march is often in virtual lockstep with GOP hyper-hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The incessant drumbeat is in sync with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.”

Meanwhile, as Dr. King said, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.”

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Friday, 29 June 2018

On Not Being A Tribal Politician, by David Lindsay

I am firmly a man of the Left. I believe in economic equality and in international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends. In the struggle for economic equality, the leading role belongs to the working class, and the leading role within the working class belongs to the trade union movement. In the struggle for international peace, the leading role belongs to the working class and to the youth. Each of those struggles has always been fundamental to the other, and it always will be. The anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles have always been fundamental to each and both of them, and they always will be. All other identity issues are subordinate within this, if they can be, or they are precluded by it, if they cannot be. Yes, I am firmly a man of the Left.

I am not, however, a Marxist, in the straightforward sense that I do not believe in dialectical materialism. Marxism asks many of the right questions, but it almost always gives the wrong answers, at least in practice. Its sense of its own inevitability is also thoroughly pernicious. Our gains have not been inevitable. We had to fight to make them, and we have to fight to keep them. I can and do work with Marxists. But I am not one of them. As they would be the first to tell you.

Therefore, I rejoiced at the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as a serious candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party in 2015, ending a 21-year period during which Britain had had no political debate as such. Both economic policy and foreign policy had been off the agenda, and that despite the widespread unpopularity of the catastrophic economic and foreign policies that had been pursued as if they had been self-evident.

I have now been out of the Labour Party for far longer than I was ever in it, and I have profound differences with Corbyn, including the appointment of his enemies to frontbench and other positions, the overly cautious housing and transport policies, the Customs Union, the whipped abstentions on CETA and the EEA, the free vote on Syria, the whipped abstention on Trident, the acceptance of any part of the Government’s baseless claims about Salisbury and Douma, the complaint that the recent bombing of Syria had not been authorised by Parliament rather than that it had been wrong in itself, the failure to bring the arming of Saudi Arabia back to the floor of the House of Commons, the failure to travel to Iran in order to demand the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Abbas Edelat, the capitulation to neoliberal capitalism on the issues of drugs and prostitution, the support for the Government’s indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification, the failure to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants whose pay the Labour Durham County Council has cut by 23 per cent, the paying of court to the unrepresentative Board of Deputies of British Jews and to the astroturfed Jewish Leadership Council, the failure to prevent the suspension or expulsion of distinguished Jewish and other activists on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, and the failure to nip in the bud the imported New York practice of smearing black activists as anti-Semitic if they become too uppity for the Liberal Establishment.

Nevertheless, the positive impact of Corbyn’s mere presence has been, and remains, breathtaking. Although she has failed to deliver on it, Theresa May’s Downing Street speech on becoming Prime Minister has been followed by talk of workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, of shareholders’ control over executive pay, of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, of greatly increased housebuilding, of action against tax avoidance, of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, of a ban on unpaid internships, of a cap on energy prices, and of an inquiry into Orgreave. And that was when she had thought that she was going to beat Corbyn out of the park.

Since then, he has deprived her of her overall majority, and she has had to make a deal with the DUP that has entirely repudiated the idea that austerity had been an economic necessity rather than a political choice. She has lately repeated that repudiation in relation to the funding of the National Health Service, and the only debate on that is now the debate as to which taxes to put up. Meanwhile, she, a Conservative Prime Minister, is now effectively on record that Britain ought no longer to attempt to remain a “tier one” military power.

Corbyn is therefore the most influential British politician in living memory, reshaping both parties to an extent that neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair could ever have imagined, and doing so, up to now, from Opposition. Indeed, he has hardly needed to do anything. It is almost enough that he exists. I for one yearn for him to become Prime Minister.

But none of that makes me a sectarian left-winger, or even a tribal Labour voter. The anti-cuts and anti-war movements were, and are, very broadly based, and they have always suffered from a failure to make the most of that fact, since they have always had the potential to speak for the great majority of people in every part of the country. For example, the cuts have been ruinous in the countryside. The 90 per cent public opposition to the Iraq War was arithmetically impossible without including the majority of Conservative supporters even in 2003. And so on.

My direct political experience has been as a hospital governor covering a huge and largely rural area, as a governor of two rural schools, as a member of Lanchester Parish Council, and around the Labour Leadership of the old Derwentside District Council, which it ran in alliance with the Independents against the rival Labour faction that is now disastrously mismanaging the unitary Durham County Council.

No party has ever fielded a full slate of candidates for Lanchester Parish Council, nor should it. But I have always used all 15 of my votes for it. Last year, I voted for 12 of the 15 successful candidates, variously Labour, Independent, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and No Description. On the same day, I took my own very public advice and voted for the County Council candidates best placed, as I judged it, to defeat Labour and thus to secure justice for the Teaching Assistants. On that basis, I had advocated the re-election of all Independent, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative incumbents who had sought it, and no Labour vote under any circumstance, not even for candidates to whom I was practically family. Had my advice been taken, then the Teaching Assistants would have won by now. But as it was, more attention was paid, with calamitous consequences, to the political advice of the man whom the new Member of Parliament for North West Durham has since appointed as her Political Advisor.

Although I ached to vote Labour at last year’s General Election, I could not do so, because the nationally imposed candidate, who had no previous connection to this constituency, had not supported the Teaching Assistants. Nor had any of the other Labour candidates in County Durham apart from Grahame Morris, whose re-election I therefore enthusiastically encouraged. Here in North West Durham, by contrast, the Liberal Democrat candidate was Owen Temple, a longstanding local councillor and one of the Teaching Assistants’ two greatest champions at County Hall.

So I voted for Owen and I urged others to do so, having voted for Labour’s much-missed Pat Glass in 2015, for the leading local Independent Watts Stelling in 2010 (because of Labour’s all-women shortlist, but I have a huge amount of respect for Pat), for Watts in 2005 (against Hilary Armstrong, because of Iraq), for Labour in 2001 because there was nothing else and because the first Blair term was by no means all bad, and for Labour in 1997 because that was just what my generation did after having come of age under John Major. Hey, even Tariq Ali has voted Lib Dem at a parliamentary election in his time. Although as far as I know, he has never voted Conservative at one. Nor have I. Yet?

I did call for a Labour vote everywhere outside County Durham except at Manchester Gorton, where I supported George Galloway, a man who agrees with everything in the first eight paragraphs of this article, and with whom I also agree on a lot of other things such as abortion, assisted suicide, fathers’ rights, opposition to Scottish and Catalan separatism, the need to control immigration in the trade union interest, and understanding why people voted for Donald Trump even without agreeing with them, although certainly finding Hillary Clinton to have been equally unacceptable. George and I do disagree, too. While I am no Zionist, I accept the simple existence of the State of Israel as a fact of life after four generations of Israelis, and I dislike academic and cultural boycotts as contrary to the nature of scholarship, art and science. He flatly refused to me to fly to Iran, which he knows well and where he is known well, to rescue Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But the agreement between us is vast, and the parliamentary process is poorer for his absence. Still, there is time yet. And he did once say live on air that he would take a seat in the House of Lords if I did.

I have also voted four different ways at my four European Elections: Socialist Labour, Respect, No2EU, and then Labour only in 2014 because the Eurofederalist ultra Stephen Hughes had retired. Who in the Corbyn inner circle, being old enough, has never voted for any of the Socialist Labour Party, Respect, No2EU, or one of the affiliates to the second or third of those?

I am now working with all of the non-Labour members of Durham County Council and with the trade unions, to bring Volkswagen’s production for the British market to County Durham after, or even before, Brexit, and I am more than open to further suggestions along similar lines. As the Member of Parliament for North West Durham, my Westminster office would be a global centre for the broadly based opposition and alternative to neoliberal economic policy and neoconservative foreign policy, strongly asserting that opposition and that alternative as the real centre ground.

I am both a product and a feature of the political pluralism of North West Durham, where Labour holds fewer than half of the County Council seats, the Conservative parliamentary candidate won 34 per cent of the vote last year, the Liberal Democrat candidate cut the Labour majority in half in 2010, and an Independent kept his deposit both in 2005 and in 2010. Wear Valley was controlled for a time by the Liberal Democrats, who remained numerous on it until its abolition. Derwentside was in practice controlled by an alliance between the Independents and that section of the local Labour Party which now supports my parliamentary candidacy; its Leader from that time, Councillor Alex Watson OBE, is one of my Campaign Patrons, as well as being, with Owen Temple, the other great champion of the Teaching Assistants on the County Council. My other Campaign Patron, and again a stalwart of the Teaching Assistants’ campaign, is Davey Ayre, a legendary local trade unionist.

I would appoint an Independent, a Labourite, a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat in each of the County Wards, ideally including at least one person in each of the former District Wards, to work with me and with local people. The price of my support for any Government in the coming hung Parliament would be the necessary support for a number of projects in each of the former District Wards equal to the former number of District Councillors, together with justice for the Teaching Assistants, and together with the implementation of the plan for the rail service in the North of England that was recently advanced by well over 20 local and regional newspapers, most of which have never supported Labour, and only one of which did so last year. And yes, I do mean the price of my support for any Government. Even a Government headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

I need £10,000 in order to stand for Parliament with any chance of winning. My crowdfunding page has been taken down without my knowledge or consent. But you can still email davidaslindsay@hotmail.com instead, and that address accepts PayPal.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

What Has The Monarchy Ever Done For Its Supporters?, by David Lindsay

The monarchy keeps sweet a lot of people who need to be kept sweet. But I am entirely at a loss as to why it has that effect on them. Either the Queen or her equally revered father has signed off on every nationalisation, every aspect of the Welfare State, every retreat from Empire, every loosening of Commonwealth ties, every social liberalisation, every constitutional change, and every EU treaty. If they could not have done otherwise, then why bother having a monarchy? What is it for?

I support public ownership and the Welfare State in principle, even if the practice has often fallen short. The same may be said of decolonisation, as a matter of historical interest. I find some social liberalisations and some constitutional changes a cause for joy, and others a cause for horror. I abhor the EU, and the weakening of the Commonwealth. But this is not about me.

Is it the job of a monarch, if not to acquire territory and subjects, then at least to hold them? If so, then George VI was by far the worst ever British monarch, and quite possibly the worst monarch that the world has ever seen. And is it the job of a British monarch to maintain a Protestant society and culture in the United Kingdom? If so, then no predecessor has ever begun to approach the abject failure of Elizabeth II, a failure so complete that no successor will ever be able to equal it.

For all her undoubted personal piety, I am utterly baffled by the cult of the present Queen among Evangelical Protestants and among those who cleave to a more-or-less 1950s vision of Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism. What has either the monarchy or the Queen ever done for them? During the present reign, Britain has become history’s most secular country, and the White British have become history’s most secular ethnic group, a trend that has been even more marked among those with Protestant backgrounds than it has been among Catholics, of whom I am one.

This has implications for the Windrush debate, and with nine Commonwealth Realms in or on the Caribbean, a fat lot of good being the Queen’s loyal subject has done anyone there. It also has implications for aspects of the debate around the Brexit that I have always supported. If you wanted to preserve and restore a Christian culture in this country, then you would welcome very large numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean, from Africa, and from Eastern Europe.

Tony Benn said that you could have the House of Lords, or you could have Brexit, but you could never have both. He is being proved right. People invest the pre-Blair House of Lords with the mythology with which they also invest the monarchy.

They should snap out of it by joining the call for the lieutenancy areas to be made the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of those areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to six, seven, eight or nine of nine Co-Presidents, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would enfranchise those who inexplicably looked to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or from social liberalism, or from European federalism, or what have you. Like hereditary peers, it has never done any such thing.

Furthermore, if the number of Commons constituencies were indeed to be reduced to 600, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same. The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper; the same would apply to candidates for Co-President.

The Royal Family might relocate to the Canada of Justin Trudeau, who is their kind of politician in a way that neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn ever could be. But the monarchy could continue to exist in Britain, too. If it kept sweet the people who needed to be kept sweet. In a word, liberals.

The Disappointing Jeremy Corbyn, by David Lindsay

We all know what a disappointment Theresa May has turned out to have been. Her purported energy price cap has been scarcely worth mentioning, while there is no sign of workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, or of shareholders’ control over executive pay, or of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, or of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, or of greatly increased housebuilding, or of action against tax avoidance, or of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, or of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, or of a ban on unpaid internships, and of an inquiry into Orgreave.

Instead, we have had the bombing of Syria in the Saudi-backed jihadi interest. It is immaterial whether or not that had parliamentary approval. The wars in Iraq and Libya both had parliamentary approval, but so what? And the emphasis on that technicality, instead of on the wrongness of the bombing itself, points to the fact that, as a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who is not a member of any political party, he, too, has given me some cause for disappointment.

He has overlooked his supporters by appointing his enemies to frontbench and other positions. He permitted a free vote on Syria. He whipped an abstention on Trident. He has never brought the arming of the Saudi war in Yemen back to the floor of the House of Commons for another vote. He has failed to make the trip to Iran that would certainly secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, thereby making it highly unlikely that Abbas Edelat would have been arrested, either.

Corbyn’s housing and transport policies go nowhere near far enough. He supports the Government’s indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification. He sides with neoliberal capitalism on the issues of drugs and prostitution. He has hinted at support for the Customs Union, which, in a crowded field, has a reasonable claim to be the worst of all the many bad things about the EU. He has accepted some of the Government’s baseless and collapsed claims about Salisbury and Douma. He has acted against the social and ethnic cleansing of Labour Haringey, but not to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants in Labour Durham.

Corbyn has met the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council without having waited for the local election results in London to establish whether or not they spoke for anyone very much at all. He has failed to prevent the Labour Party from suspending or expelling distinguished Jewish activists for purported anti-Semitism. And now, under Corbyn’s Leadership, Labour has expelled Marc Wadsworth, the man who introduced Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela.

It has done so on the say-so of one Ruth Smeeth, who is notable for nothing apart from having made an allegation of anti-Semitism against Wadsworth, an allegation that she has since withdrawn. Yet she and some 50 other white MPs marched through the streets to demand his expulsion, in a scene reminiscent of a lynching. They all remain members of the Labour Party, as does Tony Blair of Iraq infamy, yet Wadsworth is expelled for having “brought the party into disrepute”. If Labour has not done all that well after all in the London local elections, then this will have been the reason why. Whether or not those MPs know who Wadsworth is, or why he matters, an awful lot of otherwise Labour-inclined London voters do.

Like many people, I yearn for Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. But we must reserve the right to pursue that electoral objective outside the Labour Party.

This article originally appeared in OffGuardian.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Questions To Laura Pidcock MP, by David Lindsay

The following purely journalistic piece was sent on Monday as a letter to the Northern Echo, to the Morning Star and to The Guardian. I have not had sight of the Star this week, due to a combination of the snow and waiting for the gasman. But it has certainly appeared in neither of the others. So here it is. The Lanchester Review offers Laura Pidcock MP the right of reply:

Dear Sir,

With others, my name has appeared alongside that of George Galloway on your letters page in the past. Mr Galloway has become an enthusiastic supporter of my recently elected MP, Laura Pidcock. I therefore pose these questions, to ascertain whether or not Ms Pidcock agrees with Mr Galloway.

Does Laura Pidcock support justice for those 472 of Durham County Council’s Teaching Assistants who have lost 23 per cent of their pay? Does she advocate and practise crossparty friendship? Would she appear regularly on a Murdoch-owned radio station, and write for the Mail newspapers? Would she answer “No” to the question, “Are you a Marxist?” Is she opposed to Scottish independence? Does she advocate a vote for Sinn Féin on both sides of the Irish Border? Would she hand over the Falkland Islands to Argentina?

Is Laura Pidcock in favour of much tighter immigration controls? Would she describe anthropogenic global warming as “a tall tale”? Would she not have voted either for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton? Would she welcome a State Visit by President Trump, as it would be met by the largest demonstrations in British history?

Does Laura Pidcock support a legal presumption of equal parenting, and does she support Fathers 4 Justice as an organisation? Is she totally opposed both to abortion and to assisted suicide? Is she strongly opposed to the legalisation of drugs, to prostitution, to pornography, and to the lap-dancing clubs that have been an issue in this constituency in the past? And does she reject the idea that gender is a matter of self-identification?

Is she does in fact hold those views on drugs, on the sex industry, and on gender identity, then, while Laura Pidcock agrees with George Galloway, she disagrees with Owen Jones, who recently proclaimed her a potential Prime Minister.

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay