Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit As Repoliticised Politics, by Matthew Cooper

What a morning to wake up to in Saint Paul!

Not only do we have the news that fifty-two per cent of Britons have voted to leave the European Union, but also that David Cameron is tendering his resignation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by the first result. I was – pleasantly so.

And I’d also be lying if I said Cameron’s resignation as PM didn’t make that surprise all the sweeter.

This is indeed a watershed moment, but not for the reasons the politicians most concerned are wont to claim.

For example: pace Nigel Farage, Brexit was not – and never was – a referendum on immigration policy. 

Regardless of the strong presence of an anti-immigration element among the Leave campaign organisers, whether Britain stays in or withdraws from the European Union will have absolutely no immediate impact on the levels of immigration from non-EU members such as Syria. 

It will not do to say that the current vote heralds a hostile, racist or xenophobic stance toward – as the more hysterical of the Remain camp have begun to claim – either Britain’s non-white populace or foreign nationals who are already living and working there. 

Still less does it mean a return to British imperium or pre-WWI economic power. 

It is actually rather comical that UKIP are now seeking ‘free trade’ with the European Union after going directly afoul of the banksters who run it, but that goes somewhat to show how out-of-touch they were with the ramifications of their own campaign.

Likewise, pace Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Jo Rowling and the other doomsayers in Remain, Brexit is not, and should not be taken as, a referendum on Scotland’s standing within the United Kingdom. 

However, Brexit may end up making it the case that within Britain regional concerns will take on far greater importance. 

The reason for this, is that Brexit was in fact a moment at which the same phenomenon which lifted Jeremy Corbyn to power, was voted on by the British general public and influenced the course of the entire United Kingdom. 

Corbyn was elected to his current seat as the head of the Labour Party on two principles: that policy matters more than narrative, and that the same impersonal market forces and bureaucracies which have emptied politics of its content do not need to dictate those same politics. 

Dr Wang Hui – professor of literature at Tsinghua University and leading scholar of the Chinese New Left – coined a phrase which he used extensively in his book on Chinese modernity, The End of the Revolution: ‘depoliticised politics’. 

In his case, he used it to refer to the formal dominance of the Chinese Communist Party in Chinese political life, whilst at the same time the content of politics was emptied of all its former meaning and a naked neoliberal logic of markets was used to fill the void. 

The collective action of human beings – as in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – was barred from consideration as a force for change. 

Although no single party rules the European Parliament in the same way the CCP rules China, it is still the case that the European Union project represents this same kind of depoliticisation of politics. 

Collective action and organisation at the local or national level are ignored in favour of a faceless and democratically-unaccountable technocracy operating out of Brussels: the Commission, the Central Bank and the IMF.

This technocracy justifies itself in exactly the same way, it should be noted, as the Chinese Communist Party after Deng Xiaoping has justified itself: without us, there will be no growth, no good times, no economic stability. 

Britain has now delivered a stunning popular rebuke, both to the argument that they need the European Troika and the technocratic structure it represents, and to the underlying principle that the collective action of people at the grassroots is subservient and subject to neoliberal market logic – the latter of which would have dictated that British people stay in the Union out of pure consumeristic self-interest.

Without denying that some degree of this rebuke was issued for less-than-admirable reasons – to wit, the reasons of nativism, xenophobia, nostalgia for Empire – the end result is something which ought to be cheered by the Left at large.

Brexit is at its core a ‘repoliticised politics’, a statement that Thatcher was wrong – there is an alternative to neoliberalism, and a different kind of statecraft is indeed possible.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day, by David Lindsay

Only 35 years ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened.

But it has indeed happened. And it is still going on.

If fathers matter, then they must face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

A legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit was being paid to mothers.

Restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father.

Repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed.

And paternity leave available at any time until the child was 18 or left school, thereby reasserting paternal authority, and thus requiring paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence.

Of course a new baby needs her mother. But a 15-year-old might very well need her father, and that bit of paternity leave that he had been owed these last 15 years.

That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver.

That basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need.

Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community.

So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

Moreover, paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. 

Especially, though not exclusively, since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm.

Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children.

You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle.

You cannot do both.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Scandal of the Durham Teaching Assistants, by David Lindsay

I have given up trying to pitch these 500 words, or even just the story behind them, to what might have been expected to have been sympathetic outlets, and I am rather inclined to name names:

On 31st December, Durham County Council intends to sack all 2700 of its Teaching Assistants, 94 per cent of whom are women. On 1st January, it intends to rehire them all on a 25 per cent pay cut. It would then be paying its Teaching Assistants less than any other authority in the country.

There is no point blaming "the Tories". There are only four of those on Durham County Council, and they abstained. The Independents and the Liberal Democrats voted against this, while a huge number of Labour members absented themselves.

Just enough, in fact, for this measure to be passed by a majority of one. Even those of us who grew up around such things can still be taken aback when we see the game played with quite that level of ruthlessness and cynicism.

No authority is doing this apart from one that has been massively Labour-dominated since before living memory. Something similar has been successfully averted in Conservative-controlled Barnet.

The blame and the shame are those of the shiny-suited, management-speaking throwbacks who still control the Labour Group at County Hall, Durham.

No, Teaching Assistants are not "paid for the holidays". They never have been. In relatively recent decades, they have been paid in the holidays, because before that they used to sign on outside the school terms.

The decision was then taken to divide their term-time wage by 12 and to pay it monthly. That, and that alone, remains the situation. Cutting that rate of pay by 25 per cent, therefore, would take it below the national minimum wage.

Neil Kinnock once disowned a Labour council from the platform of a Labour Party Conference, in the presence of that council's leading figures.

When he addresses the Durham Miners' Gala next month, Jeremy Corbyn needs to denounce the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – scuttling round a county, handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

The Teaching Assistants, whose cause is fully supported by the Durham Miners' Association (which is still active in welfare and campaigning, as well as in organising the Gala), will march on that day, Saturday 9th July. I for one will march with them.

As should you, if you are at all able. Over any distance, I can barely walk. But I will be marching for two miles, and every local Labour grandee on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel can tell Corbyn why we are marching.

Then, next May, every councillor who voted for this needs to lose his or her seat. And with it, the allowance that was increased in the same week as this vicious measure was approved. [At £13,300, even the basic allowance was already higher than many Teaching Assistants were paid even before this cut.]

I know many of them. I have known some of them for decades, by no means only through politics. But politics is what this is, and none of them will lose their homes when they lose their allowances. Whereas many Teaching Assistants are on the brink of losing their homes.

Follow @ta_hltaUK on Twitter, and the #ValueUs hashtag.