Category Archives: UK politics

UK election: vote Labour and SNP to stop the Tories

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Tomorrow’s general election in the UK will have an impact beyond the narrowing borders of the growing white nationalist parochialism that has infected Britain from left to right.

A Tory victory would be a disaster, contributing to more instability and devastation in the global South, through wars, dodgy deals, and rapacious moves to protect British multinationals’ investment.

Theresa May is the European counterpart of her close ally, Donald Trump: erratic, careless, fascist and racist. Neither of them can stand their ground when challenged in conversations lasting more than two minutes.

May brings together the worst of white nationalism with the worst of neoliberal austerity. Her government would aggravate the epidemic of militant racism and hate crimes that has been spreading in Britain for some time now.

In England and Wales, the most viable alternative to the Tories is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. What they offer is inadequate and their agenda has significantly turned right, especially on migration and security.

But Corbyn would be a much better counterpart to soften the Brexit deal. His anti-war credentials will at least ensure that he won’t do anything rash to inflame an already explosive situation in the Middle East and North Africa. The Labour manifesto also mentions decisive action on tax havens, where British banks play a huge role and help Western corporations and rich individuals pillage Africa’s wealth.

In the seats where Greens have a chance, it will be important to support them and have their voice represented in parliament.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is the best bet. Unlike Labour, they have not betrayed their pro-migrant, anti-Brexit stance. Their push for an independent Scotland within the EU makes more sense than Brexit Britain going far right.

Labour’s spectacular come back in the polls means that it is possible that the Tories will lose their majority in the House of Commons. An even better outcome would be if Labour, SNP, Greens and others will have the numbers to form an anti-Tory coalition government. A lot will depend on whether young people, who are overwhelmingly anti-Tory, will show up in numbers at the ballot box.

If you have the right to vote in Britain, make sure you vote to stop the Tories.

We are all Helen Zille. Or, why the West thinks that colonialism was not all bad

Check out my latest piece in Africa Is A Country on South African prominent white politician Helen Zille’s tweets in defence of colonialism. I talk about southern African whites and Western scholars’ involvement in spreading ideas about Western superiority.

Here is an extract:

“The end of colonialism, apartheid and Jim Crow have marked the global rise of liberal racism – what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls ‘racism without racists’. Even when we do not openly endorse colonialism like Zille does, our works are filled with strategic silences, omissions and erasures that continue to sustain ideas of Western superiority.”

 

 

“It’s Tony Blair’s fault…”

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An imaginary conversation with the Labour leadership.

Me: “Was it right to push your MPs to vote for Brexit with no conditions attached? None of your amendments have passed, aren’t you just handing Britain on a platter to the anti-migrant ultra-nationalist vision of Theresa May?”

Labour leadership: “It’s all Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “What about your defeat to the Tories in Copeland in the recent by-election? Sure, Labour’s decline has been there for a while, but you held that seat since 1935, Tories went up dramatically, UKIP wasn’t really a threat…”.

L: “It’s the Blairites’ fault”.

Me: “You did win in Stoke, does that mean that the Blairites help you win Stoke? Given that they are to blame for Copeland…”

L: “It’s a sign of the great victory of the working classes led by Jeremy Corbyn and a new radical agenda, it will be a socialist revolution, Stoke is the proof”.

Me: “Yet, despite all the door-to-door campaigning, of course it was a by-election, but the turnout was still pretty low, and even if one looks at the vote shares compared to 2015, you lost two points, and UKIP and Tories went up a few points…”

L: “It’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “The Blairites have caused great damage to the party, and they will do everything they can to oust Corbyn, but are you going to take responsibility for the mistakes done since you took over the leadership? And isn’t the fact that you are still claiming to be ineffectual because of the Blairites a clear sign of failure on your side as well?”

L: “It’s the Blairites’ fault, they are here to get us, no matter what”.

Me: “Was McDonnell’s latest message to Labour members the best response to the Copeland defeat? I mean, what kind of message are you giving to your base by focusing only on the conspiracy of the Blairites and the Murdoch media to get you? Isn’t this just another bit of exaggerated one-way propaganda with no hopeful content about what you are offering, what you are about?”

L: “You said it, it’s a conspiracy, it’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “Do you think it is wise to pander to rampant right wing nationalism and abandon solidarity with migrants? Doesn’t this betray your socialist internationalist principles? Doesn’t it push you dangerously close to May’s rhetoric and the far right?”

L: “These are minor issues, now we have to respect people’s will – they want migrants out, you know – but we will reopen the borders later, we are absolutely committed to open borders. We have the opportunity to bring about a socialist democracy in Britain, it’s just around the corner, we can’t be let down by these sterile debates. We condemn hate and racism against migrants and people of colour, always…

Me: “You mean like David Cameron and Theresa May…”

L: “… and anyway, it’s Tony Blair’s fault”.

Me: “I find it interesting that despite the vitriolic anti-Blairite rhetoric, you are actually finding common ground with the old guard on anti-immigration policies. Tom Watson recently proposed an apartheid-style system of internal controls for migrants, he said it’s currently being debated within Labour.”

L: “I have no time for you, the revolution is waiting. Bye”.

United against Trump

Donald Trump

The poor showing at Trump’s inauguration, and the massive turnout at the Women’s Marches, together with Trump’s popular vote defeat by nearly 3 million votes, prove that chasing Trump supporters is not only ethically problematic, but also strategically wrong. Trump did not win. He got into power thanks to the increasing fragmentation and disunity of its opposition, caused in no minor part by decades of neoliberalism and its co-option of large sections of the left.

The way to fight Trump and the rise of Euro-American fascism is unity, that much is clear.  We need a vision that rejects the unbridled rule of corporations and imperialist states over people’s lives, and the systemic racism and sexism that underpins the current world order. We should strive for models that preserve the planet from the threat of climate change, and stop the pillaging of natural resources and destruction of local livelihoods carried out to fuel an unsustainable and unequal global economy.

We should build on the contribution of queer, feminist and Black activists that showed us that this movement can only be intersectional, taking into account how all forms of oppression and discrimination interact with each other in complex and non-obvious ways. Class is not a primary reality of capital that precedes all other identities, rather it intersects with them in a non-hierarchical fashion. But disagreement with those who continue to believe in the “primacy of class” should not lead to disunity in struggle. We can work together and map a common ground. 

We are led by those who have borne the worst effects of centuries of exploitation and discrimination, well before aggressive neoliberalism eroded the livelihoods of the Western middle classes: people of colour, queer and non-binary people, women, migrants, refugees, indigenous people, people with disabilities, low-income and precarious workers, the unemployed and the underemployed, and other oppressed groups, in no hierarchical order.

We should engage in tough and frank dialogue with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They have in different ways softened their stances against nationalist and racist arguments for economic protectionism, in the hope that a compromise would be possible to steer some of the voters who support Trump and the far right towards a progressive alternative. Sanders and Corbyn are mistaken, but we want them to understand this, reverse their positions, and contribute to the emerging anti-Trump movement.

There are a few things we don’t need to do: we don’t need to empathise with Trump supporters and far right voters in Europe; we don’t need to reach to them; we don’t need to give more airtime to their views. It’s up to us. We can claim the democratic right to express our firm rejection of xenophobic and racist nationalism, or let people like Trump and Farage call the shots. We don’t need their voters to win in the ballot box, but they will be welcome if and when they realise they were wrong.

In the world we want to live in, there is space for everybody, including those who voted for Trump. Like everybody else, they will benefit from the progressive policies and collective actions we will deploy in the fight against Trump and his allies.

Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Blair and Bush’s war in Iraq

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Today Sir John Chilcot released his report on the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath (you can download the report here). He summarised his findings in a televised speech (available here). report on the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath – the report is now available online. The very first impression from Chilcot’s statement is that the findings are damning for the US-led coalition that decided to invade Iraq, and particularly Tony Blair, whose actions were at the centre of the British inquiry.

The report expresses major doubts over the legality of the intervention, and it makes it clear that military intervention at that stage was not necessary. The strategy of containment as per UN Security Council resolution 1441 could have continued for some time – Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was given the option to disarm under international monitoring. Blair and Bush went to war before all options for peaceful resolution were exhausted.

The intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used by Blair to justify the war was flawed, and Tony Blair and his government did not challenge it, as they should have. Tony Blair was warned of the risks of increased terrorist activity, internal strife and regional insecurity posed by a military intervention, but he did not make effective plans for a peaceful and viable post-conflict strategy.

Although it comes several years after the fact – the inquiry was set up in 2009 – this remains a major indictment on an event in world history that continues to affect the global current state of affairs. Several hundreds of thousands of civilians died in Iraq since the invasion, and many more were displaced. Soldiers on both sides also died for an unjust an unjustified war.

The report gives some hope at a time when similar mistakes are being repeated over and over again in Syria and the Middle East, and increasing militarisation across the globe is fuelling deaths, unrest and instability.

De-escalating existing conflicts and pushing for a concerted effort to re-establish world peace remains the key priority of our age. The grave mistakes of the Iraq War clearly show that peace cannot be delivered through war and conflict.

UK should Remain in the EU to stop the global advance of the far right

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Tomorrow the British will go to the polls to decide whether UK should stay within the European Union or not. I truly hope that the majority will vote to Remain.

Whatever the final result, the referendum debate has shown there is a worrying rise of xenophobia across all sectors of British society, in a country where migrants have always been welcomed and that has featured among the most cosmopolitan in the world. Many on the Leave side have openly campaigned against migrants and for national chauvinism, spreading incorrect information and unfounded arguments to fuel hate and resentment.

Even more worrying, the debate on immigration around the EU referendum saw many on the left opening the way for the legitimisation of the widespread resentment against migrants. Several prominent figures – including union leaders, intellectuals and Labour party members – have stressed the need for “controlled immigration” and the protection of British workers vis-a-vis all other workers.

Admirably, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his principles and insisted on his pro-immigration stance. The priority should be solidarity across all those hit by the crisis to fight the devastations of neoliberalism and austerity. Migrants are a convenient scapegoat to divert the public’s attention from the real cause of their plight: the drastic reduction of state welfare, widespread privatisations and a wholesale attack on workers’ rights.

Other sectors of the radical left have maintained their commitment to internationalism and inclusion, but campaigned for Leave, hoping that a Leave victory would open a crisis within the Tories from which the left might emerge victorious. Like sectors of the Sanders’ base in the US, and leftists across Europe, they are unwittingly paving the way for the rise of the far right, in the hope that this pragmatic short-term convergence of interests will topple neoliberal technocracy and lead to systemic change.

The reality is that the Tory right and the far right UKIP are much better positioned to capitalise on UK exiting the EU, and they have been the real protagonists of the Leave campaign. Brexit would be one major step towards a global advance of far right populism. It could be followed by a Trump victory in the US presidential election in November, a Le Pen victory in the 2017 French presidential elections, and a victory of the left/right populist 5 Star movement in Italy in 2018.

The EU is in deep crisis and British PM Cameron’s EU deal means that if Britain votes to Remain, the way will be opened for a technocratic curtailing of freedom of movement – all member countries would be allowed to put a temporary break on migration from other EU countries, if they can prove that their state budgets are under substantial pressure. This would be no victory either. But handing the UK to a right-wing alliance that thrives on hate and xenophobia is undoubtedly far worse.

My top 5 trends of 2015 – and some predictions for 2016

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With best wishes for a healthy and productive 2016!

1 – WHITE PRIVILEGE UNDER ATTACK

Debates and struggles around race have taken centre-stage in 2015, with an intensity reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s struggles around civil rights and black power in the US, and the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in 1970s and 1980s in South Africa.

Episodes of blatant racial discrimination and police brutality against black people have been uncovered and exposed like never before in the US. But the debate radically shifted when these concerns have been brought at the heart of the ideological centres of white privilege: wealthy universities in global centres of capital. In April, South African students obtained the removal of the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town. In October, university students joined mass protests to widen access to higher education and radically transform historically white universities in decolonised places of learning.

Race was also at the centre of various protests erupted across the US towards the end of the year. Finally, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford is gaining momentum, calling for the removal of a Rhodes statue in Oriel College. The struggle is about much more than a sculpture. The movement wants to open a debate about the legacy of colonialism in Britain, a history that the country has never faced up to in the way Germany and Italy had to deal with the horrors of fascist dictatorships.

It is just the beginning. These struggles are likely to intensify in 2016. Predictions about outcomes would be premature, but there is no doubt that once the issue is on the table, it won’t disappear quite as easily as it resurfaced after decades of denial.

2 – THE BRUTALITY OF GLOBAL WARS, CLOSED BORDERS AND UNEQUAL DEVELOPMENT

The refugee crisis clearly exposed the injustices and violence of the global capitalist system, with razor wire fences erected across Europe uncannily evoking the dark past of Nazi concentration camps. We’ve been hit by a constant stream of news reporting thousands of deaths of refugees fleeing their homes in the Middle East and other parts of Asia and Africa. The Mediterranean Sea is now the geographic symbol of the catastrophe.

Europe has been at the forefront of waging war and producing mass deaths and displacement in the Middle East and elsewhere, but reacted in brutal self-defence when it came to help those in need. A pan-European wave of xenophobic nationalism dictated policy, with border closures resulting in the killing of people desperately searching for safety. A few decades from now, this will be remembered as another genocide by Europeans on people outside their borders marked as cultural and racial others.

In 2015 the idea that Europeans should “come first” in Europe has regained legitimacy for the first time since the conscious rejection of racism in the aftermath of WWII. Far right populist movements are advancing nearly everywhere in Europe – a case in point is the Front National becoming first party in France in the regional elections in early December. Meanwhile, many left-wing leaders and cynical technocrats try to counter xenophobic revolts by giving in to their demands.

More war in the Middle East is justified by ill-conceived plans to quash the much feared Islamic State, an enemy that nobody really understands or knows how to fight. War is used as a diversion to prop up technocratic governments about to be swallowed by the rise of the far right.

The crisis is likely to intensify. We should expect more border closures and more wars. Large parts of the globe are entering a state of semi-permanent conflict, fuelled by the declining hegemony of a Western bloc that is unwilling to accept that its time in history has passed. Within Europe and the US, xenophobic nationalism and white supremacy will continue to rise among the middle classes, turning renegade ideologies into acceptable mainstream.

3 – THE END OF AFRICA’S LONG-LIVED COMMODITY BOOM

The African continent has been hard hit by the slow down of the global commodity markets, caused by an ongoing oil war between US and OPEC, declining growth in China, and the lack of a strong recovery in Europe and the US.

After a boom that lasted more than a decade across Africa, the harsh reality is laid bare. High growth levels have not been accompanied by strong infrastructure development and investment in key public goods like health and education. Profits ended in the hands of multinational capital and tiny local elites. States acted as cartels owned by a few multinationals, and negotiated unfavourable deals with various foreign superpowers.

In 2016 the full weight of the economic downturn will unfold, and the convergence of multiple crises – political, economic, social and environmental – is likely to bring major waves of mass unrest across the continent, and more instability in areas already marred by civil conflict and war.

The key issue for African governments, foreign investors and development agencies will be how to deal with masses of discontented and hungry people, calling for radical change and immediate action to address their suffering.

4 – THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NEW LEFT (BUT THERE’S STILL SOME HOPE)

Aside from the refugee crisis, in Europe 2015 was the year the rule of technocracy came under attack by popular anti-austerity movements. Greek people led the charge, with the historic election victory in January of Syriza, running on an anti-austerity left agenda.

Pressed into a corner by international creditors who punished Greece for its refusal to comply, Syriza’s leader and Greek PM Tsipras did his best to deflate one of the most promising anti-austerity movements in recent times. He betrayed the mandate of the January election, and of a national referendum in July that saw a landslide “no” vote against the draconian bailout terms offered by Brussels. With Tsipras’ approval, the much hated bailout was imposed over Greece.

After fresh elections in September, Syriza completed its transformation into a centrist formation talking left and walking right. The new government enforced the worst bailout conditions in the history of Greece, passing laws stripping the country of its assets, imposing further cuts to an already crumbling welfare state, and diminishing protection for home owners unable to pay their mortgages. Harsh pension and labour market reforms are yet to come.

Tsipras’ U-turn had a devastating effect on the morale and prospects of new left movements across Europe, especially in southern countries. New anti-austerity left movement Podemos in Spain did well in the December general election, but lowered expectations by reiterating their support for Tsipras’ transition from radical leftist to austerity technocrat. In Portugal, a shaky alliance between pro-austerity centre-left and the anti-austerity left came to power a few weeks ago, and is already showing major signs of crisis.

A hopeful counterpoint to Syriza’s disappointing trajectory was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour leader in September. He is in favour of wealth redistribution from corporations and the upper-middle classes to the vast majority of people, and opposes a senseless and costly British war in Syria. His popular policy positions have made him into the main target of attacks by mainstream politicians and big capital. His worst enemies sit in his own party: the ever-green Blairites have no consensus among the wider public, but continue to occupy some of the most influential positions within Labour.

Despite the challenges, there’s still some hope for the European left. 2016 will be the year when new left movements will show their true worth. Corbyn is heading towards a stand-off with the Blairites; the popular anti-technocracy former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis will launch his own pan-European movement to “democratise the EU”; and Podemos might be able to gain ground with the strategic openings offered by the Spanish political crisis opened by an indecisive election.

We will see whether a new brand of left populism will be able to rally mass discontent against technocracy, and counter the advance of the far right. If Corbyn and Podemos end up like Tsipras, it could be a deadly blow for a viable left alternative to the devastating mix of austerity and war imposed by European technocrats.

5 – BASIC INCOME HITS THE MAINSTREAM

If 2014 was the year of inequality – remember Piketty? – 2015 was marked by the increasing realisation that unemployment and precarious work have become a permanent feature of the current capitalist system. With stuttering growth across the global North, the few countries that are experiencing significant GDP expansion like Britain and Spain have seen no improvement for the vast majority of people. In the global South, there is a growing awareness that there is no magical “trickle down” effect that will lift people out of poverty.

Basic income was until recently a niche concept developed in the 1980s by a small group of enlightened philosophers and political scientists with the rare gift of foresight. In 2015 it hit the mainstream, raising hopes across many quarters that it could become an effective policy tool to counter the structural decline of formal employment across the globe. In its “pure” form, a basic income is a grant given to everybody for life, should cover the basics for decent living, and comes with no conditions attached – it’s not means-tested, and you receive it even if you are not unemployed, or you don’t fit in other conventional categories of welfare recipients like children or the elderly.

In practice, the increasing attention by mainstream political parties and technocrats means that the concept has already been changed and adapted to suit disparate agendas, and sometimes conflicting views of the economy. The right likes the idea as a potential quick fix to escalating welfare costs, i.e. give everybody a low basic income, and cut all other benefits. Sections of the left which are more attuned to the changing configurations of capitalism, see it as a necessary measure to guarantee livelihoods and individual freedom in a world marked by exploitative work and rising unemployment.

Europe is leading the conversation: a national basic income pilot was announced by the new centre-right government in Finland; the possibility of city-level experiments is under discussion in several Dutch municipalities; and a national referendum in Switzerland will be held in June 2016, when Swiss people will decide whether an unconditional basic income should be enshrined in the federal constitution.

The debate has also advanced further elsewhere, with Namibia leading the flock in the global South: after a successful pilot carried out between 2008 and 2009, the government has unleashed new plans for some form of basic income grant rolled out at national level as part of an ambitious poverty eradication strategy.

2016 will no doubt puts to the test the potential of this far-reaching measure and its nascent grassroots movement of supporters. With enthusiastic endorsements across the political spectrum, from the free market libertarians of the Adam Smith Institute, to left-leaning thinker and activist David Graeber, the idea has the potential to explode in a global social movement with mass support. It catches the public imagination with its visionary simplicity and pragmatism, and could become one of the essential tools to counter poverty, and free up human resources and social creativity at a time of deep material and existential crisis.