Wednesday, 15 July 2015

600 Years of Syon Abbey 1415-2015

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Two exciting local events organised and promoted by the local community to celebrate 600 years of Syon Abbey:


An open-air ecumenical celebration of the 600th Anniversary of the Foundation of Syon Abbey in 1415

All are welcome to join in celebrating this important and historical occasion.

Hosted by His Grace
The Duke of Northumberland
Led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Sunday 19th July 2015 from 3.00 to 3.45pm

The site will be open from 2.00 to 5.00pm. Music from 2.15pm

Medieval recital by candlelight

‘From Magna Carta to Agincourt:
Music from England 1215-1415’

The Lovekyn Consort present a selection of songs and instrumental music from the period reflecting themes of devotion, disillusionment, love of nature and political loyalty from Medieval England, using voice and copies of Medieval harp and flute.


Sophie Brumfitt Maisey – Soprano
William Summers – Medieval Flute
Mike Parker – Medieval Harps

St. Bridget’s Church, Memorial Square
Twickenham Road, Isleworth TW7 6DL

Thursday 23rd July 2015 – 8.00pm

The Pain in Spain

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I’m currently somewhere in the middle of the second of two summer holidays, having spent last week with Caroline at Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight. This week I’m at the Infiniti Beach Resort at Vera Playa in Spain’s Almeria province with my daughter Rosie, having been wrongly informed that there was no availability at my preferred port of call – the Clube Praia da Oura in Portugal, my regular Iberian haunt.

No matter, IBR is a beautiful place – a quaint holiday village a few hundred yards from the wide and relatively unpopulated beach at Vera. The resort itself is tiny by comparison with CPO – the apartments are to a similar standard but boasting two medium-sized pools and a small bar/restaurant which closes at 9pm, in contrast to CPO’s bustling portfolio of facilities and activities, pool parties, ballroom dancing and big screens.

The town itself reminds one a little of the Mid West, at least the one of popular televisual mythology. Wide streets and hazy, arid horizons overshadow bars and small stores which spill out onto the road. Trading and social interaction, mostly indigenous but some of it English, combine to lend character to Vera which is quite unlike anything I have experienced in the course of my admittedly limited travels.

But my short Spanish adventure has been hampered by the advent of a debilitating malady which began to afflict me during the latter days of my Isle of Wight holiday but which has asserted itself with a vengeance over here. Attempts to self-diagnose have thrown up such options as sciatica, proformis syndrome and a slipped disc, but whatever it is it is damned painful, and make attempts to walk even the few hundred yards to the beach or into town a real ordeal, and a thing to be dreaded whenever I contemplate a move, no matter how slight or unambitious, from the settee in my apartment.

Perversely, it has also made me consider how lucky I am that my pain is not (I hope) permanent – that I can, usually, walk good distances without pain in spite of advancing years. It has forced me to remember that for many, pain is a regular fact of life and that not having to endure it is a privilege, not a right.

Sometimes it takes a little suffering of our own to enable us to understand the much greater suffering that others have to put up with in their lives. I hope I will remember Vera Playa for the pool and the palm trees, the beach and the bars, and not for the itinerant pain which travels with impunity from my hip to the base of my spine and back again, stopping to rest at various points in-between. The doctor will tell me more, I hope, when I get to see him on Monday.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Red, Green or Something In-Between?

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It is now just over four weeks since I launched the Facebook group Forum for Progressive Action, since which time it has steadily developed into a highly active - and interactive - resource for some 230+ participants. Whilst quality over quantity remains the watchword, not a day passes without useful new contributors being added to the roll.

What has already become clear is that one of the great debates that is developing revolves around the nature of today's left (a convenient generic term with which I do not necessarily myself identify). Specifically, whether the progressive Green/SNP/Plaid vision which made itself known for the first time to so many of the uninitiated in the build-up to the recent general election is the real deal, or whether the future lies in a rallying of the masses to the more "traditional" left.

I say one of the great debates, of course, because this discourse cannot be separated from the question of whether the long-term future for progressive politics lies within or without the Labour Party. This is particularly so right now within the context of the Labour leadership challenge from Jeremy Corbyn. At the very least the sense of resigned inevitability that has accompanied the otherwise apparent consensus that the future of the party lies in an even further shift to the right has been stalled by this event, although Corbyn's equally inevitable rejection by the party through fair means or foul is likely only to emphasise the point when it happens.

One senses a soreness amongst some stalwarts of the socialist tradition towards the "Johnny Come Lately" leftists of the Scottish National Party, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru. Certainly what unites all of these parties is that the wider public knows them best for other things - in the case of the Greens for their environmentalism, and of the SNP and Plaid for their respective advocacy of Scottish and Welsh independence. Whilst these are themes which need not contradict a left-wing political perspective, it is undoubtedly true that they are not necessarily exclusive to same and could equally be embraced by people of a centrist or even right-wing disposition. Thus the fear is that for adherents of what I will hereafter lazily refer to as the new left, progressive politics is merely additional ballast to a worldview formed around other priorities.


The attraction of the new left lies in its potential to turn progressive politics into a mass movement around an identifiable party banner. This has certainly been so in Scotland, where the SNP took 56 out of a total of 59 parliamentary seats on an openly left-of-Labour, anti-austerity platform to which its traditional theme of Scottish independence was successfully subordinated. Whilst the Greens only managed to hold onto their one Westminster seat the party's vote share increased enormously and one senses that it is just a few years of experience and training in the harsh truths of realpolitik away from a real breakthrough.

By contrast the old left has never demonstrated the ability to form a viable party capable of sustaining mass appeal. Certainly when it comes to individual causes it has been able to turn out the bodies - nuclear disarmament, the anti-racist and anti-fascist rallies of the 1970s, the Poll Tax demos and the protests against the invasion of Iraq to name just a few. But politically that opposition to the system has been fragmented between the Labour entryists and exitists, and between the plethora of left groups which themselves exist outside of the Labour Party, and then liberally spread like watered-down butter throughout 650 constituencies around the UK in a way that renders any prospect of political power via the parliamentary road improbable to put it politely. The one party that has managed momentarily to buck the trend, Respect, has been far too focused around one man, in one place and at one time to offer any lasting threat to the established order.

The old left argues, not without some justification, that there are some distinctly unleftish aspects to the wider politics of the new kids on the progressive block. The Greens' desire to protect the Green Belt could be seen as running contrary to the notion of a widespread building program as a remedy to the housing crisis. Scottish and Welsh nationalism is, well, nationalism, which belies the internationalism of classic socialist doctrine.

Add to this the ovine tribalism of that significant section of progressive opinion - if one still accepts it as such - which places organisational allegiance, even to a right-wing and neoliberal party, above ideology or political principle and even in broad terms what is loosely thought of as one movement would seem irreparably divided into three distinct camps.

Under the circumstances the prospects for political unity, in the sense of bringing progressives together under one organisational roof, appear remote. Furthermore, unless the issues of fundamental import which divide progressives can be resolved it is questionable whether such a unity would even be desirable.

What can and must be achieved however is the kind of unity which allows progressive opinion to act in unison whenever a wider interest is served. On the streets, when the occasion demands, this is already happening. Witness last weekend's anti-austerity protests in London and elsewhere.

The task of unaligned progressives is to harness united action around a defined list of points of agreement - areas where all of us see things the same way and from which some mutual benefit may be derived from working together. If nothing else this should be the task for the duration of this parliament.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Let's Organise and Co-ordinate Progressive Action

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I’ve left it for a couple of weeks or so to comment on the result of the general election as it is always helpful to wait for the dust to settle before trying to acquire a clear view.

For starters let us say I got it wrong – but with YouGov, MORI, ComRes, the whole of the world’s media and most inside political opinion I was in pretty good company. I still maintain that a Lab-LD coalition would have been the outcome had the numbers stacked up differently, but with the Tory overall majority that is just so much history and speculation. Probably we will never know.

As seems to be the norm these days when serious parties lose elections their leaders fall instantly upon their swords. There was the Clegg resignation and the Miliband resignation, the Farage resignation and then the Farage unresignation. The expected SNP landslide in Scotland did indeed materialise, UKIP and the Greens are left ruing the inequities of First Past the Post as the millions of votes they attracted between them earned them one solitary seat apiece. The Lib Dems now are not only unable to claim third party status but can only with a certain stretch of the imagination profess to be Britain’s fourth party, having been soundly beaten by UKIP in terms of votes and boasting fewer members than the Greens and only the same number of parliamentary seats as the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile David Cameron will by now have unpacked the furniture at No.10 once again, while the new member for Uxbridge takes a look around and makes notes.


That the Lib Dems will come back some in the fullness of time from their 8-seat nadir is in little doubt. British politics needs a viable, UK-wide third party. But the big issue of the day is wherein lies the future for the Labour Party, which was second to the Conservatives by a massive 99 seats, not only leaving the Tories as the largest party but even handing them a completely unanticipated overall majority, albeit one of only twelve seats, making redundant all the pre-election speculation about the dreaded SNP holding the balance of power.

Already Labour has set out its stall for a leadership contest in September, accompanied by a very public bout of naval-gazing. The party consensus would appear to be that Ed Miliband led a party into the election that was “too left-wing” and which paid scant regard to the electorate’s “aspirations”. A headlong rush back into the arms of Blairism, or at least of some horrible mutation thereof, now appears inevitable.

Certainly the Labour narrative employed during the campaign, that electing a Labour government was a matter of life and death to which all considerations of working for a better system and a fairer and more sustainable society in the long-term had to be subordinated, was distasteful. It was also appallingly hypocritical when one considers that incessant criticisms of “Tory austerity” were quite deliberately constructed to mask the fact that the intended remedy was its replacement with a programme of Labour austerity.

However the argument that Labour’s rejection arose from the fact that its agenda was not sufficiently identical to that of its Conservative opponents would appear to have been given the lie by the fact that the Scottish National Party, which contested the election on a manifesto far more progressive than that of Labour, swept all before it, capturing half the Scottish vote and in the process taking 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats.


One could argue of course that Scotland is different. What works north of the wall may not, indeed probably will not, work in the leafy shires of South East England. But against that argument one could equally point out that swathes of northern England and even the Midlands have far more in common with Scotland than they have with Kent or Berkshire.

The other inherent danger faced by Labour when embracing a strategy of trying to out-Tory the Tories in what has come to be described as “Middle England” is that any chance of it succeeding depends very much on the more traditional Labour vote acquiescing faithfully without a murmur. What Tony Blair and New Labour got away with in 1997, before the social media revolution and in the wake of an orgy of self-destruction from within a crumbling and decrepit Tory Party that had been in office for almost two decades, there is no certainty it will get away with again. With the Green Party slowly acquiring some political nous and the example of the SNP to show us the way, there will be viable options for progressive opinion which simply did not exist in 1997. Labour abandons these people at its absolute peril.

I make no secret of the fact that I detest the Labour Party as an institution. The completely undeserved and unwarranted sense of superiority that it imbues in its followers is a nauseating spectacle for me and others like me on the outside to behold. If there is anything worse than elitism itself it is elitism coming from a group of people who profess to be about equality for all and to eschew discrimination and bigotry. The vicious anti-community agenda that we here in my locality have been compelled to witness stems entirely from a belief that people existing outside of the Labour organisational bubble are inherently incapable of working for the betterment of their own society, and that any evidence which appears to suggest the contrary must be ruthlessly expunged before it has the opportunity to manifest itself as a viable counter to the party orthodoxy.

Nevertheless it is an undeniable truism that in order for progressive politics to break through from the fringes of English politics it will be necessary to bring with us many of those people who currently still regard themselves as loyal followers of Labour. At times the inane tribalism of some folk makes this appear an almost impossible ask, but then there can be little doubt that very many of those who rallied to the SNP banner earlier this month were former Labour voters and in many cases former members. When the conditions are right and the argument is made, nothing is impossible.


What progressives need to do right now is to prepare the ground for a social media-inspired offensive which will lift them from the fringes and elevate them into a viable political force, taking full advantage of Labour’s problems which should be viewed as an opportunity rather than cause for regret. We need to remember that as an organisation Labour is there to manage our expectations rather than as a vehicle for real change. Ultimately its demise is essential before progressive politics can have any hope of making meaningful progress.

This in turn requires some semblance of unity, or at least a vehicle for interaction between those on the progressive wing of politics who may themselves have their own fields of vision obscured by organisational loyalties. To this end I have set up a humble forum through the medium of Facebook, for friendly and constructive discussion between those of a radical bent, whether they happen to be members or supporters of the SNP, Plaid, the Green Party, community organisations, “traditional” left groups or indeed of none in particular.

Called the Forum for Progressive Action, the objective of it is simple – to engender debate and to explore possible options for practical co-operation to the benefit of all.

I don’t profess to operate with any authority, with any special knowledge or in possession of any particular talent which might be of significant benefit to the struggle. I only believe that an opportunity exists in the aftermath of Labour’s electoral drubbing which must be seized mercilessly, and soon, and that as a starting point for such an initiative a Facebook forum must be as good as any. Please use it, and encourage others to do likewise.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Brentford Near Miss?

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I took this photo over Otho Court on Brentford Dock at 1.00pm today. The helicopter was hovering and the aeroplane was descending on the flightpath to London Heathrow.

In actual fact they were at least a thousand feet apart, the chopper being much closer to the ground. So whoever said the camera never lies wasn't quite correct. Scary though eh?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

"With a Heavy Heart, and in the UK's National Interest"

Am I really the only person who can see the elephant that fills the proverbial living room as we crank our necks around it to watch the dying throes of the UK’s longest ever election campaign on our television screens this evening?

Much energy has been expended discussing the prospect of anything between 35 and 59 SNP Members of Parliament holding the balance of power, and what an outrage it would be to have Scottish MPs that nobody in England voted for legislating for the whole of the UK in a way that only English parties that nobody in Scotland voted for should be permitted to do. In the constitutional fog that has been visited upon us from Alba we could be excused for forgetting that the Liberal Democrats had ever existed.

And yet in spite of their low poll ratings, the Lib Dems look good for maybe 25 to 30 seats as they fight a rearguard action in their areas of strength whilst remaining content to battle it out with Bus Stop Elvis in the remainder. Thirty seats of course is less than the SNP is expected to receive, but probably enough if combined with either of the major parties to be able to outvote the other one.


It occurs to me that, with the SNP having pledged to do nothing to help put the Tories back into office, a new dynamic has been created which moves the hitherto forgotten Liberal Democrats very much centre stage.

Assuming (as we shouldn’t, but for the purposes of this article we must) an outcome tomorrow which is something akin to what we have been seeing in the opinion polls, a 30-seat Lib Dem premium added to either the Tory or the Labour total would, discarding for the moment other parties, give the beneficiary a numerical advantage over its competitor. For whatever reason the assumption would appear to be being made that the Lib Dems will line up with the Tories. But if the combined total number of seats won by Labour and the SNP was to exceed the combined total for the Tories and Lib Dems (possibly fortified by those of the DUP and/or UKIP) then both Tories and Lib Dems would suddenly find themselves powerless. And powerless is not what Nick Clegg aspires to be.

If, on the other hand, the Lib Dems were to throw their lot in with Labour in what would probably still be a minority coalition, it kind of dares the SNP to line up with the Tories or face being effectively airbrushed from the picture. Abstaining on votes would not be enough. In order to defeat the (Lab-LD) government on any vote the SNP and the Tories would have to join forces, if only on an ad hoc basis and strictly for the purpose of.

Would the Liberal Democrats abandon their present course and join with Labour instead? There are a number of catalysts which have the potential to unite to bring this about, the first being the Tories’ proposed EU referendum which is being touted as a red line issue for the Tories in any potential future negotiations. As the most Euro-friendly amongst the parties this cannot be an easy one for the Libs. Labour, taking the opposite position, may have more appeal.


And then there is the question of proportional representation. A major negotiating chip for Nick Clegg in the coalition talks of 2010, he somehow allowed David Cameron to schmooze him into accepting the half-arsed Alternative Vote option as an acceptable substitute and then suffered the indignity of watching his coalition partner rubbish it as being, well, a half-arsed alternative, at the ensuing referendum. Although Labour is, on balance, opposed to PR (and for pretty much the same self-serving reasons as the Tories), there is a substantial body of opinion within the party – including, significantly, Ed Miliband – which sees things differently, looking upon PR as having the potential to rally progressive voting support under one roof, thereby providing a near-guarantee against a conservative majority at any time in the future.

Informed opinion has it that Nick Clegg, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, is instinctively more comfortable around the Tories than he would be with the Labour Party. This could help to explain why reports from Clegg’s constituency in Sheffield Hallam are strongly predicting widespread tactical voting for Clegg from Tory supporters as a counter to a strong electoral challenge from Labour. But were Clegg to lose his seat, or were he to be ousted through an internal coup as soon as the new Parliament is formed, his successor might well be less wedded to the Tories in any event.

Other Lib Dem “red lines” might not prove insurmountable. Clegg has thus far promised more in increased funding to the NHS than has Miliband, but then Miliband has already told us he wishes to be a Prime Minister who “under-promises and over-achieves”. More spending on the NHS is unlikely to be a cause for violent protests from traditional Labour supporters. The Lib Dems also insist upon lifting more of the lower-paid out of tax, which is a euphemism for saying that for an ever-greater number of people wages should be kept so low that their tax contributions will not be missed. As we move towards a society in which “Minimum Wage” effectively becomes the wage that almost everybody can expect to earn, Labour is already doing its bit to manage expectations by raising it to a marginally more generous level.


Which leaves Clegg’s obsession with “legitimacy”, a term which he treats as being synonymous with a party having won the largest number of seats, surely a peculiar position for an opponent of First Past The Post to take. Most of the polls seem to have the Tories slightly ahead in this regard, although unlike Ed’s promises it is far from being carved in stone. But his policy is only to speak to the largest party first, not necessary to ally himself with that party. If a better deal can be made with the second largest party we can bet our bottom euro that is where the Lib Dems will be heading.

When all is said and done the clincher could well be that by allying himself with Labour, and in so doing rescuing Ed Miliband from the indignity of having to depend on the hated SNP for support, Clegg could consider himself to be “acting in the UK’s national interest”, much indulging his penchant for striking a lofty pose. The elephant in my living room tells me that this is a prospect he will find difficult to resist.

Meantime the reaction of the Scottish voters to having been stitched up a second time is unlikely to differ very much from the first. The case for independence will become incontestable. The case for change moves ever forward.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Postponed Until Further Notice? The Fight for Democracy and Social Justice

I’ve been spending rather too much of my time of late on social media, involving myself in arguments of varying degrees of ferocity and passion about the upcoming general election.

Not being involved in anybody’s campaign for once, and having no real enthusiasm for any of the leading contestants, the sensible thing for me to have done would probably have been to have put my feet up, sent off my postal vote when and if I found the time, and looked forward to watching Peter Snow, tinny in hand (me, not Peter Snow), trying to pre-empt the verdict during the counting of the votes. What I have done instead, as is my wont, has been to throw myself into endless online debates and squabbles, typically between loyal Labour voters and those generally to their left who have opted for one or other of the smaller, anti-austerity parties which have been propelled into the public gaze largely as a result of their participation in the various televised leaders’ debates.

Finding myself rather naturally on the side of the revolutionists, I have encountered opposition (sometimes civil, sometimes abusive) from Labour Party supporters who can broadly speaking be broken down into two distinctive categories – the hopeless (and often mindless) partyists for whom Labour can do no wrong and those who argue that, whatever the merits or otherwise of more deep-rooted, radical change, the urgency of the present situation requires a single-minded, “all hands on deck” approach to getting rid of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Any lingering concerns about what might be achieved when the Tories are gone, they argue, can be addressed once the deed is done.

It is fair that I should record, at this stage, that I have long-standing and ongoing quarrels of a purely local character with the Labour Party in my own backyard. Where I live the Labour Party is a vile organisation, opposed almost to the point of derangement to any kind of organisation from within the community, unless it is guided by its own hand. It matters not whether we are talking about a borough-wide tenants’ federation, a single-issue action group or a domino club at a sheltered unit for the over-60s, if the Labour Party isn’t involved in some organisational or directional sense then it has to be crushed. Where such an approach is resisted there is no restraint upon the unholy horrors that may be unleashed. Even physical violence has not proved beyond them, and it is probably only due to lack of personal courage that this has thus far been restricted to property rather than person, and then on a purely hit-and-run basis, but rather than being restrained those responsible have actually been rewarded for their efforts with senior office, telling us all we need to know about the local party on an institutional level.


Somebody close to me who is a supporter of the Labour Party has suggested that my instinctive dislike of the party may have been influenced by my local experiences. It is a fair point to make, but I don’t think it is true. My observations during this general election campaign have been inspired by what I have seen of the party at a national level, and of the approach it has taken in its quest for national office.

For the tribal herd I have nothing but contempt. In politics our duty surely is to choose, and if necessary to change, our party loyalty according to our principles, not to change our principles according to our party loyalty. One almost forms the impression that some of these types would champion the slaughter of the firstborn if it was in the manifesto. It was this kind of blind organisational obedience which landed us with Tony Blair, and which permitted a party whose leader took us into a war which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, many of them children, on the back of a lie, to continue along afterwards almost as though nothing had happened.

Those who plead the “urgency” of the situation, on the other hand, deserve to be heard. That said, I believe their argument to be flawed on two very basic counts. The first is that it demands our righteous anger over the treatment of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society by the present government, without paying much heed as to how the lot of these people can be expected to improve when Labour replaces the Tories in office. It is not enough to be stirred by poverty and deprivation. Without a radical programme for the redistribution of wealth from those whose greed has brought the current situation to pass the indignation of the “other side” is meaningless.

Indeed, perversely, there is an argument that suggests the fortunes of the poor and hungry may actually deteriorate further under Labour. Certainly many of the food banks have been contributed to and staffed by Labour activists and supporters, whose sincere altruism will not have been lessened by the desire to drive home a political point. When a Labour government assumes office the temptation to make another point – that the food banks are no longer necessary – will certainly be present. Those finding themselves locked out, food cupboards still empty, may have cause to reflect.


The second weakness can best be summed up by the old maxim “tomorrow never comes”. If there is an urgency now to get rid of the Tories then in the event of Labour failing in that objective on May 7th that urgency will become all the greater, from the day after polling day all the way to 2020. Conversely if Labour wins the election the imperative will be to keep the Tories out. Either way the cause of working for real, meaningful, lasting, root-and-branch change will be placed yet again onto the back burner, a convenient place for it to stay in the symbiotic eyes of the major parties, both of whom stand to benefit from things remaining precisely as they are in perpetuity.

In any event the election on May 7th provides genuine radicals with an opportunity which may never again arise in our lifetimes – a likely stalemate between the two major parties coupled with the meteoric (although not necessarily permanent) rise of a real anti-austerity force, the Scottish National Party, with the potential to deliver an uneasy pact of convenience which promises (or threatens, depending on where you happen to stand) to shake up our politics forever by corrupting the ethos of the First Past The Post system in a Union of contradictions.

The decision of the SNP to discount at a very early stage any prospect of co-operation with the Conservatives and to offer instead to support a Labour Prime Minister brings in its wake a dynamic all of its own. Now, whether Scottish voters stick with Labour or jump ship to the SNP there is no net gain to be had by the Tories. In other words the Labour soundbite which would have it that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories is revealed to any thinking person to be so much nonsense. Beyond tribal loyalty there is precisely no excuse for any Scottish elector who stands against cuts and austerity to plump for the Labour candidate in preference to the SNP one.

The permutations, and implications, of the SNP holding the balance of power at Westminster compel us to think the unthinkable. A broadly centrist pro-Union Labour Prime Minister kept in office by a left-wing anti-Union party which doesn’t even need the support or the goodwill of 90% of the voting population of the UK. Or, to consider another interesting scenario, a politically doable but almost universally unwelcome Con-Lab coalition with (probably) Alex Salmond, heading a regional party (in UK terms), as Leader of the Opposition. The mind truly boggles.

In the plans of the “urgency” advocates there is no time for change, not now or not ever. In my eyes and in those of many others, there is no time like now.

As for me, I think I’ve probably said more or less enough on this subject in the course of my many forays into the land of social media. What will be will be. But having sampled the sweet taste of opportunity that the convergence of coincidences can bring I am determined, once this election is over, to do something and to play some kind of role, tiny though in the wider scheme of things it must inevitably be, to hasten the change that some of us desire but have never until now really thought possible.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why the System Has To Go

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What do we mean when we refer to “the system”?

It can of course mean a host of things, and many use the term simply to describe the political forces which prevail in the corridors of government in any given place. But to properly understand “the system” within any political construct we surely need to understand the internal dynamic which propels the society in which we live, or the society that we are examining.

The United Kingdom has a “system” which is based on more or less unfettered capitalism. It is true that governments make laws which even the rich and powerful have to abide by, and that on occasions even senior politicians or seminal figures from the world of business fall foul of them and end up in durance vile. All the same, within the limitations defined by the law of the land big business effectively runs rampant, sweeping aside not only organised (and even more so disorganised) labour but also honest small business in its wake. Witness the death of the family grocer or the independent high street trader as the likes of Tesco exploit farmers and their own workers alike to bring you their produce at the most competitive prices whilst still reserving for themselves the seemingly divine right to make a vast profit.

Under a totalitarian system such as fascism or communism the state will dictate just how far enterprise is allowed to go. Under the former it may be controlled or it may be permitted to run riot, but the fact remains that that permission is needed. The state, in theory at least, calls the tune. Under communism ownership is transferred to the government, which in practice operates a controlled economy of its own, the state replicating the role of the capitalist owner and the wider public playing the same part of the unquestioning consumer.


In a “democratic” society such as ours however it is the forces driving the economy that are in control. This is because the conflation of wealth with power makes it inevitably so. The richer an individual or a corporation is, the more power he, she or it will inevitably wield. Power over the media, the power of patronage, the power to sell (or to distort) a message which can make or break a politician or decide the destiny of a political party. Within such a system it is inevitable that the political parties which take it in turns to man the offices of government will strive to serve the master. I wanna sell you a Tory, as the late Max Bygraves might have put it.

It is because of this unfailing logic that I, as those who know me will attest, instinctively wince whenever I hear some self-styled critic of the system bleating about how it is all going to change when the party they dislike the most is removed from office at the next general election and replaced by the party they have opted to endorse. At times I just want to wake up screaming. The two main parties are not the same, they protest, and of course they are right. Why, after all, would the system offer us two parties from which to make our selection and not imbue each of them with at least some kind of superficial defining characteristic? It is essential, in a “democracy”, to keep alive the illusion of choice.

What we are not given, of course, is the means through which to challenge the master. And in the master’s unrelenting drive towards ever greater profits there needs to be somebody else providing the labour, at as low a cost as possible, to drive the master’s success. Understand that and combine it with a recognition that neither of the major parties aspires to change that reality at source, and their essential sameness becomes a given. Any “difference” between them can only define the range of flexibility that the master is prepared to grant in order to preserve the illusion.


But to talk of there being just two “system parties” is of course overly simplistic. Whilst radical on matters of constitutional reform their support for the economic status quo demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats clearly are and have been since their inception a party of the establishment. I voted for them in 2010 in spite of this, not because of it, mostly because of the qualities of the local candidate but also because I felt the injection of the Lib Dems into the government of the country would in some way upset the apple cart. A crisis for capitalism perhaps not, but an unscripted fly in the ointment for the two-party system it indeed was.

Neither am I so blindly optimistic as to consider all if indeed any of the smaller parties that are currently enjoying some relative good fortune as being anti-system in the broadest sense. Certainly UKIP aspire to be and in some senses are already a party of the establishment. Rather like Trotsky’s theoretical fascists, they are a proto-establishment party waiting in the wings, currently something of a nuisance and an embarrassment but there if ever they are needed.

Which brings us to the left of centre, anti-austerity parties – the Greens, the SNP and Plaid. Are they the stuff of which revolutions are made? Probably not, but that is to miss the point somewhat. In our fast-changing political environment the establishment does on occasions find itself playing catch-up with events. The two-party system has, for the time being at least, already given way to the three-party system. If the three-party system in turn heralds the emergence of the four-, five-, six- or seven-party system then a fissure is created in the edifice of the all-powerful financial establishment which has effectively been the puppetmaster of our body politic for as long as any of us can remember.


What emerges from the haze just may be better – more answerable, more democratic, more radical – than the fa├žade which went before. If it isn’t then nothing has been lost. The financial elites will, I have no doubt, attempt to buy into the new politics but the more widely they need to cast their nets the less control they can hope to exercise. The plethora of significant parties which challenge both major system parties from the left, and the further-left grouplets which are emerging by dint of social media from amid the growing dissatisfaction with Labour’s presumably permanent shift to the right, coupled with the threat to the Tories from their own right flank in the form of UKIP, is making political engagement in the run-up to May 2015 uniquely interesting.

On top of it all are the “Don’t Vote” voices and the “None of the Aboves”, both positions with which I have some sympathy although I do intend to cast my cross, on this occasion at least. For those who are serious about real, lasting, meaningful change the outcome of the traditional contest between the toxic twins of the old establishment is a sideshow of scarcely any relevance. The real determining events for the future of our politics are to be found about the periphery of this elaborate charade.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Back to the Barricades

1 comment:
Some depressing news is coming in from Isleworth's Ivybridge estate. It would appear that some seven and a half years after the old administration at the London Borough of Hounslow managed to unite the factions in the historically divided tenants' movement on the estate, its successor has contrived to prise them apart again, leading to the rebirth of the independent group Ivytag (Ivybridge Tenants' Action Group) after a group of former officials split from the Council-backed United Residents' Association (URA), which is operating unconstitutionally with the backing of the ward members and the Leader of the Council.

I don't have the full story as yet, but essentially we are back to the pre-2007 position in which one "approved" group exists to tick the boxes whilst another comprises an active group of residents which is likely to outflank and embarrass the recognised association by achieving a naturally higher profile through its work and its commitment to the estate.

Ivytag is planning a number of activities to draw attention to its re-formation and to garner support from residents. There will be more on this anon.