Mental illness and economic inequality: A compassionate case for an egalitarian society.

There are many contributing factors leading to a deterioration of one’s mental health; environmental, genetic components, ethnicity and of course abuse in all its varying forms. Each of these elements can have a profound effect on someone’s psychological wellbeing. However, there is one particular aspect that is linked to practically all mental health conditions and that is poverty. More specifically we are talking about economic inequality or what can otherwise be termed as relative poverty.

In a paper published by the Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Wagner Ribiero investigated the correlation between income inequality, mental health problems, the use of services and resilience. This inquiry was conducted via a systematic review and meta analysis. What Ribeiro found was that widening economic inequality is associated with higher rates of mental health incidents, particularly with regards to depression and anxiety. However, additional studies suggest that schizophrenia, narcissism and psychotic symptoms are also more common in unequal societies.

Furthermore, this proposed link appears to be much more prevalent in English speaking countries, particularly in the US and the UK. Which incidentally are two of the most unequal countries in the devoloped world. As an example, Sweden is also considered a rich country, but with markedly less economic inequality than the UK. Similarly to the UK it boasts a comprehensive health system, but in contrast Sweden has substantially lower levels of social and mental health problems. Findings by Wilkinson and Pickett which were published in their book ‘The Spirit Level’ similarly highlighted a disparity between the ‘anglosphere’ and mainland Europe with regards to mental health issues and economic inequality.

mental health and inequality

With all this in mind, if we truly care about society as a whole and how our species can flourish, it makes sense to investigate this pathway in a little more detail. As previously mentioned, a key driver that is persistent throughout the research is one of economic inequality as opposed to absolute poverty. In a nutshell, impaired health and in this case mental health is less about being poor and more about but feeling poor. It is proposed that relative poverty is related to feelings of social failure and inferiority, in addition to social isolation, alienation and loneliness.

Perceptions such as these are exacerbated when we live in societies that encourage us to incessantly compare ourselves to much richer individuals. A practice which by no means is healthy, possessing all the qualities of a sadistic form of motivation and self-punishment. Without doubt we have all been on the receiving end of this regularly in the form of advertisements, TV, magazines and social media.

One theory used to explain the correlation between mental illness and relative poverty centres around the brain’s dominance behavioural system. This processes information around subordination and social dominance, a system which is likely connected to a broad range of mental illnesses and personality disorders. It is purported that externalising disorders, mania proneness and narcissistic traits are related to heightened dominance motivation. On the flip side, anxiety and depression are linked to subordination and submissiveness. However, as we will see this isn’t the only suggestion on offer.

Dr Robert Sapolsky neuroendocrinologist and Professor at Stanford University proposes a further explanation. Dr Sapolsky suggests that relative poverty generates stress, which in turn produces an overactivity of hormones and neural responses, including the secretion of cortisol. Surviving at the lower end of the socio-economic scale is associated with raised levels of stress. It is also well documented that elevated cortisol levels is a risk factor for depression, with relatively poor kids displaying higher levels than richer kids. While it is surmised that this constant battle to return the body to a normal non-stressed state predisposes people to premature ageing.

High levels of glucocorticoids (of which cortisol is one) affects a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and learning. Regular exposure to excessive glucocorticoids via stress impairs memory and learning by reducing the excitability in this area. In a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is central to fear and anxiety, glucocorticoids increase the excitability and expands neuronal connections contributing to a heightened response.

Together this can offer one explanation as to why a condition such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shrinks the size of the hippocampus, while expanding the amygdala. Glucocorticoids can also impact the mesolimbic dopamine system, responsible for reward, anticipation and motivation. This disruption predisposes individuals to the anhedonia component of depression and a vulnerability to addiction. Anhedonia is described as a reduced ability to experience pleasure

Brain, skull and meninges

The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is a region of the brain pivotal for long term planning, executive function and impulse control. An excess of glucocorticoids in the PFC results in poor decision making, primarily focusing on short-term gains. As mentioned stress leads to raised levels of glucocorticoids, making it more difficult to choose long-term health over instant gratification. This is one explanation as to why people with substantial stress increase in weight, smoke and drink more than people with less stressors. Unsurprisingly, this is also a reason why a lower socio-economic standing can effect long-term decision making. When day to day living is proving difficult and life seemingly so precarious, the future can appear to be a place of much less importance.

Lower socio-economic status creates chronic financial concerns, that exhausts and distracts the individual. Although people may on the whole have more money than individuals from developing countries, being poor in relation to the rest of society contributes to being despised, shamed and humiliated. Economic inequality automatically emphasises the importance placed on social status. In unequal societies, the dramatic disparities in income can make the rich appear as superior beings. There is also a tendency among capitalist countries to equate an individual’s wealth with their internal worth, thus compounding any negative self-perceptions for the people who find themselves battling to make ends meet.

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Status anxiety increases in relation to the inequality of a nation. We live in a world where many people worry about how others view us and how we are judged. Whether we are seen as capable and successful or as a failure all adds to our stress levels and has a profound influence on our mental health. More unequal societies are also likely to feel less trust towards one another, falling from 60-65% in the most egalitarian of nations to about 20% in the most unequal. All this can contribute to a reduction in participation within society, for instance being less likely to volunteer and partake in local activities. This is often displayed through an increase of violence, combined with a lack of willingness to help one another out.

All of the above contributes to more stressful social lives and social anxiety, as we worry about how we appear and perform in the world. Responses to this threat can be exhibited as defensive narcissism or alternatively through low self esteem and a lack of confidence. There is a strong implication that mental health and neoliberalism are interconnected, even exploited. Raised social anxiety and narcissism feeds consumerism, using purchases and possessions as a method to give off a good impression, while attempting to create a sense of self worth. In sum money becomes essential as a means for many of us to communicate our self-worth.

People in unequal societies not only work longer hours, but save less and borrow more. In these nations debt rises in a desperate attempt to maintain appearances. Our collective emotional vulnerabilities are seized upon by corporations and advertisers callously using our fears for profit, confirming that status anxiety sells. Meanwhile, economic inequality negatively impacts our mental health, friendships, societal bonds and community life, all of which is integral for our general wellbeing. If somebody does not possess a sufficient income, full participation in society becomes virtually impossible. Particularly in a world that prioritises GDP, while celebrating personal wealth and corporate gains over the wellbeing of our fellow human beings.

There are a variety of compelling arguments suggesting why we should reject neoliberalism, of which mental health is just one element when considering if our current system is really the best we can do. We have well and truly reached a fork in the political and moral road. Simply put, we could persist with our current dominant political ideology, whereby, a tiny group of people will continue to accrue the bulk of money and power, forever loading the dice in their favour. Or we can challenge the status quo, constructing a society that works for most people. Furthermore, neoliberalism does not work in harmony with our beleaguered planet or the vast majority of people who inhabit it.

Effective change must involve questioning all that is used to support the present doctrine; politics, media, education, the law and in particular how we do business. No area of society should be off limits when trying to imagine and construct a better world for us all and future generations. I wrote this article predominantly to highlight the extent to which economic inequality can contribute to mental distress and to ensure this too is added to the list of reasons why we should fight for a serious paradigm shift towards a more compassionate and fairer world.

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Tackle the policies, not the man: Personal insults will not win back the working class.

The UK has recently acquired yet another upper class Etonian, much the same as David Cameron. A man who has no political principles or moral convictions, someone who will say anything to obtain and maintain power. This is a potential gift for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour if they play it right. Unfortunately, I predict this will be another opportunity lost. I suspect the left in the UK might just mimic the Democrats in the US resorting to name calling, hollow allegations and memes.

Already the signs are there, literally, with protests featuring placards with “not my Prime Minister” on them. This eerily reminds me of the bourgeois middle class in the US, who threw a collective tantrum after the defeat of corporate stooge Hilary Clinton in 2016. Rather than reflecting on why people are drawn to such characters as Trump, many in opposition lazily resorted to pointless ad hominem attacks and his alleged actions of the past.

not my PM

This line of protest may well be considered a valid tactic on Twitter and Facebook, but is it really a pathway to changing the political landscape? I suggest not. Within minutes of any political disagreement on social media vast numbers of people regress to adolescence, often resorting to the petty ‘strategy’ of slinging personal insults at those who dare to disagree. When trying to unite a nation, in particular, attracting the working class back to their traditional parties, these methods only serve to polarise and harden opinion.

In the UK the left historically fought for the working class, but many now feel abandoned, even politically isolated, after decades of blue and later red neoliberalism. Subsequently, many people have voted for change regardless of the outcome. For a left leaning party such as Labour to enter government they need the working class, while the working class require a party or political movement to truly champion their cause.

Labelling whole swathes of a population racist, misogynistic, dumb or simply stupid, won’t endear them to you or promote healthy debate. Brexiteers and corporate Democrats, both who lost recent votes insist on suggesting they are the enlightened ones, while approaching life from an exceptionally myopic and rather advantaged perspective.

For those who struggle for money on a daily basis in areas such as the former industrial heartlands, there is still very much a class war going on, which incidentally they are spectacularly losing. This partly explains why citizens who are financially at the lower end of society in the western world have developed strange bed fellows such as, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and to a certain extent Boris Johnson.

All of these characters are ridiculously privileged, having absolutely no affinity to the very people they pretend to support. Weirdly from the “Rust Belt” in the US to the former industrial north in the UK, right wing parties continue to attract working class voters. All this, despite the Republican’s and Conservative’s open declaration of support for corporations, the rich, low taxation and minimal funding of any state services.

Often the phrase “it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas” does the rounds during election time. This sadly, fails to ask the hard but obvious question…….why? Why are people content to vote against their best interests? Or more reflectively, what have the left done wrong to lose the very group that would benefit the most from traditional left values and when did this start.

A quick and admittedly slightly glib answer to the problem, particularly in the UK could be summed up with one word, Blair. In truth, many leaders of traditional left leaning parties have ignored the plight of the working class, while searching for voters among the middle classes. But Blair even stated in a speech to the centrist think tank Public Policy Research “I want to make you all middle class“, as if this was some sort of aspirational comment. By many, this was seen and with good cause, as an abandonment of the working class. The Labour Party membership not surprisingly dropped from approximately 405,000 in 1997 to 156,000 by 2009.

I’m sure some people who claim to be on the left may suggest that we don’t need the working class, especially those who voted for Brexit. I would argue, that ending neoliberalism, reducing economic inequality, working for a sustainable future, protecting our human rights are all more important issues than the side-show that is Brexit. All these aspirations are heavily dependent on engaging and winning over the working class who largely feel neglected by previous incarnations of so called progressive politics.

Memes inferring a likeness of Boris Johnson to Donald Trump and targeting his repeated gaffs aren’t going to help persuade people to move over and vote for Corbyn’s Labour, for example. We’ve seen the same tactic aimed at Trump in the US having little to no effect. Working class Trump voters often reply with, “but the economy is doing better and unemployment is down”. This is where people in the UK need to deviate from the US strategy by pushing back on the issues, while not focusing on Boris Johnson’s bumbling demeanour, dress sense or hairstyle.

However, if we look back at Trump and his supporters claims, just using GDP as one metric, growth under Trump is admittedly consistent, but Obama had even greater periods at times during his presidency. Regarding unemployment, this has consistently been on the decline since 2011, although primarily due to the rise of the gig economy and other precarious methods of employment. For the left in the UK, finding out why working class voters have switched to right wing parties and challenging their assertions, while offering well thought out answers is better than calling Conservative’s heartless bastards. As true as this may be, it does not help the debate.

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One Bullingdon Club photo, two UK Prime Ministers

The UK is now on to its second upper class former Etonian and Bullingdon Club Prime Minister within 5 years of each other. If this photo isn’t an example of a failed democracy, I’m not sure what is. Johnson’s recently unveiled cabinet is equally disturbing, starting with Chancellor of Exchequer Sajid Javid. Despite his humble Rochdale roots, Javid is a former investment banker in the US, who can hardly be described as a man of the people. Next, the recently appointed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is even considered a right-winger among his own party. Raab studied at both Oxford and Cambridge University, just like most kids do (1% of the UK population graduate from Oxbridge).

Boris Johnson’s pick for home secretary is Priti Patel. Ms Patel is keen on the death penalty, but not so much on basic human rights. The daughter of Gujarati Indian parents who fled Uganda in the 1960’s, she seems desperate to kick the ladder away, advocating for stricter asylum rules and stronger enforcement of immigration laws. Along with the Prime Minister, this completes the line-up for the country’s top four political jobs, handed to those who have nothing in common with or any interest in the real world.

This is an ideal time to catapult an anti-neoliberal narrative into the minds of working class people. Although some people may not be convinced by Jeremy Corbyn (I’m not one of them), this a perfect opportunity for him. His main problem, however, continues to be elements within his own party who are determined to hamper any concerted effort to deliver discernible change.

Personally I see Jeremy Corbyn, as the first step, someone who can get the UK back on track. This involves moving away from a government that benefits the rich and idolises money, to a system that supports all of humanity. This progress could, therefore, be used as a springboard to promote further radical change in the future. Firstly Labour need to win their traditional base of support back, that of the working class and that will be a huge challenge.

 

 

Wealth over wellbeing: How neoliberalism stole our freedom.

Freedom, it’s a funny word and from a practical sense oddly illusive. I’m going to make the case that the meaning has been hijacked both figuratively and literally. In the early 2000’s George W Bush irritated me on a daily basis, when he justified the destruction of Iraq, as “defending our freedoms”. Not only was he was happy to go to war on a whim with his best mate Tony Blair without any supporting evidence, he also had the audacity to pluralise “freedom”. Surely, we do not have a multitude of “freedoms”, we either have “freedom”, contributions to freedom, degrees of freedom or even none at all, but I digress. So what is it, and does it actually exist in the western world?

Firstly, we need to define it. Mirriam Webster’s Dictionary states:

Freedom

1. The quality or state of being free: such as:

a) The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.

b) Liberation from slavery or restraint or power of another: Independence.

c) The quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous.

d) Unrestricted use.

e) Ease, facility.

f) The quality of being frank, open or outspoken.

g) Improper familiarity.

h) Boldness of conception or execution.

2.

a) A political right.

b) Franchise, privilege.

Evidently freedom can be described in a multitude of ways, however, throughout the Neoliberal world the notion of freedom is much more specific. In 1962 Milton Friedman, US economist and one of the primary proponents of neoliberalism (which was largely referred to as free market economics) published a book called “Capitalism and Freedom“. In this, one of his main ideas opined that, economic freedom must be a prerequisite for political freedom. This was a view supported by right wing/ libertarian thinkers and luminaries such as, Ludwig van Mises, Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Friedman argues that freedom should include economic freedom. This idea goes beyond simply proclaiming that individuals have a right to act freely in the market, but that the market itself should be free from government regulation.

Neoliberalism in theory, through economic freedom was alleged to allow autonomy and creativity to develop. What has occurred over time is practically all meaningful decisions boil down to money. Whether this involves shipping jobs off-shore to increase corporate profits, offering zero hour contracts or smashing the union’s ability to negotiate decent pay and workers rights, all resolutions are shaped by the bottom line. Government’s from the late 70’s in the UK, or early 80’s in the US and New Zealand started to operate in the same finance driven way. In New Zealand ‘reforms’ (code for cuts) were severe and brisk. Historically in NZ this period is referred to as Rogernomics, after the then Finance Minister Roger Douglas.

In typical neoliberal fashion, most state owned assets in New Zealand were sold off either partially or fully. Tax rates for high earners were massively reduced (66-33%), replaced by a regressive goods and services tax. Unemployment rose dramatically from 3.9% in 1985 to 10.7% by 1992. For Roger Douglas this was considered a triumph, as inflation dropped from 15.4% in 1985 to 6.4% by 1988. Douglas’s obsession with inflation was injected with steroids following the arrival of a National government in 1990, as levels of people out of work climbed to unprecedented levels. Compounding this misery, unemployment benefits were often reduced. The consensus of the time erroneously suggested that high payments reduced any incentive to work.

Using narrow metrics such as, inflation and national debt reduction, one could argue that this ideology, referred to by Naomi Klein as “shock doctrine” was a success. On the contrary, if we acknowledge that neoliberalism was purported to positively affect employment, income levels and economic growth, it’s clear that this was and is still an abject failure. In New Zealand the economy shrank by 1% between 1985 and 1992, contrasting with the average OECD country who saw growth of 20% over the same period. Poverty increased dramatically, with 1 in 6 people living below the poverty line in 1992. Even when employment eventually did improve it was primarily due to a huge rise in part-time work. During this time, unsurprisingly income inequality rose sharply as the nation’s richest citizens enjoyed the bulk of the gains.

inequality

New Zealand is just one example of the overall neoliberal social experiment. Of course, there have been similar stories all over the western world as people and their jobs were sacrificed in the name of profit. So the question must be asked, who’s freedom does this doctrine protect? It certainly wasn’t the miners in the UK during the 80’s or the forestry workers in New Zealand and it definitely isn’t the many homeless who live on the streets. While the wealthy continue to acquire greater freedom to become ever richer, many of the working class have lost or are losing their freedom in the form of dignity and autonomy due to a lack of employment or bullshit jobs. All this suggests that according to the neoliberal doctrine, unlimited freedom for the ruling elite, economic or otherwise clearly outstrips any humble needs required by the vast majority of its citizens.

The middle classes are another group tied to this perpetual neoliberal nightmare. Firstly, most of these people have sustainable enough work to allow them a veneer of freedom, obtaining suitable housing, food, education and other services. However, this group is only given the illusion of choice in the form of unlimited obtainable goods for which to purchase. This commodification of freedom is a powerful opiate in which to keep the middle classes occupied as they purchase more crap than they need, in order to fill a gaping hole in their meaningless empty lives. Another way to anaesthetise the middle classes is by proposing a differing form of equality, in the shape of identity politics. This divides people into ever increasing competing tribes, often based on gender, race and sexuality.

This type of political participation is well suited to the professional and middle classes. It offers a way of feeling virtuous, all the while providing a faint whiff of moral superiority. One now has a way of feeling righteous without pandering to those uncultured grubby working class types, who are often labelled racist, uneducated and sexist. In the 1990’s identity politics burst onto the scene, largely endorsed by the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Now it provides a standard blueprint for mainstream politics, allowing governments to adhere to unbridled capitalism while appeasing the masses. This political “sleight of hand” cunningly shifts any blame or guilt away from the rich and the middle classes back to the most powerless in society, namely the working class.

Identity politics also has the added bonus of providing the middle classes, who have less to worry about, a way feeling smugly principled in the comfort of their own suburban four bedroom detached house. This pious morality and elevated sense of superiority manifests in just about every Brexit debate ever witnessed online involving a Remainer. This politically insulated group have an incredible ability of failing to understand why anybody in their right mind would vote against the EU. Despite the fact that many working class families in locations such as; South Wales, the North and the Midlands have witnessed a catastrophic collapse of industry and by association the disappearance of skilled jobs from these areas.

The funny thing is, the real or old left have always cared about minorities, as it was felt these groups often made up the most precarious and vulnerable people in society. In this current political climate, however, the idea of considering yourself for example as colour-blind is in itself now considered racist. The game has dramatically changed, now groups compete for the title of most oppressed, seeking to eradicate racism and sexual discrimination, with further racism and sexual discrimination. Apparently, this time around it’s all OK, as we are told this is the good type of bigotry. With the ‘woke’ certain to be on “the right side of history” and thus delivered from evil.

In truth, the middle classes are only offered a limited bandwidth of freedom, that of the right to choose which new car to buy or maybe the colour of kitchen to install. In addition, they get to experience feelings of intellectual and moral dominance other those who have been systematically crapped on for roughly 40 years. As long they don’t look up and ask the big questions, such as, is there a better system than this, all will be hunky-dory on planet bourgeois. Freedom is an illusive beast, while the middle class have a slither of freedom, the working class generally have none.

So where is freedom’s natural habitat? Is it to be found in our democracy? Do we even have a democracy? If so, is it functioning? Furthermore, are democracy and freedom even compatible? I would like to suggest freedom is a not zero sum game, but quite often one person’s exercising of their rights can generally have an impact on other people, rather like “cause and affect”. Can we maximise the amount of people having access to freedom? What would be the human cost? To satisfy this, would our idea of freedom be compelled to change? So many questions, all lacking satisfactory answers.

As a thought experiment; consider a family who may exercise their freedom to buy a SUV to pick up their kids from school, plus embark on a couple of long haul holidays each year, purely because they feel they work hard and therefore deserve it. This in isolation could appear totally innocuous and reasonable. Over time, however, it may well be argued this would contribute to rising CO2 in our atmosphere (note the word contribute not cause), leading to sea level rises. Climate Change according to the data available will have a profound effect on atolls such as the Cook Islands, ironically a holiday destination. The rise of oceans will have a deeply detrimental affect on people such as the Cook Islanders, impacting their homes, food sources and their livelihood. So who’s freedom is more important?

In business Jeff Bezos has a right to make a bucket full of money to fulfil his idea of freedom, which incidentally amounted to over $150 billion until his recent divorce. Mr Bezos who presides over the Amazon retail empire, while accommodating his substantial financial appetite also has a reputation for treating his workers, who’s labour create his wealth, particularly badly. I’m sure some people reading this may declare that people don’t have to work for him and this is of course true. Sadly many communities have seen whole industries vanish due to neoliberalism and with little transferable skills many often have to grab whatever is available to feed their family.

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What’s more, in a quest to rake in even more obscene amounts of cash, Jeff Bezos isn’t too fond of paying taxes and like many of the rich, he has the means to navigate around the tax laws. In addition, during Amazon’s early days there was a concerted effort to undercut any opposition with the express intention of eliminating all competition. In a neoliberal and indeed a libertarian universe this is considered fine and dandy. Through his pursuit of freedom (aka capital) Bezos has consequently left a trail of people who had their freedom trampled upon. This includes his workers dignity, who are expected to process 300 packages in an hour, at times urinating in bottles to reduce ‘idle time’. Or indeed, the freedom of small businesses to provide customers with choice and indeed a decent income for themselves.

If the system most of us reside in is chiefly concerned with money, implying that this leads to freedom, by that logic those with the biggest pile of dosh must obviously have the most freedom. I’m sure some people sympathetic to Mr Bezos will offer that his lack of tax payments fall well within current laws. But this legal leniency conveniently omits the glaring truth that the rich can lobby (bribe) political representatives to adjust or remove troublesome legislative roadblocks accordingly. On top of this, taxes enables society to function for the many who are reliant on the state for a wide range of services, such as; education, health and the implementation of the law.

Sickeningly, an overt use of money and power is routinely exercised during the US election cycle, undeniably with significant outcomes. For example, in the 2014 US midterm elections the biggest spenders generally won, this occurred 94% of the time in the House of Representatives and 82% in the senate. As Neil Diamond once sang in the song Forever in Blue Jeans, “money talks”. In stark contrast to the wealthy movers and shakers, the rest of the populous get to vote every 3 to 4 years or so nationally. This charade offers a modicum of democracy, despite that the overwhelming majority of real power lies in the hands of a few.

Each time these democratic extravaganzas (elections) arise it is made ever more difficult to take part. This is particularly true in the US and to some extent the UK. For many it is difficult to build up the enthusiasm in order to exercise our fleeting democratic rights. Realistically, we get to vote for someone who has nothing in common with most normal folk, often with no interest in them (apart from their vote) and who generally doesn’t represent the ideas or principles of the people. Furthermore, voting restrictions in the US, such as ID legislation has created more barriers to this alleged democracy. This travesty is currently taking place in a country which reported a 55% voter turnout in 2016.

Specific ID requirements are also being pushed by the Conservative government in UK. It’s worth noting that the parties supporting these types of policies are right wing entities, in the form of the Tories and the Republican’s. It is strongly suggested that these restrictions disproportionately affect some of the most marginalised people in society. Groups such as the homeless, older voters and others from minority backgrounds are less likely to possess the forms of ID accepted though these changes.

Freedom appears to be very much a one way street. What we have is, neoliberal parties intent on erecting obstacles preventing certain sections of the community, who are often sympathetic to left wing ideas a chance to vote. Predictably, both right wing tribes in the UK and the US have stated that these proposed measures are intended to prevent voter fraud, which incidentally is negligible on either side of the pond. This a typical tactic, whereby a solution is created for a problem that doesn’t exist, which usually possesses another often darker purpose

So, answering the questions above; do we have freedom in the western world? Clearly this depends on your interpretation of freedom. Using a neoliberal definition, most of us only have a limited amount of freedom, with many of our fellow citizens being excluded from participating in society at a very basic level. The bourgeois middle class and even most individuals in the upper echelon, only have freedom primarily with regards to consumer choice, with some possible minor political clout.

However, this group is still wedded to a system that prevents many from dispensing with their meaningless jobs to pursue more worthwhile and satisfying endeavours. Undoubtedly this bunch are in a bind. By renouncing their comfortable and for some, well paying dreary existences, this could result in decreased consumer freedom and economic status. Conversely, this type of rejection of the status quo may well lead to a new psychological flexibility, devoid of this maniacal pursuit of status.

Referring to an earlier thought; do we live in a democracy? It’s worth pointing out that neither of the last two UK Prime Ministers, Theresa May and the newly crowned Boris Johnson were voted in by the nation’s populous. In contrast both were selected via a tiny section of Conservative party supporters with a distinctly myopic perception of the world. This route is also popular in Australia, where inner party coups, resignations and early retirements have recently been the norm when choosing a new Prime Minister. Judging by this current trend of handing over the baton of power at the very top level thereby bypassing the general population, I would offer that the future of democracy is shaky at best.

The merging of the state and powerful corporations renders the voice of the many effectively irrelevant. Claims of a democracy are devoid of any substance, while freedom is only permitted within the narrow parameters of a neoliberal framework. This unholy alliance between business and government is where the true power lies. Meanwhile,  each citizen has the privilege of choosing between different flavours of the same product every few years. Is democracy synonymous with freedom? If what we have is a democracy, then the answer surely must be no. Although, if we can cultivate a society where direct democracy is available on every conceivable level of society, then maybe freedom still has a chance.

koch bastardsUnder this more numerically inclusive vision of freedom, Billionaires such as the Koch brothers could conceivably argue that their freedom to wreck the planet while making a truck load of cash would be inhibited. Here lies the problem, if someone pursues self-determination to the nth degree, another’s freedom possibly set at a more modest or basic level will unquestionably be in jeopardy. Maybe as an alternative we should take a utilitarian approach, in other words, endeavouring to secure freedom at a humanitarian level for the most amount of people first.

In this spirit, the optimal outcome would be to ensure; food, shelter, warmth, education, healthcare, security, an equal say in societal decisions and other many tools enabling people to flourish in life. Not everyone can obtain the highest level of freedom that they desire at the same time. Therefore, an individual’s quest for unlimited levels of autonomy must be tempered and prioritised to ensure all members of society have a base level of freedom providing all an opportunity to engage in society.

 

 

 

 

Antifa: friend or foe?

I’ll nail my colours to the mast right from the start. I am primarily a Libertarian/ Democratic Socialist, mainly in tune with the works of Rosa Luxemburg and Mikhail Bakunin. I certainly agree with a more civil path to implement change. You could say a peaceful revolution, and no that isn’t an oxymoron. I strongly suggest that we must have direct democracy on every conceivable level. The class struggle and the fight against suffocating economic inequality is vitally important.

We need a message and a reason to bring people together, such as the quest to end neoliberalism and grotesque inequality. For me this makes sense, as someone who also has a strong utilitarian streak, this would have a positive affect on the most amount of people, regardless of their identity. This is why I reject identity politics, because it fragments society and counters discrimination with more discrimination. So the question is, does Antifa who claim to fight fascism, represent me, the majority of the left and the working class?

quote-there-is-no-democracy-without-socialism-and-no-socialism-without-democracy-rosa-luxemburg-91-63-09

The simple answer is no. Violence rarely solves anything and cannot create a stable platform for long term democracy. On both sides of the political spectrum, something that has been created on the back of hostility generally requires strong arm tactics to maintain it. This has been witnessed in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Chile, Argentina and Palestine. If your starting point is violence it can only escalate in a desperate attempt to keep control.

So who are Antifa? This is essentially a difficult question to answer, because it is generally used as an umbrella term. Plus they are a fairly secretive bunch. On the whole Antifa have claimed the moral high-ground and yet they attack people who offer no physical threat to them, only a difference of opinion. When I looked on the Portland Oregon Antifa group, called Rose City Antifa, I saw a malleable use of language and an abundance of double standards. Even by their own admission, fascism is difficult to define. So let me help them out, because it surely must be difficult to fight something you can’t define. Here’s Merriam Webster’s crack at it;

Definition of Fascism

  1. Often capitalised: a political theory, movement, or regime (such as that of Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralised autocratic government, headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition.
  2. A tendency or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control early instances of army fascism and brutality – J.W Aldridge

In contrast, Antifa’s FAQ’s page makes for exceptionally opaque reading regarding a definition of fascism. It is wordy and yet doesn’t actually say a great deal. The term fascism has been broadened to the point of being a meaningless catch all term. In effect fascism seems to be, whatever they choose it to be. If you ignore their ideology and focus on their actions you could be forgiven for thinking they are describing themselves. The “FAQ’s” section is littered with hypocrisy and inaccuracies, which are clearly used to justify their warped existence.

As an example, they claim that fascists are hostile towards Enlightenment values, which is hard to argue against, however, many of the issues Antifa fight for are antithetical to these very values they claim to defend. The Philly Antifa group offer that they defend Trans rights, which is fine, but much of the trans argument is not based on the values of the Enlightenment, such as; science, logic and objectivity. In fact the very nature of self identification is subjective and not grounded in any scientific rigour, such as the notion that sex and gender is on a spectrum. These ideas share more common ground with Postmodernism, which incidentally strongly opposes the Enlightenment.

There is no argument that Mussolini was a fascist, so too was Pinochet, General Videla could also claim the mantle of a full blooded fascist. A man who headed the Junta in Argentina, who among other generals oversaw the disappearance of 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983. But these are not the sort of characters Antifa are targeting. In contrast Antifa’s victims fail to occupy the same lofty and frightening fascist credentials of the men mentioned above.

Their recent assault on photojournalist and Quillette Editor Andy Ngo would seem to support the suggestion that this is less about halting fascism and more about preventing any dissenting voices to emerge. Without doubt Ngo has been a vociferous critic of Antifa, but quite clearly posed no physical threat to them whatsoever. For his troubles, he received punches to the face, had his equipment stolen and a milkshake thrown on him (which seems to be the trendy tactic of identarians these days). In the end, this cowardice attack landed Ngo in the emergency room with head injuries.

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On the Rose City Antifa website, these ‘moral guardians’ claim to do battle against xenophobia, racism and homophobia and yet Andy Ngo is a gay, Vietnamese man. It would appear Mr Ngo is the wrong kind of homosexual son of immigrant’s. All this strongly infers Antifa’s moral claims are flimsy at best and more likely blatant lies in an effort to legitimise their violent actions. I fail to be convinced that Antifa possess any principled convictions, only a childish desperation to get their own way, like a petulant child.

Antifa is claimed by the right wing media to be made up of Marxists, Communists, Stalinists and any other ‘ist’ they can possibly dream up on Fox News. This is all done generally without any knowledge of what Marx even wrote about. This group I would hazard a guess, would be happy to be connected with such ideologies, feeling it would add some form of credence to their misguided cause. Both sides appear content with these convenient labels and so the idea of Antifa being on the far-left has stuck. However, when we dig a little into a couple of Antifa’s webpages, the idea of a proletarian Antifa carrying the fight to fascists and the bourgeois doesn’t ring true.

On the Philly Antifa site, their front page suggests they “are in direct conflict with Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Transphobia, and all the over flavours of Fascism”. Firstly, if you direct you gaze back to the definition of fascism, most of these issues, although distasteful, uncivil, and surely scary if on the receiving end of such bigotry, they are not directly connected to fascism. Secondly, on any of the Antifa sites I’ve browsed their is no mention of fighting for the working class, securing workers control and abolishing capitalism. This is an important point, as this crucially was Marx’s main thrust.

Marx’s primary work (unsurprisingly called Capital) consisted of critiquing capitalism to the nth degree. However, confusingly for a supposed leftist group there is no sign of a counter narrative calling for a push against capitalism on their sites. Undoubtedly, according to the content of their websites this appears to stir little interest among the ranks of Antifa. In fact their main objectives could be considered centrist/3rd way goals, as championed by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Justin Trudeau in Canada. Obviously these areas that they mention as their core issues, are unsavoury and it would be great if we could live in a world where discrimination of any sort wasn’t a factor, but equally these views don’t constitute fascism.

JT
Trudeau virtue signalling

Third way politics headed by people like Tony Blair presented identity politics as a way to combat societal views considered unacceptable in his idea of a utopian world, while deflecting the populous away from the fact he was a neoliberal disciple. Democrats and Labour Parties around the world suddenly found themselves with a new enemy to rally against, primarily anyone who didn’t think the same way as them. Meanwhile, the likes of Blair and Clinton continued to deregulate the financial sector with little resistance. This neoliberal blueprint has since been handed down to successive Prime Minister’s and President’s. During this time, the disenfranchised working class have been labelled public enemy number one, for not subserviently going along with this masterplan.

It seems apparent that Antifa has more in common with the corporatist status quo, than they would care to admit. Incidentally, they only seem to have resurfaced since the arrival of Donald Trump. This is significant because many workings of the government have changed little since Obama’s departure. For example the US have continued with their usual aggressive foreign policy. Of course, Trump is a narcissistic, sexist, bigoted idiot, who has no moral integrity, uttering anything so that he can maintain power. However, Antifa are more concerned with this loud mouthed political puppet, rather than the government machinery that continues to perpetuate massive inequality, climate change inaction and endless bombings of sovereign nations.

I have a very strong suspicion that Antifa are comprised of middle class, relatively well educated, financially comfortable, identarians and are the attack dogs of the liberal elite. This political class have recently been rejected by the working class, in the form of Brexit and the election of Trump. With many people voting against both Hilary Clinton and the chance to remain in the EU. This maligned group are now labelled as a conduit for hate, therefore, a seemingly appropriate target for these masked thugs. Cunningly, conflicting or opposing worldviews have been rebranded as hate, providing a justification for such violence.

This slide from a differing point of view, to suddenly branding an opinion as hate is known as concept creep, where definitions broaden and behaviour that is less extreme is suddenly considered dangerous, such as ‘problematic’ opinions. It’s this very idea that supports the notion that “words are violence“, leading to punishment, which includes no platforming, censorship or violence. This is then passed off as a valid response and classified as a form of self-defence.

Far from being defenders of the free world Antifa are authoritarian and these self-proclaimed arbiters of morality silence all murmurings of dissent in any way they see fit. This includes the shutting down of free speech, peacefully or otherwise. On the Rose City website this group admits that it is no fan of free speech, describing it as “not applicable”. They would also prefer the state to take a back seat when tackling far-right views or fascism, so that these vigilantes can directly confront transgressors. This is worrying as Antifa clearly have no idea what fascism is, making fighting it I would imagine, pretty tough going.

Equally disturbing, is the leeway mainstream media grants this group, playing down or at times openly supporting their actions. This should be seen as a red flag, signalling that this is not an anarchic left wing group, but a violent wing of the liberal elite, emboldened by selective mainstream journalism. The media regularly seem very keen to report that Antifa has a long storied history, all in an attempt to add a shred of legitimacy or decency to their questionable cause. This again is an effort to silence detractors, implying that if you are against Antifa you must be in support of fascists. Joe Rogan recently described them as middle class, privileged kids doing cos-play. I think they are slightly more dangerous than that, primarily because they hunt in packs, pick soft targets and make up the rules as they go along.

Does Antifa speak or act for me as a self proclaimed member of the left? Absolutely not. Do they support and protect the working class, the traditional core of the left? Not even in the slightest. They are defending the capitalist status quo, under the pretence of activism. Antifa are bourgeois, middle class, privileged thugs and bullies. They are more outraged by regrettable but relatively isolated incidents of racism or sexism than a system that has created a despicable level of inequality. This political ideology of neoliberalism is strongly connected to poor health, rising crime rates, sub-par education, a planet that is collapsing from over consumption and a precession of never ending wars.

Antifa has a myopic moral perspective, protecting dubious theories such as intersectionalism. They preach an authoritarian, puritanical, doctrine that has a religious quality to it, demanding full obedience at all times. As a group they fail on every conceivable level to protect and support the working class, the homeless and the powerless. All the while, endeavouring to do everything within their power to control how we act, what we say and how we think.

 

 

“How the left was won”. The planned demise of a working class movement.

The left as it was once known is withering away. Of course there are pockets of resistance, the much maligned Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters being a prime example. There are certain politicians who show signs of leftist principles based on the pursuance of economic equality, who then feel the need to balance it up, succumbing to the pressure of identity politics. This is principally because many of the identarian left also make up the rank and file of Bernie Sanders (US), Jeremy Corbyn (UK) and Jacinda Ardern’s (NZ) supporters. To ignore them would be committing political suicide, in a world where winning is paramount to implementing any sort of change within the ‘democratic system’.

This erosion of the economic left has occurred from many directions, from within and indeed externally of the leftist citadel. In the mid to late 70’s Keynesian social democratic policies were running out of steam and so entered Thatcher in 1979, with an individualistic ideology known as neoliberalism. This is a brutal system of capitalism that had been waiting in the wings for the day Keynesian economics eventually spluttered and finally collapsed. Thatcher began an overt attack on the working class, that still persists today, as she laid to waste any remaining industries, selling them off at an alarming rate, for the rich and middle classes to benefit from.

Thatcher

The ‘Iron Lady’ made no attempt to hide her disdain for any semblance of a community, as the UK miners can attest to. The UK and also New Zealand a little later from 1984 entered a rabid world of competition and consumption, where more was better and if you didn’t succeed, you only had yourself to blame. Sadly today, this attitude is considered the societal norm across much of the world, where people fight for whatever metaphorical scraps are left on the table. Neoliberalism for many is the only political system they have ever known. With this in mind it’s not surprising the left with a more collectivist, traditionally compassionate perspective struggles to gain traction among the wolves of capitalism.

It makes sense that right wing policies from the Conservatives, Republican’s and National would attempt to manipulate the working class to gain more profit for their mates, but these attacks also occurred from inside “camp lefty”. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair made it clear that they were switching targets in the 90’s, coveting the middle class vote. While the relaxing of financial restrictions, such as Glass Steagall in the US echoed these sentiments. In the UK, Brown and Blair allowed the banks ever more leeway, contributing to the financial crash of 2008.

To appease their newly found middle class and professional class voters, these disciples of the “third way” focused on social justice concessions. This fight for rights for minorities was music to middle class ears, who had little money worries, just everyday dilemmas such as; where to go on holiday that year, or whether to build a summer house or install a new kitchen. Meanwhile, industry after industry was decimated and areas such as the North, the Midlands and South Wales, became one huge call centre, up until these jobs were inevitably shipped off shore, leading to even more unemployment

call centre

Now in the UK, the gig economy (bullshit jobs to you and me) account for 4.7 million workers, doubling in just three years. These jobs possess sparse workers rights, no paid holidays, little security and often requires employees to take on two jobs to cover the bills. This is not a basis for a secure society, but the disparity between the haves and have nots can be witnessed in voting habits. Starting with Blair and Clinton, these traditional working class parties gave up on the very people they were supposed to represent, in search of a less grimy class of voter. This societal neglect has since been returned with interest by the working class, in the form of Brexit and the election of Trump.

The middle class and lefty elite’s reactions on both sides of the pond, was to blame the very people who been shafted for decades, calling them xenophobic, racist or just plain dumb. I’m sure victim blaming is a massive taboo among the identarian left, but alas, maybe they are just the wrong kind of victim. In centrist, middle class land, the gender wage gap (which is a dubious statistic at best) and the crusade to get an even 50% of men and women in all high powered jobs, seems to be on the forefront of the identarian mind. Often they are people who come from very comfortable backgrounds, have attended university, possess very little life experiences, but insist on taking the moral high ground, but chiefly only on issues that directly concern them.

Maybe, just maybe there isn’t enough women who want to be CEO’s in top corporations to make up the 50% quota, or even MP’s or engineers for that matter. Lets be honest, who would blame them, CEO’s are often “Alpha Male” narcissists, who put their life and family on hold, working 80 hours a week for the sake of financial success, both theirs and the company’s. Incidentally, I have never seen identarians protesting to make up 50% of oil rig workers or other dangerous jobs. It also becomes eerily silent when highlighting areas women dominate, such as education (60% are of university graduates are women), new graduate medical students, psychology and publishing.

I am using this as an example to show the disconnect regarding the priorities of middle class, bourgeois, educated, professionals and the working class. Who’s main preoccupations are centred around feeding the kids, paying the bills, debts and getting decent work. If we look at “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs“, many working class people are desperately trying to get out of “Maslow’s Cellar”. While the champagne identarian pretend socialists are focused on growth needs, self-actualisation and trying get into the penthouse. To the centrist middle classes (who often classify themselves as left), the working class are an eyesore, an inconvenience and an enemy of civility. Personally, I would describe them as being crapped on from a great height, repeatedly for 4 decades and who are increasingly desperate for change.

8 stage maslows

The problem is, the working class have little representation. Most unions are toothless and throughout the western world working class MP’s are as rare as “rocking horse shit”. In the 1920’s 70% of Labour MP’s in the UK came from working class backgrounds. Since the 1980’s this has plummeted to today’s figure of just 8%. The powerless clearly lack any representation from people who can actually enact change. We are now awash with career MP’s, who are more interested in keeping their positions, with little experience outside of the political bubble. This is significant, in a recent study it was shown that working class MP’s have much more interest in welfare policies than careerists. In contrast these professional politicians are increasingly likely to adopt policies for political or strategic reasons in order to win over swing voters and ultimately elections.

None of this is set to change, as the working class will continue to be marginalised, silenced and underrepresented. In all likelihood this group will continue to avoid traditional left leaning parties such as Labour and its ilk. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s hard work in this area, many people from the working class still consider Labour and the Democrats, as not representative of their values and concerns. The legacies of both Clinton and Blair are of course huge reasons for their warranted mistrust. I will conclude by suggesting that this has been a purposeful act by the right wing, the centrists, the media and the identarian left in order to quash working class concerns, while elevating their own self-serving agendas.

 

 

We were lefties once and proud; the identarian hijacking of the left.

As the days go by, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to declare myself as someone from the left. Although deep down I know this is where my politics and morals lie. This is a not a change of heart on my part, but a concerted effort by the mainstream media and right wing politics to redefine what being on the left actually means. I am one of those ever increasing number of people who are bewildered, confused and lost politically. The left has moved from trying to reduce socio-economic factors, towards a type of politics deeply focused on race, gender and sexuality. This can be witnessed all over the anglosphere; Australia, Canada, US, UK and New Zealand.

It is important to note that within these listed countries, radical changes to the political/economic status quo is completely off the table and has been replaced with politics of the self. This appears to enthuse millenials for the most part, who according to Dr Jean Twenge show traits of elevated narcissism. These concerns which are also studied at many universities, are largely known as “grievance studies” and sit within the realm of identity politics. Does that mean people from shall we say, the economic left are opposed to combatting issues of discrimination? Of course not. But, I and many like me would prefer all people do well, regardless of genitalia configuration or melanin levels. Currently, if we do not subscribe to identarian extremism we are lazily considered racist, sexist and anything else with ‘ist’ on the end.

Economic lefties generally suggest that most of society’s issues have their roots in embedded neoliberalism. This hypothesis can be measured, it’s objective and largely based on logic. It is this preference to objectivity over subjectivity that gives this point of view legitimacy. Using economic inequality as a major cause of concern will bind large groups of people together, with a common goal. To affirm this, many studies have been performed linking this specific problem to poorer health outcomes, decreased educational standards, an increase in crime rates and a decline of social mobility. Plus, neoliberalism with it’s dedication to eternal growth is systematically destroying the planet, as a miniscule cabal become ever richer.

BG

In contrast, rarely do you see placards held by the identarian left protesting climate change, economic inequality, absolute poverty or permanent wars around the world. In days gone by, the left was often thought of as one big umbrella, fighting for a better life, unifying as many people as possible. The bulk of its supporters were from the working class, who generally did much of the hard graft for little pay. Along with the unions it was the aim of the left to increase living standards across the board. It was irrelevant what your background was, all were welcome in the fight against the ruling elite. It was a message that was inclusive and appealed to many people, pulling people together. In contrast, identity politics seeks to prise society apart, ranking groups on perceived oppression, based on a criteria we can do very little about. This proportioning of the blame is clearly not a strategy that is going to galvanise people to foster positive societal change.

The left regularly placed extra emphasis on minority groups, mainly because they were at an increased risk of being disenfranchised. But this isn’t nearly enough in this new political dawn. As decades of people attending “grievance studies” classes have been told, they are oppressed and the white, cis, man is unreconcilably privileged. This treatment of so called oppressors bears a striking resemblance to original sin, albeit without any chance of redemption. This perceived dynamic, disregards any influences from economic status, education, actual direct acts of oppression or other periods of individual agency. On the contrary the group that you are identified with reflects all that there is to know about you. All this seems to lead towards a path of internalised hatred and a lifetime of guilt for the alleged oppressor.

There are many reasons why the left are almost universally linked with identity politics and the thousands of SJW crazies seen on YouTube. Firstly in the US where much of this occurs, there is no economic alternative plan. The politics of both parties are generally neoliberal, the only differences are chiefly tax levels and the Democratic Party embrace of identity politics, plus false narratives such as the gender pay gap. These alleged systemic issues are often based on shaky studies and poor stats, but are conveniently used to push a divisive acceptable discourse, thus serving the purpose of government.

virtue signallers anononymous
Nancy Pelosi leading virtue signallers anonymous

We have to consider that the people pushing for this identarian mandate are on the whole empowered, middle class ‘educated’, relatively economically comfortable women, who have reasonable connections and a developed network to have their voices heard. The poor and the homeless have none of the above and are reliant on advocates to have their voices heard. It therefore, is of no surprise who obtains more airplay and what agenda is purported as the most pressing issue. After all, over 70% of the homeless are men, but their sex alone is enough to have them labelled as privileged. This is a ludicrous state of affairs, when you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the homeless fail to have their very basic concerns met, yet overblown issues about gender pay equality and the push for more female CEO’s appears to be more important.

Marginalised segments of society such as ex-forces personal who find themselves on the streets have very little in the way of support. It’s a group that find no compassion from many, in particular identarians, who view these men as the epitome of ‘toxic masculinity’, the scourge of humanity and a source of the world’s problems. Many of these men suffer from PTSD, die prematurely or have severe psychosocial issues, but absurdly defining all 700,000 gender identities is considered more essential. The majority of this silent population come from working class backgrounds with very little opportunities, hence why they joined the military, often at a young age. Any claims of SJW’s being wholly compassionate is a sick joke, similarly to the right who only support the rich, identarians only advocate for people who are a reflection of themselves.

Ex army

For the right wing, linking identarians with the left is a stroke of genius. It rolls all of their enemies into one big bolus, making it easier to digest. Identarians, Marxists, Democratic Socialists, Libertarian Socialists and the like are lumped into one big mass and labelled ‘Cultural Marxists‘ by people such as Jordan Peterson. This is all done without any in depth of knowledge about Marx, but it allows the right to direct their vitriol in one direction, rather than having to deal with trivialities such as nuance. Countless websites, blogposts, YouTube videos have all helped to demonise anyone to the left of Mussolini. Interestingly with the left identarians penchant for narrow, puritanical rule making and their obvious opposition to free speech, I’m not sure if Benito would more likely find a soul mate within this group, rather than an adversary.

The mainstream media certainly gains from a brand of politics that is split along identity lines rather than economic issues. Just six corporations own the vast majority of media outlets in the US, while the UK and NZ witness similar monopolies. It is certain that the global corporate behemoths complete with power hungry billionaires do not want the ‘great unwashed’ to critically think about any alternative economic and political systems that may lead to their demise. It is in their interests to perpetuate an acceptable narrative, thus quelling any dissent the populous may have regarding the current system. This fragmentation of a coherent opposition to neoliberalism allows this political and economic zombie to continue down the road of self destruction.

Turning against unbridled capitalism should be our most immediate common goal. The current system is one that only benefits a minority. While those who have not gained but still support it clearly lack the imagination to realise something better for themselves. Now that identarians have accepted the moniker of the ‘left’ or even ‘far left’, provided by their foes on the right, maybe the word ‘left’ is devoid of any meaning. In contrast, our unifying ideas need to be clear and full of substance. A dramatic change in our political and economic ethos is the only way to enrich the most people, allowing them to flourish and contribute to society in a meaningful and sustainable way. What we name ourselves is largely irrelevant, but as always it’s open to discussion.

 

 

 

May I present Jeremy Corbyn: The best Prime Minister the UK will never have.

There is no doubt that there are enough dark forces conspiring together, purely with the sole purpose of ensuring Jeremy Corbyn never sets foot in number 10 Downing Street. On a seemingly daily basis mainstream media, opposition MP’s, members of his own party, the middle class ‘remain brigade’ and of course many billionaires are all queuing up for a pop at Mr Corbyn. There is no way in hell that the pompous British establishment will allow a socialist, albeit a very mild democratic one to take the reins of a nation that is a mainstay of neoliberal ideology.

Just a brief glance at Corbyn’s vision for the country prior to the last election, it is clear that these proposals are less guided by GDP and more focused on the growth for all people. This is a hugely refreshing approach, but one that generally does not sit well within the ruling elite. Nor to the many indoctrinated by Thatcher and later Blair, this is tantamount to sacrilege and worthy of a prolonged stay in the Tower of London, without an en suite bathroom.

Corbyn has dared to challenge the deeply imbedded neoliberal mafia, who stash their cash in far flung corners of the globe. Offering very little in the way of tax, but plenty in the way of advice on how the country should be managed and indeed who should do it (Richard Branson for example). Jeremy has even had the audacity to suggest that people making billions by exploiting workers from the UK (Jeff Bezos) should pay tax (how dare he).

It has been made clear that Labour under Corbyn would have a fairer tax system, while endeavouring to close loopholes for evaders and avoiders. Critics often question whether this is even possible, but I can virtually guarantee you that this is not a critique on the practical applications of such a proposal. More likely, this is an effort to put doubt in peoples minds, as they continue to protect a system that works for the 1%. Unbridled, runaway capitalism in many quarters is being held up for scrutiny and it has been found wanting.

There’s is nothing that mainstream media love more than an anti-Corbyn story. If there isn’t one around do not fear, a so called journalist will always be on hand to make one up. Going as far back as 2016, it was found that over half the news articles written about Mr Corbyn have been critical or antagonistic in tone, this compares to two thirds of editorial and opinion pieces. Meanwhile, he has been linked to Hamas, the IRA, Iran, Hezbollah and Arsenal Football Club, with no evidence at all to back up these lofty claims (maybe a little on the last one).

Over the last few years varying publications have called him a traitor for such treasonous acts as; not bowing deeply enough at a remembrance service, claims of being associated to a Czech spy and of course inciting terrorism. There is also the matter of repeated and baseless allegations that Corbyn is anti-Semitic. Ultimately the Daily Telegraph of all rags accused the Labour Party of being racist.

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Mainstream media’s campaign of lies

It is common knowledge that the Labour party is deeply divided between Corbyn’s anti-austerity driven supporters and the remnants of New Labour, who nowadays appear old, crusty and frankly bitter. This group on the centre/right of the Labour Party are desperate to regain control, which is highlighted by the constant manufactured crises, generally followed by a leadership bid. It can be argued that by incessantly sabotaging Corbyn, they clearly have much more in common with the Tories than the current Labour leadership.

Their method of choice to dislodge Corbyn has centred around numerous, tedious anti-Semitic assertions, manufactured purely to force a change at the top. Any actions or words spoken by Corbyn and his close allies are manipulated, repackaged and used against them with relative success. An example of this was Jackie Walker who is of black, Jewish heritage, being hounded out of Momentum on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, to the delight of the Blairite faction.

The truth of the matter is, there is no evidence to suggest Labour harbours any more anti-Semitic views than any other party, or even society as a whole. The question routinely posed by ‘moderates’ on the centre/right of the party goes like this; “don’t you think Labour has a problem with ant-Semitism”? Firstly, don’t be fooled by this seemingly benign line of enquiry. This is a rhetorical trap, a game that ‘moderates’ seem to revel in. If your reply is no, you will be savaged for suggesting that the Labour Party is entirely free of anti-Semitic bigots. If you reply in the affirmative, this will be taken as an admission of guilt and that their narrative is indeed correct. The whole point of this is to tarnish Jeremy Corbyn’s image and reputation, therefore, hastening the Blairite faction to call for yet another leadership election, on the basis that he is unfit to stand in opposition. This is not some form of elevated morality the centre/right faction of the party possess, more it’s an opportunity to retake control of the party.

We shouldn’t be surprised that this group is exceptionally adept at playing politics. After all, Blair’s hollow revolution was entirely based on spin, false data, lies and an affinity for using identity politics as a tool of control. Corbyn’s opposition found within his own parliamentary members are not the only centrist/ moderate group he is up against. The largely middle class, bourgeois ‘Remainers’ are also baying for his blood. This particular sect has huge support in the South East particularly in London, who are seemingly more concerned with cheap goods and holidays, than the growing economic inequality. ‘Remainers’ often chime in that many jobs are dependent on the EU and although this may contain an element of truth, in the North of England where I’m originally from, it is home to 10 out of 12 English cities most in decline.

This much maligned geographic group have also witnessed a drop in real wages, which are still less than they were 10 years ago. It is completely understandable why many folk in the north don’t have the same warm and fuzzy feelings towards the EU that many individuals in the capital have. Regardless of these valid grievances voiced by people north of the ‘Watford Gap’, ‘Remainers’ appear to have developed a certain piousness, which manifests in feelings of moral superiority.

Numerous areas in the north, the midlands and South Wales in particular, have witnessed whole industries decimated and communities carved up like a Sunday roast, all occurring during this now celebrated time in the EU. Surely people in these regions can at least be forgiven for voicing concerns, that the current state of affairs hasn’t worked out all that well for them. Therefore, when you have nothing to lose, voting for something like Brexit carries little risk and any kind of change can appear better than nothing.

Dyson ceramic
Dyson ceramics factory, Sheffield.

The stark differences between both groups as displayed during the Brexit vote, are never more obvious than when examining class. In social categories  AB and C1 (high, middle management to professionals) both men and women voted in favour of remaining in the EU, conclusively so for women. In categories DE and C2 (skilled/ semi-skilled and manual occupations, plus the unemployed) the vote was in favour of Brexit, particularly among men. Despite all this, rather than trying to understand the plight of the working class, they have simply been dismissed as; stupid, poorly informed, gullible and racist.

The truth of the matter is only 34% of leave voters cited immigration as their primary concern for choosing Brexit. Many people who voted to leave are more concerned about low wages, a lack of decent jobs, education and affordable housing. This is just another example of the working class being marginalised, ignored and told to get back in their place. To make things worse these genuine worries are exploited by cretins such as Nigel Farage, in an effort to bolster his self serving populist crusade.

I have no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is acutely aware that he has to connect with the working class, who have been neglected during four decades of neoliberalism to achieve electoral victory. However, as we’ve observed in the US, populism is seductive and a hard spell to break. Further to this, Corbyn is swimming against a tide of media hostility, whose billionaire bosses would stand to be on the losing end following a Corbyn victory.

To compound all this, he still has to continuously grapple with a section of the party who have very little in common with his principles and consciously make life substantially difficult at every given opportunity. As mentioned earlier this segment of the Parliamentary Labour Party have more of a shared worldview with middle class ‘Remainers’, who on the whole prefer their politics to be of the neoliberal variety, with a large helping of identity politics on the side.

Corbyn is merely trying to challenge the status quo, in doing so, he has unearthed a multitude of enemies.  As a collective, these groups will be exceptionally difficult to defeat, hence my pessimistic title. Jeremy Corbyn should be a unitary figure, but after 40 years of unbridled capitalism and self-interest, Corbyn on the contrary polarises public opinion more than ever. Aside from the US, the UK is one of greatest examples of ingrained neoliberalism.

People have grown accustomed to being a consumer first and a member of the community a distant second. Society is ranked by what material goods are acquired and even the most civic minded citizen can be easily caught up in this mindless, self destructive drive to buy more and more shit to fill our relatively meaningless lives. These my friends, are the issues that constitute the miles of crap Jeremy Corbyn has to wade through in order to affect change for the better and sadly I don’t fancy his chances. Of course, I’m more than willing to be proved wrong.

 

 

 

 

Are the Koch’s and Bill Gates really that different? Oligopoly, the ultimate game of power and control.

I’m sure many people would contest that comparing the Koch brothers who deal in fossils fuels with Bill Gates who provides vaccines in Africa a bit of a stretch. However, I’m going to suggest that they have much more in common than we’d like to admit. If we observe their methods and ultimately what is achieved, there are some striking similarities. Sure, conservatives like the DeVos’s and the Koch’s morally conduct their affairs differently to Zuckerberg or Gates, but are they really so distinct? You could sensibly propose that Bill Gates’s life is more virtuous than the Koch’s. This indeed is a compelling argument. But is it true? When we consider the two groups; right wing neoliberal oligarchs and philanthrocapitalists (also oligarchs), apart from obscene amounts of money, both sects share their unquestionable desire for power and control.

I will offer that power and control are intrinsically linked. Some semblance of control over your own group, rival factions or even the general populace is required to gain power. That said, to control certainly on an external level, requires some exertion of power, either through elections, coercion or even physical force. The extent and methods required depends on your resources and who you intend to control to obtain power or conversely who you will overpower to wrestle control. At this stage it would be sensible to lay out what these seemingly opposing tribes, both morally and politically have in common and of course how they differ. To finish I will argue that the overall goals of oligarchs regardless of their flavour are strikingly similar.

By the very existence of their extreme wealth, I think it’s safe to assume that all oligarch’s share a strong, deep conviction towards the ‘free market’. Each side fully subscribes to the idea of utilising their wealth to shape the world, often at the expense of democratic processes. Unsurprisingly, many would argue that the Koch’s and Bill Gates share nothing in common, concluding that one wants to continue extracting fossil fuels at the expense of the planet, while the other tries to save lives.

But, if the outcome is all that matters rather than the process, surely we must ask ourselves hard questions regarding the importance of democracy. This dilemma arises due to billionaires not being democratically elected and yet able to use considerable influence to effect major changes, good, bad or indifferent. It has been offered by philosophers and social psychologists alike that huge wealth generates social distance or “ethical independence”. Put simply the rich have no need to cooperate or partake in democracy to get what they require.

Neoliberal leaders often fit into the more recognisable guise of bombastic, power hungry CEO’s, trampling on all that resembles competition. There’s no doubt that these individuals exist, see Jeff Bezos for details. Worse still, the system justifies their behaviour by spinning yarns of ‘homo economicus’, ‘trickle down’ economics and picturing them as ‘job creators’. However, in our midst are those who present as an arguably more agreeable face of power and control. They appear on Ted Talks, are promoted by the mainstream media and portrayed as modern day saviours. These are the neoliberal ‘left’ or philanthrocapitalists and their influence on society is as pervasive as the Koch brothers. Carefully crafted characters such as Gates and Zuckerberg are considered to be oracles of the 21st century. They mould our world from a position of exclusivity that is only experienced by a handful of people and yet we so easily defer to their perceived wisdom.

FAvH
Friedrich Hayek

Historically speaking, the stage that allowed these actors on both sides to perform so freely is neoliberalism. This was first conceived by among others, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises in the late 1930’s, but failed to gain much traction in the west. This all changed when Keynesian economics started to falter in the mid 1970’s. When the time arose, the objective for Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US) and Roger Douglas in New Zealand was to change the moral and political record. A collective society based on human capital, full employment and relative equality was abruptly abandoned, for competition, individualism and the idea that wealth is virtuous. Out of the rubble of a dismantled social democratic society, rose a small number of individuals who were uniquely positioned to capitalise on increased privatisation, laxed trade regulations and an ever financialised world.

This accumulation of capital is rarely reinvested in society and the people within it, but used to create a system that accrues ever more wealth, power and influence. The elite are in a position to apply pressure at the governmental level for maximum effect, with some tactics being cruder than others. Neoliberalism provides the means that ensures money is sucked out from underneath the mattresses of the poor to the heavily guarded vaults of the rich. These mechanisms are the ‘nucleotides’ of the neoliberal DNA; international trade agreements, decreased market regulations, low taxation, privatisation and reduced government spending are just a few examples.

For decades this ideology of neoliberalism has been supported by the likes of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions have been instrumental in forcing desperate sovereign nations to adopt strict austerity measures to reduce debt, by offering an all strings attached bailout package, as witnessed in Greece. In effect these loans had nothing to do with Greece’s economic problem. These were purely constructed to pay off their debts to French and German banks. It has since been recorded less than 10% of the cash borrowed was actually used to reform the economy and to help the Greek people.

As if the world’s oligarchs don’t have enough systemic advantages, many invest heavily in ‘think tanks’ and varying institutions solely to persuade government’s to tip the scales further in their favour. One such right wing funding source are the previously mentioned Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are co-owners of Koch Industries the largest privately owned energy company in the US. The Koch’s favourite past-time is trying to discredit climate change science and policy solutions. In this arena they have spent a massive $127 million funding 92 organisations between 1997 and 2017. The Koch’s claim to be Libertarians, supporting; drastically lower corporate and personal taxes, minimal public services and a massive reduction in regulations.

Koch brothers

Their undeniable self interest doesn’t stop at muddying the waters regarding climate change. The Koch’s fund a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aimed at making it more difficult to prosecute corporations for violations of environmental and financial law. It’s important to realise that the Koch’s do not do all this in isolation, rallying 100’s of wealthy conservative families in an effort to preserve and promote their privileged way of life. Groups such as Americans for Prosperity are a huge and rich organisation, designed to battle against the Democrats, supporting ultra conservative Republicans, espousing ideological policies, while blocking anything in Congress that may oppose the Koch’s best interests.

They are the masters of organising ‘astroturf’ groups. These are alleged grassroot citizen organisations or coalitions. Groups such as ‘Americans for Prosperity’, the ‘Heartland Institute’ and the ’60 plus association’ support entities such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and their fight for free speech. Which of course is nothing of the sort, it is a mere cover up for anti-science rhetoric, supported by 47 groups all affiliated to the Koch’s. Further to this, the Koch’s spend millions each election cycle and helped fund the Tea Party, spending upwards of $45 million. The Koch’s also donate millions each year to candidates that suit their ideology, this includes past presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Interestingly, despite spending roughly $900 million during the 2016 election cycle, the Koch’s have already declared that they will not be funding Trump next time around.

In contrast to the Brothers Grim, power and control can also be acquired through more insidious mechanisms such as philanthrocapitalism. Many of these characters involved in this practice are labelled by the right wing media as lefties. This theory seriously suggests that these rich, well connected, privileged people who attended top universities, while using capitalism to rake in huge profits support politics of the left. Just to clarify the Democrats and the left are not synonymous with each other. Politics in the US like much of the west provides nothing more than varying shades of neoliberalism. For the CEO class such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Richard Branson, the question is, how can philanthropy be used to reinforce a flawed political and economic system such as capitalism.

Supposedly charitable acts, as seen by Bill Gates are conceptualised using market based solutions, looking at costs and benefits. It’s fair to say that philanthrocapitalism is no more than the social justice arm of a destructive global free market. Gates has certainly taken advantage of his huge giving-power to influence global health policies, including the World Health Organisation, where he is their top donor. The Gates Foundation has spent over $1 billion on policy and advocacy, even investing in training programs for journalists at major media organisations. Further to this, the foundation has heavily funded research which has later gone on to be published in scientific journals. These types of activities must be seen as a threat to global democratic decision making. The Gates Foundation also sits on the board of H8, a self appointed group of 8 health related organisations, who have been instrumental in setting up the health agenda for the G8, a group of self important, self selected nations.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Both the pretend left and right wing oligarchs, share another mission, that is to pay as little tax as humanly possible. The Koch’s do this rather bluntly by using ‘astroturf’ groups and lobbyists to coerce the government into lowering tax levels and provide tax breaks. The ‘smarmy’ army to ‘their’ left in contrast use charm offensives. In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, to much fanfare, proclaimed that they would donate 99% of their shares in Facebook (valued at the time at $45 billion) to the “mission” of “advancing human potential and promoting equality”. Which all sounds very nice, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the catch, Zuckerberg did not set up a charitable foundation which would have automatically held a non-profit status. Instead of this Zuckerberg established limited liability company (LLC). The mainstream media unsurprisingly failed to mention this, instead they continued to gush over this blockbusting moment of perceived altruism.

Unlike a charitable foundation a LLC  allows someone to make investments in a for-profit company, while also permitting the owner to make political donations. Within this framework Zuckerberg is free to lobby for changes within the law and can do whatever he desires with his money. You may ask, “what’s the problem, it’s his money’? Indeed, but is this really the actions of a charity? Zuckerberg can also cunningly use this method to avoid tax. This can be achieved by donating the appreciated shares to charity, which would generate a deduction at fair market value of the stock without triggering any tax. Clever huh?

In a nutshell this means Zuckerberg has made a ridiculous amount of money, for which he is unlikely ever to pay tax on. As a society, do we really want people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates deciding the direction of our societal needs? All governments have flaws, but at least there are checks and balances deciding where the money is required, with more than one person making the call. These oligarchs could have quite easily aided society by paying tax just like everybody else, but of course this does not afford them the power or control that they feel they deserve.

So, what have we learnt apart from, don’t trust rich people? Well, we know billionaires span the entire (neoliberal) political spectrum from; George Soros to Sheldon Adelson, from the Koch’s to Michael Bloomberg and from Tom Steyer to Robert Mercer. Many of whom remain hidden like puppeteers, but some use public recognition to their advantage, such as Gates and Zuckerberg. We really shouldn’t be remotely surprised that billionaires manipulate governments and society to benefit themselves in some way. I am aware that much of this article is US centric, however, this is not something that is unique to the States. Similar patterns of oligarchic control can be witnessed all over the world, but particularly within the ‘anglosphere’.

All acceptable politics and political parties within the west are shoehorned into a narrow corridor of neoliberalism, with only minor differences separating them. Parties and the politicians from which they belong are criticised and held to intense scrutiny, but rarely is this kind of ferocious attention applied to the primary problem. This being a political/economic system that is thoroughly in chaos, held together by outdated concepts, some questionable politicians and billionaires who desperately fight to maintain the status quo. It’s the same system that assures the elite of ever increasing bank balances, thus securing more power and control over our ailing planet

Lets be honest, this is not a system for you, me or billions of others like us. In many ways capitalism is no different to feudalism, both possess hierarchies, each system serves the chosen few and neither has any interest in the rest of society. I suspect it’s about time we constructed something anew, outside of this tired and repetitive dynamic. How about we construct a society that works for everybody, oh and we need to do this quickly because the world’s a bit screwed up. No pressure!                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Time to fight for the working class.

For a couple decades, issues of class have been low on the list of priorities. Many of the ‘faux left’ parties have looked down their snobby, privately educated, liberal noses at the working class. In stark contrast, they never fail to grasp any opportunity to virtue signal for an array of gender and race issues. It appears unfashionable to fight for people who have suffered the most from neoliberalism. As a result of this abandonment and derision over the years, many now vote for the right. Despite the fact it is those very same capitalist policies they tick the box for, that are destroying them. So, rather than callously stating “oh it’s just turkey’s voting for Christmas”, maybe we should investigate why this has occurred.

It could be hypothesised that the middling, moderate, smart arse, pompous, plastic left are pushing people to the right, towards the Conservatives, National (NZ), Liberals (Australia), Conservatives (Canada) and the Republican’s. In some cases even further along the left/right continuum, to parties such as UKIP. Who until their recent capitulation, became popular within the working class. Throughout Europe we have also seen a rise of harder line nationalist parties mainly over eastern and central parts. Meanwhile, some traditionally left leaning parties are trying hard to realign back to their working class ideals. Most notably Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the UK and to some extent Jacinda Ardern in NZ. But mistrust still persists, partly because of a previous centrist hangover in the form of New Labour in the UK. While in New Zealand it was 33 years of neoliberalism first conceived by a Labour government in 1984, that didn’t help matters.

Across the pond despite a recent, small progressive revival, the corporate idiots in the Democrat party are still very much in control and have failed to learn anything from the Hillary Clinton disaster. What makes this a travesty, is the working class have been abandoned by the party that since Roosevelt was supposed to fight for them. This group have been the biggest losers regarding employment and have been told by their so called moral superiors that they voted Trump because they are uneducated, racist, sexist and ignorant. Well guess what, if you really want a truly left government, no matter where you may be from, these are the people we need to understand and reach, because supporting the working class is what the left is all about.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you will have noticed we’ve had a couple of important events on both sides of the Atlantic. This should have initiated a huge alarm call for the liberal elite; one being the Brexit result to leave Europe and the other Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. What arrogantly transpired, was not a period of deep reflection within the liberal world, but an outright condemnation of people who had the audacity to vote against their wishes. In the US, while Hillary Clinton sulked, the “not my president” brigade were out in force, because to them democracy suddenly wasn’t fair anymore. Following the result, noticeably there were a few very rich, connected individuals (Clinton and co), telling middle class people that it was the fault of those stupid fools from the working class for voting Trump.

We can witness these similar precocious, middle class types at college campus protests. A speaker who may be challenging in some ideological way can be no platformed in a heart beat, as it may rock their precious sensibilities. A similar vibe is also evident at events such as the ‘women’s march’ whereby millions of relatively privileged, educated, pussy hat wearing liberals, gather to protest……..I guess about something (usually Trump). All the while, taking selfies and brandishing brightly coloured banners, to presumably post on Instagram and Facebook. These occasions have more the appearance of a middle class day out complete with picnic hamper and a bottle of Prosecco, rather than a serious protest about something tangible. One concern that never gathers much traction within these groups is economic inequality, primarily because the majority of these fair weather protesters are pretty economically privileged.

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I hope it was permanent marker?

In the UK, just like the US, there is a predominantly middle class core of people called ‘Remainers’ who think they know better and propose that people who voted to leave the EU must be racist, stupid and gullible. No internal system checks or reflection as to why this went so badly wrong for them, just instant projection. It would appear that the metropolitan elite apparently know what’s good for the proletariat. Indeed people did vote to leave on issues such as; sovereignty, xenophobia and racism, but millions cast their vote for a myriad of other reasons. For decades there has been an all out assault on the working class from the liberal left and the right, attacking their identities and their places of work. Many politicians see the working class as an embarrassing problem. In return a majority of this group have stopped listening to Westminster and have started trusting their own experiences.

One of the suggested indicators regarding who voted for Brexit was education, areas of average education tended to vote leave, while areas with residents with college degrees were more compelled to vote to stay in the EU (71%). I’ll make it clear now, a university degree doesn’t automatically grant you the intellectual and moral high ground. Contrary to the current orthodoxy, education does not begin and end in the lecture hall either. But, there is a well established link that proposes inadequate education often leads to poor employment opportunities and decreased social engagement, therefore, providing a differing set of experiences from those of the middle class. Recently, as if people haven’t had enough of being told what to do, 670,000 people descended on London for the very Orwellian sounding ‘People’s Vote’ march. Just for the record, I will declare that I have no particular axe to grind regarding Brexit, as I think while there’s a neoliberal system on both sides, it’s a lose-lose. This is why Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to win with supporters from either side, I suspect he just doesn’t have enough of a stake in the outcome.

A large portion of ‘Team Remainer’ I would hazard a guess were created, when most of the ‘anglosphere’ adopted a similar mix of policies from the 90’s onwards, which you could loosely label ‘third way’. This comprised of more deregulation for the banking sector, such as Bill Clinton’s abolishment of Glass Steagall, while governments became increasing corporate centric. Another trait was the transformation of citizens to consumers. We suddenly had an abundance of choice, but this was only restricted to our spending habits, not our political parties. Most ‘supposedly’ left leaning parties, particularly Blair with New Labour abandoned the working class as his core voter base, in favour of the middle classes. This was highlighted by his repeal of ‘clause four‘ which effectively linked the Labour Party with socialism. This move was a definitive break from Labour’s past, socialism and the working class.

remainics

In turn, this new core of labour supporters were offered an enticing lifestyle, through neoliberal economics, punctuated by socially liberal policies. This on the whole, distracted, enriched and anaesthetised the middle classes. With less to worry about, they now could pursue other political issues such as identity politics. Which in turn could be used as moral currency in the sacred land of the pious. Yet, behind the cosy, socially caring rhetoric, economic inequality in the UK and other western nations began to widen. On the other side of the tracks, the working class regularly saw jobs vanish and whole industries dismantled under New Labour’s watch. Blair enthusiastically continued with Thatcherism on many fronts, in particular believing that the maintenance of free markets was the most efficient way to implement economic policy. New Labour also kept most of Thatcher’s sell-offs intact; BP, British Steel, British Airways among others. Additionally Blair continued with the anti-trade Union policies set in the 80’s and 90’s.

In defence of Tony Blair, he was responsible for bringing in the minimum wage, which did help the poorly paid and the exploited to some degree. At the risk of appearing cynical, I always felt this was no more than ‘lip service’ to the poor. Even so, New Labour could boast some impressive achievements; a dramatic cut in NHS waiting times, an 8 fold capital investment increase in education and growth in GDP per head by 20%. So with this in mind, why did Labour lose over 5 million voters from 1997 to 2010? While, at the same time membership fell from 407,000 in 1997 to 109,000 in 2004. Possibly, because New Labour was dedicated to a steady diet of centrist policies, which unsurprisingly did not meet the needs of diverse communities across the UK, many of whom were estranged by globalisation.

Blair doggedly adhered to the free market and services to advance economic growth. While manufacturing and wages declined outside of London, leaving a whole slew of folk left to fend for themselves. Secure trades were often replaced with insecure jobs, such as call centre work and warehouse employment. Blair’s centrist narrative was that of a rights-based individualism, while working class communities talked about the erosion of communal practices and institutions such as; pubs, neighbours and community centres. New Labour had no interest in values that were important to the working class such as; collective self-help, reciprocity and fraternity. Nor did Blair have any inclination to use New Labour as a vehicle for collective empowerment, in contrast he was more invested in managerialism, statism and centralisation. This working class rejection from Blair and by the Labour Party in general, I would wager, had a lot to do with the overwhelming eventual support for Brexit later on.

A similar outright rejection of globalism and corporate liberalism was equally evident in the US, which helped give rise to Trump. In an area known as the ‘Rust Belt’, states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana among others had been caught up in massive deindustrialisation, economic decline and urban decay. Workers had observed their manufacturing jobs shipped overseas, an increase in automation and a diminishing of the coal and steel industries. There have been suggestions that Trump turned these voters from Democrat to Republican, but the most accurate explanation could be that Democrats lost these voters. Obama who was once a big hope, offered nothing in real terms to the people of these regions. His centrist doctrine of ‘free market’ economics and social justice crumbs delivered poor returns in the region. Jobs continued to haemorrhage out the area, while real wages decreased.

nasty clinton

Trump during the campaign, in line with his modem operandi, offered nothing concrete. But he tapped into the desperation, emotion and nostalgia of working class people. He declared that he was going to restore manufacturing jobs to the area, while clamping down on immigration. Now, whether either of these things are possible or even true, is irrelevant, as the campaign had no relation to facts. This was about a narcissistic populist, telling an impoverished, dejected community precisely what they wanted to hear. What did the Democrats under Hillary Clinton do in response? In an act of extreme elitism, she brazenly stated that half of Trump supporters were a “basket of deplorables,” who were incidentally, racist, xenophobic or misogynistic. This comment was been vehemently rejected by Bernie Sanders, who rightly stated that the working class simply do not have a party to support them.

Countless middle class Hillary supporters and the liberal press suggested that Trump supporters were voting against their best interests. This conclusion is simplistic at best and views the problem entirely through a liberal lens. One aspect working class people voted for was dignity. As a group they have witnessed not only their jobs stripped away, but the heart of their community and their role within it. An ability to give, share and their capability as providers has been severely diminished. Although Trump’s campaign may have been disingenuous, it offered a possible return to dignity and when you have no hope, sometimes it’s worth taking a chance on the unknown.

So maybe we now have a bit of an idea why left leaning parties historically lost the working class. It could also be argued that many people don’t even identify as working class anymore. In the UK only 24% see themselves as working classed as opposed to 67% in the 1980’s. Many people who are struggling financially tend not to call themselves ‘working class’ as it is considered just another term for being poor. In contrast 71% state that they are middle class, which if you consider the UK has had 10 years of austerity with declining real wages, this is possibly not an accurate depiction of the truth. On the contrary, as a kid growing up in North Manchester, being working class was the norm and not something I or anybody else gave much thought to. I left school with 1 ‘O’ level in French and before I joined the navy I spent a year on a YTS (youth training scheme) fixing street lighting for the council. Going to the pub and playing footie on the weekend wasn’t just some romantic, wistful or even stereotypical reflection, it was part of life.

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East Lancashire Paper Mill, Radcliffe

Now, no longer is it the working class who feel integral to the spirit of the community. The old working class solidarity has been savaged by neoliberalism’s destruction of industry and the ties that held communities together. Many working class people now feel lonely, unhappy and pessimistic, while in contrast it’s the middle class who feel emboldened and a part of the community. Many factories, steel works, paper mills, collieries and shipyards had clubs, sports teams and some sense of belonging for people. No doubt that a large proportion of this started to decline long ago. Although, even in the 80’s and to a certain extent the 90’s in my hometown, which was primarily centred around paper production, all had popular clubs connected to the mills and some of the best sports facilities in the town. This is not a sentimental view of days gone by, but a reasoned look at what materialises when the ties that bind people together are broken. Thatcher never believed in society and was therefore, determined to destroy it. Blair continued with this philosophy by substituting the importance of the community and people, with consumerism.

Hordes of people from these now depleted communities regularly did dangerous, dirty, manually taxing jobs, that most of us wouldn’t wish to do. These workers often got by due to a semblance of solidarity, which existed throughout the industrial world to varying degrees. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that people who live in communities that didn’t gain from neoliberalism feel cut adrift, angry, lost, confused and are looking for something other than what currently exists. So why talk about the working class? Why are they important? Predominantly it is this group that keeps the place ticking over; refuse collectors, sewage workers and the many poorly treated warehouse workers all over the globe. This section of society have been taken advantage of more than any other, they’ve lost jobs, seen their pay decreased and witnessed government supports stripped away through austerity or pure vindictiveness. Even the phrase ‘working class’ is now, maybe by design, considered a derogatory phrase.

It’s politically ‘en vogue’ now to only care about issues pertaining to melanin levels and genitalia. However, class warfare is constantly being waged and shit rolls down hill. The ruling elite uses propaganda and distraction aimed at the middle class; such as the mainstream media and welcome theatre such as Brexit. The middle class primarily blame the working class, for example, voting Brexit, among these accusations are suggestions of a lack of intelligence, racism and xenophobia. In turn the working class take their frustrations out on the ‘unworking class’ and immigrants. This all plays into the hands of governments and corporations, who thrive when people are divided. Quite simply, if a left leaning party has any serious intentions of gaining power, with a strong desire to dismantle neoliberalism, it needs to engage with the working class and regain that once common ground.

Brexit and Remain; two sides of the same old grimy coin.

In 2016, Brexit fractured the nation, even more so than the Beatles/Rolling Stones debate in the 60’s. If you voted leave you are often considered a racist, while voting remain could result in an accusation of being a pawn of the elite. Although the powers of neoliberalism may not have cooked this up purposefully, I suspect they will not be too perturbed with the outcome. I’m not referring to the result, I’m eluding to the deep ruptures within UK society. There are sizeable divisions already carved across political party lines, economic disparities, geographical variations, racial differences, gender issues, religious affiliations and now Brexit. Each side of the Brexit fiasco attempts to grasp the moral high ground, while pretending they are the enlightened ones. I propose that neither side have got it right for this simple reason; neoliberals control the EU, whilst a neoliberal regime runs the UK under the Tories. Until the leading political orthodoxy is usurped nothing dramatic will ever occur.,

One of the first criticisms levelled at the EU is, it is undemocratic. It is indeed true that the Commission President and the individual commissioners are not directly elected by the people of Europe. It is equally accurate that under the provisions of the EU treaty, the commission can only propose laws in areas where the UK government has allowed it to do so. So maybe it is not as undemocratic as it first appears. What is worrying, however, is that the EU has a strong commitment to neoliberalism, on a systemic level. Meaning laws are designed to encourage private enterprise.

As a result of this, there has been a huge transfer of ownership of industry from governments to corporations and ultimately out of the UK. Neoliberal policies dominate the; European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. The EU constitution actually enshrines neoliberal economics into it, making it impossible to be socialist or democratic. The EU has always promoted ‘free trade’, ‘free’ movement of capital, business austerity, flexible labour markets, low pay, privatisation of public services and the eradication of welfare states.

One of the most glaring examples of the EU’s economic control is Greece. Greece’s issues were triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008. However, in 2009 the government confessed that they had been telling ‘porkies’ regarding their financial situation, this raised some ‘red flags’ in relation to Greece’s economic situation. By 2010 Greece was shut out of borrowing in the financial markets and was hurtling towards bankruptcy. To prevent this potential calamity the; International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (later known as the Troika) issued two bailouts amounting to €240 billion.

This rescue package unsurprisingly came with strict conditions. Firstly the lenders enforced harsh austerity terms, comprising of deep budget cuts and large tax increases. These tax increases weren’t aimed at the rich particularly, in fact they primarily affected those in need. This type of ‘economic package’ from the likes of the IMF and the World Bank, was a classic ‘disaster capitalism’ tactic, as highlighted in Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’. Rather than the bailout money being utilised to stabilise the nations finances, it was actually used to pay off its international loans.

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein

In a paper written in 2016, by the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, it was revealed that only 5% went to the Greek fiscal budget, while the other 95% was directed towards saving European banks and its creditors. Similar versions of this neoliberal charade have played out all other the world, from Chile to Russia. This one just so happened to use mechanisms of the EU as well as the IMF. In Greece’s case, there was an inept government, slow to respond to the crisis; private initiatives rushing in to fill the gaps; local officials seizing the chance to push forward pet schemes and a population too bewildered to do anything about it.

But austerity is not unique to the EU. As we know, this already exists and has been enforced in the UK by the Tory party for 8 years. It is probable that the Tories will use Brexit as another opportunity to push further legislative changes, particularly in the area of human rights. Although the UK are tied to the European Convention Human Rights until 2022. Obviously, Brexit will end free movement of labour and a seat at the EU negotiating table will also be conceded. I suggest the Tories, however, will see this as a way to construct a brave new world in their image. In particular, removing regulations that may be a burden on business, such as those relating to climate change directives.

So can I make a case for Europe as a Socialist? Lets give it a try, these suggestions to remain came from an Independent article.

  1. It gives citizens of the EU the freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe. Which is great if you have the social and economic freedom to do this, which many ordinary folk do not.
  2. It sustains millions of jobs. In 2001 it was reported that 3.1 million jobs were linked to the UK’s exports to the EU. This is brilliant, but in my old stomping ground, in the north of England where 10 of the 12 most declining cities are, it’s unlikely to be much comfort for people in industrial areas such as the North East, Yorkshire, North West and the Midlands. The working class have witnessed industries such as; car manufacturing, coal mining, ship building and the steel industry disappear with nothing substantial to replace them. These skills are lost forever, often to cheaper oversees contractors.
  3. Your holiday is much easier and safer. Awesome, if indeed you have the cash to travel abroad on your zero hour contract ‘bullshit’ job.
  4. Your less likely to get ripped off. Being a member of the EU affords equal consumer rights while shopping abroad. Again I feel this only appeals to a certain section of the population who actually have the funds to travel abroad.
  5. It offers greater protection from terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber crime. This is through the sharing of information. To be fair it’s difficult to find a fault with this one.
  6. Our businesses rely on the EU. The Confederation of British Influence estimates that the EU membership adds 4-5% of GDP to the UK. This is all fine and dandy, but there are some issues; this supposedly good news hasn’t really been witnessed in pay packets across the country, real wages are still less than they were 10 years ago.
  7. We have a greater influence. It’s considered that being apart of the EU would be the only way to be relevant on the international stage. But, for someone is who is flipping burgers in Wigan, with no further job prospects, I’m not sure the UK being important economically, militarily or diplomatically on the world stage would feel of much use to them.

So did I state a solid case for EU, probably not. It was admittedly hard to find much to be positive about. Now, I’ll try the same sort of thing with a few articles that are pro Brexit.

  1. Top of the list is immigration. We could decide who comes into the country. In a study by the London School of Economics, it is surmised that immigration could rise in the short-term. This is thought to be due to migrants visiting before the rules change. The second reason is family reunification. Article 8 of ECHR provides the right of individual persons to have a family life. Remember the UK have committed to the ECHR until 2022. Another point of contention is, the porous Irish border may well be used as a back door. Finally a points based system doesn’t necessarily restrict entry, rather that it is a means of selection.
  2. We could make our own laws again. A Telegraph article proposed that 65% of laws are from the EU. There is no definitive consensus for this, but it is thought that 13% to 65% of laws are made by the EU, suggesting that somewhere in middle is more likely. So technically yes you could make your own laws, but it doesn’t stop them being crap laws.
  3. We could set our own tax rates. This is primarily referring to VAT and to lowering it. The EU does not permit lowering VAT on goods and services below 15%. Although, as VAT is currently 20%, the government could essentially lower VAT by 5% now. As a Tory government tends to push regressive taxes like VAT more than constructing and enforcing a progressive tax such as a well thought out income tax, this point is pretty much irrelevant.
  4. Next on the list, are what can only be described as, 1970’s inspired regressive actions as suggested by the authors of the article. Firstly you could dispose of your fridge, by throwing it in landfill. Awesome! The article suggests the UK could get rid of windfarms. Pump up the CO2! Also it’s proposes no more pesky recycling bins. I guess you could just throw all your rubbish into next doors garden, like the good old days. We could also return to blackout inducing, non energy conserving light bulbs. While we’re at it, how about if we went back in time, good old ‘jumpers for goalpost’, while sending your kids to work down the pit at the age of 7.
  5. Finally, it wouldn’t be Brexit without the mention of blue passports. I always thought they were black anyway. You could soon have your own UK passport lane. Queuing up with other pissed up Brits singing “here we go” on their way back from places like Megaruff (Magaluf). Oh the joy!
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Ahh, those were the days, running around to loosen up the coal dust in your lungs.

So there was a very brief summary of both sides. I hasten to add equally shit (in differing ways of course) and each one as capitalistic as the other. The conclusion is there is no real chance of any discernible changes, unless of course Jeremy Corbyn bulldozes his way through the doors of number 10 some time soon. Sadly, I suspect the ruling elite and the media will already be plotting to defend against this eventuality. So who are the folks who voted to leave and who makes up the group who are insisting (in vain) for a second referendum? Firstly geography, every area (or country) apart from Northern Ireland, Scotland and London voted to leave. One of the most dramatic splits, however, according to YouGov was seen along educational lines, 70% of voters who’s highest academic attainment was a GCSE (or equivalent) voted to leave. While 68% of voters with university degrees voted to remain in the EU.

This as far as I’m concerned, is the closest we get to a class split, purely because you have less chance of going to university, if you are from an economically depressed area and if you attended a crap school. Plus if your siblings, friends or parents didn’t attend university, again you are less likely to go. This group are also more than likely to be from areas that have seen higher than average unemployment and a mass depletion of once prominent industries. It isn’t surprising that many were inclined to vote leave, change can be exciting and offers hope when you have little to lose.

Does this lack of education give the Remain crew some sort of moral high-ground, because they are presumably more educated? Absolutely not, people have different needs, life experiences and priorities. Also education and intelligence manifests in a plethora of ways. It doesn’t miraculously materialise in the lecture halls of universities. People learn from countless different sources. For many decades only a lucky few ever attended university, but the voices of non-attendees were still considered valuable.

For the many Remainers with a university education, their degree will see on average a greater earnings potential than someone without, especially when this is projected out over a lifetime. Many will be more economically secure, therefore, voting for the EU status quo which supports social justice, while providing the freedom and ease at which to roam Europe would make total sense. The small matter of a neoliberal juggernaut in Brussels is unlikely to bother them, as this largely middle class section of society have generally done reasonably well from the EU. So long as they can get their cheap skiing holidays to Courchevel, I suspect everything will be rosy.

Another split during the 2016 vote was age, 71% of under 25’s voted remain, while 64% of over 65’s voted leave. The accusations from under 25’s has been that the ‘baby boomer’ generation stole their future. Sadly for them it’s called democracy and if only 36% of their age group could be bothered to turn up, they as a whole have only themselves to blame. To resolve this issue the Independent suggested that maybe 16-17 year olds should vote, curiously it was estimated that 82% would have voted remain. While a piece in Time magazine, postulated that older people should not vote, as they make poor choices. Fair enough, how about we keep changing the rules until your team wins, because that doesn’t sound at all entitled does it? This seems to be a common theme regarding ‘Remain Voters’, there is a distinct air of “I know best”, snobbery and entitlement.

Did all racists vote leave? I would imagine so. Are all leave voters racist? Absolutely not. An interesting point states, only 34% of leave voters, cited immigration as their main reason for voting leave. However, if you listen to remainers you would swear that there is a Tommy Robinson in every leave voter just waiting to burst out. But understandably, after 10 years of austerity and nearly 40 years of de-industrialisation people were losing hope that things would change for the better. These areas are now homes to warehouse and distribution work, payday loan companies and slum land-lording. They are ripe for exploitation, land is cheap and so is the labour.

The working class have had to worry about universal credit, a chaotic NHS, social cleansing and scarce housing. On the other hand the middle class have emerged from 2008/9 relatively unscathed and simply cannot grasp why people would want to leave the EU. Remainers have not relented; often suggesting that those who voted Brexit were too stupid, poorly informed or just plain gullible, thus falling for the leave narrative. While in contrast Remaniacs are the enlightened ones.

It needs to be made crystal clear that the Remain clan isn’t just made up of the middle classes. It also consists of large chunks of the establishment; many politicians, corporate CEO’s, economists, scientists and the media largely led by outlets such as the Guardian. Tony Blair has obviously poked his nose in, to be fair many of the people who are staunch Remain supporters are former Blairites. Blair is unsurprisingly calling for a second referendum, he’s also stated that people who voted leave are living in denial and don’t recognise what will happen.

In effect, what the liberal elite are saying is their political views are worth much more and therefore, should carry a greater weight than others. What Blair doesn’t understand and never has, is the working class people. For them, things haven’t gone so well for quite some time, partly due to his policies. So I get a sense that they really feel they have nothing to lose. It’s less of a case of not understanding the importance of the decision to leave and more, not giving a shit about what a load of rich Oxbridge graduates think anymore.

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On the 20th of October, the self proclaimed ‘peoples march’ took to the streets of London, which is about as Eurocentric a place as there is. To be fair 670,000 people turned up, but what astonishing arrogance to call a movement ‘peoples’ when the majority of the people didn’t vote for their side. Remainers when campaigning like this, often remind me of Richard Burton’s character in 1984, asking Winston how fingers is he holding up. This clan dressed in blue and yellow, taking part in placard competitions, displaying an array of witticisms couldn’t have been any more middle class if they tried. But I’m sure this approach won over the hearts and minds of working class people all over the UK.

You could read this drivel and decide due to my derision of Remainers that I’m pro-leave and you’d be wrong. Like I intimated at the start I think the whole sorry saga is a lose-lose. But, I do have much more empathy towards the majority of leave voters and no, not the leave voters who were voting for Brexit to apparently keep out ‘Muslims’. I’m referring to the people who were crapped on by Thatcher, gained little from Blair’s middle class crusade and then were further dumped on by 10 years of austerity.

This group, if they have jobs, often make up the working poor, slaving away for people like Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. These workers have been penalised for massive crimes such as going to the loo, while the GMB Union confirms this, claiming staff are treated like robots. It’s also suggested that 600 ambulance’s have been called to Amazon warehouses in 3 years. But hey ho, who cares as long as a middle class Remainers gets their copy of ‘Jamie cooks Italy’ by Christmas.

Will Brexit help the people who voted for it? Probably not and certainly not while the Tories are in power. I expect more of the same pain. I’m afraid, post Brexit could be accompanied by an erosion of human rights over a period of time. I suspect trade will take a hit too, as most experts seem to predict. It’s clear to me that things will not change for the better until we move away from neoliberalism and hopefully Uncle Jeremy can be elected as Prime Minister. One word of warning though, unless we win back the working class and fight under one unified idea, which should be the reduction of obscene economic inequality, Corbyn and the left will not stand a chance. Until the middle classes the likes of whom we see in blue and yellow, start communicating properly with people outside of London, rather than condescendingly lecturing them with tweets and posted Guardian articles, discernible change will never materialise.