Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Does writing this make me antisemitic?

BelperStuff has been quiet for the past few months because a blog that seeks to spotlight the absurd in political life just cannot compete with the lunacy of politicians who deliberately lampoon themselves. Take for instance the former Tory health minister who introduced a whole raft of nonsense on the NHS, who now blames government cuts for the failure to diagnose his cancer at an earlier stage .................... well I don't wish illness on anybody but even I could not have invented a more stupid volte-face.

Now though, I feel compelled to investigate the claims that the Labour Party is inherently antisemitic. I think of myself as being an average sort of Labour member, a bit of an activist at election time, turn up at a few branch meetings and sometimes turn up at conference. Oh and of course there is this blog. It was the other morning whilst standing outside the butcher shop in Crich at a Support the NHS event that my thoughts turned to racism; a fellow member saying to me that he’d never witnessed any antisemitism in the Labour Party. I looked around at the beauty of a Derbyshire village and realised that I hadn’t experienced it either but there it is slapped all over the news that Labour has a serious problem at its very core. Later, listening to the radio I heard a Labour MP say that if you tried to defend Labour’s record on antisemitism then that meant that you were also antisemitic. Up until that point I was content on letting our elected betters get on with dealing with the issue but being told that any attempt at trying to find out the truth of the matter would brand me as being racist was like a red rag to a bull.

A couple of days later I was in St.Pancras station, the grandchildren being handed over to me for their half term week in Derbyshire. On the train journey south I had started writing this post and I mentioned it as we ate our lunch before catching the train back to Derbyshire. My daughter (who is married into a Jewish family) urged me not to do it, “whatever you write will be wrong so don’t even go there”. My grandchildren (yes obviously both Jewish), once alone with me on the train urged me to write about the subject,”we know you can make sense of it”. The trust grandchildren place in their grandparents is a wondrous thing.

The half term week flew by and I had allowed laziness to stop me writing but then I was brought up sharp by the second demonstration against Labour antisemitism on Sunday, just two days ago. I had written a blog post entitled “The wrong type of Jew” which commented on Jeremy Corbyn choosing to attend the Jewdas seder and being “outed” by Guido Fawkes for being with …….. well ……. the wrong type of Jew. (see here an article in the Haaretz online newspaper) and also (here for a wonderful article written by Charlotte Nichols) It now looked somewhat dated so I deleted it, determined to write something with a bit more substance. I was thinking, if I am going to avoid being branded antisemitic then I should strive for objectivity. The idea came to me that using Jewish sources of information would be a positive move and so two days of reading the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News online, Haaretz and the websites of the Community Security Trust, the Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA), the Institute of Jewish Policy Research ...........  followed and here we are. Am I any wiser? Some would say that writing this post proves that I am not.

It has though been an interesting journey and I have learnt from UK Jewish sources that

the very left-wing, and, in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population (3.6% holding at least one antisemitic view)” and that, “looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right-wing. In this group about 14% hold hard-core antisemitic attitudes ………. “. 

This comes from a report written by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in 2017 which is embraced by the Jewish Chronicle and the Community Security Trust (CST). Armed with this information I found myself wondering why it was that the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies and the CAA felt compelled to organise demonstrations against the Labour Party and specifically Jeremy Corbyn. The evidence from the JPR would suggest that there was more to protest about on the right wing of politics.

The JPR report mentions that the average British Jew equates criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. I think it’s well understood that there are many on the left who have sympathy for Palestine and it does appear from the JPR research that on this point there is a disconnect between the left and many in the Jewish community. Such a shame as without a proper dialogue about this most basic of stumbling blocks to peace in the middle east we are condemned to unending conflict.

Problems within the Labour party

My researches into Jewish news sources did throw up some disturbing incidences of Labour Party antisemitism which I am glad to say were properly dealt with (suspensions and expulsions) but there were also a number of careless remarks or use of social media where leading Labour figures should have known better. I pay my dues to the Labour party because I want our top team to strive for a better, more equal and just society but I am frankly appalled when their behaviour falls to a level that undermines Labour success at the polling booth. As the JPR says, 

the left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values”. When our standards slip it is all the more noticeable.

Yes the Labour Party must do better but our shortcomings were not of a magnitude that justified two very public demonstrations organised by the Jewish establishment egged on by the CAA. Does questioning this make me antisemitic? There are certain Labour MP’s who say that it does.

We should have implemented the Chakorabaty report in full and I do wonder why this didn’t happen. Perhaps our internal wrangling has caused us to take our collective eye off the ball. There is also the commitment to rule changes following the vote at conference last September. We must press on with this as a matter of urgency.

Most Labour Party members are like me, they hate racism, see the person rather than the stereotype and wish no ill will upon anyone. Our leaders and elected members should embody the same. I do feel a sense of being let down by the constant infighting of MP’s. They must do better. Definitely stand up for human rights throughout the world and criticise Palestine and Israel if needs be but be even handed and objective. A careful study of the Labour Party Rule Book - Appendix 9,  would also be a positive step. (See the bottom of this post for an extract).

We in Labour have a job to do. We have to confront the 3.5% both within and without our party. We are firmly against racism in all of its evil forms and we must all work together to stamp it out wherever we find it.   

Now to a digest of my researches:

Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA)
This is the group that organised the second demonstration against Labour antisemitism on Sunday 8th April.

CAA details:
Chairman – Gideon Falter
Director of Organisation and Finance – Anonymous (who might this be?)
Director of Investigations and Enforcements – Steven Silverman

CAA is a charity (listed on Charity Commission website) with some funding from the US Natan organisation in 2015. Nothing intrinsically wrong with Natan but a grant to the CAA looks out of place. (Natan seems to be a very altruistic and well meaning group). I'm not very impressed by Falter and Silverman and I do wonder that one of the directors is anonymous.


CAA listed investigations

The CAA website lists the investigations they have undertaken. The incidences relating to political parties are as follows:

Labour Party – 39
Conservative Party – 4
BNP – 2
Green party – 5
Lib Dems – 5
SNP – 2
UKIP – 5
Others – 2


The CAA therefore suggests that the Labour Party has a much deeper problem with antisemitism  when compared with other parties but, looking for evidence of this from other sources such as the Institute for Jewish Policy Research it is a position that is hard to maintain.


Community Security Trust (CST)

The main organisation for the protection and promotion of UK Jewish life is the Community Security Trust (CST) with cross party affiliations. The CST website has two references to the CAA with one article cross posted with Left Foot Forward which contains:

“When the new grassroots group the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) took a non-Jewish journalist to spend an entire day last month walking the streets of London wearing a kippah (skullcap) and a hidden camera, hoping to expose the dark underbelly of British antisemitism, he failed to elicit a single hostile comment from passers-by.”

The CST also link to an article in the Jewish Chronicle which highlights the biased and unscientific methodology employed by the CAA which contains:

“Assessing UK antisemitism is not a suitable subject for propaganda games. Last week a new Jewish pressure group called Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) rushed out a deeply flawed report following the outrages in Paris. This presumably was to take advantage of the prevailing panic to gain publicity for unfounded statements about a “tsunami” of Jew-hatred in Britain. If headline-grabbing was the aim, it certainly succeeded.
The community’s leading research body, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has justifiably condemned CAA’s publication as “incendiary” and “irresponsible”. The JC (Jewish Chronicle) has published considerably less alarming findings from its own, more reliable research”.


Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

This institute, refered to as JPR, is a well established and respected organisation. Established in 1941 it has built up a reputation of reliable and objective analysis of Jewish issues such as antisemitism.
They published a report in September 2017 entitled, “Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain”.
I urge you to download and spend some time with this report ……….. in fact I think we should all read it, irrespective of our political inclination. The report is 85 pages of carefully laid out research but the heart of the matter is contained in the conclusion where we read:

"Looking at the political spectrum of British society, the most antisemitic group consists of those who identify as very right wing. In this group about 14% hold hard core antisemitic attitudes and 52% hold at least one attitude, compared again to 3.6 and 30% in the general population. The very left-wing, and in fact, all political groups located on the left, are no more antisemitic than the general population.
 This finding may come as a surprise to those who maintain that in today’s political reality, the left is the more serious, or at least, an equally serious source of antisemitism, than the right. Indeed, Jewish victims of antisemitic violence or harassment identify Muslims and the far-left as the chief perpetrators. This perception is not limited to victims of antisemitism. Three academic studies on the topic of left-wing antisemitism have been published over the past two years, clearly indicating that the perception that the left has an issue with antisemitism is quite prevalent in the minds of Jews and scholars of political sociology and history. Is this view misguided or rooted in error? Not quite. It is simply insufficiently precise.
The left tends to see itself, and is commonly regarded, as an anti-racist and egalitarian political group, both in terms of its political goals and its modus operandi. This image tends to impact on people’s expectations of the left or, at the very least, draws attention to how well (or otherwise) it performs in relation to its own proclaimed values. We found that the left (including the far-left) is no less antisemitic than the general population. This is not a trivial finding, as it runs counter to the left’s self-proclaimed ethos. When the expectation is to find less antisemitism than elsewhere, the finding of ‘just the same’ level of antisemitism as elsewhere is likely to be noticed by politically attuned individuals. Simultaneously embarrassing the left and being used as a weapon by it critics, this dissonance becomes the centre of attention and gets accentuated.
That, however, is not the whole story. The prevalence of antisemitism on the far-right is considerably higher than on the far-left. However, in the context of realistic social encounters, it is not only the prevalence of antisemitism within the group that matters, but also the size of the group on the political map. While 14% of the far-right are strongly antisemitic, the far-right constitutes just 1.4% of all British adults. By comparison, while only 3-4% of the far-left are strongly antisemitic, the share of the far-left in the British adult population is higher (3.5%). The political centre is indistinguishable from the general population when it comes to strong antisemitism, but it is a heavyweight political group in the population: 30-40% of British adults self-define as belonging to the centre”.

The CAA and JPR offer wildly different analyses and the methodology employed by the JPR makes their report far more authoratative. The CAA is obviously not trusted by the CST and Jewish Chronicle nor the JPR but still it managed to mobilise 500 to demonstrate against Labour last weekend. It was not pleasant to see Maureen Lipman railing against Labour’s antisemitism and that she would henceforth be voting Tory. There were also chants of, “Vote Conservative” from the crowd so I do wonder about the motives behind calling for a second event. We had enough of the racist bile of the Zac Goldsmith mayoral campaign and now, a year on once again racist slurs against Labour in London just before an election.

One last point; what are the relevant rules that govern the Labour Party:


Extract from the Labour Party Rule book

Appendix 9 NEC Codes of Conduct
All codes of conduct and NEC statements form part of the agreed relationship between individual Labour Party members, and set the minimum code of conduct expected by the Party of all its members. The NEC may supplement or amend these codes of conduct at any time. Further codes of conduct exist relating to internal elections, selections and other matters. These may be found in the rule book or on the Labour Party website at www.labour.org.uk
1. Code of Conduct: Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination. The Labour Party is the party of equality and has fought to ensure that society provides equal opportunities for all and will continue to do so. Labour strongly believes that no one should feel disadvantaged, discriminated against or harassed due to their gender either inside the party or in the wider society. The Labour Party understands that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that takes place when someone is subjected to unwelcome and unwanted sexual behaviour or other conduct related to their gender. This can range from inappropriate comments to assault, can be verbal, non-verbal or physical and can take place both in person or online. The Labour Party will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment. Labour is committed to ensuring the party is a welcoming environment for all who share our aims and values to engage in political activity and debate without feeling disadvantaged or unsafe. Any behaviour that is perceived to discriminate against or harass another due to their gender has no place within the Labour Party.
2. Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism The Labour Party is an anti-racist party, committed to combating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Labour will not tolerate racism in any form inside or outside the party. The Labour Party will ensure that the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. The Labour Party welcomes all who share our aims and values, and encourages political debate and campaigns around the vital issues, policies and injustices of our time. Any behaviour or use of language which targets or intimidates members of ethnic or religious communities, or incites racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, or undermines Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism, is unacceptable conduct within the Labour Party.
3. Code of Conduct: Social Media Policy National Executive Committee Statement A starting point for all our actions as members of a party and a movement is to treat all people with dignity and respect. This applies to all our dealings with people, offline and online. Everyone should feel able to take part in discussion about our party, country and world. We want to maximise this debate, including critical discussion, as long as it does not result in the exclusion of others. Abusing someone online is just as serious as doing so face to face. We stand against all forms of abuse and will take action against those who commit it. Harassment, intimidation, hateful language and bullying are never acceptable, nor is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Any member found in breach of the above policies will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party. We wish to build a diverse movement that reflects the whole of society, so should always consider how our actions and words may limit the confidence or otherwise exclude either those less knowledgeable than ourselves or those already under-represented in politics. Those with privilege, whether due to their volume of experience, party position or status in society should have regard to how their actions may be felt by those in different circumstances to themselves. It is perfectly possible to have vehement disagreements without descending into personal abuse, shaming people or exhibiting bullying behaviour. Forcefully made points and criticisms of the political views of others are totally legitimate, personal attacks are not. Debates amongst party members should be comradely, acknowledging that whatever our diverse views, we are one party with shared goals. Derogatory descriptions of the positions of others should be avoided. Anonymous accounts or otherwise hiding one’s identity for the purpose of abusing others is never permissible. The use of sexualised language or imagery, and unwelcome sexual attention or advances are not acceptable, nor is the publishing of others’ private information without their explicit permission. We should not give voice to those who persistently engage in abuse and should avoid sharing their content, even when the item in question is unproblematic. Those who consistently abuse other or spread hate should be shunned and not engaged with in a way that ignores this behaviour. We all have a responsibility to challenge abuse and to stand in solidarity with victims of it. We should attempt to educate and discourage abusers rather than responding in kind. We encourage the reporting of abusive behaviour to the Labour Party, administrators of the relevant website or social media platform, and where appropriate, to the police. This is a collective responsibility and should not be limited to those who have been subjected to abuse. Trolling, or otherwise disrupting the ability of others to debate is not acceptable, nor is consistently mentioning or making contact with others when this is unwelcome.

......... and for comparison the Conservative Party Rule book

I could find nothing in the Tory rule book that referred in any way to the issues that are so clearly laid out in the Labour rulebook. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Woods of Darney ......... Passchendaele remembered

Wounded, Passchendaele
Paul Nash (1889 - 1946) Manchester Art Gallery
A hundred years ago, November 1917 marked the end of the Battle of Passchendaele. It took place on the Western Front, over a span of 5 months near the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders. Hundreds of thousands sheltered in trenches made intolerable by incessant rain; wave after wave sent across the quagmire of no-mans' land to their deaths. The final tally will never be known but estimates put the death toll at 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German soldiers. 42,000 bodies have never been recovered. By the end of November the toll had reached 600,000. It is really difficult to comprehend the scale of such slaughter and the breathtaking callousness of the Allied Command who justified the battle by the belief that the German Empire would be hardest hit by such losses. The chronology and statistics of the battle are horrific as outlined here:

A brief description of the Battle of Passchendaele on the BBC website

A hundred years later and a group of Englishmen competed with a similar group of Germans, this time on the well manicured turf of Wembley Stadium in London. Yes it was a football match but the sport was incidental to the emotional sight of the two nations standing together through a minutes silence, both teams wearing armbands embroidered with poppies, the symbol of loss in war.

For many, like me, this was a significant moment following months of argument with football's ruling international body who maintained that the poppy was a political statement. Finally good sense prevailed the remembrance of those who fell in conflict is allowed on the football pitch. We will never know the full extent of our loss as numbers have never been agreed ............ this Wikipedia article makes grim reading but from whatever nation they came from, all are remembered.

The leaders of government and the armed forces who sent so many to their deaths were fools. WW1 was so shocking that it was dubbed the war to end all wars yet the lesson learned was soon forgotten with 260 major wars since 1918. Still it continues. Lions led by donkeys.

Downing Street Donkeys of 2017

And what of the current drove of donkeys? They fan the flames of war and then turn their backs on those displaced by their "strategic thinking". The UK has a vested interest in conflict as it is the second biggest exporter of military hardware in the world, second only to the USA ......... based on a 10 year average - 2016 Parliamentary report on UK arms industry. There are 170,000 UK jobs involved in the production of arms. It is no co-incidence that Liam Fox, long associated with international arms sales, has been chosen to lead the team given the task of securing trade deals with the rest of the world following Brexit, (Britain's trade policy is just the sound of one hand clapping). The British response to the resultant refugee crisis is disgusting (see here previous BelperStuff posts regarding the plight of refugees). Weaponry enables war. Without the four and a half million shells fired at Passchendaele the battle could not have been fought. Is it wrong to imagine that a concerted effort by society to turn swords into ploughshares is the best way to go? We have much more to gain by solving the evils of worldwide poverty and disease or the climate challenge and substitution of renewable for carbon based energy. The preoccupation with war and armaments must stop as this Mozambique soldier testifies here is the link:



Liam Fox is but one of the donkeys that sit around the cabinet table in Downing Street squabbling for position, arguing for a variety of Bexit flavours that nobody has voted for (Theresa May talking nonsense). 100 years after Passchendaele Europe is a united political entity except for a Britain that is intent on returning to a single nation status that will involve a deterioration in the standard of living of citizens, and a destabilising of international accord on the environment and the rights of individuals. It is only the rich who will benefit ......... because they always do. Our donkeys pursue increased international arms trade as a substitute for what is lost when we leave the EU; donkeys following the carrots dangled by financiers when they should be driven with sticks wielded by a well-informed electorate.

The Woods of Darney

Thinking of the lost 42,000 who slumber beneath the fields of Flanders reminds me of this song from Richard Thompson: For those who need the link. So many lives were lost as European society moved slowly but inexorably towards social democracy and the welfare state. Bloodshed can never be justified but what is embodied in the EU was hard won. There is a tide in history towards order and justice that cannot be halted though war, conflict and subjugation is so often employed by those who resist. The Woods of Darney are far to the south of Flanders but the two places are linked by the same struggle, muddy trenches and sacrifice.





Sunday, 24 September 2017

Boris Johnson found time to visit Duffield this weekend

Thankfully Boris didn't say anything whilst he was visiting Derbyshire, contenting himself with hanging around Duffield on a zip wire.

Amazingly lifelike - Photo: ©Dawn Narborough
This Boris (created by the Buckley family) featured in the Duffield Arts Festival Scarecrow exhibition alongside 69 other scarecrows spread right across the village.

It would be interesting to substitute the Duffield Boris for the Bullingdon Boris at international summit meetings and see if Britain gains from the switch ............. probably wouldn't be worse off.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Derbyshire Tory promises .... Bus services protected ..... No

BelperStuff has been following the progress of the new Tory regime in Matlock with ............ well ................ few expectations. One of the most intriguing promises was to reverse Labour's cuts to bus services which were honestly disclosed by Labour's Councillor Dean Collins in January of this year. He stated that because of government cuts the DCC would have to gradually cut subsidies from £4.2 million to £2.7 million over the 4 years up to 2020/21.New Blueprint for Derbyshire Buses. Don't forget that these are Tory government austerity cuts imposed on councils.
Bus interior scene - Eustace Pain Elliot Nash (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery - Bournemouth)
Derbyshire Tories reacted to this by making the reversal of "Labour" bus subsidy cuts a major election pledge in May 2017. Many people voted conservative because they were promised that by voting Tory they would be protecting bus services. Below is that very promise .......... number 10 in their manifesto:
THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY MANIFESTO - DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL 2017 Working for Derbyshire
We know that Derbyshire Community Transport Schemes and subsidised bus routes provide a vital service for vulnerable and isolated people, particularly in the county’s rural and former mining areas.
We will reverse Labour's cuts and restore important access to health and social care, shopping and social activities. 

So what have the Tories done now that they are in office?

In a DCC press statement made in September the Tories announced that they were reversing £3m of the cuts: 

............ and this is the salient announcement:

Subsidised bus services to continue

Bus passengers in Derbyshire are to keep services paid for by us as plans to cut public transport funding are reviewed. It had been proposed to withdraw funding for around 144 subsidised services from October 2017. Following consultation where more than 90% of respondents said they disagreed with the plan, we have now agreed to provide £3m to continue funding some of these services.
The future of individual services has yet to be decided but we will be working closely with operators to see if some can be run commercially. We will also continue to review the whole of the bus network, streamlining less well-used services by reducing their frequency and joining up other services to reduce duplication.
There is another reference to the £3m in the revised budget announcement of July 2017:
  • putting back £3.1m over two years (2018-2019 and 2019-2020) into public and community transport, reversing a previous budget saving and resulting in an additional £11.9m over the next five years you can find that here

Have the Tories made good on their manifesto pledge?

Not quite sure how putting an average annual sum of £1.55m can become an additional sum of £11.9m over the next 5 years ............ (surely 5 x 1.55 = 7.75) ............. must be Govian maths.

The total sum allocated for public transport in the Labour budget for 2017/18 was £13.7 million. It would be helpful if the new administration could publish their revised public transport budget figure for this current year and give an indication of what subsequent budgets might look like. The eagle-eyed amongst you have probably noticed that Councillor Collins was talking about a 4 year budget period (up to 2021) but the Tories are planning on a 3 year timescale (up to 2020). What do they propose in the 4th year? What is needed is a like for like comparison. That claim of an extra £11.9m over the next 5 years would equate to an additional annual figure of £2.38m. If we use Councillor Collins January 2017 press statement as a baseline then we could have expected the 2021/22 public transport budget to be around £12.2 but the revised Tory forecast would make that £14.58m. If inflation is included in the calculation then the 2021/22 budget figure would have to be in the region of £15m to keep parity with the 2017/18 figure. Obviously £3.1m over two years falls way short of the election manifesto promise.

Finally

A cynic might well say, "so what's new .......... Tories make big promises to get elected then do exactly the opposite once they have your vote".
The trouble is that they do it time after time, election after election. "oh yes ..... (the cynic would say) ............ but all parties renege on their election promises".
Maybe so but in this instance it would appear that Labour were more trustworthy than the Tories. In fact there are other Tory promises that have already been broken that will feature on this blog.
As usual BelperStuff tries to be a reliable source of information. If you spot any factual inaccuracy then make a comment below and if something needs correcting it will be corrected.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Abraham Lincoln comments on the UK 2017 General Election

Some things never change and the British electorate has once again demonstrated this simple truth. The famous quote from Abraham Lincoln about the politics of 1860's America is a very apt description of what happened in the UK elections last week. Theresa May and her government chums, cheered on by a fact-free press have been found out by a younger electorate that have started to see through such arrogant foolishness. May has responded with the usual Tory trick of finding someone else to take the blame as her advisors fall on their swords but the solution of enlisting support from the DUP to prop up her minority in the House of Commons (will it be ConDUP or DUPCon?) is already floundering. Theresa May's response to the message from an increasing number of voters that the country does not want to be dragged to the right on Brexit and a whole raft of domestic issues is to cling to power via an alliance with the ultra right of Northern Ireland. That she also ignores the warnings of senior voices in her own party is the height of folly and will only result in an early demise.

The Tories campaigned with the apocryphal warning that voting for Jeremy Corbyn would result in a "Coalition of Chaos" but what we have ended up with is the "Chaos of ConDUP" They conjured up a vision akin to this painting.
Nicolas-Antoine Taunay Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell 1795 (Musee de la Ville, Musee Carnavalat, Paris)


We should not be surprised

The sheer folly of a Prime Minister calling an election when the only message she had for the electorate was, "trust me because I'm better than the other bloke who would be a disaster" had many of us shaking our heads in disbelief (and not just on the left). Trying to understand the logic of her thinking is difficult but we are left none the wiser after looking at her appearances on television and a whole slew of newspaper articles of which this piece in Premier, a Christian commentary website is typical. It reminds us of her vicarage upbringing where she obviously did not pay enough heed to her scriptures: A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences (Proverbs 22:3)


There is a way forward

What is now evident is that there is little appetite for the hard Brexit that May was proposing. That the Tory negotiation strategy was based upon the idea that the tenets of the World Trade Organisation were a reasonable alternative to the EU free market makes it obvious that they now have no idea how they will conduct themselves when confronted by the EU next week. They do however have a way out of this impasse if they take heed of what Labour's Keir Starmer (Brexit must be reset after the election result) and Yvette Cooper ( Guardian article referencing Labour ideas on how to proceed) propose. In a saner world we should expect a cross party consensus to emerge but it takes a wise leader to countenance such an idea ......... and we demonstrably do not have a wise head leading the country. Events may yet overtake us as the reality of the seriousness of the position we face sinks in during the first few days of negotiation.

Apophenia or Pareidolia

This must seem like a bit of a jump but bear with me. The working title for this post was "Apophenia"  which is the tendency to perceive patterns in random data or, as is determined by the word "pareidolia", the ability to see faces in clouds or the likeness of Jesus on a piece of toast. This is relevant because for some years we have been assailed by politicians and the media claiming that the ills of society can be blamed on the EU, the feckless poor and religious or ethnic minorities. Over many decades the fat finger of prejudice has relentlessly pointed at random skeins of data and, by suggesting spurious connections have managed to fool the majority of the people. (Do you see how artfully we have returned to Abraham Lincoln?). The significance of this 2017 general election is that a fresh generation of voters have joined those of us who have never bought in to the right wing myths such as the left is economically incompetent or that immigration has caused the housing crisis, (or the problems of the NHS  ............ or ........... well fill this in yourself). This unblinkered alliance of the objectively minded electorate has finally reached the tipping point of a majority. The subjective views of the right which promote illogical ideas of cause and effect could only muster 45% (Tory 42%, DUP 0.9%, UKIP 1.8%, plus sundry others 0.5%) whilst the so-called alliance of the left gained a 53.2% vote share (Labour 40%, SNP 3%, Lib Dem 7.4%. PC 0.5%, Green 1.6%). It is my contention that those of us on the left (and I do include Lib Dems in this as they have now learnt the lesson of supping with the devil) see the data for what it is and do not swallow the false assumptions that fuel the bias of the right.

In conclusion 



As usual BelperStuff concludes this post with a carefully chosen video that is supposed to add something to the debate. In researching for this piece I came across this delightful song by the Canadian group Tasseomancy, busking in Shoreditch with their song, Apophenia. Here is the link for those who cannot see the embedded video. If you like it just let the video run on to their track, "Diana".or sit back and enjoy another version of "Apophenia" on their album, Palm Wine Revisited.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

2017 General Election ..... Campaigning with Labour's Alison Martin at Belper Railway Station

The Labour candidate for the Mid-Derbyshire seat, Alison Martin was about early this morning campaigning at Belper Railway Station.

Alison Martin and Labour supporters campaigning at 07:30 this morning (Photo: BelperStuff)
Alison Martin
The message that Alison brought with her was one that Belper commuters well understood as they crammed onto the two coach train for their journey into Derby or Nottingham (sometimes it's just one carriage). The board being held up by Alison and her supporters puts Labour's pledge in a nutshell,

Alison adding:

"Ticket prices have gone up by 27% since 2010. Travelling by rail should be affordable and hassle free. Labour's plans for rail will improve things for passengers".

Below is the leaflet that was being handed out and Alison said that she stood by every word.


Labour Party Policy on Rail

The Labour pledges are very specific and deliverable, for instance the plan to cap rail fares can be implemented within current franchise arrangements: Labour promises to save average rail commuter £200 on a season ticket - article in the Guardian and ensuring safe staffing levels will be good news for Southern Rail passengers who have been plagued by the failure of Connex to provide an adequate service. Free Wi-Fi is enjoyed by first class passengers on some routes so extending this to all trains and all passengers is in keeping with the Labour slogan of "for the many not the few" ......... and it costs comparatively little. Modernisation is touched upon later in this post.

On a more general note it has become very clear that the Labour Party policy to renationalise rail is very popular with wide support, not only with voters but also with industry experts ............. as the Guardian comments in a recent article Labour renationalisation ............, "Academics have found private operators no more effective or efficient than public owners. Money is usually the key. The trains are safer and popular with buckets of public investment".

At the moment, those buckets of investment provide rich pickings for the 23 private companies who operate the rail franchises with an average annual profit margin of 3.4% (see here the Full Fact.org article) but research by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change in a report entitled "The Great Train Robbery", highlighted the fact that private rail operating companies invest very little of their own money, in fact earning a return of 147% (sadly the links now seem to be broken).This is what the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz named as "renting", where a private company is allowed to make a profit from public investment (just enter the name Stiglitz in the search box to the right of this blog to find out more).

If you've followed all those links you will now know that the rail network is already owned by the state (that's us) and that renationalisation of the passenger rail franchises would not cost a penny as the state would simply take over franchises as they come to an end. It would take a few years but you could find that some companies would choose to hand back the franchises early to avoid late franchise costs ( as was done by National Express who handed back the East Coast franchise which was then run by the state between 2009 and 2015). Privatised railway economics is an absolute minefield but using the state run East Coast franchise as a yardstick (annual average payment to the exchequer of £200 million, foregoing a profit of £19.9 million a year) we can see that renationalisation alone could make an extra £304 million a year available for investment in more carriages to reduce the chronic overcrowding, help lower fares or improve service levels and frequencies. If you factor in the whole edifice of franchise bidding (£5 million per company per bid) plus the extra levels of management involved in activities like financing and contract negotiation then the annual net savings could be far more than that.

Putting this into perspective, to add a single carriage to the trains that stop at  Belper on the Matlock service would cost at most £1.5 million to build and add additional costs per year for fuel and maintenance (back of fag packet calculation - somewhere in the region of £250k per year - if anyone can provide a more accurate figure then please leave a comment). The East Midlands franchise makes an annual average profit of £16.6 million which, if reinvested, would fund many more carriages and help pay to run them. 

It should be noted that environmental, engineering and safety standards have changed in the past 30 years (the trains operating the Matlock service were built in 1987) so a decision to increase capacity by simply adding a carriage could involve a more general refurbishment of the existing carriages -----  so it's not that simple.

However, the opportunities that follow from renationalisation are very apparent. Before anyone asks, these calculations do not include freight operations which play a minor part in the overall cost of railway provision and we haven't even mentioned the Tory failure on electrification but if you want to know more type the word "electrification" into the search box to the right. Then of course there is the big question of who exactly owns all these trains? Successive ministers of transport crow about the millions being invested in new trains but whose money are they spending?  

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

2017 General Election ............... Tories on the slide with 8 days to go

The General Election 2017 was initially dubbed as the one that nobody wanted and Theresa May was justifiably criticised for doing a u-turn on her pledge that this government would not go to the polls until 2020. There seemed little enthusiasm from party activists and the voters were particularly unengaged. This was summed up perfectly by  Brenda from Bristol who at the time spoke for the majority of the country when she found out that a snap election had been called:


Pumped up by fawning newspaper articles and sycophantic supporters the prime minister was tempted by poll ratings that promised a huge Tory majority .......... it was an opportunity too good to miss. Looking ahead to the political climate of 2020 with anticipated Conservative poll ratings likely to be negative in the post-brexit shrinking economy, compounded by 10 years of disastrous austerity, going for an election in 2017 was a Tory no-brainer. All Theresa had to do was keep her mouth shut so that the obvious paucity of Tory policies and ideas was not found out ..........  but .......... being so far ahead of Labour in the ratings and believing their own Corbyn bashing propaganda to be true the chance to make further cuts in government provision of services proved to be irresistible.

Make no mistake about the dogmatism that drives the thinking behind the 2017 Tory election manifesto ............ they are now getting close to the very heart of what's left of the welfare state ......... they want to rid the country of the principle of collective responsibility. The noble post war consensus that accepted the role of taxation in the provision of health services, social care, education, scientific research and improvements in infrastructure is once again under attack from the far right.

Then it all started to unravel. The public perception of  Theresa May gradually turned from strength and stability to one of uncertainty and indecision as the u-turns started to pile up to the point where she was going in ever decreasing circles. As the Tory contender became increasingly unhinged the public, and more significantly the press looked towards the other camp with a more open mind. Were Labour and Corbyn as bad as the Tories made them out to be? What they found was a well thought out manifesto which is more Maynard Keynes than Marx and a Labour leader who was coming across as being ........... well ........... electable. With bastions of the establishment such as David Dimbleby  stating that Jeremy has not been treated fairly by the press it is evident that the tide has turned; a fact underlined by an article in today's Times Poll predicts shock losses for Theresa May's Tories at the election. I did not go behind the Times paywall (never give Murdoch even a single penny) but it was possible to lift this predictive chart:


How accurate this proves to be will only be known some time early on June 9th but such a forecast would have been unthinkable even a week ago. This is a tantalising glimpse of a possible coalition of the left with Labour not just avoiding melt down but actually increasing its seats in parliament. Please let this be true .......... though it pays to keep your feet on the ground and this article in the Guardian commenting on the YouGov poll puts it into perspective.

Why is it possible that we can contemplate Tories losing their majority?

Put simply the voters are starting to realise that Corbyn and Labour are not as bad as the media would have them believe and that Tories and May are far less attractive a proposition once the spotlight is turned upon them. The 8th June could become the defining example of the meaning of the word  "hubris" .............. or perhaps it's this: Anti Theresa May track "Liar Liar GE2017" nears top of official singles chart


Apparently if you download this track from iTunes or Amazon (and probably other places that an old fart like me would never have heard of) you donate to both the Peoples Assembly against austerity and to foodbanks. Couldn't resist so I paid my 99p. (A link to Liar Liar GE2017 for those who receive this post by email)