Not All Tories Are Bastards

Five years. Five years of Tory hubris and callous, divisive policies. After this government is done, Thatcherism will seem compassionate and benevolent. We social democrats are left with deep grief and psychic wounds. Labour’s internecine quarrels and stagger to the right makes the desolation worse. Alan Johnson, poor boy made good, mainly by selling his poor boy made good story, now says his party failed to win over ‘aspirational’ people. Peter Benjamin Mandelson, AKA Baron Mandelson, Privy Councillor, reiterates the message as do other Blairites. Does the word describe the lone, Labour voting mum who wants better for her kids? Or is it the pushy Tiger Mum from the middle classes who wants to maintain generational status and privileges? 36.7% of the electorate voted for the Conservatives; 66% turned out to vote, so, in fact 24% of all those who could have voted put the Tories into power. Yet the main opposition party offers not a positive alternative ( As Sturgeon did) but shoddy, unprincipled, derivative politics which strive to please that 24% and disregard the millions who have either given up or who voted against a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

Osborne never even pretends to care about the bonds of society, or equity and mutuality . He is cold, instrumental, powerful and on course to serve his class  (and those above) and waste the hopes and lives of those who do not matter. Ian Duncan Smith appears to enjoy humiliating and punishing citizens who depend on the state. John Whittingdale, ( who voted against same sex marriage and Equal Pay laws) now in charge of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is determined to bring the BBC to its knees. Oh and to remove cumbersome regulations on gambling. It is truly SCARY.  

We could give up altogether, those of us who want a fair, equal, just society. Or we can become less tribal and try to listen to and support ameliorating influences within the Tory party.  No I am not turning right, like many do as they get older. I am going the other way. But sulking or sniping for five years would be self-indulgent and worse than useless. Not all Tories are bastards. There are MPs in the winning party who don’t want benefits cut further, others who believe in the European Union and are stanch defenders of the Human Rights Act. David Davis and Dominic Grieve will fight hard against plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a more tepid British Bill of Rights; Ken Clarke will do the same to stay in the EU. I can’t say I like Boris and Michael Gove, now the Justice Secretary, but that hardly matters. What does matter is that both are calling for a proper living wage and other measures to shift perceptions of the Tories as distant toffs. I know two women who run small businesses who could not bring themselves to vote Tory this time. One of them told me: ‘ Of course they are good for me. Who, in business doesn’t want a free hand and low taxes? But I didn’t like the way they were attacking people on benefits. I had to ask for housing benefit when my husband died and left behind big debts. I was lucky. Many people are not. They don’t understand that’.  

I suggest Cameron himself is aware of and possibly slightly troubled by the discordance between his fine postures –  the Green warrior, the caring conservative, jogging metro-man, modern husband and dad- and the brutish, iniquitous laws his hardline cabinet is set to pass. That must be why his post election speech seemed conciliatory and righteous: ‘ We must bring our country together. We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom…it means giving everyone in the country a chance.. no matter where you are from, you will have the opportunity to make the most of your life’. Did that come out of guilt and shame or was it slick PR? Don’t know. But hark, here comes one of his most trusted friends and ‘blue sky’ gurus, Steve Hilton, who has written a book, More Human, which in parts, is bolder, more unabashedly moral than any written by Labour insiders. Hilton went off to the USA in 2012 when his wife got a top job at Google. Until then he advocated savage cuts to the civil service and welfare budget. Now he sees the path to true enlightenment, repudiates his own previous self . I confess I was both startled and then seduced by his words and ideas. My husband, in turn, was startled by my enthusiastic yelps as I read an extract. He remains cynical and probably thinks post election blues have weakened my political resolve, made me susceptible to smart Tory talk.  

Here is what Hilton has to say: ‘…our democracies are increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges. ..At least in America, economic, cultural and political power is dispersed. In the UK, centralisation is a gift to the vested interests. When the corporate bosses, the MPs, the journalists- and authors of books such as mine- all go to the same dinner parties and social events, all live near one another, all send their children to the same schools ( from which they themselves came) , an insular ruling class develops…It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome. I know because I was part of it’ He goes on to argue for decent wages, for people to be protected from ugly human impulses such as ‘avarice, malice and intolerance.’  This globally respected thinker may just move and affect the right wing cabinet and PM. He will, for sure. inspire younger. Idealistic Tories. Labour movers and shakers, at present muddled and craven, should support fair minded Tories, and welcome Hilton’s intervention, learn from him, admit that real progressive thinking can sometimes come from the enemy. Will they? Some hope.

The Independent 18/5/2015

 

 

 

The Many Faces of Liberalism

Liberal Values?

Nick Clegg was grief-stricken as he delivered his valedictory statement. It was both personal and burningly political. His leadership had been bullwhipped, the party roundly thrashed; voter fears and grievances had been encouraged and exploited, ‘liberalism’ was waning, possibly expiring here and across Europe. A worthy speech, I thought, genuine, and, as ever, well enunciated. But his views on liberalism are, frankly, bunkum. 

This weekend, Tories and their many journalist chums, gloated and sneered at ‘leftie liberals’ who do not understand the needs of ‘the people’. So are the Tory leaders and their supporters illiberal? No, No, they would say. Old and new conservatives fought ( and would fight) wars for liberty, for the right to live as one chooses, not to have an interfering, domineering state. These days they even tolerate gays, don’t you know.

Liberalism is like a beige scarf which can be worn with any colour or outfit, to make different, sometimes contradictory statements. I put it to you readers, that one version of liberalism, ardently supported by the LibDems, gave the Tories their victory. That far from dying away, it has been renewed in this savage election, polished up, and sold to millions. Britons were told over and over that under the Tories they would have fewer rules and laws stopping or tempering what they wish to do. The exit from the EU that so many seem to want comes from this desire. No more planning permission, no more industrial tribunals, no more political correctness, no more anti-discrimination laws, no more human rights laws, down with health and safety. What bliss awaits them. The rewards for all this deregulation would be piles of cash. Think of Mr Cameron, pumped up and full of puff, promising low taxes, more money in all our pockets, so we can spend, spend, spend. Mr Osborne, similarly, enabling pensioners to cash in their pensions instead of buying annuities, so they too can spend, spend,  spend. In Toryland, there is no such thing as society and citizenship has become obsolete. Economic liberalism casts Britons as consumers, money-makers or losers and scroungers. 

One online business dictionary provides this useful definition of liberalism: ‘ A concept that government should not try to control prices, rents or wages, but instead let open competition and the forces of supply and demand create an equilibrium between them, that benefits the vast majority of citizens’. So when the hapless Ed Miliband announced rent controls and mansion taxes, it was spun by the Tories into an assault on essential, nay, defining British rights and liberties. Liberty has tremendous resonance for most Britons. It is their identity, a deep folk memory of the Magna Carta, resistance to tyranny, the small person against the big state. Modern Tories cleverly use liberty and liberalism to justify unbridled capitalism:Go aspire, make profits, the government will not bother you, it is your birthright in this free and liberal nation. 

Some aspects of social liberalism are also alive and doing rather too well. Society has become more permissive. Sex toys and underwear are sold on high streets and nobody cares or minds. Commuters read Fifty Shades of Grey without any embarrassment and the objectification of females is now seen as smart, cool advertising. Young feminists are skilfully using online networks to protest and stop such adverts. In the last fortnight they got a company to withdraw pernicious billboards showing the perfect ‘beach body’ . Those enraged by the campaign accused the feminists of Stalinist tactics and crimes against a liberal society. Voters who abandoned Labour and the LibDems included millions of such economic and social liberals.

These same liberals, I reckon, are wary of an entirely different brand of liberals who emphasise the greater good and campaign to protect equality and civil rights, a tradition that arguably goes back to the anti-slavery movement and is based on sound political and  philosophical theories. This liberalism is an optimistic creed. It enhances human generosity, virtues and tolerance, tempers Darwinian behaviours, expects the state to protect vulnerable citizens and to respect autonomy. Our anti-discrimination laws would not have been passed were it not for that greatest of liberal politicians, Roy Jenkins, a committed, true egalitarian, an ardent European and human rights champion.  That benign, corrective, caring, sharing liberalism may indeed be dying. If that was Clegg’s warning, it wasn’t clear and, in the end not persuasive. He is partly responsible for what has happened.

Edmund Burke – philosopher of ethical conservatism- warned that when the fabric of a state is ripped, society soon gets disconnected ‘into the dust and powder of individuality’. Selfishness has been embedded now in British society; the rich live by their own rules while the poor are reduced to subhuman status. The revolution started by Thatcher was completed by the coalition. LibDem figures who had been in government, viciously attacked Tory policies during the election, policies that were patently unfair. We saw this turnabout and laughed bitterly. Vince Cable confessed it bothered him that new regulations and charges made it much harder for workers to take up cases against bad employers. Why did he not speak up earlier? Nick Clegg similarly could have but didn’t leave the government when Tories decreed the state could spy on us all, have secret trials and stick innocent migrants into detention centres. Liberalism for Nick and Co was a flexi loan.

This election showed something precious has ( ITLA PREV WD) gone or may be going from our now atomised and volatile nation. Not liberalism- some species of which are overactive- but social democracy which had moral purpose and was, for decades, the basis of the state’s obligations to the citizen. It tamed the market, strove for equality and a just society. Even Adam Smith, guru of the free market, saw the need to offset self interest with benevolent instinct which would ‘produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole race and propriety’.  There is no harmony of sentiments any more. Divided we are and divided we will fall.

The Independent, 11/5/2015

 

 

British Jews Who Support Palestinians

British Jews and Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu won a fourth term in office. He won ‘because he ran as a bigot. ’ writes columnist Joe Klein in Time magazine. Klein has been a loyal Zionist all his life and still is, but now his idealism weakens: ‘ This is the sad reality; a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regards Jews. They have had cause. There have been indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks on the Arab side. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side…But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well….Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing’. It took courage to write with such honesty. It took a perceptive and reflective Jew to articulate what millions felt around the world. He will, by now, have felt the slings and arrows of outraged zealots .  

A Muslim friend of mine, a doctor, is sceptical of Klein’s commentary: ‘Don’t be fooled. The man totally supports Israel. A few nice words and you think he has suddenly seen the light?. These are mind games to fool the world.’  On the same day a Jewish acquaintance expressed her disappointment: ‘ Joe should know this is not the time to attack Israel when even the US is moving away from our vulnerable homeland’.  It isn’t easy to be a principled and mindful Diasporic Jew. Accused of treachery by insiders and mistrusted by outsiders, they can’t win.

 Some still do censure the racist Israeli state, but carefully. Many don’t speak out because criticism of Israel provokes defensive, Zionist fury and bolsters diehard anti-Semites. Many of us Muslims are caught in the same bind: if we condemn Islamicist ideologues, defensive Muslims get furious and anti-Muslim hatred is boosted. In both cases keeping one’s own counsel feels like collusion, and it is.  In both cases, blameless people feel guilt by association and further guilt if they break ranks and are disloyal.( Tribal, communal, religious and national loyalties sustain most of the evils and injustices in the world today. Every school child should be taught to be sceptical and autonomous).

But back to Israel and British Jewry. A row is brewing here in the UK which encapsulates the points I have made above. In mid April, a three day conference is due to take place at Southampton University. The subject is International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism. Well, apparently, such  scholarly deliberations are completely unacceptable to over five thousand agitators, to emotive Eric Pickles who warns against far leftist ‘diatribes’ against this favoured state, to the Jewish Board of Deputies, to Fareham MP Mark Hoban to Mark Lewis, partner at the law firm Seddons, who came to prominence in some of the phone hacking trails. Lewis has warned that if this conference goes ahead he will not award training contracts to any student from Southampton. ( His firm has since stated that these are Lewis’s personal views) Such shocking intimidation by a lawyer, such an attack on freedom of freedom of expression and academic discourse and no furore breaks out in our mainstream media.

Now get this. The conference organisers are Professor Oren Ben-Dor, an ex-Israeli and George Bisharat  a Palestinian American professor, both universally respected academicians. The University is holding firm and has the backing of academics from top universities, several of them of Jewish heritage. It is not the first nor will it be the last time when such disputes break out. I fear we more of this will happen as public opinion shifts towards the Palestinians and their long struggle.  Hamas is a wicked and dangerous force in the Middle east. But Israel is now more wicked and dangerous.  Jewish thinkers and writers in the US, UK and Israel are now questioning the way the Holocaust has been cheapened and used to justify inhumane policies and actions. Read the book The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise from the Ashes, by Avrham Burg, once a pillar of the Israeli establishment.  It is one of the bravest, most iconoclastic books ever written. Such nonconformists are savaged by extreme Zionists. And still they speak up,

Some of them, including actress Miriam Margolyes, emeritus Professor Moshe Machover and two dozen other big names, even refuted recent claims made by the Campaign Against Antisemitism  (CAA) which led to Theresa May announcing hasty new measures. Here is an extract from their public letter: ‘ The home secretary must know that the CAA was set up last summer not to fight antisemitism ( sic) but to counter rising criticism of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza…Accusing critics of Israel and Zionism of antisemitism merely devalues the currency, while claiming the right for Jews to censor what others say about Israel is hardly the way to combat prejudice against them.’ The signatories accepted UK Jews were fearful, but asserted that it was far harder for Muslims. For this courageous stand, they were slammed and branded ‘self-loathing Jews’ . Singer and music teacher Deborah Fink, planned to sing a song for Bethlehem, divided and devastated by Israeli walls. She belongs to Just Peace UK, a largely Jewish group which strongly opposes Israel’s illegal occupation. Word got out and she was deluged with sick emails, several saying Hitler had killed the wrong Jews. Then there was Mike Marqusee, activist and incomparable writer who, tragically,  died of bone cancer earlier this year. His words were so truthful they hurt to read: ‘ Since each Israeli atrocity is justified by the exigencies of Jewish survival, each calls forth a particular witness from anti-Zionist Jews, whose very existence contradicts the Zionist claim to speak for all Jews everywhere’.

 I wish more of us Muslims acknowledged Jewish men and women  who, in spite of intolerable pressures, fight for Palestine, an ethical, just Israel and equality for all.  I wish more Muslims were as fair minded and honourable as these Jewish resistors.

The Independent, 30/4/2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hounded by Stupids

There is a group of white men who accuses me of wishing the extinction of white men. They have pursued me with this rubbish for years and keep adding it to my Wiki entry. I am married to a white man for starters and IT WAS A JOKE guys, a reply to a question I was asked by a presenter. We were both laughing. Are they really that dim not to realise that? Or do they just want to bully me?