Yesterday was #InternationalMensDay (IMD) – not a simple awareness retaliation day to Women’s Day but an acknowledgement, since 1999, that privilege and difference are often relative and contextual. Society does make it harder for men to talk, share, open up, acknowledge depression, career pressures etc. Men’s mental health is such that suicide can be their biggest killer, indeed, silence kills. Yes, feminists can argue that every day is men’s day, but in the particular sphere of suicide, there needs to be a spotlight on men and the fiscal and fragile crises that so often masculinity prefers to conceal. Similarly, whilst young LGBT people have high suicide risks, one group most prone to it is white men aged 85+ whose suicide rate in the US is six times the national average, closely followed by Native American males.
World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 Sep
Men are more than 3 times as likely to take their lives as women (4 times in the USA), with rates of 16.8 per 100,000 for men and 5.2 per 100,000 for women in the UK. Women try suicide more than men, but male suicide methods are more likely to result in death.
The highest suicide rate in the UK in 2014 was for men aged 45-49 at 26.5 per 100,000 with the North East of England most vulnerable. Whilst the overall suicide rate fell 1981 to 2007, austerity and cuts to services have seen annual rises since with the male rate last year, the worst since 2001.
385 men-a-month take their own lives in the UK; it is even worse in the USA, at 2759, 1.5x more likely per capita. In Japan, it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44.
Even so, Japan is not the worst. Lithuania is twice as high at 51 per 100,000 and Guyana at 71 per 100k is ashamedly the world ‘leader’. The USA ranks #46 and the UK #101 for male suicide.
Not a laughing matter
Men’s mental health is not a joke. November 19 was also World Toilet Day, and whilst jokes about leaving the toilet seat up abounded on twitter – including by me, whilst not directly aimed at men’s health, sanitation and sanity are not laughing matters when one billion lack a toilet and half-a-million men each year die by suicide and many millions more try. Whilst depression and mental health issues account for the majority of cases, for men in particular, financial and career pressures are significant factors. Education, because it brings with it greater economic opportunities and perhaps better communication skills, is a reducing factor, except among certain professions whose jobs give them access to pharmaceutical drugs.
Learn to Talk & Listen
The old Second World War adage and poster campaign that “Careless talk costs lives” could be turned on its head – “Learn to talk and save lives”. Partners and friends of men in crisis, similarly, need to learn to listen and not diminish the pressures that drive them to drink, depression and suicide. Suicide, at one every 40 seconds and on the rise (predicted to be one every 20s by 2020) is preventable is we make it ok for everyone to talk about mental health, men in particular, and we also end the worst effects of austerity where health and welfare cuts are exacerbating the problem and denying access to solutions.
Osborne & Carney try to stabilise markets … and fail, at first
As George Osborne, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and the Bank of England’s Mark Carney rush to reassure the financial markets – the Pound, the FTSE, and the UK’s sovereign credit rating all dive. Sterling has been battered and remains at a 31-year low, the FTSE 250 has witnessed in as many days two of its top-five one-day losses, and S&P have trashed our credit outlook by two-notches, increasing borrowing for the Government and businesses. A second BoE reassurance on Tuesday 5 July caused the FTSE 250 and Pound to dive further.
Former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King essentially said “Keep Calm, Don’t Panic”:
“Markets move up, markets move down. We don’t yet know where they will find their level…What we need is a bit of calm now, there’s no reason for any of us to panic.”
Was this just a two-day shock? We haven’t seen all out financial Armageddon, but just what are we getting, and for how long?
As of Tuesday 28 June morning, adventurous investors were buying into the flatlined market and the FTSE 100 was up 2% and FTSE 250 up 3.3%, although within the hour the gains had fallen back to 2.6-2.8% – still 11% down since the Referendum. At the close it was 3.5% up, restoring a quarter of its Brexit losses. To quote the Financial Times, Markets Live blog:
“It’s still a bloody mess, even if markets have steadied.” FT, 11am Tuesday 28 June
In the first hour of Tuesday’s trading the Pound was up just 1%, barely 1.5c higher after its 18c fall, but by 10.30am had lost half that gain already, only to regain it after lunch and lost most of it by 5pm. There has been no recovery against the € Euro.
By Wednesday 29 June midday, the FTSE 100 had recovered all of its losses, whilst the FTSE 250 remained 10% down.
It could be, too, that the market is recovering on the news that nothing will happen in the short term, that Brexit reality is delayed, and won’t kick-in properly till after Article 50 is actioned and up to 2 years later Exit terms agreed and then years worth, but some counts 5-10 years, of negotiating new trading terms with the EU and some 50 agreements with the rest of the world that were based on our membership of and access to the European Single Market.
Thursday 30 June saw previous day gains restore the FTSE 100 to parity and by the close it was 2% above 23 June’s high. Whilst the more British based companies index, the FTSE 250, remains 7% down despite two more days of gains. It has gained 8.5% or 1300pts up on 14,967 since its low point on Monday. The Pound:Dollar exchange rate added 2%, lost 1% overnight, then made it back by lunch but after Mark Carney said financial easing might be required and Boris Johnson ruled himself out of the Conservative leadership, the Pound lost all the week’s gains, falling another 1.5% and remains 12% down.
In a Radio 4 interview early this week, George Osborne repeated his claim that Brexit “would make Britain poorer” and lead to “an economic downturn”.
Mark Carney had been accused of breaching the Bank of England‘s (BoE) independence by commenting quite forcefully pre-Referendum that Brexit might trigger recession. So, for him to say we are “resilient” now, is a little “flip-flop” but he did say that in the long term growth would be slower and the Bank could only “mitigate” against negative effects rather than resolve them. Mitigation includes the possible injection of £250bn.
The £ Pound on Monday did not rally against the $ Dollar, instead, it continued its slide to around $1.31, nearly 13% off its 2016 peak to which it had risen on the short term belief that the UK would Remain. Instead, it has settled at its lowest level for 31 years, despite a 1% recovery on Tuesday morning. A week later, and by Wed 6 July Sterling dropped as low as $1.28 and is now hovering at $1.29, a 15% devaluation.
Sterling is predicted to fall further to around $1.15-$1.25, a 20-25% devaluation. This could add 15-20p to a gallon/3-5p a litre to the price of petrol within the month, as oil is priced in Dollars. There could be an 8% rise in food and drink prices imported from Europe since at €1.17 the Pound is 23% off its Euro peak and nearly 9% down since Thursday.
Global Stocks and UK Shares
Some $2.5 trillion was wiped off global markets in hours after the Referendum result – between 100-400 years worth of the nobody-can-agree-on-the-actual-figure of UK contributions to the European Union. Seeing £100bn wiped off leading FTSE companies in 2 days is way more than the £350m a week (less than £10bn/year after rebates) supposed EU savings, i.e., equivalent to more than a decade’s worth of EU contributions. So no new money for the NHS then!
Stock markets in the poor-performing economies of Europe, e.g., Greece, Italy and Spain, tumbled 12-15% on Friday, other world markets fell 3-8%.
Italy announced a €40bn rescue of its banks after they lost a third of their value post-Brexit vote, despite a 5% bounceback they remain over 25% down since Thursday, June 23.
FTSE 250 as UK Financial Indicator
A far better indicator than the FTSE 100, which has ‘only’ seen 2-3% daily falls since Brexit and a 2% recovery on Tuesday, is the FTSE 250. It is made up of more mid-size predominantly British companies with 50-70% UK-based trade – the powerhouse of employment in the UK. Some 75% of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) voted Remain.
The FTSE 250 has lost over 14% since Thursday’s vote, reaching 7% late-afternoon, continuing its near-8% slide last Friday when, at its worst, it dropped 14% in hours – its “worst drop ever”. It’s nearly 20% off its peak due to Brexit uncertainty over the last few months, its worst crash since 1987. During the 2008 crash, over a number of months, it lost nearly half its value leading to lay-offs. recession and austerity.
As to the financial market reaction not being as bad as 2008, that is not yet evident. The FTSE 100 is insulated by its international makeup but the FTSE 250 is more British. Back in October 2008’s crash it suffered a one-day fall of around 6.5% amounting to nearly 40% over 3-4 months. After the Referendum, it’s lost 8% and 7% across 2 days. It’s fourth and fifth biggest one-day falls ever from Sep/Oct 2008 have been eclipsed by Brexit day 1 and day 2, so far. This is the worst FTSE 250 crash since 1987, although Brexit days 3 and 4 are looking brighter, having recovered over a third of the losses, yet it remains 10% down, despite 1.9% gains Wednesday morning. A week later and by Wed 6 July, the FTSE 250 was down again drifting towards an 11% loss, eradicating any intervening recovery,
The FTSE 350 lost £140bn in a day, recovered, lost it all again by 4.30pm Monday but has now recovered 5% from its 7% loss.
Banks (domestic and foreign) in Britain have been told by EU members France and Netherlands that they will not be able to use the European financial ‘single passport’ access to unhindered trading resulting in additional banking costs and a reduced incentive for US and Asian banks to be based in the UK – Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris, are suddenly more attractive and expected to gain financial jobs from the City of London. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) have lost 35% in value since Thursday and had their shares temporarily suspended on Monday. On Tuesday there was around a 5% recovery.
Whilst many 99%-ers on the Left might celebrate another banking collapse, those businesses that employ millions depend upon a stable lending banking system to finance their growth and pay wages.
The costs of imported raw materials, food, wine, petrol etc could rise 10% because of the Pound’s fall alone. If British businesses selling at home want to keep prices the same, they will have to cut back office costs and jobs instead. Yes, we will recover, but book a “one-way ticket”, to quote George Osborne, for more austerity, unemployment and inflation pain first.
House prices may fall in the short term according to Savills but so will affordability, mortgages, and lending criteria stress tests may rise. International buyers may take advantage of a cheaper Pound to buy here, whilst locals are priced out of the mid-market. House builders have seen significant share price falls and the FTSE triggered its ‘circuit-breaker’ to suspend trading in all house builders temporarily. For instance, Taylor Wimpey fell 16% (40% since Thursday), Persimmon 17.4% (38% in 2 days) and Barratt Developments fell almost 20.7% (38.4% in 2 days), Bovis Homes 33% in 2 day etc. In addition, with the credit rating trashing they will find it harder to fund new building developments, further intensifying our domestic housing crisis.
Radio 4’s You and Yours is reporting people seeing immediate 5% drops in house sale prices due to Brexit – ‘Brexundering’.
We could eventually see a quadruple-whammy of wage restraint, credit crunch, inflation and interest rate rises, affecting house buyers and stifling the pressured renting sector too.
It has been reported that particularly those living abroad may lose UK annual increases with inflation to their pensions, but also those at home might lose the “triple lock” guarantee. Pension funds held privately on the stock market will obviously go up and down with the fortunes of the FTSE, currently down. Of course, Leave leader, Boris Johnson said pensions would be unaffected, he also said the NHS would get £350m a week and that among many pseudo-promises has already been pulled.
Credit Rating and Economic Outlook
After the Brexit vote, Moody’s changed the UK credit outlook to “negative” from stable. Fitch see it likewise and downgraded it to AA negative. Today, Standard & Poor (S&P) have followed suit and downgraded our last remaining Triple-A national credit rating two-notches from AAA to AA:
“In the nationwide referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union (EU), the majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU. In our opinion, this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K. … The vote for “remain” in Scotland and Northern Ireland also creates wider constitutional issues for the country as a whole. Consequently, we are lowering our long-term sovereign credit ratings on the U.K. by two notches to ‘AA’ from ‘AAA’.” – S&P
“Fitch has revised down its forecast for real GDP growth to 1.6% in 2016 (from 1.9%), 0.9% in 2017 and 0.9% in 2018 (both from 2.0% respectively), leaving the level of real GDP a cumulative 2.3% lower in 2018 than in its prior ‘Remain’ base case.” – Fitch
“S&P maintained its negative outlook on the UK, which means there is a one-in-three chance of another downgrade in the next two years. The UK is now deemed less credit worthy than the US and EU by S&P, and the decsion marks its exit from an elite club of countries such as Switzerland and Australia that stil have a AAA rating.” – Daily Telegraph
A survey of 1,000 directors at the weekend reveals that roughly 20% are expecting to issue redundancies, over 20% are freezing recruitment, and 20% considering moving some operations to Europe.
Worst Economic Crisis since WWII
A former Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economist has warned that the UK faces its worst economic crisis since the Second World War. It is certainly on track to challenge 2008’s banking crisis and 1987’s Black Monday crashes which saw £63bn wiped out. Other crises include the 1974 General Election which saw one-day losses of 7.1%. Back in 1929 the Dow Jones witnessed a 22.5% drop in a single day.
Always Look on the Bright Side …
Yes, we will weather it, and in the long term it may make little difference, but the short-medium term is going to be harder. We still have to pay into the EU budget, but will begin to be shut out of meetings and decisions, we will still have freedom of movement and migration for EU citizens for at least 2 years, if not beyond if we follow the likely Norway or Swiss models. It is highly unlikely the EU will allow us the Canadian model, indeed Angela Merkel said today that the UK would have to accept freedom of movement. The EU do not want to encourage other exits. Many are trying to find legal ways to vote out of the Referendum result.
Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.
“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Refugees & Migrants are People Too!
But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.
It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.
Definition of a Refugee
Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” – 1951 UN Refugee Convention
The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.
Immigration and the EU Referendum
Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.
“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard
Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.
It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!
Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?
“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal
A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:
“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR
Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:
“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.
EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?
EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:
“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”
Migration Breaking Point?
UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!
Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.
Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.
“I love libraries because I can’t afford books”
“I love libraries because I’m a writer and I couldn’t be if I didn’t read”
“libraries change lives”
“I love my library because it opens up new worlds to everyone”
“libraries mean freedom of thought, of society, of life”
For six of the last seven years Norwich Millennium Library was the most visited nationally by footfall, and this last year (1.2m people) dropped only to second place behind Central Manchester Library (1.3m). It still has the most number of books borrowed per year, well over a million and the most used county library service in the country. It is a well-loved service and 36% of respondents to last year’s Council budget consultation wanted more spent on libraries, ahead of Fire & Rescue, making it the fourth most popular of 16 essential services.
In 2014/15 another 106 libraries closed after £50m of cuts, down from 4,023 to 3,917. Over the whole of the last parliament, funding for libraries fell by more than £180m (16%), with visits down 13.6% in the same period, in part down to fewer libraries and reduced hours, as well as changing social usage patterns. Other studies show that libraries are more than maintaining their relevance and usefulness, for instance: “free public libraries in the United States have never been more popular“.
Adults living in the most deprived areas visit the library more
Adults from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups use the library more than adults from white ethnic groups
Women visit libraries more than men
More non-working adults use library services
“Children and elderly people were being worst affected by the cuts.” – Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign
As a result cuts would disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups and one has to question whether an equalities impact assessment has been made.
Fewer Books for fiction and non-fiction fans
Since 2010 British libraries have lost over 14 million books, 1-in-7 of their previous stocks of nearly 100 million. We now have just 82 million, and falling. In that time, we’ve lost 400 libraries, and dozens of part-time and mobile library services.
A national protest will be held at the UK Parliament on February 9.
Legal case to Challenge Library cuts
Nick Poole, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Chief Executive, says:
“Public libraries are not a luxury. Their provision is not discretionary – Local Councils have a statutory duty. For millions of people every year library services are a lifeline. That is why the statutory right to a quality public library service was established under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act…[the cuts] “undermine rights which are enshrined in the Equality Act, Human Rights Act and Public Libraries & Museums Act.”
Petition the government to protect the statutory duty to supply a quality library service. Stay up to date with library news and challenges to service reductions around the country via publiclibrariesnews.com run by Ian Anstice, a librarian based in the Northwest of England. If you’re a writer, reporter or commentator, then read this, albeit with a US slant, about how to represent libraries, librarians and funding crises in your writing.
“The council is examining how we maintain library services while reducing costs. We plan to keep all libraries operating and will invest in new ‘open-plus’ technology that will maintain opening hours with swipe card entrance to libraries and self-service. This has already been successfully trialled at Acle Library.
While this will maintain overall opening hours, there is a proposed reduction in staffed opening times at the Millennium Library in Norwich. There would also be a reduction in the amount spent on library stock. The mobile library service remains although it is proposed that the extra Saturday service in some areas will stop. The council will review whether other services can be run from library buildings or mobile libraries.” – Norfolk County Council
Norfolk County Council currently spends just 2% on Cultural Services (Libraries, Museums and Archives) and the Library service has already had its budget reduced from £12.5m in 2003/4 to £9.6m in 2015. In real terms that’s a 50% cut as increasing services in line with inflation and population growth should have seen them rise to £19m.
Imagine Norfolk Libraries
It isn’t hard to do
No new books before us
No librarians too
Not open when you need them
Their services too few
Norfolk County Council
Will make this nightmare true
Sign the Change.org petition to oppose Norfolk County Council library cuts. Another way to support local library services is to make use of your library card entitling you to borrow up to 15 books or media items at a time. In addition, you can request to fill in a library “impact story” form with a member of staff, giving feedback on how the library has supported you. For instance, I’ve been part of a Gender and Sexuality (GAS) reading and discussion group that the library has hosted for the last 5 years enabling a safe space to discuss topical issues. In the past I was also a part of a library youth support group that used to run there.
Libraries are about more than just books, they are community hubs offering free education, inspiration, and an opportunity to slow down and get lost in literature. For England’s first UNESCO City of Literature it would be a shame for Norwich to lose any of its library stock and staff to politically motivated austerity cuts.
Between you and me, I once voted Tory – 30 years ago, and never yet Labouruntil Jeremy Corbyn inspired me. The Labour Leadership campaign, until Corbyn’s shoe-in to liven up the deadly proceedings, had initially deadened me to more of the same public school Oxbridge blue Labourites. Corbyn added heart, soul and principles – I don’t have to agree with him entirely, but we need a Tony Benn or Michael Foot for their beliefs and ethics, not just electability or the in-word according to Radio 4, credibility.
In the intervening 30 years I’ve voted LibDem and Green believing in free speech, equality and the environment. I have an Economics degree to my name, and so understand the economy – but it’s not an exact science, it’s more like being a meteorologist or historian with failed predictions and over-analytical hindsight still not faithfully dictating future outcomes.
“true Labour not blue Labour”
Corbyn has injected humane passionate inclusive positive politics back into the mix, he’s avoided criticism of the other candidates and made politics appealing to all ages once again. He’s packed out halls up and down the country. He’s apologised on behalf of Labour and welcome new and old members to Labour’s fold. He is, “true Labour not blue Labour“.
Globalisation is here to stay – and that is a good thing. I believe in a true globalisation, a fair trade where second and third world (what classist terminology) countries can export through economies of scale and relatively cheap labour until they rise up the economic rankings like the BRIC nations have but Africa, bar Nigeria and its oil, haven’t.
Capitalism and the not-so-Free Market
Capitalism exists not because of free market forces, but because those with power and economic privilege are able to fix the market. Under a true free market capitalism the banks, Iceland, Greece etc would have been allowed to go bust and would no doubt have been reformed and rebuilt (probably with outside support and freedom to reset currency) like Germany and Japan were post-War.
The EU or the fixed federal currency market, is not a free market, nor is protectionist America.
I no more believe in socialism as a divorced from reality theory than I do conservatism or capitalism, I do however believe in equality, human rights, opportunity and globalisation – as opportunity and undeniable reality. What this means is that my voting intentions lie across the field from Green to Liberal, Labour to Conservative, though given half the chance north of the border I’d probably vote SNP.
Nationalisation and Investment
I do believe in the re-nationalisation of basic transport, energy, and broadband, or their shared ownership by not-for-profit community interest companies as an alternative to buying them back. The Internet and fast transport are the modern industrial revolution, changes that cannot and should not be rolled back.
I also believe in responsible re-investment whilst interest rates are low and we have AAA rating. In infrastructure, for example, that will enable entrepreneurial expansion – something even Corbyn has voiced, he is not stuck entirely in the 1970s or the 1790s as Boris Johnson has termed it. Housing, transport, green/new-energy and technology need investment. Corbyn has said, as part of his Better Business plan:
“The current government seems to think ‘pro-business’ means giving a green light to corporate tax avoiders and private monopolies. I will stand up for small businesses, independent entrepreneurs, and the growing number of enterprises that want to cooperate and innovate for the public good.”
Vulnerable people need protection – Capitalism does not provide that. There has to be compromise with free market economics to achieve community care, compassion, and ethical responsibility. The focus on prosperity and opportunity ignores the needs of fair provision for all people and those disadvantaged by lack of possibility.
Socialism cannot meet that need without compromises either. I’ve always been a free market relative small-‘c’ capitalist with a socialist heart, green environment and liberal free speecher – that doesn’t mean a compromise candidate, but a strong-valued candidate willing to balance means and objectives, and prioritise people not power, not compromise principles. Labour has gone too far down the compromise route.
The language of “we cannot deliver principles or priorities until we have gained power (by any means)” leads to voter distrust. The politics of the majority may well be those of aspiration but the needs of the many are actually those of desperation and disenfranchisement.
“Something deeply attractive to most people in society of the idea of the cohesive, the coherent, the collective. The idea you don’t blame minorities, the idea you don’t make people with disabilities suffer, you don’t walk away from people with mental health conditions, you don’t walk away from people with problems. There’s something strong about a cohesive society…” – Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn & Political Change
Personally, switching from privilege to privation, through life and mental health circumstances, changed my politics. Politics now lacks principles and heart, Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood bring back something of that. They may yet reinvigorate the electorate.
Andy Burnham appears to be an opportunist, accused of flip-flopping policies for best outcome – remember he’s stood for leader before. Yvette Cooper has political history and association with the Blair-Brown years, and Liz Kendall is way too Blairite – and now cursed by the other Miliband. A cabinet composed of all of them stands a chance but bar Burnham (who seems to be manoeuvring himself to hedge his bets whilst everyone bets on Corbyn 1/4 whilst Burnham is 4/1) the others have stubbornly refused to share a table with Corbyn and Labour luminaries have done everything possible to derail and invalidate the democratic revival the leadership race has brought.
Democracy and Mass Appeal
By mass appeal I’m not talking majority aspiration, but appealing to the masses, the people who exist near the bottom bent under the weight of everyone else getting ahead by aspiration and avarice, and leaving them behind. Those forgotten, that even David Cameron cynically swore in 2010 before the election that he would not forget, during austerity. The poor, those on benefits, immigrants, the disabled, those with mental health issues, the forgotten and might as well be ‘disappeared’.
If print media column inches are counted then Jeremy Corbyn is streets ahead, and if social media is anything to go by then his Facebook campaign has 62,000 supporters (& 78k on his personal page) to Andy Burnham’s under 5,000 (18k on his personal page) Yvette Cooper’s 400 (20k on her personal page) and Liz Kendall’s 115 (7k on her personal page). Among my friends alone, 70 have liked Corbyn’s campaign page, 1 Burnham’s, and another has a declared interest for Kendall. It may be the Facebook generation that he is reaching, but by a long chalk he is the one Labour leadership contender reaching it. A spoof page for Liz Kendall for Tory leader has 3 times as many likes as the one for Labour leader.
Aside from social media, Corbyn is taking towns and cities by storm to packed-out venue crowds and queues down the street if feedback from Norwich is anything to go by. More than 1500 registered to attend an 800-seat event, so Jeremy stepped outside to address, without notes, those who couldn’t get in. Many chose not to attend once they knew it was over-capacity. this was Norwich’s biggest political rally in decades. This over-capacity story was repeated in Ealing, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Newcastle and other locations.
“This is a phenomenon, the like of which I haven’t seen in 40 years of watching Labour from close-quarters. Because it’s feeding off an aching for change that’s coming from ordinary Labour supporters below, not being imposed by rulers from above” – Brian Reade in the Mirror
Opposition – A Party of Protest
We could not have a better Leader of the Opposition for the next 5 years, certainly post-Miliband’s silent slide from the scene post his #EdStone and election loss moment, than Corbyn. During the interregnum Labour has been impotent and were the SNP to be a UK-based party one might have seen Nicola Sturgeon as the true heir to opposition leader in Parliament.
The fear that Labour would be consigned to “oppositional politics” or be a “party of protest” were Corbyn to be at the helm, is not a bad thing. The third of the electorate that don’t vote include people disillusioned with politics and politicians who all seem the same, 50 shades of austerity rather than any alternative vision. We have had more Blue Labour post New Labour and at the last election could barely tell the parties apart.
Janet Daley, among others, writes that the Tories are now waking up to the fear that Corbyn may win, after their initial glee at his rise, thinking that Labour had shot itself in the ‘Michael Foot’. Electing someone the Tories fear will create true opposition and debate, not an establishment bi-party centre-right duopoly. We’ve had the political equivalent of price-fixing for too long. The female-led Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP gave us a taste of political change but could not break the mould other than in Scotland.
When the Right calls a political spade a spade:
“The only way that Labour can win that contest is to become (as they see it) a Tory-lite party: Conservatism with a human face. And that is not, absolutely not, what they are interested in. If, in order to be electable, you must relinquish all your socialist precepts and learn to love the free-market economy, then there is nothing perverse in turning your back on electoral victory.”
And, when Right wing Boris Johnson and Janet Daley are in agreement with Labour’s Dan Hodges, one has to wonder that a politician this scary may actually be quite good.
Principles over Power
Standing up for principles over power, may inadvertently deliver power. Focusing on power at any cost, as Blair did – delivered electoral victory and increasing disillusionment among the faithful as they witnessed the rise of Tory Blair.
In fact, the interventions of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Alastair Campbell, Peter ‘Machiavelli’ Mandelson, and even Neil Kinnock are all proving counter-productive and appear as attempted establishment saving, rather than actually listening to the disenfranchised, for whom Labour was founded. The new class war is for the voiceless and voteless against the vices of the entrenched political victors (New Labour and New-but-increasingly-old Conservatives).
We could perhaps have a golden age of re-expansion with current cheap, albeit borrowed, money and investment, but it needs to be carefully managed not overspent – I’ve no idea who could deliver that, but I’d rather a realistic way to deliver Jeremy Corbyn’s heart were found than a heartless way to deliver Kendall’s power-hungry realism were.
Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.
Different interest groups but a common message
Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.
Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.
A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.
Passionate Political Speeches
If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.
Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.
Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.
Media & Press Coverage
Norwich Evening Newsreported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the LabourMP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting ArchantI was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:
Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.
Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.
Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.
NPA Press Release
Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:
We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.
Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.
They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.
We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.
More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.
“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”
The language of austerity and recovery (the Tory version or Labour’s “austerity-light”) has all been about working to pay off the deficit, whereas the reality of much of it was about cutting public sector jobs and the benefits of those out of work. The language of Ukip has been about preventing others coming here to work, or labelling migrants as “benefit/health tourists”. According to many international bodies the UK has done well – economically, but socially we are falling apart. Socially and in microeconomics terms, rather than the surface macroeconomic recovery, the Coalition isn’t working, also “Labour Isn’t Working“, the political opposition has been ineffectual.
Measuring the Health of a Nation
In health service resources terms we are 28th out of 30 OECD nations, 19th in terms of our actual health. The health of society should not be measured in mere economic terms. Education, welfare, mental health, attitudes to those that are different, migrants, or asylum seekers, are often a better guide to how we are really doing as a society. When a million people are using foodbanks, something is clearly wrong.
The language of Labour and Conservatives this election has all been about “hard working families“, with Ukip adding British-only workers to that, but then even Labour wanted to push for British jobs first. On paper, the unemployment rate is almost back to its 5.3% pre-crisis figure along with a massive shift away from public sector towards the private sector. After 5 years of austerity certain types of jobs are growing (self-employment, small business, zero hours contracts – 700k/2.3% of workers), but those without are being left behind – something Cameron promised not to do.
“I want to, if I’m elected, take the whole country with me. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. The test of a good society is you look after the elderly, the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society. And that test is even more important in difficult times, when difficult decisions have to be taken, than it is in better times.” – David Cameron on the Andrew Marr Show, just before the 2010 General Election
Whether disabled, unskilled, mentally ill, being a carer, or struggling with some other difficulty that makes the 9-5 “Arbeit macht frei” ethic not appropriate or possible for all, many are being abandoned, and forgotten. The very purpose of the modern state, the welfare state, even something once quoted but not fulfilled by David Cameron, is to care for the weakest and neediest in society – without scapegoating them as sick scroungers.
Ed Miliband and the #EdStone
Even Ed Miliband in his Cecil B. DeMille Mosaic stone Tablets announcement this weekend put the economy as the number #1 priority and “higher living standards for working families” as number #2, apeing UKIP and the Tories at number #4 is “Controls on Immigration“.
What no welfare?
Nowhere among Labour’s 6 priorities were people in need, on welfare, even mentioned. For welfare to remain a “dirty” word even with a so-called socialist party shows how times have swung and the extent to which a party will spin and abandon its principles in order to regain power.
“Cuts” has been the message of austerity and debt reduction. But those cuts have fallen on the neediest in society, those on disability or welfare, not those most able to pay, or indeed – such as the banks, most responsible for the economic collapse in the first place. In 2012 UK Uncut protested the March budget with a “queue” outside Downing Street and an “Austerity Isn’t Working” poster campaign mimicing the 1978/9 Saatchi poster done for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories.
The verdict of a successful government is not just something measured in economic terms but also in moral and social ones.
Is the economy the only measure of a successful country? If I starve my kids to pay off my overdraft am I a great parent? #BBCDebate
David Cameron’s Easter message interview with a Christian magazine summed up Christianity as about “hard work and responsibility“, not Christ’s work on the Cross, meaning that, soteriologically, everything was actually already done for mankind.
Jesus said that the “truth would set you free”, the truth seems to be the thing furthest from modern politicians, with all their spin and question-dodging. No wonder 35% of the electorate don’t vote.
Less about Economic Wealth what about Mental Health?
The real hard truth is that “Britain isn’t working”. Inequality is increasing. Our communities are fractured and our countryside fracked. Those not in work are being punitively capped and cut until they can take it no more.
The irony of a government forcing state-funded CBT onto the unemployed yet unable to deliver self-requested CBT via mental health services for those that want to work is clearly lost on the Big Brother worker state. Hundreds of therapists, counsellors, and mental health experts, have written to outline their fears about the emotional and psychological toxicity of austerity and how it is being carried out. Suicides have increased over the last 5 years, especially amongst men.
Big Society or Broken Society?
Is the Big Society broken? Does society even exist or matter? Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society” is falsely interpreted though under a Tory-LibDem watch has been almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.” – Margaret Thatcher, 1987
Saatchi and Saatchi designed the 1978 poster that helped Thatcher win the 1979 election with the tagline “Labour [Still] Isn’t Working“. The Labour Party has spoofed the self same poster nearly 4 decades later. It is time to think outside the box not just rattle and rebrand it.
The truth is society is more broken than 5 years ago even if the economy may be on the mend. Austerity has been toxic. Our health, transport, housing, and education sectors have declined after being starved of resources or sold off to the private sector. Now it is society that needs rebuilding, not the economy. That is the true measure of recovery.
With the Conservatives returned to power, not just coalition but a slim but workable majority, and achieving a rare (once in a century) feat of increasing their vote share, how much did their victory owe to spin and emphasis on the economy not those in need? Are the democratic majority simply selfish? The majority view does not mean it is the right view – ethically, morally, socially. In the meantime the 37 year-old poster image is still doing the rounds with Daily Telegraph cartoonist BOB re-posting “Labour isn’t working” with a queue of unemployed Labour MPs snaking back from the dole office.