Tag Archives: Tony Benn

If Economics is Heartless, how can Politics realistically deliver the Heart

A Political Confession

Between you and me, I once voted Tory – 30 years ago, and never yet Labour until 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.”

Socialism and People First

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 principlesLabour 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’.

Facebook Labour Leadership Likes
Facebook pages – Labour Leadership Likes

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.

Labour Leadership stats on Facebook
Labour Leadership stats on Facebook

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 CampbellPeter ‘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.

World Press Freedom Day – Journalism is essential to political accountability and personal liberty

May 3 is the twentieth World Press Freedom Day, a day to be celebrated, whether you like the media you read or not. Doing their job and trying to write free of political pressure or censorship has meant 200 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide in countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Palestine, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Freedom of the press means several things. Firstly it should be free of government influence, free to criticise in-power politicians, free to champion the causes of out-of-power ones and those who may have become political prisoners. As the recently deceased Tony Benn MP once said of democracy and those in power: “To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?” – surely one of the tools of challenging politicians is a free Press which should go hand-in-hand with democracy. Tony Benn power democracy quote 2005 No journalism will ever be completely free of personal or political influence, therefore to be truly free, we need journalism of all flavours, passions and persuasions. From long established broadsheet papers like The London and New York Times, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Guardian, to Internet HuffPost, Wikileaks and even tabloid or so-called “gutter press” papers, and combative Radio 4 Today Programme and interrogative Paxman Newsnights – they are all necessary. If we believe in freedom of speech/writing then we cannot seek to control that based upon personal preference for a different style of news or belief on what constitutes news.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

Journalists should equally be free to write without editorial or media-owner pressure to toe a particular line. Any piece that bears their name should carry their opinion and theirs alone. They should even have input and a veto on headlines, which are so often written by others after their piece has been edited and approved. This is a part of journalistic transparency which we should be able to see in every article or story. Either in tandem with this, or in addition, there should be rules preventing monopoly and/or government ownership of the Press.

A sad but now inherent part of newspaper history was the so-called “Yellow Journalism” of the 1890s as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II of Pullitzer Prize fame battled it out for readership, lowering the tone and truth of reporting in the process of pursuing profits over accuracy. We would now call much of this “Tabloid Press” now, though the shape and size of a paper need have no bearing on its quality of content. The “Yellow Press” has, however, still been responsible for bringing people and politicians to account, even if it can also be blamed for causing offence, ‘outing’ people – whether their sexuality, gender or infidelity, it has been cited in cases that have led to suicide – so I am not saying that the media is perfect, just that it is necessary in an open, if not for, an open society.

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – George Orwell

Whilst writing should, in principle, be free of ‘hate’ speech, libel and slander, it must, however, be free to express opinion and should only incur sanctions when breaking human rights, equality and defamation laws. A right to disagree and be disagreed with is paramount to press freedom and journalistic integrity. That said, opinion pieces should have a right to reply and/or comment with moderators being sure to only police hate speech, insult and injury, and not rights to express personal, political or religious beliefs. Noam Chomsky said that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, it is freedom for all or it is censorship. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”, as Scott Howard Phillips said, albeit concerning the US 2nd Amendment and right to bear arms. In John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book, On Liberty, he wrote much that holds as true today, if not more so, as 150 years ago:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

In the Danish political drama, Borgen (Season 2 Episode 2), the female PM, Birgitte Nyborg, is encouraged by her faithful friend and gruff colleague Bent Sejrø that a clever politician gathers around themselves people who may disagree with you. Not just as part of the episode’s Sun Tzu “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” theme but in order to create better policy. Only surrounding yourself with people who agree with you will not save you from mistakes.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was declared at the end of 1993 by the UN General Assembly. It is commemorated on 3 May, the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek (Namibia) to promote “Independent and Pluralistic Media”. Among other principles Windhoek declared that:

  1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
  2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
  3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.

Back in 1946, the UN had declared “freedom of information” to be a “fundamental human right”. Press Freedom Day, therefore, seeks to:

  • Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • Defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

On 2 May an independent panel of media professionals declared Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner. An investigative reporter and exposer of human rights abuses and corruption, Şik was injured whilst covering the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last summer.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award

On 1 May Al Jazeera English Egypt producer Mohamed Fahmy, who is currently under arrest and detention, was awarded the Canadian Press Freedom Award for a “Canadian journalist who has made an outstanding contribution to the right to freedom of expression in the face of inordinate persecution.” Fahmy had previously worked for the BBC and CNN, and wrote an account, Egyptian Freedom Story, of the Arab Spring of 2011. Fahmy has donated the $2000 prize money to the family of another journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who died whilst covering political demonstrations in Egypt last month.

Al Jazeera Journalists detained in Egypt

Journalism is not a Crime, Amnesty International #FreeAJStaffAmong the hundreds of journalists gagged, detained, or killed, worldwide, are two other Al Jazeera English staff – former BBC journalist, Australian Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, held in detention by Egypt for “broadcasting false news” – for “false”, whatever your opinion, read “disapproved”. In the prison where they are being held pen and paper are banned yet the power of journalistic truth and persuasion won Fahmy access to them and he was able to smuggle out a letter this week:

“I hereby appeal to the global advocates of press freedom not to hold Egypt, the country of my birth responsible for our wrongful detention. Only certain individuals in the system who lack the understanding of the fundamentals of journalism are to be held accountable. One way to reverse this misunderstanding is to start with the man next to you, and in my case that would be the illiterate prison guard convinced that by broadcasting protests in Egypt to the Western world simply makes me a traitor. His more educated disgruntled boss who has prevented me from having a pen and paper in my cell has become more lenient by time when I continuously highlighted certain values of journalism like transparency and the importance of having a watchdog to question the government that pays his salary and evaluates his performance. The metamorphosis has begun and the fact that this letter has been released from prison and published is in itself a victory to be celebrated and hopefully not the last.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned without trial since last August and has now been on hunger strike for weeks and lost nearly 35kg and not received medical attention. [Update: Elshamy was released on 17 June after 10 months in prison without charge or conviction.]

Fahmy described this as a blatant “breach of human rights” and added in his letter:

“I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected, local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial, they are simply prisoners of conscience.”

(See and hear the letter read out in an Al Jazeera English video) The Egyptian judge at the 3 May bail hearing wished the 3 detained Al Jazeera journalists a happy Press Freedom Day then refused bail with no sense of irony at all. At the hearing Peter Greste said for the benefit of other reporters present: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

[Update: Sadly, the 3 reporters – Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were handed down guilty verdicts on 23 June for 7 years for spreading “false news” and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, charges they continue to deny and say they were only carrying out their duties as journalists and reporters. Nine other defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences, two have been acquitted. Of the twenty defendants in total nearly half are Al-Jazeera journalists. #AJTrial]

[Latest: Fahmy and Mohamed are among 100 prisoners to be released and/or pardoned today as part of Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday and Egypt’s attempt to re-legitimise its Western standing]


Early 20th century Ukrainian-Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov – he was born in Kiev, but moved to Moscow – managed to simultaneously both offend and please Joseph Stalin and have books and plays not only banned but also protected by him! He superbly put that a journalist without freedom is like a fish without water:

“To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”Mikhail Bulgakov, Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov A Life in Letters and Diaries


If Press freedom is like water for journalists, just as the air all of us breathe, it is not something that can be restricted. The right to free expression and opinion is a universal human right. I’ll end with the infamous non-quote by Voltaire:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was actually said by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906. What he did say in a 1770 letter, was:

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Many have given their own lives in order to report the news or their views, whether professional or “citizen journalists”, but Press freedom means supporting the freedom to express even the views we may detest or disapprove of. Press Freedom Day means reminding the powers that be that the “world will be watching” their treatment of journalists and freedom of speech.

This article was first published on Bubblews and subsequently a version was published on my Google blogger/blogspot account.