joeldurston

Posts Tagged ‘right-wing’

The State of the Unions

In Opinion on July 15, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Power-crazed organisations coercing government to enact policy against the will of the people and subverting democracy – so runs the popular left-wing critique of big corporations in the corrupt neoliberal world. There’s truth to it in places, but it’s major failing of many that they feel to see some of the same issues with unions.

Of course unions have played a vital role in securing hard-fought rights for workers – and have been on the right side of history many times (also arguably on the wrong side at times). This doesn’t mean they should be above criticism. They’re certainly not above throwing some pretty bold criticisms about themselves. Last month, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis, describing planned Conservative changes to strike legislation, said: “These spiteful prosposals will deny millions of ordinary workers a voice at work.” And Mick Whelan, the General Secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, went even further by claiming the plans “smack of Germany in the 1930s” when trade unionists were “rounded up, imprisoned and executed”.

This is hyperbole worthy of a fringe UKIP politician. The strike laws merely require unions to attain a 50% turnout in ballots for industrial action; 40% support for industrial action from all eligible voters in key public sectors; that members must opt in to paying unions’ ‘political levy’ paid to political parties; and allow employers to find temporary staff for strikes.

Far from ‘imprisonment’ or ‘execution’, these rules serve to empower individual union members against activist minorities or the power wielded by union bosses. They are – or should be – a matter of simple democracy, not left v right party politics. Contrary to all the scaremongering, unions and industrial action would still be legal; it’s just the mandate for them would be made higher, so, for example, the majority of the London bus network could not go down at the behest of just a sixth of London bus drivers. (The recent tube strikes, including the one today (August 6) and yesterday, voted on by three different unions, would still be legal under the new rules. Aslef for example saw a 81% vote in favour from a 97% turnout. The RMT’s vote would probably be legal because it was voted for by 92% of an unknown turnout.)

It all illustrates a hypocritical, arrogant strain of left-wing opinion which loudly champions liberalism and democracy, then cries bloody murder when these return results, or governments, they don’t like, typically dismissing Tory voters as brainwashed by the neo-liberal media. (There’s some equivalent but opposite opinion from the right it must be said.) Even this dismissive trope does not work for union votes as the vote merely concerns workers’ own livelihoods. So, if working conditions really are unfair, who better to judge that than the majority of those workers?

Union bosses’ professions to ‘representing their members’ are, at best, dubious when strikes are held which around three quarters of union members did not actually vote for. Of course such strikes are voted by the (usually clear) majority of those who voted, but they betray a presumptuousness that those who did not vote feel similarly. Writing in the Huffington Post, Paul Embery, London’s Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, writes: “[…] it is perfectly reasonable, when extrapolating results of ballots for industrial action, to conclude that the votes cast are an accurate representation of the views of those balloted as a whole.”

It is not reasonable at all. I’d go so as far as to say it shows a contempt for democratic process. There is a qualitative difference between voting and not voting. If people don’t vote in a strike ballot, there is no strike. Striking is bold action against the status quo (or future status quo) therefore it should require clear majority approval. It stands to reason, then, that low turnouts should be treated as a sign of, at best, members’ indifference to a strike and, at worst, lack of support. Strikes are a vital democratic right, but they should not be taken lightly; support from those who deign to offer it should not be assumed.

All of it renders ridiculous the claim from Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, that the government’s measures read “like something straight out of a George Orwell novel”. Ms O’Grady (and many others) would really do well to actually fucking read some Orwell, whose writing typically critiqued the evils of too much power in the hands of too few, not individuals’ right to make political choices.

None of this is even to mention all the others affected by strikes who do not get a say in them – the general public. After all, prospective strikers have a vested interest in industrial action. Not to say they are self-serving bastards – the vast majority I know and hear who have taken strike action have thought long and hard about the decision and merely want what they consider fair remuneration for their hard work. Nor am I arguing for one minute that workers from other professions should get an equal say in every public sector strike; that would create a kind of modern-day servitude to the taxpayer. But the facts remain that prospective public sector strikers stand to benefit from strikes at the expense of the (sometimes massive) inconvenience for millions of others who could not vote for them. So it behoves unions to have good support for the disruption.

This fundamentally differs from elections and referendums – the moderate or low turnouts from which are a typical comeback from unabashed union supporters when defending strikes’ (supposed) legitimacy – which everyone gets a vote in. If people do not vote in these and are unhappy with the result, then they only have themselves to blame.

Rather than always resorting to cheap jibes about ‘nasty Tories’, the left should take a long, hard look at the state of the unions.

In Defence of the BBC

In Opinion on April 12, 2015 at 4:15 PM

I sometimes cast my mind forward to a not-too-distant future in which the BBC is no more, or at least drastically cut, following criticisms of the cost, ‘bias’ and it ‘not being a suitable broadcaster for our multimedia age’. I reckon there would be national mourning; paroxysms of nostalgia similar to the reactions of Ceefax ending and HMV closing (though the music retailer, to my pleasant surprise, continues to stay open). Call it misty-eyed sentimentalism if you will, but I think there’s something in this.

The reaction itself proves there’s still an affection for such things, even if there are more straightforwardly rational alternatives – the internet to Ceefax, Amazon and iTunes to HMV and arguably Neflix and Youtube et al to the BBC. But humans are not robots. In an age with so many different things competing for our attention on screens, there’s a good case for television that brings people together. People still remember where they were and who they were with for landmark televisual events like when England won the World Cup, Live Aid and Who Shot Jr/Phil Mitchell.

Of course, this would not be totally destroyed if the BBC went. But I think there’s a risk, in creating better choice for people, of losing that shared cultural conversation, even creating a more ‘atomised’ society, which many – on the left and right – complain about. Ask yourself, does your nan share your love of Breaking Bad? Probably not. But would you be able to bond over your love for it if it was on BBC? Maybe. (Game of Thrones is probably a bit unlikely, but who knows…) And I bet there’d be a lot more arguments between couples if there wasn’t the default option of ‘whatever shit’s on TV’. If you choose to watch some obscure documentary on Netflix or a documentary on quantum physics on BBC4, you stick your neck out that your partner/friends/flatmates watching will enjoy it. Put on BBC and it’s a no lose – if it’s good, you’ve got good taste; if not, it’s just that it was on anyway and you can talk over it or change channel. Anyway, as Barry Schwartz has shown, too much choice can actually lead to less happiness over the choice, as people fixate over the other possibilities and consider if the grass would be greener – like how you can forever browse Netflix looking for something better. I’m not arguing for a cultural North Korea, but surely there’s a happy medium between this and each member of the family in the living room watching different screens.

…All of which is why I get annoyed at the constant barrage at criticism constantly directed at the BBC. The most recent example was the reaction to Culture, Media and Sport select committee findings, which found the broadcaster should be “braver”, stop trying to do something for everyone and that the licence fee should be scrapped and replaced with a ‘broadcasting levy’ on all homes. This produced a frothing reaction from the right wing press, claiming any mandatory fees should be scrapped. It’s a strangely paradoxical reaction from papers that take such pride in instilling the shared customs of a ‘traditional British’ way of life. I suppose they would counter that the BBC no longer promotes ‘British’ values, but then surely it would make sense to call for specific reforms, not a complete overhaul, and make criticism more measured and constructive than this, from the Mail: “Chaotic… buck-passing… empire-building… monstrously bureaucratic… anti-competitive… recklessly wasteful of public money… refusing to admit mistakes as it lurches from crisis to crisis…” (Because, of course, The Mail is not ’empire-building’…)

But it’s not just attacked from the right. ‘BBC too right wing’ gets 2.68 million Google hits. ‘BBC too left wing’ gets 2.05 million. It’s far from an exact science – for starters, maybe this acid test is inherently skewed towards the young because it’s on the internet, and this might mean the study is skewed towards left denouncing right. Regardless, I merely wish to prove how much controversy it causes on both sides (in addition to people who obviously have nothing better to do in their lives than complain to Ofcom because someone said ‘bastard’ once before the watershed or showed a bit too much cleavage).

But ‘neutrality’ is such a hard, if not impossible, thing to achieve, as the debate itself over the BBC’s bias proves. People often complain about papers’ bias even though, as private entities not paid for by the taxpayer, there’s no particular need for papers to be impartial. (That’s even if they are determined by mere political considerations, rather than more sinister commercial ones, as Peter Oborne revealed about his former employer The Daily Telegraph in his resignation letter, in regard to the paper’s limited coverage of the tax scandal at HSBC, one of its biggest advertising clients.)

If the main criticism of the BBC were the whole principle of it – that it’s not (really) chosen, not ‘free media’ – then I’d understand, if not agree. No one wants to live in a cultural North Korea and, ridiculous as the comparison is in extent, the BBC is a state broadcaster. And I concede that the BBC does run at a distinct commercial advantage to other media outlets because of its funding means it has a far better knowledge of its short and long-term budget than many of its rivals, in turn meaning it can plan better than rivals.

However, I think this has its advantages. It’s a common criticism of journalism, and one made brilliantly by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, that cost-cutting and naked profit-chasing, which is the BBC is somewhat protected against, is corrupting the once reputable practice. And it allows the BBC to make ambitious, groundbreaking, but very expensive work like Planet Earth and Life; having cameramen, for example, wait in the middle of fucking Arctic nowhere for four weeks waiting for a mother polar bear and its cubs.

And it’s not just that by any means. Us Brits have probably become inured to the BBC, but it’s worth pointing out how much the world fucking loves it (or conversely, how shit TV can be abroad). As revealed by The Guardian in February, the international sales arm of the BBC now claims the corporation is the largest producer of television outside Hollywood, and this year it has 2,800 hours of shows to sell. Also, it’s estimated that British TV exports for 2013-14 were valued at £1.28bn.

Thing is, the structure of the BBC doesn’t seem to be the common complaint – based on the special pleading and bleating from all corners, it seems a lot people want a universal service, but one tailored just for them and their common sense views. People of all political persuasions naturally locate the elusive ‘centre-ground’ closer to them than it probably is, hence the shitstorm of the ‘BBC is too [insert chosen bete noire here – right/left/imperial/multicultural/’warmist’/climate denier etc etc].

The reason this annoys me so much is that this atmosphere can serve as a straitjacket to good journalism and broadcasting. Naturally some news and topics are more likely to lead to a particular political stance, but news, or more pretentiously truth, should be sought wherever it is, not on what people happen to think. As such I’m not claiming the Beeb is perfectly impartial (though pretty good), but how could it be?! It’s surprising to me as it is how the Beeb still produces hard-hitting news, like the HSBC tax avoidance exposé.

And it seems it was ever thus. I recently stumbled across an archive piece in the New Statesman from E.L.Forster defending the BBC in 1931 against similar complaints of bias on various sides. He wrote: “Perhaps we grumbled too often. If we did, Nemesis has descended, bringing all the powers of darkness in her train. For the easy days are over, brightness falls from the air, and the conflict has begun. The BBC, because of its success and growing importance, is being constantly attacked, in the pulpit, in Parliament, in the Press, and the attack is on new and dangerous lines. The aim is suppression. When suppression has been achieved, control may be attempted, but suppression is the immediate objective. The cry is not for fuller programmes but for feebler.”

It’s always hard to argue for the status quo in the face of various angry complaints, and easier to think the grass is greener. But I think those enjoy the BBC need to stick up for it amid the loud noises from all sides, attempting to strangle this great British institution, with politicking and death by a thousand cuts, into boring, timid submission.

Inside the mad world of Leo McKinstry

In Opinion on December 12, 2013 at 7:20 PM

I always think the Daily Express gets an easy ride, given the common contempt for the The Daily Mail, or the “Hate Mail”, “Daily Fail” or, my favourite, “Daily Wail”. For the Daily Express is, believe it or not, a lot more crazy than the Mail. I know this because my job is basically researching from the papers. I’d know it just from the headlines and pictures, but I do read it occasionally and must admit I get some sort of perverse enjoyment out of it. Reading the opinion pages is often akin to voyeuristically looking into the mind of a madman (it is nearly always a man writing on the ‘hard stuff’ like immigration, crime, and immigration).

I think it mostly escapes the opprobrium that meets the Mail because it’s just such a risible newspaper – or ‘newspaper’. Maybe their front page involves jumped-up cures to every ailment under the sun and supposedly catastrophic weather so often that people just think it’s just harmless guff for old farts. (The day after Mandela died, and George Osborne announced his Autumn statement, they still led on the weather).

And in a sense it is harmless. I very much doubt any Daily Express reader has any real power in the world – corporate or political – almost by definition (ie to have such a standing you would almost certainly need to at least have a modicum of intelligence, which one would hope one would use to not buy the Daily Express). But on the other hand, the paper sells nearly as many copies as The Guardian, The Independent and i combined (although these tend to appeal to younger people who will read them more online, and can do so for free). If it was just some grizzled hacks ranting into the wind, that would be fine. But the number of such readers, and the stubbornness of their views, is arguably causing focus group-loving politicians to tack to the Right, in a manner many consider dangerous (myself partly). A recent poll shows that Britons think recent immigrants make up some 31% of the population. They actually make up 13% (around 15% accounting for illegal immigrants). And around 87% of people are white. One way or another this is seriously going to affect race relations and policy, and I don’t think it’s too much of a jump to suggest the Daily Express and its ilk are largely responsible.

It’s like the school bully’s side kick, chipping in with a snidey but unthreatening, unfunny remark after the bully has done his bullying. (I think it’s actually testament to the success and influence of the Mail that the Left feels such a huge need to attack it. The Leni Riefenstahl films of journalism you could say – evil, but effective.) You can see the Express’ insecurity in the way it proudly emblazons, in a big red circle in its top corner, ’10p’, and then ‘cheaper than the Daily Mail’ in small print.

I read one particularly odious piece of bile in this Monday’s paper, from regular columnist Leo McKinstry, a bloated old bag of bigotry and self-righteousness, who makes Richard Littlejohn look positively urbane and who insists he isn’t racist despite basically every week writing an opinion piece painting immigrants as tax-dodging scroungers, killers (wannabe or actual) or both and more.

I completely accept that immigration – in terms of the policy set by the state at least – is an issue, and it’s one I’ve got mixed opinions on. I have little more respect for,on the other side of the spectrum, the insufferable, leftier-than-thou Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. But at least her hugely pro-immigration stance, if naive, derives from a sense of basic decency. (And I respect The Independent in general and think most of its readers are balanced, sane individuals.) But this piece, like McKinstry’s usual, was just such fucking detritus that I felt the need to point out it’s pure unreason. I’m sure, as you’ve made the good choice to read Planet Ivy, I’m preaching to the choir, of people not madly and pathologically opposed to immigration. But, guessing you’re not regular Express readers, hopefully the following will be an entertaining or enlightening insight into the workings of a madman….

One thing you can give him – he doesn’t beat around the bush. Heading the piece “We can’t trust our politicians to act over immigration”, he starts:

“Across the land there is rightly a profound sense of injustice at how we have to support a growing army of foreigners who have never contributed a penny to our country.”

The idea of hardening views on immigration is true, somewhat at least. UKIP has gained much more support in recent years and two of their core (only?) messages are much less immigration and EU exit. (Funny how Leo is much more supportive of immigrants, though, when they are good at running and throwing stuff and winning us gold medals). Ed Miliband would not for nothing have issued a mea culpa on Labour’s previous liberal attitude on immigration. And this shift in opinion may be because it is believed immigrants “have never contributed a penny to our country”, given the one-sided scaremongering the Express et al trade in. But it is not because there is much truth to the statement. Most studies find immigrants’ net fiscal contribution to the UK in the positive. Which makes sense really; if one takes up residence in another country it suggests they are healthy, mobile and ambitious – all desirable qualities in the job market.

Leo then says politicians are engaging in tough rhetoric on immigration, but “no genuine action”. What about toughening up the student visa system and even closing some higher education institutions in the belief they were bogus? What about the ‘go home or face arrest’ vans? The planned crackdown on ‘health tourism’? All of which have been largely condemned. And while it is true net migration is significant and up recently, immigration into the UK has fallen dramatically under the Coalition.

It gets worse:

“Brimming with self righteous vanity about their supposed tolerance they have turned our country into a soft touch, where free loading, even criminal foreigners are treated by the state with far more respect than decent, hard working Britons. Thanks to ruinous policies our justice system is now used as a battering ram against our civilisation, while our benefits system is a magnet for alien parasites and fraudsters.”

Firstly, ‘alien parasites and fraudsters’ – wow. That’s a lot of hate. At least I suppose you can’t technically be deemed ‘racist’ if you believe those your invective is aimed at are, in fact, a different species. Actually, according to 2012 figures, around 17% of UK nationals claim benefits compared to 7% of immigrants. But hey, let’s not let that get in the way of a good rant. One of the few times he admits (a few) immigrants do jobs, he damns them for that too, presenting a rather tricky catch-22.

He then details the case of “Somalian rapist” Mustafa Abdullahi, sentenced to ten years for a sex attack, who served half that term. There was, almost inevitably, an “only” inserted in there, but it may well have been legally appropriate. He “could not be deported” due to fears for his safety in Somalia (it’s not exactly rainbows and cuddles there, I gather) and his human right to a family life – his mother living in the UK. And he notes a similar case when a woman who committed benefit and identity fraud was not deported due to her four kids.

But then McKinstry pulls out his trump card – the old, blind and (inevitably) devout Christian lady. Jane Phillips was robbed of £50 when giving a quid to a Romanian Big Issue vendor, who admittedly does sound like a nasty piece of work. (And indeed looks it – a mugshot is included online. Then again, does anyone look good in a mugshot?). He has, apparently, a conviction for mobile phone theft and has been barred from several shops for antisocial conduct, and should not be allowed to sell the magazine as he “lives in a £250,000 house with his family”.

So, we learn from this article, a grand total of three UK immigrants have committed crimes (out of a total of around 8.3 million). GET RID OF THEM ALL!!!