Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tessa Fails To Make It (2015)

The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

The death of Denis Healey, who was the last surviving member of Harold Wilson's 1964 Labour Cabinet, revived a clutch of memorable catch-phrases but also some unflattering comparisons with the uninspiring bunch who now occupy the Labour benches. For example Jeremy Corbyn's recent opponents Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. Will any of these go down in history as 'the best prime Minister we never had'? Will they construct a description of attacks from one of their opponents as 'like being savaged by a dead sheep'? Or scorn the House of Lords (even while they are a member) as 'the home of the living dead' ? How do they measure up to the likes of Hugh Gaitskell, Roy Jenkins, James Callaghan, in their bygone struggles to organise the economy of British capitalism into some kind of election-winning discipline? And would they, like Healey, churn out this stuff as a diversion to their day-time job?

One of the casualties of this situation has been the Right Honourable Dame Tessa Jowell who was recently giving herself a higher chance of being adopted as the Labour Party candidate in the coming election to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London but was defeated by Sadiq Khan. Jowell came into Parliament as the MP for Dulwich, a seat which she won in the 1992 election after a couple of attempts in Ilford North. That was a barren time for Labour and in opposition Jowell was appointed to a succession of Shadow jobs including one which named her as Labour's Spokesperson for Women. Blair's runaway victory in 1997 brought her bigger responsibility until after the 2001 election she replaced Chris Smith, who had been sacked, as Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. Controversially, she proposed the establishment of a number of 'super-casinos', raising the temperature of the predictable row over her plans when she described her opponents as 'snobs' who were motivated by a resolve to deny 'ordinary people' the opportunity to gamble – a response dismissed by her fellow MP Frank Field as 'crass'.

In this acrimonious stand-off it could not have diverted her opponents to hear that her devotion to Blair was such that she would 'jump under a bus' for him. In fact at the time – February 2006 – it was not unlikely that a substantial number of people would not have demurred if Jowell had taken Blair with her beneath the bus; for one thing there was the shock and outrage after the exposure of the 'dodgy dossier' with its blatant lies about the war in Iraq. Shortly before then a couple of Jowell's constituents, driven to despair by her eager compliance in that war with its deception, its destruction and casualties, had written to Chris Mullin who was an MP for Sunderland, to complain that, among other matters, Jowell was 'just a rubber stamp with “Tony Blair" incised on its bottom'. But it seems that Blair was not impressed by Jowell's worshipful meanderings; she would have been dismayed by his opinion that she was merely 'lukewarm' towards New Labour. All these events were being observed by the smoulderingly impatient Gordon Brown who, when he eventually made it to Labour leader, subjected Jowell to a succession of humiliatingly minor governmental posts until 2009 when he condescended to bring her back as Minister for the Cabinet Office. The entire process of events among those Labour leaders was a succession of cynical manoeuvres presented to us as examples of loyal consultancy and co-operation.

In conflict with the reassuringly comforting titles of the ministries she was involved in, Jowell's domestic life was not notable for its enduring bliss. Her first marriage, to another Camden councillor, was dissolved in 1976 but she kept the marital surname. In 1979 she married David Mills, described as an international corporate solicitor in the shadows of which he represented none other than Silvio Berlusconi who was then the Italian Prime Minister and who was liable to be entertained by Mills at posh London Clubs. Mills was investigated by the Italian authorities on suspicion of involvement in money laundering and tax fraud; inevitably Jowell was also of interest in these matters, which moved Mills to describe himself as 'an idiot'. In March 2006, to protect her political standing, they separated and in 2009 a court in Italy sentenced Mills to four and a half years imprisonment for accepting a bribe from Berlusconi after giving false evidence in a trial for corruption. He appealed against this sentence and in 2010, after a series of applications, a Cassation Court dissolved the case under the Statute of Limitations and ordered Mills to pay €250,000 for damaging the reputation of the office of the Italian prime Minister. Meanwhile Blair predictably cleared Jowell of having any conflict of interest over the case. By 2012 Jowell and Mills were effectively back together again but the case, in one shape or another, rumbles on.

In 2013, after announcing that she was to stand for London mayor (and being popularly tipped as the favourite) Jowell unleashed an asterisk-laden verbal barrage to an interviewing Guardian reporter: 'Those a******es are so f****** rancid' … and she recalled being harassed by a cameraman with his 'f******, you know, penis-like lens… and I said You f**** off out of here ...' On a similar theme there is an old photograph of Tessa Jowell with Denis Healey. They are at a public meeting during an election, with the posters at the walls bellowing ‘Vote Jowell Labour’. They have serious faces, composed to encourage the audience to vote for their style of government to run British capitalism with its repression and violence and its deceit. Perhaps the photograph was taken when the voters were grateful for Jowell's support for their campaign to stop the closure of the local post offices, which would have affected any of them who had problems getting to another one a distance away. If so, they would have ignored the fact that she was a member of the government which was planning to impose those closures. There was a time when the word ‘promising’ might have been resorted to in any discussion of Jowell’s chances of eventually making it to the heights of the Greasy Pole. Parents in the medical profession, a good degree at Edinburgh, working as a psychiatric social worker then assistant director of the charity Mind. But her failure to persuade enough of the voters in London to make her their mayor consigns her to a place in history rather like those others who long ago orbited around Denis Healey and his caustic humour.

Marxism and Democracy (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not possible to explain in an understandable way what the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is to Marxism and democracy without first dismissing the mass of representations and half-truths surrounding the term Marxism, and distinguishing between widely differing concepts of democracy.

For us Marxism means essentially the mature, stated, view of Marx and Engels on the materialist conception of history, the economic analysis of capitalism and the way in which the working class must use the "parliamentary system" to achieve power as the necessary preliminary to the establishment of Socialism. This is the legitimate way in which the term should be used but it is not the way in which it is commonly used by the media or by numerous organisations all over the world that have chosen to label themselves Marxist. Leading politicians and commentators habitually use it as a term of abuse to blacken the Labour Party; like the description of that Party as "Marxist". Neither in that Party's aim, nor its economics (they are Keynesians) nor in its political propaganda can this usage be justified. Tackled about this, well-known columnists have taken refuge in a defence that amounts to no more than that "nowadays everybody does it", a complete abdication from their proclaimed role of providing genuine information for their readers.

As regards the organisations that style themselves Marxist, some do this in total ignorance of the writings of Marx and Engels while others make use of statements made before a lifetime of experience had brought maturity.

There is as much confusion about democracy as about Marxism. Hardly any organisation now admits to being anti-democratic; the National Front pays lip-service to democracy as does also the Russian dictatorship.

The formula used to justify the Russian system goes like this. "Democracy is majority rule. If the majority can be persuaded, pressurised or forced into placing the Communist Party leadership in power, that is democracy." It is of course a mockery. There is only one, officially endorsed, candidate in each constituency; through the censorship all information is government-controlled; and all political parties except the Communist Party are prohibited so that there is no legal way in which opponents' views can be put to the electorate. Bukharin once put it in a sentence: 'There is room in Russia for any number of political parties as long as one is in power and the others are in prison." In Russia it is possible for people to be arrested for openly refusing to vote (The Times 30 July 1978). Yet notwithstanding the risk involved, the official account of the last elections to the Supreme Soviet disclosed that some 330,000 people did vote against the official candidates.

All of this is far removed from the concept of democracy in socialist society. In socialism, objective information will be freely and fully available — no vested interests to give slanted versions. All will be able to hear and discuss different policy proposals. Decisions will be by majority vote; and will be accepted and operated by the minority, unless and until they can persuade the majority to change its views. Above all, because there will be no coercive state and all members of society will have free access to the means of life there can be no question of the minority being penalised in any way.

What about democracy in "parliamentary" countries like Great Britain? Objective information is not fully and freely available here but under normal conditions a socialist political party can operate legally and can answer capitalist propaganda. It can state the socialist case and contest elections, and as the overwhelming majority of the electors are working class it is open to the workers, through Parliament, to gain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, for the purpose of establishing Socialism when they so decide. Marx and Engels have always appreciated the value of the vote. In 1848, in the Communist Manifesto they wrote:
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy. 
Looking back, half a century later, Frederick Engels said:
The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the struggle for the general franchise, for democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat . . . (Introduction to Class Struggles in France 1895)
Only four years after the Communist Manifesto Marx emphasised the point in an article in the New York Tribune (25 August 1852):
The carrying of universal suffrage in England would . . . be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent.
It's inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class.
In their early years of political activity Marx and Engels had been optimistic about the speed with which developments would take place. With greater experience they had to recognise that the obstacles — the resourcefulness of the ruling class, the adaptability of capitalism, and the slowness with which socialist ideas were accepted by the workers — were much greater than they had supposed.

Engels, in the work already mentioned summarised this:
"The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required  . . . Even in France the Socialists realise more and more that no durable success is possible unless they win over in advance the great mass of the people, which, in this case, means the peasants. The slow work of propaganda and parliamentary activity are here also recognised as the next task of the party".
Engels, however, still underestimated the difficulties of the situation, this time through his misjudgment of the quality of membership of the social democratic parties. They were more and more being recruited, not for the socialist objective, but by the attraction of the "immediate demands" attached to the social-democratic programmes. They were still dependent on "leadership" and it remained for the Socialist Party of Great Britain to show that the whole leadership idea is alien to democracy and the socialist movement.
Edgar Hardcastle 

Online Gambling - Getting the Punters Hooked (2015)

The Action Replay column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
With online gambling amounting to over £2 billion a year, the number in danger of gambling addiction has grown. There could be as many as one million at risk.
Since online gambling was freed-up by Tony Blair's government in 2005 the gambling firms’ strategy has been to recruit new consumers from the professions (including women). Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, has said more women are gambling than ever before. ‘The introduction of online gambling has brought into the home an activity that was historically male-dominated.’
Betting firms still continue with their traditional working-class betting shop users but want to maximise profits by the introduction of fixed-odds gaming machines. Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins has said: ‘I have been very concerned about alcoholism for a long time, but problem gambling is just as bad.’
Microgaming Software Systems Ltd, created the world's first online casino 20 years ago, and now boasts a multimillion pound turnover. Their website states they are ‘the world's largest provider’ of online gaming software. Ladbrokes and 32Red are among the many online casino operators it supplies. Almost anything can be gambled online 24/7: lottery tickets, bingo, slot machine-style games, poker and football pools plus sporting events worldwide.
Ladbrokes chief executive Richard Glynn has boasted that his company offered up to 800 football matches per week for ‘bet in play’, leading the market with more games to gamble on than any of its rivals.
Ironically, the government risked missing out on increased tax revenues coming from this growth as most of the big-name bookies are based overseas. However, since the end of last year a change in the law has meant that the online business has been obliged to pay an estimated extra £300 million a year in UK taxes.
Charities are critical of celebrities glamorising gambling. The Australian cricketer Shane Warne promotes gambling via twitter while Ray Winstone, the face of Bet 65, regularly features at half-time intervals urging punters to ‘bet in play, now’.
Want an example of the human cost of on line gambling? In 2013 Jack Keylock, 22, from Cheltenham was jailed for 18 months at Gloucester Crown Court. Jack had resorted to burglary to pay debts run up while gambling online.