Thursday, March 26, 2015

Scrap Capitalism (2014)

From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is time to forever scrap forever this cock-eyed system that takes from the poor and  gives to the rich; that preaches austerity for the 95 percent whilst the elite get yet richer; where millionaire leaders shed crocodile tears over poverty as they live in luxury. Somehow it has been sold to us that this is usual – moreover it is the only way to organise society, and it is good and healthy. You could not make it up.

We could share all the world. Scrap capitalism, abolish the monetary system and suddenly the playing field is not so uneven. We will not have achieved utopia but many of the idiocies of the current system will have gone: life will not be quite so problematic. No longer would the accountant who finds havens for the rich to hide their wealth to avoid tax earn a thousand times more than the carers looking after the health of your old aunt – because there would no longer be wages. No more wages slavery, just imagine. You’d be able to do what you do and be able to take what you need.

You will no doubt be told it’s mad and totally unachievable. But think what would have been said about the internet or triple heart bypass surgery 50 years ago. Human beings are incredibly intelligent – just look at how much and how quickly we can achieve things when we set our minds to it – and we in the Socialist Party are simply saying the world can be organised in a more intelligent way. It cannot be seen as either intelligent or necessary that most of the wealth of the world is given to so few.

All the other parties offer you some variant of what we have already – possibly a few more checks and balances. Sadly history shows that, whatever the government, the rich come out on top. We are here to say it need not be like this.
Howard Pilott

Never mind the ballots (2015)

Book Review from the February 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box'. Edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford. Biteback Publishing. £14.99
With the General Election fast approaching, expect a slew of books on this theme. Subtitled ‘50 Things You Need to Know About British Elections’, this is one of the first. The chapters are short (typically four or five pages) and are written in an accessible style by a variety of UK political scientists and polling gurus. Many of the familiar names are there: Rallings and Thrasher, John Curtice, David Denver et al.
Chapters range from analyzing tactical voting, identifying who really votes UKIP, the influence of social class on voting, and why ethnic minorities still tend to vote Labour. There is lots of interest here, though it is a shame the publishers decided they had to try to spice things up further by including some embarrassingly weak chapters by staff at YouGov about sex and politics (eg the alleged sexual preferences and fantasies of different party supporters).
Many of the arguments put forward build on previous research projects like the British Election Study that have uncovered an increasingly complex range of voting behaviour in the UK. This includes large numbers of people voting for split tickets, ie voting for different parties on the same election day, such as when a General Election and local elections coincide. It also involves a decline in voting based on class factors as defined by the sociologists, though with a noticeable rise in recent decades of geographical alignment behind parties – most obviously Labour in Wales, Scotland and the North of England, and the Tories in the South and East. This geographical ‘flocking together’ occurs even when social class, housing and other factors have been accounted for. Interestingly, it would also appear that the prevailing underpinning values of voters in Wales and Scotland, for instance, are not that different on most issues to those of people in parts of the UK that tend to vote Conservative.
In sociological terms, the voters with the most traditional ‘working class’ profiles tend now to disproportionately vote UKIP when they vote at all (with a particular concentration of UKIP support among elderly white men who are – or were – blue-collar workers who had left school at 16 or younger). By contrast, Labour now gets almost as much support in percentage terms from the top fifth of income earners in society as it does from the bottom fifth. Indeed, this finding was reflected in surveys at the last couple of general elections where it was found that Labour attracted noticeably more support from readers of the Financial Times than it did of the Express, with the Labour percentage of FT readers being not too far below those of the Sun.
In many ways it appears that considerable numbers of voters are now shopping in the proverbial postmodern supermarket where parties appear like clothes brands that are either trusted or tarnished. What perhaps doesn’t come out as strongly here as it might though is that this is not just a reflection of voters clustering towards the political centre, but of parties doing this too. Indeed, arguably the most noticeable change in politics in recent decades is that managerialism has replaced political ideology or argument – parties now make little attempt to convince people of a distinctive view. Instead, like a good salesman who can build rapport with clients by ‘mirroring’ their body language and speech patterns, parties compete on broadly the same ideological ground but try to convince electors that they are personally more trustworthy, effective and professional than their competition.
If this is all rather depressing, there are actually glimpses of hope here too. Political attitudes can often change in generational waves and the chapter on changing attitudes to race in the UK is a case in point. Here Danny Dorling discusses ‘when racism stopped being normal, but no-one noticed’. He shows that the percentage of electors who would be opposed to someone in their family marrying a person from another ethic group has declined from around 55 per cent in the 1980s to about 25 per cent today as the older generations where these views were most prevalent have now died off, and with very few of the younger generation now holding these types of beliefs. This trend has been mirrored in other countries like the US and is one indicator among many that people in the main Western democracies may still be economically conservative, but are more socially liberal – and in some ways enlightened – than they have ever been before.