Thursday, June 2, 2016

Greasy Pole: Goldsmith versus Khan (2016)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Spare a thought for Zac Goldsmith. For Frank Zacharias Robin ‘Zac’ Goldsmith.  For the son of a proliferous billionaire who left him to struggle through life on an inheritance of between two hundred and three hundred million pounds, which represented a monthly income of about £5 million. For the pupil at Eton –-  until they found forbidden drugs in his room. For one so convincing  as a self-promoted defender of the natural world that his uncle gave him the magazine The Ecologist to do with what he liked, even to appoint himself as its editor. For the triumphantly victorious MP for Richmond Park against the industrious Lib Dem Susan Kramer. But one whose smooth rise up the Greasy Pole was obstructed when he devoted his talents and his riches to a campaign for election as Mayor of London – in which he was thwarted by the distinctly non-legatee Labour candidate Sadiq Khan. Thus Goldsmith’s case for election was not as elegantly appealing as those Richmond Tories must have assumed it would be and his copious ambitions were reduced to a state of baffled suspension. So spare a thought for him.
And for Sadiq Khan who stood as the underdog against the handsome, elegant Goldsmith.  He could hardly have been more different for he is the youngest of five children whose grandparents came from Pakistan to take root in council housing in one of the rougher parts of London. His father was a bus driver and his mother a seamstress. Working his way through university Khan qualified as a solicitor, specialising in cases concerning human rights – which often brought him into conflict with the police (a teacher at his comprehensive school had advised him that his ‘argumentative personality’ made him a natural to study law instead of dentistry as he intended). In 2005, after a spell as a councillor in Wandsworth, he became the MP for Tooting and in 2009, when he was made Minister of State for Transport under Gordon Brown, he was the first Muslim to attend the Cabinet. He then held a succession of shadow ministerial posts under Ed Miliband. In this process he was establishing a number of records, often related to being a Muslim but including such as regularly being placed by the Evening Standard among the Top 100 London politicians and, in 2005, awarded the ‘Newcomer Of The Year’ by the Spectator for ‘…the tough-mindedness and clarity with which he has spoken out about the very difficult issues of Islamic terror’. But none of these counted as crucial in the battle against Zac Goldsmith for the London Mayoralty. No matter that Kahn could offer the usual promises: against this was the slickness of Goldsmith’s office and his experienced media advisers with their well-honed voting strategies.
But this was a case when those experts in the dog-whistle style of voter-manipulation placed themselves in a position which was evidently ill-advised. For they seemed to have decided that as Sadiq Khan is a Muslim there were votes to be won by associating him with the terrorist operations which are among  the current problems across the world. One example of this appeared when theGuardian of 30 April publicised a letter written by David Cameron to Anita Vasisht who is a lawyer specialising in immigration problems. Cameron warned that any policy resulting from the united efforts of Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan would bring about a situation in which ‘Londoners will become lab rats in a giant political experiment’. The implication of this was more obvious in a letter from David Cameron to another lawyer which stated that only Goldsmith could be relied on to ‘…keep our streets safe from terrorist attacks’. At the same time, and on the same theme, there was Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph accusing Sadiq Khan of ‘…pandering to the extremists. I don’t want him running our capital’. And Teresa May, whose earliest claim to fame was when she denounced the Tories as ‘the nasty party’, warning their spring conference that Khan would be ‘unsafe’ to run London when it faced ‘…a significant threat of terrorism’. These attacks on Khan as a Muslim terrorist were not entirely welcome in the Tory party. Their ex-chair Baroness Warsi later referred to the election loss as a result as an ‘appalling dog-whistle campaign’ which ‘lost us the election, our reputation and credibility on issues of race and religion’. Steve Hilton, previously infamous as the party’s election master mind, regretted that it had brought back that ‘nasty party label to the Conservatives’.
The overall effect of this, with the ominous survey ratings which gave Khan a solid lead, may have persuaded those Tory strategists to try another style of deceit, by sending Goldsmith out in the early morning disguised as a milkman on his rounds. However Goldsmith was not travelling in one of those snuffling battery floats but in a posh black limousine. We were supposed to believe that he was delivering that milk to what looked like some posh mews in a place like Kensington. But of course one effect of this was to arouse those well-used, long-ago slogans about Thatcher The Milk Snatcher.
 Sadiq Khan became the new Mayor of London by defeating Zac Goldsmith by 14 percentage points.  From the piracy that is now the Labour Party he may emerge as their new leader. Meanwhile he must make his mark through some particular policies which he claims will adjust, or even eliminate, the merciless realities which distort the lives and the wellbeing of what are called ordinary hard-working citizens.  At present there are few surprises in these; for example an intention to build genuinely affordable homes; to ensure that the streets of London are cleaner, safer. There is one novelty in the introduction of a new public transport ticket known as the Hopper which at first threatens to require harassed commuters to become mathematically agile as they are about to board the bus or the train. London is a great example of capitalism in sordid operation with its proliferation of social dislocation and hopeless responses.  The election struggle between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith was no more than another rejected opportunity for the people in this part of the world to begin the historical change for the better.

The Problem is Not the EU . . . It’s Capitalism (2016)

From the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
On 23 June you will asked to make a decision on behalf of the minority who own and control the means of production in Britain: should they stay or should they leave the EU?  Perhaps you ought to feel flattered that, for once, they have entrusted you with making a decision of vital importance to them. But our answer, as socialists, is ‘we are not interested. Settle the matter yourselves’.
This is because the problems we and you face as wage and salary workers or their dependents are caused by the capitalist system of ownership by the few and production for profit. This system, which requires that making profits comes before meeting needs, will continue whether Britain is in or out of the EU. Whichever it is to be, the problems will continue. They will continue for as long as capitalism does. The only way out is if you, together with wage and salary workers in the rest of the world, organise democratically to replace global capitalism by a worldwide classless socialist society of common ownership and democratic control, with production to satisfy people’s needs not for profit, and distribution on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” not by the amount of money you have – or don’t have.
The devil you know
Apart from a few idealists who want to see a Federal European State, the main group in favour of  staying is Big Business. With good reason, from their point if view. The EU gives them tariff- free access to a vast single market with common standards. And the EU, negotiating as a single body with non-member States over trade and other economic matters and so with more bargaining power, gets them a better deal than if Britain had to do this on its own.
Other supporters are the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists who want to protect the EU subsidies their parts of Britain get. More principled is the position of the Green Party which wants to defend the free movement of workers throughout the EU – out of as well as into Britain.
Cameron claims to have negotiated some fundamental reform of the EU. Actually, he has done no more than freeze the position of Britain as a non-member of the Eurozone. He hasn’t undone anything. He hasn’t even stopped immigration which some mistakenly see as a problem, only held out a hope that it will be less attractive in a few years. No wonder the Eurosceptics are sceptical.
Basically, the Stay campaign are campaigning for the status quo. As is the Labour Party.  In other words, capitalism as we know it, with all the problems it causes, and so not worth supporting even if it is the devil we know.
The devil you don’t
But what about the devil we don’t know?  Its supporters are an unsavoury lot. UKippers, Tory backwoodsmen and other xenophobes plus a few ambitious politicians calculating that leaving will provide them with a better chance to climb further up the greasy pole. They have some limited business support, mainly small businesses producing for the home market rather than for export and some hedge funds that don’t want to be regulated.
The leave camp are the ones proposing a change, which they claim will be for the better. But their case is a mixture of wishful thinking and the usual empty promises of politicians. It doesn’t even make sense from a capitalist point of view. Certainly, as they claim, outside the EU British capitalism could still have access to the single EU market, but would no longer have a say in fixing its rules and regulations. A non-EU Britain could still, as they also claim, negotiate trade deals with other countries and trading blocs, but on its own would be in a weaker bargaining position. No wonder Big Business and its supporters regard them as flat-earthers.
The sovereign has no clothes
One more respectable argument for leaving  than ‘Keep Immigrants Out’ or ‘Send Them Back’ is that leaving would give back to parliament the ‘sovereign power’ to decide what laws should apply in Britain.  Capitalism, however, is a single world economic system, which makes ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ purely formal when it comes to economic matters. Governments, whatever formal powers they may have, cannot control the way the profit system works. In fact it’s the other way round. Capitalism is sovereign and governments have to apply its basic economic law that priority must be given to profit-making as this is what drives the system.
A State can choose that its government and parliament take the decisions required to comply with capitalism’s basic economic law (as the leavers want) or it can delegate some of these decisions to some inter-governmental body (as at present and as the stayers support), but in the end it doesn’t matter who makes the decision. Nor where, whether London or Brussels. the decision is made.
How to vote, then?
You don’t need to accept the sham choice on offer in this referendum between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. Leave that choice to those who support capitalism in one form or another.  As we consider the right to vote as a gain and a possible tool to end capitalism we will be going to the polling station, to cast a write-in vote for socialism by writing “WORLD SOCIALISM” across our ballot paper. If you agree with us, we urge you to do the same.
Executive Committee
The Socialist Party of Great Britain
April 2016