Friday, 30 April 2010

Vicious, self-serving snobbery is a solution to nothing

In January, I wrote The mainstream media and the snobbery doctrine. Highlighting the Daily Mail's Amanda Platell in particular, I explained the propaganda function of tirades against the poor;
As the ideological defenders of the capitalist system, they are invested in convincing the rest of us that it works. Poverty is the fault of the poor, and those who would take welfare to keep themselves and their families alive rather than dying in a ditch as the wretched should are filthy scroungers to be mocked and scorned.
Platell, the champion of this ideological snobbery, has come out with another corker today.

Titled "The town that marriage forgot: My journey to single mother central," it's remarkable for having a pop at single mothers, the poor, the unemployed, unmarried parents, and the North West of England in a single article. It caught my eye because Knowsley isn't that far from Liverpool, and it's where my dad grew up in a working class household with ten brothers.

Here is Platell's opening gambit;
Step outside the comfort zone of your own community for a moment and imagine what a society would look like in which 75 per cent of all children are born outside marriage.

That's a projection by the Office of National Statistics which suggests this could become a reality in as little as five years' time.

It offers a profoundly disturbing vision of Britain with its social fabric torn away: the stability of the nuclear family all but lost, the discipline and love of a father absent in so many children's lives. 
Let's ignore the fact that, not being a Mail reader, you know being born out of wedlock doesn't automatically equal having no father. Let's also ignore that, again because we're not Mail-reading Little Englander fuckwits, we know single parents can be male as well. Even without those two pieces of (quite frankly obvious) information, does anybody really think that society will collapse if couples don't seek sanction for their love from the state? Or that your parents can only love you if they wear a ring on a specific finger?

Platell admonishes us. "You may like to think it just won't happen, that such a prediction is simply too extreme." Or that it's really irrelevant in the grander scheme of things. "But the truth is that, give or take a few percentage points, it already has. Nationally, the number of children born out of wedlock has risen steeply to 45 per cent  -  with 30 per cent of those being born to unmarried couples and 15 per cent to single mothers."

Oh dear. Start the sirens, the apocalypse cometh. The way Platelly phrases it, it sounds as though 55 per cent of children born out of wedlock were born neither to unmarried couples nor to single mothers. That leaves far more single fathers than we can possibly believe, or babies popping out of thin air.

However, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she meant 30% of all babies were born to unmarried couples, and 15% to single mothers, to make a total of 45% of babies born out of wedlock. Even so, single mothers remain a minority. It's just people raising kids without bothering to go through the expense and the hassle of marriage.

Clearly, even Platell can't drag a half-baked attack on the poor out of that, so it's over to Merseyside;
There is, however, one town in this country where the number of lone-parent families is nearly twice the national average, where residents claim the second highest Jobseeker's Allowance, where 25 per cent of people claim long-term sickness benefits, and where in some areas nearly half of all people smoke. 

The place is Knowsley on Merseyside, which  -  with a shade under 70 per cent of children born outside marriage  -  might better be labelled Single Mum Central. It is, in short, the town that turned its back on marriage. 

Of course, those figures include children born to couples who cohabit, but spend any time here and it's clear that thousands of children are being raised without a father in their lives.
By "spend any time," I'm going to assume she means "drive through as fast as possible with the doors locked and take some stock photos to aid the mocking of people less fortunate than yourself."

The first thing you learn by dissecting these facts is that the headline is a lie. With 70% of children born out of marriage, with "twice the national average" (30%, then) born to single mums, you still have 70% of children born in a two-parent household. So much for "Single Mum Central."

But, says the reactionary who's parachuted in to admonish us, "To anyone who thinks that marriage doesn't matter any more, I would say this: look for the legacy of this seismic social change in the schools of this once genteel town." Leaving aside the use of the word "genteel," and the Middle England nostalgia for a time that never was, we are supposed to blame the fact "that these secondary schools are the worst in the country, bar none" on who these kids' parents do (or don't) live with.

Luckily for us, Platell manages to uncover the real reasons behind the levels of unemployment and the condition of the school system herself. Of course, since it doesn't fit her ideological by-line, it is buried within the article somewhat;
Thanks to this Government's determination to pour money into the North, hundreds of millions of pounds  -  some say more than £1billion  -  has been spent on regenerating Knowsley, so it is as far from the stereotypical sink estate as you can imagine.

But as far as I can see it is essentially an elaborate facade, concealing some of the greatest social deprivation in this country coupled with an abject lack of social responsibility and a benefits culture that is shocking to behold.
Did you catch that? That's right, "social deprivation." Platell tries to disguise this by going into detail over six paragraphs about how Knowsley is "as far from the stereotypical sink estate as you can imagine," before having to admit that this is a sham to disguise rather than alleviate the problem. Then, having admitted the reality, she hastily adds that it's probably the locals' fault for claiming too many benefits and being irresponsible. Because, of course, it can't be the deprivation that led to mass unemployment and required people to claim benefits, can it?

In fact, yes, it can. Ethel Austin, the NHS, News International, and Delphi have all shed jobs in the area over the past few years, and these are just a few recent examples. Mass unemployment first hit the region forty years ago. A report from the Times Educational Supplement offers a far more realistic analysis of this than any Mail writer ever could;
Best known for its safari park and stately home, the Liverpool suburb is an idiosyncratic mix of urban decay and royal golf courses, and according to government GCSE league tables, it is officially the bottom of the pile.
Barely more than a third (33 per cent) of pupils in the Merseyside borough achieve the Government's target of five A*-C grades, including English and maths.

But, as is so often, the figures do not tell the whole story. Formed in the great local authority reshuffle in the mid-1970s, Knowsley suffers as so many like it for being on the periphery of a major city.

But as Liverpool played the role as the country's poorest son, Knowsley was equally affected by deprivation and neglect.

Even as money in its billions was poured into the regeneration of Liverpool's city centre thanks to private investment and the huge cash bonanza that accompanied the European Capital of Culture, the city's suburbs saw little of the good times.

But vast swathes of Liverpool's outskirts still sit bereft of investment and direction. Whole housing estates stand vacant, while roads such as Edge Lane, which feeds into Knowsley, are lined by boarded-up council houses.

This is the backdrop for Knowsley's startlingly poor statistics and it explains why it was one of the first local authorities to be handed cash from Building Schools for the Future. The borough received more than £160 million from the Department for Children, Schools and Families as part of the first wave of BSF in a bid by the Government to "bring England's schools into the 21st century".

It is now officially the first to have rebuilt every secondary school within its boundaries. Part of Knowsley's plan was to improve the schools to ensure it keeps its young people in them. One of the main reasons for its poor GCSE results is the way it loses young people like a leaking tap to schools around the area in neighbouring Liverpool and Sefton.

Like the majority of local authorities in the first wave of the school rebuilding programme, Knowsley's schools were the depressing 1950s and 1960s blocks, crammed with asbestos and so much glass that they would act like a chiller cabinet in the winter and a green house in the summer.
No talk of social irresponsiblity or single mothers from people who've actually visited the area and don't have an agenda of snobbery, then. But whilst the TEC took the time to go around the schools and to learn what was really going on, Platell took the opportunity to find several random single parents, offer leading questions, mock them as hard as she could from a position of privilege, and derive half-baked conclusions she already knew she was going to end up with.

Perhaps the most enlightening quote she gets is from a woman called Kate;
I'd happily go back to work if I could work between the school runs. But there are no jobs like that which pay more than my benefits.
The conclusion of the right-wing reactionary is that "such is the bloated level of state support the Government offers women such as these, there is simply no incentive for them to work." The reality, as anybody who has had to work in jobs slightly less accomodating than a national newspaper and anybody acquainted with single parents will know, is that the real problem is low pay - not high benefits. Platell's job may allow her to disappear for the school run and spend adequate time with her kids. Fast food chains, supermarkets, and other bottom-rung jobs will not.

After speaking to these women, and twisting their words to support her anti-welfare invective, Platell asks "how did this once respectable working-class area, where people did work and welfare was a dirty word, where marriage and the family were seen as the bedrock of the community, turn into a ghetto of dependency?"

She hits on the answer when she says that "The roots of its decline can be traced back to the Sixties and Seventies, when the docks closed and entire families become unemployed overnight." But a class analysis of how working people have been abandoned since that time, with money spent of corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich instead of industry and infrastructure is not forthcoming. Instead, she betrays her already obvious bias by quoting a Conservative parliamentary candidate and a priest in order to place the blame on sex before marriage and single parents.

This is precisely what is wrong with the reasoning of Platell and her co-thinkers. They try far too hard to place a moral judgement upon ultimately economic issues. People on benefits struggle to live day to day, as I know firsthand from the experiences of both friends and neighbours. More often than not, they want to work and are prevented only by the availability of jobs with a sustainable income. Nonetheless, all parties are promising to cut their benefits under the false pretence that refusing to accept an unsustainable income amounts to refusing to work.

She may be right that "drugs are a symptom of the hopelessness of youths without a decent education, born into families of third or fourth generation unemployed" and that "the only way out of this spiral of poverty and dependency is through education and employment." But this has nothing to do with marriage, sex, or morality, and everything to do with the economic system we live in where people are second-fiddle to profit.

If we want to change this, it will not be through deriding the poor in order to soothe the consciences of the privileged.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Gillian Duffy furore

Yesterday, because he forgot he was still wearing a Sky News microphone, Gordon Brown was overheard calling pensioner Gillian Duffy a "bigoted woman." When the story went public it saw Brown apologise, and Alan Johnson insist that it is "perfectly legitimate" to debate immigration, the subject that Duffy raised when speaking to Brown.

Here, I'd just like to make two points;

Firstly, what Gordon Brown said is utterly irrelevant. His comments were off the cuff, in (what he thought was) private, and do not reflect any serious attitude on policy. I'm willing to wager that most people in the world have muttered "twat," "prick," or something similar once somebody who's pissed them off is out of earshot.

It's also a pointless distraction, and whilst the media focus on Brown's "gaffe," they're ignoring more serious issues like his war crimes or his use of policy to support big business and attack the working class. But then, these aren't serious issues in elite circles, and so it's more legitimate to attack him for a remark which has no effect whatsoever upon how the country is run.

Secondly, Gillian Duffy is not a bigot. She is wrong in what she said, but this is more likely down to the message that the tabloid media (in particular) has drummed into people's heads for several decades than to any deep seated hatred or prejudice.

From the Times, here is the transcript of her conversation with Brown;
Duffy: Look, the three main things that I had drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim.

Brown: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life for people on the dole anymore, if you’re unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. At six months –

Duffy: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying you’re – but all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?

Brown: A million people come in from Europe, but a million British people have gone into Europe, you do know there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well. So education, health and helping people, that’s what I’m about.

Duffy: I hope you keep to it. 
Those two points - "There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim" and " all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?" - sum up entirely the central message of the media. People on benefits most likely don't deserve it and the immigrants who come here are really an invading horde.

Neither point is true.

On the subject of benefits, as Child Poverty Action Group campaigner Imran Hussain told the Morning Star, earlier in the month, "Benefit fraud is at an all-time low, and amounts to less than 1 per cent of claims. However, £16 billion in benefits, which should be spent helping the poorest, went unclaimed last year." Disability network RADAR also has a thorough debunking of the myths on Incapacity Benefit which is well worth reading.

As regards immigration, a lot of people have done this subject to death a thousand times over. Both Refugee Action [1, 2] and the Refugee Council have pages dedicated to the myths about asylum seekers. I have written in depth about the supposed Muslim "demographic timebomb," the myth of 70 million, the Daily Mail's art of twisting the facts, and the whole nonsense about mass immigration being engineered by New Labour.

But more than that, such myths are harmful; to the working class. In the first instance, they distract us from the bigger picture of an economic system built upon greed at our expense. It also divides us, using spiteful myths to turn workers against the unemployed, natives against migrants, and any other division they can get away with. This allows them to exploit the weaker group (as cheap labour or as scabs) in order to undermine the stronger group. It also offers a wall of prejudice to stop us uniting against the real enemy of capitalism.

Gillian Duffy, then, is not a bigot. But she is a victim of a propaganda onslaught that serves to divide and weaken the working class and must be rejected out of hand.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

No War but Class War - April 2010

In Greece, this month began with tragedy. A bomb exploded outside a building in the Patissia area, killing and Afghan boy of fifteen and seriously injuring his mother and ten year old sister.

The media was quick to put the blame on "leftist militants" and "far-left or anarchist groups." According to the BBC, "bomb attacks earlier this month targeted the home of a Pakistani community leader and the office of a far-right anti-immigration group." This is the only mention that Greece's neo-Nazis get, despite paramilitary group Golden Dawn being one of the primary anti-anarchist combatants (often with at least tacit support from the state) in the country. Earlier on in the troubles, they threw grenades at a migrant shelter, and have been using the unrest as an excuse to target non-white communities.

In relation to this incident, according to regular LibCom contributor Taxikipali;
The responsibility for the attack has been claimed via a communique by a neonazi group "Revolutionary National-Socialist Front". In it the fascists unfold their racist discourse and promise more bombs in "places crowded by immigrants", pledging its solidarity to Combat 18 prisoners in Britain. The police has expressed caution in accepting the communique as genuine. An earlier phone call to the press taking responsibility under the name "Guerrilla group Lambros Foundas" has been brushed away as a farce by the authorities.
This set the tone for another turbulent month, as Prime Minister George Papandreou formally approved a €30bn bailout package from EU and IMF financiers. The response from workers was not a positive one. According to al-Jazeera, "about 2,500 people marched in the capital on Friday" 23rd April, and "labour unions are planning protests against the government's economic austerity measures next week, as part of ongoing demonstrations since the measures were announced."

Before this, the country saw the detention of anarchists on charges of domestic terrorism, and university buildings occupied in response. The arrest of boys with firecrackers was amongst the disproportionate response of police, looking to crush all dissent underfoot. But, as the growing movement of discontent demonstrates, the Greek public will not be cowed by state repression.

In the United States, airport workers in Austin, Texas held a protest at the Department of Health. According to Labor Notes, "on March 25, a delegation of 30 workers organized by their rank-and-file contract committee had presented a petition to managers demanding a stop to unilateral work rule changes. In response, a manager asked airport police to arrest the whole delegation. ... Several days later, four workers were served with termination notices for "insubordination" and "engaging in a protest"—although the National Labor Relations Act protects "concerted activity" by workers acting for their collective betterment."

This is just the latest grievance in a company which maintains "70 days a year when workers aren't allowed to call in sick without a doctor's note," and where "workers report seeing rodents and insects in the company's kitchens."

Like Britain, the US is facing heavy cutback and privatisation, particularly in schooling. As such, actions of resistance become increasingly vital in a country viewed by workers abroad as a place where the class war is already lost. But there are efforts to reverse that trend. Labor Notes has been at the forefront of this with its "troublemaker schools." As a recent editorial says;
Unionists cannot afford to be purists. Whether it’s a one-day strike or a publicity campaign, any method of fighting back and extracting gains is important and necessary in this era. In discussing the need to change the rules, the danger is promoting defeatism, which is the opposite of what the labor movement needs.

There is no instant answer. But after decades of declining membership, we must begin a discussion of the fundamentals of union power. When the labor movement rises up again as a powerful force in the United States, it won’t be as a result of legislation or of cutting deals with employers. It will be because workers have taken back their most powerful weapons—solidarity and halting production.
Acts of resistance continue to flare up sporadically in China.

In Beijing, "hundreds of laid-off former bank employees have attended a rally in Beijing demanding better benefits." Despite police violence, they chanted “President Hu [Jintao], we want food,” “Premier Wen [Jiabao], we want jobs,” “We have to support our parents, we have to raise our children,” and “We gave the banks our early life, but the banks destroyed our later life.” However, this looks set to be a long struggle as "many petitioners have spent years pursuing complaints against local officials over disputes including the loss of homes and farmland, unpaid wages and pensions, or alleged mistreatment by the authorities."

In Sichuan, violence erupted at the Pubugou dam as police tried to evict people in order to allow the demolition of homes. Some people threatened to blow themselves up, whilst many others engaged in a desperate standoff against the police until the people were eventually moved on.

Unfortunately, neither case resulted in anything approaching a victory. However, according to LibCom, "as public and private developers—using corrupt means, and the absence of property rights and the rule of law—eject people from their homes," China is seeing an increasing number of acts of resistance. There has to be a tipping point, when they become outright rebellion against the tyranny that dominates the country.

There are many other places across the world where the struggle continues, often unheard even by alternative media. It is important that, as Workers' Memorial Day draws to a close, we remember how vital it is to continue building those networks of solidarity. Working class people continue to day, not just at the hands of a brutal police or military force, but on the job in utterly unsafe conditions so that the bosses can add a few extra pennies to their obscene profits.

It will be more intense over the coming months, as the ruling class try to claw back their profits and erase the damage done to them by the recession at our expense. But make no mistake, we will be fighting a class war as long as the exploitation of labour by capital persists. It is no less vital when we are petitioning in the workplace to improve health and safety than when we are on the streets holding the picket lines together.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Challenging the human misery of corporate profit

This week, reports Reuters, "the biggest U.S. and European oil companies are expected to report big rises in first-quarter profits next week on the back of a recovery in oil prices and refining margins."

This means that, "Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), the world's largest non-government controlled oil company by market value, is expected to report a 44 percent rise in net income in the quarter" and "Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L), will likely see a 35 percent rise in first-quarter current cost of supply net income, excluding one-offs, to $3.99 billion."

According to the Financial Times, "BP has exceeded analysts’ expectations with a 135 per cent rise in post-tax profits for the first quarter, and continued to cut its debts, thanks to the rebound in oil and gas prices and an improvement in the performance of its refineries." This means that the company's "net debt continues to fall, dropping to $25.2bn at the end of March, down from $26.2bn at the end of last year."

Overall, "the oil and gas exploration and production business reported a 94 per cent rise in operating profit over the year to $8.3bn, although this was slightly lower than in the final quarter of 2009."

But such vast profit does not come without human and environmental costs. As Bruno Federico of COSPACC, a Colombian collective that works with communities in the region where BP operate for oil, points out;
BP has been operating in Casanare, eastern Colombia for twenty years. During that time, 2600 people have been disappeared, 6500 people have been killed by paramilitary groups, right wing armed groups that have institutional links to the Colombian government.

More recently there has been 100 documented cases of direct state assasinations of civilian assassinations. Community leaders were forced to flee and social organisations that challenged BP's practices were exterminated.

There has also been severe environmental damage caused by the extraction; water contamination, water depletion, landslides from seismic exploration. There has been very little challenge to BP's environmental impact due to the communities being unable to organise.
The company is also heavily involved in the Tar Sands project in Canada. Tar sands are naturally occurring mixtures of sand or clay, water and an extremely dense and viscous form of petroleum called bitumen. The damage they cause to the environment is exponentially greater than that offered by conventional oil extraction.
As the UK Tar Sands network explains;
  • Millions of barrels of oil a day are now being extracted from what is currently the largest industrial development in the world.
  • It covers an area the size of England, and the toxic tailings ponds are so huge they are visible from space.
  • Extracting oil from these sludgy deposits in the heart of Canada’s ancient forests produces three to five times as much greenhouse gas as conventional oil.
  • indigenous communities, on whose land Tar Sands extraction has been imposed, are seeing high rates of rare forms of cancer and respiratory disease.
  • Tar Sands extraction is extremely resource intensive, using enough natural gas every day to heat 3.2 million Canadian homes.
  • The Canadian Government is blocking progress in international talks to curb greenhouse gas emissions because it wants to dramatically expand Tar Sands production over the coming decades.
The Network explains that "while all this is happening in Canada, decisions are being driven from London’s financial Square Mile." And BP is not the only culprit;
Shell is heavily involved. BP is about to go into its first Tar Sands extraction project, ‘Sunrise’ – in partnership with the parent company of Superdrug. Both Shell and BP are financially backed by most major UK pension funds.

Meanwhile, London’s investment banks have helped finance a wide range of Tar Sands projects, with RBS, HSBC and Barclays being amongst the world’s fifteen biggest Tar Sands investors. RBS is a particular target because it is now 84% owned by the UK taxpayer.
But even where conventional oil extraction is involved, the effects are devastating. The Independent today reports on Shell's Opolo Epie facility, "the newest gas flare in the Niger Delta" where "millions of cubic feet of natural gas will be pumped before going up in smoke." The scene described is an apocalyptic one;
The Opolo-Epie plant is set to join at least 100 other flares burning across the swamps, creeks and forests of this oil-producing region, filling the atmosphere with toxins, seeding the clouds with acid rain and polluting the soil. 

The gas flares, some of which have been burning constantly since the 1960s, are visible from space. In a country where more than 60 per cent of the people have no reliable electricity supply, the satellite images show the flares burning more brightly than the lights of Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos. 

Medical studies have shown the gas burners contribute to an average life expectancy in the Delta region of 43 years. The area also has Nigeria's highest infant mortality rate – 12 per cent of newborns fail to see out their first year. 
In the midst of such a scene, armed and militant resistance is inevitable. Though attacked as criminals, the armed rebels of the Delta are supported by indigenous people for one quite simple reason. They get results.

As Joseph Hurstcroft, executive director of Stakeholder Democracy Network, told the Independent, "there is an obvious correlation between militancy, reduced oil production and reduced flaring." When it is near-enough estalished fact that the oil companies "will never stop gas flaring until the oil wells run dry," what else can those affected do but take up arms?

These are just the most obvious examples. All across the world, companies such as Shell and BP are reaping huge profits by ravaging the environment, stealing and destroying the land of indigenous peoples, and even driving up the prices for the working class people who serve as essentially captive markets for their products in the west.

If we want to see an end to this, then an international movement is a neccesity. Those who protest here and elsewhere in the west are an important part of the puzzle, but not the only part. Their actions need to be linked with solidarity campaigns and humanitarian efforts in the affected regions. Efforts to build sustainable communities and promote renewable energy must incorporate awareness of these global injustices into their perspective.

Most importantly, when ordinary people are willing to protest - even riot - over oil and petrol prices, the environmental movement must stand with them. If this seems contradictory, it stems from the assumption that those protesting simply want more oil and cheaper. They don't. They want to be able to live their lives, to travel to their jobs, families, and elsewhere, without being stripped of their money along the way.

If the only way they can do that is by appealing to Big Oil for more production, and more exploitation of people and the environment, then the green movement has already lost the argument.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Economic turmoil, in a nutshell

According to Philip Beresford, compiler of the Sunday Times Rich List;
The rich have come through the recession with flying colours. The stock market is up, the hedge funds are coining it. The rich are doing very nicely. The rest of the country is going to have to face public spending cuts, but it has little effect on the rich because they don’t consume public services.
In other words, those who work for and produce all of the wealth are suffering immensely, whilst those who took that wealth for themselves and pissed it up the wall are doing just fine.
That is precisely what is wrong with capitalism.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Greens are good but genuine radicalism doesn't come in "party" form

Today, the Independent on Sunday asked "can Caroline Lucas change British politics for ever?" Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, is an MEP for the South East of England and is standing for parliament in Brighton and Hove. Largely unnoticed and unreported, she is set to become Britain's first Green MEP.

The IoS tells us that this will "would bring Britain into line with the rest of Europe, at last," and seem quite keen on the idea. Her election would "be a breach in the wall of Westminster, through which genuinely alternative policies might flow." Lucas's party, "whether you approve of them or not, are offering the truly radical choice"  against which "Nick Clegg's yellow-rosetted Lib Dems are every bit as conventional as the party of red and the party of blue."

The praise the paper quotes is gushing;
"The Green movement seems to me the most rational and honest way of behaving towards the planet we live on, and the Green Party is its political expression."
Philip Pullman, Author
"I think Caroline Lucas will be very exciting if she gets in, because we'll start to see some sway
from somebody who's very well informed and experienced..."
Greta Scacchi, Actress
"The election of our first Green Party MP would put us on the first step of a long journey to safeguard planet Earth for future generations."
Mark Thompson, Astronomer and television presenter
"The correlation between the number of green bottoms on parliamentary seats and the growth of a green economic sector is undeniable."
Sara Parkin, Founder director, Forum for the Future
"They have been able to do what the left hasn't been able to do, which has been to put forward an alternative to the free market and sound credible."
Mark Steel, Comedian
"Vote for what you believe in. There are no real differences between the main three parties. If you really want change, vote Green."
Alistair McGowan, Comedian
"The Green Party is the only political party to have a consistent message on the environment."
Nick Reeves, Executive director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
"It is an indictment of our attitude to our own long-term well-being that Greens, who might do us the most good in the long run, have yet to sit down in the Commons."
Simon Woodroffe, Founder, YO! Company
"Wouldn't it be nice to have someone [in the Commons] who is doing more than paying lip service to climate change?"
Thom Yorke, Radiohead frontman, backing Tony Juniper, Green Party candidate for Cambridge
"It is about time a Green Party candidate is elected to Parliament: their focus on the environment is essential to the future of the planet."
Rev Paul Nicolson, Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
"The sooner we have a Green MP the better... our world is heating up and we need to have people addressing these issues in Parliament who know what they're talking about."
Kelly Hoppen, Interior designer
"The Greens have remained constant at a 2 per cent voting share recently. This would equate to around 13 seats in the Commons if [we had PR]"
Robert Salvoni, President, Harris Interactive
"I haven't voted Green but I have sympathy with many of their policies... I think there are enough Green voters out there to deserve representation in Parliament."
Frances Crook, Director, Howard League
"The Green Party needs more exposure... It's not a question of having a Green MP, but including green issues and the Green Party in the debate."
Doug Stewart, Founder, Green Energy UK
But are the Greens really the radical alternative that they seem?

As most people might expect, the anarchist answer is no. Though they are genuinely progressive, albeit from a reformist point of view, outside of parliament, the constraints of power would dictate otherwise. The Brighton Solidarity Federation, who are active in the region Lucas is standing, explain this position in more depth;
The opportunity to vote for Caroline Lucas – in a town where the Greens have previously polled 23% against a national average of 1% – seems at first glance appealing. The Greens are perhaps the only left-wing party with a chance of getting an MP, and Lucas herself enjoys a certain respect amongst local activists and trade unionists.

However, we should sound a note of caution. It is true that Caroline Lucas shows her face at campaign meetings for more than just a photoshoot and some self-promotion (yes, we’re looking at you Nancy Platt), but history shows that wherever the Greens have got into power they have behaved just like any other capitalist party.

In Germany, the Green Party in government sent riot police against protesters trying to stop nuclear waste being transported through their communities – precisely the kind of green activism they had once supported. In 2001 they supported the invasion of Afghanistan as part of a coalition government. In Ireland too the Green Party went from vocal supporters of the ‘Shell to Sea’ movement against the Corrib gas project to actually implementing it. Green minister Eamon Ryan is now in charge of the project, the Greens having dropped their election promises in order to enter a coalition government.

Much the same can be said of the new Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. We all know what happened the last time a party of union bureaucrats got into power: the Labour Party. And we should dispel any nostalgia for ‘Old Labour’ from the off – they supported imperialist wars, opposed strikes and imposed austerity measures on the working class from their very inception: just like every other party that finds itself trying to balance the budget of the capitalist state.

The closer politicians get to power, the more like the rest they become, however well-intentioned and full of integrity they may start out. If Caroline Lucas does get in, she’ll be a lone voice of dissent. This will do her credibility on the left a lot of good, but will mean she’s not able to actually deliver any of her election promises. That would require a larger contingent of Green MPs… and if we got that, we’re back to the ‘power corrupts’ German/Irish scenario.
There can be no doubt that, as they currently stand, the Green Party do offer policies that would do a lot of good in Britain. Their support for a living wage of £8.10 an hour, abolition of prescription charges and restoration of free dental care, the development of housing co-operatives and more council houses, and increasing the basic state pension to £170 per week are amongst the policies that make them a far better choice than any other political party standing.* This is not to mention that their environmental policies, which no other party can touch.

Theirs is no manifesto for revolution, and a Green parliament will not bring about anything close to libertarian communism. But if you do feel that you have to vote, then the Greens are perhaps your best bet.

Nobody should be under the illusion that this will mean real change. The analysis provided by Brighton SolFed is given further weight when you consider that the Greens made themselves electable by conforming to mainstream expectations.

Previously, they rejected the cult of leadership, and according to the IoS this "condemn[ed] the party to have several figures speaking for it at once, so that its focus was hopelessly split." In 2007, Lucas herself led the campaign for the party to elect a single leader, and then stood as that leader. She conformed the party to an expected standard in order to gain votes, just as all parties and party leaders do. It is a neccesary prerequisite for gaining power, just as fitting into the narrow political spectrum of ruling class opinion is neccesary to retain that power.

As Brighton SolFed say, "if you want to make your voice heard don’t vote for a different ruler, vote to strike with your fellow workers." We shouldn't be aiming to pick a different ruler, but to "start creating the basis for a world without politicians and rulers altogether."

*Yes, I include TUSC in that statement. The limited reforms of social democracy are a better choice than any authoritarian form of "socialism."

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Dissecting the BNP manifesto

The British National Party has launched its manifesto for the 2010 elections. Titled Democracy, Freedom, Culture and Identity (PDF), it is 94 pages long and - according to its own introduction - "one of the most comprehensive and detailed manifestos in [the BNP's] history." As such, I thought that it deserved scrutinising.

The first thing that should strike you is that these are the "saleable words" that Nick Griffin said "nobody could touch us on" when he spoke to a meeting of Texan white nationalists. It was there that he admitted the BNP was "selling" its fascist ideas, "not selling out," and that "identity" was a codeword for "racial purity." This sets the tone for the entire document.

First up is defence policy, wherein the BNP's key pledges involve withdrawal from Afghanistan, non-involvement in Iran, taking troops out of Germany, and renegotiating Britain's position in NATO. On the surface, these are good policies. However, closer reading reveals this position to be based on anything but an opposition to aggressive militarism.

The BNP propose to "raise defence spending by one percent over the rate of inflation for the next five years," which - especially in withdrawing from wars - constitutes utterly aggressive military expansionism. The party is seeking to build "an independent British military, equipped by British factories in all the essential needs of modern warfare" as well as "an independent nuclear deterrent and capability." Given that the purpose of this is to have the "capability to mobilise units and dispatch them in defence of British interests worldwide," with military force deemed acceptable in defence of "strategic or commercial interests" which shouldn't be "deterred by ‘world opinion’," one might well question the BNP's attempts to reinvent itself as an anti-war party.

The party's "Community Award Scheme" is essentially David Cameron's "youth national service" in another guise. In Tory form, the idea could be criticised because - by making teenagers work without choice or pay - it is essentially slavery. In the hands of the BNP, the form of service "will be dictated by the school leaver’s scholastic record, preferences and suitability," and so even the hollow pretence of choice disappears. Having "free university education, a properly supported apprenticeship or business training" are ways in which young people can build "discipline, social and community values and work ethics," not something you have to earn through slavery and half-arsed social engineering.

Thus we move on to the BNP's home turf. "Immigration: An Unparalleled Crisis Which Only the BNP Can Solve." As is to be expected, every point is based on scaremongering and nonsense.

Take the first claim, that "at current immigration and birth rates, indigenous British people are set to become a minority well within 50 years. This will result in the extinction of the British people, culture, heritage and identity." That there were 50,366,497 white British people living here in 2001 tells us that the BNP are either predicting a mass cull/expulsion of white Britons, or the influx of roughly 70 million foreigners. Or both. As I have previously pointed out, stories of the entire population reaching this figure are based upon myth, and the BNP's even more hysterical projections amount to barn pot bullshit.

In addition to this central theme of "panic, the darkies are upon us," the party makes several other false claims.

Immigration has not had "a dramatic effect on Britain’s rising crime rate." There is no "immigrant crime wave." Studies have shown that immigrant groups have no higher percentage of criminals in their number than do native groups. In fact, immigrants (and asylum seekers, for that matter) are actually disproportionately more likely to be victims of crime than anybody else.

Although immigration effects the economy and jobs, the issue is twisted out of all proportion by the right. The excellent leaflet, Jobs & migrant workers - the facts (PDF), from my comrades in Liverpool Antifascists explains how it is the bosses who exploit migrants who are to blame and why class unity - not racism - is the only response;
The use of women to undermine the working conditions of men did not come to an end from a slogan demanding “Male Jobs for Male Workers,” or the expulsion of women from industry. It came from the strength of those who were willing to unite, not as a gender but as a class, across the gender line.
I thoroughly dismantled the notion that "The Labour Party Deliberately Engineered Mass Immigration" back in October last year.

The scary shit, meanwhile, speaks for itself. Namely, the "repeal [of] the Race Relations Act and all other artificial restrictions on free speech or employment" and the "Clause 28-style proscription against the promotion of racial integration in schools and the media." Workers in the public sector will also be affronted by the idea that they are subject to "politically correct indoctrination."

I will not go into depth on the BNP's environmental policy. To give them their due, some of their policies are sensible. However, their conspiracy theories surrounding global warming are nothing short of madness. The idea that the environment is "threatened by mass immigration" is utterly ludicrous. The idea that "immigration into Britain will require a city the size of Birmingham to be built every five years and result in a total population of 90 million people [50mn being Britons - some minority!] by 2050" is debunked when you consider that there are well over 100 million bedrooms in the country — easily enough to accommodate every single one of us. The problem, as ever, is distribution.

The EU policy reads like that of any generic conservative-right party. At least, until they state that Turkey's accession to the EU "would increase the EU’s Muslim population by more than 75 million." Given that the population of Turkey is seventy three million, and 89,000 of these are non-Muslim.

Continuing with the threat of those dastardly Muslims, we have an entire section of the policy dedicated to "Counter Jihad." As well as the usual mixture of lies, distortions, and fear-mongering in order to justify draconian policies, there is the absurd idea that a BNP government can strike a peace deal with an imaginary homogeneous block known as "the Islamic world." The BNP guarantees non-aggression in the Middle East, and "the Islamic world will stop trying to Islamify Britain and the West." Like Borg, all Muslims in the West will flock back to the hive mind. In some ways, its a shame this isn't just facile fantasism.
When we move onto "Renationalising the Welfare State," we can see why the BNP is not some radical alternative to the mainstream political parties, but the logical extreme of the narrow consensus within which they operate. The party aims to challenge "a welfare dependency culture" induced by the "Labour and Tory socialist state," under which benefits are "nothing more than a free handout to scroungers, foreign and local."

For those elements of the working class who have been forced to rely on welfare by the capitalist onslaught of successive governments against them, this is just another gang of politicos denouncing them for being poor. It is an insult for the BNP (or any other party) to speak of "scrounger entitlement mentality" when Labour's New Deal has already made it harder for those in need to secure financial support. On top of this, the Welfare Reform Bill represents yet another attack on the poorest by the ruling class and workfare - whether Tory- or BNP-instituted - only piles on the misery, as Americans can tell us.

The BNP's commitment to "restoring civil liberties" by abolishing the Human Rights Act, booting out foreigners, and exempting Britain from "international bodies or courts which override the law of the British parliament" says all that needs to be said on this matter.

However, under "Constitutional Change," they do at least attempt to redress that imbalance. Devolution of power to the lowest level possible level and citizens' initiative referenda are good ideas. But they are tempered by proposals to "enact legislation forbidding interference in the electoral process by third parties not partaking in an election." Presumably, this means antifascist groups, which in itself would be a worrying subversion of the right to oppose tyranny, coercion, and violence. That it could also be used to exclude non-aligned citizens or anybody not part of the political classes makes this even more worrisome.

Much has been made of the fact that the BNP supports the "right to bear arms," but I think the fuss is misplaced. Ultimately, as Bowling for Columbine demonstrated, it is not ownership of guns in itself  that is the problem but the creation of a culture of gun machismo and a climate of fear propagated by the media. I should also point out that I fully support the right of the British people to take up arms if faced with a BNP government.

The fact that a BNP government would ruthlessly suppress any criticism is demonstrated by the next section of the manifesto. In "Democracy and the Media," they claim that the media "have actively promoted" multiculturalism and the EU. I agree with them that "a danger to genuine democracy emanates from the concentration of ownership and control of the mass media," but it should be pointed out that this ownership (apart from token denunciations of the party itself) is often very quick to tow the BNP line on immigration, crime, and the EU. Indeed, fascist parties such as the BNP serve a distinct function in the propaganda model of media control.

"Culture, Traditions, and Civil Society" is nothing more than a blueprint for rigid social engineering. A few good ideas are buried within an avalanche of mechanisms to control and manipulate. That "television should strive to depict improved standards of conduct" has particularly ominous undertones.

With crime, unrelenting authoritarianism is no surprise - the death penalty, corporal punishment, hard labour, and the establishment of a penal colony on the island of South Georgia are all on the cards. Police accountability, under the guise of "political correctness" has to go.

The plans for "a healthy nation" are surprisingly sensible in many regards. Bringing hospital cleaning back in-house, opposing privatisation, and building up front-line staff as opposed to highly paid bureaucrats are all things that need to be done in order to restore the NHS to what it once was. Unfortunately, once again, this is spoiled by the xenophobic waffling about immigration. It seems that there's no part of British society that the bloody foreigners haven't wrecked.

Their section on education offers nothing but religious and nationalistic indoctrination, and the enforcement of inequality. That they would abolish "politically correct attempts to undermine university standards in the name of social levelling" yet "require ideological balance in university faculties, previously a domain of the left" shows their commitment to an unequal, right-wing, and authoritarian education system. This is particularly worrying when a vastly more libertarian approach to education and child rearing is needed.

With transport, energy, and agriculture, much the same criticisms can be made. The BNP offer a mix of relatively sensible, populist policies (rolling back privatisations, supporting renewable energy development, ensuring a sustainable provision of health local food), blaming immigration at every available opportunity, and outright lunacy.

Foreign policy is largely covered by the same critiques as defence policy.

With housing, again, there are some sensible policies. The Tories and Labour, successively, have allowed housing stock to dwindle whilst private landlords garner huge profits through extortion. But this is nothing to do with immigration, and the "local connection test" and denial of housing to non-British citizens are nothing less than pointless, xenophobic initiatives. Again, Liverpool Antifascists explain the issue lucidly in Immigration and housing - the facts (PDF).

The largest section of the BNP manifesto is dedicated to the economy. Here, the BNP promises to serve the interests of the working class by "raising the personal non-taxable allowance to £12,500," "undertak[ing] not to reduce front-line public services," and "ensur[ing] that globalist corporations pay their fair share of the tax burden."

These ostensibly sensible measures are muted by attempts at social engineering, at least one big tax break for the rich, and the use of the phrase "politically correct" as an umbrella under which it can slash public jobs and services.

The social engineering comes in the form of "encourag[ing] the family unit by reintroducing the married man’s allowance by as much as £2,500, depending upon the presence of children." A family which can't stay together for love but can for financial incentives is not going to be a healthy or happy one. Especially if the financial incentive traps people within abusive relationships.

"Rais[ing] the inheritance tax level to £1 million" is just one initiative that will help only the richest three percent of society. This is coupled with an attack on workers, the BNP denouncing the working time directive (which prevents workers from being forced to perform more than 47-hours per week) as one of many "burdensome" regulations "onerous to business, job creation and profitability." Couple this with the party's utter hatred of trade unions, and you get a picture of the direction worker's rights are headed under a BNP government.

Old people, too, should have cause to worry. Obviously, elderly people of non-British origins: "The BNP will enact legislation to ensure that pensions are eligible only to Britons and those who have fully paid into the system." On a broader level, increases in the retirement age and the end of early retirement schemes are just two of the measures pensioners can face from a BNP government as they become "an increased burden upon the exchequer in terms of the cost of the state pension and the loss of income-generating employment."

This is the first time the BNP have chosen to lay out their ideology in such depth. Reading it, I like the BNP, "believe that the material contained in our manifesto will strike a chord with ordinary British folk who are deeply concerned about the future of their country and the way it is run today." But that chord is not a positive one.

Non-whites, immigrants, the very poor, the working class, and the elderly all have something to lose. This is a manifesto of attack.

Friday, 23 April 2010

MAD for the Tories

I didn't watch the second leader's debate last night, just as I didn't watch the first last week. It's a triumph of style over substance, each party leader trying to outdo the other's in appealing to the narrow political consensus of society's elite sectors.
However, one thing did catch my eye in the post-game analysis - the "military view" on the debate, from Colonel Richard Kemp in the Independent;
Gordon Brown's unrealistic emphasis during the debate on bringing troops home safely over achieving victory in Afghanistan showed again why he has failed to give effective direction to this war.

David Cameron, demonstrating greater passion and potential as a war leader, made it clear that Afghanistan would be his top priority from day one. With a bloody and intensive campaign in which our troops are fighting and dying, he has no option. His intention to direct and co-ordinate operations in Afghanistan through a properly constituted war cabinet is vital.

Nick Clegg was dangerously equivocal over the connection between our operations in Afghanistan and security on the streets of the UK. This perhaps reflects his party's ethos: wishing to look away from something that they have no answer to. In the weakest performance on defence, his lack of understanding was also evident on nuclear deterrence.

His utopian vision of a nuclear-free world ignores the increasing danger of proliferation among unstable and extremist states such as Iran and North Korea. 

While prosecution of the war in Afghanistan must be our top defence priority today, we simply cannot, as Clegg suggested, mortgage the long-term defence of this country in order to equip our forces today.
This shows just how detatched the ruling class are from the ordinary people of Britain. The last time they were polled, 64% of Britons said that they believed the war in Afghanistan was "unwinnable." 63% agreed with the statement "All British forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan as quickly as possible." No doubt the rank-and-file of the military, working-class people who do not benefit from this war as our leaders do, concur to at least some degree. Unfortunately, for fear of suffering the same fate as Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, they can't say this.

In calling "bringing troops home safely" an "unrealistic" goal, Kemp demonstrates his utter contempt for public opinion. This is not to mention the minor matter of international law.

His throwaway end comment, that "equip[ping] our forces today" requires "mortgag[ing] the long-term defence of this country" is also revealing of his mindset. Last month, Gordon Brown was confronted by grieving mother Ann Probyn who said her son Daniel died because he was sent out "with no equipment." I imagine, if Brown had responded that "we simply cannot ... mortgage the long-term defence of this country in order to equip our forces today," there would have been uproar. But if a member of the military top brass, who like politicians don't have to fight and die wearing shoddy equipment, says it then that's okay.

Finally, there is Kemp's comment that the "utopian vision of a nuclear-free world ignores the increasing danger of proliferation among unstable and extremist states such as Iran and North Korea."

The problem with this, of course, is that it relies on the Cold War MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine being a deterrent to "extremists" - especially Islamic extremists who believe in the glory of dying for jihad. It also assumes that retaliating to a nuclear attack with more nuclear attacks will do anything other than allow us to get in one revenge-dig before the whole world implodes.

As Johann Hari has related, such a policy leaves no room whatsoever for cock-ups;
Do you know the story of the grizzly bear that nearly destroyed the world? It sounds like a demented fairytale – but it is true. On the night of October 25th 1962, when the Cold War was at its hottest and Kennedy and Krushchev’s fingers were hovering over the nuclear button, a tall dark figure tried to climb over the fence into a US military installation near Duluth, Minnesota. A panicked sentry fired at the figure but it kept coming – so he sounded the intruder alarm. But because of faulty wiring, the wrong alarm went off: instead, the klaxon announcing an incoming Soviet nuclear warhead began its apocalyptic wah-wah. Everyone on the base had been told there would be no drills at a time like this. The ashen men manning the station went ahead: they began the chain reaction of retaliation against Moscow.

It was only at the last second – as the missile launch was about to begin – that the sentry got through to the station. It was a mistake, he cried – just a bear, growling at the fence. If he had made that call five minutes later, you wouldn’t be reading this article now.
I doubt it's a line David Cameron would personally endorse, but there it is. The military case for voting Tory: the continuation of illegal and costly wars, fought by troops who are dying because of shoddy equipment, and a dangerous trend of nuclear proliferation on the path to MADness.

I'll let you make up your own minds how you feel about that.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Seeing Muhammad in a bear suit harms nobody

Yesterday, an Islamist group warned Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they could face violent recriminations for an episode of South Park which features Muhammad ibn 'Abdullāh - the Prophet of Islam - in a bear suit.

On the blog of the American group, Revolution Muslim, they said this;
This past week South Park aired an episode which insulted three of our beloved prophets: Musa (Moses), ‘Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Not only did they do this, but within the episode the makers of South Park made it very clear that they knew how the Muslims would feel and potentially respond to their show. In an effort to cover their actual intention to incite, the creators of South Park carefully contrived a plotline that they believed could only stump those Muslim extremists that may arise to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They wished to degrade and mock a man who is held in highest regard by Muslims and many Non-Muslims alike, and indeed many have categorized Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the most influential human being that ever walked on Earth.

By placing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a bear suit, the creators of South Park sought to insult the sacred, and show their blatant and general disregard for religion. By insulting our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) without the outright depicting of his image, the creators of South Park thought that they had found some loophole in the Muslim faith for them to mock.
Except Parker and Stone weren't looking for a loophole. They were just mocking. As they said in an interview with BB Video, "it would be so hypocritical against our own thoughts to say 'okay, well, let's not make fun of them because they might hurt us.' That's messed up to have that kind of thought process, y'know. Let's rip on the Catholics cause they won't hurt us, but let's not rip on them cause they might hurt us. That's not us."

But the point, as ever, is lost on the Islamist wingnuts. Revolution Muslim find it "hard to understand how one can feel self-righteous while defending somebody as an “equal opportunity offender." This argument, they say, must "emanate from a selfish culture in which the suffering of the many is justified by the enjoyment of the few." Except, of course, that there is no suffering - at least not until the many who believe in free speech are attacked by the few who subscribe to Islamism.

Ah, but, "free speech is a vital tool in the staving of oppression, but this function has its limits." But then, most sensible people would argue that threats of violence are more worthy of censorship than cartoons of a long-dead, illiterate desert dweller. 

Not so Revolution Muslim. They "have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show." Hell, they go further and quote a supposedly renowned scholar as saying "if someone says that the button of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is dirty, then he should be executed!"

The outrage that I'm sure we all feel is somewhat muted by the fact that this is not new territory for South Park. I don't mean the episode where Cartman used the fact that Family Guy was going to depict Muhammad as an excuse to shut the show down. I'm referring to a much earlier episode, titled Super Best Friends, which had him as part of a deity-superhero council.

But, as Parker and Stone point out, that was before the "Danish cartoon thing." And even then, "if everyone had just, like normally they do in the news organisations, printed the cartoons and all rallied together," nothing would have happened. Instead, they "left him out to dry."

No doubt there would have still been an outcry, but solidarity would have reduced it to an irrelevant rabble and quashed the threat. Instead, we have a bunch of lunatics - who commit a grave logical fallacy by constantly quoting the Qu'ran in order to "prove" the message of the Qu'ran - threatening people with violence for the slightest perceive offence to the religion they claim to practice.

We would be better rid of these people. Their message is a reactionary one which offers nothing to working class Muslims except violence, hate, and false promises. More than that, these idiots offer fuel for the fire of their opposite numbers in the white nationalist movement. Neither side offers a solutions to the problems of capitalism, and unlike the fascists the Islamists don't even pretend to.

Why, for example, is depicting Muhammad worthy of death when the oppressive regimes of Iran and Saudi Arabia aren't even worthy of comment? Ordinary Muslims, both in groups and as individuals, have spoken out vociferously against the crimes and oppression of Islamic regimes - see, for example Yasmin Alibhai Brown's opposition to Sharia law. But Islamists, as supporters and promoters of exactly this kind of brutality, remain silent.

That is important to remember when they talk about "suffering" in relation to cartoons. Whilst they support the "right" of the long-dead to not be caricatured, they do not support the right of the living to think freely or to live and love as they so wish.

Revolution Muslim finish by quoting Osama bin Laden, "if there is no check in the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions." In response, I finish by quoting Charles Bradlaugh;
Without free speech no search for truth is possible… no discovery of truth is useful… Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

More on the comings and goings of the IMF

As I have noted in the past, one of the more significant consequences of cost cutting and savings in order to "vouchsafe the recovery" is that more and more people end up without jobs. The number of people for whom recovery means nothing as they languish on the unemployment line is growing fast;
Unemployment increased by 43,000 between December and February to 2.5m, according the last set of official figures released before the General Election.

The number of Britons out of work now stands at a 16-year high, while the number of people classed as economically inactive also reached record levels.

The latter category, which includes students, people looking after a sick relative or those who have given up seeking work, soared by 110,000 in the latest quarter to 8.16m, the worst figure since records began in 1971.
Meanwhile long-term unemployment, counting those out of work for over a year, increased by 89,000 to 726,000.

And some 4,000 more 16 to 24-year-olds also found themselves without a job during the three-month period.
It seems that this isn't affecting the public purse, though, as "the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance fell by 32,900 last month to 1.54m." So that's alright then. Masses of people being out of work is okay if there's a reduced cost.

Nonetheless, this rise in unemployment fits with a warning from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that unemployment will remain "persistently" high for at least the coming year. Though Britain's situation is not as bad as Spain or the United States, the reason why is a "puzzle" and the country remains a "significant concern."

The IMF maintains a keen focus on Britain, warning of a £270bn "financial black hole" and a "public debt mountain" triggering a new phase in the financial crisis. That this comes after they "downgraded its UK growth forecast for 2011 from 2.7% to 2.5%,"suggesting that "whoever wins the election will be facing an even tougher task to rein in the deficit.

Yesterday I reported, with skepticism, of the IMF's proposal that future crises should be paid for by the financial sector rather than the taxpayer. As I noted, the announcements appear to have arisen out of pragmatism rather than any sense of progressive values. Given this broader context, it seems that skepticism was justified.

There is only one way that governments know how to reign in a public deficit, which is to cut public spending. Since this means jobs and services, this tallies with the assessment of "persistently" high unemployment in the near future. We can see this in the situation in Greece, where working class anger has once again exploded as Prime Minister George Papandreou enters talks with EU and IMF financiers. The expectation is that he will request activation of a €30bn bailout package, triggering a further round of austerity measures.

The IMF has also approved a bailout for Iceland, whose economy (and government) completey collapsed during the recession, and we wait to see what the consequences of this are. However, in the third world, the expectations and the consequences of IMF loans are well known;
When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank announced at their 1999 annual meeting that poverty reduction would henceforth be their overarching goal, this sudden "conversion" provoked justifiable skepticism. The history of the IMF shows that it has consistently elevated the need for financial and monetary "stability" above any other concern. Through its notorious structural adjustment programs (SAPs), it has imposed harsh economic reforms in over 100 countries in the developing and former communist worlds, throwing hundreds of millions of people deeper into poverty.

The IMF came to hold virtual neo-colonial control over developing countries as a result of the Third World "debt crisis" of the 1980s. In the 1970s, commercial banks were eager to make large loans to developing countries and newly independent countries. The interest rates on these loans were initially very low, but variable. But when interest rates were raised sharply in the early 1980s, heavily indebted countries suddenly found themselves unable to make soaring interest payments on these bank loans, and many were simultaneously indebted to the World Bank. That's when the IMF stepped in.

Unless the IMF certified that an economy was being "restructured" and "maintained soundly," the world's public and private lenders would refuse to extend loans. The IMF decided that countries must now adhere to the policy package of structural adjustment, which essentially integrates national economies into the global market, enabling multinational corporations to access cheaper labor markets and natural resources, and increase exports. Sold as means to increase domestic growth and living standards, countries must remove restrictions on trade and investment, promote exports, devalue national currencies, raise interest rates, privatize state companies and services, balance national budgets by slashing public expenditures, and deregulate labor markets.

Caught in the trap of having to repay massive debts, most developing country governments-representing 80 percent of the world's population-have felt they have had little choice but to agree to implement these reforms in exchange for IMF assistance. The results, however, have brought ruin to national economies, cutbacks in schools and hospitals, increased poverty and hunger, and environmental harm.
There is, of course, the question of whether the first world will suffer anything even remotely equivalent. Several factors, from the (limited) protections offered by social democracy to the fact that it would be much more difficult for western governments to suppress their own populace through violence without any condemnation, make this unlikely. But, as in Greece, we know that the consequences can still be harsh.

We need to keep a more watchful eye on the actions of the IMF, especially as it seems to to be turning its attention towards Britain now. Two and a half million people unemployed may be just the start.