Tony Blair – The Interview, Alex Bilmes, Esquire, Nov 2016

I don’t recall ever having read a copy of Esquire but the name does ring a bell. I’ve always imagined it as some tacky ‘men’s magazine’, that is if I’ve ever actually thought of it at all. Not quite porn, but a bit seedy nevertheless. Certainly, not a serious political journal. But it was being given away as a complimentary copy by my holiday hotel and the front cover did look intriguing. 

Everybody, myself included, loves to hate Tony Blair these days, so, with an interview on offer with the man himself, I grabbed the mag and began to read, but without having any great expectations either way. But to tell you the truth, I think that Mr Bilmes, the author of the Tony Blair interview, has done a damn good job, neither falling into the trap of blind sycophancy nor shutting the man down without letting him express himself. In the end, I think Bilmes has produced a textured, nuanced interview which presents Blair, I suspect, fairly accurately. And having read the interview twice, the most charitable thing I can say of our former Prime Minister, is that he is a well-intentioned fool.

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Don’t worry my Liberal friends. President Donald Trump was the best outcome possible… really

Yes that’s what the headline says, and no I am not looking for attention. This election was about the American people versus American politics, and the people won. Don’t get me wrong. This is going to be the ultimate in Pyrrhic victories. The people who are going to suffer the most will be Trumps voters when they realise that they have been sold the biggest bill of goods in American political history.

The border wall will not get built, there will be no mass deportations (although life is about to get harder for America’s undocumented workers) and the banks/Wall Street will not be brought to heel. Most of all, the trend that has seen the livelihoods of middle-class (in reality, working class) Americans reduced over the last 40 years, will not be reversed.

Forty years ago the majority of American families could get by on one income provider. Moreover, that same income provider could fulfil their role having only a single job. Forty years ago credit cards were virtually unheard of. Forty years ago the working class was not burdened by anything approaching the level of personal debt it currently holds. Forty years ago the working class was both doing well and knew that it was doing well.

Forty years ago the working class was doing so well it started calling itself the middle class and forgot that it was still comprised of wage slaves.

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I Daniel Blake, Film Review, Ken Loach, October 2016

A gut-wrenching and politically explosive powerhouse of a film for sure, but one that is unlikely to have the same devastating effect on the nation that Loach’s first film, ‘Cathy Come Home’, had some fifty years ago. Whereas millions of Brits were once shocked by Loach’s expose of British homelessness and the heartless bureaucracy that went with it, ‘I Daniel Blake’, is going to have to fight tooth and nail to get itself heard in this new multi-channel, multi-media era. Whereas once, just two terrestrial channels competed for our attention, now there seems to be hundreds. ‘I Daniel Blake’ is a film that deserves to be watched by the entire nation though somehow I very much doubt that it will.

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Bob Dylan: Nobel Prize Winner at Last

Mr Zimmerman is a moody sort of guy. But I mean that in the best possible way. For fifty years or more this extraordinary poet and musician, and all round song and dance man, has been exploring the many contradictory moods of the human condition and doing so with the fine skill of a master wordsmith. I don’t profess to know much about previous winners of this supposedly prestigious literary award so I am unable to make comparisons, but I can say emphatically that BD has the enduring ability to ‘coin a phrase’ that stays with you for the rest of your damn life. There can be few men or women of words that can claim that sort of mantle. And still today, an event may present itself in the news, and one of those poignant Dylan lines pops into mind that seems to perfectly sum up the situation no matter how devilishly complex that situation may be. For that alone I would suggest that the award is well deserved.

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Theresa May: Britain is Open for Corporate Plunder

Despite those stirring, noble words from Theresa May in her first twenty-four hours, Prime Minister May has gone on to shown her true corporate colours. Prime Minister May has consistently backed the corporate interest over and above the interests of the country and its citizens. May, with her promise to reinstate Grammar Schools and the debilitating selection that goes with them, started off badly and has proceeded to go from bad to worse. In fact, so reactionary has her record been so far, she has almost succeeded in making her predecessor look like a social reformer. Almost. In virtually every decision she has made, she has backed the global corporates over and above the public good. May’s administration is shaping up to be every bit as reactionary as the Thatcherite governments that preceded her.

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War Criminals: We need to look closer to home.

There is little doubting that Russia is in the hands of a gangster mafia. The once state owned commanding heights of the old Soviet Union have been sold off to a gang of thieving oligarchs, many of whom were former Communist Party apparatchiks. Whilst this oligarchic elite has grown obscenely rich, the Russian economy has contracted, buffeted as it is by falling oil prices, endless wars around its periphery, western sanctions and criminal government ineptitude. Socially, Russia has become intolerant and repressive. And now, encircled as it is by an ever expansionist NATO, Russia under Putin, has decided the best form of defence is attack. And the Western powers, unable or unwilling to extend its own military operations, can only resort to name calling. Russia is declared the ‘war criminal’ for its actions in the Crimea, Ukraine, and now Syria, but western politicians and commentators should look closer to home for those most culpable for spiralling decent into war and mayhem.

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British Labour Party: Who’s Abusing Who?

All of a sudden ‘abuse’ is the new buzz word in the Labour Party. Nasty stuff to be sure but the question arises; who is abusing whom? Let’s try to unravel the mess. First and foremost, we have to deal with the vexed question of anti-Semitism. I would dare to suggest that ninety-nine point nine percent of alleged anti-semitism by Labour Party members and supporters is in fact wholly legitimate criticism of Israel’s colonial project in the Middle East. The Zionist project is a colonial project without doubt and every progressive person should have both the courage and the right to say so.

 

As a person of Jewish descent, whatever that might mean, (I recommend Shlomo Sand’s, ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’, for background reading), I believe I have an added responsibility to condemn Zionism in all its ugly colonial forms. To condemn western European and white South African colonialism and to condone or ignore Israeli colonialism would be a hypocrisy indeed. Speaking out against the Israeli Occupation, an occupation repeatedly condemned by the UN, should not be conflated with the irrational prejudices associated with centuries of European anti-semitism. And those that deliberately conflate the two, do the cause of battling this ancient prejudice a mighty disservice.

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The GMB: Is this one of the most reactionary organisations in Britain?

Before I get going, I should declare a personal interest. Many moons ago, whilst holding the post of Convenor of Stewards at a very large hospital, I recommended that the portering staff should shift their union membership from the GMB to that of NUPE (now Unison) in order to create a more unified trade union presence. We put the issue to the vote and the porters unanimously approved the recommendation. And then all hell broke loose. The GMB threatened NUPE and me in particular with hell, fire and damnation. They even threatened to invoke the Bridlington agreement. NUPE stood their ground and eventually the wounded GMB officials crawled back into their respective  holes,

though I guess, in retrospect, they were only trying to protect ‘their patch’.

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Corbynistas: Is it time to revamp the old co-operative movement?

 

I have to confess that I actually know precious little about the old co-operative movement, though I’m doing a little background reading right now. What I have learnt is that the movement is still alive and well across Britain and in many other countries as well. However, the last time the Cooperative Movement hit the headlines, it was far from being a sun-drenched moment. The Cooperative Bank, it turned out, was mired in bad debts and bad management. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the next generation to aspire to. My only other contact with things ‘cooperative’ is the Cooperative supermarket, which to be honest, seems little different to any other supermarket. Just another piece of the usual suburban high street. But I do know that the Co-operative Movement had radical origins and a philosophy that at least challenged the prevailing dog-eat-dog ethos of modern capitalism. So, with millions of people, both young and old, looking to break with the neo-liberal global agenda, now might just be the time to revisit our cooperative past.

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John Harris: Does The Left Have A future? The Guardian 6th Sept 2016

 

Here is an excellent article; comprehensive, insightful and coherent. But it is an article that is crying out for some sort of conclusion. However, Harris is either unwilling or unable to provide one. Of course, in his defence, there are no glib conclusions to the fragmentation and demoralisation of the old European working class any more than there are easy conclusions to be drawn from the relentless march of globalisation and automation. These are the trickiest of subjects. Harris, like the rest of us, does not have a crystal ball, so he can be forgiven for not offering his readers too many definites. But he could have made some tentative suggestions as to where the left should be heading.

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The Rio Olympics: The Usual Unpalatable Truths.

1.      

The Rio Olympics are taking place in the middle of a carefully orchestrated domestic political coup against the Brazilian Workers Party, a coup that the world media, including the Brazilian media itself, have singularly refused to comment on. This is the same Brazilian monopolistic media empire that openly supported the military coup way back in 1964.

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Jeremy Corbyn, The Boy Is Doing Good, Editorial

 

With the likes of the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Channel 4’s Michael Crick, and the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee all pouring out bucket loads of venom against the democratically elected Mr Corbyn, not to mention the usual bile from the Tory tabloids, it’s a wonder that JC has remained so upbeat and energetic. With journalists like Kuenssberg and Crick, who needs enemies. Our clique of esteemed ‘investigative journalists’ imagine themselves to be rigorously journalistic in their hounding of Corbyn but they are not. Good investigative journalism would be focusing on Corbyn’s radical policies. They would be teasing out the respective merits or otherwise of the public ownership of the nation’s infrastructure; the value or otherwise of returning to free university education and the wisdom or otherwise of keeping the NHS solely in the public sector. They might also care to investigate the merits of a nuclear free foreign policy. But no. Our oh-so-knowledgeable media superstars are more intent on persistently undermining JC on the spurious grounds of Trotskyist infiltration.  

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Angela Eagle: A Bit Part in A Very British Coup

On the 24th of June 2016 I finally woke up in a foreign country. I had lived and worked in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for twenty-eight years, up until that morning. In all those years it had never felt like an alien place but on that Friday – all of a sudden – it did.

The Brexit vote had come and gone and it seemed to me that more than half of the country had just told me to pack my bags. It felt very personal.

However, at least could I console myself with the thought that this result had badly weakened the government and provided the opposition with a fantastic opportunity to press home an advantage against a wounded and divided foe.

 

What was I thinking?

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Jeremy Corbyn is Winning: Editorial

 

I’ve no idea if Mr Corbyn can win a national election. At first glance the political demographics seem   stacked against him. The so-called traditional working class vote is fragmented, demoralised and disorientated. And, caught as it in a vice like grip between globalisation and automation, shows every sign of continuing its relentless decline. But beyond this narrow definition of the working-class lies the ninety-nine percent. They too can also be defined as the working class because in the final instance, the vast majority of this ninety-nine percent must rely on selling their labour power in order to survive. If Corbyn’s Labour leadership can tap into the imagination of this vast constituency, then a Corbyn led parliamentary victory may be yet possible. But win or lose, in one important sense, Corbyn has already won a mighty victory. Jeremy Corbyn and his team are setting the new political agenda and the rest of the political pack are having to play catch-up.

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“Brighton Table Tennis Club -Refugees & Asylum Seekers are Welcome Here.”

First there was Anh 
In January 2015 I was introduced to Anh, a Vietnamese 16 year old in foster care in Brighton. He was a victim of trafficking, from Vietnam in the back of a lorry from China.  His journey had taken a year and he arrived in November 2014. The Virtual School for Children in Care asked if Brighton Table Tennis Club could provide some 1:1 Table Tennis and English tuition for Anh. I had no idea that this was the beginning of something big, of which we are both the front line and just the start.


Humble Beginnings
In 2007, Brighton Table Tennis Club was set up at the Brighton Youth Centre, formerly the Boys Club, two minutes from the Pier and in the centre in town. The demographic of the local children in the area was white, British and working class, lots of whom were, at the time, and for lots of different reasons, disengaged, not interested, drifting. Some of the success stories of these local lads after nine years are brilliant. One example is of a 14 year old boy excluded from school for throwing chairs and tables around the classroom, who, through involvement with the club and the positive role models it gave him, is now a fully qualified glazier ready to set up his own business and take on his own apprentices – this is despite some close shaves and run-ins with the police over the years.

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Chronicles, Thomas Piketty, Viking, 2016

It’s refreshing for an economist, and a damn good one at that, to be able to put their arguments in a way that the lay person can grasp. Thomas Piketty has done just that, though I should add that I found his monumental ‘Capital’ pretty tough going. But the essence of Piketty’s polemic, be it in full academic mode, or the more accessible journalistic mode, is that inequality is increasing across the planet, with the one percent getting an ever larger share of the cake and the ninety-nine percent having to scramble around for the remaining crumbs.

 

Chronicles is a collection of nearly fifty short journalistic style articles dating back to the financial collapse of 2008 and running through to late 2015. In those eight tumultuous years I can honestly say that not one of these articles have unduly dated or become redundant. On the contrary, they seem fairly essential reading if we are to get anything like a grip on the contradictions that are bedevilling our times. The collection is grouped into three sections: 1) Why Save the Bankers? 2) No, The Greeks Aren’t Lazy 3) Can Growth Save Us? These three sub-headings are self-explanatory enough but if the collection were to have an overall title it could usefully be ‘The Contradictions of Globalisation’.  

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