The Betrayal of Yezidis in Iraq

Written by University of Zakho professor Ivan Hasan Murad

For decades, the Yezidis have been living alongside Christians and Muslims, with Kurds and Arabs living together peacefully as brothers and sisters. In spite of the religious and ritual differences between them, they would always help and respect each other. On this basis, they would exchange commercial goods with each other. In fact, in order to maintain this state of peaceful coexistence, strengthen their friendship, and avoid potential points of conflict, Yezidis even circumcised their children on the laps of their trusted Arab friends – who were then called Kirfan (brothers) – as both cultures believed that circumcising children in the laps of others helped to strengthen relationships.

Many Yezidis who were not employed by the government had to go to Rabia, a town on the Iraqi-Syrian border to the north-west of Mosul (in Nineveh province), where agricultural products are harvested on big farms in the summer in preparation for the winter season. By working on farms (which mainly produced tomatoes), they could escape the poverty they may have suffered otherwise. And, as they dealt with Arabs and lived alongside them, the relationship between the ethnic groups became stronger. Under President Mam Jalal and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, however, the security situation gradually got worse, leaving Sunni Arabs marginalized and more likely to support groups like ISIS. During this period, the relationship between Yezidis and Arabs quickly deteriorated.

When ISIS extremists finally entered Iraq, they managed to take control of numerous areas (including the city of Mosul) with great ease after the Iraqi army withdrew, leaving an abundance of military vehicles and equipment behind them. As the group attacked other Sunni Arab places in Iraq, many Arab inhabitants joined them in their fight against Shiite, Christian, and Yezidi civilians throughout Nineveh province. In Mosul, there were many Christians, and they were given the choice to pay tribute, convert, or flee (leaving all of their property behind). Yezidis, meanwhile, were given only two options – convert or die.

Then, when ISIS attacked Shingal, the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish Regional Government began to withdraw from Yezidi villages. Surprised by this sudden decision, civilians began to run away from their villages. Those without cars headed to Mount Shingal, while those with cars travelled to Duhok, one of the provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan. My own brothers were among the thousands who headed to Duhok and, when they reached Rabia, some Arab citizens began to attack them. Fortunately, the YPG crossed over from Syria to rescue them, forcing the attackers to run away.

Many Arabs living near the Yazidi villages located on the border between Iraq and Syria stood alongside the ISIS militants as they entered these places. And many of these were the supposed ‘Kirfan’ of the Yezidis (those who had held Yezidi children on their laps as they were circumcised). Taken in by a mob mentality, they participated in the killing of their old friends and the kidnapping of their women and young girls for mainly sexual purposes. This incident shattered in a matter of moments the trust and respect that the Yezidis had felt for them for many years.

A few days later, some of the same Sunni Arabs from nearby villages came with big trucks and looted Yezidi homes and businesses, taking all they could find. One witness said “there is not a house which these Arabs have left unopened. They have entered all the houses and stolen everything in them. They have even taken the doors and the windows of the houses, and have looted all the stores and the markets”.

This is the way Yezidis were treated by many Arab compatriots after the latter had been highly respected and trusted for so long by the former. Not only were Yezidis killed and kidnapped, but they also had their properties looted. Those who have joined ISIS have not only participated in a huge act of betrayal in Yezidi communities, but have also betrayed citizens throughout the country and region by joining terrorist organizations like ISIS.

[Editor’s note: While it is shocking to think of anyone betraying in such a way those who had previously considered them to be friends, it is also important to consider the context carefully, in which Sunni Arabs lost out heavily following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, suffering both humiliation and marginalization in the years following the US invasion of 2003. At the same time, the efforts of Wahhabi missionaries from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to convert Sunni Arabs to a harsh, dogmatic, and extreme interpretation of Islam (while Iran sought to do a similar thing with Iraqi Shias) clearly helped to undermine any hopes of fostering an environment of multi-cultural harmony in Iraq under the existing political system. While ISIS is clearly an immediate physical enemy, therefore, we must remember that the real enemy (which continues to prop up the group’s extremist reign) is a dangerous combination of desperation, quasi-religious indoctrination, and international political power games.]

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“They then began to sell us” – A Testimony from the ISIS Massacre of Yezîdîs

“On the day of August 3rd, 2014”, says Amsha Ali Elias Khalty, “we were in Ger Ezer village”. Having seen ISIS terrorists approaching, she remembers, “we ran for three hours until we arrived at Khabazya neighbourhood, which is near Gadala (a village by the mountain)”.

“As we were crossing the street, heading towards Gadala, we saw many white cars and we expected them to be Peshmerga so we did not worry. Suddenly, however, they lifted their black flags. We scattered and tried to run away”.

“We figured out that they were coming from Chlo (a village in Shingal). Even though there were about 200 of us, they soon had us surrounded. Having called us to stop, they shot the ones who tried to escape. Then, they ordered all of us (women, men, and children) to sit down”.

They started to kill people randomly”, Khalty recounts. “Women were shouting and screaming, and the children were crying because they were very frightened. Then, they isolated the men from the women, and began to kill the men, who had previously been told to lie on the ground”.

“I saw with my own eyes that they killed my husband (Khalil Khalaf Rasho) and his brother (Nayef Khalaf Rasho). I also saw my father in law (Khalaf Rasho) lying down on the ground, but I didn’t see them shoot him. My little son Muayad, my husband’s sister, my mother-in-law, and I were now they only family members left. I saw with my own eyes that they killed more than fifty people”.

“In the meantime”, Khalty remembers, “some of the Faqir clan showed up with a herd of sheep, and the ISIS terrorists didn’t know what to do. They began to shoot in all directions, trying to kill all of the men they could see. Then, three of them came to me and asked me get in their car, but I refused. They ordered me to give them my child so they could kill him, but they were distracted because of my screams”.

“Soon afterwards, they saw a child of about ten years old (who I knew was my relative). I shouted at them, and attacked them in order to save the child. At the same time, a person from the Hassan Meho family began to shoot at them, defending us with honour. Because he was alone, though, among a sea of ISIS terrorists, they soon hit him with two bullets, before showering him with bullets as he tried to take himself to safety. Because they were busy firing at the brave Yezîdî man, however, the ten-year-old boy was able to run away”.

“Then, the terrorists forced me into a car”, she recalls. “It was nine o’clock in the morning”.

“They took us all to a police station on a hill to the north of Ciba Sheikh Khider village. The place was full of women and children, all of whom were screaming, howling, or crying. The situation was terrible”.

“We were soon offered some breakfast (bread and yogurt), but everyone refused to eat. In the following hour, a woman from the Qairani clan (and from Ciba Sheikh Khider) questioned the extremists, asking ‘why are you treating us like this if we have never fought against you?’ They responded by saying: ‘you are faithless, and we will save you from hell and make you enter heaven by converting you to Islam’”.

“Then, we were put onto buses and told that we were being taken to Baaj (an area near Shingal). They separated me from my mother-in-law (Khanav Khalaf Qaso) and, on the way to Baaj, we saw many dead Yazidis scattered on the sides of the road and on top of the mounds which had been built up to resist the ISIS terrorists”.

“When they drove us past the Ger Zark checkpoint, they celebrated by shooting into the air and by throwing sweets up into the air (believing that this action would save them from hell). Then, when we arrived in Baaj, they took us to a school. There were around a thousand of us, and we stayed there for four hours. Some of them came to us and asked us to convert. We answered by saying ‘you killed all of our men. How can we leave our pure religion which has taught us to respect, help, and trust each other for the religion you follow?’ Understandably, their attempts to convert us were useless, so they gave us ten days to think. After that period, they said, they would ask us again and if we did not convert we would all be killed”.

“Then, they took us to Mosul on large buses, passing by the city centre of Shingal where we saw many dead bodies in the streets. Here, many other Yezîdî women and young girls were brought on board with us. Every now and then, they stopped the buses to film us”.

“I asked them to bring me some milk for my baby”, recalls Khalty, “but they just gave me some expired milk which the child could not drink it. As a result, he cried for the whole journey, shouting out ‘Mimi, Mimi’ [‘milk, milk’]”.

“Eventually, we arrived at the Galaxy hotel in Mosul”, she remembers. “They gave us each one piece of bread, and I put mine in some water to feed it to my little child, choosing to remain hungry myself. My husband’s sister (Hadya) offered me half of her bread, but I refused to eat it because the image of ISIS terrorists murdering my husband and his brother kept replaying over and over in my head”.

“The Quran was playing over the loudspeakers, so the children did not have a chance to sleep. ISIS guards, meanwhile, were always inside the hall where we were supposed to sleep, so we did not feel comfortable lying down or trying to sleep – for fear that they would do inappropriate things to us”.

They didn’t allow us to talk to each other, and there was a camera in every corner of the hall where we were staying. We all had one cell-phone, which we were using to contact our families and those relatives who had been kidnapped by ISIS. We spoke to them mainly between three o’clock and six o’clock in the morning, as the guards were sleeping. We would talk to our families underneath our blankets. Soon, however, they realized that we had a cell-phone, and they searched everyone, especially the kids. Finally, they found it in one girl’s socks, and moved her to another room as a punishment. She would stay there alone and without food and water for three days, before being brought back to the hall. She could hardly breathe”.

“Then, they told us they would take us somewhere else”, Khalty says. “We were all around 20 years old or younger”.

“We stayed there for ten days before they took us to a house in Mosul, where a number of other girls were also being kept. It was a very large house with four floors”.

“One of their leaders came to the house, and he took thirty unmarried young girls, telling them they would be taken to Syria. He seemed to be from Mosul as he spoke in an Iraqi dialect. The most beautiful girls were chosen and, when they refused (causing us all to cry and scream), the guards took them out to their cars by force”.

“The guards were all from Mosul, and they carried sticks which they used to beat the girls. They then began to sell us to random people. Every day, elderly people from Mosul would come to buy some of us. Each one would be sold for only 15 thousand Iraqi dinars ($12)”.

“We screamed and cried, and refused to go with those who bought us, but the guards took us by force nonetheless. Soon, all of the unmarried girls had been sold, and only the married ones were left. There were more than forty of us, but then they began to sell us off too. Eventually, I remained alone with my little kid. The guard told me he would kill my child, who was crying uncontrollably, if he didn’t shut up. On the same day, my child began to cry at midnight and woke me up. There were three guards, and I asked one to open the door for me, but he refused”.

“Later, when the guards were sleeping, I broke the door, drank some water, and gave some to my child. Then, at about two o’clock in the morning, I left the house. Without knowing where I was going, I walked with my baby for a few hours until I got to a main road. It was four o’clock, and there was an old man nearby. I told him my story. He responded by saying: ‘the Yazidis are my people. Screw the ISIS militants, their actions and their whole organization’”.

“I gave the elderly man my brother Murad’s phone number, and we called him. He asked him if I was indeed his sister and, when Murad said yes, he told him I would be treated like his daughter and that he needn’t worry about me. The man swore to my brother by Tawes Malak (the Peacock King) that I would be in safe hands. Eventually, he found a way to take me to my brother”.

Posted in Chauvinism, Ezidis, Iraq, ISIL, ISIS, Massacre, Murder, Salafism, Sengal, Sinjar, Slavery, Syria, Wahhabism, Yazidis, Yezidis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Stayed with the Corpses” – A Testimony from the ISIS Massacre of Yezîdîs

Sami’s mother, who we will refer to as Khro, speaks about how, “at six o’clock in the morning on August 3, 2014” – the day of the ISIS attack on Şengal – she and others had “left Tal Uzair” (a medium-sized Yezîdî village) and “headed towards water wells” about 7km away. On the way, however, she describes how she and those with her “heard the sound of gunshots”. Soon afterwards, she says, “we realized that we had been attacked by ISIS militants”.

Seven people, she explains, “came in a pickup truck”, and “our men waved to them with white flagsin an attempt to avoid hostilities. “They told us not to worry or be afraid”, she says, and they assured the civilians that they would not harm them. At the same time, however, they told the men “to hand over their cell-phones, money, jewellery, and weapons”. Then, she recalls, “they took us all to a house”, where “they separated the men, young women and old women, putting each group in a separate room”. Overall, she asserts, “we did everything they ordered us to do”.

“After a quarter of an hour three of their men entered the room”, she recounts, while “three others stayed in the yard and another one stayed near the car outside the house”. Around half an hour later, she says, “they shot one of our men who was standing near his car”, before then entering “the room where all our men were”. Soon, she stresses, “we heard the sound of gunshots and screams from our men”. The women yelled out, but could do nothing from the locked room where they found themselves. The Khro family lost all of the following members in this event:

  1. Sami Jando Khaddadh Khro (b. 1994)
  2. Atto Gatto Khro (b. 1951)
  3. Khalil Gatto Khro (b. 1968)
  4. Mahmoud Barakat Khro (b. 1969)
  5. Mahmood Mirza Khro (b. 1979)
  6. Mahmoud Murad Khro (b. 1975)
  7. Farhan Barakat Khro (b. 1992)
  8. Farman Mahmoud Barakat Khro (b. 1990)
  9. Sabri Atto Gatto Khro (b. 1981)
  10. Eido Sabri Atto Gatto Khro (b. 1990)
  11. Salem Sabri Atto Gatto Khro (b. 1995)
  12. Aishan Sharaf Ajool (b. 1974)

“As a result of our screams”, Sami’s mother says, “they opened the door for us to see our murdered men piled up”. This, she insists, “was the most painful scene I [had] ever seen in my life”. In addition to the distress the captives were suffering, though, the Wahhabi militants alsoinsulted [the] elderly women and children”. Subsequently, they “took our young girls and our cars and drove away”, she asserts.

Distraught about the deaths of the family’s male members, the women “cried heavily”, though they “could not bury [their] dead men… because [they] were afraid” of the ISIS invaders. “After a while”, she explains, “the elderly women decided to go to the mountain to save [their] children”. She, however, “refused to go with them and stayed with the corpses”, insisting that she now owned nothing “in this treacherous world after losing [her] only son”. The latter’s bride, meanwhile, had been sexually assaulted, while Khro’s daughter Samya had been taken away by the Wahhabi militants.

“I sat next to the body of my son”, Khro recounts, “cursing our situation”. Her husband, for example, had been “a prisoner in Iran for a long time”, and the couple had “suffered a lot” until their son and daughter had reached maturity. “We were happily living our simple life”, she explains, while speaking of how she had been “extremely happy” several months previously when her only son (her “hope in this world”) finally got married. Now, however, reflecting on how much joy she used to feel when her son would say ‘wa dake’ (or ‘hi mum’) to her, she felt she had lost everything, and evenasked the Lord to take [her] soul and release [her] from [her] pain”.

After shouting out to see if anyone was still alive (and receiving no response), she “sat next to the body of [her] son (Sami) and kissed his cheeks”, constantly asking him to respond. The horrific reality soon sank in, though, and it dawned on her that she would now “remain an orphan, an orphan without family, without a house, [and] without land”. Before she could do anything else, however, she was determined to take Sami to the tomb of Sheikh Mand (a religious place near a local farm) in order to bury him. “I tried to carry him on my back in the middle of the night”, she explains, having tied a handkerchief around her back as a belt, but she had no success.

“I was crying over the body the whole time”, she recalls, “and I remained there with him and the rest of the bodies in the darkness of the night, [refusing] to leave [her] son” alone. Having been close to him since his birth (often enquiring about how he was whenever he had to work late), she was resolved not to leave him now. Furthermore, as her requests for God to take her life had remained unanswered, she felt that she needed to bury him soon, so that his body would not be eaten by “hungry dogs” and so that she could visit him frequently.

After several attempts, she was able to carry her son’s body on her back. “After moving two steps forward”, however, “I fell down on my face”, she says. “I had lost my power”, she remembers, “and the corpse was too heavy”. Afraid of the fate of his corpse, surrounded by scattered body parts, and overwhelmed by the desolation and silence ISIS had left behind, she simply hugged the body “throughout the night” and kissed her deceased son’s cheeks. In the morning, she decided she could do nothing for her son, and instead set out to find her daughter Samya and her son’s widow. No-one was to be found.

Khro’s daughter Samya Jando, a secondary school student born in 2000, would eventually manage to escape from ISIS militants in Fallujah, and would speak about how, after isolating the young women and girls from the men and adult women on the farm, the Wahhabi extremists had taken her and other girls to Ciba Shikh Khider, Baaj, Tal Afar, and then Mosul.

“They took us to a large hall in a three-storey building near the place called “Ghabat” in Mosul. There were so many of us there. We stayed for a period of 7 days, and then they moved us to a four-storey house, before moving us out to several different locations. They took me and my colleague (Samira) to Fallujah”.

“The house where we stayed had two guards although, after a few days, one of guards went to Mosul. One day, when the guard went to pray, my colleague and I broke the door of the house, and we ran away. We went to Baghdad, and then to Erbil”.

“When I arrived in Erbil, I tried to call my brother, because I missed him too much, but his mobile was out of reach. I then tried to contact my mother, but could not reach her either. Later on, I finally saw my mother again in Dohuk, and immediately read from the gestures on her face that I had lost my brother. When we embraced each other, she said: ‘Oh, my daughter. We are all alone. We have lost all our family and relatives’. I then told her that I wanted to visit his grave, but she revealed that he did not even have one”.

“We live in extreme conditions of cruelty and pain”, asserts Samya. “We live in a world governed by savages, who taste the meat and blood of innocent and poor people who have never hurt anybody, and have never shown disrespect to any other religion. Long live Yezîdîs! Death and shame to the ISIS militants and their allies!”

Testimony translated into English by Professor Ivan Hasan Murad of Zakho University and edited by Oso Sabio

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New Labour Is Right-Wing, but Corbyn Could Change That

Did Ed Miliband lead “a traditional left-wing party” into the 2015 elections? Or is the difference between New Labour and the Conservatives “more about what the parties choose to talk about rather than any great differences in policy”?[1]

If we are to believe Tony Blair and much of the oligarch-owned right-wing press, Miliband’s big mistake was positioning himself too far to the left. In fact, the former prime minister (who lies at the heart of the New Labour project) has recently affirmed that, “even if he thought a left-wing programme was the route to victory, he would not adopt one”.[2] Just in case such statements are not enough to show that Tony Blair and the party he corrupted are not ‘left-wing’, however, let’s look in more detail at why they are very clearly on the right (and why that is the key to their failures).

An Attempt to Tame the Beast

New Labour was all about the so-called ‘Third Way’ – trying to reconcile right-wing economics with ‘progressive’ social policies. And, after the collapse of the USSR’s authoritarian political model, Tony Blair and others in the Labour Party effectively accepted Francis Fukuyama’s claim that the current capitalist order represented the “end of history”.[3] At the same time, though, they did talk about their hope of removing the ‘unfair bits’ from the dominant economic system (primarily through state welfare). In effect, then, this stance meant that large multinational corporations would still be free to underpay their workers and overcharge consumers (whilst continuing their never-ending quest to buy and sell every marketable thing on the planet), but the benevolent band of Blairites would step in with public money to subsidise the profits of the richest and allow their exploitation of the global and local workforce to continue.

After the capitalist crisis of 2007-8, Blair did admit that the dominant system needed to be adapted, by implanting into a “new capitalism” a set of “values other than those of short-term profit maximisation”, but then that was the sort of common-sense concept by which a ‘free’ global market was supposed to have been governing itself all along (“investing and building” to ensure “stable and enduring” profits).[4] Now, if we were to have sufficiently little imagination to consider the possibility of an alternative (to a system which, as history has shown us, is not at all interested in ensuring human dignity or environmental protection), we may well think as progressives that ‘investing and building’ for a stable future sounds like a great idea. But this type of polished rhetoric, of course, which Blair refined so well within New Labour, was ultimately based on the premise that capitalism was, at its core, a well-intentioned beast that could easily be tamed (an idea that is not backed up by historical evidence).

A Slightly Softer Face of Capitalism

With such a faith in capitalism at its heart, New Labour began its time in power by continuing with the reduction in net borrowing (as a percentage of the GDP) begun under the previous government of John Major. Soon, however, it felt the pressure to spend more money (in part due to the costly and ill-advised imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) and, as it did not want to risk the support of the ‘wealthy’ citizens it valued so much, it did not offset this spending with higher taxation. In all fairness, though, the money it borrowed was never any higher than what had been borrowed under the Thatcher and Major governments in the 80s and 90s.[5]

Unemployment was reduced under New Labour (a much heralded improvement from the figures suffered under 18 years of Conservative rule),[6] but it never even came close to the low unemployment of the post-WW2 (and pre-Thatcher) years.[7] Income inequality, meanwhile, was not much different, and would vary very little from the nauseating post-79 norm.[8] In other words, the trend towards increasing inequality begun under Thatcher was not reversed under New Labour.[9] In fact, says John Kampfner at The Telegraph, Blair bent over backwards to ingratiate himself with the rich”.[10]

Thanks to New Labour’s pro-capitalist grovelling and its “failure to reverse the prevailing tide of Thatcherism”, it progressively lost more and more of the hopeful left-wing “idealists who had swept Blair to victory in 1997”. In response, though, its arrogant politicians did not try to emphasise their supposedly progressive credentials to keep left-wingers on board. Instead, they actually took advantage of the lack of a “credible opponent to their left” to assert their right-wing sympathies, invading Conservative territory by privatising utility companies even further than the previous Tory governments had.[11]

To be fair, however, there was some progressive ‘window dressing’ in New Labour, as it built Sure Start centres while spending money “on public works, on the arts”, and “on unemployment benefits”. It also “drastically cut NHS waiting lists” whilst pouring “billions into public transport” and into upgrades for British schools.[12] Furthermore, it bolstered the earnings of low-income workers through the National Minimum Wage, Working Tax Credits, and Pensioners’ Credits (whilst of course keeping capitalism completely intact).

As Thomas G. Clark argues at Another Angry Voice, though, “the very idea that the New Labour government of 1997-2010 was some kind of left-wing project is probably the single biggest myth in UK politics”. The party’s time in power, he stresses, “was clearly a continuation of the Thatcherite experiment” (which had sought to destroy “the social reforms of Clement Atlee’s post-war government” which “had been imitated across the liberal democracies of the world”). Until Margaret Thatcher came along with her extreme form of neoliberal economics, he insists, “the UK had been a role model to the world”, but in the 18 years that followed, the citizens of the country were left “desperately in need” of a move “away from the inevitable chaos of recklessly deregulated markets and rampant rentierism”. New Labour, however, would not provide this return to ‘former glory’.

By using “innumerable bits of pseudo-socialist window dressing”, Clark says, New Labour effectively “distracted the trade unions and the workers” in 1997, when in reality it had already “openly embraced” the neoliberal ideology imposed on the UK since 1979. Proof of these right-wing credentials, he stresses, can be seen in New Labour’s:

  • Refusal to renationalise” the railways (as had been promised in its manifesto)
  • Continuedderegulation of the financial sector
  • “Abandonment of democratic control over the Bank of England”
  • Building up of debt with PFIs (“catastrophically inefficient neoliberal economic alchemy schemes”)
  • Turning a blind eye to the rampant tax-dodging of multi-national corporations and the super-rich minority”.
  • Allowing the development of a vast housing Ponzi bubble built on unsustainable levels of debt accumulation”
  • Refusal to invest in much needed social housing
  • Refusal to regulate the Buy-to-Let slumlords
  • “The introduction of “Workfare” schemes”
  • “The privatisation of air traffic control”
  • “Overseeing an exponential growth in corporate outsourcing contracts
  • “Planning to privatise the Royal Mail”
  • The “introduction of several privately operated prisons and detention centres
  • Kick-starting the privatisation of the NHS
  • The “introduction of over 200 privately operated, yet taxpayer fundedacademies
  • “Introducing the ATOS administered WCA regime for the disabled”
  • “Attempting to introduce extremist copyright protection laws”
  • “Revocation of the right to trial by jury” and “attacks on Legal Aid in 2006”
  • Privatisation of the HMRC property portfolio (into the hands of a company based in Bermuda for the purpose of dodging tax)”[13]
  • And (last but by no means least) support for the destructive and unpopular US-led wars in the Middle East

In short, New Labour was by no means a left-wing government, and the legacy of some of its disastrous decisions would actually leave sections of the British Left lost in a sea of unorganised confusion for at least a few years. Scared of returning to the social decay of the 80s and 90s, many Labour voters surely felt that they had no choice but to support what they saw in New Labour as the lesser of two evils. For those outside the circles of left-wing political activism, there really seemed to be little hope of anything better in a world where mainstream dialogue (driven by the narratives of Parliament and the media) proclaimed that history had officially ended.

In spite of a growing apathy with the UK’s political system, however, the country under New Labour was a developed ex-colonial capitalist state in which most people could live fairly comfortably (as long as they did not think about the immense suffering caused by the government’s wars overseas, about where their cheap consumer goods were coming from, or about how much the dominant economic system was destroying the environment). In other words, most citizens felt they had little reason to kick up a fuss about the sorry lack of political options they had. The future was dull and unexciting, but it was better than the perceived alternative under the Tories.

The Big Weakness of the ‘Third Way’

After the capitalist crisis of 2007-8, the Conservative Party argued that the national debt had grown so much because New Labour had “taxed and spent profligately”. This assertion, however, was “factually incorrect”, according to Treasury data. In reality, until the crisis, New Labour had actually spent less as a proportion of GDP than Thatcher did”. At the same time, it had also taxed citizens at a much lower rate than Thatcher did”.[14]

Unfortunately for New Labour, though, the global financial crash came at a point when there was still a public deficit. Now that in itself was not such a big problem, but Gordon Brown’s reluctance to lose his support base among ‘higher earners’ saw him choose not to increase taxation in order to bail out the banks. Nonetheless, he saw the latter as a necessity (as did the neoliberal political elites of the USA and Europe). Therefore, he provided £123.93 billion (which the government did not have) “in the form of loans or share purchases”, along with a further £332.40 billion “in the form of guarantees”.[15]

In other words, Brown borrowed money not to protect British citizens but to prop up the capitalist structures which had caused the crisis in the first place. And, in doing so, he “over-reached himself”, allowing the crash to wipe out “huge tax revenues” with immense speed whilst giving the Conservatives (which would almost certainly have bailed out the banks in the same way) “a pretext to reverse the massive gains made to expand the welfare state” under New Labour (which were the party’s only relatively positive legacy).

Overall, New Labour’s “loose regulation of financial markets” and subsequent bailouts (fundamentally pro-capitalist measures) ended up trumping its interest in consolidating its role as a provider of welfare for British citizens. With confusing financial figures floating around in the run-up to the 2010 elections, New Labour’s token social achievements would not be enough to convince voters that it could be trusted to steer Britain towards economic recovery. The party had followed the dominant capitalist prescription in the same way that any other mainstream party in the West would have (including the Conservatives), but the media and its favoured future government (led by the Tories and propped up by the Lib Dems) managed to convince British voters that New Labour had strayed away from capitalist orthodoxy and could not be trusted with the country’s economic recovery. As a result, the neoliberal ideologues of the Conservative Party would manage to convince a significant number of citizens that its continuation of the economic status quo was somehow the way forward. Distracted by mystifying fiscal falsehoods, then, the new regime would leave the putrid economic system (which had been the downfall of New Labour) completely intact, while reducing funding for public services (and demonising the most vulnerable people in society) in an attempt to gain support for the destruction (through privatisation) of the few good things the previous government had done.[16]

In short, it was New Labour’s faith in and commitment to the dominant economic system (along with its spineless pandering to some of the ‘wealthiest’ people in society) that was its truly fatal error – not public spending. Even worse, though, was that it did not recognise this mistake, and thus failed to combat effectively the misleading claims spraying out of Conservative mouths. Instead, it found itself justifying its belief in the capitalist system whilst struggling to justify the meagre public spending which had actually done some good since 1997.

A Blairite Leadership Race?

After Ed Miliband’s failure to offer anything approaching a convincing argument for returning New Labour to power in the 2015 general elections, leadership polls would initially offer party members more of the same from a right-of-centre “Blairite agenda”. Liz Kendall, for example, would claim that the promised restoral of the 50% top tax rate had been a “major problem”, while Yvette Cooper would declare that “Labour should support further cuts in corporation tax”. As The Guardian’s Seumas Milne asserts, New Labour seemed oblivious to the fact that it had failed to win the election because it was simply “on the wrong side of public opinion and outrage at rising inequality”.[17]

Cooper, for example, said that New Labour rhetoric should not “be set against the wealth creators” (an “insidious and divisive” term which right-wingers use to suggest that “the total wealth generated by any business” is made by “those in a position to make hiring decisions”, rather than “all of the capital, both financial and human, that has been invested in it”).[18] Setting herself firmly against public opinion, for whom the “mansion tax, 50% top tax rate and privatised energy price freeze were among Labour’s most popular policies” (while “large majorities” also consistently make it clear that they want the government to be “tougher on big business” and to end o austerity), Cooper was effectively saying that corporations were more important than their employees.[19] And this rhetoric, ignoring the hard labour of workers (along with that of the “midwives who bring [them] into the world”, the teachers who educate them, the “construction workers providing the infrastructure” around them, the health workers keeping them fit for work, and the security personnel who “create a secure environment”, to name just a few), had unfortunately become the norm for New Labour.[20]

In fact, argues Milne, “the Thatcherites and neocons” (backed by less than a quarter of eligible voters) had been “let off the leash” in the 2015 elections thanks to New Labour’s weak opposition. Giving “credibility to Conservative claims about the economy by signing up to austerity-lite”, he says, the party establishment had shown “a time-warped failure to grasp the impact of the economic crisis, and their own legacy”. In short, their hopes that a continuation of the New Labour project would prevent votes from going to the SNP, the Green Party, and even the right-wing populists of UKIP were “clearly delusional”.[21] Failing to take an anti-austerity left-wing position because of this wishful thinking, they had chosen to argue for just a slightly softer version of what the Conservatives were already offering – a tactic which caused it to continue suffering from the “cataclysmic decline among working class voters” it had begun to see under Tony Blair.[22]

In summary, says Amit Singh at The Independent, New Labour’s “progressive credentials” were simply “a joke” in the 2015 general elections.[23] Miliband’s support for the renewal of Trident and “0% voting record on the issue of ‘Iraq Investigation – Necessary’”, for example, ensured that anti-war left-wing voters would not be won over.[24] And overall, asserts Singh, the party was clearly “pro-business, pro-austerity, pro-war and definitely not pro-ordinary people” (albeit “slightly less regressive than the Tories”).[25] In other words, it had essentially the same ideology as the Blair and Brown governments (which, as seen earlier in this post, were just right-wing regimes with a few progressive sprinkles on top).

Corbyn’s Challenge to the New Labour Establishment

What the Labour Party would really need, then, in order to truly reconnect with the Left and the working class, would be a politician who could represent them in a meaningful way – someone who had not been tarnished by the party’s considerably negative record in power under Blair and Brown and its continuation with the ‘New Labour’ experiment. And, with 184 Labour MPs (including three leadership candidates) being whipped into abstaining over the Conservatives’ ‘Welfare Reform and Work Bill’, the pool left behind was pretty small. The small grouping of Labour rebels, however, was accompanied by one leadership candidate – North London MP Jeremy Corbyn.

Having “rebelled more than 500 times since becoming an MP in 1983”, Corbyn was clearly a politician prepared to vote according to his principles rather than the official party line. Supported by 47 other Labour rebels (along with the SNP and members of smaller opposition parties), Corbyn made it very clear that, in his opinion, the party did not (and should not) “have to be on the centre ground to clinch victory” in the 2020 elections.[26] And his voting record in Parliament shows that this assertion was not just rhetoric. The leadership candidate had, for example, voted “against the Iraq war, ID cards and increasing tuition fees”, and had criticised Ed Miliband before the 2015 elections “for promising too much austerity” (emphasising that “there should be more nationalisation and a £10 minimum wage”). Furthermore, he was “one of eight [anti-apartheid] politicians arrested for breaking a protest ban outside London’s South African embassy in 1984”, has “spoken out against nuclear weapons, opposes renewing Trident and is a vice-chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament”. He is also “a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign” and “chairman of the Stop the War Coalition”.[27]

Because of his impressive anti-war credentials and progressive social and economic views, Corbyn would soon have the “mainstream” (read neoliberal) Labour First pressure group asking “supporters of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall to help each other to ensure leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn [would not] win” the leadership elections.[28] With the progressive London MP setting out “a £10bn plan to scrap all tuition fees and restore student maintenance grants” (to be “funded either by a 7% rise in national insurance for those earning over £50,000 a year and a 2.5% higher corporation tax, or by slowing the pace at which the deficit is reduced”), however, it would be difficult for even the most powerful of pressure groups to take away his popularity among younger Labour members.[29]

In addition to strong grassroots support, Corbyn also gained the support of Britain’s biggest union Unite (“the party’s most generous donor”) fairly early on in his campaign, along with the backing of the RMT, Aslef, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

Soon, the popularity of Corbyn (for whom the leadership election was primarily about “whether we accept another five years of a race to the bottom based on cuts that destroy services and damage living standards, or whether we invest our way to growth and fairness”)[30] began to look unstoppable, with polls suggesting he would “sweep to power” in September.[31] YouGov, for example, found that Corbyn was “the first preference for 43% of party supporters – way ahead of bookies’ favourite Andy Burnham on 26%”.

For Tony Blair, the possibility of a Corbyn victory merited weighing in on the issue. Perceiving that New Labour’s losses in 2010 and 2015 had somehow been the result of a ‘deviation’ from the party’s neoliberal agenda, the former party leader showed a complete lack of understanding of why his ‘Third Way’ had actually failed.[32] In fact, his comments probably did more to boost Corbyn’s support base than it did to damage it.

What Does Corbyn’s Candidacy Mean for the British Left?

Of the Labour leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn appears to be miles ahead of the others in terms of proposing real alternatives (without getting rid of capitalism) to the status quo both in the party and in Parliament. For example, he has affirmed that, in government, he would “not cut the deficit on the backs of the poor” but would instead make society’s wealthiest pay “a little more” in taxation, while clamping down on corporate tax avoidance and using “up to £93bn of corporate tax reliefs to create a national investment bank”.

So while Blair has arrogantly argued that “those who believed their hearts were with Corbyn should “get a transplant””,[33] we should remember where the former prime minister’s heart lies (his “personal fortune worth many tens of millions”, accumulated by advising “controversial businesses and regimes”, should make that very clear to us).[34] The man whose “private jet is worth £30million” is not exactly the type of person we should trust to determine how progressive the Labour Party should be or not be.[35]

Showing how insignificant Blair now is to many voters on the Left, Corbyn has not allowed the bloodied millionaire’s comments to distract him for too long, and has made it very clear that austerity (favoured by his leadership competitors) is “about political choices, not economic necessities”. In particular, he has offered real opposition to the anti-democratic Conservative regime currently in power, asking “what responsible government committed to closing the deficit” would commit to inheritance tax changes for the richest 4% of households when such a decision will “lose the government over £2.5bn in revenue between now and 2020”?[36]

Keeping our feet on the ground, we can see that Corbyn is not exactly calling for an end to the corrupt and destructive capitalist system, but what he is clearly putting forward are sensible ideas which can bring even citizens in the political centre into a broad coalition of progressive forces. “Six out of ten people”, for example, “want to see rent controls on landlords”, while “two thirds of Brits want to see an international convention on banning nuclear weapons”. There is also “a public appetite for a 75% top rate of tax on incomes over £1m”, and “renationalising the railways has cross-party support – even from Tory voters”. Meanwhile, the Independent reveals, the public supports a cut in tuition fees, believes in a “mandatory living wage” (what George Osborne has proposed is “not actually a living wage”, according to the Living Wage Foundation), and has no real interest in going to war (siding with Corbyn on both the Iraq and Syria debates).[37] In short, many of Corbyn’s ideas actually represent how the majority of the country feels.

Therefore, if we are to make the little democracy we have in the United Kingdom more meaningful, we should emphasise very clearly that, without Corbyn as its leader, the British Left will almost certainly continue directing its efforts into smaller, less powerful political groupings which (because of the anti-democratic electoral system we have) are unlikely to bring about electoral reform. With Corbyn as Labour leader, however, the mainstream opposition to austerity will be made a lot stronger, and the country can once again begin to have a real discussion about what genuine alternatives there are for our future. Yes, it will probably cause a rift between Labour’s left and right wings if he wins, with “Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna all saying that they would not serve in a shadow cabinet led by [Corbyn]”, but these figures would probably feel more comfortable in the Conservative Party anyway.[38]

The fact is, says Corbyn, that “there’s a whole generation out there that does not accept the orthodox economics of austerity and are looking for something different”.[39] I for one think that this statement captures very well the mood on the British Left today, which will clearly not find anything approaching a representative voice in the upper echelons of the neoliberal New Labour machine. Therefore, a Corbyn victory in the Labour leadership contest is the only positive outcome, and would be a result that could well turn dreams of a unified Left into reality. So whether you join the party to vote for him, show your critical support from the side-lines, or just wish him the best while you organise your own community, don’t lose hope of a broad, progressive movement of the Left just quite yet.

[1] http://www.britishelectionstudy.com/bes-resources/was-blair-right-are-labour-really-too-left-wing-to-win-in-may-by-ed-fieldhouse/#.VbEsY_m848I

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tony-blair-says-he-wouldnt-want-a-leftwing-labour-party-to-win-an-election-10406928.html

[3] “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm

[4] http://www.tonyblairoffice.org/speeches/entry/speech-by-tony-blair-at-the-new-world-new-capitalism-conference/

[5] http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/334/uk-economy/uk-national-debt/

[6] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/files/2013/04/Thatcher-unemployment.png

[7] https://jobmarketmonitor.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/fireshot-screen-capture-1277-6a00d83451cbef69e201774371b49d970d-pi-977c397638-stumblingandmumbling_typepad_com__a_6a00d83451cbef69e201774371b49d970d-pi1.png?w=750&h=485

[8] http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/45303000/gif/_45303225_uk_income_466.gif

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/dec/05/oecd-ineqaulity-report-uk-us and http://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/maps_and_graphs/2011/12/5/1323092463106/UK-income-inequality-grap-001.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=4cd78799aa30d457078bd3d5843dbcb0

[10] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/themargaretthatcheryears/1895878/Margaret-Thatcher-inspiration-to-New-Labour.html

[11] http://sam-glover.com/blog/2015/4/15/why-the-toxic-legacy-of-new-labour-could-cost-ed-miliband-the-election

[12] http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/07/08/what-was-new-labours-greatest-achievement-allow-me-to-explain/

[13] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.mx/2014/01/new-labour-left-wing-myth.html

[14] http://leftfootforward.org/2011/05/tax-and-spending-under-new-labour-and-mrs-thatcher/

[15] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/nov/12/bank-bailouts-uk-credit-crunch

[16] http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/07/08/what-was-new-labours-greatest-achievement-allow-me-to-explain/

[17] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/20/blairite-revival-leadership-contest-labour-breakup

[18] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/labour-must-abandon-dangerous-language-wealth-creators

[19] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/20/blairite-revival-leadership-contest-labour-breakup

[20] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/labour-must-abandon-dangerous-language-wealth-creators

[21] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/13/blairites-new-labour-win-back-voters-delusional

[22] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/it-was-working-class-not-middle-class-sunk-labour

[23] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-most-embarrassing-part-of-the-election-seeing-people-mistake-labour-for-a-leftwing-party-10237192.html

[24] http://www.libdemvoice.org/ed-milibands-newfound-opposition-to-the-iraq-war-what-his-voting-record-shows-21386.html

[25] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-most-embarrassing-part-of-the-election-seeing-people-mistake-labour-for-a-leftwing-party-10237192.html

[26] http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/jeremy-corbyns-north-east-team-9698799

[27] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/who-jeremy-corbyn-everything-you-5818431

[28] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/10/blairite-group-in-bid-to-_n_7771804.html?1436551702&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

[29] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/15/jeremy-corbyn-announces-10bn-plan-to-scrap-university-tuition-fees

[30] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/05/jeremy-corbyn-backing-unite-labour-leadership-race

[31] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jez-can-jeremy-corbyn-on-6072570

[32] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blair-labour-will-not-win-if-it-steps-away-from-centre-ground

[33] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/jeremy-corbyn-vows-to-raise-taxes-for-the-rich-if-elected-prime-minister

[34] http://stopwar.org.uk/news/tony-blair-s-insatiable-greed-exposed-by-his-secret-deal-with-saudi-arabia

[35] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/can-tony-blair-really-be-worth-only-10million-the-former-pms-most-lucrative-assets-9906822.html

[36] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/jeremy-corbyn-vows-to-raise-taxes-for-the-rich-if-elected-prime-minister

[37] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-jeremy-corbyn-policies-that-most-people-actually-agree-with-10407148.html

[38] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/jeremy-corbyn-could-lose-frontbenchers-if-elected-labour-leader

[39] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/19/labour-leadership-andy-burnham-jeremy-corbyn-shadow-cabinet

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Posted in capitalism, Capitalist Crisis, Conservative Party, Democracy, Economy, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Leadership, Labour Leadership Elections, Labour Party, Neoliberalism, New Labour, Tony Blair, UK, UK Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Diversion Tactics of #Budget2015

1) Housing Chaos

As a result of George Osborne’s Summer Budget this year, says Paul Waugh at The Huffington Post, “at least 14,000 fewer affordable homes will be built” in the UK. This statistic, from the Office for Budget Responsibility (the government’s “own financial watchdog”), came as a result of a small 1% cut in rents for council and housing association tenants (a seemingly positive measure) which would leave a ‘funding gap’ for housebuilding. And this was precisely why Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie claimed the budget would “mean going backwards rather than forwards on new home construction”. For the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, this regressive move would combine with house price inflation (“forecast to increase faster than wages”) to put home ownership “out of reach of more workers” in the next five years.

In fact, according to the National Housing Federation (NHF), the “£1.45bn hit to housing association and town hall budgets” could even see “as many as 27,000 new homes” not being built. Alternatively, if we believe the NHF’s David Orr, that figure “could be much higher”. The worst part of all, says the Charted Institute of Housing’s Terrie Alafat, is that the government measures are “going to make it much tougher to build new homes at a time when we desperately need to do so”.

In other words, the 1% cut in rents announced by Osborne seemed, suggests Waugh, to be pandering to “‘working class Tory’ votes”, especially when we consider that, just two years previously, the chancellor had actually supported “a 10-year plan to let social housing rents rise by 1% above inflation”.[1] If he genuinely wanted to help citizens on the rental market, for example, he could have introduced rent control in the private sector (where a significant portion of housing benefits are currently spent[2]).

Housing charities, meanwhile, have attacked government cuts to housing benefits. Shelter’s Kate Webb, for example, speaks about how “large numbers of working households” would “see huge swaths of the country become unaffordable by the end of this parliament” thanks to benefit cuts. According to Webb, the previous Tory-led coalition had already “radically removed one of housing benefit’s strongest features” (i.e. its “responsiveness to actual rent increases”), making it increasingly harder for families to afford local housing. And the new freeze of Local Housing Allowance rates for four years (twice what was promised in the Conservative manifesto) will “inevitably exacerbate” this situation, she stresses. In short, the most vulnerable households will soon “struggle to find another home without moving large distances”, and it is “difficult to see how homelessness will not continue to rise”. Furthermore, the “huge national drift towards unaffordability” will continue, “pushing the system to breaking point”.[3]

Even Crisis (a charity “founded in the late 1960s by leading Conservatives”) insists that the new “short-sighted cuts” to housing benefit are “likely to increase homelessness” and cost the taxpayer “even more than they save” in the long-run. The organisation’s Jon Sparkes speaks in particular about how benefits are a lifeline “for many young people”, for whom “living with their parents simply isn’t an option”. Jon Stone at The Independent reminds us that, under the Tory-led Coalition, “homelessness rose from 1,768 in 2010 to 2,744 by 2014”.[4] In other words, both history and professional opinion suggest that homelessness will continue to rise in the next five years.

2) A ‘Living Wage’ Concealing Greater Inequality

The budget surprisingly introduced a ‘National Living Wage’ – something long argued for by the Left – which would “rise to £9 an hour by 2020” (below the current minimum wage in London).[5] The TUC found it difficult to criticise this measure, but insisted that the government was “giving with one hand [and] taking with the other”, with “massive cuts in support for working people” set to “hit families with children hardest”.[6]

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, meanwhile, asserted that, while “the move to create a national wage which reflects living costs is an important and welcome recognition that the minimum wage falls well short of achieving an adequate standard of living”, Osborne’s “£12 billion cuts to welfare” have been “targeted at low-income working families, most of whom rely on tax credits to make work pay”. Whilst being very tactful in its comments, the organisation stressed that, essentially, “working families on low incomes will find it even harder to make ends meets” thanks to the government’s budget.[7]

The BBC’s Brian Milligan, meanwhile, reports on how the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has affirmed that “thirteen million UK families will lose £260 a year on average because of the Budget’s tax and benefits changes”. Three million families, according to the institute’s director Paul Johnson, “are likely to lose an average of £1,000” as a result of tax credit changes, even when “taking into account higher wages” as a result of the new ‘living wage’. For Johnson, “those in work – but receiving low salaries – will be the worst-affected”, and the Budget has essentially reduced “the incentive for the first earner in a family to enter work”. The Resolution Foundation shares this view, stating that the government measures would “weaken the incentive both to enter work, and earn more”.

The regressive nature of the budget, Milligan reports, can be seen in the fact that “those in the second poorest category” in the UK “are likely to lose more than £1,200 a year” while “the richest 10% stand to lose less than £400 each” and “those in the second wealthiest category will be better off, by more than £100”. Although Osborne has logically sought to defend his budget, claiming workers will be better off, the IFS has insisted that “higher wages [will] not compensate for cuts to tax credits”.

“We shouldn’t think that a higher minimum wage will compensate all low income working families for their losses”, insists the Resolution Foundation’s Gavin Kelly. “Many working households will be left significantly worse off”, he stresses. [8]

3) Another Slap in the Face for Youngsters from Low-Income Families

The Guardian, meanwhile, reports that many sixth formers and university students have condemned the replacement of maintenance grants for poorer students with a system of loans. The paper suggests that “this additional lump of debt” could well be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” and once again discourage poorer students from going to university. Edinburgh University student Emilia Bona, for example, says that if she had not had the maintenance grant, she “wouldn’t have been able to go to university”. She continues, asserting that prospective students have to “weigh up the benefit of the degree, against the years of debt”. In short, she stresses, the new Conservative strategy is “based on a philosophy that says if you’re poor you don’t deserve better”, as it will make things “even harder” for a group that already finds it incredibly difficult to go to university.

Jade Dagwell-Douglas, who still hopes to go to university in the future, says “I can’t help my situation and I can’t help that I’m in a low income family”. University often acts as a bridge that gives young people a chance to think freely about what they want to make of their lives, and this is precisely what Jade was hoping to do as she has no set career in mind. In spite of facing many years of debt, then, she feels like she has no choice but to bite the new bullet shot down from the Tory cabinet.

University of Westminster student Daisy-Mae Greenaway, meanwhile, asserts that, on top of her full maintenance grant, she has also had to get a “zero-hour contract job”. Without the grant, she insists, she “definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford to go away to uni”, and would “have had to go straight into work”. The value of her degree, she says, simply would not have been “worth that much debt”.

Southampton University student Freya Jeffries, who also has the full grant, states that the extra money “takes the stress away”, as “worrying about money would really affect [her] studies”. Without it, she says, she would have had to look for a job and would have had very little time to relieve herself from stress. In her opinion, the message sent by Osborne’s new elitist measure “is that you’re not welcome, and only the rich can go”.

Warwick University’s Abbie Button suggests that, as a twin, the lack of a full maintenance grant would have left her parents with the difficult choice of deciding who most deserved to go to university. At the same time, she points out, “I might have thought differently about where I went if I didn’t have the grant”. In summary, she insists, “scrapping maintenance grants is taxing the poor”.

Manchester Met student Ellis Mallett says that, even with a maintenance grant, money worries make her “lose sleep at night” for, while she can “try and ignore the scale of the loans while at university”, she knows her debts are increasing on a regular basis.[9]

Looking at the comments of this small handful of students, we can conclude that the new government measures will hinder social mobility even more, limit the adequate and appropriate training of the brightest youngsters from low-income areas, and make university an even less desirable prospect. In short, Osborne has sent out a message that economically privileged youngsters are more welcome in higher education than their deprived counterparts.

4) Increasing Injustice Aided by a Spineless Opposition

Tom Clark in The Guardian suggests that Osborne has once again relied on false premises to push through largely regressive economic measures, having already blamed New Labour in 2010 for having caused the recession with public sector spending. Now, Clark argues, the government’s continued destruction of the welfare system is defended by a “second important untruth”, that poverty is somehow “the product of the government having given poor people too much money” in the past. With the budget, he says, the Conservative party is simply “sheltering behind an eye-catching rise and rebranding of the minimum wage, which will have less effect than the headlines suggest because it is restricted to over-25s”, whilst at the same time ensuring: that “low earners will be able to keep less of their pay packet before they start losing benefits”; that “children will be cut out of the system, and therefore impoverished”; and that the tiny percentage of citizens “higher up the pay scale” will actually “enjoy real income tax cuts”.

Polly Toynbee, meanwhile, says that the budget represents a “deep and permanent shrinking of the state” which brings public spending below the EU average and even below that of the USA. Effectively, she stresses, these cuts mean that “everything that makes people proud is waning, from science to the arts, transport, libraries, sports, parks and swimming pools”. In other words, the Tories are turning the UK back into a country of “public squalor amid private excess”, where low-earners, children, and students will suffer the most.

For Matthew d’Ancona, the budget showed that Osborne “is an astute political strategist” who has sought to use a “balancing innovation” to hide his savage cuts to welfare. The Left has long claimed that the taxpayer should not be forced to “subsidise the parsimony of employers” with benefits, and many Conservatives “instinctively hate interventions in the labour market”, having even “warned of mass unemployment when New Labour introduced the national minimum wage”. However, in spite of the fact that there will still be Tories unhappy with the idea of the new ‘living wage’, Osborne’s decision to run with it essentially represents an “audacious land grab” of terrain long considered to be New “Labour’s sovereign soil”.

Aditya Chakrabortty agrees with d’Ancona, calling Osborne’s budget “a serious invasion into [New] Labour territory”. While it is indeed true that “the rise in the minimum wage… is undermined by the hacking away at tax credits”, the fact is that Ed Miliband pledged in the run-up to the elections a mere £8 an hour minimum wage by the end of the decade. At the same time, while the “crackdown on non-doms” was “not hard enough”, insists Chakrabortty, it is “much better than anything Blair and Brown managed in their 13 years” in power. In short, the chancellor was attempting to convince voters that the Conservative Party was like an ‘economically responsible’ version of New Labour.

The £1billion “cut in inheritance tax” for the wealthiest 8% of the country, however, for which even the Tories had previously said there were “not strong economic arguments”, showed that the budget was essentially benefitting the “very richest in society” in a clearly disproportionate manner. The reduction of corporation tax to 18% by 2020, meanwhile, “in a country that already has lower corporation tax rates and more generous corporation tax benefits than the US, Germany or any of our major competitors”, was just a kick in the teeth for ordinary British citizens (especially considering that the government already “hands businesses £93bn a year in direct corporate welfare” [see [10]]).[11]

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron points out that public sector workers are being hit with pay rises of just 1% (“well below inflation”) for four more years, while working-age benefits are being frozen precisely as “6.6million people in working families live in poverty”, creating “a real terms cut of 11% over four years”. In short, he insists, this dichotomy summarises well the “Conservative approach”, i.e. “hitting the working poor, the disadvantaged young, and the hard-working public sector” whilst “helping the very wealthiest”.[12]

Nonetheless, argues Chakrabortty, the New Labour frontbench (“in disarray” after failing to inspire voters in the recent elections) remains largely “too frightened to say anything leftwing” and criticise in any meaningful way how the Conservative regime is “cruel to those in low-paid or no work, even while directing cash to the richest”. In short, New Labour has for too long been “retreating from [its] own territory” and “leaving Osborne to rush in and plant a big blue flag on it”.

Gaby Hinsliff supports this view, insisting that New Labour has been left “floundering”, with many citizens distracted by the rabbit taken out of Osborne’s hat in the budget (and not focussed on him “rifling pockets” off camera). The Tories’ “unexpected moves”, though, including the “curbing [of] the buy-to-let boom by reducing landlords’ tax relief” and the “ending [of] permanent non-dom status”, cannot hide the fact that the 2015 Budget seriously damages equality, social mobility, and the future of the country.[13] In other words, a summary of the new measures is that life is being made a whole lot more difficult for the most vulnerable people in society, and a whole lot easier for those at the top.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/08/fewer-cheap-homes-will-be_n_7754868.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

[2] http://www.blog.rippedoffbritons.com/2014/03/graphs-at-glance-in-30-years-since-1983.html#.VZ7trPm848I

[3] http://blog.shelter.org.uk/2015/07/budget-2015-unpicking-the-unravelling-of-housing-benefit/

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-governments-housing-benefit-cuts-will-increase-homelessness-says-major-charity-10376951.html

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33463864?ocid=socialflow_twitter

[6] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-33437115

[7] http://www.jrf.org.uk/media-centre/emergency-budget?utm_content=buffer62b62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[8] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33463864?ocid=socialflow_twitter

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jul/09/students-react-to-the-scrapping-of-maintenance-grants?CMP=share_btn_tw

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/07/corporate-welfare-a-93bn-handshake

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/08/budget-2015-verdict-writers-george-osborne

[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tim-farron/budget-2015-lib-dems_b_7754058.html

[13] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/08/budget-2015-verdict-writers-george-osborne

Posted in Budget 2015, Conservative Party, Conservatives, Labour Party, New Labour, Tories, UK, UK Elections 2015, UK Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump Attacks Society’s Most Vulnerable

Donald Trump may not be a serious candidate for the US presidency, but he does represent an ignorant, hateful, and paranoid viewpoint on migration that is unfortunately defended all too often in some right-wing circles.

One point in particular that I wish to pick up on is Trump’s comment about “the worst elements in Mexico… being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government”. Now, civilians are indeed being pushed out of their communities by the neoliberal policies of dispossession that have been underway for many years in Mexico, but Trump’s classist slur on such migrants (horrific and erroneous as it is) distracts us from the real issue – that the ‘worst elements’ of the country have not been pushed out by the government but are actually IN the Mexican government, and they bend over consistently to powerful Western capitalists like Trump.

At the same time, the powerful drug cartels – which prey like parasites on the desperation of exploited communities in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America (and are thus at the top of the list of ‘the worst elements in Mexico’ alongside the members of the Bad Government and the exploitative corporations which bankroll them) – are very much in Mexico to stay. After all, why would they leave when they have all the luxury they could ever want right where they currently live?

In short, if we are going to qualify societal elements with superlatives like ‘worst’ or ‘best’, it is very clear that the ‘worst elements’ of society are definitely not the ones fleeing across the Mexican border into the USA. In fact, any genuine analysis of migration from Mexico into the United States will show that migrants are almost always escaping from the aforementioned ‘worst elements’ – whether they manifest themselves as extortion, dispossession, or exploitation. Furthermore, as those who stand up and fight against the ills named above are often harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, or murdered, who can possibly blame innocent civilians for leaving their homes in search of a better life? Finally, when Latin American migrants arrive in the United States, they more often than not keep their heads down, work immensely hard (usually in the toughest of jobs and for the lowest of salaries), and save as much money as they can to send home to their families.

So, does Mr Trump consider humble, hopeful, and hardworking people the ‘worst elements’ in society? And does that mean he considers corrupt politicians, murderous cartels, and exploitative corporations to be the ‘best’?

The man is clearly not someone we should trust (or even listen to), but his ignorant comments must be consistently shot down for what they are – the reactionary ramblings of a manipulative megalomaniac.

Posted in Donald Trump, Trump, US Elections 2016 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

MEXICO: Nestora Salgado’s Hunger Strike

5/26/15

Political prisoner and indigenous leader Nestora Salgado[1][2][3][4] has now been on hunger strike for 21 days. She is demanding to be released, and is also protesting the failure of the Mexican government to transfer her to a facility in Mexico City where she can receive much-needed medical care.

Last week, the final court documents were signed directing that Nestora be moved to Mexico City and the transfer was scheduled for last Friday or Saturday morning. But as of this writing, she remains in the remote maximum security prison in Tepic, Nayarit. In response, Nestora announced that she will quit taking even liquids.

Taken from http://us5.campaign-archive1.com/?u=1df2f51e18d817919a1845ecf&id=b3c1593fe2&e=c0c80fec19

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment