Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Asocial Rioting
- How the Centre-Left Failed
- Beheading the Snakeheads
- Tories Red in Ink & Mouth
- Poland Reject a Liberal Fantasy
- Triple Whammy for Northern Ireland’s DUP
Chileans are now massively against their President. Yet they elected him 55 to 45, as recently as 2017.
I don’t know Chile’s details. I do see a general pattern of the discontented mistrusting the Centre-Left. Repudiating their best protection against injustice and inequality.
In Lebanon, protests are sadly unlikely to make anything any better.
Tunisia is quiet for now – but the one country whose Arab Spring was not a total disaster is no happier than it was before.
In Iraq, the West foolishly overthrew a Baathist government committed to shaping Iraq on Western lines. It now has a fresh set of riots against the weak coalition government resulting from their last set of elections.
Catalonia is rightly outraged by very heavy penalties on their elected leaders after an unofficial referendum for independence. Yet it seems the rest of Spain approves. Two populations locked into confrontation.
Ukraine is quiet for now. But after a hopeful start in the 1990s, they got trapped in a tragic pattern of violently rejecting whatever choice they made last time. After the first Orange Revolution, their chosen government was so hopeless that at the next election they restored the same man they had rebelled against. And a few years later, had a second Orange Revolution against that same man, with Neo-Nazi support. Elected someone more moderate – a man who made heroes of Ukrainians who served Hitler whenever Hitler would allow it, but kept it as part of the Dead Past. Yet that government was as useless as all the others. So they elected a Jewish comedian, and things could get nasty for Ukrainian Jews if he too fails.[A]
The continuous Western heroization of the futile and increasingly malicious riots in Hong Kong must have boosted riots elsewhere. The Chinese have been delighted to note this.[B] But anti-state attitudes, part of 1960s radicalism, were cleverly tapped into by the New Right. Hatred and resentment were steered towards anyone except the rich. The rich became the main cause of hardship, by shirking most tax and then demanding Austerity.
The New Right once controlled it, getting the fools to vote in a government of the rich and for the rich. Keeping voters content while the rich plundered the public purse and doing nothing for the authentic bigots. But now events run out of control.
No recent British riots. Instead, we get the self-harming populism of Brexit. Sadly likely to be endorsed by the December election.
How the Centre-Left Failed
Rioters mostly won’t vote Centre-Left, next time they have the chance. Foolish but understandable.
Blair and ‘New Labour’ did not do their duty to ordinary people. Nor did Bill Clinton or Obama. And many who elected Trump would sooner have voted for Bernie Saunders. Chose Trump because he sounded like he cared about them.
Hillary Clinton and all her boosters thought they ‘owned’ those votes. Still claim that racism defeated them. Racism counted, but was not the only thing.
When the Centre-Left shirks its duty to look after the working poor in the majority community, they put themselves on a downward spiral. They have indeed done good work for minorities. Also for women, who are still under-represented despite being half the population. But if it is just a matter of putting more black or female snouts into the trough of excessive privilege, then no wonder if white male workers are put off.
Women whose own lives are hard and getting harder may not be delighted to see more women getting the highly privileged and mostly-overpaid jobs that they themselves could never hope to have.
Back in 1992, when John Smith had replaced Kinnock as Labour leader, I said:
“Smith and Gould are both very obviously middle class. Indeed, John Prescott is the one and only serious candidate who isn’t middle class. Labour used to be a mix of ‘workers by hand and brain’. But since the 1960s, it has become increasingly dominated by middle-class public sector workers, especially teachers and lecturers. This one group accounted for no less than 113 of Labour’s candidates. (The Independent, 27th March.) This contrasts with a mere 25 who were political officers or trade union officials, and a mere 22 lawyers. No figures were given for industrial workers, or even for ordinary office workers – these are presumably so few as not to be worth recording.”[C]
I called it ‘A working-class section?’ And it remains an issue. Left or right, Labour candidates come from a very narrow range of people, and visibly privileged. Corbyn has repeated the errors of the Bennites in the 1970s, who failed to understand how much it mattered to working people to see people like themselves among the would-be leaders.
Demagogues like Johnson and Trump fake the common touch, but do at least take the trouble to fake it. And fake it quite cleverly, playing to the dreams of ordinary people that they might one day be rich and not need to bother with the needs of other people like themselves.
As for centrist and liberals, for most countries I would not even dignify them as failures. Never serious enough to qualify as failing in the modern world. Relics of a world that failed in the 1930s, and who are deluded about their own failures. Who are baffled when they then fail again, and get displaced by nasty extremists.
In Poland and in India, ruling parties cater to popular bigotry. But also pay attention to the poor and needy. Have not swallowed the New Right notion that only business interests should be looked after. Which was the view of New Labour. Which remains the creed of Britain’s Liberal Democrats.
Beheading the Snakeheads
As I write, details are still emerging of the 39 East Asians who suffocated in a container lorry smuggling them into Britain.
At first thought to be Chinese, at least one was Vietnamese, and probably several. Maybe all of them. Vietnamese and South Chinese look very similar. Vietnamese use well-established Chinese routes, sometimes with fake Chinese passports.
We learn that a Vietnamese lady texted a tragic farewell to her parents. Why could she not warn the driver that his passengers were dying? Or warn someone else, in the improbable case he thought he had a legitimate cargo?
It may be some time before we know.
Note for now that crooks are usually callous, and often foolish or stupid. They normally put their own safety above other people’s lives. This time it went massively wrong for them, but it’s not likely to change others not yet caught. So since money is the main motive, go after the money.
Specifically, both China and Vietnam should offer amnesty for families who have paid out tens of thousands to get a family member into Britain for work that pays a lot better than similar work at home. So let the state authorities say that such debts need not be paid. Set the police the task of protecting those families from debt collectors.
With less prospect of being paid, the business will become less popular with criminals. And if fees go up, less people will try it. This, of course, depends on having a police force tough enough to scare the criminals. And political leaders powerful enough to give orders to the police and be obeyed. Obeyed even if some of those police are corrupt. The corrupt have little loyalty to each other, which is an advantage to anyone with enough power to frighten them. China has such a system and needs it, which is why I have rejected the widespread criticism of President Xi.[D]
A harsh authoritarian government is not ideal. But it is a lot better than a weakly governed society that has elections but is dominated by corrupt elites. Yemen, now in chaos, had a system of multi-party elections from 1993.[E] Yet even that was better than a complete breakdown.
The generation that actually defeated Hitler knew that it was bad government that was the problem, not government as such. My own Baby Boomer generation challenged authority as such, rather than calling for authority to behave better, which mostly happened contrary to our wishes. And most of them were won over by Thatcher, with ageing Baby Boomers now the solid basis for modern Toryism. Backing a system that has only been good for a small more-than-millionaire elite.
Tories Red in Ink & Mouth
With New Right politics falling apart, some of them are looking to Darwin to prove their views true. To prove them unavoidable in the long run.
The big error of ‘Social Darwinism’ is that it supposes that Natural Selection is mostly about struggle between individuals, with the superior individuals winning out.
Darwin’s own work assumed it was a matter of progress by interbreeding groups called species. Later work confirms this.
Natural Selection mostly does not produce anything superior. We humans stand at the end of a long chain of slightly superior types that won out. Beginning with the mysterious origin of the Eukaryotes, the complex cells that are the basis for everything from an amoeba to a mushroom, an oak tree or an elephant.
The first and basic form of life was very simple microbes; bacteria and archaea. They show no signs of producing anything more complex than they originally were.
Among animals, there are more species of parasites than anything else. Vast numbers that lost whatever spark of intelligence they once had. That’s the flip-side of Natural Selection: it has nothing to do with our idea of progress or virtue.
Among complex animals, many of them might have produced an intelligent species, but the path to it is hard indeed. Human ancestors were rare. There is a respectable view that modern humans came close to extinction in a sudden cold snap, 71,000 years ago.[F]
It may well be that life in other solar systems mostly remains simple and microbial. That our world is an exception in producing life; and a very rare exception in producing intelligent life. That we are cosmic millionaire lottery winners. Except that Earthly non-winners know that the winner is exceptional. Other planets that have only simple life have nothing there to observe that they are the norm.
And while the New Right talk tough, most of them are not authentic ‘red in tooth and claw’ characters, as the Nazis were and as the older sort of conservative often were. Mostly loudmouths. A ‘Book of New Right Martyrs’ would have few entries – none I can think of.
I call them ‘Red in Ink – ‘red ink’ was the normal term for debt when it was all done with pen-and-ink. There has been great suspicion over a whole string of apparently flourishing companies that took on enormous debts, gave enormous salaries and bonuses to top managers, and then collapsed with many ordinary people hurt.
There is an episode of the TV gangster series The Sopranos, in which they take over a company, load it up with massive debts and then get out with their money before the crash comes. Happens a lot in real life, and mostly treated as legal.
Poland Reject a Liberal Fantasy
“During the past four years, many have seen their everyday lives improved by the batch of generous welfare policies that Law and Justice has introduced. Others have been cheered by its promotion of Catholic-infused conservative values. When they vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election, it will be to keep those policies. And with opinion polls suggesting a lead of more than 15 points, the party is likely to emerge victorious.”[G]
“Four years ago, Agnieszka and Adam Kowalczyk were struggling. They both had full-time jobs — she as a teacher and he as an electrician — yet month after month they found themselves falling deeper into debt.
“So when Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice Party promised voters that they would introduce a generous infusion of cash for families with children, the Kowalczyks figured they would give them a chance — even if they were deeply skeptical…
“Law and Justice not only kept its promise, it also set out on the most radical overhaul of the economy in a generation — one that has built a floor under low- and middle-income families and proved wildly popular with voters like the Kowalczyks.”[H]
That as I understand it does not mean I like it. Before the 1990s, it was natural to show sympathy for the Poles. They were treated appallingly by the Allies and then the Soviet Union. But being now free, they show that they can be pretty appalling themselves.
Triple Whammy for Northern Ireland’s DUP
Three defeats in quick succession for the main party of Northern Ireland’s dwindling Protestant majority.
Johnson dumped them to get Brexit done. Under his silly-boy image, he has a ruthlessness that Theresa May lacked – or at least could not show to ‘her sort of person’. And he is likely to get the solid majority he needs to secure it. Racism, the ‘hate that dare not speak its name’, played a big role in the original Brexit vote. People seldom admit to it to pollsters. But all British votes are secret, individual and socially fragmented.
I suspected as far back as early September that Johnson and other leading Tories might be glad to see Northern Ireland and Scotland go. Not sorry if Wales also departed. [I]
I had however overlooked a significant amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill made by the House of Lords.
“It means same sex marriage and abortion reform will be introduced in Northern Ireland unless devolution is restored by 21 October.”
You’d have thought politicians would have figured it was better to make peace with Sinn Fein on the Irish Language etc., rather than be defeated on what is to them a key issue.
Assuming they even believe that. It seems a majority of their voters do not.[J] Leaders have to please their activists, and sometimes do not really share their views. Who knows?
But leaders elected by a popular vote don’t always become politicians. Not people able to operate a system where other elected leaders may have very different views. Populist leaders sometimes carry on demanding that other people agree with them, rather than doing the messy process of give-and-take.
Insist that all of their demands be met, to the bitter end. And mostly it is a very bitter end.
Brexit – Patriots Led by Spivs
“The fact is that the capitalists who do support Brexit tend to be very loosely tied to the British economy. This is true of hedge funds, of course – but also true for manufacturers such as Sir James Dyson, who no longer produces in the UK. The owners of several Brexiter newspapers are foreign, or tax resident abroad – as is the pro-Brexit billionaire Sir James Ratcliffe of Ineos.
“But the real story is something much bigger. What is interesting is not so much the connections between capital and the Tory party but their increasing disconnection. Today much of the capital in Britain is not British and not linked to the Conservative party – where for most of the 20th century things looked very different…
“Since the 1970s things have changed radically. Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer one where British capitalism does the world’s business. Everywhere in the UK there are foreign-owned enterprises, many of them nationalised industries, building nuclear reactors and running train services from overseas. When the car industry speaks, it is not as British industry but as foreign enterprise in the UK.”[K]
Massive sale of public assets and more unemployment and austerity will happen if Johnson wins in December.
Rules on Snooping
“US, UK and Australia urge Facebook to create backdoor access to encrypted messages
“Facebook says it opposes calls for backdoors that would ‘undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere’”[L]
The public find it hard to follow the official Western line on surveillance. That it is WICKED when done by China. VIRTUOUS when done by the West.
As with the Hong Kong riots, ‘sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’.
Myself, I can see the dangers. But illegal and secret organisations are likely to be worse. Professional criminals are less of a threat to normal people when the police dominate.
In Northern Ireland, the IRA had to be an unofficial police when waging war against the state. Abandoned this when making peace. But I’m confident that IRA law enforcement was about as good as you’d get for an illegal self-appointed authority.
IRA law enforcement assuredly was not nice or gentle. Liberals sound genuinely shocked at some stories that have emerged. Me, I always assumed something of the sort was happening.
I also did not support them. But assumed that other underground movements I did support had been much harsher and less tolerant. Real life is often a choice of evils.
“As large-scale labor-intensive industries begin to form in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, thousands of young people and women are going into the factories through government poverty alleviation projects, a development indicating that the rise of China’s western region is set to enter a new stage…
“If they just follow the model for a few more years, people in Xinjiang will see their living standards rise to the national average, which may even be higher than in some other provincial-level regions.
“That moment will be a miracle in China and the world. With the rise of its manufacturing, Xinjiang, a region that is home to a large population of Muslim people, is likely to offer the Islamic world a development model. Rumors about China’s crackdown on freedom of religious belief and violation of human rights in Xinjiang are doomed to be smashed in the face of reality.”[M]
Absorbing a tradition-minded population into modern industry worked in Europe and the USA. Is working in the independent former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. And my advice to Uyghurs and other stateless nations has always been ‘talk of International Morality has always been a sham. You should make the best of the options actually open’.
Previous Newsnotes are at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/. I blog every month or so at https://www.quora.com/q/pwgwxusqvnzzrlzm/stats. I tweet at @GwydionMW.
[C] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/magazines-020-to-029/magazine-029-not-yet-placed/labour-needs-a-working-class-section/. Brian Gould was the only other candidate in that leadership election.