I have, for the first and only time, followed the actions of Donald Trump - I sent in my American postal ballot and I have voted in the state I lived in. I will not flaunt the candidate’s name I checked, in case I give someone apoplexy.
I simply do not agree that the way to encourage a national working class movement is to abstain from voting. I was brought up in the Communist Party USA from birth. In my family all of my immediate relatives (including all but one of my grandparents) were diehard communists until the end.
My parents gave several years of their lives to the Progressive Party (Henry Wallace Campaign), financed by the CPUSA, from the organisation for the 1948 election to the end of the 1952 presidency. In the 20th century, this was the largest third party and it campaigned in most states (not all - finances wouldn’t allow it) until it itself fell apart. (Why it fell apart is another discussion, but being Roosevelt’s vice-president and the voice of a party which attempted to be a working class party did not necessarily mean much, as Wallace went on to become a rabid rightwinger.)
But before and after that my parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles (all but two were CPers to the end) voted in every election - for Roosevelt, against Eisenhower, against Nixon, against both Bushes, etc. I was educated to do the same - to vote for the candidate who seemed to be able to allow chinks - even if only chinks - in the anti-labour, anti-working class, virulently rightwing Republican programmes. The civil rights, equal education, housing protection and social security laws - what is excoriated by some as ‘Obamacare’ (although I always wanted to know what was wrong with caring), which gave some of the poorest Americans some medical care for the first time in their lives - were all enacted under Democratic presidents, many of whom in other spheres were nothing short of barbarians, especially in international spheres (Lyndon B Johnson comes to mind).
Should one give up and wait for the revolution to bubble up from below? Should one accept that for those who are not able to access education and job security ‘the worse things are, the better they are for the revolution’? I won’t use the word that comes to mind in this family-friendly newspaper ...
I believe that one should work for the revolution from where one starts. But it’s like the old joke: ‘I wouldn’t have started from here.’ One cannot wait until that place becomes a good place to start. As a dual national, I can vote in England and do so for the Labour Party with frustrating regularity, despite the fact that I disagree with much of its programme. After all, although Labour has the germs in it of a working class party, it is still pro-capitalist and enacts with regularity anti-working class laws. And on a smaller scale, where I live, where the Labour Party is almost hereditary, much of their programme has been argued and demonstrated against by the left. But I still vote.
In my view, there is no reason for me not to vote in my natal country because the people I am voting for are not working towards the revolution. My grandfather used to say about the USA that the revolution would not come in his lifetime, or mine, and maybe not in my children’s lifetimes, but it would come eventually. And the important thing for anyone who believed in revolution was to keep working towards it. I am doing that in Britain, and I continue to vote in England, but I am also an American, and I vote there. And if/when the revolution erupts in either country, no-one will be happier or more involved than me.
No to lockdown
The contribution from Arthur Bough is to be welcomed (Letters, October 8). For far too long opposition to the draconian lockdowns in response to Covid-19, with a few honourable exceptions, has been allowed to be monopolised by the political right.
The enthusiasm with which most of the left have wilfully suspended critical faculties and tossed rational assessment under the Covid bus for the purpose of scoring political points has been alarming. This has generally taken cover under a ridiculously simplistic ‘safety versus the bosses’ profits’ narrative, ignoring both the fact that any public policy seeking to foreground what is in the best interests of most people needs to be based on a comprehensive understanding of health, employing rationality and perspective in its assessment of risk; as well as the undeniable reality that significant sections of capital - most notably cyber capitalists - are fully behind authoritarian lockdowns and expanding their wealth to even more obscene levels as a result of it. This fact is surely not dissociated from their barely-disguised zeal in censoring dissenting voices - even those of leading scientists - on their platforms. Those most affected by the economic fallout of lockdowns continue to be the poorest.
In the process, wider issues of civil liberties, including the right to protest, are being globally suppressed. Whilst it wasn’t so long ago that thousands of people - mostly on the left - were protesting at Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for a few days in order to assist the passage of Brexit, passed in a popular vote many of them openly sought to overturn, the silence over the far more worrying suspension of civil liberties and democratic norms we have recently witnessed has in contrast been shamefully deafening.
For those interested in finding out more about the leftwing case against lockdown, I would suggest checking out the recent interview with Katherine Yih, a Harvard biologist and epidemiologist, and the professor of medicine, Martin Kulldorff, in Jacobin magazine (as well, of course, as the heroic work being done by Dr Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University). ‘Don’t do anything until everything is a 100% risk-free’ is not only a cynical and opportunistic stance, but an irrational, hysterical, unsustainable, joyless and life-annulling philosophy that risks marching us into a bio-security state where increasing authoritarianism and atomisation is justified by pious corporate virtue-signalling.
A friend on Facebook recently carried a piece by a “long-term NHS campaigner” about the difficulties she faced getting a Covid-19 test for her child, who had a temperature. It was one of a growing number of examples of the incompetence of this government’s ‘test and trace’ (lack of) strategy. She describes the problems she faced, as did a woman in my local paper. From Reading she tried Newbury without luck, and was then sent to Swindon. There she says there were at least 10 testing bays, but only two other cars waiting, yet that morning she had seen posts from people desperate to get a test.
The woman on Facebook went on to talk about possibly the biggest fly in the ointment - the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This set up NHS England and, as it says in Wikipedia, “It oversees the budget, planning, delivery and day-to-day operation of the commissioning side”. So, as many have pointed out, we no longer have a national health service, but just a commissioning agency to dole out work - or rather taxpayers’ money - to whoever the government thinks is worthy.
The blessed Clement Attlee’s government founded the NHS in 1948, as we are constantly reminded by the Labour Party, but they haven’t had an awful lot to cheer us up with lately. It was done in the teeth of Tory opposition, as they constantly fail to remind us, but the Labour government was already proposing charges in 1951 - for prescriptions, and dental and optical care. Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson resigned from the government in protest.
Charges haven’t stopped going up since. I’m a pensioner and I can get free eye tests, but still have to pay the high cost of spectacles. Dental inspections (hopefully they will return one day) have to be paid for even on an NHS inspection and I paid several hundred pounds for a partial plate a few years ago. I don’t have to pay for prescriptions, but for those that do they are now £9.15 per item, which is one hell of a lot of money. Meanwhile, privatisation continues apace: clinics, hospital operations - including those in NHS hospitals - but the clinics all bear the NHS logo. The new owners like the reputation, and they like the money even more.
Labour governments have done their bit: the best known ‘bits’ perhaps were their ‘public-private partnerships’ to build hospitals and saddle the NHS with huge debts; and the long running saga of the failed IT system for patient records - this was eventually abandoned when costs reached around £10 billion. That cost does, it must be said, look like chicken feed now.
It would be interesting to know how much of the NHS and its services have been privatised: how much has it been hollowed out? Who would know? There are academics who follow this, but how accessible is the information? I think we can be confident that the government doesn’t want us to know - and neither do the mainstream media. We’ve seen the large sums thrown at the private sector during Covid. We’ve seen the tales, as with the tests, of how useless they are, but the Tories are intent on this. Money for the private sector - especially if they donate to the right party and politicians.
We’ve also seen that the public sector, the NHS, local authorities, etc have been very effective, but starved of cash, and so rely on the hard work and good will of their employees. Much of this has been reported, but so what? The Guardian, for instance will report some scandals and that’s it - job done. But, the trouble is that ‘drip, drip, drip’ is becoming ‘torrent, torrent, flood’.
The most recent scandal I’ve seen reported was an article in The Guardian headed “NHS trusts warn fines for missing waiting list targets ‘mad and unfair’” (October 12). They’ve got to get “non-emergency operations to near-normal levels by the end of this month”. This is plainly not on. It would be bad enough without Covid, but now it’s ‘Get your operations up to date or we’ll take away the money that you need to do it!’ And with Covid it looks like sheer, sadistic stupidity.
But, despite appearances, they don’t really do ‘stupidity’: sadism, yes, but not stupidity. They do these things on purpose. To privatise the NHS you have to try at least to reduce its popularity; one way of doing that - in fact the best way - is to defund it. Make those who can afford it go private, while those who can’t can be left to die.
Who’s going to do anything about it? Not the Labour (‘Just you wait for four years’) Party. The trouble is, within four years the US corporations may own all of the NHS and we’ll be paying their prices. UK politicians won’t mind - there are plenty of rewarding sinecures given for their help.
The working class needs its own press to lead the fight and to tell the truth. There are plenty of blogs and online sites that do the truth bit already, but we need the resources of a mass party to do the job properly.
The figure of 38,423 is etched on my brain. This is the number of votes my Tory MP, Steve Barclay, received in the December 2019 general election. With a majority of 29,993 it makes North East Cambridgeshire the eighth safest Tory seat in England.
Whilst this constituency - more commonly known as Fenland - is not located in the Midlands or the north of England, it does have some similarities with the 56 so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats which voted for Eton-toff Boris Johnson. In Fenland the working class gave up on the Labour Party during the era of Tony Blair’s New Labour. It is several years since Labour had any town, parish, district or county council seats.
To give me an idea why so many working class people continue to vote Tory in Fenland, I recently read two books about the collapse in the Labour vote in the Red Wall seats and the 700,000 former lifelong Labour voters in these seats who voted Tory for the first time in December 2019. The two books are The fall of the Red Wall: the Labour Party no longer represents people like us by Steve Rayson and Beyond the Red Wall: why Labour lost, how the Conservatives won and what will happen next by Deborah Mattinson.
The former book is written by a budding academic and includes a wide-ranging investigation of research into the last general election. The latter concentrates on post-election focus groups in the six months following the election, carried out in Accrington, Darlington and Stoke. Both books conclude that Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn were not the cause of 700,000 people voting for the party led by the Eton toff for the first time, but were a symptom of a great malaise at work, starting with the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.
Both books refer to focus groups and analysis carried out in the 56 Red Wall seats by Lord Michael Ashcroft, and by the rightwing Labour Together group, which is a front for the Blairite Labour pressure groups, Progress and Labour First. Deborah Mattinson was also Gordon Brown’s focus group guru when he was prime minister, so you can see where she is coming from. However, her book does give a very good insight into the preferences and prejudices of former working class Labour voters, who are now supporters of Boris Johnson.
At the same time, Steve Rayson’s book explains how superficial most people’s interest is in politics and current affairs, noting that they mostly spend just four minutes a week observing these topics on TV, in newspapers and on social media. Deborah Mattinson details how most of the women in her focus groups in Accrington, Darlington and Stoke work in retail, heath or social care - some having to do two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Most of the men in the groups have been made redundant several times and some of them work as self-employed painters and decorators, plumbers, electricians and construction workers.
The members of these focus groups are concerned about the decline of manufacturing industry in their areas and are worried about the state of their town centres, including the often boarded up shops in the high street. A good indicator of a Red Wall seat is that the majority of people voted ‘leave’ in 2016. Another indicator is the closure or impending closure of the local Marks and Spencer shop. The contrasts between the ‘anywhere’ graduates, who occupy the nearby cities, and the ‘somewhere’ non-graduates in the small towns surrounding the cities is clearly evident - a ‘somewhere’ person being defined as someone who lives within 15 miles of his or her mother.
Both books fail to note the ineffectiveness of the 13 years of New Labour government in doing anything for the economies of the Red Wall seats, apart from the building of warehouses for companies and call centres - the latter being mostly zero-hours, minimum-wage jobs. At the same time, the two authors fail to note the effect of the failure of Labour councils to oppose cuts in the grant given by central government to local government since 2010. Similarly, former Labour parliamentary strongholds such as in the north-east were used as a launchpad for entry into national politics in Sedgefield (Tony Blair), Darlington (Alan Milburn), Sunderland (David Miliband) and Hartlepool (Peter Mandelson). Just as in Scotland, the Labour Party in these rotten boroughs deserved what happened to them on December 12 last year.
The conclusion from both books is that Labour needs a new Tony Blair - Sir Keir Starmer? And that Labour needs to be more patriotic and anti-migrant by campaigning for a points-based immigration system. The former has already been taken up by Starmer and it is only time before he descends into anti-migrant rhetoric. In Deborah Mattinson’s focus groups it came up time and time again that the Labour Party does not look like or represent working class people any more. Interestingly one participant said that Labour MPs should live on a worker’s wage with realistic expenses, in order that they understand what it means to have to make ends meet every week. I can’t see Labour agreeing to this.
Only buy these two books if you are really interested in why 700,000 former Labour voters decided to vote Conservative. Otherwise, just check out the numerous reviews of the two books on Amazon.
Thanks again to Gary Simons, whose letter on one level contains many interesting points, most of which I actually agree with (Letters, October 8). Unfortunately Gary continues to demonstrate an uncanny ability to either misunderstand or misrepresent what I am saying.
Before I tackle some of these misrepresentations, I feel inclined to remind readers that Gary’s letters have been in response to an article I wrote a few weeks ago about the government’s recently published UK strategy attempting to tackle the problem of obesity; an article where I think I quite clearly took the position that not only was this strategy woefully inadequate, but that the increasing incidence of obesity is very much a symptom of modern capitalism - not “biological maladaptation by humans”, as Gary Simons insists is my position (‘Worse than useless’, September 4).
Capitalism is a system that subjects the working class to an environment that is obesogenic - where they are subjected to the double burden of obesity and malnutrition. To quote the article, “The oligopolistic food industry has led to the homogenisation of global diets in favour of highly processed, high-calorie, but nutritionally poor foods.” I have argued that human biology has evolved in an environment very different from the one that capitalism exposes us to - a system that has been around an insignificant amount of time in evolutionary terms.
Gary Simons also seems determined to have me believe that modern-day obesity is a “simple result of higher calorie intake and lower energy expenditure among people in capitalist societies”. Again not true: the calorie in/out balance is just one factor - another being, as Gary mentions, the quality of foods we are subjected to. I have previously written about the harmful metabolic consequences of sugar and particularly the toxic effects of fructose - a favoured ingredient of modern food manufacturers (‘The bitter taste of capitalism’, August 13 2015). The addition of sugar to the majority of processed foods makes them both calorie-dense and nutritionally poor. This is implicated in the increasing incidence of type‑2 diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndromes.
I am sorry to disappoint Gary Simons, but the notion that not all calories are equivalent from the point of view of human metabolism does not “wildly contradict” my world view.