Friday, 27 March 2015

Removing out-of-touch politicians

I watched the Sky-Channel 4 ‘debate’ that kicked-off the series of television programmes covering the upcoming UK Election.

Of course, it wasn’t actually a debate: Tory leader David Cameron refused to take part in a head-to-head with his Labour counterpart Ed Miliband.  So, instead, we had the two men separately interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and questioned by members of the public.

I thought Cameron was extremely poor, looking nervous and tired.  He also struggled with some of Paxman’s questions, not because they were hard to answer but, rather, through a lack of knowledge on the Prime Minister’s part.

The leader of the Conservative Party didn’t have a clue about the number of foodbanks currently operating in the UK.  He didn’t know because it isn’t something that bothers him.  His children aren’t starving, so why should he care about the need for foodbanks? 

It was the same with zero-hours contracts.  According to Cameron, people actually want jobs that don’t guarantee hours or wages and, when work is available, provide poverty-level pay.

Ed Miliband came across slightly better: but that really isn’t much of a compliment.

The Labour leader admitted his party had got it wrong on a number of issues when they were last in government.  The supposedly razor-sharp Paxman missed the obvious question that stemmed from Miliband’s admission: why, then, should we vote for people who have already proved they are not very good at running a government?

One of the things Miliband accepted Labour had got wrong was ‘inequality’.  The former government minister and adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the last Labour Government had been “too relaxed about inequality”.

How can anyone who seeks to run a society be ‘relaxed’, never mind ‘too relaxed’, about inequality that creates unemployment, poverty and deprivation?  How can society be changed to provide hope and opportunity for everyone when the government is made-up of people who are ‘relaxed’ about the suffering caused by inequality?

Cameron and Miliband came across as very out-of-touch with the people they seek to govern.

Certainly, these two men have nothing in common with the vast majority of people across the countries that make-up the United Kingdom (which is neither united nor a Kingdom).

The two party leaders will think they know about the lives of ‘ordinary’ people, but they don’t.  Cameron and Miliband could not even begin to imagine how it feels to be without a job and not know how you are going to feed your children.  They will also fail to realise or care that the struggle of ‘ordinary’ people doesn’t just happen, nor is it the result of an evil spell cast by bad pixies.  ‘Ordinary’ people are struggling to survive every day because of decisions taken by politicians like David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

When MPs are so socially and financially insulated from the people they claim to represent, they base decisions not on what is best for society but on what those who are doing well think the rest should have.

Cameron would know how many foodbanks operate in the UK – and why they are needed – if he and his family were not cosseted and protected from the reality experienced by the majority.

Miliband and his party could only become “relaxed” about inequality because they, themselves, are high-earners for whom poverty and deprivation are unknown territories.

Of course, not all politicians are so remote and uncomprehending of how ‘ordinary’ people live.  Take the leader of the Scottish National Party, for example.

Nicola Sturgeon is a working class girl who grew up in a council house in Dreghorn, North Ayrshire.  She went to Greenwood Academy, the local comprehensive secondary school.  Nicola is not the type of person to forget her upbringing and the honest, decent people who shaped her life.

Nicola Sturgeon knows why foodbanks exist – because of vicious policies imposed by out-of-touch politicians in London – and would never find herself being “relaxed” about inequality: she saw its effects all around her as she grew up in North Ayrshire.

Scotland needs to be rid of politicians – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem  – from privileged backgrounds who think they know what is good for us ‘ordinary’ people, despite them having no knowledge of our lives and the society they have created for us.

The UK Election on May 7th can be a major stepping-stone to a Scotland where posh-boys like David Cameron and Ed Miliband no longer impose their will on the ‘plebs’, as another senior Tory might have put it.

We can start by putting first the interests of the people and removing from positions of power the Blue and Red Tories who created this society of foodbanks, zero-hours contracts and inequality.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Labour's vision for North Ayrshire


I’ll start with a shocking confession: I actually like Katy Clark (Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran).

I think she has done a good job as a constituency MP, and I agree with her on most issues...except her belief that Scotland should remain within the British Union, even if that means we have Tory Governments imposed on us after we have democratically rejected them at the ballot box.

I’ve already made clear that I will be voting SNP on May 7th: the only way for Scotland’s voice to be heard at Westminster, and for us to exert any influence at a UK level, is if we send as many SNP MPs as possible to the House of Commons.  Of course, it would be better if we just re-established Scotland as a normal independent nation, but until then we need a very large group of SNP MPs in London.

So, having stated that I like Katy Clark as an individual, I have to say the letter I got from her today is appalling.  It certainly does her no favours in her campaign to be re-elected in North Ayrshire & Arran.

Firstly, the letter in Katy Clark’s name says, “In towns across North Ayrshire and Arran we are suffering from decades of closures and deindustrialisation made worse by the Tory Government’s cuts.”

I wouldn’t argue with that assertion, but for the majority of the past two decades (13 years) we had Labour Governments, and Katy’s current British Labour Party is committed to continuing with Tory cuts.

In the North Ayrshire Labour letter, Katy Clark is then quoted saying, “I am determined to create a more radical and ambitious Labour Party”.

So, before anything can be done for Scotland or the people in North Ayrshire and Arran, Katy will first have to completely change the London-controlled British Labour Party.  Don’t hold your breath.

The letter continues, “By voting for me in May, you’ll be voting for a principled candidate who is committed to:

. An end to austerity and welfare cuts that damage the fabric of our society.
. Railways back under public ownership and buses under public accountability.
. Higher wages and better working conditions with stronger trade union rights.”

Actually, those statements are what Katy Clark would like to see; they bear no resemblance to Labour Party policy.

The British Labour Party has made clear that, if it formed the next UK government, it would stick to Tory austerity measures, including slashing a further £12bn from the ‘welfare’ budget.

The British Labour Party has no plans to take railways back into public ownership or to re-regulate bus services.

The British Labour Party’s commitment on raising wages is to see the Minimum Wage rise to £8.00 by the end of the next parliamentary term.  The Minimum Wage will rise to £6.70 in October of this year and the next parliamentary term ends in 2020.  That means the British Labour Party plans to achieve higher wages through increasing the rate of the Minimum Wage by 26-pence a year.

As for “better working conditions and stronger trade union rights”, Labour was in power from 1997 until 2010 and did absolutely nothing to amend (never mind abolish) Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws, the most draconian in Western Europe.

Is this really Labour’s best shot at persuading us to vote for them in North Ayrshire & Arran?


The Labour campaign leaflet currently dropping through letter boxes across the local constituency actually confirms that the best thing we can do on May 7th at the UK Election is vote SNP.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Budget and the UK Election

The Liberal Democrats are now beyond parody.

Facing electoral wipeout – and deservedly so – the party’s MPs last week supported a Tory budget that will result in even-deeper cuts to public services, and the greatest financial burden continuing to fall on the poorest members of society. 

The next day, Lib Dem Treasury Minister Danny Alexander made himself look foolish – even more foolish than usual – by making a speech to the UK Parliament, during which he pretended he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and set-out an imaginary ‘alternative’ budget.

Mr Alexander’s proposals were, apparently, what the Liberal Democrats would have done differently to the Tories, if they were in government: but, of course, the Lib Dems are in government.  They have supported the Tories every step of the way in imposing devastating austerity measures.  Without Lib Dem support, the Tories could not have remained in power since 2010 and could not have implemented their savage cuts.

If Danny Alexander and the Liberal Democrats really did oppose what Tory Chancellor George Osborne announced last week, they could have withheld support and refused to vote for the budget.  They didn’t.

With a UK Election just seven-weeks away, the Labour Party went into overdrive - in parliament and in every TV studio across the country – launching attacks on the Tory (and Lib Dem) budget, demanding voters kick-out David Cameron, George Osborne and their party, and telling us that an incoming Labour Government would do things very differently.  Well, that was the message Labour wanted us to get.

In another studio on the day following the Budget Statement, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme asked Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls to list the Tory proposals – on the economy, taxation, wages, benefits, public service cuts - that would be reversed by an incoming Labour Government.  Balls replied, “To be honest, there’s nothing from yesterday I would reverse”.

So, there you have it: the London-based political parties have made clear what they will do if they are elected to run the UK.

The Tories intend to continue cutting public services and wages; they want the poorest to continue paying the debts of multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators in the City of London; they will roll-out further privatisation of the health service in England (which impacts on funding made available to the SNP Government in Scotland); they will reduce taxation paid by the rich; they will spend £120bn on nuclear weapons of mass destruction that can never be used (and will make Scotland a target for nuclear annihilation by basing missiles and submarines on the Clyde); and they will continue to portray the unemployed as a lazy, sponging under-class demanding hand-outs from ‘hard-working’ taxpayers.

The Liberal Democrats have supported this Tory agenda for five years, and would continue to do so if it wasn’t for the fact most of their MPs will lose their seats at the election on May 7th.

The Labour Party, while telling us how different they are to the Tories, have confirmed there would be very little change if Ed Miliband moved into 10 Downing Street.  Let’s look again at that statement from Ed Balls: on the Tory austerity and cuts agenda announced last week by George Osborne, the man who would be Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Labour Government said, “To be honest...there’s nothing I would reverse”.

Of course, you could vote for UKIP, but only if you are insane.

British political parties have all signed-up to a right-wing, capitalist agenda that panders to the interests of multi-national corporations and banks.  Whether Cameron or Miliband is Prime Minister after May 7th, austerity will continue with ordinary women, men and children plunged into further suffering as government pursues policies designed to maximise profits for private companies.  Unless, that is, Scots decide to unite in a move that will curb the neo-liberal excesses of Westminster and will benefit the majority of citizens right across the UK.

Polls continue to show the SNP surging ahead in Scottish voting intentions: predictions have the party likely to take anything between 25 and 50 seats.  With that level of representation in the House of Commons, there is every chance the SNP would be in a position to heavily influence the actions of a future Labour Government: it is long-standing SNP policy to reject any deal that would put the Tories in power.

SNP support for a UK Labour Government would not be in the form of a coalition.  When Ed Miliband last week ‘ruled out’ a coalition with the SNP, he was ruling-out something he had never been offered.  It was like me ruling-out a date with Kylie Minogue – it was never going to happen.

A large SNP group of MPs at Westminster would be prepared to support a Labour administration only if the London-run party changed its policies on austerity (in other words, stopped copying the Tories) and on nuclear weapons.  By pulling the current Labour Party back to the political centre – away from the right-wing policy agenda created by Tony Blair and New Labour – the SNP would be doing a massive favour to ordinary women, men and children in England.  It would be ironic if it was the actions of the SNP that forced Labour to rediscover the core policies that lay behind the creation of the party, which were to give a parliamentary voice to the working class.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the SNP is a socialist party – it isn’t.  Today’s SNP has returned to its natural position, that of a moderate, centre-left social democratic party (after a disastrous flirtation with a moderate centre-right agenda under the failed leadership of John Swinney in the early 2000s, which coincided with Labour’s rebranding as the Tory-clone New Labour).

Back where it belongs, the SNP represents the moderate, left-leaning position supported by the people of Scotland.  It is for this reason that the party can expect a landslide victory in Scotland on May 7th.

The British Labour Party has abandoned Scotland: its Tory policy agenda and the decision to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the party of Margaret Thatcher in opposing the right of Scots to run our own country has brought Labour to a position unimaginable not so long ago – it is facing being reduced to a handful of seats in Scotland.   

This UK Election presents a massive opportunity for the voice of Scotland to be heard.  On this occasion we can hold the balance of power in a parliament that, until now, has treated Scotland as England’s last colony.  To achieve that powerful position – and to prevent London parties introducing further devastating cuts and austerity – we need to send as many SNP MPs as possible to Westminster.


Next year, at the Scottish Parliament Election, we can vote for whichever progressive, left-of-centre party best represents our personal beliefs – Scottish Socialist Party, Scottish Green Party for example – but this time, in order to maximise Scotland’s voice and power, we must unite behind the SNP.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Electoral Registration farce: don't let it stop you voting

The first time I was eligible to vote was on March 1st 1979 – at the referendum on a Scottish Assembly.  I’ve voted at every election since.

This week – 36 years since I first voted – I received a letter from someone called Helen D M McPhee.  Apparently, Ms McPhee is the Electoral Registration Officer for Ayrshire.  In her letter, she told me she was “unable to determine [my] application to be added to the Electoral Register”.

Ms McPhee further informed me that I must provide her with “documentary evidence to prove [my] identity”, and that if I failed to provide this before March 27th, it may result in her rejecting my application for registration. 

Along with thousands of others, I received a letter last October, which informed me the UK Government was changing the way people could be registered to vote.  Instead of the ‘head of household’ completing a form with the names of everyone living at an address and who were eligible to vote, the Westminster government now requires that everyone register individually.

There are valid reasons for this change, not least the fact that, under the old system, it was possible to make-up a name and submit it to be added to the Electoral Register, which would allow someone to vote using the fictitious name.  It was also possible for someone to be on the Electoral Register at more than one address, and so have more than one vote.  Of course, using votes secured by these methods was illegal, but detection was very difficult.

The new system of individual registration requires some personal details to be submitted with an application, which is designed to reduce electoral fraud.

According to the Electoral Commission – the body that oversees registration for the Electoral Register – the new process should be a simple matter.  The organisation says that Electoral Registration Officers (that’s Ms McPhee for Ayrshire) would use “national databases” to cross-reference names already on the register.  This, the Electoral Commission stated, meant that only those whose identity could not be confirmed by this method would have to make a new application to be added to the Electoral Register.

Apparently I was one of thousands whose names could not be verified by cross-referencing the existing Electoral Register with ‘national databases’ operated by the UK Department for Work and Pensions.  It was for this reason that I received the letter last October. 

I was told that if I wanted to be added to the new register, I must provide my date of birth and National Insurance number to the Ayrshire Valuation Joint Board in Ayr.  I did this immediately, on the same day I received their letter.

I heard nothing for 5 months, until this week when Ms McPhee got round to telling me she is “currently unable to determine” my application.

I am on the existing Electoral Register, I am registered with the local council for Council Tax purposes, I have provided my date of birth and National Insurance number, but still Ms McPhee can’t decide whether or not I should be allowed to vote.  The letter I received this week requires that I now submit to Ms McPhee a copy of my passport.

I’m not alone in this, though.  One of my friends, Alex Neil, received the same letter from Ms McPhee.  Despite having lived at the same address for over 30 years, and having voted in every election held during that period, Alex was also told Ms McPhee could not determine his application to be added to the new register.  Like me, he was instructed to prove his identity by submitting a copy of his passport.  Alex Neil is currently a Member of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government Minister for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights.

Another SNP MSP, Rob Gibson, is also going through the same process in the north of Scotland.

It turns out thousands of people – many of them students – now find themselves with significant stumbling-blocks being placed in the way of them exercising their democratic right to vote in elections.  Pensioners, too, are receiving these intimidating letters telling them to prove their identity or, potentially, lose their vote.

What appeared to be a legitimate ‘tightening-up’ of the process involved in registering to vote has turned into a farce.  Another of my friends, Jim Sillars, former MP and Deputy Leader of the SNP, this week described the situation as a “democratic emergency”, adding, “If people are being rejected incorrectly, if people are not aware of the system, then the Electoral Commission has to recognise it as a democratic emergency, step in now and get this matter sorted out because the right to vote is fundamental to a democracy.  If an administration shambles prevents someone from casting their vote then democracy is in serious trouble.”

Since the scale of the problem became known, the Electoral Commission issued a statement, saying, “It is important to be clear that no-one will come off the electoral register because of this change before the May 7 UK Parliament election, even if they have yet to move to the new electoral registers.”

So, that is okay, then.  Apparently even those of us who have been told to provide proof of our identity in order to be added to the new register will not be denied our vote at the UK Election on May 7th.  That is what the Electoral Commission says in its statement.

However, the letters bearing the name of Helen D M McPhee, Electoral Registration Officer for Ayrshire – including the one I received on March 10 – state that if I don’t provide her with a copy of my passport “by no later than 27 March 2015”, it may result in her “rejecting” my application for registration.  Ms McPhee’s deadline gave me just 13 working days to respond despite her having held onto my application for 5 months before she decided she couldn’t make a decision.

Of course, the implied threat in Ms McPhee’s letter is not that I will be prevented from voting on May 7th (should I fail to comply with her instruction), but that I would be denied a vote at future elections if she decides to exclude me from the new register.  That distinction is not immediately clear, though, and anecdotal evidence suggests many people caught-up in this electoral registration farce believe they could be denied the right to vote at the UK Election and are giving up, deciding it’s easier to just forget about attempting to have their names added to the new register.  Effectively, therefore, many people are excluding themselves from the democratic process.

This election is going to be extremely significant in terms of Scotland’s future.  Opinion pollsters and bookmakers predict a massive surge in support for the SNP, with the party in line to sweep Labour aside, securing a landslide victory and possibly holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.  However, that will only happen if Scots turn out to vote SNP on May 7th.

So, let’s be clear: despite the intimidating and threatening letters being issued in the past week by Ayrshire’s Electoral Registration Officer, Helen D M McPhee, her bosses at the Electoral Commission have said that everyone who was eligible to vote at last September’s Independence Referendum will be able to vote at the UK Election on May 7th.

That said, it is important we all check to see if we are on the Electoral Register: copies are available at local libraries in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston.  Make sure to ask the librarian to confirm the register is the one that will be in force for the UK Election on May 7th.

The Ayrshire Valuation Joint Board, which is the body currently compiling the new register (and is where Helen D M McPhee works), can be contacted on 01292 612221 or by e-mail at ero@ayrshire-vjb.gov.uk

Meanwhile, there must be a full and transparent investigation into the farce that has resulted from the UK Government’s changes to voter registration and to why people who have been eligible to vote for more than 30 years are being threatened with deletion from the Electoral Register if they don’t jump through hoops and prove their identity.


Saturday, 7 March 2015

After the love has gone

Just a few months ago we were being ‘love-bombed’.  As polls showed growing numbers of Scots backing independence, some of our friends in England were queuing-up to tell us how much they love us and our country: “Don’t go,” they pleaded, “We’re one big family.  Don’t split us up.”

The right-wing Daily Mail newspaper reported: “David Cameron will insist that Scotland ‘puts the great into Great Britain’ as he seeks to love-bomb voters north of the border considering voting for independence.  The Prime Minister is embarking on a two-day anti-independence tour of Scotland following jitters in Westminster about the state of the ‘no’ campaign ahead of the referendum.  Speaking in Glasgow, he will declare: ‘My message is simple. We want Scotland to stay.’”

One ‘love-bomb’ in particular received blanket coverage in the print and broadcast media.  It took the form of a letter to the people of Scotland, again playing on the theme of “we’re a family and we love you – please don’t go”.  The letter was put-together by Dan Snow, best-known for presenting television programmes about historic military conflicts.  What wasn’t widely reported at the time was the fact Mr Snow is ‘in with the bricks’ of the London-based, right-wing elite that runs the UK.  Before her marriage to Dan, Mrs Snow was Lady Edwina Grosvenor, daughter of the Duke of Westminster.  Her brother is a godparent to Prince George (third in line to the throne) and in 2014 her daddy’s personal wealth was reported to be around £8bn, most of it accrued from ownership of land and property.

Clearly, Dan Snow’s motivation for urging Scots to reject controlling their own country was based on his in-depth understanding of our lives and a concern that, without London-based politicians looking after our affairs, the near utopia we currently enjoy could be endangered.

The Snow ‘love-bomb’ was signed by many English ‘personalities’ who, apparently, have a great love for Scotland and share Dan’s deep concern for our wellbeing; people like Sir Mick Jagger, Dame Judi Dench, Sir David Attenborough, David Bowie, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Michael Parkinson, Dame Vera Lynn, Sting, Melvyn Bragg and Lord Alan Sugar.

Of course, to a certain extent, the “we’re one family, please don’t go” love-letters worked, given that they fed-into the ‘No’ campaign, which secured a 10% majority in the Independence Referendum, resulting in Scotland remaining part of the loving family that is the British Union.

We’ll, that was then and this is now. 

The American disco/soul band Earth, Wind and Fire had a UK number 1 in 1979 with a track called ‘After The Love Has Gone’.  If, like me, you are old enough, you may remember the classic line form the song – “After the love has gone, how could you lead me on?” – which many Scots who rejected independence should now be asking themselves.

In the past week, the Daily Mail – the same newspaper that last year reported the ‘love-bombing’ of Scots – carried an opinion column by right-wing journalist Max Hastings, which had the headline -  “The terrifying prospect of the Scots ruling England is now all too real: MAX HASTINGS on nightmare scenario facing Britain after the Election”.

The “nightmare scenario” referred to by Hastings and the Daily Mail is one where the SNP has sufficient numbers of MPs elected to Westminster that Scotland could actually have influence over what the UK Parliament does.  To the English establishment, a strong Scottish voice would be “terrifying” and a “nightmare”.

The Hastings article was carried only in English editions of the Daily Mail, it did not feature in copies of the paper sold in Scotland.  Perhaps the newspaper that once carried an editorial extolling the virtues of Herr Hitler’s policies in 1930s Germany is unaware that a modern contraption called the internet allows the wee Jockies to see what they are saying about us. Included in the Daily Mail article were these gems:

“The latest opinion poll suggests that the General Election in May could give Labour and the Tories equal representation in the Commons, with the Nationalists sweeping Scotland to hold 56 out of 59 seats, and the balance of power at Westminster.  Following such a vote, the most plausible outcome would be a Labour minority government led by Ed Miliband, and sustained in power by Nicola Sturgeon and her tartan army.  If this sounds a nightmare scenario for the English people, and indeed for everybody with a head on their shoulders throughout the UK, it is the way events could turn out if the polls are right.”

“We thus face the bleak prospect of five million Scots determining the fate of almost 60 million people in the rest of the UK.  Nicola Sturgeon would name her price for supporting Labour, which would include a dumper-truck of English taxpayers’ cash to fund the Scottish socialist dream.”

“It was, of course, a mistake for Cameron to agree to hold a Scottish independence referendum.”

“...an overwhelming majority of Scots claim the right to choose a government that will give them what they want...”

“Scots have rushed to embrace the defeated SNP. It is as if a whole people are rowing lifeboats like madmen to climb aboard the Titanic.”

“Like the French and Greeks, the Scots seem immune to rational argument about their circumstances and prospects. They simply challenge the Westminster parties to declare who will pay most for their support. Sturgeon says the current government austerity programme is ‘morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable’. She wants another £180 billion in the next parliament, paid by the English for the benefit of the Scots — this, though her nation already receives a disproportionate share of UK public spending.”

My favourite line is: “...an overwhelming majority of Scots claim the right to choose a government that will give them what they want...”  The bastards!  Where would we end up if governments actually started giving people what they want?

I also liked the Daily Mail/Max Hastings argument that: “It was, of course, a mistake for Cameron to agree to hold a Scottish independence referendum.”  In 2011, Scotland elected a Scottish National Party majority-government, which stood on a manifesto commitment of giving Scots a referendum on independence, but  the Mail/Hastings believe an English politician, representing a party with just 1 MP in Scotland, should have the power to deny the will of the Scottish people.

To top things off, last Saturday (March 7) saw a suggestion from an English Lord in relation to who should form the UK Government after May’s Westminster Election.  Lord Baker of Dorking, a former minister in Tory governments led by Margaret Thatcher, said a Labour minority government reliant on the SNP would be a “nightmare” situation for Westminster, and that a Conservative-Labour coalition may be needed to prevent the SNP holding the balance of power.  Tory and Labour again standing shoulder-to-shoulder to prevent a better deal for Scotland.

It would certainly seem the Scots are no longer loved.  It’s almost as if last year’s ‘love-bombing’ was just a lie.   

I wouldn’t for a minute equate politics with the personal trauma women suffer in abusive relationships, where one partner controls the other.  I was struck, though, by advice posted on a web site offering support to women who have had the courage to break-free from a long-term abusive relationship, but who are then contacted by their estranged partner telling them how much he actually loves them:

“Leopards don't change their spots and it's the hardest thing to do to stay strong but if you succeed and see clearly what he's trying to do then your feeling of strength and pride in yourself will keep increasing.  He's trying to gain control again.

“At the moment you're being bombarded by Mr Nice who's telling you exactly what he knows you want to hear.  He may stay as Mr Nice for a while but then Mr Angry will return, and be even angrier as you dared to even think about walking away from him and taking away his control.”

Surely Westminster politicians and the British establishment-elite could not have been so cynical?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Ukraine: Propaganda instead of news

UK mainstream media is complicit in a very dangerous and worrying strategy – the escalating demonization of Russia.

Those of us who grew up during the Cold War were used to what was then the Soviet Union being portrayed as an evil empire just waiting to invade and enslave us, if not vaporise us with their arsenal of nuclear missiles.  We were told the UK had to spend billions-of-pounds on our own nuclear weapons of mass destruction in order to deter the heathen communist hordes from sweeping across the plains of western Europe.

Led by the freedom-loving United States of America, the narrative we were fed had us as the ‘good guys’, while the ‘baddies’ were the secretive and repressive dictators plotting world domination from the Kremlin in Moscow.

Then, along came Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, with his westward-looking policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (change).  Suddenly, the Iron Curtain was being dismantled: communism crumbled as Russia embraced the capitalist economic system.  The Cold War was over, and the West had won.

The Soviet Union was broken-up and independent nations were established as a wave of democracy swept over eastern Europe.

Russians had free elections, in which the Communist Party was replaced by pro-capitalists who began privatising previously state-run industries. 

Governments and media in western countries portrayed the transformation as an entirely positive story, extolling the new warming of West-East relations and talking excitedly of the economic opportunities sure to flow from the collapse of the evil communist regime that had stood for so long against freedom and enterprise.

Actually, the government of the Soviet Union and countries of the Warsaw Pact could not have been further from communism.  The Soviet bloc was a totalitarian dictatorship, which served the interests of a ruling elite.  When the structure collapsed, many members of that elite simply ditched their Communist Party cards and reinvented themselves as free-market entrepreneurs.

Hugely successful Russian industries, such as oil and gas production, were handed-over to former Soviet officials and their friends.  People like Roman Abramovich, now owner of Chelsea Football Club, found themselves instantly transformed into billionaires.  Meanwhile, ordinary men and women in Russia discovered the concept of unemployment as their former state-provided jobs were scrapped by newly-privatised companies seeking to maximise profits.

At the head of the new capitalist Russia was Vladimir Putin, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), the Soviet Union’s notorious secret police.  This was not a man known for embracing freedom in any of its forms.  However, so long as he was prepared to allow western companies to exploit the Russian people through the international capitalist system, and was prepared to sell oil and gas to the west, then Putin’s faults and repression of minorities and opponents were not seen as important issues.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the new Russia was no longer seen as a threat to the West (primarily the United States).  In fact, it was now part of the global community of capitalist exploiters. 

Even as America and Britain launched illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia did little more than tut disapprovingly on the sidelines.  However, these wars were to have a profound effect on the views of Washington’s own ruling elite.

The number of Americans who died in their country’s ‘war’ to steal Iraq’s massive oil resources was seen to be too high by those in the corridors of power on Capitol Hill (and by ordinary Americans), so a new plan of action had to be developed.  Instead of sending-in the Marines, America would fund and supply indigenous groups in countries where Washington wanted to see regime change, with new pro-America administrations installed.

A complicit western media then reported these developments as the ‘Arab Spring’, reporting how ordinary people in countries such as Libya and Egypt had suddenly risen-up against dictators, had surprisingly found themselves in possession of massive quantities of weapons, and were determined to hold democratic elections to return power to the people.

Of course, the silly Egyptians got the democracy thing wrong at their first go: after having removed President Hosni Mubarak, effectively by way of an American-backed military coup, the people then democratically voted for a new government containing the Muslim Brotherhood.  This, though, was not the pro-America regime Washington wanted, so there had to be another ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt to overthrow the new democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi.  Egyptians got the message and in the second ‘democratic’ election they put in place the leader America wanted.

With this tactic apparently working well, the Washington military-hawks turned their attention to Europe. 

Former Soviet Union states and Warsaw Pact countries had been drawn into membership of the western capitalist club through being accepted into the European Union, where social and economic influence is exercised by three American-dominated organisations – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

Former communist states now EU members include: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.  Not so long ago all of these countries were satellites of the Russian-controlled Soviet Union.

However, the next step in America’s European hegemony was seen by Russia to be much more serious.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – the nuclear-armed international military body that had stood for generations against the Soviet Union – began expanding eastwards, accepting as members the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia (in that order).

Russia began to see a pattern emerging and, in 2013, when the European Union offered an Association Agreement to Ukraine, the prospect of the EU - almost certainly followed by NATO – edging right up onto the Russian border became a distinct possibility.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the offered EU Association Agreement, which would have meant his country agreeing to IMF controls, including cuts to public services, wages and privatisation of publicly-owned industries and assets.  Instead, Yanukovich looked east to Ukraine’s neighbour, Russia.  Putin immediately offered cheap loans to Ukraine.

America, through its European proxy, the EU, could see the unravelling of its plans to remove Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, so all of a sudden there appeared a ‘popular uprising’ by Ukrainian people determined to overthrow their democratically-elected President.

Heavily-armed and well-funded groups of protestors appeared on the streets of Kiev, including neo-Nazi, fascist organisations.

Of course, America denied any involvement in this European version of the ‘Arab Spring’, but an official document, subsequently leaked, showed US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland admitting that the United States had ‘invested’ over $5bn in supporting anti-Russian groups in Ukraine since 1991.

Backed by the US, the armed pro-western militias forced the resignation of the democratically-elected president, Viktor Yanakovich.  Ukraine’s leader had been removed by an American-funded and resourced military coup.  Western governments and media referred to it as a ‘democratic revolution’.

The reality, however, was exactly what Russia had feared – a pro-American regime, including right-wing extremists, was now in power in a nation right on its border, in a country with a large ethnic Russian population, particularly in the east (the part of Ukraine bordering Russia).

This seizure of power and the overthrow of the democratically-elected president caused fear and panic in those areas of Ukraine where the majority of people spoke Russian and considered themselves to have much more in common with Russia than the west.

In Crimea, which had once been part of Russia, a referendum on the region’s future was held.  The outcome showed 96.77% supported the creation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea affiliated to the Russian Federation.  Western governments and media reported this as Russia having annexed Crimea.

In other areas of eastern Ukraine with large Russian-speaking populations, such as Donetsk and Lugansk, people also rejected the governing regime put in place following the American-backed military coup and decided to resist the imposition of rule from Kiev.  This continues to be described by western governments and media as pro-Russian separatists or terrorists bombing and killing other Ukrainians on the orders of Vladimir Putin.

Rather than the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO, newspapers and broadcasters in the UK report the conflict in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin seeking to re-establish a ‘Greater Russia’. 

NATO is, and always has been, a front-organisation for American imperialism, while the European Union is now simply a conduit of US capitalism.  Putin’s Russia could reach an accommodation with the EU but fears the military expansionism of NATO. 

Consider how America would react if Putin reached an economic and military agreement with either Canada or Mexico.  What would Washington do if it faced Russian troops being stationed on its border?

Of course, we know how America reacted in October 1962 when the Soviet Union located missiles on Cuba.  President John F Kennedy was prepared to initiate a nuclear war.  This was despite the fact America had already deployed its own missiles in Italy and Turkey, all of which could strike directly at Moscow.  The world was saved from a nuclear holocaust when the ‘evil’ Soviets agreed to remove their weapons from Cuba.

Russia is far from being a perfect state, but the picture of the country we are currently receiving through our newspapers and broadcasters does not reflect the reality of its position and actions.

How often do we hear on our news bulletins about the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) or the 90-page document it published in September 2000 –‘ Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources For a New Century’?

PNAC was the right-wing organisation that shaped the presidency of George W Bush and, today, the people behind it still hold massive influence in relation to US government policy.

Contained in the PNAC plan for the 21st Century is the following statement:

“[We require] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the past century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.”

The document also states its goal is to “promote American global leadership,” and asserts that “American leadership is good both for America and the world”. 

The current demonization of Russia is part of a plan to once again portray that country as evil, while the American-led west are supposedly the ‘good guys’.  In fact, it is America and the west that has expanded its influence to the very doorstep of Russia.


UK broadcasters are complicit in the misreporting of what is happening in Ukraine and other parts of the world.  We are receiving propaganda in place of objective news.