Tag Archives: Martin Kettle

Radical action now is the only sensible option

Radical action now is the only sensible option
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 February 2018

Today the UK faces a number of serious and interlinked threats to the public’s health and future wellbeing. Tinkering around the edges, gradual reform or triangulation-style politics are simply no longer commensurate with the challenges bearing down on us. Radical action – implemented right now – is the only realistic option.

Research consistently shows the UK has one of the highest levels of inequality – and one of the lowest levels of social mobility – in Western Europe. However, last year the Guardian reported the government’s own Social Mobility Commission found “policies have failed to significantly reduce inequality between rich and poor despite two decades of interventions by successive governments”. Headed by former Labour MP Alan Milburn, the study noted there had been “too little” progress since 1997, with many policies implemented in the past no longer fit for purpose. The study warned “that without radical and urgent reform, the social and economic divisions in British society will widen, threatening community cohesion and economic prosperity”, noted the Guardian.

Pollution is also a significant problem, with around 40,000 deaths every year in the UK attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, according to a 2016 Royal College of Physicians report. In response, the government announced in July that the UK will ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. London mayor Sadiq Khan criticised this measure, arguing Londoners needed action on pollution right now. But while Khan has introduced several important measures, including the roll out of an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the capital, in October the Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets criticised Khan himself for not going far enough. The Green Party have also highlighted the hypocrisy of Khan talking a good game on “healthy streets” while backing the plan for the Silvertown Tunnel – that is, a new urban motorway – in east London.

Turning to climate change, the future is looking bleak. Last month a new forecast published by the Met Office assessed that annual global average temperature could reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels during the next five years – already breaking the hopeful goal of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Indeed, the United Nations news service recently noted “pledges made under the Paris Agreement are only a third of what is required by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change”.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, fleshed out the danger of climate chaos in 2014: “What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.”

What is required, according to the respected climate scientists Professor Kevin Anderson and Professor Alice Bows, is for the wealthier nations to immediately adopt a de-growth strategy – wholesale systems change on a far greater scale than the allied mobilisations that ‘won’ the Second World War.

So who should we look to for assistance in implementing the radical policies that will address these threats?

The re-designed Guardian newspaper sees itself, in the words of editor Katharine Viner, as the repository for “thoughtful, progressive… and challenging” thinking. However, it is important to remember the Guardian strongly opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become leader of the Labour Party, instead lending its support to New Labourite Yvette Cooper. Before and after Corbyn was elected, a string of Guardian columnists including Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Suzanne Moore and Martin Kettle, were let loose, spewing invective, half-truths and nonsensical arguments to undermine the Islington North MP and the movement behind him.

“The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists, from moderate right to moderate left – i.e. centre journalists – who, broadly speaking, like the status quo”, Tony Benn memorably wrote in his diaries. “They like the two-party system, with no real change. They’re quite happy to live under the aegis of the Americans and NATO… they are very critical of the left… they are just the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well.”

A Corbyn-led Labour Party winning the next election on the back of energised social movements offers the best chance for significant progressive change in my lifetime. But while it is essential to defend Corbyn from establishment attacks, those who wish to address the threats I’ve listed above need to understand they will almost certainly need to push beyond Corbynism in its current guise. If Corbyn and his core leadership team can be persuaded and/or pressured to be more radical, that’s great, but if not, then the grassroots needs to be prepared to go further to achieve change.

On the environment, though Corbyn’s Labour Party put forward many good proposals in their 2017 general election manifesto, Greenpeace noted “there are some important areas for improvement” including the party’s continuing promotion of North Sea oil and gas and its “cautious support” for airport expansion in south east England. More importantly, the Labour manifesto, like the Tory Party, championed economic growth – precisely the ideology and economic path that is propelling the planet over the climate cliff.

We desperately need radical, joined-up thinking. For example, a reduction in private car use and increased funding for public transport would have number of positive knock-on effects for society beyond helping to reduce carbon emissions: a reduction in air pollution; less noise and improved quality of sleep; fewer road deaths; safer streets meaning more people walking and cycling, leading to more people exercising and less obesity and depression. All of which would lead to a reduction in stress on the NHS.

This kind of holistic thinking has long been the mainstay of the Green Party who, let’s not forget, stood aside 30 candidates for another progressive candidate they thought had a better chance of winning the seat at the last general election. It is the Green Party who have been questioning the concept of economic growth and discussing, long before Labour, the idea of a Universal Basic Income and Land Value Tax. Last month Green MEP Molly Scott Cato suggested extending VAT to all processed and factory farmed meat to help combat climate change and encourage healthier eating habits.

Though Corbyn is riding high at the moment, joining forces with the Green Party would massively strengthen the movement that has made his leadership so successful.

As the title of Canadian author Naomi Klein’s generation shaking book about climate change and capitalism argues, the size and all-encompassing nature of the climate crisis “changes everything”.

“It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand”, she explains. “And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

You can follow Ian Sinclair on Twitter on @IanJSinclair.

Polly Toynbee, Jeremy Corbyn and the limits of acceptable politics

Polly Toynbee, Jeremy Corbyn and the limits of acceptable politics
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 June 2015

“I don’t bother writing about Fox News. It is too easy”, American dissident Noam Chomsky explained in 2010. “What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that.”

The recent column about the Labour leadership contest from the Guardian’s highly influential Labour-supporting commentator Polly Toynbee provides a perfect example of Chomsky’s truism.

According to Toynbee, of the four hopefuls the Labour left candidate Jeremy Corbyn “is the free spirit, the outsider not playing by the usual political rules.” And that, apparently, is precisely the problem with the Member of Parliament for Islington North: “Unfettered by what a majority of voters beyond Islington might support in a real election, he’s a romantic, saying what no doubt many Labour members believe”. Smearing by association, Toynbee dismisses Corbyn as “a 1983 man” and “a relic”. Voting for Corbyn “is ignoring the electorate”, according to Toynbee.

Having finished her demolition, Toynbee then literally erases Corbyn from the race, arrogantly debating the prospects of “the three main contenders” before settling on the shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper as the most promising candidate.

Toynbee’s argument echoes the feelings of a large section of the so-called progressive, liberal intelligentsia. “I could probably live with any of the other candidates”, noted Labour MP and BBC commentator Alan Johnson about Corbyn, likening his politics to electoral “suicide”. Ditto the Guardian’s Martin Kettle (“Corbyn offers a programme of prelapsarian socialist purity”), the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, (Corbyn is proof “crazy Labour is alive and well”) and Blairite foot soldier David Aaronovitch.

As Chomsky said: do not go “one millimetre beyond” the limits of acceptable debate.

But how valid is Toynbee’s central criticism – that Corbyn is out of touch with public opinion? Let’s look at the polling data on some of Corbyn’s key political stances:

  • He supports a publicly run NHS, a position supported by 84 per cent of the public, according to a November 2013 YouGov poll.
  • He supports the nationalisation of the railways, a position backed by 66 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
  • He supports the nationalisation of the energy companies, a position supported by 68 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
  • He believes the Royal Mail should be publicly owned, a position supported by 67 percent of the public, according to the same poll.
  • He supports rent controls, a position supported by 60% of the public, including 42% of Conservatives, according to an April 2015 YouGov poll.
  • He opposes the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, a position John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, notes is supported by a “smallist plurality” in “the majority of polls”.
  • He strongly opposed the 2003 Iraq War, which was also opposed by the more than one million people who marched through London on 15 February 2003.
  • He has long pushed for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a position favoured by 82 per cent of the public, according to a May 2014 YouGov poll.

So, contrary to Toynbee’s assertions, Corbyn’s key political positions are in actual fact supported by a majority of the British public. (And arguably the issues that Corbyn is out of step with public opinion on, such as immigration and welfare, are those that have been engulfed in huge amounts of media-driven ignorance).

In short, if anyone is out of touch with public opinion, it is not Corbyn but Toynbee, most of the liberal intelligentsia and the three other Labour leadership contenders.