Friday, July 01, 2016

The Immigration problem

I partially watched Question Time last night, partly because I turned over late, and partly because I turned off early.  It was a frustrating experience, because of the things that weren't said as much as the things that were.

The comedian on the panel, Russell Kane, talked about the attitude of his family towards the result and said that Labour had failed to take up the initiative on immigration and address the problems which the people in the country have with it.  He also gave us a window on the xenophobia, saying that his relatives were dancing around the room declaiming that the immigrants who were undercutting their jobs as plumbers and builders, were "going home".

In a nutshell, this is the problem facing all parties in the wake of the referendum vote.  The Leave campaign made a number of promises they couldn't have a hope of keeping (not least all the money for the EU going to the NHS) and that a vote for "Leave" was a vote for controls on immigration.

The problem all parties face is that it can't be, unless we abandon all hope of trading with EU countries and maintaining a relationship with the EU.  This, I believe, is at the heart of Labour's inability to deal with the immigration issue: any realist will tell you that if you want to do business in future with the EU under the single market, migration of labour will be a part of that.

I'm not saying that I think immigration controls would be a bad thing - I have been astonished at how little planning councils and government do for changes in population - but that they are impossible to impose in the way the Brexiteers promised if we continue to trade freely with the EU.

Now, I know that a lot of the people who voted for Brexit for the reason that they feel they are being unfairly affected by the incoming immigrants, will simply declare that we should give up the single market for that reason.  But then we have the overwhelming problem of how to handle the people who are living here under the freedom of labour within the EU - and all the British people abroad who are happily working elsewhere in the EU.  Untangling that isn't going to happen overnight or next week or next year... it's a complex and very costly exercise you're looking at, with ramifications which extend beyond our borders and beyond.

The rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is going to get worse if we don't do something about it, because the people who are threatened by immigration are not likely to be listening to reason arguments about the impossibility of doing what they were promised.  The problem is that their anger is likely to be directed at what they perceive to be the problem - the immigrants - and not towards the people who really deserve their ire.  The self-serving bunch of fools who made the promises in the first place.

Our country has been strengthened by immigration over the course of centuries - from the Romans to the waves of Jewish and Caribbean and Asian immigrants in the 20th century.  The addition of people in times of plenty was positive, adding colour and cuisine to the country.  A lot of the problems we have at the moment are entirely caused by austerity - the NHS underfunded, social housing sold off or under-replaced, unemployment high in areas where old industries have been killed off or died.  But it is easy to see why people who are directly affected by a drop in income because they are experiencing what they perceive as unfair competition from the immigrant community might place the blame on their neighbour and not on the government.

Solving the problem properly requires investment in the social fabric, to the NHS and the social services and social housing.  I think it also makes sense for there to be changes to the rules on free movement of labour, especially when there is a big disparity in living standards between a newly-joined state and the other places in the EU.  It stops states being able to plan for their populations if there can be mass migration from one place to another without any controls.  And moving because you have a job in another state is rather different from moving to another state because you can make more money there.  We have opted out of being able to influence a change, although it is questionable whether there is a will to make that change in the other countries of the EU.

The people who are doing manual or labouring jobs don't have any protection in the current climate.  They don't have job security, they don't have the safety net that once was offered to them, and they don't have the same level of housing benefit or social security to fall back on if they lose their job or come to the end of a contract.  If they are self employed things are even more precarious.  It isn't surprising that they are the ones who feel most threatened by an influx of people.  They are also more likely to be living in areas where there is cheap housing, which attracts people in similar trades.

In the end, people thought they were voting for a couple of things.  Extra investment for the NHS.  Controls on immigration.  The remain camp weren't able to offer anything to counter those promises except more of the same.  It's only surprising to me that the vote wasn't even more decisive.  And our problem now is that no-one can deliver on the promises made.  And that's going to make people angry.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister

The referendum result and the chaos in both Tory and Labour parties have forced us to review what we are looking for in leader.  I was appalled to find that David Cameron, despite being paid to be Prime Minister of this country, didn't have a plan for the result which was returned on Friday after the referendum.  We pay the man to lead the country and he makes no plan for June 24.

It seems that both teams in the referendum had no more plan than "win referndum" and looked no further.  The Tories on both sides, Cameron and Johnson, pointed to each other and claimed the other should have made a plan.

Just when the Labour Party could have held the Tories to account, they decided instead to play a game with the leadership of the Labour Party.  Despite Jeremy Corbyn being elected with the largest mandate ever, they decided to blame him - not the people who made absurd claims about the money that could go to the NHS (Johnson, Farage Gisela Stewart), not the people who had made absurd claims about the possibility of access to the single market AND controlling EU immigration, but Jeremy Corbyn was the target of their abuse.

As a paid-up member of the Labour party who joined because I was so impressed with Jeremy Corbyn, I felt betrayed.  I don't think I will be able to trust the politicians who betrayed Corbyn, simply because people like Angela Eagle praised him a few days ago, and reversed her opinion once the leadership attack was on.  Which time were you wrong, Angela, I wondered?   When you praised the gruelling schedule that Jeremy Corbyn had followed, or when you said he didn't do enough?

She didn't look towards Gisela Stewart, who allegedly came up with the £350 million a week slogan, or the others in the Brexit campaign who had been too stupid to understand that access to the single market was not a given and would come with a price tag.  She looked towards Jeremy Corbyn.

I think it was his touching honesty and total belief in the things he says which first attracted me to listen to what he was saying.  Something which is a rare gift in a politician.  If he says something you know that he believes it.  That's something I look for in a leader.  Honesty and integrity.

Over the past few days, people have resigned at regular intervals from the shadow cabinet, and people have announced their intention not to support Jeremy Corbyn.  He has withstood the blows from the people he thought he could count on, those who are ostensibly on his side, but who refer to his supporters - people from their own party - as dogs and rabble.  He has withstood this onslaught with dignity and has not descended into the sort of personal attacks that others might feel justified in making.  He's shown remarkable strength of character.  That's another thing I look for in a leader.

To listen to the parliamentary Labour Party talk, you would think that Jeremy Corbyn was so far left of centre that he was calling for the establishment of a communist state.  But everything I have heard Jeremy Corbyn talk about has been moderate, proportionate, and reasonable.  A return to the public ownership of the NHS (it's escaped the notice of a considerable number of people that we ever moved away from that), looking after the poor and disabled, housing people, giving them meaningful jobs and paying them adequately.  Reducing the gap between rich and poor.  I think they are socialist policies that all the membership would support.   And so his knowledge of what needs to happen and his grasp on the policies that need to change is impressive.  Another thing I look for in a leader:  knowledge, but an ability to say more information is needed if required.

If you were to ask me if I see these things in any of the candidate on the Tory side, I'd have to say that the only person who impresses me is Theresa May.  But she lacks the final qualities I look for in a leader: warmth, human kindness and an understanding of the lives of ordinary people.  Jeremy Corbyn doesn't use his time in parliament to build up money by claiming expenses he isn't entitled to.  In fact he doesn't claim things he is entitled to, preferring to travel on public transport, and use a bike.

He talks to people, acknowledges policemen and others he encounters in the course of his work, and spends time interacting with those that make up the electorate whoever they support politically.  I admire that in a leader.  It's too easy to become part of a Westminster-focussed club and forget there are ordinary people who have spent their hard-earned money on being able to vote for a leader in the party elections.  He doesn't forget that, and we love him for it.

The Parliamentary Labour Party may look for different things in the leader they elect.  Certainly some of them have written lies about having consulted their Constituency Labour Party before resigning, or tales of people on the doorstep demanding a change, as though the ordinary electorate are likely to say those things arbitrarily, and should be allowed to decide who the leader of the Labour Party is.  I'd have respected them a bit more if they had been honest.

Jeremy Corbyn stands for everything I want - more social justice, a return to the publicly owned NHS and looking after the environment and the people in this country.  I want him as leader of the Labour Party, and I would vote for him to be our Prime Minister in a heartbeat.  I think the PLP have seriously misjudged the mood of the country.  And if, as many people are saying, this is all about Chilcot, then woe betide them.  Because we'll support Jeremy all the way if he calls for Tony Blair to be prosecuted.  And there's bugger all they can do about that now that they've failed to oust him.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why do I support Jeremy Corbyn?

I moved north to rural Lincolnshire in 2013.  I love it.  I moved away from a constituency where I was happy to vote for my constituency MP because he had been very supportive of me and other Home Educators in 2004, when the incumbent Labour government had been threatening to change the rules to make home education much more difficult for parents.

He was an unusual Conservative: he spoke against the Iraq war, and stood on a platform with other people from other parties to oppose it.  He cared deeply about the local constituency and attended countless local events and gave his support to local people.  He was a Conservative MP but he was someone who voted with his conscience... which is probably why he was recruited to the whip's office.

Moving to another part of the country and another constituency meant that I had to re-examine the choices I had made in the past.  I think I am probably a natural Green supporter, and I am a Quaker, which means that social justice and equality are highly important to me.

I had been a Young Conservative in my misspent youth, because I associated the Conservatives with individual choice and freedom, and for reasons I can't account for I didn't feel mass movements were a positive thing.  But as I have got older I have become more and more left wing.  I have begun to connect to the things I actually believe in and the world I really want to live in, and it isn't an island of rich people surrounded by poverty, even if I were one of the rich ones.

By 2013 we had the coalition in power, and I was not at all happy at the changes that had been wrought in the welfare system, in the NHS, in the way that corporations and companies seemed to have more power and clout than the constituents that MPs were supposed to represent. I yearned for social justice, for fair pay for fair work, for a politician who wasn't on the make or screwing the expenses system, and who would stand up for ordinary people.

I joined the Green Party and eventually attended a meeting locally, but that attendance coincided with the beginnings of the leadership campaign after the Election in 2015, and as it happened, one of my social media friends posted a video of Jeremy Corbyn speaking.  I watched, found more on youtube and watched those.  Once he had confirmed that he was against fracking, I signed up to vote in the leadership election and then joined the Labour Party.  Here was someone who stood up and said the things I wanted said, who worked for the common good, and took public transport.

In the months since then, my affection and admiration for Jeremy Corbyn has only grown.  When he refused to deal in personal insults and instead insisted on dealing with the issues, when I heard him talk passionately about the need to reduce social inequality and saw how charismatic he was, my support turned into a passion to see him in government, able to implement his policies.

I was grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for something else:  before I supported him I believed we had a more or less free press and that Noam Chomsky was exaggerating when he said that the belief that we had a free press was actually as damaging as anything else.  I have been horrified by the way in which the press handled the first nine months of his leadership and how partisan they are - even the Guardian which was my paper of choice.

It's possible that the people briefing against him have been on his own side for all these months, and if that is true, I think it is disgraceful.  The democracy in the Labour Party was one of the things that drew me to it... if the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) manage to oust Corbyn against the will of the membership, that democracy is dead.

I don't want spin, or blustering politicians who don't have any principles and can spin on a penny, I want real conviction and real commitment to serving the people of the country.  That's what I find in Jeremy Corbyn and is exactly what seems to be missing from the PLP who seem to think their views on the leadership overwrite the will of the membership because they are in parliament, eeven when their own Constiituency Labour Party (CLP) are loyal to Corbyn and instruct them to be likewise, please.

I'm no fanatical SWP supporter, I'm a peaceful anti-fracking activist who believes, as Corbyn does, than in the end it all comes down to talking, and we should do that earlier, not as an afterthought.  I'm not an extremist and I offer no threats to those who are in opposition to my views.  But I'm not a pushover either.  I examine what I am told, and I think for myself.  And I support Corbyn because he has shown no lack of leadership in my estimation, only a lack of people willing to submit to leadership.

I agree with him that a resignation would only serve to betray the Labour Party members who are the party and to destroy the Labour Party as we know it.  Perhaps that is coming anyway, but I don't think we should allow the PLP or the shadowy companies and groups who support them to be the arbiters of that.  For if the Labour Party abandons democracy and Corbyn, who will stand up for them then?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TL:DR Cheer up! Stand up for what matters for you! Change the world for the better!

My children have been feeling pretty depressed by the result of the referendum, and I think that all the remain camp have been feeling low since the result.  The feeling deepened when it became clear that the Brexiteer plan was “win referendum” and they had no plan in place to deal with the fallout once they did, and the coup in the Labour Party has only made the directionless void in government even worse.

I’ve signed the petition for a second referendum because of the number and size of the lies told to the country, not least that the prospect of a free fall in the markets and prospect of a recession was “scaremongering”.  It is clear that many of the people who voted to leave thought that the gates of the UK would clang shut on the end of the count, and those people are going to be severely disappointed when they realise that the likelihood is that whoever is in government will have to agree a Norway-style agreement to the free movement of labour, which constitutes 80%+ of the movement of EU citizens. So it probably won’t change much.

The ones who thought a vote for leave was a vote for £350 millions plus to the NHS are going to discover that we will in all likelihood be paying the same to the EU and getting nothing in return, rather than the roads and fast broadband and investment for poverty-ridden areas like Cornwall.  If those areas are hoping that government will plug the gaps, they are going to find out how wrong they are.

However, we had an economy and a life before the EU and we can have one again.  During the swinging sixties we weren’t a member of the EU.  The way the country has been over the past ten years isn’t the way I want the country to be.  We’ve been chipping away at the NHS, removing the safety net for poor families, increasingly removing the very things that many people think is drawing others to the UK.  We don’t support families in crisis, we don’t provide for people who are too sick or too disabled to provide for themselves.

We are rewarding the richest in society and not demanding that they pay their fair share of tax, and we are making new laws which favour corporations and companies and not the ordinary people.  We have sold off our water, electricity, railways, and are busy selling off schools and hospitals. 

If this world isn’t the way you want it to be DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Join a political party which has a vision you can share - it won’t be 100%, there are going to be things you disagree with.  I joined the Labour Party last year once Jeremy Corbyn said that he didn’t support tracking, even though I had spent a lot of time fighting the Labour Party over their policies on Home Education.  I am naturally a member of the Green Party, but I couldn’t see that my membership was making any difference to what was actually happening, and so switched to the Labour Party.  If the coup against Jeremy Corbyn succeeds, I will join the Greens again.  

This is an ideal chance to examine what’s important to you, what sort of world you want for the future, and to decide to work towards it.  Too often the future is painted in financial markets and the prospect for interest rates and employment and not in terms of who we want to be, as people.  Do we want disabled people starving to death in their homes?  Children to be hungry at school and to need access to food banks in order to eat?  Hospitals losing money because they are paying profit to private companies? This is what we have now.  We can change it.

If you want a different type of Britain, it is time to stand up and work for it.  If you don’t feel able to join a political party, at the very least, support the causes you support, and write to your MP on a regular basis and tell him or her what you think.  They do take notice if a lot of constituents write - not the rote letters that the charities and pressure groups send out, but personal letters, will have an effect.

Set the intention, to support the things you value, and stand up for them.  I don’t think most people in the country are racist or intolerant of foreigners.  I think we are a tolerant, kind, polite society in general.  Don’t let the binary vote we were faced with change the way you think about other people.  An awful lot of them were deceived into thinking they were voting for the NHS, not against the EU.

And cheer up!  Politics is an artificial world but the sun still shines, the flowers still bloom and we have everything we had last Thursday and can make it through this morass.  And if enough people set an intention to defend the NHS, to improve life for the poor, to make the rich pay their dues, to prevent corporations from avoiding their fair share of tax… then maybe we can all change the world for the better, despite the last week.