" Madam Miaow Says: November 2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Boycott Topshop and tax-avoiding oligarchs

Student occupation of Topshop

Here's a vivid example of the oligarchs currently fleecing the nation of tax revenue while also advising the coalition government on cutting public services. I wonder if Ferdinand Mount is as hard on Tory favourite "Sir" Phillip Green as he is on the infrastructure in which the rest of us survive. (See my last post on Mount's defence of the ConDems.)

As much as it pains me to refrain from purchasing from one of my preferred frockeries, I would rather go naked than put another penny into Green's piggy hands. He famously paid himself a dividend of £1.2 billion from profits by his Arcadia group (Topshop, Miss Selfridge, BHS and others), but made the cheque out to his wife, a resident of Monaco, thereby escaping a tax bill of some £280 million. And now he's wrecking lives of countless people by colluding with the thieving Bullingdonites running and ruining the country.

UKuncut organised an occupation of Topshop yesterday, a spokesman promising: "If you bring your market into our education, we will bring our education into your market."
"At 1.30pm on Monday 29th November, a group of students and citizens fighting cuts used Twitter and Facebook to organise a flashmob against Topshop where they staged a public lecture on the dangers of debt. Dressed as prisoners in a chain gang, enslaved to debt, they protested at Topshop's flagship store in Oxford Street."

Watch out for the spirited Laurie Penny in the video.

TOPSHOP ACTION DAY SATURDAY DECEMBER 4TH

UKuncut website
UKuncut on Twitter


Richest 1,000 could pay off the deficit here

Boycott Topshop and tax-avoiding oligarchs

Student occupation of Topshop

Here's a vivid example of the oligarchs currently fleecing the nation of tax revenue while also advising the coalition government on cutting public services. I wonder if Ferdinand Mount is as hard on Tory favourite "Sir" Phillip Green as he is on the infrastructure in which the rest of us survive. (See my last post on Mount's defence of the ConDems.)

As much as it pains me to refrain from purchasing from one of my preferred frockeries, I would rather go naked than put another penny into Green's piggy hands. He famously paid himself a dividend of £1.2 billion from profits by his Arcadia group (Topshop, Miss Selfridge, BHS and others), but made the cheque out to his wife, a resident of Monaco, thereby escaping a tax bill of some £280 million. And now he's wrecking lives of countless people by colluding with the thieving Bullingdonites running and ruining the country.

UKuncut organised an occupation of Topshop yesterday, a spokesman promising: "If you bring your market into our education, we will bring our education into your market."
"At 1.30pm on Monday 29th November, a group of students and citizens fighting cuts used Twitter and Facebook to organise a flashmob against Topshop where they staged a public lecture on the dangers of debt. Dressed as prisoners in a chain gang, enslaved to debt, they protested at Topshop's flagship store in Oxford Street."

Watch out for the spirited Laurie Penny in the video.

TOPSHOP ACTION DAY SATURDAY DECEMBER 4TH

UKuncut website
UKuncut on Twitter


Richest 1,000 could pay off the deficit here

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Ferdinand Mount's 'Orwell on the Oligarchs' lecture: how George would have loved the Tory cuts

Ferdinand Mount George Orwell memorial lecture
Well, I saw this coming a mile off. I knew that Ferdinand Mount was a novelist, Sunday Times columnist, Thatcher-era Tory grandee and former TLS editor when I heard him deliver his talk on 'Orwell and the Oligarchs' last night at the annual George Orwell Memorial Lecture hosted by Birkbeck. However, I had no idea he was also a cousin of David Cameron's Mum and a former baronet, yet I still managed to guess, about ten minutes in, on which side his fois gras was buttered.

More sophisticated than John Lloyd, whose carefully selected quotes at last week's talk on Orwell and Russia skewed Orwell into a hater of all things socialist rather than someone opposed to the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution, Ferdy knew how to get his audience on board.

He began well enough with the bleedin' obvious crowd-pleasing observation that the new oligarchs of business are having a larf with their pay. Directors are trousering hundreds of times the average pay of their own workers and Ferdy laid out how it's done with satirical aplomb.

Remuneration for boards of directors is out of control and has little to do with worth, stitched up by "mutual admiration societies" of executives and non-executives, leading to widescale looting and pillaging.

He highlighted the case of US company Household, bought by HSBC for £9 billion and which turned out to be an aggressive lender in the sub-prime market. Its inevitable fall was one of the first examples of collapse leading to the recession.

And yet ...

Building up to a full head of steam, he pleaded for self-examination, pointing out that while Marx and others in the leftist pantheon were willing to tear the mask off others, they failed to fully introspect themselves. And so Ferdy showed us how to do it, generously allowing himself the assumption that his way was the straight and narrow, pursued with enviable crystal clarity.

Thus Ferdy took us from George Orwell's critique of James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and through to his own conclusion. Burnham, according to my Lovely Companion, made the rightward trek from Trotskyist to "ferocious right-wing-conservative". But he didn't travel far enough to the right for Ferdy, who detected a residual Trotskyism in Burnham's analysis that "capitalism was doomed". The state would take over, he warned, and rentier private capital would be smashed rather than retain any place in business. Orwell disagreed, foreseeing a trajectory towards an oligarchy where bankers and managers displaced scientists and productive talent, snatching a disproportionate share of the rewards. Power would be concentrated in fewer hands at the top and, indeed, Britain now has one of the most concentrated power elites in Europe.

And how does this destructive state of affairs manifest?

Not in the rich and powerful who make up the oligarchy: the upper classes salting away their cash in tax havens, dominating the media, and sucking out all the wealth with devil-take-the-hindmost gusto, apparently. Not in the smashing up our arts, culture and education and returning us to Victorian levels of poverty.

According to Ferdy, it is centralised government that is the Big Bad. After all that preamble, with one bound banking and business were suddenly off the hook and out of the equation, while the "thickening networks of controls" and "gigantism" were doing the damage. The Department of Education, f'rinstance, imposed its power on all aspects of education. What's more, municipal housing equates not with putting a roof over the heads of our citizens but with the loss of freedom for the tenants.

He harked back wistfully to a time of individual freedom before financial controls and regulations became oppressive. We all like to relive our glory days, and Ferdy's would have been around 1982-3 when he was a member of Margaret Thatcher's inner sanctum and heartthrob Ronald Reagan was dismantling US financial controls with the results we are still feeling today.

Ferdy wittered on about the virtues of the coalition government. Theirs is true liberalism, don'tcha know, an "apprehension of oligarchy concentrated in too few hands" aiming at a "devolved, plural, liberal" system without central government telling the little people what to do. The policy of Tory cuts, backed by the LibDems, is "the result of genuine dialogue designed to put right what's gone wrong." A "refreshing" "surfacing impulse to examine and put right the oligarchy".

Thus a banking crisis is turned into a crisis of public services. See what he did there?

It was fitting that this lecture should have been held in Senate House, the architectural inspiration for Orwell's Ministry of Truth.

Such was the tortured logic of the argument that the purpose of the lecture appeared to be to give succour to the Bullingdon bullies and legitimise the coalition government's savage policies. Do these guys sit down over dinner and work out a strategy for deceiving the public via the various media organs and propaganda outlets? Or does this stuff spring fully-formed like Minerva from heads hard-wired to work in self-serving concert? As Orwell wrote, you don't need a beaten dog when well-trained ones will do just as well.

The surreal lurch from a deserved castigation of the greed and corruption of the elite — Ferdy's peers — into an attack on our public services, and everything that made this country a pleasure, was bizarre to behold. If this is the best the right-wing intelligentsia can offer, pack them off to the dreaded Media Studies they loathe so much where perhaps they will learn to make their propagandising a teensy tad less transparent.

Birkbeck's invitation was a truly generous and charitable act, providing Mount's threadbare intellectual cast-off with home and shelter. Ferdinand Mount should be grateful that the great man himself was not in the house to offer the drily stinging rebuttal which some of us were aching to hear.

At close of play, Orwell may have been Mounted, but he certainly wasn't stuffed.

Gauche asks what sort of state is it that Labour wants?

Video: Ferdinand Mount's George Orwell Memorial Lecture, "Orwell and the Oligarchs".

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Ferdinand Mount's 'Orwell on the Oligarchs' lecture: how George would have loved the Tory cuts

Ferdinand Mount George Orwell memorial lecture
Well, I saw this coming a mile off. I knew that Ferdinand Mount was a novelist, Sunday Times columnist, Thatcher-era Tory grandee and former TLS editor when I heard him deliver his talk on 'Orwell and the Oligarchs' last night at the annual George Orwell Memorial Lecture hosted by Birkbeck. However, I had no idea he was also a cousin of David Cameron's Mum and a former baronet, yet I still managed to guess, about ten minutes in, on which side his fois gras was buttered.

More sophisticated than John Lloyd, whose carefully selected quotes at last week's talk on Orwell and Russia skewed Orwell into a hater of all things socialist rather than someone opposed to the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution, Ferdy knew how to get his audience on board.

He began well enough with the bleedin' obvious crowd-pleasing observation that the new oligarchs of business are having a larf with their pay. Directors are trousering hundreds of times the average pay of their own workers and Ferdy laid out how it's done with satirical aplomb.

Remuneration for boards of directors is out of control and has little to do with worth, stitched up by "mutual admiration societies" of executives and non-executives, leading to widescale looting and pillaging.

He highlighted the case of US company Household, bought by HSBC for £9 billion and which turned out to be an aggressive lender in the sub-prime market. Its inevitable fall was one of the first examples of collapse leading to the recession.

And yet ...

Building up to a full head of steam, he pleaded for self-examination, pointing out that while Marx and others in the leftist pantheon were willing to tear the mask off others, they failed to fully introspect themselves. And so Ferdy showed us how to do it, generously allowing himself the assumption that his way was the straight and narrow, pursued with enviable crystal clarity.

Thus Ferdy took us from George Orwell's critique of James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and through to his own conclusion. Burnham, according to my Lovely Companion, made the rightward trek from Trotskyist to "ferocious right-wing-conservative". But he didn't travel far enough to the right for Ferdy, who detected a residual Trotskyism in Burnham's analysis that "capitalism was doomed". The state would take over, he warned, and rentier private capital would be smashed rather than retain any place in business. Orwell disagreed, foreseeing a trajectory towards an oligarchy where bankers and managers displaced scientists and productive talent, snatching a disproportionate share of the rewards. Power would be concentrated in fewer hands at the top and, indeed, Britain now has one of the most concentrated power elites in Europe.

And how does this destructive state of affairs manifest?

Not in the rich and powerful who make up the oligarchy: the upper classes salting away their cash in tax havens, dominating the media, and sucking out all the wealth with devil-take-the-hindmost gusto, apparently. Not in the smashing up our arts, culture and education and returning us to Victorian levels of poverty.

According to Ferdy, it is centralised government that is the Big Bad. After all that preamble, with one bound banking and business were suddenly off the hook and out of the equation, while the "thickening networks of controls" and "gigantism" were doing the damage. The Department of Education, f'rinstance, imposed its power on all aspects of education. What's more, municipal housing equates not with putting a roof over the heads of our citizens but with the loss of freedom for the tenants.

He harked back wistfully to a time of individual freedom before financial controls and regulations became oppressive. We all like to relive our glory days, and Ferdy's would have been around 1982-3 when he was a member of Margaret Thatcher's inner sanctum and heartthrob Ronald Reagan was dismantling US financial controls with the results we are still feeling today.

Ferdy wittered on about the virtues of the coalition government. Theirs is true liberalism, don'tcha know, an "apprehension of oligarchy concentrated in too few hands" aiming at a "devolved, plural, liberal" system without central government telling the little people what to do. The policy of Tory cuts, backed by the LibDems, is "the result of genuine dialogue designed to put right what's gone wrong." A "refreshing" "surfacing impulse to examine and put right the oligarchy".

Thus a banking crisis is turned into a crisis of public services. See what he did there?

It was fitting that this lecture should have been held in Senate House, the architectural inspiration for Orwell's Ministry of Truth.

Such was the tortured logic of the argument that the purpose of the lecture appeared to be to give succour to the Bullingdon bullies and legitimise the coalition government's savage policies. Do these guys sit down over dinner and work out a strategy for deceiving the public via the various media organs and propaganda outlets? Or does this stuff spring fully-formed like Minerva from heads hard-wired to work in self-serving concert? As Orwell wrote, you don't need a beaten dog when well-trained ones will do just as well.

The surreal lurch from a deserved castigation of the greed and corruption of the elite — Ferdy's peers — into an attack on our public services, and everything that made this country a pleasure, was bizarre to behold. If this is the best the right-wing intelligentsia can offer, pack them off to the dreaded Media Studies they loathe so much where perhaps they will learn to make their propagandising a teensy tad less transparent.

Birkbeck's invitation was a truly generous and charitable act, providing Mount's threadbare intellectual cast-off with home and shelter. Ferdinand Mount should be grateful that the great man himself was not in the house to offer the drily stinging rebuttal which some of us were aching to hear.

At close of play, Orwell may have been Mounted, but he certainly wasn't stuffed.

Gauche asks what sort of state is it that Labour wants?

Video: Ferdinand Mount's George Orwell Memorial Lecture, "Orwell and the Oligarchs".

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Friday, 26 November 2010

Wilko Johnson presents Charles Shaar Murray with journalism award: Record of the Day 2010



The lovely readers of Record of the Day voted Charles Shaar Murray winner of the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Music Journalism Award at last night's bash at the Idea Generation Gallery in Shoreditch.

Following an almost clean sweep of the awards by the newly rebooted NME, Charles's old alma mater — thanks to editor Krissi Murison who won the Editor of the Year Award — he impressed on the journos in the audience the importance of writing, not just about the music, but about what the music is about, including the political, spiritual and cultural landscape of the time. Which is largely what led to the success of the NME in its 1970s heyday.

As Charles said in his blockbuster speech, if you stick around long enough, you get your props.

Also getting his props since featuring in the Julian Temple film, OIl City Confidential, about the history of Britain's finest blues rock band Dr Feelgood, was the magnificent Wilko Johnson, guitarist, songwriter and singer, who was there to present the award to Charles. Two legends on one ticket — it doesn't get much better than this. (Shame they played "Milk & Alcohol" as his play-on music when it was recorded after he left the band.)

Lucky gurl that I yam, I got to talk to Wilko beforehand. He's very excited about the HBO series, Game Of Thrones, he's making for American TV in which he plays the mute villain Ilyn Payne (geddit?). Possessed of a rubbery face it was a delight to watch Wilko animatedly describing the role, the full-length chain mail suits, and the swords he has strapped to his back, poor lamb, making sitting down belween takes an impossibility. How we laughed, though, when he told us about how Sean Bean fares in confrontation with our hero/villain, which I can't possibly divulge here as that would be an almighty spoiler.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer writer Jane Espenson is also involved so this will be one to watch.

Charles and I urged him to sort out merchandise so we can have an articulated action doll of him in full regalia. Either that or we take him home.

UPDATE: For everyone outside the UK who's visiting this blogpost via the Winter Is Coming site, a bit more about the gorgeous much-loved Wilko. You may already know that he was the super-talented guitarist and songwriter with Dr Feelgood, the uber British pub-rock band of the 1970s who played up a storm with their hyper-energy blues rock. Not only that, his chiselled features made him one of the most beautiful men on the planet. If you haven't seen it, check out Julien Temple's documentary film, Oil City Confidential. This may help explain why there are guys of a certain age (40s and 50s) who, even though they may be stern upright citizens, turn into babbling fifteen year olds when talking about Wilko. I have never seen so many straight men go so silly over a rock hero. It's quite funny and sweet to watch.

Anyhow, we are all thrilled that Wilko's multiple skills have been revealed to a new audience across the Pond via Game Of Thrones, and hope you come to love him as much as we do. If you are lucky, you may even get to see him play. On New Year's Eve his band (with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe) plays London's 100 Club which is now under threat, supported by Crosstown Lightnin'. Hope there's a US tour next year. Go see.

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Anna ChenWilko Johnson, Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray

Wilko Johnson, Anna ChenWilko and Anna

Wilko Johnson presents Charles Shaar Murray with journalism award: Record of the Day 2010



The lovely readers of Record of the Day voted Charles Shaar Murray winner of the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Music Journalism Award at last night's bash at the Idea Generation Gallery in Shoreditch.

Following an almost clean sweep of the awards by the newly rebooted NME, Charles's old alma mater — thanks to editor Krissi Murison who won the Editor of the Year Award — he impressed on the journos in the audience the importance of writing, not just about the music, but about what the music is about, including the political, spiritual and cultural landscape of the time. Which is largely what led to the success of the NME in its 1970s heyday.

As Charles said in his blockbuster speech, if you stick around long enough, you get your props.

Also getting his props since featuring in the Julian Temple film, OIl City Confidential, about the history of Britain's finest blues rock band Dr Feelgood, was the magnificent Wilko Johnson, guitarist, songwriter and singer, who was there to present the award to Charles. Two legends on one ticket — it doesn't get much better than this. (Shame they played "Milk & Alcohol" as his play-on music when it was recorded after he left the band.)

Lucky gurl that I yam, I got to talk to Wilko beforehand. He's very excited about the HBO series, Game Of Thrones, he's making for American TV in which he plays the mute villain Ilyn Payne (geddit?). Possessed of a rubbery face it was a delight to watch Wilko animatedly describing the role, the full-length chain mail suits, and the swords he has strapped to his back, poor lamb, making sitting down belween takes an impossibility. How we laughed, though, when he told us about how Sean Bean fares in confrontation with our hero/villain, which I can't possibly divulge here as that would be an almighty spoiler.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer writer Jane Espenson is also involved so this will be one to watch.

Charles and I urged him to sort out merchandise so we can have an articulated action doll of him in full regalia. Either that or we take him home.

UPDATE: For everyone outside the UK who's visiting this blogpost via the Winter Is Coming site, a bit more about the gorgeous much-loved Wilko. You may already know that he was the super-talented guitarist and songwriter with Dr Feelgood, the uber British pub-rock band of the 1970s who played up a storm with their hyper-energy blues rock. Not only that, his chiselled features made him one of the most beautiful men on the planet. If you haven't seen it, check out Julien Temple's documentary film, Oil City Confidential. This may help explain why there are guys of a certain age (40s and 50s) who, even though they may be stern upright citizens, turn into babbling fifteen year olds when talking about Wilko. I have never seen so many straight men go so silly over a rock hero. It's quite funny and sweet to watch.

Anyhow, we are all thrilled that Wilko's multiple skills have been revealed to a new audience across the Pond via Game Of Thrones, and hope you come to love him as much as we do. If you are lucky, you may even get to see him play. On New Year's Eve his band (with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe) plays London's 100 Club which is now under threat, supported by Crosstown Lightnin'. Hope there's a US tour next year. Go see.

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Record of the Day AwardCharles Shaar Murray and Wilko Johnson (pic Record of the Day)

Wilko Johnson, Charles Shaar Murray, Anna ChenWilko Johnson, Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray

Wilko Johnson, Anna ChenWilko and Anna

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Impossible shoes and sado-fashionism



I am reposting this item from July as the media seem to have caught up and noticed on the dominance of the killer heel in fashion over the past couple of years.

And I am supposed to walk in these, how?

The male species may not be aware of the torture-wear storming the shops this past year. Following the best few seasons for ages featuring frocks that I actually desire and which would be cramming my wardrobe if it weren't for (a) dosh (or lack thereof), (b) space (or lack thereof) and (c) my favourite outlet, Primark — bringing high fashion to the low rent — STILL failing to sort out its cheap labour sources ... the deity that rules these things has snuck in footwear that hates women.

Unbearable AND unwearable! Your choice this summer is flat flip-flop-style sandals with that alarming strap that threatens to slice your big toes from all the other little piggies; medium-height wedges that allow no movement in the dark night of the sole; and vertigo-inducing hobblers, example above (Top Shop). Steve Martin didn't call them "cruel shoes" for nothing.

What happened to good ol' Clarks, you may ask? Well, what happened with me was a pair of lovely black leather mid-heel boots that moulded beautifully to my size sevens, apart from the stitched band across the base of the toes that failed to give and pushed my big toe joint sideways, making walking painful even now.

China got rid of its bound feet decades ago, but here we are being lured back into crippling bondage boxes for our delicate tootsies. Do you know how similar to bound foot-stumps the current trend in foot shapes is? These things may look fab when you are reclining sexily, but have you watched women walking in them? Have you TRIED walking in them? Look at the angles on those things. They push your bum out at unnatural degrees closer to our Australopithecus ancestors, and force you to waddle like a duck.

France bans the veil but puts up with our young women crippling themselves permanently. If you are going to dictate what women should or shouldn't wear — which you should not be doing at all — I'd rather see Sarkozy banning Carla Bruni and her sisters from wearing these things in public than telling grown Muslim women they have no say in their own attire.

And, yes, I did buy a pair. Why do you ask?

Impossible shoes and sado-fashionism



I am reposting this item from July as the media seem to have caught up and noticed on the dominance of the killer heel in fashion over the past couple of years.

And I am supposed to walk in these, how?

The male species may not be aware of the torture-wear storming the shops this past year. Following the best few seasons for ages featuring frocks that I actually desire and which would be cramming my wardrobe if it weren't for (a) dosh (or lack thereof), (b) space (or lack thereof) and (c) my favourite outlet, Primark — bringing high fashion to the low rent — STILL failing to sort out its cheap labour sources ... the deity that rules these things has snuck in footwear that hates women.

Unbearable AND unwearable! Your choice this summer is flat flip-flop-style sandals with that alarming strap that threatens to slice your big toes from all the other little piggies; medium-height wedges that allow no movement in the dark night of the sole; and vertigo-inducing hobblers, example above (Top Shop). Steve Martin didn't call them "cruel shoes" for nothing.

What happened to good ol' Clarks, you may ask? Well, what happened with me was a pair of lovely black leather mid-heel boots that moulded beautifully to my size sevens, apart from the stitched band across the base of the toes that failed to give and pushed my big toe joint sideways, making walking painful even now.

China got rid of its bound feet decades ago, but here we are being lured back into crippling bondage boxes for our delicate tootsies. Do you know how similar to bound foot-stumps the current trend in foot shapes is? These things may look fab when you are reclining sexily, but have you watched women walking in them? Have you TRIED walking in them? Look at the angles on those things. They push your bum out at unnatural degrees closer to our Australopithecus ancestors, and force you to waddle like a duck.

France bans the veil but puts up with our young women crippling themselves permanently. If you are going to dictate what women should or shouldn't wear — which you should not be doing at all — I'd rather see Sarkozy banning Carla Bruni and her sisters from wearing these things in public than telling grown Muslim women they have no say in their own attire.

And, yes, I did buy a pair. Why do you ask?

Monday, 22 November 2010

How Lefties Commit Romance



I just knocked this up on the xtranormal website. Romance lefty-style.

This is not based on any real people, living or dead, etc. Sort of.

How Lefties Commit Romance



I just knocked this up on the xtranormal website. Romance lefty-style.

This is not based on any real people, living or dead, etc. Sort of.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Quantitave Easing Explained: utterly brilliant



Thanks to Mick for this gem about treasury bonds, the Federal Reserve, printing money the recession and the whole grim stitch-up. Economics made easy.

The richest 1,000 cud clear the deficit here

Quantitave Easing Explained: utterly brilliant



Thanks to Mick for this gem about treasury bonds, the Federal Reserve, printing money the recession and the whole grim stitch-up. Economics made easy.

The richest 1,000 cud clear the deficit here

Friday, 19 November 2010

China's take on the royal wedding: Kate and Wills



Thanks to Blood & Treasure for finding this very serious in-depth Chinese report on next year's wedding between commoner Kate Middleton and Prince William Wales/Windsor/Saxe Coburg Gotha. So much closer to socialism than his parents' pairing, don'tcha know?

Where's a revolution when you need it?

China's take on the royal wedding: Kate and Wills



Thanks to Blood & Treasure for finding this very serious in-depth Chinese report on next year's wedding between commoner Kate Middleton and Prince William Wales/Windsor/Saxe Coburg Gotha. So much closer to socialism than his parents' pairing, don'tcha know?

Where's a revolution when you need it?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hungry Ghosts theatre review: China from the outside

Lourdes Faberes Andres Williams Hungry Ghosts Liv Tyler Lourdes Faberes and Andres Williams in Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts
Written and directed by Tim Luscombe
10 Nov - 11 Dec 2010
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Director/playwright Tim Luscombe sets out his agenda in the programme for Hungry Ghosts, his new play about human rights in China.

"We should remember that China's current leadership is in power only because in 1989 it repressed a fragile but potent democratic movement," he writes. This is more wishful thinking than evidence-based analysis. Whatever you may think of the Chinese government, not even the hardest-hearted of cold warriors considers the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest a serious threat to the continuing power of the ruling Communist party.

It seems to have been lost on the producers that the protest was actually several-fold, with supporters of the collapse of the state and its replacement by Western-style democracy forming only one strand: the one picked up by the western media. The struggle of the peasants and workers who had done so well under Mao's pre-reform welfare system — hundreds of thousands raised out of poverty and life-expectancy almost doubled — and who were protesting against the return of the capitalist practices wrecking their healthcare, iron-rice-bowl jobs and housing, is overlooked in favour of the western narrative, which has the Chinese looking to us as the model for their political system.

The lasting model we provided for China's emergence as a world power was the vision of Milton Friedman. The father of the Chicago School of neo-liberal pillage had, only a few months previously, been guest of honour of the Deng Xiaoping-led coterie at the head of the Communist Party, encouraging them to "modernise" and introduce the predations of the free market, thereby liberalising the economy and busting open state-owned assets for privatisation.

Luscombe's overwhelming cold-war impulse to knock China — rather than offer any illuminating critique of the elite who are shafting the masses — permeates the play. He occasionally gets facts wrong, such as one character's claim that "Mao told us to attack teachers". In fact, Mao's problem was that, once the Cultural Revolution was set in motion, he lost control of it. The Red Guards who beat teachers, leaving them maimed or dead, were not acting on instructions from the Centre. The Red Guards were not a single homogeneous mass with a single goal in a robot brain. Such was the chaos that different factions of Red Guards sprang up and fought each other, traumatising the fledgling state and wasting a decade and a generation.

We've come a long way since Fanshen, William Hinton's examination of what was happening in one village at the time of the revolution. The relentless hostility of Luscombe's outsider's-eye-view detracts from what is a sadly rare opportunity for Chinese actors to showcase themselves.

Three meaty roles differentiate character types who are not fully alive. The hungry ghosts of the title are driven political activist and tragic heroine Ping-de (Lucy Sheen); successful but dissipated sports journalist and communist Zhi-hui (Benedict Wong) now embracing capitalism with Chinese characteristics, a "communist Murray Walker" read by a quarter of the planet; and Liv (Lourdes Faberes), the sharp fortune cookie who thrives by selling her PR services to the corrupt world of Formula One racing.

Lucy Sheen Hungry GhostsLucy Sheen

Ping-de crashes into her estranged brother Zhi-hui's comfortable world, appealing for him to use his considerable clout with the party to save their activist sister Feng, who has been sentenced to death for treason due to her collection of evidence against corrupt officials.

Ping-de arrives in Zhi-hui's smart Shanghai apartment bearing the MacGuffin, an 8Gb memory stick containing facts so explosive in their revelation of local corruption and the brutal enforcement of the one-child policy that it could save Feng's life if it reaches the international media. A touching faith in the power of the Guardian in the information age, you might think.

East collides with West when Ping-de tries to enlist racing star Tyler (Andres Williams), who Zhi-hui is eager to interview, in her bid to get the memory stick out of China and save her sister. Tyler is being stuffed by his sponsors and owner, big bad Baz (Barry Stanton), who are ready to ditch him for a home-grown Chinese driver. Mixed-race Liv, played with subtle comic timing by Lourdes Faberes, combines the worst of both worlds, doing Baz's dirty work, from smuggling out antique buddhas to betraying her lover Tyler.

Luscombe's strength lies in his dialogue (when it's not languishing in sub-Lao Tzu homilies), with some gorgeously arch banter and witty turns of phrase as the characters pursue their objectives.

In a lovely cat-and-mouse power play between Zhi-hui and Tyler, Benedict Wong excels, exuding world-weary gravitas with the most gravelly of voices. "Here is very liberal. Free to advertise cigarettes." His shift into Mancunian to denote speech in native Chinese is perfect, never slipping for an instant and making it clear why some regard him as our foremost British Chinese actor.

The impressive Lucy Sheen who, like Wong has a couple of decades'-worth of experience behind her and the stage presence to go with it, takes on a whopper of a role as Ping-de. She keeps her controlled rage simmering nicely but is given little space to develop except to ratchet up the anger. The two of them express the ideas of the play but it is still the white guy who, as the protagonist, is the heart of the story.

Structurally this is linear and heavy on the longueurs. At two hours 25 minutes it could do with losing 20 minutes or so. Difficult I know when you are both writer and director but the scene towards the end, when brother fesses up to his sister, lasting 12 minutes or more, flows like wet cement and is truly a bum-acher.

In the end the Chinese characters are cyphers, mouthing political positions and keeping me out of the crudely drawn emotions despite some witty dialogue. Zhi-hui's reversal is vastly undermotivated and it is a credit to Wong that he disguises this jarring lurch of his character arc so artfully.

Being a performance in the round, designer Tim Meacock keeps the set simple with a red-laquer-washed floor, Chinese desk and sofas, all overlooked by a giant hollow-bellied buddha. A couple of ironies which, given the context, I doubt were intentional, two examples of what is rotten in the west: Liv's racing jacket emblazoned with the orange logo of the tax-evading Vodafone, and Tyler's Guantanamo orange racing suit, serving as a subliminal reminder of the West's own outrages. (Did Tim Luscombe deliberately use the name of the beautiful offspring of the Aerosmith lead singer and what's the erstwhile Arwen done to deserve this?)

I was left with the feeling that, if Chinese life is cheap in China, as the play asserts, then it's not much more valuable here in Britain. The programme claims that a combined number of 60,000 Chinese and Japanese died in the 1930s, completely ignoring the rape of Nanking and the estimated 1.5 million who died in the Second World War.

The Chinese are still being portrayed as either malevolent dragon ladies and lads or lotus blossoms in need of our protection. Do the producers really care about the plight of the Chinese? Or just one: the projection of the West into the character of one ghostly off-stage presence, the activist sister?

Benedict Wong Hungry GhostsBenedict Wong

Hungry Ghosts theatre review: China from the outside

Lourdes Faberes Andres Williams Hungry Ghosts Liv Tyler Lourdes Faberes and Andres Williams in Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts
Written and directed by Tim Luscombe
10 Nov - 11 Dec 2010
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Director/playwright Tim Luscombe sets out his agenda in the programme for Hungry Ghosts, his new play about human rights in China.

"We should remember that China's current leadership is in power only because in 1989 it repressed a fragile but potent democratic movement," he writes. This is more wishful thinking than evidence-based analysis. Whatever you may think of the Chinese government, not even the hardest-hearted of cold warriors considers the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest a serious threat to the continuing power of the ruling Communist party.

It seems to have been lost on the producers that the protest was actually several-fold, with supporters of the collapse of the state and its replacement by Western-style democracy forming only one strand: the one picked up by the western media. The struggle of the peasants and workers who had done so well under Mao's pre-reform welfare system — hundreds of thousands raised out of poverty and life-expectancy almost doubled — and who were protesting against the return of the capitalist practices wrecking their healthcare, iron-rice-bowl jobs and housing, is overlooked in favour of the western narrative, which has the Chinese looking to us as the model for their political system.

The lasting model we provided for China's emergence as a world power was the vision of Milton Friedman. The father of the Chicago School of neo-liberal pillage had, only a few months previously, been guest of honour of the Deng Xiaoping-led coterie at the head of the Communist Party, encouraging them to "modernise" and introduce the predations of the free market, thereby liberalising the economy and busting open state-owned assets for privatisation.

Luscombe's overwhelming cold-war impulse to knock China — rather than offer any illuminating critique of the elite who are shafting the masses — permeates the play. He occasionally gets facts wrong, such as one character's claim that "Mao told us to attack teachers". In fact, Mao's problem was that, once the Cultural Revolution was set in motion, he lost control of it. The Red Guards who beat teachers, leaving them maimed or dead, were not acting on instructions from the Centre. The Red Guards were not a single homogeneous mass with a single goal in a robot brain. Such was the chaos that different factions of Red Guards sprang up and fought each other, traumatising the fledgling state and wasting a decade and a generation.

We've come a long way since Fanshen, William Hinton's examination of what was happening in one village at the time of the revolution. The relentless hostility of Luscombe's outsider's-eye-view detracts from what is a sadly rare opportunity for Chinese actors to showcase themselves.

Three meaty roles differentiate character types who are not fully alive. The hungry ghosts of the title are driven political activist and tragic heroine Ping-de (Lucy Sheen); successful but dissipated sports journalist and communist Zhi-hui (Benedict Wong) now embracing capitalism with Chinese characteristics, a "communist Murray Walker" read by a quarter of the planet; and Liv (Lourdes Faberes), the sharp fortune cookie who thrives by selling her PR services to the corrupt world of Formula One racing.

Lucy Sheen Hungry GhostsLucy Sheen

Ping-de crashes into her estranged brother Zhi-hui's comfortable world, appealing for him to use his considerable clout with the party to save their activist sister Feng, who has been sentenced to death for treason due to her collection of evidence against corrupt officials.

Ping-de arrives in Zhi-hui's smart Shanghai apartment bearing the MacGuffin, an 8Gb memory stick containing facts so explosive in their revelation of local corruption and the brutal enforcement of the one-child policy that it could save Feng's life if it reaches the international media. A touching faith in the power of the Guardian in the information age, you might think.

East collides with West when Ping-de tries to enlist racing star Tyler (Andres Williams), who Zhi-hui is eager to interview, in her bid to get the memory stick out of China and save her sister. Tyler is being stuffed by his sponsors and owner, big bad Baz (Barry Stanton), who are ready to ditch him for a home-grown Chinese driver. Mixed-race Liv, played with subtle comic timing by Lourdes Faberes, combines the worst of both worlds, doing Baz's dirty work, from smuggling out antique buddhas to betraying her lover Tyler.

Luscombe's strength lies in his dialogue (when it's not languishing in sub-Lao Tzu homilies), with some gorgeously arch banter and witty turns of phrase as the characters pursue their objectives.

In a lovely cat-and-mouse power play between Zhi-hui and Tyler, Benedict Wong excels, exuding world-weary gravitas with the most gravelly of voices. "Here is very liberal. Free to advertise cigarettes." His shift into Mancunian to denote speech in native Chinese is perfect, never slipping for an instant and making it clear why some regard him as our foremost British Chinese actor.

The impressive Lucy Sheen who, like Wong has a couple of decades'-worth of experience behind her and the stage presence to go with it, takes on a whopper of a role as Ping-de. She keeps her controlled rage simmering nicely but is given little space to develop except to ratchet up the anger. The two of them express the ideas of the play but it is still the white guy who, as the protagonist, is the heart of the story.

Structurally this is linear and heavy on the longueurs. At two hours 25 minutes it could do with losing 20 minutes or so. Difficult I know when you are both writer and director but the scene towards the end, when brother fesses up to his sister, lasting 12 minutes or more, flows like wet cement and is truly a bum-acher.

In the end the Chinese characters are cyphers, mouthing political positions and keeping me out of the crudely drawn emotions despite some witty dialogue. Zhi-hui's reversal is vastly undermotivated and it is a credit to Wong that he disguises this jarring lurch of his character arc so artfully.

Being a performance in the round, designer Tim Meacock keeps the set simple with a red-laquer-washed floor, Chinese desk and sofas, all overlooked by a giant hollow-bellied buddha. A couple of ironies which, given the context, I doubt were intentional, two examples of what is rotten in the west: Liv's racing jacket emblazoned with the orange logo of the tax-evading Vodafone, and Tyler's Guantanamo orange racing suit, serving as a subliminal reminder of the West's own outrages. (Did Tim Luscombe deliberately use the name of the beautiful offspring of the Aerosmith lead singer and what's the erstwhile Arwen done to deserve this?)

I was left with the feeling that, if Chinese life is cheap in China, as the play asserts, then it's not much more valuable here in Britain. The programme claims that a combined number of 60,000 Chinese and Japanese died in the 1930s, completely ignoring the rape of Nanking and the estimated 1.5 million who died in the Second World War.

The Chinese are still being portrayed as either malevolent dragon ladies and lads or lotus blossoms in need of our protection. Do the producers really care about the plight of the Chinese? Or just one: the projection of the West into the character of one ghostly off-stage presence, the activist sister?

Benedict Wong Hungry GhostsBenedict Wong

Monday, 15 November 2010

Labour woos UK Chinese in rebranding exercise

Ray Collins Labour Party General Secretary Sonny Leong Chinese For LabourRay Collins (Labour Party General Secretary) and Sonny Leong (Chair, Chinese For Labour)

Fancy "refreshing the Labour brand"?

The Labour training session at the weekend was a long-overdue attempt, pioneered by Chinese For Labour's chair Sonny Leong, to engage the Chinese, Britain's third-largest ethnic minority, in mainstream politics in order to find "credible" candidates for the 2011 election and haul them out of their isolation. The sad part of this innovation was the revelation that New Labour lurks like a coiled viper ready with the same old toxic policies that got us into the present mess where a right-wing coalition demolishes with no meaningful challenge what remains of the egalitarian society in which I grew up.

New Labour returns
Just when you thought it was safe to rebuild your movement ...

Richard Angell, the Deputy Director of Progress, the organ set up by arch-Blairite Derek Draper, opened proceedings by extolling the virtues of this "new Labour pressure group". Surely I must have heard that wrong? So I checked that he meant "new Labour ..." and not "New-Labour", but no, he was proud of the New Labour record that led to a fall of seats in the South from 45 to eight and ushered in the unelected ConDem Bullingdon vandals aided by Ramsay McClegg's lot. Arch-villain and New Labour architect "Lord" Peter Mandelson is, after all, supportive of key aspects of the coalition's attack on the poor.

Angell rushed in where even fools know the score, insisting that "we must know where we went wrong". But exactly what was it he identifies as going wrong? Like a pomo ad-man doomed to repeat history in ever diminishing circlets of hell, he ascribed the electorate's revulsion with Labour to not using "language they understand". We needed "the answers, not the problem ... solutions." We had to be "in the game and winning it," and "thinking the unthinkable". Be "bold, radical." "Yes we can," at the very moment the coiner of this platitudinous phrase was losing his mid-term election by a landslide.

And Angell's solution? It was crime what done us in. Even when all the figures show that crime was not the public's chief concern no matter how hard the Daily Mail tried to tell us it was so, and even though the crime rate was falling. Not the economy, not the war, not the crackdown on civil liberties, not the corruption, the sleaze, the expenses scandal, the infatuation with the rich and powerful and contempt for the poor. It was crime. Not even the causes of crime. It all fell apart when "we let the treasury deal with crime." People must learn not to commit crime ... crime ungood ... don't do it again. On Planet New Labour it is drummed into us that, "actions have consequences", which is hilarious when you consider these physicians can't even heal themselves.

How to rectify this? Fight them on the beaches? Organise in the workplace? Win the propaganda war at the hustings, in the media? Nope, we had to "go to the bars and talk to the people." I kid you not.

Platitude after platitude, cliché after cliché came thick and fast, but mostly thick, and had us reeling on the ropes. It was like banal rape — taken up the wrong'un with no chance of impregnation. The response to this utter vacuum of ideas, this tsunami of insubstance, this blizzard of buzzwords and rehashed politics while Rome is about to go up in flames, was a marked coolness from the 40 or so Chinese present. Hey, Richard, the stereotype of the Chinese being smart contains a grain of truth and if you think the ethnics are going to swallow your nonsense even with the implicit carrot that careers can be made, you are even more unsmart (to borrow his Orwellian Ministry of Truth speak) than you looked. As a seduction it was a big fat fail.

Sarah Mulley IPPR Mee Ling Ng Chinese For Labour Sonia Sodha DemosSarah Mulley (IPPR), Mee Ling Ng, (Chinese For Labour), and Sonia Sodha (Demos)

Women wonks rool
The two women wonks, Sarah Mulley, Associate Director of the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR), and Sonia Sodha, Head of the Public Finance Programme at Demos, on the other hand, were far more impressive and on top of their brief.

Sarah Mulley's flawless analysis, locating the cracks in the coalition government's vicious policies, homed in on their emphasis on immigration as a problem for them. This is in meltdown as she demonstrated with forensic clarity. They've set an impossible task for themselves resulting in splits in the government and even their business supporters kicking up over the cap on the importation of skilled labour.

In their haste to number-crunch and halve net immigration from 200,000 to 100,000 per year, the government neglected to work out how they can do this in real terms. With only foreign students paying top-whack fees, families, migrants already here and the highly skilled — such as lawyers, academics, doctors, and Chinese chefs — to pick on, they will end up cutting the figures by only ten percent. Boy, will the Mail be pissed.

Unlike Ed Balls who made immigration-as-a-problem his Unique Selling Point (USP) in the recent Labour leadership contest, Mulley said that this is one area where Labour has to avoid a race to the bottom with the Tories as they can never win. Besides, "this is not as big a concern to the electorate as the economy." Balls's campaign revealed the dark night of the Labour soul and the conflict between its internationalist impulse and exaggerated doorstep anxieties. Labour should stand their progressive ground and refuse to fight this battle on Tory turf.

Mulley understands this well, and yet they don't seem able to extend this principle to other issues of fairer taxation and wealth distribution.

Sonia Sodha talked abut the spending review and how the Tories had succeeded in boosting its economic credibility.

She said that despite Blair and Brown winning the economic argument in the run-up to the 1997 election and Brown making all the correct public sector investments, as well as bailing out the banks with the support of the Tories in the wake of the crisis, the Tories had turned the narrative on its head.

The silence of the shams
Unfortunately, she made no mention of how this happened, ignoring Labour's almost total silence between June, when the cuts policy was announced, and the October Bullingdon Budget, when that narrative was taking shape, or questioned why Ed Miliband couldn't even turn up to the first (very late!) protest as he had promised. In the face of such an onslaught, babies and leadership contests are no excuse for people who purport to be leaders of our nation: if you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you should not be doing the job.

While the Tories are cutting too hard and fast, she claimed Labour would halve the deficit in 4-5 years. Even though the crisis was not of our making, Labour still capitulates to the right-wing claim that we need a combination of cuts and tax. It's just the proportions they are quibbling about: a quick death or the death of a thousand cuts. How very feudal Chinese of them. As Harpy Marx pointed out at another showdown with the Dark Forces, we've not had our £1.3 trillion bailout back, £70 billion is lost every year in tax avoidance or evasion, and we still have funds for Trident.

Not only that, but someone scrutinising the Sunday Times rich list spotted that "the richest 1,000 people in the UK could pay off the whole of the £159 billion public deficit tomorrow, just from the profits they have made last year out of the economic crisis. The collective wealth of the country's 1,000 richest people rose 30% last year in the wake of the economic crisis. Their combined wealth rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, the biggest annual increase in the 22-year history of the Sunday Times rich list."

Ross McKibbin in the London Review Of Books questions the whole con-job assertion that the cuts have anything to do with the economy and says the crisis allowed the Conservatives to transform a crisis of the banks into a crisis of the welfare state:
To the historian, especially of the 1931 crisis, the whole thing is sadly familiar. There is the same paralysis on the part of the Labour Party ... and everywhere the same ramped-up rhetoric: the country is on the edge, going bankrupt, capital will flee, and it is all Labour’s fault. And this time, as in 1931, there is much that is spurious. The country is not on the verge of bankruptcy. There is no evidence that the bond market was reacting against British debt, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party to encourage it to do so. Our fiscal position was never like that of Greece, which had cooked the books and was struggling to cope with short-term government debt, though Osborne et al insisted it was. Why was it necessary to take such drastic action at all? Our debt ratio was much higher after the Second World War and neither Attlee nor Churchill felt any obligation to do what Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have done. Even Darling’s proposed schedule of deficit reduction seems excessively prudent. A less political chancellor might simply have allowed economic recovery (i.e. increased tax returns to the Treasury), modest reductions in new spending and inflation to deal with the debt.

(LRB hat tip Gauche who writes on Labour's poor showing here.)

The reality of the Tories' "Big Society" is 78 percent spending cuts and a miserly 22 percent rise in taxes. While Sodha points out that even Norman Lamont in the 1980s split the fiscal readjustment 50/50 between cuts and taxes, she still buys into their version — the best Labour can offer is the Tory levels in the Thatcher years. I asked her how she would like the deficit divvied up and she confessed she'd like to see it at a marginally more generous proportion of 60/40. In which case, why did "Red" Ed Miliband promote economics ignoramus Alan Johnson to the Treasury when he advocates 50/50, snubbing Ed Balls and his 60/40 split?

We know that the spending review is massively regressive with the bottom ten percent of the population (minus the very top two percent) picking up the tab for the banking crisis. But who is protecting them? Not Labour. In this climate, when the majority of the electorate would like to see the rich taxed highly to alleviate the pressure on the poor by the Bullingdon bullies, Johnson is hinting that he might even axe the measly 50 percent top rate of tax. To quote Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?

Labour is stolidly on the back foot with the media determining policy in a time of crisis.

If this was a movie, we would be in the final reel with the monster still not dead. In fact, this promises to be an umpteen-sequel franchise which won't come to an end until Jamie Lee Curtis comes in swinging a bloody great axe to put the New Labour horror out of our collective misery.

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Labour woos UK Chinese in rebranding exercise

Ray Collins Labour Party General Secretary Sonny Leong Chinese For LabourRay Collins (Labour Party General Secretary) and Sonny Leong (Chair, Chinese For Labour)

Fancy "refreshing the Labour brand"?

The Labour training session at the weekend was a long-overdue attempt, pioneered by Chinese For Labour's chair Sonny Leong, to engage the Chinese, Britain's third-largest ethnic minority, in mainstream politics in order to find "credible" candidates for the 2011 election and haul them out of their isolation. The sad part of this innovation was the revelation that New Labour lurks like a coiled viper ready with the same old toxic policies that got us into the present mess where a right-wing coalition demolishes with no meaningful challenge what remains of the egalitarian society in which I grew up.

New Labour returns
Just when you thought it was safe to rebuild your movement ...

Richard Angell, the Deputy Director of Progress, the organ set up by arch-Blairite Derek Draper, opened proceedings by extolling the virtues of this "new Labour pressure group". Surely I must have heard that wrong? So I checked that he meant "new Labour ..." and not "New-Labour", but no, he was proud of the New Labour record that led to a fall of seats in the South from 45 to eight and ushered in the unelected ConDem Bullingdon vandals aided by Ramsay McClegg's lot. Arch-villain and New Labour architect "Lord" Peter Mandelson is, after all, supportive of key aspects of the coalition's attack on the poor.

Angell rushed in where even fools know the score, insisting that "we must know where we went wrong". But exactly what was it he identifies as going wrong? Like a pomo ad-man doomed to repeat history in ever diminishing circlets of hell, he ascribed the electorate's revulsion with Labour to not using "language they understand". We needed "the answers, not the problem ... solutions." We had to be "in the game and winning it," and "thinking the unthinkable". Be "bold, radical." "Yes we can," at the very moment the coiner of this platitudinous phrase was losing his mid-term election by a landslide.

And Angell's solution? It was crime what done us in. Even when all the figures show that crime was not the public's chief concern no matter how hard the Daily Mail tried to tell us it was so, and even though the crime rate was falling. Not the economy, not the war, not the crackdown on civil liberties, not the corruption, the sleaze, the expenses scandal, the infatuation with the rich and powerful and contempt for the poor. It was crime. Not even the causes of crime. It all fell apart when "we let the treasury deal with crime." People must learn not to commit crime ... crime ungood ... don't do it again. On Planet New Labour it is drummed into us that, "actions have consequences", which is hilarious when you consider these physicians can't even heal themselves.

How to rectify this? Fight them on the beaches? Organise in the workplace? Win the propaganda war at the hustings, in the media? Nope, we had to "go to the bars and talk to the people." I kid you not.

Platitude after platitude, cliché after cliché came thick and fast, but mostly thick, and had us reeling on the ropes. It was like banal rape — taken up the wrong'un with no chance of impregnation. The response to this utter vacuum of ideas, this tsunami of insubstance, this blizzard of buzzwords and rehashed politics while Rome is about to go up in flames, was a marked coolness from the 40 or so Chinese present. Hey, Richard, the stereotype of the Chinese being smart contains a grain of truth and if you think the ethnics are going to swallow your nonsense even with the implicit carrot that careers can be made, you are even more unsmart (to borrow his Orwellian Ministry of Truth speak) than you looked. As a seduction it was a big fat fail.

Sarah Mulley IPPR Mee Ling Ng Chinese For Labour Sonia Sodha DemosSarah Mulley (IPPR), Mee Ling Ng, (Chinese For Labour), and Sonia Sodha (Demos)

Women wonks rool
The two women wonks, Sarah Mulley, Associate Director of the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR), and Sonia Sodha, Head of the Public Finance Programme at Demos, on the other hand, were far more impressive and on top of their brief.

Sarah Mulley's flawless analysis, locating the cracks in the coalition government's vicious policies, homed in on their emphasis on immigration as a problem for them. This is in meltdown as she demonstrated with forensic clarity. They've set an impossible task for themselves resulting in splits in the government and even their business supporters kicking up over the cap on the importation of skilled labour.

In their haste to number-crunch and halve net immigration from 200,000 to 100,000 per year, the government neglected to work out how they can do this in real terms. With only foreign students paying top-whack fees, families, migrants already here and the highly skilled — such as lawyers, academics, doctors, and Chinese chefs — to pick on, they will end up cutting the figures by only ten percent. Boy, will the Mail be pissed.

Unlike Ed Balls who made immigration-as-a-problem his Unique Selling Point (USP) in the recent Labour leadership contest, Mulley said that this is one area where Labour has to avoid a race to the bottom with the Tories as they can never win. Besides, "this is not as big a concern to the electorate as the economy." Balls's campaign revealed the dark night of the Labour soul and the conflict between its internationalist impulse and exaggerated doorstep anxieties. Labour should stand their progressive ground and refuse to fight this battle on Tory turf.

Mulley understands this well, and yet they don't seem able to extend this principle to other issues of fairer taxation and wealth distribution.

Sonia Sodha talked abut the spending review and how the Tories had succeeded in boosting its economic credibility.

She said that despite Blair and Brown winning the economic argument in the run-up to the 1997 election and Brown making all the correct public sector investments, as well as bailing out the banks with the support of the Tories in the wake of the crisis, the Tories had turned the narrative on its head.

The silence of the shams
Unfortunately, she made no mention of how this happened, ignoring Labour's almost total silence between June, when the cuts policy was announced, and the October Bullingdon Budget, when that narrative was taking shape, or questioned why Ed Miliband couldn't even turn up to the first (very late!) protest as he had promised. In the face of such an onslaught, babies and leadership contests are no excuse for people who purport to be leaders of our nation: if you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you should not be doing the job.

While the Tories are cutting too hard and fast, she claimed Labour would halve the deficit in 4-5 years. Even though the crisis was not of our making, Labour still capitulates to the right-wing claim that we need a combination of cuts and tax. It's just the proportions they are quibbling about: a quick death or the death of a thousand cuts. How very feudal Chinese of them. As Harpy Marx pointed out at another showdown with the Dark Forces, we've not had our £1.3 trillion bailout back, £70 billion is lost every year in tax avoidance or evasion, and we still have funds for Trident.

Not only that, but someone scrutinising the Sunday Times rich list spotted that "the richest 1,000 people in the UK could pay off the whole of the £159 billion public deficit tomorrow, just from the profits they have made last year out of the economic crisis. The collective wealth of the country's 1,000 richest people rose 30% last year in the wake of the economic crisis. Their combined wealth rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, the biggest annual increase in the 22-year history of the Sunday Times rich list."

Ross McKibbin in the London Review Of Books questions the whole con-job assertion that the cuts have anything to do with the economy and says the crisis allowed the Conservatives to transform a crisis of the banks into a crisis of the welfare state:
To the historian, especially of the 1931 crisis, the whole thing is sadly familiar. There is the same paralysis on the part of the Labour Party ... and everywhere the same ramped-up rhetoric: the country is on the edge, going bankrupt, capital will flee, and it is all Labour’s fault. And this time, as in 1931, there is much that is spurious. The country is not on the verge of bankruptcy. There is no evidence that the bond market was reacting against British debt, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party to encourage it to do so. Our fiscal position was never like that of Greece, which had cooked the books and was struggling to cope with short-term government debt, though Osborne et al insisted it was. Why was it necessary to take such drastic action at all? Our debt ratio was much higher after the Second World War and neither Attlee nor Churchill felt any obligation to do what Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have done. Even Darling’s proposed schedule of deficit reduction seems excessively prudent. A less political chancellor might simply have allowed economic recovery (i.e. increased tax returns to the Treasury), modest reductions in new spending and inflation to deal with the debt.

(LRB hat tip Gauche who writes on Labour's poor showing here.)

The reality of the Tories' "Big Society" is 78 percent spending cuts and a miserly 22 percent rise in taxes. While Sodha points out that even Norman Lamont in the 1980s split the fiscal readjustment 50/50 between cuts and taxes, she still buys into their version — the best Labour can offer is the Tory levels in the Thatcher years. I asked her how she would like the deficit divvied up and she confessed she'd like to see it at a marginally more generous proportion of 60/40. In which case, why did "Red" Ed Miliband promote economics ignoramus Alan Johnson to the Treasury when he advocates 50/50, snubbing Ed Balls and his 60/40 split?

We know that the spending review is massively regressive with the bottom ten percent of the population (minus the very top two percent) picking up the tab for the banking crisis. But who is protecting them? Not Labour. In this climate, when the majority of the electorate would like to see the rich taxed highly to alleviate the pressure on the poor by the Bullingdon bullies, Johnson is hinting that he might even axe the measly 50 percent top rate of tax. To quote Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?

Labour is stolidly on the back foot with the media determining policy in a time of crisis.

If this was a movie, we would be in the final reel with the monster still not dead. In fact, this promises to be an umpteen-sequel franchise which won't come to an end until Jamie Lee Curtis comes in swinging a bloody great axe to put the New Labour horror out of our collective misery.

Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Friday, 12 November 2010

Student protests mark revival of spirit and challenge to ConDem cuts


A brilliant piece by John Harris here, exposes the right-wing lies pushed by the ConDem media wing about the cuts.

The students who stormed Millbank Tory headquarters on Wednesday are the canaries down the mine. They indicate the level of protest to come when the cuts bite. Greedy bastards such as the tax-avoiding billionaire Philip Green and dodgy former BP head Lord Browne who are helming the attack on the poor, leading to workhouse-style free labour, homelessness and exodus of the poorest from the cities, may think they have a free run, but Harris finds evidence in the polls — largely ignored by the press — that people aren't as stupid as the government hopes.

As Harris writes:
More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. ... the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don't know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition's approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

Unlike the mainstream media, we can see that the real vandalism and violence being done to our society is by an unelected government with no mandate to carry out their attacks while preserving their own wealth and privilege.

If we are all in this together, welfare state vandals like Osborne should get their millions out of offshore havens and start paying proper tax. A steep rise in tax for those earning over £100 K, a Robin Hood Tobin tax on city deals, swingeing levels of tax on bankers' bonuses at least until our £1.3 trillion bailout is repaid, and the closure of tax loopholes are all needed if we are to start repairing the damage done by the bankers to the world economy.

Wednesday's student protest at Millbank was a heartening reminder that the spirit of resistance is alive. In the absence of any leadership from a supine Labour party, this looks like the only way forward.

Laurie Penny on the front line.

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Student protests mark revival of spirit and challenge to ConDem cuts


A brilliant piece by John Harris here, exposes the right-wing lies pushed by the ConDem media wing about the cuts.

The students who stormed Millbank Tory headquarters on Wednesday are the canaries down the mine. They indicate the level of protest to come when the cuts bite. Greedy bastards such as the tax-avoiding billionaire Philip Green and dodgy former BP head Lord Browne who are helming the attack on the poor, leading to workhouse-style free labour, homelessness and exodus of the poorest from the cities, may think they have a free run, but Harris finds evidence in the polls — largely ignored by the press — that people aren't as stupid as the government hopes.

As Harris writes:
More generally, presumably to the delight of the government, a cliche has long since oozed into the reporting of what they are up to: that people accept the need for drastic austerity, and are meekly preparing for the necessary dose of fiscal medicine. ... the share of people who think the government has made either the right or wrong calls on public spending is evenly split: 41% and 38% respectively, while one in five simply don't know; 40% of people disagree with the idea that the coalition's approach will improve the state of the economy; while 49% reject the idea that, as the coalition insists, public services will somehow improve in the long run; 47% oppose cutting back the number of people who work in the public sector. Public opinion, it seems, is as contorted and contradictory as ever – and for the government, there is much less comfort than you might imagine.

Unlike the mainstream media, we can see that the real vandalism and violence being done to our society is by an unelected government with no mandate to carry out their attacks while preserving their own wealth and privilege.

If we are all in this together, welfare state vandals like Osborne should get their millions out of offshore havens and start paying proper tax. A steep rise in tax for those earning over £100 K, a Robin Hood Tobin tax on city deals, swingeing levels of tax on bankers' bonuses at least until our £1.3 trillion bailout is repaid, and the closure of tax loopholes are all needed if we are to start repairing the damage done by the bankers to the world economy.

Wednesday's student protest at Millbank was a heartening reminder that the spirit of resistance is alive. In the absence of any leadership from a supine Labour party, this looks like the only way forward.

Laurie Penny on the front line.

How the richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cameron team wears poppies in China


Yes, that's a great idea. Wear poppies on a trade visit to China in the 150th anniversary year marking the end of the Opium Wars when Britain forced cheap Bengal opium on the Chinese people at the point of a gun.

Prime Minister David Cameron may think he is remembering the dead of World Wars One and Two, but in China the vivid symbols only serve as a reminder of Western arrogance and corruption and the Chinese who died due to the actions of a ruthless invading force. That's like a German delegation visiting Coventry and wearing doodlebug bomb badges emblazoned with "Ballroom Blitz". Is this in-yer-face callousness regarding British cruelty abroad the right way to go about touting for trade? Nah! Wouldn't think so.

I'm quoted in today's Evening Standard, responding to Cameron's breathtaking cheek in lecturing the Chinese on international responsibility. China certainly needs to clean up its act in regard to free speech and rights, and is slowly loosening up, but for us — the country that helped start the illegal Iraq war, approved of rendition and torture of its subjects — to deliver the lecture is nothing short of gobsmacking hypocrisy.

Under the Tory LibDem coalition government, which we did not vote for in our democratic elections, lives are being destroyed and a trajectory set for a return to Victorian levels of poverty. I can see a time coming when we'll envy the Chinese.

As for telling another nation to adjust its economy to help us out of a hole, have America or Britain ever done this to ease the debts of foreign countries? I thought it was all market forces. In fact, this means socialism for our rulers but dog-eat-dog capitalism for everyone else. The Chinese economy is made up of thousands of small factories with tiny profit margins making our crap for us. A revaluation of the yuan will mean whole swathes of production wiped out. If the reverse were needed, would America destroy great chunks of its industry with mass unemployment and civil unrest in order to placate another country in trouble due to a crisis that wasn't of our making? They will be making snowmen in hell before this ever happens.

The ugly reality of Remembrance Sunday by John Wight
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