Labour’s role in the class struggle.

December 18, 2011

Hey folks, sorry it’s been so long. I popped over to find something I’d written ages ago and found that I’ve still got a fair number of readers, even though I haven’t written anything in 6 months. The fools! I sort of miss blogging but I’ve not got an awful lot of time to do it these days. I’ll try to get something up at least every few weeks, even if it’s nothing too fascinating or insightful. Thing is, I’ve kind of moved on from actively thinking about atheism and humanism, at least whilst other things are more pressing. So don’t expect much in the way of counter-apologetics for the foreseeable future.

I am often very critical of the UK Labour party. Their shift to the right since 1994 is indicative of the sham democracy we now suffer under the parliamentary system. A system dominated by partisan politics whilst giving no real choice to the electorate. It is absolutely clear that you must now choose between the bad guys and the slightly-better guys. There is currently no credible alternative. The Labour party has had triangulation shoved so far down its throat that it can’t do anything else; when two opposing positions become apparent, it can’t help but dive instinctively into somewhere in the middle.

You need only look at Ed Miliband to see evidence of that fact. He attempts to place himself deftly between Brownism and Blairism, two positions with barely a hair’s breadth between them, and which themselves are triangulated between left and right. Ed isn’t opposed to cuts, he just thinks that these cuts are “too hard and too fast”. He doesn’t side with either the government or the unions in the strikes, but thinks that both sides should get back around the negotiating table. You can also see this cowardice in his position on tuition fees. So scared was he to come out with a justifiable position, he scrambled to say that if he were in government he would place the fee cap at £6,000. That’s £3,000 higher than they currently are. Right bang in the middle between the status-quo and the Tory-led coalition’s position. What is he thinking? Here he has a polarising issue, where almost everyone is at one end or the other, and he puts himself in the middle! Have some guts!

And so we now see people within the Labour party hinting at support for Yvette Cooper, the current shadow Home Secretary. But in her I also see the same old weakness of New Labour: they have no idea what they stand for. They talk about Labour values but they don’t really know what it means, other than some vague commitment to equality. In Cooper’s case, we need to look at the way she talks about immigration.

Yvette Cooper, from wikipedia

In case you don’t know, the Tories currently have a manifesto pledge to cut net immigration down to the tens of thousands, and they’re not going to be able to do it, so they’re going around doing ill-thought out things like making it harder for students to get a visa to study in the UK (for some reason people who come here, spend loads of money and then leave are a problem). They’re doing the classic thing of blaming the ‘other’ for all the problems of a society. What position should a party of the left take in such a scenario? The answer may seem obvious, but I would think they would take the policy from the root and argue that immigrants aren’t the cause of the problem. I would expect a truly left-wing party to point out that immigration isn’t the real enemy of the working class, that unemployment isn’t caused by immigrants stealing jobs, that lack of affordable housing and inflation aren’t caused by immigration, and that actually other factors have a significantly bigger impact on all of these problems, and immigrants bring lots of cultural benefits. Not Yvette Cooper, and not David Blunket, Charles Clark, John Reid or Jacqui Smith. They all blame immigrants too. Yvette Cooper gets sucked into the debate and instead of attacking the Conservative position on ideological grounds, attacks them for incompetence, as if they’re not getting rid of immigrants quickly enough. That’s not left-wing.

The role of the Labour Party should be to give the workers a voice in politics, and to educate the working class. They shouldn’t be chasing votes, because if everyone did that, we’d just have 3 identical parties, and no choice! (Oh… wait.) We know the Labour party has failed because we have a generation who have no idea what a picket line is or why it’s so important. We have a generation of Labour activists who claim to be socialists, but also claim to be Blairites! We have a Labour Party leadership, a leadership put there by the unions, that refuses to back the unions in a strike! What are they doing?! I wouldn’t despair so much, but there really isn’t another party which has any kind of link to the workers. Right now they’re all we’ve got, and that’s depressing.

How to comment on a gay rights issue

January 27, 2011

1. If you’re not gay, don’t comment on the gay rights issue.

2. If anyone involved is from America, don’t mention it. If they’re from somewhere else, that’s ok.

3. If you mention any instance of homophobia, make sure you also mention every other instance, even if it doesn’t seem to be related at all to what you’re talking about, and even if you only have half an hour to write your post.

4. Be sure to mention Muslims. For some reason that is imperative. Don’t differentiate between them either, they’re all the same. Muslims in Morocco and Turkey treat gays just as badly as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the important thing isn’t where they’re from, it’s their religion. Unlike when you mention Americans, in which case it doesn’t matter what their religion is, you’re focussing on where they’re from, even if where they’re from is completely unrelated to what they’re doing.


That’s the most effective way to combat homophobia. FYI.

What a bunch of Jeremys!!

December 9, 2010

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has written this article in the Times. Take a minute to read it, it’s not behind a paywall. In it, he basically describes how higher education is a nationalised industry that needs to be privatised to increase efficiency, and that anyone who doesn’t feel ecstatic about stumping up £21,000 for a three year degree doesn’t deserve to be at university.

The first point that needs to be made about the so-called deterrent effect of a £21,000 loan is that anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of that debt doesn’t deserve to be at any university in the first place. Incurring such a relatively small debt to pay for the huge economic benefit conferred by proper higher education is a fantastic deal. Over a lifetime, the direct financial benefit in higher earnings is around £400,000.

First of all, I want to see his numbers. £400,000 over 40 years is 10 grand a year, not bad but hardly enormous. His £21,000 a year figure doesn’t include 4 year courses like modern languages, and it doesn’t include living costs – some £4,000 a year, so we’re looking at more like £40,000 to do a 3 year course. And that doesn’t include the interest that builds up the longer you take to pay it off, and I daresay it doesn’t include the tax taken off from the higher earnings. Remember too that you’re also taking 3 years out of the job market, which used to be the justification for the grant. Not anymore. And the money that he says you’ll be getting back isn’t guaranteed at all, so it’s not as if you’re exchanging £21,000 for £400,000. Suddenly this bargain basement looks more like a snake oil salesman.

I want to see the controls he used, because it’s not necessarily the case that university is the cause of this higher figure. If I study English Literature at uni and then go on to make a fortune selling cars, how much of my earnings can be attributed to the higher education system? It might be nothing to do with it, or it could be because I’ve built up contacts at uni (which doesn’t cost the uni anything), or it could be because of some transferable skill that I learned there (in which case it’s only partly down to higher education).

But all that’s irrelevant, he says that people put off by the uni debt don’t deserve to be at uni. Whether he likes it or not and whether it’s justified or not, people from poorer backgrounds are put off by the debt, moreso than rich people, whether or not they ‘deserve’ to go to university. If he thinks there are too many people going to university then that’s a defensible position, but it is not acceptable to reduce the number of university-goers by using willingness to accrue debt as a proxy for merit. That is absurdity of the highest order.

But that’s not all, he actually looks up to the American system as though it’s something to aspire to! Does he not know that for many people in America it is simply not an option to go to college because they just can’t afford it? People have to save up for decades in order to send their kids to college, is that something we want here? I think not. England has the highest tuition fees in Europe, and if the bill goes through today they’ll be the most expensive in the world.

Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money. We could guarantee far superior healthcare and schooling for our families if only the Government gave us back the money which it confiscates from us in taxes and then spends on the schools and hospitals which it runs so badly.

Wow, the state ‘confiscates’ money? That’s bordering on Tea Party idiocy there. But it’s nice of him to mention healthcare, that’s just sparked an idea in my head. Hold on, I’m just going to put my Michael Gove hat on for a second. Why does he not argue that people who benefit most from healthcare should have to pay more for it? Undoubtedly people have earned money out of it (since he insists on putting everything in monetary terms), because they don’t earn anything if they die. Why should I subsidise that?

Ahem. I’ll tell you why, because society as a whole benefits from having a universal healthcare system, just as society as a whole benefits from having university graduates. Gove claims that privatising the higher education system will increase efficiency in the higher education sector but I don’t see how. One factor that he seems to be ignoring is that private companies are geared to make profit. It’s only “efficient” if you’re talking about how much money they can make vs how much money it costs. Some things are better paid for when the object is not to make money, things like emergency services, healthcare, education, legal aid, welfare. The privatisation of education will only benefit the rich.

And they have the gall to tell us that these cuts aren’t ideological. For shame.


September 8, 2010

I find myself having to apologise again for the lack of content around here. I’ve just moved back to Edinburgh so I’m sorting myself out there, I’m working full time whilst my boss is on holiday, with fairly unsociable hours, and I’ve got a lot of reading to do before term starts again so I’m very busy. I’m also reading Flat Earth News which is brilliant, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s tired of the way the media works.

Anyway, next week the Pope is visiting the UK, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that. I’ll also be giving a talk giving the case against the Pope’s state visit a couple of weeks after that, and maybe I’ll post a summary.

“Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”

August 27, 2010

A few weeks ago I went to a fundraising dinner with my parents, for the charity they both work for. Two people I know from my local pub were also there, parents of one of my mum’s co-workers, and there’s a bit of history here. Let’s call them Dave and Sharon. They’re both Jehovah’s Witnesses, and about 9 months ago, Dave added me on Facebook. I often post stories related to gay rights issues on my Facebook profile, among other things, and on one of these stories Dave said something to the effect of “it’s unnatural, it should be banned.” Unsurprisingly he got torn apart by people who objected to what he’d said, I chimed in and said I didn’t agree, and within a couple of days Dave had deleted me from his friends. He soon had a conversation in the pub with my dad where he said that’s what I was into, ‘all that gay stuff’, presumably implying that I must be gay. If I’d been there I would have noted that since (I presume) Dave didn’t believe in slavery, and he believed women should have the vote, he must be a black woman by his logic. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Anyway back to the dinner a couple of weeks ago, I considered that all over, and Dave and Sharon were sitting next to me at the table. After a while, Sharon said that Dave had got quite a lot of stick from my friends on Facebook, and then there was a pause. I don’t know what they wanted me to say but I wasn’t surprised and I thought he deserved it. She went on, “it’s not the people, it’s what they do that’s the problem. We believe it’s wrong.” Another pause, as if as soon as the word ‘belief’ had come up, I was supposed to back off because that’s sacred. Anyone who knows me will know that that’s not how I work.

Anyway some examples came up and they talked about a gay mutual friend, who they referred to as a very nice man. It all reeked to me of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” rubbish I’d been taught in school. I say rubbish not because it’s a bad idea, indeed this idea has probably protected a lot of people from harm, but because it doesn’t make any sense. They obviously consider homosexuality (or at least sodomy) a sin*. Let’s say it’s as bad a sin as theft** – I do know Christians who say all sins are equal but I find that idea ridiculous. Now would Dave and Sharon have said “he’s a very nice man, except that every Friday night he unapologetically goes out and burgles houses”? Of course not! If he regularly does something that they consider wrong, and he shows no remorse for it, then clearly in their opinion he shouldn’t be a very nice man. And if they really do hate the sin and love the sinner, then why all the discrimination? It’s a load of tosh. These aren’t the kind of people you’re going to convince any time soon, so I bit my tongue and changed the subject.

* On a complete tangent, I can’t recall any part of the Bible that condemns female homosexuality. Indeed IIRC, Queen Victoria didn’t make lesbianism illegal because she didn’t believe it existed. You’d think all these Bible literalists would at least legalise gay marriage for lesbians.

** On another tangent, homosexuality is only condemned in a few passages in the Bible, along with masturbation, planting two different crops in the same furrow, wearing garments made of two different cloths, being an unruly child, etc. In fact honouring your father and mother even made it into the 10 Commandments, why is it that Bible literalists are so intent on stopping gay marriage and they aren’t going mental about all the people disrespecting their parents? If all sins are equal, why focus so much on this one?  The answer’s simple, because it fits into their own bigotry and ideology.

Off for a bit

July 27, 2010

Sorry about the lack of content, I got back from Portugal and I’ve got no internet on my laptop, and the desktop at home is horribly virginal and unpersonalised so I’m staying away from it. I’ll be up in Edinburgh next week (just in time for the Skeptics on the Fringe – keep your eyes peeled for that) so I’ll be posting again then.

Why aren’t people more angry?

July 8, 2010

You may have heard about the recent gay pride parade where former anti-gay Christians came along with signs saying that they were sorry for how they and their churches had treated them. Hemant’s take on it over at the Friendly Atheist was that it’s not good enough. These people still believe that being gay is morally wrong, and that’s indefensible. Sure, it may be better than what most Christians in the states do, but it’s still not good. Then there was the excitement when Australia’s PM stepped down and the new one was a woman, unmarried, without kids, and an atheist. But it turns out she doesn’t support gay marriage either. We have people blowing up abortion clinics and shooting abortion doctors, and generally stepping all over the rights of various different groups. National newspapers in the UK are allowed to print disgusting crap like this:

And this:

Which is blatantly xenophobic and homophobic, particularly the Sun’s headline. And I start wondering, why aren’t people up in arms about this? Why is it that when a gay man kisses his boyfriend in public he risks being insulted or even attacked, but when someone says being gay is unnatural or immoral, they don’t get the shit kicked out of them? Why is it that when a woman goes to have an abortion she can be judged and insulted at the gate, but when someone tells them they’ll go to hell for it, that person’s opinion is respected?

I suppose what I’m asking is, why don’t we see gay terrorist groups? Look back to the civil rights movement. Sure, there was a lot of peaceful protest just like we see now, but there were also more radical groups like the Panthers. Why don’t we see that?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing we don’t see it, both because violence is wrong and because it would be bad for the movement in general, but it’s still something I would expect to see. I’m not gay, but if it were my rights that were being trampled on and people were insulting me in public, I think I’d probably have broken a few noses.