Category: Political ideology

A defence of “political correctness”

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The left believe that in order to address prejudice and discrimination, it’s important to address the language we use as a society, changing it to reflect an increasingly diverse society, where everyone feels at safe, included and one in which citizens attempt to avoid giving needless offence to one another.

By ensuring terms that reflect prejudice are not part of our everyday language habits, it is hoped that as a society, we can cultivate and extend tolerance and basic principles of courtesy, equality and decency to our fellow human beings, reflecting a healthy pluralism. 

However, the right see a conspiracy in “political correctness”. The phrase is used by Conservatives and the far right in a derogatory way that implies hidden and powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by the policing of language and thought. For the right, political correctness is an hegemonic, stifling and Stalinist-styled orthodoxy, that pressures us into a fashionable conformity. The right see political correctness as a means of closing down debate, not that they particularly favour candour more generally. Just the sort of “speaking one’s mind” that involves directing stigma at historically marginalised groups.

Apparently, open, civil discourse need not be civil, prefigurative and inclusive. Or open, for that matter. 

The fact that Western civilization has been inherently unfair to ethnic minorities, women, disabled people, poor people and homosexuals has always been at the centre of politically correct thinking. Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action grew to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing historical wrongs, harms, or hindrances. Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population, and to address disadvantage.

In the UK, affirmative action is illegal, we have a history of “positive action”, which is more about focusing on ensuring equal opportunity and, for example, targeted advertising campaigns to encourage ethnic minority candidates to join the police force.

Any discrimination, quotas or favouritism due to sex, race and ethnicity among other “protected characteristics” is generally illegal for any reason in education, employment, during commercial transactions, in a private club or association, and while using public services.

The Equality Act 2010 (established by the Labour government, amended, reduced and implemented by the Conservative-led coalition) established the principles of equality and their implementation in the UK.

Specific exemptions include:

Part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the Good Friday Agreement and the resulting Patten report required the Police Service of Northern Ireland to recruit 50% of numbers from the Catholic community and 50% from the Protestant and other communities, in order to reduce any possible bias towards Protestants. This was later referred to as the “50:50” measure. (See also Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland.)

It’s fair that all social groups are able to participate in all provided opportunities including educational, employment, promotional and training opportunities, surely. The right claim to cherish the notion of a meritocracy, after all. A genuine meritocracy would alienate no-one.

Political correctness arose to help compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture, and to address existing discrimination, which ultimately strengthens social cohesion – something else that traditional Conservatives claimed to cherish. Political correctness is about universal human rights. It’s about inclusion and democracy. 

Instead, however, political correctness is seen by many on the right as a some kind of dictatorship of virtue. The left are often ridiculously accused of “virtue signalling” and being “do-gooders” by the right. I’ve often wondered what the ideal alternative to a “do-gooder” would be, for those making this simultaneously slapstick and surreal accusation.

The right abandon the principles of political science, democracy, civil debate, diplomacy and inclusion and simply assail the characters of their critics. They get personal. They can’t seem to disagree without being disagreeable. They prefer to simply “crush the saboteurs”, rather than engage in rational dialogue. But without dialogue and the basic principles and mechanisms of exchange, we don’t have a healthy, pluralist democracy. Instead, we have a group of people imposing their narrow worldview, language, thoughts and personal prejudices upon a population. Using political narratives that focus on outgrouping already marginalised citizens according to their economic status – which is in turn created by a process of outgrouping – is not “telling it like it is”. It’s telling us how it is going to be.

It’s not just that the right resent political correctness for what they see as a mechanism for suppressing their own traditional prejudices. They use carefully calibrated undemocratic language to argue against the very idea of a carefully calibrated language that came about to simply extend principles of fairness, equality and democratic inclusion. Ultimately, political correctness is about democracy and a fair model of socioeconomic organisation.

The right don’t like political correctness because they don’t like the very idea that all human lives have equal worth. They prefer hierarchical ranking and hierarchical socioeconomic organisation. That’s what the Conservative notion of “competition” means. It’s not real competition of course, because without a degree of “political correctness”, there is no level playing field to compete from.

Some social groups simply don’t have access to opportunities to “compete” fairly for even a basic share of wealth and power. “Telling it like it is”, and “speaking your mind” is actually rather more about stating which social groups are allowed to participate as citizens in a society, and which groups aren’t. 

A homo… what?

Politics reduced to homophily is also a politics without a shred of democracy. By interacting only with others who are like themselves, anything that government ministers experience as a result of their position, influence and power simply gets reinforced. It comes to typify “people like us” and demarcates “people like them”. It’s the basis of a political othering process.

Homophily – which is basically a tendency to associate only with those like yourself –  also shapes the “old-boys network” and the revolving door of power between politicians and corporate entities: a politics in which a handful of people who went to the same public school or university use their positions of  power and influence to mutually benefit each other. It’s a movement of personnel between roles as legislators and the industries potentially affected by legislation and regulation. The result is that legislation and deregulation happens which benefits only those included in the revolving door interaction. That’s not a large proportion of the population at all. 

I think this is what Conservatives mean when they say we live in a “meritocracy”. This is clearly not compatible with democracy.

Nudging privilege and kicking the poor

Then of course there are the academics who support Conservative neoliberalism, such as the “libertarian paternalists”, for example, who have found their way into the very heart of the Conservatives’ political decision-making process regarding policy. Nudge is comprised of a very lucrative set of theories that have the added value of simply propping up the status quo. Nudge is mostly aimed at “improving the decisions” of poor people, who, it is claimed, are poor because of their “faulty” cognitive processes and behaviours.

The behavioural economists at the heart of the technocratic Nudge Unit, which is at the very heart of the cabinet office, claim they are “scientific”, as they use a scientific methodology – randomised control trials – to “verify” their various hypotheses. However, by isolating and exploring what they perceive as basic causal relationships in experimental circumstances, they effectively screen out context and other potential variables – such as the structural and historical causes of poverty, brought about by political decision-making, for example – and so such “experiments” effectively screen their own ideological commitments from view. The hypotheses being tested are without context and history, they are superficial and highlight all of the flaws of old school positivism very well.

Furthermore, libertarian paternalism reduces society in all of its complexity to a basic system of “incentives” and responses. The government frequently dismiss citizens’ accounts and qualitative experiences as “anecdotal”, and claim that any criticism of Conservative policies isn’t valid because individual cases don’t establish a “causal link” between policies and the citizens’ stated consequences of policies.

An example of this is the many cases of harm and high number of deaths that have been raised which correlate with the Conservative welfare “reforms” and austerity. However, policies are designed to have consequences. The government simply isn’t interested in monitoring those, evidently.

Nor is it interested in the empirical evidence that citizens have provided. The representation of social reality produced by positivism was always inherently and artificially Conservative, maintaining the status quo. At the very least, Conservatives would do well to consider that correlation often implies causality, even though it isn’t quite the same thing. As such, established correlation invites further inquiry, not point-blank political denials.

The welfare “reforms” are strongly correlated with an increase in premature deaths and suicides. A democratic government would be concerned with those consequences and would be open to at least exploring the possibility that those consequences are causally linked with their draconian policies. 

If you are one of those people who think political correctness is a detriment to politically vibrant debates, you have it all back to front: People who use politically correct language aren’t trying to stifle insensitive speech, or moify freedom of expression. They’re simply trying to out-compete that speech in a free and open exchange. Those who oppose political correctness – with its very emphasis being on the ability to include and articulate varied and opposing viewpoints – are the ones who are trying to close debate down.

It’s not a coincidence that many people who despise political correctness are also strongly anti-intellectual, too.

When “freedom of speech” is just an excuse for narratives of hate

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The right quite often seem to use the freedom of speech plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. But speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude vulnerable groups. Hate speech does not “democratise” speech, it tends to monopolise it. Nor is it based on reason, critical thinking or open to debate. Prejudice is a crass parody of opinion and free speech. Bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thought. Instead they have prejudice and groupthink.

Being inequitable, petty or prejudiced isn’t “telling it like it is” – a claim which has become a common tactic for the right, and particularly UKIP – it’s just being inequitable, petty or prejudiced. Some things are not worth saying. Really. We may well have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth. And UKIP do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their characteristics, for example, because of their race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 

In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is a contemporary example of Newspeak, used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in order to appear politically correct. 

However, the term “political correctness” was adopted by US Conservatives as a pejorative for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo.

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that “political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of Conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the left is justified as a positive virtue. Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We live in a country ruled by a right-wing logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in justifications for such oppressive policies.

The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. Firstly, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. It validates and reinforces prejudice. It extends a “permission” for social prejudice, discrimination and hatred.

The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate a targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. Furthermore, hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used “freedom of speech” to incite social prejudice, discrimination, hatred and then to incite and justify genocide.)

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As Gordon Allport’s scale of social prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice. The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed.

The most effective way to diffuse prejudice is an early preventative approach via dialogue: education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, in challenging bigotry, encouraging social solidarity, respect for diversity and in helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.

Hate speech categories are NOT about “disagreement” or even offence. Hate speech doesn’t invite debate. It’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learned this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence. The far right in particular would have us unlearn the lessons of the Holocaust so that people can say “I’m not being  racist, but…” or “It’s not wrong to say immigrants should be sent home…” and so on.

The UK was once proudly multicultural, pluralist, democratic, rich and diverse, it was one that had learned from history and evolved. It was founded on genuine progress and civil rights movements, reflecting the past battles of historically oppressed groups fought and won – which gave us hard-earned freedoms to be who we are without fear. 

Now, we have a government that has ushered in a post-civil-rights era. One that is fine with radically reducing our social security so that it no longer provides support that is sufficient to meet basic survival needs, just so that exploited and poorly paid workers can feel a little better about being so poorly paid and exploited. It’s a government that is comfortable with displacing responsibility for the hardships that many are suffering because of the failure of neoliberal policy, by blaming multiculturalism and political correctness.

Of course it’s not the intentional slashing of public services, welfare, healthcare, legal aid, accessible social housing, lowered taxes for the wealthy, union busting, privatisation and outsourcing that are the causes of our problems. It is those foreign “others”. Nothing to do with political priorities, decision-making and ideology. Of course not. 

Recently, in response to anger regarding the recent Paradise Papers leak, Tory MP Justine Greening said on BBC’s Question Time that tax avoidance isn’t “illegal”. She also claimed we have a “culture” of tax avoidance, and said “it isn’t just wealthy people who don’t pay their taxes.”  

However, it’s not illegal to claim social security, either, but ordinary people going through difficult circumstances have been vilified and politically persecuted whilst very wealthy tax avoiders are free to enjoy their culture of entitlement. The government have themselves loudly promoted the ideal of a “low tax, low welfare society”, to fit in with their rigid neoliberal ideological framework.

It’s worth watching this particular Question Time (below), because it highlights the huge discrepancies between Conservative rhetoric (and their use of statistics) and the reality that ordinary citizens actually experience. Aditya Chakrabortty raised the issue of Conservatives’ policies sending disabled people to their deaths, and a Conservative representative shouted out from the audience that this is “rubbish” and “disgusting”, closing down the debate before it had even started. As someone who researches and writes extensively about the impact of public policies, I can say categorically that Chakrabortty is right. I write about those people who have been sent to their deaths because of Conservative policies. There are many such catastrophic cases discussed on this site alone.

BBC Question Time from Croydon – 9th of November 2017

“Paying down the deficit” is the sole responsibility of the poorest, evidently. Those of us who need the public services and protections that we have already paid into have seen our standard of living plummet into conditions of absolute poverty over the past 7 years, while the minority of wealthy people enjoy a politically endorsed accumulation of even more wealth and hoard it offshore, leaving a black hole in the economy, and at our substantial expense. No amount of political narrating can render this “fair” or even remotely democratic. 

With its overseas territories, the UK dominates the map of tax havens. Britain is one of the world’s largest tax havens. Within the European Union (EU), the British government has  been slowing down the EU’s fight against tax avoidance and money laundering for the last few years. 

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It’s a government that is all about lowering living standards, and crucially, our expectations, and our regard of each other. So much mean-spirited resentment has been kindled and perpetuated by the Conservatives, amongst the oppressed, aimed at the oppressed. It’s nothing more than diversion tactic to maintain the status quo. It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the much less powerful to vent their rage and fear against those who may have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; but it pays frightful dividends. 

All forms of prejudice – racism, sexism, ablism, ageism and so on – are both fundamental expressions and the cause of an unequal distribution of power and  wealth. The UK has regressed this past 7 years, with discrimination becoming normalised again via Conservative policies. 

The prejudice comes from the top down. It’s institutionalised via policies, political rhetoric, behaviours and is amplified by the media. And negative role modelling from those in positions of power. Just take a look at the collective behaviours of the current government. It speaks volumes about their traditional prejudices and attitudes, and it also imposes a narrow frame of reference for attitudes and behaviours towards others on the nation.

Furthermore, the tactic of scapegoating is used to justify discrimination, responsibility and political accountability. Scapegoating a process where a group is made to bear the blame for the actions of others and to suffer in their place. Scapegoats become the objects of irrational hostility, and the process of scapegoating fosters deep divisions within a society. 

The real tyranny was never political correctness. We are not “taking” anything back, we are witnessing the shaping a frightening future. Such divide and rule politicking is a deadly strategy calculated to circumvent political correctness, and reflects the Conservatives’ strongly authoritarian impulses. It sets in place a social race to the bottom, and ultimately, leaves us with only the rungs of Allport’s ladder of social prejudice within our reach to climb.  

 


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Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest success is the discrediting of neoliberalism

Jeremy Corbyn Labour conference speech in full (2017)

One of Corbyn’s most important achievements is in extending national debate beyond the limits of neoliberal ideology and challenging the hegemony imposed by Margaret Thatcher. The sell by date was last century, it expired in Pinochet’s Chile. Yet the Tories continue to flog a dead horse, selling England by the pound, while selling the public very short indeed.

The Tories have frequently shrieked, with vindictive and borderline hysterical relish, that Labour’s pro-social economic policies reflect “fiscal irresponsibility”, but that doesn’t resonate with the government’s calamitous economic record over the past seven years. Nor does it fit with historic facts and accuracy. 

The Labour party were in power when the global crash happened. The recession in 2007/8 in the UK was not one that happened as a direct consequence of Labour’s policies. The seeds of The Great Recession were sown in the 80s and 90s. The global crisis of 2008 was the result of the financialization process: of the massive creation of fictitious financial capital and the hegemony of a reactionary ideology, neoliberalism, which is based on the assumption that markets are self-regulating and efficient. 

The New Right argued that competition and unrestrained selfishness was of benefit to the whole society in capitalist societies. It asserted that as a nation gets wealthier the wealth will “trickle down” to the poorest citizens, because it is invested and spent thereby creating jobs and prosperity. In fact the global financial crisis has demonstrated only too well that financial markets provide opportunities for investment that extend relatively few extra jobs and that feed a precarious type of prosperity that can be obliterated in just a matter of days. 

Neoliberalism: the social sins and economic incompetence of the New Right

The financial deregulation promoted by the New Right permitted the financial institutions to dictate government policy and allowed wealth to be channelled into speculative investments, exacerbating the volatility of share and housing markets. Neoliberal theories were embraced and cherished by big business because they provided a legitimation for their pursuit of self-interest, personal profit and ample avenues for business expansion.  

Private companies supported the argument that government regulation interfered with business and undermined “enterprise culture”.  In this view, government intervention in the management of the economy is unnecessary and unwise because the market is a “self-correcting” mechanism. There was also certain appeal in free market ideology for governments too, in that it absolved them of responsibility for economic performance and living standards of the population. Government functions were and continue to be consigned to profit-seeking private companies,.

The New Right advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands.

Neoliberal politics were shaped by the decisions and policy activities of Reagan and Thatcher, the architects of deregulation, privatisation, competition, the somewhat mysterious “market forces”, reduced public spending, austerity and trickle-down economics.

The changes pushed through in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens, and of course a higher propensity to get into debt.

The Conservatives have a historical record of economic incompetence, and of ignoring empirical evidence that runs counter to their ideological stance. Margaret Thatcher’s failed neoliberal experiment resulted in a crashed economy in 1980-1, which had devastating consequences for communities and many individuals.

Neoliberalism gives economic goals and profiteering an elevated priority over social goals. Many of the social gains made as a result of our post-war settlement have been unravelled since the 1980s, and this process accelerated from 2010, under the guise of austerity.  Rather than arising as a response to an economic need, austerity is central to neoliberal economic strategy. 

While free market advocates claim that neoliberalism promotes a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has consistently demonstrated quite the opposite tendency, requiring authoritarianism and extensive, all pervasive ideological apparatus to implement an anti-social economic doctrine. As David Harvey says in A Brief History of Neoliberalismthe neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them.

If the citzens were free to make decisions about their own lives democratically, perhaps the first thing they would choose to undertake is interference with the property rights of the ruling elite, therefore posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards  progressive taxation, unionisation or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the “minimal state” cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. 

Any state method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether it’s through force, coercion, ideology and propaganda or social engineering, is authoritarian.

Following Thatcher’s reluctant but necessary resignation, John Major’s government became responsible for British exit from the ERM after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992. This led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again. The disaster of Black Wednesday left the government’s economic credibility irreparably damaged. It’s a pity that the public tend to forget such historical facts subsequently, at election time.

The abiding consequences of Thatcher’s domestic policies from the 1980s and her policy template and legacy set in motion the fallout from the global neoliberal crisis. We are witnessing the terrible social costs of the current government’s perpetual attempts to fix the terminal problems of neoliberalism with more neoliberalism. 

Under the fraying blue banner, the public are now seeing the incongruence between political narrative and reality; there’s an irreconcilable gap between their own lived experiences of neoliberal policies, and what the government are telling them their experiences are.  

“Ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra – deregulate, privatize, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many.

[…] We are now the political mainstream. Our manifesto and our policies are popular because that is what most people in our country actually want, not what they’re told they should want.” Jeremy Corbyn.

What is the point of a socioeconomic system that benefits only a minority proportion of citizens? It hardly reflects a functioning democracy.  

Ideology is a linked set of ideas and beliefs that act to uphold and justify an existing or desired arrangement of power, authority, wealth and status in a society. Ideological hegemony arises where a particular ideology, such as neoliberalism, is pervasively reflected throughout a society in all principal social institutions and permeates cultural ideas and social relationships. It’s very difficult to “stand outside” of such a system of belief to challenge it, because it has become normalised, taking on the mantle of “common sense”.

Corbyn has talked about forging a “new common sense” during the Conference season. It’s one that has increasingly resonated with the wider public. If there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would win comfortably. In Jeremy Corbyn’s own words, “a new consensus is emerging.” 

However, neoliberal policies are insidious machinations controlled by the capitalist ruling class, in the context of a historic class struggle, to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class. One of the key conditions for this to work is public compliance. Such compliance is garnered through an increasingly authoritarian and repressive state.

Of course, as previous discussed, this is one of the biggest inherent ideologic contradictions within neoliberalism: it demands a lean and small state, austerity, and the dismantling of support mechanisms that ensure the quality of life for all citizens, on the one hand, but requires an authoritarian state that is focussed primarily on public conformity and compliance in order to impose a mode of socioeconomic organisation that benefits so few, and lowers the standard of living for so many.

Neoliberalism was never the way forward: it only went backwards

Conservatives would be better named “Regressives”. They’re elitist and really are nasty authoritarians, who have chosen to impose a socioeconomic model that fails most people, destroys all of our public services, extends exploitation of labour, creates massive inequality and absolute poverty, damages the environment, eats away at public funds whilst shifting them to private bank accounts. Then the nee exists to manufacture political justification narratives to cover the devastating social damage inficted, which stigmatises and blames everyone who is failed by this failing system for being failed.

If the public had known all along what neoliberalism really is, and what its consequences are, they would never have wanted it. People are dying and other people are buying the planned and prepared bent rationale and political denials.

Apparently, there is “no causal link between punitive  “behavioural change” policies and distress”, apparently. Examples of hardship, harm, suicide and death are simply “anecdotal”. Critics of policies and government decision-making are “scaremongering”, “extremists”, “enemies of the state”,  “deluded commies” and so on. Yet most of us are simply advicates of social democracy and justice. 

If you ever wondered how genocide happens, and how a nation come to somehow accept the terrible deeds of despots, well it starts much like this. It unfolds in barely perceptible stages: it starts with prejudiced language, divisive narratives, the promotion of the work ethic, exclusion, media propaganda, widening political prejudice, scapegoating, outgrouping and stigmatisation, acts of violence, and then extermination.

Our moral boundaries are being pushed incrementally. Before you know it, you hate the “workshy”, you believe that disabled people are shirkers who place an unacceptable burden on the state, you see all refugees and migrants as potential thieves, fraudsters and terrorists, and poor people are simply choosing the easy option. When political role models permit the public to hate, directing anger and fear at marginalised social grups, it isn’t long before the once unacceptable becomes thinkable.

The public conforms to changing norms. We become habituated. It’s difficult to believe a state may intentionally inflict harm on citizens. Our own government is guilty of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people. A government capable of targeting such punitive policies at disabled people is capable of anything.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, top down control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

David Cameron’s Conservative party got into Office by riding on the shockwaves of the 2008 global banking crisis: by sheer opportunism, dishonesty and by extensively editing the narrative about cause of that crisis. The Conservatives shamefully blamed it on “the big state” and “too much state spending.”

They have raided and devastated the public services and social security that citizens have paid for via taxes and national insurance. Support provision for citizens has been cut to the bone. And then unforgivably, they blamed the victims of those savage, ideologically-directed cuts for the suffering imposed on them by the Conservative Party, using the media to amplify their despicable, vicious scapegoating narratives. 

Setting up competition between social groups for resources just means everyone loses except for the very wealthy and powerful. This last 7 years we have witnessed the dehumanisation of refugees and migrants, of disabled people, of unemployed people, of young people, of the elderly and those on low pay. We have also witnessed the unearned contempt for and subsequent deprofessionalisation of doctors, economists, social scientists, academics, teachers, and experts of every hue in order to silence valid and democratic challenges and criticism of destructive government policies and ideology.

Many of us have pointed out that intent behind austerity has nothing to do with economic necessity, nor is it of any benefit to the economy. It’s simply to redistribute public wealth to private (and often offshore) bank accounts. The many deaths correlated with the Conservative’s punitive policies were considered and dismissed as acceptable “collateral damage”. The government constructed a lie about the economic “need” for people “living within our means” but at the same time as imposing cruel cuts on the poorest citizens, George Osborne awarded an obscene handout in the form of a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year to the millionaires.

Neoliberalism has transformed public funds into the disposible income of the very rich. Disabled people are suffering, and some are dying in poverty, unable to meet their basic needs so that wealthy people can hoard a little more wealth. Since 2010, very wealthy people have enjoyed other fiscally rewarding policy whilst the poorest have endured harsh austerity and seen their living standards deteriorate steadily. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty – where people cannot meet the costs of their basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter –  as a direct consequence of the diminished welfare state since 2010. 

The current  political and cultural narrative was carefully constructed to hide the truth from the wider population, ensuring that responsibility for individual people’s circumstances was relocated from the state to within those harmed by state actions: those ministers doing the harming via policies simply deny any empirical evidence of harm that they are presented, often clinging to psychological explanations of “mental illness” rather than acknowledging the wider role of adverse socioeconomic circumstances and political decision-making in the increasing number of people ending their own life, for example. Cases are despicably and callously dismissed as mere “anecdotal” accounts.

The harm being inflicted on disabled people in order to snatch back their lifeline support cannot be passed off as being the “unintentional consequences” of policies. The government clearly knew in advance what harm such draconian policies would result in. I say this because the evidence is that planning and preparation went into a comprehensive programme of reducing living conditions, public expectation, civil liberties and human rights. Or at least ignoring human rights legal frameworks. The right to redress and remedy has also been removed.

For example, the withdrawing of legal aid – particularly for welfare and medical negligence cases – preparing in advance for a UN inquiry; the political use of denial, behaviourism and pseudoscience to stifle public criticism; the introduction of mandatory reviews to deter appeals for wrongful Department for Work and Pesions (DWP) decisions; the devastating cuts to every support available to the poorest; the deprofessionalising of GPs and medical professionals; the claims that work is the only route out of poverty (when wages are intentionally depressed and many working people live in poverty) despite, evidence to the contrary, and our national insurance and tax system; the framework of psychological and material coercion inflicted on people claiming any form of welfare, forcing them to accept ANY work, thus pushing wages down further, since that completely removes any chance of wage bargaining; further destroying the unions; the passing of controversial and harmful policies by using statutory instruments, which reduces scope for scrutiny and objection in parliament; re-writing policies, legal rulings and changing the law to accommodate Conservative ideological criteria; shaping media “striver/scrounger” narratives and so on – all of these political deeds indicate a government that was well aware of the harmful consequences of their policies in advance of passing them into law, and that planned ahead, taking measures to stifle the potential for a public backlash.

Jeremy Corbyn’s apparently improbable success in promoting a politics of social democracy, justice and integrity has matured, and realigned its centre with national sentiment. The Labour party have succeeded in breaking the neoliberal grip on intellectual thought in the UK, at last.

“For a long period of time, all economic thought has been dominated by trickle down economics, where if you issue tax cuts to corporations and the rich, the money will somehow filter down the rest of society,” John McDonnell says. 

“Well that’s significantly been proven wrong in this recent political debate, and we can see it, whether it’s people queuing up at food banks, housing shortages, millions of children living in poverty, two thirds of those families with someone in work. People all around are realising that this economic theory has failed, and what we’re trying to do is offer them an alternative. That’s what our manifesto was all about.”

A paradigm change is long overdue – by which I mean a substantial shift in the accepted way of thinking about the economy.  It may well be imminent. 

By the end of the second world war, the Keynesian revolution was sufficiently advanced for the Labour party to offer a comprehensive new approach to economic policymaking. Similarly, in 1979, the Conservative party was able to present the main elements of neoliberal thinking as the solution to the economic problems that blighted the economy in the 1970s. Up until recently, there was nothing comparable for the opponents of neoliberalism to latch on to.

New Labour continued with the neoliberal project, though they did temper this with a focus on ensuring adequate social provision to mitigate the worst ravages of untrammelled free market capitalism.

May recently felt the need to defend free market capitalism itself, which is a measure of how terrified the Tories are by Labour’s rise. yet the Conservative manifesto had drawn on left wing rhetoric, in order to appeal. It didn’t, however, because no-one believes the Conservatives’ “progressive” claims any more.

Laughably, the Conservative manifesto claimed: “We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.”

It’s a pretty desperate improvisation by the Tories as they try to respond to angry citizens and mass concerns about social issues like inequality and growing poverty. However, the Conservatives have never been a “savior” of the working people, as their dismantling of Trade Union power demonstrates all too well. The Tories’ savage cuts to spending on public services belied May’s phoney redistributionist rhetoric. May’s hysterical left-wing posturing against the inequality and social division created by Conservatives has simply confirmed that the Anglo-American neoliberal revolution of the 1980s is over.

Corbyn’s Labour party has built a consensus for change. Such change is essential to ensure that the toothmarks of necessity – the bite of absolute poverty, and the social disarray caused by over 35 years of culminating neoliberalism – are eased, soothed and healed in much the same way that the post-war Keynesian consensus era – which brought with it legal aid, social housing, the NHS and welfare – healed our society following the devastating consequences of a world war. 

McDonnell has also articulated his vision for what he terms a “political renaissance”, where people aren’t limited by existing ideas and structures and have the space to come up with ideas that the party can debate and discuss. This is participatory politics and democracy in action. 

He says: “We’re trying to open up every avenue we possibly can for people to get engaged. It’s about asking people what are you interested in, how do you think it works better, what ideas have you got? It just overcomes some of the staleness we might have had in past years.”

This is a welcomed, long overdue and such a refreshing contrast to Conservatism, which is defined by its opposition to social progressivism. Neoliberals have tried to persuade us that there is no alternative to neoliberalism. They lied. A lot. Now they are dazed and confused because the establishment were so certain that Corbyn’s rise wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t, the media informed us. Over and over.

But it has. It was inevitable. The Labour party had an ace up their sleeve: public interest and democratic accountability. Two sides of the same card.

It’s about time someone lit the way for us, enabling us to find the way out of the dark neoliberal torture dungeon. And once we’ve escaped, we really ought to jail our jailers.

At the very least, neoliberalism should be confined to the dustbin of history.

Looney Tunes.
Illustration by Andrew Rae

 

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Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’


Hayley Dixon write in the Telegraph today: “A litany of failings in building regulation and safety rules have left residents in tower blocks vulnerable for decades. Despite constant warnings from fire experts, nothing was done to improve fire-proofing standards, or even review the current situation.” They present eight times that the victims of Grenfell Tower were let down.” 

These were:

Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.

But under Margaret Thatcher’s government, those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.

Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire. But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible. For the past three decades fire safety experts have warned that the ‘Class O’ designation was based on small-scale tests conducted in laboratory conditions and did not properly evaluate cladding in a live fire. A recent London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at a tower block fire at Shepherd Court in West London in August 2016 found that external cladding had helped the fire to spread.

They found that when exposed to high flames the metal sheet of the cladding had melted away, setting the inner polystyrene foam on fire and allowing ‘flaming droplets’ to fall onto lower floors while helping flames to spread higher up. Fire chiefs wrote to every council in London to warn them of the dangers but no action was taken.

Dangerous cladding

A leading fire safety expert warned Government advisors three years ago that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower inferno would happen unless they changed rules to ban cheap, flammable insulation used on the outside of buildings.

Arnold Turling said the Grenfell blaze was “entirely avoidable” and that a gap between the panels acted as a ‘wind tunnel’, fanning the flames, and allowing the fire to spread to upper levels.

Turling, a member of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, said: “Any burning material falls down the gaps and the fire spreads up very rapidly – it acts as its own chimney.”

White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower
White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower CREDIT: EPA

Three years ago Tarling, a chartered surveyor, addressed the British Standards Institute’s seventh annual fire conference in London, at which government fire safety advisor Brian Martin was present.

“I said we will have this type of cladding fire in this country and it will lead to large numbers of deaths,” he said.

It emerged last night that the United States had banned the type of cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower. 

The material used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond which comes in three different varieties: one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant cores and the cheaper, more combustible, version was banned in the United States in buildings taller than 40 feet. 

It is thought that Grenfell’s exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core but conforms to UK standards.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre; £2 more expensive than the standard version.

Following the Shepherd Court fire, insurer RSA wrote a report warning that flammable material in insulation panels “melts and ignites relatively easily”, and can cause “extremely rapid fire spread and the release of large volumes of toxic smoke”.

They concluded: “This allows extensive and violent fire to spread, and makes fire fighting almost impossible.”

Architect and fire safety expert Sam Webb said there was a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient.

However Harley Curtain Wall Ltd said that it had installed cladding, with polyisocyanurate inside, a material which is “better than most at resisting fire in tests.”

No government review  

After six people died in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group called for a major government review of building regulations. Sucessive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

They argued that 4,000 tower blocks across London were at risk because of a lack of fire risk assessments, and panels on the outside walls not providing the necessary fire resistance.

The coroner on the Lakanal House inquest also recommended the government simplify regulations relating to fire safety so they were easier for landlords to understand.

Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London
Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London. CREDIT: GETTY

In 2013, then communities secretary Eric Pickles responded to the coroner’s recommendations and promised a review with an updated version of building regulations published in 2016/17.

However, four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the work is “ongoing” and would not give a date for when the updated regulations will be published.

A single staircase

Residents in Grenfell Tower made repeated warnings that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building.

Despite safety concerns of experts, tower blocks in Britain still only have to have one staircase, leaving Britain out of step with other countries in the world.

Russ Timpson, of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, said his “foreign colleagues are staggered” that there is no requirement for a second staircase as he called on the Government to look again at fire safety regulations.

Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower
Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: EPA

Residents fleeing in Tuesday night’s blaze complained that stairways were blocked, full of smoke and had no sprinkler systems fitted. Firefighters also struggled to get to the upper levels.

Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said: “The staircase should have been protected route for firefighters and people escaping but it was clear that it wasn’t.”

The flats had recently been refitted and fire experts warned that gaps in the walls where new pipes were installed could have allowed flames and smoke to spread quickly through the communal areas.

Missing sprinklers

There was no central sprinkler system at Glenfell which members of the Fire Protection Association said would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.

MPs from All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group also said that MPs had been calling for sprinklers to be fitted on the outside of tall buildings for years, but said their calls have been ignored.

Currently, sprinklers only need to be fitted up to 30 metres, but in tall buildings like Grenfell it is impossible for fire hoses to reach the upper heights, leaving the top floors without any protection.

An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower
An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: AFP

The Fire Protection Association said more sprinklers would “undoubtedly” have saved lives.

 

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill of the FPA said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

However in 2014 housing minister Brandon Lewis stopped short of forcing building developers to fit sprinklers, over fears it could discourage house building.

He said at Westminster Hall Debate: “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage.”

Missing fire doors

London Fire Brigade said claims that doors were not fire-proofed would form part of its ongoing inquiry.

Two separate sources have told The Telegraph that not all the front doors in the tower block were fire-proofed. Official fire brigade advice to stay put in the event of a fire is based on fire doors offering protection to residents told not to leave the building.

Fire doors are designed to stop the fire spreading rapidly through the building rather than being “compartmentalised”.

A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower
A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: GETTY

Regulations state that all tower blocks being built must have fire doors on the flat, the stairwell and the riser doors, which give access to the pipes.

 

Building regulations are not retrospective, so cannot force the installation of modern equipment on old buildings.

However, Richard Brownlee, Managing Director of Surrey Fire and Safety Ltd, said that it would be expected that fire doors were installed as part of any refurbishment and installation would be recommended as part of any refurbishment.

Inspections

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the last time that Grenfell Tower was subject to a full Fire Risk Assessment was December 2015.

There is a requirement for every building to have regular fire risk assessments, but the amended regulations do not specify how frequently this should take place. Industry experts say that best practice is every 12 months.

It is also a requirement to have a fire risk assessment carried out if there is a “material change” to the building. The regulations do not specify how soon that inspection must take place.

The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted 'material change' 
The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted ‘material change’.  CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS

The refurbishment to Grenfell Tower was completed in May 2016 and yet it does not appear that any safety checks were carried out, even though the new cladding work consisted of ‘material change.’  

Firebreaks

Fires on outside of cladded buildings should have been controlled by firebreaks – gaps in the external envelope to prevent the continual burning of material. Under Building Regulations 1991, developers are warned that they must install systems to prevent flames from leaping from floor to floor. 

However the Fire Brigades Union and the Loss Prevention Council and the Buildings Research Establishment have frequently warned more recently that guidance is not adequate in the event of a fire. 

And fire safety experts said it was unlikely that firebreaks would have stopped the conflagration at Grenfell. 

Dr Stuart Smith, a building surveying and fire safety lecturer at Sheffield Hallam university, said: “The rate at which the building was burning suggests that even if the fire breaks were there, they didn’t work. 

“Once the fire had got into the cladding, the rate at which that burns, I’m not sure fire breaks would work anyway.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the community yesterday, to meet and speak with survivors and angry residents, said: “If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.” He was noting the failure to install a sprinkler system and to overhaul fire safety regulations. 

Residents say they sought to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so by cuts to legal aid. Other tower block residents, many of them among London’s poorest, have been anxiously contacting MPs for fear of a similar fate. 

Though fire crews were quick to arrive at the Kensington tower block (engines were there six minutes after being alerted), the effects of cuts were visible. “Put it this way, you’re meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we’ve been here for 12,” said one firefighter.

The Conservatives’ red tape bonfire

The Conservative’s Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.”  The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”:

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.
  • Childcare providers now have to read 33 pages of need to know guidance instead of wading through over 1,100 pages.

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.”  I don’t see any benefit at all for citizens, or a democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak.

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks firms to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building.

This builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament. It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public.

The government is very “business friendly”, but when it comes to the public sector, the relationship is founded on a longstanding animosity.

Boris Johnson told a Labour opponent to “get stuffed”in 2013 when confronted over devastating fire service cuts.

Theresa May accused the Police Federation of “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”, when she was confronted over more cuts to the police. But the recognition and fear that emergency services can bear no further reductions is now becoming widespread.

And it’s also at last becoming very evident that those who have born the brunt of ideologically driven austerity cuts for the past 7 years, so that very wealthy people can pay less tax, are too often paying an unforgivable price for the savage cuts to our public emergency services, in one of the richest nations in the world.

 


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Theresa May voted against anti-terror legislation, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion that condemned IRA violence in 1994

The Conservatives have conducted their election campaign with sneering contempt, meaningless soundbites, trivial glittering generalities and barely a veneer of democratic engagement.

The misleading comments, half-truths, out of context one-liners and misquotes that have dominated the Conservatives’ typically authoritarian approach are a disgrace to politics, and the media that has accommodated these deplorable tactics and vapid crib sheet insults without holding the government to account have also played a part in undermining our democracy and distorting the terms of debate.

Any question the Tories are asked that they would prefer not to answer is met with a descent into gossipmongering about Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. And when pressed, the Conservatives are always conservative with the truth. They are masters at erecting fact proof screens. This shows that the Conservatives have nothing but contempt for our democratic process. 

The corporate media are providing fewer and fewer venues for genuine democratic deliberation of political issues. Ordinary citizens are most often being treated as passive receptacles of “information” provided by media networks. It’s all style over content, though. The media should never be reduced to being a front for Conservative fake news.

Indexing, and media framing means that large organizations authorised to advance a news agenda often take their direction from political elites, and rely on those elite actors as sources of “information.” Media literacy and public democratic debate has little room to thrive in such a media environment. That needs to change. The public’s trust in the media has already been undermined considerably over recent years. The biggest concern is the negative impact that this has on our democracy and on public interest.

The Tories have no decorum, nor do they offer any genuine discussion about the details of Conservative policies whatsoever. Even worse, the Conservatives are so arrogant, they don’t feel they have to discuss their policy intentions or behave in an accountable and transparent manner at all. This is a government that have got their own way for far too long. They have spent their campaign telling the public who they should and should not vote for.  To vote for anyone but the Conservatives, they say, is “dangerous”. 

Not if you happen to be sick and disabled, however. Ask the United Nations.

A strategy of tension and perpetuated myths

Despite what the Conservatives have been saying to the public, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion in the House of Commons that condemned IRA violence and “extended its sympathy to the relatives of those murdered”. 

He supported an early day motion put forward by Labour MP David Winnick to commemorate the victims of the IRA bombing in Birmingham in 1974. 

The motion was tabled on the 20 year anniversary of the attack that killed 21 people and injured 182 others and was signed by Corbyn in November 1994.  

The motion said: “This House notes that it is 20 years since the mass killings of 21 people in Birmingham as a result of terrorist violence; deplores that such an atrocity occurred and again extends its deepest sympathy to the relatives of those murdered and also to all those injured. And strongly hopes that the present cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland will be permanent and thus ensure that such an atrocity as took place in Birmingham as well as the killings in many other places both in Northern Ireland itself and Great Britain will never occur again.”

Despite the fact the Labour leader has said several times during televised interviews that he condemns “all bombing” that took place during that period, journalists, political editors and correspondents seem to nonetheless feel a need to constantly ask if he will “denounce” IRA terrorism. The Conservatives have been permitted to peddle untruths and manipulate half truths unchecked. It’s almost as if Lynton Crosby, the high priest of divisive politics, dead cats and dog whistles, has widely distributed a crib sheet of a limited range of limited questions to be repeated over and over, such as this one, to divert everyone from any discussion whatsoever about policies or anything remotely meaningful. 

I’m rather disgusted in our so-called “impartial” national media for allowing this to happen without any critical thought or investigation whatsoever. Or genuine facilitation of democratic debate. You know, those things that journalists and such are actually paid to do. 

If someone pressed me over and over to denounce the IRA and to imply that England were entirely blameless in the Troubles, I would have been much less polite than Corbyn. This was an absolutely disgusting manipulation of Corbyn’s integrity.

It is possible to feel sympathy for ALL of those deaths and those family and loved ones left behind, in such a tragic, violent and seemingly relentless ethno-nationalist conflict.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order”, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

The British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

It’s possible to recognise that those civilian deaths were an outrage and tragic. It’s possible to recognise the pain of their loved ones and families left behind. It’s also possible to condemn the acts of terrorism that left english civilians dead, too. It’s possible to honour ALL of those people who were killed in the conflict. I do.

Human lives are equally precious and have equal worth. It’s a mark of insighfulness, maturity and integrity to recognise this. History has a scattering of despots commiting atrocities and genocide, because they refused to consider all people as human beings. It seems we never learn, though. Holding this perspective does not mean that I cannot also condemn acts of despicable terrorism. 

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought lasting peace. History actualy showed that Corbyn’s approach was the right one. So we need to ask ourselves why it is that Theresa May, her party, and the media are so fixated on events that happened over 20 years ago. For the record, Margaret Thatcher held secret meetings with the IRA to negotiate peace. John Major also had established links with the IRA for the same reason.

Quite properly so. It’s reasonable to expect our government to explore diplomatic solutions to conflicts in order to keep citizens safe.

It beggars belief that the media have permitted this opportunist political hectoring from the Tories to continue relatively unchallenged. It didn’t take a lot of  research – fact checking – to find this information, yet nobody else seems to have bothered.

It’s against the law for politicians to lie about their opponent’s character, or misrepresent them during an election campaign, by the way. I’m saving up all f those dark ads to send to the Electoral Commission with my complaint.

Just to emphasis how absurd the Conservative election campaign has become, it’s worth considering this:

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And this

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Does Prince Charles have “links with terrorists”?

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How about Donald Trump?

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Gosh, I have a strong sense of deja vu

There is a picture of Corbyn circulating in both the mainstream media and on social media that was taken in 1995 with Gerry Adams, (of Sinn Fein), in an attempt to try to link Corbyn with IRA “sympathies”, albeit indirectly. The picture was actually taken after the Downing Street Declaration (an agreement between the UK and Ireland that the Northern Irish people had the right to self-determination) which led to the first IRA ceasefire, under Major’s government. Corbyn contributed to the debate by pushing the IRA to abandon the bombings and sit down to negotiate since the 1980s. He has made it clear that he prefers diplomatic solutions to war. Rightly so. War should only ever be considered as a last resort. Wars do not keep people safe, but sometimes they become necessary, of course.

Voting against Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Jeremy Corbyn has voted against Anti-Terrorism Bills. They are complex pieces of legislation which have sometimes presented human rights conflicts within the details, for example. Theresa May also voted against Anti-Terrorism Legislation in 2005. The Conservatives have certainly been conservative with the truth and misled the public, implying that Corbyn is “soft” on terrorism, but of course Theresa May isn’t. Strong and stable propaganda from the Selfservatives.

Amber Rudd said recently on the televised leader’s debate:“I am shocked that Jeremy Corbyn, just in 2011, ‘boasted’ that he had opposed every piece of anti-terror legislation in his 30 years in office.”

Much to Rudd’s discomfort, Corbyn has replied:

“Can I just remind you that in 2005 Theresa May voted against the anti-terror legislation at that time. She voted against it, as did David Davis, as did a number of people that are now in your cabinet, because they felt that the legislation was giving too much executive power.”  ( Jeremy Corbyn, BBC Election Debate.)

I looked at the voting records to fact check this. Corbyn is right, of course. Here is what I found:

On 28 Feb 2005: Theresa May voted no on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Third Reading 

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of New Lords’ Amendment — Sunset Clause

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of Lords’ Amendment — Human Rights Obligations

On 10 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Insisted Amendment — on Human Rights Obligations 

Source: Theyworkforyou.  

Broadening my search, I also found:

Terrorism Act 2000 – legislation introduced by the Labour government which gave a broad definition of terrorism for the first time. The Act also gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

May: Absent from the final vote.

Counter-terrorism Act 2008

This legislation gave powers to the police to question terrorist suspects after they had been charged. It also tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days, but the Labour government abandoned this after being defeated in the House of Lords.

May: Absent from the vote.

Political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and have permitted, fairly uniformly, Conservative propaganda to frame the debates, with the same misquotes, misinformation and misleading and trivial emphasis being repeated over and over. That the government are using such underhand tactics – mostly smear and fearmongering attempts – to win an election, unchallenged, is disgraceful. To witness such illiberal discussion taking place without a shred of concern is actually pretty frightening. We have seen, over the last 7 years, the Conservatives’ authoritarianism embedded in punitive policies, in a failure to observe the basic human rights of some social groups, in their lack of accontability and diffusion of responsibility for the consequences of their draconian policies, and in their lack of democratic engagement with the opposition. Hurling personal insults, sneering and shouting over critics has become normalised by the Tories. People don’t recoil any more from what has often been dreadfully unreasonable hectoring. But they ought to.

Journalists may uphold public interest, they may contribute to the damage of democratic discourse, or they may remain indifferent. They make choices. One day the public will recognise those choices for what they are. The media have permitted a government to run an election campaign on simply telling people who they should not vote for, rather than one which informs people of policy choices, impacts and future political intentions. That is not healthy for democracy, which has been reduced by the Conservatives to gossipmongering, a lack of decorum, misquotes and dark ads and nudging people’s voting decisions.

You can learn such a lot about a person from the tone they use, and by a basic analysis of their language. The unforgettable slips by Iain Duncan Smith recently, when pressed about the triple tax lock and manifesto  – “Look, what we were trying to get away with… er… get away from, rather…” 

Who could forget Cameron’s slip: “We are saving more money for the rich”. A couple of moments of inadvertent truth.

Theresa May says “I will”.  A lot.

Jeremy Corbyn says “WE will”.

Only one of them is democratic and open to genuine dialogue. The other one is Theresa May.

 

Related

The biggest threat to our national security and safety is authoritarian Conservative posturing and their arms deals to despotic states

Theresa May lies about Labour Policy on Question Time 

Theresa May is ‘responsible’ for London terror attack and must resign says top David Cameron aide

I Served In Northern Ireland – And Corbyn’s Understanding Of The Troubles Has Been Proven Right By History

 


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

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Alleged Conservative Twitter account claims poor people are ‘dangerous’ and food bank users spend their money on drugs and alcohol

Tories on poor

A Twitter account claiming to be the Lincolnshire Conservatives has been suspended after complaints were made about some of its tweets which said poor people were “dangerous” and food bank users had “no cooking skills”.

The tweets were posted overnight on June 2  and originate from an account claiming to be to be the official Twitter account for Lincolnshire Conservatives, with a location tag in Grantham. 

Several offensive tweets were posted, including ridiculous with claims that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was “impotent” and “disappoints his wife,” suggesting that he would similarly disappoint voters.

The poster boasted about tweeting from Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, and professing to have “never been more confident” about winning the election.

Tweets from the account also said: “The vast majority of people who use food banks have poor budgeting skills and no cooking skills.

“They usually resort to a life crime and then blame the government for their deplorable lifestyle. Corbyn supports those rogues.”

The account also tweeted that “poor people are not “vulnerable”, they are dangerous due to the fact that they are addicted to drugs and have NOTHING to lose.

It’s certainly true that Conservative ministers and peers such as Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, have tended to conflate poverty with poor budgeting and cooking skills. Many Tories have implied poverty arises because of “faulty behaviours” and “lifestyle choices” rather than being a consequence of political choices and policies that extend inequality, and an inevitable feature of our “competitive” economic organisation.

This scapegoating approach has been used by the Conservatives to attempt to justify the extremely punitive “behaviour change” policies and austerity programme directed almost exclusively at the poorest citizens. 

Both Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron have previously implied that poverty arises because of “worklessness”, obesity, alcoholism and substance misuse. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact the available evidence strongly suggests that individuals are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended limits during the week if s/he is a high-income earning managerial/professional worker. 

The tweets, from a fake account or otherwise, certainly capture something of the Conservative mindset, and reflect their traditional prejudices.

Richard Davies, Conservative county councillor for Grantham, North West, told Lincolnshire Reporter: “It’s a fake account.

“We’ve reported it to Twitter for impersonating us and they’ve taken it down.

“Our account is @LincsTories.”

It’s unusual for Conservatives to call themselves “Tories” because of the derogatory connotations of the word – “Tory” derives from the Irish word tóraidhe; modern Irish tóraí; modern Scottish Gaelic Tòraidh: outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. The term was originally a term of abuse, and remains a pejorative.

 

See also: Conservatives, Cruelty and the Collective Unconscious

 


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What I don’t understand about Conservatism

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I don’t understand Conservatism or the lack of rationale of its supporters.

As an ideology, it lacks coherence and scope. Conservative policies lack an empirical evidence base.

It doesn’t take very much critical scrutiny to understand that it is purely ideology (as opposed to socioeconomic needs) and traditional class-based prejudices and moralising that drive Tory legislation. Conservative rhetoric seems so random and inconsistent to me. We have an extremely regressive and authoritarian government with something of a feudal vision, that clearly has no problem with disregarding and contravening the human rights of some social groups – especially those groups that are deemed “protected”.

The Conservatives have no problem dismantling the progressive social gains of our post-war settlement (for example, legal aid, social housing, the NHS, the welfare state). The same government wants to bring back the ancient and barbaric ritual of fox hunting, yet it has the cheek to claim its opposition will “take us back to the seventies”.  Mind you, they say that about every Labour leader at every general election.

I was recently chatting with a political social psychologist about my lack of understanding about the Conservative’s profoundly antisocial and antidemocatic worldview. He told me that Conservatives have a very different moral worldview to those on the left, based on authority and discipline, (which is why they always tend towards a punitive authoritarianism in power) that lacks the notion of human dignity. As such, they are likely to experience a lower “disgust” response to human rights abuses.

There is a continuing debate on whether cognitive or emotional mechanisms underlie moral judgments, or whether emotional mechanisms actually shape cognitive ones. Recent studies have illustrated that emotions – particularly disgust – play a prominent role in moral reasoning. It seems to have a particularly strong influence on our judgments in the social andpolitical domains, too. We can feel disgust for immoral actions, for people, or for entire social groups. 

Presenting some social groups as “disgusting” by the creation of stereotypes and the use of stigmatising rhetoric can also be used intentionally to create social divisions by manipulating social prejudices. Others find the political act of dehumanising others disgusting. 

Social stigma messages bear certain recognisable attributes: they provide cues to categorize and distinguish people, and to demarcated groups as a discrete social entity; they imply a responsibility and blame for receiving placement within this demarcated outgroup and an associated “moral peril”, and this distinguished group is then associated to physical, social and economic peril.

Stigma messages evoke a variety of emotions – fear, anger and disgust – that motivate people to adopt relevant or related social attitudes. Stigma attitudes encourage the sharing of stigma messages with others in a network, which may, subsequently, bond ingroup members whilst further alienating the outgroup.

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Media portrayals of disabled people that preempted public sympathy for those most affected by the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms” – a Conservative euphemism for disproportionately targeted and devastating austerity cuts. Political rhetoric framed the cuts in terms of “incentives” to “encourage” sick and disabled people into work, implying that they are simply “workshy” rather than unable to work, and making out that they are an economic burden on “the tax payer”.

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My own observations are that Conservatives are rather more moralising than moral. They create folk devils, and use the media to generate public disgust and disdain to fuel moral panics and maintain  social outgroups. You can always predict where the next round of austerity cuts will be targeted by the group that is being demonised in the media, and by the othering rhetoric of ministers – usually it’s a variation on the “scrounger/striver” dichotomy and the “burden on the tax payer” narrative. 

The Conservatives also reconstruct the world hierarchically – Conservative policies quite clearly generate and sustain inequality. I don’t understand why anyone would think that some lives are more important and worth more than others, but Conservatives really do.

Conservatives also have a strong need to keep a tight control of the world around them, they seem to fear change and make sense of social reality via taxonomies, categories and counts. As a defense mechanism, it’s really rather anally retentive.

They think that inequality is the “natural order” of things, based on notions of “deserving” and “undeserving”, so inevitably, they think some people’s lives are worth less than others. They don’t seperate wealth, power and status from rights, unfortunately, and miss the whole point of universal human rights frameworks. For the New Right neoliberals, the only rights that matter are property rights and the liberty to compete for resources and wealth. However, human rights are all about holding the wealthy and powerful to account, to prevent abuses of power.

Surely any government that has such a blatant disregard for the rights of some citizens is a serious cause for concern in a wealthy, so-called first world democracy. Democracy by its very nature is, after all, supposed to be inclusive.

You can discern a lot about people by looking at their attitude and behaviour towards animals, because that indicates how they will regard and treat people with little power. Killing animals for “sport” is something I find loathsome and abhorrent. I don’t understand why anyone would or could be so cruel.

The Dark Triad

Inflicting acts of intentional animal torture and cruelty is quite often associated with antisocial personality disorders. In particular, it is associated with a triad of specific characteristics of personality – Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (the malevolent Dark Triad). A 2013 study carried out by Dr. Phillip Kavanagh and his colleagues examined the relationship between the three Dark Triad personality traits and attitudes towards animal abuse and self-reported acts of animal cruelty. The study found that the psychopathy trait especially was related to intentionally hurting or torturing animals, and was also a composite measure of all three Dark Triad traits.

So how does animal cruelty link with how a person regards and treats other people?

I’m not going to argue here that all Conservatives are psychopaths. However, I am going to explore values, behaviours, traits, attitudes and worldviews using a framework of psychology.

So, what makes a Conservative a Conservative?

Some researchers have linked personality traits with political ideology. For example, Robert (Bob) Altemeyer’s right wing authoritarianism (RWA) construct emphasises submission, obedience, conventionalism, and aggression as a result of social learning (Altemeyer, 1998), conformist personality, and danger-themed worldviews. 

An additional authoritarian variable, social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994), found endorsement of intergroup hierarchies and inequalities resulting from a “tough-minded personality” that prefers inequality among social groups, lacks empathy and holds competitive, individualist worldviews (Duckitt, 2005). 

Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is negatively correlated with empathy, tolerance, communality, and altruism. As I said, Consevatives tend to be quite antisocial.

Some people much prefer wide social inequalities. SDO is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of a person’s preference for status-ranking and hierarchy within society and domination over what are perceived as lower-status outgroups. And animals, whose lives are seen as unimportant and disposable.

See Mass contempt for cruel, unscientific badger culling ignored and:


So Conservatives tend to show a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between social groups. High scores of SDO predict stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. SDO also correlates with forms of right wing authoritarianism.

These characteristics and differences may be framed in a theory of basic human values.  

Emotional disgust plays an important role in our ethical outlook more generally. We find certain types of unethical actions disgusting, and this operates to keep us from engaging in them and makes us express disapproval of them. But according to research, psychopaths have extremely high thresholds for disgust. Of course, psychopaths fail to recognise even the most universal social obligations and norms.

Much of the way people make sense of the world is through emotion. It informs our “gut” decisions, it forges and sustains our connections to people and places, our sense of belonging and purpose. It is almost impossible to imagine life without feelings – until you come across a psychopath.

However, psychopaths often cover up their emotional coldness and moral deficit with an above average level of ever-ready charisma and engaging charm. That’s how psychopaths gain power over others and manipulate them ruthlessly, as a means to their own ends. They have a glib and superficial, but usually plausible and cunning charm that obscures their lack of empathy, principles and remorse.  

Psychopaths don’t tend to be socially awkward. They are often of better-than-average intelligence. They do not express true remorse, genuine emotion or a desire to change. Though they are often experts at telling people what they want to hear. 

Social dominance orientation is a personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes, and is a widely used social psychological scale. SDO as a measurable individual difference arose from social dominance theory. Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are controlling, manipulative, competitive, aggressive, dominating, tough, and unempathic, uncaring power-seekers.

People scoring high in SDO also prefer strongly hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO have strongly held beliefs in forms of social Darwinism. It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.

Studies have found that SDO has a strong positive relationship with authoritarian, sexist and racist beliefs. With right wing authoritarianism (RWA), it contributes to different forms of prejudice; SDO correlates to higher prejudice against socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, RWA correlates to higher prejudice against threatening groups, while both are associated with increases in prejudice for “dissident” groups. 

SDO is linked with callous affect (which is to be found on the psychopathy sub-scale) – the “polar opposite” of empathy. Research also strongly suggests that those scoring high on SDO proactively avoid scenarios that could prompt them to be more empathetic or tender-minded. This avoidance also decreases concern for the welfare of others.  

SDO also has a direct effect on generalized prejudice, as lack of empathy makes one unable to put oneself in another other person’s shoes, which is also a predictor of prejudice and antidemocratic views. Extensive research has provided evidence that a high social dominance orientation is strongly correlated with Conservative political views, and opposition to policy programmes and policies that aim to promote equality. SDO is also positively and significantly correlated with Dark Triad variables. 

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy correlated with immigrant threat perceptions and increased prejudice. 

I have a theory that while psychopaths simply lack the capacity for empathy, and can’t learn it, empaths can become desensitised, and unlearn concern for the welfare of others – they can be switched off. Research also suggests this is true. Democratic societies tend to be lower in SDO measures. That’s genuinely democratic societies, which requires the inclusion of all social groups, not just politically defined ingroups. 

Political interventions can shift compassionate left wing people temporarily to the political right. And notably, none of them seem to have anything substantive to do with policy, or with the widely understood political and ideological differences between the left and right. 

Here is a list of five things that can switch off left wing liberals, courtesy of Chris Mooney, an American science and political journalist: 

Distraction. Several studies have shown that “cognitive load” – in other words, requiring people to do something that consumes most or all of their attention, like listening to a piece of music and noting how many tones come before each change in pitch – produces a conservative political shift.

In one study, for instance, left wing and conservative subjects were asked whether government health care should be extended to a hypothetical group of AIDS victims who were responsible for their own fates (they’d contracted the disease while knowing the risks, and having unprotected sex anyway).  

Those on the left of the political spectrum, who were not under load – not distracted – wanted to help such people, despite the fact that they were personally responsible for their plight. But  the left wingers under load were much more like conservatives, appearing to reason using the just world fallacy: that this group of AIDS victims had “gotten what they deserved”. (Cognitive load did not appear to change the view of conservatives in the study.) 

Drunkenness. Alcohol intoxication is not unlike cognitive load, in that it cuts down the capacity for in-depth, nuanced thinking, and privileges economical, quick responses. Sure enough, in a recent study of 85 bar patrons, blood alcohol content was related to increased political conservatism for left wingers and conservatives alike. 

The drinkers still knew whether they were left leaning or conservative, of course. But when asked how much they agreed with a variety of statements of political principles – like, “Production and trade should be free of government interference”—higher blood alcohol content was associated with giving more conservative answers.

Time Pressure. In another study reported in the same paper, participants were asked how much they endorsed a variety of politically tinged words, like “authority” and “civil rights.” In one study condition, they had to see the term and respond to it in about 1.5 seconds; in the other condition, they had 4 seconds to do so. This made a political difference: subjects under time pressure were more likely to endorse conservative terms. 

Cleanliness/Purity. In another fascinating study, subjects who were asked political questions near a hand sanitizer, or asked to use a hand wipe before responding, also showed a rightward shift. In this case, political conservatism was being tied not to distraction, but rather, to disgust sensitivity – an emotional response to preserve bodily purity. 

Fear. After 9/11, public support for President George W. Bush also immediately swelled. In fact, a study showed that Bush’s approval ratings increased whenever terror alert levels were issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of “liberal hawks” who wanted to attack Iraq was much remarked upon. Why is that? 

The answer seems to involve the amygdala, a region of the emotional brain that conditions our life-preserving responses to danger. Its activity seems to have political implications: When we’re deeply afraid, tough and decisive leaders are more appealing to us. So are militaristic and absolute responses, like going to war and the death penalty; things like civil liberties, meanwhile, matter less to us. 

It is unlikely that all of the phenomena discussed above involve the same cognitive mechanism. For instance, disgust sensitivity is probably operating through a different part of the brain than fear sensitivity. Still, priming people to feel either fear or disgust in this context (the need for “cleanliness”) seems to favor political conservatism, and of course, may be manipulated in favour of politically conservative candidates. 

What all of this suggests in conclusion: Maybe we’ve been thinking about political ideology in very much the wrong way. It seems to be at least partly rooted in things deeper and more primal than the policy issues of the day, and how we individually reason that we ought to handle them. And this can be very easily manipulated. 

Moreover, it is striking that the research literature does not, at least at present, contain such a plethora of ways to bring about a temporary left wing shift – to make conservatives move left. Instead, what these cases seem to reveal are some inherent conservative political advantages, especially at times of deep fear, uncertainty, and stress. (And we’ve seen some of those recently.)

Aristotle famously wrote that “man is by nature a political animal.” Perhaps it’s about time that we pay more attention to what the word “nature” here really means. 

However, the more that a society encourages citizens to cooperate and feel concern for the welfare of others, the lower the SDO is in that culture. High levels of national income and empowerment of women are also associated with low national SDO, whereas more traditional societies with lower income, patriarchal organisation and more closed institutional systems are associated with a higher SDO.  

As neoliberals, the Conservatives see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships hierarchically, based on a model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged and modified. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined economic outcomes and politically defined norms are stigmatised and outgrouped. 

Othering and outgrouping have become common political practices, it seems. 

Rhetoric that draws on dehumanising language may be used to desensitise citizens to the welfare of others, as previously discussed. The media is sometimes used to amplify demogogues – leaders who gain popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the public, by appealing directly to the emotions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned debate and decorum. Demagogues quite often overturn established customs of political conduct and democracy, and have no empathy for those outgroups that they direct the public’s manipulated prejudices towards. 

The rise of the of the Conservative demagogue and the return of political incorrectness 

As a political idiom, Conservatism seems unlikely to spawn demagogues. However, the rise of the neoliberal New Right marked a radical break with tradition for the Conservatives. 

Demagogues often advocate immediate, forceful action to address a “national crisis” (corresponding with a danger-themed worldview) while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of “weakness” or “disloyalty”. Or even “economic incompetence”. Demagogues are skilled at turning power deriving from popular support into a force that undermines the very freedoms and rule of law that democracies are made to protect. 

The most fundamental technique of all demagogues is scapegoating: blaming an ingroup’s problems on an outgroup, usually of a different socioeconomic class, ethnicity or religion. For example, the Conservatives exploited a global economic crisis to begin dismantling the welfare state, unforgivably stigmatising and outgrouping disabled people and others claiming lifeline social security, and targeting them with an extremely disproportionate and punitive burden of austerity cuts, using the media to amplify their construction of folk devils to stir up public moral panic

People who need welfare support were portrayed as “scroungers” and “frauds” (regardless of the fact that this is largely untrue) to desensitise the public regarding the often devastating impacts of the subsequent draconian policy programme. 

Demagogues have often encouraged their supporters to violently intimidate opponents, both to solidify loyalty among their supporters and to discourage or physically prevent people from speaking out or voting against them.

Image result for crush the saboteursMost demagogues make a show of appearing to be down-to-Earth, ordinary citizens just like the people whose votes they seek.

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                      Who are they trying to kid?

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Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimise discrimination. To work, ideologies appear as self-apparent truths, while those that promote them appeal to emotions and prejudice. The use of slogans as a vehicle for emotive messaging is also common among demagogues. 

Like “Taking our country back” , “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” and other political straplines that indicate clearly that the “Big Society” isn’t so big on equality and diversity. However, as history ought to have taught us, nationalist demagogues don’t simply target the group that you may dislike. They move on to other social groups – usually scapegoating those with the least power to divert you from the damage that those with the most power are inflicting on our society.  

Even “Strong and stable leadership”, trotted out over and over, amidst the fourth wave of feminist activism, is coming from a party that is notoriously resistant to structural change through positive discrimination schemes. There is lots of evidence that self declared “strong leaders” (rather than democratic ones) are usually not, and can cause a lot of damage, politically and in the workplace.

“Strong leadership” most often entails the promotion of a compelling vision by such leaders of a totalistic nature; individual consideration, expressed in a “recruitment system” designed to activate a process analogous to conversion; and the promotion of a culture characterized by conformity and the penalising of dissent. This is a feature of neoliberalism rarely discussed: it’s incompatible with democracy and human rights. 

Pinochet promised “strong leadership and economic stability”, following his coup d’état and subsequent neoliberal experiment, aided and abetted by the Chicago boys. Both Pinochet’s Chile and Hitler’s Germany highlight the dangers of self proclaimed “strong leaders” with a liking for positivism, technocratic “solutions” and a disregard for democracy and human rights. Neoliberalism requires an authoritarian government to impose it, as it invariably leads to the repression of the majority of people, and the “economic freedom” of a small, privileged group.

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Demagogues often seem to be incoherent and glib, but it is because they tailor their public messaging to meet the perceptions and attitudes of a variety of groups, aiming at as wide an audience as possible, hoping to appeal to everyone.

However, those peddling right wing “populist” think narratives generally commit intellectual malpractice, as the foundation of their superficial anti-elitism is founded on yet more social oppression, hierarchies, supremicist reasoning, prejudice and constructed categories of social scapegoats. It’s little more than a flimsy sales pitch for more elitism. And welfare chauvinism.  

Many demagogues also focus on the exploitation of national “crises” to push through controversial policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters, upheavals or wars to mount an effective resistance. Neoliberalism is the ultimate form of such “disaster capitalism”. 

I don’t level the terms “authoritarian”, “demagogue” and “populist” arbitrarily against politicians I don’t like: these are categories that have been academically established following vigorous research, quite independently of my own views. 

Right wing demagogues tend to present a tax paying, beleaguered white middle class of economic “producers,” encouraging them to see themselves as being inexorably squeezed by parasitic groups above and below.

The rage is whipped up and directed upwards against a caricature of the conspiratorial “faceless bureaucrats,” “banksters” and “plutocrats” – rather than challenging an unfair economic system run on behalf of the privileged and powerful wealthy and corporate interests. The attacks and oppression generated by such populist white rage, however, is most painfully felt by those that are scapegoated with perceived lower socioeconomic status and historically. this has always been immigrants, refugees, and other traditionally marginalized groups, such as disabled people, lone parents and those out of work. 

Meanwhile the media is used as a political tool to erect fact proof screens around fundamental truths.

To divert opposition to this process, we have a manufactured and confusing era of “fake news” and “post truth” that suits state agendas. We have extensive state surveilance, and “behaviour change” programmes, which include the online presence of covert astroturfers and psychological operations teams attempting to infiltrate, manipulate, warp and control online discourse and public perception, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

The Conservative’s behaviour change agenda is also embedded in public policies that target in particular those who are the casualties of government economic policies, to imply blame in order to stigmatise and punish people, while systematically withdrawing our social security support and public services, and withdrawing the means of redress and remedy – legal aid has gone. Yet the Conservatives know that without equal access to justice, ordinary people simply cease to be free.

The rise of right wing political populists threatens democracy worldwide, says a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released earlier this month. 

Trump and other populist leaders work from a similar propaganda crib sheet that supports bigotry, prejudice and discrimination; scapegoats immigrants and refugees for economic problems; encourages people to give up their rights in favour of authoritarian rule as a defense against perceived “outside threats”; and foments division between demographics, the report states.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth says: “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights. Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

Roth cited Trump’s campaign promises to curtail women’s and minority rights, deport millions of immigrants, use torture against detainees, and crack down on freedom of the press, as examples of “the politics of intolerance.”

Roth goes on to say: “We forget at our peril the demagogues of the past: the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat rights as obstacles to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”

He also noted parallel campaigns in Europe that used xenophobia and nationalism to encourage people to vote away their rights, with Brexit being one of the most prominent outcomes.

He’s right. This kind of nationalist and anti-European rhetoric endangers not only economic prosperity, but also democracy. 

Political incorrectness is still incorrect

Back in 2000, Hugo Young wrote an article in the Guardian entitled Enoch Powell was expelled for this kind of demagoguery. Quoting William Hague, he says: “Labour has made this country a soft touch for the organised asylum racketeers who are flooding the country with bogus asylum seekers.” 

“That translates: asylum is ipso facto a racket, aliens are taking over Britain, every one of them is a fraudster until proved otherwise. All that’s missing is the Tiber flowing with blood.

“For we’ve been here before. The only difference between Enoch Powell’s philippic in 1968 against the migrant masses whose numbers were destroying the British nation, and Mr Hague’s demagogic caricature of asylum in 2000, is that whereas Powell was expelled from the shadow cabinet for saying what he said, today’s shadow cabinet has made his political strategy their own.

“Ann Widdecombe, Hague’s blustering ally in this matter, finds it perfectly respectable to list each of the mild pro-immigrant measures Labour has taken since 1997 as part of her anti-asylum indictment, without ever referring to the causes of the increased demand. As far as the Tory party is concerned, the Kosovo war never happened and Balkan, let alone Somali or Rwandan or Nigerian or Colombian, tragedies do not exist – though Rhodesia looks like being an exception.

“A screen of respectability sometimes covers Mr Hague’s own words. There are references to the need to protect “genuine” asylum-seekers from the rest. But here is authentic bogusness, the genuine bogus article, addressed to a party which in its present incarnation shows no interest in asylum-seekers of any kind, the genuine any more than the deceiving.

“Any such refinement would complicate the political message, now delivered into the local elections, that the Tories alone can be relied on to take a harsh line against the flooding influx of racketeering aliens.”

It’s possible to identify an emergent right wing populist theme right here. And an overall strategy for creating scapegoats. I can’t help but wonder how many of those ordinary people who felt that Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech “spoke to them” would feel the same resonance with what he wrote about hospital waiting lists in his book Medicine and Politics:

“It might (!) be thought macabre to observe that if people are on a waiting list long enough, they will die—usually from some cause other than that for which they joined the queue. Short of dying, however, they frequently get bored or better, and vanish.”

Nobody really knows if Powell has ever tried to make a joke, but if he has that passage was not it. It was written, with much more in the same heartless vein, by a man who was once Minister of Health. 

During a meeting with parents of babies that had been born with severe deformities caused by the morning sickness drug thalidomide, he was remarkably unsympathetic to the victims, refusing to meet any with affected babies. He simply said that “anyone who took so much as an aspirin put himself at risk.”

Powell had an unrepentant contempt for popular opinion, despite his apparent rapport with supporters of “ethnic nationalism” and a dark void where his empathy should have been. The Thatcher era Conservatives, fueled the rise far right groups such as the National Front. Cameron’s government fueled the rise of UKIP. It suits their purpose in creating social division and diversion. As for Powell, well he was simply an unrepentant, ruthlessly ambitious capitalist politician.

Powell also refused to launch a public inquiry into the Thalidomide scandal, resisted calls to issue a warning against any left-over thalidomide pills that might remain in people’s medicine cabinets (as US President John F. Kennedy had done), and said “I hope you’re not going to sue the Government…. No one can sue the Government.”

Since Powell, there has always been an easily identifiable racial minority for the Tories to blame for all working class problems and frustrations usually created by the Conservatives.

Many of the socially liberal democratic gains made in the form of our post-war sttlement for the UK citizenry are being dismantled by the Conservatives, and they show no shame in using a “them and us” rhetoric to achieve it. That is, each time they have created a convenient “them” to point to. 

And that’s the thing about fascism and demagoguery. It grows. Fascists don’t just target and punish social groups that you may not like. They add to their repertoire all the time. First it may be “foreigners”, next it may be disabled people and those without jobs, then the elderly.

A fascist is a fascist, regardless of who you are and how safe from prejudice you think you may be. The truth is that no-one who is an ordinary citizen is safe. Prejudice multitasks. The growth of social prejudice, originating from nationalism, has historically led some societies to commit the most terrible and inhumane acts.

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In light of this discussion, I don’t understand Conservatism one bit. I can’t understand why it has persisted. The Conservatives, from Thatcher onwards, have remained disciples of the anec­dotal dictator who thought that the way to eradicate pov­erty in Chile was to kill poor people by slow starvation, and “disappear” his many opponents.

I don’t understand ordinary people who support the Conservatives, because their “long term economic plan” has to be enforced by an authoritarian government. It will entail an incremental closing down of trade union activity, the loss of even basic citizens rights, the prohibition of all political activities and all forms of free expression, including on the internet, which the Conservatives intend to regulate and control.

It will entail the constant division and reduction of our society into further “us and them” categories. It will require the use of cultivated widespread public fear and anxiety as a constant diversion to the growing inequalities, human rights abuses and mass poverty that the government intend to inflict on the UK via the neoliberal policy programme.

I don’t understand how anyone can fail to see that state oppression – repression for the majorities and “economic freedom” for a minority of privileged groups – are two sides of the same Conservative coin drawn from a neoliberal currency. I don’t understand why people cannot see this unfolding now.

I don’t understand why the penny hasn’t yet dropped.


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Fear of losing disability support led a vulnerable man to a horrific suicide

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The government have persistently denied that there is a “causal link” between their welfare “reforms” (a Conservative euphemism for savage cuts) and an increase in suicides, premature deaths, psychological distress and severe hardship. However, a number of researchers and many campaigners have demonstrated a clear correlation that the government have so far refused to investigate further. Correlation quite often implies a causal relationship, and as such, requires further research.

Each case that has been presented to the government as evidence that their policies are causing severe harm has been dismissed as “anecdotal”.

Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said: “It is not enough to just stop introducing new policies to attack the rights and lives of disabled people and the poorest in society. These policies have been in place for six years and many are designed to increase poverty year on year. The Government should apologise for the harm it has caused since 2010, calculate the full impact of cuts that targeted the most disadvantaged and begin a full programme of reparations.”

This is the third harrowing article I have written this week about the devastating impact of the Conservatives’ punitive welfare policies on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I wish with all my heart that this is the last such article.

However, we have a government that has casually and systematically transgressed the human rights of disabled people, and then casually denied that they have done so. 

There will continue to be a need of witnesses like myself and other campaigners until the political denial stops.

Last month, an inquest in Ipswich heard how Peter, a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire because of fear that he would lose his lifeline support, following his compulsory re-assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The government introduced the controversial PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in order to save costs and to “target those most in need” in 2013.  

Peter Sherwood set fire to himself in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015.  The retired builder died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following the horrific incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.

Peter had received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, informing him that his DLA was ending and that he needed to reapply for PIP.

He suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis. Peter had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions previously. He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which caused involuntary movements to his mouth and is a known side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Peter’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.

In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece, Sarah Wilby, said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

Ms Wilby said she was shocked at the drastic way her uncle took his own life.

She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

During the inquest Ms Wilby said that Peter was claiming Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.

She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Peter had claimed that the Government was trying to take money off him.

The Coroner, Peter Dean, read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Peter spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.

The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Peter if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.

Peter then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.

Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Peter, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.

Police at the scene reported that Peter had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times following the incident.

On September 4, 2015, Peter was visited at home by the community mental health team and he had expressed plans to end his life.

An urgent appointment was made for Peter to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was tragically too late.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Peter’s death.

The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.

The coroner’s conclusion was suicide.

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian


 

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