None of us are safe until we are all safe

When, late on a winter’s Friday afternoon, I received a text inviting me to book an appointment for a Covid vaccination I was taken aback by the intensity of my feeling of relief. It was as though a weight had been lifted off me – a weight I didn’t realise had been crushing me down from the time I first learnt about Coronavirus.

I am someone with ‘underlying health conditions’, someone who is ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. I’ve been chronically ill all my adult life. I have had major operations; years of searing pain; I have lost decades of my life to chronic fatigue; I have been in intensive care and know what steroids and opiates do to your head as well as your body. I didn’t need the government to tell me to stay at home to protect myself. I knew that Covid could kill me and what a Covid death would involve.

Over 2.2 million of us have been stuck indoors, often alone, for months and months. We have received minimal support – relying on friends, neighbours and local volunteers for the most basic help. School children are not alone in needing laptops, broadband and tech help. Short term self-isolators are not the only ones who need a massive increase in financial support.

Our unmitigated joy at the prospect, and then the reality, of vaccination should not be underestimated. Most of us are of an age and/or disability to know and understand pain and grief. We did not expect to escape being counted amongst the hundred thousand and rising who have died an unnecessary, preventable, painful obscenity of a death as the virus has been helped to spread by this Tory government’s inhumane and heartless policies.

And, despite the miracles being wrought by the world’s scientists, we cannot yet be sure that we will escape that fate.

The conventional line is that the Tory government is incompetent – and of course it is. But it isn’t incompetence which very efficiently handed out £21.6 billion worth of contracts for PPE, hospital supplies and an outsourced failed test and trace system to a raft of politically connected companies and individuals;  which embraced, and then denied embracing, a herd immunity strategy; which pledged ‘whatever it takes’ funds to local authorities and then reneged on that promise; which spent £840 million on their Eat Out SuperSpreader while refusing to feed kids during half term; which for a decade ran down, underfunded and privatised our ‘world beating’ National Health Service – and then clapped as staff from overseas were shown the door in the name of taking control. None of that was due to incompetence. Rather, it was a brutal demonstration of the dominant political and economic ideology of our times – one based on individualism rather than collectivity, competition rather than mutuality, big business rather than public health – Profit before Patients, Profit before People, Profit before Life.

The death rate is obscene, and all the more so when you discover that it doubled in just 76 days – 76 days which included Christmas and the on-off opening of schools, and this current phoney lockdown. And just look at the lockdown. It designates estate agents as key workers, allows employers to insist workers come in regardless of health and safety on their commute as well as at work, keeps non-essential construction sites working, allows cleaners to go between homes but bans your mum from visiting, leaves the homeless to freeze on the street, keeps nurseries open but closes reception classes, and provides so little support that only a tiny minority of those who must self-isolate if the virus is not to spread further can afford to do so.

Two young men have been fined £10,000 each for organising a snowball fight. But where are the big fines for bosses threatening workers with the sack if they object to being put at risk? The BBC reports that between 6 and 14 January, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received 3,934 complaints relating to coronavirus and took enforcement action in just 81 cases, usually a verbal or written warning, with only one company facing tougher action.

Johnson and his ministers are being quite rightly castigated for saying that ‘they did everything they could’, and the list of their failures is getting longer and longer. But we are not seeing any alternative on offer.

The death rate is expected to increase exponentially over the winter months and the age groups being hospitalised and dying are becoming younger. There is a clear danger that, as vaccines are rolled out, the virus will develop the ability to bypass them through mutation, so they either don’t work, or work less well, against new variants.

Our futures cannot rely on vaccines.

They are only half the story – and can only be half of an effective strategy.

Because none of us are safe until we are all safe.

In the UK, the plan is for 14.6 million people in the top four priority groups to receive the first dose of vaccine, then 17.2 million in the next five groups. That leaves 21 million adults who may receive their first dose by the autumn – and their second three months later, by next Christmas. Those figures don’t include children and assume a steady supply of the vaccine will be available.

And, despite a good start to the UK vaccination programme – noticeably run by public sector health experts rather than privatised profiteers – the wheels are already starting to come off. Distribution is erratic, essential second doses are being delayed and, more seriously, we are seeing the beginnings of the vaccine wars, so predictable when we live in a country ruled by protectionists and nationalists, who have just bragged about brokering an acrimonious divorce from our nearest trading neighbour. A mix of EU bureaucracy, vaccine nationalism and the interests of Big Pharma are a potentially fatal combination. And of course this vaccine nationalism isn’t just about the UK and the EU. Just 25 doses of vaccine have been administered across all poor countries compared with 39 million in wealthier ones. I’ll repeat those figures – 25 compared to 39,000,000.

This is a global pandemic. None of us are safe until we are all safe.

An alternative – and additional – strategy to vaccination is essential.

Vaccination has to go hand in hand with a policy of elimination.

That is the policy which has been followed by countries as diverse as New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia. Closer to home, it has also been followed by the Isle of Man, which is now Covid free.

It is not too late for that policy to be adopted here. If it isn’t we will be left hanging around in on-off lockdowns waiting for the death knell for the next 100,000 of our loved ones. And then the next 100,000.

What does a proper elimination strategy involve? It needs a short, sharp, hard lockdown to drive down case numbers combined with and followed up by an effective, public sector track and trace system, comprehensive testing and quarantining for all UK arrivals. Workplaces and shops need to be made safe (the trade unions know how to do this even if employers don’t), with properly funded and supported self-isolation – either at home or in good alternative accommodation – as well as physical distancing and mask wearing. In this way community transmission of the virus can be slashed so that vaccination will have time and space to work and mutation is less likely.

Few if any of those in power seem to grasp that this strategy minimises costs and disruption to education and business, as well as saving the most lives. Instead, Groundhog Day is back – yet again the Tory right are calling for an end to the lockdown and Labour are calling for the schools to reopen. Both anthropomorphise the virus and want us to think it is going to consult its calendar to check term and bank holiday dates – half term maybe, Easter definitely!

The government can do this. It is doing it this week in response to the South African variant – testing, testing, testing (anyone else remember the WHO calling for just that last March?), using local authority public health experts, with Matt Hancock stating that they are coming down hard on the virus and that their goal is to eliminate every single case.

This is the opportunity Labour needs to embrace a full elimination strategy and, rather than piecemeal criticisms, Labour must put forward a detailed and comprehensive package of the measures that should be taken immediately if not just schools but our whole society is to be able to get on with our lives and plan for a better future.

Covid’s ideological breeding ground

covid death graph

Battered and depressed by the tragic details of the daily news updates and the frustrations of lockdown, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture – and to forget that the Tory response to the Covid-19 crisis is governed by an extreme right-wing ideology which, when combined with the arrogance and greed of the British upper class, means that their decisions have little to do with saving lives, let alone the NHS.

But there are three key elements of Tory ideology we must not forget as we recoil in horror at what is happening:

  • Lansley ‘reforms’ (aka as the 2012 Health and Social Care Act), which institutionalised competition within the NHS
  • Austerity, which didn’t just starve the NHS of resources but led to follies such as the failure to replenish stockpiles of essential equipment despite the recommendations of Exercise Cygnus
  • Privatisation at every level of the economy, shrinking the state and putting profit before people.

Add to these the poisonous concept of British exceptionalism, cultivated during and by Brexit and given free rein now Boris Johnson and his ‘advisers’ are in Downing Street –the appalling and avoidable result of which is that the UK tops the European death league – and we can begin to understand why we have had to experience:

  • The herd immunity policy pushed by Downing Street’s eugenicists – more appropriately called the ‘cull the herd’ policy.
  • The strategy of mitigation rather than suppression; the failure to comply with WHO guidance to test, trace and isolate; and the refusal to lockdown and close borders at a time when it may have prevented thousands of deaths.
  • Boris’s Nightingale Hospitals – white elephants which diverted resources from existing hospitals and care homes. The questions about who profited from building these have yet to be asked.
  • The disregard and indifference towards social care and care home residents and workers. Why should we be surprised by this when the Tories have repeatedly failed to come up with any social care policy for years, let alone one which would integrate a sector dominated by private companies with the public NHS?
  • The refusal to work with Europe, not just on research and procurement, but now on data collection, with the Vote Leave data harvesters deeply involved in Downing Street’s preferred contact tracing App.
  • Private companies involved at every level – for example Deloitte, G4S, Serco and Capita are all involved in one way or another with procurement and contact testing, with data harvesting a binary choice between the US tech giants and AI firms linked to the Tories’ cronies.
  • The exposure of the health, wealth and race divides in our society, inequalities which have worsened over the past decade and which are now resulting in increased deaths in poor and multi-racial communities.

Now we must add messaging on easing the lockdown so muddled – as economic libertarianism comes into conflict with the public’s health – that key members of the Government have been unable to explain what we are all being advised to do.


Labour has a historically poor record of confronting the Tories on an ideological level, often letting them get away with pretending they haven’t really got one. Labour failed to challenge austerity until 2015. It tended to treat Brexit as a technical issue to do with trade and EU institutions rather than internationalism and solidarity, and was reluctant to call out its motivating mixture of deeply entrenched xenophobic bigotry, Atlanticism and the demands of a faction of capital. Labour’s response to the coronavirus crisis has similarly focussed on immediate issues rather than challenging the ideological reasons underlying the Tories’ failure to protect the health and lives of all their citizens.

This is to a large extent understandable whilst we are in the midst of the pandemic. Indeed, as one of those tagged with that horrible expression ‘extremely vulnerable’, my most frequently voiced criticism is why aren’t we all shouting louder and louder about the government’s catastrophic mismanagement of almost every single aspect of the crisis. But just as we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture in the now, we also need to be looking at it for the future.

One of the most depressing features of the global response to the pandemic has been the lack of international solidarity. Britain has not been alone in pursuing its own beggar thy neighbour policies. Trump’s xenophobia threatens the whole world.

The devastation being wrought by Covid-19 is massive. The global economy is in freefall, and because globalisation and technology have linked the world’s populations like never before, the coming depression will hit everyone.  By the time the pandemic is under control, millions of working people across the world will have lost not just their lives or their loved ones, but their homes and their livelihoods. Hunger and destitution will make many desperate. Add the climate crisis to the pandemic crisis and humanity’s future is bleak if the most powerful countries continue to pursue what their strong men leaders perceive as their own national interests and fail to learn the importance of international solidarity and what could be the real meaning and strength of globalisation.

In this country, if it is left to the Tories, their new normal will be a return, with a few tweaks here and there – and with a lot of failed companies and thousands of unemployed workers – to the same old system of profit first people last. To this will be added the spice of a no deal Brexit at the end of the year. As many of us would love much of our lives to return to the way they were just a few weeks ago, it is going to be hard to challenge the ‘Britain will bounce back’ concept.

But we must. Labour has to seize the opportunity to articulate our values, challenge the Tories on an ideological level, and develop a new programme that really grasps the existential challenges the world faces. Our immediate demand has to be that workers neither in the developed north nor the global south pay for the pandemic through unemployment, tax rises and poorer public services. But we then need to go much further than that.

Our last manifesto was written for a different time and for a different economic situation. Some of its policies have shown themselves to be the most vital in the current situation – the much-mocked free broadband, nationalised railways, NHS investment; other policies such as a universal basic income and a national care service are now on the agenda. But our vision has to be even greater than any of those.

Experience during lockdown has shown both the vital role of the state and which aspects of our society and economy are valuable and essential, which are desirable, and which are unnecessary. If we are serious about tackling the climate crisis then that information must be used to inform a new transformative and radical economic and industrial strategy, which goes beyond the Green New Deal and addresses new ways of working, new ways of living, a shift in the balance between the public and private sectors, and the pressing need to alter the whole basis of income and wealth distribution.

The world changed after the 1919 flu epidemic, and again following World War Two. VE Day was not just about an end to the fighting in Europe and the Allies’ collective defeat of fascism. It was a day of celebration and comradeship which paved the way for one of the most transformative periods in this country’s history. That did not happen by accident. We came together and restructured our society and economy to fight the war and rebuild after it, just as we are doing now in a smaller way to cope with the Covid pandemic. ‘No going back to the way things were’ applies just as much today as it did in 1945.

Keir Starmer rightly says we can’t go back to business as usual and that we must go forward with a vision of a better society. But what does that mean? And how do we turn the rhetoric into reality? Across the world most communities have responded to the crisis with kindness, neighbourliness, sympathy and collectivity. We must all, across the Labour movement, now make use of whatever downtime we have, and the way we can now use technology to talk to each other, to brainstorm new, imaginative and progressive ways of living and organising society. We must be ready to #BuildBackBetter;  for a future based on our movement’s collective ideas, understanding and experiences; for a future which rejects the Tories’ right-wing virus breeding ground of fragmented public services, greed and survival of the fittest, and is founded on genuine solidarity and socialism.





Covid can’t wait – Brexit can


Labour must demand a Brexit pause while we tackle Covid-19

Covid-19 has exposed the dysfunction at the heart of the British state after a decade of austerity. That dysfunction has been combined with an extreme right-wing ideology, meaning that we have a government utterly incapable of carrying out its primary function – protecting its citizens. This combination has already led to a litany of failures: the foot-dragging initial response; the refusal to follow World Health Organisation guidelines; the failure to requisition adequate and timely supplies and equipment; the adherence to the immoral ‘herd immunity’ policy favoured by eugenicists and elitists; and the current fetish with non-existent antibody tests to identify an immunity that, without a vaccine, has not been evidenced to exist.

Many have been duped by the Tories’ sudden embrace of public expenditure, but the small print shows that it is all smoke and mirrors. Loans and deferred VAT payments mean SMEs and the self-employed gain little other than a bit of time to pay. Waiting on the phone for hour to then wait another five weeks for a Universal Credit payment is no substitute for the immediacy and simplicity of universal basic income or helicopter payments. Statutory sick pay is not a living wage. Utility and rent bills have not been frozen. Thousands are still going to work in non-essential jobs because they have no choice. Mutual aid volunteers are being asked to pay for groceries as people run out of money.

At the end of the day, as with Donald Trump, Tory policies will always be determined by the bottom line – by stock market rather than fatality numbers. We know which side the Conservatives are really on in those ‘economy vs. people’s lives’ debates. We know that by ‘economy’, they mean profit – not our livelihoods, jobs and household bills. The UK’s departure from the EU’s Early Warning and Response System and European Medicines Agency, and the Tories’ refusal to be part of a 28-country purchasing block for ventilators are not just shameful; they exhibit a pig-headed anti-Europeanism and dangerous British exceptionalism that puts ideology before saving lives.

In these circumstances, Labour must be bold. In recent years, Labour was at its best and most popular when Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell showed clear and firm leadership. Their anti-austerity policies and the 2017 manifesto are prime examples of that. But Labour has also been at its weakest and least popular when clear leadership has not been forthcoming. The 2019 manifesto was as radical as that of 2017, but was always going to get swamped and ridiculed in an election dominated by Brexit. And here, instead of boldness and clarity, Corbyn’s triangulation and failure to challenge the nationalist and populist nature of the Brexit project was a major contributory factor to our defeat.

Keir Starmer has already demonstrated a moving empathy and understanding of the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on the poor and working class. Now he must also be bold on Brexit. The economic and social fallout from coronavirus will be more than most people can cope with, without adding the unnecessary and human-made disaster that the Tories’ preferred hard Brexit constitutes. Brexit and fighting Covid are now inextricably linked.

The UK will, by default, be trading on World Trade Organisation rules come 2021 if Labour does not demand the virtual reopening of parliament immediately after Easter to agree an extension to the transition arrangements. If it doesn’t, then this Brexiteer government – that just a couple of months ago thought Brexit bongs more important than confronting the deadly threat that they knew we faced – will be more than happy to allow the July deadline to pass unnoticed, just as it has already ensured that the important Windrush Report was buried by Covid-19. Whatever their position on Brexit, every Labour member should now be demanding the government press pause on Brexit and concentrates on saving lives. You can sign Labour for a Socialist Europe’s petition to that effect here.

The majority’s reaction to the crisis has demonstrated the power of community, of working together, of solidarity, of support for our key workers and the NHS. Where the government has failed to act, cash-strapped Labour councils have stepped into the breach magnificently, working with all sections of their local communities to feed and support everyone. Pop-up mutual aid groups have linked up with established voluntary organisations, small businesses have used their imaginations to find ways to help, online entertainment and education has transformed many people’s lives and enabled them to live in isolation.

Thousands of migrants, refugees and EU citizens whose lives have been turned upside down by the Tory Brexiteers have instinctively and generously worked with their neighbours to build community support networks. These are the very same migrants who have been subjected to the Tories’ hostile environment, threatened with deportation, banned from receiving healthcare because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rules, and who have been the first UK health workers to lose their lives to coronavirus.

We must not let this profoundly ideological Tory government continue to put lives at risk, nor to use this crisis as their opportunity to further right-wing projects. Labour needs to be offering a future in line with the community strengths and power of collective action that a new generation is discovering. More immediately, we must demand a pause to Brexit so that all of our collective efforts can be concentrated on fighting the pandemic. And once this is over, let’s make sure that we don’t go back to normal.


This article was published in Labour List on 8 April 2020



Kenneth W Gillman – 1937 to 2019

Ken Gillman


I was unable to attend Ken’s funeral in Katonah, NY, USA on 21 December 2019 but I wrote a few words in his memory


Ken was my Big Brother. There were three children in our north London working class family, Ken – born a couple of years before the war, David the wartime baby, and me, the post-war baby boomer. Five years between each of us. Dad was a bricklayer – later to rise to master builder in charge of the site, Mum worked part-time in a local shop.

When Dad went off to war in 1943 (Mum always said that, despite being exempt as a builder, he enlisted then to get away from the new baby…..), Ken was told he was now the Man of the House, and he always took that responsibility very seriously, even after Dad’s return.

After the war, rebuilding London provided employment for Dad, and the three of us were able to flourish and grow with the support of the UK’s new welfare and education systems. All three of us were bright, clever kids who did well at school.

Ken and I were similar, inheriting our mother’s adventurous streak. In his late teens, after a stint as a tea taster in the City, Ken was conscripted to the Air Force for his national service, and I have fond memories of him taking me around the coffee bars of fifties’ Soho when he was home on leave. Mum wasn’t told he’d taken a 9 year old to one of the least salubrious parts of London – instead he’d come up with some story of a park or a gallery – but he engendered in me a love for wandering London’s back streets and people watching. Ken had a broad range of interests – cricket at Lords, the British Museum’s Reading Room, opera (I hated with a passion his repeated playing of Bellini’s ‘Norma’, much preferring David’s rock ‘n’ roll collection!), and he was skilled at seeming more cultured than his upbringing should have allowed. He would adopt names – for years everyone was told his middle name was Maxwell – and pretend backgrounds. I looked up to him – and quickly came to share his non-conformity and refusal to fit the mould.

When Ken brought Gisela and Gabi into our lives he shocked the narrow minds of a neighbourhood deeply infused with hatred of the recent enemy, but our parents stood up to them and this taught me respect for other nationalities. I went on to learn languages, including German, at school as a result of that experience. Ken had been stationed in Germany before the Berlin Wall went up, and he had friends in the East, even though as a national serviceman he was banned from going there. After the Wall came down, I sent him photos from the roof of the newly opened Reichstag so he could share the view.

During the late 60s, by which time I was grown and mingling with London’s artistic and political sub-cultures, and Ken had finally moved on from the Air Force, we lived near each other in Kensington. We’d graduated from coffee bars to restaurants by then, and Ken’s knowledge of good eating places meant we spent some enjoyable evenings together. The British taste for ‘foreign’ food was not as it is today, and we were fortunate to live in one of the few areas of the country where it was possible to taste a range of cuisines.

I missed him when he left London for New York. But he visited often enough for us to remain good friends; and we could go years without contact and then just pick things up as though it had been yesterday. Sometimes his visits were a surprise – without social media to tell others of your every move Ken would often visit our parents without contacting me – but I do remember him turning up one evening unannounced in Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton where I was a leading local councillor demanding to see me because a taxi driver had just told him it had been burnt down and he wanted to check for himself!

When my partner died in 2008 Ken and Wendy became a refuge for me, somewhere far away I could go to hide, to be looked after by my Big Brother. I was always his little sister, treated no differently to his children, hardly surprising given that the age difference between him and me is the same as it is between me and his eldest.

Ken will always be my Big Brother, and I will miss him.



Ken’s obituary was published in the New York Times on 19 December 2019


GILLMAN–Kenneth, 82, of Goldens Bridge, New York, passed away peacefully on Sunday, December 15, 2019. Born on June 7, 1937 in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, Ken was the elder son of the late Dorothy and Walter Gillman. A veteran of the Royal Air Force, he worked as a statistician at the Electricity Council of London, the British Ministry of Defense, and the London office of Reader’s Digest. Ken eventually immigrated to the United States, where he worked in the Pleasantville office of Reader’s Digest until 1984. He then founded Considerations, Inc., which provided global direct mail consulting and regression services. He was President of Considerations, Inc. until his retirement in 2002. From 1983 to 2006, Ken was also the editor-publisher of the quarterly astrological publication, Considerations. In 2009, he authored One After Another, which examined rectification and prediction using planetary sequences. Ken is survived by his wife of 35 years, Dr. Wendy Robinson Gillman, his children, Gabrielle, Noah, O’Dhaniel (Julia), and Michael (Ellen), grandchildren, Natalie, Seri, and Imogen, sister, Joan Twelves, and nephew, Timothy (Nicole). He was predeceased by his brother, David. Ken will be remembered by family and friends for his brilliant mind, quiet disposition, love of nature, and dedication to his family. Family and friends will gather at Clark Associates Funeral Home, 4 Woods Bridge Road, Katonah, NY 10536 on Saturday, December 21st, from 1 to 4pm, with the memorial service starting at 2:00 at the funeral home.


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Rare family get together in London: Joan, Nicole, Tim, Ken, Michael, O’Dhaniel, Noah
DSCN1592 (2015_11_08 19_01_07 UTC) (2016_01_09 21_44_37 UTC) (2)
Wendy, Michael + Ken
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Ken, Michael + Joan

Remembering Greg

Incredibly, it’s ten years since we interred (or, as I prefer to say, planted) Greg’s ashes in the Flower Garden in Kennington Park. We also planted a couple of trees and a bench. It is fitting that the Flower Garden has just received Gold in the London in Bloom competition.

The event was attended by close to a hundred of Greg’s comrades and friends, including the late Bob Crow and our People’s Chancellor, John McDonnell. John and my speeches can be found here.

We both referred to the 2008 financial crash and the likelihood that the world was heading for depression and impoverishment. The next decade of neo-liberal austerity policies as the ruling elite has sought (sadly, all too successfully) to recoup their losses and pile the cost and blame for their reckless greed onto workers across the world has been worse than we foresaw. And we definitely did not foresee the amazing rise of our – and Greg’s – friend, Jeremy Corbyn, to the Leadership of now the largest socialist Party in western Europe; nor, in stark opposition to our fight for socialism, the rise of racist and fascist forces across Europe and the USA. Despite his leading role in the RMT, Greg would have been no fan of Brexit – not even of the mythical Lexit. He was an internationalist and anti-racist through and through, and would have instantly grasped the dangers and anti-working class nature of the right-wing Tory project based on so-called free trade, deregulation and privatisation – as Jeremy said last week, their dream of returning to the dark ages of Empire when Britannia ruled the waves and waived the rules.

He is sorely missed.

Here’s some pictures

Greg commemoration invite (2015_11_08 19_01_07 UTC) (2016_01_09 21_44_37 UTC)

Greg (2)_edited


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Greg’s tree 10 years on

2005-08-27 18.59.11

The Perfect Storm II – How the Carnival of Reaction is Turning the World Upside Down

How the Carnival of Reaction is Turning the World Upside Down

 A far too long a read…..

[Part I – It’s the Perfect Storm for a Carnival of Reaction can be found here]

 “Victory for the Leavers will be a victory of racist reactionaries and those who want to divide us”

“When hatred is preached, when bigotry is legitimised, then that gives permission for hate and bigotry to become commonplace, to become acceptable.”

I wrote that more than two months ago and I take no pleasure in having been proved right. Weeks after the Referendum and the Perfect Storm hasn’t finished its work.

The roller coaster is still in motion. The political plates have shifted. The world is turning upside down.*

A campaign based on falsehoods and lies, on racism and fear, is claiming its victims.

There was a 57% spike in reported hate crimes in the first 10 days after the Referendum.

The media report the statistics and the more horrendous of the attacks. But the everyday bigotry – the looks, the mutters, that feeling of a shift in community cohesion, the suspicions of neighbours, a sense that we don’t have to make everybody welcome any more – that goes unreported. But it’s there. It’s real. And as it becomes commonplace so it’s no longer newsworthy.

The murder of Jo Cox has been all but forgotten. The unprecedented political assassination of a Labour MP by a right-wing extremist has been brushed under the carpet.

We should be enraged that this has been allowed to happen, that the media have been allowed to move on, that Nigel Farage was allowed to say “We have done it …without a single bullet being fired” just a short week after Jo Cox’s murder, with barely a voice raised in criticism or condemnation.

The referendum campaign didn’t just condone violence and hatred. Its tone coarsened our political discourse – just as the tone of the Trump campaign in the US has coarsened it there. A Breaking Point poster here; an “I’d like to punch you in the face” there. It has allowed insulting those with whom we disagree whether within political parties or society at large to become routine and unchallenged, particularly on social media.

Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly argued for a kinder form of politics, where we respect the other person’s point of view. But most of us aren’t very good at sticking to that and none of us is immune from the prevailing mood and tone of our society. I’m certainly not. But we can change that. And we must, starting with challenging and condemning all threats, abuse and intimidation. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of threats and abuse in my time I know how nasty things can get, how it can quickly get out of hand, how charge and counter-charge can escalate until the truth vanishes; but, while we can challenge and condemn where we have some influence, let’s not forget where the perpetrators of such threats and abuse are most commonly to be found – in the ranks of the far right. They are the ones who issue death threats. They are the murderers and assassins. They are the ones whose ideology is based on political violence. They are the ones who are delighting in the current political turmoil.

We should be enraged that the petty ambitions of a small group of political charlatans who whipped up the lies and falsehoods we witnessed throughout the campaign have resulted in a generation of young people in tears of anger and despair as they watch their plans and aspirations disappear, their ambitions restricted to the confines of a small island off the continental mass looking backwards to an imperial past and a much smaller world.

The speed at which our society has gone from one of tolerance and diversity to narrow-mindedness and fear has been breath-taking.

I am of the generation which predominantly voted Leave. But I don’t understand them. I have rejoiced as my life has moved from the limitations of the grey post-war fifties to one where horizons expanded, technology raced forward, the marvellous blue planet we first saw from space in 1968 became accessible, where all cultures and races could come together. The corruptions and exploitation of global capitalism and corporatism notwithstanding, how anyone can want to narrow their horizons, build walls and barriers, is beyond me. Being part of the EU isn’t about being part of a capitalist trading bloc; it’s about being part of the wider world and being able to use that trading bloc as a cultural and social stepping stone to building a better world.

As I’ve said before, revolutions can come from the right not just the left. And that is what is happening. And it’s not good. Right-wing Tories have thrown all aspects of our lives up into the air. And not just ours. The decision of the UK to leave one of the most important trade blocs in the world will deliver a seismic political and economic shock to the global economy over coming months.

A prime minister has been brought down: a chancer who took one risk too many lost big-time. The rabble-rouser-in-chief has gone on holiday to cultivate his moustache. The rest of the demagogues who played to the crowd have either run from the scene or been swept aside – with some told to work out how to clear up their Eton Mess, others sent home with just a large ministerial payoff to help them get through those long summer days of gardening leave, and the Clown to the exile of the Naughty Step – or, as it used to be known in the days of pomp and circumstance, when Britain ruled the waves, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

And 172 Labour MPs chose this moment to go on strike and trigger a contest for the Party’s leadership.

We now face the most right-wing government we have seen for decades – and I say this as someone who lived through the Thatcher years, fighting her every inch of the way. The Tory Party may have backed away from allowing its membership to elect the hard right’s candidate, Andrea Leadsom, but it is that hard right who are in control. Warm words about ‘a country that works for everyone’ are as meaningless as ‘we’re all in it together’ were. They are the words of a Tory, and Tories always know which class they are in government to protect and serve. If it’s to work for everyone, Mrs May, then where’s the restoration of welfare cuts? The additional NHS and local government funding? The repeal of the Housing Act? The abolition of the bedroom tax and the benefit cap? The end of zero-hours contracts? Are you going to give back all those stolen mobility cars and scooters? Will schools be restored to local democratic control? Will Philip Hammond cut VAT or will it be corporation tax? And can we keep our human rights, please?

Instead, as Brexit means Brexit (does anyone know what that means?), so the economists’ predictions are coming to pass – Project Fear wasn’t a fantasy, it was Project Fact. The pound has plummeted, prices are rising, jobs are starting to disappear as investors look elsewhere, factories and corporations are looking around for more amenable – more profitable – locations, foreign holidays and flights already cost more. And, irony of ironies, farmers warn of a dearth of British fruit and vegetables. Kent apples will rot on the trees while we pay more for French Golden Delicious! Painful as it is to say, George Osborne’s warning of a self-imposed recession, of economic suicide, was no bluff. And let’s make no mistake – the people who will suffer from that recession, who suffer from any recession, those who will lose their jobs and be unable to pay the rent and will watch helpless as the NHS and our other public services are cut and cut and cut again, as the libraries and play centres and parks disappear to be replaced by the property developers’ and asset strippers’ glass towers, and whose benefits and pensions will be cut more and more, will be those people whose lives have already been so blighted by deindustrialisation, globalisation and austerity that they despair of politicians ever making any difference to their lives other than to make them worse, and believe that leaving the EU (and sending the immigrants back) will give them control over their lives.

It is clear that nobody – not the Tory Leavers or Remainers, nor any wing of Labour, nor the civil service, nor the think-tankers, nor the City financiers, nor the British Establishment, not even Sir Humphrey – has a real plan of what to do next because nobody thought it would happen. Commentators and economists are producing disparate to-do lists based on wild guesses. What trade relationships, if any, does the government want with the EU? How impenetrable will the immigration barriers be? Human beings are being used as bargaining chips – we’ll let your Polish plumbers stay as long as you keep our Costa del Sol ex-pats and take back those Bulgarian Romani families – like a stack of divorcees’ CDs, as pawns in their game. The Tories may have covered up their divide for the time being but this does not mean that the fault line between their modern-day Peels and Disraelis has suddenly healed over. Whether it re-emerges by the time of their Party Conference is yet to be seen. At the moment minor turf war squabbles seem to be the order of the day. But Mrs May is going to have to spell out her position very soon. August doesn’t last for ever.

So, has Labour seized the opportunity of this Tory-generated disaster to take the lead? Like hell it has!

The temptation to write about the Leadership campaign is great but I want to restrict myself to the implications of the Brexit vote. But I must just say, firstly, that, like most ordinary Party members, I am enraged that the Tories have been gifted this distraction, thereby allowing them to realign themselves and keep a tight and ruthless grip on power; secondly, that I believe that those forces within the Labour Party wedded to neoliberalism will not easily cede power or control – despite all the evidence from across Europe and the developed world that, at a time of the kind of political polarisation we have experienced since the 2008 crash, centrist social democracy will struggle to survive (as James Galbraith puts it “The center-left cannot hold; its day is past.”); and, thirdly,  that I believe the current Leadership contest will not resolve matters. I am not alone in thinking this (see Paul MasonEvery signal from the Labour right appears to point towards a second coup against Corbyn, once he wins the leadership election, which will make Owen Smith’s current effort look like a sideshow.” )

Because Corbyn’s opponents used his less than passionately fluent performance during the Referendum campaign as a hook on which to hang their rebellion, he has been pushed onto the back foot over Brexit. It is essential both for his campaign and for the electoral future of the Labour Party that he seizes the initiative, pushes the issue to the fore and stops allowing Smith to make all the running on it, by using the remaining rallies and hustings of the Leadership contest to set out what Labour’s clear and principled positions must be.

The balancing act for any Labour leader at the moment is to bridge the gulf between the urban, educated, young Remainers, whose support will be crucial if Labour is to speedily return to government, and the alienated Leavers in Labour’s mainly northern heartlands – the ‘left behinders’. We have a duty not to turn our backs on them and hand them over to the forces of UKIP reaction – which getting it wrong will do.

Although it was elderly, middle class, Tory suburbanites who provided the core of Leave voters, it is undeniable that the vote exposed the profound alienation felt by millions of working class families, an alienation that has its roots in the deindustrialisation of the Thatcher years and the globalisation of the 90s, in the neoliberal policies embedded under Thatcher and followed on through the New Labour years, policies pursued in one shape or another across the world, including by the majority right-wing governments across the European Union.

We see its effects in the rise of inequality, the destruction of the NHS through cuts, privatisation and PFI debts, the failure to build public housing, the disintegration of our community education system and our universities, the shocking employment practices which have been allowed to spread and the drip drip drip attacks on benefit claimants, people with disabilities and migrants.

And we see its result in the resonance the ‘Take Back Control’ slogan had on the vote.

Corbyn’s Ten Pledges are clearly seeking to address that alienation by developing the basis of a strategic vision to rebuild and transform Britain. But they need to be linked to Brexit – spelling out how major policies such as those on climate change and taking action on tax avoidance still need to be cross-European, emphasising the links with socialist and progressive forces across the EU and stressing that international solidarity starts with our closest neighbours. Campaigning speeches are more than just rallying calls; they are the source of political education for a whole new generation, and not mentioning Brexit is a missed opportunity, it is selling young people short not to even mention one of the most defining moments in recent political history, one which will have such a profound effect on their lives.

As a passionate, albeit not uncritical, Remainer I emotionally responded to the calls for a Second Referendum in the days following the result – after all, the people had been lied to, conned, treated with contempt by hard right populist charlatans. But that is insulting and patronising to all those working class people who so desperately want nothing more than a decent and dignified life for themselves and their families.

Owen Smith’s current call for a Second Referendum, while initially attractive, at the end of the day carries little credibility because while, he says it should be on the basis of the outcome of negotiations, he doesn’t say on what basis those negotiations should take place. They are negotiations that will be carried out by the Tories, by the Tory hard right. What are his demands, his red lines, his principles? He is startlingly uncritical of the European Union. What are his views on its democratic deficit, its austerity punishment of Greece, its attitude to refugees, on TTIP? Millions of young Remainers support free movement; millions of Leavers oppose it. What is Smith’s position? The hard right are demanding reduced tariff regulations, markets opened up to cheap Chinese imports, trade deals giving corporations preferential rights and powers. Where does Smith stand? Analysis of the Leave vote, particularly in working class areas, shows that, although immigration is frequently raised, in fact the more pertinent ZZ3A70FB71-300x290issue is one of control. Does he recognise that hostility to immigration is but a symptom of that deep alienation, or does he see it as the problem to be sorted using limits and controls? I have listened closely to what he has said and searched his website but his Twenty Pledges include not one reference to the EU and no promise of that Second Referendum, let alone on what basis he would negotiate. I find this strange for someone who likes to declare his passion for the EU at every televised opportunity. Perhaps his sponsors do not share his enthusiasm?

Putting himself forward as a potential leader more in tune with the political views of the British public than Jeremy Corbyn, he seems to be poorly attuned to the way political and social currents ebb and flow – indeed, despite his own, one must assume, hyper-energetic campaigning for Remain, a majority in his own area voted to Leave. So exactly how does he plan to win that Second Referendum? It would be good to know. Because what is the point of it now unless you know you are going to win next time? And that means understanding and addressing the reasons why people voted the way they did in June.

While I would like to see much more detail and a specific pledge in respect of the Brexit negotiations, Corbyn’s Ten Pledges do at least include the following commitments:

  • We will put the defence of social and employment rights, as well as action against undercutting of pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour, at the centre of the Brexit negotiations agenda for a new relationship with Europe.
  • We will defend and extend the environmental protections gained from the EU.
  • We will guarantee full rights for EU citizens living and working in Britain – and not allow them to be used as pawns in Brexit negotiations.


Now he has to put flesh on them, including demanding places at the negotiating table for Labour, the devolved nations, London and the TUC.

John McDonnell spelt out five economic red lines in a speech on 1 July:

  • First, our aim must be to ensure freedom of trade for UK businesses in the EU, and freedom of trade for EU businesses in the UK.
  • Second, no EU citizen currently living or working in the UK will have their residency rights affected. No UK citizen currently living or working in the EU will have their rights affected.
  • Third, existing protections at work provided by the EU must be maintained.
  • Fourth, the UK’s role in the European Investment Bank should be maintained.
  • And fifth, the rights of UK financial services companies to win business across the EU must be maintained.

Any path through the negotiations that does not respect these guidelines will be liable to have severe consequences for jobs and protections at work.

Again, flesh is needed, in particular a much stronger commitment to the free movement of people because, notwithstanding what I have said earlier about concerns about immigration being but a symptom, the main thrust of the hard right’s Leave campaign was around migration, their red negotiating lines will undoubtedly be around this issue, and Labour – particularly the Corbyn supporting left – must take a firm unequivocal line on this. Otherwise we are giving in to the xenophobes and bigots of Reaction’s Carnival rather than challenging them at every opportunity.

In fact, it will be impossible for the UK to meet McDonnell’s red lines without endorsing all the EU’s four freedoms –  the free movement of goods, capital, services and people – and this needs to be spelt out. These freedoms are fundamental not just to membership of the EU but also of the European Economic Area (the EEA), many left commentators’ fall-back position as the least worse option even though it means having no voice (neither MEPs nor ministerial) in decisions with which the UK will have to comply and pay towards.

I also think it’s important that Corbyn addresses many of the non-economic issues which are so central to why young Remainers feel their lives have been irrevocably changed for the worse and why so many of us perceive Brexit as a retreat from the world. Many of these are small – such as the cheap flights and those health insurance cards which enable us Brits to be those health tourists we so deride; others much more substantial – the Erasmus student exchange programme, academic, scientific and medical research (and not just the funding, the more important cross-European collaboration), cultural interactions of all sorts, the implications for Scotland and Northern Ireland, not just employment rights but also human rights, environmental agreements and action around climate change.

The Brexit vote has to be put in context. We live in a globalised world and, much as many little Englanders may wish to avoid it in much the same way as US survivalists do, we are not immune from what happens elsewhere – and a lot can happen across Europe let alone the rest of the world in the next two or three years which will make any decisions taken now irrelevant – next year’s German, Dutch and French elections for starters. The reality is that, whatever the triumvirate of Tory Brexiteers may say, the pre-negotiations to the formal negotiations of article 50 will not start until after those elections have taken place.

We Brits have become so inward looking we rarely take regard of the potential impact of Brexit on the EU itself. Already in crisis as the effects of its neoliberal policies alienate its citizens and as it grapples with the greatest movement of refugees and migrants since the end of WW2, nothing about the EU can be predicted with any certainty. To what extent can the ‘contagion’ from Brexit be contained? What effect will it have on the future of the Euro? Will it be the impetus that forces democratisation or will the Eurozone collapse under the weight of its own contradictions?

All this means it is far too early to know what approach to how we relate to the EU and to the rest of the world will be the way forward – and certainly what form the decision-making on that should take.

But one thing we do know. Populism and right-wing forces are on the march across Europe. The future is dark if they are not stopped. Labour’s approach to Brexit can play a large part in what happens next if we get it right. And that means having the right principles, policies and approach.

Labour’s membership has grown rapidly under Corbyn’s leadership. It has the potential to become a mass movement, linking up with socialist parties and progressive movements across Europe not just to challenge the despair and alienation neoliberalism’s austerity has brought to millions but to do something about it. Whether Corbyn and the left can seize the moment is a moot point. But together we can be stronger. Together we are stronger. Another Europe is possible – a better world is possible – so let’s not mess it up!

* The World Turned Upside Down is a phrase and song associated with the Diggers and the Levellers – our radical forebears. It’s appropriate here – but let’s not leave it in the hands of the forces of reaction. Let’s stop the right-wing revolution in its tracks.

It’s the Perfect Storm for a Carnival of Reaction

It’s the Perfect Storm for a Carnival of Reaction – or why we must Vote Remain and Stay in Europe to Change Europe!

A few weeks ago I started writing about the importance of the outcome of the EU referendum for housing campaigners

– about how the lack of affordable housing and the ultra-rich’s unoccupied luxury apartments blighting our inner cities had nothing to do with the European Union or migrants and everything to do with successive governments refusing to adequately plan population shifts and growth, and to prefer to pander to property speculators, finance capitalists and the myth of home ownership rather than build and maintain affordable public housing where it was needed and wanted

– how the Blair/Brown governments’ insistence that council housing be transferred away from local authority control before it could be renovated paved the way for property developers to muscle their way into local authority decision making, thus leading to the current obsession with demolishing and semi-privatising estates in the name of regeneration

13233133_1625051841148756_4831405392388545407_nhow closing borders would not change the Housing Act’s destruction of social housing and social cleansing

– how EU rules and regulations did not prevent rent controls, and

– how it would only be through a radical change of government to one which supported and encouraged public housing would we even begin to see a change.

But I was busy organising campaigning for an IN vote and didn’t get very far with that, so I then started writing about how not talking about the Wars was one of the elephants in the referendum debate and that there were lots of Wars we should be talking about, starting with the Second World War, and

 how it was in the aftermath of that bloody conflagration that six countries had first come together to declare Never Again! and find ways to regulate trade between themselves

– how capitalism thrives on conflict and competition and war and, yes, the EU is a bosses’ club, a capitalist cartel, a bourgeois institution, but that nevertheless it had found a way for a continent of nation states which throughout their existence had been at near continuous war to cohabit the same space without throwing punches – or firing missiles – at each other for over half a century

– how, while that had not prevented intranational independence struggles such as the Six Counties’ Troubles or the Basque conflict or demands for Catalan autonomy, or bloody wars on its borders such as those which erupted as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated and, more currently, Ukraine, it was something we needed to recognise and appreciate and talk about, not shrug our shoulders and assume peace was inevitable

– how the ending of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, had allowed right wing governments to rapidly absorb the assets, resources and people of the former Stalinist states of Eastern Europe into the EU, enriching themselves and their favoured oligarchs through the wholesale expropriation of whole countries’ assets, and how their beloved free movement of capital by necessity has to be accompanied by the free movement of labour and that it has only been where trade unions and the labour movement is strong, and where it can come together across nation boundaries, that capital will be restricted from exploiting that labour to the extent it otherwise would

– how together we are stronger

– how Bush and Blair’s Wars opened the door for the current conflagrations across the Middle East and consequential refugee and migrant crises

– how people do not risk all to reach the comparative safety of EU countries unless they are desperate and fleeing for their lives

– how migration is a normal part of human existence and needs to be recognised and planned for, not blocked and banned

– how Fortress Europe policies have not just caused untold human misery and death but encouraged the growth of right wing movements across every country

– how migrants and refugees are human beings with needs and desires and rights….


And then I thought I couldn’t write about Wars without writing about the Class War….

But Janine Booth, the left’s wonderful poet, has put that far more succinctly than I can –


Finding your decision tough?

Remember where the war is.

Don’t blame migrants for the stuff

That’s mostly caused by Tories

So, while I wasn’t getting very far with my writing (described the other day as not just slow, but glacial) I was talking, and I was talking about

– democracy and the lack of it in the UK and climate change having no borders and how the EU’s redistribution from the richer to the poorer regions should be supported (we do not want our money back!) and human rights and workers’ rights and how there was no Exit Left, no Lexit, that it was an illusion that somehow leaving the EU would open up opportunities for the Left, that Boris and Gove and Farage were not the Lenin, Trotsky and Mao of our time and would not do what groups like the SWP and the SP and the CP had singularly failed to do over the last however many years they’ve been fighting Labourism and trying to get the British working class to rise up and follow their particular vanguardist sect

– and about how my enthusiasm for campaigning for an IN vote wasn’t just about the positives but also about the negatives and how we need to change Europe and the world for the better


– but most fundamentally it was about how the way this debate wasn’t actually about the EU at all, but about migration and immigration and benefit scroungers, and that if the UK voted to leave the EU then that would mean that a majority of the people of this country had been conned by a nasty, right-wing, racist campaign based on falsehoods and downright lies, which could lead to one of the most hard right governments we had ever seen in this country

– how the Leave campaign and their friends in the right-wing press were capitalising on working class disillusionment and alienation, in particular in those areas deindustrialised by Thatcher and neglected by the neo-liberal policies pursued by both Labour and Tory governments for the last 30 odd years, which had been exacerbated since the 2008 crash by Tory austerity leading amongst other things to a massive shift of wealth from the poor to the already rich and enormously increased inequality, and whipping up resentment towards, not the rich, but those who could be characterised as ‘alien’, ‘the other’, ‘different’. As Yanis Varoufakis has said:

“Lest we forget, turning the native poor against the migrants is a variant of the maxresdefaultold divide-and-rule trick that the British establishment honed ages ago to dominate the empire. Today it uses the same strategy to dominate the domestic “natives”, hide austerity’s effects, and deflect anger toward the other – the foreigner, the migrant”

– how during its years in government Labour lost touch with its heartlands, first in Scotland and now across swathes of the north, by failing to defend or be perceived to be on the side of the working class, and

– how the UK leaving the EU will have implications across Europe not just in terms of the future of the EU but because it will signal the legitimacy and acceptance of far right policies which will be rapidly taken up by those forces already on the march across the continent.

CjXbBycUYAUbBIGFor the hard right – who had already scored a victory by forcing the referendum in the first place – it has become the Perfect Storm

– with anti-immigrant and anti-migrant feelings running high across Europe (the Tories’ xenophobic London Mayoral campaign may not have worked in metropolitan London but it would have resonated elsewhere, and yesterday’s election of a Five Star Mayor in Rome has to be added to the mix),

– the government rapidly forcing through draconian anti-working class policies on housing, education, health and benefits as they seek to destroy the welfare state and privatise our public services,

– the EU in crisis over its panicked and cruel mishandling of the increasing number of desperate refugees running from bombs and hunger,

– the electorates of Spain and Portugal rejecting austerity in favour of newly emerging parties of the left,

– the failure of neo-liberal policies to protect Greece or create the growth needed to sustain the original social democratic project of a social Europe

– and here  – the Labour Party’s opposition to all this weak and divided (sorry Jeremy!).

The hard right have been allowed to dictate the agenda and the terms of the debate.


They have been aided and abetted by the tabloids daily dose of front pages depicting marauding, swarming migrants and the rest of the media’s failure to challenge their lies. They have been aided and abetted by the BBC’s notion of ‘balance’ being to allow charlatans to challenge all and every statement about the EU (even to the extent of reputable academics being denigrated for receiving funding from the EU as though it’s some kind of mafia outfit) and to encourage a form of anti-intellectualism to permeate discussions under the guise of ‘anti-establishmentism’ – “kill all the experts!”. They have been aided and abetted by social media enabling them to spread their lies around the world before the truth has had time to even start looking for her knickers. They have been aided and abetted by a refusal from other politicians, with a very few honourable paddington_poster2-687x1024and unpublicised exceptions, to call them out on their racism and to support free movement and to welcome migrants and refugees. Xenophobia has become acceptable and a discussion that should be about humanity, decency, empathy has degenerated into a numbers game.


And then Jo Cox was murdered.13475190_1093160037457480_5031415154254392630_o

Killed by a fascist extremist.

A British Labour MP assassinated by a Nazi.


Now I can’t just write. I need to rant. I need to scream.

That Perfect Storm has whirled into a Carnival of Reaction before one vote has been counted.


The politicians have frozen. Campaigning suspended. Except it’s not. How can it be? The storm is rising still.

The lone wolf with ‘mental health issues’ (since when has epilepsy been a ‘mental health issue’? as my favourite person with epilepsy would say: “that really is fuckwittery gone mad”) is fast turning into the ‘Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain’ neo-Nazi lone wolf with ‘mental health issues’ who may have held the occasional Britain First banner mair-bf-1and may have been on Farage’s contact list, but “nuffink to do with us, guv”. Let’s lay a wreath and pretend nobody saw it coming. Pretend it’s the fault of the foreigners, the migrants. They’re the ones who whipped up the storm, not us, not the Sun, the Mail, the Express, with their daily headlines of thousands and thousands of migrants (not to forget the 75 million Turks) heading our way, not the Today programme, not Cameron smearing Sadiq Khan one week and crying crocodile tears the next. It’s their fault for trying to come here. “Nuffink to do with us, guv.”

Except it is. Because when hatred is preached, when bigotry is legitimised, then that gives permission for hate and bigotry to become commonplace, to become acceptable – and for murder and assassination to be carried out in their name.

Brendan Cox – in the midst of his grief – has beautifully articulated what is happening “Petrified by the rise of the populists, [mainstream politicians] try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views….” and “All this has meant that the populist right have shifted the politics and the public debate of the issue far more that their actual numbers dictate.” (Guardian, 18 June 2016)

Societal change can take place very quickly – after all, that’s what happens when there’s a revolution. But revolutions can come from the right, not just the left.

Ballot box

Voting on Thursday may not seem a big deal – after all, we’re only voting on whether or not this country should be part of a trading bloc, a capitalist trading bloc pursuing neo-liberal, austerity policies, a group of nation states which we’ve only ever been half-heartedly part of anyway, and about which there are lots of reasonable arguments either way – and it wouldn’t have been a big deal if we’d actually debated the pros and cons of EU membership in a reasonable way. But we haven’t. We haven’t had a debate. We’ve had an angry tirade of vitriol. We’ve had lies and exaggerations and threats. And, in response, we’ve had an incoherent splutter of rage.

As a consequence, the symbolism of what will be decided on Thursday is enormous. Victory for the Leavers will be the victory of racist reactionaries and those who want to divide us – it will mean a Carnival of Reaction.

Winning Remain even by the slightest margin won’t be a victory – the racists and reactionaries aren’t going to melt into thin air on Friday morning. But the fact that a majority – even a majority of one – have turned their backs on that Carnival of Reaction means we will have a way forward if we have the strength and determination to seize it. Please, please vote Remain on Thursday and support the fight for a better world, another Europe, a better Europe.


Another Europe is Possible is at

Vote Labour for Hope and all our Futures!


I voted Labour on 12 December 2019 🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩🌹🌹🌹

Because I believe in social justice and a fair and equal society.

Because I want to stop the right-wing’s Brexit project and remain in Europe
Because I want to live in a progressive, outward-looking country
  • where we don’t fear others and welcome migrants
  • where we don’t just want but can expand our horizons and aspirations,
  • where we work together to stop our planet being destroyed to enrich selfish billionaires and corporations
  • where everyone has a right to a warm, secure home, where mums don’t go without to feed their kids, where we don’t get ripped off by privatised utility companies and unscrupulous landlords, where debt isn’t a way of life
  • where our NHS works for all of us and nobody fears a visit to A&E lest they get left for hours in pain without a bed
  • where I don’t look out of my window at homeless people sleeping and begging, and a sign stuck to the wall advising them how to register to vote
  • where I don’t have to keep telling my landlord that only a third of social tenants can afford broadband and therefore can’t access their services
  • where we restore the welfare state I was born into and have benefited from all my life
  • where our leaders aren’t racist, sexist and homophobic bigots and liars
  • where we aren’t faced with the prospect of incipient fascism.

Vote Labour today for hope and for all our futures!



Congeries ebook on Amazon

Jean G-Owen

Congeries: A Collection of Creative Writing ebook is now available on Amazon for an amazing £3.00 per copy. The collection celebrates 24 writers and over 70 stories and poems in a wide range of genres: comedy, tragedy, political satire, social commentary, romance, murder, literary quips… there’s something for every literary taste. A great Christmas read…

The paperback version is available from Jean Owen, email me at for details.

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Congeries is a magnificent collection of writings by members of the Morley College Advanced Writing class. I’m amongst them!

Jean G-Owen

Congeries: A Collection of Creative Writing was launched on 11 July at Morley College, Lambeth. There was a great turn-out, the wine flowed, as did Mike Walker’s speech, and readings from Bridget Neate, Nicky Sullivan and Arthur Nightingale.

If you want a copy of Congeries: A Collection of Creative Writing at £6.99 please contact Jean Owen on

The ebook will be out by the end of July…

Meanwhile enjoy some memorial moments in the photoplay below…

Congeries launch all packed up and ready to go…

Jean Owen feeling calm before the launch…

Bridget Neate reads ‘Swans’ by Veronica Harris

Mike Walker waxing congerially about Congeries…

Nicky Sullivan reading her entertaining ‘Penis Dentata’

Arthur Nightingale reads ‘Oh Sugar!’

Tim Slade designed the front cover of Congeries

Carsten ten Brink with a pocket full of Congeries

Ida Tidy with her copy of Congeries

Congeries contributors…

Joan Twelves & David Gray engrossed…

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Only Labour Can Stop Brexit

Only a vote for Labour in Thursday’s European elections can stop the Brexit Party topping the polls.

A ‘tactical’ ‘protest’ vote in these elections is not an option. Remainers must support Labour.

Allowing the Brexit Party to top the poll will not bring about a People’s Vote. The opposite. It will send a message to Europe and the world that a bunch of anti-European right-wing little-Englander charlatans speak for this country, and it will strengthen both their neo-fascist friends across Europe and the No Deal Brexiteers in the Tory Party.

Farage said yesterday “If we win on Thursday, we kill off any chance of them forcing a second referendum on us”. He went on to demand a place in the EU negotiating team.

 Only Labour can beat the Faragists.

 Only Labour can stop Boris and Nigel taking the UK out of the EU on Hallowe’en with No Deal.

 I share the frustration of so many Labour members at the Leadership’s ambiguity on Brexit. But we have to acknowledge that they have pursued the policy agreed unanimously at last year’s Conference – to call for a General Election and for “all options to remain on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.

There were many shortcomings to that composite motion, not least its failure to spell out that Labour is fundamentally a Remain Party, but the way to change that is not desertion but to use every avenue within the Party to effect policy change, in particular by motions to this year’s Annual Conference as well as supporting calls for a Special Emergency Conference on Brexit now.

I’ve criticised the lack of Labour campaigning in this election. But JeremyCorbyn, accompanied by many Shadow Ministers, was out in Vauxhall yesterday, meeting members, knocking on doors and talking about Labour’s positive vision, including:

“If we can’t get a sensible compromise or a General Election, we’ll back a public vote”. (here

Voting anything but Labour may make you feel ‘better’, but it is a wasted vote. None of the smaller parties are in a position to deliver the public vote on Brexit of their claims – only Labour can do that. Nor are they in a position to influence the policies and practices of the EU – only Labour and its allies in the S&D can challenge for the Commission Presidency and affect the EU’s attitude not just to the UK but to a range of policies in respect of austerity, migration and the climate crisis.

Instead of using these elections to send a message to Jeremy Corbyn, our message has to be that fascists of the neo-, alt- or any other variety, are not welcome here, and that only Labour can stop Brexit.


Photos: @JohnStuttle with thanks - Vauxhall Park, 21 May 2019

How to lose votes and alienate EU-friends


love corbyn hate brexitDear Jeremy and Labour Party comrades

I have decades of experience campaigning in Lambeth and across London. I am currently a member of Vauxhall CLP EC and a coordinator for the local Momentum group. I am writing to share my concerns about how the current EU election is being run.

The  day after I received my postal voting form I received a personalised letter from the Lib Dem’s Mayoral candidate. I see from Facebook that lots of other postal voters have received similar from the Brexits. But nothing from Labour. We wouldn’t know an election is going on!

In my constituency the chance to get out on the doorstep and explain that our unrepresentative hard Brexiteer MP, Kate Hoey, does not represent the views of local Party members has been seized by all wings of the Party with enthusiasm. Three of London’s MEP candidates are members of this constituency. Again, all wings of what is often depicted as a politically split CLP have welcomed their nominations and are eager to campaign for them.

But – along with the lack of attention being given to the thousands of postal voters, who faced with a long and complicated ballot form let alone a short and ‘complicated’ (in the Facebook sense of the word) campaign really need some guidance – the Labour Party machinery has not just been unhelpful but at worst has pushed activists away.

I manage a Community Centre but was quickly told that it would be impossible to host any kind of rally or meeting there because, even if I personally donated the cost, it would not be permitted as it would be charged against election expenses. I have even been told that putting up a Labour poster is banned. (By the way, I have no intention of obeying that edict – and if it is true then I would like to see it in writing.)

It does not help that this lacklustre attitude to campaigning – so unlike the spirit of the 2017 campaign – is reflected in the paucity of literature that has been produced. What has been produced is dire. Instead of suggesting that the European Parliament funds the Met Police, the NHS and schools (and is therefore responsible for the current cuts), why haven’t the policies contained in the excellent PES manifesto, which Labour signed up to some months ago, been used as the basis for spelling out what our MEPs can do; why hasn’t the excellent record of what socialist MEPs have achieved contained in Labour’s own European Manifesto been mentioned? That Manifesto is great – but who’s going to know that. It’s top secret.

Instead we get the fluffy Hallmark slogan of ‘bringing our country together again’. To do that requires honesty, bravery and a clear position on Brexit. These elections are about Europe. The issue cannot be ignored. It has to be confronted head on. Is it any surprise that the two parties who are rising in the polls are the two who are campaigning with the clearest message in respect of Brexit.  A clear strong message will do more to bring the country together than woolly ambiguity.

And what about social media ? From voter registration drives, to enthusiastically selling the messages in the Manifesto across Facebook and Twitter, the Party could be doing so much more. More than nothing, that is. In 2017 Labour dominated social media – why are we not doing the same by recapturing the spirit we found then? Labour’s posts don’t even mention the elections. It is being left to individual candidates to wage an air war on their own. And to individual CLPs like my own to organise doorstepping, canvassing, and photo ops with the candidates and the rare Shadow Cabinet Minister who is actively campaigning to get across Labour’s internationalist message.

Having seen the complexity of the ballot paper, with 10 Parties and 11 independents standing in London, the party needs to at least be explaining the voting system! Will there be ‘Get-out-the-vote’ leaflets doing that or will it, like everything else about this campaign, be left to individual candidates and grassroots members to do that. Without spending any money?

I gather the spending restrictions are because any expenditure now may get charged against a future early general election. But it won’t be spending too much at the GE which will lose us votes. It will be not campaigning now. We are losing the General Election campaign on the doorstep today . Once voters – and members (a third of Labour List readers!) – abandon Labour to vote for another party they rarely come back. The majority of Labour members and voters in London support remaining in the EU, and we have been losing members and voters in my constituency for months because of our MP’s and the Leader’s positions on Brexit. If Labour does badly on 23 May because of the lack of campaign support already unhappy members will be even further demotivated.

Complex messages need to be got across in this election. We need to be explaining how voting for other smaller parties is a wasted vote as they are not in a position to either deliver the public vote on Brexit of their claims – only Labour can do that – nor are they in a position to influence the policies and practices of the European Union – only Labour and its allies in the S&D can challenge for the Commission Presidency and affect the EU’s attitude to the UK. And we need to be spelling out that only Labour is committed to challenging the growth of fascist and alt-right populism across Europe and in the UK.

London is a great working class city and the majority of its diverse, multi-national residents want to stay in the European Union. We have great candidates who will represent this city and its people heart and soul.  Let’s please tell Londoners who they are, how to vote, and why, above all, they should vote Labour. Against austerity, for real action against climate catastrophe, for peace and prosperity across our continent.

I feel obliged to complain like this because if ordinary members like me don’t, then nothing will change.90a243ae-cfe8-4112-8830-0dc546ce0e45

In hope and solidarity





I’m pleased to say that after I wrote this the Labour Party machinery swung into action – in London at least – and has produced election material, including on social media. Hundreds of Party members have enthusiastically accompanied our candidates on the doorstep. But, as the same time, far too many members are saying they are voting for one of the smaller Remain parties. A wasted vote, which could allow Farage’s Party to top the poll and send a message to Europe and the world that a bunch of anti-European, anti-migrant right-wing little-Englander charlatans represent the values and opinions of this country.

I will be voting Labour on Thursday and I call on all socialist Remainers to do the same.

Joan, 19 May 2019 

Today I wrote to my MP, Kate Hoey….

Dear Kate

I am not going to rehearse our disagreements over Brexit here. We both know where we stand. However, I would like to know how you plan to vote on today’s motion before the House on No Deal.

It is not my practice to reduce political questions to my personal circumstances. But on this occasion I think they may illustrate a situation that faces thousands of people in this country including in Vauxhall.

I have just taken delivery of a biological drug for the treatment of Crohn’s Disease. It is the latest in a family of very expensive, innovative drugs which have enabled me to get back involved in political activity after over a decade of being virtually housebound. It is manufactured in Belgium. It requires continuous refrigeration.

I am awaiting a delivery of medical appliances and related equipment without which I cannot function. They are made in Denmark and other European countries. I was worried enough to contact the company who provide them. They told me that they had purchased additional warehouse space (at what cost to the NHS/taxpayer?). That didn’t really reassure me.

I haven’t dared look at the country of origin of the multiple pills I take every morning.

My needs are minor compared to others. But it is alarming that I should even have to worry about whether I will be able to function if the UK leaves the EU without arrangements in place to guarantee the seamless provision and delivery of vital medical supplies.

I have read that you think stories such as this are unnecessarily alarmist. That the disruption of No Deal is a price worth paying.

I do hope that is not your view.

The idea that you could support the dismantling of 40 years of integrated manufacturing, commerce and trade without coherent plans and agreements being in place is incomprehensible to me. Especially when it is in the hands of the most right-wing and inept Tory government of the post-war years. Especially when we lose more than we gain. I believe in a socialist transformation of society. That could well cause disruption. We used to joke in my youth about the necessity of guaranteeing beer supplies come the revolution. But socialism’s aim is to benefit us all; not enrich the few. It’s to extend our rights and liberties; not remove our right to travel, study, work, live, and love across our neighbouring continent. Brexit is the antithesis of socialism and internationalism.

I know you argue that the result of the referendum has to be implemented; that it was a democratic exercise and decision. But nobody ever suggested during the referendum campaign that there would be No Deal, no civilised arrangements for leaving the EU. Nobody even whispered that the smooth delivery of medical supplies could be affected – that wasn’t on the side of that bus.

Democracy is not a static concept. If it was we would only ever have one election and that would be that. Maybe another one a generation or two later? That sounds a bit like Spain, where there was a general election in 1936 and then not another until 1977. The Chartists argued for annual elections. It’s hardly revolutionary, let alone anti-democratic, to argue that the people might want to have another think, have another say, now they have more information on what that first binary decision means in practice.

I look forward to hearing from you confirming that you will be voting to rule out No Deal today, and that you will be supporting Labour’s policy, including supporting steps for a public vote to stop no deal or a damaging Tory Brexit.




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