Over the past week the political discourse in the United Kingdom has taken a sharp downturn. On Wednesday 21st the Labour party proposed a motion that called for an extension of the free school meals program until Easter 2021. The motion was defeated as more than 300 Tory MPs voted against it. If not for the tireless work of footballer Marcus Rashford and the kind generosity of already struggling cafes and restaurants, over 1.4 million children could miss out on what is potentially an essential part of their daily nutrition.
A cursory glance at the policy history of the Conservative party shows that they have a long history of making life more difficult for poor children as they do all they can to make their friends that bit richer.
One of the most notorious examples of this was in 1971 when a little known politician by the name of Margaret Thatcher, that held the position of Education Secretary in Edward Heath’s government, decided to stop the provision of milk to any junior school pupils over the age of 7. A shameless bid to cut costs at the expense of the poorest in the country, understandably there was outrage. Five years before she adopted the title the “Iron Lady” she would be anointed another title, one that was used in school playgrounds all over the country – “Milk Snatcher”. She reportedly hated the nickname and 19 years later when she discovered that Health Secretary Ken Clarke was proposing ending the free milk program for nursery children, she wrote him a handwritten note that said –
‘No – this will cause a terrible row – all for £4m. I know – I went through it 19 years ago’
Jump forward to as recently as 2017, just one year after Theresa May had taken over as Prime Minister despite never having been voted in. May idolised Margaret Thatcher so much that she decided she would try to emulate her. Firstly, she proposed scrapping the free school meals program entirely in England with the quote from the education department at the time being that the party does not believe “a free school lunch for every child in the first three years of primary school… is a sensible use of public money”. This one earned her the nickname “the meals snatcher”. Then, a year later she had another pop at it with the proposal to cut the free milk for nurseries scheme. It seems that stopping nursery age children from having a drink of milk is the true white whale for the Tory party, the one policy change they just always want to make. For this she started to be directly compared to Thatcher with the “milk snatcher” title. I’m sure, deep down, she loved the name, anything to relate her to her hero. Even if that did mean taking away more provisions for the most vulnerable children.
This brings us to 2020, and the country limping its way through the covid-19 pandemic with Boris Johnson at the helm. In June, the young footballer from Manchester, Marcus Rashford, used his platform to raise awareness about the depth of the food poverty problem in the UK. Speaking from personal experience Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs urging them to reverse their decision to not award free school meals vouchers to over 1 million children who were eligible. To be eligible for a free school meal a child’s family has to earn a maximum income of £7,400 a year after tax so it was always the most vulnerable children that relied on the free school meals service.
Rashford gained so much support that the government was forced into a U-turn. The prime minister’s official spokesperson said at the time –
‘Owing to the coronavirus pandemic the Prime Minister fully understands that children and parents face an entirely unprecedented situation over the summer. To reflect this we will be providing a Covid Summer Food Fund. This will provide food vouchers covering the six-week holiday period. This is a specific measure to reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals.’
This original scheme was reported to have cost around £120 million. Over the course of the summer the Tories decided to implement the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, to make sure that the people that could afford to go to restaurants would get back out there with the government footing half of the bill. This scheme cost more than £522 million.
As well as this the government decided to set aside £10 billion of public money to spend on the failed test and trace system. Most of the money made its way into the hands of private companies such as G4S and Serco and amounts to more than 100 times the annual budget for Public Health England which tops out at £90 million. Newcastle University public health professor Alysson Pollock described the budget as “shocking” and is quoted in the Independent as saying –
‘This money should have been put into supporting the established system of public health services instead of going into new parallel centralised and privatised services run by private companies where much of it is squandered and wasted.’
Unsurprisingly the Tory government believes that public money is better spent on middle class leisure and the interests of private companies, rather than ensuring the health and wellbeing of all of the people of this country.
In typical fashion the Tories have lied and played the victim since the backlash to their decision to vote against the free school meals extension. MP Jacob Young claimed that he’d been told that parents had used their £15 a week food vouchers on “alcohol, tobacco or on unhealthy food”. In support of comments made by MP Ben Bradley, MP Mark Jenkinson tweeted “I know in my constituency that, as tiny as a minority it might be, food parcels are sold or traded for drugs.”
So determined to justify letting children go hungry they will invent stories about struggling families.
They have retreated behind the barrier of respectability politics. Claiming to have their feelings hurt by being reminded that the decisions they make will hurt a lot of children. Maybe if Tory MPs wanted to avoid being called scum they should stop acting like it.
As a result of the ongoing civil unrest in the United States, brought about by the consistent and repeated police brutality on flagrant display in the past few weeks, the Overton window has shifted dramatically and now we have police abolition being discussed seriously by those in power. Places like Minnesota- the city at the heart of the recent reaction against police violence following the murder of George Floyd- recently unanimously voted to replace their police service with a community led model. The project is currently in the early phases, the motion giving a year to research and engage with the community to develop the idea. With the suddenly very real possibility that we might- perhaps sooner than expected- be witnessing the belated end of a particularly grim and militaristic chapter in policing, I thought it worthwhile to give an account of the history of policing.
Let’s take a look at where the institutions of policing and legalism originated from. Strangely, these are two separate histories; the oldest known codified legal code being the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu originated around 2100 BC, while the earliest recorded instance of what could arguably be called a police force did not develop until around a thousand years later, in ancient China as part of the prefecture system. So what happened in the time between inventing a legal system and a police force? Laws were enforced, often brutally, by whatever petty king ruled over you at that time and because of this the legal tradition of early civilisation matched the barked orders a king would give in his court. As a result, most of the laws in the Code of Ur-Nammu would be more at home in the old testament than in the high court; crimes like theft and murder are swiftly dealt with via execution; punishments are dealt out for adultery and sorcery, and finally a good chunk is devoted to when and when it’s not okay to sow another man’s field. These laws would not have been enforced by anything like police, instead the king would enforce them by right of having a local monopoly on violence, with weaker warlords agreeing to enforce them in their own lands as part of working for their king, and the priest caste making themselves useful by dealing with the complex issues of divorce and witchcraft.
While this might sound like an ideal system, as these kingdoms grew in size, and the king was no longer able to personally hand out justice on the end of a spear, these warlords began to employ other men with spears to make sure their laws were enforced further and further from the capital. In Egypt the policing had a very militaristic structure. Policing often involved enforcing borders, protecting caravans and suppressing slaves. Not exactly dealing out justice for the common man but more so keeping the increasingly complex economy running. The guards of temples however would go on to take an increasingly more civil role; instead of just being men with spears that reported to the Pharaoh, they would be taken into the religious structure as priests. These guard-priests would be responsible for handling religious law by conducting arrests and acting as judges in the Pharaoh’s name.
In the Jin state of early China, bureaucrats would appoint prefects to investigate crimes and enforce the law in their jurisdiction, this is where things start to look a bit more recognisable as a precursor to the modern police force. Prefects were appointed by the state, reported to the local magistrate, had limited authority and served until dismissed, obligations which differentiate them significantly from the warlord-enforcers of earlier periods.
Much like in Egypt, where the early judges would get their authority from the Pharaoh, these prefects drew their legal power from the Emperor, who had appointed the governor, who had appointed the bureaucrats, who had appointed the prefect. It was this trickle down of authority that defined early policing. But what if your society didn’t have a king?
Both Rome and Athens decided they didn’t like kings, and politely yet firmly asked their kings to leave the city. This however left the people of these cities with a conundrum: all legal authority was handed down by a king, so what do we do now without one? Well, in deciding new laws Rome invented the senate, originally made up of the aristocratic families that had done the firm but polite asking earlier, who took on the responsibility of making new laws. In Athens, they decided that anyone could propose a new law and everyone would get to vote on it, and by everyone I mean adult men, who weren’t slaves, or women and weren’t considered metic (someone who’s family had lived in Athens for multiple generations but weren’t quiet Athenian enough to have a vote).
Now that the boring legal stuff was decided, who would do the policing? Both cities had experimented with a police force but these had quickly devolved into gangs, loyal to whoever paid them. This wasn’t so much of an issue when the king was the one doing the paying- everyone was already meant to be loyal to him. Instead, whoever was willing to put up the money could have roving gangs meting out “justice” in the city. People quickly decided this was a bad idea. So what did they do? Athens came up with the interesting, and incredibly amoral idea of purchasing 300 slaves that were collectively owned by the Athenian state. These men would be responsible for arrests and guarding important events, as well as preventing riots. The investigation part of police work however fell to the average citizen, if you wanted to take someone to court over something you had to prove it yourself.
Rome went a different path. After overthrowing their last king, Roman culture underwent a bit of an obsession with legalism; where other cultures would brag about their kings, or in the case of Athens define themselves by democracy, the Romans decided they were the superior culture due to their rule of law. Legal ceremonies took on almost religious significance, and in a few instances like designating the legal boundary of the city, actual religious significance. Lawyers like Cicero would go on to become celebrities and statesmen. So how did this city obsesses with law decide to form its police force? Well, it didn’t. The laws inside Rome weren’t enforced by any separate group of privileged nobles or state owned slaves, but instead every citizen made sure the rule of law was upheld. This sounds like a system doomed to fail, and it eventually did, after a few hundred years. Eventually, the Roman republic gave way to the Roman empire, and Augustus established the Vigiles, a mix of police, firefighter and town watch, bringing with them the end of Rome’s experiment with legalism without a police force.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the early history of policing and legalism let’s move on to take a look at the institutions in the UK that gave rise to modern policing.
After the Act of Union, Glasgow had started to grow rich by being the main link to the Americas: sugar, cotton and about half the empire’s tobacco flowed through the city. With all this wealth going about, things started to go missing- a crate here, a box there. Eventually the leakage brought about the attention of the Tobacco lords. In the late 1770s the city of Glasgow had been experimenting with its own police force, and in 1800 the Glasgow Police act was officially passed by the government, establishing the City of Glasgow Police. While it began small, only 8 officers assembling for the first time at the Trongate on a cold November’s day, this group would go on to set the mould for what modern policing would become. The philosophy of this group of men was different than what had come before; rather than just react to crime like town guards had done in the past, the new name of the game wasn’t simply to catch criminals, but to actively prevent crime. Another important tenet was non-lethality, which saw these men armed with a lantern and a long stick as opposed to a pistol or sword. If things got rough the idea was people left with bruises not bullet wounds. Finally each officer was given a badge with a numbered ID, a distinctive uniform and a 24 hour rotating rota.
The success of the Glasgow model would not go unnoticed by the rest of the Empire. Soon other towns in Scotland had adopted a similar force to patrol 24 hours a day, and by 1822 Ireland would go onto found its own police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary.
London was having similar troubles to Glasgow in the late 1790s, a bustling port with no one to watch over it resulting in a leakage of stock. The merchants of the capital were fuming, and decided to form groups like the Thames River Police. Much like in Glasgow these proved incredibly successful in protecting shipping cargo, however this was not to last. Soon, London was in the thrall of the industrial revolution, and the city, which was already massive, began to expand even faster as people from the countryside migrated for work. Robert Peel, home secretary at that time decided now was the time to reform all the volunteer and private police forces into something modern and capable of maintaining order in the city. Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1829 and this force would take on a lot of what had made the Glasgow City Police a success, there was a focus on visibility to deter crime, and because of the cities distaste for the French Model, which was heavily militarised, the Met had a big focus on being civilians policing civilians. This model eventually spread throughout the empire and commonwealth, influencing policing across the world, from Hong Kong to Delhi to Vancouver.
Across the pond in America, however, policing grew out of a different tradition. The early colonies had a police force that was organised around elected officials called sheriffs, who would then raise a volunteer militia from within the community to police the community. This all sounds rather idyllic- democratic accountability, community focused recruitment- so what went wrong? Well, the modern American police force is not descended from this volunteer group. Instead the men that would be the foundation for policing in America were slave catchers. Places like Carolina heavily depended on slavery to maintain their economy and out of fear of a slave rebellion the men of wealth created groups like the Charleston Guard and Watch. Salaried professional police that had a distinctive uniform, these figures laid the foundation of police work in America. These men were given a strict chain of command, sole authority for policing in their jurisdiction and given the right to use force as they deemed fit. They also took on the lessons from the UK about preventative policing, but with a focus on preventing slave uprisings rather than petty crime. Their role was more similar to the ancient’s way of executing authority and population control rather than anything worth praising.
Looking at the history of policing it seems its historic role is at odds with how we imagine the role of policing today. Instead of being about protecting people the ancients, like in Egypt, used policing as a method of population control and a way of exerting central authority into places the Pharaohs could not reach themselves. Further we can see that the idea of legalism hasn’t always been married to a police force, in both Athens and Rome the existence of a police force was seen not only as unneeded to enforce law and order but also as anathema to democracy. In modern policing’s foundation we also see a divorce from the ideal that policing is about protecting and serving the public. Instead these early forces were formed by the wealthy classes to stop their property going missing, and in the case of America, that property was sometimes people. Next time we’ll take a look at how a modern society could function without a police force.
The murder of George Floyd has galvanised a desire for change extending far beyond the borders of the United States. The most recent in a long line of racially motivated police killings, George’s death and the resultant police response to protests, have revealed the callousness with which a great many law enforcement officials wield their power. Amidst a backdrop of coronavirus, social disenfranchisement, and police brutality, peaceful protests have erupted into riots and looting across America, invariably with police inciting or exacerbating through excessive force. As video after video surfaces online of police engaging in violent suppression of largely peaceful protesters, many are recognising the need for a serious and widespread interrogation of our relationship to the mechanisms of power and social control.
With that said, hand wringing over the validity of rioting and looting as a form of political protest threaten to overtake the issues; predictably, conservatives- who portray themselves as gun-toting freedom fighters ready to go toe-to-toe against government tyranny- are positively salivating at the prospect of government violence being meted out against their enemies- these violent thugs with no respect for property rights or law enforcement. This gleeful inconsistency on their part is par for the course; what is more insidious, however, is the tendency of supposedly well-meaning liberals to hijack social movements and placate them while performing their support. The anger and desire for change which liberal protestors feel is often proportionally less than that of others involved in rioting and looting, no matter their radical rhetoric (adopted as it comes in and out of vogue).
This article will consider the role liberals play in de-fanging and disowning protest movements, often demeaning or erasing the very people they purport to care about, all whilst demanding little in the way of change.
One of the recurring criticisms levelled at protests by conservatives and liberals alike is that rioting- and especially looting, the wanton infringement of property rights- in some sense diminishes the seriousness of the demonstration, detracts from “the message” and robs them of their political legitimacy. This claim is nothing new; as far back as the 1960s conservatives and liberal elites have attempted to police the boundaries of acceptable protest by casting aspersions on the working classes engaged in acts of social disorder, like property damage and looting. For conservatives, this means characterising riotous protesters as violent degenerate thugs, often with racialised overtones. Liberals- who typically place themselves ostensibly on the side of change and progress- weaponize Martin Luther King Jr in decrying rioting and looting; here, they say, is evidence of the evergreen effectiveness of peaceful protest. Offering up a palliative and reductive distortion of the civil rights movement, liberals effectively erase not only Malcolm X, but almost the entire revolutionary character of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr existed against a tumultuous and violent backdrop of rioting in which marginalised communities strove to assert themselves against an oppressive system which routinely and openly denigrated them. While MLK had his own perspective on the righteousness of rioting, this was not shared by all who were fighting for emancipation. Had there been no civil unrest as a threatening backdrop, MLKs tactics would likely have proved less effective in bringing lawmakers to the negotiating table.
Additionally, this liberal invocation of Martin Luther King Jr, with various sombre references to the world he envisioned in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, betrays its insincerity in its depthlessness. Opinions are, of course, not static and towards the end of his life MLK had begun to show a greater understanding for rioting and its legitimacy as a means of political dissent. “Riots do not develop out of thin air… a riot is the language of the unheard.” While still critical of the effectiveness of riots in achieving political goals, MLK did not, in doing so, undermine the legitimate grievances of the working class, or fail to recognise the conditions from which riots emerge. That MLK’s actions and previous positioning allows disengaged liberals to pay lip-service to social progress- while simultaneously preserving their own economic interest- was perfectly encapsulated by such individuals accusing MLKs son of misappropriating his own father’s words. Perennially, these predominantly middle-class, predominantly white people stand atop the moral high ground, tutting paternalistically at the huddled masses who don’t know what’s good for them.
While this moralistic dismissal of rioters is most readily observable in the white middle-classes, themselves removed from the protests and brutality of police oppression, it does in fact cut across racial boundaries, revealing the class interests at the heart of these criticisms. In the face of civil disobedience and protests in Atlanta, Run The Jewels MC and landlord Killer Mike took to a podium with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. While wearing a T-shirt reading “Kill Your Masters”, a visibly upset Mike cautioned protestors against “burning down our own homes”, despite black people in Atlanta making up the bulk of the city’s workforce while being disproportionately less likely to own a home. As Mike took the opportunity to encourage people to vote their way out of oppression with a mishmash of buzzwords, absent from Mike’s T-shirt, the twin directive “Kill Your Idols” was a silent scream.
Both white and black middle class self-styled leaders attempt to hijack the rhetoric and trajectory of social movements, bringing them into the orbit of their own class interests, namely the aspirational preservation of their wealth, status and property. Another key way in which this manifests itself is in the scapegoating of the “outside agitator”. While conservatives use rioting as an excuse to legitimise violent and oppressive policing- the mobilising of state-sanctioned tyranny against their political opponents- liberals make reference to the presence of “outside agitators” souring the character and spirit of the protest movement. This spectral opponent allows Democrat senators and mayors to use the presence of subversive elements as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from uncomfortable social truths, to pretend there is no civil unrest bubbling over in their own citizenry, that white nationalists and/or antifascist organisers are using their once idyllic towns and cities as battlegrounds for a shadowy proxy-war. In Cleveland, a city with a Democrat mayor, Police Chief Calvin Williams preemptively claimed that the majority of detainees during protests had been from out of state. Jail records later showed that not only were those arrested mostly from Cleveland, most were also black. Frequently this attitude and rhetoric extends also to social leaders both black and white aiming to demobilize the more radical elements within the social movement. This is not to deny the presence of such actors within a widespread and diverse movement with no centrally planned directives; but the characterisation and insistent blame of the bulk of property damage and looting on white fringe elements effectively erases the black working class involved in more radical action. Fearful of playing into stereotypes, and of acknowledging the destruction of property as a legitimate expression of outrage at a culture which values and protects property over people, liberals instead marginalise radical black activists and the working class in favour of an anaemic version of social justice which seeks only to improve their standing within the status quo.
Perhaps most egregious in liberal insistence that rioting sets back social progress by entrenching prejudicial beliefs is that this claim is patently false. As recently as 2014, the Ferguson riots following the murder of Michael Brown present a microcosm of events which are now playing out on the national (and international) level. Despite an onslaught of negative press coverage, recent research has shown that the attention commanded by the Ferguson riots led to a significant increase in those who feel equality is still an issue which needs to be addressed, even among republican voters. To bring this closer to home for a moment, the 1990 riots in the UK against the poll tax lead to the bill being repealed and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation.
The duplicity of liberal involvement with and commentary on social movements should be of concern to any who desire fundamental change. By allowing them to take the reigns, we set ourselves up for more of the same with regards to policing and government. Already emergent in the wake of discussions around police brutality following George Floyd’s murder is a schism between liberal “reformists” and the radical desire for the abolition of policing in its current form. Liberals, keen to preserve the state’s monopoly on violence, seem to think institutional racism can be overcome with a diet of increased funding, sensitivity training and increased accountability, completely disregarding that all such methods have been tried and tested time and again and the results are plain to see. Yet with their aspirational and actual class interest in the preservation of the sanctity of private property, liberals cannot envisage a world without the need for police as agents of property enforcement, and so will continue to be ineffectual conduits for manifest social change.
No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States.
On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital.
The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later.
The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.
By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further.
In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.
On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause.
This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other.
Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night.
We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
As of April, the Labour party now has a new leader in Sir Keir Starmer and a new Shadow Cabinet appointed by him. Starmer won the leadership contest with 56% of the vote on a wave of sentiments such as “electability”, “moderate” and “sensible” and has been a staunch Remainer in the Brexit debate. Starmer was instrumental in his role as Shadow Brexit secretary in tempering Labour’s position on Brexit and forcing Corbyn to support a second referendum going into the 2019 general election. This, for many, was the death knell for Labour as they alienated millions of working-class voters that voted for Brexit and pushed them towards the Conservatives, leaving the UK in a strange place with the Conservative party now having a larger working class base of support, at least in England.
The appointment of Sir Keir Starmer, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, has also alienated the members of the Labour party that still believed in Labour as a left-wing party that would push for meaningful, socialist changes to society. He has been compared to Tony Blair and many believe he will steer the party back towards a “New Labour” way of working that operates more in the mythical centre of the political spectrum and tries to strike a balance between the left and right wings of the party. Something that has been applauded by members of the Conservative party such as the architect of austerity himself, George Osborne, who tweeted –
“Keir Starmer’s reshuffle is impressive – the Marxist nutters are out; moderate left are in. When this crisis is eventually over, and politics is resumed, the Tories are going to find that the 5 years when there was no opposition and no alternative has come to an abrupt end”
A bold statement but one that has very little meaning coming from someone that should be a political enemy of the Labour movement, especially when you look at the people that Starmer has appointed to his Shadow Cabinet. At a time where the Conservative government have clearly, seriously mishandled the Covid-19 crisis amid false scientific claims of the validity of “herd immunity”, a failure to provide clarity and protections for the people most at risk and a wilful dismissal of a report in 2016 that predicted what would happen in a pandemic situation; new Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy claimed in an interview that “this wasn’t a foreseeable crisis” despite the fact that the Government had foresaw a crisis like this happening four years ago. A statement that Starmer would be proud of as he himself stated that now is “not the time” to ask if the Government has been too slow in responding to this crisis. A strong opposition indeed.
To anyone who denounces criticism of the government in a time like this as trying to politicise a tragedy I would like to say this to you specifically – Whether you like it or not, everything is political. It was a political choice to suppress the 2016 report on pandemic response from the public. It was a political choice to not heed the warning of countries like China and Italy when it came to the lax response to the pandemic. These political choices have caused a lot of unnecessary strain, suffering, deaths and the government must be held accountable for that.
As to the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, we have Ian Murray who failed in his bid for the Deputy Leader position but is being kept on as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He claimed to have been “honoured” by an endorsement from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and has been a vocal critic of Corbyn and his policies.
Appointed as Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding is Jess Phillips; a person that has been caught out bragging about telling MP Diane Abbot to “fuck off” during a parliamentary meeting, a claim that turned out to be a complete lie, and has a worrying track record of supporting transphobic groups and diminishing the rights of sex workers. Oh and Jess was also was one of Corbyn’s loudest critics and was quoted in an interview with the Guardian as saying to Corbyn “The day that… you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front”.
In at the position of Shadow Exchequer Secretary is Wes Streeting, a man that doxxed a person on twitter over a doctored picture and has taken every opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn over the claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour party but who also told a campaigner against anti-Semitism to “fuck off” when he pointed out he was defending proven anti-Semite Ali Milani. He also seems very comfortable working with his colleague Rachel Reeves who has also been awarded a place in the Shadow Cabinet; a woman that has admitted her admiration for the first ever sitting woman MP Nancy Astor, a known anti-Semite and avid supporter of Adolf Hitler. Another example of a worrying trend in British politics where people like to pretend the first female MP was a Nazi sympathiser and brush over the Irish Socialist Constance Markievicz. British politics is grim, but maybe Labour shouldn’t be the party working to erase Socialism from British politics and fawning over fash?
You may be wondering why I have made an effort to point out that Starmers new Shadow Cabinet seems to be propped up by the people in the party that were the most critical of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It has recently been announced that the internal report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” will not be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the advice of the Party’s lawyers as they fear it could harm the Party. This story was broken by Sky News who claimed to have seen the 860 – page report and stated that it “concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to a ‘litany of mistakes’ that hindered the effective handling of the issue”. A polite way of describing many of Keir’s supporters and shadow cabinet as fifth columnists.
The report has since been leaked online and is very damning for those involved.Through thorough examination of more than 10,000 emails and thousands of WhatsApp messages it was discovered that a faction inside the Labour party that were doing everything they could to make sure Corbyn lost the election in 2017. This included deliberately mishandling work, sabotaging anyone they believed to be a ‘trot’ (a Trot being anyone to the left of Brown) and lying to manipulate outcomes that they wanted. There is a lot in the report but some of the worst revelations from the WhatsApp messages include –
Conversations which show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
A discussion about how to prevent Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
Constant references to Corbyn – supporting staff as “trots”
Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
A discussion in which a member of the group said they “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”
One of the more damning paragraphs that show the level to which members of this group were trying to sabotage Corbyn is the following about Emilie Oldknow who is now the COO of the Unison trade union. It states –
‘WhatsApp discussions among senior Labour HQ staff show that LOTO (Leader of The Opposition) was unhappy with the NCC panel’s decision to suspend Ken Livingston for another year rather than expel him. Emilie Oldknow wrote that “Karie has been telling Shadow Cabinet members that I’ve orchestrated the Ken situation so… Tom got his people on the panel to make a soft decision, all in order to embarrass JC and create a crisis.”
Sir Keir Starmer claims that he wants a more moderate party that bridges the left-wing/right-wing divide so as to win back the trust of voters. This reconciliation is as convincing as Keir pishing into my ear and telling me it’s raining. What we really see is a group of moderates that never liked how popular the policies of Jeremy Corbyn were and did everything in their power to purge the party of the further left leaning people involved. Forcing Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit, purposely sabotaging the Party and colluding to bully members they believed to be too far left and then accusing Corbyn of losing two elections all by himself because he was so unpopular and had bad ideas. It is the same type of Neo-Liberal machinations that were set on Bernie Sanders over in America and it makes it clear that whether here in the UK or over in the US there will never really be an opportunity to have any real choice in government. Neither in the UK or the US is there a party structure that can make a home for the Left. They all wear different colours but campaign for slight variations of the same formula. Keir Starmer is being hailed as the electable saviour for the Labour Party, but I would argue the Labour Party is now so far removed from where it was supposed to be that he now has nothing worth saving.
I’d like to leave you with a quote from the legend of the Labour Party Tony Benn. “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
He said this in response to the push for Labour to adopt more right-wing ideas in the 80s. A task completed by Tony Blair and now furthered by the ghoulish machinations of the right leaning members of the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer has been propelled to leadership of a Party that his supporters have eroded from the inside. Keir is not the saviour of the Labour party, but it’s undertaker.
As the coronavirus pandemic affects nations across the globe, we should continue to consider the circumstances which have helped or hindered countries in handling the situation. With this in mind, friend of the ACU Ian sheds light on Vietnam’s response measures.
Ask anyone what comes to mind when you mention Vietnam and they will probably respond with one of two words: war, or communism. Vietnam’s civil war began in 1955 between the communist led North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam. The USA provided support to the South Vietnamese from the beginning. This was part of US efforts to curb the spread of communism worldwide, efforts that would eventually lead to a ground invasion of Vietnam in March 1963, which didn’t end until 1973 when all US personnel were withdrawn from the country. 2 years after this withdrawal the North Vietnamese and their southern Việt Minh allies captured Sai Gon in the south, bringing an end to the 20 year conflict known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước (“Anti-American Resistance War for National Salvation”).
North and South Vietnamese governments finally united in 1976 forming the modern Socialist Republic of Vietnam and this new united government was immediately faced with the task of rebuilding the country after a devastating war in which an estimated 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed. The war itself was over, but with countless people wounded or suffering from the effects of America’s use of poisonous chemicals such as Agent Orange, the aftershock would be felt for many years afterwards. Other damage from the war included villages and arable land being littered with mines and unexploded bombs, an economy in ruins and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts were made even more difficult by a trade embargo imposed on Vietnam by the USA in an attempt to economically isolate the fledgling nation that had so valiantly fought for its independence. This embargo lasted for 19 years.
Despite all of the challenges the nation has faced, Vietnam has persevered and in recent years has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2010, Vietnam’s GDP growth has been at least 5% per year, and in 2017 it peaked at 6.8%. With such rapid economic growth, the country grew from one of the poorest countries to a comfortably middle-income one. Whereas its GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343).
Vietnam has experienced almost miraculous success in the face of adversity, and this article will address another situation in which the country has been incredibly successful – the 2020 world coronavirus pandemic.
We’ve all seen by now that with few exceptions, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded at an alarming rate, particularly among western countries. The U.S government, much like the UK, has been strongly criticised for its lack of coherent nationwide response measures, with many commenting that eventual implementation of response measures have been too little, too late. As a result of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional handling of the pandemic, federal scientists have predicted that the U.S is likely to see millions of people infected, with a sobering prediction of over 100,000 deaths.
By contrast, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, according to the government’s figures, is staggeringly low.
So far the South East Asian nation has reported just 245 cases of the disease, with 95 recoveries and, almost unbelievably, zero recorded deaths. They have only 2.99% of the number of cases it’s neighbour China has, and 0.072% of the cases of the nation with the highest recorded cases (the USA). The mortality rate of 0% is incredible compared to countries (Spain and the U.K) which are experiencing rates of over 10% and in addition to this, on April 4th Vietnam reported no new cases of the virus for the first time in over a month.
Vietnam’s first case was recorded on January 23rd when a Chinese national from Wuhan who had travelled to Ha Noi to visit his son tested positive for COVID-19. Since then Vietnam has averaged only 3.6 new cases per day – in complete contrast with the USA’s 4,432. I have no doubt that by now you must be wondering how it’s possible that Vietnam, a country which shares such strong ideological ties, a 1444km land border, and counts China as its largest trading partner, can possibly have been so successful in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite being so closely associated country from which the virus emanated.
How exactly has Vietnam managed to keep its numbers so low?
On January 24th, one day after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Health Vũ Đức Đam held an emergency meeting with the World Health Organisation and the Steering Committee for Emerging Disease Prevention. At this meeting the Deputy Prime minister ordered the activation of the Covid-19 Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. He also declared that the government had many measures prepared to prevent the proliferation of the new coronavirus threat. The government made good on these declarations and wasted no time implementing these emergency measures.
Authorities immediately started to pursue a strategy of identification, isolation and testing. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected individuals were found, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19, with those testing negative being released. These measures were originally considered to be drastic by WHO recommendations, however they proved to be extremely successful, with the WHO praising Vietnam for “doing a good job in monitoring and quarantining those suspected of contracting the virus and in treating infected patients, ever since the nation detected the first infection cases”.
On January 24th the Civil Aviation Authority announced a ban on flights both to and from Wuhan, China. A week later this ban was extended to include all flights to and from China. Vietnam also stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals from epidemic stricken areas in order to reduce the chance of other outbreaks.
In the first week of February and just over two weeks after the first recorded Covid-19 case educational authorities throughout the country announced the closure of schools and universities. On February 14th these closures were extended until February 23rd. This has been extended until the present and at present a date for them to re-open has yet to be announced.
On Thursday 13th of February, provincial authorities in Vinh Phuc Province quarantined Son Loi Commune after seven people tested positive for the virus, including a 3 month old child. A total of 311 people were quarantined, with a total of 10 eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Provincial authorities established disease checkpoints, distributed free face masks, established mobile food shops and provided a daily monetary food allowance for those in quarantine.
As of Tuesday 25th of February there had been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam, and just over a month after the first case the Deputy Prime Minister announced in an online meeting that “With all modesty and eagerness to learn, Vietnam has so far controlled the Covid-19 epidemic well”. Vietnam went through a period of 20 days without seeing any new infections until March 6th, when an Englishman returning to the country tested positive. This was the start of a second wave of infections, which Vietnam had hoped to prevent with its use of targeted travel bans. By this point however the epidemic was turning into a pandemic, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent new arrivals carrying the illness coming into the nation as the virus has already spread over most of the globe.
On the 18th of March Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners trying to enter the country. Those with visa exemption status were required to submit documentation proving they had tested negative for COVID-19. People arriving from the U.S., European countries, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also required to stay in quarantine camps for 14 days. These precautions again proved justified when it was found that of the 68 new COVID-19 patients, 59 had returned from abroad.
By March 27th, the number of cases increased to 163. In response to this the Prime Minister rolled out new measures to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and control. These measures include: cancellation of events attended by more than 20 people, and the banning of gatherings of more than 10 people in public places. Religious ceremonies and cultural, sporting and entertainment events were suspended. All non-essential businesses and services were also ordered to close. Four days later on March 31st the government announced yet further measures to limit the spread of the virus. They demanded the implementation of social distancing throughout the entire country. Public gatherings of more than 2 people are banned, with citizens being required to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres in social interactions. Everyone is requested to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary, such as trips for food, medicine, emergency care or for working at essential businesses, factories, and services that have been allowed to continue operating.
“Households are advised to keep a distance from households, villages from villages, communes from communes, districts from districts, and provinces from provinces,” according to the directive.
In addition to these measures, the Ministry of Health (Bộ Y tế) has been sending regular texts to everyone in the country with updates on the situation, advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and with messages of encouragement to help fight the pandemic. To give you an idea of the content, here is the first message, sent on February 4th.
For those of us not fluent in Vietnamese, Google Translate provides this:
Another Ministry of Health text(translated using Google), also sent on February 4th, reads:
In Vietnam we see a national government treating the virus seriously from the very first case, coordinating with the WHO and designing a quarantine that would provide support, both financial and material, to those affected.
Although an extensive array of measures have been employed, Vietnam’s success in fighting coronavirus lies not only in the government’s response, but in the communist nation’s culture. Simply put, Vietnam is a collectivistic society which manifests in a close long-term commitment to the “member” group, such as a family, extended family or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and informs most other societal rules and norms. Such a society fosters strong relationships, where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group, whether it’s your family or your neighbourhood. The coronavirus crisis seems to have reignited the collectivism that still exists at the heart of Vietnamese society, which seemed to be diminishing as a result of Westernisation and the rise of Neoliberal individualism that follows on the coattails of Westernisation. Vietnamese citizens from all walks of life have united and are determined to beat the disease. Put simply, Vietnamese people have a greater tendency to care not only about their own health, but the health of the wider community.
In addition to being collectivist, Vietnamese society also prides itself on its pragmatism. In pragmatic societies, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions and a strong propensity to persevere to achieve desired results. Vietnam’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been criticised by several Western media outlets as being “aggressive” or even “authoritarian” but despite this criticism, the pragmatism of Vietnamese society has contributed to Vietnam’s citizens ability to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles so swiftly to cooperate with the governments’ directives, and has certainly been a major factor in what has been an incredible effort from government employees and officials, healthcare workers and ordinary citizens in combating a potentially devastating pandemic.
I would like to end the article by sharing a personal anecdote which I believe reflects the pride that the Vietnamese people feel for their nations’ collective effort in inhibiting the spread of COVID-19. At the end of my online class on April 4th, one of my students, 12 year old Justin (his chosen name), asked me not to leave the class yet- he had some good news he wanted to share with me. He then told me that various media outlets had reported that Vietnam had recorded zero new cases of coronavirus. I said that was incredible news and I asked how he felt about this. He said, “I’m very happy for everyone in Vietnam that we can stop coronavirus together”. I believe his attitude is reflective of the majority of vietnamese in this difficult time, and is one of many factors which has led to Vietnam being so triumphant in its approach to the fight against the disease which is currently ravaging nations across the globe. Vietnam is a nation where people take pride in their community, a nation born from a long 20 year struggle, and despite the onslaught of westernisation and neoliberal individualism, has managed to preserve and stoke the communal fire in this time of crisis.
With the new year, things haven’t calmed down over the election results. With an overwhelming win for the Tory government and massive wins for the SNP in Scotland, the political differences in the United Kingdom have only become starker as we enter this new decade. The night after the election, the first of what is now appearing to be many marches happened in Glasgow; with what might have been the biggest independence march in Scottish history taking place this weekend, things are shaping up to be interesting in 2020 for Scotland.
This weekend’s march was organised by All Under One Banner, a group founded in 2014 to help raise the profile of Scottish independence by raising funds and supporting marches while also stressing inclusion. This message has apparently been very popular as the group has had vocal support from the First Minister and even drew in a fair share of SNP MPs and MSPs. The crowd also had supporters from other independence movements across Europe, with Catalan and Welsh flags waving alongside the Saltire. As well as a spirit of inclusion and solidarity, a clear opposition to the Tory party was a galvanising factor for vast swathes of marchers, with chants of “Tories Out” and “Fuck Boris” being heard throughout the day.
The march has been said to have drawn in nearly 80000 people from all over Scotland, despite issues with public transport and atrocious weather. While these figures aren’t one hundred percent accurate, with people joining and leaving the march at different points making it harder to get an accurate count, this still makes it well in excess of the 35000 figure from the last march in Glasgow. Scotland’s pro-independence voices are understandably becoming more and more insistent post-election, drawing in larger crowds and more support, as can be clearly seen by the increase, in turn, out at this weekend’s march compared to the one in 2018. Even if the 80000 figure is on the high end, which I don’t doubt, it’s impossible to deny there has been a groundswell of support for the cause.
Increasingly we are seeing political support not only from the SNP but also from Scottish Labour. Scottish Labour at one turn flirted with the idea of supporting a second referendum, but have since shelved a motion calling for a special conference to discuss the issue. It’s clear that while some party members support independence, the party structure is still hesitant to address it. I hope the party does get their finger out and take a long look at their own stances; down south having a Brexit policy that was more complicated than yes or no undoubtedly hit the party hard. Scottish Labour can’t afford to ignore its own party members when its already struggling for votes.
I myself have been cautious about the prospect of Scottish Independence in recent years. Sure, during the last referendum I voted yes, and door knocking for the Yes vote was the first time I’d been politically active but since then my political priorities have changed a lot; I don’t particularly care what flag I am under or which capital my taxes are going to. I care about the material conditions of me and mine- being a scheme wean, that means working class. It doesn’t mean British or Scottish. While I have come round to the idea that Westminster isn’t fit for function- a centuries-old institution steeped in traditions that don’t have any relevance and packed with more blue bloods than an Oxbridge rugby match – I’m not overly enthusiastic over the SNP’s lack of support for the working class. In the last election, they went as far as taking out opposition to Thatcherite anti-union legislation. A party happy to keep any part of Thatcherite policy is not going to get me to trust that they have working-class folk’s best intentions at heart.
The results from the general election are in, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than disappointed. England has turned almost completely blue, and while Scotland itself has turned away from its flirt with Toryism, its not turned to the left. We’re going to take a look at the results in Ayrshire, the UK as a whole and what this could mean for the future.
Unlike last time I won’t go through each of the four constituencies in Ayrshire as they all tell a similar story. The whole of Ayrshire is now represented in Westminster by the SNP, with the Tories coming in second and losing their seat in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. In every seat Labour lost a voting share of around 10 to 14 percent, and are no longer the second party in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. While this loss has largely been the SNP’s gain- their voting share went up by around 8 to 10 percent in each seat- we can’t know if this has been a shifting of party preference or tactical voting from Labour supporters hoping to keep the Tories out. It does at least look like Labour weren’t losing voters to the Tory party here. With former mining towns in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England turning blue, this might not be as absurd a fear as once thought. Indeed, Kensington- the constituency where the Grenfell tower fire happened- also voted Tory. At least we can take some solace in the fact that there’s no longer a Tory MP in Ayrshire.
Across Scotland the SNP made massive gains, even managing to unseat the standing Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A Lib Dem leader losing their seat is becoming something of a tradition now. The SNP are already pushing for these results as a mandate for a second referendum, and with protests in Glasgow the day after the election against Boris as PM there is clearly some visible groundswell behind this idea. My concern however, is two fold: firstly, that while the SNP have gained a sizeable share of the vote, some or even most of this could have been tactical voting by supporters of other, unionist parties that were worried about Brexit and Boris. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and now the SNP will have to position independence as a question of remaining in the UK or the EU. Will this be enough to convince the unionist remainers to still support the SNP? How many will go back to supporting the union when asked to put an X next to a Yes or No ballot? My second concern for the SNP is that despite positioning themselves further to the right than in 2017, they didn’t manage to gain many Conservative voters, instead taking a big share of Labours voter base. The SNP may therefore see fit to move further to the left, as they could be able to secure these gains from the Labour electorate long term. However, my concern is that they might see this as a battle already won- the Labour party in Scotland is in the worst state it has been in living memory-and instead double down on trying to secure the sizable part of the Scottish vote that is to the right.
As a whole the UK has been washed over with a tide of blue. As mentioned before, even mining towns in Yorkshire and Wales, once hit the hardest by Thatcher, are now Tory seats, and the language of the party’s supporters is already transforming into something resembling an English nationalist party, with figures like Tommy Robinson openly supporting the party and even joining its membership. The Tory party is taking on a more nationalistic, jingoist, Britain First rhetoric rather than the traditional and bland pro business and small c conserative slogans they tended to advocate for. With new found working class support the Tories find themselves in the unique position of competing with the Brexit Party for votes that were once securely Labour. What changes this might force the party through is uncertain, but with as big a personality as Boris in the PM chair the role of Prime Minister is increasingly taking on a more presidential shape and image.
While the mainland has had significant upsets Northern Ireland is not any less interesting, with the nation set to join Scotland as another country of the union in which separatist parties are gaining ground. For the first time in history Sinn Fein has won the seat of North Belfast, and in another first shock Unionist MPs are now outnumbered by Republicans. With the SNP in Scotland and the DUP losing in Northern Ireland, it seems the Tory victory in England and Wales might have come with the cost of a disunited United Kingdom.
Labours results have been nothing short of devastating. There are a myriad of factors contributing to this- I do not believe the blame lies solely at Corbyn’s feet, or with his socialist policies. He had been leader in 2017 with similar positions and saw an increase in voter share larger than Brown or Milliband, who were firmly to the right of Corbyn’s labour. Two factors were different this election, the first being Brexit. Labour conceded ground to the centrist, middle class part of their voter base to argue for a second referendum, and here we see their downfall. Corbyn himself had embraced the leave vote the day after the referendum but quickly took a party position of trying to reconcile the working class leaver and middle class remainers within the voter base and Labour found itself pulled apart by two opposing forces, resulting in hamstrung fence sitting about the biggest question of this election. Unable to reconcile these two diametrically opposed views Labour lost a big part of its voting share to the Tories. It’s clear that playing a middle ground, centrist position doesn’t work, evidenced doubly in how badly the Lib Dem’s fared, and that the centrist Labour defectors lost all of their seats.
Boris was mocked for constantly repeating “Get Brexit Done”, but this is what a large part of the electorate wanted to hear. Labour’s inability to provide a clear position was something the Tories could hammer into again and again.
The second major issue for Labour this elections was the media. Losing a lot of its subtlety the Murdock papers slammed Corbyn and McDonnel as if they were a red menace with Bolshivik loyalties and the BBC found itself ill equipped and unmotivated to counter these claims or give Labour a fair trial. We saw accusations of racism levelled at Corbyn, a man who had spent his life as an anti racist campaigner, at a time when the Tory government is supporting antisemetic governments like Hungary and Suadi Arabia, openly threatening traveler communities in its manifesto and has been caught deporting black citizens in the Windrush Scandal. This isn’t to say that The Labour Party doesn’t have a problem with antisemitism, or that Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the issue. But clearly the media have decided to hold Labour to a higher level of scrutiny, while the Conservative government have embraced racism and antisemitism as party policy.
Instead of holding to task the powers that be, various senior media figures were having daily meetings with the PM and trying to both sides issues on which the evidence clearly showed the Tories were in the wrong. It’s not a coincidence that Corbyn was the only leader this election whose approval rating went up the more people engaged with him or that Liverpool, a city that has banned Murdock propaganda, is the only city that remained firmly red. Boris meanwhile, found himself avoiding Andrew Neil and literally hiding from reporters in a fridge. You have to question the integrity of a media landscape where one man is acknowledged as the sole journalist that will hold leaders to task, and simply avoiding an interview with him means avoiding all significant scrutiny.
The years ahead for Labour will be difficult, and many within Scotland are already arguing that Scottish Labour should embrace independence, another issue which might split the party.
What does this mean for Ayrshire? The next few years are going to be difficult, Brexit looms over us all and Ayrshire stands to lose more than most. The SNP might have a mandate to pursue independence, or at least a second referendum, but there is no legal apparatus to push for this if the Prime Minister does not give his blessing – which Boris has repeatedly said he will not do. The rise of republicanism in Northern Ireland might not lead to separatism and a united Ireland, but could still lead to trouble in Ayrshire, as we have always been more involved in the politics of our Celtic brothers across the sea and have our own troubled history with sectarianism. Vital services might also be under threat soon, as the day after the election Damian Green, a Tory MP, openly said that the nation will need to move to an insurance based healthcare system. All the while climate change is creeping up on us, and the time we have left to do anything about it is slipping through our fingers. What stands before us is an era of uncertainty, unrest and austerity, one in which Ayrshire, while not at the centre of many of these issues stands to be one of the hardest hit regions in the UK, as it has been in the past by political and social turmoil.
In times like these communities need to come together and support one another. Join your union at work; if you don’t have one this is the time to make one. Talk to your neighbours, friends and family and be sure to support the vulnerable. If you are so inclined, go out and protest, make sure people know how you feel about what’s happening. Go to your local food bank to see what you can do to help out. With the Tories in power all we can expect for the most disenfranchised in our society is more of the same neglect and disdain. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to make it happen, together.
The 12th December General Election is less than a week away, and with it comes the possibility of seeing the Tories ousted before they can cause any more irreparable damage to our society. In England and Wales, the choice is clear. In Scotland, the choice between the SNP and Labour is, for many people, more difficult- the decision will centre around two major points of political conflict. The handling of Brexit and the future of Scottish independence, issues which have divided the country for years now.
While the SNP will no doubt redouble their efforts towards a second referendum should they retain their seats, they will never be able to secure that second referendum if the Conservatives remain in power. If that were possible, there would have been a second referendum by now. Additionally, they stand no chance of being able to meaningfully handle the Brexit negotiations, even if the whole of Scotland was to vote for them. This increases the risk of the conservatives returning to power to enact their harmful Brexit deal that will have a negative effect on the working class all across these Isles.
It also bears remembering that the SNP have proved themselves to be, time and again, a centrist party, pandering to trendy progressive ideals while doing very little in support of the Scottish working class, possessing no real vision for a genuinely progressive society beyond Scottish independence. With the drop in Labour turnout in 2017, the SNP have continued to turn away from more progressive policies. Their 2017 manifesto included proposed reforms to Thatcherite union laws and support of the Gender Recognition Act, both of which have been dropped this time around.
The SNPs continued refusal to enact real change is evidenced in their 2019 manifesto, where they make nebulous proclamations that they
“will consider proposals to ensure fairer pay by ensuring that the balance of salaries of all employees within a company or organisation are considered when senior pay packs are decided.”
Improving pay and working conditions for workers is not a primary concern for the SNP, and the vagueness of this statement and others like it within the manifesto show that. Labour are the only party attempting to represent the voice of the British working class, who have more in common with each other across national boundaries than with the managerial and upper classes of their own respective countries. By contrast their manifesto speaks to the evident need for drastic and urgent change. There is still work to be done- in a number of areas Labour don’t go far enough- but a vote for the SNP does nothing to shift the conversation towards meaningful change, and will only weaken Labours position against the Tories.
Labour will have a difficult time winning back support after the numerous failures in previous Scottish Labour campaigns to speak to and galvanise the Scottish electorate, which ultimately resulted in mass losses in trust and position to the then rising SNP. This does mean, however, that it wasn’t Labour who failed to prevent the resurgence of the Conservatives in Scotland.
The prospect of a strong Labour government so threatens the establishment that the likes of the BBC have found it almost impossible to disguise their inherent bias; from editing out crowds laughing at the idea of Boris Johnson being trustworthy to showing 3 year old footage of him at the cenotaph to cover for yet another blunder, the blatant manipulation has been staggering. Corbyn himself has been put through the ringer more violently than any other recent Labour figure, meaning his Labour party- which has at last remembered its own history- stands a fighting chance of dismantling the hegemony which sees 6 people own as much wealth in the UK as the bottom 13 million.
While we at the ACU support independence and fully understand the organic political support behind the cause for a better say in how our wee country is run, we believe now is the time to show solidarity with workers across the UK. That means not abandoning them to suffer under a callous Tory premiership. Democracy is best served by the dismantling of large structures of governance and power, but an independent Scotland would nevertheless benefit from a neighbouring Labour government. The desire to vote SNP as a means of sending a message to Westminster is understandable but would in fact likely delay or discount the very possibility of a second referendum should the Tories maintain power. While it seems likely that Labour will be forced to seek a coalition with the SNP- the price of which, Sturgeon has been clear, is a second referendum- this isn’t actually preferable to what is being tabled by Scottish Labour. A second referendum will come- we can trust the tenacity of the SNP in that regard, and we will have another chance to show support for it come the Scottish elections. But right now, the best use of your vote is to get rid of the Conservatives while at the same time shifting the conversation on domestic policy dramatically in a better direction.
As there is a general election coming up, I thought I would
take this time to look at how Ayrshire voted last time around; I’ll look at
what those results meant for Ayrshire in 2017, and what they could mean for our
vote in December.
Ayrshire is split into four different constituencies: North
Ayrshire & Arran, Central Ayrshire, Kilmarnock & Loudoun and Ayr,
Carrick & Cumnock. We’ll take a look at each of these in turn and then
consider what this shows for Ayrshire as a whole.
In North Ayrshire and Arran the SNP managed to hold on to
their seat in 2017, but suffered a massive drop in their majority, from
comfortably over 50 % of the votes to just under 40%. This is still a large
share, but going from most of the votes being cast in your favour to a majority
of constituents actually voting against your party can’t be a welcome change.
In what was initially a surprise- although one that will
become ominously more common as we discuss the other seats in Ayrshire- 2017
saw the Conservative Party grow from just shy of 15% of the vote share to more
than double that amount, going on to become the second largest party,
In Central Ayrshire we have a similar story. The SNP lost
the voting majority while still retaining their seat. However, in 2017 the
majority was far slimmer, with only 1267 votes between the SNP and the rising
Conservative Party. Labour here again lost out, completing a downward trend
from holding the seat in 2010, to second place in 2015 and third place in 2017.
In Kilmarnock & Loudoun there was some variation from
the trend set by the two other seats discussed so far, namely that Labour
managed to retain second place rather than trailing behind the Tories. However,
the Conservatives again managed an incredible increase in votes, from around
12.5% in 2015 to more than double at over 26%. Again, in this constituency the
SNP held their seat, but the pro union parties totalled a larger voter share
when added together. On the other hand, the SNP managed to get their highest share
of the vote, at over 42%, which meant their safest majority at over 6000 votes.
Finally we get to Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock, the largest
upset among the four. This was the only seat the SNP didn’t manage to keep from
2015 and the only place in Ayrshire that elected a Tory. Yet again labour
performed poorly and placed third. The victory for the Tories was only slightly
tainted as they didn’t manage to get an overall majority of the votes,
totalling just a tad over 40%, with a majority of over 2700 votes, not
insignificant but not the biggest win either.
So what does this all mean? Labour have fallen very far from
2005 and 2010, when they won unambiguously in every Ayrshire seat, and have now
dropped to third place almost everywhere. Meanwhile, the Tories appear on the
up and up, even winning a seat in Ayrshire and biting at the heels of the SNP
in every other seat, something that would have been ridiculous to suggest in
2010. Are the SNP on the way out after their incredible high in 2015? I don’t
think so, at least not for a while. The SNP are resilient, having made a
comeback from losing the independence vote by winning 56 out of 59 seats in
Westminster, and managing to hold a majority in Scotland in 2017 despite the
loss of 21 seats. One cause for concern for the SNP is that in every seat in
Ayrshire more people voted for unionist parties, Labour and Conservative, than
the pro-independence SNP. It’s hard to say if this trend will repeat itself
this year. With Brexit looming ever closer and most of Scotland voting against
it the SNP might stand to gain votes. The Conservatives are now the second
largest party in Scotland, both in Westminster and Holyrood. It’s difficult to
say if they can repeat this come December, but having sold themselves as the
only viable opposition to the SNP, it’s possible that the SNP downturn might
continue and we could have a Tory in every Ayrshire seat come the new year.
Labour stand in a poor position. Corbyn managed to win a larger voter share
than any other Labour leader since Tony Blair, but didn’t perform well in
Scotland, remaining about as popular north of the Border as Milliband was.
Labour do have an opportunity, however, if they manage to position themselves
as a pro union party that will give voters a second say on Brexit. They could
then take advantage of the current political climate and undercut both the SNP
and the Tory party, but this would require a massive effort to deliver.
You may be wondering why the Lib Dems have not been
mentioned in relation to these seats. That’s because in every single seat the
Lib Dems went from having between 15% and 10% of the votes in 2015, to
political irrelevance, not even topping 2% in any seat in 2017.
I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible while writing about
past elections and I hope I managed that above, but if you are a long-time
reader of the ACU you can probably guess which way we all lean. Rather than
tell you what to vote out of any ideological reason I’m going to be a little
cynical and encourage you to vote tactically.
Vote Labour no matter what seat you’re in.
If you’re worried that Labour won’t win, vote Labour- even
if they lose, the next time the seat is contested Labour will stand a better
chance of victory; If you think Labour will win, vote Labour so they will get a
larger majority; If you want Brexit, vote Labour because they will get the deal
done in 6 months; If you want to remain, vote Labour because you will get a
second chance to beat the leave vote. If you want to remain part of the union,
vote Labour in order to protect the NHS, the economy and worker rights, which
are themselves the best arguments for the union; If you want independence, vote
Labour because the Tories will not give Scotland a second referendum and you
can vote SNP in the Scottish election.