|Volume 45 Number 4, February 28, 2015||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
Marches and Rallies in Sunderland and Newcastle:
Build the Workers’ Opposition to Defeat the Coalition Government and Hold the New Government to Account
The Right to Speak Out! Meeting Discusses Organising Defence of Safe NHS and Public Services
The developing crisis of the cartel-party system:
Big Data and the “Social Media” Election
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For the British government and its NATO allies the problem in Ukraine is being posed as allegedly the intervention of Russia, which is accused of annexing Crimea, of providing military support for its “proxies” and solely responsible for the instability and bloodshed that has been intensifying. On the basis of this falsification of the situation, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond concluded that “it is vital that all those countries who have a stake in the rules-based international system remain clear and united against Russian aggression”.
In attempting to pose the issue as one of external aggression on Ukraine by Russia, David Cameron speaking at the EU summit in Brussels said, “If this is a genuine ceasefire, then of course that would be welcome. But what matters most of all is actually actions on the ground rather than just words on a piece of paper. I think we should be very clear that Putin needs to know that unless his behaviour changes, the sanctions we have in place won’t be altered.”
Thus although the British government claims that its aim is a peaceful settlement in Ukraine it becomes clear that it is intent on pursuing a hostile stand against Russia. It is for this reason that Hammond emphasised that Britain’s strategy is to make sure that the EU countries continue to ally with the US and maintain robust economic sanctions against Russia. The British government even boasts that it is the main architect of EU sanctions against Russia.
The result is that despite the latest Minsk agreements, which purportedly ushered in a ceasefire in Ukraine on February 15, fighting has still continued in the country. Britain and the other big powers must be condemned for creating all the conditions for the continuation of this on-going civil war which has led to the loss of so many lives.
Already it is reported that since last Spring over 5,000 lives have been lost, while over 1.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. The latest Minsk agreement comes after previous attempts to agree a permanent truce last September were unsuccessful. It calls for both sides, the government of Ukraine and those rebelling against it, to withdraw heavy weapons, for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and for the establishing of a demilitarised zone. There will also be new political arrangements for the areas in eastern Ukraine currently controlled by those in rebellion against the central government, granting them some measure of autonomy and the right to establish economic relations with Russia.
The fact is that Ukraine remains a country that the British government and the big powers of the EU and NATO wish to incorporate within their orbit. As Hammond mentioned in his recent address to the House of Commons, they wish to place it firmly within the EU and under the direction of the IMF, so as to “reform” its economy and wrest it away from the influence of Russia. The British government has already contributed £10m for these purposes, while the EU and the IMF aim to put in place $15bn worth of finance to fully incorporate Ukraine into their fold. The EU and the US are working hand in hand also for the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. The Ukraine has 32 million hectares of arable land, the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the EU. It is the world’s third largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. With the full co-operation of the present government, more than 1.6 million hectares have already been signed over to foreign companies.
This economic intervention for the exploitation of Ukraine’s people and resources is accompanied with the political intervention that culminated in the ousting of the former president and the promotion of openly fascist organisations and elements that have links to, or are part of the Ukrainian government and state apparatus. However, since that too was not sufficient for thepurposes of the British government and its allies, and has been resisted by many Ukrainians and opposed by Russia, it has been backed up with open military intervention and the threat of further NATO intervention in the future. As the Foreign Secretary explained, the British government is providing “technical” support to the Ukrainian armed forces. At the same time it will play a leading role in establishing six NATO bases in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria and Rumania, which are aimed to threaten Russia. In addition NATO will open a new military “training” centre in Georgia, in what is said to be the largest strengthening of NATO forces in Eastern Europe since the demise of the Soviet Union. The US government, for its part, has announced that it is considering openly arming the Ukrainian government, while at last year’s NATO summit in Wales various warmongering plans were established to threaten Russia, including the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which Britain will lead in 2017 and to which the government has pledged 1,000 troops and four RAF Typhoon jets. Thousands of British troops will also participate in warmongering NATO “exercises” in Eastern Europe this year.
It therefore seems certain that despite the recent agreement in Minsk that Ukraine will continue to be a point of contention between the big powers and that within the country there will continue to be resistance to a government that is widely viewed as a proxy of NATO and a front for fascist organisations and ideology. It seems that the governments of Britain and its NATO allies have forgotten all the lessons of the Second World War. Far from opposing aggression and war as a means to resolve conflicts so that no more lives are lost, Anglo-US war aims are leading to chaos, reaction and armed conflict.
What is required for a lasting peace is the ending of all foreign intervention in the area and an end to hostile actions by the leading members of NATO such as the British government. The dangerous situation in Ukraine and other parts of the world necessitates that all democratic and peace-loving people step up their struggles to establish an anti-war government in Britain, one that immediately withdraws from the warmongering NATO, ceases all intervention abroad and ends the deployment of British troops on foreign soil.
Marches and Rallies in Sunderland and Newcastle:
On Saturday, February 7, marches and rallies took place in Sunderland and Gateshead against the ongoing wrecking by the Coalition government of fire-fighting services and other public services in the northern region.
In the morning, several hundred marched from Sunderland Central Fire Station into the centre of Sunderland for a rally to oppose the closure of the fire station as well as the closure of two other fire stations in Gosforth Newcastle and Wallsend North Tyneside with the losses to firefighters’ jobs. Contingents from Sunderland’s two Unison branches, UCATT, Sunderland People’s Assembly, The Green Party and other supportive members of the public featured on the march which was organised jointly by FBU Tyne and Wear, Sunderland Trades Council and the Northern TUC. The rally was chaired by FBU North East representative Andy Noble and featured speeches from Northern TUC secretary Beth Farhat, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, Sunderland Trade’s Council representative Dave Allan and Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.
Since the Sunderland demonstration, the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority has withdrawn the closures of all these fire stations. However, 131 jobs will still be going and six fire-fighting appliances will be taken away by 2016-17.
In the afternoon of the demonstrations, several hundred people from Gateshead gathered in West Street and marched to the Gateshead Civic Centre for a rally to oppose the devastating cuts to council services, which are happening across the region and are caused by the ongoing and massive reduction in the council “grant” from central government.
In ongoing cuts, Gateshead Council, having lost 36% of its central government funding, is to close five libraries, libraries which provide the focus for many elderly people and parents with young children who use the services regularly. It also plans to close some leisure centres and reduce the hours of others. It is proposing to totally dismantle the irreplaceable home support service for older people in Gateshead which helps them maintain their independence and safety.
The rally also opposed the closure of acute mental health beds and further in-patient beds at the Tramwell unit in Gateshead which the Northumbria Tyne and Wear Mental Health Trust is closing, with patients and relatives in the future being forced to travel long distances for in-patient treatment.
At the rally in Sunderland it was pointed out by Julie Elliott MP that the closure of the modern fire station in the centre of a city like Sunderland would be unprecedented and would bring great dangers to the people of Sunderland when fire engines would have to come so far and across a bridge. Andy Dark, Assistant General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said that the union was fighting against the closure of the North East fire stations. He said that what we are fighting is the devastation of the fire service. He said that there were 39 fire stations threatened with closure and that figure is going to double. He said that since the Coalition came to power in 2010, 5,000 firefighters’ jobs and 145 fire engines had gone. He said the people pay more now in taxes yet these vital services are being cut. He explained that this endangers the lives of ordinary people withminimum effect for the rich. He said that not only are fewer fire engines able to turn up to fires but there were less firefighters on those fire engines. He said that people’s lives get ruined by fire and people’s homes are burned to a state that they cannot be lived in and businesses are ruined so they can no longer function and with loss of jobs.
At the rally in Gateshead, Tony Dowling, North East Peoples' Assembly, said that libraries are being closed and leisure facilities dismantled, with the handing over to the free market of the care and welfare of our old folks and our senior citizens and our vulnerable friends and neighbours with health issues, or to no market at all. He asked, “Where is the Olympic legacy that Cameron promised us? Where is the regeneration and inspiration you promised our young people when you cut funds leading to the closure of our magnificent facilities at Dunston leisure centre that attract young boys and girls and families from our region to do gymnastics?” He asked in reference to library closures, “Where is the concern about standards of literacy? Why are you cutting our funds?” Finishing with a quote from Dickens on the day which marked the 202nd year of his birth, Tony Dowling, emphasising that young and old stand together to say no more cuts, said, “There is a wisdom in the head, and there is a wisdom in the heart. Do the wise thing and the kind thing too, and make the best of us not the worst.”
Clare Williams, Chair of the Public Service Alliance, concluded the rally by saying that “when we come together as people have done on events like today, you see that we can make a difference, and I think you have to also recognise that these type of events are the start of something not the one off event.” She concluded, “Keep getting involved in activity. Come to the Gateshead PSA and make sure we get a government that will represent us as opposed to the rich!”
These marches and rallies constituted a significant step in that many ordinary workers and people turned out in these towns to fight back against the Coalition government. In Gateshead many ordinary people were organised to speak about the devastating effects on their lives of these loss of services.
These actions that were carried out in the North East show that the people have long ago rejected the fraudulent “austerity” cuts by the Coalition government and their implementation by local authorities, including fire authorities and hospital trusts. What the working class and people are striving for is how to take the movement forward and empower themselves to defeat this anti-social agenda once and for all. Now, with more and more people wishing to speak out, the organised resistance must be planted as a fight for a modern society in which the rights of all are defended.
As part of its work the Northern Region RCPB(ML) took part in organising for these actions and distributing around 100 copies of the publication of North East Workers and Politics at the demonstrations giving the call that these are “Our Communities, Our Public Services – The Rights of All Must Be Defended!” Quite a few people said they were going to go away and read the paper, taking a serious approach as it is realised how serious the consequences would be if the Coalition parties were re-elected because the task of holding the new government to account would intensify.
The Workers’ Opposition must address the weaknesses in the movement that cause divisions and build unity in action. The issue is not that of voting for the Labour Party “or suffering the consequences” as some speakers said. It is to set our own agenda and not hand the initiative to any force tied to the interests of the big business monopolies. In the election this means backing genuine anti-austerity candidates. Workers in their workplaces and communities can turn this election into a battleground to work out what serves their interests and build their Workers’ Opposition to defeat the Coalition government and hold the new government to account.
Gateshead Residents Speak at the Rally about the Effect of the Cuts on their Lives
During the Rally outside Gateshead Civic Centre residents were represented giving their experiences on the devastating effects of the cuts on their lives.
Steve, a mental health carer, spoke about his experience and the appalling events that affected his brother’s treatment of mental illness. He spoke about the trauma to himself and his disabled mother and family having to deal with lack of medical intervention and increasing lack of secure mental health beds which has caused his brother to be detained indefinitely and lose his home. He said that if mental health beds were adequate then the appalling events they suffered may have been prevented. He then explained that the Clinical Commissioning Groups are now discussing the need to cut hundreds more mental health beds when over the past few years they have already closed every mental health intensive care unit in Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Gateshead. He said if further cuts go ahead it will mean the closure of the Tramwell unit in Gateshead and other services in Gateshead and Newcastle. These cuts are also happening nationally due to the government’s austerity measures. Also, more and more are living on food banks, and becoming homeless, whilst suicides and mental illness are on the rise. He said that now more and more mentally ill are ending up being put in prison due to the lack of mental health beds and police are even having to detain some patients in police cells until they find a bed which in some cases have been over 300 miles away. He concluded by saying, “The mentally ill are being exploited in the name of reduced funding and to suggest even further cuts goes against the duty of care and the Human Rights Act. The present state of mental health services are making people ill. How far do they want to go and how many more people will suffer before something is done? Myself and other carers and service users are fighting against these cuts, so anyone who wishes to be involved whether they be a carer or service user, staff nurse or psychiatrist, or any member of the public please contact Gateshead Carers Association or Gateshead Crossroads or Gateshead Public Service Alliance.”
Sydney, a library user, said he was a member of Felling Library and said that “the reason I am here is the staff are marvellous. The council said they will close the place if there are no volunteers. They tried that last year and that didn’t work because with the best will in the world the volunteer doesn’t know the ins and outs of the Library service and how to run it. The only reason they said this is that if someone did volunteer they would make staff redundant.” He concluded by saying that “a Labour controlled council shouldn’t be shutting libraries”.
Alison, a user from Felling Library, said that “there are a few of us here who use the library every single day – job seekers, young people, elderly people and the school children that come in to get their books. I never thought in my life I would be alive when this government decided to take school kids’ books off them. That is the services that they are losing. Enough is enough.”
A speaker from the older people’s service in Gateshead, which is also threatened with closure, said that the service grew out of a housework service when it became apparent that people need much more than housework in living independently when they are older. She said that the service works around lives to help old people manage the things that keep them independent. She said: “I couldn’t be more proud of the colleagues with me on this service. Many a time, and time again, the little things that support workers have done make that difference to people’s lives. We asked our clients why do you need our support and here are a few of their responses.”
“I am nearly 90 and this service helps me feel less alone and isolated. It helps me maintain my independence to live my life to the full. I can’t get out of my house without it.”
“I don’t have any family, or friends to help me with day to day life. I am a disabled person. This service gives me independence living in my own home. This is the only female companionship I receive on a regular basis.”
“I am housebound without my support worker. She takes me out and helps me out and helps me with my appointments. I have no family so I only see my support worker. She is very helpful with things I don’t understand. Money letters, phone calls – she helped me with my brother’s death and funeral.”
“I need a support worker. I can’t read or write because I have had a stroke and my speech is impaired. So, I need someone to talk for me. I only have a son who works away and I am now housebound. The only person I see each week is my support worker. The only time I go out is with my support worker. My carer helps me collect my medication, takes me to visit my wife’s grave, helps with my shopping. He makes sure I am ok when people visit to do repairs. He helps me fill out forms.”
“My support worker is my only visitor. Without her I wouldn’t be able to get out to pay bills or pay the shopping. I would be lost without the service. I am bad with my nerves. It is a great comfort having someone you know and like come over every week. We need a service as without it I wouldn’t manage as well as I am with my support. It has made such a big difference to my lifestyle and day to day living”.
The speaker concluded by saying that the older people’s support service makes big differences by doing little things.
Sandy, a service user of the home care service, said his situation was alerted when the firefighters inspected his home and he explained how the home care service had turned around his life and how he had never looked back. He said that he would not want anyone to go through what had happened to him without the home care service.
A bowling centre user said he was a bowler and opposed to the closing of the bowling facilities. He said it cost the council only £34,000, and “we have 500 users, a lot of them single who have lost their partners. If they weren’t able to bowl they would be trapped in the house vegetating and then there will be another 500 people for the council to look after.”
January 31, 2015], and the February 2015 edition of The Line of March). The purpose of the meeting was to deepen the discussion over the implications of Charlotte Monro’s case and defend the rights of NHS and other public sector workers and oppose the climate of diktat which is preventing trade unionists and other public sector workers from raising concerns about present conditions in, and the future of, the NHS and other public services.On February 12, a very lively and well attended important public meeting The Right to Speak Out! In Defence of Safe NHS and Public Services and Those Who Work in Them! took place at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) headquarters in Tavistock Square, London. The meeting was organised by the Reinstate Charlotte Monro Campaign and hosted by the BMA. Charlotte Monro, an occupational therapist for many years at Whipps Cross University Hospital in East London, was dismissed by Barts Health Trust in 2013 after raising her concerns over the hospital in her capacity as a union rep (see full report in WWIE [
The meeting was chaired by Charlotte Monro with speakers Dr Kim Holt (founder of “Patients First”, an organisation of health staff who have suffered reprisals for raising concerns and working to protect whistleblowers), Tracey Bolin (former HR director dismissed for standing up for clinicians' right to speak out), Julie Davies (NUT rep), Dr Nick Clark (a founder of “Freedom to Speak Up Review” set up by Sir Robert Francis) and Polly Toynbee (Guardian columnist).
In her opening remarks Charlotte Monro thanked the BMA for hosting the meeting. She said that the meeting was very timely as the right to speak out was an issue “hitting the mainstream of concern” as shown in the recent wide publicity given to whistleblowers in the press and media. Charlotte Monro highlighted two major concerns: first, the silencing of concerned individuals, and secondly that of trade union representatives being disciplined for their legitimate trade union roles and activities. She pointed out the present climate of diktat in the NHS and other public service is incompatible with care and is an attack on basic human rights and that “change is what we have to have”.
Dr Kim Holt
The first speaker, Dr Kim Holt, started by applauding Charlotte’s courage and bravery in fighting her case and pointed out that the victimisation of whistleblowers and those who speak out is a “sore in the NHS” and damaging to it. She said that bullying was now conclusively linked to whistleblowers.
Tracey Boylin also said that Charlotte “had been an inspiration”. She told the meeting how she was dismissed from her HR managerial job after 20 years’ service for standing up for the rights of the workforce against management diktat, describing the atmosphere at work as “trench warfare”. She was finally dismissed without pay even though she was a single parent and later on became involved with “Patients First” fighting for the rights of whistleblowers. She echoed Charlotte Monro’s point that the attacks on whistleblowers were a human rights issue and pointed out the need to “stand united” for the rights of health workers and others.
Julie Davies pointed out that the attacks on the right to speak out also affected other workforces including teachers. She told how she was suspended for raising concerns at work and spoke of the NUT’s struggle against the government’s Academies programme. She spoke strongly for the rights of trade unions to be recognised as being “important, relevant and effective”.
Nick Clark spoke of his role in setting up the “Freedom to Speak Up Review”, explaining how the Review had done a survey of 20,000 state sector employees and interviewed 300 people who had been dismissed for whistleblowing. He spoke of the “horrific stories” the Review had uncovered. He concluded by recommending that the provisions of the Francis Report should be taken up and that the Secretary of State should review the progress of this.
In a powerful and significant speech the final speaker, Polly Toynbee, started off by supporting the struggle of the National Gallery workers against the proposed privatisation of the gallery and below-living-standard wages and their defence of union rep Candy Udwin dismissed for alleged “breach of confidentiality” over disclosures of the cost of privatisation. Polly Toynbee urged the meeting to support the National Gallery workforce and visit the gallery and offer support to the workforce. Polly Toynbee said she was delighted to be at the meeting to support Charlotte, pointing out that she was dismissed on trumped up charges. On the Francis Report she said she was “sceptical” about Jeremy Hunt’s “support” for its recommendations. Holding the government responsible, she pointed out that “bullying starts from the top” and runs down to senior management and then down to the workforce who bear the brunt. She asked what could be more “bullying” than the Secretary of State calling senior managers or heads of A&Es demanding to know why their department had breached a given target and said that managers themselves should be whistleblowers and speak out. She pointed out that the situation within the NHS in the aftermath of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act was impossible with three-quarters of all Trusts who had previously been well run now falling into debt because there is simply not enough money; the situation is impossible and you therefore have to speak out she emphasised. Polly Toynbee was therefore making the important point that the question of bullying and the rights of whistleblowers cannot be separated from the overall situation of the NHS following the Health and Social Care Act and the aimed destruction of the NHS by this government. She concluded by saying that Charlotte was quite right to point out the detrimental effects that decisions made by her hospital trust would have on the stroke unit in her hospital.
Discussion and Conclusion
The main speakers were followed by a lively discussion from the floor with many health workers, doctors and patients participating. Many of the contributors echoed the remarks made by the speakers about the need for unity around the actual cause of the NHS crisis. A woman from Charlotte Monro’s campaign pointed out that it is much more difficult to intimidate a well-organised workforce and raised the importance of “shifting things from the bottom”. A man from the Save King George Hospital Campaign pointed out the problem of “lack of transparency”. Several people pointed out that the Francis Report was “missing the point” in that the people implementing the Report, from the Secretary of State and senior managers are the perpetrators of all the problems of the NHS. Dr Bob Gill pointed out the grave dangers posed by the government’s privatisation programme, adding further that the Francis Report “would achieve nothing” saying that “confusion and concealment were part of the game”.
In conclusion, Charlotte Monro said it had been a valuable meeting and thanked the speakers and everyone else for their contributions.
The significance of the meeting was that it raised the crucial question that the issue of whistleblowers and bullying cannot be separated from the government’s wrecking agenda of austerity cuts and privatisation. It highlighted the fact that health workers are not only fighting against their despicable work conditions but increasingly taking a stand in defence of the health service and, most importantly, to safeguard the future of the health service and change its present direction.
The developing crisis of the cartel-party system:
There has been increasing reporting and speculation over the role of social media in the coming general election. Recently, the BBC reported that the Conservatives are spending over £100,000 per month on their Facebook campaign. Facebook, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, posted an advert on February 5 to all British users to encourage them to register to vote. This comes days after an announcement by Twitter that advertisers, including political parties, can now target adverts to its 15 million users in Britain based on their postcode, through the use of geo-location. As the election run-up reached the last 100 days, Labour strategist Douglas Alexander said that social media will prove “priceless”.
This talk of social media election has to be looked at in context of the existing party-dominated system of representative democracy, which in its current form has been characterised as the cartel-party system. A set of big parties dominate the political process and engage in turf wars as to who should constitute the government. No longer the link between the state and civil society, these parties are agents of the state itself. They are pillars of the way the state operates. Along with the established media, they almost entirely set the political agenda and terms of debate around a consensus from which it is very difficult to break. They have the majority of media space and time, and have the finance to put up candidates in every area and election, and to promote these candidates to the extent that little is heard of any alternatives. Their finances and mode of operation allow politics to be taken up as a potentially lucrative career move, so that there is no shortage of individuals seeking to join these parties with a view to a self-serving career in politics. In short, the big parties monopolise the political process and guard the gates to political power. Just like industrial or financial monopolies, the cartel parties collude and compete in equal measure. They have a mutual interest in maintaining the status quo, while very real and vicious competition exists between them for the top spot.
At the most basic level, the use of social media is to influence people, as the latest means to get a message across. Young people particularly now read what is posted and shared by their social media networks of friends and who they follow more than they read the traditional newspapers. In the hope that this can sway things, the big parties are spending a lot on maintaining their social media sites, encouraging liking and sharing of their posts. The big cartel parties, which have become so disconnected from the people, need something to fill that gap. Superficially, they are trying to break down the barriers, trying to make a party seem like one of your friends on Facebook.
Furthermore, social media, in particular platforms such as Twitter, lend themselves to sound-bite messaging. Rather than slogging through some article or even an election leaflet, the aim is to engage people on a personalised, individual level. All are looking at the Obama campaigns, which provide the current model of the digital election. It is reported that the Conservative and Labour parties recently hired Jim Messina and David Axelrod respectively, who were both central to the Obama campaigns. The Holy Grail is for a campaign to become a phenomenon, where posts and hashtags trend and go viral.
A number of things relate to this. One is the idea that politics is something about your personal values. Back in 2011, Ed Miliband talked about Labour being the “natural home for progressives”; similarly the Tories were struggling to ditch their image of being the “nasty party”. In general, it is the idea of value-based politics, with the choice between parties somehow being about what values reward you or speak to you emotionally. Rather than an issue of strategy and tactics, or of class interests, or of rational analysis, or of manifestos and policy objectives, voting, as with the rest of life, becomes intuitive.
The main issue in the current election is the need to defeat austerity, and of course this is a very emotive issue itself. Either as part of this, or to divert from it, we see emotive mobilisation behind issues such as benefit cuts, immigration, the NHS, the bedroom tax, and so on.
At another level, the digital election is about targeted campaigning. This is analogous to a business selling a product and trying to capture its target market, and swaying their uncertain potential buyers. Similarly, parties are especially interested in targeting marginal seats, where floating voters hold the balance.
The present innovation is the increasing use of big data, collected in various ways and tied together. Alongside the traditional methods of canvassing, parties are sending out surveys in an attempt to build up statistical pictures of people’s voting intentions. The hope is to correlate intention to address, lifestyle, and other characteristics. The whole point of social media as a business is the gathering and linking of lots and lots of data about people: our musical tastes, who are our friends, our groups, where we live, went to school, etc., allow all kinds of correlations and psychological profiles to be built out of what we might buy – and of interest to political parties, what might sway a certain person to vote a certain way. Is this a person to focus on?
This allows targeted advertising of a political party running up to an election to the particular individuals in the particular constituencies thought likely to make a difference. Parties can tailor message to types of people or even individuals, if this will give them an edge over their rivals. We see then a development of the party-political system increasingly as a kind of business model, a marketing, product-selling model. The parties are appealing to emotional and other aspects, whatever might work, simply to get a vote. Politics as such isn’t even part of that picture; it is all kinds of motivating factors, representing a step further in the role of electorate purely as voting cattle. Elections are becoming through these means much more socially-engineered with outright manipulation of the electorate.
Big data is big business. Twitter’s announcement of postcode-based advertising at exactly this time shows how big business is becoming an integral part of this. The biggest parties are spending vast amounts and making business deals to buy this data. Even the third and fourth-sized parties are spending large sums.
This developing role of big business in the electoral process will only develop further as social media and big data becomes increasingly monopolised by the biggest players such as Facebook and Google. Furthermore, the cartel parties play their role as fully-integrated parts of the state itself. This points, then, in the direction of the electoral process developing into a set of arrangements involving a tight relation between the state, parties and the big data companies.
The massive election expenditure is relevant in the regard. The 2012 Obama campaign spent $6 billion, according to reports. British parties spent £31 million in 2010, an amount that does not include individual candidate spending. It is reported that the Conservatives alone have a £79 million campaign fund for the present election. Further, the big parties have invested in big data software: Labour is using Nation Builder and Contact Creator, the Conservatives are renovating an in-house system, and the Liberal Democrats are users of the Voter Activation Network, which was used in the Obama campaign.
The digital election is a reflection, firstly, of increased competition between the cartel parties, in the situation where there is less and less to choose from. There is increasing disenchantment, and disaffection with representative democracy, with people not even registering to vote, increasing numbers being undecided and politics seen as having to do with individual lifestyles. Secondly, the need to turn to technology reflects how the big parties no longer have a mass base and instead have dwindling memberships. They can instead achieve their canvassing and data collection via social media. They can influence with small dedicated teams with big computers rather than armies of people knocking door to door. In short, they are becoming increasingly well-oiled electoral machines.
The use of social media and big data is not just a reflection of increased competition, but also the collusion of the cartel parties to stay in power. The cartel-party system is mired in crisis. It is not a clear cut thing that their dominance will remain. Elsewhere in Europe, such as in Greece, where austerity has been imposed most harshly and all of the existing social arrangements are been torn up to favour the monopoles, the old cartels have completely collapsed due to popular resistance and discontent and what will replace them has not yet been resolved.
In Britain, the coming and past elections have marked something of a turning-point with rise of small to medium-sized parties. With the cartel-party system in its heyday, the role of elections became one of staging electoral coups d’état to resolve who would be the champion of interests the monopolies, the classic example being the Blair victory in 1997. With the crisis of the cartel system, we are moving into an age where such coups are harder to pull off. The outcomes of elections are harder to predict and it is being widely speculated that coalition governments may become the norm. All of this makes for a less stable political situation. In these conditions, how do the ruling circles continue to dominate? How do the features of the cartel system that keep people out of power, its established pro-austerity and pro-war consensus, continue to exist? This is the problem the establishment is faced with. They are developing the means to continue to dominate politics in the interests of the monopolies in the face of developing opposition, while concentrating power in their own hands and politicising private interests.
Of course, people and their movements themselves use social media. The decisive thing, however, is that people have their own independent outlook and politics and use whatever means to organise effectively and develop their consciousness, and in this context to think strategically and tactically about elections. Furthermore, people need to mobilise around the demand to select the candidates for election, that there should be no election without selection. People should not hold any illusions about this social media election and actually see it for what it is and what it reveals about the decay of the cartel party system and what it is pointing towards. There is a need for democratic renewal!
[Sources: Daily Political View, The Grapevine, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Independent, International Business Times, Nesta, Tech City News, The Telegraph]
The referendum on Scottish independence held last September opened up a space over the right to decide and the question of where sovereignty lies. Even though the result was against independence, the close result in the face of a concerted campaign of disinformation and fear-mongering by the entire establishment nationally and internationally, and the nature that the debate took, represented the determination of the Scottish people to take their future into their own hands and an affirmation that the people of Scotland are sovereign.
There was therefore no possibility of the Westminster system returning to business as usual. On the contrary, the governing parties have sought to occupy the space that has opened up in the interests of the ruling elite, as well as their own narrow party interests. Recently, on February 3, Leader of the House of Commons William Hague announced Conservative plans to prevent MPs representing Scottish constituencies from voting on measures devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as well as giving a veto power to MPs representing English constituencies over laws that affect only England. These plans are the latest development in what has been called “English votes for English laws” or EVEL.
In this context, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown requested a parliamentary adjournment debate on the subject of Scottish Representation in the Union on February 4, where he gave a speech highly critical of this manoeuvre.
“My argument tonight,” he said, “is that with the announcement of English votes for English laws, which means nothing other than restricting the right of Scottish Members to vote in this House, the Government are deliberately driving a wedge between Scotland and England and, in so doing, they have asked the wrong question, and they are now getting the wrong answer.”
It was Brown, it will be remembered, who stepped in at the last moment during the lead-up to the referendum as the saviour of the floundering official No campaign, “Better Together”. He certainly retains the perspective of preserving the United Kingdom and the essence of what it stands for. Nevertheless, he comes at the issue with a somewhat different angle to Cameron and Hague. His demolition of their scheme is based on a position that: “If the Union is to survive, it will have to be built on the interdependence of our four nations, and it will have to guarantee equality of status within the United Kingdom.”
He said: “The Conservative party has got this [its proposals] wrong, because it presumes, as Members now on the Government Benches have always said, that the fundamental anomaly in the British constitution is that Scottish MPs can vote on English-only laws, whereas English MPs cannot vote on Scottish-only laws. In retaliation for what they see as Scots pursuing a Scottish interest, they wish to pursue and enshrine an English interest above a common UK interest that could bind us together.”
But, he continued, the “central anomaly, and the real asymmetry from which all else follows, is the basic, and indeed unchangeable, imbalance in the size of the four nations. England represents 84% of the UK population, Scotland represents 8%, Wales represents 5% and Northern Ireland represents 3%. England sends 533 Members to this House, compared with 59 from Scotland, 40 from Wales and 18 from Northern Ireland – 117 in total against 533. It is obvious that when we start from such a profound imbalance and asymmetry – such a huge inequality in population and voting shares – fairness of outcome cannot easily be secured by a blanket uniformity that treats the minorities exactly the same as the majority. It follows that the rules needed to respect and reassure the minorities, who might always be outvoted, have to be different from those needed to uphold the majority.”
Brown identifies the calls for what might at face value seem like equality as actually a cynical manipulation, particularly by the Conservative party, for self-serving ends. They would mean the domination by England by virtue of its majority.
He asked: “Can you imagine Scotland, or possibly Wales and Northern Ireland, being enthusiastic about sending MPs to this place indefinitely if they have to withdraw when the real vote on the Budget – the consent vote, or the veto motion – is being taken on this central economic legislation once a year: income tax rates in the Budget voted on by a consent motion that excludes Scottish and, in time, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs who also want devolution of taxation? Can we sustain truly positive support for one United Kingdom Parliament for long when it becomes clear that the Government of the day owe their existence to an English majority and ride roughshod over other representation?”
Brown’s argument takes the existence of these nations, with distinct interests and their need for real equality in practice, as its starting-point. This reflects a shift that has been brought about by the Scottish nation asserting its right to sovereignty. The old way of thinking, that the Union can be taken for granted and the national question within Britain ignored, cannot continue. Both Hague’s announcement and the opposing stand taken by Brown are reflective of the contradictions that exist over the issue.
From the perspective of the working class in Britain, the question of unity is connected with issue of who decides and where political power lies. As Workers’ Weekly said at the time of the referendum, a vote for independence was a vote for the alternative, and to take a stand for Scotland’s independence was a just stand, “a stand to right the historical injustice of the subjugation of Scotland by the English ruling elite over centuries. Once this injustice is overturned, not only does it open the path to ending inequality and class privilege in Scotland, but it will strengthen the fighting unity of the working class in England and Scotland. The working class will also be in a position to advocate a voluntary union of modern sovereign states which will be an advance when sovereign peoples are in a position to block the power of the state arrangements to deprive the working class and people of decision-making power.”
WWIE was not published on February 14 and 21.
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