Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Deeply Conservative Country


I had not expected any good news from the UK general election. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Labour apparatchik and Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, had lost his seat as an MP, that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, had failed to get his, and that I would probably in future be hearing much less from the weird Ed Miliband, now that he has resigned the Labour Party leadership. Small mercies in a result that only confirms that the UK is a deeply conservative country.
The election result unexpectedly gave the Conservative Party an outright, although small, overall majority, when previous opinion polls had only suggested it would have the largest number of seats in Parliament. The best summary of results for the UK, including breakdowns by region and constituency, the number of votes, changes in voting share, etc, can be found on the BBC website here.
In the wake of the biggest capitalist crisis for a generation or more, the share of votes for the two major political parties hardly changed. Compared to the previous general election in 2010, the share of the vote for the Conservative party went up a tiny bit; the Labour party’s vote went up by a tiny bit more. The big changes were elsewhere. The Liberal Democrat share of the total vote collapsed by 15.2 percentage points, offset by a rise in the UKIP share (up 9.5%), while the Scottish National Party got an extra 3.1% and the Green Party an extra 2.8% of the total vote.
The share of votes only counts as a measure of opinion. It does not lead to a seat in the House of Commons, which is determined by a first-past-the-post ballot in each constituency. So, for example, a winner with 20,000 votes gets the seat. If the runner up has 19,999 votes, then these votes go nowhere. A strictly proportional representation of votes in the 650 seats in the UK Parliament would mirror public opinion (assuming that voters fully agree with a party’s political programme). Comparing the seats implied by a PR ‘opinion’ with the actual seats gained, these are the results:

Share of vote
PR-implied seats
Actual seats
Conservative
36.9%
240
331
Labour
30.4%
198
232
UKIP
12.6%
82
1
Liberal Democrat
7.9%
51
8
SNP
4.7%
31
56
Green
3.8%
25
1
Others
3.7%
23
21
One can assign different scores on a spectrum of progressive to reactionary for each of these parties. But the overall picture remains depressing, although it is not surprising. In political terms, I consider half the UK electorate to be on a different planet, and the other half to be in a different solar system.

Tony Norfield, 10 May 2015

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Imperialism and Social Democracy


This item is a response to comments made by 'Anonymous' on two of my blog articles earlier this month: Immigration and the Imperial Mentality, with a comment on 24 April, and The Dead Sea, with a comment on 27 April. I would prefer that people who comment use a name, but let that be. I would also prefer that the comments or questions had more substance, rather than simply recycling prejudices. But, since the prejudices raised are commonly held, I feel inclined to answer them, rather than to think they are from an Internet troll or a calculated wind up from someone who knew that they would make my blood boil.
I have reproduced each of the main comments in bold below, and then answered the points raised in the text below each one. My replies are brief, partly because I have other things to do and partly because the ill thought out nature of the comments does not deserve a more extensive response. The views of Anonymous reek of imperial prejudice. However, it is not the confident prejudice of the British establishment, but the no less sickening hypocrisy and prejudice of the British ‘labour movement᾿.
The latter is cloaked in a concern for the mass of people, but is really an assertion of the rights of imperialist country workers over those elsewhere. Notably, the comments from Anonymous have been raised on the question of immigration. The answer to this question determines whether you are on the side of the working class internationally, or whether you want special privileges for your ‘own’ working class, ones that you think will come from calling on ‘your’ state to implement the correct policies. This is the core of the argument presented by Anonymous, covered with the stinking slime of ‘Europe’ and ‘Western values’.
So, to begin …

1. “Should Europeans commit the last of their pension money, destroy their social democracy, extirpate their cultures, genetic identity, etc., to facilitate invasion of their countries? Would mass-suicide be a proper move, speeding the process up a few years?” 27 April 2015
a) Pension money. This comes from money invested in financial securities, usually with a return based on income gained from equities and bonds, but perhaps also from property, commodities, etc. This money is not simply workers’ and others’ savings, but savings that are directed into funds that earn revenues from worldwide investments, particularly in the funds run by the major powers. So, pension payments are based on the profits produced worldwide, rather than simply being a means of saving for retirement. Note also that many poor countries do not pay any pensions of significance, while most rich country pension funds have payment liabilities that greatly exceed the expected returns on their assets.
b) Social democracy. This is a form of politics that originated in Western Europe from the late 19th century, one that tried to reconcile the newly enfranchised working class masses with the capitalist system. It offered social reform as a palliative to the exigencies of the capitalist market that drove many into poverty. Particularly in Germany before 1914, it also offered a gradual, reform-based road to socialism, but everywhere it supported the state’s war on other states, mass slaughter and the oppression of Europe’s colonies. No political movement in the West today could in any sense be called social democratic; the mainstream parties all accept capitalism as a permanent fact of life. It is appropriate that even radical ones adopt ‘Keynesian’ views of managing the economy, as Keynes himself wanted to save capitalism.
c) Cultures. Europe? Personally, I prefer Indian and Middle Eastern mathematics to Roman numerals, and jazz and other forms of music (from Africa and the Caribbean) to Classical music. I really do not like Morris dancing. Everyone to his or her own taste.
d) Genetic identity. You should check this out more. Scientific evidence would suggest that everybody comes from Africa. In any case, what has genetics got to do with the development of society, which in its main forms has developed in the past ten thousand years?
e) Invasion of countries. This is a preposterous exaggeration of the scale of immigration. You would also do better to study European military invasions in the Americas, Africa and Asia to find real examples of how to ‘extirpate’ cultures.
f) Suicide. Everyone must make his or her own decision whether life is worth living. More important is the decision whether to try and understand what drives the world, rather than accepting first impressions or whatever the political climate imposes.

2. “Do you know how much wage suppression causes, extending capitalism by keeping profits at that sweet 12 percent/year it demands? Do you know how the accelerated the destruction of social services are, a combination of right-wing cuts and over extension from millions of illiterate, intolerant peasants? Do you know the hundreds of millions in remittances the immigrants send home, further eroding the domestic economy in an age of austerity?” 27 April 2015
a) Wage suppression. It is a mystery where you get your 12% (rate of) profit. In any case, there is always an attempt by capitalist employers to keep wages low. How have ‘millions of illiterate, intolerant peasants’ contributed to this? You also ignore the role of trade unions in colluding with management to split the workforce into insiders and outsiders, the latter being part-time, temporary workers, etc.
b) Destruction of social services. There has been little cut back in social services spending, at least so far in the UK. There will be significant cuts in future, and these are attempts by the ruling class to restore profitability, the lack of which has undermined the revenues from which these unproductive (for capitalism) expenditures can be funded. However, you want to blame immigration for putting pressure on social services, rather than capitalism for being increasingly unable to provide decent living standards. As for ‘right-wing cuts’, you ignore the role of the previous Labour Government in backing privatisation, school academies, etc. In any case, this raises a point about the origin of the social services. If you look, you will find that the 1945'ish origin was (i) promoted by the Liberals (Beveridge) and (ii) was planned under the subsequent Labour Government as being funded by exploitation of Britain's colonies. This was part of a ‘social contract’ between the British ruling class and the mass of people: in return for mass support for British imperialism, the state delivered some social welfare. The economics behind that game is over. But you moan about not getting your goods, while still clinging loyally to the capitalist state. The term reactionary fool comes to mind.
c) Illiterate, intolerant peasants. Is it so hard to meet the relatives of those who made the shirt you are wearing? Those who are more than 10 years behind our elevated standards on women’s rights? Those who often have a stronger sense of community than the British? Your European culture has been fuelled by the blood and oppression of countries that are the source of your fearsome peasants.
d) Remittances. Yes, I do know the scale of remittances. It is very small indeed compared to the other items in the balance of payments, on imports, exports, etc. Notably, you are more nationalist-minded, not to say racist, in these calculations than British and other national capitalists, who also take into account the benefits they get from the supply of cheap labour from immigrants. For example, since the 1950s, low-paid immigrants have increasingly staffed the NHS. Presumably, you would be opposed to higher wages in such jobs because that would only increase the remittances these foreigners could make. That would be consistent with your choice of nation before class.

3. “Have you ever traveled? If so, you know full well not one non-Western country is importing workers, much less to the point of total destruction of the home culture by ones that do not believe in tolerance or left politics.” 24 April 2015
a) Have you ever travelled? Yes.
b) Not one non-Western country is importing workers. Migration is affected by many things, wars, social disruption, natural disasters, people seeking a better life or job elsewhere. Countries have many different ways in which they regulate immigration, naturalisation of immigrants as citizens, etc. While economics is a key driver of migrant flows, with poorer people usually moving, or attempting to move, to richer countries, it is not a one-way street. It is simply wrong to say that non-Western (meaning poorer) countries do not import workers. There are about six million migrants from other countries in India. Brazil even has co-official languages (usually Italian or German) in cities where there is a large proportion of immigrants.
c) Total destruction of home culture, tolerance and left politics. I cannot tell you how much I miss bread and dripping, a day at the dogtrack, breeding pigeons, colour bars on jobs and housing and racist chanting at football matches, because I don't miss them. Tolerance is a function of relative comfort. ‘Left politics’ has been moribund for decades in rich countries, not least the UK. It tried to connect with the pro-imperial mentality of the masses in rich countries and was always delusional, relying on the state.

4. “There's nothing in Marxism that demands obliteration of one culture by importing unlimited amounts from another culture to offer a one-off wage suppression.” 24 April 2015
There is nothing in Marxism that calls upon the state to defend the privileges of one group of workers at the expense of another.

Tony Norfield, 29 April 2015

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Dead Sea

The Mediterranean is becoming the new Dead Sea. Dead, not because of a lack of fish, but because of an abundance of human corpses. Hundreds of refugees from the Middle East and Africa try to cross into western Europe every day on unseaworthy traffickers' boats and many of them drown: 1500 so far this year.

One irony of not being able to swim is that, if you drown, your body decomposes and gases inflate your stomach. This then makes you lighter than water. So, after failing to stay afloat alive after many hours in the cold sea, you end up being able to float, dead, and coloured a little more grey and blue than a European beach tourism brochure would want to have on its front page.

Italy and Malta have raised the alarm about refugees crossing the Mediterranean, and this week European ministers will decide what to do about it. But they have a problem, since European politics is at the centre of the trouble. The UK and France promoted the intervention in Libya to unseat Gaddafi; France has screwed up its colonies in Tunisia, Mali and Chad; Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia have been on the receiving end of many powers' interests; Syria has been undermined by the western powers, while Israel, a key force of instability in the Middle East, is persistently backed by the Europeans as well as by the US, something adding to the Palestinian contingent among the refugees.

The political trouble for Europe is exacerbated by a chronic economic crisis that means it is even harder to maintain the veneer of supporting 'human rights' and all the other verbiage. So, their policy will probably target the symptoms, ie the traffickers. The cause, their role in the oppression of the Middle East and Africa, will obviously not be considered.

Tony Norfield, 22 April 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

Euro Labour Costs



The previous chart is calculated from some recently published Eurostat data on labour costs in the business sector. For several euro member countries, I have compared changes in their average hourly labour costs (wages, salaries, benefits, etc) to the average for the euro area as a whole. Eurostat does not seem to publish absolute levels of these costs, and only gives an index number (2008 = 100 for all countries). It might be that one country's costs have risen faster than the average, but still remain below average, or vice versa. Also, these numbers take no account of productivity developments and just show changes in an employer's hourly cost of hiring a worker. Despite these qualifications, the picture is still striking.

The chart is indexed to 100 at the start of 2001, thus showing the relative change in each country's labour costs compared to the average since then. This is not to argue that 2001 is some kind of equilibrium year when everything was fine, it just makes the longer-term development easier to see than Eurostat's index numbers with 2008 as 100.

Greece also joined the euro in 2001, and it stands out in the chart. From 2001 to 2005, Greek labour costs rose by around 15% more than the average, then, after falling back, rose again into early 2010. Thereafter, relative costs slumped along with the Greek economy. In absolute terms, the level of Greek labour costs jumped from an index number (2008 = 100) of 76.7 in early 2001 to a peak of 113.4 in early 2010. By the end of 2014, the index number had crashed to 84.3. Nominal wage costs in Greece are back to where they were in 2002, and lower still when adjusted for inflation. On the face of it, this should be encouraging for capitalist employers, but there is still barely any sign of economic recovery. Profitable production depends upon more than cheap labour.

Spain stands out too, as the euro member country with the most sustained rise in relative labour costs. From 2001 to 2010 these rose by some 15% more than the euro average. Mass unemployment in Spain has made the gap narrower since then, but, by the end of 2014, Spain's relative costs were still 10% higher than in 2001. In absolute terms, Spain's labour costs have flatlined in the past few years, rather than having fallen drastically, as in Greece. Spain's index number (2008 = 100) rose from 72.3 in 2001 to 110 in 2012, where it has since stayed.

France and Italy's labour costs have risen only a little faster than the average, by less than 5% in the period to end-2014. Germany's labour costs, however, rose less quickly than the average for a decade, and only began to rise a little faster from 2010.

Tony Norfield, 20 April 2015

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Immigration and the Imperial Mentality

In the previous post about the UK Labour Party's attachment to British imperialism's nuclear weapons, I forgot to mention another aspect of their policy: on immigration. Especially in the wake of the crisis, there has been a growing shift of UK public opinion to blame immigration for all manner of social ills, from a lack of jobs for Brits, to poor availability of decent housing, to putting a strain on the health and welfare services. British political parties have adapted to this shift in opinion, rather than prompting it, something that is also true of UKIP, the most overtly anti-immigrant party that has gained significant support. Views on immigration are interesting because they reveal a lot about politics in the UK, if not also in other rich countries.

People who vote in elections choose the candidate they think will best represent their interests. Electoral turnouts may decline, as even the dumbest voter realises that nothing much will change and, in any case, the major parties have very similar policies. But this also means that the major political parties will respond, at least rhetorically, to how those interests are expressed. In Britain's case, the clear expression now is that immigration is a problem.

This is not racism, since the immigrants being opposed are mainly white Europeans, rather than black or Asian immigrants as in earlier decades. It is nationalism, the nationalism of an imperialist power that has an implicit deal with the local population to keep their privileges intact.

In the 1980s, the Conservative Party's attacks on trade unions undermined much of the institutional support for racial discrimination in Britain that was given by those unions. A capitalist policy of hiring whoever the boss wanted meant that colour did not enter the calculation as it did before: the boss did not now have to worry about the union objecting on behalf of the existing white workforce. It was this that led the UK to be probably the least racist European country, although that is not saying very much.

This development also meant that those from ethnic minorities could join in the national consensus to defend domestic privileges against outsiders. So even UKIP has non-white members and candidates. Also, despite the Labour Party traditionally getting most ethnic minority votes in the UK, it has had no hesitation in backing an anti-immigration policy, something that dates back more recently to Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's infamous 'British jobs for British workers' statement in 2007.[1]

It will not come as a surprise to readers that I will not be voting in the forthcoming UK election on 7 May. Still less, if that were possible, for a party that has issued the following special election mug:



The word 'scum' doesn't seem to be strong enough to describe these people, but it is apt for the ideological dirt or froth bubbling above a reactionary political development.


Tony Norfield, 11 April 2015


[1] Notes on the background to this statement are set out in 'Gordon Brown's 'British jobs' pledge has caused controversy before', The Guardian, 30 January 2009.








Thursday, 9 April 2015

Britannia Needs a Trident

The UK general election campaign has the virtue of being quite short. In other respects, it is an exercise that induces nausea. My sick feeling comes from the recognition that the campaigns of the political parties involved reflect the concerns of the electorate. Not what the parties think are these concerns, but what are in fact the main topics on the mind of the voting masses, as revealed in numerous opinion surveys. Common themes are immigration, the National Health Service and relationships with Europe. But this makes the latest campaign political 'issue', Trident, something of a surprise.

Trident is possibly the biggest ever UK military spending programme, with a lifetime cost of close to £100bn. But it gets far from proportional attention or debate, whereas the ability of the health service to manage the costs of cosmetic surgery or comments on the latest tattoo fad would fill many pages. Instead, the major UK political parties take for granted as, implicitly, does the UK population, that being able to nuke other countries with submarine-launched missiles is an important sign that Britain is in the Premier League of world nations. After all, countries like Iran are not even allowed to join the club.

Michael Fallon, the Conservative defence secretary, saw fit to impugn the imperial loyalty of Labour leader Ed Miliband on the question of Trident. He claimed that Miliband would dare to give up this fiendish device in a deal with the Scottish National Party, who are using Scottish nuclear bases as a bargaining chip in their claim for more subsidy from the London-based authorities. This is how the Labour leader reacted:

"National security is too important to play politics with. I will never compromise on national security. I will never negotiate away our national security.

"The Conservative Party can throw what they like at me, but I'm going to concentrate on what matters to the British people.

"On the question of four boats [submarines] or three boats, we will be guided by the experts. The experts say four boats. It's right to have a review."

Imperial status matters to the British people. Despite Miliband being the personification of incongruity, even he understands that. It is probably also indicated by Labour's opinion polls.

Tony Norfield, 9 April 2015

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Jack Straw, Social Hero

I would not normally give recognition to someone who has a record of being a war criminal and who, in the usual manner of things these days, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not more, but has not even been charged, let alone jailed. However, recent revelations lead me to make an exception in the case of a UK Member of Parliament, Jack Straw.

The former Labour Party foreign secretary has proudly proclaimed the importance of social relationships that give meaning, and value, to the role that individuals can play in the world. In these atomised times of extreme anomie, Straw has explained that he can earn £5,000 per day from companies hiring him, owing to his extensive contacts, experience and the advice he can give to them. Surely, this is a clear affirmation of the importance of social production!? No individual can produce anything like £5,000 alone per day.

Tony Norfield, 26 February 2015