Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Starmer’s Bland Strategy Loses Votes —

Who Fears to Speak of 1945?

Covid-19 – the New Right Plague

Snippets

Big Bill Is Harrassing You?

Bitcoin – a Coin Fit For Crooks?

Fond-of-Money Syndrome?

Neutralists OK With China

Yes, Insist on a Nanny State

A Pop Malaise?

Cameron of Greensill

Bad News Is Now News

Charles the Modest?

Xinjiang Again

Starmer’s Bland Strategy Loses Votes

Labour’s traditional vote has been declining since Blair’s second term, when people saw that nothing much had been done for them.  It went on dwindling until 2010, when they voted in Cameron.  He seemed vastly nicer than the string of bald unpleasant leaders that the Tories had chosen after John Major quit.

In 2010, voters nostalgic for 1960s stability believed the Tories when they blamed British government spending for a crisis caused by global ‘fancy finance’.  And Brown in his brief stint as Prime Minister gave enormous free gifts to profit-making banks.  It was called ‘Quantitative Easing’.  President Obama believed that such money would magically multiply and then flow out to ordinary people.  Not that the rich would keep it and let many small businesses perish.

Corbyn as Labour leader brought in a new wave of people who might not have bothered voting before.  And despite the determination of much of the Parliamentary Labour Party to present him as a mad eccentric, the Labour vote went up massively in 2017.  If we lost some traditional Labour voters, we gained many more among the young.

But many traditionalist Labour voters fastened on Brexit as the answer.  Especially in the 2019 election, after most Labour MPs helped block all of the possible versions of Brexit.  Including a Second Referendum, justified because Britain could not get the soft and easy terms that Brexiteers promised.

The only likely way out was a big win for the Tories.  

In 2021, most Brexiteers have switched to the Tories.  Starmer offers nothing in particular.

Labour did OK in local elections.  Voters liked Labour authorities keen on sensible public spending and social regulation.

Hartlepool was different.  Who could be trusted to run Britain?  Brexit voters trusted Boris Johnson to carry it through.  Perhaps mistakenly, but the Labour leadership were obsessed with him spending too much on wallpaper.  There was no enthusiasm for Labour as an alternative government.

In Hartlepool, Labour’s share of the vote was 51.5% in 2005.  42.5 in 2010.  36.5 in 2015.  Under Corbyn this shot back up to 52.5 in 2017.  Down to 37.7 with Brexit the big issue in 2019.  

Starmer delivered a miserable 28.7%, an historic low.[1]  My blog gives many more details.[2]

Starmer was elected on a promise to push the sensible side of Corbyn’s radicalism.  He now seems ashamed of Labour’s recent past.  Was that supposed to be a vote-winner?

Thinking like a lawyer rather than a politician, he found excuses to get rid of both Corbyn and Rebecca Long-Bailey, his main rival in the leadership. He gave a clear message to those members and voters whom Corbyn had brought in: you are not wanted unless you are quiet and obedient.

Most stopped bothering.  Labour found it hard to get electoral volunteers, despite important local elections.

Who Fears to Speak of 1945?

There have always been Tories who wanted to look after workers who accepted the Tory view of their place within the class hierarchy.  It was liberals and pro-capitalist radicals who wanted the Free Market to decide it all.  Sometimes blamed the poor for all social ills

Thatcher revived the once-marginal views of the pro-capitalist radicals.  This happened when there was no longer a danger of the working class going communist or fascist, as had happened in the crisis of the 1930s.  The Soviet Union was less and less attractive after crushing sensible reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1968.  And movements that might loosely be called fascist are unlikely to demand that the rich dance to their tune, as the Nazis sometimes did.  So pro-capitalist radicalism got a new lease of life.

Ideas are one thing: reality is another.  Promises of a smaller state and lower taxes have not happened – not in Britain, not in the USA, not anywhere at all outside of the imagination of right-wing economists.  We still have a system that was once called Mixed Economy or Keynesianism.   Capitalism under social control, and helpful to the poor and to the working class, for as long as the Soviet Union was a real rival.

Centre-Right reforms did not sweep away regulations: they changed them to benefit the rich.  Likewise tax, with the very rich now paying much lower rates than the working mainstream.  I’ve done an on-line study: Feed the Rich.[3]

Labour needs to be saying something like this.  

The Economist, a right-wing magazine that deals with awkward realities since it advises working business people, explains the problem nicely in an Opinion Piece:

“The Labour Party is being pulled apart by its two main constituencies…

“The ‘workers by hand’ feel that they have had their party—and indeed their country—stolen from them. In 1951, 70% of voters were manual workers. Today that figure is less than 40%. In 1945 only a few thousand school leavers went to university. Today more than half do. The proportion of Labour MPs who have done a working-class job at some point has declined from 33% in 1983 to less than 10% today. Almost 80% of Labour Party members fall into the official definition of middle-class…

“Mr Blair’s politics had a downside: about 5m mainly working-class voters gave up voting during his long period in power, and many of them are now voting Tory. It is doubtful whether he could win in today’s circumstances. Labour has lost its vote-vault in Scotland and the culture wars are far more divisive than they used to be.”  (The Economist.)[4]

In two World Wars, Britain had full employment.  In fact a labour shortage, and one which brought women into the labour force.  No one asked ‘how can we afford it?’ when the ruling class saw a real danger of losing a major war.  They knew what it might cost them, and after 1918 they had seen what it cost their class equivalents in Germany, Tsarist Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  They cared enough not to worry about the money.

After the First World War, brief promises of a ‘Home Fit for Heroes’ were not backed with cash.  Asked to look after ordinary people, both Tories and Liberals decided that taxes, boss power, and the Gold Standard counted for much more.

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union was strong and popular.  People still knew that about half the strength of the German military machine had been destroyed by the Soviet Union.  2.1 million German troops lost out of 3.9 million lost overall.[5]  It took many decades to insinuate a belief that it was mostly the USA, and of course no military expert has ever tried arguing it.  But most war films show British and US units: few and mostly foreign-language from the Soviet side.  

In the 1980s, the rich correctly guessed that they could grab more for themselves.

The amount of wealth that has flowed to the rich since the 1980s is ridiculous.  But Labour has said far too little about it.  Even the Labour Left mostly speaks in general terms against ‘capitalism’, rather than recognising that Classical Capitalism was never restored, despite promises.  We have Mixed Economy Capitalism, not a real Free Market.  But a Mixed Economy fine-tuned to help the rich.

We must demand the same social controls of capitalism that worked from the 1940s to 1960.  These should have been sensibly reformed in the 1970s: and the Labour Party had some sensible ideas, including Incomes Policy and Workers Control.  But even a simple return would be a big step forward.

And the traditionally-minded working class would like it.

Covid-19 – the New Right Plague

Covid-19 probably started because the regional authorities in Wuhan were too lax and libertarian.  They ignored recent rules regulating a host of small business people in markets that mixed meat and live animals, often exotic species.  

Most Westerners think of meat as something that comes in tins or neat packages.  But even urban Chinese are a generation or two from being peasants and slaughtering their own animals.  They want to be sure their meat and fish is really fresh.

But it could have started anywhere.  Experts had long warned of a major global pandemic starting somewhere with a hot climate and a peasant desire to be close to your meat.  To eat exotic wild animals as a special treat.  

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), also known as camel flu, caused great alarm.[6]  A virus related to Covid-19, but much more likely to kill.  But also much less likely to pass from human to human.  

Ebola still worries the experts.  And before Covid-19, works of fiction had a global pandemic starting in places like Indonesia.[7]  It could be true for the next pandemic.

More importantly, China quickly got control of the outbreak.  President Xi risked his political future by stepping in and imposing a hard crackdown.  His future depends on re-election at the next Party Congress, which might be refused if the other leaders felt he had done a bad job.[8]  But he was vindicated.  

“Why can China confine flare-ups to dozens cases?…

“Infections were limited to 16 patients and 13 silent carriers as of Tuesday, which demonstrated how massive testing, epidemiological investigations and strict quarantines of close contacts have become more efficient through practices in each round of resurgence, while experts also attributed the achievements to public awareness, nonexistence of domestic virus plus tight port controls, which restricted virus spread and mutations…

“Another mechanism contributed to China’s success is holding local officials in charge of epidemic control accountable. China removed at least five officials and issued warnings to dozens of other officials for their dereliction of duty amid the Anhui and Liaoning resurgence.

“China is so far the country that has held the largest numbers of officials accountable for failing to properly tackle the epidemic worldwide.  ”[9]

East Asia, lacking the fear of state power that currently haunts Europe and the USA, has done a much better job than Europe or the USA.  For the entire pandemic, the top ten with deaths adjusted for population size are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, Italy, UK, Peru, Brazil, the USA and Poland.[10]  And China, with the most authoritarian and socially concerned state, has got the best results.  Japan currently has waves of fresh controls, though they remain determined to stage a planned Olympics.  India faces disaster after lifting lockdown far too soon.

Snippets

Big Bill Is Harrassing You?

Learning that Bill Gates and his wife were divorcing, I supposed that one or both wanted to marry someone else.  For rich people, living separate lives and making a nice public impression is easy enough.

To my surprise – I’d not heard a whisper before now – it is now being suggested that Bill Gates is yet another powerful man guilty of pressurising women for sex.[11]

As a mere customer, I found their products convenient, and in fact hard to avoid.  But I also always found that Microsoft software has a bullying attitude.  I did it my way, you’ll do it my way, as Frank Sinatra might have sung if someone had slipped him a truth drug.

Did this spill over into treatment of staff?  Including sex, as well as the workaholic culture that is currently much admired?

I’m puzzled that so many rich men mess up that way.  I’d have thought they could hire a suitable woman to handle it under some bland job title.  Approach other women and say ‘if hypothetically a rich man fancied you and might do a lot for you, how would you feel?’  And take no for an answer.

Probably that happens a lot, and those cases never make the news.  I’d not even see them as very bad, though women getting an advantage using sex is unfair to other women.

I await further news.  It might even be unfair.  But there is also the curious matter of him having dealings with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.[12]

*

Bitcoin – a Coin Fit For Crooks?

“Twelve years on, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in normal economic activity. Almost the only time we hear about them being used as a means of payment — as opposed to speculative trading — is in association with illegal activity, like money laundering or the Bitcoin ransom Colonial Pipeline paid to hackers who shut it down.”[13]

Like other New Right ideas, it has worked so badly that even the less ideological centre-right are turning against them.

I also always suspected that the supposedly secret currency could be traced by the world’s top spy agencies.  Just as I warned about the Internet back in the year 2000, when most people thought otherwise.[14]

And now we learn that much more mundane computer experts can play games:

“Blockchains Were Supposed to Be ‘Unhackable.’ Now They’re Getting Hacked.”[15]

And surprisingly, The Economist is fairly relaxed about state-controlled Electronic Currencies, even though China is taking a leading role.[16]

*

Fond-of-Money Syndrome?

“Western companies in China succumb to Stockholm syndrome

“Executives fearful of antagonising Beijing have adopted a hostage mindset…

“Stockholm syndrome, named after a notorious robbery in the Swedish capital in 1973, is a phenomenon in which the victim of kidnapping or hostage-taking develops feelings of trust, affection or sympathy for their captor. It is a condition that afflicts much of the corporate world and some governments when it comes to their dealings with the Chinese Communist party.”[17]

For me, this is consistent with 300 years of European commerce and capitalism.  Which included a slave trade of unusual brutality.  The Opium Wars against China.  Child Labour at home.  Mass starvation in Ireland in the 1840s, to protect the profitable export of grain the Irish had grown.

The real power-brokers know that China does not threaten them.  May suspect that most of the dirty stories are propaganda.  And know that it remains a place where good business can be done.

*

Neutralists OK With China

“Developing countries sign Huawei deals despite US espionage warnings

“Tie-ups in Africa, Asia and Latin America could give Chinese group ‘coercive leverage’, report warns”.[18]

In practice, there isn’t room for more than a dozen global high-tech companies providing a superior service.  Maybe less.  And China, unlike the USA or Europe, has not made a habit of subverting or invading governments that had previously been treated as friends.

Do people remember how the USA stepped in back in 1987 and ensured that Saddam Hussein would survive the aggressive war that he had waged against Islamic Iran?[19]  That was Ronald Reagan.  It was only after the Soviet Union fell that Saddam was suddenly re-invented as an unspeakable villain.

*

Yes, Insist on a Nanny State

“Childcare is pricey – maybe Boris should set up a nanny state?…

“Childcare costs, already prohibitively expensive, have gone up in the past year to an average of £263 a week, or £14,000 a year for one child in full-time care, although the costs vary massively across the country and spike wildly in the city where I live. Childcare fees account for almost 40% of the average employed parent’s income – after New Zealand, parents in the UK pay the most for childcare of any country in the world.”[20]

The article is jokey, but the point is serious.

Labour could make it a big demand.  Just the issue to win back the traditionally-minded working-class.

*

A Pop Malaise?

“It was another disappointing night for the UK, with James Newman’s Embers scoring nul points.”[21]

It is a long time since a UK entry has done well.  We are always in the final, but not by merit.  From 1999, with semi-finals needed to keep the numbers sensible, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom gave themselves an automatic place.[22]  

We last won in 1997, with Katrina and the Waves.[23]  Since then, we’ve only been in the Top Ten by votes in 1998, 2002 and 2009.  The latest flop is the seventh since 2009 to be outside the Top Twenty, in a total field of 26.  

I’ve no idea why: I’ve long stopped listening to current pop.  But is it part of a general UK malaise?  One consequence of the wrong turning in the 1980s?

No point for your art in a society where the greed of the rich has made everything seem pointless?[24]

*

Cameron of Greensill

Can’t a former Prime Minister do some profitable lobbying without breaching existing rules?  And getting caught?[25]  I’d have thought so.  But perhaps David Cameron isn’t as clever as he seemed.

As I’ve said before, he could and should have demanded a Super-Majority for Brexit.  This was done in 1979, and defeated the first push for Scottish devolution.[26]  

The USA, the first modern democracy, insists that amendments to their Constitution get a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress.  And then approval by two-thirds of the states.[27]

Bad News Is Now News

“US environmental agency releases climate report delayed by Trump…

“Heat waves are occurring about three times more often than in the 1960s.”[28]

Floods, forest fires and Lyme disease are also spreading.

*

Charles the Modest?

I assume the style of the monarchy stays the same till our respected Queen Elizabeth finally dies.

Prince Charles would be wise to then shift to something more open and less ceremonial.  Drop some of the silly pomposity.

Replace Buckingham Palace with something more comfortable.  Copy the successful monarchies of Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden

He probably won’t.  But just in case, I have said it.

*

Xinjiang Again

Most of the Western liberal-left have swallowed wholesale the anti-China claims of right-wingers.  But not all:

“The Report and the two institutes behind it are not ‘independent’, and the report does not present new materials. Co-produced with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, it’s the product of cooperation among individuals from at least six, more or less inter-connected, interest groups, or milieus, which are more Near– than Non-governmental–namely:

“Christian fundamentalism + hawkish conservative U.S. foreign policy circles + Muslim Brotherhood circles + extreme anti-Communism + pro-Israel lobby circles + the politicising human rights machinery (in which human rights concerns tend to serve various types of interventions by the United States of America).”[29]

It’s not the same as my viewpoint.[30]  But it is good to have.

*

Old newsnotes at the magazine website.  I also write regular blogs – https://www.quora.com/q/mrgwydionmwilliams


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartlepool_(UK_Parliament_constituency)#2021_by-election

[2] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/Labour-in-Britain-Starmer-the-Vote-Loser

[3] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/the-mixed-economy-won-the-cold-war/

[4] https://www.economist.com/britain/2021/05/15/the-labour-party-is-being-pulled-apart-by-its-two-main-constituencies (pay site)

[5] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/Nazi-Germany-Was-Defeated-in-Russia

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_respiratory_syndrome

[7] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/China-Viruses-Covid-19-and-Wuhan-400

[8] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/problems-magazine-past-issues/post-liberalism/chinese-politics-working-well/

[9] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202105/1223838.shtml

[10] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/New-Right-Covid-19-Blight

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/17/bill-gates-microsoft-board-relationship-employee

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/may/10/melinda-bill-gates-divorce-jeffrey-epstein-meetings

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/20/opinion/cryptocurrency-bitcoin.html

[14] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/m-articles-by-topic/m99-topic-menus-from-long-revolution-website/46-globalisation/the-web-is-always-insecure/

[15] https://futurism.com/blockchains-unhackable-getting-hacked

[16] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/05/08/the-digital-currencies-that-matter (pay site) 

[17] https://www.ft.com/content/51e1a437-3aca-42ed-8403-2a05b338622b (pay site)

[18] https://www.ft.com/content/c7623a49-5fcb-4b48-ba0a-ee9e576538b1 (pay site)

[19] https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/magazine-001-to-010/magazine-004-october-1987/why-the-west-saved-saddam-hussein-in-1987/

[20] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/may/16/childcare-is-pricey-maybe-boris-should-set-up-a-nanny-state

[21] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-57198762

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest#Pre-selections_and_relegation

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_in_the_Eurovision_Song_Contest

[24] I’ve done a slightly longer study as a blog, https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/Eurovision-2021-No-Points-for-the-UK

[25] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron#Lobbying_for_Greensill_Capital

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_Scottish_devolution_referendum

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_amendments_to_the_United_States_Constitution

[28] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-57095347

[29] https://mronline.org/2021/05/08/the-xinjiang-genocide-determination-as-agenda/

[30] https://mrgwydionmwilliams.quora.com/West-Reports-Only-Propaganda-on-Xinjiang

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