The Paris outrages have mobilised a range of forces: grief, solidarity, reflection being the most prolific. However, internationally, the Establishment have used the killings to push forward their agenda in a practical way. Cameron immediately sanctioned a £100m increase in the Security Services budget and called for increased cyber surveillance; Obama also called for increased control and regulation of the internet. (Some, such as Anonymous, have accused the Obama administration of orchestrating the latest hacking breach at the Pentagon’s Twitter account as the work of the NSA – the provenance of the hacking can be traced back to Maryland, home of the NSA – timed to coincide with Obama’s speech calling for more cyber security.); French police have begun rounding up ‘Muslim extremists’, with the law criminalising public apologies of, and directly provoking, terrorism being hurriedly and widely implemented. The state and its agents are left to define ‘terrorism’.
The wonderful march of over 1m in a defiant Paris on the Sunday following the shootings was defiled by the tragic and farcical site of a major terrorist leading it: Netanyahu, ultimately responsible both for thousands of killings in his country and for allowing MOSSAD free reign to cause havoc around the world. When photos of Netanyahu and other political leaders were splashed across newspapers, Israel’s Announcer airbrushed Germany’s Angela Merkel, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and EU foreign affairs and security chief Frederica Mogherini. (Will Neyanyahu criticise the ultra-orthodox newspaper for its suppression and censorship of a demonstration promoting, as a core issue, free speech?). Always ready to prostitute themselves for a photo opportunity, we later learnt that the leaders of the ‘Free West’, who all gave up their Sunday in defence of free speech, were actually securely positioned in a side street while the cameras rolled. After sharing their images, they conveniently disappeared, job done. It was left to the ‘people’ to do the walking and shouting, the physical work.
The Paris, January 2015 massacre by religionised, alienated gunmen marks a concomitant tragedy the heroic, perished writers and artists of Charlie Hebdo would despair as the failing of their satire: an opportunity for the leaders and believers of their unipolar world to ratchet up their systems and methods of civil control and add to their already obscene arsenal s of weapons of individual and mass destruction. The very scenario they fought and resisted, day in day out with words and images. If we are true to their vision of what the world should not become we should also resist, in body, voice and thought. It is the least we can to honour them and their work.
Charlie Hebdo ridiculed the pompous and the powerful by undermining their status quo of austerity, debt, insecurity (at work and in your home), long working hours and the destruction of public services. This is the real war, on our doorsteps, that is being carried out under the guise of the war on terror. As a middle-aged man I worry about the world I’m passing on to my children. Whereas my future as a young man was characterised by possibilities: for a council house, for a job that had relatively civilised pay, conditions and hours and allowed me to join a union, to educate myself without being enslaved to debt. In short, to have a go at life.
The BBC, that cowered mouthpiece of those that misrule, went into overdrive pushing the agenda of their masters: BBC Radio London had a debate on its early evening show hosted by Eddie ….. about whether the police should be armed. The presenter mentioned the countries where the police are armed: France, USA, etc inferring it is just a matter of time before the UK succumbs to further militarisation of its domestic law enforcement agents. What he failed to mention is that in both France and the US the police are seen by communities as an increasingly hostile force. In the USA there is growing anger amongst working class communities at the increased use of deadly force and the increased use of arbitrary powers by the police: increased shootings by officers of working class men (usually Black) and confiscation of property on the flimsiest of pretexts (a couple had their house taken from them because their son was accused of selling dope on the porch). This right of civil confiscation turns natural law – the assumption of innocence until guilt is proved – on its head. The dispossessed are obliged to prove they acquired it by legal means to secure its return.
In the practice of the elites and their agents, this is nothing new. They have dispossessed people throughout history. But try using the principle against them and see if it works: a man is quietly fishing in a river. His keepnet is full; his mind calm. An angry man approaches.
Angry Man: Do you have a licence to fish here?
Fisherman: Do I need one?
Angry Man: Indeed you do.
Fisherman: Why’s that?
Angry Man: This is my father’s land.
Fisherman: But I’m fishing in the river.
Angry Man: He owns that to.
Fisherman: The land or the water?
Angry Man: Both.
Fisherman: I’m not taking any land or water, I’m just catching fish.
Angry Man: He owns them too.
Fisherman: But the water and fish flow through from elsewhere.
Angry Man: While they’re on our land, they’re our our property, they belong to us.
Fisherman: Well, according to you, I’m on your land, do I belong to you?
Angry Man: No you don’t but you have no right to fish here.
Fisherman: How did your father get the right to own fish and water?
Angry Man: He got it with the land.
Fisherman: Who gave it to him?
Angry Man: His father.
Fisherman: And who gave it to him.
Angry Man: His father.
Fisherman: This is getting very biblical! How long has your family had this land?
Angry Man: For generations.
Fisherman: How did they get it in the first place?
Angry Man: An ancestor fought for the King and this land was his reward.
The Fisherman contemplates .
Fisherman: O.k. I’ll fight you for it.
The bloody trajectory of this logic and narrative – how it plays out today – shows horrendous consequences. Fighting tenaciously to cling on to what they have and if possible, increase it, the elites ignore the injustices and crimes of their past acquisitions and dispossessions. This neo-liberal agenda, as exemplified in the Project for the New American Century, in its own words seeks ‘full spectrum dominance’. During the last quarter of a century this has meant CIA funding of Islamic mujahedin fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s (as part of the drive to collapse of the Soviet Union); the invasion of Iraq in 1990; the bombings of Yugoslavia; the Pentagon/CIA/ISI/MOSSAD/Al Queda/Neo-Con engineered 9/11 crimes and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and proxy wars in Libya and Syria. As a price agreed by the US and its conspiratorial partners – including our ‘law unto themselves’ Secret Services MI5 and MI6 – we can include the continued genocidal oppression of the Palestinians and the brutal suppression of popular uprisings in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and their hijack in Egypt and the Ukraine.
‘Constructive Chaos’ is the preferred state of affairs for regions that US neo-cons – like Skull and Bones member George W Bush and his gofer Tony Blair – want to control without directly invading. It is their term. It characterises many parts of the contemporary world, exemplified by events in large parts of the Middle East. The leaders and plutocrats of the Middle East dictatorships mentioned above are prepared to pay the price of the blood, tears and rubble in their county and regions as the least worst of options. In this scenario they can stay in their palaces. Better to remove Gaddafi , Mubarak and Hussein than to be removed.
Tomorrows World (TW) was a 1970s BBC tv weekly programme with content fitting its title. It was on before Top of the Pops, a programme with content that often didn’t. I remember one TW in particular. It envisioned a future where computers be an integral part of our lives. The benefits of having these omnipresent high tech machines doing hitherto manual tasks would be increased leisure time for everyone. In twenty years we in the UK would be having one big jolly up. Somehow we’ve allowed the reverse to happen. And this didn’t suddenly happen after 9/11. The trends toward longer working weeks, lower pay, diminished working conditions (lower workplace standards, sick pay, pension etc) has merely speeded up with neo-con dominance since the 1980s. The reason work is a greater part of our lives now, for less return, is that history continues to repeat itself, first as tragedy, then farce, then chaos. As I write, tucked away shamelessly on page 50 in yesterday’s (30 June 2015) Independent were a few short orphaned lines quietly mentioning that, according to ONS statistics, incomes in ‘working households’ in the UK were, on average, £1,600 worse off since the politicians allowed bankers to rob people in 2008. No bank robbery was ever as lucrative. Had it put it alongside a report, also reliant on ONS stats, that the poorest fifth of households in Britain pay proportionately more tax than the rich – 37.8% to 34.8% – it might have made more impact, even though this story was still relegated to page 19. I shouldn’t be too hard on the Indie and its young editor, it did have an editorial criticising the fee of £1200 for an employee to bring a case to an employment tribunal was the main cause in seeing tribunals’ case loads fall by 90% over the last two years. As a consequence, don’t be surprised if our hard pressed employing class now call for them to be binned alongside many other employee rights, such as an employment contract that stipulates guaranteed hours of work.
Intellectual, economic and social developments often don’t accrue fairly and universally. They are regulated and controlled by those with the power to do so, whether as owners, creators or administrators. What the presenters of Tomorrows World didn’t calculate in their predictions is the ability of those that owned, controlled and used computers in the production of food, goods, delivery of services and hiring of labour to be selfish. History repeating itself as farce. Isn’t our lesson of the first phase of the Industrial Revolution – provided by Dickens, Elliot, Gaskell , Engels, Marx and others – that the lives of the labourers who moved en masse from village to northern towns became nasty, brutish and short in order their employers amass wealth that was so large it was unspendable?
Nasty and brutish as 18th and 19th century industrial capitalism was, the owners were unashamed and open about their greed. Engels, in conversation with a Manchester capitalist, said he was appalled at the bestial living conditions the working class of Manchester suffered. The employer replied: “And yet there is a great deal of money made here, good morning, sir.”
This transference of wealth to a small elite is rampant today. The difference now is we have a large public sector which is in the process of being quietly stolen by the 21st century equivalents of the Victorian Mancunian industrialist. In all publicly owned sectors civil servants and governing politicians have devised secretive processes whereby state assets are privatised without the people knowing until it is done. The NHS is being colonised by companies such as car exhaust manufacturer Unipart and large US based ‘healthcare’ companies like UnitedHealth, intent on getting fat at the expense of the British people by winning lucrative contracts to ‘manage’ parts of our health service.
Universities are part of this private wealth creation process. It is acceptable practice in our publicly funded higher education institutions that those academics – scientists, engineers, etc – who break new ground with inventions can create a ‘spin-out’ private company to enrich themselves. Private gain (profit) at public expense (of research and development costs). Far from being seen as a parasitic leeching of supposedly scarce public resources, it is an accepted practice.
The vice-chancellor of Bolton University, self-styled ‘Dr’ George Holmes, is an enthusiastic supporter of these practices, openly inviting businesses, such as FibrLec to come and join him in making sure the (public) money at his command goes into the right (private) pockets. Joining the university’s Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering as partners include the Le Mans racing team, RLR Msport, Keating Supercars and Ginetta. All are involved in the sports/luxury car industry. While the vast proportion of the university’s UK students – 93% of total enrolment – may not be able to own, drive or even afford to watch such elite machines in action, George is one step ahead of his critics: his students from the Ras Al Khaimah campus will love them. Indeed, in neighbouring Dubai they have so many of them that they are left, sandblasted and statuesque here, there and everywhere,.
Despite his progressive, inclusive entrepreneurship on behalf of the university, it seems he can’t turbocharge engineering staff and students into demolishing their competitors in similar departments of other universities. The 2016 league table of subject performance shows all Bolton’s engineering-related departments have dropped in their placings since he became vice-chancellor and threw money at them.
George’s untiring drive to remake Bolton as the luxury car capital of Britain has affected his health. The pressures of constantly having to pull his underlings along and his daily commute from his home in Wakefield wearied him. Unwilling to shorten his journey time from home by conspicuously driving one of the luxury cars in his engineering department’s workshops and in a commendably altruistic gesture he offered to help the university out by borrowing just under £1m at a pocket pounding interest rate of 3.75% to buy a home in Bolton. By selflessly accepting the money – which otherwise would have been left in the bank’s vaults collecting dust – he has also generously allowed it to earn interest.
Amazed at what his loan could buy in the depressed local economy – most of Bolton’s neglected town centre – the conscientious man-of-action did not restrict his incursions into the property market to his own dire needs. After all, he is a vice-chancellor of a university with nearly 7,000 students. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet – unless it can be turned to a profit – our fellow of the Institute of Directors had a chat with his mate Clifford Morris, top boy at the clown hall and suggested he do the cash strapped council and people of Bolton a favour by taking over and redeveloping the burden of the greying, neo-classical clown hall and the land around it. Current ‘plans’ include enclosing and utilising the last, forlorn patch of green land in the city centre and building student accommodation on it.
Not surprisingly the plans reflect George’s ultra-modern approach. He has eschewed the thinking of other northern universities who’ve wantonly corrupted their industrial heritage by turning refurbished mills into accommodation. No, no,no! Why foolishly waste time and money on restoring the numerous semi-derelict, red-bricked cotton factories that blight the landscape when he can enclose the best parts of the town centre within his campus empire.
Indeed, because he thinks out of the box, it’s difficult to know what thoughts cross his mind. He is very reticent in revealing them. We know little of his academic career. Like many ideas in the spheres he moves in, they are akin to trade secrets. But not revealing his wisdom doesn’t affect his enviable ability to make news headlines. He has even helped eager journalists, such as Doncaster Free Press’s Deborah Wain win awards by unintentionally providing the source material for their stories. She reported on the trail of wreckage some misguided and embittered residents and workers of Doncaster accused Holmes of leaving in their town after his reign as head of an FE college that went into £1.3m deficit. These ungracious Yorkshire folk blamed the mess on what they saw as Mr/Dr Holmes’s grandiose, egotistical and wildly irrational leadership. Stooping even lower they had the temerity to add that his attempts to cover up and lie were revealed by a young woman who smelt a rat and caught it.
Indeed what Ms Wain so meticulously revealed was a much misunderstood man who wielded his benign power with a responsible determination. She exposed the issue of a photography lecturer, Richard Browning, who was dismissed by George for having a gun at work. Most right minded people would have thought that the employee was lucky he didn’t face a criminal charge. Shamefully, unbelievably the defiant lecturer took his case to a tribunal…and won! The gullible do-gooders fell for his argument that it was a toy gun brought in by a student for his course project. Most principles would have swallowed their defeat with a reluctant shrug. Not George. On exiting the tribunal he summarily dismissed con-man Browning. The gun-runner even had the cheek to ask what the new charges were! But Doncaster College’s principal had learnt his lesson: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Reveal the reasons for you to wriggle out of them at a second tribunal hearing. No chance! Unfairly, George, acting in the best interests of his college, was accused of ignoring the rules of natural justice that a person should know what wrong they are supposed to have done before suffering punishment.
For his gallant efforts in Doncaster in trying to pull up the town through education and determination, Mr/Dr Holmes was duly awarded the vice-chancellorship of Bolton University. As in Doncaster, his understated nature in not shouting his academic achievements from the rooftops has had unfortunate consequences. There has been a disconnect and time lag between the quality and imagination of his leadership and ideas and improvement in performance in his university’s departments. Frustratingly for this innovative free-thinker, since 2008 his institution has drifted rapidly to the bottom of the universities league table.
In an effort to ease the burden of being shackled by lesser colleagues and employees, he has yet again had to show his courage and willingness to take tough decisions, as exercised in the Browning gun fiasco. In the department of special effects for film and television he sacked senior lecturer Damian Markey. Tragically for the new ‘Mr Bolton’, he was forced to instruct Markey’s wife to do the right thing and follow her husband down the road. A spokesman for George explained: Damian Markey was sacked for “bringing the university down” when he was overheard uttering the words “boats” and “lakes”. The university felt such seditious words were extremely ungrateful given the context: Mr/Dr Holmes had generously spent £100,000 of BU’s cared-for finances in taking all staff to the calm and beauty of the Lake District as the fitting location for a series of enlightening, visionary lectures by their boss. Additionally, rather than incur even more expense for the university, Mr/Dr Holmes had agreed to stay on his modest yacht – compared to Mr Ambramovitch’s – moored nearby. This decision once again exemplified the v-c’s competitive spirit: there’s no one quicker in clearing academic institutions of those willing to undermine at every turn progressive policies and actions.
The decision to sack conspirator Markey and his wife Jenny had nothing to do with him being secretary of the Bolton branch of the University and College Union, said George’s explainer.
The trip to the Lake District was merely one example of the time the prophetic vice-chancellor gives to communicate his unique corporate philosophy. On one occasion, instead of a traditionally academic approach for his presentation he borrowed from the creative arts. Rallying his academics he boldly did his ‘loadsamoney’ routine, aided by one of his lieutenants. This double act of straight talking George tough loving his audience by telling them they were so useless they’d never get a job elsewhere while his sidekick symbolically turned over a large pile of ten pound notes, went down a storm. And, George is a man of his word: he later sacked a large number of these time and money wasters – sorry, made them redundant.
Understandably and quite rightly, as we’ve seen above, the pressures of moving Bolton University into the neo-liberal world of the 21st century have been accounted for with the small compensation of George’s modest yacht and well-appointed – but proportionate – accommodation in the Lake District to escape to. Or he can take a busman’s holiday to Bolton’s Middle East campus in the United Arab Emirates, close to the billionaires playground of Dubhai. And to prove he deserves his perks of a cheap £960,000 ‘loan’ and £47,000 incentive to continue making national headlines, gorgeous George now has the added pressure of students failing to have the imagination to conjure his vision. Applications to enroll have fallen as quick as BU’s league table position, over one third under his tenure.
He does have a large group of friends who help out and who, in turn, he has rewarded, like all good friends do. Dan Keating, managing director of FibrLec who has a partnership with the university, was awarded an honorary doctorate. So was registrar Sue Duncan, as were other university employees Zubair Hanslot, Dave Radcliffe and Chris Minta. Always a trailblazer, George ignored those petty regulations that forbid honorary doctorates to staff currently on the pay roll of the awarding institution. Like all go-getters, George knows you don’t get anywhere by sticking to the rules. To make sure these treasured recognitions of selfless service to the public of Bolton, they are not normally given to people who work for nothing, like volunteers, charity workers and do-gooders. Who would want to be part of a club with that kind of cheapskate clientele?
George has even managed to attract to his domain high calibre people who have achieved expertise in their fields. Bolton Octagon Theatre’s artistic director David Thacker was recently installed as professor of drama. Nationally acclaimed, David is an expert in the plays of Arthur Miller who wrote a number dedicated to the struggles of people in the workplace fighting anti- union employers. Indeed, he became a personal friend of the great playwright. I’ve worked with David and I know he get’s Miller’s irony. To induce David, from artistic director at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre to professor of theatre at George’s place, David’s salary was enticingly trebled. Dealing with thousands of theatre goers will be nothing compared to the potential of having to zoom around from campuses in Peckham, Paris, London and the UAE – hopefully, in David’s case, in a Ginetta-Juno LMP3 supplied by George’s university engineering department ( a bargain for £195,000!) – spreading the free market gospel of his vice-chancellor .
The soap that is Mr/Dr George Holmes reign at Bolton University, a drama that would be farcical if it did not have such tragic consequences with over a hundred people losing their jobs while Holmes enriches himself, fits neatly with the wider global machinations of 21st century capitalism which is in its most hegemonic, omnipotent phase. Risk is socialised; profit privatised. Its foundational institutions, (privately-owned) banks are deemed fundamental to our existence and offered free paper (fiat) money like lucrative government contracts at the Carlton Club.
The European parliament has voted – July 2015 – to allow in the TTIP ‘agreement’ the right of multi-national corporations to sue national governments for policies that detrimentally affect their profits. We have a contemporary vision of this ugly future with the events in Greece over the EU-imposed austerity plan. European Banks are driving the programme of public expenditure cuts and tax cuts for corporations and higher earners even though the Greek electorate voted for a government and policies that seek to regenerate the economy without impoverishing 99% of its population. If TTIP becomes law elections will count for less than they do even now. The social contract between a government and its people will be meaningless. TTIP will make constitutional arrangements redundant. It will be the legal and practical triumph of the plutocrats, their End of History.
How we produce what we need to live and reproduce, individually and socially, has been the seminal question and friction point of all societies. Except ours. Now, apparently, we are being asked to eat shit in order that a tiny fraction of humans can eat what, when and how much their greed allows. According to Oxfam 85 people own as much wealth as 3.5 billion.
In London accommodation is built by developers who have no intention of making them available to the city’s inhabitants. Instead they sell to buyers who have no right to live in the UK. In many poor countries peasant farmers are being deprived of their prime fertile land by their governments, rich landowners and corporations in order to produce food for profit for populations abroad. In Russia the country has been privatised by plutocrats they call oligarchs. In China, governed by the Communist Party – a nomenclature that insults the 1848 manifesto of Marx and Engels – employees in the industrial cities are experiencing a ‘modernisation’ of their working lives that our 19th Manchester industrialist would have recognised and endorsed.
My deprived and defeated grandchildren have every right to say to me and my generation: what did you do in the (class) war granddad? And what can we say? We should have fought harder to protect rights our parents, grandparents and their predecessors fought and gave blood to win and protect. Such as the right to: jury trial in all pleas of not guilty; habeous corpus; legal representation; social housing; health care; dental treatment; strike; to join a union; to decent working contracts. The list could continue.
So what were some of the proposed acts of the rebranded One Nation Tories on returning to government in May 2015? Measures to deal with the crippling power of the trade unions; reduce access to legal aid; give back to downtrodden countryfolk aka landowners the right to enjoy their ancient pastime of foxhunting so vengefully confiscated by the radical socialist government of Tony Blair.
Their thinking on unions is understandable. In July tube and railworkers selfishly went on strike in London and the South East causing chaos to commuters. The RMT and the three other unions involved said it wasn’t about money but about ‘the ripping up of long standing frameworks and agreements that protect staff from excessive hours…[including] rosters from hell…that would absolutely destroy [the] work life balance for all staff’. How insensitive is that? Many of these frustrated travellers will be on zero hours contracts and getting to work late or not at all could lead to instant dismissal. Contrast this to the pay and working conditions of the striking rail and tube workers, with their bullying unions making unrealistic demands. In their 2014 London Undergound Train Drivers’ Charter the RMT insisted there be no driverless trains, with all stock to have a driver in the cab. Of course they made no appraisal of the cost to commuters in raised fares if such a ludicrous measure was implemented. The same selfish obstinacy characterised their negotiating response to plans to run the tube all night from September 2015. London Underground had generously offered a £500 bonus to certain workers on top of their 0.5% two year pay deal. Rejecting what many workers would have considered an unbelievably extravagant offer, they then had the cheek to vote to go on strike.
The commuters would be entitled to ask if the rail workers live in some alternative universe. Don’t they read the newspapers, listen to the news on radio, watch it on tv, read it online? Most hardworking people are earning less than they were before the unfortunate banks were screwed over by a few rogue employees. And working longer hours in a patriotic response to the government’s call for everyone to do their bit to aid Britain’s recovery. What goes around comes around. Union membership has fallen in the same period, for which the government and the large majority of employers are thankful (but has now started to creep up again). They know unions push up wages and where would the recovery in profits and prices be if they had their way? Which brings us back to the rail strike and why it’s so important, say economists and employers’ organisations like the CBI and Institute of Directors, for the unions to be defeated. If all workers were able to band together and stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity profits would fall, working days shortened, working conditions made more luxurious and working class power increased. A recipe for anarchy! Hence Cameron’s announcement of more state control over trade unions.
The necessity to restrict the freedom of working class people for the greater good of the rest of the country has been a long held responsibility and cherished obligation – noblesse oblige – of our elites. Many chide Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne as being members of the rich boys Bullingdon Club at Oxford where drugs and violence was commonplace. What these critics fail to also mention is that they always offered to pay for any damage caused in their hedonistic indulgences. An insight into the chancellor’s argument that Britain should pay its way and live according to its means. He did at Oxford; we should now.
The British people have to adjust their mindsets, he argues. No longer should we rely on a credit card to offset an empty pocket. That just postpones one problem in order to be confronted by a bigger one later on without dealing with the root cause: living beyond our means. We’ve done this as a country for years. Now it’s time to get the national debt down for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Why should they be saddled with our national debt alongside their mortgage and university debts? They will already be doing their bit. George has been trying to do his bit on behalf of us all but those rogue bankers caused an enormous problem and our national debt – the money owed by the government/us to the private sector – has been growing. But it’s not all bad news, 70% is owed to UK based pension funds.
In 2014 Boris Johnson came up with an idea for these funds, especially those guarding the pensions of workers in the public sector. Britain’s local authority pension funds alone hold assets of more than £180 billion, while combining all Britain’s public sector pensions would yield “hundreds of billions”. Think of what this amount of money could do if invested in infrastructure, argued the (ex-)Mayor of London. Instead of spending £52m on HS2 to knock a measley 20 minutes off the train journey between London and Euston, we could invest even more and reduce the burden on overworked business executives – paying for the railways with their expensive first class tickets – by, say, half an hour. Think of all those minutes saved ploughed into wealth creating activities instead. We’d have the national debt paid off in no time. What’s stopping us? “old Doobury”, the pension fund manager, says go-ahead Boris. A dinosaur living in fear, fear that exposing the pension funds to market forces might mean that investments can go down as well as up. Look what happened when Robert Maxwell fraudulently lost the £450m pension fund of his Daily Mirror workers.
To be continued