The Radical Potential of Social Construction

Studying Sociology at University is where I learnt about the importance of social construction and deconstruction for understanding how society works. Social construction, as defined by the Sociology Dictionary, means:

The principle or theory that all reality and meaning is subjective and created through dynamic interactions with other individuals and groups. The social constructionist perspective advocates that individuals and their differences are created or constructed through social processes (e.g. political, religious, and economic) rather than an innate quality within the individual. Furthermore, the categorization of individuals into groups explains more about how society functions than about individuals.

Social construction is opposed to biological, essentialist arguments that view social actors as being independent to and acted upon by their environment. Compared to biological, essentialist arguments, social constructionism can be utilised to critically challenge the status quo, and thus power relations and related inequality and social injustice as it relates to how social, political and economic reality is not a given, it is something we as people are central to creating and recreating.

For my MA Dissertation, I fused a neo-Gramscian and strategic-relational approach (see Colin Hay sources at the end of this article for more) to analyse the connections between the rise of neoliberalism and the development and options for the social enterprise sector in Sheffield, UK and Pittsburgh, PA, US. The research illustrated how the strategic context (otherwise known as structure) of social enterprise support in the UK has limited the opportunities for restrictively defined social enterprises’ (in terms of profit distribution and ownership structure) strategic choices/action (otherwise known as agency), with the move from government and European grant and contract based resources to loan-based, social finance, non-statutory, voucher scheme funding relating to the intensifying neoliberalism and associated austerity. I argued that neoliberalism is a central mediator between such choices and context for actors.

Typically, structure is defined as referring to the context and ordering of social, economic and political relations; whereas agency refers to practices such as reflexivity, choice and rationality (Hay 2002). Simplifying the argument, the key is to see structure and agency as operating dialectically, where people’s choices of action are influenced by their structural context and their action influences the structural context – whether intended or unintended – with hegemonic ideas, such as neoliberalism, mediating this. People’s action can have intended and unintended consequences in terms of transforming structure, with actors also understanding more about the structure from their action and which then influences their action in the future. Context in relation to the structure is important, as different people – depending on their position in relation to the structure – have different choices available to them, also linking with different knowledge and understanding of structure, relating to the importance of power within the structure and agency debate. Key to mediating structure and agency is ideas, especially hegemonic/dominant ideas, which are also dialectically intertwined with the material (our environment).

This can be applied to the finance sector. In the 1970s/80s saw the rise of a neoliberal project, where think tanks – such as the Mont Pelerin Society – were created by actors through strategic action responding to their strategic context, with a focus on reconstructing hegemonic economic arguments and interdependent material circumstances. This saw a move away from a John Maynard Keynes demand side economics to a Milton Friedman (and to some extent, Fredrick Hayek) supply side economics. This reconstruction of the dominant economic argument was central to helping with the boom of the finance sector. Whilst ‘free market’ actors argued this was a ‘natural’ process, this was something that was shaped by key economic and political actors, with the financialisation of the economy aided by corporate, capital and political power and interests in a dialectical interplay between strategic context and action and reconstruction of hegemonic ideas.

This reconstruction was key to the creation of financial instruments such as Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps that were central to the international financial crisis of 2007/8. Neoliberalism was constructed by key corporate and capital class interests; it is a class project. This change in hegemonic conception of economics and politics, driven by key capital and corporate interests (agency) related to a backlash to demand side economic ideas (once hegemonic) and human and workers’ rights victories before the 1970s that the capital classes saw as threatening them (structural). Here we see how ideas, structure and agency all interplay.

From the 1980s onwards, the rise of neoliberal ideas, as the hegemonic political and economic conception of how the ‘system’ works, was central to mediating the strategic action (use of financial instruments that resulted in unprecedented amounts of toxic bonds flooding the system, for instance) and strategic context (the reduction in regulation of the finance sector, removal of gold standard, lack of capital controls) and how actors – whether as politicians (Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan), think tanks, corporate and capital entities such as businesses, banks and hedge funds – are central to navigating this strategically alongside intentionally (buying Credit Default Swaps to bet against the system and help cause the 2007/8 crisis, for instance) and unintentionally (not understanding/caring how these financial products would create the 2007/8 financial crisis, for instance!) affecting the structure and further action.

Thus social construction, when viewed dialectically, is important for us to understand how much power we have as people when we work together to create a better system for the many, not the few. The structure, mediated by neoliberal ideas, isn’t one that encourages mass political action/agency and engagement but with the increasing legitimacy crisis of neoliberalism – as discussed in a previous article – democratic socialist ideas are being increasingly utilised as a different way of mediating agency and structure. Look at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK and Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US, alongside the diversification of non-corporate, independent media. There is a change in what is considered politically possible, with a consistent narrative of how an alternative would work. These ideas can mediate agency and structure, with the rise of alternative economic models such as cooperatives that bring the means of production under public control, but also encourage actors to take on power and tackle injustice. It illustrates the importance of counter-power structures and discourses for challenging hegemonic ideas.

Social construction helps us understand how important we are to reconstructing our own reality, and whilst there are real political, economic and social relations – mediated by hegemonic neoliberal ideas – that interplay with the action and choices of actors, we are not passive objects, and we have the opportunity to work together, promote new ways of thinking and doing things and help influence different action, choices and contexts available for us, especially by furthering alternative ideas of how politics and the economy works.

Sources:

Hay, C. (1995). “Structure and Agency”. In: D. Marsh., and G. Stoker, (eds). Theory and Methods In Political Science. First Edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hay, C. (2002). Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hay, C., and Smith, N.J. (2010). “How Policy-Makers (Really) Understand Globalization? The Internal Architecture of Anglophone Globalization Discourse In Europe.” Public Administration. 88(4) 903-927.

The Contradiction of Mistakes in Professional Football…

Mistakes are part of what makes us human. We all make mistakes. Mistakes can make us much stronger, it can change who we are and what we think, it can create self-confidence and empower as we take responsibility and learn from it.

Mistakes are in the same way fundamental to football. The legend Johan Cruyff famously said: “Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.”

So why is it when Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Loris Karius, made two incredible mistakes in the Champions League final handing the win to Real Madrid, he faced the response he did – including death threats! – and he now finds himself on loan at Beşiktaş?

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We accept that mistakes are part of life, so that means they are part of football, but can they afford to be part of professional football?

By this, I mean with all the money and importance attached to winning such a prestigious competition such as the Champions League – where clubs are often run by rich business people wanting a return on their investment, which you can get by doing well in the Champions League when looking at the prize money – can players, often paid tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds a week to do a job make such significant mistakes as Karius did?

As I saw many on social media say when it happened, if they made the equivalent mistake at their own workplace they would likely face the sack or at the least disciplinary action. I remember at the time feeling really sorry for Karius but equally finding it hard to ignore the fact that he is paid £25,000 a week to do a job he failed to do in the most important game of his career!

This then creates the question: should being a footballer be considered a job in the first place? It makes us critically consider the effect of increasing amounts of money in the game and how this affects people’s expectations of people playing the game. The pressure this places on people such as Karius to perform and not make mistakes is immense, and I really don’t know how they cope the way they do. Given Karius doesn’t seem to have started too well at his new club either, maybe the effects of these mistakes are going to be career-defining for him.

At AFC Unity, we emphasise the importance of mistakes and how they can be valuable lessons and help you grow as a player and as a person. It’s something professional sports psychologist Dan Abrahams speaks a lot about. But missing a penalty or letting in a howler at grassroots, when you are playing solely for your love of the game, is different to making a mistake that costs you and the people around you money, prestige – and also results in weeks of media abuse. If we make a mistake at grassroots, people can be annoyed, feel sad about it, but ultimately we know there are more important things in life than to worry about that one mistake, and also the ramifications aren’t that bad, as it’s a game that you can’t always win. Can the same be said for professional footballers who have so much more riding on it than we can even imagine!?

Of course, the higher you go the better you are assumed to be and thus the less mistakes there are expected to be. But football being what it is, there always will be mistakes! The problem is that we face a contradiction between expecting perfect performances because the players are paid lots of money to fulfil a job but then equally knowing that sport is a game of mistakes. We can’t stop mistakes from happening in football without turning players into robots; players don’t set out to make mistakes, and also the drama caused by mistakes are partly why we love the game so much!

Lessons from my ACL recovery…

In October 2016, after a particularly physical 11-a-side game, I found myself unable to kick a ball in training, as every time I kicked it it felt like my leg was going to rip in two! This followed several months of my knee buckling on me in games, with it leading me to fall onto the floor a couple of times too. I kept this mostly to myself and strapped it up with some tape hoping it would just get better, which was silly, but I couldn’t ignore the pain I got that training session. Thankfully, an appointment that I was supposed to be having with the physio in December had been moved forward to an appointment with a rheumatology doctor, as they thought looking back on my notes I should see him instead (as I had been to the doctors a few times over the past 2 years or so complaining about knee pain, with several doctors and physios telling me my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) seemed lax). When I saw the rheumatology doctor he pretty much told me that it was a problem with my ACL, and even if it wasn’t and I didn’t have surgery I was out for the season given how poor and weak my muscle were. I was absolutely gutted, that was when it really hit me, before this point a private physio had told me it was going to be around 3 months because of my MCL being torn (which it turns out the MRI showed it wasn’t) and so this was hard to take. I then was sent for an MRI and had to wait for a long time until I got the results. In fact, it wasn’t until after Christmas that I got the results over the phone that I had a chronically ruptured ACL. Thankfully, especially given the chronic nature of it, there was no other damage to the knee. I then had to wait a month or so until I saw the surgeon where I actually saw the state of the damage. This last bit of waiting for the surgery was the quickest as I asked to be put on the late notice waiting list, so if someone else cancelled their spot I could potentially get it instead – which I am thankful for my self-employment for – and I had the surgery 1 month and a bit after seeing the surgeon, with it taking place on the 5th of April 2017. The journey has been a long one, with many ups and downs, and one that has changed my perspective and identity.

I have now been cleared by my physios to start gradually returning to 11-a-side games after returning to full on contact training and so it is a perfect time to reflect on this process with the new year upon us! In this article, I reflect on some of the things I have taken from the process:

Patience

One of the hardest things you learn through this process is the importance of patience and being thankful of every little step forward you take towards full recovery. For me, it took longer than most, as it turns out I’ve been playing without an ACL for some time and given the chronic nature of my injury it took 5-6 months to work out exactly what was wrong with me and get me in for surgery. Those 5-6 months were so much harder and challenging than the months recovering – well mentally that is. I had to learn a great deal of patience as I battled with feelings of utter frustration, immense sadness and anger, as I was in a situation of limbo where I didn’t feel like I could move forward. To deal with it, I did lots of prehab going to the gym several times a week and doing prescribed home exercises 3 times a day. The ACL Club, an invaluable support group, was so important for me during this time too, as I listened to their podcasts preparing myself mentally for the surgery and recovery, and even messaged the ACL Club website before one of my team AFC Unity’s 11-a-side games when I was particularly struggling mentally to face turning up. The support system provided by the ACL Club is something I can’t really put into words and do justice to and would recommend to anyone going through injury recovery.

Humility

Given that you learn how to walk, run, jump and turn again and you need someone else’s help to be able to do basic things such as clean, get dressed, eat and shop for the first couple of weeks or so (or maybe longer), it is a process that really humbles you and really does teach you about the importance of appreciating the things you take for granted and also makes you so thankful for the people that are right there helping you through such challenging times. Little things that I used to take for granted, such as walking, running, jumping, bending down, twisting, carrying and lifting things, dancing, washing pots, vacuuming, putting my clothes away, sleeping comfortably – they were all made difficult or impossible for a certain time in the process, which is why I found the first few weeks actually better than the middle part of the rehab, as the progress and change is more evident, whereas building muscle back is a lot less noticeable for instance.

Isolation

The 5-6 months period where I was waiting to have the steps for my recovery confirmed were the hardest. To deal with the loss of not playing football I started to isolate myself as a player not taking part in activities as a team member. This didn’t help me, and it was due to my partner but also club manager Jay Baker, who was pretty much my rock during this whole experience, that when the new 2017/2018 season started this feeling of isolation reduced as he made sure I took part in as much of the training sessions I could as a player, even if that was just in the discussion element or calling offsides, and this enabled me to feel more like what I did when I played football. Obviously, it’s not the same feeling that you get when playing with your team mates on the field but just being able to take part in trainings, as a player, despite being injured helped so much. It was hard seeing people trial for the club and know that I couldn’t show fully why I should be signed, thankfully I was signed and people were really supportive and never brought up the fact I hadn’t trialled like them up. It was hard though. People might argue, well you are the co-founder of the club so what does it matter – but I have never seen this role as justification for me having any more rights than any other team member. Everyone should be treated the same, as that is a key part of the club’s ethos and identity. My team mates helped a lot with humour and talking to me as a player, not just an injured person on the sideline, and for that I am really grateful to them all.

Support System

Linking in with other themes, it really is a process where you appreciate those people who are there helping pick you up from some really low moments. I can’t thank these people enough, and they know who they are – well they should do! I have learnt a lot through this process about how I will be with others close to me if they experience long-term injuries, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. There were so many people that helped me in different stages of the process and I am grateful to every single one of them. I am especially grateful to my closest family for picking me up in those really low moments I had from time to time. I also want to thank The Office and Parks and Recreation for the important role they had in making me laugh in my low moments – I binge watched The Office often during the initial post surgery process!

Fear of the Unknown

Before the operation I was having a bit of a panic attack from the fear of not knowing what to expect. Suffering from OCD made the whole experience a lot harder really, as anyone who knows the illness understands it comes with obsessing about all that could go wrong to the point it feels like it has actually happened! The ACL Club really helped here, as I put the quote “I cannot control exactly what happens in life, but I can control how I respond to it all. In my response is my greatest power” on the fridge, in front of where I did several of my early rehab exercises. I was obsessed with damaging the graft, and the impact this would have on my life given the time it had already taken to get to the point of being on the recovery journey. Walking into a washing machine and slipping in the street when walking on some soggy cardboard resulted in absolute meltdowns, the fear of not knowing if I had done something and the fear of knowing the set back that would result from having to start again really affected me. Thankfully, I had people around me giving me truth bombs and reminding me that it is all beyond my control and all I really can control is my response to this.

Feeling of Loss

This is a feeling that again was worse before surgery; once I woke up from surgery in the recovery room I was crying because of the immense sense of relief that I felt for finally being on the path to recovery – the pain and medication didn’t help either! This feeling of loss reduced but is something that doesn’t ever truly go away. Low days happen, and a feeling of just wanting to be able to kick a ball again has been difficult to deal with. I think if you can replace the feeling you get from playing football with something else – this is something a lot of people who have gone through this process have found helpful – that is great, but I just couldn’t seem to find something that had the same effect or feeling and there was always a hole that I couldn’t fill. I found the worst times being every Sunday morning, when I would usually be getting ready to play football I was getting ready to watch and times like this were the hardest to keep a positive mindset in. I was glad I went to the games though, I have shared some of my best moments in football on the sideline this last season with fellow players and no matter if you are on or off the pitch you are still a team mate and you want your fellow team mates to do well. The football we have started playing as well has been great to watch.

Reflection

The ACL Club also encouraged the importance of daily reflection in this process. I signed up to the ACL Club Journey Journal where I got regular mailout prompts challenging me to write about different things, such as what keeps me motivated, what I am thankful for and what quotes I can use to aid my recovery. I have completed 4 note books, and counting, of reflections during this process and it has helped me keep perspective when getting frustrated on how far I came, and also helped me process my thoughts and feelings. I really recommend reflection journals if you are going through injury recovery.

Rehab

There is no miracle cure to this process; if anyone was to ask me for my number 1 piece of advice going through this though it would be that you have to work hard, really hard, you have to work hard when you don’t want to too. You have to be prepared to push yourself. I had all my exercises on my phone as notes in a checklist format. For most weeks I went to the gym at least 3 times and up to 5 times, which included a weekly trip to the NHS physio at the Hallamshire. When I woke up from surgery, the first question I asked the nurses was where my exercise booklet the physio gave me before was so I could get started straight away – they told me to relax!

During the first few weeks my rehab was based at home, where I did exercises every hour or so; this included learning how to balance on my operated leg again – the joy that I had when standing on it for 30 seconds was unreal. It also involved regularly stretching my hamstring, trying to encourage the bend to come back in my knee by doing knee slides and also doing my step down exercises, with a stepper I invested in after advice from one of the physios before the operation, 3 times a day to build back the strength in my quad. I also tried to wean myself off crutches – it took me until the end of April until I stopped using crutches – I had a great limp for a good few weeks until I could properly walk again too. I had to do leg extensions using furniture to create a gap that forced my knee down to the floor – to help increase normal movement – which resulted in all the bruising going behind my knee and meaning for a week or so I couldn’t move very well because of the pain in my calf, which resulted in me ringing the surgeon’s team as I was scared of having a blood clot – thankfully I didn’t.

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My home became a gym, with elastic bands tied to furniture to help me do single leg stands working on my balance and control and heel kicks to help my hamstring movement and strength, whilst using footballs against walls to enable me to do squats to build up my lower leg strength and doing hamstring curls on the bed. I iced my leg all the time for the first few months, helping me to get control over any swelling. Ice was the only way I could get out of bed for the first couple of weeks too, as it was too painful to move otherwise.

I gradually increased my programme in line with what the NHS physios said, going to the gym for the first time on the 2nd of May and keeping up going to the gym at least 3 times a week – no matter how I felt – and doing my home rehab pretty much everyday, except Sunday, several times a day.

The first time I ever did the bike I was crying with how much pain I had and it felt like my hamstring was burning when I got off it. I have now got up to a point where I do 10 minutes before every gym session as a warm up. I also did regular hamstring, thigh and calf stretches and eventually when able I started using the foam roller to help with muscle tightness and pain. At the end of June I started the stepper machine at the gym to get used to running, that was one tiring machine!

In mid July I was able to jog again, building up my minutes on the treadmill – that was such a scary but exciting feeling; I felt so vulnerable jogging but also it was so freeing not to restrict my movements the way I had before. It was a very humbling experience. I also around this time started to do some turning and cutting work, getting my knee used to quick movements again. I still feel humble every time I do the treadmill at the gym, as I am reminded of how long it took me to build up to being able to do the 20 minutes I do regularly now.

When running I had to deal with my right arm seemingly sticking in one place. No matter how hard I worked on this it didn’t go away until I returned to football and I started to forget about it. I am not sure why this happened but it made me feel quite rubbish but my physio helped put it into perspective and forget about it. I also tried running outside when I could to get used to uneven ground, also using the opportunity at training and games of AFC Unity to get used to football surfaces again.

At the start, I was on 20/25kg for single leg presses on both legs and I have now worked up to being able to do 60/70kg on both legs! I never had much muscle in my legs before my operation so this has been a real benefit from this whole process. Other things I did to work on my lower leg strength and control included bridging, moving to single leg bridging, single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, hamstring curls, rower, bosu ball squats, alongside using the cones at the gym to work on movement and control.

In September I started jumping, which was the hardest part of the physical rehab process and it is still something I struggle with whilst working on box jumping and single leg jumping at the gym. I also feel very humble and grateful to be able to jump again. It took me a while to trust my right leg when jumping though, and this really was the hardest thing to re-learn. I am thankful for this though as the physios helped me learn about the best way to land, as my landing previously had poor form and created more chance of injury. I practiced this at home as much as I could too. I also worked on turning in the air and landing on my leg after jumping from a box at the gym – I never really mastered this, it felt too forced and made me think too much about my knee and risk of re-injury.

It took me a while to start dribbling again – I started off doing this too quickly and fast because I was too eager which meant I had to not do any rehab for a week because I was in so much pain, especially with my IT band. After rest, I worked up my dribbling from a walking speed over weeks until it went to a normal speed. That was a really hard process but a very rewarding one. To help with dribbling, I found practicing side stepping, cross stepping and doing hip exercises really helped, as it enabled all these muscles and joints that I needed when dribbling to wake up and start moving better – again these were things I did at home as well as at the gym to try and work on this as much as I could. It just required patience.

I had help from Jay, my sister and teammate Claire, and teammates Jodie and Charlotte when it came to getting used to tackling in football again. That really hurt my leg at first but the more I did it the better it felt. As my physio said, you really just need to go for it when doing this, as hesitation or pulling out of a tackle will just make you more likely to re-injure yourself. I really missed tackling during the non-contact phase of my recovery, and will never take the ability to tackle for granted again!

The thing I have struggled with the most is the ongoing nerve damage in my leg, it has had to get used to the new sensations every new exercise and movement created – I still struggle with this but no where near as much as before. My poor bone that was drilled into for the operation also still hurts as it gets used to new loads and impact, again this is something that still troubles me but I know it just needs to get used to things again and get strong again. Patience again is key.

Rehab is also mental as much as it is physical, and this was something I have really benefited from during this experience, as I kept a journal of the process, alongside listening to ACL Club podcasts and studying Dan Abrahams book on sports psychology – all to become a better person, player and also to cope with the mental struggle that came with the injury.

I still continue doing most of these exercises at the gym to keep fit and reduce injury likelihood. I also take my fitness and health much more seriously now and don’t want to be like I was before: weak and unfit.

Opportunity

This injury has certainly changed me as a person. I really got time and space to evaluate quite a lot of things. One of the things I spent time working on is my soccer brain, and Dan Abrahams’ work has helped a lot here. I really got to understand how important the mental side of football is and reflect on how before the injury when I was playing this was the weakest aspect of my game but I never got chance to work on it, but through the injury I got the time and space to really work on this. I definitely see the game differently now.

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Positivity

I found this one really hard sometimes, but staying positive and thinking positively is so important for any form of recovery. I wanted to make sure I projected positivity at all times, even when things were challenging, but I wasn’t always that positive to those closest to me and I am incredibly thankful to those people for putting up with me when I burst into tears like I randomly did, got angry with the situation or just obsessed about my recovery and timescales or whether my graft was in tact! Regardless, I am proud that I kept my rehab up no matter what the mood or feeling – the only thing that stopped me was physical barriers but my rehab was something I importantly wouldn’t let my mood stop!

Learning

I have learnt a lot about myself through this process. I have also learnt a lot about the effects a long-term injury can have. Missing over a year of football through injury isn’t something I wish on anyone, but if it does happen it’s about trying to make the best out of the situation and working on what you can and finding the learning points from the experience.

Be Proactive

Don’t wait for something to happen before you start taking care of your body. The doctor that pretty much told me I had ruptured my ACL, before the scan, did tests on my leg muscles and was astonished at how weak and unconditioned they were. I never took any real care and time to look after my leg muscles or my physicality but this injury has meant that even now I am back I will keep doing exercises that strengthen my quads, hamstrings, calfs and glutes – all so key in protecting the knee. Give your knees the support they need and train those muscles! Don’t think “it will never happen to me” as hopefully it doesn’t, but it could so do all you can to make sure it doesn’t.

Thankful

I am so grateful to all the people that have helped me along the way. The NHS is such an amazing organisation with every single person I have met during this process so incredibly lovely, supportive and helpful – they all need a pay rise and more funding. I am grateful to the people who have listened to me complain, comforted me when I got angry or when I cried and those that have kept me going through making me smile and laugh (including at myself)! Perspective is everything.

Perspective

On returning to non-contact training, after my third session back I lost perspective. I was frustrated at not being able to play at a level I knew I could, passes that I could make before my injury were way off, I couldn’t make any tackles, dribble, shoot – I just felt so frustrated. My knee kept hurting and that added to this feeling. But then after feeling sorry for myself, I remembered how much I would have given just to be able to kick a ball again a few months/weeks ago, and how far I have come. I remembered what Dan Abrahams had said on an ACL Club podcast in that as long as you put in 100% it doesn’t matter if you are 50% of what you can do, it’s going to take time. I remembered that I had to keep a sense of perspective and be proud of getting back into non-contact training and that the rest will follow when I am ready. This was the same attitude I took when returning to contact training – I am rusty and I know it is going to take time to really feel like me again, but how grateful I am to be given this chance to return and play the sport I love. Be grateful, humble, enjoy yourself and keep perspective.

Who I’m voting for: people like me helped let the Tories in after the 2010 General Election

5 years ago, I was a vocal Liberal Democrat supporter and member and even managed to convince people around me generally apathetic and uninterested in politics to vote for the LibDems in the General Election of 2010. 5 years on and I carry the burden of knowing that my vote helped contribute to the misery and pain this government has inflicted upon ordinary people, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with the Liberal Democrats help. This election my principles are important but not as important as the pragmatic reality that without electing the Labour Party on May the 7th 2015 we face a reinforcement and acceptance of a political and economic programme that is undermining all the progressive battles and victories our country should be proud of, especially when it comes to the National Health Service and the Welfare State. People are literally dying and at such times we have to do what we can, here and now, to make things better in the system we have. Under this electoral system the only real choice we face this May is whether we want to reelect the Tories or elect Labour and choose an alternative vision and path.

This is why I will be voting Labour on May the 7th.

I got involved in party politics when I was at College, joining the Liberal Democrats after seeing their progressive looking leaflet that came through our door promising the abolition of things such as tuition fees and trident. It appealed to the inner liberal of me. My first proper PMQs was Tony Blair’s resignation, the Labour government looked tired and the Liberal Democrats seemed fresh and interesting. The Tories didn’t appeal to me, their Social Darwin, small state moralist approach turned me off – I credit my College sociology course and tutor for making me think about the root causes and critically considering the social, political and economic reasons for the problems we face as a society. Sociology should be on the national curriculum.

My support for the Liberal Democrats carried on at University, I got involved in some of the student politics and was even the Secretary of the Leeds University Liberal Democrats society. I campaigned outside the University with a cardboard cut out of Nick Clegg repeating the line “I agree with Nick” trying to persuade students to vote for charismatic Clegg. Despite the euphoria associated with the Liberal Democrat campaign for the 2010 General Election I could sense from the party leadership stance they were more willing to join with the Tories than Labour if it came to the crunch. I was concerned with this given how anti-Tory I was and how anti our policies they seemed to be.

On the 5th of January 2010, I was quoted in an Independent article, “Clegg faces party backlash over Tory alliance”, stating this fear:

UntitledOn the 12th of May 2010, I was quoted in a Guardian article, “Liberal Democrat grassroots sounds unease over Conservative coalition”, commenting on the concerning developments regarding a coalition forming between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats:

Untitled1The Liberal Democrats did indeed join forces with the Tories. With the Liberal Democrats now trailing in the polls often with single figures facing MP loses across the country the party has an uncertain future. I dealt with quite a lot of abuse from members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats when leaving the party but have never doubted my decision or justification for doing so – the experience made me a lot tougher when it comes to political debate too. Every day this coalition government has existed and every day the Liberal Democrats have come out with more Tory defined excuses for the harm and destruction they have caused I realise how right my decision of leaving was and how wrong my vote for them was.

When the Liberal Democrats finally sealed the deal with the Tory party I felt cheated and ashamed that I had supported a party that went and supported everything I thought I was voting against. I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, “U.K. Suggests Electoral Changes”, on July the 6th 2010 and in The Guardian on the 15th of May 2010, “Disillusioned Liberal Democrats desert their party”, about me joining the Green Party after the Liberal Democrats did a deal with the devil:
Untitled2Untitled5I was even cited in a book, Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2011/12, given my decision to leave the Liberal Democrats:

Untitled7I guess I needed a sense of purification after the shame I felt for voting in the Liberal Democrats. It was too soon for me to join the Labour party given that they were in the midst of a Leader election battle that would decide what direction the party would take. The university bubble I lived in also contributed towards my decision to be in the Greens. I lived in a world where I wasn’t directly affected by a lot of the decisions that were to be implemented quite quickly after the Tories got into power. I also had less of an understanding than I do now regarding the way the media affects political life. Whilst it’s important not to lose this sense of fighting for a better world and the belief that things can change, I realised it was important to also be pragmatic and try and do something to create small but effective change rather than nothing and no change.

Whilst at University I was also concerned that student protests were quite single issue and many within it failed to make connections to other issues. The anti-tuition fee demonstrations were valuable, admirable and powerful but I was struck by how college students joining these marches protesting against the removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance were in my experience shut out and quickly left what often turned out to be protests demanding unrealistic things and also how the very people that were leading the student demonstrations and defending violence that broke out also were sometimes the very people that were first to attack those taking part in the London riots. The key difference must have been class. It was okay for middle class students to smash a few things but working class people that had nothing to lose, smashing up and burning private property, were deemed wrong and irresponsible – how stupid were they smashing up their own communities people argued. I was one of the few at the time trying to argue for some context (here for instance).

It was this bubble that began to burst whilst I was writing my BA Sociology University dissertation when I started to understand more about the merits of working and campaigning inside and outside party politics and how context is everything. However, it was my eventual involvement as a Director (from 2010 onwards) and employment (2012 onwards) with SilenceBreaker Media that really changed my view of things. Our work in disadvantaged areas such as Edlington, Doncaster and Thurnscoe in South Yorkshire that were left to ruin by the Tory Thatcher government made me realise how the difference between Labour and the Tories works out as a huge one for ordinary people. One party formed out of ordinary people and has to answer to ordinary people given that they are funded primarily by trade unions – made up by ordinary people – unlike the Tories that have 50% of their funding from the City of London. I did become slightly disillusioned even whilst doing my Masters in Politics with how aloof some of the theoretical arguments were and how exclusive such knowledge and theory was. I did contemplate quitting but I am glad I stuck it out as one of my aims for the future is to try and make key theoretical arguments more accessible for more people rather than just for academics sitting at conferences that cost a few hundred pounds to attend and creating their own exclusive language.

Through working in the community I started to meet more and more people that were directly impacted by the Tory government’s policies, people that were left behind and also people that were falling for mainstream narratives such as there being no money left. I also started to see the impact upon the sector itself and how funding started to become more voucher, market based and the threat leaving Europe has for the social and community sector – this was something I covered in my Masters Dissertation. It’s things such as the repeal of the bedroom tax, attacking the control of private landlords, tackling energy companies and threatening to break up Rupert Murdoch’s media that increasing attracted me to the Labour Party. They sound different to the New Labour era and Ed Miliband talks about taking on vested interests and power. In hindsight, whilst New Labour have a shocking record on tackling private interests and protecting and enhancing civil liberties, they did have a good social and economic record in terms of focusing on helping disadvantaged communities, groups and areas. They have a social conscience, something that is totally lacking from the Tories. It was all this that then saw me join the Labour Party in 2012. Yes, I was asked when I was going to join the Monster Raving Loony Party given the number of parties I’ve been a member of in a relatively short period of time – according to The Sun I’m already in it! You must be doing something right when you’re annoying Rupert Murdoch and he warns that Labour threaten his existence.

Under this Conservative government we have seen food banks rocket, inequality soar with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the NHS is reaching 1990 levels of destruction, the welfare state is being cut back to a point where people are literally dying as they are denied just needed help and they are furthering an ideology with their mainstream media right wing pals that this damaging and depressing direction is the only way. Labour challenge this narrative and Ed Miliband shows in interviews like the one he did with Russell Brand that he is not afraid of taking on powerful interests – so effective that Russell Brand himself is now voting for Labour. There’s no wonder the mouthpiece of the City of London, Financial Times, decides to not back the Labour Party because of their ‘fascination’ with inequality:

UntitledThe Green Party and others are telling people, much in the same fashion as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, that you shouldn’t be afraid to vote for your beliefs and that a vote for Labour is pretty much the same as a vote for the Tory party. There is even more to lose in this election compared to 2010. The Tories are wanting to finish the destruction they have started, we can’t give them legitimacy for this. If the Greens genuinely believe there is no difference then I think they need to study the electoral platforms of the two parties a bit more – Labour would repeal the bedroom tax, repeal NHS privatisation, they would cut by only £1bn over 5 years whereas the Tories would cut by £30bn alongside the Tories finding over £10bn welfare cuts whilst protecting pensions that make up nearly half of benefit spending, “more than the £48.2bn the UK spends on servicing its debt”, the Liberal Democrats would cut by £12bn and the SNP would cut even more than Labour, despite anti-austerity rhetoric, at £6bn. Thus, in terms of the mainstream parties Labour are the anti-austerity vote. Unlike the Tories, the surplus they want to achieve also is not an overall surplus meaning that they want to invest and borrow whereas the Tories have ring-fenced this too so it’s part of the surplus target. The difference between the SNP and Labour is largely rhetorical, and the fact Labour are trying to win seats in England against a right wing media that has helped the Conservatives capture the simple narrative that “it’s Labour’s fault that we’re in this mess” has to be taken into account. The SNP have the backing of Murdoch’s Scottish Sun sister paper who has calculatedly backed the SNP to try and make sure the Labour party aren’t elected.

And no, for the record, it wasn’t Labour’s fault that the international financial system crashed in 2008. It was a subprime mortgage crisis that originated in the US because of the selling of too many mortgages to people that couldn’t afford or guarantee them but through financial products such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, syndicate collateralized debt obligations and special purpose vehicles, risk that the banks thought they had put off their balance sheet came back to bite them – financial institutions across the world had no idea what their debt actually contained given the process of securitization that was supposed to spread risk around the international financial system but rather created the slow down of money circulation because of this lack of knowledge of where the toxic debt had ended up. But how complicated does that sound? How easy is that to explain to people on the doorstep without it sounding like an excuse when the media narrative doesn’t look at this reality?

This is what Labour has to contend with and whilst this Tory government has borrowed more than the New Labour government did across its three terms, we are told that Labour ‘maxed’ the credit card. What Labour did was invest in public services that were crumbling to pieces. There is now a warning that the NHS is returning to these 1990s levels that Labour had to rescue in 1997. This is after average spending on the NHS annually has been the lowest since the 1950s under this government with many feeling such a budget freeze has effectively been a cut given health inflation.

In terms of theory applying to context and being more accesible, Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony argument couldn’t be more relevant as through mechanisms such as the media we are told over and over again that things such as “we have to cut the debt” – despite this not being backed up by facts, for instance after the Second World War when we built the NHS and welfare state the debt was near 250% of GDP whereas now it’s only around 80%! – are universal interests with people consenting to the economic and political policies that are being implemented in the name of national interest. It isn’t a national interest though, it’s something that has been constructed and constantly reconstructed to further the status quo. The power of such ideas is only heightened by people not wanting to take part in the voting process, falling for the idea that their vote doesn’t change anything when it does. In this context, for now, alongside the broken electoral system any chance of voting in a substantial number of Green MPs is considerably low. The Liberal Democrats faced this problem at the last election as whilst their popularity increased they actually saw their number of MPs go down despite a slight increase in their vote share. It’s in this context, with Labour moving towards a more progressive platform, we have to get behind the Labour party and make sure that the Tories don’t get back in. They are the only serious alternative to a Tory government.

Whilst I will be voting Labour, also I’d recommend being smart and if in your area it’s a race between the Tories and someone else and Labour have no chance of winning choose the anti-Tory vote. Obviously, I don’t include Ukip in this – despite pretence, their racist, homophobic and sexist bile is worse than the Tories. You can use the “Tactical Voting Guide” section to this Telegraph article to help with who to vote for in your area to help stop the Tories by simply just entering your postcode. My postcode result backs my support for Labour:

Untitled8So there you go. Please use your vote and help get the nasty party out. They only have their own interests and those of their rich donors at heart. Be pragmatic, realistic and hopeful. The idea of another 5 years of this seriously makes my stomach turn. We really can’t take the result of this one for granted – it’s an election that will really define the narrative and direction of this country for a long time to come.

For more information on what this Conservative government has done over the last 5 years check out the documentary Return to Doncatraz by Jay Baker – I produced, researched and co-wrote this film and also produced the companion book that has a host of facts and analysis that need to be shared as widely as possible to counter dominant myths. The film can be watched here and the book can be purchased here for only £1.00 with all proceeds going back into SilenceBreaker Media, the not-for-profit social enterprise to help with the production of alternative media and distribution of reconditioned low cost computers breaking down digital divides.

My complaint regarding the misleading South Yorkshire PCC postal vote instructions…

When trying to complete my ballot for the upcoming South Yorkshire PCC election on the 30th of October, I had a moment of panic thinking that I HAD to have a second choice. Given my options for this second choice were UKIP, Tories and the English Democrats the idea of putting an X next to any of those hate driven parties was a pretty sickly feeling. After digging around and eventually finding a couple of blogs written about it I realised that I didn’t actually have to have a second choice.

Ballot boxI really shouldn’t have to research online and find out from bloggers whether or not I need to vote for two parties in a PCC election. This shows how badly designed the postal vote is. I consider myself to be one of those people who would be described as being very politically active and it stumped me; I know of others I would describe this way and they were also confused by it and so I imagine it is something that has thrown quite a few people off and potentially distorted the voting so far.

Therefore, I decided to send a complaint through the Sheffield City Council and help raise awareness of this. This doesn’t mean I am blaming the council, it means I think they are the best people to help bring it to more people’s attention and hopefully stop it from happening again and even make more people aware of it before they send their postal vote in or vote on the 30th. I’ve included a copy of the complaint below:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to express concern regarding the wording used on the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner postal ballot paper and the accompanying instructions. The instructions given and also the wording on the actual ballot paper made it look like you had to have a second choice and that also this second choice had to be different to your first.

After researching this online, I found it not to be the case but I know of people who are heavily involved in politics that did think the wording used in the postal ballot meant that they had to vote for two different candidates and thus did so despite not wanting to.

I recommend in future it says clearly on the ballot paper that you have the option of two choices but that you do not need to have two choices. Currently, such wording makes it look like you have to pick two, and frankly given that my other choices were the Conservatives, English Democrats and UKIP the idea of ever voting for any of those turns my stomach.

I hope you make the necessary changes to the postal ballot wording in time for future elections. I imagine the wording is on the ballot for those voting in polling stations on the 30th of October too, so if there is any way to make it clear to voters on this day across polling stations that they do not have to vote twice that would be really useful.

Kind Regards,

Jane Watkinson

Update – 24th of October:

The response to my PCC ballot complaint is very interesting – looks like once again it’s a central government made problem:

“I have contacted our Electoral Services and they have informed me that the wording used and that used on instructions in the polling stations is stipulated by the Police & Crime Commissioner Election Order 2012 and so we have no power to use different wording.”

The act is here (page 86-88 is relevant for instance, providing copies of the ballots): http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/1917/pdfs/uksi_20121917_en.pdf

Update – 27th of October

I was on BBC Radio Sheffield this morning talking about the problems with the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner ballot instructions for the election this Thursday. If you fancy a listen, it starts at around 36 minutes and 45 seconds in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028lmfh

The ongoing power and hegemony of the US…

US hegemonic power is increasingly debated in terms of whether it is still strong or whether it is in a state of decline with the rise of developing countries, the underlying weakness of the dollar and the crumbling legitimacy the US faces as a country on the global stage. However, what recent events such as the international paralysis and inaction towards Israel’s ongoing siege and despairing occupation of Gaza and the West Bank shows is that the US’s power is still strong. index

I studied US hegemony in one of my Politics MA modules at The University of Sheffield finding myself arguing that whilst the US can be still considered a global hegemonic power, it is minimal hegemony based on non-ethical deception relating to the increasing legitimacy crisis of neoliberal policies, especially since the ongoing financial crisis and the rise of developing countries – and related global imbalances – such as China.

In other words, US’s power is based on lies and misconceptions promoted through channels such as the bias media that furthers the neoliberal agenda through institutions such as the IMF or now through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership where US power is still very strong. The ideology of the ‘need’ and ‘naturalness’ of the free market – despite this in reality not really happening, with vast amounts of corporate aid sustaining such ‘free’ markets – is rampant throughout these global institutions as the US as a state still has a lot of international control through such institutions with voting power and veto rights.

Whilst there are challenges to the US dollar in the long-term, there’s not too much cause for concern for now. For instance, China has a weak financial sector and also dollar depreciation would threaten China economically too given their vast amount of US bond holding and China’s use of sovereign wealth funds to increase their power but also vulnerability in the US. There is also the recent development of fracking in the US that will help reduce their dependence on using foreign policy to ensure their economic power, given that petrodollars finance an estimate of 45% of the US’s current account deficit.

Since the Nixon Shock in 1973 the financial markets have grown increasingly powerful, the US has become more and more reliant on finance as a symbol of ‘power’ and ‘success’, as has the UK, and the world has become an increasingly unfair place with US sponsored structural adjustment programmes making sure of this. With such hegemony becomes no responsibility. There is no responsibility from those at the ‘top’ that through ‘innovative’ measures such as Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps created a financial crisis that has been sadly but cleverly blamed on minority groups and ordinary people that had nothing to do with it. The divide and rule tactics have worked on many, and we now are in a system with unsustainable, unequal power divisions with a mass media that deceives and manipulates, and powerful countries that don’t use their power responsibly.

Rather, we see as through the TTIP such countries – despite such hegemony and power – surrendering their soft and hard power to corporates and profit making entities because they ‘need’ to as otherwise we are told that there will be a ‘brain drain’, the economy will stop working. We have to give up accountability, fairness and common sense because this is a ‘natural’ part of ‘globalisation’. Globalisation in this sense being a nice ideological tool to take attention away from the fact that it is a term used to refer to a magnitude of factors that aren’t inevitable, but rather ideological and policy led choices. That is conveniently ignored though when frightening measures such as TTIP are discussed.

Minimal hegemony sees a selfish country having the most international, especially ideological and institutional, power and influence with limited oppositional forces to it. The more the lies are exposed, the more people will hopefully start to realise that what is happening is unfair, unequal and not inevitable and this leads to cracks in this hegemony with the potential of a counter hegemonic bloc there. What this counter hegemonic bloc is, is up to us.

Buying honey products funds exploitation and environmental problems…

We won it for the bees“, Avaaz announced, when Europe banned pesticides. So what’s my problem with this you may ask. Well, as a vegan and related anti-capitalist, banning pesticides misses the underlying source of the problem. That isn’t to say I am all for pesticides; banning them will just not address the real reasons for the demise of bees and why increasingly our food sources are at risk.

So the connection between capitalism and honey bees? Well, it comes down to the connection between profit, exploitation and false needs. We don’t need to eat honey – it is a false need. We trap and exploit honey bees in order to produce endless supply of money, restricting their freedom of movement and even interfering with their living arrangements to increase ‘productivity’ and thus profit, often involving full-time factory based production.

Freedom? Interfering? How? Well, one example is how Queens, despite being able to live for up to 5 years, are ‘replaced’ every 1-2 years by commercial beekeepers in order to “prevent swarming, aggression, mite infestation, and to keep honey production at a maximum“. This relates to commercial suppliers of bees transporting the bees around the world in disgusting conditions. Such travel also spreads diseases, threatening bees. Queen bees, once bought, often have their wings ripped off so they don’t fly away. image-865-full

Some bees are even killed before the winter to increase profits, with colonies killed “in the fall, to extract and sell most of the honey that would have been consumed during the winter months and start with package bees the following spring.” Also, “commercial beekeepers frequently extract [steal] all fall-season honey and then feed colonies either sugar syrup or corn syrup in quantities great enough to provide all the winter food the bees would need.”

Importantly, and this is the key point in terms of ignoring the underlying source of the problems:

While ultimately it seems desirable to have few to no honeybee colonies, in the short-term, the irresponsible behavior of beekeepers is actually increasing their monopoly on pollination. Farmers who used to rely on feral honeybees for pollination must now rent managed colonies. The pollination situation reached a crisis point and honeybeekeepers emerged as the savior when, in fact, they are at the root of the problem. Additionally, the spread of Africanized honeybees will displace European honeybees and threaten the ability to manage colonies easily. Farmers have become dependent on honeybees, but someday soon, beekeepers in some areas may simply be unable to provide colonies for pollination. And, yes, the Africanized honeybee is completely man’s fault–it was accidentally released from an experiment in South America and continues to spread northward….There is ample evidence for the fact that honeybees crowd out not only other bee pollinators, but also birds, honey possums and other insects (Buchmann & Nabham 174-182; Buchmann 129; Sugden 154; Kato et al.)…Loss of the native pollinators would be bad because honeybees only pollinate 16-22% of all wild plants needing pollination (Roubik 169). In addition to the threat from the honeybees, native pollinators are in decline due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, chemical farming, monocropping and insecticides, all of which only exacerbate the competition with honeybees (Sugden 156).

Additionally, more on this important point about there being better natural pollinators than honeybees:

We’ve been tricked into believing that honey is simply a byproduct of the essential pollination provided by farmed honeybees. Did you know though that the honeybee’s wild counterparts (such as bumblebees, carpenter and digger bees) are much better pollinators? They are also less likely than farmed honeybees to be affected by mites and Africanized bees. The issue is that these native bees can hibernate for up to 11 months out of the year and do not live in large colonies. Thus, they do not produce massive amounts of honey. Enter a $157 million dollar a year industry…

So again it comes down to money that the beekeepers make. A classic example of exploitation and the problems when animal interests and human interests, especially false needs and money, cross each other and the consequentially devastating effect this has had on the environment, pollinators and the bee population. The whole process is only undermining natural processes that ensure efficient pollination of food sources that are now in danger. However, as shown by sound bites such as “inspired by the beekeepers“, by Avaaz, the cause of the problems for the bee population and food sources in general have been ignored through a fantastic bit of PR.

Whilst the problems we have got are going to take more than not eating honey, stopping funding such exploitation that is threatening better pollinators is key to us helping tackle such abuse and environmental damage. Banning pesticides will not stop these practices that are based around making more money and profit. Stopping eating and consuming honey is essentially an anti-capitalist practice. If you are against exploitation, false needs and environmental damage you should not eat honey. Honey bees have been truly used and abused, with the ongoing environmental damage, despite the pesticides ban, potentially catastrophic.

Remember:

Approximately one out of every three mouthfuls of food or drink that humans consume is made possible by pollinators—insects, birds, and mammals pollinate about 75 percent of all food crops.(14) Industrial beekeepers want consumers to believe that honey is just a byproduct of the necessary pollination provided by honeybees, but honeybees are not as good at pollinating as many truly wild bees, such as bumblebees and carpenter and digger bees. Native bees are active earlier in the spring, both males and females pollinate, and they are unaffected by mites and Africanized bees, which can harm honeybees.(15) But because most species of native bees hibernate for as many as 11 months out of the year and do not live in large colonies, they do not produce massive amounts of honey, and the little that they do produce is not worth the effort required to steal it from them.(16,17) So although native bees are more effective pollinators, farmers continue to rely on factory-farmed honeybees for pollination so that the honey industry can take in more than 176 million pounds of honey every year, at a value of more than $215 million.(18)

It’s all about making money. Don’t help fund this exploitation and the destruction of the environment.

Sources

Thatcher ‘tribute’: on what she did, believed, and her effect today…

Margaret Thatcher rose to power in the context of a broken down Bretton Woods System, a system that formed after the Second World War in attempts to control the speculative financial flows and an unstable economic order that saw protectionist policies and the Great Depression occur in the inter-war period. With the US unable to withhold the convertibility of Gold and the dollar, however, the ‘Nixon shock’ (1971) saw the end of such guaranteed convertibility, alongside the fixed exchange rate coming to an end by 1973 with the rise of many floating currencies. With this renewed flexibility for the US that remained the reserve currency, able to run up ever-increasing unsustainable debts and deficits, this was accompanied by the rise of new social forces alongside an increasing attack on organised labour and welfare rights that had been won and granted after the Second World War. The rise of the right especially occurred in the UK, represented by Margaret Thatcher, and in the US with Ronald Reagan.

The 1986 Big Bang in London, one of Thatcher’s notable ‘achievements’, alongside the intensification and depth of Wall Street after the 1970s with the development of unstable dollar supply and the US’s special status as the reserve currency saw an expanding, inherently destructive finance sector. There was more and more financial shocks and increasingly bigger state bailouts of institutions that went wrong due to the risk and instability. In 1997, there was the Asian Crisis that the IMF and developed countries tried to blame upon the developing countries’ domestic policies, with the IMF imposing measures that made the crisis even worse in the long-term. However, with the recent financial crisis the developed countries have had to question their own economic ideologies more, with developing countries amassing a great amount of reserves to protect themselves against needing the IMF whilst supporting the US currency with the developing countries’ heavily reliant export model economy. How sustainable such an arrangement is, is up for debate.

It is important to stress this context and how the rise of right-wing Thatcherism and Reaganomics ideology and economic practices utilised such a context to intensify financial dominance, with profits being the thing people wanted, bonuses exploding and an individualistic logic Ayn Rand would have been proud of encouraged from the top down. People were told they were on their own. There was no such thing as a society. As unemployment ballooned, working class communities were shattered and called the ‘enemy within’, hospitals and schools were closed, VAT increased, social houses were sold through ‘right to buy’ so there was a massive shortage of council housing, alongside the Poll Tax, whilst Thatcher extended great support and friendship with a fascist dictator – Pinochet –  alongside terming Mandela as a ‘grubby little terrorist’ and supporting the apartheid regime. These were some of Thatcher’s notable ‘achievements’. 5475_437828659634462_976478196_n

I use achievements sparingly, as people have been referring to what Thatcher did as ‘achievements’. I don’t like the word, as it makes out these were positive things. I see what Thatcher did as a series of atrocities. The same thing happened with Reagan after he died. For instance, Thatcher and Reagan hated gay people. Thatcher introduced Section 28, to stop the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools – it only recently was repealed. Reagan, despite AIDS being first reported in the medical and popular press in 1981, only spoke voluntarily publicly about the epidemic in 1987 by which time tens of thousands of people had died from AIDS. In 1987, the US prohibited AIDS education that ‘encouraged’ or ‘promoted’ homosexuality – similar to Thatcher’s Section 28 introduced around the same time. But like the media within the UK since Thatcher has died, there was no real mention of this in Reagan’s obituaries.

This brings me on to this false pathetic claim that if you didn’t live through something you can’t comment on it. Essentially, this means having an individualistic logic where only anything you directly experience can be commented on. It’s an ahistorical argument where there is total ignorance towards how what Thatcher – and Reagan – did has such a profound influence on who we are economically, politically and socially today. Rather, we have to understand the context to their reforms – so this refers back to the inherent destabilising mechanisms within the Bretton Woods System that relate to the US dominance and ignorance towards Keynes’ warnings regarding the US as reserve currency and also unsustainable trade deficits.

Whilst Labour tried and succeeded in addressing many of the inequalities Thatcher brought in and Major continued, her legacy still has a dramatic impact on who we are today – and even the Labour party with New Labour. We are a selfish, individualistic and apolitical culture that often cares about only themselves and doesn’t have a respect for the legacy of the great struggles that got us the rights we so often take for granted: such as voting. This relates to this individualistic notion that we can’t comment on things we didn’t live in. After all, why would the right want you to see that they have always been on the wrong side of debate throughout history? The current government are also doing things Thatcher only dreamed of and are picking up where she left off, with full-scale privatisation, slashing of state support, social services, and benefits alongside rapid cuts to departments.

It is a selective use of the right wing economic discourse, however, as shown by William Hague’s comment regarding the funeral and how we can “afford” it:

When it comes to money, the rebate she negotiated for this country from the EU has brought us so far £75bn, which is twice the size of our annual defence budget. I think that puts money in perspective … so I think we can afford to contribute to a funeral.

Ok, if we are going to play the numbers game, it was Thatcher’s policies that sowed the seeds for the recent crash and the £1.5 trillion bank bailout. Why should the public, who were not responsible for this, then have to pay for such state support of a corrupt over-leveraged finance sector with benefit cuts, privatisation, housing shortages, financial aid cuts, education cuts, higher tuition fees, cuts in wages and so on? One minute we are told by Hague that cuts are “essential to the future of the country” and then we are told we aren’t actually nearly bankrupt and can afford to pay for the funeral of someone who hated and wanted to destroy the state and all it stands for. This illustrates their selective use of anti-state ideology, as does the state’s continual support for an unsustainable unstable finance sector and their ignorance to the 450% private sector debt as they decided to focus on public sector debt which is around 70% of GDP – when after the war, public sector debt was 250% and Atlee created the welfare state and helped turn Britain around!

There are long-term effects of Thatcher’s legacy all over the world. You look at places such as Russia even, which was ransacked by the Chicago Boys mentality – something Thatcher supported in Chile – after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned, our culture is dominated by egos and individualistic rhetoric which relates to lack of workers’ rights and organisational labour power that only makes it easier for the finance cartel to employ race-to-the-bottom policies with their boys in Number 10 helping them given the Tories get 50% of their funding from the City.

Essentially, this relates to the right-wing media that Thatcher got on with so well, especially Murdoch, and how the media tells us what to care about. The media say that it is not in good taste to even discuss Thatcherism. We are told to ignore what she did, believed and promoted because she’s died, as though that makes someone so much nicer. The respect for all those people she screwed over doesn’t matter. For instance, the BBC are quite happy to play the pro-right-wing Thatcher song, I’m In Love with Margaret Thatcher, but will only play a 5 second clip of the Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead song, despite not being directly about Thatcher nor naming her directly, because of ‘respect’. What the hell. Firstly, not playing a clip when you usually would do is biased as you are changing what you normally would do to keep the right wing, especially those in government, happy. Then, secondly, what about the respect for all those people’s lives Thatcher destroyed? Who cares about them? Those people who died long ago, or who have had so much grief and hardship all over the world because of her policies, ideology and rhetoric. Why aren’t they the focus?

This relates to this idea that we need to respect how she was a strong-willed character. I don’t think her being strong-willed will make anyone feel better in South Yorkshire or in Chile who suffered the abuse and torture of her regime. Equally, I dislike this idea that just because she is a woman that we have to respect her determination and strong will and the fact she got to the top of a male dominated party as quite an ‘achievement’. And for what? Did she help women when she was attacking feminism and women’s rights? Did she care about women when she only ever had one woman cabinet minister? Just because she is a woman doesn’t mean she cares about women’s rights and was a good thing for women.

Relating to the objection to Glenda Jackson’s fantastic speech in parliament when the MPs were wrongly called back, which has only happened 14 times in the last 32 years, with over three thousand pounds travel expenses to use – you can’t complain that people refer to what Thatcher did and believed when they are giving demanded ‘tributes’. The whole point of a tribute is to reflect on what someone did in their life, what they believed and what they wanted in life. All what Glenda Jackson said reflected this, and was right but the Tories just don’t want to hear it. If when I die I have lots of right wingers outside my funeral protesting, I’d know I had done something right in my life!

People have every right to protest, celebrate and be glad that Thatcher is dead. When someone has such horrific, nasty damaging views and helps enact so much grief and travesty onto people around the world through such controversial and hateful determination I can’t see why anyone has any objection to people breathing a sigh of relief. Such relief, is nothing compared to everything she ‘achieved’. What should be happening in a decent society is a whole-hearted criticism of Thatcherism, what it meant and did and its effects upon society now and how we are going to move away from it. Rather, we live in a society where we have an even worse government than Thatcher’s, who hate anyone that aren’t rich upper class white non-disabled men. We have to question how we live in such a society, with so much resources, knowledge and wisdom. We need to use this time to help destroy Thatcherism and its legacy today, whilst giving respect to your ordinary person who is neglected, abused and misrepresented in the mainstream media and in political debates more and more.

I’m telling [my daughter] all about the Thatcher legacy through her mother’s experience, not the media’s; especially how the Thatcher government directly supported Pinochet’s murderous regime, financially, via military support, even military training (which we know now, took place in Dundee University). Thousands of my people (and members of my family) were tortured and murdered under Pinochet’s regime—the fascist beast who was one of Thatcher’s closest allies and friend. So all you apologists/those offended [by my celebration]—you can take your moral high ground & shove it. YOU are the ones who don’t understand. Those of us celebrating are the ones who suffered deeply under her dictatorship and WE are the ones who cared. We are the ones who protested. We are the humanitarians who bothered to lift a finger to help all those who suffered under her regime. I am lifting a glass of champagne to mourn, to remember and to honour all the victims of her brutal regime, here AND abroad. And to all those heroes who gave a shit enough to try to do something about it. – A Chilean who experienced the oppression of Pinochet.

Highlighting misconceptions with the EU In-Out Debate…

Cameron has finally given into the demands from his backbenchers and the growth of UKIP alongside feeding Euroscepticism ignorance within the UK by promising an in-out European referendum if the Tories get re-elected.

I’m not against referendums but voting on membership to the EU is stupid on two counts:1) There is so much ignorance, lies and misconceptions regarding the European Union and the Eurozone, which would only be intensified through right-wing media monopoly 2) The benefits far outweigh the negatives, and gambling with this through a vote is like a game of Russian Roulette.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/05/eu
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/05/eu

Both of these points relate to the differences between the European Union politically and the Eurozone and the related Stability and Growth Pact and the recent Fiscal Compact. The UK are not in the Eurozone and so are not really effected by the Stability and Growth Pact and the recent tightening of these measures by the Fiscal Compact, given that we have opted out of the Euro and probably will never join.

The measures shaping the Eurozone include:

  • The Stability and Growth Pact (1998) was key to setting a debt limit of 60% of GDP and a deficit limit of 3% of GDP: “in general, the debt must be reduced by one twentieth each year. Countries which are already in the Excessive Deficit Procedure because of not meeting the 3% criterion are expected to work towards reducing their debt as well. They have a further three years to meet the 60% criterion after they have achieved the 3% criterion. At present, 23 of the 27 member states of the EU, including Ireland, are in the Excessive Deficit Procedure. Ireland has until 2015 to meet the deficit requirement of 3% of GDP. (In 2012, the target is 8.6% of GDP.) Ireland has until 2018 to meet the debt requirement.”
  • Stability and Growth Pact was reformed in 2011 through the ‘Six Pact’ extending surveillance to macroeconomic imbalances where the potential for intervention to promote liberalisation was intensified through supposed indicators of imbalance used to justify ‘reform’. The 2011 reform also increased pressure of financial sanctions on Eurozone countries.
  • The root cause of the current Eurozone austerity measures is the Stability and Growth Pact, not the Fiscal Compact.
  • The Fiscal Compact extends these conditions so “they further commit to pass a national law or an amendment of the national constitution that limits the structural budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP…For countries with a debt-to-GDP ratio “significantly below 60% of GDP”, the structural budget deficit may be as high as 1% of GDP.” The European Court of Justice can fine offending countries

This is also related to the European Banking Union proposals and development to regulate Eurozone banks and again the UK is not directly affected given its formal opt out from the Euro. However, despite the differences between the European Union and the Eurozone, Cameron utilises the Eurozone crisis and associated fiscal restraints as a way to support his move towards potential European exit for the UK:

Third, there is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems. People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent.We are starting to see this in the demonstrations on the streets of Athens, Madrid and Rome. We are seeing it in the parliaments of Berlin, Helsinki and the Hague. And yes, of course, we are seeing this frustration with the EU very dramatically here in the United Kingdom.

Other parties, including the Greens, have supported the referendum with a similar conflation of the EU and the Eurozone, as shown by the following quote from Natalie Bennett’s recent article on the matter:

So yes for change in Europe – but to a kind of Europe that isn’t a giant institution, bearing down on peoples and nations from above (as it has born down particularly oppressively on the Greeks).

It isn’t Europe as an institution, it is specifically the Eurozone with the related Stability and Growth Pact and the Fiscal Compact affecting countries such as Greece, which this referendum will have nothing to do with given we are not a part of the Eurozone or these related conditions.

The UK has only contributed relatively little to the IMF led European bailouts and has nothing to do with the European Stability Mechanism which is the new permanent rescue fund for the Eurozone countries and future Eurozone bailouts. If the UK cared so much about their money being used to promote austerity why are they committing so much of their own funds to austerity within the UK? Let’s also remember that Cameron’s problem is with legislation such as the Working Time Directive – which we already have a partial opt-out from – that “imposes employment rules such as limiting the working week and giving EU workers a minimum number of holidays each year.” Hardly caring about living standards.

Again, this is another victory for a government that is becoming an ever-increasing specialist in PR. If it isn’t turning a private debt and financial sector crisis into a public debt ‘crisis’ where the public sector, welfare claimants and social services pay for risky and speculative behaviours of the financial crooks, then it is the utilisation of the democratic deficit within the Eurozone – that the UK are not members of – to justify potential exit from the European political union.

Even if we were members of the Eurozone, given the UK’s commitment to austerity and neoliberal measures, we would hardly be able to criticise the austerity measures as Cameron has. Even the IMF have warned the UK about its austerity approach and its need to consider Plan B. The government isn’t listening though, as it harks on about the ‘global race‘. Sure, we should be very critical of it happening in countries such as Greece and Spain, but it can hardly be referred to as a justification for having a vote on European membership given how engrained austerity is within our own country because of the Tories.

So what benefits does Europe bring for the UK?

Many. Yes, there is need for democratic reform to European structures, as there is reform needed to local democracy in the UK, parliamentary structures and electoral systems. But even contemplating leaving Europe with ever-increasing regionalisation doesn’t make logistic sense, and will see the UK become increasingly isolated.

For information regarding the benefits of EU membership have a look at the following links:

http://www.euromove.org.uk/index.php?id=15296
http://tinyurl.com/b4fzhnj
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20412306
http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/human-rights/human-rights/the-human-rights-act/index.php

Crucial benefits include:

  • “Critically, being a member of the EU, the UK is part of the procedure for making the rules and regulations of the single market.  Britain’s seat on the Council of Ministers is essential to enable the UK to put its case on proposed regulations and to argue for reform of existing rules.  Our MEPs in the European Parliament are also important because most of the decisions of the EU require the Parliament’s involvement.  Were the UK to leave the EU but join the European Economic Area (assuming we were admitted to the EEA), we would be bound by most single market rules but have no part in the decision-making process.”
  • “The EU Health Insurance Card is a free card which enables EU citizens to receive emergency healthcare on the same terms as the citizens of the EU country they are visiting (often free).”
  • “In addition to being able to live where they choose in the EU, pensioners can receive their UK state pension wherever they live in the EU.”
  • “The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) has been very important in bringing criminals to justice across Member State borders, preventing the long delays and sometimes politicised extradition processes seen in the recent past.”
  • “One of the EU’s most popular programmes is the university mobility scheme ERASMUS, which enables students and staff to study or work at another higher education institution in the EU.  Over 7,000 British students went universities elsewhere in the EU in 2008/09 and 16,000 students from other EU countries came to the UK in the same year”
  • “Research and development is a growing area of EU activity with substantial sums now spent on collaborative and cross-border research projects.  The UK has been particularly successful in winning research grants from the EU – €2.3 billion between 2002 and 2006.”
  • “Only 6.8% of UK primary legislation and 14.1% of secondary legislation have anything to do with implementing EU obligations – not EU diktats – agreed to, approved of and signed off by UK officials.”
  • Laws such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

If an EU referendum does present itself, we have to highlight the misconceptions, lies and myths circulated regarding the EU and the differences to the Eurozone alongside the real benefits being a member of the EU brings. There already is a sovereignty lock in place where any more transfer of ‘power’ from the UK to the EU will be voted on, taking things to a new level of whether we are even a member of the EU is ill-conceived and not based on logic of the real benefits such membership brings.

What we need to do is campaign against the increasingly neoliberal Eurozone but given we are not a member and given our own austerity measures, this isn’t easy. This is where the real work needs to take place. It is dealing with the Eurozone crisis, something we are not engaged in, that threatens the UK.

David Cameron has even boasted that a two-tier European Union will not undermine the UK after opting out of the banking union, saying:

What you’ll see is a growth of this multi-faceted Europe and I don’t think it’s something we should be frightened of at all, I think we should be very confident.

Similarly, Osborne said that it was “a good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe.” With the expected treaty change required for increased Eurozone integration, this is where David Cameron hopes to change things. He doesn’t intend to attack the Eurozone, rather he hopes to claw back progressive environment, social and employment legislation. Importantly, the issues have to be clear and conflation of key terms and debates have to stop whatever happens.

Reading the Riots Conference Review…

It was only last week that Iain Duncan Smith was yet again forming a correlation, not causation, with the occurrence of the riots. This time, Smith argued that X-Factor was partly the cause of the riots. That’s right. The cause. Now, when I was younger, I was rather glued to the television when X-Factor came on. But now, I see it for what it really is. It’s glorified mass consumption, that removes the talent and meaning behind music to rather commodity, sometimes at the expense of the contestant, representing our instant gratification culture of excess, capital and agonising over becoming a millionaire. For me, rather, X-Factor, like the riots, is a product of a society and culture that has been consistently eroded by successive governments over the last few decades. Whilst Smith was correct in some of his statements regarding X-Factor’s vacuous nature, his analysis was skewed, getting things the wrong way around, as usual.

I wrote at the time of the riots regarding the racism, poverty, social segregation that many people taking parts in the riots experienced. The government wanted to take a different stance, however. They promoted the line that this was a subsection of the population, a small ‘uncivilized’ group of thugs, they advanced a crack down on gangs and social media – two things that The Guardian and LSE study into the riots, Reading the Riots, have found were rather trivial in terms of the cause of the riots.

The Guardian and the LSE hosted a conference regarding the Reading the Riots part 1 publication, with Theresa May and Ed Miliband amongst the attendants. The report is the first real in-depth sociological study into the riots. Whilst Cameron was busy arguing that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality’ and the justice system became dis-proportional with the Court of Appeal arguing that sentences had to be a lot stricter than normal sentences in order to ‘deter’ others, with the recent Sentencing Committee for England and Wales legal guidelines review becoming stricter due to the riots and the potential for curfews to be placed onto areas in case there are future riots, all illustrate the backlash and law and order response the government had/has.Rather than sitting down, talking and listening ultimately to understand why such events could occur, we had the media and politicians teaming up to stigmatise those taking part. They were placed onto a scrap heap of so-called ‘degenerates’.

This heavy law and order, punishment approach was criticised by the report. The Reading the Riots report on the other hand managed to interview 270 people involved in the riots and talk to them about their reasons, experiences – as their voice has been consistently shut out by mainstream channels. With the use of methodological triangulation (qualitative and quantitative methods), the research offers initial data on understanding, not stigmatising, the rioters. For instance, the conference highlighted that despite David Cameron’s assertions that poverty had nothing to do with the riots, the data showed substantial evidence for a casual, not correlative, relationship. Poverty and desperation for wealth given the numerous amounts of constraints and lack of opportunities within society for people not as connected are often reasons many people try their luck on X-Factor, as well.

Paul Lewis talked about the opportunism of the riots – this is something again that relates to the desperation related to X-Factor and its instant gratification culture, encouraged by a society with a ruling elite based on greed, amorality, lies and corruption. Obviously, there are those critical voices of the Daily Mail and such forth that denounce the report as “left-wing claptrap”. Well hardly a surprise. To give the people they base their factitious hyperbole headlines on a voice would produce evidence to the contra and undermine their purely sickening ideological agenda.

Theresa May’s speech was framed by the usual rhetoric of the rioters’ being ‘irrational’ and ‘thieves’. She then claims to be using the study as a way to understand the riots, but you can’t call the rioters ‘irrational’ if you are willing to try to understand their rationalisation – the point of the study. It’s a prior undermining of the study’s findings! She annoyed the audience when claiming “The riots weren’t about protests, unemployment, cuts … They were about instant gratification.” Well, as I have been trying to illustrate with the X-Factor example, instant gratification culture relates to aspects such as protests and unemployment through the sheer ideological callous nature of this government’s economic political policies that are destroying the communities, mainly of the poorest. Instant gratification has been nurtured by a world in where bankers receive excessive bonuses for screwing over the country. A culture where people spend a few months in a talent contest and receive a million pound record deal. These are therefore surface events that reflect an underlying structural deficiency in democracy, fairness and equality. In other words, by blaming instant gratification May ignores the reasons for why we have such a culture; social and economic neoliberal policies, that is.

Regarding Theresa May’s announcement of a review into Stop and Search powers, it’s hardly going to be a revelation given the amount of criticism over years the powers have received, alongside promises from various politicians that the powers will be dropped, or restricted. As has been widely reported, there was a great deal of anti-police sentiment amongst the rioters. May pretty much defended the Stop and Search powers in her poor speech. One wonders why she even bothered turning up – she could have simply submitted an earlier speech on the topic, as the findings of the study clearly mean nothing to her and her millionaire out of touch friends. She even went against the study’s findings that gangs had NO significant effect upon the riots, arguing that we should be listening to victims not rioters (going against the entire meaning of the study) and that the government will press ahead with their anti-gang strategy, alongside supporting the court’s tough punishments. I repeat; why the hell did she even bother to go? She learnt nothing. The government learnt nothing. They don’t care. As long as they have their millionaire bubble. As Julia Urwin said, “if we say that any understanding of why people did it is only an excuse, we are really missing the point.”As the conference also pointed out; what about rioters as daily victims themselves of a political and economic agenda?

Jokingly referring to Theresa May as a ‘warm-up act’, Ed Miliband was better when it came to the content and tone of his speech alongside accepting questions at the end of it. Miliband criticised the view purported by the government that the riots were a result of ‘pure criminality’. There was a lot of emphasis upon values and morality, what this means in practice is hard to tell. Furthermore, he also backed the harsh sentences of the rioters. Whilst he addressed issues such as a living wage, as expected there is a genuine inability to connect the dots across the mainstream political channels. These riots are a consequence of a system that is beset with corruption, greed, conflict and where the ruling elite perpetrate their ruling agenda and ideology to the detriment of the mass majority. The study is a good building block to illustrating these problems, and I look forward to phase two of the study.