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Power Dynamics

New Labour’s Legacy

Results from recent regional and local elections should bring a few cheers to those, like me, who have long distrusted New Labour. While the letters in Tony Blair nearly form an anagram for Tory Plan B (if we replace i with p), David Cameron certainly follows in the deceptive footsteps of our Tone, as the gutter press once affectionately referred to the current prime minister. In Scotland the SNP has done surprisingly well, but thanks to last minute scaremongering by the terrible twins of the Scottish tabloid press, the Daily Record and Scottish Sun (both fervently anti-independence and ultra-Blairite) and possibly a wee bit of election rigging here and there, New Labour have just one fewer MSPs than the minority SNP administration. In Wales Plaid Cymru have made impressive gains outside their traditional heartland, but once again New Labour has hung on with the prospect of a coalition with the LibDems. So basically despite New Labour getting just 27% of the vote nationally, it's business as usual for the Blairite agenda. However, one thing is certain New Labour's lead actor is moving on to pastures new as a keynote speaker on the US conference circuit. More important New Labour under Gordon Gold-dumping Brown may well not win the next election, paving the way for Mr Cameron's entry into the world of international theatrics.

To understand New Labour's legacy we need not look so much at the legislation they did pass, some mildly positive such as devolution for Scotland and Wales or the introduction of the minimum wage and some negative such as greater surveillance of private citizens, but at their role in enabling the underlying socio-economic and governmental trends that have transformed our society. All these trends trace their roots to changes that took place long before Tony Blair had even become leader of the Labour Party, the unrestrained consumerism of the late 1980s, which in turn had been a reaction to the pessimistic realism of the late 70s and early 80s. The early Thatcher government preached "back to the basics†at school, better housekeeping with large reductions in social welfare spending, privatisation and high interest rates forcing thousands of traditional manufacturers into liquidation. For a few short years some on the left saw this as a sign of the final collapse of British capitalism. Gone were the days of jobs for life handed down from father to son, tight-knit communities built around single industrial activities like car manufacturing or coal mining. We saw the birth of a new service-oriented economy centred around the naked accumulation of capital and the shameless promotion of a consumerist lifestyle. Of course, the welfare state of the 60s and 70s did not disappear, it simply adapted to a new era and to meet new challenges. Indeed after the initial Thatcherite shock therapy, the Tory establishment began to sing a more reconciliatory tune. Despite the worst fears of some pundits state education and the beloved National Health Service survived the Thatcher and Major years albeit with a steady drift towards private provision, but few doubted where the Tories' true allegiances lay.

So what are the greatest achievements of Tony Blair's junta:

  • Transfer of interest rate varying powers from a nominally elected Chancellor of the Exchequer to a bunch of unaccountable bankers at the Bank of England. How anyone could spin this as mildly progressive is beyond me, yet Blairites and Brownites alike frequently cite this as the foundation stone of the period of unprecedented consumer growth that followed.
  • Introduction of tuition fees for higher education, while simultaneously encouraging corporate and state entities to require degrees from everyone from hairdressers to environmental safety officers (read refuse disposal workers) and promoting absurd Mickey Mouse degrees.
  • Selling half of the UK gold reserveswhen the yellow metal was at an inflation-adjusted historic low, leading to a temporary boost for the US dollar,weakening the Euro and losing over £2 billion in 5 years .
  • Deregulating TV advertising and allowing the merger of major commercial networks.
  • Granting planning permission to large supermarkets to open more and large superstores, further eroding the dwindling market share of independent family-run stores.
  • Deregulating gambling and booze.
  • Deliberately subverting EU attempts to regulate adult pornography, gambling and violent video gaming, both multi-billion pound industries linked to UK businesses though often officially based abroad.
  • Regulating the culturally ingrained habits of millions of private citizens such as smoking.
  • Increasing surveillance of private citizens.
  • Overseeing a huge rise in the prescription of psychoactive drugs for mood disorders, while co-financing the promotion of new personality disorders.

Austere back-to-basics Thatcherism transitioned seamlessly to Cool Britannia Blairism, a non-entity as Anthony Blair himself has no real convictions other than his career, through the medium of MTV-style culture. Millions had been conditioned to associate homophobic, Tory-voting, church-going besuited businessmen with the old guard, and thus positively welcomed the new guard of casually dressed supercool metrosexual advertising execs. People see these products of the nouveau riche as somehow progressive, reminiscent of rebelliously philanthropic movie stars re-enacting the cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. If there is any remnant correlation between conservative values and tastes and class, then we'll find much more old-fashioned mores among the provincial working classes and lower echelons of the traditional managerial classes, than among the emerging globalised ruling elite, stretching from Glibraltar-based gambling tycoons to CEOs of funky new media companies. The money is in fun culture, not in what we tend, disparagingly, to call Victorian values. Apparently it is easier to manipulate the masses if they are lulled into a false sense of joy and diverted from critical analysis of the doctrinal system. For some progress is measured in terms of the effective presentation of abstract rights and outlawing outmoded nasty habits and pursuits. So if progress means gay marriage, smoke-free pubs and an end to fox hunting, you'll be superficially pleased with New Labour's record. Instead we have dysfunctional family units with kids increasingly isolated, over five million adults on psychoactive drugs with side effects far worse than cigarettes and nearly one billion animals slain every year to meet our voracious demand. In this context New Labour's progressive achievements are very minor indeed and pale in comparison to their services to the US-centred corporate and military establishment, especially their friends at GSK, Tesco, BA Systems and KPMG to name but a few.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

The Misery Industry

In the run-up to New labour's historic 1997 electoral victory, thespian extraordinaire Tony Blair launched his rallying soundbite "education, education, education". Any brief exposure to modern teaching techniques as they have continued to evolve since would reveal the necessity to revise that slogan to "edutainment, edutainment, edutainment" .

Outside the bustling edutainment sector with semi-privatised unis offering students free I-pods and advertising the prospects of vibrant night life and casual sexual encounters, the biggest boom sector under New Labour calls itself the entertainment industry. The figures are quite staggering, but hard to quantify. The components of the entertainment sector span multiple traditional categories such as alcoholic beverages, electronic media (movies and games), retail, catering, gambling, sports and leisure, covering anything from a ten-pin bowling alley to a nighclub, a TV broadcaster to an electronics retailer, a Laser Quest virtual shooting centre to theatres now frequented only by the more educated chattering classes. According to Prospects, the official guide to post-graduate employment ( Prospects: Sport and leisure ), 13.5% of the UK work force are employed in the leisure industry accounting for 10% of the economy, excluding the mass media, an additional 0.6%, and entertainment-oriented retail sales. Now just consider that much of the remaining population work in other branches of the non-essential service sector, whether in administration, finance or advertising.

British students have long had a reputation for drinking, but I seem to recall back in the 1980s not many could afford indulge in nights out on the town more than once a week unless they had another source of income. Social life would revolve around the student bar and many would spend most evenings in swatting over their course work. Fast forward to the 21st century and student life has morphed into a non-stop partying session. Every lunchtime by the entrance of an image-obsessed Leeds Metropolitan University students earn a little extra cash to promote local night clubs, often performing stunts reminiscent of yesteryear's protesters. Even among teaching staff Curtis White's Middle Mind, the deluge of junk information that overwhelms what little remains of our independent imagination, dominates discourse. Hollywood movies, game consoles, commercial Websites, moronic TV, multi-millionnaire celebrities, consumer goods and the occasional pub crawl, interpolated only by the news agenda set by large corporations. Not surprisingly the aforementioned edutainmental establishment offers a BA Hospitality Business with Club & Casino Management . It's probably only a matter of time before they add Brothel Management to their repertoire. Welcome to Air Strip One anno 2006, where spending countless hours immersed in realistic simulations of death and destruction is apparently considered normal, indeed so normal that anyone who dares to question the morality of this pervasive pursuit awaits social exclusion, except in the safe confines of like-minded non-gamers. So they want to censor violent content from Youtube, but have they considered pulling all first-person shooter games from stores frequented by millions of young chiidren, often strategically located at kid height? No, it seems the only depravity they want to censor is that disseminated by ordinary folk, while respected corporate and state institutions fill our minds daily with the most abject technicolour vileness.

Regulating the Poor and Deregulating the Rich

If one trend were to summarise the Blair agenda, it is this. Give big business carte blanche to hook millions on their mind-altering pursuits and carcinogenic products, while imposing ever-greater restrictions on the freedom of private citizens, for their own benefit naturally.

Tobacco shares are probably not a very good buy just now as smoking has just been banned in all public buildings in Scotland and this ban looks set to extend to England next year. Revenue in public houses may decline at least in the short term in some deprived areas, but all is not bleak on the entertainment front. Apparently GSK and Aventis stand to profit enormously from the growing rate of prescription for their anti-depressants, if you're an investor follow my advice, sell tobacco shares and buy pharmaceuticals. Other opportunities loom on the horizon with considerable growth in the gambling sector, which will in turn fuel sales of both alcoholic beverages, party drugs and antidepressants. Prospects look good for the burgeoning debt relief and cash conversion business.

It may seem odd to some that the same government responsible for restricting the freedom to smoke in the name of public health, has extended pub opening hours, deregulated gambling, let the NHS dispense ever growing numbers of SSRI's (Prozac-like antidepressants) and Ritalin and oversee an explosion in the use of ecstasy in discos, night clubs and raves.

Evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease is quite compelling, but clearly it is not the only factor determining good health and longevity. Indeed some of the countries with the highest smoking rates such as Japan, Spain, France and Greece also have some of the highest life expectancies. May this have something to do with diet and lifestyle? So if you smoke 20 a day and eat junk food, it's kicking the latter habit that will statistically contribute more to lengthening your lifespan.

The whole point is it's none of the government's business to dictate such lifestyle choices, as long as citizens are well informed, are not under social or commercial pressure to adopt high risk habits and are protected against predatory and deceptive business practices.

However, the prevailing trend is to deregulate big business letting it make new inroads into the addiction sector, leading in years to come to a growing incidence of psychological problems. The same government that highlights the dangers of smoking, despite still getting huge revenues from the sale of tobacco, cohorts with its corporate friends in downplaying the adverse effects of of gambling, SSRIs, carginogenic food additives (i.e. aspartame contained in most deceptively labelled sugarfree or "no added sugar" drinks) and violent video games, all multibillion pound industries and an integral part of many young people's lives.

Consider the aspartame controversy and bear with me before you see the parallels with the tobacco controversy of the mid 20th century and its wider implications for manufacturing and controlling pleasure. There are broadly speaking three perspectives on the dangers of this pervasive sweetener. The industry has long claimed its safety is backed by research and may only pose a risk for minority groups such as phenylketonuriacs (PKU sufferers). Many aware of the alleged dangers, but regular consumers of products containing the substance, simply view it as a potential risk that may only affect them at extraordinarily high levels of consumption. They see millions consuming aspartame-containing products with no immediate side effects and even minor one benefit, aspartame does not rot your teeth as much as sugar (but other ingredients in fizzy drinks still do). Third a small minority avoid all foods likely to contain the substance because copiuous research suggests that the substance is a carcinogen even at normal levels of consumption (e.g. 3-4 aspartame-sweetened drinks and a packet of aspartame-sweetened chewing gum a day). Now if the third group were just a bunch of ill-informed conspiracy-theorists and aspartame were truly safe, you'd expect the industry to proudly and unashamedly advertise the fact. Coke Zero would be rebranded Coke Extra, now with aspartame instead of tooth-rotting sugar, Tookthkind Ribena (which incidentally still contributes to tooth decay even without added sugar) would inform parents in large print Now with added aspartame for your child's benefit. Instead we are entertained with misleading labels such as sugarfree (i.e. always contains aspartame) and no added sugar (probably contains aspartame), while the corporate health media do a little aspartame promotion by simply warning of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption, usually without distinguishing different forms of sugar (glucose, sucrose, lactose and fructose) or the fact that our body needs some sugar, a fact testified by the presence of lactose in maternal milk and fructose-containing berries in the paleolithic diet of our forebears (though later we acquired a much a sweeter tooth). Now cast your mind back to the 1940s when copious evidence available then not only linked tobacco with lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but proved its addictiveness. It took the tobacco industry 50 years to admit the health hazards of their lucrative products. Of course, in the meantime not all regular smokers dropped dead instantly and, ironically, mean life expectancy continued to rise. Many lived into their 70s, 80s or 90s despite their tobacco vice, while others who died early of lung cancer or heart failure had their illnesses attributed to other causes. Indeed smoking among the working classes only gained its quasi-universality in the aftermath of the 1914-18 Great War with millions returning from the trenches as nicotine addicts. Now what if, as some research would suggest, aspartame at normal rates of consumption is as carcinogenic as smoking 20 cigarettes a day? If that turns out to be the case, industry and government standards authorities would have misled the next generation by getting them hooked young with their sugarfree diet-conscious drinks, specifically targeted at kids. Since the introduction of aspartame into the food supply in the mid 1980s the incidence of diabetes and childhood obesity has skyrocketed and, ironically, per capita sugar consumption has declined. Yes the biggest rise in longevity occurred in the 1960s and 70s when over half the adult population smoked and almost everyone took sugar with their tea or coffee, but most had at least one square meal a day served at home on the dining room table rather than microwaved and consumed on the sofa before a 40" plasma screen. If aspartame has no other side effects, it makes otherwise boring food much sweeter and yummier, acting alongside MSG (monosodium glutamate) as a major appetite enhancer and encouraging a predilection for hyper-sweetened foods. If you're worried about sugared tea or coffee rotting your teeth, simply get used to taking these beverages unsweetened! If your waistline concerns you, why not just cut down on cakes and dairy products. But in a society that buys into the myth of a free lunch, we believe we can indulge without consequences and technology will always come to the rescue.

What's wrong with having fun?

Ask a stupid question and you'll get a stupid answer. We all aspire to enjoying life, but a better question would be: Why do we need such high doses of frivolous amusement to stay emotionally afloat?. If commercialised leisure centres, home cinemas and a never-ending drone of fast-beat dance music in stores and bars made us so happy, why are so many of prone to depression? Now imagine looking forward to a quiet walk in the park with a half hour break to read an enthralling novel only to find a bunch of twenty-somethings holding a daytime rave completely oblivious to your desire for tranquility? It soon becomes clear that the ecstatic joy of the few leads to the misery of the many, either because they cannot emulate the sexually appealing and self-confident charm of successful revellers or because they feel undermined or threatened by their mindless hedonism. How many of us have been to discos, nightclubs or on pub crawls, only to return with a huge hole in our bank balance and hangover, in the vane hope that the disinhibition and stupor that booze and loud music invoke will revolutionise our social life, help us meet a dream partner or at least lead to a desperate one night stand? If you thought everyone else out there was having a whale of a time in the brave new world of post-industrial pleasure, think again. Most are at home glued to the TV, bidding on ebay, immersed in a virtual word of fantasy battles or maybe amusing themselves with titbits from www.youtube.com. We are presented with a dazzling spectacle, whose primary purpose is to distract us from leading fruitful and rewarding lives, the only source of long term happiness for those of us unlucky enough not to win the lottery. Once distracted, our animalistic behaviour can be monitored and and our lives more pervasively controlled. For if adults can be mesmerised into behaving like spoilt children on steroids, some will inevitably overstep the mark and require 24/7 surveillance, enabling the corporate and state establishment to clamp down on its real enemies, sober critical thinkers.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Dear Tony

In all honesty, hand on heart, do you seriously believe the main motivations of the US administration behind the occupation of Iraq were to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction, overthrow a tyrant, combat terrorism or spread democracy? On these counts your mission has failed dismally. The world is still plagued by WMDs, terrorism and state repression. Gross violations of human rights and economic misery are still rife in Iraq. More important the so-called Coalition's notion of democracy is demonstrably an utter sham. Only compliant governments will be tolerated. Can you seriously dismiss voluminous empirical evidence linking US foreign policy to direct or indirect control of the world's fossil fuel resources?

The timing of the US-led invasion of Iraq coincided with the key Peak Oil event. From now on oil will become scarcer. If only the US and UK governments had invested 120 billion US dollars in the development of renewable forms of energy and a transition to a more sustainable world with a much lower level of material consumption, you might have saved millions of lives.

Instead your verbal actions and utter mendacity have merely empowered a voracious global elite. As snippets of the truth emerge amid a fog of lies and deceit from the corporate and state media, your place in history will be set alongside the new century's greatest war criminals. By harking on about Saddam Hussein's crimes, you vainly hope we will forget yours. The fact remains that not only did Saddam Hussein enter politics as a CIA asset, not only did your corporate backers arm his regime back in the 1980s, but without the spectre of Saddam (as you like to call him), the invasion of Iraq could never have been justified. Let us remember that a permanent US-led occupation of the Middle East has long been the end game.

Yours sincerely

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

Dear Blairite MP,

Dear Ms Rachel Squire,

The record shows that you have consistently supported the government on matters of war. In my humble opinion, all recent military interventions have directly inflicted death and destruction and sown the seeds of more interethnic violence. I doubt you have time to investigate the complex history of foreign involvement in civil wars still raging or simmering in Afghanistan and the Balkans, so let us consider the government's stated aims and its true motivations behind the recent invasion of Iraq, which you supported wholeheartedly.

So far, five reasons have been given to justify an expenditure of $120 billion, money - I hasten to add - that could work wonders if invested in sustainable development in the world's poorest countries. All prove fallacious under closer scrutiny.

  1. The pre-invasion Iraqi regime had weapons of mass destruction. We now know it did not, but any chemical and biological weapons it might have had were remnants of stock supplied in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan's and George Bush Senior's administrations, under which many members of George W Bush's cabinet worked, had friendly relations with the Baathist Regime. Key evidence publicised by the mass media, in particular, the Sun and Daily Record read by many traditional Labour voters here in Scotland, proved to be based on false evidence.
  2. Saddam Hussein collaborated with Al Qaeda. Utter nonsense, not a shred of evidence. The only real link between the two is that the US government supported them in previous guises in the 1980s.
  3. We need to impose democracy on the region by overthrowing a brutal dictator. That Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator is beyond dispute. But he would never have gained power without US support. More important, by democracy the US administration clearly means compliance with the dictat of unaccountable multinationals. Most of Iraqi industry has already been privatised and the oil ministry will continue to work under the watchful guidance of US-based oil corporations and be required to pay off debts that date from the 1980s war with Iran.
  4. By removing an inimical regime, the world will be a safer place. Clearly fallacious, no-one outside a small pro-US or pro-Israeli elite seriously believes Iraqis will have any effective control after the staged handover of power on 30th June. The newly appointed prime minister Iyad Allawi is a former CIA and MI6 asset (very much like Saddam Hussein).
  5. Iraqis will benefit from greater economic prosperity. Actually, despite the war with Iran and despite the regime's undeniably repressive nature, the 1980s marked the heyday of the Iraqi economy as a sizeable proportion of oil revenue filtered back into the economy. The 1990s witnessed a collapse in oil exports (to less than 1/4 of the previous level) and a harsh sanctions regime, that both Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck have described as genocidal.

Yet while Labour MPs such as yourself fell victim to a campaign of deception, the world is experiencing another crisis, much bigger and more dramatic in scale than the threat posed by any dictator of a medium-sized nation. In one word, OIL. Our economy depends on material growth, which is rapidly outstripping supply. Recent price rises are but a foretaste of things to come. We'd need hundreds of thousands of wind turbines blighting our landscape to substitute a sizeable fraction of the energy we get from fossil fuels. Other alternatives such as nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, biodiesel etc. all have their limitations. Hydrogen is but a carrier requiring electricity for electrolysis from water or fossil fuels. Cold fusion is at best 30-40 years from the making and at worst a myth that contradicts the laws of thermodynamics.

In short control of the world's last plentiful and cheap supply of fossil fuels in Iraq and neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Iran plays a pivotal role in the continued supremacy of a world order centred around US multinationals. The evidence linking leading members of Bush regime to the oil industry is compelling. The Project for a New American Century urged the occupation of Iraq back in the mid 1990s. Indeed it has long been their intention to create a situation, in which the US could justify a permanent presence in the region. IN this context one understands much more lucidly the role played by the infamous Saddam Hussein. First they armed his regime, next they tricked him into invading Kuwait, then they imposed sanctions against his people while ensuring his regime stayed in intact and lastly they occupied his country less than two years after a terrorist attack on the US. Without Saddam Hussein none of this would have been possible.

It seems blatantly clear to me that the last thing the corporate powers behind Tony Blair's leadership want in Iraq is for the people of the Middle East to control their own destiny. Thanks to your vote, millions more will die in a long and protracted war that will dwarf the US misadventure in Vietnam. More to the point the real reasons for this war, greed and control, go against everything the Labour movement has ever stood for.

I invite you to justify your stance and debate the issue at a time and place of your choosing.

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