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Train coming round the bend… August 29, 2016

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Entertaining to see today a bit of a push back on the Corbyn/Virgin train story. Now, one can suggest that the original photo of Corbyn was perhaps over-egged by those around Corbyn, but… in the long run how much damage is it going to cause when one reads reports like this from the Guardian that Virgin breached its own guidelines:

The decision by Virgin Trains to release CCTV images of Jeremy Corbyn on one of its services after he complained on video about the journey being “completely ram-packed” was in breach of the company’s own policies, the Guardian can reveal.
The company handed images, which appeared to show the Labour leader walking past empty seats before sitting on the train’s floor, to the media earlier this week in a move that embarrassed Corbyn.

And, and this is important:

The party leader’s claim was derided, with accusations that he had lied about how busy the train really was.
However, leaked emails reveal that the managing director of Virgin Trains East Coast told staff that the controversy had highlighted how crowded services can be, and that finding seats could make customers anxious and stressed.

This could be a fortuitous escape. What it underlines though is the absolute necessity for not allowing any hostages to fortune and/or a media that is only straining at the leash to attack Corbyn. One can be sure they will be only too eager to put the tag of hypocrite around his neck. It’s essential to avoid that happening, not least because he comes across as measured and thoughtful and principled. Those aren’t insignificant virtues in this day and age.

The terrain on which the left should contest? August 29, 2016

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I like Paul Mason and I tend to agree with much that he writes in this piece here on the Corbyn leadership issue, particularly on why Corbyn is in a vastly better position than Michael Foot was, and how the 2010s are not the 1980s. That said I would raise a question mark over two points. First he writes that:

By contrast, today neoliberal capitalism is busted, discredited and on life support. The whey-faced remnants of “old Toryism” may have crowded around the cabinet table, but their free-market philosophy has come apart. The fact that people are flooding into a left-led Labour party, not out of it, is evidence of a search for answers among broad sections of the population.

I’m not sure that’s as self-evident a proposition as it may seem to him from where he is positioned in the UK. Yet that is surprising in itself. The government of the UK is a Tory majority government currently riding high in the polls and likely to win the next election (and always was either with or without a Corbyn leadership, ‘dissident’ BLP MPs take note). The broad tropes of neo-liberalism remain in effect, the parties that supported them whether enthusiastically or unenthusiastically likewise. In our own state Fianna Fáil are likely to head the next government. That’s no breach with neo-liberalism. Germany, Spain, etc. The United States. The governments in all those states may or may not buy into unfettered neo-liberalism but they are broadly what once was termed ‘centre-right’ to right. Those opposing them appear more fragmented. And that’s because, well, they are.

Now this may all change. We’ll see. But I would be cautious about the potential for transformational change at this juncture and for quite some time to come. I’d even be cautious about the idea that populations have abandoned their willing or unwilling attachment to the nostrums of the centre right and right. Again, we’ll see. I hope Corbyn and others can shape out a space that was once ‘traditional’ Labour, left social democrat and pushing leftwards again. That is key. But the possibilities even in that context are limited. Britain didn’t opt in the 1940s or 50s or 60s to go left again. Why it would do that in the 2010s or 20s is not entirely clear to me.

The second point I think needs teasing out further is as follows:

The next most obvious difference is the absence of what we used to call the “industrial struggle”. It has been invigorating to see the Deliveroo drivers on wildcat strike, together with migrant hotel cleaners, train guards and junior doctors all in a single summer. But the leftism we carried with us into the Winter Gardens in 1980 had its origins in the syndicalism of ordinary workers in the 1970s. To the shop stewards I met in the years between Benn’s 1980 speech and the miners’ strike, Labour politics were a sideshow.
The unions had achieved control of many workplaces and – it seemed – could go on calling the shots. In the year Benn made his electrifying speech, the steelworkers’ union had just won a double-digit pay rise in an all-out strike. To the wider left, of shop stewards, feminists, black community activists, a group such as Militant – which had moulded its entire practice, and even its clothing to conform with the dreariness of internal Labour life – seemed irrelevant. Its claimed membership of 2,300 in 1981 – out of 348,000 – sounds about right.

And:

Today, work is much less central to the left project, and for a variety of reasons. It is precarious, hard to organise. Also, the things the left wants to achieve have become more social, less industrial. There is, on the left, an implicit understanding of political philosopher Toni Negri’s claim: that the “factory” is now the whole of society, and the subject of change is everybody – especially the networked youth.

And yet that’s to ignore one major point about working lives. Most people still work in workplaces. The imbalances of power relationships persist in most of those workplaces. They have, indeed, hardly changed and in some marked instances worsened. Moreover this is the focus of peoples lives to a continuing extent. This is where people troop off of a morning and return of an evening. They spend most of their conscious hours there. That experience has not changed for the vast majority of people even if forms of work have for some.

The idea the left is withdrawing whether actually or just conceptually from engagement on that terrain concerns me deeply. Even the simple reality of unions organising, however well or poorly, is crucial in workplaces. Because unions, even the compromised vehicles that they often are, are a secondary focus of power and even on the most banal level necessary for those in workplaces to have in their corner, before we even reach the broader socio-political and economic goals that we seek.

He mentions the following,

I do not recall many of the miners and engineers who fought for Tony Benn as deputy leader in 1981 being existentially devastated when he narrowly lost. They knew this was just a warm-up for the decisive battle, which would happen in barricaded pit villages four years later. This generation, by contrast, understands that the most revolutionary thing you can do to neoliberalism is to put a party in government that dismantles it.

But the decisive battles are both the larger struggles and the smaller ones. It cannot be either or. The day to day grind of organising and pushing back in work places has to continue if only to offer the hint of an alternative to workers. After all, there’s a flip side to the idea that the workplace is less important. What has replaced it? It would seem to me an atomisation has replaced it. The domestic space – for obvious reasons – isn’t a substitute. Too many distractions. The hope that people will attend meetings, become active? That seems to me to be near enough utopian having been involved at the hard end of that myself across the last couple of decades.

And what of those who are in workplaces? Recently I was talking to someone whose partner works for a utility (not water). They’re at the domestic end of it, checking up on installations inn peoples houses. But they’re not employed by the utility directly but by a subcontractor. The work is tough, various detritus has to be moved in order to gain access to the installations. The targets set by the utility are near enough impossible to reach and the sub-contractor has terminated the contracts of a number of employees who made this point. Those working for the sub-contractor are non-unionised (and the sub-contractor is a wing of a non-Irish based company).

Add in precarious rental situations and low incomes and what we have is a perfect storm. People whose lives are constrained by lack of money, insecurity and jobs which demand too much of them.

There’s a decisive battle to be played out right there. And a left that isn’t in there attempting to improve the situation of those workers while simultaneously attempting to shift matters leftward on a broader level isn’t much of a left at all in my view.

That said he makes some very persuasive points in the piece – not least on the rule of law. Though this works both ways. I’ve often felt that the left underestimates the attachment of the working class to state and societal structures, and if anything that attachment is now even more deeply embedded. That may have unpredictable consequences.

Still, one last thought. Isn’t all this enormously anglocentric? There’s not a word about allies in Europe. How can there be? They’re being shut out. No word of Syriza, as was, or Podemos, or other alternatives or whatever. The English story, whatever about the British story, appears to be one which is curling around itself. Where it goes next is – naturally, for those of us on this island of considerable significance. But it may be of little consequence for Europe or further afield.

Strange times.

That hill British Labour is climbing… August 29, 2016

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…just got a bit steeper so it would seem. As I keep saying, I’ve no illusions the next election would be won by the Tories, and neither should anyone – this is a long project, but sheesh, hard not to feel that the boundary changes likely to be implemented by the review of parliamentary boundaries which is out in the next month is likely to be deeply problematic for the party.

Up to 30 Labour seats could disappear altogether, says Lord Hayward, an analyst widely regarded as an expert on the boundary review, while the rest will see their composition altered in some form.

Although the changes will also affect the Conservatives, Hayward, a Tory peer, said his analysis of demographics in the UK concluded that Labour is over-represented.

Here’s an interesting twist on this.

The opposition party is also angry that the boundary changes are based on the number of people on the electoral register at the end of 2015, arguing that 2m extra people signed up in the run-up to the EU referendum this year. “Worryingly, under the Tories’ plan, not a single one of those 2 million extra people will be taken into account in the drawing up of the new constituency boundaries. This is simply wrong and runs the risk of further distorting the Boundary Review Process,” he added.

Some MPs argue it is unfair not to take into account people who live in constituencies but are not signed up to the electoral register.

In this state boundaries are dictated by population figures which seems only reasonable.

Left Archive: Vincent Doherty, Election candidate National H-Block/Armagh Committee, Leaflet, June 1981 August 29, 2016

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To download the above please click on the following link. HBLOCK

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to Jim Monaghan for forwarding this to the Archive.

This election leaflet for Vincent Doherty of People’s Democracy and a member of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee. At this point four hunger strikers had died and the fact of the forthcoming election allowed for an opportunity to make the case of the hunger strikers even more widely.

The support of Bernadette McAliskey is underlined by a quote from her in support of Doherty’s candidacy.

Left Archive: National H-Block/Armagh Committee, Leaflet, 1981 August 29, 2016

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HBLOCK81

To download the above please click on the following link. HBLOCK A5 1

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to Jim Monaghan for sending this to the Archive.

This document was issued by the National H-Block/Armagh Committee. It argues that British Renege on agreements and announces the commencement of a new hunger strike starting March 1st. It outlines the history of the previous hunger strike and the negotiations that led to this point. It also calls for significant support.

Unveiling of statue to Jimmy Gralton – Co. Leitrim Saturday 3rd of September 2016 August 28, 2016

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Gralton Labour History Commemorative Committee

Formal unveiling of a monument to the memory of the Leitrim Socialist, Jimmy Gralton, on the site of Gralton’s “Pearse Connolly Hall” at Effrinagh, Co. Leitrim, on Saturday 3rd of September 2016.

The committee is extremely pleased that the President of Ireland Mr Michael D. Higgins has accepted the invitation to perform the unveiling. Proceedings will commence promptly at 11.00.a.m. on Saturday morning and those planning to attend are advised to arrive early as parking and traffic restrictions will be in place.

(Because of the narrow road network and lack of parking places attendees may have to walk some distance to reach the site) The 4 mile stretch of road from the N4 at Drumsna to Effrinagh (Effernagh) will be signposted.

The formal unveiling will be followed by a number of events throughout the day (and also on Sunday) including political contributions, music, song and dance.

*Further information from Declan Bree at 071 914 5490 or 087 247 0802 or glhc@eircom.net

Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week August 28, 2016

Posted by Garibaldy in Sunday Independent Stupid Statement of the Week.
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A former senator displays a rather unique understanding of the Belfast Agreement

Leo Varadkar is saying he shares the Taoiseach’s vision of a united Ireland at some point in the future.
Naturally, he adds that unity could only come about by consent and not a crude majoritarian count. But it would be better if he had said nothing about a united Ireland at all, for two reasons.

First, the British government gives Northern Ireland a subsidy of €13bn-14bn a year. A united Ireland could cost every working household Republic roughly €14,000 a year.

Second, even talking about a united Ireland is breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement.

Yeah.

This piece is worth a read for the lesson it provides in how to write a column for the Sindo – 70k is introduced as referring to people earning that much, then for the column is treated as households worth 70k. Not of course the same thing at all. But sure when did the Sindo ever let accuracy get in the way of a right-wing rant?

Jupiter August 28, 2016

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Speaking of probes albeit interplanetary this time. Juno, which became the first human made spacecraft to ever come so close to Jupiter, a mere 4,000 kms above the planet, should start sending back fascinating photographs across the next few days.

Dublin Festival of History 2016 August 28, 2016

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Mentioned some of the events on during this during the last week, but the overall programme seems very interesting indeed. It’s held from 23 September to 8 October and there’s something for everyone, or so it would seem!

Centauri Dreams… August 27, 2016

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iO9 was quick off the mark in relation to stories set in the Alpha Centauri system with this list of ten.

I’d forgotten the Songs of Distant Earth was set there – perhaps Clarke’s last good novel. John Barnes and Buzz Aldrin’s Encounter at Tiber was pretty good. I’d forgotten the aliens in Footfall by Larry Niveln and Jerry Pournelle were from those parts.

This wiki page has a much longer list which is fascinating to see.

I can’t help but feel that the discovery this week will be a shot in the arm to new fiction set in that system, though, as will be noted here today, views are mixed as to what is practical and feasible in the near to middle future.

Speaking of stories of interstellar probes this was linked to on Stross in comments… a sad short little story from Alastair Reynolds.

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