Lindsey German on broken infrastructure, social crisis and covert war crimes
It’s unfortunate for Boris Johnson that the real world keeps intruding into the election campaign. In this past week alone we have had the worst NHS figures, as people wait longer and longer for appointments, operations, cancer care and emergency treatment. The floods in Yorkshire and the east Midlands – themselves exacerbated by the failure of government to take climate change remotely seriously – have created a backlash as people affected find that little has been done to improve flood defences since the last time they hit over a decade ago.
Now a third major scandal has hit – the outbreak of fire at a student residence in Bolton, which luckily resulted in no loss of life but which instantly brought back images of Grenfell two years ago. Despite the concerns about flammable material used as cladding on thousands of blocks around the country, Tory government responses have been pathetic and have put safety below profit and private property.
While the cladding in Bolton is not the same as that used in Grenfell, there were clearly massive problems with this fire. The fire and rescue services were praised by Johnson when he visited Bolton, and rightly so. But it is successive cuts by Tory governments and by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, that have seen local authority budgets cut, fire stations closed and fire engines taken out of service, while there has been a boom in expensive often high rise student housing, much of it with cladding on its outside.
All these different crises have in common the lack of provision of public services and the lack of regulation of those private services that do exist. Grenfell should have been the wake up call to immediately prioritise making building safe and removing any flammable cladding. It should also have led to more firefighters and more provision for health and safety in homes and offices – but the government paid lip service to change while delivering pitiful amounts. Many people living in cladded blocks of flats find they cannot sell their properties or cannot get their landlords or freeholders to remove cladding.
These are all examples of the rottenness of Tory Britain where the legacy of Thatcherism remains and where talk of the end of austerity cannot begin to deal with the appalling consequences of now decades of neglect. That is going to take political commitment, collective organisation – and money. When it comes to the latter, however, the rich all squeal at the thought of paying out a penny more of their ill-gotten gains.
So the announcement by Labour that it would provide free fibre broadband for all households and that this would involve nationalisation of BT’s Openreach has engendered fear and panic from the stock markets, the Financial Times, and of course from Johnson himself who described it as communism – a shock no doubt to the citizens of Japan or South Korea where governments have invested in this provision.
The belief that private is good and public is bad still dominates these people’s thoughts. They ignore the massive state subsidies given to privatised industries, and they also ignore the state’s role in providing infrastructure. Historically, such state spending has always been important in terms of provision of such luxuries as water, roads, railways and electricity. It has been highly beneficial to capitalist productivity – and investment in broadband would be again. It would also be immensely popular given that the vast majority of people in this country need it for school, college, employment, small businesses, and that at present we have to pay around £40 a month for the privilege of a slow and bureaucratic service.
Labour’s manifesto, published this week, will highlight this and hopefully other nationalisation policies. Unfortunately, leaks suggest there have been retreats on policy or previous pledges over right to buy for private tenants, abolition of public schools, the date for zero carbon emissions and free movement of migrants. Labour activists will rightly be angry at this, and it doesn’t bode well for a future government.
Personally, I think so far there have been too many random announcements from Labour and too many figures presented which don’t really mean much to a lot of people. Jeremy Corbyn needs to cut through that with the manifesto and with his debate on Tuesday night to say that a once in a generation change means dispensing with endless privatisation, forcing the rich and the corporations to pay their fair share, creating well paid and secure jobs, building council houses and imposing rent controls, abolishing tuition fees and student debt, seriously tackling climate change.
The more that this kind of policy is in the manifesto, the more it frightens the ruling class – but the more appealing it is to those who would gain from these sorts of policy. The danger if not is that the election remains focussed on Brexit exclusively, which will benefit the Tories.
Appalling: not just war crimes but cover-ups which go right to the top
Leaked documents seen by the Sunday Times and Panorama show that evidence which implicated British soldiers in war crimes – torture and the murder of children – has been covered up by military chiefs, and this has in turn been kept secret by the government. The crimes allegedly involve the SAS and the Black Watch regiment, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is alleged that commanders falsified documents.
This is terrible enough in its own right, but anyone who has followed the way in which such allegations have been treated by the Ministry of Defence and the right wing media will have seen the repeated pillorying of anyone who tries to get to the truth of these allegations, and dismissal of the credible evidence of local populations. We can expect a predictable backlash from these quarters.
These incidents show that the occupations and wars which the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have faced are far from the benevolent peacekeeping operations which successive governments have pretended.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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