Bedroom tax eviction reprieve, comparison with millionaire Tory Maria Miller, and opposing austerity/cuts that kill

 

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As reported in an article in the Salford Star, an eviction partly due to the bedroom tax was given a four-week reprieve in court today, shortly before bailiffs were due to arrive to evict a Salford woman called Vicky from her home. This was the first attempted eviction that the Greater Manchester Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation was aware of within the area. Two Left Unity members, including myself, attended a 60-strong protest outside her home. I have previously posted some Non-payment advice – also about “the new poll tax”, council tax payments of up to 30%, depending on council area, demanded from people on benefits (that have had far less publicity), to help people who want to go down the road of non-payment or have no choice due to poverty. I have written a song called The New Poll Tax (which briefly mentions the bedroom tax too).

If we compare the situation of Vicky, whose rent arrears were far smaller than the £5,800 disgraced Tory minister Maria Miller was forced to pay back, to say nothing of the £45,000 that she allegedly should have repaid (but was overruled by a committee of MPs) – see the Guardian article Public disgust at MPs’ expenses is the only thing that brought down Maria Miller which counters arguments that Miller was forced to quit due to some sort of media conspiracy – or the opposite view in Paul Demarty’s Weekly Worker article Rightwing press rocks the boat for more radical analysis with a lot of details, slightly spoilt by that paper’s pessimistic (as usual) viewpoint at the end, saying that the influence of the right-wing press is “another index of how rapidly British society is moving to the right”. Anger at expenses-fiddling by mainstream parties presents great opportunities for Left Unity, and indeed the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

As reported in a news release from Left Unity, “Without getting carried away, Left Unity played its part in her downfall. Labour’s Ed Miliband, ridiculously, refused to call for Maria Miller to quit – while Left Unity called a protest at Downing Street, as covered on LBC Radio and Huffington Post. Miller resigned that morning, before the protest, but our call for her to face criminal investigation still made it into the TelegraphExpress and Herald“.

It has been a socialist tradition, to try to prevent politicians from selling out, that MPs (and MSPs, MEPs, etc.) only receive a worker’s wage (generally the average wage of a skilled worker), which was adhered to by members of the Militant Tendency who became Labour MPs and all six Scottish Socialist Party MSPs. Politicians should be allowed to claim reasonable expenses, but certainly not mortgage payments on second homes, which was used by Miller for example, and changing to rent is definitely a step forward. However, David Cameron has not kept his promise to make politicians who have been convicted of corruption subject to recall by their constituents, meaning that they would have to stand for re-election to keep their seats, and many socialists argue that even if they have not been convicted of anything, all MPs should face potential recall as well (perhaps if a petition signed by some proportion of the electorate in a constituency call for one). For example, Labour’s Hazel Blears faced a Hazel Must Go! campaign that achieved considerable support due to Blears’ expenses fiddling as reported on Wikipedia. However, when it came to the 2010 general election, and the choice was seen as being between Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates, she won the newly created Salford and Eccles seat.

One of the problems of so-called “democracy” as it operates under capitalism is that waiting until politicians call a general election lets them off the hook if there is a massive mood for change in the meantime. This is not just an issue as far as individual MPs’ expenses is concerned, but bringing down massively unpopular governments – which tend to be particularly unpopular due to them breaking manifesto commitments, like “No top-down reorganisation of the NHS” (Tories) or “No increase in student tuition fees” (Lib Dems). Unpopularity often arises too from austerity measures (cuts and/or tax rises), which actually leads to people dying as my Austerity Kills song states. Although I am not in favour of a socialist society run solely in the interests of the working class, or controlled just by workers, but with a government elected by proportional representation in addition to some degree of workers’ control and direct democracy (for reasons stated in the About Steve Wallis page on this blog), I recognise the importance of workers in changing society, or in bringing a government down to force new elections which may lead to a socialist society, by withdrawing their labour – particularly in a “mass strike” from below or a “general strike” from above. I proposed an amendment to the Left Party Platform’s statement of aims at Left Unity’s founding conference, that got passed, on adding this to the party’s statement of aims (which would otherwise have been too electoral for my liking). Continue reading

My statement as a candidate for the National Council of #LeftUnity

[EDIT 23/4/14: Left Unity’s internal elections are now underway. They will close at midnight on Tuesday 6 May 2014. The statement below, that also appears on the North West elections page on the LU website, is very slightly modified from the one previously on this blog (to increase the number of issues I’m campaigning on).]

The following text is my statement as a candidate for one of the four vacant seats (at least two of which have to be female due to the women’s quota rule) from the North West region of Left Unity on the National Council. I was nominated by Alison Treacher (Stockport LU) and Tom Armstrong (Manchester LU). Left Unity members can vote via the Internal Elections page (but you will only be able to vote for me if you live in the North West of England). Continue reading

2014: Economic & social chaos? A general strike in Britain at last? Prospects for Left Unity

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2013 was quite a good year for the left, particularly in Britain. I will summarise by listing items from my blog about some of the things that happened last year:

  • Margaret Thatcher died – giving me inspiration for this blog! I just happened to have written a song for my band Fruity Frank & the Frisky Freaks called The New Poll Tax (based on the mass campaign of non-payment that defeated the poll tax and played a large part in removing her from power), which we recorded two versions of a few days before Thatcher died, and my first post on the blog was The demise of Maggie Thatcher and my song: The New Poll Tax. The “new poll tax” refers to council tax payments by those on benefits, which can be up to 30% of the full value (and are set at 25% in Rochdale where I lived at the time).
  • There was some progress towards a general strike, against austerity (cuts) and perhaps to bring the ConDem (Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition) government down. I took part in (and spoke at) a meeting in Liverpool organised by Merseyside TUC (Trades Union Council) which unanimously decided to put forward a motion at the North West (of England) TUC Annual General Meeting (AGM) calling on the national TUC to call a general strike, preferably on International Workers’ Day (1 May, popularly called May Day although the “May Day” public holiday is always on a Monday in the UK). The motion also called for international coordination (i.e. strikes elsewhere in the world) on the same day. I created a Facebook page: Launch an international general strike on 1 May against the 1% and also modified the lyrics of a song called “The Stars Look Down” from Billy Elliot (the musical) about the miners’ strike, to refer to present day and call for a general strike and demonstrations on 1 May. I sang it with a very good female singer (a singing teacher) and put it on the internet with a video including clips of protests and strikes (etc.) on YouTube (which includes a call from Anonymous for similar action on the same day) – see The Stars Look Down – join the 1 May global MayDay general strike! As it happened, at the NW TUC AGM, a deal was struck whereby an amendment to massively water down the motion, removing any calls on the national TUC and suggestions for a particular date on bureaucratic grounds. Nevertheless, the North West became the first region of the UK in which the TUC officially had a position of support for a general strike. I handed out a newsletter before and at the (national) TUC conference (Trades Union Congress) in Bournemouth: Lobby TUC for serious coordinated strike action, fracking, Revolutionary Platform of Left Unity, Tory conference demo – a motion on it was passed unanimously but, predictably I suppose, bureaucrats in the various unions affected by attacks by the ConDems have totally failed (so far) to coordinate action. [I would like to think that my activities influenced the general strike in Greece (but there had been many before) and demonstrations by workers in Iran (but there is little internet access there) on 1 May…]
  • The campaign against perhaps the ConDems’ most vicious measure – the bedroom tax – has been strong in 2013. I helped by providing some Non-payment advice (on leaflets and my blog – with a record 560 views of a blog post on a single day). My other achievement (not to ignore the parts played by many thousands of other protesters across the country on the issue) was to appear on the BBC TV programme Question Time – playing a part in Labour leader Ed Miliband saying Labour will abolish the bedroom tax the day after I question his deputy Harriet Harman on it (if they come to power at the next election). It had been forecast, including in the Sunday People, that Miliband would make that announcement, but perhaps I brought it forward a few days from the party conference.
  • Revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden (particularly in the Guardian and New York Times) about spying by the US National Security Agency with its PRISM software (and similar activities by GCHQ in Britain) and a huge database containing information about virtually everyone in the world who has been on-line (including contents of emails, Facebook interactions and Google searches) plus details of phone calls, which ultimately provides the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms processing this data without need for human intervention and eliminating the possibility of further potential whistleblowers. I know that this is possible based on my expert knowledge of AI (I was the main designer and sole developer of an AI/simulation language called SDML) but such world fascism (as John Pilger has also called it) has hopefully now been averted by the Snowden revelations and the response to them. My posts The purpose of PRISM – stopping worldwide socialist revolution forever with Orwellian 1984-style society and #copsoffcampus demos against police clampdown on student protests – infiltration, PRISM & possible UK police state provide my analysis.
  • My role (perhaps) in alleged rapist Martin Smith’s resignation from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Some will see the self-destruction of what has been (and just about still is) the largest party to the left of Labour, excluding the Greens, largely stemming from the rape allegations against their former national secretary Martin Smith (aka Comrade Delta) as positive, others negative. Make your own mind up (free will is the best antidote to such “Leninist” organisations’ propaganda and something that Marxist philosophy doesn’t seem compatible with). The fact that there is another organisation that is far better (Left Unity) and already involves some who split from the SWP in March (the International Socialist Movement) is a good sign.
  • The debate between Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman, with Brand arguing for revolution and there being no point in voting when there’s no real choice, on Newsnight went viral on YouTube (with over 9.5 million views), and there were a large number of Facebook shares (102,000) of his New Statesman article too for the edition he was guest editor of. I wrote a blog entry Russell Brand v Jeremy Paxman on “revolution” plus bureaucratic centralism of the SWP (but not the Socialist Party) which went off at a tangent explaining why the latter has a more healthy internal regime than the SWP based on my eight-and-a-half years in it (including when it was called the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour). I didn’t argue that “democratic centralism”, as practiced by the Socialist Party/Militant was ideal though, and I am pleased to say it has not been adopted as a way of operating by Left Unity.
  • Left Unity started with a call for a new party to the left of Labour by socialist film director Ken Loach in March, although I didn’t get involved initially (I waited until I saw a meeting in Manchester advertised although there was a big one I missed). My position has been consistent, in wanting a broad socialist party but with a revolutionary “platform” bringing together people who want a “sudden thorough” change of society, as I put it, rather than gradual reforms (which wouldn’t actually lead to socialism anyway). I therefore issued a Call for a Revolutionary Platform of Left Unity. I didn’t get sufficient support for an official platform (of 10 members), perhaps due to sabotage by my email providers, and found that the Socialist Platform was basically revolutionary anyway, so dropped my own platform in favour of it. Under pressure from the Socialist Platform (which in the meantime had virtually self-destructed due to ultra-left amendments from the tiny CPGB), the strongest platform called the Left Party Platform (LPP) put forward a much improved statement of aims compared with its initial wishy-washy statement. I therefore proposed amendments to the improved statement, one of which (on improving the paragraph on trade unions to mention strike action, including mass/general strikes) as a means to winning individual disputes and changing society (with improvements suggested by other Manchester Left Unity members in also mentioning occupations and solidarity) was submitted, and (despite only having 2 minutes to speak on it and another amendment) I got it passed at Left Unity’s founding conference on 30 November. See Compromise between the Left Party Platform and Socialist Platform: Justification for my amendments to LPP. Another branch (Camden, which actually is Ken Loach’s branch, potentially undermining claims that he is steering the party in a reformist direction) getting another amendment to the LPP passed committing the party to ending capitalism – Socialist Platform main instigator Nick Wrack’s main objection to the LPP’s revised statement of aims and something I asked others to take up after failing to persuade Manchester members. Consequently, Left Unity is truly broad and reflects both revolutionary and reformist views and members will hopefully continue to put both kinds of views forward, on the website and forum (and in a publication once we decide to produce one). I also put forward a motion to keep Left Unity as the name of the party, suggesting much more than the main rival Left Party that there is an aim to unite the far left and bring many of the “57 varieties” (which should actually be 150 according to Facing Reality but is based on an old advert for Heinz soups) together rather than be just another socialist party/organisation. Another Manchester member, Ali Treacher, spoke on that motion and it won by 98 votes after transfers.

By far my most popular blog entry towards the end of 2013 was Is MoneyWeek’s “End of Britain” just fearmongering? What about US debt default? Is socialist revolution on the cards? with “End of Britain” being heavily advertised by the (allegedly) most popular stock market investors’ magazine MoneyWeek and my blog entry being in the top 10 of Google searches for it. MoneyWeek predicted inevitable economic and social chaos in Britain, and the UK going “bankrupt” if inflation reached about 5%. The issue of whether British capitalism is very healthy (as reformists who claim Britain is “the seventh richest country in the world” argue) or in dire straits (as Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert argue in The Keiser Report, on RT and YouTube, hence them shifting their TV programme from the USA to London) is probably the most important debate socialists can have to determine strategy. The former banker Frances Coppola, who “debunked” the MoneyWeek video/letter has started debating with me on the above-mentioned entry on my blog, after I demolished the arguments of Martin Odoni, a follower of the US “unorthodox post-Keynesian economist” Warren Mosler, so I am directing those particularly interested in that debate there (especially if you wish to comment on my views on the subject). But let me just leave you now with the following thoughts:

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Non-payment advice

I produced the leaflet with the text below providing advice for non-payment of both the bedroom tax and new poll tax (attacks on council tax benefit) before the initial meeting of Middleton & Rochdale Against the Bedroom Tax (for details of further meetings, lobbies and demonstrations in the Greater Manchester area, go to http://www.nobedroomtax.co.uk) and handed it out in Rochdale town centre. I first handed it out outside the job centre, and after a while a G4S security guard insisted I move from the doorway, saying it was their property. Silly me, I thought it belonged to the state (i.e. you and me)! I moved a small distance away and he hassled me again asking me to go somewhere else. I said he could call the police if he wanted to – I wasn’t scared! A nicer security guard eventually recommended me moving to the shopping area, which I thought was a good idea then since it wasn’t very busy (and most of those leaving I’d leafletted on the way in).

Anyway, I thought it worthwhile to pass on advice to other campaigners and non-payers. I’ve already posted the contents of the leaflet to various places on Facebook, but I’m posting it here for the benefit of those who read my blog – or get a leaflet containing the lyrics of my song “The New Poll Tax” (see http://soundcloud.com/fruity-frank), to which I’m putting a link to this blog entry.

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Guardian poll on Thatcher’s flagship policies – particularly interesting points about the poll tax

The above link to a Guardian article contains the following at the bottom. The reference to the problems councils had collecting small amounts (although with over 18 million people who hadn’t paid a penny or were in arrears at the height of the anti-poll tax campaign in the summer of 1990 meant it wasn’t just unemployed people and students, who only had to pay 20%, who were participating, and the campaign’s slogan “Pay NO Poll Tax” urged people to withhold the whole amount) and the potential with the new poll tax (where the poorest will be expected to pay up to the 30%) for building mass non-payment again is telling.

 

The poll tax, or community charge

THATCHER_POLL_POLLTAXGraphic: Guardian

Thatcher loathed Labour town halls, which she felt set big budgets because their poor voters would not pay. Rate capping was the early response, but in time she resolved to replace the whole old system of rates on house values with a flat tax on every citizen. Big families got clobbered, while old ladies living alone in big houses cleaned up. At a time when Britain was becoming mindful of the wealth gap that the Thatcher era was producing, the policy ran up against the argument that it was wrong for a duke and a dustman to pay the same. North of the border, the Tories never recovered from trialling the policy on the Scots. Riots followed when it was rolled out in the south. A personal pet project, the tax played a crucial part in Thatcher’s downfall. Coalition ministers would do well to be warned that one crucial shortcoming was an inadequate system of rebates that resulted in town halls having to chase poor families for small sums. With effect from this month, their council tax reform will have the same result.

Revolutionary Platform News (Number 4b, 30th March 2013)

I include below the contents of a newsletter I wrote in March, mobilising for mass strikes, demonstrations and civil disobedience to bring down the ConDem government in Britain. The newsletter also contains items on the bedroom tax, new poll tax (the poorest having to pay up to 30% council tax), tax avoidance by the rich and international revolution to stop fascism.

Revolutionary Platform News

Number 4b, 30th March 2013

Newsletter of the Revolutionary Platforms of Labour, TUSC, Respect, the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity

www.revolutionaryplatform.net www.facebook.com/RevolutionaryPlatformNetwork

Editor’s welcome: My name is Steve Wallis. This is an amended version of newsletter 4 (specific to the UK) of the Revolutionary Platform Network, which now has a forum (page) on Facebook at the address above. Visit the website (on which you can also find this newsletter in a variety of formats) or the Facebook page for information about the Network. This newsletter was written by me but feedback on it and future articles are welcome there or by emailing me at steve.wallis2460@gmail.com.

Organise mass strikes, demonstrations and civil disobedience to bring down the Con-Dems!
Millions in the UK can’t afford to wait until 2015!

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The demise of Maggie Thatcher and my song: The New Poll Tax

A lot of rubbish has been said about Margaret Thatcher, such that her downfall was due to Europe or that the poll tax riot was responsible. John Major, who followed her into Downing Street, admitted that the poll tax had to be abolished because it was “uncollectable”. Thatcher wasn’t pushed until the autumn after the difficult summer when the Anti-Poll Tax Unions had to defend people who weren’t paying (from the courts, bailiffs and ultimately jail – but they couldn’t jail us all as my song says). Part of that struggle was the People’s March Against the Poll Tax, which I went on – from Liverpool to London (with other legs going from Glasgow and South Wales) – with many meetings, demonstrations and social events on the way to build support for non-payment. And non-payment actually increased during that period, from the initial figures of 14 million (following the 1 million in Scotland where the poll tax was implemented a year earlier) to over 18 million, who hadn’t paid a penny or were in arrears.

My band Fruity Frank and the Frisky Freaks recorded two versions of my new song “The New Poll Tax” on Thursday of last week. I uploaded it on Saturday and posted it to various places on Facebook on Monday suggesting people listen to it to celebrate Thatcher’s death. There is a Bollywood version and an alternative Lenny Kravitz-style version.

This song brings things up-to-date with attacks on council tax benefits (as well as the bedroom tax). As the description of the song says: ‘The ConDem (Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition) government introduced a “new poll tax” on 1 April 2013 – attacks on council tax benefits which will lead to councils making the poorest pay up to 30%, unless we refuse to pay! This song is intended to mobilise opposition to this and the hated bedroom tax, which millions literally will be unable to pay (especially combined). You don’t need to let the bailiffs in, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau: http://bit.ly/ZFgNVf‘.

There is a Facebook group to discuss opposition to the new poll tax.