I’m going to vote today

I have a choice of candidates here in the Perry Barr constituency of Birmingham. Khalid Mahmood is the sitting Labour MP and no one is questioning that he will continue. At the last General election I was a candidate myself, but not for the Labour Party. This time there is no candidate for the Socialist Labour Party for parliament, although there is one for the City Council Election. Paulette Hamilton is the candidate, nearly deselected by efforts of her two comrades, and she again is expected to hold onto her seat.

My first thought is for the great need for a fairer system than first past the post which reproduces the same old same old so Austerity is going to continue in one form or another. Austerity is a measure determined by a Westminster elite controlled by big business and huge unaccountable corporations who have been successful in maintaining their power through the status quo. Politicians from all parties in Westminster become part of the revolving door culture very quickly. A few individuals hold out. Dave Nellist, standing on the left in a Coventry constituency and winning his parliamentary seat, would only take a working person’s salary. He mentions how on the first day in parliament he was offered directorships from lobbyists. That’s the culture and that’s how it works. Today’s poll won’t alter that. Unless.

The Socialist Labour Party is fielding 8 candidates in Wales. That means it achieved a party political broadcast. Ken Capstick speaks about the dire situation many families and individuals find themselves in exacerbated by 5 years of Tory/LibDem rule. Arthur Scargill presents the SLP manifesto.

Clearly the Socialist Labour Party hasn’t the support or the money to challenge the status quo. However many detected a breath of fresh air when three other parties were introduced into the televised election debate. I exclude UKIP and Farrage because the air around that party in not only stale, it is poisonous in the way that surrounded the growth of the Nationals Socialists in Germany in the thirties. Scottish and Welsh Nationalists and the Green Parties, all with women leaders, articulated sentiments which more than a few people understood. Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that many of the things the Scottish people want – freedom from the Westminster system currently in place – is shared wider. In the she’s right. The problem is that as Socialists we want to see a cohesive force across the currently United Kingdom which does away with austerity, privatisation and run down of what we used to call “essential services”. If Sturgeon is still heading for a separate Scotland but still wedded to other bastions of elitism like Europe, no I don’t want to go there.

Today I know I have a choice between Labour, Conservative, LibDem, and then Green Party, UKIP and TUSC. While UKIP supports withdrawal from Europe as does the SLP the reasoning is fundamentally different. Placing the blame on and fanning hatred of migrants is not the reason for the plight of the most vulnerable. It is a Capitalist system of greed that needs to be displaced. There is no cosy, cuddly form, wished for by many of the other parties. It is vicious and exploitative as has been shown in the 5 years of Austerity we have just lived with. Its press has shown just how it is with the Sun, Mail, Telegraph screaming at people to ensure their Capitalist paymasters maintain their power and influence. It is clear at the moment that with the prospect of a hung parliament that public opinion doesn’t continue to follow to the degree it once did when Neil Kinnock was denied victory.

Britten and Tippett encounters

During the nineteen sixties particularly I spent my time at concerts and was always keen to hear composers perform their own works, or failing that performers closely connected with them who probably knew them or worked under their direction. Stravinsky, Hindemith and Copland figured largely and I often found their performances of other composers revealing. I think, however that Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett were those I encountered most frequently. The latter had a habit of attending performances of his work, and it was later in his career that I think he became more involved himself. I was at a performance when he conducted his Vision of St Augustine at the Bath Festival, The two of them came together at a tribute to Tippett on his 60th birthday at Morley College when Britten with Peter Pears performed Tippett songs. Britten at the piano was astounding.

Brittens own performances of much of his own work is preserved on record of course and the 100th anniversary of his birth on 22nd November (coinciding with my own 72nd birthday) has been a pretext to make earlier recordings widely available as well as stimulating interest from younger artists who have given remarkable performances both live and on record. For a time it seemed as if Britten’s recordings actually inhibited others, and indeed it was difficult to listen to others. A performance of the Britten Cello Symphony at Birmingham Town Hall suffered from some very uninspired and flabby conducting from Hugo Rignold, brought to life only by Rostropovich whose passionate gestures from the cello galvanised the proceedings.

Britten was a regular visitor to the Henry Wood Proms in London where he conducted a range of his work together with another composer connected with Saint Cecilia, Henry Purcell. This included the Spring Symphony, Cantata Misericordium, the Sinfonia da Requiem and the Purcell Chaconne in his edition. I also heard him in performances of the War Requiem as conductor in partnership with Meredith Davies, who gave the first performance at Coventry Cathedral in 1963. I attended the second performance at Westminster Abbey, when Britten processed out after the performance in the company of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the next year at the Albert Hall during the Prom season.

Alton Burnett

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Our Comrade, Friend and Brother Alton Burnett finally succumbed to his battle with cancer and passed away on Friday, 7th March at 7.20 pm. Phillip Murphy, Maxie Hayles and I had visited a week or so earlier but found him in a deep sleep. We understood he was suffering considerable pain in his waking moments. Alton was a larger than life character committed to serve the community, which he did as a Councillor for Erdington and as Secretary to the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre on Dudley Road, Birmingham.

In 1985 Alton led a group along Lozells to pay tribute to the post masters, the Moledena brothers, who lost their lives in a fire at the post office.

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More than 20 years later he repeated this act of reconciliation when some young men were tragically run down along the Dudley Road, yards from the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre. At the time there was considerable tension with a feeling that what had happened was due to friction in the community. It fell to Alton once again to dispel the idea as he carried a tribute to Tariq Jahan, father of one of the boys killed. Tariq himself rose above the rumours flying round and was given great credit for his generosity of spirit at such a time of personal loss. (He went to give aid to the injured only to find it was his own dying son he was trying to help.)

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Alton Burnett pays tribute to the young men who were killed along the Dudley Road speaking to Tariq Jahan, bereaved father of one of them.
Rather than a flashpoint, the makeshift shrine appears to have evolved into a focal point for the community to bond. It was there that Alton Burnett of the Afro Caribbean Millennium community center presented Mr. Jahan with flowers and a message of condolence on Thursday evening.
“We are one,” Mr. Burnett said. “We feel your pain and we feel your sorrow. We will not let this divide us.” The two men hugged, a symbolic moment recognized with applause from those watching.
New York Times 11/8/2011

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Behind the Secrecy. Yarl’s Wood.

If there’s official secrecy, smell a rat. The usual answer is “security”, but in reality you’ll find a story of human misery, abuse, torture, rape. Yarl’s Wood is a name added to the long list of locations under the control of the very Western Governments bemoaning untold horrors committed by human beings on others. Sadism is supposed to be an act of barbarism which “civilised”, “democratic” states abhor.

Where did all this start? In recent history Chicago is seen as a contender, but a look at what was trended following experiments in human endurance to sensory deprivation. Go back a few decades and practices in Northern Ireland‘s detention centres look familiar.

Other familiar names include Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib where these techniques were practiced and refined. They continued even as they were getting press coverage, although the detail and horrors have only emerged when those who endured them have spoken about their sufferings.

The proliferation of these torture sites is not accidental, a product of rogue personnel. It is a result of deliberate acts around what Naomi Klein writes about in “Shock Doctrine”. I is practiced not only against what are regarded as problematic states, but is used against people internally. The withdrawal of benefits to many needy people is such an example.

That such doctrines are counter productive is amply demonstrated by groups who are now practicing their own forms of “shock doctrine”. Everyone has been sickened by the ever more outrageous practices of groups acting in the name of Islam. Their ideas are not new or confined to them: rather they have learned from a world that has practiced colonialism with no holds barred on the treatment of those colonised. Our leaders continually say they espouse humanity and justice. It might just work if they set an example using those humanitarian values rather than what they themselves describe as the law of the jungle.

Devolution means “you take the decision”, not me

I’ve been a bit slow to understand but now I realise what you mean, Sir Albert, by devolution. Birmingham is considered a bit big for an authority and could be split into smaller units. We’ve trying that for some years to work in districts, although the even more local ward committees have been criticised as “not being fit for purpose”.

Albert Bore has been around a long time now. Earlier he was seen as “bag carrier” for Sir Richard (Dick) Knowles. He was always democratic mostly when it was forced on him. So I wrote and told him how much I was pleased with his wish to devolve power to local areas based on constituencies and wards. The problem I told him was that we were given responsibility, but there were no resources to do anything. Yes we could take decisions, but the only decision to be made was to make cuts by closing or transferring assets, for example. Now my area of Handsworth Wood is virtually an asset-free area. What is left to govern?

A local family bought Hawthorn House, formerly housing a local library, community facilities and council offices. A children’s play area has been reinstated after the family objected to it, having acquired the house fully knowing it was planned to do this.

Laurel Road Sports Centre, rebuilt after a fire had gutted the former wooden structure, was put up for tender to transfer the assets to a new owner. The site had been much improved after the involvement of Sports England, but it never regained the feeling of local ownership it previously enjoyed. The popular protest failed after assets were passed to a local church group. In other words its long term future is far from guaranteed.

Camp Lane held a training centre, graced with a picture of Prince Charles in honour of a visit, and, yes, a plaque with the name of Sir Albert Bore from when it was opened, or re-opened after a period of closure. Considerable sums of Council (our) money was pumped in to improve social facilities. It could prove a major asset and funding source to a private owner for functions. Local power devolved. We weren’t asked or involved in deciding its future.

Local schools have become academies, another term for asset transfer. Again public money used to enhance our schools with considerable building schemes for sports centres etc. has been handed over for private gain.

Albert Bore has declared that it is the end of local government as we know it. It is essentially a loss of voice of people who formerly controlled local government. Evidently one or two councillors are voicing their concerns but it is muted by their temerity and dissuasion by those in Labour who still won’t rock the boat.

Contrast Birmingham in 1972 when Labour Party leaders like Moira Symons led in supporting miners’ industrial action with 30,000 Birmingham Trades Unionists marching on Saltley Gate. Their actions led to the end of a former corrupt Tory administration under Heath.

The Amazing Tory/LibDem High Wire Act

Truly amazing. The Tory LibDem Government are performing a spectacular high wire act, a look folks, no safety net! No this is not a remote country without resources, it is a well shod wealthy land where more and more are denied resources to feed, heat, house or clothe themselves by an overfed, self-satisfied elite. David Cameron, George Osborne, aided and abetted by Nick Clegg have, like so many in power, drawn up the ladder they climbed by taking away our essential services. They can well afford to do without the state assistance they revile labelling those affected scroungers and criminals. Their own tax dodging mates are heroes, now getting the occasional slap on the wrist to tell them not to be so naughty in future.

HSBC. What has it done wrong? Is it illegal? Well…er? Is it moral? Moral or not the Tory Party are cashing in big time.

The Labour Party are taking the opportunity to ask questions, but they too are a party of Capitalism, so how far can they go?

There was an old man called Michael…..

“There was an old man called Michael Finnagen, he grew whiskers on his chinnagen, the wind came up and blew them inagen. Poor old Michael Finnagen. Beginagen.”

Education (and other) policies seem an eternal “beginagen” routines when it is announced that “children must learn literacy and numeracy”. The obvious question is why there such large numbers who haven’t achieved after years of schooling when those like Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw, self appointed know-it-alls, have been left in charge. Now Nicky Morgan, supposedly Gove’s successor, wants kids to know the 12 times table, it is reported. Why the 12 time table? Are we about to go back to pounds, shillings and pence?

How is it that education is equated with rote learning of specific items, apparently picked out of the air by those with no educational training. Of course this has nothing to do with education, it’s just another panic measure trotted out after another spate of bad publicity. Supposedly it is to tell the Sun and Daily Mail reader that what they are thought to regard as education is also a concern to, in this case, the Tories. (Since a number of the guys have been “educated” at Eton just what are they talking about? What exactly is it they think that the masses need?

It doesn’t look like something to do with being able to think for themselves. (Is that what Eton et al are about?) The problem is that whenever someone else takes over education we seem to go back to the beginning or basics so nothing seemingly progresses. “Education” starts earlier and earlier in the UK – whereas elsewhere in the developed world children might start formal learning at 7. When, they ask, will children learn to play? In Britain play isn’t popularly seen to be learning. Stress laden classes must begin as soon as possible after leaving the womb. Counterproductive? Well the experiments with the private sector leading hasn’t been exactly promising with academies and free schools showing no advance over state run schools. In process accountability has been lost and this year even the league tables have fallen apart so no one has a clue how schools are performing, even in the narrow world the UK education is being made by the ignorant and privatisation-driven political elite.

Fracking serious

While Lancashire councillors dither about allowing fracking exploration to continue, residents of Oklahoma worry about earthquakes occurring daily in an area where the oil/shale gas companies have had their evil way.

The Lancashire Councillors it seems have no principled objection to fracking, they just fiddle round the edges objecting to noise and nuisance. The environmental harm and consequential health hazards apparent to their constituents don’t appear to be on their radar.

In the US today’s report of what is happening in Okaloma is a repeat of what happened in Ohio. Lancashire has already experienced them, but the fracking industry, while not denying their existence, likens them to a lorry rumbling past your house at the very worst. Who do you believe and trust when so much is at stake, with governments supporting the massively powerful corporations to the hilt?

North Dakota faced another problem, this time not an earthquake but a waste water spill. Interesting to know how this is contained but more importantly how leaks occur. All this is minimised and glossed over but not just by the corporations themselves, but by the politicians who get into bed with them. They should be representing us since we voted for them. The Corporations don’t and are totally unaccountable unless you’re a shareholder, that is. In that case you want bigger and better wars, food that makes you ill so you can sell medicines, and fracking until the world has an orgasm.

Don’t vote. Won’t vote? In Greece they will and are going to it seems

There’s a view, a concern that young people don’t vote or won’t vote. They will if there’s a good reason to. Conversely they won’t if there’s no reason not to. That’s why I’m looking at Greece today with a party described as “left wing” favourite to win because it has captured young people’s enthusiasm. “Austerity” the curse placed on the World, Europe and Greece in particular is being challenged. The Greeks have with Syriza a young candidate (as Greek leaders go) at 40 and there seems a point in going to the polls.

Last year hope was raised when Syriza performed well in the European elections. Anti-austerity demonstrations were fuelled in other European countries hit hard by the imposition placed on them because the ruling elite, recently seen in Davos, says it must be so. They have messed everything up with their Capitalist projects, and they want a cuddly friendly capitalism to sort things out. If that’s what the Greek ruling party thinks is possible, today may be the day when they’re told it’s not. Enough is enough.

Back in Germany the attitude to Greece articulated by a leading member of Angela Merkel’s party says why the Greek people need to exercise their independence.

Frankenstein’s monster created by global elite

The monster that is Capitalism is frightening the global elite involved in the consequences of their own making. Just like Frankenstein it is rampaging out of control. If you’re asset rich you just can’t help making more and more money while at the other end of the spectrum no cash means no food on the table, no heat and probably no roof over your head. The consequences of inequality can come back on you if you leave it spiralling out of control.

The lengths that the ruling elite will go to is illustrated with the passing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Scarcely distinguishable in its barbaric practices from arch enemy ISIS (funded like other excoriated groups including Al Quaeda from Saudi sources) flags on official building are at half mast while leaders and royals are dispatched to Riyadh to cry crocodile tears.

Meanwhile back in Davos issues of earth shaking importance are announced. Prince Andrew has made his first public statement on allegations of sexual impropriety. Talk of global warming, international aid is all put into sharp perspective. This is all about 1% of the world’s population defining what the rest of us are supposed to be concerned about. Reality recedes.

Interestingly Christine Lagarde has been making references to Marx including “Capitalism sowing the seeds of its own destruction”. The idea of “inclusive Capitalism”, as with “cuddly Capitalism” and other ideas which bring to mind the idea of throwing scraps to dogs, is invoked. Capitalism by its nature is the absolute antithesis of such descriptions. Clearly others in attendance at Davos are bored out of their minds when such ideas are raised.

In Europe the Marxist response looks most likely to emerge in Greece at tomorrow’s election. Scaremongering has been rife, but as the report by Paul Mason on the state of the parties there shows, anyone tainted with “Austerity” is likely to be summarily dismissed by many making Syriza the favourite. The left are starved of political oxygen, very clearly in the UK, where the crackpots of UKIP are chased around by the media while Socialism remains an unmentionable word.

Latin American countries have developed economic and political alliances which have offered alternatives to the powerful nations in the north of the continent who continue to threat and destabilise where they can. Pressure has mounted against Venezuela following the death of Chavez, so the question is asked who will support them from going the way of Allende’s Chile? Once again it is necessary to go to alternative sources of information to get a picture.