Thursday, 21 October 2021

So all the talk in politics at the moment involves removing online anonymity from social media platforms. Apparently, this is the best way to prevent online abuse and protect the safety of elected politicians. But I'm not the only one to smell a rat...

MPs and journalists have been quite openly talking about keeping expenses claims and voting records hidden from the public, and even disrupting online left-wing movements. 

Dan Hodges really let the cat out of the bag with this one.

We all know this is not really about ending online abuse, and it's certainly not about the murder of David Amess whose tragic death has been grotesquely used to manipulate public opinion on what is an entirely separate matter. It's about politicians avoiding accountability and controlling the narrative.

Social media platforms were never supposed to be for politicians to impose their propaganda on us. They have the entire mainstream media for that. Well, now they want social media too.

The rise of the online left in the US and UK has scared the crap out of the establishment. It made figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders possible and showed younger generations a better future was possible. The same politicians who complained that younger people never got involved in politics were suddenly livid to find younger people were very political actually; it's just they didn't want to vote for corrupt individuals who were leaving them behind.

Remember when Noam Chomsky said: "If voting could actually change anything, it would be illegal"? 

Well, what he meant is we live in a managed democracy in which the establishment fiddles around with things to ensure it gets the desired outcome and the latest thing it's fiddling around with is social media to stop you raising your voice and collectively organising.

And the rigging of social media is already well under way... 

Establishment poster boy and Tory-enabler Nick Clegg is now Facebook's Vice President of Global Affairs and he is openly talking about ensuring we see less politics in our news feed. Pretty sure he means less left-wing politics from the alternative media.

Talk to anyone who runs a left-wing Facebook page and they will tell you how they are suddenly being hammered algorithmically. We all used to get huge traction, but not anymore. Now the right-wing pages get the huge traction and we are left near-invisible. And in their bid to tackle "fake news", Facebook is using any and every excuse to censor the left while allowing the mainstream media to push misinformation with impunity. 

If you accidentally share a Facebook post which is only 90% accurate you will get a notification to say the distribution of your page has been reduced, but mainstream media outlets can push totally false narratives like the alleged dictatorship of Evo Morales, while simultaneously celebrating western puppet Jeanine Anez as a human rights icon when she reportedly sent death squads to execute left-wing activists. Thankfully, Anez is no longer in power because the Bolivian people overwhelmingly rejected her in recent elections and put Morales' MAS party back into power, albeit with a new leader.

Can you not see how dangerous this all is? 

The establishment decides to mischaracterise a foreign government as a pretext to regime change, and not only will the mainstream media play along, but even social media giants will, and if you on the left give the slightest inaccuracy when you're countering outright bullshit, you are the one who gets censored. It's all about making sure rich and powerful people have a voice and ordinary people are silenced. It's horribly undemocratic.

Can you imagine the risk to someone's safety, if you remove their anonymity when they're criticising a monster like Jeanine Anez? It doesn't bear thinking about.

And not all examples of potential risks are so far from home.

What about, for example, a gay person who has not yet come out? Perhaps they have very strong reasons not to, perhaps coming out might even put their safety at risk. Imagine removing online anonymity from such a person. Would that not be an incredibly abusive and dangerous thing to do? There are many other examples we could come up with, such as the often highlighted risk to victims of domestic violence. 

The thing is being anonymous online can actually reduce the risk of bullying and violence. Perhaps you were horribly bullied at school and you set up a Twitter account under an alias because the last thing you wanted is the bullies following you over from Facebook. Perhaps you are trans and you have not yet transitioned and just want to explore the real you in an online space before you are ready to tell the world. Or perhaps you are exposing unsafe practices in your work place and are terrified of being fired. Perhaps you're an activist who was previously campaigning under your real name and you were assaulted in the street so you decided to keep your activism anonymous to protect yourself and your family. I could name a whole bunch of activists who've been stalked and assaulted.

There are a ton of very legitimate reasons for people to remain anonymous online and it would be a huge invasion of privacy to suddenly out all these people. Far from protecting against abuse, ending online anonymity would actually be an incredibly abusive thing to do and could well lead to violence against the people you are exposing. This would be completely unacceptable and incredibly hypocritical. It would essentially be state-sanctioned doxxing.

How many people have had false complaints sent to their employer about alleged online misbehaviour, as reportedly happened to Jess Barnard who was falsely accused of wanting a second holocaust?

There is no evidence to suggest ending online anonymity reduces online abuse. None whatsoever. And as someone who has large social media platforms and receives an incredible amount of abuse every day, I can categorically say lack of anonymity does not stop social media users being abusive at all.

But the thing is, we don't need to punish the many decent anonymous social media users. I know this is a crazy thought, but we can actually focus on punishing abusive accounts, regardless of whether they are anonymous. The anonymity, after all, is not the problem. The abusive behaviour is.

Let's not also forget that among the politicians who are calling for these changes is Jess Phillips who said she would knife Jeremy Corbyn in the front and Margaret Hodge who called him an antisemite and racist. As Michael Rosen pointed out, talk like this would get you expelled from the House of Commons for abuse. Yet, I'm sure both Hodge and Phillips would argue their abuse was justified in these particular circumstances. And that's the problem: in politics, the idea of abuse is entirely subjective.

What if I, for example, appeared in Jess Phillips' mentions and spoke of knifing her in the front? 

To be clear, I would never say such words because I would find them totally unacceptable and would never wish harm on Jess. But I'm sure Jess would consider those words abusive if they were aimed at her, and yet she was happy to aim them at Jeremy Corbyn on national television. It really does look like it's one rule for them and another for us.

Jess rather laughably wrote a book about speaking truth to power and yet here she is wanting to deprive you of the right to speak truth to power, using the exact same approach she herself uses. In a democracy, the right to dissent, to harshly criticise politicians is absolutely essential, and it's particularly essential that we maintain a level of transparency that allows us to see MP's voting records and expenses claims. We elected you and we're paying for those!

Let's not forget, we can do much better at punishing abusive accounts and we can give social media users much better privacy options.

I believe genuinely abusive social media accounts should receive punishment, but I also think those punishments should be fair and consistent. I am not, for example, in favour of permanent suspensions, apart from in the most extreme of circumstances. 

Social media is an essential component of modern life. You wouldn't be banned from walking on pavements for life because you misbehaved in the middle of the street one time. But you might get sent to prison for a few months, if the crime warranted it.

I would want social media giants to have a clearly-explained range of punishments for different offences so people can reasonably know what to expect if they misbehave, and are then given appropriate opportunity to correct their behaviour when their ban is lifted.

I would also want social media giants to give us a much better list of privacy options. 

For example, on Twitter I would like to see:

  • the ability to switch off quote-tweets or limit who can quote-tweet you
  • the ability to switch off comments and quote-tweets on specific tweets, even after you've sent the tweet
  • an optional verification process that is open to everyone, so any user can get a blue tick
  • the ability to limit who can interact with you to either just your own followers, followees or verified accounts on a tweet-by-tweet basis
  • the ability to automatically hide old tweets to prevent doxxing
All of these suggestions would help protect people against online abuse and give Twitter users far more flexibility with how they engage with the platform. It would also mean we don't have to hand over our passports to companies whose business models involve collecting and selling our data. Could you imagine where that might lead?

Imagine the government and employers keeping databases with people's political views and blacklisting certain individuals. Anyone familiar with the trade union movement knows that kind of thing has already happened many times and it has stopped people getting jobs.

Imagine MPs thinking they have a right to keep tabs on you, but you can't see what they're spending your taxes on, and can't even know how they voted in parliament! It's almost like the MP's expenses scandal from a decade ago never happened and these people aren't very keen on transparency actually.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

The Socialist Chat Room Went Live with an Amazing Panel and Many Technical Mishaps!

The Socialist Chat Room went live with its first episode on our YouTube channel which you can consider a test-run with mixed success.

I announced my plans to do this show about three weeks ago, and then, as luck would have it, I was struck down with a severe bout of long-Covid which would not shift and threw my plans into disarray. Eventually, I  bit the bullet and went for it anyway because otherwise, the show would never have happened. Thankfully, I managed to arrange a great line-up, meaning my biggest concern became whether everyone would turn up on the day!

That did not turn out to be a problem and the guests were absolutely fantastic, but remember when I warned you guys about possible technical difficulties? Well, they happened. Everything that could go wrong, did

I guess this is what happens when you have a host with poor health, a barely-functioning six year old desk-top, zero technical expertise and about ten windows open on the screen simultaneously. I had much to take in and in hindsight, I should have minimised my talking time to focus on ensuring things ran smoothly. I guess I underestimated the complexity of the task at hand.

First of all, the stream would not start on YouTube for no reason. Cue a panicked conversation to resolve the issue. 

Of course, the stream decided to fix itself mid-way through this conversation, making me look like an unprepared mess. Then, for the next ten minutes, my streaming software decided to zoom in super-close so you couldn't see anyone talking. I think this is the point where most of our viewers gave up(!), but I belatedly fixed this issue, and it left me with my final technical problem: My supersensitive mic and Zoom's refusal to put me on mute when I clicked the mute button. This meant my flustered, stammering voice could be heard booming over everyone else's, and even worse, the mic picked up my every breath. 

So yeah, disaster...

But... panelist No Justice saved the day. She was also streaming the show and the only technical difficulty she encountered was a host who was terrible at time-keeping, spent far too long on the first topic and then raced through the next two topics to make up time!

I'm making this all seem like a total disaster and yet it wasn't...

I could not have picked five better panelists and they sailed through the whole experience with ease, massively getting me off the hook. I may have deleted the live stream from YouTube and Twitch, but I did get some great clips of these guys, so let's go through them now and let them have their moment.

First of all, we have Lisa Diaz. You may have seen Lisa from her viral Twitter videos calling the government out on Covid-19 safety in schools. She is the co-founder of SafeEdForAll and as you can imagine, she had much to say.

Our next panellist was Twitch and Youtube streamer No Justice who describes herself as a "Marxoid" on Twitter.

Here is Popey Variant 616 who is also a streamer and could probably do with some Twitter followers because they're quite new to the platform so please help them out! 

We were privileged to be joined by Labour councillor Freddie Bailey.

And last, but most certainly not least, we were joined by Samuel K, another guest known for his viral Twitter videos.

So our guest line-up really was impressive. 

For my first episode, I wanted authentic working class voices, but I also wanted people who are experienced on camera to help ease me into things. Going forwards, my aim is to platform any ordinary socialist who wants to participate. You can see my first stream as a practise session to get everything figured out. Here is what I've decided to do in future episodes.

1. Larger panels. This might seem counter-intuitive as larger panels mean more people to manage, but they actually mean less talking time for each individual, taking the pressure off them. They also mean more people get a chance to be involved and feel included.

2. Take a back seat. As the host, I've learned I should do less talking and focus on correctly managing the show to ensure no more technical mishaps. Next time, I will spare you my ramblings and keep my input fairly minimal.

3. Use the mute button on my mic, rather than the mute button on Zoom, to ensure my breathing is not picked up! (Zoom muted everyone else correctly, just not me!) Also, keep my super-sensitive mic further away from me so I'm not as loud, relative to everyone else.

4. Only one topic per show. Last time, we had three topics and we raced through the last topic because it was getting late. Three topics is too many for one show.

I think that pretty much summarises it. I'm not sure the show will stream live weekly. I think the best approach will be to schedule a show when there is something that needs to be discussed and then send the invites out about 24-48 hours in advance. I won't be planning shows too far ahead because I had a nightmare with long-Covid in this instance. I want to ensure I'm only planning something when I'm feeling up to it.

If you would like to be included on my list of potential panelists, please contact me on Twitter and I'll add your name to the list. Next time, I might have 12 or even 16 panelists, so there is a good chance I'll find room for you. I promise, next time things will go smoothly!

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Sunday, 10 October 2021

The sale of Newcastle United - my football club - has officially gone through, and NUFC is now under the ownership of a consortium led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. 

Many people, myself included, have condemned this move and asked how it can possibly have been allowed to go ahead. Surely, our great sport has to be about more than just money? It certainly is to me, and so many Toon fans have been left facing a moral dilemma. 

St James Park is fully sold out for the next match - something that never once happened under the ownership of Mike Ashley, but I can't judge the fans who are supporting the club but not the owners - they are so desperate for change and for investment in their club. I want these things too, but Newcastle United means too much for me to simply accept it being used to wash over the crimes of a monster.

This club is about so much more than money or success - it's about the local people - and my people cannot look away as our new owner commits genocide against the Yemeni people. We must raise our voices and call for an end to Saudi atrocities because we are so much better than this. You see, football, by bringing people together, is first and foremost about our shared humanity...

Newcastle United has been part of my life since I was a small child.

I remember my mother's boyfriend coming into our bedroom when I was seven years old and my brother was five, and asking which football team we supported.

"Nottingham Forest," I whispered and he looked at me, confused.

"Why would you support Nottingham Forest?" he asked.

"Because that's where my Dad lives," I replied.

It was then he explained that we don't live in Nottingham, that people who were born and raised around here support Newcastle United, that it's in our blood, and from that moment, Newcastle United was my club. 

I quickly learned how the sport of football, and our local club, brought working class people together. Whether that was heading off to the match or gathering to watch in a crowded pub or talking about the result at work or school the day after, football was a focal point of our lives. Matches were something to look forward to. The team was something to rally behind. NUFC generated a level of excitement and passion among fans that was truly legendary. The club was part of us. We were the club.

I remember walking through Newcastle city centre at 7 years old in my green and yellow Newcastle United away shirt in the middle of winter. It was freezing cold, maybe -2 °C, but was I going to complain about the cold? Hell no! We are geordies and whining was not something we did - there were men walking around shirtless, for goodness sake!

We would cram into the Strawberry Pub before the match and I would be utterly dwarfed by the rowdy crowd, sipping froth from my step-father's beer. (I think it was customary to give kids a taste of beer at an early age. We were taught football and beer go together!)

To a tiny 7 year old, The Strawberry was intimidating as hell. I'd be squashed against the bar and none of the patrons seemed the slightest bit concerned about my well-being. I would tolerate their yelling and swearing while I stood muted for maybe two hours. These men were mostly the northern social conservative stereotype of 1990 that politicians believe is representative of northerners today. (It isn't.)

And it's fair to say that while these men were fun and likeable in their own gruff way, I would sometimes hear some rather unpleasant views. There was much to dislike, but plenty to love too, and one thing that shone through was this idea of working class solidarity that football helped to reinforce.

While the experience could, on the surface, seem rather nightmarish, it really wasn't. I felt in those moments I was learning to be a man, and when we left the pub and marched up the road to our magnificent stadium, I was truly in awe. This was the time before the modern St James' Park with the huge cantilever stand, but to a small boy, it was still a magnificent sight.

The beauty of St James' Park back then was you didn't need an expensive ticket to gain entry, because the club was very much about working people. You could simply turn up on the day and pay £4.50 for an adult and £3.50 for a child and you were inside. And if you've never experienced a live football match in one of the old stands which are now rightly banned for safety reasons, you will never understand what that was like. 

The intensity of the atmosphere made it seem like we were entering a seething collosseum to watch gladiators go to war. When we chanted, my neck hairs would stand on end. When the crowd roared, I could feel it inside my bones. When they got excited and charged forward, I was crushed against the concrete barrier, and honestly, I don't know how my rib-cage withstood several dozen bodies pressing against me, but it somehow did. 

The experience was daunting but exhilarating. From the old Gallowgate stand, I could barely see the tiny figures at the other end of the pitch, but the match wasn't something I witnessed so much as felt. And when I heard the cheers from the far end of the stadium, that was often my first indication a goal had been scored, and that was a feeling like no other. It's an experience that just can't be replicated when you're watching on a TV screen at home.

So, yeah, back then this football club was ours, and it mattered

I remember Kevin Keegan coming in to replace Ossie Ardiles and giving us our incredible promotion season. There was no better man-manager than Kevin Keegan - he turned us into English football's great entertainers, and winning wasn't enough for us, we had to win the right way. I remember the epic encounters with Liverpool when we were on the wrong end of 4-3 defeats in incredible games, and people would say we might win more, if we played more defensively, but we wouldn't have had it any other way. 

And we came so close to winning the league the proper way.

Kevin Keegan's outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson in 1996 will live forever in the memory of every Newcastle United fan who witnessed it. The man understood us and he understood what the club meant to the local people and this is why we adored him. The same goes for the late, great Sir Bobby Robson who became manager a few years later. These were men who lit up the city, who knew that when the football team was doing well, the geordies came alive, because working class people, who really didn't have much, needed this in their lives.

Our club was special. And while we never won trophies during these magical periods, we repeatedly came so close, and those memories, those cup finals and second place league finishes are moments every NUFC fan cherishes, in spite of our heartbreak.

It all fell apart for us when Mike Ashley took over the club in 2007. 

Many football fans across the country had expressed concern for some time about the capitalisation of our great sport, about how it was moving away from its socialist ethos, about how it became more about exploiting working people than representing them, but up until that point, NUFC fans could say their chairmen had, despite their faults, been local men who shared a genuine love for the club and invested in it. They wanted success and were in the sport mostly for the right reasons.

But now our club was in the hands of Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, someone who appeared to be the worst kind of capitalist and who had no connection to the local area. It felt like our club had been hijacked. And for years, we put up with dreadful managerial appointments and our best players being sold for huge sums without that money being reinvested. (Andy Carroll, anyone?) The club was no longer a credible force and this was entirely down to the way it was run. 

Kevin Keegan had a short-lived return to the club in 2008 and was promised a huge transfer budget, only for the boardroom to openly mock him, the moment he showed interest in any quality player he was told we could afford. Those bastards humiliated a local legend and that was unforgiveable. 

Kevin Keegan was forced out, and he made it abundantly clear, the club would never go anywhere under the ownership of Mike Ashley. From that moment, us fans were simply biding our time, desperately waiting for Ashley to sell the club he'd ruined and let us rebuild, and now it has finally happened.

We have new owners who are indicating they will invest in the club and turn it into a credible force, once again. We should be ecstatic, and yet the biggest investor, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is, by all accounts, a tyrant. We are told this is a man who carved a journalist into pieces for embarrassing him. We are told he is one of the worst human rights abusers on Earth. And now our club could be on the verge of greatness, but any success would be purchased with blood money and used simply as reputational management for a brutal dictator.

The thought is horrifying.

We have not won a major trophy since the Fair's Cup (now the UEFA cup) in 1969. We have not won a domestic trophy since the FA Cup in 1955, during the era of the great Jackie Milburn, the legendary striker known affectionately to fans as "Wor Jackie". 

By God, we so desperately want this football club to succeed, but to succeed in this way? From me, it would be a hard no.

I can honestly say the period I've most enjoyed football in recent years was when Newcastle United was relegated, not because I enjoyed the idea of relegation - that was horrible - but for a brief time, the game was not about the mindless accumulation of wealth, and during that period, the club felt like it was back in the hands of the fans. That period emphasised football is not simply about winning, it is first and foremost about community, about humanity, and in my mind, it is not worth sacrificing our values for success.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Hundreds of thousands of families found themselves £20 a week worse off yesterday when our lovely government cut Universal Credit at the worst possible time. The people who already weren't managing were suddenly expected to manage with a hell of a lot less, because, you see, £20 might be nothing to an MP who would happily spend that on a cup of coffee, but to a poor person, well, they could feed themselves for an entire week with that money.

£20 a week really is the difference between being able to buy some fruit and vegetables or put the heating on when it gets freezing cold. Taking that money away means families facing malnutrition and going cold in winter, and before you call them lazy scroungers, please remember, a huge number of these people are already in work and many others are victims of circumstances you have no knowledge of.

Some questions for comfortable middle-class Tory voters:

How many among you have been too scared to put the heating on or take a bath because of your sky high energy bills? How many of you have wrapped yourself in a blanket mid-winter in a room so cold you can actually see your breath? I have, back when I was living alone in a small flat with extortionate rent.

You might think that sounds fine, that I managed to keep warm so what am I complaining about? But just imagine spending every evening wrapped in extra clothes and a blanket and still feeling cold. It's suffocating. It's no way to live. And yes, I was in full-time employment at the time, so your get-a-job rhetoric isn't going to wash.

Just imagine asking families with small children to go through that misery. I have a three month old baby. I genuinely have no idea if our energy bill will be affordable this winter, but I'm damn sure I will be putting the heating on. If our supplier wants to charge us rip-off prices, and expect a government bail out, they can bloody well take me, and millions of others, to court as far as I'm concerned, because no baby should go cold for the sake of neo-liberalism.

You would think this would be one fight the leader of the opposition could take to the Tories, an easy win, to simply point out how privatisation has failed our people. But alas, Starmer's performed another screeching U-turn on one of his key pledges and decided a national crisis is not the time to take decisive action to remove the cause of a major problem he promised to fix.

Sir Keir Starmer has been about as inspiring in his fight against the energy crisis as he has been in his fight against the tax avoidance revealed in the Pandora Papers. In other words, he has not bothered to lace up his gloves, not bothered to swing back against the rigged system which is pummeling us from every direction.

Instead, Starmer is leaving opposition to celebrities like Marcus Rashford, Gary Neville and Jack Monroe. We are in desperate need of representation, but only the non-politicians are willing to provide this. I despair.

If you still don't get why the Universal Credit cut is so morally wrong, let's try this:

Imagine you've just dropped the kids off at school and you're staring at the wall, about to start working from home, resisting the urge to eat the last of the food in the near-empty cupboards because you haven't had breakfast and you're saving the food for the kids and hoping you can get through the day without your boss calling to give you a hard time because you feel so damn sluggish and are about to massively under-perform.

I mean this sluggishness is obviously your fault. Your incompetence is the reason you can't get a "better job" in an area that has no better jobs, but luckily, you're seeing upper-middle class brats on TV explain the £20 a week cut is going to help you "pull yourself up by your bootstraps". I bet you're feeling inspired now.

So you're going to use energy you don't have because your employer isn't paying you enough to eat, and you're genuinely going to try to impress your manager, and they're going to tell you you're a useless dickhead regardless, because that's what they're there to do.

But remember, you're "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and your efforts are going to miraculously overcome the increase to national insurance and council tax and food prices and fuel prices (if you're lucky enough to have a car and need to drive anywhere). Thank God you're allowed to work from home for the time being, but your boss is already talking about forcing you to return to the office, otherwise they might cut your pay which is only a fraction above minimum wage, because you're saving money on travel expenses so you don't deserve as much income. But they're not going to pay your electricity bill, are they?

It's just any and every excuse to screw over ordinary people. And we're at breaking point.

I, like millions of others, am no stranger to hunger. You probably already know this because I talk about it quite a lot on my blog, if for no other reason than to educate people. I had a rough start to adult life and in recent months, I've had another taste of what that period was like. We are currently on Universal Credit because my wife is on maternity leave, and the other day, I had some moron on Twitter saying we shouldn't have had a child, like poor people shouldn't reproduce!

I'm not sure who this guy thinks is going to fill all the low-paid job vacancies that have appeared post-Brexit. Does he not realise that if we went ahead with his eugenics experiment that middle-class people like him would have to step forward?

The most essential roles in society get filled by people who were raised by parents whose income was topped up by benefits, and who will also have their income topped up by benefits. If you tell those people to stop reproducing, guess what? Twenty years down the line, you literally have no essential workers! 

The working poor are vilified and blamed for our own poverty, even when we're doing the very things that are essential to the functioning of society.

Being a parent and working a low-paid job are actually two of the most important things a person can do. Just think about that. The two things that will get you blamed for your own poverty are the very things society needs you to do in order to be able to function. 

Society needs your labour in order to be able to function, but it doesn't want to give you what you need in order for your family to function. It's a relationship of abuse and exploitation, and we don't talk nearly enough about how the most marginalised group in society is actually the working class, because we are the one group that it's legally and socially acceptable to discriminate against. It is perfectly socially acceptable to tell a working class person they are deserving of hunger - our own government says as much!

They are truly taking the piss.

While the £20 a week Universal Credit cut was going through, Tory politicians and journalists were actually throwing a massive party. This party gave us the grotesque spectacle of Therese Coffey singing "I've Had the Time of My Life" and the totally impartial BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg having a dance-off with Michael Gove to Ice Ice Baby. I think I'm going to be sick.

The establishment isn't just being consciously cruel, it's openly mocking us, and we are seeing almost no opposition because Labour is part of the establishment too, and if they ever do criticise the government, it's only in the most timid of ways, just enough to maintain the pretence they're not on the same side.

And while all this is going on, we're putting up with simplistic arguments that totally fail to consider the chaos families are facing, right now. My family recently caught the "super-cold" that's going around. It was horrendous. My (at the time) two month old daughter couldn't stop coughing and crying for eight whole days. We barely slept. Then as luck would have it, literally days after we'd recovered from the super-cold, my 9 year old went and caught Covid-19 and is now self-isolating. On top of that, I've got a broken molar and have to wait two months for an NHS dentist appointment!

Imagine some idiot telling you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while you're dealing with all this crap and living in a forgotten, northern working-class town.

To give an example of the idiocy we have to tolerate, some genius suggested Universal Credit claimants could wash their neighbours' cars to make up the £20 shortfall, but those extra earnings would simply lead to a reduction in the amount of Universal Credit they got paid, leaving them no further forward. When we talk about poverty traps, this is what we mean.

If you don't want to hear any more from me, here's a quote from someone who messaged me on Twitter and wants to remain anonymous:

"I’m 62, on ESA legacy benefit and also PIP so I didn’t receive the uplift. I’ve taken over my son’s direct debit for his gas and electricity as he’s self-employed and on UC. He’s worked really hard to move away from UC and set up a small business, but obviously work has been scarce over the lockdown period. Losing the uplift means potentially plunging him into debt and definitely into the choice between heating or eating. I never visit without taking a bag of shopping but knowing that he, and my grandchildren, who are with him three days per week, won’t be cold this winter has prompted me to take over the energy bills too."

Here is a reply one of my tweets received:

Feel free to click on the tweet and read some of the other replies...

Ordinary people are stuck. We don't want to be at the mercy of the government, but we are because that's how our system works. All of us would far rather have meaningful employment opportunities and a minimum wage that was an actual living wage, so we could do basic things like eating and heating and buying school uniforms and making necessary repairs, but we are forced into a situation where the essentials are luxuries. We are being squeezed too far while MPs complain about the struggle of life on an £81k salary.

The thing I need the middle-class to understand is that if you were living as we are living, you would not think the current system is workable. You would think capitalism needs to be dismantled. And if you don't already think that, it's because you are happy to impose poverty on a huge chunk of the population to maintain your privilege.

Sadly, as the economy goes into free-fall, more middle-class people are being pulled into the struggle, and more still are on the brink of being pulled in, and if you want to prevent that, if you want to protect your own living standards, you're going to need to stand in solidarity with us, because you are about to learn the establishment was never on your side, but you were quite possibly on theirs. 

All of you have far more in common with a poor person than you will ever have with a Tory politician. It's time to stand together and say enough is enough.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Picture a Latin American country, if you will. It could be any country, perhaps Venezuela or Bolivia or Peru or any other country with a left-wing leader and an abundance of natural resources. Now imagine this country was facing civil unrest and widespread protests... 

Imagine this country was introducing laws to crack down on the right to protest.

Imagine video footage showed this country's police brutalising peaceful protesters, again and again.

Imagine this country was giving soldiers and undercover cops the right to murder with impunity.

Imagine women in this country were being told to resist arrest from murderer cops.

Imagine this country was violating the internationally-recognised human rights of refugees.

Imagine sports stars in this country were condemned by the government for protesting systemic racism.

Imagine this country controlled the opposition and media who were all singing from the same song sheet.

Imagine leaked documents showed this country's elite were guilty of widespread tax avoidance.

Imagine billionaires were paying the government so they could write their own laws and loopholes.

Imagine journalists were getting locked up whenever they embarrassed the state by reporting the truth.

Imagine an award-winning journalist being prepared for extradition to a country which has plotted to assassinate him.

Imagine this country's economy going into free fall while all this was happening.

Imagine this country was experiencing food shortages, fuel shortages and worker shortages.

Imagine this country achieved all this without illegal US sanctions and a decades long embargo.

The leader of such a country would be overthrown faster than you could say "regime change" and Juan Guaido would already have declared himself rightful leader! But we are not talking about a Latin American country, of course, we are talking about one of the most corrupt and hypocritical countries on Earth. We are talking about the tax avoidance capital of the world. We are talking about the UK.

12 million leaked documents known as the Pandora Papers reveal that world leaders are engaging in widespread tax avoidance and money laundering with the UK at the epicentre. This will come as a huge shock to anyone with the memory of a goldfish who can't remember the Panama Papers from a few years back. Or the FinSec Papers, or the Paradise Papers, or LuxLeaks. What these papers essentially show is the UK economy, and indeed the world economy, is just one huge scam which enables rich people to hoover up all the money by exploiting loopholes they themselves have written.

As the Guardian stated:

"The leaked records vividly illustrate the central coordinating role London plays in the murky offshore world. The UK capital is home to wealth managers, law firms, company formation agents and accountants. All exist to serve their ultra-rich clients. Many are foreign-born tycoons who enjoy “non-domicile” status, which means they pay no tax on their overseas assets."

It's been revealed that 95,000 offshore firms have been set up to exploit legal loopholes that honestly, no one has any idea how they got there(!) and rich people have been using these loopholes to buy UK properties in secret and not pay what they rightfully owe. The people who are so rich they don't even need more money are refusing to contribute what they should during an international crisis, and if that doesn't enrage you, then you seriously need to drop the serf mentality.

The UK government has repeatedly promised to set up a register of offshore property owners to track potential money launderers, but conveniently someone keeps forgetting to do this. Easy mistake to make. In entirely unrelated news, donors to the Conservative Party are among those named in the papers...

In a rare moment of actual journalism, the BBC reported this story and were quick to point out how the Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev has looted his country to the tune of at least £400 million - the scumbag - but they were not so eager to highlight the Tories have looted the UK to the tune of £ billions. To be fair to the BBC though, they did point out the Aliyevs have sold a property to the Crown Estate, making a profit of £31 million in the process. Yes, the Queen appears to be involved in this too...

No wonder Britain gets called the tax avoidance capital of the world.

You will be pleased to hear HMRC will be reviewing the Pandora Papers, because we all know the government is fantastic at marking its own homework, just like the opposition is, actually. I wonder if this corrupt little island will see a report into the Panama Papers before the Forde Report is published?

Some are speculating these papers were leaked by the US government, given they apparently name politicians from every nation in the world... apart from the US... 35 current or former world leaders and 300 officials are named, but not a single one of them is American? Hmmm.

Somewhat surprisingly, the current Labour leader seems rather silent about one of his predecessors - Tony Blair - avoiding £312,000 in stamp duty on a £6.45 million London property. This was perfectly legal, of course, but from an ethical standpoint, it looks abysmal, and is yet another indication of the Labour centre absolutely being part of the establishment.

And for a country that's happy to sanction Universal Credit claimants if they're two minutes late for an appointment, our willingness to just accept this as the way things are is deeply worrying. Perhaps, if we renamed tax avoidance as "elite benefit fraud" or something, the penny might finally drop. Estimates suggest tax avoidance and tax evasion cost between ten and one hundred times more than benefit fraud. Apparently, one third of our GDP finds its way into offshore tax havens. And we wonder why the government tells us they can't possibly afford to keep the Universal Credit uplift?

This is what a rigged economy looks like. And your food inflation, your soaring energy costs, your loss of work rights, fuel shortages and stagnating wages are all connected. None of it is coincidental.

While you stay poor, no matter how hard you graft, the wealth of the 1% keeps endlessly soaring. There is no future point in our economy where the proceeds of our labour will be shared with ordinary plebs like you because that is not part of the plan. The plan for you is to work yourself to death to make these people richer and you will never get so much as a thank you. And to make matters worse, every time there is an economic crisis - a crisis of their making - you are going to be squeezed further to pay for it. 

You are going to be asked to tighten your belt while we bail out failing energy companies which charge rip-off prices. You are going to be asked to sacrifice more of your NHS to pay for their Covid mismanagement. And all the while, the people who are flying around in personalised spaceships are going to tell us there is no other way.

The thing people need to understand is the money is there. It's there for everything we need. It's there in overabundance. But we're not allowed access to the money our labour created, even during a crisis, even when people are dying because the world is ruled by sociopaths whose only goal is to plunder and hoard while the planet burns. 

They gave us Brexit because the EU was clamping down on tax avoidance. They destroyed Jeremy Corbyn because he was going to do the same. The establishment will destroy anyone and anything that gets in the way of their rigged system. At what point do we open our eyes?