Tuesday, 15 March 2022


Following the return to public control of Greater Manchester's bus services, Andy Burnham has announced that fares will be capped at £2 for adults and £1 for children. This is less than half the previous prices. 

Burnham's plan is to invest £1.2 billion to deliver a low-carbon, fully-integrated public transport system called the Bee Network. Here is how the Bee Active website describes the plans:

... the Bee Network has evolved and it now represents a vision for a fully integrated London-style transport system which will join together buses, trams, cycling, walking and rail.

Our plan is to revolutionise travel across the city-region, making active travel the number one choice for travelling to work, to school and to the shops. But we can only do this if trips by foot or by bike are a safe and pleasant experience.

That means we hold ourselves to the highest standards for quality – routes that are fit for a 12-year-old, a double buggy or a wheelchair user. We are delivering fully segregated cycling and walking routes on busy roads, quality signage and crossings on quieter routes and creating areas where people are prioritised to make streets safer and quieter.

Now I don't know about you, but I think this sounds like a clear upgrade on the neoliberal nightmare of our current public transport system. 

It's worth noting bus companies demanded a judicial review into the decision to take buses under public control in the hope of preventing the Bee Network from ever being. Clearly, they never gave the slightest shit about public service and only cared about their own pockets, but thankfully they lost in court, meaning the public wins.

I'm not sure enough people appreciate the burden that bus fares are placing on working class families at present. Once upon a time, travelling by bus was considered the low cost option. Now, if I want to take my family of six out for the day in Tyneside, it can actually work out cheaper to book taxis! And even when it's not cheaper, it's a damn sight more convenient.

Rip-off bus fares are not just hitting people in the pocket, but they're hurting the environment too. If we're serious about de-carbonisation, we need to encourage more people to use public transport. Our current system is deterring the public, especially those who live in areas with poor transport links. I remember staying in a small village where you could only get two buses a day into town on Sundays. If you missed one bus, you were waiting four hours for the next. Needless to say, not many people bothered using those buses.

Personally, I think we should be emulating Luxembourg which has made all public transport free and we should be massively increasing the number of bus routes to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Far from being costly, this approach would stimulate economic activity and be particularly beneficial to our struggling high streets.

Here is some great research on how better public transport links boost the economy from the Campaign for Better Transport. It shows 46% of unemployed people find lack of transport to be the main barrier to getting employment. Poor public transport links also hurt employers by limiting the available talent pool to those who already have cars and this in turn leads to issues with congestion and parking.

Our public transport system, like so much of our infrastructure, was privatised on the Thatcherite promise that privatisation is the most efficient possible system and would lead to better value and service. This is what is known in academic circles as bullshit. It was always about creaming off profits, but at least now, we are being shown a better way after 43 years of Thatcherism. 

Look at it this way: if Burnham can cut bus fares in half, imagine what nationalisation could do to our skyrocketing energy bills. Our current cost of living crisis is not unfortunate, it's ideological.

In a recent statement, Burnham said of his Bee Network plan:

"We will support the creation of better jobs and good employment that has a purpose beyond growing shareholder value, utilising the opportunity to make a positive difference in our communities."

You see that? Prioritising shareholder profits over the needs of staff and customers was the problem all along, and we should actually be motivated by doing the right thing. Marketisation is not a synonym for freedom after all, and state intervention can promote, rather than inhibit our wellbeing.

Now I'm certainly no centrist, but Burnham's recent shift leftwards is making him seem like an increasingly appealing option. Contrasted with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Burnham almost looks like the second coming of Karl Marx. This, he most certainly is not, but he is evidence that when centrists shift left, they grow in popularity.

While Starmer is embarrassingly floundering behind Boris Johnson in approval polls, Burnham remains hugely popular among the public and his popularity is growing. This is because he is showing leadership and providing ideas while his party leader seems terrified to take a position on anything.

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Sunday, 13 March 2022

Roman Abramovich is an oligarch who made his billions largely due to his connections with war criminals Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin, and was never a fit and proper person to own a football club. Mohammed Bin Salman is not a person with financial ties to a war criminal, he is a war criminal and his charge sheet is sickening.

Some supporters of the club I've supported since I was a boy insist Bin Salman does not own Newcastle United, that the PIF which owns 80% of the club is completely independent of the Saudi Crown Prince. This is frankly bullshit. The PIF is a state savings account for the Saudi Arabian government and most of its money comes from oil sales. The chair of the PIF is Mohammed Bin Salman, as confirmed by the BBC here.

It seems unbelievable the Premier League accepted assurances the PIF was independent of Bin Salman and allowed the sale of Newcastle United to go ahead, but I'm hearing there could be a legal challenge to the takeover, due to the obviously flawed Owners and Directors Test. I'm also hearing the Premier League is considering implementing a human rights component to the test in future, but unless they apply that component retrospectively, we will have a farcical situation where Bin Salman is continuing to sportswash his war crimes.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing The Yemen since 2014, leaving the country facing the "world's worst humanitarian crisis". Twenty million Yemenis are facing food insecurity and ten million are at risk of famine. An estimated 340,000 have died so far, including 100,000 children, and starvation is the main cause of death. The Saudis have been bombing food supplies, hospitals and refugee camps. You can read more about Saudi atrocities in this Human Rights Watch report.

And all of this is just what they're doing in their neighbouring country. At home, the Saudis have just beheaded 81 people in a single day.

If you think it's bad your social media account could be deleted for challenging government narratives, in Saudi Arabia a blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison just for hosting an online forum. He literally did what I do.

Defending human rights is a crime in Saudi Arabia, punishable by torture, imprisonment or death. People have even been executed for committing "offences" when they were children - and children (and entire families) have been arrested for the alleged crimes of their parents. You can read about one such example here.

The human rights abuses committed by Mohammed Bin Salman are many and they are sickening. Who could forget the dreadful bone-saw murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul? And yet, instead of imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia, like he did with Russia, the prime minister has flown over there to do an oil deal - and remember, we are currently selling Saudis the weapons they commit genocide with.

That is one hell of a double standard.

The west has rightly responded with indignation to the behaviour of Vladimir Putin and yet is prepared to look the other way when Mohammed Bin Salman behaves in the same manner. If we speak out against the genocide in The Yemen, we are told now is not the time, that we should only be talking about the war in Ukraine! 

It's almost like brown lives are considered less important than white lives. Or that we are willing to sacrifice our principles, the moment someone shows us their money. I'm pretty sure it's a bit of both and if that doesn't sit well with you, it's time to demand change. It's time to end the corrupting influence of billionaires in our beloved national sport and introduce fan ownership.

I remember when Mike Ashley took over Newcastle United in 2007 and we had such high hopes, but he turned out to be a truly awful chairman, although at least he was no monster. The fans became desperate to get rid of Ashley and replace him with someone who was not using the club simply as a financial investment.

Well, now we have Bin Salman who may well invest in players and improve the quality of the team, but at what cost? How much blood money are we willing to sell our souls for? How many innocent Yemenis must be sacrificed so we can end our 53 year wait for a trophy? How many journalists are we willing to see chopped up with bone-saws?

As far as I'm concerned, none of Chelsea's successes in the Abramovich era were real. Those trophies were bought with blood money and count for absolutely nothing. These were not sporting achievements, but rather corruption that was allowed to happen in broad daylight, and now we're allowing it to happen again. The only way to put a stop to this once and for all is to introduce the 50+1 rule and give football back to the fans, but the government won't do that because collective ownership is a socialist principle.


Monday, 7 March 2022


The Conservative government is back to form, treating refugees dreadfully and showing near-indifference to the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. While other countries are offering to take huge numbers of refugees, including their pets, the Tories have accepted only 50 applications out of 5,535 so far - an acceptance rate of less than 1%. 

France has accused the UK of a "lack of humanity" after we turned away 150 refugees at Calais, and a French minister wrote to Priti Patel expressing his disgust. The UK's response to this crisis is a national disgrace, but at least we lit up a building blue and yellow, right?

It's not all been great from our European counterparts though - while Poland rightly says it will welcome a huge influx of refugees (one million so far), there have been sickening examples of black and brown refugees being denied entry into their country from Ukraine.

The racism hierarchy has become a refugee hierarchy. 

Those words are certainly not intended as an attack on Ukrainian refugees though, they deserve our sympathy and have every right to asylum. It's just the difference in attitudes could not be starker right now.

1.5 million Ukrainians are desperately seeking asylum and many more are likely too terrified to attempt to leave, given the reports of Russian troops firing on women and children in refugee queues. 76% of the British public support welcoming Ukrainian refugees into the UK. I don't have a figure on how many would support welcoming Yemeni refugees, but I'm guessing the figure would be much lower.

While Ukrainians are offered free Eurostar travel to the country of their choice, middle eastern refugees are being left to drown in the sea. While the world weeps at the plight of Ukrainian children, it shrugs with indifference when a school bus is blown to pieces in The Yemen with a British bomb.

Imagine the UK was selling arms to Russia, right now, as it massacres Ukrainians. Well, this is exactly what we're doing with Saudi Arabia, and even worse, we're helping them direct the bombs. We are using our technical expertise to help Saudis fire British-made rockets that cannot be launched without our say so. Britain and America could end this genocide tomorrow, yet we continue the killing and create refugees with a "let 'em drown" policy.

If your heart is bleeding for Ukrainian refugees, but not Yemeni refugees, either your empathy only kicks in when the media tells it too, or you're racist. And in this context, a media-controlled robot is not much better than a racist. The correct response is to welcome all refugees without conditions.

While I have highlighted the double standard around western attitudes towards refugees, it's worth returning to my original point that the UK is treating Ukrainian refugees horribly and that is clearly unacceptable. Visa restrictions mean it's difficult for anyone without immediate family in the UK to enter the country and even adult children are not counted as immediate family. Ukrainians have been describing the paperwork as a "nightmare".

Sorry, but what exactly is there to consider here? We know the war is happening. We know civilians are being butchered and homes are being reduced to rubble. There is no process we need to follow to establish these are genuine refugees, and genuine refugees have every right to enter our country under international law.

Priti Patel has made much about how she will not recognise refugees who arrive in this country through improper channels. So what is she going to do with Ukrainians that enter the country the "improper way"? Deport them to the warzone? Of course she isn't, because as much as I could believe she would be willing to do this, it would be a huge violation of international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention explicitly states you cannot hold a refugee's method of entry into your country against them. This is because refugees are desperate people who will do anything to get to safety and their safety is all that matters.

One thing this crisis has exposed is the absurdity of the argument that Britain takes more than its fair share of refugees. This was never true and it was also never true that people were coming here because the streets are paved with gold and they can live a life of luxury on state benefits. Hell, we don't even allow refugees to work on arrival and we give them less than forty quid a week to live on. We treat refugees horribly, even on those rare occasions we do accept them. It's about time we started doing more to help other countries than sending our weapons.


Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Vladimir Putin has become today's great enemy of the west - a dictator who sends unwitting Russian boys into a conflict they never wanted and who allows the extreme elements of his military to commit war crimes with impunity. While Russian forces are shelling civilian areas, destroying infrastructure and murdering children, some of their soldiers are sabotaging their own vehicles, refusing to fight and surrendering to Ukraine. 

Ukrainian resistance has clearly been much stiffer than Putin expected, partly thanks to NATO weapons, and things are not going to plan for Russia, to say the least. This leaves Putin with one of two options: either he can choose to escalate an already horrific conflict that is turning his own people against him, or he can seek a diplomatic solution. Given many of his own troops clearly have no appetite for war and have already lost thousands of their comrades in battle, a peaceful solution seems increasingly achievable. 

The peace talks so far offer hope of a way out of this nightmare. There is every possibility we can persuade the Chinese to use their leverage and isolate Putin who cannot risk losing too much support at home. And his oligarchs will surely abandon him as western sanctions hit them in the pocket. Wealth, after all, is going to be much more important to them than loyalty to a dictator. 

A way out that enables Putin to save face will become increasingly appealing as this conflict goes on, so surely, the rhetoric from the west should focus on de-escalation and finding a permanent solution to this crisis. Both the left and the right seem to be getting this now. Yet the one political faction who is not getting this at all is the so-called moderates - the people who unironically call themselves the "grownups in the room".

A large number of moderates have been outright arguing for a no-fly zone (someone please take Dan Hodges' Twitter away from him) and insisting anything less would be equivalent to appeasing Hitler. Other moderates are not explicitly calling for a no-fly zone, but hinting they are leaning in that direction, or at least sympathetic to the argument.

Meanwhile, moderates are screaming at anyone who tries to understand the nuance of the situation (something which is essential if we are to negotiate peace) that they are a Putin sympathiser. The Labour leader is even threatening critics of NATO with expulsion from his party and condemning the Stop the War movement. Perhaps we should be not surprised: it was, after all, this faction that dragged us into illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, they have learned nothing from their past mistakes.

Let's be clear what these people are arguing for:

A no-fly zone would not be a no-fly zone at all; it would be NATO jets fighting Russian jets in the skies above Ukraine. It would be the start of World War 3 and dramatically increase the risk of nukes being detonated across the northern hemisphere. Even if Putin did not resort to nuclear Armageddon, he would surely start fighting a hell of a lot dirtier than he currently is. Let's not forget he has only used a fraction of Russia's military might so far.

Do we want to risk a situation where Putin is carpet-bombing Ukrainian cities? Do we want to risk a situation where he turns his attention to European cities? Because those things are a distinct possibility, even if nukes are off the table (which they aren't). We would have no choice but to escalate into full war with Russia at that point, and Russia is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It has state of the art weaponry and a military might comparable to our own. It would be a war of equals and the death toll would be unthinkable. 

If you doubt Russia's might, you can always travel to Ukraine yourself and sign up for their military. They would welcome keyboard warriors like yourself with open arms, but I'm guessing you don't want to do this. I'm guessing you simply want working class lads and lasses to do the work for you while you revel in the glory of a war you never fought in, just like you do with World War 2.

Trouble is, this is real life and there is so much more at stake than you showing the world how courageous you are on social media. As horrific as the conflict in Ukraine is, our direct intervention would risk worsening things one thousand fold. Far from saving lives, we would be killing many, many more. 

And what do you think would happen when Russia start losing this war and their cities are in ruins and Putin is on the verge of being captured or killed? At this point, you had better hope his own people refuse to take his orders and arrest or kill him, because you can bet your right arm he will be ready to push that nuclear button. If he is going to die, he is going to take the rest of us down with him.

Now I don't think everyone understands what nuclear war would mean (I even saw someone on Twitter argue it would be preferable to letting Putin win!) so let me explain for the hard of thinking: it would not be a war at all. It would not be a tit-for-tat bombing campaign in which a handful of cities are taken off the map. 

If you push the red button, you know your enemy is going to respond with overwhelming force so your only option is to unleash your full military might at once. It would be a desperate last gasp move to take out your enemy, knowing full well they are going to do the same to you. It would be pressing the self-destruct button of the northern hemisphere and quite possibly the whole planet. Let's not forget western missile defences are maybe 50% reliable and half of 6,000 Russian warheads would be more than enough to do the intended damage.

There would likely be no survivors on an island the size of Britain, and you want to be among the first dead because instant incineration would be preferable to your skin peeling off in the ensuing wildfire. Sorry to be grim, but that is the likelihood.

Further afield, nuclear bombs would kill an estimated 20-50% of the human population, and the survivors would be left to starve in an irradiated wasteland during a nuclear winter that would last for decades - it's plausible this would wipe out our entire species. The most optimistic estimates suggest a reasonable number of people would survive in the southern hemisphere with high cancer rates, common birth defects, and a life expectancy shortened by 10-15 years. Again, this is the most optimistic scenario.

This is why the loony lefties who are demanding peace at all costs are right - they understand the horrifying reality.

A few days ago, I thought the prospect of nuclear war was unthinkable, that no one would escalate to that extreme over a fight for the Russian-speaking Donbas regions of Ukraine. But I never reckoned on the absolute madness we have seen from "moderate" voices, or the way even Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says he will speak to the prime minister about the possibility of a no-fly zone. 

Starmer did state that a no-fly zone is not his party's policy, but in that case, what the hell is there to talk about? Does he want to leave the option on the table, just in case we change our minds and decide Armageddon would be better after all?

It seems unbelievable that we have to explain to the "grownups in the room" how idiotic their nonsense is, but these are people who scream you down if you dare mention that Ukraine was embroiled in an eight year civil war prior to the Russian invasion - and that civil war left over 13,000 civilians dead. You're certainly not allowed to mention the neo-Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukrainian army, but you are allowed to mention the Nazi elements in the Russian military. You are allowed to criticise Russian imperialism but not NATO expansionism. You are only allowed to state the Ukrainian government is an entirely blameless victim (separatists would beg to differ) and NATO is a purely defensive organisation (Libyans would beg to differ).

The thing is, the above points must be discussed, not to "do Putin's propaganda for him", but because understanding the politics around the Donbas regions, the Ukrainian civil war and NATO expansionism is central to all of this. You simply cannot have a peace process without these things being discussed.

You might prefer to act like this is a Marvel movie and Putin is the super-villain who must be stopped at all costs, but in this scenario "all costs" would likely mean the death of yourself, your family, all your friends and mine too. This really is a time for "grownups in the room" to find peace and the moderates are not behaving like grownups.