We Must Not Surrender to Child Poverty

This was published by Plaid Cymru Aberystwyth, 14 April 2017.

child poverty 2

Campaigning on an estate in Penparcau, I hear families talking, clearing dishes, watching television and putting children to bed.  There are shrieks and laughter from children seeking to squeeze a little more life from the day. I suddenly remember the damning fact that more than a third of children in Penparcau live in poverty.  I feel anger that so many children have been failed by our political and economic leaderships – their lives diminished, stolen, plunged onto a – more than likely – trajectory of life-long deprivation.

Incumbent politicians prefer that failure remains invisible, and for the most part, child poverty is shuffled out of view.  We are only made to face the terrible truth when the yearly headlines reappear: “A quarter of UK children in poverty,” “200,000 Welsh children in poverty.” Each time, the headlines are met with the same excuses and obfuscations.

Since 1999, the successive governments under Welsh Labour have publicized their flagship policy to end child poverty by 2020.

Yet, by the end of 2016 – and after campaigning on “eradicating” child poverty in the May elections to the National Assembly – Labour announced it will fail to meet its target.

First and foremost, the Labour government blamed its failure squarely on the austerity policies and welfare reforms of the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition and the current Conservative governments.  Labour, taking a page from Plaid Cymru, also blamed the limited powers available for the National Assembly.  Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant said:

“The Welsh Government does not hold the primary policy and fiscal levers, especially in terms of the welfare system, needed to enable us to deliver the significant changes needed.” (“No end to child poverty by 2020, Welsh Government says,” BBC, 13 December 2016)

With its belated complaint about a lack of powers, it may at first sight seem Labour had finally begun to recognise what Plaid Cymru has known all along: the urgency for an adequate constitutional settlement.  But, that is certainly not the case.  Indeed, Labour has surrendered to child poverty and to the “business as usual” which is its cause.  Sargeant said:

“The issues we face can therefore only be tackled through new ways of working. Within a context of stretched resources and reducing budgets, we need to focus our efforts where we can have most impact with the levers we have available.” (BBC, 13 December 2016)

It is clear we must acknowledge the reality of what is and what is not “available”.  Yet, Plaid Cymru contends we can do much more with what is available (like banning Zero Hours contracts, for example), and that we can, and must, continuously fight to increase what is “available” – in terms of funding and powers.

Instead of declaring a state of emergency, for instance, over palpable threats to the human rights of Welsh children, and demanding more powers for Wales, Labour acquiesced to pre-ordained failure by accepting a toxic status quo where one in three children will continue to live in poverty.  Or, in their own words, Labour could have demanded the “primary policy and fiscal levers” for Wales in order to confront the unnecessary stain of child poverty.

Yet, it has long been clear that Labour is not inclined to demand more powers for Wales. Indeed, it was only Plaid Cymru, during its One Wales coalition with Labour in 2007, which prompted the 2011 Referendum which gave the National Assembly primary legislative competence.  From this perspective, Labour’s original promise to eradicate child poverty was either an opportunistic lie or a terrible naivety.

The consequence of Labour’s reluctance to demand more powers – reflective of the ambivalence about devolution that has haunted it for decades – is that, on their own criteria, they will always fail to meet their objectives.  They do not have the powers, but they do not want them either – and thus, Labour will always make promises it cannot keep.

In response to this blatant self-contradiction, those of us unwilling to surrender to child poverty must clearly lay out our desire to achieve the “primary policy and fiscal levers” which will allow us to realistically confront the endemic challenge we face.

Such an augmentation of a Welsh centre of gravity becomes even more important in the wake of Brexit.  Indeed, one could very easily ask: if the UK does not wish to be ruled from Brussels, then why on earth would Wales wish to be ruled from London?  Should we not take back control?  Brexit necessitates a re-balancing of not only the UK single market, but also of the centres of constitutional power and responsibility within the UK.

Assuming for the moment that the UK will remain intact – a prospect that with each day seems to recede from view – it will be necessary to fulfil the ambitions of devolution through the establishment of home rule across the “family of nations”.  London-rule, on its own, will never solve the problem of child poverty in Wales (or Northern Ireland).  Yet, a robust Welsh government could solve this problem, and many others, if it had the “primary policy and fiscal levers”.  Yet, given its past performance, it is highly unlikely that the Labour party will ever lead such a government.

Nevertheless, I will argue that home rule would be good for all the parties in Wales – if prosperity and self-governance is in fact our common goal.  With home rule, Wales would have the powers to enact its own unique solutions to the challenges of child poverty, criminal justice, and socio-economic development, to name a few.

There are those of course who fear that home rule is merely a Trojan Horse for independence.  If we look closely at this suggestion, however, they seem to be openly admitting that they would rather have Wales powerless and poor than to prosper through self-government.

We could however imagine the exact opposite of their fear.  Indeed, it is possible that if Wales enjoyed home rule within an authentic “family of nations,” it may have little incentive to leave such an arrangement.

In reality, independence is always a possibility – regardless of home rule – and the proponents of Welsh independence are currently enjoying a significant surge in support in the wake of Brexit.  In this way, the conflation of home rule and independence is a red herring.

At the end of the day, the question of Welsh independence will be decided by the Welsh people.  Home rule however is a different question – it concerns more immediate issues of practical self-governance and social well-being, of the fulfilment of the rights and aspirations of the Welsh people within the UK.  Home rule speaks to the urgency to build a better life for a people who have learned from centuries of experience that Wales does best when it controls its own affairs.

We must approach our situation simultaneously from two perspectives – firstly, we must work to get the maximum from the current system to best advantage at all levels of government, and secondly, we must work for the fulfilment of the devolutionary potential in the promotion of Welsh social, political, economic and cultural democracy.

We cannot surrender to child poverty – nor can we surrender to a political and economic order which makes us hop on one leg to gain our supper.

In this dangerous moment of history, it is more important than ever to have trustworthy hands at every level of government, hands that will support not only local communities but also the national interests of Wales – of her vulnerable pensioners, hard-pressed families, disabled, youth and children.

Under the guiding idea of home rule, we can build a Wales in which the fundamental rights of Welsh citizens are respected.  We must work to build the alternative, one that will allow us to truly eradicate child poverty and many other social challenges.

 

Dr James Luchte professor of philosophy, author and writer.  He is a Plaid Cymru candidate for Aberystwyth Council from the Ward of Penparcau.

 

Squat to own – Sadiq Khan must think bigger to solve the housing crisis

In his campaign for London mayor, Sadiq Khan stated repeatedly that his greatest challenge would be the housing crisis. What we have experienced instead is a disappointing dearth in the mix of tactics to confront property speculation and skyrocketing rents.

khan

Previous generations responded to their own housing crises with massive social housing projects, housing benefit, rent control, cooperatives – and squatting. Already back-tracking on slightly more radical policies such as rent control, Khan’s central initiative has been Homes for Londoners, a private-public partnership to encourage investment in additional housing capacity. But, while Khan has criticised investors for regarding residential assets in London as “gold bricks for investment,” his own policies in fact capitulate to the speculative property market by offering “affordable homes” as just another investment brand.

Khan recently stated that he would be friendly with business as mayor of London.  Yet, as a public official, his remit extends beyond the narrow interests of business toward those of the wider community.  If his rapport with the market is to surrender to its logic, Khan will merely perpetuate the root cause of the housing crisis.  In line with the neo-liberal mantra, the “free market” is not meant to efficiently allocate housing as a social need, but to generate revenues and maintain property values.

The housing crisis, in this way, would seem to be a matter of perspective.  For landlords and investors, there is in fact no crisis at all, but record profits and expanding opportunities for investment.  The crisis exists only for end-users, housing consumers in a seller’s market – where supply is maintained in artificial scarcity.  Bound by this logic, Khan’s Homes for Londoners will provide little incentive for a shift in investment behaviour – and will therefore not solve the housing crisis.

A credible housing strategy – indeed, a housing revolution – must deploy a mix of tactics and must transform the logic of housing provision through public investment, regulation, and cooperatives.  Yet, as we have seen, Khan has not challenged the pre-eminence of the market – even though in housing allocation, it has so clearly failed. In the face of the contradiction between property as a residential asset and housing as a social necessity, Khan must challenge the market by expanding his range of options to deliver on his promises to London.

To read the rest of the article, please visit: Squat to own – Sadiq Khan must think bigger to solve the housing crisis.

Hysterical: South African press throws temper tantrum over new finance minister

Hysterical: South African press throws temper tantrum over new finance minister

South African press loses plot over finance change

President Zuma’s routine change of Minster of Finance meets with an embarrassing hysteria

James Luchte

 

Presidents Zuma and Jinping at China SA State Visit

 

For most countries, Cabinet re-shuffles are routine and are the prerogative of the elected leader.

Yet, the reaction of the South African press to President Jacob Zuma’s perfectly normal change of the Minister of Finance seems nothing less than sheer hysteria and crass unprofessionalism.

An impression was intentionally generated in the press of recklessness, that Zuma’s decision was un-announced and un-explained – even  un-democratic.  Yet, Zuma is constitutionally discharged to make such decisions and he promised detailed information to follow.  A detailed statement was released two days later explaining the entire situation.  But, by then, the media had already decided to use this decision as a pretext for what was essentially a farce – but one that was revealing.

The detailed press statement was not even mentioned in their hysteria – indeed, the hysteria could have been avoided if they had bothered to wait for more information ‘in due course.’ This is to act in a professional manner and wait for the statement of the president.  Instead, they created a false event and disseminated a distortion of reality.  Yet, this false event had real consequences which have damaged South Africa.

The Star led with “maelstrom of unreason’;  News24: “No obligation for Zuma to tell Cabinet about new appointments – Presidency”; Mail and Guardian: “Nene’s firing: Who will stop the wrecking ball?”; Independent Online: “Zuma ‘out of control’”; Rand Daily Mail: “Welcome to the Jacob Zuma soap opera: Episode 4323;” Eyewitness News: “OPINION: Zuma’s ‘grotesquely irresponsible’ gamble with SA economy.”  This is only a sample of the permanent smear economy is a 24-7, 7 days a week project.  The private media is an echo chamber, creating its own schizophrenic world.

Strangely enough, as I have mentioned, the president released, amid the hysteria, as a promised follow-up to his initial statement of Nene’s re-deployment (not sacking) on 9 December, a very  detailed press statement on the change at the Ministry which clearly stated that Mr. Nene would be South Africa’s candidate for the BRICS’ New Development Bank and details of the next few weeks.  It is in this context  of the historic FOCAC event in Johannesburg that Zuma announced a new finance minster. These events are intrinsically tied together: FOCAC, BRICS (which, as I have said, was not mentioned in the hysteria) and the new opportunity for Nene at the New Development Bank.

While it was clear to those focussed on the events in Johannesburg that Nene would have a direct role with the BRICS bank, the South African press lurched into high gear, not having the patience to simply allow the political process to unfold.  In the detailed and lengthy press statement, Zuma detailed the ‘new deployment’ two days after his original announcement.

The urgency of the changes in the leadership of the National Treasury was occasioned by the need to send nominations to Shanghai, of the head of the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank/BRICS Bank, to be based in Johannesburg. Mr Nene is our candidate for this position. (Press statement, South African Presidency, Dec. 11, 2015)

To underscore the normality of the situation, Zuma wrote later in the statement:

The economic cluster will meet on Tuesday, 15 December as announced by Minister Jeff Radebe to prepare for a special cabinet meeting on the economy, which will take place on Friday 18 December.

None of the newspapers in question could be bothered to wait for or when it did arrive even mention the president’s own statement, which is very clear on the meaning and the impact of his decision.  Indeed, contrary to the “shock and bewilderment” expressed by some “commentators”, Zuma opened his statement with a note that a prudent fiscal policy will be maintained.  He said:

His appointment as Minister of Finance does not signal a change in the government’s fiscal stance.

Government will not abandon the fiscal path that we have chosen in the last few years.  Maintaining a prudent fiscal position remains one of government’s top priorities.

The new Minister will strengthen the path and continue to support all efforts aimed at improving the lives of ordinary South Africans.

The very fact that the president’s own timely statement is never mentioned (even in the many days following the ‘crisis’) is symptomatic of a radically biased media which has abandoned its right to be called journalism.  The press exists to report news, not make news. Instead, the South African media created the impression of a crisis, and dominating the international news markets and search engine placements, disseminated the impression of a ‘crisis’  world-wide.  Yet, there was no crisis, only an impatience with the reality of having to wait for elaboration from the leader of the government.

Moreover, the failure – was it intentional?  – to make the connection between the historic Johannesburg FOCAC gathering and the change at the Ministry underlines the lack of interest of the South African press for facts and critical thinking.  Such a lack is underscored by the cheer-leading exercise for a Twitter hastag #ZumaMustFall, which as the protests fell flat, clearly did not have the support of the vast majority of the population – outside the parochial shell of entrenched elites.  Ironically, Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF – a favourite of the tabloids – even rejected the protests, called them a conspiracy of ‘white capitalists.’

To this extent, the South African press is not only failing its responsibility to enlighten the public, but has also shown itself to fail to understand the current geopolitical and domestic situation.  Such “journalism” deserves its proper name: propaganda.  It does not serve the people.

Indeed, as suggested, such mock over-reaction, exaggeration and outright hysteria is not a new event with the South African press.  This is business as usual and these new sources understand their audience and their advertiser’s desires – right-wing extremism sold to a captive audience of people who throw temper tantrums since they are not in charge.

The shameful treatment of President Jacob Zuma by the privately owned media and its readers – a standing president who has four more years in his term and won with an overwhelming majority – is an embarrassment to South Africa in the face of the rest of the world.

Only America’s Fox News could applaud the bile of such “journalism”.  Indeed, Fox has become a model for right-wing and Neo-liberal news organisations all over the world, representing privileged suburbanites and entrenched elites.

The failure of the South African privately owned media to contribute to a positive transformation of South Africa exposes its reactionary and merely negative character.  It lives in denial, refusing to accept that it is no longer in charge.

Such was made possible, of course, by the de-regulation of media markets and the general Neo-liberal premise of the IMF controlled “democratic transition” in South Africa, one which has benefited the wealthy who are incidentally the primary consumers of the bile of the private media.

Yet, as Van Rooyen explained in his address at an appointment ceremony attended by the president, the focus of his tenure will be the expansion of opportunity to all South Africans, “not just the few”.

Such talk does not play well with the elites of South Africa, who hide behind their walls, never truly experiencing the utter deprivation of millions of their fellow citizens.  Instead of visiting the townships and offering a helping hand, a kind word, they repeat the party line of faceless “commentators.”

Bordering on the brink of sedition, they pray at night for the perfect storm, one that will never come.  In such a situation, a legislative introduction of a “Fairness Doctrine” would be appropriate for these private companies.

In the end, Zuma decided to calm the markets, their “animal spirits,” disturbed by the false crisis, one generated by the media, by replacing Van Rooyen with the former finance minister Pravin Ghordan.  This decision, it is no surprise, has also been latched on by the press as a symptom of Zuma’s alleged indecisiveness.  Yet, such ‘indecisiveness’ is as real as the ‘crisis’ generated by the media and is essentially the same. In fact, Zuma responded decisively to counter the mischief of the media and its fantasies of the fall of the ANC.

As Jackson Mthembu, National Spokesperson for the ANC, has outlined in his article on this fiasco, “Media lose its veneer of objectivity with #ZumaMustFall”, the architects of the crisis were the journalists and media outlets themselves.  Their hysteria and opportunism is to blame for the persistent obstructionism of the new South Africa. Their journalism is merely propaganda.

Fifty Shades of the IMF: America and the Empire of Dominance

Fifty Shades of the IMF

America and the Empire of Dominance

The BRICS Alternative and the Case of South Africa

Narcissism, not wisdom, guides American policy, which is itself a mask of anarchy.

James Luchte

Unlike the General Assembly of the United Nations, where each country has one vote, decision making at the IMF was designed to reflect the relative positions of its member countries in the global economy. The IMF continues to undertake reforms to ensure that its governance structure adequately reflects fundamental changes taking place in the world economy.

The International Monetary Fund

The economic health of every country is a proper matter of concern to all its neighbours, near and far.

President Franklin Roosevelt

Fifty Shades of the IMF

As with De Sade’s Justine, the IMF lures its victims with pledges of aid.

Again and again, the naive girl, still believing in virtue, finds herself imprisoned. Such was the case, for instance, with the abbey in the forest, inhabited by monks. Justine is saved, she believes – but the monks reveal themselves to be sadists, torturing, raping and killing their prey. The monks, hiding behind a mask of sanctity, do what they like, satisfy their peculiar and perverse desires, while disciplining and binding those they have abducted (ab ducere, to lead from, astray). The monks wait for their quarry as a spider who strikes. But, as with the carnivorous plant that seems to offer water, the monks contrive to bind Justine even as they extend a helping hand. Thomas Jefferson, writing in the same era, warned, ‘…under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate.’[1]

To read the rest of the essay, please visit Fifty Shades of the IMF: America and the Empire of Dominance

The Tory Regime – A Government of Paralysis

The Tory Regime – A Government of Paralysis

James Luchte

Divided Kingdom

Nearly two months after the Queen’s Speech, it has become all too clear that the Tory government is already in a state of paralysis. Central precepts of the Queen’s Speech have already been quietly abandoned.

The political earthquake of 2015 reverberated with the rise of multi-party politics in the UK, the decimation of the Labour Party in Scotland, the failure of Austerity Labour to reach disaffected Tories in England and the disillusion of the vast majority of the electorate with status quo politics. This disillusion was given expression in a fragmentation of voting demographics, which, due to the current voting system, was not reflected in the representational pattern in Parliament.

What we have been left with is a Conservative government with a slim majority. Yet, it is not the slim majority (obtained with a rather small percentage of the popular vote), that is the cause of the paralysis of the Tory government. The paralysis lies instead in the internal divisions within the Conservative Party itself.

To read the rest of the article, please visit The Tory Regime: A Government of Paralysis.

Give The Left A Chance: Reflections on “The Longest Suicide Note In History” – Labour’s 1983 Manifesto

The poetic cliché that “history repeats itself” has turned into parody and farce in the current leadership selection process in the Labour Party in which various right wing candidates, like brands of dish soap, vie against each other in a boring and meaningless spectacle.

This essay is published in Daily Wales: News for a Sovereign Nation, 19/05/2015

labour 1983

The parody and farce of the situation is manifest – a “Labour” Party in which the leadership selection process involves neither workers nor advocates of workers. The necessity of the intervention by Len McCluskey, a union leader, merely exacerbates the farce. But, no one in our corporate headline media will look at this process outside of the box.

The box is simply placed upon our heads and we are given a fait accompli which is a forced choice between different brands of the same corruption of the Labour Party. But, how many times have we been here before? The Left & the Right, the continuous and methodical divestment from the union movement and ordinary Labour Party members who are given the unenviable position of advocacy for something in which they no longer believe – all choice in politics becomes a forced choice if we do not have representation.

The current government has a mandate, an elective dictatorship for five years based upon 37% of the electoral vote. Very few of us were in any way involved in the selection processes of the leaders and thus our votes are merely a rubber stamping process, the criterion for which is an impressionistic sensibility disseminated by the information industrial complex.

Vague impressions, innuendo, brother stabs brother in the back, sick child, archetypes, corporate control, the manufacturing of control through distraction and superficiality. The problem is that we as humans in post-modern society live in a world of poetic clichés, inside a mythology of ghosts and innuendo. Old Labour, New Labour – clichés, stereotypes, misunderstandings, distortions and lost/missed opportunities.

The Left has never been given a chance, except for the catastrophe of 1983. But, in itself, the loss of Michael Foot means nothing. Should we talk about the interference in Wilson’s Labour government by the United States and the subservience of the United Kingdom to America ever since? Or, is that not allowed, outside of the box, extremist propaganda. But, outside the box is the truth, the perspective to see things as they are.

To read the rest of the article, please visit Give the Left a Chance.

The Tory Regime: A Truth Event

Of the Feral Children – A Novel of Rebellion – Kindle (Fire & Ice Publishing, 2015)

‘From the re-incarnation of a Dadaist Poet fixated on an Edwardian pornographic photo to the end of British Civilisation in an Apocalyptic Earthquake, this novel sprawls across the devastated landscape of the ‘teens of this century. The seedy underworld and the seedy overworld clash in a kaleidoscope of sex and violence leaving only the ‘feral children’ to make their own world from the wreckage.’

—- Robert Gilham

Of the Feral Children: A Mayan Farce (2012)

Go to: Of the Feral Children: Synopsis and Review

The Three Graces of Politics – The UK General Elections 2015

The Three Graces of Politics

Faith, Hope and Charity

By James Luchte

the hug

Jonathan Jones reminded us recently through “probably a wildly inappropriate pre-feminist art historical reference”, in his article, “Something new is happening in British politics. This image captures it.” (Guardian, 17 April 2015), of the resemblance of the embrace between the party leaders of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales and Green Party, Leanne Wood, Natalie Bennett and Nicola Sturgeon, respectively and the Three Graces.

The Three Graces are commonly known as faith, hope and charity, but have the tangible meanings of trust, confidence, and love or solidarity,.a symbolism common to many religions and tendencies of thinking.

Indeed, Jonathan’s suggestion is quite apt, and can demonstrate the importance of humanities (crassly cut out of the Coalition’s Tory budget) in the context of political reality. We already know what Burns, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dickens has taught us, and Camus, Joyce, Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas, as contributors to the ethos of a culture which engages in political economic and social questioning from differing perspectives.

This embrace of three progressive leaders, amidst an era of constant crisis, allows us, by coincidence, it would seem, to remember the Three Graces and their significance to the meaning of the New Politics – one of trust, well-being, and social solidarity.

These Graces, or Virtues, in this light, are politically speaking, the characteristics of a healthy society, with some resemblance to Plato’s own tripartite schema in his Republic, and I will consider each of them in turn.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Three Graces of Politics: The UK General Electiions

The Liberal Democrats: A Post-Mortem

Go to: Wales in the European Union

Go to: The Ends of the British State in Planet Magazine: The Welsh Internationalist

Go to: “They Destroy, We Create: The Anti-Austerity UK Alliance” in Planet Magazine: The Welsh Internationalist

___________________________

The Liberal Democrats: A Post-Mortem

James Luchte

Libdems looney tunes

The Liberal Democrats began to achieve momentum as a political party in an era in which the Labour government, dominated by the Blairite cliqué, had just embarked with George W. Bush upon a legally questionable invasion of Iraq, killing 1 million people.

In the light of such criminality, the Liberal Democrats were considered in 2005 to be a force for change.

In 2010, with the refusal of the Labour Party to set up an alternative coalition government with the SNP, the monstrosity of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government was born.

The publically stated raison d’etre of the Liberal Democrats was to gain concessions on policy, primarily a referendum on AV. However, as Eluned Parrot, Liberal Democrat, admitted on 2 March 2015 (Sharp End TV), the minority party in a coalition will often be “squeezed” and in the end the Liberal Democrats simply endorsed Tory policy.

Indeed, what is an even greater mystery than Ed Miliband’s decision in 2013 to abandon building a European-wide Anti-Austerity movement is the fact that, even as their Coalition partners actively campaigned against AV, which was defeated (not to mention the entire corrupt ethos of the Coalition government), the Liberal Democrats remained in the Coalition, simply propping up the wholesale demolition of the welfare state.

The Liberal Democrats sold their souls for nothing.

Millions have suffered and died from Tory Austerity policies and the Liberal Democrats are complicit in these policies, and they must take responsibility for their failure of judgement.

The Liberal Democrats should apologise for their betrayal of trust.

So, we return to the General Election of 2015.

The question to the voter was: Should we trust the Liberal Democrat party. seeing them as it wished to seem before the Coalition? Perhaps, such an attitude would be acceptable if the Liberal Democrats were truly at odds with Coalition policy.

Yet, the Liberal Democrats not only propped up the Tories for five years, but also actively voted in favour of Conservative, Neo-Liberal Austerity economics.  They are thus rightly seen as complicit in the damage to the people from the fraud of austerity. Nick Clegg’s pretense to populism only added insult to injury.

We can conclude that the Liberal Democrats, unwilling to apologise for the damage they has done to the people of the United Kingdom, were rewarded for their duplicity by losing all but eight seats in Parliament.

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