Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Rich Get Off Scot Free. The Rest Of Us Pay The Price.

I have always wondered about the origins of the phrase “Scot free” as in: “He got off Scot free.” I have never got around to finding out how the phrase arose and if any reader can enlighten me I would be grateful. But today it seems that the phrase was written in anticipation, to perfectly describe Fred Goodwin who bailed out of the bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland with a massive pension before the full extent of the mess was revealed, leaving the rest of us to clean up and pay (

You know, I was never under any illusions about New Labour, always recognising their cheesy, “third way” rhetoric ( as the utter betrayal of any notion of representing the interests of ordinary people.

Much of what New Labour has been responsible for has not shocked me, for example their slavish devotion to PFI; their lap-dog like relationship with George W Bush; their dishonest spin; the financial sleaze and graft; their scape-goating and victimisation of the vulnerable; or their smug, self-satisfied, greasy-pole-climbing sense of superiority in this great “meritocracy” ( of their making, while they kick the ladder out from under the feet of all future generations.

But just occasionally they do something that really shocks me. The shock is usually brief. It is always easy to assimilate the knowledge of any new depths to which the smug and selfish will descend, as we have seen it all so many times now.

Gordon Brown shocked me when, as Chancellor, he proclaimed there would be no more boom or bust ( I judged he was not deluded enough to actually believe he had God-like powers over the world economy, so I was just shocked that he thought the rest of us might be stupid enough to believe him.

Tony Blair proclaiming on national TV within hours of the 9/11 attacks, before there had been any public or parliamentary discussion, that we would “support our American allies in whatever they choose to do …….” was one of those moments that briefly shocked me. So he was giving an undertaking on behalf of everyone in the UK, to back the Government in the USA unconditionally, no matter what they chose to do in response to the 9/11 attacks! It seemed shocking to me at the time, but was not much remarked on due to the greater shock of the images of the twin towers.

I wasn’t that surprised at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, although some of the lies told to justify the war, including the premeditated dodgy dossier were quite remarkable.

I was briefly shocked at the audacity of Gordon Brown, when he joined half a million people on the "Make Poverty History" march in Edinburgh, at the time of the G8 gathering in 2005. At the time I sarcastically referred to him as "the man who has done so much to make poverty the future". Gee Whiz! I wish time hadn't proved me to be quite so right. (In making that point, I am not trying to be a smart alec. My point is that ordinary people have as much sense as our rulers.) Interestingly, the cost of writing off all third world debt, which obviously Brown and Co told us was utterly impossible, is only a fraction of what has recently been spent to bail out capitalism.

One thing that truly shocked me out of my boots was when I learned of “extraordinary rendition” flights, where people were illegally abducted and flown around the world to illegal prisons to be interrogated or even tortured ( Everyone is innocent until proven guilty under due legal process, unless we want a return to the dark ages and the witch trials. Even the US Government has admitted that some individuals who were subjected to extraordinary rendition were totally innocent (

I was genuinely horrified to discover in 2005 that Scottish airports ( were being used to facilitate this gross breach of the Geneva Conventions ( - laws that were supposed to rescue humanity from the precipice of the utter barbarism of the Nazis. I remember in 2006, writing to every single elected representative in the UK and Scottish parliaments including Jack Straw, requesting information about whether UK airports were being used to facilitate extraordinary rendition. I asked every single elected representative to speak out against this gross breach of the Geneva Conventions.

There were a handful of honourable exceptions, but the vast majority of these elected representatives either did not respond, or passed the buck saying I had to contact my own MP. Members of the Scottish Parliament including then Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said they had no jurisdiction over Scottish airports and I would need to contact the UK parliament. Many of them stated as fact that air travel was excluded from the Geneva Conventions. Many of them, including Jack Straw’s department, assured me that UK airports were not being used for extraordinary rendition and that the UK Government was opposed to torture.

I wish I could say I am, but in all honesty I am not shocked to hear today that the UK Government has finally admitted that our airports WERE used for extraordinary rendition ( And this is hot on the heals of the release from Guantanamo Bay of a man who claims that UK officials were complicit in his torture (

On 9/11 there was a bit of a scandal about Government seeking to bury bad news on what was already a bad news day ( Today, 26th February 2009, it seems like they are intent on openly unleashing a flood of as much bad news as possible in one go. The news that our government lied to us over extraordinary rendition is almost a minor hiccough in relation to the economic news.

The media and the government seem to want us to focus on Scot-free Fred Goodwin’s £650 000/year pension. It is sickening that this greedy, grossly incompetent, swaggering, fool who has a reputation for slashing ordinary people’s jobs even in the economic good times, is allowed to retire on the equivalent of a massive lottery win. Meanwhile the rest of us are expected to work until we are 70 and are castigated for not saving up to 50% of our meagre income for our retirement. Fred retires at 50 with a lotto win courtesy of the tax payer, but the rest of us are scroungers unless we work til we drop down dead. But his pension is a mere nothing in comparison to the dizzy sums of money being used to bail out and insure the banking system.

The figure so far is more than twice the expected tax revenue for this year and that is before lost revenue from job losses is considered (

I am not an economist, but I think if I spent more than twice my expected annual income by basically the end of the January sales I would stand a good chance of being declared bankrupt.

What if anything else goes wrong? What if there is a massive environmental disaster or an epidemic? We have no way of paying to save ourselves from any kind of big problem.

It is beyond preposterous. If there was any kind of meaningful democracy we should have been allowed to vote on our options in this economic crisis. We should have been allowed a say on whether we should nationalise the bankrupt banks for their market value at the point they were about to crash ( Like I say I am not an economist, but in the most technical terms I can muster I would say the value of the banks was basically peanuts. So we, the ordinary people, could have voted on whether we wanted to take the banks into full public ownership for their actual value, or whether we wanted to underwrite this biggest subsidy of the capitalist system in human history, that our government has pledged us to.

When you think of all the publicly owned services and industries we have lost due to the free market dogma that they weren’t profitable, as if profit was the only measure of value. We have lost our mines, railways, public utilities and energy companies, many of our hospitals and schools, much of our car industry and our ship building industry…..I could go on and on. New Labour are currently trying to force us into privatisation of the postal service. None of these things were valuable enough to use public money to save. But New Labour has squandered unbelievable billions on wars and dodgy banks.

It is all about right-wing dogma. The banks underpin capitalism, so they cannot be nationalised under any socialist interpretation of what that would entail – that they would be run democratically for the greater good. (The banks MAY be fully nationalised, but it is a capitalist model where the free-marketers retain control and the banks go back to the private sector once the taxes of ordinary people have saved them.)

Anyway, today was one of those rare moments when I felt genuine shock at what New Labour has done – not at any one act or event, but at the sum total of what they have achieved. Things were very bad at the end of the Tory era, in 1997, but I honestly had no idea how bad things would get under New Labour. They have literally bankrupted us, both as individuals and as a nation. They have squandered every penny we will ever earn for who knows how long, on un-winnable wars and un-bankable banks. They have left us nothing with which to fight climate chaos or any other challenge. Even in their own right-wing terms they have utterly failed. They have been so consumed by greed and preening conceit that their attempts to play Deputy Dog to Uncle Sam have taken us to a point where it is unlikely that the UK will ever be a major world power again. They are running out of money for bombs ( And just maybe that is the hint of a silver lining. Maybe the ruling class will lose a little confidence in their ability to govern and maybe ordinary people will focus our anger on using our power to build a better society and a better world. We would surely make a better job of it than New Labour and their associates, or the despicable Tories before them. I have a red wrist band which I bought when I joined the Scottish Socialist Party at the Make Poverty History demo in Edinburgh in 2005. It reads: "Make Capitalism History." People, it is time.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Women Can't Win

See this article from the Daily Mail:

The article makes the points in the extreme, but there has been lots of it about in various publications.

It's breath-taking how the media manage to knock down both Jade Goody and Gail Trimble, because neither of them can ever live up to the expectations of "ideal" womanhood.

Jade is derided for her ignorance that is a result of her difficult, poverty-stricken and deprived early life. She is castigated for daring to take the rare opportunities that were presented to her and for trying to secure a better life for her children after her own tragically premature death.

Gail has been ripped to shreds for being a privately educated, walking, talking encyclopedia. How dare she focus on her academic career and refuse to be exploited by Nuts magazine. She's not playing the game. We've all seen how clever she is, but the only point in that is that she should now get her bits out for the lads.

The message is clear. It doesn't matter how hard you try or how much adversity you overcome, or for that matter, what class you are. If you are a woman you will never be good enough.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Class and Dying

I am ill, thankfully just a minor winter illness. But I don't feel like posting, so instead, I include an article from the Independent, by Ellie Levenson.

I would add just a couple of points of my own.

Firstly, there is still comment in the media that it is promiscuous women, or women who are very young when they are first sexually active, who are at risk of being infected with strains of human papilloma virus that can lead to cervical cancer. This is NOT true. Strains of HPV infect the normally sexually active woman. You don't need to be especially young or promiscuous. So every woman needs to have regular cervical smear tests. If you are young enough to be in the target age, have your HPV immunisations and remember you ALSO still need your regular smear tests.

Secondly, I hope Jade thoroughly enjoys her big wedding, since that is what she wants. I hope the rest of us can allow her a little respect, even as she feels compelled to prioritise making money for her children. It's a terrible indictment of the capitalist system that dying parents all over the world are haunted by fears of what will become of their children.

Ellie Levenson: We should admire Jade Goody
I often wondered if those invasive procedures were really worth it
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

This morning I did something I had been putting off for a while, and I did it purely because the coverage of Jade Goody's cervical cancer in the newspapers prompted me to. I rang my doctor's surgery and asked them to tell me when my next smear test is due. Not yet, it turned out – smear tests should be carried out every three years and my last one was in September 2007.

I think about smear tests more than most people, because in my early twenties (the age for testing has subsequently been raised to 25) I had a series of abnormal test results leading to a procedure called a Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone (LLETZ), which is where the abnormal cells are cut out. Since then, my smear tests, which were annual for several years following treatment, have been normal, and I am back on a cycle of a test every three years.
But during my many years of smear tests, and after, there have been many times when I wondered whether all of those invasive procedures were worth it, particularly because the probability of abnormal cells developing into cancer are rather slim. Now however, I look at Jade Goody in the news, having ignored a letter from her doctors to come in for further treatment for abnormal cells and now dying from cervical cancer, and I no longer question the value of screening.

But I do understand how easy it is to ignore such letters. After all, having a smear test is a nuisance. You need to get to the doctors at the right time in your menstrual cycle, have a rather large piece of equipment inserted into you and have cells scraped away in an uncomfortable procedure. Having further treatment is even more of a pain – leading to painful cramping, odd discharges, and a month without sex. And it is so easy to ignore letters and warnings and to think that low probability means no probability.

Jade's very public suffering has made many people feel uneasy over the past few months, and there is a sense from many that she should die with dignity, or at the very least, then silently. And nearly all of this is snobbery. No one told the journalists Ruth Picardie or John Diamond to die quietly when they wrote columns and books about the cancers that killed them.
By refusing to back quietly into the shadows, Jade Goody has done a noble thing. I called my doctor because of her, and I suspect many other women have done the same. I did so not because I read a cerebral column she had written on the subject, or because I watched a dignified interview, but because Jade has been as brash and as loud about her cancer as she has about the rest of her celebrity life – something which I, and all the other women who have phoned their doctors about smear tests in the past few weeks, have to thank her for.