Common Space

This blog is now being used as an archive of previous pieces. I am now writing opinion for the excellent Common Space site. Read my work here: https://www.commonspace.scot/authors/mark-scott

Cheers!

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I wrote this article ‎a few days before the election was called. It was swallowed up by the frenzy that ensued. Given the Tory Manifesto launch, it seems more apt than ever.‎

Ensuring every primary school child has a free decent, nutritious meal regardless of background?‎ Seems like a wonderful idea even to the most curmudgeonly amongst us.  It could even have been taken straight from a Blair- era focus group session; a vision of improving social mobility in the simplest of manners.

Now however, it’s a utopian idea that could only have been dreamt up by the loony left. At least that’s what you would have thought when it was announced by English Labour last week.

Of course, it isn’t exactly a new idea because children who are in Key Stage 1 and P1-P3 already receive a free meal in England and Scotland respectively. Although judging by the mainstream media’s reaction, you would never have assumed that. According to the naysayers and doomsayers it was an end of days declaration of class war by the dangerous Mr Corbyn.

Based on the Finnish model of all children between 7 and 18 receiving a healthy free school meal at school, I remember the SSP tabling the bill for universal school meals in Scotland. I also recall how it was voted down by Scot Lab, the Lib Dems and the Tories. Imagine a group of overweight politicians taking the food directly out of children’s mouths? Sickening when you think about it. Apparently the policy benefits the wrong children. ‎Are we seriously suggesting that no child from a middle class background is neglected or abused and that they all receive a nutritious meal every day? How ridiculous is that?

A nation with one of the poorest diets and lowest life expectancy rates in the western world had the opportunity to make the simplest of changes to change eating habits and yet it was rejected. At the time, the Education Minister Nicol Stephen said that there just wasn’t enough money to ‎pay for it. However, he stated that the Scottish government was looking at other alternatives to make Scottish children healthier and achieve similar outcomes to Finland. How’s that looking sixteen years on, Nicol?

Talk about lack of long term vision. 

For the chattering classes in England, last week’s panic was over taxes on private schools. Imagine having the luxury of paying thousands upon thousands of pounds for your children’s education and yet being asked to contribute a minimal amount of tax to ensure our society is healthier and happier. ‎ Radio 4’s Today programme were in St. Albans, where a selection of carefully chosen people ‘on the street’ were moaning that they would have to send their children to a state school if the plans were implemented. Imagine.

‎The bottom line is that this is an excellent idea. If we aren’t going to get rid of private schools then let’s tax them and pull their charitable status.

A free school meal is a way to directly stop all those crisp and sweetie laden packed lunches. Parents may continue giving their weans fizzy juice, Greggs and chocolate on the way to school but at least we ‎can give them one good meal when they are being educated. A way to control those sugar highs and dips which affect concentration‎ in every classroom. It might just change a generation’s eating habits. With our NHS under immense strain from the numbers requiring care as a result of our obese society, surely it’s worth a shot?‎ I wonder how many lives could have been improved if not for the narrow mindedness of Nicol and his cronies sixteen years ago?

Momentum: Keep On Keeping On

The plethora of hysteria about Momentum over the past week has felt like history repeating. On the left, these issues have had a habit of becoming self fulfilling prophecies‎. It’s imperative that the same fate does not befoul Momentum. Quite simply, it’s the best hope we have of creating a modern, positive English Left. Having been involved in many political organisations, I can attest that I found none more welcoming than Momentum. Especially on a local level here in Waltham Forest.

For many people Labour died after the Iraq War. For others, it was before that. As someone who grew up in Scotland and saw the disrespect and, at times, utter contempt successive Labour councils displayed towards the Scottish public, I found it very hard to forgive. Jeremy’s campaign gave me the faith to believe again.

This summer, after getting involved locally with Momentum, I met many Labour Party members. Members who shared my goals of supporting state schools and the NHS. Decent humans who wanted to defend our local communities in the war against savage cuts (those same cuts that were supported by a shameful number within the Parliamentary Labour Party). To my surprise, I found myself the only person on the stalls and at local meetings who was a Momentum member but yet not in the Labour Party. ‎Contrary to the media hysteria, the stalls and meetings were not filled with entryists. They were an invigorating mix of Labour members (ranging from six months to forty years), newcomers to politics of all ages and converts like me. I had an epiphany: it was time to join Labour.

For me, local campaigning and organisation is the only way to make a dent in a system whereby we hold very limited power. Whether that be campaigning against local academisation by joining forces with parents, teachers and NUT (like Waltham Forest Momentum) or ‎organising against closures of hospitals, libraries and essential services. If Labour is being impotent on these issues and closing its ears at a Constituency Labour Party level, then it’s up to Momentum to hold them to account and engage locally. If we believe in a fairer society then it starts on our doorstep.

Momentum is not an anti-Labour organisation. It is a positive force within Labour. It has reinvigorated a sloppy and flabby party that has been taking our communities for granted for too long. Long may it continue!

On Billy Bragg, Corbyn and Murdoch’s Evil Empire

As you may have noticed, The English Left is a big fan of Billy Bragg.

There have been few Brits able to mix politics and pop with such energy and commitment as the Bard of Barking. Of course, The Clash, The Specials, Madness and The Smiths must be hailed for perfect slices of agit pop but few have actually got their hands dirty in way Billy has; knocking on doors, speaking at rallies etc etc.

Unfortunately, this die hard activism leaves Mr Bragg with a huge problem in alienating potential listeners and becoming easy pickings for the political elites who control the media. I commend Billy for his continuous enthusiasm and downright hard graft for the English Left (the movement, as opposed to this blog).

He doesn’t need to put himself out there but he does. It would be easier to write a song speaking to his fanbase and take the plaudits in his own talking shop/cottage industry.  He doesn’t. That’s too easy. He gets himself out there. Whether that be on picket lines, at rallies or canvassing to keep fascists at bay. Whilst I don’t always agree with him (tactical voting for the Lib Dems, recent comments on Morrissey), at least he doesn’t just sit about moaning. He tries. He acts. I wish there were more like you, Bill.

Anyway, enough of the love in. Today I read this so called article by a so called journalist from the Murdoch press. Normally I wouldn’t stoop so low as to read the rag but as a few comrades were discussing it and becoming upset about Billy’s stance, I thought I’d better dig deeper to find out more. By the time I’d read the article, it had already been rebuffed by Mr Bragg.

For those not in the know, The Times were claiming the Barking boy had denounced his support for Corbyn at an event in Edinburgh last night. Except it didn’t tell us that he had been speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival until halfway down the article. In fact, to Generation Twitter, this was direct from the comrade’s mouth.

I scanned for quotes. Here they were:

“I worry about Jeremy that he’s a kind of 20th century Labour man.”

Couldn’t agree more. He is deadly loyal to Labour. He believes in Labour even if it writes his suicide note. For evidence: rejecting ideas for a progressive alliance, refusing to deselect troublesome MPs, inviting haters on to the shadow cabinet.

“You can see what happens when a political party becomes tribalist. We can’t afford to go down that route if we are to retain the ability to represent ordinary working people.”

Absolutely. Embracing a proportional voting system and a rainbow parliament is probably the only way now to keep the Tories out. Jeremy hasn’t been strong enough to convey this message to the electorate as yet. Mind you, it has been near impossible with all the coups in the Labour Party kitchen.

Er, that was about it in terms of his comments on Corbyn. 

The Times lambasted Bragg as a “previously loyal supporter” and called him a tactical Lib Dem supporter “since 2001” (untrue, he voted Labour in 2015). Even more worryingly, The Times claimed that he stated that Corbyn is “unable to reach the parts of the electorate needed to build a political force.” Strange that they didn’t supply a quote to back that up or emphase that his opinion may well be linked to earlier comments on tribalism and proportional voting systems. Why let facts get in the way of an anti-Corbyn headline though, eh?

For me, two issues have been raised as a result of this article. Firstly, the increasing ineptitude and general laziness of once coveted broadsheets and secondly, the belief that any Corbyn supporter has to agree with the words of Jezza implicitly or otherwise be labelled a defector. God forbid that anyone uses their own brain. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

You see, the media are truly 20th century. They don’t understand the new media and free movement of information from a wide range of sources. They are lost. An analogue watch in a digital age.

 

 

Our treatment of disability

Something has been plaguing my mind for the last few months and it coincides with the ‘No Go Britain’ feature that has been on Channel 4 News over the last few evenings: disability and our attitudes towards it in modern Britain.

I’ve had my eyes opened because a loved one is temporarily in a wheelchair. Perhaps I too have been guilty of taking the basics for granted. Head in the clouds, enjoying the very basics of going to the pub toilet or skipping down a street. I’d like to think, however, that I’ve always helped where I’ve seen someone in need.  My experiences over the last few months have left me bewildered and somewhat saddened. Three main issues have struck me:

People’s lack of self awareness- Yep, you’re on a train, yep you’re engrossed in a chat but why on earth don’t you realise that you are severely encroaching on someone’s space as a human being? I’m not even talking on busy trains either. I witnessed an incident at a gig recently where two drunken buffoons stood right in front of a woman in a chair. Side by side, leaning over with her as the middle of their sandwich. Beers in hand, fat guts in her face, shouting, spitting, ruining her experience. In the designated disabled area. Were they even aware of their belligerence or would they feel different if it was them sat down?

The staring- Yep. That’s a person coming up the road who is being pushed. Let’s stare. Let’s stare and forget offering help when a troublesome door flies open and the wheelchair is being rammed and rammed and rammed until enough force is used to complete an exit. Why? Why would you not offer to help? Has it really come to this?

Accessibility- The disabled toilet is not working. There is no ramp to get you up those steps. The curb has not been lowered enough so now you need to go on the road. Some moron has parked their car over the access point. People tutting and refusing to move when you are squeezing a huge metal frame down a tiny corridor. Accessibility? Where?

Of course, I’m not even the one who’s had to suffer the humiliation of all of the above. How can we expect people to want to take part in public life when we don’t make it available to all of the public?  I’m afraid to say that it seems a great deal of life at the moment is not for the public at all.  Just for selected, able bodied sections.

I don’t want to end this all on a sour note. I must add that there have been many incidents whereby human compassion has shone through. We are all guilty of a lack of mindfulness at times. That what makes us human I guess. Next time you are in a pub or on public transport or even just walking down the street, have a think; how accessible is this to all of us?

 

In response to Mr Jones

Owen Jones has been worrying. Worrying about the future of Labour. It doesn’t seem that there’s a way out of this ever growing cesspit of hatred and division for the party and Mr Jones wants answers from Corbynistas and the Left on how we will solve this. Of course, there are no easy fixes and anyone who has been involved with the Left in this country will know that consensus is a struggle at the best of times.

Owen outlined nine questions which must be answered. Concisely (as we are living in Generation Twitter), I am going to give my perspective:

1. How do we turn around disastrous polling?

No simple answer on this. I’ve been speaking to people all week on the streets for Momentum and many have told me they don’t even know who Corbyn is. They turned off after Blair and Brown. However, of those set against him, many highlight the fact his party cannot stand him. If Corbyn wins this leadership battle then anyone who is not willing to fully support him must be deselected. No one will vote for a divided party.

2. What’s the vision?

Well, we know he’s anti-austerity, anti-Trident etc but Owen says that the message is not clear enough. Plans on a new Green economy should be outlined with the promise of actual stable work for the disaffected who have switched to UKIP and indeed other parties.  If people feel they have the hope of jobs in a new, revitalising industry then they may just sit up and listen.

3. The policies are the same as the last election.

Well, some are and some aren’t. It has been near impossible to change policy or talk about what the membership want with that pesky PLP on his back. See point one on tackling this issue.

4. What’s the media strategy?

I agree with Owen here. Something needs to change. He needs help here. Someone to bash off the criticism and vitriol for the mainstream press outlets.

5. How does he win the over 44’s?

My instinct would be to say that he must talk more about pensions and how the state will provide and make corporate forces pay their way. Make an example of Philip Green. He is now loathed even by his fans on the right. Force him to pay up and sort out the BHS pensions or call for a jail sentence and recovery of monies from his personal wealth. Furthermore, perhaps there needs to be a rethink on Inheritance Tax. A huge issue for the over 44’s.

6. How does he win over Scotland?

Scotland is lost. There is no way he can work a miracle of getting the electorate back over the border. If he could encourage the party to support independence, he may win back some support.

7 and 8. How does he win over Conservative supporters and how does he tackle fears over immigration?

The big problem for anyone on the Left. Answers on a blog post please.

9. How do Labour mobilise the new joiners?

Labour need to get more involved in grassroots change. Whether that be saving the local hospital, campaigning against academies or just getting a zebra crossing up and running nearby. For me, that’s the key. Get people locked in locally and show them how effective you can be. Labour have become a centralised machine-driven entity. Let’s get the party back on the streets.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think there are three ways forward for Labour:

1. Change party policy to support a PR electoral system. First Past the Post is never going to return a Labour government in the near (or perhaps distant) future.

2. Adopt Clive Lewis’ plan for an electoral alliance with the Greens, SNP etc until this is a reality. After that, PR would take care of a rainbow parliament and progressive coalition politics.

3. Get the party out of the council chambers and  back on the streets talking about local issues and listening once more. People feel they cannot connect with the current Labour machine.

These, of course, are just my feelings and ideas. Let’s hear yours. Let’s have a debate.