Maximus & TTIP: A Clear and Present Danger


The poor folk of Cumbria have enough to deal with at the present time and the fact that Atos has the contract for providing the IT Services for decommissioning their local Sellafield nuclear plant is probably fairly well down the list of their concerns.  But when the floods have subsided and some semblance of normality returns the one constant in their lives along with the rest of us is the relentless march of unaccountable Corporate interests.

Atos has a well-documented track record of public sector failures including the spectacular termination of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract for the Department of Work and Pensions and the failure of a critical UK Border Agency IT system. Considering one of the criteria for awarding public contracts such as this one  for nuclear decommissioning contain elements such as technical capability and experience, the fact that contracts continue to get awarded to these companies is a mystery.  Significantly, it is also a mystery to MPs as the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has been heavily critical of the Government in this report (see Section 2 from Page 9 onwards). The fact that nothing has changed is an indictment of our system of democracy.

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Tom Paine: More times that try men’s souls

In December 1776 the American War of Independence was going badly for the rebel Continental Army. Led by a seemingly incompetent commander (George Washington) and in apparently endless retreat, morale was fast draining away. To raise spirits for the struggle ahead the leadership turned to one of the greatest political pamphleteers in history. Tomas Paine published his work The Crisis (or The American Crisis as it came to be known) on 16th December and it was read aloud to the assembled soldiers of the Continental Army on 23rd December. It commences with one of the most famous lines in the history of political activism:

These are the times that try men’s souls

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The Bill of Rights: why the army is ‘British’ and not ‘Royal’


Have you ever wondered why we have a British Army and not a Royal Army or what happened to the Divine Right of Kings?

On December 16th 1689 the Bill of Rights was finally passed as an Act of Parliament (although it had been declared in statutory form since February of that year). This effectively established England as a Constitutional Monarchy with the King or Queen under firm Parliamentary control. Although there were many consequences of the Act I want to point to just two.

Firstly the Bill specifically prevents the monarch from raising an army unless Parliament agrees. The Bill states:

That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law;

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Bombing Syria: Banks, Plutocrats and Government Deception

Chancellor George Osborne recently claimed that he estimates the cost of the RAF bombing campaign in Syria will be in the ‘low tens of missions of pounds’. It is almost certain that Osborne is being misleading. For a start both he and David Cameron have stated that the campaign could last for years. How many they do not say so any estimate by Osborne is likely to be kite-flying at best or simply disingenuous  It is instructive to look at similar air campaigns as articles such as this one by TruePublica has done. They point out that a very similar campaign in Libya in 2011 cost Britain over £390 million for just 7 months of bombing. Furthermore CND has estimated that the total cost in Libya to the UK (including ‘advisers’ etc) was as high as £1.5 billion.

Even if we take Mr Osborne at his word the point is frequently made that whereas money is freely and abundantly provided for war, other activities including flood defences (let alone schools and hospitals) have seen financial cutbacks. Simply, it is a matter of priorities or, as some cynics have suggested, a question of investment in arms companies by decision makers. The attitude of Ministers is especially provoking, on the one hand assuming a mealy-mouthed attitude to helping the disabled and vulnerable when ‘austerity’ is often cited, compared with an almost enthusiastic glee for military action for which austerity has apparently ended.

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Remembering Dora Marsden: Suffragette Anarchist

A few weeks ago I wrote a short post about Constance Markievicz, suffragette and the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons (though she never actually took her seat). But there are some people for whom the passion for change burns so strongly that it brings them into conflict even with the cause they espouse.  Such was the case with Dora Marsden who died today (13th December) in 1960.  Marsden operated from Manchester and occupied a position on the radical activist wing of the suffragette movement, frequently engaging in illegal activities. From 1909 she accepted a post in the Pankhursts Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) but her assertive campaigning style resulted in frequent conflict with the organization hierarchy.

Splitting with the WSPU in 1911 she pursued a  literary path, founding the Freewoman, the New FreeWoman and Egoist journals. She gave voice to many radical authors who challenged accepted notions of society such as the role of marriage. It would be fascinating to know how she would have viewed same-sex marriage! Another important radical thinker who must NOT be eclipsed by the establishment historical narrative.

John Osborne: looking back at a rebel

The brilliant and controversial British playwright John Osborne was born on 12 December 1929. Possibly his most transformative work was his 1956 play Look Back in Anger. Despite being associated in his early life with left wing politics, he claimed to hold to no firm political views. In his later life he turned towards a libertarian right wing stance, To his eternal credit, Osborne openly questioned the existence of the monarchy in his contribution to a book called Declaration. This was in 1957, a far more deferential age than 2015 and it got him into trouble! The chairiman of the English Stage Company industrialist Neville Blond was furious and a party to celebrate the publication of Declaration at the Royal Court Theatre was cancelled. Ironically, the ESC was no stranger to controversy itself. But I completely agree with Osborne:

My objection to the royal symbol is that it is dead; it is the gold filling in a mouthful of decay.

Edward VIII Abdication – A very British coup

On December 10th 1936 the uncrowned King Edward Viii signed the Instrument of Abdicated. Some details of the events leading up to the announcement are still shrouded in mystery but following the recent discovery of correspondence between the main protagonists the broad sequence of events is now clear. Despite the complexity of the situation there were two main reasons why the abdication came about. I want to leave aside the well-known associations with Nazism and focus on a couple of aspects which are relevant today.

As Prince of Wales the future Edward VIII had made himself unpopular with politicians. He had publically called left-wing politicians ‘cranks’ and made speeches criticising the Government of the day (of all persuasions). On succeeding George V he continued on a confrontational path with politicians in what we would today call an Activist King role.

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UK immigration – an issue of wealth inequality

Without doubt wealth can buy you all sorts of things from a better home (or even a home in the first place) to educational and social advantages or a longer life. It may ultimately be neither possible nor desirable to achieve absolute equality in society, even if we could agree on what that means.  But gross levels of inequality is now a major problem. I want to reflect on one area, the issue of being able to move around and live where you want. It is literally a matter of life and death

Recall the shocking images of the little six year old boy lying dead on a Turkish beach which briefly kindled the compassion of Europeans. Although happening only last year, it seems an eternity as terrorist hit western Europe hardened attitudes against both refugees and immigrants. But there is a simple fact that we in Britain must understand. The little boy died because he was poor. If his family were wealthy it is entirely possible that he may be still alive and living in the UK. He died because of inequality, simply a victim of the reality that poverty traps people geographically but wealth give you mobility.

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Thomas Hobbes, advocate for autocracy

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes died today (December 4th) in 1679. But as a civic republican I shall not be mourning him, for a number of reasons. Ironically for one of the founders of liberal and libertarian thinking (along with John Locke) a primary aim of Hobbes was a defence of sovereign power and autocratic government. Hobbes works include Leviathan, published in 1651 in which he developed his social contract theory. His work was partly aimed at opposing the radical politics which emerged during the English Civil War and the theories of the high Republicans during the Commonwealth of the early 1650s; the modern combination of which I find compelling!

So what lay behind Hobbes insistence on an absolute monarch (or ruling group)? It comes from Hobbes concept of society which viewed people atomistically, in perpetual motion trying to get economic power and influence over each other. From this a natural structure to society emerges with individuals all seeking their best interests. But if society is of this nature, what stops it falling apart in some kind of anarchic fight for ultimate power? Why, none other than a universally accepted absolute sovereign charged with passing laws to ensure the continued health of the competitive system. To keep the sovereign above the throng he or she would have the power to appoint their successor (what better than the eldest son!).

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Lady Astor MP in 1919; but who was Constance Markievicz?

On December 1st 1919 Lady Astor took her seat in the House of Commons having been elected three days earlier.  She is sometimes erroneously described as being the first woman to be elected to the Chamber.  But that accolade belongs to Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth), an Irish nationalist, socialist and suffragette who was elected almost a year earlier in December 1918. Markievicz, a Countess by marriage,  was in Holloway prison when elected but due to the Irish Republican tradition of abstention did not take her seat in Parliament on release.  The policy which remains to this day was a result of the entirely understandable principle of refusing to swear the oath of allegiance to the monarch.

The American-born Lady Astor herself was a colourful and controversial character. Ironically for an American she was a believer in British Imperialism and held religious prejudices – dissuading the employment of Jews and Catholics at The Observer newspaper which was owned by her husband Waldorf Astor. Flirting with groups with Nazi sympathies during the 1930s, Astor possessed a great gift of wit which she used effectively to put down male hecklers both on hustings and in the Commons.

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