Thursday, 13 August 2015

Tony, mate, it's over. Time to move on.

I'm not one to pour scorn on the achievements of the Labour Governments of 1997 - 2010, or indeed Blair's success as a leader.  I'm going to pointedly ignore the whole "possible illegal war" issue and remember what life was like as a parent of young children and the expansion of nursery provision, increases in Child Benefit, extension of maternity leave and positive acceptance of parental leave directives.  I applauded the reintroduction of Trade Union Rights at GCHQ and yes, I'd have liked the trade union reforms to have been much stronger but I'm glad that there was some progress.  I miss those times, before the Bedroom Tax, the NHS break up and the ongoing devastation of public services. I want a Labour Government back, of course I do, what kind of socialist wouldn't?  

One thing I don't want, though, is for the former Leader of those years to write patronising, self-important, histrionic nonsense in whichever paper will have him about why voters like me are stupid and can't see what Uncle Tony sees - that we're all on the road to crazy left-wing Doomtown if we vote for Jeremy Corbyn.  You'd think they'd be happy wouldn't you?  Labour gains tens of thousands of new members and registered supporters.  Young people climb walls to peer through windows at a Labour Party meeting, rooms are so packed out, speakers have to climb on fire engines.  A politician seems to be genuinely liked and respected.  What's not to love?  It all looks great to me, but not a day goes by without some grizzled suit appearing in the media, waggling a finger and warning us we're all going to hell in a handcart, if we carry on with this nonsense.  And strangest of all, they think we'll all stop the silliness and go to our rooms to think about what we've done, shamefaced like teenagers caught smoking by the bike sheds.  As if we're not adults capable of rational decisions. Someone sneered on Twitter today "Is there anyone Corbyn supporters WILL listen to?"  Well, actually, love, yes. For me, there are over 600,000 people I'll listen to.  They're called the voters in this election and I'll listen to them and trust them to make the right call.  And whoever is elected, especially if it's a convincing first round win, will have my support.  Yep, whoever. Because that's how parties work, isn't it.  

So, here's some free advice for Blair, Johnson, McTernan and all the others waggling the finger and offering me so-called advice.  Get. Over. Yourselves. Stop behaving like jilted boyfriends, whining about what we see in this bloke with a beard.  He hasn't even got a decent car, you snigger to each other over glasses of Sancerre.  Why can't we see how great things were with you, Tony?  Why can't we go back to those days, you wonder morosely.  Stop issuing warnings about how terrible our lives will be together, trying to claim he has a dark side and he'll hurt us.  We know you think we were NOTHING until you came along.  You cleaned us all up, put a shiny New sticker on us and it's as if we're not even grateful.  We're like Eliza Doolittle, thinking Oh, fuck it, I like talking Cockney.  Yep.  We are. And again, you need to Get. Over. It. Perhaps Alastair could take you all out, get you really drunk.  You could sing along to classic break up songs - Don't You Want Me by The Human League, Irreplaceable by BeyoncĂ© - cry into your beer and pick a fight with some guy with a beard, who looks like HIM.  As the evening wears on you could tell each other you're the BEST and that we never really deserved you.  Late at night John Prescott will show up with the Jag, as you're all semi conscious and help you up.  "Come on, let's get you home," he'll say kindly and you'll ask him "Why, John, why don't they love me, I gave them everything". "It's over, mate" he whispers gently, "It's over and you need to move on". He's so right. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

If Not Now, Then When? Why I'm voting for #Corbyn4Leader

*This post is written in my personal capacity as a Labour Party member, a trade unionist and feminist.  But most of all it expresses my view as a human being about the kind of world I want for my family and the vast majority of people of this country and indeed the world*

I have mixed feelings about any internal Labour Party elections. I'm glad we have such a strong democratic voice and it turns out the Collins Review has opened up democracy in a way we didn't see at the time.  Deciding which individual should lead the party feels difficult when I believe in the collective, and when you add the white noise of Brownite/Blairite/Progress/Moderniser commentary it feels as if it drains the life out of any honest debate.  

I started out thinking that we probably should have elected Andy Burnham in 2010.  I genuinely believe he has a strong stance on the NHS and that he could show a more normal face of MPs.  But then Yvette Cooper is a clever, experienced, strong woman and I'm tired of wishing there were more women in leadership positions. So, I wanted to support one of them.  I really did. But I can't. Well, I could.  But I won't. Because I've had enough.  

The 8 July Budget, announced by Osborne, to the sickening cheers of IDS and others, signalled full steam ahead in their unfettered attack on the poor.  This was a shock and awe budget, reducing the Welfare Cap to £20,000 outside London, regardless of family size and restricting child tax credits to two children in future. Women who become pregnant as a result of rape will have to prove this and I can only imagine that women will also be offered free abortions as an act of compassion, or perhaps sterilisation, so that the poor don't breed irresponsibly.  Maintenance grants are to be abolished, affecting only the poorest students and housing benefit scrapped for the young.  Tax credits for many workers are to be reduced and the Government tells us employers must pay higher wages to make up the difference.  Except public sector employers who are banned from paying more than 1%, sending a sneering message to public sector workers that there is no escape from poverty wages and pay restraint.  My 17 year old daughter earns more than most teaching assistants as a shelf stacker at Tesco - are many more public sector workers to be driven out to the private sector in order to survive? And the so called Living Wage was introduced by Osborne; an appalling insult to the real Living Wage, a cheap, shoddy imitation intended to deceive and distract, rather than provide dignity to workers.

What should our response be in the face of such an unprecedented attack, exposed by the unlikely allies of the Institute of Fiscal Studies as a Budget which robbed the poor to pay the rich?  For some in the Shadow Cabinet and in the Labour Leadership Election, in the face of the first piece of legislation, the Welfare Bill, it is to abstain from opposing or to support.  An amendment to change the Bill was tabled by Labour but if it falls, many, including Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are to abstain on the Bill.  To sit on a fence while the poorest families are robbed by a Government that calls them scroungers and shirkers. Because otherwise 'voters' - an anonymous mass of people whose identities are rarely known outside of Daily Mail comments sections - might not trust them.

Well, I'm a voter.  The families facing losses of thousands of pounds from already impossibly low incomes are voters or they would be if they thought anyone cared. My friends are voters as are my colleagues and many of the people I meet through work or in the community are voters too.  And we're done with appeasing this anonymous mass of drones who gorge unquestioningly on right wing lies and distortions, carried off with an audacity of which Goebbels would be proud and want someone to start telling the bloody truth.  To stand up and say how outrageous these attacks are and offer an alternative.  To oppose the Big Lies being spewed out day in and day out by a media controlled by powerful corporations.  But most of all, to offer an alternative or some bloody hope, for once. I'm fed up with being told to be patient, to understand that if only Labour can be more like the Tories, they can get back in power.  Well, I don't want the Tories in power - if I did, I'd vote for the real ones. And I know - yes, I really do know - that Labour aren't as bad.  But I'm not sure the electorate get the subtleties of these neoliberal beauty contests.  I think that this cobbled together, fearful consensus of lies and deceit turns everyone off except those willing to continue the attacks or to hope for the best.  Except the best never arrives. 

So, I'm voting for hope over fear, but most of all to express my disgust with any politician to expect others to live on wages that they wouldn't do themselves; my refusal to sit back and watch an increasing divided society leave the most vulnerable to the scrap heap and and my desire for someone to tell the truth about what is happening.  I'm voting for Jeremy Corbyn, because I can't stomach doing anything else.  Because I think he will bring some much needed dignity and gravitas back to a discredited Parliamentary system. Because it's just the right thing to do and in the light of the shocking abstentions on this vile Welfare Bill, I don't believe any socialist could do anything else.  

I'm tired of being patient and waiting for the equal society of tomorrow while supporting the unequal society of today. If not now, then when? It's time for us to be brave and vote for what we believe in. Not what we hope others might believe some time soon. It's time for real Labour values. It's time to support #Corbyn4Leader. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Alone in Crowded Places

Maybe it's the bite of winter.  Or the fact that I'm on a cold dark railway platform listening to melancholy music. The train is late and I'm encased in the sound of Kate Nash singing The Nicest Thing. Lots of us are waiting and we all find our own ways of passing the time, staying safe in our bubbles of solitude. Eye contact is avoided by tapping at phones, reading papers on benches at which we sit, careful to place bags between us and the next person to make absolutely sure we don't touch. 

But perhaps my sadness is explained by living in a city in which a young woman has just taken her life and that of her newborn daughter.  A city through which she walked a considerable distance or perhaps took a cab or a bus.  I'll leave the speculation as to causes to others, as well as the handwringing and the downright triggering shock coverage to the gutter press.  What saddens me most of all is how alone many of us feel, despite living in densely populated places, with so many means of communication our heads spin with the constant connections. I wonder what I'd do, at the sight of a woman in slippers walking through the streets with a child in a blanket.  Unless she was in evident distress, I think I'd glance, worry and move on.  I'd be afraid of being seen as judgmental, or a middle class do-gooder.  How did our society get to a place where a term like do-gooder is used sneeringly and pejoratively. But imagine what might have happened if someone had reached out and asked if Charlotte Bevan was ok? Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps no one saw her.  But I find that hard to believe, in a city packed with CCTV cameras and busy with people socialising, leaving work, heading home or visiting friends.

There will be an inevitable inquiry and outrage that feckless NHS staff should have DONE SOMETHING.  We will read about it and roll our eyes, shaking our heads at the failure to protect this young woman and her child. But we're all to blame, you, me, and especially a society that is founded on keeping ourselves to ourselves, keeping the doors of family homes closed and keeping silent when we see bad things happening for fear it may be us next.  Self-reliance is fetishised whereas helping is at best undervalued and at worse, mocked. But needing help, of any kind places you at the bottom of the heap, an invisible person for others to step over.  It should make me angry. But tonight it just makes me sad. 


Monday, 22 September 2014

#Lab14 Rant......

I know Party Conferences belong to a complete Otherworld of Unreality, supposedly about policy, (speeches, full of sound and fury signifying nothing), networking (drinking, gossip and sycophancy) and energising party members (why does everyone come home exhausted?) but in reality, they are a hugely expensive way of getting on the TV and grabbing headlines.  Last year, I thought the key message of energy price freezes was, well, quite good.  Thousands of people die due to the cold every year, while energy companies make vast profits. Yes, of course I'd have preferred re-nationalisation, actually wouldn't everyone? We will have a single energy provider, with costs controlled by us and any surpluses going to schools and hospitals - can anyone tell me why that's a bad idea? 

This year, an increase in the National Minimum Wage. To a level still below the Living Wage for London, but an increase - which is better than a freeze, right?  This morning - the headlines are: We will be tough on Child Benefit.  Right.  Tough, as in reversing the horrendous attack on families with children since 2010, as every fiscal study shows overwhelmingly that children in low income families suffered the most due to austerity?  Nope.  Tough as in freezing it or keeping the Tory set 1% cap.  That would be the cap Labour opposed? Yes.  And presumably by singling out Child Benefit, the message is what - we'll be tough on, erm, children?  Hey, what a shame there's not a Puppy benefit, you could be tough on that too.

Who thinks up these ideas? Clearly not Party Conference.  Almost certainly, some shiny haired bright young thing, destined for a safe seat somewhere.  Does anyone ever stop to wonder what real people think, or consider why the distrust and cynicism in the political class grows wider and deeper, while UKIP surge in places like Clapton and Rotherham.  And if so, do they do anything about it?  I think we know. 

Here are my entirely random ideas for headline grabbing. Am not shiny faced, bright young thing, but me and my focus group of two cats think they're better than Tough on Child Benefit. 

1. Give vote at 16, based on Scottish experience. I think it's already policy, but promise it from first day in office. 

2. Force every MP to hold quarterly Question Time sessions in their constituency, at which a full list of expenses claimed and votes cast, along with a report of all work carried out on their behalf.

3. Hold a referendum on the re nationalisation of energy, rail and water.

4. Write off student debt of every graduate who works in NHS for five years following graduation.  Or any public service.  Insist employers with skills gaps pay back a proportion too.  

5. Stop MPs taking on any outside work whilst in office.

There, five random ideas, none as radical as I'd personally like, but each headline grabbing in their own way and only likely to be controversial to those who probably are never going to vote Labour. Iwhy is it so hard?  Because, I believe, there's a consensus to keep the ship steady, forgetting that said ship is a centuries old vessel of privilege, inequality and oppression.  The sooner it hits the rocks the better.  What we want is an Opposition that does what it says on the tin, oppose the Government and not the working people of this country.  


Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Great Big Patriarchal Shaped Elephant In The Room #RotherhamAbuse

As if to delight news channels across the country, August vomits up the moral panic of the inquiry into child exploitation and sexual abuse in Rotherham. 1400 children abused or exploited over 17 years by abusers, some of whom were Asian males. This is a news story with perfect components:

POLITICAL DRAMA!!!! Should Labour be blamed? After all it's a Labour Council isn't it, and its Social Services Department is probably staffed by bearded do gooders more likely to remove a child because their parents want to take her to Sunday School than challenge Asian people.  Labour grab this chance to score endless home goals by demanding the resignation of the Police Commissioner or else they will suspend him from the party! Oh yes, that'll show everyone.  And anyway, isn't this the Tories fault for introducing these Commissioners roles in the first place with their £120k salaries and then finding out no one can remove them.  All of these points may or may not be true, none of them have any relevance or any prospect of making things right for the victims. 

RACE AND MULTICULTURAL DRAMA!! Up pop UKIP, making sly digs about different cultural values and even sensible people mutter that this is what Islam is like, painting non Muslim White women as whores and this is where it all ends.  People who have never read the Qu'uran feel qualified to pronounce on religion, at least other people's religion, foreign religion that doesn't belong here. Nigel Farage must have wept with joy that a UKIP MEP in Yorkshire is Pakistani and could be wheeled out to condemn his own community.  Look, a Pakistani person thinks this is a race issue, so it must be right, just as it is when a woman condemns feminism. This makes it TRUE!

USELESS PUBLIC SERVICES DRAMA!!

Police, Councils, they're all the same. Sitting on their gold plated pensioned arses, doing sod all except soaking up taxpayers money. Sack 'em all!  Ok, sack quite a lot of them.  Well, please for the love of God can we sack some of them so that we can all convince ourselves that this is sorted and has gone away and will never happen again?  Can't we?  Isn't this how it works? 

Well, sadly no.  Sexual abuse of women and children isn't like a flu pandemic.  It happens every day in every city, town and village in every so-called civilised and not so civilised country.  It's perpetrated by black men, white men, religious men, atheist men, rich men and poor men.  Handsome men and ugly men, successful men and men who have failed in every other part of their lives. But you will see there is a common thread. It's men, abusing women and children over whom they have some power.  Or power imbalance.  Because while it can often be the power of the priest, the politician, the famous radio star or the children's entertainer which prevents their victims from speaking out or being believed if they do; sometimes it's the powerlessness of the victim, a Looked After* Child (*yes, I do use the term wryly) or so often simply the powerlessness of the child that depends on its father for a home and security.  

Sexual abuse exerts power and control, most of all by shrouding the victim in shame. It's easy to spot a bruise or a burn on a child - but how does any teacher spot the signs of sexual abuse.  The psychological impact is often profound or over sexualised behaviour can make the child stand out but to make the link to abuse is close to impossible unless the child speaks out.  And then, as we have seen all too well, so many men are capable of swaggering while protesting their innocence and damning their accusers and achieving a successful prosecution is beset with difficulties. And is that even what victims want?  Most of all they want it to stop, for it never to have happened in the first place and for the shame and guilt to be removed, feelings that overwhelm, like Lady Macbeth dabbing futilely at blood and only being amplified by having to recount every detail in court to a man in a wig determined to show you and your 12 year old self as a slut and a liar.  

The incidence of sexual abuse, shown by surveys of adults shows it is shockingly high and massively undiscovered.  1400 children in seventeen years in a town the size of Rotherham is the screaming headline figure. Why don't we poll towns of the same size over the same period and ask the questions we never ask and see how high those figures are?  Perhaps we might find out what we don't want to know - that sexual abuse is rife in every community, that it is entirely equality proofed in every way, except gender.  While we're asking awkward questions, could we also consider whether we want families to be less 'private', more subject to scrutiny without screaming Nanny State! While we're at it, do we want children to be able to talk freely about sexuality without shame from a very young age without having paroxysms of outrage? 

Wow, if we were to have really difficult discussions, could we talk about patriarchy? Could we talk about how our male dominated society tells us sex is something men want and women give, that girls are sluts while boys are 'lads' and every day a national newspaper publishes pictures of women's breasts for a bit of fun and how all of that might, just might, determine how many men view all women? 
Could it be that if video games allow young men to rape prostitutes or kill them, it might be evidence of something really, really wrong?  We are told equality is a battle long won, look, we had a female Prime Minister.  Let's just forget that for every year she was in power it was lawful for Denis Thatcher to rape her, a law repealed in my adult lifetime.  

Actually, that's all a bit difficult isn't it.  Tell you what, let's get back to political mudslinging, baying for sackings and making dark assertions about race.  Sexual abuse happens to the others, not us and is perpetrated by evil monsters, not that nice chap next door.  Let's continue with our time-honoured hand wringing and say over and over "This must not happen again".  Except, it already is.  Right her, right now and will continue until we start to name the real problem. Patriarchy. Or just Power, if that's not as scary.  Either will do, but once again those in power choose Pretence. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Feminism in a Patriarchal World - Cats vs Dogs

I was really lucky in being invited to speak at the Fair Play South West Women's Manifesto Event in Exeter yesterday. I was asked to talk about Women and Power - which I think is really fascinating.  I believe we have a squeamish relationship with power, principally because so often, the socially constructed version of power on offer is generally pre-constructed by patriarchy: from Parliament - 800 years of history and only during the last ten percent of that time, do women get to vote - to private companies, established on the post Industrial Revolution model that in addition to appropriating the surplus value of labour, capitalism also appropriates domestic labour. Nearly every large company or industry operates on a model of each worker having a wife, or paying for the equivalent.  And yet, we are supposed to be grateful for this inclusion, this begrudging offer of so called equality. 

But I had seventeen minutes!  How do you do justice to any topic of this breadth in this time.  For me, when I speak, my only aim is to make people think.  I don't want people to think how clever I am, but how clever we all can be, if we take off our socially constructed lenses and see the world how it really is.  Yesterday, I used the metaphor of inviting women to have equal access to Parliament, but staying the same, with all its traditions and rules developed over hundreds of years is like Crufts opening its doors to cats, but changing nothing else whatsoever.  I didn't have the time to do this justice yesterday, but here's what I mean.....

After years and years of canine dominance of the pet world, the Kennel Club eventually relent to pressure and open their doors to cats. It's not a decision that comes easily, cats have fought valiantly for their rights, while many in the dog community argued this was unnatural - what next, slugs?!!  But the decision is made and cats are invited into Crufts.

The first challenge is the preparation - many cats are horrified at the thought of being bathed and blow dried to look their best.  "I do my own washing," they say, backing nervously away from the sink.  But to succeed they need to look like the dogs, puffed up and fluffy.  For some cats, always used to lives of luxury, this comes easier; after all, they are pedigree cats, everyone gets washed, surely no one still actually bathes themselves?  But for the street cats, brought up in ordinary households, this is excruciating.  

It doesn't get better, next they must strut and trot into the ring for the judges, on a lead.  "The thing is," say the cats, "we don't really strut or trot.  We kind of, well, saunter". This is Crufts, comes the reply. You want to compete?  You trot and you look bloody happy to be there.  Many cats slink away at this point.  The dogs look at each other and nod.  They knew this would happen.  Cats, you see, don't really want to compete.  They're not cut out for it.  They're emotional and disorganised, not like dogs.  

But worst of all are the obedience tests. When first shown the tests, the cats stare in disbelief.  Surely, this is a joke.  What, you want us to run up ladders, jump through hoops and do all of this really quickly??!!! Holy Bastet, are you actually serious?  The dogs face them gravely. We are so proud of our traditions here at Crufts.  For hundreds of years, dogs have bravely run up and down ladders, leapt through hoops and now these Janey come lately felinist types want to change all that.  Because they're "cats", sneer the dogs, making quotation marks with their paws.  

Of course, it goes badly wrong.  The audience laugh at the cats and they are humiliated, although some bravely struggle through.  The cats representative body call a meeting with the dogs representative body. They prepare carefully.  Above all, they try to seem really reasonable.  The cats are all under instruction not to hiss or make that wonderful low growling sound that they make so well.  They want the dogs to take them seriously and not condemn them as typical cats, hissing, spitting and scratching.  This approach causes arguments amongst the cat ranks, but a common approach prevails.  

The cats meet with the dogs.  The cats have made a list of demands and they present these one by one

Change Crufts to Make It More Cat Friendly:  This is resisted firmly. If cats want to be taken seriously they need to be able to compete in the Crufts world. Surely they don't expect special treatment?  Because they either compete on the same terms as dogs or not at all.  This demand is refused.  

Provide Litter Trays and Scratching Posts:  Apparently the cats found it humiliating to defecate on the grass and have it packed away in bags.  One cat on the committee suggests they could use the Fox Hound Hunting Gallery as hunting with dogs is actually illegal, so how is this even still needed? "But it's our HISTORY!" growls the lead dog.  One litter tray is granted, in the basement.  

Change the Culture of Crufts: The cats are nervous about this.  They explain gently, that it is really hard, that whenever they enter the arena, dogs growl and raise their hackles in an aggressive and predatory way and they feel as if they may be chased or bitten at any moment. Some brave cats talk nervously about their own experiences of having to hide in high places, while dogs barked and snarled at them below.  Some were actually bitten, but they didn't want to make a fuss and didn't report it, but tried to get back in the arena and hold their heads and tails high.  But if they are to compete, this needs to stop.  Because for so many cats this is a day to day experience of being anxious out on the street, always listening for the next woof or growl, which may well be just day to day banter, but sometimes it does result in the heart stopping sudden chase and the terror of wondering if you can run fast enough to escape.

For the dogs, this is too far.  The Chair of the Dog Committee, barks out "Not all dogs do that!!!  I've never chased or bitten a cat - what do you think we are - animals?!! And anyway, what about these cats, walking along high fences with their noses in the air, what do they expect?  We're only dogs after all.  So what if dogs growl and bark when you walk past - many of them do it to dogs too.  This is the world you wanted and you're just going to have to dog up".  Some other dogs talk about the times they had their nose scratched by a cat and all the dogs and sadly, quite a few cats, nod sympathetically. 

So, despite winning hardly any demands, a small number of cats persist. Some, especially the pedigrees revel in succeeding in this canininocracy. "Look at me," they purr, "I'm here because I'm better and I never expect special treatment". Others carry on because they believe firmly they should be here and this was a hard-won right.  They practice their lead skills and ladder walking, endure the bathing and struggle to find time for the sleeping in the day or the lying out in the sun.  But they secretly feel that they sold out and wish they had done more to change things. 

But for many cats they think, Leave them to it.  It's not a life for me.  And I can't see any relevance to me in taking part."  Radical felinists dream of a world which is created by and for cats, but in which dogs will be happier too.  Some dogs support the cats, risking being called pussies by their fellow dogs, but they continue to argue for change.  Because some of them are tired of the need to be constantly loyal, chase sticks and always be so fucking excited at the prospect of a bloody walk.  Some dogs confess that they think they are actually cats and vice versa, but their lives become complicated and dangerous, especially as many cats feel angry at these interloper dogs coming over here and telling them how to meow.  

Saddest of all though, is that for most of the cats and dogs, Crufts doesn't work.  It only benefits a handful of pets, while the vast majority of pets worry about fleas and whether they will be on supermarket basic tinned food or if they will be able to be vaccinated this year.  The unspoken question is whether any cat or dog needs Crufts at all or whether something altogether new would serve everyone so much better. 



Friday, 23 May 2014

Being our own heroes

Funny old day innit?  It must be maddening being a news reporter.  Is today a historic day or not?  Only time will tell.  Is UKIP a new dawn of fascism, populism, a seismic shift in politics or just some sad twats acting out a Knobheads Behaving Badly fantasy. 

I've thought about this a lot since waking up to find that Yvonne Clapp, a woman who spent her life working in a low paid job in the NHS and then stood for Labour in the local council lost out to UKIP.  The resulting ire of TUSC, telling me I knew nothing BECAUSE I WAS LABOUR, made me think even more. But best of all, the lovely Mark Everden, a thoughtful, dedicated organiser, asked me questions which made me go away and really reflect.

It seems to me, there are the following questions which arise from any UKIP surge in votes:

1. Is this a sign of Labour failing to provide a clear opposition?

2. Is this a sign of the electorate moving inevitably to the right, in an engineered campaign?

3.is this a protest vote, which will subside?

These are my thoughts on these questions. 

1. No.  Because, if an effective opposition was the aim, why haven't TUSC, the Greens or Respect seen a similar surge?  The Greens have an impressive political programme, actually so do TUSC and even Respect, but what's missing is any sense of actual reality or understanding about where workers actually are.

Thatcher changed things.  Never mind the TU laws.  She sold mortgages to people, meaning they could never take take strike action again because the bank, not the council would come for them.  She  convinced us life was all a shopping basket, that services were bought and sold, that value for money was everything, even if those nodding and voting were those who received poorer services each year.  She taught that choice was so important, in utilities, schools, telephones and housing, making us forget how wonderful it might be to have a home, a school and utilities which were of a given quality without having to deal with endless automated phone calls offering us a better choice.  Thatcher said her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. I think she might have been right.

2.  Possibly.  Think about the Thatcher years. Followed by Major, then Blair but towards the end of the Labour Govt, the Telegraph, anti EU, ultra right wing and embedded in the establishment begin their campaign about MPs expenses. And quite bloody right.  National outrage ensues.  Bloody politicians.  No one can trust them. They're all the same. Who can we trust?  No one, just no one.  Oh wait, along come these blokes. They like beer and smoking and they hate these bloody Poles. Just like we do.  After years of Thatcher slagging off the bloody unions, public sector workers and loony lefties, at last, a party for us.  All those petty prejudices which are blamed on our lack of education, but in fact spawned, fed and reared by a complex organised media - at last they have a name. Their name is UKIP.  

As a political activist in the 80s and 90s, (a communist since you ask, so stick that in your sneering TUSC pipe and smoke it) we had different views on what the opposition should be, but totally agreed on the solution. Get. The. Tories. Out. I thought a lot about Nazi Germany today and it's rise in austerity after the Wall Street Crash, it's engineered hatred of the SDP, the infighting amongst Ultra left and right wing splinter groups.  Can we ignore this?  No. 

3. Yep, it is probably a protest vote.  But so was the vote for the various incarnations of the National Socialists.  In a climate in which people felt downtrodden, their national pride stripped from them, the increasing sense someone else was controlling their future and no one speaking up for them.  

So, going back to 2, is the UKIP vote because Labour doesn't speak for them?  If it is, no one can criticise them for lack of trying.  Labour has had numerous attempts at querying universal benefits, free EU immigration and no one can accuse Blue Labour of not trying to to reach out to those prejudices. Every time they do, we boo them and rightly so.  But when those instincts run to UKIP, we blame them again.

What makes me so angry is that we run the risk of ignoring a real fascist threat, in order to snipe at Labour.  This is a distraction and luxury, encouraged and fanned by the Coalition and UKIP.  Keep on sniping and snarling while we decide which version of capitalism stays in charge.

In my highly personal view, we need to really grasp the nature of politics.  Passionate political beliefs are like religion.  Our faith and beliefs motivate and excite us.  There are themes that we strive for and actively seek - for me, it is the look in her eyes of a woman who thought she was nothing and then realised she could be everything; it is the sense of power of a group of workers who realise the strength of the word No, who grasp that in withdrawing their labour, from a strong density have a power no law can give them; of a black worker, a gay worker or disabled worker who looks their abuser in the eye and calls out their bigotry.  These are my water into wine.  

But others have these too.  For UKIP and the Tories, it is the rejection of public provision, the hatred of strangers, attitudes which only exist due to conjuring tricks and smokes and mirrors.  Oh, and a daily press that helps them attack the downtrodden (aka benefit claiming scroungers),the "different" (trannies, gay marriage and immigrants) and reminds us of the danger of changing our system. 

What is our strategy as a working class?  Because I am in no doubt whatsoever, that UKIP did not emerge from nowhere.  This is a carefully concerted plot.  And we can counter it by arguing about the right kind of socialist, environmentalist alternative.  Or we can turn nasty. We can unite, and link arms in a determined and proactive strategy to build the knowledge and understanding of workers to politicise them to reject the sorry arsed version of protest offered by uber-establishment UKIP and to demand power for ourselves. No one is doing that.  But trade unions can. To work, comrades, to work.