Sunday, 17 May 2015

Trident: whistleblower reveals dangers of imminent nuclear calamity

 

TRIDENT submarines are plagued by serious security lapses, beset by multiple safety blunders and are "a disaster waiting to happen", according to a nuclear weapons engineer turned whistleblower who is now being hunted by the police.
William McNeilly, who says he was on patrol with HMS Victorious from January to April this year, alleges that the Trident missiles it carries are vulnerable to a terrorist attack that "would kill our people and destroy our land". Infiltrators have "the perfect opportunity to send nuclear warheads crashing down on the UK", he claims.

He has written a detailed 18-page report called The Nuclear Secrets, which claims to lift the lid on the alarming state of the UK's ageing and short-staffed nuclear deterrent. He went absent without leave from the Royal Navy last week, is on the run and expects to be arrested. "This is bigger than me, it's bigger than all of us," he says. "We are so close to a nuclear disaster it is shocking, and yet everybody is accepting the risk to the public. If we don't act now lives could be lost for generations."

The risk was "extremely high", he told the Sunday Herald. "My information comes from good sources and I have no reason to lie. If change isn't made, a nuclear catastrophe almost certainly will happen."

McNeilly's report alleges 30 safety and security flaws on Trident submarines, based at Faslane on the Clyde. They include failures in testing whether missiles could be safely launched, burning toilet rolls starting a fire in a missile compartment, and security passes and bags going unchecked.

He also reports alarms being muted because they went off so often, missile safety procedures being ignored and top secret information left unguarded.

"It's just a matter of time before we're infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist," he says. "There were some people that I served with on that patrol who showed clear psychopathic tendencies."

The Royal Navy has launched an investigation into McNeilly's report, and is working with the civilian police to find him. It describes his criticisms as "subjective and unsubstantiated", stressing that submarines never go to sea unless they are completely safe.
The SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson MP, is demanding a full explanation and action to rectify all the failings. "These revelations, if true, are extremely concerning. It reads as a nightmare catalogue of serious safety breaches," he said.
"They add to what appears to be a chaotic, shambolic safety culture on these aged subs. Broken or faulty equipment with no spares leading to slapdash patch-up jobs have no place in the Navy and just shows how utterly stretched it is."

Robertson added: "Failure to follow standard safety procedures is unacceptable in any workplace but on a Trident submarine on patrol it could result in extreme tragedy, not just for those on board but indeed for the entire planet."

McNeilly claims that there was a "massive cover-up" of what happened when HMS Vanguard collided with the French nuclear submarine, Le Triomphant, in the Atlantic in February 2009. He quotes a senior officer who was on Vanguard at the time as saying: "We thought, this is it, we're all going to die."

The crash dislodged high-pressure air (HPA) bottles, he says. "They had to return to base port slowly, because if one of HPA bottle groups exploded it would have created a chain reaction and sent the submarine plummeting to the bottom."

McNeilly also outlines a litany of equipment problems, including a seawater leak, a flooded torpedo compartment and defective toilets. A missile compartment was used as an exercise gym, he alleges, and the submarine speaker system was difficult to understand.

He insists that he has been careful about what he has said publicly in order to avoid prejudicing security. He repeatedly raised concerns with his superiors but they were ignored, he says.

McNeilly, who describes himself as "weapons engineer", is 25 years old, and from Newtownabbey near Belfast. He says he joined the Navy in July 2013, and arrived at Faslane a year ago.

After six months training, according to his account, he went on patrol with HMS Victorious for three months earlier this year.

It is difficult to independently verify all his allegations.

The independent nuclear submarine expert, John Large, concluded McNeilly was credible, though he may have misunderstood some of the things he saw.

Large said: "Even if he is right about the disorganisation, lack of morale, and sheer foolhardiness of the personnel around him - and the unreliability of the engineered systems - it is likely that the Trident system as a whole will tolerate the misdemeanours, as it's designed to do."

The Royal Navy confirmed that McNeilly was a member of the naval service. "The Navy is concerned for the whereabouts and wellbeing of able seaman McNeilly and is working closely with civilian police to locate him," it said.

His report did not pose any security risk to personnel or operations, it added. "The document contains a number of subjective and unsubstantiated personal views, made by a very junior sailor, with which the naval service completely disagrees."

A Royal Navy spokeswoman stressed that security and nuclear safety were taken extremely seriously. "We are fully investigating both the issue of the unauthorised release of this document and its contents," she said.

"The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so."
But John Ainslie, co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, praised McNeilly. "He is a whistleblower who has revealed that there is a callous disregard for safety and security onboard Trident submarines," he said.

"He should be commended for his action, not hounded by the Royal Navy. He has exposed the fact that Trident is a catastrophe waiting to happen - by accident, an act of terrorism or sabotage."
 
Edited extract from the dossier of William McNeilly compiled before going into hiding:

'My name is William McNeilly. I am a weapons engineer submariner for the UK's Trident II D5 strategic weapons system. The penalty for releasing this
report will be life prison if I'm lucky.

The worst fear for me isn't prison ... it's the fear of sacrificing everything I have just to warn the public and yet never be heard. My leave expires today. I will be hunted down for not turning up.

When I'm found I will confess and will no longer be able to keep trying to warn the public. This document will enlighten you about the shockingly extreme conditions that our nuclear weapons system is in right now, and has been in the past. I need you to publish this document or send it to someone who will - please, for the safety of the people.

The complete lack of concern for security worries me. The fact is it would have been even easier for me to cause a nuclear catastrophe than to gather information, and gathering information was actually quite simple, due to the amount of ignorance.
We are at war, with a new kind of enemy. The terrorists have infiltrated every nation on our planet. Our nuclear weapons are a target that's wide open to attack. You don't have to be Alexander the Great to see we must adapt our strategies.

The Cold War is over; are we still in a situation where we must invest billions upon billions into a system that puts our citizens at risk? No! We must adapt to the evolving world in order to survive!

I had envisioned a system with strict security and safety. I didn't see how wrong I was until I arrived at HMS Neptune (Faslane). At the gate the guard barely looked at my pass. It's harder to get into most nightclubs.

We headed down the boat. No search at all. It wasn't because we're Royal Navy personnel; it was because that's the standard procedures. Hundreds of contractors go down the boat when it's alongside.

Their equipment isn't searched and they are not patted down. All it takes is someone to bring a bomb on board to commit the worst terrorist attack the UK and the world has ever seen. At a base security brief we were told that thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year. A terrorist can use them, or create counterfeits with them and easily gain access down the submarine.

We went down to missile compartment two deck, set our bags just feet away from the missiles and no-one stopped us. This was our first time on the boat. No-one in the crew knew who we were, but they still didn't stop us. You can carry anything through the security checkpoints without it being checked.

If you've been through airport security after 9/11 you'll have seen how thorough the security is nowadays. If airport security and nuclear weapon security were both compared to prisons, the airport would be Alcatraz and base security would be house arrest.

Seeing the condition of the security and equipment made me more than concerned, for the safety of the people. It was at that point I realised I needed to gather as much safety and security information as I could. My intentions were to make changes by reporting through the chain of command.

I learnt that HMS Vanguard is in the worst of the worst condition. Countless times it tried to sail but had to come back in, forcing the other boats to do extended patrols.
Just weeks after passing out of training I was drafted to HMS Victorious. Day one was a dark, rainy and windy morning. I made it through the checkpoint by keeping my face away from the guards. I didn't show my ID, and I never handed any ID in.

On the first dive there was a loud continuous bang being heard by everyone. It was down the forward starboard side. The next day in the junior rates mess, I heard people complaining about it being ignored.

A problem occurred with the main hydraulic plant. Somehow seawater was getting into it. The amount of actual hydraulic oil in the plant had fallen to 35 per cent. The problem was there until the end of the patrol.

Hydraulics are used to open the muzzle hatches. This defect stopped them from doing a battle readiness test that proves that the muzzle hatches could have opened whilst on patrol, and that, if we needed to, we could have launched missiles.

I could sometimes hear alarms on the missiles control and monitoring position while lying in bed. I later found out that I would have been hearing them more frequently if they didn't mute the console just to avoid listening to the alarms.

One of the watch keepers laughed about how they would deal with any issues. They would deviate from set procedures because the procedures can be "long and winding." If you work on the strategic weapon system you must follow the procedures. Mistakes can be catastrophic.

A mistake was made on the panel in the control room. A small mistake from this position can cause a disaster. None of the electrical isolations that are required to be made were made, creating a high risk of fire in a compartment which contains torpedoes.

A lot of submarines have been lost due to simple accidents. If one simple mistake is made it can be all over. You can find some of the information online but most of it is covered up. It's only a matter of time before one of the Trident submarines is lost.

Everyone who serves on the Trident submarines knows that it was HMS Vanguard that crashed into the French submarine [in the Atlantic in February 2009]. I was talking to a chief who was on the submarine at the time. He said: "We thought, this is it, we're all going to die." He went on to explain what happened. There was a massive cover up of the incident.

There was a fire in the missile compartment, in harbour. The chief said if it had been at sea there would've been about 50 dead bodies on three deck because of the amount of people struggling to find an emergency breathing system.

The fire was caused by the ship's toilet rolls being stacked from deck to deckhead the whole way along four deck (right beside the missiles and firing units). They reckon it was the heat from the cables that caused the fire.

One motor generator was dysfunctional. There were a lot of problems with the electrical generation equipment. Losing power could result in losing the submarine.
The missile compartment four deck has been turned into a gym. There are people sweating their asses off between the missiles, people rowing between a blanket of shit because the sewage system is defective.

Personal electronics should be banned yet the policy isn't enforced. You can bring whatever electronic devices you want on board. Simple rules like no e-cigs and no shaving are also not obeyed.

One time the supervisor was off somewhere and it would've been easy for me to gather top secret information. To the right buyer this information would sell for millions.

The information I have released in this document has been carefully selected. An idiot may say that releasing information about how open to attack we are will invite terrorism and create an increased risk to security. The truth is the threat already exists.
A few of us got to climb inside a nuclear missile, which could have had up to 12 nuclear warheads on it. I climbed the ladder, put half my body inside the missile and had a look around. If any of us had been terrorists we would've been given the perfect opportunity to send nuclear warheads crashing down on the UK.

Luckily none of us were terrorists. However the rate at which people are getting pushed through the system because of manpower shortages is scary. It's just a matter of time before we're infiltrated by a psychopath or a terrorist.

Some of the personalities on board are already alarming. Probably the most worrying is the junior rate whose hobby is killing small animals. He also expressed his interest in watching dark porn. It appeared most people had breaking points at some point on patrol.

At one point I was told the best way to take down a submarine. I'm not going say how here, that's information nobody should talk about. It's disturbing to know that the people serving on these boats are aware of many ways to destroy them from within.
One of the biggest threats we face is suicidal attack from within. There have been suicides onboard, and on an Astute boat we had a shooter kill his own work colleagues [in Southampton in April 2011]. There were some people that I served with who showed clear psychopathic tendencies.

A missile compensation test was carried out three times and it failed three times. Which means the missiles would have been launched on an unstable platform, if they decided to launch. Basically they're endangering the public and spending billions of taxpayers' money for a system so broken it can't even do the tests that prove it works.
Five minutes before leaving the boat for leave I walked into the junior rates' toilets. The whole deck was flooded in a couple inches of brown water. I tried the senior rates' and it was the same. This summed the system up.

Most people know the Trident programme is a disaster waiting to happen, but they never tell the public. You're guaranteed to lose everything, if you talk. Career, money, everything you own, your freedom, contact with family and friends.

I believe it's in the Prime Minister's best interest to pardon me. Prosecuting someone for alerting the people and the government to a major threat isn't a good image for someone who serves the people.

I raised my concerns about the safety and security of the weapon system through the chain of command on multiple occasions. My concern couldn't have been any clearer.
Not once did someone even attempt to make a change.

I strongly believe that the Prime Minister and most people that defended Trident have no idea about how dire the situation is. This is not the time to judge on what they did when they didn't know. It's about what they do now that they know.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/trident-whistleblower-says-nuclear-submarimes-are-insecure-unsafe-and-a-disaster-wait.1431860917

The Secret Nuclear Threat, William McNeilly's full account: http://www.scribd.com/doc/265119365/The-Sec-ret-Nuc-lea-r-Th-re-At#
 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Hopeful new politics and resisting the corporate media

The Tories are back. Five more grinding years for the poorest and most vulnerable. It's a despairing landscape for a lot of people. Yet, here in Scotland there's a remarkable absence of despondency.

Unlike so many past doleful mornings after voting Labour and getting Tory, people in Scotland have acted this time to avoid the great two-party stitch-up. This time, unlike for so many south of the border, people in Scotland have both mandate and hope. Our votes have counted for something. Not just because they shifted en masse to the SNP, and certainly not as any positive endorsement of Westminster, but because they've been registered as a statement of collective resolve and as part of a people movement.

As with September 18, the establishment got its way in seeing Cameron win. Once more, the media and big corporate money made sure of its preferred result. Project Fear 2 was rolled out, the screenplay this time shifting from the panic of Scottish separation to the terror of Scottish invasion.

Yet, while Fear 1, with its late addition of 'the Vow', just managed to save the day for Establishment Productions, Fear 2, the sequel, has spectacularly bombed. Not even 'Hulk Brown' could deliver the vital box office numbers this time round.

With Miliband's departure, the Blairites have lost no time in moving to reassert control. Dutifully amplified by the Guardian -  as Media Lens observe: 'the Guardian's love affair with Tony Blair just goes on and on' - Blair has seized the moment, pleading for a decisive return to the politics of 'ambition' - in essence, middle-class, Thatcherite individualism.

Lord Mandelson has joined him in pitching the case for a renewal of New Labour and championing of the 'aspirational classes', again not too subtle code for all things Blairite.   

Labour darling Alan Johnson has also rushed to the cause, urging respectful recognition of Blair's successes in a bid to bring the party back to electoral viability. Again, it's the Guardian giving ready platform to his appeal:
"The issue of aspiration in people’s lives; we can no longer relate to them as a party of aspiration. And that was one of the big successes that won us three elections." Johnson criticised Labour’s strategy of talking down its 13 years in government under Blair and then Gordon Brown, and suggested the party should embrace those years. Asked whether Labour still had a problem with Blairites and Brownites arguing over the direction of the party, he said: "You might well be right. I mean it’s an incredible thing now that I was part of a successful government that did really good things, but you’d think that Tony Blair had lost us three elections, not won us three elections, it’s almost de rigeur now not to mention his name."
Remember, this is the same Alan Johnson that Owen Jones almost implored to return in a late effort to rescue Labour. One wonders whether Jones still sees him as part of his 'team effort' in 'radical' renewal. 

Meanwhile, surveying the crisis landscape for Scottish Labour, Neil Findlay has called for a formal break with UK Labour, allowing the party in Scotland freedom to engage the new political mood, including its opposition to Trident.

It's a desperately belated exercise in damage limitation. Would Findlay and his circle be making this same call had Labour been elected? Where was all their vocal and moral opposition to Trident during the election?

And, incredibly, amid the wreckage, Jim Murphy still carries on as leader, like some catastrophe-blind zombie, oblivious to the carnage.

But Murphy's sci-fi behaviour is only one symptom of the malaise. Labourism's death throes and ditching of the old cabal is reflective of a new vibrancy in Scotland desiring not just a change of party but a whole new progressive politics. It's also, whatever the SNP are prudently saying, a substantive new statement for a second referendum on independence.
 
And now, after Better Together's love-bombing of Scotland, the turn to hostile recrimination: it was Scotland that lost it for Labour, apparently, letting the Tories back in. Aside from the arrogance of entitlement and arithmetical fallacy - even all Scottish seats going to Labour wouldn't have given it a UK majority - it's another establishment-fed narrative moving to demonise the SNP and Yes movement as some back-door 'Jacobin threat', not just to the Union but to 'democracy' itself.

We shouldn't understate just how effectively that message was fed and implied across the media, from the Murdoch tabloids shrieking their ugly anti-SNP headlines to the Guardian's dutiful embracing of Miliband and careful negation of what Scotland was really feeling about Labour.           

Indeed, the very idea of a media 'spectrum' is in itself conveniently misleading. It's more appropriate to see all its organic parts as serving establishment functions. The so-called left-liberal-centre idealise political authority, give safe vent to its 'problems' and 'mistakes' (just think of Polly Toynbee's output) and set the very limits of radical thought, while the right-far-right give voice to hateful division and popular conservatism. All help, in key distinctive ways, to preserve the legitimacy of the system, whatever party is in office, whatever version suits the corporate establishment at any given time. 

As noted in the latest penetrating Media Lens alert:  
Some readers might object that the BBC, Guardian and the Independent are not right-wing at all, but centre or even left-liberal. But, as we have shown in numerous books and media alerts, these media organisations are embedded in powerful networks of big business, finance and establishment elites. Naturally, these are the one per cent - or even narrower - interests that corporate media largely serve and support. Such media do not even deserve to be called 'centre', if the term is to retain any meaning.
The imperative task is preservation of the system, under the masquerade of 'party choice' and 'electoral participation'. Yet, as ML conclude, the outcome of this election, like so many others, was determined principally by a much more overseeing corporate 'party' and its relentlessly-serving media.

Until we recognise and act upon that dismal truth, the same political occupation will prevail, the same cosy labels like 'centre ground' rationalised and peddled, as in this unctuous gush from the Guardian on its hopes for the 'new modern', 'blue collar Conservatism': 
To stack up, blue collar Conservatism has to be more than a collection of populist policies. Its declared ambition is to provide the underpinning for Mr Cameron's notion of the good life. The distinction between it and Labour's election offer is in the emphasis on success as a matter entirely of personal effort....For now, though, with their new mandate, this is the agenda the Tories are in a position to deliver. Labour must take note.
Another squirming Guardian post-election editorial urged Cameron now to 'put country before party'. 

And on Labour's defeat, the Guardian could only wallow on about Labour's need for a 'new facility to deploy moral arguments' and 'again learn to tell stories, in a voice – and perhaps an accent – that speaks to the individual ear, and the country as a whole.'   

As Media Lens comment:
Labour and 'moral arguments'? The mind boggles at the lack of insight that sees those words committed to posterity after all that Labour has done; not least the immoral arguments and deceits that launched the illegal invasion of Iraq. Attempting to brush the 'supreme international crime' under the carpet with the weasel words 'the uneasy inheritance of the New Labour years' is appalling. One wonders whether any senior Guardian staff have sufficient self-awareness, and the remnant shreds of dignity, to be squirming uneasily after the paper's earlier declared support for Ed Miliband.
In Scotland, the political sea change is inspiring more free-thinking media, as in Bella Caledonia's latest efforts to extend its project. But such outlets would benefit even more from close scrutiny and engagement of serious non-corporate, independent journalists like Jonathan Cook, Nafeez Ahmed and Media Lens.

As for related street mobilisation, Scotland is now the kernel of dissent, the movement that all serious radicals  - Owen Jones, take note - should be getting behind.  

As Tariq Ali argues, it's 'farewell to the United Kingdom', and a new realisation of how progressive forces can now move forward:
The tasks facing radicals ands socialists in Scotland and England are very different. In Scotland the young people who dominated Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) played an exemplary role in the referendum and the recent elections. Broad-minded, non-sectarian, realizing what was at stake and focusing all their energies to defeat the common foe. The results have vindicated their approach. They now need to assemble the forces that want a radical Scotland to represent them in the Scottish parliament that will be elected in 2016. This means a constructive left opposition that carries on the tradition of RIC but this time in Parliament preparing the ground for a Scotland that is both independent and different. 
Ali's decisive conclusion on the Miliband disaster: 
As for the Labour Party, I think we should let it bleed. Here the Scottish route offers hope.
Indeed. New movement politics driven by new movement media is the only useful, radical direction to follow.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Scottish Labour routed, bittersweet morning

It's a bittersweet Friday morning.

Wonderfully, Labour are extinguished in Scotland. Harris, Curran, Alexander, Davidson and even Murphy all now gone as the Better Together collaborator party are consigned to oblivion.

Who would have even thought it possible, after the painful dawn of September 19, that a 20 year-old feisty-talking student, Mhairi Black, could have trounced one of Labour's leading lights by such a staggering majority? And what pleasure to see the Blairite warmonger Tom Harris finally removed.

Scotland stands this morning a truly different political country. It's not just an SNP cascade. It's a revolutionary moment for the ascending Yes movement.

And yet, there's the awakening thought that we still live under that yoke of UK establishment rule. How prescient now the warnings that we might pass-up the golden opportunity of independence only to see this own-goal day of an enduring Tory government. How cruel the double twist of that establishment knife, to mug us with menace and now impose this extended sentence. The emotions today of many in Scotland will be as mixed as these messy metaphors.

Still, it's an establishment now damningly exposed and heroically rejected. Cameron has no legitimacy in Scotland. Labour are utterly beyond repair, their betrayals now a haunting reminder of what ultimately becomes a quisling party. We now need to use this rising in Scotland, this crushing defeat of the Labour sub-master class, as the next, confident step towards radical independence.

And with that will come new conditions for radical change across this archaic, elite-ridden state.

Despairing people in England and Wales can take comfort from the tsunami of resistance that's been unleashed in Scotland. Bereft of meaningful choices, the crushing of Labour may be hard to take, but the Miliband lifeboat was really just another pirate neoliberal ship, corporate owned and dutifully captained. Take heart from its sinking, and remember all those 'radical' apologists who tried to sell it as a seaworthy vessel for meaningful change. 

We also need a new assault on every part of the establishment-serving media, from the simpering Guardian to the gutter Sun.

Isn't it remarkable that the people of Scotland still managed to resist the onslaught of such a massively-weighted corporate-establishment media, from the ever-subservient BBC to the shabby, Labour-protecting Daily Record? Nothing in radical history ever came without struggle against the elite protectorate as well as the elite.

This morning is a truly historical moment in that process. It shows just what a resilient movement of people, not just a party, is capable of achieving. It's a massive adrenaline boost for Scotland. And it's a vital reminder to others that, beyond everything hurled at us from the propaganda armoury, the possibility of real political alternatives and the independent, compassionate society is still very much alive. Onwards.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Movement politics and voting with radical intelligence

Following the UK state's near-death experience on September 18, the spectacle of 'surgin' Sturgeon' has the establishment in another dizzy spin.

If the No elite and Daily Record's panicked production of the 'Vow' was about rescuing the Union, the same political cabal and service media have gone into similar emergency mode in shrieking 'clear and present danger' over the SNP's 'Scottish invasion'. Thankfully, many people won't be fooled again.

But, beyond the hysteria, there's a looming anomaly: why support any great effort to extinguish Labour in Scotland only to see a massively new-mandated SNP prop-up a Labour government at Westminster?

The answer from the SNP is, seemingly, obvious: to extract maximum concessions for Scotland while applying maximum pressure on Miliband to legislate more progressive policies for all.

It's a win-win strategy for the SNP, putting Labour on the spot. If there's any kind of 'deal', the SNP get to exert some influence. If Miliband walks away - as he's been strongly affirming - and either allows the Tories back in or struggles on in minority form, the backlash can only advantage the SNP and greater case for independence.

Yet, while applauding Sturgeon's star performances and canny game plan, two key questions remain. What real concessions are the SNP really likely to win? And can Labour's neoliberal mindset really be turned by the SNP or any other such force breathing down Miliband's neck?

Even if some arrangement does come to pass, what true radical purpose might it serve?  

While considerable pressure may be exerted over Trident, there's no real prospect of Miliband ever pledging its removal. That's because Labour is far too deeply-embedded in the corporate-military network to ever let that happen. 

Yes, there might be some amelioration of austerity. But, while welcome for many afflicted by the cuts, Labour has no serious proposal for any meaningful reversal of austerity economics. And, vitally, is austerity even the defining issue, rather than the human misery created by corporate capitalism at large?

Miliband's real fear of engaging the SNP in any post-election scenario is that he might actually have to do something which undermines his real neoliberal and corporate-safe agenda.

So, even with any marshalling of SNP, Plaid and Green progressives, we're still stuck with the same old Westminster politics. Why give it legitimacy?

On that dark post-referendum morning, my overwhelming inclination was never to vote in another Westminster election. Call it rejectionism. But it felt like an urgent need to negate the whole imprisoning system. 

Prior to his deeply-disappointing endorsement of Miliband, Russell Brand had asked: why bother voting when we're faced with such clone parties, politicians and policies?

If you're truly interested in radical and, yes, revolutionary change, a qualitative shift towards the real compassionate and caring society, that remains a critical question. Yet, there can also be assertive rejection of the system through the ballot box.    

So, how to reconcile the act of voting? Quite simply, elections and parties should be viewed as borrowed events and hired vehicles, used only where they serve a real mood moment in advancing any serious movement for change. 

Voting SNP can be seen in this regard as serving two such purposes: firstly, not to rescue Labour, but to break it; secondly, and most importantly, to maintain the momentum for independence. For so many progressively-minded and re-energised Yes voters, the two aims are inextricably linked.

And, indeed, wouldn't it be sweet to see the vibrant young activist Mhairi Black oust Douglas Alexander in Paisley? Imagine the Iraq war-supporting, Israel apologist and Henry Jackson Society member, Jim Murphy, being humiliated in East Renfrewshire. And there's also, for this writer, the hopeful prospect of seeing warmonger, enduring Blairite and scourge of refugees Tom Harris finally removed in Glasgow South.  

These would all be gratifying results. But it's what happens beyond any such landslide that matters most.   

The real danger for a nascent SNP lies not in being rejected by any proto-Labour government, but, against the mood of its rising membership, being incorporated into its Tory-lite agenda. You only have to listen to Miliband on immigration, deficit reduction and ongoing welfare cuts to see which constituency he is still talking to.

And yet, the usual 'left protectorate' are still urging us to back Miliband and the tired old default-line politics.

Consider this tweet from Owen Jones in response to Miliband's meeting with Brand:
Key point from Ed Miliband interview? His acceptance change comes from pressure from below. If he comes to power, we'll build that pressure.
My response:
No, key point is Miliband's acceptance of corporate rules. His/Labour's role is to CONTAIN pressure from below. Why endorse?
Jones's blind faith in Miliband's 'acceptance' of pressure from below reveals so much about the Labour vanguard and its key establishment role.

Alas, despite all his worthy radical thoughts in Revolution and The Trews, Brand has also now fallen for the same left establishment spin. In that late endorsement, he gazes into Miliband's eyes like some mesmerised child, takes his outstretched hand, and then assures his viewers: 'If we speak, he will listen'.

Brand has a good, compassionate heart. But the trusting naivety of this assertion takes your breath away. Remarkably, Brand has no searching questions, nothing to say about Labour's past villainy and true corporate face. How easy to lambast Cameron, Clegg and Farage, while exonerating and placing new faith in the 'people's party'.

Miliband, sounding like another Blairite salesman, can't quite believe his luck in 'bagging' Brand. Little surprise that the Trews and Brand's 'conversion to sensible democracy' is now getting wide media coverage. It's a sad but salutary lesson in the deep psychology of incorporation. Another well-meaning political soul picked-off by the system.

The Artist Taxi Driver says it all in his plaintive cry: 'Nooooooooooo!...Come back, Russell. Come back, mate.'

Labour at every level, he reminds us, from warmongering genociders to patronising disabled and poverty-battered people, are the same non-changing party.  

Mark and remember Brand's interview if Miliband does get to office and, after 'listening' to and ignoring all those below, starts into his true corporate-serving project. 

The same fall-back urgings to endorse Labour are being rushed-out by the Morning Star, which says of SNP voters:
This is a kind of nihilism which seems more intent on revenge than in considering the impact of a Tory government on working people in Scotland and across Britain, especially as there are green shoots of progressive policies emerging from Labour in the run-up to the election.
Really? Tell that to the poorest in Glasgow's housing schemes, the desperate users of food banks, those battered by years of Blairite as well as ConDem cuts, who voted Yes in a valiant effort to advance real change. As with its complicit No position, the plea to support Miliband is just more of the delusional Communist Party's slavish affiliations to safe Labourism
 
And, of course, from the higher liberal establishment, there's also The Guardian view that 'Britain needs a new direction, Britain needs Labour':
Election 2015 poses some profound questions for this country. Ed Miliband has better answers than his rivals, and so deserves a chance to govern'.
Again, not a word here about Labour's dark criminal record. As Media Lens co-editor David Cromwell asks (ML message board, 1 May 2015):
How much blood does Labour need to have on its hands, how many war crimes, how much genuflection before corporate interests, how much trampling on the poor, disabled, unemployed, etc., before the Guardian says, 'Actually, don't vote for Labour - or any of the "mainstream" parties. We need a revolution.'? A rhetorical question, obviously....
Likewise, for the Observer, again negating Labour's vast crimes and 'reformist' posturing, Miliband is the only game in town.

A Miliband government can't be made to implement progressive legislation, for the core reason that precisely none of its leadership - and that's what counts, not the long-ignored base - are seriously progressive.

It's not even just about Labour's plans to enforce cuts, clamp-down on immigration, issue token warnings to banks and other Tory-pandering policies. It's that they are deeply-entrenched into the establishment, an historic part of it, beholden to a stacked political system, neoliberal rules and corporate 'reality'.

I understand the anxiety of many, the fear of more Tory years, the proposed £12 billion of additional welfare cuts, the desire to remove the Bullingdon Boys. But would their replacement, with fanciful talk of Labour's 'green shoots', remotely promise the beginnings of something radically different? How many more 'chances' should a party so committed to the same essential ideas of neoliberal sovereignty get?   
   
The object isn't just about breaking Labour, it's about building an entirely new radical movement, something akin to Podemos in Spain. The closest thing we have to this at present is the Yes movement in Scotland - not just the SNP as a party, but, as Chunky Mark asserts, a people rising.

It's a zeitgeist moment, a gathering desire for change, and, yes, a crystallising class politics, now directed via the SNP as the most credible parliamentary vehicle for expressing that mood of dissent.

But, again, the question is where can that process lead if all it does is help maintain cabal parties, an archaic parliamentary system and the same old neoliberal politics? And let's be in no doubt that, despite Sturgeon's welcome leftward leanings, the SNP itself still has a long way to travel as a truly radical party.  

Which returns us to the primary point and purpose of voting. For those in Scotland, this election should be seen and used principally as another staging post towards radical independence. 

Looking beyond it, as far as Scotland is concerned - though, with radical implications also for the rest of the UK - what happens in the 2016 Holyrood election is much more important. And, with a PR system in place, it's an election that calls for particular forms of intelligent voting to lock out-Labour and return a maximum number of Green and other radical MSPs.

But even that event should be seen as just part of a wider process of radical political mobilisation.

And that's the essential difference in whether and how people do decide to vote. A vote in this Westminster election for the SNP isn't, for many, about party loyalty, it's a vote for an ongoing Yes movement. It's the voice of a resilient Yes alliance, a statement of defiance after being stitched-up by the Better Together establishment. It's the smart use of a loaded system. It's voting with radical intelligence.

In contrast, a vote for any Better Together establishment party is a vote for stasis, and in the particular case of Labour a forlorn hope in a dying one clinging desperately to the old order. No amount of appeals by Jones, Brand and others to 'get behind Ed' can change that truth.

Ultimately, it's not even about parties. There's a crisis of legitimacy in the whole hegemonic system. Alarmed by the threat, an elite exercise is underway to restore our faith in 'parliamentary democracy'. Predictably, the establishment media is awash with appeals urging us to register and vote.

One valid and highly positive political response is to deny it authenticity: don't vote. There must still come a point of true awakening over the mass illusion of Westminster and 'participatory politics' at large. But that honourable course of political action needn't invalidate voting as an intelligent tactic.

Where the lending of a vote even in that decaying process can help advance a radical cause, it's expedient to use that opportunity. But, again, any such calculation should be premised on a higher political awareness, that which contributes towards a viable political movement for qualitative change; that which raises the radical stakes and threatens the established order, rather than indulging the shallow world of party politics and legitimising a sclerotic system.

Beyond all the facile election hype, the consumer politics, the media distortion, the party pitches, this is the real level of political understanding we must aspire to. Vote or don't vote accordingly.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The austerity of political debate

It's remarkable how easily elite-serving language gets popularised. And with it, the very terms of 'acceptable debate'.

All those voluble calls to 'end austerity' seem humane and noble. But the 'austerity' meme itself helps foster the notion that the poor once enjoyed some kind of 'pre-austere' existence. The very notion of 'austerity period' as some kind of measured dose of 'harsh-but-necessary' medicine is not only wicked, it helps sustain the fiction that there was already some kind of tolerable 'pre-cuts' society.

This allows the main neoliberal parties to engage in postured exchange about the relative effects of 'austerity cuts', their likely duration and, as election sweeteners, the possibility of their marginal easing.

The narrowly-prescribed terms of such 'policies' neatly evade the much more fundamental issue of mass inequality, multiple deprivation and misery of life under capitalism at large. But that kind of discussion, probing the actual mendacity and madness of the corporate order, is deemed laughably immature, na├»vely abstract and off-limits. Such is the deeply-austere nature of political debate. 

Imagine one of the four main topic questions in the much-hailed Leaders' Debate having been:
Are parties willing or even capable of doing anything to deliver society from the pernicious rule and crisis effects of neoliberal capitalism? 
Or, instead of the political-media-hyped section devoted to 'the burning issue of immigration':
Climate change is the emergency issue of our time. What hope for a serious set of policies to control the corporate forces driving the destruction of our planet?
It was notable that in an entire two-hour mass-public debate, nothing remotely challenging of the dominant order could be deemed permissible for discussion, such as: 
Why have party politics and the prevailing parliamentary system failed to advance the compassionate society? 
While Sturgeon, Bennett and Wood made commendable efforts to refute the Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Farage consensus on continued cuts, deficit reductions and controls on immigration, any case for a more progressive politics was always still subject to cautious conditioning on what can be 'reasonably' argued, 'sensibly' said and 'hopefully' expected.      

Thus, from Labour, the 'best hope', we're assured, for those struggling to survive and dependent on food banks is some supposed 'rescue' through promises of 'renewed growth', notional promises to end zero-hours contracts, and a few paltry tax inducements to all those 'hard-working families'.

And that's about the sum of it; the 'as-good-as-it-gets' limit of 'radical reform'. Decades of 'neoliberal realities' have conditioned politicians, the media and the wider public to the very idea of what's even mentionable, never mind politically doable.

Little wonder so many voters feel deeply alienated from the political system. We're expected to be passive, compliant consumers of supermarket politics and brand-name parties, all hard-selling 'extra-special' versions of the same old generic product. 

And the political fare on offer is all manufactured and presented to placate big business, to court corporate approval and to ensure that the ways in which we vent our dissatisfaction is safely-boundaried by QuestionTime-type 'participation'.   

So you will hear endless party gushings on the need to 'tackle poverty' and 'create prosperity', but never how to liberate people from the mentally-oppressing anguish, fear and distress of market life.

In welcome contrast, have a look at this honest, deep-searching Trews piece from Russell Brand on the dysfunctionality of corporate society, and ask the question: why is this kind of elementary subject matter, things that should constitute the very heart of political debate, not even remotely up for discussion? 

As David Edwards, Media Lens co-editor, sums up Brand's thoughts (ML message board, 31 March 2015):
Excellent. Isn't it amazing that such an obviously rational analysis of these issues is more or less unthinkable anywhere in the corporate media? I mean, that even ideas as straight forward and rational as this are simply not allowed. I think it's really difficult for any of us to appreciate just how much of reality is out of bounds.
What we end up with, instead, is sterile reportage of party claim and counterclaim over 'improving living standards', and relentless reminders of the need for 'prudent economics', such as 'tackling the deficit'.

The entire public-political discourse has been reduced and infantilised to keep minds focused on the narrowest possible spectrum of 'election issues', most of it appealing to selfish individualism and the 'threatening other' rather than how to advance real societal care and compassion.

Isn't it the most urgent time now for meaningful political debate over the meaningless nature of most party political debate?  Rather than being drawn into the facile narrative of 'electoral choices' and claims over 'who won the TV clash', shouldn't we be asking: what kind of true debate and engagement is needed to expose the whole media-framed charade in order to promote new political possibilities for real radical change? 


Monday, 30 March 2015

Clone politicians and electoral mugs

It's that great exercise in 'participatory democracy' again, the General Election. And, as dutiful BBC headlines boom with party claims of 'stark choice', just think, rather, 'easy interchangeability'.
 
As the coy Channel 4 drama, Coalition, unwittingly showed, you could have given any variation of the main parties the keys to Number 10 without remotely alarming the Establishment, City elite and corporate forces who really govern us.  
 
2010 or 2015, as ever, it's the same cosy consensus, the same conservative cabal, committed to corporate capitalism and the continuation of callous cuts.
 
And there's essentially little difference, either, when it comes to the 'big UKIP issue': immigration.

Just look what's selling for a fiver just now at the Labour Party's online checkout.
 
No need to posture like true-English-pint-of-ale-man Farage when you can sip like a quiet liberal xenophobe from your very own Milibranded 'control those migrants' Pledge 4 tea mug. 
 
As the Artist Taxi Driver, in his wonderfully convulsive voice, reminds us, this is no spoof.
 
After lauding his 'triumphant' performance with Paxman, Owen Jones tweeted in an apparent desperate 'appeal to Ed': 
 “Fancy a brew in my ‘Controls for immigration mug’?”. Seriously, Labour. Scrap your Farage wannabe mugs and give people some bloody hope
But what kind of real, radical hope is Jones and others among the 'keep with the People's Party' left-establishment asking us to hold on to here?  
 
Beyond the clone neoliberal parties, Westminster media babble and Polly Toynbee warning us of our 'responsibility to vote', just what qualitative political options do we have? In particular, what's on offer from New Improved Labour that could even remotely help initiate a transformative agenda?    

We also now learn that David Cameron won't seek a third term if the Tories win the Election.

Cue same excited media chatter over Cameron's motives. Is he a spent force? A liability? Does he really just want more family time? 

Hitchens: 'Finally, a snap that
shows the real Dave'
Well, here's a couple of clues as to his dominant influence, and what he might more readily have in mind.
 
As observed by Peter Hitchens, this is:

"David Cameron, who once called himself the ‘heir to Blair’, who speaks often to Mr Blair on the telephone and who has several times invited Mr Blair to Downing Street. My photograph shows an occasion in 2012 when ex-premiers gathered there to meet the Queen."

And as Peter Oborne, in a recent damning review of Blair's wealth-enhancing career, suggests:

"The Conservative Prime Minister – who once declared himself the “heir to Blair” – may be planning a similar exit route."

Blair has not only set the template for political criminality and brazen evasion, but how, most graspingly, to feather the financial nest on leaving office. A logical and likely model for Cameron to follow.

And all in keeping with the constant revolving-door relationship between politics and big business. 
 
From Thatcher to Blair, Brown to Cameron and Clegg, the neoliberal project continues unabated, while the contrivance of 'political choice' remains drearily familiar. And for all his Jones-approving efforts, nothing Miliband stands for remotely undermines that line of uniformity. They're all safely interchangeable. 

Aside from the political frisson of a likely SNP surge, hopefully driving-on the mood in Scotland and elsewhere for a radical, independent alternative, we're only delaying the day of realisation in rejecting this whole dead-end politics for a new mass-street, people-directed one, akin to that still being born in Greece and Spain. 

As we consider the true extent of the void, it's inspiring to have a vein of real human politics projected by compassionate street-thinking people like Russell Brand and the Artist Taxi Driver

And the one crucial thing they help remind us of is the stark absence of meaningful choice under this loaded, archaic and elite-serving system. It's not just a question of whether we should be voting. It's about the greater understanding of how we're being ideologically mugged.      

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Guardian gets new editor. Beyond the applause, key questions for Katharine Viner

There's been much congratulatory response to the announcement of Katharine Viner as new editor-in-chief at the Guardian.

On hearing the decision, Guardian columnist Owen Jones tweeted his almost euphoric approval:
Incredible news that @KathViner is new Guardian editor! Nearly whooped in the quiet carriage. That's how excited I am.
Jones also, in typical petulant tone, berates those who haven't so-readily deferred to Viner's appointment, dismissing reasonable questions as 'resentful' and 'sniping' responses.

As apparent testament to her progressive credentials, Jones and others, like Paul Mason, have pointed to Viner's part in writing the play My Name is Rachel Corrie for the stage. Like them, many will say this, at least, suggests a more assertive editorial support for the Palestinian cause.

We'll see. Viner's role in this is, of course, commendable. Yet, even participation in such a laudable human rights story indicates little certainty of her delivering any wider radical imprint at the Guardian.

Viner's recent CV has been more corporate-focused than humanitarian campaigning, concentrating on building the Guardian's US and Australian operations. Are we to believe that someone heading-up these kind of profit-centred assignments is now likely to turn on the very corporate forces that run the media, including the Guardian?    

Journalistic courtesies aside, shouldn't we be expecting writers worth their salt to be asking immediate questions about where the incoming Guardian editor will stand on key issues, from emergency climate change to war policy, Israel-Palestine to the propaganda-fest being waged against Russia?

And what might Viner have to say about the Guardian's own in-house part in suppressing damning evidence of HSBC's UK operation?

The way in which this key exposure by Nafeez Ahmed has been quietly ignored by the Guardian's 'best' parallels the glossing-over of its editors' cosy relationships with political power.

Here's an instructive little passage, in that regard, from Jones's book The Establishment:  
Andy Coulson, who had resigned as editor of the News of the World over allegations of phone-hacking in 2007, was appointed Cameron's communications director, at the particular insistence of George Osborne. Editors at The Guardian had privately warned Cameron's inner circle about Coulson's past: but for the Tories, the former News of the World editor was too much of a prize, a key means of keeping the Murdoch empire onside. (The Establishment, 2014, pp 115-116. My italics.)
Isn't it remarkable that a lengthy work supposedly probing the inner sanctums of the Establishment, and, in this particular chapter, power of the 'mediaocracy', could so smoothly glide-past the Guardian editor giving private counsel to Cameron and his inner cabal? Did Jones not even consider, in writing these thirteen sparse words, the implications of such 'advisory' contact? Is it fine to take-apart the intimate relationships around Murdoch/News International and the Chipping Norton set, but not Rusbridger's and the Guardian's dealings with the political elite?

As with his reaction over Viner, Jones's holds a special reverence for Rusbridger. Fittingly, in a book purporting to map  Britain's elite movers and shakers, Rusbridger isn't named once.  Here, in effect, we see how deflected dissent and prudent circumvention helps protect a vital section of the liberal establishment. 

As closely detailed by Media Lens, Jones's principal targets in The Establishment are the 'moguls', press barons and wealthy media proprietors. But "key issues of structural corporate media corruption are not even mentioned." And on the "crucial problem of media dependency on advertising - a non-mogul related problem that applies every bit as much to the Guardian as it does to the Tory and tabloid press - Jones has literally nothing to say."

Actually, much of which Jones identifies and dissects in his book is not really an anatomy of the Establishment at all, more a railing against the broader neoliberal order. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and there's plenty of informative and rallying detail on political deceit, police corruption, tax dodging and corporate scrounging to commend in the text. But it lacks any primary indictment of the structural corporate monolith driving it all.  

Again, this is nowhere more apparent than Jones's section on the media, which eagerly savages Murdoch, the Daily Mail and the usual Tory demons, but offers no appreciable analysis of the corporate forces directing the liberal media. Conveniently, there's a Grand Canyon-sized omission here regarding the Guardian, Independent and other liberal-establishment serving outlets. 

It's also notable that Viner continues the Oxbridge line at the Guardian helm. Not that an Oxbridge background in itself - either hers, Rusbridger's or even Jones's - should preclude radical thought. But it's also remarkable how many of that select ilk do, in fact, come to run, manage and dutifully defend the Guardian and its 'vanguard ethos'. All of which helps disguise its crucial establishment role, rather than, as Jones fails to do, place it decisively at the heart of the establishment network.

Rather than dismiss those who aren't rushing to laud Viner, Jones, his Guardian peers and others across the liberal media should be posing critical questions to her and the Guardian as a key section of the establishment media. Asking why they aren't doing so isn't an exercise in 'sniping' or negativity. It's part of legitimate enquiry and public debate.  

So, as Viner steps up to the job, here's some pertinent things people like Jones might more usefully be pushing her to answer.  

Will she reverse the Guardian's craven editorial line in consistently supporting and rationalising Western interventionism and talking-up Britain's imperialist role?

Will she exert any serious check on Jonathan Freedland as effective gatekeeper of the paper's lame, apologist editorial position on Israel-Palestine?

Will she halt the rehabilitation/cultivation of Tony Blair and his war circle, ending the protection and free platform they get to sanitise their actions?

Will she explain why the Guardian took a safe establishment position over the Scottish independence referendum?

Will she conduct an open investigation and state clearly why Nafeez Ahmed was sacked from the paper's environmental section after writing a 'contentious' piece on Gaza's offshore gas fields?

Will she pledge to end the Guardian's carbon/fossil fuel advertising?

Will she move to end the Guardian's corporate green-washing, as in its major partnership with Unilever

Will she show real transparency over the Guardian's relationship with HSBC?

Will she shine an honest, critical light on the Guardian's own corporate-based directorship, and cease pretending that the Scott Trust Limited is anything more than a corporate entity?

So many vital questions, so much quiescent silence. So much in-house deference. Such urgent need for a truly independent, challenging journalism.