How Our Half Live

By Jason Michael

There are moments in the histories of nations when the veil is torn away, exposing the plans the powerful have in store for the powerless. Grenfell tower is one such moment. Ignoring this would be a greater disaster.

Grenfell tower has shone a cold hard light on many of the darkest realities of life for ordinary working class people in the United Kingdom. Our culture, given that it is built on a social hierarchy of wealth and privilege, has for centuries fetishised “how the other half live.” Our awareness of the wider conditions of working class life have been muted and distorted by Coronation Street and Eastenders, and mocked on the Jeremy Kyle Show and other panis et circenses popular entertainments. What it means to be working class – to live and work and die as part of the precariat – has been nicely tucked up and hidden away from us by a very British media apparatus. Grenfell tower has made it, at least for the moment, impossible to hide what they are doing to us.

So much has been said in the reaction to this monumental catastrophe about the glaring inequalities it has exposed; the inequalities of wealth, power, and income. David Lammy has made the point, which we cannot deny, of the blatant inequality of colour that has been brought into sharper focus. Most of those affected were black and brown. But, and bringing all of this together, we cannot afford to ignore the disturbing inequality of human worth and of dignity. Grenfell tower has laid bare the ugly fact that in Britain some people are worth more than others; those who died were, in the eyes of the state, worth less than others. To our government of millionaires they were worthless.

In the main, and like a growing number of people on these islands, these people were the working poor; cleaners, porters, mechanics, minimum wage workers. They were part of the precariat, that huge chunk of the British workforce reduced to working under precarious conditions – moving from one job to another, often working two and three jobs, just to make ends meet. None of them had the power, the wealth, or the income to choose where they lived – facing eviction and homelessness daily – or the conditions in which they lived. We know they were powerless and ignored in the “regeneration” of their homes. They were subject to the whims of people who couldn’t have cared less if they lived or died. That is the truth of Grenfell tower. It is the truth of tens of millions more.

How often does the 2017 Conservative manifesto mention the word “business?” It mentions business no fewer than 84 times in as many pages. It mentions “jobs” only 14 times and “housing” 29 times. Where are the priorities of the British state? Consider then that in Britain housing itself is a business that profits the very people who made the decision to coat Grenfell tower with cyanide infused flammable plastic and the owners of those other tower blocks recently found to be substandard and dangerous. Weeks before the tragedy the Conservatives were writing a manifesto that continued to support businesses that were knowingly putting people’s lives at risk.

All over the UK agitation over this disaster has reached fever pitch, no less because of the horror of it, but because we all intuit that this is about us too. We, the ordinary working people of this country, are worthless to the government and the big businesses behind it. The working class – the class of mass production – was itself mass produced. We were bred in slums and tenements to man the factories and dark satanic mills of the workshop of the world; all for the purpose of lining the pockets of our masters. We were worth something then; not much but something. Now that Britain is a failing state in terms of industry and employment the vast majority of us have become surplus to requirement. There are too many of us. What do we think the two child policy is about?

Everything that has now leapt into view over Grenfell isn’t simply about housing. Reducing this to shoddy housing and criminal negligence and government indifference would be missing the point. This is about human worth, our value as people; our dignity. This is about everything we have been complaining about for a century at least. Our anger and frustration is about fair pay for decent work, care and pensions, a social safety net, affordable and good housing, about the humiliation of sanctions and foodbanks, and about everything else this brutal regime has done and is doing to facilitate the greed of the few at the expense of the many.

As we speak Theresa May has set the wheels in motion for an inquest into the causes of the fire at Grenfell tower. What many of us don’t realise is that an inquiry is the first coating of a government whitewash, a limited and limiting blame game to keep people quiet. Heads may roll but everything will be carefully kept within the confines of an isolated incident. Nothing about Grenfell was isolated. Rather, it was the inevitable result of a decades-long national policy of neoliberal capitalism worsened by the rigorous application of state austerity on the working class.

We neither need nor want an inquest. What we need and must now demand is a full public inquiry that has the scope and the power to both lay out everything – absolutely everything and everyone – that contributed to these criminal policies and this disaster and to bring people – not business or corporations but people – to justice. Enough people are awake right now for us to realise that the stories of how the other half live are a ruse; a trick, a distraction. All that is important is how our half live and why this has been designed by people with wealth and power to pacify us, impoverish us, enslave us, and kill us. If we miss this we will have missed the entire message and meaning of Grenfell.


Austerity Britain: “You’re treated worse than a farm animal”

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Towering Symbol of a Burnt Out Britain

By Jason Michael

Austerity resulted in Grenfell. This is the same austerity that is every day being imposed on Scotland by a Westminster government that cares as little for us as it did for the former residents of Grenfell. We have a decision to make.

Apparently, according to the apologists for the great and the good of south Kensington and Chelsea, it is shameful to politicise the deaths of those who died in the Grenfell tower fire. It is all the more shameful, apparently, to “hijack” Grenfell for the purposes of discussing and understanding the questions around Scottish independence. Everything about this truly horrifying event is political. Many residents of the tower, many of whom have no doubt perished, were highlighting since 2013 the political nature of their social housing and their campaign for change. Ultimately they were the victims of British state indifference and class war.

British state indifference towards Scotland and the class war successive British governments have waged against us is what – at least for me – much of what the Scottish independence movement is all about. This class war, under the guise of austerity, was singularly responsible for the catastrophe of Grenfell tower. It led to this massive and still-growing number of fatalities. How many have died as a consequence of austerity across the United Kingdom? That number is still growing too. Of course Grenfell and Scottish independence are two very different things, but they are to a large extent the product of the same thing – British state violence.


Greed Kills!

Given what we know of what the Grenfell Action Group was campaigning for in the years prior to the fire, we have to ask – given where they placed the blame for their predicament – if, given the choice, they too would have considered voting for independence from Westminster. They knew without a shadow of a doubt that their very survival depended on a government that knowingly and wilfully put them in danger. Good and interested government was their only hope of survival, and that never came from Westminster. Just how is this different from the conditions in which we are forced to live in Scotland? Grenfell was fitted with toxic and flammable cladding. In Scotland we are made to live right next to the toxic and explosive nuclear weapons of Britain’s vanity project.

Grenfell is not Scotland, and we in Scotland mourn with the people of north Kensington who have suffered and lost so much. Yet the blackened husk of Grenfell tower is the perfect and harrowing symbol of life under a British administration that puts privilege and profit before the wellbeing of ordinary working class people. This political reality is felt as much in Scotland as it is by the people in the neighbourhood of what has become Britain’s worst peacetime disaster. When we ask if those people would have happily voted for their own independence we know that answer would have been yes. This is certainly the mood of the protestors seeking justice right now.

Westminster forces us in Scotland to live in the shadow of impending disaster – be that of a nuclear accident or a similar catastrophic event rooted in the programme of austerity. We have a government in Edinburgh that has worked small miracles in mitigating the effects of austerity in our country, but even it is held hostage by the budget constraints imposed by the London government. Sure, it can shift money from one place to another to protect the vulnerable, but that money – that ever diminishing pot – is always being taken from somewhere else. Over time the entire situation deteriorates. We too are warning that austerity will lead to something bad, but, unlike the people of Grenfell tower, we can change this. The symbol that that burnt out shell now is must be a warning to us that we cannot afford to do nothing about protecting Scotland from Westminster.


UK devastated by austerity

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Owen Jones: The Establishment’s Chav

By Jason Michael

Super socialist Owen Jones thinks he can teach us in Scotland how to suck eggs. Apparently we need him to tell us all about the joys of socialism and a more equal society under the divine gaze of comrade Corbyn.

We need thinkers and writers like Owen Jones. What he has to say is important, and many on the left – let’s be honest – would be stuck for words if it wasn’t for his contribution. Yet admitting that we are fans of his doesn’t mean that he is always right. In fact when it comes to Scotland Jones is almost always wrong, and he is always wrong when it comes to his rose tinted assessment of Scottish Labour. As he has decided to pipe up on this subject again on Twitter it is time that the Scottish left – the real Scottish left – gives him an education on Scotland and Scottish Labour.

When it comes to addressing London-centric English voices on Scotland I am of the opinion that the best response we can give is our indifference. Given that independence is merely the political realisation of the national and social independence we are already living, I lean towards the thinking that we simply are not ready for independence so long as we are caught in this loop of giving a damn what English politicians and politicos think or say about us. If we are independent then, no matter how close we are as family, friends, and neighbours, England is a foreign country, and these voices are foreign voices. Yet, as he is a socialist speaking to a deeply socialist Scotland, we can make some accommodation to Owen. We owe him that much.

His sense of compassion for the working class from which he comes is welcome and sorely needed – especially in the austerity Britain created by Blair, Brown, Cameron, and May – and his trust in old Labour values; embodied now in England’s Corbynite revolution, as a vehicle for justice is refreshing. In Scotland we understand this, but we have completely rejected Labour – New Labour and Scottish Labour – and it is our reasons for this rejection Jones singularly fails to grasp. He doesn’t get our distaste for Labour precisely because he is not Scottish and thus he wholly lacks any real and meaningful insight into Scotland’s political experience.

Scottish Labour is not the British Labour Party he holds so dear. It is a completely different political animal, and one we have seen for what it is – a neoliberal, imperialist, and neo-Thatcherite party of Scotland’s old guard establishment. In terms he may understand better: The Scottish Labour Party is or was the principal force of unionist political reaction in our country. Labour, as Jones always appears to miss, is not a one-size-fits-all political label. Had any leader of the British Labour Party said in reference to Brussels, for example, that the English were “not genetically programmed… to make political decisions,” there would be uproar south of the border – and rightly so. But this is exactly what unionism in Scottish Labour produced.

Labour in Scotland has run consistently against the grain of Scotland’s cherished sense of socialism and democracy. It has been one Labour government after another that has imposed the presence of nuclear weapons on us when we have overwhelmingly expressed our national desire that these nightmarish things be removed from our country. While his idol Jeremy Corbyn may express his want for Trident to be disbanded, it was still his party that voted for both its £205-plus billion renewal and its continued imposition on Scotland. There is a word for inserting things without consent and it is neither “socialism” nor “democracy.”

Scotland wants nothing to do with Britain’s warmongering and arms dealing; things the British Labour Party has always led the charge on. In the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum Scottish Labour installed Jim Murphy as leader – a man who was “fundilymundily” devoured by the Scottish electorate for his particular take on socialism and democracy.

Owen Jones wants the whole of London out on the streets demanding the end of Theresa May’s government’s dalliance with the sectarian DUP. This is admirable, and on this we can say that the entire Scottish independence movement is in agreement. We would all rather see the end of this insanity. No one wants the political representatives of the bigoted Orange Order in such a position of power at Westminster – well, everyone apart from the Conservative right and the Scottish Labour Party. That is something Owen would know if he had any real experience of Labour in the Scottish political context, but he doesn’t. Jones is blind to what Scottish Labour is.

It was socialism in Scotland and not some half-baked and propagandistic construct of “nationalism” that destroyed the Labour Party here. Scotland, as the record shows, is socialist to the core. An independent Scotland can be nothing but a more socially just wee country than its southern neighbour. That is Scotland. We have to think that Jones imagines that somehow the idea of independence made us all less socialist than we were before the IndyRef campaign. The reality is – as we all know – that the thought of independence made us more socialist than we have ever been. But by denying this Owen Jones is unwittingly supporting rightist reaction in our country. He has become the chav of the establishment.


Owen Jones meets Angus Robertson

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Democracy as Performed by the Unelected

By Jason Michael

Apparently nothing can happen in the parliament we elected until some old woman no one elected arrives and reads out a speech someone else wrote for her. If her grandson wants a republic then we should give him what he wants.

In the interests of transparency I might as well put my cards on the table and state right from the get-go that I am no monarchist. So if you are easily upset by some opinionated Scot taking a literary dump on the divine right of the family Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha – whether masquerading as Battenbergs or Windsors – you’d better click on something else now. Earlier today, in the aftermath of some of London’s most marginal residents being burnt alive in the name of grotesque social inequality, and before being whisked off to another glorious day at the races, Mrs Saxe-Coburg-Gotha officially opened the English parliament.

We pay our taxes in Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure our government – correction: her government – can slash social welfare spending, cut essential services, and cripple the health service, while paying her almost £40m annually. For a sum over four times the amount it cost Kensington and Chelsea to clad Grenfell tower – a name she couldn’t even get right in her speech – in a pretty but toxic and flammable façade the least we would expect is that she could write her own speech, but no; that is all done for her by Number 10. Rather than being the final fail-safe of our now dangerously chaotic democratic institutions she is nothing but the astronomically expensive mouthpiece of slightly less-well-paid idiots. This monarchy of ours is the very definition of pointlessness.

Not to worry, Prince Harry assures us that no one in the royal family actually wants the crown when Britain’s longest serving monarch pops her clogs. Isn’t that a relief? It’s a £37.9m a year effortless job no one wants. Here, at least, I think Harry – or to give him his full name, Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor – is telling the truth. He wants the cash alright, but the crown brings with it the inconvenient intrusion of cameras. Who’d blame him; there are few fabulously wealthy guys who enjoy doing cocaine in Las Vegas hotels’ presidential suits with call girls fancy being in the limelight of the press. Our media voyeurism puts an end to the notion that blue blood equates to moral superiority. Not one of them wants that sort of exposure.


The fifth in line to the throne on his fifth line of coke.

Some will suggest that this repulsive institution is a sideshow, not an immediately pressing issue in our struggle for a better Scotland or Britain. My thinking is that this is a load of garbage. The monarchy – all that it is and all that it stands for – cuts right to the heart of what’s wrong with Britain. It is the very constitutional enshrinement of social hierarchy and privilege that makes poverty, foodbanks, and the criminality of social housing inevitable. We cannot have a fair society where such a disgusting class system – topped by a constitutionally useless old lady and her ne’er-do-well family of state-dependent wasters – is written into law. Any law built on this midden can only serve one purpose; theft – pure and simple. It’s time we started writing our own laws.


Breakdown of a Royal Fortune

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British Politics and the Hate Machine

By Jason Michael

Terrorism is not the problem in the United Kingdom. The real problem is that terrorism has been manufactured by the state and used as a weapon to divide us, all to advance the ambitions and aspirations of the ruling class.

Last night in Finsbury Park, a busy inner-city stretch of north London, another vehicle was used as a weapon of terror; careering off the road into innocent pedestrians with the deliberate intention of maiming and killing in the cause of hatred. What sets this incident apart from what the British press usually highlight is that the perpetrator, 47 year old Cardiff man Darren Osborne, was a white Islamophobic extremist, radicalised – if The Telegraph is to be trusted – as a result of the London Bridge attack. His crime was no less an act of terrorism.

Why is all of this happening? This is the question on so many lips right now. We used to feel safe on the streets of our towns and cities, but now we are all on edge – all frightened. Answering this question is not easy, but before an attempt to answer it can be made we must first acknowledge that what we are experiencing is a serious social conflict in the United Kingdom. What we are seeing is the fruition of a race war that, rather than being a natural state of conflict between different racial, ethnic, and religious groups, has been wholly and cynically manufactured by the state.


Government and media pandering to the far-right breeds the politics of hate

One former Northern Irish Loyalist paramilitary commented in a televised interview that it was not the case that in the mid-1960s some sort of looney gas was dropped on Belfast, turning everyone into deranged killers and psychopaths. Conflicts develop, and they are the product of certain processes within and throughout the conflicting factions. There is nothing deterministic about conflict, but it happens because certain social, economic, and political factors are put into motion, and invariably to serve a political agenda.

It is the same in modern Britain. There is nothing essential about this “clash of civilisations,” where we have been led to believe Muslims and Christians simply do not get on. Muslims and “Christians” have been brought to the brink of open warfare in the United Kingdom to serve the purposes of the politico-economic ideology of capitalism. As such this social and sectarian conflict is but a theatre in a pre-existing British social conflict – class war. Theresa May and her government of multi-millionaires and billionaires have systematically chipped away at all the bonds that hold the fabric of our society together, turning working class neighbours against one another in order to distract them from the reality that the political ruling class is waging war on all of us.

Those at the bottom of society are not struggling by accident. Poverty in Britain is never a necessary condition of life. It is the result of decisions made by wealthy and powerful people in government to enrich themselves and their own class at the expense of everyone else. “Terrorism” is a useful distraction. It serves to divide communities and alienate scapegoats. It keeps everyone’s attention from the theft that is going on all around us. Darren Osborne had nothing to fear from terrorism. He, as we discovered only last week, was in more danger from his social housing.

Terrorism happens. It is rare, but it happens. “Islamist” terrorism never happened in the UK before Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the subsequent involvement of every British government since in the funding of terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa, so it may have its causes – but it is still rare. Yet the terrorism of wall-to-wall coverage and existential threat is a complete invention, a fabrication of the British government. Initially under the criminal Blairites its purpose was to legitimise Britain’s neo-imperialist Middle Eastern invasions and human rights violations, but – in the context of austerity Britain – it has been adapted to suit the purposes of domestic power.

Blair, then Brown, then Cameron used terror as an excuse to securitise the United Kingdom; turning it into the most surveilled nation-state on earth bar none, always corroding our rights and freedoms. We have less privacy, less civil, political, and human rights now than when John Major was Prime Minister. We have become a police state in the guise of a democracy, all to assist in the transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top that has been happening in the UK since Blair came to government. We are on the cusp, with Theresa May’s proposed “digital charter,” of putting Kim Jong-un’s North Korea to shame. This is not a free country.

May’s hunger for power has seen the latest mutation in the state’s use of terrorism come about. The more she loses the support of the centre the more she romances the right and the far-right, edging further to the right with every new loss at the centre. Her dalliance with the fascists – all for the sake of votes – has meant that the tail has to wag the dog. Her rhetoric and political posturing has had to reconfigure the spectre of terrorism in the public imagination, all the while giving licence to more and more acts of racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic hate speech and hate crime. She is setting the country on fire to keep power and advance her class war.

At Finsbury Park last night; even after he had targeted Muslims coming from taraweeh prayers at the Finsbury Park mosque, killing one man and injuring a number of others, it was Mohammed Mahmoud – a local imam – and a handful of other Muslim men who protected Darren Osborne from an angry mob until the police arrived. Where was the clash of civilisations here? It was nowhere to be seen. What we saw was goodness and a community response to a violent, white supremacist, terrorist hate crime. This is exactly what we have witnessed in north Kensington in response to the Grenfell tower fire – another act of class war – where demonstrators like Ishmahil Blagrove are speaking out against the government’s attempts to divide his community through the weapons of poverty and terrorism.

Politics in Britain – the political hegemony of neo-Thatcherite plutocratic class warriors – has taken a dark turn, and the inter-community conflicts stemming from it; these division of the working class, are playing right into the hands of the architects of British neoliberalism and capitalism. Terrorism is nothing but a distraction, and the more we allow it to divide us in all of our communities the more we become powerless to defend ourselves from what is really going on – the wholesale theft of everything we have by those who are right now masquerading as our leaders.


Ishmahil Blagrove gives Sky reporters a little piece of his mind

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