This year at conference many socialists had their inner activist reignited by the swathe of radical socialist ideas that Labour have adopted. From the expansion of freedom of movement to creating a public drugs agency, the reforming of Ofsted, and not forgetting the abolishing of private schools. These ideas were framed as radical.
Abolishing Private Schools
The rhetoric and positioning around this policy has been badly handled. When you look at the idea, it does not advocate burning Eton to the ground whilst having John McDonnell and Angela Rayner dance around it singing The Red Flag. It wants to start by abolishing taxes for private schools and to close tax loopholes that they use. It also wants universities to have the same proportion of private school students when compared to the wider population. This is around 7%. However, the main aim of the idea is ‘integrate all private schools into the state sector’.
This could have been saved for the future. In the next 5 years they will not shut down any private schools, so why say that? It maybe the ideological force behind the idea but people don’t always care about your ideology, even if they share it. Abolishing private schools will help free up the top-end jobs of society, but many people want to get rid of work capability assessments and have secure, fulfilling work. People want a fairer system not a socialist utopia. We forget not all our voters are socialist members of the Labour party or ideological purists, many of them are ordinary people hit by austerity.
I went to a comprehensive school and was bullied for most of my school life. I often thought I deserved this as I was not a social equal to the bullies. It took years for me to understand they were just assholes. Change in perception is not a quick thing: even more so when the change is on a societal level. We need to change our collective perception before dealing with the cause. When my perception changed, I could stand up to the bullies.
Many people in the UK believe themselves to be ‘about in the middle’, even when they are not. Many see that the rich have it easier. They also see that they can afford to go to private schools and go to better universities. The problem with this is the myth: if someone is rich then they have worked for it. Not that they inherited it. And even if they did, someone must have worked for it right?
Some people in the middle-classes have worked hard, but most of the elite, who go to Eton, don’t get there by their own genius. They get there because when they were younger they had access to better education, didn’t have to worry about money, and had better access to social and cultural capital. The richer you are the more of an advantage you have: it is a fact. Labour need to change this narrative before they attack the cause of the problem. The narrative is the problem at this time not the school.
Many people don’t see a problem with inheritance. They want their kids to have what they have worked hard for. Therefore, common sense would say that it should be the same rule for everyone. Even if it continues to prop-up a centuries old system of privilege. Because that’s just the way it is. This is the common sense that Labour needs to change before promising to abolish institutions that are set ideas in peoples’ minds.
People no longer believe we are in an era of clear class warfare. Labour needs to choose its battles carefully, or they may lose the class war that exists in the minds of middle class Labour members.
Change is coming… but how fast?
Eventually, at 21, I went to university. However, I could not complete the degree. This was because in my third year, they would have took my nursing bursary away if I wanted to do the full degree. I couldn’t afford not to have the bursary, so I did the diploma instead. Tearing down educational road blocks to achieving a person’s potential is something I fully support and would have benefited from.
However, with this badly thought out idea, socialist ideology overtakes electoral common sense. At the moment the UK is an aspirational nation. It’s one of start-ups, and one of believing that you can better yourself (even if you can’t). This was Thatcher/Blair’s lasting legacy. The poor deserve to be poor (if they don’t work hard) and the rich deserve to be rich (because they are better than you). This is the reality of 21st century liberalism: even if it isn’t true.
A lesson we can learn from New Labour is that you have to win some of the middle classes to win a majority. This idea makes some middle-class people feel guilty for having money and sending their kids to private schools. Should they feel bad about it when children in public schools are being fed by teachers and setting up food banks.
This idea is an attack on the aspirational feelings that many hold in this meritocratic society that New Labour helped form. We need to slowly undo it. It also cements the stereotype many people have of socialism which is taking away people’s choice of freedom. Even if they could never afford to send their children to Eton, they believe it is their right to have the option. Who are we to say otherwise?
Change the Conversation
It took me a while to change my mind about bullies, the nation will take some time change its mind about privilege. Boris Johnson’s poll ratings are proof of that. We need to change the narrative that people are rich because they deserve to be, and that they should have nice things and we should not. It will take longer than we expect as the Conservatives austerity project has taken us backwards. All the above could also be said for immigration policy. Another common narrative we need to challenge before implementing radical policies.
Only last week I was talking about abolishing the royal family. It’s a great idea. It fits and serves an ideological view. Does that it mean it will win me an election and be popular with the electorate. Is it a top priority? Politics can be fun, but at times it needs to be real.
To implement policies and tackle injustices you have to play the voting game. The country has been more accepting of leftist ideas in recent years, but there are still underlying preconceptions that Labour needs to challenge before it can make changes. We need to be radical in the right places and smart in others. Not everyone thinks like a socialist, we cannot forget that.
Going beyond mere equal opportunity, this set of beliefs advocates equal rights and the fair distribution of wealth and resources. For all.
Equality is not just about letting some poor kid from an ethnic minority family take out a loan and go to university. It is this but also so much more. It’s the belief that people should be treated equally no matter what their social class, sexuality, skin colour, disability or gender. We are all human.
One video that went viral on the Internet really brings home the difference equality can make in someone’s life; it’s probably one of the most interesting things I have seen on the Internet in a long time. It’s called the $100 race.
Race for your life
Adam Donyes, a teacher, takes his class outside and asks the students to line up on a racetrack. Among the students are a variety of different people. The teacher then tells them that they are going to race for a $100 bill. He then asks a series of questions and says if it applies to you then please take two steps forward.
The first question is “Do you have married parents?”; the second is “Do you have a father figure in the house?” The line begins to break up. He then asks people to step forward “if you have never had to worry about your mobile phone being cut off” or if “you have never had to help your parents pay the bills”. More students step forward. Remember this is in America, where you must pay for your college/university education. He then says step forward if you didn’t have to rely on athletic ability to pay for your education. Even more step forward. Eventually he asks people to step forward if they “never had to worry about where the next meal is coming from” By this point, the students are scattered far apart.
The students are then asked to turn around. When they do, they see that many people are still on the starting line and that quite a lot of people are already near the teacher waving the $100 bill. It reminded me of kids standing in the line during physical education in school, waiting to be picked for the football team. Unfortunately, in life, you must be more than cool and good at football. This shows how easy it is to get ahead or be left behind.
As we saw earlier [in the book], families with high incomes, and that can afford private education, are more likely to obtain better paying jobs. In recent research by Kimberley Noble, a Neuroscientist from Columbia University USA, explains that they have found correlations between family income and the cognitive ability of children. She specifically talks about children from poor income families, and about the lesser amount of grey matter around their cerebral cortex. This is the area of the brain that is often associated with heavy cognitive duties.
No, poor people are not born with a smaller brain, the reason for this is “poverty tax”- the mental strain that is put on people due to poverty- which means parents spend more time thinking and dealing with the problems and issues associated with being poor, rather than being able to spend time planning and thinking about their children. It also affects their personal relationship with their children. Noble goes on to say that recent research has shown 4,000 dollars a year extra, per family, can help improve a children’s future outcomes.
Equality for all, no matter what our differences.
There have been a few videos and comments online critiquing this video and arguing that it only shows black children on the starting line. However, if you look at the clip, you can see white males and females still stood on – or near – the starting line.
Another criticism is that there are only white and black children in the video and no children of other races or disabled children. Whilst these are very valid points, that does not take away from the fact that some people have fewer barriers to overcome than others – trying to reach milestones in life is different for everyone.
People are often discriminated against for their class, background, education, gender, sexuality, disability and ethnicity. We should fight together for equality for all, no matter what our differences.
In her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge explains that black children in the UK are more likely to be expelled from school and less likely to be accepted to a top university. Black and Asian applicants for jobs are less likely to get an interview, and black women are more likely to have low-paid or minimum-wage care jobs than any other ethnic group. These facts, along with her descriptions of racism, show that despite the fact we have had a black president of the USA, we still have a long way to go until we have race equality.
Kristen R Ghodsee explores female inequality under capitalism in her book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism. In her studies she finds that women were more likely to stay in bad relationships due to dependence on men for income and healthcare insurance. She compares women from East and West Germany before and after the Berlin Wall came down. She found women from communist East Germany had more confidence, were sexually satisfied, and were not easily persuaded by men and their money. However, women in West Germany were not as confident and were easily swooned by men with greater economic means. Overall, the women from East Germany were not dependent on their husbands as they had economic independence and access to free services such as childcare and healthcare. On the other hand, women in West Germany were dependent on their husbands to provide payment for these services as women were encouraged to stay at home and not work.
Whilst times have changed for women, they are still often the partner – in a heterosexual couple – that works part-time to look after children. They may also have to take time off to look after a sick member of the family, as the caring role often falls to the women in society. They are also at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with their male peers for jobs. Women are often held to a higher standard than men and are also discriminated against because of pregnancy.
This goes to show that equality is about more than just having an equal say or chance. It’s also about equal access to services and the right to be economically independent. For all. So why shouldn’t we level the playing field for those who find it difficult to even get into the race? Everyone has the right to a humane life where they shouldn’t need to worry about food, a job or shelter.
As the British politician Tony Benn once said: “If we can find money to kill people, we can find money to help people.”
I emphasise the need to watch this video and explore equality. Equality puts our lives and our society into context. It is not fair, and day by day the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting bigger.
Whilst the world will always have some form of haves and have-nots, surely we can close the gap and help improve everybody’s quality of life – not just that of the people at the top
This is the second extract from my book (the first is here) “Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now“. They aim to explore and answer what a socialist is and what they want to achieve. If you enjoy it buy the book!
As a keen reader of US based Jacobin magazine and its cousin across the pond, the recently relaunched Tribute magazine, I looked forward to reading a socialist manifesto by their chief Bhaskar Sunkara. It wasn’t what I was expecting, worth buying nonetheless.
Not many people in America write about socialism today, unless it is from the halls of Breitbart claiming that socialism is the core of all evil, along with homosexuals and abortions. Least to say, I was sceptical about how this book might come out. Whilst Jacobin does conduct in-depth analysis regarding certain topics, it also struggles to be clear at times in a world of short blog reads and direct information. They have a reputation for producing long form analysis which is lacking in the world of journalism, yet for anyone new to politics, more than several screen swipes worth of information on your phone may be too much.
However, this book is a far cry from in-depth leftist analysis of Jacobin. It’s written for the new socialist and those that may like a more modern view of socialism. Having said that, many versed and war-torn lefties may find this book a little simplistic, however overall it is a good read. Whilst it’s called a socialist manifesto it is actually more of a history of socialism with a few examples of how socialism could be, and should be in the future. The introduction to the book is delightful.
Following this, Sunkara takes us on a whirlwind tour of socialist history throughout the world. The chapters focus on different areas where the leftist ideology had the chance to overtake or combine with capitalism. It allows the reader to get an understanding, not only for the historical aspects of the ideology but also where it went wrong. And, something often overlooked by today’s advocates of the free market, where it went right. Whilst this is good for the spring chicken socialist it might be a little dry for the more experienced revolutionaries. Then again who doesn’t love a good retelling.
Many myths and lies are ironed out, but also many historical cliches and tales we take for granted are exploredfurther to show their real colours and causes. Socialist history is explaineddifferently to how history classes in secondary school taught it. Obviously, this really doesn’t play well both Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia. This was both eye-opening and informative with a fairly balanced approach for a socialist writer. One thing that a good deal of historical political books seem to suffer from, including this one, is the overuse of anagrams and names that fail to hold any meaning to the reader, often leading to you having to read back to find your way forward.
Whilst the chapter on Sweden follows a similar formula to the ones on China and Russia, it somehow managed to make me fall asleep on several occasions. I think there is only so much political history one can take before you start to get a little tired and want something with a bit more substance than just mere storytelling. That said, the very start of the book lives up to this expectation with the explanation and application of Marx’s theories from a historical perspective. On from this thought the book gets a little dry as many history books do
The majority of this book will help the average socialist increase their understanding of the horrors of totalitarianism, the relevance of Marx today, and how we managed to form the world today partly with socialism. The author explains why America lacks socialism despite having a historical labour movement, this then leads to an explanation of where we are today with socialism. Enter Corbyn and Saunders. This part is optimistic not fully developing the possible downfall of both regarding the machine of the Democratic party and the riddle of Brexit.
By the end of the book, having drudged through all the history, you are leftexpecting critiques and ideas on modern socialist theory. Yet, this was the weakest point for me, a 15 point chapter on how we can move forward, and a brief four-page conclusion, this really didn’t explain the beliefs of socialists or their ideology.
As I previously mentioned, at the beginning of the book Sunkara explains socialism with a clever analogy regarding how the USA could transform from a capitalist country to a socialist semi-utopia. For me the analogy doesn’t give show the full reach and change that socialism can achieve. It does not explore the ethical points of socialism like things such as equality things that it should explain to its target readers: socialists newbies (socialbies?). This should have been explored further in the middle of the book to give a break from the historical names and dates.Bhaskar Sunkara Credit Verso Books
If you’re looking for a historical review of the historical role socialism has played shaping the world, then this is definitely the place for you. If you are looking for a basic guide to socialism to convert you nephew at Christmas, then this is a present for the year after when he actually knows what socialism is as it is not painted out clearly here.
I think it essential that we learn from history and how socialist opinions and theories are formed and applied today but having a basic understanding of the ethics of socialism is key before diving into the Russian revolution and Swedish society. I’m not saying you have to believe those ethics but at least be aware of what they mean, then when reading the history, you can be more critical and identify where things formed in the past. The book really should be called a History of Socialism not a manifesto. The title aside, it is a good historical introduction for anyone who has already stared their socialist journey.
Essex born political songwriter Billy Bragg has written the first in a series of political pamphlets to be released by Faber Social. The pocket-sized paperback that costs around 7 pounds can be digested in a few hours. Hopefully, future editions will be just as accessible and thought provoking as Bragg is here. He tackles freedom in a broader sense of the concept whilst remaining firmly grounded in political reality like his songs. He argues there is more than just freedom of speech, and to be truly free we need to look further than social commentators saying they are being shut down.
Bragg’s argument is that our societal and political freedoms are being challenged by an ever changing world that we have not kept up with. In order to restore freedom we need to concentrate on three things that have eroded over time: our liberty, equality to be heard and accountability.
Part one discusses liberty and our perception of freedom and liberty. The main discussion of this part of the book is around economic liberty and personal agency for human beings. This is introduced with what our concept of liberty is in the 21st-century, then he talks about our freedom to criticise has become skewered to us due to the advancement of social media. The well-off they have the ability toexpress themselves with their money and in the past our ancestors could express themselves through their democratic right to vote. Now when the working class do vote it makes little difference because of the hollowing out of our democratic institutions by capital. Neoliberalism has made people feel “left behind” and unable to voice their opinions and influence their own lives which is driving them to vote for populist politicians.
He uses Donald Trump’s victory and the campaign to illustrate how freedom of expression is being used as part of cultural war against so-called political correctness, Bragg goes on to question is this even exists.
Following this example, and probably the clearest example of a cultural war between the “haves” and “have nots” in the 21st-century, Bragg goes on to explain how this conundrum came about using history to highlight how we got here. The story of Frederick Hayek and the liberation of western economies and how this came to mix capital with democracy. Then with the financial crisis of 2008, liberal western democracy and capitalism became stuck. Bragg illustrates that we are not free, on a personal level but also a national level, our image of freedom has been completely lost.
Equality is the subject of part two, and how it is not being respected in today’s political discourse. Bragg talks about such characters like Ben Sharipo and Jordan Peterson and how they contradict their own claims that political correctness is stopping their right to freedom of speech. When in fact they have sold out stadiums and have podcasts with subscribers in the tens of thousands. Bragg continues with the incompatible nature of public expression and personal space that we believe social media to be, when in reality it isn’t. Safe spaces and conservative commentators are discussed here, however at times I felt a bit lost as he seemed to put the argument together in a disjointed way.
Part three looks at accountability. In this part Bragg explores how accountability has bought into check the powers above the average human-being, from throughout the centuries from the English Civil War to Roosevelt’s financial reforms after the Second World War. This he points out led to the social democratic era of prosperity, and resulted in many countries adopting a welfare state, free health care and housing. He then goes on to talk about how democracy is being undermined in the modern day by technology, and how global tech giants are not held accountable, and how they come with algorithms to undermine democracy with the example of Brexit.
Finally, Bragg sums up that all three dimensions are needed to ensure that humans can enjoy freedom. Whilst doing this he puts in his own point of view on Brexit, in which he states that the UK should be joining, not leaving, global institutions to fight global problems. He acknowledges that the European Union has problems, and it’s not perfect. However, without it workers would not continue to enjoy protections that their European counterparts enjoy such as limits on working hours and agency worker protection. I do feel that his opinion on Brexit was thrown in at the end, but I don’t feel it adds anything to do with the argument about the reinstatement of accountability, mutual respect in the public domain and human freedom. This could all be done outside the EU with a left-wing government but we don’t have that at the moment, so like many on the left Bragg supports remain.
He does make a valid point which I have come around to respect and appreciate which is that this Brexit is in the hands of Conservative party and that they have never taken well to being part of somebody else’s empire which is why they are pushing to leave. With this they will be able to ensure they can have all the deregulation they want as the European Union, as much as they are a neo liberal a project, is increasing regulations on workers’ rights, digital security and tax avoidance. That being said, if United Kingdom did leave the EU and all these new deregulations were to happen, it would not last long as there would be even more public unrest than just arguing on Facebook.
Bragg puts his argument clearly in the last five pages of this 102 page book, we need to hold companies, governments and people to account and regulate the above so that it does not crush the people below. We need to offer meaningful change so that the electorate are not attracted to the likes of Trump, and that we need democratic and workplace reform to give people a sense of security and freedom in their lives.
The Three Degrees of Separation is a great start to what I hope is an interesting series and worth trying out. I think this publication is thought-provoking in a time when we are usedto being told what to think. We have taken freedom for granted and highjacked from under our noses. Bragg reminds us how we can get it back and why we need to.
Over 300 nurses have died by suicide in the past seven years. This is an average of 43 nurses a year.The Mirror reported that this was 23 percent higher than the national average from 2011 to 2017.
Many of these nurses were young adults that had not even started their nursing career. Student nurses work some of the longest hours of any work placement program in the UK.
The mother of Lucy de Oliveira, A young student nurse who killed herself as she was struggling financially, – told the Mirror: “They’re working all hours God sends doing a really important job. Most of them would be better off working in McDonald’s. That can’t be right.”.
Until 2017, nurses were paid a bursary for the duration of the three-year training at University, which also includes 2 full time work-placements each year. This was cut by the Conservative government as part of their austerity drive. Since then nursing application numbers have fell.
The bursary, which in its last days was worth £560 per month, was vital for the student nurses. Their academic fees were also paid by the NHS. Since it was cut nurses have had to apply for student loans. Whilst this may seem fair, student nurses are expected to work night, late, early shifts and weekends. Often, this is full-time alongside studying at University.
They also work in places such as emergency departments or on psychiatric wards, depending upon their training. They are not compensated for working in these high-risk areas.
Training has changed
Until the early 90s’, nurses were employed by a hospital and trained there. They were paid a wage, and they were counted as part of the ward staff. Nowadays they are meant to be ‘supernumerary’, which means they are not counted in the staff numbers. However, if you go onto any ward, you will see that student nurses make up an integral part of the ward staff. They do everything a healthcare assistant does and they are often relied on to do nursing duties when there is a lack of staff. Wards are being pressured to keep agency staff costs down, student nurses help with this pressure. Student nurses work a full shift and they also get the same breaks as any paid member of staff. Just not the same pay.
People used to train to be nurses at all ages: whether it was a second career, after their children had grown up, or after they finished there A-levels. This door is now closed to many as they will not get subsidies for children which the bursaries gave or they may not manage to make ends meet. I know I couldn’t have survived without my nursing bursary.
Cutting the bursary is just another example of heartless austerity. It’s more likely to affect working-class females. Even in the 21st century women are expected, by much of society, to look after sick family members and bring up children. Most people training to be nurses are women and are from everyday backgrounds.
What is more, the bursaries have not been cut for medical and dentistry students.
Brexit and the decline in the U.K.’s attractiveness to work for nurses will also make this more difficult. In fact, more EU nurses are leaving since the EU referendum in 2016.
It is no longer incentivised to work as a nurse in the UK. There is no extra higher rate of pay for overtime, you have to pay for your own training and there has been a public sector pay freeze for many years. This has made some nurses quit the profession and work in Lidl. At a time when the UK has a nurse shortage, they should be encouraging nurses to stay in the profession, not scaring them off. Furthermore, nurses used to be able to get a decent pension, but this has changed so much than it is no longer attractive.
The Royal College of Nurses, the biggest union for nurses, is also in disarray. It has lost a lot of confidence from its members. This is due to voting for a bad pay deal with the government and appointing celebrities as spokeswoman, when they should have been improving nurses pay. Many nurses have moved over to Unite, GMB or Unison.
in debt to pay for your own training, dealing with staff shortages and more
work, alongside less pay and a reduced pension. Would you train to be a nurse?
How to change things
In the aforementioned Mirror article families of the victims and professionals were asking for mental health systems to be in place to support nurses. That along with stopping the toxic atmosphere in the profession. As well-intentioned as the suggestions are, I believe they are inadequate to solve the problem alone. We need to go further.
The real way to address people’s mental health issues is to address the problems that are causing them. These are systematic problems that cause poor mental health. It is the poor pay, badly funded training, increased workload and staff shortages. These are the things that make people desperate and leave the profession or worse.
The government needs to respect nurses. Cutting the training budget and freezing any pay rise is an insult to the profession that many in the country respect, and will need at some point in their life. If you really want to improve nurses’ mental health, to retain staff and train more nurses then start by reintroducing nursing bursaries and increasing pay that is fit for today.
Nurses care for us, now care for them.
Remember: If you or any colleagues having a hard time speak to someone.
“The Left has lost its way”many ‘social democrats’ might say, lost its way to the ‘hard left’. So, what is the way forward for the Labour Party and the movement as a whole? It needs a culture, and we need to build it.
Many feel the MPs, more so the so called ‘social democrats’, are the ones holding back the Labour Party. The likes of Tom Watson and a few other MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are. However, we have to build a movement despite what they do, the Labour Party is transforming and we must ensure that it continues to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as leader was only possible in 2015 due to timing, and well-placed experienced members from the parties old left. The likes on Jon Lansman, John McDonnell and Diane Abbot and some of the old left that lingered in the unions. We need to establish a bigger base for the future.
The PLP have significant influence and are, sometimes, a pain in the ass. Which is why we should have Open selections, to encourage more working-class and minority candidates, these people are essential to help the Corbyn project move forward. We should also remember that an educated movement is a powerful movement. These new candidates will need support, campaigners, communications officers, aides and much more. We cannot rely on the Labour machine to deliver: we must build this movement ourselves. This starts by building a party consciousness. A common endeavour. A movement that is in-tune and never out of step.
Something that has never taken off fully in the UK is summer camps for children, when I was a child I went to something called Children’s University. In my local school hall I trained to be a clown for four weeks and I also made a stop-motion video to a Robbie Williams song, whilst this wasn’t overly educational it was memorable and interesting. However, this was one summer, most summers I spent my time falling off a skateboard or wondering why girls were so weird. Now I live in Madrid where the Spanish left is also at each other’s throats, unable to form a government in the aftermath of elections that saw the rise of the far right. Despite these collisions, the left has a real culture in this country. Mass May Day rallies, Communist festivals and a poster culture that at election times makes the Hunger Games look meek. This culture is sustained with political summer camps where people debate and learn. They aren’t only for English learning and science experiments.
Many political parties such as the Communist party, the anti-capitalists, Podemos and socialist groups hold extensive educational and engagement camps, sometimes over whole weekends. These are for anyone interested in the movement. These weekends are normally held on university campuses with cheap accommodation, bars and music. The focus is not only on having a good time, but also getting engaged in political matters. This is something the United Kingdom could learn from Spain, but saying that, this has started with The World Transformed.
This year TWT are going around the country rather than just being a side show at conference. This is good because only a handful of people can go to conference as the cities get booked up quickly. Whilst we may not wish to replicate the Marxist Fest held by the SWP (I personally want to go) we could learn something from them too. (Just not on disciplinary procedures)
Momentum are hitting the right buttons but the Labour Party‘s efforts have been aimed in the wrong direction. Labour Rocks managed to just about dodge a significantly toxic publicity bullet, and Labour Roots, which is an engagement event planned for the rest of this year, is there to engage with the traditional heartlands working-class. That’s if they are still there after Labour turning remain or is it leave? No one is sure.
That is the problem in the party, no one is sure of who we are, there are many different people in the Labour Party that are failing to identify who the ‘core support’ is. The old left workers party or the liberal metropolitan party, or maybe something in between. These groups have different ideological thoughts, ones that need to be shared and rebuilt into something agreeable. Our strength is in these thoughts and the diversity of our party.
Brexit has highlighted an identity crisis in the Labour Party, and we must repair it. We need to explore who we are and where we are going. It’s not enough to crucify someone for not supporting the leader or pretending to understand why they voted leave. All sides of the argument are important, and we don’t need to agree afterwards. Just be able to talk and build a movement.
Culture isn’t just for Toffs
A collective membership is the beginnings of a conscious class, it is a movement that can make changes when in government. However, without a sense of direction and strategy for implementation, Labour will fall at the first hurdle. This will be the real test after getting into government. This is why we need to invest into educational programs with engagement at its heart to help explore ideas, to educate on current and future policies and more importantly to build a left-ish culture.
This is what happened with the Left Book Club in the 1930’s and 40’s, arguably this helped, in a small way, lead to the most successful Labour government ever in 1945. With perfect timing the Left Book Club is back. For as little as 6 pounds you can get a book every other month which forms the basis of many discussions, now everywhere little book clubs are popping up. It is a great way to explore old and new ideas collectively with others. You could even set up a left community sharing library.
On the first Acid Corbynism podcast, on Novara Media, they talked about the policy development and how culture has been avoided. All the big boys conversations are around economics these days. The group of economic nerds that hang around John McDonell have shown that the left has the ideas. The most recent evidence of this was in the form of the book theEconomics for the Many. Whilst this book is good, it only really engages people who are economically inclined.
Yet, many see the benefit, and need, in producing more cultural policies, and a culture of the left in itself. Neo-liberalism never succeeded because the free market was so successful, it wasn’t, it succeeded in building an ideology around an economic model, the culture of hyper-individualism that we have today. We continue to endure this ideology today even though the light is breaking through the capitalist facade.
Join the club
In Spain, political parties have stalls at local festivals, every neighbourhood has one, and they sell beer and engage with their voters. They also have club houses in nearly every town, which doubles up as a HQ and of course a bar. People of all ages meet here for talks, games, planning, campaigning, book launches and policy discussion. It keeps the movemt going in times of despair. Labour could do with a bar more now than ever.
The old working men’s clubs in the UK were, and remain, the embodiment of the old labour movement. Labour should look to this for inspiration for the future. Labour needs an institutional network to build upon and a space that people can go. A place people can learn, debate, share and organise, oh and of course drink beer. This could be the building blocks of a culture that we already have in modern day Britain. A culture of inclusivity, mutual respect, liberty, democracy and fish and chips. The left should embrace it all just like it has the NHS. Why not revitalise the working men’s clubs? Ok, there may be a few UKIP voters or Brexit Party voters but I’m sure with careful discussion and choice Labour branches and CLP’s could reclaim these spots.
Educational festivals, cultural centres, book clubs and debate can help the Labour left build a cultural hegemony around its economic radical ideas. It will be the beginnings of an ideological shift from neo-liberalism, the world is changing. We must feed the change; we must be the change. Education and the building of a movements’ consciousness would empower members and give them the skills to implement new ideas and change Britain, and the world, for the better. Only then will the left find its way.
With Boris Johnson taking the country to the brink of a no deal brexit, all eyes will be on anyone trying to stop it. They will be painted as the undemocratic “doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters” of the UK. Johnson hopes to frame the next election around brexit and paint himself, similar to Trump, as on the side of the people. All this, whilst calling anyone else who stands against brexit unpatriotic. Brexit will be part of this election, Labour need to embrace that in one form or another.
Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to respect the result of the referendum, he is about to be labelled as the opposition to the democratic ‘will of the people’. Johnson has the upper hand here as most sitting governments do, he can call an election and set the date as he wishes. Many are concerned that if he sets this after the 31st of October, the date we are due to leave the European Union, that we will leave with no deal automatically as parliament will have been dissolved to hold the election. Many have called this undemocratic and dangerous.
Corbyn has written to the Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill — one of the UKs most senior civil servants — to see if this is lawful as the brexit date would fall in the middle of the election trail, he openly asks if the government would seek an extension on Article 50 so this could not happen. As Owen Jones points out in his latest article, Sedwill is at odds with Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, who says that the UK could leave the EU on the 31st, election or no election. Jones speculates that Sedwill may even go along with Cox and the Tories as he has his eyes on the position of ambassador to the US.
Johnson will use this ‘anti-brexit stance’ against Labour in a general election whilst also sweeping up any Brexit Party support, which he fears will split his vote. Anything Labour does in the run-up to the 31st of October will be used against them, however this will be more damaging and distracting if it is within the election period. Johnson, but more likely Dominic Cummings his advisor, has probably been planning this for a long time. With Labours’ busted brexit stance and the FBPE crowd from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party biting at Corbyn’s ankles, Labour does not have a lot of room to manoeuvre.
The shadow cabinet now needs to decide if they will play their hand at a no-confidence motion. They have nothing to lose by doing it but if it passes, then they will end up in a very tricky situation. This is depending on the outcome of what Sedwill says about the UK leaving the EU on the 31st in the event of an election. The election could be triggered by a no-confidence vote, which would set off a GE should the government could not pass a second voting 14 days after. Or, Johnson could take the risk and call a GE himself, as he only has a majority of one MP.
One possibility is that a government of national unity will be formed, this would be to take control of parliament to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, and to call an election. However, Corbyn will never be head of this. The Liberal Democrats will not support him and some in his own party have said they will not. Even the irrelevant Independent Group could play a part in forming this fictional government, it is safe to say that they won’t support Corbyn. Another person could become ‘the chosen one’ to head up a national government, however it appears Labour want to avoid this at all costs. Labour must watch out as a coup from Watson et al. could come in this form, not only would it stop brexit, but it would also lower the chances of a possible Labour government.
Return of the Magic Money Tree?
Johnson is making many promises and if he delivers Brexit, whatever the method, he will probably win a majority in a GE. We will then end up with some awful national project, like the Garden Bridge or the Millennium Dome, to promote national unity and pride. When in all reality it will really be Johnson’s vanity project as a mark of his time in office, all paid for by the taxpayer. Johnson’s spending promises take the wind out of Labour’s anti-austerity stance that was popular in the 2017 GE. Johnson has promised money for the NHS, police, business and councils. He is likely to have the upper hand in an election; this of course depends on when the election is held. It is clear he will call it before the economic downsides of brexit hit in, if he leaves it too long then he will be blamed for any negative effects of brexit. Rightfully so.
Losing a GE will be the end of the Corbyn project, that is unless Labour decide now how they will start the next parliamentary session. With the botched election of Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen as President of the EU Commission, despite the new rules for democracy, many remainers are delusional about remain and reform in the EU. Even as deluded are the Lexit crowd who want brexit now as they feel it will lead to some socialist utopia, even when we have Johnson at the helm of a Tory no deal brexit. So what options are there?
Let the Tories do brexit? If we do this they might win an election depending on when it is called. Brexit will not be a disaster straight away, planes will not fall out the sky, but Labour will not let Tories do this. They are dedicated to opposing a Tory no deal and remaining in the EU in this event as they feel it would be disastrous for the UK.
Labour’s Brexit Stance
It needs to be clearer. Renegotiate a deal then support remain in another referendum? No one is sure, and this is a difficult sell.
Labour have already promised another referendum, or confirmatory vote, on any EU deal. They have also promised to support remain against a no deal situation. However, if Labour form a government, then there wouldn’t be a no deal. Would they go against their own deal? Of course not, but individual MPs could in an open referendum. Labour need to be clear about this. This stance could revive a call for a soft brexit which has since lost support due to the brexit fatigue which the electorate are suffering from. Maybe Labour’s position was right all along.
A clear simple message: If you want a transformative government, then let us negotiate a minimal risk brexit and then you can vote on it. Labour’s deal versus remain.
However, Labour, and more so it’s leadership, needs to be clear if we can implement our transformative manifesto in either situation. Inside or outside the EU. Maybe that is something that needs to be discussed with the new president of the EU commission?
Whilst a good deal may not want another vote, it is an opening for the left to clear the air and put an end to the toxic brexit drama. Only then can Labour move on and deal with the issues that are threatening the country. At least this time we will know how brexit could look if we left.
As for Johnson’s spending promises, Labour need to point out that money does not change things. Things may get better for a short time, but more money is always needed. Systematic reform is needed to change the country. Look at the popularity of abolishing SATS for year 6 students with teachers and parents. University fee reform. Education reform. Building houses and rental controls. Workers’ rights. Public transport nationalisation and bringing utilities in house. National investment banks. These were popular policies with the electorate in 2017, now we need to push further where we can.
Reform the House of Lords, a 4-day week, increased childcare, restructure the NHS, Universal Basic Services, a Green New Deal, bring life back to the north, investment in science and business, rebuild the UK arts industry and end homelessness. And after this brexit drama we should even call for a national constitution. These are only the tip of the possible manifesto.
Labour should not try to outdo Johnson’s spending plans; they need to be more radical in how they can change the country for everybody.
Labour cannot avoid brexit this election but it can make it part of the bigger transformative program. In or out of the EU, the UK needs a socialist Labour government.
The difference between Socialism and capitalism
is not primarily a difference of technique. One
cannot simply change from one system to the other
as one might install a new piece of machinery in a
factory, and then carry on as before, with the same
people in positions of control. Obviously there is
also needed a complete shift of power. New blood,
new men, new ideas – in the true sense of the
word, a revolution.”
– George Orwell The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius
So, where have all the radicals gone?
They are here. They aredemocratic socialists.
The government should play even a bigger part in shaping capitalism and the economy.
All services for the public should be owned by the government, and profits made from services should be used to improve services for people.
Workers should have a stake or a say in big business. Eventually they would own the company.
Universal basic services will be free to all.
Workers should have more rights than they would have under the current economy.
Unions will work with businesses to ensure their members get a fair deal and are treated correctly.
By giving the workers more rights, it means that they are not as heavily exploited by the companies in order to generate more profit. It also ensures that workers have a louder voice and more of a say in how the company is run. Democratic socialists want to ensure that profit accumulated by companies, and by the government, is spread fairly between everybody in the country. This is done through fair taxation and fair wages. How the economy affects society and the people in it. As I’ve already pointed out (earlier in the book), more equal and less capitalist countries have fewer problems and greater social cohesion. Socialists believe the economy plays a big part in how humans behave and how we function as a society.
This is a theory that Karl Marx is famous for. It was his belief that the economy underpins how we behave as a society and how we function as human beings. Like many socialists, he believed that capitalism makes people become more competitive and therefore greedier. They become focused on their own world rather than the one around them.
This is because under capitalism you have the haves and have-nots. The haves are the ones that may own several houses or a business. Maybe they can live without working. This then gives them the advantage over people that must work to live. The owners of the businesses are in competition with their market competitors. They must continue to make profits to ensure that they can keep up with the competition. Because of this, they lower their workers’ wages and give bad contracts so that they don’t have to pay as much sickness or maternity pay or taxes. (Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, neoliberalism.)
In response to this, the workers’ wages remain low and they are not able to accumulate any money. They must spend their livelihood working to ensure that they can survive. Eventually, with the accumulation of wealth, the haves end up with most of the money and the have-nots end up with very little. They end up finding it very difficult to make ends meet whilst others have more than they could ever possibly need. By 2020, it’s predicted that 1% of the world’s population will own two thirds of the world’s wealth.
That is where Socialism comes in
Therefore, socialism wants to change capitalism to help scale down the gap between the haves and have nots. By doing this, they will change society and human nature itself. Therefore, a competitive and materialistic society will be replaced by a more empathetic, less commercial one. Many socialists feel that by shrinking and restricting capitalism they will eventually be able to replace it with a socialist economic modal. This would have industry owned by the state or by workers’ cooperatives. Profit would be equally distributed and reinvested into the industry.
People would have access to employment. Everyone would also have the right to access education, health, housing, money and legal defence. This would end hunger, homelessness, poverty and ill health. But this will not happen overnight, and socialists know this. They know that it may take many years to replace the global capitalist system. People should not fear change: they should embrace progress.
Many people say that they “make it on their own”, which is good. This is, after all, entrepreneurial spirit and the idea of the American dream. Socialists don’t want them to give it all up straight away; rather, they encourage it. The more people who work and make businesses, the more jobs are created. These people then pay into society through taxes, and this helps fund services for everyone. Moreover, in a socialist economy, people would be free to innovate more as they would not have to invest their life savings into projects and would have back-up from the state. Innovation is encouraged, not stifled. If one person or group progresses, then all of society benefits; not just the people with money.
However, not all capitalists or entrepreneurs pay taxes. In the UK, for example, Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Apple have all avoided or reduced their tax payments in one way or another. This is estimated to cost the country around $500 billion a year in lost taxes on profits – money that should have gone to the government for things like healthcare; to the military for better equipment; or towards building homes for homeless people or free childcare or university for the public.
We are encouraged to race against one another in this competitive society. Work, spend, earn, save and invest. People are judged by whether they have made it or not. Capitalism breeds this way of thinking and socialism helps to calm and will eventually change it.
Capitalism won’t be here forever, and we must find something to replace it. Socialism can.
This is the first of several extracts from my book “Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now“. They aim to explore and answer what a socialist is and what they want to achive. If you enjoy it buy the book!
Whilst Parliament ends for the summer, the drama in the party has come early for the conference this year. With the suspension of Chris Williamson being lifted and re-applied within two days, the Labour machine has now created what is the start of a summer storm to come.
Three NEC members reinstated Chris Williamson and a large chunk of the Labour right and a number on the left reversed this, 140 parliamentarians wrote asking for him to be resuspended. Many who also called for Corbyn to step in despite in the past asking the leaders office to stay out of disciplinary cases. The lack of response from the leader’s office seems to have made little or more difference to the case.
Now the NEC are more than likely going to refer his case to the highest disciplinary panel the National Constitution Committee. Whatever way you see it, Labour has just created another headache for itself as Williamson himself, and other activists in the party, appeared to be taken by surprise at his initial reinstatement. All the more reason to have an independent disaplinary system that
Labour continues to fight the forces of the so-called neutral Civil service, saying that Jeremy Corbyn was too old and not in good health to become prime minister. The response to this matter was swift and clean, asking for an investigation into the neutrality of the people who are meant to keep the ship sturdy in times of crisis. Corbyn and close left allies, such as Laura Pidcock MP dealt with this in a combative yet united way that allowed the establishments true desperation to show.
The Brexit Migraine
Whilst these things continue for variable periods and differ in their importance to voters, the biggest pain that Labour has is the direction of Brexit.
Last week Owen Jones came out asking for Labour to back a second referendum and remain. Whilst he pointed out the number of groups in Labour that back remain in the party are high, and that we cannot with the leave seats without remain voters, he failed to address what would be gained by backing remain, or how it would get us a Labour government. I’ve seen more polls and predictions on this issue that I care to remember, I suppose it depends on the article you are writing, doesn’t it?
Jones concedes that there are not enough votes in the current Labour class of MPs to support a People’s vote. This is the problem you get when you mix direct democracy with Parliamentary representative democracy. They just don’t mix: Brexit proves this itself.
Whilst support for soft Brexit in the media and in some polls seems to have diminished it doesn’t feel that way for people I know. Times means people resort to desperation when talking about topics such as Brexit. Many people I have spoken to even think a second referendum would be electoral suicide, on the other hand some say facilitating Brexit is also suicidal in equal measure. The Liberal Democrats have beat us to it, they are the remain party and the truth is no poll or data will decide this outcome, the only thing that will do that is democracy itself.
At last year’s conference Labour members were swindled out of Open Selection, on how to choose MPs, due to a last-minute fudge in the voting by the unions and party. I believe democratically we would have won this, however many feel it was helping the party swerve a right-wing backlash as many career driven MPs would have hated to face democracy. Oh the horror! An elected representative being elected to a platform.
This was one contradiction of Change UK, they were asking for democracy in the form of a People’s vote yet face the call to hold a single by election. This hypocritical contradiction was cemented when Chuka Umunna went to the Lib Dems who came third in his constituency, they now have a Liberal Democrat MP that they never voted for.
Labour is a democratic socialist party and we want to see social change in the UK. We can only achieve this through democracy and we must work within the democratic institutions that we have. Recently Labour asked all MPs notify them if they are planning to stand in for the next general election. If they want to, then they may have to face a selection process, if 33 percent of branches want one, and the NEC don’t halt them, selection processes could be going on this summer.
Craig Murray recently posted a short blog post asking all Labour members that want democratic change to go to the party meetings and elect good MPs. If there really is a call in the Labour Party for a second referendum, this can be proven by voting for candidates that promise to vote for a second referendum should a vote be held in parliament.
Following this comes conference, Labour must hold a democratic process to agree a Brexit strategy. That should not only involve members but also MPs, the leadership and the unions. However, rather than being tucked away in a back room for hours upon hours like the last Conference each side of the argument must put out its reasons and plans for labour’s position.
Whilst it must be a fair fight, members must remember that if they achieve a second referendum, they might sacrifice a Labour government, which is the obvious reason some in the shadow cabinet, leave seat MPs and the leadership office have not backed a second referendum already. There are no numbers for it in parliament and for many it would kill any democratic credentials Labour has.
The debate must be a healthy one between all sides. If the right-wing of the party had any decency, which I question, then they would try to put together a comprehensive plan similar to that of the Norway + group. We must also allow smaller groups such as this to speak and make a clear case for a soft brexit that would also allow us to implement our manifesto. Many say no one wants a soft brexit, no-one is fighting for it loud enough, we need to believe in it if we want it.
The leadership, and people opposed to a second referendum, must also be clear why they feel we should maintain Labour’s current position of respecting the initial referendum. I personally have a lot of respect for Corbyn’s management of brexit, as he respected the last conference motion on brexit and has done well to guide the party that has the most to loose depending on its position.
Jones and Lapavitsas both choose facts to support their opinions and their articles. Labour this now provide its members and voters with the information to make their own decision.
-Can we have renationalisation whilst in the EU?
-How would soft brexit benefit us?
-What would remain and reform or even rebel accomplish, and would it make things worse or better?
Labour is not the party of status quo, and if it wants to be the party of democracy and change, then the manipulation of conference and messing around with disciplinary hearings needs to stop. Members who want Labour to change their position, need to change their MPs and go to meetings to make the change happen. Chris Williamson himself is a supporter of Open Selection and many have speculated that is why his case got so much attention from the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is followed by media attention.
It’s worth remembering Chris Williamson wasn’t directly anti-sematic, it was his comments about the parties responce anti-semitism that are in question and he should be given due process the same as anybody else as should. This is where the party must also increase in fairness. Disciplining MPs that bring the party into disrepute. Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge have done many things to bring the party in to disrepute, on more occasions and caused a great deal of damage to the party. We cannot have one rule for one and not for another, letting Blairites go on TV weekly to run down the party, set up alternative complaits procedures and shouting in Parliament that the leader of your party is a “Fucking anti-semite”. All this whilst hanging out one of our more honest left wing MPs, who often is the only voice in the party standing against imperialism, and fighting for a more democratic party, despite knowing that it would be unpopular with the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Despite Williamson’s name being dragged through the mud and many on the left leaving him when he needs it most, there is a silver lining, he seems to have a large part of the membership in his corner. Labour List, which is the centrist daily bulletin, carried out its weekly survey. This week 61% of 10,066 voters said that Chris should be allowed back in the party, 31% said that he shouldn’t.
74% also agreed that Labour needed an independent complaints procedure. Allowing for this to take place will stop any abuse of the disciplinary procedures, but it also means that cases of antisemitism, sexual harassment and all forms of prejudice can be dealt with swiftly and impartially. This will ensure there is no form of political or media pressure to interfere with cases. Who can disagree with that?
Democracy is only as good as the information people have, and the debates they have with that information. The Labour Party has a responsibility to provide this to its members and voters a simple online ballot will not do. Furthermore democracy also means trusting in those that that are elected to positions such as leader and MP of your local party. If they are not trusted, like Tom Watson, then they should face democratic selection. What is quite clear is that members still trust Corbyn. He must trust the membership to support him, as his comments on brexit will influence members. If we cannot achieve a socialist government inside the EU, or fears losing the north over brexit then he needs to say this clearly. Members with a clear idea of the EU will understand.
Unless clear debates are had, and the myths cleared up, then Labour will struggle to get behind any Brexit policy, no matter how simple it may appear. Labour needs a clear path on Brexit, and it should find that path democratically with the leadership and members taking the initiative to set the terms of the debate. After all it is our party.
The NHS is more important than any Brexit deal, Second referendum and any political alignment you might hold
No matter what your opinion on Brexit or politics, one thing we can agree on is that the NHS is far better than having a health insurance based scheme. Thousands of people die every year in the USA, the richest country in the world, as they cannot afford the insurance.
During Donald Trump‘s joint press conference with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, Donald Trump made it clear that the NHS would be on the negotiation table for any trade deals between the UK and the USA.
The Tories have said that they are the best people to manage the NHS, however this simple act by Matt Hancock, current Health Secretary, put their whole ethos around the NHS in one tweet. The day Donald Trump said the NHS was part of the future trade deal Hancock replied with a tweet
Yet, 21 NHS contracts, £127m worth, are currently out for tender to any company. 19 of these contracts since Hancock become Health Secretary in February 2019. All the Tory contenders for the top job came out defending the NHS but how many would defend it when desperate for a trade deal if we bomb out of the EU. My guess is none.
You can’t trust the ToriesJust goes to prove you cannot trust the Conservative Party with the NHS. It has been one of the main victims of austerity, despite it having the ‘ring-fenced’ finances. Many other cuts around society such as police cuts, social care funding, and the cutting of nursing bursaries have all had a knock-on effect on the NHS. No matter how much money you put into it, it cannot support these levels of desperation. The Conservatives flicked off the switch on the life support machine 2010. The NHS is taking its last breaths.
In 2010 David Cameron and Nick Clegg both decided that more competition was needed in the NHS than before under New Labour. They appointed Andrew Lansley as Health Secretary in 2010; he was the architect for the Health and Social care bill. With this they opened the floodgates to allow private companies to bid for specific services. Private companies, NGOs and the NHS had to bid against each other to offer a service. They claimed it would improve quality and value for money, however health care does not work like supermarkets or building firms.
In 2015 the EU brought in similar competition rules for public sectors, any contracts out for tender over 75,000 pounds had to be announced. That meant any EU based company could bid for a contract. Many fear this is what the USA companies want a piece of. Richard Branson has successfully sued the NHS for millions under these laws as he said the procurement procedures were not fair amongst other things. See more about Virgin Care ripping of the NHS here.
Anyone that has used the NHS in their local area will see that there has been a significant increase in private companies running health services. This includes admin support for GP surgeries, drug and alcohol clinics and social care companies.
I worked for over 10 years of the NHS at all levels in many locations. The one thing that does not change is the power of the people behind the NHS. If you privatise the healthcare sector, many of these people leave as they are there to care for people, not to make profits for shareholders. You don’t train to be a nurse to make money for someone else; you do it to help people.
Donald Trump is not telling us anything new, despite saying after his press conference that the NHS would not be on part of a trade deal.
The NHS has been sold of piece by piece for years by politicians that don’t even use it. Even if we stay in the EU, something many are now saying we need to do to save the NHS, this will not stop the slow sale of our health care. However, if we have a No-deal Brexit, the NHS is the first thing the USA business vultures will pick at. We can use our position whilst negotiating Brexit to get a good relationship with the EU, and protect our NHS from private companies.
The NHS needs saving despite Brexit. It doesn’t matter about the nationality of the rich people, they will only invest if it makes money. We need an NHS that is to cure people not to increase profit margins or pay dividants to share holders.
There is no point arguing for No-deal Brexit if you don’t have a health service to look after you. If you think the Brexit debate is divided now wait until the NHS is sold off. Not only will we have a divided society, but we will also have a dying one.
Across the world there has been a resurge of reimagining the future. Since the collapse of the capitalist system in 2008, many politicians, authors and economists have become concerned about the future of the economic landscape of the world over. Whether this is because of reasons of profit and growth, or those of worrying about the poor and how workers will survive. All of these reasons are valid since the cracks of the capitalist system have continued to splinter. Capitalism no longer has the reputation of being the natural order. Some want to replace it and others want to help it continue.
Universal Basic Income is one of the ideas being talked about to reduce inequalities and the broken economic system.Since the financial crisis, the richest people in the world have got richer and the poorest have got poorer, the riches 26 people in the world own the same as 50% of the world’s poorest people. In the UK most people at work are finding it difficult to make ends meet. We see it daily with the reports of the increase in food banks, the number of working poor and the increases in personal debt.
Furthermore, whilst these things have happened the state services have been hollowed out in the name of austerity. The public services that one could once rely on are now at their bare-bones fighting for survival. This is illustrated in the UN report on how damaging austerity has been for the UK.
Universal Basic Income is a scheme where everybody receives a basic income from the government no matter how rich or poor they are. It is not a benefit but a citizen’s right to ensure that there is a basic quality of life for all in the country. Several research projects found, contrary to popular belief that people will spend it all on drugs and cigarettes, that people actually spend the money wisely and that by having this money it allows them to concentrate on their life rather than paying debts. They then become more active citizens, who are less likely to engage in illegal activity, and more likely to contribute to society whether that be through volunteer work or the simple fact of paying taxes. Here is an explained from Norvara Media
This policy has been debated, tested and examined by both sides of the political coin. In the coming years we will probably see this policy adopted and implemented in various ways to suit the political agenda of whoever is in power.The idea behind universal basic income is incredible and to imagine a world where no one has to worry about lack of money or resources is one that I like. However, I think there is a huge hurdle that we need to get over first: Universal Basic Services.
Universal Basic Services:
the provision of sufficient free public services, as can be afforded from a reasonable tax on incomes, to enable every citizen’s safety, opportunity, and participation.
Doesn’t sound too bad , does it?
Universal Basic Services obviously isn’t as attractive as free money for everybody. Universal basic services is the idea that the services, that are provided by the government, are not-for-profit and are free to everybody in the country. This would include housing, public transport, car parking, electricity, gas, water, childcare, healthcare and medication, education and social care for those that need it. Whilst this might sound utopian, or even communist to some people, these are the things that are going to help people now.
Wouldn’t it be nice not to worry about going homeless or having to worry about paying for sanitary products? Not only would this help people to stop worrying about the necessities, but it would also increase equality for minorities groups, poor families and women. Not having to stay in toxic relationships so that you can keep the house over your head would help people in places where they feel trapped. Or, not having to quit work and your financial independence to look after a child or sick family member, which normally falls on women. These things would increase everyone’s quality of life. Freedom of choice is only good for people who have money to pay for it, true freedom come in the form of not having to choose between food for you or your children.
Mental health issues induced by poor social settings and poorly contracted work would decrease. People would not need to resort to terrible contracts and low pay offered by bosses who only want to look out for their profit margins. There would be less stress in home about rising rents, childcare costs or unemployment. The less social stress a person has the less they are likely to become mentally unwell.
A society that has what it needs functions better and can be more productive, people would be able to be active parts of the local economy. Paying taxes is not a burden it is part of society. This is a society that I would like to live in, one where everyone is cared for and no-one goes without the basics. One where we don’t have to worry about living pay check to pay check. No one should feel bad for using public services. A society that we can look after and be a part of. A place for people not profits.
“Young, ‘sexy socialists’ are also pushing Marxism back into the student mainstream,” wrote Samuel Fishwick for the London Evening Standard in May 2017. Yes, socialism is back on the map and it is no longer a dirty word. But when was its downfall?
Since the Second World War, there have been a few major things that have happened in the world of socialism. Following the Allied victory in the Second World War, British soldiers returned home eager for change. They didn’t want to go back to how it was before the war, which was in all honesty very miserable. So, they voted for change.
Clement Attlee, a short, balding and quiet man, was standing as the Labour candidate for prime minister. He was standing against the victorious and larger-than-life statesman Winston Churchill. Following several rallies around the country from both politicians, Labour won with a landslide. Everyone was shocked that the war icon had lost.
During this government, Labour established the National Health Service, which today stands as a beacon for socialists all over the world. Universal health care had been established in the country that, 150 years earlier, gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. Socialism was alive in the heartlands of capitalism. Throughout Europe, social democratic parties became popular following the Second World War.
Between 1945 and the early 2000’s, social democratic parties would be a main feature in most countries’ governments or oppositions. In the Scandinavian countries, a form of social democracy had already been established and started changing society to be more harmonious. This is now established in their culture.
However, these parties are not perfect, and some of these countries are currently going through a difficult time, as they are faced with a backlash from citizens about the amount of immigration in recent years. In the rest of Europe, many social democratic parties established free health care and a form of welfare state. Progress swept through Europe and standards became established with the rise of the European Union and the fall of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe. Then it lost its appeal.
After making all of this progress, some social democratic parties in Central Europe lost their way. They became very centrist and had little to do with socialism. Many were socialist in name, but really they were turning towards capitalism and away from their origins. Neoliberal capitalism was just accepted as the norm for many politicians now. They were just more generous than their counterparts on the centre-right when it came to providing for citizens.
Some believe politics moved to the centre due to the liberal nature of the European Union, and politics in general became very mundane. The fall of the Soviet Union also gave socialism a bad name. Many associated communism with socialism and saw the failing of one as a failing of both. Capitalism was in its heyday and became accepted as the norm.
By the late 1990s, there was little to distinguish between left and right parties in most countries. Politics became a career, not a chance to represent your community. Career politicians were everywhere, and many were not from working-class backgrounds. Many politicians, on both the left and the right, had backgrounds as lawyers, bankers or advisors to older politicians – hardly representative of the general population.
Distrust of politicians grew, and even more so after the 2008 financial crash and a series of corruption scandals involving politicians all over the world. Then things changed with Brexit. The election of Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of the far right may have happened before Brexit, but the split of the left and right since then has shown one thing, career politicians don’t have the answer. The British public are walking into a neoliberal abyss where we will become subjects of our own invention: capitalism.
Hopefully, we will not fulfil Marx’s prophecy: “The English have all the material requisites for the revolution. What they lack is the spirit of generalization and revolutionary ardour.” Part of this message rings true: we do have the means not only to revolutionise our own country, but also to set an example for other capitalist societies. Britain is not the country it once was; it lost its empire after the Second World War and has lost its reputation for pragmatism since Brexit.
A social revolution is the only way that Britain can be saved from itself. Voting Labour is a first step in the right direction, as they are the only political party adopting a different approach. The right one. Hopefully, the socialist drive in Britain will maintain its momentum and change the materialistic nature of society that currently holds it to ransom. But even if a newly elected Labour Party does overcome the huge chasm that is Brexit, it will certainly have a fight on its hands with the establishment, the liberal and political elites, the banks, the media and the rising far right.
This extract is from my book Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now. You can get ithere
The People’s Vote is still an attainable goal to many Remainers, 3 years on from the original referendum that only a handful of people wanted. Now half the country is angry about either their vote not being respected or the referendum itself being a lie. However, UKIP and other Leavers got what they wanted, and made the most of a terrible political decision made by David Cameron.
Several local elections and a General Election later we have reached the EU elections we were never meant to have. What was the low point of the political calendar in the past has become the Waterloo of Brexit. Both sides seem to be gearing up for battle on Thursday, and yet again one side seems to have the upper hand: the Brexit party.
Manifesto-less with a handful of political nobodies and former politicians that have worn out the reality TV circuit, the Brexit Party is leading in the polls with ex-UKIP personality, Nigel Farage. He who ran away from the public when he realised no one had an answer to leaving the EU, despite being an MEP with that sole mission for over 20 years.
The Brexit Party are ahead, and the Farage’s former home UKIP has been highjacked by milkshake wearing YouTube personalities and ex-football hooligans. Yet due to the EU elections voting method, even Tommy Robinson could be given a position to spout his Islamophobic views from.
Britain is not alone with the rise of the far right. The Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy have all seen the return of far right nationalist parties, who are this week planning a trip to Brussels. Many feel this could derail the European project and be used as a weapon against its own goals. Liberty, freedom, inclusive communities and the European identity will be Remainers dreams of the past.
As this goes on in our own country, we ignore what is going on in the very continent the Remainers want to be a part of. Whether the leavers like it or not, we have to have a relationship with the EU.
The EU Parliament is made up of 750 seats. They are distributed depending on the size of the country, the UK gets around 75 seats. Inside this parliament there are several groups which form to represent their common political outlooks. You have groupings of different political parties from all 27 countries it includes groups of conservatives, liberals, greens and socialists.
Europe of Nations and Freedom which houses UKIP and the French National Front has 36 seats, another nationalist block is Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy that the Brexit Party plan to join along with far right Alternative for Germany, they have 41 seats. These are predicted to increase.
The biggest block at the moment are the right leaning liberals the European People’s Party group, of which Germanys ruling party is a member of and the group that Change UK plan to join if they are lucky enough to get any seats. Pictures of their half dead political talks make you wonder if they will be lucky to get any seats.
68 seats belong to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, which the Liberal Democrats are members of and are likely to increase their importance in the group even though it may only before a short time. A group that sits just above them is the Conservative Party’s group the European Conservatives and Reformists with 76 seats. Something tells me that Theresa May’s Party won’t be much help, as they still haven’t realised these elections are happening, they have a visible lack of manifesto and campaign.
The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats are the second biggest group with 186 seats. The Labour Party remains a member of this centre left group despite their move to the left since the election of Corbyn. Following the EU elections this week, the group with the largest number of seats will get to nominate new President of the Commission to replace current European Commission president – Jean-Claude Juncker. His job includes giving political guidance to the Commission who set the agenda for the parliament and formulate the policies they will vote on. The President also leads the Commission’s work in implementing EU policies, and contributes to debates in the EU.
If the Socialist and Democrats group could increase their majority then their nominee Frans Timmermans to have an influence on the current liberal-right heavy EU. Things included in his party’s manifesto include stopping austerity, greater rights for workers and women and making sure all of Europe has some form of minimum wage. They also seem eager to address the ongoing devastating refugee crisis.
This would be a change for Europe, and it would also address some issues that are pushing people to vote for far right populist parties, who are also making the EU the enemy. Firmly cementing the vision that the EU is a technocratic system that only looks out for banks. Whilst the EU have not helped themselves made evident by their treatment of Greece, among other countries during the crisis. Not forgetting their poor handling of the refugee crisis and lack of help to the poor countries that are on the front-line dealing with it. We could force it to work for good.
Now is the time to put your vote to good use rather than digging in and fighting with other Brits. Remainers and Leavers should back the Labour Party. They can help get Socialist and Democrats group over the line, as they are one of the more popular socialist parties in Europe, this alone could make a change in the direction of the EU and get a socialist as President of the Commission. We cannot achieve this if people protest and vote against Labour.
Labour are the only party committed to ending austerity, enabled by the Liberal Democrats, in the UK. They are the party of Leavers and Remainers, the only party with a viable plan for Brexit to keep a relationship with the EU whilst respecting the result of the referendum.
The point of the EU was to encourage solidarity in Europe, voting remain is not solidarity with Europe it is putting the Remain cause before Europe. The far right has already hijacked the Brexit debate, don’t let them take control of the European Union otherwise all of this would’ve been for nothing. Let’s do what Britain does best, with or without milkshakes, stand up to bullies.
Childhood obesity is a serious problem. We see this public health issue as a collective responsibility, therefore different approaches were utilised to address it. Talking and creating awareness was not enough, so the government stepped in with public education around healthy eating, but also a broader range of interventions such as the sugar tax and healthy school meals. So why, then, are people being forced to address their own mental health issues without help from the government?
They have been raising awareness and getting people to talk, which is more of an achievement for charities and the media than the state. Other than this, little has done little in the form of government intervention – in fact government policies are making it worse.
We live in a society that worships individualism; that makes us believe that our mental health is our own responsibility, even in situations when there’s nothing we can do about it. Some things that lead to mental health problems in the first place are beyond many human beings’ control, even more so if you are part of a discriminated minority.
In a time of austerity, rising personal debts and precarious work, we are encouraged to be an individual that should not rely upon anybody for anything. If we do, society perceives us to have failed in life and look weak. The narrative that many people ‘choose’ to be on zero-hours contracts is false. They sell the gig economy as being empowering and entrepreneurial, yet an unstable paycheck and lack of workers’ rights says something else. The stress this puts on someone, already struggling to manage, can be immeasurable. It also leads to higher personal borrowing as the cost-of-living rises but the wages have stagnated, the UK has hit record levels of personal household debt.
With increasing income inequality also comes higher health and social care problems. I worked in an emergency department for several years as a mental health nurse, assessing people that had tried to take their own lives. Many of my patients were not mentally ill, they were desperate and stressed by things such as marriage problems, bringing up children, lack of support from services, employment issues and money problems.
People may say individuals should sort these problems out themselves, but the truth is you need help from family, friends, and government services. If these services were funded correctly to help people, then they could get back to being contributing members of society that pay taxes, help friends out, look after elderly relatives, bring up children and work, which feeds into the economy. Without functioning citizens, you cease to have a functioning country.
However, the problem goes back much further than the austerity era of the last decade. Since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the UK has slowly gone from a collective community supporting each other to a country with an individualistic, ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude. It was Thatcher who introduced an ideology that would see state companies privatised and many industrial towns lose their economic soul. The age of individualism is here, and if you cannot make it, then you are seen as faulty. As we can see from social media, we are more obsessed than ever by who has what. Sending a false image of ourselves to others, we ruminate about how others see us, when in reality it’s our own self-confidence that is suffering.
As the narrative of the country has changed to a more individualistic one, we expect people to take responsibility for things beyond their control, when they are at their most desperate. This is not only unfair, but adds to the stress of managing your own mental health issues and puts you off seeking help. You believe you must help yourself, or you have failed.
This is where mental health services and the government should step in to support people, yet the government has done the opposite and cut funding to the NHS and charities, while it has also restructured and restricted the welfare system so even the most desperate of people cannot access it.
We need not only a well-funded NHS we need a systematic change in our ideological outlook for the country. It is no accident that countries with a stable welfare system and have a good records on workers’ rights also rank highly on happiness scales. Countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland, while not perfect, are an example of the way we should go. A country with well-funded universal basic services can help relieve the unnecessary stress that austerity, individualistic thinking and unstable employment put on people and their loved ones. These are the first steps to addressing the ever-growing epidemic of mental health. We need to change society and our own narrative if we want a healthy and happy country for the future generations.
On the 12th April 2019, Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s current Prime Minister and leader of the centre-left Socialist party (PSOE), started off the campaign trail. The next two weeks would be full on, with full face election banners in the streets hanging from lampposts, and billboards with ministerial candidates being depicted as action heroes walking from an explosion. TV debates, old ghosts of politicians past returning to give their cents worth and a new character to make everyone in Europe interested in Spanish politics again. The return of the populist far right. Pedro Sanchez, nicknamed the handsome one “El Guapo”, called a General Election on the 22nd March 2019 following a budget defeat in parliament. Only 9 months before a motion of no confidence been passed in the government center right Popular Party (Partido Popular PP) the party who gained the most votes of the elections in 2016 .
Spain has 52 constituencies, one for each province which is 50 including the islands, and the extra two are for the north African enclave cities Ceuta and Melilla. 350 deputies are elected to the lower house of congress where they sit in a semicircle. The upper house, the senate, is also elected on the same day, but their role is minor in the grand scheme of things. The Spain’s parliament is a large grey cubed looking building, with rich and traditional interior. The towering golden doors at the front of the parliament are not used often and are guarded by two large stone lions which are overlooking tourists having their photo taken. Spain’s democracy operates on a version of proportional representation to allocate seats, they allocate each province a number of seats depending on the province size and population, for example Madrid gets 32 seats whilst most other provinces without large cities get four or five seats. They count the number of votes in each province and split them between the parties, people vote for a party not a person. The party has a ‘closed list’ which means they list who will get the first seat in that province, the public influence this. Each party posts a copy of their lists, pre-ticked for their party, a week before the elections, people can just take these along to vote. Here they can see who is ranked on the list. The more votes they have, the more seats they fill from their list. So, if you are friends with your leader, who chooses the list, then you are almost guaranteed a seat. The Salamanca district in Madrid has the highest number of votes for the PP in the country, so being in the top 3 of the list for the PP in Madrid guarantees you a seat, which is why most leaders are sitting in Madrid. When the seats have been allocated they revert to a first-past-the-post system, typical in the UK, where the party, or coalition of parties, that have the most seats can ask the king to form a government. There are many regional parties in Spain that stand to represent their own region’s interests, often these parties are independent based.
To form a majority government, a party must have over 176 deputies to form a majority government, which has been almost impossible in Spain in recent years. This will be Spain’s third election in four years. In 2015 the parties could not form a government after the election and elections had to be held again in 2016. This was mainly down to the fact that new parties had emerged, in the end the PP formed a minority government as PSOE abstained from voting, also ejecting their leader at the time, Pedro Sánchez, as he was at odds with the hierarchy of the party. Later he was reelected against a favourite of the party, and a more centrist candidate Susana Diaz. The PP were ruling in as a minority with help from the centrist party Cuidudanos (C’s), a new newcomer from Catalonia in the 2015 election. They are the biggest party, but not the ruling party, in the Catalan parliament. When they started, they positioned themselves as a centre-left party but seem to have been influenced by Spain’s sway to the right in recent years. The PP were thrown out of power because of an ongoing corruption case that saw then PM Marion Rajoy in court giving evidence. The PSOE along with newish far left party Podemos and smaller independence parties from the Basque country and Catalonia voted out Rajoy with the vote of no confidence and made Pedro Sanchez PM with a minority of 84 seats. Following 9 months of trying to increase minimum wage and make other laws to improve the society that has suffered the EU’s austerity plans and economic bad luck, the PSOE had to call elections. The same people that supported the formation of a minority left-wing coalition government, the independent Catalan parties, refused to support the 2019 economic budget due to the breakdown in talks regarding Catalonia’s independence. The Catalans voted with the right wing parties to ensure the budget could not make it through government. With in minutes PSOE’s Facebook page lit up with a picture of the parties voting against minimum wage increases and other things in the budget. The blame game had started.
From this point on till the beginning of the campaign trail there was a pre-election manoeuvring. This election is one that is framed as left verses right. The old two-party system of Spain as a whole is dead, and it is definitely a time of uncertainty for many people. Even up till recently, days before the elections, up to 40% of the country is still said to be unsure how they will vote. Most of these people are women and young people. The divisions in the country are more clear than ever when you see the wide range of parties and the level of support they have.
Many had counted Podemos, out the game as they had been quiet, and the only news to come out of the party was that of splits and divisions. Íñigo Errejón, one of the original founders who looks like a toddler and is said to be the brains behind the policies of Podemos, said that he would stand on a platform with current Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena in the up and coming local elections in May. They have formed a new political group Mas Madrid. He never formally left Podemos, but this seems to be out of kindness not to cause trouble more than anything else.
On Saturday 23rd of March the pony-tailed professor and leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, returned to politics after his paternity leave which he had been on to look after his twins since December. In the meantime Podemos spokesperson, and his partner, Irene Montero had been fronting Podemos. Even before his comeback the poster of his return event had been slated in the media for being overly macho. It was a picture of Iglesias from behind holding his fist in the air with the word “Vuelve” or return, the “El” was emphasised which in Spanish is masculine. All parties, even those with poor feminist credentials, criticised him and Podemos eventually removed the poster with an apology but it was too late it had been retweeted to high heaven. This is an example of how the media treat Podemos, they jump on anything. After the successful and charismatic return to the Plaza de Renia Sofia, Podemos’s old celebration square after they won seats in the 2015 EU elections, Iglesias went on Spain’s more liberal channel La Sexta, he let fire at the media and the banks. He talked passionately about how the media was run by the elites that don’t want the people to have power, and how the banks were running the country and not the government, the Podemos social media machine was on fire tweeting and sharing quotes from his first interview. Many feel this was a return to the old style, and it is easy to see that Podemos, despite what the media say, still have their solid fan base. But will it be enough? Many regular left-wing voters felt let down by Podemos as when they started 5 years before, they were meant to be something different. Yet, setting such hard lines for a coalition in the 2016 elections made it possible, some claim, for the PP to form a minority government. Podemos have also faced a scandal that rocked their world and left the leaders name is in tatters.
The mansion scandal was big news in Spain and left many Podemos voters feeling disheartened and upset with its leader. Iglesias brought a chalet in a well off town in the mountains of Madrid. A great deal of people felt he had become “one of them”, one of the very people he had been criticising just a year before and saying he would never leave his neighbourhood, now two of Podemos’s top deputies had bought a house and this was in the middle of a media frenzy for weeks. It was on all the talk shows and in the papers, even bloggers were writing about it. These sorts of events damage party’s reputation that does not go away for a while, and maybe that is the problem, Iglesias went nowhere until his children were born. On the buildup to the election campaign weeks Iglesias was in court with the PP. The PP are being investigated for using their time in government, whilst Iglesias was an MEP, to spy on other political opponents, one can imagine they feared new parties and they misused their positions of influence to get the Spanish state to read Iglesias text messages and made attempts to discredit Podemos, this has been nicknamed Spain’s Watergate. Obviously this just reinforces the PP’s corruption record.
However, in the last two weeks of campaigning Podemos has won back support. The first week was over the Easter break, many parties just flooded every town and city in Spain with terrible posters and banners. Many towns put up extra boards on the street for political parties to put up their posters on, yet the country is so divided that the posters only last a day or two before they are ripped down again. PSOE’s posters of Pedro Sánchez big face filling the paper has reminded some people of Big Brother from1984 or the Hunger games election scenes. Podemos has not played a part in the traditional Spanish campaigning of putting the leader’s face on a banner, hanging from every lamppost in the street, smiling with photoshopped white teeth and a terrible slogan. Podemos have opted for a slogan saying that “you write the history you want” with a purple heart. They have also highlighted their manifesto promises more than other parties. They promised to raise minimum wage to 1200 euros, have a referendum on bull fighting, improve animal welfare, create a national bank, cut energy emission, create a national energy company and invest in green energy. They have also said they want to democratise the government and reform the senate, justice system and how political parties are run, along with reshaping the media and curbing private companies influence on the government. They have also made clear promises like free university education, yet with over 200 promises it seems overly ambitious. Maybe that is what they need though.
Regarding Iglesias, he is a different person when compared to the previous campaigns, no longer spitting insults at opponents but taking a step back and just putting a message across of his parties election promises, you might even think he had been watching the manner of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Some have said that becoming a father has pacified him. This was clear in the televised debates during the second week of campaigning. He allowed the leaders of the other parties to slander each other whilst he addressed issues of social inequality and lowering standards of living and let the other 3 battle it out over Catalonia. Hopefully Podemos, and Pablo have won back some support. Unfortunately, throughout most of April, most polls on average have been suggesting that Podemos will lose up to half of their seats, from 69 seats they have now down to around 30 seats. Polls in Spain have never been safe bets, but there appears to be several narratives around Madrid and other parts of the country that hit similar tones. Many people are considering tactical voting as they fear Vox getting into power. Many Podemos voters flocking to POSE as people see them as a safer bet to get more seats, some may have returned after Pablo’s performance at the debates.
Big Brother of the Left
The tone of the campaigns really shows the parties true colours. Podemos have had a message of hope and change; trying to position themselves as a credible left-wing alternative to PSOE, whilst remaining very aware that should they win big, they will no doubt need to work with PSOE to govern Spain. PSOE have been acting as if the election is in the bag for them. Calling an election when he did, Pedro Sanchez has tried to capitalise on the rise of the far right and hopes to split the right vote, and use the fear of Vox to get people to vote for a sensible government in the form of PSOE. The slogan “The Spain you want” gives the image of it’s us, or have this new regressive far right party in power with the centre right Ciudadanos and right wingers the PP. Hopefully PSOE, and Pedro Sanchez’s arrogance doesn’t put off too many voters and their bets pay off.
PSOE have lost a lot of voters confidence because of their history of corruption, and their vanilla pro business version of social democracy. Many feel, myself included, that Pedro Sanchez could be a reasonably good leader and an average social democrat if he was allowed to be, yet the right wingers of the party machine seem to have other ideas and may even consider a coalition government with C’s rather than Podemos. PSOE’s manifesto is very ambiguous and full of glib sentences the sort you may find in a holiday brochure. Looking further at their promises for Spain, 110 things they want to do, you can see that they have their hearts are in the right place. They are not at radical as Podemos but promise to look at free childcare for children under 3, repeal all union laws made by the PP, improve the welfare system, simplify the work contracts and invest a large amount in a green friendly economy, creating more jobs and a whole new major industry, which could be the answer to Spain’s sleepy economy. They also promise to raise taxes for large corporations and high earners and explore Catalonia’s self-governing rights to see if it can come to some agreement on the ongoing issue of the region. They want a return to the normal which does not exist at the moment.
The television debates were the highlight of what turned out to be an uneventful election campaign. In the run up to the election debates there were arguments about who should be allowed on the TV debates. Vox are becoming a big force in Spanish politics at the moment despite not having any deputies in the congress. Pedro Sanchez wanted them on the debates but the electoral commission denied this as they never had over 5% of the public’s vote at the last election. The debates were eventually reorganised after a small amount of drama probably created more by the media than the politicians. The debates were on the Monday and Tuesday nights of the second week of campaigning.
The interesting bromance here was between Pablo Casado, the right wing leader of the PP and Alberto Rivera the leader of C’s. On the Monday night they got on, and on the Tuesday they were nearly strangling each other. Pablo Casado took over from previous Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He is much younger than Rajoy and is more right wing, inexperienced and sharper with his tongue. Only days before the debates in Toledo he has been blaming the PSOE for starting the civil war and colluding with independentist parties. PP have lost a lot of ground in recent months, mainly down to corruption and the emergence of slick centre right party C’s, and for those that like their politics very right, Vox. The PP have played this election by trying to say that they are the safe bet of the right. “Value security” is their election motto, and it does not seem to work. The PP were one of the two traditional parties in Spain, alongside the PSOE, but years of corruption, politicians lying and being involved in scandal after scandal has put voters off this traditional right wing party.
Casado is trying to reestablish them as the right wing party of Spain but C’s and Vox seem to have sucked the lifeblood from them. They will have to rely on their rural vote, where the old parties have always done so well, and some of the more skeptical right wing voters in the traditional cities like Madrid, but the PP don’t seem to have any wind in their sails this election. They could even lose their rural vote. A mix of traditional campaign techniques of conservatives parties trying to appeal to people’s sense of tradition and a promise of security from progress, even having bull fighters stand as deputies, doesn’t seem to work or help. Their pledges for the country are standard conservative policies such as freeing up the labour market, cut taxes for specific groups and areas such as tourism, and they also want to apply article 155 to Catalonia to suspend regional governance. The PP have announced no striking policies and have been trying to secure their rural and upper class city vote in a bid, not to win the election, but stop their party falling apart.
Enter Centre Right
The other half of the bromance, Alberto Rivera from Cuidudanos has been busy not saying a lot, whilst being quite loud. On the first night of the debate Pablo Casado and Rivera joined forces to attack Pedro Sanchez mainly over Catalonia and his poor management as Prime minister. They were bringing out many objects including graphs and cards, it was like a magic show. Rivera brought out a picture of Sanchez trying to bump fists with the president of Catalonia. Pablo Iglesias even had a copy of the constitution which, ironically for the anti religion left winger, looked like a prayer book. Twitter was a flood of comparisons to priests and bedtime stories being told by the Podemos front man. There was no obvious winner of this debate but many say the Rivera came across better and had the upper hand due to the Catalonia debate.
The second night of debates had a clear winner, Pablo Iglesias and was a complete surprise for Pedro Sánchez who looked ready for another beating from the two right wingers. To his amusement Casado and Rivera attacked each other and the left wingers just looked on baffled. Rivera changed tack, maybe he realised too late that they could be fighting for the Prime minister position should they get enough votes and have to form a coalition. Whilst the fighting went on Iglesias kept his calm and delivered his party’s manifesto promises, many saw a new side to the militant activist of the past.
The debate was the same day as St George’s day, in Catalonia it is the tradition to swap books with other people. Rivera gave Sanchez a copy of his own thesis. This is trying to highlight the previous scandal that Sanchez may have not written his own doctoral thesis, and Sanchez, prepared as ever, pulled out a copy of Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, autobiography and said something to the effect of, if this is who you are getting into bed with, you should know more about them. Ciudadanos are an interesting but shallow party. They paint themselves as modern liberals of the country; they want to modernise and improve Spain whilst keeping it together. They want to cut taxes across the board and cut taxes by 60% for people that live in depopulated areas. They also want to reform the tax system for smaller companies and make it easier to become self-employed. They take a hard stance against Catalonia self governance and want to also eliminate royal decrees which have been abused by previous governments to make laws whilst avoiding the debate and vote in congress. PP members, and even politicians, are defecting to C’s. Ciudadanos appear to be replacing themselves in the old position of the PP. A pro-business, low tax choice for people who have center, or right wing inclined politics. Yet, this image has been tarnished somewhat by their alliances and public appearances with the PP and more so Vox. Initially they agreed to govern Andalucia with Vox and the PP following the regional elections, which showed they were not above getting into bed with Vox to gain power. Later, they were also seen at a right wing rally in Madrid’s Colon Square in February 2019. This was a protest organised by the three right leaning parties and all three leaders where there. They protested that fact that Pedro Sánchez had planned to have further talks with Catalan parties regarding independence, however they Catalan parties refused to rule out not having a referendum which Sanchez was not willing to give, therefore on the Friday he called off the talks. Despite this, the right wing group went ahead with their protest, on the Sunday, saying they wanted to vote on the future of Spain. Many people in Spain felt put out by the change in government they never got to vote for, due to the motion of no confidence, and they wanted to vote again. Newspapers the next day showed 40,000 Spaniards in Colon Square protesting for a united Spain and against the PSOE government. The papers never showed pictures of the crowds but of all 3 leaders stood in a line, shoulder to shoulder, despite Cuidudanos and PPs best attempts to get out of the picture. Following the demonstration, a picture was doing the rounds on twitter of the 3 right wing leaders stood in a line next to a drinks fridge which contained the body of Franco. C’s were being welcomed to the right wether they liked it or not. It’s also funny how people change their mind on voting. I spoke to one voter who worked for the police, and would normally vote PP, who planned to vote for C’s as he felt Vox were too far right. Another first time voter told me she considered voting for C’s but was put off by their propaganda that was sent the week leading up to the vote, it was in plastic wrapping. Many even feel that with the recent rise public disapproval of the maltreatment of animals, Spain may see its first anti bull-fighting party deputies from PACMA.
The party, which I have spoke at length about before, that is on everyone’s lips, left and right, is Vox. The far right party are the new National Front of Spain. Many people won’t admit to voting for Vox in public, but many will. They are predicted to get up to 10% of the vote, but I think they will get even more. Following their shock win in socialist controlled Andalusia, Vox have grown from strength to strength and this is mainly happening online. Their leader Santiago Abascal has been painting himself as the strongman of Spain. He has been saying anything to get a reaction, and it has been working, but hopefully against him.
How Far Right?
Initially he started off by saying he would build a wall in Spain’s African colonies to stop people from reaching there, although there is already a huge fence there. He then announced that he would relax gun laws in Spain to allow Spaniards to protect themselves, this came the day after the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand when 50 people were shot dead by a white supremacist, and New Zealand tightened its gun laws. Abascal has also been critical of the government, and other parties, management and lack of respect for rural Spain which has become the most sparsely populated area in Europe, he has a point, they have been neglected and he is taking full advantage of this. He released videos of himself on twitter riding a house with a famous bullfighter in the dusty plains of Spain. He promotes a strong man image, often wearing military type shirts, and is very critical of feminism and independence movements. Their main message as a party is to centralise all government powers in Spain to Madrid and ban all parties that challenge a united Spain. He also wants to stop most immigration to the country and deport any illegal immigrants that are all ready here. Vox position themselves as a strongly catholic party that will stop funding feminism and trans-gender causes and ban public hospitals from carrying out abortions and gender reassignment operations.
On their website it says they stand against political correctness and want the media, and other political parties, to stop imposing political correctness on them and stop telling them how to feel, they have even hinted at banning media channels they don’t agree with. Vox have also promised cuts to public spending, want to merge all local governments and cut the corporation tax rate to 12.5% to attract businesses to Spain. Territorially, they want to increase pressure to claim Gibraltar back and suspend all region’s, including Catalonia, autonomy. As their slogan says they want to put Spain first.
Previous comparisons with UKIP and Trump are rife in the media, but Vox has a different feeling to it, they are not hardcore euro sceptics that have emerged in other European countries; they are critical of their own country’s system and identity, something that has been in-flux since the transition to democracy over 40 years ago. Franco effectively created the Spanish stereotype of flamenco dancing, sangria drinking Spaniards to bring in tourists.
Vox are a far right part and many say that we should not call them this, or fascists. they may not be the fascists we have an image of marching around saluting but they have strong elements of fascism, more than most care to admit. Ethno-nationalism, heavy criticism of national democratic institutions and the image of a strong man leading a mass movement against others that are different to the country’s natives and threaten its existence. They have found a new way to power via democracy and they are a threat to it if they ever get control of the wheel.
Obviously this election does not compare to the war in terms of violence or threat level as we live in a better more democratic world but the situation is similar, as I said before it is left vs right more than ever with 2 left parties and 3 right parties, not forgetting the regional parties, the last time the political was this split in Spain was just before the war. The second republic, established a year after the fall of the first dictator of Spain, Miguel Primo de Rivera, was met with a lot of problems that the previous dictator never addressed, and it tried to reform the country over the next 8 years. These problems included poverty, unequal distribution of land and wealth and poor facilities for the public. They achieved a great deal improving the education and health of the country, yet Spain remained hugely divided. The conservative catholic upper and middle classes of the cities, and the deeply religious rural communities, feared the rise of the socialists, anarchists and communists that had won the second set of elections in the republic. They feared their land and riches would be given away and that they would separate the church from the state, a sense of the world changing scared much of traditional Spain.
Spain has progressed tenfold in recent years in the face of corrupt politicians and a macho culture that still embraces, and sees as part of its identity, the catholic traditions of years gone by. They have progressed on women’s rights and a general attitude towards sexism both at home and in the workplace. They have also fully embraced the LGBT culture in the big cities. Many Spanish people have also travelled and moved abroad because of the finical crisis, they have seen that things can be done differently and that Spain doesn’t have to be “different”. This has led to many traditionalists feeling put out and even threatened by progress and they blame it on several things, feminists unfairly take a lot of criticism along with the other regions of Spain.
Other regions in Spain, who have a strong regional identities, namely the Catalans and the Basques, have maintained a good standard of living in the face of austerity and international change when compared with the poorer areas in Spain. They made sacrifices the same as the rest of Spain, but they have been seen by the rest of Spain, more Catalonia than the Basque country, to be better off. In the Constitution they have more right to self government and this has led to an unspoken jealousy from some other regions, it’s like a jealousy between friend when someone is “doing well for themselves”, and it is very strong here in Madrid. There has also always been a stereotype that Catalans feel different, or some say better, than the rest of Spain. When the independence question was revitalised and got more attention from 2016 onwards, nationalism rose like the Spanish sun. The sale of red and yellow wrist bands mush have shot through the roof, and the hanging of Spanish flags from balconies became the norm. The traditionalist conservative Spain was unlike the rest of Europe, they were not only scared of immigration from the middle east and Africa, they were, but also threatened by desertion by their fellow country men and being left behind in the culture war. They were challenging what it meant to be Spanish in a time when no one really knew what it mean to be Spanish. This was all on the back of austerity that had gone on for over 10 years in Spain and had been imposed by the EU. Austerity, falling living standards, inequality and a changing culture are a bad mix with people whom differ from you, and you have been told are being treated better than you. The loss of national identity in times of hardship and change is nothing to ignore. Vox exploited this and was pitting Spain against its own independent regions and immigrants alike.
Could the people who have been forgotten make all the difference?
As I have mentioned before women could change the course of this election with their vote. However, there is also another element in play that many have forgotten about. Spain has an aging population where only a few people are propping up the traditional villages in Spain. Many of the young move away to study or for work, now these villages are left with next to nothing. Some villages have a doctor, butcher, fruit and vegetable seller visit once a week and the only thing often left standing in these towns is the local no-frills bar and most don’t even have a pharmacy anymore. The main parties have neglected the Internet and local amenities and these groups of people feel like they have been left behind, this was proven in the Andalusian elections where many traditional PSOE voters didn’t even bother to vote due to feeling despondent. Some villages have less than 25 people in them, one village that only has two old age pensioners in it was recently the star of a television advert for a car. People are aware of the dying rural Spain but the politicians have woken up too late to this. The people in the rural communities still vote for one of the two big parties, PSOE or PP, but many feel neglected by them and this is where Vox have been trying to pick up votes. There are fewer people that live in these provinces and a party needs less votes to get a seat, so electorally this was a safe bet for the old parties and Vox have been targeting these seats, a bet that may well pay off.
The campaigns finished on Friday the 26th and this will give Spain their traditional day of reflection, 24 hours before elections there is a canvassing blackout in the national media to give citizens a break before they make their decision on the Sunday. It feels as if the current narrative is lets get Pedro Sanchez out at any cost by the right, and from the left it is a vote for PSOE to keep the far right out. I think this quote from Felipe González, Socialist Prime Minister for the late 80s and early 90s sums up how I feel “do we really have to be content with a choice between a Frankenstein government and a Francostein one?”.
With Spain’s soft left struggling inside the centrist party that is PSOE, and the rest of the left fighting for a breath in the shell that was Podemos, the left need to change this country whether they win or lose. If PSOE and Podemos pull off a coalition government, then they must change the country for the better from inside the government and inside the communities as its neighbour on the peninsula has. If they can do this, then they can fight back the right with good policies and by improving people’s lives. Yet, if PSOE agree a centrist pact with Cuidudanos, which could happen despite both ruling it out. One thing we can almost be sure of, and that is normally forgotten about, is that the regional parties often help make up governments, this could save the left and at the same time make life difficult. Many are praying they don’t have to rely on the Catalan parties as they will have demands that Pedro Sanchez could have a hard time meeting as PM. Then if things still don’t change then, in my view, there are two ways the country could go.
The way of France, people pushed to the point of poverty with poor services and being taxed more than they can afford. Then the people will revolt against the system and any party in power will have a tough time, or the more likely, and possibly worse route for the country, is that Vox will become a major right wing party alongside Cuidudanos. If this was to happen, then PP and PSOE would become a ghost of them former selves as losing this election, or not being able to form a government, will be a deadly blow for PSOE. No matter what happens to Vox, they are on the up and nothing seems to be stopping them. I hope I am wrong.
This draft will appear as the finalised version of my forthcoming book: Spain, Capitalism and English Teaching
At the start of one of the busiest streets in Madrid’s center, locally known as La Castellana, in the shadow of the worlds largest Spanish flag, sits a deserted gray square and an abandoned bank. The oddest attraction in the area though isn’t the bad Spanish copy of Madame Tussaud’s, the grand old Spanish national library or the token Hard Rock Cafe. It is Margaret Thatcher square. Or Plaza Margaret Thatcher.
Less of a plaza and more of an elevated piece of concrete, Plaza Margaret Thatcher sits in front of, rather ironically, the abandoned Banco Madrid, that went bankrupt, and until recently was inhabited by a group of squatters. Now, homeless people use it for shelter with associated types of cardboard boxes.
The bank sits in a dark corner of Plaza de Colón, which is dedicated to the famous Spanish backed sailor, it’s disputed that he was Spanish, but that he was actually Italian or possibly Portuguese. He sits on top of the plinth in the middle of the road, used as a modern day roundabout for drivers to navigate in congested roads in the capital of Spain.
The bank sits with its 1980s curvy architecture and black-and-white patched coloring. Somehow, it has managed to become part of the background of this gigantic plaza in the upmarket neighbourhood of Salamanca.
Similar to the fashions of the late ’80s and early ’90s, right-wing economics become popular again after the financial crash of 2008. This plan was, as Owen Jones refers to it, capitalism on steroids. It is Neo-Liberal economics.
In 2014 Ana Botella, wife of ex-prime minister José Aznar, was mayor of Madrid. She held Margaret Thatcher in high esteem, but also as a guiding light for neo-liberal economics.
Thatcher famously, along with Reagan in the United States, pushed for privatisation of services in the early ’90s. This caused a short boom in the economy and made many people rich. On the flipside, it also made many people poorer. Since then income inequality, the gap between the richest and poorest workers, has grown astronomically.
The neo-liberal economic plan is to privatise as much as possible, slash government spending on social welfare, deregulate the financial market and disempower the unions. This started in the early 90s and has continued to mold societies it has touched since. Regan took on the air traffic controllers and Thatcher took on the miners. They both won.
The ethos of neoliberalism is to create an environment where people of privilege, and that have money, can thrive and make more profit. It puts individual aspirations above those of society. The belief that if you are poor, it is your fault becomes engrained into the population. Instead of an empathetic society, you are left with an economic monster eating everything in its path. Empathy for others is scarce.
Thankfully, this monster has never been fully embraced in Spain, as they have not been very accepting of neoliberalism. Evidence of this stance was clear when they tried to rename the main square, where people meet on New Year’s Eve, Vodafone Sol. People could be witnessed walking around the Sol Metro crossing out the word Vodafone with black permanent markers. The public would not even flinch.
Margaret Thatcher is probably one of the most memorable Prime Ministers in the UK, and she is also the one that divides public opinion.
Neo-liberalism has become the new norm and has led to many changes in the world, mostly in the anglo western society. The EU pushes and upholds this value, and proved its dedication, when it forced austerity upon the member states that were controlled by Germany and the European Central bank. A shell of a country that was once Greece stands as a mark of this period.
Economics has not had it easy recently. Barclays, a British bank, once held a subsidiary which had its office on one of the corners of Colòn’s roundabout, has now gone.
Something tells me, even Colòn would have had trouble navigating the waves of Brexit.
Thatcher was famous for saying there is no such thing as society. She certainly changed it.
She changed the ethos of the UK. Many community strong towns outside London, based around an industry, changed into ghost towns as the industry shut down. Meanwhile, a more independent ’you have to make it on your own’ sort of country emerged. This is illustrated further by the UK reliance on the financial powerhouse that is London. The cracks in this plan is showing now with the mess that is Brexit.
The ghosts of these industrial towns remain in the form of scarcely populated towns with high unemployment rates and higher problems with health and social care problems. This economic punished workers further when companies started to open rafts of call centers and warehouses in these areas. They are now marked with zero hours contracts and low wage jobs, with the populations of these towns having nowhere else to turn.
Currently, the left-wing administration in the city of Madrid is looking into changing the name of the plaza to resemble the achievement of all women. More fitting to its surroundings, as it is surrounded by Calle Goya and Plaza del Colón. Hopefully, they can use his area to reflect, the often forgotten, contribution women have made to Spanish society. That is if you believe in society…
The way that it currently stands just represents the failures of the neoliberal capitalist dream that plunged the world into financial turbulence in 2008. With more financial regulation, it arguably would never have happened. The bankers would’ve not been allowed free rein and gambled with such high risks, which is of course what caused the financial crisis.
Maybe then, the general population of countries such as the UK and Spain, would not have had to pay the price of austerity to bail out the banks that Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK at the time of the crisis, said were ’too big to fail’. What was once a gleaming and attractive economic model has now descended into poverty and ruin. It limps on for its survival.
Unfortunately, the UK is looking at placing a public statue of Margaret Thatcher in her hometown Grantham. At this current time, it is being debated how high the plinth should be to stop any antisocial behaviour happening around the statue.
Plaza Margaret Thatcher currently has a 1 star rating on Google maps. The plaza needs to be revamped, like our economy, to be for, and represent, the population of the country. Not to reflect the political classes wishes as it has up till now.
No matter how high they put the statue, or what they change the name of the plaza to, the changes that Margaret Thatcher made to our society, by changing our economic model in the favor of the capitalists, that ripped our communities apart, will live on a lot longer than any statue will stand.
This is why capitalism needs to change to work for society, and not against it.
This article will featurealongside others from my up and coming book: Spain, Capitalism and English Teaching. Due Summer 2019
On the 8th of March 2019 I stood in a plaza outside the Reina Sofia museum, near the central train station in Madrid, behind me was a Starbucks that had had its signs turned into the circular feminist sign. In front of me stood masses of different people all there for one cause: International Women’s Day.
The Friday included many events throughout the city promoting equality and the feminist cause. In the build up to the general strike many trade unions had been arguing about how to approach the 8th of March as it was such a big phenomenon the year before. There had been disagreements about whether men should be allowed to go on the protest, and whether men should be on strike. All those worries and concerns were put to bed when the protest started at 7 PM from Atocha station.
In traditional Spanish fashion everything was a little unorganised and a little late, however, you cannot blame them, there was 350,000 people there, 10% of Madrid’s population. They took to the streets in a raft of purple clothing, and with signs talking about all manner of things from Hermione from Harry Potter, to uteruses, bosses, salaries, periods, voting and vaginas.
One common enemy that many of these women had were right-wing politicians, even more so the new popularist far right-wing party Vox. They have become popular because of their strong pro-Spanish message and anti-Catalan separatists, and anti-progressive stance. Vox also encourages a stronger national identity, less immigrants and a more Catholic value based society.
The weekend following the protest the television and newspapers were full of extreme examples of feminists, but they were also celebrating the success of the day. It doesn’t appear to have had the same reaction as it did in 2018 despite an extra 100,000 people turning out.
The media appeared to be very calculated in targeting small-scale events that had extreme feminists in attendance. During these reports they described these women as men hating psychopaths with no clothes on. The women on the protest I saw were nothing of the sort. Many women of all ages and ethnicities walking together enjoying the random chants and pointing up at different imaginative signs.
A Political Day
The only people who seemed flustered were the right-wing politicians. The leader of Partido Popular, Spain’s answer to the Conservative party, Pablo Casado said that the far left had sown division between women and men and had politicised the protest. With a general election looming over the heads of the politicians many of them were eager to get in on the act of the protest one way or another.
This is a vital time for all parties in Spain as it is said 40% of women have not decided which party to vote for in the up and coming general election. PSOE seem to have championed the cause but was not overtaking it, which was a smart move from Pedro Sanchez who may have played his cards right when calling this election around this time, being honest though, he never had much choice. Ciudadanos were keeping to themselves at their own events and even Vox showed their ugly face in some areas.
Podemos should have tried to claw back some of their previous popularity, which came from protests in the first place, however they were not visible at any protests or events I went to.
Political parties were not a main feature at this day which is how it should be. Yet the media would make you think otherwise, they used the day as a background to overemphasise political collisions between groups and politicians’ speeches. I suppose that how politicians and the media work off each other, whether they mean to or not.
I suppose the feeling I got, was that it was a general day out for people, not a moral stance against the patriarchal establishment. With an event this big it will attract a wider range of people to the cause.
What the day stands for
There is an ongoing debate whether it is ok to say “Happy Women’s Day” or not, is it a happy day? After all, the day was originally because of women fighting for equality. Although, many of the women I saw, along with men, seemed to be happy and enjoying the day.
Exposure to different causes is always good in any form. Many of the women that were out didn’t seem to be your “typical” feminists, if there is such a thing, but people that have a belief in equal rights.
Many women may have been there for many reasons. Protesting against sexual assault, sexual harassment and for equal pay and respect. We should respect everyone’s right to protest and listen to what they have to say. People should not try to take advantage of this or change the message.
The main message the trade unions promoted, and by many other organisers, was that being a feminist is not enough, but you also have to be anti-racist, anti-capitalist and pro worker. This was refreshing to see, but I’m not sure how much this message got over, or if it was appropriate on such a day. There is no denying that it is all interconnected, so why not promote it?
I spoke to several Spanish women that did not go to the protest and they said they felt they didn’t want to go because it had been politicised, which I can see their point, but then again it is a political day.
Some people say feminism is above politics. I agree, but it’s also politics. Respect amongst genders, between couples, colleagues and friends is not going to change itself. It will change with awareness and with changes in society. This cannot be achieved alone.
Changes to the school syllabus, abortion laws, healthcare rights, quotas, female representation in the courtroom, assistance from the state for victims of abuse, access to psychological help, tax free items and a whole host of other things. The feminist movement can hold a government to its word and ask it to implement these changes.
The state and the law has to change. So things like the court case of La Manada don’t happen. The state should reflect the will of the people. Not the other way round.
So, you have a lot of women and men going to this protest, having been exposed to various forms of feminism and seeing a mass movement of solidarity, but where does it go from here?
Spain has one of the most generational defining elections coming up since its transition to democracy. There is a high possibility, and it has been shown in the polls, that Vox will gain seats and that they could form a right wing coalition as they have in Andalusia.
My one criticism of International Women’s Day is that despite this year drawing in well over a quarter of a million people, the feeling from the media and on the ground is that it has become more of an event than a demonstration.
It is good that he movement has been brought into the mainstream by this day, but on this day I cannot help but feel it may have been damaged by its own popularity, and that it may have happened too soon. A similar thing happened with Pride, albeit at a slower rate, as it started out as a demonstration movement and has now become a celebration of sexuality.
Many people feel this is a positive thing, and I am one of those people when it comes to Pride, as I think it matured into a celebration after it achieved a great deal. Many same-sex couples experience a good quality of life in Spain which still surprises me in a catholic country, it is something that should be celebrated.
I feel that this is a difficult time for the feminist movement as there is a lot of work to be done, especially here in Spain. The forces of tradition and machoest thinking are against it. Maybe the movement should have had more time to organise and build a movement rather than be taken over by its own popularity. Time will tell.
Feminism could have stretched out its demonstration lifespan and possibly gained more from this. Sadly on this day, the number of shops open was the same as most days and the number of women striking seemed minimal, however the crowds at the protest speak for themselves.
Feminism, and International Women’s day, can show if has made an impact on voting day.
Will we see a democratic revolution? Maybe the feminists will save the left that is non-existent in Spain.
This year, in the run up to International Women’s Day, I was followed around online by adverts for purple feminist T-shirts. I saw these designs in the hundreds at the protest. Despite it being a day of anti-consumption, many people in the centre of Madrid went for dinner, in their mass produce T-shirts, with friends after and during the protests. I think many of the restaurants around the centre had never seen so much business. The protest continued well into the night down the main avenues of Spain’s capital city, all the while the people eating in these restaurants were being waited on by women who probably couldn’t afford to strike.
Hopefully the popularity, and people who were introduced to this movement, will vote for a woman friendly government at the end of April. A government that will benefit all women. Feminism was very much in fashion over that weekend and will probably stay alight in some people’s brains for a few weeks afterwards.
I hope the things it exposed them to, and the facts someone told them, on the 11th of March, stay with them long enough to remember that right-wing governments have endangered Spanish women’s rights for many years. If they don’t vote, International Women’s Day message will have been in vain.
It’s what you do at the ballot box that makes a difference and these women and men can make a difference. If only elections were as popular as protests then maybe we would see a very different result to those that have been predicted.
Friday,8th March is International Women’s Day. The day every bloke goes on Facebook and writes “When is International Men’s Day? hahha”- Well, it’s 19th November.
Now that is cleared up, let’s crack on.
Since 2017, when 40,000 women ascended on Madrid the 8th March has become a big date in the Spanish calendar. 2018 was when it really hit it off with millions of women striking in the first ever 24 hour strike. Housewives hung out their aprons, next to the Spanish flags, in solidarity with their fellow strikers.
10 major unions, which are still strong in Spain, backed the world’s only 24 hour women’s strike in 2018. Over 5 million workers of all backgrounds, jobs and duties stood in solidarity around Spain. Many were in Madrid’s famous Cibeles roundabout where Real Madrid normally celebrates their cup wins. That day it was a blinding purple colour instead of white and blue.
Housewives in particular were encouraged to strike, Spain has an aging population that is more likely to hold the old stereotypes true. Stereotypes of men doing paid labour and women doing the housework and caring duties.
In 2017 the Center for Sociology Research (CIS) carried out a survey that showed 2 in 10 men did housework in Spain. 16% were found to cook the same amount as their partners and 24% cleaned the same amount as their partners. And regarding children, only 5.6% of men claimed to be the main child carer in the home.
Funnily enough, 48% of men were happy with how the jobs were shared and only 36% of women were.  It is quite clear that most cleaning, or caring tasks, fall to women in all walks of society. Since the Second World War women have been able to work. Many had to fight for the right to work, and even when they got it, they still had to uphold the same responsibilities that they had before.
Whilst society advances in all aspects, simple matters can still have a large effect on women. A simple thing such as paying for sanitary products. This is well portrayed in the film “I, Daniel Blake” where a young mother Katie Morgan, wonderfully played by Hayley Squires, tries to take sanitary products from a shop without paying for them, as she has to spend what little money she has on food to feed her kids. When the store manager sees the predicament and he lets her go. This really says how many of the public may feel if you asked:
Should women have to pay for sanitary products? Should they be taxed?
-Many would say No, however many women struggle to pay for these.
Why aren’t we all feminists?
Feminism gets a bad name. Mainly because the media like to create stories out of small things and this reinforces negative stereotypes. Stories of extreme feminists are blared over the television showing the more extreme side of the movement, when it accounts for less than 10% of the movement.
I’ve spoken with a number of women about this and I found quite a few were reluctant to, or felt it difficult, to identify as feminists because they were scared of backlash, or held views, over the negative stereotyping. However, it is losing the label, despite the media pushing the “Feminazi” and the “crazy, I’m gonna chop your balls off” image. Similar stereotypes have been reinforced in society such as “all black males will rob me” and “all Chinese people in Spain sleep and eat in their shop”. It is all complete rubbish and very out of context.
Are you a Feminist?
I bet if you asked most people they would identify with the majority of feminist goals.
Do you believe men and women should be treated equally?
Should they have equal opportunities?
Should a woman be able to be completely independent? Economically, biologically, and emotionally?
Should they be able to live without fear of being attacked?
The above questions are only a few things that come to mind, but I think most people would agree with them, yet society says differently.
Over the last 2 years, gender violence has been a big issue in Spain with the county’s politicians fighting for votes over who protects women best. Whilst this was going on in the halls of the Congress other things were happening in the country.
In Pamplona, during the 2016 running of the bulls, an 18 year old girl was raped by five men in a shop doorway. Some of who tried to flee the country during their court case. Disgracefully, some were members of the Civil Guard. They have been trying to wriggle out of the case and get light sentences, but it is one issue that makes people very disgusted with the courts.
If we all want equality, then in my opinion, men should encourage strike action on the 8th March. There are ongoing discussions about if men should strike or not. Personally, I think this is up to the individual. The point of the strike to highlight people’s contribution to society and also make people aware of the inequalities. If men stand with women, then this will be more visible. It will also be a sign of solidarity with fellow human beings.
Inequalities in Spain are still a problem
Women are paid 12.7% less than men, for similar work, in Spain. This is a figure that has been calculated by an EU think tank that has considered variables such as contract type, education and age. Since 1980 the law has been equal pay for the same job. But, as we all know the world is not that simple and there are many factors in the pay gap argument. 
Another battle for women is economic interdependence. Women may be reliant on men for economic support. This may be because they have had less opportunities, have to work part time or sacrificed their career to have children. If women are economically dependent on men, then this takes away their ability to be independent, and is also keeps them in relationships that might be toxic or dangerous. This is not only a problem in Spain, but the world over.
Further inequalities are also more likely to affect women. In 2014, El Pais reported that 730,000 Spaniards were unable to read or write, 60% of these were women. Of these women, 60,000 are between the ages of 30 and 49. The majority of these women are from the Roma community. 
We all stand to lose something, not just women.
Whilst these facts and figures are scary Spain has come on leaps and since the death of Franco. During Franco’s time divorces and abortions were illegal and women needed a man’s permission to have a bank account. Now in Spain over 39% of elected deputies are women and it has a 50% split in its ministerial cabinet. That is until the elections are over. When we may see a swing to the right for Spain.
Despite the success of last year’s strike this year many of the major unions are not supporting a full 24-hour strike, but only a minor two hour one. Many groups of feminists, and smaller unions, argue against this because they now feel their rights are more at risk than ever.
In 2014, a controversial reform law was moved by the Partido Popular (PP), it was trying to reform the abortion law which allowed women to have abortions at their will in the first trimester. Thankfully, it remained in its 2010 form as the PP were stopped by the force of public opinion and demonstrations. However, this is under threat again from the new far right party Vox who want to reform abortion laws.
Vox are the biggest threat to the feminist movement in Spain. With the country embracing nationalism at a time of the Catalan crisis and the ongoing unneeded austerity imposed by the EU, Spain is seeing a slide to the right. This party wants to see a return to catholic and Spanish values.
Vox has vowed to scrap the gender violence law as they feel it discriminates against men. They also want to pull funding for feminist groups and stop public health care paying for abortions.
The current leader of Vox in Andalucía Francisco Serrano, a judge who was banned for 2 years for trying to fix a case, says that in the past he has been the “victim of gender-based Jihadism”. Andalucía is the region where the party won 12 seats and is currently in a coalition with the other two right wing parties. 
Winning these seats has scared many people, not only feminists, into what may happen if this is replicated in the national elections at the end of April. If Vox is to be king maker, then it is almost guaranteed that the right wing parties will have to make concessions to Vox to remain in power. These concessions are what scare people:
Spain will have to do something big to fight off the far right in the build up to the elections. Feminists, and anyone, that does not want to see a far right party in power will have to work together. As PSOE lingers around the centre, and with Podemos unsure where they are going, the feminists need to build momentum and shock Spain into form. They need to make Spain aware of how easy it is to lose rights that you have gained. It’s much quicker to lose your rights than it is to gain them. Many who were not born at the time of “El Transición” will not know this. Spain has only had its freedom from fascism for 44 years, it needs more.
We all stand to lose something if Vox holds any power in parliament. Women and minorities more than anyone. That is why you should support any women striking, you are not only doing it for them, it is for all of us.
The end of February was quite an explosive time within the Parliamentary Labour ranks and over the coming weeks, it’s going to get worse in the branch and constituency meetings.
Many people thought that the centrist dads would have given up the game and gone and joined the new Independent group, yet that has not proven true. The shabby press conference and vanilla attraction of the new centrist group didn’t exactly shake the foundations of the British political establishment as they had hoped it would. If anything, it gave members something different to talk about rather than the Brexit policy and why the BBC is so bias.
In the last week of February Tom Watson, Deputy Leader, decided to put himself at the forefront of the Labour Party. Initially, he, later followed by many other MPs, called for Chris Williamson’s dismissal from the party. This was regarding comments that Williamson had made at a Momentum meeting, saying that he believed Labour, as a party -with a long history of anti-racism campaigning- had been “too apologetic” regarding antisemitism, and that the right of the party is weaponising this issue to attack the left. Williamson has been vocal on this issue for a long time and has clearly stated that there is some antisemitism in the party, he has not denied this. Yet, he is one of the few left wing MPs to actually stand up for the Labour Party, and what it has done to combat this delicate issue.
It also came about that Williamson was planning to host a screening of a documentary called “Witch hunt” made regarding the Jackie Walker’s disciplinary case which is currently being investigated by the party. Her hearing is on the 26th March. It’s safe to say that the right took advantage of this issue and called for his suspension. The rumour went out on Twitter straight away that Jeremy Corbyn himself dealt with this, however this was later rebuked by the Labour press team saying that the Leader never got involved.
It’s no lie that this suspension is a huge blow to the left where Williamson is held in high regard. He is also disliked by many in the party for his controversial “Democratic Roadshow” prior to last year’s conference where he was promoting the Open selection rule change motion. Some have even questioned if the right is having one last jab at the party before the Trigger Ballot rule change comes into play.
Williamson’s suspension cut right through the heart of the left of the party as Momentum, Owen Jones, Jon Lansman and Novara media all supported Williamson’s suspension, saying that the Party had to deal with accusations of antisemitism straightaway. Momentum has produced a video explaining Jewish tropes to Labour members. Many members on the other hand started the hashtag “I Stand with Chris Williamson” and some even left the Labour Party. No doubt Momentum will take a hit in the membership figures for their stance.
GDPR? What is that?
Following this, Tom Watson wrote to all MPs stating that all MPs should forward him complaints, stating that he would personally screen them and take charge of complaints. He was then put in his place by General Secretary Jenny Formby, who stated that this would be against Labour Party rules, and of course data, GDPR data protection laws. She then went on to explain, whilst copying in every single Labour MP and Lord, that they had appointed Lord Falconer to oversee and scrutinise the complaints procedure within the party
This is not the first time, in the same week, that Watson was put in his place by a strong woman. Sqwarkbox reported that Emily Thornbury and Dawn Butler also put him in his place when they reminded him of GDPR data protection laws. Maybe he needs a refresher course.
Centrist Economist Readers that know better..
Watson has obviously taken up the mantle of the leader of the Centrist dads. Following Watson is groups of middle-aged centrists who think they know better than most members and claim to have common sense and be financially responsible. When it comes down to it, they really don’t like the fact that the party, that they once controlled, has now slipped out of their control. Leaving the party would be an admission of defeat and that’s why they are turning up the heat before they leave with the other centrists in the Independent group. It must be a strange feeling to not be relevant, or in charge, and not even realise it.
March and April will get hot before they leave but we need to hang in there. If the splintering off of the Independence group has anything to show, and Macron in France, it’s that centrist politics in no longer attractive in the zombie capitalist era. People won’t vote for the status quo. They want to vote for change, and we need to stay in the party to make sure there is something there for them to vote for. A strong left wing party that offers hope and an alternative to the dull reality that is centrist politics.
Maybe, when all the bad eggs are gone, we can start to work together to turn a party in-waiting into a party of government. However, until that point there will always be some right wingers in the party that don’t like the fact that there is a left wing Labour Party, that is not only popular, but could also be the government to change the bourgeois politics they enjoy.
In July 2017, the Carbon Majors Report was released, which highlighted that the top 100 companies in the world were responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. This is seriously damaging to the welfare of the planet and is causing climate change. This is often uncharted territory for many, but we must unite with environmentalists – and other pressure groups – to take on yet another threat posed by capitalism. Encouraging recycling and banning fracking is only the tip of the ever-melting iceberg.
Taking account of this, and of the economic catastrophe that neoliberalism has brought upon this world, socialists must dig deep and go back to their roots as utopian visionaries. We need to give people hope and prove that a better future is possible. We must embrace green technology, switch to green energy and create green jobs. This will benefit not only the planet but also our own future and economy – and give people secure, meaningful jobs for the future. Politicians are encouraging the people to do all they can with regard to recycling, but politicians must take on the responsibility of doing something about the environment. They must hold capitalism to account. Multinational corporations are happy to derive profits from this world, but that imposes a collective responsibility on them – just like the rest of us – to deal with this oncoming storm.
“Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes. … We can invite Bono once more, but we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion,” proclaimed Rutger Bregman. The Dutch historian and writer was speaking to a room full of billionaires at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum – better known as Davos – high in the Swiss mountains. 
Let’s be honest, philanthropy and charitable donations are not enough. They have never been enough; they merely provide a passing feel-good factor for the comfortably off. We must go further as a society; we must change the economic lives of all. We must rein in the free market and no-holds-barred capitalists who think they can buy their way out. We must impose restrictions and regulations on capitalism. We must set taxes and environmental targets. The time for playing nice is over – the social democrats had their chance and failed. Now it is the turn of the democratic socialists.
Climate change is a looming disaster that will affect us all, and the current economic climate is a disaster that is affecting us all right now. The future looks bleak. We must instil hope: we must be the thinkers, the doers and the leaders of the future.
That includes embracing bold ideas to change the stagnant, unequal society that we have today. These include ideas such as a four-day working week for the same pay. Why should people work fifty hours a week with no time for themselves? They need time with friends and family, time to relax, and time to enjoy life. This is a human right. 
Furthermore, this can be achieved through the automation of work using robots. Work that puts human lives at risk will be done by robots in the future, but only if we make this happen. We control our future in this respect. We must get machines to work for us, to make our lives easier, rather than letting companies use them to manage us. The micromanaging of productivity, down to monitoring toilet breaks, happens and is inhuman. No one should have to work in these conditions for minimal pay. Robots can improve our working conditions rather than making them worse. 
Free money? A universal basic income is the idea that everybody can have a basic standard of living and a basic wage to live on. It’s been researched for years, with positive results, and is not a benefit but a right. A right that says no one should live below the poverty line. Universal basic services are a step before this and make sure that no one is left without help when they need it. Basic free healthcare, public transportation, education for life, and social care if you need it. 
A hundred years ago, people were sceptical of free healthcare. Now it represents the standard the world over. Let’s raise those standards again. We are the people who can make the future happen.
This is an extract from my book ” Basic Socialism: Why Socialism is Sexy Now”
Worth a Read: Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism
By Kirsten Ghodsee
Bodley Head Publications
If you think this is a story with steamy descriptions of Soviet spies turning capitalist men in the USA to spy for the Russian regime, or the story of woman’s liberation from the clutches of the Iron Curtain, it is neither.
In this book Kirsten Ghodsee explores several different avenues which makes the book neither economic textbook, polemic memoir or political manifesto: it is all three.
Ghodsee explores women’s access to economic independence, and liberation of patriarchal society with great passion and also shows her expertise as a researcher in this area. She uses personal experiences to explain her well presented antidotes of how women in modern day capitalist society can learn from the rights women held in the socialist societies of the past.
She doesn’t pull any punches on history and is honest and up front about the Soviet regimes downfalls. By doing this she can explore the finer details and look for gems in the sea of broken grey soviet concrete. She explores the build up to the creation of the Soviet union and how women demanded and accomplished a more equal standing to their male counterparts.
The chapters on the divide of Germany, following the Second World War, are very enlightening and help make the point that is in the title. She compares East and West German women, and their experiences before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. My favourite part is the West German men and their surprise reaction to the East German women. Their money could not sway them into bed.
Later Ghodsee reviews how capitalism has failed to emulate many of these rights and how it has created new barriers today. She then goes on to discuss how women face economic dependence and what this means for womens’ freedom. She then starts to use an economic model to base her arguments on. However, this is the part of the book that I did not find fully convincing as she uses a model that she appears to have reservations about. She was trying to make a point on an emotional and a logical level. By trying to do both, I feel she does not fully reach the point that she wanted to make. The emotional argument with good reasoning and evidence was more than enough to convince me.
Overall, this book is definitely worth reading for anybody that wants to help, or understand, female oppression in capitalist society. It explains how we can learn from, the albeit dark, history of communism and socialism in Russia and Eastern Europe to help gain equality for all genders.
On Sunday 2nd of December 2018, during the regional Andalusian elections, Vox, a far right ultra-catholic nationalist party, won 12 seats in the regions parliament.
This is the first time in Spain, since the fall of Franco’s dictatorship, that a far right party has won any form of democratic power.
It won’t be the last time either.
Vox are a far right party that sprung up in 2013 from centre-right party Partido Popular. Ex-members of the PP set up Vox which was instantly based around right wing traditionalists politics, strong catholic values and nationalism. Now, 5 years later, they have embraced popularism: the political trend that is sweeping Europe with the help of Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon has been helping political parties across Europe following on from Donald Trumps success in the USA. Bannon was a key player in the Trump administration and has helped Tommy Robinson gain popularity in the UK and far right parties in Italy, France and Greece make electoral gains.
Vox were instantly labelled Francoists by the countries media when they first appeared and they found it difficult to gain the support of voters. Yet, they have broken this mould and now have 7000 members and counting.
Earlier this year they had several rallies where thousands of supporters were waving Spanish flags and and chanting nationalist slogans. But where has this support come from and why?
The environment was always here
Many commentators in the past have said that Spain will not embrace far right ideology due to its recent history. Many believed because of Franco that people will not tolerate backwards, secular nationalist talk. Well they were wrong.
Following Franco’s death, in 1975, there was a transition to democracy. Many felt this was an accomplishment— others not so much. Part of this transition was a pact of silence. It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. It’s just as peculiar.
Following the facist dictator’s rule, many were scared about the possibility of going to jail for supporting Franco’s regime. The pact of silence put these worries to rest for many on the right. The pact protected people in Franco’s regime from being prosecuted and it was a way of closing the divisional wound in society that was still open and fresh after the civil war.
Unfortunately, it was a plaster that would not help heal anything.
The pact allowed people get on with their lives and not deal with the dark past. Spain made great gains in culture and in rights for minorities. It joined the EU which was seen as a sign of modernity and progress.
Many Spanish people are pro EU as it has helped the country out of the dark age of Franco. Infrastructure and workers right have been elevated since joining. The whole European project has helped this country; this is visible when driving around Spain just look at its modern motorways. It has wide expanding bridges connecting regions over its mountainous landscape. These are down to EU funding.
While this progress was being made many did not talk about the horrors of Spain’s fascist past. Right wingers wanted to leave the past in the past and the left were happy to make progress. There were a few people that wanted to talk about it but they were not listened too.
Later the historic law, brought about by PSOE, would erase fascist statues though out Spain and most of street names were changed. Spain started to talk about it’s dark past, however it was 30 years too late.
Some Spanish people are not aware, and some don’t want to be, of the horrors of Franco’s time. They were not educated about it fully in school and it is taboo to talk about at the family dinner table. Here is what it was really like.
The pact of silence really had an impact on Spanish discourse. This allowed for progress in society on top of very unstable foundations.
The Political landscape
Spanish politics, in its infancy, was unfortunately the victim of corruption. Similar to what has happened in Italy and Greece; people are unhappy with the institutional right and left centre based parties. Cases of money laundering and blackmail were common. Due to this, PSOE and PP have lost out recently to new parties Cuidadnos, a right party, and Podemos a far left party.
Vox are late comers to this. They are capitalising on the lack of faith in the old parties. Podemos made gains in 2015 but have since lost support and direction. This is due to its inexperience as a party and because of too much focus on its leadership.
PSOE have failed to manage the terrain well. Pedro Sanchez, current Prime Minister of Spain, took over in 2018 from the PP with a vote of no confidence. He did this with the intention of helping his party gain popularity. He has tried to do this by setting out a very good centre-left program with support and it looks good. Yet, many people are not paying attention. He promised elections to the population which he has failed to deliver, therefore cementing any wavering distrust people had in the PSOE. Social Democratic parties are dying all over Europe and there is limited choice for a good left wing party.
People can see that his government has little power and that he has made promises he cannot deliver on due to his parties lack of support in Parliament. If the recent elections in Andalusia are a view of the future then PSOE may die with the rest of the social democrats in Europe.
Society is the environment
Other factors that have been over looked include the general acceptance in Spanish society of fascism, sexism and racism.
Many people did not want to talk about the dictatorship era of Franco. When fascists did talk about it they could praise this time and they were never shut down. You can say what you want. Most people never listen. There are even associations that want to maintain the memory of Franco. Yes, they are legal.
You can see here where I have visited a Franco bar.
Can you imagine a Nazi bar in Berlin? In Germany if you do a Nazi salute or wear Nazi memorabilia you might go to prison. This does not happen in Spain.
Fascist supporters of Franco have been allowed to gather all over Spain unchallenged. Whether this is at his deathbed in the mountains of Madrid, the Vally of the Fallen, or on the streets of Barcelona and Valencia.
There has been a tolerance of in Spain, for many years, and these people have just been labelled idiots. Obviously, that was not enough; they should have been put in prison for celebrating a murderous dictatorship that has held the country back.
By not closing down these fanatical right-wing morons they have become a caricature of modern day Spain. They are often discussed on very bad daytime Spanish television and even Franco’s grandson has become minor Z list celebritiy. By allowing this to happen they really make people forget how dreadful the era was.
Now they have changed how they say things— people are starting to listen.
Blame the Immigrants or the Women
Racism in Spain is seen as commonplace and it is not challenged heavily. This may be due to the historical lack of immigration in Spain and poor exposure to the benefits of immigrants. There are well documented acts of hostility towards immigrants. Here’s a few.
People make excuses for old people as they had next to no dealings with immigrants. Due to the gap between cultures there is a feeling of immigrants are from another planet. Vox wants hardline controlled immigration and it wants to demolish mosques. They also want to refuse all refugees.
Spain used to have a serious problem with sexism and racism. It has in recent years made great leaps and bounds for addressing the sexist attitudes of many men in Spanish society and in the state itself. However, racism has been unaddressed.
Many men feel threatened by equality for the sexes, as some do in the progressive western world, some men feel they are being disempowered. Right wing popularists take advantage of this by saying that modern day progressive attitudes are trying to remove the countries identity and take culture away from it. “Feminists are emasculating society”.
Vox want to ban sex changes, female quotas in elections, abortions and sexual abuse laws.
Who are we? Spanish? Basque? Catalan? Both?
Nationalism has been a problem in Spain for a very long time but it recently came to ahead in the Catalan independence crisis which you can read more about here.
In many countries, regional identity is mostly channelled into football teams or taken as a joke between people. Here in Spain it is lot stronger due to: the make up of the government following the establishment of democracy; the suppression of regional culture by Franco and very brutal and strong attempts at independence.
Regional governments were established and are managed as separate entities. Regional governments have control over healthcare, development, education and many other things. The central government based in Madrid manages taxes, defence and national law.
Because of the regional governments there has been many independence based parties in the Basque country and in Catalonia.
This level of national divide has led to many widely believed regional stereotypes.
In the UK you may say that somebody from Scotland is an alcoholic or is tight with money. It’s widely regarded as not true and is used as banter at football matches.
A similar stereotype, regarding the use of money, is applied here to people from Catalonia. There is also the stereotype that the Catalans think they are better than the rest of the people in Spain. These stereotypes make people hate other people, from a different part of the country, before they have even spoke.
The stereotype of people of Andalusia is that they do not work and and that they just party. There are many other stereotypes of the other regions, but one thing they all have in common is that they divide the country more than bring it together.
I know people from Madrid that refuse to visit Barcelona. The feelings about people from other regions are strong and unfounded.
This divide of regional government and creation of stereotypes has encouraged regional identity. Then there are the ultra Spanish ones too.
Despite identifying as Andalusian or Valenciano many people also identify as one hundred percent Spanish too!
Prior to Franco’s dictatorship there was not a strong generic Spanish identity. He cultivated one by making flamenco the main dance and bullfighting their main sport. He also outlawed several regional languages and made Spanish the only language. The Spanish national identity also had strong connections with the Catholic Church and machoest behaviour. But, as a friend of mine says “We don’t all dance flamenco here”.
Many people on the right feel the Spanish identity is threatened by independence movements, feminism, immigrants, and everyone’s favourite conspiracy fairy tale ‘Cultural Marxism’.
They feel that Spain should be for the Spanish and people should put their Spanish identity before anything else.
Vox have capitalised on division. The divisions between the regions and the fears of Spaniards that their national identity is under threat. They plan to abolish all regional government and give more power to the central government. They believe in the strength of the Spanish national identity and that a united Spain is sacred.
Not Francostein … Vox
This is why I think Spain, as a country, is having an identity crisis which has led to the rise in the far right. Too many identities and a past that continues to haunt them.
Distrust in central government; corrupt politicians from left, right and independence parties; left wing parties with little direction; unhealed wounds of the past and a tolerance of far right rhetoric that should have been buried with Franco. These things are a breading ground for any far right group. Spain was complacent and underestimated this rise because of its history.
Now, Vox could be bigger than Podemos in the next general election. This is down to a poorly dealt with history and no credible left-wing alternative fighting back the historical claws of fascism.
“The fascists are on the rise ” scream the left and “Cultural Marxism is consuming our community ” say the ultra right catholics.
Whatever your political standing, you cannot deny that Madrid is a city that likes voicing its opinion. From the regular protesters that camp out in Sol to the weekly protesters supporting many initiatives. Madrid always has something to protest about. Even if you are an English speaker you can get involved. It’s just knowing where to turn.
A few weeks ago I was on my way to see the theatrical version of 1984, by George Orwell, with my wife. We tried to find a parking space around Atocha but we had no luck. Therefore, we decided to drive up to the theatre which was just around the corner from Plaza de Colon. Funnily enough it is also the location of Plaza de Margaret Thatcher, in front of an abandoned international bank that currently has squatters in it. That’s something rather ironic about that.
Anyway we were running a little late and we could not find parking space around the theatre. The reason for this was that they had closed most of the roads around the centre. There was firefighters protesting. Whilst I support them I did get stuck in traffic and ended up not being allowed in to watch 1984.
If you have been in Madrid for longer than two weeks you may have realised that there could be a protest any day of the week. They usually have regulars there such as feminist groups, Communist and anarchist groups. And, of course the fierce trade unions which still have a large membership base in Spain when compared to the UK.
Protests in Madrid often make national and, at times, international headlines. Recently this year there was the taxi protest, where all of the registered official white red striped taxis protested against Uber not paying fees the same fees as them. They blocked the Castellana, the artery that leads to the heart of the financial centre of Madrid. Glorious idea.
Then of course there was the famous Woman’s March which grabbed international headlines in March. Women had a periodic strike throughout the day, some every two hours. Housewives against doing housework for their husbands and they were hanging out aprons on their balconies. Women in businesses joining each other in the street to create a sea of purple in the centre, just for the worlds media to see. I wrote about it here.
Unfortunately, some aprons were hung next to the Spanish flag. It coincided with the feeling of nationalism which swept the country in 2017. This was in the aftermath after the Catalonia independence referendum. Whatever your opinion on this maybe; it does show that people do feel strongly about things in Spain and that all forms of protest are valid.
Of course where the fight against fascism started, when Madrid held out against Franco’s forces taking Spain. People from all over Spain, and the world, came together to fight: the International Brigades. The seize of Madrid lasted for some time and there are still reminders around the capital of this dark time in Spanish history. You can see some of these in my article for Madrid No-frills.
Even the right can protest
It’s difficult to say the Madrid is not a tolerant city. In recent months people have been protesting the removal of the dictator Franco. Whilst many are against there are also many for it. It’s a wound that won’t close and no plaster can heal. To see what life was like at the Franco please see here.
Also recently a ultra right-wing group of the Catholic Church protested against feminism, transgender and Marxism. You can read more about this controversial group here in the report from Progressive Spain. Who would have thought the Church would be so controversial….
For people that only speak English, or have minimal Spanish, going to a group can be nerve wracking but it can also be fulfilling to get involved with other people.
Here are some groups that I have found on and follow on the net. I have not been to all of these groups but I do hope to in the future.
Labour International Madrid
Okay, so this one I have been to. It is the branch of the British Labour Party based in Madrid. They meet twice a month on a Saturday. Here’s my article about them.
This group was set up by several different people and has a strong following on Facebook. Whilst many of them are Americans they do get involved with International, Spanish and stateside issues. They seem to be an action group. They have had film showings and organised protests. They also affiliated to the Woman’s March.
What is intersectionality? To be honest I didn’t know until recently but, it is my understanding that it involves coordinating groups to help support each other and the basic ethos that we are stronger together. From what I’ve seen this is fresh group in Madrid that seems to be growing. They have organised events on how to deal with racism in the classroom. It’s just a shame there in the evening when I am work.
If you are a disenfranchised British national that’s worried about Brexit then this is the group for you. They are a group of British citizens in Madrid and are very involved in the British in Europe lobby group. Obviously they are very involved in the Brexit process.
Whilst you might not like to protest there are some other groups that might interest you
The British Benevolent Fund
This is a group of British immigrants that set up a fund around 100 years ago to support British people living in Madrid. They are a charity that gives financial help people that apply for it. They seem to have good connections with the embassy and the Anglican church in the Salamanca district.
If you want to find out about them and you have to find it yourself…
If you wanna be more native
If your Spanish it’s a bit better then I would in courage you to become a supporter of Podemos, the far left political party, who are very active in the protest ranks of Madrid as this is where it was born.
The Communist Party is also very strong in Spain as to are the anarchist groups and trade unions. I would love to get involved with these as soon as my Spanish improves.
Yes that doesn’t stop you becoming a member of a trade workers union. I plead you to do this. Even more so if you are teaching English.
You could also try Racismo SOS or a local community center where several groups meet.
Many political groups have local rooms where they hold seminars and have speakers to address the local community. So that might interest you.
If politics is not your thing, then why are you reading this blog? Jokes. Maybe you can join the Resistance book club. This is a bookclub that appears to be going from strength to strength. It is held at El Salon de la Artista, which is also a centre that hold various interesting cultural events.
Madrid certainly has plenty to offer in this turbulent time in history. All of the above I have found or seen within the last year and a half. I wonder what will come around in the next few years.
Hopefully we will have less to protest about although sometimes I’m not so sure. What will you do?
So what is a King really for? Pretty jewels? Protecting democracy? Protecting the unity of the kingdom? Confincincg capitalists and dictatorships to make a deal or just to sit in a palace for tourists?
Many of these arguments may sit well with most people in modern day society but what about in 20 years.
Just so you know I’m a massive fan of The Crown television series, I’ve been too many royal events in the past and I really do like Queen Elizabeth the second. But much of royalties steeped in history, maybe that is where it belongs?
Modern day inequality
Most sane and rational people would say they want equality, as most as possible, and less classism and racism. However, the monarchy is the thorn in the side of this point. It’s the glaring hypocrisy of the 21st century. I just hope it doesn’t stay the same in the 22nd century. Surely it’s time we spoke about it?
Whilst we may not want a Donald Trump figure as our head of state, Ferdinand Seventh of Spain who ran away during the French invasion on 2nd May 1808, or Charles First of England who was executed in 1649, are glaring examples of poor unelected heads of state. But that was hundreds of years ago?!? What about recent heads of state or future heads of state. King Charles Third of the United Kingdom anyone?
The notion that they are chosen by god is absurd. More absurd than the people choosing Donald Trump. I may not agree with it but it more credible than being ‘the anointed one’. Yes I know less people voted for Trump, however that is a electoral matter. No one voted for a King or Queen.
It’s not only the heads of state but what about their families? Money laundering by the current Spanish King’s brother in law or the money paid for the minor Royal wedding of Princess Eugenie in the UK, they are all on the take. Apparently there’s no money for commoners and the armed forces which many roles are so proudly figureheads for. There’s money for them though.
The invention of the state and its sovereignty is questionable. We have had monarchies that have last longer then the borders of our current counties. So if borders and government change, then so can those on top of the Christmas tree. Women got the vote as did working men, and people different racial backgrounds. So that is progress, real progress. So when are we going to move further?
Some good…and bad
In the UK the Queen has the ceremonial duty to sign laws: Royal assent. In theory she could refuse to sign a law. Many say if she did this then the government would just get rid of her. Whilst this maybe true, who says we need the hassle? Or she should have the power? Why wait till that point. Queen Elizabeth second has done well, maintains her position and it’s why she’s widely accepted.
Then there was Juan Carlos of Spain, he brought about democracy after being placed on the throne by Franco. He also helped throw off a coup in the 1980s.
Many loved him until he was caught shooting elephants whilst the rest of the Spanish had to suffer under austerity. Before his hunting escapade was caught on camera the media left him alone, now it was a free for all. The news reported on his numerous mistresses. He then handed over to his son, the current King. However the Royal family has always struggled in Spain. They ran for the hills in the second republic.
Power to the People… No Be Quiet!!
Recently in Spain a poll by El Público, a newspaper, claimed 46% of those polled wanted a Republic and 27% wanted a Monarchy and 26% were not bothered.
In Spain you can get in trouble for bad mouthing the Monarchy, which is why I have been nice.
A Spanish rapper, Valtònyc, has been threatened with jail time. The Guardian reported, that it was not only the monarchy he was rapping about but also that he was glorifying terrorism, which obviously I don’t agree with!
The Guardian said “The lyrics for which Valtònyc, 24, was convicted include “let them be as frightened as a police officer in the Basque country” and “the king has a rendezvous at the village square, with a noose around his neck”.
The mention of the Basque country was a reference to violence by Eta, whose terror attacks across Spain left hundreds of officials and civilians dead.”
However, as the Guardian goes on to report Amnesty International have questioned Spains ‘Gag law’, that was set up by the Popular party, to be restrictive to freedom of speech and that it has created a ‘chilling atmosphere’.
The freedom of the press is critical in keeping the balance between the powerful and the people. To make people accountable. That is normally for people that are elected head of state or in elected government. So, surely it should be allowed to criticise and condemn unelected heads of state. When you cannot, you really have to question their power altogether.
We have seen evidence of this in the UK where they have tried to put barriers on the press reporting on aspects of the royal family. Obviously, I cannot go into more details as I might get sent to the Tower of London.
Many people say that they bring in more money than they are allocated by the government but is that really true? A report by full fact could not prove that the Royals are worth it. I mean France is the most visited country in the world and they chopped off their Kings heads!
But, then is it really all about money? Surely it’s about democracy, being able to be held countable and progress in the modern world. We are living history and we make history. Maybe it’s time the Royals were part of history.
Maybe Spain could set a trend having a referendum on having a Royal family, then this could sweep across the continent. The UK could follow suit, I mean, we have had a referendums for everything else!
Price Charles, next in line to the throne in the UK, has been caught trying to influence governments in the past by writing to them in what is known as “the spider memos“.
Apparently he also has his shoe laces ironed daily. Is that really behaviour of a King or more like a spoiled child?
This decades old rift in society has widened since the 2017 Catalan referendum that was declared illegal by the right-wing Popular Party (PP) government. Nationalism has become a common sign in the capital of Madrid, and in many regions all over Spain. Many people will wear a small yellow and red band around their wrist to show that they are Spanish, and that they support the unity of Spain. I used to work in the very white, posh Salamanca district of Madrid, which was well known for its high-end fashion shops and towering neo-classical buildings, is now dressed in multiple red and yellow Spanish flags of all ages and sizes.
All Change Sides
Trying to hold on with a minority government the PP were able to hold off the left-wingers in parliament until May 2018. Following a disastrous corruption case in which the PP was directly involved; PSOE party along with other left-wing and Catalan independence parties voted to overturn the government in a no conference motion.
This was the first of its kind in Spain since the establishment of democracy, following the death of the dictator Franco in the 1970s. Pedro Sanchez would become the first Prime Minister to be appointed without winning an election. He would govern with a very small minority, but he is supported by Podemos, a left wing party, and other left-wing groups. M. Rajoy, who was the first prime minister to be removed by vote of no confidence, went back to working as a civil servant back in a town in Alicante.
With PSOE in government many Spanish people were angry and against the government. It did them no favours to the people I spoke with here in Madrid. Cries for an election were everywhere. On the other hand, many were happy to see the PP go. The Prime Minister did promise early elections but that was before he became Prime Minister. However, they did accepted refugees refused by Italy and reinstated universal health care for all citizens in Spain.
Things can only get… more controversial
Another of PSOE’s first actions as a government was to declare that they intended to remove Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, a controversial site in the hills of Madrid that was built by Republican prisoners of war and the enemies of Franco. Since the years following Franco’s death, it has become a place of rally for the far right wing wing radicals and supporters of the fascist regime.
Debate went on throughout Spain and it was argued for and against; that it was the right or wrong thing to do. Many would like to see the past left alone and many want to deal with Spain’s ghosts that continue to haunt country, as many feel it was not dealt with correctly in the first place. Many refer to the controversial Pact of Silence that was made by several parties in government at the time of the regimes fall. This is how the rift from 1970s still alive today in 21st-century modern Spain.
We are Espanish!
PP and Ciudadanos, another right wing party that doesn’t have the bad image of being corrupt, have both been riding the nationalist wave that is popular at the moment. This summer I went to some of the smaller towns annual fiestas, at these fiestas they have political bars (can you imagine that in the UK?) and the PP and Ciudadanos bars were painted with Spanish flags and slogans. United Spain they gleamed whist the posh people stuck out like ballet dancers in a mosh pit.
Despite this there has been a more terrifying movement: VOX. I wrote a few months ago about the rise of the far right in Spain and people denounced Vox as a lot of fascist idiots, but in the last month they had their conference in Madrid. Over 9,000 attendees. Their rhetoric is the same as all far right parties. Blame the foreigners and look after the Spanish.
Progressive Spain, a English-speaking Spanish politics website, said that it may split the right wing vote. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing but some think it could get a seat in Congress.
The left are trying to fight back. PSOE and Podemos have been working together on the next budget and plan to increase minimum wage, the biggest jump in 40 years, and as El País reports that’s not all they have planned “Both leaders are also pledging to raise pensions (at a cost of over €1 billion), to invest more in education and science (over €1.3 billion), and to spend more on unemployment and disability benefits (€850 million), on housing (over €600 million) and on increased paternity leaves (€300 million).” But is anyone taking notice? It will be interesting to see in next years local, regional and European elections if their fight back is working.
Despite these progressive measures Pedro Sanchez had abuse hurled at him at the National Spanish day (12th October). Typically the Prime Minister and the Royal Family attend a military parade held in up town Madrid. The roads we packed with people and their flags as capes. Nationalism wasn’t welcoming to the centre left leader.
Clamping down on Fascism
This week, 24th October, they announced further controversial proposed laws. When I say controversial, I mean controversial here in Spain. They have announced a law that will be an amendment to the current 2007 Historical Memory law. This was established when PSOE was last in power, it gave the government the power to rid Spain of all Francoist and facist memories like street names and statues.
Now, they want to go further. They want to ban all groups and associations that glorify and promote Franco and his legacy. There are many and the main one, Foundation of Francisco Franco, is being investigated for tax avoidance. They have also changed the text on the website so that it sounds like they do not glorify Franco just teach about him. Slimey gits. No ones sure how far the law will go. There are similar laws in Germany regarding the Nazis and Hitler.
This will make the far right froth at the mouth but what about the public? From the people I’ve spoken to about it, reactions seem to be mixed. Although, I’ve noticed that people on the right of the spectrum don’t want to talk about history.
Will Spain embrace the left and their progressive agenda or will we have another deadlock election. It looks like the left aren’t going anywhere, but then neither are the right.
1979 Great Britain elected Margaret Thatcher as the first ever British female Prime Minister. From that point onwards she began to implement a new philosophy and change society as we know it today.
This philosophy comes in many forms and has many different labels such as individualism, neoliberalism, Thatcherism and some people just referred to as common sense. It’s safe to say they were probably idiots.
It was seen as progressive and modern back in the 80s and early 90s yet since moving on from this philosophy the world has suffered many woes.
The philosophy is that everybody has it in their power to determine their future. This style of thinking also advocates a small government state with minimal government intervention into peoples lives. This is ideal for people that have a lot of money and resources but what about the rest of the population? The people that have a hard time reaching the same goals that a person with money takes for granted.
We are not equal
Society is not equal therefore someone must do something to ensure that everybody has the same opportunity as everybody else. It is not equal because we are not all born, and cannot be, born in to a wealthy white middle-class family with access to savings, good education and good healthcare.
In reality people are born into different social classes, into council houses or homes that are on under threat of eviction, areas with overcrowded schools and long waiting lists for operations and appointments for specialist doctors. Some people are born gay, female, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, black, with learning difficulties and with many other things such as dyslexia, depression or autism. These are things that cause people to face problems that others do not. Everyone can face some inequality at some point in their life and others for their whole lives.
Obviously these groups are mixed and just because you are born into one of these groups or several of them does not mean that you will be facing inequality. Yet, people are born into these groups are more likely to face injustices than a white male. Discrimination because of your race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. It’s all inequality.
So how do you overcome some of these injustices?
You provide good schools, police and healthcare services for all.
But, this hasn’t happened. Since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister successive governments have continued her mantra of privatising public services. These services are then run for profit not for people. They become businesses.
If businesses or services don’t make a profit then shareholders and managers demand payback for their investment. To make a profit in a recession they decide to cut, cut and cut more. The 2008 financial crisis was the perfect excuse for businesses and governments to do this. That is why profits have risen for the shareholders and wages have stagnated for the workers. This has caused greater financial inequality between the richest and poorest.
How does this relate to mental health?
Along with privatising services neo liberalism encourages people to take ownership and become independent self-serving individuals. It believes there is no such thing as society.
This is how it feeds into mental health. With this philosophy society teaches you that you need to take ownership for your own mental health and that your mental health is within your control. You are responsible for your future. This is where I fundamentally disagree.
The government and society have seen great leaps and bounds in mental health field of science. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine and other irregular levels of neurotransmitters are blamed for depression. Whilst this is true it is not the cause of personal debt, evictions, benefit sanctions or lack of social care. These are the injustices causing higher rates of depression. It’s obvious!
Blaming neurotransmitter levels is utilising the medical model of the western world to diagnose mental disorders. It plays a part but it’s ignoring some of the biggest causes. High financial inequality and the breaking up of society
The government spout better services and more money for the NHS. All this with the hope that chucking a few antidepressants, and systematic one size fits cognitive behavioural therapy at it, they think that everything will be okay and they can cure the individual. Unfortunately it does not work like that.
Why do we have higher rates of depression in the United States of America and the UK if it’s only neurotransmitters to blame for depression? It’s something in society as well as the chemicals in your brain.
I’m not disputing the use of cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, I have seen them do great things and I will continue to advocate for their use in the correct circumstances. However, I feel that the government, and neoliberalism itself, have done very little to address the causes of depression which is now one of the biggest reasons for being sick in the western world.
By placing onus on a person to take responsibility for the mental health society tries to back off. However, if someone does not have family or friends to take responsibility for them then they are left with skeleton like mental health services. Mental health services have been cut ever since they closed the asylums in the late 80s. It’s often called the Cinderella service of the NHS.
Society is broke
So the Thatcherites and neoliberals want people to take responsibility and be individuals. But they broke the family, they broke industrial society. Ask anyone from an ex-mining town or old industrial town and they will tell you that the sense of community has left ever since these industries were dismantled.
As you can probably see in your town or city people live more individual and secluded lifestyles. With this people become isolated, depressed and unable to reach out for help. They also don’t notice when others need help. Or when they do it’s too late.
The services are left with picking up the pieces. Many people are lucky to have friends and family that help care for them or just want to listen to them talk, however, these people are also feeling the squeeze with cut benefits, increased personal debt and fading services.
There is evidence, by Wilkinson and Pickett discussed in their book The Spirit Level (2009), the more unequal a society the less empathetic they are and they are more individualistic. These societies are also more materialistic in their nature and have higher rates of mental health issues, murder, prisoners, obesity, personal debt, solitary lifestyles and depression.
Number one of this ranking is the United States of America. The UK is not far behind… Do we really want a society to emulate the inequalities of the United States of America?
Even though some countries are poorer they rank higher when it comes to lower financial inequality and higher quality of life. These are countries such as Spain, Portugal, Japan, Sweden and Germany. While these countries’ societies may not be perfect, they are a lot more equal than the UK.
So what are we left with?
When I was working in the Emergency department, as a mental health nurse, I saw many people coming following a night of heavy drinking. They had taken an overdose to try and kill themselves because they were drunk and feeling desperate. But there was normally more to it than just drink and desperation.
Every day was the same for me. 5 or more people daily to assess; for many it was a one off, for others it was a regular thing.
I would be sitting in that small side room waiting as they entered; they rolled in their drip stand along which doubled up as a crutch. Sat across from me with my pile of papers in my lap. Staring through me at the wall as I explain the assessment. The smell of chemicals in the air from the ward outside. Beeps and noises going off every 2 minutes. Nurses shoes tapping and relatives shouting for attention just to find out what is going on.
After a while, sometimes with gentle encouragement, everything would come out. All the pressure. All of it. The person would just let go… sometimes that’s all they needed.
There is more to it than neurotransmitters and break ups with partners. It may seem like just that but when you dig a little deeper you find out there’s more at play.
The main cause of these episodes were family arguments, money problems, social issues or work related issues. However, many of these were rooted in problems with benefits sanctions; lack of communication or contact with society and family; issues with discrimination in the community or at work; lack of services available; poor education; lack of youth and social services and problems with finding steady and secure work.
These people weren’t ‘clinically depressed’ at the time but if their situation got worse then they certainly would be.
People were tired of fighting and arguing trying to achieve life’s standards on their own. After the episode they would find that they had friends and family willing to help. Just a shame they had to get that desperate before they realised they were not alone. Remember these people thought, and many people do you think this way, that they have to achieve everything on their own and if they don’t: they are a failure. Well it’s not true.
Some people are unfortunate not to have friends and family to help them and we would forward them on to charities and other services run within the health care system. However nowadays, since the cuts and austerity imposed upon us by the Conservative government, these charities and services no longer exist or they are hanging on by a thread.
Secondary mental health services, specialists in treating people with severe and enduring mental health issues, cannot cope with the weight of the population suffering from mild to moderate depression. This weight has been shifted to primary care psychology services and they are taking on more and more severe cases by the day. The services were never designed to cope with this. This is also why anti depressant prescription rates have gone through the roof.
The society we have at the moment, that is aimed at making profits and letting people look out for themselves, is making people feel unwell. Their wellbeing is shot to pieces.
In short, we have medicalised neoliberalism’s problem which is making people feel terrible. And then we have created a society that blames people for feeling shit. It’s your fault.
Then to top it all off we have made people believe that they have to stop feeling shit on their own. I bet self help books and apps have made a mint.
Some people even try to profit off this. £50 for a mindfulness app. Jog on.
So how do we fix it?
Of course, people should take responsibility for their own health but having a shit society doesn’t help, does it?
It makes it harder to look after yourself if you have benefit sanctions, personal debt or eviction hanging over your head.
So, maybe to start:
We need to start reversing the individualism in society. We are on this planet together. What use is it just living in a little bubble. You may need help someday.
We need to embrace our differences and demand better universal basic services for all. People have recently been talking about universal basic income. We don’t even have basic services for all; we need to accomplish this first. Access for all to good healthcare, housing, social care, education, financial, training and transport.
We need to distinguish between businesses and services. Health and education are not there to make money for the rich. They are there for everyone. They are services not a business opportunities.
We need to look out for family and friends. They may not always be here and you never know when you might need help.
Lastly we need to reverse the ‘it is your problem’ mentality. We can start by being just a little bit kinder to people in states that they don’t want to be in.
We need to build a society we can all live in. Not only the luck few.
Don’t vote Conservative
P.p.s if you like this I have more material coming out on this.
Last Thursday, 27th September 2018, Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain, addressed the UN in New York. The main message of his speech was encouraging regular migration policy and he also addressed the rise of xenophobic parties in other countries in Europe and around the world.
I agree with what he is supporting regarding regular migration and he is correct that there has been limited rise in xenophobic parties in Spain when compared to other countries such as France, the UK and Italy. Yet the way he describes it feels as if he is giving an alternative version of key issues in Spain: Racism and Sexism.
Sexism has come far…
Sexism has been tackled in Spain a lot over the past two years. It has been tackled head on and it is a common topic in the public arena. Spain has progressed on this issue more than other countries in recent years. However many feel let down by the legal system, La Manda, a group of rapists that got away with group rape in Pamplona have proven that the institutions in the country still favour Spanish males in certain situations. I have discussed this issue here further.
The Prime Minster also mentioned the fact that over 60% of his cabinet was made up of females. This was well received around the western world and seen as a step in the correct direction for the largest country on the Iberian peninsula. Yet all of the ministerial cabinet is made up of Caucasian Spaniards. Is this a problem or just a sign that Spanish society hasn’t reached a level where they have more people with mixed ethnicity?
Racism in Spain
Pedro Sánchez claimed that Spain does not have xenophobic political party as “ the vast majority of Spanish society has never turned its back on the dramatic reality of immigration,”. Whilst this maybe true of his government and the welcoming of refugees in the country. I would argue that Spanish society has a different attitude towards immigrants. It has a problem with racism that many deny and it has not been addressed by the government or discussed as part of the nations wider conversation.
Obviously, there are different classes of people who all have different political leanings as in any country. However, racism is low on the agenda for many groups. It is not mainstream and when it is talked about it is brushed aside or denied strongly.
Many say Spain is not as up to date, with issues like rights and social justice, when compared with the UK, Germany, the USA and many other western countries. I see this as an excuse for complacency. Yes, Franco expelled many people and held the country back in terms of social justice. Many say Spain is still catching its breath. Well maybe it should breathe a little deeper.
Evidence of racism is every where but it’s not overt and so in your face as many expect racism to be. It is subtle, part of society and built into mentalities and institutions. The laws are in place they are use not enforced. Evidence of this is clear in this El País article. Several experiments took place over Spain and people were refused rooms and flats due to their ethnicity.
Racism come in all forms
Moroccans have been on the receiving end of it recently. Many have been unfairly labelled as people selling things illegally on the streets on giant blankets and as living in over crowded flats in multi cultural areas such as Lavapies. Yet, there are good causes fighting the stereotypes and barriers that they face. This shop in Barcelona is a good example.
Unfortunately, things such as black face are still a thing in Spain. At Christmas they have the three kings instead of Santa. One of them was black and in Spain painting one of the three kings faces black is still seen as normal across Spain. It has been famous footballers or Mayors with the painted faces in the past.
I’ve seen pictures on facebook of school children with faces painted black to look like a Gospel choir for carnival.
It’s not just cultural its also institutional. As I mentioned before the laws are in place but they are not enforced. Take a look at my trip to the south coast of Spain where I saw the enormous green houses that produce 60% of Europes fruit and vegetables. Most people who work here are immigrants.
I have also met English teachers from India, Singapore, the UK and the USA and they have been turned down by academies and students because they do not fit the stereotype of a Caucasian English speaking native. They just weren’t white enough. Thankfully this practice is becoming less so I have been told.
‘I’m just popping to the Chino’ this is what people say when they are going to the corner shop in Spain, even thought the shop may be run by people from South America it is still referred to the ‘Chino’ or the Chinese shop. It is something that is not even blinked at and I myself have referred to it as the ‘Chino’. The stereotype that all corner shops are run by Chinese people has led to further stereotypes being concreted and fixed in societies collective mind.
There was a similar epidemic in the UK over 20 years ago. Corner shops were referred to as ‘ Paki shops’ under the stereotype that all shops were run by people from Pakistan. When I was much younger I asked why the ‘man over the shop’ had a Scotland rugby shirt on. I after learnt from him that he was from Glasgow. My young brain was confused: how could he be Indian and Scottish?
As I got older if I used the words ‘Paki shop’ I would have been seen as ungrateful, uneducated and an ignorant moron. And rightly so.
My first job was in a corner shop and I was grateful for it as I couldn’t ride a bike. I wasn’t discriminated against. Unfortunately xenophobia is on the rise in the UK again hopefully language like this wont be common place as it was in the past.
Discussing the name of the shops, such as ‘Chino’, is seen as too politically correct and I have heard responses such as ‘ but they like it’ or ‘even they call their shops ‘El Chino’. But does this make it OK? No it does not.
Quan Zhou discussed in this El País article that racism is difficult for Chinese people in Spain and that this is negatively impacting on second and third generation Chinese-Spanish citizens. The old stereotypes of being from a dirty culture and not paying taxes are difficult to shed, but things are changing. Possibly too slow.
As a white Northern European male I have limited experience in being the victim of discrimination and racism. But, I have been privey to conversations that not all may have in front of people who are not Caucasian. Racism shows its true ugliness when it thinks it’s comfortable. Ive heard the stereotypes and put down of the Chinese, Muslim and African communities. However the worst and most surprising must be the way that some people look down upon South Americans.
Many people from South America come to Spain as it it the natural place for them to come if coming to Europe. For reasons such as bilateral immigration agreements and the obvious issue of the Spanish language. Having this in place you would think that they were more accepted than the Chinese and Moroccans. Unfortunately this is not true in my opinion.
The stereotype the Spanish have of people from South Americans is overly exaggerated and shows a very insecure and strange relationship they have with their former colonies. I have heard the stereotype from some Spaniards: that they think South Americans are lazy, drink to much alcohol and are under educated. This was always said in a ‘I’m not jealous’ (but feel threatened) sort of way.
But, never mention the stereotype in Europe of Spaniards being lazy or you may get some nasty responses like I did from this tongue and cheek piece.
There is also the nickname of ‘Panchito’ which is discriminatory towards South Americans. Many South Americans come here to work and live just like people from the UK, Poland, Romania, China and some countries in Africa. The friendliness of Spaniards is seen as a good nationality trait but I have not seen this towards South Americans, if anything it has been the opposite. It is also the most common place racism I have seen. This needs tackling as well as the more obvious racism.
Thankfully since the financial crisis many Spaniards are moving abroad to work and they are being exposed more to different multicultural societies such as those in London and in Berlin. This is opening minds and as they return they are challenging everyday common place language and behaviour.
Furthermore, groups of migrants and Spaniards are fighting to combat racism in todays spanish society. There are cultural centres and fiestas in neighbourhoods that are supporting and promoting diversity. There is the resistance book group that has had readings on books regarding racism. There was also an open debate held regarding the use of blackface in modern day Spain. Hopefully these engaging events will help set the agenda for the nations conversation in the future.
Even here in the suburbs of Madrid I see second generation migrants walking along side by side with young Spaniards. The future is opening up for this country and the younger generations will help shape its future. It’s not just a question of wanting to modernise and progress of society but it’s also the necessity as the stereotype and national image of a Spaniard with olive coloured skin and dark hair will change in the future. The country is becoming more multicultural. At the moment if you watch Spanish television you will see hardly any black or Chinese presenters this is something that will change in the future and the country needs to be ready for this. Otherwise it may see many second and third generation Spanish citizens becoming victims of discrimination and racism in their home country.
I said at the beginning, Spain has come a long way addressing sexism in society and it is now part of everyday conversation. There is still a lot of work to do but it is on a better path than it was. Racism on the other had does not have a direction to follow in the mainstream. This is what it needs. The organisations and people are there with the expertise but the government and main stream media need to do more to bring it into the public eye. At the moment it is being pushed aside.
If Spain can emulate what it has done with sexism for racism then society will change faster for everyone. Only then can the government boast that xenophobia is being tackled in Spain. Racism exists in all countries but many countries also have people in the public eye fighting back against the racists.
Spain’s activists and challengers of xenophobia should be given the credit and time they deserve to change public perception and the acceptability of racism in society. Only then will Future generations will look back on the language and stereotypes of the past and wonder what the hell was going on.
Update: Many people have pointed out that racism and class are interwoven into Spanish society. I have observed this myself and agree with this conclusion; yet is that an excuse?
Society is changing, faster in Spain that a lot of places, and social mobility is for everyone as it’s not just for Spaniards. As society changes so must social standards for what is acceptable and expected in modern society. 1970s complacent racism has no place in any modern society.
Making excuses and reasoning for racism adds to the problem it doesn’t take away from it. There is no room for racism in humane debate or modern society.
It’s three in the morning in the airport and I have just been trying to sleep on the floor whilst waiting for security to open. The look I got from the man trying to enter the closed shop was one of distain. It’s not my fault he couldn’t waste his time browsing and spending money. It should all be open 24 hours day. That’s the expectation nowadays.
Everyone here is trying to find some where to spread out and pass the hours till their flight. Yet, there is not enough seats for everyone in arrivals as departures is shut. There are enough seats in the airport but they are controlled by a higher presence. They have the power not the public using the services. But what if we did?
People are evasive of others as they judge them on their suitcase, skin colour or if they have Lacoste or Lonsdale on. It’s a small community in a small confined area yet the judgement of people is still strong and obvious. Every stereotype is here and everyone follows them.
The private security guards tell people they can’t sleep on the floor of the airport and the police are no where to be seen. Shop workers do their piece, selling their labour throughout the night. Some manage it with more enthusiasm than I have at this point. Both are paid to keep the place ticking over day and night.
As I pass through security I’m reminded of borders. You can only come in if you have a ticket – the money and correct passport. If you have anything we don’t like you have to leave it behind or stay the other side of the barrier. The illusion of choice is strange — truth is you have no choice. It’s their way or nothing.
Passing through Duty free you are barraged with adverts for perfumes that you don’t need. Although maybe I do now. Vivid signs, videos and people paid to entice you with free shots of the latest product by an age old brand trying to stay relevant in the market. Promises of cheaper material goods that you hope will make you feel good. Will they? Maybe till tomorrow.
Many of the shops are still opening. W H Smith is stocking its shelves for the £3.99 meal deal. A fast meal for a fast society. The workers filling the shelves probably just have enough time on their break for a meal deal. Their wages are making the company profit in more ways than one.
Some of the designer shops are shut. Even if they were open I could not interact with them. I’m excluded by my lack of funds… for now. Maybe one day I’ll rise to the challenge of earning enough to shop in Hugo Boss. That’s the expectation isn’t it? If I don’t I’ll probably be judged as inadequate or lazy.
Every airport has its national shop. ‘Cool Britannia’. Harry Potter, Paddington Bear, money boxes in the shape of phone boxes or Queens guards. Fly the Union Jack for this is Britain. Buy a waving Queen to show your appreciation for visiting our country. Just don’t slag off our food and we can stay friends. As long as you have money that is.
They work around the clock to keep this place a float, safe and make profit. Yet, the workers here don’t reap the benefits. No free flights or holidays. Maybe a weekend of if they are lucky. Is that all we are allowed? 8 out of 31 days and most of the time less.
One thing that is real in the airport are human emotions. Crying girls splitting with their partners, tired children screaming for validation, workers laughing at customers stressed travelling and of course wary travellers checking the information board anxiously to go on their well earned holiday.
Automation has shown its capabilities. Like a new posh co worker showing off… no one likes them at first but then they aren’t the new guy anymore. It becomes normal.
Checking passports at the border and serving people in Boots. It’s moving fast and makes the airport more modern. Who’s benefit is this for though? Less workers are needed but jobs are still created. I still hate self service tills. I promise there is nothing in the bagging area. I’m starting to think this isn’t for the customers benefit.
The airport is a strange place. It encapsulates modern society. A global machine connecting people from all walks of life all over the world.
Even the fake wannabe celebrities that just walked passed me look lost in this tiny rigid artificial world.
The Ramblas, the main pedestrian walkway in Barcelona, is crowded with tourists from the cruise ships and cheap weekend city breaks, but what else is there other than fake Barcelona FC shirts and badly painted fans? A bomb site. A battlefield and the fight for the future of Barcelona.
On 17th August 2017 a 22 year old male drove a van down the Rambla killing 13 people there and then and another 130 people were also injured, one of whom would die several days later. The male then killed another person to steal their car to make an escape.
There were other incidents around Catalonia which killed another person. 8 terrorists were killed in total. I went to Barcelona a year after the events and the Ramblas remains the same as ever. Lively and crowded.
The recent controversy is that the King attended the remembrance service for the terrorist attacks, apparently many Catalans never wanted him there. The fire of the independence has diminished but it is still simmering away in both the city of Barcelona, and it is also visible in the countryside from the motorway as I head back to Madrid whilst writing this.
The balconies and stalls are adorned with thin yellow and red vertical stripes with demands for political prisoners to be freed and the country to have independence. The Catalan language is dominant as Spanish takes a backseat next to English. They are a proud nation but I get the feeling they are a little unsure of themselves and their country more like the Welsh than the Scottish.
What ever the future holds for this region there is no denying that it has a varied history.
Much of this history is still visible and has been managed differently to the rest of Spain. They don’t seem to repress the past as some in Madrid are trying to do at the moment by stopping the removal of Franco’s grave from the Valley of the Fallen. Or discussing life under Franco.
Catalonia and Barcelona have always been the black sheep of the Spanish family. Whether it is strange Christmas decorations, banning bullfighting or holding a unrecognised independence referendum they are certainly one of the more interesting regions in Spain.
This extends to the Civil war. The Ramblas hold secret stories of the Civil war which can be read about in George Orwell’s classic Homage to Catalonia.
George Orwell went to Barcelona in December 1936 to fight fascism, Francisco Franco’s Nationalist army, which was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Orwell was fighting on the side of the democratically elected government, there were many factions and Orwell joined the P.O.U.M. a Marxist anti Stalin group. Many speculate that he had little idea of Spanish politics and was not sure what he was joining.
Orwell was followed by his wife several weeks later. They stayed at the Hotel Continental near Plaça Cataluña just on the Ramblas, it is still run by the same family till this day and from the outside looks rather grand but dated inside. Orwell and his wife stayed here for much of their time in Spain and it is worth visiting but easily missed when visiting Barcelona.
When Orwell arrived in Barcelona he described a passion for the city as he found it: an anarchists paradise. The anarchist factions were in charge of Barcelona not the Republican government. Everyone was referring to each other as ‘Comrade’, sharing the resources, there were no posh people or upmarket restaurants and they were getting ready to kill some fascists.
Orwell then went off the front and as he describes in his book he got very cold and very bored.
Orwell later wrote about his experience from the front. This is one of my favourite pieces:
At this moment, a man presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at ‘Fascists’; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn’t a ‘Fascist’, he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him.
As he returns this is where the action takes place on the Ramblas. Before the hotel, tucked in the corner of Plaza De España, used to be Barcelona’s telephone exchange, this was controlled by the anarchists, as was the city. Yet, in typical left wing fashion the in-fighting started.
128 Las Ramblas is now a modern overpriced hotel but in the past it was the head quarters for the anarchists in control of Barcelona. To this day a plaque commemorates this. The government wanted the city back.
Down the Ramblas, past the Hotel Continental and the HQ of the anarchists, Café Moka looks like any other modern day tacky coffee shop with up priced drinks, however it is the site of one of the shootouts that happened between the government republican forces, who were trying to oust the the anarchists from Barcelona, and the anarchists.
The government forces took cover in café Moka and opposite Orwell was stationed to fight them. He was there for several days but did pop out for meals. The stand off took place in the centre of the Ramblas where today people from all over the world walk and trade freely without giving it a second thought. When stood in front of the cafe it’s hard to imagine bullets flying overhead.
This is only a section of the book, there is much more, but it is the most recognisable part when visiting Barcelona. I would encourage you to read the book before visiting the Ramblas.
Later in the book you can see that fake news is not only a thing in the time of Donald Trump and social media. You can see how the experience of the civil war impacted upon Orwell’s later works such as the changing of headlines in Nineteen Eighty-Four and why he depicts Stalin as a dictatorial pig in Animal Farm.
Further down the Ramblas to the left you can find the historic gothic quarter of Barcelona. This is a very beautiful area that is a wonderful place to spend a warm summers afternoon. In the depths of the gothic quarter lies a surreal scene: a bomb-site.
Placa (Plaza in Spanish) de Sant Felip Neri is a square in the gothic quarter that was bombarded by Franco’s forces on St Patricks days 1938. 42 people were killed, including 20 children from the school in the same square, as they had taken refuge in the basement of the church but it collapsed and they were killed.
Heavy markings remain in the square along with a plaque commemorating the dead. To this day the school in the square continue to use the plaza as a playground. As I was there children were playing ‘el escóndite inglés’ and a busker peacefully strumming away on his guitar. Strange contrast.
Leaving the Ramblas in search of my last destination I was met with a maze of back alleys and streets with interesting shops and hostels. The smells from the back of the variety of different restaurants reminds you that Barcelona, in the 21st century, is the most modern and multi cultural city in Spain.
Barcelona commemorates George Orwell with a plaza named after him. Plaza de Georgre Orwell is situated near the Ramblas down the winding alleys. Locally it is well known for drugs but the neighbourhoods in Barcelona are always changing just like its history shows. This restaurant is a good example.
So read Homage to Catalonia and look out for the hidden sites of the Ramblas.
Also, I’d like to thank my family for following me around to explore these places and friends for showing me them.