Diane Abbott, Fake Socialist

Back in the 80s, I spent some time as a Labour Party member. In much of the country, Labour was still the defender of organised labour (the clue’s in the name), but in London, a variety of fringe groups and interests from outside the traditional labour movement had made Labour their home.

One of the favourite tricks of the middle-class London left was “positive discrimination” – what Americans call “affirmative action”. They felt that Labour was lacking non-white faces, so decided to fast-track some into the ranks. This was a strange thing to do: black and Asian workers were rapidly climbing trade union power structures on their own merit. Some very talented socialists from India and the West Indies had migrated to the UK and had joined the Labour Party. These black activists didn’t need a hand up: Bernie Grant, a fiery Jamaican activist won a parliamentary seat in Tottenham; Bill Morris, another Jamaican, was ascending the trade union ranks on his own merit and would soon lead the UK’s biggest union, before taking the most powerful union job of all, as leader of the TUC. But the middle-class left were impatient, and perhaps were uncomfortable with black class fighters like Grant and Morris.

The result of the “positive discrimination” era was not good, either for Labour or the black and Asian communities. The people who gained careers in London Labour had no base in the communities, and no respect from them. They were not picked based on talent, but on the colour of their skin. Rather than bring the black communities into Labour, it helped alienate them. A number of embarrassingly untalented individuals, selected by Labour, were now claiming to speak for black Londoners, and black Londoners were not impressed.

One of the fruits of this process seems to have been Diane Abbott, a Hackney MP. Abbott has always made left-wing noises, and for many years I thought she was a genuine socialist. Then, when it came time to send her son to secondary school, she exposed her lack of political belief or solidarity with the people of her poor, Hackney constituency, and sent him to private school. Abbott, a Cambridge graduate, had exposed a simple fact that local Labourites should have noticed years before: she had nothing in common with the poor communities of Hackney other than sharing her skin tone with some of them.

Her choice of school surprised me, and many others who had considered ourselves Abbott supporters; we hadn’t understood that her socialism was skin-deep. It was only when she began to appear on the late-night BBC1 programme This Week that things began to click into place.

Abbott was a regular on this political discussion programme, alongside Michael Portillo, who had been a right-wing minister in the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments. I  began to tune in to the programme each Thursday, eager to see Abbott espousing left-wing values, and attacking Portillo’s right-wing ones. It didn’t work out like that for two reasons: first, Portillo was revealed to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, who had drifted to the centre ground in his years since leaving power. And second, Abbott seemed incapable of explaining her own beliefs. Time after excruciating time, Portillo would gently help her outline a concept before explaining why she was wrong. After watching the programme for some time, my respect for Abbott had collapsed, while I had developed some respect for Portillo (a man I had despised for his record in government).

Bizarrely, when Gordon Brown stepped down as leader, Abbott stepped up as the “candidate of the left” (see Charlotte Gore’s post on Labour tokenism in selecting Abbott); if we needed a sign that the Labour left was defunct, this was it. Abbott was soundly defeated (perhaps Michael Portillo wasn’t available to help write her speeches). Even more bizarrely, Ed Miliband appointed Abbott to a front-bench position after he won the leadership election. Abbott’s job seems to be to make left-wing noises and placate whatever remains of a genuine left in the Labour Party. And admittedly, she does tweet good links (no doubt, thus persuading those who don’t pay much attention that she is some kind of progressive).

If any more evidence were needed of Abbott’s ideological emptiness, it came last week. The coalition pushed through an attack on benefits for some of the poorest people in Britain. The Labour hierarchy instructed their MPs to abstain; but there was a rare rebellion! Over 40 Labour MPs stood up for their principles (and the lives of millions of people who are struggling to survive).

And as for Abbott, whose constituency is one of the poorest in the country? She abstained, of course. Diane is clearly enjoying her stint in front-bench politics, and voting against the Labour machine would have meant standing down from a nice job which she no doubt realises she has no chance of getting a second time.

As Ken Loach and others wrote in yesterday’s Guardian, The Labour party has failed us. We need a new party of the left. They’re a decade or two late in noticing, but hey – better late than never. Given that there are still 40 Labour MPs with principles, perhaps now is the time to get moving – before the entire Labour benches are filled with empty, principle-free career politicians.

Drugs For All The Family!

With cannabis liberalisation starting to take place all over the Americas, it may be that the moronic “war on drugs” (and yes, whoever thought up that concept must have been on drugs), is finally peaking. What better time could there be to buy some weed, and have a smoke with your kids? Even small babies can join in – just make sure you blow a little smoke in their direction.

Shocked? Angry? Upset that I mentioned drugs and children in the same sentence? I was, of course joking; while I believe all drugs should be decriminalised for adult use, I equally believe that the concept of liberty applies to adults, not to children. It is right that parents, teachers and other adults should restrict childhood behaviour, for many reasons.

So why is there no outrage at the widespread use of recreational drugs by children? Sucrose, fructose, dextrose and other members of a popular family of drugs (known on the street as “sugar”) are addictive stimulants with serious health implications. Even conservatives who think that cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine should be banned often use these dangerous substances, and shockingly, even give them to small children.

Europeans became addicted to sugar centuries ago, with demand so high that the early Atlantic slave trade was driven by the need to grow more. The sugar industry grew in wealth and power, and has its claws so deep into our culture and our politics, that few politicians dare question its right to push its dangerous substance to our children.

Even the recent research that definitively linked sugar to the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes hardly caused a stir.

Only one politician has tried to make a – very modest – stand. The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, tried to ban the sale of huge servings of sugar-rich drinks (if you haven’t been to the US, the size of drink portions on offer are astounding – at least double what you will find anywhere else). Bloomberg’s plan was struck down in court, allowing the drug pushers: Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s and the rest – to keep on selling quantities of the drug that are lethal if used long-term.

There is huge ignorance and hypocrisy here: sugar is probably more dangerous than a number of illegal drugs; yet people who would never touch these, will happily buy their kids Pepsi instead of milk or water – such is the addictive nature of sugar, and the overwhelming power of the sugar lobby to drown out any criticism in the media.

I think Bloomberg got it wrong. Just as cannabis and cocaine should be legally available for adult consumption, so should sugar. But none of these substances should be sold to children. Morons, thinking they are fighting for “liberty”, swallow the sugar industry’s propaganda just as readily as they buy the bullshit of the gun lobby.

It’s time to ban the sale of sugar to kids, along with all other potentially dangerous drugs; in a generation, adult consumption will also fall, and the apparently unstoppable “obesity epidemic” will start to fade away. But the sugar industry has been the world’s biggest drug pusher for centuries – as Bloomberg found, it will fight vigorously to defend its market.

Posing As Progressives

Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse

Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse

It’s been one of those weeks when I fall out with some of my, usually friendly, followers. When you’re a leftish political blogger, there are safe things to write about, and things you shouldn’t mention. Social equality, fairness, child poverty, saving the NHS, racism against non-whites, attacks on women’s rights, climate change, corporate power; these are all things that I know I can tackle without dissent from others on the left. There will be, of course, attacks from the right, but those are bread-and-butter. We can all unite and enjoy rebutting those. Career tip: if you want to become a Labour parliamentary candidate, and you write the occasional column, but don’t want to ruffle feathers? Stick to these subjects (no names mentioned).

Then, there are the subjects that confuse many on the left – so they generally don’t mention them, for example: racism by non-whites, domestic violence against men, use of the word “cunt”. And of perhaps most of all, sex. Sex, being the subject that raises the most primal feelings in us – whether negative or positive – divides all parts of the political spectrum. The left has a series of simple check-boxes to guide it through this minefield: Gay rights? Approved. Abortion rights? OK. Rights for sexual fetishists? Erm… Union rights for sex workers? Sounds of left-wing heads exploding.

Now let’s turn things around for a moment. If you were a social conservative ideologue, in Britain, in 2013, how would you go about popularising your ideas? This would be easy enough in America: you say that public nudity is immoral. Because the Bible says so. You say that Muslims are bad because… well, they’re not Christians are they? But things aren’t so easy for the British reactionary. The British have largely abandoned religion – at least, the type you actively believe in. So what would you do? You’d do what clever reactionaries do: adopt progressive camouflage.

Both sexual morality groups and racist bigots have successfully adopted this approach, and in doing so, have blended into the liberal mainstream. The last well-known sexual morality group was Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now known as Mediawatch UK). This made some headway in the 80s, before being laughed off-stage in the more relaxed 90s. Taking note of this, the new moralists took a leaf from an American lawyer called Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon came from impeccable right-wing stock – her father was a right-wing Republican Senator. In the 1980s, MacKinnon (with her sidekick Andrea Dworkin) took a sexual conservative message, wrapped it in superficially feminist language, and succeeded in fundamentally splitting the feminist movement in two – a divide that has existed ever since. The MacDworkinites did more damage to feminism than any misogynistic man ever could.

The MacDworkinites are going from strength to strength. MacKinnon’s natural successors are Gail Dines – a deeply reactionary anti-sex activist who campaigns for media censorship and a ban on sex work using feminist and Marxist language, and a number of conservative groups, self-labelling as “feminist”. The best known MacDworkinite groups in the UK are Object and UK Feminista – who will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. The latest to appear on the scene is the current campaign against the topless photo on Page 3 of the Sun.

It’s amazing what a small shift in vocabulary can do. Because the MacDworkinites refer to themselves as “feminist”, then anyone who opposes them must be against feminism, right? It’s sad that sections of the left are so easily fooled, but indeed, the strategy has worked impeccably. Are these groups actually a conservative offshoot of feminism, or conservatives who have infiltrated feminism from the outside? It doesn’t matter – that’s a simple matter of classification. You can call them anti-sex feminists or anti-sex “feminists” – either way, they are reactionary. The early second-wave feminists implored women to abandon their bras. These new groups beg women to put their bras back on.

The same methodology has worked wonders in demonising Muslims in secular Europe. Far-right pundits like Pat Condell attack Muslims – not from a religious perspective, but from an atheist one. Muslims are, (they say) “less civilised” than we, secular European are. They chop off heads and run kebab shops in London (of course, the Muslims cutting off heads aren’t the same ones selling kebabs to drunk Brits – but who’s counting?)

Such gullibility on the left saddens me. Both left and right have become riddled with conservatism, and well-meaning people have swallowed this reactionary propaganda. Meanwhile, Object’s attacks on women sex workers continue – supported blindly by middle-class women who think sex work is common and icky. And atheist fascists like Condell convince atheists that attacking minorities is OK – if it’s done in the name of Enlightenment.

The alternative is what I’ve labelled Social Libertarianism: social democracy combined with an unshakeable commitment to free expression, free speech, freedom of religion and sexual freedom, and an equally tenacious opposition to all forms of censorship. It’s not new – it’s what the left used to stand for.

Some Anti-Bigotry Hip-Hop

There’s a certain type of racist – the cowardly kind who doesn’t say what he thinks out loud. This is the majority. The minority who actually express their bigotry out loud are a breath of fresh air in comparison.

You know how it works: reggae is misogynistic, hip-hop is homophobic – any kind of stereotype that will indirectly accuse a whole group of some unsavoury attitude.

Of course, hip-hop isn’t homophobic. It’s a form of poetry set to a rhythm. It descends from West African story-telling traditions, and it’s the most popular music form in world history. It has spread to every country and language and has expressed every kind of idea from love to hate, revolution to consumerism. Yes, it’s true there is some homophobic hip-hop. I wouldn’t call myself a hip-hop head, but I’ve heard some great hip-hop over the years, and some of my favourite tunes are in this genre.

[UPDATE: following complaints from a couple of pedantic bastards on Twitter, I should make clear that, while hip-hop does descend from West Africa, its birthplace as a recognisable genre was in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s.]

I heard this tune today – an anti-homophobia track, and thought I’d share it. It not only attacks dumb anti-gay bigotry, but gives the lie to those racists who try to attack black people as a monolithic group by trying to label and stereotype this art-form. Enjoy.

 

Blaming Women For Rape

The skirt is no excuse to rape - neither is porn

The skirt is no excuse for rape – neither is porn

This blog recently carried an article by Edie Lamort on the current moral panic about pornography; here’s another article on the subject. This is no accident – most people will have noticed a sharp rise in scare stories recently about porn, nude imagery, strip clubs and “sexualised” imagery in the media. The stories are the result, not of actual problems or any evidence of harm, but of widespread, well-organised campaigns by authoritarians to increase censorship of the media, and in particular of the Internet.

I won’t revisit the evidence here – but in summary, there is no solid evidence that erotic imagery leads to harm against women or children: in fact, the reverse is true. This, of course, doesn’t deter the anti-sex, pro-censorship campaigners in the slightest. They have no interest in whether porn is in fact harmful to women – their end goal is for censorship and control of sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality.

You may remember the birth of the Slutwalk movement about two years ago. This was triggered by a Toronto police officer who suggested that, in order to avoid rape, women should avoid dressing like “sluts”. The outrage that this victim-blaming caused led to the birth of Slutwalk in Toronto and then globally. A huge, young feminist movement took to the streets proclaiming the right of women to be sluts, without either being judged or raped.

I was a great supporter of Slutwalk; not everyone was though. The anti-sex feminist campaigner Gail Dines, for example, thought that women were misguided in trying to reclaim the word slut, and said this would “make life harder” for adolescent girls. This was typical of the clashes between the anti-sex and the sex-positive wings of feminism.

Today, another policeman tried to avert the blame for rape away from the rapist and onto women. This time though, unlike in the Toronto case, he was strangely applauded by some women. In a Daily Record article entitled More women will be raped if online porn isn’t tackled, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made an explicit link between porn-viewing and rape.

This, of course, is victim-blaming; but it’s a little more subtle than the Toronto variety that launched Slutwalk. Instead of saying that a rape is the fault of the woman who is raped, it claims that a rape is the fault of women who appear in porn, and thus incite men to rape. In both cases, women who dare to bare flesh in public are being blamed for the act of a rapist.

This logic is the same as that used by orthodox Jewish, Christian and Muslim sects, especially the Wahhabi Muslims, who cover women’s faces with niqabs “for their own protection”. The logic, whether blaming a woman for her own rape or blaming porn stars, Page 3 girls and strippers for another woman’s rape, is identical. The very sight of female flesh, we are told by the policemen, conservative feminists and religious fundamentalists, incites men to be rapists.

I’ll repeat: there is no evidence that this is true; indeed, evidence from studying rapists shows the opposite: that rapists tend to have repressed sexualities. Rather than enjoying porn, they are likely to find it disturbing. An article in Psychology Today entitled Sexual Repression: The Malady That Considers Itself The Remedy makes this point well: sexual repression, far from being blamed for sexual problems, is touted as the solution: Lengthen that skirt! Ban Page 3! Porn leads to abuse! Strips clubs lead to rapes! In every case, women are blamed for rape, and men are considered stupid creatures who, having seen a nipple or a vagina, cannot stop themselves from attacking someone.

So let’s remind ourselves: when a woman is raped, it is not her fault. Nor is the fault of the girl who appeared on Page 3 that morning. Nor is it the fault of the woman who chose to make a living by having sex on camera. It’s the fault of the rapist. The fact that a police chief has chosen to lead a morality campaign against porn is very disturbing. Police in free societies should have nothing to do with the consenting sex lives of adults. Stalin, Hitler and other dictators carried out conservative morality campaigns against their populations. Women did not benefit from these.

If we want to remember what pre-porn Britain was like, just look at the emerging facts from the Jimmy Savile case. Is that an innocent, “unsexualised” world that we should return to?

Porn in a Puritanical Age

As the EU Parliament prepares to vote to censor any content that might “demean women” (whatever that might mean), feminist and stripper Edie Lamort writes about the good side of porn, and the dangers of censorship.

International Women’s Day has rolled around again and thankfully it has not been quite so negative this year. I was appalled at the ‘victim fest’ I endured last year at the Women of the World Festival in the Southbank Centre. Although the Guardian indulged the usual insecurities that it believes defines womanhood. Blaming individual body issues firmly on ‘sexist media’ and terrible pressures from the wicked evil world of ‘patriarchy’. 

This my dear readers is not the full picture as it ignores the family environment. Now I’m lucky in the fact that my parents told me daily that I was a beautiful person. This has fortified me in ways I am eternally thankful for. I’m sure I will still think I’m hot even when I’m 70, legs warped by varicose veins and face wrinkled like a prune. It is why I roll my eyes when I hear these constant declarations about female body insecurities, from our ‘feminist’ opinion formers and politicians, and why I find the bleating about Page 3, porn and strippers to be ridiculous and unbearable. Positive reassurances from your loved ones are the most powerful messages, and if you have that, all the porn and advertising in the world will not undermine you.

However this paranoid and misplaced blame for all the world’s ills still motivates many of our dear leaders. The latest episode of madness comes from Dutch MEP Kartika Liotard who seeks to impose “…statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products…” Effectively banning all porn in the European Union. An extremely totalitarian move, that feels like some kind of Soviet era diktat.

Besides this being an outrageous affront to freedom all round, I feel this line of thought is horribly misguided. Yes there are many reasons that this censorship should be stopped in its tracks; freedom of speech, the fact that our liberal democracies have the best track record with female emancipation due to our openness around sex, that porn demystifies the feminine mystique, the fact that these censors wilfully ignore amateur and gay porn and finally; I’d also like to suggest that porn is good for you.

Yes porn is good for you and for society at large. I have recently come across an interesting Agony Aunt called Rachel Rabbit White who regularly advises her confidants to explore their fantasies using porn, even celebrating an annual Lady Porn Day. A woman writes in concerned at her new boyfriends interest in porn featuring older men with younger women. Now instead of shrieking ‘pervert’ Rachel Rabbit asks them to explore the subconscious reasons for this. She wonders if it is to do with breaking taboos? Or is he trying to reassure himself that he is still attractive?

She then addresses what lies behind females watching rape porn and having related fantasies. Rather than having a horrified, knee-jerk reaction she tries to find out why. What part of the BDSM world could she be attracted to? Is it about finding the strength and maleness extremely erotic and actually feeling safe with it? For many women it is being desired by someone so much that they are out of control. Being the centre of their world. Of course this is fantasy and very far removed from the realities of actual rape but here we can use porn as the starting point to explore these fantasies. Acting them out in the safety of a loving relationship.

She also answers a worried male viewer who identifies as straight but finds himself turned on by Bukkake. That is when a group of men ejaculate over a woman. This man finds himself fantasizing not about coming on a woman but being the recipient. He stresses that he’s never felt attracted to men so is worried about this urge. Rachel Rabbit then explores the macho environment that boys grow up in and how this could lead to a fascination with semen. That it’s probably quite a natural thing for males to be intrigued by something that is an almost daily emission. Therefore there is an element of fetishizing semen in male macho culture. She also wonders if he is somewhere on the bisexual scale despite being in a straight relationship.

So the viewer’s tastes in porn are treated as a doorway to their subconscious and a way of exploring sexuality in a safe environment. A method of psychotherapy, of analysis, that can result in valuable insights and self-awareness. It’s also a way to pick up handy hints and ideas to spice up your sex life. If it has become vanilla and everyday, porn can be a reference for creativity. Couples can explore BDSM together; some watch gay porn (not that they will ever have real gay relationships) and their sex life can be enriched with anal play. It’s about having a positive outlook on the fantasies you have, and discovering what lies beneath them, as opposed to feeling shame. What is it that turns you on in a scene? Is it the taboo of something you’ve never been permitted to do? Is it about restraint and role-play? Is it gender bending?

A recent study also showed that men who watch porn were more in favour of gay marriage. Reasons included how they had become used to seeing other men’s penises in heterosexual acts and therefore the shock factor was diluted. Also that in exploring their own sexuality they were more likely to be accepting of other less traditional sexual situations. That in the main, those who watch porn have a more open mind towards sex. So there’s another positive aspect porn.

And what of the women I hear you ask? Commercial porn is a very well regulated industry with actors and actresses documented and regularly tested for STIs. Feminist porn director Anna Span described to me how the performers she uses must all show their passports, have their photos taken holding their passports to show the pictures match, and store these photos on record permanently. UK producers must conform to the US 18 USC 2257 law, otherwise they cannot sell their content across the Atlantic. The porn industry has already pre-emptively dealt with child access issues by developing a web site labelling system known as Restricted To Adult . This embeds a code into adult material so that online filtering tools can easily identify porn and stop children accessing it. In terms of health all producers demand certificates and check for fakes. Porn performers must have health checks every 28 days.

Anti-porn repression and moral panic will lead to less equality all round and more violence towards women and LBGT people. Censorship will definitely not lead to some glorious utopia of equality that our ridiculous opinion formers and politicians seem to believe. This sexual counter-revolution must be stopped in its tracks right now because it is dangerous and anti-women. Feminism needs to stop being so childish and one-dimensional. It needs to look further in to the human psyche when dealing with sex and develop a more mature attitude towards it.

So porn can be good for you. Please click the links and enjoy Ms Rachel Rabbit!

Rand Paul: Civil Liberties Hero?

Delivery from President Obama!

Delivery from President Obama!

As regular readers will know, my political roots lie on the left; but I feel very little affinity with the left today, largely because it has lost touch with its tradition of support for civil liberties. The right loves to throw around the F-word (Freedom, I mean) but has never, in practise, believed in it. “Freedom” meant, under Reagan, the right to destroy democracy worldwide in the name of “fighting communism”. Today, “Freedom” means the right to destroy democracy in the name of fighting terrorism. The right in Europe and the US has always been the greatest threat to liberty; today, much of the left has decided to join it.

This means that, if you care about civil liberties, there is increasingly little to choose between Conservative/Labour, Republican/Democrat. George W Bush and the Neocons, who concocted a “global war on terror” when the “threat” comprised of perhaps a few hundred extremists at most, had a clear strategy; recreate the cold war climate of fear, and thus erode support for civil liberties. The Bush Administration carried out war crimes on a global scale and unprecedented attacks on civil liberties at home. Obama’s Hope & Change message seemed to carry a promise of a return to truly progressive values – most of all, defence of free speech – but the Obama Administration has not only preserved the core of the Bush attacks on civil liberties, but extended them (and continues to do so).

Free speech is even more under threat today than it was when Obama came to power in 2008. At this point, the partisan nature of US politics becomes tiresome. The right had, as ever, abandoned its commitment to Freedom when freedom came under sustained attack by Dubya. Now, the left largely averts its gaze when Obama does the same thing. The US mass media has utterly failed to hold Obama to account, just as it ignored the crimes of Bush. Even Fox, constantly attacking Obama for things he hasn’t done, has barely bothered to attack him for the things he has done. Fox-viewing morons want Obama impeached for a variety of bogus “crimes”, but not for the actual attacks his administration has made against the US Constitution – largely because these attacks are supported by Republicans even more than by Democrats. The US news organisation that has best held Obama to account isn’t Fox, but the progressive Democracy Now!

The political news in America has been dominated for the past couple of days by a filibuster by the right-wing Senator Rand Paul. He spoke for 13 hours in an effort to delay the appointment of John Brennan as the director of the CIA. Brennan was the major architect of the drone assassination programme, in which at least 4,700 people, many of them innocent of any crime, have been killed with no due process (click for a photo gallery of drone strike victims).

Before we brand Paul a saviour of international law, let’s note that his concern isn’t over drone strikes in general, but primarily because the Obama administration claims the right to kill US citizens (apparently the other 95% of us are fair game). And we should also note that he appears to be using this event as a publicity-generator for a possible 2016 Presidential run. Yet, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has written in today’s Guardian, it is shameful that only Paul has chosen to speak out on this issue (with some backing from only a small handful of Republicans and one Democratic Senator).

They say bipartisanship is dead in Washington; but when it comes to ignoring America’s global terrorism, torture and tyranny, under Presidents from both parties, the Republicans and Democrats are remarkably united. We can expect Republicans to excuse international law-breaking; we might hope that Democrats would know better. But they don’t.

Nobody on the left has any reason to like or trust Rand Paul; yet in this case, partisanship should be put aside. At a time when almost nobody is prepared to fly the flag of liberty, anyone who does so deserves qualified support. Obama has now won his second term. A Romney win would have been disastrous, and led to even more international criminality. But Obama – we should have noticed by now – is no progressive, and is happy to advance the military-corporate attacks on democracy.

The US left needs a reality-check. When the right-wing, corporate-backed Rand Paul is saying what Democrats should be saying, he deserves at least one round of applause.