Welfare benefit cuts high on anti-austerity agenda

anti austerity londonPlacards proclaiming ‘Cut War Not Welfare’  are held aloft during Saturday’s Anti-Austerity protest.

Anti-austerity protests and movements have become increasingly popular during the latter half of last year year and again this year.

Mass protests have taken place around the world, notably in Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the UK, Canada and the United States’ commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And opposition to austerity is seen as the force behind the rise of new political parties such as Podemos (We Can) in Spain, Italy’s Five Star Movement and Syriza (‘from the roots’ or ‘radically’) that is now forming the government in Greece.

And on Saturday, thousands of people again took to the streets of central London to protest against government cuts. Banners calling for UK prime minister David Cameron to quit were brandished by protesters as they marched to a rally in Trafalgar Square.

The demonstration, organised by the People’s Assembly, was also attended by the Labour Party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell who said that a Labour government would end cuts and “halt the privatisation of our NHS”.

Importantly, for people with disabilities, Mr McDonnell pledged that his party would scrap the hated work capability assessments and also target homelessness by building hundreds of thousands of council homes.

While the UK government says austerity measures are key to reducing the country’s deficit, McDonnell described the government as being bankrupt in its political ideas and handling of the economy. He called for Mr Cameron to resign and to “take his party with him”.

“On every front now we are seeing the government in disarray – in terms of the economy we are slipping backwards instead of growing,” Mr McDonnell said.

David Cameron, or Dodgy Dave as MP Dennis Skinner prefers to call him, has previously argued that the government needs to make savings, over the course of this parliament, so that it can “prioritise what matters for working families – schools, the NHS and our national security”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, a fellow speaker, said that fighting austerity was the “political struggle of our time”. She blamed cuts on “forcing people out of work and into zero hours’ contracts”.

Also there were Len McCluskey, general secretary of the trade union Unite, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and National Union of Teachers’ general secretary Christine Blower.

Speaking for the Stop The War Coalition, which was chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP from 2011 until he became Labour leader last year, Chris Nineham said: “Austerity is not about economic necessity, it is a political choice.”

Cameron’s Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election pledged to save £12bn from welfare by the end of this Parliament in 2020. However, it has already abandoned one set of proposed cuts to disability benefits although those receiving welfare payments are fearful of the government’s next move.

Could Sanders win like Corbyn?

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Senator Bernie Sanders (left) and Jeremy Corbyn MP

Now the new leader of the UK’s Labour Party might not seem in any way connected to a hopeful campaigning to win the US’s Democratic Party nomination as its candidate for the Presidency but there are striking similarities.

Eventual winner of the Labour Party leadership election was, as of course we all know, Jeremy Corbyn. The guy struggled to get onto the ballot paper as not enough MPs supported him. In fact, he made it with only five minutes to go before nominations closed. And then only because some MPs who did not support him, and subsequently did not vote for him, decided to nominate him so that his arguments could be heard.

And heard they were, leading to the outsider, the maverick who has often rebelled and refused to vote as instructed by party whips, being elected with an amazing 59.5% of the votes cast. He won the majority of votes of trade unionists, full members and party supporters. But not the majority of MPs, those he now has to lead in parliament.

Those MPs who nominated him but never actually supported Corbyn or his policies must now regret their actions. He was not supposed to win; he was almost a joke candidate. But his left-wing old Labour message rang true with so many and he quickly became regarded as the most authentic of the four candidates – which is why the pro-Corbyn landslide crushed the other three candidates.

In America, the fight to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the November 2016 election for the office of President is well under way. In the early stages, this was dominated by Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton. Of course, since being First Lady she has been a Senator, a contender for being the party candidate eight years ago when she lost to Obama, and then served as his Secretary of State during his first term in the White House.

Since enjoying a great start, out of nowhere came competition in the form of a left wing senator from Vermont. Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist (a word that was once labelled its owner as being un-American and untrustworthy). Now, though, it is Hillary’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State that is leading to her being widely considered the one who cannot be trusted.

While Sander’s policies may be different to Corbyn’s, although some may be quite familiar, his campaign message resonates with those that distrust the establishment and want a new way. Labour high-ups did not want Corbyn and Democratic chiefs don’t want Sanders.

This may be because both Corbyn and Sanders seem to be advocating a new kind of politics and it is this that appears to have caught the imagination of voters. Sanders is now the front runner in both New Hampshire and Iowa, two states that in January will choose whom they support. His fundraising is now at the same level as Clinton’s, he has energised a great deal of support among the young as well as the traditionally disaffected.

Corbyn has also tapped into this pool of support – with the Labour Party’s membership growing by 50,000 in the first week after his election. That is an increase of more than 16% and is still growing.

Could Jeremy Corbyn’s dramatic win in the UK be an indication that Bernie Sanders will be the Democrat candidate for the Presidency?

Corbyn unjustly accused of attacking Queen

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Jeremy Corbyn is favourite to win Labour leader race.

There is a need to point out that I am not a member or registered supporter of any political party and, as such, feel free to talk about politics without being accused of being biased in any way.

Also, just to add to my independence, I freely admit to having voted in various ways in the past 45 years.

There is an old quote, sometimes attributed to various different politicians but no-one definitely, that says: ‘Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age 40 has no head.’

Well, in those 45 years of voting in every single election that came my way, my votes have gone to Liberals (prior to Lib Dem coming into being), Labour, Social Democratic Party, Conservatives, UKIP and Liberal Democrats. I also voted for Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales) on one occasion. A typical floating voter? Maybe, but I voted according to my views at the time and according to the options available. Who got my cross in the box at this year’s general election is irrelevant.

What is proving fascinating at the moment is the fight to become the next leader of the Labour Party. It started off with three ‘sensible’ candidates with one outsider, seemingly a joke left-wing candidate, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn.

Strangely, though, if opinion polls are to be believed – and their record of reliability and accuracy is no better in the UK than in the US – Corbyn is now the front runner. Certainly the bookies agree, making him the odds-on favourite

The other candidates are quite obviously rattled as Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have all attacked the man as well as his policies. He, on the other hand, has steadfastly refused to respond by acting in the same way.

Now, I am not for or against any individual politician but will stand up for fairness and accuracy. That involves me telling the truth, however unpalatable that truth may be to some people. And, in this case, that means pointing out that what Corbyn said about the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been taken out of context; he has been selectively misquoted. Also, he has not attacked the Queen but the way in which the Government uses her royal prerogative.

The first of the latest attacks on him was based on views he expressed in an interview on Iranian TV. During that, he described the killing of Bin Laden as a tragedy. Hence his rivals’ criticism of him. But, you need to understand the entire quote, not just part of it. He actually said that it was a tragedy that the man had been killed instead of being put on trial for his actions.  Sounds a bit different, right? Also, during the same interview, Corbyn described the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers as a tragedy. Yes, he used the same word.

His latest campaign move was to criticise the Royal Prerogative, saying it should be up to parliament to decide. What happened? It brought criticism upon him for attacking the Queen; he has been accused of assaulting the monarchy.

The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognised in the UK as the sole prerogative of the Sovereign and the source of many of the executive powers of the British government.

However, although it is known as the Royal Prerogative, the powers are actually handed to the Prime Minister of the day. Indeed, since the 19th century, by convention, the advice of the Prime Minister or the cabinet – who are then accountable to Parliament for the decision – has been required in order for the prerogative to be exercised.

So, unlike the executive powers of the President of the USA, the royal prerogative is not exercised by the Queen alone. She only uses these powers on the advice of her ministers. In the same way that she would never withhold the Royal Assent from any new law passed by parliament.

What Corbyn actually said was: “The royal prerogative should be subject to parliamentary vote and veto if necessary. The Queen hands her powers to the prime minister and he can then exercise them. It’s a very convenient way of bypassing parliament. Also, orders in council are a very convenient way of bypassing parliament.”

Jeremy Corbyn is not attacking the Queen, he is simply trying to ensure that the democratically elected parliament is not bypassed by the Prime Minister in the same way that American Congress can be sidestepped by the President.

Outsiders may rock political boats on both sides of the Atlantic

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Top: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Bottom: Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Politics might not be everyone’s favourite subject but there is just so much going on at the moment, I cannot ignore it.

In the USA, the race to become the presidential candidate for each of the two parties has a clear front runner at this early stage. Republican Donald Trump, who started as an outsider, and Democrat Hillary Clinton are the favourites at this point but what happens if, and it is a big if, they do become the two candidates for what is the world’s most powerful role?

Clinton is an ex-First Lady, an ex-senator and an ex-Secretary of State. So, on the plus side, she has political and diplomatic experience. On the negative side, there are still questions about the details of any involvement she may have had in the Whitewater controversy of a few years ago and, more recently, her use of her private email server to handle sensitive, and even top secret, information during her time as Secretary of State.

For the  other side, Donal Trump is a businessman and TV personality and has no political experience but maybe that’s a major plus as the voters generally don’t like or trust the Washington DC political elite. He admits he is not politically correct and, again, the voters seem to love it. Trump may run out of steam but not out of money. One thing for sure is that he has enlivened the race for the White House.

I just had to ask Lisa about her views. She is American and says she does not like either candidate but that if she had to choose, she would vote against Clinton. Not really for Trump, just against Clinton.

Moving across the pond to Britain, we find that the Labour Party is embroiled in a campaign to elect a new leader. There are four candidates but one has injected the otherwise dour contest with a sense of interest and purpose, not to say controversy. And that is because left-winger Jeremy Corbyn started as a rank outsider but has risen to be the front runner and that is causing many in the party hierarchy to have major meltdowns, saying his victory would make the party unelectable. We’ll have to wait to see how that develops.

The other candidates are Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

Turning now to what will be our new home country in November, there is some good news for British expats living in Spain. The UK government’s Votes for Life Bill, as announced in the Queen’s Speech, is to remove the current limit of 15 years for voting in UK general elections. This is due to come into effect before the next general election but not before the European referendum which is a cause of disappointment for long-term expats.

Speaking as a person who is taking advantage of the current European freedom of movement rules to set up home in Spain, I am sure that you will understand that my vote will be a ‘Yes’, in favour of the UK staying an integral part of Europe.