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Death in Paradise: Edward VIII, the mafia and Harry Oakes

We are in the midst of a royal scandal, one pertaining to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. While we cannot say conclusively that he has committed a crime, we can say that in the past he has counted amongst his friends Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted child trafficker. This at best shows a catastrophic lack of judgement, particularly as a photo exists of the Prince in his company subsequent to the conviction.This article relates another royal scandal, this one decades old. You may have come across this information; it is a matter of public knowledge, though not particularly well publicised. Just as with the current royal scandal, the royal protagonist was never convicted of a crime, but again, his presence in the vicinity of the deepest corruption is suggestive of a high-borne disregard for things us ordinary mortals bother ourselves with, like keeping a moral compass handy.

It may not come as a suprise that the royal in question was none other than Edward VIII, who having been forced to abdicate five years previously, less for being a Nazi sympathiser than for marrying a divorcee, was shipped off to the colonies by Winston Churchill, with the Second World War two years old and showing no sign of ending. The Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson settled in the Bahamas.The FBI were keeping an eye on them and found out to their horror that almost immediately they made friends with a consortium of people petitioning for the establishment of gambling in the Bahamas, which  included Property dealer Harold Christie, Bahamian lawyer Stafford Stands, but much more significantly the notorious mafia gangster Meyer Lansky. Lansky was a principal in the ‘Murder Incorporated’ wing of the mafia, and therefore was implicated in the killings of at least 800 people.

Christie introduced Edward to Lansky in Florida, and the Duke lent his support to the building of a riveria style casino in Nassau. One of the Bahamas richest men, 68 year old Harry Oakes tried to put a stop to the casino being built, but behind the scenes, Lansky was offering the well-placed Sands a million dollars if he could see that gambling was legalised in the colony. Tragedy struck first. Harry Oakes was found dead in his apartment, in July 1943, apparently the victim of being burnt alive.In an eerie manner reminiscent of alleged Spontaneous Human Combustion cases the fire had barely spread beyond the body so forensic evidence as to what had happened should have been easy to ascertain.

Then the farcical happened.The Duke of Windsor, despite having the services of the FBI and Scotland Yard at his disposal, put himself in charge of the murder inquiry. To assist in his inquiry he summoned Miami policeman James Barker, a former associate of Lansky. Oakes’ son in law was arrested later that day on the basis of motive alone- Oakes had hated him, believing he was money hungry. The potential penalty for the crime was death by hanging. However, two crucial pieces of evidence absolved Oakes’ son in law; the fact he could not appear to light a match without burning himself, and some flimsy fingerprint evidence, which was in fact suggestive of police fabrication. He was acquitted, but while all this had been happening, the Duke and Wallis Simpson were sunning themselves on a seven week holiday in Miami.

Gambling eventually was legalised in the  Bahamas, but not before a second application was turned down after members of the mafia approached the Duke to join their consortium once again but he declined, and the project was set back several years.Once bitten, twice shy, you might say. Who could know? When Scotland Yard were eventually brought in to the Bahamas, they were immediately sent back home. No one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Harry Oakes, and the case was declared closed by government order.

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Some thoughts on austerity and ideology

I’m still suprised, nay, flabbergasted that some people still cling to the central tenets of the Conservatives austerity programme. These seem to be; systematic dismantling of the public sector, the welfare state and many essential services; the none-too-softly creep towards wholesale privatisation of the NHS; a laissez-faire attitude to , or worse, flagrant encouragement of the rampant profligacy and exploitation shown by ‘top’ city businesspeople, and a general class snobbery that vacillates between disdain and hatred of the poor. Yet some people seem convinced that repeating the mantra that the damage that Labour did to the economy must be redressed, or the books must be balanced or somesuch is an issue entirely abstracted from human consequences. Having stated that, of course, a greater injustice is to recognise the many millions of victims of this program and then pin their suffering down to an aberration of the system.

Except, of course, this system discriminates in it’s aberrations, which last longer, and longer. Gordon Brown’s famed statement about there being an end to boom and bust was a prediction that was borne out for less time that the current bust. The mid-eighties boom, which tends to get frozen in the minds of we who didn’t participate in the boom as the age of big shoulder pads and US soap operas with acquisitive ideology to the forefront, lasted about half as long as the current bust, with no end in sight. A helpful soul pointed out yesterday that technically, according to Government measures, we aren’t actually in a triple dip recession yet, but who on the ground has felt an improvement in their circumstances in the last few years?

Worse is yet to come, too. We are just entering the intensive phase of austerity, which will make the cuts we have suffered in the last few years look like the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We seem to have forgotten that while austerity as such implies a radical reorganisation of Capitalist structures, it is actually just a more extreme version of what is implemented after each crisis of Capitalism. Before the boom of the mid-eighties there was two or three years of significant cuts to services, they just didn’t go under the appellation ‘austerity’. You’d think periodic restructuring of the system might orient the system more favourably towards a more equitable solution for everyone. Even in times of growth, however, this isn’t the case, as an editorial in the Financial Times from December 1993 makes clear:

‘About two-thirds of the world’s population have gained little or no substantial advantage from rapid economic growth.In the developed world, the lowest quartile of income earners have witnessed trickle up rather than trickle down’

…and this is the verdict of a mainstream economic broadsheet about periods of growth! If we are looking for some practices that may offset the worst effects of an economic deficit, looking to investment in public services and infrastructure would be a good place to start. Despite what Tory politicians may espouse, these tenets helped lift Britain out of austerity after the second World War, and further substantial investment in them in the 60’s helped create a longish boom, although again it was those at the top of society that disproportionately benefited. A major factor prompting these investments was the feeling that revolt could be just around the corner-in some sense they were measures designed to placate a public who had recently been through the horrors of a World War; although there were also outspoken advocates of far reaching reform eg Nye Bevan. Investments in infrastructure this time round have been piecemeal. Some have been projects with some years yet to run, (Crossrail, H2) and environmentally controversial (H2, 3rd Runway), whilst others have not yet got off the ground (housebuilding).Meanwhile, cutting of health and education services is damaging in a multiplicity of ways and also neglects to recognise that these public services, as was the case with Royal Mail, turn a profit. Keynesianism as a solution is in this sense a sticking plaster that advances the cause of the working class a certain amount while falling short of a solution-which would have to necessitate a radical overhaul of the structures of society.

What is it that obsfucates our imaginations with regard to seeing beyond Capitalism, to think of a different world that would provide each according to their need rather than whatever they were arbitrarily able to accrue from Capitalism against the grain? Istvan Meszaros writes well on this, in ‘Beyond Capital’ (1995), where he speaks of the ideology of Capitalism elevating it’s rather brief position in history to an eternalising one:

‘The defenders of  Capital like to depict the existing order as some sort of predestination to which there could be no civilised alternative.Many of them arbitrarily project the Capitalist exchange relations back to the dawn of history, eliminating in that way both their contingency and historical transcendability in order to be able to idealize (or at least to excuse) even their most destructive aspects.’

It is only when the shades fall from our eyes that ‘all that is solid melts into air’ and we see the stark reality of our conditions. This has probably been the case for many of us over the increasing years of austerity, now lurching decadewards. This next period will see many more people hitherto relatively unscathed by austerity feel it’s full force. Bob Marley once said ‘Some people feel the rain, others get wet.’ Lets hope we react decisively as a people as the pouring rain comes down.

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The one about the Little Englanders and The Scots

When I was a child, curious, novel narratives would play out in my head.One of the things that would help me go to sleep was imagining a cartoon narrative in full, ending with the Looney Tunes music.It has been cartoonish week politically, ending with a suggestion emerging from close to David Cameron that his own grassroots party members are ‘swivel eyed loons’.If ever it could be said that a week was a long time in politics it was this week-Nigel Farage no doubt wished it would have ended far quicker, traversing from BBC hero to zero in 7 days.Yet Geoffrey Howe’s comment that Cameron is ‘running scared’ on the issue of Europe (like a cartoon character, perhaps!) has prompted the thought that time in politics can also be condensed-that a narrative can shrink to solidify into something far more coherent.That Europe is still such an issue for the Tories is somewhat cartoonish; that the long silent Howe is given an airing after so long in the background, like the harbinger of doom that he seems to be is farcical.

The renewed confidence of the Tory backbenchers, who now take Cameron to task over his support of Gay Marriage has been bolstered by the Chauvinistic soundbites of UKIP. UKIPs anti-European stance is informed principally by an Enoch Powell style xenophobia, and some  of their success in the local elections attributable to an appeal to petty Bourgeois privet hedge botherers of a certain age to uphold a nebulous ‘traditional’ vision of England. Des Lynam was off-message when he announced his support for UKIP, subsequent to their increased vote in the recent English council elections, proclaiming he cast his vote in favour of ‘change’.UKIP want to reinforce old, failed formulations with more vigour, just as the Tory backbenchers do.

The narrative to which the public is supposed to cling in times of recession hasn’t really stuck, however.For the first time ever, and the internet has played some part in this, capitalist ideology hasn’t been able to disguise the extent to which an economy that is propped up by the working class has crashed then flatlined through it’s manipulation by an economic elite.First the public were made to bail out the banks, now our services are being slashed, ostensibly to boost the economy.This is a more stark version of the obedience usually expected of people when recession hits-the demands of austerity.Now that it is transparent that Capitalism caused the crash, partly through the behaviour of it’s most fervent acolytes, we are not just asked to put in extra effort for the good of our economy but to sacrifice our ‘luxury items’; our health; our education; our jobs, even our food and shelter.

The two-tier ideological strategy in an economic crisis-one that extracts greater and greater proportions of surplus  value from the workforce while similtaneously scapegoating a group or groups-the famed ‘divide and rule’ strategy has convinced few this time round.George Osborne has not even delivered modest growth through his cutting of services , extraction of surplus, and destruction of Capital.The Conservatives have not challenged the bankers and their bonus culture in any meaningful way, nor managed to eliminate the numerous offshore bank accounts used by the ultra rich to dodge UK tax.All this is transparent.So when Tories use ‘dog whistle’ tactics and attempt to blame immigrants for the UKs economic woes it fails to ring true. UKIP attempt to whip up hysteria about a future influx of Romanians and Bulgarians and the argument is easily deflated by pointing to the fact the information comes from a survey posing hypothetical questions of residents of the two countries and therefore fundamentally flawed.

Nigel Farage will say, no doubt, even after a hilariously ill judged PR trip to Scotland, where he was chanted at and told to ‘go home’ in Edinburgh, and then the next morning appearing on a radio show where he called ‘elements’ of the Scottish Independence movement ‘fascist scum’, that his policies on immigration and Europe still play well in England.Like the Tories, his obsession with Europe is ill founded.A recent survey found only a percentage point of people naming it as their most important issue.So why did Farage’s party do ‘so well’ in the recent local elections?.The answer, as has been outlined elsewhere, is that they didn’t do particularly well when the generally low turnout and the piecemeal nature of their ‘successes’ are factored in.One plausible reason for why they gained an increased vote overall was that people used their vote to make a protest against the three main parties, as Owen Jones has suggested.This doesn’t mean a resounding affirmation of intrinsic support for UKIP policies however.

Just like a cartoon character, Nigel Farage’s spectacular fall from grace this week was so sharp that it may be only temporary, like Wily Coyote chasing after Roadrunner he may plunge from the proverbial cliff only to dust himself off again.He seems to have a sheen of perceived respectability for some that Nick Griffin of the BNP never had, though it would be a mistake to view his policies as markedly less racist.In reality a Green Card is about all that separates them on race (Griffin can’t get one).In light of this, Farage’s denunciation of elements of Scottish Nationalism as ‘fascist’ is particularly cartoonish. Moreover, there was an internationalist bent to this protest that isn’t being addressed-it was audible on camera .In any case,Scottish Nationalism has it’s problems as an ideology but fascism isn’t one of them.However, this act of projection in the true Freudian sense is in itself a marker that pernicious right wing ideologies will never admit fully to characterisation but retain their kernel of chauvinism and racism-witness the stories about one of UKIPs prominent sponsors this week.It will be another interesting 7 days as the Conservatives look to be forming two loose factions; and a rift with the Lib Dems may emerge.In this climate the left have to comprehensively reject the ideological Looney Tunes of the  racist and sexist right.

Discord ,Despair and Ideological violence:Thatcher’s mob in attendance

At about 12.50pm on April 8th 2013 I learnt of the death of Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving  UK prime minister of the 20th century, and certainly the PM whose consciousness has most informed the pedagogical input of the Capitalist class in the century so far.I was three months short of my third birthday when she assumed office in May 1979 with that awful speech about replacing discord with harmony and despair with hope.I had turned 14 when she left and was gradually taking a more assiduous interest in the politics of the day.Unaware of any political life outside of Parliament I had earmarked the Labour Party as the one that would receive my vote when I was old enough to do so.

I half-ironically tweeted ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ within moments of finding out that Thatcher had passed.In truth, the ontological fact of her dying never gave me any glee in itself-it was only what it represented; the tiniest of Phrryic  victories in the midst of the largest full scale assault on the UK Public services and welfare in history, a kink of stone masonry chipped out of one of the pillars supporting the ideological edifice of neo-liberalism that Thatcher had  herself helped create, and continued to be a cheerleader of until her final years saw her slip into the darkness of Alzheimers.

The horror of the monster of the market that bestrode the eighties came in piecemeal flashes to myself as a child and young teenager.I remember moving to a bigger house in 1984, but one we could only support by Dad taking on a huge amount of work.I remember reading about Black Wednesday in my secondary school Library in 1987 and understanding just enough to prompt a feeling of dread.My maternal Grandfather and Great Grandfather had worked in the mines in Wales, and while I got confused about what  a Flying Picket was, what with there being a band called that as well, I wondered why Thatcher was arguing with the miners, and sending in police against them.

The tragic lie of Thatcherism, the knot of false hope and implied terror is a childlike state that continues with the Con Dems austerity programme.One that presumes our ignorance, discord and despair.I did end up jeering at Thatchers procession, more than anything because I felt that there had to be evidence of dissenting voices there.Myself and another protester had found ourselves cut off from the main protest.Our modest booing was set upon by public school types and city speculators.I didn’t even have to ask them if that was the case-it was transparent.This was Thatchers constituency alright. I felt like a child again, unable to completely understand why these grand streets seemed alien;why a 69 year old man was being called ‘son’ and I, a 36 year old was being called ‘Boy’.I did, however, understand why I was jeering.These men, and they were overwhelmingly men were just instinctively asserting their class position, the one that had been handed down to them.This is the implicit terror in why The Mob That Mourned Thatcher are far more dangerous than I or other fellow protestors could ever be.