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Alan Hughes was a graphic artist at New Internationalist. He retired in 2014. He is a life-long socialist and trade unionist and is currently involved in the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign. He is passionate about The Beatles and has supported Aston Villa FC for over 50 years. He lives in Oxford with his daughter.

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Clive Offley remembered

Offley illustration

Clive Offley, who has sadly died, was a New Internationalist (NI) stalwart for many years. When I was appointed as a graphic designer with the NI in 1985, Clive had already been there for some years as the lone designer (aided periodically by a local freelancer).

The NI’s growing success meant another hand was needed. So began a challenging, and undeniably colourful chapter of my life. Clive was certainly larger than life.

Clive hailed from Leicester. When he left school he studied graphic design, the ‘trade’ he stayed in all his working life. On moving to Oxford he joined Oxfam and was instrumental in helping build the fledgling charity into what it is today.

He often recalled those times and spoke of them with much affection. In the days before computers, it certainly seemed like seat-of-the-pants stuff. He was eventually head-hunted for NI, where he stayed till early retirement due to ill-health.

Clive was supremely talented. He not only designed an untold number of magazines, calendars, leaflets and posters, but he was also a wonderful artist and illustrator (see illustration above).

I was in awe at how he could interpret any brief he was given by editors with such speed, quality and originality. His contribution to New Internationalist can never be measured.

Clive was an intensely private person. And very modest. He often downplayed his amazing contributions to Oxfam and the NI – he never seemed to appreciate his numerous talents. But those of us who knew him and worked with him can safely say that we did.

$500,000 a week? For kicking a football around?

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney - now 'worth' $500,000 a week. Nasmac under a Creative Commons Licence

I love football. I’ve played it most of my life and I’ve supported my team, Aston Villa, most of it too. Pele once, famously, described football as ‘the beautiful game’. And played at its best – witness Lionel Messi at Barcelona – it’s difficult to disagree with the sentiment.

But something has happened to the beautiful game and turned it ugly. That something is money. The filthy lucre has penetrated the heart of the game and is all but destroying it.

And the latest abomination is the news that Wayne Rooney has been offered a new contract at Manchester United that will take his weekly wage to US$500,000 (£300,000). Yes, you read that right... $500,000 A WEEK!

When the English Premier League started back in 1992, no-one could have predicted the impact it would have on English football. The commercialization of the Premier League has seen it secure around $5.8 billion from its most recent round of television deals (much of it from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports). Add to this the clubs that are owned by multi-billionaires (Roman Abramovich at Chelsea; Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City...) and the millions they have ‘invested’ in these clubs make your head swim.

And footballers’ salaries are now out of control. Gail Sheridan, wife of Scottish socialist politician Tommy Sheridan, described Rooney’s wage deal as ‘obscene’. Her argument is simple. No footballer is worth a six-figure weekly wage. ‘Brain surgeons, skilled nurses, firefighters and other emergency service personnel all deserve high wages and good pensions,’ wrote Sheridan. ‘But do footballers, bankers, politicians? If they were paid according to what they contribute to society, I reckon most of them would be claiming working families tax credits to supplement their meagre incomes.’ 

To former Newcastle striker Micky Quinn, Rooney’s new wage deal illustrates the widening gulf between millionaire footballers and working-class fans. ‘How can a bloke who works nine-to-five, never mind someone on the dole, identify with a guy who has signed a £75-million [$125 million] contract?’ wrote Quinn in a newspaper column.

For me it has an all-too-familiar ring. It’s the same old story, over and over again. Inequality. The rich get richer and the poor can go to hell. Rooney, and his equally dim-witted colleagues, can ‘earn’ millions for kicking a ball around while nurses have to threaten industrial action because the government refuses to pay a promised salary increase. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt claims it would be ‘unaffordable’.

Capitalism is an insane way to conduct affairs. It’s unfair, brutal and unsustainable. But people are duped into believing it works, that there is no other way. Tempt them with a piece of the money ‘pie’ and they’ll fall for anything. Good luck to Rooney, they say, just wish it was me; it’s supply and demand etc etc...

The other day, I heard someone say that no-one is forced to watch Rooney and his mates. I concur. And as such I am voting with my feet.

I have decided to stop going to Premier League football matches (there’s always the local park where REAL football is still being played). My beloved Aston Villa will have to do without me. I refuse to put my money into the pockets of these thieves. There’s no way I’d ever subscribe to Sky Sports. I refuse to watch their stupid adverts. All I hope is that others will join me. Because, if it’s one thing Big Business fears, it’s anything that affects their profits. People power is all we have left – perhaps it’s all we ever had?

I yearn for the old days, when football was a working-class game. When a football club was an integral part of the community. When players were proud to play for their club and loyalty was a common occurrence.

A friend of mine recently said that we need to start all over again. He meant rebuilding the welfare state, the National Health Service, the railways... everything that has been sold off to the highest bidder. It’s a depressing thought but, sadly, he’s right.

I’ll leave the last word to Bill Shankly, one of the greatest football managers who ever lived:

‘The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.’

Old Bill must be turning in his grave.

The measure of a man: my tribute to Tony Benn

Tony Benn

Tony Benn at a protest in 2011. Francis Mckee under a Creative Commons Licence

I don’t do ‘heroes’. But the closest I ever came to one was Tony Benn, who sadly passed away today.

In 1996 I had the privilege of meeting the man. At New Internationalist we were embarking on a magazine about class. I had been badgering my fellow workers to do an issue on the subject for a couple of years. Eventually, David Ransom, one of our editors at the time, was keen to take it on and suggested to me I join him in putting it together. As a ‘non-editorial’ graphic designer this was an unusual step but I was thrilled and didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer.

One idea David had was for me to contact people who might be interested in offering their thoughts on the issue of class. We sat down and formulated a list, and thought it might be most interesting to start with people who had, like myself, started out working class but had moved into the middle class: upwardly mobile, as it were. Some interesting names cropped up: comedian Lenny Henry (who in fact, for a short time, had worked at the same factory as me in Dudley, West Midlands, way back when); Ray Davies of pop group the Kinks; author Barry Hines (who wrote Kes) and others. None of them, apart from Barry Hines, deigned to meet me, but when I wrote to Tony Benn (who interestingly had made himself  ‘downwardly’ mobile when he famously relinquished his peerage to enable him to remain an MP) I had a reply the following day inviting me to meet him at his home in London.

Armed with tape recorder, I knocked on the door of his house in Holland Park. His secretary showed me to a room in the basement of the building, I sat down and waited. The room was heaving with books and papers but also mugs and miners’ lamps, banners and pictures.

A few minutes later, in walked Mr Benn – carrying two mugs of piping-hot tea. We shook hands and, placing a tape recorder on the table, he informed me politely that he would also be recording the meeting. I knew, of course, that he was a great chronicler (I had all his diaries and books) and would have expected nothing less. He also informed me that we only had half an hour as he was expecting a German film crew who wanted to do a documentary on him. He lit up his pipe and we began.

He answered all my questions kindly, seriously and patiently, and at no time did I get any sense that he considered himself a ‘celebrity’ of any kind (he was, after all, probably one of the most famous politicians in Britain at the time). He clearly truly cared and was passionate about his beliefs and his socialism, and for one short half-hour he was focused on my interview with him. The task at hand.

When it was all over, we shook hands – the German film crew were hovering at the door – and I thanked him for his help. The interview appeared in the magazine (after several approvals from Mr Benn, who had patiently agreed to my brutal, but necessary, cuts to the text). I was as proud of that as anything else we did in the issue.

A few years later, I put together a website containing images of working people taken by my dear friend Nick Hedges. I wrote to Tony Benn asking if he would kindly give us a quote to use on the homepage. Without hesitation he agreed.

But perhaps the real measure of the man was a kind gesture he made after the interview in 1996. I had recently become a father for the first time – a bonnie, beautiful daughter. I had happened to mention this, in passing, to Mr Benn at the interview. A few days later I received a note from him – on House of Commons letterheaded paper – wishing us all the very best. He signed it simply, Tony.

Tony Benn devoted himself to helping others and sought to change the world for the better. He will be greatly missed. And the world is a poorer place today.

Thatcher is gone but her legacy lives

cuts march
An anti-cuts protest in 1980 nicksarebi, under a CC License

Millions of us have waited for this day. Now Margaret Thatcher has finally gone. Her 11 years in office (1979-1990) left a bitter legacy in Britain. Almost everything that’s wrong in the country today came from her and successive Tory governments.

It’s an exhaustive list:

The calculated closure of mines up and down the country and the subsequent destruction of hundreds of mining communities.

The institutionalized corruption of privatising the nation’s utilities so her cohorts in the City of London could get ever richer.

Engineering the biggest transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest ever seen in Britain.

The cynical and immoral war-mongering in the Falklands for the sole purpose of conning a politically backward electorate into securing her a further term in office.

The Poll Tax, attacks on trade union rights, riots, poverty, record unemployment, the most draconian and repressive employment legislation anywhere in the developed world, her defence of and friendship with Chilean mass-murdering dictator General Pinochet (she was also a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto who she describes as ‘One of our very best and most valuable friends’), her denouncement of Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress as ‘terrorists’ during the fight against apartheid, and the ruination of the National Health Service.

Britain today is often a paranoid, divided, mean-spirited nation, full of resentment, envy, greed and distrust. Racist, selfish, inhumane – tragically we do not see that we are now nothing but turkeys lining up to continually vote for Christmas.

Thatcher is dead but her terrible legacy lives on.

We have to rebuild the shattered, violent land she has left behind by placing people before profit – by tossing into the dustbin of history all her hate-filled bile. We must re-build communities and defend the National Health Service and the welfare state.

The best way to deal with Thatcher’s legacy is to destroy it.

The final nail in the NHS coffin


There is much anger, apparently, about the privatization of the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain but it’s the same old tired story... because it’s the same old suspects who seem to be active, aware and prepared to organize and fight – the Guardian-reading chattering classes.

Don't let NHS bleed placard
More people need to join the fight to save the NHS
C. G. P. Grey, under a CC License

But where’s the mass protest? Where’s the outrage? The majority haven’t a clue as to what’s happening, or so it seems – which is partly down to the calculated failure of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government to disseminate information in terms lay people can understand, and the appalling lack of coverage by the media – the BBC in particular.

But it’s also, in fact mainly, people’s ignorance and apathy. The working class is too busy shopping, boozing, watching reality TV and following the ludicrous antics of self-serving celebrities. The middle class is preoccupied with the price of Chardonnay, holidays in Provence and the cost of maintaining a second home.

Meanwhile, it will soon be too late for the NHS, which is being left wide open for more commercial companies to move in and make a profit from suffering, illness and disease. By 1 April 2013, the coalition government, with no mandate and with no parliamentary debate or further scrutiny, will pass legislation enabling the likes of Virgin and Circle to buy up whole swathes of the NHS.

And this country will no longer have a health service that is free at the point of need, publicly provided and available to all.

Labour politician and architect of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan, said of the health service: ‘It will survive as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.’

I can’t imagine what Bevan would make of what is happening.

All I know is I feel ashamed. As should we all.

Dancing on Maggie Thatcher's grave


Alan Hughes will be celebrating the death of Thatcher. Photo: TheArches, reproduced under a CC license.

I’ve just read a highly thought-provoking article by Owen Jones entitled, ‘Not all socialists want to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave. I want her to go on and on’.

In it he states, ‘...while Thatcher-hate is understandable, it is futile. Celebrating the prospect of her death has become an admittedly macabre substitute for the failure to defeat Thatcherism. The Iron Lady will die knowing her legacy is stronger than ever. It will only be worth celebrating when Thatcherism is finally purged from this country, and a Britain run in the interests of working people is built. Then we really can rejoice.’

It’s a good point. Are we Thatcher-haters distracted by the thought of celebrating her imminent demise (by all accounts she is seriously ill) and losing sight of the real struggle – the ongoing fight against Thatcher’s heirs, a Tory-led coalition hell bent on destroying the welfare state? Does this stop us from focusing – as Jones puts it – on building an economy that works for working people?

Well, I would argue it’s not an ‘either or’. I plan to celebrate Thatcher’s passing, along with thousands of others who loathe everything she did and everything she stands for. But I also plan to carry on fighting for a fairer, more just society; for a strong, democratic socialist alternative to free market madness.

And to those who argue that it is wrong to take joy from another human being’s death then I say take a long hard look at Thatcher’s legacy. Take a look at the communities she destroyed, the lives broken by her cruel, cynical, despicable policies. I lived through the 1980s. I witnessed the destruction of our industrial base, the millions of jobs that went with it and the tragic consequences. I witnessed the brutal attacks on the miners and their communities.

And, whatever her supporters say, Thatcher left behind a legacy of greed, entrenched inequality and economic failure. The roots of today’s current financial chaos can be traced directly back to October 1986, when the biggest revolution in the financial markets took place. Thatcher saw London being overtaken as the centre of world finance by New York and she decided that its problem was over-regulation. Ultimately this led to the now infamous credit crunch. Weak banking regulations led to the irresponsible lending that triggered what could be described as capitalism’s greatest crisis.

It goes on and on...the war in the Atlantic and the illegal sinking of the Belgrano taking with it the lives of 323 Argentines; the selling off of thousands of council houses and 20 state-controlled companies including British Telecom; the vicious attacks on Trade Union rights; the hated Poll Tax and much more.

Margaret Thatcher will never be forgiven.. She was callously indifferent to the suffering of those she made jobless or snubbed as she set out to destroy entire industries in an appalling act of political and social vandalism. Thatcher’s legacy is the drug abuse and crime in communities deliberately stripped of work and dignity. Greed was her mantra.

Someone once said: ‘Thatcher wasn’t bad for Britain...she was terrible.’

My champagne is on ice, waiting for the big day.

The Spanish miners’ fight is our fight too


Spanish miners protest in Madrid. Photo: Javi Julio, reproduced with permission. 
For two months thousands of Spain’s coal miners have been on strike. They are fighting to stop the Spanish government’s plans to cut mining subsidies by 64 per cent, putting 30,000 jobs at risk.

They’ve taken their protest directly to the conservative government in Madrid and have been subjected to brutal police repression, fighting back with home-made rockets and dynamite.

Their dispute hinges, as do most at the moment, on austerity measures. The Spanish government decided to cut the subsidy to the coal mining industry from 703 million euros ($853 million) to 253 million euros ($307 million). To put this in perspective, this amounts to 0.45 per cent of the 100 billion euro ($121 billion) bailout for Spanish banks agreed last week.

The strikes are taking place in Asturias and Castile, regions with strong communist and anarchist political affiliations, which have long been a centre of militant working class resistance to right-wing governments. In the 1980s and 90s, Asturian miners engaged in militant but less violent protests against privatization and industrial restructuring of the type that destroyed the British coalmining industry, and the reforms were never fully carried through.

The miners’ fight has won wide support as part of the fight against austerity imposed at the behest of the European Union and the European Central Bank. When 400 miners marched from Asturias to Madrid to bring their protest to the government, they were welcomed to the capital by around 150,000 people.

For environmental campaigners, however, supporting the miners could seem rather more problematic. Coal is, after all, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions – and many greens have fought against new coal-fired power stations across Europe and called for the coal to be left in the ground.

So, if using coal is so bad for the climate, shouldn’t greens support any government moves to disinvest in the industry?

It is sometimes argued that Margaret Thatcher did the climate a favour when she destroyed the British mining industry. It’s true that the UK could only get near to its Kyoto target for emission reductions because of the shift from coal to gas-fired power generation in the early 1990s. But successive governments have failed to do anything meaningful to cut emissions.

It’s important to realize, firstly, that the result of the subsidy cut to Spanish mining would not mean more renewable energy generation and less coal burning. The power stations would just buy in coal from the Czech Republic or Poland, where it’s produced more cheaply because wages are lower.

Secondly, it’s not that the miners are fighting for their industry regardless of the environmental harm it causes. The subsidy which the Spanish government wants to slash was part of a deal which also included a fund for a move to alternative technologies. 

If the subsidy is cut now, it doesn’t bring Spain any closer to less polluting methods of energy generation. The miners are well aware of the need to create jobs in green infrastructure. It is the government whose austerity agenda is hitting plans for green technologies as well as the miners’ current jobs.

The truth is that austerity is just not green. The savage cuts to jobs, public services and infrastructure – from Spain to Greece to the UK – are attempts to shore up the free-market system. It is this very system which is the root cause of climate change and the major obstacle to any possible solutions.

In recent years, we’ve seen the failure of a number of schemes in the UK aimed at (or purporting to aim at) more renewable power generation, from the closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory to the cancellation of the Ayrshire carbon capture and storage power station, because of market uncertainties and the lack of public funding.

The small-scale shifts to more renewable energy – which are the most we are ever likely to get from neo-liberal governments – can be cynically used as an excuse to throw miners out of work, but they won’t do jack for the climate.

The greenest thing for all of us to do now is to fight the austerity agenda – and that means standing shoulder to shoulder with the Spanish miners.

Based on a blog by Elaine Graham Leigh and reproduced with permission.

The real scroungers are the super-rich


Reverse Robin Hood: David Cameron’s rhetoric against welfare claimants has moved to a new level. Photo by Robin Hood Tax under a CC Licence.

You couldn’t make this stuff up. We have a government made up of public school-educated, millionaire toffs, who live on another planet to the rest of us, presiding over the dismantling of the welfare state while their rich friends avoid paying taxes to the tune of billions of pounds every year. ‘Legally’ of course.

Although David Cameron has moralized and finger-wagged over Jimmy Carr’s little scheme, he says nothing about the rest of the tax avoiders. Yet now, on top of the welfare cuts already imposed, our beloved leader (alleged to be ‘worth’ £30 million himself) plans to end the right of people under 25 to claim housing benefit, forcing thousands to live with their parents or on the streets.

This is an attempt to slash another £10 billion from welfare benefits – on top of the billions he has already grabbed. The proposals have been attacked by charities as being likely to lead to a significant rise in homelessness among the young. And the Coalition may also be about to means-test pensioners’ benefits such as cheap travel and the winter fuel allowance, even though they pledged not to.

Of course there are some who take advantage of the system – the so-called scroungers. But what they ‘siphon’ off each year is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the billions fiddled by the wealthy. No, the truth is, most of those in receipt of welfare desperately need the money.

The real scroungers are the super-rich who use every trick their expensive accountants can devise to avoid paying tax. If the rich paid their taxes like the rest of us, there would be no need to keep attacking the meagre incomes of those on benefits. But Cameron hones in on the poor and vulnerable because they are an easy target.

It’s not the fault of those who rely on welfare that the economy is in a mess. We all know who is to blame – tax evaded by the wealthy in the UK amounts to almost £70 billion a year – yet they are the ones left free to go on ripping-off the country.

We must demand an end to this injustice. We could stop the cuts and collect tax due instead. That way we all win.

Remembering Maria del Nevo

Maria del Nevo started her working life as an office worker at the New Internationalist in Oxford in 1984. She then went to Lahore, Pakistan to work for the local church. She lived for two years within a small Christian community in a walled compound housing a cathedral, a school and a hostel for church workers. She found life within the compound restrictive and frustrating – she was not encouraged to mix with the wider Muslim community as it was regarded as unsafe to do so.

Despite such attitudes, she managed to make friends beyond the compound walls and to explore life in Pakistan. A talented writer, she began to share her experiences by contributing short features to New Internationalist magazine.

After a spell back in Britain, she was offered a job as a journalist on the Frontier Post and jumped at the chance of going back to Pakistan. This time she  
lived independently in Lahore and worked on a number of daily newspapers, writing mostly about issues related to women, minorities and rural communities, while also contributing her ‘Letters from Lahore’ to New Internationalist. Some of these pieces formed part of the New Internationalist book ‘Letters from the Edge’ published in 2008.

Returning to London, Maria worked for a national charity for people with disabilities, for the World Association for Christian Communication and then for Hammersmith and Fulham Council before suffering a devastating stroke in April 2007. She remained in hospital undergoing intensive neurological treatment and was unable to communicate normally with her mother Kate and daughter Jasmine.

Maria died on 30 May at the age of just 49. When told of her passing, an old colleague who worked with Maria at New Internationalist said Maria was one of those people he will always remember with a smile.

Jobless used as unpaid jubilee stewards

Well, it’s almost over. The street parties, the bunting, the flag waving and (Sir) Paul McCartney with his ludicrous, Union Jack-emblazoned bass guitar and equally ludicrous hairdo (come on Paul you’d never get away with all this crap if John was around, he’d kick your arse).

And now the cost to the taxpayer must be totalled up for this nonsense. Except there’s one cost no one will be incurring.

Difficult as this is to believe, as part of a Work Programme, a group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed in to London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.

One woman said to The Guardian that people were picked up at Bristol at 11pm on Saturday and arrived in London at 3am on Sunday.

‘We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,’ she said. ‘We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night... It was raining and freezing.’

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. The unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.

Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in a statement: ‘We take the welfare of our staff and apprentices very seriously indeed... The nature of festival and event work is such that we often travel sleeping on coaches through the night with an early morning pre-event start – it is the nature of the business... It’s hard work and not for the faint-hearted.’

Indeed.

So, this is what it’s come to. Unpaid work, sleeping out in London in freezing rain – while the rich and famous continue on their merry way. What a disgrace. I bet the cost of Paul McCartney’s hairdo alone would have paid the jobseekers' wages.

How much longer are we going to put up with this?

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