Election ’17: Smears, Cuts and Real Alternatives with Jon Woods Part II

In the second part of Katie Roberts’ interview, Jon Woods of Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), discusses the ‘obscenity’ of Trident, the risks of tactical voting and the perils of Islamophobia.

Katie Roberts: There’s a view that when people feel threatened by issues such as immigration and national security they vote for a government which will protect rather than ‘nurture’. Do you think Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to the nuclear deterrent could affect the way people vote?

Jon Woods: I think that’s interesting. I heard an interview with Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week and he was asked would he press the nuclear button and he gave a very good response, a very honest response. Because everyone knows that he has been campaigning against the war and campaigning against nuclear weapons. He said very clearly if you press that button you will wipe out huge areas of the earth, kill millions and millions of innocent people, make large sections of the world uninhabitable for years and years to come. If you ever get to that stage it’s a complete abject failure of normal politics and you have to think very carefully why would you go and do that? The game’s already lost by the time you get to that stage. And I agree with him, I think the use of nuclear weapons as a threat is a disaster.

When Corbyn put that out in an interview, that was very convincing. For too long, everybody and that includes the mainstream and the Labour Party, has always said we need nuclear weapons to defend our country, I don’t believe it. The other thing he said is that he’s not a pacifist and I agree with him, I’m not a pacifist. Sometimes there are situations where you have to defend yourself. A good example is World War II. The war was justified. I disagree with the way it was conducted; I don’t agree with blanket bombing civilian areas of Germany, but there was absolutely a need for the war and I think Jeremy agrees with that. I just don’t think nuclear weapons is part of it.

I also personally think the huge amounts of money being spent on Trident are absolutely obscene. We should be using that money for schools, hospitals, decent affordable housing and those sorts of things. I know Jeremy Corbyn can’t say that because the Labour Party has taken a conference decision over that so he has stuck with that. I think actually these issues will come out in the next few weeks in the election and people will be swung over to that. People will think actually, why would we threaten people with obliterating the whole of the earth? Why would we do it? Why is that a good thing to do? And spend billions and billions of pounds doing it.

KR: It seems people are under a misconception that Trident is going to protect us when really it could help destroy us.

JW: And the other thing is the risks we face. I do think a lot of them come back to British foreign policy and particularly American foreign policy which Britain for too long has gone along with. If you look at the appalling situation with ISIS, well how did ISIS come to power? The illegal war in Iraq. They created the situation where they got rid of a nasty dictator but left the country in a complete and utter mess, propped up a sectarian government, which then created a situation where ISIS could grow. So, he’s right, his foreign policy would actually, over time, make the world safer. We need to stop imperialist wars and have less of this intervening in other people’s countries where it’s actually got nothing to do with us, where we will only make the situation worse, such as in Libya, another good example. The less we do of that will have a big impact, I think.

KR: What would you say to people who are unsure who to vote for in June?

JW: Lots of people agree they want to keep the Tories out. In Portsmouth South there’s an argument for tactical voting, and I know Gerald Vernon-Jackson is going around saying ‘I like your badge Jon, but if you want the Tories out that means you’ve got to vote for me.’ I say, ‘No Gerald’, because actually last time (and this is the argument against tactical voting, there are a few arguments really) the Lib Dems did go into coalition with a Tory government which cut, cut, cut. Although he says it won’t happen again, I don’t trust them. Secondly, I think the policies of Jeremy Corbyn have to be voted for and we have to endorse that radical alternative and voting for the Lib Dems would make me feel queasy really because they’re not genuine socialists at all. I refer to the Lib Dems as the Bosses’ B team. The Tories are the Bosses’ A team, of course, in the sense that they serve the rich and powerful in our society. Locally, the LibDems waved in cuts when they were in the council. So I’d say tactical voting – shouldn’t go there.

I think the other argument is some people say vote Green. I know a lot of good people in the Green Party, good socialists. But again, I see the General Election as a referendum on the policies of Jeremy Corbyn. Even if Labour don’t win in the constituency, the more votes that Labour get, the stronger that is. Also, it links to the point I made earlier about we need a movement. We need all those people who voted Corbyn to coalesce and continue to campaign and fight whether the Tories get in or Corbyn gets in. Either way, we’re going to need resistance, or support. Either way it’s going to need people organising protests, meetings, demonstrations and those sorts of things.

KR: Are there any protests going on at the moment?

JW: Nigel Farage came to Eastleigh the other day and we were protesting against that. The other good thing about the election is that UKIP seem to be dead in the water. That’s a really positive thing. I’m sure there will be protests coming up, the stuff around the NHS, the anniversary in July. That’s the NHS’ birthday. I think there will be a lot of stuff around that. There’s going to be protests over housing in London. The housing campaign. So yes, there will be all those sorts of things. I suspect as well, all sorts of things will flare up. I know the cuts to schools budgets have triggered huge meetings in Bristol and London with hundreds of people, parents particularly, getting together. Portsmouth was also affected by that. We’ve seen already lots of people taking to the streets this year; protesting against Trump, protesting around racism. When there’s been attacks we’ve had responses to those so I think that’s likely to continue.

KR: What do you think we could expect under a Labour government?

JW: First of all, we would see an end to those sorts of cuts. I think there really would be more money for social care, more money for the health service, more money for benefits. I think it would be an amazing victory. If you think about the context, it’s not just what goes on in government, it’s what goes on in the communities and ordinary people’s lives, their heads would come up a bit, they would feel more confident. I think that would actually generate all sorts of positive things about the society we live in.

The other wonderful thing which I think would happen is there would be opposition from government to all the racism that’s going on. I think we will also see a major battle. I think the media will fight Corbyn every single step of the way. I think the wealthy will also do that. It was interesting looking at the Sunday Times rich list last week, a huge amount of wealth. Those people will do what they can to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, for example move their investments abroad, try and actually sabotage the economy. They’ll do whatever they can to do that. So I think that the election of Jeremy Corbyn would open up a period where the fight for a socialist society, for a fairer, more humane society is opened up. I think Jeremy Corbyn would be the inspiration behind that.

But again, I think that it’s about what we do as well. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we can just leave it to the politicians. Mind you, that’s never been the case. I’ve always thought ordinary people change things, people power. I think if you want to see a society where we put people before profit, the only way we can do that is to mobilise ourselves. So I think this opens up a real potential around a radical transformation of society. But the rich won’t like it!

It’s certainly not a case where we get Jeremy Corbyn in and we can all relax and let him get on with it, far from it. In a sense we’ll have to fight like we’ve never fought before to ensure that Corbyn isn’t undermined, booted out. Our ruling class, even in the 1970s they considered a coup. If they really think they have to, they’ll probably try and smear him, make up stories about him, the secret service could plant stuff about him, economically they can weaken the country, they can put pressure on in all sorts of things but if all that fails, and that’s a huge amount of power they have, ultimately they’ve got the army. So yeah, exciting times and I think we will see a major struggle developing in society for which way we go. If we go back to the rule of the rich or with Jeremy Corbyn a rule for the many.

KR: You mentioned racism a few times. Could you expand on that a little?

JW: There are three major aspects of racism at the moment. Since 9/11 and the War on Terror began there’s been a big rise in Islamophobia. Every time there’s an atrocity by somebody who claims to be a Muslim, somehow all Muslim communities have to apologise and it’s not their responsibility. When Anders Breivik goes and kills people in Norway, they didn’t ask all the Christians to go and say do you distance yourself from him? Nobody expects that. So there’s a huge amount of racism affecting Muslims. I think you see that in Prevent. I think it’s a very distorted policy which targets Muslims. Muslim communities have been under attack and pressure and I think that’s a major area of racism.

I think the other area is refugees. We’re always seeing refugees as a problem, but it’s our duty to let people in and we’re seeing migrants as a problem. Whereas I think most of us recognise that the NHS and all sorts of public services would not function without migrant workers. And far from being a burden, migrant workers predominantly come to the country and pay tax and do important jobs. They’re not a burden, they’re actually a benefit. Therefore, I always think trying to clamp down on migration is always code for ‘blame them for all the problems’.

There has been a rise in anti-Semitism as well. Again, if you look at some of the far right; very nasty, they hate Muslims, they also hate Jews as well. There’s those sorts of areas where we see racism on the increase. And the media, which perpetrates all this. If you look at The Express and The Mail, their headlines are nearly always about refugees, migrants, scroungers. Stuff going on in the NHS where you have to show your passport to receive treatment or you have to pay for treatment. All those sorts of things have a very detrimental impact on people and pave the way for racist attacks. And not only racist attacks, you get all the other nasties that come out. You know, that horrible attack on those women up in North End by a gang of people. Those sorts of nasty, racist, homophobic, and sexist ideas get put around by the media so we have to fight those things as well.

KR: I just wrote an article for Star & Crescent on fake news and how it’s old news. This has been going on for generations. It’s just propaganda under a new name.

JW: It has a real effect on people. Trump had a big impact on that. It gave the bigoted people confidence. You see a rise in that.

KR: He’s masquerading as grass roots as well isn’t he? Tapping into that ‘I’m one of you’ thing. So ordinary people think they can identify with a billionaire.

JW: He knows his base. I do think the important thing is that the demonstrations have continued. There was a huge wave of demonstrations after Trump’s election. That’s why I’m quite confident about the election.

It shows you that, despite all this torrent of filth that comes from the media, still there are large numbers of people who don’t take that line and who not only don’t take that line, they actively oppose it.

Photography by Moshe Tasky