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John Pilger: Julia Gillard’s rise marks the triumph of machine politics over feminism

As commentators from Germaine Greer to Anne Summers fawn over the hawkish prime minister, John Pilger in Sydney wonders what happened to sisterly solidarity.

In 1963, a senior Australian government official, A R Taysom, deliberated on the wisdom of deploying women as trade representatives. "Such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever [because a] spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years [whereas] a man usually mellows."

On International Women's Day 2012, such primitive views are worth recalling; but what has happened to modern feminism? Why is it so bereft of its political, indeed socialist roots, that any woman who "achieves" within an immoral system is to be admired? Take the rise of Julia Gillard as Australia's first female prime minister, so celebrated by leading feminists such as the writer Anne Summers and Germaine Greer. Both are unstinting in their applause for Gillard, the "remarkable woman" who on 27 February saw off a challenge from Kevin Rudd, the former Labor prime minister she deposed in a secretive, essentially macho back-room coup in 2010.

Greer wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 March that she "fell in love with" the "matter-of-fact" Gillard long ago. Omitting Gillard's politics entirely, she asked: "What's not to like? That she's a woman, that's what. An unmarried, middle-aged woman in power - any man's and many women's nightmare."

Addicted to vanity

That Gillard might be a nightmare to the Aboriginal women, men and children whom this quintessential machine politician has abused and blamed for their impoverishment, while implementing punitive and racist measures against their communities in defiance of international law, is apparently not relevant. That Gillard might be a nightmare to refugees detained behind razor wire, children included, in places that are a huge "generator of mental illness", according to Australia's ombudsman, is of no interest.

That Gillard has been determined to keep Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and that the overwhelming majority of Australian casualties in that country have been killed or wounded during her period as prime minister are beside the point. Her feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army. Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia, just like their comrades in the "hunter-killer" units currently accused of massacring civilians. In ending the "cultural and other taboos that have kept women from combat roles in the past", wrote Summers, Gillard has ensured that "Australia will again lead the world in a major reform".

The devotion of this new "feminist icon" to imperial war is impressive, if strange. Referring to the despatch of Australian colonial troops to Sudan in 1885 to avenge a popular uprising against the British, she described the forgotten farce as "not only a test of wartime courage, but a test of character that has helped define our nation and create the sense of who we are". Invariably flanked by flags, she makes her point well.

And the point is that celebration of this kind of politician, regardless of gender, has nothing to do with feminism. On the contrary, it is complicity in some of the wickedest crimes of our age. It was Margaret Thatcher who ordered the sinking of the Belgrano, with the loss of 323 young Argentinian conscripts, and rejoiced. It was the outspoken British feminist MP Harriet Harman, along with other Labour feminists known as Blair's Babes, who supported the invasion of Iraq and stood cheering one of its principal war criminals.

In the west, "glass ceilings" remain the issue of choice of bourgeois feminism. How many women who "make it" in politics speak out against the machine, reaching down to women left behind? How many resist the addiction of vanity to power and the media? How many use their platforms to analyse and expose the psychopathic militarism and its industries of death and lies that contaminate our political, cultural and media life and are the source of so much violence against women in stricken, faraway countries, if not against women at home? Who spoke out against Gillard's junket to Israel in the wake of the massacre of 1,400 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, and her unctuous support for their killers? Where in the coverage of politics are the principled voices of women such as Medea Benjamin, Arundhati Roy and the bravehearts of Rawa
in Afghanistan?

Hillary Clinton was applauded by renowned feminists supporting the west's invasion of Afghanistan to "liberate women from the Taliban". No matter that this was never the reason; no matter that tens of thousands were killed as a consequence. In her 2008 campaign for the White House, Clinton, supported by feminists such as Anne Summers, boasted that she was prepared to "annihilate" Iran.

Blood vote

Here in Australia, familiar distractions apply: the same insidious corporate PR aimed at women and the young that says personal identity is the limit of politics; the same organised forgetting of people's history and any notion of class and our servitude to an undemocratic elite. Yet Australian feminism has an especially proud past.

With New Zealanders, Australian women led the world in winning the vote. During the slaughter of the First World War, Australian women mounted a uniquely successful campaign against a vote for conscription. A poster declared illegal in several states was headlined "The Blood Vote" and showed a defiant woman placing her vote in the ballot box rather than "that I doomed a man to death".

On polling day all but one of Australia's political leaders urged a Yes vote. They lost. Most followed the women. Such is true feminism.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The weaker sex

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Why Theresa May is wrong about immigration

The inconvenient truth: migration helps Britain.

Immigration is a disaster. Well, Theresa May says so, anyway.

May’s speech to the Conservative conference is straight out of the Ukip playbook – which is rather curious, given that she has held the post of Home Secretary for five years, and is the longest-serving holder of the office for half a century. It is crass and expedient tub-thumping (as James Kirkup has brilliantly exposed). And what May is saying is not even true. These are saloon-bar claims, and it is striking that she should unleash them on the Conservative party conference.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” May says. Yet, whatever she might say, racism is on the decline. The BNP’s vote in the general election collapsed from 563,000 in 2010 to just 1,667 in 2015. Research by Rob Ford has revealed that the nation is becoming far more tolerant to marriage between races: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. And between 2011 and 2014 (when the figure was last measured), the British Social Attitudes Survey reported a decrease in self-reported racial prejudice, from 38 to 30 per cent.

May also said: “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” This is another claim that does not stand up. An OECD study two years ago found that the net contribution of immigrants is worth over £7bn per year to UK PLC: money that would otherwise have to be found through higher taxes, lower spending or more borrowing.

May also asserted that “We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” This ignores the evidence of her own department, who have found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.” An LSE study, too, has found “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.”

The inconvenient truth is that rising net migration is both proof of, and a reason why, the UK economy is doing well. As immigration has increased, so has growth; employment has risen, including for Britons. This is no coincidence.

To win the “global race”, a country needs to attract skilled immigrants who work hard and put in more than they take out. That is exactly what the UK is doing: net migration has just risen to 330,000, a new record. As a whole these migrants “are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts”, as an LSE study has found. In the UK today there is a simple rule: where immigration is highest, growth is strongest. The East Coast and Cornwall suffer from a lack of migration, while almost 40 per cent of a immigrants live in the thriving capital.

Lower immigration would make the UK a less dynamic economy. Firms in London enjoy a “diversity bonus”: those with an ethnically diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations, and are better-able to reach international markets, a paper by Max Nathan and Neil Lee has found.

Puling up the drawbridge on immigration would have catastrophic consequences for UK PLC. The OBR have found that with zero net-migration, public sector net debt as a share of GDP could rise to 145 per cent by 2062/63; with high net-migration, it would fall to 73 per cent.

So May should be celebrating that the UK is such an attractive place to live, and how immigration has contributed to its success. By doing the opposite, she not only shows a lack of political leadership, but is also stoking up trouble for the Prime Minister – and her leadership rival George Osborne – during the EU referendum.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.