Keith Olbermann on the Tea Party

A near-perfect 20-minute summary of the right-wing crazies who might triumph today.

The MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, my second-favourite US broadcaster (after Jon Stewart!), concluded his show on 27 October with this "special comment" on the right-wing, populist Tea Party movement and the dangers it poses to American democracy and civil rights. It's long – around 20 minutes – but it's well worth watching. Or, alternatively, you can read the transcript of his typically impassioned remarks.

Here's an extract:

It is as if a group of moderately talented performers has walked on stage at a comedy club on improv night. Each hears a shout from the audience, consisting of a bizarre but just barely plausible fear or hatred or neurosis or prejudice.

And the entertainment of the evening is for each to take their thin, absurd premise, and build upon it a campaign for governor or congressman or senator. The problem is, of course, when it turns out there is no audience shouting out gags, just a cabal of corporations and the US Chamber of Commerce and political insider bloodsuckers like Karl Rove and Dick Armey and the Chicken Little Chorus of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

And the instructions are not to improvise a comedy sketch, but to elect a group of unqualified, unstable individuals who will do what they are told, in exchange for money and power, and march this nation as far backward as they can get, backward to Jim Crow, or backward to the breadlines of the Thirties, or backward** to hanging union organisers, or backward to the trusts and the robber barons.

Result: the Tea Party. Vote backward, vote Tea Party. And if you are somehow indifferent to what is planned for next Tuesday, it is nothing short of an attempt to use democracy to end this democracy, to buy America wholesale and pave over the freedoms and the care we take of one another, which have combined to keep us the envy of the world.

You do not think your freedom is at stake next Tuesday?

He goes on to outline, in great detail, and with supporting quotes, the craziness, hypocrisy and bigotry of these far-right Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates who affect to be the disillusioned voices of grass-roots US conservatism. It's a must-watch.

On a side note, for those of you here in Britain who don't know Olbermann, or aren't familiar with his "Special Comments", check out the 2007 Rolling Stone profile here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.