Category Archives: Labour

Housing, the 1968 Rent Strike and What We Face Today

Can’t pay your rent? Then we’ll come for your children.

When the Tory-led government announced that social rents should rise to market levels, there was anger but nothing happened. That anger wasn’t channelled; forged into a weapon to attack the government and the local authorities and greedy Housing Associations. Instead, people just rolled over and took it.

When the same thing was proposed by Wilson’s Labour government (a LABOUR GOVERNMENT) in 1968, there was righteous indignation.  But instead of sitting and fuming, people actually did something about it. They organized rent strikes. So far, few people have advocated rent strikes and, as far as I know, I am one of those few.

In London, the Greater London Council (GLC), which was controlled by the Tories (hard to believe but the Tories only liked the GLC when it was run by their fellow travellers), was particularly zealous in implementing the rent increases. I found this article by Ian Macdonald on marxists.org in which he says:

The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.

That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.

The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.

You can see this happening right now. All Housing Associations have increased their rents above the rate of inflation and, furthermore, they have duly bowed to the government’s diktats and are letting out properties for market rents. Local authorities, too, have increased their rents. One of those councils is Hammersmith and Fulham – Cameron and Pickles’s favourite council – which has palmed off the management of its stock to Pinnacle and placed income restrictions on those people applying for or living in one of their properties.

Last year Hammersmith & Fulham announced:

Trailblazing Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is to be the first local authority in the country to simultaneously introduce fixed term social housing tenancies and a maximum income cap for people wishing to access the housing register.

The flagship council will be ripping up the social housing rule book from April 2013 when it will introduce a number of radical policies which seek to increase low-cost homeownership, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and give a far greater priority for council housing to people who are making a community contribution.

H&F, has the fourth highest property prices in the UK and one of the highest proportions of social housing in London as a proportion of total housing, with around 34 per cent social rented.

That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.

H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties are sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.

Notice how this article tells us that the council is “trailblazing”. As for its claim that it’s “building homes”, it is building homes but not for those on low incomes.  Last year the council announced  that it would be building 25 new (yes, 25) homes for those foolish enough to buy them. But there’s worse to come in this article:

Those households earning above £40,200 will generally not be eligible to access the housing register. Instead, they will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the Council’s HomeBuy Register.

This new way of working will replace an antiquated and inefficient system that created false hopes and expectations.

The council and the government’s solution to the housing crisis (and let’s face, it is a crisis) is to stimulate a potentially disastrous property bubble. The HomeBuy scheme aims to achieve this, in spite of the council’s denial. Ian Macdonald:

Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? H&F Council wants to go further and bases its approach on the widely-discredited and evidence free report produced by its former leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and his partner John Moss:

Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.

The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home-ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.

From next year, the council will issue fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.

Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs will still be on a secure basis.

Two year tenancies will be issued for those with a history of antisocial behaviour and for those between the ages of 18 to 25.

So what Wilson’s Labour government failed to achieve in 1968 has now been enthusiastically adopted by the Tories. The only real difference between then and now is that the classism is turbo-charged and more blatant than ever.

As for those who doubt the effectiveness of rent strikes, Macdonald writes:

It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.

The key, as always, is organization. These days, organizing rent strikes may be harder because of Housing Benefit. Yet, these payments have been replaced by something called the ‘Local Housing Allowance’. The Tories also want people on low incomes to pay Council Tax. This is nothing less than a form of economic feudalism, in which the poor, the vulnerable and those earning less than £40,000 are forced into a 21st century version of serfdom.

John Grayson, writing for Inside Housing says:

The campaigning of tenants between 1968 and 1973 had an effect. Many councils began negotiating with tenants’ organisations for the first time. The Association of London Housing Estates drafted the first tenants’ charter in 1970. Three years later Dick Leonard, a Labour MP, introduced (unsuccessfully) the Council Housing (Tenants’ Representation) Bill.

Unfortunately the proto-neoliberal Labour government of Wilson and Callaghan decided to have another stab at crushing council tenants:

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government continued a policy of cuts in housing. There were often confrontations with councils and the National Co-ordinating Committee Against Housing Cuts organised a national campaign in 1975. In Liverpool the Tenants’ Co-ordinating Committee emerged as a federation for tenants and rent strikes were organised in protest at the council’s policies. The tenants were excluded from all council meetings.

Rents are increased, people are threatened with having their children taken from them and there’s the Bedroom Tax, another half-baked government idea to ‘solve’ the housing crisis. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that such a draconian measure will do anything other than hammer those who are already being squeezed by a high cost of living and stagnating incomes.

We want homes, not property ladders.

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Filed under 20th century, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, History, History & Memory, Housing crisis, Labour, Local government, London

Right-wing clichés (#5) “Our ‘generous’ benefits system”

As if telling us there’s no poverty in Britain wasn’t enough (or, alternatively, poverty is a ‘left-wing conspiracy’), the right never tire of telling us how ‘generous’ the benefits system is. Of course it isn’t generous at all and if you compare Britain’s out of  work benefits to those in the rest of Europe, you will see that people in France, Germany or even Ireland (where you get a Christmas bonus) get enough money to live on, while in Britain it is impossible to sustain oneself and pay bills on a paltry £74 a week.

Of course, the worst part of this narrative is the way the right seeks to justify its disdain for EU immigrants and others, by telling us there is something called ‘benefit tourism’, where hordes of Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians pour into the UK to live on less than a subsistence wage.  You’d have to be really stupid to think Britain is the place to come to claim benefits – but that’s the right for you. Like a dog returning to its own vomit, the right returns to the same lies and myths again and again and again.

Hysterical and delusional the right is incapable of grasping the fact that not a single jobless person can survive long on benefits without getting into serious debt. Worse still, is the right’s constant message of “making work pay”, when wages have been stagnating for the better part of 15 years.  Then there’s the “work lifts people out of poverty” myth. Low paid work actually keeps people in poverty. As thinking goes, the right’s thinking is full of gaps. I’d be surprised if these people could tie their own shoelaces without nanny or a servant to do it for them.

Here’s the choice for most workers: live on payday loans or go hungry and cold. Either way, you’re fucked. The payday loans companies, owned mainly by hedge funds, appear to have a compact with the Tories. They want wages to stay low so that they and their bloodsucking pals in the credit card companies can keep people economically enslaved. Friedrich von  Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom made the bold claim that a socialist economy would lead to serfdom, it seems he was talking out of his arse. The system that he so loved is the one that’s returning people to the days of feudalism.

It’s time to agitate for a Citizen’s Income.  Now who’s with me?

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Dirty Tricks and British Politics: something and nothing

Damian McBride: he likes a drink. Can’t you tell?

The Damian McBride story has landed into the laps of the Tories at just the right time. For the Labour party it’s the wrong time. But do the Tories really have anything to crow about? Not really.

The Tories use dirty tricks all the time and the press says nothing. Dr Julian Lewis infiltrated the Labour Party in 1976 and spent years taking CND to court in a bid to prove that it was being funded by the USSR. Lewis wrote the following in a letter to the editor of The Times in 1983:

You are quite correct, however, to challenge CND claims of non-partisanship. Last year’s political complexion of what you term to be “clearly a left-wing front” was mild compared to the new team of 26 officers and national council members just elected at Sheffield.

How strange that The Freedom Association (which bankrolled Lewis’s effort to infiltrate Labour), for instance, should describe itself as “non-partisan” yet have such close relations with the Conservative Party, UKIP the Libertarian Alliance, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and even the United Kingdom’s security services. The stench of hypocrisy is overpowering.

Back to McBride. He is certainly a nasty piece of work. But The Cat wonders if McBride wasn’t encouraged to release his book in time for the annual Labour Party  conference this week by certain people. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

The right-wing press is cock-a-hoop. Here’s what the Telegraph said:

Mr McBride’s book has awakened the party’s painful memory of the rift between disciples of Mr Brown and those MPs and activists who were loyal to Mr Blair. Mr McBride was a fanatically loyal supporter of Mr Brown, a man whom he says in some ways he “loved”.

Mr McBride left the government in disgrace in 2009 when it emerged that he sent a Labour colleague emails containing unfounded smears about Tory MPs for a website called Red Rag.

He now claims that this colleague, Derek Draper, has suggested that Mr Miliband may also have sent compromising emails and would “have problems” if they ever came to light.

The article then adds:

He now claims that this colleague, Derek Draper, has suggested that Mr Miliband may also have sent compromising emails and would “have problems” if they ever came to light.

Mr Draper was not available for comment on Saturday night.

However, a Labour source who knew both men said: “You can criticise Ed Miliband for many things but running a Damian McBride-style smear operation isn’t one of them.”

Derek Draper: he’s the one who looks as though he sleeps in a hedgerow and who’s married to Daybreak’s Kate Garraway. He was also involved in “Lobbygate” and “Smeargate“.  The latter, Smeargate, was  an attempt to smear senior members of the Tory party and can be seen as Labour’s attempt use the same Tory tactics that their auld enemy has used against them on numerous occasions. It didn’t work, but it’s an indication of the rottenness of the British political system and how deeply embedded into the system the practice of skulduggery is rooted.

The Daily Mail’s approach is more in line with one of its ‘kiss and tell’ celebrity stories. This is a description of an  interview that Nick Robinson, the former president of the Young Conservatives and the BBC’s present political editor apparently had with Gordon Brown:

The trouble started when BBC political editor Nick Robinson asked Gordon an apparently innocent question.

Assuming we won a joint bid with Scotland to stage the World Cup, whom would he support — England or Scotland?

Gordon gave the ‘clever’ answer he’d prepared: ‘I’ll be supporting the hosts!’ Nick shot back: ‘Even if they play Scotland?’ Gordon smiled and said: ‘Scotland will do very well.’

This interview took place in India in 2007, and Gordon thought it had gone well. I knew otherwise. Sure enough, as we crawled through the Mumbai traffic back to our hotel, one of our press officers rang me to say the Scottish papers were very excited and we had a major problem.

‘OK, mate,’ I replied calmly, holding the phone as far away from Gordon as I could, ‘take it easy and keep me posted’, as if he was telling me the cricket score.

‘What’s the problem?’ Gordon said. ‘Nothing,’ I lied.

‘I heard someone say “problem” — what’s the problem?’ he said, getting slightly irate.

I sighed. ‘OK, now don’t go mad. We’ll just need to clarify that interview so it doesn’t sound like you’d support England over Scotland.’

Yawn. This has the feel of stale bread… the taste of cold tea that’s been left on someone’s desk overnight. If you really want to read the rest of the article, click on this link.

Sure the dirty tricks were conducted inside the Labour Party, but this kind of thing happens in all political parties. I mean, how do you think Nick Clegg became leader of the Liberal Democrats? Through honest, upfront means? Get real. Then there was the knifing of Thatcher by her colleagues. What do you mean you haven’t heard about  it?

The dirty tricks that we should be concerned about are ignored by the mainstream media. When Julian Lewis’s involvement in the Reg Prentice case emerged, the press nary batted an eyelid and focussed on Prentice’s defection from Labour to the Tories in 1977 instead.

As the Leveson Report has shown us, even the British press can’t be trusted to report on the things that really matter. Why? Because most of the press is in the pocket of Tory party.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Journalism, Labour, Labour Party conference 2013, Media, Tory press

Dirty Tricks, Corruption and Burglaries: What Really Happened at Ed Miliband’s Office?

Last March, the news media carried a story about a burglary at  Ed Miliband’s office. When I heard about this, my immediate thought was “is this a possible British Watergate“? But entertaining such thoughts and then expressing them leaves one open to the charge that one is a conspiracy theorist. But such questions refuse to go away so easily.

Here’s what The Guardian said at the time.

Scotland Yard received reports shortly before 7pm on Friday of a forced entry to the premises in the Norman Shaw buildings, which were the force’s own headquarters until 1967.

It is understood that a member of Miliband’s staff found that a door had been forced but it is unclear whether anything was missing from the room.

A Labour spokesman said: “There is an ongoing police investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment.”

And it adds:

News reports speculated the burglary may have been the work of pranksters or political opponents.

The Sun tried to make cheap political capital out of the break-in by telling its readers:

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband’s Westminster office has been burgled — but there were no policies there to pinch.

The really odd thing about this burglary story is how quickly it went cold. No one appears to have been arrested and curiously, none of the papers tell us if anything was stolen from Miliband’s office.

Since Ramsay MacDonald’s  first Labour government in 1924, the party has been the focus of a right-wing dirty tricks campaign beginning with the notorious Zinoviev Letter. The really low point came when the Conservative Dr Julian Lewis posed as moderate Labour party member in the Reg Prentice deselection case of 1976 in an effort to undermine the party and steer it in a rightwards direction.

This speech by Alun Gwynne Jones (Lord Chalfont) in 1975 to the House of Lords is rather interesting because it foregrounds the later right-wing attacks on the Labour Party of which Jones was purportedly a member. Here’s an extract:

Mr. Bert Ramelson, who is the national industrial organiser for the Communist Party, said last year: The Communist Party can float an idea early in the year and it can become official Labour Party policy by the autumn. … We have more influence now on the Labour movement than at any time in the life of our Party.

Mr. Idris Cox, another leading member of the Communist Party, has said: Notably more Communists are being elected to key positions in the trade unions. Through the unions they can influence Labour Party Conference decisions.

Interestingly, Jones wrote an article titled The Strategic Defence Initiative for the Conservative Monday Club, which appeared in the 1985 Tory Conference edition of Right Ahead. 1985 was the year the miners strike ended and the Battle of the Beanfield took place. It was also the same year that Neil Kinnock delivered that speech.

There’s an interesting article on Pink Industry about Jones/Chalfont here.

Jones/Chalfont was later appointed  Chairman of the Radio Authority by the Major government.

These kinds of incidents prompt the inevitable question: do we really live in a democracy? How is it that one political party can undermine another through a campaign of dirty tricks and outright subversion? We expect this sort of thing to happen under authoritarian regimes but in Britain?

I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the Watergate scandal a few months ago, when a journalist (not sure of the name) claimed that a Watergate “couldn’t happen here”. When asked why, he pointed to the architecture of state secrecy and hinted at the role of the security services in preserving the status quo. Even the Leveson Inquiry has been subjected to attacks from the right-wing press, who have so much to lose. In effect, Britain doesn’t have a free press and its political system is fatally corrupted.

As for the burglary at Miliband’s office and given the role of the secret state in party politics, I doubt we will ever know what really happened.

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Some thoughts about Falkirk

The Labour Party has enjoyed a lead over the Conservatives since the coalition was formed over three years ago. Recently, Labour extended its lead over the Tories by more than 10%. This must have alarmed those at Tory high command, because such a consistent lead in the polls contradicts their deeply held and delusional belief that they’re doing the ‘right thing’ for the country. The Tories so desperately want to win the 2015 election and will do anything to get themselves re-elected. This includes using dirty tricks. Indeed when it comes to dirty tricks, the Tories have plenty of previous.

Last year, Lynton Crosby was hired as the Conservative election campaign ‘consultant’ after winning the London mayoral election for Bozza. The contest was marked by a massive smear campaign against Ken Livingstone. This is Crosby’s modus operandi: use dirty tricks to scupper your opponent’s chances of winning fairly.

Yet, Crosby hasn’t always been successful. The 2005 general election was a disaster for him and led to defeat for Michael Howard, whose semi-racist “are you thinking what we’re thinking” slogan failed to deliver the goods. Howard was kicked upstairs, replaced by a younger and equally incompetent leader in the form of David Cameron.

When I first heard that the Unite union had allegedly been involved in ballot-rigging, I thought “this has Crosby’s fingerprints all over it”. This was confirmed when Dan ‘Hatchet-job’ Hodges was invited to various television studios to offer his apparently ‘expert’ view. Hodges, as many of us know, pens blogs for the Daily Telegraph where he is described as “The Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest”.

Here’s Hodges with Crosby at Bozza’s victory celebrations last year.

Hodges and Crosby1

On Wednesday, Hodges wrote in his blog:

There is fierce anger among Labour officials at the arrogant – and cack-handed – way Unite have been conducting themselves. “What did they think they were doing?” asked one. “They weren’t even trying to be subtle. They were openly bragging abut what they were up to.” Another points out that in a constituency like Falkirk, many of the trade union activists Unite were trying to hoover up were in fact nationalists. “Unite were basically letting the SNP fix a Labour Party selection,” he said.

Did you see what he did there? He’s insinuating that the SNP, through Unite, has taken over the local branch of the Labour Party. Those are Crosby’s words.

In this blog he manages to tie this story to Ken Livingstone, one of the Right’s favourite hate-figures:

This is Ed Miiband’s Yellow Trouser moment. Just as the government was trying to get agreement on the Leveson report, David Cameron sent Oliver Letwin – resplendent in canary yellow cords – to the Labour’s leaders office to try and negotiate at deal. The fact he was going cap in hand to the leader of the opposition communicated the extent to which No 10 had lost control of the situation. It also demonstrated they have no idea of how power relationships in politics work.

Ed Miliband’s late-night phone call to Ken Livingstone is similarly revealing. It shows how vulnerable he feels politically, not just about this issue but his position in the party generally. And it again shows – as I wrote this morning – that Miliband has a gaping hole in his political management. If you’re running a serious political operation you don’t get the leader scrabbling around firefighting stories like a junior press officer

Now, I’m not a fan of Miliband or the Labour Party but there’s something about Hodge’s blog that looks suspiciously like a dirty tricks campaign that’s been initiated from deep within Crosby’s foetid brain. This final paragraph says it all:

Forget the ins and outs of who did what in Falkirk. This issue is indeed about who runs the Labour party. And Ed Miliband needs to show it isn’t Ken Livingstone.

The Tories have always complained about Labour’s relationship with the trade unions, whining that the party is ‘in hock’ to them. Unlike the shadowy networks and pressure group that support the Conservative Party, unions are made up of ordinary workers. This is a point that’s lost on the Tories and their friends in the press. The Labour Party was founded by the trade union movement. The Tories represent the interests of big business and the landed classes, which are unaccountable and unelected. By contrast, unions are democratically elected and accountable.

The Tories are past masters of dirty tricks. Their close relationship to the security services was brought into sharp relief with the production of the infamous forgery that was the Zinoviev Letter, which contributed to the fall of the first Labour government in 1924.

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest British political scandals of this century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published today.

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook.

It points the finger at Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and at Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will never be known, Ms Bennett said yesterday. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

My bold. This behaviour was repeated in the 1970s when groups like the National Association for Freedom (later renamed The Freedom Association) were launched with the intention of destroying organized labour under the rubric of ‘freedom’. This was vividly demonstrated in the year-long Grunwick dispute of 1977 – 78 when John Gouriet, one of NAFF’s founders, used volunteers to break the strike. The police also stood by and watched as strike leader, Jayaben Desai’s foot was run over by one of Grunwick’s managers. He was not prosecuted. NAFF or TFA has a very close relationship with the security services.

In 1995, the satirical and investigative magazine Scallywag was driven out of business by the Major government when it alleged that the Tories were involved in a dirty tricks campaign against Labour that was orchestrated by the Conservative Research Department, headed by Dr. Julian Lewis. Oddly, Scallywag wasn’t sued for libel. Instead, its distributor and anyone who handled the magazine was prosecuted. Lewis had previously stood as a moderate Labour candidate (sic) with funding from NAFF during the Reg Prentice deselection case in 1976. Prentice later joined the Tories and was made a life peer. If this wasn’t a perversion of the democratic process then I don’t know what is.  I can’t think of many countries in which one political party actively works to undermine the internal workings of its opposite number. There’s the Watergate scandal in the United States, of course and the various banana republics that are propped up with money from the US and UK. Yet, if this is supposed to be a democracy, I find it difficult to fathom how Lewis, NAFF and the Tories  could have avoided prosecution without support from the state’s more shadowy elements.

So you think you live in a democracy? Think again.

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David Miliband exits stage right

David Miliband is packing his bags and slinking off across the pond to take up a new job with International Rescue. So who’s he going to be? Virgil? Gordon? Or that other fella… wotshisname? Oh yeah, Brains. Oddly enough, this was supposedly his nickname when Blair plucked him off the backbenches and took him under his wing. Blair… there’s another one.  He’s doing all right for himself and I expect Miliband will also make a decent wedge for himself in the States.

The Labour party may have lost one of its arch-Blairites but that doesn’t mean the parliamentary party is shifting to the Left any time soon. Baby brother, Ed, has the unemployed in his sights and seems happy with the government’s attacks on the working poor of this country. His frontbench team is composed largely of disciplinarian headbangers like Liam Byrne and lily-livered cowards like Stephen Timid Timms.  They are out of touch with the lives of ordinary people whom they spit on from the lofty height of their ivory tower. Don’t be fooled by the brand spanking new One Nation Labour brand either: it is really little more than New Labour Mark 2. Mr Ed despises so-called Old Labour and he told us so in his speech back in January.

David Miliband’s South Shields seat is now vacant and a by-election has yet to be called. It’s a safe Labour seat, so there’s little danger of the party losing it… unless, the real Left can get its act together and snatch it from them. As for the Tories, they have about as much chance of taking the seat as I have of becoming Pope. Capiche?

I read a terribly naive tweet a few hours ago that went something like “ordinary need to join Labour and take it back from the Right”. Good luck with that, I thought. Loads of people have tried and failed. The parliamentary Labour party needs more than a few dedicated Left-wingers joining it in the vain hope that they can seize the party from the grip of the Blairites. It needs a complete overhaul from root to branch. It needs to welcome back the socialists it expelled in the 1980s and 1990s. But I don’t see that happening. Do you?

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The Miliband speech: one crumb of comfort in amongst the neoliberal detritus

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mirror

Well, it’s really nice of Ed Miliband to stand up for tenants who are being screwed by unscrupulous private sector landlords. Thanks for the warm words, Ed, they mean so much. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. That is my wont.

Labour has not pledged to reverse any of the Tory cuts, indeed if they won the next general election they will continue cutting, slashing and capping. I had a look at Miliband’s speech he gave to the Fabian Society (the fact that he spoke to the Fabians should tell you all you need to know) on Saturday and there was nothing to get excited about. In his speech he apparently fleshed out his “One Nation”, er, vision.

I will quote some of the speech, starting with this extract.

New Labour rightly broke from Old Labour and celebrated the power of private enterprise to energise our country.

You will notice how he uses the Tory-coined phrase “Old Labour” here. It’s as if to say that anything the Labour Party did before the arrival of Kinnock and Blair was bad or wrong. What about the National Health Service? I could list other achievements but the NHS is certainly a great achievement for a country that was, ostensibly, broke. The celebration of “the power of private enterprise” led to the disastrous reliance on the Private Finance Initiative, which effectively led to the wholesale destruction of the NHS. It licensed carpet-bagging on a massive scale. In short, it was a failure. The only thing it “energised” were greedy businessmen.

It helped get people back into work, and introduced the minimum wage and tax credits to help make work pay.

And it used tax revenues to overcome decades of neglect and invest in hospitals, schools and the places where people live.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) was seen as a great achievement by the New Labour government but it wasn’t a living wage and was never going to be. Of course, the Tories opposed the NMW and continue to do so. Many Tories, especially of those of a free-market bent want to scrap the NMW altogether and force people to accept sweatshop wages with no workplace protection.  Speaking of workplace protection, New Labour refused to reverse the draconian anti-trade union legislation introduced by the Thatcher government. Workers continue to find themselves under attack by a ruthless and venal government that pits worker against worker and dares to offer them pitifully worthless shares in return for compliance. if it could get its way, the Tories would take us back to the 19th century… and Labour would let them.

The word “responsibility” appears several times during the speech. This word is much beloved of neoliberals and is, more often than not, applied to those at the bottom.

To turn things round in Britain, we all have to play our part.
Especially in hard times.
We are right to say that responsibility should apply to those on social security.

This language is no different to that used by the Tories. The suggestion here is that those on social security are universally “irresponsible” rather than victims of circumstance – which is often the case. But he throws in the following decoy to distract those who would seek to pick holes in his argument.

But we need to say that responsibility matters at the top too.

That’s the essence of One Nation Labour.

It shares New Labour’s insight about our obligations to each other.

And it learns the lessons of what New Labour didn’t do well enough, ensuring responsibilities go all the way through society from top to bottom.

Here, Miliband appears to suggest that his One Nation Labour brand is an extension of the New Labour brand. If you thought Miliband’s Labour Party was any different to Blair/Brown, think again. The ingredients on the label are exactly the same but with a couple of new additives… and the new brand name.

New Labour began with a bold agenda for the distribution of power in Britain.

And it stood for a Labour party not dominated by one sectional interest, but reaching out into parts of Britain that Old Labour had never spoken to.

Again, Miliband distances himself from so-called “Old Labour”, that’s the same Labour Party that legalized homosexuality and abortions under the rather right-wing Labour Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. It’s been said that if such proposals were put to the Commons today, they would be voted down.

Miliband came from a relatively a privileged background. He went to Oxford and like many of those who were intent on a career in politics, he read (they don’t study at Oxbridge) Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). He tells us that the Labour Party will be

Recruiting MPs from every part of British life: from business to the military to working people from across every community.

With most of Britain’s mines and factories closed, it’s hard to see how Miliband can recruit more Dennis Skinners. It sounds like a load of guff to me.

All in all Miliband’s speech was crafted to appeal to the Fabians and placate those so-called floating voters whose  political allegiances change with the wind. Fabians believe that they can reform capitalism. They are mistaken and have been wrong for more than 100 years. Their gradualism has led them to betray the working class and the labour movement time and time again.

On the one hand, Miliband is a hostage to the Blairites and on the other, he’s running scared of the Tory press (ably assisted by Hatchet-job Hodges in the Torygraph), who pore over his every word, hoping to find a way to paint him as a closet Commie. It’s quite laughable and, at the same time, it’s tragic.

There really is nothing Red about Ed.

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One Nation Ed, the darling of the right-wing press

It was all “One Nation” this and “One Nation” that. That was all there was to Miliband’s keynote speech. His vision, such as it was, was more astigmatic than 20-20. One thing though, it looks like he’s taken performance lessons quite possibly from Edouard Izzard, who was present to smile and applaud. Kinnock was there and although I didn’t see Blair, he was there in spirit. Socialism? You’re not going to get that here. But did you expect it, dear readers? The absence of any mention of socialism certainly pleased the right (along with our new masters, the markets). The speech, rather predictably, attracted the qualified plaudits of the Right-wing press and this cannot be a good thing.

Political Scrapbook has more.

The Torygraph’s Janet Daley told us that Miliband “Repudiated class war”, but it still isn’t enough for her,

All told, I would give Ed a score of  six out of ten for content, and eight out of ten for delivery. The speech was about ten or fifteen minutes too long but it was better in its substance  – and more attractive in its delivery –  than the one given by his Shadow Chancellor yesterday. And I suppose that’s what counts.

Yeah, that delivery, it looked for all the world like he was enjoying the jokes. I mean, this is showbiz. Right? But “class war”? Did he “repudiate” it as she says? Well, not really and that’s because he never mentioned it.  Daley is correct about one thing: there was no real substance and this is something that we have come to expect from the modern party conference with it’s fancy lighting, glitzy graphics and razzmatazz. Where have you been, Janet?

But if the speech gets warm support from such journalistic luminaries, then here’s a tip Mr Ed: if the right-wing press loves your speech, you’re appealing to the wrong voters but I don’t need to tell you that, you probably know that already and if you do know it, then why do you do it? It’s those floating voters, see? They’re the ones who take their political cue from the Tory press.

But it’s his co-option of the Disrealian phrase “One Nation” that interests The Cat.  This is revealing, because by appropriating the Tory left’s (for it is they who love it so) touchstone phrase, it shows us today’s Labour Party for what it is: a former party of labour that is more interested in performing handstands and cartwheels to please the Tory media. Though, in all fairness, this nonsense goes back to Kinnock. Tellingly enough,  Tim Montgomerie said,

[...] I was most reminded of early Tony Blair rather than early Cameron. Blair was at his best when he raided deep into Conservative territory. By repeatedly deploying the timeless Tory ideal of “one nation” that was what today’s Labour leader was also trying to do. Stood on a stage that was deliberately bathed in blue, Miliband mounted a strong defence of the union with Scotland and paid big tributes to the armed forces.

Ah yes, Blair, who has become filthy rich upon leaving office.  He’s been hanging around Mr Ed since he came back to the UK in July and announced that he wanted a role in British politics. Blair is now one of Mr Ed’s advisors. We are also reminded of Nu Labour’s watered-down Tory policies. Is this Mr Ed’s Nu big idea? To steal the Tory Party’s clothes? To camp his, er, tanks out on their lawn?

The Cat can see the fingerprints of Fabianism on this speech too. The Fabians are a timid woolly bunch. In fact, Fabianism is probably better described as Webbism, after the Fabian Society’s husband and wife core. These hapless folk suffer from an affliction known as reformism. This affliction causes its members to swing about like weathervanes and mutter vague bollocks about distribution and other stuff. They talk about the evils of rail privatization but are too spineless to find a way to address the problem (re-nationalization). Instead, they would much rather patch up, what is in effect, a dying man and send him back out to fight… well, harass, actually, because Fabians don’t engage in head-on battles. That stuff sounds too much like revolution for their sensitive ears. But if you want real change, then you have to be prepared to think like a revolutionary. Thatcher described her policies as revolutionary, why should Labour be so shy of thinking like revolutionaries? Well, that’s down to Fabianism and later, its ugly bastard child, Blairism.  These tendencies currently dominate the leadership’s thinking. You’ll notice I said “leadership”. I don’t think everyone in the Labour party shares the leadership’s views. There are some decent people (Luke Akehurst isn’t one of them) but while the party is in the grip of weak-willed nobodies and narcissists, then all that we are likely to get from the Parliamentary Labour Party is the thin gruel of watered-down Tory policies.

Oh and did I mention Distributism? We’ll save that for another time.

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October 2, 2012 · 9:05 pm

So what’s Miliband got to say?

Clueless Mr. Ed

Hey dude, where’s my vision?

In a nutshell? Not a lot. Well, nothing that anyone on the left wants to hear. I found this blog in today’s New Statesman, in which Mr. Ed is quoted as saying,

The Government’s economic failure means that whoever wins the next election will still face a deficit that needs to be reduced. The redistribution of the last Labour government relied on revenue which the next Labour government will not enjoy. The option of simply increasing tax credits in the way we did before will not be open to us.

We need to care more about predistribution.  Centre-left governments of the past tried to make work pay better by spending more on transfer payments.  Centre-left governments of the future will have to make work pay better by doing more to make work itself pay.  That is how we are going to build growth based not just on credit, but on real demand.

I think this is a centre-left moment. Why might you think it’s a centre-right moment? Well, because of issues of fiscal responsibility, which is why we must be strong on that. But for me it’s a centre-left moment because people think there’s something unfair and unjust about our society. You’ve got to bring the vested interest to heel; you’ve got to change the way the economy works. That’s our opportunity.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. So if Labour gets into power at the next General Election, we can expect to hear things like, “the country is broke” and “tough choices have to be made” repeated at every opportunity. But what is this “predistribution” idea? It’s a non-word that PPE types love to coin in the absence of real ideas.  If Mr. Ed is serious about “making work pay” then everyone needs to be paid a living wage. I’ve heard little from him about that. What he seems content to do is carry on with the bankrupt idea of negative income tax  Friedmanite bollocks tax credits.

The rest of the interview carries on in a similar vein. Lots of platitudes, loads of “I feel your pain” type stuff.  We also find out what books he took with him on holiday [sighs].

If you were any doubt that Mr. Ed’s Labour Party is a different beast to Lord Snooty’s Tories, think again. This is the same beast but it speaks in warm words and wears a sickly smile. It still has its neoliberal claws and fangs, they’re sheathed… for now. Here’s another snippet,

On welfare and benefits, the Labour leader insists that some form of contribution from the recipients of welfare must replace what Liam Byrne, former head of the Labour policy review, called “unearned support”.

“I do think we need a society where people make a contribution,” Miliband says. “You build a successful society out of people showing responsibility. That’s an important principle at the top, it’s an important principle elsewhere. But people at the top have a particular responsibility because they help define the ethic of the country.”

These words could have been said by Cameron, the only real difference here is the tone. The word “responsibility” is deployed as a buzzword.  It’s one that makes disciplinarian ex-bankers like Liam Byrne drool with uncontrolled anticipation.

But how does Miliband intend to make people more responsible? If making people work for their benefits is considered to be a mark of their “responsibility”, then he has some serious moral and ethical questions to answer. What about dignity and respect?  In effect, Labour’s support of workfare would be tantamount to giving a nod and a wink to the further erosion of worker’s wages, which have declined in real terms for the last 20 years.  My, wouldn’t Gaitskell be proud of this lot? Ramsay MacDonald too. In fact, this is a party in which even Twinkletoes Cable would feel at home these days.  Maybe that’s the point: to appeal to the SDP lot in the Lib Dems should the coalition fall. Then again, maybe it isn’t. In fact, I think I’m being too generous on Mr. Ed and his crew of weak-willed snivellers. In truth, they haven’t got the guts to offer hope to a nation that’s crying out for it. Instead of doing anything that could be described as visionary, the former party of labour takes another sharp right-hand turn into a ditch.

UPDATE 6/9/12 @ 1758

Mr. Ed fleshed out the “predistribution” idea that I mentioned earlier in a speech to The Policy Network.

The BBC has the story,

“Predistribution is about saying, ‘We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy and hope that through taxes and benefits we can make up the shortfall.’

“It’s not just, nor does it enable us to pay our way in the world.

“Our aim must be to transform our economy so it is a much higher skill, much higher wage economy.

“Think about somebody working in a call centre, a supermarket, or in an old peoples’ home.

“Redistribution offers a top-up to their wages. Predistribution seeks to go further – higher skills with higher wages.

Yay! Higher wages! How? Anyway, it seems I got it wrong vis a vis the tax credits. That was one of Gord’s ideas… well not really, it originally came from Milton Friedman, who was neither a socialist or a social democrat.

The BBC article also notes that Miliband is having text with Twinkletoes (what did I say?).

The FT has this rather interesting story here.  Here’s a snippet,

Mr Cable told the Financial Times in July he did not “exclude” a run for the party leadership and polls suggest the business secretary, who is a former Labour councillor, is more popular than Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister.

But behind the mischief, Mr Miliband is making another calculation: that Labour may need to work with the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament in 2015 and that Mr Cable may hold the key to a Lib-Lab deal.

How’s life in that ditch, Ed?

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So who will speak up for the unemployed?

Have you ever noticed that when politicians – and I include Labour here as well as the Tories and Lib Dems – talk about the unemployed, they do so only to speak ill of them? If they aren’t speaking ill of them, then they’re telling us how they’re all too lazy to “find work”. We’ve also had a newly coined expression enter the Tory vocabulary: “job snob”. This government is great at formulating new insults but not so great when it comes to policies.

Politicians like Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Byrne tend to use the unemployed for target practice.  Why? Because they’re easy to attack. They have no political voice inside Westminster Palace. Yet none of those politicians who guardedly speak of the unemployed as “scum” think of them as people;  real people or as voters. I would wager that there are a large number of politicians, Tories especially, who would deny full citizenship to the unemployed if they could get away with it. Whereas Labour simply offers the same Tory approach but couched in different language.

Being unemployed in Britain is no picnic. I know. I’ve been there. You get £67.50 a week and Housing and Council Benefit – if you’re lucky.  The benefits system, far from what is commonly claimed by the right-wing press, is less than generous. The process by which you claim benefits is dehumanizing. You’re stigmatized and excluded. Some local authorities will do their utmost to ensure that benefit payments are delayed and Jobcentres will trick people into losing their Jobseekers Allowance to meet targets.

The current government is doing all it can to make sure that the unemployed pay for the economic crisis. The benefit cap and The Quiet Man’s Universal Credit are two means by which the unemployed will be further punished. The Tories’ allies on Fleet Street do the  rest by producing a near endless stream of stories about “dole cheats”.

When this government took power in 2010, they immediately signalled their intention to wage war on the unemployed.  Ministers like IDS, Grayling and Gove told us how unemployed people were living the life of luxury at the expense of the taxpayer. They told us how these people were living in “expensive houses” and even produced sets of figures that were designed to impress us. But it is all a massive distortion. The real villains continue to enjoy special privileges under this coalition. And the Tories wants them to continue to enjoy these privileges at our expense.

Ministers have told us how they want to “cut red tape” in order to “stimulate” the economy.  What they’re really saying is how they want people to work more hours and for nothing. They also want to remove any workplace legislation that protects workers – so that companies will be absolved of any responsibility to provide hazard-free working conditions – safe in the knowledge that the Health & Safety Act no longer applies to them.

To date, not a single politician from the 3 main parties has said how unreasonable it is for the unemployed to exist on less than £68 a week and how this needs to change. Of course not. They would rather use the jobless as a scapegoat. Furthermore there isn’t a single MP on the government benches or the opposition benches who has been unemployed, therefore they will never understand what it’s like to scrape by. They will never be able to comprehend what it’s like to be stigmatized and excluded; to live without dignity. Unemployment for these people is “God’s punishment” or something like it. It was the same in the 19th century and little has changed in the minds of our political leaders, who continue to circulate the same stale ideas ad infinitum.

Benefits for the unemployed need to be increased. It’s as simple as that. The cost of even the most basic of foodstuffs has increased exponentially in the last year. Rents have increased and travel costs, which are the highest in Europe, are prohibitively expensive.  Many unemployed people cannot afford the fares and are tempted to dodge, for example, train fares. So not only are the unemployed being scapegoated, they are often forced into criminality. This suits the government narrative of a mass body of unemployed ‘parasites’ who are draining an otherwise healthy, virile country of its life-force.

Even if you are lucky to have a job, the chances are it is not one that pays enough for you to live comfortably. Wages have remained stagnant for the best part of 25 years, while the cost of living has spiralled. People are encouraged to supplement their income by taking on debt through credit cards and loans (in some cases, many people have to resort to using loan sharks). None of this matters to those in the Tory Party who are, without exception, well-off. I mean, have you ever encountered a Tory politician who didn’t have independent wealth that comes from either a trust fund, dividends, shares or rents? No, I haven’t either. They don’t need to supplement their income with credit card debt, they just ratchet up their rents and get their tenants to subsidize their income.

IDS told us that he wanted to “make work pay”. I can’t see that happening either for the unemployed or for those who work. If this government wants to make work pay, perhaps they should introduce a living wage and consider price-capping. But we know that won’t happen. This government wants to wind the clock back to 1862 and the mythical age of classical liberalism.

Given that the 3 main parties continue to regard the unemployed as beneath them, I would suggest that the jobless move their votes to a party that is prepared to speak up for them. The Socialist Party, for example. There are others too.

The Tories complained that”left-wing militants” and “Trotskyites” have derailed their “work experience” scheme. But this denies the fact that the government’s scheme was a sham from the start and most sensible people could see that making people work for nothing was nothing more than a form of slave labour. Furthermore, such a scheme has the effect of undercutting wages and those who perform menial tasks for the minimum wage could find themselves eventually joining the dole queue.

In 1986, Tory MP and former National Democratic Party member, Piers Merchant spent a week on the dole to “see what it was like”.   Yes,  just a week [rolls eyes].  These days,  no Tory MP, let alone a Labour MP, would dream of doing such a thing. They’re far too used to their comforts for that.

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