Category Archives: Public spending

The EU, Sovereignty, Asset-Stripping and the Hypocrisy of the Right

Now the government wants to sell off its stake in Eurostar. What’s next? Our air?

David Cameron’s just been to China with a gaggle of his party’s biggest donors. According to the Daily Fail, Lord Flashman took 131 of his cronies with him on his Chinese junket, one of whom was his father-in-law. The purpose of the visit, it seems, was to kiss Chinese arse and maybe sell off a few of Britain’s assets in the process, but the visit hasn’t gone according to plan.

According to various sources, the Chinese media told Cameron that the UK was “just an old European country” that is only fit for studying and travel. Given the cuts to higher education, I’d say that only one of those things is true. The Britain that some folk would like to see borders on a theme park complete with fairytale princesses and princes.

That’s pretty much what this country has become – a theme park – as well as a site of primitive accumulation for foreign asset-strippers. What’s the betting that part of the reason for Cameron’s visit was to offer the Chinese a few national assets?

According to Open Democracy, the selling off of the nation’s assets has severely damaged the economy. So what’s the government’s solution? Continue to sell them off.

Between 2000 and 2010, our total trade deficit was £286bn, but during the same decade the value of our net sales of portfolio assets was much larger than this – at £615bn. None of this money was spent on direct investment in plant, machinery and industrial buildings, which would have strengthened our economy. Portfolio assets are no more than titles to ownership – mostly shares – so selling these to foreign owners involved no physical investment in the UK, just loss of ownership and control on a grand scale.

And

What did we sell? Foreign interests bought from us an incredible range of what had previously been owned in Britain. Most of our power generating companies, our airports and ports, our water companies, many of our rail franchises and our chemical, engineering and electronic companies, our merchant banks, an iconic chocolate company – Cadbury, our heavily subsidised wind farms, a vast amount of expensive housing  and many, many other assets all disappeared into foreign ownership.

This is how Gidiot and the rest of the hole-in-the-head gang can claim the economy is “on the mend”, except in anyone else’s books, it isn’t. Here’s some more:

No other country in the world allowed this sort of thing to happen. Why did it occur in Britain? There were three main overlapping reasons. The first was an institutional change. Until 1999, when it was abolished, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was required to consider whether take-overs satisfied a general public interest test. The organisation which replaced it after 1999, the Competition Commission, had no such remit. It was only concerned with whether acquisitions would weaken competition. This left the UK with no process for reviewing whether the wider interests of the British economy were likely to be compromised by the purchase by foreign interests of UK companies and other assets.

While it may be tempting to see this as something Nu Labour did, we should remember that the privatizations of the 1980s all happened under Thatcher. Blair and his mob continued in the same vein.

More recently the government asked the Chinese to build a new nuclear power station and they may even fund HS2.

The Guardian reports:

China wants involvement in Britain’s first high-speed rail line and an increased role in civil nuclear power, the country’s premier said in Beijing after talks with David Cameron on the first day of the prime minister’s visit.

Li Keqiang said China would also like to invest in power projects.

Speaking in the Great Hall of the People on Monday, Li said: “The two sides have agreed to push for breakthroughs and progress in the co-operation between our enterprises on nuclear power and high speed rail. The Chinese side is willing to not only participate in but also purchase equities and stocks in UK power projects.”

One might imagine that the potential trade-off is to strip workers of their rights. This is why there is such a  push on the part of the Right to leave the European Union and scrap the European Convention on Human Rights (which is unrelated to the EU). Remove workers rights and further limit the power of the trade unions and what do you have? A country like China.

This morning Danny ‘Beaker’ Alexander told listeners on Radio 47’s Today programme that the government was looking to sell off Eurostar.

The Guardian has more:

• Billions of pounds of public money will be used to back the new Wylfa nuclear power station, due to be built by Japanese investors Hitachi on the Welsh island of Anglesey. The Treasury has signed an agreement that it will guarantee loans to the project in future – enabling Hitachi to get cheap finance – in a deal similar to the one offered to France’s EDF to build a nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset.

• Large insurance companies have put aside £25bn for spending on national infrastructure over the next five years, following changes in European rules pushed for by the UK that incentivise investment in a wider range of assets.

• Plans to bring in the UK’s first toll road for a decade have been scrapped. Improvements to the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon will be financed by the government and not by the motorists using the road, after a public outcry and David Cameron’s acknowledgment of “strong feelings” about it in East Anglia.

• Terms have been agreed on a £1bn guarantee for the London Underground’s Northern line extension to Battersea.

• An extra £50m will be allocated to redevelop the railway station at Gatwick  Airport.

Describing the £25bn investment by insurers as a “massive vote of confidence”, Alexander will say Britain’s infrastructure is being rebuilt after years of neglect.

Who’s he trying to fool?

What gets me is the way the Right will complain that Britain has ‘signed away its sovereignty to Brussels’ but says nothing about how this country’s assets have been comprehensively stripped and sold off to foreign investors. Five of Britain’s energy providers are owned by foreigners, one of which is EDF, France’s state-owned electricity provider.

The Right have demanded an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU because they claim that British people have ‘a right to decide’ the nation’s future relationship with Europe. Yet, they don’t dare propose a referendum on whether or not we want our national assets sold off to foreign countries.

Now how’s that for hypocrisy?

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Save Our Hospitals!

Ealing-20130427-00023

Yesterday, I went on the march and rally to save hospitals in West London. For those of you living outside of West London, Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Westminster and Ealing Hospitals, are to have their Accident and Emergency departments closed under the government’s plans to destroy streamline the NHS.  All emergency treatment will then be provided by Northwick Park, West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. For those of us who live in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing, these A&E units are too far away and anyone needing emergency care could find themselves dying en route to one of these hospitals.

In the last few months, I’ve used Charing Cross A&E department: once for a badly burned hand and last week, for chest pains…. which turned out to be a muscular-skeletal problem. If that A&E department were to close, I would have to spend an hour getting from my home to the nearest hospital.

Here in Hammersmith and Fulham, the ruling Tory group supported the resident’s campaign and cross-party opposition to the closures. As was reported on this blog and Stephen Cowan’s blog, the Tories later back-peddled and signed off the government’s proposed closure of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals.

Cllr Cowan says,

It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.

They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed – underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position.

Hammersmith & Fulham Tories have shot themselves in the foot over this issue and have exposed themselves as hypocrites.

The Hammersmith and Fulham side of the march started at Acton Park. I took my bike with me since it is quicker to get to the park by cycling than to take the 266 bus. I arrived in time to hear Andy Slaughter speak.

Ealing-20130427-00019 There are at least 300 people assembled here. The march starts and we walk down Uxbridge Road towards Acton. I’ve put my bike in the lowest gear and I’m riding very, very slowly at the sort of speed that is alien to London’s legion of bad cyclists. One of the march stewards even compliments me on my control skills. Loads of motorists beep their horns in solidarity as they pass us on the other side of the road.

We arrive at Ealing Common. There’s a funfair.  It’s not a great day for fun fairs. The chilly, damp weather has done its best to dampen our spirits but it hasn’t succeeded. We’re here to let our voices be heard. There are more people here than at the dismal Rally Against Debt a couple of years ago. And you know what? You never see anyone from UKIP or any other so-called libertarians at these rallies and do you know why? They don’t care.

I look towards north-westwards and I can see a the Ealing contingent making its way towards us, there must be around 1,000 of them. I can see the banners of the local Labour, Green and Socialist Party branches. The Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and even the Workers Revolutionary Party are here too. There’s even someone selling the WRP’s paper, Newsline. I haven’t seen that for awhile.

Bob Marley’s song Get Up, Stand Up is blaring from the speakers. It’s an inspired choice. “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight”!

This woman’s placard (below) says it all.

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One of the leading campaigners from Ealing, Dr Onkar Sahota, who is also an AM for the Greater London Authority, has the task of being MC for the afternoon. Ealing, unlike Hammersmith and Fulham, is a Labour-controlled council and has resisted the government’s plans. Sahota tells us that many people from neighbouring boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent are here making their voices heard.  Indeed, this is a good turn-out. I can see Ealing’s MP Stephen Pound waiting in the wings, when he does come up to the mike, he comes across as something of a showman (he used to be a boxer). The crowd loves it.

Pound is followed by Tory MP, Angie Bray, who is greeted with a mix of boos and applause. She leaves to the same mix of boos and applause. A woman standing next to me complains and tells those who are heckling Bray to shut up. They’re not listening to her remonstrations and she walks off in a huff.

One speaker from the GMB union reminds us that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt authored a book in which he calls for the NHS  to be denationalised, but erroneously attributes the words “60 year old mistake” to him. These were, in fact, the words of Lyin’ King when he appeared on Fox News five years ago to lambast the NHS and argue for his coveted small state. Nonetheless the sentiment is the same. In spite of his warm words and vacant expression, Hunt does not like the NHS and like many of his fellow Tories, he wants to cut it to pieces and sell-off the profitable parts to his vulture capitalist friends. Andy Slaughter reminds the rally that under the council’s proposals, 60% of Charing Cross Hospital site will be sold off to private developers. The Tories, despite what they’ve said about ‘saving’ the hospital, have done nothing of the sort.

Dr Thomas Sissons, writing in The Independent in February says,

Hammersmith and Fulham council is the only council out of 11 in London affected by the hospital closures to have supported them, and this is a damning reflection of their interest in what those they govern think. They are stitching up their own constituents, metaphorically but certainly not literally, so that they can play nice with central government. Their decision to release these plans before the official date may have given us some unwitting help though by allowing us some time to organise. What we need to do now is campaign against this ham-fisted reorganisation.

A Lib Dem councillor comes on to speak and at that point, I decide to leave. The Lib Dems have done much to support this Conservative-led government in achieving its ambitions, none of which appeared in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. A man next to me says, “I don’t want to listen to the Lib Dem, they helped the Tories to do this”. I agree with him, get on my bike and ride home.

The next Save our Hospitals event is a rally at Jubilee Gardens (where I once lamented the passing of the GLC) on 18 May at 1200. If you care about hospital provision in London, you’ll be there. I know I will.

You can find out more about the campaign here.

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Right-wing clichés (Part 4): There is no poverty in Britain

This is a new cliché.  The Right cannot understand how anyone in Britain can be impoverished – they are in denial.  Whenever I hear some chinless wonder tell us that the real poor reside on the other side of the globe on less than $2 a day, the words that spring to mind are “dishonest”, “blind” and “ignorant”.

Here are some facts from the Child Poverty Action Group  that the Right wishes would go away. We’ll take the top four points.

  • There are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four.1
  • There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.2
  • Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works.3
  • People are poor for many reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are not supported by the facts.4

I would like to draw the Right’s attention to the last bullet point. I know they don’t want to see this and would like to dismiss these figures as “Leftist claptrap”, but that would show them up for what they are: liars.  It’s all too easy for the Right to make baseless allegations that the poor of this country fritters their money away on Sky TV and cheap booze and fags, but these people simply cannot afford these luxuries. But if people on low incomes own even the most basic television set, the Right will demand “How dare the poor desire luxuries”? We live in a consumer society where those things that were once considered luxuries are now sold as necessities (Bourdieu, 1986). Whose fault is that? It isn’t the fault of the poor. Besides, everyone – regardless of income and social class – needs some kind of diversion or amusement to make the hell of living under this Tory regime more bearable. Though in the case of the rich, life is always bearable because they have a financial cushion to protect them.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the UK has “proportionally more children living in poverty than most rich countries”.

Rising fuel costs have forced many people to make the difficult choice between food and heating.

Next month, the government’s welfare reforms will begin to kick in. Council Tax Benefit will go and the Bedroom Tax will be implemented, which both have the potential of forcing many more people into homelessness and/or destitution.  Again, the Right deny that anyone will be worse off by the changes. This is a kick in the face with a hob-nailed boot  for Britain’s poor as well as barefaced political mendacity.

Daniel Hannan, the Conservative Eurosceptic MEP, has never experienced poverty and uses an image of Wayne and Waynetta Slob from The Harry Enfield Show to make his point (I have a screengrab of the article in case he takes it down).

Hannan thinks this is a true representation of Britain’s poor.

Last year in a blog titled “Rising welfare budgets have failed to cure poverty; it’s time to try something different”, Hannan wrote:

Iain Duncan Smith is the first occupant of his office to recognise that increasing the budget has failed. Since the Second World War, benefits and welfare bills have ballooned, yet there has been no commensurate impact on either poverty or inequality. This is because of something which, when stated, is obvious, but which contradicts the old orthodoxy:poverty is not simply an absence of money. Rather, it is bound up with other factors, including low educational attainments, unemployment, substance abuse, family breakdown and paucity of ambition. It follows that you don’t reduce poverty by giving money to the poor. To take an extreme case, giving £1000 to a heroin addict will not improve his prospects. IDS grasps that, to tackle indigence, you need to address its root causes; and that part of the answer lies in so structuring the incentives that people are determined to find work. As JFK observed more than 50 years ago, the surest way out of poverty is a secure job.

Did you notice how Hannan brought heroin addiction into his ‘argument’? He then closes this paragraph by offering us a quote from John F Kennedy that suggests that the disease of poverty is magically cured by work. But he does not bother to ask two important questions: 1) What if there are no jobs and 2) Shouldn’t people be paid a living wage that allows them to live with dignity? Low paid work actually keeps people in poverty.

For Hannan and his Tory chums, poverty in Britain is created by addicts who have a lack of an education and no ambition. Those who are poor, in the eyes of the Right, do not deserve help of any kind and you will notice the way he says “…you don’t reduce poverty by giving money to the poor”. Translated, this means “If you’re poor, tough shit. Become our slaves or die”.

Dismal Janet Daley claims there is a “poverty lobby”. She tells us, “The poverty lobby – as opposed to those who actually want to put an end to poverty – uses the “poor” as a political weapon in its ideological war against the market economy”.  What this amounts to is a smear on those institutions that work towards alleviating poverty. But what Daley also does is to invite us to avert our gaze from the real causes of poverty: low or no wages (of which poor diet is a symptom), poor housing and a lack of opportunities. Indeed, one’s relationship to capital is what defines poverty.

Daley denies that the market or neoliberal economy does nothing to alleviate poverty. Instead she relies on the notion that the “Invisible Hand of the Market” and “trickle down” will provide. She supports this notion by citing an article written by Philip Booth of the very right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs.

This paragraph is the centrepiece of her article:

In spite of the fact that being in work has been shown repeatedly to be the best (and most permanent) antidote to poverty, the public relations arms of the Child Poverty Action Group and the Rowntree Trust (among many others) have been notably disinclined to support the government’s welfare reform programme even though it is designed precisely to free the poor from the benefits trap. Nor can I recall them campaigning for tax cuts on the low paid: instead of allowing people to keep more of their earnings which would relieve their hardship and give them more independence, they clamour for the continuation of tax credits which subsidise (and perpetuate) low wages, and foster dependence on the state.

But Janet, if people have no work, they cannot benefit from tax cuts. Where is your logic? Furthermore, tax cuts will not make up for the pathetic wages being paid to people.  The fact remains that if people were paid proper living wages instead of peanuts, there would be no need for in-work benefits. Moreover, the structural deficit – that is often conflated by the Right with the national debt – will never go away if the Treasury isn’t making money through taxation. The Right’s calls for welfare cuts is predicated, not only on their ignorance of the lives of the poor, but also on their inbuilt social Darwinian prejudices and their deep-rooted class disgust.

Rather than see things as they really are, the Right would rather view the lives of the poor through the distorted lens of the fictional characters of Wayne and Waynetta Slob.  For them, the poor and the low-waged are pizza-eating, beer-swilling schlubs with no ambitions other than to own loads of bling and watch aspirational crap on their flat-screen tellies, and who also neglect their children as a lifestyle choice. For me, their use of televisually-mediated images and apocrypha to support their morally indefensible arguments perfectly illustrates the Right’s inability to comprehend the causes and definitions of poverty and the solutions to it.  Evidently, they would much rather deal with fantasy than the reality of everyday life. No wonder they’re so fond of nostalgia!

Obsessed with a nostalgic image (I could suggest spectacular image) of the Victorian age, the Tories are currently resurrecting the old Poor Laws. It’s only a matter of time before someone like Hannan demands the reintroduction of the workhouses.

Reference

Bourdieu, P. (1986) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

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All hail the New Victorians

I heard that Gid has told government departments to implement more cuts, so the government can fund more infrastructure projects (sic). I also heard that some of that money would be used to fund more free schools. In other words, the state schools that currently exist will have to struggle without funding, while this government’s cherished free schools will get all the money they need.

From next April there will be no more Housing and Council Tax Benefit. Local authorities are being asked to implement a contemporary version of the 1834 Poor Laws. You can see what will happen: people will be forced to move out of their homes and away from their family and friends. Others will be made homeless.

IDS’s Universal Credit will force more people into poverty, which is quite the reverse of what he said it will do. Economic slavery is the order of the day. Plus ça change.

And yet, Gid will rise to his feet in the Commons and spend about an hour or so and dole out largesse to his ideological chums and, at the same time, he will crush the poor, who are being made to pay for the failure of the system.

This government’s obsession with the 19th century will not only kill the poor, it will kill country.

Here’s the Dead Kennedys,

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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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Who runs Britain? Not you, Cameron

In 1974, Edward Heath called a general election on the back of a miner’s strike. His slogan for the election was “Who runs Britain”? The voters told him, in no uncertain terms “Not you, mate”! Heath was forced to resign.

After the riots of the last few days,  Cameron, Gove and Johnson all had to cut their holidays short and hotfoot it back to London. Lord Snooty gave a press conference yesterday morning after his meeting with COBRA. Johnson popped up in Croydon, armed with a broom and Gove did the rounds on television. In each of these situations, none of them looked as though they were in charge, even though they were desperate to give the impression that they had a grip on things.

Cameron’s press conference was brief and he produced the usual spiel: criminals, law and order, punishment. He looked like he was pissed off for having to rush back from Tuscany. Hang on, didn’t a certain Tony Blair and assorted Nu Labour types have a thing about Tuscany?  And just what is it about Tuscany and right -politicians? For what it’s worth, Emperor Boris may just as well have read the Croydon locals some Cicero in Latin. His appearance was marred by heckling and he had to beat a hasty retreat. Gove thought he had  a better chance in the television studios, but came across as irritable as he hyperventilated over “gangs” and “criminals”. His head-to-head on Newsnight with Harriet Harman saw him practically screaming at her, accusing her of “relativizing” and “making excuses”. Gove was trying to suggest that Harman was somehow responsible for the riots. Gove refused to accept that his government’s deficit reduction strategy was partly to blame.

Here’s Gove on Channel 4 News

Here he is on Newsnight

Does Gove look as though he’s in charge? I don’t think he does. He comes over like a  petulant child. Harman (I’m not a fan, by the way) comes over as cool-headed and rational by comparison.

Are these people running the country or are they helping their rich pals in the private sector to trouser loads of money? Nowhere Towers thinks it’s the latter. The public sector is being smashed to pieces in order to hand out contracts to their chums under the apparent aegis of ‘localism’. in the last couple of days, many Tories have been calling for American, Bill Bratton to take over as Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The Conservatives have made no secret of their admiration for their favourite American police chief, Bill Bratton, who played a key role in turning around crime in New York in the 1990s but has now retired. Labour had their own favourite in Paul Evans, the Boston police commissioner who fought gun crime, and who was brought over to head the Home Office’s police standards unit in 2003.

While they demand that immigration be capped or stopped altogether, here they are suggesting that an American run the largest police force in Britain. They may just as well demand that George W Bush take over as Prime Minister. In not so many words, our politicians are telling us that they don’t have any faith in Britain’s top policemen and women. So much so, that they want to hire a gunslinger from out of town.

And you had to ask why this country is in such a mess?

Finally, the most vocal supporter of cuts in police numbers came from Emperor Boris.  Go figure.

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Maude exposed as Tory plan to smear the public sector founders

Francis Maude - a chip off the old Mekon block?

The government tried its damnedest to get the public on their side on Thursday. The carefully constructed enemy within – the public sector workers – was little more than a strawman. Some ministers went on the charm offensive: Gove popped up at a school that was still open (and no doubt staffed by scabs) and Francis Maude, the son of a man known as “The Mekon” was horribly exposed by Evan Davis, who is himself a scab of some standing. Maude tried desperately and repeatedly to ram home the point that the government’s plans for public sector pension ‘reforms’ were “fair”. He reiterated the lie that public sector workers enjoy “gold-plated” pensions (the majority of public sector pensions are worth little more than £3000) and that is was “unfair” for the taxpayer to pick up the bill.  First he claimed that the pensions were “unaffordable”, then he said they were “untenable”. Maude, not being in possession of a great deal of logic or intellect, managed to overlook the glaringly obvious: public sector workers are taxpayers too and none of them avoid tax…unlike many of Maude’s millionaire cabinet colleagues and Tory party donors. Incidentally, Maude’s personal wealth is estimated to be around £3m.

Yesterday, Telegraph blogger, Ed West produced an article with a title that looks as though  he found a few words lying about; crammed them into a pestle and mortar, mashed them up and smeared them paste-like onto the blog. Here, he treats us to a glimpse of his childhood.

I bitterly remember that in one year in the 1980s my teacher was almost alone in our school in not being a member of the NUT, and so when strikes occurred, which they seemed to do every week, our class had to traipse in while everyone else went to the park. So I just hope the kids who get a day off today appreciate it, and enjoy their time drinking cider or sending pornographic text messages to each other, or whatever kids get up to these days.

The strikers in one sense have a point; teaching is, in many ways, an underpaid job, not just in the sense that most work very hard for not very good pay, but also because a good teacher can have a hugely disproportionate effect on society compared to, say, a good plumber. A good headmaster even more so.

In terms of sensible investment a society can’t do much better than education spending.

On the other hand there are a lot of bad teachers around and, thanks to the strength of teaching union, their influence on a community can also be significant. These two issues – bad pay and virtual unsackability – are not unrelated.

So the upshot of this is that teachers who happen to be in unions are bad teachers? Lazy thinking.  As with the Hon Tobes and Katharine Burbling Thing, he attracts the usual spittle-laced rage of the Telegraph commenters, all of whom are unanimous in their condemnation of Thursday’s strike. This one is fairly typical,

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Give it 12 months and the left will hopefully be a spent force in this country and someone on the right will have the courage to step forward and bring this once great country back to normality.
“John Pierre”, eh?
Anyway, back to Maude. Yesterday, Mekon Jnr decided on a slight change of tack.  He suggested that public sector managers who have been made redundant can work for free.  Remember, this is the man who, when asked if he gives up his time freely to volunteer, said that the question was “unfair”.
 
Mekon Jnr has had a tough couple of days. The government tried and failed to convince the people that the public sector were parasitical and responsible for the budget/structural deficit (notice that I didn’t say “national debt” as is the wont of too many Tories and Lib Dems). I’m not a big fan of Polly Toynbee but she comes up with a couple of insights in this blog. Here’s a snippet,

This week the Tories tried to resurrect fears of the bad old 1970s – but it didn’t work. Cameron tried to paint Miliband as the creature of the unions that elected him: he sidestepped that trap and rightly castigated the government’s behaviour over the pensions issue. A bit of history may help: as far as I can discover, no Labour party has ever officially supported a strike, not the General Strike, nor any miners’ strike. Shirley Williams was pilloried for joining the Grunwick picket line which later turned violent, but it wasn’t Labour policy. Neil Kinnock was tormented for not backing the miners against Margaret Thatcher in 1984, or the six-month-long ambulance strike in 1989-90.

It’s both laughable and tragic that the Tories consider Ed Miliband to be a “creature of the unions” when it is quite clear that Milly Band did a “Kinnock” and declared the strike to be “wrong”. The Tories are so desperate to land a fatal blow on their opponents that they will come out with any old nonsense in the hope that someone is listening. But no one is….apart from the lunatic fringe that reads the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

In Britain, public support for strikes is split with many of those against strikes taking their views directly from the mouths of government ministers and the Tory-controlled press. In France and other countries (apart from the USA), there is much more solidarity; most people support striking workers. Why is this country so different?

Mekon Jnr has been quiet in the last 24 hours. Let’s hope it stays that way. Perhaps he’ll go the same way as Mekon Snr: he’ll resign and then be kicked upstairs to the Lords.

Finally, this picture from the Daily Mirror sums it up: Milly band is no friend of the unions, let alone a creature of them. The Tories are going to have to rethink their strategy of painting him “Red Ed”, bacause he looks more like a “Blue Ed” from where I’m standing.

Post script

From the Telegraph

  • Francis Maude, the shadow minister for the cabinet office, attempted to claim the mortgage interest on his family home in Sussex. This arrangement was rejected by the Fees Office. Two years later, Mr Maude bought a flat in London a few minutes walk from a house he already owned. He then rented out the other property and began claiming on the new flat: the taxpayer has since covered nearly £35,000 in mortgage interest payments.

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Scapegoats and brickbats: the government’s assault on the public sector

The Tories need a scapegoat. They always need scapegoats. In the 1980’s the scapegoats were Labour-controlled local authorities (dubbed ‘Loony Left’ by the Tory press), the trade unions, gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities. These days, the scapegoats are public sector workers and the public sector generally. Trade unions still come in for flak from the Tories. This morning they were unwittingly helped by Labour’s Ed Balls, who chipped in by urging (if that’s the right word) the unions not to walk into the government’s “trap”.  The Labour Party clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of the 1980’s and when Balls produces nonsense like this,  it’s easy to see why Labour are out of power (hands up, who wants Blue Labour?). What Balls has done is to express cowardice. Rather than face down the government, Balls and the rest of the front bench try to avoid confrontation and in doing so, make themselves look weak and pathetic. Anyone would think that they didn’t want the votes of trade unionists.

The government and its allies in the media have been quite keen to misrepresent public sector workers. Perhaps the most popular myth in circulation is the one that claims that all public sector workers are well-paid and will get extremely generous pensions when they retire. The fact of the matter is that, as with most other wages, public sector pay has been stagnant for years. Forget what you’ve heard about council chief executives’ salaries, those who do all the dirty work on the frontline are being paid a fraction of that. Many public sector workers are on the National Minimum Wage and can expect to recieve pensions of around £4,000 and yet this government wants these people to pay more towards their pensions (which will decrease in real terms). Why? Because they need someone to blame. They need to hammer the public sector so that they can press ahead with their plan to privatize those social functions that are left. Only today, Cameron revealed the following plans to give people more “power” (sic). The Sunday Times (which I cannot quote because it’s behind a paywall) claims that Lord Snooty wants to give people  “individual budgets” so that they can “buy” services. From The Independent,

Allowing the elderly to choose how money is spent on their care;

Enabling people with long-term health conditions to choose their own therapies;

Giving parish councils powers to take control of local parks, playing fields, parking and traffic restrictions;

Allowing parents of children with special needs to make their own decisions about schooling.

What all this amounts to is a further assault on the public sector. Soon local authorities will only exist to rubber stamp the diktats of private providers. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: before we know it, education will subjected to the same treatment with schools being forced into the voucher system. As for empowerment, this is noticeably absent. Giving real political power to people is something that this government is keen to avoid. There is no way that the government wants to allow us plebians a say in how decisions are made. That would be too much like real democracy.

So what happens when you run out of funding? Well, the government hasn’t thought that far ahead.  Given the number of hare-brained ideas that trip from the lips of ministers, some might say that the government isn’t capable of thinking at all. In today’s Telegraph, Danny Alexander reiterated the government’s position,

Mr Alexander insisted that ministers wanted a ”constructive dialogue” with the unions – but indicated that this would be restricted to the detail of how the changes would be implemented.

Nowhere Towers believes that the government has behaved high-handedly towards the unions by telling them that they will only negotiate  when the unions accept the government’s plan. This is the wrong way to go about negotiations. In the same article, former Labour pensions minister and closet Tory, John Hutton added his thoughts,

”They are the basis on which we want to go forward and reform public-service pensions, but of course in these discussions we need to look at the detail of how that works, about how these things are implemented,” he told the Murnaghan programme.

”What we have to get to is a situation where, yes, people have to work a bit longer and contribute a bit more, as we have put forward, but that we maintain the quality of their pensions into the future.”

Reform is the word being used here but reform almost always means cuts, redundancies and unwanted and unnecessary changes to working conditions.  The unions have no choice but to go on strike. If they didn’t strike, they would be failing their members and, for that matter, all those working people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to earn a living from rents, dividends, shares, trust funds and daddy’s allowance.

The largest one-day strike since the General Strike of 1926 will take place on 30 June. Doing nothing is not an option.

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Cable: if you go on strike, we’ll make things worse for you

Business Secretary and former SDP member Vince Cable has told the unions that going on strike will risk Britain’s fragile economic recovery. He has also told them that the government will tighten its already draconian anti-union laws. Cable has got that so wrong: the recovery was threatened the moment The Hon. Gid decided to raise VAT and impose swingeing cuts on the public sector. Whether this government likes it or not, the private sector relies on the public sector for a lot of its work. Threatening the unions with further draconian legislation is pretty low. Britain already has the toughest anti-union legislation in Europe and its anti-union laws are on a par with those of the US and Chile.

A number of public sector unions are to go out on strike later this month. As a member of the UCU, I will be joining them.

This from today’s Independent

Union chiefs will be warned by a cabinet minister today that a concerted programme of industrial action against the Government’s austerity measures could result in anti-strike laws.

Up to one million workers are expected to walk out on 30 June in protest against the spending cuts, and further shows of union strength are planned for the autumn.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will tell a union conference that such moves could backfire by playing into the hands of senior Tories pressing for fresh controls on industrial action.

You can read the rest here.

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50,000 NHS jobs at risk

False Economy reports that over 50,000 NHS jobs are at risk from government cuts, thereby undermining their argument that the Health Service is ‘safe’ in their hands. This is exactly the sort of thing Hannan and his chums have been looking forward to: the wholesale destruction of the NHS.

Original Conservative Party election poster

False Economy, which formally launches today, can reveal that more than 50,000 NHS staff posts are set for the axe, destroying government claims that the NHS is in safe hands.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said in April 2010 of possible NHS job cuts under Labour: “They will cut the number of nurses, the number of doctors and the number of hospital beds. It does not get more frontline than that.”

David Cameron then famously claimed before the election that he would “cut the deficit, not the NHS”.
You can read the rest here.

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Filed under Big Society, Cuts, Government & politics, NHS, Public spending