Monthly Archives: October 2010

The London firefighters strike: a look at what the Tory press is saying

I am 100% behind the Fire Brigades Union in their strike action. The change in working patterns will have a devastating effect on their lives and those of their families. This week we have been treated to story after story about how this strike is “unnecessary” and that calling a strike for November 5 is “irresponsible” even “dangerous”. But it is only the Tory press, the BBC and Sky which are reporting the strike in this way.

Today, the Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday claim that firefighters are commuting from places as far afield as Spain to do their shifts in London. The Telegraph story is threadbare. There is no explanation as to why some firefighters live outside of London; the suggestion here is that it is bad.

Thousands more live outside the capital because of their “archaic” working patterns.

The firemen can live hundreds of miles from London because they work three shifts, followed by four days off.

The Mail on the other hand has provided a handy table.

In both cases, there is no mention of their alleged source for this information. This is a typical hatchet job on striking workers. This is Derbyshire explains why some firefighters have to commute into London,

Fire Brigades Union regional secretary, Joe MacVeigh, said: “We have thousands of firefighters who live outside of London. The vast majority of them cannot afford to live there.

“The extra money is for working in London, not for working and living in London. It’s cheaper to live in Derby and commute than to live in London.”

While most papers have printed stories about the proposed changes, the right wing press led by the Torygraph and the Mail have pursued a smear campaign in the hope that they can tap into memories of the so-called Winter of Discontent (which is often used as a club to beat the unions with). I found this on Bezinga which notes that the London Fire Brigade press office has produced at least one smear story per day.  The Sun produced this piece of scandal on Friday,

Nigel Creary spends his shifts at his Knightsbridge base and takes to the road in his taxi later.

He said: “I’ll be working over Halloween and bonfire night and I should make quite a bit of money.

The article finishes by telling us,

This year, around 170 private contractors will man 27 fire engines.

Where, I wonder, do these “private contractors” come from and how well trained are these scabs?

As I reported weeks ago, this strike is also about the fact that the firefighters face the sack if they refuse to sign the new contracts. It is odd how the Tory press has ignored this rather important fact in its desire to paint all striking workers as “irresponsible” and “greedy”.

This is from the World Socialist Website,

Long before the first strike, the head of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, invoked section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. According to the FBU, on August 11 London Fire Brigade “formally began the legal process of terminating the employment contracts of 5,600 London fire fighters.”

The termination date is set for November 26.

Coleman stated that “firefighters who don’t sign the new contract won’t be re-employed.” He added later, “I could put an advert in the Evening Standard and get 20,000 people applying. London will be totally safe.”

The right to join a trade union and to withdraw one’s labour is a human right. Britain currently has  some of the most draconian labour laws in Europe. The neoliberal argument put forward by the likes of Hayek is that unions merely get in the way of profits and have to be smashed. Hayek was also an admirer of Pinochet’s Chile.

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Gideon Osborne: tax dodger

The Hon Gid has told us how is going to close tax loopholes for those who routinely avoid paying their taxes.

Well imagine my surprise when I discovered not only do some ministers like Andrew Mitchell find ways to avoid paying tax but our own dear Chancellor avoids it too. To tell you the truth I wasn’t surprised at all, I was being sarcastic.

On Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on 18 Oct, Anthony Barnett exposed the cabinet members who avoid paying tax in this country. He also revealed that Lord Ashcroft is still a non-dom who pays no taxes.  You can watch the programme here. For some reason Virgin Media (now owned by Murdoch) failed to put the programme on their “On demand” service. One can only surmise the reason for this.

This Guardian article tells us that one of the reasons for Greece’s sovereign debt crisis was tax avoidance and evasion. The government is to pursue wealthy tax dodgers,

Last month more than 1 million Greek tax dodgers were offered the prospect of an amnesty for violations amounting to more than €30bn (£26bn). The government expects to raise about €500m by offering a summary settlement of unaudited filings and arrears going back 10 years.

The Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has said,

“We have opened bank accounts in Liechtenstein and plan to open others in Switzerland and the City of London,” Kapeleris said. “We have discovered deposits that make the mind boggle, huge amounts that simply do not correspond to professed professional activity.”

Somehow you can’t see that happening here. Offshore tax havens like the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are favourite places for British tax-dodgers to deposit their geld. In fact, Britain invented the tax haven. I found this website which claims to advise people on where to put their money in order to avoid paying taxes.

This guide provides a fascinating insight into the glamorous world of tax havens. The latest edition has just been published (July 2010) and is completely up to date.

The first half contains indispensable information on 25 of the world’s best tax havens – from the exotic Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Monaco, to less well-known but highly attractive tax havens like Cyprus, Malta and the Isle of Man.

“Glamour”. So that’s what this is all about.

UPDATE:

I forgot to include this link from 38 Degrees. Tell Osborne to pay up!

 

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Super councils and localism: a load of hot air?

The news that three London councils are to merge their services has set off a few alarm bells. The three: Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are not only three of the smaller London boroughs, they are also Tory-controlled. Hammersmith & Fulham went over to the Tories about 5 years ago. When they took power, the new leader said how much he wanted to see rich people move into the borough. Greenhalgh’s Hammersmith & Fulham soon became the model Tory borough in the same way that Chile provided the model for Thatcher’s economic policies. Greenhalgh’s aim was to demolish council homes and replace them with homes to buy.

Greenhalgh outlined his plans for “radical reforms” as he told Eric Pickles, Tory party chairman, and Grant Shapps, the shadow minister for housing, that he wanted to see social rents rise to market levels, and housing welfare payments to households “based on need, rather than rent paid”. This would mean placing individual adults in a room in a shared house, for example.

Now you know where the government’s housing policy comes from. It should come as no surprise that  Greenhalgh also heads up the Tory’s Council’s Innovation Unit.

As far as I know, the political merger of local authorities can only take place if an Act of Parliament is passed that permits a merger. In this case, the 3 councils have sidestepped this issue by merging only their services. This raises the question of accountability given that the serivces that have been merged such as refuse collection are carried out by private contractors.

Susanna Rustin of The Guardian writes,

For all the phoney language of compassion that drips from their statements, the crocodile tears about services cut, these councils are hellbent on cutting back on public sector provision, and in some of the areas that need it most. There are wards in north Westminster – a constituency held by Labour’s Karen Buck in May to the outrage of her big-spending Conservative challenger Joanne Cash— that are among the poorest in the country. There is some terrible housing and not enough primary schools, but still the financial crisis and impending cuts did not move the Conservative council to cancel its £23,000 banquet in a fancy hotel in March.Nor do the central London Tories seem inclined to follow the advice of communities secretary Eric Pickles to oblige highly paid council staff to take a pay cut.

Meanwhile on the Hammersmith & Fulham Conservative site, they claim that local MP Andy Slaughter is out of touch with his voters,

In opposing a cap on Housing Benefit the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter is out of touch with his own supporters. An ICM poll in June asked: “Do you support or oppose imposing a maximum weekly limit of £400 on Housing Benefit.” Support was 68% with 23% opposed. Even among Labour voters there was strong support – by 57% to 35%.

I suspect that the findings have been cherry-picked or that the interview questions were phrased in such a way as to favour a particular outcome. Of course I have no real way of knowing this for sure but having worked in social and market research in a previous life, I can honestly say that some surveys are badly flawed.

But the proposal that these 3 councils merge is also badly flawed as Phil Cooper interviewed in the Fulham Chronicle points out,

“Merging three councils will inevitably mean fewer council officers administering reduced services over a much larger area. There will be much greater reliance on the voluntary services to fill gaps just at the time when council funding to the voluntary sector is also being slashed.”

Greenhalgh has already closed some community centres and homeless hostels. Sands  End Centre, just west of well-heeled Chelsea has been facing threat of closure since the Tories took power here in 2006.

I’ve heard many Tories talk about such things as localism but what do they actually mean when they use this word? How do they reconcile their idea of localism with the erosion of public services?

Finally this open letter to The Guardian from the three opposition leaders in the respective boroughs says,

The Conservatives are not ruling out using this merger as a mechanism for even more frontline service cuts, stealth taxes and loss of jobs, or as an excuse to undermine local democracy or sell off more community buildings. Nor have they explained how local residents will keep their ability to hold their council to account. They have not explained how any newly elected administration would be able to secede from any part of this if political control changes. They have also failed to explain why these particular local authorities should merge services.

Big society? Localism? It’s just a load of hot air.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Boris Johnson: the fallout

Yesterday Boris Johnson claimed that he was against any “Kosovo style” social cleansing of London. His words immediately found their way to their intended target: David Cameron who was out of the country on business. His choice of words was also seized upon by Nick Clegg who described them as “outrageous” while Vince Cable, the pre-election hero, accused him of  being “ludicrously inflammatory”. Yet the government has failed to present a decent counter-argument to the charge that their proposed cap on housing benefit won’t force many people out of London to the periphery. The Housng Minister, Grant Shapps was in denial,

“Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere, where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t. We’d all love to live in different areas, but I can’t afford to live on x street in y location. The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.”

Myths and tropes.

The Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Colin Barrow, claimed on the BBC that people from lower incomes deliberately target his borough because of its stylish properties. Oddly enough he provided no evidence for this assertion. Remember this is the same council that sold off loads of council homes in order to gerrymander certain wards. It also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each.

But has Bojo gone all One Nation on the Tory Party? When someone like Johnson comes out with a statement like the one he did yesterday, you have to spend time looking for the reasons behind it. First, the mayoral elections take place in 2 years time.  He has Ken Livingstone snapping at his heels and he wants to try and steal as much thunder from his as he can. Secondly, he is well aware that London relies on a lot of cheap labour and he wants to ensure that there is a massive pool of cheap labour for London’s businesses to draw from. He isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons; his reasons are the same as any other capitalist exploiter of labour.

The press have taken up differing positions: much of the right wing press is reporting how Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street. Others tell of how Cameron and Johnson are on a collision course over benefits. Kennite claims that his hero has recanted his words. He says “I confess, however, to less sympathy for the capital’s unemployed”.  Alors, quelle surprise! He then goes on to repeat every single right wing cliché in order to bolster his case, like this one,

Of course, everyone has the right to live where they choose. But nobody has the right to require the rest of us to pay for their choice. And on the whole, the real losers will be not the poor, but the private landlords who have bought up council houses and made fortunes from the taxpayer. As the state is by far the biggest customer in their market, they’ll have to cut their rents, helping every tenant – subsidised or not – and further reducing the number who lose their homes.

Maybe he didn’t see the Panorama programme about the dodgy landlords who make a fortune out of Housing Benefit? When have private landlords ever reduced their rents? Someone is being a little naïve here.

Meanwhile the Hon Tobes and The Independent point to the rivalry between Cameron and Johnson that dates back to their time at Eton and Oxford.

One final word: to say that the government’s proposals don’t represent a form of social cleansing would be dishonest. But for the government and its apologists to deny that the effect of the Housing Benefit cap will not force those on low incomes to move elsewhere is equally dishonest.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending

The end of upward social mobility?

Leaders from monarchs to presidents to prime ministers have all feared the latent power of the masses. There are two ways in which states deal with the masses: the first is to provide diversions, as the Romans did, offer them panem et circenses – bread and circuses. The second way is to oppress them and smash them when they stir from their slumber. This is the method that was chosen by the Emperor Justinian when he perceived the Nika Riots in 532 to be a threat to his regime. He sent his trusted general, Belisarius and the eunuch Narses to the Hippodrome to confront the mob which included some senators. Narses’s job was to divert the attention of the mob producing a bag of gold pieces while Belisarius charged in and massacred the lot of them.  Admittedly Justinian thought of leaving Constantinople but his wife, the Empress Theodora persuaded him to stay with these words,

“Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress”.

The third way is hardly mentioned and generally avoided by right wing parties: education.

Universal education was introduced in Britain in the middle of the 19th century for the purpose of preparing young people for the world of work. The extant public schools were founded with the intention of providing education for the poor of their area. The educational emphasis of the public school was based on classical models of pedagogy. The pupils who went to such schools were expected to go in to the clergy or the civil service. The working class were expected to stay in their place; the chance of upward mobility was remote and therefore the education they received was basic: reading, writing and arithmetic.

And so it remained until the 20th century when the Education Act of 1944 opened the doors of the country’s universities to the working classes. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, working class admissions to universities rose by 25%.

Those working class people who went to universities between the 1950’s and 1980’s will tell you what an experience it was. Many will also tell you that for the first time, they were exposed to new ideas,  some of those ideas would form the core of their political beliefs. Indeed many activists in the 1960’s were students who came from working class backgrounds. This no doubt alarmed the Conservatives who were concerned that the newly educated working classes now had the tools to take apart their arguments and press for greater social equality. Those students could also go on to educate others in ways that ran counter to the dominant ideology.

By the 1980’s, the Thatcher government embarked on a war against the working class. To curb them, she would first attack their institutions: the trade unions, seek to limit their access to higher education and try and buy them off with the dream of home and share-ownership.  She would also identify the National Union of Students as a hotbed of student activism; another form of resistance to her rule. Thatcher wanted membership of the NUS to be voluntary rather than automatic upon enrolment. The Conservatives openly attacked the NUS and used its Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) as a sort of column to counter them. The FCS was not affiliated to the NUS and received funding from the Freedom Assocation. Its members could often be seen wearing T-Shirts with the words “Hang Mandela” and many of its members were also members of The Monday Club.

I went to a polytechnic in the mid-1980’s. Polytechnics were introduced by Wilson’s Labour government in the 1960’s with the aim of providing vocational courses at tertiary level and thus put higher technical qualifications on a par with academic ones. I went to Newcastle upon Tyne Poly because I realized that I could not afford to throw more money away on audition fees to the various drama schools that I’d applied to. I figured that having a degree would be better than having a diploma from some drama school and I might even learn more at a poly than a drama school. I also thought (wrongly) that both my working class background and my American education would preclude me from going to a university. So Poly it was.

Towards the end of my undergraduate years, Thatcher announced wide-ranging ‘reforms’ to higher education one of which ended the maintenance grant that was paid to students and the other proposed that polytechnics could become universities that had the power to award heir own degrees. Enacted after her departure from office, The Further and Higher Education Act (1992) also meant that FE colleges were taken out of local authority control and were formed as individual corporations. These college-corporations would reduce adult education in order to get more ‘bums on seats which means more funding as a result (each enrolled student is equal to  a unit of funding).   The introduction of student loans had the effect of reducing numbers of working class entrants to university. The numbers further declined when Blair introduced tuition fees in 1998 and top up fees in 2004. This ended Labour’s commitment to a system of higher education that was open to all. This also ended any ideas of upward social mobility that working class people had.

The Blair government also went one step further: they placed universities under the aegis of the Department for Business Enterprise and Skills. This was a clear signal from the Blair government that it wanted to transform universities from places of learning to factories that produced workers for largely service sector-oriented jobs, as well as those in the financial sector.

Given the coalition government’s penchant for slashing anything that requires public funding, higher education is, in future, likely to be accessible only to those who have the money to pay for it. For all their talk of ‘fairness’ it is clear that this is nothing more than empty rhetoric. The government can introduce and presumably find the money to fund the so-called free schools but they are reluctant to provide access to higher education to those from poorer backgrounds. The free schools, incidentally, are likely to be run by private companies rather than pushy parents.

It is clear that the Tories have been opposed to the working classes gaining access to higher education. For them, education beyond the formative years must be paid for. They regard educated working class people as dangerous and subversive. This is the reason why the Bible was written in Latin until the 16th century and interpreted only by those who had knowledge of that language. Slaves in the US were forbidden to read and write and anyone caught instructing a slave could face harsh penalties. The reasons why were glaringly obvious.

For all their talk of freedom, the government seem intent on granting freedoms to their own class and denying it to those below them.

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 13)

Yesterday I reported how Kennite was still flogging the same dead horse a week after the ballots closed in Tower Hamlets. Today, he tells us that “Ofcom has rejected all the IFE’s complaints” about his shoddy Dispatches programme earlier in the year. Today’s blog is a combination of self-congratulation and bitchy comment. In this blog, he tells us that he has been “long listed” for the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism. Let’s hope he doesn’t make into the shortlist. If he does, Paul Foot will be spinning in his grave.

It isn’t so much the complaint to Ofcom or even Gilligan’s slipshod journalism that is the issue today; it’s the fact that he attracts so many racists, Islamophobes and assorted EDL types that is the issue. What is more disturbing is the fact that Gilligan seems to be encouraging racist and Islamophobic remarks on his blog.  Take this one,

Don’t Ofcom know the rules, when minorities complain, their complaints are supposed to be upheld furthering the destruction of the West using a Guilt complex to supress our natural tendancy to protect our lands.
All this tinkering, social engineering going against nature by the Govt is not going to end well for someone.

Note the generalization of minority groups here. The commenter is quite clearly a racist. A commenter called “incensed” says,

Wake up and smell the hookah pipes people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnLwTSWPRz4

He also provides a link to a dodgy video that looks as though it was shot by the BNP or the EDL.  It’s bad enough to have to put up with Kennite’s propaganda but when he allows propaganda from racist groups, questions need to be asked. I have edited “danoconnor’s” comment,

Political Correctness is Totalitarian Humanism.
The humanists love humanity so much that they don’t care what they have to do to individuals , cultures or societies, in order to advance this humanity.
The Left becomes evermore extreme over time in order to advance radical egalitarianism through the power of the state , to impose these ideas by force.
The Left perceive cultural conservatism to be their primary enemy.
The Left belíeve that WASP culture is repressive, totalitarian and barbaric.
Anything therefore which is not WASP, is good.

More racism. But it is the way in which the expression “WASP” is used. This acronym is in circulation in the US and stands for “White Anglo Saxon Protestant”. Of course the problem for those who use this term have failed to read and comprehend their history: the Anglo Saxons were conquered by the Normans in the invasion of 1066. The correct term would be “White Anglo Norman-Saxon” or something similar. I suspect, given the tone and the language of his comment, that “danoconnor” is a member of the EDL.

I will leave you with a final paragraph from Kennite’s blog,

Ofcom’s latest ruling comes two weeks after it rejected another complaint by the IFE activist, Abjol Miah, ruling that we had indeed presented good evidence that he was active in the IFE. Abjol is also one of a number of people who has lost (or withdrawn) complaints against me at the Press Complaints Commisson over this story.

Aye and the Press Complaints Commission is run entirely by the newspaper industry so it is hardly an impartial body. Gilligan is as bad as the racists he attracts to his blogs. In another age, Kennite would have been telling us how Jews were ‘taking over the country’. In fact substitute the word “Jew” or “Black” for the word “Muslim” and you’ll find that little has changed with regards to Otherness in this country.

Andrew Gilligan: working hard to keep racism alive in today’s Britain.

UPDATE: If ever there was any doubt about the level of cordiality between Kennite and the EDL, this link informs us how respected and admired Gilligan is. Gilligoon’s “Islamic republic” blog was posted on the site Casuals United,

http://casualsunited.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/tower-hamlets-becomes-britains-first-islamic-state/

I have deliberately broken the link because the EDL can easily use the link to find their way here and post their filth.

I’d like to hear Gilligan defend himself but I suspect he has neither the guts, the honesty nor the integrity to do so.

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 12) or The Reanimation of Dead Flesh

The Tower Hamlets mayoral election happened last Thursday and to look at Kennite’s blog today, one could be forgiven for thinking that it still had weeks to go. Today’s sensational headline is “Luftur Rahman: finally, this story is picking up steam”. Shouldn’t that be “building up [a head of] steam”? or “Picking up traction”? They don’t make journalists like they used to…anyway, Gilligoon’s blog is more of a hatchet job on the Labour Party and an attack on Dave Hill than it is an attack on Rahman.

This morning, the Guardian’s Julian Glover joins in, calling the election of the “discredited” Rahman “a modern local government catastrophe.” The paper’s interest is particularly welcome, since the Guardian’s London blogger, Dave Hill, has sometimes seemed a little out of his depth on this story.

No, Kennite, Hill isn’t out of his depth, you just don’t have much of a story and are trying to wring the last drops from it. Which reminds me, Dave Hill and Julian Glover have a different take on this…in fact, in spite of what Kennite says, the crux to Glover’s article is this,

This could be written up as a disaster for Labour, and it is. The party has ham-fistedly tried to overrule its local party and ended up giving ammunition to critics of east London Bangladeshi politics while losing the election.

But this is the tricky side of localism. If a community behaves and votes in ways that a national party believes is wrong, what right does it have to intervene? And even if it has the right, how can it be done? Ken Livingstone’s election as an independent mayor – and his backing of Rahman – shows you can’t easily impose local choice from above.

Gilligan decided that bit wasn’t worth mentioning and went straight for the part of the article where Glover says “I wish Rahman hadn’t been elected”. Kennite also missed this paragraph,

The second catastrophe took place decades ago, when the Borough of Poplar, the bravest and proudest council Britain has seen, was subsumed into the mess of east London politics.

But the paragraph that proceeds the one I just quoted from Kennite is quite interesting,

The Standard’s deputy political editor, Paul Waugh, wrote that “Neil Kinnock spent years in the Eighties trying to break the London Labour Party from the grip of the ‘loony Left.’ Today’s leader’s problem is how to root out corruption and extremism among some Bangladeshi supporters.” And the paper’s leader article called Lutfur’s election “a new low for London’s most rotten borough.. plagued by Islamist extremists.”

Ah, this would be the “loony left” that stood in opposition to Thatcher’s cuts and the same “loony left” that was a concoction of the right wing press? I’m willing to bet that Gilligan believes the “Baa Baa Black Sheep” story to be true. This isn’t the 1980’s yet Kennite continues to live in the Thatcherite past. Desperately short of ‘loony left’ councils to savage, he goes for the one thing that makes for sensationalist headlines in today’s paranoid world: allegations of Islamic extremism. I also noticed that Kennite has altered his language regarding Rahman. Instead of referring to him as an “Islamic extremist”, he now calls him a “fundamentalist ally”.

I wonder if Gilligan remembers Tower Hamlets when it was run by the Liberal Democrats? I’ll bet he doesn’t. He was making a nuisance of himself at Cambridge.

Finally, here’s a comment from Julian Glover on his article,

Thanks as ever for reading the piece.

davidabsalom, Manningtreeimp, BristolBoy & others… it’s always nice to surprise!

It’s been a strange election in Tower Hamlets – but not the first. More than most places, parties are superficial: the battles are within them (and especially Labour these days) are as big as between them. Perhaps that simply exposes the lack of real difference within the mainstream.

My colleague Dave Hill has followed politics in the borough far more closely than I ever could – really recommend reading his blog here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/davehillblog

Thanks again

Julian

Hmmm, that doesn’t sound as though Glover thinks Hill is “out of his depth”. It sounds as though Kennite is being bitchy – again.

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