For all their talk of democracy and the freedom, the Tories have always been, at least since the time of Thatcher, concerned with strengthening their position as Britain’s “natural party of government”. If this means gerrymandering electoral boundaries or outlawing metropolitan counties to realise their dreams then this is what they will do. I discussed the latter here.
In the last couple of days, the Tory-led government has unveiled its latest plans to silence the opposition: by capping donations to political parties. The Guardian has the story here.
The draft report is proposing that parties receive funding worth £3 per vote they receive. On the basis of the last election, the Tories would get £32m, Labour £25.8m and the Lib Dems £20.4m. The figures could be higher if tax relief were added.
But I am sure that the Tories could still raise loads of money by simply getting their millionaire donors to use other party members as fronts. Further down, we get to the crux of the article,
The Conservatives are also continuing to press for a requirement that union members opt into affiliating to the Labour party, rather than the current system where they are required to opt out.
Labour has previously accepted that the system needed improvement. The Tories claim Labour receives a large proportion of donations from people who are not making a positive decision to contribute to the party.
So the real aim behind this idea is to starve the Labour Party of funds. The Tories constantly claim that Labour is “in hock” to the unions, while ignoring the fact that their party is funded by unaccountable billionaires, most of whom live abroad. Unions are democratic institutions but one gets the feeling that Labour hasn’t done enough to press this point. Part of the reason for this is due to most of the press being in the hands of Tory-sympathising proprietors.
This Guardian story from earlier in the year says that Labour could be ruined if the funding cap comes into effect.
An analysis of five and a half years’ worth of donations to the parties reveals the move would most dramatically affect Labour’s funding base. If the £50,000 limit had been in place over the period, Labour’s donations would have been reduced by 72%, the Conservatives‘ by 37% and theLiberal Democrats‘ by 25%.
“Fairness”? There’s no such animal when the Tories are in power.
Now I’m all for state funding but the way the ConDem coalition is going about this will only result in one thing: indefinite Tory rule and more misery.
I’ve never credited Britain’s right-wing commentators with much intelligence. They have the best education that money can buy and yet they’re still as thick as two short planks. If they aren’t thinking straight, then they’re making wilfully ignorant comments. Since OccupyLSX began outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the right has been desperately trying to second guess the movement. All attempts to do so have foundered. As a result, the organs of the right have retreated to their default position: smear the protesters.
In the last few days, the Daily Telegraph (a paper run by a pair of tax-dodging brothers who also own the small island of Brecqhou near Sark in the Channel Islands) has done its utmost to ensure the public (or at the least, the right wing fraction of the public) is made fully aware of what these people are getting up to… or so it thinks.
Tuesday, this blog appeared from David Hughes. In it, he regurgitates a smear story printed the same day in the Telegraph.
They’ve been rumbled. It turns out that the Occupy London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX) protesters who have settled in St Paul’s Churchyard are not only not occupying the Stock Exchange – they are not even occupying their own tents. Our enterprising news reporters were there in the small hours with a thermal imaging camera and discovered that most of the tents were empty. The report and video are here. You can hardly blame the demonstrators for preferring a snug bed at home to a chilly night on paving slabs. But their empty tent policy raises an important question. Decades of terrorist threats have made most people in this country – and particularly in the capital – hyper-sensitive to the sight of a bag or suitcase left unattended. It’s normally only a matter of minutes before such items are whisked away by the police. So how come so many tents have been allowed to sit in the heart of London for so long without being removed, particularly now that we know that most are unoccupied?
So, it’s fine to invade people’s privacy for the sake of a smear story? This joker seems to think so. Let’s have a look at the ‘story’.
The camp forced St Paul’s to close for the first time since the Blitz and is costing local businesses thousands of pounds a day.
But footage shot by The Daily Telegraph on a thermal imaging camera appeared to show most of the dozens of tents in the cathedral churchyard were empty. And when the remaining protesters realised what The Telegraph was attempting to verify this, the mood turned ugly.
The site was quiet at around 12.30am with the faint smell of marijuana smoke in the air. A handful of police officers stood back on the fringes of the encampment.
First the authors of this piece repeat the same spiel about St Paul’s having to close for the first time since the Blitz. Notice how the word “Blitz” is used to evoke an image in the popular mind. But this image is connected to a particular memory of WWII. It was one that was evoked by Thatcher – much to her cost. One abiding image of the cathedral is often used to evoke this memory of the “Spirit of the Blitz” with this defiant building standing up to the Luftwaffe’s bombs when others could not.
Interestingly enough, although the cathedral’s dean told reporters that it had closed, it still went ahead with a planned wedding. Most historic buildings, if they have to charge anything at all for admission, will ask visitors to pay a small, often voluntary, charge. But, as we can see from St Pauls’ website, the charges are rather steep and it would interesting to find out exactly how many tourists visit the cathedral each week. When the charges were introduced, there was a public outcry. Yet, for some odd reason, this has been conveniently overlooked by the right wing press in order to make sure their smears stick. What this also shows us is how the Anglican Church is consumed with the same corporate greed as its neighbours. On this site, an American tourist complains that,
…this church has the audacity to charge £13.50 for a student ticket is simply ridiculous, especially considering how well-endowed the Anglican Church is. Cologne, Florence, Ravenna; nearly any cathedral on the continent can surpass what St. Paul’s offers, and without sucking your wallet dry at that.
My reluctance to pay is not really a matter of meanness, but of principle. By excluding people, especially young people who are often time-rich but money-poor, and spiritually curious, the C of E is edging them away from a sense that England’s religious heritage is theirs – that it is not just for tourists, and not just for worshippers at actual services; it is also theirs to browse. And there’s another point: paying an entrance fee changes the nature of the visit. To pay is to make a tacit statement: that this is primarily a tourist-attraction, that its sacred function is secondary to this. Perhaps a little meanness is also involved, I admit.
I have had this problem before, getting into Anglican cathedrals built by the Catholic Church and purloined at the Reformation. They have no right to stop you (or anyone else) entering: simply refuse politely and go in. I know that buildings like this need maintaining. But I would almost certainly pay more than the entrance fee as a voluntary contribution, and I usually do. A notice suggesting a voluntary contribution, even specifying a recommended sum and with a desk there to collect the money (they could hand out a free guide or something to encourage people to give) would avoid this appalling and deeply secular tourist entrance fee.
Back to the article, the authors claim that there was a ” faint smell of marijuana smoke in the air”. This is a way of painting the occupiers as “unwashed hippies” and has a resonance with the right’s response to the protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It panders to the deeply-held prejudices of the ruling classes and their unwitting allies, who tell us that they “never protest”. The reason for that it is obvious: they hold the whip but tell them that and they’ll reply with gobbledigook. They also tell us that when the Torygraph snoopers started filming that the the “mood turned ugly”. The reason they say this is to insert a particular image in the public mind of an “enemy within” that needs to be vanquished by the police.
“OccupyLSX was surprised to hear the Telegraph and others reporting this morning that 90% of our tents are empty overnight,” the group said in a statement.
“This is simply not the case. While it is quite possible that not every tent is occupied every night, we try to keep vacancy to a minimum and operate a sign-in/sign-out system to help ensure this happens. The camp attracts thousands of people every day. We do not expect all the people who are expressed through this movement to be able to stay overnight.”
The Guardian also adds that,
Reports quoting the 10% occupancy rate appeared in the Times,Telegraph, Sun, and Daily Mail on Tuesday, apparently based on evidence gathered by a police helicopter equipped with thermal imaging cameras.
However, City of London police told the Guardian that they could not confirm nor deny the reports, saying only that neither details of the thermal imaging cameras nor the occupancy estimates had come from them.
The right wing press’s position is beginning to look threadbare. So far, all they have is a handful of smears and a cupful of baseless allegations.
This blogger alleges that St Paul’s Cathedral is effectively run by former Ye Olde Cittie of London bankers and a former City of London Mayor. Even if it isn’t the case, some readers will know that the City of London Corporation is run like a private fiefdom. I am tempted to say that this is the last vestige of feudalism in Britain but that would be inaccurate. It is, in effect, the last of the Rotten Boroughs as this blogger points out.
Occupy London does not speak for the 99 per cent or for the working man – on the contrary, it is more an expression of slacker disdain and organic-fuelled fury for the ethos of the ambitious working man
And praytell, how is that, Brendan? He doesn’t explain. Why? Because he’s only interested in twisting reality to conform to his warped ideas of the protests. He panders to his authoritarian readership. Scratch a right libertarian and you will always find a rabid authoritarian and neoliberal shill underneath.
The Barclay brothers own a big chunk of the media, including The Spectator magazine and The Telegraph Group.
Although they are considered philanthropists, having donated over £40 million to medical research, they are also tax exiles. The savings from not paying tax in the UK but Monaco, should more than cover that, and leave enough small change over to pay for a Channel island.
The Brothers own two very influential right wing organs, both of which are pledged to defend and apologise for excesses of casino capitalism. Therefore it’s fitting that they live in Monaco, the home of high-rollers and tax-dodging self-exiles.
The entrepreneurial siblings may hide themselves away in the Quinlan Terry designed, battlement surrounded, three feet deep walls of the Brecqhou mansion, but they give their address as 7 Avenue de Grande Bretagne, 98000 Monaco.
Avenue de Grande Bretagne, how cute… I’ll bet that makes them feel at home.
UPDATE @ 18.30
Just caught the end of a BBC News item on Giles Fraser and #OccupyLSX, which the reporter described as a “siege”.
You know that story in The Telegraph that claimed to use thermal imaging cameras to determine if people were sleeping in the tents at the #OccupyLSX camp at St Paul’s Cathedral? It turns out that you can’t tell if someone is in a tent or not by using thermal imaging. I don’t think the Torygraph will apologise for this blatant lie though. That’s a bit like expecting the Tories to be compassionate.
“In Europe but not run by Europe”. Those were the words of William Hague when he was the unsuccessful leader of the Tory Party. But what does it mean? Nothing. The Europhobes would dearly like it to mean “We are being controlled by an outside force”. What they don’t say is how Eurosceptic (I hate using that word) MEPs try to sabotage the European Parliament while continuing to take a salary (over £86,000 + expenses) from the very institution they are pledged to abolish. The worst of these offenders is Daniel Hannan, whose obsession with all things EU makes him something of a self-parody.
It’s hard to imagine a larger question in British politics than whether we should be in the EU. Depending on how you measure it, between 50 and 84 per cent of our laws come from Brussels. The curtailment of our democracy was at first seen as the price for being part of a prosperous and growing market; but it now seems clear that the EU is sinking, dragging us with it like so many chained galley-slaves.
Hyperbole and nonsense. The key sentence is ” Depending on how you measure it, between 50 and 84 per cent of our laws come from Brussels”, Naturally, he doesn’t tell us which ones. I guess he must be referring to the one about the shape of bananas or other similar tales spouted by the Tory-controlled press.
How will the palaeo-reporters of the MSM cover the story? I have a sinking feeling that it will be framed in the paltriest and most irrelevant way as ‘EU causes headache for Conservatives’.
But it’s true and the Tory Party, who were riven with splits over the EU during John Major’s premiership are likely to be split again. Hannan would like us to believe that his beloved party is united over Europe and that the ‘evil’ BBC is trying to split them up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On Thursday, he was beside himself with joy. The Commons will vote on Monday to offer a referendum to the British electorate as to whether the country stays in the European Union. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, we’ve already had the referendum. It took place in 1975 and the British people voted in favour. Of course, the Europhobes will tell us that we didn’t vote for a European Parliament but a trade agreement. But this is what the EEC morphed into and Britain was happy to go along with the project.
He urges people to sign the so-called “People’s Pledge”. I had a look at the link he provided and was led to this site.
Their ‘case’ is as follows:
There are 5 key reasons why we must have a referendum on Britain and the EU:
No one under the age of 54 has had the chance to vote on our relationship with Brussels
The EU now makes a majority of the laws we must obey
The UK has less than 10% of the votes in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament
The EU is costing Britain more and more money
The EU wants to give itself new powers of ‘economic governance’
With regards to the first point, I’ve never had a say on a variety of things that have been enacted by reactionary Tory governments: the carving up of the NHS; the sale of council homes and the cuts in public spending. Yet, these obsessives think that a referendum on the EU is more important than any of those things.
On the second point, I’d like to know which laws they are referring to. But they seem reluctant to tell us. I can only guess. As for the third point, that’s down to Britain’s constant undermining of the EU by the Tories. The fourth point, is moot and the last point presumably relates to the Euro. It’s in Britain’s interests to participate fully in the EU and its institutions instead of behaving like a reluctant bridegroom at a shotgun wedding. The EU is only as good as it member states and moaning about this aspect or that aspect of the EU is pointless and unproductive. If you don’t like something, then work to change it.
There is a small Britisher mentality to all of this. Some Europhobes clearly lament the demise of the British Empire and long for its return but there no chance of that happening. As I’ve indicated elsewhere, many of those Tory Europhobes want to scrap human rights and workplace legislation because they believe that it has a deleterious impact on the economy. What they don’t say is that they want license to exploit others for financial gain.
Looking at the faces of those who support the People’s Pledge I can see that the former Labour shadow cabinet minster, Bryan Gould is a signatory. But what the people behind this ‘pledge’ haven’t told us is that Gould lives in New Zealand and has lived there since 1994. The SNP’s Jim Sillars is also included and is listed as “Deputy Leader of the SNP”, a role that he left in 1992 after he’d fallen out with Alex Salmond. There are other “former” Labour MPs and a former “finance director” of the party, which makes me think there’s something rather suspicious about the People’s Pledge. The choice of name is also rather interesting and suggests that there is a consensus but this a presumed consensus, possibly even a manufactured consensus.
It’s not clear exactly how many people are encamped next to St Paul’s Cathedral. Most estimates put the number at between 200 and 400, depending on precisely what time of day you do the headcount.
He doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about and I doubt that he’s bothered to visit the occupation. His is a position of wilful ignorance.
Here, he plays fast and loose with the facts,
What is clear is that there are presently many more people in Westminster demanding a referendum on EU membership than in the City complaining about capitalism.
A couple of things: first he says the protesters are “complaining about capitalism”, this is the sort of ignorant statement that got Louise Mensch in hot water on Have I Got New For You.
Second, he claims that “many more people in Westminster are demanding a referendum” but he doesn’t tell us how many and, at any rate, the point that he tries to make is irrelevant. There are many more people around the country, who are not taking part in the occupations who agree that the system needs to change. Furthermore the protests aren’t confined to Britain; they are taking place all over the world. Yet, Hannan dishonestly claims that there is a greater consensus for a referendum on the EU.
It will be interesting to compare the amount of coverage generated by the two protests. Will the People’s Pledge get ten times as much attention as the anti-capitalist sit-in, on the basis of the number of people at Westminster? Or perhaps 500 times more, on the basis of the number who signed the petition? Or will the MSM continue to cover the referendum wholly as a ‘Tory splits’ story? I think we all know the answer.
This is both a smear on the #Occupy movement and an attack on the BBC. He’s obsessed with the EU (have a look at all his blog posts for the Torygraph and you’ll see that at least 90% of them are about the EU). But there is something else: like his fellow right wingers, he paints the protesters as some kind of ‘enemy within’ and claims that they don’t have an argument. This is wilful ignorance. He is a committed neoliberal and like his fellow travellers, he wants more of the same. This is why people are occupying public spaces in financial districts around the world. Then he tries to paint the BBC as the villain by suggesting that only the Beeb is responsible for opening up deep rifts in the Tory party. Hannan is suffering from selective memory syndrome and, as anyone will tell you, the splits over the EU have been around for over 20 years and almost brought the Major government to its knees.
I find Europhobes to be small-minded and obsessive. I would even go so far as to suggest that their obsession with the EU is pathological. Whatever happens, the vote in the Commons tomorrow is likely to deepen the splits in the Tory party with some of their MPs threatening to defy a three-line whip on the vote. Cameron’s position looks precarious. However, if Cameron is weakened, will we see a leadership challenge from Hannan? Well, he needs to find a safe seat first before he can do that. He can’t become leader while he’s in Strasbourg and this must piss him off.
Good. Long may he be pissed off.
If there is a referendum, I will vote to stay in the EU but I want to see the EU reformed so that it works for the benefit of all its people not just the few, like the bankers and other parasites.
This country will be a much worse place to live than it is now if we left Europe while the Tories are power. That isn’t hyperbole. It’s the truth.
I found this blog from our old friend Harry ‘Foghorn’ Phibbs on “Right Minds” (it’s a bloody awful name), the new Daily Mail blog site. Phibbsy reckons he’s gained exclusive insight into the cause of youth unemployment. He tells us in the blog title that “The minimum wage is pushing up youth unemployment”.
Youth unemployment has nearly reached a million. It now stands at 991,000 the highest since the current method of measuring it was introduced in 1992. For the population generally the unemployment rate is 8.1% while for the 16-24-year-olds it is 21.3%.
I suppose we can blame that on the last government? No? Yes.
It is perfectly reasonable for the Government to point to the Eurozone crisis and the terrible legacy of the Labour Government which was only thrown out last year. But the more relevant point is what the Government is going to minimise the problem given the economic reality we are all aware of.
It was inevitable. When all else fails, reach for the sticks marked “Labour” and “EU” and get stuck in.
Now is the time for some serious exploitation of Britain’s youth and here is Foghorn’s rationalization,
The last thing that they should be doing is pricing teenagers out of work. Given the lack of economic confidence businesses should be encouraged to give youngsters a chance rather than be discouraged by having the cost of doing so pushed up. Yet on October 1st the Government increased the minimum wage. For adults it went up to £6.08p an hour. For 18-20-year-olds to £4.98p, for 16 and 17 year olds it is increased to £3.68 while the apprentice rate goes up to £2.60p.
Ah, but what about those youths who don’t live at home? What about students? How can they afford to exist – especially if they have children? Pah! Wassamatta you? You crazy? Because, according to Phibbs,
Many young people who live at home would prefer to get started into employment choosing low pay rather than no pay.
So how many young people did Foghorn speak to? Were they all living “at home” or were they “living at home with their parents“?
He (sort of) supports this thesis with data that he extrapolates from a Low Pay Commission report that he doesn’t actually link to,
Even the Low Pay Commission, the Quango which recommends the level of the minimum wage has said: “Recent research has found evidence that in difficult economic circumstances the level of the minimum wage may have had an impact on the employment of young people.” Others would regard it as blindingly obvious. Its chief economist Tim Butcher adds: “We do know recessions affect young people as employers operate first-in, first-out and look for people with experience.”
Notice how he uses the word “quango” here. It’s as if to say, “Look, even the quangos that I hate agree with me”.
Indeed, it appears that only the right wing press have spun this in such a way as to suggest that youths should work for peanuts. The Morning Star, as you’d expect, takes an altogether different line.
So who’s right? Well, the Tories have been gunning for the minimum wage for some time. When the National Minimum Wage was introduced, the Tories fought against it tooth and nail. For them, workers are there to be exploited. If they could get away with it, they would make people of all ages take jobs that pay less than £1 an hour. In truth, no one can survive on the minimum wage and the only way people can survive is to apply for tax credits which are, in themselves, a problematic. Many people who get tax credits find, somewhere down the line, that they’ve been ‘overpaid’ and are then forced into even greater hardship.
People need to be paid a living wage. The wealthy, like Phibbs, refuse to see this because they are entirely selfish and wilfully ignorant of the needs of others.
And you wondered why the country is in the state it’s in?
There were 2.5 million unemployed people in Britain.
The country was in the grip of a recession.
The Tories were in power.
There were riots in Britain’s cities.
Labour was in turmoil. While the party was pre-occupied with its internal divisions, it failed to land a single blow on Thatcher.
Council houses were up for sale.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed by disgruntled Labour Party members led by the so-called Gang of Four. The SDP form an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party. The two parties had something that looked like an American road sign as their logo.
1981 was 30 years ago.
There are 2.5 million unemployed people in Britain.
The country is in the grip of a recession.
The Tories are in power with the help of the Liberal Democrats, a party that was formed the result of a union between the SDP the Liberal Party in 1988. They have something that looks like a spliff as their logo.
In August, we witnessed the biggest riots in a generation.
Labour isn’t in turmoil but it isn’t landing any real blows on the government either. No one has split from the party.
Since the European sovereign debt crisis, the usual voices on the Europhobic right have been in full cry, “Let’s withdraw from Europe”! “Give the British people a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU”. To the latter, I’d say, “We’ve already had the referendum and the majority of British people elected to join the EU”. To the former, I’d say “The only reason you want out of Europe is to scrap crucial workplace legislation”.
The one thing that has caused them to increase their anti-EU noise levels over the past few years is the Human Rights Act or, rather, its interpretation by judges… but that isn’t something that they want you to know about. They’d rather you think that it is the convention itself is the problem. We can’t have people coming here and breaking the law, only to be allowed to remain in the country because they have a cat. It simply won’t do.
Yet, when it comes to Syria, it’s a different matter. In that country, human rights are routinely abused as they are in Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Burma and many other countries. They’ll complain bitterly about abuses in those countries but yet, they want to scrap the act in this country and replace it with something called the “British Bill of Rights”. According to the Newsnight studio guests last week, the proposed bill would be exactly the same as the HRA. As the average bloke in the high street would say, “It’s, er, like the Human Rights Act but it’s, er, British. Because, like, we ‘ave nuffink in common wif dem bloody Europeans”.
But that sort of flushes over 1000 years of history down the khazi, doesn’t it?
This country owe much of its character to continental Europe. Okay, the Normans were a brutal bloodthirsty bunch who introduced feudalism but what about those Romans? Or the Norse? Or those Saxon hordes? They all hated human rights….well, to tell the truth, they had no conception of human rights. If they didn’t like the look of you, they’d have cut you down where you stood.
Europhobes claim that the reason they want Britain to withdraw from the EU is “sovereignty”. They want Britain to be able to lock people up without trial without recourse to human rights legislation. They want to roll back workplace legislation because they believe that “health and safety” is a form of red tape that prevents people from making a profit. People should work in dirty, dangerous and unsanitary conditions and like it. Just as workers did in the 19th century. Which reminds me, the Tories tend to view the 19th century through rose-tinted spectacles. For them workplace deaths were a price worth paying. After all, it made Britain great. Those dead workers were martyrs to the cause of capitalism. Well, they weren’t actually.
The problem for the Tories is that, for all their talk, they can’t repeal the HRA, as this blog points out.
The Conservative Party has its own Human Rights Commission. As one might suspect, the commission is only concerned with human rights outside our borders.
Are they hypocrites? Of course they are.
But are the Tories the only ones to oppose the HRA? Well, no and predictably enough, UKIP also oppose the HRA… but then UKIP are, for all intents and purposes, cut from the same cloth as the Tories. Here’s what UKIP’s Paul Nuttall had to say in 2007,
The second problem is the Human Rights Act, which was incorporated into British law in 1998. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for human rights, but only the human rights of the victim. Those perpetrators of low-level crime who ruin the lives of many hard-working citizens could not be locked up as in New York because it would contravene their human rights. It leaves a sour taste and a feeling that the human rights of the criminal are well protected but those of the victim are routinely trampled on. It has also been a golden opportunity for human rights lawyers, such as Cherie Booth QC, to make a fortune. Again, if you want “zero tolerance” then the Human Rights Act needs to be ripped up.
“Don’t get me wrong” he says, “I am all for human rights, but only the human rights of the victim”. In which case he isn’t in favour of human rights at all.
What really makes me laugh is the way some vox pops on television will actually claim that they “hate” human rights. Maybe a few months in concentration camp will help to change their minds?
The right loves its gimmicks. First, the brains trust behind the disastrous Rally Against Debt paraded their “Debt Clock” around the streets of London. They were trying to tell us that “time was running out” and that the government had to “cut deeper and faster”. They thought that if they drove a massive clock on the back of an articulated lorry around Westminster’s streets on a Saturday afternoon, with the city full of people shopping on their credit cards, spending money they don’t have on things they d0n’t need… would somehow convince these people, some of them tourists, of the merit of their argument, they were sadly mistaken. They just looked like a bunch of rich Ayn Rand-reading nerds with too much time on their hands who could afford to hire a truck for a stunt. Whoopee-do.
In a classic example of monkey-see/monkey-do, Hammersmith & Fulham Council has come up with its own version of a gimmicky debt gauge. It’s called the “Debtometer” and the ‘device’, so our overlords tell us, is meant to measure the debt “going down”. Shepherds Bush blog has the story.
Millions of pounds are being freed up for vital frontline services as the council looks set to hit its target of halving its historic debt mountain by 2014.
Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council’s debt reduction strategy, which includes moves to sell under-used council buildings, is set to wipe another £12million off the town hall’s debt burden by April 2012.
The news comes as the council launches a new quarterly online ‘debtometer’ so that residents can keep a track of the progress made in reducing municipal debt.
These cute little gimmicks that are dreamt up by the right are distractions and nothing more. They are PR confidence tricks designed to divert attention away from the fact that they have no real ideas beyond cutting public services. Why? Because they tell us that don’t use them (so who empties their bins?) and they think that the rest of us are ‘addicted’ to the state. It’s the old new classical liberal idea of deserving and undeserving poor revivified under the neo-Hayekian aegis of ‘freedom’ and ’empowerment’.
But those who claim these stunts are more than the sum of their parts are deluding themselves. These are the people who come out with snappy lines like “the nation had maxed out its credit card” and “we need to live within our means”. In their arrogance, they have convinced themselves that no one understand economics like they do. They talk a good talk but like a cheap jumper, their argument soon unravels when it is scrutinized. They can only “speak in maths”, as the Radiohead song goes. Yet without people – a society – there is no economy. No people, no need for commodities.
But try and tell them that.
Not to be outdone by Gordon Brown’s “quantitative easing”, Hon Gid introduced his own idea of economic interventionism at the Conservative Party Conference. He called his concept gimmick, “credit easing”.
But credit is debt.
Ask anyone who has a credit card, a bank loan or a mortgage.
But people with credit cards don’t have access to the international bond markets. They can’t sell their junk in the same way as a nation-state. In fact, while this government talks about reducing debt, it raises money on the bond markets to continue its costly wars in Libya and Afghanistan. This is something that our slash and burn Tories won’t tell you about. Instead, they’ll tell you that cuts are “necessary” and will beg the question with a “But surely you realize how important it is for the government to reduce the nation’s debt”?
The Taxpayers Alliance loves to claim that its “our money” that’s being “burnt” but what they won’t tell you is that most of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in a small number of hands and those people (including the entire membership of TPA) are well insulated against economic hardship. If you put that point to them, they’ll start flailing about and will regurgitate the usual neo-Hayekian drivel about “responsibility”.
The cuts to public services, especially those to education, is a form of de-investment. That is to say, the Tory-led government is not investing in the economy – as it should at this time. Instead, it is sucking money out of the economy and diverting some of those funds to those pet projects that are run by its supporters – the free schools, for example. It has no interest in investing in people…unless they come from a privileged background. In which case, there is no need to invest in them because they will, by dint of their circumstances of birth, reproduce the same selfish, dimwitted values that were espoused by their parents.
I don’t come from a rich family. My roots are working class. I am the first in my family to go to university. I was expected to follow in my father’s footsteps and enlist in the military. So after leaving school I performed a series of really crap jobs like working in a factory that made plastic bags and polyethylene film. But I always knew that I was never cut out for factory work or military service. I was an artist…or an academic.
I never really intended to become a postgraduate student but once I’d finished my BA, I found myself craving study and writing. I self-funded my Masters with some money that I’d inherited. After my Masters, I decided that I wanted to do a PhD but didn’t have the funds to afford the fees. I was offered a bursary for fees by the University of East London but doing a doctorate without funding and without the benefit of daddy’s trust fund makes the task extremely difficult. You can’t do a lot of the field work that you want to do and if you’ve been made redundant from a full-time job – as I have – you have no safety net. So acquiring funding in order to complete my project is crucial. The research bodies responsible for distributing funds to students like myself have been forced by this government to be even tighter with their funds thanks to the cuts in higher education funding. This has been compounded by the Tory-led government’s insistence that humanities and social science postgraduate students produce their knowledge within the narrow parameters of the ‘Big Society’. In other words, knowledge is now forced to genuflect before an ideological master.
Last month I was invited to attend an interview for Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding. Before 2011, one had to apply directly to the AHRC for funding and applications were considered by the council. I’d have stood a better chance under the former system. Now, the money is given to a consortium of universities, who then decide who deserves the money. It’s the educational version of deserving and undeserving poor. So the constituent institutions that form the New London Graduate School get their Graduate School directors to form a panel who then question applicants about their proposals.
But it wasn’t an interview at all. It was more of a mugging; an intellectual kicking by a gang of academic thugs. The panel was a cheerless bunch, po-faced and unfriendly, they didn’t even offer me a drink of water (in spite of the fact that I appeared to be desperately thirsty). I found myself in the strange situation where I was suppose to pretend that I hadn’t started my PhD. I was also told that the interview would take 30 minutes and that 10 minutes would be dedicated to Q&A. That never happened. Instead, I was hauled over the coals relentlessly and my mind was “put to the question”. Confess! Confess! . One member of the panel, a rather large man from Middlesex University was the first to question me. His style was intimidating and abrasive; the academic version of Torquemada. He sat behind his tiny netbook and punched in data as I spluttered and stumbled. He set the tone for the rest of the ‘interview’.
So I wasn’t surprised when I received my rejection letter. I didn’t even read it in full. I merely scanned the letter for the all-too-familiar phrase “We are sorry but…”. They finished with the perfunctory “We wish you all the best with your project”. They needn’t have bothered. They should have adopted the attitude of a casting company and dispensed with the letter. At least in showbusiness, you know where you stand; they smile to your face and then ignore you. In academia, they repeatedly stab you in the heart and kick your head in at the same time, while rubbing salt into any open wounds.
The Tories will tell you that any study that isn’t within the narrow field of STEM subjects is frivolous. They scoff at subjects like Cultural Studies and Media Studies. They will also tell you that those who can’t afford postgraduate study should set their sights lower and forget their dreams, desires and ambitions. The universities, particularly the new universities, are now playing handmaid to David ‘Two Brains’ Willetts’s dream of a MacDonaldized vision of cheap, uniform, higher education institutions for the less well-off. The hidden discourse of Willetts’s grand vision is “Know your place”.
It is in the interests of my university to their utmost to retain me. Yet, I feel that they’re not really bothered if I withdraw or not. The university receives funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for each PhD student it enrols. It loses money when they withdraw. Can UEL afford to alienate its PhD students? Well, it appears that they can because I hear that hardship bursaries and outstanding student awards are to be discontinued.
Other countries look after PhD students, why not Britain? The answer? Because it is Britain.
Everyone knows that sex sells. If you don’t, then where have you been? I was amused by this recruitment poster for the Young Britons’ Foundation, which appears to suggest that Tories are better in the sack than people of other political persuasions. But it’s weak stuff and only acne-riddled, adolosecent Randist pencil-necks would get their kicks from this kind of stuff. In fact, I would wager that none of the YBF’s foot-soldiers have ever had real sex.
Sex involves more that just making yourself feel good, it’s also about understanding the other person’s needs and feelings. That’s something that selfish Randroids and Hayekians have a hard time understanding. But this poster is a sexual metaphor for the hard right’s demands for “faster and deeper” cuts. If this was an attempt at humour, it is sadly misguided.