Category Archives: Comprehensive Spending Review

Can we have some of what the Egyptians and Tunisians are having, please?

We need some of this here

First Tunisia and now Egypt, the old corrupt and repressive regimes are under threat. Ben Ali of Tunisia went into exile last week and Hosni Mubarak is clinging on. But these protests tell us something: ordinary people have put up with neoliberalism, corruption and attacks on them for long enough. There is only so much people can take before they snap.

Yesterday,  David Cameron said

“I think what we need is reform in Egypt. We support reform and progress in the greater strengthening of their democracy and civil rights and the rule of law.

“Clearly there are grievances that people have and they need to be met and matched.

“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest that people are being killed on the streets of Egypt as we speak, and so I hope the violence will cease.

“But clearly, when you have people who have grievances and problems that want them responded to, it’s in all our interests that these countries have stronger rule of law, stronger rights, stronger democracy.”

Foreign Secretary, Fizzy Willy Hague chipped in with

“I think it is important to recognise that the people involved have legitimate grievances – economic grievances and political grievances – and it is very important for the authorities to respond positively to that, and to be able to hold out the hope and prospect of reform in the future.

“That is the answer to this situation, rather than repression. It does not help to suppress people’s right to freedom of expression.”

Cameron  also said to the delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Europe had to

‘incentivise the same kind of risk-taking investment culture’

What Cameron can’t wrap his head around is the fact that British people have plenty of  grievances and problems  but his government ignore them and are intent on creating more problems by pursuing their ill-conceived and poorly-formulated social experiments.

Yesterday, one of Cameron’s model councils, Westminster, announced that it has plans to give social housing priority to those people who are employed.   Westminster was infamous in the early 1990’s for the Homes for Votes scandal. The then leader, Dame Shirley Porter, gerrymandered marginal wards to favour the ruling party (her party).

Under the council’s plans, working households will be defined as those where the main applicant or their partner are in work, have a permanent or temporary contract or are self-employed.

People who would be prioritised must have been working for a minimum of two years.

As if to emphasize their intellectually feeble and philosophically bankrupt policies, Hon Gid  and Cameron were spreading the Thatcherite message. Their message files in the face of recently published economic figures which say that Britain’s economy has shrunk while the US economy has grown. The US has spent money to achieve growth, while the British government makes deep cuts to public services and raises the rate of VAT, thus choking off consumer confidence. A PPE degree clearly doesn’t make for a wise politician.

While the likes of Cameron and Hague call for reform in Egypt, they trample over our democratic rights and pursue ideologically-driven policies that will make people poorer and destroy public services. Not only are these people intellectually feeble (it was the snow that caused our economy to shrink) and philosophically bankrupt (social housing is responsible for worklessness), their minds are firmly closed to today’s realities.

This is 2011, not 1981.

But the Great Lord of Darkness is still living in the past.

After nearly a quarter of a century of good industrial relations, the cloth-cap colonels of the TUC are talking about using the strike weapon to overrule a democratically elected Parliament. I can understand their anger and frustration.

I doubt he can understand the anger and frustration. His take on history is faulty too. What does he mean by “a quarter of a century of good industrial relations”? He’s not even honest enough to admit that it was his government passed a series of anti-trade union laws and spent a lot of its time smashing those unions while, ironically, supporting Solidarinosc in Poland.

I won’t bother to quote the rest of his blog. It’s really depressing.

There are demonstrations against the cuts to education in London and Manchester today and there are more planned for the future. There should be daily protests and if a few things are damaged in the process, then so be it. This government has shown that it isn’t interested in what ordinary people think and it is only through the tactics of shock that we can get them to change anything. Though, expecting this shower of shite to leave office and go into exile to Chile is clearly my fantasy and mine alone.

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

Len McCluskey’s article and the predictable Tory backlash

Well said, Len!

Well done, Len McCluskey, for his article in yesterday’s Guardian. MCluskey the recently elected general secretary of the union Unite penned this blog on the paper’s Comment is Free section.

The response of trade unions will now be critical. While it is easy to dismiss “general strike now” rhetoric from the usual quarters, we have to be preparing for battle. It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.

Early in the new year the TUC will be holding a special meeting to discuss co-ordinated industrial action and to analyse the possibilities and opportunities for a broad strike movement.

The paper produced an editorial which was quite possibly written by Matthew Parris’s partner Julian Glover (not the actor).  The piece, titled “Trade unions: leading nowhere” is nothing short of a vicious sub-Thatcherite attack.

It may not be a bad rule of thumb that anyone who thinks the term “Con-Dem” is a clever description of the coalition, who uses “Blairite” to dismiss all those on the left who think winning elections is important, and who describes strike ballots as “anti-union”, is someone with nothing interesting to say about any of them.

Groan. But it gets better

But the public does not want an unreformed welfare state, a lame duck industrial sector or trade unions that seem more concerned with overthrowing governments than representing workers’ interests democratically. It wants welfare, work and industrial democracy that are relevant to today’s world, not that of our grandparents.

So the author of this article thinks that the welfare state and everything that goes with it is what? Not modern? I find it irritating the way some writers will make great claims to modernity only to be revealed as dogmatic reactionaries who would like to see us return to the 19th century with its notions of deserving and undeserving poor.

It isn’t clear what Glover is saying here. He’s in some sort of funk

The labour movement is now in a minority. A large majority of the public are not in unions and do not vote Labour. There are millions in this majority who nevertheless feel threatened by cuts, who fear for the future of the economy and who think the government is too doctrinaire – but who do not approve of increasing deficits, who accept that sacrifices have to made (and shared fairly), who approve of the trade union laws of the 1980s (even if not of Mrs Thatcher), who think Labour can learn positive as well as negative lessons from Mr Blair, and who are not excited by battling the police or a new wave of strikes. Mr McCluskey’s priority ought to be to reach out to these people, showing he understands their lives and looking for innovative ways of addressing their anxieties. Instead, like a true Bourbon, he sadly sounds as if he stopped thinking in 1979. What a waste.

I think Glover has missed something here. In fact, he seems to have been living out in the Kuiper Belt for the last couple of months. The anti-cuts movement is united and is growing.

There is a letter of support for McCluskey here.

The Labour Party leadership also slapped McCluskey down. The Tory press, meanwhile, printed the usual mixture of bile and spittle,

The Daily Mail advised the unions that they faced a “threat of anti-strike laws”.

David Cameron is being urged to draw up plans for emergency anti-strike laws to prevent militant trade unions holding Britain to ransom.

It adds,

Senior members of the Government are now understood to be urging the Prime Minister to draw up contingency plans for a crackdown on reckless industrial action.

Mr Cameron held a historic face-to-face meeting with union bosses in Downing Street yesterday over mince pies and coffee, at which he told them he wanted a ‘constructive dialogue’.

Rest assured, this wasn’t beer and sandwiches. Accompanied by a photo of Charles and Camilla’s chance encounter with republicanism, James Kirkup’s article in the Torygraph says,

Mr McCluskey’s rhetoric may raise tensions between the Coalition and the unions, but there was little public response from ministers.

Privately, several Cabinet ministers are pressing for action to toughen trade union laws. But the Coalition is determined not to be seen as instigating conflict with unions.

Rather than making public statements, the government will simply leave any public brickbats to their lackeys in Fleet Street.

Meanwhile John McTernan’s says that “Christmas has come early for Ed Miliband”,

Miliband must be truly grateful for this opportunity to stand up to the unions just before the political season enters its holiday hiatus. It won’t be to McCluskey’s taste, but he’s done the Labour leader a real favour.

McTernan seems to have forgotten Miliband’s speech to conference. Labour’s leadership won’t be supporting the anti-cuts movement any time soon.

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Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Government & politics, Media, Neoliberalism, Public spending, Trade Unions

If you’re looking for leadership, look away from the Labour Party

Some people say that the post war consensus ended in the 1980’s with the election of the Thatcher government. I’d agree with that. The Labour Party in the 1980’s under Neil Kinnock was a pale shadow of its former self. Kinnock as Labour leader sought to make the party electable by expelling from it the dissenters and the socialists. It first witch-hunted and then expelled members of the Militant Tendency from its ranks at the behest of Thatcher and the Tory-supporting press. Then it embarked on a period of internal ‘reforms’ to make it less social democratic and more business-friendly.

By 1997, the party had done a complete volte-face. Now it welcomed big business. Now it adopted corporate-speak as its new tongue. Now it cut its own heart out in order to please Murdoch and the rest of the Tory press. It became a new party. It joined the new neoliberal consensus. As Labour leader, Tony Blair told us how he was “beyond ideology”. Often when people say this sort of thing, they are making an effort to conceal their true right wing selves.

What Blair offered the country was a weak compromise between social democracy and neoliberalism. The two were and are mutually incompatible. First the Public Private Partnership (PPP) was introduced as Nu Labour’s concession to neoliberalism. Then came the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which was introduced to provide a means for investing in hospital improvements. It too was a concession to neoliberalism.

By the time Brown came to power, the Labour Party looked like it had run out of ideas. It looked like a party marking time. It could offer nothing of substance to its core supporters who were deserting the party in their droves. Whilst in power the party had failed to reverse Thatcher’s anti-union laws. It also failed to build new council homes and continued with the disastrous Right to Buy scheme. It did the spade work for any future Tory administration.

Brown lost the election and the party took months to elect a replacement leader. When it eventually elected Ed Miliband, some thought that the party would change direction and draw a line between itself and the New Labour years. Even Miliband told us this. But he was just saying that for the press. A couple of months as leader and he sounds just like his mentor, Neil Kinnock.

Miliband has failed to offer real support the student protests though he said “I was tempted”. So what stopped him?  Three words: the Tory press. He was afraid of how the papers would portray him. Most of the mainstream media have been against the student protests, many of them concoct scare stories about “dangerous anarchist groups”. Some even went as far as to accuse a wheelchair-bound student, Jody McIntyre of using his wheelchair to attack the police. While the BBC and others reported on Prince Charles and Camilla’s car being attacked by protesters for days after the event; Aflie Meadows lay in hospital with bleeding on his brain, after being hit by a police truncheon. The journalists were unmoved and unconcerned. The opposition Labour Party said nothing about Alfie meadows or Jody McIntyre.

When Miliband gave his speech to conference in September, he said,

So they looked to their union to help them. They weren’t interested in going on strike, they loved the kids the worked with, they loved their schools. But they wanted someone to help them get basic standards of decency and fairness.

Responsible trade unions are part of a civilised society, every democratic country recognises that.

But all of us in this movement bear a heavy responsibility. We want to win an argument about the danger this coalition government poses to our economy and our society.

To do so we must understand the lessons of our own history too.

We need to win the public to our cause and what we must avoid at all costs is alienating them and adding to the book of historic union failures.

That is why I have no truck, and you should have no truck, with overblown rhetoric about waves of irresponsible strikes.

The public won’t support them. I won’t support them. And you shouldn’t support them either.

But it is not just from trade unions that I want to see responsibility.

We’ll take the last paragraph first, what does Miliband mean by “responsibility”? Caving in to pressure from the tabloid press? But what did he mean when he talked about “irresponsible strikes”? I would like to know what an “irresponsible strike” is. This section of the speech was intended to placate the rabid journos of the Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail. What Miliband has done here is to play to the right wing press by agreeing that unions go on strike because they’re “irresponsible” and enjoy inconveniencing people. Unions go on strike because it is the last resort. In fact, it is harder to go on strike because of the laws that were left in place by Blair and Brown.

The Labour Party has been tepid in its support for the anti-cuts movement. It has offered no leadership at all. The NUS President, Aaron Porter also provided no leadership. His candlelit vigil on the Embankment became an even more laughable glowstick vigil (sic). He condemned some protesters as “a hardcore of activists” and played directly into the hands of the media.  Porter then backtracked after, it appears, he had taken advice from Labour Party Hq. His leadership remains weak and there are calls for him to be removed from office.

History has shown us that when leadership is required, the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen. It’s more concerned in maintaining its profile in the Tory press. Too cowardly to rock the boat, the Labour Party will always abandon those in real need. It even supports some of the government’s welfare reforms. In fact, when it was in power, it advocated pretty much the same reforms.

If you’re looking for real opposition to the cuts, don’t bother with Labour. They’ll only cut your throat and leave you in the ditch to die.

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Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Conservative Party, Education, Education, London, Society & culture, Student protests

The government presses ahead with plans to make more people homeless

Rat Boy wants to take your home away

I see the Tory-led coalition are to press ahead with their plan to force new social housing tenants to accept 2 year contracts. Social landlords will be able to check the financial status of their tenants and if they are earning too much, they will be evicted after 6 months.

I listened with bemusement as I heard Grant Shapps refer to social housing as “subsidized housing” on BBC News this morning. It is obvious what Shapps and the others mean when they refer to “subsidized housing”:  social tenants are “scroungers”.

In the Telegraph, Andrew Porter writes,

The Coalition has countered criticism by pointing to the five million people waiting for a home.

That isn’t a real counter-argument yet the government thinks that by simply saying there are” 5 million waiting for a home” it will magically divert attention from the fact that no social housing was built to replace those properties that were sold under Right To Buy. There is no logic either to the plan or their thinking. But this isn’t about addressing the housing shortage as the government claims. It’s  all about punishing the poor, the low-waged and the vulnerable for the excesses of the banks.

The Right To Buy scheme was the first attempt by the Conservatives to destroy working class communities and thus have the effect of reducing the Labour vote in areas with large numbers of social tenants. This can be seen in two ways: first, it’s social engineering and second, it’s a form of gerrymandering. In the 1990’s, Wandsworth and Westminster City councils both sold off council estates in order to create obedient Tory-voting wards.

Instead of allowing councils to build more homes, their solution is to ignore the housing shortage. It’s not much of a solution when you think about it.

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Filed under Big Society, Comprehensive Spending Review, Government & politics, Society & culture

Postcards From The Barricades (Part 1)

Millbank Tower under occupation

Who says the spirit of 1968 is dead? I am on the joint NUS/UCU demo against the cuts today. I get off at Westminster Tube Station, walk past Peter Hitchens who is wheeling his bike towards the platforms. That was weird. I give him a punky sneer. I am in now in protest mode. I emerge into the daylight and  join what looks  like the head of the march on Whitehall. I take my camera out and proceed to take some pictures of placards. I then notice that the battery is dead. Typical. I haven’t used the bloody thing for months and the battery is dead. What is that all about? Now I have to use the mobile phone. Groan.

We head past Westminster Palace. I stop at College Green to see if there are any telly crews. There was no one that I recognized.How odd.  On past Thames House and MI5. Next, Millbank Tower. A really ugly building that was once home to Nu Labour is now the home of the Tories. Is that a coincidence? This looks interesting. There are loads of banners and placards and lots of noise. Then I notice that a fire has been started. People are heaping placards onto the fire. Yeah, this is beginning to look really good.

I squeeze myself as close to the entrance of Millbank Tower as I possibly can. It’s hard work. The large plate glass window to the left of the entrance is beginning to move. Suddenly objects ranging from eggs to placard sticks to stones being thrown at the window. A large crack appears. This is a laminated window. I move back a bit and notice that some cobbles on the driveway have been ripped up. The mood is angry. I move back a little more and spot some anarchists moving towards the building. They move like commandos.  This looks interesting.  I follow them but they melt into the crowd. Something is going to happen really soon.

I move around to the other side of the building. I can see Mike Sergeant filing a report by mobile phone to the BBC. I wonder if anyone has spotted him? I can already imagine how the BBC News Channel is reporting this. But no sign of Sky…yet. I peer through the side window and look into the foyer. I can see that an advance guard has occupied the foyer. There’s a woman student dancing about with a police cap on. It’s quite a funny sight. It’s almost like 1968 again. I can’t believe how unprepared the cops and the Tories are for this.

Millbank Tower is now completely under siege. I can see Tory party workers looking down on us. No change there then. Suddenly the crowd cheers. I look up to see the band of anarchists on the roof of the building. Their red and black flags fluttering in the chilly November breeze. There’s more pushing. More objects are being thrown. Finally, the sound of breaking glass. The window is finally smashed open. Protesters pour in.

I move back on to Millbank and study the scene. Then from my right, a column of riot police appear. They form a line across the driveway to prevent any more of us from surging forward. But it’s too little too late. I notice that one of the riot cops has a first aid cross on his helmet. Oh, the irony. I suspect that the police have a plan to ‘kettle’ the driveway. I walk towards the Tate and see even more protesters on their way to Millbank Tower.  I take the right past the Tate and the Chelsea School of Art and notice that they have a barbecue going. What style.

I’m home now. Watching the reports on the BBC News Channel. They’re trying to make the claim that a group of “hardcore activists hijacked the demonstration”. It’s as if to suggest that anarchists can’t be students and vice versa. Nonsense. Mike Sergeant is saying that “most of the students condemned the ‘violence'” and “they’re anarchists, they don’t reflect out views”. What tripe.  There was no violence. The media speaks with the master’s voice.

We aren’t going to go away. Get used to it.

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IDS: workfare will set you free or else!

First it was proposed by the last government, now it’s being proposed by our dear friend, IDS. Workfare is back on the menu. Free labour for grubby capitalists.  The unemployed are to be told to do something called unpaid ‘community work’ or face having their benefits cut.  The Guardian reports,

The proposals, in a white paper on welfare reform to be unveiled this week, are part of a radical government agenda aimed at cutting the £190bn-a-year welfare bill and breaking what the coalition now calls the “habit of worklessness”.

The “habit of worklessness”. Now there’s an interesting phrase. We can add that phrase to “inter-generational worklessness” and “deserving and undeserving poor”.

Predictably, The Daily Mail is behind the whole idea. They even have a picture of – what looks like- a trio of idle youths outside a McDonald’s somewhere in Britain The youths are tucking in to their Big Macs and fries to sort of  reinforce the ‘point’. “Look! Idle youths eating junk food on your taxes! How dare they”? Thing is, those youths could have been paid by a Mail journo to pose for the photo. Payment in Big Mac and fries. Standards must be slipping. The opening paragraph of the article says all one needs to know,

The feckless unemployed will be forced to take part in a punishing U.S.-style ‘workfare’ scheme involving gardening, clearing litter and other menial tasks for just £1 an hour in a new crackdown on scroungers.

“£1 an hour”? Why not force them into chain gangs while you’re at it?

You can see what’s happening here and it has little to do with communities. This is an exercise in exploitation. This reserve army of labour – as Marx referred to the unemployed – is to be mobilized for what purpose? To prove to the readers of the Mail and the Telegraph that the unemployed are working for their ‘keep’? Or is it the case that someone, or some company somewhere is set to make some form of profit off the back of this? What is a “community” in this particular sense anyway? What happens to the street cleaners and so on who are already on ultra-low wages? Will they be made redundant? Is this menial work meant to lift the spirits?

IDS once made the unfortunate but somewhat telling remark that “work will set you free”.  Says it all really.

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This week’s strikes and the media backlash

One of the topics for discussion on this morning’s Sunday Morning Live is about striking workers. The host, Susannah Reid asks “Are strikes justified or are they the tactics of bullyboy unions”? Cue footage of Thatcher, the ‘Winter of Discontent’ and the Miner’s Strike. The overall tone of the pre-discussion film is anti-union. Some woman called Angela Epstein, whom I have never seen before declares that all strikes should be made illegal. But it’s  2 against 1 as Jonathan Bartley and Hardeep Singh Kohli lay into her ill-thought out opinions.  But that isn’t the end of it. Cue the talking heads from around the country linked by webcam to the studio. It’s all about the “cost to British business”. Never mind working conditions. They just shouldn’t do it. Angela asks “do really want to return to the militancy of the 1970’s”? To be honest she doesn’t look old enough to remember the 1970’s. If she was old enough to remember she may recall how utterly rubbish British management was though I suspect that she’d have been on the side of the Tories. Their view was that Britain’s gin-soaked managers were doing a bang up job.

Earlier on The Andrew Marr Show, Julia Hobsbawm and Clive Anderson were reviewing the papers. Anderson lighted on an article by Andrew Gilligan that is titled “The Return of the Strike”.  I don’t know where Kennite has been living for the last 20 years but the strike never went away. Britain’s unions have become weaker thanks to the restrictive legislation passed by Thatcher and all the governments since. But strikes still happen.

Over the last few months, there has been much union and media talk of a “new winter of discontent” to be allegedly provoked by the savage public spending cuts ahead. And indeed, last week, as the clocks went back, the workers went out – not just at the Beeb, over pensions, but on the London Underground, where Wednesday saw the third 24-hour strike about ticket office closures, and in the London Fire Brigade, over shift patterns, with the second of two eight-hour strikes on Tuesday and a 47-hour walkout due to begin on Friday.

I don’t recall any union leader talking about a “New Winter of Discontent”. Yet here Kennite claims that some union leader, somewhere, has said it.   In fact, his own paper warned in August that Scotland was facing a winter of discontent.  Indeed much of this talk has come directly from the Tory press and Tory commentators. So maybe he’s half right. But Kennite is a little late with his analysis. The BBC’s Nick Robinson produced this article in September. He says,

The unions are weaker, the laws limiting their actions much stronger and the desire for that style of confrontation is simply not there.

There is no mention of this rather important fact in Kennite’s article. Instead he concentrates his attention on how the unions present themselves in the media,

And there are also doubts about the union movement’s ability to fight in the media age. Sophisticated trade unionists, like the TUC’s Brendan Barber, know that Seventies-style chest-beating will not work. It is notable that in his first speech as Labour leader, Mr Miliband went out of his way to condemn “irresponsible strikes.”

He continues,

People like Barber know that a new unionism, modelled on the most effective NGOs, such as Greenpeace, is needed: addressing the public, rather than just the employer; based on campaigning, and on uncovering information that changes minds, rather than just the diminishing asset of workforce muscle.

It never occurs to Gilligan how the Tory-dominated press operates with regards to workers, unions and strikes. His paper and others like it print smear story after smear story about unions and striking workers. These days mainstream politicians will do any thing to please the media barons. You may recall how Tony Blair schmoozed The Old Bastard before Labour’s election victory in 1997.  The Murdoch media empire was more than happy to  swing behind Blair and his new Tories. It was as if the real constituents; the ordinary voters didn’t matter. What mattered was appeasing the Tory press. Miniband is merely trying to keep onside with the hostile media because he knows that if he doesn’t the press will make mincemeat of him and his party.

What programmes like Sunday Morning Live succeed in doing is regurgitating old myths and canards. They attract armchair activists whose understanding of the world comes to them from the Tory press.

Why do we fight? Because we have to!

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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.


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