Tag Archives: Danny Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian reports:

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian has more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s he trying to fool?

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

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

Now how’s that for hypocrisy?

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Lib Dems: delusional, dumb and still in power

Nick Clegg: he isn’t sorry at all

The Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton had an air of denial about it. On the platform, there was speech after speech from government ministers praising their supposed achievements in government and telling their members  how well they were doing and how they were “holding the Tories to account”. But this is a party in decline. This is a party that cannot see the writing on the wall because its leadership is so totally blinded by the sudden rush of power that it can’t see the skerries and reefs ahead of it.  What’s worse for the Lib Dems is that Captain Clegg, drunk on power and at the helm, is steering his ship of fools into the rocks and there’s no sign of a mutiny. Indeed, no one in the party wants to take on the role of Fletcher Christian to Clegg’s William Bligh. Even though Twinkletoes Cable is seen as a potential successor, he toes the line, popping up every now and again with a soundbite to rile his Tory partners. Then, as soon as he’s out of his box, he’s back in it again.

The Lib Dems front bench reads like a list of crooks and nobodies. Next to the liar and embezzler, David Laws, Danny Alexander is probably one of the worst. Looking like a rabbit caught in a headlight’s beam, the timorous Alexander can’t make a speech for toffee and resembles a boy whose mother has just told him off for playing with himself in public. Then there’s Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne with his über-posh accent. Like the rest of them, whenever he is asked a specific question relating to his brief, he falls back on “the last Labour government” as his get-out clause. But it’s much worse than that: he never has any answers, is desperately lacking a clue and comes across as unspeakably dim.

The recently-promoted Jo Swinson is another one of those Lib Dems who’s full of clichés,  soundbites and platitudes. This is from the BBC News website,

Drawing on her own experience of work in a fast-food restaurant and with an “enforced perma-smile” at the Disney Store, Ms Swinson said she knew she was at her “most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work”.

Please, show me someone who “relishes” going to a job that they hate; a job that offers no prospects and doesn’t pay enough to cover one’s outgoings and I’ll show you a caring Conservative.

So what about Nick Clegg, the captain of this rotting hulk of a vessel? Well, last week he  claimed to have apologised for his party’s position on tuition fees (among other things) but no one believed him and if his conference speech was anything to go by, we can safely say that anything that comes out of his mouth is going to be insincere. The fact that his ‘apology’ was given the autotune remix treatment and entered  the charts says more about the Lib Dems public relations department than it does the public’s judgement of taste.

Finally, this video with Steve Bell at the Lib Dem conference sums it up beautifully. Bell notes that Clegg’s hair is in “bad condition”. So is his party.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2012/sep/26/lib-dems-steve-bell-conference-video

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Gove: “Won’t someone think of the children”?

The  government approach to the public sector strikes – particularly the teacher’s strike tomorrow – is quite simply, appalling. In response to the teacher’s strike, the government has resorted to the classic tactic of using emotional  blackmail and blatant misrepresentations to try and sway public opinion in their favour. All of a sudden, single parents matter when they never mattered to them before. The children – the pupils – are also being dragged into this. “Won’t someone think of them”? But these words are hollow and insincere and amount to little more than public relations gimmicks. That shouldn’t surprise us: since they came to power, the Tories have relied rather heavily on PR. I thought Blair was pretty bad for his addiction to PR but Cameron is a former PR man; he lives and breathes it.  Never before has a someone with a background in PR occupied the highest office in the land. It is a first. But his efforts to make use of PR looks a little tired and clichéd.

Teachers have gone on strike before, yet given the rhetoric coming from the mouths of the Tories, it would seem that this was the very first time that teachers have voted for industrial action. Teachers are now painted variously as “irresponsible” and “selfish” people who are more concerned with their unions than with teaching. Predictably,  right wing commentators like  the Daily Telegraph’s Hon Tobes and Katharine Burbalsingh have chimed in with their smears and dark mutterings of “leftist conspiracies”. I won’t bother to quote or link to their blogs but needless to say the blogs all attract the usual rubbish from their braindead readership about banning trade unions and how the ‘left’ is ‘destroying education’. 

Burbalsingh’s blog draws on this Torygraph article by Graham Paton et al. In it, he accuses the National Union of Teachers (NUT) of “bullying” headteachers into going on strike. The opening paragraph reads,

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to schools throughout England and Wales telling them they could be in breach of employment law and health and safety regulations if they keep schools open during the pensions-related dispute.

What this paragraph doesn’t tell you is that Gove, resembling a weak-kneed version of Kitchener, has suggested that parents could volunteer to keep schools open. What Gove overlooked was the fact that anyone who works in a school needs to have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Any headteacher who allows parents to act as ersatz teachers would be breaking the law. This is not about the omnipresent ‘red tape’. This is a matter of child protection. The NUT was right to warn headteachers of such issues. Indeed, just because someone is a parent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they cannot be child-abusers as well.

Further down the article,

As tensions between ministers and union activists escalated, schools were warned against bringing in supply teachers to cover for striking teachers and told any moves to plug gaps in the timetable with permanent staff would be “very damaging” to morale.

But then who says that supply teachers aren’t and cannot be members of trade unions? It’s a terrible presumption.

The strike is only for one day but to hear Tory commentators talk, you’d think it was for a month. As someone pointed out to me the other day, no Tory had a problem with the days lost for the Royal Wedding. Indeed the Tory press has depicted the teacher’s strike as a regular occurrence. The last such strike was in 2008. This is what the Guardian said in 2010 when the NASUWT threatened to strike,

The last teachers’ strike was in April 2008, when at least 1 million children in 8,000 schools went without lessons after the NUT, which represents more than half of the profession, clashed with the government over a pay deal that it said would leave its members worse off. It was the first national teachers’ strike for 21 years.

That’s right, before 2008, teachers hadn’t voted for a national strike for 21 years!

The Sun’s tone is as you’d expect,

IT is time to make a stand.

 On Thursday, a hardcore of militant teachers will try to shut all Britain’s 23,000 state schools by striking over pensions.

 It would harm pupils and cause family childcare chaos.

The Sun says this cynical strike must not succeed.

Today we call on parents and the majority of moderate teachers to keep schools open.

 For decades, education has been in the grip of hardline teaching unions.

There’s one thing missing from this leader: an image of Winston Churchill giving the ‘V’ Sign. In typically hysterical fashion, the Scum have dubbed the strike “The Summer of Hate”. You will recall from this blog, that the word “hate” has now been conscripted to serve ideological masters. For years the US right in have used the word in the same way to claim the moral high ground. Is it childish? You bet it is.

Even Ed Miliband has said the strike is wrong. Are we still in the 1980’s? Milly Band says,

You do not win public backing for an argument about pensions by inconveniencing the public – especially not while negotiations are ongoing.

 A point has been missed by a country mile here. The government told the public sector workers what it intended to do (while labelling them parasites) and it had no time for negotiation. Only as the strike day approached did the government consider negotiation. Lest we forget, on 17 June, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander preempted negotiations between the government and the unions by announcing the coalition’s intentions for public sector pension ‘reform’.

This Tory-led government has been gunning for education since it came to power. They introduced free schools. They announced that they were going ask Niall Ferguson to rewrite the history syllabus, then it cancelled the Better Schools Programme.  “Won’t someone think of the children”? Won’t someone think of them, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Coalition verdict: What a shower

The title of this blog is borrowed from a series of similar blog titles in yesterday’s  Torygraph.  As you’d expect, all of them heap praise on their Tory brethren and pour scorn on their Lib Dem coalition partners. None of them claim that the coalition is a “shower”, though clearly many of them wish the Tories had an unassailable majority. But we don’t always get what we want in life, do we? The coalition has been in place for one year and in that year, it has waged war on the poor, the unemployed, the low-waged, the disabled, students and anyone who does not fit into their vision of the perfect society. In fact the word “society” has been absent from their minds as they pursue an ideologically-driven agenda of cuts.

The way in which the coalition parties have used the excuse of the structural deficit to push through cuts has been dishonest. In fact, this coalition government finds it difficult to be consistent. First, it talks about the national debt, then it talks about budget and structural deficits and tries to erroneously compare these things – as Thatcher did – with household finances. They tell us that “Britain’s credit card is maxed out” . Rubbish. The country doesn’t have a “credit card” and it can still raise money on the international bond markets. In spite of what the Con-Dem government and their allies tell us, Britain is far from being broke. There is money in this country but it’s all concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the public haven’t got a clue when it comes to deficits and debts and the government use this ignorance to their advantage. This dishonesty is reproduced by the Telegraph’s bloggers, who are all keen to impress upon us the need to accept reductions in public spending, which the government tries to present as either ‘localism’ or ’empowerment’.

If they want to talk about household finances, perhaps they could start dealing with stagnating wages and the ever-rising cost of living. Britain’s household debt is higher than it’s ever been, yet the government seems quite happy for this situation to continue. At the beginning of this year, the rate of VAT was increased from 17.5% to 20%, which has meant that many things have increased in price – including food which, although free of VAT, is subject to VAT through production and distribution costs.

Education has been area where the Tories have sought to make their mark.  While paying lip service to the idea of education for all, they’ve been pushing forward their divisive idea for free schools. Free schools, in spite of what their supporters and this government tells us, sucks funding away from existing schools.  In Further and Higher Education, they’ve caused the biggest stink by scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and imposing swingeing cuts on universities, which has prompted many universities to raise their tuition fees to the higher level of £9,000 per annum. The curriculum is also about to be colonized by ideology.  The subject of history is going to be rewritten to serve the narrow interests of the state. The revisionist historian, Niall Ferguson has been asked to devise a new history syllabus that will focus on such things as the greatness of empire. In many of the post-1992 universities, arts, humanities and social science courses are being cut because they are seen to be ‘soft’. However the real reason for cutting social sciences and humanities courses is because they teach critical thinking. Say hello to “by-rote” learning.

The Tories have also been keen to misrepresent social housing in their efforts to claim that

  1. All social tenants are  ‘scroungers’
  2. Council housing is a drain on the nation’s finances
  3.  Social housing is “state” housing and
  4. It’s a form of welfare.

Their flagship councils, who have been emboldened by having their party in government, have each made attacks on council tenants.  Westminster City Council wants to raise tenants’ rents if their incomes increase. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have threatened West Kensington and the Gibbs Green estates with bulldozers as part of their ‘redevelopment’ plans for the area around the Earl’s Court complex. The Queen Caroline Estate in the Broadway ward has also been targeted. The word that is often used in conjunction with these plans is “vulnerable”. These two councils claim, as the government does, that social housing should be for the “most vulnerable”. So who qualifies as “vulnerable” and what happens to those people once they have ceased to be “vulnerable”? Will they be evicted after a couple of years?

Let’s look at another of the more common misrepresentations.  Early in their administration, the Tories claimed that there were millions lost through “widespread benefit overpayments”. It turned out that the numbers had been vastly inflated and the amount of money was only dwarfed by the amount lost to the exchequer through tax evasion and avoidance. While those of us on lower incomes have no choice but to pay tax, those people who earn the most find ways to wriggle out of paying it.

It’s time for a look at some of those Telegraph blogs. Here’s one from the Great Lord of Darkness that’s titled  “My Coalition verdict: Iain Duncan Smith scores high, Vince Cable scores low”

The once respected Vince Cable, now an object of derision, scores zero, while Ed Miliband gets 2 out of 10 and must work harder.

There’s only one problem: Miliband isn’t in the coalition, so why mention him?

Ed West also has a pop at Cable.

Biggest loser: Either of the two leading rattle-throwers, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, who are going to destroy their party because they overestimate the size of their political constituency. “Progressives” comprise a fairly small portion of the British public, and even within the Left are outnumbered by Blue Labour social conservatives and Jack Straw-style authoritarians. They could probably all fit inside Chris Huhne’s living rooms.

Super-Catholic, Cristina Odone can’t resist the sitting duck either.

Biggest Loser: Vince Cable. Energy Minister Chris Huhne may resign from government, but no one really liked him much in the first place. Vince, instead, was the nation’s darling for his purported knowledge of the economy (his book The Storm was a best seller), charmingly romantic Desert Island disc performance, and his fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing. Then he  blew it, boasting about his importance to the Coalition. He now looks like a foolish, self-important old man who seems as out of touch with his colleagues as with the public that once cherished him. Sad.

I won’t bother quoting the rest because they all plough the same dull furrow.

The coalition started badly. In the space of 15 days it suffered its first ministerial scandal and resignation when crypto-Tory, David Laws was forced to hand his portfolio to the equally worthless, Danny Alexander.  Today, Laws has been suspended from the Commons for breaching parliamentary rules. He won’t be returning to government any time soon.

The Telegraph says,

He is expected to be ordered to apologise to Parliament and pay back tens of thousands of pounds after an investigation that resulted from a Daily Telegraph report last year.

It is the most serious punishment imposed on any parliamentarian by fellow MPs following the expenses scandal and is likely to block any return to government for Mr Laws.

The Prime Minister had hoped that Mr Laws, who was popular among Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, would return to the cabinet soon, but this has now been ruled out.

Ironically it was the Telegraph that broke the Laws expenses story. For someone with a great deal of personal wealth, why did he feel the need to cheat the taxpayer out of over £40,000? One word: arrogance.

It’s hard to see how this coalition can last another 4 years when the Conservatives are trying to find ways to divorce their partners. The Tories’ allies,  the bloggers and commentators at the Torygraph,  spend a great deal of time sticking pins into their Lib Dem voodoo dolls. With these kinds of tensions, it is only a matter of time before the coalition collapses and in the aftermath of the Lib Dems drubbing in the English local elections and their obliteration in Scotland, this can’t come soon enough.

Paddy Power is offering the following odds on the year of the next general election:

2011                  7/2

2012                  5/2

2013                   10/3

2014                   5/1

2015 or later  6/4

Those look like pretty good odds.  I’m almost tempted to have a punt.

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