Tag Archives: Dominic Raab

Let’s Talk About: The Free Enterprise Group

When Priti Patel was forced to resign last Thursday for meeting Israeli government officials without prior authorization, you may have noticed the two faces that kept appearing on television to defend her. One was Nadhim Zahawi and the other was Jacob Rees Mogg. What you may not realize is that both belong to the Free Enterprise Group, to which Patel also belongs. Prominent members of this group published a book in 2010 called Britannia Unchained, which claimed that “Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world”, and add “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” There is a wealth of evidence to debunk these beliefs, for beliefs are what they are. These views are not supported by evidence or anything like it.

Patel, along with Elizabeth Truss, Chris Skidmore, Kwasi Kwarteng and Dominic Raab were the book’s co-authors, and for them, poor productivity is laid at the door of the workers, not the bosses, directors and shareholders, but the workers. For these hardened free market cultists, British workers are simply too lazy and are rewarded far too readily for their indolence. This is all myth. British workers’ wages have traditionally been lower than those of their continental counterparts. Britons also work longer hours than workers in other European countries.

First, lets’ take a look at their website. You may recognize a few familiar faces.

On their ‘About’ page, we’re told that the FEG was founded in 2010 by Liz Truss, a name more associated with ‘pork markets’ than critical thinking. She’s also one of the least competent ministers in the current cabinet. That’s quite an achievement.

The Free Enterprise Group is a leading association of free-market orientated Conservative Members of Parliament. Convened by James Cleverly MP, FEG seeks to restate the importance of liberal and practical free enterprise values against the backdrop of a significant loss of confidence in free market economics following the banking failures of the late 2000s. Founded by the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, now Secretary of State for Justice, FEG is supported by over 40 MPs who want to put free enterprise at the heart of the Conservative Party.

We can therefore assume that the FEG wants a return to what they see as the ‘golden age’ of capitalism: the 19th century. Nostalgia is clearly in the driving seat.

According to capitalist rag, City AM, The FEG is “highly influential” and was “relaunched” in 2015. It is led by James Cleverly, the MP for Braintree, and has a membership of 40 MPs. Some of these MPs would claim to be successful in business, but these are rentiers, who make nothing and grow wealthy from shares and dividends. Some of them, like Chris Philp, who likes to lecture people on economic matters, is a failed businessman and a tax dodger.

While many people have tipped Rees Mogg to replace Theresa May as party leader, one must not rule out Raab,  a self-confessed Thatcherite, who has positioned himself as a dark horse candidate. I have already written about Raab on this blog. In this Guardian article from 2012, he says “The talented and hard-working have nothing to fear”. These words remind The Cat of the claims made in support of greater surveillance: if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. Raab assumes that those he represents, the rentier capitalists of the Surrey stockbroker belt, have worked hard for their wealth. No capitalist ever worked hard: they acquired their wealth on the back of workers who worked hard for them, or it was handed to them by their rich parents via a trust fund. The same article tips Priti Patel as a future PM. The horror.

Here’s Raab being caught out in a lie about foodbanks on BBC2’s Victoria Live show. Apparently, foodbank users have a “cashflow problem”.

Raab is the MP for Esher and Walton, one of the richest constituencies in the country. He is unlikely to have met any poor people or benefits claimants. Lying is second nature to Raab and if he isn’t lying, then he’s engaging in baseless smears. Politicore spotted a typical Tory smear about Jeremy Corbyn “supporting terrorists” on the same show.

Here’s Raab advocating the privatization of the National Health Service on The Daily Politics. He’s also lying.

Raab was recently included on a list of 40 Tory MPs, who have been involved in the sexual abuse scandal. The Guardian reports:

Raab, a junior justice minister tipped by some as a future Tory leader, revealed he was named on the widely-circulated list as having been subject to an injunction over “inappropriate behaviour with a woman”.

In a statement on his website Raab warned that while it was vital to investigate cases of abuse and harassment, he feared a “media feeding frenzy” from the widely shared list, which names 40 MPs and ministers.

Any claims he had harassed anyone or engaged in sexually abusive or lewd behaviour “is false and malicious”, Raab said, adding that he had taken legal advice.

Readers may have noticed how quiet this scandal has gone since the list was published two weeks ago.

The unstated aim of the FEG is to create a sweatshop economy in which regulations are torn up because they, apparently, impact adversely on profits. One can easily see where this is going: if the FEG ever takes control of the Tory Party and finds itself in government, workers will have no rights or protections guaranteed by statute. Freedom, as articulated by the FEG is freedom for bosses to exploit workers and make themselves ever-richer on the back of labour.

Members of the FEG voted unanimously for Brexit.  According to a report called ‘Reconnecting with the Commonwealth’, co-authored by Cleverly, they want to “reconnect with the Commonwealth”. In other words, they want to relaunch the Empire as a trading bloc. The Financial Times points out this is a flawed idea and I would add that it is steeped in nostalgia. James Blitz writes:

Conservative rightwingers may feel nostalgic about a return to “imperial preference”. But until the UK signs new FTAs with the nations of the Commonwealth, Britain will be in the odd position of having worse trading terms with these countries than Brussels does. And, as Sir Simon Fraser, the former head of the UK foreign office noted recently, the damage goes beyond that. “Those EU trade agreements are vital for [Commonwealth states’] development goals,” he said. “The UK will no longer be able to champion their access to the EU market as we have in the past.

The first two paragraphs of the report’s foreword, written by disgraced former Australian PM, Tony Abbott, is also soaked in nostalgia:

Brexit means that Britain is back. The country that gave the world the
English language, common law and the Mother of Parliaments is once more
to seize its destiny as a global leader. This is an exciting time for Britain
and an exhilarating one for the countless millions elsewhere who appreciate
Britain’s unique contribution to western civilisation.

It’s good that Britain will no longer be constrained by the statism and
bureaucracy of Brussels. It’s also good that the remaining members of the
European Union will now have to rethink how much of their sovereignty they
wish to surrender.

All that’s missing from this romantic paean to free market capitalism is the call to bomb the enemy to dust.

The FEG gets its administrative support from the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA),  a notorious free market think-tank, whose director is Mark Littlewood, a hardline laissez-faire economist who used to work for the Lib Dems. In this Guardian article, he hints at abolishing the minimum wage:

Anything that looks like a return to the Dickensian workhouse raises hackles. But I don’t want people working in sweatshops at 5p an hour. You should sell abolishing the minimum wage in positive terms, as providing young people with a first step on the jobs ladder, as a ‘jobs for all’ scheme.

Littlewood may not want people to work for 5p an hour, but like his friends in the FEG, he’d happily see them working for £2.50 an hour. For free marketeers, cutting wages, while forcing people to work longer hours, is the key to greater productivity. Nowhere in the FEG’s or IEA’s literature is there any mention of bosses and shareholders who pay themselves bigger dividends, while at the same time, refusing to reinvest profits in their businesses. The blame for poor productivity is always laid at the doors of the workers.

The FEG is also closely connected to the tobacco industry and Patel, who once worked for public relations outfit, Weber-Shandwick, lobbied on behalf of British American Tobacco (BAT) before entering the Commons.

BAT, a multi-million dollar business, paid its workers in Myanmar as little as £15 a month.

BAT’s position in Burma at the turn of the millennium was hugely controversial. “BAT’s factory in Burma was jointly owned with the military dictatorship and so helped fund one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world,” said Anna Roberts, executive director at Burma Campaign UK. “BAT refused to admit how much money it gave to the dictatorship, but Burma Campaign UK estimated that BAT paid the generals $16m (£10m) in taxes alone between 1999 and 2002. In contrast, BAT paid its factory workers in Burma just £15 a month. The dictatorship spent 40% of its budget on the military.”

Patel has a history of working closely with dictatorships and other unsavoury regimes. This is part of a familiar pattern with the Tories: while they are happy to denounce Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent admiration for Hugo Chavez, they are themselves rather comfortable with right-wing and military dictatorships, which are given plenty of latitude, if not outright support. Pinochet’s Chile is but one example of the Tories fraternal ties to unspeakably brutal regimes around the world. Indeed, recently, some Tories, like the disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, expressed his admiration for President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, whose involvement in the Davao death squads to kill those he sees as ‘drug dealers’ as well as political opponents, has been widely reported.

After this year’s general election saw the government lose its Commons majority, the Tories entered into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party, which has ties to Loyalist paramilitary death squads. It would appear that, for all their talk of Corbyn’s ‘support for terrorists’, the Tories are monumental hypocrites and appear to have a sneaking admiration for extra-judicial murder. I put this to Cleverly, after he’d launched another smear attack on Corbyn. I have yet to receive a reply.

The Cat suspects the FEG is manoeuvring itself to put forward one of their own as a candidate for the party’s leadership, and to ultimately take control of the Tory Party. Given the weakness of the current government and of Theresa May herself, there is every chance that they may succeed. Their romantic vision of a free market future is linked to imperial ambition and a hatred of ordinary workers, whom they blame for low productivity. We cannot let these people drag us back a century and a half on the basis of an idealized notion of a brighter past.

 

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The Magic Money Tree And Other Fairy Stories

To hear the Tories, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they know what they’re talking about on all matters relating to the national finances. According to the media and the Tories themselves, they can be “trusted on the economy” (sic). After all, according to the political and economic pundits, they’re not the ones who “crashed the economy” or propose “tax and spend” policies are they?  In fact, to hear them talk you’d think they never taxed anyone nor spent any money. But it’s all just a fairy story,  just like the ‘magic money tree’ that only the Labour Party has access to.

The phrase ‘magic money tree’ seems to have made an appearance in the last 10 to 15 years, and it’s used by Tories and ‘researchers’ from right-wing think-tanks to denigrate the economic ideas and policies of opposition parties – especially the Labour Party.  Its use by these groups is meant to suggest economic recklessness on the part of opposition parties and, ultimately, to  perpetuate the myth that only the Tories are economically credible. This is, of course, laughable. Why? Because it tells us the Tories aren’t as economically credible as they or the media would have us believe and the reason for this is because the phrase ‘magic money tree’ obscures the fact that governments have the power to create money from nothing.

Last night on Question Time, Nick Clegg, the former Deputy PM in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, claimed that you can’t “create money out of thin air”. His government did just that for five years! It’s called ‘quantitative easing’ or QE, and it’s where the central bank creates money electronically and uses it to buy assets. This tells us that money isn’t tied to anything and quite literally doesn’t exist in a physical sense.

Here’s a Bank of England video that explains QE in detail.

If you prefer, here’s Paul Mason explaining QE in the back of a cab.

Two things: first, anyone who says money “doesn’t appear out of thin air” doesn’t know what they’re talking about and second, it reveals that Thatcher’s household finance fallacy, which has dominated the reductivist thinking of political pundits and vox pop interviewees for over 30 years, is just that: a fallacy. Domestic finances and national finances are worlds, no, galaxies apart, and any attempt to reduce national finances to a simplistic narrative of ‘maxing out the credit card’ makes the person uttering those words look like a bit of a fool. But this is what the likes of Dominic Raab and Kwasi Kwarteng do all the time.

Households, that is to say, you or I, cannot go to what is called ‘the lender of last resort’ or The Bank of England or whichever central bank is local to your country and borrow money, nor can any of us issue bonds or create money out of thin air as central banks and governments do. When governments have a cash flow problem, they can apply to the lender of last resort for a loan to tide them over. If  you’re a family of four and you have a poor credit rating and you’re struggling to make ends meet on an ever-diminishing income, the option of obtaining a bank loan isn’t open to you and you may be forced to approach a loan shark instead.

The reason these clichés and soundbites were created in the first place was to hoodwink us and therefore convince us of the necessity to make swingeing cuts to public services, because we simply can’t afford things like public libraries and care for the elderly. Right? Wrong.  Money always magically appears whenever there’s a war or when the government needs to wet the beaks of rentier capitalists.

In the last seven years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of foodbanks across the country, thanks mostly to the state of the economy.  Last week, Dominic Raab told viewers on Victoria Live that people who go to foodbanks have a “cash flow problem”.

Raab is an economic illiterate, who belongs to an economic cult that accepts trickle down as ‘God’s Will’, perhaps a punishment for making the ‘wrong’ life choices.

During Wednesday’s seven-way leaders’ debate, Amber Rudd, standing in for the Incredible Vanishing Woman, told Jeremy Corbyn that his party’s policies weren’t credible and there was “no magic money tree”. In response to this breathtaking ignorance, Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman writes:

The phrase in question is “there is no magic money tree”; and it is used with an almost clockwork regularity by those who oppose proposals like those contained in the current Labour manifesto. Free school lunches? No magic money tree. Free university tuition? No magic money tree. A properly funded NHS, or more generous disability benefits? No magic money tree. And so it goes on, in a litany of meanness and misery firmly based on the assumption that there is a finite amount of money in government coffers, and that to spend it in one place is automatically to take it from another.

Further down the article, she reminds us that:

…between 2009 and 2012, the Bank of England issued an eye-watering £375 billion of extra cash in what is politely known as “quantitative easing”. Even at the time, experts could be heard arguing that this newly-printed money would have a more helpful impact on the British economy if it was simply dropped from an aeroplane on to Britain’s poorer communities, helping the hard-pressed people there to exercise their pent-up demand for new shoes or washing machines or holiday breaks.

That’s a lot of money. Go on…

Yet instead, it seems it was mainly used to prop up the banking system, and help it rebuild its balances. While real wages fell into their longest decline in more than a century, £375 billion of new government money, over four years, was used not to change the system, or rebalance the British economy, or reinvest in our grassroots public services, but to keep things exactly as they were.

So rather than the people benefiting from the creation of new money, it’s used instead to prop up banks, who aren’t lending it to people anyway.  Small businesses are suffering because of this.

So if QE is used because there’s no money in the economy, then where has all that money gone? The Tories would have you believe that it’s gone on fripperies like social security and public sector pay. But that’s nonsense. Ha Joon Chang writing in The Guardian explains:

Despite these significant shifts, myths about the economy refuse to go away and hamper a more productive debate. They concern how the government manages public finances – “tax and spend”, if you will.

The first is that there is an inherent virtue in balancing the books. Conservatives still cling to the idea of eliminating the budget deficit, even if it is with a 10-year delay (2025, as opposed to George Osborne’s original goal of 2015). The budget-balancing myth is so powerful that Labour feels it has to cost its new spending pledges down to the last penny, lest it be accused of fiscal irresponsibility.

However, as Keynes and his followers told us, whether a balanced budget is a good or a bad thing depends on the circumstances. In an overheating economy, deficit spending would be a serious folly. However, in today’s UK economy, whose underlying stagnation has been masked only by the release of excess liquidity on an oceanic scale, some deficit spending may be good – necessary, even.

The second myth is that the UK welfare state is especially large. Conservativesbelieve that it is bloated out of all proportion and needs to be drastically cut. Even the Labour party partly buys into this idea. Its extra spending pledge on this front is presented as an attempt to reverse the worst of the Tory cuts, rather than as an attempt to expand provision to rebuild the foundation for a decent society.

The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.

he third myth is that welfare spending is consumption – that it is a drain on the nation’s productive resources and thus has to be minimised. This myth is what Conservative supporters subscribe to when they say that, despite their negative impact, we have to accept cuts in such things as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, child care and free school meals, because we “can’t afford them”. This myth even tints, although doesn’t define, Labour’s view on the welfare state. For example, Labour argues for an expansion of welfare spending, but promises to finance it with current revenue, thereby implicitly admitting that the money that goes into it is consumption that does not add to future output.

It would be reasonable to argue that consent has been manufactured by the Tories, their think-tanks and their allies in the media, for the purpose of fulfilling their long-held ambitions to dismantle the welfare state and sell off public services to their corporate friends. Phrases like “the magic money tree” and “we have to live within our means” have been produced to accomplish this.

Governments spend and borrow money all the time. The notion that national finances should be treated like household budgets is demonstrably fallacious. Yet, for over 30 years much of the public has been conditioned into thinking that all government spending and borrowing is fundamentally irresponsible but this thinking is dangerous. People are dying because of it. Next Thursday, you have the opportunity to put a stop to this destructiveness. Please use your vote wisely. Don’t vote Tory.

 

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Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, General Election 2017, neoliberalism

The Cat’s Preview of the Tory Party Conference

The Tory Party conference begins on Sunday and the Cat expects to hears the following words:

  • It’s Labour’s fault
  • We’re cleaning up the mess the Labour government left us
  • The Conservative Party stands up for hardworking families/taxpayers who do the right thing and who want to get on in life.

The last one is quite important to the Tories because, in their eyes, this slogan works as a substitute for real ideas and acts as a means to divide people along the usual lines of public/private, young/old, able-bodied/disabled, waged/unwaged and so on.

Patrick Wintour in The Guardian tells us that the Conservatives have produced a “6 point pledge card to win back working class voters”.

The card is due to be launched next Monday in a Manchester pub, and the idea likely to be examined carefully as Tories seek to fend off claims that their party is for the rich, or has become insensitive to the crisis in living standards. The Conservatives do not have a single councillor in Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield or Liverpool.

The pledge card, which mirrors New Labour’s initiative in 1997, will promise free party membership for trade unionists, the building of 1m new homes over the course of a parliament, an increase in the minimum wage funded by a cut in employers’ national insurance, a cost-of-living test for every policy item and a cabinet minister to “take action for the consumer against rip-off companies”.

The sense of desperation is palpable. But it should come as no surprise to readers that Policy Exchange was involved in this ruse. Remember them? They’re the ‘non-partisan’ think-tank that proposed the North of England should be abandoned and its denizens live in leafy Oxfordshire instead.

It has been founded by David Skelton, a former deputy director of the thinktank Policy Exchange. Born in Consett, Co Durham, he is a rare northern voice in the party and stood for North Durham at the last election.

Skelton believes the Conservatives can win in the long term as the new workers’ party. He said there were four overlapping groups to which the Tories have failed to appeal: working class voters, northern urban voters, ethnic minority voters and people outside the Tory heartlands

Excuse me while I split my sides. One of those who supports this idea is Matthew Hancock, who’s on TURC’s parliamentary council. Another supporter is Laura Sandys, daughter of Duncan Sandys, a former defence secretary and member of the Monday Club. Ms Sandys is a member of the Free Enterprise Group, which includes fellow headbangers, Dominic Raabid and Kwasi Kwarteng, whose views on British workers are well known.

Another laughable idea is Eric ‘Pie Man’ Pickles’s wonderfully barking idea of letting people park on double yellow lines. It hasn’t occurred to the Sontaran that double yellow lines are there for safety reasons.

The Tory Party conference, which is being held in the very northern city of Manchester, will be met by a massive protest of health service workers, the Socialist Party, the People’s Assembly, Left Unity, Unite the Union, the TUC and many more besides. If you’re in Manchester this weekend, give the chinless bastards hell from me.

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“We need more Thatcherism” (like we need holes in our heads)

In the wake of Thatcher’s death and funeral, some senior and some not-so-senior Conservatives have been demanding the party ‘rediscovers’ Thatcherism. I must admit, I’ve been mightily amused by the Tories’ clamour for more Thatcherism. It’s as predictable as it is absurd. It also smacks of terminal desperation. Make no mistake, this is a party in decline.

The first to stick his ugly, fat, unkempt head above the parapet was Bozza. The Guardian reports,

London mayor Boris Johnson called for a show of “Thatcherite zeal” as he joined backbench MPs in demanding an overhaul of the law to make it harder to call strikes.

Johnson said was “farcical” that a strike could be called with the backing of less than half of union members and has urged the government to rethink legislation on taking industrial action.

It comes as a report by the Conservative group on the London Assembly estimates that tube strikes in the capital cost the economy £48m a day, putting the cost of industrial action between 2005 and 2009 at £1bn.

Johnson told the Sun: “The idea that a strike can be called by a majority of those that vote, rather than a majority of all those balloted, is farcical. It often results in a strike backed by just one in 10 union members, antagonising millions of commuters in the process and costing London and the UK billions every year.

“I’d urge the government to act with some Thatcherite zeal and at the very least legislate against strikes supported by less than half of all union members.”

The call for new laws follows on from union groups raising the prospect of calling a general strike in protest at the government’s austerity measures.

So Bozza said this to The Sun? Well, there’s a surprise. He’s been having regular lunches and dinners with The Old Bastard (Rupert Murdoch to you), which he’s only just begun to declare in the register of members interests at City Hall. In the same article, Dominic Raabid, who was in short trousers when the Auld Witch was ensconced in Downing Street, tells us that:

“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions, to empower their members and protect Britain.

“We now face a hot summer of discontent, with reckless strikes from schools to airports that most union members refused to back.

“It’s high time we had extra safeguards to protect the hard-working majority from this abusive militant minority.”

“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions”, opines the humourless Raab. This nutjob is serious! Last year, Raabid called for Britain to adopt a sweatshop economy. He was supported in this endeavour by his fellow headbanger, Priti Patel, who says:

“Defending the rights of people to work without fear of intimidation, bullying or violence is exactly what Margaret Thatcher championed and this legislation could once again put the rights of workers above the vested interests of the left and their union barons.”

Come again? Thatcher was a bully and her cabinet was composed mainly of bullies. The current government have carried their public school bullying with them throughout their journey to Westminster. It is their desire to make the rest of us their fags.

The mere mention of a possible general strike is enough to get the likes of Raab, Johnson and his Nazi-fetishizing chum, Aidan Burley calling for even more draconian anti-union legislation. The next step for these bullies will be to call for an outright ban on unions. That’s how much they love ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, kids.

Yesterday, Bozza’s kid brother, Jo, was appointed to the Downing Street Policy Unit with, I am reliably informed, a remit to inject more Thatcherite poison into the Tories’ already polluted bloodstream. Nicholas Watt of The Guardian writes,

The appointment of the mayor of London’s brother, who formally becomes a Cabinet Office minister, is one of a series of moves designed to strengthen the political operation in Downing Street and to patch up the prime minister’s frayed links with the Conservative party. One senior figure described the moves as a deliberate attempt to create a more political – though not politicised – Downing Street in the mould of Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 operation.

The Tories are so deluded that they seriously believe their only salvation lies in serving us warmed-up Thatcherite leftovers from 30 years ago. It’s farcical.

The real tragedy is that the opposition Labour party can’t see how weak the Conservatives are and do nothing to help finish them off (it’s called a coup de grace, Mister Ed). There’s blood in the water and if you can’t move in for the kill, then you have no business being in politics.

Ed Miliband’s spine was last seen getting into a car on the northbound carriageway of the M6 near Congleton. If anyone knows its current whereabouts then kindly inform the owner.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Free Enterprise group, Government & politics, Trade Union Reform Campaign

Tory ballot hypocrisy in action

I’ve talked on this blog about the Tories’ constant complaint about low turnouts for strike ballots and their hypocrisy when it comes to low turnouts for local elections. Many councils are elected on turnouts lower than 32% yet no Tory demands that the elections be declared null and void and held again. Here’s Dominic Raabid on last summer’s proposed strike by the PCS union,

 “These reckless and damaging strikes strengthen the case for a voting threshold, so the militant minority can’t hold the hard-working majority to ransom.

“It can’t be right that union bosses can paralyse vital infrastructure and humiliate the nation on a malicious whim, when just 11 per cent of their members support strike action.”

It can’t be right that local councillors (or governments) are elected to office without a mandate.  Priti Patel is another one with her head up her arse,

 “Any ballot in which fewer than half of those eligible to vote do so should be ruled invalid. This strike is yet another irresponsible protest by those who are once again putting their own interests before that of our county.”

Does that include Runnymede Council, Ms Patel? No? I didn’t think so.

Today we have the example of the Tory-controlled council of Runnymede, where yesterday’s local by-elections attracted a mere 23% in one ward and an embarrassing 14% in another.  Not a peep about this from Raab, Burley, Patel and other headbangers then? Quelle surprise.

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The BBC and right-wing bias: a very close relationship indeed

The British Gazette: The BBC’s news source during the 1926 General Strike

Many of us on the left have been disgusted at the way in which the BBC treats studio guests who do not conform to the government’s pro-austerity line, while allowing government ministers to speak freely without interruption.  Labour politicians, for example, are routinely interrupted and talked over, while government ministers are fawned over and treated with kid gloves. As far as The Cat is concerned, the worst offenders are Andrew Marr, Jo Coburn, John Humphrys and the various newsreaders on the BBC News Channel who are too numerous to mention.  On the other hand, the Tories and the others on the right will complain that the BBC is “left-wing” yet when you press these people, they’ll splutter something along the lines of “I meant the entertainment not the news”.  What about Upstairs, Downstairs or Parade’s End? Are they left-wing? “It’s the bloody comedy”! What? Like Michael MacIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, you mean?  [the Tory interlocutor then mutters something about immigration and multi-culturalism].

Information was a tightly controlled commodity in the early 20th Century, the property of wealthy Tory-supporting newspaper barons, who offered the public a diet of slanted news and fluff (so nothing’s changed then). Like their American counterparts, they also engaged in a fair amount of red-baiting. But the newspaper printing presses fell silent during the 1926 General Strike, when print workers, along with millions of other workers, walked out on strike for a week to support the miners struggle for better pay and conditions. The BBC (then a private company), which took its news, from a variety of news agencies, found itself without any sources for its bulletins because the journalists had joined the strike.  Winston Churchill, a former journalist who was no friend of the worker, immediately created a government news organ called The British Gazette and it was from this paper that the BBC took all of its news during the strike.

The BBC could argue that it was a young institution, having been founded in 1922 (coincidentally the same year that Mussolini seized power in Italy) and it didn’t know how to “play the game”. But this would be a lie: the BBC was close to the state from day one and this is perhaps best illustrated when its staff and directors attended a dinner party that had been held for Stanley Baldwin in December 1926. The BBC’s licence to operate initially came from the General Post Office and it had no rivals. In this respect it is hegemonic because its dominance over Britain’s cultural production is near supreme. The BBC was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1927 and substituted the word “Corporation” for “Company”.  Officially speaking, the government and the BBC have what is known as an “arms length relationship”. This means that the government is not supposed to interfere with the BBC and use it for political ends. Of course, this is a fiction. The BBC regularly yields to the slightest pressure from government as the example of 1926 shows us. There are other notable examples.

That Was The Week That Was, while not a left-wing programme, was perceived as such by many Conservatives, because it portrayed them in an unflattering light. TW3 mocked all the political parties, because it was tied to a contract of impartiality. It was produced within News and Current Affairs, rather than Light Entertainment  in order to get around the draconian regulations that governed live performances, which by implication meant political satire performed before an audience.

This article from the Daily Telegraph, of all papers, tells us that MacMillan’s Tory government “helped to take TW3 off the air”. Pressure was applied during the first series  by Lord  Aldington, the vice-chairman of the party, who wrote a sternly-worded letter to the BBC Director General, Hugh Carleton-Greene complaining that,

“The Government’s defence policy takes knock after knock from remarks that are only part relevant to the fun of the piece. What is quite defensible if said once or twice becomes objectionable if repeated so as to form a theme of policy or on politics.

“It has begun to look to some – all your friends – as if Frost nurses a hatred of the prime minister which he finds impossible to control.

“This kind of programme can become highly politically charged. If it does then the Conservative Party are bound – indeed ought – to ask for balance.

“Once political targets, policies or persons become discernible we shall all be in trouble and no doubt we shall take up the cudgels.”

“The Government’s defence policy” can be read as a euphemism for the Profumo Affair.  Aldington’s “we shall take up the cudgels”,  can be seen as a not-so-veiled threat. Nonetheless, the BBC commissioned a second series. The complaints from angry Tory-voting viewers continued to pour in. The article tells us that,

Some of the BBC’s most senior figures were among the programme’s detractors. On August 13, 1963, the director of television wrote: “Several powerful establishment friends of the chairman are complaining … Especially about vulgarity and smut. You know what I thought about the programme. We agreed that we really disliked the lack of professionalism in production, the lack of judgment about what is funny and what is not.”

The “lack of professionalism in production” seems to refer to the programme’s deliberate breaking of the fourth wall. However the suggestion that there was a “lack of judgment about what is funny and what is not” reminds us of satire’s historical conflict with state power and offers us a glimpse into how the cultural hegemony operates.  It is the voice of the stern Victorian dad, mutton chops and all, as he shows you the back of his hand. “I shall tell you what is funny, my lad”!

TW3 was cancelled in the middle of its run, ostensibly because 1964 was an “election year”. But with the Profumo Affair still rumbling, the Tories’ electoral chances were in the khazi. Alec Douglas-Home, who succeeded MacMillan, who’d resigned due to ill-health was the caretaker leader of a doomed party.The Tories had only themselves to blame for their loss in the 1964 General Election.

There are plenty of other examples but one caught my eye a couple of weeks ago on the BBC Parliament Channel. It was the coverage of the first 1974 General Election. Held against the background of the miners’ strike, power cuts, the three-day week and the international energy crisis, the petulant PM, Heath threw a strop and demanded to know the answer to the question, “Who Governs Britain”? The BBC evidently agreed it was Heath and pretty much told us so. This was evident  in their questioning of Labour shadow ministers and the general, “Hurrah for Heath” tone of the presenters. The result, as we know, was a hung parliament, with Wilson commanding a sliver of the popular votes over the Tories. The irony here is that under a proportional system, it all would have been much different and Heath would have won with his superior percentage of the vote.

The Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 again revealed the BBC’s right-wing bias when, during the Battle of Ogreave, it decided to take the side of Thatcher’s semi-private gendarmerie the police by selectively editing the footage to suggest that it was the miners who had charged the police and not the other way around. The BBC was more than happy to paint the miners as thugs, because this fitted in with  the government’s view of the worker; the enemy within. In the aftermath of Orgreave, the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) fitted up 95 miners whom it accused of being involved in violent affray. Thanks to the work of the Glasgow Media Unit, the truth was revealed and the SYP force was exposed as corrupt. Fast forward to 1989 and we see the same police force involved in the Hillsborough Disaster cover-up with the BBC taking its line directly from the mouths of the cops and the government.

More recently, the BBC has worked hard to shut anyone up who questions the government’s austerity measures. In many instances the BBC news editors will have a panel that is entirely composed of people from the pro-austerity side of the debate. Representatives from the CBI, the IEA, Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange and others all get airtime, while the UK Uncut, the Real Taxpayers Alliance and so forth will either get shouted down by right-wing studio guests or attacked by the interviewer, who will offer “Well, what would you cut” as the only form of counter-argument to the interlocutor’s discourse. There have been instances where I have seen the BBC invite someone like Dominic Raab on to talk about his latest book but offer no balance to counteract his lies and shoddy theses.

This site claims to “expose” BBC bias but it’s a right-wing site that plays a familiar tune on a broken violin. Unhappy with the less than total control of popular discourse, the Right wants all broadcasters to pay deference to their notional ‘superiority’. The charge that the BBC is “left-wing” has been refuted time and time again, yet they persist with this nonsense. The BBC is cheerfully dancing to the austerity tune that is being played by this government. The idea that the BBC has an arm’s length relationship to the government is beginning to look like more and more like a warm embrace of like minds.

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Filed under allegations of bias, BBC, History & Memory, Ideologies, Journalism, Media, Television, Tory press

Dominic Raab and the Sweatshop Charter

Raabid politician in sweatshop economy shocker!

Here’s an interesting article from last Wednesday’s Guardian. It tells of a book, Britannia Unchanged, which advocates, (surprise, surprise) policies that are even further to the right of the current right-wing government. The book is due to be published before the Tory Party conference in the autumn. Here’s the article’s opening paragraph,

‘The talented and hard-working have nothing to fear,” says Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, with just the faintest hint of menace. It is an airless, lazy day in mid-August. The House of Commons cafe is half-deserted. But Raab, firm-jawed, slightly gaunt and a rising star of the Tory right, is spending the parliamentary recess in the traditional manner of ambitious politicians: using the Westminster news vacuum to attract attention to himself and his ideas.

Dominic Raab is a familiar name to Nowhere Towers, not only because he’s on TURC’s parliamentary council but also because he believes “feminists” are oppressing men. In other words, like so many Tories, he’s a dimwit who is over-confident about his limited intellectual capacity. So limited is his intellect, that he inverts reality to suit his narrative. Given half the chance, Raab would transform Britain into a sweatshop economy overnight.

Wearing jeans, the 38-year-old backbencher is talking – warily – about transforming the British workplace. He thinks current employment law offers “excessive protections” to workers. “People who are coasting – it should be easier to let them go, to give the unemployed a chance. It is a delicate balancing act, but it should be decided in favour of the latter.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if the jeans that he was wearing were produced by sweatshop labour. The book follows on, as The Guardian reminds us, from a deeply-insulting statement made a couple of weeks ago by the book’s authors that Britain is a nation of “idlers”.

When Raab isn’t involved in TURC he also writes pamphlets for the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies. This one is called “Escaping the Straightjacket: Ten Regulatory Reforms to Create Jobs”. Here’s an excerpt,

More radical change has been suggested. In a leaked report in October 2011, venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft called for the
abolition of unfair dismissal and the introduction of “Compensated No Fault Dismissal”, where employers would be allowed to sack unproductive staff with basic redundancy pay and notice.

What Raab is doing here is repeating what the Beecroft Report proposed. It isn’t original and it points to one thing: no workplace security for workers.

The theory is simple. If employers have clearer powers to dismiss underperforming or uncommitted workers, more of them would
take a chance on hiring more staff. As Beecroft argues, the change would “lead to greater competitiveness, growth and employment”.
Employees would have the chance of a fresh start, without reputational damage. They would also benefit from the more flexible labour market that would result.

This is dishonest stuff. The only people who benefit from the so-called “flexible labour market” are the employers who pay a lower rate of National Insurance contribution and who don’t have to pay holiday or sick pay to their workers. Furthermore, the “theory” isn’t actually a theory in the true sense of the word, it is an assertion that is based upon fundamental Tory principle: the subaltern classes are there to be exploited. Denying them rights is part of the process to ensure the middle and upper classes continue to enjoy their disproportionate privileges and rights and the expense of those who graft in their factories, call-centres and workshops for a pittance.

By the time we get to page 10 of his ‘report’, it’s apparent that he cannot contain his excitement any longer,

Trade unions might seem a diminishing threat to business. Their membership has halved since 1979, and today only 15% of private sector employees belong to one.65 But this underestimates the extent of strike action in the public sector, where union membership is concentrated. The consequences spill over into the wider economy. According to the London Chamber of Commerce, each day of tube closures costs the capital’s economy £48 million. Similarly, if schools are shut, working parents may struggle to find childcare.

Four days of industrial action will not destroy an economy. Notice how Raab falls back on Francis Maude’s lie about last year’s teachers strike. He then proceeds to repeat the same hoary auld canard about minimum thresholds for strike votes while ignoring the fact that his party often wins elections on a lower share of the vote. Many local councils are also elected on turnouts of less than 25% but he doesn’t call for those elections to be declared null and void.

Raab is joined in this venture by Priti Patel, Kwasi Kwarteng, Chris Skidmore (we’ve got a nickname for him, don’t you worry!) and Elizabeth Truss, four darlings of the Tory rabid right, who are, along with Raabid, members of the Free Enterprise Group (FEG).

Founded in October 2011, the group lists 38 supporting MPs on its website. The membership is youngish, more female and less white than the Conservative parliamentary party as a whole. It includes many of the new MPs currently identified by Tory-watchers as potential party leaders.

So confident is the FEG that they’ve published a book titled After the Coalition. It’s wishful thinking because it is unlikely that the Conservatives will win an overall majority and may even suffer heavy losses. The only way the party can win the next election is to cheat... which is par for the course for a party that despises workers, the disabled, the poor, the elderly, the youth, mature students, women, Roma, Irish Travellers …

I’ve just had a look at the FEG website and wasn’t surprised to discover that there is some crossover between the FEG and TURC.

Raabid and his colleagues have never had to work in appalling conditions for little pay yet this is what they would force British workers to do. Their contempt for workers comes as naturally to them as breathing.

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Filed under Free Enterprise group