Archive for May, 2014

The six steps Nick Clegg must take to save the Lib Dems from oblivion:

May 31, 2014

Tom Pride offers some extremely painful suggestions for how Clegg can regain the trust of the electorate. This should be borne in mind by him or the any other politico who starts going on about how they made ‘difficult decisions’ and that their reforms are painful, but beneficial. Like the Tories under Thatcher with their slogan ‘Yes, it hurt, yes, it worked.’ To which the answer is ‘No, it didn’t’, and ‘Not as much as nailing your private parts to the floor’.

Pride's Purge

(satire?)

The Guardian today offered 6 steps that Nick Clegg must take to help rebuild the Lib Dems before the next election.

Personally I don’t think they were anywhere near radical enough.

So here are 6 things I think Nick Clegg needs to do if the Lib Dems are to avoid further meltdown:

1) Nail his scrotum to the floor.

2) With one rusty nail for every year he’s been in coalition.

3) Without anaesthetic.

4) In public.

5) Then apologise.

6) And resign.

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That might just do it.

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Please feel free to comment. And share. Thanks:

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Mazzini’s Reply to the Today’s Cynicism about Democracy’s Founders

May 31, 2014

Giuseppe Mazzini

There’s considerable cynicism today about politics and the effectiveness of voting. Some of this is justifiable to a certain extent, coming from the fact that all three of the main political parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives – have embraced Thatcherite neoliberalism to a greater or lesser extent. So much so, that many people cannot see any real difference between them, and so despair of there being any effective change in policy. As a result, they either don’t vote, or else vote for UKIP. The Kippers present themselves as being qualitatively different from the Liblabcons as they put it, but are in fact merely the extreme Eurosceptic Tory Right which has somehow managed to find a largely Left-leaning working class constituency.

Apart from this, there is a facile cynicism about democratic politics, expressed in sneers at the motives of the people who fought and died for modern citizens – Britain, Europe and indeed across the globe – to have the vote. They are seen as acting purely in their own interest, not that of succeeding generations. You sometimes see the comment posted up on the web and made elsewhere at elections that ‘They fought for themselves to get the vote, not for me’.

T’ain’t true, as the great Italian patriot, revolutionary and democrat Giuseppe Mazzini made clear. Mazzini was an early 19th century Italian nationalist, who wanted to see the Austrian Empire expelled from the peninsula, and its multitude of states united into a liberal, democratic Italian nation. Although a patriot, he also believed firmly in the brotherhood of humanity, and from the middle of the 1830s used ‘nationalist’ as a term of abuse. He ultimately wanted a federation of peaceful, free, sovereign states. He declared although it was necessary to struggle for national freedom against foreign oppression, patriotism should be no obstacle to ‘the brotherhood of peoples which is our one overriding aim’.

He was also very much aware that democratic revolutions and uprisings could and did fail before their ideals would be victorious. Nevertheless, the ideas that motivated the revolutionaries would continue to develop and spread even when the revolutionaries themselves had been cut down. He believed that the next revolution would see the triumph of freedom and democracy in Italy and Europe, and looked to future generations for their fulfilment. In 1839 he wrote that modern revolutionaries ‘labour less for the generation that lives around them than for the generation to come; the triumph of the ideas that they cast on the world is slow, but assured and decisive.’ (Mike Rapport, 1848: Year of Revolution (Little, Brown 2008) 18).

So you have it from the mouth, or the pen, of one of the great architects of modern European democracy itself: the revolutionaries did not fight and die merely for themselves, but for us.

Cynicism about the increasingly identikit nature of the parties will only change when they do, and that will mean long, hard work by activists or the victory of genuinely alternative parties, like the Greens, Socialist Party or TUSC. The facile cynicism about the motives of the 19th century founders of democracy can be combatted by showing the words of the revolutionaries themselves, people like Mazzini, who looked to future generations to fulfil their dream of a world of peace, democracy and international brotherhood. Let’s do our best to honour their vision and sacrifice.

Radical Balladry: Folk Protest Songs against the Credit Trap

May 31, 2014

On Thursday I published a post about the way the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, attempted to provide reasonable credit from banks lent to peasant credit cooperatives as a way of destroying the moneylenders that had plagued Bulgarian rural society, as a result of whom hundreds of villages had found themselves in serious debt. I suggested that we needed something similar to act against usurers, such as Wonga and the other payday loan companies. Thousands of people in Britain have now also found themselves heavily in debt because of the way they have been forced to rely on such companies, as well as criminal loan sharks, because of low wages and the repeated slashing of benefits by successive governments. People have also been caught in the credit trap through the absurdly easy terms on which it was available during the boom years. Advertisers must share their responsibility for this, has the television adverts for the services of Wonga and the various credit cards suggest that this is all free money, which the borrower doesn’t need to worry about paying back. It’s a seductive message, and all too many people have been taken in and deceived by it.

Jess has also commented on this post with her encyclopaedic knowledge of the long tradition of radical British folk music. She notes that there was an outcry at the way many people were finding themselves in debt through hire purchase when this was introduced in the 1950s. Then as now, Right-wing think tanks attempted to justify the creation of easily available credit, which could lead the poor and vulnerable into a never-ending cycle of debt. This indeed occurred, and was bitterly criticised in song by Graham Gouldman and Jeff Beck. Jess writes

“Britain too in the 21st century has seen the return of the loan shark and moneylender as thousands, perhaps millions, have got into serious debt. Some of this has been through the absurdly easy credit that was offered in the boom years, ”

The availability of ‘absurdly easy credit’ was one of the cornerstones of the neo-liberal agenda.

Way back in 1958 the IEA published their apologia for the money-lending industry ‘Hire Purchase in a Free Society’ [Harris, Naylor & Seldon]

A typical IEA publication of the period, it contains a few gems;

“Social Impact;
Criticism of hire purchase has not come only from moralists who condemn the practice on the grounds that it ensnares people into debts they cannot afford to repay’ morphs into, with an aside from Walter Greenwood’s condemnation of ‘tick’ in ‘Love on The Dole’ to the assertion that;

“Harry [the character condemned by supposedly old-fashioned notions of debt as a weekly ‘mill-stone around the debtors’ neck’ got his new suit…”

Just how deeply the tally-man was disliked, generally, is suggested in this song from Graham Gouldman, (recorded with great reluctance by Jeff Beck)

“To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We give him a pound
When he calls on his round

To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We give and we get
And we’re always in debt

With his plan he carries all we’re needing
With his plan most anything is ours
He’s the Tallyman, oh yeah
He’s the Tallyman

Shoes and socks, hard wearing for the children
Village frocks all in the latest style
From the Tallyman, oh yeah
From the Tallyman

To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We’ve made him a friend
So he’s here to the end

From cradle to grave
We expect him to say
Here’s tick to the end
So we’ve made him a friend
Here’s tick to the end
So we’ve made him a friend”

[Beck objected to Mickie Most’s insistence on a ‘catchy’ follow-up to ‘Silver Lining’ and hated the production, rather than Graham Gouldman’s lyrics]

The debt problem is likely to become even more severe with the government’s cuts to the buffer amount of money allowed to families before they are considered to have been overpaid tax credit, and the use of private debt collectors to pursue the poor, who have been mistakenly overpaid. So this is another song that could reasonably be revived and adapted to suit the new conditions created by Wonga and the like, and now the Inland Revenue.

As for the latter, one of the experts on Japanese monster movies on TV – I think it may have been the great Phil Jupitus – once said that the only time you ever heard cheering during a Godzilla movie was when the epic fire-breathing radio-active dragon from the depths trashed the headquarters of their Inland Revenue in Tokyo. If only something similar would happen to the house of whichever vicious Tory apparatchik dreamed up this bill.

Godzilla

Godzilla: First the Japanese Inland Revenue offices in Tokyo, but will he trash Osbo? We live in hope!

Tax Credits and Debt Collection Agencies: Peachy’s Comment

May 31, 2014

In my last post, I put up Leoni al-Ajeel’s personal account of her problems with the authorities claiming that she had been overpaid tax credits on Mike’s piece on this problem over at Vox Political. The Coalition has passed legislation providing for the use of debt collection agencies against those the bureaucrats at Whitehall have deemed to have been overpaid them. The original legislation regarding overpaid tax credits provided for a buffer to give claimants the benefit of the doubt and so allow for the possibility that calculations they had been overpaid may in fact be mistaken. This leeway has been scaled back, according to Mike, to £5,000, making many more people vulnerable to claims and mistakes by the Inland Revenue.

It has seemed to very many of the commenters on Mike’s blog that this was another attempt by the government to exploit the poor, and also to deter them from claiming benefit by creating the fear of the official persecution that would ensue if they did so, and were then pursued by the authorities for debt. As well as Leoni al-Ajeel’s personal account of persecution by the authorities, another commenter, Peachy, has also posted a comment I feel is worth repeating here. Not only do they give their personal experience, but they also cite history and literature – Frank McCourt’s critically praised Angela’s Ashes– to show how the fear of debt has been used to keep the poor from claiming benefits that would raise them out of poverty. She writes

Creating the fear of claiming a benefit: I remember discussing that problem at college, and how it led to atrocious suffering during the American Depression of the first part of the 20th century, and how resolving that was one of the top things FDR had to address. I also remember reading about it in Angela’s Ashes, and how it encouraged families into extreme deprivation that was harmful to their very life chances.

Increasingly I am suspicious: the people most at risk of falling into this trap are the self employed, whose wages are paid not by annual agreement, but by how many calls they get offering work. I have some experience of this with my husband, and how those already established in a field view the newcomers (even those completely out of their area), as infringing on their basic right to own an entire market and speciality. Given that both Tories and UKIP are the parties of this attitude, it seems logical that there are links in this policy.

Pull up the ladder boys: make the rich secure and the poor poorer.

(It’s also irrefutable proof that there is no intention to promote work in reality, as I well remember having to refuse overtime I would have liked in the fear it would cause a tax credit overpayment).

It’s another example of the Tory and Tory Democrat’s attempts to keep the working and lower middle classes in their place. The time is long overdue that this was stopped, and the Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators kicked out.

Government Terrorising Poor with Debt Collection Agencies: Leoni al-Ajeel’s Story

May 31, 2014

This morning I reblogged Mike’s post from over at Vox Political on the government’s use of debt collection agencies against people, who have been overpaid tax credits due to mistakes by the Inland Revenue, ‘Tax credit debt collection is a double-edged attack on the poor’. Many people have experienced problems with the authorities claiming that they have mistakenly overpaid benefit claimants, and threatening them with legal action. One of those, who have been a victim of this is Leoni al-Ajeel, one of the commenters on Mike’s blog. In her comment on Mike’s post, she gives her account of her struggle with the authorities, who repeatedly claimed that they had overpaid her. She writes

I also have debt with Tax credits, I received a letter saying I owe them £997 and I must pay it back. This is not the only letter I got, I got letter from council saying I had an overpayment of £1,500 in rent and I owe council tax for the amount of £616, so I am left paying all this debt plus rent council tax in my new home. I received a rebate twice from council tax saying I paid too much, one was for £98 then the second was for £100 then to get a letter after I had moved saying I owe £616 is ridiculous. So someone made the same mistake twice leaving me to pay for their mistake. They know all your income etc but yet we are punished for their mistakes. I am beginning to wonder if I owe any of this money they say I do because you get no explanation even though you ask for one. So now I am left with all this debt I never had before and struggle to pay this debt plus all the council tax and rent I have to pay in my new home. I was debt free but not now they have pushed me into debt, its disgusting that they can get away with this, should it not be them that is penalized for making these mistakes not once but twice. I work 30hrs a week and have to pay just short of £25 a week council tax and £56 a week rent and I am on minimum wage, plus the council tax and rent from old house.

And I’ve absolutely no doubt whatsoever that there are many thousands more like Leoni, forced into debt and fear through no fault of their own but that of bureaucrats in the Civil Service.

And this is, of course, another example of the Tory and Tory Democrat government’s massive double standards. As Mike points out in the above article, the Tories are persecuting the poor, who cannot fight back, while hundreds of millions of tax revenue has been lost through off-shore tax havens, set up to make their rich donors’ earnings more ‘tax efficient’.

It’s time this was reversed. The legislation giving such powers to debt collection agencies the right to persecute the poor should be immediately repealed, and the original leeway allowing for overpayment of tax credit to the poor through simple official mistakes – not fraud – should be reintroduced. And most of all, the Tories and their Lib Dem accomplices should be thrown out of office, and their rich paymasters forced to pay their fare share of the nation’s debts. Debts that they, after all, in the case of the bankers, created.

Government boosts GDP by adding sex and drugs to economy

May 31, 2014

This reminds me of an item on the news when Thatcher was in power. The police had arrested a gang producing or distributing illegal porn. It was clearly nasty stuff, so what the defence of these crims as they were hauled off by the rozzers in front of the camera? They pleaded they were just Thatcherite entrepreneurs. ‘We’re making money for Britain!’, one shouted as he was bundled away. It seems the mentality has returned, and is now firmly in Osbo’s treasury.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – no really, it’s not!)

The government’s thought of a sure-fire way to boost the economy.

The Office for National Statistics has decided to include prostitution and sales of heroin in its assessments of the UK economy – adding 5 per cent to the UK’s gross domestic product at a stroke;

Drugs and prostitution add £10bn to UK economy

Now we know why George Osborne was chosen to run the economy.

He might only have worked as a towel folder in Selfridges before becoming chancellor but he’s a real expert on prostitutes and illegal drugs.

Allegedly.

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Please feel free to comment.

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Tax credit debt collection is a double-edged attack on the poor

May 31, 2014

Vox Political

140126facts

There’s more than a little of the piscine about the fact that our Conservative-led has set debt collection agencies onto poor families who have been overpaid tax credit due to errors made by HM Revenue and Customs.

Firstly, the move undermines the principle behind the tax credit system – that it is there to ensure that poorly-paid families may still enjoy a reasonable living standard. Tax credits are paid on an estimate of a person’s – or family’s – income over a tax year and the last Labour government, knowing that small variances could cause problems for Britain’s poorest, set a wide buffer of £25,000 before households had to pay anything back.

By cutting this buffer back to £5,000, the Conservatives have turned this safety net into a trap. Suddenly the tiniest overpayment can push households into a debt spiral, because their low incomes mean it is impossible to pay…

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The PIP assessment hoax shows we could believe any claim about our corrupt government

May 30, 2014

Vox Political

[Image: Getty Images] [Image: Getty Images] It seems some of your favourite bloggers – including Yr Obdt Srvt – have been hoodwinked by a hoax claim that assessment criteria for the new Personal Independence Payment have been made much more severe than has been the case until now.

If you were distressed by this article, please be reassured that – from what has been said over the last few hours – it is not accurate.

Vox Political only published the claims because they came here via a colleague of good character who in turn received it from a trustworthy source. There were telltale signs that it was a wrong ‘un – for example the fact that the story is based on unsubstantiated information allegedly provided by an anonymous Atos employee to an equally anonymous source – but here at VP it was felt that the possibility of another DWP betrayal merited a mention.

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Bedroom Tax – HoC library politicised? Or do they not do maths?

May 29, 2014

Frankie Boyle Interviewed by Max Keiser On Scots Independence and British Politics

May 29, 2014

I found this interview with Frankie Boyle by Max Keiser over on Ian Bone’s site. Boyle talks about the Scots Independence, George Osborne as the type of landowner responsible for Highland Clearances, how the Act of Union was brought about through Scots colonial debt, the Tories, banks and debt, Thatcher’s squandering of North Sea oil revenue, the BBC and the restrictions on the type of comedy and suitable subjects on television, Donald Trump and the pathetic nature of the SNP, comedy and political rebellion, Right-wing institutional bias at the Beeb, Thatcher’s funeral and the IRA. He also compares the massive scandal surrounding Russell Brand’s and Jonathan Ross’ phone call to Andrew Sachs with the rather less outrage at Jimmy Savile’s and his long career at the Beeb.

Boyle is known for his edgy, offensive comedy. He makes some comments and observations here, which some will undoubtedly find offensive, such as his suggestion for the treatment of Maggie’s corpse. He is, however, also intelligent with very sharp, critical views, citing Noam Chomsky in one of his observations on the state of politics and the media. Definitely worth watching. But not if you’re Tory.