Archive for the ‘Health Service’ Category

Tweezer Wins ‘No Confidence’ Vote by VERY Narrow Margin

January 16, 2019

Okay, I just heard a few minutes ago that Tweezer has managed to survive the vote of ‘No Confidence’ proposed by Jeremy Corbyn. I thought she would, as the Tories very much stick together when they’re under attack. Although the majority of them voted against May over her wretched Brexit deal, some of her opponents, like, I believe, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had said they had confidence in her. I think this is very much a matter of convenience, because those MPs that still continue to back her do so because they realize that if she goes, the party will descend into violent factional squabbling and will collapse.

What I didn’t expect was how extremely narrow her victory was. I’ve been told the results were 325 for Tweezer to 306 against. This is in no way a massive endorsement of her from her party. It shows instead that she is incredibly vulnerable with a very tenuous grip on power. And her position is going to become even more precarious in the coming weeks as we advance towards Brexit. The insecurity most Brits feel about the preparations to leave will increase, and Tweezer has herself admitted that she may try to push back Article 50. The Europeans regard her as a clown, and her massive ineptitude also reflects on us as a nation. She’s made such a mess of the negotiations that further preparations and negotiations with Europe will undoubtedly be more difficult.

Mike put up a piece today reporting that May has drawn parliament into a war of attrition through her obstinate refusal to resign. Jeremy Corbyn has responded to her by saying that he’ll keep demanding votes of ‘No Confidence’ every time the government loses a motion. This might have the result of forcing some Conservatives to vote for government policies they would otherwise vote against in order to forestall further such votes, and it might cheapen the importance of such calls slightly by making them somewhat routine. But I think it’s the only way to go. I can remember reading a comment from a Tory politician back in the 1990s or so, who was surprised that the Labour opposition of the time hadn’t succeeded in overturning them simply through doggedly attacking them every time they could. He said that when the Tories attacked a Labour government, they ‘hunted in packs’. He was surprised that Labour hadn’t, thus allowing Major’s administration to cling to power. Labour now has to adopt this approach, to attack Tweezer and her government at every opportunity, to grind them down to such an extent that they are too exhausted to hold on to power.

This is a critically wounded government. For the good of the British people, the NHS and what survives of the welfare state, Corbyn and Labour have to continue hounding them into that crucial ‘No Confidence’ vote, which hopefully will force her from office.

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‘I’ Newspaper: Hundreds of Doctors Want to Leave NHS Before Retiring

January 13, 2019

The I newspaper on Friday, 11th January 2019, carried this story, ‘Hundred of Doctors Plan to Quite NHS Before Retirement Age’ by Paul Gallagher on page 11. The article reports that hundreds of senior doctors and consults wish to leave the Health Service because they feel they are overworked. The article runs

Hundreds of senior doctors will quit the NHS before retirement age, according to new analysis.

Six out of 10 consultants say that the main reason for their intention to leave the health service before the age of 60 is the need for a better work-life balance, a survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) reveals.

Concerns about the impact of current pensions legislation is the second most important factor influencing consultants’ planned retirement age, they said. Less that 7 per cent say they expect to remain working in the NHS beyond the age of 65.

Almost 18 per cent of consultants are in the process of planning to reduce their working time even further, including a complete withdrawal from service. More than 40 per cent said they were less likely to take part in work initiatives to reduce waiting lists.

The implications of such a significant loss of skilled and specialist clinicians both on the junior staff they teach and the patients they care for is potentially disastrous for the already beleaguered health service.

Dr Rob Harwood, who chairs the BMA’s consultants’ committee, said: “Such a situation is clearly untenable. During the a deepening workforce crisis, the NHS needs its most experienced and expert doctors now more than ever. I struggle to understand how the Health Secretary can talk about increasing productivity… while allowing the NHS to be a system which perversely encourages its most experienced doctors to do less work, and, in some cases, to leave when they do not want to.”

I am not surprised that this is happening in the NHS at all. There have been very many reports over the past few years about the numbers of doctors planning to leave the health service because of overwork and other issues. And I have seen zero evidence that the government intends to tackle the problem or has any interest in solving it. Beyond the current Health Secretary publicly opening his mouth to proclaim that the government will recruit tens of thousands more doctors and other medical staff, like Tweezer did with her bold ten-year plan for the NHS last week.

Mike has already put up a piece on his blog pointing out that the government has consistently and spectacularly missed its targets for cutting waiting times and recruiting more medical staff for the NHS. He also reported that when the Health Secretary was question about how he plans to recruit more personnel, he put this off, stating it was a question for another review later. So all we have from the Tories in this issue is vague promises. Promises that aren’t going to be honoured.

It looks to me very much that all this is planned, that the government is deliberately creating conditions to encourage doctors, consultants and other medical professionals in the NHS to leave, while publicly doing their level best to give the impression that they genuinely care about the Health Service.

They don’t. Since Thatcher the Tories and New Labour have been absolutely set on running down and privatizing the NHS for the benefit of private healthcare companies like the American insurance fraudster Unum, BUPA, Virgin Healthcare, Circle Healthcare and others. Journalists and activists commenting on this attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS have forecasted that ultimately we may end up with a two-tier health service. The affluent middle class will have access to excellent care from the private sector, but only, of course, if they can pay for it. The rest of us will have worse care from an underfunded and understaffed rump NHS.

If the NHS exists at all, that is. The same observers also forecast that the Tories may well be aiming to introduce the American system of private healthcare, where those who can’t pay are treated at the emergency room. And where 45,000 people a year die because they can’t afford medical treatment and the highest cause of bankruptcies is medical bills.

I’ve seen the Tories use the same tactics to decimate another part of the NHS nearly thirty years ago under Thatcher or John Major. This was the dental service. A majority of dentists left the NHS after one or other of these two Tory prime ministers refused to increase their pay and spending on their surgeries. The result is that now most dentists are private and it’s often difficult, very difficult, to find one of that will take NHS patients.

Make no mistake: the Tories plan to do this to the rest of the NHS. But it’s being done subtly, away from public attention, which they are distracting and misleading with promises to increase NHS funding and personnel recruitment. Promises which they don’t intend to honour.

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Austerity

January 9, 2019

One of the other massively failing right-wing economic policies the Australian economist John Quibbin tackles in his book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010) is expansionary austerity. This is the full name for the theory of economic austerity foisted upon Europeans and Americans since the collapse of the banks in 2008. It’s also the term used to describe the policy generally of cutting government expenditure in order to reduce inflation. Quiggin shows how, whenever this policy was adopted by governments like the American, British, European and Japanese from the 1920s onwards, the result has always been recession, massive unemployment and poverty.

He notes that after the big bank bail-out of 2008, most economists returned to Keynesianism. However, the present system of austerity was introduced in Europe due to need to bail out the big European banks following the economic collapse of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the consequent fall in government tax revenue. Quiggin then goes on to comment on how austerity was then presented to the public as being ultimately beneficial to the public, despite its obvious social injustice, before going on to describe how it was implemented, and its failure. He writes

The injustice of making hospital workers, police, and old age pensioners pay for the crisis, while the bankers who caused it are receiving even bigger bonuses than before, is glaringly obvious. So, just as with trickle-down economics, it was necessary to claim that everyone would be better off in the long run.

It was here that the Zombie idea of expansionary austerity emerged from the grave. Alesina and Ardagna, citing their dubious work from the 1990s, argued that the path to recovery lay in reducing public spending. They attracted the support of central bankers, ratings agencies, and financial markets, all of whom wanted to disclaim responsibility for the crisis they had created and get back to a system where they ruled the roost and profited handsomely as a result.

The shift to austerity was politically convenient for market liberals. Despite the fact that it was their own policies of financial deregulation that had produced the crisis, they used the pretext of austerity to push these policies even further. The Conservative government of David Cameron in Britain has been particularly active in this respect. Cameron has advanced the idea of a “Big Society”, meaning that voluntary groups are expected to take over core functions of the social welfare system. The Big Society has been a failure and has been largely laughed off the stage, but it has not stopped the government from pursuing a radical market liberal agenda, symbolized by measures such as the imposition of minimum income requirements on people seeking immigrant visas for their spouses.

Although the term expansionary austerity has not been much used in the United States, the swing to austerity policies began even earlier than elsewhere. After introducing a substantial, but still inadequate fiscal stimulus early in 2009, the Obama administration withdrew from the economic policy debate, preferring to focus on health policy and wait for the economy to recover.

Meanwhile the Republican Party, and particularly the Tea Party faction that emerged in 2009, embraced the idea, though not the terminology, of expansionary austerity and in particular the claim that reducing government spending is the way to prosperity. In the absence of any effective pushback from the Obama administration, the Tea Party was successful in discrediting Keynesian economic ideas.

Following Republican victories in the 2010 congressional elections, the administration accepted the case for austerity and sought a “grand bargain” with the Republicans. It was only after the Republicans brought the government to the brink of default on its debt in mid-2011 that Obama returned to the economic debate with his proposed American Jobs Act. While rhetorically effective, Obama’s proposals were, predictably, rejected by the Republicans in Congress.

At the state and local government level, austerity policies were in force from the beginning of the crisis. Because they are subject to balanced-budged requirements, state and local governments were forced to respond to declining tax revenues with cuts in expenditure. Initially, they received some support from the stimulus package, but as this source of funding ran out, they were forced to make cuts across the board, including scaling back vital services such as police, schools, and social welfare.

The theory of expansionary austerity has faced the test of experience and has failed. Wherever austerity policies have been applied, recovery from the crisis has been halted. At the end of 2011, the unemployment rate was above 8 percent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the eurozone. In Britain, where the switch from stimulus to austerity began with the election of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in 2010, unemployment rose rapidly to its highest rate in seventeen years. In Europe, the risk of a new recession, or worse, remains severe at the time of writing.

Although the U.S. economy currently shows some superficial signs of recovery, the underlying reality is arguably even worse than it now is in Europe. Unemployment rates have fallen somewhat, but this mainly reflects the fact that millions of workers have given up the search for work altogether. The most important measure of labour market performance, the unemployment-population ration (that is, the proportion of the adult population who have jobs) fell sharply at the beginning of the cris and has never recovered. On the other hand, the forecast for Europe in the future looks even bleaker as the consequences of austerity begins to bite.

The reanimation of expansionary austerity represents zombie economics at its worst. Having failed utterly to deliver the promised benefits, the financial and political elite raised to power by market liberalism has pushed ahead with even greater intensity. In the wake of a crisis caused entirely by financial markets and the central banks and regulators that were supposed to control them, the burden of fixing the problem has been placed on ordinary workers, public services, the old, and the sick.

With their main theoretical claims, such as the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Real Business Cycle in ruins, the advocates of market liberalism have fallen back on long-exploded claims, backed by shoddy research. Yet, in the absence of a coherent alternative, the policy program of expansionary austerity is being implemented, with disastrous results. (pp. 229-32, emphasis mine).

As for Alesina and Ardagna, the two economists responsible for contemporary expansionary austerity, Quiggin shows how their research was seriously flawed, giving some of their biggest factual mistakes and accuracies on pages 225 and 226.

Earlier in the chapter he discusses the reasons why Keynes was ignored in the decades before the Second World War. The British treasury was terrified that adoption of government intervention in some areas would lead to further interventions in others. He also quotes the Polish economist, Michal Kalecki, who stated that market liberals were afraid of Keynsianism because it allowed governments to ignore the financial sector and empowered working people. He writes

Underlying the Treasury’s opposition to fiscal stimulus, however, was a fear, entirely justified in terms of the consequences for market liberal ideology, that a successful interventionist macroeconomic policy would pave the way for intervening in other areas and for the end of the liberal economic order based on the gold standard, unregulated financial markets, and a minimal state.

As the great Polish economist Michal Kalecki observed in 1943, market liberal fear the success of stimulatory fiscal policy more than its failure. If governments can maintain full employment through appropriate macroeconomic policies, they no longer need to worry about “business confidence” and can undertake policies without regard to the fluctuations of the financial markets. Moreover, workers cannot be kept in line if they are confident they can always find a new job. As far as the advocates of austerity are concerned, chronic, or at least periodic, high unemployment is a necessary part of a liberal economic order.

The fears of the Treasury were to be realized in the decades after 1945, when the combination of full employment and Keynsian macro-economic management provided support for the expansion of the welfare state, right control of the financial sector, and extensive government intervention in the economy, which produced the most broadly distributed prosperity of any period in economic history. (p. 14).

So the welfare state is being dismantled, the health service privatized and a high unemployment and mass poverty created simply to maintain the importance and power of the financial sector and private industry, and create a cowed workforce for industry. As an economic theory, austerity is thoroughly discredited, but is maintained as it was not by a right-wing media and political establishment. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said in one of his columns that when he studied economics in the 1970s, monetarism was so discredited that it was regarded as a joke by his lecturers. He then suggested that the reason it was supported and implemented by Thatcher and her successors was simply because it offered a pretext for their real aims: to attack state intervention and the welfare state. It looks like he was right.

Don’t Be Mislead, May and the Tories Are Still Determined to Destroy the NHS

January 8, 2019

Okay, the papers today have been full of the plan May announced yesterday that would improve the NHS over the next ten years. Apparently they’re going to increase funding by 20 billion pounds above inflation by 2023, recruiting tens of thousands of new nurses and doctors.

Mike today posted a piece ripping apart these promises. He makes the point that the Tories haven’t fulfilled their existing targets to recruit more medical staff. They have also not stated where they intend to fund the money to pump into the NHS.

More sinisterly, one key part of the programme discussed by Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock in an interview with Sophy Ridge sounded like the government is planning to blame poor health on the patients themselves. Hancock said in the interview that the government intended to shift towards helping people to stay health, to stop them getting ill as much as curing them.

Mike makes the point that this sound very much like the claims that the DWP helps people by refusing them benefit. He’s right. I think there has already been discussion of schemes whereby obese people should be refused medical treatment for diseases or conditions brought on by the condition.

Mike also makes the point that the fundamental problem of the Tories’ NHS policy is continuing regardless of their new plans. This is the privatization of the health service. Mike writes

As for privatisation – with more than £8 billion spent on private companies that have been allowed to buy into the NHS by the Conservatives since 2012, concern is high that the whole service in England is being primed for sale, to be replaced with a private insurance-based system, as poor as the schemes currently failing the citizens of the United States. These fears are supported by the fact that current NHS boss Simon Stevens used to work for a US-based health profiteer.

This new 10-year plan, it seems, is setting out to do exactly what Noam Chomsky described when discussing the steps leading to privatisation: Strip the service of funds, make sure it doesn’t work properly, wait for people to complain, and then sell it to private profit-making firms with a claim that this will improve the service.

He makes the case that the NHS will be treated exactly as the other privatized utilities – energy companies, railways, water industry and airports – stripped of funds, sold off, and owned by foreign firms to provide them with profits.

This also is true. Private Eye has reported how the Tories and New Labour were lobbied by private healthcare providers determined to gain access to the NHS, including the American private healthcare insurance fraudster, Unum.

He concludes

So you can look forward to a future in which you are blamed for any health problem that arises, and forced to pay through the nose for health insurance (that probably won’t cover your needs or won’t pay out at all, to judge by the American system).

It seems the Tories’ 10-year plan for the NHS is to trick you into an early grave.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/01/08/new-tory-nhs-plan-is-to-tell-you-your-health-problems-are-your-fault/

The Tories have been determined to privatise the NHS since the days of Margaret Thatcher. She wanted to privatise it completely, but was stopped by a cabinet revolt. She nevertheless wanted to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance and began cutting and privatizing NHS services. This was continued under John Major by Peter Lilley, who invented the Private Finance Initiative in order to help private corporations gain access to the NHS. It carried on and was expanded even further by Blair and New Labour, and has been taken over and further increased by the Tories since the election of Cameron back in 2010.

If it continues, the NHS will be privatized, and the quality of Britain’s healthcare will be what is in the US: appalling. The leading cause of bankruptcy in America is inability to pay medical costs. Something like 20 per cent of the US population is unable to afford private medical insurance. 45,000 people a year die because they cannot afford healthcare treatment.

A year or so ago a Conservative commenter to this blog tried to argue that the Labour party had not established the Health Service and that the Tories were also in favour of it. Now it is true that the welfare state, including the NHS, was based on the Beveridge Report of 1944. Beveridge was a Liberal, and his report was based on the information and views he had been given in turn by civil servants and other professionals. But the Health Service itself was set up by Aneirin Bevan in Clement Attlee 1945 Labour government. The Health Service’s ultimate origins lay in the 1906 Minority Report into reform of the existing healthcare services by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The Socialist Medical Society had been demanding a nationalized system of healthcare in the 1930s, as had the Fabian Society, and this had become Labour policy in that decade. And later in the 1950s, after the NHS had been established, the Tory right again demanded its privatization on the grounds that it was supposedly too expensive. Even now this is the attitude of right-wing historians and politicians, like Corelli Barnet, who has said that the reason why Britain was unable to modernize its industry after the War like the Germans or French was because the money went instead to the NHS.

The same commenter also claimed that Britain never had a private healthcare system. This is untrue. Many hospitals were run by local councils, but there were also private charity and voluntary hospitals. And these did charge for their services.

I’ve put up pieces before about how terrible healthcare was in Britain before the NHS. Here’s another passage about the state of healthcare for Britain’s working class between the First and Second World Wars, from Eric Hopkins’ The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes 1918-1990: A Social History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1991)

The health services between the wars were still in a rudimentary state. Insurance against sickness was compulsory for all workers earning less than 160 per annum under the National Insurance Act of 1911 but the scheme did not cover the dependants of the insured, and sickness benefits when away from work were still lower than unemployment rates. Further, the range of benefits was limited, and hospital treatment was not free unless provided in poor law infirmaries. Treatment in municipal hospitals or voluntarily run hospitals still had to be paid for. The health service was run not by the Ministry of Health, but by approved societies, in practice mostly insurance societies. As a system, it suffered from administrative weaknesses and duplication of effort, and the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance 1926 recommended that the system be reformed; the Minority Report even recommended that the administration of the system be removed from the societies altogether. In 1929 the Local Government Act allowed local authorities to take over the poor law infirmaries, and to run them as municipal hospitals. Not many did so, and by 1939 about half of all public hospital services were still provided by the poor law infirmaries. By that year, it would be fair to say that there was something resembling a national health service for the working classes, but it was still very limited in scope (it might or might not include dental treatment, depending on the society concerned), and although treatment by general practitioners was free for those by the scheme, as we have seen, hospital treatment might have to be paid for. (pp. 25-6).

This what the Tories and the Blairites in New Labour wish to push us back to, although looking at that description in seems that even this amount of government provision of healthcare is too much for those wishing to privatise it completely.

The Tories’ claim to support and ‘treasure’ the NHS are lies. May is a liar, and has already lied about putting money into the NHS. I remember how She claimed that they were going to increase funding, while at the same time stating that the NHS would still be subject to cuts. And I don’t doubt that she intends to take this plan anymore seriously. It doesn’t mean anything. Look how she declared that austerity had ended, only to carry on pursuing austerity.

Defend the NHS. Get Tweezer and the Tories out, and Corbyn and Labour in.

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Trickle-Down Economics

January 8, 2019

John Quiggin is an economics professor at the university of Queensland Down Under. His 2010 book, Zombie Economics, is a very thorough demolition of the economic theories that have formed the current dogma since the election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 and 1980.

One of the theories he refutes is ‘trickle-down’ economics. This is theory that if you act to give more wealth to the rich through tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, this wealth will trickle down to benefit those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It was one of the central planks of Thatcherism. And even in the 1980s, it’s effectiveness was highly dubious. I remember watching a documentary about it on the Beeb, which illustrated the theory with a pyramid of champagne glasses. When the glasses at the top of the pyramid were filled to overflowing, the champagne flowed down to the glasses lower down. So, Thatcher and her cronies claimed, their programme of free market economics would benefit everyone in society by enriching those at the top, from whom it would trickle down to the rest of us. If I remember correctly, the programme itself argued this wasn’t happening. And it hasn’t since. on pages 155 to 157 Quggin shows how the policy has not worked in America, and in fact the poor are massively poorer off. He writes

The experience of the United States during the decades of market liberalism, from the 1970s until the Global Financial Crisis, gives little support for the trickle-down view. The gross domestic product of the United States grew solidly in this period, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis , the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans grew spectacularly. Incomes at the fifth percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled.

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. As shown in figure 4.2, real median household income rose from forty-five thousand dollars to just over fifty thousand dollars between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008. The annual rate of increase was 0.4 per cent.

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages. Median real earning for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined. According to estimates made by the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual earnings of twenty-five to twenty-nine-year-old high school graduates, expressed in 2005 values, fell from #30,900 in 1970 to $25,90 in 2000, and have stagnated since then.

Since 2000, median household incomes have actually fallen, the first time in modern history that such a decline has taken place over a full business cycle. One result can be seen by looking at the proportion of households living below the poverty line. The poverty rate declined steadily during the postwar Keynsian era. It has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

Unlike most developed countries, the United States has a poverty line fixed in terms of absolute consumption levels and based on an assessment of a poverty-line food budget undertaken in 1963. The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 percent in 1974. Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 percent in 2008, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the real incomes accruing to the poorest ten percent of Americans have fallen over the last thirty years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter, and adequate medical care.

In 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics quoted by the Food Research Action Center, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as “food insecure”, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Slightly more than 17 million people (17.3 million) lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security”, which means that one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000 and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession.

The number of people without health insurance rose steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million, or 15 percent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion was reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, was eroded to the point of collapse.

Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decade of full employment, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. By contrast, in 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 percent of the homeless population were families with children.

The experience of the United States in the era of market liberalism was as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. Despite impressive technological progress, those in the middle of the income distributions struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom became worse-off in crucial respects.

(My emphasis).

Bernie Sanders in his book described just how severe the crisis in private American medical care was. It almost collapsed completely in certain states because a very large number of patients are simply unable to afford medical treatment.

And the same situation prevails here in Britain, with increasing poverty here in Britain. Millions of households now live below the poverty line, a quarter of million people need food banks to keep body and soul together, including working people with families. As Mike pointed out in a piece last week, parents are now starving themselves in order to fee their children.

The NHS is also in crisis, though for different but related reasons to those in the US. It’s in crisis because of massive funding cuts by the Tories over the last decade, and the determination of both Tory and New Labour administrations to privatise it by stealth. The introduction of private enterprise into the NHS actually raises costs, not diminishes them. It’s for the simple reason that private firms have to make a profit to pass on to their shareholders. Plus private firms also have bureaucracies of their own, which in some instances can take up 44 per cent of the firm’s income.

And added to this there is a massive increase in homelessness. But don’t worry! Yesterday, the I newspaper published a piece from the Economist telling millennials to cheer up, because in the future they’ll be able to afford their own home. Which sounds very much like simple propaganda for the current economic orthodoxy, rather than a realistic, credible prediction.

Free market capitalism has failed, despite what the press and media is trying to tell us. The Conservatives responsible for its adoption should be thrown out of government, and the Blairites who introduced it into Labour should be forced out of the positions of power they seek to monopolise. If not expelled altogether as Thatcherite entryists.

We need a genuine, socialist Labour government to clean this mess up. A government which must be led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Tony Benn: Socialism Needed to Prevent Massive Abuse by Private Industry

January 7, 2019

In the chapter ‘Labour’s Industrial Programme’ in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism, Tony Benn makes a very strong case for the extension of public ownership. This is needed, he argued, to prevent serious abuse by private corporations. This included not just unscrupulous and unjust business policies, like one medical company overcharging the health service for its products, but also serious threats to democracy. Benn is also rightly outraged by the way companies can be bought and sold without the consultation of their workers. He writes

The 1970s provided us with many examples of the abuse of financial power. There were individual scandals such as the one involving Lonrho which the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr Heath, described as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. Firms may be able to get away with the payment of 38,000 pounds a year to part-time chairmen if no one else knows about it. But when it becomes public and we know that the chairman, as a Conservative M.P., supports a statutory wages policy to keep down the wage of low-paid workers, some earning less than 20 pounds a week at the time, it becomes intolerable. There was the case of the drug company, Hoffman-La Roche, who were grossly overcharging the National Health Service. There was also the initial refusal by Distillers to compensate the thalidomide children properly.

There were other broader scandals such as those involving speculation in property and agricultural land; the whole industry of tax avoidance; the casino-like atmosphere of the Stock Exchange. Millions of people who experience real problems in Britain are gradually learning all this on radio and television and from the press. Such things are a cynical affront to the struggle that ordinary people have to feed and clothe their families.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Workers have no legal rights to be consulted when the firms for which they work are taken over. They are sold off like cattle when a firm changes hands with no guarantee for the future. The rapid growth of trade union membership among white-collar workers and even managers indicates the strength of feelings about that. Not just the economic but also the political power of big business, especially the multinationals, has come into the open.

In Chile the ITT plotted to overthrow an elected President. The American arms companies, Lockheed and Northrop, have been shown to have civil servants, generals, ministers and even prime ministers, in democratic countries as well as dictatorships, on their payroll. The Watergate revelations have shown how big business funds were used in an attempt to corrupt the American democratic process. In Britain we have had massive political campaigns also financed by big business to oppose the Labour Party’s programme for public ownership and to secure the re-election of Conservative governments. Big business also underwrote the cost of the campaign to keep Britain in the Common Market at the time of the 1975 referendum. (pp. 49-50).

Benn then moves to discuss the threat of the sheer amount of power held by big business and the financial houses.

Leaving aside the question of abuse, the sheer concentration of industrial and economic power is now a major political factor. The spate of mergers in recent years in Britain alone – and their expected continuation – can be expressed like this: in 1950 the top 100 companies in Britain produced about 20 per cent of the national output. By 1973 they produced 46 per cent. And at this rate, by 1980, they will produce 66 per cent – two-thirds of our national output. Many of them will be operating multinationally, exporting capital and jobs and siphoning off profits to where the taxes are most profitable.

The banks, insurance companies and financial institutions are also immensely powerful. In June 1973 I was invited to speak at a conference organised by the Financial Times and the Investors Chronicle. It was held in the London Hilton, and before going I added up the total assets of the banks and other financial institutions represented in the audience. They were worth at that time about 95,000 million pounds. This was at the time about twice as much as the Gross National Product of the United Kingdom and four or five times the total sum raised in taxation by the British government each year. (p.50).

He then goes on to argue that the Labour party has to confront what this concentration of industrial and financial power means for British democracy and its institutions, and suggests some solutions.

The Labour Party must ask what effect all this power will have on the nature of our democracy. Britain is proud of its system of parliamentary democracy, its local democracy and its free trade unions. But rising against this we have the growing power of the Common Market which will strip our elected House of Commons of its control over some key economic decisions. This has greatly weakened British democracy at a time when economic power is growing stronger.

I have spelled this out because it is the background against which our policy proposals have been developed. In the light of our experience in earlier governments we believed it would necessary for government to have far greater powers over industry. These are some of the measures we were aiming at in the Industry Bill presented to Parliament in 1975, shortly after our return to power:

The right to require disclosure of information by companies
The right of government to invest in private companies requiring support.
The provision for joint planning between government and firms.
The right to acquire firms, with the approval of Parliament.
The right to protect firms from takeovers.
The extension of the present insurance companies’ provisions for ministerial control over board members.
The extension of the idea of Receivership to cover the defence of the interests of workers and the nation.
Safeguards against the abuse of power by global companies.

If we are to have a managed economy-and that seems to be accepted – the question is: ‘In whose interests is it to be managed?’ We intend to manage it in the interests of working people and their families. But we do not accept the present corporate structure of Government Boards, Commissions and Agents, working secretly and not accountable to Parliament. The powers we want must be subjected to House of Commons approval when they are exercised. (pp. 50-1).

I don’t know what proportion of our economy is now dominated by big business and the multinationals, but there is absolutely no doubt that the situation after nearly forty years of Thatcherism is now much worse. British firms, including our public utilities, have been bought by foreign multinationals, are British jobs are being outsourced to eastern Europe and India.

There has also been a massive corporate takeover of government. The political parties have become increasingly reliant on corporate donations from industries, that then seek to set the agenda and influence the policies of the parties to which they have given money. The Conservatives are dying from the way they have consistently ignored the wishes of their grassroots, and seem to be kept alive by donations from American hedge fund firms. Under Blair and Brown, an alarmingly large number of government posts were filled by senior managers and officials from private firms. Both New Labour and the Tories were keen to sell off government enterprises to private industry, most notoriously to the firms that bankrolled them. And they put staff from private companies in charge of the very government departments that should have been regulating them. See George Monbiot’s Captive State.

In America this process has gone so far in both the Democrat and Republican parties that Harvard University in a report concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy, but a form of corporate oligarchy.

The Austrian Marxist thinker, Karl Kautsky, believed that socialists should only take industries into public ownership when the number of firms in them had been reduced through bankruptcies and mergers to a monopoly. Following this reasoning, many of the big companies now dominating modern Britain, including the big supermarkets, should have been nationalized long ago.

Tony Benn was and still is absolutely right about corporate power, and the means to curb it. It’s why the Thatcherite press reviled him as a Communist and a maniac. We now no longer live in a planned economy, but the cosy, corrupt arrangements between big business, the Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour, continues. Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism argues very strongly that we need to return to economic planning. In this case, we need to go back to the policies of the ’70s that Thatcher claimed had failed, and extend them.

And if that’s true, then the forty years of laissez-faire capitalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan is an utter, utter failure. It’s time it was discarded.

Pop Against the Tories: Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’

December 26, 2018

Thanks to everyone, who liked my post wishing them a happy Christmas, and for all the messages of peace and goodwill. Greatly appreciated! I hope you all had a great Christmas Day, and are enjoying the season’s festivities. And now I’m going to ruin it by talking about politics!

On Monday Mike put up a piece reporting a pop song he believes should be the real Christmas number one, rather than Ladbaby’s ‘piece of tat’ ‘We Built this City on Sausage Roll’. This was ‘Theresa May’ by Cabinet of Millionaires. While Ladbaby’s song is just a piece of jolly holiday froth, ‘Theresa May’ is a bitter attack on the current Prime Minister for the massive poverty she had caused, her warmongering and the privatization of the NHS. And the band’s name is obviously making a point about the extremely rich background of the members of her cabinet.

Mike’s put their video up on his channel. This shows a homeless man trudging from place to place with a puppet of the Prime Minister. He puts up a card saying simply ‘Theresa May – Private Dancer – Will Dance for Money’, and then jiggles the marionette around. The sign’s clearly a reference to Tina Turner’s classic ‘Private Dancer’, but also to her amoral, mercenary politics. She’s only interested in enriching herself and her followers. The lyrics are simple but angry, attacking her for ‘selling arms for illegal wars’ and ‘selling the NHS’. Both of which are absolutely true.

The video also shows some, but obviously not all, of the hardship faced by the homeless. The character sits against the wall, huddling in his padded coat and blanket with another homeless man, as they’re ignored by the people around them walking pass. Or worse. Another man walks up to a piece of wall next to him and urinates against it, to his obvious discomfort and disgust. The film ends with the character finally giving up trying to get money with the puppet. He throws it in the bin and moves on.

As we should with the real May. Homelessness has increased massively under Tweezer by something like 127% and 459 rough sleepers have died on the streets. One of those was Hungarian fellow, whose patch was just outside parliament. The man had a job, but couldn’t afford accommodation. Which is the reality all too many face, thanks to the Tories refusal to build more homes and their attack on council housing. Building firms have been caught building less than the number of affordable homes that need to be built, and the term ‘affordable’ itself can be misleading. It’s defined as something like 80 per cent of the normal price of houses in an area. This means that the affordable homes in an area of expensive housing may be anything but.

And the Tories really don’t want to build more housing, because house prices have been tied into general economic performance. More homes means that the market forces Maggie worshiped will make house prices fall, and so the economy will take another hit. Quite apart from the fact that it will leave many people in negative equity – in other words, their houses will be worth less than they paid for it – and it could undercut the buy to let industry which the Tories and right-wing rags like the Heil did so much to encourage.

The result of this is that there are 300,000 people, who are technically homeless, living in bed and breakfasts, hostels or on friends’ sofas, as well as whole generation of young students, who will never be able to afford their own home.

This is the way the Thatcherite dream of a home-owning democracy has died.

And then there’s May’s privatization of the health service, which is destroying it for the corporate profit of the private health firms and insurance companies, Which is also killing people.

May’s not quite responsible for illegal wars – Blair and Cameron started that, but she’s continuing them, so that brave men and women are being killed, not for any reasons of national safety, but purely so that multinational corporations can once again loot their countries and particularly their oil.

Cabinet of Millionaires’ song musically is good, tuneful pop. It follows a series of musical attacks on the Tories, such as ‘Liar, Liar’, which was about May’s persistent lying, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’. This last was by a group of teachers sending up the former education secretary and her wretched policies towards schools.

Thatcherism died long ago. It is now zombie economics, pushed and supported by an exploitative, profiteering industrial elite and lying media establishment. It’s time it was ended.

Get Tweezer and the Tories out, and Corbyn in!

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/should-this-be-the-real-christmas-number-one/

Bakunin on Class Oppression, Poverty and Suicide

December 23, 2018

Mikhail Bakunin was one of the towering figures of 19th century anarchism. A Russian aristocrat, he rebelled against tsarism after becoming a member of literary circle studying Hegelian philosophy, and threw himself passionately behind the worker’s struggle. He took part in many worker’s uprisings, and was captured when one of them, in eastern Germany, was put down. He was then sent back in chains to Russia, where he was goaled and exiled to Siberia. He escaped, took a ship to Japan, from whence he sailed to America. And from America he crossed the Atlantic to England, to call in at the home of his fellow Russian expatriate and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Although he is notorious for advocating violent revolution, particularly in a pamphlet he wrote with Nechaev, in some of his other writings he seems to believe that the revolution, which will overthrow capitalism, the state and the bourgeoisie, which will essentially peaceful. In one of his writings from the period 1869-1871 he argues for such a situation, and states that if there is violence, it will only be because the bourgeoisie want there to be.

He was bitterly critical of poverty that capitalism and the class structure of society and the state had created. And some of his descriptions of this poverty, and the despair and misery it caused, are still relevant today under Tweezer and the Tories. I found this passage in Mikhail Bakunin, From Out of the Dustbin, Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985):

This wealth, concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands and sloughing off the lower strata of the middle class, the petite bourgeoisie, into the proletariat, is wholly exclusive and becomes more so every day, growing in direct proportion to the increasing poverty of the working masses. Fro9m this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, and that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife, and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilization means only oppression and ruination to the people. (p. 112).

Dugan’s killing of himself and his children is truly horrific, and is probably better described as a murder-suicide, the type of crime that unfortunately appears every so often on the news. But as various left-wing bloggers like Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, all too many people have died through misery and starvation due to the Tories’ destruction of the economy and the welfare state. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off the benefits they need due to the Tories’ and New Labour’s fitness to work tests, and thousands of the unemployed have been left without money due to benefit sanctions. Thousands of people have died in starvation and misery, and some, like Dugan, have committed suicide. We have a quarter of a million people using food banks to save themselves from starvation. Something like 549 homeless people have died this year, including a Hungarian man, Gyula Remes, who died outside the House of Parliament. Mr. Remes had a job, but it didn’t pay enough for him to be able to afford accommodation. Meanwhile, Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP from Kingswood in Bristol, who said that austerity couldn’t be too bad because people weren’t lying dead in the street, has said nothing. Probably because he doesn’t want to remind even more people about his wretched comment, and can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put him deeper into trouble.

He’s only one of the Tories, who’ve made vile, sneering comments about the truly poor and desperate. I can remember another Tory a few years ago rhetorically asking who the homeless were, and replying that they were the people you stepped over coming out of the opera. And there are many others like him.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to want these people out of office. You just have to want a better Britain for working people, one that will give them proper rights at work, a living wage, a decent welfare system and a renationalized NHS and utilities industries that will safeguard and treat their health, and supply them with water, electricity and transport on the railways at proper prices, rather than exploiting them for the profit of private industry.

Get Tweezer and her profiteers out, and Jeremy Corbyn in!

Labour’s Foundation of the NHS and the Welfare State

December 18, 2018

Every now and then the Tories try to claim that Labour did not found the welfare state. They either claim that they did, or they try to minimize Labour’s role in its foundation by concentrating instead on the fact that it was based on the proposals made by Lord Beveridge in his report of 1943. But the NHS was effectively founded by Nye Bevan, who became the minister responsible for its establishment under Clement Attlee. Furthermore, the ultimate origins of the welfare state and NHS lay with the Webb’s minority report on the state of healthcare in Britain in 1906. The Socialist Medical Association demanded a socialized system of healthcare in the 1930s, and this was taken up by the Labour party. The Fabian Society in this period also produced a series of reports arguing for the establishment of what would be known as the NHS. Francis Williams, in his biography of Ernest Bevin, another minister in that great Labour government, also describes this process. He writes of the Labour party in the 1930’s

To most of its opponents at this time the Labour party seemed to be wasting its time on producing a whole series of policy reports which stirred little public interest and which seemed unlikely to have any practical administrative significance. In fact, however, these policy reports which, beginning with ‘Currency, Banking and Finance’, went on to ‘The Land and the National Planning of Agriculture’, ‘The Reorganisation of the Electricity Supply Industry” and ‘National Planning of Transport’ (all completed within two years of the 1931 defeat) and, continuing therefore, year after year, on almost every aspect of national policy including coal, iron and steel, a National Health Service, Education, Pensions, Unemployment, Industrial Insurance, Housing and Colonial Development, provided the party with the practical programme on which it eventually secured a parliamentary majority and laid for the foundations for the packed legislative programme of 1945 to 1950. (Williams, Ernest Bevin (London: Hutchinson 1952), pp. 182-3).

Now the NHS and the welfare state is being threatened by the Tories, the Lib Dems, and the Blairites. The present Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to restore the welfare state, renationalize the NHS, as well as part of the electricity grid, water and the railways. This is all very much needed, and it’s very far from being some kind of Communist programme, as the hysterical press and BBC would like us all to believe. It’s simply a partial return to the programme of the 1945 Labour government, which gave the country over three decades of prosperity and economic growth before the election of Thatcher.

Thatcher’s policies of privatization, the decimation of the welfare state and the privatization of the NHS has resulted in mass poverty. It has increasingly been shown to be threadbare. If Britain’s working people are to be given proper jobs, proper rights at work, continuing free healthcare and a genuinely fair provision for their old age, sickness and disability, we have to go back to the old Labour programme of the ’30s and ’40s, and get May and her profiteers and murderers out, and Corbyn in.

Helping Labour to Win in the Countryside: Encouraging Rural Industry

December 16, 2018

As well as helping to bail out farmers, Labour could also help to reverse the decline of the countryside by encouraging businesses to relocate there. Shirley Williams, the former Labour politician who defected to found the SDP, which merged with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems, discusses this possibility in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, published by Penguin as an example of what may be done to promote small businesses. She writes

The Wilson Committee jibbed at setting up a Small Business Agency, though the case for its seems strong. What the Committee did propose was a loan guarantee scheme, under which loans to small businesses would be partially underwritten by the banks, and an English Development Agency with similar powers to those of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies in relation to small firms. Thresholds for government support schemes which small firms are unable to cross, the Report said, should be reviewed.

This would be a useful start, but if the long drift towards concentration is to be reversed, much more is needed. The new agency should positively go out and look for products and services which small firms can produce, as COSIRA (Council for Siting Industry in Rural Areas) has done so successfully in rural areas. New firms should be able to qualify for capital loans at a subsidized interest rate, and they should be entitled to similar help when they reach the breakthrough point of rapid growth. This is the stage at which many small innovatory firms go under, because they cannot finance expansion on the scale needed to meet demand. Good legal and accounting services should be readily available through the new agency, which should also offer advice on government schemes that may be helpful. Red tape and form-filling needs to be kept to a minimum, since small firms rarely have the bureaucracy to cope with complicated application forms. The Microelectronic Applications Project introduced by the Labour government of 1976-9 has been successful in attracting several thousand requests for its consultancy scheme, not just because the government met the first 2,000 pounds of the consultant’s fees, but because the procedure for applying is so simple. (p. 121).

Williams is far from my favourite politician because of her role in founding the SDP and its subsequent move to the right. She is also personally responsible for helping the passage of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill, which is part of the Tories’ continuing privatization of the NHS, through parliament by voting for it when others, like Dr. David Owen, voted against. But the book has interesting ideas. It struck me that IT is industry that could easily me moved to the countryside, if only in the form of software developers, who may not need quite so much expensive plant.

Many working people have dreams of running their own businesses, and G.D.H. Cole in one of his books on socialism argued that socialists should make common cause with small businesspeople against the threat of big business. And it is big business that is also threatening the countryside. As George Monbiot has described in his book, Captive State, the big supermarkets drive out the small businesses in their areas. This has a devastating effect on the area generally, as these industries employ more people than the supermarkets themselves. Furthermore, the supermarkets use very exploitative contracts to force their suppliers to provide them with goods at very low prices. New Labour and no doubt the Tories after them have done much to harm the country generally as well as rural areas by supporting the big supermarkets, like Sainsbury’s, against local shops like grocers.