Posts Tagged ‘Blair’

Old Advert in Private Eye with Very Clear Message to Blair

September 18, 2018

I know this is coarse, rude and therefore not at all adult, but I thought the advert below was still very relevant to today’s political situation. I found it on page 30 of Private Eye’s edition for 4th-17th February 2005. I haven’t reproduced all of the advert. The piece I’ve not copied contained details of how to pay for the shirts, and as I don’t know if the company still exists, I don’t really want to see people potentially wasting their money ordering stuff from a firm that may have vanished over a decade ago.

I think it’s obvious that the shirts and their slogan were aimed squarely at Tories bitter at Blair’s government and New Labour. However, it’s still relevant, because only a few weeks ago Blair stuck his head up from wherever he’s been skulking since leaving office and turning the Middle East into a bloody, smoking battlefield. As you will remember, he emerged to tell the media that the far Left had taken over the Labour party, and it may not be possible for ‘moderates’ to retake it. He therefore urged people to consider supporting a new, centrist party. This new, centrist party is presumably Unite For Change, the new party that’s been set up by what looks very much like people connected to Blair and New Labour donors. Blair appears to have been hoping that the ‘moderate’ Labour MPs – in reality, Blair’s supporters and therefore, like him, extreme-rightwing Thatcherite entryists – would leave the party to join this new outfit.

In fact, as John McDonnell has pointed out, Corbyn and his supporters are the real moderates. Corbyn’s proposals for renationalizing the NHS, giving workers better rights, reviving the welfare state, the nationalization of the railways and the partial renationalization of the electricity grid are traditional, centrist, Old Labour policies. These stressed a mixed economy, the nationalization of the utilities to serve the interests of the British public, not their owners or private investors, strong unions to protect working people, and a proper welfare state to support the poor and the disabled. They aren’t the policies of Trotskyites, Stalinists, Communists and the Hard Left, or whoever else Joan Ryan, the Blairites, Tories and the lamestream media feel they can use to smear Corbyn and his supporters.

As for Blair’s new centrist party, no-one is interested in it, it has precious few members, and its only policy so far seems to be that it wants Britain to remain in the EU. But apart from that, it seems simply to be a rehash of New Labour, where the party raised most of its money from rich, millionaire donors, who the party then did its best to please by adopting legislation that suited them, but not Britain’s working people, and placing the same donors or their senior management in positions of government.

I believe this country would definitely be better off if we remained in the EU. But Blair’s new centrist party has absolutely nothing to offer ordinary people except more poverty, more job insecurity, more welfare cuts, more privatization and the destruction of the NHS as it is sold off to private healthcare firms. Just as Thatcher, Major, Blair, and Cameron wanted, and which May is continuing.

The message is coarse, rude and nasty, but in a Britain in which 4.5 million children are in poverty, and a quarter of million people are using food banks to save themselves from starvation, it’s all too appropriate. It’s just a pity there isn’t a similar set of shirts now for May and the Tories.

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Vox Political: Miliband Challenges Businesses on Tax Havens

February 7, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political also has this story on Ed Miliband stating that a future Labour government will demand greater transparency and social responsibility from tax havens and the governments that operate them. Under the proposed new laws, these havens will be required to provide publicly accessible registers of who owns the companies registered in them. The article’s called Labour’s ultimatum to tax havens and it begins

Ed Miliband has warned the tax havens costing British families and businesses billions of pounds that they will have just six months to put their house in order and open their books – or face being placed on an international blacklist.

He has highlighted figures showing that, despite David Cameron boasting more than 18 months ago that he had forced tax havens to open up, not one of the tax havens linked to Britain as Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies has yet delivered on Cameron’s promise that they would publish a register showing who owns the companies registered there – and some have explicitly refused to do so.

The lack of leadership shown by the UK government has frustrated and slowed the pace of reform on tax avoidance across the world.

In a letter to heads of government, Mr Miliband served notice on them that that under the next Labour government they will have six months to publish publicly-accessible central registers of beneficial ownership.

If they fail to meet this deadline, the next Labour government will withdraw the protection they get from international scrutiny and ask the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to place them on its tax haven blacklist.

Miliband makes the point that his insistence that big business pays its fair share of tax is not an attack on business. It is pro-business, as the money so raised will be spent on the infrastructure Britain needs, including those businesses that do pay their whack. He contrasts this with the government’s programme of further cuts. Miliband says

“Today, we have a government planning real cuts in spending on schools but one that only postures—and does not act over the scandal of tax avoidance.

“Let me say to the Prime Minister: It is not pro-business to defend tax avoidance.

“Britain is losing billions of pounds in lost revenue that could be invested in our future. It is costing everyone who pays their fair share of taxes, including millions of British businesses.

“Businesses and working people who pay their taxes, do the right thing and play by the rules are affronted by tax avoidance – and they are fed up with a government that has failed to act.”

He said: “The current Conservative leadership have become the political wing of offshore hedge funds.

Much of the system of tax avoidance was put in place by Blair and Brown. It’s good that Miliband has re-thought this policy, and is now trying to end at least some of its excesses. It contrasts strongly with that of the Tories, who believe, like that the ancient aristocracy, that as aristos they shouldn’t have to pay tax.

Blair’s Ideological Legacy

March 27, 2014

Tony-Blair-006

Earlier today I posted a long piece on the origin of New Labour and its legacy on Ed Miliband’s current leadership of the party. This means the way Labour after the 1987 General Election turned away from state intervention to embrace the middle classes, the free market and the financial sector, at the expense of domestic manufacturing industry and the working class. Simon Matthews also further summarises Blair’s fundamental attitudes to the economy, the press and the middle classes in his review of Anthony Seldon’s biography, Blair (London: Free Press (Simon & Shuster) 2004) in his piece ‘Our Leader’ in Lobster 48, Winter 2004, pp. 34-5. He notes that under Blair, Brown and Balls allowed unelected officials from the Treasury control vast areas of domestic policy, such as the railways, housing and defence. These schemes tended to implode, forcing Blair to intervene personally. He then states

What is not clearly articulated in this book is the world view that Brown, Blair and the various other UK politicians like them follow. This appears to be the same as the outlook many demoralised US and Australian leftists and centre-leftists adopted in the ’80s after the seemingly invincible triumph of the Reagan-Thatcher agenda. Namely:

1. Support of the middle classes is critical at every level. Therefore direct personal taxes can never be raised.

2. The media are too powerful to challenge. Therefore flatter them, give them good stories (‘briefing’, ‘spinning’ etc) and allow them a deregulated area in the market place in which to work.

3. If you either need to or want to pay for additional domestic projects because of (1) you can only do so by increasing the amount of cheap foreign labour within the domestic economy (in the USA, Hispanics; in the UK anyone in the world) and as the working population goes up and costs go down, so the amounts of taxes coming in from low wage jobs goes up.

4. Anything other than this is impossible and should be resisted.

It is striking that the tribulations that Blair and Brown have with Europe stem from this approach. (thanks to their electoral arrangements, Europe did not have majority governments that implemented the Reagan-Thatcher policies.)
Generally one senses, when the narrative concludes in mid-2004, that we have not seen the end of the Blair years by a long chalk.

Blair’s administration is long over, as is that of his successor, Gordon Brown. However, Blair and his free market policies and pursuit of the middle classes and the media at the expense of everyone else still casts a very long shadow in the form of Balls, Miliband and their coterie.

The Unemployed and Disabled Need an Elected ‘Guardian and Protector’

March 11, 2014

131109doublespeak

I received this interesting comment from Gay Mentalist to my post on Kenneth Mackenzie’s book on Parliament as a vital resource in this time of constitutional change, and the Coalition’s contempt for representative democracy:

Really interesting post, as you point out, there has been more of a presidential theme in British politics for some years now. I’m often struck by how sometimes people forget that a general election is a series of local elections rather than just 1 national election. Quite often you used to hear people saying “I’m voting for Blair” in the past. They weren’t generally voting for Blair, Brown, Thatcher, Major, Cameron or any of the other leaders, they were voting for a local candidate, with these tv debates, I fear that is something that is getting lost even more. If they want that style of politics then maybe we should have an elected PM? In fact why not go the whole hog and have an elected cabinet? That could make for interesting results!

Unelected Ministers Causing Problems for Unemployed and Disabled

I was thinking about something like that myself, although it was about a very specific set of ministers. I wonder if we actually need the ministers dealing with the unemployed and the disabled to be elected. Left-wing bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, The Void, Daepac Leicester, Jaynelinney, Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge, myself and so many others have reported the terrible effects the government’s policies have had on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. You can read about the immense hardship suffered by ordinary people on Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, London Food Bank and Benefit Tales, to name just a few. In addition to the hardship they face is the fact that they have no voice in parliament. The ministers that should be guaranteeing them some dignity, a living income and the hope of something better – the ministers for the disabled and people in charge of the DWP, are those, who are responsible for the creation and implementation of the policies that are the direct cause of their suffering.

No Help from Information Commissioner

And it seems no redress is possible from other branches of the government Simply getting the statistics of the number of people, who’ve died as a result of government policy is nearly impossible. Mike and the other people, who have asked for this information under the Freedom of Information Act, have been refused. Why? When they asked as individuals, it was deemed to difficult and expensive to provide the information for just one person. When others asked for the information, the government decided that this was a concerted policy to inconvenience the government, and therefore ‘vexatious’. More cynically, the government has blatantly stated it will not provide the information as this would cause more people to oppose the policy and block its implementation. In other words, they know the public would find it unpleasant, cruel and immoral, and so the public must now be allowed to know about it.

Workless Camps

Forced Labour Camps for British Unemployed in 1920s

It’s all rather like the forced labour camps set up for the unemployed in the 1920s, about which Unemployed in Tyne and Wear reported on his blog. Most of the records of that truly horrible little piece in British history were destroyed after the policy was abandoned. One cannot help but compare it to the way the Nazis carefully hid the details of their extermination of the Jews and other racial desirables in the death camps. It also raises very awkward questions of how fundamentally different we British are to the continental nations. We tend to see ourselves as more freedom-loving, and so fundamentally freer and more moral than just about everyone else, but the fact that these camps were set up raises questions about whether, if the First World War had gone the other way, and Britain had been defeated and suffered punitive reparations by a victorious Germany, we would also have seen a vicious, Fascist-style dictatorship, complete with the incarceration of political dissidents and the murder of the Jews and other racial or social undesirables in England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

IDS and McVey, two of the ministers responsible, can get away with this as they are not directly responsible to the people, who are the subjects and victims of their legislation. They are appointed by the Prime Minister, and are essentially responsible for carrying out his policies. Hence IDS on Sunday could get away with issuing a tissue of lies about how successful his policies were to Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics.

This cannot go on. It is failing people. Tens of thousands are dying each year as a result, but this is ignored and covered up by this aristocratic government. 23 out of 29 of the ministers in Cameron’s first cabinet were millionaires. 51 per cent were privately educated, and only three per cent went to comprehensives. Cameron believes he was born to rule, and so treats us like serfs.

It’s time this changed.

Guardian and Protector of Slaves Possible Model for Minister to Protect Unemployed and Disabled?

I wonder if we don’t need a ‘Guardian and Protector’ of the unemployed and disabled as a vital, established and directly elected government official, similar to the officials the British government established in their Caribbean slave colonies during the 1820s. This was a period when the government was trying to ameliorate, rather than emancipate the slaves. As a result of a series of truly horrific cruelty cases, the British government passed a series of legislation intended to improve conditions for slaves. This regulated the amount of food they were to be given by their masters, and limited the punishments that were to be inflicted. They also set up a series of commissions to investigate the condition of the slaves, talking not just to their masters, but also to the slaves themselves. The resulting parliamentary reports make fascinating reading. Many of the slaves had quite strong views about their masters, and weren’t afraid to make them known.

The British government also set up specific government post to deal with cases of cruelty and neglect. This was the ‘Guardian and Protector of Slaves’, modelled somewhat on the office of the alcalde in the Spanish colonies. These were responsible for investigating cases of cruelty and neglect upon the request of the slaves themselves. If they judged that the case was ‘frivolous’, the slave would be punished by whipping. If they found in his favour, however, they could punish the slave-owner, and order the slave to be compulsorily sold to a better, more humane master.

Minister for Women in Greek City States

I also read while at College that some of the ancient Greek city states also had a similar official to ensure better treatment and conditions for women. Ancient Greek society was extremely masculine and patriarchal, and the status of women was very low. Nevertheless, as series of strikes by women, similar to the sex strike in the play Lysistrata, had forced at least one of the ancient Greek city states to set up a special government figure to investigate incidents of abuse against them.

Pressure to Guarantee Proper Representation and Treatment of Women and Ethnic Minorities

All the parties are naturally under increasing pressure to increase the representation of women in parliament, and indeed throughout society, including business, science and the arts. There is also similar pressure to ensure that members of ethnic minorities also receive their fair share in our society and government.

Do We Need A Similar Official for Unemployed and Disabled?

I strongly believe that we need an elected official to represent the unemployed and the disabled at Westminster, and that this official should be elected by the unemployed and disabled themselves. There are any number of organisations pressing for their better treatment, like the CAB, but these are seeing their budgets cut, or their findings ignored. I think a way of solving this problem would be to make the ministers, or a minister for them directly accountable, to ensure that their interests were not side-lined, or simply subordinated to general government policy. So that someone like Ian Duncan Smith or Esther McVey can once again bluster and cover up their cruelty and incompetence with smooth lies without fear of tough questions.

Like how many have been killed or died from despair and starvation through the government’s policies.

This is just a suggestion, but I do wonder if others agree. Any ideas?

Resources for Constitutional History: Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament

March 9, 2014

Parliament Book Cover

Mike over at Vox Political has several times mentioned that there’s a need for books on parliament because of the way the Coalition has repeatedly interfered with it, or ignored it, when MPs have had the audacity to do something it didn’t like. Like demand a cumulative assessment on the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on the poor and disabled. Mike blogged on this live, as the debate was broadcast from parliament. What emerged from that debate was the government’s absolute and complete contempt for those who didn’t agree with it. They sent about three members of the Tory party to defend the government’s policies during the debate, which shows you precisely how far they feel they have to justify themselves to the nation’s elected representatives at Westminster.

I strongly agree with Mike about this issue. The past two decades have seen profound changes to the British constitution. The most obvious of this was Blair’s reform of the House of Lords, which has resulted in a partly appointed upper house. Other changes have been in the way consecutive prime ministers since Blair have begun side-lining or ignoring parliament. Blair’s administration was strongly criticised for the way he reduced Prime Minister’s Question Time to once a week, and appeared to attempt to stage manage his appearances before parliament as carefully as his other, public appearances were choreographed. The most notorious example of the offhand way Blair treated parliament was in his refusal to hold a proper debate in Westminster prior to the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s regime has been described, with more than a little justification, as ‘presidential’, which causes problems as this is a parliamentary democracy. The Coalition have continued this transformation of the office of Prime Minister into a quasi-presidency. This needs to be stopped, and more power restored to parliament as the expression of the people’s political will, and a check to the growing, arbitrary powers of the prime Minister.

Unfortunately, there appear to be very, very few books actually on the shelves of bookshops on parliament. Looking around the ‘Politics’ section of Waterstones, I can’t remember seeing a single book on it. There are any number of books on other, important political issues, such as the situation in the Middle East, Islamic radicalism in the UK, analyses of the structure of British politics, the European Union, the global policies towards the Developing World, analyses of race relations and tensions in Britain, and questions of poverty, entrepreneurship and so on, as well as books on various political philosophies and tendencies, like Neo-Liberalism. But no book could I see on parliament, what is and does.

One book on the subject I did manage to find was Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1951). Subtitled ‘A survey of the historical development of parliament describing how and why it has come to work in the way that it does today’, it does indeed trace the rise and development of the English parliament from its emergence from the feudal grand conseil of the king’s feudal lords during the Middle Ages and its foundation by Simon de Montfort.

It has the following chapters:

1. A Court Becomes a Parliament, with sections on the feudal nature of parliament and the arrival of the House of Commons;

2. The Commons Become Legislators, with sections on the position of the commons, and petition and bill;

3. Liberty from Tyranny, with sections on freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, and the power to commit;

4. Rules, Clerks, Records, with sections on the early history of procedure, clerks and journals, and the publication of proceedings and debates;

5. Consent to Taxation, with sections on the final establishment of the consent of parliament to taxation, and the Commons’ gain of sole control over taxation;

6. The Ministry Becomes Responsible to the Commons, with sections on early attempts to control policy, and ministerial responsibility.

7. The Commons Represent the People, with sections on the early history of representation, the reform of the electoral system, and the party system;

8. The Modernisation of Procedure, with sections on procedural reform, 1800-72, obstruction and disorderly conduct, 1877-88, the pressure of business, and the government takes the time of the House.

10. The Commons Control Expenditure, with sections on the history of the attempt, and the modern system;

11. Parliament Delegates Power to Make Law;

12. The Second Chamber, on the House of Lords, which has sections on its composition, its financial and legislative powers, and its jurisdiction.

There is also a concluding chapter 13, The Secret Garden of the Crown, which assesses it history and considering some of the problems facing the future of parliament.

Each chapter is prefaced with a suitable quotation from that age’s leading politicians and constitutional theorists. The two quotes for the first chapter on the origins of parliament give a very good summary of its feudal origins and the role they have played in keeping Britain free from tyranny. The first is by the great 19th century Liberal constitutional historian, Lord Acton. Acton said

The one thing that saved England from the fate of other countries was not her insular position, nor the independent spirit nor the magnanimity of her people – for we have been proud of the despotism we obeyed under the Tudors, and not ashamed of the tyranny we exercised in our dependencies – but only the consistent, uninventive, stupid fidelity to that political system which originally belonged to all the nations that traverse the ordeal of feudalism.

Acton was an ardent advocate of constitutional liberty and an enemy of absolute tyranny. It was Lord Acton who coined the phrase, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

The second quote comes from the Anglo-Norman legal writer, Bracton. Bracton was one of the magistrates responsible for founding the British common law tradition, in which law is influenced not just by abstract legislation, but also by custom and precedent. This quote runs

Moreover, the King has over him a court, that is to say the earls and barons; for the earls, as their name (comites) implies, are the companions of the king, and he who has a colleague has a master.

The word ‘comites’, which is translated as ‘earls’ in the above passages, is the origin of the modern English word ‘count’. it comes from the Latin word comes, companion. This became a technical term for a very senior Roman governor, as it stood for someone, who was the companion of the emperor.

That passage shows how, even during the Middle Ages when kings had massive powers and could rule for years without calling parliament, there was nevertheless a feeling that there were constitutional checks to the power of the monarch. Indeed, after John’s defeat by the barons at Runnymede and the issuing of the Magna Carta, there appeared a saying in Norman French. Translated into modern English, this read ‘This is the Commune of England, in which everyone has his own opinion’. ‘Commune’ was the term used in the Middle Ages for a town, which had acquired the freedom to govern itself. It’s a classic summary of English political liberty as it has descended from the Middle Ages. The monarchy has gradually been the subject of even further checks, so that they liberty of people under parliament has grown since the time that was uttered. Unfortunately, the Coalition are doing their level best to undermine it.

The book is very dated, but nevertheless it gives a good introduction to parliament in England. We need more books like this as parliamentary procedure is increasingly attacked under the guise of reform.

Blair, Mussolini, Neo-Liberalism and ‘The End of the Ideology’

March 4, 2014

Mussolini

Fascist Dictator Mussolini adopting typically grandiose posture

After the scrapping of Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution committing it to nationalisation, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government was hailed by many as the expression of the new pragmatism in politics. With ministers drawn from outside as well within the Labour party itself, New Labour was celebrated for its empirical approach to politics. Instead of following the dictates of ideology, the party was instead formulating policies and appointing personnel according to what worked. Just as Francis Fukuyama described the new political era ushered in by the Fall of Communism as the ‘end of history’, so there was a tendency to describe Blair’s government almost as the ‘end of ideology’. This type of rhetoric resembled some of the attitudes adopted by Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship when it seized power in the 1920s.

19th and early 20th century Reformist Social Democrat politicians had believed that society and history proceeded by fixed laws, laws that were leading to the inevitable triumph of socialism. In their defence and advancements of socialism, the British Fabians, for example, who strenuously rejected Marx’s doctrine of the Class War, argued that Socialism was merely the continuation and expansion of existing government policies interfering with and regulating the economy. Sidney Webb, who with his wife, Beatrice, was one of the founders and leading Fabian intellectuals, wrote

The practical man, oblivious or contemptuous of any theory of the social organism or general principles of social organisation, has been forced, by the necessities of the time, into an ever-deepening collectivist channel. Socialism, of course, he still rejects and despises. The individualist town councillor will walk along the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas, and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water, and seeing, by the municipal clock in the municipal market, that he is too early to meet his children coming from the municipal school, hard by the county lunatic asylum and municipal hospital, will use the national telegraph system to tell them not to walk through the municipal park, but come by the municipal tramway, to meet him in the municipal reading-room, by the municipal art gallery, museum, and library, where he intends to consult some of the national publications in order to prepare his next speech in the municipal town hall, in favour of the nationalisation of canals and the increase of Government control over the railway system. ‘Socialism, Sir,’ he will say, ‘Don’t waste the time of a practical man by your fantastic absurdities. Self-help, Sir, individual self-help, that’s what’s made our city what it is’.

Sydney Webb, Socialism in England, quoted in E.C. Midwinter, Victorian Social Reform (Longman: Harlow 1968) p. 94.

This idea of slow progress leading to the gradual victory of Socialism seemed to be shattered by the reality of the First World War. This seemed to show that all such ideologies of historical laws of gradual progress were wrong. To the activists and intellectuals that formed part of Mussolini’s Fascists, the War instead showed that history was made through will. As a result, Fascism vigorously promoted itself as the first movement that was no constrained by ideology or values. Some non-Fascist Italian intellectuals were initially favourable to them because of this. It seemed to look past the political stalemates that had occurred in the Italian parliament through the conflicts between the different political groups.

Adrian Lyttleton in his book The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929(London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd 1987, describes the situation thus

The interventionist intellectuals conceived of the war as an assertion of will and energy in defiance of the supposed ‘laws’ of historical development. ‘The world war has destroyed the ideology of progress as a slow ordered succession of events and institutions … it has destroyed the bourgeois, reformist, evolutionist conception.’ In the postwar period, activism ceased to be merely an intellectual fashion and became a widespread state of mind. The confusion and dissatisfaction with all existing ideologies had become acute. While other parties appeared to deny the existence of a crisis of values, Fascism not only recognized by glorified it. Mussolini’s attitude of tough-minded pragmatism, his claim to have seen through and ‘transcended’ the old ideologies, appeal to may intellectuals. They celebrated Fascism as the end of ideology, as the first realistic political movement free from both moral and intellectual preconceptions, one in which practice would precede and form values instead of the other way round. Fascism taught the value of Negative Thinking. There were echoes here of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’; the Fascist felt himself to be the superman freed from conventional moral restraints, and this helped him to act with confidence and ruthlessness. (p. 367).

Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding Blair’s government as indicating the end of ideology, Blair was not, unlike the Fascists, a moral nihilist. He did not reject all systems of morality nor celebrate force and violence. Indeed, he was always keen to promote some kind of moral reason for his actions and policies, some of which, like the invasion of Iraq, were indeed highly questionable. Nor can the Blair regime be seen as inaugurating the ‘end of ideology’. Blair’s New Labour did not reject ideology – it just rejected traditional socialism in favour of Neo-Liberalism. They still retained some belief in social justice and state interference in the economy for the good of society, but this was to be kept at a minimum. Following Thatcher, who gave her official endorsement of Blair when she met him at 10 Downing Street after his election, private enterprise was regarded as the foremost solution to the problems of the economy and society. This attitude has continued to inform politics after Blair’s departure. It underlies Brown’s management of the economy, and now, in a far purer and more extreme form, that of the Coalition.

I don’t, however, believe that the Neo-Liberal consensus has meant the end of ideology. The vast majority of the population, for example, do not want the privatisation of the NHS. Nor did they wish for the privatisation of the Post Office when this was mooted by New labour. Furthermore, as Mike has pointed out, there is considerable support for the renationalization of the railways and the utilities. What has changed is not so much the opinions of the electorate, but that of the governing political elites. And this is leading to a crisis of faith in politics. Increasing numbers are not voting, because they see little difference between the parties. These particularly include the young, the poor, the unemployed and disabled, who believe that there is no point in voting, as none of the parties are interesting in doing anything for them. This has not led to a revolt, whether of the Left, like the Communists, or the Right, like the Fascists. But it is corroding democracy in this country. If we are not careful, it will lead to the emergence of a managerial, technocratic elite, who govern without a mandate and whose policies do not reflect the will of the electorate, even more so than the Coalition at present.

Socialist Criticism of the Financial Sector from 1986

February 28, 2014

The present savage cuts to the welfare state by the Tories and their Coalition partners are legitimated by an appeal to the massive debt created by the financial crisis of four years ago. The root cause of this was ultimately the wholesale deregulation of the financial sector by Thatcher’s government, a policy that was carried on by Major’s, Blair’s and Brown’s administrations, and which the Coalition today promotes even further. The conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has also carried a number of articles showing how the Tories’ preference for the financial sector has severely damaged British manufacturing industry. This was clear from as long ago as 1986, when the book Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Ton Manwaring, Henry Neuberger, and Adam Sharples, was published. Looking through it recently, I found this passage criticising the rise of the financial sector and the harmful effect it was having on society and the economy:

The continued growth of the finance sector is also highly significant in terms of the distribution of economic power. Industrial companies in this country have behaved as independent and usually competitive organisations, even though they have sometimes acted in alliance. But the finance sector is far more centralised, and serves as an organising focus of class power. The growth of the finance sector reflects the decreasing ability of manufacturing companies to finance investment from their own retained profits. In the era of manufacturing dominance, manufacturing companies used to finance their relatively limited investments from their own substantial profits. Since then, the underlying trend in profitability has been downwards, while the costs of new investment have increased (especially because of higher inflation). As a result, manufacturing and commercial companies have increasingly come to rely on banks for new finance, both for working capital and for fixed investment needs. This often takes the form of short-term finance through overdrafts or leasing arrangements whereby companies hire equipment owned by banks. The effect of the latter is to concentrate the control of a large amount of equipment, at least in principle, in the hands of the banks.

These development have left the banks with considerable power over industry and commerce. But the banks have not developed the same sense of responsibility shown by their German and Japanese counterparts, who have been the source of finance for their industries for much longer. The form in which British banks provide their finance does not encourage them to take a long-term view of the companies and industries in which they are involved. Recently banks have been forced by the economic recession to become more directly involved, but even when acting collectively, as in the case of the Stone Platt engineering company, they have overwhelmingly taken a short-term view.

There have also been changes in the ultimate source of finance, as witnessed by the rise of the pension funds. Thirty years ago rich individuals were the main source of outside finance for industry. But now pension funds have taken over. Some people argue that this has somehow d9ispersed the ownership of property, in a way, which has also increased democratic control. In practice, however, the members of a pension fund have no control over the way in which it is operated, and have no legal rights to challenge its investment policies. The rise of pension funds has simply concentrated even more economic power in the hands of the City institutions which operate and ‘advise’ the pension funds. It has also had the effect of providing them with greater political power: when it comes to defending the rights of property there are 13 million members of pension funds, many of them trade unionists, who can be made to feel they have a stake in the free enterprise economy. (pp. 32-3).

This pessimistic analysis has been born out to a very large extent by history, and particularly by the recklessness of the banks’ policies, which created the crash. It was this, not the Labour government’s welfare spending, that has resulted in the massive budget deficit.

Atos Gets 150,000 Complaints from GPs and Blames the DWP

February 24, 2014

This is another piece on Atos that I’ve found on Youtube. It’s a report from Sky News, put up on the 18th October 2013, revealing that doctors have officially complained about the extra workload they are being placed under by people, who have been declared fit for work by Atos. They also reveal that the Citizens Advice Bureau had received 150,000 complaints about Atos. The report also covers the case of Mr Cowper, a man dying of cancer, who was nevertheless found fit for work by Atos. Mr Cowper is only one of tens of thousands. The precise number is unknown because the government repeatedly refuses to release the figures, claiming that such requests are ‘vexatious’. See the relevant posts over at Vox Political on Mike’s attempts to get the figures out of them.

Atos, however, are complaining that they have been victimised. Their vice-president, Wayne Gibson, turns up on the programme to state that they were working for the government for fifteen years with no protests. They feel that they have been scapegoated for the government’s policies.

Now I was first thrown off benefits when Blair/ Brown were in power. If I remember correctly, there were strong articles about Atos in Private Eye even then. Furthermore, the company cannot pass the blame wholly onto the Government. They chose to bid for the contract and administer the tests. No-one forced them. If they had an moral objections to the work, they could simply have withdrawn their services. Or, if their health care professionals are as highly trained and skilled as they said, they could have sought to change the test itself. They did not. Now I think the company is right in that the DWP must also share the blame, but this does not, by any means, excuse them.

If you want to see the video on Youtube, it’s at ‘Atos Gets 150,000 Complaints, Atos say DWP to Blame’ at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GwUSa63tX0

The Types of People Sleeping Rough according to Labour 1998 Report

February 22, 2014

This is a response to Mike’s blog piece reporting the eviction of two of his friends in the Welsh town in which he lives, which I’ve already reblogged from Vox Political. 16 years ago in 1998 New Labour attempted to tackle the problem of homelessness and other social problems through their Social Exclusion Unit. This produced a report identifying the types of people forced to sleep rough. In his foreword, Blair stated that

It is a source of shame for all of us, that there are still about 2,000 people out on the streets around England every night and 10,000 sleep rough over the course of a year.

That number has almost certainly increased since then. One of the homeless charities, according to Private Eye, has said that this Christmas (2013), about 60,000 children would be homeless due to government cuts. These would not be sleeping rough, but housed in Bed and Breakfast after their families were evicted from their homes. Even if these children still have some kind of roof over their head, this is still very definitely not unacceptable. If the situation was shameful in the last years of the 1990s, the government’s attitudes seems positively shameless in the way they have massively exacerbated the problem.

The report gave the following information

Chapter 1: Who Sleeps Rough?

1.6 The information we have tells us that:

* There are very few rough sleepers aged under 18;
* around 25 per cent are between 18 and 25;
* six per cent are over 60; and
* around 90 per cent are male.

1.9 The single most common reason given for the first episode of rough sleeping is relationship breakdown, either with parents or partner:
* research by Centrepoint with homeless young people across the country found that 86 per cent had been forced to leave home rather than choosing to…
1.10 Older homeless people also identify family crisis as key with the main factor being widowhood and marital breakdown, as well as eviction, redundancy and mental illness…
1.11 A disproportionate number of rough sleepers have experience of some kind of institutional life.
1.12 Between a quarter and a third of rough sleepers have been looked after by local authorities as children.
1.13 Unlike other young people leaving home, many care leavers lack any sort of on-going parental support which can act as a back up when a first attempt at independent living goes wrong …
1.14 Around half of rough sleepers have been in prison or a remand centre … Those who have been in prison typically experience serious problems obtaining both housing and jobs, frequently exacerbated by the problems of relationship breakdown, drugs etc ….
1.16 Repeated studies have found that between a quarter and one fifth of all rough sleepers have been in the services …
1.17 Some 30-50 per cent of rough sleepers suffer from mental health problems. The great majority (88 per cent) of those with mental health problems became ill before they became homeless.
1.18 Research does not support the widespread belief that the closure of long-term psychiatric hospitals has resulted in former patients sleeping rough…
1.19 As many as 50 per cent of rough sleepers have a serious alcohol problem and some 20 per cent misuse drugs…
1.20 Rough sleepers are disproportionately likely to have missed school…
1.21 Generally, single people will only get assistance under the homelessness legislation if they are unintentionally homeless and in priority need…
1.22 Researchers … agree that a number of changes in social security policy … in the late 1980s were closely associated with a squeeze on the ability of single people on low incomes to gain access to suitable housing…

From Rough Sleeping Report by the Social Exclusion Unit, CM4008, July 1998, pp. 1, 4-6, 16, in Margaret Jone and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002) 189-91.

Mike’s friends have not been institutionalised, nor, as far as I know, do they have mental health or drug problems. They are ‘strivers’, similar to those made homeless according to paragraph 1.22: Researchers … agree that a number of changes in social security policy … in the late 1980s were closely associated with a squeeze on the ability of single people on low incomes to gain access to suitable housing….

And with the bedroom tax and caps on Housing Benefit now in place, there are going to be many more of them. All so the Tories’ friends in the housing sector can get richer.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

F.G. Nordmann: The Barricades on the Kronen- and Freidrichstrasse on the 18th March 1848 by an Eyewitness

I found this manifesto of the demands by the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee during the continental revolutions of 1848 in the ‘Vormarz’ volume of the anthologies of German literature published by Reclam. Although it was written over a century and a half ago in Germany, their demands are still acutely relevant to early 21st century Britain. Over half of the demands made by the Berlin workers have or are being attacked by the Cameron and Clegg. I thought that these demands were worth putting up here, both as an historical document showing the aspirations of 19th century German workers, and as a comment on the way the Coalition’s reactionary regime is trying to destroy everything that has been achieved to improve working peoples’ lives since then.

I last did German at school over twenty years ago, and so I apologise for my highly rocky German. If anyone with a better grasp of German than me wishes to revise some of this, let me know, and I’ll post up the original for them to see and comment on.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee, 18th June 1847

1. Determination of a minimum wage and working hours through a commission of workers and masters or employers.

2. Workers to unite for the maintenance of the living wage.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes, introduction of progressive incomes tax with the exemption of those, who only have life’s necessities.

4. The state to undertake free instruction, and, where it is necessary, the free education of youth with supervision for their abilities.

5. Free public libraries.

6. Regulation of the number of people learning a trade, which a master is allowed to have, through a commission of workers and employers.

7. Lifting of all exceptional laws on workers’ travel, namely those expressed in the itinerary books.
[This refers to the laws in Wilhelmine Germany limiting a worker’s ability to travel in search of work. Every worker was supposed to have a book listing his employment history. The laws were eventually abolished. The Labour Books, however, returned with the conscription of labour under the Nazis in the Third Reich.]

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions, to which the state should provide a measure existence for their human needs.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the expansion of the already constituted public artisans’ workshops for the education of able workers.

11.The state to provide for the helpless and all invalided through work.

12. Comprehensive right to native country and freedom of movement.
[This is another attack on the laws limiting the right of workers to move around Germany. In this case, the laws that prevented them from going back to their homes.]

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

The above are only to be dismissed from their places through the decisive judgement of a Committee.

In its demands for commissions of workers and employers, the manifesto shows the influence of the continental system of ‘concertation’, in which both workers’ and employers’ groups are consulted and represented in governmental decision-making. It’s the type of corporativism that Edward Heath attempted to introduce into Britain in the 1970s, and which was abolished by Thatcher. What Thatcher resented was not corporativism per se, no matter what she might have said about promoting free trade, but the inclusion of workers’ groups and organisation in the process. Her government still continued to include private industry in the process of government, so that the Thatcher administration has been fairly described as ‘corporativism without the workers’.

The demands for the unemployed to be given work in state workshops, and for the establishment of model workshops, is less a demand for workhouses after the British model, than for a system of National Workshops as was proposed by the French Socialist, Louis Blanc. These were to be set up by the government, but managed co-operatively by the workers themselves. They were set up by the French government in that year, but deliberately poor funding and management by the authorities, which made the work pointless and degrading, undermined them and led to their collapse.

Now let’s see how these demands are faring under Cameron and Clegg.

1. The minimum wage and working hours. Almost from the start, the Coalition has introduced a series of measure designed to get round them. This has been done through workfare, which allows the participating firms to benefit from the unpaid labour of the unemployed; internships, where aspiring young trainees are also taken on without being paid; the new apprenticeship system, which also seems less concerned with training young workers as with allowing employers to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The zero hours system has also allowed employers to cut wages, by tying workers to their employers, who only employ them when they’re needed, and so don’t pay for them when they are not. The rest of the working population, on the other hand, has suffered from a massive expansion of the working week.

2. Union of workers for the fixed wage. Since Thatcher, successive governments have shown themselves hostile to labour unions, and have done their level best to undermine them and reduce the legislation protecting workers. New Labour in its last year or so of government repealed a vast tranche of labour legislation. The Coalition is, if anything, even more opposed to union and labour legislation, with Vince Cable sputtering all kinds of threats when the public sector unions threatened to strike a year or so ago.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes and introduction of progressive income tax. The Conservatives have hated and demanded the removal of incomes tax since the 1980s. I can remember the Sunday Times demanding the removal of incomes tax and its replacement by indirect taxes following the recommendations of the decade’s monetarist economists. Now George Osborne has raised VAT to 20 per cent, and cut incomes tax for the very right. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from the working to the upper classes.

4. Free instruction and free education by the state. State education is something else that has been under attack by the Right since Thatcher. Milton Friedman urged the introduction of education vouchers, so that parents could have a choice between educating their children in the state or private sector. Guy Debord’s Cat has shown how Friedman’s reforms has led to massive inequalities in the Chilean educational system. Nevertheless, education vouchers were taken up by Ann Soper of the Social Democrats, amongst others.

The Coalition is intent on effectively privatising the school system, with schools taken out of the state system even when the governors themselves are opposed to the scheme. One of the left-wing blogs – I believe it may have been Another Angry Voice – also covered a school, which had effectively introduced school fees. The school was being run by an American company, which used its own, copyrighted curriculum. The company therefore charged the parents of the children at the school over £100 per year for their children’s use of the company’s curriculum materials.

5. Free public libraries. These have suffered massively under the Coalition’s ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’ agendas. Central government funding has been cut, and libraries have been forced to close. The intention was that they should be taken over and run for free by local community groups. In fact, few groups have members with the necessary skills or experience to take over their management. Many of those that have survived have been forced to cut staff and opening hours.

8. Lowering of the voting age. This is again another hot issue, as the Scots Nationalist wish to reduce the voting age north of the border to 16. Young people tend to be more idealistic than their elders, who have had all their dreams of creating a just world hammered out of them by life. In Scotland they also tend to be more nationalistic than their elders. The Tories thus wish to keep the voting age at 18 as at present.

The Coalition have also altered the procedure for registration for voting, with what looks suspiciously like the intention to make it so complicated that many people will be unaware of the new regulations and so lose the franchise through default.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions and support of their human needs. Osborne is a rabid Libertarian, and so despises any attempt by the state to directly interfere to promote growth through a programme of public works. It is nevertheless true that when the country has experienced a spurt of growth under Gideon, it’s been when he has adopted a Keynsian programme. So the modern equivalent of national workshops to provide work for the workers has been attacked and discarded by the Coalition.

There was a system of workshops like those advocated by the Berlin workers for the disabled. The Remploy workshops, however, have now been closed down by the Coalition, adding further hardship and unemployment for those with disabilities.

As for unemployment benefit, this has and continues to be savagely cut in order to create a pool of the unemployed and desperate in order to bring down wages. The result of this is that thousands have been thrown out of work and have no support due to benefit cuts and sanctions. As a result, people are being forced to use private charity and food banks. The country has therefore seen rising starvation and the return of diseases believed to have been banished since the 19th century.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the training of the able workers. The Coalition, as good Libertarians, are hostile to direct government intervention, and so have embarked on a comprehensive system of privatisation and the further undermining of workers’ employment rights. They are keen to support various training programmes for young workers, but these seem less about providing new skills, than inculcating the attitude in the unemployed that their inability to find a job is their own fault, rather than the government’s or the economy’s. As for the acquisition of new skills, this largely seems to be focused on computer literacy. This is indeed a vital skill, but it does not suit everyone and there seems to be little provision for the less academic. As for the new apprenticeship programme, this also seems simply a way to exploit trainee workers by not paying them the minimum wage. It also seems to be just another way to falsify the unemployment figures by claiming that the unemployed are in fact in work, while they are only on work placements and other temporary schemes.

11. The state to provide for the disabled. As with unemployment benefit, this is something else that has been savagely cut and undermined by the Coalition. Like the Jobcentres, Atos have been set quotas for people to be thrown off benefits by being falsely declared fit for work. The result has been a truly colossal death rate. As many as 38,000 per year may have died in poverty and hardship due to the governments cuts.

12. The right to one’s native country and freedom of movement. Britain in the 19th century did not have laws restricting workers’ freedom of movement as in Germany. However, rising housing costs and the Coalition’s cap of Housing Benefit is resulting in ‘social cleansing’, in which the poor are being forced out of more expensive, upmarket areas. This is especially true in London. Poor Black communities have been particularly hit, and there is resentment there about the way gentrification has forced them out of their neighbourhoods as these have been bought up by affluent, often extremely affluent, Whites.

13. Limitation of the tyranny of officials. Actually, the tyranny of officialdom over the unemployed has expanded massively under the Coalition. While there are genuinely understanding, caring staff at the Jobcentres, and even, surprisingly, within Atos, these are very much in the minority. Government policy is designed to make the process of signing on as humiliating and degrading as possible. Hence, you are harangued and pressured when you sign on. Many of the staff have real hate towards the unemployed. One female member of staff at one of the Jobcentres was caught on Facebook describing how she hated claimants and her joy at sanctioning them. Such abuse has been privatised under the Tories. An unemployed friend of mine has been repeatedly rung up at home by an employee of the company, that has the contract for getting him into work from the government. As a result, he is continually harangued by this clerk, who has claimed that they are somehow motivating him to find work.

As for workers only being sacked after a decisive judgement by an employment commission, Blair and New Labour did their level best to repeal these laws, and the Tories are pursuing the same policy with a vengeance. All in the interests of promoting a more fluid labour market, of course.

Many of the demands made by the Berlin workers in the 19th century, or their equivalents, are therefore under attack in Britain in the 21st century by a highly reactionary regime. Thatcher and the Libertarians looked back to the 19th century and Victorian values. As a result, post-Thatcher administrations have done much to remove the successes and advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries in improving the lives of the working and lower middle class. This is being done across the world in the name of globalisation and free trade, for the benefit of the multinationals paying the Tories and governments like them. It needs to be stopped. As Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto, working people of all countries, unite!