Posts Tagged ‘City of London’

Lobster on a Report into BICOM, and Bias at the Beeb

September 27, 2016

BICOM

Lobster 66 also carried news of the publication of a report into one of the most important parts of the Israel lobby, BICOM in Robin Ramsay’s ‘View from the Bridge Column’. He wrote

The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving peace a chance? by Tom Mills, David Miller, Tom Griffin and Hilary Aked is a study of BICOM, its creation and influence in British politics. Among its chapters are ‘The second intifada and the establishment of BICOM’, ‘BICOM and British Zionism’, ‘BICOM strategy, elite networks and the media’ and ‘The Fox-Werritty scandal and the decline of democracy’. If you are only going to read one chapter, make it chapter five, ‘BICOM strategy, elite networks and the media’, which describes in great detail BICOM’s (largely successful) campaigns to get the British media to follow a pro-Israel line. This 96 page report can be downloaded as a PDF file.

Ramsay notes that the report is available online at: http://www.dropbox.com/s/rgb5yn4vjt2q74r/Giving%20Peace%20a%20Chance%3F-Spinwatch-2013.pdf

Aunty’s In a Bind

Further on in the column, Ramsay discusses two reports into political bias at the Beeb. One of them, The Today Programme and the Banking Crisis, concluded that the coverage given to economic issues by Radio 4’s current affairs programme, Today, was dominated by spokesmen from the City, and they were the only commenters, whose views were taken seriously. Ramsay notes that a copy of the study itself cost $25 (sic – perhaps he means pounds). However, Nick Shaxson had put a detailed summary of it, ‘Is the BBC Afraid of the City of London’, on his blog at

Ramsay also reports that a study of the BBC’s bias in reporting the privatisation of the NHS had also been published. This stated

In the two years building up to the government’s NHS reform bill, the BBC appears to have categorically failed to uphold its remit of impartiality, parroting government spin as uncontested fact, whilst reporting only a narrow,
shallow view of opposition to the bill. In addition, key news appears to have been censored.

This study was at http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/oliver-huitson/how-bbcbetrayed-
nhs-exclusive-report-on-two-years-of-censorship-anddistorti.

The BBC’s refusal to cover or criticise the government’s privatisation of the NHS is one of the issues Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis criticise in their back, NHS-SOS, which discusses how a whole series of British institutions, which claim to provide a check on government, like the press, and the medical profession itself, failed to protect it and instead were cowed by government pressure.

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Lobster Review of John Strafford’s Book on Un-Democratic Britain

September 24, 2016

Anthony Frewin wrote a review of a fascinating political history in Lobster 59. This was Our Fight for Democracy: A History of Democracy in the United Kingdom, by John Strafford, and published by the author. A history of the development of democracy in Britain from the Romans and Anglo-Saxons onwards, Frewin praised the book for its readability and the fact that it was able to say something new in area which has been extensively covered by other historians. For example, unlike the conventional Whig narrative, which sees the emergence of democracy and representative government as a smooth progress from the middle ages to today, Strafford is quite clear that not only was this process not inevitable, it had to be actively fought for. Frewin quotes him in an introductory chapter as saying that ‘riot and revolution are the mother and father of democracy’ and ‘Our history shows that nearly all the advances towards democracy were accompanied by violence.’ He notes that Strafford’s is a critical history, and so does not automatically greet the great milestones in the development of democracy, like Magna Carta, the Great Reform Act and votes for women with uncritical admiration. And the book also contains much information on how un- and indeed anti-democratic political structures and institutions have survived into the present day.

Like the business vote. Under the old political system, business leaders were also granted a number of extra votes in local elections. This was not abolished with the Great Reform Act of 1833, but survived for another 136 years before finally being removed in 1969 from all of Britain with one exception: the City of London. Indeed, 14 years ago in 2002 16,000 new business votes were created.
Strafford states that the justification for non-resident voting in the centre of the metropolis is that the real population of the City is the 45,000 people who just work there in the daytime, and not just the mere 9,500 who permanently live there. A Private Act of Parliament passed the same year doubled the number of voters to 32,000. The actual captains of industry don’t even have to vote personally. They can nominate employees to do so, and the number of votes businesses receive depends on their size. He makes the point that wealth shouldn’t be allowed to buy votes, and that non-residents of the City of London should be deprived of the franchise in the City. If that means that the City’s electorate then becomes too small to be practical, the City should either be amalgamated with another borough or split up.

Lobster is profoundly Eurosceptic, and so Frewin’s reviews discusses the sheer absence of anything like democracy in the European parliament, where the MEPs’ power is severely limited and the Union governed instead by the unelected commissioners. An example of this complete absence of democracy is the career of Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who rose spectacularly from relative obscurity to become British High Commissioner in Brussels through appointment by Tony Blair and others, without once going through an election. This is an example of the way the government has increasingly adopted the practice of co-opting outsiders. One example of this was Gordon Brown’s elevation to the peerage of ten such people, who became government ministers. These included three businessmen, a surgeon, a former head of the RN, and an ex-diplomat. Frewin also makes the point that this also exemplifies the rise of Yes-men and -women, whose government preferment depends on political patronage.

The review also states that Strafford gives a list of 69 recommendations for reforms that would make the country more democratic, and includes a sample. These are:

1: Power should be devolved from central government and the higher levels of local government to the lowest practical level.
2: For all electoral purposes the City of London should be
amalgamated with the City of Westminster.
3: The Regional Development Agencies should be abolished and their functions transferred to local Councils.
10: The oath of allegiance should either be abolished or it should be changed to ‘I swear that I will bear true allegiance to the people, Parliament and democracy according to law.’
14: The whole House of Commons should elect Select Committee chairmen by secret ballot, thus ending de facto appointment of chairmen by the party whips.
18: The people should directly elect the Prime Minister. He could be removed by majorities in both Houses of Parliament or by referendum.
25: Our entire legal system should be disentangled from the nonsense that justice is dispensed in the name of the Queen. It should be dispensed in the name of the people.
28: The people should directly elect the House of Lords.
31: The European Council of Ministers should meet in public.
32: The European Scrutiny Committee of the House of
Commons should meet in public.
39: Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party should reform themselves to become democratic bodies answerable to their membership so that members can change the Constitution of their party on the basis of One Member One
Vote.
46: Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs) should be abolished.
59: Within one month of the monarch’s death a ballot should be held of all the people to endorse the successor. Should such endorsement not be given a ballot should be held on the successor’s eldest child becoming monarch. Should
endorsement once again not be forthcoming the monarchy
would be abolished.

Frewin comments ‘Some pretty radical proposals here.’ Yes, indeed. We’ve seen how bitterly anti-democratic the Blairites in the Labour party have been about letting the membership vote in radical leaders and changes in policy that they dislike with their purges of the membership and constant campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

One of the fascinating features of the book is that Strafford himself is not a left-winger. He founded a campaigning group in the Tories, the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, who have a website at http://www.copov.org.uk/. He was also one of those marching against the Iraq invasion, where he and his wife held a banner, ‘Conservatives Against the War’.

The review is at the magazine’s website on their books pages. This is at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk. Pick the issue from the selection at the page, and then scroll down till you get to the relevant review. This also provides the details how you can order the book from Strafford himself.

Vox Political: Neil Kinnock Due to Attack Corbyn on Panorama Tomorrow

September 18, 2016

Mike today has also put up a piece commenting on an article from BBC News that Neil Kinnock has warned that the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader would be disaster for the party. He is quoted as saying “Unless things change radically, and rapidly, it’s very doubtful I’ll see another Labour government in my lifetime.” He calls the current situation the ‘greatest crisis’ in the history of the party. Mike pointedly asks whether he’s referring to the possibility of having a real socialist in charge of the Labour party, or genuine democracy in the party, and states, ‘Methinks he doth protest too much.’

Lord Kinnock warns against Jeremy Corbyn re-election (again – at length)

I don’t take Kinnock’s comments seriously for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as some of the commenters point out, he rapidly changed his ideological tune after losing two elections. Pjay Mac, Pablo N and Nanma Vanda make the point that Kinnock entered the House of Lords after years of violently opposing it, and that he’s speaking now as a member of that very privileged group. After he left office in Britain, Kinnock also went off to the EU to accept a very well paid post there as a Commissioner, all paid for by the European taxpayer, of course. And yes, it is precisely the type of unelected office that UKIP made much of in their pronouncements about the anti-democratic nature of the EU.

What hasn’t been mentioned yet, but should, is that Kinnock is directly responsible for New Labour. A few years ago Lobster published a little piece arguing that Kinnock was right in his 1986 book, Making Our Way (Oxford: Basil Blackwell). This was when he was still a socialist. The former Labour leader realised, quite correctly, that British manufacturing had suffered from underinvestment due to the concentration of Thatcher’s government in promoting the financial sector and the City of London. Then Kinnock lost the 1987 election, and began the process of ‘modernising’ the party in line with Thatcherism and the perceived ascendancy of free market neoliberalism. It was Kinnock, not John Smith, who began the process of abandoning manufacturing industry, embracing privatisation, and crucially the winning the support of the City of London through promising them that a future Labour government would deregulate the sector and govern with a ‘light touch’. As part of his campaign, he launched the ‘prawn cocktail offensive’, in which Gordon Brown and Mo Mowlam dined with leading bankers and financiers.

He is the politician ultimately responsible for the creation of New Labour and Tony Blair. As such, he is hardly likely to give his backing to an old fashioned socialist like Jeremy Corbyn. This would mean effectively writing off three decades and more of ideological change, and recognising that he has led the party up a social and economic dead end. Just as Thatcherism has done to the politics of not just this, but many other nations around the world.

As he is very definitely not going to do that, his opinion simply has no validity.

It’s not even historically true. The Labour party has suffered a series of profound crises in its long career. It has split several times. The ILP and Social Democratic Federation left in the 1920s and 30s. It was also divided over the question of forming a coalition government in the ’30s. The party’s defeat in the 1951 general election also led to a reformulation of what it stood for, in which Hugh Gaitskell tried to drop Clause 4, and Tony Crosland argue instead that the party should abandon any attempt at further nationalisation, and concentrate instead for ‘taming’ capitalism so as to provide better wages and conditions, not just for the workers, but for everyone. The infighting that breaks out within the Labour party has been so regular, that a BBC commenter way back in the 1980s or 1990s one remarked that every generation has seen a battle for the party’s soul.

I think there is one difference, in that the infighting this time is particularly bitter as the Labour Right – the Blairites are so right-wing and have effectively stopped being members of the Labour party in terms of ideology and policy. They have little in common with traditional socialists, like Corbyn, who are actually centre-left, let alone the real far Left, despite the guff spouted by Kinnock and the other neoliberal cheerleaders.

Kinnock is wrong about Corbyn, and definitely wrong about the wonders of privatisation, the unregulated free market and cutting welfare. He is simply another Tory chattering voice attacking the real socialists and Labour members supporting Corbyn. Treat him as such.

Smith Snipes at Corbyn from the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

July 27, 2016

Smudger must be on the rocks, and seriously rattled. Mike today posted up a piece reporting that the Pontypridd Pratt was in the Mirror, claiming that Corbyn did not understand British, that is, Scots, Welsh and English patriotism. Instead, he claimed that he had a ‘liberal’, left-wing, ‘metropolitan’ perspective that is not part of the Labour tradition. By which Smiffy means that ‘nationhood, nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his makeup.’

Someone once said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. And someone else declared that patriotism was the position of the man, who had nothing else to say. Corbyn is massively more popular than Smudger, and so Smiffy is revealed for what he is – an empty politico sniping at his rival from a last, desperate fallback position, trying to bang the nationalist drum to oust someone, who is both more popular and who has much more substance politically.

Corbyn’s Genuinely Patriotic Policies

Mike also points out that it’s not fair on Corbyn to claim that he’s unpatriotic, and includes a meme to show how patriotic he is. This is through real, substantial policies that will make a positive difference to the welfare of the country and its great peoples. It is not through empty gestures, like grovelling deference to the monarchy, or standing with your shoulders back, and your tie straight to sing the national anthem, as the departing, unlamented former occupant of No 10 told him.

Corbyn wants UK utilities to be owned by the British people through the British state. This is patriotic. Profits made in the UK, should be taxed for the benefit of the British people. Patriotic. British men and women should not be sent to fight in illegal wars. Hence his opposition to the bombing of Syria. This is, again, patriotic. It shows a concern for Britain’s children, her sons and daughters, who have to do the duty of fighting and dying. It is also patriotic in the sense that it is concerned with upholding morality and the British tradition of fair play. He believes in protecting British Steel. Patriotic. He does not want British companies to be taken over by US or other foreign firms. Patriotic. He wants to stop the privatisation of the NHS, so that it is run for the benefit of British patients, not US corporations. Very patriotic. And lastly, he feels that British trade should benefit us Brits, so he will veto the TTIP. Again, patriotic.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/on-jeremy-corbyns-patriotism-owen-smith-has-given-himself-another-shot-in-the-foot/

Tories and the Right Unpatriotic in Selling Off Britain

Jeremy Corbyn is thus, in terms of policy, far more patriotic than the Right. Thanks to Thatcherite neoliberalism and the craze for foreign investment, our utilities are in the hands of foreign countries, as is much of our industry, including the City of London, so dear to the heart of Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of the Tories, including Tony Blair and New Labour. Cameron wanted British nuclear power stations built by the Chinese, as well as new roads. The privatisation of the health service carried out by Blair and Cameron has been at the behest and benefit of American firms such as Unum and Kaiser Medical. Atos, who administered the work capability assessment, was French. Maximus, who have replaced them, are American. And the mega rich, who make their profits over here, are squirreling them all away offshore in places like the Cayman Islands or Luxemburg.

By this standard, the neoliberal administrations Smiffy admires – Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron, are definitely unpatriotic. In fact, downright treasonous. But they got away with it because, following Thatcher, the Tory party became the Patriotic Party. You couldn’t get away from her and her chorus of sycophants yakking about patriotism. She was bolstered in this through her use of the symbolism surrounding Winston Churchill, the Second World War, and indeed through her unrestrained militarism. She had to be patriotic, ’cause we won the Falklands War. Well, just about, thanks to the Americans and Chileans. See, there’s another invocation of Winston Churchill, the great war leader and iconographic figure of British patriotism and pluck under foreign aggression. And then there was all the images of Spitfires racing across the skies in the 1987 general election. This was so blatant that Alan Coren dubbed it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ on the News Quiz on Radio 4.

And even there, Thatcher’s patriotism was much less than it seemed. She sold off Westland Helicopters here in the West Country to the Americans. She made massive cuts to the armed forces. The Falklands War was partly caused by the ship defending the islands being recalled by her defence minister, John Nott. The Argentinians seized their chance, and invaded. Then there were the celebrations in the Tory right over 1992, and the closer integration with Europe that came about in that year. That was being celebrated and anticipated even under Thatcher. I can remember that in the late 1980s, a wine bar opened on the Promenade in Cheltenham with that very date as its name: 1992. Denis Skinner in his autobiography makes the point that Thatcher was far less Eurosceptic than she appeared to be. Skinner also supports us leaving the European Union, but for left-wing reasons, rather than those of the ‘turbo-charged’ Tories, Nigel Farage and the rest of UKIP. He points out that while she constantly wrangled with them over our contribution to the EU budget, she never actually threatened to leave. And it was Ted Heath, who took us in. And then in the 1990s there was all the fuss about ‘globalisation’, which meant that capital became international, and the nation state was to be gradually dissolved as more companies established themselves around the world.

So by the standards of economic policies and the practical effects of their ideologies, the Tories weren’t patriots. They advocated selling Britain and its people off to whoever would give them money. They convinced millions of impressionable voters that they were doing the opposite through manipulating the pageantry of the monarchy and the iconography of the Second World War.

Why Socialists Distrust Patriotism

But let’s examine the wider problems of Smiffy’s criticism of Corbyn’s alleged indifference to ‘patriotism’.

Firstly, a supposed ‘liberal’, ‘left-wing’ indifference to patriotism and nationalism is very much a part of the Labour tradition. Or at least, parts of it. In line with the rest of the European Socialist parties, many members of the Labour party opposed the wars between European powers in the 19th century, because it was felt – and not just by Marxists – that the working class of all nations had more in common with each other than with their rulers in the middle and upper classes. Socialists from all over Europe objected to the prospect of a war in Europe, because they felt that it would be carried out for the profit of the industrialists and the feudal aristocracy. This was shattered when the First World War broke out, and most of the Socialist parties showed themselves only too eager to vote war credits in support of the conflagration. But individual Socialists, including members of the Labour party, did protest against it, along with their counterparts in France and the German SPD.

Looking along the magazine racks in the newsagents in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station last Friday, I found among the current affairs magazines the New Internationalist. I can remember copies of that lying around my sixth form common room when I was at school. From what I remember, it’s another left-liberal magazine devoted to international social justice, particularly in the Developing Nations. Back in the 1980s, it was firmly behind the Greenham Women. I also seem to recall one of Paul Weller’s songs having the refrain, ‘Internationalists’, although I can’t remember which one.

British patriotism has also been intimately connected to imperialism. From the 19th century one of the holidays celebrated was ‘Empire Day’. David Dimbleby in one edition of his art history series, The Seven Ages of Britain, dug out a Victorian children’s book called, The ABC for Baby Patriots. Under ‘E’, the book had ‘Empire’, for wherever the British citizen went, they would be safe and free. Except for the indigenes, who were expected to work for us. While that book expressed the attitude of the imperialists, the Labour Party in the 1920s passed resolutions committing itself to giving the colonies their independence. I even found it discussed in the autobiography of another Labour politician from that period, called Benn, though I don’t know if there was a connection to Tony. This particular Benn made it very clear he stood for granting the peoples of the British Empire the right to run their own countries. And George Orwell came to Socialism through his hatred of imperialism.

Smiffy also claims that working class patriotism is often socially conservative. He’s right, which is why so many left-wingers have been intensely suspicious of it. The national symbols it embraces are those of the ruling classes, such as the monarchy, the stately homes of the rich and powerful, and so forth. In the 1960s there was considerable controversy over a history programme called The World We Have Lost. Or rather, over its title. Some historians objected to it because it expressed a nostalgic support for the good old days of aristocratic rule, when proles and tradesmen knew their place. This kind of patriotism is bound up with Michael Gove’s view of history – that it should all be very Conservative, patriotic, and reinforce Tory values.

And what really worries left-wingers is the racism that can lurk underneath this kind of patriotism. Alf Garnett was a parody of working class Conservatives, people with dirty, broken windows, living in poverty, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing, but nevertheless doggedly supported them. As well as generally reactionary and ignorant, Garnett was virulently racist. Johnny Speight, the writer, intended the character to show up and lampoon that aspect of Conservativism. But he was dismayed by the failure of many viewers to see the joke, and there were all too many ready to agree with him about non-White immigration.

London is a multicultural world city, far more so than much of the rest of the country, although many cities nevertheless may have sizable populations of ethnic minorities. I feel uneasy when Smudger attacks Corbyn for being ‘too metropolitan’, because it suggests that he thinks Labour should reflect the growing racism and xenophobia of the Brexit campaign. One of the criticisms the political scientist Guy Standing makes of New Labour in his book, A Precariat Charter, is that they did try to harness the growing resentment of immigrants by pushing policies that increasingly denied them their rights, such as to welfare benefits and employment legislation. Smudger’s a New Labour neoliberal, and it seems to me that with his attack on Corbyn for his ‘metropolitan’ attitudes to patriotism, there’s a concealed racism and determinism to inflict more precarity on refugees and asylum seekers, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Patriotism and Working Class Culture

But patriotism can also include left-wing elements, which would no doubt also horrify Smiff. If you think of Wales, for example, there’s not only Owen Glendower, and medieval Welsh kings like Hywel Dda, there’s also the images of working class radicalism – the Welsh miners, and their leaders like Nye Bevan. Scotland has Red Clydeside, Devon in England the Tolpuddle Martyrs, without forgetting the Yorkshire Miners. These are also part of British nationalism and national identity, along with heroes like Tom Paine, Thomas Spence, Keir Hardie, Feargus O’Connor and the Chartists, and other heroes and heroines of working and lower middle class history. The British folk revival of the 1950s was inspired by Black American blues music, much of which had been collected by researchers as part of F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. British musicians and musicologists began exploring their own traditional music, to find the traditional British counterparts to this American working class music. And it exists. Paine’s The Rights of Man was celebrated in song in the 18th century, and it can be found in sheet music even now. Thomas Spence and the Chartists also composed songs to put their message across. Chumbawumba did a version of at least one of these songs a little while ago. It’s on the Net, if you care to look. This is all part of our national identity and culture, but one which I suspect Smiffy isn’t easy with, and which Thatcher and the Tories positively wanted to suppress or dismiss. But these heroes and heroines did inspire Clement Atlee’s Labour party, when they one the 1945 election, and introduced the welfare state.

Conclusion

Smith’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn and patriotism are therefore both wrong, and potentially dangerous. Corbyn is patriotic in the matter that counts – doing your political duty to improve the lives of one’s fellow citizens. Thatcher and the neoliberals betrayed the British people, plunging them into poverty and selling off Britain, all while maintaining the illusion of British imperial power, and maintaining and expanding their class privileges. And Britain also has a rich, working class traditional culture, that also forms part of our national identity, in opposition to the approved culture promoted by Gove. And when Labour members and supporters were critical and uncomfortable with nationalism and patriotism, it’s because it all too often leads to imperialism and racism. A racism that it seems Smudger would like to harness once again, as part of New Labour policy.

A few years ago, Lobster published a unique and fascinating article by a southern Irish Roman Catholic Ulster Unionist. This particular contributor wanted working class radicals from both the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities to unite to do something positive for the working people of Northern Ireland as a whole, regardless of their faith or national loyalties. The piece also criticised Tony Blair for embracing the politics of culture. The author explained that this was dangerous, because in Ireland it usually meant there was a man with a gun behind it. It was a danger then, and I don’t think the danger has disappeared in the decade or so since that piece was written. And it shows how dangerous nationalism and patriotism can be at their most extreme.

John McConnell Promises National Investment Bank and £500 Billion Credit for UK

July 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up another piece today, which reports that Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy, John McConnell, has promised to set up a National Investment Bank, tied in with a network of regional banks, to regenerate Britain’s communities and revive Britain’s industries after years of neglect. The bank is based on the German Development Bank. In addition, he promised £500 billion of investment. This follows Owen Smith’s promise when launching his leadership campaign this week end, to introduce a British ‘New Deal’, and an investment programme of £200 billion.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/18/labour-pledges-national-investment-bank-to-mobilise-500bn/

Both McConnell and Smith are right about investment in British firms by the British state being sorely needed. But McConnell is absolutely correct about the necessity of a special British investment bank to channel the money and provide the necessary credit. It’s been needed for decades. The authors of the 1s987 book, Socialist Enterprise, noted that the British financial sector was structured into investing abroad, and recommended the creation of such a bank. Neil Kinnock, in his 1987 book, Making Our Way, recognised the need for it. G.D.H. Cole, in his book, Great Britain in the Post-War World, written as long ago as 1942, recommended a similar radical reform of the banking industry. That should tell you how desperately it’s needed, and why McConnell is right.

Han-Joon Chang, in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, argues in one of his chapters that it simply isn’t true that we are living in a post-industrial society. Britain still has a manufacturing industry, and it’s still immensely important. It only appears unimportant, because it hasn’t grown as much as the financial sector. It is, however, still of fundamentally vital importance to our economy.

All of this, of course, will be unwelcome news to the Tory party and New Labour. Both of these turned to subsidising and supporting the financial sector as an alternative to, and at the expensive of, manufacturing. One of the functionaries Blair appointed to the Bank of England was an American banker, Deanne Julius, who stated that Britain should give up manufacturing products and leave that to America. As for the Conservatives, half of their funding at the last election came from the City of London. They have no interest and absolutely no desire to aid a British manufacturing revival. Not if it means having to spend government money, rather than rely on a bail-out by a foreign firm.

Way back in the 1970s the late Tony Benn tried something similar. The government set up various zones, and schemes in which firms could receive government grants to renovate and modernise plant and equipment. I don’t think it was taken up, and British firms continued to lag behind their foreign competitors. And the result has been the decimation of British industry in the decades since Thatcher took power.

McConnell and Benn stand for British industry, and investment to create real jobs and economic growth. All Maggie Thatcher did was cut, and hope foreign firms would come in to invest in what was left. All the while favouring the financial sector and her friends in the City. It also shows the hollowness of the Tories’ claim to represent British industry. They don’t. Labour represents industry, and the people who work in it. The Tories simply represent capital and those, who own it. The very people, who seem to enjoy increased bonuses and share options by cutting down to the point of destroying the very firms they manage.

Jim Callaghan and Andrew Shonfield’s Alternative View of the British Economy

May 8, 2016

Simon Matthews begins an article on the career of Jim Callaghan in government, ‘Jim Callaghan: the Life and Times of Solomon Binding’ in Lobster 49 for summer, 2005, with a discussion of Andrew Shonfield’s critique of the British economy in the 1950s:

It is still possible to find an interesting Penguin Special that appeared in 1958, British Economic Policy Since the War, by Andrew Shonfield, then economics editor of The Observer, remains a striking piece of work. Among his conclusions were: that the maintenance of a separate Sterling Area, giving the comforting feeling and appearance of great power status, actually hindered the UK economy; that the UK should be more closely involved with Europe; that UK governments and the UK private sector failed to invest sufficiently in their own country and invested instead elsewhere in the Sterling Area; the City of London had a poor and distorting effect on the UK economy; that public spending in the UK was more restrained than in other European countries for reasons that did not make much sense; that the Treasury possibly had too much power; that although industrial relations in the UK were poor, days lost through strikes were often no higher than in other countries, but too much power resided with individual shop stewards (a fact that some employers actually quite liked); that the national offices of the big trade unions had surprisingly little input in either planning or negotiation within significant industries, with matters being handled at a purely local level; that because of the low level of pay and facilities offered by major employers a better relationship with the trade unions was difficult to attain; an that the UK spent too much on defence.

In 1958 this was prescient. Shonfield anticipated the essential economic debates of the 1970s and 1980s, some of which remain unresolved to this day. (P. 21). He notes that ultimately Shonfield’s views had little effect, though that doesn’t mean they went unnoticed. He considers that Harold Wilson arrived at some of Shonfield’s conclusions independently.

These issue are still, with some caveats, very much with us. Britain does not invest in public services at the same level as the other European countries. Spending on the NHS, for example, in the 1970s was below what other European nations spent on their health services. The City does not like investing in Britain, and most of the investment networks are geared towards the Developing World. As for government investment, you can see how reluctant the British government is to support British industry by the desperate efforts to find a foreign buyer for failing British companies or factories. The most recent example of this is the closure of the Tata steel plants in Bridgend and elsewhere. However, Cameron is cutting the defence budget to ludicrous extremes, and we have been saved much of the chaos that has overtaken some of the Continental economies because we kept the Pound instead of joining the Euro.

Matthews also has a broadly positive view of Callaghan’s government in the 1970s, which has been blamed for the economic failures that led to the rise of Maggie Thatcher.

It is convenient for contemporary politicians to say that the Thatcher years were something that Britain either needed or could not have avoided. But had it not been for Callaghan’s decision to postpone the election from 1978 to 1979 Thatcher might never have got to 10 Downing Street; or, if she did, would have been ousted very quickly. It is also true that the 1974-1979 Wilson-Callaghan governments made a reasonable job of recovering from the inflation caused by Heath and Barber in 1971-1973. ‘Old Labour’ id OK. It was just a shame it didn’t have a better leader. (P. 23).

So much for the conventional Tory wisdom that Thatcher was needed to sort out the chaos Labour caused. In this view, Callaghan was needed to sort out the chaos Heath had caused.

Lobster on Anti-Semitism and Margaret Thatcher, and Nazi-Zionist Collaboration

May 7, 2016

Another piece I put up recently was on anti-Semitism and racism in the interwar Conservative party, in which I pointed out that at the time ‘alien’ nearly always mean ‘Jew’, and strongly implied that they had left-wing sympathies. There was some suspicion at the time that Margaret Thatcher may also have held these views, not least because she denounced Socialism as ‘an alien creed’.

Part of the allegations of anti-Semitism directed against Ken Livingstone come from Leninspart’s statement that there was a pact between the Nazis and the Zionists to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel. Livingstone was vigorously attacked for this, but nevertheless, it was true. Hitler and the Zionists did sign the notorious Haavara agreement to allow some Jews to escape Nazi Germany to flee to Israel. It was highly controversial on both sides. There were also other areas in which the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, such as in armed opposition to the British in Palestine.

Both these subjects are tackled in Robin Ramsay’s column, ‘More Notes on the Right’ in Lobster 13, p. 17. He writes;

One of the things anti-Semite watchers in this country must be waiting for is the arrival of anti-Semitism close to the leadership of the present Thatacherite faction in the Tory party. When it comes, if it comes, it will be coded. It may have already happened. Just before Christmas Mrs Thatcher expressed her hope for a third term in office to enable her to rid this country of Socialsm “an alien creed“. [emphasis in the original]. This use of ‘alien’ is very curious, for ‘alien’ used to be international (and British) code for ‘Jew’. Further, one of her senior parliamentary supporters, John Biggs-Davison (now Sir John: she knighted him) recently wrote of Marx and Engels as “false Hebrew prophets”.

What does this mean? Has the American far-right’s obsession with the Wall St Jews-financed-the Russian-Revolution been implanted here? Does Mrs Thatcher read the John Birch Society’s American Opinion? I hardly think so: our Tory party eats, drinks and sleeps with the City of London, and could hardly bring itself to believe in the ‘Jewish banker conspiracy’. These remarks are curious, nonetheless. Mrs Thatcher’s equivalents in the US are a pretty dotty bunch. Reagan and Weinberger, and probably others, are waiting for the Old Testament ‘Apocalypse’ to arrive. Why should we expect much more from their British counterparts?

The US has come a long way since the days when Richard Nixon’s choice for the Supreme Court, Judge Carswell, was rejected by Congress, essentially because he was stupid. Among some of the upper echelons of the Republican Party, Carswell would be a giant among pigmies.

And undeniable upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe and America is underway. Yet we have a right-wing Israel, an ‘ally’ of the ‘West’ – i.e. the Americans. Life is complicated still further by the existence of anti-Zionism, and the claims by some Jews that anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism in light disguise. While this is obviously true in some instances, is it always true? What are we to make of Jewish anti-Zionists? it will not do to simply dismiss such people – as some Jews do – as ‘self-hating Jews’. These (barely relevant) thoughts have been provoked by the furore surrounding the Jim Allen play Perdition which didn’t quite make it onto the stage of London’s Royal Court Theatre. What struck me reading some of the recent articles describing the Israeli’s states dickering with some of the most obnoxious, neo-Fascist regimes in the post-War world is why anyone should be surprised to discover that some Zionists collaborated with the Nazis during WW2. Shits are universal and it would have been remarkable indeed if some Jews hadn’t collaborated: members of almost every other ethnic-national group which encountered the Nazis did. (I have to write ‘almost every’ because I have never heard of gypsies collaborating’).

Writing this section I am acutely conscious that this Lobster is full of material critical of the Israeli state and thus I/the Lobster run the risk of being labelled ‘anti-Semitic’. Well, so be it. If anyone wants to get into the extremely complicated and superheated area of Nazi-Zionist collaboration, they could try Nazi-Zionist Collaboration, a largish pamphlet produced by BAZO (British Anti-Zionist Organisation) which I was sent some time ago. I know nothing about BAZO but can report that Gill Seidel includes BAZO in a section on ‘left anti-Semitism’ in her recent Holocaust Denial, reviewed in this issue. If BAZO is, in fact, anti-Semitic, it is either well concealed in this pamphlet, or I just am not able to ‘read’ anti-Semitism yet. (Or both).

Private Eye on More Tax Avoiding Press Barons

March 18, 2016

I found this feature on in Private Eye’s issue for the 17th-30th April 2015 on how Yevgeny Lebedev, the former owner of the Independent, the Barclay twins, who own the Telegraph and Lord Rothermere all use their non-dom tax status to avoid paying British tax.

Non-Dom Press Barons
Street of Sham

So consuming was the Tory press’ rage at Ed Miliband’s plan to make Russian oligarchs and gulf petro-billionaires in London liable for the same taxes as British citizens, its hacks forgot to the declare their interest.

“London backlash over Ed’s non-dom attack,” boomed the front-page of the London Evening Standard, as if a mob had descended on Labour HQ to defend London’s much-loved oligarchs and hedge fund managers. “Attacking non-doms could backfire on us,” continued an editorial inside. Sarah Sands, the Standard’s Uriah Heepish editor, did not risk her career by saying who the “us” included – namely her boss, Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian who last year dodged the Eye’s repeated questions of his own domicile.

Silence infected the Telegraph too, where not one of the reporters who warned that Labour’s “cataclysmic” decision would drive away “tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and business leaders” mentioned that their owners, the weirdo Barclay twins, reside in Monaco and the Channel Islands to avoid British tax.

Instead they quoted James Hender, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness accountants, who warned that the rich may leave. The Telegraph didn’t tell its reads that Hender boasts of his long experience ensuring that “the most tax efficient strategies are adopted for non-UK, situs assets” for his non-dom clients.

It was the same at the Mail, which failed to declare that its owner, 4th Viscount Rothermere, is treated by the tax authorities as a non-dom. And at Sky, political editor Faisal Islam reported that “Baltic Exchange boss Jeremy Penn slams Labour non-dom plans” without declaring that his owner, Rupert Murdoch, does not pay UK tax and that Penn acts for super-rich shipping owners.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who has advised Labour and the Tories on tax reform, tells the Eye that any reader sill enough to believe the Tory press and tax avoidance industry should look at what they said in 2008, when Labour introduced the first levies on non-doms.

Back then the Mail then said the central London property market would crash as non-doms sold up and moved to Switzerland. In fact, between Labour introducing the levy and 2014, prime central London property prices rose 41 per cent. At the end of 2014, Knightsbridge estate agent W.A. Ellis said 54 per cent of sales were to overseas buyers.

The Mail was equally certain the City would suffer. On 8 February 2008 it cried that the levy “risks the City’s future”. The British Banking Association warned of “a devastating blow”. The Telegraph of 12 February 2008 said that “the country’s wealthiest individuals are being bombarded with leaflets and letters explaining how easy it would be to relocate to Switzerland, Monaco and a host of other countries”. Not to be outdone, Mike Warburton, senior tax partner at accountants Grant Thornton, said the levy was the “final straw”. If a word of this had been true, there would be no non-doms left for Miliband to tax. As it is, there are 115,000 because, as Maugham says, London remains “a very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy. And that won’t change.” Or as the Financial Times put it: “The many advantages of London as a financial centre do not dissolve simply because of a change in a hitherto generous tax treatment of resident non domiciles.”

The pink ‘un has only recently realised the iniquity of the non-dom rule, with an editorial last month calling for its abolition. Editor Lionel Barber modestly claims some credit for Miliband’s stance. But as editor for almost a decade, why was he so late to the party? Surely not because, until 2013, FT owner Pearson was run by US-born Dame Marjorie Scardino, who would certainly have qualified for non-dom status and whose London flat, the Eye revealed, was owned via an offshore company?

So there you are. Fleet Street’s extremely rich proprietors, with the exception of the Financial Times, take the view that, in the words of the ‘Mayflower Madam’, the brothel owner arrested for tax evasion in New York now over a decade ago, paying tax is only for the ‘little people’. And they have no qualms about getting rich, while shifting the tax burden on to the poor and demanding low wages and zero-hours contracts. All the while proudly declaiming their patriotism, like the Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, resident in America. So much for real patriotism.

Private Eye on How the Tories Wrecked Private Pensions

March 11, 2016

I found this piece in Private Eye for 8th to 22nd July 2011 on how Tory legislation allowing companies to take ‘pension holidays’ wrecked their pension schemes.

“There has been widespread pension reform across the economy. People in the private sector have seen old defined benefit schemes disappearing.” So said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in his defence of serious public sector pensions cuts when a graph in pension advisor John Hutton’s r4eport proved that the “unaffordable” argument didn’t hold water.

But why have private sector workers lost decent pension arrangements providing fixed benefits based on their previous salary? It’s not simply because too many oldies are not living longer.

Unlike most state schemes of this sort, private ones have to be backed by funds, which were in pretty good shape until the companies providing them started taking extended pension holidays in the 1980s and 1990s to bolster profits in order to keep the City happy. The excuse was that the stocks and shares they shifted their funds into would magically grow to pay the pensions.

When this mirage was exposed after the stock market slump at the start of this century, not helped by Gordon Brown’s 1997 removal of pension tax credits, the response wasn’t to make good the shortfalls (which the markets would never have worn) but to shut the pension schemes. Today just one in five private schemes is open to new employees, compared to nine out of ten a decade ago, allowing Maude to make his comparison and “gold-plated” to become the default prefix for public sector pensions which are now in the firing line in the dash for public spending cuts.

So the reason why so many people now have an inadequate private pension, is because their bosses decided to use them money to boost their profits instead of providing for their staffs’ old age. Another rubbish policy that ultimately goes back to Margaret Thatcher. But hey, it does have its bright side for the Tories: it allowed Francis Maude a pretext for attacking the pensions of workers in the public sector. Trebles all round, as they say in Private Eye.

Meme on the Reasons Rome Fell

January 12, 2016

This is another meme I found over at 1000 Natural Shocks (over 18 site). It gives some of the reasons for the fall of ancient Rome, which apply to America’s present situation, and by extension, that of the entire West.

Fall of Rome Meme

This meme should be particularly directed against the mayor of England’s fair capital, Boris Johnson, and the other pundits banging on about the fall of Rome in the Spectator and the Daily Heil. A couple of years ago, Johnson presented a series on the Legacy of Rome on the Beeb. Like the true Tory he was, he compared Rome at the very beginning of its empire, when the provinces were ruled by a maximum of 12 governors or so, with the bloated, expensive imperial bureaucracy at its end. The message was clear: small government is good, bureaucracy bad.

Additionally, ten years ago when immigration was once again high on the political agenda, Paul Johnson and the rest of Tory right were talking about how Rome fell through the barbarian invasions. Both Johnsons are partly right about the reasons behind the collapse of the Roman Empire. But as with much of what the Tories say, even when its the truth, it’s never the whole truth.

As well the massive growth in bureaucracy and the barbarian invasions, the western Roman Empire had also become economically moribund. There was massive inflation and very high taxation. The senatorial aristocracy redirected most of the state’s resources, including, in some cases, even the water flowing through the aquaducts, to themselves. The retreated to their estates, and did their best to avoid paying taxes, so that it was passed on to the Roman poor.

Sounds familiar? It sounds all too familiar!

And by the time Rome fell, the major industry in Rome itself was banking. Yep, the Eternal City’s economy was based on the financial sector.

Just as Britain’s manufacturing economy has been successfully devastated by successive Neoliberal administrations from Thatcher onwards in favour of the financial sector and the City of London.

And, like the fat cat rich aristos of today, who’ve profited from Osborne and Cameron’s administration, those of ancient Rome also demanded good jobs in the state bureaucracy on pain of force of arms. There’s a letter from the late Roman Empire by an official asking for a job to be found for another young lad from the aristocracy. The lad deserved it on account of his noble birth. Besides, the writer warned, if he didn’t get a job, he’d be forced to take up brigandage.

Which just goes to show: even as far back as ancient Rome, the aristocracy always were just a bunch of robbers at bottom.