Posts Tagged ‘Courts’

Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.

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Reichwing Watch: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America

November 16, 2016

This is another excellent video from Reichwing Watch. Entitled Peasants for Plutocracy: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America, it’s about how wealthy industrialists, like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, created modern Libertarianism and a stream of fake grassroots ‘astroturf’ organisations, in order to attack and roll back Roosevelt’s New Deal and the limited welfare state it introduced. And one of the many fake populist organisations the Koch brothers have set up is the Tea Party movement, despite the Kochs publicly distancing themselves from it.

The documentary begins with footage from an old black and white American Cold War propaganda movie, showing earnest young people from the middle decades of the last century discussing the nature of capitalism. It then moves on to Noam Chomsky’s own, very different perspective on an economy founded on private enterprise. Chomsky states that there has never been a purely capitalist economy. Were one to be established, it would very soon collapse, and so what we have now is state capitalism, with the state playing a very large role in keeping capitalism viable. He states that the alternative to this system is the one believed in by 19th century workers, in that the people, who worked in the mills should own the mills. He also states that they also believed that wage labour was little different from slavery, except in that it was temporary. This belief was so widespread that it was even accepted by the Republican party. The alternative to capitalism is genuinely democratic self-management. This conflicts with the existing power structure, which therefore does everything it can to make it seem unthinkable.

Libertarianism was founded in America in 1946/7 by an executive from the Chamber of Commerce in the form of the Foundation for Economic Education. This was basically a gigantic business lobby, financed by the heads of Fortune 500 companies, who also sat on its board. It’s goal was to destroy Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vice-President Wallace in an op-ed column in the New York Times stated that while its members posed as super-patriots, they wanted to roll back freedom and capture both state and economic power. The video also quotes Milton Friedman, the great advocate of Monetarism and free market economics, on capitalism as the system which offers the worst service at the highest possible profit. To be a good businessman, you have to be as mean and rotten as you can. And this view of capitalism goes back to Adam Smith. There is a clip of Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, answering a question on why the media is so incurious about the true origins of Libertarianism. He states that they aren’t curious for the same reason the American media didn’t inquire into the true nature of the non-existent WMDs. It shows just how much propaganda and corruption there is in the American media.

The documentary then moves on to the Tea Party, the radical anti-tax movement, whose members deliberately hark back to the Boston Tea Party to the point of dressing up in 18th century costume. This section begins with clips of Fox News praising the Tea Party. This is then followed by Noam Chomsky on how people dread filling out their annual tax returns because they’ve been taught to see taxation as the state stealing their money. This is true in dictatorships. But in true democracy, it should be viewed differently, as the people at last being able to put into practice the plan in which everyone was involved in formulating. However, this frightens big business more than social security as it involves a functioning democracy. As a result, there is a concerted, and very successful campaign, to get people to fear big government.

The idea of the Tea Party was first aired by the CNBC reporter Rick Santilli in an on-air rant. Most of the Party’s members are normal, middle class Americans with little personal involvement in political campaigning. It is also officially a bi-partisan movement against government waste. But the real nature of the Tea Party was shown in the 2010 Tea Party Declaration of Independence, which stated that the Party’s aims were small government and a free market economy. In fact, the movement was effectively founded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch. Back in the 1980s, David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-president. The Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform stated that they intended to abolish just about every regulatory body and the welfare system. They intended to abolish the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Authority, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Labor Relations Board, the FBI, CIA, Federal Reserve, Social Security, Welfare, the public (state) schools, and taxation. They abandoned this tactic, however, after pouring $2 million of their money into it, only to get one per cent of the vote. So in 1984 they founded the first of their wretched astroturf organisation, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The name was meant to make it appear to be a grassroots movement. However, their 1998 financial statement shows that it was funded entirely by wealthy businessmen like the Kochs. In 2004 the CSE split into two – Freedom Works, and Americans for Prosperity. The AFP holds an annual convention in Arlington, Virginia, attended by some of its 800,000 members. It was the AFP and the Kochs who were the real organising force behind the Tea Party. Within hours of Santilli’s rant, he had been given a list of 1/2 million names by the Kochs. Although the Koch’s have publicly distanced themselves from the Tea Party, the clip for this section of the documentary shows numerous delegates at the convention standing up to declare how they had organised Tea Parties in their states. But it isn’t only the AFP that does this. Freedom Works, which has nothing to do with the Kochs, also funds and organises the Tea Parties.

Mark Crispin Miller, an expert on propaganda, analysing these astroturf organisations makes the point that for propaganda to be effective, it must not seem like propaganda. It must seem to come either from a respected, neutral source, or from the people themselves. Hence the creation of these fake astroturf organisations.

After its foundation in the late 1940s, modern Libertarianism was forged in the late 1960s and ’70s by Charles Koch and Murray Rothbard. Libertarianism had previously been the ideology of the John Birch Society, a group harking back to the 19th century. Koch and Rothbard married this economic extreme liberalism, with the political liberalism of the hippy counterculture. They realised that the hippies hated the state, objecting to the police, drug laws, CIA and the Vietnam war. Ayn Rand, who is now credited as one of the great founders of Libertarianism for her extreme capitalist beliefs, despised them. The film has a photo of her, next to a long quote in which she describes Libertarianism as a mixture of capitalism and anarchism ‘worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two different bandwagons… I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect.’

The documentary also goes on to show the very selective attitude towards drugs and democracy held by the two best-known American Libertarian politicos, Ron and Rand Paul. Despite the Libertarians’ supposedly pro-marijuana stance, the Pauls aren’t actually in favour of legalising it or any other drugs. They’re just in favour of devolving the authority to ban it to the individual states. If the federal government sends you to prison for weed, that, to them, is despotism. If its the individual state, it’s liberty.

And there’s a very telling place piece of footage where Ron Paul talks calmly about what a threat democracy is. He states clearly that democracy is dangerous, because it means mob rule, and privileges the majority over the minority. At this point the video breaks the conversation to show a caption pointing out that the Constitution was framed by a small group of wealthy plutocrats, not ‘we the people’. This is then followed by an American government film showing a sliding scale for societies showing their positions between the poles of democracy to despotism, which is equated with minority rule. The video shows another political scientist explaining that government and elites have always feared democracy, because when the people make their voices heard, they make the wrong decisions. Hence they are keen to create what Walter Lipmann in the 1920s called ‘manufacturing consent’. Real decisions are made by the elites. The people themselves are only allowed to participate as consumers. They are granted methods, which allow them to ratify the decisions of their masters, but denied the ability to inform themselves, organise and act for themselves.

While Libertarianism is far more popular in America than it is over here, this is another video that’s very relevant to British politics. There are Libertarians over here, who’ve adopted the extreme free-market views of von Hayek and his fellows. One of the Torygraph columnists was particularly vocal in his support for their doctrines. Modern Tory ideology has also taken over much from them. Margaret Thatcher was chiefly backed by the Libertarians in the Tory party, such as the National Association For Freedom, which understandably changed its name to the Freedom Foundation. The illegal rave culture of the late 1980s and 1990s, for example, operated out of part of Tory Central Office, just as Maggie Thatcher and John Major were trying to ban it and criminalise ‘music with a repetitive beat’. Virginian Bottomley appeared in the Mail on Sunday back in the early 1990s raving about how wonderful it would be to replace the police force with private security firms, hired by neighbourhoods themselves. That’s another Libertarian policy. It comes straight from Murray Rothbard. Rothbard also wanted to privatise the courts, arguing that justice would still operate, as communities would voluntarily submit to the fairest court as an impartial and non-coercive way of maintain the peace and keeping down crime. The speaker in this part of the video describes Koch and Rothbard as ‘cretins’. Of course, it’s a colossally stupid idea, which not even the Tory party wanted to back. Mind you, that’s probably because they’re all in favour of authoritarianism and state power when its wielded by the elite.

I’ve no doubt most of the Libertarians in this country also believe that they’re participating in some kind of grassroots, countercultural movement, unaware that this is all about the corporate elite trying to seize more power for themselves, undermine genuine democracy, and keep the masses poor, denied welfare support, state education, and, in Britain, destroying the NHS, the system of state healthcare that has kept this country healthy for nearly 70 years.

Libertarians do see themselves as anarchists, though anarcho-individualists, rather than collectivists like the anarcho-syndicalists or Communists. They aren’t. This is purely about expanding corporate power at the expense of the state and the ordinary citizens it protects and who it is supposed to represent and legislate for. And it in practice it is just as brutal as the authoritarianism it claims to oppose. In the 1980s the Freedom Association became notorious on the left because of its support for the death squads in Central America, also supported by that other Libertarian hero, Ronald Reagan.

Libertarianism is a brutal lie. It represents freedom only for the rich. For the rest of us, it means precisely the opposite.

The American Court Ruling against Holocaust Denial

October 17, 2016

In my article on Saturday reviewing the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, edited by Israel W. Charny (London: Mansell Publishing 1991) I mentioned that amongst its contents, the chapter on Holocaust Denial has a passage describing how a Neo-Nazi rag in America was successfully sued over the issue of the existence of the Holocaust. The rag stated it never happened, and challenged people to prove that it had. One man did, and when the magazine refused to pay out the sum it had promised to pay, took them to court. The judge ruled in his favour, and stated that it was more than adequately demonstrated that the Shoah was historical fact. Here’s the passage:

Verdict of an American Judge on the Offer to pay $50,000 for Proof that the Nazis Gassed Jews

In the United States, the Institute for Historical Review offered to pay fifty thousand dollars to anyone who would be able to “prove” that the Nazis gassed Jews. IHR advertised this challenge in Los Angeles at their September 2, 1979 International Revisionist Conference. Such proof was provided by Mr. Mel Mermelstein, who now lives in Huntington Beach, California, and whose family died in the Birkenau gas chambers, but the institute refused to accept the proof or pay Mermelstein the money. Mermelstein sued them, and the result was an official statement by Judge Thomas Johnson, on October 9, 1981 in Lost Angeles Superior Court, that that “This court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland” and that the Holocaust is not reasonably subject to dispute. “It is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonable indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.”

Despite this unequivocal statement of the Superior Court, the IHR still did not pay Mermelstein, but Mermelstein sought further relief in the Courts. Judge Robert Wenke in Los Angeles Superior Court approved the settlement that called for the IHR to pay the Auschwitz survivor. As reported in the New York Times, “The institute, which says the Holocaust never happened, must also pay Mr. Mermelstein $100,000 for the pain and suffering caused by the reward offer.”

Mr. Mermelstein’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, stated:

Mr. Mermelstein’s victory in this case will now send a clear message to all those throught the world who attempt to destroy history and inflict misery and suffering on Jews, that the survivors of the Holocaust will fight back through the legal system to protect themselves and vindicate the truth about their lives. (p. 55).

This hasn’t stopped Nazis repeating their despicable claim that it never occurred, or that it somehow was much smaller than the 6 million or so Jews killed in the death camps. But it does mean that, at least under American law, and certainly under German and Austrian legislation, they are peddling a lie. The IHR were fortunate. As Americans, they only had to pay out $50,000, plus no doubt costs and damages for their refusal to do so. In Germany and Austria, and a number of other European countries, Holocaust Denial is a crime, for which you can be imprisoned. Considering the disgusting nature of their claim, the IHR got off very lightly.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 1

August 8, 2016

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Mike over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

They are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities.

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections. Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed.

Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

Vox Political: Police Considering Handing 999 Calls to G4S

November 12, 2015

Mike has posted a number of very important, ominous pieces about Tory reforms to the police force, reforms which will undermine the police as a public, state institution tackling crime, and deny those arrested of their fundamental right to legal representation and a fair hearing.

All this is being done in the name of private profit and cutting costs.

Last week Mike revealed the news that the government was considering putting 999 calls in the hands of G4S. Even without their record of incompetence, which has included letting prisoners escape while under their escort to the courts for trial, this would still be a matter for concern for corruption and conflict of interest. On of the company’s major shareholders is the husband of Theresa May, the current head of the Home Office.

See Mike’s story: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/08/police-forces-consider-company-part-owned-by-theresa-mays-husband-to-handle-999-calls/

The next day, Mike posted up this story, expanding on the news: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/10/more-cuts-mean-privatised-police-for-profit-theresa-may-call-it-what-it-is/

Not only are Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire police forces considering granting the operation of their 999 lines to the company, but Theresa May has announced that she intends to give G4S and other private security firms and government contractors like it police powers. This will be ‘when the time is right’, of course. Mike points out that this is truly policing for profit, whatever May says to the contrary.

The Tories have been floating the idea of privatising the police force for nearly a quarter of a century. In Christmas 1991 I recall the Mail on Sunday running a story about the wonderful, Minarchist Tory Britain that would be ushered in the majority of MPs were women. This included a privatised police force, hired by individual communities. It’s an idea ultimately lifted from Rothbard and the American Libertarians. It was put into a feature about a future parliament controlled by women, as the Daily Mail has always aimed at a female readership, despite having a highly reactionary attitude to feminism, and an attitude towards women that comes dangerously close, and at times has crossed over into misogyny. If you want an example, think about the various articles the Mail has run demanding that women return to their traditional roles in the home. Or the photographs of underage, teenage girls, accompanied by sexual captions commenting on their attractiveness.

The Mail was hoping with this story to capitalise on the support the party had received from women, partly due to the election of Margaret Thatcher. This was despite the fact that Maggie had no women in her cabinet, and most of her policies actually harmed them as women form the majority of workers in the low-paid sectors.

It was also about this time that they launched the old propaganda line about national economics being similar to budgeting for a household. The article claimed that women automatically knew to vote Tory, as they naturally have a better understanding of men through handling the household budgets. This is a bit of specious, condescending flattery, as running a household is not like running a national economy, even if the word ‘economics’ ultimately does come from the ancient Greek term for ‘household management’. And it doesn’t impugn anyone’s ability to run a home to point this out.

The story was run at the beginning of Major’s ministry, and much was made of his inclusion of women in his cabinet, like Virginia Bottomley and Edwina Currey. If I remember correctly, the article claimed that the privatisation of the police was a police particularly favoured by Bottomley. Now nearly a quarter of a century later, it’s being announced by another female politico, in this case Theresa May. I wonder if this is entirely coincidental, or if the Tories feel that this would look far better being announced by a woman. Perhaps they hope that by specifically appealing to women, they can make it look like some kind of neighbourhood policing, done by corporations that know the needs and requirements of their local communities, rather than what it is: the assumption of authoritarian powers of arrest and detention by a private corporation, acting only for the profit of its senior management and shareholders.

If they are trying to present it as such, which I recall the Daily Mail article attempting to do, then backing G4S and other government contractors seems to me to be a grave error of judgement. Apart from letting their prisoners escape, I also remember that one of them was involved in serious riots in a refugee detention centre, which employed them. The inmates had risen up in protest at a series of abuse committed by the centre’s wardens, who were not state screws, but security guards in one of these private firms.

I also wonder if the person, who dreamed up this idea, has also seen some of the same Science Fiction films I have. Like the Heavy Metal movie and Robocop. The Heavy Metal movie was an ’80s animated film, based on the adult comic of the same name, which was the Anglophone version of the French Metal Hurlant. It was an anthology based on the comic’s various strips, linked by a story in which a young girl is led to realise that she is a warrior woman with cosmic powers, dedicated to fight evil.

One of the stories is set in a decaying future, where the police act like a private detective agency. The victim comes in, reports the crime, and then is expected to pay for the costs and manpower of the investigation.

The other film is another flick from the ’80s, Robocop. This was set in a decay, near-future Detroit, where crime was rampant and the police force had been privatised and handed over to a private corporation, OCR, or Omni-Consumer Products. Beset by bad management and suffering from an appalling death rate at the hands of local criminal gangs, Detroit’s boys and girls in blue go on strike. Meanwhile, the company has been trying to crush crime by using robots. These are failures, the prototype malfunctioning lethal during a boardroom demonstration in which it fatally shoots one of the corporation’s executives pretending to be an armed villain.

So the company decides to try again, this time using a machine which will also be part human. They set a new, rookie policeman, Murphy, up to suffer a brutal shooting in order to supply a suitable subject for transformation.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, it’s a fast-paced, ultra-violent action movie. One of my mother’s friends went to see it at the cinema when it came out, and left feeling physically ill because of the graphic violence. Despite this, it is a good movie, with a sympathetic treatment of the resentment and anger of the demoralised cops, and the central character’s own struggle to remember who he is and regain what little he can of his lost humanity. It also makes the point that what people need on the streets isn’t efficient machines, but real people with compassion and empathy towards the victims, as well as the aggression and determination needed to tackle offenders. In one scene, Murphy as Robocop saves a woman from rape by shooting her attacker in the crotch. The victim runs to him to offer her thanks. But the Robocop machine can only diagnose her as traumatise, and impersonally calls a rape crisis centre on her behalf before going on to his next assignment.

And just as Superman is powerless when his enemies wield Kryptonite, so Robocop also has a built-in weakness. His manufacturers have built into his programming a secret protocol that prevents him from apprehending or harming any of the corporation’s employees or management. It is only when the board chairman – the Old Man – sacks the villain that Robocop is finally able to get justice and avenge himself by shooting him.

Robocop is, of course, very definitely SF, though possibly not so far away from reality. I doubt that we will ever be able to create cyborg super-cops any time soon. Detroit was and is a declining city with a severe crime problem. Furthermore, the storyline’s partly based on the city’s privatisation of its services. It did not, mercifully, privatise the police.

Now a privatised police force in the system May and her bosses are advocating clearly wouldn’t charge individuals for investigating crimes. But they are going to charge the state for their services. And in order to make sure they remain profitable and give a dividend to their shareholders, they will have to economise and make cuts. Mike has already reported on the concerns by the police that Tory cuts to their budgets of up to 25 per cent will leave them unable to properly investigate and prevent crime, and arrest offenders. So it looks like handing over police powers to the likes of G4S will actually increase it, not cut down on crime.

And as with Robocop, there is the problem of corruption in the assumption of the state’s powers of arrest and punishment by a private corporation. There have been major scandals over corruption in normal police force, particularly the Met and the West Midlands forces. People have been wrongfully arrested and suspects beaten, as well as collusion between the police and criminal gangs. It has been hard enough bringing these cases to justice. I doubt very, very much that the task will be any easier if policing is handed over to private companies. How many private policemen or women would dare to risk arresting a manager or senior boardmember?

And finally, there is the matter of principle that justice should always be public, and only the state should have fundamental right and trust to arrest, detain and punish offenders. The Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, while in many respects a highly reactionary arch-Tory, has stated that he opposes private prisons on this exact point.

So just on considerations of efficiency, competence, and the philosophical foundation of the state as the public arbiter of justice, this is an appalling decision. But this all counts for nothing when the Conservatives see an opportunity to turn a quick buck from privatising a public utility.

I doubt very much, however, that they will go as far in their privatisation of the justice as Rothbard advocates. That would mean the privatisation of the courts themselves, so they could receive all the benefits of commercial competition in a free market economy. That’s anarchism, and whatever the Tories say they stand for in terms of personal freedom and free enterprise, they have always stood for a highly authoritarian society backed by the use of force against the lower orders. The very last thing they want to do is dismantle that. Rather, they are doing everything in their power to reinforce and strengthen it.

Vox Political: Tories Slash Police Funding until No Longer Able to Fight Crime

November 4, 2015

This is another story from Vox Political, based on a report from the Mirror. Six regional police and crime commissioners, for Devon and Cornwall, Thames Valley Forces, Merseyside, Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire, as well as Stephen Greenhalgh, London Deputy Mayor for policing, have written a letter to Tory policing minister, Mike Penning, complaining of cuts to their budget. They fear that the cuts will seriously prevent them from doing their job of solving and protecting the public from and crime. The group has stated that the cuts have meant that Lancashire will lose “almost all of its proactive crime fighting and crime prevention capacity by 2020.”

In response, Penning has come out with the usual Tory rubbish that their policies are working, and crime is falling. It’s what they always say. And I’m always sceptical, as the government is nearly always manipulating the figures when it says this. The Tories attacked New Labour when they were in power, for allegedly altering the statistics so that certain crimes weren’t counted or reported, and this practice has gone on since they got into power.

Mike also wonders if this is a ploy to cripple publicly funded policing and encourage the hiring of private security forces instead?

His article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/04/first-doctors-now-police-tories-seem-determined-to-halt-all-public-services-by-christmas/

This is a very good question. I can remember as far back as Maggie Thatcher and John Major, the Tories were looking forward to a Britain, where policing would be done by private security firms hired by individual neighbourhoods. There was an article back then in the Mail on Sunday going on about how wonderful this, and similar Tory ideas were, and how they would be put it into practice if women had the majority of seats in parliament. It’s a Libertarian/ Anarcho-Capitalist idea which ultimately goes back to Rothbard in America. Among his ideas was that justice could be improved if the courts were privatised. This would work, he believed, as even hardened criminals would accept the need for abiding by the decisions of a recognised fair and impartial court, and so the private-enterprise court with the best judge would establish itself as the most widely accepted source of justice.

It’s such a whacky idea that not even the Tories have taken it on board, despite having adopted so much else from the Libertarian New Right. But, it seems, they still support the idea of private police forces, as used in places like South Africa.

The Mail on Sunday’s article was a cynical attempt to drum up support for Tory ideology amongst women. The Daily Mail has always positioned itself as female-friendly paper, despite the fact that Conservative reforms, going back to Maggie Thatcher herself, have always hit women the hardest. Traditionally, women have always worked at the poorest paid and most insecure jobs, quite apart from the pressures of fulfilling their traditional roles as homemakers, looking after the house and bringing up children – state aid for which has persistently and continually been cut by the Tories, along with reforms and state institutions to give women a better chance at competing successfully with men in the workplace.

This is another ‘reform’ that could leave women feeling particularly vulnerable. I think if you look at the statistics, you find that men are most likely to be the victims of crime, or violent crime. However, women in particular feel especially worried about it. One explanation, I believe, for them not suffering as much as men is that they are more careful about their personal safety because of their greater concerns about attack and violence.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Tories posed as the party of law ‘n’ order, staunchly supporting the police against the forces of crime. Especially if it was left-wing crime, done by the unemployed, trade unions, Blacks, gay people and all the other groups they didn’t like, and who Maggie decided were ‘not one of us’. Like the miners. Indeed, one very senior policeman – it may even have been the Chief Constable – declared that Maggie used them as her private army during the Miners’ Strike.

Well, no more. The Tories have decided to cut the police force, just as they have forced through swingeing cuts to the armed forces and so much of the rest of the economy. All with a view to improving efficiency, which is the usual excuse.

And the dominant idea amongst the Tories is that private enterprise is always better, even when it is not. As the armed forces have been cut back, private armies have expanded, and are being used in Iraq. When I was at school we were taught that private armies had been made illegal since the victory of Henry VII at Bosforth Field back in 1485. It was Henry VII, who laid the foundations for the modern, centralised British state by outlawing the barons’ ability to form private armies composed of their personal retainers – their affinity, as their retinues were known at the time.

This unfortunately came back under Tony Bliar. And with that precedent in mind, unfortunately it does seem all too credible that the Tories do want to see the police reduced and partly replaced by private security firms.

In the meantime, despite the rubbish spouted by Penning, people will be left at greater risk of crime by these cuts. Except for the rich, who like their counterparts in South Africa, will have the money and influence to purchase protection with private security firms.

Vox Political: Corbyne Would Restore Legal Aid, Create Proper Legal System

November 4, 2015

After all the misery created by the Tories, this is a piece of very good news. And one which is probably even now frightening the Tories with the prospect that after their cuts, the proles might just be able to afford legal representation once more.

Vox Political has this report, based on the story in the Solicitor’s Journal, that Corbyn told a ‘barnstorming’ meeting of the Legal Aid Forum that he plans to restore legal aid, and create a proper legal system.
The Journal quotes him as saying

‘At the moment a lot of lawyers feel they can’t be dealing with legal aid, they have to find something else to do, hence the number of firms that don’t want to get involved in legal aid or just do commercial law because that is the only way they can make a living. It is not good for anyone. We need a proper legal system,’ said Corbyn.

‘It is a deterrent for young people going into law in the future, so we end up with young lawyers not being able to work,’ he continued. ‘If you can, stick at it. Try and stay there because people need good lawyers. They need that representation. I want to see the restoration of legal aid in the new parliament and hopefully we will have a Labour majority to bring it about.’”

From what I understand, there are a number of problems afflicting the legal profession at the moment, including a high level of graduate unemployment. I’ve been told that graduates with a legal degree must find a place in chambers within two years of graduating, otherwise their degree effectively doesn’t count, and they will never get a job as a lawyer.

One of the ways the Tories have attempted to disempower working people has been through savage cuts to legal aid, which means that many now cannot afford legal representation. All this has been done to save money and stop frivolous and ridiculous lawsuits. Of the same type, no doubt, as the ‘vexatious’ requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, which they are also attempting to close down as a waste of public money, etc.

Medieval kings, like Henry I in the Twelfth century, liked to pose as ‘lions of justice’. Richard II even set up a new set of courts to provide cheaper justice, and therefore make legal redress more widely available. And one of the most celebrate clauses of the Magna Carta bound the Crown not to sell, delay or deny justice.

This is very good news for everyone worried about the Tories’ attack on the legal profession and the ability of ordinary people to defend themselves and their interests from injustice.

Now expect the Tories and their lapdogs in the press to start quotemining him again to try and show him as a dangerous, terrorist-loving, unpatriotic Commie.

Mike’s article is at:http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/04/labour-would-restore-legal-aid-and-a-proper-legal-system-vows-corbyn/

Desperate Tories: Grant Shapps Attacks Miliband for not being Businessman

February 16, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this story about the Tories getting testy over Ed Miliband’s plans to boost small and medium businesses, Perhaps the Tories have all caught ‘foot in mouth’ disease at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/16/perhaps-the-tories-have-all-caught-foot-in-mouth-disease/. Grant Shapps, the Tories’ chairman, has poured scorn on Ed Miliband’s ability to run the economy, because he has never run a business.

As Mike and the commenters on the BBC’s website have pointed out, this is a bit rich coming from Shapps. Shapps has indeed run his own business, but not necessarily under his own name. His trading names have included ‘Mr Green’ and ‘Mr Shepard’. This is, of course, fraud.

As George Osborne, before he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, the scion of the Baronet of Ballymoney had the exciting, dynamic post of folding towels in Harrods.

So these two senior Conservatives ain’t prime examples of successful, reputable business then.

Obama Also Not Fit for Leadership, ‘Cause Not Businessman

As for the jibe, this isn’t original either. It first emerged, like much of the Tories’ vile policies, amongst the Republicans in America. It was a sneer aimed at Obama, when he ran against Rand Paul. The Repugs despised the Senator from Chicago because he was a ‘community organiser’. Rand Paul, on the other hand, was a businessman, and therefore far superior.

Social Darwinism and Class Prejudice

This actually tells you much about the Social Darwinist assumptions of modern American – and British – politics. The Nazis also praised and supported the business elites, as they were obviously biologically superior to the rest of the German population. Far below them were the biologically inferior, who included not only those considered racially inferior like Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Poles and Russians, but also the disabled and the unemployed.

Now the British and American Social Darwinism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not recommend their extermination. It did, however, argue for the sterilisation of the disabled and mentally handicapped, as well as, at one point, the unemployed if they sought poor relief. The attitude was also used to block welfare and health and safety legislation by big businessmen, on the grounds that if workers suffered from illness or work-related sicknesses, it was down to poor heredity rather than the constitution of society.

The same attitude is very much on display here. Obama didn’t run a business – he just looked after deadbeats. Miliband can’t run the economy! He’s not a genetically superior member of the business class.

This Social Darwinist attitude to the inequalities of the British class system is very much alive. One of the most viewed pieces on this blog is a post I wrote about the weird eugenicist views of Maggie’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph. Joseph looked set to become leader of the Tories until he caused a massive storm with a Social Darwinist rant about how unmarried mothers, and other members of the underclass, were a threat to the British national stock.

It was an extraordinarily offensive rant, made all the more surprising coming Joseph, who as a Jew should have been very well aware of the dangers of this kind of reductionist, pseudo-scientific biology.

The Biological Superiority of the House of Lords

The same class prejudices re-emerged again back in the 1990s when Blair was reforming the House of Lords. One of the reforms was the proposed abolition, or reduction in the number of hereditary peers. This produced a storm of outrage from Conservatives, one of whom argued that the hereditary peers should be left alone. They were, he argued, biologically superior to the rest of us proles and tradesmen, because centuries of breeding had prepared them for position in government, to which they were also best fitted through their education.

Now clearly, the good Tory, who made that argument, probably hadn’t seen, and certainly wouldn’t have liked, the 1970s British film, The Ruling Class. This starred Peter O’Toole as a mad lord, who believes he is Jesus. Toole’s character then becomes villainous when he is cured. At one point the character has an hallucination about going into the House of Lords. The members of the august House are shown as cheering, cobwebbed corpses and skeletons. It was an image that I can remember from my childhood, when it shown on Nationwide all those decades ago, when they were similarly debating the issue of the House of Lords.

Economy and Society Has Sectors, That Cannot Be Run for Profit

In fact, the argument about business leadership providing the best people for the government of the country falls down on simple facts that Adam Smith, the founder of modern laissez-faire capitalism, himself recognised. States provide services that are absolutely necessary, but don’t in themselves generate a profit. Like the judicial system and the transport network. You can’t run the courts like a business, no matter what bonkers Anarcho-individualists like Rothbard and the Libertarians believe. Nevertheless, you need judges, lawyers and courts to provide the security of property that makes business, and indeed civil society, possible.

It’s the same with roads. Roads were run for a profit at the time Smith was writing through the turnpike system. Nevertheless, Smith argued that roads could be a problem to run as a business, and therefore could be best left to the central government as the organisation best suited to maintain them. While they would be a drain on the nation’s resources, good roads were absolutely vital, and so the economy, and therefore British society as a whole, benefited.

Welfare Spending and Unemployment Relief Stimulate the Economy

Similarly, Obama may not have been a businessman, but his work as a community organiser clearly benefited his constituents, who had not been as well served by private enterprise as they needed. And by improving their material conditions through political action, the economy also benefits. This was one of the reasons FDR in the 1930s adopted the minimal provision of unemployment relief in America. If workers actually have enough money to help through unemployment, the amount they spend stimulates the economy still further and actually helps beat the recession.

The Nation of Shopkeepers, sacrificed to Big Business

Finally, you could also argue that Ed’s background outside of business actually makes him more, not less suitable to run the economy. It was Napoleon, who sneered at Britain as ‘the nation of shopkeepers’, and the retail sector is still one of the largest areas of the British economy. Thousands, if not millions, of Brits would love to run their own business. Maggie’s whole image as somehow ‘working class’, spurious as it was, was based on her being the daughter of a shopkeeper.

In sharp contrast to this, Tory policy has consistently favoured big business over the small businessman, making the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people, who aspire to be the next Arkwrights and Granvilles unrealisable.

Modern Big Business Practices Destructive

And the models the Tories have also adopted for big business have resulted in the destruction of much of the economy. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, Private Eye ran a series about the multi-millionaires brought with much pomp to manage successful, blue chip companies, who then failed spectacularly. These superstar managers ran their businesses into the ground. In some cases, almost literally. Yet after decimating the companies and their share price, the managers were then given a golden handshake and sent packing. Only to be given a similar directorship at another company, and begin the whole process all over again.

As for privatised companies like the railways, they are now in receipt of vastly more public subsidies than British rail, and provide a worse service. The amount of rolling stock has been reduced and ticket prices increased, all so that a set of super-managers can enjoy a life-style of luxury, all while providing a service that is barely acceptable.

The scandals of the privately run care homes, which have been found guilty of appalling low standards of care, and the neglect and abuse of their elderly or handicapped residents, are also partly a product of the same commercial culture. Many were acquired by hedge fund companies, who have deliberately run up millions of pounds worth of debts for them as part of a tax dodge. The result has been a very parlous financial situation for the homes, resulting in little investment and bankruptcy.

Compared to this business culture, it could be said that Ed Miliband’s background outside it is a positive advantage, and gives him excellent credentials to run the economy.

From 2013: Private Eye on the Cruelty, Stress and Anxiety of the Fitness-to-Work Tests

April 8, 2014

atoskillsgraf

Atos may be pulling out of the Fitness-to-Work tests, but they’re still in charge of the Personal Independence Payments and the tests themselves will still be administered, as the Void has pointed out on his post about it today. I found this article from Private Eye’s ‘In the Back’ section attacking the tests for the harmful stress inflicted on the sick and disabled in the issue for 8th – 21st March 2013.

Fitness to Work Tests

Sick Joke

More stories are emerging of the extreme distress and hardship caused to sick and disabled people wrongly found fit to work by Atos, the French private contractor, and consequently denied benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Last week the Eye was alerted by lawyers to the case of a woman with fragments of bullet and shards of her skull permanently lodged into her brain, who was deemed by Atos to have no care needs or mobility problems – despite a change in her mental state leading to extended periods of unconsciousness.

The Commons public accounts committee last month blamed ministers for the “misery and hardship” suffered by claimants, saying that while Atos (which has earned more than £100m a year over the past four years for its “work capability” contract) was getting assessments disastrously wrong, the government was doing nothing to check or improve reliability.

Nor was there any sign of improvement, with Cizizens Advice reporting an 83 percent increase in the past year in the number of people asking for support on appeals against decisions. Charities and legal advisers also complain that people with long-term, incurable or terminal conditions often face repeated assessments to prove how unwell they are, despite supplying doctors’ and consultants’ evidence that their health or condition will never improve.

Those most in need of help, meanwhile, are about to get another kicking from the government as, from next month, legal aid is withdrawn in the vast majority of benefit cases. The government is reneging on a promise from former lord chancellor Kenneth Clarke to allow free legal support in “point of law” cases at the first-tier tribunal level – the state of the tribunal process where most cases remain.

Clarke had said he was concerned about the impact on disabled people making their initial appeal against a decision by the DWP on their benefit entitlement But not so Chris Grayling, his successor, who wants to save £350m a year in legal aid by 2015 by axing free advice for most cases involving child custody, divorce, medical negligence, immigration, employment, housing debts and benefits. According to Grayling’s own figures, an estimated 623,000 people will lose out. A number of legal advice centres have already closed as the proposed cuts are already taking effect on law firms and centres, which can only claim legal aid after dealing with the case.

As one lawyer told the Eye: “What this means, in reality, is that some very ill and distressed people will simply not have the capacity to challenge appalling decisions.” Benefits tribunals will meanwhile get clogged up with badly prepared or even meritless appeals – and the only beneficiary will be Atos.

A few weeks ago Bristol’s lawyers joined a one-day strike protesting against the cuts to legal aid. It should be unacceptable that over half a million people – 623,000 – should be denied justice simply because they cannot afford it. It goes against the clause in Magna Carta, in which the king promises that he will not ‘deny, delay or sell justice’. Even earlier, English kings like Henry I sought to present themselves as a ‘lion of justice’. One of the ancient legal courts was set up by Richard II – the same Richard against whom the peasants revolted and who was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV – to provide better access to justice for his subjects. This shows just how much contempt and respect the Tories have for the concept of impartial justice, which doesn’t distinguish between people on grounds of their class or economic background. And the stoppage of legal aid after Kenneth Clarke’s promise to the contrary is just another example of a broken Tory promise.

As for Atos earning £100m a year over four years, during which time as many as 55,000 people a year may have died after being assessed as fit for work, and denied benefits – this is also monumentally unjust and iniquitous. Clearly, Grayling is afraid that widespread access to legal help by some of the victims of the assessment just might stop or severely hinder the policy. Hence the government’s decision to stop free legal advice.

As for Atos stating it’s getting out of assessments, I wonder if they also share Grayling’s fear, and are getting out while the going’s good. It looks like they’re afraid that if they continue administering the assessments, one unfairly assessed claimant or group of claimants may win and the company be faced with fines, damages and compensation payments. And that might seriously hurt their profits, not to mention whatever they believe passes as their business reputation.

Historical, Constitutional and Philosophical Observations on the Tories’ Plans to Privatise the Courts

July 28, 2013

I have to say that I’m still somewhat stunned by the Conservatives’ suggestion that the court service should be privatised. This seems to be absolutely barking mad, and attacking the most fundamental, basic duty of the state, at least as it has existed in the West since the ancient world. In the Middle Ages the basic function of the state was to provide military protection and promote justice. There were private courts on the manors of the feudal aristocracy, along with the system of royal courts that also dispensed justice at local and county levels. These were the hundred and shire courts of Anglo-Saxon England. After the Norman Conquest, Henry I introduced the ‘justices in eyre’, judges that went on regular set circuits around England hearing cases. I believe the assize system was introduced by that other ‘lion of justice’, Henry II. One of the reasons England never developed the more extreme versions of feudal serfdom that existed on the Continent was because Henry I insisted on his right as king to govern and enforce his laws over the peasantry through the royal courts, thus preventing the aristocracy having the absolute control over their tenants and villeins that their counterparts in the rest of Europe had.

It was during the Middle Ages that the system of royal courts, such as the Court of King’s Bench, developed. In the Middle Ages and 16th and 17th centuries, kings were expected to dispense justice as they were God’s anointed through the coronation ceremony. This did have a very authoritarian aspect to it, as in the views of some constitutional theorists in the Tory party, it meant that as the king was the fountainhead of justice, he was above the law. This view was gradually altered and finally rejected with the growth of constitutional checks on the crown and the Glorious Revolution. Social Contract theory also supplied a rationale for royal government: the king was the people’s representative. Kings had been chosen and set up by their subjects at the very beginning of human society, in order to protect them, their livelihoods and property. As their representative, he had the right to rule them, preserving their freedom and protecting them from injustice and attack. Finally, in an age when all government is personal government, kings had a right to rule because the countries they ruled were literally theirs. It was their property, in the same way landowners lower down the social scale owned their estates, and administer justice over the serfs there.

Clearly the decline of feudalism has removed these circumstances as the basis of royal government, just as centuries of secularisation means that extremely few people would argue for the return of an absolute monarchy on the grounds that they had a sacred right to govern through their coronation. They did, however, act as the core of the modern state through their establishment of the central institutions of justice. Since the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, at least, the state has been recognised as a separate institution to the kings that governed it. Hence Charles I was executed for his crimes against England, an idea that was so radical that it was almost unthinkable then. Nevertheless, the execution established the fact that Crown and state were separate, and that the judicial system, as part of the state, had the power to judge the monarch. Justice and the courts thus became the core feature of the modern concept of the state.

This is threatened by the privatisation of the courts. The ancient conception of the state was t6hat it was something that belonged to the public. For the Romans it was the res publicum, the public thing. The term has survived in the modern English word ‘republic’ and similar terms in the other European languages, including the Russian respublik. 16th and 17th century political theorists, like Locke, used the term ‘commonwealth’, from the words ‘common weal’, the common benefit or wellbeing. The state is therefore something that belongs to and affects everyone, even if it is effectively governed by a very select view, as it was before the extension of the franchise in the 19th century. This is threatened by the privatisation of the courts, which places justice in the realm of the private, rather than the public.

There are important constitutional problems with this. Courts have had the right to impanel juries, and try and punish offenders because they received their legitimacy from the state, either through itself or as a crown institution. If privatised, the courts would not have this source of legitimacy. They would be a private company, acting in its own interest. They would have the administration of justice as their function, but like other companies their main role would be to provide profit to their shareholders. Essentially, the justice they dispensed would be private justice, albeit administered on behalf of the res publicum. Now I can imagine that some traditional Conservatives would object to this. Peter Hitchens on his blog for the Mail on Sunday has stated that he objects to private prisons on the grounds that only the state has the right to persecute and punish crime. This is a very good point. If the courts are privatised, it raises the question of the difference between them and, say, a protection racket run by a local gangster. Both can claim to be providing protection for the people under their rule, and both are equally acting in the interest of private individuals. A privatised judicial system might still have the claim to be providing public justice if it has a contractual relationship with the state, or some other constitutional tie that establishes it as the legitimate source of justice. Nevertheless, its constitutional legitimacy as a public institution would still be considerably weakened.

The idea that courts can be privatised is something that the Tories have taken over from American minarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism. One of the founders of modern Libertarianism, E. Nozick, believed that the functions of the state should be reduced to the barest minimum. This was to be enforcement of contracts. Rothbard, the head of the American Libertarian party, argued that the courts should be privatised and opened up for competition. They would have no power beyond the voluntary acquiescence of the parties in dispute in the courts’ decisions. It’s a small detail, but it also shows the difference between American Anarcho-Capitalism and the libertarianism now promoted by the Tories. Anarcho-Capitalism is peculiar, in that although it promotes capitalism to its fullest extent, it shares many of the same concerns and features as left-libertarianism, such as Anarcho-Communism. Both forms of Anarchism share a common belief in the absolute sovereignty of the individual. Both also view the state as inherently oppressive. The great Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, declared ‘He, who says ‘the state’, says oppression’. Both types of libertarianism also stress individual’s sexual freedom. They consider that people should be able to engage in whatever kind of sexual relationship they choose, provided that it is reciprocal and between consenting adults. Thus Right Libertarians tend to differ from other Conservatives in their acceptance of homosexuality and free love. There is also a tendency in Right Libertarianism to demand the legalisation of drugs, on the grounds that the individual should have the right to consume whatever recreational substance they choose. Again, this is in marked opposition to traditional forms of Conservatism, which tends to be far more puritanical.

Now it seems to me that the Tories here have lifted some of the ideas of Anarcho-Capitalism but have very definitely rejected the ethos behind them. Margaret Thatcher believed very strongly in ‘the strong state’, reinforcing the powers and providing more funding for the police force and the security services. In doing so, she alienated many Libertarians, who bitterly resented her authoritarianism. Robin Ramsay, the editor of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, wrote a piece on the death of one of the founders of the Libertarian Freedom Association a little while ago. Ramsay is a member of the Labour Party, although very critical of New Labour and the influence of the transatlantic Right in the Party since the Second World War. He stated in this article, however, that he had been supported in publishing Lobster by the aforementioned Libertarian. This gentleman regarded him as another Libertarian, albeit socialist, rather than capitalist, but felt that he had a common cause with him against the growth of state power. And he bitterly resented Margaret Thatcher for what he saw as her betrayal of libertarian principles. It thus seems to me that if and when the Conservatives privatise the courts, they will nevertheless retain and possibly extend their powers as the agents of state control.

And this raises a further point on the legitimacy of these courts derived from Anarchist theory. 19th century Anarchism and its predecessors denounced the state and its system of justice, particularly because of its class basis. Europe was governed by the very rich – the aristocracy and the rising middle classes – and the laws they passed protected and enforced their power. During the early 19th century, for example, the British government passed a series of punitive legislation curtailing working class dissent and protest in order to prevent a popular uprising, similar to that which had occurred just across the Channel. The governing class was composed of rich landowners, who passed laws heavily penalising poaching. At the time poaching was regarded as a traditional right held by rural labourers. It allowed them to feed themselves during times of famine and economic depression. It did, however, represent a threat to landed property, who responded by passing laws prescribing long sentences and transportation for poachers. Most of the legislation passed in 18th century England was designed to protect property, not human life. Hence the enactment of the death penalty for crimes like sheep stealing. It was in this legal environment that the Anarchists attacked state justice as aristocratic, capitalist justice, and believed that only through the destruction of the state would a truly classless society emerge.

Since the extension of the franchise in the 19th century and the gradual ascension of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, the state and its institutions have had a greater claim to be genuinely impartial. This has been especially true since the rise of the classless society in the 1960s. This would, however, be undermined by a privately-run court system. The courts would be run by their shareholders and investors, who are by definition capitalists, for their own profit. Justice would mean private justice on behalf of the rich. And almost certainly it would lead to corruption and conflicts of interests. How would a system of private courts successfully prosecute a leading shareholder or the chairman of the company that runs them? Everyone is supposed to be equal before the law, but in those cases there would be great opportunity for the accused to interfere with the judicial process in his favour. In short, he could put pressure on the judge, as a friend or employee, and gain acquittal.

The Conservatives have claimed that they are rolling back the frontiers of the state. They aren’t. They are privatising its institutions, but these still have all the authority and coercive power of the state, but are far more likely to be partial in their decisions.

The privatisation of the courts is a profoundly immoral idea, that completely undermines the idea of the state as the dispenser of impartial justice regardless of social origin. It should be rejected without hesitation.