Posts Tagged ‘Danny Alexander’

Private Eye on the Tax Avoiders in Cameron’s ‘Business Council’

April 10, 2015

I mentioned in the last post on the Daily Mail’s hypocrisy in demanding that Kraft foods stop avoiding paying British taxes, while its owner, Lord Rothermere, is another tax dodger using the non-dom status inherited from his father. The right-wing press was outraged this week by Ed Miliband’s statement on Wednesday that he was going to end the non-dom tax loophole that allows Rothermere, and others like him, to avoid paying tax. They claimed that it would drive senior businessmen out of the country.

Way back in their issue for the 15th – 29th October 2010 Private Eye published a brief article on the numbers of businessmen avoiding taxes through offshore companies and the like. They were a refutation of Cameron’s continued refrain that ‘we are all in it together’, and that everyone was suffering equally during the recession. They had also benefitted personally from Cameron by being selected for his business council.

David “We’re all in this together” Cameron has chosen a patriotic bunch to sit on his “business council”.

One of them, Martin Sorrell, has already moved his company, advertising group WPP, offshore to avoid tax; while Paul Walsh, of drinks company Diageo, has threatened to do the same.

His company already diverts most of its profits out of the taxman’s grasp, having “offshored” ownership of British drinks brands such as Johnnie Walker. A similar ruse helps drugs giants GlaxoSmithKline avoid millions of pounds of tax, but that hasn’t stopped its chief executive, Andrew Witty, from joining Cameron’s council as well.

Also among the business sages is the man behind a great deal of such dodging over a decade at the top of one of Britain’s biggest beancounters, KPMG, Sir Mike Rake.

The captains of industry will no doubt have been pleased to note the shift in rhetoric on tax dodging from chancellor George Osborne in his party conference speech. Gone was the “immorality” of (legal) tax avoidance that his Lib Dem deputy Danny Alexander had condemned the week before. In a carefully worded speech, Osborne’s ire was conspicuously directed only at illegal “tax evasion”. This gives Britain’s top businessmen – not to mentioned the hedge fund managers and beancounters who have funded the Tories so generously over the last year – plenty of room to squirrel a few billion away while remaining on the right side of Nos 10 and 11 Downing Street.

The attack on the tax evaders is pretty much an attack on Tory donors. It shows that Ed Miliband himself is independent of at least some of the corporate interest that New Labour also competed with the Tories for. and it also shows the deep, self-interest of the Tory party and their mouthpieces in the British press in moaning about the potential loss of income for these extremely rich men.

As Mike has shown again and again on his articles on some of the prize specimens of Tory MPs, many of them, from Jacob Rees-Mogg to education minister Nicky Morgan and the Wicked Witch of the Wirral, Esther McLie, vigorously demand tax cuts for the rich, and the transferal of the tax burden to the poor through VAT.

It’s not enough that the rich should get richer. They want the poor to get poorer. It’s one of the reasons why they should be voted out next May.

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Private Eye on Think Tanks Funding Political Conferences

February 16, 2015

One of the key causes in the corruption of British politics has been the way the different political parties are being lobbied and funded by the same, almost exclusively right-wing think tanks. These organisations provide the parties with advisors and sponsor debates and events at the various political conferences. As a result, while the parties themselves have changed, the Thatcherite policies they have pursued have remained unchallenged. Not only is this influence corrupt in itself, but it’s also led to the British voting public becoming alienated and disenfranchised. They feel with some justification, that there is little difference between the parties, and that they are being sidelined and ignored in favour of big business.

Private Eye published a piece on this issue in their edition of 21st September – 4th October 2012, listing the various think tanks and describing their links to various politicians and ministers.

Conference Callers

Party members may see conference season as their chance to be heard, but judging by the brochures put out by think tanks, the grassroots will have a job making it past better-funded rivals from the business lobby.

Over the summer, the Eye acquired prospectuses from several think tanks looking to recruit sponsors for debates at the forthcoming Tory, Lib Dem and Labour conferences.

Reform, a think tank with Tory links, tells potential sponsors it can set up “successful events attended by ministers and shadow ministers, special advisors, MPs, MEPs and council leaders”, among them minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, housing minister Mark Prisk, employment minister Mark Hoban and the Foreign Office’s Henry Bellingham.

Lest anyone mistake the purpose, any “partner organisation” – ie company willing to pay for access – can use roundtable events or dinners with “around 20 high-level participants” to put their own “insights into the relevant policy debate at the beginning of the meeting”.

Not to be outdone, ResPublica, run by David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru Phillip Blond, offers potential “partners” a chance for “intimate discussion over diner with select stakeholders and policymakers”, plus the opportunity to “contribute” to the choice of subject and speaker for meetings with ministers.

Meanwhile the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is touting “an excellent standard of service to our sponsors”, including the chance to “shape the key questions for debate” and “input into the speaker line-up”, with top totty on offer to include Lord Freud (again), Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, universities minister David Willetts and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

Trendy think tank Demos urges companies to cough up for events and roundtables potentially hosted by the prime minister or chancellor, with sponsors getting the chance for “conversations that link their policy agenda to contemporary political issues”. And Policy Exchange, the Cameroonian think tank, trumpets its “competitive sponsorship package”: as well as potential access to ministers, a few broad themes scheduled for debate will be honed after … conversations with sponsors.

Think tanks have tax-free charitable status based on their lofty aims to improve public policy. How does offering commercial interests the chance to pitch ideas to ministers over dinner fit that mission?

Clearly, it doesn’t. If politics in Britain is to be improved, and its people to be given a genuine choice between the parties, and have a real voice in how their country is governed, the corporatists think tanks need to be thrown out. Removing their charitable status, except for those rare occasions where they might, actually, represent charities, would be a start.

Government Cuts: The BBC Defends their Bias

January 11, 2014

Who Needs Cuts

I’ve just started reading Who Needs the Cuts, by Barry and Saville Kushner, published last year by Hesperus Press. It’s a fascinating book, written in straightforward, uncomplicated language by two professionals in the political sphere. According to the blurb, Barry Kushner is a regeneration consultant supporting organisations working in the third sector, and now a city councillor in his home town of Liverpool. Saville Kushner is professor of Public Evaluation at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on democracy and public knowledge and worked for a short while for UNICEF in Latin America.

In the first chapter, Barry Kushner describes what moved him to begin researching the issue of the government cuts, and led to the two brother actively campaigning against them. It came from him attending a meeting of a ‘Children with Disabilities’ planning group in a town in the north-west of England, which he had been brought in to support. The group had been set up to bring together the parents of disabled children, and government officials and care providers as part of Labour’s Aiming High for Disabled Children. The group had hoped to build a respite centre to allow parents and carers a break from the strains of looking after their children. At the last minute, Kushner was informed that the project had been cancelled thanks to Gideon George Osborne’s cuts, and Kushner was given the unenviable job of telling the parents this. Not only was Kushner upset by the sudden cancellation of this much-needed facility, he was profoundly dismayed by the way the parents themselves, who had put so much into getting the project going in the first place, where left crushed and defenceless against the politicians’ story that there was simply no alternative to the cuts. He remarks on how easy it was for all the hard work that had been put in giving parents the confidence to come together to work for improving things for disabled children and their carers to be destroyed in a matter of moments.

Also driving Kushner in his campaign was his experiences at Croxteth Comprehensive school in Liverpool, where he had been a teacher during Maggie Thatcher’s infamous reign in the 1980s. Croxteth had been one of the most deprived areas in the country, and the school was scheduled for closure. The parents and teachers responded to the news by occupying the school and taking it over. Three years later they won their campaign, and the school was saved. In 2009 Kushner attended a reunion of everyone, who had been involved in the occupation. One of those he met was ‘Sean’, who had been ‘a cute, mischievous’ boy of 11 when it all happened. Sean was now forty, and had just come of the drugs he’d been on for the past 22 years. He went through one of the photographs showing the other kids, who were at school during the occupation. At least seven of these children were now dead.

The Kushner’s state that the story that the cuts are necessary is extremely flimsy indeed, and compare it to Joe McCarthy’s tactics during the Communist witch-hunts in the US. McCarthy’s evidence of Communist infiltration was just as a extremely flimsy. At meetings he claimed to have a list of Communists, waving a bunch of papers that were supposed to have their names. In fact, he had no such list and in many cases those papers were completely blank. This tactic nevertheless cowed the press and much of officialdom into blandly accepting his specious claims. The Coalition, and Labour politicians like Alistair Darling, who also took on board the supposed necessity for the cuts, similarly have little real evidence to back up their claims, and are resorting instead to scare tactics. This, unfortunately, has been remarkably effective, with the even the victims of the cuts, like the parents in the above meeting, unable to rebut the arguments. It has left the nation defenceless against an austerity programme several times more severe than previous retrenchment programmes. The book is their response to these specious claims, and has arisen from their own campaign against it, which has led them to speak up and down the country, including in my own home town of Bristol.

It’s an excellent book, and I hope to post a full review, giving some of their arguments against the cuts in due course.

What strikes me now, having posted about the BBC’s right-wing bias, is the Kushner’s description of the way the BBC has promoted the line that the cuts are necessary. They note that there are numerous economists, who have stated that the cuts are not necessary, and that growth, when it occurs, will wipe out the debt. These other voices are either totally ignored by the mainstream media, or else relegated to a footnote. The Kushner’s wrote to some of the journalists and programme managers pushing this line, like the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, and Evan Davies. In her report for 9th of September 2011, Flanders claimed that the poor economic growth from which the country was suffering was due to good weather, the Japanese tsunami and the royal wedding. When she was asked why she didn’t mention that the slump in retail sales and manufacturing along with the redundancies caused by the cuts were also having an effect, and that consumer confidence was at an all-time low, Flanders gave the following reply:

‘We were providing the explanation provided by the ONS, the independent statistical body. If this was not emphasised yesterday, that was simply because there were other things to focus on in a 2.5 minute package, and the broad political and economic arguments about austerity are now so well understood by our viewers’. As Private Eye responds, when given similar brush-offs, ‘So that’s alright, then’. The Kushners note that her role in the BBC was news analysis, not reporting. Her actions in simply regurgitating the ONS’ view was more in line with her previous job as advisor and speechwriter to Larry Summers. They also note that she had also worked with the US treasury secretary as he led the deregulation of the banks, that ‘unleashed the whirlwind of mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, sub-prime mortgages and over-leveraged banks that sit behind the whole debt issue’.

Barry Kushner also states that they attempted to make their points known by writing into the BBC and the Guardian, sending a series of emails and taking part on phone-ins on the radio. They stated repeatedly in their correspondence and telephone calls that ‘although the BBC’s coverage reflected the political consensus it did not reflect the broader economic analysis represented by numerous economists and people on both sides of the political spectrum… We begged the question, doesn’t the BBC have duty to do this?’ They received the following reply from a senior executive at BBC News:

‘The Editorial Guidelines state that we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented. However, reflecting a broad range of views is not the same as giving equal weight to all shades of opinion and nor are we required to give totally comprehensive coverage.’

They state that this attitude appears to be shared by journalists, even when they know that their analysis is incomplete. They wrote a letter to Evan Davies after he interviewed Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey. This, they state, was far more severe than anything he had dished out to Danny Alexander, George Osborne or the other government ministers. They wanted to know why this was so, and why Davies had prevented McCluskey from elaborating on his argument and why he had not subjected government ministers to a similarly intensive grilling. As an example, the Kushners state they wanted to know why ministers were not required to explain the significance of the low level of national debt and borrowing on their planning for the cuts? The Kushners have already made the point that despite the hysterical claims of the politicos, the national debt is at its lowest for 200 out of 250 years. The argument that somehow these cuts are necessary to pay of this massive national debt is nonsensical.

Davies replied: ‘I personally think there are arguments to be made for not dealing with the deficit at the moment. Indeed there are arguments for monetising it too. But these need to be set out by those who assert them, not by me.’

To which they comment: ‘So Evan knows the answers, but won’t tell us what they are? Aren’t journalists supposed to use their knowledge and experience to ask more intelligent, searching questions?’ From the book’s description about the way Davies prevented McCluskey from developing his arguments further, it’s actually worse than that. Davies clearly knows the opposing arguments, but not only does he not feel it is his job to present them, he is actively obstructing those who do.

Commenting on my last post about BBC right-wing bias, Anna listed a number of BBC journalists with right-wing connections, like Nick Robinson, who used to be part of the Union of Conservative Students. It’s clear from reading Who Needs the Cuts that the BBC, like much of the rest of the media, is actively promoting the Coalition’s flimsy message that the cuts are somehow necessary almost unquestioned. The book notes that both Andrew Marr and John Humphries have started interviews with politicians stating that the cuts are necessary, ‘but..’, and that this political message is so prevalent that it has turned Question Time into a ‘cutsfest’. The executives at the BBC and their Tory allies won’t suffer from the cuts, however, although the Tories are dangling the prospect of freezing the license fee and privatisation in front of the Beeb to make it come to heel whenever it appears to get a bit uppity. The people who really suffer are us, including disabled children and their families, and the deprived kids being denied a proper education, and left to die of drugs and squalor like those Barry Kushner taught in Croxteth. They’re the real casualties. And the Beeb won’t be reporting on them any time soon.

The Kushners lament that we are going back to Maggie Thatcher and her policy of cuts in the 1980s, though without the massive opposition she faced – they were also active on marching against her – or even Spitting Image. It was in the 1980s that I remember the issue of the Conservative bias of the news media was raised with a vengeance. One of the best comments on it was ‘News of the World’, by the Clash, now used as the theme music for the Beeb’s satirical news quiz, Mock the Week. If we’re going back to the ’80s, we may as well enjoy some classic rock. Enjoy!