Posts Tagged ‘Ed Milliband’

Quentin Letts on the Special Advisors

March 19, 2014

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Quentin Letts on what looks suspiciously like Have I Got News For You.

Mike in his piece over at Vox Political on Osborne’s budget reported on the Chancellor’s double standards regarding public sector pay. This was to be kept low, while at the same time the government’s Special Advisors were to be given a 40 per cent pay rise. The Daily Fail’s parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, has a few things to say about them in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain (London: Constable & Robinson 2009). And none of them are complimentary.

They’re in chapter 55 on Harold Wilson, who’s in there for the reason that he created them. Letts says

Wilson was disinclined to do much heavy policy thinking himself. He darkly suspected the civil service of being a Tory conspiracy. He therefore hired others to do his thinkin’ for him. Worse, he had their wages drawn from public funds. Harold Wilson was in some ways a good Prime Minister. He kept us out of the Vietnam War, not least. He was in at least one respect, however, a very bad premier: he created state-paid Special Advisors. (p. 271).

These he describes thus

The Special Advisor is an appointed stooge, an outsider brought into Whitehall by a minister or political party. He or she normally lasts only as long in that department as the minister. Special Advisors are, by their very nature, short-termists. They tend to take decisions which help a minister avoid blame or trouble, usually at the expense of another minister, sometimes merely because the extent of a problem has been temporarily concealed. Special Advisors are antipathetic to openness. Secrecy gives them power. (p. 272).

He notes that under Wilson, Heath and Margaret Thatcher their numbers were low. He states that Maggie

with her keen suspicion of civil service obstinacy, created something of a praetorian guard of policy-thinkers at No. 10 but was never particularly keen on Special Advisors sprouting uncontrolled throughout Whitehall. She preferred her junior ministers to use their brains. She was never quite sure if Special Advisors were ‘one of us’, either. So little time. So many colleagues to monitor for signs of disloyalty. What an exhausting life she must have led. (ibid)

It was under John Major, who gave Cabinet Ministers rather more departmental freedom to form governmental policy with a greater degree of success, that the ‘Spads’ came into their own. And one of them is the honourable gentleman (and I use the term loosely) now running the country.

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David Cameron: a former government Special Advisor, of the type who were given a 40 per cent pay rise today. AS they aren’t actually Civil Servants, this is another example of the government paying massive subsidies to the government contracted private sector.

Special advisors became more self-confident. Arrogant youths, many of them, they would strut into newspaper offices a pace or two to the side of their bosses, dispensing business cards and massaging their own reputations. One of them, you will recall, was called David Cameron. Special Advisors started to become more prominent socially. They became better known as sources of press stories. They overtook backbenches MPs in the unspoken table of political importance. (pp. 272-3)

He then attacks the way the number of Special Advisors massively expanded under Tony Blair, so that by 2002 there were 81 of them. His ire is not so much about the money spent paying them, but on their corruption of the governmental system.

The many millions spent on their salaries may be irksome – a symbol of the waste and the stroking of the political cadre – but it was wee buns compared to the billions blown on other inessential parts of the public sector, often on the say of, yes, Special Advisors. And even more damaging was the way these Special Advisors corrupted our political system. Since the later years of the nineteenth century the British Civil Service had been a professional body. That is to say, it offered recruits a career of serious service. Entrance to the profession was possible only after rigorous examination and interview procedures. Civil servants were schooled to regard the nation as their employer. They worked for the long-term good of the country, the community, not for the good of whichever politician happened to be in power at any one time. G.M. Trevelyan, historian, wrote that the merit-baed entrance procedures to the civil service removed it ‘from the field of political jobbery’. Favouritism, nepotism and nudge-nudge-wink-winkism were trumped by measurable ability. These values slowly percolated to other parts of society. It wasn’t a bad way to run a country, you know. (p. 274).

He is particularly incensed at the way the were used by Tony Blair as part of his carefully stage-managed events, and that two of them, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell, were given executive rights over permanent secretaries.

Letts has a particularly rosy view of the impartiality and efficiency of the British civil service. Sadly, experience has not always backed this up. Civil Servants are indeed required, under their terms of service, to provide ministers with impartial advice. I’ve no doubt that in many cases this is true. But not nearly in as many cases as we’d like. One of the reasons the railways are in the horrendous state they are in today, is because one particular senior civil servant, who was named in Private Eye, was a passionate enthusiast of free-market capitalism, with the result that they were privatised. The result is poor service, increasingly bloated subsidies for the rail companies, and the administrative chaos that led to several serious disasters like Potter’s Bar. These were particularly reprehensible because of the way the victims were denied justice and compensation for years afterwards as each company passed the buck from one to the other.

As a Daily Mail journo, Letts is, of course, a man of the Right, and has cause his fair share of offense writing for an offensive newspaper. He appeared a little while ago defending their attack on Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, a Jewish refugee, who fought courageously for this country against Nazi Germany while Lord Rothermere wrote admiring pieces about how wonderful Adolf was. Still, Letts does have a point. The civil service is still required in theory to give impartial advice. The Special Advisors, with which the government has surrounded itself are under no obligation to do so. Indeed, quite the opposite. The government’s policy are all drawn from various loony right-wing think tanks, who tell the government exactly the type of Neoliberal rubbish they want to hear. The result is policies like today’s budget: cuts and privatisation for the poor, tax cuts for the rich. And 40 per cent pay rises for the Spads. Well, David Cameron was one of them, and so it really is a case of Osborne giving money to people exactly like himself. It demonstrates the very narrow class loyalties of the Coalition exactly.

The Unequal Tax Burden on the Poor Today and in 19th century Germany

March 14, 2014

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Ferdinand Lassalles: Founder of the first Socialist party in Germany, the German Worker’s Union.

Owen Jone’s book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class also discusses the way that the poor now pay a greater proportion of their wages as tax than the rich as part of the massive shift in wealth away from them and to the upper classes.

This ‘trickle-up’ model of economics has not come about because the people at the top have become more talented or more profitable. It has been driven by the smashing of the trade unions, a hire-and-fire labour force, and a taxation system rigged to benefit the wealthy. Even Jeremy Warner, a right-winger and deputy editor at the conservative newspaper the Daily Telegraph, finds something amiss: ‘it is as if a small elite has captured – and kept for itself – all the spectacular benefits that capitalism is capable of producing’.

‘There’s no doubt that the current tax system is regressive, ‘says chartered accountant Richard Murphy. After all, we live in a country where the top decile pay less tax as a proportion of income than the bottom decile. Murphy identifies a number of reasons, including the fact that poorer people spend more of their income on indirect taxes like VAT; the National Insurance is capped at around £40,000, and that those earning between £70,000 and £100,000 a year can claim £5,000 of tax relief a year over and above their personal allowance. (P. 165.)

The pioneering German socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle, criticised a similar arrangement in the Wilhelmine Germany of his time. Lasalles was the son of Jewish silk merchant, who became a Socialist activist after encountering a workers’ demonstration in Silesia. He founded the first German worker’s party, the Deutscherarbeiterverein, DAV, or German Workers’ Union, in English. In his Arbeiterprogramm Lassalles pointed out the way the German state made the payment of direct taxes a condition of voting, while the bulk of the tax burden fell on the poor in the form of indirect taxes.

Indirect taxes, gentlemen, are consequently the institution, through which the bourgeoisie realizes big capital’s freedom from tax, and burdens the poorer classes of society with the costs of the political system.

At the same time, notice the peculiar contradiction and peculiar justice of the proceeding, to put the burden of the requirements of the national budget into indirect taxes and consequently on poor people, making, however, direct taxes the measure of and condition for the franchise and therefore the right to political power, which only supplies the infinitely small contribution of 12 million to the total state requirement of 108 million.

Ferdinand Lassalle: Arbeiterprogramm (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun 1973) p. 32. My translation.

Contemporary Britain is clearly very different from 19th century Germany. Unlike the Germany of Lassalle’s day, Britain does have universal suffrage, and all adults, with the exception of the mentally ill or those in prison, have the vote. It could also be argued that also unlike Lassalle’s Germany, much of the tax burden in Britain still falls on the rich in terms of the amount of taxes they pay. Nevertheless, the similarities are striking. The rich and middle class are increasingly finding ways to stop paying tax altogether through finding loopholes, or making tax havens the location of their head offices through a series of accountancy fiddles. And although the majority of British adults do have the vote, working class voters feel increasingly disenfranchised and alienated from a political system which consistently ignores them. Tony Blair aimed New Labour at the middle class electorate, proclaiming ‘We’re all middle class now!’ As a result, although working class support for the Labour party is still strong, many working class people do not vote in elections as they feel their own needs are being ignored in favour of the middle class. Ed Milliband has declared that the Labour party should ‘reach out to the middle classes’.

Lassalle believed the exact opposite. Before he founded the DAV, the German working class identified its interests with the Liberals. In his Arbeiterprogramm, Lassalles criticises the Liberals in France and Germany with the attempts to limit the franchise through the imposition of property qualifications. He demands instead not the census of the Liberals, but universal male suffrage, to which class conscious working class activists should concentrate on waking and sleeping through their working day and their leisure hours, until they finally won the vote. It’s time for a new campaign to re-enfranchise the working class through policies designed to appeal to and represent their interests. A shift of the tax burden back on to the rich, so they pay their fair share, would be a good start.

The Other Reason the Mail Monstered Ralph Milliband

February 15, 2014

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Ralph Milliband, father of Labour leader Ed, lecturing in Canada in 1978

Last October the Daily Mail ran a vicious article attacking Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, for his supposed hatred of Britain. Milliband senior, the Mail claimed, was a hard-line Stalinist, who had Britain’s institutions, and so hated the country itself. The immediate reason for this was his son’s outstanding performance at the Labour party conference, which clearly marked Milliband junior out as a threat that had been to be verbally attacked. Lacking anything else with which to smear him, they concentrated on his father instead.

Left-wing blogs across the country took the opportunity to remind the Daily Mail of its hypocrisy and its own past of supporting Fascist dictators and their imitators, like Oswald Mosely. Pride’s Purge and Another Angry Voice both posted some truly excellent articles on this. The latter’s post on the Mail’s attacks on Milliband, ’12 Things You Should Know about Daily Mail Slurs about Ralph Milliband’, is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/12-things-ralph-miliband-mail-slur.html. It’s well worth reading, as it covers Lord Rothermere’s support for Adolf Hitler, as showing in the photograph below.

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Harold Harmsworth, owner of the Daily Mail, and an Austrian politician he much admired.

It also reproduced a photo of the article from one of his other papers, pledging full support to Oswald Moseley’s Fascist Blackshirts.

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Lord Rothermere, the former owner of the Daily Mail, urges his readers to give Fascism a ‘helping hand’.

Pride’s Purge not only covered this, but also how the Daily Mail had serialised the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also pointed out that while Ralph Milliband was risking life and limb for his adopted country during World War II, the father of Paul Dacre, the current editor of the Mail, was on front-line duty in this country as, er, their showbiz editor. See ‘How Daily Mail’s Editor Paul Dacre’s Father Avoided the Front-line in W W 2’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/update-on-daily-mail-editor-paul-dacres-father-avoiding-the-front-line-in-ww2/; ‘While Ralph Milliband was fighting in Germany, Paul Dacre’s father was avoiding the front-line’, at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/while-ralph-miliband-was-fighting-in-normandy-paul-dacres-father-was-avoiding-the-front-line/; and ‘Of course the Daily Mail doesn’t like Ed Milliband. He’s a Jew’ at http://tompride.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/of-course-the-daily-mail-doesnt-like-ed-miliband-hes-a-jew/.

There is perhaps another, further reason why the Daily Mail found Ralph Milliband to be such a desperate threat that even after his death they felt compelled to attack him. Ralph Milliband was indeed a leading Marxist intellectual. More specifically, he analysed the capitalist state to show how it was dominated by and operated to enforce the class interests of its leading, capitalist citizens and officials.

In his seminal work The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Ralph Milliband devoted considerable attention to these questions and demonstrated the predominance in the upper echelons of the State of public school, Oxbridge educated White men from wealthy backgrounds, who retained both formally and informally many links with businessmen-through directorships, shareholdings, social clubs and residential areas-and who shared a common outlook in favour of capitalism and the principles of accumulation for profit and market regulation.

-John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1988) 227.

The present government is led and dominated by Eton educated aristos such as Dave Cameron, Nick Clegg, and George Osborne. Now the Marxist conception of the state as the creation of the ruling class is controversial, even within Marxism. It’s classic formulation is by Lenin in his The State and Revolution. Other Marxists have challenged this, and suggested instead that the state is partly autonomous. The existence of the present government and its intensely class-based composition, adds considerable force to Lenin’s and Milliband’s argument. Given this, and the success of Ed Milliband at the time, no wonder Dacre and co felt threatened.

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Nick Clegg

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The ‘Two Posh Boys’ (courtesy Nadine Dorries) Cameron and Clegg, with fellow aristo George Osborne, leading a government doing its best to prove Lenin right about the class basis of the State

Jeremy Clarkson: Politician?

September 16, 2013

Mike here discusses Jeremy Clarkson’s declaration that he’d like to stand for parliament against Ed Milliband. Mike points out that as a very well known Tory and the leader of the ‘three idiots from Top Gear’, Clarkson would split the Tory vote, despite announcing that he would stand as an Independent. Probably the best argument against Clarkson standing as an MP is that he and Boris Johnson would together make politics in this country even more farcical than they are already. Clarkson himself has been sent up regularly by a string of comedians and impressionists, including Harry Enfield and Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. One of the best, and most satirically accurate is that of Cassetteboy on Youtube, the address for whose take on the petrolhead motormouth is below. Warning: Some of the material in it is coarse and offensive, but as these are criticisms that have been levelled at Jezza himself in his time, the portrayal is still pretty accurate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5qtoecVIo0?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360

Mike Sivier's blog

Start the week with a snigger: Jeremy Clarkson reckons he might try his hand at politics.

He tweeted that he might stand for Parliament as an independent candidate for Doncaster North – Ed Miliband’s seat.

Nobody should need to be told that Clarkson is a huge supporter of the Conservative Party, and is believed to be a friend of David Cameron, who is a neighbour of his in Chipping Norton. Yes, Clarkson is one of the famous ‘Chipping Norton set’.

The tweet reads: “I’m thinking I might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North, which is where I’m from. Thoughts?”

All right, Jeremy, since you ask.

You are known around the world as one of the “three idiots” on the BBC’s Top Gear, which has become a comedy show about petrolheads, rather than a serious motoring show (and extremely watchable as a result). Every week, there…

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