Posts Tagged ‘Education Vouchers’

Jeremy Browne and the Neo-Liberal Lib Dems

April 13, 2014

jeremy-browne_2875194b

Jeremy Browne: The ‘Orange Book’ Liberal who wishes to privatise the Health Service and give even more tax breaks to the rich.

Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem MP for the Somerset constituency of Taunton Dean, was interviewed briefly by David Garmston on the local news programme, Points West. Browne was in the papers earlier this week because of the policies he outlined in his book Race Plan: An Authentic Liberal Plan to Get Britain Fit for the Global Race. Amongst the policies he advocates are cutting the top rate of tax from 45 per cent down to 40 per cent, privatising the Health Service and replacing it with private medical insurance, and the introduction of education vouchers. Browne stated that these policies were necessary in order to make Britain competitive with the new emerging economies in the Developing World, countries which were pushing Britain further down the hierarchy of rich nations. Garmston asked him about what this would do for the working class, as there was nothing in the book for them. Not so, declared Browne – they would have greater opportunities. Garmston observed that this broke with the Lib Dems. They were a centre-left party, but these policies were well to the right of the Tory party. No, answered Browne, they were real, liberal policies.

Effect of Education Vouchers in Chile

This last statement shows the true origin of Browne’s view: Neoliberalism. Von Hayek and Mises, its founders, claimed that it represents genuine, 19th century liberalism against the progressive liberalism of the 20th century. Milton Friedman, the economic guru of Monetarism, also recommended education vouchers. Guy Debord’s Cat has posted on the way this system has wrecked Chile’s education system. See The Chilean Equality Protests at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/the-chilean-equality-protests/. And this is only one of the spectacular failure of Neoliberal economics.

Neoliberalism Producing Global Poverty

As for the effects of global competition, Greg Palast in Armed Madhouse shows how increasing hours and poor pay amongst Western workers has had the effect of driving up working hours and lowering pay in the rest of the world, as the other countries also struggle to compete. The workers in these nations don’t win, as conditions become ever more harsh and poverty, even for those in work, increases. The only people to gain from this are the international, wealthy elite.

Browne’s Privileged Background, like Tory and Tory Democrat Cabinet

This is on a par with Browne’s own background. According to Wikipedia, Browne was a son of the diplomat Sir Nicholas Browne, and grew up in a variety of different countries, including Iran, Belgium and Zimbabwe. It also states that he was educated at Bedales, one of the most expensive public schools in the UK with fees of £10,300 per term. He studied politics at Nottingham University. He also worked for the financial consultancy Drew Rogerson, and the PR firms Edelman and Reputationinc. This is pretty much the background of David Cameron and the Tory and Tory Democrat cabinet – extremely rich middle class with careers in banking and the financial sector, and PR. He thus shares the same views regarding destroying state intervention and the welfare state. Just to show how extremely Right-wing he is, he was in the Telegraph yesterday declaring that there was no point to his party, as there was too much conservatism in it supporting the state and the status quo. The book sounds extremely similar to Britannia Unchained, written by a trio of Tory MPs, who declared that British workers must work harder for less in order for Britain to compete globally.

Break with Tradition of Liberal Founders Welfare State

A hundred years ago the Liberals laid the foundations of the modern welfare state with sickness and unemployment insurance based very much on Bismarck’s reforms in Germany. In 1909 Lloyd George gave a speech at Limehouse appealing to the working class and violently denouncing the aristocracy, corrupt landlords and financial magnates. This was all too much for Winston Churchill, who declared it was ‘Socialism by the backdoor’ and stormed off to join the Tories. Now it seems the Orange Book Liberals, one of whom is Browne, have also rejected Lloyd George’s legacy and gone off to join the Neoliberal extreme Right. When asked by Garmston whether he had an eye on the Lib Dem leadership, Browne denied it, saying that the Lib Dems already had a leader. Considering his latest attack on the Lib Dem party, this denial rings very hollow.

Support for Privatisation and Destruction Welfare State in Lib Dems

Unfortunately, it’s not just Browne, who hold these views. Anne Soper, a Social Democrat MP back in the 1980s declared her support for education vouchers. In the 1987 election Davids Steel and Owen declared that it didn’t matter if the Health Service was privatised, so long as it remained free. Well, Browne wants to privatise it, and certainly doesn’t want it to be free. And all in the name of choice, which was used by Thatcher to justify her disastrous campaign of privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. The entry for Browne in Wikipedia states that he is a member of the Orange Book section of the Lib Dems. This is the section that fully endorses and supports Neoliberalism and the campaigns of privatisation and cuts to welfare services.

Browne is thus a personal demonstration that if you are working or lower middle class, there is absolutely no point in voting Lib Dem. And especially not in Taunton Deane.

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The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Free public libraries.

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

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

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

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

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

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

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

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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