Posts Tagged ‘Glasgow’

Theremin Hero Plays Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ on Laser Harp

April 20, 2017

This is a bit of light relief after some of the grim politics. The past few days I’ve been putting up some of the electronic music I’ve found on YouTube. This has included Russian SF Rock, and Dr Who played on theremin and laser harp. I’ve also found this video of Theremin Hero, who I think was one of the contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, playing Gary Numan’s classic ‘Cars’ on laser harp in Glasgow in 2014. It’s awesome. Over the years, there have been some great acts on the show. Unfortunately, I still don’t think I could cope with having to wade through an hour of Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec just to see them.

Demonstrations Across the UK Today Against Trump’s Muslim Ban

January 30, 2017

Mike has put up news that there are going to be mass demonstrations across the UK today against Trump’s ban on immigration from seven Muslim majority countries. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has demanded that Trump’s state visit to Britain should be cancelled. And, almost predictably, Theresa May has failed to say very much about it. She has asked Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to raise the issue of the travel ban with their opposite numbers in the US administration. But this seems to be less than altruistic. She’s not worried about the ban on Muslims going to the US so much as how it would affect the Tory MP, Nadhim Zahawi.

The demonstration in London is due to be held this evening at 6.00 pm outside Downing Street. There are also demos in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Glasgow, Hastings, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Preston in Lancashire, Sheffield and York. The demos are organised by Momentum, but people of other views are welcome to join them.

There is also a petition currently being compiled against a state visit by Trump to the UK, which people may also wish to sign. And Mike has also suggested that those with a Tory MP may also like to write to them in protest about it, using the tools provided by Write To Them for creating such messages.

For further information, please go to Mike’s website, where there are appropriate links to the internet pages of the organisations mentioned.

Mike’s article also has a few Tweets from those disapproving May’s silence on this critical issue. One of them is Gary Lineker, wondering when May’s going to speak out. The other is Hugh Terry, who aptly describes May as not a prime minister, but a ‘fascist apologist arms dealer disguised as a rancid old school-marm!’ Which is an accurate description of May, and indeed, of that great, golden Tory icon, Maggie Thatcher.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/29/join-demonstrations-across-the-nation-january-30-2017-against-trumps-muslimban/

Vox Political on Ian Hislop and the Beeb’s Anti-Corbyn Bias

December 17, 2016

Mike early today put up a post commenting on another example of the Beeb’s bias against Jeremy Corbyn, this time on last night’s Have I Got News For You. Hislop had made the comment, When you find yourself agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn, you know the country is in a mess.’

Mike states

If the BBC had any real interest in its stated commitment to political impartiality, one of the other panel members, or guest host Gary Lineker, would have jumped in to say that agreeing with Theresa May and the Tories is what put the country in a mess in the first place. But that didn’t happen.

And concludes

This man is the editor of Private Eye. Do you think he bothers to keep his political bias out of the magazine? Neither do I.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/17/hislops-jeremy-corbyn-jibe-what-happened-to-bbc-impartiality/

I don’t have to speculate if Hislop is keeping his own personal political bias out of Private Eye. I’ve stopped reading it because he blatantly hasn’t. There are plenty of stories attacking Corbyn and the ‘click-bait’ web site that supports him, The Canary, but absolutely none supporting the Labour leader. The satirical magazine has been running a feature, Focus on Fact, which is devoted to attacking him. This seems to come from embittered Blairites, as many of the stories in there seem to be about internal party disputes from the 1980s.

I’ve blogged before about how I’ve stopped reading the Eye because of this consistent bias against Corbyn, despite the excellent work the magazine has also done attacking privatisation, including that of the NHS. But it needs to remembered that Private Eye and its founders were very much part of the establishment. Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Auberon Waugh, Peter Cook and Ian Hislop himself are all very middle class, ex-public schoolboys. Auberon Waugh was notorious for his own extremely Tory and reactionary views, writing columns for the Torygraph sneering at the Greenham women and teachers, for example. His family were also connected to MI5, and he may have been one of the conduits for the intelligence agency’s attempt to smear Harold Wilson as a KGB agent in the 1970s, according to Lobster.

The Eye is not just biased about domestic politics. It has frequently run pieces about the Ukraine in its Letter from… column, which has unwaveringly presented the line that the current vile regime in Kyiv is entirely democratic and is under threat from Putin, the new Grand Duke of Moscow, who is trying to set himself up as the next Tsar of all the Russias and the true heir to Ivan the Terrible. There is no mention that the current Ukrainian regime includes neo-Nazis, determined to persecute genuinely independent journalists, and who have beaten and brutalised members of the Ukrainian left, just as the regime is genuinely responsible for persecuting ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

As for the BBC, I recently posted a piece about a book I found in Waterstones, The BBC and the Myth of Public Broadcasting, which makes the case that the BBC is extremely biased towards the corporate establishment and the Conservatives. This should surprise no-one on the left. Mike and several other left-wing blogs have published articles about the finding by academics at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities that the Beeb is more likely to favour Conservative MPs and managing directors and spokespeople for the stock exchange over Labour MPs and trade unionists. And the Corporation is also very culpably silent about the privatisation of the NHS.

Hislop’s comment last night is another example of this bias. It’s also the reason why I don’t buy Private Eye, and indeed, can no longer stand watching Have I Got News For You.

New Book on BBC Bias

November 18, 2016

Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s today I found a new book on institutional bias at the BBC. It’s Tom Miller’s The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting. I didn’t buy it, but glancing at the blurb on the back cover, it seemed to be about how the Beeb is biased towards power, and the establishment.

This really should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite the frothings of the right, which claims that the Beeb has a liberal bias, Edinburgh, Glasgow and I think, Cardiff University have studied the Beeb’s news bias, and found that it is significantly biased towards the Right. The two Scots universities found that it was far more likely to talk to Conservative MPs and businessmen, than to Labour MPs and trade unionists. The Kushner brothers, in their book, Who Needs the Cuts? state that they were prompted to write the book because of the way the Beeb and the rest of the media automatically accepted, quite uncritically, that the cuts were needed. When trade unionists appeared on the Today programme on Radio 4, and said that the cuts weren’t needed and were harmful, he was interrupted by the presenter. And then there’s Laura Koenigsberg, who is outrageously and blatantly biased. But you mustn’t accuse her of beings so, according to the Graoniad, because if you do you are only doing so because you’re a misogynist. Rubbish. People are criticising her because she is biased, and she’s a disgrace. It has nothing to do with her gender. Another of the Beeb’s reporters, who is also flagrantly biased is Nick Robinson. Remember how Robinson and his team careful cut footage of a question and answer session with Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, during the Scots Referendum? Robinson asked Salmond about whether he was worried that the main Scots financial firms would move down to London if Scotland gained independence. Salmond said no, and explained why he believed they wouldn’t. The Beeb then edited the video, first to make it appear that he evaded the question, and then claimed he hadn’t answer it all. I’m not fan of the SNP and its attacks on the Labour Party, but Salmond had answered the question, calmly and fully. It was pure falsification, a lie of the type you’d expect from the state dominated media in eastern Europe under Communism, for example. But it didn’t come from a wretched totalitarian dictatorship. It came from the Beeb, which is constantly congratulating itself on how ‘impartial’ it is, and what a world leader in quality broadcasting it constitutes.

Well, it’s biased towards the right, and more and more people are waking up to that fact, as this book appears to show.

Review: The Liberal Tradition, ed. by Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock

November 6, 2016

(Oxford: OUP 1967)

liberal-tradition-pic

I picked this up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. I am definitely not a Liberal, but so many of the foundations of modern representative democracy, and liberal political institutions, rights and freedoms were laid down by Liberals from the 17th century Whigs onward, that this book is of immense value for the historic light it sheds on the origins of modern political thought. It is also acutely relevant, for many of the issues the great liberal philosophers, thinkers and ideologues argued over, debated and discussed in the pieces collected in it are still being fought over today. These are issues like the freedom, religious liberty and equality, democracy, anti-militarism and opposition to the armaments industry, imperialism versus anti-imperialism, devolution and home rule, laissez-faire and state intervention, and the amelioration of poverty.

Alan Bullock is an historian best known for his biography of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, which remains the classic work on the Nazi dictator. In the 1990s he produced another book which compared Hitler’s life to that of his contemporary Soviet dictator and ultimate nemesis, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. The book has an introduction, tracing the development of Liberalism from its origins to the 1930s, when the authors consider that the Liberal party ceased to be an effective force in British politics. This discusses the major issues and events, with which Whig and Liberal politicians and thinkers were forced to grapple, and which in turn shaped the party and its evolving intellectual tradition.

The main part of the book consists of the major historical speeches and writings, which are treated in sections according to theme and period. These comprise

Part. Fox and the Whig Tradition

1. Civil Liberties.

Two speeches by Charles James Fox in parliament, from 1792 and 1794;
Parliamentary speech by R.B. Sheridan, 1810.
Parliamentary speech by Earl Grey, 1819.
Lord John Russell, An Essay on the History of the English Government and Constitution, 1821.
Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1828.

2. Opposition to the War against Revolutionary France

Speeches by Charles James Fox, from 1793, 1794 and 1800.

3. Foreign Policy and the Struggle for Freedom Abroad

Earl Grey, parliamentary speech, 1821;
Marquis of Lansdowne, parliamentary speech, 1821.
Extracts from Byron’s poems Sonnet on Chillon, 1816, Childe Harold, Canto IV, 1817, and Marino Faliero, 1821.

4. Parliamentary Reform

Lord John Russell, parliamentary speech, 1822.
Lord Melbourne, parliamentary speech, 1831.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1831.

Part II. The Benthamites and the Political Economists, 1776-1830.

1. Individualism and Laissez-faire

Two extracts from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Jeremy Bentham, A Manual of Political Economy, 1798.

2. Natural Laws and the Impossibility of Interference

T.R. Malthus, Essay on Population, 1798.
David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1819.

3. Free Trade

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations,
David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy,
Petition of the London Merchants, 1820.

4. Colonies

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.

5. Reform

Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parliamentary Reform, 1817.
David Ricardo, Observations on Parliamentary Reform, 1824.
Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code, 1830.
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography.

Part III. The Age of Cobden and Bright.

1. Free Trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Petition of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to the House of Commons, 20 December 1838.
Richard Cobden, two speeches in London, 1844.
Cobden, speech in Manchester, 1846,
Lord John Russell, Letter to the Electors of the City of London (The ‘Edinburgh Letter’) 1845.

2. Laissez-Faire

Richard Cobden, Russia, 1836.
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1846.
T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1846.
Joseph Hume, parliamentary speech, 1847.
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848.

Education

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech 1847.
John Bright, parliamentary speech 1847.

4. Religious Liberty

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833.
John Bright, two parliamentary speeches, 1851 and 1853.

5. Foreign Policy

Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1849;
Viscount Palmerston, speech at Tiverton, 1847;
Richard Cobden, parliamentary speech, 1850; speech at Birmingham, 1858; speech in Glasgow, 1858;
John Bright, letter to Absalom Watkins, 1854;
W.E. Gladstone, parliamentary speech, 1857;

6. India and Ireland

T.B. Macaulay, parliamentary speech, 1833;
John Bright, four speeches in parliament, 1848, 1849,1858, 1859;
Richard Cobden, speech at Rochdale, 1863.

Part IV. The Age of Gladstone

1. The Philosophy of Liberty

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859;
John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861;
Lord Acton, A Review of Goldwin smith’s ‘Irish History’, 1862;
Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877.
Lord Acton, A Review of Sir Erskine May’s ‘Democracy in Europe’, 1878.
Lord Acton, letter to Bishop Creighton, 1887.
Lord Acton, letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881;
John Morley, On Compromise, 1874.

2. Parliamentary Reform

Richard Cobden, two speeches at Rochdale, 1859 and 1863;
John Bright, speech at Rochdale, 1863; speech at Birmingham, 1865; speech at Glasgow, 1866; speech at London, 1866;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Chester, 1865; speech at Manchester, 1865; parliamentary speech, 1866;

3. Foreign Policy

W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1877 and 1878; speech at Dalkeith, 1879; speech at Penicuik, 1880, speech at Loanhead, 1880; article in The Nineteenth Century, 1878.

4. Ireland

John Bright, speech at Dublin, 1866 and parliamentary speech, 1868.
W.E. Gladstone, two parliamentary speeches, 1886 and 1888.

Part V. The New Liberalism

1. The Philosophy of State Interference

T.H. Green, Liberal Legislation or Freedom of Contract, 1881;
Herbert Spencer, The Coming Slavery, 1884;
D.G. Ritchie, The Principles of State Interference, 1891;
J.A. Hobson, The Crisis of Liberalism, 1909;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;

2. The Extension of Democracy

Herbert Samuel, Liberalism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Plymouth, 1907;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Newcastle, 1909;
H.H. Asquith, speech at the Albert Hall, 1909.
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

3. Social Reform

Joseph Chamberlain, speech at Hull, 1885, and Warrington, 1885;
W.E. Gladstone, speech at Saltney, 1889;
Lord Rosebery, speech at Chesterfield, 1901;
Winston S. Churchill, speech at Glasgow, 1906;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Swansea, 1908;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 8th July 1912;

4. The Government and the National Economy

H.H. Asquith, speech at Cinderford, 1903;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Bolton, 1903;
D. Lloyd George, speech at Bedford, 1913, and speech at Middlesbrough, 1913;
L.T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, 1911.

5. Imperialism and the Boer War

Sir William Harcourt, speech in West Monmouthshire, 1899;
J.L. Hammond, ‘Colonial and Foreign Policy’ in Liberalism and the Empire, 1900;
J.A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902;
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at Stirling, 1901.

6. Armaments

Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, speech at London, 1905;
William Byles, parliamentary speech, 1907;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches from 1909 and 1911;
Sir J. Brunner, speech at the 35th Annual Meeting of the National Liberal Federation, 1913.

7. Foreign Policy

House of Commons debate 22nd July 1909, featuring J.M. Robertson and Arthur Ponsonby;
Sir E. Grey, two parliamentary speeches, 1911 and 1914;
House of Commons debate, 14th December 1911, featuring Josiah Wedgwood and J.G. Swift MacNeill;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 1 August 1914;

Part VI. Liberalism after 1918

1. The End of Laissez-faire

J.M. Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire, 1926;
Britain’s Industrial Future, the Report of the Liberal Industrial Inquiry, 1928;
J.M. Keynes and H.D. Henderson, Can Lloyd George Do It? 1929,
Sir William Beveridge, Full Employment in a Free Society, 1944.

2. The League and the Peace

Viscount Grey of Fallodon, The League of Nations, 1918;
Gilbert Murray, The League of Nations and the Democratic Idea, 1918;
Manchester Guardian, leading article, 24th June 1919;
J.M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919;
D. Lloyd George, speech at London, 1927;
Philip Kerr, The Outlawry of War, paper read to the R.I.I.A., 13 November 1928;
The Liberal Way, A survey of Liberal policy, published by the National Liberal Federation, 1934.

Epilogue

J.M. Keynes, Am I a Liberal? Address to the Liberal summer school at Cambridge, 1925.

In their conclusion, Bullock and Shock state that Liberal ideology is incoherent – a jumble – unless seen as an historical development, and that the Liberal party itself lasted only about seventy years from the time Gladstone joined Palmerstone’s government in 1859 to 1931, after which it was represented only by a handful of members in parliament. The Liberal tradition, by contrast, has been taken over by all political parties, is embodied in the Constitution, and has profoundly affected education – especially in the universities, the law, and the philosophy of government in the civil service. It has also inspired the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth. It has also profoundly affected the British character at the instinctive level, which has been given expression in the notion of ‘fair play’.

They also write about the immense importance in the Liberal tradition of freedom, and principle. They write

In the pages which follow two ideas recur again and again. The first is a belief in the value of freedom, freedom of the individual, freedom of minorities, freedom of peoples. The scope of freedom has required continual and sometimes drastic re-defining, as in the abandonment of laissez-faire or in the extension of self-government to the peoples of Asia and Africa. But each re-definition has represented a deepening and strengthening, not an attenuation, of the original faith in freedom.

The second is the belief that principle ought to count far more than power or expediency, that moral issues cannot be excluded from politics. Liberal attempts to translate moral principles into political action have rarely been successful and neglect of the factor of power is one of the most obvious criticisms of Liberal thinking about politics, especially international relations. But neglect of the factor of conscience, which is a much more likely error, is equally disastrous in the long run. The historical role of Liberalism in British history has been to prevent this, and again and again to modify policies and the exercise of power by protests in the name of conscience. (p. liv).

They finish with

We end it by pointing to the belief in freedom and the belief in conscience as the twin foundations of Liberal philosophy and the element of continuity in its historical development. Politics can never be conducted by the light of these two principles alone, but without them human society is reduced to servitude and the naked rule of force. This is the truth which the Liberal tradition has maintained from Fox to Keynes – and which still needs to be maintained in our own time. (pp. liv-lv).

It should be said that the participation of the Lib Dems was all too clearly a rejection of any enlightened concern for principle and conscience, as this was jettisoned by Clegg in order to join a highly illiberal parliament, which passed, and is still passing under its Conservative successor, Theresa May, legislation which is deliberately aimed at destroying the lives and livelihood of the very poorest in society – the working class, the disabled and the unemployed, and destroying the very foundations of British constitutional freedom in the creation of a network of universal surveillance and secret courts.

These alone are what makes the book’s contents so relevant, if only to remind us of the intense relevance of the very institutions that are under attack from today’s vile and corrupt Tory party.

BBC Wants Even More Conservative Bias

October 9, 2016

This sounds like a joke, and it shows the corporation’s utterly dismissive attitude and contempt for the British Left, and those, who have rightly accused it of Conservative bias. I found a small piece in last Friday’s I (8th October 2016) reporting that the Beeb wanted to recruit for more Conservatives to its newsroom team, in order to correct a perceived left-wing bias.

Perceived left-wing bias? By whom? No, scrub that – no need to ask that question at all. It’s obvious who’s accused it of ‘left-wing bias’ – the Conservatives, in order to make sure that theirs is the only voice that’s heard. But the reality is the complete opposite.

The Corporation has been repeatedly criticised for its right-wing bias. In a study by academics at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, it was found that the BBC was far more likely to interview and treat seriously opinions by Conservatives and businessmen over left-wingers and trade unionists. Barry and Saville Kushner, in their book Who Needs the Cuts, described how they were motivated to write it after seeing the way journalists covering the government’s austerity policies on the news time and again accepted without question the fact that it was all necessary. Those individuals and experts they had on their programmes, who dissented where either cut off or challenged. Another academic study a few years ago found that the Beeb was also biased in keeping very silent about the government’s privatisation of the NHS.

Tens of thousands of people signed an online petition against the egregious Tory bias of the Beeb’s head of news, Laura Kuenssberg. The petition was attacked and sneered at as ‘misogynist’. Kuenssberg couldn’t be biased. All these people accusing her of it just resented the fact that she was a woman in charge of news. It was all rubbish. As Mike pointed out in one of his articles, instead of the hundreds or thousands of misogynistic comments posted by the petition’s signatories, those going through it – all 33,000 odd posts – could find only one that could be reasonably said to be such. But that’s how this country’s corporate media deals with any accusations of bias.

Then, in the debate over the Scottish referendum a few years ago, there was another case of blatant censorship by the Beeb’s Nick Robinson. Robinson had asked the then leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, a question about how independence would affect the Scottish financial sector. Would it result in the major Scottish banks and financial centres moving south to London. Salmond replied, but the Beeb edited the footage to make it first seem that he had evaded the question, and then edited his reply out altogether. Robinson intoned in a voiceover that Salmond hadn’t given him an answer.

It was a flat-out lie.

The Beeb is scared of the Tories, as they keep on threatening it with privatisation, all on behalf of their sugar-daddy, Rupert Murdoch. And since the rise of Accuracy In Media, the Republican organisation devoted to detecting liberal media bias in America under Ronald Reagan, the Tories over here too have joined in accusing the BBC and anyone else, who doesn’t toe their wretched line of having a similar bias. It’s got to the point where there are even jokes about this constant, resentful complaining from Conservatives. There’s a joke that if you go into a room, in which there are 99 Republicans and 1 liberal, those 99 Republicans are all moaning about the left-wing bias in the room.

There’s also another one about how many Republicans it takes to change a light-bulb. 10 – one person to screw in the bulb, and another nine to complain about the left-wing bias of the screw.

The Beeb’s already extremely biased towards the Tories. How long before its quest to become even more biased leads to it becoming an object of ridicule? Unfortunately, this is no joke. It’s another campaign to produce even more Tory propaganda masquerading as balanced news. And it all shows how massively biased against the Left the Beeb already is, and it’s craven prostration before the demands of the Tories.

Vox Political on Jess Phillips Offer of Drinks to Anti-Corbynites

July 21, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a story reporting Jess Phillips offer on Twitter to buy people a drink if they vote against Corbyn. This is illegal under British electoral law, which states that you cannot offer someone food, drink or entertainment to influence how they vote. Mike states that he’s aware some people will say it’s just a joke, but it won’t be, if she goes ahead with her promise. And so it’s best to nip this in the bud now.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/21/anti-corbyn-labour-mp-offers-to-commit-electoral-offence-in-return-for-a-vote-against-him/

I think she’s probably joking, but it is an offence, and similar gestures have brought down Labour politicians before. In an election in Glasgow, one of the Labour party candidates was a Muslim. When his opponent withdrew, the remaining candidate went round to his former rival to thank him for his action by giving him a sum of money. This is expressly against British anti-corruption rules, and the winning candidate was duly punished. The man probably didn’t believe he was acting corruptly, as this is a common practice in at least some Muslim cultures. Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP, who was sent down for fiddling his expenses, complained about the gentleman’s punishment, saying that he was being punished for being a Muslim. He wasn’t. He was being punished for contravening British electoral law. And Phillips should be similarly reprimanded here.

Chunky Mark: Stop Trident

July 19, 2016

This is yet another rant from the Chunky, Taxi Driving Artist. It’s his considered thoughts on yesterday’s vote about Trident. I should have put it up then, but I’m just getting over a cold, and frankly, was just too drained of energy to do very much. So here it is today, one day late. My apologies.

He begins by quoting Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, who said that today Britain could join the multitude of other countries in rejecting Trident in favour of peace, or could spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a missile system that could never be used. He describes Trident as ‘a cold war relic’, and states that it sends a message to the world that security is only possible through the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. MPs, he argues, should be making a stand against Trident, especially in view of austerity, and the destruction of our welfare infrastructure and communities. He notes that Jeremy Corbyn has said he’d vote against Trident, and in favour of unilateralism. He asks how it is that Britain can sign up to the non-proliferation agreements, and yet support Trident. This is, he says, an opportunity to show leadership in the world. He states that the Chicken Coup – Owen Smith, Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn, Chuka Ummunna and Liz Kendall will all be voting for Trident. It’s why the media, the Tories and New Labour are all out to get Jeremy Corbyn. But it’s not about him. It’s about his political ideology – anti-war, anti-Trident, anti-Armageddon. He notes that the guid folk of Scotland oppose Trident. 57 out of 59 Scottish Nationalist MSPs are against it. The Scots are against it because of the way nuclear vehicles were passing through Glasgow on their way to the base at Faslane at night. And Trident’s sheer cost is unjustifiable. He also goes off on a rant about our supposedly highly educated MPs voting in parliament today, and apparently seeing nothing wrong in giving the nuclear codes to Donald Trump, as required by law if that maniac wins the US election. He talks about the absolute destruction wreaked on both sides if nuclear missiles are used, and says that this is supposed to be a deterrent. It’s only a deterrent, because it hasn’t happened yet. But if it does happen, we won’t be around to know the argument was lost, as it only needs to happen once. He states that the movement against Trident is a real movement for change, and a progressive alliance between peoples, who believe that another world is possible.

There’s a lot that can be said about this piece, and again, the Chunky One is right. Trident’s cost in an age of austerity is unsupportable. It will be born, not by the rich, who are having their taxes cut, but by ordinary people, and especially the very poorest at the sharp end of the benefit cuts. Lobster has published a number of pieces of the years, one of which I blogged about, on the way the arms industry and Cold War is a massive scam to channel funds into the weapons manufacturers as a way of covert government spending to boost the economy. I say covert, because the government’s real intention is to boost the general economy. America is anti-Keynsian in it’s economics, and so this can’t be done through direct spending on infrastructure or welfare, as in other nations, but through Cold War expenditure on an already bloated armaments industry. One of the characters, Ostrander, accurately summed up the situation in an episode of the X-Files twenty years ago: ‘The business of America, Mr Mulder, isn’t business; it’s war.’

These missiles aren’t going to keep us safe, and by their presence are encouraging more countries to acquire nuclear weapons themselves. This is also partly because of the different fates of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea. Hussein didn’t have nuclear weapons, despite all the allegations and ‘dodgy dossier’. He was invaded and overthrown. North Korea does, and hasn’t.

Way back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher ran a series of simulations to see what would happen if the country suffered a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. The simulations showed that the country would be destroyed, especially its major cities. Thatcher didn’t want to hear that. She wanted the British public to be reassured that Blighty would still remain safe and sound, and so started interfering with the simulations to get the results she wanted. Eventually they were abandoned, as the amount of distortion they suffered in order to give the results Maggie wanted to sell increased nuclear spending to the British public made them useless.

And there have already been three times, when the world teetered on the edge of thermonuclear Armageddon. That’s three time too many. We need desperately to get rid of Trident, and take the first step in encouraging other nations to do the same. We need to stop this new arms race, before it’s too late.

The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

July 16, 2016

Body Economic Pic

By David Stuckler, MPH, PhD, and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD (New York: Basic Books 2013)

This is another book I picked up in the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street the other day. Written by two American health researchers, it examines the way economic recessions and austerity affect people’s health from the Great Recession of the 1930s, the Fall of Communism, Greece and Iceland, and today’s recession, which began with the banking collapse in 2008. The authors are medical researchers, whose own experience of poverty and ill health has led them to examine its effect on entire societies. They conclude that while recessions often lead to high – frequently devastatingly high outbreaks of disease and mortality, what is really crucial is the state’s handling of them. In countries which have a strong welfare state, and are determined to invest into getting their citizens back into work, such as Denmark in the 1990s, public health may actually improve. And as public health improves, the economy begins to pick up. In countries where the opposite is true – where the state just cuts, and is intent on dismantling the welfare infrastructure, like Greece and Cameron’s (and May’s) Britain, the result is higher disease and mortality.

As well as giving the impersonal stats, they also illustrate the damaging effects of austerity on public health through personal case studies. These include ‘Olivia’, a little girl, who suffered terrible burns when her unemployed father tried to burn their house down in a drunken rage, and an elderly Greek man, Dimitris Christoulas. Unable to see any way out of his poverty, he publicly shot himself outside the Greek parliament building.

One of the victims of austerity mentioned in the very first pages of the book is Brian McArdle, a severely disabled man, who was nevertheless declared ‘fit for work by ATOS. Basu and Stuckler write

‘”I will never forgive them,” wrote thirteen-year-old Kieran McArdle to the Daily Record, a national newspaper based in Glasgow. “I won’t be able to come to terms with my dad’s death until I get justice for him.”

Kieran’s father, fifty-seven-year-old Brian, had worked as a security guard in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. The day after Christmas 2011, Brian had a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side, blind in one eye, and unable to speak. He could no longer continue working to support his family, so he signed up for disability income from the British government.

That government, in the hands of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron since the 2010 elections, would prove no friend to the McArdles. Cameron claimed that hundreds of thousands of Britons were cheating the government’s disability system. The Department for Work and Pensions begged to differ. It estimated that less than 1 percent of disability benefit funds went to people who were not genuinely disabled.

Still, Cameron proceeded to cut billions of pounds from welfare benefits including support for the disabled. To try to meet Cameron’s targets, the Department for Work and Pensions hired Atos, a private French “systems integration” firm. Atos billed the government £400 million to carry out medical evaluations of people receiving disability benefits.

Kieran’s father was scheduled for an appointment to complete Atos’ battery of “fitness for work” tests. He was nervous. Since his stroke, he had trouble walking, and was worried about how his motorized wheelchair would get up the stairs to his appointment, as he had learned that about a quarter of Atos’s disability evaluations took place in buildings that were not wheelchair accessible. “Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go,” said Kieran. “He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man.”

Brian did manage to reach Atos’s evaluation site, and after the evaluation, made his way home. A few weeks later, his family received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions. The family’s Employment and Support Allowance benefits were being stopped. Atos had found Brian “fit for work”. The next day he collapsed and died.

It was hard for us, as public health researchers, to understand the government’s position. The Department for Work and Pensions, after all, considered cheating a relative minor issue. The total sum of disability fraud for “conditions of entitlement” was £2 million, far less than the contract to hire Atos, and the department estimated that greater harm resulted from the accidental underpayment of £70 million each year. But the government’s fiscal ideology had created the impetus for radical cuts. (Pp. 3-4).

I don’t know whether Mr McArdle was one of those, whose deaths has been commemorated by Stilloaks on his blog, or whether his case was one of those which Cameron and aIDS laughed at when they were read out in parliament. But is notable that such cases are coming to the attention of health researchers and medical doctors, and are a cause of serious academic and medical concern.

Stilloaks, Mike, DPAC, the Angry Yorkshireman and very many other disability activists have covered individual cases, and the way the ‘fitness for work’ tests have been fiddled by Atos and now their successors, Maximus, in order to provide the pretext for throwing the vulnerable off benefits. Mike’s called it ‘Chequebook Genocide’. Jeff3, one of the great long-term commenters on this blog, refers to it as the Tories’ Aktion T4 – the Nazi’s extermination of the disabled during the Third Reich. There have been about 490 cases in which people have died of starvation, neglect and despair thanks to be thrown off welfare. And according to mental health profession, about 290,000 or so people have seen their mental health deteriorate – sometimes very severely – due to the stress of these tests.

Books like this show how counterproductive such austerity policies are, as well as their purely destructive effects on human life. But this will not be heeded by the Tories, nor by the baying, right-wing rabble who blindly follow them. They want to grind the poor even further into the dirt, to create an impoverished, desperate working class willing to take on any kind of work, no matter how low-paid, not-paid – think of all the unpaid ‘internships’ – and degrading. All so they cut taxes and give more power to the rich, the bankers, big business and particularly the hedge funds and vulture capitalists.

And so the many are killed, all for the privileged few represented by Theresa May.

Private Eye from 2012 on the Failure and Misgovernment at the DWP

March 13, 2016

In their edition for 1st – 14th June 2012, Private Eye devoted nearly a page to the disgusting actions, policies and general misgovernment in aIDS’ DWP. Here it is.

Not Working: A DWP Special

Freudian Slip
How serious does the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) treat cases of alleged fraud in its multi-million-pound employment programmes, under which private companies are meant to help benefit claimants find work?

Last week pressure from ministers led Tory MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) to oblige their colleagues to listen in secret to whistleblowers describing potential fraud by welfare-to-work firms like Working Links and A4E.

This was just the DWP’s latest attempt to hide its dirty washing: it has been shifty about possible cheating by the “benefit-busting” firms for years. Take, for example, the mysterious “annual report” on employment programmes which was promised to MPs before disappearing from sight.

In 2010, MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee said that reports of the “Risk Assurance Division”, which investigates allegations of fraud by workfare companies, “must be published where wrongdoing is found”.

While the DWP argued that publishing the reports would be unfair on contractors, its “delivery director” Alan Cave instead promised some “regular reporting of trends and lessons learned” in an annual report.

This March, when the Eye asked to the report, the DWP press office responded with contradictory answers. The report was published, it said, and a copy would be sent. Then it announced that the report was about to be published. Finally it stopped returning the Eye’s calls altogether.

Unable to get any sense from the press office, the Eye made a freedom of information request. The DWP pointed to a March admission to MPs by Mr Cave that the report had not been delivered. Cave said because of the new government and new Work Programme, it “seemed sensible to put a pause on that while we got the new system up and running before returning to that.”

Really? The Eye made another freedom of information request to see any papers relating to the report-but the DWP says there are none. In other words, all the work in providing MPs and the public with information on workfare fraud apparently hasn’t generated a single email, minute, letter or note.

In fact, the entire proposed annual report appears to be a fob-off, as it seems the DWP didn’t put any work into it anyway.

Missing Links
The evidence of Eddie Hutchinson, former head of internal audit at “benefit-busting” firm Working Links, confirms what the
Eye has been saying repeatedly: there is something seriously wrong with this company, which gets more than £100m a year from taxpayers (via the DWP) to help the unemployed.

Hutchinson told the Commons public accounts committee that fraud was “extensive” and “systemic” at Working Links, explaining: “All these frauds involved the falsification of job outcome evidence to illegally claim monies from the DWP, together with the false claiming of bonus payments by staff through the company’s incentive bonus system”.

In 2006, DWP research showed the firm failed to meet targets on benefit-busting schemes, whereas JobCentre staff did twice as well. The government responded by taking JobCentre staff of the job and handing more schemes to Working Links. In 2009 Ofsted found that Working Links was failing to meet targets – so the government stopped Ofsted inspecting benefit-busting programmes!

In 2011 the Eye saw a leaked report showing the DWP had caught Working Links claiming money for people it had not helped into work in Liverpool. Hutchinson’s evidence suggests that DWP clawed back cash for similar fiddles in South Wales (2007), Glasgow (2007 and 2008), Hackney (2008) and other areas. However, while the DWP asked for the money back, it does not appeared to have punished the firm.

* it may be generating bad headlines for its sloppy internal financial controls, but A4E still knows how to find work for people – if they happen to chums with the chancellor anyway.

A4E recently hired lobbyist George Bridges and his firm Quiller Consultants to help with its crisis management. Bridges, a personal friend of George Osborne, became head of Conservative Campaigns in 2006 and helped Osborne run the Tories’ election campaign in 2010.

Quiller Consultants itself is owned by Tory peer Lord Chadlington, who also happens to be Cameron’s constituency party chairman in Witney. His links with the prime minister caused embarrassment last year when it emerged that the lobbyist lord had sold Dave a strip of land used as a driveway and garage at the PMN’s Witney home. Chadlington bought the land and sold it to the prime minister, raising questions about lobbyists’ access to Cameron.

Downing Street meanwhile is considering hiring another Quiller Consultant, Stephen Parkinson, to pep up Number 10’s spin operation. Parkinson was also previously a Conservative Central Office apparatchik, underlining the close links between a4e’s new friend and the government.

Factory Fibs
Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith refused to apologise for declaring that disabled people in Remploy’s supported factories were “not doing any work at all… just making cups of coffee”.

Perhaps he was bolstered by Remploy chairman Ian Russell’s own foreword to the recently published 2011 accounts claiming that workers “have little or no work on most days of the week”. The comments help the case for closing 36 of the remaining 54 Remploy factories, despite union figures showing that 85 per cent of disabled workers made redundant in the last round of Remploy cuts remain unemployed.

One problem – a recent congratulatory internal letter from Remploy Enterprise Businesses (EB) managing director Alan Hill paints a different picture of life in the factories. “I am delighted to say the overall performance of EB has been outstanding,” writes Hill, reporting that sales have grown 12.2 per cent in the last financial year, reaching £117m.

Indeed, after cutting costs as well, the Remploy factories’ overall operating result had improved by a whopping 27.9 per cent, according to Hill. A KMPG analysis produced in Mary found that some of the Remploy businesses – such as making car parts and monitoring CCTV – were viable and even profitable, while others could also be made sustainable.

NEST beg

Misleading advertising is nothing new when it comes to financial product mis-selling, but few would expect the government to exploit a loophole to produce its own dodgy sale pitch.

The DWP has been busy pushing “workplace pensions”, using adverts that feature toy people building a rising wall. “A simple step to a better future” is the unequivocal message.

The principle “workplace pension” being promoted is the government’s default scheme into which employees will soon be automatically enrolled, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). But tis is a stock-market based scheme in which there will be a large number of losers after fees, the loss of other means-related benefits and the fact that stock markets can go down as well as up. Go in at the wrong time and you’re effectively screwed.

The standard disclaimer to this effect is, however, missing from the government’s adverts because, the DWP tells an Eye reader, its lawyers agreed that the adverts’ purpose “is to promote the general concept of saving through workplace pensions, rather than saving through a specific product”. Never mind that almost all such schemes, including the reassuringly branded NEST, are now stock market-based.

The government is effectively saying that volatile investments will be a good bet for a safe pension, risk-free. The next big mis-selling scandal, in other words.

This catalogue of incompetence, lies, fraud and failure also puts the lie to another claim by the Right: that Socialism somehow punishes excellence. By redistributing wealth and putting checks on the rapacity of senior management, the argument goes, Socialism and the welfare state somehow punishes the superior skill and talents of private entrepreneurs. This shows the opposite: that it actively rewards failure and punishes excellence. How else can you explain the determination to stop JobCentres finding work for the unemployed and hand it over to fraudsters like Working Links, or close profitable and potentially profitable Remploy factories? Or promoting potentially underperforming ‘workplace pensions?’ This is all about supporting failing private industry, the Tories’ paymasters, and punishing excellence in the state sector. This even goes as far as the personnel selected to run the Department. Ian Duncan Smith stands out as a man of precious little talent, but somehow this massive failure of a man has been awarded an entire department to run, and run into the ground.