Posts Tagged ‘Insurance Companies’

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

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Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Counterpunch on the Dangers of the Driverless Car

July 1, 2017

Ralph Nader in an article posted on Tuesday’s Counterpunch took to task the current hype about driverless cars following a day long conference on them at Washington University’s law school.

Driverless cars are being promoted because sales are cars are expected to flatten out due to car-sharing, or even fall as the younger generation are less inclined to buy them. Rather than actually investing in public transport, the car industry is promoting driverless automobiles as a way of stimulating sales again.

Nader is rightly sceptical about how well such vehicles will perform in the real world. There are 250 million motor vehicles in the US. This means that real driving conditions are way more complicated than the simple routes on which these vehicles are developed and tested. And while the car industry claims that they will be safer than human-driven vehicles, the reality is most people won’t want a car that they can’t control, whose guiding computer can malfunction or which could be hacked into, whether by the manufacturers or others. Along with such vehicles come increased pressure from the manufacturers for less protective regulation for their drivers, passengers and the general American public.

As for developing a driverless car, which can be taken over by its human occupant in an emergency, researchers at MIT have already shown that this won’t work. Instead of producing driverless cars, we’d be better of concentrating on creating vehicles that are safer, more efficient and less harmful to the environment.

He concludes

The driverless car is bursting forth without a legal, ethical and priorities framework. Already asking for public subsidies, companies can drain much-needed funds for available mass transit services and the industry’s own vehicle safety upgrades in favor of a technological will-o’-the-wisp.

He also links to a report by Harvey Rosenfeld into the dangers posed by driverless cars. It’s quite long – 36 pages. This makes it very clear, however, that driverless cars are disastrous. They’re literally a car crash waiting to happen. The report also claims that much of promotion of such vehicles comes from the insurance. Although driverless cars are likely to be much less safe than ordinary cars, the claims that they will be less liable to accidents will allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums for those driving ordinary vehicles.

Driverless cars have been under development since the 1980s, but I can’t see them becoming a viable reality any time soon. Last year the industry proudly announced two types of driverless car, one of which was called the Tesla, after the great Serbian physicist and inventor of Alternative Current. These were withdrawn after accidents in which people were killed.

I have to say, I don’t know anybody who wants one. The various pieces I’ve read about them say that for their owners, using them will actually be quite boring. This is despite the claims that people will be able to read, work or relax instead of driving. But you can do all of that anyway by simply travelling by bus, rail or tube.

Then there’s the threat of unemployment. Two-thirds of all jobs are expected to be lost to automation in the next decade. There are about 40,000 truckers in Britain. That’s 40,000 people, who may lose their jobs if driverless lorries are every produced. And they have been trying to develop them. I can remember Clarkson nearly bursting with excitement while riding in one during an episode of Top Gear a few years ago.

My guess is that the reasons behind their development is far more sinister, and almost certainly connected to the military. For years the military has been trying to develop autonomous, robotic weaponry. I’ve blogged about some of the war robots that have been created and which were featured a few years ago in the popular science magazine, Frontiers. These included various types of jeep, which had been altered so that they carried guns. Such machines have been under development for a very long time. Kevin Warwick, a robotics scientist at Reading University, describes how the US army created a robotic jeep equipped with a machine gun way back in the 1950s. This looks like another step along the way to producing the type of autonomous war robots, which Warwick and some other robotics scientists fear may pose a very real threat to the human race as they become more advanced and their intelligence greater. We are creating war machines very close to the Daleks of Dr. Who or The Terminator franchise.

It also seems to me that the navigation software and computer hardware needed for driverless cars will also find a major general applications in other types of robot. Despite claims by some neuroscientists that the human brain is a load of inefficient ‘kluge’ created by blind evolutionary forces that select for survival, rather than particular skill, cyberneticists have found it very difficult in practice to replicate the way living things, from insects all the way up to humans, actually navigate their way around the world.

Think about the way robots have to work their way around objects. They have to estimate exactly how far away the obstacle is, then work out a path around it, all done using maths. A human, meanwhile, rather than estimating how many steps it takes to the object, and then planning a path of some many steps, precisely laid out, are needed to walk around it, simply does it.

An example of how difficult robots actually find such navigation in practise was given by Warwick when he appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Science over a decade ago. There’s been a kind of robot Olympics held in Reading. The various competing teams had tried to produce robots that could navigate their own way around the town. Warwick’s team had created a robot with an infrared detector, which would simply follow the light source planted on the back of the human running in front of it. Which to me sounds very much like cheating.

All went swimmingly, until suddenly the robot veered off the road and started shooting off somewhere else entirely, before it collided with something, fell over and stopped. Warwick and his team wondered what happened until it finally occurred to them that the robot had fixed on that big, infrared light source in the sky, the Sun, and ran off trying to pursue that.

This was a decade or so ago. I’ve no doubt that things have improved since, but I doubt that they’ve improved quite so much that driverless cars, or completely autonomous robots, are going to be appearing in the next few years.

And until they do, I shall be very suspicious of the hype.

Cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith as ‘Leatherface’ Serial Killer

June 22, 2017

This week I’ve been putting up cartoons I drew a few years ago, expressing my absolute hatred of the Tory party, the right-wing press and their vile policies. This one is of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the Tory party before David Cameron, and subsequently the head of the DWP under the Coalition between the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers, headed by Nick Clegg.

It was Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP that massively expanded the sanctions system already brought in by Tony Blair, for the benefit of New Labour’s corporate donors, such as the American private health insurance company and insurance fraudster, Unum. The result has been tens of thousands of people thrown off benefit for the most trivial of reasons, many of whom have died in misery and despair as a result.

Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Vox Political, DPAC and many other bloggers have carried articles and lists of the victims, putting the names and brief biographies of these tragic souls. They have also formed the basis for pieces by socially engaged – and outraged – artists. A few years ago Johnny Void showed one of these on his blog, an image made out the faces of some of those, who have been killed in this way.

So far the list of disabled people, as compiled by the above bloggers and organisations, is somewhere upwards of 500-600 +.

And the true figure is worse. Much worse. Mike and several other disability rights bloggers, and the Independent newspaper, tried to get the numbers of people, who have died after being thrown off their benefits, from IDS’ Department of Work and Pensions. The department did everything it could not to answer Mike’s and the others’ request. They were turned down on the specious grounds that the request was ‘vexatious’. When the Information Commissioner finally upheld their request, the DWP withheld the information until the very last day it could, and then launched an appeal. Eventually Mike and his colleagues won. But the DWP deliberately misinterpreted the request, so that they released a slightly different set of figures than Mike was asking for.

But those figures were still shocking. With in the period for the figures Mike requested, 13,000-14,000 people had died, if I remember correctly.

And researchers at Oxford University have reported that in 2015, austerity killed 30,000 people.

Mike and other bloggers are calling this what it is: murder. It is, as Jeffrey Davies and others describe it, the genocide of the disabled, although it also includes just the ordinary unemployed poor.

So I drew the following cartoon.

It’s of Iain Duncan Smith as a serial killer, wearing a mask made of the skin of one of his victims, like the villain ‘Leatherface’ in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Behind him is a skull, representing death. Behind him on the left is my attempt to copy the mummified remains of one of the bog bodies found in Denmark as another symbol of death.

I am not saying that Iain Duncan Smith is personally a murderer. I’m sure that he hasn’t personally killed anyone. But his department and the party he headed and serves, has. So as far as I’m concerned, he deserves to be portrayed as such.

IDS left office a few years ago, moaning about how people were blaming him for policies which Labour started. Well, New Labour did, but that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, as he didn’t have to continue them. And neither does Theresa May now. But the sanctions, and the deaths, are continuing. Only yesterday Mike put up a piece about a single mother of nine, Jodie Whiting, who committed suicide after being sanctioned for missing an appointment.

The time is long past when all this was stopped.
No more sanctions. No more deaths. And benefits and wages paid at a level people can actually live on.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to end this vicious sanctions system in the DWP. We need new elections, to vote May out, and him in.

Tories Plan to Rob Elderly of their Homes as Plan to Enrich Insurance Companies

May 20, 2017

Gerald Scarfe’s personification of Thatcherite greed. Still going strong under ‘Red Tory’ May.

One of the policies ‘strong and stable’, ‘Red’ Tory May has put forward in her manifesto is that house prices are to be included in calculating the cost of social care for the elderly. Which means that even more people face the prospect of losing their homes in order pay for the care they will need as they grow older. I know people, who are already worried about this. And people are already worried that Tory policies will make them homeless. Mike reports in one of his posts on this matter, how one caller to Nick Ferrari’s show on LBC was desperately afraid that she’d lose her home when her mother died.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/at-last-britons-are-uniting-against-theresa-may/

Yesterday Mike put up a piece, based on a social media post by Trish Campbell, which suggested that May had introduced this policy to give more work, and more money, to the insurance companies. She stated that she had read a piece on the Net, by someone, who had been told by a City worker that the Tories had approached the insurance industry months ago with the opportunity of selling more insurance policies. The elderly wouldn’t have to sell their homes to pay for their care, if they took out an insurance policy for it.

Mike has posted the original text and graphic on his blog, as well as transcript provided by one of his commenters if you can’t read it. It runs

“The Conservatives will attempt to soften the blow by promising that pensioners will not have to sell their homes to pay for their care costs while they or a surviving partner are alive. Instead, ‘products will be available’ allowing the elderly to pay by extracting equity from their homes, which will be recovered at a later date when they die or sell their residence.

“I have just seen this post online:

“‘People need to read the small print associated with this because its a lot nastier than it looks.

“I work in the City. The insurance industry was approached by the Government several months ago with the aim of creating a new market for a new product.

“This arrangement is a culmination of those discussions. You wont have to sell your house PROVIDED that you purchase an insurance product to cover your social care. The “premiums” would be recovered from the equity after the house has been sold and the Insurance company will have a lien on the house and can force a sale if it wants to. So your offspring cant keep it on the market for long in order to get the best price.

“The real kicker in this is that in order to encourage the industry to market these products the government guaranteed that there would be no cap on the premiums.

“This was in some ways “atonement” for Osborne’s destruction of the highly lucrative annuities market. This means that the premiums could be up to (and including) the entire remaining equity in the property after the government has taken its cut. Companies will be falling over themselves to get their snouts in this trough.

“In short your offspring and relatives could get absolutely nothing from your estate.

“If you buy one of these products you need to read the small print very very carefully indeed because there will be some real dogs on the market.

“I suspect that this is another financial scandal waiting to happen, but by the time it does May will be long gone.’”

Mike concludes his piece by wonder if Unum had something to do with it.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/now-it-makes-sense-dementia-tax-is-an-insurance-scam/

Well, this doesn’t seem at all unlikely. The work capability tests, that have seen tens of thousands thrown off benefit, and hundreds of severely sick and disabled people die in misery and starvation – see Stilloak’s blog and the site, Atos Miracles – were introduced at the behest of American fraudster Unum, and its chief, John Lo Cascio. And other insurance companies have also been very strongly involved in the privatisation of the NHS.

And I can remember the Financial Times reporting, way back in the 1990s, a scheme by the Tories and the insurance companies to launch special insurance schemes at workers to cover them if they were made redundant.

This is how the Tories and their backers in big business and the financial sector see poverty – not as something that should be removed, but as an excellent business opportunity. And so they are doing their best to cause more anxiety, to make people’s financial situation even more precarious, in order to make their friends and paymasters in the City even richer.

Till, like the figure above, they puke money.

Don’t let them do this. Don’t let them rob you of your house, to pay for your elderly relatives care – care that they’ve worked for and paid for through their national insurance contributions and tax.

Vote Labour on June 8.

Vox Political: Snoopers’ Charter Allows State to Lie When Evidence Gather through Spying

December 7, 2016

I’ve also written several pieces over the past few days talking about the slow death of democracy and freedom in America. Obama has taken over and made permanent all the infringements on Americans’ constitutional freedoms set up by George Dubya Bush, the Democrats and corporate media have taken to smearing leading left-wing journos and website as disseminators of Russian propaganda, and a Conservative student group is compiling a black list of left-wing college professors.

But civil liberties and the rule of law are also under attack here as well. Tony Blair also tried to set up secret courts in Britain when he was prime minister. David Cameron and Nick Clegg also passed legislation establishing them, and expanding the powers of the British surveillance state. Theresa May is determined to do the same with her Investigatory Powers Bill.

Mike today has put up a piece commenting on the way the May’s ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ demands that the prosecution lie in court to avoid revealing that the evidence has been gathered through spying. Section 56 of her wretched Act makes it an offence not only to reveal that the evidence was obtained by lying, but also that spying is, was and/or will be going on. This includes a clause meaning that the legislation also acts retrospectively. In other words, you can be charged and convicted of doing this before this pernicious piece of legislation was ever passed.

This means that the state can lie to secure a conviction. And there seems to be little way to defend against it. Mike has suggested that there is a possible way out, if the defence can show that the evidence could not have obtained it in the normal ways, but crucially does not state that it was obtained through spying. But Mike states that this is no more than a suggestion, and asks his readers for their opinions.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/07/if-the-snoopers-charter-allows-the-state-to-lie-in-court-how-can-the-innocent-foil-it/

The whole issue of secret courts is profoundly anti-democratic and a real and present danger to civil liberties. Under the legislation introduced by the Conservatives and their Lib-Dem enablers, Cameron and Clegg, a court case may be held in secret if a public trial is believed to constitute a threat to national security. The accused may not see the evidence against them, nor the identity of their accuser, again, all to safeguard ‘national security’. Now you may not even be told that you have been spied on.

I’ve pointed out before that this is exactly like the judicial system set up by the totalitarian states of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and also Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Iraqi legal system contained a series of secret clauses, whose disclosure to the public was a crime. Thus someone under Saddam’s regime could be charged with a series of offences he was not aware he had committed, and could not legally be made aware.

Franz Kafka, the great Czech writer, described all this in his novels The Trial and The Castle. These are about people hauled through convoluted court proceedings, tried and executed, without being told what crime they have committed or indeed anything much about the supposed offence. These are praised by the connoisseurs of great literature and historians, because they prophesy the gross miscarriages of justice at the heart of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. I think Kafka was probably less serious about his novels’ intentions. If I remember correctly, he had been a clerk for an insurance company, handling sickness claims, and his books are satires on convoluted bureaucracy. I think he even described them as long jokes. But dry, and ironic in style of the Middle European sense of humour.

But there is nothing remotely funny or joking about this piece of legislation. This is the corporate establishment using brutally authoritarian methods to hang on to its power and suppress dissent. All the while telling us that it’s all for our own good, because of the threat of Islamist terrorism. After politicians like Theresa May, Cameron and Clegg have finished, I shall be surprised if we have any freedom left for ISIS or al-Qaeda to destroy.

Jimmy Dore: Free Trade Deals Are Designed to Hurt Working People

November 6, 2016

This is another piece from the American comedian Jimmy Dore, commenting and explaining a piece by Dean Baker of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. The article, ‘Inequality as Policy: Selective Trade Protectionism Favors High Earners’, critically examines the way free trade deals are designed to protect high earners’ jobs, while making those of the workers more insecure. Baker comments that while offshoring has harmed working class jobs in America, white collar jobs and intellectual property have been ‘robustly protected’. Baker states that while globalisation and the introduction of greater mechanisation are cited as the main causes of increased inequality over the past few decades, they’re viewed as the natural products of the way the economy operates, rather than as the results of deliberate policies.

Dore criticises the rightwing attitude towards the free market, which claims that this is a natural mechanism. He instead argues that markets are invented by rich people, and deliberately given a set of rules by the rich to protect themselves. You can have a policy that favours workers, and decreases inequality, just as you can have a policy that favours the wealthy and increases inequality. Baker explicitly states that the course of globalisation and the rewards of technological innovation are the results of policy. The greater inequality they have created is the result of conscious choices determining policy. Dore states that ‘you don’t have to sell out your own people’ as under the TPP to send job to poor people, who are in a worse position that American workers. Dore quotes Baker on the fact that Free Trade deals put American workers in competition with their counterparts elsewhere, who are paid much less, and whose products are then imported back into the US. In other words, American working class jobs are offshored, just as they are here in Britain through the adoption of similar policies by New Labour and the Tories. Dore considers how NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – resulted in the lifting of trade tariffs between America and Mexico, so that the big agricultural businesses went south of the border to use cheap Mexican labour, and shipped the fruit, Vegetables and other products back into the US. This only benefits the owners of industry. It hurts the workers, and it hurts the US economy, as the workers have less money to spend on the domestic economy. The result of this, which has been predicted, is to lower wages from manufacturing workers, and workers without a college education, as they are forced to crowd into the remaining areas of the economy.

Doctors’ jobs, by contrast, are protected. Foreign-trained doctors cannot practise in the US without them completing a residency programme first, and the numbers in this, as for foreign medical students, is consciously limited. Baker notes that this form of protectionism goes unchallenged despite the elimination of the barriers on trade and trade goods elsewhere in the economy. Doctors in the US thus earn $250,000 a year, twice as much as those in other wealthy countries. The cost to America is $100 billion a year in higher medical bills compared to those of other countries. Baker states that economists, including trade economists, have chosen to ignore the barriers that sustain high professional pay at enormous economic cost. Members of Dore’s crew make the point that American doctors aren’t paid more because they’re better than those elsewhere, but on the other hand, the doctors elsewhere in the developed world don’t have ‘a ton of debt’ from medical school. They also talk about the immense bureaucracy that ties up doctors through the insurance-driven American healthcare, which simply doesn’t exist under single-payer systems. The crew members talks about a doctor he knew in Chicago, who raged against the insurance companies because of the immense amount of time he had to spend with them ensuring the patient got treated.

Baker’s article also states that scientific and statistical analysis shows that economic elites and business interests have an impact on government economic policy. By contrast, average citizens and mass-based groups have little independent influence. In other words, government policy is written by the wealthy. The result of this has been to redistribute wealth to the rich over the past four decades. Other ways in which the market has been manipulated at the expense of the middle and lower classes is through macroeconomic policies that deliberately result in high unemployment. Baker recognises that tax policies designed to redistribute wealth are desirable, it should also be understood that economic policies have also been designed to increase inequality. He states that it is easier to have an economic which automatically reduces inequality, than one which produces inequality, which then has to be remedied through redistributive taxation.

Dore states that Trump is correct when he describes how American trade policy has destroyed workers’ jobs in America. However, is he is ‘100 per cent wrong’ when he wants to use the same managers and owners, who have designed these policies, somehow to produce a replacement, as these corporate industrialists have no loyalty to America, only their company. Dore’s crew states that America has suffered, as it’s become a service economy whose people can no longer afford the services, thanks to the gutting of the middle classes. And Dore himself says he gets tweets asking where he gets the information that half the country is poor – which it is. He then advises his interrogators to google the statement ‘half the country is poor’. This isn’t hidden, privileged information. It’s obvious, and deliberately designed.

All of this applies to Britain. The TPP being pushed by the Tories, and which will doubtless receive the backing of the Blairites in the Labour party, will also have the effect of offshoring more British jobs in our dwindling manufacturing and service industries. And thanks to the creeping privatisation of the NHS and the introduction of student fees by the Blairites, which were then raised by the Tories and Lib Dems, our student doctors are also saddled with massive medical fees. And our doctors and medical professionals are similarly being tied up with paperwork thanks to the deliberate introduction by New Labour of medical insurance companies, based on the system used by Kaiser Permanente in America, that also determine where and how patients are treated.

It’s disgusting, and the result of four decades of free market ideology beginning with Thatcher and Reagan, and now carried on by Obama and Shrillary in America, and the Blairites, Lib Dems, David Cameron and his successor, Theresa May, over here.

They have to be turfed out of parliament. All of them.

No, Owen Smith, You and Neil Coyle are Not the Spiritual Heirs of Clem Atlee and Nye Bevan

September 18, 2016

Mike last week ran a couple of stories, which included amongst their other details the facts that Smudger and another Blairite, Neil Coyle, now seem to be trying to convince the public that rather than being neoliberal privatisers, they are really the spiritual heirs of Clement Atlee, Nye Bevan and ’45 Labour government that set up the welfare state and the NHS.

Last Friday, 9th September 2016, Mike commented on an article from Left Foot Forward commenting on how Smudger had been booed by the Corbynistas after he yet again invoked the memory of Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS. Left Foot Forward commented that both sides were invoking this iconic statesman, but that their attempts to hark back to him were problematic because of the contradictory nature of his ideas.

Mike commented

Is it true that both sides of the current Labour debate will invoke the memory of Aneurin Bevan? I’ve only heard Owen Smith doing it – and inaccurately.

It seems more likely that Mr Smith wants reflected glory – he says he’s a fan of Mr Bevan so he must be okay as well – than to actually call on any of the late Mr Bevan’s political thought, which would be so far removed from the policies of Mr Smith’s strain of Labour that it would seem alien.

And concluded

You don’t see Mr Corbyn invoking Bevan at the drop of a pin, do you?

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/09/smith-compares-himself-to-bevan-because-he-seeks-reflected-glory-it-isnt-working/

Then Neil Coyle, one of the Blairites, started to bluster about how he was also a true, traditional member of the Labour party after he appeared in a list of 14 MPs Jeremy Corbyn’s followers wished to complain about for their abusive behaviour. Coyle insisted that he had been ‘defamed’ because the complaint was specifically against him for accusing Corbyn of being a ‘fake’. The trouble for Coyle was, he had indeed called Corbyn a fake, and been forced to apologise for it. He also accused Corbyn and his supporters of creating a victim culture, which must surely be a case of projection. This is, after all, what New Labour has been trying to do with its constant accusations of misogyny and anti-Semitism against Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

In his own defence, Coyle sputtered

“I am a Labour MP, joined Labour as soon as I could and will always be tribal Labour. I voted for a Labour manifesto commitment today based on decades of policy begun by Attlee and was in my manifesto last May. Couldn’t be more ashamed by fake Labour voting against internationalism, collectivism, security and jobs today. Time for a new leader who shares Labour values. Join now.”

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/15/neil-coyle-should-not-use-words-like-defamation-when-he-doesnt-understand-them/

Now as Mike points out in his article on Smudger and Nye Bevan, the NHS is an iconic institution with immense symbolic value, so naturally Smudger wants to identify himself with its founder. The trouble is, he and Coyle are polar opposites to what Atlee and Bevan actually stood for.

Both of them were classic old Labour. The 1945 Labour government had put in its manifesto that it was going to create the NHS, and nationalise the electricity, coal and gas industries, as well as the railways and other parts of the transport infrastructure. This was part of the socialist ideology that the workers’ should take into their hands the means of production, distribution and exchange. Bevan himself was a champagne socialist – he got on very well with the circles of elite businessmen in which he moved. But he despised the Tories as ‘vermin’, and his book, In Place of Fear, made it very clear that he felt alienated in Westminster because it was a palace created by the ruling classes to celebrate their power against working people. He was resolutely determined that the NHS should be universal, state-owned, and free at the point of service. It’s true that like some other politicians, he considered charging hospital patients a ‘hotel’ charge for taking up beds, but he dropped this idea. And the reason he left office was in disgust at the introduction of prescription charges.

This is in exact opposition to Blair and his ideological descendants in Progress, Saving Labour and Tomorrow’s Labour. Blair vastly extended the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS, quite apart from demanding the repeal of Clause 4, which committed the party to nationalisation. He and his followers, Smudger, Coyle and the like, stand for privatisation and the dismantlement of the welfare state. While Bevan wanted to remove the fear of want and destitution from millions of the working class, Blair and co have striven with the Tories to bring it back, through measures designed to ingratiate themselves with the Tory press. Such as the introduction of the Work Capability Test, which was launched after a conference in the early 2000s with the Labour party in consultation with insurance fraudsters, Unum, and which specifically assumes most disabled people claiming benefit are malingerers. And then there was the case of Rachel Reeves declaring that New Labour would be even harder on benefit claimants than the Tories. Quite apart from approving comments from New Labour apparatchiks about the wonders of workfare.

As for Coyle’s claim that he supports ‘internationalism and collectivism’, you to have to wonder when. For many on the left, who consider themselves ‘internationalists’, the term does not include imperialism and the invasion of other, poorer nations for corporate profit. But this is what Blair’s foreign policy – the invasion and occupation of Iraq consisted of, just as his successors, Cameron and May, are also imperialists. Mike states in one of his pieces that he doesn’t know how many of the 552 MPs, who voted for air strikes in Syria, were Labour; but he does know that two, who voted against it, were Corbyn and John McDonnell.

As for ‘collectivism’, it should be noted that this is not the same as ‘socialism’. Blair claimed to be a collectivist in making private enterprise work for the community as part of his vaunted Third Way. Which incidentally was the claim of the Fascists. In practice, however, this meant nothing more or less than the continuation of Thatcherism. This was shown very clearly by the way Blair invited her round to No. 10 after he won the election, and the favouritism he showed to Tory defectors.

So no, Owen Smith and Neil Coyle are not the spiritual heirs of Atlee and Bevan. Whereas the latter stood for the welfare state, socialism and improving conditions for the working class, Smith and Coyle have done the precise opposite, as have their followers. Mike also reported this week that in 2014 the Labour party conference voted down a motion to renationalise the NHS. This shows how far New Labour and its supporters have moved from Atlee’s and Bevan’s vision. They are Conservative entryists, who deserve to be treated as such, and removed from power before they do any more harm.

Vox Political on Owen Smith and the Privatisation of the NHS

July 21, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece discussing Owen Smith’s contradictory attitudes towards the NHS. Smith claims he believes in a ‘100 per cent’ publicly owned NHS, and hugely admires Nye Bevan. Except eleven years ago, when he was working as a PR man for the drug giant, Pfizer. The company had produced a report endorsing the policy of opening up the NHS to private companies. Smith declared “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.” Smith’s endorsement of creating greater private sector involvement in the NHS had been revealed by the Times, whom he accused of doing ‘a hatchet’ job, and he was challenged about his comments on Radio 4. That was when he spoke about believing in a publicly owned NHS. He has also said that he would prevent further involvement of private companies in the NHS. As for his comments in 2005, he tried to shrug them off, saying that this was when Labour was using ‘choice’ to describe hip, knee and cataract operations. He also claimed that it was a gross distortion to refer to a report commissioned by Pfizer before he worked there. Mike points out that this is immaterial. The date the report was commissioned is irrelevant, as Smith was working for Pfizer when it was published, and he date make the comments endorsing it.

Mike also makes the point that the Tories – Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and now probably Theresa May, have all made speeches stating that they believe in a nationalised health service, while doing everything they can to privatise it. And stating that he would prevent further public sector involvement is also contrary to what the masses of Labour supporters actually want, which is that privatisation should be reversed and the private sector removed from the NHS.

Mike has also put up a couple of memes pointing out the contrasts between what Smith says, and what he does. For example, he says he is against nukes, but votes for Trident. He states that he is against austerity, but doesn’t vote against austerity measures. He also can’t make up his mind on whether he supported the Iraq invasion or not.

Mike also quotes the report on this in the Guardian, which says But he conceded that Labour made a mistake while in power for the way it communicated the use of private providers in the NHS.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/21/owen-smiths-vision-for-the-nhs-is-the-same-as-the-conservative-partys/

There’s a considerable amount of deliberate falsehood and distortion in Smith’s statements, beyond what Mike has identified. Firstly, New Labour was committed to a policy of NHS extensive NHS privatisation. NHS – SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis provides extensive evidence that Blair’s Labour party wanted to privatise the NHS and introduce a system of insurance-funded healthcare similar to that in America. It was not simply a case of private companies performing a limited range of operations, such as knee and hip operations. Furthermore, New Labour, like Maggie Thatcher and the Tories before them, realised that if they made the extent of their plans to privatise the NHS public, they’d lose the election. Hence they were very keen to keep the whole process quiet. Remember – Alan Milburn stated that he wanted to keep the NHS as a logo for services delivered by private companies under an NHS ‘brand’. So Smith’s endorsement of NHS privatisation, along with the official policy of the Labour party at the time, was much more radical than he is now claiming.

Whatever Smith says now about supporting a publicly owned NHS is false. He supported its privatisation over a decade ago, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that his views have changed since, or are substantially much different from those of his Conservative opponents.

Private Eye from 2009 on Corporate Lobbying at the Tory Party Conference

March 8, 2016

Private Eye printed this piece about the corporate sponsorship of the Tory conference that year in their issue for the 4th – 17th September 2009.

Conference Countdown

David Cameron has warned lobbyists to keep their distance at the Conservatives’ forthcoming party conference in Manchester. With the keys to No. 10 within his grasp, the last thing Dave needs is another cash-for-access scandal. But corporations that want to get close to the PM-in-waiting can always go the think-tank route.

Policy Exchange is the most Cameroonian of these bodies, and its preliminary conference timetable shows how easy it is for business interests to pay for face time with shadow ministers.

Shadow energy minister Charles Hendry will be speaking about “energy security and decarbonisation” courtesy of Oil & Gas UK, the trade body for the North Sea oil firms, alongside the group’s chief executive. As the meeting is being paid for by the oil lobby, energy security will most likely trump global warming, and wind and wave power, like energy saving, will not get much of a look-in.

Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien will be discussing whether funding for long-term care should be by “individual, state or partnership”. The answer may well be by “partnership” because the meeting is being paid for by Partnership Assurance which specialises in funding elderly care through equity release and insurance schemes and so has a direct interest in less government funding for elderly care.

Fellow shadow health minister Mark Simmonds meanwhile will discuss whether “We need more public health initiatives for the worried well?” The obvious answer would be ‘No we don’t”, but as the meeting is sponsored by Alliance Boots, which would love to be involved in government health initiatives to drum up more business, the answer may well be in the affirmative.

Shadow business minister Mark Prisk is addressing a meeting called “Britain won’t be great if we don’t make anything anymore”, paid for by the arms firm BAE Systems. He will speak alongside BAE’s spin doctor, Bob Keen. BAE’s contribution to Britain’s greatness includes taking huge amounts of the defence budget for military kit marred by cost overruns and late delivery – overpriced and late schemes like the Astute Class Submarine (£1bn over cost, four years late) about which the Tories have been making a fuss.

The British Airports Authority, so close to the current government, is taking no chances with a new administration and so is sponsoring a meeting on “infrastructure” with George Freeman, Cameron’s “A List” candidate for the safe Tory Mid Norfolk seat. BAA’s spin doctor, former spokesman for Tony Blair Tom Kelly, will also address Tory delegates at the meeting.

Shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey meanwhile will be talking about “the future of television ” on a platform funded by BT Vision, alongside the TV-on-the-internet firm’s chief executive. BT Vision of course currently lobbying the government to merge with Channel 4. So no hidden agenda there.

This shows how duplicitous Cameron has always been in trying to deny the corporatist agenda behind the Tory party. He wanted to hide the influence of the lobbyists at this party conference, just as his lobbying bill is supposed to make government more transparent by limiting them at Westminster. In fact, it’s aimed at charity and other political pressure groups and denying them access, and leave the corporate big boys untouched.

And it also shows the very deep connections between his Tories and the corporations seeking to profit from privatisation and government outsourcing.