Posts Tagged ‘Localism’

Elections and the Communist Democracy of Gracchus Babeuf

April 30, 2016

On Thursday we go to the polls again. In Bristol, the elections are partly about deciding who is to be the new elected mayor. The Tories were very keen to introduce this idea from America into Britain, along with elected Police and Crime Commissioners. I find the name of the latter post rather amusing, rather like the term ‘solicitor’ for a type of lawyer, when the term ‘soliciting’ is also used to describe the attempt to procure sexual favours illegally. A Crime Commissioner sounds exactly the opposite of the job it describes. The term ‘commission’ is, after all, used to describe the process by which someone or an organisation hires someone else to perform a task. Like a government or company may commission a report. A Police and Crime Commissioner therefore sounds like someone, who not only hires the police, but also arranges to hire the criminals to commit the crimes.

Of course, this was all part of the Tories’ localism campaign, which was ostensibly about extending democracy and creating a quasi-anarchistic society through privatising everything, and trying to get volunteers to run local services, like libraries, unpaid. While throwing the unemployed and disabled off social security for the sake of giving tax cuts to billionaires.

I doubt somehow the Tories would be quite so keen on democracy if it came in the totalitarian form envisaged by ‘Gracchus’ Babeuf. Babeuf was a French Revolutionary, who was executed, along with his comrades, for trying to organise a Communist revolution, the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’, to overthrow the liberal regime of the Revolutionary state. Babeuf wanted the state to own all property, but unlike the later Marxist Communist states, elections would still be held. These would include not only political authorities, like the local and national governments, but also for the posts running businesses, including local shops.

The Tories aren’t keen on democracy at the best of times. Their electoral reforms, which were supposed to be passed to prevent voter fraud, are modelled on American legislation, which one Southern US government admitted was to stop the Democrats’ supporters – young people, the poor and Blacks, from voting. They really wouldn’t want democracy if that meant people could elect everything, including who ran the local corner shop. And they definitely don’t the workers having anything to do with the way their businesses are run.

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Vox Political on BoJo, Gove and Somebody Else Demanding Public Clean Up Britain for Free for the Queen

February 29, 2016

This is a very bizarre story. The government has, in what it thinks is its infinite wisdom, that we should all get off our backsides this summer and celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday by cleaning up the country for free. Mike over at Vox Political asks the obvious question why the poor should be expected to work free of charge for a multi-millionaire monarch. The scheme was launched today by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and someone called Rory Stewart, wearing hi-vis jackets matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Clean for the Queen’, and posing next to a giant banner of the slogan. Mike points out that this is particularly hypocritical, given that BoJo, Gove and presumably Stewart would never, ever, absolutely do anything themselves unless they were being very generously paid for it.

Go see Mike’s blog for his comments, piccies of the three Tories and the poster, and further information on the way this has been greeted on Twitter. Even one of the hacks on the Graun has had a dig at this.

Tories line up to demand free labour for our multi-millionaire monarch

It’s a bizarre idea. The Tories have clearly decided that something should be done to celebrate Brenda’s longevity. My guess is that in previous ages this would probably have resulted in pageants, fetes and parties up and down the country. Roughly the same kind of jollification that was de rigueur under the Victorians when the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er!) reached a particularly venerable age. They have, however, clearly decided that this is not acceptable in today’s economic climate, because it would cost money.

And as the government’s policy is based on cutting services, and getting the rest of the population to perform them for free, let getting old age pensioners to run libraries under ‘localism’, they’ve clearly settled on this policy instead. So, no street parties like we had a few years ago when it was the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, we’re all being told to get to work, and like it, because it’s celebratory.

It all reminds me of the corvee, the system of forced labour that was part of the serfs’ feudal duties to the lord of the manor during the Middle Ages, and which survived in France and elsewhere until the French Revolution. The Queen is a feudal monarch, and once again, her loyal subjects are being asked to toil for her for free on public works. No doubt Cameron will be making notes, wondering how he can fit it into some kind of universal, neo-feudal system. How about placing each citizen of this glorious nation under the personal authority of a leading businessman, who can use them anyway they like, putting them to work for free, on the pretext that this is somehow promoting public spirit and teaching them how to be good employees and submit obediently to the authority of the upper classes. Or is this too much like workfare?

It also reminds me of one of the more bizarre Communist rituals that used to go on in the former Soviet Union. Every year in February, in the depths of the Russian winter, there was a national cleaning day, when good Soviet citizens had to clean the streets and spring clean their places of work. That included cleaning the windows, and opening them to the bitter Russian cold. You were also expected to bring out of storage – or hiding – all the old statues of Lenin and the tat celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution, putting them proudly on display. The busts of Lenin came in a variety of materials, to suit the pockets of the Soviet purchaser. The really expensive busts were in stone. The cheaper alternative was papier mache. I can remember reading a description of the kerfuffle that broke out during one of the spring-cleans in a travel book on the Soviet Union in one office, wear they discovered that their papier mache bust of the great Soviet leader had got damp and sprouted mushrooms.

This was the Soviet Union, one of the archetypal monolithic totalitarian states. For all that Cameron, BoJo, Gove and their odious cohorts represent the direct economic polar opposite in capitalism, they share the Soviet state’s authoritarianism, its need to control absolutely and its rigidly hierarchical social order. This was a society where the party elite had access to a range of goods and services, including special, curtained shops, from which the ordinary Soviet citizens were barred. This was a state built on slave labour, where the leaders of the various industries had actually put in orders to the KGB for the numbers of new people they wanted arrested to work for them. Workfare has been organised very much on the same lines, where the unemployed are effectively rented out to the ‘work providers’ as unfree workers, who are paid only their jobseekers allowance. And not even that, if they’ve been sanctioned. Mike and the other bloggers have shown that, by law, you are still liable to perform workfare, even if you’ve been sanctioned and are not being given your Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is true slave labour, of which Stalin would be envious.

And it seems this initiative, to get us all cleaning the country up for the Queen, is pretty much more of the same. Now I’ve no objection whatsoever to campaigns to Keep Britain Tidy, like there were in the 1970s. I wish more people had respect for their environment, and there was less littering and fly-tipping. But I don’t see why we should be expected to do it for nothing. And I am very suspicious in case the government suddenly announces that it is very impressed with how well this has worked, and now wants to roll it out as a national scheme.
I can see that coming all too easily.

Open Democracy Webinar on Alternative Democracy

February 25, 2016

Last Thursday, February 18th 2016, I was privileged to attend a webinar held by the Open Democracy forum on ‘alternative democracy’. Webinars, if you’ve never come across before, like me, are discussions held over the internet between a number of participants. They remain in their own homes, and talk to each other via their webcams or digital cameras attached to the computers. In this instance, the main speaker at any given point occupied most of the screen, while the other participants were each shown at the bottom. I was invited to go by Michelle Thomasson, a member and a commenter on this blog. The discussion was an hour long, covering topics that have been central to the issue of democracy since the very first democratic theorists like the ancient Athenians and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These include the fact that democracy leads to popular government, rather than right government; the problem of applying a political system that originally arose in small city states to large, complex modern societies, and the problem of energising and encouraging public engagement in politics and the political process at a time when increasing numbers feel disenfranchised, and that politicians are self-serving and isolated from the rest of society.

The first issue, that of democracy allowing the public to vote for the ‘wrong’ people, or make the ‘wrong’ decisions, is shown by the controversy about capital punishment and the EU. One of the female participants made the point that she wasn’t happy with referenda, because if one was a held on those two issues, the British public would almost certain vote in favour of reinstating the death penalty and leaving the European Union, both of which she considered wrong and unjust. She also made the point that there was a problem in that people don’t understand how parliament itself works. People have been horrified by what they’ve seen of it and the parliamentary process on television, especially since the launch of the parliament channel. She also discussed the problem of young people becoming uninterested in politics. She felt that part of the solution to this problem of increasing political indifference and disenfranchisement was for parliament itself to become more representative. She was in favour of quotas, and particularly for more women in parliament. She also felt that there should be more teaching in schools about the importance of politics, democracy and political participation. There still were areas for the public to be involved in politics in local issues, but these were becoming increasing rare as many local amenities, such as youth clubs, were being closed down. There was therefore a real danger of people retreating into social media.

The participants also discussed the possibility of learning from the Occupy Movement, which mobilised people against the cuts and bankers’ bail-outs across the world. People were disillusioned and felt that politicians were distant. One possible solution was digital democracy, but it was felt that this also was not the right way to go. They also pointed out that as far back as ancient Greece, politicians have never done what the electorate wanted. There was also the additional problem of democratic decisions in large societies like modern Britain. They pointed out that although the march against the Iraq War were the largest modern protests, most people still supported the invasion of Iraq, because they had been deliberately given the wrong information. There were similar problems with the reforms attacking and dismantling the welfare state. This led to a discussion of the wider problem of how communities could be connected to parliament.

Some possible solutions included the transformation of the House of Lord’s into a genuine popular assembly, and the revitalisation of political parties. Trump and Bernie Sanders in America, and Jeremy Corbyn over here at sparked an upturn in people joining and becoming interested in political parties. This led to the problem of how to involve other organisations to balance the power of the big corporations now involved in defining and influencing politics. They felt that the revitalisation of the political parties should be done through the existing political system. However, one of the problems with Jeremy Corbyn was that one of the speakers felt he hadn’t drawn new people into the party, but caused older members, who had let their membership lapse, to rejoin.

That led in turn to the question of what should be done with all the new political activists and participants, once they’d been energised, so that they could transform society. One of the men stated that the Labour party had declined from a genuinely popular movement into a party, in which people in suits made decision on behalf of the people they represented. This led to the question of local democracy in the Aristotelian sense. He considered that we currently have local administration rather than democracy. Most of the funding for local councils in England comes from central government, compared with Sweden where 80 per cent comes from local taxes. One of the other participants pointed out that the Coalition was indeed trying to reverse this situation under the guise of localism. They also discussed the way the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition had dissolved the regional partnerships, that had some success in regenerating the local political and economic situation. On the other hand, the Coalition has also encouraged local authorities to group together so that they could co-operate across borders. This worked well in some areas, like Manchester, but was less effective in others.

They also discussed whether Britain needed a constitution. It was pointed out that those nations with constitutions were not necessarily any more democratic than those which did not. One of the speakers was also quite scathing about the way the leadership in Labour party had blocked a bill on corporate funding in order not to upset the trade unions. The result of this was that the Tories were continuing to enjoy massive corporate donations, while trying to find ways to deprive the Labour party of money.

They also returned to the question of referenda. They stated that this worked in small countries with a tradition of direct democracy, like Switzerland. It was much less effective in large countries like Britain. As an example, when the Americans set up internet polling following the British example, the two petitions with greatest number of signatures were for America to build a Death Star, like the one in Star Wars, and to deport Justin Bieber back to Canada.

They also raised the issue of untrained cabinet ministers. Many ministers didn’t know how to manage the performance of the civil servants under them, as it wasn’t a requirement for cabinet ministers. There was poor human resource management in the Civil Service and poor project managers. However, expertise in specific areas did not necessarily make someone a more efficient minister. Andrew Lansley was an expert on health and healthcare, and yet his reforms were dreadful. The Coalition had also performed a number of U-turns, as no-one had told its members what the results of their reforms were intended to be. Overall, they concluded that the problem was one of improving the existing system, rather than overturning it.

All of these issues are complex and it’s fair to say that they need long and careful examination if we are to overcome the continuing crisis in British democracy. People do feel bitter and disenfranchised by their politicians. The scandal over MPs’ bonuses showed how bitter the public felt about their claims. Hopefully, more seminars and discussions like this will lead to the discovery of better ways to reverse this, and to bring people back to participating in the political process, which is supposed to serve them. Democratic political theory states that political sovereignty lies with the people. It’s a question of putting them back in charge, and taking power away from an increasingly managerial elite.

And if digital democracy is not a solution to this problem, than the internet has also provided part of the solution. Yes, there is the danger that people are retreating into social media. But the same social media has enabled political discussions like the above, by connecting people vastly separated from each other, who can discuss weighty issues like this easily in the comfort of their own homes.

A recording of the webinar, plus comments, can be found at: https:​//plus.​google.​com/events/cqjpogiqt6osi7fliui​4k4tkg4c
Thanks, Michelle.

Exercise Your Political Rights: VOTE!

May 7, 2015

Today’s polling day, as I’m sure just about every one of my readers is aware. I’ve reblogged a number of memes from Vox Political over the past few days, urging people not to vote the Tories and Lib Dems back in. Mike’s posted another piece over on his site, simply asking people to vote. And he’s produced this graphic for further encouragement.

Vote Meme

Remember – the Tories and Lib Dems have reformed the registration system, just to prevent people from voting. This is how they view democracy, despite all the rhetoric about defending and promoting it through ‘localism’, or some such ideological camouflage. They fear it. Just have tyrants have always feared it.

So defy them. Don’t give in to apathy, or pessimism. Use your franchise.

The Francophone Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, said that the man, who votes, but doesn’t want anyone else to, wishes to be a master. The one, who doesn’t, wishes to be a slave.

The Tories are always keen to get their people to vote, and vote first. Because they do see themselves as the masters.

Mike’s short piece is over at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/05/07/at-long-last-election-day-is-here-vote/. Go there for further electoral encouragement.

But you don’t have to accept the status of slaves.

Your Unrepresentative Representative: Filibustering Jacob Rees-Mogg

April 2, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has added Jacob Rees-Mogg to the other Tories he has profiled in marginal seats. These have extreme right-wing views, which may not be shared, and very probably aren’t, by many of their constituents. Rees-Mogg is currently the MP for part of Bath And North-East Somerset. He is another true-blue, old Etonian toff, the son of William Rees-Mogg, the former Times and Independent columnist. I’ve posted a little piece on Rees-Mogg jnr’s extreme right-wing views when I put up Private Eye’s review of his father’s book, Picnics on Vesuvius: steps towards the New Millennium.

And his views are extreme. He attended one of the black tie gala dinners of the Traditional Britain Group, a far right outfit who stand for the destruction of the welfare state, privatisation of the NHS, restoration of the old feudal social hierarchy, and ban on immigration, particularly of Muslims. They got into Hope Not Hate’s news when it was revealed that UKIP’s vice president in Wales, Gillibrand, was a member. Among its other antics, the Group has made racist sneers and condemnations against Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, murdered by White youths in a vicious, racial attack, the MPs Nadhim Zahawi and Chuka Umunna. They have also put up films by and hosted speakers from the Front National in France and the British Democratic Party, a splinter group of the British National Front. One of the founders of that organisation is Andrew Brons, who, like others in the NF, used to goosestep in Nazi costume in the 1970s. Both Gillibrand and Rees-Mogg have distanced themselves from and denounced the racist comments made by the Traditional Britain Group.

Rees-Mogg himself strikes a curiously archaic figure, more at home in the high culture of Glyndebourne than in the more plebeian environs of much of contemporary British culture. Hence the title of Mike’s piece: Will North-East Somerset consign Jacob Rees-Mogg to the history he clearly represents? MIke’s piece begins

What on earth is Jacob Rees-Mogg doing in Parliament during the 21st century? He belongs in the 19th.

It’s hard to know where to start, when discussing this particular wet-wipe. Perhaps the best way to do so would be to point out that a new constituency had to be created before he could actually win a Parliamentary seat – and even that is only a Tory marginal, perhaps because The Guardian‘s criticism that this candidate’s highly privileged life ran against the Tories’ then-current narrative of social inclusion rang true with the electorate.

In 1997, Rees-Mogg attracted ridicule after canvassing a working-class neighbourhood of the Labour seat of Central Fife with his nanny. Rumours he had gone around the constituency in a Bentley were dismissed by Rees-Mogg as “scurrilous” – he insisted it had been a Mercedes.

In 2001, he stood for The Wrekin in Shropshire – and lost again, this time to Labour’s Peter Bradley, who managed a 0.95 per cent swing to Labour against the national trend of a 3.5 per cent swing to the Conservatives.

He finally achieved his ambition of a Parliamentary seat in 2010, in the newly-created North East Somerset constituency, with a majority of just 4,914. It seems he was not above a few dirty tricks to achieve this, however: In December 2009, a pamphlet which purported to show him talking to a local constituent and calling on the Government to “show more honesty” was criticised after it emerged that the “constituent” was a London-based employee of his investment firm.

Mike points out that his voting record shows that he is intent on following his own extreme right-wing views, even going against his own party whip in order to do so. He defied the whips when voting in the fixed-term parliaments bill, the 2011 motion on the referendum on the European Union, and the 2012 House of Lords reform bill.

He has also been responsible for filibustering several bills. This is deliberately talking out a private members bill to make sure that it does not get passed or discussed further. He did this to the Daylight Savings Bill of 2010-12 and the Sustainable Livestock Bill for those same years. Mike describes the rubbish he talked in order to block them. As an example of his archaic chauvinism, he declared that local authority figures with the power to issue on-the-spot fines should have to wear bowler hats. He also supports Zero Hours contracts. He has also been reported to the parliamentary standards commissioner for talking about tobacco, mining, and the oil and gas industries in parliament, without mentioning that he has significant personal interests in those industries through his partnership in a venture capital firm.

And his voting record shows that he has pretty much the same right-wing views as the others Mike has profiled. He’s in favour of cutting taxes for the rich, while making sure that the poor are hit by VAT. He supports the creeping privatisation of the NHS, the Bedroom Tax, cuts to welfare payments and the benefits cap. He also supported making local authorities responsible for making sure people could afford the council tax, and then cut that.

He also supported the various private free schools and academies, the increase in tuition fees and removal of state support for ‘A’ Level and Further Education students. He is also for further military involvement overseas, culling badgers, selling off Britain’s forests, secret courts, the expansion of state surveillance, and the police and crime commissioners. He also wants to replace trident with further nuclear weapons, opposes further EU integration, localism and the devolution of power to local authorities. He also disapproves and voted against same-sex marriage, and removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords.

This last should come as no surprise. He made it the central platform of his election campaign in central Fife. My guess is that it probably didn’t appeal much to his prospective constituents. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Nationalist vote actually went up after he did.

Mike’s article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/30/will-north-east-somerset-consign-jacob-rees-mogg-to-the-history-he-clearly-represents/

Your Unrepresentative Representative: Esther McVie in Wirral West

March 25, 2015

Mike in his series exposing the lies, hypocrisy and sheer malignancy of Tories in marginal constituencies has also turned his attention to Esther McVey. McVey’s views and the policies she embraces are so unpleasant, that she has been dubbed ‘Fester McVile’. It seems, however, that from the number of falsehoods she has spun to justify herself and her continuing punitive attitude towards the poor and less fortunate, that she should equally be called ‘Festering Lie’. And Mike goes on to list the lies she has told.

She said it was impossible to hold a cumulative impact assessment into the effect of government welfare reforms. Untrue.

She also lied, and denied the existence of a loophole in the bedroom tax legislation that meant the government removed housing benefit from people, who were actually exempt. At least one person, Stephanie Bottrill, committed suicide because she feared she could no longer support herself because of the reduction in her benefit. She also denied she knew anything about how many people were affect by the loophole. Mike cites FoI requests that show that at least 16,000 people have been affected.

It was Mark Hoban, rather than Lie, who came out with the next whopper. He claimed that independent reviews of the work capability assessment showed that the government was working to improve it. Studies instead showed that almost 2/3 were either incompletely or inadequately put into practice.

It’s on the subject of foodbanks that she really begins to lie. She claimed that the government’s austerity programme was due to uncontrolled spending under Labour, and not from the greed and venality of out-of-control bankers. She then declared that foodbanks were Labour’s ‘nasty little secret’, until Jim Cunningham set the record straight by pointing out that under Labour they were set up to support asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their cases, and not poor citizens.

She’s repeated the lie that the Coalition came about to solve ‘the mess we’re in’, rather than as the result of a cynical political deal by two parties desperate for power. She claimed that 60,000 people would go to a foodbank in 2014. Jim Murphy pointed out that that was an underestimate. It’s the number of people in Wales, who would be forced to go to them. In 2013-14 the minimum number across Britain was 913,138.

She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be supported on benefits for being out of work, with two million children living in families without jobs, and claimed that children were three times more likely to be in poverty if they lived in households where the parents were unemployed. Another lie. The Joseph Roundtree Foundation found the number of working households in poverty has risen to 8 million, while unemployed households in poverty is now 6.3 million.

She boasts that the Coalition has got more people into work than ever before, but doesn’t mention that this is nearly all zero-hours, part-time or self-employed contracts that deprive workers of certain basic rights and pay low wages. She claimed that the tax cuts meant families were better off by £700 per year, but in fact low wages and the cost of living means that people or £1,600 worse off.

And when you examine her voting record, it’s pretty much the same tale that emerged with Anne Soubry, Nick de Bois and Kris Hopkins: she supported the cuts to all the welfare benefits, including benefit uprating cap, and legislation making councils responsible for their citizens ability to pay council tax, while depriving them of the funds to do so. She also strongly supported the Bedroom Tax.

She’s against tax increases for the rich, wants to see corporation tax cut, and also supports increasing VAT. She is also in favour of further military action overseas, but against strengthening the military covenant. In education she support the privately run academies and free schools, voted to raise tuition fees, and end state support for 16-19 year olds in education. She also supported the privatisation of the Royal Mail and Britain’s forests, and is against localism and the devolution of further powers to local authorities. She is also in favour of deregulating gambling and allowing rail fares to rise without government restrictions. And she’s also a supporter of the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS.

She was also one of those in favour of the police and crime commissioners, the secret courts, restrictions on legal aid, and the expansion of government surveillance. She doesn’t support equal rights for gays and same-sex marriages. She’s also voted both for and against a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

Mike’s article begins:

There is little that this blog can add to the litany of outrage against the woman who has been dubbed ‘Fester McVile’ by commentators who are feeling kind towards her.

In a previous column, this blog stated that the employment minister, who works under Iain Duncan Smith, “has accumulated a reputation so bad that the only way she can hide the metaphorical stink from the public is by associating with …Smith himself, in whose stench she seems almost fragrant. But not quite”. How accurate those words are.

This is a woman who has lied to the public that it is impossible to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact on the sick and disabled of the Coalition’s ‘final solution’ changes to the benefit system.

This is the woman who, in the face of public unrest about the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, announced that Job Centre advisors will now be able to force the unemployed into taking this exploitative work.

She has previously misled Parliament over the loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation that meant the government had removed Housing Benefit from thousands of people who were exempt from the measure – including Stephanie Bottrill, whose suicide has been attributed to the pressure of having to survive on less because of the tax. Asked how many people had been affected by the loophole, McVey played it down by claiming she did not know the answer, while other ministers suggested between 3,000 and 5,000. In fact, from Freedom of Information requests to which just one-third of councils responded, 16,000 cases were revealed. Esther McVey is a very strong supporter of the Bedroom Tax.

Mark Hoban stood in for McVey to trot out the lie that independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment had identified areas of improvement on which the government was acting. In fact, out of 25 recommendations in the Year One review alone, almost two-thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/24/will-wirral-west-divest-itself-of-esther-mcvey/

Read it and decide for yourself if this is a woman, who should be anyway near power and public authority.

Kris Hopkins, the ‘Slimy, Nasty’, Unrepresentative Representative for Keighley

March 24, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political continues his exposes of the nastier Tory MPs now occupying marginal constituencies. In his post, Keighley’s chance to end the hypocritical claims of Kris Hopkins, he attacks Kris Hopkins’ lies and hypocrisy, particularly about the current state of housing in Britain. Hopkins is housing minister, and has boasted of the numbers of new homes the Tories have built, without also mentioning that this is the lowest since before the Coalition took power. Mike also notes the way he claimed the government had helped hardworking people, despite the fact that this Christmas, 80,000 children were homeless. His reaction to that was simply to shrug it off, stating that the government had given a billion to local councils to tackle the problem, and he was confident that they had met their statutory obligations. Or some such verbiage.

Mike’s article begins

Even one of his own Tory colleagues has described Kris Hopkins as one of Parliament’s “slimiest, nastiest MPs”, so voters in his marginal Keighley constituency should relish the chance to kick him out in May. Right?
Before becoming the Coalition’s housing minister, Hopkins’ only previous claims to fame were allegations that “gangs of Muslim men were going around raping white kids” (thanks to Johnny Void for that one) and a Twitter spat with the equally-odious Philip Davies.

Hopkins called for Conservatives to unite behind David Cameron in 2013 – to which Nadine Dorries (who was responsible for the “slimiest, nastiest” comment) responded, “pass the sick bag”.

As housing minister, he has claimed that more than a third of a million new homes were built between 2010-13, including 150,000 affordable homes – but neglected to mention that this is the lowest level than in any period prior to the Coalition Government. Vox Political reported it as “not an achievement. It is a disaster”.

“Our policies on housing are working,” said Hopkins in a press release. “Housebuilding is growing at its fastest rate for 10 years, and the tough decisions we’ve taken to tackle the deficit have kept interest rates low and are now delivering real help to hardworking people.”

Oh really? And what was his response to the revelation that 80,000 children were homeless due to Coalition Government policies on Christmas Day, 2013, mere months after he had taken up his post?

He couldn’t care less. “We’ve given councils nearly £1bn to tackle homelessness and to support people affected by the welfare reforms,” he sniffed. “I am very clear that they should be fully able to meet their legal responsibility to house families in suitable accommodation.”

When his voting record is examined, he is a fanatically pro-rich and with same bitter, punitive spitefulness towards the poor and less well off as Nick de Bois and Anne Soubry.

He opposes increased taxation for the rich, including the mansion tax, doesn’t want corporation tax increase, but does support increasing VAT.

He also supports the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS and the bedroom tax. Mike also points out that he is an opponent of localism, and actually voted to reduce funding to local authorities. He also supported cuts to all the welfare benefits, the benefits upratings cap, and like Soubry and de Bois he wanted to make sure councils had the responsibility for making sure their residents could pay the council tax, and reduced the amount of money paid to council to ensure they could.

He is also massively in favour of further privatisation, supporting the privatisation of the Royal Mail, the sale of the forests, and private free schools and academies. He also voted in favour of raising tuition fees and ending financial support to 16 -19 year olds in education.

And like much of his grotty party, he support further military action overseas and nuclear weapons.

He was another supporter of the government’s plan to extend injustice further by restricting legal aid, and setting up secret courts, as well as the snooper’s charter that allows the government and security services to tap our telecommunications without warrant.

And he’s also in favour of the badger cull, unregulated gambling and allowing the rail fares to rise unchecked. Clearly he’s unconcerned about the poor quality of the service on the railways, which came in with privatisation, and couldn’t care two hoots about the dangers of gambling addiction.

Nadine Dorries was right to refer to him as one of the ‘slimiest and nastiest’ politicians.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/23/keighleys-chance-to-end-the-hypocritical-claims-of-kris-hopkins/

Read it and make your own decision.

Demonstration by DPAC Against the Closure of the Independent Living Fund

May 3, 2014

DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts – have announced that they are organising a public protest against the closure of the Independent Living Fund. This is the benefit granted to disabled people to allow them to lead something like a normal life with dignity and freedom. The government wishes to abolish this, and turn the payment of such benefits over to local authorities. They claim that this will give the Fund more flexibility and make it responsive to local conditions under their ‘Localism’ agenda. In reality, it means the end of all such funding as councils simply don’t have the funds.

The protest is scheduled for March 12th, at 3-5 pm, outside the DWP headquarters at Caxton House, Tothill, London, SW1H 9WA. Further information on it is at DPAC’s webpage at http://dpac.uk.net/2014/05/join-the-save-ilf-protest-monday-may-12th-london-dwp/.

From 2013: Private Eye on Acquisition of Social Fund by Computer Company Owned US Private Equity Firm

April 16, 2014

This is from the Eye’s edition for 22nd March – 4th April 2013:

When welfare reform minister Lord Freud handed the Social Fund – which gives emergency cash to benefit claimants – over to local councils, he brushed aside criticism and said councils could create “the kind of localist welfare provision they deem to be appropriate and necessary for their areas”.

But many are now contracting out their emergency cash help for the desperately poor to a computer firm owned by US billionaires.

The £178m Social Fund, previously run from job centres, gives small grants and loans to cover benefit claimants’ emergency expenses – to replace furniture after a house fire, say. Despite Freud’s claim that his plan would break bureaucratic centralism, Nottingham recently gave its £10.4m “welfare assistance scheme” contract to computer firm Northgate Information Solutions.

Northgate, which is set to win more such work for other councils (the Welsh Assembly has also hired it to manage its regional version of the scheme), has many contracts running IT, payroll and community charge work for local authorities. But it has little experience of face-to-face work with the poor and desperate. The company does provide profits, however, for the fabulously rich: it is owned by US private equity giant KKR, which run by Henry Kravis and George Roberts, the 84th and 100th richest American billionaires, according to Forbes magazine.

The Eye asked Northgate about its qualifications for welfare work. It stressed that it was “working in partnership with Family Fund, the UK’s largest grant-giving charity”, and pointed to its welfare work on the “Blue Badge Improvement Service” to improve disabled parking badges. So that’s all right then.

This is part of the general Tory policy of cutting welfare and state services, and transferring them to private, largely foreign-owned contractors, like Atos. When questioned recently on the BBC’s documentary programme, Panorama, about the rise of food banks due to the Coalition’s austerity programme, one Tory MP declared that this hadn’t occurred, because the Social Fund was still available, despite the fact that the Tories had just closed it down on a national level. And this article shows that some of the local councils are transferring it to private companies. Again, this follows Tory policies of welfare cuts to the poor, and state support for business and the rich. And the reorganisation and cuts to welfare benefits are increasing poverty, to the point that hunger and starvation is returning to Britain. But as long as the fat cats in the boardroom are happy and profiting, the Tories will continue with their attack on the working and lower middle classes.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Free public libraries.

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

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

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

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

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

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

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

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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