Posts Tagged ‘Post Office’

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Attempts to Reverse Rural Depopulation in Spain

April 23, 2019

According to the new Radio Times for 27th April – 3rd May 2019, Radio 4’s Crossing Continents next Thursday, 2nd May, at 11.00 a.m., looks at a movement to repopulate the Spanish countryside, focusing on a group of single women going to meet single men in a village near Madrid. The paragraph about the programme by David McGillivray on page 128 runs

It’s hard to arrest depopulation once it’s started. But Linda Pressly finds the opposite in Spain. Initiatives to reverse the decline of the Spanish countryside include a movement of young people – they have a name, “neo-rurales” – who have begun to occupy abandoned villages. Pressly also uncovers a charming personal story. Maria Carvajal was one of a bus full of single women who arrived in a village north of Madrid to meet single men unable to find female partners. There was no preview available but I infer that she found love iwth lonely shepherd Antonio Cerrado. A caravan of love indeed.

This could be worth listening to. About a year ago Mike wondered how Labour could win in rural areas, like his part of Wales. It’s a good question, as there’s a real crisis in the countryside with poor locals being priced out of housing by wealthy outsiders, looking for second or retirement homes. Bus services into country areas are being cut, and local shops, like pubs, post offices and general stores, are closing down. There are parts of Europe where the process of depopulation is particularly acute. I was listening to a conversation between male feminist and anti-Fascist Kevin Logan and another anti-Fascist about the rise of the far right. They agreed that one of the stimuli behind the rise of the vile Alternative fuer Deutschland and its horrendous Nazi links was the massive, devastating depopulation of parts of the former East Germany, where whole small towns have been abandoned as their populations have moved west in search of better opportunities.

Rural depopulation also concerned the Nazis, who saw themselves very much as the party of the peasants. They developed a series of policies designed to reverse it, and create a healthy, ideologically and racially pure peasantry, who would feed Germany and provide the basis for its new value system. This involved a banning foreign imports, lowering taxation on agricultural goods and products, loans for people wishing to move to the countryside. They were also concerned to provide them with secure tenure. So secure, in fact, that they wouldn’t be able to escape it, and they and their descendants would be tied to the soil like serfs.

I did think that some of their ideas might be worth discussing, aside from the obviously horrific and unacceptable connections to the Nazi regime itself. However, with all the anti-Semitism smears directed against Corbyn and his supporters, the last thing I wanted to do was give the smear merchants more ammunition. They’d just love it if a left-wing blogger started discussing whether some aspects of Nazi policy was worth implementing, even if it was about farming and absolutely rejected and condemned their horrific, genocidal racism and totalitarianism.

But the Crossing Continents programme may be worth listening to, and provide some ideas on how Britain could also start to regenerate its countryside. Perhaps we need a British version of the neo-rurales?

The Real News on Labour’s Plan For Nationalisation and Workplace Democracy

October 16, 2018

In this 15 minute video from the Baltimore-based The Real News network, host Aaron Mate talks to Leon Panitch, professor of political science at York University about the proposals announced at the Labour party’s conference last month that Labour intended to renationalize some of the privatized utilities, introduce profit-sharing schemes and workplace democracy in firms with over 250 members, in which 1/3 of the board would be elected by the workers.

The video includes a clip of John McDonnell announcing these policies, declaring that they are the greatest extension of economic democratic rights that this country has ever seen. He states that it starts in the workplace, and that it is undeniable that the balance of power is tipped against the worker. The result is long hours, low productivity, low pay and the insecurity of zero hours contracts. He goes on to say that Labour will redress this balance. They will honour the promise of the late Labour leader, John Smith, that workers will have full union rights from day one whether in full time, part time or temporary work. They will lift people out of poverty by setting a real living wage of ten pounds an hour.

McDonnell also says that they believe that workers, who create the wealth of a company, should share in its ownership and the returns that it makes. Employee ownership increases productivity and improves long-term decision making. Legislation will be passed, therefore, for large firms to transfer shares into an inclusive ownership fund. The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholders will give the workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.

Commenting on these proposals, Panitch says that in some ways they’re not surprising. McDonnell stated that Labour would inherit a mess. But his remarks were different in that usually governments use the fact that they will inherit a mess not to go through with radical policies. Panitch then talks about Labour’s commitment to bring the public utilities – rail, water, electricity, the post office – public ownership, pointing out that these used to be publicly owned before Thatcher privatized them. McDonnell particularly focused on water, before going beyond it, citing the 1918 Labour party constitution’s Clause IV, which Blair had removed. This is the clause committing the Labour party to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, under the best form of popular administration. And unlike previous nationalized industries, these will be as democratically-run as possible. Councils would be set up in the water sector made up of representatives of the local community and workers’ representatives to be a supervisory council over the managers in the nationalized water industry.

They then go to a clip of McDonnell talking about the nationalization of the utilities. McDonnell states that the renationalization of the utilities will be another extension of economic democracy. He states that this has proved its popularity in opinion poll after opinion poll. And it’s not surprising. Water privatization is a scandal. Water bills have risen by 40 per cent in real terms since privatization. 18 billion pounds has been paid out in dividends. Water companies receive more in tax credits than they pay in tax. And each day enough water to meet the needs of 20 million people is lost due to leaks. ‘With figures like that’, he concludes, ‘we cannot afford not to take it back into popular ownership’.

Mate and Panitch then move on to discussing the obstacles Labour could face in putting these policies into practice, most particularly from the City of London, which Panitch describes as ‘the Wall Street of Britain’, but goes on to say that in some ways its even more central to financialized global capitalism. However, Panitch says that ‘one gets the sense’ that the British and foreign bourgeoisie have resigned themselves to these industries being brought back into public ownership. And in so far as bonds will be issued to compensate for their nationalization, McDonnell has got the commitment from them to float and sell them. He therefore believes that there won’t be much opposition on this front, even from capital. He believes that there will be more resistance to Labour trying to get finance to move from investing in property to productive industry.

He then moves on to talk about Labour’s plans for ten per cent of the stock of firms employing 250 or more people to go into a common fund, the dividends from which would passed on to the workers up to 500 pounds a year. Anything above that would be paid to the treasury as a social fund for meeting the needs of British people and communities more generally. Panitch states that this has already produced a lot of squawking from the Confederation of British Industry. Going to giving workers a third of the seats on the boards, Panitch states that it has already been said that it will lead to a flight of capital out of Britain. He discusses how this proposal can be radical but also may not be. It could lead to the workers’ representatives on these boards making alliances with the managers which are narrow and particular to that firm. The workers get caught up in the competitiveness of that firm, it stock prices and so on. He makes the point that it’s hardly the same thing as the common ownership of the means of production to have workers’ sitting on the boards of private companies, or even from workers’ funds to be owning shares and getting dividends from them. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction of socializing the economy more generally, and giving workers the capacity and encouraging them to decide what can be produced, where it’s produced, and what can be invested. And if it really scares British and foreign capital, this raises the question of whether they will have to introduce capital controls. Ultimately, would they have to bring the capital sector into the public sphere as a public utility, as finance is literally the water that forms the basis of the economy?

Mate then asks him about Labour’s refusal to hold a second referendum on Brexit, which angered some activists at the conference. Labour said that any second referendum could only be about the terms of the exit. Panitch states that people wanting Britain to remain in a capitalist Europe try to spin this as the main priority of the party’s members, even Momentum. He states that this is not the case at all, and that if you asked most delegates at the conference, most Labour members and members of Momentum, which they would prefer, a socialist Britain or a capitalist Europe, they would prefer a socialist Britain. The people leading the Remain campaign on the other hand aren’t remotely interested in a socialist Britain, and think it’s romantic nonsense at best. He states that the Corbyn leadership has said that they want a general election as they could secure an arrangement with Europe that would be progressive without necessarily being in Europe. They would accept the single market and a progressive stand on immigration rather than a reactionary one. They did not wish to endorse a referendum, which the Tories would have the power to frame the question. And this is particularly because of the xenophobic and racist atmosphere one which the initial Brexit vote was based. Panitch states that he is a great critic of the European Union, but he would have voted to remain because the debate was being led by the xenophobic right. He ends by saying that capital is afraid of the Trumps of this world, and it is because of the mess the right has made of things here in Britain with the Brexit campaign that capital might give a little bit more space for a period at least to a Corbyn government.

This latter section on Brexit is now largely obsolete because Labour has said it will support a second referendum. However, it does a good job of explaining why many Labour supporters did vote for Brexit. The editor of Lobster, Robin Ramsay, is also extremely critical of the European Union because of the way neoliberalism and a concern for capital and privatization is so much a part of its constitution.

Otherwise, these are very, very strong policies, and if they are implemented, will be a very positive step to raising people out of poverty and improving the economy. Regarding the possibility that the representatives of the workers on the company boards would ally themselves with capital against the workers, who put them there, has long been recognized by scholars discussing the issue of workers’ control of industry. It was to stop this happening that the government of the former Yugoslavia insisted that regular elections should be held with limited periods of service so that the worker-directors would rotate. Ha-Joon Chan in his books criticizing neoliberal economics also makes the points that in countries like France and Germany, where the state owns a larger proportion of firms and workers are involved in their companies through workers’ control, there is far more long-term planning and concern for the companies success. The state and the workers have a continuing, abiding interest in these firms success, which is not the case with ordinary investors, who will remove their money if they think they can get a better return elsewhere.

My concern is that these policies will be undermined by a concentrated, protracted economic warfare carried out against the Labour party and the success of these policies by capital, the CBI and the Tories, just as the Tories tried to encourage their friends in industry to do in speeches from Tweezer’s chancellors. These policies are desperately needed, but the Tory party and the CBI are eager to keep British workers, the unemployed and disabled in poverty and misery, in order to maintain their control over them and maximise profits.

RT America Fights Back with Spoof of Corporate American Smears

October 28, 2017

This is a great little video from RT America, where their Editor-in-Chief, Margarita Simonyan, responds to the political and corporate witch-hunt against RT by pretending to show how the Russian-owned broadcaster really operates. It shows her counting out her ill-gotten gains in the company of a bear, natch – this is a Russian company. She moves around dressed in the characteristic Russian fur hat, as do many of her workers, who are shown as the bullied drones of Russian industry. And even the cleaning ladies take their orders directly from Moscow. The expats are kept shackled in the basement as evil defectors, and in the studio for foreign news all the supposed ‘live’ footage from places like Syria are in fact fakes, generated through computer graphics and the green screen. Further consultation with her senior staff takes place in a darkened room where everyone is wearing Red Army uniforms. And the news readers themselves are kept chained to their desks.

The clip concludes with a selection of various quotes on the screen by alarmed political figures and former journalists with the network, all going on about how it’s a terrible threat to American freedom and democracy. You won’t be surprised to see that amongst the Republicans there are various figures from Hillary’s branch of the Democrat Party.

The video then ends with the promise ‘Don’t worry – we’ll keep annoying them!’

This puts the lie to the stereotype that the Russians are naturally dour with no sense of humour. Yes, they have a word for ‘funny’ – it’s ‘smeeshno’, and this is very smeeshno indeed. And much of that humour was expressed in political satire. Try Gogol’s The Government Inspector. Written in the 19th century by the great Ukrainian writer, this is about a corrupt post office manager, who opens the letters coming through his office and reads them.
The late Peter Ustinov, in an interview in the 1980s described how he was walking around Moscow when a spiv sidled out of an alley. The man asked him if he wanted to buy any videos. So Ustinov said he was interested, and followed him back down the alley, wondering just what videos the man had for sale. The black marketer opened his coat to reveal-

-videos of the British Whitehall sitcom, Yes, Minister.

This was during Perestroika, and the Russians liked it, because it satirised state bureaucracy, just like so much of their great literature.

There are issues of bias, of course. The presenter of The Empire Files, Abi Martin, left RT, or was sacked, because she criticised a Russian military action on air. But that should not put people off watching RT, any more than watching the Beeb uncritically support the current regime of gangsters and Nazis in the Ukraine. I watch and reblog videos from RT on this site, because they cover issues from a left-wing perspective that you don’t see in the mainstream media. And if RT is growing, it isn’t because they are engaged in a fiendish plot to bring down our governments. It’s because they’re actually doing their job as journalists, and holding government and corporations to account, which the Western media has given up doing since they were taken over by big corporate conglomerates in the 1980s.

The Threatened Return of Tony Blair to British Politics

November 23, 2016

The I newspaper today carried the news that Tony Blair wants to return to British politics. Apparently, the former PM thinks that his reputation is ‘recoverable’. There wasn’t much more to the piece than that, the rest of the small snippet being composed of two other newspapers reactions to this news. One of them quoted Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, who claimed that without Blair making Britain join Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the Labour party would not be led by Jeremy Corbyn today.

I can see his point. Blair’s participation in an illegal war, which has turned the country into a blood bath, facilitated the rise of Daesh, and led to the deaths of so many brave men and women, simply so the multinationals and the Saudis can loot the country’s oil and other industries, is one of the major reasons why voters became increasingly disenchanted with the Labour party and its Tory leadership. But there were many other reasons besides.

Basically, Blair was responsible for many of the disastrous policies that are gutting our precious health and school systems. They were expanded by Cameron, and are being carried on apace by Theresa May, but Blair was responsible for starting them.

These policies include

* The privatisation of the NHS, with the piecemeal dismantlement of the Health Service into ‘community care groups’, intended to be able to commission private health care companies to provide medical services; the expansion of the Private Finance Initiative, launched by the Tories’ Peter Lilley, which has burden hospitals with massive debts, all for the profit of private companies; deliberate outsourcing of medical services to private healthcare companies; and the establishment of ‘polyclinics’ or walk-in medical centres, again as private firms. Alan Milburn had the goal of reducing the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by private healthcare providers.

* The launch of the disastrous academies. These were set up by Blair as City Academies, and based on an idea Norman Baker rolled out under Thatcher, but which had to be abandoned because even they realised it was rubbish. The academies are monstrously expensive, in many cases costing nearly ten times as much as the budget given to the LEA for all the schools in its catchment area. They are highly selective, and in many cases also extremely discriminatory, using mass expulsions and exclusion to get rid of difficult pupils, or students, who are less able than their fellows, in order to keep their academic ratings artificially high. Despite this, about 80 per cent of them are no better than the LEA schools against which they compete, and the excellent results of the other 20 per cent are no more than you would expect, if each individual state school received £20-£30 million in funding.

* The massive expansion of corporate power into the mechanism of government, with unelected managing directors and company heads being given positions on government committees and quangos.

* Massive backing for the supermarkets, despite these harming local businesses and exploiting their suppliers through highly unfair and manipulative contracts.

* Continuing the Tory policy of deregulating and favouring the financial sector, with the result that all the safeguards that could have prevented the 2008 crash were removed. And that led to the current situation, where ordinary people are being pushed further into poverty, while the bankers are back enjoying massive bonuses and corporate bail-outs.

* The further cutting of the benefits system, including the introduction of the Work Capability Tests, which have seen tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of disabled people thrown off benefits, declared ‘fit for work’, and left to struggle and die in poverty. Several hundred have so far died as a direct result of being left without an income due to these tests.

* Privatisation of the prison service. Blair was approached and lobbied by American private prison operators, like Wackenhut, about handing the running of British prisons over to them.

* The passage of further legislation intended to weaken whatever remained of the power of trade unions.

* Oh yes, and the privatisation, or at least the part-privatisation, of the Post Office.

He was also responsible for the further, massive expansion of the surveillance state, secret courts and expanding the length of time prisoners can be held without charge.

I realise that these policies weren’t new. Many of them, like the PFI and the City Academies, were recycled Tory ideas, as were his privatisations, including the NHS, and the welfare reforms, which were deliberately intended to cut welfare support to the unemployed and long-term sick. But Blair did not have a mandate for them, and in opposition had explicitly condemned them. And in fact, Blair 1997 election victory was such that he could have comfortably reversed them with no threat of losing votes to the Tories.

But he didn’t. He carried on with the policies he’d inherited from Thatcher and Major, policies which have been in turn passed on and expanded by Cameron and May. These policies also played no small part in creating the disenfranchisement of large sections of the working class from British politics, and alienating traditional, working class Labour voters as Blair chased the votes of the middle class and rich. And these policies on their own should be enough to make people heartily sick and tired of him. Coupled with his illegal, murderous wars in the Middle East, they present an overwhelming argument against him making a comeback.

Blair possibly believes that if he returns to British politics, his presence will be enough to rally the neoliberal troops in the Labour party, oust Jeremy Corbyn, and make the party ‘electable’, or rather, palatable to Britain’s corrupt, bloated and exploitative establishment again.

Let’s show the vile, corporate warmonger that he’s very, very wrong.

Theresa May Reverses Promise to Put Workers on Company Boards

November 22, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a piece about Theresa May dropping her proposal to put employees on company boards. According to the Guardian yesterday, May said

“While it is important that the voices of workers and consumers should be represented, I can categorically tell you that this is not about mandating works councils, or the direct appointment of workers or trade union representatives on boards,” the prime minister told a packed room in central London.

“Some companies may find that these models work best for them – but there are other routes that use existing board structures, complemented or supplemented by advisory councils or panels, to ensure all those with a stake in the company are properly represented. It will be a question of finding the model that works.”

Mike points out that companies are already required to ‘regard the interests of their employees’, according to Labour’s Companies Act of 2006. This, however, doesn’t work, as corporate greed always drowns out the workers’ good sense.

Mike makes the point that her promise back in July to put workers on company boards now seems just a flat-out lie, made to maker her look electable. She never intended to publish plans for it by the end of this year. It shows she cares far less about workers and consumers than she does about the bosses.

Yet another U-turn from Tory Theresa, so now firms won’t have to have workers on their boards

This has all happened before. I can remember back in the 1990s there were similar discussions about work councils being mooted in parts of the press. The Financial Times did a piece on the issue, which reported that about 200 British firms had works councils. Then they asked the Tories about their perspective on them. They got a bland statement that said that they had no objections, but didn’t want to make them compulsory.

Which is pretty much what Theresa May has said here.

In fact, there was never much chance of May actually wanting to put workers on company boards. The Tory party, as I’ve said before, sees itself as the party of business, and as a rule, business hates the idea of worker directors with a passion. In the 1970s there were a couple of experiments with placing the workers in the boardrooms of state industries. One was in the Post Office, the other was in BAe. Both of those experiments were discontinued. In both cases there was considerable resentment of workers involved in management decisions by upper and middle management, although I think this lessened at one level in the case of the Post Office. One business leader, when he was asked for his view of the issue, stated baldly that they tried to do it to his firm, he would move the decisions away from the boardroom. And this is, in fact, one of the problems facing worker-directors. Companies can circumvent the issue of giving power to their workers by making sure that effective decision-making is moved away from their boards.

From a left-wing perspective, there are problems with putting workers in the boardroom. Companies can alter their power structure, so that real decision-making is kept out of their hands. There is also the problem that workers placed there may also become isolated from their fellow employees, and side with management rather than the workforce. Tony Crosland, the founder of the Social Democrat section of the Labour party, believed the difficulties were so great, that he opposed worker-managers, arguing that effective trade unions were a far better way of implementing industrial democracy. He noted that through their very powerful unions, American workers had a very large part in the practical management of their companies, although industrial democracy was never mentioned.

This, however, has all gone, gutted through nearly four decades of Thatcherism, Reaganomics and neoliberal economics. Thatcher and Reagan deliberately gutted the trade unions in order to expand the power of management, and their successors on the nominal left, the Clintons, Obama, Blair and Broon, continued their assault on the unions and workers’ rights. There was never any chance of May seriously putting workers back in the boardroom. It was simply a lie to prop up the façade of ‘caring Conservatism’, as Mike has pointed out.

We desperately need working people to get back their rights at work, and to obtain more power within their companies, both through formal industrial democracy and strong unions, if we are to save people from poor wages, zero hours contracts and poor working conditions. The Tories and Blairites in Labour will fight tooth and nail against this. But in the case of the Tories this week, May’s decision has shown that they cannot be trusted on this issue, just as they can’t be trusted on any other.

Vox Political: Vote Leave Campaigners Claim EU Membership Causes Lack of NHS Funding

May 16, 2016

Another important piece Mike put up on his blog yesterday was about the attempt of the Brexit campaigners in the Tory party to claim that David Cameron’s support for the EU is diverting funds away from the NHS. According to a report in yesterday’s Guardian,

In an email… Vote Leave’s Cleo Watson tells clinicians that her group desperately needs doctors, nurses and pharmacists to warn that Britain’s health service is being damaged by the EU.

A draft version of the letter included by Watson says: “David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt must accept responsibility for this – they have starved the NHS of necessary funding for too long.”

Mike comments that the email, backed by Michael Gove, has managed to annoy everyone. He remarks

The implication that a ‘Leave’ vote will provide more money for the NHS has incensed anybody with a brain; there is no guarantee that any funds that may be released as a result of exiting the EU will be diverted into publicly-funded healthcare.

And, of course, the call for clinicians to support the claim that the European Union has caused the damage to the health service that we have seen over the last six years has incensed them, because they know it isn’t true.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/15/brexit-tories-pretend-eu-caused-underfunding-and-dismantling-of-the-nhs-and-not-their-own-laws/ for more information.

In fact the argument that EU membership has the potential to harm continued state ownership of vital public enterprises, like NHS, is a fair one, when it comes from old school Old Labour-type Socialists, like Robin Ramsay of Lobster. In the ‘View from the Bridge’ Section of issue 71, Ramsay quotes Danny Nicol, a Professor of public law at the University of Westminster, on how the EU’s constitution promotes and protects capitalism against state ownership:

‘….the EU Treaties not only contain procedural
protections for capitalism, as is the case in the US
Constitution: they also entrench substantive policies
which correspond to the basic tenets of neoliberalism….
Imagine that a national government sought to introduce
EU legislation to allow all Member States a free choice
over the public or private ownership of their energy,
postal, telecommunications and rail sectors. It would
have to rely on the Commission – the very architect of
EU liberalisation – putting forward a proposal to the
Council and Parliament….’

See the section ‘In or Out’ at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster71/lob71-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

This is the exact opposite of what the Brexit crowd – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, John Whittingdale and Priti Patel – are saying. In fact, the reason why the NHS is being starved of cash and privatised piecemeal is because of the Tories’ own policies. Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary, last year published a book recommending the dismantling of the NHS, and previous leading Tories have said that in five years – in other words, by 2020, the NHS would no longer exist. They then hastily altered that to some verbiage about cutting bureaucracy after it was leaked to the press. Denials that they had said any such thing swiftly followed. Nevertheless, at last year’s Tory party conference, Hunt spoke in an interview about possible opportunities for private enterprise in the NHS in an presentation sponsored by the private healthcare companies.

And to confirm all this further, looking around the politics section in Waterstone’s this afternoon, I found a book laying out the case from leaving Europe by the Tory MEP for Dorset, Daniel Hannan. Hannan, or as Guy Debord’s Cat has called him, ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of cavalier attitude to awkward things like facts and historical truth, is not only a fully paid up Eurosceptic, but another who hates the NHS and would like to privatise it. So really, as far depriving the NHS of money goes, there’s really no difference between the Tories in the Brexit and the ‘Remain’ camps. Both wish to privatise the NHS. So really, it’s another case of more lies from the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign. But considering the sheer duplicity and mendacity of Cameron’s government, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Monbiot’s List of the Corporate Politicos in Blair’s Government: Part Two

April 23, 2016

Stephanie Monk

Human Resources director, Granada Group plc., which appealed against an industrial tribunal to reinstate workers sacked for going on strike after their pay was cut from £140 to £100 a week.

Member of the Low Pay Commission on the minimum wage, and the New Deal Taskforce.

Sue Clifton

Executive director, Group 4, criticised for mishandling of child offenders after escapes, bullying, riots and attacks on staff.

Advisor to the government’s Youth Justice Board on how young offenders should be handled.

Keith McCullagh

Chief executive of British Biotech. This company has been repeatedly censured by the Stock Exchange, particularly when it was revealed that it’s leading drug product didn’t work.

Chairman of the government’s Finance Advisory Group to help high-tech companies gain financial investors’ confidence.

Sir Robin Biggam

Non-executive director, British Aerospace, which sells weapons to Turkey, some of which are used against the Kurdish separatists.

Chairman of the Independent Television Commission. This revoked the license of the Kurdish satellite station Med TV because of complaints from Turkey that it gave a platform to Kurdish separatists.

Neville Bain

Non-executive director, Safeway, one of the supermarkets which was swallowing branches of the Post Office.

Made chairman of the Post Office.

Robert Osborne

Head of Special Projects division of Tarmac Plc, one of the major constructors of PFI hospitals.

Chief Executive of the Department of Health’s Private Finance Unit. In 1998, returned to Tarmac to run PFI division.

David Steeds

Corporate Development Director of Serco Group Plc.

Chief executive of the government’s Private Finance Panel.

Tony Edwards

Director of the TI Group, which owned Matrix Churchill, the company which provided machine tools to manufacture arms to the Iraqis. He is the company’s chief executive, which is engaged in 150 military operations around the world.

Head of the government’s Defence Export Services Organisation, advising the government on granting licenses to companies wishing to sell arms to different countries around the world.

Neil Caldwell

Director of PTBRO, the distributor of the government’s landfill tax money, for which it receives 10 per cent of the amount handled in administration fees.

Director of Entrust, the regulatory body supervising the distribution of landfill tax money.

Judith Hanratty

Company Secretary, BP-Amoco Plc, one of the most controversial mergers of the 1990s as it amalgamated two of the world’s biggest companies.

On the board of the Competition Commission, monitoring and regulating corporate mergers.

John Rickford

On the board of BT, which has been frequently attacked for having too great a share of the market.

On the board of the Competition Commission.

Sir Alan Cockshaw

Chairman of Construction Company AMEC
Watson Steel, part of AMEC group, won contract to build the masts and cables on the Millennium Dome.

Chairman of the government’s Commission for New Towns. Chairman of the government agency English Partnerships, which is supposed to help ensure that new developments meet public needs.

On the board of the New Millennium Experience Company, firm set up by government to supervise the millennium celebrations.

Michael Mallinson

Property of industry lobby group for property developers, the British Property Federation.

Deputy Chairman, English Partnerships.

Peter Mason

Group Chief Executive, AMEC plc. In 1997 the company was the seventh largest recipient of support from the government’s Export Credit Guarantee Department for construction work in Hong Kong.

The trade body to which it belonged, The Export Group for the Construction Industries – has lobbied against the inclusion of environmental and human rights conditions in the Export Credit Guarantee Department’s loans.

On the Export Guarantees Advisory Council, which governs the payment of government money by the Export Credit Guarantee Department. Liz Airey, a non-executive director of Amec, is another member.

Professor Sir John Cadogan

Research Director of BP.

Director-General of the Research Councils, which are supposed to fund scientific work that doesn’t have an obvious or immediate application for industry.

Sir Anthony Cleaver

Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority Technology Plc, which oversaw the organisational changes at Dounreay. These were criticised by the Health and Safety Executive as leaving the company in a poor position to decommission the site. Some researchers believed that Dounreay was the most dangerous nuclear site in Western Europe.

Chairman of the government’s Medical Research Council, which has been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide research funds for investigating the medical effects of radiation. Also member of the government’s panel on sustainable development.

Peter Doyle

Executive director, Zeneca Group Plc. Zeneca’s a major biotechnology firm, and was the foremost developer in Britain of GM crops. The company was engaged in a ten-year deal with the John Innes Centre in Norwich to find profitable applications for biotechnology.

Chairman of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which gives substantial funding to the John Innes Research Institute. Employees of Zeneca sit on all seven of the BBSRC specialist committees.

Member of the government’s advisory committee on Business and the Environment.

Professor Nigel Poole

External and Regulatory Affairs Manager of Zeneca Plant Science; sits on five of the taskforces set up by EuropaBio, the lobbying organisation seeking to persuade European governments to deregulate GM organisms.

Member of the government’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

Professor John Hillman

Member of the board of the Bioindustry Association, the lobbying group seeking to ‘enhance the status of the industry within government’.

Director of the government’s Scottish Crop Research Institute, charged with supervising government-funded research projects and providing the government with impartial advice on biotechnology.

Antony Pike

Director General of the British Agrochemicals Association Ltd; Managing director of Schering Agrochemicals/ AgrEvo UK Ltd.

Chairman of the government’s Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), carrying out and funding research into cereal crops. It has not funded any projects aimed at improving organic cereal production.

Professor P.J. Agett

Head of the School of Medicine and Health, University of Central Lancashire. This has received support for its research from three companies producing baby milk. Agett has personally received fees from two companies producing baby milk, including Nestle. The promotion of baby milk to developing nations is one of the most controversial issues in food and nutrition.

Chair of the Department of Health’s Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA). Three other members of COMA have either directly benefited from payments from the baby milk manufacturers or belong to academic departments which have. One of those, who personally received payments was a Nestle executive.

Professor Peter Schroeder

Nestlé’s director of research and development.

Director of the government’s Institute of Food Research.

Sir Alastair Morton

Chairman of the Channel Tunnel construction consortium, Eurotunnel. This had debts of £9m.

Advised John Prescott on financing of Channel Tunnel Rail Link; Chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority responsible for advising the government on the use of significant amounts to the industry, and ensuring that rail transport gives good value for money.

Photo of First Person to Draw an Old Age Pension

April 23, 2016

One of the other illustrations in Rosemary Rees’ book, Poverty and Public Health 1815-1948, is this photograph from 1909 of the first person to draw their pension. Pensions were first introduced by the Liberal government, and they were paid through the Post Office as a way of avoiding the stigma of poor relief. This should be an iconic image of the necessity of providing decent pensions to our senior citizens.

Drawing First Pension

The Tories are trying to undermine state pensions, by forcing people to take out ‘workplace pensions’, private pensions which are neither as generous nor as easy to draw as normal state pensions. It’s another case of the Tories rewarding their friends and paymasters in big business. They’ve also moved the goal posts on pensions by raising the pensionable without giving sufficient notice so that people could plan to support themselves between the time they believed they could retire and the real pension age.

Mike over at Vox Political posted up a piece from Lizzie Cornish, a ‘pensionless pensioner’. Mdm Cornish retired at 60, which was the normal pensionable age for women. Then the government raised the age to 66. She is 61, and has spent a year without pension, and fears that she cannot survive the next five. She explains that she’s been caught out precisely because of the way the government raised the age without telling anyone they were planning to do so, thus giving them time to prepare.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/22/pensionless-pensioner-brands-uk-government-most-brutal-regime-in-living-memory/

Mike has repeatedly described the policy of the Tories towards the poor, the disabled and the unemployed as ‘chequebook euthanasia’, like the Nazis’ murder of the congenitally disabled. It’s done in order to save money and provide tax cuts for the rich. Mdm. Cornish and the thousands of women like her provide further evidence that the Dave Cameron, Osbo, IDS and their replacements really don’t care about the mass deaths they are causing. It just another blow to the system of pensions inaugurated by the Liberals, and drawn by the chap above for the first time in 1909.

George Monbiot on the Political Power of the Supermarkets

April 20, 2016

As well as documenting the pernicious economic and social effects of the supermarkets, as they force out small business people and exploit their suppliers through some highly manipulative contracts and trading practices, Monbiot also discusses the political power of these vast corporate chains. He details the various chief executives and senior managers, who were given important political posts by New Labour and the Tories, and the various lobbying organisations they have set up to further their already extensive political influence. This goes on for several pages, but considering the immense power the supermarkets still hold, I think it’s worth reproducing this section of the chapter in full. Monbiot writes:

No commercial sector is better represented in British politics than the supermarkets. David Sainsbury, the chain’s former chief executive and the richest man in Britain, is a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which oversees competition policy. Tesco executives inhabit no fewer than six government task forces, including the DTI’s Competitiveness Advisory Group. A Tesco executive also sits on both the United Kingdom Eco-labelling Board and, alongside a representative of Marks and Spencer, the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging. The superstores have lobbied to ensure that regulations in both areas remain as ‘flexible’ as possible. Andrew Stone, Managing Director of Marks and Spencer, was made a life peer soon after Labour took office. the official spokesperson for the four biggest supermarkets at the British Retail Consortium is Baroness Thornton, a Labour peer and Director of the Labour Women’s Network, and previous Chair of the Greater London Labour Party. Delegates to the 1998 Labour Party Conference wore identification badges sponsored and labelled by Somerfield. While Tesco gave £12m to the government’s Millennium Dome, David Sainsbury (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has personally donated a total of £5m to the Labour Party.

The Sainsbury family has long been blessed with a direct line to power. While David Sainsbury, a Labour peer, is one of the businessmen closest to Tony Blair, his cousin and predecessor as chairman of the firm, the Conservative peer Sir John Sainsbury (now Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover), appears to have been Margaret Thatcher’s most frequent confidant. His brother, Sir Tim Sainsbury, another member of the Sainsbury board, was a Conservative MP who once held the same government post as David Sainsbury does today.

The opposition is unlikely to challenge the superstores’ power. The shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who – if he took office – would be responsible for most of the decisions affecting the supermarket chains, is Archie Norman, previously the Chief Executive of Asda. Francis Maude, the shadow Foreign Secretary, was one of Asda’s non-executive directors.

The supermarkets conduct much of their lobbying through their trade association, the British Retail Consortium. According to its Director General, ‘BRC is no longer an organisation that simply reacts to Government proposed legislation or White Papers but sets out to help shape them. By creating significant links with special advisers, policy specialists and the leading think tanks, the intention is to work in a non-confrontational way so we are involved at the beginning of any legislative process.

Its tactics appear to be successful. it has persuaded the government to allow 41-tonne lorries on to British roads and to consider its request for 44-tone trucks to be permitted in a few years’ time. It claims to have played an important role in the government’s decision not to tax out-of-town car parking spaces. Speakers at the BRC’s annual dinner have included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, the Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, John Major and Tony Blair. the Consortium’s submission on the minimum wage ‘was read by Chancellor Gordon Brown, the Treasury and the Bank of England’ and was ‘influential in persuading the Government and the Low Pay Commission’ to hold the level down to £3.60 per hour and introduce a separate, lower rate ‘not just for young people, but for returners to the labour market’. The consortium successfully lobbied the government to introduce amendments to the Competition Bill to permit ‘vertical agreements’ of the kind the superstores strike with their suppliers.

The BRC is also ‘ready to shape the Brussels agenda in the same way it does the UK Government agenda’. In Europe it has lobbied for ‘flexible’ consumer guarantees and against the European legislation requiring companies to inform and consult their workers. It has influenced European food safety standards and defended its members against the European requirement that the pesticides used on the foods they sell should be listed on the packaging. It has succeeded in keeping the definition of ‘free range’ as broad as possible.

Government is not the only realm in which the influence of superstores and their employees raises public concern. Sainsbury, for example, is a sponsor of the Soil Association, which regulates organic standards in Britain. In 1998, the Sunday Times alleged that a chemist from Sainsbury’s presented much of the case for the preservative sodium nitrate to the government’s United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards. The chemical is banned from organic produce in Germany and Holland, partly because, in large doses, it has been linked to cancer. What the Sunday Times did not discover, however, was that one of the members of the register is Robert Duxbury, an employee of J. Sainsbury Plc. Sainsbury was also one of the three sponsors of the Town and Country Planning Association’s inquiry into the future of planning, a subject in which the superstore chain has more than a passing interest. The Chairman of the Post Office, Neville Bain, is also a non-executive director of Safeway. This causes alarm to some of the people campaigning to keep post offices on the high street and out of the superstores.

In 1999,. the government published the first of its ‘annual reports’, which would tell the nation how well it was doing. It was launched not in Westminster, but in the Kensington Tesco’s. The Prime Minister’s office had given the supermarket chain an exclusive contract to sell it. It officially entered the public domain when Jack Cunningham, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, handed a copy of the head of Tesco. (Captive State, pp. 203-206).

So Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and the rest are involved in making sure that road and planning policy reflects their interests, as does employment and agricultural legislation. They have ensured that a known carcinogen is permitted as a pesticide in this country, and have campaigned to keep the minimum wage low. It is therefore absolutely no surprise that the same exploitative gang have been so keen to back workfare. One of the personal stories recounted on the Boycott Workfare website is from someone who was taken on by the supermarkets. At the end of their official stint, they were asked by their boss to stay on. When they asked if they would be paid, their boss stated quite openly that there was no need for him to do so, when he could simply get more unpaid labour from workfare.

Britain is rapidly descending into a corporate oligarchy like America, and the supermarkets are at the centre of this mess of political corruption. It’s about time they were cleaned out, along with the rest of the corporatists occupying government posts.

BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.