Posts Tagged ‘Railways’

Fabian Authors on the Tories’ Inability to Understand the NHS

February 9, 2018

I found the following passage in an old Fabian pamphlet from 1989, Does Society Exist? The Case for Socialism, by Brian Barry. It discusses the psychological reasons why the Tories hate the NHS, and why they are so keen to wreck and burden it by introducing market forces and private enterprise. They simply don’t understand how any public institution, which isn’t run as a private enterprise, works. And they despise the NHS because it is, and does. Barry writes

I can best illustrate what is at stake here by showing the two ides at work in analysing a particular institution – the National Health Service, which I take it to be (in its general principles if not its detailed operation) an exemplary socialist institution in that it replaces profit with service as the rationale of its activities.

No doubt that is enough to make the NHS highly distasteful to Mrs Thatcher and her more ideologically-driven colleagues. But it would be too simple to suppose that the only explanation for the Government’s proposed revamping of the NHS is the desire to destroy a stronghold of values alien to those of the market. A complementary explanation is that the denizens of the think-tanks whose advice the Government listens to really cannot imagine that an organisation can possibly work effectively unless incentives are rigged so that decision makers find it in their interest to do whatever they ought to do. They are so besotted by the rational-choice paradigm in this form that they just deduce from first principles what a health service driven by self-interest would be like and put that forward without feeling any necessity for looking in detail at the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system.

This seems to be precisely the case. The Tories and their think-tanks really don’t understand anything that works outside market forces and the profit motive. We’ve seen that in the various pronouncements they’ve made over the years about how public services run as state industries are inefficient, because they’re not run as private firms. And when Thatcher and Major began to reform the NHS along the lines of private industry by introducing the disastrous internal market, they did so arguing that making the NHS more like a private firm would improve performance and make it more efficient.

In fact none of this is remotely true. The internal market was a disaster, and repealed by New Labour. Blair, however, was a true-Blue Thatcherite, and continued Thatcher’s programme of privatising the NHS piecemeal. But the privatisation of public services has only made them more expensive and inefficient. It’s been estimated that we’re paying 10 to 20 per cent more for our electricity now than we would be if the electricity grid had remained in the hands of the state. The railway network is similarly falling apart. We’re paying far more in subsidies now to the private firms that run the railways than we did when it was British Rail. And the service is worse. The ‘I; reported in its business pages that Grayling was under pressure to renationalise the East Coast line, one of the latest of the train companies to fail. The NHS is failing precisely because the market reforms and privatisation of services introduced by Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron and Tweezer eat up the funding for it. Private hospitals and healthcare providers spend less of their money on actual healthcare than the NHS, and more on administration. Quite apart from the fact that the Tories are privatising the Health Service anyway to give it to their friends and donors in private industry.

Thatcherism is a complete failure. The only solution is to get the failed market out of the utility industries and renationalise the NHS, the electricity companies and the railways.

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Another Crisis in the Outsourcing Industry: Capita Now in Trouble

February 1, 2018

Yesterday, Mike reported on his blog that the outsourcing giant, Capita, was now in trouble. Its share price has apparently halved, knocking £1.1 billion of its stock market value. It has axed its scheme to issue £500 million in dividends to its shareholders. Instead, it intends to raise £700 million, partly by selling off parts of the company, which it needs to balance the books. There are also fears that it will make part of its 67,000 strong workforce redundant as well as concerns for the firm’s pension fund.

Mike in his article notes that the company was responsible for assessing the infamous fitness for work tests, for which the government has imposed hidden targets. One of these is that 80 per cent of reconsidered cases should be turned down. Mike therefore comments that if the crisis means that some of these assessors get a taste of what they inflicted on benefit claimants, this would be a case of poetic justice. He also wonders what the firm was doing when it devised the scheme to issue those massive dividends to its shareholders. Did they believe that the government’s magic money tree would continue to allow them to give heaps of money to their rich shareholders? He also asks other searching questions, such as whether it was deliberately underbidding to get government contracts, and then using the money to help finance those projects it had already won.

Mike concludes

So: First Carillion collapsed. Now both Interserve (remember them?) and Capita are in trouble.

Who’s next? And what will happen to public services while the Tories dither over this crisis?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/31/in-the-crap-ita-government-contractor-responsible-for-benefit-assessments-is-in-deep-financial-doo-doo/

Capita, or as Private Eye dubbed it, ‘Crapita’, has a long history of incompetence behind it. Way back in the 1990s it seemed that hardly a fortnight went by without Capita turning up in the pages of the satirical magazine. And the story was nearly always the same. The outsourcing company won a government or local authority contract to set up an IT system or run IT services. The project would then go over time and over budget, and would be massively flawed. And then a few weeks or months later, the company would be given a contract somewhere, and do exactly the same thing there.

You’re left wondering how Crapita kept winning those contracts, when it was so manifestly unfit to carry them out. Who did it have on its board? Or was there a deliberate policy by Major’s government to support outsourcing, no matter how inefficient and incompetent they were, because it was private enterprise and so preferred and supported for purely ideological reasons?

In any case, what seems to have placed the company in a very precarious financial situation is the usual tactics of big companies in this stage of capitalism: award massive dividends to the shareholders. This usually goes along with starving the rest of the company of investment, which seems to have been done to. And granting massive, and massively unsustainable pay awards to senior management. There’s no mention of that in Mike’s article, but I don’t doubt that this was done too. I’ve got the impression that it’s just about standard practice across a huge swathe of industry.

This is a financial strategy that has driven far more than one company to the wall. I also wonder if the executives weren’t also trying deliberately to create a debt, so that they could dodge corporation tax for five years. This is one of the tricks Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack describe in their book on contemporary British poverty, Breadline Britain.

Over the years the outsourcing policy has been in operation, there’s been one crisis after another. The outsourcing companies have repeatedly shown themselves to be incompetent, not just in the case of capita, but also notoriously with G4S and the scandals over the violence and brutality it meted out towards asylum seekers in the detention centres it ran. And, of course, when a whole load of prisoners escaped on their way to court. Or jail.

Private industry has repeatedly shown that it is incompetent to do the work of the state sector. These firms have the disadvantage of having to make a profit for their shareholders, as well as the demands of their management for multi-million pound pay packets. The only way they can afford this is by cutting wages to their workers, and spending as little as possible on the service they are meant to be providing. The result of this has been a series of financial collapses. Carillion was the first. Now Capita and Interserve, another outsourcing company, is in similar trouble.

The only sensible recourse should be to cancel these companies’ contracts, and take everything back in-house. But this won’t be done. I think there’s a problem in that the state sector has been so decimated by the past four decades of Thatcherism, that it no longer has the capacity to run these services itself. There’s also the additional problem that too many politicians and media magnates have connections to these companies, or to firms in a similar position hoping for government contracts. Acknowledging that outsourcing was a failure would damage the interests of these politicos and press barons. There’s also the challenge of actually facing up to the fact that a central plank of Thatcherite dogma – that private enterprise is always more efficient than the state – is absolutely, undeniably wrong. Anybody who makes this point is denounced as a Communist in screaming headlines. You only have to look at the way the Tory press has vilified Jeremy Corbyn for daring to want to renationalise the NHS, the electricity net and the railways. His policies are very far from the total nationalisation demanded by Communists and Trotskyites, but you wouldn’t know it from the frothing abuse hurled in his direction by the Tories and Blairites.

There’s also another problem with calling an end to the outsourcing scam. PFI contracts and outsourcing allow some of the costs to be written off the official government accounts sheet. They’re still there, and we have to keep paying them, but they’re not included in the official figures. It’s why Mussolini used a similar scam when he was Duce of Fascist Italy. Any government that restores these projects to the way they were handled before risks putting millions back the official figures. And if that’s the Labour party, you can imagine the Tories making their usual hackneyed and untrue comments about ‘high-spending Labour’, and then re-iterating the spurious arguments for austerity.

I’ve no doubt that the government will do what it can to shore up the current mess the outsourcing companies are in. But the collapse of Carillion and now the severe financial troubles faced by Capita and Interserve show that outsourcing does not work. And given these companies’ highly checkered history, they should never have been given governments to begin with.

And it bears out exactly the description the author of Zombie Economics used for them in the very title of his book. Outsourcing, and the rest of the Thatcherite economic strategy of privatisation, wage restraint, low taxation and declining welfare are ‘zombie economics’ as they don’t work, but haven’t yet been put it into the grave.

It’s high time they were, and Thatcherite free trade capitalism was abandoned as the failure it so glaringly is.

Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka Wanted for Firearms Offences in Hungary

January 27, 2018

Remember Sebastian Gorka, who was one of Trump’s key advisers in government, before the Orange Buffoon lost his rag and sacked him, like he’s done to so many others? Gorka was of Hungarian extraction, and had strong links to the Hungarian Far Right. He wore the insignia of the Vitezi Rend, the Hungarian chivalric order set up by Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, who led the country into a pact with Nazi Germany and assisted them with the Holocaust and deportations of Jews in his country. Gorka has also been personally active in a number of Hungarian Far Right organisations, and was one of the founders of one of them.

Turns out Gorka’s a wanted man. In this clip from the David Pakman Show, host David Pakman and his producer discuss the news that Gorka is wanted for firearms offences in Hungary going back before he became a member of Trump’s cabinet. Gorka has responded to this by making a non-denial. He Tweeted that the warrant was put out after he moved to America, adding ‘moron’ for good, insulting effect. But as they point out, this isn’t actually a denial that he is wanted for these crimes. Pakman also draws parallels of moving to America from South America, where he grew up. It’s perfectly possible that Gorka committed the offences after he emigrated to the US. Just because his primary residence is now the USA, does not mean he hasn’t been back to his family’s old homeland from time to time. Just as it doesn’t mean that because someone lives in California they have never been out of that state.

Pakman and his producer also point out that this also has dire implications for Trump’s claims that he’s hard on immigration and stands for law and order. Well, no, clearly he doesn’t. He claimed he was going to be super-hard on vetting his staff. He clearly wasn’t, otherwise Gorka’s arrest warrant would have been flagged, noted, and he wouldn’t have got the job. On the other hand, perhaps he was, and the Generalissimo of Reality TV didn’t care. Pakman also contrasts Gorka with the Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, who enter America to do physical work, like labouring. This wasn’t the case of a normal immigrant, who actually does something useful, like put in windows, fix the plumbing or mow the lawn. No, Gorka was a criminal immigrant, whom Trump took into the White House itself.

The last minute or so of the clip is a piece of advertising for their sponsors. I’m sorry for this, but I realise that shows like Pakman will only survive by advertising, and need sponsorship. Because Google is desperately trying to close down any left-wing news sites on the spurious grounds of combatting fake news.

As far as Gorka’s unsavoury activities and connections go, I honestly don’t think that Trump cares. He’s surrounded himself with all kinds of deeply unpleasant characters with extreme right-wing views, like Richard Spencer and the Alt Right. A century ago Gorka’s own ethnicity would have been problem for American nativists. Back in the 1920 right-wing American ethnic nationalists really didn’t like immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, like Poles and Hungarians, because they were considered racially inferior. Hitler in his Table Talk remarks that Hungarians are ‘men of the Steppe’, which is sort-of true in that the Magyars had been steppe nomads before the entered the Pannonian March in the 9th/10th century. And the Nazis despised the Poles and other Slavs as racial inferiors. Millions of Poles and related peoples were imported into Nazi Germany to work as slave labour. However, the Nazis strictly outlawed any sexual contact between Germans and Poles as a threat to Aryan racial purity. And if you look at some of the diagrams showing the differences between peoples in Nazi texts, like the handbook given out to the Hitler Youth, they portray the Poles and the other Slavs – Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and so on – as having very Asiatic features similar to those of the Chinese and other east Asian peoples.

This racist contempt for the Slavonic peoples was reversed after the War, when the Nazis turned their attention to Black and Asian nationalist movements, and non-White immigration. The Shoah had made anti-Semitism absolutely unacceptable to most people, although in Britain and America groups like the National Front, BNP and the American Nazi Party were still goose stepping around in Nazi uniforms as late as the 1970s. Then the White Nationalists decided that Magyars and particularly Slavs, weren’t subhuman after all, and started actively recruiting them. Hence the re-emergence in these countries of anti-Semitism, now allied with a vicious Islamophobia, amongst a plethora of Far Right parties. And Sebastian Gorka’s inclusion in Trump’s cabinet of horrors, along with other prominent leaders and spokespeople for the racist Right.

Hungarian workers, like the other varied immigrant groups in America and the new, Hispanic immigrants Trump and his supporters despise, contributed greatly to building the American economy. One of the heroes of working class folklore amongst the steelworkers of Pittsburgh, was Hungarian. He became a larger than life figure, similar to Paul Bunyan in the logging camps of the West, and was reputedly able to paddle and splash in superheated molten metal. This came at a time when working people had strong unions, which could demand respect and insist on their rights. All of which has been destroyed by pernicious Reaganomics and the neo-liberal assault on the working and lower middle classes that has followed it.

We need more working class heroes like the immigrant workers, Irish, Chinese, Italian, Slav, Hungarian, and oppressed domestic indigenous groups like Afro-Americans, who physically built America, toiling on its roads, railways and factories. And as Pakman points out, the Hispanic immigrants have proved themselves invaluable in doing dirty jobs no-one else wants to do. In fact, after one town kicked them all out, it then found it had a labour shortage and appealed for them to come back.

What we don’t need, is more far Right racists like Gorka and his domestic counterparts in the Alt-Right, Klan and various Nazi parties.

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.

Nationalisation Is Better: Bail-Out of South East Trains Shows Privatisation Doesn’t Work

January 17, 2018

South East Trains was in trouble again last week, and had to be bailed out by the government. The Labour Party made a statement that this showed the precarious state of the entire privatised rail network, as many of the other train companies could also claim they are in serious financial trouble, and pull out of the contracts.

This isn’t the first time aa privatised rail company has had to be bailed out by the government, or an alternative company found after one of them collapsed. And it shows very clearly that private railways don’t work.

Remember the old arguments for privatisation? State industries didn’t work. Instead, the state was subsidising inefficiency and these companies were a burden to taxpayers. They should be privatised, which would then make them more efficient, because they would have to respond to Maggie’s sacred ‘market forces’. If they couldn’t compete, they should be allowed to collapse. As happened with the mining industry.

Except that it hasn’t worked like that. We are now paying more in subsidies to the rail companies than we did when they were nationalised as British rail. And the service is actually worse than in the last days of the beleaguered nationalised rail network, when it was operating under the Operating For Quality programme.

Privatisation doesn’t work. Nationalisation of essential utilities, like railways, does.

But you won’t find this view promoted in the press, because the billionaires and magnates in charge of it consistently promote the idea that private industry is better, even when it is absolutely obvious that it isn’t. This is because, as businessmen, they see the rail network in terms of its money value to them. The corporate capitalism created by Maggie Thatcher and the Tories means that taxpayers are always bailing out inefficient and failing private firms, while punishing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. It’s all about giving more money to the rich, regardless of whether the services they provide is any good. Capitalism has to be supported and promoted regardless. And if anyone says anything, then the Tories automatically rant on about the inefficiencies of the state sector in the 1970s, and how wonderful it was when Thatcher sold everything off.

But the failure of South East Trains, and the parlous state the other rail companies are in, show that this argument doesn’t work. It’s time to call end to the private ownership of the railways. They need to be renationalised, and a proper, public service given to the people of the Britain.

George Osborne Lies about Responsibility for the Collapse of Carillion

January 16, 2018

No, not Marillion, who had a hit in the 1980s with the classic, ‘Kayleigh’, and whose singer was called Fish, ’cause he drank like one, but Carillion, the outsourcing giant which has gone belly-up.

Mike’s put up a post about Carillion’s collapse, pointing out that the company was in dire financial trouble, and had issued at least three profit warnings. But miraculously it was still able to win government contracts.

George Osborne, our former comedy Chancellor to Dave Cameron’s comedy Prime Minister, decided to put his oar in today. Faced with the question of who was responsible for awarding these contracts to the ailing company, Osborne did what every Tory does: he lied and spun. Oh no, whined Osborne, now the editor of the Evening Standard, it’s not the Tories’ responsibility they got government contracts. It’s all the fault of civil servants.

Er, no, George. It’s not. It’s your fault, and the fault of every Thatcherite government since the days of John Major.

If you enter the civil service, you will be told that it is your duty to provide the government with impartial advice. This marks the British civil service out from its continental cousins, where the upper levels of the civil service belong to the ruling party, and so change with each election. There have been cases when the civil service has been less than impartial, such as when the rail network was privatised. This was the brainchild of a particular civil servant, who was a keen promoter of free market private enterprise. But this particular mandarin has been and gone.

Looking back, a scandal like Carillion was almost inevitable. When outsourcing began in the 1990s under John Major, firms like Capita, dubbed ‘Crapita’ by Private Eye, became notorious for the way they continually got government contracts, despite coming in late and over budget on just about all those they had been awarded. Or else the systems they installed just didn’t work. But it was Tory – and Blairite – ideology that private enterprise was always better than the state, even when, to most people, it most certainly wasn’t. And there was a revolving door between these firms and the Tory party. Under John Major, the various ministers responsible for privatising particular firms magically got jobs on the board of the same, now private companies, afterwards. Amazing! But civil servants weren’t to blame for that, although certain high level civil servants did benefit from the revolving door, particularly and most notoriously in the MOD. The system got so bad that John Major’s government got a justifiable reputation for ‘sleaze’. But a French politician was much more accurate in his description of it. He said that in Britain, we called it ‘sleaze’, but in La Patrie, they simply called it ‘corruption’. Indeed. Over the other side of La Manche, a civil servant or politician has to wait two years after they’ve retired from office before they can take up a job with a private firm. Which means that their address book, which is what the firm really wants, is out of date, and they’re of no value to them. Problem solved.

Carillion was allowed to go on because of a series of legislation put in place by the Tories to protect the outsourcing companies. Like as private companies, they are not subject to FOIA, and any attempts to probe their financial affairs is automatically denied by the government on the grounds of ‘corporate confidentiality’. You see, such requests would jeopardise their position by opening them up to scrutiny by their rivals. We’ve seen this used when justifying giving contracts to private firms in the NHS. NHS performance is published and scrutinised, but not those of the private firms angling for lucrative NHS contracts.

This has been brought in by the Tories, including Dave Cameron and George Osborne.

And while we’re at it, let’s make the point that much government advice doesn’t come from the civil service. It came from private consultants, like Anderson Consulting, who were responsible for turning the Benefits Agency as was into the shambles it now is. Under Tony Blair this grew to enormous proportions, so that Blair was taking advice from SPADs -Special Advisors – from private industry, rather than the civil service.

So it’s fair to ask which set of private consultants argued that Carillion ought to be given a contract? Perhaps no-one did, but I think it’s a fair question, given just how much sponsorship the Tories received from private industry. Was Carillion one of their corporate donors?

So who’s responsible for the government awards given to Carillion? You are, George. You, Cameron, and your whole disgusting party. Now stop lying. You were rubbish as chancellor, and you’ve got no business editing a paper either.

Virgin Trains Bans the Daily Mail – Right-Wing Heads Explode!

January 15, 2018

Last week Virgin Trains announced that at least on one of the lines they operated, they would no longer carry the Daily Mail due to customer complaints. Immediately the Mail and its legions of followers started frothing at the mouth and complaining of censorship. But they don’t really have any basis for complaint, as the ban by Virgin is part of the very capitalism and privatisation that their heroine, Maggie Thatcher, promoted.

As a private firm, Virgin is under no obligation to anyone except to turn a profit for its shareholders and bloated paychecks for its board members. Thatcher deluded herself into believing that privatisation would lead to better services, due to the action of market forces and competition. But this didn’t happen. We’re paying more now in subsidies, for a worse service, than we did under British rail. But this hasn’t bother the Tories, whose ideological commitment is for private industry to run everything, even when this would produce a manifestly worse service, as it would if and when they decide to go all out and privatise the Health Service completely.

But as a private firm, ‘Beardie’ Branson can do whatever he likes with it. It’s his property. And so, by the nature of property rights, the Tories can’t argue against what he’s done. It is censorship, yes, but it hasn’t been done by the state. It’s been done by a private individual, whose right to do what he likes with his property has always been regarded by the Tories and the Republicans in America as absolutely inviolable. Branson is free to decide whatever magazines his trains will, or will not carry, in the same way that newsagents can decide which papers to stock. Way back in the 1980s I tried to order the English version of Pravda, which was then coming out, from my local newsagents in my part of Bristol. No such luck. I was told that Bristol had been divided up between the two national distributors. One operated to supply the newsagents in one half, while the other operated in my area. And the distributor that supplied the newsagents in my area wouldn’t carry it. So I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. Private enterprise had decided that where I was, I couldn’t obtain Pravda. Just as Branson has now decided that the Heil will be unavailable on his trains.

Yes, the decision makes a mockery of Thatcher’s constant mantra that privatisation and private industry would bring more ‘choice’. It hasn’t. But this has been the result of privatisation generally. People have been left with a plethora of companies, all actually providing a worse service than when the utilities were nationalised, and for many people choice is actually an illusion. It doesn’t matter who you go to, you’re still paying very large amounts for services that arguably aren’t worth it. If you want an example, think of the privatised dentists. Thanks to Thatcher’s decimation of the dental service back in the 1980s, there are now few dentists taking NHS patients. The dentists that have gone private charge fees that, for many, make going to them unaffordable. Yes, you can change dentists, looking around for a cheaper service, but unless you find an NHS dentist, you’re still going to be charge very high fees. So from that perspective, you don’t have a choice. And the same applies to the railways and other public services taken over by private contractors.

Secondly, Branson was responding to ‘market forces’. This was the other buzzword of the Thatcherites. The operation of the market was held to be good, just and a guarantee of commercial efficiency and success. Capitalism won over socialism, because socialism took no account of market forces. There’s some truth in that when it’s applied to completely socialised economies such as those of the Communist bloc. But as we’ve seen, various capitalist firms have since failed, and then had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. If you just have market forces as your guide, then these firms, which now include Carillion, should be allowed to go under because of their failure to respond to what the market wants. But instead the right demands that we bail them out, because it’s private enterprise and so can’t be allowed to fail. It’s why the corporatist capitalism ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher has been called ‘socialism for the rich’, as the state is always required to support them, while denying welfare services and healthcare to those genuinely in need.

As for Branson’s ban on the Heil, he was responding to market forces. People had complained about the Heil, and as the service provider, he responded to what his customers wanted. The Mail, which has vociferously and consistently fallen over itself praising Thatcher to the rafters, cannot complain. Thatcher stood for market forces, and market forces have dictated that Virgin’s customers don’t want the Daily Mail. So it’s just too bad for them that Virgin trains will no longer be carrying it. There’s also an element of hypocrisy here. If Virgin had said that they wouldn’t carry what remains of the left-wing press in Britain – the Mirror, the Groaniad or the I, the right-wing press, including the Heil, would be delighted. This shows that the great British public despise the left and its journalism, they would announce proudly. But now that the great British public, or at least that section of it that travels by train, have decided that they don’t want the Mail and its hate and bigotry travelling with them, the Tory press has been screaming ‘censorship’.

Yes, Virgin’s ban on the Daily Mail is censorship, but it’s been done because of the nature of capitalism, Thatcherite ‘choice’ and ‘market forces’. Except that in this case, they haven’t acted to empower the right, but attack it.

Ken Surin on How Privatisation Wrecked New Zealand’s Electricity Grid

December 14, 2017

Today’s Counterpunch has a very interesting piece by Ken Surin giving his selective impressions of New Zealand. Throughout the article he calls the country by its Maori name, Aotearoa, and part of the article is about the poverty and marginalisation that is particularly experienced by New Zealand’s indigenous people and Pacific Islanders. He begins the article with his reminiscences of on-pitch violence by the county police and county farmers’ teams when he played university rugby back in the ’60s. This has a tenuous connection to the rest of the article as two of his team mates came from the country. He then goes on to discuss the effects of neoliberalism on New Zealand. Reading his article, I got the impression that New Zealand did not suffer as much as other nations from the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, wage restraint, welfare cuts and rampant deregulation. But at the same time, he argues that it hasn’t done as much as it could either to stop and reverse it.

From this side of the Pacific, one of the most interesting pieces of the article is his description of the way privatisation wrecked the New Zealand electricity network when it was introduced, leading to a power outage, or outages, lasting five weeks.

Aucklanders of a certain age remember the Great Power Outage, symptomatic of their country’s dalliance with neoliberalism, that lasted for 5 weeks from late February 1998.

New Zealand’s electric industry had been deregulated, and the company running Auckland’s grid, Mercury Energy, had been formed in 1992. Mercury promptly downsized its workforce from 1,411 to 600, and skimped on cable maintenance to boost profits. At the time of the Great Power Outage, Mercury Energy was also busy trying to take over another electric utility, again to enhance revenues.

One of several assessments of the handling of the Outage by Mercury Energy and the city’s administration described their response, somewhat charitably, as “ad hoc”. They predicated their responses throughout the crisis on best-case scenarios, and were flummoxed when none materialized.

Practical preparation for worst-case scenarios costs money— duh! – and thus erodes profit margins.

Auckland’s electricity was/is supplied by 4 poorly maintained mega-cables (there have been five serious outages since the 1998 crisis), which failed in quick succession.

Traffic lights stopped working, ventilation systems broke down in the southern hemisphere summer, people were trapped for hours in elevators, food rotted in supermarkets, hospitals had to cancel operations, emergency services were put under extreme pressure, workers had to hike up 20 floors in high-rise buildings to get to their offices, and giant generators had to be flown in from Australia to tide the city over while the mega-cables were repaired over the course of the 5 weeks.

Harsh jokes were made about Auckland’s Third World electricity grid. One example: what did Aucklanders use before candles and oil lamps? Answer: electricity.

The mayor, whose city was becoming a laughing stock, and whose competence was questioned as the crisis dragged on, lost his bid for reelection soon afterwards, while Mercury’s CEO died of a heart attack at his desk.

Neoliberalism can be death-dealing, even for its beneficiaries and overseers.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/14/selective-impressions-of-the-new-zealand-aotearoa-conjuncture/

And other economists have pointed out that neoliberalism has been no more successful elsewhere. The American author of Zombie Economics, a Harvard economist, has pointed out that privatisation has not brought in the investment the electricity industry has needed, and resulted in worse performance than when they were state owned.

The Tories and corporate apologists for private industry like to go on about how terrible the British nationalised industries were in trying to put people off voting for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who have promised to renationalise electricity and the railway network. A few days ago the I newspaper in their selection of quotes from elsewhere in the press had a paragraph from the Spectator’s Karren Bradey banging on about this, before stating that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’ who was hanging on to an outmoded theory because of ‘weird beliefs’. Which I would say is, with the exception of the term ‘Communist’, a fair description of most Conservatives and other cultists for the free market. They are indeed continuing to support a grotty, failed ideology long past its sell-by date for their own weird reasons. This is an effective rebuttal to their claims.

He also describes how the introduction of neoliberalism into New Zealand wrecked the economy, and created more poverty while cutting taxes for the rich:

The New Zealand economy duly tanked– shrinking by 1% between 1985 and 1992, while productivity stagnated at below 1% between 1984 and 1993, and inflation remained at around 9% a year. Foreign debt quadrupled, and the country’s credit rating was downgraded twice. Taxes were cut for top earners (from 66% to 33%), while benefits were reduced by up to 30% for the poorest families. The number of poor grew by around 35% between 1989 and 1992.

This is exactly what we’ve experienced in this country during these seven years of Tory rule. And New Zealand and Britain aren’t going to be the only nations who’ve suffered these effects. They’re general, right across the globe. Neoliberalism is responsible for these problems. Except if you’re Theresa May and the Tories, who’ll bleat constantly about how all it’s all due to the last, ‘high-spending’ Labour government.

Rubbish. Neoliberalism is an utter and complete failure. It’s promoted by the Tories as it makes the rich even richer while keeping the rest of us poor and desperate. It’s time it was ended and a proper Labour government under Corbyn was elected.

RT on the Media Silence over Corbyn Receiving Peace Prize in Geneva

December 12, 2017

RT put up this video yesterday, reporting that the Friday before, Jeremy Corbyn and Noam Chomsky had been awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize by an international committee, the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. The committee had been impressed by the Labour leader’s ‘sustained and powerful work for disarmament and peace’. But they also note that this has not been widely reported in the British press.

Mike also covered the story from the NHS Skwawkbox. They reported that the All Okinawa Council Against Henoko New Base also received the award along with Corbyn and Chomsky. The Bureau was impressed by Corbyn’s work as an ordinary member, then vice-chair and now vice-president of CND, as a past chair of the Stop the War Coalition, as well as his work over 34 years as an MP. They were impressed by his statement that he could not press the button for retaliation in a nuclear attack, and arguing that military spending should be cut and the money spent instead on health, education and welfare.

The award ceremony itself was held on November 24th in Geneva, but Corbyn had to wait until this weekend to collect it.

Mike also noted at the very start of his piece about Corbyn receiving the prise that the British media was silent about it. He wrote:

<strong>Where are the celebrations from the mainstream TV and newspaper media in the UK? The leader of the Labour Party has won a major international peace prize and I can’t find any headlines about it at all, apart from in Skwawkbox!*</strong>

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/12/09/jeremy-corbyn-collects-sean-macbride-peace-prize-2017/

There’s no need to look very hard to find reasons why the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and the British press weren’t keen to report this honour for the Labour leader: they cordially hate him as a threat to the Thatcherite corporatist agenda that is ruining the country and forcing millions of Brits into mass poverty. And his fellow recipients are also enough to give any right-winger a touch of the vapours. Noam Chomsky is a veteran critic of American imperialism. I think in his personal political beliefs he’s an Anarchist/ anarcho-syndicalist. Which means he believes the best form of society would be one where there was no state, and everything was run by the workers through trade unions. The All Okinawa Council against Henoko New Base sounds like one of the local organisations set up on the Japanese island of Okinawa to oppose the presence of the American military base. The Japanese are increasingly resentful of American bases on their territory, and see it very much as military occupation, especially after the Fall of Communism and the removal of the Soviet Union as a threat to Japan.

But America now is a warfare state. It has expanded the war on terror to include military strikes and campaigns in seven countries, and its economy is heavily tied in to government spending on the arms industries. And where you have arms manufacturers with a powerful voice in government, you also find wars. And Britain is being dragged into them through the ‘special relationship’. Not that in Blair’s and Cameron’s case the Americans needed to do much dragging. I got the impression that Blair was enthusiastic for the Iraq invasion, and Blissex, one of the very highly informed commenters on this blog, stated that, according to the Americans, it was Cameron and Sarkozy in France, who pushed for the airstrikes to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya.

Throughout his period as head of the Labour party, the British media has been bitterly biased against Corbyn. When the plotters in the Chicken Coup staged their mass resignations the other year, it began with the collusion of one of the plotters to do it on Andrew Neil’s show. Now that Corbyn has made a genuinely positive achievement, which they can’t very well sneer at, or spin so it reflects badly on him, the media have no choice but to remain silent.

Apart from the issue of defence and western militarism, there are other reasons why the corporate media hate Corbyn: he wants to strengthen the welfare state, and embark on a campaign of renationalisation – renationalising the NHS and also the utilities industries and railways. This frightens the multimillionaire businessmen, who control the papers.

And so in the I yesterday, in the column where it quotes the opinions of the other papers, you had a quote from Simon Heffer in the Torygraph ranting about how ‘Stalinist’ Momentum were trying to deselect the ‘thoroughly decent’ moderates in the Labour party. And another quote from Karren Brady of the Apprentice declaring that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’, who supported nationalisation for his own peculiar reasons. She also reminded us that the nationalised industries had been failures, citing British Gas particularly.

Well, Heffer has always been a Tory spokesman, and the Telegraph has been particularly vocal in its hatred of the Labour leader. Not only is Heffer a dyed in the wool Tory, he was also a contributor to a book celebrating Enoch Powell that came out a few years ago, entitled Enoch at 100. Not only was Powell responsible for inflaming racism in Britain with his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, he was also a Monetarist, which became Thatcher’s favourite economic doctrine. Monetarism was regarded at the time by the majority of economists as stupid and ridiculous, and was effectively abandoned by Thatcher herself later in her tenure of No. 10.

And the ‘moderates’ in the Labour party are no such thing, nor are they ‘decent people’. They are liars and intriguers to a man and woman. They did everything they could to unseat Corbyn, and silence or throw out his supporters. But now that the likes of ‘Bomber’ Benn – so-called because of his enthusiasm for airstrikes on Syria – have failed, the Torygraph has to lament how they’re being ‘persecuted’ by Corbyn’s supporters.

As for Brady’s comments about the nationalised industries, yes, I do remember how there were problems with them. British Gas was notorious, and became notoriously worse after privatisation. But private ownership has very definitely not brought more investment nor improved the performance of the utilities companies. Quite the reverse – the rail network is actually performing worse now than it was in the last years of British Rail. It now consumes a higher government subsidy and charges more for worse services, all to keep its board on their expensive salaries and bonuses and bloated dividends to its shareholders.

But Brady really doesn’t want you to know that. She’s a businesswoman, who clearly stands four-square for the companies seeking to make vast profits from the former state sector. So she very definitely isn’t going to admit that there’s a problem with them.

Brady herself also likes to project herself as some kind of feminist heroine, thrusting through the corporate glass ceiling and inspiring other women and girls to take up the fight to make it in business. As Private Eye mischievously pointed out, this would be more convincing if she hadn’t begun her business career working in the offices of one of the porn companies.

The business elite are frightened of Corbyn, because he’s set to renationalise industry and empower British working people. And so if they can’t vilify him, as they couldn’t with the award of the Sean McBride Peace Prize, they have to keep silent.

Democratic Party Leader Donna Brasile Reveals Party Controlled by Hillary Before Her Nomination

November 4, 2017

This is another piece of political dynamite. In this clip from the Jimmy Dore show, the comedian and his two co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano, discuss the latest revelation about the corruption within the Democrat party.

And it’s a doozy.

Donna Brasile, who took over as head of the Democratic Party after Debbie Wasserman Schultz was caught corruptly acting for Clinton, has a new book coming out about the state of the Democrat Party during the presidential elections. Well, Killary has, so she may as well put her oar in as well. A passage from the book was published in Politico magazine. It was entitled ‘Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC’. It reveals how the DNC made a secret deal with Clinton in which they signed over nearly all the fundraising money and gave her control of the political campaign, including strategy and staffing.

Brasile is also corrupt like her predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. During the Democratic presidential nominations, she was leaking debate questions to Hillary, so she would have the advantage over Bernie.

And I know this is just ad hominem, or rather, ad feminam, but to me Brasile looks like the Afro-American cousin of Mrs Slocombe from the classic BBC comedy series, Are You Being Served?

Are You Being Served’s Mrs. Slocombe

The Democrat National Convention’s Donna Brasile

Brasile starts by slagging off her predecessor, dismissing Schultz as ‘not a good manager’. She then goes on to reveal the details of the deal. Under the laws set down by the Federal Election Commission, an individual can only give a maximum of $2,700 directly to an individual in the presidential elections. The limits are, however, much higher for the parties in the individual states. The donors, who had already contributed this amount to Killary’s campaign, could contribute another $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund. This represented $10,000 to the parties of the 32 states, who were part of the agreement, which made up $320,000, and $33,400 to the DNC.

She also mentions that the party usually shrinks the number of staff in the period between presidential elections. But Wasserman Schultz had decided not to do that. She had placed a great number of consultants on the payroll, and Obama’s consultants were also being paid by the party as well. Here Dore points out that this shows the contempt the party has for anyone except their donors. The party was already in serious financial trouble, but Wasserman Schultz was serving the consultants and donors from whom the party was taking money, not its grassroots supporters.

Brasile goes on to say that about the time of the Convention, leaked emails revealed how Clinton was keeping most of the money, and very little was going to the state parties. A Politico story published on May 2 2016, quoted Hillary as saying that they would concentrate on building the party up from the bottom. That’s how they were going to win. Instead the states kept less than half of one per cent of the $82 million they had raised.

Then Brasile found the document that would prove to be the smoking gun in the shape of the Joint Fundraising Agreement itself between the Democratic National Convention, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America. The Agreement was signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, amongst others, and a copy sent to Marc Elias, Killary’s lawyer. It specified that Killary would control the party’s finances, strategy and all the money raised in return for raising money and investing in the party.

Killary’s campaign would have the right of refusal over who was the party’s communications director, and the final decision on other staff. It also bound the DNC to consult Killary over all other staffing, budget decisions, data and mailings.

This explains why Tulsi Gabbard got removed from the DNC when she suggested that there should be more debates, because Bernie did well in them.

The agreement was signed in August 2015, four months after Killary had announced her candidacy, and nearly a year before she got the nomination.

Brasile also goes on to say that she tried to find other incriminating documents or evidence of corruption within the DNC, but did not find any. Dore pours scorn on this, pointing out that Brasile herself was involved in a series of shady moves to give the nomination to Killary over Bernie Sanders. She also states that the agreement was not illegal, but it was certainly unethical. It wasn’t a criminal act, but it compromised the party’s integrity. This comment again draws very heavy sarcasm from Dore, as it’s just about the worse act of corruption that could possibly be done. It sweeps away any kind of democracy or popular accountability within the party and places it very much under the personal, dictatorial control of a single individual. She also states that she didn’t trust the polls. Touring the country slocombe – er, I mean Brasile, had found there was little enthusiasm for Hillary. And she was particularly worried about Obama supporters and millennials.

Dore, Placone and Zamorano also take the point to reproach the show’s critics for defending Hillary from these charges of corruption, and the smears and accusations they had made against Killary’s left-wing rivals. Dore reminds his audience how he and the other left-wingers were told they were ‘misogynists’, because they backed Bernie against Killary. And because a group of lads had thrown dollars bills after her in protest at her taking money from the corporations and Wall Street. This was despite the fact that Dore himself had voted for the Green New Deal, and its presidential nominee, Jill Stein. Who was very definitely a woman. And throwing money at Hillary and calling her a corporate whore is just fair comment. She is a corporate whore, just like all the corporate whores, male and female, in politics around her.

As for all the accusations she made about Donald Trump conspiring with Russia to steal the election from her, this was exactly what Killary tried to do. She had made a deal with the Russian intelligence services to get dirt on Trump. Whatever the Clinton campaign claims is happening, he says, you can bet that the opposite is true. He also responds to Killary’s comments attributing her failure to having the election stolen from her by stating that Killary had also tried to steal the election through rigged primaries and superdelegates. And then there’s the highly undemocratic electoral college. With an exasperated sigh he asks the rhetorical question of how she could lose to someone like Trump.

He names all the various politicos and celebrities, who attacked him for not backing Hillary, including the producer of the Family Guy. He makes the point that the Democratic Party was lying to its supporters. It wasn’t the Russians, it wasn’t Trump, it was the Democrats, lying to their own grassroots supporters about the corruption within it. He is also angry about how people are turning their anger over their cavalier treatment by the Democrats and Killary on the Jimmy Dore Show. These are people who are poorly raised and have no power. If they really want to show how brave they are, instead of attacking a jag-off YouTube show, as Dore describes it, they should take those who are really powerful. Like Killary and her backers in the DNC.

But the Democratic left and ordinary people are sick of it. Various groups, including progressives and the unions, and in fact 80 per cent of the party, are talking about breaking with the Democrats and forming their own. He urges Bernie Sanders to join them and form a third party, rather than urging people to join the Democrats.There’s no point in anyone joining the Democrat party, as in the view of Dore and his co-hosts, the Democratic Party is dead.

These revelations should have repercussions over here in Britain. The Blairites in the Labour party are joined at the hip to the Clinton Democrats. Blair modelled his New Labour on the Clintons’ New Democrats, copying their policy of adopting the policies of their right-wing opponents in order to win them over at the expense of ignoring their own working class grassroots.

And just as the Clintonites started screaming and libelling anyone who dared to think that Bernie and his policies of strong unions, protectionism and single-payer healthcare were better for America as ‘misogynists’, so the Blairites over here did the same to anyone and everyone who supported Jeremy Corbyn. Because obviously wishing to return to strong unions, higher wages, better workplace rights for employees, proper welfare provision and the renationalisation of the railways and electricity, and an end to the privatisation of the NHS, are real threats to women’s welfare.

Of course they aren’t. The only women they threaten are the Blairite shills in the Labour party and the media, including the Groaniad, who regard the real horny-handed sons and daughters of toil with a mixture of horror and condescension, and confidently expected that, as upper middle class gels from public schools, they were entitled to a place in government along with their brothers from the same class and educational background.

This applies to the various media hackettes, who were raving about Killary’s tour promoting her book What Happened in Britain and the rest of the world the week before last. One of them raved about how, when Killary spoke at the South Bank Centre, women brought their daughters to hear her. She was inspirational! Well, she is to women, who also have an absolute lack of any real morals and admire a corrupt, corporate shill and ravening warmonger. A woman without absolutely any qualms about backing right-wing Fascist coups in small Latin American states. And then, when she loses the election, throws a colossal tantrum and blames everyone else except her, and particularly the Russians.

A woman, who falsely claims that she’s an outsider, simply because she’s female, while being just as much an insider as the men with whom she works and against whom she competes. While also consistently voting against those measures which would improve the lot of ordinary women. Like Medicare For All, stronger welfare provision, better wages and regulation of the banks, so that ordinary folks would not have to pay higher taxes to bail out greedy financiers after they destroyed the economy. Policies that would allow poor women, and this means just about everyone in America and Britain who aren’t rich, to eat, rather than starve in order to feed their children and pay the utility bills.

And, you know, ending foreign wars so that women don’t have to watch and fear for their daughters, sons, husbands and friends coming back from the Middle East with broken or missing limbs and shattered minds, or in body bags.

You know. Those kind of misogynistic policies.

With these revelations, I think everyone in the Labour party, who were smeared as anti-female for supporting Corbyn, is owed an apology by Rachel Reed and their friends in the media.

But I ain’t holding my breath.