Posts Tagged ‘Shirley Williams’

The Tory Privatisation of the NHS: List of NHS Services for Which Fees May Be Charged

June 7, 2016

NHS SOS pic

I’ve been reading the book, NHS SOS, edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, with growing fury. I bought it a week ago so I could learn a bit more about the Tories and Lib Dem’s privatisation of the National Health Service. The book provides a very detailed description of this process, and the very limited opposition Lansley’s wretched Health and Social Care bill received as it passed through the Commons. One of those, who actually stood by the NHS and fought it was David Owen, one of the founders of the SDP. And one of those, who added their crucial support to the bill, was his Lib Dem colleague, Shirley Williams.

As it stands, the bill effectively dissolves the NHS as a single administrative unit responsible for the entire country. The Secretary of State is no longer responsible for the Health Service as a whole, but merely in charge of commissioning. Vast areas of the NHS have been given over to private healthcare companies, and funding by private health insurers. The book also details how what remains of the state-run parts of the NHS are being deliberately starved of cash, which is now being funnelled to private healthcare providers.

And the government has also repealed the statutory duty of the NHS to provide a universal health service free of charge. Instead, the law has been amended so that fees may be charged for the following services:

* Services and facilities for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding.
* Services for both younger and older children.
* services for the prevention of illness.
* Care of persons suffering from illness and their after-care.
* Ambulance services.
* Services for people with mental illness.
* Dental public health services.
* Sexual health services.
(See the above book, p. 194).

Which looks like just about every part of health care in this country.

This is part of a long campaign, going right back to Margaret Thatcher’s review of the Health Service and plans for the dismantlement of the welfare state in the 1980s.

It’s disgusting. And we must fight against it with every fibre of our beings.

Shirley William on Demands for Cutting Tax and the Myth of the Social Security Scrounger

May 26, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

Yesterday I put up a couple of pieces from Shirley Williams’ book, Politics Is For People, in which she attacks the free market ideology of Milton Friedman, and notes how bureaucracy actually grew under the Tories, despite their declared concern for cutting it in the name of efficiency.

The former Labour MP and founder of the SDP also has a few critical observations of the various campaigns to cut taxes, and the myth that people on social security/ jobseeker’s allowance/unemployment benefit/the dole are scroungers.

She writes

A second line of attack, clearly closely related to the reaction against ‘big government’, is on the high public expenditure necessitated by the welfare state. The taxpayers’ revolt began in France with the Poujadist party, wand was later taken up in Denmark, where Per Glijstrup’s anti-tax party had a remarkable, if brief, period of success. it was an element in the 1976 defeat of the Swedish socialist government, and then reached its high-water mark in the triumphant passage of California’s Proposition 13 in 1978. Proposition 13 tied local property taxes to their 1976/7 level, and imposed a 1 per cent maximum on the annual increase, effectively halving the property tax yield. But as the effects of Proposition 13 have been felt on education and other publicly financed services, public enthusiasm for tax cutting has waned. An attempt to pass a similar proposal, known as Jarvis Two, to halve California’s state taxes was heavily defeated in June 1980. The recent history of anti-tax movements is one of dramatic advances which are not then sustained.

One particular form the attack on high public expenditure takes, one that is popular and easy to get across in electoral terms, is the allegation that many people are living off the welfare state who could perfectly well survive on their own. Popular newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic give a lot of space to individual cases – and there always are some – of people proclaiming how they have milked the social security system of thousands of dollars or thousands of pounds. Everybody has heard of somebody who can’t be bothered to get a job, or who stays at home living on welfare because his wage in a job would be little more than his welfare cheque. The ‘poverty trap’ – incomes-related benefits which are lost or reduced as the breadwinner’s income rises – provides a rationale for ‘scrounging’. It really is true that some heads of large families may be better off not working.

Yet the evidence for large-scale ‘scrounging’ is thin; most people much prefer a job to enforced leisure. Nor is the popular hostility against scroungers a by-product of the welfare state. It has a much older history. Ricardo himself inveighed against the Speenhamland system, under which wages were subsidized by the parish if they fell below a minimum level which was linked to the price of bread. ‘The principle of gravitation is not more certain than the tendency of such laws to change wealth and vigour into misery and weakness’, Richardo wrote in On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). It might be Professor Milton Friedman speaking. At the end of the eighteenth century, the indefatigable Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham turned his mind to the rehabilitation of convicts, many of them indigent people without work. He proposed to establish a panopticon, a sort of multi-industry establishment, which he described, chillingly, as ‘a mill to grind rogues honest, and idle men industrious’. Similar wishes are still expressed on the floor of Congress or the House of Commons by ardent Conservatives; only the language alters. (Pp. 30-1).

Williams here is exactly right. Mike over at Vox Political, the Angry Yorkshireman and many other bloggers have noted that Thatcher and the Conservatives have consciously adopted the Victorian principle of ‘least eligibility’ in their welfare reforms in order to make living on benefit as humiliating and degrading as possible for those on it, such as the disabled and the unemployed. The incident Mike reported on his blog on Tuesday, in which a woman with dementia was insulted by a member of the DWP, when she failed to answer a security question due to her disability, is an extreme example of this attitude. This just shows how long the Left have known about the extremely illiberal attitude to poverty at the very heart of Thatcherism and its explicit Victorian antecedents.

As for the Poujadists, they were a petit-bourgeois, anti-Socialist, anti-trade union party founded in the 1950s. Poujade was a French shopkeeper, who launched a campaign encouraging shopkeepers not to serve striking workers. One of the books I read a few years ago on Fascism included them as one of the forms it took in the post-War period. And Michael Heseltine was less than impressed with them, and used them as an insult in his spat with the Leaderene when she was goose-stepping around Downing Street. He called her a ‘Poujadist’, which accurately reflects her socio-economic background as the grocer’s daughter, and her petty hostility to the organised working class. It was a reference lost on the gentlemen of the press, however, who thought he meant she was a ‘putschist’. Well, that too, when it comes to petty Fascism.

Williams in her book has many good ideas. It was too bad that she and the rest of her cronies were more interested in splitting away to form the SDP and attacking Labour than squaring up to the Tories.

Shirley Williams on the Growth of Bureaucracy under Thatcher

May 25, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

The great boast of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives is that private enterprise, unfetter by state control, somehow magically reduces bureaucracy. Apart from ignoring the fact that firms also necessarily have their own bureaucracies, the economic and social importance of many of the industries taken into state control means that even after these industries were privatised, there still had to be a state bureaucracy to make sure these industries continued to act in a fair and responsible manner. So there are a plethora of regulatory bodies supervising telecommunications, electricity, water and the environment. And one effect of privatisation was to make these regulatory authorities and the state supervisory bureaucracy bigger than they were under state ownership. Private Eye in the 1990s during John Major’s administration ran story after story noting the massive increase in such bureaucracy in the electricity, water and environment agencies. The Eye also noted how Thatcher’s successors attempted to cut down this bureaucracy by increasingly depriving them of their statutory powers and limiting their remit. Bureaucracy was reduced not be being more efficient, but by being deliberately cut down to prevent it interfering. And thus was public protection against the predation and mismanagement by the newly privatised companies removed.

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who became one of the founders of the SDP also noted the growth of bureaucracy under the Conservatives before Thatcher in her book, Politics Is For People. She wrote

Another paradox can be seen in Britain, and no doubt in many other countries as well: the growth of administration. In 1970, the then Conservative government brought in the American industrial consultant, McKinsey & Co., to advise them on the reorganisation of the National Health Service. the reorganisation, in which professional interests were extensively consulted, led to a substantial increase in the number of administrative and clerical posts, and a higher proportion of administrators and clerical employees to doctors and nurses, the front line of the service. Local government reorganisation, under the same Conservative government, had similar consequences: more highly paid administrative posts, no evidence of improvement in local government services. Big government has its own impetus which is hard to stop, whatever the philosophy of the executive in charge. But opposition to it rubs off most on political parties identified with a substantial role for it. (Pp. 29-30).

Labour has suffered because, as the party most identified with big government and state expenditure, it has also been criticised by its Right-wing opponents as the party of waste. Yet the Tories have vastly inflated the bureaucracy involved in the remaining areas left under state control. Private Eye noted that the creation of the internal market in the NHS, and the PFI financing of hospitals, vastly increased bureaucracy in the Health Service. Successive governments have carried on the marketization of the NHS, with a further increase in bureaucracy. Within the BBC, the Eye also noted that John Birt’s administrative reorganisation of that once-great and respected institution resulted in the expansion of the upper management grades on vastly bloated salaries coupled with a damaging reduction in the production staff, who actually made the programmes people watch.

Britain’s public services and industries have been made increasingly inefficient through the creation of a corrupt and parasitic class of managers, who seem to serve only to perpetuate themselves at the expense of their own companies and their workers. Indeed, Ha-Joon Chang in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism in one of the very first chapters describes the cases of several companies that actually went to the wall because their managers cut investment and wages, and sold of the companies’ assets, in order to increase their share price and their own salaries.

The Conservatives are the party of parasitic, useless bureaucracy. And the management consultants they have called in to advise them on how to reform British state administration have done nothing but wreck it. Arthur Anderson, later Anderson Consulting, destroyed the Benefits Agency and the Inland Revenue in the 1980s and 1990s. Their successors in PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the rest of the accountancy firms sending their senior staff to help both Tories and Labour draft their policies on tax and so on are part of the same poisonous trend. The Tories should be thrown out of government, and the management consultants and accountancy firms firmly excluded from the business of government.

Shirley Williams on Milton Friedman and the Failing of Free Market Capitalism

May 25, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

The supposed benefits of free market capitalism and deregulation are at the heart of the ‘New Right’ doctrines expressed in Thatcherism and Blairite New Labour. Thatcher took her credulous adulation of the free market from the American Chicago school of economics, most notably von Hayek and Milton Friedman. These doctrines became New Labour orthodoxy under Tony Blair following Labour’s defeat in the 1987 general election. Despite Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor, having lost the 2010 election, and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn from the Old Labour Left as leader of the party, Thatcherite ideals are still espoused and promoted by the Blairite faction in the Progress ‘party-within-a-party’ in Labour.

Yet even at the time Thatcher was implementing the free market reforms that have devastated the British economy and society, it was obvious to the majority of people on the Left that the free market simply didn’t work. Shirley Williams, the right-wing Labour MP, who left to form the SDP with David Owen, now merged with the Liberals, was one of them. In her book, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981), she makes the following remarks and criticisms of Friedman’s grand notions of the effectiveness of the free market.

Professor Friedman, however, overstates his case – often to a ludicrous extent. There are many needs the market is incapable of meeting, because they are collective needs – for clean water, clean air, public health, a good transport system. The market is geared to individual demands and to individual purses; in meeting them, it does not count social costs or social consequences. Furthermore, there are individual demands that cannot be made effective because the individual cannot afford to satisfy them, typically, treatment for serious illness, chronic invalidism, care in old age. The market is a mechanics ill-adapted to the cycles of an individual’s life history, which move from dependence through independence back to dependence again, and also to the cycles of the economy. In his recent book, Free to Choose, Professor Friedman asserts: ‘Sooner or later, and perhaps sooner than many of us expect, ever bigger governments will destroy both the prosperity that we care for in the free market and even the human freedom proclaimed so eloquently in the Declaration of Independence.’ In an obvious sense, the Professor must be right. Total government, controlling the whole economy, would indeed be likely to destroy both prosperity and human freedom. But again his case is hopelessly overstated. In many European countries public expenditure constitutes 40 per cent or more of the gross national product. yet who is to say that Sweden or Denmark or the Federal Republic of Germany are less prosperous and less free than Spain, Argentina or Brazil, in which a much smaller proportion of the gross national product goes into public expenditure? Indeed the extremes of income and wealth characteristic of societies dominated by free market capitalism are not conducive to human freedom or to democratic political systems. Men and women without access to decent working conditions, education, housing and health do not fully share in their society. They are not accorded the human dignity that is intrinsic to the democratic process. their opportunities and their choices are crippled by the unequal distribution of resources. Even if such as country has some form of election, ostensibly based on a universal and secret franchise, the great disparities in economic power will influence the many who are weak to bow to the wishes of the few who are strong. (PP. 16-7).

And this is exactly what has happened. Britain has become much less democratic. Our leaders are rich and middle class elitists, isolated from the mass of the working poor in their own, sealed enclaves. The poor have become much poorer, and are increasingly seeing what few rights they have left stripped from them through Cameron’s reforms of the judicial system, trade union legislation and his assault on workers’ rights. Two decades ago there was a storm when someone announced that Monetarism had failed. Friedman’s free market economics are also an abject failure. They survive only because they sustain and empower a parasitical managerial class, ruling through elite privilege and toxic capitalism. It’s high time Friedman’s discredited ideas were very firmly dumped.

Shirley Williams on Economic Disruption by Trade Unions and Big Business

May 21, 2016

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who then went off to form the SDP in the 1980s, also discusses the alleged damage for which the trade unions were allegedly responsible to the economy, in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin). She concedes that some industrial problems were due to inflationary wage demands by the unions, but also believed that big business was also guilty of the same policies themselves. She also argued that the unions’ pay policy also had a beneficial effect, and that where strikes broke out, it was because the workers were poorly treated, and not given sufficient information on their predicament by the management. She wrote:

Trade unions are held responsible for many of Britain’s economic weaknesses, but criticism of unions is by no means restricted to Britain.

The power of unions and their irresponsibility, so one would have to conclude from the pronouncements of neoclassical economics, business representatives and conservative parties, is the one single factor (apart, perhaps, from the greed of the OPEC countries) which explains most of what is presently wrong with western economies. By raising the price of unskilled labour beyond its market value, union wages are said to be the major cause of unemployment, and by exploiting the scarcity value of skilled labour, they are said to be directly responsible for wage-push inflation.

Thus writes Fritz Scharpf, Direct of the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, in a paper entitled Capitalism of Yesteryear – and of Tomorrow?

Apart from their effect on wages, trade unions are alleged to disrupt production schedules and delivery dates by strikes, both official and unofficial. The growth and prosperity of industry are damaged by restrictive practices such as overmanning, fragmentation of jobs by craft unions, limits on the output of individual workers or of equipment, and burdensome conditions before agreement can be reached on installing new machinery or introducing new processes. ‘Productivity is now importantly hampered by overmanning and restrictive practices which, if they could be reduced or removed, would allow rapid increases in productivity,’ concludes the OECD’s 1980 Economic Survey of the United Kingdom.

But restrictive practices are by no means limited to the labour market, as the last chapter demonstrates. Much more than the United States, Western Europe has relied on cartels, pricing agreements, market-sharing arrangements and monopolies to limit and restrict competition. what has been true of labour has also been true of business. The strength of organised labour grew relative to that of business in the decades of full employment after the war, so that some trade unions were able to insist upon conditions for recruitment and particular qualifications for skill. In Britain, the folk memory of mass unemployment between the wars has been very slow to fade, perhaps because of the persistence of the class system, perhaps because of relatively low geographic mobility. Restrictive practices have often been adopted as a means of protecting jobs, which in the short run they may do. In some firms the workload during normal working hours has been limited so that workpeople have been able to work long hours of overtime as well. Overtime has become endemic in some industries and is quite often guaranteed.

Wages and Inflation

But trade union’s resistance to wage cuts during recessions, far from damaging industrial economies, has been an important stabilising factor. Wages and salaries constitute a very large part, usually about three fifths, of the national income. They are therefore the main element in domestic demand. Wage cuts, complemented by cuts in unemployment pay (the ‘dole’), helped to precipate the slump of the 1920s and 1930s. To quote Fritz Scharpf again:

Perhaps the most important [of the stabilizing factors] is the ‘downward stickiness’ of wage which are determined by collective bargaining. They have stabilised the income, and thus the demand, of the great majority of wage earners even in recession periods, and they have so far helped to avoid the vicious cycle of downward spiralling demand that caused the great depression. (Pp. 128-9).

Discussing the differences between trade union structure and membership in Britain and Germany, Williams states

The job of German trade unions is also eased by the amount of information on the state of the economy and of each individual company available to their members through the system of works councils. German workers know the effect that inflationary settlements will have on employment prospects and on prices because the facts are available to them. They also know when they are getting paid too little. This basis of consultation underpins West Germany’s bargaining system. In Britain, a heavy price is paid in suspicion and antagonism because so little information is revealed and so few companies consult their workers. (p. 131).

In other words, if you involve the workers in the management of their industries and economies, they will defend their own interests, of course, but in an informed and responsible manner. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Neoliberals, the CBI and the Tories have been claiming.

The argument that wages should not be cut, nor should unemployment benefit, because these actually stimulate the economy, whereas the money raised through the tax cuts given to the super-rich does nothing but lie in their bank accounts, has been time and again by economists and bloggers like the Angry Yorkshireman and Mike at Vox Political. Ha-Joon Chang makes the point that the tax cuts don’t work in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, in an entire chapter devoted to destroying the trickled-down argument. But such policies are popular, because they satisfy the greed and venomous contempt and fear the middle classes have for the poor.

General States that Army Would Mutiny against Jeremy Corbyn

October 19, 2015

The Independent yesterday carried a bizarre story about the claim by an unnamed general that the armed forces would revolt if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister. The article began

There would be very little support for a military coup if Jeremy Corbyn won the next election, a poll has found.

An unnamed British army general told the Sunday Times newspaper last month that the Labour leader could face a “munity” from senior military officers, “by whatever means possible, fair or foul”.

But a YouGov poll found that only nine per cent of the population would be sympathetic to a coup if Mr Corbyn became Prime Minister.

British Army ‘could stage mutiny under Corbyn’, says general

“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security,” the general told the newspaper at the time.

It can be read in full at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/almost-nobody-would-support-generals-military-coup-against-jeremy-corbyn-poll-finds-a6698521.html

Mike over at Vox Political commented

Does anybody else find it more than a little strange that a military coup against a democratically-elected political leader can be even considered, here in the United Kingdom?

See his coverage of the story at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/18/poll-almost-nobody-would-support-a-military-coup-against-jeremy-corbyn/

It is extremely bizarre, though it may not be quite so alarming as it first appears. Firstly, the general is talking about protests by military staff and mass resignations, with the possibility of a coup. The army has protested against decisions by politicians before. I was told by an ex-army friend at College that the army had organised a mass meal at Stonehenge in protest against cuts in military expenditure and mass redundancies by Thatcher’s government. This seems far more likely than any kind of coup, or even, it has to be said, of mass resignations by disgruntled military staff.

The mere talk about a coup does, however, bring back the days in the 1970s, when MI5 and the head of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton, were convinced that Harold Wilson was a Communist spy. Among the others so convinced was one Margaret Thatcher, then merely a Conservative MP. There were rumours of private armies being set up to counter the threat of a Soviet-backed take over by Wilson’s Red troops. As industrial discontent deepened, even the Times started mooting the idea of a coup and the replacement of Wilson’s administration by a caretaker government including more moderate members of the Labour party, like Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins.

It also reflects some of the hysteria amongst the Republicans in America, who are also talking about coups. The Young Turks in this video, posted on the 12th September this year, discuss a poll which showed that 43% of Republicans would support a military coup against a government. 41% of Americans generally would also support a coup against a government that was beginning to violate the constitution. Cenk Uyghur, the Turks’ main anchor, states that it’s only progressives that oppose a military dictatorship in America, and actually stand up for the values of the Constitution.

Now, an awful lot of Republicans really are convinced that Obama is closet Muslim-Communist-Nazi infiltrator, intent on setting up a ‘one world dictatorship’ and take their guns away.

Somehow, I don’t think that poll and the British general’s treasonous utterances are entirely coincidental. It looks the general has been infected by the same paranoia as the Republicans on the other side of the pond.

Or, more likely, he thinks the British public is.

It also looks to me very much that the Tories are running a Red Scare campaign against Corbyn. Remember Cameron’s foam-flecked rant denouncing Corbyn as anti-British, and their claims that he supports Islamist terrorism? The general’s comments seem to be another attempt to undermine Corbyn’s popularity by presenting him as a dangerous subversive, in league with Britain’s enemies. Cameron attempted to pass that off as reality by misquoting Corbyn as opposing the CIA assassination of bin Laden. Corbyn did oppose it, but not because he supported al-Qaeda, but simply because he wanted the terrorist brought to trial for his crimes.

The Tories are trying to smear Corbyn, and this bizarre remark by an unnamed general is part of it. It also reflects badly on the Times, which has a history of smearing left-wing politicians. Remember the allegation that Michael Foot was a KGB agent, codenamed ‘Boot’? That was also rubbish. So is this, but it does show a certain desperation by the Dirty Digger. In his career as a press baron, Murdoch has shown himself far more of a threat to British democracy, freedom of speech and open and responsible government than Corbyn ever has.