Posts Tagged ‘small Businesses’

Brexit Bias on the Beeb: Points West Goes to Weston-Super-Mare

September 4, 2019

The Beeb, as has been pointed out by countless left-wing websites and academics, ad nauseam, has a very strong Tory bias. It’s shown in its determination to vilify the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn at every chance it can get, while packing news shows like Question Time with Tory MPs, supporters and members of right-wing think tanks. And this right-wing bias seems to go right down to local news. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol area, covering not just Bristol, but also Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Yesterday, as part of the coverage of the Brexit debates in parliament and the demonstrations both pro- and anti-, they decided to gauge local attitudes in our part of the West Country. This meant talking to three local MPs, Thangam Debonnaire in Bristol, the Tory MP for Tewkesbury and another Tory from the Forest of Dean. They wanted to talk to the latter because he was one of those who threw their hat into the ring when the party ousted Tweezer and started about deciding her successor. And it was very clear that he was a Brexiteer, who wanted the whole debate to be over and done with and everyone get behind BoJob. He couldn’t, however, say what benefits Brexit would bring his constituents in the Forest, and didn’t answer the question when David Garmston, the interviewer, asked him what he was going to tell them what they would be for his constituents. Instead he just waffled about how he was sure they wanted it over and done with as soon as possible, or were fully informed of the Brexit debate. Or something.

Then it was down to Weston-Super-Mare for a vox pop. The split, their presenter announced, between ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ voters was very narrow, 52% versus 48%. They were down in the north Somerset resort town because attitudes in Weston closely followed those nationally. But this wasn’t evident from the people they showed speaking. Points West put out two deck chairs, labelled ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and invited people to sit in them in answer to the questions ‘Do you want an election?’ and ‘Do you support Brexit’. I think they showed four people, of whom only one was Labour and a Remainer. The rest were Tories and very definitely Brexiteers. And what specimens of humanity they were! One was an elderly lady with a Midlands accent, who ranted about Remainers being ‘Remoaners’ and ‘snowflakes’, all the while making gestures suggesting that she thought they all ought to be thrown into the sea. She then went off giggling like an imbecile at what she thought was her own wit. She was followed by an elderly gent, who declared that he wanted a general election that would return the Tories with a massive majority. And then there was a young man from Salisbury, who was also behind Boris Johnson and Brexit.

These loudmouths reminded me of the Bill Hicks joke about evolution having passed by some pockets of humanity. ‘In some parts of our troubled world, people are shouting ‘Revolution! Revolution! In Kansas they’re shouting ‘Evolution! Evolution! We want our opposable thumbs’. Evolution isn’t supposed to go backwards. But you wonder. All the anxiety about food and medicine shortages – I know people, who are stocking up on their medicines already – as well as the devastation to the economy, manufacturing industry, jobs, all that went unmentioned by the Brexiteers on the sea front. Listening to the old chap declaring that he wanted an overwhelming Tory majority, I wanted to ask him, who he thought would continue paying his pension and if he had private medical insurance if this happened. Because the Tories are determined to cut pensions, one way or another, and they are selling off the NHS. And Nigel Farage has said very openly that we may need to change to an insurance-based system. Which is a not-very-coded way of saying that he’s in favour of it. But obviously these people weren’t concerned about any of that. They just believed everything they read in the papers, like the Heil, the Scum and the Torygraph.

And I doubt very much that these talking heads were representative of the good folks down in Weston-Super-Mare. If attitudes in the city really are like those nationally, then the people sitting on those chairs should be equally split. Instead it looks like the report was very carefully staged to favour the Brexiteers. Just like rather more Tory MPs were interviewed on the programme than Labour.

The programme was on tonight about Sajid Javid and how he grew up in his parents’ fashion shop in Stapleton Road in Bristol. Apparently he still proud of his roots there, despite the fact that it is a run-down area with a reputation. It’s topical, but I still wonder if it was anymore objective than last night’s edition about Brexit. I didn’t watch it, only catching a brief glimpse of it, when one of the interviewers was asking other Asian small businessmen in the area if they shared the national fears about the harm Brexit would do to businesses like theirs. It’s possible that the programme really was more unbiased. But somehow, given the nature of last night’s programme, I doubt it.

Corbyn – Regenerate High Street by Handing Vacant Shops to Community

August 24, 2019

Last weekend’s I, for Saturday, 17th August 2019, carried a report by Nigel Morris on page 4 about the Labour party’s plans to revive ailing high street. Under the scheme announce by Corbyn, the local authority would take over empty business premises to let them to new businesses or community organisations. The article read

Plans to revitalise “struggling his streets” by reopening thousands of boarded-up shops will be set out today by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Labour would give councils the power to take over retail units which have been vacant for a year and hand them to start-up businesses or community projects.

Town centre vacancy rates are at their highest level for four years, and Labour says an estimated 29,000 shops across the country have been abandoned for at least 12 months.

It has also registered alarm over the preponderance of charity stores, betting shops and fast-food takeaways in areas which previously had a better mixture of businesses.

The plans, applying to high streets in England and Wales, will be set out by Mr Corbyn in a visit to Bolton today. He is expected to say that boarded-up shops are “a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered.”

Labour revive “struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street.” The proposals are modelled on the system of “empty dwelling management orders” which entitle councils to put unoccupied houses and flats back into use as homes.

Jake Berry, minister for high streets, said the Government had cut small retailers’ business rates, was relaxing high street planning rules and launched a £3.6bn Towns Fund to improve transport links and boost broadband connectivity. 

I think Corbyn’s idea is excellent. One of the problems of struggling high streets is the ‘smashed window syndrome’, as I believe it’s called. Once one shop becomes vacant, and has it’s windows smashed or otherwise vandalised, it has a strange psychological effect on the public. They stop going into that particular area for their shopping, and the other businesses start to close down. This is why it’s important to prevent it. Business rates might be part of the problem, but I’ve also heard that it’s also due to economics of the private landlords. I can remember my barber complaining to me about it back in the 1990s. He was angry at the increase in rents he and the other shops in his rank had had foisted on them by the landlord. He also complained that despite the high rents, there were shop units that were still unlet, because for some reason the landlord found it more profitable to keep them that way than to let an aspiring Arkwright take them over.

I’ve long believed in exactly the same idea as Corbyn’s. It struck me that with the expansion of higher education, we now have an extremely well-educated work force. But the current economics of capitalism prevent them from using their skills. If successive governments really believe that the increase in university education will benefit the economy, then graduates need to be able to put their hard-earned skills and knowledge into practice. They should be allowed to create businesses, even if these are not commercially viable and need community support. Because it’s better than forcing them to starve on the dole, or climb over each other and the less educated trying to grab low-skilled jobs in fast-food restaurants. And if these new businesses don’t make a profit, but keep people coming back to the high streets, but give their aspiring entrepreneurs skills and experience they can use elsewhere, or deliver some small boost to the local economy, then they will have achieved some measure of success.

This is an excellent idea. And if it’s put into practice, I think it’ll demonstrate that Socialists are actually better for business than the Tories.

John Heartsfield’sAnti-Hitler Poster and Tory, Blairite and ‘Independent’ Corporatism

February 24, 2019

I remember coming across the image below when I was at college, stuck up on the walls of the Religious Studies department. As you can see, it’s of Hitler making his usual, lazy salute with his hand flung casually back, into which a giant figure representing capitalist big business is giving him wads of notes.

The original was by John Heartsfield, born Helmut Herzfeld, a radical German-born artist. He was a member of the Dada avant-garde artistic movement and a Communist. The original work had the legend Millionen Stehen Hinter Mir – Millions Stand Behind Me’, as well as Kleiner Mann bittet um grosse Gaben – ‘Small Man Asks for Big Donations.’

The image is obviously about how big business funded the Nazis. It’s not entirely accurate, as the Nazis were first ignored by the large corporations, and they were funded instead by small businesses and the lower middle class. But Hitler later appealed to them and once in power Nazi policy always favoured monopoly capitalism.

But you could easily replace the photograph of Hitler with that Tweezer, Tony Blair or one of the Independents. Especially the Independents. As I’ve discussed many times, they’re all corporatists, who let their donors in big business decide their policies and send their staff to ‘assist’ them, and give their donors posts in government, in return for their funding. They are also, all of them, hostile to working people. They are anti-union, for privatisation and austerity, and against the welfare state.

And that is why they, and the media, so viciously hate Jeremy Corbyn. Not only does he intend to turn back Thatcherism and actually empower people, he and Bernie Sanders in America are doing so by appealing to ordinary party members and their money rather than big business.

So get corporate money out of politics, the Blairites, Independents and Tories out of government, and Jeremy Corbyn in. And may Bernie do the same to the corporate Democrats and Republicans in America!

Helping Labour to Win in the Countryside: Encouraging Rural Industry

December 16, 2018

As well as helping to bail out farmers, Labour could also help to reverse the decline of the countryside by encouraging businesses to relocate there. Shirley Williams, the former Labour politician who defected to found the SDP, which merged with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems, discusses this possibility in her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, published by Penguin as an example of what may be done to promote small businesses. She writes

The Wilson Committee jibbed at setting up a Small Business Agency, though the case for its seems strong. What the Committee did propose was a loan guarantee scheme, under which loans to small businesses would be partially underwritten by the banks, and an English Development Agency with similar powers to those of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies in relation to small firms. Thresholds for government support schemes which small firms are unable to cross, the Report said, should be reviewed.

This would be a useful start, but if the long drift towards concentration is to be reversed, much more is needed. The new agency should positively go out and look for products and services which small firms can produce, as COSIRA (Council for Siting Industry in Rural Areas) has done so successfully in rural areas. New firms should be able to qualify for capital loans at a subsidized interest rate, and they should be entitled to similar help when they reach the breakthrough point of rapid growth. This is the stage at which many small innovatory firms go under, because they cannot finance expansion on the scale needed to meet demand. Good legal and accounting services should be readily available through the new agency, which should also offer advice on government schemes that may be helpful. Red tape and form-filling needs to be kept to a minimum, since small firms rarely have the bureaucracy to cope with complicated application forms. The Microelectronic Applications Project introduced by the Labour government of 1976-9 has been successful in attracting several thousand requests for its consultancy scheme, not just because the government met the first 2,000 pounds of the consultant’s fees, but because the procedure for applying is so simple. (p. 121).

Williams is far from my favourite politician because of her role in founding the SDP and its subsequent move to the right. She is also personally responsible for helping the passage of Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill, which is part of the Tories’ continuing privatization of the NHS, through parliament by voting for it when others, like Dr. David Owen, voted against. But the book has interesting ideas. It struck me that IT is industry that could easily me moved to the countryside, if only in the form of software developers, who may not need quite so much expensive plant.

Many working people have dreams of running their own businesses, and G.D.H. Cole in one of his books on socialism argued that socialists should make common cause with small businesspeople against the threat of big business. And it is big business that is also threatening the countryside. As George Monbiot has described in his book, Captive State, the big supermarkets drive out the small businesses in their areas. This has a devastating effect on the area generally, as these industries employ more people than the supermarkets themselves. Furthermore, the supermarkets use very exploitative contracts to force their suppliers to provide them with goods at very low prices. New Labour and no doubt the Tories after them have done much to harm the country generally as well as rural areas by supporting the big supermarkets, like Sainsbury’s, against local shops like grocers.

Helping Labour to Win in the Countryside: Financial Support to Farmers

December 16, 2018

A year or so ago Mike over at Vox Political asked what could be done to enable the Labour party to win in the countryside. It’s a good question, as Britain’s rural areas tend to be Tory/Liberal strongholds. The countryside is in crisis. We have seen a number of agricultural crises force small farmers out of business, while at the same time local people are being forced out of their villages because they are unable to afford the house prices there, as housing is bought up by rich outsiders. Local services in these areas are also being cut back. Bus companies have reduced the services to rural areas, post offices, pubs and banks are closing around the country, not only in rural areas but also in towns. This also hits local businesses, and so the small businesses in these areas may also be forced to fold. The danger is that if these trends continue, Britain’s countryside and villages may decline from real, living communities to dormer suburbs consisting of retirement accommodation for the rich.

Brexit may also have an impact on this process. At the moment farmers are, or have been supported by a number of subsidies from central government and the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. Any subsidies from the EU may vanish if and when we leave the EU. How then can we save our farmers from bankruptcy?

Some indication of how this may be done could come from Roosevelt’s New Deal, as described by John Strachey in his A Programme for Progress (London: Victor Gollancz 1940). In it, Strachey discusses how the Roosevelt administration tried to give help for farmers by reducing the rate of interest on their mortgages and extending credit to them. Strachey writes

It was not, then, mainly by means of transforming the Reconstruction Finance Corporation from being an agency for the relief of big business in distress to a method of providing cheap credit to the American people generally, that the Roosevelt administration began to show it progressive character. It did so rather by a variety of methods of both lending and of spending (distributing money) directly to various sections of the community. Let us pass these methods in review.

The American government began in 1933 to distribute money to two classes of the population-namely the farmers and the unemployed. In the case of the farmers the Government not only spent (i.e. distributed money), but also lent. The farmers were dealt with by the Farm Relief Act which the President signed on May 12th, 1933. This Act was in two parts. The first part set up the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. The Second part, called “The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act of 1933”, was designed to reduce the rate of interest paid by farmers on their mortgages. The principle on which they Agricultural Adjustment Administration, or A.A.A., worked is well known. Substantial payments were made to farmers on condition that they restricted their production of all the basic farm crops and products in accordance with the directions of the Department of Agriculture. The money for these payments did not, however, come out of the Federal Treasury as such, but was raised by a special processing tax, imposed up0on the output of these same farm products as they passed on their way to the consumer.

The second part of the Act established the Farm Credit Administration, to which farmers could apply for loans with which to pay off their existing mortgages. This measure appears to have resulted in a reduction of the interest rates paid by farmers from over 5 per cent to 3 1/2 per cent. Moreover, the average period of these government loans was raised to thirty years, instead of the five years, which was the average period during which the private loans had to be paid off. By September 1934 these government credit agencies held 37 per cent of the farm mortgage debt of the country. This, the less spectacular part of the Act, is often forgotten. But its effect has been of great importance, since it has driven down the whole structure of interest rates on farm mortgages. It affords a model example of the use of government credit to depress interest rates at a particular important point. (pp. 188-9).

I am not saying that this precise policy needs to be introduced, as I understand that at the moment interest rates are low and that, if this country does suffer food shortages due to loss of imports following Brexit, we may need our farmers to increase production rather than reduce it. But it is an example of the general type of policy that may need to be put into practice to regenerate the countryside: aid to farmers and country dwellers to be able to buy their properties and maintain them as proper communities in which people live and work.

Latest Train-Wreck Idea from Hunt: Recruit Business Leaders as Ambassadors

November 1, 2018

I hope everyone had a great Hallowe’en yesterday. I can remember going to Hallowe’en parties as a child, and enjoying the spooky games and dressing up as witches, wizards, ghosts and goblins and so on. At the time, it was good, harmless fun, based on children’s fantasy stories. Adults had their own parties, of course, and there was also something in keeping with the season on TV or the radio. One year, the Archive Hour on Radio 4 looked back on the history of horror stories on the wireless, going all the way back to Valentine Dyall and The Man in Black, and Fear on Four. Actually, I think the only really frightening part of a genuinely traditional British Hallowe’en were the stupid section of the trick or treaters, who threw eggs and flour at your front door, and Carry on Screaming on the TV. This is the Carry On team’s spoof of Hammer Horror movies, in which Fenella Fielding appeared as the vampire Valeria. Fielding died a month or so ago. She was a very accomplished actress, but sadly got typecast because of her appearance in the movie. She was also a staunch Labour supporter, in contrast to her brother, who was a Tory MP. The film was a spoof, but it terrified me when I was in junior school. One critic of such movies once reckoned it was more horrific than anything Hammer produced. All good fun in its time, but I completely understand why some Christians and churches prefer to ignore it.

The Tories, however, chose yesterday to announce something equally ghastly. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has decided that he wants to create a thousand more ambassadorial posts. And he’s looking to fill at least some of these with business leaders.

Mike reported on this latest bad idea, and put up a few Tweets from Andrew Adonis. Adonis was a minister for New Labour, and he was very scathing about the idea. In one of them he said

we have 20 yrs experience of recruiting Trade Ministers from ‘business.’ Each of them have lasted about a year, having bagged the peerage & achieved little if anything. Think Digby Jones.

He also challenged Hunt to name one business leader who has been a successful ambassador, pointing out that they are different skill sets. It is, he said, the difference between being a successful foreign secretary and a student politician.

Mike also reminded everyone how the Tories tried a similar scheme with their free schools project. They decided to release free schools from all that stifling legislation the requires them to hire properly qualified teachers. The schools hired unqualified staff, and standards plummeted.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/10/31/hare-brained-hunt-wants-to-hire-business-leaders-as-ambassadors-remember-when-free-schools-hired-untrained-teachers/

It’s not hard to see that Michael Gove’s plan accomplished for schools, Hunt’s wheeze will do for British diplomacy. Ultimately, it comes from the peculiar social Darwinism the Tories share with their Republican counterparts over in the US. They consider businessmen the very best people to run everything, including essential state functions and services. Adam Curtis ripped into this idea, which was developed by the Libertarians in the 1990s, in one of his documentaries. This featured a clip of a Libertarian declaring that, in contrast to politicians, business leaders were better suited to running society because they knew what people wanted and were eager to give it to them through the profit motive. It’s a complete falsehood, as you can see from the way public services and the NHS have deteriorated thanks to Tory and New Labour privatization. Its part of the corporate takeover of the state, which has seen important posts in government go to businessmen and women, a process that has been extensively described by George Monbiot in his book, Captive State.

It also doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that not only are the skill sets involved in business and diplomacy different, but that the appointment of businesspeople in government leads, or can leads, to conflicts of interest. Trump caused controversy when his daughter attended him during talks with the Japanese. This was unethical and inappropriate, as she was the head of a business which could gain a material advantage over its competitors from the information she gained at these talks. Trade negotiations have always been a major part of diplomacy, with ministers and foreign office staff flying off to different parts of the world in the hope of achieving a trade agreement. It really isn’t hard to see how business leaders would be tempted to use their position as ambassadors to enrich themselves and their businesses.

And its also blindingly obvious that this situation will also lead to some deeply unethical foreign policy decisions. Just about the first story in this fortnight’s Private Eye is about how the government’s connections to the arms industry has kept them selling arms to the Saudis despite the butchering of civilians, including women and children in Yemen. Human rights activists and opposition groups have been calling for an end to the war and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, Private Eye notes that

The final decision on licensing falls to international trade secretary Liam Fox. His priority is business at any cost, and his department is judged on exports and investment into the UK.

See ‘Flying Fox’ in Private Eye, 2nd-15th November 2018, p.7).

Which shows you the Tories’ priorities in these cases: trade and business first, with Human Rights a very long way behind. But it will stop the government suffering embarrassments from ambassadors, who get concerned at the way the British government is propping up foreign dictators simply for the sake of profitable business deals. Like Craig Murray, who was our man in one of the new, central Asian states that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was appalled at the way Britain was doing just that with the local despot, spoke out, and was sacked and smeared for doing so.

It’s also a move which seems squarely aimed at preventing further social mobility. A few years ago, the government had a policy of recruiting ambassadors and staff from suitably capable people of working class background. I don’t know if the policy is ongoing. Somehow I doubt it, given the nature of this government. In theory, as currently ambassadorial staff are part of the civil service, anyone from any background can apply, provided they have the necessary skills and qualifications. In practice, I’ve no doubt most of them come from upper middle class backgrounds and are privately educated. But the ability of working class people to get these jobs will become much harder if they’re handed over to business leaders. A little while ago the newspapers reported that about half of the heads of all businesses had inherited their position. Also, by definition, working people don’t own businesses, though many aspire to have their own small enterprises, like shops or garages. But these posts are very definitely aimed at the heads of big business, and definitely not at the aspiring Arkwrights of these isles.

Hunt’s decision to start recruiting ambassadors from the heads of business will lead to the further corporate dominance of British government and politics, less social mobility for working people, more corruption and conflicts of interests. And Britain continuing to sell military equipment to despotic regimes that don’t need them and which use them to murder civilians in deeply immoral wars. But it’s a Tory idea, so what else can you expect.

Private Eye on New Labour’s Support for Private Sponsorship at Party Conference

September 18, 2018

New Labour’s desperation to obtain and please donors and sponsors from private industry is clearly displayed in this old snippet from Private Eye’s edition for Friday, 2nd October 1998. Entitled ‘The Lobby Party Conference’, it runs

Clear proof of Labour’s commitment to cash-for-access comes in a memorandum from party organizer Chris Lane to “all MPs and MEPs in the South-East Region and any staff or guests accompanying you to party conference in Blackpool.”

Lane urges the MPs: “Please make a priority in your conference diaries for Thursday evening for a reception sponsored by Seeboard PLC. This is a generously-sponsored event, on condition that we enable the company to maintain contact with regional MPs and MEPs.” In other words: come and talk to the bosses of privatized Seeboard which supplies electricity to the south-east, or the party doesn’t get the sponsoring money. If that’s not cash for access, what is?

The reception was due to take place at Yates Wine Lodge, Blackpool, on 1 October. The subject of pay awards for the fat cats of the electricity industry was not high on the agenda. (p. 5).

Lane’s letter is a very clear example of the corporativism that has corrupted politics both in this country and America, where private companies donate and sponsor the political parties and individual politicians. The result is that those parties and politicos, once in power, work for their donors and not for their constituents. It’s why less than 20 per cent of Americans feel their government works for them. And a few years ago, Harvard University published a report that concluded that because of this, America was no longer a functioning democracy but an oligarchy.

You can read how far Blair took the policy in George Monbiot’s Captive State, which describes how Blair’s New Labour passed legislation that enriched the corporate donors at the expense of public services and small businesses, like farmers and local shops. And Blair also rewarded the donors by giving them or their senior management positions in government.

But this cosy relationship between private industry and the Labour party is threatened by Jeremy Corbyn and his policies of reviving the traditional Labour policy of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, workers’ rights, strong unions and a proper, nationalized NHS.

Blair’s policy was to court private industry and Tory voters at the expense of ignoring the wishes of ordinary party members and Labour’s traditional, working class electorate. He and the rest of his coterie arrogantly assumed that the working class would continue voting for them because there was nowhere else they could go. The result was widespread disaffection with New Labour. Many members left the party, and the number of people voting for Labour actually went down. The party won elections because even more people were sick and tired of the Tories.

This has been massively reversed under Jeremy Corbyn. Millions have joined the Labour party since he became its leader, and its now the largest Socialist party in western Europe.

Which is why the Tories, the Blairites, the Israel lobby and the mainstream media are so desperate to destroy Corbyn’s leadership and even the party itself. It’s why Corbyn and his supporters have been and are being smeared as Trotskyites, Stalinists, Communists and the Hard Left as well as anti-Semites. It’s why the Blairites in parliament have tried coups, and threatened to split the party. And why Blair crawled out of whatever vile hole he’s been living in since he left office ten years ago to warn that the Hard Left had taken over the Labour party, and that ‘moderates’ – meaning far right Thatcherite entryists like himself – should leave and join a new, ‘centrist’ party. Which sounded very much like ‘Unite for Change’, which seems set up to carry on the old, corporatist politics of Blair’s New Labour.

Gove Thinks Poor People Eat Junk Food to Get ‘Solace’ in their ‘Difficult Lives’

June 7, 2018

Mike today has put up a piece commenting on articl3e in Mirror Online attacking Michael Gove for yet another utterance showing how completely out of touch he is. The Minister for the Environment, in charge of Britain’s food, has declared that the reason poor people eat unhealthy junk food, is not because healthy food is too expensive. No, it’s because eating unhealthy food makes them feel better. Gove said

“If you have got a difficult life and you have less money, then one of the things that can be a source of comfort, solace and pleasure will be buying and eating and consuming food that is not always going to be best for you in the long term.”

The Mirror article goes to state that critics have been lining up to point out to him the reality of the situation. And Mike comments, after pointing out that this is the man Some Tories want to take over from Tweezer after she’s forced out of Downing Street,

Michael Gove’s comments are typical of the privileged, entitled, out-of-touch toffs who currently hold the UK in a vicelike death-grip.

His words deny a simple fact of life for poorer people – that healthier food is more expensive and they simply cannot afford it, because Tory ‘reforms’ of benefits and wages have put it out of their price range.

He goes further, and says that if Gove really does believe this, then he must be a sad, squalid, blinkered little creep, and ends his article with the statement

This is certainly not the kind of man who could be hailed as a future leader of this – or any – country.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/07/hopelessly-out-of-touch-michael-gove-claims-poor-people-eat-junk-food-to-find-solace-in-their-difficult-lives/

Mike’s exactly right about this, and the way it reflects the received wisdom in the Tory party. And this goes back decades. Way back in the 1990s I used to listen to Joe Queenan’s Postcard from Gotham on Radio 4. This was a programme talking about current events in America, hosted by the American comedian, Joe Queenan, and his guests. On one edition they were discussing the obesity epidemic then beginning to hit America. One of the other voices on the programme was a journo from the Torygraph, who said pretty much exactly what Gove has said: that poor people eat fatty, junk food, like chips, burgers and pizza, to make themselves feel better. This was about 20+ years ago, so it shows how long that attitude has been around in Tory circles.

There’s an element of truth there, in that people do ‘comfort’ eat when they’re low or under stress. But as Mike points out, it isn’t really an explanation for the poor having a bad diet. Low ages and the greater expensive of healthier food is. And there are other factors as well. A few years ago, Jamie Oliver rocked up in Manchester or one of the other northern towns to teach the local people how to cook healthy food. He criticised one mum, who had joined the scheme, for not including many vegetables. This upset her, because she had no choice: there wasn’t a greengrocer near her, and she had only been able to buy from the shops she could reach, which didn’t stock much in the way of greens. And I’m sure this woman isn’t alone. We have seen the decline of local shops since the growth of the big supermarkets. When I was at school the local shops on our estate included a greengrocers and butchers. Now there are very few independent butchers around, and the greengrocers, at least in my neck of Bristol, seem to be similarly disappearing. There was one over on the rank of shops on the neighbouring estate, but they closed last year. If you want vegetables, you have to go to the local supermarket. And this might be difficult for some people.

Another reason why those on low incomes may be more inclined to eat junk food is because they’re quick and convenient. Not only have wages been held down, but working hours, for many people, are very long. Not everyone may have the time to cook a proper meal. And so for the temptation is buy a takeaway instead.

And there are also probably other reasons why Gove doesn’t want to go too far in trying to understand for himself why the poor, or some of them, eat unhealthily. And those reasons may be to do with corporate political funding and the power of the fast food companies. The Tories get much of their money from donations from big business. It’s why they ignore the wishes of their grass roots, to the point where many constituency Tory parties have either closed or are moribund, and concentrate instead on doing what their donors want. And you can tell just how powerful the fast food industry is by some of the adverts that appear on television and on hoardings. If you look at the adverts on TV, amongst the various car and perfume adverts are those for pizzas, KFC and McDonald’s. This advertising costs, though I don’t doubt that if someone suggested it should be banned, as happened with alcohol, the fast food industry would immediately respond with specially commissioned research claiming that they have no effect on how people eat at all. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye revealed in one of its issues just how many Tory MPs were connected to the drinks industry. There were calls to regulate alcohol advertising then. This has succeeded, but it’s only recently that some parts of Britain, like Scotland, have put the price of booze up in order to discourage binge drinking. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a large number of Tory MPs were either on the boards, or getting donations from companies like McDonald’s.

But Gove isn’t about to criticise them, despite the fact that one of McDonald’s salads was actually found to have more fat in it than their burgers. The Tories believe in unregulated capitalism, consumer choice, as repeated ad nauseam by Maggie Thatcher, and that whatever happens to you in the name of free enterprise is your own fault. And so they aren’t going to admit that the reason the poor may not eat as well as they could is because of low wages and long working hours. Indeed, I’m amazed that Gove even admitted that they have ‘difficult’ lives, considering how the poor have been demonised as feckless, ignorant, lazy chavs by both the Tories and New Labour, and particularly by the Daily Heil. They also aren’t going to criticise the supermarkets, which have killed off many community small businesses, because of the way Sainsbury’s and the rest have contributed very handsomely to party coffers. And the last thing they want to do is stop all those valuable donations coming in from the fast food merchants themselves.

So instead of placing the blame on poor working conditions and practices, and changes in retail capitalism, Gove did what the Tories always do: blame the poor. Just as they’ve blamed them for eating badly for decades.

This shows not just how unfit Gove is to succeed May, but how the entire Tory party – and corporate New Labour, when it comes to it – are for government. They don’t have any solutions to the real causes of poverty and obesity, only cod psychology. Get them out. Now.

Tories’ Comments about Universal Credit and Self-Employed Show They Don’t Care About Small Businesses

March 2, 2018

Mike this evening put up a post about how the Tories are trying to justify the removal of benefits to the self-employed under Universal Credits by claiming that it ‘incentivises’ them. Mike makes the point that it clearly shows the cruelty behind the Tories’ policies. They’re all about cuts and making things harder, not about rewards. It’s always, but always the stick, not the carrot.

I’d have thought that to be self-employed, you have to be very well self-motivated anyway. I’ve heard from my father amongst others that to run your own business, you have to get up early and go to bed late. And about half of all small businesses fold within the first two years.

The self-employed and small businessman have it bad enough already, without the Tories making worse. And I think they should seriously consider voting Labour.

Oh, I’ve met enough small businesspeople, who say that they won’t vote Labour, because of the old canard that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’. That hasn’t been true since the rise of the Social Democratic consensus in the Labour party. As articulated by Anthony Crossland, this said that you didn’t need nationalisation or worker’s control, provided there was social mobility, a progressive income tax and strong trade unions. All of which have been destroyed under the onslaught of Thatcherism.

But even before then, socialist thinkers like G.D.H. Cole were arguing that Labour should also seek to protect small businesses as part of their campaign to defend and advance the cause of the working class. Cole was one of the most prolific of Socialist writers, and was one of the leaders of Guild Socialism, the British version of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Even after that collapsed, after the failure of the General Strike, he still beleived that workers’ should have a share in the management of the companies in which they worked. So definitely not a sell out to capital, then.

I am also well aware that many small businessmen are resentful of workers gaining wage rises and further employment rights. They argue that they can’t give themselves pay rises, because of the economics of their businesses, before complaining about how much it would all cost them. Well, perhaps. But they can decide how much they charge, and what they intend to pay themselves. And they control their business, not the people below them. I’m sure it’s true that some white collar workers are better paid than the self-employed, but that’s no excuse for not paying your employees better wages.

But a wider point needs to be made here: the Tories don’t support Britain’s Arkwrights, the s-s-small businessmen, who were personified by the heroes of Open All Hours, as portrayed by Ronnie Barker and David Jason.

And yes, I know about all the rubbish about how Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, who slept above the shop when she was a child. But Thatcher, and her successors, was solidly for the rich against the poor, and big business against the small trader. That’s why they’ve given immense tax cuts to the very rich, and put the tax burden on the poorer layers of society. It’s why, despite repeated scandals, they will never willingly pass legislation to force big businessmen to pay their smaller suppliers promptly and on time.

And it’s why they will always back the big supermarkets, no matter how exploitative and destructive they are. George Monbiot in his Captive State has chapters attacking them. Not only are they parasitical, in that they pay their workers rubbish wages, so that they need to draw benefits, benefits that the Tories really don’t want to pay, they also destroy the small shops in the areas they move into. And they screw their suppliers with highly exploitative contracts.

In an ideal world, the big supermarket chains would be nationalised or broken up as monopolies.

The small businessperson needs to be protected. They, not the big supermarkets, create employment and healthy, living communities. They should be protected, just like the working and lower middle classes, which includes them, should.

And the only party I see willing to do that is the Labour party. Remember when Ed Balls said that Labour ‘wanted to grow your businesses’ to the small traders about this country? It was sincere. I think it was wrong on its own, as it shows how Labour under Blair had abandoned the working class, and was concentrating on hoovering up middle class votes. But ‘Red’ Ed did have a point. It should’t be a case of either the working class, or small businesses, but both the working class and small businesspeople.

Because the small businessman too deserves protection from exploitation. Which they will never get from the likes of Thatcher, Dave Cameron and May.

Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.