Posts Tagged ‘Somerset’

Foul-Mouthed Tories Curse and Swear at the Public

May 16, 2017

In the last piece, I noted how Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May both tend to have little to say unless it’s been programmed into them by Linton Crosby and the other PR spin doctors at Tory central office. Having no answers to opposition questions themselves, they wisely decide to keep silent. Or else simply recite the soundbites they’ve memorised.

Unfortunately, not all Tory politicos have the sense to realise when saying nothing is better than saying what they’d like to say.

Mike on Sunday put up a piece about two such idiots. One was Tory councillor Nick Harrington of Warwick, and the other was James Heappey, the Tory MP for Wells in Somerset.

After Ireland gave Britain ‘nul points’ in the Eurovision on Saturday, Harrington felt moved to tweet that the Irish could keep their f’king gypsies, and they were going to have a hard border imposed.

Heappey was visiting Millfield school in Somerset, an independent school that charges parents £12,000 a year to educate their sons and daughters. He asked the young citizens of the future what they thought of Scots independence. When one girl, who was Scots, said she’d vote for it, he told her to ‘f*** off back to Scotland’.

Charming!

Mike commented

Will the people of Wells be keen for James Heappey to represent them, after his foul-mouthed outburst at a schoolgirl? Are the people of Warwick happy to have Nick Harrington as a councillor after his racist tweet about Ireland?

Perhaps this is why Theresa May keeps telling us the General Election is about voting for her, and not the Conservative Party – the Conservative Party is an absolute, contemptible scandal.

He also notes that these idiots think they can carry on like that without suffering the consequences. Unless we throw them out on their backsides and vote in people who do match up to the requirements of the job.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/14/tories-disgrace-politics-with-foul-mouthed-outbursts-both-online-and-in-real-life/

I’m shocked that the two behaved as they did. I’m particularly disgusted by Heappey. Swearing at a child, who gives a perfectly reasonable, polite response to a question as a visitor to her school is absolutely unacceptable.

But I’m not surprised by all this. The Tories have a lot of previous. Of course, there’s a hatred of Eire running through the Tory party. I can remember the comments of one Tory MP as reported in the Heil in the 1980s, when the Irish Republic were demanding a role in the government of Northern Ireland. Instead of issuing a polite but firm refusal, as he could, he told them they could ‘stick their noses in their own trough’.

And there have been endless scandals where one of the old guard, who clearly fancies himself as someone who talks straight in disregard of ‘political correctness’ shows himself to be another racist in comments about immigrants, Blacks, Asians or foreigners in general.

You can also read similar tales in the ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column in Private Eye, about local councillors making disparaging remarks about their constituents, along with reports on local corruption.

David Cameron tried to weed out the racists in order to market the party as entirely respectable and comfortable with multicultural Britain. But as these comments show, the embittered Little Englander section of the party is still going strong. And it’s ready against all opposition from the Celtic fringe, whether it be in petulant, racist sneers brought on by the Eurovision Song Contest, or insulting schoolchildren.

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

Inside Out West on the Break-Up of the NHS Into Regions

January 19, 2017

Monday’s regional current affairs programme for the Bristol and Somerset area on BBC 1, Inside Out West, was on the dire condition of the NHS. It asked whether we now had a national health service, when healthcare provision could vary greatly between different regions. One of the people interviewed was a West Country man, who’d contracted hepatitis B. Unfortunately, the drugs he needed to treat his disease weren’t available locally under the NHS, and he’d been forced to spend £1,300 of his own money. However, treatment for the disease was free in the north east.

The show next interviewed a woman from that area, who’d had trouble obtaining treatment there for the disorder she had. I’ve forgotten now quite what she suffered from, but taken together, the two provided very strong evidence, backed with statistics, that the NHS was being broken up, and healthcare could be very much a ‘postcode lottery’, with patients in areas with poor healthcare provision having to pay for their treatment themselves.

At the end of the programme, the presenter gave the Department of Health’s view of the matter. Unsurprisingly, they claimed that more people than ever before were being treated, and came out with a statistic that claimed to show there were more cancer operations than ever. But they didn’t send anyone to be interviewed on the point.

This is the kind of spin the Tories have been coming out with ever since Thatcher got into power. We’re back to Theresa May claiming that there is no NHS crisis, and trying to shut up any healthcare professional that dared to say otherwise. The programme also interviewed several medical professionals, including doctors, who said that the NHS was very definitely being broken up and healthcare rationed. Most of them were anonymous, but one very famous medical man did appear on camera. This was the avuncular Dr. Robert Winston, the fertility specialist and science presenter, who stated very clearly that we now very much didn’t have an NHS providing universal coverage with the same standard throughout the country. He recognised that there had always been variations in the quality of healthcare in Britain, but now it had got much, much worse.

The fact that the Department of Health didn’t send any of their apparatchiks to argue the point shows that they’re very much aware their own position is open to serious questioning.

This situation is very much what the Tories and Blairites wanted. They wanted to break up the local health authorities and replace them with other administrative structures, in order to encourage competition between regions. Because competition is supposed to improve quality according to capitalist economic doctrine. Blair tried to roll back some of this, but simply replaced the Tory administrative structure with his own in order to encourage the regionalisation of the NHS and the privatisation of the health service, based on the pattern of American private healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente. This is all described by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in their book, NHS-SOS. Cameron and May have taken this process further, passing laws that exempt local health authorities from having to provide a range of services free of charge, including ambulances. The legislation is convoluted, but it also means that the Minister for Health is no longer responsible for making sure people have access to state healthcare.

This is all very deliberate. And the effect is that increasingly more people are having to spend their money on healthcare that should be free to all, according to the founding intention of the NHS that it should be universal and free at the point of use.

Don’t believe the Tory rubbish that they are not privatising the NHS. They are.

Support the NHS. Kick out May and Jeremy Hunt.

Vox Political: May Gives Go-Ahead to Hinkley C Despite Security Fears

September 15, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political also put up a piece today reporting that May had finally folded, and given the French and Chinese the go-ahead to build the nuclear power station, Hinkley C in Somerset. The stations’ going to be built by the French state power company, EDF, and the Chinese. The project was put on hold because of concerns about security, which created tension between Britain and China. May and her business secretary, Greg Clarke, were claiming that they had put in place ‘significant new safeguards’. Mike points out that they seem far from it. The ban on EDF selling its share in the site without government permission is simple commerce, rather than security. And he considers a similar precaution, the new security test for foreign investment in critical infrastructure also to be ‘toothless’. As he points out, it won’t stop the Chinese going ahead with their plant at Bradwell in Essex, and investing further in Sizewell B in Suffolk. He quotes EDF’s chief executive, Jean-Bernard Levy, that the construction of Hinkley C marks ‘the relaunch of nuclear in Europe’.

Apart from May flatly ignoring Green concerns, this also doesn’t appear to be a good deal for the British customer either. The government has guaranteed EDF a price of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of electricity generated, despite the fact that this is higher than the market rate.

As Mike says

This is a step backwards – and a bitter blow for all those who have been working towards a greener, cleaner, forward-looking mode of energy generation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/15/theresa-may-folds-again-hinkley-c-gets-the-go-ahead/

I’m not remotely surprised by this. The Conservatives have always backed nuclear power at the expense of Green energy. Way back in the early 1990s under John Major, Private Eye documented the way the government was pushing nuclear, and doing everything it could to discredit its environmentally friendly competition. For example, reviews into the viability of renewable energy were given to government panels headed by scientists or officials from the nuclear industry.

And the Tories’ choice of nuclear power over other forms of energy, such as coal, has nothing to do with its supposed benefits. Certainly not if EDF are being given a price for their wattage above market value. I’ve forgotten where I read it, but I came across a piece the other day, which claimed that the Tories deliberately chose nuclear as a way of breaking the unions. Nuclear fuel – the uranium used in the rods in the reactor core – has to be imported. I think the main source of it at the moment is Africa, where obviously labour is cheap and disposable. Unlike coal, which exists over here, but whose supply was controlled by a notoriously strong and stroppy union, until Maggie broke it in the 1980s, and the Tories then decimated the industry itself in the 1990s.

This isn’t about supplying cheap electricity. This is about breaking organised labour, to keep people poor and cowed by the threat of unemployment. And it shows how wise Tony Benn was when he turned from being an advocate of it to its opponent.

Brexit’s Depressing Effect on West Country Schoolchildren

June 29, 2016

This is really sad. One of the ladies at my local church is a school governor. She told us today that she’d been in one of the local schools in Somerset, which has a high number of foreign pupils. She said that they children were extremely sad and upset, with some almost in tears, by the ‘Brexit’ vote. The children so upset included not just those from outside the UK, but also their British friends and classmates. They felt that no-one wanted them.

I realise that some will sneer at this anecdote as just another piece of sentimentalising, and disparaging compare it to all the other times somebody has implored people to ‘think of the children’ before voting for a particular liberal policy. But this shows the devastating effect the ‘Leave’ vote has had on young people in our schools. These children are our countries future, and our actions in this will shape their attitudes and perceptions towards Europe and the rest of the British public, the public that has seemingly betrayed them.

And its not just schoolkids who’ve been depressed and demoralised by it. One of my neighbours is a headmistress. They are the true educational professionals that Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan decided shouldn’t be in charge of education, but unelected private companies instead. And my neighbour was also bitterly furious at the decision.

Our schoolchildren, whether indigenous Brits or foreign-born, have been deal a harsh blow by Brexit. I hope we can either find ways to fight against the Brexit decision, so that we can have a second referendum, which will show whether Britain truly and unambiguously wants to leave the EU, or else ameliorate its effects. And we need desperately to fight the rising tide of racism that has come with the success of the ‘Leave’ campaign.

Sir Richard Acland on Nationalisation and Workers’ Control in Industry

May 23, 2016

Unser Kampf Pic

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham the other week, I found a copy of Sir Richard Acland’s 1940 book, Unser Kampf, published by Penguin. Acland was a baronet from a Devon and Somerset aristocratic family, and a Liberal MP. In Unser Kampf, he laid out his ideas for the post-War world as a kind of riposte to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mein Kampf means ‘My Struggle’, while Unser Kampf means ‘Our Struggle’, referring to the national goals, which Acland believes would form a better national and international order once victory had been achieved.

Nationalisation

His was a radical vision, far more radical than that of the contemporary Labour party. He argued for the complete socialisation of industry, and the replacement of the current system of management by unelected bosses with a system of workers control. He wrote

The world of the future belongs to common ownership. Only under common ownership can we abolish class distinction, unemployment, inequality and strife. Only under common ownership can we free ourselves from the system which positively encourages every man to seek his own personal advantage here on Earth.

Would it not be rather wonderful to live in a world in which we did not all have to think about ourselves all the time? Would it not be rather wonderful to get away from “this is mine,” “this is yours,” “this is t’other fellow’s,” and look out on everything we saw and say “this is all ours?” (Pp. 94-5).

Capitalist Sabotage

Acland’s proposal for the nationalisation of industry was far more radical than the contemporary Labour party’s. He discusses Labour’s plan to nationalise a small number of industries, and then see how they fare under nationalisation. Then, after this has gained popularity, the party then planned further nationalisations. Acland argued against this on the grounds that the capitalists in the intervening time would be doing everything they could to sacrifice the nationalised industries’ chance of success.

Labour’s Immediate Programme for example proposes that nationalisation, in the first five years, of industries employing one tenth of insured workers. For those five years, therefore, these industries would have to survive in a world whose conditions, as far as boom and slump were concerned, would be entirely dominated by the remaining nine tenths in private hands. In those five years we would be asked to judge by the results and make up our minds whether to nationalise other industries. We would be asked to consider whether the nationalised industries had “paid” in the accepted sense of the word. It may be taken as fairly certain that in those five test years the owners would take good care – some acting consciously and some unconsciously – that the whole of industry did not pay. Of course, if in those five years the owners wanted to do something they would have to come to the Labour government and accept its terms. But the game is far easier than that for the champions of monopoly capitalism. Labour has made a fundamental mistake in assuming that in those vital five years these people would want to go on making money. These men have bigger ideas than that. They would care about nothing in this world except smashing the Labour Government for ever. And the beauty of the situation from their point of view is that in those five years, to achieve their purpose, they would not have to do something, they would merely have to do nothing. They would let their nine tenths of industry run down, and you cannot run the railways, the mines and the banks and make them pay while all the industries they serve are slowing down. At no stage would you be able to do the manifestly sensible thing, namely, to take the unemployed as a whole and put them to work producing bread and clothes and boots, because that would compete with private enterprise which, by the terms of Labour’s election promises, must not be nationalised in the first five years. (Pp. 102-3).

There is no question to my mind then but that the advance to common ownership should be made boldly and not by a series of timid little shuffling steps. this does not so much mean that on the very first day every single industry down to the smallest must be taken over and run exclusively by the state. What it does mean is that from the very first day anyone who finds himself still working on his own account will be regarded as occupying entirely new status. (P.104).

On the matter of the amount of compensation that should be given to their owners for nationalised industries, he argued that the proprietors of the largest industries should receive the least amount of money while the smaller business owners should have the most. This is because he saw the right to ownership as based on work. The owners of large industries had mostly inherited them, and so they were not the result, or only minimally the result, of their personal labour. On the other hand, the opposite is true of small businesses, which were far more likely to be the result of their owners’ hard work.

Compensation

It is quite true that mere ownership of property conveys no right to an income. Only work conveys that right. It is also true that most of our property is derived from long inheritance or from business transactions which, though not called illegal (or not discovered by the police to be illegal), were in morals nothing less than bare-faced swindling. But as against this, a great deal of property is still even in our days the result of honest work and honest savings. This property represents in fact crystallised work, and the owners of this property must receive compensation not in respect of their property as such, but in respect of the work which it represents… (Pp. 98-9).

I would submit that it is true in general that the smaller properties contain the larger element of crystallised work and the larger properties contain the larger element of inheritance and swindling.

I would therefore submit that it is reasonable to compensate the smallest properties virtually in full, and proceed on a sliding scale until the rate of compensation for the larger properties is very much lower. (P. 99)

He replies to the objection to the removal of the vast majority of the inherited wealth of the rich by pointing out that this would leave them with an income that is perfectly satisfactory for everyone else, and that others are also making their sacrifices to build a better world.

If anyone says it is monstrous to confiscate 90% of a millionaire’s property, I say that £8 4s 3d. per day is something which ought to enable a man to live quite reasonable well. If any owner asks, “Why should we make any sacrifice at all” Why should not we and our children have every last penny for ever?” I reply that millions of men, owners and non-owners alike, are going to risk their lives in these next months. They make their sacrifice for the common good, that those who are left may live fuller lives. Do I ask sacrifices which are too much if it is the fact that we cannot build a noble civilisation, while the means of production are in private hands only to be used if the owners can make a profit?

Workers’ Control

He also states that the nationalised industries should be managed through a system of workers’ control through a system of workers’ councils. The most efficient and enterprising workers on these councils would be those, who would be promoted to positions of management.

But above all the whole taunt of the present capitalists who ask how we will manage our industries without them shows that people have failed to imagine what industry under common ownership will be like. To-day, an owner manages an industry in which the workers work. We are asked how we are going to organise the thing which will manage the industry the industry and tell the workers how to work? It is not going to be like that at all. The industries are going to be the workers’ industries and the detailed organisation is not going to be piled on to them from on top, but built up by them from below.

The workers in each productive unit – or their representatives in the larger units – will be meeting every week to consider their work, their condition of work, how they can improve their work themselves, and what improvements might be made in their work with the assistance of other groups of workers. In addition, all the workers in all the trades in any area will be regularly meeting – either directly or again through representatives – to consider what improvements could be made in the industrial possibilities of the entire area. Surely, these meetings supply the answer to those who suggest that there would be no way in which new processes and new techniques and new devices and gadgets of all kinds would find their way into industry under common ownership. Surely, they answer also those who wonder how the problem of promotion would be solved. Is it reasonable to suppose that those who showed themselves most effective in the councils of these meetings would be marking themselves out for promotion? Of course some unworthy men would gain promotion by spuriously impressing themselves on their colleagues. But are there really no unworthy promotions today? (Pp. 107-8)

Acland’s book was a radical manifesto for a complete transformation of British society and industry. In the event, it was far more radical than the Labour party, which nationalised about a fifth of the British economy, but left much in private hands because they felt there was simply no case for it being taken into state ownership.

Acland nevertheless makes a good case for workers’ representation at least in industry. He’s also right about large firms being due to inheritance and not the hard work of individual entrepreneurs, though there are some exceptions, such as Microsoft. And he is absolutely right about the way private industrialists would wreck the economy to prevent the nationalised industries from succeeding. This is exactly what the Tories are trying to do now to the NHS, in order to prepare it for privatisation.

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

April 23, 2016

Chapter six of George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, is entitled ‘The Fat Cats Directory’. The book is about the way big business has wormed its way into government, so that official decisions and policy reflects their interests, not those of Mr and Mrs British Public. In the ‘Fat Cats Directory’ he lists the businessmen and senior managers, who were rewarded with government posts by Tony Blair in May 1997. The list gives the name of the businessman, their ‘previous gluttony’ – a summary of their corporate careers, and ‘Subsequent Creamery’ – their posts in the British government. Those lists are:

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge.
Chairman of British Airways
– President of the Confederation of British Industry

– Put in charge of Gordon Brown’s energy tax review, and helped promote the government’s campaign against the Millennium Bug, even though his 1999 holiday brochures told customers that they wouldn’t be responsible for any problems caused by computers malfunctioning due to it.

Ewen Cameron

President of the County Landowners’ Association
Owner of 3,000 Acres in Somerset
Opponent of rambling.

Chairman of the Countryside Agency, concerned with tackling the right to roam, social exclusion in rural areas, and someone, who has very definitely contravened the Countryside Agency’s rules on the maintenance of footpaths.

Lord Rogers of Riverside

Architect of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on greenbelt land
Architect of Montevetro Tower, London’s most expensive building.

Chairman of the government’s Urban Task Force.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Chairman of J. Sainsbury Plc
Chairman of the Food Chain Group
Principal backer of biotech company Diatech
Funded construction of the Sainsbury Laboratory for research into genetic engineering
Replaced skilled jobs with unskilled shelf-stacking.

Minister in Government’s department of trade and industry
Minister with responsibility for science and technology
As science minister, led Bioindustry Trade Delegation to US
Ultimate control over Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Chairman of the government’s University for Industry.

Lord Simon of Highbury

Chairman of BP
Vice-Chairman of European Round Table of Industrialists
Under his direction, BP assisted the Colombian government in forcing peasants off their lands, and imprisoning, killing and torturing trade unionists. Gave money to the 16th Brigade, notorious for murder, kidnapping torture and rape.

Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe
One of the ministers responsible for implementing the ethical foreign policy.

Jack Cunningham MP

Adviser to agrochemical company Albright and Wilson (UK)
Member of Chemical Industries Association lobbying for deregulation of pesticides.

Secretary of State for Agriculture
Chair of Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology.

Sir Peter Davis

Chairman of Reed International, which made 900 workers unemployed.
Chief Executive of Prudential Corporation Plc, company most responsible for miss-selling pensions.

Appointed by Treasury head of New Deal Task Force.

John Bowman

Director of Commercial Union, which possibly miss-sold 7,900 pensions.

On the board of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority.

Lord De Ramsey

President of Country Landowners’ Association, sold part of his enormous Cambridgeshire estate for house building, and in doing so destroyed a pond of Great Crested Newts. Lobbies against regulatory burdens on agriculture. Grew genetically modified sugar beet on his land for Monsanto.

Chairman of Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Leinster

Director of SmithKline Beecham (SB) Plc, which polluted streams in Sussex and Gloucestershire. Previously employed by BP and Schering Agrochemicals, part-owner of bio-tech company AgrEvo, which was publicly shamed for breach of environmental regulations for growth of GM crops.

Head of the Environment Agency’s Environmental Protection Directorate.

Justin McCracken

Managing director of ICI Katalco, responsible for a long list of plants polluting the environment with carcinogens. In 1999 it was listed as the worst polluting company in Europe, responsible for pouring 20 tonnes of hormone disrupting chemicals into the Tees. Also allowed 150 tonnes of chloroform to escape into groundwater at Runcorn. From 1996 to 1997 Friends of the Earth recorded 244 unauthorised pollution incidents from its Runcorn plant.

Regional General Manager, Environment Agency, North-West Region.

Dinah Nicols

Non-executive director, Anglia Water. In 1999 it was prosecuted six times for pollution.

Director-General of Environmental Protection at the Department of the Environment.

Ian McAllister

Chairman and managing director of Ford UK. The company was a member until December 1999, of the Global Climate Coalition, lobbying against attempts to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

President, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which has lobbied against the Department of the Environment’s standards on ozone, lead and sulphur dioxide pollution from cars. Also lobbied against European directives against exhaust gases, removal of lead from petrol, and forcing motor manufacturers to install catalytic converters.

Chairman of the Government’s Cleaner Vehicles Task Force.

Chris Fay

Chairman and Chief Executive of Shell UK, the British company with the most controversial environmental record due to pollution incidents in Britain and in the Niger Delta.

Executive director of BAA Plc, attempting to double size of Heathrow Airport.
President of the UK Offshore Operators Association, oil industry group responsible for lobbying against environmental regulations.

Chairman of the government’s Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

Brian Riddleston

Chief executive of Celtic Energy, an open-cast mining corporation which destroyed the Selar Grasslands Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wales, wildflower habitat and home of extremely rare march fritillary butterfly.

Member of the Government’s Countryside Council for Wales.

Graham Hawker

Chief executive of Welsh utilities company Hyder, which sp0ent £42.2m on making people redundant, and only £700,000 on research and development. Opposed windfall tax on privatised utilities.

Chair of the New Deal Taskforce in Wales

Martin Taylor

Chief executive of Barclays Plc. Multimillionaire manager of company which made 21,000 redundant in ten years to 1997.

Lord Haskins

Chairman, Northern Foods Plc. Member of Hampel Committee on Corporate Governance. This was criticised by Margaret Beckett for failing to recommend ways for companies to regulate themselves.

Chair of the government’s Better Regulation Task Force.

Peter Sainsbury

Managing director for Corporate and External Affairs, Marks and Spencer.

Head of Better Regulation Taskforce’s Consumer Affairs Group, whose duties include consumer protection. This decided that voluntary measures and ‘consumer education’ were better than regulation.

Geoffrey Robinson

Director of Central and Sheerwood plc, property owned and chaired by fraudster and pension raider Robert Maxwell. C&S merged with Robinson’s TransTec, to form Transfer Technology Plc. Company later collapsed.

Paymaster General.

Corruption and the Sale of Tory Seats in the Early 20th Century

February 27, 2016

From contemporary political corruption in America, to political corruption here in Britain. In the early 20th century parts of the Conservative party were scandalised by the cynical way safe seats were sold to the highest bidder by the local Conservative associations. These charged for the time exorbitant fees to prospective candidates. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymus author of the anti-Tory book, Your MP, devotes a whole chapter to the corrupt sale of seats, and the massive preponderance of the rich in the Tory and National Liberal parties. However, this passage in particular on pages 27 to 28 makes the point.

Now we go deeper still: we find one of our witnesses, one of Major Patriot’s Tory colleagues, saying that “it is lamentable that Tory seats should be sold to the richest candidate.”

And, turning back, we find a reference to a “financial burden not within the capacity of all” potential candidates (East Toxteth), and another M.P. complaining that “a married man with an income of £2,000 a year” cannot afford to be an M.P. (Spelthorne).

There is plenty of evidence on this. P.W. Donner (Basingstoke) was reported by the Morning Post, 28.6.35, to have said that he “had been forced to leave Islington, his present constituency, on the grounds of health and economy. The Hampshire Executive (of the Tory Party) had asked him for a subscription less than half what he was now paying in Islington.”

The Hon. Quintin Hogg (Oxford) wrote in the Nineteenth Century, January, 1934, that “the local Tory associations are rotten to the core”. In one agricultural constituency, he wrote, prospective Tory candidates have been informed they need not apply unless they can subscribe to the organisation the fantastic sum of £3,000 per annum.

In a northern industrial city, £600 a year is the least annual subscription that the Association will consider.

According to the a valuable study recently published, Parliamentary Representation, by J.F.S. Ross, the average amounts of election expenses for contested elections in 1935 were in round figures:

Conservative candidates……£780
Liberal candidates. ………£520
Labour candidates…………£360

One Conservative candidate, Mr. Ian Harvey, published in January, 1939, a memorandum headed “A Plutocratic System,” which goes so far as to state that “in nearly every case” (when candidates for Tory seats are chosen) “the question of finance is of primary importance.” He estimated that men “have always an excellent chance of being adopted “if they are willing “to pay all their elections expenses (anything between £400 and £1,200) and to subscribe between £500 and £1,000 (a year) to the local Association.”

The Federation of University Conservative Associations, meeting in London as Mr Ian Harvey’s memo was published, passed unanimously a resolution deploring the influence on the choice of candidates of “considerations of personal fortune”.

In the book by Mr Ross there are further examples, from Frome in Somerset, Hendon, and the University of London Conservative Association. Mr Ross calculates that only one person out of each 1,150 of the adult population has the income necessary to have “an excellent chance” in Mr Harvey’s phrase, of being adopted as a Tory M.P.

When Mr R.A. Brabner, (Hythe) was chosen as candidate, it was stated in the London Press that he “will pay £500 a year to the Conservative Association, and his election expenses. That is a fairly moderate contribution for a safe seat near London” (Evening Standard, 27.6.39).

The same inquisitive newspaper noted, about Lt.-Col. F.G. Doland (Balham and Tooting(, that his is “an expensive seat to fight. The Conservative candidate’s election expenses are between £700 and £700 … I understand that the Conservatives expect their candidates to find this money out of their own pockets, and, in addition, to provide a ‘subsidy’ of about £600 a year” (13.7.36).

Sir Derek Gunston (Thornbury), one of the very few Tory M.P. on the Executive of the League of Nations Union, spoke more recently on the subject of “purchasable seats’:

“Rich, safe seats, with ample resources that could be tapped, are too lazy to make the effort so long as they can find rich men who, while willing to go through the mill of fighting an election, are nevertheless prepared to pay for a safe seat. In practice you find the able but less well-off candidates fighting the hopeless seats. It is the rich, safe seats which demand the highest contributions (Evening Standard, 2.10.41).

Let us try to be clear what all this evidence amounts to. it does not mean that every Tory buys his seat. It means that enough of them do so to matter a great deal – to matter so much that very many other Tories protest, are uneasy, try to get the matter altered. (But do not succeed in doing so).
(My emphasis).

It therefore comes as no surprise that 95% of MPs are millionaires. Nor is it surprising that contemporary grass roots Tories complain about being sidelined in favour of rich donors. This type of corruption also became endemic in New Labour, when various businessmen ostentatiously switched from the Tories to Labour, and then were parachuted into safe Labour seats in preference to the local parties’ preferred candidates. And there has always been an element of corporate corruption in politics, where Corporations have bought influence by contributing to party coffers. It’s rife within the modern parties, and particularly the Conservatives, where the Tory party conference was largely funded through sponsorship and donations by rich corporations seeking a slice of public contracts. For example, Jeremy Hunt last year moderated a discussion about the future of the NHS in a talk sponsored by a private healthcare firm.

While the effective sale of Tory safe seats may not exist, or proceed in quite the same form, this passage shows how cynical the Tories were in choosing the richest as their preferred candidates, and the influence money could get you in the party.

Why I Believe Leaving the EU Will Be Particularly Bad for Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset

February 22, 2016

Since David Cameron raised the issue of the EU referendum last week, there’s been a flood of posts about the subject. I’ve blogged about the dangers to British workers and the middle class if we leave Europe, and the human and workers’ rights legislation contained in the EU constitution and treaties. The Lovely Wibbley Wobbley Old Lady has put up her piece explaining the issues involved in Britain leaving the EU, as have a number of others. In this piece I won’t discuss the general issues, just give some of my thought on why it would be disastrous for Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and areas like them elsewhere in Britain if the country decides to leave.

Firstly, Bristol is a port city. It’s not so much now, after the docks in Bristol have been closed to industry, and the port itself moved to better deep water facilities over in Avonmouth. Nevertheless, a sizable amount of trade goes through port facilities. The EU is Britain’s major trading partner, and my fear is that if Britain leaves Europe, trade will be hit, and the income and jobs generated by that trade will plummet. This will, of course, hit British industry generally, but it’ll also affect the ports as the centres of the import/export trade.

Bristol furthermore has a proud tradition of aerospace research through BAE and Rolls Royce at Filton. Further south in Somerset there is the former Westland helicopter firm, while in the Golden Mile in Gloucestershire there are engineering firms, such as Dowty, that specialise in aircraft instrumentation and control systems. The sheer cost of developing and manufacturing modern high-performance civil and military aircraft means that many of these projects are joint ventures between aviation companies across Europe. Airbus is one of the most obvious examples, as is the Eurofighter. And then, back in the 1970s, there was Concorde, which was a joint project between Britain and France. Hence the name. Parts of the aircraft were built in France, but the wings and a other components were manufactured here in Bristol.

The same is true of space exploration, and the satellites and probes sent up to the High Frontier. Several of these, or parts of them, have also been manufactured by British Aerospace at Filton. I’ve got a feeling the Giotto probe that was sent to investigate Halley’s Comet in 1986 was also partly made in Bristol. Again, like aviation, space travel can be enormously expensive. The costs are literally astronomical. So many of the space projects are joint ventures across Europe, between aerospace firms and contractors in Britain, France and Italy, for example. This was always the case going back to ESRO in the 1950s and ’60s. This was a joint European attempt to create a rocket launcher, involving Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Unfortunately the project collapsed, as the only section of the rocket that actually worked was the British first stage. Nevertheless, the French persevered, and out of its ashes came Ariane, launched from their base in Kourou in French Guyana.

ESA, the European Space Agency, operates under a system of ‘juste retour’. Under this system, the country that supplies the most funding for a particular project, gets most of the contracts to make it. Despite various noises about the importance of space exploration and innovation in science and technology by various administrations over the years, space research by and large has not been well-served by the British government and mandarins at Whitehall. It has a very low priority. Opportunities for British firms to benefit from European space research have been harmed by the British government’s reluctance to spend money in this area. I can remember one of Thatcher’s ministers proudly informing the great British public that they weren’t going to spend money just to put Frenchmen into space. It’s partly because of this attitude that it’s taken so long to put a British astronaut into space with Tim Foale. Those of us of a certain age can remember Helen Sharman’s trip into space with the Russians in the 1980s. This was supposed to be a privately funded joint venture with the Russians. It nearly didn’t happen because the monies that were supposed to come from British capitalism didn’t materialise, and in fact the Soviets took Sharman to the High Frontier largely as a favour.

The aerospace industry in Bristol and the West Country has contracted massively in the past few decades, as the aviation industry throughout Britain has declined along with the rest of our industrial base. I’m very much afraid that if we leave Europe, we will lose out on further commercial aerospace opportunities, and that part of Britain’s scientific, technological and industrial heritage will just die out. We were, for example, invited to take part in the development of Ariane, but the mandarins at Whitehall didn’t want to. Rather than invest in the French rocket, they thought we’d be better off hitching rides with the Americans. The problem with that is that the Americans naturally put their own interests first, and so tended to carry British satellites only when there was a suitable gap in the cargo. It also meant that British satellite launches were limited to the times the Space Shuttle was flying. These were curtailed after the Challenger explosion. If we’d have stuck with the French, we could possibly have had far more success putting our probes into space.

I’m sure there are very many other ways Bristol and the West Country could also be harmed by the decision to leave the EU. It’s just what occurs to me, as someone with an interest in space exploration, from a city that was a centre of the aeroplane, rocket and satellite industries. I also decided to post this, because I know that Bristol’s not unique in its position. There are other working ports and centres of the aerospace industry across the country, that will also suffer if we leave Europe. And so I firmly believe we should remain in.

Vox Political: Tory Lack of Investment in Mental Health Costing £105 Billion a Year

February 15, 2016

Mike has put up a piece about a report by Paul Farmer for the mental health charity, Mind, which argues that the Tories’ refusal to invest in mental health is costing the British economy £105 billion a year. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/15/tories-failure-to-invest-in-mental-health-costs-economy-105-billion-a-year-says-report/.
The piece also states that Cameron is due to make a statement about his government’s policies towards mental health this Wednesday.

I am not surprised about the amount of damage neglect of the country’s mental wellbeing is doing to the economy. I have, however, no illusions that David Cameron wants to do anything about it. He will want to be seen as doing something about it, and so will probably make noises about how he and the government take this issue very serious, but any action taken will ultimately only be trivial and cosmetic.

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the country’s losing so much money because of this issue. Sick people can’t work, or can’t work as well as those enjoying good health. And very many people are being left very sick indeed by the government’s policies. If they’re threatened with losing their jobs, and their homes, or being unable to pay their bills because their jobs don’t pay, or they don’t get enough welfare benefit – if they’ve luck enough not to be sanctioned – and they’re saddled with a massive debt from their student days that they can’t pay off, then they’re going to be scared and depressed. And the Tory employment policies are deliberately designed to make people scared and depressed. It’s all to make us work harder, you see. It’s psychological carrot and stick, but without the carrot and the stick very much used.

Mike himself has reblogged endless pieces from welfare and disability campaigners like Kitty S. Jones and the mental health specialists themselves, blogs like SPIJoe, about how the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression due to the government’s welfare-to-work programme has skyrocketed. The latest statistics are that there 290,000 people suffering because of poor mental health due to the quack assessments carried out by Atos and now Maximus. And 590 people have died of either neglect or suicide due to being sanctioned. That no doubt includes people, who could have contributed to the economy, if they’d been properly supported. But they weren’t. They were thrown of sickness and disability, and left to fend for themselves. They couldn’t, and so they died. Just as prescribed by the wretched Social Darwinism that seems to guide the policies of these monsters in government.

The government’s big idea of helping people back into work is to tell them to pull themselves together, and put them through workfare. As cheap labour for big corporations that don’t need it, like Tesco. Now with the genuinely depressed and anxious, it isn’t the case that they don’t want to work. It’s that they can’t. I know from personal experience. There gets to be a point when you really can’t go into work. And it isn’t just a case of not feeling bothered or up to it either. You feel ashamed because you can’t work. And putting you back into work, before you’re ready, won’t help.

But that’s ignored, or simply doesn’t register with the New Labour and Conservative supporters of this vile and destructive welfare policy.

I’m reblogging Mike’s article now because it ties in with several programmes about depression and mental health issues this week. And 9 O’clock tonight on BBC 1 there is The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive Revisited with Stephen Fry. This is the sequel to a documentary he made, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, ten years ago. Fry’s bipolar himself, and in the original documentary he spoke to other sufferers, including Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss and one of the very great stars of British pop in the ’90s, Robbie Williams. Fry was on the One Show on Friday talking about the show. He mentioned there was a much greater awareness of the problem. He described talking about it before pupils at the most elite and famous public school in the country, and saw his young audience nodding in agreement when he talked about self-harm. He stated that this was astonishing, as when he was at school no-one had heard of it.

Presumably Fry means Eton, and I’m not particularly surprised to find that some of the pupils were all too aware of what he was talking about. The entire regime at public school seems designed to turn the young scions of the ruling classes either into complete bastards, or absolute mental wrecks. I can remember reading accounts in the Sunday Express when I was at school, where ex-private schoolboys stated that they had been left emotionally numb and scarred by their experiences. And the former schoolgirls had similarly had an horrific time. When former pupil described how the girls at her school were perpetually in tears. So much for happy schooldays and jolly hockey sticks.

This Wednesday, at 10.45 pm, the BBC is screening a documentary, Life After Suicide. The blurb for this runs

The leading cause of death in men below 50 is suicide, yet people still seem reluctant to talk about the grim reality. Angela Samata, whose partner Mark took his own life 11 years ago, meets others who have suffered a similar loss. Those she meets include Downton Abbey actor David Robb, who talks about the death of his actress wife Briony McRoberts in 2013; a Somerset farmer and his five young daughters; and a Norfolk woman who is living with the suicides of both her husband and her son. Showing as part of BBC1’s mental health season.

And at a quarter to midnight the following evening, on Thursday, there’s the rapper Professor Green: Suicide and Me. The Radio Time’s blurb for this goes

This deeply personal, affecting film created a nationwide stir when it was first aired on BBC3 last autumn. “Crying’s all I’ve bloody done, making this documentary.” remarks Stephen Manderson, aka rapper Professor Green, describing the emotions that frequently overwhelm him as he tries to better understand why his father committed suicide.

His conclusion is simple: men need to talk about their emotions.

That helps a lot. One of the reasons why women are apparently less likely to commit suicide is because women have more friends, to whom they can confide and share their troubles. But in the case of general depression and anxiety, much can be done to prevent this simply by easing the immense economic and social pressures on people, pressures that have been made much worse through the government’s austerity campaign, as well as making sure there’s better understanding and treatment available for mental illness.

Well, that’s me done on this issue. As Dr Frazier Crane used to say, ‘Wishing you good mental health’.