Posts Tagged ‘Subsidies’

Labour Plans Rail Nationalisation that Will Save Commuters £1000 a Year

December 3, 2019

This is another story I found in yesterday’s I. It’s by Harriet Line and it’s about how Labour plans to cut rail fares to save passengers money by nationalising the railways. The article runs

Regulated fail fares in England will be cut next month if Labour wins the general election, the party says.

Jeremy Corbyn intends to renationalise the railways when contracts expire if he wins on 12 December, and has announced plans to cut regulated rail fares by 33 per cent from January 2020.

The party estimates the policy would save the average commuter more than £1,000 a year, and says it would represent the biggest ever reduction in rail fares.

It comes after Britain’s train companies confirmed over the weekend that they will raise prices by an average of 2.7 per cent next year.

Labour has also pledged to deliver a simple ticketing system across the nation – with “islands” within which zonal rail fares will apply across all public transport. There would also be a daily price cap.

Labour estimates that the policy will cost £1.5bn per year and would come from exiting Department for Transport budgets. Mr Corbyn said: “Taking back control of our railways is the only way to bring down fares.”

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary said: “This is another desperate attempt from Labour to distract from their inability and unwillingness to be straight with people.”

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said: “Rail companies have been calling for some time for changes in regulations to enable an easier-to-use, better-value range of fares, but it’s a red herring to suggest that reforming fares needs a change of ownership.”

There are two comments to make here. First, it is one again a piece of massive hypocrisy for Grant Shapps – of all people – to accuse Labour of not being ‘straight with people’. As we’ve seen time and again, it’s the Conservatives who lie and suppress documents. Like that report into possible dangerous Russian influence in the UK. And their reputation for telling the truth is so far down the tubes, that it provoked nothing but laughter from the audience during the Beeb leader debates when Boris decided he wanted to talk about transparency. As for Shapps personally, I remember a little while ago that he got caught trying to charge the taxpayer for Hebrew lessons, either for himself or for his boyfriend. I’ve got nothing against people learning Hebrew, and certainly not Biblical Hebrew. Or indeed any other language. But unless it’s something a politician needs as part of their job, they shouldn’t expect Joe and Josephine Public to pick up the bill.

As for the Rail Delivery Group, their objection is also easily dismissed. Since Thatcher privatised the railways, we’ve been paying more in subsidies for a poorer service. This is partly because of the way the service was privatised, so that rolling stock was separate from track, but it’s also because it’s directors want to make a profit for their shareholders. And that means cutting services while raising fares.

There is going to be considerable opposition from the Tories, as they represent the interests of big business, the proprietors and managers against working people and the ordinary people, who actually use public services. But people are fed up of poor services and the same old excuses being trotted out again and again by the rail companies. Nationalisation won’t make it perfect. British Rail was something of a joke when I was when growing up. But it’s better than what’s replaced it.

A Corbyn victory and nationalisation can’t come soon enough!

‘I’ Newspaper: Rail Franchise System Not Working and Needs to be Changed

February 27, 2019

I found this report in the I newspaper on our country’s failing rail network. The article states that a recent report has found that the current system of rail franchising doesn’t work and cannot continue as it is. The article, ‘Rail franchising ‘no longer delivers clear benefits’, on page 4 of today’s paper, 27th February 2019, by Neil Lancefield runs

Britain’s rail franchise system no longer delivers clear benefits and cannot continue in its current form, according to the man leading an official review of the network.

Keith Williams told industry leaders that operators were not adapting to changing consumer demands.

The contracting out of passenger services has drawn heavy criticism, with some contracts failing and customer complaints rising. The rail industry has said it accepts that the status quo cannot continue.

Mr Williams was appointed by the Government last year to lead its “root-and-branch” Rail Review. Speaking in London, he said: “I have heard a great deal about the franchising model… driving growth in passengers and benefits to services.

“But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, while many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace. Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers.”

Mr Williams said the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to franchising did not work for every part of the UK and every passenger. Delivering the annual Bradshaw Address, named in honour of George Bradshaw, the author of Victorian railway guides, he added: “I believe for the railway to be successful it needs to put passengers at its heart.”

His comments came as MPs warned that rail passengers faced “another difficult year”, with further timetable alterations and more engineering works.

Okay, this isn’t a condemnation of rail privatisation, but of the way the franchise system, in which they are given to private operators, is managed. The attitude seems to be that if this was fixed, then everything would work perfectly. As Williams says, he has heard a great deal about how franchising has driven growth in passengers and benefited service.

This is absolute rubbish. I’ve seen no evidence that privatisation has been behind the growth in passengers or brought any benefits whatsoever. You could speculate that any growth in passenger numbers may be due to a variety of factors, like the increasing cost of running a car, difficulties finding a parking space, traffic congestion and delays and other factors such as the ban on drink driving. As for the benefits of privatisation, the British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the rail network than it did when it was all under state ownership as British Rail. And the service is actually worse. It was almost 20 years ago, when I remember talking about it to a rail engineer. It was bad then, and is now even poorer. We have seen one train company after another fail, and have to be taken back into public management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and that section of the rail network is almost inevitably given to another wretched private rail company. Services are being axed, as in so much of the service industries, in order to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

It is not the franchise system that is failing, but privatisation. There is a growing movement to see the railways renationalised, and even Tories like the wretched Lady Olga Maitland have backed it at times. Labour have pledged to it, and this is one of the party’s policies that is immensely popular. But this is too much for the corporate establishment, which clearly wants to try and preserve this part of Thatcher’s grotty legacy – though the railway was actually privatised by John Major – as long as it can.

Rail privatisation, like the rest of Thatcherism, is a dismal, utter failure. Get rid of it, get rid of the Tories and renationalise them. And get Corbyn into No.10.

 

Adolf Hitler, Fascism and the Corporative State

January 1, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a passage from Hitler’s Table Talk, in which the Nazi leader made it absolutely clear that he didn’t want Nazi functionaries and members of the civil service holding positions or shares in private companies because of the possible corruption that would entail. He illustrated his point with the case of the Danube Shipping Company, a private firm that got massively rich in pre-Nazi Germany through government subsidies, because it had members of the ruling coalition parties on its board.

Which is pretty much the same as the recent fiasco in which Chris Grayling has given 13,800 pounds of public money to Seaborne Freight, a ferry company that has no ships and no experience of running a shipping company, to run a ferry service to Ostend as part of the preparations for a No Deal Brexit. Other companies also wanted to be considered for the contract, like Brittany Ferries, but despite Grayling’s huffing that there were extensive negotiations, the contract wasn’t put out to competitive tender. It seems instead to have been awarded because Mark Bamford, whose maritime law firm shares the same headquarters as Seaborne Freight, is the brother of Antony Bamford, who is a Tory donor.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/01/01/the-corruption-behind-the-tory-freight-deal-with-a-shipping-company-that-has-no-ships/

When a monster like Adolf Hitler, who killed millions of innocents, starts talking sense in comparison to this government, you know we’re in a very desperate way.

Despite his desire to outlaw personal connections between members of the Nazi party and civil service and private corporations, Hitler still believed that business should be included in government. On page 179 of Mein Kampf he wrote

There must be no majority making decisions, but merely a body of responsible persons, and the word “Council” will revert to its ancient meaning. Every man shall have councilors at his side, but the decision shall be made by one Man.

The national State does not suffer that men whose education and occupation has not given them special knowledge shall be invited to advise or judge on subjects of a specialized nature, such as economics. The State will therefore subdivide its representative body into political committees including a committee representing professions and trades. In order to obtain advantageous co-operation between the two, there will be over them a permanent select Senate. But neither Senate nor Chamber will have power to make decisions; they are appointed to work and not to make decisions. Individual members may advise, but never decide. That is the exclusive prerogative of the responsible president for the time being.

In Hitler, My Struggle (London: Paternoster Row 1933).

Hitler here was influenced by Mussolini and the Italian Fascist corporate state. A corporate was an industrial body uniting the employer’s organization and trade union. Mussolini reorganized the Italian parliament so that it had an official Chamber of Fasces and Corporations. There were originally seven corporations representing various industries and sectors of the economy, though this was later expanded to 27. In practice the corporate state never really worked. It duplicated the work of the original civil service and increased the bureaucracy, as another 100,000 civil servants had to be recruited to staff it. It was also not allowed to make decisions on its own, and instead acted as a rubber stamp for the decisions Mussolini had already made.

Once in power, however, the Nazis quietly discarded the corporate state in practice. The economy was reorganized so that the economy was governed through a series of industrial associations for the various sectors of industry, to which every company and enterprise had to belong, and which were subject to the state planning apparatus. When the shopkeepers in one of the southern German towns tried to manage themselves as a corporation on the Italian model, the result was inflation. The Gestapo stepped in, the experiment was closed down and its members interned in Dachau. However, the Nazis were determined to give their support to private industry and these industrial organisations were led by senior managers of private firms, even when most of the companies in a particular sector were owned by the state.

Something similar to the Nazi and Fascist economic systems has arisen in recent years through corporate sponsorship of political parties, particularly in America. So important have donations from private industry become, that the parties ignore the wishes of their constituents once in power to pass legislation benefiting their corporate donors. The result of this is that public confidence in Congress is low, at between 19 and 25 per cent, and a study by Harvard University concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy so much as a corporate oligarchy.

The same situation prevails in Britain, where something like 75 per cent of MPs are millionaires, either company directors or members of senior management. New Labour was particularly notorious for its corporate connections, which had already caused scandals under John Major’s administration. Tony Blair and his cronies appointed the staff and heads of various government bodies from donors to the Labour party, giving them posts on the same bodies that were supposed to be regulating the industries their companies served. The result of this was that the Labour government ignored the wishes of the British public to pass legislation which, like Congress in America, benefited their donors. See George Monbiot’s book, Captive State.

It’s time this quasi-Fascist system of corporate government was brought to an end, and British and American governments ruled for the people that elected them, not the companies that bought their politicians.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Tory Self-Delusions

March 31, 2018

I found this little gem in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ column of an old copy of Private Eye. Amid the usual, very pseudish remarks from football pundits and cookery writers comparing that last goal by Arsenal to Julius Caesar crossing the Tiber, or literary types extolling the virtues of their last excursion around the globe, where they took part in the ancient tribal ceremonies of primal peoples, was a truly astounding quote from the Young Master. This is, of course, the current darling of the Tory party, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared.

“I am a man of the people. Vox populi, vox dei!”

This was in response to Andrew Neil questioning him about the influence of public schools on British political life.

Rees-Mogg probably does see himself as ‘man of the people’. He’s in a party, which considers itself the natural party of government. Decades ago, the Tory ideologue, Trevor Oakeshott, tried to justify the overpowering influence of the middle classes by saying they were the modern equivalent of the barons who stood up to King John, in providing a bulwark against the power of the state. True in some case, but very wrong when the middle classes are in power, and the state functions as their servant.

Rees-Mogg has never, ever, remotely been a man of the people. He’s an aristo toff, who has made his money from investment banking. He holds deeply reactionary views on abortion and homosexuality, which are very much out of touch with those of the genuinely liberal middle and lower classes. And he has always represented the aristocracy and the rich against the poor, the sick, and the disabled. He began his political career in Scotland trying to folks of a declining fishing community that what this country really needed was to keep an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. In parliament, he has continued to promote the interests of the rich by demanding greater subsidies and tax cuts for them. For the poor, he has done nothing except demand greater tax increases on them, to subsidise the already very wealthy to whom he wants to give these tax cuts, and voted to cut welfare services and state funding for vital services. No doubt he genuinely believes all that Thatcherite bilge about making life as tough as possible for the poor in order to encourage them to work harder and do well for themselves.

Personally, he comes across as quiet-spoken, gentlemanly and polite. But he is not a man of the people. He hates them with a passion, but clearly thinks of himself as their champion and saviour against the dreaded welfare state.

Let’s prove him wrong and throw him out of parliament!

Tony Crossland on the Oppressive British Class System

March 29, 2018

I found this devastatingly perceptive criticism of the British class system by Tony Crossland in 100 years of Fabian Socialism 1884-1984, edited by Deirdre Terrins and Philip Whitehead (London: Fabian Society 1984).

Class feeling, and general social malaise, still persist in England to a deplorable degree. The feeling among workers of an external and irreconcilable conflict between wages and profits, capital and labour: their feeling too of non-participation in the control of the firm for which they work, and so of non-responsibility for its well-being: the acute sense of class that goes with different accents: the knowledge that differentials in education mean differentials in opportunity – these are all signs that Britain still is, and feels itself to be, a class society.

The purpose of socialism is quite simply to eradicate this sense of class, and to create in its place a sense of common interest and equal status.

From ‘The Transition from Capitalism’, in New Fabian Essays, 1952.

The situation is arguably worse now than it was when he wrote in 1952. Despite successive governments’ push to get more young people into university, the result has not been greater social mobility for graduates, but the reverse. Young people with degrees are instead forced downward to take unskilled work, which in turn puts more pressure on less educated, unskilled workers, who really need these jobs.

Social mobility died under New Labour, and it has most definitely not revived under David Cameron and Tweezer. Rather the reverse. The gap between rich and poor is now greater than it has been in over a hundred years. And working people are most definitely denied any say in how their firms are run, through the decimation of the unions and the imposition of exploitative contracts, and the repeal of legislation protecting workers’ rights.

As for the class basis of the British parliament, which legislates in favour of the upper and upper middle classes, you only have to look at the stats which show that something like 77 per cent of MPs have at least one or more directorships. Dave Cameron’s administration was a cabinet of toffs. So is Theresa May’s, even though she opened one session with the statement that none of those present were members of ‘the elite’.

And so is the Tories’ current darling, young master Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very patrician aristo, who has voted consistently to take money away from the welfare state and the poor and disabled, while voting in tax cuts and subsidies for the rich like himself.

It’s time to stop this, vote out the Tories and the Blairites, and vote in Corbyn and a government which will actually do something for working people.

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

January 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

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.

May’s ‘Shared Society’: Tory Spin for Corporatism, Exploitation, Poverty and Exclusion

January 9, 2017

Theresa May was due today to outline her vision of British society and her government’s overall strategy for reforming it. Today’s I newspaper carried an article by David Hughes, ‘PM’s ‘shared society’ vision to focus on those above welfare level’ laying out the expected contents of her speech. Commenters have already pointed out that her talk of a ‘shared society’ is just a scaled-down version of David Cameron’s Big Society. And that was just Cameron trying to use a phrase recalling the American ‘Great Society’ of Woodrow Wilson to justify a government strategy of more job cuts, privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state as idealism on the grounds that this would mean more people having to step in and surrender their efforts voluntarily to keep much of the infrastructure of a civilised society going. Like keeping libraries open, and food banks stocked, so that the victims of his government’s wretched welfare cuts only gradually starve to death on the streets.

And May’s statement that she intends to focus on those above welfare level actual gives the lie to all of the guff she spouts about ‘caring Conservatism’. She’s really not interested in the poor and those struggling to get by on benefit, but on those comfortably off, but are still finding it a struggle to get their children into the right school and so on. In other words, she’s targeting once again the Middle England so beloved of the Daily Mail .

And for all her talk about the days of laissez-faire individualism being over, this is basically just more of the same old, same old. It’s just another round of Thatcherism, dressed up in even more threadbare rhetoric. Thatcher’s ideal was that by ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as she and her ghastly minions put it, private charity would step in to fill the vacuum left by the removal of state provision. And the people hitherto left dependent on the state would be transformed into sturdy, self-reliant citizens. It didn’t work, and the gradual destruction of the welfare state has resulted in massive and increasing poverty.

But let’s go through what the I reported May was going to say, and critique it. The article runs

Theresa May will insist the state has a significant role to play in helping to shape society as she sets out her vision to help people who are struggling to get by.

The Prime Minister will vow to tackle the “everyday injustices” faced by those who feel they have been ignored by West minster as part of her “shared society” vision.

Mrs May will use a speech in London today to mark a break from Conservative predecessors and argue previous administration focused too narrowly on the very poorest through the welfare system. People just above the welfare threshold felt the system was “stacked against them” she will argue.

Mrs May will say: “This means a Government rooted not in the laissez-faire liberalism that leaves people to get by on their own, but rather in a new philosophy that means Government stepping up.

“Not just in the traditional way of providing a welfare state to support the most vulnerable, as vital as that will always be.

“But in going further to help those who have been ignored by Government for too long because they don’t fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support.”

Government and politicians need to “move beyond” the language of social justice and “deliver the change we need and build that shared society,” she will say.

“We must deliver real social reform across every layer of society, so that those who feel the system is stacked against them – those just above the threshold that attracts the Government’s focus today, yet those who are by no means rich – are given the help they need.

The PM will say her goal is to change the way the system works for those struggling to get by, facing challenges such as getting children into good schools or getting on the housing ladder.

“All too often in the past people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse.” (p. 7).

Now let’s deconstruct some of this rubbish. It’s pure Orwellian doubletalk, in which the words utter mean exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. I’ve already pointed out that ‘shared society’ is just her attempt to evoke the same imagery and idealism of Wilson’s ‘Great Society’, just as Cameron tried to do so with his shop-soiled talk about the ‘Big Society’. It’s also cribbed from all the rhetoric going round about insisting of ‘shared ‘British’ values’, to prevent ethnic minorities forming their own parallel societies. One important aspect of which is preventing Muslims from becoming radicalised and turning inwards against the host society.

Then there’s the issue of May’s talk about ‘help’. This does not mean what it usually does when Tories say it. Way back in the 1980s, whenever Thatcher cut welfare benefits, she justified this by piously intoning that it was more ‘self-help’. What she was doing was in reality no help at all, but she tried to make it sound virtuous and idealistic by saying that it was encouraging people to help themselves. Hence, whenever a Tory starts speaking about the help they’re going to offer, it means that in fact they’re going to cut the level of help currently available.

Her comments about her government not being rooted in laissez-faire individualism similarly have to be taken very carefully. It looks like she’s saying that her government will be more left-wing, in the same way that the Liberal party moved away from laissez-faire individualism in the 19th to embrace the first tentative movements towards the modern welfare state in the New Liberalism of the 1890s. But again, past history shows that this is not what is necessarily meant. The corporate state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were also reactions against laissez-faire capitalism, but from the Right, not the left. Modern corporatism, in which company directors and senior managers are given control of government departments and shaping government policy is also similarly a rejection of laissez-faire capitalism. In laissez-faire capitalism, the state is supposed not to concern itself with industry or the economy, except to act as nightwatchman to guard against crime and the emergence of monopolies. But neoliberalism is the precise opposite. It’s been described as ‘socialism for the rich’, in that the big corporations favoured by the government received vast subsidies and tax cuts. You think of the British rail network. Although private, we’re now giving it more money in subsidies than it received when it was nationalised. The Private Finance Initiative and Academy schools are also schemes for funneling taxpayers’ money into corporate coffers.

So when May opened her mouth to talk about her government not being ‘rooted in laissez-faire liberalism’, she was right, but meant the exact opposite of the way it sounded. It sounds left-wing, with help coming for the poor. But it actually means more money for the corporate rich.

If, indeed, she means anything by that at all. Six years or so ago I was reading a book by a British philosopher, who stated that neoliberalism had come to an end and that all the policies British governments had taken over from Milton Friedman and the thugs and illiterates of the Chicago School should be scrapped. Then, about three pages later, he was raving about how school voucher were a good idea and should be tried in Britain. School vouchers, in which the money the state would spend on a child’s education, are given in vouchers for the parents to spend on private schooling, is one of the neoliberal policies advocated by Friedman, and adopted by Pinochet’s Chile. The result has been more cuts, and the exclusion of people from poor backgrounds from higher education. This little example shows how, despite their verbiage trying to distance themselves from it, the Tory instinct is to promote privatisation, even while saying the complete opposite.

The claim that the Tories value the welfare state should also be treated with scepticism. They value it in the same way that Jeremy Hunt is passionate about the NHS. They’re profoundly against the welfare state. Thatcher wanted to dismantle it completely. Under her and John Major there was much talk of ending ‘welfare dependency’. Now they’ve realised that this type of rhetoric has had its day. Hence also the rhetoric adopted by Major of targeting help where it’s needed the most, and not wasting it on those not in need.

As for targeting that part of the population just above the welfare level, who are struggling isn’t anything new either. One of the issues regularly debated is the fate of those, who don’t quite qualify for state aid, who can be left worse off than those who receive it. And Tory rhetoric is also specifically directed at the embittered Middle England, who resent all the state aid going to those they don’t consider deserve it. Like single mothers, immigrants, the voluntarily unemployed, those fraudulently claiming disability benefit, and other benefit scroungers. As I said, May’s talk in this respect is directed to the type of people who read the Daily Mail, the Express and, indeed, the Scum. And in practice she’ll carry out the same shopworn policies of more privatisation, corporate control and cutting welfare benefits further. All on the pretext that this will help the middle income voters she wants to appeal to. For example, the Tories justified their attack on state education by claiming that the creation of schools outside the management of Local Education Authorities would provide parents with more ‘choice’ and raise standards through competition. Of course, it didn’t work, and their version of New Labour’s Academies collapsed. They also ended the system of catchment areas on the grounds that this would stop parents from being forced to send their children to failing schools. They would now have the opportunity to send their children to the school they wanted.

Now catchment areas were a real problem. I know many people in my part of Bristol, who did their level best to send their children to the local church schools because the local state comprehensive was terrible. But the removal of catchment has left the most popular schools oversubscribed, and so parents still face problems getting their children into them.

To sum up, May in her speech offers the usual deceptive Tory rhetoric and platitudes. She wants to sound nice and caring, but it really is just the nasty party doing business as usual. Only this time she has given something of a warning. She has said that she intends to focus on those above welfare level. Which means, stripped of her meaningless reassurances about the value of the welfare state, that those on benefits can expect no help at all.

Not that they ever could.

Don’t be deceived by May’s lies. Kick her, and the rest of her lying, vindictive pack out.

Owen Jones Meets Critic of Neoliberal Economics, Ha-Joon Chang

August 16, 2016

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

In his series of videos on YouTube, Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, goes to meet with various public figures. These include Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Hitchens and so on. In this video he talks to Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economics professor at Cambridge University. Chang’s interesting as he’s a critic of Neoliberalism, the free market economics that has been this country’s political dogma since the Margaret Thatcher. I put up a post a little while ago on Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The conversation begins by Chang attacking the government’s decision to cut public spending in order to shrink the debt. He says that public debt represents public demand, and if you shrink it, the economy will also shrink, and you’ll still be left with a massive debt. This is what has happened to Greece. It’s far better actually to put more money into the economy. When Jones asked him if Osborne was stupid for pursuing this policy, Chang states very clearly that Osborne did it for other reasons – to undermine and destroy the welfare state, and make the country more like America.

The two then discuss whether it really is a case of capitalism for the poor, and Socialism for the rich. The welfare net for the poor is being destroyed, but there are massive subsidies for the rich. Chang makes the point that big business demands these subsidies, but when the issue of taxation is raised, that’s an entirely voluntary matter, and they’ll start an offshore bank account to avoid paying it. He also discounts the Libertarian attitude that ‘taxation is theft’. He makes the point that wealth is socially created. The attitude that taxation is theft may have made sense in the 16th century, when most people were independent farmers, but it doesn’t apply today, when you need a whole ranges of services to create wealth. They also remark on the double standards about the issue of inequality and greed. Libertarians and neoliberals like greed, because it supposedly stimulates the economy. But as soon the poor start resenting the excessive wealth of the rich, then they denounce them for being envious. Chang states that you can’t have inequality, as it means the poor and rich aren’t living in the same world. They might inhabit the same geographical area, but it’s like one was living in the 22nd Century and the other in the 18th and 19th.

Jones makes the point that whenever anybody discusses nationalisation, they automatically go back to the 1970s and the inefficiency of the services then. Chang states that nationalisation isn’t necessarily the answer, as if something is properly regulated you can have the benefits of nationalisation without it. However, there are examples where private enterprise, or at least unregulated private enterprise doesn’t work. He compares the British and Japanese rail networks. The British rail network now consumes massive subsidies, and is the most expensive in Europe. It doesn’t work, because you can’t have a competitive system on the same piece of railway.

Jones also tackles him about the welfare state. Isn’t it true that it’s bloated, and encourages people to be lazy and feckless. Chang states that there is one aspect to that question that he does agree with. He believes the welfare state does need some reform, as it was created in the 1940s-50s. Now people are living longer, nearly 30 years after their retirement. But he says there’s little evidence that it makes people lazy, and criticises the way people have stopped talking about it as an important form of social security. He makes the point that in countries with a strong welfare state, people are much more willing to accept corporate restructuring. Such as in Sweden, for example. This is not to say they prefer it, but they are willing to accept it. In countries like America where there is little in the way of a welfare state, workers, even if not unionised, are much more resistant to change because they can lose everything.

Chang also talks about the difference between classical liberalism, democracy and neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a return to the economic doctrines of the 18th and 19th century, when the only form of liberty that mattered was the liberty to own and use property how you wanted. Initially, liberals weren’t democrats, because they feared that democracy would limit the freedom of the property-owners to do as they wished. Neoliberalism is a return to this system, with a bit of democracy. However, the political situation is altered so that democracy does not interfere with the liberties of the propertied classes. For example, they’re in favour of an independent central banks, as then it doesn’t have to be accountable to government over interest rates and the effect that may have on society. They’re also in favour of independent regulatory authorities, as that won’t allow government to interfere with private industry either.

Lastly, Jones asks him if he believes that the system will ever change. Chang makes the point that the past several decades have seen changes that people did not believe would happen. He talks about how Maggie Thatcher 25 years ago said that there would never been Black majority rule in South Africa. If you go back fifty years, then the leaders of the African independence movements were all hunted men in British prisons. It may not happen for decades, but eventually change will come. He quotes a proverb, which says that you must be a pessimist in your head, and an optimist in your heart. Above all, you have to keep fighting, as they won’t give you anything.

Here’s the video: