Posts Tagged ‘Treasury’

Justine Greening Wants Tories to Re-Introduce Maintenance Grants – More Lies from the Tories?

October 5, 2017

The I newspaper yesterday reported that Justine Greening, the Tory education minister, wants to reintroduce maintenance grants for the poorest students in order to combat Labour’s popularity with them over the issue of student debt.

The I wrote

Ministers are preparing plans to bring back university maintenance grants. The move is part of the “broader thinking” being undertaken by the Department for Education to implement policies that will have greater appeal to younger voters.

The level of debt in which graduates are leaving university has come under mounting scrutiny in recent months. Tuition fees became a major election battleground following Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to scrap the policy which saw young voters flock to Labour in their droves.

Over the weekend, Theresa May announced plans to freeze tuition fees at £9,250 a year while the income threshold at which graduates will be expected to start paying back their loans was raised from £21,000 to £25,000.

But I understands that the DfE wants to go further and bring back maintenance grants to help the poorest students as the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, battles with the Treasury to push through the plans.

“We didn’t think it is right that the poorest students come out of the university with the most debt,” a senior DfE source said.

The source refused to rule out that the plans could be contained in the Budget next month, although separate sources said the plans were not that advanced.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, bringing back maintenance grants would cost just under £500m. the IFS published research yesterday showing that the Prime Minister’s plans to raise the repayment threshold would cost the taxpayer £2.3bn a year, and lead to 83 per cent of graduates never paying off the full amount of their loan.

The former Chancellor George Osborne announced in 2015 that maintenance grants would be scrapped in time for the start of the 2016 academic year as part of the Government’s austerity drive. The grants were kept by the devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The move to abolish the funding meant students from the lowest-income households were forced to take out loans on top of their tuition fees loans to pay for living costs.

Labour has said it would bring back the grants, and the policy is gaining support from university vice-chancellors. Universities UK, which represents the majority of higher education institutions in Britain, said the return of maintenance grants would be a “welcome enhancement”.

Alistair Jarvis, UK’s chief executive, said: “Students tell us that it is cash in their pockets while studying that matters most.

“It is right to continue to examine how the current system can be improved to ensure that money isn’t a barrier for students.”

See Greening battles Treasury for maintenance grants return, in the I for Wednesday, 4th October 2017, page 4.

So an anonymous source in the Department of Education claims that Justine Greening would like to bring back maintenance grants, as Labour intends to do so, thus becoming massively popular with the young people looking at being saddled with massive debt. And other sources say the plans aren’t that advanced, and the Treasury don’t want it.

This shows that the claims is yet another lie, intended to make the Tories look more like they actually care about providing for the British public, rather than giving more money to the extremely rich.

Just as the article shows that Theresa May’s plan to cap student debt still would leave four-fifth of all students unable to pay it off.

And Mike has shown how May’s claim to freeze tuition fees actually represents an increase. And who’s going to bet that the freeze only lasts as long May decides it’s convenient. Which from the evidence of the rest of her broken promises, means that it’ll be dumped as soon as she gets back into power. Assuming that ever happens.

The Tories are lying to us again. Just like they always do. But students aren’t daft, and I doubt anyone is going to be taken it.

If you want to make sure our young people are able to go to uni to get the education they want, and which this country needs, then vote Labour so that Corbyn can do something about the monstrous level of student debt forty years of Thatcherism have inflicted on students.

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Corbyn Will Re-Introduce Collective Bargaining and End Zero-Hours Contracts

July 31, 2016

This looks like a piece of very good news. According to Mike, Jeremy Corbyn plans to repeal the laws passed by Blair’s government in 1999 limiting workers’ rights to have a recognised trade union, and end zero-hours contracts.

Corbyn wrote a piece in the Observer stating that he felt the changes were necessary due to the scandals over Sports Direct, Philip Green and BHS, and the Byron Hamburger chain to help immigration officials arrest 35 illegal immigrants, who were working for them.

At the moment, current legislation stipulates that a union wishing to be recognised at a workplace must show that 10 per cent of employees are members, and 50% want them to lead in pay bargaining. If that isn’t the case, then a secret ballot must be held, at which at least 40% of those able to vote do so, and the majority vote in favour of union recognition.

Corbyn, however, wants to introduce a French-style system, in which firms with over 250 members would have to recognise a specific trade union, and bargain with them over pay. He states

“Even Theresa May understands she has to pay lip service to change in the workplace and the boardroom …,” writes Corbyn.

“But the best way to guarantee fair pay is through strengthening unions’ ability to bargain collectively – giving employees the right to organise through a union and negotiate their pay, terms and conditions at work,” he writes.

“That’s why it should be mandatory for all large employers, with over 250 staff, to bargain collectively with recognised trade unions.”

Corbyn also states that he wants all workers to be given specified hours, that are written into their contracts. If an employer wants them to work beyond these hours, they are to specify the length of time and give them a reason. They will also have to give workers additional compensation, similar to an on-call payment, for being willing to work beyond their usual contracted hours, whether the workers in fact do so or not.

Mike is unsure about the wisdom of the reforms on union recognition, and would like comments on this matter from experts on trade union matters and employment law. However, he welcomes the proposal to end zero-hours contracts.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/corbyn-pledges-to-scrap-blair-union-laws-in-favour-of-collective-bargaining-and-an-end-to-zero-hours-contracts/

The decision to end zero-hours contracts is an excellent policy. Guy Standing devotes several pages in his book, A Precariat Charter, to attacking them. They are widely recognised as a highly exploitative and pernicious system of employment for those trapped in them.

Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack make clear that the assault on collective bargaining and the trade unions was a deliberate policy of Maggie Thatcher, and has resulted in the contraction of wages, high unemployment, and the impoverishment of the working class in their book, Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty(London: OneWorld 2015). They write

Deteriorating opportunities are also the direct product of an about-turn in the country’s political economy. At the end of the 1970s, fighting the rising rate of inflation became the number-one economic goal, displacing the former priority given to maintaining full employment. The instruments used – tight monetary and fiscal policies and a strong pound – accelerated long-term de-industrialisation, while triggering mass unemployment. The critical decision in the 1980s to adopt a more aggressive, market-oriented model of capitalism led to the sweeping away of regulations, the favouring of finance over manufacturing, the outsourcing of public sector jobs, relentless pressure on companies to cut labour costs and, critically, an assault on labour’s bargaining power.

Cabinet papers for 1983 reveal that Mrs Thatcher admonished Norman Tebbit for being too timid on trade union reform, telling him we ‘should neglect no opportunity to erode union membership’. In Britain the proportion of the workforce covered by collective bargaining has fallen from around eighty percent in 1979 to below twenty-five percent today (fifteen percent in the case of private sector workers). This is one of the lowest levels of coverage among rich nations, adding to the heavily skewed and economically unhealthy concentration of corporate power. The UK stands at twenty-first place out of twenty-seven countries in the European Union in terms of workplace representation, though parts of the European continent are also seeing more recent falls in the level of coverage, though from a much higher base.

Britain’s much vaunted ‘flexible labour market’, engineered during the 1980s to give business greater freedom to hire and fire, was necessary, it was claimed, to enable domestic firms to compete in an increasingly globalised economy. Such freedom for employers has continued to be championed by subsequent governments. Yet, just as over-restrictive labour laws can be bad news for dynamism, so can under-restrictive laws.

Britain’s low-wage, high-unemployment economy is as much the product of these internal, political forces as of external, economic ones. Indeed, it was later admitted by one of Mrs Thatcher’s top economic advisers that one of the government’s central aims was the taming of labour. ‘The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows … there may have been people making the actual policy decisions … who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment.’ This was how Sir Alan Budd, chief economic adviser at the Treasury in the 1980s, summed up – in 1992 – the multilayered assault on inflation and the unions. He continued: ‘And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes…what was engineered there, in Marxist terms, was a crisis of capitalism which created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.’ (pp.101-3, emphasis mine).

They further write on page 242

Perhaps the most effective, and radical, measure for boosting the total wage pool at the bottom would be a rebalancing of bargaining power in favour of the workforce. Another would be a more concerted attempt to reduce the significant pay gap between men and women by raising women’s wages. Both measures would raise the share of national income going in pay and would be critical elements of an effective strategy for cutting poverty levels among the workforce.

Far from being a strength, the sustained decline in workforce bargaining power in the UK is an economic and democratic weakness. Because of the ‘wage premium’ associated with collective bargaining, this erosion of labour’s bargaining power has played a big role in wage contraction. Evidence across sixteen rich countries has shown that the higher the level of trade union membership, the lower the degree of inequality. Further, it is likely that the erosion may have encouraged British employers to move down a low-pay and productivity road. By being able to minimise pay and rely on casualised labour, British employers – unlike say their German counterparts – have had few incentives to improve skills and introduce more productive processes.

Phased in over time, such a policy mix – a boost to the minimum wage, a reduction
in the numbers on less than the living wage, wider collective bargaining coverage and lower unemployment – would put the thirty-year long trend of a shrinking wage share into reverse, and make an important contribution to reducing poverty among the low-paid, while taking some of the strain off the benefit system.

Corbyn’s decision to expand and strengthen collective bargaining therefore appears from this to be an excellent measure. It will also doubtless be attacked by the Confederation of British Industry and the right-wing press and Blairites with just about every ounce of abuse they can muster. We’ll hear once more about how this will threaten British businesses with bankruptcy, and how this will lead us all back to the strike-torn 1970s, the Winter of Discontent, and all the old Thatcherite rubbish. The reality is that Britain was no more strike-prone in the 1970s than many other countries, and much less so than America. And the Winter of Discontent was, in the views of at least one historian I’ve read, the response to the system of wage restraint buckling under the weight of political pressure it was not designed to deal with, and which the unions should not have been expected to shoulder.

Of course, the real reason for the rage at the reinstatement of collective bargaining and the ending of zero-hour contracts will be that it attacks the nearly forty years of exploitative Tory employment policies that Maggie introduced. These employment practices have caused real misery, just as Thatcher and the economists she followed, von Hayek and Milton Friedman, intended them to. They should end now.

Owen Smith Unveils His Policies, but None Are His Own

July 28, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Owen Smith had finally unveiled 20 policies of his own, with which he hoped to challenged Jeremy Corbyn. They’re all good, as far as they go. The trouble is, none of them are his own. Mike reported that the Corbynistas have already pointed out that they were taken from the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law, which Jeremy Corbyn had already adopted as the basis for future Labour policy last month. Mike quotes the response of the Jeremy Corbyn for Leader Campaign to Smith’s policies, who said that they welcomed Smiff’s support for policies announced in recent months by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They pointed out that Smudger’s speech showed that Corbyn did possess true leadership, and that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would reverse the damage caused by the decline in manufacturing jobs due to the failed economic policies of the last thirty years. Northern communities, hard hit by industrial decline, would be a particular priority, and would be regenerated through economic devolution that would put people and jobs first.

Mike also points out that several of Smudger’s policies are vague. They just appear to be cosmetic, and don’t address the real, underlying problems. Such as his promise to concentrate on ‘equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity’. Mike makes the point that this is so confused as to be almost meaningless. He also makes the point that Smiff’s promise to increase spending on schools and libraries is fine, but he doesn’t promise to end private-sector involvement in schools, or reopen the libraries that have closed. His promise to reinstate the 50p top rate of tax is also cosmetic, and will be attacked as such by the Tories. His promises to reverse the cuts to the capital gains tax, corporation, inheritance tax and his plans to introduce a new wealth tax similarly look cosmetic. They’ll bring more money into the treasury, but he says nothing about how they’ll be spent. As for ‘ending fuel poverty by investing in efficient energy’ – this is notable because he does not promise to renationalise the electricity firms, thus meaning that we’re still going to be paying the foreign owners of our energy companies.

Mike concludes his article with the statement:

Smith makes a big deal of being able to deliver these policies – asking us to accept that Mr Corbyn can’t. How do we know either of those things? We don’t. In fact, it seems unlikely that this list is anything more than a catalogue of empty promises and he’ll go back to right-wing neoliberalism if he gets the chance.

It’s not enough. It’s painting a new face on New Labour. It’s reacting to Jeremy Corbyn.

And perhaps this is the biggest point to be made:

Why have Fake Corbyn when we can simply keep the real Corbyn?

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/20-policy-proposals-from-owen-smith-but-how-many-are-his-own/

This is a very good point. Smudger is reacting to Corbyn, and while it’s welcome that Corbyn’s leadership of the party is forcing Smiff to embrace some left-wing policies, they aren’t as good as the full range of policies articulated by Jeremy Corbyn’s camp. And we have absolutely no guarantee that once in charge of the Labour party, Smiffy will carry out any of his policies. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. Smiff’s a New Labour, neoliberal privatiser. He left a job in the Labour party to work for Pfizer, and then returned to the Labour party. While at Pfizer, he pushed for the privatisation of the NHS. Back in the Labour party, he was part of the unit that maintained good relations with the company and the other private healthcare firms hoping to get a cut of NHS action. When questioned about his connection with Pfizer, Smudger lied about it, claiming that he worked for them before he joined the Labour party, thus hiding the fact that he was already working for the Labour party before he joined them. And while he has said that he doesn’t intend to privatise any more of the NHS, he hasn’t promised to renationalise what has already been sold off.

And his faction, New Labour in the form of Progress and Saving Labour, has a record of appalling mendacity. His rival, Angela Eagle, lied about having a brick thrown through her office window, just as she lied about being abused at a meeting for her sexuality. The anti-Corbyn camp have smeared and libelled decent people, many with a sincere and proud record of anti-racism and opposing anti-Semitism, as anti-Semites. This has included Jews and people of part-Jewish heritage. They have adopted the deceitful strategy of PR companies to try to present themselves as the victims in a concerted campaign to smear and discredit Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. There was the ‘Eradicate Blairite Scum’ T-shirt, which was devised by a Blairite and her pet PR person. Mike has put up a piece today reporting that the elderly gentleman wearing that claims he was tricked by the two, and feels that he has also been smeared because of it. Then there was the letter by over 40 female Blairite MPs complaining that they had been abused in his name, when there is no evidence that anything of the sort had occurred. Quite apart from the staged heckling of Corbyn himself at a gay rights rally, done by another PR person from Portland, a company owned by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw.

I also notice that he makes absolutely no proposal to tackle the New Labour and Tory welfare cuts, despite the fact that these have thrust millions into precarity and grinding poverty. The Work Capability Assessment has resulted in at least over a thousand seriously ill people dying after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and their successor, Maximus. In some areas, 80 per cent of those told they were fit for work had their judgements overturned on appeal. But the damage inflicted on very many vulnerable people through the stress of these tests is severe. It has made the mental health of nearly 300,000 people worse, sometimes seriously so. He hasn’t promised to end the system of benefit sanctions, despite the hardships and injustice these have caused. The blog ‘Diary of a Food Bank Helper’ has put up numerous cases of those working at the sharp end of poverty in the UK. Kitty S. Jones, Johnny Void and so many others have also put up their accounts of people, who’ve been thrown off benefit for often the flimsiest reasons. Like they’re turned up a few minutes late, because they had to arrange alternative means of getting their children to or from school. Or they were in hospital, and so couldn’t attend the interview. Or some other bullsh*t excuse.

I’m still haunted by some of these stories. Stilloaks on his blog put up the cases of some of the 590 people, who have died of hunger or through their own hands, after having their benefit stopped. This included a young mother, who leaped through an upper storey window, killing herself and her baby. There was an elderly couple, who committed suicide together, because they were starving and had come to the end. One of the accounts, not of a fatality, was of how members of the public came to comfort a young man, who broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, weeping because they wouldn’t give him any money.

This is the kind of establishment bullying that had people marching in the streets back in the 1930s. It’s the casual abuse by the entitled privileged classes, that inspired the comrades of the National Union of the Unemployed to occupy the Ritz, leaving their patrons aghast because the proles had dared to show up! How dare they!

Some of these account of poverty were read out in parliament. It says everything you need to know about Cameron and IDS that they had a good chuckle about them, live on air. Yep, to the Tories, poverty and desperation are a damned good, jolly joke, provided those affected are just grammar school oik or the hoi polloi from the comprehensives and secondary moderns.

And from Owen Smith and New Labour – silence. Smudger abstained on the Tory welfare cuts. As did Eagle. Mind you, they couldn’t do anything else, as New Labour was responsible for introducing a fair part of the legislation on which they were based. Like the Work Capability Tests.

Giving people a decent wage is an excellent start. But it also needs to be coupled with policies that won’t lead to the starvation of those of on benefits. Smudger isn’t going to tackle this. And so whatever he says or does, he’s still content to see a fair chunk of the 3.7 million trapped in food poverty remain in it.

And then there is the authoritarian mindset behind these antics. Jeremy Corbyn is massively popular with grassroots Labour. And I’m confident that, if his parliamentary party actually bothered to take the trouble to represent their members and constituents, he’d be massively popular too with the electorate. After all, before the Tories shot into a 16 point lead ahead of Labour this week, there were only a single point ahead last week. And this despite all the abuse and smears.

But that’s too much for the Blairites. They can’t stand the idea that the neoliberal policies Tony Blair placed so much faith in as the electoral salvation of the Labour party, actually aren’t. And they definitely don’t see themselves as the ‘servants of the people’, as Andrew Rawnsley ironically titled his book on Blair and his coterie. They see themselves as the leaders, whom the grassroots members should automatically obey. And if they still persist, then they’re a Trotskyite hippy rabble wearing donkey jackets and smelling of patchouli, who should leave the party.

Smudger and his cohorts have an absolute contempt for ordinary people, who are to be sneered at, tricked and deceived. He and they have lied about Jeremy Corbyn. He will lie, and lie flagrantly, once he is in government. He and they cannot and should not be trusted with power. He will not restore the NHS. He will not renationalise the utilities, and he will not renationalise our failing railways. He’s a fake, and the genuinely progressive policies he’s adopted are their to disguise the privatising neoliberal underneath. And once he gets in power, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be forgotten, and he’ll carry on copying Tory policies as before. After all, it’s what Bliar did.

Seema Malhotra’s Claims of Bullying, While Squatting in Someone Else’s Office

July 25, 2016

Mike also posted another piece commenting on the false claims of harassment and intimidation by Seema Malhotra, the former Chief Shadow Secretary to the Treasury. Malhotra claimed that there had been a campaign of harassment against her, culminating in aides from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell entering her office without her consent on the 13th and 15th of July.

She would indeed have a case against Corbyn and McDonnell, if the office was hers. But it wasn’t. She resigned on June 26th, and was expected to have left the premises. She hadn’t, and so, under the terms of the act, was squatting. She was occupying a space that she neither owned, rented, or had lawful reason to use. McDonnell explained that the offices had been entered, because they didn’t expect her to be there. Malhotra herself says that the aide, who entered the office was surprised to find a member of her staff there.

Mike suggests that the only reason Malhotra was still in the office, was so that she could contrive an incident, which she could then claim was an act of bullying by McDonnell and Corbyn.

See Mike’s article http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/23/did-nobody-tell-seema-malhotra-that-squatting-has-been-illegal-since-2012/.

This is very plausible. From the first, the Blairites have been inventing false allegations of bullying against Corbyn and his supporters. There were the accusations of anti-Semitism, which were factually wrong, and risibly directed against people, who were Jewish or Black and personally deeply involved in campaigning against anti-Semitism and racism. Then there was the T-shirt with the slogan ‘Eradicate Blairite Scum’, which was actually manufactured not by a Corbynite, but by a Blairite and her pet ‘PR and Media Guru’. And after that Angela Eagle falsely claimed that someone from the Corbyn camp had thrown a brick through her office window. Except that they hadn’t. It had been thrown through a different window in the same building, a building that she shared with a number of other organisations. It was also in an area which suffered frequent acts of vandalism. There was no evidence linking Corbyn or his supporters to the crime, except in the imagination and mendacious tongue of Eagle.

Owen Smith, Eagle and the other 172 Blairite MPs, including Malhotra, are starting to resemble the villain from the first Dirty Harry movie. This is a truly heinous individual, who tries to have Eastwood’s hard-bitten cop removed from the investigation, by deliberately staging an assault on himself, and then claiming that Harry did it. Of course, this all ends with Eastwood’s character uttering that speech about not knowing how many bullets he’s fired – five or six – and then saying, ‘Do you feel lucky, punk? Do ya?’

The Blairites are like the murderer in the movie, fabricating attacks on themselves in order to play the victim falsely. It’s time this charade stopped. Mike states that if Malhotra was still occupying her office in order to interfere with Labour party business, such as obstructing its use by Corbyn and his supporters, then she should face an inquiry and possible disciplinary action. He’s right. These antics have gone on long enough. They’re not impressing anyone, and the more they go on, the less credible they seem. Except to the Tory press and media, with whom the Blairites evidently want to ingratiate themselves.

Private Eye on Andrea Leadsom and the Hedge Funds Backing Brexit

June 9, 2016

This fortnight’s Private Eye also has an interesting piece on Andrea Leadsom, one of the leading Tory Brexit supporters. Leadsom has been complaining that several of the organisations warning of the dire consequences Brexit will have on the British economy are funded by the dreaded EU. The Eye points out that Leadsom herself is also funded by her brother-in-law, a hedge fund manager based in the Channel Islands, and that the hedge funds generally support Brexit in the expectation that it will help them avoid paying tax. The Eye writes

Hedging Her Bets

“I put it down to a big institutional ganging up on the poor British voter,” complained Andrea Leadsom, the leading “outer” who is said to be having a good war, referring to the way the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others point out the likely costs of leaving the EU. “What do they have in common, these organisations?” Number one – lots of EU funding.”

The energy and former Treasury minister perhaps knows more than she has previously let on about the power of financial backing to influence views and policy. Leadsom herself ahs had plenty of financial backing from the offshore hedge und run by her brother-in-law Peter de Putron, as has the EU-sceptic Open Europe thinktank, she has championed (Eyes passim ad nauseam).

What result the Guernsey-based donor hopes for is not known. But plenty of other hedgies want out so they can escape EU regulation of their funds (inexplicably confident that a British Tory government would be kinder to them). Others are just pleased it’s all getting nice and tight so they can take positions on sterling and cash in on the early exit poll information they are paying for outside the polling booths. (p. 7).

Her connection to hedge funds and their managers should be one good reason alone why no-one should take Andrea Leadsom remotely seriously. Many of the private care home chains that collapsed a few years ago were run by hedge funds, as is a private hospital in Bath. These organisations see health and social care as a lucrative investment, and their financial arrangements are so organised in order to make it appear that the firms are operating close to their margins so they can benefit from tax breaks. As a result, the care homes and hospitals they manage are often underfunded and genuinely in a precarious financial situation. Hence the appalling failures of several care homes to provide acceptable standards of care to their elderly or handicapped inmates, and their spectacular collapse.

And unfortunately, at the moment the hedge funds and the parasites in charge of them are all too right in their expectations that a British Tory government won’t tax them. The Tories have shown absolutely no interest in doing so up to now. In fact, quite the opposite. They are trying to do their best to protect London and the rest of the country as a low tax haven for dodgy businessmen and financial speculators right across the world. It’s why one international politician declared Britain to be one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, because of the safety it provides to gangster right across the continent and the globe to launder their ill-gotten gains. The Tories are quite comfortable with this vile situation, and will do everything they can to protect it as far as possible, up to and including Brexit.

Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.

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.

Dodgy Dave’s Offshore Tax Havens and the French Revolution

April 19, 2016

The big story last week was undoubtedly the public fury over the rich using offshore tax havens to avoid paying tax. And one of the offenders seeking to avoid paying his share of the tax burden was our own Prime Minister, Dave Cameron. I did very little blogging last week, as I was involved in other things. Also, I couldn’t think of much I could add to what was already being said by the protestors themselves, and to the comprehensive coverage being given to it by Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers.

This is a scandal that has been going on for decades. I think Microsoft was one of the first in the 1980s, when it went offshore to avoid paying corporation tax. And tax evasion both using offshore companies and more ordinary forms of the extremely rich trying to get away with paying the bare minimum, if at all, has also been going on for decades. Private Eye has been attacking the Tax Office since the days of New Labour, and possibly long before that, for the way in which its heads have had numerous lunches with the big industrialists and the major accountancy firms, all to sort out ways of allowing the corporate rich to minimise their tax contributions. There has also been an open ‘swing door’ between the tax office and treasury, and the accountancy firms, as they have sent people to assist the government in formulating its tax policy. It’s yet another example of the corporatist policies corrupting British politics.

As for dodgy Dave, he lied to parliament, used it to enrich himself through avoiding paying tax on money left to him by his father. And he probably genuinely doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. The attitude of the financial sector and in business generally is that you do what you can legally to avoid paying tax. I can remember when I worked very briefly – for all of three days – for a group of extremely dodgy independent financial consultants in Bristol’s Berkeley Square – we were taught some of the ruses. Like you make all your assets over to the business, and try to include everything that could possibly be considered an expense or a loss. When I objected, because somebody has to pay for the roads, police, armed forces, hospitals and so on, I was told, ‘You’re a real p*nis if you want to pay tax.’

Dave’s a member of the aristocracy, and the aristocracy have been doing this since before the days of the French Revolution. Indeed, one of the causes of the Revolution was that the aristos not only weren’t paying their taxes, they were shifting the tax burden onto the poor. And this has also been one of the major aims of the Tories. And yes, it also started under Thatcher. I can remember a book came out in the early 1980s that advocated all manner of Right-wing policies, and was very enthusiastically received by the books page of the Sunday Express. One of its suggestions was getting rid of income tax, and replacing it with indirect taxes – VAT. It was another way of giving tax cuts to the rich, and shifting the burden on to the poor.

Last week, dodgy Dave and a whole host of others got caught out by the release of the ‘Panama Papers’. It added further evidence that whatever Dave said, we weren’t all in this together. This was pretty obvious from the beginning, but the material from Mossack Fonseca made it pretty much incontrovertible. Or at least it did in the case of the Prime Minister.

Of course, the Tories were furious, though I don’t set much store by their rage. I’ve no doubt that many, perhaps even most of them, have done much the same. Something like 75% of British MPs are millionaires, and the Tory party has always considered itself the party of business, with a natural right to lead. My guess is that some of the rage is simply that Cameron got caught. Either way, it shows the absolute double standards used by the Prime Minister for himself and his rich friends. And Private Eye is right. The whole system of offshore tax havens should be closed down. And furthermore, the corporatist influence on politics should be cleaned out. The big accountancy firms should be debarred from sending their personnel to advise the tax office, along with the other big firms seeking to sponsor and donate to the parties in order to get a slice of state business later.

Lloyd George’s Pensions Act and How the Treasury Tries to Make Welfare Take-Up Difficult

February 24, 2016

One of the things I’ve noticed is that as soon as a government roll out some new form of welfare benefit, there’s almost always an attempt immediately either to block it, or to make sure that spending on it is kept as low as possible, and that as few people as possible take it up. In the case of the Tories, this is part of the whole point of these reforms: they’re too make sure as few people qualify for the benefit as possible, but make it appear as though they’re still somehow giving help to the poor. Hence increased benefit cuts, disguised with verbiage about how benefits are being raised in real terms, or else they’re reforming the system so that its geared towards those who really need it. Or some other such nonsense.

In the case of the Labour party, opposition to increased welfare spending seems almost always to come from the Treasury, which immediately makes a statement about the need to preserve spending limits, and recommends amendments to make sure that expenditure is lower than that actually desired by those who formulated the reform. This has been going on for a very long time, almost as long as welfare benefits were introduced. Lloyd George’s pension reforms of 1908 were similarly criticised and modified by the Treasury.

Asquith, Lloyd-George’s predecessor at the Treasury under Campbell-Bannerman, had promised to introduce non-contributory state pensions in 1906. This was to be 5s a week for people over 70. Married couples would only receive 7s 6d. In 1908 Lloyd George gave into pressure from the backbenches, and removed the discrimination against married couples. However, the Treasury had also succeeded in limiting the take-up of the new benefit, was putting a limit of £7 million on the amount that could be spent on it and moving the age when it could be paid from 65 to 70. (See G.C. Peden, British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher, pp. 20-1). And the Tories have done exactly the same today. A few years ago they raised the retirement age to 70 for men, on the grounds that more of us are living and remaining active to that age. They may well be right, but I doubt that’s the only reason they raised it. It seems to me to be something they’ve wanted to do for over a century, ever since Asquith and Lloyd George brought it in. There are certain things in Tories that really don’t change. Unfortunately.

The Foundation of the NHS: The Conservatives’ Reaction to the Beveridge Report

February 16, 2016

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been discussing the origins of the NHS with a presumably Tory critic, who took issue with my statement that Nye Bevan is the NHS’ founder. Among his other points, he argues that Winston Churchill was in favour of it, and the NHS would have happened regardless of who was in government at the time.

I have argued that Churchill was in fact highly ambivalent about it. Sometimes he was for it, at other times against. G.C. Peden, in his British Economic and Social Policy: Lloyd George to Margaret Thatcher (Oxford: Philip Allan Publishers Limited 1985) has this to say about the public and the government’s response to the report.

The focus for discussion of postwar social planning was the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (Cmd. 6404). The Report appeared in December 1942, at a time when ultimate victory could be foreseen and when new incentives had to be found to maintain the war effort. Despite this, the Government was cautious, if not openly hostile, to Beveridge’s proposals for universal social insurance, without means test, against interruption of earning due to unemployment, ill health or old age. It was true that the Anglo-American peace aims in the ‘Atlantic Charter’ of 1941 had included a reference to ‘social security’ but Churchill thought that such plans should be substantially left until after the War. As Harris (1977) has shown, the Beveridge Report had been very much Sir William Beveridge’s own handiwork. His committee had been expected to deal with technical questions related to workmen’s compensation for industrial disease or injury, and with anomalies in social insurance, such as the well-known one whereby a man whose earning were interrupted because of unemployment received a higher rate of benefit than if he were sick. Beveridge, however, had gone beyond his terms of reference and had called for an attack on Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness as well as Want – the five giants on the road of reconstruction, as he called them in Bunyanesque language. In particular, he stated that no satisfactory scheme of social security could be devised unless there were family allowances, comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, and avoidance of mass unemployment. Indeed, the actuarial soundness of Beveridge’s plan depended upon the average rate of unemployment being no higher than the lowest level in the 1930s; that is 10 per cent of interwar insured labour force or 8.5 per cent of the wider body of insured employees in the new scheme (Cmd 6404, pp. 120, 154-65, 185-6). Uncertainty whether unemployment could be controlled, and memories of the political consequences of an actuarially unsound unemployment insurance fund in 1931, no doubt contributed to the Treasury’s critical reception of the Report.

Nevertheless there can be little doubt that the Report was extremely popular with the general public and, following a backbench revolt in parliament, the Government felt compelled to commit itself to Beveridge’s plan, at least in principle. Widespread support for universal social insurance without means test may have been the result of what Titmuss called a ‘war-warmed impulse of people for a more generous society’. On the other hand, the fact that so many people in the armed forces and munitions industries could not but be uncertain about their own post-war employment, in the light of post-1918 experience, must have been a factor. In the interwar years the unemployed had always been a minority of the electorate; in the war those who felt threatened by unemployment may well have been a majority. Moreover, the associated prospect of universal health insurance may well have been attractive to people had been finding the cost of private health insurance a burden.

Key interest groups were also generally in favour of Beveridge’s ideas. The evidence presented to Beveridge’s committee showed that hardly any trade unions opposed extensions of national insurance and even business witnesses generally favoured more intervention by the state in matters relating to national efficiency. The one business group clearly adversely affected by Beveridge’s proposals were the industrial insurance companies which had helped to administer national health insurance since 1912. Beveridge not only recommended their exclusion from this, but he also proposed that national insurance should cover workmen’s compensation and funeral grants, thus taking away business from the companies. These seem, however, no longer to have had the influence they had had in Lloyd George’s time, and the state no longer needed their administrative expertise. Wartime experience had created new attitudes about what the state could achieve. All this does not mean, however, that there was necessarily a consensus in favour of a ‘welfare state’ except in the most general terms. Looking at Beveridge’s five giants in turn, one finds that sometimes proposals were agreed for differing motives, or on an inadequate basis, and that sometimes there were serious disagreements between Conservative and Labour members of the Coalition government.

For all its reservations on Beveridge’s main proposals, the Government did agree in principle with his assumption that there should be a comprehensive health service available to all, without any conditions of insurance contributions. The trouble was that it proved to be impossible during the war for the details of such a service to be agreed, either between political parties or with the interest groups involved. Certainly war had increased the state’s role. Greatly exaggerated prewar estimates of numbers of casualties in air raids had led to the provision of 80,000 Emergency Hospital Service beds, compared with 78,000 beds in voluntary hospitals and 320,000 in local authority hospitals. Moreover, the Emergency Hospital Service gradually extended its operations from war casualties to treatment of sick people transferred from inner city hospitals and then to other evacuees. In discussions in 1943-45 on a future national health service, however, both Conservative ministers and the British Medical Association showed themselves to be determined to safeguard private practice and the independence of the voluntary hospitals. In particular, there were deep differences between successive Conservative ministers of health, Ernest Brown and Henry Willink, who were responsible for health services in England and Wales, and the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnson, who was responsible for health services north of the border. For example, Johnson successfully opposed the idea of maintenance charges for patients in hospital. The 1944 White Paper on A National Health Service (Cmd 6502), which was signed by Willink and Johnston, left much undecided and was avowedly only a consultative document.
(pp 139-40).

The National Health Service Act of 1946, and its implementation on the Appointed Day in 1948, was a considerable achievement of Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health. Bevan’s original nation health proposals differed from those of Willink, his Conservative predecessor, chiefly in respect of the degree of the Ministry’s control over hospitals and doctors, and in the emphasis given to group partnerships of doctors in local health centres. Whereas Willink had wished to preserve the independence of voluntary hospitals, Bevan took over all local authority and voluntary hospitals, except those not necessary for the National Health Service (NHS). Bevan’s biggest problem was with the British Medical Association which, as late as February 1948, organised a poll of its members which resulted in a vote of 8:1 against the Act. Bevan was aware of the need to meet the medical profession on some points. In particular, he was willing to allow private beds in NHS hospitals so as to attract the best specialists into the service. He met the general practitioners’ fears for their independence by promising that there would be no wholetime salaried medical service. In the end the doctors and consultants were given a larger place in the administration of the NHS than Willink had envisaged.

(pp. 155-5). Thus, while the Tories did have a role in the creation of the NHS, the government as a whole only reluctantly accepted its necessity after it won a general acceptance amongst the electorate and parliament. Yes, Willink did play his part, but the ultimate creation of the NHS was under Nye Bevan.

There is much, much more I could write on this, but at the moment this ends the discussion.