Posts Tagged ‘Treasury’

Telegraph Journo Embarrassed by Sargon and Robinson’s Free Speech Organisation

March 10, 2020

As we know, embarrassing the Tories is good and righteous work. So Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, deserves especial congratulations for making the Tories uncomfortable over the whole question of free speech. He didn’t do it intentionally. It’s just that they found the similarities between Toby Young’s Free Speech Union and a rival right-wing organisation founded by Sargon and the islamophobic thug Tommy Robinson far too close for comfort.

Last month the Spectator’s vile Toby Young announced that he was founding the Free Speech Union along with a load of other rightists. This was going to defend those expressing controversial opinions from being silenced and kicked out of their jobs. The Heil on Sunday quoted Tobes as saying

People who become the target of ‘Twitter storms’ after making controversial remarks will be defended by a new body called the Free Speech Union. The organisation will ‘stand up for the rights of its members to tell the truth in all circumstances’. The union has been set up by the journalist Toby Young in response to police investigations into a string of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ triggered by outspoken comments”.

If someone at work writes to your boss to complain about something you’ve said, we’ll write to them, too, and explain the importance of intellectual tolerance and viewpoint diversity. If self-righteous social-media bullies pick on you, we’ll return the fire. If someone launches an online petition calling for you to be sacked, we’ll launch a counter-petition. The enemies of free speech hunt in packs; its defenders must band together too.

The organisation has a Latin motto, which runs something like ‘Audi altri partem’, which I think means ‘Hear the other side.’

However, it’s not a union, but an incorporated, whose five directors are all spokesmen for the right. They include Young himself, Prof Nigel Biggar, who defends colonialism, Douglas Murray, who has islamophobic opinions, and Radomir Tylecote, who was suspended from the Treasury for writing a book against the EU. And their record of defending their opponents’ right to express their opinions is actually very poor. Zelo Street in their article about the wretched union quoted Paul Bernal, who tweeted

As Toby Young should know, your commitment to free speech isn’t shown by how well you defend those whose speech you agree with, but how you defend those whose speech you don’t. When his ‘free speech union’ talks about the excesses of the Prevent programme, then see”.

The Street himself commented that it was just free speech for the right, and a way for Tobes and co. to complain about how unfair the world is.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/toby-youngs-free-speech-sham.html

Unfortunately for Tobes’ outfit, Sargon and Tommy Robinson, the founder and former leader of the EDL, have launched their own right-wing free speech organisation, the Hearts of Oak Alliance. And the similarities between the two concerned Tory feminist academic Zoe Strimpel to write a piece for the Torygraph on the first of this month, March 2020, complaining about this fact. Strimpel’s a Cambridge graduate with an M. Phil in gender studies. She’s the author of a series of book on men’s psychology, feminism, dating and romance. She began her article with the statement that her circle of friends has taken on a left-wing hue. It includes many Labour supporters, against whom she has to defend capitalism and Zionism. Well, at least she said ‘Zionism’, rather than accuse them once again of anti-Semitism. She’s upset by them chuckling off her fears about the erosion of free speech and thought, which, she claims, is under attack by a visible machinery of censorship in offices, the cops, universities, arts and online. She cites approvingly a report by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, which advised universities to guard against being the voice of critics of those, who despise the supporter of the traditional values of patriotism, family, faith and local traditions. They have to be willing to represent and not sneer at those, who feel justifiable pride in British history, culture and traditions.

However, she was worried whether it was possible to defend free speech, without sullying the cause with too many real thugs, who wanted to get as close as possible to inciting actual violence under the guise of expressing their democratic rights. Was it possible to challenge the climate of intimidation, snide snitching, and mendacious and manipulative accusations of hate-mongering, racism and making people feel ‘unsafe’, without being a magnet for the alt-right? She agreed to become a member of the advisory board, but has her reservations. She’s uncomfortable about Sargon’s and Robinson’s organisations, because of Sargon’s own anti-feminist, misogynistic views. Sargon was, she declared, far right, a thug, who called feminism ‘a first world female supremacy movement’, and ‘all kinds of blokeish’. He’s also the man responsible for sending that Tweet to Labour MP Jess Philips, telling her that he ‘wouldn’t even rape her’.

She concluded her article by stating that the aims of Tobes’ outfit were perfectly legitimate and free speech is under threat. But it was ‘just a shame that in defending those who ought to speak freely, one has to defend those, who – in an ideal world – wouldn’t have anything to say.’

Sargon was naturally upset at this assault on his character. He therefore posted a piece up on his YouTube channel, Akkad Daily, on the 2nd of March defending himself from her attack. He didn’t deny he was anti-feminist, and defended his own comments on this. But he roundly denied being a thug and far right. He was, he repeated, a Lockean classical liberal, and believed in precisely the same values as those Policy Exchange’s report claimed were under attack.

Sargon is indeed far right. He’s a libertarian, who would like everything privatised and the end of the welfare state. He’s against the European Union and immigration, and is bitterly critical of feminism and affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities. And yes, he is an islamophobe like Robinson. But in very many ways he and Robinson are absolutely no different from Young and his crew. Young is also far right. He’s a right-wing Tory, who attended eugenics conferences whose members and speakers were real Nazis and anti-Semites. And Young also is all kinds of blokeish as well. He’s posted a number of tweets expressing his obsession with women’s breasts. Way back in the ’90s, he also wrote a piece for the men’s magazine, GQ, about how he once dressed up in drag in order to pose as a woman, because he wanted to snog lesbians in gay clubs.

And it’s not just the people in the Free Speech Union, who have no real interest in free speech. Neither does Conservatism or Zionism. Thatcher tried to pass legislation making it illegal for universities to employ Marxists. A week or so ago, Turning Point UK announced that it was launching a British version of its parent organisation’s Professor Watch, a blacklist of university lecturers, who dared to express or teach left-wing views. And anti-Zionist and Israel-critical bloggers, like Tony Greenstein and Martin Odoni have described how Israel’s super-patriotic supporters, like Jonathan Hoffman, don’t want to permit free debate about Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Rather, they turn up at pro-Palestinian meetings with the intention of heckling, shouting down and otherwise disrupting the proceedings. They also seek to use the law to suppress criticism and factual reporting of Israeli atrocities as anti-Semitism.

Now there are opponents of free speech on the left. But Stimpel, as a good Tory, doesn’t want to recognise that it exists on the right. She’s embarrassed that supporting right-wing speech also means supporting extreme right-wing figures like Sargon and Robinson. But she doesn’t recognise, because she can’t afford to, that Sargon and Robinson aren’t actually much different from Toby Young, Douglas Murray, Radomir Tylecote, Nigel Biggar and the rest. In fact, there’s little difference between the two groups in fundamental attitudes.

It’s just that Sargon’s a little more extreme and doesn’t have a column in a major right-wing newspaper or magazine.

Blair Warns Labour Party against Culture War over Trans Rights

February 23, 2020

This is also another story from Friday’s I, for 21st February 2020. Speaking at King’s College London, the Thatcherite warmonger and privatiser of the NHS urged the Labour Party not to get into a war over Trans rights and said he would not have signed the 12-point pledge card that Rebecca Long-Bailey has.

The article, by Patrick Daly, runs

Tony Blair has urged Labour not to get into a “culture war” on trans rights after the issue split the current crop of leadership hopefuls.

The former prime minister has advised the party to avoid signing up to activist pledges on transgender rights – an issue that has dogged the three-horse race to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

“We don’t need to be fighting that culture war,” Mr Blair told an audience at King’s College London yesterday.

“That does mean to say you don’t take the right positions on things.”

Leadership contenders shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and backbencher Lisa Nandy have both given their backing to the controversial 12-point pledge card issued by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights.

The pledges have drawn criticism for demanding that members deemed to be “transphobic” are expelled from the party. The document also describes organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, a group that calls for biological sex to be acknowledged as part of maintaining women’s rights, as a “trans-exclusionist hate group”.

Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary and third contender in the leadership battle, has not said whether he backs the 12 pledges but has called for transgender rights to be seen as human rights.

Mr Blair said that, rather than signing up to pledges, Labour should instead be engaging with the formal Government consultation on whether those living as transgender should be able to self-identify.

Asked whether he would have signed the LCTR pledges, the ex-Labour leader of 13 years replied: “No, I wouldn’t”.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair’s successor Gordon Brown gave a speech at a London School of Economics event last night where a student asked the former Chancellor what the optimal relationship between the Treasury and No. 10 is.

In response to the question, Mr Brown laughed and said: “That was me and Tony.”

As much as I despise Blair, he’s right on this issue. There are real dangers with the radical transgender lobby, not least in the way their proposals for expanding the definition of transgender and making people question their gender identity could mean persuading mentally and emotionally vulnerable people into transitioning when they don’t need it and would bitterly regret it later.

More specifically, it risks creating another witch hunt in the Labour Party, like that the Israel lobby started with the anti-Semitism smears. That has scores of ordinary, decent people smeared and expelled as anti-Semites for no other reason than they supported Jeremy Corbyn or weren’t sufficiently vociferous in praising or defending Israel.

Blair’s right on the issue of trans rights, but I wish his supporters hadn’t gleefully participated in the anti-Semitism witch hunt. The fact that Blair’s warning against transphobia witch hunt probably means he’s afraid his supporters won’t benefit from it.

British Diplomat Resigns Over Brexit Half-Truths

December 9, 2019

Another set-back for the Tories was the resignation of Alexandra Hall Hall, the leading Brexit negotiator, in protest at politicians’ deceit and half-truths about it and its effects. This was also reported in Saturday’s I in the article ‘British diplomat quits with tirade at ‘half-truths”, written by Jane Merrick. This ran

A senior British diplomat in Washington has resigned, saying she can no longer “peddle half-truths” on behalf of a government she does not “trust”.

Alexandra Hall Hall, the lead envoy for Brexit at the embassy, accused ministers of “misleading or disingenuous” claims about the UK’s departure from the EU which had made diplomats’ jobs promoting democracy abroad “that much harder”.

The blistering resignation letter will fuel concerns over a lack of trust in Boris Johnson and his arguments on Brexit, highlighted by the leaked Treasury documents obtained by Jeremy Corbyn showing there will be customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain under the Prime Minister’s deal.

Ms Hall Hall’s letter was sent to her bosses in the Diplomatic Service this week and obtained by CNN. She said her position had become “unbearable personally and untenable professionally”.

She added: “I am also at a stage in life where I would prefer to do something more rewarding with my time than peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust.”

Ms Hall Hall’s job was to explain the UK Government’s Brexit strategy to politicians and officials on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

Her letter is all the more astounding because diplomats rarely criticise the government they have worked for, even after resigning.

She argued that ministers’ actions in the UK had made it harder to British diplomats to uphold “core values” abroad.

She added: ” I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and trade-offs which Brexit involves; the use of misleading or disingenuous arguments about the implications of the various options before us; and some behaviour towards our institutions, which, were it happening in another country, we would almost certainly as diplomats have received instructions to register our concern.

“It makes our job to promote democracy and the rule of law that much harder, if we are not seen to be upholding these core values at home.”

Ms Hall Hall said she was not “for or against Brexit, per se”, adding: “I took this position with a sincere commitment, indeed passion, to do my part, to the very best of my abilities, to help achieve a successful outcome on Brexit.”

But she added: “Each person has to find their own level comfort with this situation. Since I have no other element to my job except Brexit, I find my position has become unbearable personally, and untenable professionally.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We won’t comment on the detail of an individual’s resignation.”

In short, Ms Hall Hall, a conscientious and extremely capable diplomat, felt unable to do her job because of the massive deceit coming from Boris Johnson’s government. This deceit is so great, that it is comparable to that of the undemocratic governments British diplomats have the job of protesting against.

Boris Johnson is not only a threat to democracy in the UK, but a threat to Britain’s role in spreading democracy throughout the world.

This is blistering condemnation and should be taken very seriously by anyone, who thinks that Johnson is somehow standing up for patriotic British values because of Brexit.

He isn’t. He’s a real and present threat to them. Get him out, and someone else in who will defend democracy and genuinely open and transparent government: Corbyn.

The Tories’ Brexit Cover-Up on Northern Ireland

December 9, 2019

It wasn’t a good weekend for the Tories. For one thing, Jeremy Corbyn used leaked Treasury documents to show that the Tories were covering up the effects Brexit would have on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. This was reported in the I in the article ‘Corbyn accuses Tories of Brexit cover-up’ by Hugo Gye. This ran

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Conservatives of trying to hide the true effects of their Brexit deal, claiming it would put a border in the Irish Sea despite Boris Johnson’s denials.

The Tories insisted Labour is indulging in “wild conspiracy theories” after the party produced leaked Treasure documents on the implications of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The new Brexit deal puts Northern Ireland in a different customs and regulatory regime from the rest of the UK. The Prime Minister has told Northern Irish business leaders that if they are asked to fill in forms when transporting goods to or from Breat Britain, they should “throw that form in the bin.”

But the Treasury documents say: “Exit summary declarations will be required when goods are exported from NI to GB.” It adds that the Government “will need to balance the benefits of unfettered access against the risks of reduced control over imports”.

The dossier adds that increased friction on trade across the Irish Sea will increase the price of high street goods and hit business profits. It is the equivalent of imposing tariffs on 30 per cent of all purchases in Northern Ireland, officials wrote.

Mr Corbyn said: “For trade going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain the Government cannot rule out regulatory checks, rules of origin checks and animal and public health checks.

“And for trade going the other way from Great Britain to Northern Ireland there will be all of the above plus, potentially damaging tariffs. This drives a coach and horses through Boris Johnson’s claim that there will be no border in the Irish Sea. It’s simply not true.”

Asked about the leak, Mr Johnson said: “I haven’t seen the document you are referring to but that’s complete nonsense.

“What I can tell you is that with the deal we have, we can come out as one whole UK – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, together.”

His own ministers have previously admitted that some form of checks will be needed on goods crossing the Irish Sea. 

So the Treasury predicts that there will have to be customs checks for goods going to and from Northern Ireland, despite the Tories’ assurances to their DUP allies that this wouldn’t happen. And there is the danger of a 30 per cent rise in the cost of goods in the Six Counties. And, note, Boris has offered absolutely no evidence to back up his denial that this will occur.

It’s more waffle from a waffling, mendacious, deceitful government, and a party, which has done so much to break up the centuries-old union between England, Scotland, Wales and Ulster.

Corbyn is right, and is the right man if anyone is, for sorting out Brexit and creating a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. A peace that has been thrown into grievous jeopardy by Brexit and the Tories.

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Austerity

January 9, 2019

One of the other massively failing right-wing economic policies the Australian economist John Quibbin tackles in his book Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010) is expansionary austerity. This is the full name for the theory of economic austerity foisted upon Europeans and Americans since the collapse of the banks in 2008. It’s also the term used to describe the policy generally of cutting government expenditure in order to reduce inflation. Quiggin shows how, whenever this policy was adopted by governments like the American, British, European and Japanese from the 1920s onwards, the result has always been recession, massive unemployment and poverty.

He notes that after the big bank bail-out of 2008, most economists returned to Keynesianism. However, the present system of austerity was introduced in Europe due to need to bail out the big European banks following the economic collapse of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, and the consequent fall in government tax revenue. Quiggin then goes on to comment on how austerity was then presented to the public as being ultimately beneficial to the public, despite its obvious social injustice, before going on to describe how it was implemented, and its failure. He writes

The injustice of making hospital workers, police, and old age pensioners pay for the crisis, while the bankers who caused it are receiving even bigger bonuses than before, is glaringly obvious. So, just as with trickle-down economics, it was necessary to claim that everyone would be better off in the long run.

It was here that the Zombie idea of expansionary austerity emerged from the grave. Alesina and Ardagna, citing their dubious work from the 1990s, argued that the path to recovery lay in reducing public spending. They attracted the support of central bankers, ratings agencies, and financial markets, all of whom wanted to disclaim responsibility for the crisis they had created and get back to a system where they ruled the roost and profited handsomely as a result.

The shift to austerity was politically convenient for market liberals. Despite the fact that it was their own policies of financial deregulation that had produced the crisis, they used the pretext of austerity to push these policies even further. The Conservative government of David Cameron in Britain has been particularly active in this respect. Cameron has advanced the idea of a “Big Society”, meaning that voluntary groups are expected to take over core functions of the social welfare system. The Big Society has been a failure and has been largely laughed off the stage, but it has not stopped the government from pursuing a radical market liberal agenda, symbolized by measures such as the imposition of minimum income requirements on people seeking immigrant visas for their spouses.

Although the term expansionary austerity has not been much used in the United States, the swing to austerity policies began even earlier than elsewhere. After introducing a substantial, but still inadequate fiscal stimulus early in 2009, the Obama administration withdrew from the economic policy debate, preferring to focus on health policy and wait for the economy to recover.

Meanwhile the Republican Party, and particularly the Tea Party faction that emerged in 2009, embraced the idea, though not the terminology, of expansionary austerity and in particular the claim that reducing government spending is the way to prosperity. In the absence of any effective pushback from the Obama administration, the Tea Party was successful in discrediting Keynesian economic ideas.

Following Republican victories in the 2010 congressional elections, the administration accepted the case for austerity and sought a “grand bargain” with the Republicans. It was only after the Republicans brought the government to the brink of default on its debt in mid-2011 that Obama returned to the economic debate with his proposed American Jobs Act. While rhetorically effective, Obama’s proposals were, predictably, rejected by the Republicans in Congress.

At the state and local government level, austerity policies were in force from the beginning of the crisis. Because they are subject to balanced-budged requirements, state and local governments were forced to respond to declining tax revenues with cuts in expenditure. Initially, they received some support from the stimulus package, but as this source of funding ran out, they were forced to make cuts across the board, including scaling back vital services such as police, schools, and social welfare.

The theory of expansionary austerity has faced the test of experience and has failed. Wherever austerity policies have been applied, recovery from the crisis has been halted. At the end of 2011, the unemployment rate was above 8 percent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the eurozone. In Britain, where the switch from stimulus to austerity began with the election of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in 2010, unemployment rose rapidly to its highest rate in seventeen years. In Europe, the risk of a new recession, or worse, remains severe at the time of writing.

Although the U.S. economy currently shows some superficial signs of recovery, the underlying reality is arguably even worse than it now is in Europe. Unemployment rates have fallen somewhat, but this mainly reflects the fact that millions of workers have given up the search for work altogether. The most important measure of labour market performance, the unemployment-population ration (that is, the proportion of the adult population who have jobs) fell sharply at the beginning of the cris and has never recovered. On the other hand, the forecast for Europe in the future looks even bleaker as the consequences of austerity begins to bite.

The reanimation of expansionary austerity represents zombie economics at its worst. Having failed utterly to deliver the promised benefits, the financial and political elite raised to power by market liberalism has pushed ahead with even greater intensity. In the wake of a crisis caused entirely by financial markets and the central banks and regulators that were supposed to control them, the burden of fixing the problem has been placed on ordinary workers, public services, the old, and the sick.

With their main theoretical claims, such as the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Real Business Cycle in ruins, the advocates of market liberalism have fallen back on long-exploded claims, backed by shoddy research. Yet, in the absence of a coherent alternative, the policy program of expansionary austerity is being implemented, with disastrous results. (pp. 229-32, emphasis mine).

As for Alesina and Ardagna, the two economists responsible for contemporary expansionary austerity, Quiggin shows how their research was seriously flawed, giving some of their biggest factual mistakes and accuracies on pages 225 and 226.

Earlier in the chapter he discusses the reasons why Keynes was ignored in the decades before the Second World War. The British treasury was terrified that adoption of government intervention in some areas would lead to further interventions in others. He also quotes the Polish economist, Michal Kalecki, who stated that market liberals were afraid of Keynsianism because it allowed governments to ignore the financial sector and empowered working people. He writes

Underlying the Treasury’s opposition to fiscal stimulus, however, was a fear, entirely justified in terms of the consequences for market liberal ideology, that a successful interventionist macroeconomic policy would pave the way for intervening in other areas and for the end of the liberal economic order based on the gold standard, unregulated financial markets, and a minimal state.

As the great Polish economist Michal Kalecki observed in 1943, market liberal fear the success of stimulatory fiscal policy more than its failure. If governments can maintain full employment through appropriate macroeconomic policies, they no longer need to worry about “business confidence” and can undertake policies without regard to the fluctuations of the financial markets. Moreover, workers cannot be kept in line if they are confident they can always find a new job. As far as the advocates of austerity are concerned, chronic, or at least periodic, high unemployment is a necessary part of a liberal economic order.

The fears of the Treasury were to be realized in the decades after 1945, when the combination of full employment and Keynsian macro-economic management provided support for the expansion of the welfare state, right control of the financial sector, and extensive government intervention in the economy, which produced the most broadly distributed prosperity of any period in economic history. (p. 14).

So the welfare state is being dismantled, the health service privatized and a high unemployment and mass poverty created simply to maintain the importance and power of the financial sector and private industry, and create a cowed workforce for industry. As an economic theory, austerity is thoroughly discredited, but is maintained as it was not by a right-wing media and political establishment. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said in one of his columns that when he studied economics in the 1970s, monetarism was so discredited that it was regarded as a joke by his lecturers. He then suggested that the reason it was supported and implemented by Thatcher and her successors was simply because it offered a pretext for their real aims: to attack state intervention and the welfare state. It looks like he was right.

Radio 4 Series of Political Interviews Next Week with Nick Robinson

October 23, 2018

According to the Radio Times for next week, 27th October to 2nd November 2018, Radio 4 are broadcasting a series of 1/4 hour interviews with various politicos daily, from Monday to Friday. The show’s hosted by the Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson. They’re on a 1.45 pm.

The first, on Monday, is with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.

Tuesday’s edition has him talking to the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, who talks not just about his political beliefs, but also his love of poetry and the end of a friendship.

On Wednesday he talks to Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Thursday it’s Andrea Leadsom.

And it concludes, on Friday, with Tony Blair.

The only one I would really like to listen to is Len McCluskey. Tom Watson could be interesting, if it reveals just why he’s spent the last three years or so trying to undermine his leader and shore up a dying and murderous neoliberalism in the party’s ranks. Truss and Leadsom don’t interest me at all, and I think listening to them will only annoy me. As probably would the edition with Watson. And I’m sure Tony Blair’s interview would make me incandescent with rage about what he’s done to this country, the Middle East, and how the arrogant, power-hungry maniac still desperately wants to return to power to make the world safe for free market capitalism and the worse for everyone else. All while simpering about how well everyone’s doing with a cheesy grin on his face.

And it hasn’t escaped me that all the politicians Robinson is talking to, with the exception of McCluskey, who’s a trade unionist, are right-wingers. Watson and Blair are Thatcherite Labour, Truss and Leadsom Tories. So in turns of political philosophy, there’s not a lot of difference between them. But there of different parties, so the Beeb can say it’s unbiased.

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.

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.