Posts Tagged ‘Westminster’

Vox Political on the Part-Privatisation of Channel 4

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece today about the government’s proposed partial privatisation of Channel 4 under John Whittingdale. The Torygraph has reported that the government has climbed down from privatising it fully, and instead are just looking for a ‘strategic partner’, like BT. They would also like the network to sell its offices in Westminster and move to somewhere like Birmingham. Its account should also be checked by the NAO, responsible for examining government expenditure, and they would like to change its non-profit status and see it pay a dividend to the Treasury. Mike points out that the network chiefs have taken this as stepping stone towards Channel 4’s full privatisation, and are deciding to reject it. Meanwhile, the Tories don’t want to privatise it fully, because they’ll get the same backlash from their proposals to sell off the Beeb. See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/only-part-privatisation-for-channel-4-as-tories-fear-another-bbc-style-backlash/

This is another barbarous government attack on public broadcasting in the UK. Channel 4 was set up in the 1980s to be a kind of alternative to the alternative BBC 2, and to cater for tastes and audiences that weren’t being met by the established channels. According to Quentin Letts in one of his books, Denis Thatcher thought this mean putting yachting on the sports’ coverage instead of footie, which shows the limited idea of ‘alternative’ held by Thatcher and her consort. Jeremy Isaacs, its controller, was proud of his outsider status as a Jew in the network, a status he shared with Melvin Bragg, a Northerner. He said that he wanted to put on the new, fledgling channel programmes on miner’s oral history, and performances of the great classics of Britain’s minority cultures, like the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He also believed that people had ‘latent needs’ – there were things they wanted to see, which they didn’t yet know they did. He was widely ridiculed for his views. Private Eye gave a sneering review of the book, in which he laid out his plans and opinions, stating that all this guff about people’s ‘latent needs’ showed that he thought he knew more than they did about what people actually wanted. As for being an outsider, the Eye observed rather tartly that they were all outsiders like that now in broadcasting, swimming around endlessly repeating the same views to each other.

In fact, Isaacs was largely right. Quite often people discover that they actually enjoy different subjects and pursuits that they’re not used to, simply because they’ve never encountered them. The Daily Heil columnist, Quentin Letts, comments about the way the network has been dumbed down in one of his books, pointing out how good the networks cultural broadcasting was when it was first set up. The network was particularly good at covering the opera. I can remember they broadcast one such classical music event, which was broadcast throughout Europe, rather like the Eurovision song contest but with dinner suits, ball gowns, lutes and violins rather than pop spangle, Gothic chic, drums and electric guitars. The audiences for its opera broadcasts were below a million, but actually very good, and compared well with the other broadcasters.

As for its programmes aimed at the different ethnic minorities, I knew White lads, who used to watch the films on ‘All-India Goldies’ and the above TV adaptation of the Mahabharata. This last was also given approval by Clive James, one of the great TV critics. James noted it was slow-moving, but still considered it quality television.

The network has, like much of the rest of British broadcasting, been dumbed-down considerably since then. American imports have increased, and much of the content now looks very similar to what’s on the other terrestrial channels. The networks’ ratings have risen, but at the expense of its distinctive character and the obligation to broadcast material of cultural value, which may not be popular. Like opera, foreign language films and epics, art cinema and theatre.

Even with these changes, there’s still very much good television being produced by the network. From the beginning, Channel 4 aimed to have very good news coverage, and this has largely been fulfilled. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that it’s actually been better than the Beeb’s. In the 1990s the Channel was the first, I believe, to screen a gay soap, Queer as Folk, created by Russell T. Davis, who went on to revive Dr Who. This has carried on with the series Banana, Cucumber, and Tofu. It also helped to bring archaeology to something like a mass audience with Time Team, now defunct. And if you look at what remains of the British film industry, you’ll find that quite often what little of it there is, is the product of either the Beeb or Channel 4 films.

And from the beginning the Right hated it with a passion. Well, it was bound to, if Denis Thatcher’s idea of alternative TV was golf and yachting, and Thatcher really wouldn’t have wanted to watch anything that validated the miners. And it was notorious for putting on explicitly sexual material late at night, as well as shows for sexual minorities, such as discussing lesbianism, when these weren’t anywhere near as acceptable as they are today. As a result, the Heil regularly used to fulminate against all this filth, and branded its controller, Michael Grade, Britain’s ‘pornographer in chief’.

And over the years, the various governments have been trying to privatise it. I think Maggie first tried it sometime in the 1980s. Then they did it again, a few years later, possibly under John Major. This surprised me, as after they privatised it the first time, I thought that was the end of it. Channel 4 had been sold off completely. It seems I was wrong. It seems these were just part privatisations. Now they want to do it again.

It struck me with the second privatisation of Channel 4 that this was an election tactic by the Tory party. Maggie had tried to create a popular, share-owning, capitalist democracy through encouraging the working class to buy shares in the privatised utilities. And for all her faults and the immense hatred she rightly engendered, Maggie was popular with certain sections of the working class. By the time the Tories wanted to privatise the Channel the second time, it struck me that they were floundering around, trying to find a popular policy. The magic had worn of the Thatcherite Revolution, Major was in trouble, and so they were trying to bring back some of the old triumphs of Thatcher’s reign, as they saw it. They needed something big and glamorous they could sell back to the voters. And so they decided to privatise Channel 4. Again.

They want to do the same now. But the fact that they’re looking for ‘a strategic partner’ tells you a lot about how things have changed in the intervening years. This is most definitely not about popular capitalism. Most of the shares held by working people were bought up long ago by the fat cats. In this area, the Thatcherite Revolution has failed, utterly, just as it has in so many others. This is all about selling more of Britain’s broadcasting industry to the Tory’s corporate backers. Much of ITV is owned by the Americans, if not all of it, and Channel 5 certainly is. What’s the odds that Channel 4 will stay British, if it too is privatised?

And so we can look forward to a further decline in public broadcasting in this country, as it more of it is bought by private, and probably foreign, media giants. Quality broadcasting, and the duty of public broadcasters to try and expand their audiences’ horizons by producing the new, the ground-breaking, alternative and unpopular, will suffer. All for the profit of the Tory party and their big business paymasters.

Tory Ex-Cabinet Ministers Given Jobs in the Industries They Supervised

January 12, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political reported a piece in yesterday’s Mirror, that five former members of Cameron’s cabinet had found jobs in the very industries that it was their business to supervise. See his article http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/11/gravy-train-scandal-as-ex-ministers-join-payroll-of-industries-they-used-to-oversee/

Mike rightly points out that Private Eye has an occasional column about this, ‘Revolving Doors’. It’s a fine old Tory tradition, though one which Bliar and New Labour also took up with enthusiasm. Before Blair took power, however, it was a real scandal under John Major. Then there was a series of scandals of cabinet ministers and senior civil servants taking up jobs in the very industries that they had helped to privatise. This was attacked in the British press as ‘sleaze’.

On the other side of the Channel, the French have very strict rules against such conduct. There are laws against it. I think one of them, which has been proposed by the Eye, is that there should be a two year wait before a cabinet minister or senior civil servant can take up such a post. The reason businesses take on former ministers and mandarins is to get hold of their address book of useful contacts. While this has gone on in just about all area of politics and the economy, some of the most blatant examples have been with former defence ministers getting jobs with arms companies. A two year wait for such posts would vastly cut down on this, as by that time their diaries and lists of friends and associates would be well out of date. There’d be absolutely no reason for firms to hire them.

This, however, is too much like good sense and genuine, disinterested government, for the politicos and apparatchiks at Westminster and Whitehall, and so it stands absolutely no chance of being introduced over here. I suspect if someone were to suggest it, they would be taken aside by the latest incarnation of Sir Humphrey Appleby, and quietly told that what they were doing was ‘courageous’. Or they’d try some other way to circumvent and undermine it.

The French, meanwhile, were spectacularly unimpressed with what they saw as our failure to take the matters as seriously as it should. One French minister interviewed by the Financial Times stated quite clearly that simply calling it ‘sleaze’ misrepresented its true importance. ‘What you call ‘sleaze’, he said, ‘we call corruption’.

So let’s call it like they do in la Belle France: Five Tory ministers have corruptly taken up jobs in the industries they supervised while in government.

Donald Trump: 21st Century America’s Oswald Mosley

December 31, 2015

Mosley Fascist Flag

British Fascist Leader Oswald Mosley unfurls the Fascist Flag in Westminster, 1932.

This is another video from The Young Turks. They’ve done a number of reports on violence at Trump rallies, where the crowd or stewards have beaten up protestors. In this piece, they discuss an incident where a ‘celebrity boxer’, Todd ‘the Punisher’ Poulton, slammed into and knocked to the ground a protester. The man had dared to call Trump a ‘Fascist’.

This is exactly like Oswald Mosley’s rallies in Britain in the 1930s and then just after World War II. Mosley was the leader of the British Fascist party, the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Or to give it its full name, the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. Their rallies and marches were notorious for the violence meted out to their opponents. The Fascist stewards, the ‘Biff Boys’, were trained by a boxer, Ted Lewis. Lewis was Jewish, and for a long time this led many historians to believe that Mosley was a late convert to anti-Semitism. In fact, recent studies of Mosley, like Steven Dorrell’s Blackshirt, show that he was an anti-Semite from the start.

After the War, Mosley tried to make a comeback, ditching the Fascist uniform in favour of ordinary suits. In his manifesto, Mosley: Right or Wrong? he argues for an apartheid Britain, from which Blacks and the majority of Jews have been expelled. Those that remain are kept rigidly separate from the gentile, White British. Mosley attempted to justify this policy on both racial and cultural grounds. Jewish culture, he argued, was incompatible with ‘British’ values.

Trump is almost exactly like Mosley. Both are extremely rich, though Mosley was an aristo and Trump an American businessman. Both want the expulsion or exclusion of particular ethnic minorities from their countries, and the remainder segregated from the general population.

It’s as if the immense changes and improvements in racial attitudes over the last 80 years simply haven’t happened. It’s astonishing to see something like Donald Trump holding mass rallies in this, the second decade of the 21st century, just like Mosley and his squadristi eight decades before. Surely 45 million were not killed in a terrible global war against Fascism, just for it to come back now?

Vox Political: Help Force Government To Release Benefit Death Figures

May 5, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has written this article, Benefit deaths: time to put pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions, appealing to his readers to help spread the news that the DWP has been ordered to release the figures for the numbers of people who have died between 2011 and last year while claiming benefits. These are people, who died in desperation and poverty, hounded and humiliated by a system that Cameron is glibly claiming gave them sufficient support. All too often the opposite was true. And for many, those who were sanctioned, there was no support at all.

The article begins

Believe it or not, there may still be some people in the UK who don’t know the Department for Work and Pensions has been ordered to release details of the number of sickness benefit claimants who have died since November 2011.

People of good conscience across the country – including several celebrities – have been publicising Vox Political‘s article on the subject, on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets – but the mainstream media of TV, radio and the national newspapers have been quiet so far, despite having been alerted to the issue by This Writer.

Quelle surprise, as the French might say.

Mike states that we thus have the duty of getting the information out there. He’s not surprised that the right-wing press aren’t interested in covering the issue, nor the mainstream press, as this would lead to questions about their moral integrity with the cosy relationship they have established with the Coalition, a Coalition that has blood on its hands.

He has therefore prepared a meme, which his readers can cut and paste, to help spread the message. Here it is

Anti-DWP Deaths Meme

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/05/04/benefit-deaths-time-to-put-pressure-on-the-department-for-work-and-pensions/. Read it, and help spread the word.

I also wondered if the mainstream press weren’t ignoring it, because it came from someone outside the established ‘guild’ of reporters and Westminster lobbyists. From what I understand, there’s a delicate relationship between the press and politicos, in which the press try not to rock the boat too much, in case the politicians sideline them.

It also helps in that many of the journalists come from the same middle class backgrounds as the politicians they claim to interrogate and hold to account. Dominic Lawson, who writes in the Torygraph and Independent, is the son of Nigel Lawson, for example.

Mike’s not a Westminster insider. He’s from far outside the guild, and he’s done something that the press themselves should have done, if they were serious about doing their job properly. But they didn’t, and won’t, as they see themselves as being the true intermediaries between government and the public. Anyone from outside their circle of privilege is not welcome.

Or at least, this is what comes over to me. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong. But I don’t hold out much hope.

In the meantime, help Mike spread the word and make this an issue that can’t be ignored.

As for the right-wing press and the mainstream media, they’ve shown why so many people are turning off and looking on the internet instead for their news and information.

Vox Political: Labour’s Plans to Curb Political Corruption

March 5, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reported the Labour Party’s plans to introduce reforms to tackle rowdy behaviour in the Commons, regulate the commercial interests corrupting parliament, reform the upper house, and make voting easier and the franchise more democratic. It’s entitled Labour launches plan to attack political corruption and begins

If there’s one area of British life that needs reform, it’s politics.

Every day, Vox Political receives at least one comment from somebody saying that the system is corrupt and desperately needs an overhaul. Today (Tuesday, March 3), Labour is due to announce its plans for tackling this very issue.

The trouble is, of course, that many people are saying Labour is part of the problem.

The claim is that the party and its high-level members have a vested financial interest in keeping the system as it is – and the gravy train rolling along. How will Labour combat these?

Well…

There are plans to consult on new powers for the Speaker to tackle the worst and repeated instances of rowdy behaviour in the Chamber with a so-called ‘sin bin’.

Former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans described the idea as “rubbish”, pointing out that the speaker already has the ability to remove MPs in certain circumstances and has lots of discretion at present.

But the Speaker himself, John Bercow, has given a cautious welcome to the suggestion that MPs face a rugby-style “yellow-card” temporary ban for bad behaviour in the Chamber. Answering questions at a Hansard Society event at Westminster, Mr Bercow said: “I think there is merit in it, it’s not for me to decide, it’s for the House to decide.”

The other measures, which were to be proposed by Angela Eagle, included lowering the voting age to 16, and a trial period to assess the viability of on-line voting; introducing a Prime Minister’s question time for the public along with measures to give ordinary people a greater say in law-making; creating compulsory legislation governing lobbying and regulating MPs’ second jobs; devolving further powers and replacing the House of Lords with a ‘Senate of the Nations and Regions’.

The article quotes Madam Eagle, who said “The recent debate over MPs’ second jobs reminds us that so much needs to change in Westminster. When trust in politics and politicians is already at a record low, only radical reform will restore faith in our political process.

“Labour’s plan will deliver the reform our politics needs. We will reform the Commons to strengthen its ability to hold the government to account. And we will ensure our political system always puts people before rich and powerful vested interests.”

Eagle acknowledged that the parliamentary system was adversarial, but stated that the excessively rowdy behaviour in parliament was putting some people off.’

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/03/labour-launches-plan-to-attack-political-corruption/. Go and read it.

Cutting Down on the Barracking May Attract More Female MPs

I think that some of these measures will undoubtedly make parliament far more democratic and representative. Although many would consider it only a minor issue, curbing some of the aggressive shouting and barracking in the Commons might actually make parliamentary politics far more attractive, as Madam Eagle claims. The weird shouting, booing and bizarre animal noises from MPs were a target of the satirists way back in the 1990s. It’s also been said that women in particular are put off politics because of the very aggressive, masculine atmosphere of the House. Making it more genteel may combat this and so encourage more women to enter politics and ensure there is a larger and more representative proportion of female MPs.

Young Voters more Idealistic

Lowering the voting age to 16 may also be beneficial. The SNP wished to do so, as their research suggested that younger Scots were more nationalistic than their parents and elders. It’s also generally the case that younger people tend to be more idealistic and inclined towards Socialism and left-wing views.

Lobbying and MPs’ Corporate Interests

Regulating MPs second careers and introducing proper laws on lobbying will also undoubtedly clean up parliament and restore some measure of public confidence. Many MPs enjoy positions on the boards of private companies, and the policies they introduce frequently reflects the interests of their companies, rather than that of the British public. The Tory party is currently carrying out the privatisation of the NHS by the backdoor. It is certainly no accident that 92 Conservative MPs also hold positions on the boards or in the senior management of private healthcare companies. This has been a scandal ever since the ’90s, when Private Eye began listing the companies to which various MPs belonged, which appeared to influence their voting. This was during John Major’s administration, when there was increasing concern about drinking and the effects of advertising alcohol on TV. Legislation to reform them were, however, blocked by the Tories because many of their MPs had posts in drinks industry. There was a similar scandal with the tobacco industry, because of the links of senior Tories there. Kenneth Clarke, for example, after he left office joined British-American Tobacco.

The power and influence of lobbyists has also been a major concern. It desperately needs to be regulated. However, this needs to be very carefully framed so that the laws do exactly what they claim, and cannot be circumvented. Cameron in this parliament introduced legislation ostensibly to regulate lobbying, but which has had the opposite effect. It has places serious constraints on the power of the general public to petition and hold parliament to account, while leaving the professional lobbyists untouched. This needs to be repealed and the whole process genuinely reformed. Labour must be seen to be acting clearly in the public’s interest when they do so.

I also support a genuine reform of the House of Lords to make it a genuinely democratic chamber, with the power to act as a genuine constitutional check on malicious or flawed legislation.

Devolution and the Threat of Further Cuts

I have, however, severe reservations about the benefits of devolution to the regions. About half the money spent by local authorities comes from central government, raised through national taxes. My fear is that if more local authorities are given greater, devolved powers, the central government will use this as an excuse to cut funding, arguing that a greater proportion of the money spent by local authorities should come from their own taxes or the community charge. Cuts would then be made by local authorities in order keep taxes down. This would have the effect of making the poorest areas even poorer, and encourage wealthy boroughs with low community charges, like Westminster, to do even more to cleanse their areas of the poor and other social undesirables, who require more to be spent on them.

In support of this view, take Bristol’s elected mayor, Mayor Fergusson, for example. He is a strong supporter of the city gaining further devolved powers, and was at a meeting earlier this week to promote the idea. Yet Fergusson, for all that claims to be an independent, is a former Lib Dem, who has made massive cuts to the city’s expenditure. Last winter, for example, he pushed through £90m worth of cuts. There is a real danger that giving elected mayors like Fergusson even greater powers will merely result in further massive cuts to public services, regardless of whether or not the majority of local councillors are in favour.

From 2011: Private Eye on Emma Harrison and the Failures of A4E

January 21, 2015

I’ve posted up a number of articles from Private Eye recently detailing the failings of one of the government’s welfare-to-work providers, A4E, and the massive salary nonetheless enjoyed by its boss, Emma Harrison. Here’s another article about this from Private Eye for the 2nd – 15th September 2011.

Welfare to Work
A4E, B for Balls

No sooner had the last Eye published details of the mediocre inspection reports of “benefit-busting” company A4E than David Cameron announced that A4E’s boss, Emma Harrison, was central to his “fight-back after the riots.”

Arguing that the disorder was caused by family breakdown, Cameron said he had “asked Emma Harrison to develop a plan to help get these families on track” and was now putting “rocket boosters” under the scheme.

Emma Harrison’s company needs more than rocket boosters to get airborne. Out of 12 A4E job-finding schemes inspected by Ofsted, only two were found to be “good”; the rest were merely “satisfactory”. By comparison, Ofsted finds around half of schools to be “good” or even “outstanding”. According to the inspectors, A4E hasn’t been mostly “good” since 2008.

The worse news is that Harrison’s A4E is particularly bad at dealing with unemployed people with more complex problems: auditors described A4E’s involvement in Pathways to Work, a scheme to get people from incapacity benefit into employment as “universally poor”.

The only good news is that Cameron was wildly overstating Harrison’s role. In his post-riot speech, the PM referred to plans to help 120,000 families. Harrison’s programme called “working Families Everywhere”, which she personally manages, aims at finding jobs for just 50 parents in Blackpool, Hull and Westminster.

While the scale was exaggerated by Cameron, Harrison’s company did win more business last month – five contracts to deliver the “New Enterprise Allowance” for the jobless. The old Enterprise Allowance in the 1980s allowed unemployed people to keep receiving benefits while they set up small businesses. The Conservatives were keen on the scheme because it spread the “enterprise culture”. Lots of the new businesses didn’t make it but lots did, including Superdry Clothing and Viz magazine.

The old Enterprise Allowance was run by civil servants on the Manpower Services Commission. The new one is being “delivered” by private “partners”. Many of them are local chambers of commerce, which makes some sense. But the qualifications of benefit-busting companies such as A4E, or fellow contract winner Avanta, are harder to grasp: they deal with employment rather than self-employment, and their performance to date, as measure by inspection reportsd, is pisspoor.

This puts some of the controversy surrounding the British education system into perspective. Despite the government’s desperation to privatise schools, and the continuing stories of failing schools that have to be taken into special measures or over by a private scholastic company, most of the schools Ofsted inspects are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. A4E, one of the government’s favoured outsourcing companies, by contrast, is responsible for poor service as judged by Ofsted’s inspectors.

The complaint that A4E cannot cope with the special requirements of the disabled has been blogged about many times, by Johnny Void, Mike, Jayne Linney, Glynis Millward and the DPAC people, to name only a few.

As for the replacement of the Enterprise Allowance, this seems to follow standard Tory malpractice. A reasonably effective scheme run by the state is privatised, and given to companies, who have absolutely no knowledge or experience of it. But it’s private, so obviously to those blinded by Hayekian hype, it has to be better.

It ain’t, and the failures continue. But as the Tories and private industry are making money out of it, they don’t care.

Spitting Image on the Tories and Rent Boys

January 19, 2015

Thatcher’s government was racked by a series of scandals involving rent boys, the best known and most notorious being Harvey Proctor. In this sketch from 1987, Spitting Image send it up as a Tory job creation scheme.

Horrifically, the recent paedophile scandals surrounding MPs, a dossier of 22 of whom has been handed over to police, including possible murders of two young boys and a Lambeth council worker, has meant that the culture of sexual abuse and exploitation at Westminster has gone far beyond any kind of a joke.

Another Cameron Aide on Child Abuse Charges

January 18, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reports that another of David Cameron’s aides, Douglas Richard, has been arrested on the charge of raping a 13 year old girl, a charge he strenuously denies. This follows the arrest last year of Patrick Rock for possession of indecent images of children. Rock also denies the charges, and is currently on bail until February 27th. The article’s entitled ‘History repeats itself: ANOTHER Cameron advisor arrested over child sex’, and is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/18/history-repeats-itself-another-cameron-advisor-arrested-over-child-sex/

Both these men are, under British law, innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless it does appear that there is a deeply unpleasant culture of sexual exploitation and assault at Westminster. Quite apart from the continuing paedophile abuse investigations, which have seen a dossier of 22 MPs passed on to the police, some of whom may have murdered two boys, one Asian, the other White, and a Lambeth council worker, simply for knowing too much about their vile activities, there seems to be a culture of sexual harassment of staff within Westminster itself. Remember the Tory MP, who was arrested last year or so on the charge of raping another man? He was acquitted, yet nevertheless the testimony at the trial showed he persistently groped his male staff. He did, however, have the good grace to back off if his overture proved unwelcome. Have I Got News For You also reported the findings that something like the majority of MPs’ staff at Westminster, mostly male researchers, had also been groped.

As I understand it, this is sexual assault or harassment. Feminists have spent long decades campaigning against the sexual harassment of women in the workplace. This was at one time quite routine, but attitudes have since changed so that it is now much less acceptable. These MPs, however, apparently believe that such assaults against men are perfectly acceptable.

These are powerful men, and no doubt little action is taken against them because of their position as their staff’s employer. Also, their researchers are dedicated to assisting the MP they serve and the wider party. Personal and political loyalty may thus lead many to keep silent and not make a fuss.

It is clear that those MPs, who commit these assaults, feel they have an absolute entitlement to do so. And this sense of entitlement clearly has led others to go much further, into abusing and possibly killing children.

This has to stop now. The MPs guilty of paedophile abuse should be charged and, if found guilty, jailed. And the wider culture of sexual abuse and exploitation amongst MPs should be curtailed and stamped on.

Wanted Poster for Notorious Criminal

December 10, 2014

Same Difference spotted this wanted poster for a particularly unpleasant villain on Facebook. I found it over on Mike’s site at Vox Political. As a journalist, Mike’s used to appalling crimes and the disgusting habits of the dregs of humanity.

141210IDShaveyouseenthisman

As you can see, the suspect is a hardened, recidivist criminal, who has done all he can to evade arrest. Members of the public are warned that he tends to run away very quickly and hide in laundry baskets when approached. He is believed to have a residence in Scotland, but is frequently seen in the Westminster area. It is possible that he may be severely delusional, as he claims during the attacks that he is doing it for the benefit of his victims. He also believes that his actions are on the same moral level as William Wilberforce, the 18th century campaigner against slavery. He should therefore be arrested, and sent to Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, to share a cell with another murderous Joker.

The Bulgarian Peasant Party’s Solution to the Housing Problem

June 1, 2014

Last week I blogged on the several contemporary issues, which were similar to those tackled by the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, nearly a hundred years ago. These were a local village power company, which was run as a co-operative by the whole community. It was thus similar to the idea of the Utopian British Socialist, Thomas Spence, for the communal ownership of land by the individual parishes, and also to the idea of the Bulgarian peasants’ party for the transformation of Bulgarian agricultural society through the formation of peasant cooperatives. I also remarked on the way the Bulgarians had also set up a policy of allowing the banks to provide loans on reasonable rates to credit cooperatives as a way of driving out the moneylenders. This is a problem that now besets British society, through the return of loan sharks and payday loan companies, like Wonga, that offer extortionate rates, because of wage freezes and cuts to welfare benefits.

Bulgaria, like modern Britain, also suffered from a housing crisis, made worse by the influx of thousands of refugees displaced by the First World War. They attempted to solve it through a mixture of policies, one of which was similar to the Bedroom Tax. They laid down the maximum amount of space that a family could occupy in a property, so that there would be more space available for the homeless. They also set about building cooperatively owned tenement blocks. R.J. Crampton describes these policies in A Short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 90).

The principle of maximum holding was applied to urban as well as rural property. The post-war refugee invasion had placed severe strains upon the already hard-pressed housing resources of Bulgaria’s towns, particularly Sofia. According to Agrarian legislation no family was to occupy more than two rooms and a kitchen, with an extra room for every two children over fourteen. Office space was also subject to restriction, and in the case of both domestic and office accommodation commissioners acting on behalf of the ministry of the interior had extensive powers to enforce the new and widely resented regulations. A second and more popular response to the housing shortage, and one much in conformity with Agrarian philosophy, was to encourage the building of new apartment blocks cooperatively financed and thereafter owned by their inhabitants. This reform survived the fall of the Stamboliiski regime and cooperative building continued through the inter-war period.

The German radical Socialist party, the USPD, also had a similar policy in the same period, for the same reasons: to solve the shortage of housing caused by the First World War.

What’s needed isn’t the Bedroom Tax, which is really an excuse to cut Housing Benefit by pretending to withdraw a subsidy that never in fact existed, if tenants of supposedly under-occupied properties don’t move out to suitable homes, which also don’t existed. What is needed to solve the problem is simply building more social and genuinely affordable housing, which the Conservative actively seem to oppose. When the ‘right to buy’ legislation was passed, councils were forbidden from building more council houses, and ‘affordable’ properties are only pegged at 80 per cent of the market worth, which means that in many parts of the London houses are well out of the price range of the very poorest, who need them. It’s possible that cooperation schemes, like those enacted by the Bulgarians, might be part of the solution.

Something like the Bulgarians’ legislation limiting the maximum amount of space families can occupy could also be applied to private housing. The Bulgarian policy was based on the view that you should only possess what you can actually work yourself. Thus there was a maximum amount of land allowed to be cultivated by peasant farmers. Large landowners were forced to sell the excess land to the smaller peasants, so that each peasant farmer had just enough for his needs and those of wider Bulgarian society.

The great French anarchist, P.-J. Proudhon, had a similar view. Much of his Mutualist anarchist system was based on his experience of peasant society in the Jura, where he grew up. While he didn’t set the maximum amount of space people could occupy in their houses, he did recommend that people should lawfully own only what they could actually practically use themselves. Thus, landlords, who held multiple properties, which they rented out, should have all but the property they themselves lived in expropriated and given to the people, who needed them.

I believe a similar policy could be usefully implemented today. Perhaps we need the ‘right to buy’ principle extended to all the private tenants, now forced to rent homes at exorbitant rents because of the way available housing was bought up by people seeking to rent them out later in the housing boom of the 1990s. I also believe that there are many under-occupied private homes, with considerable space going without tenants, in certain parts of London, such as Knightsbridge, Kensington and Westminster.

And possibly Chipping Norton. I can’t see how Dave Cameron, whose government is responsible for the Bedroom Tax, and who has said repeatedly that ‘We’re all in it together’, would possibly object to having to share his home with a couple of crusties.