The Labour Leadership

With the demise of Ed Milliband after Labour’s election defeat, the race is now well underway to find a successor. Initially this seemed as if it would follow the predictable path, with various pro-business Blairite-type candidates fighting it out between them, while a token ‘Old Labour’ Socialist-type candidate kept the Left of the party happy but would inevitably come last. However things do not seem to be turning out that way.

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Jeremy Corbyn is shaking up New Labour diehards. Picture © David Hunt

That old warhorse of the Left, Jeremy Corbyn, while barely scraping past the nomination stage, has since gone from strength to strength and is now, according to some polls, in the lead. This has led to all sorts of handwringing from ‘New Labour’, bemoaning the fact that any return to traditional Labour values will alienate the electorate and make the party unelectable; while at the same time many grass-roots Labour supporters are ecstatic that finally there’s a chance that Labour will abandon its policy of mimicing the Tories, and will at last go back to standing up for the rights of ordinary working people.

So which side is correct? Well, unfortunately, in this hugely unequal society in which we live, to an extent they both are. Since the end of the Second World War, seventy years of unrestrained Capitalism has led to a society with as much inequality as in the late Victorian era. In such circumstances those who do well out of the current system (which inevitably includes most of the 11m people who voted Tory in the recent election) are probably recoiling in horror at the thought of any candidate who threatens any of their wealth, or doesn’t think that the word Socialism is an insult best consigned to the dustbin of history. At the same time, the 500,000 people forced to use foodbanks, the 1.8 million unemployed, the 13 million people living in poverty, and anyone else who has any sort of conscience or compassion for their fellow human beings whatsoever, are probably desperate for someone to espouse an economic narrative which rejects endless Austerity, puts people before business, and wants to build public services rather than destroy them.

We also now seem to be living in a time where most people vote purely out of self interest, and for what benefits them, rather than what is good for society as a whole – and it is that which decides elections. As our ridiculous first-past-the-post constituency system means that a party only needs to get 36% of the vote to get a majority in parliament, it means that if a party can keep just over a third of the electorate happy, it makes no difference how poverty-stricken, miserable and deprived the rest of the population become – they can all go hang as their votes won’t be enough to make any difference. This is what the Tories relied on during the last election, and sadly it worked.

So where does this leave Labour? Well the Blairite New Labour policy was, and is, all about stealing Tory votes, and came as a response to the crushing defeats inflicted on Labour during the Thatcher era. At the time it was probably the only thing they could do – however that was before the financial crash and policies of Austerity. Now there are millions of people bearing the terrible brunt of the current economic system, meaning that it’s perfectly possible for Labour to get elected on a platform, not of trying to appeal to Tory sympathisers, but of rejecting the current Free-Market, pro-business orthodoxy completely, and instead appealing to the masses of ordinary people left behind by the current system. However that does’t have to mean going back to old-fashioned Socialism (in this respect the Blairites are probably right, and it would make the party unelectable) but instead taking a path, that while demonstrating economic competence, and recognising that private enterprise certainly has its place in modern society, at the same time removes the profit motive from essential public services, and ensures that private enterprise, where it does exist, is controlled and properly regulated for the common good. In short, policies that ensure that the benefits of our capitalist system are felt by all members of society, not just a wealthy elite. Any candidate that is able to get that message across may indeed be able to get enough ordinary people behind them to win an election and form a government, and so put society in a far better place than it is now. Jeremy Corbyn may well be that man.

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Greece and The Euro

Over the next few weeks the news will be full of the unfolding Greek tragedy, and if current trends are anything to go by most criticism will be firmly directed either at the Greek people – for borrowing so much money in the first place; or the Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis – for their reckless handling of the crisis. However the situation is far too complex to paint in such black-and-white terms, and there are so many vested interests at play no-one directly involved can be trusted to give an honest interpretation. One thing is sure though, the Greek government are challenging the very foundations on which the EU, the Euro, and our entire Free Market Capitalist system has been built, and for that they should be applauded.

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Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, is the first EU leader to challenge the current neo-liberal orthodoxy. Picture © FrangiscoDer

There are undoubtedly many deep structural and cultural problems in the Greek economy: and endemic tax-avoidance, financial profligacy, an unsustainably low pension age, and a bloated public sector all need addressing. However the central part of the current crisis is in fact just a more extreme version of what the UK is currently going through – a corrupt elite controlled and manipulated the financial system for their own gain, and when the system came crashing down, ordinary people were expected to pay the bill through policies of Austerity.  The only difference is that Greece’s government debt is higher than ours (180% of GDP vs 82%) and so the Austerity measures being imposed are that much more severe. So, whereas in this country ordinary people are, so far, taking it on the chin, in Greece they’ve finally had enough. And of course, on top of that, Greece’s membership of the Euro complicates matters even more.

So what is to be done? Well, Greece has two choices. It can either do what its creditors would like – carry on enduring intense pain almost indefinitely (and don’t forget their current economic situation is already worse than America’s was during the Great Depression); or default on its debts, probably leave the Euro (and maybe even the EU), endure even worse pain and  chaos for a year or two before finally getting itself back on some sort of even keel.

But this is where those vested interests come into play. If Greece was a completely independent country it could choose its own path out of this mess (and plenty of other countries have defaulted on their debts or engaged in money printing in response to an economic crisis). However as a member of the EU and the Euro, it is beholden to a whole load of external financial and political interests. And those interests care little for the suffering of the Greek people, only their own financial gain or political ideology. Its creditors want their money back, and will do anything to force the Greek government to pay, even if the Greek people have to live in complete penury for generations. Meanwhile the proponents of the European project are so wedded to the idea of ‘ever closer union’ that they cannot countenance the idea of Greece leaving the Euro. And this is the crux of the matter. Almost everyone is agreed that Greece should never have joined the Euro in the first place (and the Greek government of the time certainly has to bear a heavy responsibility for that).  One way to deal with the problem therefore, would be to plan for some sort of structured exit from the Eurozone. Unfortunately the mandarins in Brussels are so wedded to the concept of the European project that they cannot even consider such a thing, as it would go against everything they stand for. They, unfortunately, would rather see Greece crash out in a mess, for which they can blame the Greek government; than admit maybe they got it wrong in the first place and perhaps the idea of the Euro isn’t so great after all. And that is what will probably happen – the current crisis will escalate, the banking system will collapse, and Greece will descend into a prolonged period of even greater pain – all so that the Eurocrats in Brussels can say ‘wasn’t our fault – it was those damned Greeks who ruined it.’

Time will tell whether Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis are clever game-players or well-meaning amateurs, and to what extent they have planned and prepared for the events that are now unfolding. One thing is certain though, the Greek people, for all their faults, are no more to blame for the current crisis, than the British people were to blame for the financial crash we went through in 2008. Corrupt governments, failing democracy, vested corporate interests, blind faith in a broken system, and an out-of-control financial sector have led us all to where we are today.

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The Tory Election Victory

Many people were shocked and disappointed with the result of the General Election, where it seemed unbelievable that after 5 years of Austerity, the Tories were somehow able to increase their support among the electorate, and obtain an overall majority in parliament. However things aren’t quite so clear-cut, and there are a few points which should be remembered about the Tory election victory.

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David Cameron – only re-elected because of our dysfunctional political system. Picture © World Economic Forum

Firstly the turnout was only 66%, which means that with 36% of the vote, the Tories were actually only supported by 1 in 4 people. Secondly, our ridiculous First-Past-the-Post system of counting votes means that their 36% of the vote gave them 51% of the seats in parliament and so an overall majority. This system is grossly unrepresentative of the way people voted, and to give it some context:

The Tories’ 36% share of the vote gave them 331 seats; whereas UKIP’s 13% share of the vote – a third as many as the Tories got – only gave them one seat.

In terms of numbers, the Tories got 11.3 million votes which gave them 331 seats; while UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Green Party combined got 7.4 million votes (just 4 million less) but only got 10 seats between them.

So the Tory victory was only actually achieved because they benefited from a grossly unfair and wholly unrepresentative system of voting – democracy it certainly wasn’t! (A system of Proportional Representation, as most other countries in Europe use, would have given a very different result.)

The third thing to remember is we shouldn’t underestimate how much advantage the Tories get by virtue of being financed by the business sector (and in particular the City of London, which provides over half their funding). Running an election campaign is like running an advertising campaign, and the more money you can put in the more you will get out. Our subversive system of private funding of political parties gives a massive advantage to any party – in this case the Tories – which puts business before people and so can count on the wealthy to bankroll it. To show just how uneven this particular playing field has become, the private funding of the main political parties in the year before the General Election was as follows:

Tories – £29million; Labour – £19m; LibDems – £8m; UKIP – £3.5m; Greens – £0.65m*

* Source: UK Political Info – http://www.ukpolitical.info/Donations.htm

With that kind of advantage in funds it really is no surprise the Tories were able to out-gun and out-campaign all the other main parties. They won because they were able to outspend everyone else with campaign materials and boots on the ground in constituencies. Combined with the advantage of the dysfunctional voting system, they only won because the election was unfair and totally undemocratic.

So, unfortunately, we now face the prospect of another 5 years of Tory rule, and ongoing Austerity. However while on the face of it things may look bad, I do think that events may well turn out rather differently than they might at first appear. Last September, after the Scottish Independence referendum, I suggested that the result, while appearing to be a defeat, could actually turn out to be a victory for the Scottish National Party and the cause of Scottish Nationalism. That is now coming true with the SNP sweeping all before them north of the border. Similarly I feel that what may appear to be a Tory victory will in fact prove to be a defeat for them. They have got very very difficult times ahead, and I believe they will soon be sucked into a maelstrom of their own making.

The Tories’ perennial problem – The European Union – is going to come back to haunt them. Picture © Lars Aronsson

Firstly, the EU membership Referendum. I don’t think for one minute when the Tories put that in their manifesto, they ever thought they would actually have to put it into practice. It was simply a cynical political ploy to stem the loss of voters to UKIP, and in so doing they hoped to hang on to enough support to be able to lead another coalition government. They could then quietly drop the policy during coalition negotiations. However by winning outright, they are now forced to hold the referendum, which is going to be very difficult indeed. The Tories have a very turbulent history in their relationship with the EU, and are very divided between their pro-EU and Eurosceptic wings. As things gear up for the referendum all those old divisions will surface, and there is a very real possibility the party will slowly tear itself to pieces on the issue. A strong leader, with statesmanlike qualities, could probably lead the party – and the country – through this period. But David Cameron is far from being that kind of leader, and will very soon prove to be out of his depth.

Secondly, the issue of resurgent Scottish Nationalism. The cohort of 56 SNP MP’s at Westminster are riding on the crest of a wave, and there are now going to be ongoing calls for ever-more political and fiscal powers to be repatriated to Scotland. Talks of ‘devo-max’, a federal United Kingdom, and separate parliaments for each of the home nations will ultimately lead to calls for another referendum on Scottish independence. All of this is going to be incredibly difficult to negotiate, and yet is largely a problem of the Tories’ making, as it was they who brought the whole question of an English parliament, and English nationalism, out into the open. They then made matters worse by cynically talking-up the SNP in order to exploit fears of an SNP/Labour coalition. The forces they have unleashed will now turn on them. Again a statesmanlike leader could navigate the country through these times, and so sustain the Union, but David Cameron is far from being that kind of man, and the final result of all this is very much in the balance.

And of course all these things will be going on while in parliament the Tories have only the slimmest of majorities, easily whittled down by a couple of by-elections and a few rebellious backbenchers. It is my view therefore that David Cameron will not be able to hold things together, and at some point long before the 5-year term is up, his party, and government, will implode and collapse. The people will not have to wait so long before expressing themselves through the ballot box once again, and hopefully this time they will get a government worthy of them.

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Non-Dom Tax Avoiders

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Multi-Billionaire Football Club Owner and London resident Roman Abramovich is registered ‘Non-Dom’. Picture © Mark Freeman

This week the Labour Party made a manifesto pledge to abolish the scandalous ‘Non-Dom’ rule, which allows wealthy individuals to avoid paying tax on their foreign earnings, while the rest of us ordinary mortals have to pay all our tax in full. This rule is long-overdue for abolition, as it means that certain people who live here permanently (and in some cases were born here), can enjoy all the benefits and privileges residency in this country brings, but none-the-less dodge tax by shifting their cash abroad and stating that at some unspecified point in the future they intend to leave the country.* (The list of people benefiting from ‘Non-Dom’ status is quite shocking, and includes the Governor of the Bank of England and the chief execs of 3 of the 4 big high street banks.*)

The Labour announcement produced the predictable cries and squeals from the well-off, who now face the prospect of being slightly less well-off. However it also threw up some well-worn arguments about the generation of wealth, which are often deployed by those defending Free Market Capitalism. Namely:

1. If the wealthy are taxed too much they’ll all flee abroad, taking their money and talent with them, leaving us all destitute.

2. We need to attract wealthy foreigners to this country as without them our economy will collapse.

Both these arguments are utterly ridiculous, but show the extent to which Free Market Capitalist thinking has entered our consciousness, and brainwashed large sectors of the population.

Firstly, it is nonsensical to believe that this country needs foreign money in order to thrive. The people of this country have a long and proud history of success, and have for centuries succeeded in generating wealth through their own talent, effort and hard work. To now suggest that we need wealthy foreigners to guide us is to somehow suggest we’ve all suddenly become useless, lazy and incompetent.

Secondly, the idea that a few ‘talented’ people are the ones who generate all the wealth is also complete rubbish. The wealth of this country is generated by the combined efforts of every man, woman and child who contributes their labours to the general good and well-being. To suggest otherwise is to dismiss the priceless contributions so many of us make. And even though it may be true that we need bright brains to drive industry, technology or become entrepreneurs, this country has never been short of such talented people, and if a few of them do up-sticks and leave there are plenty more to take their place. In fact, personally speaking, if a few selfish individuals do put their own personal wealth ahead of any care for the society they live in, then I don’t want them here anyway.

Two more points it’s worth bearing in mind. This argument about ‘Talent’ forgets to mention that it was our ‘Talented’ bankers who led us into the financial crash of 2008. So ‘Talented’, but apparently they never saw that coming (or maybe they did but were too busy filling their boots to care). And many corporate disasters have been overseen by management who afterwards claimed the business was too big or complicated for them to fully understand what was going on. Again, talented? Or just enjoying the privileges and good fortune of being part of the wealthy elite.

Finally, in recent years the massive influx of foreign money has been a huge contributor to the increase in house prices, and consequently rents. That may have benefited property owners, but for the majority of the population all it’s done is lead to increased hardship, and in the case of central London, a form of social cleansing.

This argument that we somehow ‘need’ the rich is a complete lie put about by, not surprisingly, the rich (and those they’ve brainwashed) to justify them increasing their wealth while the rest of us are forced to suffer endless Austerity.

* Non-Dom fully explained: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32216346 Bank Chiefs: http://www.bmmagazine.co.uk/newswire/labour-non-dom-threat-hits-rbs-barclays-lloyds-boe-governor-carney/

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Free Markets Just Mean Corporate Corruption

This week we saw yet another scandal involving our banking system, when it turned out that HSBC have not only been facilitating large-scale tax avoidance and tax evasion via their Swiss subsidiary, but have even been advising their wealthy clients on how is the best way to go about it.* It is estimated that up to $21.7bn has been sheltered from the treasury in this way, at a vast cost to the British taxpayer.

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HSBC: Yet another massive banking scandal. Picture © Danesman1

This all came to light as the result of a leak from a whistleblower in 2007, details of which were passed to the Inland Revenue in 2010. However, despite an estimated 1100 individuals being guilty of underpaying their tax, to date there has only been one prosecution. Even more scandalous, the man in charge of HSBC during this period, Lord Green, was made a Conservative peer and appointed to the government as minister for Trade & Investment 8 months after the Inland Revenue was made aware of wrongdoing at the bank. Far from being punished for his misdemeanors, Lord Green was handsomely rewarded with a position in the heart of government. HSBC’s response to all this is to admit to ‘past failures’ but assures us all that things have now changed. Lord Green himself has consistently said ‘no comment’. Full details of the scandal are in this BBC Panorama documentary.

Of course we all know this is far from being a one-off, as it comes hot on the heels of various other banking scandals including fiddlng interest rates (Lloyds, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland); fixing foreign exchange rates (HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland); money laundering (HSBC); sanctions busting (Standard Chartered); ‘dark pool manipulation‘ (Barclays); and fiddling precious metal prices (Barclays, HSBC).

The reality is that the priority of companies, and in particular banks, is to make money for themselves, and to do it they will employ whatever dodgy practices they think they can get away with. The less regulation there is the more corrupt they can become, so this idea that ‘light touch’ regulation and free markets is the best way to run things is a complete nonsense, and is in effect just putting the foxes in charge of the chicken coop. Given the chance, the clever and the unscrupulous will just fleece us all, and that is exactly what they are doing.

Even more evidence of how corrupt our system has become was produced a couple of weeks ago when it was announced that Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), the accountancy firm, has also been facilitating corporate tax avoidance on ‘an industrial scale’.* PwC is also a major corporate donor to both the Labour and the Conservative parties. Why would anyone support both the major parties? Ah yes… that’ll be a bribe, so that whichever party gets into power lets them carry on with their corrupt business practices. What a rotten system we live in, that allows such things to go on while poor people are forced to undergo ever-increasing Austerity.

And the government’s response? At a business leaders’ meeting recently David Cameron pathetically asked bosses if they would give their staff a pay-rise, and so spread their ever-increasing wealth around*. I thought in a Free Market Economic system wealth was supposed to naturally ‘trickle down’ anyway? Clearly not, and if Cameron thinks his desperate pleas will make any difference to their behaviour, he clearly has little understanding of the business community he claims to represent.

* HSBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31248913

* PwC:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/pricewaterhousecoopers-condemned-for-giving-misleading-evidence-to-parliament-and-promoting-tax-avoidance-on-an-industrial-scale-10027344.html

* David Cameron Speech: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/feb/10/david-cameron-urges-business-pay-rises-thwart-labour

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Our Disgraceful Finance Sector

People would have been shocked today to hear of yet another scandal involving our beloved banks*. Apparently they’ve now been caught fixing foreign exchange rates, and fines totalling £2bn are being handed out to all the usual suspects including HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland (being owned by the taxpayer doesn’t seem to inhibit their criminal activity), plus UBS of Switzerland and America’s J P Morgan and Citibank. We’ve become used to hearing these tales of financial malpractice, but what was particularly galling in this case was the fact that the rate-fixing was going on until October last year. ie 5 years after the crash of 2008, and even after the previous LIBOR fixing scandal involving the exact same banks. In other words, these people have no intention of changing their behaviour no matter what happens around them. Of course criminal prosecutions might change their behaviour, but as usual, although the banks have been fined, no individuals have been held criminally accountable for what in everyone else’s eyes is blatant fraud.

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Price Waterhouse – helping write tax laws and then advising companies how to avoid the laws they’ve just written! Picture © Unshaken City

However, as shocking as all this is, far more insidious was the announcement earlier this week that the Labour Party has received £600,000 worth of free advice from PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) the accountancy firm, to help formulate its tax policy*. Now, why would PwC want to give free advice to the Labour Party? Ah yes, that’ll be because PwC makes a lot of money advising businesses on how to avoid tax, and that job will be much easier for them if they get to help write the legislation which they can then advise businesses how to avoid. Absolutely disgraceful, and Labour’s justification for it that PwC are experts in the field holds no water whatsoever. PwC, like all the big accountancy firms, are a threat to the very fabric of our society, as they are at the heart of the system which undermines government revenue collection, and so forces Austerity and poverty on millions of ordinary people. To have them help formulate tax legislation is simply putting the fox in the charge of the chicken coop. Just imagine if the government wanted to formulate new legislation on paedophiles, and put Gary Glitter in charge of the inquiry. And then justified it by saying Gary Glitter was chosen because he’s an expert in paedophilia! There would be justifiable outrage at such nonsensical logic, and yet the government does this all the time with financial legislation, completely undermining our democratic processes. Whether it’s through companies framing legislation like this, or the so-called ‘revolving doors’, where individuals pass effortlessly between Whitehall and the corporate world, the tentacles of business are firmly entwined in our legislative processes, ensuring we now live in world where those with money control all the levers of power.

We need change. The Tory Party, as the party of business, are of course beyond hope in this area, but with the Labour Party now acting in exactly the same way it should be absolutely clear, if it wasn’t before, that they offer no meaningful alternative either. The only hope for getting a government which represents the interests of ordinary people is to sweep both these parties into the dustbin, and start afresh with a completely new breed of politician, driven by a desire to help other people rather than just to look after the interests of themselves and their cronies.

* Bank Fines: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2832260/Why-aren-t-crooked-bankers-prison-banks-fined-2bn-fixing-currency-rates-clamour-grows-dozens-traders-face-prosecution.html Labour Party/Price Waterhouse Coopers: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/12/pricewaterhousecoopers-tax-structures-politics-influence?CMP=twt_gu

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Defenders of the Free Market

Yesterday a post was made on the website of the Centre for Policy Studies*, a right-wing think-tank that was set-up by Keith Joseph in 1974 to promote ‘Economic Liberalism’ – now more frequently called neo-Liberalism or Free Market Capitalism. Also counting Margaret Thatcher as one of its protagonists, this group of course proved to be very successful, and its policies were subsequently adopted by most Western governments and political parties. For many years, from Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in 1979 until the Banking Crash of 2008, these economic doctrines were pretty much unquestioned  – I myself was an advocate of free markets during that time.

Margaret Thatcher was Deputy Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies. Picture © US Govt

However the crash of 2008 changed all that, and many people saw that free markets, far from benefiting everyone, only actually benefit the narrow elite at the top. The privileged few use corporate structures to ensure the wealth that capitalism generates does not trickle down, but instead remains in their hands, which also means that ‘competition’ only really exists at the bottom of society, where workers have to compete for who will work for the lowest wage. Any attempt by the government to redress this wealth imbalance is thwarted by tax avoidance, and in particular hiding money offshore in tax havens. The result is endless grinding poverty at the bottom and ever-increasing wealth at the top. Privatisation of public services of course accelerates the process, and then when you add into the mix the inevitable economic crises (as the financial sector takes greater risks to increase its wealth even further) and the subsequent government bailouts (state funds being use to support private industry) we get to see that, remarkably, Socialism is still alive and well – but only for the wealthy and the world of business. Paid for by yet harsher Austerity, these bailouts serve to accelerate the transfer of wealth from poor to rich, and lead to an ever-more unequal society (hence 500,000 people are now using foodbanks while at the same time Executive Pay soars higher than ever.)

So, to get back to the post from the Centre for Policy Studies, Matthew Rees was commenting on the recent Occupy protests in Parliament Square, and said that if the protestors really were interested in Civil Liberties they should be supporting Free Trade, not opposing it, and highlighted the forthcoming TTIP treaty as an example of this. This was an extraordinary statement.  The TTIP treaty, if it goes through, will allow corporations to sue governments over anything which causes them financial loss. The possibilities here are terrifying. The government wants to stop the use of genetically modified food? Biochemical companies could sue them for potential ‘lost trade’. We decide we don’t want to take the environmental risk of fracking? Fracking companies could sue us for lost business. The government proposes changes to the NHS? Health companies could sue if they think that will cost them money. The government wants to encourage people to cut down on smoking? Tobacco companies could sue for lost revenue. The welfare of ordinary people will come second to the profits of multinationals, and all these disputes will be settled behind closed doors, with only lawyers and corporate cronies having a say in the outcome.

If Matthew truly does believe that such legislation serves democracy, civil liberties, and the will of the people (and if he is not being paid to say such things by the corporations who will benefit) then I can only say that he must be so blinded by his own ideology, that he is unable to accept the evidence of how badly society now operates for millions of ordinary people.

http://www.cps.org.uk/blog/q/date/2014/10/23/occupy-london-giving-civil-liberties-a-bad-name/ 

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The Labour Party is Compromised

Many people will be aware of the corrupting influence that the private funding of political parties has on our democratic process. The Tory Party gets most of its funding from big business (and over half its funding from the City of London) so it’s no surprise they make policies which benefit the wealthy. However the Labour Party, in its efforts to break away from Trade Union influence, has now fallen into exactly the same trap, and events this week demonstrate the extent to which they too are now totally in the grip of big business.

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Ed Miliband: He may want to create a fairer, more equal society, but will the party’s donors let him? Picture © Mandate for Change

Firstly, one of their biggest donors, multi-millionaire Assem Allam*, who in recent years has given £210,000 to the party, has openly criticised Ed Milliband’s proposal for a ‘Mansion Tax’.  He also made his overall intentions pretty clear when he criticised proposals to increase other taxes on the wealthy, saying the rich should be looked after and encouraged, as they are the people who drive the economy (strange words for a Labour Party supporter you might think, unless he is clearly exercising some kind of vested interest!) Following on from this, other major Labour Party donors voiced similar concerns about the Mansion Tax, including Lord Noon* who described it as ‘hopeless and desperate’; while the party’s biggest donor, John Mills* – who gave them £1.65m last year – also criticised the tax, saying it would produce ‘all sorts of problems’ (especially for him, presumably, if he has to pay it.)

Now you may or may not think the Mansion Tax is a good idea, but it’s for parties to put policies in their manifestos, and then for the electorate to vote on them, not for wealthy individuals to use their money and influence to control government policy regardless of what the electorate wants. What will now inevitably happen is that should the Labour Party get elected, Ed Milliband will be leant on, and with the threat of losing crucial funding, the policy will be quietly dropped, or massively watered down. And with pressure mounting on him to backtrack on this tax, you can be pretty sure that similar pressure will also be applied should he make any other suggestions which increase taxes on the wealthiest and most privileged members of society. Instead, all the party’s biggest donors will no doubt be encouraging him to continue with Austerity: freezing public sector wages, cutting public services,  and slashing benefits given to the poorest members of society.

Many people still no doubt hold to the view that voting Labour is the best way to achieve a fairer and more equitable society, but with Labour now firmly in the grip of big business, that unfortunately is a sad illusion. With both the Labour and the Tory parties offering nothing but endless Austerity, the only way to change things is to vote for someone else at the next election, and hope that a coalition government of some sort will allow alternative ideas to be implemented. And top of those alternative ideas has to be a reform of the entire process of Party Funding, because as long as the wealthy can ‘buy’ the legislation that suits them, the wealth that capitalism generates will stay in the hands of a narrow elite, and millions of ordinary people will be forced to struggle in endless poverty.

*Refs: http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Hull-City-owner-Assem-Allam-criticises-Labour/story-23074774-detail/story.html and http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/06/ed-miliband-labour-john-mills_n_5926844.html

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Scottish Referendum

Though there are undoubtedly many bitterly disappointed people at the outcome of last night’s referendum on Scottish Independence, I personally am nowhere near so negative, and in many ways think that how things have turned out may actually have been the best possible result for those wanting political and economic reform in this country.

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Scotland may not get independence, but things are still going to get a whole lot better. Picture © W. L. Tarbert

Firstly lets put the result in some perspective: when the referendum was originally being planned, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) wanted 3 options on the ballot paper: In, Out, and Full Devolution. This was clearly because, at the time, they didn’t feel they’d ever get enough support for full Independence, and a very successful ‘middle-way’ result would have been Devolution. The Westminster parties, not wanting to give up any more power than they had to, didn’t allow the Devolution option on the ballot paper, as they thought they would easily win a straight In/Out vote. Of course things turned out differently, the Yes camp ran a very successful campaign, and in the final two weeks the No camp were panicked into offering Devolution anyway, in their efforts to sustain the Union. Therefore, despite what it may look like, the entire campaign has been a victory for the SNP, who ended up getting what they originally wanted.

So the question remains: would full independence have been better for Scotland – I have to say I’m dubious. Despite the Yes campaign being lauded by all those wanting Political and Economic reform, the actual outcome may well have been somewhat different. For a start the SNP were intent on either using the Pound or the Euro as their currency, which means the Scottish economy would still have been at the mercy of the bankers in either Westminster or Brussels. One can absolutely guarantee that the outcome of that would have meant Scotland being forced to run a ‘Free Market’ economy – absolutely no different to what they have now. Secondly, those who think the SNP would have been more responsive to the needs of their people should bear in mind the SNP support TTIP, that absolutely evil piece of Free Market legislation coming our way, which makes corporations more powerful than governments.  And finally, in terms of political reform, the SNP are supporters of the Royal Family, which doesn’t really sound particularly reformist to me.

Also, whatever happened in Scotland, once the pain of the break-up had been completed, I suspect the rest of the UK would have just gone back to ‘business-as-usual’, with the City of London controlling our economy via their political wing, the Tory Party, and the other parties weakened by the loss of their Scottish voters.

So what do we have instead? The No Campaign’s rushed promises of Devolution have led us to nothing short of constitutional chaos, with not just massive changes in prospect for the way Scotland is run, but also talk of English Devolution (ie an English Parliament, to run alongside the Welsh and Scottish assemblies, and Stormont in Northern Ireland) and perhaps a Federal United Kingdom. People throughout the UK will undoubtedly get really engaged with this process, and in particular debates about what levels of power should reside where. Who knows where all this will lead, but by getting the electorate thinking in this way, there is the very real prospect of more power being passed back to local people, more accountable politicians, less corporate influence, and other profound changes to our rotten corrupt system. Independence for Scotland may have been better for Scotland (and that’s far from certain), but the results of last night’s vote will undoubtedly improve things for all of us.

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Austerity Affects Law and Order

The inevitable consequence of Free Market Capitalism is that society becomes ever-more unequal, as the wealth gap between those at the top and those at the bottom gets larger and larger. This happens directly (with salaries diverging, and wealthy people using their assets to generate yet more wealth for themselves), but it also happens indirectly, as  pressure from those at the top to pay less tax forces the government to balance the books by imposing Austerity – the result of which is ever-greater cuts to public services, and so an ever-faster decline in the standard of living of the more disadvantaged members of society.

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Cutbacks to policing as a result of Austerity are starting to make our streets less safe. Picture © Canley

This last point took a particularly unpleasant turn today when the Police Inspectorate announced that much criminal activity was now going uninvestigated due to lack of resources, and in some cases the victims of crime were even being asked to do the investigations themselves (including interviewing neighbours, looking for fingerprints, locating CCTV footage or checking eBay for their stolen property.)  The result of this, it said, is that a lot of offences, including criminal damage, car theft and burglaries of property were effectively being decriminalised.*

Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Police Officers Association made a direct link between this and Austerity, saying ‘The reality of austerity in policing means that forces must ensure that their officers’ time is put to best use and this means prioritising calls.’

This is of course just the thin end of the wedge, and as Austerity continues to bite more and more of these essential services will be cut back, and our streets will become less and less safe. Anyone who has ever travelled to countries with very divided societies and under-funded police will know where this all ends up. In places like South Africa, and many parts of South America the huge crime levels mean that the wealthy start to barricade themselves in their homes, living behind razor wire, high walls or in secure compounds, and often with private security.  Meanwhile on the streets the less well-off have to make do as best they can, often living in constant fear of the dreadful crime levels. In this country we may be some way off from such awful times yet, but we are undoubtedly taking the first steps in that direction. And as long as those with the reins of power think that their personal wealth is all that matters,  the needs of society are irrelevent, and it’s simply down to every individual to look after themselves, then for sure that is the kind of society we will eventually find ourselves living in.

* Ref:  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/04/police-not-investigating-crimes_n_5763632.html

As a sad addendum to this piece, last week it was announced that lawyers are setting new records for personal wealth, with more of them than ever before now earning over £1m/year. Could our society be any more dysfunctional, with lawyers raking in so much money, whilst those who actually catch criminals are unable to do so due to lack of funds? http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/economics/article4192714.ece

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