Category Archives: Austerity
The revolving door between government & big business
Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth
The Labour Party’s inspiring manifesto is described by FT Journalist Robert Shrimsley (right) as “a self-indulgent and ideologically obsessed clique, holding open the door of Number 10 for Mr Johnson . . . economically ruinous; a manifesto that effectively tells outside investors the UK is closed for business . . . the cumulative effect is an all-out attack on wealth creators which will deter foreign investment.
Brief comment on foreign policy. “Electing Mr Corbyn would be handing control of Britain’s defences to people who think the wrong side won the cold war”.
He continues: “For all those yearning for more investment in public services, a fairer economy, a saner Brexit and those just desperate to be rid of a government which has deepened the divides in the nation, Labour’s approach is a shameful betrayal“ after conceding:
“It may yet be that his potpourri of policies can win enough support among the young, the environmentally concerned and those who have suffered under austerity to stop Mr Johnson. There is no doubt Mr Corbyn has mobilised an activist base as no other recent leader has managed . . . but time is running out”
Eleven FT readers criticised yesterday’s FT editorial: “Labour’s manifesto adds up to a recipe for decline”, subtitled Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left programme will wreck the UK economy
- However much you disagree with the Labour manifesto – and I personally disagree with much of it, especially on nationalisation – it is an honest, decent and transparent set of proposals, fully costed. It is actually easy to disagree with it in its detail and clarity.
- This editorial is based on conjecture rather than any facts. The Labour manifesto only looks so radical given the extent of the move to the right the Tories have dragged the country to over the last decade.
- It’s been a decade of ideologically driven austerity which has decimated local services with the the only winners a few of the super elite and big companies. If this experience of the last decade doesn’t call for a “radical” change in our politics, whenever will this need arise?
- Look outside your gated communities and your shiny office buildings – Britain is hurting because of your hubris. We need real change. If that radical change hurts some of you who have caused this decline, good.
- Those who claim Labour’s manifesto will wreck the economy must consider who, ultimately, this economy is for. When the fifth-richest country in the world cannot feed its children, house its working poor or treat its sick, its economy is already wrecked.”
- You have foolishly believed the right’s false propaganda that the democratic state is incompetent to radically transform society for the benefit of all (well, most). “Those who claim Labour’s manifesto will wreck the economy must consider who, ultimately, this economy is for. When the fifth-richest country in the world cannot feed its children, house its working poor or treat its sick, its economy is already wrecked.”
- This article is mistaken in suggesting this manifesto is a throwback to the seventies. Things have changed, not everywhere for the better and this is a radical programme for the future. Time to get the neo-liberal blinkers off.
- I can’t help noticing there is no mention of the financial transaction tax in the article. Too close to the bone? Or perhaps simply, much too sensible and reasonable for your diatribe?
- On railway, most countries with successful railway services retain majority public ownership of the system (Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain … just to name a few). One should be agnostic on the model and look at the empirical evidence. Also, the entire contractual arrangements in public monopolies don’t necessarily mean public jobs — again there are different models!
- Why does this editorial spout rhetoric without evidence? Without reference to your own data analyses? The last ten years of deregulation has hugely increased poverty, homelessness, use of food banks, and cut all social welfare and education funding in real terms. AND it has doubled the national debt. Corbyn’s policies will restore the balance between wealth and income as Thomas Piketty and many progressive economists (Wren-Lewis, Stiglitz, Mazzucato, Krugman, Blanchflower) suggest. I expect more from the FT than neoliberal platitudes devoid of data.
- Socialism my foot – this is social democracy, it used to be quite fashionable, remember? Corbyn’s spending plans will make the UK a typical European country, next to Germany, in terms of government expenditure. (See FT Nov 21).The more recently fashionable neoliberal model has got us into a right old mess. Maybe this country can provide an example of the necessary corrective which others will follow – wouldn’t that be a turn-up for the books given our recent embarrassing hopelessness?
Will Corbyn/Labour’s industrial strategy guarantee fair production costs for perishable food – or rely on the global market?
“It is simply not right that any worker should have to sell their product for less than it costs them to produce them, and this is acutely felt by dairy farmers.”
Countryfile, reviewing Jeremy Corbyn’s “Rural Renewal” report, continued to quote: “A combination of a small number of very large milk processers operating as suppliers to retailers, supermarkets operating a ‘price war’ forcing down the cost of milk, and milk co-ops losing their power has resulted in thousands of dairy farmers finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone make a profit.”
Corbyn said “we will work with all parties to ensure that customers are offered a price they can afford for their milk, but not at the expense of farmers whose very livelihoods depend on it. This will include investigating regulating supermarkets to prevent below cost selling.”
Factories don’t sell their products at a loss, but those producing perishable food are often required to do so. It’s so easy to put pressure on those producing perishable food: fresh milk, fruit and vegetables, who have to sell quickly – in effect holding them to ransom.
Seven years ago Telegraph View pointed out that some supermarkets pay less for milk than it costs to produce. Nothing has changed! Prices sometimes drop to the 1990s level but all other costs have risen steeply.
Confidence in successive governments continues to fall as the country has become increasingly dependent on imported food – which now even includes tomatoes from Morocco and eggs and poultry from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A Fairtrade Policy Director noted that ‘The unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby’ which has cut social and healthcare, education and public transport doesn’t spare family farmers
Corbyn on a Cumbrian farm, pledging to do “everything necessary” to stop no-deal Brexit carnage for famrers
No thoughts of love – or natural justice – appeared in the Oxford Farming Conference address of Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who blamed the ‘difficult world market’ for low milk prices and focussed on farming’s ‘huge export potential’, rejoicing that ‘we now grow chillies which we export to Pakistan and Mexico’.
Barbara Crowther (right), by far the best Fairtrade Foundation Director of Policy & Public Affairs (2009-2017), said “There is a very unpleasant and aggressive tough love lobby out there who simply do not understand the importance of locally sourced food and the underlying food security issues which are only going to get worse as the global population grows”. She asked “Could we make our Mark work on milk?”. This link to that (now unwelcome?) reference has been removed.
It’s a fair question and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference a few years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common, co-ordinated by Joe Human (see Barbara in video at that conference).
MP Anne McIntosh (below, who chaired the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, for several years, urged the Government to intervene, after it was reported that 60 dairy farmers went out of business in one month alone. EFRA wanted the Groceries Code which covers suppliers to the big supermarkets and retailers, to be extended to include dairy farmers – but soon afterwards, the estimable Ms McIntosh was deselected. Now in the Lords she is campaigning for the farming interests threatened by Brexit
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers insists that all supermarkets could pay dairy farmers a price for milk that would meet the cost of production without increasing the price charged to the consumer: they would just need to accept a slightly lower profit on the milk they sell.
Placing the issue third after Angora goats and use of level crossings, the BBC, in a video link no longer working, gave priority to the destructive comments of the establishment economist, Sean Rickard.
Apparently unaware of economic interdependence – the knock-on effect to other industries and the rural economy – Sean Rickard tells farmers that if they can’t manage under these conditions, ‘they should give up making milk and live off the subsidy’.
In fact, as Clitheroe dairy farmer Kathleen Calvert often points out, the whole rural economy is affected as farmers lose income. Each working dairy farm returns a huge amount of money back into the wider economy, supporting many other regional businesses, and therefore helping to provide jobs for many. Each dairy farm that ceases to trade has a knock-on effect on the surrounding community and the economy, due to a loss of income to many other businesses. From press release, link no longer works. Instead see a briefer reference in Lancashire Life.
The key message “We are losing hold of a vital skills base at an alarming rate as dedicated dairy farming families are no longer financially able or prepared to work at a continual loss. We believe that many milk buyers gamble with the continuity and security of the UK milk supply by keeping much of the profit further up the market chain. Despite varying business structures and the importance of food production, most farm gate prices are now lower than production costs. This has a knock on effect on a wide range of other businesses and livelihoods of countless people involved, ultimately leading to pressure on incomes”.
Dairy farmers are compelled to pay a levy to DairyCo/AHDB, a body set up by government, which, consultant Ian Potter (above right) notes, has received – and spent – more than £1 million extra as a result of the increase in production. He asks: “But on what? Cynics say it spends the money on encouraging more production because that generates more levy money for it…and so on!” He continues: “In my opinion we now need a campaign to promote the buying of British dairy products using British milk . . . I have heard one Tesco farmer would prefer to give his levy to Tesco if he could to help it promote British milk. That makes sense to me if DairyCo won’t!”
Meanwhile food imports rise and government ministers advise hardworking farmers to place their ‘commodities’ on the global market so that unproductive internet bound speculators can ‘make a killing’ – nowadays more often crouched over their computer screens.
NHS: Boris Johnson’s proposes to let Africa and India educate our medics, engineers, scientists and technicians – then poach them
Early this morning Radio 5 reported that Boris Johnson has promised to lure more medics educated in poorer countries by halving the cost of the ‘NHS visa’ and speeding up the application process. This followed an announcement of measures to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology.
Boris Johnson proposes to intensify the harmful practice of importing doctors, nurses, workers in agriculture, service industries and IT experts from poorer countries. Rather than bearing the costs of educating our own, he advocates depriving developing countries of the able young enterprising citizens they desperately need.
In March, the Telegraph quoted figures from the General Medical Council showing that last year Britain imported more doctors than it trains. New figures show a steep rise in the numbers recruited from overseas. 53% of those joining the medical register came from overseas to do so – a rise from 39% in 2015.
This is the first time since 2006 that overseas doctors have outnumbered UK medics joining the register
NHS Providers, representing hospital, mental health, ambulance and community services, has written to Boris Johnson to demand action (FT 5.11.19). It made ominous references to ‘a complicated pension problem’ and advises recycling some unused employer pension contributions as salary.
Rule changes introduced in 2016 meant that rising numbers of consultants and other senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions. The FT article alleges that some high earners are left some facing effective marginal tax rates of more than 100% and in June the Guardian reported that some staff have had to remortgage their homes to cover their tax bills, while others were faced with the choice of cutting their hours.
Raise job satisfaction: as austerity continues, news of distressing delays and anecdotal accounts of neglect in NHS hospitals abound. A Labour government could:
- heed Simon Stevens, head of the NHS: “We need to train more health professionals in this country and that includes doctors. We’ve got five new medical schools coming online as we speak which will be a 25% increase in undergraduate medical places – arguably, that needs to be more”;
- reduce ratio of managers to medical staff;
- train nurses on the wards for the first three years before they undertake part-time university or technical education and
- as pledged by the Department of Health in 2007, bring back matrons who would once more be responsible for all the nursing and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital.
“We’re emptying Romania of doctors” a moral issue
Simon Stevens, speaking at the Spectator Health Summit in London, said the health service must stop “denuding low income countries of health professionals they need” amid warnings of a growing moral crisis. We need to do so in a way that is ethical so we are not, certainly, denuding low income countries of health professionals they clearly need,”
See https://thenewleam.com/2018/01/crisis-public-health-system-india/ There were many excellent photographs of long queues to see doctors in rural India but Alamy demanded a high price for them.
In March. the Telegraph reported that cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas told the conference: “We’re emptying Romania of doctors … they’re coming from eastern Europe, they’re coming from Pakistan, India, Egypt and they’re coming from Nigeria . . .
“I think there is a moral issue here. We are poaching doctors from abroad and have done for decades. They are coming from countries where they have been trained at public expense and where they are sorely needed.”
“Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump”
Above: Corbyn in Trafford, May 2019
Mr Shrimsley estimates that a vote share above 30% may be enough to prevent a Tory majority adding that, given likely losses in Remain strongholds, Mr Johnson needs 40-50 gains.
Other points made include those summarised below.
Having alienated the Democratic Unionists, the Conservatives have no natural coalition partners and face the ‘potentially wrecking impact’ of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Several other parties might support Labour or at least tolerate an anti-Johnson administration. The early evidence is that Remainers may be reconciling themselves to voting Labour where necessary.
Labour has a coherent narrative. The last three years have been no advert for Tory efficiency and the last nine have not left most people feeling better off
It has a raft of policies with appeal to core groups. It has baubles for young and old, tenants and workers. It will not be outbid on public services.
Voters’ current experiences are of austerity and cuts. Labour can, for example, note that Mr Johnson’s promised 20,000 extra police will only restore numbers to their 2010 level.
Plans to nationalise water and rail companies will play well, as will promises to give workers more say and more pay.
Labour also has a radical agenda on the environment, perhaps the most salient issue for younger voters.
And the wild card? As Camilla Cavendish (former No10 adviser) points out: “Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump; Mr Johnson doesn’t always seem to do his homework”
The Telegraph reports that MP James Cleverly, who is in charge of the Tory election campaign, says that he is aware of individuals, including entrepreneurs and other business figures, some Jewish, who plan to leave the country if Labour were to win the election.
Would that be noticed? Many – like the Telegraph’s owners – already spend much of their time away from Britain.
Surely they could survive relatively unscathed, despite paying taxes in full and ‘coming to an arrangement’ with the currently short-staffed inland revenue service, paying their workers a living wage and bearing the costs of any pollution emitted by their businesses?
Mr Cleveley shows compassion for those whom he says are planning to leave, but appears to lack sympathy for the less fortunate. The Independent reported that, according to Parliament’s register of interests, Cleverly was one of 72 Conservative MPs voting against the amendment who personally derived an income from renting out property. He opposed – and therefore delayed – legislation which would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”.
When working with mayor Boris Johnson as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, he was responsible for the closure of ten fire stations in London, after which an elderly man jumped from a burning building in Camden, following delays in the arrival of fire crews. The Fire Brigades Union had repeatedly warned that a tragic death of this kind would occur after severe cuts to funding of the fire service in London.
Under a government led by Jeremy Corbyn, as corporate tax evasion and avoidance on a large scale is addressed releasing funds for education, health and other important services, the 99% on lower incomes will welcome a living wage, a well-staffed fire and health service, homes fit for human habitation, appropriate care for the elderly and disabled and better employment opportunities as manufacturing and services are increasingly in-sourced.
And these millions have one asset: their vote.
On 14 September 2017 The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began to investigate the causes of the fire and other related issues. The chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, issued the phase one report on Wednesday 30 October 2019. In it, he concluded that the tower’s cladding failed to comply with building regulations; the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior.
In the dock?
- Past and present governments’ erosion of safety standards through programmes of deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing/subcontracting, localism and austerity: “Regulations were relaxed and eliminated, warnings were ignored and costs were cut, while profits and council reserves.
- David Cameron, as prime minister, promised and delivered a “bonfire of regulations” in the construction industry.
- Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fi re engines out of service and slashed over 500firefighter jobs to “save money” (charges made by Yvette Williams)
- The Conservative members of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) who covered the homes of working-class people with flammable tiles rather than fire-resistant tiles because they were cheap, prepared the way for the Grenfell Tower fire (Sasha Simic).
- “The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community worried for their safety”, Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Below left, see a brief video of firefighters during the fire
* In the 2012 Grenfell Tower Regeneration Project’s public consultation, which may be read here, residents were asked about the cladding’s colour and finish, but the issue of fire resistance was never raised.
The planning application’s engagement statement records that the choice of cladding – zinc or particle board was investigated and the final choice was Reynobond PE with a plastic filling – a cheaper option, saving nearly £300,000 – placed around flammable foam insulation.
The establishment – elite networks who close ranks to protect their own interests – spared the government & cladding company and scapegoated the Grenfell firefighters
Despite the Grenfell Inquiry’s finding that the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior, mainstream media chose to highlight criticism of the fire-fighters’.
The FT, though focussing closely on the performance of firefighters, did at least give details of the other companies involved, prudently noting that the report does not assign blame to any individual companies.
Hotpoint, a division of Whirlpool, made the fridge-freezer in which the fire began. Celotex, a division of the French multinational Saint Gobain, made the foam insulation used on the tower; Rydon, the design and build contractor on the refurbishment subcontracted the cladding installation; Harley Facade, and CEP Architectural Facades manufactured the cladding into “cassettes” for use on the tower.
The BBC (warned off after publishing this outspoken article about the cladding?), the Guardian and the Independent opted to focus on the fire service, the Metro achieving some balance by publishing a fiery article by Yvette Williams and one focussing on the fire service in the same issue.
Yvette summarised the feelings of many: “the real ‘villains of the piece’ should be in the media headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives to save people in a building that no-one should have been living in, with a fire that was unprecedented”.
Since the Grenfell disaster, Arconic has withdrawn Reynobond PE from the market for all building uses. The company is now being forced to disclose evidence to investigations by the police and the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and a second phase to investigate the broader causes will begin in 2020.
But, as the FBU concluded, “We cannot wait for years for the Inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.” The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?
* As with some other ‘sensitive’ documents, this link will not open. To read the report, the link has to be copied and pasted: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-960662.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=960662&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1
A surge in number of young people registering to vote has been reported as more than 300,000 applications were submitted in two days. There was a big spike on the day the election was announced.
- A third were from people under 25.
- Nearly two-thirds of applications were from people aged 34 and under
- and 4% came from those aged 65 and over.
Dr James Sloam is co-director of Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway University, currently leading a project for the Greater London Assembly investigating the key policy issues for young people and questions of civic and political engagement and their relevance to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Sloam argues that there has been a step-change in youth political participation, as young people have been attracted in large numbers to Jeremy Corbyn’s message. In the 2017 general election, turnout amongst 18-24 year olds rose from 43% in 2015 to 54% and polling data showed that most of them voted Labour.
BBC journalist Laura Lea points out that this is the generation that has borne the brunt of the financial crisis with uncertainty, unemployment and wage freezes being a staple of their adult life. Young people have experienced the tightest pay squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis – with real pay falling by 13%, according to the Resolution Foundation.
And – we add – they will have to face the increasing hazards of climate change.