Category Archives: Corporate political nexus
The revolving door between government & big business
Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth
It’s fashionable for people on the progressive left to call out and highlight the anti-left and anti-Corbyn bias of the BBC, but this claim needs some careful unpacking.
Academic research (e.g. LSE: Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog) certainly seems to support this view; but assuming it to be true for a moment, it by no means follows that all, or even most, journalists working for the BBC are themselves politically right-wing.
Parallels can be drawn here with the right-wing press. I’ve been reliably informed by a former Daily Telegraph journalist, for example, that at that newspaper, many of the journalists working there are well left of centre.
At the institutional level however, everyone knows what’s required by the paper’s owners and so a culture of right-wing and right-oriented commentary is created, which becomes an accepted norm to which all journalists employed by that title conform. In such organisations, moreover, the management are likely to be right-wing in orientation.
Something similar to this seems to be happening at the BBC, as political commentator Owen Jones pointed out at length on Radio 5 Live last Saturday evening (Saturday 30 November).
So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to see a former very senior BBC journalist and editor ‘coming out’ on the political left. I remember Nick Jones (right) very well from the miners’ strike in the early 1980s when he was chief political editor at the BBC, and when he was clearly doing his best as the time to be as even-handed and neutral as possible. Jones left the BBC in 2002 (aged 60), and I’ve heard nothing of him since. So I was mildly amazed to read in a recent issue of the Morning Star a feature article by him on media bias. Titled ‘Boris Johnson’s shock troops in the commentariat’ we read about how, ‘when the PM runs into trouble, he’s not short of obliging media pundits to rush to his rescue and deliver a hatchet job on Corbyn’.
Jones evocatively writes of what he calls ‘attack journalism’, their ‘character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn’, and their ‘conjuring up yet another hatchet job on Corbyn to help bolster the brilliance of Johnson’.
Listing a number of obnoxious headlines from an array of Tory propaganda comics, Jones then points out the sobering fact that Conservative-supporting newspapers account for 80% of UK newspaper sales.
But it’s far worse than even this, as the likes of the BBC pick up on and report the right-wing editorial lines of these papers, ‘feeding through to the commentary on television and radio programmes’. And the right-wing press commentariat also ‘command a far higher proportion of broadcast interviews and invitations to newspapers reviews on radio and television’, with press headlines commonly treated as news.
Jones concludes his article with a chilling observation: ‘Media coverage in 2017 was the vilest of any general election of my 60 years as a reporter’.
I fear 2019 might be even worse.’ From what I’ve seen to date, I think his worst fears have already come to pass, with the Cummings-driven Tory Dirty Tricks Department leaving all previous Tory attempts to propagandise the electorate trailing in his wake.
When a widely respected journalist of Nick Jones’s seniority and professional stature speaks so scathingly about the flagrant bias of the right-wing press, we really have to take it seriously. But just what we can do to neutralise the propaganda impact of this outrage to democracy is something that the left urgently needs to address – and preferably well before 12 December 2019.
Guest-blogged by Richard House Ph.D., former senior university lecturer in psychology, psychotherapy and early childhood studies, and now a full-time Labour Party and environmental campaigner-activist.
Labour guarantee: a guard on every train will attend to passengers and help the frail or disabled to board safely
If a Labour government is elected, years of struggle against the privatised railways’ attempts to remove guards and have driver only operated (DOO) trains will come to an end.
It is alleged that government has made the removal of guards a condition of private operators’ franchises and has also included a clause in them stating that taxpayers will underwrite any losses the operators incur by provoking strike action.
In 2016, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg derided this cause as making a ‘fuss’ and described the protesting unions as indulging in a power play; She explained the motivation for removing the guards: “One former senior minister tells me that “successive secretaries of state” in charge at Transport have wanted to “get rid of guards on trains”. The ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger”. She forgot to mention
- the companies’ desire to avoid paying for these guards, swelling profits and payments to shareholders,
- incidents where guards have been needed to cope with disruptive passengers; as an RMT report said: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”
- or ‘lifechanging’ incidents such as this: ITV reported that at West Wickham station south London, in April 2015, a passenger was dragged along the platform at West Wickham station, south London, when the 11am Southeastern service from London Cannon Street to Hayes (Kent) – driver-only operated – while her backpack strap was trapped in the doors of the train. As the train moved off, she fell onto the platform and then through the gap between the platform and train, suffering life-changing injuries.
As RAIL concludes: there remain (even in the eyes of the most ardent DOO supporters) security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers.
A list of incidents given in a 2016 government dossier ended: When there is an emergency the guard can take charge especially if the train driver is incapacitated”. But this link, cited in 2017, no longer leads to the dossier.
Racheal Maskell, Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister, said:
“The railway should liberate people and enable everyone to play their full role in our society and economy, but the Conservative Party’s expansion of DOO has knowingly degraded the rights of older and disabled passengers in the face of protests from passenger and disabled people’s groups. It is remarkable that the Government and private train companies have pursued this discriminatory policy even when it provoked fierce industrial disputes resulting in significant strike action.
“Labour’s publicly owned railway will be for everyone, not just the able-bodied, which is why we will enable staff to deliver a safe and accessible railway for all.”
Earlier this month, West Midlands Trains workers staged a weekend stoppage in their continuing campaign against the removal of safety critical guards from trains. An RMT spokesman said:
“The safety and accessibility of the travelling public is this trade union’s priority and should take priority over the profits of the train operator and we believe that this is an important election issue for the people of the West Midlands. “We will not allow the drive for profit to override the core issue of safe and accessible services for all on West Midlands Trains and we stand fi rm on that very basic principle. We will never compromise on the issues of passenger safety and accessibility.”
The union remains available for talks with West Midlands Trains, which is a subsidiary of Dutch state-owned rail operator Abellio.
Will common humanity prevail: the record indicated that it will not unless a Labour government is elected.
2015: The appalling risks which can arise on a DOO train were outlined convincingly here: http://www.railmagazine.com/trains/current-trains/the-pros-and-cons-of-driver-only-operation/page/2
And many issues of Private Eye over the last four years have covered the issue and several DOO related accidents in detail .
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
On 20 July Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell launched a new Labour Party document, Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. (1).
A September paper by Richard Hatcher, which may be read in full here, discusses its implications for social care, referring to Birmingham as a case study. Edited extracts follow (several hyperlinks added):
Democratising Local Public Services commits a future Labour government to reversing four decades of outsourcing by local councils by legislating to ensure that the default option for councils is for the public sector to deliver its own services.
The section headed ‘How Outsourcing Has Gone Wrong’ identifies two key issues:
- poor quality of provision: there is now widespread evidence of failures in service quality in services provided through outsourced contracts’ (p12)
- and lack of public accountability in different forms: the Information Commissioner has noted that just 23% of the public polled thought that the activities of private providers of public services were accessible. Information about outsourcing companies can only be requested by the public if it is held by a public authority on behalf of that outsourcing company. (p13)
Hatcher points out that social care is the largest single area of council spending, most of which goes to external providers, and finds it very surprising that there is only one reference to social care in the 53 pages of the Labour Party report. This is a regrettable missed opportunity because social care exemplifies the two major problems with outsourced provision that the Labour party report identifies and is therefore a prime candidate for insourcing.
The Thatcher government, we are reminded, created a lucrative new market in social care by forcing local authorities to spend 85% of their social care budget in the private sector, decimating local authority provision.
Since then the transformation towards a market in adult social care has progressed steadily, with no attempt by any government to halt or reverse the trend. [ ….] In 1979 64% of residential and nursing home beds were still provided by local authorities or the National Health Service; by 2012 the local authority share was 6%; in the case of domiciliary care, 95% was directly provided by local authorities as late as 1993; by 2012 it was just 11%. This also means the bulk of the adult social care workforce – around 72% – is now employed in the private and voluntary sectors, along with another 14% employed by individual service users making use of ‘personal budgets’, leaving just 14% employed by local authorities.’ (pp7-8) 
However, the prospect of exceptional profits attracted big equity investors into this new market. They bought up small providers and opened much larger homes for maximum profit, employing staff, largely women, on low pay, according to Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands, a report by David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands, published in 2017 :
Built into every contract to a major provider will be the underlying need to deliver a significant return on investment
CRESC [the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change] found that big care providers expect to offer 11% returns to investors (including costly debt repayments which often return to the parent operating company). The business models of the largest five residential care chain companies in the UK offer returns to investors that account for as much as 29p in every £1 of their costs – the second biggest drain on expenditure after wages.
The care ‘market’ is increasingly consolidating towards such providers. As of 2015, nearly 20% of all care beds were provided by the ‘big four’ care companies – Four Seasons, Bupa Care Homes, HC-One Ltd, and Barchester Healthcare. They are gradually increasing their market share – buying up small chains and taking over provision from family-owned homes. (p12) But now the care market is in crisis because the government cuts in local authority budgets have squeezed the flow of profits to the care businesses. More than 400 care home operators have collapsed in the last five years, including over 100 in 2018 (Guardian 12 March 2019).
Insourcing will be difficult as the social care market is highly fragmented. As Bob Hudson says :
There is no compact adult social care service that can be easily repatriated into public sector ownership. Rather the sector is characterised by many fragmented, competing providers. The care home sector supports round 410,000 residents across 11,300 homes from 5500 different providers (Competition and Markets Authority, 2017). The situation in home care is even more diverse with almost 900,000 people receiving help from over 10,000 regulated providers. (2018, pp1-2)
After a detailed seven-page Birmingham case-study of the privatised care industry, Richard Hatcher ends, “One section of Birmingham Council’s Local Manifesto 2018-2022 is titled ‘A Rebirth of Municipal Socialism’. It promises, “We will re-state the case for the municipal provision of services in Birmingham, heralding a new age of municipal socialism. And the Labour council in Birmingham will lead by example, calling time on the misplaced notion that the private sector always trumps the public sector by adopting a policy of in-house preferred for all contracts”. That was published in March 2018, a year and a half ago.
He asks “Where are the detailed plans to put this policy into practice?” and recommends Birmingham City Council to publish detailed plans to bring its out-sourced social care services in-house, open the books and make public these and all its other out-sourcing contracts so there can be genuine public accountability – and specifically for social care, the biggest sector of the Council’s outsourcing.
- The Labour Party (2019) Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Democratising-Local-Public-Services.pdf
- Bob Hudson (2016) ‘The failure of privatised adult social care in England: what is to be done?’, The Centre for Health and the Public Interest. https://chpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CHPI-SocialCare-Oct16-Proof01a.pdf
- Bob Hudson (n.d.) ‘Adult Social Care: An Irretrievable Outsourcing?’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Hudson%20Social%20Care%202018.pdf
- David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands (2017) Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands. https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/West-Midlands-Social-Care-report.pdf
- Birmingham City Council website (2018) ‘Care Homes and Supported Living 2018’. https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory/55/care_homes_home_support_and_supported_living/category/1069
- CorporateWatch (2016) The Home Care Business. https://corporatewatch.org/the-home-care-business/#__RefHeading___Toc2989_782775029
- The Labour Party (2017) Alternative Models of Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Alternative-Models-of-Ownership.pdf
- The Labour Party (2018) Democratic Public Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Democratic-public-ownership-consulation.pdf
- Richard Hatcher (July 2019) ‘Co-production, social care and participatory democracy’. https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/1907%2019%20RH%20co-production%20article%20v3.pdf In ‘Health Campaigns Together: The Debate over Social Care – New Additional Reading’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/socialcare.php
- 10.‘Our Social Care System is Broken’. https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Social%20Care%20Leaflet%20draft%204%20final.pdf
“What exactly is Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on the Brexit Bill?” A friend asked this question and – suffering from Brexit fatigue – I’m ashamed to say that I could not answer off the cuff.
After returning home, the only relevant information was found in these paragraphs by Oliver Milne, written on Friday 23rd October, which I’ve printed for my friend.
Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson meet to discuss a ‘reasonable timetable’ for Brexit Bill
“They met in Mr Johnson’s House of Commons office. Last night, Mr Corbyn said that Labour was prepared to work with the Government to agree “a reasonable timetable” to enable the Commons to debate and scrutinise the legislation properly. That would be the sensible way forward, and that’s the offer I make on behalf of the opposition tonight”.
“A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the Prime Minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a No Deal crash out is off the table.”
“A Conservative source said: ‘PM met Corbyn this morning in his office in the House of Commons to discuss whether Labour would back a timetable that allows us to actually get Brexit done rather than yet more delay. Corbyn made clear he has no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums.’ “
But still mainstream media reporters and interviewers focus on ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s indecision’. This morning Chris Warburton on BBC Radio 5 hammered away on the theme that JC has long called for an election – despite the patient and repeated explanations ably given by MP Jasmin Qureshi.
Despite this – yet another item in the long list of attempted but unsuccessful character assassination directed at Jeremy Corbyn – huge crowds continue to turn out to hear and support him, to the dismay of ‘the few’ fearing a rebuilding of Britain ‘for the many’.