Category Archives: Democracy undermined

Labour, Conservative and Green voices call for a progressive alliance. Will it happen now or later?

An audience seriously considering the proposal

With thanks to the reader working in Uganda who sent the Hitchens link and remembering another who yesterday advocated ABC voting, ‘Anything But Conservative’.

Peter Hitchens insisted, some time ago, that a lot of people feel left out of the recovery we are supposed to be having, and they need a powerful voice in Parliament, adding:

“There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security . . .

“The truth is that both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West. It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President”.

Hitchens concludes that many Labour MPs have more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn and will ‘snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party’.

He believes that the British public will at last see clearly that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties: “Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland”.

This Green House pamphlet with contributions from Molly Scott Cato MEP, Victor Anderson, Rupert Read, Jonathan Essex and Sara Parkin was written before the EU referendum and the economic and political turmoil which has followed but the authors believe its analysis and conclusions are still valid.

In her introduction, MEP Molly Scott Cato points out that a route to a more positive future offering hope to the majority of citizens is blocked by our archaic and unrepresentative electoral system which enables one party to control so much power with a minority of the votes cast. She continues:

“Our primary target is our electoral system. In the 2015 general election the Green Party received 1 million votes but only one parliamentary seat. By contrast the Scottish National Party received 1.5 million votes and 56 seats.

“This is the logic of first past the post . . . but as voters move into a multi-party future the system entrenches political stasis and blocks progressive change”. Later she cites Germany as the most striking example of a country that has benefited from Greens in power:

“Its industries are successful because Greens in government encouraged them to move into the new era of low carbon energy production before other European countries. Germany has turned its back on the nuclear age and is rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. Germany is the economy in Europe that is benefiting most from the energy transition that dangerous climate change requires of us. It is Greens in government who enabled this process”.

She, and other Green House members invite everyone who wants to see an alternative to continued Conservative government to join in the discussion about what that alternative can be.

Professor Jeremy Gilbert, in a Compass article, spells out the proposal, advocating a co-ordinated response involving every potentially progressive organisation and party in the country. He asks:

“Do you really think we can stand up to May, Murdoch and the Mail, to the City, the CBI and consumer-industrial complex all alone?

“Labour is never going to be back on 44% in the opinion polls. The electorate is too fragmented for that, and above all Labour’s electoral base is too fractured for it ever to happen again”.

(Ed: we note that the British Labour Party is already one of the parties and organisations from over 90 countries which participate in the International Progressive Alliance network of social-democratic and progressive political parties.)

Gilbert continues: “Would you rather it happen now, while the Left retains the leadership of the party, or in five or ten years time, when the Right is back in control? Would you rather have a Progressive Alliance, or an alliance of revanchist Blairites, (May)ites and ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats? Because if we do not seize the initiative now, then the latter is what we are going to get, soon enough. This is going to happen sooner or later”.

 

 

 

 

Elite stranglehold on Britain – unbreakable?

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

Focus on cuts – 5: the poorest targetted

A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.

He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.

Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.

The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.

David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.

The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.

For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?

Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.

 

 

 

 

Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

“Our ‘noble’ cause? Dropping bombs on behalf of Al Qaeda”

This is the title of Peter Hitchens’ latest article found after hearing a reference on Radio 4.

He asks readers to:

  • consider first that early on Friday morning the United States Navy launched 59 cruise missiles on behalf of Al Qaeda;
  • note that the President of the United States did not even bother to pretend that he was seeking United Nations cover for what he did;.
  • note next that in the same week our Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a duty visit to pay homage to the medieval despots of Saudi Arabia, who kindly buy our warplanes and bombs and are currently using them to savage effect in Yemen
  • and that President Trump was playing host at the White House to the head of Egypt’s military junta, General el-Sisi, whose security forces undoubtedly massacred at least 600 protesters (probably many more) in the streets of Cairo in August 2013.
  • Then mark that the pretext for this bizarre rocket attack was an unproven claim that President Assad of Syria had used poison gas.

Yes, an unproven claim. No independent western diplomat or journalist can gain access to the scene of the alleged atrocity, and what information we have is controlled by Al Nusra.

Another question from Hitchens (left): “Is the gassing of children (undoubtedly a horror) so *much* worse than the other atrocities which the USA knowingly tolerates among its clients in the Middle East, or indeed excuses as collateral damage in such places as Mosul and Ramadi?” The brutality of Sisi and the Saudis is beyond doubt. They didn’t use gas, but our leaders’ outrage at Assad’s alleged gas attack looks a little contrived if they keep such company.

What happened to the rules of evidence? Many people have written, spoken – and now acted – as if the charge was proven. Why the hurry?

Assad is currently winning his war against Islamist fanatics, with conventional weapons. He had finally got the USA to stop demanding his dismissal: “Five days before the alleged attack – five days! – America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, announced: ‘Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out’ . . . He knows that the use of poison gas is the one thing that will make the USA intervene against him. They have said so.

So why would he do such a thing, and throw away all his victories in a few minutes? It makes no sense of any kind”.

Hitchens points out that the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, alias the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian ‘opposition’ which we in the West have been supporting for several years . . . is the local franchise of ‘Al Qaeda’.

Al-Nusra is the Saudi-backed group which seeks the removal of Assad as leader of Syria controls the area where the alleged gas attack took place, and controls all the information coming out of that area. He describes atrocities they have committed and continues. “This is the group whose aims the USA is now supporting, and backing with cruise missiles”.

The only big difference he can see between Al Qaeda and Islamic State is that we drop bombs on Islamic State. And that therefore, in effect, we are dropping these bombs on behalf of Al-Nusra/Al Qaeda. 

Hitchens believes, “The once-wealthy and powerful West is bankrupt and increasingly at the mercy of people who have begun to demand something in return for their trade and their loans. It is all very sordid, and bodes ill for the future”. He ends:

“I would mind it less if we admitted what we were doing, rather than pretending these wretched events were some sort of noble act”.

 

 

 

 

Media 77: colluding in “an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again”

Unjust – and unwise

Anne emails, “Of course what happened in London was terrible but my concern is over its reporting” – or, in a link sent by Andy, “over-hyped coverage”.

She compared it with the lack of emotive language in The Independent’s coverage this week of a white supremacist charged with stabbing of a 66-year-old black man in Manhattan. The NYPD said that the young suspect has a deep-seated hatred of black people and had travelled from Maryland to New York to target and kill black men.  Was he not a terrorist? But he was not described as such.

No buildings were flood lit, no sensational description of the killings was given

Then she pointed out that 30 were killed in Syria due to US air attack on a school earlier this week and last week at least 46 people, most of them civilians, were killed and dozens more injured in an air strike on a mosque in Aleppo.

http://www.siasat.com/news/syria-33-dead-us-led-coalition-air-strike-1157431/ (March 23rd report) 

Some lives are more equal than others . . .

The recommended article by Simon Jenkins (below, right) had a more pragmatic concern. It opened: “Wednesday’s assault was a crime. The last thing we needed was our politicians and media hysterically exaggerating it . . . The over-hyped coverage of the Westminster attack will only encourage others”.

Far more are killed & injured by cars (Andy now adds, gov stats: “There were 24,620 people  killed or seriously injured in the year ending June 2016 – not much outrage there”).

He cited the ‘normal’ mode of reporting deaths by knifing in London each year, usually by those who are enraged or mentally deranged, adding “Yet more are run down by cars” and pleads:

“Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.”

“Wednesday’s assault different was instantly subjected to an avalanche of supposition and speculation . . . Without a shred of evidence, and no “claimed responsibility”, the airwaves and press were flooded with assumptions that it was ‘Isis-inspired’. It was squeezed for every conceivable ounce of sensation and emotion”. Jenkins wisely recommends that even if this had indeed been  “terrorist” act and not that of a lone madman, the way to react is to treat it as a crime:

  • Don’t speculate when you know such speculation will cause alarm.
  • Don’t let Downing Street summon Cobra and drag the home secretary back from foreign parts.
  • Don’t flood central London with hundreds of men with machine guns.
  • Don’t have the police issue interminable empty statements
  • Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.
  • Don’t let the mayor rush into print, screaming “don’t panic”.
  • Don’t have the media trawl the world for pundits to speculate on “what Isis wants” and “how hard it is to protect ourselves from attack”.
  • Don’t present London as a horror movie set.
  • Don’t crave a home-grown Osama bin Laden.
  • And don’t pretend you are “carrying on as usual” when you are doing the precise opposite.

After referring to the money and jobs lost by this week’s reckless coverage, the liberties the cabinet will curtail, or the million-pound contracts the security-industrial complex will squeeze from terrorised civil servants and ministers, Jenkins ends:

“The actions of the authorities and the media in response to Wednesday have ramped up the hysteria of terror. This was ostensibly a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun. To over-publicise and exaggerate such crimes is to be an accomplice after the act. London’s response to the Westminster attack is an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again”.

 

 

 

 

Professor Andrew Sayers, “Why we can’t afford the rich”

.

 

 

 

 

A summit to develop a new deal for self-employed workers and small businesses

  

There was an outcry when the Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled a National Insurance hike for self-employed workers in the Budget – now postponed. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.  

Self employment, often insecure, low-paid, with no access to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave

Now sometimes known as ‘the precariat’, the self-employed, often work in service industries such as fast food, for security firms on temporary, even zero-hours contracts, or in the so-called ‘gig economy’. The precariat includes many workers who used to have skilled or semi-skilled but relatively well-paid and secure jobs, under-employed graduates, often working in insecure jobs requiring a much lower education level, migrant workers, and people from ethnic minority communities.

Well-informed readers explain that – as long as the self-employed have a contribution record established – they get the standard state retirement pension and older self-employed workers attaining pension age today have, in many cases, some pension accrued as employees for a number of years of their life which the present generation will not have. Benefits the self-employed cannot access relate to holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave.

                                             Via: https://twitter.com/trishgreenhalgh/media 

Earlier this month it was reported that Labour is to convene a summit to develop a new deal for self-employed workers and small businesses to develop Labour’s policy on self-employment. – recognising “that the world of work itself is changing”. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said.

“The labour movement has risen to challenges like this in the past. It was born out of the struggle for decent pay and conditions when new technologies were ripping up existing ways of working . . . We need that same spirit and vision again. So I’ll be convening a summit next month of unions, the self-employed, and small businesses to develop Labour’s policy on self-employment”.

Some have been in the forefront, pressing for such action, including Pat Conaty, David Hookes and – for many years – Guy Standing. Pat writes: “The work of Professor Guy Standing at UCL SOAS and formerly at the ILO for 36 years on the Precariat Charter is superb”. See the links at the foot which include Standing’s 2011 Policy Network article. 

Pat Conaty, Alex Bird and Philip Ross produced the Not Alone report that Co-operatives UK and the Wales Co-operative Centre have published with Unity Trust Bank – the trade union bank. It focusses on the needs of people in self-employment who face low income and social and economic insecurity – the ‘self-employed precariat’.

The executive summary records that there are now more self-employed workers than at any time since modern records began. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.

Many of the self-employed are among the lowest-paid workers in the country; their potential income is eroded by other costs such as agency fees and additional challenges relate to difficulties in not being paid on time and not having the right to a contract.

The report calls for the ‘cousins of the labour movement’ – co-operatives, trade unions and mutual organisations – to come together and help form cohesive institutions to unite the self-employed precariat, as illustrated in the model of a ‘solidarity economy’ partnership. 

As Conaty says in correspondence: “God knows something has to be done for zero hour workers, growing ranks of exploited self-employed and those working all hours of the week in the gig economy to make ends meet”.  

Read more?

Guy Standing: http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4004&title=+The+Precariat+%E2%80%93+The+new+dangerous+class

David Hookes: http://pcwww.liv.ac.uk/~dhookes/IWFA.pdf

Pat Conaty: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/pat-conaty/not-alone-what-uk-can-learn-from-union-co-ops

 

 

 

Is the Conservative Party truly the party of the working class?

Edited extracts from an article by MP Dawn Butler, responding to a claim by Minister Liz Truss

Her message to Theresa May: you delivered a caring speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, but it is clear that it was nothing more than rhetoric and spin. The few it governs for are certainly not the working class . . .

Rents have sky-rocketed to ridiculous levels, with my constituents, in the worst cases, spending 70% of their wages on rent alone, whilst drivers on modest incomes – who need their car to get to and from work – continue to face misery at the petrol pump. In Brent, we have two very busy foodbanks and several soup and bread kitchens. This 19th century scenario is the sad reality for the working class in 21st century Britain.

Wages for the majority of people have continued to fall in real terms, whilst those at the top have seen their salaries soar

Living conditions in the UK are now at their lowest levels for 60 years, with hundreds of thousands of families relying on food parcels just to get by. Our hospitals are in crisis, hate crime has rocketed and homelessness has doubled.

And to compound the struggle, this government has been cutting services, such as money for pupils, access to justice and policing

This means that when you are being discriminated against at work, you will be less likely to be able to take your employer to court. Tribunal cases have plummeted by 70%. To the government this number represents success, but to me, these are hard-working people who have had the rug pulled from underneath them when it comes to getting proper recompense for their grievances. These are the signs of a government destroying the working conditions and protections of those who need it most.

Nearly one million people are on zero hours contracts which means, from month to month, they are in a panic to know if they can pay their rent on time or at all.

This government is openly deceiving the general public by claiming to be something they’re so clearly not. Whether you call it “alt-facts” or “fake news”, if such untruths are peddled often enough, people soon start to believe it may be true.

Conservatives have tried to force the trade union bill through parliament to silence and, ultimately, destroy trade unions. Why would they want to do this unless they wanted also to destroy the voice of the working class and important workers’ rights? How about the workers’ rights bill? The Tories wouldn’t allow a discussion in parliament of a bill which sought to protect the rights of the working class after Brexit. Features like working 48 hour weeks, holiday pay and maternity and paternity rights are all at risk due to us leaving the EU. The government appear to be running roughshod over them.

Dawn ends:

Throughout our history in power we have championed the working man and woman in establishing great working class systems, from the NHS to the minimum wage, and all equality legislation, tenets that have now become the fibre that gives our country its unity, fairness and strength. We defended SME businesses, created through a movement of working class men women and trade unions, all with a common goal of helping the many and not just the few.

 

Dawn Butler is MP for Brent Central

 

Media 76: in Sky, Business Insider and the Metro, Corbyn’s 52% approval is minimised or unreported

Readers respond to the last post Media 75:

One says that Sky mentioned this poll on Monday and a political commentator used the majority approval result to rubbish Corbyn.

Business Insider is more subtle: whilst acknowledging the correct result, it depreciates it by comparing it with a poll held twelve months ago, heading this with the reflection that party members are beginning to turn on JC.  

 

Another question was about who was polled and Business Insider gave a lead to YouGov’s agency, Election Data, who explains:

Having been responsible for the YouGov’s Labour leadership polling over the last 18 months, Election Data has asked me to shed some light on how YouGov is consistently able to accurately reflect the membership in these niche elections. Read on here. For YouGov’s Labour leadership polls, they use a number of important demographics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Social Grade
  • Region
  • Vote in the 2016 Labour leadership election
  • Membership length 

When you look at the full tables, you will note that there are significant differences amongst some of these groups; members who joined before and after Corbyn’s leadership are, for example, very different in their strength of support for Jeremy. This is why it is so important to get the relative sizes of these groups right for each of the bullet points above. If they’re wrong, the overall sample will be wrong and your results will not be accurate of the membership as a whole.

The Metro (hard copy only),scandalously does not mention the majority approval/trust rating, leading its readers to infer from Corbyn’s less favourable votes on other issues that he has completely lost the support of party members. Its headline: “Half of Labour members ‘want Corbyn to quit’ “ – but no mention of over half who trust and support him. It then goes on to speculate about possible successors. A reader’s advice:

Ask your readers to complain to the Sun or any of the other papers who have carried the false story about JC’s tax returns and ask for an apology and correction.

And flood the frankly useless IPSO (regulator which is said to ‘uphold high standards of journalism’) with complaints and see if they actually do anything or just prove themselves a total waste of time that Hacked Off always said they would be.

If any reader really needs explanations for the hostility and misrepresentations surrounding Jeremy Corbyn, emanating from vested interests, they will be summarised in the next post on this site ‘Broken Britain’.