Category Archives: Government

Abolish political parties – 1: Could 650 free MPs transform the government of Britain?

 

As we see a Clare Balding and a Greta Thunberg making a difference, consider what 650 free ‘good and true’ MPs could do?

Years ago, the late Terry Jones Welsh actor, writer, comedian (Monty Python), screenwriter, film director and historian wrote:

Party candidates have every reason – from ambition to cupidity – to act in their own interests

At present, he points out, we have to vote for the candidates the parties present us with. These candidates have every reason – from ambition to cupidity – to act in their own interests. He asked:

“How on earth would independent MPs ever get to form a government?

“How would 650 independent members ever manage to agree on a coherent set of policies or on anything?” And answers:

“Well, I would borrow a little device from our legal system. It’s called a “jury”. At the start of each parliamentary year, the 650 independent MPs would cast lots for who would be the government for that year. Say you limited the government to around 25 people: these 25 would then have to vote which of them was going to be prime minister, home secretary, foreign secretary, etc.

“Everyone I’ve ever talked to who has served on a jury tells me that it is inspiring to see how ordinary people pull together and apply themselves to make sense of the legal arguments. So why should it be any different with politicians? Especially since these are not just ordinary members of the public, but people who have enough interest in politics to actually stand for election in the first place. They would be pre-screened, as it were”.

The casting of lots for the actual members of the government would defuse the ambition of those entering parliament, since they would be unable to manoeuvre themselves into positions of power. It would be all a question of luck. And with the abolition of political parties, much of the influence of wealthy donors who fund advertising campaigns – and lobbyists to influence decision-making – would be removed.

 

 

 

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Abolish political parties – 2: Voices from Canada, America and Namibia

And a cartoon from Britain

In his Modest Proposal: abolish political parties, Robert Zaretsky Professor of Humanities at the Honors College, University of Houston, refers to Simone Weil’s writing:

“All political parties share three essential traits. They are created to generate collective passions, designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of its members and motivated to seek their own growth at the expense not just of other parties, but the nation itself”

Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist and a contributing editor to The Tye, in Party’s Over: Why We Need to Abolish Political Parties, refers to Simone Weil’s radical essay, published in 1950.

She called for the abolition of political parties, condemning the political parties that in 1940 helped to prepare the ground for France’s military defeat.

Nikiforuk reflects that when she observes that “nearly everywhere, instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against,” we recognize she is describing not just France 75 years ago, but the politicians who seem to be steering our own country to social and economic disaster in the United States today.

Computer scientist Eric (Rick) Hehner, emeritus professor at the University of Toronto writes: “A party controls its members by blackmail. If you ever want to advance within the party, to become a minister, or even just be a candidate in the next election, you must toe the party line.

“The people who advance are not those who have their own ideas and integrity; MPs are reduced to cardboard cutouts. Power is concentrated in the hands of a handful of people: the rulers of the ruling party. This is not democracy.

“Without political parties, elections and parliament and government all work perfectly well. In an election, every candidate is an independent, and is free to speak their mind. Voters choose the candidate they feel best represents them. In each new parliament, the first order of business is for MPs to elect the ministers of a government from among themselves. Those ministers then serve parliament. If the ministers (including prime minister) lose the confidence of parliament, then parliament can replace them, without triggering a general election. On each issue, an MP is free to vote as they think their constituents want them to vote, or to vote according to their conscience”.

He cites as working models Nebraska, in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut, and most city and regional governments.

A search revealed that Nebraska hasa nonpartisan legislative body’; there are no formal party alignments or groups within the Legislature. Coalitions tend to form issue by issue based on a member’s philosophy of government, geographic background and constituency (Wikipedia).

In a recent letter to the Bradenton Herald, Anna Yoakum, who is ‘affiliated with the No Party Affiliation’, writes:

“We have always been The United States of America but have now become the Divided States. This is not what or who we are.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to abolish our party system. Politics has become more divisive than rooting for our favorite sports team. We are wallowing in a mentality of us against them. Our Congress gets little done as they’re too busy opposing one another, blocking bills, instigating endless filibusters and campaigning party against party.

“Court justices would be unbiased politically, as there would be no party to be beholden to; there would be no gerrymandering; nor voter suppression nor voter intimidation nor voter fraud. Big money wouldn’t be able to buy a party, most importantly we would just be voters voting for who we feel is best.

“Without the divide of parties Congress would work together, actually accomplishing something. The House of Representatives, Senate and presidency would work as our founding fathers envisioned: “Together for the Good of America”.

Nyasha Francis Nyaungw reports in Namibia’s Observer that Angelina Immanuel (left) from Namibia, who is running as an independent candidate in the Ondangwa Urban by-election scheduled for June 15 has made a case for the abolition of the country’s political party system which she says has not worked in the last 29 years.

In her promise to the residents of Ondangwa, Immanuel argues that the current political party system has brought about corruption, maladministration, incompetence, weak leadership and sluggish development patterns.

She says the system has led to a situation where individual weaknesses, failures and capabilities are not assessed by the electorate who are told to vote for candidates just because they belong to a certain political party;

“The candidates that come from these political parties and eventually win are thus not loyal to the residents and only listen to the instructions and wishes of those running political parties in Windhoek. The residents and citizens’ concerns, no matter the amount of protests or complaints they make, are not listened to unless people in Windhoek say so.”

 

Time for change?

 

 

 

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The action of an individual can make a difference: Clare Balding

 Accomplished, versatile broadcaster Clare Balding was invited as the keynote speaker for the ADS Dinner, an annual black tie networking event, where arms company executives dine alongside senior civil servants, MPs and Ministers, who pay up to £470 a place.

Jamie Doward in the Observer adds information about ADS:

  • it represents BAE Systems, who supply parts for the Typhoon and Tornado jets that are playing a role in the Saudi-led coalition bombing of Houthi insurgents in Yemen,
  • Raytheon, whose UK-made Paveway IV bombs have been linked by Human Rights Watch to attacks on civilian infrastructure,
  • MBDA, a missile company part-owned by BAE whose Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles are being used by Saudi forces
  • and Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, whose bombs were used by Saudi forces in the destruction of a school bus in which dozens of children were killed.

As Mahathir Mohammed pointed out at a the Kuala Lumpur World Peace Conference many years ago: “The media belonging to the countries selling the arms condemn these small countries for entering into an arms race and wasting money. They never condemn the high pressure salesman or the vast sums expended in the research and production of these weapons by the rich”.

Caroline Jones describes how Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) approached Balding’s representatives urging her to rethink her decision, pointing out that in 2016 she hosted the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to help the people of Yemen and saying:

“It is clear why these companies want to be associated with positive causes, and why they want to work with respected personalities and role models. We respect and admire all of the excellent advocacy work that you do, which is why we are asking you to reconsider your attendance and cancel your speech.”

Clare decided not to attend.

And as usual (above), diners were greeted by Stop the Arms Fair activists reminding them of the role played by companies like BAE Systems in the death and oppression of people around the world, governments who support and subsidise them and the people who vote for them.

 

 

 

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Outsourcing 8: apprenticeship training 2017-2020

In 2018, the Times (paywall) reported the verdict of MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “The apprenticeship levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.

Instead it has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships. 

She noted that more companies are setting themselves up as training providers and that Ofsted says that it will struggle to keep tabs on these. The following year her report pointed out that too many apprentices were still being trained by sub-standard providers.

Around a third of apprentices covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. The poor quality of some contributed to a situation where over 30% of apprentices fail to complete their apprenticeship successfully each year.

A letter to the Times editor added: “The Learndirect scandal serves as a stark case: an organisation was allowed to take on more and more learners (reaching 75,000) when warning signs of inadequate training and poor financial management were already being issued”.

The Financial Times reminded readers that Learndirect was privatised and sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but is still reliant on government funding. When the Public Accounts Committee questioned Learndirect and Ofsted, Ofsted revealed the findings of Learndirect’s “inadequate” performance and the ‘legal shenanigans’ used to prevent earlier revelations. The findings included:

The National Audit office’s 2019 report focussed on the cost of apprenticeships and the low rate of uptake. In its first full year of operation, the apprenticeship levy raised £2.7 billion and this is expected to rise to £3.4 billion by 2023-24. However, there have been repeated warnings in recent months that the funding pot generated by the levy is about to run out

Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on an Education and Skills (EDSK) report, based on official data, which has investigated what is happening with the apprenticeship levy and the apprenticeship system in England more broadly. 

It found that 50% of apprenticeships funded by the levy are ‘fake’, citing figures which relate closely to those reported by the Public Accounts Committee, recorded in the FT box above:

  • Some £1.2bn of the £2.4bn money raised since the levy was introduced in April 2017 had been spent on “fake” apprenticeships, rebadged MBA courses and low-skilled jobs training,
  • £550m of levy funding had been spent on management training courses for experienced employees, which previously would have been funded from professional development budgets.
  • Highly qualified academics, many of whom already have PhDs, had been relabelled as apprentices in order to put them through levy-funded professional development courses.
  • And £235m had been used to teach people in low-skilled jobs, including working at a shop checkout or serving in a bar, often requiring minimal training, which pay low wages and do not meet any established definition of an apprentice.

Last July Boris Johnson said that, while he will always “defend and extol the advantages of having a degree, there are far too many young people who leave university with huge debts, and no clear sense of how their academic qualification has helped their career.” He has pledged to “elevate practical and technical qualifications” to “recognise their immense value to society and to the individual” and to raise funding for apprenticeships.

As – regrettably – Learndirect has re-emerged in the apprenticeship sector under a new name: Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd., EDSK reflects that government pays private providers taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but can fail to monitor the results or truly penalise those that do not deliver. It recommends the Department for Education to tighten rules to stop financing of rebadged MBAs and low-skilled training and introduce a new definition of apprenticeship, benchmarked against the world’s best technical education systems.

 

 

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Baron McNicol in the FT: ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’

On Saturday, Iain McNicol’s article ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’ was published in the Financial Times

As a post Corbyn entrant to the Labour Party I had only dimly heard of McNicol, so read around and discovered that he had been general secretary of the Labour party from 2011 to 2018 and now sits in the House of Lords. Then came a disturbing account of his wrecking tactics in his Wikipedia entry, condensed in The Jacobin by Daniel Finn:

“The party leadership has put a lot of effort into revamping Labour’s disciplinary processes so that real cases of antisemitism can be dealt with more quickly. Much of this work has been done since Jennie Formby took over as Labour’s general secretary in April 2018, replacing Iain McNicol, who was bitterly hostile to Corbyn. Some of the party officials who departed with McNicol had been slowing down the handling of cases, whether through incompetence or malice, knowing that Corbyn’s team would get the blame from the British media”.

No physiognomist needed

Finn described MacNicol as being one of the influential political players from Labour’s right-wing, anti-Corbyn faction which has a negligible organisational base in the party and unions but is closely linked to supportive media outlets. This faction is composed of Blairites and some MPs from the 2010 intake who believed themselves to be contenders for the party leadership once the Corbyn project collapsed.

MacNicol’s theme: “Clause One of the Labour party rule book states that the party’s purpose is to ‘promote the election of Labour party representatives at all levels of the democratic process’. It does not state that its function is to be a radical protest party. The fight is now on for Labour’s soul and the future”.

After taking credit for 2017’s ‘professionally-run campaign with strategic goals, a cutting edge social media campaign’ he refers to ‘a freshness that appealed to a broad coalition, including many hard-to-reach voters’.

This freshness was actually due to the surprise appearance of an honest and caring politician, the first in many decades.

Corbyn’s spectacular insurgent campaigns stand as vivid demonstrations that, as he said upon taking leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015, “things can, and they will, change.” Corbyn’s ease on the campaign trail and assured performances on TV transformed perceptions. He became Labour’s great asset (Alex Nunns)

MacNicol continued: “What did Labour offer? Everything to everyone and that was the problem . . . Corbynism has been an abject failure. We need a strong leader to reignite the party and connect with voters”.

Quickly disposing of Rebecca Long-Bailey: “If elected, she would kill any chance of Labour improving its electoral prospects” he moved on to focus on Keir Starmer, attracting the bulk of the support from MPs, the backing of Unison, the largest trade union and appointing a campaign team drawn from both left and right of the party

Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – ‘capable of driving the transition Labour needs- – are likely to gain the necessary support to have their names on the ballot paper.

He ends, “A renewed Labour party, with a strong leader, could win the 123 seats needed to secure a majority . . . on April 4 take steps honour the promise of Clause One and move back to bidding for power or remain a party of protest.

So must the party resurrect New Labour? Will Corbynism and the bid for truth, peace and justice, end with Corbyn?

 

 

 

 

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Reversing decades of neglect: government-commissioned report on upskilling and reskilling adults in the workforce

Dr Philip Augar (below right), chair of the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, was commissioned by the May government in February 2018 to improve the availability of technical and vocational education by providing alternatives to university education.

Dr Augar opens his report by pointing out that the review is the first since the Robbins report in 1963 to consider both parts of tertiary education together:

Prime Minister Harold Wilson – in the ‘60s and ‘70s – supported tertiary education by supporting the setting up of the Open University, channelling funds into local-authority run colleges of education and creating extra places in universities, polytechnics and technical colleges.

Since then, Augar points out, no government of any persuasion has considered further education to be a priority.

The consequence has been decades of neglect and a loss of status and prestige amongst learners, employers and the public at large.

He sees the review as a unique opportunity to deliver an objective assessment of the current situation, to articulate the country’s future needs from tertiary Introduction education, and to propose remedies that are practical and realistic in addressing the issues it has identified:

“It is an opportunity to consider the roles both should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers”.

The review asks whether the changing pattern of public subsidy is strategically desirable

It points out that the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the public subsidy amounts to about £30,000 per student for those studying Arts and Humanities and as much as £37,000 for those taking courses in the Creative Arts. The equivalent is £28,000 for Engineering students and £24,000 for those studying Maths and Computer Science.

And Figure 3.11 (based on HMRC data) also shows that the government’s investment in providing Engineering degrees has fallen by about £9,000 per student since 2011, but risen by more than £6,000 for Creative Arts degrees – over 30% more per student for Creative Arts than it does for Engineering.

After describing post-18 (or ‘tertiary’) education in England as a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50% of young people who participate in higher education (HE) or the rest, Philip Augar continues:

“The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large.”

In a changing labour market it is vitally important to offer upskilling and reskilling to older adults in the workforce with basic or intermediate skills and an FT editorial adds a reference to the “knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.

At present the decline in vocational education is widespread and protracted. Most of the neglected 50% of the 18-30-year-old population who do not go to university, and older non-graduates are at work and, if they are educated at all after the age of 18, are educated mainly in further education colleges where teachers are paid on average less than their counterparts in schools:

“Funding levels are inadequate to cover essential maintenance or to provide modern facilities, and funding flows are complex to navigate. Not surprisingly, the sector is demoralised, has little to spend on mission groups and is consequently under-reported in the media and under-represented in Westminster”.

The FT editorial board welcomes the recommendation to expand the tuition fee loan system to all adults made by Augar, whom they describe as a businessman and historian.

It points out that increasing numbers are attending university, in sharp contrast to the UK’s vocational education system, which has seen funding cut by 45% in real terms since 2010 and agrees:

  • The Treasury should make up the funding shortfall in grants for science and technology courses, which receive less taxpayer funding despite wider benefits and that
  • more resources will be needed to fund opportunities for lifelong learning and training.

Its conclusion: “Creating a system in which all contribute and all benefit is essential. would be good both for the economy and to promote a fairer society . . . with knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.

 

 

 

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Will the government stop recruiting adolescents to the armed forces?

David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, has drawn attention to a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.

The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.

This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.

Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.” 

Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.

Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.

A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits

In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:

“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.

It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.

 

 

 

 

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Disabled people and their doctors: the government flexes its muscles

It was noted after the election that many will be dreading any further impact the money-takers will have on the lives of the vulnerable – and the first ‘welfare’ action taken by the Johnson government has not been reassuring.

On Monday 16th it was reported that the government’s Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) can now send letters to doctors telling them not to sign patients’ sick notes if they have been found “fit for work” by the work capability assessments.

Linda Burnip, who founded the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said that the change was what “disabled people were dreading before the election”.

She also added: “To some extent, doctors might as well not exist any more in relation to benefit claims because they are totally ignored . . . You have someone who has seven or eight years’ training and their opinion counts for nothing . . .”

Undermining the GP’s role

An article in the medical magazine Pulse, How the benefits clampdown is undermining the GP’s role, reports GPs’ accounts of their patients being refused welfare benefits, counter to the GPs’ opinion that they were unable to work. Later 68% of employment support allowance claimants assessed as fit for work later had the decision overturned on appeal.

Official figures relating to Personal Independence Payments, which slipped out hours after the election result on Friday, illustrate the record of the former Conservative government. They include findings that:

  • 46% of all those who have moved from old system DLA to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) lost out financially.
  • More than 650,000 people on disability benefits had their payments cut or stopped totally after moving to a new system.

Other figures were highlighted by journalist and campaigner Alex Tiffin

 

Alex is just one of an army of observers who are concerned about the deprivation and the repeated harassment of those least able to cope with added stress and loss of income.

 

 

 

 

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Was ATOS – to some extent – the ‘fall guy’ for the government’s DWP?

John Pring on 5th December 2019 in Disability News Service reports official records have revealed that a company paid to assess disabled people’s fitness for work was put under “immense pressure” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work disability benefits,

An ATOS doctor made it clear that DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find his patient ineligible for disability benefits

The claim was substantiated in a document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work. It was contained in evidence provided to the General Medical Council (GMC) nearly three years ago when it was investigating complaints about Dr Fathy Awad Sherif, the orthopaedic surgeon who carried out the face-to-face assessment of Michael O’Sullivan in March 2013

The doctor’s representatives told GMC investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on ATOS disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”

A coroner who blamed failings in the notorious work capability assessment system for his death, wrote to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths. Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA – 80 named here.

 

 

 

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Will turkeys vote for austerity, exploitation, climate disaster and profits for the few?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The revolving door between government & big business

Yesterday’s headlines review of ONS report: 2008-2019, richest 10% enjoy biggest gains in household wealth

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEIR CHOICE

 

 

 

 

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