Category Archives: MPs

A progressive alliance with progressive policies

Christine Parkinson has drawn attention to an article in the Guardian, in which MPs Clive Lewis and Caroline Lucas  express a profound sense of frustration and dismay about the Conservative victories won by narrow margins in places such as St Ives, Richmond Park and Hastings. They pointed out that if every progressive voter had placed their X tactically, Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister with a majority of over 100.

Highlights from their article

The regressive alliance we see forming before our eyes between the Conservatives and the DUP can only be fully countered by a progressive alliance on the opposition benches and if we work together there is nothing progressives can’t achieve. The limits of the old politics are there for everyone to see – the limitlessness of the new we are just starting to explore.

More than 40 electoral alliances, in which people across parties cooperated on tickets including support for proportional representation and the common goal of preventing Conservative candidates winning, were pulled together quickly for the snap election. People from different parties worked together to ‘do politics differently’ and there was a sense that politics has become hopeful and positive again.

We shouldn’t forget the challenges we face:

  • markets that are too free,
  • a state that can be too remote,
  • a democracy that still leaves so many voices unheard
  • and change on a scale our people and our planet can’t cope with.

It is going to take a politics that is social, liberal and green to overcome these challenges. No single party or movement has all the answers. We are going to have to learn to cooperate as well as compete to build the society of which we dream. And we are going to have to recognise that the future is not a two-party system but one in which smaller parties grow – both in influence and in their electoral representation.

Colin Hines adds detail: also advocating a progressive alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens he says that they will need to get their ‘policy ducks in a row’ to win it. He continues:“Firstly, these must provide hope, not just for the young, but for every community in the country.

“To do this Jeremy Corbyn must revisit and vigorously shake his people’s QE “money tree”. This could pay for real economic activity on the ground via decentralised infrastructure projects to make the nation’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, ensure a shift to localised renewable energy, and the building of local transport systems.

“Secondly, the divide between young and old must be bridged by policies fostering intergenerational solidarity. Older people with significant saving should be offered “housing bonds”, paying, say, 3% interest to help fund a massive council and affordable homes programme.Tuition fees would be scrapped, but so too must be the threat of having to lose a home to pay for care, or having to scrabble for means-tested benefits such as heating allowances.

“Financed by progressive and fairer wealth and income taxes, and a clampdown on tax dodging, this should have an election-winning appeal to the majority of grandparents, parents and their young relatives”.

 

 

 

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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”.

 

 

 

 

Trumpton and Mayhem 2*: Trump – like May – takes care of the rich, not the rust belt

In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.

He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph) 

In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:

“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters

“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.

“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.

“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.

She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:

  • America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
  • Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
  • The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
  • Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
  • Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
  • The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
  • Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
  • His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%

This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected

Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.

Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory

Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:

“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.

Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.

 

*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.

 

 

 

 

Media 74: MSM wades in – hours after Corbyn’s reception at NHS rally

nhs-demo

Saturday 4th March

The BBC reported that Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to provide more funding for the health service in next week’s Budget. Speaking to the protesters in Parliament Square, he said: “The NHS is in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.”

The protest organisers say the government’s proposed Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) across the NHS in England are a “smokescreen for further cuts” and the “latest instruments of privatisation”. These proposals involve the complete closure of some hospitals and the centralising of some services such as A&E and stroke care on fewer sites.

Deputy chairman of the British Medical Association council Dr David Wrigley said the march was “a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS” which was “in such a desperate situation. We need to highlight it. As a doctor I see day to day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the government”.

Saturday 4th March: at 6pm

The Independent featured Ben Bradshaw (former minister) praising Blair and blaming Corbyn’s leadership – ‘the one issue on the doorstep’

Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)

Nine prominent Labour MPs are reported in the Daily Mail to have complained ‘that they are heading for oblivion’ ( a little earlier a tweet on OurNHS explained why):

nhs-jmd“Unlike other politicians who spend weekends with corporate lobbyists &wealthy donors, John McDonnell is out on the street 4 the #OurNHS demo”

Sunday 5th March 4am

The Sunday Express: Corbyn in crisis – and no doubt more will come

Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)

The Daily Mail usefully quotes Ken Loach explaining why these particular MPs are disgruntled: “It was their Labour Party, not Corbyn’s, that lost Scotland, lost two elections and has seen Labour’s vote shrink inexorably. Yet they retain a sense of entitlement to lead.”

Strangest of all, the Times and FT (online editions) decide not to mention the demonstration.

The Times online did not carry its usual daily onslaught on Corbyn and the Financial Times online which regularly publishes biassed articles about JC – often by Jim Pickard – has no reference, merely a bland, skimpy article by David Laws: “UK reaches socially acceptable limits of austerity . . . the NHS needs a settlement which allows for rising demand and an ageing population”.

Their carefully selected and daily shown photographs and cartoons of the Labour Party leader are not to be seen? What does this mean?

 

 

 

Admirable politicians 8 & 9:  Barry Gardiner and Angela Rayner

Steve Beauchampé sends a welcome lead, enabling Labour MP Barry Gardiner to be added to Political Concern’s ‘Admirable politician’ category – the first since May 2014, when MEP Molly Scott Cato was featured as the 7th.

Steve’s link to a Sunday interview on Sky News was accompanied by the comments that “(Gardiner) handles the interview with ease, batting away her questions. I increasingly find him arguably the most impressive member of the Shadow Cabinet”.

pcu-gardiner

As Shadow Secretary for International Trade, Barry Gardiner spoke to Sophy Ridge on her Sunday politics programme about Labour’s difficult week following the Party’s Copeland by-election loss.

barry-gardinerCalmly and with authority, he discussed the nuclear issues affecting the Copeland vote and Jeremy Corbyn’s misrepresented position on nuclear power.

He spoke compellingly on Labour’s forcefully expressed parliamentary concerns about new proposals for business rates, funding formulas and disability benefits – later moving on to analyse the divisive effect of Brexit.

This positive news brought to mind that a few hours earlier, listening to the Sunday repeat of Question Time, Labour’s shadow minister for education Angela Rayner was outstanding. She becomes the 9th admirable politician.

She had all the relevant facts at her fingertips and was able to present them in a way which confounded Conservative minister Justine Greening – no mean feat.

The Telegraph reports that some of her Conservative opponents have asked whether she has the qualifications to fulfil her responsibilities as shadow education secretary. “I may not have a degree – but I have a Masters in real life,” she replied.

angela-raynerAngela grew up on a Stockport council estate, brought up by a mother who couldn’t read or write.

Her life was, she has said, heading in the wrong direction until: “Labour’s Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the support we needed to grow and develop”.

And without the NHS, she proclaims, her son Charlie, who was born prematurely, would not be alive today.

Barry and Angela are some of Jeremy Corbyn’s most able colleagues – towers of strength.

New readers: a search will reveal that in order of date, starting with MEP Molly Scott Cato in 2014, the other admirable politicians featured were John Hemming, Andrew George, Margaret Hodge, Tony Benn, Salma Yacoob and Irish senator David Norris.

 

 

 

Government cuts for disabled people escalate

The recent by-elections gave cover for the latest government announcement of emergency legislation inflicting further cuts on disabled people – ‘a good day to bury bad news’.

Two tribunals had ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which helps disabled people fund their living costs.

  • One ruling found that someone who needed support at home to take medication or monitor a health condition like diabetes would score the same on the benefits criteria as people who needed help with a demanding procedure such as kidney dialysis.
  • A second ruling said people who struggled to travel independently because of conditions such as anxiety scored the same as someone who was, for example, blind.

Ministers then swiftly revised the law to deny the increased benefit payments to more than 150,000 people.

super-rich-bailout

A Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman said it was outrageous that the government was using the ruling to make matters worse for disabled people: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of [Thursday’s] by-elections.”

From April, it is reported that new claimants will see a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Liz Sayce from Disability Rights UK said: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”

Unfortunately this logic, and a host of scathing comments seen in the Metro won’t pierce the thick skins of affluent legislators and further deprivation will hit the least fortunate in many sectors.

 

 

 

Media 69: 2016- 2017, good years for burying bad news?

 david-hencke-2As journalist David Hencke reminds us:

“One of the oldest tricks in the Whitehall playbook is to use a major event as cover to publish unpalatable or embarrassing news.

“It means the media are diverted by the event and don’t notice the announcement or report”.

In his recent post Hencke noted that the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury use of the US elections to hide two bad news stories.

On the day before Trump‘s victory, the Ministry of Defence slipped in a very embarrassing announcement about war veterans pensions and disability payments (£438,193,000 in the Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation scheme) for which the Treasury had apparently not budgeted, commenting: “As a result they will have to raid the contingency reserve for emergency payments to make sure these veterans have the money”.

niaNia Griffith, the shadow Defence Secretary has warned the government that military veterans must be given an urgent reassurance that they will not lose money.

On ‘results day’, the National Audit Office’s less than glowing report on the new Defence Equipment and Support agency was released to the media. Though the agency was set up to address MoD cost overruns on equipment, bad spending decisions and lack of control, the NAO has qualified its accounts and made profound and widely based criticisms of its performance

On the day of publication, few noticed that Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, reported: “The DE&S has again been unable to provide sufficient evidence to support certain costs, or demonstrate that all costs it has incurred have been included in the financial statements. The C&AG has therefore limited the scope of his audit opinion . . . I believe this situation has arisen because the Agency’s financial management systems, processes and controls for these transactions and balances are not yet sufficiently well developed to meet the Agency’s needs.”

anne-marie-mpHencke also reports that Anne Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick on Tweed and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “At a time when we are seeing a lot of change in the Ministry of Defence, causing a great deal of anxiety for those who are serving, it is very disappointing to see Defence Equipment & Support has not got to grips with financial management”.

 

 

See also Hencke’s news article for Tribune magazine.

Report: Dubai lawyer to sue Blair over war crimes in Iraq – and why not Bush, the leading partner?

Investigative journalist Felicity Arbuthnot today sent a link to an article in the Gulf News, reporting that a Dubai-Cairo-London based law firm, headed by advocate Nasser Hashem, intends to take legal action against former British prime minister Tony Blair, seeking his prosecution for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Read an earlier statement of intention on their website.

blair-iraqThis decision was made following the publication of Chilcot’s report on the Iraq war in July in which it was found that Saddam Hussain did not pose an urgent threat to British interests and that the intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty.

Also, the report said UK and the US had undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council. Hashem explained:

“We are taking this legal procedure against Blair since he took the decision [in his capacity as the British prime minister then] to participate with the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without the permission of the UK’s House of Commons.

statue-liberty-covers-eyes“He produced unreasonable, bogus and wrong information to the House of Commons, according to the Chilcot report, and based on that information, the UK participated in that war.”

Hashem said Blair also falsely told the House of Commons that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons before the war was launched against Iraq. 

He added: “Thousands of Iraqis were killed, injured, displaced and/or shattered. Blair committed war crimes against the people of Iraq and violated human rights. He should be taken to court for the crimes he committed”.

This is a dreadful ordeal for the former British Prime Minister to face, but it pales into insignificance when compared with the sufferings of thousands of Iraqi people. And if it can make political leaders realise that military interventions are always both barbaric and futile Blair’s suffering will have served the world well.

 

 

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn: The PM’s most influential adviser on the political economy

On 14th July a Moseley reader emailed to say “Theresa May’s speech yesterday sounded more left wing than your mate JC!”

theresa May

My reply was a one year snapshot of her actions in office which belied this humanitarian stance, published earlier on this site:

  • In 2010 she suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
  • On 4 August 2010 it was reported that May was scrapping the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
  • This was followed on 6 August 2010 by the closure of the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbiéchild abuse scandal.

“Rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.

This is another of Ms May’s Corbyn-like soundbites made shortly after Corbyn’s description of what he saw as the difference between the  Conservative and Labour offerings, in the form of a question:

bbc kuenssberg 1 

“Do you want to be bargain-basement Britain on the edge of Europe, cutting corporate taxation, having very low wages, having grotesque inequalities of wealth? Or do you want to be a high-wage, high-investment economy that actually does provide decent chances and opportunities for all?”

We read that Theresa May has launched a cabinet committee on the economy and industrial strategy, which she is to chair; it will bring together the heads of more than ten departments and focus on “rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.

Is Corbyn the most powerful, though least acknowledged of Theresa May’s advisers on the political economy?

If only she would heed him on nuclear and foreign policy issues.