Category Archives: Politics

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.

 

 

 

 

Sharma and the Agri-Brigade: bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers

In England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that, in India, agricultural universities, research institutes, public sector units, and other organisations also frequently gather to talk about ways to improve farmers’ income.

india-seminar

He comments sardonically that while the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers increasingly sink into a cycle of deprivation.

As he points out, in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – we add that in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers.

The British farming press is now pointing out that large numbers of the UK’s 86,000+ family farmers are facing a threat from the government’s new universal credit (UC). If administered as currently designed, it will have a devastating impact on many of the UK’s most economically vulnerable family farms.

Universal credit will be ‘rolled out’ regionally by the DWP to cover the whole of UK by 2022 – calculated on monthly rather than annual income and it will assume that farmers have a “minimum income floor” which assumes that all applicants earn a wage equivalent to the national minimum wage of about £230 a week which is not the case. Private Eye (The Agri Brigade column) comments:

“None of this is remotely appropriate for farmers, and it shows the folly of trying to introduce a single universal form of income support for all.

On many family farms, where one or two people may work up to 250 acres, there is often no income for up to 10 or even 1 I months in a typical trading year. The sale of a crop of lambs, cattle or grain (or receipt of an EU subsidy) means revenue is raised in just one or two months of the year so the DWP’s assumption of a “basic income floor” each month doesn’t apply. There are also fears that receipts by claimants that rake their income above the basic floor in some months will disrupt entitlement to UC in subsequent months. (And farming losses in some months cannot be offset against a profit in others)”

Shades of the I, Daniel Blake experience:

When the UC administered by the DWP comes into force, skilled hard-working farmers will have to visit unfamiliar Job Centres to register for the benefit. ln addition. They will have to undergo face-to-face interviews over their eligibility for UC and be allocated a work coach to advise them on how to improve their access to better paid employment. Given the difficulties it seems certain many family farms currently claiming tax credits (administered by HMRC) will not apply for universal credit despite their poverty.

An unworkable system

Farming UK reports that a spokesman for the Ulster Farmers Union said: “UC makes it impossible to use prospective incomes or losses, which is often what farmers depend on. The fact that farming is seasonal where there will be long periods of time when a farmer will make a loss in expectation of more profitable times at some other stage during the year. In addition, having to do monthly real-time accounts is an extra burden upon farmers, in an already hard-pressed industry, and to hire someone to prepare these accounts would be an extra expense”.

As the title has it:bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers”.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Some Times readers set the latest anti-Corbyn propaganda in context

 

Not for the first time, the Murdoch Times made a ‘throwaway remark’ into a headline ‘soundbite’. It centred on a passing reflection by David Miliband, a former foreign secretary in the Blair government, made in an interview in the Times.

miliband-clinton

Widely reported to be a great friend of the Clintons

Peter Burgess asks a pertinent question: “Why on earth do you think that the likes of Murdoch preferred him and Blair rather than the likes of Benn or Major? Of course the establishment and in particular people like Murdoch want Miliband Snr as Labour leader, just as they wanted Blair rather than Foot or a Tory like Major. They knew how to control him”.

Miliband said that the Labour party is now weaker than in the 1980s and must face up to the “historic nature” of the challenge ahead.

Hem Laljee refers to this as “the fallout from the New Labour. Its founder is still loitering in our midst and giving advice. New Labour was the different garb of the Conservative The working class have been left rudderless which reflected in their votes for the Brexit”. 

David Miliband’s main theme was his own well-rewarded work for the USA’s International Rescue Committee. Asked about his future leadership intentions, he added: “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s hard to see, but what’s the point of saying never?”

Radlon comments: “Rather standing his ground to save the Labour Party . . . he scarpered off to a well-paid US job. How would Labour’s traditional voters, not to mention the Dave Spart wing of the party, view this rich kid parachuting into the leadership of the party from 3000 miles away?2

Mr Corbyn said: “I was elected to lead this party. We will continue our campaigning work on the NHS, on social care, on housing.”

Another comment was that the political-corporate-media establishment must secretly think that Corbyn has quite a good chance of electoral success, despite their rhetoric, because they are spending so much time and devoting such great efforts to discredit him and his supporters.

 

 

 

 

 

Petition to UK Government and Parliament:

To make votes matter, adopt Proportional Representation for UK General Elections 

The vast majority wants PR. Our FPTP voting system makes Parliament unrepresentative. One party got 37% of the vote and 51% of seats, while 3 parties got 24% of the vote but share 1.5% of seats. FPTP violates the democratic principle of majority rule and causes problems like costly policy reversals.

Sign this petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/168657

80,367 signatures

Show on a map

Government responded 

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a robust method of electing MPs. A referendum on changing the voting system was held in 2011 and the public voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the FPTP system.

Read the response in full here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/168657

At 100,000 signatures… 

At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament

Share this petition by email or:

 

 

 

Eva Amsen adds to the apprehensions of many readers who have friends or relatives living and working in Britain as EU citizens

brits-in-euNote also that David Gray solicitors reminds us there are large numbers of Britons working and running businesses in EU states.

Recent estimates by the UK government are that around 2.2 million British citizens live in other EU countries.

EU states could also impose visa restrictions upon British nationals.

 Her account of the situation is summarised here (Ed: preamble and graphic added):

Misconception 1: Any Europeans who are already living in the UK will be able to stay

We have been trying to get the government to make exactly this promise, which a lot of people take as a given, but they have not done so. They’re waiting for all other EU countries to make a similar promise for UK residents abroad. Both Europeans in the UK and British citizens in EU countries are being used as bargaining chips. If you see anI’m not a bargaining chip image on social media, that’s what this is about. The insecurity about the future status of EU residents in the UK is already causing people to leave, creating labour shortages.

Misconception 2: If you’re a skilled worker with degrees, you can definitely stay

There is an immigration route into the UK for skilled workers from outside of the EU (and you might, for example, have American friends who moved here via that process) but this immigration pathway is NOT currently available for Europeans to use. There is only one immigration pathway for all Europeans regardless of degrees or jobs, and the system is malfunctioning (more on that below).The immigration requirements are actually extra hard for scientists and other academics, who can get disqualified either because they didn’t have the right insurance during their full-time PhD . . .

Misconception 3: If you have strong ties to the UK, like a British spouse or children, you can definitely stay

Ironically, some of the people who have lived here the longest — who did their degree here and/or raised kids here — are now told they might not be able to stay. Having a British spouse or British children is entirely irrelevant for the immigration procedure for Europeans in the UK. You can only apply to become a permanent resident if you have “exercised treaty rights” for five years in the UK. That either means that you have worked during that period, and paid national insurance contributions via your employment, or that you had your own “comprehensive sickness insurance” during the years you were not employed.Until people started looking into immigration after the referendum last summer, most EU citizens in the UK had no idea that they were supposed to have had this kind of insurance. Nobody ever told them. Nobody ever asked for it. Nobody ever checked. Until now. In particular students and stay-at-home parents are affected by this insurance requirement. Many people who have been married to a Brit for decades are now being told that they are not qualified to become a permanent resident of the UK. A British spouse cannot be a “sponsor” for their immigration application.So, ironically, some of the people who have lived here the longest — who did their degree here and/or raised kids here — are now told they might not be able to stay.

Misconception 4: Okay, I think I get it: If you worked continuously in the UK for at least five years, you will definitely be allowed to stay

Well….maybe. This is currently the most likely guarantee, but there are snags in the system. First of all, we don’t know for certain that permanent resident status achieved on the basis of fulfilling EU treaty requirements will indeed remain valid after Brexit. That’s again something we would like the government to confirm. Many people are applying anyway, because it’s the only immigration route we qualify for, and the non-EU route (which we might have to use in the future) is twenty times as expensive. Second, the evidence required to prove that you have indeed fulfilled all the requirements to be here legally is enormous and elaborate. Do you still have all your old payslips? I didn’t, and I have now had to go back to two previous employers to request them (and a letter) to be able to complete the employment evidence section of my application. if you thought you were being environmentally friendly with paperless billing and electronic bank statements, that is a huge disadvantage.Employment evidence alone is not enough. To prove that you lived in the UK continuously, you also need things like old utility bills or other pieces of official mail sent to your address throughout the years. Electronic documents do not count, so if you thought you were being environmentally friendly with paperless billing and electronic bank statements, that is a HUGE disadvantage when you need to prove that you lived in the country all this time. And if you were living with housemates or a partner, you better have been the person the bills were addressed to! Finally, the Home Office wants to see proof that you were an EU citizen during the five year qualifying period, so if you renewed your passport recently you will need to still have the old one. Many embassies keep the old passport when they give you a new one, so this also a challenge for a lot of people!

Misconception 5: UK citizens in other EU countries are having similar problems.

They are not! Each country sets their own immigration procedures, and the Members of European Parliament that looked into the situation have not found evidence that the procedures for UK residents to settle in other EU countries have been as challenging.The permanent resident application system has lots of bugs in it. One commonly encountered issue is that someone who used to receive child benefits in the past, but doesn’t anymore, is technically unable to fill in the online application form. When they follow the steps in the online application, the thread of questioning brings them to a dead end where it is impossible to answer that they don’t currently receive any benefits.

It’s a weird, broken, application process and it needs to be fixed.

Eva ends: I will be visiting parliament on February 20 as part of a mass lobby for EU residents rights in the UK. We are mainly pushing for the government to make a firm statement about our status, i.e. to make it official that everyone who was already here can stay. This has been hinted at, but is not yet certain. (See “misconception 1” above). Everyone will try to speak to their MP about their own experience. Even if you can’t be there in person, anyone in the UK can contact their own MP to ask them to push for clarity and security for EU residents in the country. If I manage to get to talk to my MP, I want to focus in particular on the challenges that academics/researchers face with the current application system (see “misconception 2” above)

There is a petition asking for a reform of the permanent resident application, which addresses some of the same issues I described above.

Eva Amsen: Writer, science communicator, musician. I’m a biochemist by training, but now I work with scientists rather than as one.

 

 

 

Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?

theresa-may-conf

Martin Wolf (FT) reminds 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 continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.

The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility

david-willettsHowever, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)

Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.

Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT): 

As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.

Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.

Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give

The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.

Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.

Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young

Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:

“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.

A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.

aegon-pensions

The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).

A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.

Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:

“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.

But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.

 99-3

In other words: a roused public might rock

the corporate/political boat.

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Monbiot: a ‘dark money network’ is taking power on both sides of the Atlantic

Is that news to anyone?

flagThis site and others have been focussing on this appalling phenomenon corrupting governance for years, so much so that corruption of politicians and supporting media is no longer shocking: it is the norm.

As such, frequent news of revolving doors and rewards for failure has been under-reported on this site of late – despite many significant leads from regular readers – because these items just repeat our view of the state of the nation.

However the ever-eloquent George Monbiot is more persistent

george-monbiot-3He explains: “Dark money is the term used in the US for the undisclosed funding of organisations involved in political advocacy. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. To advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf”.

Though corporate America was horrified by some of Donald Trump’s positions, especially on trade, once he had secured the nomination, big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.

Monbiot continues: “Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network that some American corporations had already developed was perfectly positioned to shape it”.

He looks into the historical background:

statue-liberty-covers-eyes“Soon after the Second World War, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who founded and fund them.

“These are the organisations now running much of the Trump administration”.

He then relates the story of MP Liam Fox

In 1997, Liam Fox founded an organisation called The Atlantic Bridge. Its patron was Margaret Thatcher. On its advisory council sat the future cabinet ministers Michael Gove, George Osborne, William Hague and Chris Grayling. Fox, who became a leading campaigner for Brexit, described the mission of The Atlantic Bridge as “to bring people together who have common interests”. It would defend these interests from “European integrationists who would like to pull Britain away from its relationship with the United States”. The Atlantic Bridge (link no longer informative) was later registered as a charity –  only after it collapsed did the full story of who had funded it emerge.

atlantic-bridge

Read the tedious and depressing details in the Guardian or on this site here.

liam_fox_1246914cHow did Fox achieve this position, after the scandal that brought him down six years ago? Monbiot explains: “The man who ran the UK branch of The Atlantic Bridge was his friend Adam Werrity, who  . . . carried a business card naming him as Fox’s adviser but was never employed by the Ministry of Defence, joined the secretary of state on numerous ministerial visits overseas, and made frequent visits to Fox’s office”.

The Charity Commission investigated The Atlantic Bridge and determined that its work didn’t look very charitable. It had to pay back the tax from which it had been exempted (Hintze picked up the bill) and the trustees shut the organisation down. Monbiot continues; “As the story about Adam Werrity’s unauthorised involvement in the business of government began to grow, Fox made a number of misleading statements. He was left with no choice but to resign”.

As the Financial Times reported, the election of Donald Trump transformed the fortunes of Liam Fox: he is back on the front bench, with a crucial and sensitive portfolio – Secretary of State for International Trade – an indispensable member of Theresa May’s front bench team: “The shadow diplomatic mission he developed through The Atlantic Bridge plugs him straight into the Trump administration”.

Taking back control from Europe means closer integration with the US

president-rooseveltMonbiot adds that European laws protecting the public interest were portrayed by Conservative Eurosceptics as intolerable intrusions on corporate freedom and the transatlantic ‘special relationship’ is a relationship between political and corporate power. He ends with the following warning, sent by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to the US Congress:

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism”.

Monbiot adds “It is a warning we would do well to remember”.

 

 

Closer to home: spotlight on combined authorities and elected mayors – democratise!

A reader brought to our attention the recent article on transport by Richard Hatcher. Before we focus on this, we set it in the context of his reflections on combined authorities for thoughtful people in the seven CAs already established and a further seven proposed – read in detail here

Why government – and employers – want a directly-elected mayor

A directly-elected mayor is a presidential form of local government, accountable only in direct elections every four years with no right of removal.  It means the government can deal with a single leader and one not tied to local political parties as a council leader is – an arrangement that suits the private sector too. Directly-elected mayors offer the possibility of a Tory mayor, or at least an independent, being elected in Labour-dominated urban areas. And they are ideally suited to the media’s fondness for reducing politics to personalities.

Democratise the Combined Authorities: London has an elected Assembly – why not the West Midlands?

 

batc

 

Richard Hatcher points out on BATC’s website that there is a precedent, the scrutiny arrangements in London: “There ongoing public accountability of the directly elected mayor and the Greater London Authority is ensured by a directly elected London Assembly.  The London Assembly has 25 elected members. They are not just existing councillors drafted onto a Scrutiny Committee, they are elected by citizens who vote for them specifically because they are going to fight for their interests. And they aren’t just reactive to policy, they act as champions for Londoners proactively investigating concerns through not just one but 15 issue-based committees and raising their findings and their policy demands with the Mayor and with the government itself”.

The Constitution of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) does not exclude the option of an elected Assembly, Hatcher asks “If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?”. Three principles are laid down and seven positive steps – read on here.

Scrutiny?

His article written earlier this month describes the WMCA Scrutiny Committee as being ‘seriously incapable’ of carrying out that responsibility: “The Scrutiny Committee only has 12 councillor members. It is scheduled to have only four meetings during the year, for two hours each.  It is inconceivable that the Committee can engage with the huge range of activities of the WMCA, select issues to scrutinise and carry out a serious process of scrutiny in that time. (Each set of documentation for the monthly CA Board meetings typically amounts to a hundred pages or more, let alone those from the other dozen or more committees.)”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

The Scrutiny Committee allocates 3 places to representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the employer-led bodies representing business interests. Hatcher comments: “This is an extraordinary decision which seems unique among Combined Authorities”. For example, there are no LEP representatives on the Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny Committee. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into devolution and Combined Authorities, published in June 2016 said:

“It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities”.

So far two of the three LEP places have been taken up by named representatives. One is Sarah Windrum, founder and CEO of Warwickshire technology company The Emerald Group, on behalf of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. The other is Black Country LEP Board Member Paul Brown, Director of Government Services for Ernst & Young, a global accountancy company.

Ernst and Young serves as auditor and tax adviser to Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the businesses which have come under the most fire for avoiding taxes. As its website says, it is closely involved in the formulation and delivery of policy “across a wide range of central Government departments”.  Given the controlling role of government in the WMCA, Hatcher thinks it inevitable that Paul Brown, as Director of Government Services, would be exercising scrutiny on behalf of the CA over policies which his employer, Ernst and Young, would have been involved in formulating and delivering.

Other members of the Black Country LEP have a direct interest in investment in land for construction. The Chair of the BC LEP is Simon Eastwood, Managing Director of Carillion Developments, Carillion Plc. Carillion plc is a British multinational facilities management and construction services company with its headquarters in Wolverhampton. It is one of the largest construction companies operating in the UK. Among its projects in the West Midlands is the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in Birmingham city centre. Read on here.

Hatcher concludes: “In the absence of an elected Assembly, the Scrutiny Committee is the only instrument of public accountability of the WMCA. Its credibility depends on there being no suspicion in the public mind that there are actual or potential conflicts of interest. For that reason we believe there should be no representatives of LEPs on the Scrutiny Committee”.

 

 

 

A lunatic move? Heed former President Fernandez rather than Raffaello Pantucci and MP Tom Tugendhat

Is Britain – after military withdrawal in the 1970s from bases east of Suez – really intending to reopen a naval support facility in Bahrain, create a permanent army presence in Oman and establish new defence staff centres in Dubai and Singapore? RUSI adviser Raffaello Pantucci and MP Tom Tugendhat, writing in the Financial Times, appear to see military force as an asset in trade negotiations:

raffaello-rusi“(T)he UK has been underperforming in an Asian context, and needs to increase capacity, especially on the defence side . . . It’s been supercharged post-Brexit. The whole idea is of the UK as a global free trader. You need to engage with the new centres of economic power,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Unhealthy and unethical alliances

In February this year Britain and Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of British-made weapons and military hardware were reported to have lobbied the United Nations to tone down criticism of Bahrain for the use of torture by its security forces. Saudi Arabia, sent troops to quell dissent in Bahrain during the Arab spring.

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, declared in a speech in Bahrain this month: “Britain is back east of Suez.”

boris-bahrain

Though he had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, the following day he declared that policy formulated in 1969 of disengagement East of Suez was a mistake: “and in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy at least in this sense: that we recognise the strong historical attachment between Britain and the Gulf, and more importantly, we underscore the growing relevance and importance of that relationship in today’s uncertain and volatile world”.

Will Britain even be able to defend its own coastline?

“It comes down to capabilities.The UK is now down to 19 surface combatant [ships] and the concept of a carrier group would tie up most of the deployable navy,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. General Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of Britain’s Joint Forces Command, warned recently that Britain’s military had small quantities of highly expensive equipment — such as its two new aircraft carriers — which it could not afford to “use fully, damage or lose” west of Suez or elsewhere.

Is the name of the game still gun-boat diplomacy?

In a Boxing Day article Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat wryly commented that there are more admirals dining on the deck of HMS Victory on Trafalgar Day than we have ships at sea and claimed, “With investment in the armed forces, the UK can shape a future based on the rule of law and free trade. After all, it has been done before”.

Or building a better future in Britain?

cristine-fernandez-argentina

Good advice reported in the Sydney Morning Herald last year came from Argentina’s outspoken former President Cristina Fernandez:

“Spend your money feeding the English, providing jobs for your young people and on a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone.”