Category Archives: Politics

Why did Tom Watson time his resignation to distract attention from Tory grief?

Richard House notes that – after over three decades as a (Ed: very sharp) operator in politics, Tom Watson ((below, taken on Thursday). knows all about copy deadlines for Tory newspapers – and asks:

“So why on earth did someone who claims to be “as committed to Labour as ever – spending this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates” carefully time his resignation announcement such that it would be seized upon by the Tory press to distract attention from:

  • Rees-Mogg’s foot-in-mouth toff’s blundering into Grenfell sensibilities;
  • Tory MP Andrew Bridgen’s ham-fisted attempt to defend him;
  • the resignation of the Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns;
  • Tory propagandists caught doctoring a Keir Starmer Brexit interview;
  • Gower Tory candidate Francesca O’Brien’s disgraceful comment about “putting down” Benefits Street folk;
  • the shameless Tories being stopped from using the civil service to “cost” (for which, read “condemn”) Labour’s spending commitments;
  • and The Met Police’s mimicking of Johnson’s far-right contempt for the law in illegally banning Extinction Rebellion’s lawful demonstrations”.

‘The enemy within’

As he perused the “red-neck Tory-press headlines” in his local newsagent next morning, Richard thought “Well done, Tom” [not] – “Tory mission accomplished!” and reflected, in his letter today on Page 19 of the Morning Star:

“Who needs Dominic Cummings’ dead cat strategies” when Watson is around to do his and the Tories’ bidding for them? And with turncoat former Labour MP Ian Austin now publicly urging people to vote Tory to keep Jeremy out of 10 Downing Street, the Blairite rump in its terminal death throes is still clearly determined to do as much damage as they can to the possibility of a progressive government winning power”.

In a nutshell: Ken Loach, quoted in the Spectator, said: “The right, embodied by Tom Watson, aims to destroy the socialist programme. In the party there is the leadership and a core of socialists backing it. Then you have a huge membership which is very supportive of and excited by the socialist programme. And in the middle you have this layer of right-wing MPs doing all they can to frustrate it…

 

 

 

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NHS: Boris Johnson’s proposes to let Africa and India educate our medics, engineers, scientists and technicians – then poach them

Early this morning Radio 5 reported that Boris Johnson has promised to lure more medics educated in poorer countries by halving the cost of the ‘NHS visa’ and speeding up the application process. This followed an announcement of measures to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology.

Boris Johnson visited the North Manchester General Hospital in September

Boris Johnson proposes to intensify the harmful practice of importing doctors, nurses, workers in agriculture, service industries and IT experts from poorer countries. Rather than bearing the costs of educating our own, he advocates depriving developing countries of the able young enterprising citizens they desperately need.

In March, the Telegraph quoted figures from the General Medical Council showing that last year Britain imported more doctors than it trains. New figures show a steep rise in the numbers recruited from overseas. 53% of those joining the medical register came from overseas to do so – a rise from 39% in 2015.

This is the first time since 2006 that overseas doctors have outnumbered UK medics joining the register

NHS Providers, representing hospital, mental health, ambulance and community services, has written to Boris Johnson to demand action (FT 5.11.19). It made ominous references to ‘a complicated pension problem’ and advises recycling some unused employer pension contributions as salary.

Rule changes introduced in 2016 meant that rising numbers of consultants and other senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions. The FT article alleges that some high earners are left some facing effective marginal tax rates of more than 100% and in June the Guardian reported that some staff have had to remortgage their homes to cover their tax bills, while others were faced with the choice of cutting their hours.

Raise job satisfaction: as austerity continues, news of distressing delays and anecdotal accounts of neglect in NHS hospitals abound. A Labour government could:

  • heed Simon Stevens, head of the NHS: “We need to train more health professionals in this country and that includes doctors. We’ve got five new medical schools coming online as we speak which will be a 25% increase in undergraduate medical places – arguably, that needs to be more”;
  • reduce ratio of managers to medical staff;
  • train nurses on the wards for the first three years before they undertake part-time university or technical education and
  • as pledged by the Department of Health in 2007, bring back matrons who would once more be responsible for all the nursing and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital.

“We’re emptying Romania of doctors” a moral issue

Simon Stevens, speaking at the Spectator Health Summit in London, said the health service must stop “denuding low income countries of health professionals they need” amid warnings of a growing moral crisis. We need to do so in a way that is ethical so we are not, certainly, denuding low income countries of health professionals they clearly need,”

See https://thenewleam.com/2018/01/crisis-public-health-system-india/ There were many excellent photographs of long queues to see doctors in rural India but Alamy demanded a high price for them.

In March. the Telegraph reported that cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas told the conference: “We’re emptying Romania of doctors … they’re coming from eastern Europe, they’re coming from Pakistan, India, Egypt and they’re coming from Nigeria . . .

“I think there is a moral issue here. We are poaching doctors from abroad and have done for decades. They are coming from countries where they have been trained at public expense and where they are sorely needed.”

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s politically unique offer: truth, compassion, justice, peace and a sufficiency for all

Many years ago, around the time when Jeremy Corbyn challenged Margaret Thatcher about the plight of people living in London’s ‘cardboard city(see video), I sat next to him at some peace-related gathering in London.

We were supposed to discuss one of the issues on the agenda, but after one glance at his rather surly, sulky face I decided to cross the room and there had the good fortune to meet the genial Professor John Roberts, an exceptionally caring and thoughtful historian who was a World Federalist.

Over the years however I did note and credit JC’s consistent stand for peace, justice and the less fortunate and his much maligned mediation with warring parties, hoping to bring about peace by diplomacy.

Many working for good can bear witness to his steadfast support

One of these is Richard Gifford, who for many years has freely given legal services on behalf of the Chagos Islanders, unjustly displaced from their homeland, now used as an American military base (above, centre). To their discredit, the USA and UK governments, despite an overwhelming vote in the UN assembly, have disobeyed the order of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in May to hand back the islands as soon as possible.

In Corbyn the Spirit of ’45 survives

That spirit led to the setting up of the welfare state and the national health service – dreamed about by the soldiers planning a better future in their trenches. After corresponding with leading writers, artists and politicians, they helped to form the Common Wealth Party, many later transferring to Labour, Green or regionalist parties as founder members died or retired.

Poster for the Spirit of 45, filmed by Ken Loach

That intense young man has now matured into a ‘statesmanlike party leader’, resembling Professor Roberts in appearance and mindset.

He is valued by many European ministers and heads of states; Politico’s headline was ‘Brussels rolls out a red carpet for Jeremy Corbyn‘ but the Daily Mail hastily withdrew its original paragraph, “Corbyn appeared to be the statesmanlike party leader holding all the cars. He was greeted by “all the European press” like a “Prime Minister in waiting”, one aide told me” (see video).

World Federalism, which once seemed rather ‘way out’, now seems to be a really sensible way of addressing the towering threats posed by climate related instability.

And Jeremy Corbyn is the only British leader credibly offering to address the plight of the 10% on low incomes with no secure housing or employment, to cease the harassment of the disabled and to save young lives – and huge sums of money – from being wasted in aiding and abetting unjust military interventions.

 

 

 

 

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Labour has pledged to end deregulation of housing construction and ‘human warehousing’

 

Deregulation is posing problems in many sectors. Recently it was announced that the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is to examine Thomas Cook’s ongoing corporate governance, accounting, auditing and regulatory failures, ‘while the gravy train for directors continued’ (Prem Sikka, September).

Advocates of deregulation – the reduction or elimination of government power (state rules) – say that it removes unnecessary bureaucracy and barriers to competition.

Prem Sikka (Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield) now turns to the effect of deregulation on social housing. He focusses on the controversial ‘permitted development’ (PDR) system for the delivery of new homes which Labour has pledged to end – a decision commended by the Town and Country Planning Association. Reports last year highlighted the poor quality homes coming through the permitted development system and a get-out clause that exempts schemes from providing vital social and affordable housing.

Human warehousing

The permitted development system has led to the delivery of homes as small as 13 square metressmaller than the average living room. A BBC report about an office-to-residential permitted development conversion carried out by Caridon Property is quoted by Shelter. It has been used as temporary accommodation since 2018 and the homeless families with children crammed into tiny ‘studio flats’ have to ‘eat, drink and sleep in their beds’.

London Assembly study also noted that many PD homes are smaller than the minimum space standards and exacerbate the already huge issue of overcrowding – and by avoiding the planning system, developers are no longer obliged to contribute to the provision of affordable housing.

Newbury House in Ilford offers flats that apparently measure as little as 3.6 metres by 3.6 metres (12ft x 12ft), with residents packed in “like sardines”, a busy six-lane highway just yards away, broken glass and rubbish strewn all around outside.

The Developer, which informs and connects professionals working in urban development and design, adds more detail and is campaigning for these potentially dangerous conversions to be stopped.

A study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors which examined the quality of PD in parts of Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading, concluded that PD has allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed and PD residential quality was significantly worse than schemes which required planning permission – particularly in office-to-residential conversions. Of 568 buildings studied, another report found an inconsistency in the quality of developments, with only 30% of units delivered through permitted development meeting national space standards.

And Conservative MP for Harlow Robert Halfon (left) agrees with Sikka’s October verdict: ‘Government deregulation of housing construction is delivering social cleansing and the slums of the future’.

In 2013 – following pressure from ‘profit hungry’ property developers – the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government deregulated and disempowered local councils, passing legislation enabling developers to convert office blocks, agricultural buildings and warehouses into residential properties without full planning permission.

Richer councils are sending people to poorer areas already facing acute economic problems as part of a social cleansing process. Families with children, senior citizens, low-paid, the unemployed, people with special needs and others, faced with the choice of long waiting lists for housing, temporary accommodation, dilapidated housing and high rents by private landlords, have been persuaded to relocate to another area.

As part of a recent research project, Sikka met council leaders from many of these poorer areas, struggling to cope with the problems caused by deregulation and the loss of central government funding to local councils since 2010 cut by 26% in real terms. He writes:

“The class nature of permitted developments (PD) is evident as there are more PDs in Harrow and Hounslow compared to wealthy Kensington and Chelsea. They have been a boon for housing developers. The chief executives of this country’s ten biggest developers received a combined £63.6m last year for building slums, called by some, ‘human warehousing’ “.

Poorer areas already struggling to cope with acute economic problems have to find new jobs, schools, transport, family doctors and hospitals, without prior planning or resources, while richer areas with lower numbers of people on benefits, lower unemployment rates and less pressure on local schools, hospitals and social infrastructure, embark on the process of gentrification.

  

Professor Sikka’s article may be read here.

 

 

 

 

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Conservative co-chair revelation: Jetset to spend even more time abroad under a Labour government

The Telegraph reports that MP James Cleverly, who is in charge of the Tory election campaign, says that he is aware of individuals, including entrepreneurs and other business figures, some Jewish, who plan to leave the country if Labour were to win the election.

Would that be noticed? Many – like the Telegraph’s owners – already spend much of their time away from Britain.

Surely they could survive relatively unscathed, despite paying taxes in full and ‘coming to an arrangement’ with the currently short-staffed inland revenue service, paying their workers a living wage and bearing the costs of any pollution emitted by their businesses?

Mr Cleveley shows compassion for those whom he says are planning to leave, but appears to lack sympathy for the less fortunate. The Independent reported that, according to Parliament’s register of interests, Cleverly was one of 72 Conservative MPs voting against the amendment who personally derived an income from renting out property. He opposed – and therefore delayed – legislation which would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”.

https://libraenergy.co.uk/homes-fit-human-habitation/

When working with mayor Boris Johnson as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, he was responsible for the closure of ten fire stations in London, after which an elderly man jumped from a burning building in Camden, following delays in the arrival of fire crews. The Fire Brigades Union had repeatedly warned that a tragic death of this kind would occur after severe cuts to funding of the fire service in London. 

Outnumbered

Under a government led by Jeremy Corbyn, as corporate tax evasion and avoidance on a large scale is addressed releasing funds for education, health and other important services, the 99% on lower incomes will welcome a living wage, a well-staffed fire and health service, homes fit for human habitation, appropriate care for the elderly and disabled and better employment opportunities as manufacturing and services are increasingly in-sourced. 

And these millions have one asset: their vote.

 

 

 

 

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A Scandinavian challenge to the FT’s rejection of Corbyn’s social democracy

Britain needs ‘a more conventional social democratic project’ according to a recent article by the FT editorial board – not Jeremy Corbyn’s radical ‘socialist’ programme.

The board rejects the claim by Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘media outriders’ that his programme aims to bring the country into line with the rest of Europe and is akin to German or Scandinavian social democracy. But Jonas Fossli Gjersø, (left) a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain, writes:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat . . . his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto . . . Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

Modern social democratic thinking

Professor Richard Hoefer, in his essay in “Social Welfare Policy and Politics” 2013, writes: “Modern social democracy is characterised by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty”.

Jeremy Corbyn would agree with this, and with Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman, who add that social democracy includes support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, childcare, education, health care and workers’ compensation. They comment: “Libertarian democracies are “defective” in failing to protect their citizens adequately against social, economic, and environmental risks that only collective action can obviate. Ultimately, social democracy provides both a fairer and a more stable social order.”

Jonas Fossli Gjersø sees the British media’s portrayal of Corbyn as ‘verging on the realm of character assassination (media collage) rather than objective analysis and journalism’.

He suggests that the Nordic model would be a useful benchmark for Britain to move towards and thinks it possible that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of the Thatcherisation process today in Britain, ‘with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right’.

 

 

 

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Small modular nuclear reactors: on the ‘inside track’, Lord Hutton

People on ‘the inside track . . . wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC].

Lord John Hutton: a brief chronology

2008-9: Secretary of State for Defence

2010: Joined the board of US nuclear power company Hyperion Power 

2011: Appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industries Association

2010- 2015, became Chairman of the Royal United Services Institute.

2014 -2018: was a defence advisor/consultant with US arms firm, Lockheed Martin

2017: Became chairman of Energy UK, a trade association for the GB energy industry with a membership of over 100 suppliers, generators, and stakeholders with a business interest in the production and supply of electricity and gas for domestic and business consumers

SMR: artist’s impression

2017: The UK SMR Consortium is the trade association for the GB energy industry. Moribund? Its website has only five news entries, all dated Sept 2017. Lord Hutton’s foreword to its 2017 report (cover below): “A UK SMR programme would support all ten ‘pillars’ of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and assist in sustaining the skills required for the Royal Navy’s submarine programme.”

2018: A report by the Expert Finance Working Group (EFWG), convened by BEIS in January, recommended that: “For technologies capable of being commercially deployed by 2030, HMG should focus its resources on bringing First of a Kind (FOAK) projects to market by reducing the cost of capital and sharing risks through:

  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear through a new infrastructure fund (seed funded by HMG) and/or direct equity and/or Government guarantees; and
  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear projects through funding support mechanisms such as a Contract for Difference (CfD)/ Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or potentially a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model while maintaining the supply chain plans required for larger low carbon projects”

2019: a July commitment to initial funding for SMRs is welcomed by the UK SMR Consortium (Rolls-Royce website)

“Our consortium warmly welcomes the Government’s decision to advance our new innovative small modular reactor programme. The government has today committed £18 million of initial funds to support the development of this power station as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, subject to final confirmation in early autumn. Our design will bolster the UK’s ambitions to tackle climate change”.

The next step? Final confirmation of taxpayers’ funding for the small modular reactor programme in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

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A fiery denunciation of the “cabal’s” decision to suspend parliament

Constitutional chicanery

Poles apart from Murdoch’s exultant Sun, which calls it a ‘masterstroke’, the FT’s editorial team describes the decision as ‘an affront to democracy’: “Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom . . . Proroguing parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is established procedure, but for one or two weeks, not five. Mr Johnson is using constitutional chicanery to thwart a parliament that he knows has a majority against his chosen policy”.

An intolerable attempt to silence parliament

The decision, without modern precedent, is described as “an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out from EU by the UK”. British democracy is being denied a say on the most important issue facing the country for more than four decades.

The FT’s editorial team recommends parliamentarians to bring down Johnson’s government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators

Pointing out that history has shown that charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators have little time for representative government, they comment: “Mr Johnson may not be a tyrant, but he has set a dangerous precedent. He and the cabal around him who have chosen this revolutionary path should be careful what they wish for. No premier who has assumed power outside a general election has ever deviated so radically from his party’s previous platform”, and end:

“Mr Johnson is framing the current battle as one between parliament and the people . . . he should be ready to test this with voters in an election — rather than making a cavalier attempt to frustrate the parliamentary democracy that has been the foundation of Britain’s prosperity and stability”.

 

 

 

 

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Corbyn’s proposals: the Murdoch version – or the FT account?

 

FT: Jeremy Corbyn set out proposals in a letter to the leaders of other opposition parties and senior backbench MPs to form a temporary government which would request an extension to Article 50 in an effort to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

Sun (‘demanding’ and ‘begging’) Jeremy Corbyn has demanded rebel MPs make him caretaker PM as his price to stop Boris Johnson’s No Deal Brexit. He said he will only strike if they promise to give up on their plot to install a Caroline Lucas-style national unity government and hand him the No10 keys. In return, he would beg the EU to delay Brexit yet again and promise to hold a swift election.

FT: in the ensuing general election, Labour would stand on a platform of holding a second referendum on the terms of leaving the EU, including an option to remain in the bloc.

Sun: Green MP Caroline Lucas was also critical, and called for a new Brexit referendum.

FT: No reference

Sun: Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson mocked Mr Corbyn’s plan as “a nonsense”.

FT: Ms Swinson said: “This letter is just more red lines that are about him and his position and is not a serious attempt to find the right solution and build a consensus to stop a no-deal Brexit.”

Sun: The SNP’s Ian Blackford chucked cold water on his plot, for now.

FT: Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, welcomed Mr Corbyn’s proposal and said the party would support any no-confidence motion table aimed at bringing down Mr Johnson’s government. “I will be pleased to meet with the Labour leader and others at the earliest opportunity to work together,” he said.

FT: MP Liz Saville Roberts (left), the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, also welcomed Mr Corbyn’s plan and said “the crisis we find ourselves in goes beyond personalities”.

 

 

 

 

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The ‘brute arithmetical realities of first-past-the-post’ could lead to a Tory/Brexit Party victory

After issuing this warning today, Richard House believes that nothing should concentrate the minds of the progressive left more urgently than ‘the prospect of five years of Johnson/Farage-driven scorched-earth neoliberalism’.

He points out that Labour should try to forge a pact with anti-Tory forces. If this proves too difficult to negotiate, the only other possibility for defeating a united right is for Labour to commit to introducing a fair voting system in its manifesto.

The Blair government’s tragic decision to enter the war against Iraq, was – according to Michael Prowse (FT: 23/24.8.03) – “precisely what one would expect of a system that does little or nothing to encourage rational debate or a public-spirited search for consensus. The outcome of this amoral and confrontational approach to politics is partisan, manipulative and accident-prone government”.

In May 2016, shadow chancellor John McDonnell urged Labour to back PR, which, Richard House believes, would give minority-party supporters an overwhelming incentive to vote Labour in seats where only Labour can beat the Tory/Brexit Party candidate.

Nancy Platts sees the movement for such change growing within the Labour Party

She reminds us that it will be seen and heard on August 31st, at a Manchester conference: This Is What Democracy Looks Like .

Recommending a report on the benefits of the case for fair votes, she says that it sets out the experience of councils in Scotland, as well as governments across Europe, showing that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

‘Partisan, manipulative and accident-prone government’, ora revitalised democracy’

The Green MEP, Molly Scott Cato, has long campaigned for democratic reform in the UK – for ‘changing our outmoded electoral system to one that is truly representative’.

Like Richard House, she advocates exploring ‘possibilities for electoral alliances and pacts where we can agree on a progressive programme and commitment to proportional representation . . . ‘, ending prophetically:

“These are dark days but by showing each other compassion and by standing together in support of a revitalised democracy we can find a way to build a stronger and more peaceful country”.

 

 

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