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In an age of brutally instant electronic communication, how pleasant and delightful it is to receive an actual letter through the post that is not a final demand, court summons or an invitation to the home owner or occupier to wave goodbye to varying amounts of money as part of a criminal scheme designed to separate the foolish from hard earned savings. It`s not every day that a real letter arrives and it is even rarer to find that the incoming missive has been signed by the actual Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
It is astonishing to think that a busy Prime Minister in the middle of an election campaign can find the time and make the effort to write to someone as unimportant and as insignificant as me. The Prime Minister has kissed the hand of the Queen, held hands with President Trump, shaken hands with…
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In a move mirroring the 2015 proposals for the sale of the British people’s (somewhat Green) Investment Bank (GIB) Patrick Hosking, Financial Editor, has reported in the Times that another ‘secret privatisation plan’, involving the people’s British Business Bank, has been delayed by a legal challenge.
In 2015, plans to part-privatise GIB were announced by Business Secretary Sajid Javid (more detail here). The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee warned this could cause the bank to lose its “green identity”, But the government predictably said “the time is right” for the bank to be privatised. CityAM reported that in February MPs questioned government over the proposed sale, expressing fears that this would be an asset-stripping venture by MacQuarrie.
However the proposals may well have been abandoned – for a time. The Murdoch Times’ suggests that ministers were ‘rattled’ by the legal challenge to the separate planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. Its sale to Macquarie, the Australian infrastructure investor, after talks described as ‘exclusive’ in a later post by CityAM, is going to judicial review after a challenge from Sustainable Development Capital, a rival bidder.
A spoke in the privatisation wheel? This challenge has affected:
- the planned sale of a portfolio of government business loans, packaged into a ‘high-yielding listed investment vehicle’, currently owned by British Business Bank plca state-owned economic development bank established by the UK Government.
- and the ‘planned move’ by the ubiquitous Baron Smith of Kelvin (above,centre), the Green Investment Bank chairman, to chair the British Business Bank, which has been without a permanent chairman since October.
What is going on behind the scenes? Why are the British people the last to know in our ‘vibrant democracy’? BIS declined to comment last night but a source close to the discussions is reported to have said: “It’s a bit baffling why stumps were pulled at the last moment. Everyone was all signed up for it.”
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.
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.
Today a reference in Quartz led to a search which revealed that Toshiba said it is to stop building nuclear power plants. Though the search found an account written four days, buried in the Nikkei FT, only now is the American Press reporting it.
British Press has not yet covered this sensitive subject.
Last year Toshiba reported that it expected to win 50 contracts to build new nuclear plants abroad and its decision to exit its overseas nuclear construction business, reported by the Wall Street Journal, is said to have global implications (paywall) for the nuclear-power industry.
Leo Lewis in Tokyo reported in the FT that the move followed an emergency board meeting on Friday 27th January. The company is recovering from the repercussions of a 2015 accounting scandal in which it exaggerated reported profits by about $1.3bn over seven years.
But the company may now limit its ambitions to building turbines and other equipment and continuing to focus on servicing and decommissioning Japan’s existing fleet of nuclear reactors, many of which it built. They include two of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has tied Toshiba into many decades of decommissioning work.
A House of Commons briefing paper records that almost 75,000 homeless households, including 60,000 families with 120,000 children, spent Christmas in temporary accommodation this year.
That’s up 9% in a year and 45% since the 2010 election due in part to:
- more evictions by private landlords,
- rising rents,
- welfare cuts
- and a shrinking stock of social housing.
6,990 households – about half with children – are in bed and breakfast hotels, where each familv has one bedroom, with bathroom and kitchen shared by all the residents.
Though the law says families should live like this for a maximum of six weeks only before being moved, the Guardian reports that data released by the Department for Communities and Local Government reveals a rise of more than 300% since 2014 in the number of families in England who are being housed in B&Bs by local authorities, for more than the statutory maximum period because they cannot find any alternative places.
There are currently 1300 families with children who have been trapped in B&Bs for more than six weeks, an increase of 24% in the past year.
The comparable figure just before the 2010 general election was 100 families.
According to data obtained by the BBC in November, councils in Britain spent £3.5bn on temporary accommodation in the past five years.
Yet Inside Housing reports that the 2011-2015 affordable housing programme, which aims to provide permanent affordable homes in England, was allocated funding of only £1.8bn.
‘Try and stay positive…because things are set to get a lot worse in 2017’ suggests Steve Beauchampé
There was a moment back in late 2015 when UK politics might have moved leftwards, rebalancing decades of neo-liberal, monetarist economics with an anti-privatisation, pro-public services philosophy, one where the haves had a little less and the have nots had a little hope.
Well, so much for that glimpse of a more equitable, more caring society. Jeremy Corbyn, the man whose unexpected election as leader of the Labour Party raised such hopes, remains in situ, still surviving relentless attacks from both within his own party and from most sections of the media for daring to embrace Socialism, still closer than most of his political rivals to the right answers to many of society’s problems.
Yet in early 2017 political discourse, both in the UK, the USA and seemingly much of Europe, is in a very different place
Without doubt, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as next President of the United States of America, has resulted in a sudden, violent lurch to the political right, where ugly forms of nationalism, economic protectionism and cultural insularity are now the dominant themes shaping western politics.
In Britain we have a government dominated by politicians of the hard right, led by an unashamedly opportunistic Prime Minister who, putting her own future political prospects front and centre, took almost no publicly identifiable part in the EU referendum debate, but who now speaks only in childish riddles about its consequences, whilst trying to rule like a medieval monarch, denying parliament any meaningful input on the matter.
Despite the regular slew of confused and conflicting messages from May’s ministers regarding the UK’s EU exit strategy it has been clear since her speech to the Conservative Party conference last October that Theresa May is prepared to sacrifice access to both the single market and the Customs Union in order to substantially curtail immigration.
And woe betide her if she attempts any other approach. For May is a hostage to an emboldened political right and its media cheerleaders
These include the Daily Mail, the Sun and Daily Express, to those headbangin’ Brexiteers on the Conservative benches such as Liam Fox, Philip Davies, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Messrs. Gove, Redwood, IDS, Nigel Farage and whoever leads UKIP these days.
Increasingly we are living in Nigel Farage’s vision of the UK, one where a politician who has failed seven times to be elected to parliament, and who resembles the kind of man you’d have expected to meet in a golf club in the 1970s, is shaping our relationship with the world . . .
Yet Trump’s offensively simplistic version of populism – and his impenetrably incoherent approach to debate and argument, punctuated as it is with vitriol, abuse and lies – is championed by Farage, who not only now serves as the Commander-in-Chief-elect’s principal apologist to UK audiences, but is increasingly exporting his own brand of ‘too good to be true’ market stall politics to the vulnerably gullible of other EU countries.
For in 2017 Britain’s EU departure is merely the starting point for those who engineered it to indulge in a nationalistic assault on outward, international, liberal social values . . .
Meanwhile, Farage and some of his fellow travellers, both inside and outside of UKIP, as well as amongst the most aggressively anti-EU British media, have offered succour to France’s far right Front National and the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. This disparate alliance is increasingly open in its desire to see the collapse of the EU and one imagines, the diverse, tolerant and multi-cultural societies that are its hallmark and proudest achievement . . .
Globalisation and neo-liberalism have raised legitimate questions and created understandable grievances to which Brexit and Trump are the wrong answers. Both responses will leave a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in their wake. But it could be about to get far worse than that!
With thanks to journalist and political commentator Stig Abell for the Nigel Farage golf club line…just too good a quote not to reprint!!
Read the whole article in The BirminghamPress.com
Media Lens reminds us that two BBC insiders – former senior BBC figures – would dispute the frequently brandished depiction of BBC ‘impartiality’.
Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, believes that: ‘The BBC is part of a “conspiracy” preventing the “radical changes” needed to UK democracy.’ He says that a parliamentary commission should look into the ‘whole political system’, adding that ‘I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.’
And Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust , said earlier this year that there had been ‘some quite extraordinary attacks’ on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.
The first paragraphs of their latest analysis, ‘BBC Propaganda Watch: Tell-Tale Signs That Slip Through The Cracks’ are summarised here.
In a recent BBC News interview following the death of Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro. Dr Denise Baden, Associate Professor in Business Ethics at the University of Southampton, who has studied Castro’s leadership and Cuban business models, was asked by BBC News presenter Justine Mawhinney for her views on Cuba and Castro. It’s fair to say that Baden’s responses didn’t follow the standard establishment line echoed and amplified in much of the ‘mainstream’ media.
Mawhinney kicked off the interview with the standard Western propaganda line about Castro: ‘He ruled with an iron fist, didn’t he?’
Baden immediately challenged the cliché: ‘Well, that’s something that everyone’s fond of saying. But when I talk to the people who live in Cuba, and the Cubans who’ve come to live in the UK, that’s not the story that I get. The feeling that comes through is of Fidel Castro almost as a father figure. So, the older generation tend to see him as a hero of the revolution. They’re aware that many of them wouldn’t even be here if it wouldn’t have been for the health advances and the equalisation of resources that he provided.’
The academic, who visited the island in 2013 and 2014, ‘drawn by its record on sustainability’, then pointed out that it was the crippling US embargo on Cuba that was responsible for much of the hardships suffered by the Cubans for over five decades: a crucial point that the BBC interviewer significantly did not pursue.
Mawhinney then raised Castro’s human rights record. Baden addressed the issue of free speech first: ‘When I went to talk to people in Cuba, I found it remarkable how freely they all spoke about Fidel Castro, and Raul Castro, and the policies. I was expecting from the discourse we hear that people would be afraid to speak out. And that wasn’t what I found – people spoke out very freely.’
Castro: a pioneer in tune with the growing anger at ‘incompetent and predatory elites’ and concern about climate change
Mainstream media today has been describing Castro as a ‘cold war warrior’ – relegating him to a failed past. He could more accurately be seen as a harbinger of the popular anger described by economist Martin Wolf in the FT, at elites which have become detached from domestic loyalties and concerns, forming instead a global super-elite. Castro became a proponent of the anti-globalization movement, criticizing U.S. global hegemony and the control exerted by multinationals.
The surprise is not that many are angry but that so many are not
As Wolf says: “It is not hard to see why ordinary people, notably native-born men, are alienated. They are losers, at least relatively; they do not share equally in the gains. They feel used and abused. After the financial crisis and slow recovery in standards of living, they see elites as incompetent and predatory. The surprise is not that many are angry but that so many are not”.
Under Castro, Cuba became a one-party socialist state, introducing central economic planning and developing world class healthcare and education. Early achievements include:
- 600 miles of roads built across the island
- $300 million was spent on water and sanitation projects.
- Over 800 houses were constructed every month
- nurseries and day-care centres were opened for children
- centres opened for the disabled and elderly.
- a cap for landholdings to 993 acres per owner; around 200,000 peasants received title deeds as large land holdings were broken up.
The BBC’s Latin American website, in considering Castro’s legacy states: “Undoubtedly, life for most Cubans on the island (and that means the vast majority who were poor when Castro came to power) improved dramatically under his leadership”.
In his autobiography he said: “If people call me Christian, not from the standpoint of religion but from the standpoint of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian.” He was an exponent of the idea that Jesus Christ was a communist, citing the feeding of the 5,000 and the story of Jesus and the rich young man as evidence.
In the early 1990s Castro embraced environmental concerns, campaigning against global warming and the waste of natural resources, and accusing the U.S. of being the world’s primary polluter. In 1994 a ministry dedicated to the environment was established, and new laws established in 1997 that promoted awareness of environmental issues throughout Cuba and stressed the sustainable use of natural resources.
By 2006, Cuba was the world’s only nation which met the United Nations Development Programme’s definition of sustainable development, with an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 hectares per capita and a Human Development Index of over 0.8.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost its main supplier of fertilizers and pesticides and built a largely organic farming system. In April several sources reported that America’s growing organic food sector is eyeing urban produce. One quoted the US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“I think they (Cuban growers) have an incredible opportunity in the future to be a major supplier of value-added organic products, simply because they have not utilized modern agricultural processes, have not used chemicals and pesticides and so forth that have been used in other parts of the world, including the U.S.”
Castro denounced the Third World debt problem, arguing that the Third World would never escape the debt that First World banks and governments imposed upon it and hosting international conferences on the world debt problem.
In Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola he was greeted as a hero for Cuba’s role in opposing apartheid South Africa and throughout much of Africa he was hailed as a friend to liberation from foreign dominance. Nelson Mandela’s first visit after leaving prison was to visit Castro in Havana to thank him for his support in the struggle against apartheid.
He led the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979–83. In December 2014, he received the Chinese Confucius Peace Prize for seeking peaceful solutions to his nation’s conflict with the U.S. and for his post-retirement efforts to prevent nuclear war. In January 2015, he publicly commented on the increased normalization between Cuba-U.S. relations, stating that it was a positive move for establishing peace in the region.
Destructive political strategy: the west needs the antagonism of Russia to glue the fractious alliance together – and bolster the arms trade
In the FT, Professor Robert H. Wade comments on a reference in an article by Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former US permanent representative to NATO
Daalder argues that Russian president Vladimir Putin “needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home”, and therefore acts as the unprovoked aggressor in order both to generate that antagonism and to expand the boundaries of Russia’s territorial control. Daalder therefore advocates that the west must strengthen the western alliance’s military forces around Russia (“The best answer to Russian aggression is containment”).
Wade questions his statement that “the core of our strength is western unity”: “In fact, western unity is fragile”. As Mr Putin needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home, so the west needs the antagonism of Russia (helped by China) to glue the fractious alliance together.
Intelligence of the ‘dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq’
The western exaggeration of the Russian government’s role in the civil war in Ukraine is cited by Wade and we are informed that eight retired US intelligence analysts wrote a letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2014 warning her that the intelligence supporting the accusation of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine “seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq”.
Actions of the kind endorsed by Mr Daalder help to provoke the needed antagonism
Western voters and taxpayers should be wary of western governments exaggerated portrayal of Russia as the unprovoked aggressor and themselves as innocent defenders, which serves to fortify the fragile western alliance.
He adds that it also satisfies the arms industry, for which weapons systems against threatening states are much more profitable than those against terrorists . . . If the aim is genuinely to curb Russian aggression, western states and NATO have to be less aggressive towards Russia.
Causing illness, premature death – and now car accidents?
A study by Public Health England has warned that outdoor air pollution is responsible for an estimated 520 deaths a year in Birmingham alone (Birmingham Mail).
Nationwide it is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.
The Financial Times reports findings that air pollution is bad for the lungs but new research in Britain now suggests it is also causing more car accidents.
In one area covering west London, as many as four extra traffic accidents a day could be triggered by a spike in dirty air levels, according to a working paper which may be read here. Research by the author, Lutz Sager, an environmental economist who works in the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, suggests that even a small rise in the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide — just 1 microgramme per cubic metre — is enough to increase the average number of accidents each day by 2%, with cities suffering the biggest effects.
One area with some of the highest levels of pollution, covering west London, has an average of 86 car accidents a day. Mr Sager said his research showed that a 30% rise in nitrogen dioxide from average levels led to another four accidents a day. He cites research showing that students do worse on tests when there are higher amounts of air pollution in the room. He suspects that such students and also drivers in highly polluted areas “feel more tired or are less focused, or have a slower reaction time.”
A 1999 European Union directive set legal limits for nitrogen dioxide levels, which came into force in 2010. Six years later, these limits are still being exceeded in many places across Europe. Europe’s cities have some of the highest NO2levels in the world, because a much higher proportion of cars run on diesel than in most other countries.
The British government has not acted on rulings by the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice
In the UK, 37 out of 43 zones breach the limits. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that national courts can and should ensure that governments act to get air pollution below legal limits “as soon as possible”. The case then went back to the UK’s Supreme Court, which in April 2015 ordered the UK’s environment minister to take “immediate action” by preparing and consulting the public on an air quality action plan in the shortest possible time. Despite this ruling, the New Scientist reports that the British government proposals published in December did not envisage compliance in the worst affected areas until 2025.
In a case which began this week, a group of lawyers from ClientEarth is asking the High Court to order ministers to produce a better plan for improving air quality. The case concerns levels of nitrogen dioxide, an invisible gas produced mainly by road traffic; high levels of nitrogen dioxide shorten lives by increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disorders.