Category Archives: Vested interests

Fracking companies use the law to strong-arm local authorities and landowners

As a report in the Blackpool Gazette showed a drone photograph of Cuadrilla’s well pad near Blackpool under inches of water this week, which could lead to fields and watercourses being contaminated with fracking chemicals and drilling muds, there is news of planned incursions elsewhere.

Ineos, Britain’s biggest fracking company, wants to survey sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.

Clumber Park estate (below) in Nottinghamshire, is now owned by the National Trust which opposes fracking. As the trust has refused to allow Ineos to carry out tests for shale gas on this land, the company is to use legal powers under the Mines Act 1966. It has now applied to the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for access to conduct seismic surveys on the 3,800-acre estate in order to gauge the best sites for drilling.

Ineos is also seeking to bypass local councils by using powers created in 2015 to fast-track plans to drill for shale gas in the Midlands without their planning approval. These enable companies to request intervention from ministers to get permission for delayed infrastructure projects deemed to be of national importance. Councils that ’unreasonably delay planning decisions’ can be overruled by Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, via the planning inspectorate.

Ineos plans to apply formally to Mr Javid within days for intervention on two delayed projects in Derbyshire and near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

As David Powell (NEF) asks “How long can the government push clean and dirty energy at the same time?” He ends with a comment:

“If the Government bows to INEOS’s bolshie demands, it wouldn’t just be an affront to the very concept of democracy. It would also be proof – in a decarbonising, climate-changing world, even as it talks big on a ‘clean’ industrial strategy – that it retains a very misguided sense of which horse to back”.

 

 

 

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The truth: countering the rhetoric of the Murdoch press

As the Labour Party membership decides who will represent the party in elections, based on their record and politics, the Times and the Sun call the democratic process a plot and a purge.

The Times headline: “Moderates (aka ‘Tory-lite’ Blairites) forced out by hard left in Labour purge” is accompanied by a photograph of two deselected councillors of pleasant appearance.

The Sun is cruder: “The RED REVOLUTION: Corbynistas launch widescale plot to take over Labour from the bottom up by kicking out moderate councillors”. Its article shows a picture of Momentum supporters – one looking extremely aggressive.

The reality: a few of the Momentum supporters in Birmingham – a varied and thoughtful crowd

Steve Walker sets the scene: “The ‘MSM’s latest smear, aided and abetted by the centrist ‘usual suspects’, is that ‘hard left’ Momentum ‘bullies’ are unfairly deselecting poor, abused centrist councillors in places such as Haringey . . .

“The background to this is the ‘Haringey Development Vehicle’ (HDV) – a hugely controversial and many would say hare-brained scheme championed by senior, right-wing Labour councillors whereby thousands of social homes will be handed over to a developer in what campaigners have termed ‘the £2 billion gamble’.

Owen Jones is equally clear: “What has actually happened is this: Labour is choosing candidates to stand as councillors in next year’s local elections. In some cases, members have democratically decided that some sitting councillors should face an open contest. This happened automatically until a rule change last year. Calculating that they will lose to a left-wing alternative, some have stood down. Others have lost. This is not a “purge”. This is what is known as “democracy”.

He assesses the recent history of the Labour Party . . .

“Before the Corbyn surge, many Labour parties were hollowed-out husks, the playthings of ambitious hacks, lacking roots in their local communities. Council candidates were selected at poorly attended meetings: yes, often because of stitch-ups. In the last two years, Labour has blossomed into one of the biggest parties in the western world. In Hornsey and Wood Green – one half of Haringey – one in 14 voters are now members of the Labour Party. Many of these members are full of inspiration and optimism – they want to replace our bankrupt social order, not tinker with it – and expect their representatives to be accountable to them and their values”.

and notes the renewed media campaign against Momentum

The frequent portrayal of Momentum as a group of extremist zealots is driven by political and corporate establishment fears backed by a press reliant on advertising patronage, who – increasingly – fear the election of a government headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

Jones concludes that the democratisation of the Labour Party is a good thing – essential to the building of a democratic socialist society.

 

 

 

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EDM: reduce the abuses of the revolving door between ministerial office and big business

Parliamentary lobbying condemned: 2010-2017

“It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

David Cameron, then prime minister, promised that a Conservative government would stop the lobbying industry’s attempts through former ministers to access and influence policy. His attack on “crony capitalism” came in a speech in which he attempted to tackle Britain’s “broken politics”:

“Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore.

The Conservative leader said that the “£2 billion industry” has a big presence at Westminster and take in some cases MPs are approached more than 100 times a week by lobbyists.”

But in 2013:

And in 2017, admirable MP Paul Flynn has sponsored Early Day Motion 1079

ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON BUSINESS APPOINTMENTS

Session: 2016-17

Date tabled: 15.03.2017

Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul

That this House recalls former Prime Minister David Cameron’s condemnation in 2010 of politicians who are out to serve themselves and not the country by lobbying; notes the abject failure of the Government’s watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, to reduce the abuses of the potentially corrupting revolving door between ministerial office and big business lobbying; and calls on the Government to establish an effective watchdog that would enhance the House’s reputation for probity, removing the opportunities for former Ministers to sell their inside knowledge and contacts for financial advantage by prohibiting their lobbying for companies they influenced or regulated in their Ministerial roles.

As ACOBA, the Government’s ‘watchdog’, has failed to reduce the abuses of the revolving door between ministerial office and big business lobbying, government should establish an effective mechanism which would prevent former Ministers from selling their inside knowledge and contacts for financial gain.

 

 

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Broken Britain 11: economic apartheid

In last week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time there was a fiery intervention by MP Dennis Skinner who told Theresa May about research showing that the High Speed 2 rail line was going out of its way to stop disruption to “leafy suburbs of the south”:

“[In] the leafy suburbs of the south, the first 140 miles, 30% of it has been dedicated to tunnelling to avoid knocking houses down.

“Yet in the north we are now told that the percentage is only 2% for the whole of the north. “And why? Because HS2 says it’s too costly, knock the houses down.

“Will she arrange for a meeting with people from my area in order to avoid another 30 houses being knocked down in Newtown part of Bolsover.

“Isn’t it high time that this government stopped treating our people like second class citizens?”

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Theresa May replied by extolling her government’s service to these second class citizens citing resounding names Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engines; the reality?

The north struggles to attract high-calibre teachers . . . Its secondary schools have, on average, funding of £1,300 less per pupil than those in London. In April this year the FT reported research findings that schools with the poorest children face much greater cuts per pupil than those with the most affluent children under the government’s proposed funding formula. (Brian Groom FT)

Knowsley and Liverpool are two of the most deprived areas of the country: council spend per head in these areas has been reduced by £400 and £390 respectively. In Wokingham and Elmbridge, two of the wealthiest parts of the country, the corresponding totals are £2.29 and £8.14.

A scheme to compensate councils for the council tax freeze, for example, is calculated on the value of properties in the area, meaning that the higher the value of local homes, the larger the relief package: Surrey gets a vastly bigger pay-off than Teesside. (Tom Crewe, LRB essay)

The local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation and more reliant on central government grants, were relatively worse off. Cuts to the poorest metropolitan districts averaged 28% compared with more affluent authorities (2010-2015). National reviews painted a stark picture of closures and restrictions to services. (Steve Schofield, Conservative austerity and the future of local government)  

 

Time for change!

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 10: FT, Bronwen Maddox – Parliament’s physical, moral and intellectual decay

Summary: pictures and emphases added

Bronwen Maddox, director of the Sainsbury-funded Institute for Government, comments in the FT that the physical decay of the Palace of Westminster is more than a metaphor: “Like the culture and conventions inside, the building’s failings contribute to the problems of running a respected 21st-century democracy”.

She adds that the culture is the greater problem, citing Michael Fallon’s conduct and his assertion that his inappropriate advances to women had “fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces” – not those of Westminster.

Via Twitter and referendums, many voters are questioning the value of a representative in parliament. The ‘firestorm’, fanned by the fragility of the government and fractures in the main political parties, is driven by MPs’ own impatient fear that something needs fixing if they are to have a chance of countering public contempt, she adds, asking: “What should be done?”

Her answer: Theresa May is right to call for a new independent regulator. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, created in 2010 after the expenses scandal, covers only pay and expenses”.

Public distaste for Westminster has deep roots. The financial crash a decade ago, and the expenses scandal, bear much blame; but voters resent many of the messages that politicians feel obliged to deliver, such as the constraints on spending.

Ms Maddox believes that the strains, risks and sheer career uncertainty of being an MP have rarely been greater. Select committees, whose healthy contribution to the scrutiny of government and legislation is growing, depend on MPs putting in time to master specialist areas. She notes that the problems go deeper than MPs’ behaviour and conditions of work.

Parliament is faltering in its basic job of holding the government to account, passing well thought out legislation, and doing so in a way that commands public trust.

The rifts in the two main parties are so deep that they are barely functioning within Westminster as conventional parties. Brexit has squeezed out almost all other legislation from the timetable. A minority government’s struggles to survive mean that much debate is stalled or simply avoided.

Ms Maddox sees that people are angry, and have got used to saying so.

She thinks that the fury about sexual harassment promises to achieve what those debates failed to — forcing a change in how Westminster runs itself. But she completely ignores the most serious problem in Westminster. Lobbying by affluent corporate interests is influencing the nation’s decision-makers.

MPs and civil servants pass through the revolving door to the corporate world and vice-versa – ensuring that legislation passed generally benefits the financial/industrial/commercial world but not the vast majority of those who elected MPs to serve the common good.

 

 

 

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USA & Britain accept profitable onscreen violence and pornography but older civilisations are resisting it

The BBC reports a suspicion that China is blocking WhatApp’s encrypted messages and we read that its government has now blocked a violent video game because it ‘lacks core values’.  

Molly Scott Cato counted the costs of many aspects of contemporary life in Britain (2005, access here); now even so-called family newspapers regularly publish material which encourages voyeurism. Digital Spy recently commented on a  Daily Mail article – one of its more harmless offerings – and one wonders what is prompting the “tide of sexual harassment allegations rising against British MPs from all parties” reported by the Financial Times and other media.

A loss of moral focus

Ms Scott Cato referred to ‘a loss of moral focus’ evident in the growth of pornography, “now much more prevalent that previously, perhaps because of the anonymity offered by the internet. Morality, if not moralizing, pervades the issues of hard-core pornography and paedophile pornography”.

Over the years a more casual attitude towards sex has developed, increasing rates of prostitution, and sexually transmitted disease – with chlamydia, asymptomatic in many cases, causing women to become infertile without even knowing they had a disease.

She notes that while society is ‘relaxed’ about pornography exploiting women we are in the midst of a moral panic about the apparent massive increase in child pornography so easily accessed via the internet: “According to the NSPCC, ‘between 1988 and the end of 2001 there was a 1,500% increase in the offences of making and taking or possessing child pornography in England and Wales, from 33 in 1988 to 549 in 2001’. The 81 convictions in 2000 for ‘possessing obscene material for gain’ and the 218 for ‘taking or making indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children’ are unlikely to reflect the true extent of the problem”.

There is no doubt, Ms Scott Cato concluded, that pornography is big business. ‘The ten bestselling British porn magazines sell about two million copies a month, bringing in a yearly total of about £45 million . . . The newspapers Sport, Sunday Sport and their associated titles are worth close to £500 million.’

As she was writing, India embarked on an anti-porn drive: the Hindustan Times and Reuters articles now only survive on social media. One article related that Indian police stopped the screening of a pornographic movie in the eastern state of Orissa and insisted that the audience do 10 sit-ups each at a public square and then vow not to watch pornography again. Police officer Sanjeev Panda said authorities had attempted to get theatres in district not to show pornography but had failed: “So we decided to crack down on the audience”. Newspapers also reported that police in Orissa planned to adopt these tactics in their general campaign against pornography which is illegal in India, but still screened in many cinemas.  The link http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8613157/ was taken down but the article survives on many social media outlets.

The Print Ad titled EXPLOSION was done by Beijing Creative World Advertising advertising agency for product: Violent Network Games Awareness (brand: UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund)) in China.

This week, China’s media regulators said that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), a smash-hit survival game that has sold over 13 million copies since its release in March, will be unlikely to get a license to be officially launched in China.

The official China Audio-Video Copyright Association has recommended Chinese gaming firms not to develop or distribute such games, and asked domestic live-streaming platforms not to promote the survival genre. It published a notice (link in Chinese) stating that the game contains too much blood and gore. Its online statement said the violently competitive spirit behind them is “against our country’s core socialist values and the Chinese nation’s traditional cultural behaviors and moral principles, and is bad for teenagers’ physical and mental health.”

There is an obvious parallel between the lack of concern shown by the British government for the well-being of vulnerable people most likely to be affected by violent and/or pornographic material and those physically and/or economically vulnerable to their inhumane cuts in welfare payments.

 

 

 

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A ‘racket’? Government departments and regulators are protecting elites by covering up large corporations’ failures

The growing public awareness of this unholy alliance is leading to a rapidly increasing loss of confidence in our institutions of democracy, lower tax revenues, and cuts in healthcare, pensions, education and infrastructure spend.

Professor Prem Sikka’s latest article scathingly outlines the way in which regulatory bodies and government departments are protecting elites and corporations from retribution.

He cites seven examples, the latest being the refusal of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK’s banking regulator, to publish its 361-page report on misconduct at the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

The 2013 Tomlinson Report showed that instead of rescuing struggling businesses, banks made money by asset-stripping and destroying them. This was followed-up an investigation by the FCA and in November 2016 it published what purported to be a summary of its full report. Subsequently, the BBC obtained a leaked version of the report. It referred to “inappropriate action” by RBS’s Global Restructuring Group (GRG).

The inappropriate action experienced by 92% of the businesses included complex loans, higher interest rates, and unnecessary fees. Businesses could not easily return to good health.

For the period 2013-2015, GRG handled 16,000 companies – and about 10% survived. Many ended up in administration and liquidation, with their assets were sold cheaply. RBS has set aside around £400 million to deal with possible claims.

The secret FCA report is not only an indictment of RBS, but also of other banks, accountants and lawyers. People are entitled to see the full scale of the scandal, and remedial legislation cannot be drafted without sight of the whole report. Yet the regulator’s impulse is to shield RBS and its accomplices.

Professor Sikka’s comment: “We can’t afford this racket” refers to the ‘knock-on effect’ as lower tax revenues (and a self-centred, heartless ideology?) lead to cuts in healthcare, pensions, education, public services and infrastructure spending.

 

 

 

 

https://leftfootforward.org/2017/10/six-ways-the-uks-regulatory-system-is-a-protection-racket-for-the-elite/

Brexit – advantage the already rich: John Buchan, Jeremy Corbyn and Private Eye

John Buchan, 1915: Financiers can make big profits on a falling market and it suits their books to set Europe by the ears.

Jeremy Corbyn, March 2017; the Tories’ hard Brexit’ will benefit super rich and hold back millions.

Private Eye, 6.10.17: investors could swoop on cheap assets after Brexit wrecks the British economy

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Jeremy Corbyn opened in I News:

When Pret A Manger opened its first sandwich shop in 1986, I doubt many of us would have expected well-known high street chains to end up trying to pay their staff in leftovers. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Last week, Pret had to abandon plans for a work experience scheme paying 16-18 year olds only with food after a public outcry.

A taste of things to come . . .

It was an even faster U-turn than Tory chancellor Philip Hammond’s reversal of an increase in National Insurance for the self-employed – also after an outcry. Both the Hammond and the Pret sagas look like a taste of things to come. The not-so-hidden agenda of hard right Brexiteers, from trade secretary Liam Fox to foreign secretary Boris Johnson, is to create a bargain basement economy for big business.

In 2012, Fox said it is “too difficult to hire and fire” and “intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable”. Employment rights under threat Now that Article 50 has been triggered, Fox has his chance to sweep away decades of hard-won employment, consumer and environmental rights enshrined in EU law. In fact that’s exactly the direction Theresa May has made clear she intends to go if she can’t get the Brexit deal she wants – and Johnson has said not getting a deal is “perfectly okay”.

The Tories are preparing a Great Repeal Bill as part of the Brexit process, and all the signs are they will try to use it to tip the economic scales even further in favour of their super-rich supporters. They have after all spent the past seven years giving them one tax break after another while imposing austerity on everyone else.

Altogether, on official figures, they will have handed out £73bn in welfare for the wealthy between now and 2022. They have cut inheritance tax, the bank levy, capital gains tax, the top rate of income tax and corporation tax – squeezing or slashing support for the NHS, social care and other vital services.

While the earnings of working people have been held back, executive pay has soared to levels beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The chief executives of the top 100 companies on the London Stock Market were paid on average £5.5m each in 2015 – that’s 183 times average earnings.

The Conservatives justify tax cuts for the richest and big business by saying they will lead to an increase in investment. But there is no evidence of that.

On the contrary, investment in the UK has fallen, leaving us with antiquated infrastructure and uncompetitive industries. The future of our country cannot be left to the free market and the whims of the wealthy.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality

Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .

Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:

“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”

Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.

Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:

“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:

  • for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
  • for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
  • and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.

 

 

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National Rail Ticket Office 1 – National Express 0

As more people are pressured to operate online in order to increase corporate profits we report:

Gloucestershire reader’s verdict on grappling with online National Express Coach booking: appalling!. Her experience:

  1. Website refuses to accept three destinations listed on their map: Preston, Charnock Richard and Chorley.
  2. Phoneline kept her waiting for 15 minutes (so busy) and then cut her off.
  3. Local Post Office attempted a booking. Destination accepted but
  4. would not accept any proposed departure time.
  5. Customer decided to travel by train – involving three changes and at three times the cost.

 

 

If only . . .

Time for change?

 

 

 

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