Category Archives: Vested interests

Enforce British court ruling on arms exports as fears of the coronavirus spread in Yemen

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WFP/Mohammed Awadh: Conflict-damaged homes on the edge of Aden, Yemen.

Britain has been providing arms with which its allies continue to bomb the people of Yemen for the fifth year, in contravention of a Court of Appeal ruling. This stated that it is unlawful to have licensed the sale of British-made arms to the Saudi regime without assessing whether their use in Yemen breaches international humanitarian law.

The United Nations has described the effect of this five-year air onslaught, leading to many thousands of Yemeni deaths, as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”.

Peter Lazenby reports the words of Andrew Smith (Campaign Against Arms Trade – CAAT): “It is a crisis that has been enabled by the political and military support that the UK and other arms-dealing governments have given the Saudi regime and its coalition partners”.

Yemen’s healthcare system is already in crisis, with many damaged and destroyed hospitals and a weak healthcare system, already struggling with cholera and malnutrition. The Red Cross reports that medical supplies, drinking water and sanitation are scarce.

Ahmed Aidarous, 36, a resident of the southwestern city of Taiz, who survived dengue fever, expresses the general fear to MiddleEastEye: “In Yemen, there are some diseases like dengue fever and cholera but we know their reasons and we can be treated for them. I heard from media that coronavirus spreads through the air and we cannot protect ourselves from it.”

Two days after his 23 March appeal to warring parties across the globe for an immediate ceasefire, UN Secretary-GeneraAntónio Guterres  called on those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FT reports that, in response on Wednesday, the Houthi movement and the exiled Saudi-supported government agreed to an immediate end to hostilities.

 

 

 

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The Great Unravelling: a system in meltdown, Part 1

Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds

Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.

Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.

The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.

Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.

Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene

But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.

  • Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
  • huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
  • accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
  • provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
  • The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
  • Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.

The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.

And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.

Food security

The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?

Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.

Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?

(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.

The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to

“Pandemic Bonds”

In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.

This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.

The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.

In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.

He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.

 

Alan Simpson

8 March 2020

 

 

 

 

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Step out of line and share Assange’s fate: Prof. Melzer: “And nobody will care. I can promise you that”.

Today, people from several campaigns supporting Julian Assange, including Defend Wikileaks, will be demonstrating against his extradition.

A message has been received from Tracy Worcester (below) who gave a clear and persuasive address outside Belmarsh prison where she visited Assange. Reuters – unlike more right-wing outlets – yesterday gave a straightforward account of the proposed extradition of Julian Assange to the USA, about which a decision is to be made shortly.

Another message, from a Bournville reader, says that extradition would be an injustice crowning all those he has suffered already and a threat to free speech everywhere – with particular implications for whistle-blowers, journalists and bloggers.

He forwarded a long and detailed interview with Professor Nils Melzer, a Swedish academic, professor of international law at the University of Glasgow who is serving as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Some points made by Melzer follow:

Assange reported to the Swedish authorities on several occasions because he wanted to respond to the accusations

After a detailed examination of the rape allegations he pointed out that far from fleeing from the Swedish judiciary in order to avoid being held accountable, Assange reported to the Swedish authorities on several occasions but the authorities stonewalled. He contacted the Swedish judiciary several times to make a statement – but was turned down. Melzer (below) says:

“I speak fluent Swedish and was thus able to read all of the original documents. I could hardly believe my eyes: According to the testimony of the woman in question, a rape had never even taken place at all. And not only that: The woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm police without her involvement in order to somehow make it sound like a possible rape. I have all the documents in my possession, the emails, the text messages.

The media and government agencies have painted a completely different picture over the years

Melzer gives a long and detailed account of the charges, opening: “We know that the original statement, according to the chief public prosecutor, apparently did not contain any indication that a crime had been committed. A revised statement was edited without the involvement of the woman in question and wasn’t signed by her. It is a manipulated piece of evidence out of which the Swedish authorities then constructed a story of rape”.

Though the public prosecutor’s office gave him written permission to leave Sweden for short periods of time, on the day that Julian Assange left Sweden a warrant was issued for his arrest.

His lawyer explained that Assange had to go to Berlin for a conference and had asked if he was allowed to leave the country. During the flight, his laptops disappeared from his checked baggage. Existing correspondence proves that after arriving in London, via his Swedish lawyer, Assange offered public prosecutors several possible dates for questioning in Sweden.

Then he heard that a secret criminal case had been opened against him in the U.S. His lawyer said that his client was prepared to testify in Sweden, but because of Sweden’s record (in one instance they had to pay a million dollars in damages to two men who were extradited to the CIA in Egypt without any legal proceedings) he demanded a diplomatic assurance that Sweden would not extradite him to the U.S. The Swedes declined to provide a guarantee, arguing that the U.S. had not made a formal request for extradition.

Assange said he was willing to be questioned in London or via video link under the cooperation treaty between the United Kingdom and Sweden

Under the terms of the treaty, Swedish officials can travel to the UK, or vice versa, to conduct interrogations or questioning can take place via video link. During the period of time in question, such questioning between Sweden and England took place in 44 other cases.

The Swedish prosecution avoided questioning Assange for five years and eventually his lawyers petitioned Sweden’s Supreme Court to force the public prosecution to press charges or to close the case.

Melzer recalls that when the Swedes told the UK they might be forced to abandon the case, the English Crown Prosecution Service wrote “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!” in a document addressed to the Swedish Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny, a copy of which was obtained by the Italian investigative journalist, Stefania Maurizi, in a five-year long Freedom of Information litigation which is still ongoing. Sweden finally abandoned the case against Assange in November 2019

Why would the Swedish and British authorities act like this?

In July 2010, Wikileaks – in cooperation with the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel – published the Afghan War Diary, one of the largest leaks in the history of the U.S. military. Wikileaks obtained a document in which Stratfor, a security consultancy that works for the U.S. government (analysts@stratfor.com) advised American officials to deluge Assange with all kinds of criminal cases for the next 25 years.

What Wikileaks did is a threat to the political elite in the U.S., Britain, France and Russia. Wikileaks publishes secret state information – they are opposed to classification – and in a world, even in so-called democracies, where secrecy has become rampant, that is seen as a fundamental threat

Was another suppression related to a 2017 allegation by former congressman Dana Rohrabacher that Donald Trump had offered to pardon Julian Assange if he claimed that Russia had nothing to do with a leak of Democratic party emails in 2016? Trump offered to pardon Assange if he said that Russia had nothing to do with WikiLeaks’ publication of Democratic Party emails in 2016. accusation.

What awaits Assange if he is extradited?

Melzer feels sure that Assange will not receive a fair trial in part because Assange will be tried in Alexandria, Virginia, the notorious ‘Espionage Court’ where jury members are drawn from a local population, 85% of whom work in the national security community – at the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Department and the State Department. He adds that the cases are always tried in front of the same judge behind closed doors and on the strength of classified evidence. Nobody has ever been acquitted there in a case like that. He continues:

“I am the Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations. I have a mandate to ask clear questions and to demand answers. I visited Assange in his cell in London in May 2019 together with two experienced, widely respected doctors who are specialized in the forensic and psychological examination of torture victims. The diagnosis arrived at by the two doctors was clear: Julian Assange displays the typical symptoms of psychological torture. If he doesn’t receive protection soon, a rapid deterioration of his health is likely, and death could be one outcome”.

Melzer then asks three questions:

  • What is the legal basis for denying someone their fundamental right to defend themselves?
  • Why is a man who is neither dangerous nor violent held in solitary confinement for several months when UN standards legally prohibit solitary confinement for periods extending beyond 15 days?
  • Why have none of these UN member states launched an investigation, answer my questions or even demonstrate an interest in dialogue?

And gives a warning to all:

When countries like Sweden allow themselves to be manipulated like that, then our democracies and our human rights face a fundamental threat. Power corrupts if it is not monitored. A show trial will make an example of Julian Assange. The point is to intimidate other journalists. The message to all is: “This is what will happen to you if you emulate the Wikileaks model”.

Assange has published proof of systematic torture. But instead of those responsible for the torture, it is Assange who is being persecuted. Melzer added: “This could just as easily happen to us or our children. And nobody will care. I can promise you that”.

 

 

Our Bournville informant ended: “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing”:

 

 

 

 

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Outsourcing 9: Care homes crisis

Before 1990, healthcare in the United Kingdom was provided by health authorities which were given a budget to run hospitals and community health services in their area. The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 introduced an internal market into the supply of healthcare in the United Kingdom, making the state an ‘enabler’ rather than a supplier of health and social care provision.

Care homes were then outsourced by local authorities to the private sector which employed large numbers of low-paid workers with weak representation by unions and professional organisations. Spending on social care is now below 2010 levels.

Gill Plimmer describes the way in which global private equity, sovereign wealth and hedge funds have piled into the sector in the past three decades, lured by the promise of a steady government income and the long-term demographics of Britain’s ageing population.

Three of the biggest chains — HC-One, Four Seasons and Care UK — are in the hands of buyout groups.

At the Four Seasons Whitchurch Care Home in Bristol (above), emergency buzzers went unanswered, some medicines were not dispensed and many of its frail and elderly residents had not been given a bath, shower or a wash for a month, an official inspector’s report found. A broken elevator meant residents on the second floor could not be taken to hospital appointments.

Problems are in part a result of:

  • a long-term decline in fees paid to providers for social care,
  • a state mandated rise in the minimum wage,
  • a decline in state funding for local governments, which pay for 60% of their residents,
  • short term investment and speculation,
  • larger private equity-owned care homeowners have a short-term investment focus and complex structures, involving scores of subsidiary companies, many of which are listed offshore and
  • the money to fund the trading coming from taxpayers or from middle class people running down their savings.

When Terra Firma (building better businesses) bought the Four Seasons chain in a £825m deal in 2012, there was still £780m of outstanding borrowings hanging over the business. Now around £1.2bn of interest-bearing debt and loans from unspecified “related” parties.

Nick Hood, analyst at Opus Restructuring & Insolvency, which has advised several care home chains, said “owners are playing with the debt and expecting returns of 12 or 14 per cent and that is simply unsuitable for businesses with heavy social responsibilities”

He adds that the watchdog — the Care Quality Commission — should require the entire corporate structure to be held within the UK

Jon Moulton, the private equity veteran who ran Four Seasons in the early 2000s recommends that care home chains should hold a certain amount of capital, just as banks are requited to do by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Toothless regulator/watchdog places all responsibility on Britain’s cash-strapped local authorities

Kate Terroni, chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, says that for now it has no authority to introduce minimum capital requirements or to intervene to prevent business failure. “Our powers are to provide a notification to assist local authorities who are responsible for ensuring continuity of peoples care

Meanwhile, as Four Seasons “hurtles towards insolvency”, directors are paid lavishly and their care homes continue to close.

 

 

 

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Care homes crisis: Judith Martin responds

Why do patients have to be moved, with the upheaval and distress caused by Ill-planned or casually implemented closures and relocations which are stressful and linked to adverse outcomes in terms of symptoms, health and survival?

A 2006 article refers to one of many reports on involuntary relocation: Prof David Jolley, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in old age, said that it was “an inescapable truism that relocation is a stressful event [for frail elderly people] and can precipitate problems of mental health, physical health and even bring forward death”. Another psychiatrist, Dr Peter Jeffreys, rates it as “only marginally less significant than the death of a spouse”.

Local authorities could take ownership and take on the running of the establishment. The Bristol building is not beautiful but Bristol is an expensive city. The home could be wound down under the local authority, not taking any extra patients but keeping staff members, then eventually the site could be sold for redevelopment to recoup costs.

The local authority could commission decent design for the follow-on homes (“think of the Maggie’s cancer centres conceived by the late Charles Jencks”), which would be run without the burden of debt or expectation of profit.

As Gill Plimmer notes, many more local authority-run homes are rated good or outstanding – according to a LaingBuisson analysis of regulatory reports last August – than those owned by hedge funds or other for-profit bodies.

Based on Judith Martin’s letter in the Financial Times.

 

 

 

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Dr Li Wenliang has counterparts in Britain – and millions all over the world

Most readers will have heard of Dr Li Wenliang who worked at a hospital in Wuhan and alerted the authorities to this infectious new form of the coronavirus and was reprimanded by Chinese police last month for spreading “illegal and false” information about a new form of coronavirus. He later died after contracting the coronavirus from a patient.

But whereas exposure to this zoonotic disease was unforeseen, worldwide people are being affected, before birth and during their lives, by legally permitted substances used in many sectors, including agriculture, industry and transport. In Britain, whistle-blowers – medical practitioners and patients – are also silenced by medical, legal and political authorities. Is this done in order to protect a range of wealthy and powerful companies?

Richard Bruce, Len Lawrence and George Wescott are among millions worldwide who have attempted to raise the alarm after suffering serious damage to health from exposure to chemicals in these sectors.

Message received yesterday; “WE ARE THE DR LI WENLIANG[s] of UK”

Len Lawrence was a fit, experienced pilot who had been working for British Aerospace since 1989 when he experienced and recorded his first ‘fume event’  Read and hear more about the drastic steps taken to silence him here. The BBC reports that five of the UK’s largest airlines are now facing legal action by four pilots, and 47 cabin crew members. It is claimed that pilots and cabin crew are still regularly exposed to toxic fumes during flights. The Unite union has Independent expert evidence that the fumes from the oil used to lubricate the jet engines, contain organophosphates and TCP, and that long-term exposure can damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.

Such people, often sidelined and mislabelled as having psychological problems, will take heart from the Telegraph’s report that, in December, an official report confirmed that British Airways pilots were forced to wear oxygen masks as a plane suffered five “fume events” in seven weeks.

George Wescott suffered severe health problems after dipping 1,500 sheep in July 1988 with an organophosphate dip, a compulsory process ordered by government. By August 1991 he realised he would never recover sufficiently to continue farming, relinquished tenancy of the farm and set up a National Action Group to make sure fellow farmers were aware of the dangers. His interview during a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice may be heard on video here. In a 2015 parliamentary debate, his MP said that George (right) had suffered for more than 30 years and recommended the Minister to set up a commission to get to the bottom of the issue.

In June 1992 MAFF abandoned its policy of compulsory dipping

Richard Bruce, a farm manager whose health broke down after exposure to Actellic used in grain stores, says very few realise that farmers and grain store operators have for decades been pouring OPs and other poisons (in pesticides and fungicides) into harvested grains and oilseeds. He now has an extensive knowledge on the effects of organophosphates which are used far more widely in agriculture than just sheep dip – see his comprehensive collection of information at The Organophosphate File. Like Len & George, he has met a range of obstacles and unfair dealing whilst attempting to get official recognition of the dangers of using chemicals such as malathion, pirimiphos methyl, chlorpyrifos methyl, some of which were approved long after the dangers were known. 

His verdict: there are none so blind as those who are paid not to see:

“Professionally Induced Nelson’s Eye Syndrome…. They see no evidence – no matter how much there is or even if they published it themselves. All I seek is for the truth to be recognised by those who are trying to hide it in order for the public to understand what has been done to everyone”. He asks:

“Why is it that individuals are prosecuted for deliberately poisoning people but companies who make products that injure and kill thousands worldwide every year, escape blame? Makes no sense at all”.

 

 

 

 

Abolish political parties – 2: Voices from Canada, America and Namibia

And a cartoon from Britain

In his Modest Proposal: abolish political parties, Robert Zaretsky Professor of Humanities at the Honors College, University of Houston, refers to Simone Weil’s writing:

“All political parties share three essential traits. They are created to generate collective passions, designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of its members and motivated to seek their own growth at the expense not just of other parties, but the nation itself”

Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist and a contributing editor to The Tye, in Party’s Over: Why We Need to Abolish Political Parties, refers to Simone Weil’s radical essay, published in 1950.

She called for the abolition of political parties, condemning the political parties that in 1940 helped to prepare the ground for France’s military defeat.

Nikiforuk reflects that when she observes that “nearly everywhere, instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against,” we recognize she is describing not just France 75 years ago, but the politicians who seem to be steering our own country to social and economic disaster in the United States today.

Computer scientist Eric (Rick) Hehner, emeritus professor at the University of Toronto writes: “A party controls its members by blackmail. If you ever want to advance within the party, to become a minister, or even just be a candidate in the next election, you must toe the party line.

“The people who advance are not those who have their own ideas and integrity; MPs are reduced to cardboard cutouts. Power is concentrated in the hands of a handful of people: the rulers of the ruling party. This is not democracy.

“Without political parties, elections and parliament and government all work perfectly well. In an election, every candidate is an independent, and is free to speak their mind. Voters choose the candidate they feel best represents them. In each new parliament, the first order of business is for MPs to elect the ministers of a government from among themselves. Those ministers then serve parliament. If the ministers (including prime minister) lose the confidence of parliament, then parliament can replace them, without triggering a general election. On each issue, an MP is free to vote as they think their constituents want them to vote, or to vote according to their conscience”.

He cites as working models Nebraska, in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut, and most city and regional governments.

A search revealed that Nebraska hasa nonpartisan legislative body’; there are no formal party alignments or groups within the Legislature. Coalitions tend to form issue by issue based on a member’s philosophy of government, geographic background and constituency (Wikipedia).

In a recent letter to the Bradenton Herald, Anna Yoakum, who is ‘affiliated with the No Party Affiliation’, writes:

“We have always been The United States of America but have now become the Divided States. This is not what or who we are.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to abolish our party system. Politics has become more divisive than rooting for our favorite sports team. We are wallowing in a mentality of us against them. Our Congress gets little done as they’re too busy opposing one another, blocking bills, instigating endless filibusters and campaigning party against party.

“Court justices would be unbiased politically, as there would be no party to be beholden to; there would be no gerrymandering; nor voter suppression nor voter intimidation nor voter fraud. Big money wouldn’t be able to buy a party, most importantly we would just be voters voting for who we feel is best.

“Without the divide of parties Congress would work together, actually accomplishing something. The House of Representatives, Senate and presidency would work as our founding fathers envisioned: “Together for the Good of America”.

Nyasha Francis Nyaungw reports in Namibia’s Observer that Angelina Immanuel (left) from Namibia, who is running as an independent candidate in the Ondangwa Urban by-election scheduled for June 15 has made a case for the abolition of the country’s political party system which she says has not worked in the last 29 years.

In her promise to the residents of Ondangwa, Immanuel argues that the current political party system has brought about corruption, maladministration, incompetence, weak leadership and sluggish development patterns.

She says the system has led to a situation where individual weaknesses, failures and capabilities are not assessed by the electorate who are told to vote for candidates just because they belong to a certain political party;

“The candidates that come from these political parties and eventually win are thus not loyal to the residents and only listen to the instructions and wishes of those running political parties in Windhoek. The residents and citizens’ concerns, no matter the amount of protests or complaints they make, are not listened to unless people in Windhoek say so.”

 

Time for change?

 

 

 

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The action of an individual can make a difference: Clare Balding

 Accomplished, versatile broadcaster Clare Balding was invited as the keynote speaker for the ADS Dinner, an annual black tie networking event, where arms company executives dine alongside senior civil servants, MPs and Ministers, who pay up to £470 a place.

Jamie Doward in the Observer adds information about ADS:

  • it represents BAE Systems, who supply parts for the Typhoon and Tornado jets that are playing a role in the Saudi-led coalition bombing of Houthi insurgents in Yemen,
  • Raytheon, whose UK-made Paveway IV bombs have been linked by Human Rights Watch to attacks on civilian infrastructure,
  • MBDA, a missile company part-owned by BAE whose Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles are being used by Saudi forces
  • and Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, whose bombs were used by Saudi forces in the destruction of a school bus in which dozens of children were killed.

As Mahathir Mohammed pointed out at a the Kuala Lumpur World Peace Conference many years ago: “The media belonging to the countries selling the arms condemn these small countries for entering into an arms race and wasting money. They never condemn the high pressure salesman or the vast sums expended in the research and production of these weapons by the rich”.

Caroline Jones describes how Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) approached Balding’s representatives urging her to rethink her decision, pointing out that in 2016 she hosted the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to help the people of Yemen and saying:

“It is clear why these companies want to be associated with positive causes, and why they want to work with respected personalities and role models. We respect and admire all of the excellent advocacy work that you do, which is why we are asking you to reconsider your attendance and cancel your speech.”

Clare decided not to attend.

And as usual (above), diners were greeted by Stop the Arms Fair activists reminding them of the role played by companies like BAE Systems in the death and oppression of people around the world, governments who support and subsidise them and the people who vote for them.

 

 

 

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Outsourcing 8: apprenticeship training 2017-2020

In 2018, the Times (paywall) reported the verdict of MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “The apprenticeship levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.

Instead it has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships. 

She noted that more companies are setting themselves up as training providers and that Ofsted says that it will struggle to keep tabs on these. The following year her report pointed out that too many apprentices were still being trained by sub-standard providers.

Around a third of apprentices covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. The poor quality of some contributed to a situation where over 30% of apprentices fail to complete their apprenticeship successfully each year.

A letter to the Times editor added: “The Learndirect scandal serves as a stark case: an organisation was allowed to take on more and more learners (reaching 75,000) when warning signs of inadequate training and poor financial management were already being issued”.

The Financial Times reminded readers that Learndirect was privatised and sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but is still reliant on government funding. When the Public Accounts Committee questioned Learndirect and Ofsted, Ofsted revealed the findings of Learndirect’s “inadequate” performance and the ‘legal shenanigans’ used to prevent earlier revelations. The findings included:

The National Audit office’s 2019 report focussed on the cost of apprenticeships and the low rate of uptake. In its first full year of operation, the apprenticeship levy raised £2.7 billion and this is expected to rise to £3.4 billion by 2023-24. However, there have been repeated warnings in recent months that the funding pot generated by the levy is about to run out

Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on an Education and Skills (EDSK) report, based on official data, which has investigated what is happening with the apprenticeship levy and the apprenticeship system in England more broadly. 

It found that 50% of apprenticeships funded by the levy are ‘fake’, citing figures which relate closely to those reported by the Public Accounts Committee, recorded in the FT box above:

  • Some £1.2bn of the £2.4bn money raised since the levy was introduced in April 2017 had been spent on “fake” apprenticeships, rebadged MBA courses and low-skilled jobs training,
  • £550m of levy funding had been spent on management training courses for experienced employees, which previously would have been funded from professional development budgets.
  • Highly qualified academics, many of whom already have PhDs, had been relabelled as apprentices in order to put them through levy-funded professional development courses.
  • And £235m had been used to teach people in low-skilled jobs, including working at a shop checkout or serving in a bar, often requiring minimal training, which pay low wages and do not meet any established definition of an apprentice.

Last July Boris Johnson said that, while he will always “defend and extol the advantages of having a degree, there are far too many young people who leave university with huge debts, and no clear sense of how their academic qualification has helped their career.” He has pledged to “elevate practical and technical qualifications” to “recognise their immense value to society and to the individual” and to raise funding for apprenticeships.

As – regrettably – Learndirect has re-emerged in the apprenticeship sector under a new name: Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd., EDSK reflects that government pays private providers taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but can fail to monitor the results or truly penalise those that do not deliver. It recommends the Department for Education to tighten rules to stop financing of rebadged MBAs and low-skilled training and introduce a new definition of apprenticeship, benchmarked against the world’s best technical education systems.

 

 

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Baron McNicol in the FT: ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’

On Saturday, Iain McNicol’s article ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’ was published in the Financial Times

As a post Corbyn entrant to the Labour Party I had only dimly heard of McNicol, so read around and discovered that he had been general secretary of the Labour party from 2011 to 2018 and now sits in the House of Lords. Then came a disturbing account of his wrecking tactics in his Wikipedia entry, condensed in The Jacobin by Daniel Finn:

“The party leadership has put a lot of effort into revamping Labour’s disciplinary processes so that real cases of antisemitism can be dealt with more quickly. Much of this work has been done since Jennie Formby took over as Labour’s general secretary in April 2018, replacing Iain McNicol, who was bitterly hostile to Corbyn. Some of the party officials who departed with McNicol had been slowing down the handling of cases, whether through incompetence or malice, knowing that Corbyn’s team would get the blame from the British media”.

No physiognomist needed

Finn described MacNicol as being one of the influential political players from Labour’s right-wing, anti-Corbyn faction which has a negligible organisational base in the party and unions but is closely linked to supportive media outlets. This faction is composed of Blairites and some MPs from the 2010 intake who believed themselves to be contenders for the party leadership once the Corbyn project collapsed.

MacNicol’s theme: “Clause One of the Labour party rule book states that the party’s purpose is to ‘promote the election of Labour party representatives at all levels of the democratic process’. It does not state that its function is to be a radical protest party. The fight is now on for Labour’s soul and the future”.

After taking credit for 2017’s ‘professionally-run campaign with strategic goals, a cutting edge social media campaign’ he refers to ‘a freshness that appealed to a broad coalition, including many hard-to-reach voters’.

This freshness was actually due to the surprise appearance of an honest and caring politician, the first in many decades.

Corbyn’s spectacular insurgent campaigns stand as vivid demonstrations that, as he said upon taking leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015, “things can, and they will, change.” Corbyn’s ease on the campaign trail and assured performances on TV transformed perceptions. He became Labour’s great asset (Alex Nunns)

MacNicol continued: “What did Labour offer? Everything to everyone and that was the problem . . . Corbynism has been an abject failure. We need a strong leader to reignite the party and connect with voters”.

Quickly disposing of Rebecca Long-Bailey: “If elected, she would kill any chance of Labour improving its electoral prospects” he moved on to focus on Keir Starmer, attracting the bulk of the support from MPs, the backing of Unison, the largest trade union and appointing a campaign team drawn from both left and right of the party

Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – ‘capable of driving the transition Labour needs- – are likely to gain the necessary support to have their names on the ballot paper.

He ends, “A renewed Labour party, with a strong leader, could win the 123 seats needed to secure a majority . . . on April 4 take steps honour the promise of Clause One and move back to bidding for power or remain a party of protest.

So must the party resurrect New Labour? Will Corbynism and the bid for truth, peace and justice, end with Corbyn?

 

 

 

 

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