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PMQs: Lutz in the Birmingham Press got it right. Corbyn impressed

A recent article by Richard Lutz in the Birmingham Press opened: “The Prime Minister will have to have change his upper class bully boy tactics once he faces new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Lutz recounted: “PMQs is hardly polite. In fact, it is so red in tooth and claw that the Speaker had to recently warn baying Parliamentarians to calm down as some of the more demure MPs said it just wasn’t worth showing up any more . . . but with the chance to perform for TV, it has become more and more nasty, personal, vindictive and, ultimately, void of any real content”. He referred to Cameron: “braying personalised attacks at those sitting across the House from him”.

Watching PMQs today – recorded here.

jc magisterial pmq firstElderly readers of the Times who have been voicing concerns about his appearance will be reassured by the fact that he was wearing a tie – a concern which also seems to loom large in the mainstream press.

Corbyn, with considerable gravitas, opened – to Labour applause and opposition silence – by referring to the public’s perception that conduct in ‘this place’ is too theatrical and out of touch. He remembered welcoming Cameron’s 2005 promise to end the “Punch and Judy” politics of PMQs, sadly unfulfilled.

Over 40,000 people sent in questions for Mr Corbyn’s consideration. Of the 2500 on housing he selected Marie’s focus on the chronic lack of affordable housing and thanked the PM for his polite, “more adult” reply. We learnt that the government’s July order to cut rents in social housing by1% for the next four years has already led to 150 job cuts in a Stevenage housing association and will mean less money will be available to spend on maintenance and housing. Elsewhere we read that it will also reduce housebuilding by housing associations.

Paul’s question, conveyed by the new Labour leader, doubted the wisdom of taking £1000 from each of 3 million working families in April through family tax credit cuts, as these credits were essential to avoid reliance on food banks.  

A relatively minor level of shouting from Labour benches (by PMQ standards a murmur) was reproved by the prime minister as not being in keeping with the new style advocated by Corbyn.

Cameron answered that employment is at an ‘all time high’ and wages are rising, and referred to those who choose to live on welfare payments rather than work. Corbyn answered gravely that many people don’t have the choice. He then cited the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 8000 families would suffer a 26% loss.

Gail provided the next question, which opened with the dramatic statement that all accept that the mental health service is ‘on its knees’ and David Cameron appeared to agree. He said the parties should ’work together on this’ adding an oblique reference to the media fables about the Corbyn economic agenda: “there can be no strong NHS without a strong economy”.

The question from Angela, a mental health professional, referred to the lack of available beds which meant that patients were left without accommodation or moved far away from family and friends. Mr Cameron agreed: “We need to do more as a country; beds are important”, but then alleged that mental health issues are often not treated when patients go to their GP.

After fifteen minutes, Jeremy Corbyn’s questions ended and there was a change of tack, which could be described as indirect sniping – when questioners no longer had to face a Corbyn reply.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson says his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident” – but had to ask ‘What happened to the new PMQs?’ after Cameron asked him in a jeering manner if ‘the SNP is frit?’

Nigel Dodds (DUP) belligerently referred to shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that we should “honour” IRA members who died in the armed struggle – a remark set in full context in a careful report of the proceedings in the Independent.

Conservative bloomer, surely?

Julian Knight stressed the importance of Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent – which actually does not exist, as many point out, Alex Thomson for one: our “independent” Trident missiles in reality come from Lockheed Martin in the US and are maintained by the US Navy. So we are being asked to spend around  £100bn to maintain and replace an “independent” nuclear strike capability – which does not exist. David Morrison adds: “If Britain doesn’t maintain friendly relations with the US, then it won’t have a functional nuclear weapons system, despite having spent billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money on it – because the US would simply cease providing Britain with serviceable Trident missiles”.

Other MPs questions followed, making references – probably planted to provoke – to increased defence spending, NATO membership, traditional values and the national anthem.

Lutz was right on target:

david cameron pmqCameron did ‘play it cool’, not going for ‘the teenage nastiness that has sadly stained the current level of PMQ debate in the last years’.

He did stick to answering questions, and for the time being he appeared to be “growing up”.

My neighbour said drily, ”Only another 25,000 questions to go.”

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Are anti-Corbyn attacks prompted by politicians and their wealthy funders for religious or economic reasons?

As the Facebook blog  Jews4Jeremy is taken down without explanation, online articles with allegations of anti-semitism proliferate.

jews2 jeremy

The wealthy and their dependents – professing all religions or none – will fear the growing support for Corbyn’s socially valuable economic policies – some named in a blog based on a Birmingham Press article to be published here tomorrow:

  • a high tax economy for the wealthy,
  • re-nationalisation of the railways (by not renewing private sector franchises) and private utilities in the energy sector,
  • removal of all elements of privatisation from the NHS,
  • re-introduction of rent controls to reduce the amount the state pays to private landlords,
  • funding of infrastructure by quantitative easing,
  • a rebalancing of the economy away from a reliance on financial services to the manufacturing sector,
  • tightening of banking regulations (Osborne intends relaxing them further),
  • re-introduction of a 50% rate of income tax,
  • raising of corporation tax (currently at a historically low level) by 0.5%, as a means of paying for the abolition of tuition fees.

Such measures would reduce investor and rentier profits or even remove their sources, in the case of re-nationalisation.

jc text3

Do readers believe the denunciations of politicians with corporate allies, or the statement by Jeremy Corbyn?

Austerity 4: cuts persist as the state offers even richer pickings for corporations

 Recently Lesley Docksey sent this heartfelt reflection:

“The trouble is we know the problem, and it’s all very well George and Seamas saying we have to ban this, get rid of that and set up something else.

99%-3

“But how do we actually do it, how do we the people force a break between the corporate power and politicians?”

Despite the poor record of service by the private sector in prisons, transport, energy and water, British schools and hospitals are loudly threatened with takeover, a slavish imitation of our special friend’s policies for schools and hospitals.

Cameron's real change

Anne sent this link to an article by Jon Stone about the fire hazard and other structural failings of Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, first opened in 2000 under the “private finance initiative”, under which the NHS pays a private company rent-like payments to make use of facilities. The UK now owes more than £222bn to banks and corporations for these Private Finance Initiatives, conceived by Conservatives in the 1990s and ‘embraced’ by New Labour.

Will this hospital be handed over to ‘the state’? In other words, farmed out to Capita, G4S or Serco?

atos costs

In the FT, Gill Plimmer reported that the Official Journal of the European Union database, which records every public sector contract worth more than £115m, reveals that £20bn worth of government contracts is now handed to the private sector. About half of council waste management services and 23% of human resources, IT and payroll functions are now privatised. Tens of thousands of health, defence, security and IT workers have transferred to corporate employers such as Babcock, G4S, Serco, Capia, Mitie and Carillion. This continues, even though the reputation of the private sector in delivering public services has been repeatedly damaged – examples include the high profile failure of G4S during the Olympics and the legal action facing Virgin Care over its running of NHS and social care services in Devon. Monbiot’s devastating, fully referenced account of such failures may be read here and others have been written by Gill Plimmer in the Financial Times.

‘Mayoral hokum’

joe anderson liverpool mayorAs all these services are transferred via the state into corporate care, the cities themselves are being coerced to follow the mayoral route – which, as Steve Beauchampé notes in the Birmingham Press -was soundly rejected by voters in Birmingham, Coventry and seven other cities.

Did Liverpool – which held no referendum – make the right choice?

Chancellor Osborne is insisting that powers must be devolved through the office of a regional mayor – so much easier to induce or threaten than a whole council – a puppet?

As economic geographer, Professor Michael Chisholm summarised the position more politely, “One could cynically say that the proposal for elected mayors is yet another structural diversion while the steady centralisation of power continues”.

Beauchampé proposes consigning this ‘mayoral hokum’ to its rightful place in the dustbin of history, rejecting the notion that in a democracy just one person can understand, represent and address people’s priorities, needs and hopes, creating and implementing a vision for our fast changing region and its youthful population. He sets out a ‘radical’ – because truly democratic – alternative as a draft proposal.

But, as Lesley asks, “how do we the people force the break between the corporate power and politicians?”

Proportional representation could be the first step.

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Was fear the key?

In the Birmingham Press , Steve Beauchampé, who correctly predicted that the Tories would be the largest party in terms of seats and vote, comments on the results of the General Election 2015. The writer has made a pedestrian (3) summary of points made:

  • although (Ed: because?) a decent and honest guy, Ed Miliband has never convinced voters that he was Prime Ministerial material, whilst Labour was not trusted on the economy.
  • The Conservatives had their relentlessly vaunted ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ whilst Labour gave us Liam Byrne’s ‘I’m afraid there is no money’ piece of paper, probably the shortest suicide note in political history.
  • No party wins a UK General Election when both their leader and their economic competence persistently polls second in the court of public opinion, something that Miliband and Labour did for almost five years.
  • the Conservatives, having finished second in a large majority of Liberal Democrat seats in 2010, were always the most likely beneficiaries of the expected Lib Dem vote collapse.
  • it was clear that Labour would suffer heavy losses to the Scottish Nationalists – in a geographical area where the Conservatives themselves, quite literally, had almost nothing to lose.

The fear factor

A hung parliament still seemed likely though, possibly allowing Labour to try to form a government by assembling a left-leaning alliance. But . . . cleverly knitting together the public’s two main worries, Cameron’s claim that: “One wants to bankrupt Britain, the other wants to break up Britain” might just have been the most effective line spoken during the entire campaign, whilst their poster showing Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket was crude but effective.

Labour’s incessant lambasting of the SNP merely reinforced this narrative and with the minor gains and losses between Labour and the Conservatives largely cancelling each other out, and with the First Past The Post electoral system taking care of any threat from smaller parties – such as the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Greens – the Conservatives were all but assured of retaining power.

The travesty of First Past The Post: surely the most effective lock for perpetuating the Labour/Conservative hegemony anyone could devise:

UKIP polled almost 3.9m votes (12.6%).

The Green Party over 1.1m (3.8%), but each won just a single seat.

The Lib Dems (2.4m votes and 7.9%) remain under-represented with just eight seats, Labour, the Conservatives and (probably for the first time) the SNP are significantly overrepresented.

There seems little prospect of either an elected Second Chamber or the devolution of powers to English regions involving democratically accountable structures.

When we can’t even offer every MP a seat and table in the Commons chamber and adequate office space in which to carry out their duties what hope is there for more fundamental reform?

Only around 66% of those registered to vote actually did so, whilst millions more people aren’t even on the electoral register (Individual Voter Registration saw over 900,000 drop off in the year to December 2014 and far more could join them at the end of 2015).

The Conservatives attained absolute power on 36.1% of the vote and despite having few, if any, elected representatives in many of the largest conurbations. Such unjustified concentrations of power are also to be found under Labour rule; for instance the party controls all 96 seats on Manchester city council.

Yet instead of addressing these seismic failings in our democratic system, Britain is likely to spend much of the next five years becoming more isolationist. It is all very depressing.

Read Beauchampé’s Press article in full here.

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As the polls tighten it’s been a week of charm and threats in the Scottish Referendum campaign

Steve Beauchampé’s Birmingham Press blog, reproduced with permission

“Darling, I know can be dominating, but I promise to give you more space and be less possessive, I can change, we can make things work, we’re a team, better together. Please, please, please just don’t leave me!”

“But woe betide you if you do leave…I’ll ruin you financially, you’ll never work again, I’ll take all of your friends, I’ll make your life hell, I’ll see you in court – and remember I can afford a better lawyer than you!”

The British Establishment can be a thoroughly unpleasant bunch when cornered.

Right now they feel cornered, horrified, terrified, panicking that the sureties of power and control that they have held for several centuries, and which they complacently expected to hold on to after the referendum on Scottish independence, might be less certain than they believed.

So on one hand, and with all the sincerity of Jimmy Savile in a children’s hospital ward, they turn on the charm.

Firstly, the three main English political parties belatedly confirm offers to devolve a limited package of powers to Scotland (even though many Scots have already passed judgment on independence via postal voting).

Prime Minister David Cameron demonstrates his love of Scotland by flying the Scottish Saltire above Downing Street (and urging everyone else to fly it too).

Meanwhile the mainstream parties bring out every political big hitter they can muster (other than toxic Tony) to plead for national unity. Move over Darling indeed!

And pro-Unionist cheerleaders in the media, financial sector and business world threaten the Scots.

Yet at the same time most other arms of government, supported by their pro-Unionist cheerleaders in the media, financial sector and business world rapidly up the ante by threatening the Scots with all manner of grief if they dare to break with Britain; a run on Scottish banks, a financial crisis lasting years, exclusion from NATO, the EU, the Olympics, the introduction of border posts, immediate withdrawal of some parliamentary representation.

Then there’s the ratcheting up of emotional pressure and use of the ‘Blame Scotland’ card, with claims that a Yes vote would downgrade Britain’s status, power and prestige on the world stage, threaten our permanent seat on the UN Security Council, provide a boost to our competitors and – almost treasonably – offend the Queen something rotten.

Destroying the Union, alarming and upsetting the Queen, it’s a campaign of intimidation and shaming that may yet work. Or perhaps it will result in enough Scots thinking, like many who instigate divorce, that they’ve had enough and while sure, things may get tough for a few years, this is a price worth paying for the freedom to determine their own future, make their own mistakes and prove to their ex, and anyone else who doubted them, that they can and will survive.

We’ll soon know, but whilst the three mainstream party leaders head north today to love bomb Scotland, SNP Leader Alex Salmond and his colleagues increasingly play the anti-politics, anti-Westminster elite card so successfully deployed in recent times by UKIP

Whatever the referendum result it seems that significant change to the United Kingdom’s acutely centralised, London-dominated political, economic and cultural structures could follow. I hope so because the British Establishment has had this coming. Keeping everything of national importance in London, siphoning off billions for South East public infrastructure projects, the arts and sport whilst starving other regions of investment by comparison, has helped foster resentment and turned the capital into something increasingly akin to a city-state.

Even the use of terminology such as ‘the regions and ‘the provinces’ insults and patronises us, creating a divisive and superior mentality.

Whichever way Scotland votes on September 18th both Wales and Northern Ireland will seek further devolution, whilst calls for an English parliament will increase. In all of the hoopla caused by the sudden realisation that Scotland and England really might be on the cusp of a divorce, and whilst acknowledging that Whitehall would cede its powers only reluctantly, perhaps the more federal governance structure that Britain so urgently needs may soon be several steps closer.

And a stylistic contrast, in serious, scholarly vein, Steve’s latest book: ‘Pool of Memories – A History of Moseley Road Baths