National Health Action Party executive condemns influence of corporate sector and recommends vote to REMAIN
The executive of the National Health Action Party – formed by health professionals deeply concerned about the state of the NHS – decided that they would not actively campaign in the debate when the referendum was first announced.
The party policy on democracy in both the UK and the EU has not been fundamentally affected by the referendum and it remains the case that they want to see substantial reform of our democratic processes.
However, at all levels, local, national and supra-national, the democratic process is being subverted by the undue influence of the corporate sector.
This enables industrial scale tax avoidance, legislation which is skewed in the interests of those with most financial influence and our elected representatives vote on issues from which they benefit personally or politically. The message continues:
“As the current investigations into Tory electoral expenses shows it is clear we are in danger of allowing those with the most money to buy elections. We have, in effect, a two party system. This makes it very easy for corporate influence to be maintained as it will always be one or the other in government (with the exception of the occasional Coalition). In the EU the corporate sector meets the negotiators from the Commission to discuss agreements such as CETA and TTIP behind closed doors with very little access given to representatives from campaign groups. These exceed the remit of ordinary trade agreements. Not only do they cover the traditional ground of tariffs (import and export duty) and quotas but also contain substantial deregulatory conditions. As even Peter Lilley, Conservative MP, has noted, this is not the proper business of a trade agreement. These are areas which national governments legislate for.
“In short, at both national and supra-national level, we have neo-liberal government and we have had for the last 30 years at least. In the current context what we are seeing is a lot of jockeying for position from the right wing over the leadership of the Tory Party and the political opportunism of UKIP, but neither side talks about the political reality of the situation. It is not in the interest of neo-liberals to discuss the faults in their own ideology. So the real issues around the EU are never aired, despite the fact that it is the only debate we should be having. Indeed if the EU and our relationship with it had ever genuinely been on the agenda surely the negotiation of the Lisbon Treaty, in 2009, would have been the appropriate time, not now.
“The NHS and how-much-or-how-little is or will be spent on it has been the subject of much speculation. But this is a simplistic notion. The NHA is well aware that the de-funding of the NHS, whilst improving the private sector access to contracts and to the running of the commissioning system itself, is a political choice not an economic one. ‘Austerity’ economics is an ideological commitment to shrinking the state, not a genuine lack of money in this, the fifth richest country in the world. Our services are under threat in or out of the EU. The decision we have to make is about how we can best counter that threat. CETA, TTIP and TISA create additional pressure for the further privatisation of our public services and adds a ‘locking down’ element which will make it very difficult for any future progressive UK government to restore them to public ownership and delivery. But this is where the debate hinges for NHA.
“Across Europe there is mounting opposition to these agreements. Not only campaign groups but governments have begun to question them. Here in the UK, however, it is very possible that in the event of an exit vote on Thursday the UK government would start its own negotiations, unimpeded by the progressive voices joining ours across Europe. In these circumstances it appears that the best counter weight we can have to international corporate power is international cooperation.
“There is another counter-democratic strand that runs through this debate. It says, ‘this is your one and only chance to vote’. No, it isn’t. The whole point of democracy is that you don’t just get one shot at something. We debate – and vote – on that basis.
We should be under no illusions about the task to counter the There Is No Alternative mantra of the neo-liberals. If the vote on Thursday is to remain, Cameron’s government will no doubt insist that their ‘mandate’ to destroy the welfare state and continue austerity has been renewed.
“If the vote is to leave we face truly dangerous times as Farage will claim it validates him and his odious politics. But progressives should be clear. If we tear each other apart after Thursday in an avalanche of blame and recrimination then we will not be equipped for the fight to come.
“If it is ‘remain’ we must prepare to stand the best candidates we can for the European elections in 2019. If it is ‘leave’ we must prepare for a possible early general election. It is in this context that the NHA executive recommends to the party that they vote to remain in the EU in the referendum this Thursday. The NHA Executive Committee.”
As primary sponsor, he introduced the EDM 1067: Country Living magazine Fair Trade for British Farmers campaign.
Then he became silent and left all to his colleague Andrew George who never faltered in forming and backing the campaign for a Groceries Ombudsman, despite strong opposition from large retailers. The fact that this has proved of little help to farmers is due to the government’s emasculation of the original proposal.
Opportunist youth or principled maturity?
Now, in a politically understandable but ethically reprehensible move, he is not only courting former party members who left during their spell in coalition but making headlines for a delighted establishment media, with unsubstantiated claims that Labour Party members are contacting him – the implication being that they might join the party.
A formerly active Lib Dem member, who has joined the Labour Party under Corbyn, has forwarded Mr Farron’s claims in his e-letter – apparently referring to the Miliband administration:
“Labour shows no intention or desire to understand economic responsibility. They have given up challenging the Government on the economy, and given them the freedom to make punitive decisions against the most vulnerable”. This does not apply to Corbyn’s administration. And ends:
“We cannot let the Government go unchallenged, and it’s why the Liberal Democrats are now the only party of credible opposition. Liberal Democrats represent people in Britain who care about helping those in need, who believe that those with the broadest shoulders must carry the heaviest burden, who care about how free and fair our society is, and who believe we need to spend within our means to achieve it”.
How much more logical and constructive it would have been for Farron to join the new politics being created by the current Labour administration and leaders of parties like NHAP, Plaid, the Greens and Mebyon Kernow. And many have welcomed the words of the SNP’s able Commons leader MP, Angus Robertson at the latest PMQs. In statesmanlike tones, and with an effective reproof after David Cameron’s lapse, he said that his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident”
Next: Times’ journalists: ignorant of John McDonnell’s work and alliances, economical with the truth, or under orders?
Nearest to dream team for the 99%: Miliband, supported by Greens, Plaid, NHAP and SNP, with Brand as scrutineer?
Economic inequality: inimical to civilised life
The FT recently published an essay by Martin Wolf, their associate editor and chief economics commentator. He said that the extraordinary response to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century revealed that the ground for renewed interest in inequality was already fertile, noting that two experts, the British economist Sir Anthony Atkinson and the French economist François Bourguignon [chief economist at the World Bank] have written books which make important new contributions:
“Those who desire a thought-provoking guide to policy options in advanced countries should grapple with Atkinson’s work”.
Atkinson notes that the US and UK have experienced exceptionally large rises in inequality since 1980 whereas levels of inequality are relatively low in the Nordic countries. He points out that ratios of wealth to national income have risen sharply since the mid-1970s and that a significant part of this increase in wealth belongs to the middle and upper-middle classes, because of the rise in the proportion of the population that owns its own homes, many of which have appreciated greatly in value. Underlying these trends, argue the authors, are complex economic forces:
- technological change;
- the rise of winners-take-all markets;
- financial liberalisation
Specifics: a huge increase in rent extraction and a decline in the egalitarian ethos of the ‘50s
There has been a huge rise in the pay of the business executives who control a large part of the economy’s resources, in extraordinary earnings in the financial sector assisted by the pro-free-market turn by politicians across the world since about 1980, and a decline in the egalitarian ethos that held sway in many countries in the mid-20th century.
Atkinson argues that unequal societies do not function well. The need to protect personal security or to incarcerate ever more people is likely to become a drag on economic performance and inimical to civilised life. If inequality becomes extreme, many will be unable to participate fully in their society.
He points out that the economic argument is that putting a pound in the hands of someone living on £10,000 a year must be worth more to them and to the economy than it would be to someone living on £1m.
His programme of radical reform for the UK is precise and costed, according to Wolf. It begins with the argument that rising inequality “is not solely the product of forces outside our control. There are steps that can be taken by governments, acting individually or collectively, by firms, by trade union and consumer organisations, and by us as individuals to reduce the present levels of inequality”. Policy makers should:
- develop a national pay policy, including a statutory minimum wage set at the “living wage”,
- offer guaranteed public employment at that rate,
- introduce a “participation income” at a national or even EU level, or — as an alternative to such a universal income — social insurance should be made more generous.,
- offer national savings bonds that guarantee a positive real return, and should create a capital endowment paid to all on reaching adulthood,
- return to far more progressive personal income taxes, up to a top rate of 65 per cent,
- make the tax on property should be proportional or progressive, not regressive, as it is now, largely because the main tax on property — the council tax — bears proportionately far more heavily on lower-value housing.
Yet, Wolf comments, history is not on Atkinson’s side. The two world wars and the Great Depression not only devastated private wealth, but also created a powerful sense that “we are all in it together”. Moreover, capital flows were controlled and capitalism was predominantly national.
Wolf: “a situation in which the world’s wealthiest are among the least taxed is indefensible”
Martin Wolf describing Atkinson’s thinking as ‘radical’, takes a palliative line advocating concentrating resources on children, and particularly the children of the relatively disadvantaged. This could in many cases break the multi-generational cycle of deprivation for some families.
He thinks that the sensible, though politically difficult course, is to tax ownership of land and other scarce natural resources more heavily. Furthermore, a tax on lifetime receipts of gifts and bequests, plus wider spreading of educational opportunities, seems to him to be the only way to limit the cascade of unearned advantages across generations.
It is also important to reduce rent extraction, including by corporate management, and to improve co-operation over the taxation of income, particularly income from capital.
Wolf believes Atkinson’s ideas will not be adopted, at least in the UK, even though he recognises that unequal societies do not function well, increasing ‘the need to protect personal security or to incarcerate ever more people, is likely to become a drag on economic performance and inimical to civilised life’.
The writer thinks that some South and Central American countries, Iceland, Scotland, Wales, the Nordic countries and, at present, Greece, have more sense and a desire to promote the common good with the potential to recreate a powerful sense that “we are all in it together”, with capital flows controlled – voluntarily or politically – and a co-operative capitalism, focussing primarily on meeting the needs of all rather than foreign trade and speculation.
Could Miliband, supported by Greens, Plaid, NHAP and SNP, with Brand as scrutineer move firmly in this direction?
Inequality: What Can be Done?, by Anthony Atkinson, Harvard University Press, RRP£19.95/$29.95, 304 pages
The Globalization of Inequality, by François Bourguignon, translated by Thomas Scott-Railton, Princeton University Press, RRP£19.95/$27.95, 200 pages
Earlier this month George Parker of the Financial Times asserted: “it is the state of the economy that remains at the heart of the malaise in British politics”, but his other reflections were nearer the mark.
He said that: “Panic over the rise of the populists is spreading across the Westminster establishment, which is turning on itself in a round of recrimination bordering on self-loathing. With a general election less than six months away, British politics is about to enter a volatile and unpredictable phase”.
Another comment: “Polls suggest voters regard the Westminster class as out of touch and incompetent . . . Global events have exposed the inability of the British elite to identify risks, let alone deal with them. From the financial crash, through the rise of Russian aggression in Ukraine to the surge in Islamic radicalism in the Middle East, Westminster politicians were initially blindsided, then appeared impotent in their response”.
A serious indictment – and he should have added to it a reference to the fatally corrosive effect of the corporate–political alliances which skew decision-making in favour of the already rich.
This is seen as corruption by many, here and in America (see cartoon). It is noted that – in this particular – the Westminster class are far from ignorant and incompetent when adding to their incomes and those of family and friends – aka ‘feathering their nests’.
Mr Parker expresses the sense, among some British voters, that they are victims rather than beneficiaries of globalisation, which – Political Concern adds – has offered so many opportunities for leaders of corporations and governments to enrich themselves at the expense of the ‘rank and file’, vastly increasing economic inequality and environmental pollution.
He continues: “If the mood continues, the next election could see a remarkable rejection of traditional politics . . . neither of Britain’s main parties can expect to win an overall Commons majority in the election, which will be held on May 7. A period of instability and multi-party coalitions – possibly including minority parties as diverse as UKIP, the Scottish National party, Ulster unionists and the Greens – is a real possibility”. And adds:
Both Tories and Labour acknowledge that supporting UKIP has become a cry of pain from people who no longer feel they have a stake in the future and have lost faith in Westminster politicians to help them.
Many will watch with interest campaigns by ‘minority parties’: SNP, the Greens, NHAP, Plaid Cymru, in Cornwall Mebyon Kernow and UKIP, which still gives cause for concern.
Time for change!
A new party, co-founded by two doctors – former MP Richard Taylor and oncologist Dr Clive Peedell – with virtually no public awareness, no media coverage, and no money, resources or local party infrastructure, gained quite a good result in the recent elections.
The National Health Action Party (NHAP) – set up to defend the NHS and its values – polled 23,253 votes, coming 9th out of 17 parties in a very crowded field in London’s Euro election. Local election candidates around the country on average polled 20% more than the Lib Dems, 50% more than the Greens and took almost 20% of the Labour vote, gaining an average of 6% of the total vote.
NHAP condemns this government’s ‘clear agenda to increasingly privatise and commercialise the NHS’.
Promoting this agenda, they write, the BBC and the Daily Telegraph revealed their allegiance today with ‘sickening’ headlines about the sad death of a baby from a contaminated drip.
Though the food was manufactured and supplied by ITH Pharma Limited, a private pharmaceutical company, the Telegraph used this distressing story as an excuse to attack the NHS, with its headline: “15 babies poisoned by NHS drips”. This afternoon the BBC website declared: “Three new baby NHS poisoning cases”.
After a storm of protest on twitter, both organisations changed their headlines. NHAP co-leader, Dr Clive Peedell, is making formal complaints to both the Press Complaints Commission and the BBC.
Two months ago, it was also revealed that the private healthcare firm Bupa was bribing their patients to use NHS services in order to maximise the company’s profit. Yet this scandal received only limited attention in our partisan media.
NHAP is thinking seriously about the most effective way to make more people aware they exist and to build on this positive start in the recent elections. They hope to ensure that the tens of thousands of Londoners who have publicly declared they are seriously concerned about running down and selling off the NHS grows to hundreds of thousands and then millions around the country.