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Is the Conservative Party truly the party of the working class?

Edited extracts from an article by MP Dawn Butler, responding to a claim by Minister Liz Truss

Her message to Theresa May: you delivered a caring speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, but it is clear that it was nothing more than rhetoric and spin. The few it governs for are certainly not the working class . . .

Rents have sky-rocketed to ridiculous levels, with my constituents, in the worst cases, spending 70% of their wages on rent alone, whilst drivers on modest incomes – who need their car to get to and from work – continue to face misery at the petrol pump. In Brent, we have two very busy foodbanks and several soup and bread kitchens. This 19th century scenario is the sad reality for the working class in 21st century Britain.

Wages for the majority of people have continued to fall in real terms, whilst those at the top have seen their salaries soar

Living conditions in the UK are now at their lowest levels for 60 years, with hundreds of thousands of families relying on food parcels just to get by. Our hospitals are in crisis, hate crime has rocketed and homelessness has doubled.

And to compound the struggle, this government has been cutting services, such as money for pupils, access to justice and policing

This means that when you are being discriminated against at work, you will be less likely to be able to take your employer to court. Tribunal cases have plummeted by 70%. To the government this number represents success, but to me, these are hard-working people who have had the rug pulled from underneath them when it comes to getting proper recompense for their grievances. These are the signs of a government destroying the working conditions and protections of those who need it most.

Nearly one million people are on zero hours contracts which means, from month to month, they are in a panic to know if they can pay their rent on time or at all.

This government is openly deceiving the general public by claiming to be something they’re so clearly not. Whether you call it “alt-facts” or “fake news”, if such untruths are peddled often enough, people soon start to believe it may be true.

Conservatives have tried to force the trade union bill through parliament to silence and, ultimately, destroy trade unions. Why would they want to do this unless they wanted also to destroy the voice of the working class and important workers’ rights? How about the workers’ rights bill? The Tories wouldn’t allow a discussion in parliament of a bill which sought to protect the rights of the working class after Brexit. Features like working 48 hour weeks, holiday pay and maternity and paternity rights are all at risk due to us leaving the EU. The government appear to be running roughshod over them.

Dawn ends:

Throughout our history in power we have championed the working man and woman in establishing great working class systems, from the NHS to the minimum wage, and all equality legislation, tenets that have now become the fibre that gives our country its unity, fairness and strength. We defended SME businesses, created through a movement of working class men women and trade unions, all with a common goal of helping the many and not just the few.

 

Dawn Butler is MP for Brent Central

 

Is Britain ‘shuffling on its Zimmer’ towards hegemony?

One-party rule for the foreseeable future?

On Sunday evening two of our readers were considering the future and seeing no possibility of anything other than an elective dictatorship, after boundary changes expected to boost the Conservatives by 20 English seats.

The younger generation and their children will bear the brunt

trickle-downAs yet, most people in their 20s and 30s merely express mild concern about this prospect – they don’t seem to realise the implications of such apathy for all who are not wealthy, not of Oxbridge/Russell Group ability or not in good health.

Award-winning journalist Matthew Norman has asked three questions:

How long do you think it will be before a party other than the Conservatives is in position to form a government?

Can you imagine it within two decades, or three?

Can you envisage it in your lifetime at all? 

An article he wrote last February referred to “our enfeebled democracy” and his sense that “Britain is shuffling on its Zimmer towards one-party statehood”. The points made included:

  • Labour is politically wounded by its huge losses in Scotland.
  • Labour has also been financially weakened by the Government’s Trade Union Bill halving what it gets from the unions.
  • Government will continue to sidestep the Commons by using statutory instruments and
  • threaten to create new peers whenever the Lords don’t rubberstamp cruel and oppressive measures.
  • Government will inflict more austerity on the poorest, continue to award beneficial concessions for the richest
  • and allow the health of city dwellers and the climate to be even more affected by many forms of pollution which benefit big business. 

Matthew Norman finds it “incredibly depressing . . . that no one gives a damn”

The writer puts it more mildly, like Yeats she finds that: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”.

hegemony-graphic 

Democracy appears to be doomed – unless the cross-party alliance to promote electoral reform gains ground.

 

 

 

Party funding: should Corbyn play the same game?

As the government tries to financially ‘cripple’ Labour but  protect its own income, Ayesha Hazarika argues “It’s not selling out to try to save the finances of the Labour Party”.

“Scandal”, says Times columnist Rachel Sylvester, explaining that the government wants to require union members to “opt in” to give money to political parties, “a small but critical change which is likely to cost Labour up to £6 million every year”. The Treasury has also announced cuts of almost 20% to the money paid to opposition parties to help them with their parliamentary costs.

She adds that though the system is ‘ripe for reform’, Government is doing nothing to limit the large donations from wealthy individuals on which the Conservative party’s income depends.

adam fleming event videoAdam Fleming addresses guests arriving at a 2015 fund-raiser – the most high-profile missed as they ‘snuck in the back’ – video here.

But it’s no laughing matter. An un-named MP said, “There are so many of us within the Conservative party who are sick of having to chat up hedge fund people — it distorts everything. We should use this opportunity to cleanse the whole system and show we are not the party of the rich.”

At one fund-raising event, it was reported, the table plan listed two bosses of firms embroiled in the Libor-rigging scandal, a bankrupt tycoon, a landlord whose ban from acting as a company director had only recently ended and a financier who had been fined in the 1990s for insider dealing.

Jess Garland (ERS) in an LSE blog also notes the large donations from individuals and groups of donors and politely comments, “That political parties are sustained by just a handful of individuals makes unfair influence a very real possibility”.

‘Possibility’ or fact? Do not most political decisions benefit, directly or indirectly, the wealthy?

gravy trainIn 2011, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a £10,000 cap on individual donations alongside the introduction of an “opt in” system for union political funds. A recent poll by the Electoral Reform Society found that 77% of voters think that big donors have too much influence over politics and 72% think the system of party funding is “corrupt and should be changed” — up from 61% two years ago.

A Lords cross-party select committee is to hold ‘evidence sessions’ and examine the party funding anomaly, reporting back by the end of the month.

When it reports in a few weeks’ time, it is likely to recommend that ministers either drop or re-write the party funding clauses in the Trade Union Bill.

Conceding that the financing of politics is ripe for reform Ms Sylvester ends: “The government should take this opportunity to think again, abandon its one-sided initiative and draw up a proper proposal for reform of party funding. There should be a cap on political donations across the board — that would cover Labour’s trade union backers but also the Tories’ super-rich City friends”.

Lobbyists, politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers are promoting corporate influence over government and public institutions; not only have individual politicians been publicly shamed, the ‘revolving doors’ have been spinning rapidly and many, elected to serve the public, neglect this mandate to enhance the fortunes of the already wealthy.

Should Corbyn join them?

Fewer rights for trade unions: many more for accountants

Professor of Accountancy, Prem Sikka, writes about the UK government, rushing a trade union bill through parliament to curb the rights of workers. The Bill imposes:

  • a minimum turnout of 50% for all binding ballots
  • a higher threshold for withdrawal of labour in public services
  • no electronic balloting for trade unions
  • maintains existing requirements such as one-person-one-vote,
  • no delegated proxy voting system
  • and election of all officers.
  • Trade unions can be held liable for damage to employers

He compares the government’s approach to power exercised by another organised group

Professor Sikka says that accountancy trade associations wield enormous power. Accounting logics promoted by accountancy trade associations influence the assessment of wages, pensions, dividends, taxes, utility prices and much more. Unlike conventional trade unions they have secured monopolies and niches for their members and these are guaranteed by the state.

The power of accountancy trade associations affects the life chances of all citizens. How democratic and accountable are they? He considers the case of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the largest UK-based accountancy trade association with annual income of £164m:

  • Its president, deputy-president, and vice-president are not directly elected by members.
  • For its business at the 2015 annual general meeting (AGM) 6,310 votes (turnout of 3.54 per cent) were cast.
  • Unlike trade unions, electronic voting is permitted. Of the nine seats for council, the candidate with 2,520 (1.41 per cent of the eligible vote) votes topped the poll and an individual with just 1756 votes, less than 1 per cent of the eligible vote, was elected..
  • This includes 650 votes cast by the President under a delegated proxy voting system, a system forbidden for trade unions, general, local, and the European and Mayoral elections.
  • Early Day Motions tabled in the House of Commons have condemned the ACCA’s lack of democratic practices.
  • Such pressures resulted in the appointment of the Electoral Reform Services to count ballots. Prior to that votes were counted by the chief executive.
  • Trade unions are not permitted to insert such recommendations on ballot papers.

The practices of accountancy trade associations affect every citizen, yet there is virtually no accountability to their own members, far less the general public. Prem Sikka summarises by email:

“The UK government is engaged in draconian trade union reforms. The ministers claim that tougher laws are needed because trade union practices affect members of the public. The same arguments also apply to accountancy trade associations because their members are involved in tax, accounting, auditing and insolvency scandals. The practices sanctioned by accountancy trade associations affect assessment of wages, pensions, dividends, taxes, utility prices and much more. These affect the lives of millions of people. However, there is little democracy, far less any public accountability”.

 

Prem Sikka is professor of accounting at the University of Essex