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Only one group in Britain is acting on the danger to the country’s food security

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Nationally and internationally eminent researchers and commentators are focusing on the damage done to damage the environment and human health by agriculture (example).

This, in a country whose manufacturing industry was the first to pollute its air, water and soil and whose armaments industry continues the process (see a recent study of pollution caused by war activity, during development and testing of hardware, weapon systems and procedures, war operations and subsequent reconstruction).

A country which could and should provide its own staple food is becoming increasingly dependent on imports because their family farmers have been grossly underpaid for many years by middlemen and large retailers. According to the NFU (2015), the number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has halved since 2002 – cause and effect.

As family farmers leave in droves each year we must assume that the country’s environment and human health will improve by leaps and bounds. Not so, their land will be bought by those largescale investors who have reaped the benefit of EU subsidies for so many years.

William Taylor and other leaders of Northern Ireland’s farming organisations have been actively lobbying politicians from all parties and none. Their August press release ended:

Farming families traditionally were charity givers, now 25%+ are living below the poverty line, therefore, denoting complete current Government policy failure. FFA therefore call on the Westminster Government to implement legislation on farm gate prices which would return farmers a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked forthwith across the staples throughout the UK to force fairness into the food chain for farmers immediately. 

There is now proof from University College Dublin that in the farming industry every new job on a farm would create 4 down the line and whilst farming is not viewed by Westminster as the biggest UK industry in money terms (partly the fault of the food corporates) it is the largest UK industry by tonnage handled, 60%+ of all commercial road vehicles haul food or food related products to give but one example. 

If legislation on farm gate prices is not forthcoming from Westminster, such as that being sought at Stormont when it re-sits to sort the UK’s farm gate price crisis, then it will confirm what we all suspect, the large food retailers are out of control with their influence in ‘Democratic’ Westminster, the limited powers of the supermarket Ombudsman’s Office a case in point!

 

 

 

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Revolving door 40: ACOBA not fit for purpose

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 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 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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Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

BBC rough handing fails to disturb Scotland’s first minister

Arm of government – yet again?

The SNP Westminster Parliamentary Party met on Monday night, to discuss proposals to ‘water down’ the ban on fox-hunting in England and Wales. The 56 MPs decided to oppose these, following a host of letters from English correspondents asking the SNP – as a real ideological opposition – to intervene.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, was interviewed by a Today presenter, possibly Justin Webb

Nicola SturgeonIn a vain attempt to confound Ms Sturgeon, she was interrupted and ‘talked over’ in a very clumsy bid to portray her as – at best – inconsistent.

An hour later the BBC website underpinned this view, also – but more politely and by implication.

‘A’ for persistence: BBC later makes this subject the 8am news headline

In a thinly veiled attempt to rally public opinion against the SNP at Westminster, it is implied that the SNP is taking this stance due to pique at the proposal for Scottish MPs to be barred from voting on measures which will have financial implications for their country.

This strong, intelligent and public spirited leader will need all her strengths to counter political attempts to undermine her – and she has support all over Britain.

State broadcaster and police force silent as 50,000 march in London

Deny them the mainstreamoxygen of publicity’ ?

Was a lesson learnt from the extensive media coverage of the 2013 50,000 strong, peaceful protest in Manchester last year?

Has Cameron followed Margaret Thatcher’s strategy: “to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the (demonstrators’) morale or their cause”

Anya wrote to the BBC but asked to be spared one of their standard replies: “I am starting to turn BBC off altogether as I find you continually cherry pick the news to suit the status quo nowadays often filling our screens with trivia, rather than addressing the main questions that face our country today from both sides of the argument”.

demo london june 14

An estimated 50,000 people marched from the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in central London to Westminster. Following concern expressed by many, six pages of Google search results failed to discover reports of this march in any mainstream media outlet apart from the Guardian.

The crowds heard speeches at Parliament Square from People’s Assembly supporters, including Caroline Lucas MP and journalist Owen Jones. Addressing the marchers, Jones said: “Who is really responsible for the mess this country is in? Is it the Polish fruit pickers or the Nigerian nurses? Or is it the bankers who plunged it into economic disaster – or the tax avoiders? It is selective anger.”

The People’s Assembly was set up with an open letter to the Guardian in February 2013. Signatories to letter included Tony Benn, journalist John Pilger and filmmaker Ken Loach. Its spokesman Clare Solomon said: “It is essential for the welfare of millions of people that we stop austerity and halt this coalition government dead in its tracks before it does lasting damage to people’s lives and our public services.”

“The people of this building [the House of Commons] generally speaking do not represent us, they represent their friends in big business. It’s time for us to take back our power,” said Russell Brand.

The Metropolitan police refused to provide an estimate of numbers attending – but a police spokesman confirmed that the force had received no reports of arrests.