Category: government

A victory for Brexit is unlikely to change anything in the near future

By Daniel Margrain

 

For all those who thought that a Brexit vote in Thursday’s (June 23) highly anticipated and drawn -out referendum campaign will result in closure, might need to think again. In legal terms, the referendum is advisory rather than mandatory. What happens next is a matter of politics, not law – a determination that’s dependent upon whether the government decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

To put it another way, the government doesn’t necessarily have to pay attention to what the British public says. What will happen on Thursday is that we, the British electorate, will effectively be advising and giving our opinion which doesn’t make the decision to leave, if that is indeed the outcome, necessarily legal. If we vote in a way that Osborne and Cameron disagree with, the government will almost certainly reconsider the result, particularly if the outcome is close.

Say, hypothetically, the turnout is 50 per cent and 51 per cent of that 50 per cent voted to leave, it would mean that 25.5 per cent of the electorate would have made the decision to leave which would adversely impact on the remaining 74.5 per cent. In other words, if something similar to this hypothetical situation did arise it would not, the government could argue, be indicative of a mandate to leave. Given how close the result is predicted to be, the vote tomorrow is unlikely to be the end of the matter, but merely the beginning of a long and drawn out process that will likely continue until the electorate arrives at a decision that Cameron and Osborne regard as acceptable.

As the Financial Times puts it:

What happens next in the event of a vote to leave…. will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse). Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote. Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum. There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way.

What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation.

There are three points of interest here in respect of any withdrawal from the EU by the UK.

First, it is a matter for a member state’s “own constitutional requirements” as to how it decides to withdraw. The manner is not prescribed: so it can be a referendum, or a parliamentary vote, or some other means. In the UK, it would seem that some form of parliamentary approval would be required — perhaps a motion or resolution rather than a statute. The position, however, is not clear and the UK government has so far been coy about being specific.

Second, the crucial act is the notification by the member state under Article 50(2). That is the event which commences the formal process, which is then intended to be effected by negotiation and agreement. There is no (express) provision for a member state to withdraw from the process or revoke the notification. Once the notification is given, the member state and the EU are stuck with it.

And third, there is a hard deadline of two years. This is what gives real force to Article 50. The alternative would be the prospect of a never ending story of rounds of discussions and negotiations. Once notification is given, then the member state is out in two years, unless this period is extended by unanimous agreement. It is possible that such unanimity may be forthcoming – but this would be outside of the power of the member state. Once the button is pushed, the countdown cannot just be switched off by a member state saying it has changed its mind, or by claiming that the Article 50 notification was just a negotiation tactic all along. That will not wash.

This said, what is created by international agreement can be undone by international agreement. Practical politicians in Brussels may come up with some muddling fudge which holds off the two year deadline. Or there could be some new treaty amendment. These conveniences cannot, however, be counted on. The assumption must be that once the Article 50 notification is given, the UK will be out of the EU in two years or less.

What happens between a Leave vote and any Article 50 notification will be driven by politics. The conventional wisdom is that, of course, a vote for Brexit would have to be respected. (This is the same conventional wisdom which told us that, of course, Jeremy Corbyn would not be elected Labour leader and that, of course, Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee.) To not do so would be “unthinkable” and “political suicide” and so on.

And if there is a parliamentary vote before any Article 50 notification then there is the potential irony of those seeking to defend parliamentary sovereignty demanding that an extra-parliamentary referendum be treated as binding. But it must be right that the final decision is made by parliament, regardless of what the supposed defenders of parliamentary sovereignty say.

What is certain is that if there is an Article 50 notification then there will be immense legal work to be done. Over 40 years of law-making — tens of thousands of legal instruments — will have to be unpicked and either placed on some fresh basis or discarded with thought as to the consequences. The UK government has depended since 1972 — indeed it has over-depended — on it being easy to implement law derived from the EU. The task of repeal and replacement will take years to complete, if it is ever completed. Even if the key legislation — especially the European Communities Act 1972 — is repealed there will have to be holding and saving legislation for at least a political generation.

A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification. The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

There may already be plans in place to slow things down and to put off any substantive decision until after summer. In turn, those supporting Brexit cannot simply celebrate a vote for leave as a job done — for them the real political work begins in getting the government to make the Article 50 notification as soon as possible with no further preconditions.

On the day after a vote for Brexit, the UK will still be a member state of the EU. All the legislation which gives effect to EU law will still be in place. Nothing as a matter of law changes in any way just because of a vote to Leave. What will make all the legal difference is not a decision to leave by UK voters in a non-binding advisory vote, but the decision of the prime minister on making any Article 50 notification.

And what the prime minister will do politically after a referendum vote for Brexit is, at the moment, as unknown as the result of the referendum itself.

‘Move along, nothing else to say’: A summary of Cameron’s role in the Panama Paper’s scandal.

By Daniel Margrain

David Cameron’s speech to the House of Commons yesterday afternoon (April 11) was clearly intended to draw a line under the Panama Papers scandal. The Public will keep this in mind when the Tory government remind us all about “belt tightening”, “austerity” and “we’re all in this together”. The government has 92 special advisers on its books whose combined wages costs us, the British taxpayer’s, a massive £8.4 million a year, one of whom we learned this past week is paid £53,000 to “advise” Cameron’s wife about her choice of wardrobe. Maybe the British public should insist these “special advisers” run the country and cut out the middle man?

Cameron was pulled into the Panama Papers debacle last Monday (April 4) after details of Ian Cameron’s (the PMs deceased father’s) dealings featured in the first batch of documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca. This is a problem for David Cameron because he had previously made statements condemning tax reduction schemes by saying they were “wrong”, which is a word he frequently uses to describe problems he appears to have no intention of ever addressing. In 2012 he said “tax avoidance is morally wrong.” Last Monday (April 4) he again stated that those who attempt to hide their money from the UK tax authorities were “wrong”. However, when the tax affairs of his own family were brought into the media spotlight, he appeared to change his tune by claiming that such affairs were “a private matter”.

The next day (Tuesday, April 5) he said:

“In terms of my own financial affairs, I own no shares..I have a salary as a Prime Minister, and I have some savings which I get some interest from and I have a house which we used to live which we now let out while we are living in Downing Street and that’s all I have.”

The British public were supposed to be impressed with this outward selfless expression of personal “frugality”. He continued“I have had no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that. So I think that’s a very clear description”.  This was obviously part of a carefully prepared and scripted speech by his “special adviser’s” that sounded like a hundred lawyers had poured over it into the early hours to ensure its absolute accuracy to the last syllable. Cameron’s statement, in other words, might of been accurate but it wasn’t necessarily clear.

By Tuesday afternoon, Number 10 had sent out another clarification – a clarification of their previous clarification. This third clarification said, “To be clear, the Prime Minister, his wife and their children do not benefit from any offshore funds. The Prime Minister owns no shares.” It then went on to say, “It’s time for people to either put up or shut up in relation to questioning Cameron’s tax affairs.” (adding the word “peasants” to the end of the sentence would not have sounded out of place).

However, it’s clear the people won’t shut up. Cameron will discover that his attempts to draw a metaphorical line in the sand in relation to this ongoing scandal won’t be heeded in quite the way that he and his advisers would like. They have totally underestimated the public mood and the extent to which the British people recognize that a week of Cameron’s shenanigans represents merely the end of the beginning as opposed to the beginning of the end. The public are only now warming up for the long haul as Cameron tries his best to put his role in the scandal to bed.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday (April 6), there was a fourth clarification which stated that “there are no offshore funds or trusts which the Prime Minister, Mrs Cameron or their children will benefit from in future.” Crucially, Cameron’s lawyers and advisers had thus changed the tense. On Thursday (April 7) afternoon, there was a fifth clarification: Cameron maintained that he had nothing to hide. He revealed for the first time that both he and his wife had sold interests worth more than £30,000 in Blairmore which uses bearer shares to protect the privacy of investors’. As with money, whoever bears bearer shares owns them but they are much more portable in that they can be moved around without any paper trail. Consequently, due to the criminal implications associated with them, they have been banned in the UK. Ironically it was the tax swindler, Cameron, who banned them.

Blairmore used more than £30,000 worth of bearer shares to protect the privacy of the Cameron family’s offshore activities. David Cameron insisted that he didn’t personally benefit from any funds from his fathers tax efficient holdings other than the £30,000 described. This is clearly nonsense. As the political satirist Mark Steel in brilliantly comic fashion highlighted, this presupposes that a young David Cameron would have paid for his elite privately funded education at Eton using money he had earned himself after having saved up while undertaking a paper round.

When interviewed by ITVs inscrutable Robert Peston, who sounds like he eats a vowel and pickle sandwich every day for lunch, Cameron said that his father had left him £300,000 and that he couldn’t reveal the source of every bit of the money because his Dad was no longer around to answer any questions about it. Peston asked Cameron how he could of been certain that some of the £300,000 didn’t come from offshore sources. The answer the PM gave was that he and his advisers couldn’t be certain. This, in other words, is code for the money did indeed come from offshore sources. So unless Cameron spent the £300,000 on sweets and comics, then he is currently benefiting from offshore funds.

Let’s make a fairly safe bet and assume that he spent the £300,000 on a relatively secure investment such as property. A decade ago, a £300,000 deposit would have landed a huge investment – particularly in London – in a comfortable family home. The point being, unless Cameron blew the money, on say, cocaine and hookers or otherwise spent it unwisely (which is extremely unlikely), it’s ludicrous to suggest that he will not be benefiting from offshore funds in either the present or the future. It should be remembered that about 15 years ago Cameron bought a house with a mortgage in Oxfordshire with financial help from his father. We, the public, also helped out Cameron by paying the interest on that mortgage for the remainder of what the house cost.

The Cameron family still owns it and its value has increased to over £1 million. It will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. So too will the £300,000 worth of assets from his father increase in value. This £300,000, remember, is a sum Cameron claims neither he, his wife or children have benefited from. So contrary to the assertions of Cameron and his advisers, the notion that he is not benefiting, and will not benefit from, his fathers business in future is also an obvious nonsense. In addition to all this, he owns a second home in Ladbroke Grove in London worth £3.5 million and rising.

It’s inconceivable that Cameron would of been unaware of his father’s financial dealings in Blairmore given that he was himself involved in the Blairmore fund for 14 years (1996-2010). Secondly, the notion that he was somehow oblivious to the fact that Blairmore boasted that it was able to avoid UK tax or, thirdly, that the MPs Code of Conduct compels MPs to declare a financial interest to fellow MPs prior to participating in House of Commons business, are also too far fetched to garner any credibility.

As far as the political and media establishment are concerned, the revelation that Cameron was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal comes down to a question of PR/media mismanagement, as opposed to recognizing that his actions are immoral and, if the law was applied equally, illegal enough to warrant a prison sentence. Let me be clear about this: The super rich elites like Cameron who avoid or evade their taxes, live in the society that the rest of us who do pay our taxes are also a part of. They do not exist as a separate hermetically sealed entity isolated from the rest of humanity.

So they need to be compelled by law to pay their fair share of taxes in order that we are all able to maximize the revenues that accrue for the greatest possible utility. Failing to participate in UK society while presuming to tell the rest of us how it should be run, is incompatible with democracy. What the super rich clearly regard as their inalienable right not to pay tax, is indicative of the fact that 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires compared to just 0.7 per cent of the British population in general. Unfortunately, therefore, democracy has become a by-word for a self-serving system in which MPs effectively represent themselves and the interests of the wealthy.

This explains why the government places a greater emphasis on tackling benefit fraud which represents a relatively tiny proportion of revenue loss compared to the resources that goes into tackling tax evasion and avoidance of the one per cent of the super rich. It might also explain why HMRC chief Edward Troup was a partner at the law firm that acted for Cameron’s offshore fund. What is certain is that these kinds of cozy relationships and practices are contributing to an astounding rate of inequality in which 62 people currently own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people – 50 per cent of the world’s total population.

In terms of Britain, the end result is that tax evasion and avoidance costs the UK treasury a massive £95 billion a year which is enough to fund the entire NHS in England. The surreal irony, in light of all these shenanigans, is that during last Saturday’s London demonstration, tax payer funded police were seen outside Downing Street lining up to protect the one per cent of super rich tax dodgers from the 99 per cent of tax payers.

Another piece of surreal theatre was illustrated by the fact that the demonstration in London last Saturday was barely reported by the BBC but – in the name of impartiality – the demo outside the Iceland parliament received widespread coverage. Despite the efforts of the chattering corporate media class, their counterparts within both the Tory government and the Blairites of Labour’s  PLP, this is a scandal that the public will ensure will not go away any time soon.

The Panama Papers

By Daniel Margrain

The handing over by an anonymous source of massive amounts of data from the Panama-based, German-run law firm Mossack Fonseca which specializes in providing clients with dodgy offshore accounts, had clearly contributed to some unease within the camp of British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Rarely, if ever, do corporate journalists give Cameron a hard time and this was no exception. Having just returned from one of many in a long line of luxury holiday’s on the back of the impending collapse of the UK steel industry, a car crash shambles of a budget, divisions within his own party over Europe and with government policy over schools and health in meltdown, Cameron angrily snapped at reporters in response to feeble attempts to bring him to account regarding the extent to which his father allegedly attempted to shield his wealth from the UK tax authorities.

Cameron was clearly in no mood for such media games especially as both he, the media elite and the Westminster political hierarchy in general, know that due to the specific nature of the leak, much of the potentially incendiary material will never see the light of day within the public domain. It’s disgraceful that Cameron and some Tory ministers are using the ‘privacy prerogative’ to hide behind the morally repugnant and possible criminal activities associated with Cameron’s father which means that the PM is also potentially complicit.

The reason why leaked material that’s likely to be detrimental to the powers that be is hidden from the public on so called privacy grounds can be explained by the fact that the said material is being managed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who in turn are supported by some of America’s biggest corporate funders. I’m not reassured by the ICIJ when they said they’ll be releasing the full list of people and companies in early May. In any case, the true nature of the revelations won’t be revealed as to who was acting legally and who wasn’t.

Had the leaker approached Wikileaks with the 2.6 terabytes of data consisting of 11.5 millions documents, rather than Suddeutsche Zeitung – and by extension, the Western media more widely – the impact and potential consequences for those concerned would of been far greater. Instead, the largest data leak that journalists have ever worked with will be selectively ‘drip-fed’ with most of the significant amounts implicating Western elites being censored from the public gaze.

We have already seen signs of this with Luke Harding’s Guardian piece published Monday (April 4) which, predictably, focused on Russian individuals and companies whose wealth represents a minority of the money stashed away. Harding’s seriously compromised piece failed to mention that 9,670 UK Companies and over 3,000 US Companies, as well as Cameron’s father, top Tories and some of the UK’s biggest allies, were implicated and/or named in the Panama Papers.

Did the corporate media vilify David Cameron for some serious high-ranking connections to this mother of all leaks? No, it did not. Did the same media publish any damning report that featured Cameron airbrushed alongside global ‘baddies,’ like former Iranian leader Ahmadinejad? No. But it seems as far as Putin and Russia is concerned, anything the media dishes out is regarded by the elites as fair game.

Arguably, the most important graph in the Panama Papers scandal is highlighted below. It shows the number of intermediaries (banks, accountants) in each country.

 

There is no mention of these by the media or of the numerous huge Western multinational corporations or billionaires, some of whom sit in the House of Lords. Neither does Harding mention by name any of the 12 leaders, past and present, identified in the documents. Instead, the Guardian journalist, in line with the methodological approach adopted by Suddeutsche Zeitung which received the leak, selectively focused on the West’s official enemies – Russia, Syria and North Korea.

Despite the fact that Putin wasn’t personally mentioned in the Panama Papers, I’m in no doubt whatsoever that since he uses Russia as a personal fiefdom, he should not be exonerated. It’s one thing ridding the country of the oligarch’s who were responsible for asset stripping its resources which subsequently turned Russia into a gangster capitalist paradise, but another to pocket a large chunk yourself by getting shot of the competition which is effectively what Putin has done. Putin’s primary interest is Putin himself.

But what the Panama papers reveal is that he’s not alone. The global web of corruption and tax avoidance extends to 72 states, heads or former heads of state. Yet you would be unlikely to have reached this conclusion having read the Guardian article or observed the cover of the paper which sensationally headlined with the words “Exclusive: The Secret $2bn trail of deals that lead all the way to Putin”. Neither would you have reached the conclusion having watched the UK state broadcaster, the BBC, who chose to mention just five of the 72 – Egypt, Iceland, Gaddafi, Putin and Assad.

Central to all this is the pathetic kow-towing to power by our media that’s supposed to be impartial and independent yet they act reflexively en masse by directing their fire at enemies of the state. If you don’t believe me, just look how often Putin has been foregrounded in the coverage of these leaked documents, complete with the requisite ‘shady’ photographs. Naturally, the media cannot be perceived to be so transparently biased which is why the occasional ‘balanced’ message is required. Step forward the Telegraph.

On Monday April 4, the paper dutifully reported:

David Cameron’s father ran an offshore fund which avoided paying tax in Britain by hiring Bahamas residents, including a bishop, to sign paperwork…The fund, which was established in the 1980s with help from the Prime Minister’s late father, continues today. The Guardian says it has confirmed that ‘in 30 years Blairmore has never paid a penny of tax in the UK on its profits.”

Nevertheless, the targeting of a dead man is virtually risk free as will be the ‘outing’ of a senile corrupt Lord to be cynically used a sacrificial lamb for the media hacks to peruse over if and when the time is right. Ultimately, the UK Secret Services will never allow the media to publish anything that is likely to damage the ‘reputations’ of leading establishment figures. The destruction of the Snowden files that the Guardian had in its possession but were requested to destroy by M15, are proof of that.

I had been watching the UK media all day on Monday after the story had broken, and news bulletins prefaced the scandal with either Putin, Cameron’s deceased father or Assad. It’s mainly the first two which are easy and convenient targets intended to deflect away from the crimes that implicate ‘our’ leaders. Almost certainly then, there is a highly motivated political agenda at work here that probably explains why Iceland, who locked up many of its corrupt and criminal bankers, was also named.

Following the revelations that Iceland’s PM was implicated in the scandal, the people of Reykjavik took to the streets in their thousands. At the time of writing, I watched the BBC News at Ten which reported from outside the Icelandic parliament. Following the resignation of the PM, the BBC reporter interviewed some Icelander’s. What the people on the streets of the country are increasingly aware of is that corruption within the corridors of power in Iceland and elsewhere is systemic.

The elites on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned about the effect the revealing of undoubted widespread and systematic corruption within the high echelons of media and politics will have on the body politic of Europe and North America. They don’t want Reykjavik to spread to London, Paris and Washington. This is another reason why the full scale nature of those implicated will never be revealed.

What all this highlights is the public is being cynically deceived by the corporate media in order to get their fellow elites off the hook. Craig Murray’s brilliant expose of the BBC Panorama documentary entitled Tax Havens of the Rich and Powerful Exposed, highlights the extent to which BBC producers and presenters will go to in order to misdirect its audience to this end. Perhaps less subtle than the overt propaganda pieceSaving Syria’s Children, but no less effective, the BBC related at length the stories of the money laundering companies of the Icelandic PM and Putin’s alleged cellist. As Murray said:

“The impression was definitely given and reinforced that these companies were in Panama. [Presenter] Richard Bilton deliberately suppressed the information that all the companies involved were in fact not Panamanian but in the corrupt British colony of the British Virgin Islands. At no stage did Bilton even mention the British Virgin Islands.”

Murray goes on to say:

“Is it not truly, truly, astonishing the British Virgin Islands were not even mentioned when the BBC broadcast their “investigation” of these documents?”

Indeed, Mr Murray, it is.

The BBC and media in general are obscuring the key role British money-laundering via its base in the British Virgin Islands plays in these transactions. This scandal must also be seen within a context in which between £30bn and £120bn a year of UK tax is either avoided, evaded or uncollected (sources (Tax justice/ PCS estimate & HMRC estimates). Meanwhile, £16bn worth of benefits a year remain unclaimed (HMRC estimate) against a backdrop in which benefit fraud amounts to a relatively tiny £1.2bn (DWP estimate).

Which of the above figures do you think the government and their media mouthpieces constantly highlight?

It can never be stated enough that this corruption scandal is mostly centred on the British Virgin Islands. Yes, the corruption is widespread and involves a number of world leaders, some of whom are our official enemies. However, in the broader scheme of things, these political figures are essentially peripheral. The level of corruption is widespread and systemic. As far as the major players are concerned, the media need to focus closer to home.

Osborne’s Budget of Irresponsibility

By Daniel Margrain

Chancellor Gideon Osborne’s budget last week that represented a culmination of six years of government failures and which slipped the UK into a deeper recession, amounted to another massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest in society. This was reiterated by both the Institute for Fiscal Studies (see chart below) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The Economist projects that by the end of this parliament, levels of investment – which are already one of the lowest in Europe – will fall to just 1.4 per cent of GDP, under half of what it was when the coalition government came to power. It is also half of what the OECD said is necessary just for the UK economy to stand still. But despite these facts, an alternative narrative has emerged in many of the editorials of the corporate controlled media which bare no resemblance to reality for the vast majority of the British people. As Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell put it on LBC last week, “If press releases built things, Cameron would have rebuilt our country.”

 

The main thrust of the budget was Osborne’s cut in funding to the disabled by £4.2 billion in order to pay for three separate tax cuts to the rich against a backdrop in which the national debt is rising by £45 per second or £2,700 per minute. Paul Mason summed up the mood in the House:

“Osborne’s glum face during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech — an uncharacteristically angry barnstormer — was matched by the glum faces of Blairites as they realised their own party was actually going to inflict moral and political damage on the government.”

Osborne’s inhumane and fiscally irresponsible budget was preceded by the fiscally responsible alternative version outlined by his opposite number, John McDonnell who, in a speech on March 11 (as well as in various interviews to the media and public meetings), laid out his parties fiscal credibility rules. The shadow Chancellor stated that he will eliminate the deficit and tackle the national debt within a five year period on the basis of the implementation of a progressive and ambitious investment programme that he said will provide the stimulus for growth and demand in the economy.

McDonnell insisted that a future Labour government would invest in skills, infrastructure and above all, technology. The speech was subsequently praised by a wide range of economists and some media outlets in addition to business organizations that included the CBI and the Chamber of Commerce. As a committed socialist, McDonnell is aware of the importance planning is to the economy and the ruthlessness that is required to properly monitor how governments’ spend and, more importantly, earn money. The whole debate is how the country earns its future which McDonnell has said ought to be focused on investment.

The difference between McDonnell’s approach and that of one of his often cited predecessor, Gordon Brown, is that the latter never went for an investment-growth strategy and relied too much on unregulated finance sector growth and the revenues generated, as the catalyst for the subsidizing of public services. This policy strategy proved to be an abject failure. Similarly, the approach under McDonnell’s immediate predecessor in opposition, Ed Balls, was firstly to underplay the drive toward investment and, secondly, was marked by his failure to recognize that governments’ have to borrow to invest in the long-term in order to grow the economy.

But equally as important, was Balls’ inability to grasp the important role organizations like the IMF and OECD play in diagnosing economic problems and how best to solve them. Specifically, Balls appeared to have underplayed the scope the combination of fiscal and monetary policy plays in combating low or negative interest rates. In contrast to the incompetence of Balls and Brown, McDonnell has expressed awareness that when government’s reach the limits of monetary policy in terms of low or negative interest rates, they have to combine the monetary with the fiscal. What McDonnell acknowledges, is the importance the building of a balanced economy plays to the modern democratic nation state.

The problem under previous government’s – both Conservative and Labour – has been that the investment in the manufacturing base, predicated on new technology, has been largely sidelined at the expense of the finance sector. On LBC, McDonnell used the analogy of a small company to outline his case. “An owner of a new company will need to invest in new machinery in order to compete against his rivals otherwise he or she will go out of business”, he said. He continued: “Government’s, like businesses, need to invest in the future otherwise their economies will fall behind.” The lack of investment is precisely what has beset the UK economy over recent decades, particularly under the latest Tory government which has overseen a widening productivity gap between the UK and its major European rivals.

McDonnell, correctly in my view, has made it clear that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should be given the power to monitor the UK’s own application of its fiscal credibility. The OBR, according to McDonnell, should not report to the Chancellor as is currently the case, but instead it should go directly to parliament. The aim is not merely to raise the economic credibility of Labour among the public but to raise it among the political class too. It’s ironical that despite the public perception that Labour governments’ have been more economically incompetent in the 37 years since Thatcher was elected than their Tory counterparts, the reality is there have been only two years – under Nigel Lawson during the boom period of the 1980s – in which the Tories produced a balanced budget. Conversely, Labour produced three years of balanced budgets under Gordon Brown.

 McDonnell has been aided in his approach to countering Tory and media propaganda by some of the world’s renowned and leading economists who have not only openly backed the oppositions anti-austerity economic model but have played an active part in advising the Shadow Chancellor as part of Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee. A central plank of the fiscal responsibility rules that McDonnell and his team set out on March 11, relates to Labour’s intention to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP over the lifetime of the government. This will entail growing the economy over the requisite five year period, allied to a fiscally disciplined and controlled approach to spending. The alternative budget that McDonnell proposed emphasized the application of a process of rigorous budgeting so as to restrict the likelihood of public expenditure spiraling out of control. To this end, the Shadow Chancellor stressed the need for the treasury to return to its former role of managing public finances as opposed to signalling to government departments that they have a license to spend public money in a prodigious manner.

An example of the latter happened two years ago following the Tory government’s much criticised selling off and closing down of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) against the advice of all the relevant parties concerned. The treasury ignored the advice because they envisaged the closing of the service as being financially prudent in the short-term. Two years down the line, they decided to set it up again. It’s this kind of short-term based decision-making predicated on the top down authoritarian micro-managed approach of their principal overseer in number 11 Downing Street that inhibits not only the long term financial credibility of government, but undermines democracy and the well-being of society as a whole.

Then there are the secret and highly wasteful and expensive P F I funded projects that typified the Blair and Brown era that McDonnell says he wants to put an end to. A third example of how short-term policy approaches are counterproductive to the long-term financial well-being of the nation, is within the realm of housing. The most labour intensive form of public spending is affordable council house building which, year on year, since the era of the Thatcher government, has failed to meet the demand for them. Labour’s Housing Minister, John Healey, has stated that he intends, as a starting point, to use savings on housing benefit (which is beneficial mainly to the rich), to build 100,000 affordable homes.

Government investment in housing is not only beneficial to those in need of a home, but it also reduces the housing benefit bill. In addition, the cost of buying a house is reduced due to increasing availability more widely. Although on the surface the intention to bring greater scrutiny and accountability to bare within the public sphere sounds overly bureaucratic, the kinds of attempts to rein in government and treasury short-term excesses are nevertheless fundamental to the successful running of governments’ in the eyes of the electorate. It is this electorate that is increasingly aware of just how callous Gideon Osborne has been in the lead up to the decision to cut disability welfare benefits which allegedly prompted Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter.

The letter basically outlined every suspicion that voters, and indeed Tory MPs, have about Gideon Osborne in relation to his obsessive attempts to micro-manage government departments as the prerequisite to his cynical positioning as next in line to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. In relation to Duncan Smith’s resignation, one theory espoused by former UK diplomat Craig Murray is that his conscience got the better of him and as such Osborne’s budget attack on the disabled was regarded by Duncan Smith as one attack too many. Personally, I don’t buy it.

I’m more inclined to believe John McDonnell’s interpretation as expressed on LBC yesterday (March 19). McDonnell claims that the former Work and Pensions Secretary went through a long consultation exercise which specified the new proposal for the qualification criteria for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As a result of pressure from Osborne, McDonnell claims that Duncan Smith had no option other than to tear the agreement up.

In other words, a deal was allegedly done but Osborne is said to have reneged on it. This put pressure on Duncan Smith who, in turn, McDonnell claims, had taken the flack for something that was not ultimately his doing. Osborne had invented a fiscal rule that has been unable to withstand political scrutiny and the public, judging by the latest opinion polls, are wise to it. Let’s hope they will continue to be wise to the government’s various shenanigans prior to the forthcoming local elections and vote accordingly.

The hidden hands that feed racism

By Daniel Margrain

Those who have been following the flamboyant political showman, Donald Trump, whose heavy-handed approach to demonstrators at his rallies and outrageously racist remarks many are familiar with, might be surprised to learn that similar comments, albeit hidden ostensibly under the cover of liberal respectability, have gone largely unnoticed within media circles. Nine years before the widespread condemnation of Trump’s remarks, Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, echoed Trump when, in an admittedly less demagogic fashion, he argued for the banning of Muslim immigration into Europe.

Murray, who heads the avowedly neoconservative and CIA-funded organization that has links to the US and European far right, has also defended the use of torture by Western intelligence agencies. One might think that leading figures within the political and corporate media establishments – particularly on the liberal-left of the spectrum – would be keen to distance themselves from such a right-wing organization. On the contrary, both the hierarchy within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and political commentators not only cite the Henry Jackson Society when commenting on Islamic affairs, but actually embrace it as well.

The role call of pro-Syria bombing Blairites within the PLP who sit on the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society include Margaret Beckett, Hazel Blears, Ben Bradshaw, Chris Bryant and Gisela Stuart, while the BBC regularly give air time to Murray on mainstream political discussion and debating programmes like Question Time, This Week, Today and Daily Politics. The organization also acts as a front for the security services via the Quilliam Foundation think tank whose role, in return for tax payers money, is to publicly denounce Muslim organisations and, with the collaboration of the neo-fascist, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson who heads Pegida UK and was formerly the head of the racist and fascist English Defence League), talk up the Jihadi threat. It’s extremely revealing that establishment figures within the hierarchy of the Labour Party who have in the recent past complained about the alleged infiltration of left wing elements within the party, are willing to align themselves with racists and fascists.

The racist outlook of Murray et al and the means to promote it within media circles are far from unique and rarely, if ever, challenged. Former UK diplomat, Craig Murray quoted the “darling of the Mail and the BBC”, Melanie Phillips’ incitement to religious hatred:

“Romney lost because, like Britain’s Conservative Party, the Republicans just don’t understand that America and the west are being consumed by a culture war. In their cowardice and moral confusion, they all attempt to appease the enemies within. And from without, the Islamic enemies of civilisation stand poised to occupy the void…With the re-election of Obama, America now threatens to lead the west into a terrifying darkness.”

To my knowledge, apart from Murray, not a single prominent commentator alluded to Phillips’ Islamophobia and racism.

Another example was the sympathetic treatment the BBC afforded to the ‘doyen of British fascism’, the BNPs Nick Griffin. In 2009, Griffin appeared on the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme, Question Time despite the fact that the Standards Board for England’s 2005 description of the BNP as Nazi was “within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate”. The European Parliament’s Committee on racism and xenophobia described the BNP as an “openly Nazi party”. When asked in 1993 if the party was racist, its then deputy leader Richard Edmonds, who has been convicted for racist violence, said“We are 100 percent racist, yes.”

Prior to his appearance on the programme, Griffin expressed delight with the decision of the BBC to have granted him a major political platform with which to air his party’s views. These views went unchallenged by the other guests on the show that included Labour’s Jack Straw, who had subsequently insisted that female Muslim constituents visiting his constituency office in Blackburn remove their veils and claimed that Pakistani men saw white girls as “easy meat”. At the time of Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the BBC attracted an audience of almost 8 million viewers, three times its average. Following the publicity generated by Griffin’s appearance, the Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed the results of a UK Gov opinion poll which indicated that 22 percent of British people would “seriously consider” voting for the BNP and that 9,000 people applied to join them after the programme aired.

Many of the individuals who were directly responsible for overseeing Oxbridge-educated Griffin’s appearance – including BBC director-general, Mark Thompson – had themselves been educated at one of two of Britain’s elite educational establishments – Oxford and Cambridge. Griffin, who graduated in law, told the Guardian newspaper that he admired Thompson’s “personal courage” by inviting him. Nicholas Kroll, then director of the BBC Trust – an organization that supposedly represents the interests of the viewing public – was also educated at Oxford. At the time of writing, at least three of the 12 members of the government-appointed trustees, were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, while the remainder have a background in either law, business or economics. Two years before the Question Time appearance, Griffin had generated a significant amount of publicity following the controversy surrounding Oxford universities decision to allow him a public platform to address students at the universities campus.

Despite the links the establishment has to fascism, the notion that fascist sympathies are rooted within the high echelons of the former has not been widely recognized within public discourse, even though last July, the British royal family were shown giving Nazi salutes as part of a home movie. The problem for the elites is not that these links exist, rather the concern is the possibility that the media will shine a light on these relationships.

As Craig Murray put it:

“It says a huge amount about the confidence of the royal family, that they feel able to respond to their Nazi home movie with nothing other than outrage that anybody should see it…. The royal family is of course only the tip of the iceberg of whitewashed fascist support.”

Fascist ideology is the bedrock on which our political and media culture is deeply embedded. The reality is right-wing establishment think-tanks like the Henry Jackson Society and MigrationWatch UK use racist based arguments around the issue of immigration as as their justification for arguing either for, on the one hand, British withdrawal from the EU or, on the other, for the implementation of greater neoliberal reforms as a precondition for maintaining the countries continued membership within it. This, in turn, provides the intellectual echo chamber for the racist UKIP and BNP as well as the ultra right-wing factions within both of the main political parties.

What this illustrates is the contradictory nature immigration plays as part of the function of the liberal democratic state within capitalism which transcends party political lines. Both the official ‘left’ and ‘right’ are prepared to use false and contradictory arguments around the issue of immigration in order to whip up divisions within society for naked opportunistic short-term electoral gain. Under the New Labour government of Tony Blair, for example, Gordon Brown opened up the UK labour market to potentially millions of workers from the Accession 8 (A8) countries that comprised the former Soviet Bloc as the basis for restoring Britain’s economic status against a backdrop of sustained industrial decline.

Brown did this as the means of addressing Britain’s demographic problems in terms of its ageing population as well as to fill existing skills gaps. However, by the time he had taken over the reigns of power from Blair, he began using the racist language of division by emphasizing the need to secure “British jobs for British workers”. This was after oil refinery workers in 2009 protested against their replacement by foreign workers that he – Brown – encouraged. Short-term electoral interests encourage politician’s to play the race card which does not necessarily correspond with those of their paymasters in the boardrooms of the corporations whose primary concern is to secure the most plentiful, skilled and cheap workers possible.

In pure economic terms, immigrants make a positive contribution, not least because the state has been spared the considerable expense of educating and training them. Political leaders know this and that is precisely why the shrill talk deployed at elections is invariably at odds with the policies they actually implement when in office. That, in turn, is why it is so easy for the bigots within racist parties like UKIP and the BNP to expose the hypocrisy of the mainstream parties while also providing organisations like the Henry Jackson Society and MigrationWatch UK the ammunition they need as their cover for pursuing a racist agenda of their own.

Too readily, those at the top are quick to exploit voters’ concerns about the supposed threat that immigration poses in terms of undermining ‘social cohesion’. But they do this so as to engender a sense of division to make it easier for them to rule over everybody. When tensions arise from time to time, it’s those at the bottom who are routinely condemned for their prejudice and bigotry in the media, whereas the more significant racism which emanates from the policies of those at the top who foment it, goes virtually unnoticed.

It’s not my intention to absolve working class racists of their actions, but rather to point out that the more significant forms of racism is formed in the corporate and media boardrooms, think-tanks and elite political sphere indicative of ruling class power. Although this racism is given political expression in the form of scare stories almost daily in the gutter press of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express that perpetuate them, it’s not restricted to these tabloids. The Chair of MigrationWatch UK, Sir Andrew Green, for example, is regularly granted a media platform in order to push an anti-immigrant agenda, albeit a subtle one.

Similarly the likes of Douglas Murray and Toby Young who newspaper proprietors and TV executives consistently employ to espouse their right-wing views, do a great deal to distill the more overt expressions of racist scare stories so as to appeal to the realms of their middle and upper middle class viewers and readers. It’s deemed irrelevant by corporate executives that the ‘journalists’ they employ proffer spurious and deliberately misleading information, simply that they give their demographic what they think that want to hear and read to increase their customer base and so boost their profits in order to satisfy the demands placed on them by their advertisers.

And that, I submit, is hardly the foundation on which to build a civilized, multi-cultural and inclusive society. Donald Trump may be an oaf and a racist, but is he really much different to the elite that rule us?

 

Assange’s stitch-up is a lesson for us all

By Daniel Margrain

Yesterday’s UN ruling (February 5) that deemed the deprivation of liberty of Julian Assange to be unlawful is a legally binding vindication of all those activists who have supported the quest of the Wikileaks founder to bring into the public domain the illegalities of Western power under the guise of democracy and freedom. Of course, establishment figures who represent the gatekeepers of the said powers, like Phillip Hammond, invariably attempt to undermine the findings of the UN body – of which the UK government is a signatory – when their conclusions fail to go in their favour and thus deny any wrongdoing on the part of the imperial powers that they represent.

On the other hand, praise will be heaped on the UN during the occasions they rule in their favour. This is, perhaps, to be expected. But what was shocking in terms of Hammond’s sheer Kafka-esque dishonesty was the extent to which he was prepared to sink in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable at the behest of his masters in Washington. According to former UK diplomat, Craig Murray, Hammond’s lies were “utterly astonishing”. The official statement by the UK Foreign Secretary, states: “I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

Hammond’s statement belies the fact that every single one of the UN panel is an extremely distinguished lawyer. His statement was clearly made in order to undermine the UN ruling which by so doing, as Edward Snowden acknowledges, “writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings...and hence sets a “dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.” Craig Murray states that: “Countries who have ignored rulings by this UN panel are rare. No democracy has ever done so. Recent examples are Egypt and Uzbekistan. The UK is putting itself in pretty company.”

Previous rulings by the panel have gone against countries with some of the world’s worst human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt. Recent cases where the UN has ruled in circumstances in which individuals have similarly been detained, include the Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian in Iran in December last year and former pro-democracy president Mohamed Nasheed last October (both subsequently released).

The contextual underpinning of the ruling vindicating Assange stems from the fact that he has never been charged with any offence. The UN findings confirm that his detention has been unlawful since his very first arrest in the United Kingdom in 2010 and that there has never been any genuine attempt by the Swedish authorities to investigate the allegations against him. For all those commentators who have been following the case closely, it has been obvious that from the outset the establishment have had it in for Assange. The rape allegations were merely the Casus Belli.

This was given credible weight early on by Naomi Wolf, a prominent American writer, feminist and social commentator, who argued that the allegations against Assange bore all the hallmarks of a set-up. This was further elaborated on by Craig Murray who thoroughly demolished the case against Assange. As John Pilger outlined, the reality is, there was no genuine judicial process in train against Assange in Sweden, a point that was advanced by Assange’s lawyers before the UK supreme court:

“The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden – where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything” – and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.”

justice4assange.com provides some background:

Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been detained without charge in one form or another since 7 December 2010…In Sweden, Julian Assange is not charged with a crime. But in a highly unusual move, Sweden issued an Interpol Red Notice and a European Arrest Warrant, immediately after WikiLeaks began publishing a cache of 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables on 29 November 2010. Such warrants are usually issued for persons whose whereabouts are unknown. But Julian Assange’s whereabouts were known (he had given a press conference and hundreds of interviews in London). His lawyers were in communication with the prosecutor and had communicated that he was available to answer questions from the Swedish prosecutor through standard means.

Questioning people within European borders is a routine and uncomplicated process, which is standardised throughout the European Union. Sweden often uses these means to question people. In the initial ten days after 20 August 2010, the police opened the ’preliminary investigation’, it was assigned to three different prosecutors in quick succession. The penultimate prosecutor found that the case had no basis, and that there were no grounds to place Julian Assange under a criminal investigation.

The final prosecutor however, Marianne Ny, took over on 1 September 2010 and reopened the investigation. The Swedish investigation has been frozen since 2010. In November 2014, Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecutor had failed her professional duty to progress the investigation against Julian Assange.

Given the astounding level of media misinformation, demonization, smears, deceptions and outright lies in the mainstream corporate media’s reporting of Assange, one might be under the impression that the man in question is the devil incarnate, a misogynist, who is using his work as a cover in order to avoid facing justice for the crime of rape that some commentators have seen fit to pronounce a verdict of guilty on the head of the whistle blower in advance of any hypothetical future trial. The self-appointed Witch finder General, Joan Smith of London Women against Violence, for example, was allowed to express her opinion, unchallenged, that he was guilty of the crime he has been accused of.

Much of the vitriol stems, not from the traditional right-wing of the media terrain, but rather from what many people consider to be the liberal-left of the political spectrum. Owen Jones, for example, who appears to be the latest poster boy for left wing opinion throughout the liberal media, penned, in August 2012, an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, titled “There should be no immunity for Julian Assange from these allegations.”  But Jones’ inference that diplomatic immunity is a feature of the Assange case is, in reality, a red-herring since neither he, his supporters, legal team or anybody else outside the media bubble, have ever suggested that his case is predicated on a claim of immunity.

The lie was repeated by the Guardian’s legal expert, Joshua Rozenberg, presumably in an attempt to add a certain degree of gravitas to the claim. The truth is that all Assange has ever requested from the outset, is a guarantee from the Swedish authorities that if he agrees to travel to Sweden to answer the rape allegations made against him, he won’t be extradited to the United States. Assange’s request for this assurance from Sweden is supported by Amnesty International. However, the Swedish authorities have consistently failed to give Assange such an assurance.

Despite all this, the Sky News journalist and LBC stand-in presenter, Tim Marshall, implied that callers to his programme on February 5 who suggested that should Assange step foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy, he would ultimately be extradited to the U.S predicated on the trumped up charge of rape and subsequently be imprisoned, were mad conspiracy theorists. The incandescent, Marshall, is apparently unaware of the case of Chelsea Manning who was imprisoned for 35 years in 2013 for leaking information to WikiLeaks.

He is also seemingly unaware that, according to Edward Snowden, Assange is on a US “manhunt target list” or that the Independent revealed that both the Swedish and American governments’ have already discussed Assange’s onward extradition. If Marshall had bothered to avail himself of the views of Mats Andenas, the Norwegian chair of the UN Working Group for much of its investigation, he would have realized that the panel had to resist intense pressure from the US and UK to arrive at a decision contrary to the one they actually reached.

Marshall’s tone throughout was one of incredulity that the “liberal” Sweden would place Assange at risk of extradition to the US or for that matter that the latter under the liberal-progressive Obama, could ever preside over an administration that has imprisoned more whistle blowers than all his predecessors combined. In terms of the former (something else that Marshall is apparently oblivious to), is the subject matter of Amnesty International’s 2013 report which highlights Sweden’s damning record of extraditing people to other countries and its cooperation with the US in extraordinary renditions.

Jonathan Cook sums up just how far down the perilous road towards fascism our governments’ and their accomplices in the media are prepared to go in order to augment the interests of the powerful:

“The degraded discourse about the UN group’s decision does not just threaten Assange, but endangers vulnerable political dissidents around the world. The very fact that…[liberal media commentators]… are so ready to sacrifice these people’s rights in their bid to tar and feather Assange should be warning enough that there is even more at stake here than meets the eye.”

 

Cameron fiddles while England drowns

By Daniel Margrain

James Bevan, the chief executive of the environment agency who said it was the job of the government to hold him to account, spoke out in support of its chairman, Philip Dilley. Bevan rebuffed criticism that the environment agency avoided telling journalists that Dilley was in Barbados at Christmas at the time of some of the worst flooding the UK has ever seen, while at the same time claiming he had been honest, transparent and straightforward. The paradox was not lost on this writer.

Meanwhile, according to analysis by the Committee on Climate Change, homes continue to be built in England’s highest flood risk areas at almost twice the rate of housing being built outside of flood plains. Housing stock in regions where flooding is likely at least once every thirty years has grown at a rate of 1.2 per cent every year since 2011. By contrast, housing outside of flood plains in areas with less than one in a thousand years’ chance of flooding, increased by an average of just 0.7 per cent over the same period.

So we are building houses on flood plains at twice the rate we are building houses in places where its far less likely to flood. Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t it illogical to build twice as many houses on flood plains given that flooding devastates lives and communities and, according to analysis by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, flood damages could run as high as £1.3bn?

It would appear that the government is not taking climate change seriously enough and therefore are not preparing adequately for it. Perhaps Prime Minister David Cameron is taking his cue from the BBC’s Weather’s Sarah Keith-Lucas who appeared to be unaware that the mild and wet conditions throughout December in the UK are related to climate change.

Whatever the case, Cameron cannot use the excuse that he wasn’t warned about the impact cuts to defences would cause in terms of flood damage. In 2011, for example, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated the annual cost of flood damage in England to be £1.1bn. So one might reasonably ask why the Conservative government then proceeded to cut flood defences by 8 per cent resulting in the loss of 1,500 jobs?

All this comes on the back of government promises to build a million new homes in climate change ravaged Britain by 2020. Yesterday (January 4) the Tories pledged the commissioning of the construction of 13,000 homes on public land owned by the tax payer, describing it as a huge shift in policy, the first of its kind since the Thatcher government. But how many of the 13,000 will be affordable and will the million target be met?

The situation at present is that the combined efforts of the government, councils and the private sector are in no way sufficient enough to meet Britain’s housing needs. The other day, I had a walk along the Thames and the visible presence of cranes and other signs of construction activity on the nearby brownfield sites looked, on the surface, impressive. However, when one looks behind the facade an altogether different, less optimistic, story begins to emerge.

Home ownership in Britain is at its lowest for a generation and the actual supply of homes for sale is not meeting the demand for them. In part, this is explained by the fact that there are an insufficient amount of new homes on the one hand, and that there is a scarcity of second-hand housing on the other. The solution to solving the lack of available housing requires more than the vague and repeatedly unfulfilled promises of this current Tory administration.

What is needed is the kind of boldness and vision that was adopted after WW2 in which the term “homes fit for heroes” was first coined. At that time, a coordinated house building programme of some 300,000 council homes were built for the masses over many years. This figure is similar to the amount that Jeremy Blackburn from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is calling for today. “We…. need 240,000 units a year....”, Blackburn said. “We are not building enough….There are a number of other things the government can do including enabling local councils and housing associations to build more.”

Despite this, house builders such as Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey are sitting on huge plots of land enough to create more than 600,000 new homes. RICS predicts that the current supply shortfall will push up house prices by 6 per cent across the UK this year with the highest rises likely to be seen in East Anglia which is forecast to rise by 8 per cent.

Paradoxically, East Anglia is one of the areas in Britain that is at the greatest risk of flooding as a result of climate change but is among the areas where the greatest amount of new homes will be built. I can only assume that the higher predicted percentage increase in property values in East Anglia will be as an indirect consequence of any expected rise in ecotourism in the region.

For those who already cannot afford to buy, there is a rent increase of 3 per cent on the horizon for 2016 too. With the options for renting and buying increasingly becoming out of the reach for many, particularly the young, the battle lines are being drawn between those who are effectively being denied the right to a home on the one hand, and the government who are not living up to their promises to meet demand on the other.

In London and other major cities, access to what little remains of council housing is almost non-existent. This is being exacerbated as a result of the decision of numerous local councils throughout the country to ‘gentrify’ former council estates (of which the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle in London is emblematic) through a process of social cleansing that increasingly involves the relocation of entire communities from the localities that normally have long established roots.

The social cleansing of communities has negative knock-on affects in terms of the undermining of long held social networks and local economies upon which local businesses depend for their livelihoods. Increasingly major cities, particularly London, are becoming hubs for the property investment portfolios of the super rich who, in many instances, buy up entire reconstituted apartment blocks only for them to subsequently be left empty or rented out at exorbitant rates.

The hollowing out of inner city communities in this way is the product of specific social policies adopted by governments’ predicated on an ideological template intended to bolster the interests of a small minority, many of whom have little or no connection to the communities they invest in. These investors are given priority over and above those who are anchored in the said communities, who do have links.

Given the political will, the housing crisis, could and indeed should, of been solved many years ago. But the point is, there is no political will on the part of the government to solve the crisis because the interests associated with international capital run counter to such an eventuality. We are currently in the frankly absurd situation whereby apartments’ – in many cases entire blocks – lie empty or are occupied for part of the year by transient populations’, while simultaneously growing numbers of British people are unable to afford, or otherwise are being denied access to a necessity of life which is what a home of ones own is.

This madness is indicative of the irrational and contradictory nature of capitalism in arguably its most debased form. It’s the fact that capitalism is first and foremost premised on greed rather than satisfying human need means it is one of the most wasteful and inefficient economic systems for allocating resources known to man. The current housing and flood crisis are both symptomatic of this.

In terms of the latter, we only have to see how flood policy is determined by perverse incentives, often as the result of public money (via farm subsidies) that not only make flood disasters inevitable but are specifically intended to:

“prioritize the protection of farmland above the safety of towns and cities downstream. By straightening, embanking and dredging rivers where they cut through fields, drainage boards accelerate the flow of water, making flooding downstream more likely. protect the rich landowners and their country estates rather than the towns and villages.”

For Tories like Cameron, the moral concept of community and the satisfying of fundamental human needs, of which the former is dependent, implies the rejigging of ‘market forces’ away from the priorities associated with capital towards human beings. But such a ‘bucking of the market’ requires government intervention and the Tories only intervene when the need for the redistribution of wealth presents itself in an upwards direction.

Yesterday on twitter, I was reminded of the consequence that decades of neoliberalism has had in this regard. According to the latest figures on inequality, the share of wealth of the richest 1 per cent now exceeds that of remaining 99 per cent.

Cameron’s announcement yesterday offers no new extra investment in affordable homes, just as there was no new extra investment for flood defences. People on modest incomes will have little hope of being able to afford to buy or rent in the future.

The proposed construction of one million homes by 2020 is a pledge that Cameron’s government which predicates its policies on short term goals for short term electoral gain, has no intention of ever meeting. Perhaps the best, and perhaps only solution, will be to utilize the impacts of climate change by living on a barge in the swamp flood plains of the new British terrain.

 

Why Tories & Blairites are an affront to democracy

By Daniel Margrain

In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

The corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques developed in 20th Century America with revitalized free market ideology that originated in 18th Century Europe.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. According to Sharon Beder:

“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”

The under resourcing and under funding of large swaths of the public sector is part of the Tory strategy to run down public services as the precursor to their dismantling prior to them being sold off, precisely with the aim of furthering the business interests of those involved. In fact, as Noam Chomsky put it, the defunding process is standard practice within Western liberal democracies:

“[T]here is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change. That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

A century or so ago, the Russian Marxist Nicolai Bukharin realized that the growth of international corporations and their close association with national states were symptomatic of how both aspects hollow out the parliamentary system. It is now widely recognized that the power of private lobbying money draws power upwards into the executive and non-elected parts of the state dominated by corporations. Consequently this leads to a reduction in democratic accountability and public transparency.

Internal markets, market testing, contracting out, privatisation, encouraging private pensions and all the rest, are mechanisms that are intended to depoliticise the process of social provision, so making it easier to refuse it to those deemed not to deserve it on the one hand, and to clamp down on the workers in the welfare sector on the other.

Tied into this ethos is the move to dismantle the welfare state completely, which contrary to popular belief, was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the ideas which were to be picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair. Dressed in the language of ‘public-private partnerships’, the state under Blair was envisaged as the purchaser rather than direct provider of services.

To enable this to happen, whole entities within the public sector were outsourced, health and social care services privatized and competition and the business ethos introduced into public services in the form of managerialism and New Public Management; and the recasting of patients and clients as customers.

It would be foolish to understate the changes that more than two decades of neoliberalism have wrought on the welfare state. Areas such as residential care are now overwhelmingly located in the private sector, with one study suggesting that “the privatisation of social care services is arguably the most extensive outsourcing of a public service yet undertaken in the UK”.

The outsourcing process emanates from the policy of defunding which consequently is leading to a crisis in social care resulting, in part, to a shortage of nurses within the NHS that have reached dangerous levels in 90 per cent of UK hospitals. The aim is to expand the ethos of competition into residential social care and to ensure the domination of the market by a small number of very powerful multinational corporations (including, for example, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Qatar Investment Fund). The primary concern of these corporations is not the welfare of the residents in the homes which they own but rather with maximizing their profits.

When they fail to do so sufficiently or where there are larger profits to be made elsewhere, then they will simply pull out, creating massive instability in the sector and undermining the continuity of care which is a key element of good quality social provision. The collapse in 2011 of Southern Cross, until then the largest provider of residential care for older people in the UK, is the most glaring example.

Under the Tory government of David Cameron, every aspect of the welfare state is under attack. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act removes the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive health service, while the requirement in the act that up to 49 percent of services can be tendered out to “any qualified provider” will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales. Already between a quarter and a half of all community services are now run by Virgin Care.

A combination of cuts of around 30 per cent to local authority  social care budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets, will leave millions without the support they need and increasingly dependent on the family, and in particular women family members.

And in place of what was once called social security, unprecedented cuts across all areas of benefits, especially disability benefits, the introduction of sanctions regimes which as Christmas fast approaches has, according to figures from the Russell Trust, contributed to over a million people being given emergency food and support in 2014-15.

Meanwhile, a bedroom tax affecting around 600,000 people will increase the number of children in poverty by 200,000 as well as harming their learning amid stress and hunger. It has recently been reported that a DWP study indicates that nearly half of those affected by the tax have gone without food so that they can make ends meet.

What drives the different rationales—economic, political and ideological—behind the current Tory government’s assault on the public sector, is the desire of the one per cent to shift the costs of a global economic crisis onto the 99 per cent. One important political consequence of this socioeconomic realignment in favour of those at the top of the pyramid is the shifting of the relationship between the state and multinational capital.

This has heightened the sense of popular alienation from the huge bureaucratic structures that dominate the lives of ordinary people which has magnified by the sheer scale of the institutions – state and private – that confront the mass of the population. Consequently, public confidence in big business and the civil service has declined dramatically, particularly since the 1997 election of Blair.

The appalling treatment meted out by Facebook to the family of Hollie Gazzard, is an example of how there seems to be no way to successfully complain or protest against these kinds of mammoth institutions and corporations. Changes supposed to make them more accountable to the public, in practice only make them more subject to central control. Far from increasing public trust, they often have the opposite effect.

Democracy & the media.

By Daniel Margrain

Representative democracy is bad for parliamentary democracy because it implies the shifting of power from the elite towards the masses. People power has the potential to tear down the ivory towers of privilege that the rich construct for themselves which is why the establishment is fearful of such an eventuality. The extent to which a political system that functions to support the lifestyles and privileges of the elite ensconced within these towers is determined by the level of passivity and apathy of those on the outside.

Due to the UK’s appalling electoral system, a right wing government in the UK exercise absolute power with just 24.4 percent of those eligible to vote. The attitudes of many of the 38% who did not vote at all in the last general election towards the entire political class, was a combination of indifference, passivity and apoplexy.

Many others who were politically active and mobilized were nevertheless resigned to the fact that the deeply corrupt and flawed ‘winner takes all’ system does not give them a political voice within parliament. The end result of the combination of all these factors, is a system that’s corrupt and rotten to the core.

Although the government’s legality cannot be called into question, it’s legitimacy most certainly can. A government’s legitimacy rests on the popular consent of the governed. It’s clear that the Tories austerity measures that consist of deepening and widespread cuts will do far more harm to far more than the 24.4 per cent of the population that supported the government during the last election. To that extent, there are valid questions to be asked about what right the conservative government has to rule.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity showing few signs of subsiding, we seem to be returning to the feelings of optimism and confidence of the kind witnessed during the 30 year post-war settlement period. Public mobilizations that question and demand more from the system, initiate a crisis in democracy for our unrepresentative leaders, establishment figures and their corporate mainstream echo chambers’ who don’t know quite how to react to the potential threat to their own distorted vision of democracy. This vision can accurately be defined as being reminiscent of the feudal system. As Noam Chomsky put it:

On the one hand, we have the King and Princes (the government). On the other, the commoners. The commoners may petition and the nobility must respond to maintain order… Real participation of “society” in government is nowhere discussed, nor can there be any question of democratic control of the basic economic institutions that determine the character of social life while dominating the state as well, by virtue of their overwhelming power.

Chomsky was actually referring to a 1975 Trilateral Commission report about the nature of American democracy by author Samuel Huntington, but he might as well of been discussing the UK political system of governance in 2015. Political ‘outsiders’ like Jeremy Corbyn and the newly appointed, Ken Livingstone, are regarded as a threat to the narrow careerist interests of not only the Blairite political elite within the Parliamentary Labout Party, but also the metropolitan London media elite of ‘insiders’ who sing to the Blairite-Tory tune.

As Medialens have suggested, this is reflected in an obvious media bias that favours the Red-Tory consensus outlook which can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of media attacks on both Corbyn and Livingstone against the more conciliatory and friendly approaches of those who don’t rock the metaphorical boat. Of all the preposterous apocalyptic media attacks and McCarthy-style guilt by association smears on Corbyn thus far, the piece titled Will a Corbyn victory be the end of Labour? by Rachel Sylvester in The Times on September 1, written during the build up to the Labour Party leadership election, surely takes the award for the most idiotic. Sylvester comments:

“Just as the Vikings and the Mayans brought about their own extinction by destroying the environment on which their cultures depended, so the Labour party is threatening its survival by abandoning electoral victory as a definition of success. If Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn – a man who will never be elected prime minister – as leader next week, its end could be as brutal and sudden as those other once great tribes.”

One question arises from Sylvester’s piece. How can an attack by the mainstream media on an authentic voice of Labour values possibly be regarded as the ultimate threat to Labour values?

Sylvester’s smear was just the beginning of a widespread barrage of abuse that has come the way of the ‘outsiders’ since Corbyn’s historic election victory. The Telegraph’s November 18 edition went as far as to use the fascist language of Goebbels when referring to Corbyn’s long-standing ally. “Ken Livingstone is a hate-filled cockroach” was the headline. The latest smear from the Guardian, adding to their already long list, was their description of Corbyn as “like a good Marxist” who “is securing his revolution from within.”

Nick Cohen preposterously claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most dishonest politicians you will see in your lifetime”, while the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s transparently biased interview with the labour leader was little more than a scornful attack on his stance on nuclear weapons. Her incredulous responses to his reasonable points, belies the BBC’s claim that it is impartial. Analysis by Medialens show how “mainstream media performance alternates between two distinct modes of reporting”. They point out that:

“the first, ‘fig leaf’, mode presents a view of the world that is overwhelmingly biased in favour of the powerful interests that control, own and support the media, and of which it is a part. Within this bias, room is made for powerful nods and gestures in the direction of honesty and balance.”

An example of this mode was Kuenssberg’s token gesture during the Corbyn interview in which she used the phrase “some voters may think…” which was clearly intended to give the impression of balance as a means of offsetting her aggressive line of questioning in response to Corbyn’s reasonable commitment to the spreading of international law that preceded it. The impression given is that we live in a free and open society where genuine dissent is tolerated.

Medialens continue:

“The second, ‘full propaganda’, mode involves straight forward, no holds barred bias. This is seen in time of war, on royal occasions, on the anniversary of great military victories, and at times when leaders pass away.

On these occasions, balance and impartiality are deemed unnecessary, disrespectful, unpatriotic, irresponsible, even treacherous…Mode 2 reporting, then, sets an essentially totalitarian standard against which public and journalists alike judge media performance…The most powerful weapons in support of mode 2 performance are patriotism and shame…”

Andrew Neil’s impassioned eulogy during the opening sequence of the BBCs flagship political discussion programme, This Week broadcast on November 19 is an example of the second, “full propaganda” mode. Neil’s linking of the nuclear power state to a succession of great French thinkers was his way of showing support for Hollande’s foray into bombing its former colony. Neil’s “inaccurate nonsense in the form of nice memorable words strung together with angry sad words” was critiqued in a brilliant piece of polemical writing by Frankie Boyle.

What both Boyle’s article and the Medialen’s analysis highlight, is that parliamentary democracy in the absence of a democratic media creates the illusion of popular consent while enhancing the power of the state and the privileged interests protected by it.

The battle for media control is akin to the analogy of the fight for territorial domination between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The one that wins is the one that is fed. Democracy is that way. The wolf that wins is the one we feed. And media provides the fodder.

‘No one is left to speak for me.’

By Daniel Margrain

The systematic redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest which began under Thatcher, continued under Blair and currently is increasing at a pace under Cameron, is emblematic of the relationship between welfare state retrenchment and the notion of the role of the state as facilitator of welfare handouts to the corporate sector.

Farm subsidies, public sector asset stripping, corporate tax avoidance and evasion, government share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies are just some of the ways in which the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a massive £155bn since the economic crisis of 2008.

Meanwhile, in June this year, the UK government announced £12 billion of welfare cuts that included the abolition of working tax credits to the poorest and the top down reorganisation of the NHS brought about by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act which removes the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive service. The act requires up to 49 percent of services to be tendered out to “any qualified provider” . This will rapidly lead to the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales.

The punitive attacks on the unemployed, sick and disabled have been stepped up resulting in 500,000 people using food banks in addition to increasing rates of depression, anxiety and incidences of suicides among those on benefits. In social care, a combination of cuts of around 30 percent to local authority budgets since 2010, increasingly restrictive eligibility criteria for services, and inadequate personal budgets will leave millions without the support they need.

Finally, the reduction in housing benefit to the unemployed allied to the bedroom tax is a double whammy that has resulted in growing rates of homelessness and/or the social cleansing and displacement of entire communities, many of them long established.

What are these attacks on the welfare state about? The government have long argued that they are needed in order to reduce the budget deficit. But on the very same day that the bedroom tax was announced in parliament (estimated to “save” the Treasury £480 million) the top rate of tax in the UK was cut from 50 percent to 45 percent, resulting in a loss of revenue of £1 billion.

The only rational explanation is that “austerity” is being used by the Tory government as a pro-corporate ideological weapon against both the welfare state as a concept and the general population who, in one way or another, rely on it in some shape or form. Those affected are not just the poor and traditional blue collar workers but also the lower ranks of the middle classes highlighted by the fact that the cuts are now beginning to have political repercussions within David Cameron’s own Oxfordshire constituency.

An obvious example of how Tory cuts are beginning to impact on the community at large, is in the field of social care for the elderly. In an increasingly aging society, the pressure on the social care system will become more acute as demand for its services increase. But a service motivated by profit is necessarily compromised in terms of its ability to provide a universal service of care predicated on need.

Another example, are the government’s proposals to cut the police budget by 40 per cent with the predicted loss of some 22,000 front line police officers to be replaced by private security firms. These firms will be drafted in by communities in suburbs and villages to fill the gap in neighbourhood policing left by the budget cuts. In an Essex seaside town, more than 300 residents have effectively been forced to club together to pay for overnight private security patrols.

The implications of the drive towards a privatized police force motivated primarily by profit are clear. The tendency would be for any crime not committed on the patch where customers pay privately for their service to be ignored or underplayed. The potential for the creation of protection rackets and vigilantism exists in situations where people who are not in a position to be able to afford for protection live near to people who can.

Justine Greening’s Kafkaesque contention on last Thursdays (November 5) Question Time programme that the reduction in policing in areas where crime is falling, justifies cuts to those areas, illustrates further the political undermining of the concept of universal provision. It’s my view that outsourcing is part of the Tory strategy to run down public services as the precursor to their dismantling prior to them being sold off. In fact, as Noam Chomsky put it, this process is standard practice:

“[T]here is a standard technique of privatization, namely defund what you want to privatize. Like when Thatcher wanted to defund the railroads, first thing to do is defund them, then they don’t work and people get angry and they want a change…
That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”  

What underlies the privatization strategy are the various vested interests involved. For instance, the husband of the woman responsible for cutting police budgets – Home Secretary Theresa May – is a major shareholder in G4S. Moreover, 70 MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms, and more than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords “have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England.” 

For the Tory government, the ideological crux of the matter is that profit maximization for the corporations they represent is regarded as taking priority over the concept of a properly functioning and accountable welfare state and public sector. Profit has become the guiding principle for the organisation of society from which everything is judged including perceptions of success and happiness.

This is reinforced daily on television programmes and in the lifestyle sections of magazines and newspapers. Moreover, power that profit implies, is linked to the concept of biological determinism in that it tries to convince us that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, so that inequality and injustice cannot be eliminated.

Any rejection of this model is regarded by the apologists for the system as being the fault of the individual and not the social institutions or the way society is structured. The solution is thus to change – or even eliminate – the individuals, not to challenge the existing social structures.

It’s the current form of social organisation that biological determinism reinforces which ensures the David Cameron’s of this world secure their place at the top of the food chain. It also highlights to the rest of us the artificial limits that the system driven by profit imposes.

SPeye Joe (Welfarewrites)

Joe Halewood writes about tenant and welfare wrongs

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