Category: privatisation

Hell of a state: What the tragic story of Don Lane tells us about Tory Britain

By Daniel Margrain

Don Lane

Don Lane, who suffered from diabetes, earned his living by delivering parcels to peoples’s homes and businesses throughout the country. Although Mr Lane was paid a salary by the giant courier company he worked for, according to the law, he was “self-employed”.

The amount he was paid depended on how many parcels he delivered. Mr Lane received no holiday or sick pay and was under constant pressure to meet targets. Drivers for the company get fined by them for rounds they miss. Mr Lane was recently fined for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes where tragically he collapsed and died.

The scandal that underlies the story is one which the bosses and shareholders of giant multinational companies like the one Don Lane worked “self-employed” for, have seen their dividends and pay go through the roof, while workers at the bottom, have experienced a real terms drop in their income over many years. The ideology that drives this “gushing up” of wealth towards the top, is called neoliberalism.

Before its onset four decades ago, the UK was a much more equal society than it is at present. The available data shows that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly.

As measured by the Gini Coefficient (see below), the redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest, rose sharply under the Thatcher government in 1979. The trend continued, albeit less drastically, under successive Tory and Labour governments where it reached a peak in 2009-10.

Figures show that GDP, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016. This increase in wealth, however, has become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands.

Inequality

SourceIFS 2016

Impact of inequality

report by Oxfam highlights the significant role neoliberalism plays in perpetuating inequality and suggests that the societies most affected are more prone to conflict or instability. The report also points out that extremes of inequality are bad for economic growth, as well as being related to a range of health and social problems including mental illness and violent crime.

Moreover, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the book, The Spirit Level. argue that other impacts of inequality include drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer well-being for children.

Left Foot Forward has cited studies that illustrate the close correlation between inequality and unhappiness. The tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth means that inequality colours our social perceptions. It invokes feelings of superiority and inferiority, dominance and subordination – which affect the way we relate to, and treat, each other.

But rather than introducing socioeconomic policies that help reduce inequality, the Conservative government under Theresa May, has deliberately and consciously continued with the failed high borrowing-low investment/high debt economic neoliberal model that gives rise to it. Under the guise of austerity, the government have instead turned on workers, the sick and the disabled. The result has been increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicides.

Fragmented

The existence of fragmented and atomised communities outside the confines of the workplace, the reduction in organised labour within it (illustrated by the long-term decline in trade union membership) and the lack of any safety net, means that ordinary people are increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of “market forces”.

The ideology that underpins the neoliberal assault is the pseudo-science concept known as biological determinism, the legitimacy of which rests on the assertion that the social order is a consequence of unchanging human biology, as opposed to the result of inherited economic privilege or luck.

Thus, biological determinism reinforces the notion that inequality, injustice and the existence of entrenched hierarchical social structures of government, media and commerce are “natural”.

But it also highlights the artificial limits that a system driven by profit imposes. Any rejection of biological determinism and the rigged market system that reinforces it, is regarded by its promoters as being the fault of the individual, not the social institutions or the way society is structured.

Thus, according to evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists and those within the elite political and media establishment, the solution to overcoming inequality and injustice is not to challenge existing social structures upon which “reality” is based, but rather to alter the chemical composition of the human brain to accommodate it to this reality.

In extreme circumstances it has been used to justify the elimination of individuals altogether who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and/or whose values are perceived to be a “drain on the taxpayer”.

Social Darwinism

Years before moving towards explicit racial genocide, the Nazis developed the notion of ‘useless mouths’ or ‘life unworthy of life’ to justify its killing of ‘undesirables’ or ‘low hanging fruit’. These ideas are a variant of nineteenth century ‘Social Darwinism’ and eugenicist theories.

The said theories adapted Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest to describe relationships within society or between nations and races as a perpetual evolutionary struggle in which the supposedly weaker or defective elements were weeded out by the strongest and the ‘fittest’ by natural selection.

Intellectual challenges to neoliberalism and evolutionary psychology help undermine the notion that rigid social stratification, inequality and injustice used to justify them, are inevitable. Indeed, prominent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs have for a long time been raising their voices against the neoliberal experiment.

What is self-evidently clear is that the current rigged economic system in which power is increasingly concentrated at the top, is not sustainable. The only thing preventing our ability to tackle extreme inequality is political will.

At the next election voters will be faced with a clear choice – either to maintain the status quo by returning the Conservatives to power or, alternatively, to engender a paradigm shift by electing a Labour government. If future Don Lane’s are to be avoided, then we have no alternative other than to ensure a Corbyn victory.

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Grenfell: Woven into the fabric of neoliberal Britain

By Daniel Margrain

Residents were trapped

Back in January, 2016, former Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron announced in the media his intention to demolish some of England’s worst council estates and “rebuild houses people feel they can have a future in”. The key motivating factor that underlined Cameron’s decision was not a genuine desire to improve the quality of life for ordinary people, but to help sustain the fractional reserve banking racket and to perpetuate asset bubbles.

Housing and Planning Bill

Cameron’s announcement was made two days in advance of the Commons vote on the Housing and Planning Bill. The bill, which became law last May, compels local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, either by transferring public housing into private hands or giving the land it sits on to property developers. In other words, what is driving the government’s housing policy is not to bring to an end the housing crisis, but rather to bolster the investment opportunities of the rich. MPs also have a stake. This will make a bad situation worse.

The 126 MPs who have declared they receive rental income from property, represent over 19 per cent of the House of Commons, the vast majority of whom are Conservatives. All 72 Tory MPs who voted against a Labour amendment to the bill which would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation” are themselves landlords.

Clearly, major fire hazards within homes render such homes unfit for human habitation. The voting through of the bill into law, which clearly represents a major conflict of interest, have led to soaring rents meaning that ordinary people have found it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the capital city.

In short, the bill forces local authorities to sell off council housing. The proceeds are then used to encourage housing associations to extend Right to Buy. The bill has also accelerated the extent to which housing associations behave like private companies. This kind of privatization agenda isn’t the case in countries such as Holland or Germany where government investment in social housing for rent is the norm.

Sell-offs

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government annual report into social housing selloffs, of the 21,992 dwellings sold in the year to 2016 in the UK, 12,557 were sold by local authorities and 9,435 by housing associations. The local authorities figure is a 1 per cent increase on the previous year. The housing association figure represents an 18 per cent rise. Government funds for housing associations are drying up. In order to make money, these associations are effectively forced to sell their properties to the private sector. The profits gained are then reinvested into their businesses reducing the overall availability of affordable housing stock.

Mass council house building is the most effective way to house people but this undermines the profits of private firms. One way they do this is by holding onto land rather than developing it, so that prices are pushed upwards. As prices within the private rental market soar, more firms are trying to get their hands on the profits generated.

According to research from Paragon PLC, the private rented sector (PRS) “is the second largest housing tenure, accounting for one-in-five homes in England alone, overtaking the social rented sector for the first time since the 1960s. This represents a significant increase in the number of households living in private rented homes.” The report added, the PRS has “more than doubled since 2001 and is now the second largest housing tenure…PRS is now home to 4.9 million households.”

Tory fractional reserve banking has resulted in the rise of private rented homes and created asset bubbles. This is illustrated by the exponential growth in the construction of new tower blocks throughout London and other major cities. These are not intended for local residents to live in, rather they are being built for foreign investment funds and billionaires to buy as financial safe havens.

However, investment opportunities of the rich are undermined following any attempts by the government to increase supply which also adversely affect the property investment portfolios of politicians. It’s in the joint interests of MPs and major property developers who lobby on their behalf to continue to deregulate the housing market and to loosen planning controls.

The combination of lax planning, greater deregulation and the lack of availability of affordable housing, is two-fold. First, it results in the social cleansing of the poor and those on middle incomes from major cities. In terms of London, for example, the graph below shows the number of families with children who have been moved out of the capital each year since 2010/11 (Thanks to Dan Hancox):

 

Introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, the Public Space Protection (PSPO) is another form of social cleansing that is intended to criminalize those sleeping rough and to drive them from towns and city centres.

In other words, the formal ordering and disciplining of the poorest within urban spaces has had the affect of pushing them to the periphery, out of sight and out of mind of urban powers for whom responsibility is increasingly disavowed. In this way, urban spaces are shaped by economic forces which seem beyond the control of ordinary people, that alter the landscapes of cities and communities and re-package them under the banner ‘urban renaissance’, ‘regeneration’ and ‘gentrification’.

Secondly, the combination of factors described alters the dynamic of urban space whose reconfiguration not only changes the demographic, cultural and ethnic mix of spaces, but also undermines social networks and local economies upon which local businesses depend for their livelihoods.

Hollowing-out

More broadly, the hollowing out of large parts of cities alters perceptions of what constitutes private and public spaces and for what use the state intends to put them to. Last year, the Guardian reported on a London rally that protested against the corporate takeover of public streets and squares. Protesters cited London’s Canary Wharf, Olympic Park and the Broadgate development in the City as public places now governed by the rules of the corporations that own them.

The issues underpinning the protests relate to how neoliberalism is re-redefining many urban spaces as cultural centres of production. This is leading not to diversification and aesthetic pleasure, but instead to a uniformity of corporate culture. These kinds of privatized public zones are increasingly a feature of modern Britain. Examples include Birmingham’s Brindley place, a significant canal-side development, and Princesshay in Exeter, described as a “shopping destination featuring over 60 shops set in a series of interconnecting open streets and squares”.

Contradictions

Begun under New Labour, the neoliberal ideology that underpins these shifting landscapes, reflects a historical contradiction between planning in terms of social need and the process of competitive accumulation – a contradiction that can be traced back to the 1947 Town and Planning Act. Although urban planners have often been cast in an heroic role protecting the public from shoddy contractors and the short-term drive for profit by speculators, town planning has been skewed historically by deeply undemocratic practices.

Having been granted wide-ranging powers as a result of the Town and Planning Act, that include the approval of planning proposals, local authorities are able to carry out redevelopment of land themselves, or use compulsory purchase orders to buy land and lease it to private developers. With the authorities playing lip-service to objections to the way communities are prioritized to corporate interests, public voices are being drowned out and the bureaucracy of the state seemingly ever more remote from the issues and concerns that affect the daily lives of ordinary people.

Grenfell

It’s precisely the contradictions and the lack of a culture of democratic accountability described, that culminated in the Grenfell Tower fire which has brought the UK housing crisis under intense scrutiny. As journalist James Wright put it:

“Successive Conservative-led governments have created artificial housing scarcity that further enriches property owners. Starving the supply of genuinely affordable accommodation inflates house prices and rents. Such a housing strategy, coupled with a deregulatory agenda, is forcing more and more ordinary people into dangerous and uncomfortable conditions.”

Interviewed in one of the most economically unequal and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in one of the most expensive real estate locations in the world, local resident, singer and activist, Lily Allen described how the local Tory-run council in which Grenfell formed a part, is driving a wedge between the local community: “People are encouraged not to congregate and discuss what is happening in the area. They are not encouraged to have a community spirit”, she said.

Allen argued there could well be a reckoning in the pipeline for a Conservative deregulatory agenda that appears to trample over the safety of working class residents. In addition, the singer claimed the death toll is being “micro-managed” by the government and the media for political purposes. At the time of writing (July 5, 2017), 87 discoveries of human remains have been reported in the tower. However, the real death toll is likely to be closer to 450.

The notion that the mainstream media are deliberately drip-feeding information in attempt to pacify the community, is borne out by two local residents on the ground who agreed the media including the BBC are deceiving the public. “What you are seeing here [on the ground] and what you are seeing on the news are two different stories”, they claimed.

The systemic and structural issues outlined, underscored by a complicit corporate media, is what led Labour MP David Lammy to contend the fire that engulfed the Grenfell Tower was akin to “corporate manslaughter”. Academic and activist, Rob Hoveman, was explicit in naming and shaming four individuals who, as a minimum, he regards are worthy of being charged with the offence. These are:

  1. Councillor Nick Paget-Brown, Conservative leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
  2. Nicholas Holgate, Chief Executive of RBKC. (Anyone who knows anything about local government will know the Chief Executive is an immensely powerful usually extremely well-paid employee of the council who works hand-in-glove with the leader).
  3. Robert Black, Chief Executive of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.
  4. Councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen who is both Deputy Leader of RBKC and “has the specific responsibility for promoting better housing for borough residents…and regeneration initiatives”.

The alleged crime scene, in which the UK government under Theresa May is also potentially complicit, must be viewed within a context in which, according to the Equality Trust, the UK’s richest 100 families have increased their wealth by £55.5bn since 2010 while average incomes have risen by £4/week. The Office for National Statistics point out that the UK’s richest 10% of households own 45% of total wealth – 5.2 times greater than the bottom 50% of households.

This level of austerity and inequality is reflected in government cuts to front line emergency services which have come under intense scrutiny since the fire. Tory cuts in London resulted in ten fire stations closing, three of which were in the area of Grenfell Tower. In the UK as a whole, 10,000 firefighters – one in six – have been cut since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition cut fire and rescue funding by 30 per cent. Furthermore, as a consequence of the reduction in staffing levels, safety checks in tower blocks have been cut by a quarter.

Grenfell Action ignored

In the months and  years leading up to the fire, a residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group (GAG), expressed major health and safety concerns in relation to the Grenfell Tower which included out of date fire extinguishers and inadequate fire fighting equipment.

The group also accused Kensington and Chelsea Council of ignoring health and safety laws. In January 2016, GAG warned that people might be trapped in the building if a fire broke out, pointing out that it had only one entrance and exit. GAG frequently cited other fires in tower blocks when it warned of the hazards at Grenfell.

The undemocratic and contradictory forces that prioritize profit before people, were further highlighted after GAG alerted the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Cabinet Member for Housing and Property about their numerous concerns. They even warned them that a catastrophic fire was likely to break out in the block. Not only did GAG not receive any replies  to the concerns raised, but the group alleged Kensington and Chelsea Council harassed them and threatened GAGs blogger with legal action. But because of Tory cuts to legal aid, the group couldn’t afford lawyers to defend themselves.

The Grenfell tragedy is a salutary reminder of how neoliberal ideology, the politics of austerity and corporate corruption that lie at its root, are interwoven within the fabric of the British state. More than ever, the country desperately needs a Corbyn-led government in order to begin to turn things around.

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September 12, 2015: the day Blairism died

By Daniel Margrain

The momentous nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory  one year ago should not be underestimated. It has to go down as one of the most sensational and politically earth shattering events in modern British political history – the impacts of which sent tremors throughout the entire establishment. After the announcement was made that Corbyn had won, it was obvious that the smiles, handshakes and applause of the vast majority of the calculating and opportunistic labour elite were as a fake as Blair’s claim that Saddam was about to attack Britain within 45 minutes.

A pointer to the overwhelming inspiration underlying Corbynism was the fact that no less than 160,000 volunteers who seemingly emerged out of nowhere, were recruited to the cause. The grass roots support that Corbyn engendered – by far the biggest of its kind in history – was almost certainly the catalyst that propelled him to victory. Although the activists were mainly young people, they were by no means exclusively so. In fact the demographic was wide ranging.

Corbyn’s straight talking, lucidity, and unambiguous commitment to a programme of anti-austerity brought many older activists who had felt betrayed by the direction the party had gone under Blair, back into the fold. To put Corbyn’s victory into context, he secured a higher percentage of votes than Blair in 1994  Even more significantly, the 554,272 votes he achieved was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76 per cent of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair received.

This suggests that ‘Corbynmania’ is no ‘flash in the pan’. On the contrary, it represents a new hope for people that society can make a great leap forward from the decades of Blairism where nothing happened, to weeks where decades happen. Neoliberal ideology and the cementing of the Red-Tory axis, which for many was perceived to have been fixed and immutable has, with the rise of Corbynism ,the potential to be swept into the dustbin of history. All that is solid really can melt into air.

When Corbyn was first nominated, he was seen by his opponents – both inside and outside the party – as a joke candidate. But an indication of how seriously he has been taken since he became leader is the extent to which the mainstream corporate media and Tory establishment continue to unanimously attack him.

Tories such as Gove, Fallon, Cameron, Osborne and Patel who thought an opposition party lead by Corbyn could only enhance their political careers, were the ones who subsequently read out an unsubstantiated claim contained within what was clearly a widely circulated Whitehall-issued memo which asserted Corbyn was a threat to national security. Gove then went on to misquote the Labour leader by implying he was economically incompetent and an apologist for Osama bin Laden.

The smearing wasn’t restricted to the media and Tories. On the labour side, around twelve MPs ‘lent’ Corbyn their support ostensibly to widen the contest. Blairites such as Margaret Beckett who nominated Corbyn clearly as a tokenistic gesture, described herself as a moron after Corbyn won. His victory had therefore rebounded back in her face.

No sooner had Corbyn’s victory based on clear and unambiguous principles been announced, then threats to resign by ‘modernizing’ frontbenchers followed. According to the Daily Mail at the time of Corbyn’s election victory, among the Labour figures refusing to serve in his team were high profile prominent Blairites Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Vernon Coaker, Michael Dugher, Shabana Mahmood, Mary Creagh and Lucy Powell. I’m sure the Tories will welcome these unscrupulous careerists with open arms.

The resignations were undertaken on the basis that Corbyn’s programme was too ‘extreme’. Is a refusal to be a part of the Labour friend of ethnic cleansing (sorry, Israel) rump within the party ‘extreme’? Is supporting the nationalization of the railways and utilities ‘extreme’?

Is it also ‘extreme’ to oppose nuclear weapons, war, the growing wealth gap and supporting the need for a massive affordable house building programme that benefits the mass of the population? How can it be that as far as the PLP are concerned, all these things are regarded as ‘extreme’, yet the bailing-out of bankers that benefit nobody other than bankers, is not?

It’s precisely the kinds of principles Corbyn espouses that has resulted in the regurgitation of the official/media meme which criticises him for voting against his party 500 times. This is represented as disloyalty. The notion that he might have voted against the Tories, while most of his Blairite colleagues, many of whom are war criminals, voted with them, is quietly forgotten.

The notion that the Blairites within the PLP will willingly work alongside Corbyn after having spent a large part of the past year conspiring against him – despite the elected leader’s continued attempts at reconciliation – is, I would suggest, delusional. If he wins the election on September 24, as expected, it’s almost certain that the war of attrition against him will continue. Any reluctance to act decisively against the destabilizing elements is likely to be seized upon resulting in a possible split within the party.

Corbyn might be banking on the possibility that a newly elected pro-Corbyn NEC will reinvigorate the party further from the grass roots up leading to a dissipation of the Blairites by stealth, akin to the melting of ice enveloped by steam. As the parties grass roots expand, the reliance on corporate funding and large individual donations lessens. This will give more confidence for Corbyn and his allies to expose, as John Moon put it“the ongoing immoral motivations and machinations of their elected Blairite MPs”, thus initiating the possibility of deselection at the grass-roots level.

A year ago, I heard Ken Livingston on LBC say that under Corbyn the party will unify with little signs of any attempts to undermine him. In terms of the latter, he has been proven wrong. We await the outcome of the former. My fear is that in the absence of any purging of the Blairite clique, the gap between the ideology represented by the elite within the hierarchy of the party and the multitude of its members is so vast, as to be irreconcilable. I strongly suspect that something will have to give as the party moves forward, but we will see.

The idea that a highly principled leader of a party who espouses peace and reconciliation can reconcile two diametrically opposing forces, seems to me to be a bridge too far. But equally, the notion that these irreconcilable forces are able to keep Blairism teetering on the edge of the precipice by its fingernails indefinitely, is as misguided as the insistence that a free-falling object is able to resist the gravitational pull of the earth.

As I type this, I’m watching Corbyn being interviewed by the BBC in relation to the proposed boundary changes against a backdrop in which fellow comrades are seen uniting behind those protesting against the police brutality at Orgreave. A year ago a newly elected Corbyn was protesting at a rally about the terrible treatment of refugees created by Cameron and Blair’s wars. Could, you dear reader, imagine Owen Smith or any of Corbyn’s predecessors post-Michael Foot doing that?

 

Why Owen Smith is a Red-Tory

By Daniel Margrain

Last week a prominent independent journalist claimed on Twitter that my assertion Owen Smith was effectively a Tory was “intellectually lazy”. Coincidentally, a few days later on Thursday’s (September 8) edition of BBC’s Question Time during the Labour party leadership debate between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, a studio audience member and Corbyn supporter accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”.

Smith responded angrily to this suggestion by denying this was the case and asserted that the claim amounted to a term of abuse. Smith’s view was supported the next day (September 9) on Twitter by Smith supporter, John McTernan who said that such a suggestion was “ludicrous”. Of course, nobody is claiming that Smith, in the literal sense, is a Tory, but his voting record in the House of Commons and his commercial activities outside it, would indicate that he might as well be.

So let’s take a look at his record. Since at least July, the public relations professional, Smith, has pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn. This implies that Smith is first and foremost concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position.

The ‘soft-left’ Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them. This is one of the significant passages from a section of the study that Smith was keen to promote:

“The focus groups… explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

In other words, Smith favours direct payments from the public to doctors as a replacement for current NHS services. This policy strategy is consistent with the 1988 Tory ‘self-funding’ privatization blueprint for the NHS drawn up by Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. In the document ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’, Letwin and Redwood suggest that the aim of charging is to “replace comprehensive universal tax funding for the NHS.”

Smith’s conflation of greater choice with an ability to pay, represents one more stage in the execution of Letwin and Redwood’s plans. The implementation of these plans were accelerated by Blair and Brown as documented by Leys and Player in their book The Plot Against the NHS. Smith intends to continue where Brown and Blair – then Lansley and now Hunt – left off as part of the final stages of the wholesale Letwin-Redwood privatization blueprint of which the 2012 Health & Social Care Act  is a major component part.

Since the 2015 general election, the Tory government have explicitly admitted that the NHS should be modelled on US-style “accountable or integrated healthcare” which is where Smith’s connections to Pfizer come in. In addition to his Policy and Government Relations role for the giant US corporation, Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right-wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £52,287 while the latter has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and the privatisation of NHS services.

So while Smith’s image is largely predicated on his attempt to convince the Labour membership that in policy terms he publicly supports Corbyn’s position that the NHS should remain a universally free at the point of delivery service, in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies that have continued under the Tories as well as assiduously courting the arms industry of which his support of Trident is a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July last year by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In an Orwellian rejection of socialist values, Blairite Iraq war apologist and establishment gatekeeper, John Rentoul, affirmed his support for the policies of Owen Smith on Twitter:

As the graphic above shows, and as Craig Murray correctly posits:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The graphic below highlights the hypocrisy of Smith and, by extension, his total contempt for ordinary Labour party members.

 

 

Smith’s acquiescence to corporate power is indicative of a wider democratic deficit within the liberal democracies of the West in an era of globalization more generally. But his close relationship to the PLP and the Tory-Labour establishment consensus that they represent, reflects a relatively recent historical pattern in which governments of both the left and the right have prioritized the interests associated with private capital over and above that of labour.

Thus the first serious attacks on the welfare state in Britain came not in 2008, or even with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but several years previously, with that of a Labour government in 1974. Contrary to popular belief, dismantling the welfare state was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that Thatcher and her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School.

These ideas were subsequently picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair following his election victory in 1997. It was during this point that the introduction of competition into public services, ideas about the state as purchaser of public services and the outsourcing and privatization of health and social care services, became the norm.

The privatization of the NHS, made possible by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, arguably poses the most immediate threat to the welfare state in the UK in its totality in which the outsourcing of services becomes the default position. The functioning of a welfare state that increasingly serves the minority interests of capital at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the majority of the population, is a process driven by a neoliberal-driven ideological consensus rather than any pragmatic attempts at ameliorating deficits and the encouragement of socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

It’s the continued satisfying of minority elite interests rather than the wider public good that Owen Smith and the establishment – of which he is a part – are embedded. That’s fundamentally the reason why there is nothing that separates Owen Smith from the neoliberalism of Blair, Brown, Miliband, Major, Thatcher and May.

Whether one agrees with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics or not, he at least offers a genuine alternative to the consensus view that Smith represents. Even the right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, recognizes that the emergence of Corbyn is important to the adversarial nature of political discourse and, by extension, to democracy itself. If the UK was a healthy democracy instead of an effective corporate-political-media oligarchy, this development would be welcomed. Instead, Corbyn is demonized and smeared at almost every opportunity.

 

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.

‘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.

Heart Out To Tender

George Osborne is set to sell off more public assets than every privatisation of the past two decades combined.

In what has been dubbed the “Great British Sell-Off”, the chancellor is set to flog off public owned stakes in Royal Mail, RBS and other organisations – raking in a one-off windfall of around £31.7 billion in 2016/17.

This is more than the total of £31.7 billion raised by all privatisations since 1993. It would also be the largest amount of money raised through the disposal of public assets in any 12-month period in modern history.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey described the findings as “the sale of the century” and accused Mr Osborne of “rewarding the Tory party’s friends in the city in a spectacularly lavish style”.

He said: “These are public assets belonging to the taxpayer, held in trust for the future for the benefit of the many, not for the financial gain of a rich city elite.

“George Osborne is being utterly irresponsible and inconsistent. On the one hand he announces £12 billion of cuts, the pain of which will be felt by the most vulnerable, on the other he rushes through the RBS sale and in the process loses out on a £14 billion return to taxpayers.

“This is money that could have been spent on infrastructure investment, education and health for the benefit of all.”

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby called the statistics “striking”, and stressed the Treasury should not use sell-offs as a substitute for planned spending cuts.

“It is welcome that the Treasury is looking to maximise revenues to fill Britain’s financial black hole, but sell-offs can’t be allowed to replace the spending reductions that Britain needs over the long-term.

“Every deal must deliver the best possible value for money for taxpayers, but it is good to see that an active chancellor is pushing ahead with selling off assets that can sit very happily – and typically operate more efficiently – in the private sector.

“He should look at every bit of government and, where sales of organisations, assets or land are appropriate, push on. People often say we should keep these assets for a rainy day – a £1.5 trillion and growing debt burden counts as a downpour.”

Mr Osborne began his programme of sell-offs this week when he authorised the disposal of £2.1 billion of shares in RBS.

Further sales are planned for the next few months, including the Government’s remaining 30% stake in Royal Mail, estimated to raise £1.5 billion, and shares in Lloyds totalling around £12.9 billion. The privatisation of £2.3 billion of student loans, along with assets from the former bank Northern Rock and other sales, would bring the total for 2015/16 to £31.8 billion.

The Press Association’s analysis also reveals that:

  • The figure of £31.8 billion for 2015/16 is roughly one fifth of the total amount raised by all privatisations from 1979 to 2014 (£151 billion).
  • The previous 12-month record was set in 1991, when proceeds from the sale of government stakes in BT, National Power, PowerGen and regional electricity companies in Scotland raised £22.5 billion.
  • The sale of the Government’s remaining shares in Lloyds, estimated to bring in £12.9 billion this year, would be the single biggest privatisation since the sale of British Gas in 1986, which raised £20.3 billion.
  • Nigel Lawson is the chancellor who raised the most money through privatisations, selling off around £73 billion of public assets between 1983 and 1989. Other chancellors to have presided over a large number of sell-offs include Norman Lamont (around £24 billion) and Ken Clarke (£23 billion).
  • During the Labour governments of 1997–2010, only £6.4 billion of public assets were sold, including National Air Traffic Services in 2001 and British Nuclear Fuels Limited from 2006–9. Note: all figures are today’s prices, calculated using RPI.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/george-osborne-flog-more-public-6200948