Alistair Phillips-Davies: he’ll be raking it in while you rake over the coals for a little more heat.
Apparently the chief executive of energy firm SSE can’t do anything about the massive 47 per cent pay hike he enjoyed this year – to £4.5 million – because his salary is set independently.
In 2016, his pay was £1.7 million – which is still far too much. But the next year (2017) his pay had risen by 72 per cent to £2.9 million. It seems that trend has continued ever since.
Just think how much money has gone to bosses like him, and shareholders, altogether. Enough to fund a complete change of direction to renewables, perhaps? But they didn’t bother because they were greedy and wanted the cash for themselves. Am I right?
No doubt that will be a huge comfort to his millions of customers who will be freezing in their own homes this winter because they chose to eat food that day instead of staying warm and can’t afford to do both because of the huge hike in energy bills that pays this man’s wages.
I can just hear the conversations over the cold and lifeless hearths: “Why do we have to freeze while Alistair Phillips-Davies rakes in £4.5 million a year?”
“Ah, well – his pay is set independently so there’s nothing he can do about it.”
(I think somehow the actual conversations may run a little differently!)
Here’s the clip:
If this man’s wages really are set independently, it proves only one thing:
The system is corrupt from the bottom to the top.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
John McDonnell, delivering his speech to the Labour conference.
The least that can be said about it is that it will give the Tories plenty to deride at their own conference.
The reason the above is the least that can be said is, Tories ALWAYS try to ridicule Labour policies. Then they proudly announce a load of nonsense rubbish, get their friends in the right-wing media to push it as the only realistic option, dupe enough of the nation into supporting them at a general election and we end up – well, we end up in the mess we’re in today.
As a result of this Tory stupidity, the UK is not so much a proud island nation voyaging to new horizons as a leaky, sinking boat, weighed down by fatted passengers, who expect a malnourished crew to bail them out – using punctured buckets.
Those Tory speeches haven’t happened yet, so let’s enjoy Mr McDonnell’s words while we can. He was certainly correct that it has been Labour’s historic role to lead the UK into each new era, and if he gets the chance to execute the plan he has outlined, Labour will fulfil that duty again.
In This Writer’s opinion, he identified all the right issues. Whether he came up with the right answers is up for debate, but his choices certainly seemed popular with the party rank-and-file.
If you didn’t catch the speech and want to know what his proposals were, here they are:
Creation of a Strategic Investment Board, to put money into key research projects, employment and wages, with fair distribution of investment across the UK.
Supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, the genuinely self-employed and massively expanding worker control and the co-operative sector.
Re-nationalising rail, water, energy, and the Royal Mail.
Crossrail to be built in the north; HS2 extended into Scotland. Midlands Connect to overhaul transport there. Electrified railway lines from Cornwall to London.
Investment in the zero-carbon economy, for example the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.
Full protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in other EU countries, and a promise to give Tories “the political battle of their lives” if they try to water down or undermine protections on employment, consumer or environmental rights.
Close the tax loopholes and avoidance scams used by the mega-rich, making sure the rich and the giant corporations pay their way, to pay for public services.
Scrap the public sector pay cap; introduce the real Living Wage at £10 per hour; introduce pay ratios at the top; and address the gender pay gap.
Restore basic employment rights, repeal the Tories Trade Union Act, set up a new Ministry of Labour and restore collective bargaining.
Cap credit card debt.
Scrap tuition fees.
End Private Finance Initiative deals and bring those that currently exist “back in-house”.
He wrapped up by saying, “The Tories have tried to change people’s view of what is normal and acceptable in our society. They want us to accept that in the fifth richest country in the world it’s normal and acceptable for people to be saddled with debt; for people to have to work long, often insecure, hours, stressed out, struggling to find time with their family; for people not to have a pay rise for years no matter how dedicated you are or how hard you work; for young people to have no prospect of owning their own home; for disabled people to be pushed to the edge by the benefits system; or for carers to be struggling without support or recognition.
“Let’s make it clear – we will never accept that this is normal or acceptable.”
So which do you prefer? The Tory version of “normal or acceptable”? Or the Labour alternative?
I know which I’d rather have – but is it really possible?
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Economists are probably lining up right now to demonstrate that George Osborne is a fool.
The Chancellor is trying to persuade us that aiming for an immediate budget surplus is good policy. Experts disagree.
Very quick off the mark is Professor Simon Wren-Lewis in his Mainly Macro blog. He has already pointed out that fiscal tightening is a terrible idea when interest rates are at their zero lower bound (ZLB), as they are at the moment – if economic growth falters, then monetary policy cannot come to the rescue because interest rates are already as low as they can be.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reckons that there’s no reason for the government to reduce debt from its current level of 80 per cent of GDP, as long as the market is happy to keep buying it up. This Writer has issues with that, because it is not advisable for the UK or any other country to become a debt-servicing economy. However, the principle that there is no need for drastic action is sound.
Osborne’s plan may provide scope for dealing with further ‘Great Recessions’ without running out of what the IMF calls “fiscal space” (the amount of extra debt into which the UK could fall before there was any need for serious concern) – but this would demand that ‘Great Recessions’ take place much more often in the future than the past.
The claim that we should reduce the debt burden for future generations is dismissed as perverse, as it means “the costs of reducing debt would largely fall on the same generation that suffered as a result of the Great Recession”.
Leading on from this, he points out that any claim that an individual would want to pay their debts down quickly is not accurate, for the very good reason that nations are not like individuals; they are more like corporations. Firms live with permanent debt because that debt has paid for the capital purchases they have made: “The state has plenty of productive capital…. If we paid back most government debt within a generation, we would be giving that capital to later generations without them making any contribution towards it.”
From here it is fairly easy to see that selling off national assets (like the Royal Mail or Eurostar – or any of the profit-making utility firms, back in the 1980s) is a bad idea, because the national corporation (the UK) then fails to benefit from the proceeds of all its investment. The railways are an even worse case, because the country is subsidising them with more money than when they were a nationalised industry, but receives none of the profits.
Narrow down your definition of what is happening even further and we see that George Osborne is making the poor pay – with squeezes on benefits – in order to allow the rich to benefit; they will own the assets that the government is selling off while paying nothing towards the capital costs discussed above.
So – unless you are one of the very few people rich enough to profit from Osborne’s policy, do you really want to support him now?
This blog would be particularly interested in hearing from working people who voted Conservative last month:
Did you realise that Osborne would be penalising you and your descendants?
Harriet Harman: Will the acting leader of the Labour Party listen to pleas from the grassroots to get Labour back on track?
If the Labour Party is to regain the confidence it has lost, it needs to re-state its identity with a core message of purpose – one that not only encapsulates what Labour is about, but also what it opposes.
That is what was missing from Labour’s general election campaign, and is as much a reason for Ed Miliband’s defeat as the Conservative campaign, which was not based on objective facts but on political spin.
In a nutshell, it is time to remind the voters and the public that Labour is the enabling party. This creates a clear contrast with the Conservatives – the party of restriction.
So, for example, with the National Health Service, Labour should support a service available to everyone – free. That means noprivateinvolvement. With the Tory privatisation in full swing, funds are being restricted and so are services. The NHS is now a postcode lottery, with care allocated on the basis of profitability. That’s not good enough; the privateers must be told to jog on.
Education must also be available to everybody, up to the level each person can achieve (or wants to). Again, this means there should be no charge for state-provided services. A state school system has no place for privately-owned ‘academies’ or ‘free schools’. These are Tory devices; the private sector will, by its nature, restrict access in order to extract a profit. It also means notuitionfees for students in further/higher education.
Labour should be helping anyone who wants to start a business, by ensuring there are as few obstacles in the way as possible; it must be the enabling party. That means, for example, a graded taxation system, with lower business rates and taxes for start-ups, progressing to a higher rate for medium-sized enterprises, and a highest rate for multinationals – who should be taxed on all takings made in the UK; no excuses.
Another part of the enabling agenda must be ensuring that people can pay a minimum price for things we cannot live without: Accommodation, services, utilities.
There is now an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for many people – mostly because the Tories sold off so many council houses and did not replace them. This is why the Tories were able to impose the Bedroom Tax on so many innocent people – a restrictive idea, intended to push people out of some areas and into others; shifting Labour voters out of places the Tories didn’t think they should have to share with the riff-raff, you see – a gerrymandering tactic to make those constituencies easier to win in elections. The solution is simple: Build council houses again.
When the utility companies – gas, water and electricity suppliers – were privatised, we were all promised that household bills would be kept down by more efficient private-sector business models and private investment. That has not happened. Instead, consumers have been held to ransom by a small cabal of corporations who have been able to charge rip-off prices. Remember the electricity price scandal of 2013? Who told those firms to quit their restrictive practices and cut bills? Labour. The enabling party. The fear of a Labour government imposing new rules in the consumer’s favour helped hold the greedy private bosses in check for a while, but now we have a Conservative government. How long do you think it will be before prices soar? This Writer reckons they’ll take the first opportunity. Even now, after Labour managed to secure price cuts, the poorest families still have to choose between heating and eating during the winter (the phrase has been used so often it is now a modern cliché). This must not be allowed to continue and the solution is clear: Re-nationalise. There are even two bonus factors in such a plan: Firstly, as many of these utilities are owned – or part-owned – by firms or governments based abroad, it will ensure that our bills pay people in the UK rather than boosting foreign economies at the expense of our own and, secondly, takings will help the UK Treasury balance the books.
There is at least one other privatised service that could also be re-nationalised: The railway system. Prices have rocketed while government subsidies have also soared, since the system was turned over to private hands in the early 1990s. This is madness; it is a huge drain on resources and must not be allowed to continue. We should re-nationalise and follow the example of Northern Ireland, where the service was never privatised and where any profit is ploughed into improvements, not profit.
Then there is our grocery bill, which keeps escalating. This is a particularly thorny subject as, for example, farmers are being ripped off by supermarkets over the price of milk, but the same corporations will happily send apples to the other side of the world and back, just to have them polished. It’s time to straighten out that system as well – although it will take a while.
So this is how Labour should frame its arguments from now on: Labour enables; the Tories restrict.
It should be stressed that the themes raised above are just starting-points which occurred to This Writer while considering the issue last night. The above is not an exhaustive list. Undoubtedly there are many more.
This Gary Baker cartoon illustrates the belief that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until it became a pale shadow of the Conservative Party it claims to oppose, leaving the majority of the UK’s population with nobody to speak for them.
Watching a drama on DVD yesterday evening (yes, there is more to life than Vox Political), Yr Obdt Srvt was impressed by the very old idea of the partners in a married couple supporting each other – that behind every great man is a great woman, and vice versa.
It occurred to This Writer that perhaps the biggest problem with the Labour Party’s campaign – not just for the May election but over the last five years – has been the leadership’s insistent refusal to support the requirements of its grassroots campaigners.
So, for example, on the economy: We all know for a fact that the big crash of 2008 or thereabouts was caused by the profligacy of bankers, and not by any overspending on the part of the Labour government of the time. Economists say it, blogs like VP say it, and we all have the evidence to support the claim. So why the blazes didn’t the Labour Party say it? Instead they let the Conservative Party walk all over us with their speeches about “The mess that Labour left us”.
On austerity: We all know that fiscal austerity will never achieve the economic boom that George Osborne claimed for it. If you take money out of the economy, there is less money – not more. What the UK needed in 2010 was a programme of investment in creating jobs with decent wages for the people who make the economy work – ordinary people, not bankers, fatcat business executives and MPs. The money would then have trickled up through the economy, creating extra value as it went. Quantitative easing could have done some good if it had been used properly, but after the Bank of England created the new money it passed the cash to other banks, rather than putting it anywhere useful. The Conservative Party said austerity was the only way forward: “There is no alternative”. Why did Labour agree? Party bigwigs might protest that Labour’s austerity was less, but the simple fact is that the UK was never in any danger of bankruptcy and there was no need to balance the books in a hurry. There’s still no need for it. Austerity was just a way of taking money from those of us who need it and giving it to those who don’t.
On the national debt: The Tories have hammered home a message that their policies are cutting the national deficit and paying down the national debt. That message is a lie. The national debt has doubled since the Conservatives took over. Labour hardly mentioned that.
On benefits: Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare reforms’ have cut a murderous swathe through the sick and the poor, with more than 10,000 deaths recorded in 11 months during 2011, among ESA claimants alone. Many have chosen to attack Labour for introducing ESA in the first place, and for employing Atos to carry out the brutal and nonsensical Work Capability Assessments, based on a bastardised version of the unproven ‘biopsychosocial’ model, that ruled so many people ineligible for a benefit they had funded throughout their working lives. Labour should have promised to scrap ESA and the Work Capability Assessment in favour of an alternative – possibly even a rational – system. But Labour continued to support the Work Capability Assessment, earning the hatred of the sick and disabled. Why? According to Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, it was because the party leadership was afraid of provoking the right-wing press. Well done, Labour! As a result, instead of tearing into Labour like rabid attack dogs, the right-wing media… tore into Labour like rabid attack dogs. This pitifully weak attitude made no difference at all and Labour would have earned more votes by promising to ditch a policy it should never have adopted.
On education: This Writer attended a hustings on education, here in Brecon and Radnorshire. It was attended by many local teachers and it was clear that they all wanted to hear someone say they would clear away the layers of bureaucracy and constant interference that interfere with their jobs, and allow them to get on with teaching our youngsters. Nobody said anything of the kind, including the Labour candidate. Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s pet project – the very expensive ‘Free Schools’, continues unabated, and state-owned schools continue to be turned into privately-run ‘academies’, with all their assets turned over to private companies for free. And what about the debate over what should be taught in our schools and colleges? With employers now merrily shirking any training responsibilities and taking on foreign workers because they know what to do, can our educational institutions not take up the slack and provide that training for British people, so we don’t need to import as many people from abroad?
On immigration and the European Union: Right wingers including Tories and Kippers (members and supporters of UKIP) have made many claims that immigrants are a threat to the UK and to our way of life. In fact, migrant workers are a net benefit to the country, contributing far more to the UK Treasury in taxes than they ever claim in benefits. Ah, but they’re occupying houses that could be taken by British people; they use our NHS and their children take up places in our schools – and it’s all Labour’s fault because Labour signed the treaty that let them in, according to the right-wing critics. In fact, the Conservative Party signed that treaty, in the early 1970s. Free movement between European Union countries has always been a condition of membership and was never a problem when the EU consisted of nations that were on a relatively equal economic standing. The problem arose when the poorer eastern European countries were admitted to the union and people from those countries took advantage of the rule to seek a better life in the more affluent West. The simple fact is that those nations should not have been allowed full Union membership until their economies had grown enough that people would not want to move here – that was a matter that EU officials failed to address, not the UK government. Labour’s response was to fall in line with the right-wingers and promise harsh immigration controls. People naturally asked why they should vote Labour if Labour was no different from the nasty Tories.
On the NHS: Labour promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, ending the creeping privatisation of the NHS – and then said that it would limit the profits of private firms working in the NHS. This is contradictory and confusing. People wanted to end NHS privatisation, not let it go on with limited profits!
On housing: Labour promised an increased home-building programme, but what people need right now are council houses – cheaply-rentable properties run on a not-for-profit basis by local authorities. They need this because there is an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for individuals and families of varying sizes, due to the Conservative ‘Right to Buy’ policies that started in the 1980s. Council houses were sold off to their tenants, who in turn sold them to private landlords, who rented them out for more money than councils ever demanded. Labour never offered to build council houses again. Instead, we were promised more expensive alternatives from the private sector that we didn’t – and don’t – want.
On privatisation: More than 70 per cent of the general public wanted energy firms re-nationalised when the controversy over bills arose in 2013. Labour should have promised at least to consider it. Labour did not. Labour is the party that should represent public ownership of utilities. The private water, electricity and gas companies have ripped off consumers with high rates that were never part of the offer when their shares were floated on the stock exchange. But Labour was happy to allow those firms to continue.
These are just a few reasons Labour let the people down. They arise from the disastrous philosophical reversal of the 1990s that changed the party from one that represents the people into one that exploits us instead. Now, right-wingers in the party like Peter Mandelson are claiming that Ed Miliband pulled Labour too far back to the Left; instead, they want Labour to push further into Tory territory, utterly abandoning its core voters.
That would be a tragedy – not only for the people of the UK, but also for Labour. We already have one Conservative Party; we don’t need another.
Labour must rid itself of the right-wingers in its ranks and return to its original values – before it is too late for all of us.
Or is it already too late, thanks to the dithering of the last five years?
The Conservatives’ latest negative campaign advert: The Tories seem to think they are the only party who should be allowed to steal the cash from poor people.
Twice, in a matter of days, Vox Political‘s findings on political issues have been supported by the evidence of a scholar.
Today, the Mainly Macroblog written by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches Economics at Oxford University, supports This Writer’s argument that the so-called economic recovery, that began in 2013, had little or nothing positive to do with the Coalition Government or George Osborne’s policies.
“The idea that austerity during the first two years of the coalition government was vindicated by the 2013 recovery is so ludicrous that it is almost embarrassing to have to explain why,” he writes.
“Imagine that a government on a whim decided to close down half the economy for a year. That would be a crazy thing to do, and with only half as much produced everyone would be a lot poorer. However a year later when that half of the economy started up again, economic growth would be around 100%. The government could claim that this miraculous recovery vindicated its decision to close half the economy down the year before. That would be absurd, but it is a pretty good analogy with claiming that the 2013 recovery vindicated 2010 austerity.”
That’s right. George Osborne did huge harm to the economy when he imposed austerity in 2010, choking off Labour’s recovery. It is senseless for him to claim that easing off on that policy has created an economic miracle. As this blog has repeatedly stated, any economic recovery enjoyed by the UK has had nothing to do with the actions of the Coalition Government.
It is important to remember that the Tories intend to impose even deeper austerity if they win the election next month, causing catastrophic harm to anyone who isn’t in the richest 10 per cent of the population.
But why do this at all? What was the point of it?
A commenter to this blog’s Facebook page put it very well only today. Tracey Wilkinson Clarke wrote: “Corporations and capitalism [were]crashing…the banking crisis was created … as a reason to bring in austerity measures to feed the money back up to the few.” This opinion is supported by an article on this blog at the time.
It is also supported by the Conservative Party’s most recent anti-SNP campaign advert. Following on from David Cameron’s overheard comment on television last week, that Alex Salmond was a pickpocket, the advert has an image of the SNP candidate reaching towards a member of the public’s pocket, with the tagline, “Don’t let the SNP grab your cash.”
It is Conservative Party policy to do exactly that – and hand it over to the very rich in the form of tax breaks (both personal and business-orientated), tax avoidance, lucrative public ‘service’ contracts, and shares in privatised utilities.
The company says its 6.8 million customers will benefit by £37 over a year (that’s if the price cut remains for that long). It’s more than E.On customers (as reported here yesterday)…
… but the benefit of the wholesale price cut means British Gas will still make a whopping profit of more than £1 BILLION.
(Total profit is likely to be around £1,107,040,000).
British Gas representatives were all over the media this morning, apologising for making customers wait until February 27 before they feel the benefit; this is because the company reckons it bought the gas being used at the moment at higher, 2013-14, prices.
They should have been apologising for failing to pass on all of the wholesale cut to customers. It would have saved them very nearly £200 per year.
That kind of money is desperately needed by families feeling the pinch of the Conservative-planned cost of living crisis.
The drop will only benefit customers on British Gas’s standard and those Fix & Fall tariffs and the effect on different customers will vary.
The Labour Party, which has been campaigning for fairer energy bills for more than a year, has been (understandably) disparaging about this meagre display of largesse.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint tweeted: “Wholesale gas prices down by [more than] 20%, yet gas bills only cut by 5%. Regulator must have power to make sure full savings go to all consumers.”
In a statement to the press, she added: “This shows that Ed Miliband was right to challenge the energy companies to cut their prices and pass on the falls in wholesale costs to consumers. But given gas prices have fallen by at least 20 per cent a price cut of just 5 per cent means consumers still aren’t getting the full benefit of falling wholesale prices.
“The next Labour government is committed to making big changes in our energy market: freezing energy prices until 2017 so that bills can fall but not rise, and giving the regulator the power to force energy companies to cut their prices – when wholesale costs fall – to all of their customers.”
Some have taken issue with the description of a freeze that allows prices to fall, rather than keeping them static, but this is nit-picking. We can all see that Labour is simply pushing for households to get the best deal.
What do the Conservatives want? What do the Liberal Democrats want? Only last week they showed…
The price of privatisation: This graph charts the rise and rise of utility prices since privatisation. When the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s sold them off, the promise was that prices would fall.
Here’s something many people may have missed: German energy company E.On has cut its standard gas tariff in response to “mounting political pressure”, according to the Telegraph.
Don’t get too excited – the 3.5 per cent reduction is less than one-eighth of the 27 per cent drop in wholesale gas prices over the last 12 months, but it does mean that around two million customers will save £24 on their gas bills if the reduction stays in place for a year. That’s equivalent to two weeks’ worth of usage.
E.On will lose £48 million of what it would have had if it had kept the tariff at its previous level – but if prices stay the same, it will gain £322,285,710 in comparison with its profits before the wholesale price dropped.
In any case, E.On has a lower tariff with an annual bill of £923, more than £200 less than the £1,145 post-cut cost of its standard rate.
So it seems Labour was right to call the cut “pretty measly”.
Some commentators have tried to claim that E.On’s move will signal a price-cutting war between the so-called ‘Big Six’ suppliers, but nearly a week has gone by with no further announcements.
The day after E.On cut prices, a Labour motion for regulator Ofgem to force energy companies to pass on the benefits of wholesale price cuts to their customers was defeated when the Tories and Liberal Democrats voted to support the energy companies rather than their constituents.
Despite voting against a move that would make it compulsory, Tories have hypocritically called on energy firms to pass on such savings willingly, and George Osborne has asked fuel companies to do the same with the prices of petrol and diesel.
There’s one more thing to say about this. Take note of the fact that E.On is a German company. This is what happens when you allow rampant privatisation of national utilities like gas and electricity – foreign companies get a chance to take those utilities away and run them for their profit, rather than for the good of the country.
E.On will make more than £300 million in profit from UK citizens, even after cutting its prices – and that’s on top of the profit it was already making before wholesale prices dropped.
Foreign firms own our energy companies and water suppliers. Foreign healthcare firms now have their claws firmly embedded in the English National Health Service. Hedge funds now own a large part of the Royal Mail as a result of Vince Cable’s botched sham of a sale last year. Who knows what will happen to the UK’s share of Eurostar, if the Coalition succeeds in selling that off before the election?
These travesties were all made possible because the public allowed the Conservative Party into government, giving its members an opportunity to strip the country of any assets that had value.
Evil… or perhaps he’s just confused. George Osborne doesn’t seem to know that his government doesn’t try to influence the way private companies set their prices. (But then, he doesn’t seem to know that his own name is really Gideon.)
Michael Meacher’s latest blog article is really amusing if you think about it in relation to the recent Commons vote on energy prices. He writes:
“It’s really rich that Osborne has tweeted: ‘Vital this (drop in the oil price) is passed on to families at petrol pumps, through utility bills and air fares’.
“He’s spent the last 5 years lambasting Labour in support of the Tory free market mantra that the State should get out of the way and leave it all to the markets.
“Now rather pathetically he’s pleading with market operators to show a dose of fair play rather than exploit a windfall for their own interests which is the natural instinct of capitalism.”
It’s doubly rich when you know that almost his entire Parliamentary Party (Osborne himself wasn’t there, for example) voted against a measure that would force private energy companies to pass the benefits of supplier price drops on to customers by cutting prices.
What is Conservative policy on this, exactly?
Note: Mr Meacher also suggests a future Labour government may take at least one of the Big Six energy companies into public ownership. Naysayers may start queuing up now to get their derisory comments published.
Who to believe – this infographic, by the private pharmaceutical company Lilly…
… or this, which has no corporate sponsor and was created by people who are concerned about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal?
Wasn’t it nice to see business minister Matthew Hancock so adamant that the NHS is protected from the provisions of the hugely controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership plan?
“There is no threat to the NHS from TTIP,” he promised. “Public services, and publicly funded health services, are not included in any of the EU trade commitments.”
Oh, really? And what happens when a future Labour government restores the NHS to full state control and the private companies that have been creaming cash off it scream blue murder? Can Hancock promise they won’t go to the even-more-controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement system to take revenge on that government.
Of course he can’t.
But it was interesting to hear his opinions today. That was all the backbench business debate could claim to do – get MPs to air their own views and those of their party on this sticky subject. The decision that the EU and UK Parliaments should scrutinise the provisions of both TTIP and ISDS are not binding on any government, even though they express the wish of the current Parliament.
Here are a couple more Tory opinions. First, Conservative Robert Walter tried to allay fears by pointing to a letter from business secretary Vince Cable, stating that “the new Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, has… stated explicitly that ‘public service, including health, education and water management, are not on the agenda.’”
‘Not on the agenda’ means ‘not on the agenda for discussion’, though, and not necessarily ‘not included in the deal’.
And Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston tried to offer more substantial reassurance by saying she had received correspondence from Jean-Luc Demarty, the European Commission’s director-general for trade, who “made it absolutely clear that all publicly funded health services, including NHS services, would be protected under TTIP… as long as the services are publicly funded, it does not matter how they are delivered.”
This seems fair – but what if the Tories decide to remove state funding from NHS services that are now – or will be in the future – provided by private firms? This would firstly force people receiving that service to pay, and secondly the TTIP would remove the right of any future government to restore state provision; it would be interfering with a private company’s profits.
The motion was moved by Geraint Davies MP, who said: “If we end up with a situation where multinational companies are able to sue democratically-elected Governments over laws they have passed to protect their citizens, we will be in the wrong place altogether.
“The harsh reality is that this deal is being stitched up behind closed doors by negotiators, with the influence of big corporations and the dark arts of corporate lawyers. They are stitching up rules that would be outside contract law and common law, and outside the shining light of democracy, to give powers to multinationals to sue Governments over laws that were designed to protect their citizens.”
On health, he said: “All sorts of assurances have been given on health and social care but they are by no means watertight… As case law has not been established in Britain, the NHS remains at risk. The opening door created by the endless privatisations from the coalition Government creates more scope and risk for intervention, which could lead to possibly billions of pounds worth of legal action if a future Labour Government reversed a lot of the privatisation that has already occurred. Frankly, that would be in contrast to, and conflict with, the democratic wishes of the British people—if we get in.
“Due to the lack of case law, at any point a judge could say ‘Here is an area where there is already private competition. We will allow TTIP; why shouldn’t we?’ The more it goes forward, the more we are exposed, which is a real problem.”
Regarding ISDS, he said: “If these powers are available, they will be used to fleece the taxpayer. In my view, they are unnecessary. I accept that some protection may be needed between developed economies and democracies and rogue states, but rogue states are certainly not the United States. Mature democracies and economies, namely the EU and the US, do not need anything more than contract law to protect investors.”
Caroline Lucas (Green) pointed out in support of this that “the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, who are in trade agreements that include this kind of investor-state relationship, have been sued 127 times and have lost an amount of money that could have employed 300,000 nurses for a year“.
Mr Davies added: “The Labour party is standing on a pledge of freezing energy prices; again there could be a risk of challenge. If we wanted a one-off tax on privatised utilities, such as the one introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), on, for instance, Royal Mail, we could be at risk. If there were a move to partial or actual renationalisation of the railways or whatever, it could be subject to fines. The point is not whether one agrees with these policies; it is whether one thinks that we have the democratic right here on behalf of the people to pass those laws and not face financial intimidation.”
Labour’s David Anderson said: “People in this country are sick to death of the way public services have been treated over the past three decades. We have the nationalised train companies of other countries running our train services. We have multinational energy companies fleecing the old and poor in this country who are trying to keep their lights on and their houses warm. We have foreign postal companies undermining the universal service obligation. We have water companies—dealing with the basis of human life—that do not know where the people they provide the service to live. We have a coal industry where 200,000 people lost their jobs and communities were devastated, and we buy in coal from some of the most unstable regimes on earth. And now we worry that the health service will be fragmented before our very eyes. That is why people do not trust, and are very worried about, these negotiations.
The risk to air and water safety from fracking, and of sub-standard environmental controls, as there are in the United States, through the back door of TTIP, with ISDS, was also raised – and members on both sides of the house agreed that it was a valid issue.
Perhaps Labour’s John McDonnell described the issue best when he said: “The TTIP agreement passes over economic sovereignty on a scale that is equivalent to the establishment of the Common Market and the European Union, so I cannot understand why the Government are allowing that to happen without the full involvement of the people.
“This is about the corporate capture of policy making in this country – and in parts of Europe.”
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