Margaret Hodge: A principled stand against corruption of politics by corporate influence.
This is something that broke while Yr Obdt Srvt was still recovering from a recent illness, but is still worth covering because Labour really needs to understand the danger of association.
Margaret Hodge, Labour’s chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, broke ranks to warn the Shadow Cabinet against accepting – shall we call it – “help” from accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday. She said it was “inappropriate” and she was right to do so.
It’s the political equivalent of accepting “help” from the Mafia – you end up in their pocket, owing them favours.
According to the BBC, Labour MPs including Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor) and Chukka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary), along with Rachel Reeves (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) have received more than £540,000 in research assistance from the firm in the past 18 months alone.
PwC is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – the others are Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte – who also advise the Conservative-run Treasury on tax policy. It should not be beyond anybody’s wit to see there’s a clear conflict of interest if the firm is advising both Labour and the Tories on tax policy.
Labour’s official line is that “PwC have provided long standing support to all three major political parties on a non-party basis, as happened for the Conservatives and Lib Dems before the last election. Given the complexity of government and that opposition parties do not have significant access to civil servants, the support provided by organisations such as these helps ensure that there is better scrutiny of government policy.”
PwC said its staff provided “limited and fully disclosed technical support to the main political parties” but added: “We do not develop policy on their behalf.” Staff on secondment might make “observations on the improvement of legislation or proposed legislation”, the firm added in a statement.
Isn’t this exactly the problem? Staff make “observations”, and before we know it, all our political parties are carrying out PwC policy instead of their own.
If Labour was serious about getting the advice it needed, then it would be employing advisers who have nothing to do with any of the other political parties. That’s the way it has to be. Anything else courts betrayal of the public.
Then there would be no opportunity for these firms to create embarrassment when their activities “promoting tax avoidance” on an industrial scale were revealed by the Public Accounts Committee
PwC said it disagreed with the Public Accounts Committee report (it would, wouldn’t it?) and denied claims by Mrs Hodge that the firm had misled her committee when its executives gave evidence in January 2013. Who do you believe?
Mrs Hodge herself told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “You have to be very, very careful when you’re in opposition whom you take money from”.
This is why Vox Political supports the removal of all private company advisors from government. The private sector has no place in decisions about public services.
Today Vox Political pointed out that Labour’s Rachel Reeves has hired an advisor from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a foreign-owned company that is already advising the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government, and actually writing laws on tax while helping companies and the very rich to avoid paying it.
It seems clear that she is, as we put it, sleeping with the enemy and it seems likely that this relationship would continue if Labour were to form a government next year – aiding PwC in its aim of being in control, no matter which political party is supported by the people.
Do British people want to live in a corporatocracy like that?
It seems that, if Rachel Reeves has her way, your vote really will count for nothing (who’d have thought she’d be an agent of Lynton Crosby’s ‘They’re all the same’ agenda?) and the corporate bosses will run the country for their own gain and to our detriment.
Alternatively, is it time she received her marching orders and was shipped off to the backbenches, along with her corporate adviser?
Is it time we told Labour that we don’t want to elect another party of corporate lapdogs?
Should we tell Ed Miliband we want him to make his own decisions, untainted by the interests of big businesses that have no intention of helping the poor?
—Putting her foot in it again: Rachel Reeves has a history of stupid decisions. Now she has employed one of the UK’s leading tax avoidance advisors to help her, when we need to END tax avoidance in order to improve the benefits bill.
This is very disturbing, from the new Private Eye (1379):
“Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, is the latest Opposition member to accept help from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“The management consultant is supplying an analyst to support Reeves from October to January… This suggests that, although Labour has made a lot of noise about the government’s work with unpopular contractors like Atos and A4e, the People’s Party intends to stick with this commercial approach to welfare should it find itself back in power next year.
“PwC is already involved in advising the government on ‘commissioning’ welfare services; and last year Tory employment minister Mark Hoban asked it to help strengthen ‘quality assurance’ in the fitness-to-work tests carried out by Atos [PwC is Hoban’s former employer, implying an inappropriate relationship from the get-go]. This didn’t seem to work, as Atos quit the contract this year after much criticism.
“Reeves’ timing is unfortunate, to say the least. PwC is currently heavily implicated in the latest scandal of big corporations avoiding tax through Luxembourg. Most of the leaked documents show PwC was helping arrange all those tax-free tricks.”
PwC is, along with the rest of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – of course, well-known to Vox Political. Along with the others, it has been invited to actually write government legislation on behalf of the Tories and Liberal Democrats – specifically UK law on tax avoidance – while running many tax avoidance schemes.
In a previous article, Vox Political wrote: “The Department for Work and Pensions has employed many private firms; this is the reason that department is haemorrhaging money. There are the work programme provider firms who, as has been revealed in previous blog entries, provide absolutely no useful training and are less likely to find anyone a job than if they carried on by themselves; there are the IT firms currently working on Universal Credit, about which Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith lied to Parliament when he said he was having to write off £34 million of expenditure – the true figure was later revealed to be closer to £161 million, almost five times as much; there are Atos and Capita, and probably other firms that have been hired to carry out so-called ‘work capability assessments’ of people claiming sickness, incapacity and disability benefits, according to a plan that intentionally ignores factual medical evidence and places emphasis on a bogus, tick-box test designed to find ways to cut off their support; and there is Unum Insurance, the criminal American corporation that designed that test, in order to push British workers into buying its bogus insurance policies that work on exactly the same principle – this is theft on a grand scale.”
This blog has warned that the bosses of companies like Unum, Atos and KPMG (and by extension, PwC) were planning to ensure that they would have government contracts, no matter which political party was in office. In effect, Vox Political warned, they would be unelected kings because whatever you decided at the ballot box, they would be in charge.
In another article, Vox Political pointed out that money paid to these companies does not benefit the British economy but goes abroad to their foreign headquarters or parent companies. PwC is part-American-owned.
In October last year, this blog stated that if Rachel Reeves had promised to be as tough on tax dodgers, in her previous job as shadow chief secretary to the treasury, as she promised to be on welfare in her first speech as shadow work and pensions secretary, Labour might have a lot more credibility.
The article said that ensuring we get the money that is currently going unpaid by tax dodgers – who are facilitated by firms like PwC – would ease the benefit bill as it would take up a smaller proportion of the national tax take. And now she is taking advice from PwC.
Maybe someone at PwC read the article and decided to take preventative action.
It seems clear that if Labour has any involvement with this company – or allows it to continue working behind the scenes on government business – it will not be in the public interest, and in fact is highly likely to harm the public good.
So we must ask:
Rachel Reeves, what the blue blazes do you think you are doing?
You see, not only has this been going on ever since the Coalition government established welfare-to-work in its current form –
Not only have government ministers and backbenchers been lying to you about the payouts given to the profit-driven privately-owned provider companies –
Not only have these companies been sucking down on your hard-earned taxpayer cash as though they had done something to earn it –
But the people they were supposed to be helping – people who have been forced into ever-greater poverty by the benefit uprating cap, arbitrary and unfair benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £26,000 cap on benefits for families, the imposition of council tax on even the poorest households (in England at least), the stress of continual reassessment (if they are ESA claimants in the work-related activity group), the humiliation of having to visit food banks and who knows what else…
The people who are desperate to get any kind of paying job, despite the fact that zero-hours contracts could make them worse-off than unemployment, due to the effect on in-work benefits, despite the fact that those in-work benefits are also being squeezed hard, and despite the fact that there are at least five jobseekers for every job that becomes available…
These are the people that government ministers, backbenchers and the right-wing press keep victimising with their endless attacks on “skivers”, “scroungers”, the “feckless”, the “idle” and the “lazy”!
If I was unemployed and my MP had been caught slagging me off while praising these good-for-nothing so-called work programme ‘providers’, I would make it my business to bring them before the public, lock them into some medieval stocks and pelt them with rotten vegetables. Public humiliation is the least they should get for this continual insult to common decency.
But wait! There’s more.
It turns out that, not only are these work programme providers a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing parasites, but many of them are also a bunch of foreigners who’ve come to the UK to take our jobs!
Ingeus is Australian. G4S is part-Danish. Maximus is American.
It seems that all the politically-fuelled and media-driven anger against immigration into the UK from the rest of the European Union and beyond may be designed to distract us all from the fact that foreign firms are immigrating here to take government jobs that should be yours, and to steal your tax money.
Nobody can say they’ve earned it, after all.
But let us not be unfair. It would be wrong to concentrate on welfare-to-work providers when all of government is riddled with foreign interlopers.
Look at the Treasury, where the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms have been re-writing tax law to suit their tax-avoiding corporate clients for the last few years. They are Deloitte (American), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (part-American), Ernst & Young (part-American) and KPMG (Dutch).
And then there is the huge, criminal, foreign firm that has been advising the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to privatise the welfare state since the mid-1990s – a firm so controversial that there is currently a moratorium on the mention of its name in the national mainstream media. It is an American insurance giant called Unum.
The best that can be said of these five corporations is that – at least to the best of our knowledge – they do work for a living.
Ingeus out of favour: This image was found on a site protesting against Workfare and demonstrates the high regard in which it is held by previous users of the Ingeus service.
Perhaps we’re jumping the gun with the headline but alarm bells tend to go off when you read that “people on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work”.
Everyone working on Employment and Support Allowance should already know what everyone receiving it knows – it’s more a bloodbath than a benefit.
This is down to the attitude of the healthcare professionals already working on it – the people who (and God forbid you should ever ask to see their qualifications) automatically sign 70 per cent of claimants as ‘fit for work’, whether they are or not, and tell most of the rest they need to be work-ready within a year.
The result? Mental breakdowns, depression and suicides; physical breakdowns, worsening of existing conditions, and premature deaths. By the thousand.
These are the people who ask claimants when amputated limbs are going to grow back, and who tell people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that they’ll be fit for work within six months.
If you did (God forbid) ask them where they got their qualifications, it was probably the Teaching Hospital of Noddyland.
“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits [italics mine] – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November,” the DWP press release states.
Isn’t this what happened with people on Jobseekers’ Allowance? Suddenly they had to start fulfilling lots of pointless extra requirements or their benefits would be withdrawn? Part of that is a regular meeting in which – as far as we can ascertain – innocent people are harassed, threatened and abused by DWP employees who are themselves, it seems, millimetres away from nervous exhaustion brought on by the pressures of the job.
Claiming benefits, it seems, is now an endurance test: Who cracks (up) first?
Now, for 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for ESA in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire, there’s no relief even if they have a nervous breakdown and have to claim ESA on mental health grounds.
“People involved in the pilot – who have all been assessed as being able to work at some point in the future – will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit, to focus on helping them move closer to being able to get a job.”
There you go – all judged as able to work in the future. Presumably Iain Duncan Smith has taken a look at their files, glanced into his crystal ball, and declared that he has a “belief” in their fitness to work. If any of these people are reading, please contact this blog if you have a progressive health condition that won’t ever improve.
Because the meeting is a condition of receiving benefit, anyone attending can expect to be treated abominably. This is not about helping you back to work, or even back to health; it’s about kicking you off-benefit and nothing further. The aim, as with JSA, is to cut claimant numbers and thereby cut spending.
“It’s really important we give people who are disabled or have a health condition the support they need to get into work if they are able,” said employment minister Esther McVey who knows nothing about this at all (despite having been minister for the disabled).
“Traditionally, this help has tended to be work-related, but this pilot will look at whether a more holistic approach is more successful in helping people to manage their conditions and so break down their barriers to work.”
The biggest barrier to a person with a disability getting work is the fact that the Conservative-led Coalition government has been closing down employment opportunities for them and removing incentives for employers to take them on.
The healthcare professionals will be provided by Ingeus UK – a welfare-to-work provider that has been involved in the Work Programme – you know, the time-wasting scheme in which jobseekers are taken off the unemployment statistics while they learn simple skills that, in fact, most of them already have.
The company’s website is very slick but contains no information about the number of doctors in its employ.
Oh, and guess what? The company is half-owned by Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms that currently writes British tax law to make avoidance easy for the big corporates. How much tax has Ingeus paid lately?
“Everything we do is results driven”, the site declares.
One wonders what Ingeus will do when the casualties start piling up.
Diddled into debt: A corporate tax avoidance scam is conning workers out of decent pay and the government out of tax and NI money, after causing the financial crisis.
“A bank in the UK could lend, say, $1bn to a US bank… generating tax-free income in the UK but a tax deduction in the US – and then simply borrow it back. For the second leg a different instrument could be used that generated tax-free income in the US and a tax deduction in the UK. The banks had simply swapped $1bn, to no economic effect beyond two tax breaks, while quite possibly keeping any mention of the debts off either’s balance sheet. Such tricks – the creation of debt more for tax advantages than any real business need – undoubtedly contributed to huge levels of inter-bank indebtedness that triggered the financial crisis.” – Richard Brooks, The Great Tax Robbery, p86.
If you are not deeply disturbed by the implications of the above quotation, read it again until you are. Richard Brooks is saying that the major banks of the UK, the USA, and who knows how many other countries colluded to hide massive amounts of money from the tax man by claiming – falsely – that it was debt.
The financial crisis happened because the banks could not service the debt they had created – they could not even pay back the interest on it, let alone the debt itself – and so the government was forced to step in and bail them out. So now the government had not only lost the tax it was due from the bank profits that had been hidden by the dodge Mr Brooks mentions, but it had now taken on the fake debt that had been created. The taxpayer was doubly the loser.
Who pays back the debt? Not the banks. Not the large corporations that are also avoiding tax. Not the rich businessmen and women who dreamed up the tax dodges. Thanks to changes in the law and already-existing legal loopholes that have not been closed by the Coalition government, they have been able to park their ill-gotten gains in offshore tax havens, depriving the nation of the wherewithal it needs to fix the problem they created.
With more people in work than ever before, the UK should be getting massive amounts more in tax and National Insurance, allowing it to provide the services we expect and pay down the national deficit. But the deficit hasn’t budged. Why?
Because the new jobs are part-time, self-employed or temporary.
Self-employed contracting means you can end up working for less than the minimum wage (you’re paid a fixed daily rate for the job, not the hours it takes to do it, so if it takes a long time to get it done, your pay-per-hour diminishes proportionately – and, as you are self-employed, you’re not entitled to the minimum wage).
Conversely, if you are employed part-time, you can end up working too few hours to qualify for tax or National Insurance (so you don’t get enough credits to pay for your pension later in life and the Treasury doesn’t get the tax money it needs to pay for services and clear debts) and on a personal level you don’t work enough hours to qualify for decent holidays. The company doesn’t pay for employees going on annual leave, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
If you work overtime, this doesn’t count towards annual leave, of course. So you can be employed on a part-time contract for, say, three days a week, be asked to work two more days overtime (a full five-day week) and lose out on all the benefits a full-time worker would expect.
The threshold is 20 hours per week. If you work less than that, employers do not have to pay NI contributions which would cost them nearly 14 per cent of pay. So people may work all their lives but never qualify for the state pension.
This is why more people are now in work than before the recession – it’s a cheat by bosses. They’re the ones who pay your tax and NI contributions. If you’re on pay that’s below the new tax threshold, you don’t pay tax. We have the Liberal Democrats to thank for that. It seems like a good deal but in fact it isn’t.
Meanwhile the companies say that cutting down working hours has saved jobs in a hard business environment, while the number of full-time jobs is down and wages have now fallen by 12 per cent in real terms (up from nine per cent, only a few months ago).
It is cheaper for companies to employ more people on shorter hours because they pay less to the government in tax and NI. And they say the “flexible” labour market has been a boost for the country, that having a job is better than having no job, and that it will help people progress.
That is not what we see.
We see a workforce ground down by the pressure of making ends meet on part-time or zero-hours jobs, making no NI contributions, getting very few holidays, and afraid to challenge the situation because their employers can simply let them go and hire someone else from the huge 2.5-million-strong pool of the unemployed (who are desperate for jobs because the DWP fills their entire lives will bullying and threats about losing their benefits).
We see the government completely unable to cover its costs because its own tax system – written by the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms that have been responsible for more tax avoidance schemes than any other organisations in the country – actively promotes corporate tax avoidance; and Conservative ministers are totally indifferent to the huge losses they are piling up, because it means they can cut public services, or sell them off to (again) big corporations who will then avoid paying tax on them.
And we see the rich corporates laughing all the way to the (offshore) bank yet again.
The Coalition government has tried to tell us that it must squeeze benefits for the extremely poor, and low-paid working people must work much harder, in order to pay off the debt that – no matter what ministers tell us – neither they, nor the last Labour government, created.
In fact, this has been a story of tax avoidance by the very rich. A huge scam, running for decades, and hidden from the British people.
In it, she tells us (wrongly), “We are not in an environment where there is more money around,” and says that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the benefits bill. She stressed that she wanted to explode the “myth” that Labour is soft on benefit costs.
There are a few myths feeding into these statements. Firstly, the myth that millions upon millions of British citizens are living a life of luxury on benefits, which is, quite frankly, infantile nonsense. Benefits do not pay the ordinary claimant enough to afford huge luxuries and never did. They were always intended to cover the cost of survival while the recipient looked for something better. Anything else is a lie concocted by unscrupulous politicians, that you would be a fool to believe.
Then there’s the myth that the British taxpayer is being defrauded out of a fortune by benefit cheats who are (again) living a life of luxury at our expense. One look at the figures dispels that idea! The fact is that only seven people in every thousand commit benefit fraud – at a consequently small cost to the overall budget – and the amount they receive simply would not support the lifestyle our politicians are suggesting for them.
Let’s move up to a bigger myth – that people prefer to live on benefits than get a job. We’ve now moved from infantile nonsense to dangerous nonsense. The current situation, engineered by the conservatives in both Coalition parties, means there are very few jobs available – around 500,000 at any one time, with 2.5 million people chasing them.
And what kind of jobs are they? How many are zero-hours contracts? How many are part-time? These jobs do not pay more than benefits (“Making Work Pay” – another Tory lie) so anyone taking them will be out-of-pocket.
Meanwhile, the Tories in power have rigged the system so that anyone who does not spend the entire working week pestering local businesses for jobs that they aren’t offering will be sanctioned and will lose their benefit for a period of up to three years! It is entirely disproportionate, considering the state of the economy, and may cost jobseekers a lot more than a few quid a week in the long run.
But this is how the benefits bill will be slashed – by the Conservatives and by Labour, if Rachel Reeves is to be believed. Ministers of any party, living in the la-la land of made-up statistics, will sanction people for failing to work hard enough at securing jobs that don’t exist!
Ms Reeves says Labour’s jobs guarantee will ensure that those jobs do exist but we don’t know that for sure. We do know that she intends to continue Tory policy on sanctions – blindly.
That’s seven times more than the national bill for JSA, and more than 29 times the estimated cost of all benefit fraud. But wait – it gets better! This is only an estimate and it has long been believed that the true cost of the so-called “tax gap” is £120 billion – equal to each year’s national deficit, 24 times the cost of JSA or 100 times the cost of benefit fraud.
Why isn’t our government going after these criminals? Why hasn’t Labour promised to go after them if the Tories won’t?
Simple: Both main parties have been re-writing tax law to make it easier for rich individuals and large corporations to avoid paying tax, and ignoring flaws in tax laws that make avoidance possible.
So for example: In the late 1990s, the then-Labour government removed the tax on dividends that meant companies had to pay tax on profits if they wanted to pay them out to the owners. So for example Arcadia boss Philip Green’s wife Tina, who is technically the owner of the company and lives in Monaco, received a tax-free £1.2 billion dividend in 2005; if this tax had been in place, £300 million of that would have gone to the UK Treasury.
Gordon Brown slashed Capital Gains Tax from 40 per cent to 10 per cent in 2000, meaning income that his friends in private equity managed to engineer into capital gains would be taxed at a lower rate than was paid by their cleaners. Not the finest hour for the Party of the Worker!
And towards the end of its term, New Labour started dismantling the rules that guarded against industrial-scale tax avoidance by British multinationals, meaning profits returned to the UK from overseas subsidiaries would be exempt from tax. This created a substantial incentive for firms to send their income offshore.
Before the 2010 election, our old friend David Gauke made a lot of noise about stopping the limitless tax deductibility of interest payments, that had been used by Boots (the chemist) to slash its tax bill. Six months after the election, when he was in a position to do something about it, he was telling everybody the rules would not be altered because business considered them a competitive advantage.
The Coalition brought in tax exemptions for companies’ tax haven branches and for profits parked in tax haven subsidiary companies. Meanwhile, tax breaks for the cost of funding these offshore set-ups, from the UK, are also provided.
Corporation Tax will drop to 21 per cent by 2014, even though there is no evidence that cutting the rate will make the UK any more competitive in world business.
The Treasury’s mission is now to adjust the framework of tax laws to suit big business. The ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms are now well-entrenched in writing our tax laws for us – and they run the most popular tax avoidance schemes. Consultations have descended into a process of agreeing laws demanded by big businesses.
There are clear and irrefutable arguments that reversing these legislative idiocies and closing every other tax avoidance loophole will do far more for the economy than flogging the unemployed to death, looking for jobs that don’t exist.
But I don’t think former Bank of England economist Rachel Reeves will be interested in that. In 1975, an appalled taxpayer wrote to then-Chancellor Denis Healey, complaining that an employee of the Bank (which is supposed to work on preventing tax avoidance) had been giving advice on how to avoid tax. “I wonder if this is really part of the Bank of England’s duties,” the correspondent wrote.
The behaviour of Ms Reeves, the former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggests that she believes it is.
End of an institution: We can all wave goodbye to friendly Postman Pat; the new post-privatisation Royal Mail will be run according to strict for-profit rules and rural areas in particular are likely to suffer.
Is anybody happy that the Royal Mail is to be privatised?
Personally, I see no cause for celebration. Polls show that 70 per cent of the public are against privatisation – no matter which political party they support – and 96 per cent of the workforce don’t want it either, despite being offered shares in the new company. They’re not stupid. They know that workers in other privatised services have not been able to keep their shares. Will they be able to take the shares with them if they leave?
And what will happen to workforce terms and conditions?
Other people buying shares will have to pay at least £750 to get the smallest stake in the new company – that puts the sell-off well out of the reach of most people in these depressed times. It is a privatisation for financiers, lawyers and accountants. They won’t want to share the profit pot with staff – and profits are at a record high of £400 million per year.
Meanwhile, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government recently nationalised the Royal Mail’s pension fund obligations (its debt) so that taxpayers across the country will have to pay for it. The privatisation means any profits will go to those who can afford to buy the shares. This is bad business. Don’t these two political parties always claim they are the experts when it comes to money? It seems a strange claim to make in the light of such reckless endangerment of public funds.
What of the future? We have seen where privatisation leads, with the flotation of the railways, the energy and water companies on the stock exchange – shares have ended up in the hands of foreign multinationals who have pushed prices up and up, while providing ever-poorer services, and the companies concerned have continued to demand money from the government for any investment; this is because all the profits go to shareholders, who then feel justified in granting huge pay packets to their chief officers.
So the taxpayer continues shelling out for these so-called private utilities while the new owners have the time of their lives at our expense. The workers – and the service – suffer.
This is a change that will affect everyone. I hope everyone remembers who inflicted it on us, when they come to vote at the general election in 2015.
The masks were adopted by the loosely-affiliated protesters Anonymous as a clear indication of members’ feelings towards a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government whose actions, they believe, have been increasingly fascist.
These people have a point.
Has anyone read V for Vendetta lately? An early chapter, ‘Victims’, provides the historical background to the fascist Britain of the story – and provides very disturbing parallels with the current government and its policies.
In the story, there is a recession and a nuclear war. Fortunately, in real life we have managed to avoid the war (so far) but the recession of 2007 onwards has caused severe hardship for many, with average wages cut by nine per cent (in real terms) due to government policies.
In the story, the line “Everybody was waiting for the government to do something” is notable. Isn’t that just about as British as you can get? As a nation, we seem unwilling to take the initiative; we just wait for someone else to do something. We queue up. And then we complain when we don’t find exactly what we wanted at the end of the queue. But then it’s too late.
Does the government “do something”? Well, no – not in the story, because there isn’t any government worth mentioning at this point. But then… “It was all the fascist groups. The right-wingers. They’d all got together with some of the big corporations…”
Here’s another parallel. How many corporations are enjoying the fruits of the Conservative-led (right-wing) government’s privatisation drive?
The NHS carve-up signified huge opportunities for firms like Circle Health and Virgin, and Bain Capital (who bought our blood plasma supplies). Care UK, the firm that famously sponsored Andrew Lansley while he was working on the regressive changes to the health service that eventually became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, no doubt also has fingers in the pie.
The Treasury is receiving help – if you can call it that – from the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG. They have written the law on tax avoidance. By no coincidence at all, these are the firms that run the major tax avoidance schemes that have been taken up by businesses and rich individuals who are resident in the UK. For more information on the government’s attitude to taxing the rich, see Michael Meacher’s recent blog entry.
The Department for Work and Pensions has employed many private firms; this is the reason that department is haemorrhaging money. There are the work programme provider firms who, as has been revealed in previous blog entries, provide absolutely no useful training and are less likely to find anyone a job than if they carried on by themselves; there are the IT firms currently working on Universal Credit, about which Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith lied to Parliament when he said he was having to write off £34 million of expenditure – the true figure was later revealed to be closer to £161 million, almost five times as much; there are Atos and Capita, and probably other firms that have been hired to carry out so-called ‘work capability assessments’ of people claiming sickness, incapacity and disability benefits, according to a plan that intentionally ignores factual medical evidence and places emphasis on a bogus, tick-box test designed to find ways to cut off their support; and there is Unum Insurance, the criminal American corporation that designed that test, in order to push British workers into buying its bogus insurance policies that work on exactly the same principle – this is theft on a grand scale.
So we have a government in cahoots with big business, and treating the citizens – the voters – like cattle. We’ll see more of this as we go on.
“Then they started taking people away… All the black people and the Pakistanis…” All right, these social groups have not been, specifically, targeted (yet) – but we have seen evidence that our government would like to do so. Remember those advertising vans the Home Office funded, that drove around London with a message that we were told was for illegal immgrants: “Go home”?
“That is a term long-associated with knuckle-dragging racists,” said Owen Jones on the BBC’s Any Questions.
“We’re seeing spot-checks and racial profiling of people at tube stations. We have a woman on the news… she was born in Britain; she was told she was stopped because she ‘didn’t sound British’. And we have the official Home Office [Twitter] account being used to send gleeful tweets which show people being thrown into vans with a hashtag, ‘#immigrationoffenders’.
“Is this the sort of country you want to live in, where the Conservatives use taxpayers’ money to inflame people’s fears and prejudices in order to win political advantage? Because I don’t think most people do want that to happen.”
This blog’s article on the subject added that not only this, but other governments (like that in Greece) had created an opportunity to start rounding up anybody deemed “undesirable” by the state. “Greece is already rounding up people of unorthodox sexuality, drug addicts, prostitutes, immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps,” it stated.
Note also the government’s response to criticism from UN special rapporteur on adequate housing Raquel Rolnik. Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith and their little friends tried to say that she had not done her job properly but, when this was exposed as a lie, they reverted to type and attacked her for her racial origin, national background, and beliefs – political and personal. You can read the lot in this despicable Daily Mail smear piece.
Back to V for Vendetta, where the narrative continues: “White people too. All the radicals and the men who, you know, liked other men. The homosexuals. I don’t know what they did with them all.” Well, we know what Greece is doing with them all, and in the story, such people also ended up in internment and labour camps. We’ll come back to that.
“They made me go and work in a factory with a lot of other kids. We were putting matches into boxes. I lived in a hostel. It was cold and dirty…”
Last month this blog commented on government plans for ‘residential Workfare for the disabled’, rounding up people with disabilities and putting them into modern-day workhouses where someone else would profit from their work while they receive benefits alone – and where the potential for abuse was huge. If that happens, how long will it be before every other jobseeker ends up in a similar institution?
A while ago, a friend in the cafe I visit said that a Tory government will always see every class of people other than its own as “livestock”. That’s the word he used – “livestock”. From the above, with descriptions of people being treated like cattle, or being herded into the workhouse for someone else to profit from their work, it seems he has a very strong case.
So let’s go back to these internment and labour camps – in V for Vendetta they’re called “resettlement” camps. A later chapter – The Vortex – reveals that inmates at such camps are subjected to unethical medical experimentation. The doctor carrying out the trials notes in her diary that the camp commandant “promised to show me my research stock… they’re a poor bunch.”
Her research stock are human beings who have been subjected to conditions similar to those of the Nazi concentration camps. Notice the language – this doctor considers the other human beings taking part to be her property. And they are “research stock” – in other words, she does not see them as other human beings but as livestock – exactly as the friend in the cafe stated.
Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear concerns over the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.
It seems we have all been victims of a Parliamentary stitch-up.
Everyone who was getting hot under the collar last week, because the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill seemed to be attacking the fair and proper work of charities and other organisations, probably breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced it would scrap plans to change the way campaign spending is defined.
The Bill would have restricted any charitable campaigning which “enhances the standing of parties or candidates”, in the full year before an election, to £390,000. That’s a 70 per cent cut – plus it would now include staff costs.
The BBC reported that Andrew Lansley has tabled a series of amendments, including one reverting to the wording set out in existing legislation, defining controlled expenditure as any “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”.
What the BBC does not say, but is clarified in the government press release, is that “the Bill will still bring down the national spending limit for third parties, introduce constituency spending limits and extend the definition of controlled expenditure to cover more than just election material, to include rallies, transport and press conferences“.
In other words, this is a very minor change. Spending is still restricted during election years (and almost every year is an election year); the work of trade unions will be savaged – in a country that already has the most savage anti-union laws in Europe; and all organisations will still have to watch what they say about anything which might be considered an election issue.
Want to campaign to protect the NHS, introduce fair taxation, fight poverty, improve public health or education, reform the financial sector or civil liberties, or fight the privatisation agenda? Then your budget will be scrutinised and you may not go over. And don’t forget there will be limits on spending within constituencies.
This still means that smaller organisations will enjoy greater influence than larger ones and – perhaps most telling of all – it does not clarify the position with regard to the corporate media. Will the mainstream press be curtailed? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group spend far more than £390,000 every day, and on material that absolutely is “intended to promote or procure electoral success” – for the Conservative Party. Does anybody seriously believe the Tories will enforce action against their supporters?
One tangential element that this does clarify is the BBC’s political stance. Its story makes no mention of the more-than-100 other amendments that have been proposed for the Bill – possibly because they were put forward by MPs who aren’t in the government. Nor does it mention any of the technicalities that water down yesterday’s announcement. Instead, the BBC presents it as a victory for charities, who are getting everything they want. They aren’t.
It’s another Tory ‘bait-and-switch’ trick.
Doubly so, in fact, because this little circus has diverted attention away from the other aspects of the Bill – its clampdown on trade unions and the fact that it does almost nothing to address lobbying, which was supposed to be its reason for existing in the first place!
Joint co-operation between various trade unions will be made more difficult – to such an extent that the Trade Union Congress will effectively be banned in election years (meaning almost every year).
All unions with more than 10,000 members will have to submit an annual ‘Membership Audit Certificate’ to the Certification Officer in addition to the annual return which they already make. The Certification Officer will have the power to require production of ‘relevant’ documents, including membership records and even private correspondence. What is the rationale for these draconian provisions when not a single complaint has been made to the Certification Officer about these matters?
Is the real motive behind this section of the bill to help employers mount injunction proceedings when union members have voted for industrial action, by seizing on minor if not minuscule flaws which the Court of Appeal would previously have considered ‘de minimis’ or ‘accidental’? Isn’t this about inserting yet further minute technical or bureaucratic obstacles or hurdles in the path of trade unions carrying out their perfectly proper and legitimate activities?
And what about the potentional for ‘blacklisting’? If union membership records are to be made publicly available, as seems the case, then it will be possible for businesses to single out job applicants who are union members and refuse them work.
And then we come to the matter of lobbying itself.
This Bill still does not do what it is supposed to do. A register of consultant lobbyists is not adequate to the task and would not have prevented any of the major lobbying scandals in which David Cameron has been embroiled.
Practically all forms of lobbying, including direct donations to political parties by corporate and private interests, will remain totally unaffected by the legislation and corporations could sidestep it easily, simply by bringing their lobbying operations “in house”.
No less than 80 per cent of lobbying activity will not be covered by the bill – and it must be amended to cover this percentage. The only lobbyists that will be affected are registered lobbying agencies, who will presumably suffer large losses as their clients leave. Perhaps the real aim of this part of the bill is to stop lobbying from organisations that don’t have enough money to make it worth the government’s while?
How does this bill prevent wealthy individuals and corporations from buying political influence through party political donations – direct donations to MPs who then coincidentally vote in ways beneficial to their donors – or directly to political parties, such as David Cameron’s “The Leaders Group”?
How will it stop paid lobbyists like David Cameron’s election adviser Lynton Crosby from having influential roles in politics?
How will it stop people with significant lobbying interests, like George Osborne’s father-in-law David Howell, being appointed as advisers and ministers in areas where they have blatant conflicts of interests with their lobbying activities?
How will it increase transparency when it comes to which organisations have been lobbying which politicians on particular issues?
Nor will it stop lobbyists targeting ministers’ political advisers (SPADs), as was witnessed in the Jeremy Hunt Sky TV affair.
Or prevent corporate interests being invited to actually write government legislation on their behalf – for example the ‘big four’ accountancy firms, who run many tax avoidance schemes, actually write UK law on tax avoidance.
An adequate register would cover all of the above, including details of all non-Parliamentary representatives seeking to influence members of the government, how much they paid for the privilege, and what they expected to get for their money.
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