The Conservative Government is considering whether the public is stupid enough to accept the legalisation of bribery and corruption. And why not – some of us were stupid enough to vote David Cameron back into office, after all.
The pretext is a claim that UK businesses are finding it hard to do business overseas, so apparently it’s Johnny Foreigner’s fault for wanting backhanders before letting our goods into his country.
The government is now consulting on whether facilitation payments – money or goods paid to foreign government officials to perform or speed up their duties – should be re-legalised.
They were banned in the Coalition Government’s Bribery Act of 2011, in which the Conservative Party played a large part – meaning this will be a policy U-turn by the Tories.
Critics have pointed out that the proposed change would undermine the law in other countries along with the UK, as well as global efforts to counter corruption.
And anti-corruption campaigner Transparency International said corporate lobbying appeared to be the basis for the review, rather than evidence. It said 89 per cent of companies surveyed in the Government’s own research (released earlier this month) reported that the Act had no impact on their ability to export.
It seems the pressure to reverse the law is coming from a minority of businesses – who, let’s not forget, are still allowed to lobby the government despite the Transparency of Lobbying Act, which we know was passed to make it harder for those with more legitimate issues to raise them.
So we’re looking at a situation in which businesses want the ability to bribe governments – and our own government is considering allowing it.
Struggling to make an impact: Ed Miliband must reject the Tory Party’s narrative about the need for austerity and bring forward a vision for the future that really does make us ‘One Nation’ again, rather than hanging on David Cameron’s neoliberal coat-tails, as many former Labour voters believe.
The political debate is all about the Labour Party again today – as it has been since the Budget.
The newspapers and websites are full of advice for the party, which is now clearly seen to be struggling to gain any kind of a foothold with electors who have become disillusioned at what might best be called the Party of Very Little Opposition.
Labour “must adopt new principles” according to an alliance of thinktanks and party intellectuals who have written to The Guardian; Ed Miliband has been told “don’t play safe” with the party’s manifesto according to an article on the same paper’s site.
We can probably discount the Telegraph article by Dan Hodges, claiming that Labour is “closed for business”. It plays to right-wing readers’ prejudices just a little too much.
Will Ed pay any attention to these pleas? Evidence suggests he will not.
I should clarify from the outset that, as a Labour member, I want the Party to win in 2015 (and also to gain the lion’s share of the vote in May’s European elections).
But Miliband seems to be living in a world of his own, insulated from the rest of the Labour Party – not to mention supporters of Labour ideals who are not members – by a small group of (not-so-special) advisers who, it’s claimed, intercept any decent ideas before they get to the party leader and spin them until they turn to drivel. Whether this is true or not seems immaterial as this is the perception of the general public.
And perception is everything.
As I write this article I have just received a comment stating that “Miliband’s strategy for the next election seems to be a) to accept the Tory frame of reference for any given argument and b) to then concede the field of battle on that issue, whatever it is, without a shot being fired.” This is a common complaint, and Labour has no answer to it.
Why do Miliband, Balls, Tristram Hunt (notably), Rachel Reeves (lamentably) and all the other Labour frontbenchers blithely accept the Coalition’s terms of reference on any issue, against the wishes of their own backbenchers, their party as a whole and the public at large?
Are they really just a gang of greedy moneygrubbers, determined to screw the country for whatever they can get? That in itself would be a betrayal of Labour Party ideals and their constituency parties should deselect them if members believed that to be the case for one moment.
Are they a gang of neoliberals, their political philosophy so close to that of the Conservatives that you can’t get a credit card between them? This rings threateningly true in the cases of Oxford PPE graduats Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, ex-Bank of England employee Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. But Ed Miliband is (famously) the son of a Marxist. He, above all, should know better.
The trouble is, David Miliband is the son of the same Marxist and he was as much a part of the neoliberal New Labour Red Tory deception as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Oh look – another comment has just arrived. “More people don’t bother to vote because they feel that we as a people have moved on and all we really want is people who will represent us honestly, by majority and with no hidden agendas, backhanders or lobbyists pulling the strings. I don’t see any evidence that the present government or the Labour Party are capable or willing to do just that… They should have the courage to change and become the voice of the people.”
Become the voice of the people. The meaning is clear – Labour is not currently representing anybody at all.
Is this true? Let’s look at some of the other comments on my (left-leaning, let’s not forget) blog. These are from people who are generally sympathetic to Socialism and who should, therefore, see Labour as the natural home of their vote. What do they say?
“[Is it] any wonder [that] 1. People don’t vote because they are seen as “all the bloody same”? and 2. The perceived differences have become so minuscule?”
“Until Labour wakes up and realises it is the welfare cuts that are a major concern to most of us and to anyone who has a conscience, they will lose the next election due to apathy.”
“Labour have to do something different to what they have up to now but they don’t seem to want to. Are they scared of being in government over a country in the state it is?”
“Labour have had four years to do something – anything – to fight against the welfare cuts, and to help the people they are supposed to be the party for! They’ve really done nothing when all is said and done.”
If Ed Miliband was reading this, I would be asking if he was getting the message yet (are you, Ed?) and what he proposes to do about it. You think not? Let’s have some more comments from people who should be supporting Labour – I’ve got plenty of them!
“There has been absolutely no fight in this opposition and I am ashamed of them.”
“People need a reason to apply their votes to Labour and Miliband-Balls are not providing them with one. They are sleepwalking into another hung Parliament and a very real risk of the Tories teaming up with UKIP. Then we’ll really see Nazism grip this country.”
“The would-be voters demand change and need bold new policies to blunt the Tory cutters. If the Labour Party cannot come up with policies which are radical then they don’t deserve to be in power at the next election, or ever.”
“Ed Balls worries me because he seems intent on copycatting Osborne. For example Osborne says he will run a surplus by the end of the next Parliament and Balls promises the same. Osborne say he will be introducing a Benefit Cap on social security spending on working age benefits (which could have devastating effects and lead to real terms cuts in benefits for years on end) and Balls says that Labour will vote with the Coalition to introduce it.”
“Surely we need some clear red water between Labour and the Tories? Surely Labour needs to differentiate itself more from the policies of the Coalition?”
“I sent an email to the Labour Party asking for its policy on TTIP (the rightly-feared Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will force employment standards down to third-world levels, or below), amongst other things. They were decidedly equivocal and I felt no reassurance at all. I think it’s about we faced facts, Labour aren’t being coy in a pre-election year to avoid frightening the horses, they really are just another pack of neoliberals.”
This is how left-wing voters (and the squeezed-middle waverers to whom Ed Miliband keeps trying to pander) see the modern Labour Party: Carbon-copy Tories with no fresh ideas who aren’t worth the effort of voting.
If any of Ed’s shadow cabinet is okay with that description, he needs to sack them and bring in someone with a clue. And he needed to do it last year.
If the Conservatives win in 2015, it seems clear that responsibility will lie as much with Labour’s failure to provide any clearly-visible alternative.
We have already seen carnage inflicted on the poor, the sick and disabled, and a Conservative-only government (or in collaboration withUKIP) would increase that bloodshed tenfold (senior citizens take note: the bribe you were given last week was a trick and if you vote Conservative, many of you will not live to rectify your error at another election).
Unless Ed Miliband sorts out his party – pronto – that blood will be on his hands as well, and the people will not forgive him.
Note that I did not say they won’t forgive Labour. I said they won’t forgive Ed Miliband.
Words cannot describe the way people feel at what has been done to them by the Coalition. If Labour reveals even the slightest element of complicity, I wouldn’t give a farthing for Miliband’s safety.
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Slave auction: One of the posters created to protest against the work programme when A4e was still involved.
The number of people being referred to the government’s flagship work programme has dropped dramatically, according to official figures – but I wouldn’t start celebrating yet, if I were you.
Figures for the year to the end of July 2012 show 878,000 referrals, but total monthly referrals in July were fewer than 49,000 – less than half of the 100,000 who were put on the controversial scheme in July 2011.
The number of long-term Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants has risen by 188,000 during the same period.
Since January, 15 charities or voluntary groups have quit the work programme, possibly due to the bad publicity the surrounds it. But 20 more signed up.
According to The Guardian, “The programme is supposed to link job centres to the companies that help unemployed people find work. The firms are paid for every jobless person who is found work.
“Under the contract, companies, and the charities that work for them, can collect £13,550 for finding such claimants long-term work; double the money paid for getting an unemployed person a job.”
This certainly agrees with the information sent in by Vox Political commenters, like this one: “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.”
That comment was made by a person who was placed with A4e [Action for Employment], a training company whose government contracts have been terminated after allegations of fraud were made against it. A Channel 4 investigation revealed in September that A4e had only found 4,020 jobs that lasted more than three months, in the 10 months up to May 2012, for its 115,000 compulsory attendees, at a cost to the taxpayer of £45 million.
Only a few days ago I wrote about one such “training” company – it might have been A4e – that took £400 per claimant, then passed each person on to Job Centre Plus, to go on a £300 work scheme. The cash taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an “administration” cost.
These are all incidental to the main criticism of the work programme, which is that it keeps unemployment high by offering private companies people who must work for no pay – in other words, state-sponsored slavery. When the work placement ends, the private company throws away that person and brings in another. My belief is that it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company; if a firm wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the work programme has slumped, apparently because Job Centre Plus staff are moving claimants straight into jobs. And look at some of the other figures! Unemployment – down. GDP growth – up.
I have always believed that the work programme was an attempt to funnel taxpayers’ money into the hands of ministers’ friends, and these figures suggest I am right. The nation is better off without the work programme.
But that means these friends of the ministers would go without, and we can’t have that, can we? So what will the government do?
Let’s all remember that one of Chris Grayling’s last decisions at the Department for Work and Pensions was to roll out the work programme in 16 London boroughs – all notable sites of the summer riots in 2011 – starting in September. So youngsters who probably weren’t involved in those riots will end up doing 390 hours’ community service, while Grayling’s fat-cat business buddies continue to get their government backhander.
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