Tag Archives: economics

The UK is a failed state. When the London School of Economics admits it, it must be true

Wreckers: First Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson, have used little-known devices to undermine the UK’s constitution – to the point where it no longer functions and the country is becoming a failed state.

Core democratic institutions have been “contaminated” by Tory politicians who have rigged the system, leaving the UK’s unwritten constitution in tatters, according to the LSE.

Read:

The control of power has become dominated by a bunch of executive tricks, and an uncodified ‘constitution’ no longer provides any predictable or worthwhile constraints on government action.

Theresa May’s government demonstrated not an elite responsiveness to MPs after 2017, but instead an increasingly frenzied exploitation of a host of parliamentary micro-institutions to bulldoze the May-Whitehall compromise Brexit deal through a reluctant Commons where government policies had no majority.

This was the curtain raiser for the Johnson government’s more grand-scale effort to unilaterally rework the UK constitution so as to give the PM ‘governance by decree’ powers.

“Governance by decree” powers would be similar to the Enabling Act that gave Adolf Hitler the ability to pass laws without the consent of the German Parliament, back in 1933.

The Johnson government (advised by Cummings who is openly contemptuous of parliamentary government) has now sculpted from the equally obscure prerogative powers surrounding the prorogation of Parliament a superficially bland but deeply toxic disabling of the Commons for 35 of the 61 days remaining to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The timings involved are clearly tailored to frustrate any efforts of a fragmented opposition to concert an effective counter-action before September 10 or after 14 October, while yet bringing a Commons tied hand and foot back in time to witness but almost certainly unable to prevent a ‘no deal’ outcome on the 31st.

That the Queen and her constitutional advisors accepted this proposal at its face value is yet another nail in the coffin of the old constitution, with the monarch’s vestigial capacity even to ‘advise and warn’ now obliterated and shown up as a fiction, for the meanest of partisan exigencies.

The author of the piece, Patrick Dunleavy, clearly accepts that the prorogation of Parliament is intended to render it powerless to prevent Dictator Johnson’s plan.

Instead of great decisions resting on the clearly expressed will of Parliament, or the consultation of voters via a second referendum or a general election, a minority government and a PM that no one has elected are apparently set on achieving their will by converting to their purposes a swarm of micro-institutions of which almost all voters, and most constitutional ‘experts’ have little or no knowledge.

Johnson’s manoeuvre must cause a further delegitimization of government, risking a spectrum of severely adverse developments that might include significant civil disobedience, some public order turmoil, a weakening of ‘tax discipline’ (‘no taxation without representation’), and in short order the break-up of the UK.

Source: After the prorogation coup, what’s left of the British constitution? | British Politics and Policy at LSE

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Poor-quality jobs are bad for your health. Why are they the only jobs our Tory government can find for us?

Department for Work and Pensions: Pushing people into jobs that are bad for their health?

You might think this research by the London School of Economics is only pointing out something we know already.

It’s true that jobs with poor working conditions and/or remuneration are known to be bad for our health, pushing stress levels up, meaning any likely benefits are lost.

Before I became a carer (and, later, an online journalist), This Writer worked for a newspaper that piled on the pressure while providing very few benefits. I – wisely – left after management made decisions that would have further harmed my standard of living.

I know poor work leads to ill-health. Many people become depressed as a result of pressure place on them by employers or work colleagues. That puts unnecessary pressure on the health service.

The research also makes it abundantly clear that people with a history of illness have less opportunity to obtain paid work than those who are more healthy.

This is something we already knew, and it has become a serious issue in recent years, as the Conservative government has imposed rules that allow civil servants to force people with long-term illnesses and disabilities off benefits.

The LSE research shows that around 800 of the 1,000 initially-unemployed people involved in the study were not on benefits at the start – they were living on other sources of income including handouts from friends and family members.

If that situation really is representative of the unemployed population, then it means 80 per cent of our unemployed people are being denied statutory benefits.

That’s a shocking figure!

Yet they are less stressed than people who have been shoehorned into low-quality work – the only work that seems to be on offer under race-to-the-bottom Conservatism.

People working in poor quality jobs have higher levels of chronic stress than those who are unemployed.

We followed up a cohort of over 1000 unemployed adults who were representative of the population of unemployed adults living in the UK in 2009-10 from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. We then compared what happened to the health and stress levels of those who remained unemployed and those who got jobs of both good and poor quality.

Unsurprisingly, those who found work in good quality jobs had a big improvement in their mental health. Moreover, those with any job, whether it is a good or bad job, had a bigger increase in their household incomes than those who remained unemployed.

However, contrary to the “any job is better than no job” assumption, we found that the improvements in the mental health of formerly unemployed adults who became reemployed in poor quality work (with two or more adverse job measures) were not any different from their peers who remained unemployed.

More significantly… those who were working in poor quality work actually had higher levels of allostatic load (chronic stress-related biomarkers) than their peers who remained unemployed.

We also examined the possibility that the unemployed adults who subsequently were employed in poor quality jobs had worse health and more stress at the start compared to their peers who remained unemployed. But this was actually not true. As many others have found, there are strong selection pressures into employment, and healthier people are much more likely to find work (any type of work, whether good or bad) than unhealthier people.

Source: Is any job really better than no job at all?


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Prize for father of infamous Tory ‘nudge’ unit means Nobel committee should be ashamed

Richard Thaler: His theory has allowed the UK’s Conservative-led governments to victimise thousands of vulnerable jobseekers.

It is a travesty that the Nobel Prize for economics has been awarded to a man whose theories were used by the Conservative-led Coalition government of 2010-15 to manipulate unemployed people into inappropriate work.

Richard Thaler’s ‘nudge’ theory acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good.

The theory suggests that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.

That is not what has happened. Look at the Coalition’s Behavioural Insights Unit, an organisation originally attached to the Cabinet Office, that used the theory to ‘nudge’ people towards decisions that benefited the Conservative Party and not the individuals concerned.

The best example of this is the fake questionnaire put out by the Department for Work and Pensions to manipulate jobseekers into doing what the Department wanted, rather than what was in their own best interests.

In theory, Thaler may have had a point. In practice, the UK government turned it into attempted mind control.

As the Skwawkbox article in the link above states, the questionnaire was rigged to suggest people had strengths that their answers did not bear out: “Untold numbers of people running around trying to use ‘strengths’ that actually have nothing to do with their actual personality – all under the threat of losing their income if they fail to comply.”

So ‘nudge’ theory was used to lie to vulnerable people, and to threaten them with destitution if they did not do as the Tories demanded.

And for this, the Nobel committee has given Richard Thaler a prize?

A demand for an apology would be better – along with financial restitution for all those whose lives have been blighted – or ended – by the implementation of his theory by genocidal politicians.

Richard Thaler has won the Nobel economics prize for his contributions to behavioural economics.

He championed the concept of “nudging” people, through subtle changes in government policy, to do things that are in their long-term self-interest, such as saving for a pension.

“Richard Thaler’s contributions have built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision-making, said the Nobel committee.

“His empirical findings and theoretical insights have been instrumental in creating the new and rapidly expanding field of behavioural economics, which has had a profound impact on many areas of economic research and policy.”

Source: The economist behind the Nudge theory just won a Nobel prize


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Theresa May touts phony, crony capitalism. She wouldn’t know a free market if she was put up for sale on it

Reforming the unacceptable face of capitalism: Theresa May and Philip Green by Dave Brown. She said she would reform capitalism after the BHS scandal [Image: @Cartoon4sale on Twitter].


Theresa May’s attempt to lecture us all on the joys of capitalism is another howler in a series of blunders that should only end in her ejection from politics and the (self-)destruction of the political party she has been running into the ground for the last 14 months.

This Writer hastens to add that this is not because she advocates free-market capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. I don’t agree with that sentiment but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with capitalism in itself; pack that system full of good worker-owned co-operatives and I’ll be delighted.

The problem is that Tories preach free-market capitalism while actually practising something very different – neoliberalism: a sort of protectionist socialism-for-the-very-rich.

Neoliberalism demands that the benefits of scientific and cultural progress should only be enjoyed by those who can afford to pay for them using their own money.

That is why, internationally, eight people own as much wealth as half the population of the world. It is why, here in the UK, the richest 1,000 families have nearly tripled their wealth since the financial crisis (“all in it together”? I should bleedin’ cocoa) while half the country has to make do with just 8.7 per cent of the wealth.

It is why, under the neoliberal governments of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and now May, national industries and utilities have been privatised – to take their profits away from the UK’s government and into private hands (and never mind the fact that some of those “private” hands happen to belong to foreign governments). The intention was to deprive the state of valuable funds, preventing it from investing in projects that would benefit the populace at large.

It is why social housing has been sold off and cruel penalties – like the Bedroom Tax – have been imposed on those living in the housing stock that remains. The aim is to drive the poorest into the gutter, opening up the properties for resale and redevelopment as “gentrified” – read “expensive” – estates.

It is why wages have been pushed down – to increase profits for rich company owners and shareholders who squirrel them away in offshore bank accounts where they do not have to pay tax to the UK government – and trade unions’ ability to oppose this cruelty has been rendered illegal by draconian legislation.

It is why regulations that protect citizens’ rights have been removed, to make it easier for privateers to provide substandard products or skip safety procedures altogether, thereby maximising their profits.

It is why people with long-term illness and/or disabilities, considered to be “useless eaters” in exactly the same way as in Nazi Germany, are persecuted to their deaths by a perverted “benefit” system that in fact strives to remove any help available.

Ultimately, it is the reason the UK has been pushed deeply into debt (sources of funding for the government having been either sold off, scrapped or squirrelled into tax havens) – to turn the country into a so-called “zombie economy” in which the vast majority of the people labour for a pittance, their tax money used not to provide public services but to partially pay off the interest on the national debt. Only partially, mind – the intention is for the debt never to be repaid.

That is what Theresa May calls the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. That is the central aim of all Tory economic policy – not an improvement in living standards, not protected jobs, but the exact opposite.

Of course she has been ridiculed:

In fact, the greatest agent of human progress every created was socialism, as enacted by Clement Attlee in his 1945-51 government and maintained in the post-war consensus years from 1945-79. Those were years of unprecedented prosperity that happened in spite of Conservatism and neoliberalism.

Tories and neoliberals hated those years. You can prove Mrs May a liar simply by pointing out that her neoliberalism was not responsible for the most sustained increase in living standards of everyone in the UK – living standards here were at their highest in 1977, under a Labour government in the post-war consensus years.

By then, the neoliberals were well on their way to power. The oil shock, engineered by the very rich, had prepared the way by creating social unrest due to inflation-stoked price rises – for which the Labour government was blamed. Margaret Thatcher had told the Parliamentary Conservative party that they now believed in Hayek-style neoliberalism and was plotting the destruction of the UK’s industrial base, in order to deprive working people of the security they had built up over the previous 30 years. Tory think tanks were filling the pages of newspapers and the time on TV political shows with pro-neoliberal dogma in order to sway public opinion.

Thatcher, and the other prime ministers since her, were all elected on a promise that living standards would improve. Instead, they have worsened.

Theresa May’s lying speech is an opportunity for us all to put an end to this insanity. Let’s denounce her version of capitalism for what it is – socialism for the very rich – and put both it and her on the scrap heap of historic failures.

Theresa May defended the free markets after Jeremy Corbyn’s criticism of capitalism by saying … that it is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.”

Speaking on Thursday, May told the Bank of England’s 20th anniversary of independence conference that capitalism “is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country. And we should never forget that raising the living standards, and protecting the jobs of ordinary working people is the central aim of all economic policy.”

The prime minister said it was free-market economics that “led societies out of darkness and stagnation and into the light of the modern age.”

Source: Theresa May defends free market capitalism after Jeremy Corbyn’s criticism


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No, Iain, benefits ARE behind the rise of food banks – and Germany proves it

CPAGFoodbankslarge

Iain Duncan Smith’s feet must be riddled with self-inflicted bullet holes – if only metaphorically.

Today (December 14) he went on the record saying that it was wrong for a cross-party group of MPs to suggest that the rise of food banks was purely to do with benefit-related problems.

Germany had more generous benefits and higher pay – yet more people there used food banks, he said in an interview on the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

He said 1.5 million people a week used food banks in Germany, whereas the Trussell Trust – the UK’s largest food bank provider, has said it fed 913,138 people during the 2013-14 financial year.

“It is tiny in proportion here compared to a place like Germany which has more generous benefits and in which you have a higher level of pay,” said the man this blog describes as RTU (Returned To Unit) or SNLR (Services No Longer Required).

“So just saying it is to do with benefits is quite wrong. What I do say is there are lots of other reasons lots of people go to food banks.”

Oh really?

It seems Iain has been misreading a blog by the London School of Economics, from 2013 – a year and a half ago.

In it, author Stefan Selke does say Germany feeds 1.5 million people via food banks, but does not stipulate whether this is weekly or annually – so the Work and Pensions secretary is already off-message. Was he intentionally misleading viewers? Hard to tell with a man as stupid as him.

Now look at this paragraph from the LSE blog article: “The main growth of foodbanks in Germany began 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government introduced the ‘Agenda 2010’ of tax cuts, and cuts to pension and unemployment benefits. Around the same time, a new form of unemployment insurance (‘Hartz IV’) was introduced, reducing previous benefit levels and the duration for which they can be received.”

Aren’t these exactly the same reasons people use food banks in the UK – problems caused by benefits?

In both countries, the conditions under which benefits are provided have become stricter; the amounts available have decreased; and new forms of benefit payment have been (or are in the process of being) introduced that reduce entitlement still further. In both countries, taxes have been cut, most probably justifying further cuts to public services (clearly Germany has also been Starving the Beast – a policy with which long-term VP readers should be intimately familiar). Would anybody be surprised to learn that Germany has embraced neoliberalism?

The only difference is that Germany started this process five years earlier.

Unsurprisingly, nobody at BBC News seems to have bothered to do their research on this (it took Yr Obdt Srvt less than five minutes with a search engine) so – yet again – the mass media have let the British people down by failing to do their job properly.

A worse problem is that Iain Duncan Smith has never done his job properly – and clearly wouldn’t know how to.

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Watch Paul Mason put down the banks

Dear Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews, if any of you want to Tweet him your support),

Thanks for this:

(And thanks to Pride’s Purge for bringing it to our attention.)

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Are these gibbering buffoons really the Conservative Party’s hope for the future?

The caption on this picture reads: "Nick Robinson, former Young Conservatives chairman and current BBC political editor, taking a selfie with some young Tories (Photo courtesy of theblueguerilla.co.uk). Perhaps you'd like to dream up your own caption for this image of wild-eyed, slack-jawed decadence (he's the political editor at the BBC and people still think it's left-wing; the mind boggles).

The caption on this picture reads: “Nick Robinson, former Young Conservatives chairman and current BBC political editor, taking a selfie with some young Tories (Photo courtesy of theblueguerilla.co.uk).” Perhaps you’d like to dream up your own caption for this image of wild-eyed, slack-jawed decadence (he’s the political editor at the BBC and people still think it’s left-wing; the mind boggles).

How bizarre. Apparently the right-wing social media want us to believe that, even though Conservative Party membership is believed to have dropped below 100,000, the number of young people joining up or supporting that party is reaching its highest in a decade.

Never mind. If, like Alice, you try to believe six impossible things before breakfast, you still have five more slots available to you.

The new information comes from a website called Vice.com, in an article entitled ‘Rise of the Tory Youth: Meeting Britain’s Young Conservatives’.

And meet them we do, along with some of the most spectacularly ignorant and ill-informed opinions this writer has encountered in a month of Sundays.

Try this, from 24-year-old Louisa Townson, current Tory Society President at University College, London. She tells us she became a member because of Tory economics: “We’d had this huge crash and we knew we had to sort out the national debt and the deficit.” Doesn’t she know that the last four years of Tory economics have cost the UK more than Labour spent in its entire 13 years of office and reduced the deficit by a staggeringly meagre £10 billion?

Louisa thinks the tripling of tuition fees was “fair” – presumably she won’t be saddled with student debt until she’s in her fifties, then.

As for workfare, she thinks “it would be good if [the unemployed] can give something back”. So this young woman, who joined the Conservatives for their economic policies, thinks it’s a good idea to remove paying jobs from the economy by making unemployed people do them – at the taxpayers’ expense – while the rate of corporation tax has nosedived so the host companies take all the profits? How will that help reduce the national debt?

And this is supposed to be an example of the brightest Young Conservative thinking. Oh my word. Oh dear.

Oliver Cooper, president of Tory youth movement Conservative Future, is still under the impression that his party stands for “economic freedom” – the party that, in government, has pushed millions onto the dole to keep wages down; destroyed much of Britain’s remaining industrial base, decimating the economies of entire regions of the UK, to undermine working-class self-confidence and security; de-democratised nationalised industries through privatisation; created a mushrooming of homelessness by promoting house ownership, creating a chronic shortage of social housing and perpetuating it by denying councils the ability to build more; and increased inequalities of income and wealth by cutting the relative value of benefits along with wages, boosting the social exclusion of the poorest in society.

This is supposed to show that it is cool to be a Tory again? Oh good heavens no. It demonstrates the “cancerous… classist and out-of-touch view of the modern middle class youth of today”, as Theodor Ensbury states in the comment column.

“Mix privilege with a lack of life experience … and you have a heady cocktail of political and social empowerment without understanding of consequences,” he adds.

There is much more of this, but there really isn’t any need to go into further detail. Read it yourself, if you can stomach it.

Today’s Tory youth, ladies and gentlemen: Ignorant, insular and insolent.

The last thing they deserve is responsibility.

I wouldn’t give them the time of day.

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Modern politics: Give the other fellow hell – and the country nothing at all

131214perception

Politics is perception.

It isn’t about government any more. It seems none of the main parties are interested in gaining Parliamentary dominance in order to improve British citizens’ chances of leading successful lives, serving their needs by creating the best conditions in which they can prosper.

Quite the opposite – it seems clear that the intention is to crush those very citizens beneath the heel of the State (most hypocritically in the case of the Conservatives), forcing the people to serve the interests of the elected members.

What a sad State to be in. Politics is no longer even “the art of the possible”, as Otto von Bismarck once put it – unless we are discussing possible ways to fleece the electorate.

Now, the aim of the game is to shape the way the masses perceive current events. Control of the media is vital, and a series of strong statements – supported by those media but not necessarily by the facts – is considered all that is necessary to win.

It isn’t, as we shall see. But this is why we hear Tories screaming on and on, week after week, that they are clearing up a mess (no they’re not) that was Labour’s fault (no it wasn’t); that the benefit bill is too high (no it isn’t – really, it isn’t!), and the only solution is to cut support for people who desperately need it and put them into deep poverty and destitution (no it isn’t). These are positions taken by the current Coalition government and none of them are supported by the facts.

Then there is the running-down of opposing politicians. Labour’s Jack Dromey was on the receiving end of Conservative ire yesterday, after he tweeted a message about a lad from a Royal Mail sorting office being its “Pikey”. He meant that Gareth Martin’s nickname in his place of work was “Pikey”, after the character of Private Pike, the youngest member of the platoon in Dad’s Army – but Tories including David Morris went as far as writing to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, demanding an investigation into the use of a derogatory term for members of the Roma and Irish travelling communities and questioning whether it was an incitement to racial hatred, of all things.

Of course it wasn’t. It was an attempt to get a fairly simple idea into Twitter’s 140-character limit that failed because of a word that had a double meaning.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Sarah Champion accused Conservative MPs of making sexist gestures at female members of the Opposition, while they are speaking in the House of Commons. If this is correct (and it’s hard to tell, because televised debates concentrate mainly on whoever is speaking), then the intention cannot be as open to interpretation as Mr Dromey and his “Pikey”. Interestingly, I had to use an MSN news report as reference because the BBC News item seems to have disappeared – which tends to support my point.

Constituencies up and down the country have been going through the motions of choosing the candidates who will fight the 2015 election – and what a well-managed process it is! I wonder how many of these candidates were the preferred choice of their Party heirarchy, who then contrived to convince their members that the choice was democratic? But we were all shocked at the suggestion of corruption in Falkirk, weren’t we?

How many new candidates will be besuited youngsters, with scant work experience other than as gophers for sitting Parliamentarians, councillors or devolved Parliamentarians/Assembly members, brandishing their degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics as though they were magic talismans that would guarantee their entry to the highest offices in the land?

How many of these candidates will be brave enough to have a voice of their own, and how many will simply spout homogeneous party lines, carefully-worded so that they can apply to any constituency?

And if they win their seat, how many of them will stand up for the rights and livelihoods of their constituents, rather than obediently voting through every corrupt bid to drain us of power and money?

Not many, I’ll warrant.

Look at your own representatives – and the candidates who hope to replace them. What do you see?

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Are we looking at a return to feudalism?

David Cameron as the villain in Skyfall. Clearly my photo-manipulation skills are poor, but it gets the point across: Is this how the Prime Monster sees himself?

A photofit picture of the real villain in Skyfall. Clearly my photo-manipulation skills are poor, but it gets the point across: Is this how the UK’s Prime Monster sees himself?

Sitting in the cafe yesterday, one of my companions turned to me and said, “You’ve seen Skyfall, haven’t you?”

“The latest Bond movie?”

“That’s the one. You know the sequence where Javier Bardem’s living like a feudal lord on an island that’s been cleared of everyone else, apart from him and his servants?”

“What about it?”

“Did you ever think, that could be a metaphor for what our government wants to do to this country?”

Whoa.

That couldn’t be right, could it?

It sounds crazy. But…

Just crazy enough to have a hint of possibility about it.

Consider this: The UK is currently being run by a gang of Eton posh boys who come from a social class that was known in Ireland as the Ascendancy. In fact, Gideon is a fully-fledged member of that exact group.

The Ascendancy was a minority of landowners, protestant clergy, and members of the professions – all of which are well-represented in the current UK Parliament – who dominated Ireland in political, economic and social terms between the 17th and 20th centuries.

It seems that clashes with the English meant that a large amount of Irish land had been confiscated by the Crown, then sold to people who were thought to be loyal, so English soldiers and traders became the new ruling class, whose richer members were elevated to the House of Lords and eventually controlled the Irish House of Commons.

Now look at what’s happening over here. Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts mean people are going to be forced out of their homes, particularly in the more expensive parts of our cities – and apparently there is a plan now to force the rest of us into using our homes as security to ensure we continue paying our taxes, in a move to extend homelessness into the middle classes.

Those homes wouldn’t go empty for long – they’d be bought up by anyone rich enough to afford it, in an estate-building programme.

Poor people, deprived of their benefits, homes, and ability to support themselves, might be left to survive as best they can in ghettoes filled with squalor and disease, until they are ready to do anything for an improvement in their living conditions. Then they’ll be hired to work on the new estates, servicing their new masters’ needs.

In other words, the UK would split into several ‘islands’, similar to the one occupied by Javier Bardem’s character in Skyfall. There would be a single ‘Lord of the Manor’ with all the power, his family, and their servants – and that’s all. Technological advancements would mean they would not need to support many of those servants – just enough to work the land and maintain the technology that would ensure their continued ‘Ascendancy’.

To my way of thinking, this would weaken the country to the point where it would be ripe for invasion by any foreign nutter with a gun – but then, this government is renewing Trident, isn’t it? And they’re definitely crazy enough to turn anywhere else into a glowing crater, just to keep themselves comfortable.

I know.

It’s crazy. A paranoia-fuelled pipe dream.

But it ticks a lot of boxes.

What do you think is really going on?

I can take a joke

My good friend Dae Thomas uploaded this picture – about me – onto Facebook:

I’m the intellectual-type stick figure in the top left frame, apparently.
But hey, at least I write about relevant things like politics and economics and government and whatnot in a fun and amusing-type way!

I also go shopping.

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