Some of us have spent years saying the Tories are living in the past; now Boris Johnson’s Brexit is proving the truth of it.
He is putting us on the brink of war with France for the first time in 206 years.
He has made us the villains by trying to impose rules on fishing near the Channel Islands that were not part of the UK-EU trade deal. The French are – rightly – refusing to countenance them and are threatening to cut off Jersey’s power supply.
So he has reacted in a manner that is not only arrogant, it is also typically – for a Tory – archaic: he is sending a gunboat. Two, in fact,
Spike Milligan was writing jokes about this, back in the 1950s; rulers of a country whose empire is falling into ruins, desperately trying to hold on to a greatness they no longer have with brinkmanship. The comedy is that they would be fools to launch the military expeditions they threaten.
But there is nothing funny about this. It merely proves that those who claimed that the EU – a pan-European alliance of nations – was created to prevent another war on that continent were right; the UK’s hardly been out for five minutes and we’re setting ourselves up for a rumble.
It is ridiculous. It is insane.
Johnson will lead the UK into a humiliating defeat – both legally and militarily, if he takes it that far.
And he’s going to make the rest of us – right-thinking UK citizens – look ridiculous too.
If nobody reintroduces him to sanity, I wonder where it will end.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
People across the country will be taking part in a different kind of protest – on the day of the state opening of Parliament.
May 27 will be the first National Switch Off Day, when thousands of people have already pledged to stop using gas and electricity, and stop shopping in non-local shops for 24 hours.
Organised by a varied group of campaigners, this will be the first in a series of multi-issue actions that will take place once a month. Reasons for taking part range from keeping the NHS public and tackling issues like overpriced parking in hospitals, to stopping benefit cuts, to issues affecting vulnerable people and their carers such as the cold weather benefits to the elderly, to keeping the Human Rights Act, to stopping fracking – and mostly that all members of the general public get a voice in matters that concern them.
Paul, a single parent with two sons, said: “Traditional protesting on the streets is fine but it doesn’t affect the government, banks or big corporations. It’s time to switch off and hurt them in the pocket. No electric. No gas. No spending money. Whatever your protest, let’s unite for one day a month and switch off.”
Brenda, an organiser of the action, added: “David Cameron: this country is unsettled. You are giving your MPs a wage increase, but what about the people? Low wages and queuing for food? For God’s sake, this is 2015 – not 1915!
“We need faith in our government and we haven’t had that for 53 years. I’ve voted in all elections, I’m 71, and the last one was nothing but a sham. I’m ashamed of them all. They are bringing this country to its knees.”
And Suzanne made clear: “Rather than being the action of sore losers who are disgruntled at a single election result, this is the culmination of more than five years’ building resentment towards a group of people who seem only to represent a minority of wealthy people in this country.”
With only 24 per cent of the electorate represented by the current government, organisers said it seems that the other 76 per cent may be keen to give up their home comforts for one day a month to show their displeasure, and hope that some kind of dialogue can be made between the government and the people who will be hit hardest by its cuts.
This is an important start.
We should also be building up a database of business interests held by Conservative donors and MPs, ensuring that they do not receive our business. Beyond that, we should also consider boycotting firms that receive government contracts.
Apathy doesn’t work. It would be madness to sit back and let them carry on – and paying them for what they’re doing.
Think about it. And please join the day of action. May 27 is Wednesday.
Harriet Harman: Will the acting leader of the Labour Party listen to pleas from the grassroots to get Labour back on track?
If the Labour Party is to regain the confidence it has lost, it needs to re-state its identity with a core message of purpose – one that not only encapsulates what Labour is about, but also what it opposes.
That is what was missing from Labour’s general election campaign, and is as much a reason for Ed Miliband’s defeat as the Conservative campaign, which was not based on objective facts but on political spin.
In a nutshell, it is time to remind the voters and the public that Labour is the enabling party. This creates a clear contrast with the Conservatives – the party of restriction.
So, for example, with the National Health Service, Labour should support a service available to everyone – free. That means noprivateinvolvement. With the Tory privatisation in full swing, funds are being restricted and so are services. The NHS is now a postcode lottery, with care allocated on the basis of profitability. That’s not good enough; the privateers must be told to jog on.
Education must also be available to everybody, up to the level each person can achieve (or wants to). Again, this means there should be no charge for state-provided services. A state school system has no place for privately-owned ‘academies’ or ‘free schools’. These are Tory devices; the private sector will, by its nature, restrict access in order to extract a profit. It also means notuitionfees for students in further/higher education.
Labour should be helping anyone who wants to start a business, by ensuring there are as few obstacles in the way as possible; it must be the enabling party. That means, for example, a graded taxation system, with lower business rates and taxes for start-ups, progressing to a higher rate for medium-sized enterprises, and a highest rate for multinationals – who should be taxed on all takings made in the UK; no excuses.
Another part of the enabling agenda must be ensuring that people can pay a minimum price for things we cannot live without: Accommodation, services, utilities.
There is now an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for many people – mostly because the Tories sold off so many council houses and did not replace them. This is why the Tories were able to impose the Bedroom Tax on so many innocent people – a restrictive idea, intended to push people out of some areas and into others; shifting Labour voters out of places the Tories didn’t think they should have to share with the riff-raff, you see – a gerrymandering tactic to make those constituencies easier to win in elections. The solution is simple: Build council houses again.
When the utility companies – gas, water and electricity suppliers – were privatised, we were all promised that household bills would be kept down by more efficient private-sector business models and private investment. That has not happened. Instead, consumers have been held to ransom by a small cabal of corporations who have been able to charge rip-off prices. Remember the electricity price scandal of 2013? Who told those firms to quit their restrictive practices and cut bills? Labour. The enabling party. The fear of a Labour government imposing new rules in the consumer’s favour helped hold the greedy private bosses in check for a while, but now we have a Conservative government. How long do you think it will be before prices soar? This Writer reckons they’ll take the first opportunity. Even now, after Labour managed to secure price cuts, the poorest families still have to choose between heating and eating during the winter (the phrase has been used so often it is now a modern cliché). This must not be allowed to continue and the solution is clear: Re-nationalise. There are even two bonus factors in such a plan: Firstly, as many of these utilities are owned – or part-owned – by firms or governments based abroad, it will ensure that our bills pay people in the UK rather than boosting foreign economies at the expense of our own and, secondly, takings will help the UK Treasury balance the books.
There is at least one other privatised service that could also be re-nationalised: The railway system. Prices have rocketed while government subsidies have also soared, since the system was turned over to private hands in the early 1990s. This is madness; it is a huge drain on resources and must not be allowed to continue. We should re-nationalise and follow the example of Northern Ireland, where the service was never privatised and where any profit is ploughed into improvements, not profit.
Then there is our grocery bill, which keeps escalating. This is a particularly thorny subject as, for example, farmers are being ripped off by supermarkets over the price of milk, but the same corporations will happily send apples to the other side of the world and back, just to have them polished. It’s time to straighten out that system as well – although it will take a while.
So this is how Labour should frame its arguments from now on: Labour enables; the Tories restrict.
It should be stressed that the themes raised above are just starting-points which occurred to This Writer while considering the issue last night. The above is not an exhaustive list. Undoubtedly there are many more.
This Gary Baker cartoon illustrates the belief that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until it became a pale shadow of the Conservative Party it claims to oppose, leaving the majority of the UK’s population with nobody to speak for them.
Watching a drama on DVD yesterday evening (yes, there is more to life than Vox Political), Yr Obdt Srvt was impressed by the very old idea of the partners in a married couple supporting each other – that behind every great man is a great woman, and vice versa.
It occurred to This Writer that perhaps the biggest problem with the Labour Party’s campaign – not just for the May election but over the last five years – has been the leadership’s insistent refusal to support the requirements of its grassroots campaigners.
So, for example, on the economy: We all know for a fact that the big crash of 2008 or thereabouts was caused by the profligacy of bankers, and not by any overspending on the part of the Labour government of the time. Economists say it, blogs like VP say it, and we all have the evidence to support the claim. So why the blazes didn’t the Labour Party say it? Instead they let the Conservative Party walk all over us with their speeches about “The mess that Labour left us”.
On austerity: We all know that fiscal austerity will never achieve the economic boom that George Osborne claimed for it. If you take money out of the economy, there is less money – not more. What the UK needed in 2010 was a programme of investment in creating jobs with decent wages for the people who make the economy work – ordinary people, not bankers, fatcat business executives and MPs. The money would then have trickled up through the economy, creating extra value as it went. Quantitative easing could have done some good if it had been used properly, but after the Bank of England created the new money it passed the cash to other banks, rather than putting it anywhere useful. The Conservative Party said austerity was the only way forward: “There is no alternative”. Why did Labour agree? Party bigwigs might protest that Labour’s austerity was less, but the simple fact is that the UK was never in any danger of bankruptcy and there was no need to balance the books in a hurry. There’s still no need for it. Austerity was just a way of taking money from those of us who need it and giving it to those who don’t.
On the national debt: The Tories have hammered home a message that their policies are cutting the national deficit and paying down the national debt. That message is a lie. The national debt has doubled since the Conservatives took over. Labour hardly mentioned that.
On benefits: Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare reforms’ have cut a murderous swathe through the sick and the poor, with more than 10,000 deaths recorded in 11 months during 2011, among ESA claimants alone. Many have chosen to attack Labour for introducing ESA in the first place, and for employing Atos to carry out the brutal and nonsensical Work Capability Assessments, based on a bastardised version of the unproven ‘biopsychosocial’ model, that ruled so many people ineligible for a benefit they had funded throughout their working lives. Labour should have promised to scrap ESA and the Work Capability Assessment in favour of an alternative – possibly even a rational – system. But Labour continued to support the Work Capability Assessment, earning the hatred of the sick and disabled. Why? According to Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, it was because the party leadership was afraid of provoking the right-wing press. Well done, Labour! As a result, instead of tearing into Labour like rabid attack dogs, the right-wing media… tore into Labour like rabid attack dogs. This pitifully weak attitude made no difference at all and Labour would have earned more votes by promising to ditch a policy it should never have adopted.
On education: This Writer attended a hustings on education, here in Brecon and Radnorshire. It was attended by many local teachers and it was clear that they all wanted to hear someone say they would clear away the layers of bureaucracy and constant interference that interfere with their jobs, and allow them to get on with teaching our youngsters. Nobody said anything of the kind, including the Labour candidate. Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s pet project – the very expensive ‘Free Schools’, continues unabated, and state-owned schools continue to be turned into privately-run ‘academies’, with all their assets turned over to private companies for free. And what about the debate over what should be taught in our schools and colleges? With employers now merrily shirking any training responsibilities and taking on foreign workers because they know what to do, can our educational institutions not take up the slack and provide that training for British people, so we don’t need to import as many people from abroad?
On immigration and the European Union: Right wingers including Tories and Kippers (members and supporters of UKIP) have made many claims that immigrants are a threat to the UK and to our way of life. In fact, migrant workers are a net benefit to the country, contributing far more to the UK Treasury in taxes than they ever claim in benefits. Ah, but they’re occupying houses that could be taken by British people; they use our NHS and their children take up places in our schools – and it’s all Labour’s fault because Labour signed the treaty that let them in, according to the right-wing critics. In fact, the Conservative Party signed that treaty, in the early 1970s. Free movement between European Union countries has always been a condition of membership and was never a problem when the EU consisted of nations that were on a relatively equal economic standing. The problem arose when the poorer eastern European countries were admitted to the union and people from those countries took advantage of the rule to seek a better life in the more affluent West. The simple fact is that those nations should not have been allowed full Union membership until their economies had grown enough that people would not want to move here – that was a matter that EU officials failed to address, not the UK government. Labour’s response was to fall in line with the right-wingers and promise harsh immigration controls. People naturally asked why they should vote Labour if Labour was no different from the nasty Tories.
On the NHS: Labour promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, ending the creeping privatisation of the NHS – and then said that it would limit the profits of private firms working in the NHS. This is contradictory and confusing. People wanted to end NHS privatisation, not let it go on with limited profits!
On housing: Labour promised an increased home-building programme, but what people need right now are council houses – cheaply-rentable properties run on a not-for-profit basis by local authorities. They need this because there is an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for individuals and families of varying sizes, due to the Conservative ‘Right to Buy’ policies that started in the 1980s. Council houses were sold off to their tenants, who in turn sold them to private landlords, who rented them out for more money than councils ever demanded. Labour never offered to build council houses again. Instead, we were promised more expensive alternatives from the private sector that we didn’t – and don’t – want.
On privatisation: More than 70 per cent of the general public wanted energy firms re-nationalised when the controversy over bills arose in 2013. Labour should have promised at least to consider it. Labour did not. Labour is the party that should represent public ownership of utilities. The private water, electricity and gas companies have ripped off consumers with high rates that were never part of the offer when their shares were floated on the stock exchange. But Labour was happy to allow those firms to continue.
These are just a few reasons Labour let the people down. They arise from the disastrous philosophical reversal of the 1990s that changed the party from one that represents the people into one that exploits us instead. Now, right-wingers in the party like Peter Mandelson are claiming that Ed Miliband pulled Labour too far back to the Left; instead, they want Labour to push further into Tory territory, utterly abandoning its core voters.
That would be a tragedy – not only for the people of the UK, but also for Labour. We already have one Conservative Party; we don’t need another.
Labour must rid itself of the right-wingers in its ranks and return to its original values – before it is too late for all of us.
Or is it already too late, thanks to the dithering of the last five years?
So much for democracy: Reports say China’s rulers have blocked Instagram in a bid to stop images of Hong Kong riot police unloading canisters of pepper spray and tear gas into the faces of peaceful demonstrators – so here’s a nice shot of demonstrators handing out pro-democracy leaflets instead.
Hot on the heels of Vox Political‘s article stating that the Conservatives have been selling off the UK’s most important infrastructure to anyone with something that can be used as currency in their pocket comes this confirmation from Pride’s Purge:
Chinese organisations and businesses with close links to the Chinese Communist leadership have already large stakes and controlling interests in huge parts of UK essential infrastructure such as water, gas, electricity, telecommunications and transport.
Read the rest on Pride’s Purge. The article concludes:
“If so many people are concerned about the loss of UK sovereignty to the EU – shouldn’t we be having a referendum on the loss of our sovereignty to the Chinese too?”
Announcement or admission: Labour’s announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.
A future Labour government would cap rent increases, the party has announced – around a year and a half late.
The Coalition government has chosen to keep Housing Benefit down by making it the first payment to be reduced as part of the benefit cap, and Labour’s announcement should rightly be seen as a response to this.
But the benefit cap was announced in the mists of history, back in 2012 or thereabouts, so why has Labour only just got around to telling us its counter-proposal? The rest of us were screaming it from the rooftops at the time.
Coming so late, it seems less that this policy has been announced, and more that it has been admitted.
Perhaps this is the influence of new election advisor David Axelrod, and maybe it signals the start of regular announcements in the run-up to the general election next year. If so, this would go some way towards saving Ed Miliband’s blushes.
Certainly today we were presented with a 10-step ‘cost of living’ contract, stuffed with promises Labour has made to help beleaguered consumers keep prices down – and these are (mostly) good steps.
First is the popular scheme to freeze gas and electricity bills while the energy market is reformed.
Then there’s Labour’s plan to have 200,000 new homes built every year by 2020, relieving the housing shortage and lowering the cost of a new home.
Next comes the rent cap, plus a pledge to help families that rent plan for the future with new, long-term, predictable tenancies.
There’s the pledge to cut income tax with a 10p starting tax rate. This may be seen as an admission that Labour’s decision to end the original 10p tax rate (even though I seem to recall it was intended to be temporary) was a mistake. But isn’t it better to admit our mistakes, put them right, and move on? The plan to restore the 50p top rate has been lambasted by posh Tories and business executives, who say it won’t achieve anything (they would, wouldn’t they?) but is a good symbolic gesture.
Fifth is a pledge to ban zero-hour contracts altogether. This may seem problematic, as the evidence shows that there are working people who benefit from these contracts’ flexibility. The trouble is that unscrupulous firms were using these contracts to exploit workers who deserved better from them. Labour’s attitude – that these firms will have to manage without them if they won’t use them properly – is a bit ‘nannyish’ but makes a strong point.
Then comes Labour’s pledge to “Make work pay”. Some may criticise the use of words that have been tainted by Conservative spin. The Tories want you to believe that they’ll “make work pay” by cutting out-of-work and in-work benefits, but we all know that this won’t make anybody better-off; quite the opposite. Labour’s idea is to boost the minimum wage and encourage firms that are able, to increase their pay rates to the Living Wage, cutting the benefit bill that way.
Seventh is a little-known plan to cut business rates and make banks lend to small businesses (at least, that’s the only interpretation of “reforming the banks” that makes any sense in this context).
There’s a pledge to give working parents 25 hours’ free childcare (presumably this is per week) for kids aged three and four, and one to tackle abuses of immigrant workers by banning recruitment agencies that only hire people from abroad and pushing Europe for stronger controls. This would present problems for the Conservative-run NHS, as the BBC News has just announced that it is recruiting heavily from Portugal!
Finally we have the weakest promise – the job guarantee for the young unemployed, coupled with more apprenticeships. This has been met with opposition from the very people who were expected to welcome it, as it seems nobody outside the Labour front bench believes it has the remotest chance of success.
Unmentioned is Labour’s plan to change the assessment system for sickness and disability benefit ESA, which earned instant toxicity because it sports only cosmetic differences from the current Conservative scheme that has been fatal for thousands. The plan was announced at around the same time as a Labour inquiry into these benefits called for preventative investment that the party leadership is unwilling to countenance, and a group of mostly-disabled people called Spartacus provided a far more enlightening overview of the problems with the benefit, and the steps needed to remedy them, that clashed with what Labour is saying.
More concerning still is the fact that all of these measures are responses to Coalition policies that have harmed people during the course of this Parliament – or situations that the Tories and Tory Democrats have allowed to continue because they support the overall plan.
Where is the inspiration to transform Britain and return prosperity to everybody, rather than limiting it to people who own smart suits and big houses? When can we expect a hint that this is coming?
Unless you are one of the aforementioned people with smart suits and big houses, the Conservatives sidled into government with a plan to diddle you out of as many of your Parliament-supported rights, privileges and benefits as they could possibly fit into a five-year term in office, all the while telling you it was for your own good.
Of course, the Tories didn’t announce this plan, because they knew it would turn the electorate away in their millions – the classic example of this in practice is the way Andrew Lansley was forbidden from mentioning his privatisation plan for the National Health Service, as this would be toxic to the Tory election campaign.
But times have changed. People are suffering. They need Labour to offer something more than a promise to rub ointment on their wounds.
They want to see Labour turn the tables on the Tories. And they want to know how that’s to be achieved.
Saying Labour will “transform Britain” won’t work as we’ve all heard about such miraculous transformations before, and they have always benefited the suit-and-house people.
Bottom of the class: If you believe George Osborne’s talk about jobs and benefits, you must have been educated at one of Michael Gove’s ‘free schools’. [Image: Gaianeconomics]
The answer has to be in the affirmative. Conservatives can’t promise full employment because it simply isn’t part of their philosophy.
As this blog has stated many times, Tories need a discontented underclass fermenting away beneath the lowest-paid members of the working class, in order to create the level of fear necessary to keep wages down.
The argument is that a person will not ask for a pay rise if they know their boss will turn around and say, “There are hundreds out there who will work for less than you – pick up your cards on the way out!”
For a more easy-access disproval of Osborne’s claim, we only have to look a little further into his speech – from the part where he said: “For it’s no good creating jobs – if we’re also paying people to stay on welfare.”
Hang on! When did our great Social Security system change from being a safety net to help get people back into work to “paying people to stay on welfare”?
Oh yes, that’s right – when we had an unelected Conservative government foisted on us. Tories pay people to stay on welfare because they need that fermenting underclass. The aim is always not to pay enough (as you will see).
The next few lines contain unfounded claims and opinions. See for yourself:
“We inherited a welfare system that didn’t work.” According to whom?
“There was not enough help for those looking for a job – people were just parked on benefits.” But there isn’t enough help now. Come to that, there aren’t enough jobs. Where are all the jobs, George?
“Frankly, there was not enough pressure to get a job – some people could just sign on and get almost as much money staying at home as going out to work.” How many people, George? Five? Six? You make it seem as though more than a million jobseekers were sitting at home and drawing as much money in social security as at work. That would be a lie, George.
“That’s not fair to them – because they get trapped in poverty and their aspirations are squashed.” Whereas Conservative policy means what? Oh yes – they get trapped in poverty and their aspirations are squashed.
“It’s certainly not fair to taxpayers like you, who get up, go out to work, pay your taxes and pay for those benefits.”Tory divide-and-rule.You are different to them, because you have a job. If you are low-paid, it is because they are sucking down your tax money to pay for their extravagant lifestyles (I think we’ve all quite thoroughly killed that particular myth, haven’t we? It doesn’t exist outside the Tory political mind).
“Next Monday is when we do more to encourage people without jobs to find them… Benefits will only go up by 1 per cent – so they don’t go up faster than most people’s pay rises, as used to be the case.” This means people on benefits will start to become much worse-off than they are already. Jobseekers’ allowance used to be pegged at around one-sixth of average pay but will now drop to a far lower proportion, because the Tories lied to you when they said benefit rises were far greater than pay rises. One per cent of Jobseekers’ Allowance at a weekly rate of £71 is 70p; one per cent of the average weekly wage in April 2013, which was £517 per week, is £5.17. You see the difference? Oh, and one more thing: Where are all the jobs, George?
“When I took this job, some people were getting huge payouts – receiving £50,000, £60,000 even up to £100,000 in benefits. More than most people could get by working.” How many people, George? Five? Six? One, perhaps?
“So we’ve capped benefits, so that a family out of work can’t get more in benefits than the average working family.” I’m not actually opposed to ensuring that people on benefits can’t take home more than people in work. However, while accurate, this line is disingenuous. George has ensured that a family out of work takes home at least £5,000 less, per year, than an average working family because of the way he and his Tory friends rigged the system. He’s lying to you.
“And we are bringing in a new Universal Credit to make sure work always pays.” He means “pays more than benefits”. He doesn’t mean “pays a living wage”. Spot the difference?
Now here comes some more oppression, based on a really big lie.
“From this month we’re also making big changes to how people go about claiming benefits. We all understand that some people need more help than others to find work.” What work? Where are all the jobs, George?
“So starting this month we’ll make half of all people on unemployment benefits sign on every week – and people who stay on benefits for a long time will have to go to the job centre every day so they can get constant help and encouragement.” Help and encouragement, is it, George? Have you witnessed the kind of “help and encouragement” they get at the job centre? DWP employees should face harassment charges for the disgraceful way they treat their fellow citizens.
“We’re going to require people to look for work for a week first before they get their unemployment benefit. From now on the deal is this: look for work first; then claim the dole. Not the other way around.” Why? In order to drive people into grinding poverty as early as possible? Forcing people to wait until they claim means they could be without money for food, accommodation and utilities for up to a month, while the system processes them. This is not fair. It is cruel and demeaning – especially when Tory George knows there’s no work to be had.
“When people turn up at the job centre they’ll be expected to have a CV ready and to have started looking on our new jobs website.” This is the Universal Jobmatch website that is habitually used by criminals for identity theft, or to offer jobs in the sex industry. It’s so bad that the government itself is planning to ditch it when the contract with its provider runs out in two years’ time. Why would anybody in their right mind use that?
And now here’s the clincher:
“We will ask many of the long term unemployed to do community work in return for their benefits – whether it is making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, or working for a local charity.”
In other words, they will ensure that fewer jobs are available by making jobseekers do the work for nothing. Brilliant idea, George – you are wrecking our economy.
“All of this is bringing back the principles that our welfare state was originally based on – something for something, not something for nothing.” A lie, couched in truth. The Welfare State is based on the principle that people on hard times were able to take advantage of benefits because, when in work, they paid into the system via taxes and National Insurance. That’s the “something for something”. It is not based on the idea that jobseekers have to take jobs off the market by doing them for free. That’s just plain silly.
In fact, George, you are just plain silly.
So, returning to the question in our headline, it’s clear to see the answer.
If anyone here is an April Fool, it’s George Osborne.
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The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.
Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.
“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.
“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.
“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.
“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.
“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”
Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.
You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.
So let’s give you some of the facts:
The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.
It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.
‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.
All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.
TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.
In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.
In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.
TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.
As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.
Trade agreements are effectively permanent.
Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.
As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.
‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.
The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).
TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!
The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.
Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.
In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.
You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:
Calls for a ‘commission of inquiry’ into the impact of the government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty have won overwhelming support from Parliament.
The motion by Labour’s Michael Meacher was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes; only two people – David Nuttall and Jacob Rees-Mogg – voted against it.
The debate enjoyed cross-party support, having been secured by Mr Meacher with Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative) and John Hemming (Liberal Democrat).
Introducing the motion, Mr Meacher said: “It is clear that something terrible is happening across the face of Britain. We are seeing the return of absolute poverty, which has not existed in this country since the Victorian age more than a century ago. Absolute poverty is when people do not have the money to pay for even their most basic needs.”
He said the evidence was all around:
There are at least 345 food banks and, according to the Trussell Trust, emergency food aid was given to 350,000 households for at least three days in the last year.
The Red Cross is setting up centres to help the destitute, just as it does in developing countries.
Even in prosperous areas like London, more than a quarter of the population is living in poverty.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for the first time, the number of people in working families who are living in poverty, at 6.7 million, is greater than the number of people in workless and retired families who are living in poverty, at 6.3 million.
Child poverty will rise from 2.5 million to 3.2 million during this Parliament, around 24 per cent of children in the UK. By 2020, if the rise is not stopped, it will increase to four million – around 30 per cent of children in the UK.
The use of sanctions depriving people of all their benefits for several weeks at a time, had increased by 126 per cent since 2010 and 120 disabled people who had been receiving jobseeker’s allowance had been given a three-year fixed duration sanction in the previous year.
There are now more than 2,000 families who have been placed in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation after losing their homes.
The per cent rise in the overall homelessness figures last year included nearly 9,000 families with children, which is the equivalent of one family losing their home every 15 minutes.
A third of families spent less than £20 a week on food and that the average spend on food per person per day was precisely £2.10. That is a third less than those families were able to afford three months before that.
The proportion of households that had to make debt repayments of more than £40 a week had doubled and the average level of debt was £2,250.
A third of families had council tax debt.
2.7 million people had lost out through the Government’s changes to council tax benefit – many of them disabled people, veterans and some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Households were having to spend 16 per cent more on gas and electricity.
There are 2.5 million people who have been unemployed for the best part of two years, and there were 562,000 vacancies when the debate took place (Monday), so four out of five of those who are unemployed simply cannot get a job whatever they do.
Cuts to local authorities mean many home care visits are limited to 15 minutes.
The 10 per cent of local authorities that are the most deprived in the country face cuts six times higher than those faced by the 10 per cent that are the most affluent.
60 per cent of benefit cuts fall on those who are in work.
Mr Meacher said the biggest cause of absolute poverty was the huge rise in sanctioning, often for trivial reasons such as turning up five minutes late for a job interview or the Work Programme:
A dyslexic person lost his Jobseekers Allowance because his condition meant that in one fortnightly period he applied for nine jobs, not 10. He was trying to pay his way and already had work, but it provided only an extremely low income.
The jobcentre didn’t record that a claimant had informed them that he was in hospital when he was due to attend an appointment and he was sanctioned.
A claimant went to a job interview instead of signing on at the jobcentre because the appointments clashed – and was sanctioned.
A claimant had to look after their mother who was severely disabled and very ill – and was sanctioned.
A Job Centre sent the letter informing a claimant of an interview to their previous address, despite having been told about the move. The claimant was sanctioned.
A claimant was refused a job because she was in a women’s refuge, fleeing domestic violence and in the process of relocating, but I was still sanctioned.
Mr Meacher also quoted what he called a classic: “I didn’t do enough to find work in between finding work and starting the job.”
The latest DWP figures suggest that more than one million people have been sanctioned in the past 15 months and deprived of all benefit and all income. “Given that the penalties are out of all proportion to the triviality of many of the infringements, and given that, as I have said, four out of five people cannot get a job whatever they do, the use of sanctioning on this scale, with the result of utter destitution, is — one struggles for words — brutalising and profoundly unjust,” said Mr Meacher.
Other reasons for the rise in absolute poverty included:
Delays in benefit payments.
The fact that it is impossible for many poor and vulnerable people to comply with new rules – for example a jobseeker who asked to downsize to a smaller flat who was told he must pay two weeks’ full rent upfront before getting housing benefit. He does not have the funds to do so and is stuck in a situation where his benefits will not cover his outgoings due to the Bedroom Tax.
The Bedroom Tax, which applies to around 667,000 households, and two-thirds of those affected are disabled. More than 90 per cent of those affected do not have smaller social housing to move into.
The Benefit Cap, imposed on a further 33,000 households.
Mistakes by the authorities; up to 40,000 working-age tenants in social housing may have been improperly subjected to the Bedroom Tax because of DWP error (although Iain Duncan Smith claims a maximum of 5,000).
Mr Meacher said: “The Chancellor’s policy of keeping 2.5 million people unemployed makes it impossible for them to find work, even if there were employers who would be willing to take them, and the 40 per cent success rate of appeals shows how unfair the whole process is.”
Responding to a comment from David TC Davies (Conservative) that those who are not looking for work must realise there will be consequences, particularly when a million people have been able to come to the UK from eastern Europe and find work, Mr Meacher said, “Those who come to this country are more likely to be employed and take out less in benefits than many of the indigenous population.”
He asked: “Is all this brutality towards the poor really necessary? Is there any justification in intensifying the misery, as the Chancellor clearly intends, by winding up the social fund and, particularly, by imposing another £25 billion of cuts in the next Parliament, half of that from working-age benefits?
“After £80 billion of public spending cuts, with about £23 billion of cuts in this Parliament so far, the deficit has been reduced only at a glacial pace, from £118 billion in 2011 to £115 billion in 2012 and £111 billion in 2013. Frankly, the Chancellor is like one of those first world war generals who urged his men forward, over the top, in order to recover 300 yards of bombed-out ground, but lost 20,000 men in the process. How can it be justified to carry on imposing abject and unnecessary destitution on such a huge scale when the benefits in terms of deficit reduction are so small as to be almost derisory?”
Suggested alternatives to the punitive austerity programme of cuts came thick and fast during the debate. Challenged to explain what Labour’s Front Bench meant by saying they would be tougher on welfare than the Tories, Mr Meacher said: “As the shadow Chancellor has made clear on many occasions, is that we need public investment. We need to get jobs and growth. That is the alternative way: public investment in jobs, industry, infrastructure and exports to grow the real economy, not the financial froth, because that would cut the deficit far faster than the Chancellor’s beloved austerity.”
He asked: “How about the ultra-rich — Britain’s 1,000 richest citizens — contributing just a bit? Their current remuneration — I am talking about a fraction of the top 1 per cent — is £86,000 a week, which is 185 times the average wage. They received a windfall of more than £2,000 a week from the five per cent cut in the higher rate of income tax, and their wealth was recently estimated by The Sunday Times at nearly half a trillion pounds. Let us remember that we are talking about 1,000 people. Their asset gains since the 2009 crash have been calculated by the same source at about £190 billion.
“These persons, loaded with the riches of Midas, might perhaps be prevailed upon to contribute a minute fraction of their wealth in an acute national emergency, when one-sixth of the workforce earns less than the living wage and when one million people who cannot get a job are being deprived of all income by sanctioning and thereby being left utterly destitute.
“Charging the ultra-rich’s asset gains since 2009 to capital gains tax would raise more than the £25 billion that the Chancellor purports to need. I submit that it would introduce some semblance of democracy and social justice in this country if the Chancellor paid attention to this debate and thought deeply about what he is doing to our country and its people.”
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley, Lab) suggested that the Government might save a lot more if its members “showed the same energy and enthusiasm for getting those who evade their taxes and run to tax havens as they do for going after the poor, the sick and people on the dole”.
Against this, David TC Davies offered insults and distortions of the facts, quoting the Daily Mail as though it provided an accurate account of current events: “Members of the shadow Cabinet might need a boxing referee to sort out their disputes at the moment, as we read today in the Daily Mail.”
He said: “We took office with a deficit of £160 billion and a debt that was rising rapidly to £1 trillion. That was after years of overspending in good times, as well as in bad, by Labour, a cheap money supply and lax banking regulation under the former Government.” Labour’s spending, up until the financial crisis, was always less than that of the previous Conservative administration; Gordon Brown and Tony Blair both ran a lower deficit than John Major and Margaret Thatcher, and at one point actually achieved a surplus, which is something that the Conservatives had not managed in the previous 18 years. While Mr Davies here complained about the “lax banking regulation”, Conservatives supported it at the time and in fact demanded more DE-regulation, which would have made the financial crisis worse when it happened.
“We had disastrous economic decisions, such as that to sell gold at a fraction of its real rate,” said Mr Davies. Yes – the UK lost around £9 billion. But compare that with the disastrous economic decision by George Osborne to impose more than £80 billion worth of cuts to achieve a £7 billion cut in the national deficit. The UK has lost £73 billion there, over a three-year period.
And Mr Davies said: “Worst of all and most seriously, we had a welfare system that allowed people to get into a trap of welfare dependency, leaving them on the dole for many years, but at the same time filling the consequent gap in employment by allowing mass and uncontrolled immigration into this country, which completely undercut British workers.” The first assertion is simply untrue; the second is a legacy of previous Conservative administrations that agreed to the free movement of EU member citizens, meaning that, when the eastern European countries joined in 2004, citizens migrated to the UK in the hope of a better life. Labour has admitted it should have negotiated for a delay in free movement until the economies of those countries had improved, making such migration less likely, but the situation was created before Labour took office.
Challenged on the Coalition’s record, Mr Davies fell back on the Tories’ current trick question, which is to counter any criticism by asking: “Is he suggesting that we are not doing enough to pay down the national debt? Is he suggesting that we should cut further and faster? If so, and if we had the support of other Opposition Members, that is exactly what the Government could do and, indeed, possibly should do. I look forward to seeing that support for getting the deficit down.” This disingenuous nonsense was batted away by Labour’s Hugh Bayley, who said “investing in the economy, creating jobs and thereby getting people off welfare and into work” was the way forward.
Mr Davies’ Conservative colleague Jeremy Lefroy took a different view, agreeing that increasing numbers of people are finding it impossible to make ends meet, and that job creation and apprenticeships were a better way out of poverty than changing the social security system alone. He agreed that sanctions were applied to his constituents “in a rather arbitrary manner”. He spoke against George Osborne’s suggested plan to remove housing benefits from people aged under 25, saying this “would have a drastic impact on young people who need to live away from home and who have no support from their families”. He spoke in favour of councils increasing their housing stock. And he admitted that disabled people faced severe problems when unfairly transferred from ESA to JSA: “A lady in my constituency says, ‘I am simply not fit for work, but by signing on for JSA I have to say that I am available and fit for work.’ She does not want to tell a lie.”
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool Walton, Labour) spoke powerfully about the effect of being on benefits: “Lots of people in my city are on benefits for the very first time. Far from being in clover — it beggars belief what we read in the right-wing press — they are struggling to make ends meet, and the problem that thousands of Liverpudlians are facing is new to them. For many, the idea that they might miss a rent payment is totally alien. They have not done that in the past 20 years, but since May 2010, their individual household incomes have been on such a downward trajectory that they now find themselves in rent arrears, seeking advice on debt management and unable to afford the daily cost of travel, food and energy. Figures suggest that 40 per cent of the adult population in Liverpool are struggling with serious debt problems.”
And he said poverty had health implications, too: “David Taylor-Robinson of the University of Liverpool and his fellow academics have highlighted the doubling of malnutrition-related hospital admissions nationally since 2008.”
John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley, LD) raised concerns about “the interrelationship between the welfare cap and victims of domestic violence, and whether there are situations that need more attention. I believe that people can get discretionary housing payment to leave a violent home, but it is important that we ensure that there is a route out of domestic violence for women. I am worried about that issue, just as I am about some wrongful sanctioning that I have seen. That does not help at all, because it undermines the whole process.” He also called for “a substantial increase in the minimum wage, because as the economy is improving the Government should look at that, rather than maintain things as they are”.
The vote gave huge endorsement to the call for an independent inquiry into poverty under the Coalition.
But with an election just 15 months away, how long will we have to wait for it to report?
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How pleasing it is to see the Archbishop of York agrees with the view, long-held by Vox Political, that British workers should be paid a living wage, and that the taxpayer should not be subsidising big business!
Archbishop John Sentamu is to chair a year-long commission investigating the need for a living wage. In The Observer, he wrote: “The holes in millions of paycheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4 billion a year. But why aren’t those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is government having to subsidise businesses who don’t pay their employees enough to live on? It is a question we need to answer and act on – fast. The cost of living is rising but wages are not. In the rush for profit, and for high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on.”
Needless to say, there are also detractors. A commenter known as ‘neilcon’ pointed out: “The high cost of running a small business in this country is one of the main reasons why the hourly rates are so low. If you employ someone at £8 you then have to pay a further 13 per cent to the government in employer’s National Insurance contributions for the privilege of employing someone; you have to supply that person with suitable equipment for their work.” The commenter reeled off a few other business-related expenses before going on to “the issue of the banks utterly refusing to lend to small businesses, the high cost of renting office premises, business rates on your office premises to the government, the high cost of VAT, together with clients trying to squeeze the final price as much as possible and the very late payments by bigger companies.
“The real cost to an employer of an £8 per hour wage is calculated at about £15 to the business.”
I can sympathise with this sentiment. It doesn’t let off the bosses of larger companies, who have huge salaries and no excuse (FT 350 companies, for example) but they might have a reasonable excuse for not raising pay, if smaller companies say they’ll go out of business if the higher cost is forced on them.
But the simple fact is that the cost of living is too high and – if they had to rely on wages alone – millions of working people, up and down the country, would be unable to pay their bills…
He wrote: “More than £100 a year of an average household [water] bill, that is about 30 per cent, goes on profit, compared with 9 per cent in the energy sector which is itself known for egregious profiteering.
“In the last 10 years, water bills have risen by a massive 64 per cent, compared with an increase of just 28 per cent in average earnings. In the last three years alone, average earnings have fallen by 7 per cent while water bills have continued to rise remorselessly. There is no competition in the water industry and the only potential constraint is the industry regulator, but he has chosen to succumb to corporate lobbying in allowing water bills to continue to shoot upwards to feed fancy executive bonuses and big dividend handouts.”
The last sentence tellingly brings us back to the huge profits taken by executives. It seems that a few things are going on:
1. The privatisation of the national utilities – water, electricity, gas (and, some would say, telecommunications) – has failed in its stated aims, which were to democratise capitalism by making it possible for everybody to be a shareholder, to keep bills low, and to end government subsidies for these organisations. Instead, shares have been drawn into the hands of a very few rich investors, bills have risen far beyond wages, and government subsidies have either increased massively (rail) or companies have used the tax system to avoid paying the amount due on their profits (Thames Water and its ‘super sewer’).
2. Company bosses, keen to drive up their share prices in order to create larger dividends for their shareholders and higher salaries for themselves, have successfully held wages down in order to achieve this. As ‘neilcon’ pointed out, lower wages mean less spending on National Insurance, meaning that keeping the employee payout down by pennies per person leads to many pounds in increased revenue.
3. The government is unwilling to do anything about this because it wants to keep wages depressed as much as possible. This is the reason it has cracked down so hard on benefit payments – not because of fraud (which is minimal) but in order to create an urgent need among the unemployed to find work, and terror in those who have jobs that they could be replaced if they complain about the increasingly meagre pittance on which they are being told to survive.
There are many subtle sub-consequences as well. You may wish to raise some of them in the ‘comments’ column.
What’s the answer?
This may come as a surprise, but the best place to start might be with the private utility companies. An ultimatum to put their houses in order and charge a reasonable amount, rather than extorting money out of a captive clientele, might produce results – especially if the alternative is re-nationalisation.
This might take the pressure off the smaller private companies by actually reducing the amount calculated as the living wage; with lower utility bills, the amount of money needed for a working person’s survival will also drop.
If the government and the utility companies got their sums right, this could mean the need to subsidise working people’s pay would be wiped out, meaning a large saving on the tax bill. Feed this through to working people in the form of a tax cut and, again, smaller private companies would benefit (along with everybody else, of course). An alternative of using the money to help pay off the deficit would be unhelpful – we need more, and healthier, businesses in this country, employing more people. Get that sorted and the deficit will come down in any case.
On a completely different tack, what about Landlord Subsidy (otherwise known as Housing Benefit)? Why not put a cap on rents, thereby ensuring that the government is not subsidising the rapidly-increasing pace of (some) landlords’ greed?
Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen under the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government – and it seems the Parliamentary Labour Party is to keen to become the Plastic Tory Party to take a stand; it will be up to its backbenchers and the party’s grassroots members to force a policy change.
At the end of the day, wages might still have to rise, due to matters unforeseen in this article.
But a plan that acknowledges the mistakes of the past and aims to redress the shocking way that the supply of money has overbalanced to favour a tiny minority – to the detriment of the vast majority – would constitute the first steps on the way to a nation that can not only provide Archbishop Sentamu’s living wage, but also help our struggling small businesses.
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