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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.
The BBC broadcast a horrifying documentary yesterday on October 1, showing the extent to which waste plastic is clogging up our rivers and seas and the appalling harm being done to both plant and animal life as a result.
It represents a shocking dereliction of duty on the part of the organisations around the world that are charged with handling this material responsibly – and are ignoring that responsibility on a global scale.
I wrote a few words on Facebook and they seem to have enjoyed some popularity so I am reproducing them here:
I’m watching ‘Drowning in Plastic’, the BBC documentary about waste plastic killing wildlife in the world’s rivers and oceans. I think it’s supposed to be making me feel guilty but actually I’m angry.
We don’t get much choice about our use of plastic, or the other stuff that gets thrown into the water and forgotten. We have it foisted upon us in the packaging of the things we buy and, as a rule, we handle it in the manner that (we’re told) is responsible.
It is the people we have to trust to get rid of it responsibly who are letting everybody (and I mean everybody) down.
There needs to be some accountability here. From what I’m seeing, I’m unwillingly complicit in a crime of such enormity that my mind flinches away from considering it. And that is not acceptable.
I want to know who is responsible for this – and I notice that this information is missing from the film. I want to know what can be done to hold them to account – and if there’s no accountability at the moment, I want to know what can be done to BRING them to account. And I want to know how people like myself can participate in determining what the remedial action should be.
I bet nobody’s going to put it right in anything like a timely way unless people like us roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.
And I don’t mean by fishing this crap out of the water ourselves.
You’ll have spotted that I asked some questions that I considered pertinent: Who is responsible? What can be done to hold them to account? What can be done to bring them to account if there is no legal recourse now? And how can ordinary people participate in bringing justice to this matter?
A few people made suggestions on Facebook but I’m keen to see more. I spotted an infographic on Twitter that suggested ways we can make our opposition known – you can see it at the top of this article – but I don’t think it goes anything like far enough. I don’t think enough people will take the kind of mass, sustained action that would be necessary to make the uncaring corporates change their minds.
As one respondent stated: “Let’s all pretend it’s our personal responsibility while big corporations are raping the planet. Keep focussed on individuals that way people don’t look where the real problem lies. The idea that we can save the planet by not using plastic washing up brushes etc is naïve in the extreme.”
Another respondent voiced his suspicion: “I feel that a lot of the plastic waste floating around in the world’s oceans has come from unscrupulous shipping companies who have been contracted to transport our waste to other countries for processing and then just dump their cargo at sea, pretty much a bigger version of what some commercial vehicle owners do when offering to remove your rubbish for a fee.”
Another supported it: “Do the shipments arrive at their destinations?
Who checks they’ve got there?
With the “flagging out” of marine transportation who checks the shipping arrangements?
What if a large percentage of shipped recycling is actually just jettisoned en route and the ships then proceed somewhere else to pick up more?
How does anyone manage to find out anything more about this?”
They are good questions, especially as: “Inspectors for various things were one of the losses in the Tory’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’ that they managed to persuade everyone to applaud. We need a rebuilding of the quangos (but with a less tainted name).”
Many of you may consider this a useful solution: “I’ve started to send all my excess plastic packaging back to the customer services department of whichever supermarket it came from. Most of them have a freepost address, so you just package up all the surplus plastic and mail it to them at their expense.” But what will those corporations do with the waste?
One suggestion as a solution was, “We need a Plastics Act rather than just randomly targeting individual items.” I would agree, but I think it would need to be international rather than just operating in a single country.
Here’s another: “We need much more strict regulations from the top down, and this indeed means governments being accountable for their decisions on an environmental basis across the board. Including economic modelling to properly respect environmental concerns, the same for businesses, and right through society to farmers and consumers. In short creating a ‘fairer’ society to accommodate these interventions. The governments should be accountable to the UN and subject to harsh penalties (not piffling fines) in case of infringement. I think we should all engage with the clean up at this stage as far as possible, not because it’s the peoples’ fault per se but because it has gotten that bad. But ultimately the world’s governments need to be held to serious account for their treatment of the environment on so many levels.”
But who will impose such regulations and how will they be enforced? Should there perhaps be an independent, international organisation?
Perhaps it would be an easier argument to make if an alternative material were available? “Hemp is a really versatile material, clothes, paper, rope, soap, oil – what’s needed is a decision (and funding) taken nationally, so that manufacturers set up to make things in plastic are given compensation for refitting their factories. Major university departments study materials science, with government funding initiatives they could invent something surely.”
What about this issue? “Corporate courts are probably preventing us doing much towards polluters paying for remedial costs.”
We do recycle many plastics – or we think we do. Consider this: “All the recycling efforts we make – then strangely, recycling centres all over Britain keep going up in flames. At the end of August, from about 2 hours of google searching, I found 15 centres had caught on fire since April. That’s a lot of carcinogenic dioxins being released, – but what a convenient way of getting rid of it all, convenient for the contracters that is.” What is the story here?
Make no mistake: This issue will magically go away if we don’t keep it on the public agenda – because governments and corporations can’t be bothered to deal with something that may reduce profits/harm the economy and don’t care if it kills a few animals and plants (they won’t accept the overarching threat to the ecosystem that the plastic poisoning of the planet represents).
So the question remains: What do you think should be done about it, and how do you propose to make it happen?
Facepalm: Theresa May is a victim of her own stupidity – she still hasn’t realised that we can tell when she’s lying.
This is just a flat-out lie from the Conservative government.
They would not have banned credit card charges today (January 13) if not for an EU directive which comes into effect today. See for yourself:
All the Conservative government has done is ratify the EU law, so it applies here in the UK.
And here’s a question: When (if?) Brexit comes into effect on March 29, 2019, will the Tories cancel this law, pushing the cost back onto the consumer?
Of course, hawks on the social media weren’t going to let Mrs May get away with it:
From today we're banning hidden charges for paying with your credit or debit card – a move that will help millions of people avoid rip-off fees when spending their hard-earned money. pic.twitter.com/EEk5jxdk7R
I see the Tories are claiming to have banned credit card charges from today, No they haven't this is an EU wide ban on credit card charges. The same old Tories peddling #FakeNews and claiming credit for others policies and ideas 👎 pic.twitter.com/8JBPEYxOWu
this ios a LIE by the PM of the UK it is the EU who have implemented a LAW NOT the British Government these constant LIES that come out of Downing Street by this Conservative useless PM have to STOP she believes the British people are IDIOTS we are NOT stop the LYING PLEASE. https://t.co/EcsdhiYdcW
— Will Never Vote Labour Again **All Lives Matter** (@Isobel_waby) January 13, 2018
Here’s a short message for members of the Parliamentary Labour Party:
W A K E U P!
The general election happened nearly three weeks ago. All the other political organisations are getting busy and you lot are all faffing around, staring up each other’s rear ends and mumbling about who you think will be the next leader and deputy leader.
And you know what really hurts? It’s when we see headlines like this:
She’s stealing Labour’s thunder and you’re all so dim-witted that you’re letting it happen.
What’s the matter with you?
Don’t try telling me you can’t move forward until you’ve got the new leader because that’s not true. The Labour Party has particular values that it should always keep, no matter who’s in the driving seat (or asleep at the wheel, as is the case at the moment).
Look at this blog’s own article about Labour’s values. The message was that Labour should be the enabling party – offering the best possible choices for the largest possible proportion of the UK’s population. Anything less than that is a betrayal of the party’s ethos.
That’s why Liz Kendall should never be Labour leader, by the way – and why Chuka Umunna couldn’t. She wants private companies in the National Health Service, meaning she supports the postcode lottery that this creates. “Oh, so sorry, sir (or madam)! You want a service that is not provided in your part of the country! Have you considered moving somewhere hugely more expensive?”
That’s just ridiculous, isn’t it?
Look at the headlines quoted above: Sturgeon attacks spending cuts; Sturgeon will work across party lines to keep Human Rights Act.
The Tory spending cuts and the repeal of the Human Rights Act are completely unproblematic as far as the grassroots Labour Party is concerned: We’re against them both.
We want our Parliamentary party to broadcast that opposition loudly and continuously while these matters are up for debate and the vote.
Labour should have attacked Tory spending cuts first; Labour should have been appealing across party lines to maintain the Human Rights Act – that, incidentally, Labour passed into law.
So where are you?
Don’t tell me you’re scared Peter Mandelson or Alan Milburn will come out and berate you, because that’s pathetic. They’re yesterday’s men – more plastic Tories who caused many of the problems with Labour’s appeal today.
Look at all the plans in the Tory manifesto and the Queen’s Speech tomorrow. Labour should oppose most, if not all of them.
So where is the opposition?
Oh, I forgot.
It’s being voiced by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
That’s not good enough.
Labour must get its act together and it needs to happen now. Yesterday would be better.
And for those of you in the PLP who feel this blog is being unfair on Tory policies…
You do not represent Labour values; you are there under false pretences and you should sling your bleedin’ hook.
“Who’s been sitting in MY chair?” Nick Clegg would be right to feel supplanted as Labour moves further rightwards, groping for Tory votes – that aren’t even there. [Picture: Reuters]
One of the things that really rankled about Rachel Reeves’ attempt at Tory talk in yesterday’s Observerwas the (observable) fact that she didn’t need to.
Why try to out-Tory the Conservatives when their share of the vote has been going down at every election – among a proportion of active voters that is – itself – reducing?
So in 1955, they managed to snag 49.6 per cent of the votes. In 2010 this had dropped to 36.1 per cent. Turnout was 76.8 per cent in the first instance and 65.1 in the second. They got 38 per cent of all available votes in 1955 and 23.5 per cent in 2010.
Some could point out that Labour’s share in 2010 was only 29 per cent – around 18.8 per cent of all available votes – but this just proves the point. Neoliberal New Labour were very close to the Conservatives in outlook and policy and most people in the UK don’t want that.
But Rachel Reeves indicated that these policies would continue on her watch, and that’s why people reacted so strongly against the Observer interview.
Perhaps Labour should have done some research on this. Yes, the party has its ‘Your Britain’ website, for members to bring forward ideas – but I’ve been there and didn’t like it. It seemed needlessly complicated, with efforts made to get people discussing particular policy areas at particular times when it would have been better to let people just say what they want – when they want – and sort it out at the receiving end.
Besides – that’s just for members. How much research has Labour done on the doorstep? What do people who aren’t aligned to either main political party want? That is where Labour will get its votes.
Even pointing to research by the polling organisations doesn’t help here. Ipsos-MORI famously polled more than 2,500 people about the benefit cap earlier this year, and Iain Duncan Smith was delighted to announce that a significant majority of respondents were in favour.
It was left to this very blog to break the news that only 21 per cent of those respondents knew enough about the cap to give an educated opinion. It would be informative to know how many – of all the respondents, not just the 21 per cent – were actually affected by it.
All of this is a great shame that may worsen into a missed opportunity. There are some terrific ideas around at the moment and all Rachel Reeves – and Labour as a whole – has to do is look around for them.
The Fabian Society website carried an article entitled Welcome to DWPthe other day, in which most current proposals for reform of the system were rejected – which is a telling indictment of the state of the nation in itself. The stated reasons were that they would reduce the incomes of poor families (no thank you, Labour! You’re not going to out-Tory the Tories!) or fatally undermine universalism.
But among the ideas that were there, it was suggested Labour needs to reform individual benefits before setting its planned upper ceiling on the benefits budget. To that, I would add that the ceiling needs to be described as a proportion of a Labour government’s overall budget – not limited to a particular sum of money. This is the only way to keep it fair as inflation increases costs and devalues the pounds in our pockets, year on year.
Reducing unemployment, involuntary part time work and low pay by getting people into full-time jobs on a living wage could cut billions off the benefit bill (and boost the tax take at the same time).
For right now, the article stated, La Reeves needs to work on Labour’s perception problem – the false image created for it by an unsympathetic mass media, that it is ‘soft’ on benefits. This is based on misconceptions; only a quarter of social security goes on working-age people without jobs, and benefit fraud is – as has been explained ad absurdum on this site – miniscule.
Before the recession, Labour had cut the number of people out of work and really made work pay (with tax credits – not necessarily a great way forward, but a start – and these could be eased out of service as pressure was exerted on employers to adopt living wages). The social security budget was falling, not increasing. That’s what Rachel Reeves needs to be saying. Labour’s policies were working. The public has been misinformed. A new Labour government could create a winning formula again.
It could happen – if Labour stops being the Party of Plastic Tories and starts being the Party of the Worker once again.
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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