Tag Archives: prosper

Do YOU feel as prosperous as you were before the crisis?

[Image: David Symonds for The Guardian, in February this year.]

[Image: David Symonds for The Guardian, in February this year.]

Britain has returned to prosperity, with the economy finally nudging beyond its pre-crisis peak, according to official figures.

Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Next time you’re in the supermarket looking for bargains or mark-downs because you can’t afford the kind of groceries you had in 2008, you can at least console yourself that we’re all doing better than we were back then.

The hundreds of thousands of poor souls who have to scrape by on handouts from food banks will, no doubt, be bolstered by the knowledge that Britain is back on its feet.

And the relatives of those who did not survive Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal purge of benefit claimants can be comforted by the thought that they did not die in vain.

Right?

NO! Of course not! Gross domestic product might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it’s got nothing to do with most of the population! In real terms, you’re £1,600 per year worse-off!

The Conservatives who have been running the economy since 2010 have re-balanced it, just as they said they would – but they lied about the way it would be re-balanced and as a result the money is going to the people who least deserve it; the super-rich and the bankers who caused the crash in the first place.

You can be sure that the mainstream media won’t be telling you that, though.

Even some of the figures they are prepare to use are enough to cast doubt on the whole process. The UK economy is forecast to be the fastest-growing among the G7 developed nations according to the IMF (as reported by the BBC) – but our export growth since 2010 puts us below all but one of the other G7 nations, according to Ed Balls in The Guardian.

And it is exports that should be fuelling the economy, according to JML chairman John Mills in the Huffington Post. He reckons the government needs to invest in manufacturing and achieve competitive exchange rates in order to improve our export ability.

“Since most international trade is in goods and not in services, once the proportion of the economy devoted to producing internationally tradable goods drops below about 15 per cent, it becomes more and more difficult to combine a reasonable rate of growth and full employment with a sustainable balance of payments position,” he writes.

“In the UK, the proportion of GDP coming from manufacturing is now barely above 10 per cent. Hardly surprising then that we have not had a foreign trade surplus balance since 1982 – over thirty years ago – while our share of world trade which was 10.7 per cent in 1950 had fallen by 2012 to no more than 2.6 per cent.”

All of this seems to be good business sense. It also runs contrary to successive governments’ economic policies for the past 35 years, ever since the neoliberal government of Margaret Thatcher took over in 1979.

As this blog has explained, Thatcher and her buddies Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph were determined to undermine the confidence then enjoyed by the people who actually worked for a living, because it was harming the ability of the idle rich – shareholders, bosses… bankers – to increase their own undeserved profits; improvements in working-class living standards were holding back their greed.

In order to hammer the workers back into the Stone Age, they deliberately destroyed the UK’s manufacturing and exporting capability and blamed it on the unions.

That is why we have had a foreign trade deficit since 1982. That is why our share of world trade is less than one-third of what it was in 1950 (under a Labour government, notice). That is why unemployment has rocketed, even though the true level goes unrecognised as governments have rigged the figures to suit themselves.

(The current wheeze has the government failing to count as unemployed anyone on Universal Credit, anyone on Workfare/Mandatory Work Activity and anyone who whose benefit has been sanctioned – among many other groups – for example.)

You may wish to argue that the economy is fine – after all, that’s what everybody is saying, including the Office for National Statistics.

Not according to Mr Mills: “The current improvement in our economic performance, based on buttressing consumer confidence by boosting asset values fuelled by yet more borrowing, is all to unlikely to last.”

(He means the housing bubble created by George Osborne’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme will burst soon, and then the economy will be right up the creek because the whole edifice is based on more borrowing at a time when Osborne has been claiming he is paying down the deficit.)

Ed Balls has got the right idea – at least, on the face of it. In his Guardian article he states: “We are not going to deliver a balanced, investment-led recovery that benefits all working people with the same old Tory economics,” and he’s right.

“Hoping tax cuts at the very top will trickle down, a race to the bottom on wages, Treasury opposition to a proper industrial strategy, and flirting with exit from the European Union cannot be the right prescription for Britain.” Right again – although our contract with Europe must be renegotiated and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement would be a disaster for the UK if we signed it.

But none of that affects you, does it? It’s all too far away, controlled by people we’ve never met. That’s why Balls focuses on what a Labour government would do for ordinary people: “expanding free childcare, introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts. We need to create more good jobs and ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed.”

And how do the people respond to these workmanlike proposals?

“You intend to continue the Tories’ destructive ‘austerity’ policies.”

“The economy isn’t fixed but you broke it.”

There was one comment suggesting that all the main parties are the same now, which – it has been suggested – was what Lynton Crosby told David Cameron to spread if he wanted to win the next election.

Very few of the comments under the Guardian piece have anything to do with what Balls actually wrote; they harp on about New Labour’s record (erroneously), they conflate Labour’s vow not to increase borrowing with an imaginary plan to continue Tory austerity policies… in fact they do all they can to discredit him.

Not because his information is wrong but because they have heard rumours about him that have put them off.

It’s as if people don’t want their situation to improve.

Until we can address that problem – which is one of perception – we’ll keep going around in circles while the exploiters laugh.

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Why is Labour always offering too little, too late?

Announcement or admission: Labour's announcement, as it appeared on Facebook.

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.

As you can tell from today’s previous Vox Political article, that has gone astonishingly well for them.

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.

So come on, Ed.

When can we have it?

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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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