Tag Archives: railway

Is the Tory promise to reverse the Beeching railway cuts a test of our gullibility?

Look at the difference between the rail network in 1963 (before Beeching) and 1984 (after him). And the Tories reckon £500 million will restore all that? They’re stupid with money.

The Conservative government has announced that it intends to reopen historic railway lines that were closed in the 1960s after the infamous Beeching report.

But it has announced a pitifully small amount of funding for the plan – just £500 million.

To put that in perspective, that much money would reopen just 25 of the 5,000 miles of railway that Beeching axed – as Labour’s Andy McDonald pointed out:

In response, the Tories have said the money won’t repair any lines – it will be used only to fund feasibility studies to work out which routes can be restored.

In other words, not a single line will be restored as a result of this announcement – or with this funding.

It’s Boris Johnson’s 40 hospitals, all over again, only worse.

And on the subject of those phantom hospitals, if you have a Tory MP, maybe you’d like to wind them up by asking where – exactly – those hospitals are going to be?

And then watch them squirm.

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Why are we even discussing this? the CBI really IS scaremongering over Labour’s nationalisation plans

The Confederation of British Industry has started its usual pre-election campaign against the Labour Party – with the usual nonsense claims about Labour nationalisation policies.

It seems we are being asked to believe that bringing national utilities, the railways and the Royal Mail back into public ownership will cost the Treasury £196 billion, with no concurrent benefits to the economy.

I have to agree with Labour on this; it is nothing but scaremongering – and not very clever scaremongering, at that.

For a start, most of the utilities and railway firms Labour wants to take back into public ownership are currently owned by foreign firms – many of them owned by foreign governments.

That’s a lot of UK citizens’ money going abroad, right there. Bringing those firms back into public ownership would bring huge amounts of money back into the UK economy, instead of subsidising services in other lands.

We have been led to believe that Vince Cable sold our Royal Mail to hedge funds. Who knows where they’re putting the profits? That cash certainly doesn’t seem to be going back into the business. A tax haven, perhaps?

If so, then bringing the Royal Mail back into public ownership not only safeguards our postal service but brings huge amounts of money back into the UK economy.

That’s just off the top of my head.

The CBI admits its analysis is flawed, in that it only concentrates on the costs of any renationalisation, and explicitly does not consider any benefits.

The claims of this organisation have no value at all.

Source: Labour plans to renationalise utilities, railways and Royal Mail would cost £196bn, CBI claims | The Independent

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UK railway services are now almost entirely state-owned – by foreign countries

Could there be a better argument to support Labour’s call for train services to be re-nationalised?

British rail commuters pay the highest prices in Europe to use trains that are almost exclusively run by European state operators.

We are subsidising services in their countries.

If our railways were re-nationalised, the money we pay would flow into UK state coffers. From there it could be used to, possibly, improve the service and reduce prices.

Don’t you think that would be a better way?

With rail fares set to rise again by as much as 2.8 per cent, the debate over whether the UK should renationalise the railways – which Labour made a 2017 manifesto pledge – has already reared its head.

This week the Trades Union Congress renewed its call for renationalisation, saying doing so would lead to lower ticket prices.

“We’re already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains,” the organisation’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said.

[But] extensive state-ownership exists among UK rail operators, it just doesn’t involve the British state.

Here’s the full list:

c2c: Italian state

Chiltern: German state

Caledonian sleeper: PRIVATE

CrossCountry: German state

East Midlands: Dutch state

Eurostar: French state

Gatwick Express: French state

Grand Central: German state

Great Northern: French state

GWR: PRIVATE

Greater Anglia: Dutch state

Heathrow Express: PRIVATE

Hull Trains: PRIVATE

LNER: British state

London Northwestern Railway: Dutch state

London Overground: German state

London Underground: British state

Merseyrail: Dutch state

Northern: German state

Northern Ireland Railways: British state

Scotrail: Dutch state

South Western Railway: Hong Kong state

Southeastern: French state

Southern: French state

Stansted Express: Dutch state

TfL rail: Hong Kong state

Thameslink: French state

TransPennine Express: PRIVATE

Transport for Wales: French state

West Coast: Italian state

West Midlands Railway: Dutch state

Source: Trains on UK railways now almost entirely state-owned – by foreign countries | The Independent

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Why is Universal Credit allowed to keep racking up the cost, while rail projects get the axe?

Perhaps the answer has something to do with blame.

The government can blame railway companies for what some seem to be labelling out-of-control cost increases on improvement projects.

But Universal Credit is a plan initiated by the Conservative Party, and the Conservative Party must be seen to be right. Right?

So the cost continues to rocket out of control, creating knock-on problems across government budgets, and the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith, gets to make silly claims that everything is under control when it clearly isn’t.

The overall cost of Iain Duncan Smith’s key welfare scheme appears to have risen by £3bn to £15.8bn in two years, according to an official report that shows several other significant government programmes are also in danger of collapsing.Universal credit, the troubled programme that plans to roll six welfare benefits into one payment, has also suffered a further year’s delay and will not be fully implemented until 2020.

The figures are disclosed in a Major Projects Authority report. It also shows that more than half of all of the government’s leading projects, including HS2, are in danger of failing.

Universal Credit is late, and expensive – and even when it arrives, it will harm people rather than helping them.

It is as pointless as the Work and Pensions secretary himself.

Source: Labour says universal credit will take 495 years to roll out as costs rise £3bn | Society | The Guardian

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Why SHOULD the government suck money OUT of the economy?

George Osborne: Mouth open, mind shut.

George Osborne: Mouth open, mind shut.

Economists are probably lining up right now to demonstrate that George Osborne is a fool.

The Chancellor is trying to persuade us that aiming for an immediate budget surplus is good policy. Experts disagree.

Very quick off the mark is Professor Simon Wren-Lewis in his Mainly Macro blog. He has already pointed out that fiscal tightening is a terrible idea when interest rates are at their zero lower bound (ZLB), as they are at the moment – if economic growth falters, then monetary policy cannot come to the rescue because interest rates are already as low as they can be.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reckons that there’s no reason for the government to reduce debt from its current level of 80 per cent of GDP, as long as the market is happy to keep buying it up. This Writer has issues with that, because it is not advisable for the UK or any other country to become a debt-servicing economy. However, the principle that there is no need for drastic action is sound.

Professor Wren-Lewis also examined a few of the current arguments in support of Osborne and rubbished them in his usual amiable way:

Osborne’s plan may provide scope for dealing with further ‘Great Recessions’ without running out of what the IMF calls “fiscal space” (the amount of extra debt into which the UK could fall before there was any need for serious concern) – but this would demand that ‘Great Recessions’ take place much more often in the future than the past.

The claim that we should reduce the debt burden for future generations is dismissed as perverse, as it means “the costs of reducing debt would largely fall on the same generation that suffered as a result of the Great Recession”.

Leading on from this, he points out that any claim that an individual would want to pay their debts down quickly is not accurate, for the very good reason that nations are not like individuals; they are more like corporations. Firms live with permanent debt because that debt has paid for the capital purchases they have made: “The state has plenty of productive capital…. If we paid back most government debt within a generation, we would be giving that capital to later generations without them making any contribution towards it.”

From here it is fairly easy to see that selling off national assets (like the Royal Mail or Eurostar – or any of the profit-making utility firms, back in the 1980s) is a bad idea, because the national corporation (the UK) then fails to benefit from the proceeds of all its investment. The railways are an even worse case, because the country is subsidising them with more money than when they were a nationalised industry, but receives none of the profits.

Narrow down your definition of what is happening even further and we see that George Osborne is making the poor pay – with squeezes on benefits – in order to allow the rich to benefit; they will own the assets that the government is selling off while paying nothing towards the capital costs discussed above.

So – unless you are one of the very few people rich enough to profit from Osborne’s policy, do you really want to support him now?

This blog would be particularly interested in hearing from working people who voted Conservative last month:

Did you realise that Osborne would be penalising you and your descendants?

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A simple plan to get Labour back on track

Harriet Harman: Will the acting leader of the Labour Party listen to pleas from the grassroots to get Labour back on track?

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 everyonefree. That means no private involvement. 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 no tuition fees 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.

Your comments are invited.

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What’s missing from this party’s campaign launch? The GREEN

Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party's election campaign on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party’s election campaign on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Environmental issues were startlingly absent from the Green Party’s election campaign launch today (February 24).

Instead, party leader Natalie Bennett concentrated on policies that encroach into traditional Labour territory – a wealth tax; increasing the minimum wage to £10 by 2020; half a million new social rented homes; nationalising the railways; scrapping tuition fees; and a people’s constitutional convention “with the aim of achieving democracy for everyone”.

Of course, Labour has already announced plans for a wealth (mansion) tax; would increase the minimum wage (although not as high as £10 per hour); wants to build 100,000 homes a year (making 500,000 in a five-year Parliamentary term); would launch a national rail company to compete for franchises with the private firms; would reduce tuition fees; and wants a constitutional convention to sort out the democratic issues that have been debated since the Scottish independence referendum.

You see, the differences are all a matter of degree. The Greens would do the same as Labour, only more so. The only question is, who will provide the money?

Where were the policies to reduce pollution with green energy?

Why did the Green Party not restate its position on fracking?

Does it have policies on animal welfare (Labour does)?

What about defence?

Why only nationalise the railways, when other privatised utilities have been misbehaving left, right and centre?

So many unanswered questions, yet this is a party that has grown exponentially over the past year. Doesn’t it owe its new members better?

One thing that won’t be part of the current election campaign is the Green Party’s aspiration for a “citizens’ income”, replacing personal tax allowances and most means-tested benefits with a £72-per-week basic payment for all citizens, regardless of income.

Green leader Natalie Bennett was unable to explain how such a policy would be funded in a previous BBC interview. On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning she said it won’t be something for the 2015-20 Parliament, but added: “A commitment to the citizen’s income will be in our manifesto… it’s a massive change in the welfare system and it’s something we want to consult on and offer over time.”

She said it was a long term policy idea, “moving towards a system, getting away from where we are now, where so many people are living in fear of not being able to put food on the table, not being able to keep a roof over their head. Citizen’s income is an important way of moving forward with that.”

Perhaps sensitive to criticisms that she could not explain how it would be funded, she said: “We will be releasing a full costing before the election. The costing won’t be part of the manifesto. The costing will be before the election but the commitment to it [the policy of a citizen’s income] will be in the manifesto.”

Moving to Radio 5 Live, the Green leader discussed her commitment to enforcing a maximum wage ratio between the highest and lowest paid within a company. This is another good idea which Vox Political supports.

Asked whether some kind of wage cap would prevent organisations attracting the best staff, she said, “I think you have to look at how much money motivates people” – implying that the amount of money people are paid is less important to them than people are led to believe.

Moving over to LBC radio, she floundered when Nick Ferrari asked how much a plan to build 500,000 social rental homes would cost.

“We want to fund that particularly from removing tax relief from mortgage interest for private landlords,” she said. Apparently she thought that would rake in no less than £6 billion a year – but fell back on her line about “a fully-costed programme” to be released before the election.

Someone should have warned her that she can use that line too often – especially when taking it in conjunction with fellow Green member Jenny Jones’ comment at the press conference that followed: “You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them today.”

So why hold the conference – and the launch – at all? Press teams left confused at the behaviour of a party that trailed so many juicy-looking policies but was either unwilling – or unable – to provide the essential details that could make them seem workable.

The BBC’s Norman Smith (whose own credibility was dealt a serious blow by Ed Miliband at a Labour campaign conference a few weeks ago) summed up the general feeling by questioning the validity of a Green Party that was no longer significantly “green”.

“Most of the things they are focusing on have nothing to do with greenery,” he told the BBC News website.

“Transport, housing, tuition fees – yes – but saving the planet seems to have been shuffled off to the side a bit.”

Won’t that alienate the Greens’ traditional constituents?

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Labour MPs call for change in party policy – LabourList

Off the rails: Should railway companies be renationalised in the national interest?

Off the rails: Should railway companies be renationalised in the national interest?

A group of 15 Labour MPs have issued a public statement this morning, expressing concern about elements of Labour’s policy agenda, and urging a change of course in three key areas, according to LabourList.

The letter – signed by MPs on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party – calls for an alternative to Labour’s current deficit reduction plans, public ownership of the railways and a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace.

Here’s the statement in full, which outlines the signatories preferred alternative approach:

1 An alternative to the continuation of austerity and spending cuts till 2019-20

All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20, even though wages have already fallen 8% in real terms, business investment is still below pre-crash levels, unemployment is still 2million, the trade deficit in manufactured goods at over £100bn is now the largest in modern history, and household debt is now over £2trillion and still rising.

The Tories want to continue with these cuts because it gives them political cover to achieve their real objective which is to shrink the State and squeeze the public sector back to where it was in the 1930s.

It isn’t even as though the deficit is being reduced by these savage cuts. Because the reduction in the government’s tax revenues as a result of shrinking incomes exceed the spending cuts, the deficit (which is still nearly £100bn) is likely to rise, not fall, in 2014-15 and in future years.

There is an alternative way out of endless austerity. We need public investment to kickstart the economy out of faltering growth and to generate real job creation and rising incomes.

It can readily be funded. With interest rates at 0.5%, a £30bn investment package can be financed for just £150m a year, enough to create more than a million real jobs within 2-3 years. And even without any increase in public borrowing at all, the same sum could equally be funded either through the two banks which are already in public ownership, or through printing money (quantitative easing) to be used directly for industrial investment rather than for bond-buying by the banks as hitherto, or through taxing the ultra-rich by a special levy.

2 Returning rail franchises when expired to public ownership rather than subjecting them to competition

The essence of rail reform must be to reverse fragmentation, to reintegrate the system under public ownership, and to run it in the public interest. At present Britain has the highest fares in Europe. The additional costs of privatisation to public funds are estimated at more than £11bn, or around £1.2bn a year, so that the costs to the taxpayer are now three times as much as under British Rail.

Since 2010 rail fares have increased 25%, yet at the same time more than £200m a year has been paid out in dividends to shareholders or overseas state-owned rail companies which now hold two-thirds of the current rail franchises. Over 80% of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.

The most obvious and simplest way to achieve this is by letting the rail franchises expire and then taking them back into public ownership at no cost whatever to the taxpayer. To subject them to a public bidding competition with private bidders is not only wholly unnecessary but sends out the wrong signals, as though we’re not confident of our own ideology. The Tories certainly didn’t offer a competitive option when they forced through privatisation!

Anyway, the franchise process, so far from being economic, encourages the gaming of wildly optimistic passenger number projections and this, combined with huge legal contract complexity which is bureaucratic and wasteful both in time and money (except for the lawyers and accountants), has led in the past to franchise failures and operating chaos, most notably on the East and West Coast lines. From past experience public ownership has consistently worked better, and we should not gratuitously throw obstacles in our own path in getting there.

3 The need for the restoration of collective bargaining and employment rights as a check against excessive corporate power

When the Thatcher government came to office in 1979, 82% of workers in the UK had their main terms and conditions determined by a union-negotiated collective agreement. The latest figures now show that the coverage is down to just 23%. One very significant result is that the share of national income going to salaries and wages has fallen dramatically from 65% in 1980 to 53% in 2012 – a loss to employees of some £180bn!

This has happened partly from the collapse in trade union membership from 55% of the workforce in 1979 to 23% in 2012. But it has also happened partly as a result of the anti-trade union laws introduced in the 1980-90s and partly because the state has withdrawn support for collective bargaining as part of the free market ideology of de-regulation of all markets, including the labour market. It is somewhat ironic however that de-regulation of the labour market requires the tightest regulation of one of the key players in that market, the trade union movement.

An incoming Labour government should choose to enhance the role of trade unions because trade union rights are human rights, a trade union presence creates more just and equal workplaces, and trade union collective bargaining is more redistributive than statutory wage setting and will assist on the road from austerity. We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.

Diane Abbott
Dave Anderson
Katy Clark
Jeremy Corbyn
Fabian Hamilton
Kelvin Hopkins
Ian Lavery
John McDonnell
Michael Meacher
Ian Mearns
Grahame Morris
Linda Riordan
Steve Rotherham
Jim Sheridan
Chris Williamson

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Call for inquiry over foreign state-owned firms taking over UK rail services Unemployed in Tyne and Wear

UNTyne&Wear brings us the following, originally in the Hartlepool Mail:

Easington  MP Grahame Morris has called on Parliament to launch an inquiry into foreign state-owned companies owning UK rail firms.

Mr Morris said British commuters, who suffer the highest rail prices in Europe, are subsidising foreign passengers.

MPs from Parliament’s rail group have called for an urgent inquiry.

It follows a decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, and also research showed 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways.

Mr Morris said British commuters have experienced substandard services for decades adding:

Often the very same operators that are using British commuters as cash cows are foreign state-owned companies that then hold down fares and improve services back in their own countries.

“That British commuters are expected to both suffer the failure of rail privatisation as well as subsidise commuters in Holland, Germany and France adds insult to injury.”

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Did you hear the one about Labour and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

140115TTIP

Apparently somebody said Labour supported this hugely controversial scheme, and lots of people believed it.

In fact, the claim is doubly false. But first, a bit of background: You need to know that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a ‘free trade’ agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States of America. Unfortunately for most of us, the agreement as currently described would end democracy and put us at the mercy of international corporations.

This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS), which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments. You would 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.

Labour doesn’t want anything to do with an agreement that locks privatisation into the National Health Service, and TTIP – with the ISDS – would do exactly that. So Labour called for the NHS to be exempted from the conditions of the agreement, while remaining in broad support of the negotiations in the belief that the deal promised billions of pounds worth of jobs and economic growth.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fully behind TTIP and have ruled out any opt-out for the NHS. The Tories in particular see TTIP as an opportunity to lock-in the privatisation changes they have made to the NHS.

That is the situation that most people believe exists today. They are mistaken.

Labour’s National Policy Forum met at Milton Keynes recently, where a new stance towards TTIP was agreed. Members raised the question of other public services, besides the NHS, that a future Labour government might wish to return to public ownership. With the ISDS in its current form, it would be more or less impossible to return the railways, energy firms and water companies to public ownership in the public interest.

So the current policy is as follows (with thanks to @LabourLewis of the LabourLeft blog): “Labour believes that [the] key to an EU-US trade deal that we would encourage the rest of Europe to support, which avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth, would be safeguards and progress on labour, environmental, and health and safety standards. Labour has raised concerns over the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in TTIP. Labour believes that the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms.” [bolding mine]

This is unlikely to be Labour’s final position as many members believe the party should be even more strongly opposed to the agreement in its current form, as these concluding comments from @LabourLewis affirm: “I believe TTIP represents a free market model of the world economy that has failed the vast majority of us. The last 30 years have shown such a model of capitalism increases inequality and insecurity and leads to more frequent financial crashes.

“Simply tinkering on the margins will not be sufficient. A tad more regulation there, a bit more transparency here, a regulation over there, some restraint on executive pay over here.

“It simply won’t wash and a growing number of us, including our leader Ed Miliband, instinctively understand this.”

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