Tag Archives: The Observer

Guardian seems happy to carry on Corbyn-bashing. Why?

Look how hard-left he is! He's wearing a cap and speaking in the open air! But anti-Corbyn hysterics in the media are the one's who look silly.

Look how hard-left he is! He’s wearing a cap and speaking in the open air! But anti-Corbyn hysterics in the media are the ones who look silly.

Wasn’t The Guardian forced to analyse its own coverage, only a few days ago, amid complaints that it was overly critical of Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn?

The verdict was that some articles had taken an overly-‘anti’ tone – but they’re still coming. Today’s Observer (the Graun‘s Sunday sister) has three in a row.

Yvette Cooper: ‘You can be strong without being extreme’ begins with the tagline, “The Labour leadership candidate says she understands the frustration and anger of Corbyn supporters but warns against losing the wider electorate.”

It continues: “The wholly unexpected obstacle to Cooper’s ambition to be Labour’s first female leader is the hard-left Jeremy ‘Jez We Can’ Corbyn.”

So Jeremy Corbyn is “extreme”, is he? He’s “hard-left”? When was that decided?

Most rational thinkers in the UK now accept that Corbyn is absolutely not “extreme” or “hard-left”. He’s left-wing in the classical Labour mould, in line with most of Labour’s loyal membership. If labels like “extreme”, or “hard” are to be applied anywhere, they would more properly belong with fellow candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and especially Liz Kendall, whose attitudes – in Labour terms – would be described most accurately as “hard-right“.

Here’s another article – no headline this time, just straight into the aggro: “With Labour fixated by Corbyn, the Tories have taken advantage of a feeble opposition. Here’s how they did it…”

The text itself makes no mention of Corbyn – he’s just a handy peg on which the sub-editors have hung a headline. The author, Daniel Boffey, accepts that Labour could not be at full strength while the future leader is unnamed and shadow cabinet members have no idea whether they are likely to remain in their posts.

Finally, we have Jeremy Corbyn suggests he would bring back Labour’s nationalising clause IV. Apparently we are supposed to think this is a bad thing but the text of the article betrays the headline once again.

“I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring clause IV as it was originally written or it’s a different one,” is what Corbyn actually said.

He’s telling the country that, as Labour leader, he would listen to the wishes of his supporters and work to give them what they want.

That’s better than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall rolled together – and much more than the likes of David Cameron, Boris Johnson or George Osborne would ever willingly provide (although we know that their offers aren’t worth the air used to speak them or the paper on which they are written).

This Blog is happy to support Jeremy Corbyn – if only for one simple reason:

He is the only Labour leadership candidate to have shown any support for the Early Day Motion calling for the Conservative Government to publish statistics on the deaths of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants (EDM 285).

In fact, he co-sponsored it.

It was signed by 93 other MPs in the week or so between its creation and the day Parliament went into recess for the summer. I’ve been reminded that Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall cannot sign EDMs because they are members of the shadow cabinet and are barred from doing so. Why haven’t they spoken in favour of it, then? How many of their supporters have signed it?

What does that say about those other leadership candidates?

Does it not tell us that they are happy to collude with the Conservatives in keeping the casualties hidden?

And here’s another good question:

Why aren’t newspapers like The Guardian asking Burnham, Cooper and Kendall about that, rather than stirring up non-existent muck about Corbyn?

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Tories are trying to buy the election with ‘quiet’ candidate spending hike

141214torydonations

Candidates in the general election will have 23 per cent more money to spend after the Tories slipped the increase through without debate. This only applies if any candidates other than Tories actually have that much money, of course.

The Observer has reported that, under the new limits, the total amount the candidates of each political party can spend has increased from £26.5m to £32.7m.

In March, the Electoral Commission recommended there should be no such increase in spending limits for candidates over the so-called “long campaign” period between December 19 and general election day on May 7.

The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate, was made despite a direct warning by the commission against “excessive spending” in order to “prevent the perception of undue influence over the outcome of the election”.

Ministers changed the law through a statutory instrument, the terms of which were not debated in the Commons, which is used more properly for consensual changes in the law. A Labour source said the move had not been spotted by them at the time, so they missed the chance to force a vote in the Commons.

It’s too late for that now.

We know the Conservatives have much more moolah than any of the other parties – let’s face it, they have spent all of their period in office changing the law to make it possible for the extremely rich and big businesses to donate increasingly ludicrous amounts to Tory Party funds, and this is the reason.

For example: In the past four years, 27 per cent of the £78,010,807  the Tories have raised – £21,072,508 – has come from hedge fund donors. George Osborne’s 2013 budget abolished stamp duty reserve tax on funds, a £145m giveaway to those very same hedge funds. That’s just one example.

The Observer states: “With the Tories having amassed a £78m war chest over the past four years, they can now funnel huge amounts of cash into key seats.”

We know that the Tories won more seats than anyone else at the 2010 election by throwing ridiculous amounts of Lord Ashcroft’s money at marginal seats and by lying about their policy intentions. This undemocratic move – there was no Parliamentary debate and one can hardly say it has been announced loudly; did you even know this decision was made in the summer? – clearly states their intention to repeat the same grubby, underhanded manoeuvre next year.

And we know that David Cameron has made this decision against the advice of the Electoral Commission – meaning that it should be plain for all to see that this is yet another corrupt decision by the most corrupt government of the last century.

What else are we to think of this? Lucy Powell MP, Ed Miliband’s election strategist, had a few well-chosen ideas on that subject. Writing in The Guardian, she stated:

“With only a record of failure to run on, David Cameron’s campaign is reliant on smear, fear and fat cats’ chequebooks. This is a party flush with big money backers but without the empathy or ideas the country needs, so they are rigging the rules of our democracy in their favour.

“When he was first leader of the opposition, David Cameron said he wanted to take the big money out of politics. He promised to address the ‘big donor culture’, arguing that we should ‘cut what is spent on a general election’. Yet he has now cynically changed his tune. Desperate to hang on to power, the Tories have quietly changed the rules to allow them to spend big in the runup to the election. The changes would allow them to spend millions more than they’re presently allowed, paving the way for Tory propaganda to flood constituencies.”

Opponents of Tory tyranny cannot match the Nasty Party’s spending power. All we have are our own voices and the facts.

That’s why next year – more than ever before – we have to put the message out to protect the public against the next wave of lies and ‘spin’.

The Tory Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act means we can’t spend any appreciable amount of money doing this, but they can’t stop us talking and they can’t stop us publicising the facts.

It’s up to us – all of us – to show the Tories that money isn’t everything.

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Rickets returns, Observer? Tell us something we DON’T know!

Painful deformities of the skeleton such as bowed legs: The return of rickets is another sign that the Conservative-led government is regressing Britain to conditions during the primitive Victorian era - or even earlier.

Painful deformities of the skeleton such as bowed legs: The return of rickets is another sign that the Conservative-led government is regressing Britain to conditions during the primitive Victorian era – or even earlier.

Thanks to Unemployed in Tyne and Wear for pointing out this Observer article:

“Poverty is forcing people to have dangerously poor diets and is leading to the return of rickets and gout – diseases of the Victorian age that affect bones and joints – according the UK Faculty of Public Health.

“The public health professionals’ body will call for a national food policy, including a sugar tax, as concerns rise over malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies in British children. It will also appeal for all political parties to back a living wage to help combat the illnesses.

“Doctors and hospitals are seeing a rise in children suffering from ailments caused by poor diet and the faculty has linked the trend to people’s inability to afford quality food. Latest figures show there has been a 19% increase in people hospitalised in England and Wales for malnutrition over the past 12 months but experts say this is only the extreme end.”

The shocking aspect of this article is that it has taken reporters at The Observer so long to realise what is going on; Vox Political pointed out the rise of this problem almost two years ago!

In the article The rise of food banks and the fall of the Big Society, published on December 22, 2012, VP stated: “As a consequence of the rise in poverty, overseen and orchestrated by Mr Cameron and his lieutenant Iain Duncan Smith in the Department for Work and Pensions, the classic poverty-related diseases of rickets and tuberculosis are on the increase. In 2012, the Conservatives have achieved their aim to revive the Dickensian Christmas.”

Nearly a year after that – and almost a year ago – in October 2013, The Independent cottoned on to the fact that standards of health were in relapse.

Vox Political‘s article ‘Compassionate’ Conservatism’s three ‘R’s – reading, writing and… rickets? (October 24, 2013) had this to say: “David Cameron’s quest to bring the Victorian era back to life in the 21st century reached a new milestone this week when the UK’s chief medical officer formally announced the return of a disease long thought banished from these shores: Rickets.

“The disease was thought to have been eradicated in the UK but, in a damning indictment of modern political priorities, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has admitted that 40 per cent of our children – that’s two-fifths of all the children in the country – now have some kind of vitamin D deficiency. Current figures for full-blown rickets are not available.”

It continued: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritinal value?

“The Tory wage-crushing policy has been ignorant in the extreme, according to Dame Sally’s report, as it has created an extra burden on the NHS. Preventative measures ‘could save the economy billions’.

“The neglect created in our health system by more than three decades of neoliberal political rule has had a devastating effect on the nation’s children. According to Dame Sally, while our mortality rate for 0-14 year olds was among the best in Europe during the 1980s, it is now among the worst, with five more children dying every day than in the best-performing country, Sweden.

“The highest death rates are in deprived areas – in the northwest, northern cities and some of London’s poorer boroughs, with 21.1 deaths per 100,000 people under 17.

“Dame Sally said: ‘I think this is something, as a country, we should feel profoundly ashamed about – I do.'”

The most damning aspect of the Observer article was the comment from Carmel McConnell, founder of the Magic Breakfast charity, which provides a free breakfast to 8,500 British schoolchildren in need each morning.

She said teachers in the schools where she worked expected to see a dramatic decline in the health of their pupils as they return after the holidays: “Teachers tell us they know even with free school meals it will take two to three weeks to get their kids back up to the weight they were at the end of the last school term because their families cannot afford the food during the holidays.”

Dr John Middleton of the Faculty of Public Health placed the blame squarely on the Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. He said in the Observer article: “Food prices up 12 per cent, fuel prices up double-figure percentages and wages down is a toxic combination, forcing more people to eat unhealthily.”

The Vox Political article of October last year ended with a re-worked Biblical quotation, changed to fit the modern philosophy of David Cameron and his Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Considering the latest findings, it is even more appropriate today: “Suffer, little children – for you have a Conservative government.”

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Conservatives in chaos over food bank stance

Credit where it's due: The vast majority of reasons for people being referred to food banks are attributable to the Department for Work and Pensions. Could that be why the DWP is so desperate to silence the food bank charities?

Credit where it’s due: The vast majority of reasons for people being referred to food banks are attributable to the Department for Work and Pensions. Could that be why the DWP is so desperate to silence the food bank charities?

Tories – what are they like?

The answer is, of course, even they don’t know – as evidenced by their current confusion over food banks.

David Cameron has enthusiastically backed their work at a Christian faith group’s Easter reception (and so he should, having sent so much of it their way), and Treasury minister David Gauke also praised them in an interview on Channel 4 News last week.

But the DWP says leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust is guilty of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity seeking”, with the rise in food bank use being the result of the charity’s leaders “aggressively marketing their services” and “effectively running a business”.

At least one commenter on this blog has been completely taken in by the DWP’s prattling, claiming that demand for food banks has not risen at all since Cameron came to office. No, it’s clear to this demented individual that opening a food bank anywhere is like opening a supermarket – if there isn’t one nearby already, people will flock through your doors.

This, of course, completely misconstrues the way food banks are used and assumes that anyone can walk through their doors, claim food poverty and take away a packet of supplies whenever they want. It doesn’t work like that.

Food banks operate on a referral system. As Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould put it in an Observer report: “You can’t get free food from the Trussell Trust by walking through the door and asking for it; you must have a voucher. More than 24,000 professionals – half of whom work in the public sector and health service, the police, and in social services – ask us to give this food to clients of theirs because they’ve made the decision that this individual or family is in dire straits and needs help. We’re not drumming up demand.”

This is absolutely correct and no amount of negative campaigning by the DWP can change it. In fact, Mr Gauke spent some time crowing about the fact the DWP rules have been altered to allow “signposting” to food banks by Job Centre advisors, in his Channel 4 News interview (although claiming credit for government employees sending people to someone else, rather than providing help themselves, is in itself a mean-spirited shot in the foot).

Once again, the Conservatives are getting stuck in the mire while trying to claim the moral high ground.

Not only have they created a poverty-driven starvation threat that organisations like the Trussell Trust have been forced to step in and fight, but the Tories have also tried to vilify those good people for laying the blame where it belongs.

It is a situation so twisted, there can be no wonder the Tories are tying themselves in knots.

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Gove is desperate to avoid fallout over free schools

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove's foolish and expensive 'free school' experiment.

Underqualified: This Labour Party campaign meme highlights the drawbacks of Michael Gove’s foolish and expensive ‘free school’ experiment.

The country has been concentrating on government sleaze for the past week or so – and this is a mistake. We should also monitor government incompetence and thankfully Michael Gove is around to provide plenty of it.

He wants organisations that are part of his struggling ‘free schools’ pet project to receive special fast-track attention – to avoid the political embarrassment that would be caused by their failure.

Last year the project was rocked by the failure of the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, and the resignations of unqualified head teachers at Pimlico Free School in London and Discovery School in Crawley. Vox Political discussed all three at the time.

The Discovery School was one of four that were declared inadequate by Ofsted and closed down at the end of March.

Last week, The Observer revealed that Gove wants to hush up any further damaging revelations by ensuring that problems are tackled before Ofsted can publicise them.

The article stated: “It suggests that party political considerations are now driving education policy a year ahead of the general election.”

Quite. It is also a sharp reminder of how far the Coalition government has deviated from its original claim, to be uniting “in the public interest”.

The plan adds extra pressure to the Education department, where morale has already plummetted due to Gove’s determination to employ his own advisors, to overrule the expert advice provided by civil servants in favour of ideologically-motivated dogma.

It also shows that Gove is giving preferential treatment to his pet project. State schools go into special measures after receiving a ruling from Ofsted that they are inadequate – and can remain there for more than a year.

More damaging still is the fact that many of the problems with free schools have nothing to do with education, but are organisational in origin. According to the article, these include: “Operating in temporary sites without a clear permanent home; new, inexperienced and often isolated trusts needing to upskill themselves to run a school for the first time; instability in principal appointments and senior leadership teams.”

So when you hear that your child’s school has been under-performing because it has been deprived of resources and support from the Department for Education, just remember that this has happened because we have an Education Secretary who is more concerned with hiding his own inadequacies – problems that could have been avoided if he had concentrated a little more on the details.

On the basis of this term work, Mr Gove, we’ll have to give you an ‘F’ – for ‘Fail’.

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Osborne-created tax loophole diddles the UK out of hundreds of millions

A tax avoidance loophole specially created by George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, last year means that water companies have played the system to reduce their tax bills to a trickle.

Some people just don’t know when it’s time to do the right thing.

Look at the three water companies that are paying practically no tax on their huge profits, while yanking up prices every year according to the retail price index and enjoying a monopoly in their areas – according to today’s report in The Observer.

Thames Water avoids tax by offsetting the interest payments on its debts against its tax liability and delaying it by claiming allowances on capital project spending. The company is seeking government support for a £4.1bn project to build a new “super sewer” under the Thames.

Anglian lent £1,609.1m to a subsidiary company in the Cayman Islands tax haven in 2002. This year it was able to pay £478.1m in equity dividends to investors, including its subsidiary in the tax haven.

Yorkshire Water also increased the debt on its books recently, which offsets tax payments.

In other words, all three were able to exploit a new tax loophole, created by George Osborne last year – that’s right, the Chancellor who is supposedly trying to stop tax avoidance has actually been creating more ways for big business to achieve it – to pay as little tax as possible.

In my article last Monday, I highlighted changes to the tax laws, brought in by Gideon, I mean Mr 0, that mean companies in the UK pay nothing at all on money made by their foreign branches and may claim the expense of funding those foreign branches against tax paid in the UK. That is exactly what Anglian and Yorkshire are doing, according to the Observer report.

Without knowing where the Thames debt is based, it’s hard to say for certain whether it falls into this category of tax avoidance.

Thames made an operating profit of £650 million last year, and Anglia’s was £492, while Yorkshire’s was £303 million. With Corporation Tax at 26 per cent (they should all pay the higher rate), this means the Treasury failed to collect nearly £376 million from the three companies.

The amount lost to the Treasury from these three companies alone would pay off three-quarters of what the government hopes to take away from people currently on council tax benefit, when local authorities implement their new council tax relief schemes – the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – in accordance with Eric Pickles’ Localism Act, next April.

Both Thames and Anglian told The Observer their tax was merely being deferred, and they would have to pay it in full at a later date. Yorkshire declined to comment.

My problem with this is that the UK is in deficit difficulties NOW. We need everybody’s tax money NOW. Not later. By exploiting a loophole in the tax system that the Chancellor irresponsibly created, they – AND HE – are extending the problem.

The absence of any significant tax bills means Thames and Anglian were able to pay out dividends totalling £1.5881 billion. I don’t have the figures for Yorkshire. Ask yourself how many of those shareholders have tax avoidance schemes of their own.

Meanwhile, those of us on PAYE have to pay the full amounts of our tax bills – and our utility bills – no matter what harm they do to our household finances. There can be no deferrals for the working-class citizen!

And what help do our bloated water companies give us?

A drop in the ocean.

Cameron and Brooks – the more we know, the less we like it

What have they got to hide, and can it be any worse than what we’re all thinking?

There’s a bad smell surrounding the correspondence between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks, and it has nothing to do with the horse she let him ride.

The Observer is today reporting details of “intimate” texts sent between the current UK Prime Minister and the former head of Rupert Murdoch’s News International. One of them, from Brooks, states that she felt so emotional listening to his (2009) conference speech she “cried twice”, and that she “will love ‘working together’.”

Working together?

In what way, exactly?

There are too many loose ends here for anyone to feel comfortable. Everywhere you turn, one of them whips you in the face (like a riding crop, perhaps).

Let’s bear in mind all the embarrassment fomer Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt (Con) had over the plans for Mr Murdoch’s firm to take over Sky TV, granting it an unprecedented dominance over the UK mass media. Working together?

Let’s remember that Andy Coulson, a former News International employee and editor of the News of the World, became Mr Cameron’s Downing Street press officer for a time, until he was implicated in the phone hacking scandal and stood down. Working together?

Let’s also consider the way the right-wing press – of which News International and Sky News form an uncomfortably large cohort – has suppressed stories about the harmful effects of Mr Cameron’s policies, such as the deaths of 73 sick or disabled people every week (on average) who had their benefits cut after reassessment by the Department for Work and Pensions and its contractor, Atos. Working together?

Cameron has refused to allow publication of any more of these texts – and it is understood that around 150 may exist. The Observer states that it understands many of them would prove to be “a considerable embarrassment” to the government.

We don’t know what is in those texts, and we are being told that we never will. The only possible conclusion is that they contain information that is damaging to Mr Cameron, and therefore to his Conservative-led government. Because of the identities of the correspondents, we can also conclude only that this damage relates to them working together.

It’s obvious he’s got something to hide.

He’s not going to come clean about it either.

So he’s being dishonest to us, the British public.

It is not in our interest for him to behave like this.

What else has he been doing that is not in our interest?

I think we have a right to know.

After all, he didn’t win the 2010 election; he’s only in Downing Street because of a dodgy deal with the Liberal Democrats.