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Theresa May and the Tory cabinet has hatched a new plan – to blame Labour for Brexit woes

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May: He knew her previous offers of cross-party talks were false; under what conditions will he accept new talks now?

An extraordinarily lengthy cabinet meeting saw Conservatives spending seven hours hatching a plan to spend the next few weeks… finding a way to blame Labour for any continued deadlock.

That is the meaning behind the announcement that Theresa May will – at last – seek talks with Jeremy Corbyn on a way to break the “logjam”, as she has described the Parliamentary impasse over the manner in which the UK is to leave the European Union.

She has painted herself into a corner by agreeing a unilateral deal with the EU, based on the “red lines” regarding immigration and other matters that she imposed arbitrarily – and then failing to win support for it, even among members of her own party.

She had spurned offers of talks from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the past. It seems clear that the only reason she is turning to him now is desperation – having put the entire country in an untenable position, she wants sham talks with Labour in order to set up the Opposition party as a scapegoat.

We already know she does not intend to vary or erase her “red lines”, which suggests a certain bad faith on her part before starting.

Politics academic Luke Cooper has said it should be easy to reach a deal, as the main difference between her plan and that of Mr Corbyn is semantic – they both want a customs union of some kind with the EU; they just call it different things.

But he tweeted that there is no support for it in the Conservative Party or among the cabinet that would have to pass the legislation that would make it possible.

This is borne out by the resignation of Nigel Adams as a Wales Office minister – exactly because he fears the UK would end up in a permanent customs union with the EU.

In addition, a Tory-Labour deal kills off the prospect of an early general election, which is Labour’s principal policy objective. Party members and voters would deplore what they would see as collusion with the Tories.

What’s more, Mrs May has said she won’t change the Withdrawal Agreement, so it’s only the Future Relationship declaration that is up for change, and those changes are not legally binding. Mrs May has said she’ll resign after getting this part of Brexit through Parliament and she’ll most likely be replaced by a Brexiteer who would not honour changes made to mollify Labour.

Mrs May has agreed to be bound by the decision of the House of Commons, and is demanding that Labour be bound by it too. But she can’t tie the hands of a future leader, and Jeremy Corbyn knows that.

Arch-remainer Andrew Adonis reckons the May offer is another trick:

It’s true that she wants a deal with Labour in order to make it possible for the UK to leave the EU on May 22 – without having to participate in EU elections. It does make another ultimatum possible – and she likes this kind of brinkwomanship, even though it hasn’t helped her at all.

Jim Pickard, political editor of the Financial Times, has said shadow cabinet members don’t believe Mrs May’s offer is genuine:

Other Labour MPs know the score too:

Even the Conservative government’s partners, the DUP, have expressed scepticism. Here’s that party’s statement:

“It remains to be seen if sub-contracting out the future of Brexit to Jeremy Corbyn, someone whom the Conservatives have demonised for four years, will end happily.” Indeed.

And the DUP is dead-set against any form of customs union because that party considers such an arrangement to be bringing the re-integration of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland closer. That’s one reason Mrs May is having to reach out to Labour now.

Here’s National Union of Students vice-president Ali Milani:

Here’s tax justice campaigner Richard Murphy:

And the general public know the score too:

As a politician, Jeremy Corbyn’s course is clear. He cannot reject Mrs May’s offer outright, because that would certainly bring down the wrath of the Conservative-supporting mass media on him.

So he must take the initiative away from her. She is demanding talks with him on her terms, and her terms alone. That is not acceptable. Mr Corbyn needs to announce a few terms of his own.

If Mrs May cannot accept them, then responsibility for the mess she has made of Brexit remains on her shoulders – where it belongs.


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Greece could break Austerity – if Tsipras has the courage

150324tsipras-merkel

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss his country’s economic strategy and debt repayments.

The point of Austerity in Greece was never to help that country pay off its debts; it was to create a permanent debt that Greece would never be able to pay off.

Under a submissive government, this was feasible – as it has been in many countries in what is laughably called the Developing World – but now Syriza has taken control and Alexis Tsipras could have the Troika (European Central Bank, IMF and the European Union – the three organisations that have been lending money to the Greek government) over a barrel.

The plan was to add Greece to the list of nations running a ‘zombie economy’ in the service of neoliberal corporate interests, rather than the well-being of its own citizens.

The Troika’s settlement with Greece was similar to that carved out by the western banks with the Developing World – the creation of a Debt Trap.

Western banks indulged in a lending spree across the Developing World during the latter half of the 20th century but the oil shocks of the 1970s created a domino effect of economic disaster which ended up putting most of Africa and Latin America on the verge of bankruptcy.

They could not be allowed to default on their debts. This would have allowed those countries to recover but would have harmed the western world – both economically and politically, as its influence would have faded.

So the IMF stepped in with ‘bridging loans’, ensuring that the original debts could be serviced – but there was a cost. In return for these loans, the IMF created a mechanism called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP – an appropriate acronym as it has sapped away a huge amount of money from every nation where it has been used).

The SAP set conditions under which debtor nations were provided the bridging loans: The sale of nationalised industries and resources – mostly to foreign-owned corporations and governments; the removal of capital controls on money flowing into and out of these nations; allowing the IMF to dictate the level of public spending; prioritising debt repayment and corporate welfare over infrastructure investment and human welfare; and suppression of wages and restrictions on trade unions.*

This is more or less the deal that Greece was offered.

The result has been clear – as Professor Simon Wren-Lewis pointed out in his Mainly Macro blog yesterday: “Austerity… is of course why Greek GDP has fallen by 25 per cent.”

At the moment, the Troika is threatening Tsipras with the loss of further loans, as he has stated that he intends to reverse the privatisations that have been forced on Greece over the last few years, raise the minimum wage, and increase public spending. These are measures designed to reverse the Troika-engineered Greek economic collapse and make it possible to start paying off the huge debt the country has built up.

Tsipras wants that money because he wants his economic recovery to take place in an orderly way, so he has agreed not to roll back the privatisations that have already taken place but to review those that haven’t; to introduce collective wage-bargaining, stopping short of raising the minimum wage but encouraging non-statutory wage rises; and tackling the humanitarian crisis with free medical care for the uninsured unemployed, along with housing guarantees, at no extra cost to the public purse.

But here’s the thing: Greece can manage without that loan money, if it has to. Yes, there will be a great deal of pain, but Tsipras effectively has the Troika over a barrel. The promise of some money is better than no money. All he has to do is hold his nerve and point out that what the Troika is doing is exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to be doing.

By funding Greece during Austerity, the Troika was perpetuating its debt, rather than helping end that debt; now it is actively fighting a plan that will genuinely help end that debt. And the world can see this.

It is an important lesson for the UK, as well. This country didn’t need the Troika to enforce privatisation, wage suppression, public spending restrictions and so on because we have a neoliberal Conservative-led government that is already avid for those things.

Our economy has suffered badly – and our people have suffered brutally – because of these choices by rich Conservatives who have not had to bear any of the pain themselves.

For no reason.

It seems possible that both Greece and the UK could probably take a leaf out of 1920s German chancellor Gustav Streseman’s book – re-industrialisation and (in Greece’s case) renegotiation of loans and an exit from the Euro in order to create a new currency. Whether that is practical is best left to economists who have more expertise than a layman like this writer.

What is clear is that Austerity – and its champions – are bad for everybody’s national interest.

*Austerity – The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, published by New Internationalist. Pick up a copy now!

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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The great wage con is keeping you poor

minimum-wage-poverty

Is anyone else sick of employers bleating that the minimum wage is hindering their business?

They must think we’re all stupid.

A few of them were on the BBC’s Any Answers on Saturday, saying the minimum wage keeps pay down, and that people can’t afford to go to work – especially if they live in London – because their housing costs are paid by benefits. This is nonsense.

The minimum wage is exactly what it claims to be – a minimum. And if people aren’t getting up to work for it because benefits give them more, we can see that it is not enough.

But let’s take this further: We all know that Landlord Subsidy is being restricted – especially in London, where landlords charge more than in the rest of the country. This means that people on low incomes in rented homes will be unable to pay the bills and will be forced to move somewhere cheaper (if they can find it), as intended by our extreme right-wing government.

Where are all these minimum-wage employers going to find their minimum-wage workers then?

Even that isn’t the limit of it, though. We know from such sources as the summer’s excellent Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 that employers have found ways around the minimum wage.

  • They have taken people on as self-employed contractors who are paid a flat rate for a day’s work – no matter how long that work takes – and being self-employed, these people pay their own taxes and National Insurance, and get no time off for holidays or if they are ill.
  • They have taken on workers on part-time contracts, meaning reduced or non-existent holiday and sick pay entitlements – and then boosted up their hours to full-time levels with fake ‘overtime’ offers.
  • They have employed workers on zero-hours contracts, meaning they can demand an employee’s presence at any time and make them work for as long – or short – a period as required. Again, there are no tax administration obligations, NI, sickness or holiday benefits.

The result is very nice for a government of liars such as the current Westminster administration, because it seems they have managed to increase employment (in fact the last figures showed unemployment is greater than at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, but by such a small amount that it’s not worth mentioning).

Production, on the other hand, has remained flat. If more people are in work, it should have increased.

That is how we know we are looking at a con.

If more people are in work but production hasn’t gone up, we must question the incentive for this increased employment. It has already been mentioned: The lack of holiday and sick pay entitlement, National Insurance and tax admin obligations. The larger the employer, the larger the saving – but this doesn’t mean small firms aren’t feeling the benefit.

The minimum wage worker’s income is topped up by benefits – but the government is cutting these back. Landlord Subsidy in London won’t be enough for people on the kind of contracts described here to stay in their homes, and this means a consequent job loss if they have to move out of the area.

Tax credits are being removed; child benefit restricted. Universal Credit (if it ever works) will operate in real-time, adjusting benefits to ensure that low-paid workers remain in an income trap for as long as their wages remain below a certain level.

Employers reap the benefits. But even they are being conned, because this can’t last forever.

Imagine a Britain without in-work benefits but where the living wage has not been introduced nationwide (this will be a reality in a few years, under a Coalition or Conservative government). Workers on the self-employed, part-time or zero-hours contracts described here will not earn enough to survive.

Private debt will increase exponentially, leading to increased mental illness as the stress of trying to cope takes its toll on the workforce. Physical illness will increase as people cut back on heating in their homes and food in their fridges and larders. Result: malnourishment and disease.

What happens then? It’s hard to say. It may be that employers will take on increasing numbers of cheap foreign workers – but there is already resentment at the influx of immigrants from the European Union and this could lead to civil unrest.

It seems likely that the largest firms will leave these shores. If we compare them to huge parasites – and we can – then the host will have been drained almost dry and it will be time to move on and find another to treat the same way. These are the companies who have reaped huge rewards from tax avoidance, aided by the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – who have been writing – into British law – ways for them to get out of paying their share.

The smaller employers might keep going for a while or collapse; it depends how much their bosses save up for the inevitable crash. Deficit financing of their business will support them for a while but, if they don’t have any ideas, they’ll go under.

All because a few very greedy people just won’t pay a reasonable amount for a hard day’s work.

They get on the media, telling us they can’t afford higher wages. In that case, why are they even in business? If they need a workforce of a certain size, but cannot pay a living wage, then they simply should not bother. All they are doing, in the long run, is contributing to a monumental confidence trick that will cause immense harm to the economy and the nation’s health.

Of course, the UK did not always have in-work benefits. People used to be paid enough to make ends meet. We should be asking why that changed and who benefits. A return to that situation would benefit the country enormously – but it isn’t going to happen on the minimum wage, and it isn’t going to happen on zero-hours contracts.

It’s time to name these firms and ask bosses who employ on these terms why those contracts are necessary and why they feel justified in the damage they are causing.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to ask our MPs why they tolerate it, too.