Tag Archives: utilities

Tory leader contest: Let’s all remember what Conservatism does to us

The candidates in the Conservative Party leadership election have been launching their campaigns today – and I’m sure their speeches make a lot of sense if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool, blue-rinsed Tory.

By a curious coincidence, the following social media post floated across my screen today and I wanted to share it. It says:

“While you were so worried Socialism would take your freedoms, Capitalism stole your pension, took your savings, sent your jobs overseas, robbed you of health care, dismantled the educational system, and put you in debt, leaving you only your racism, xenophobia, hate, & guns.”

The reference to guns suggests it wasn’t originally written for the UK, but the other words are entirely accurate. I would substitute “Conservatism” for “Capitalism” and add that it also sold all your public utilities – water, electricity, gas and others – to foreign firms.

None of the candidates in the Conservative leadership race will reverse any of the disasters listed here. They will worsen them. Remember that, as this election campaign goes forward.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Lend Corbyn your nomination, Labour MPs – let’s have a REAL debate

Five-time Parliamentary 'Beard of the Year' - the likeable Jeremy Corbyn.

Five-time Parliamentary ‘Beard of the Year’ – the likeable Jeremy Corbyn.

If any of you have been struggling to work out whether you know anything at all about Jeremy Corbyn, you are not alone!

This Writer has also been at something of a loss with regard to his personality and achievements.

So let’s all be grateful to Owen Jones, who knows Mr Corbyn well, for scribbling a few details into his latest Guardian comment piece.

According to Owen, Mr Corbyn is:

  • The very antithesis of the negative caricature of an MP: he’s defined by his principles and beliefs, uninterested in personal self-advancement, and determined to use his platform to further the interests of people and causes that are otherwise ignored.
  • One of the most likable MPs – and a five-time winner of Parliamentary Beard of the Year.
  • A proponent of peace, a staunch internationalist (he was protesting against Saddam Hussein when the west was arming him), a fervent believer in workers’ rights, and an opponent of austerity whoever peddles it

Not only does he seem exactly what we’re looking for, he even seems to fit what people in this nation genuinely want, as Owen explains:

“According to the polls, millions of Britons support a living wage, a radical house building programme, public ownership of utilities and services and higher taxes on the rich… Given their widespread backing, these policies surely at least need a hearing in the leadership contest of the dominant, purportedly left-of-centre party in Britain.”

In conclusion, this blog can only echo the article’s final words:

“If Labour MPs deny the party and the country a genuine debate, it will reflect disastrously on them. It will do whoever emerges victorious no good, either. Labour has just suffered one of the worst defeats in its history. If the party doesn’t have the good sense to have a meaningful debate now, you might wonder why it doesn’t just pack up. So come on, Labour MPs. Put your future careers aside for party and national interest.

“Lend Corbyn a nomination, and let a real debate begin.”

Hear, hear.

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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This Royal Mail privatisation will harm us all

End of an institution: We can all wave goodbye to friendly Postman Pat; the new post-privatisation Royal Mail will be run according to strict for-profit rules and rural areas in particular are likely to suffer.

End of an institution: We can all wave goodbye to friendly Postman Pat; the new post-privatisation Royal Mail will be run according to strict for-profit rules and rural areas in particular are likely to suffer.

Is anybody happy that the Royal Mail is to be privatised?

Personally, I see no cause for celebration. Polls show that 70 per cent of the public are against privatisation – no matter which political party they support – and 96 per cent of the workforce don’t want it either, despite being offered shares in the new company. They’re not stupid. They know that workers in other privatised services have not been able to keep their shares. Will they be able to take the shares with them if they leave?

And what will happen to workforce terms and conditions?

Other people buying shares will have to pay at least £750 to get the smallest stake in the new company – that puts the sell-off well out of the reach of most people in these depressed times. It is a privatisation for financiers, lawyers and accountants. They won’t want to share the profit pot with staff – and profits are at a record high of £400 million per year.

Meanwhile, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government recently nationalised the Royal Mail’s pension fund obligations (its debt) so that taxpayers across the country will have to pay for it. The privatisation means any profits will go to those who can afford to buy the shares. This is bad business. Don’t these two political parties always claim they are the experts when it comes to money? It seems a strange claim to make in the light of such reckless endangerment of public funds.

What of the future? We have seen where privatisation leads, with the flotation of the railways, the energy and water companies on the stock exchange – shares have ended up in the hands of foreign multinationals who have pushed prices up and up, while providing ever-poorer services, and the companies concerned have continued to demand money from the government for any investment; this is because all the profits go to shareholders, who then feel justified in granting huge pay packets to their chief officers.

So the taxpayer continues shelling out for these so-called private utilities while the new owners have the time of their lives at our expense. The workers – and the service – suffer.

This is a change that will affect everyone. I hope everyone remembers who inflicted it on us, when they come to vote at the general election in 2015.

Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher – perhaps now we can put ThatcherISM to rest as well

The Iron Lady: This is probably the most iconic image of Margaret Thatcher from her tenure as Prime Minister of the UK. "The lady's not for turning," she warned. Unfortunately for Britain, she kept her word.

The Iron Lady: This is probably the most iconic image of Margaret Thatcher from her tenure as Prime Minister of the UK. “The lady’s not for turning,” she warned. Unfortunately for Britain, she kept her word.

It isn’t every day that a former Prime Minister dies – and even rarer that we witness the death of one who affected the UK in such a fundamental way as Baroness Thatcher.

As I write this, the outpouring of tributes and discussion of her achievements in the mass media are in full swing – mostly concentrating on what their editors would define as the ‘good’ she did for our country. Most of the TV channels and papers are run by right-wingers, of course – so you can expect them to be dripping with adulation.

However, as I commented on Facebook yesterday evening, street parties broke out in Brixton and Glasgow, celebrating her demise (I understand celebrations took place in Leeds and Liverpool, and possibly many other cities, towns and villages across the UK). They had bands, they have people handing out milk (remember, she was the ‘Milk Snatcher’ before she was PM), they were chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – dead, dead, dead” and popping champagne.

There was a humour – a sense of wit – about it, not only in what was going on (the milk, for example) but also the locations (there were riots in Brixton during her tenure, and Scotland was where the hated Poll Tax was piloted).

But I said it is also tragic “that a person should do so much harm in her life, and be so hated by the people she was elected to represent – more than 20 years after she left office – that her death is marked by spontaneous celebration and, literally, dancing in the streets”.

That comment thread has now been read by more than 15,000 people (usually I get one or two thousand through my Facebook door). A question I posted has received more than four times as many votes saying she harmed the country as say she improved it (47 – 11).

What DID she achieve?

According to Paul Krugman’s blog, it’s debatable whether she achieved anything, in terms of the economy.

“Thatcher came to power in 1979, and imposed a radical change in policy almost immediately,” he wrote. “But the big improvement in British performance doesn’t really show in the data until the mid-1990s. Does she get credit for a reward so long delayed?”

Good question. In fact, her two-and-a-half terms in office constituted an extremely rocky road for those of us who had to live through them (and I was one)! My opinion is that this is because she was not interested in improving Britain’s NATIONAL prosperity.

No – the Thatcher crusade was ideological. She wanted to thrust her form of Conservatism so far down everybody’s throat that it would take decades for any other way to be accepted – and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Let’s look at the policies that most clearly demonstrate this ideology.

She sold off Britain’s council houses. The cheap, rented social housing that accommodated those of us who earned the least were sold wholesale during her premiership – and not replaced. Mrs Thatcher is said to have had a dream to create a Britain full of homeowners. Sadly, this is not what happened. Instead, the majority of council houses were sold off to private landlords who then rented them out again – at higher cost. The lack of replacement council houses meant that the country’s poor had no alternative but to rent at the higher level, meaning they had less disposable income than before the sell-off. The rise of housing associations to fill the social housing gap has meant an extra layer of bureaucracy between the tenant and their elected representatives, who can now claim that any abuse of power by landlords is nothing to do with them.

She broke the unions. Some say this was vitally important, as the unions had become too powerful and were able to bring the country to its knees whenever they felt like it, calling strikes on a whim – and there is mileage in this. But it’s also possible to say that business bosses and members of the Thatcher government provoked confrontation in order to justify the erosion of union power – this is certainly true in the case of the mineworkers’ strike of 1984-5. There is an argument that National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor was paid millions of pounds to engineer the confrontation. The result was that the unions were stripped of many of their rights, meaning working people had nobody left to stand up for them in wage negotiations. It is a direct result of this that workers’ wages have risen by just 27 per cent over the last 30 years, while bosses’ salaries have multiplied by 800 per cent, and the gap between the country’s richest and poorest has grown, massively.

She stripped the UK of its manufacturing industries. What can be said about this? Thatcher saw much of Britain’s private industry as uneconomical, unprofitable. She oversaw a switch to service industries and finance – boosting this with bank deregulation. It is this move, which took place in the USA at around the same time, that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures which the current Coalition government is using to hammer the poorest in the modern UK.

She privatised national utilities. The share sell-offs were, on the face of it, intended to make it possible for every British citizen to buy shares in the companies that provided power, telecommunications, water and so on. In practice, the poorest couldn’t afford it, and those on middle incomes saw the shares as a short-term investment, believing they would be able to sell their shares on for many times the amount they paid, a few months later. This has led to the vast majority of shares in the privatised utilities falling into the hands of – you guessed it – the very, very rich. Another publicised intention of the sell-off was that, as private companies, these organisations would deliver a better service at a lower price. This was a fantasy; it never materialised. Look at British Rail (which I admit was privatised after Mrs Thatcher left office, but is a great example of the trend): Not only do users pay much more for their tickets now than when it was publicly-owned, but the subsidy paid to the private rail companies by the government has multiplied massively as well. Result: Rich shareholders become very much richer. Poor users struggle to cope with rising prices.

Can you spot the trend here?

She changed taxation to make the poor pay more. I refer, of course, to the infamous Poll Tax. Mrs Thatcher claimed in 1989 that a flat-rate tax for local services – with everybody, rich or poor, paying the same amount – was fairer. The public – who had already been fooled by the council housing sell-off, the public utility sell-off and the breaking of the unions, and were therefore sick of being hoodwinked – claimed otherwise and refused to pay. The public won and Mrs Thatcher was consigned to the waste basket of politics soon after. The current Coalition government is working hard to ensure that this policy is carried out, with the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – the council tax support scheme that ensures everybody pays council tax. Meanwhile, efforts to ensure the rich pay less are going ahead, with Corporation Tax cut by a quarter during the lifetime of this Parliament, and the ‘Millionaires’ Tax Break’ cutting the top rate of Income Tax from 50p in the pound to 45p.

She kept Britain out of the Euro (or more accurately, European Monetary Union). This was her one sensible policy, history has proved. There is much to be said in favour of a free-trading zone where countries can trade amongst themselves at favourable rates – but monetary union cannot be a workable part of that, when the countries involved are at hugely varying stages of development. Mrs Thatcher was right to oppose it and the fact that the UK is not mired in the current Eurozone crisis, except as a member of the EU with trading interests to protect, is to her credit.

By now, dear reader, you are probably wondering how Mrs Thatcher lasted so long, if her policies were all so divisive, and so clearly trained on impoverishing the lower classes. The answer is simple: She was excellent at public relations. The fact that she was the UK’s first-ever female Prime Minister was a huge publicity boost for her, and she built on it by nurturing an image of herself as ‘The Iron Lady’ – a Prime Minister of firm convictions who knew that what she was doing was absolutely right for Britain (“Right for the goolies of Britain,” as Graeme Garden joked on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue at the time). The PR-reliance was clear from the start – the Conservative Party hired the Saatchi & Saatchi agency to run its 1979, 1983 and 1987 election campaigns. It is notable that this partnership dissolved during the 87 campaign and Thatcher’s premiership ran out of steam shortly afterwards.

To sum up, I’ll leave you with the comment I placed on the New York Times website, in response to that paper’s piece about Mrs Thatcher’s death:

“Having lived through the Thatcher years and the changes her government perpetrated on British society, allow me to assure you that there is little reason to heap praise upon her.

“The entire thrust of her thinking was to ensure that the rich and powerful became richer and more powerful, and the poor – especially those with intelligence and/or ability – would be denied any chance of prosperity or success.

“What’s the American Dream all about? Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Everybody created equal, with opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth?  The Thatcher government is a rejection of all those aspirations, as is the current Cameron government, which is its natural successor.

“The Thatcher government deprived people of their liberty by creating a large underclass of unemployed people and using the threat of unemployment to depress workers’ wages.

“As a result, they did not have the disposable funds to take advantage of the sell-offs of national utilities such as British Gas and British Telecom.

“She sold social housing but did not build any to replace it.

“She used the police as a tool of political repression, rather than as guardians of the law.

“She used taxation in a similar manner, crippling the poor with punitive measures such as the hated Poll Tax – a flat-rate charge, effectively a tax cut for the rich, but a huge tax hike for the poor.

“That was her fatal error, of course.”

Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher. Hopefully your passing will trigger a reassessment of your career, so that we can all move on from the political nightmare your policies created for the vast majority of middle- and working-class people whose only political mistake lay in entrusting their future to you.