Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Another attack on public housing

Pay to StDSCF1131ay seems to be the latest attack on tenants of public housing in the UK. Proposals by David Cameron (left) and his Conservative Government to force tenants who earn more than £30K to pay market rents is the latest attack on ordinary people. The effect is thought to result in many more people being priced out of accommodation, particularly in London and other increasingly expensive urban centres. This comes on top of the forced sale of the most valuable council houses, right to buy against housing associations, and the end of permanent tenancies.

Let us unpick the argument. According to advocates of this proposal, people earning over £30K are being subsidised by the poorer tenants. The Department for Communities and Local Government has argued that in some cases these so-called high earners are being subsidised to the tune of £3,500 per year (the difference between what they pay in social housing vis-a-vis private-sector rents). Essentially those under the threshold have nothing to fear.

£30K can rarely be seen as high earning. For example, the sum may be a household aggregate. Two people  may be working full-time togoogle make the £30K. If they are additionally parents, I suspect, £30K does not go far. To have the ‘aspiration’ (a word we heard a lot of from David Cameron and his campaign guru, Lynton Crosby) during the election campaign) to earn more than £30K may be punished by homelessness. People paying different sums depending on their incomes is fairer, goes the Government argument. Fairer to the extent that these people will then end up subsidising Google.

Model of David Cameron: Holly MacDonald

A bit rich coming from Lynton Crosby

Lynton_Crosby_Political_Strategist

So, according to Lynton Crosby, the architect of the Conservative’s 2015 election campaign, the Labour Party demonstrates an arrogance in the Beckett Report into the causes of the election defeat. Let us get this straight, Crosby said at a rare lecture for the Centre for Opposition Studies last week: “They [the voters] weren’t saying that Labour overspending caused the failure of the global financial system. What they were saying is that Labour overspending meant Britain wasn’t well equipped when the financial crisis hit.” In addition he said, “[t]he point is, the voters have spoken and they have made their judgment – not once but twice – and in a democracy their view is the most important”.

First of all, the Conservatives did not win the election in 2010. They governed in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Second – and I am no apologist for a reprehensible Labour Government – when the financial crisis hit, the Labour Government bailed out a series of rotten banks that deposited a huge “debt” on the country’s balance sheet. It was the Labour Party that had the gumption to rescue these banks (and probWrecking ballably the British banking system more generally) from collapse. The head of the Government at that time was the long-serving former Chancellor, Gordon Brown, regarded even by Conservatives as competent. The Cancellor was Alistair Darling. That took quite a bit of courage and the state of the public finances before the crash which – let us be reminded, no one predicted – is seemingly irrelevant. Moreover, even if his statement is correct, it is a myth that the public finances are in such a parlous state. The debt is manageable, it does not in itself warrant wholesale budget slashing and the contraction of the state. That is the ideological response – an opportunity to privatise the public sector.

PocketFinally, the Labour Party does not need lessons from a man who mis-informed and lied his party to victory.  Crosby’s character assassination of the Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, represented a new low in negative politics. Readers may recall, Michael Fallon, the Conservative Defence Secretary is quoted as saying 10 days before the election “Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister.” That was Crosby at his mendacious worst. And maybe we may not see a Labour government in the foreseeable future because decent and honourable politicians do not stoop that low. Näive, I know.

Should I admire Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Mhairi_BlackLast week I was driving to work listening to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Jenny Murray, the programme’s avuncular anchor, was interviewing the 21 year old Scottish MP, Mhairi Black (left). It was a general discussion about policy, life, MPing, etc. She made her maiden speech in parliament on 14 July 2015 and was roundly lauded for it, despite having broken the protocol that maiden speeches should be largely apolitical.

It transpires, however, that Ms Black is an admirer of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset. This is not someone that is at the top of one’s list for admiration. I find him extremely divisive and not a little annoying. But listening to the interview a seed of doubt was implanted in my brain. Ms Black said that although she fundamentally disagreed with him he was a) very polite to her and b) articulate such that he would always give a reason for his position (something which I would have thought was true of all MPs, but seemingly not).

Oh dear! Should I now reconsider my feelings towards Mr Rees-Mogg (below right)? Fortunately, to the rescue, came today’s edition of the Radio 4 Sunday morning magazine programme, Broadcasting House, for which he was a guest newspaper reviewer (along with former Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Hon_Jacob_Rees-Mogg_MPShelagh Fogerty, a radio presenter in London). They were discussing privatisation, and in particular the privatisation of Channel 4 Television. Cable argued that privatisation would undermine its public service ethos, particularly its flagship news programme, Channel 4 News.

And so Mr Rees-Mogg did what he does best, plausibly lie. First, he said that there are many private-sector news outlets that have high journalistic integrity. Hence Cable’s argument was not valid. He must have been thinking about Sky News and the integrity of Rupert Murdoch’s unimpeachable global news empire. He then went on to say that there should be a management buy-out; seemingly the best of both worlds, a privatised broadcaster with the existing management’s public service broadcasting ethos.

Now I have spent a good part of my life studying privatisation (UK bus and rail industry). In both of these cases, management buy-outs were seen as good options. Many of the former national bus company regional operators were transferred to the private sector by means of management buy-outs. The same is true of railway franchises. But where are they now? The bus and rail industries in the UK are dominated by large – increasingly international – conglomerates. One of the exemplar management buy-outs in the rail industry, Chiltern Railways (operating trains out of London’s Marylebone Station) held out for 6 years before finally succumbing to corporate ownership. It is currently owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway operator. A few bus companies still hold out. In my home town of Hull, East Yorkshire Motor Services remains stubbornly independent. I cannot think of many more.

The point is Mr Rees-Mogg, management buy-outs are simply a means for corporations to access strategic assets at probably a little more than they were originally purchased by incumbent managements. The best way to protect strategic assets from corporations – if this is a desirable objective – is to keep them publicly owned. In this I include housing (wholesale transfer of public housing and right to buy). Mr Rees-Mogg is deliberately specious. He needed to be challenged on his plausibility. He was unfortunately deemed to be presenting a plausible argument. Speciousness is a deeply unadmirable trait.

Pics: Mhairi Black – SNP (through Wikipedia)

Jacob Rees-Mogg – LadyGeekTVFlickr

Pessimism: not my usual state of mind

220px-Hilary_BennI’ve noted the names of all of the Labour MPs who voted to bomb Syria in the recent vote. Hilary Benn (left) in particular is a disgrace and clearly short of rhetorical intelligence. As Simon Jenkins, the Guardian columnist noted after the debate, those who invoke Hitler (as Benn did) to argue for war need to think through their nonsense. ISIS, notes Jenkins, is not a threat to UK sovereign territory, unlike the UK in 1939. Moreover, we are in “dodgy dossier” territory here. The dodgy dossier was used by Tony Blair to make the “case” for war in Iraq in 2003 claiming weapons of mass destruction.

Human folly knows no bounds. The discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming heralded the era of antibiotics and the ability to treat many serious diseases such as Tuberculosis and syphilis. This is humanity at its most creative. But their effectiveness always depended on their irregular use. Essentially, show the micro-organisms antibiotics too often and they will find a way to be resistant. Humans, however, cannot seem to use finite resources appropriately. Doctors seem to over-prescribe; patients seem not to take a necessary whole course of treatment. But most stupidly, they are given to animals not to protect them against disease; i.e. for their welfare, rather to enable intensive farming to be possible. Seemingly the antibiotic of last resort, Colistin, has now been found to be ineffective against Enterobacteriaceae, a nasty little microbe that causes pneumonia, amongst other things. This might be a  high price to pay for cheap meat. The challenges are, however, even greater.

Some of the public figures I most admire are those that have eschewed gongs – honours bestowed upon subjects ofLynton_Crosby_Political_Strategist the Queen for good work. Musician, David Bowie, playwright Alan Bennett, artist L.S. Lowry (won award for the most times rejected) and scientist Michael Farraday are notable declinees. But the list is impressive and honourable. This year’s list of gongees, as I might call them, include Lynton Crosby (right), the architect of the Conservative Party’s “victory” in the General Election in May 2015. Crosby’s campaign was an abomination. One in which blatant lies were used against the opposition and David Cameron’s refusal to debate head-to-head with David Miliband. These are not services worthy of a Knighthood, even if I believed in them.

Enough. Happy new year to my readers. Thank you.

Pics:

Hilary Benn – http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/website/copyright/

Lynton Crosby – Cobber27 Wikipedia

Bombing Syria

François_Hollande_26_avril_2015I was sickened by the attacks in Paris. As a regular attender at gigs, I can only imagine the terror of a gunman in a dark confined space, let alone two gunmen. Paris is special.

France’s President Hollande (left), however, is not. I sense that he is using this opportunity to reinvent himself as a statesman, he doing not so well on the being President gig. He seems now to strut around inspecting his troops and embracing photo-opportunities with the scenes of terror as a backdrop. Oh, and bombing Raqqa in Syria, the Capital of the Islamic State, the perpetrator of the atrocity.

Whilst Raqqa may be the Capital, it is also a city full of civilians, many living under occupation. Any attack will have civilian casualties. But for President Hollande it does seem now that they are dispensable in the pursuit of his statesmanship. For goodness sake, the perpetrators of the atrocities were French nationals living in Belgium! Arguably, the attacks should have been prevented as there seems to be plenty of evidence that the perpetrators were known to the authorities. Warnings had been issued. They were not acted upon. That is not to excuse them, but we spend a lot of money on the security services and have – and will continue to – voluntarily concede civil liberties in order for these individuals to be monitored.

IS is of our own making. The US/UK illegitimate invasion of Iraq is one component. Our continued support for Saudi Arabia, arguably the source of the IS-statehood – a variation of Wahabi-ism – where beheadings are legitimate forms of punishment and the subjugation of women institutionalised, is another.

And then there is the ally of the French across the Channel, the UK, with its very own statesman pretender, David Cameron. Now, it seems, it is timeGuardian_graphic for him to push ahead with his much-heralded desire to bomb Syria. He argues that we, the British, are already bombing Iraq and the Syrian border at the moment is a bit nebulous (see chart, right). It is not really respected by IS and Assad is a bit holed up in Damascus to do much about any incursions. That is until the Turks blow out of the sky a Russian fighter and film the pilot being being shot at as he descends with a parachute. Spend 17 seconds over Turkey without an invitation and boom!

I can only hope that the UK Labour Party MPs do not accede to Cameron’s war mongering. I fear that they will. We seem not to learn the lessons of history – both near and far.

Picture of President Hollande: Claude Truong-Ngoc, Wikipedia

Graphic: Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/nov/26/david-cameron-persuading-labour-mps-back-syria-airstrikes

Increasingly undemocratic

Jeremy_Corbyn_Global_Justice_NowSome regular readers of this blog have expressed a disappointment over the lack of political content in recent months. To paraphrase, “I do not care about your tandem tour or cigarette advertising, but I do like to read what you think about…Jeremy Corbyn (left) or whoever/whatever”. Like a few of my peers, since the UK General Election in May, it has been quite difficult to muster much in the way of enthusiasm for writing about politics in the knowledge that a significant minority of the population voted for a bunch of lying, thieving and privileged men (largely) to run (down) the country, destroy the trade unions and the Labour Party and oppress working people.

What Cameron said about Jeremy Corbyn at the Tory Party conference earlier this month was outrageous slander. It is true that Corbyn was elected the leader of the Labour Party against all of the odds and in spite of the best efforts of the Tory-lite brigade within the party and their media friends. It is refreshing to hear a leading politician publicly renounce the use of nuclear weapons, expose the lie of the deficit, decline to sing the national anthem and bow before the queen.

Let’s just deal with the national anthem and patriotism. I regard myself as being fiercely patriotic without being nationalistic. I do not sing the national anthem, even at the Proms of which I am passionate.  However, as a republican atheist, it is quite difficult to retain authenticity if one starts singing “God Save the Queen”. Surely? Corbyn was respectful at the Battle of Britain memorial service. He just did not sing the words. Moreover, if one listens to national anthems the world over, mostly they say something about the country, its people, the landscape, etc. The British National Anthem says nothing about these things. It is unsingable for any rational patriot.

Another thing that defines Corbyn is his commitment to democracy. OK, sometimes leadership is necessary, and merely listening might not be enough. The Conservative Government realise that their programme cannot be taken through the UK parliament and be ratified. There is simply not enough support for the programme in both houses. So what does the Government do? Find a way of not taking policy through normal channels, that’s what. For example, there is a law against new selective grammar schools in the UK. They are regressive and favour the already privileged children of middle- and upper-class parents. So instead of trying to get the legislation through parliament – which the Government knows is impossible – it sanctions the establishment of a new school as an annex of an existing school some 20km away, claiming that it is not a new school.

Then there is the issue about sale of social housing units – housing association properties to you and me. Notwithstanding the fact that attempts to sell off social housing stock at a discount is a bad idea as it transfers much needed affordable housing into the private sector funded by us, the taxpayer, to benefit private landlord (this is what happened with the sale of council houses in the 1980s). Additionally, Housing Associations are separate entities from the state and government. The houses are not the Government’s to sell. Yet. Again, knowing that it cannot get this measure through the Parliament, what has the Government done? Well, it has negotiated withNat_Fed_logo_1.png the National Housing Federation an extra-parliamentary deal. According to the Guardian newspaper “Housing association leaders believe a voluntary deal will guarantee their independence as charities and private housing providers, and head off a full-scale battle with government, which has been critical in recent weeks of association performance and efficiency.” In other words, taking on the Government would undermine charitable status, a central plank of their identity and constitution. Essentially, they would then just become private companies, like any other. Or more likely public assets and available for sale. Fortunately, some Associations are resisting this bullying. Overwhelmingly.

Picture: Jeremy Corbyn by JMiall, Wikipedia

Fracking as a metaphor

HydroFracI was reading in the Guardian newspaper an article by comedy screenwriter Ian Martin (In the Thick of It) about how we are all being fracked as corporations find new ways of extracting more and more from us in pursuit of profit. Fracking, for those unfamiliar with the process, is the extraction of gas from rocks by using high pressure jets underground to break them up to the release the gas. Firms that are seeking licences to do this on a commercial scale are experiencing serious opposition from local people, not least because of the likelihood of toxic chemicals contaminating water courses and hence threatening human health (see graphic above left).

Moreover, the Murdoch newspapers take the position that that fracking is some sort of panacea – cheap, plentiful energy, produced locally and not subject to the whim of international diplomacy. Russia, for example.

I had not really thought of a metaphor of blasting rocks with  high pressure jets. Fracketeering, as Martin calls it. So how are we being fracked? Here are a couple of examples from the article:

  • estate agents’ “client progression fees”, where the buyer has to pay the estate agent to make the offer to the seller, even though the seller has already paid for this “service”;
  • admin fees paid on online transactions – such as concert tickets – where the marginal cost is near to zero and where we, the customer, have already spent 20 minutes of our valuable time getting to the screen that tells us that we will have to pay for the privilege of paying (for our tickets).

Here are some that I am subject to, seemingly.

  • In order to get online with my internet provider, I have to have a phone line that I do not need or want. The phone line costs the same as the broadband. No phone, no Broadband.
  • paying to upload to this blog pictures of an illuminated Eiffel Tower that I took with my own camera;
  • not being able to roll over digital credit from one month to the next on my dongle. Have I bought my 3Gb or not? Why can I not pay again when I have used it?

Graphic: “HydroFrac” by Mikenorton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HydroFrac.png#/media/File:HydroFrac.png

Journalists reporting on Greece

I was relatively late to the world of Twitter as a source of news. Naturally, one needs to follow a few journalists as well as informed individuals and institutions in order fully to appreciate its special immediacy. When it comes economics, I follow, amongst others, Paul Mason from Channel 4 TV in the UK and Simon Nixon from the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London. What these two journalists have in common is a passion for Greece and for reporting on the nature of the current Greek crisis and potential – though unknowable – solutions.

Paul MasonMason has taken to vlogging on a daily basis, usually from a cafe with an ATM in view of himself and/or the camera (left). He’s reflective and tries desperately to understand and articulate what is going on and what is needed from both sides to, at least temporarily, avert a potential conflagration across the Eurozone and Europe more generally. It seems to me that his tolerance of the Greek government and its leadership is based on its democratic legitimacy, the flawed logic of austerity as a means to economic growth and, perhaps, the sense that this crisis does have the potential to bring about a change in the global system of sovereign debt relief that, largely, benefits rich countries at the expense of the poor. He is not anti-capitalism.

By contrast, Nixon, is a conservative steeped in the belief in the legitimacy of the global system as it is. The crisis in Greece seems to have brought out worst in him. The tweet below, for example, demonstrates his belief in his own ability to diagnose the problem; namely, Syriza, and Yanis Varoufakis particularly.

So, for Nixon, there seems to be little recognition of any culpability for the previous, seemingly corrupt, Greek governments; the Euro project itself; the EU or monetarism. Only Syriza. My Twitter feed was overwhelmed on Tuesday evening with Nixon’s tweets from the “yes” demonstration in Athens. Whilst it was impressive, it is not surprising that there is a polarisation of opinion and that people take to the streets to express it. It does not make it right or viable. Ultimately we do not know. We cannot know.

Twitter, however, remains the most immediate way of following fast-moving stories.

Grexit

Tspiras_28_6_15When I was at university back in the 80s, I took a course entitled Political Sociology. Essentially it was a study of power. The core text was Stewart Clegg’s Frameworks of Power, an extremely difficult text (for an undergraduate), but every week ahead of the seminars, a chapter was consumed and prepared to present.

Clegg introduced me to the concept of Organisational Outflanking. This post is a partial celebration of this concept and a very good example of its employment. Say what we might about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister (above left), he is a fine exponent of the art. It does not matter how poor is the hand that one is dealt, it is still possible to outflank opponents by doing something unexpected. Tsipras announcing a referendum in the home of democracy was a master stroke. The creditors (the EU, the IMF and the ECB – the so-called Troika) were not expecting that. It took a little while for a response, the best indicator of a successful outflanking, as it were.

In writing this, I risk the wrath of Greek friends and colleagues who are being hurt by this crisis. Let us not forget that the crisis that we continue to try to deal with was caused by the banking sector, not the people of Greece. Moreover, Greece’s continued membership of the Euro was managed – conceivably fraudulently – by the banking sector for its own ends. That wonderful banking institution Goldman Sachs made a lot of money out of helping the then Greek Government to hide the true extent of the deficit in contravention of the Maastricht Treaty.

Locking poorer members of the European Union into a currency regime managed from the heart of Europe’s strongest economy, Germany, is a nonsense. When the going gets tough, countries devalue their currencies to render products and services cheaper. Without that lever, what other options are available to Governments? Erm…asking the Troika for money to pay back the Troika and the transfer of state assets, healthcare provision, etc.? 50 per cent unemployment of young people is but one unacceptable consequence of this.

I’m glad to see that Nobel Prizewinning economist, Paul Krugman, reported in Business Insider seems to have come out in support of Tsipras. Summed up in a nutshell:

“Over the past seven years, Krugman argues, the financial noose Europe has placed around Greece’s neck has strangled the Greek economy. Each time Europe has loaned Greece money, it has demanded spending cuts in return. And these spending cuts — austerity — have further damaged the Greek economy.

In the past, every time the situation has come to a head, Greece has caved. And, in the process, it has transformed itself into little more than a financial slave state mired in an economic depression.

There is no way Greece will ever be able to cut its way to prosperity, Krugman argues. And history suggests that any argument to the contrary is crazy.

Given that Europe refuses to restructure Greece’s debt in a sustainable way and allow the country to try to grow its way out of its misery, Greece has no choice but to default and withdraw.”

It is going to be tough with the banks closed. It is not just the people at the ATMs, but the economy more generally.2015-06-29 10.12.07 The whole point about banks is they deal the means of exchange of value; i.e. money. And when they are shut, this becomes very difficult. In response, we either find other stores of value such as gold (or as happened in Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, the leaf) or we merely exchange things on the basis of a perceived equivalence.

The outcome – either the Troika gets real and accepts that we are dealing with real people and not inanimate institutions, or Greece goes it alone. It has been done before. But if that happens, Europe has to take a close look at itself.

By contrast:

The Confederate flag

Confederate_Rebel_FlagBen Hallman in the Huffington Post notes that “[t]he Confederacy was the most vile and harmful political invention in United States history. It was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people, and that they should be ruthlessly exploited to the benefit of their white masters. More Americans died in the bloodletting that followed than in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.”

I was bemused to learn that the flag still flies legally on State Government land in Columbia, South Carolina. Even more that the president of the USA cannot intervene and get it down (and outlawed). It like the Berlin Government flying the Swastika over its government buildings.

Ben Hallman’s article can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/pr6yxjg

Flag: William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) – Wikipedia

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