Tory councils cut services as demand surges

More and more working people are having to use more and more public services as the capitalist economy crumbles. Unemployment is in the millions, underemployment too.

Unlike the bankers and big businessmen, we can’t afford to hire financial advisers and accountants to help us deal with our problems, and if we lose the roof over our heads, we’re out on the street or a friend’s sofa – we can’t swan off to our second, third, or fourth home…

We need advice on housing and benefits, provided by local councils.

Unlike the bankers and big businessmen, we don’t have yachts or our own island to retreat to when we want to relax.

We might take a walk in the park, lend some books from the library, or visit the leisure centre to use the gym or have a swim in the pool – all provided by local councils.

Across England, Tory councils are preparing to slash spending, just when working people need help the most. Instead of boosting employment, Tory councils are ready to add to the dole queues. (But this won’t mean cuts in taxes – in fact, they’ll have to go up to help bailout bankers!)

Rather than expell these wreckers for the chaos they are planning, the Tory leadership in parliament is watching these councils and using their examples to draw up spending cuts top implement if they form the next government.

Yesterday the shadow chancellor, George Osbourne, claimed the Tories were a “progressive” party. Lord Mandelson responded by claiming this was laughable. Truly, this was two bald men fighting over a comb…

How to get credit flowing? Nationalise the banking sector, say Tories

(Only kidding about the Tories bit! The rest of it is true, but please, stay with me…)

Wonko, for one, is not happy. No wonder: Paul Mason noted that on Friday

Wrekin Construction – a business with £50m of orders reportedly on its books – went into administration. It told the press that RBS had refused to extend an overdraft: it needed £3m. Now 600 civil engineering and railway construction jobs are at risk – and we’re supposed to be in the middle of a government-driven civil engineering boom.

It was partly Paul Mason’s insightful post that made me pen the following comment atDuncan’s Economic blog

Arguably the best way to get credit flowing again is for the banks to be nationalised. I think this worked in Sweden quite well and here’s why:

Commercial decisions will still be made on who to lend to and at what cost to the lender – but public ownership will get around the one big obstacle, which is that the people running banks are looking to provide returns to the owners and so make decisions on lending in a different way. Instead of being cautious about lending because they are mindful that their job is to give a return to investors, they will be more eager to lend, but nonetheless mindful of risks, etc. We can see the government has reversed its previous policy with Northern Rock.

With public ownership it’s not about the sectional interest of shareholders (or even, the government as shareholder) but about the interest of the whole of our economy in the long term – ensuring that productive enterprises get the financing they need.

The big problem with all of this will be the EU’s rules on these matters. Sweden’s banking crisis and it’s recovery happened prior to the country becoming a member of the European Union. The political right likes to paint the EU as some kind of warmed-up Soviet Union, but in fact EU institutions would probably oppose nationalisation of the private banking sector on several grounds (competition rules, the rights of shareholders, etc.).

Now, it’s the kind of measure that might need EU approval, and might take a damaging length of time (look at the govt assistance to our car manufacturers – it was held up while the European Commission vetted it). But the government will have to be tough and say it will take the consequences from the Commission.

As to the future ownership in the banking sector, I think we would be wise to learn the lessons of this crisis: the shareholder-as-owner has proven dangerous.

Which financial institutions have been responsible and have not needed public money to bail them out? The building societies, owned by their customers: no one expects from building societies anything other than boring banking – no financial wizardry. Indeed, many of the failed institutions were once owned by their customers – Bradford and Bingley, Halifax, Northern Rock, etc.

As a customer and member of a building society, I don’t ask much more than a good service, either as a lender or saver; I certainly don’t demand of the people running it that they come up with more ways of making money. Now it might be argued that this kind of old-fashioned high-street banking doesn’t apply to the financing of bigger businesses – but my question would be, why not?

Govt response to recession’s mental health crisis is all talk

No, really. Talking therapy.

As the UK economy slides further into recession, the prospect of millions out of work is putting pressure on individuals and families. Health secretary Alan Johnson and the minister for work and pensions James Purnell have announced more funding for mental health services to assist those made redundant by the economic crisis.

But what help is “cognitive-behavioral therapy”? Is it just a way of pacifying people who will be angry and upset that their hopes of prosperity are being ruined by the chaos of the capitalist system?

CBT encourages people to think about what they can do as individuals to improve their situation. Obviously, New Labour types like Johnson and Purnell would not naturally be promoting a therapy that encouraged people to look at how they can collectively overcome social problems – nor acting to prevent a mental health crisis by intervening in the economy to defend workers – but surely the failure of market fundamentalism to deliver “an end to boom and bust” should encourage politicians to think outside the box…

The Mental Health Foundation is calling on the government to treat the mental health epidemic caused by the recession as a public health issue:

The growing gap between rich and poor has caused a “social recession,” leading to low educational achievement, increased violence and poor community cohesion [...]

The Foundation warns that “perpetual stress” and depression linked to public concern over excessive earnings has led to widespread social and health problems.

Radical shift

The charity’s report, Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities, calls for a “radical shift” in understanding mental health as a public health issue, citing research from around the world that shows that affluent but unequal societies can have many problems.

It also recommends assessing all future public policy for its impact on people’s mental health.

Social problems

The report’s author, Dr Lynne Friedli, said individual and collective mental health and well-being depended on reducing the gap between rich and poor.

“A large divide leads to a mentally unhealthy society, and many associated social problems. In the UK in particular, we’ve failed to acknowledge this link, preferring instead to blame the health and social conditions of those living on or near the poverty line on their own lifestyle choices. This in turn further stigmatises poverty, making disadvantage even harder to overcome,” she added.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said living with inequality had “very real effects on the mind and body,” adding: “Given the huge social costs of poor mental health, it’s vital we begin to treat it as a public health priority.”

A bonus question: are you having a laugh?

As David Cameron urges us to have faith in the capitalists who have ruined our economy, Mark Steel squeezes a few laughs out of the sorry affair of greed and corruption:

The real point about a minister saying this is the worst economic crisis for 100 years, is it shows they haven’t got a clue. That figure was plucked out of nowhere, unless there was a really dreadful crisis in 1909 that no one ever noticed before. Maybe the minister’s just seen Mary Poppins, and the scene where the bank goes bust, he thinks is footage of a real financial crash.

So his next statement to Parliament will be “In order to steady the financial markets we are proposing tuppence tuppence tuppence a bag, feed the birds, tuppence a bag. THAT is the sound economic sense that can rescue our banks, rather than the ill-thought-out soundbites from the party opposite.”

Why not say it’s the worst for 2,000 years, when the great crash of 9AD was caused by the gross overvaluation of aqueducts? Or the worst for 65 million years, when the Jurassic currency disaster led to bankers throwing themselves from the top of brontosaureses, followed by the eventual disappearance of all dinosaurs, despite the Prime Minister having boasted: “We have finally put an end to the cycle of evolution and extinction.”

Next week a minister will announce that the Bank of England has revised its forecasts, and instead of the crisis getting as bad as diarrhoea, as it first thought, it now expects it could be as bad as gastroenteritis, and the IMF believe it could even reach the point where it’s like one of those days when it’s coming out of both ends at once. But with careful fiscal handling this should be easing by the last quarter of 2010.

You have to admire the front of these ministers for saying anything at all about what’s happening, given they insisted for years there would never ever again ever be a cycle of boom and bust.

Similarly an army of experts assured us on a daily basis that this boom couldn’t possibly crash like previous booms because this boom was still going on whereas all previous ones had ended, and previous booms were founded on a manic belief that wealth could go up and up without any basis in reality, whereas this one was built on the sound footing that everything really is somehow suddenly worth twice as much so TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN RIGHT NOW IT CAN’T EVER STOP!!!

For example, one of the bankers questioned yesterday said it was “not possible to envisage” the banking crash. But in every office, every pub, every launderette, there were people who managed to envisage exactly that. If Gordon Brown had got them to write his chancellor’s speech, so that it went: “The bubble’s got to burst sometime. I mean, you can’t base an economy on pretending everything’s doubled in value, and who’s going to pay for these bankers’ bonuses – WE are, that’s who. I commend this budget to the House,” he might not be in his present trouble.

Instead the people who couldn’t possibly envisage what was obvious are allowed to carry on. To be fair, ministers have expressed their annoyance at the bankers’ bonus system, so presumably there will now be a series of adverts in which a furtive banker buys a boat, while the camera zooms in to his sweaty face and a voice says: “Banking cheats – we’re closing in.”

One answer may be a review of how this bonus system came about. As if the Government’s making out it’s only just heard about it and they’re as outraged as everyone else. Maybe Brown will make a statement to the nation in which he says: “HOW much do they pay themselves? Well no WONDER we’re in a pickle, you just wait ’til I get my hands on them.”

But New Labour urged and encouraged every aspect of this corporate avarice. It was defined from the beginning by characters like Mandelson making speeches such as: “In the modern Labour Party we are relaxed about those who express an insatiable and pathological desire for self-enrichment at the expense of our fellow man that borders on the truly evil.”

They grovelled to every banker, and now they want to set up a review to see how that happened. If only Karen Matthews had thought about it, she could have said: “Instead of going to jail, why don’t I set up a review to see how I kidnapped my own daughter,” and got herself six months’ work.

Peter Taafe continues on this theme in the latest edition of The Socialist:

When John ‘Two-Jags’ Prescott – a willing participant in the New Labour project that spawned these financial creatures – inveighs against the bankers and calls for a public campaign against the proposed bonus payouts of £1 billion at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), it indicates the mass rage on this issue.

Prescott even mentioned the ‘C word': “This is raw capitalism and this country rejects it”! Correct! But didn’t he serve in the government alongside Gordon Brown and Tony Blair which supported and did everything to strengthen neo-liberal “raw capitalism”?

When questioned on Newsnight, he wasn’t able to answer the accusation that it was him and his government that helped to create this situation. They promoted ‘performance related pay’, though for the bankers with the perversion that no satisfactory performance was even necessary.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, pointed out that following the bursting of the ‘South Sea Bubble’ speculation in 1720, a parliamentary resolution proposed that bankers be tied up in sacks filled with snakes and thrown into the river Thames!

However it is guaranteed that the parliamentary committee that is ‘interrogating’ bankers this week will be full of ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’.

Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown are intending, under the enormous pressure that has built up, to introduce some curbs. But so far they have not even proposed what Barack Obama has suggested for the US, a ‘cap’ of $500,000 on the pay of what he has correctly described as the “shameful” US banking fraternity who want federal bailouts.

Economic abyss

In fact, the proposal is $500,000 too much. The overwhelming majority of the American people on the edge of an economic abyss clearly believe they shouldn’t get a cent.

In reality, all capitalist politicians are only proposing minimal action because of the public clamour against the greedy bankers. Obama remains firmly within the framework of the capitalist system; “we do not disparage wealth” (of the rich) he has said.

Their dilemma was summed up by Barney Frank, the chairperson of the US House of Representatives Finance Committee, who said of America’s bankers: “People really hate you. And they are starting to hate us because we have been hanging out with you. You’ve got to help us deal with that”.

The argument that RBS, which has received £20 billion from us, the ‘taxpayers’, ie the working and middle classes, must pay at least £500 million in bonuses because of “contractual obligations” is completely spurious.

This in a week when The Guardian has revealed that so-called ‘British’ companies, including banks like Barclays, use tax avoidance schemes to prevent payment of anything between £3.7 billion to £13 billion to HM Revenue and Customs.

Prescott also correctly stated that “these bankers would have been on the dole” if RBS had been allowed to go to the wall. He fulminated: “No ifs, no buts, don’t pay the bonuses”.

Amen, says every worker and middle-class person in Britain facing the burden of this crisis. The problem is how to carry out Prescott’s laudable aims. The government is once more merely proposing a delaying mechanism, another “review”.

Headed by a failed banker

Moreover, this is to be headed by a failed banker from the tottering investment bank Morgan Stanley, who himself has taken multi-million pound bonuses – a classic case of the proverbial “poacher turned (tame) gamekeeper”.

Neither Prescott nor the MPs on the House of Commons committee foresaw the pernicious effect of the work of the financial plutocrats and the breathtaking arrogance of them daring to suggest that they continue to profit from their past misdeeds.

But socialists and Marxists did. Tommy Sheridan, for instance, when Brown himself knighted Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, declared: “It’s an absolute outrage that this man is to receive a knighthood for ‘services to the community’ when all the community has received from him is low wages and unemployment” (Daily Mirror). Tommy’s reward is to be pilloried and dragged once more, this time with his wife, before the capitalist courts in a case he has already won once!

Moreover, this was at a time when Jeff Randall of the Daily Telegraph was hailing Goodwin as a “world-class banker” and another characterised him as a “genuine business hero”. The whole of the ‘business community’, and all of the three major capitalist parties, were in reality on their knees singing hosannas to the City of London and the financial ‘wizards’.

Osborne and Cameron, the Tory leaders, would have us believe they and their party are innocents in all this. In fact, the roots of this crisis were created by their party when led by Mrs Thatcher and her massive ‘big bang’, the deregulation of finance capitalism. The result has been a huge polarisation of wealth which has ended in a devastating economic crisis and the ‘big bang’ of mass unemployment. The economic forecasting think tank ITEM now says that three and a half million workers could be ‘out on the stones’ in Britain, with one and a quarter million of this horrendous figure being under the age of 25.

This whole sorry bunch of capitalists, rooted as they are in a system that elevates the lust for profit over social need, cannot be expected to take effective action against their ‘own’, the bankers, other than to trim one or two fingernails. Why in any case do bankers under capitalism ‘need bonuses’ for super-exploiting the rest of us? They are on stratospheric salaries already. Managers, for instance, as late as the 1980s took home perhaps 20 times the average wage of their workforce, a managerial wage which was too high even then. Today, when the average wage is put at £25,000 a year (not an hour), their ‘remuneration’ is on average 275 times this figure and some receive a lot more than this.

And what is the net result of this? An anonymous cabinet minister told The Guardian: “The banks are f***ed, we’re f***ed, the country’s f***ed”. But not as much as the working class and the poor because they are the ones expected to carry the can. Therefore we must demand not a penny in ‘bonuses’ for bankers, both in the ‘nationalised’ and the private sectors.

But how can this demand be enforced? Darling the Chancellor says “commercial interests” are best at running the banks. Really? After 30 years when they have had the full ‘freedom of the park’ and have consequently wreaked havoc? Nationalisation, not in the capitalist, pro-boss way but in a democratic socialist fashion, is the first step in beginning to use the economic levers of power to benefit the majority, working and middle class people. Then Northern Rock for example, which has been bailed out by us and expects to dole out £8 million in bonuses to its executives while turfing workers out of their houses, may begin to act in the interests of ordinary working-class people.

Open the books

A precondition for effective action is to open the books of the banks. The argument that “bonuses need to be paid for specialised staff” is so much hooey. An average bin worker, car worker, steelworker or teacher, especially if they came together collectively in democratic committees controlling the banking industry, could do a lot better than these bankers, who did not even understand what they were doing with their financial alchemy.

A democratic form of organising a nationalised banking sector would draw in bank workers and other workers and their representatives, delegates of small business people, homeowners, etc. The organisations that represent working people, the trade unions, should be involved, as should ‘consumers’, including mortgage holders.

But, argue the opponents of nationalisation, “there would be a flight of capital”. The capitalists will always seek to sabotage measures they think are against their interests. The way to deal with this blackmail is to introduce a state monopoly of foreign trade, as a means of controlling all imports and exports including capital. Bold action is required, not tinkering, if a new road of prosperity and hope is to be opened up to the British people.

* Not a penny to the bankers in ‘bonuses’!
* Open the books to inspection by committees of workers, householders, consumers and small business people!
* No compensation to the financial ‘wizards’ who have ruined the economic position of Britain and with it the lives of millions!
* For a socialist, democratic, nationalised banking and financial sector.
* For a state monopoly of foreign trade.
* For a socialist plan of production democratically drawn up and implemented by committees of workers, trade unionists, small business people and consumers.

Above all, for the creation of a powerful movement now for a new mass workers’ party that can make these demands relevant and realistic for millions of workers who are looking for a lead.

Amen to that.

Myners strike – words of wisdom from City insider turned govt advisor

Yet another reject from the square mile has made it into government, take note!

Says Paul, who joined Labour because it was more “left wing” than the Liberals:

The capacity for soundly managed banks and markets to support the generation of wealth in the economy could never be matched by the public sector. That is why the government has a policy of supporting a return to an effective commercial banking sector, rather than nationalisation.

Ah, no comrade. The reason is that New Labour is committed to securing the power and wealth of the super-rich, as opposed to using the country’s wealth to re-invest in productive activities…

If Gordon Brown had really wanted to abolish the boom and bust of the capitalist economic cycle, he would have expropriated the banks years ago – not merely part-nationalise them by buying worthless shares.

As it stands, turbo-capitalism of the sort backed by New Labour has destroyed the manufacturing base of this country and damaged the social fabric of the country with mass unemployment. Many were bought off with the promise of a “housing ladder” to climb out of the working class, but now this bubble has burst along with the dream of a “popular capitalism”

The relentless pursuit of profit for the few has brought misery for the many. Now it has brought chaos for those who benefit the most – and they’ve called in the government, which has stepped in with wads of borrowed money which we will have to pay back in years to come (with interest!).

But never fear, we have utopians like Paul Myners in government. Men who can imagine a time when capitalism serves the many not the few. How fortunate he is to have such dreams – the rest of us must bear the reality of the recession: indebtedness, mass unemployment, and a rise in homelessness and crime.

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