Tell it to Remploy

[Tuesday]

Why bother blogging when the Morning Star writes such wonderful editorials?

Tell it to Remploy
(Tuesday 11 September 2007)

PROBABLY the most predictable speech at recent TUC gatherings has been that given by fat-cat-in-chief the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry and the present incumbent, former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert, made no exception.

He dished out a speech of the most mind-boggling arrogance, warning that raising taxes to slash the income of the super-rich would be “disastrous” for the UK economy.

He followed that up with an absolute paean of praise for, of all things, globalisation, saying that “to push back against the forces of globalisation… would have serious consequences for growth and employment.

“It would,” he claimed, “cut the UK off from the benefits of open markets and free trade, and both capital and talent would drain out of our economy.”

More clearly than anything else at TUC Congress, this speech illustrated the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in today’s Britain. If we needed to be shown the irreconcilable differences between capital and labour, Mr Lambert certainly obliged.

His contribution to the Congress was made all the more pointed when delegates came to discuss the plight of several thousand Remploy workers who are about to lose their jobs, despite a barrage of obfuscation from everyone from Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain to the managers of Remploy.

If Mr Lambert asked the disabled Remploy workers about globalisation and the free market and they would give him a very dusty answer indeed, since the outsourcing of government contracts abroad has cost them their jobs, however much Remploy managers try to dress up their cutbacks as a “change in direction” for disabled people.

And if he had bothered to ask them what they thought of the super-rich getting even wealthier on the backs of working people, the answers might not be printable.

One of the most distressing things about the outrage that is being perpetrated on these disabled workers is that it is being done by Remploy’s managers with the overt collusion of people at the very highest levels of this new Labour government.

GMB organiser Phil Davies demonstrated this graphically when he emptied a black plastic bin bag of redundancy quotes onto the platform at Congress, quotes that Mr Hain had sworn to the union, only the week before, would not be issued.

Both government and company management have behaved disgracefully during this episode and they have been joined by the six major charities who, for reasons best known to themselves, have publicly backed the butchering of Remploy.

It must be clear even to the dimmest luminaries in this seedy government that disabled workers, more than most, need a wider, not narrower, range of employment options and to limit them even further is an act of criminal irresponsibility that almost beggars belief.

The trade union movement must use all its influence to insist that this crazy act of industrial sabotage is terminated immediately and the best way to do that is to insist that the eminently reasonable demand by the unions, that a tiny percentage of government procurement contracts be directed the company’s way, must be accepted and acted on by Mr Hain and his minions. If they claim to care about people with disabilities, the government can easily prove it by reversing its dismal policy.

Advertisements

Gordon Boring

On Brown’s boring speech to the TUC Congress yesterday, John McDonnell has it right:

People weren’t bothered about Brown’s rhetorical style. Blair became a superb orator but it was the content of his speeches that was the problem. With Brown there was neither style nor content to inspire TUC delegates. Worse, what was increasingly obvious to even those trade union general secretaries who had manoeuvred their unions into backing Brown for the Labour leadership, was that Brown’s speech was vacuous when it came to addressing the real world issues facing the 6 million members they are supposed to represent.

Sadly, the TUC’s General Secretary Brendan Barber made his official response as timid as possible:

This was a Prime Minister at ease with a trade union audience, and with a series of policy initiatives that will be widely welcomed, particularly those designed to crack down on bad employers, help the jobless find work and boost skills.

Of course differences remain such as public sector pay, and unions will always urge a Labour government to go further and faster, but what is clear is that this government wants to engage with the union agenda and shares many of our values and objectives.

The government does not want to engage with any other agenda than that of neoliberalism. Barber is talking out of his hat. As for shared values… Doesn’t New Labour intend to become (some say it already is) the “natural party of business”.

Will Hutton, a brain-dead bourgeois intellectual, has called on Bob Crow to leave the 1980s behind in an article full of factual errors. We’ve heard it all before. Socialists must “accept that there is no conceivable way that a modern economy can be directed, owned and controlled from the centre” – but what the hell is modern capitalism if not directed, owned and controlled from the centre? The problem is that it’s run in the interest of the capitalist class; socialists want it to be run in the interest of the working class.

Lest anyone take Hutton seriously, get this – the RMT, which Crow leads, has the fastest growing membership of all the trade unions in the UK. Championing the interests of your members won’t make you popular – the capitalist press demonise you if you don’t collaborate with the neoliberal agenda.

Anyway, rant over, dig these crazy figures:

Ten key inequality facts

  • The top 1 per cent own 21 per cent of the nation’s wealth – three times as much as the bottom half (who own 7 per cent). (HMRC)
  • The UK has twice as many poor children as Sweden, Finland and Denmark and half as many again as Germany and France. (Eurostat)
  • Of the 12 EU or OECD countries wealthier than the UK, 11 are more equal. (comparing GDP per head to Gini coefficient)
  • The average house price has gone up four times faster than the average wage over the last ten years. (DCLG)
  • The UK is the third most unequal country in Europe, and its citizens are the second most likely to be the victim of crime. France is the 10th most unequal and has the 14th lowest crime. (European Crime and Safety Study of 17 EU countries)
  • If trends continue by 2012 FTSE 100 chief executives will be earning more than £5 million, 150 times more than the average full time wage. (Income Data Services. ONS – TUC calculation)
  • Only six out of 18 OECD economies provide less training at work for those with no or low skills. (OECD)
  • A son of wealthy parents leaving school in the 1970s would, on average, earn 17.5 per cent more than a son of poor parents by his early thirties. For 1980s school leavers, the gap has risen to 25 per cent.
  • The richest fifth pay £18 tax on every £100 of disposable income, while the poorest fifth pay £30. (HMRC direct and indirect tax).
  • Boosting benefits sufficient to halve child poverty would cost each year less than one third the cost this year’s city bonuses. (JRF+ Guardian survey)
  • Latest credit crunch woes

    [Tuesday]

    The news came yesterday that Victoria Mortgages, which offered loans to people with poor credit histories had gone into administration, becoming the first UK lender to fall victim of the global credit crunch.

    It might not be that big a deal, but as the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston commented yesterday,

    Victoria is a microcosm of the wider credit squeeze, viz the reluctance of banks to lend to other financial institutions and the evaporation of demand for certain kinds of bonds and tradeable debt.

    Here’s why Victoria’s demise matters: it operates in markets that directly affect you and me, in contrast to the special investment vehicles and hedge funds which have been the main British victims of the turmoil so far.

    And small businesses are now being hit by the credit crunch. This will impact on employment levels – as expansion becomes harder, firms will be less inclined to take on more staff.

    A lack of liquidity means banks are being more selective over who they loaned money to, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says.

    Those who could get loans now faced paying interest rates in excess of 10%, it added.

    The credit crunch follows a surge in UK interest rates to 5.75%.

    “The issue is that the banks are being more choosy over who they lend money to until they ride out the storm,” said FSB spokesman Matthew Knowles.

    “There’s a bit of a ‘Computer Says No’ mentality. Banks often see small businesses as more of a risk – and because they aren’t able to tick all the boxes which the banks set out, they struggle to borrow.”

    The banks could be forced to pay out £70 billion in the next ten days

    if investors, such as pension funds, decline to buy the banks’ latest debt issues which are now due for renewal.

    Analysts say investors are reluctant to buy the new debt until the full impact of the US home loans crisis is known.

    With fewer buyers for the debt, banks may have to refinance it themselves.

    […]

    An unnamed boss of one of the UK’s largest banks told the Sunday Times at the weekend that conditions in the money markets were the worst for 20 years.

    Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . Leave a Comment »

    Brown’s new politics are old hat

    [Tuesday]

    From the World Socialist Web Site:

    Britain: Brown’s “new politics” a cynical cover for authoritarianism
    By Chris Marsden
    10 September 2007

    The proposals advanced last week by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the basis for “a new type of politics” show that his government has continued the anti-democratic and rightward lurch of his predecessor, Tony Blair.

    Brown marshaled virtually every piece of rhetoric and hyperbole used by Labour since 1997 to once again proclaim a politics “built on consensus and not division” that supposedly transcends party politics, reaches out to the people and does not leave “great social challenges simply to the market alone.”

    He was clear why this was necessary. He noted that whereas once 84 percent of people voted, in the last election it was less than 62 percent, and whereas in the 1950s 1 in 11 people joined a political party, today it is 1 in 88, with only 1 in 3 people identifying with a political party.

    But, after a decade in office, he chose to ignore the role of the Labour government in bringing this situation about through its championing of policies dictated solely by the needs of big business at the direct expense of the electorate—measures that both encourage and demand the alienation of the mass of working people from the political process and the constant erosion of civil liberties. Instead, he advanced measures by which this offensive against the working class can be continued behind a populist veneer of “consulting the people.”

    Brown is proposing the creation of “Citizen’s Juries,” supposedly “chosen independently” to discuss specific policy issues. These initial consultation exercises are to be followed by a “nationwide set of Citizens Juries held on one day” to look at issues like crime and immigration, education, health, transport and public services.

    This will lead up to a “Citizens Summit” to “formulate” a “British statement of values”—”part of the wider programme on consultation led by Jack Straw and Michael Wills on the British statement of values, the idea of a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, rights and duties, the components of the Constitutional Reform Bill.”

    Brown will also set up new standing commissions to bring together “people of all parties” and outside the party system. A “Speaker’s Conference” would then bring together all parties to work together “with patriotic purpose…to advance our country’s best interests and ideals.”

    On the most prosaic level, Brown’s initiative is bound up with an effort to tear the ground from under the feet of his political opponents—particularly the Conservatives, in the period leading up to an election—a task made all the more urgent because the “bounce” in Labour’s support resulting from Blair’s departure has already all but vanished.

    With the Conservatives deeply divided over David Cameron’s somewhat feeble attempt to distance the party from its Thatcherite image, Brown is seeking to reinforce Labour’s claim to be her successor as the “natural party of government” in ruling circles. To this end, Brown expressed his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, a “conviction politician” like himself who “saw the need for change.”

    Brown has also continued Blair’s efforts to bring his nominal opponents into government and has previously appointed former Confederation of British Industry head Sir Digby Jones and former First Sea Lord Sir Alan West as ministers. His announced raft of public and cross-party policy discussion was accompanied by his bringing in Conservative MP Patrick Mercer as a security adviser to Lord West and fellow Tory MP John Bercow to head a review of services for young people with disabilities. Liberal Democrat MP Mathew Taylor will advise on land use.

    Matthew d’Ancona in the Conservative magazine, the Spectator, expressed the widespread incredulity at the noted right-winger Mercer’s appointment. The former Conservative spokesman on homeland security was sacked from the Tory front bench this year by Cameron after he suggested that being called a “black bastard” was just part of Army life. He writes, “Mr. Blair used to talk about ‘Operation Hoover,’ his campaign to recruit One Nation Tories and Lib Dems to the New Labour cause. Mr. Brown seems to have dumped the Hoover and got hold of a super-powered, commercial-use Dyson.”

    Later that week, Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch, who recently resigned from his post as Conservative deputy treasurer and who lent £2.6 million to the Tories, is set to become an adviser to Brown on deforestation and green energy. He will not renew his party membership and wants his loan to be repaid.

    There are clear echoes of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy recruiting leading Socialist Party figures into his government, though the traffic is at least formally moving in the opposite direction. It led Rachel Sylvester to complain in the Telegraph that “Gordon Brown’s consensus is a one-party state.” But such a movement of MPs from one side of the House of Commons to the other can only take place because the two main parties are virtually interchangeable right-wing formations to the point where there might as well already be a one-party state.

    Brown, like Blair before him and Sarkozy across the Channel, is seeking new mechanisms of rule under conditions where none of the old parties have the necessary authority and popular support to impose their common pro-big-business policies. It is not only that the claim that Citizens Juries et al. will not genuinely involve the public in government. They are a means by which the erosion of governmental accountability to the electorate will be both legitimised and deepened.

    Brown claims that “Citizens Juries are not a substitute for representative democracy, they are an enrichment of it.” In reply to his first claim, “yes they are,” and to the second, “no they are not.”

    In a representative democracy, politicians are supposed to present a manifesto of their policies and they are then voted into office on that basis by the entire electorate. Instead, Brown proposes to advance policies that have only been put before a “representative sample” of 12 to 20 people and proclaim this as a mandate to govern. What exactly constitutes a representative sample? One based on past voting preference, class, ethnicity? A jury of dozen people—however they are selected, has no mandate to determine political policy. It will merely provide a pre-selected and pliable tool to legitimise policies presented solely by the government with no one countering its propaganda.

    As to the actual independence of the Citizen’s Juries, there is none. Even officially, the position is that the selection process will be determined by individual government departments, which are all run by Labour. In practice, the basis of their appointment has already been worked out centrally and never submitted to public scrutiny. Two are already meeting only days after having been announced—one on children’s issues and another on crime and communities.

    The decisions on how the juries are selected and conducted are declared independent because they are made by a consultancy firm known as Opinion Leader Research (OLR). Its website boasts that it is “known by Research magazine as the ‘House of Influentials’” and that this is because “we are plugged into the people that really matter.”

    The “people that really matter” that OLR is “plugged into” is the government and the prime minister. OLR is owned by Chime Communications, in which Brown’s personal adviser Deborah Mattinson owns about 2 million shares worth around £1 million. An investigation by the Sunday Telegraph found that in just the past two years, OLR has won nearly £3 million worth of contracts “across an astonishing array of government departments and agencies.” These include the Treasury that was run by Brown as Chancellor and the Department of Constitutional Affairs “when it was led by Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, a close friend of Miss Mattinson.”

    This figure “does not include work before 2005 and contracts awarded by many other public sector clients listed on OLR’s website, such as the Environment Agency, Ofcom, and the Learning and Skills Council,” the Telegraph states.

    OLR was recently paid nearly £800,000 by the Department for Work and Pensions to organise a forum to discuss pension policy and £153,000 by the Department for Education and Skills for a similar event. While Gordon Brown was chancellor, the Treasury awarded the company work worth more than £150,000.

    One of its more lucrative contracts was worth £1.25 million for the Department of Health to conduct a public consultation called “Your Health, Your Care, Your Say” in 2005. The September 5 Times says of the exercise, “It was so unbearably exciting that not a single report was filed from it.”

    The undemocratic nature of the entire exercise is exemplified by its culminating in asking these bodies to sign off on a supposed “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” The Bill is a means by which the government intends to further undermine existing human and civil rights provisions by making rights that should be universal conditional on upholding supposedly “British values” and accepting “responsibilities” to the state.

    The exercise raises major issues of constitutional principal, just as do questions relating to immigration, asylum and a host of other issues that are to be put before Citizen’s Juries. But we are asked to trust in a government that has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for civil liberties and propensity to lie and dissemble to present the facts in a way that allows a dozen people to pronounce on policy after a few days of stage-managed “discussion.”

    It is an extraordinary example of the erosion of genuine concern with democratic rights that this has not even elicited negative comment from pro-Labour broadsheets such as the Guardian and the Independent. The Liberal Democrats have even tried to trump Brown, with party leader Sir Menzies Campbell calling in the Guardian for what would be “Britain’s first written constitution” to be drafted by a convention whose membership has been half chosen by “random lot.” The Guardian explains that this is aimed at preventing the convention “from being colonised by constitutional reform fanatics.”

    Even as these measures were being advanced as a broadening of governmental accountability, the government was preoccupied with the question of whether or not to call a snap General Election—perhaps in a matter of days after parliament resumes. To do so would itself be manifestly undemocratic. It would all but exclude anyone other than the major parties due to the financial constraints on mounting a campaign at such short notice and would leave the electorate to decide between the devil and the deep blue sea. Internally, Brown is calling for the right of the Labour Party conference to vote against the government on policy by moving “contemporary motion” to be ended.

    Another senior British officer tells the truth on Iraq

    After Rose and Dannatt, etc, more candour from the top brass.

    So much for “conditions on the ground” determining the UK’s exit strategy…

    The split between the UK and the US over Iraq was further inflamed last night after a senior British officer claimed troops could have withdrawn from Basra Palace five months ago if America had not issued a plea for them to stay.

    The Army’s commander in Iraq said American pressure caused them to stay in the exposed outpost, after which 11 soldiers were killed and 62 wounded in months of intense fighting.

    British forces were finally pulled out of the palace and back to Basra airport a week ago.

    But Brigadier James Bashall, the commander of 1 Mechanised Brigade, told The Daily Telegraph that the force could have come out of Basra Palace in April “but politics prevented that”.

    The senior officer’s comments come during a trans-Atlantic spat in which American officials have accused Britain of accepting defeat in southern Iraq and watching Basra descend into “all-out gangland warfare”. Brig Bashall said Washington’s request for British forces to stay in Basra came after a security operation codenamed Operation Sinbad had brought relative calm to the city.

    ”In April we could have come out and done the transition completely and that would have been the right thing to do but politics prevented that,” he said. “The Americans asked us to stay for longer.”

    The decision to remain in Basra was a consequence of “political strategy being played out at highest level”.

    This was brought to my attention by Neil Clark.

    The motive for holding back the British in southern Iraq was the “surge” by US forces – a signal the American government was ignoring the message sent by votes in the mid-term elections – and the transition of power in the UK from Blair to Brown. If the Brits had been leaving Basra Palace just as Blair was about to go, it would have weakened the Bush administration’s “stay the course” position. And oddly enough, it would’ve added to the Brown bounce – in entirely the wrong way, from his perspective, as there would then have been greater public expectation that New Labour had left the building with Blair.

    Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , , . Leave a Comment »