Nationalised Express – public ownership for East Coast rail route

Great news, as it is a step towards ending the corporate domination of our railways which has cost us dearly both as taxpayers and passengers.

The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has backed the move:

“RMT welcomes todays announcement by the Government on the renationalisation of the East Coast route but this shouldn’t be a short term, crisis measure.

“It should be a long term solution to the chaos that privatisation has brought to the UK’s most lucrative rail franchise.

“RMT’s national AGM will send a clear message to the Government today that they should strip National Express of their other franchises and use this opportuinity to begin the process of renationalising the rail network,” said Bob Crow.

John McDonnell MP, RMT Parliamentary Group Convenor, said:

“The public control of the East Coast Mainline franchise should be a stepping stone to full and permanent public ownership.

“This East Coast franchise should be used as a public sector benchmark – and if the public sector performs better then let’s have other franchises back in public ownership too.”

The Green Party agrees, saying

The government should go further. Under cross-default clauses, the Transport secretary, Lord Adonis, could strip National Express of all its contracts, now that the group has handed back one franchise.

The Green Party remains the only major party in Britain to call for the full re-nationalisation of the railways.

Rupert Read, candidate for Norwich North and Green Party spokesperson on public services, said:

“Train privatisation, from the beginning, was a very flawed model. We can’t keep socialising private companies’ losses and privatising their profits. We need a national train network under direct public control and with full public accountability.”

“National Express must pay back whatever monies are outstanding from their rail franchise of the East Coast Main Line – it would be quite wrong for National Express to continue to profit on some lines, while the taxpayer has to foot the bill on others. To use the government’s own rhetoric, this should be a zero-tolerance issue.”

Sir Richard Branson, co-owner of the Virgin west coast franchise, has expressed an interest in bidding for the east coast franchise if it became available.

Read responded to this by saying: “Virgin would then have control of England-Scotland services, as well as London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Doncaster. The entire idea of privatisation was to inject competition, and this would be substituting a public monopoly for a private monopoly. That cannot be allowed to happen, and as a Green MP for Norwich North, I would be absolutely steadfast in resisting it.”

Labour’s recession is far from over

The big story of the past week, along with the preceeding resignations by Blairite ministers trying to topple Brown?

Millions of Labour supporters stayed home; two fascists won seats in the European parliament on a reduced turnout. Yes, their vote fell, but they won seats because of the low turnout.

I won’t give you the obligatory post dedicated to how and why they made a breakthrough. Oxygen of publicity and whatnot.

So, Brown’s clinging on, having ceded more power to Lord Mandelson, who is now virtually deputy Prime Minister – and unelected, like many in the reshuffled Labour cabinet. Having faced down the parliamentary party in a stage-managed meeting, Brown’s hoping that an economic recovery will save his premiership.

Darling, in situ as Chancellor, despite rumours the PM wanted to replace him with Ed Balls, warns against complacency in seeing “green shoots” of recovery. As well he might, he knows how much government spending will have to be directed towards those made unemployed. Oh, and the banks – mostly owned by the public these days – they aren’t lending to our manufacturing base…

Mandelson, negotiating with the new owner of Vauxhall, is unable to guarantee jobs will stay in the UK. So much has been devoted to bailing out the banks, there’s not much room for manuoevre – not unless there’s another radical change in approach.

A senior Tory let slip that they intend to cut spending by 10% on all but health, education, and international aid, if they win the next election. To Labour’s cries of “Tory cuts!” – the nearest they get to a class analysis of Her Majesty’s Opposition – the reply comes, from both the Tories and the corporate press, that Labour is committed to 7% spending cuts across the board.

As Ann Pettifor has pointed out, to cut spending in the next few years will be a disaster for an economic recovery:

As things stand, any fragile signs of economic recovery will quickly be crushed by the failure of government to intervene and spend at an appropriate level. Instead, government cutbacks will impact with considerable force on the fragile economy, and will hurt the middle and working classes. As the year proceeds many will discover the true, and often pitiful value of their pensions, and will be hurt by cuts in services and job losses in the public sector. This will hamper recovery and deepen, if that is possible, the alienation of British voters from the Labour government.

And don’t forget, this is the woman who was writing about the debtonation before it began.

She continues in the same article to outline the blades which may slice through any “green shoots”:

Foreign direct investment could fall globally by 45% this year, according to the same report, and corporate profits will decline by 20-25%. Global trade is down 25%, and the EIU predicts trade will be down by 10-15% by year end – the worst figure since 1945.

In April this year, consumer prices turned negative in the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. This may be good news for consumers, and may help lower food prices for the poor, but it is not good for the economy as a whole. Businesses cannot profit from negative prices, so they are bankrupted and lay off employees. The rocketing numbers of unemployed (whose plight is seldom taken seriously by orthodox economists) will cut back on borrowing and shopping and may even default on loans. This is not good news for the productive sector of the economy, and it’s very bad news for the banking sector. Banks have still not fully de-leveraged the debts on their balance sheets. Now, thanks to rising unemployment, non-performing loans are “set to rise sharply around the world over the next 12-18 months” according to the EIU. This is very scary, if one considers that there are still $600tn of liabilities in the form of derivatives on balance sheets out there – backed up by a mere $38tn of so-called credit default swaps (in reality a form of insurance on derivatives).

More banking trouble, in other words…

Pettifor concludes:

Nothing has been done to restructure the global economy and limit financial imbalances – including Anglo-American deficits and the Chinese surplus. Indeed these matters were not even discussed at the last G20 summit. Big, reckless money continues to be made from currency speculation, just when the global economy requires currency stability.

We – employees, consumers, investors and borrowers – have been misled and fooled by the economics profession and finance sector for years before this crisis. As a result of our gullibility, we lost $60tn of wealth in the past year. We would be wise now to dismiss their vain efforts at confidence-boosting, and instead rest our judgments on the real world economic outlook.

Back to politics, word is that Balls and Darling are split on how to present the supposedly “inevitable” cuts in public spending.

Hardly confidence boosting!

As far as this modest blogger can tell, the debate isn’t on what to cut, but on when to admit the cuts are coming.

In the leadership challenge that never was, the unions didn’t bark – despite the looming cuts and failure to aid the car industry. For sure, a change of leader – even to someone more in touch with the needs of ordinary people – would bring forth a general election at the worst possible time. With MPs expenses hanging in the air, Labour voters are unlikely to show up at polling stations and register support for the party any time soon.

For the Labour grassroots, there’s no difficulty in choosing between Trident, PFIs, the Afghan war, ID cards – or investing in a new generation of social housing, a Green New Deal, and helping workers to stay in their jobs. However, there’s no means by which the party’s grassroots can influence policy; even the parliamentary party has a tough time defeating unpopular measures, like Royal Mail privatisation, which hasn’t yet been ditched.

According to opinion polling, most voters agree Labour has abandoned its traditional supporters and believe that the Tories are most interested in helping out the rich. So what gives with the BNP victories, then? Well, it’s worth remembering that the Green vote was up – they campaigned on job creation through a Green New Deal to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, all very practical. But if your main themes are not echoed in the media, it’s difficult to get ahead. The upcoming by-election in Norwich could see the Greens win their first MP, should the support be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’m wondering exactly where this announcement by John McDonnell will lead:

If we go beyond November without real change visibly under way, what hope is left of Labour not only remaining in government but also surviving as an effective political force at all?At that stage the only responsible act in the long-term interests of our movement would be to offer a real change in political direction by mounting a challenge to the political leadership of the party and letting the members of the party decide. Let me give notice now that this is the path I will take. If this route is blocked again by MPs failing to nominate, then the alternative is Labour MPs making it clear at the next election that they stand on a policy platform of real change as “change candidates”.

Of course, they will be standing as Labour candidates but binding together as a slate of candidates committed within Labour to advocating a change programme, setting out the policy programme they will be advocating as a group and supporting in parliament if elected. Only in this way can we demonstrate to the supporters that want to come home to Labour that there is the hope and prospect of change.

I can’t see a policy debate being tolerated, not without the capitalist media emptying another bucket of shit over the heads of New Labour and calling for a Cameron coronation. Hence the talk of the Blairites toppling Brown without recourse to either the PLP, the members, or the unions – with the Cabinet nominating one of its ranks to become party leader and PM.

So, the question is, will McDonnell and co. defect to form a new workers’ party? If not, will parties like the Greens back this new “change candidates”?

Flashback: Cameron ready for “unpopular” rule

Lest you think David Cameron has become a radical constitutional reformer, what with his talk of fixed-term parliaments – only maybe, he’ll think about it – recall his speech at last year’s Tory conference:

Preparing the party for a hard grind in government, he insisted he had “the grit and determination to impose discipline on government spending, keep our nerve and say ‘No’ – even in the teeth of hostility and protest”.

Mr Cameron’s speech, largely stripped of jokes and partisan attacks on Mr Brown, was designed to reflect the mood of the times. Unlike his “walk-about” speech at last year’s conference, he spoke at a podium with notes.

The connecting strand of Mr Cameron’s vision was the building of a “responsible” society, although at times the speech was disjointed and was clearly the result of a rapid rewriting exercise to take account of the fast-changing financial environment.

[Emphasis added.]

Unite-Amicus election: Jerry Hicks gets a quarter of the votes

Beating the New Labour-backed Kevin Coyne, Hicks proves that arguments about the danger of “splitting the votes” aren’t always worth listening to – in this case, the “moderate” (pro-capitalist) candidate was in third place.

Though Derek Simpson has been re-elected, it is with a radical socialist as his main competitor. Coyne didn’t exactly play it as a right-winger, it has to be said. A message has been sent to the union leadership – members want accountability and assertiveness for their money…

From the Observer:

Derek Simpson was re-elected as joint leader of Unite, the UK’s biggest trade union yesterday. Simpson beat three rivals for the post of joint general secretary of the Amicus section. He won 60,000 votes, followed by Jerry Hicks with 40,000, Kevin Coyne with 31,000 and Paul Reuter with 28,000.

Simpson, 64, will now remain in post until December next year, working alongside Tony Woodley, head of the TGWU section. Last night Simpson said he was “very pleased” with the result, adding: “This is a vindication of the policies I have been pursuing on behalf of our members, in very difficult times.”

Simpson’s opponents claimed during the campaign that he was too close to Gordon Brown and that the super-union needed a leader who would stand up more strongly for members’ interests.

Unite has given more than £13m to the Labour Party since Gordon Brown became prime minister.

City of London, the last rotten borough in England

From Tribune, news of a half-hearted attack on the City’s anti-democratic institutions by the Labour party:

LABOUR will this week challenge what it sees as the secrecy and unaccountability of the City of London’s government, as it seeks to become the first political party to be represented there in its 900-year history.

A slate of candidates is being put up for the elections to the Corporation of London’s common council, its main decision-making body.

Local Labour activists accuse the councillors – who are often business people non-resident in the Square Mile – of being part of an elite serving the interests of bankers.

Peter Kenyon, secretary of the 52-strong City of London Labour Party, said: “They were certainly very active in lobbying for the regulatory framework that proved to be fundamentally flawed and has plunged us into recession. The leaders of the City are looked to by our political masters as being sources of expertise.

“It’s very important for us to wake up and open the eyes of the electorate as to the extent of the influence of people they are electing.”

The current Lord Mayor of London, Ian Luder, is a partner in accountancy firm Grant Thornton, while Stuart Fraser, the corporation’s chair of policy and a common councilman, is a senior stockbroker. Both sit on Chancellor Alistair Darling’s financial services global competitiveness group.

Labour’s manifesto, launched last week by minister for London Tony McNulty, calls for all City employees to be paid the London living wage of £7.45 an hour.

It also promises to “speak out against special treatment and tax breaks for get-rich City financiers”, adding: “Too many common councillors neither live nor work in the City and are selected for their social connections”.

However, the balance of power on the council is unlikely to shift as Labour is only putting forward seven candidates for election to the 100-strong body.

Among them is Mark McDonald, a barrister of the Middle Temple who unsuccessfully ran to be Labour Party treasurer last year. No councilman currently declares themselves to be a member of a political party in the register of interests.

Mr Kenyon added: “We are not seeking to take over common council, but we are seeking to introduce a level of openness and transparency, which has previously been denied.

“We’re not seeking to overturn the role of people who had senior positions [in financial services]. It’s not to say that those skills are not relevant. But equally other sorts of skills are needed.”

The Corporation of London is the last authority in Britain whose members are elected partly by a business franchise. As well as about 8,000 resident voters, nearly 24,000 votes are distributed among businesses based in the City, with the voting share proportional to the number of staff each firm employs. (Emphasis added)

Jerry Hicks, candidate for Unite union leadership, backs wildcat strikes

Jerry Hicks is the only challenger to incumbent general secretary, Derek Simpson, in the contest to lead Unite-Amicus.

Having worked for years at Rolls Royce before being sacked in 2005 for his strong defence of workers’ rights as a trade union activist, he is in touch with the concerns of ordinary members and wants democratic control of the union.

He says, “I believe in elections by the members with officers answerable and accountable to the members. As proof of my commitment to the principle of election of officers I was offered a Full Time Officers Job with the Union in 2003 by Derek Simpson but declined his offer as this would have been an appointment and so against my belief in elections.”

Whilst not backing a break from the Labour party, he promises to ensure support is only given to Labour MPs who back workers’ rights and will scrap the anti-union laws, brought in by the Tories, which criminalise people who fight for their jobs.

He says: “Unite is not only the country’s biggest trade union it’s also the biggest single donator to the Labour Party, having given £11 million of members’ money since 2005. But despite all this and with 100 sponsored MPs, anti trade union legislation is unchanged. Even the most basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed has not been achieved under Derek Simpson’s leadership. Slavish support for the Brown government from our union has to end.”

Whereas Simpson is paid £126,939 with a host of privileges, Jerry promises that if he’s elected he’ll follow the socialist tradition of only being paid the wage of the average skilled worker, not a City fat cat.

Here’s the latest post from Jerry’s blog in which he gives his full support to the striking construction workers who are defying the anti-union laws:

An emergency meeting of the national construction shop stewards forum took place in London as long ago as the 8th January. The meeting discussed the escalating crisis in construction following a series of protests in November and December of last year, over employment rights and also the proposed exclusion of UK workers by foreign companies on power stations and other major UK contracts.

The meeting was originally called for at Newark on the 3rd December following a series of protests at the gates of Staythope Power Station. At the meeting shop stewards voted overwhelmingly to organise a programme of demonstrations toward targeted construction projects within the UK power generation sector.

Shop stewards and trade union activists find it is hard enough as it is to get a job in the industry because of the black listing by the employers. It is a way of reducing their costs and attempting to break union organisation on the major projects.

Rank and file members are preparing for mass disruption on projects throughout the country that refuse to recognise union national agreements. There will be organised demonstrations strikes and mass disruption. We are preparing for a battle to defend our jobs.

Jerry Hicks a candidate in the coming election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite-Amicus is supporting the action. He was present at a recent protest at Staythorpe power station where he sustained a fractured leg, having been assaulted by the police.

He said “This should come as no surprise to anyone. The employers have deliberately and actively been looking for ways to exploit cheap labour while covering their eyes and ears to the growing rage of discontent and ignoring all the warning signs, it’s outrageous”,

He went on to say, “To its shame the union leadership failed miserably to grasp the nettle months ago when the dispute was a crisis in the making. The union needs to confront the employers and organise a national campaign for industrial action.”

The employers watch and listen to everything we say and do. If the union does little and says even less they drive the boot in harder and our situation gets worse.

This is not about race or prejudice it is about the exploitation of labour, playing one worker against another. It is about the employers trying to break nationally agreed arrangements and in doing so it is an attack on the union.

Gordon Brown, who at the last Labour party conference said ‘British jobs for British workers’, has created a huge problem all of his own making. He can no longer simply sit on his hands waiting on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, other energy companies are observing what happens next as they seek to further exploit the cheap foreign labour market.

This issue is as a result of the Employers deliberately exploiting a situation, the union leaderships woeful lack of response and Browns pronouncement, Now they act like the like the three monkeys. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.

Democracy in Sark: Barclay twins make a sixth of the island unemployed

Yes, the step forward made by the islanders of Sark, from feudal rule to representative democracy, wasn’t to the pleasing of the billionaire brothers.

The candidates they favoured were rejected by the voters of Sark.

So now a sixth of the island’s population will face unemployment – with no welfare state, that’s some hardship coming a few weeks before Christmas.

The Barclay brother’s defenders on Sark published a list of candidates that islanders should not vote for. Some of the grounds for this are curious: tax reform, specifically an income tax directed at the wealthy; changes to the land ownership system; and employment legislation. One successful candidate, Jan Guy is described thusly:

There is a socialist streak to this candidate’s politics which is completely at odds with Sark’s best interests. Another would-be tax reformer, she wants to “provide the maximum tax income from those who benefit most from the island’s tax situation” according to her manifesto.

Let’s hope those enterprises abandoned by their billionaire owners are nationalised under workers’ control, then!

The Times reports:

Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, owners of the Telegraph newspapers and the Ritz, responded by announcing the closure of their hotels, shops, a restaurant and other businesses. Building work was suspended.

The brothers did not stand in the election, but even as a recount was continuing it appeared that not one of their favoured candidates had secured a seat on Chief Pleas, the island’s parliament, which is presided over by the hereditary Seigneur.

They had brought the end of nearly 450 years of feudalism when they challenged the island’s law of primogeniture – the right of the firstborn to inherit an estate – prompting the island to review its constitution. A majority favoured a fully elected parliament but there was strong opposition to the Barclays, who wanted to make the Seigneur a ceremonial position, to have tractors replaced by electric vehicles and to build a helipad.

On an island without cars, street lights or tarmac roads such proposals were regarded as alarmingly modern. Many accused the brothers of trying to take control. Their representatives strongly denied this.

Sir David had said before the election that they would “reconsider our investment programme” if the island Establishment was reelected, and he proved as good as his word.

Talks were held between Kevin Delaney, who runs their operations on Sark, and senior members of the Chief Pleas in an attempt to find a way in which he could be involved in the decision-making process, perhaps with a coopted place on committees. But with no offer made by 5pm a decision was made to shut down.

“There’s no point, as they see it, to continue spending £5 million per an-num investing in the economy when the electorate have plainly said that they neither want nor are interested in that investment being made,” Gordon Dawes, the Barclays’ lawyer, said.

“They have devoted a lot of time, energy, effort and money to Sark, for not only no thanks but positive insult and rebuff. Nobody in their right mind would carry on spending money on such a community.”

Mr Dawes added that if the community made a serious approach to involve the brothers’ representatives they would reconsider. “The door is open. They are not unreasonable people, but they cannot be expected to carry on doing business on an island that is so against them. Sark needs Brecqhou more than Brecqhou needs Sark.”

This was a reference to the rock islet off the coast of Sark where the Barclays live in the huge castle that they built. They own six of the forty tenements on Sark, the parcels of land into which the island was divided in Elizabethan times. The brothers have four of the island’s seven hotels, as well as a pub, shops and other businesses. They employ dozens of people out of a population of 600.

Mr Delaney, who formerly oversaw the refurbishment of the Ritz, was among the 57 candidates – 12 per cent of the electorate of 474 – but did not win one of the 28 seats in Chief Pleas. The Sark News, a pithy pamphlet published by a company owned by the Barclays, savaged those who opposed their goals and issued a list of candidates it believed could not be entrusted with the future of the island. This so enraged islanders that it appeared to have achieved the opposite of the desired effect. The Barclays were left with even less of a voice than they had under the feudal system.

Before the shut-down the Seigneur, Michael Beaumont, 80, who had faced losing his influence and possibly his annual stipend of £28,000 if the Chief Pleas had been controlled by supporters of the brothers, said he was delighted that 87 per cent of the electorate had voted, leaving “no doubt as to which way the electorate wish the island to go”.

He said: “Now that we have a fully elected, fully democratic Chief Pleas and the constitutional issues are all but settled, we can concentrate on domestic issues.”

Diana Beaumont, his wife, said: “They were the ones that started all this democracy business, now they don’t like it because they haven’t won.” She said that that the Barclays’ attempt to negotiate for a seat on committees was “like saying, ‘We’ve lost the race and we want the cup’.”

She added: “It’s very sad. Some people are going to lose their jobs. But maybe somebody else can come and run their hotels without threatening to close them.”

Road to democracy

1993 Barclay brothers purchase Brecqhou, a tiny island adjacent to Sark, for £2.33 million. They pay £179,230 tax to the Lord of Sark

1996 They send a writ to Sark’s Seigneur challenging his authority over Brecqhou

1999 Sark changes inheritance laws after threats from Barclay brothers to take the Government to the European Court of Human Rights. Previously, only the eldest son could inherit property. Now landowner decides who inherits

2000 Brothers recognise Sark’s authority over Brecqhou

2005 Legal challenge against changes that could threaten Barclay’s “tax-haven” status

2006 Islanders vote by 234 to 184 to abolish Sark’s 450-year-old feudal system of government

21 February, 2008 Chief Pleas approve a law that introduces a 30-member chamber, with 28 elected members and two unelected members

December 2008 Democratic elections held on Sark