Alice Mahon quits Labour

A former MP and Labour Party member for half a century, she just couldn’t take it anymore:

Alice Mahon, a Halifax MP for 18 years and a party member for more than 50 years, has resigned her membership of the party saying she can no longer stomach how it operates.

In her letter to the Halifax Constituency Labour Party she criticises the Prime Minister saying he has shown zero contrition over privatising public services and failed to tackle the excesses of the bankers.

And she heaps scorn on the Welfare Reform Bill saying: “This Labour Government should hang its head in shame for inflicting this on the British public just as we face the most severe recession any of us have experienced in a lifetime.”

Mrs Mahon, 71, a trenchant critic of Tony Blair’s government, says she had hoped that under Mr Brown’s stewardship “we might go back to being a really progressive and caring party” but “in the event I could not have been more wrong”.

And she says the recent scandal over emails sent by Mr Brown’s special adviser, Damian McBride, proposing a blogging site smearing top Tories left her feeling “sickened”.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “My stepdaughter Rachel said to me: ‘How could they do that to people like David Cameron and his wife Samantha when they had recently lost their son Ivan? What kind of people think it would be a good idea to smear them?’

“I was sickened by that – that is not the Labour Party that I joined all those years ago.”

In the letter she said: “This has been a difficult decision to take as I feel I was almost born into the Labour Party. However, I can no longer be a member of a party that at the leadership level has betrayed many of the values and principles that inspired me as a teenager to join.”

Other targets include the Government’s alleged co-operation with the George Bush regime.

And she adds: “Our ministers shame us in front of the world when they give their support to the Israeli Government as they commit war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon.

“Brown has just announced plans to send another 900 troops to Afghanistan, billions to be spent on an unwinnable war and pensioners dare not turn on their heating because this Government will not tackle the energy fat cats.”

She also fulminates against the “despicable” treatment of Janet Oosthuysen, a mother-of-three who won a close contest to stand as a prospective Parliamentary candidate in Calder Valley last year only to be deselected by the National Executive Committee, over a police caution after her former partner’s car was damaged. She contrasted the NEC’s actions with its silence over the Home Secretary’s expenses row.

She said: “My final reason for leaving the party is because it is no longer democratic. The personally vindictive, dishonest, campaign played out on the pages of the tabloids by certain Labour Party members to deselect Janet Oosthuysen was despicable…

“Quite simply I have had it with New Labour.”

Tax the rich, says public opinion

The real “silent majority”:

Public wants fairer tax and bonus system says new poll

Eighty percent of the public agree that bonuses should ‘reward long-term success rather than short-term performance’, in a new poll for the Fabian Society as part of a research project exploring public attitudes to inequality.

And 70% thought that ordinary employees should be represented on the compensation committees which decide how much city executives get paid, the poll by YouGov found.

While 56% were even in favour of a more radical proposal, to make executives of failed companies ‘pay back their bonuses from the last two years’. The government appears to have captured this popular mood by introducing a new higher top rate of tax of 45% for people earning over £150,000 – a move supported by 76% of the public (including strong support from almost half, at 46%). There is some evidence that the government could have gone further, with almost seven in ten respondents (69%) expressing support for a new top rate of 50% for people earning over £250,000. Poll data also gives some clues as to people’s reasons for thinking the rich should contribute more, with 70% of respondents agreeing that ‘Those at the top are failing to pay their fair share towards investment in public services’.

Only 19% of respondents agreed that taxes on high earners should be kept low so that ‘British companies can attract the talent they need to succeed’.

The public were asked who they felt deserved the salaries they currently received:

* 87% of respondents thought that City bankers were overpaid, second only to premier league footballers at 96%.

Bankers were seen as more overpaid than lawyers, MPs and estate agents: 77% think that lawyers were overpaid; 71% thought that MPs were overpaid, and 55% thought that estate agents are overpaid.

At the other end of the income spectrum, office cleaners and nurses were seen as most under-paid (72% and 77% respectively).

Social workers and doctors are in the middle of the league table. More people saw social workers as underpaid (38%), than overpaid (17%), while 34% thought they were ‘paid about right’. By contrast, more people thought doctors were overpaid (34%) than underpaid (13%), but the most common view was that they are ‘paid about right’ (47%).

These findings are part of an eight month research project exploring public attitudes to inequality and related policy responses, and are based on initial analysis of research conducted by the Fabian Society, consisting of an opinion poll of 2,044 people conducted by YouGov from 28 November to 1 December 2008 and qualitative research.

The research is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is part of the JRF’s Public Interest in Poverty Issues programme.

Feeding the poor to sharks?

Crypto-Tory James Purnell (if he was Labour, it’d be Jim) might be good-looking but he isn’t quick-thinking…

The govt wants to privatise the social fund and charge loan-shark rates on what are currently interest-free loans given to the poorest in our society.

There’s all to play for, mind you, and this suggestion could fuel the resistance to the so-called “welfare reforms” which are aimed at cutting the benefits paid to the sick and unemployed.

Given that Purnell is the face of the government’s so-called “welfare reforms” he’s not left sufficient space between one dodgy policy and the next. Hence the commotion.

Note that the Daily Mail isn’t outraged. If it was, the title of the article would be a great deal more urgent and certainly shorter:

Labour MPs revolt over Brown’s plan to charge 27% interest on emergency loans to poor

Gordon Brown and his Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell were last night accused of behaving ‘like loan sharks’ over plans to slap punishingly high interest rates on vital loans to the poor.

In an astonishing move, rebel Labour MPs joined forces with David Cameron’s Tories to accuse the Government of penalising hundreds of thousands of families on benefits who get interest-free cash advances to cover the cost of unforeseen crises.

More than one million individual loans worth over £600million were paid out from the Government’s social fund last year to hard-up people – many of them disabled – who struggled to afford to repair a broken boiler or cope with some other domestic emergency.

However, in a provocative move, Mr Purnell wants to start charging 26.8 per cent on new loans – the sort of punitive rate found on High Street store cards and way above normal credit-card rates.

This would add nearly £50 to the cost of an average £433 loan and saddle the borrowers, who are almost all on State benefits, with an extra four weeks of repayments.

Senior Labour MP Terry Rooney, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, led an all-party attack on the proposal. ‘Whoever dreamed this up, particularly at this time of year, must have lost their moral compass,’ he said.

‘It cannot be right to start charging almost 27 per cent interest on loans to the poorest people, who currently pay zero interest.’

Mr Rooney believed that the plan, outlined in a consultation document produced by the Department for Work and Pensions, was a cynical cost-cutting ploy to stop poor families getting the money they need.

He added: ‘I fail to see how Mr Purnell can reconcile raising interest rates for the poor with the Prime Minister’s repeated calls to the banks to pass on interest-rate cuts to struggling mortgage holders. There will be one hell of a row over this.’

Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, said: ‘James Purnell makes me ashamed to be a member of the Labour Party. It is a disgrace the way he is hitting the poor. Not even the Tories would try to do this.’

Labour MPs also suspect that Mr Purnell is worried that the cost of the social fund will rocket as unemployment soars and thousands more people apply for help.

In an embarrassing development for the Government, Labour MPs received support from Tory Work and Pensions spokesman

Chris Grayling, who called on the Government to scrap the plan. ‘This is beyond outrageous,’ he said. ‘It’s nothing more than James Purnell and Gordon Brown re-inventing themselves as loan sharks.

‘That any Government would even consider imposing swingeing interest rates on unemployed people in the middle of a recession is just extraordinary. It’s a sign that this Government is utterly out of touch with what is really going on in Britain.’

And Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: ‘This proposal is perverse and inhumane. The principle of social funds is that they are interest-free to help people cope with emergencies.’

Mr Purnell’s document, which suggests that non-profit-making credit unions could run the loans, spells out in stark terms how the poorest families in Britain would be hit hard in the pocket under the new system. It says: ‘Interest would be charged …at affordable rates compared to those charged by commercial lenders in the same market.

‘We propose to set it at the maximum charged by credit unions of two per cent per month – 26.8 APR.

‘In 2007-08, the average initial budgeting loan award was £433.30. The estimated average loan repayment for all loans was £10.54 a week. If interest were charged at two per cent a month, it would take 46 weeks instead of 42 to repay such a loan at such a repayment rate, with a total interest paid of £47.80.’

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, whose members administer the social fund, said: ‘This might start with credit unions, but it will become a Trojan horse for the private sector to charge loan-shark rates for distributing public money.

‘It is scandalous that in these dire economic times, vulnerable people in financial difficulties could be exposed to profiteering. Interest of 26.8 per cent rates alongside some of the most expensive store cards.’

But the Government hit back last night, saying that under the proposed scheme, hard-up families would benefit from new advice on how to manage household budgets.

It said it would also be easier and quicker to get the loans, which would become available to working people on low incomes as well as those on benefits.

In the consultation document, Mr Purnell signalled that simply handing people interest-free loans without financial advice did little to help them manage their money.

‘We want to improve the help we give people when many are struggling,’ he said. ‘The social fund helps with money problems in the short term, but not the underlying problems of managing a limited budget.’

Last night, Work and Pensions Minister Kitty Ussher conceded that there was ‘very strong opposition’ to the plans.

But she dismissed the idea that the social fund was heading for loan-shark levels of interest, pointing out that ‘doorstep lenders can legally charge 180 to 240 per cent. Illegal loan sharks have been known to charge up to 1,000 per cent’.

It is not the first time Gordon Brown has been accused of betraying the poor. As Chancellor, he was criticised for approving a meagre 75p-a-week increase in the State pension. And this year, he was forced to climb down over his decision to scrap the 10p tax rate.

Hat-tip: Harpymarx

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

Is there an underclass of welfare dependents?

One question that always surfaces in my mind when the words “welfare reform” are used: “Where are all the jobs going to come from?”

Presumably, there will be new jobs created in the private companies which will be allowed to run services currently provided by Job Centre staff. Which might allow some sacked Job Centre workers to effectively get their job back – on lower pay.

But where are all these jobs going to come from – the ones that the sick and long-term unemployed are to be trained for?

Is the government planning some kind of new green deal which will create millions of jobs in manufacturing and agriculture? I doubt it, they can barely even get the banks to lend money to small businesses, never mind fund an expansion of the economy…

Which leads me to believe that the “real deal” with these welfare reforms is to redirect the beneficiaries of the welfare state from workers, pensioners, the sick and the unemployed, to big businesses.

Benefit claimants – and indeed, all of us – should recieve a basic Citizens’ Income in place of other welfare payments.

We should not demonise the unemployed, but the capitalist system which is throwing people onto the dole and out of their homes.

No doubt New Labour’s plans will be passed into law – a backbench rebellion meaning it will go through with Tory support. Given that the labour movement has united against these reactionary proposals, there should be deep questioning of why trade union money is still funding New Labour. If the labour movement wants to see Tory policies implemented, why not fund the Tory party?

Read this article, dispelling myths about the “something for nothing” culture, from Socialist Worker:

Labour’s nasty attacks on benefit claimants
by Siân Ruddick

Labour and Tory politicians have been falling over each other to prove that they are the toughest on those who claim welfare benefits.

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell was to unveil a raft of draconian new plans in the Welfare Reform White Paper on Wednesday – details of which were flagged up in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

From lone parents to people suffering from long term illness, the government proposes to cut access to financial support and use increasingly punitive measures to force people into work.

New legislation will include a harsh sanctions regime for those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) payments.

This will include cash penalties for those who miss appointments or fail to adhere to “contracts” detailing training and other steps to prepare for work.

Harder

The new raft of “welfare reforms” follow recent similar attacks on incapacity benefit claimants that were also designed to make benefits harder to claim and to push more people into work.

Purnell has said that lone parents with children as young as one may be forced to look for work or training and report to a job centre every fortnight.

Quite apart from the attacks on parents’ choices and quality of life, the government doesn’t offer free nursery places until the age of three – so most lone parents would be forced to find costly private childcare just to be able to look for work.

And it’s not just parents who will be on the receiving end. The majority of disabled people would be required to actively seek or prepare for work before receiving benefits.

In a nasty attack that panders to the worst elements of the tabloid press, the government says it will roll out lie detector tests at job centres across Britain.

This will feed the myth that people claiming benefits are intrinsically untrustworthy or dishonest.

Some 25 councils already use such tests in relation to assessing housing benefit claims.

The continuing demonisation of people on benefits has become a hallmark of New Labour policy. Headed up by Purnell, “welfare reform” has become a stick to beat and frighten people with.

Both Labour and Tories say they want to stop a “something for nothing” culture of welfare dependency.

Disposable

But life on state benefits is far from a holiday. On average, over 25 year olds get about £60 per week. This is not disposable income – it is supposed to cover all utility and food bills, as well as money for clothing and household goods.

The government is demanding that people should try harder to get a job.

But with unemployment rising, people with years of experience in skilled jobs are joining the dole queues. In most job centres decent long- term jobs are hard to come by.

The government’s plans will be delivered by expanding the role of private companies contracts.

It is likely to award contracts on the basis of meeting targets for getting people off benefits – increasing the pressure on “advisers” from private firms to push people into work or training, even where it is unsuitable.

Benefits are a vital part of the welfare state. We should defend the idea of a collective responsibility for ensuring people’s welfare.

At a time of economic crisis these arguments can become sharper. We must resist the scapegoating of those in receipt of benefits.

Is there an underclass of welfare dependents?
The conviction of Karen Matthews for kidnapping her daughter, Shannon, has led politicians and the media to denounce the supposed “underclass” of benefit claimants that exists in Britain.

According to the Sunday Times, the case has demonstrated “the perverse consequences of the welfare system”.

Predictably, the Sun went further: “Vile Karen Matthews is a product of the sink-estate underclass of chaotic families that loaf away their days on easy welfare benefits.”

These assertions have helped to fuel a picture of council estates filled with work-shy layabouts who refuse to “integrate” into respectable society.

In reality there is no such thing as an “underclass”. The idea that there are whole streets and communities in Britain where no one works is a myth.

Even on Karen Matthews’s street in Dewsbury – now held up as the classic sink estate – the Guardian found this week that almost every household had someone in work.

Areas where poverty is common do of course exist, but repeated studies have shown that poverty is a threat across the working class.

Many of those in poverty are families surviving on minimum wage or low paid jobs with little to show for it at the end of the month.

A 2002 report called Poverty and the Welfare State: Dispelling the Myths, by social policy expert Paul Spicker, attacked the notion of an underclass and took Labour to task for its attacks on “welfare dependency”.

The report found that although certain groups – such as young people, those out of work, or pensioners – are the most likely to be poor, no group “is immune to poverty”.

Throughout the 1990s some 60 percent of the population spent at least one year in the bottom 30 percent of income distribution.

Spicker concluded, “Poverty is not the moral, cultural or social problem of a permanently excluded underclass, but an economic risk that affects everyone.”

So for those truly concerned about the sort of society children are growing up in, the urgent question should be how to address the scandal of poverty.

The concept of some sort of “underclass” conjures Victorian-era notions of the “undeserving poor”.

These ideas inform much of New Labour’s “reforms” including its approach to welfare, crime and education.

The Tories refuse to be outdone by New Labour and have proposed that benefit claimants should have to disclose their family history.

Those whose parents and immediate family have been on benefits “long term” will be scrutinised, including their child’s performance in school.

The demonisation of those who receive benefits does nothing to address the real problem of poverty.

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