Monday, 31 May 2010

David Laws? - good riddance!

A bit harsh surely? Isn't this one of the nations most talented men? He must be mustn't he ? After all he studied at Cambridge University so that makes him very clever - at least that's what most of the media luvvies have been telling us. But they all went to Oxbridge as well - so they would wouldn't they. Anyway, wasn't he just the right person to be in charge of cuts in public spending? Well er... no, not necessarily at all. He may be talented but he is also a multi-millionaire and former investment banker who took £40,000 in expenses that he had no need to take whether it was within the rules or not. No one can blame him for wanting to keep his private life private, although it looks like he wanted to keep it secret - but that is a different matter altogether.

This is a guy who, secure in the knowledge that he won't be affected, was preparing to shut down services and throw hundreds of thousands of people onto the dole. That is a much greater crime than breaking the rules to pay his 'partner' £40,000, It is not only socially wrong it is economically wrong and also morally wrong. Lets be clear about this - David Laws is not a good guy. Like Cameron and Osbourne, both wealthy individuals, he is a bad guy who is happy to make the poor pay for the excesses of the rich.

What has happened recently is a continuation of the con which started with the 'credit crunch'. We have been told that the deficit is all the fault of Gordon Brown. Not so - it is the fault of the casino capitalists as Lord Turner admitted. We are still being screwed as hard as ever and being made to pay with our jobs and houses. The Cameron-Clegg economic strategy - cut deep and fast - risks plunging us into a new recession and, at the very least, years of stagnation and economic misery. There is no money left in the system for a bail out if a further crash is precipitated by the sovereign debt crisis and the bad debt swirling around in the commercial property market. Lets not fall into the trap of thinking that these people are decent human beings - they are bastards.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Green Queen's Speech

This is what we could have had if we'd elected a Green government - a positive programme which would have created hope for the future, and an alternative to the mire which we are in. Well done Channel 4.

Green MP's alternative Queen's Speech

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 25 May 2010

As the Queen prepares to travel to Westminster to make her first speech setting out the coalition's planned laws, the country's first ever Green MP Caroline Lucas writes for Channel 4 News to describe what her alternative Queen's Speech would look like.

My government's overriding priority is to modernise the British economy for a low-carbon future, to create an economy more balanced between manufacturing and services, more resilient in the face of financial crises, where wealth is more equitably distributed and the more vulnerable in society are offered greater protection.

My government will bring forward a bill to initiate an emergency investment package, to cost £44bn, which will be intended to create over one million new jobs and training places.

This investment programme will result in significant improvements to public transport, including fare reductions of up to ten per cent. It will provide free insulation for all British homes. It will transform Britain's renewable energy sector into a world leader, which in turn will support the restoration of domestic manufacturing industry. It will also set our country firmly on the road to a zero waste economy.

In parallel with this bill, my government will continue the previous government's efforts to tackle Britain's budget deficit by 2014, but with greater emphasis on raising tax levels on the wealthiest thirteen per cent of earners.

The redistributive tax measures will ensure that a non-means-tested citizen's pension may be introduced at the level of £170 for individual pensioners and £300 for couples. This will ensure that no British pensioner is living below the poverty line.

My government will cancel new road building plans and transfer £30bn from the road building budget towards public transport and measures to promote and facilitate cycling and walking, including safe routes to school programmes.

Other fiscal measures my government will bring forward will include measures to ensure that the costs of high-carbon modes of transport better reflect their costs to society.

My government will introduce a bill to prevent any further private finance initiatives, and to keep the Royal Mail in public ownership, as the first step towards reversing the privatisation of public services.

My government will seek effective global and European collaboration to combat climate change, in a globally equitable manner, which will involve 90 per cent cut in UK CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, starting with a ten per cent cut in the coming year and following with successive year-on-year cuts to ensure the overall target is met.

My government will complete the reform of regulation of the financial services industry to ensure greater protection for savers and taxpayers, but will bring forward further legislation for the establishment of a nationwide network of not-for-profit community banks, and to separate retail from investment banking. Those banks which are wholly or partly state-owned will pay no bonuses above £25,000, and a permanent tax on bonuses will be introduced. A "Robin Hood tax", a tax on financial transactions, will also be established.

Recognising the international nature of the problems in financial services, my government will actively pursue with our European partners regulation at an EU level.

My government will introduce legislation to bring about wide-ranging political and electoral reform, including a fair and inclusive voting system which will be extended to a fully-elected second chamber.

My government is committed to making Britain a fairer and more inclusive society, and to this end will bring forward legislation to promote this. This will include a requirement for all companies to have at least 40 per cent of their boards of directors made up of women, and to penalise employers who implement unequal pay. The same legislation will strengthen the protection of disabled people and those with mental health problems against discrimination.

My government will bring forward plans for a very early withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan. At the same time it will seek international support for the establishment of a peace conference involving all Afghanistan's neighbouring countries, and measures to enhance economic and political stability in Afghanistan.

Legislation will be brought forward to decommission Britain's nuclear weapons.

Other measures will be laid before you.

I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

The 'free market' is the cause of our deficit

How long does it take to re-write history? I used to think it was years but in the digital age it seems like only a matter of months. Lets just recap - we are in an economic crisis caused by capitalists. The crisis reached a peak in the autumn of 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Bros. Then followed the bailing out of the banks and insurance companies by taxpayers. Now we have a sovereign debt crisis caused by that financial crisis. Here is Lord Turner quoted in the Guardian:

Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, told an audience of bankers in Brussels: "For most countries the cause of the rapid increase in sovereign debt has been the financial crisis itself and the tax implications for property booms and busts, which derived from financial system excess".

Yet we have just had an election in which none of this was even mentioned. If anything we were told that the Labour government was responsible for our £156 billion debt crisis. No doubt many governments have borrowed too much. The essential problem in the UK is that taxes are too low. We have been conned for years into thinking we can have excellent public services and low taxes - not so. If we want good public services we have to pay for them with higher taxes - which is exactly what it said in the Green Party manifesto. Fair taxation, in which the burden is shifted towards those best placed to pay is essential if we are to protect and provide good public services.

But I am straying from the essential point which is that the capitalist system is the cause of our current difficulties. The natural state of capitalist economies is stagnation punctuated by periods of boom and bust. My prediction is that we are in for a long period of stagnation or even economic decline, and that is before we have even been hit by climate change and peak oil. There is no way out of this unless we try to build an alternative economy. That is the historic mission of the left. The Green Party manifesto began to point us down that road - we have a very long way to go yet to get there.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The class war is alive and well in the UK

Once again a strike, supported overwhelmingly in a democratic vote on a high turn out, has been overturned by a judge on a trivial technicality. This is the second time this has happened in this dispute and it is class war pure and simple. The 1992 trade union legislation was deliberately designed to make lawful strike action onerous for unions. But you might have thought that a reasonable middle class judge would have recognised that the ballot was carried out fairly and expressed to democratic will of the BA workers. Not so.

Where do we go from here? This can only lead to more wildcat strike action of the kind that was successfully employed by the Lyndsey Oil refinery strikers last year. They didn't bother with a ballot. They just voted with their feet and walked out. This is good enough for me - democracy in action. The plain fact is that the 'lawful' right to strike doesn't actually provide workers with that much protection. They can still be sacked - after 12 weeks - and still be victimised. The real danger is that it leaves the union open to punitive damages from the employers - so unions have to disavow 'unlawful' strike action.

Unions were formed in struggle. Nothing has ever been given to working people - they have had to fight for it. Workers can still go on strike and they can still picket in support of their colleagues if they want to. They just can't do it lawfully. The Tolpuddle martyrs were prepared to act illegally to and they suffered transportation. Maybe workers will have to do this to regain the rights they have been denied by the ruling class.

The coalition is the best result for Labour

I've been too busy to post since the events of last week - catching up on gardening after my vegetable patch was sorely neglected during my election campaign. I've been beaten to it by other commentators who have reached the same conclusion as me - opposition is the best result for Labour. The reasons are straightforward. As Mervyn King said before the election this government is likely to be out of power for a generation due to the unpopularity of the cuts it will have to make. There is also the possibility that the Liberal Democrats will be swallowed up at the next election.

Joining with the Tories is a high risk strategy for Clegg and co. but one which I believe they had to take. If they hadn't they would have been accused of shying away from power and being more comfortable in opposition. Now they can claim that they have experience of government for the first time in 70 years. So how long will the coalition last? Some think it will fall apart after about a year when the cuts are biting and the differences between the Tories and LDs cannot be contained. I'm not so sure. I think Cameron is determined to go the full term and so is Clegg. The question is - can they take their parties with them?

Some would have liked the rainbow coalition - which was scuppered by political dinosaurs like Blunkett, Reid and Abbott. I supported the idea - but only if the LDs could squeeze a referendum on PR out of Labour. In the end the maths didn't quite stack up.

Just one more comment on Labour. They claim to have recruited 13,000 new members since the election result. Good for them. But they are also supposed to be spending time debating all the issues and renewing themselves. The problem is it already looks like all the old bad New Labour habits are coming to the fore. It should be an open contest representing all wings of the party but John McDonnell - easily the best candidate - will be shut out by the absurd nomination rules and the tight timetable. This is a mistake - similar to the one made when Gordon Brown was crowned leader without an election. Will things ever change?

Monday, 10 May 2010

This is a real conundrum!

What a roller-coaster ride! First we get the biggest economic crisis since the depression caused by financial capitalism - something we must never lose sight of. We are still in an economic crisis, and now we have a hung parliament with all the parties treading a political tightrope. The LDs are in the role of kingmaker but they also have the most to lose. If they join Tory government - which will have to take some pretty unpopular decisions - they may end up losing seats at the next election. The Tories are best placed to fight another election and they could trigger one at a time of their choosing to gain the greatest advantage. The LDs are worst placed to fight such an election. A similar scenario could happen if the LDs support a minority Tory administration.

If the LDs team up with Labour they could still end up being swallowed up at the next election - unless they are able to drive through PR. Its possible that Labour would be better off remaining in opposition - hoping to capitalise on an unpopular LD-Tory alliance at the next election. In any scenario the dangers for the LDs are the greatest.

So how do the LDs deal with this? What is their best option? As I said in my last post the LDs have to go for broke. A coalition with Labour with a cast iron guarantee of a referendum on electoral reform is their best bet. It would also give them experience of government which they desperately lack. If they can achieve PR they can change the political landscape forever . It's a high stakes game but worth the risk. Nobody could have made up a situation which is so complex and finely balanced - except the UK electorate that is! Have Clegg and co. got the bottle to go for it? Watch this space!

Oh and I nearly forgot to mention - nobody is saying anything about the elephants in the room - climate change and peak oil.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Liberal Democrats must seize this historic opportunity

So we have go what many people wanted - a hung parliament. Now, at last politicians are going to have to work together - a fairly alien concept in British parliamentary democracy. What is the priority of this new parliament? According to most commentators it is sorting out the budget deficit. But they are wrong. We have to deal with the deficit anyway, whatever happens. The biggest single priority is democratic reform.

Last Thursday's election showed up starkly what many of have known for years - our electoral system doesn't work. The Tories got 10 million votes, New Labour 8 million and the Liberal Democrats 6 million. That translates into 306 seats for the Tories, 258 for New Labour and 57 for the Liberal Democrats. This just doesn't stack up and people know it. There is growing anger and frustration that the democratic will of the people is being thwarted. Add to that an unelected second chamber and the situation is intolerable.

The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned and fought for proportional representation, they must now seize this historic opportunity and make PR a pre-condition of any arrangement with the other parties. They won't get this from the Tories - so they must form an alliance with New Labour and the Nationalists. The maths is tight - together they will only have 324 votes. But now there is a Green MP who supports PR and some of the other smaller parties will as well. This coalition can deliver the democratic reform we need and it is the only way forward. A Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition would be a monumental error - failing to deliver electoral reform and introducing swingeing cuts. It would split the Liberal Democrats and could only benefit Labour and the Tories in the long run.

Don't be fooled by the argument that the party that got the most seats and most votes is entitled to get the first shot. That is just Tory propaganda. The parties who got the most votes and most seats (albeit the letter under an unfair system) were the Liberal Democrats and Labour. That gives them a mandate to govern. If the Liberal Democrats's can wring a commitment to a referendum on PR and electoral reform form Labour that is what they must do. There is no alternative. If they fail to do this they will be consigning themselves to permanent minority status and they will dwindle back to they tiny party they were half a century ago.