Sunday, 23 July 2017

We can afford a decent pay rise for public sector workers

Politics has recently become all about what we 'can afford' to do as a nation. This is a political agenda pushed by the Tory Party and its neoliberal friends in the media. And what we 'can afford' we are told has to be paid for by taxpayers with tax increases but the reality is that much of government spending pays for itself. Lets have a look at some examples of what we can and can't afford to spend money on:

What we can afford -
  • renewing Trident = £200 billion
  • Hinkley C = £37 billion
  • HS2 = £52 billion
Total = £289 billion

What we can't afford - 
Total = £11.3 billion

The figures for what we can afford are ones the Tory government has already committed to and though the cost will be spread over a number of years they are likely to be underestimates. The real total is likely to be greater than £300 billion. The figures for what we can't afford are annual costs.

It can be argued that the 'affordable' expenditure is for vital defence/energy/transport infrastructure but it can equally be argued that all those three 'projects' are a complete waste of money.

What we 'can't afford' to do is spend much smaller amounts of money on the public sector i.e. the NHS from which will we all benefit; more police from which we all benefit and a much needed pay rise for 5.5 million public sector workers from which we will also all benefit - because it will boost our economy.

The reality is that these are political choices that have nothing to do with whether the items are 'affordable' or not. 'Affordability' is the smokescreen behind which these choices are hidden and a 'reason' to continue austerity which again is a political choice not an economic necessity.

But lets look at the 'unaffordable' expenditure in a bit more detail. The reality is that the public sector pay rise will largely pay for itself. How? Because we pay 39% tax and 39% will return to the government. In fact, most of that £4.5 billion will return to the government in taxes anyway as it is spent and circulates around the economy - its called the fiscal multiplier

For a fuller explanation of the public sector pay rise see Richard J Murphy's account here. The key point that Murphy makes is that we can afford to pay for a decent pay rise for public sector workers without having to raise taxes.

To re-iterate this whole debate is really about political choices and to say that we 'can't afford' to fund the public sector properly is essentially dishonest. The Tories priorities are tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and privatisation - which can be promoted by running down the public sector. Austerity is and was always a means of furthering this agenda based on the lie that Labour, rather than the banks, got us into debt in 2008, and that we need to 'balance the books' and have a budget surplus - which is economic nonsense.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reflections on the election #GE2017

Wow what an election! It's been unlike any I can remember, with an incredible turnaround from Labour which floored the 'expert' pundits - most of whom still don't understand what happened. Since 2010 we have been told 'there is no money' - with austerity being used as an ideological weapon by the Tories (and their friends the Liberal Democrats) to destroy the welfare state - something the Tories have wanted to do since 1945. From 8 June this position has become untenable which is the good news the UK desperately needed.

At the start the Tories were riding as high as 49% and Labour as low as 27% in the polls that I saw. A Tory majority of anything from 80 to 180 was predicted. Theresa May's ratings were sky-high and Jeremy Corbyn's rock bottom but from the start it was fairly obvious there were major flaws in the Tory campaign. Theresa May's robotic repetition of the 'strong and stable' mantra, her stage managed 'public' appearances and refusal to take part in the leader's debates all damaged the Tory campaign. Lynton Crosby may have been playing it safe but the electorate aren't daft, they expected much more leadership from someone seeking a mandate to be Prime Minister of the UK.
The wisdom of the punditocracy

In contrast to this performance from May, Corbyn played to his strengths, going on a nationwide campaign tour and reaching out to larger and larger crowds as the election progressed. Naturally this was treated with scorn by the pundits who 'knew' that Corbyn was preaching to the converted, and predicted that there would be no impact on the wider electorate.

What were the key points which turned the election in Labour's favour?:
  • The leaking of the Labour manifesto gave Labour several days of uninterrupted headlines. The contents proved popular with a populace weary of austerity, and increased the turnout of younger voters
  • The dementia tax - the Tory manifesto was a drab and uninspiring document - foxhunting anyone? - but people soon picked up on the removal of any kind of cap on social care costs, something which was bound to hit the support of the Tories core pensioner vote. May failed to deal convincingly with this blunder claiming 'nothing has changed' despite the Tory u-turn.
  • The 'debates' - Corbyn 'debated' May indirectly and although many thought these 'debates' a score draw they were good for Corbyn because they gave him exposure. People could see that he wasn't the monster portrayed in the Tory press
  • Tory u-turns - almost too many to count but including the classic that May had denied there would be an election until 2020 several times
Despite the fact that the MSM and pundits stuck to their guns about the result I could sense the tectonic plates of UK politics were shifting online - Twitter and Facebook - and that more people wanted real change. The final result? Good for Labour and the left but ultimately disappointing in that May was able to hang on in a lame duck government with support from the DUP. As in 2015 Scotland let the left down badly by providing the Tories with an extra twelve MPs without which Corbyn might have been able to form a government.  The headline figure though is not the number of seats the two main parties won but the percentage of the vote for Labour, at 40%, getting its highest vote share since 1945!

The key outcome is not that May has been fatally wounded by this but that the Tories and their austerity agenda has been badly damaged. They are clinging on to power trying to negotiate Brexit with no plan and from a position of weakness. How long can this carry on? Its hard to predict because the wheels could come off at almost any moment, or they might cling on for twelve months or more. My money's on them hanging on by the fingernails for as long as possible because of the fear of Corbyn.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Theresa May the sanctimonious dealer in death

Many people, including me, were outraged when Theresa May produced a sanctimonious 'Easter message' this weekend. May claims to be a Christian and is often heard pontificating about how much she cares about 'hardworking families' and those who are struggling. In her message which can be found here May said:
"This Easter I think of those values that we share – values that I learnt in my own childhood, growing up in a vicarage. Values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another"
But could this be the same Theresa May that has presided over a regime of benefits sanctions and disability assessments that have lead to an estimated 30,000 deaths? Could this be the same May the 'Christian' that was a senior minister in a Tory government that has implemented massive austerity cuts which have created poverty for millions in the UK and a million people, many of whom are working, using foodbanks?

Here is just one example of many of the victims of a Tory government in which Theresa May was a senior minister:
"The tragic death in July 2013 of 59 year old David Clapson, a former soldier who suffered with type-1 diabetes, highlights the brutality of the system of sanctions. Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis (caused by an acute lack of insulin). His death followed him being sanctioned a few weeks earlier when all his benefits had been cut. 
His sister, Gill Thompson, found him in a flat where he had almost nothing to eat, six tea bags and an out-of-date tin of sardines. He had no money for electricity to operate his fridge where his insulin was kept."
How does one be a 'Christian' and preside over a benefits regime which is killing people, and creating real poverty and hardship I wonder? 

The only conclusion I can come to is that May is not a Christian but a hypocrite whose primary purpose is to serve the interests of corporations, wealthy tax dodgers and the 1% in general. People must die and be flung into poverty so that her already wealthy friends can have an even bigger slice of the cake. Rather than being a 'Christian' I think a more accurate description of May would be that she is a sociopath.

It would be easy to despair when people like May are ruining our country but the only option is solidarity and resistance. This photo from Hanna Murphy on Twitter sums it up nicely. 
Photo - Hanna Murphy - Twitter.

Monday, 3 April 2017

How our sham democracy works

So you think you live in a democracy? Well, you are right, you do. But it's not quite the democracy you probably think. I just pulled this definition off my Mac: - "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members " . To me, that is a satisfactory definition. You could substitute 'organisation' with 'country' and 'members' with electorate', and you would have a definition which fits the UK. The key word though is 'control'. In a democracy 'control' means that the will of the electorate can make change happen - including fundamental change.

So why is our democracy a sham? It works like this: You can vote, and you can make change happen but there are certain things that can't be changed, really important things like our economic system, which determines the kind of society we have. Why can't 'we' make those fundamental changes? Because the market, or call it big business or capitalism if you prefer, is in control. How does this work and how did it happen? If we look at recent history - in the past 40 years or so our politicians have ceded control to the 'market'. It has happened through the capture of institutions. The European Union is a good example of this. European treaties contain clauses which dictate how our economy works. In effect they create a European constitution which binds us to the market through so called 'liberalisation'. This means that we have to follow a right wing ideological economic programme

This 'free' market programme is neoliberal and its one that is followed by almost all governments in the 'West'. It means that corporations can dodge taxes, trade unions get disempowered, environmental regulations are watered down, people are mired in debt (e.g. student loans), public services are privatised, and countries are run for the benefit of the 1%.

The USA is still the epitome of capitalism but its doesn't say in the constitution that the country has to be capitalist. Those kind of ideological-cum-economic statements have no place in a constitution. What has happened is that politicians have put commercial interests above our democratic rights. On a lower level it works in the UK like this. If a multinational wants to build a superstore in your town centre your local council can't stop it from happening. The citizens of that town can't take a democratic decision that they don't want it. The 'rights' of the multinational have been put above our democratic rights. Of course we can still vote, and we can still decide to do things like introduce gay marriage, because that doesn't threaten the economic status quo, but we can't run our economy in the way we choose.

Our politicians never asked us if we wanted this. If they had they know we would have rejected it. But the point is that many of us are unaware of exactly what happened. Historically, where people have kicked back, such as in the referendums in France and Ireland where European treaties were rejected, the politicians have fixed it so they got the result they wanted in the first place. It's not just the EU but all the major institutions such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank that adhere to this neoliberal ideology masquerading as economic policy. The plan is to ensure that a particularly nasty, laissez faire version of capitalism is completely dominant - social and collective concerns are subsumed to the agenda of big business, and democracy is undermined.

While they may not appreciate all the details of how our democracy has been stitched up in the interests of corporations and the 1% many people understand that our democracy doesn't work for them. That is one of the key reasons that voter turnout has fallen so dramatically in many countries like the UK. And that is how we can get a government elected by only 24% of eligible voters which is what happened in the UK in 2015. Are the powers that be worried about this? Of course not - voter apathy suits those who are on control!

Despite this, our democracy is still worth something. We can put democratic rights back on top. But we can only do this if we first understand what's really happened, and have the will to re-capture our institutions from those who have 'stolen' them. Only by becoming politically active at a local level and resiting at a national level can we we turn the tide against the corporations, tax-dodging rich and their tame politicians who advance their interests at our expense.  

This is an updated version of a post from 2012. Nothing much has changed - for the better!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Some remain 'lefties' are busy doing the Tories work for them

As one who voted remain in the 'Brexit' referendum last June I was riled by the use of the term 'remoaner' by those who 'won' the vote to leave. But now I'm beginning to wonder whether some of my my fellow remainers aren't 'remoaners' after all. The leave vote was a huge blow to all of us and many people, including me, are still pissed off about it. However, its now time to move on. The battle is not about whether we leave, triggering Article 50, but what Brexit will look like. But my own anecdotal 'survey' of social media is telling me that many remainers on the left still don't appear to have got beyond the denial stage. 

They think that the Labour Party are going to come riding to the rescue on a white charger and block the triggering of Article 50. But this isn't going to happen, and it never was whoever was leader. Labour are not in government. They are in opposition with less than 250 MPs. The Tories have a working majority. Its that simple really. Many northern Labour constituencies voted leave. They are between a rock and a hard place. Which is why I'm getting a bit sick of lefties bashing Labour but most of all Corbyn.

Corbyn has been battered continuously since winning the first leadership election. He has been blamed for Brexit - wrongly. He is doing the only thing possible under the circumstances and as he quite rightly said the battle now is to get the best possible deal and protect jobs and workers rights by preventing a 'hard' Brexit.

Labour is the only chance of stopping the Tories winning the next election so my message is: get a grip, stop bashing Corbyn, stop the daft threats to leave Labour, and stop doing the Tories work for them. Get behind Corbyn and Labour and others who are working to prevent the Tories turning us into the new Singapore and help the fight to prevent a Brexit which could be disastrous for jobs, the NHS, and all we really care about. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

All you need to know about Brexit

It's now over 6 months since the referendum on membership of the EU. I voted remain but I made it clear I was a 'reluctant' remainer because of the democratic deficit in the EU, the imposition of neoliberal austerity - particularly in Greece - and the fact that the EU is not an EU for the people but a bosses club. My view was, and still is, that we should remain and reform the EU.

Since that fateful day arguments have continued to rage between Brexiteers and Remainers about the vote itself, what people actually voted for and the likely consequences of Brexit. In addition, we hear about how the vote to leave the EU was a triumph for the likes of Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan.

You may not be surprised to read that I don't see it like that. The UK leaving the EU wasn't a massive triumph for Ukip  et al it was in fact a massive blunder by the Tory Party. Something which seems to have escaped the mainstream media - quel surprise!

The truth is that Brexit was a massive Tory fuck up! It was Cameron who decided to call a referendum when he had absolutely no need to do so. It was in the 2015 Tory general Election manifesto. Cameron and the Tories called it and then went on to lose it!

And why did they lose it? Becuase of 5 years of massive Tory austerity cuts, benefit sanctions and a housing crisis which left many millions of people feeling insecure and angry if not actually totally shat upon.

So in six short years the Tories have managed to do very real damage to the UK and its inhabitants and there could be much more and worse to come. So as the economy and the social fabric crumbles, as poverty and homelessness increase and as the NHS and local government falls apart remember who is responsible for this grim state of affairs - the TORIES