Sunday, 30 January 2011

It's not the snow stupid!

Ever heard the one about the wrong kind of leaves on the line? That's the much mocked excuse that has been used by rail companies for some train delays in the UK. Now the Tory-led coalition government is blaming the contraction of the UK economy by 0.5% in the last quarter on the weather! The snow may have had some impact, but not nearly as much as the governments ideologically driven economic polices.

The office of National statistics (ONS), which published the figures earlier this week, said that without the effect of the bad weather the economy would have been flat, meaning no growth at all. As long ago as June I predicted that the government's deficit reduction plan would result in an economic collapse. That may have been a dramatic use of words but as I've said before you cannot cut your way out of a recession. This was demonstrated in the 1930's when the same policies were followed leading to a slump which lasted until the second world war.

The only reason the economy came out of the longest recession in its history, after the crash caused by financial capitalism, was due to Alastair Darling's stimulus package in the dying days of the Labour government. Since then, the Tories have been lying about the cause of the structural deficit by blaming it on Labour. Osborne has called the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, a deficit denier but it is Osborne who is a deficit liar. Now the Tories are losing sleep because they know that the worst effects of the cuts and tax rises haven't been felt yet. In addition, inflation is set to rise to 5%, and, as Mervyn King admitted recently, incomes for working people have fallen by 12% in the past three years. If interest rates rise as they will probably have to, the already moribund UK housing market will be hit harder and repossessions will go up. This toxic mix is likely to drive the economy down further, possibly into the double dip some have been predicting. That is why Osborne announced recently that the government were likely to reduce fuel prices in the forthcoming budget - a cynical move to curry favour with the electorate.

With their reckless shock and awe tactics of £80 billion in cuts the Tories were confident that they could dump the costs of the financial crash onto the UK public and get away with it, protecting their capitalist chums in the process. They are in a hole and still furiously digging. They have a choice. They can continue on the same course, in which case they risk busting the economy and the collapse of the coalition or they can do a u-turn and try to put together a stimulus package which might save the coalition. Either way their reputation for economic competence will be ruined. The chickens are coming home to roost. Pity we all have to suffer in the process.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Woman is (still) the nigger of the world

"Woman is the nigger of the world" sang John Lennon in 1972. He was right. At that time women were second class citizens in almost all societies, lacking equal rights. In Europe and the USA, that is meant to have changed. In the UK the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975. This was supposed to create a level playing field between the sexes and end gender discrimination at work. There is no doubt that things have improved here since then. Women have access to jobs that they could never have dreamt of back in the 1970s, much greater independence, and a higher status generally - but that doesn't mean that things are hunky dory.

This was well illustrated by the recent Sky football debacle, in which the presenter Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray were overheard badmouthing a female assistant referee, Sian Massey. The lineswoman made a good decision about a potential offside during the recent Wolves vs Liverpool game, but, according to the pair women don't understand the offside rule and made a number of disparaging remarks about her.

This kind of 'locker room' attitude is still prevalent amongst many men in the UK, who refuse to accept female equality and still think women's place is in the kitchen and the bedroom. I was unable to post earlier this week, but if I had been able to I would have said that the pair should be unceremoniously booted off the air for good, just as they would have been if they had made the same remarks about a black person. Of course that didn't happen immediately but Gray was subsequently sacked and Keys has resigned.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Nobody should assume that the kind of prejudices exhibited by Gray and Keys have disappeared. There are people who would like to drag us back to dark days before these prejudices were effectively challenged in the UK. There are still huge injustices all over the world. The struggle for racial, gender and sexual equality goes on all over the world, and must be maintained.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

"Free" market corporate domination means mass unemployment - forever

Ever had the feeling you've been conned? Well, you have been, because I've no doubt you've been told that the "free" market will make us all better off, because that is what we are told by politicians and economists on a daily basis. The truth is the opposite, the "free" market will make us all poorer, and that is what is happening in the UK today. But this isn't just happening in the UK, it's happening all over the world.

The most instructive place to find out what is really going on is the USA. This is where the "free" market ideology known as neoliberalism started, at the Chicago School in the mid 1970s. Since the late 1970s incomes for working people in the USA haven't risen in real terms but incomes for the rich (i.e. capitalists) have boomed. The result of this is increasing inequality and increasing poverty. Through globalisation, which is a form of corporate economic imperialism, neoliberalism has spread worldwide.

The principal outcomes of the neoliberal project, which uses methods such as privatisation, deregulation, outsourcing, downsizing and shareholder value, have been squeezing the living standards of the working and middle classes, creating ever greater inequality, rising poverty and rising unemployment.

Wherever you look, in Europe for example, you'll find mass unemployment, even in that much vaunted economic powerhouse, Germany. And unemployment is rising inexorably in the West - 10% (the real figure is nearer 20%) in the USA, 20% in Spain, 6.7% in Germany, 9.8% in France, 8.7% in Italy. The average for the EU is a staggering 9.6%. Moreover, unemployment in these countries mainly affects the young. There are over 1 million unemployed people under 25 in the UK.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when full employment was an aim for governments in the West. This is no longer the case. Such is the "free" market corporate domination of our democratic systems that the modern assumption by politicians is that job creation is purely a task of the "free" market - governments shouldn't be doing anything about it. If the market can't create enough jobs - that's just tough, apparently. We are told that all will be better in the future. But there is no guarantee of this. In fact, if we continue down this road, things are inevitably going to getting worse. Remember the Banana Republics? - countries dominated by Western corporations with corrupt politicians, wealthy elites, and the mass of the population living in poverty. That is where we are heading. Perhaps the UK will become the world's first turnip republic.

In an interesting Guardian article, the macroeconomist Dean Baker reports how American economists - the very people who dominate economic policy globally - accept unemployment without a second thought. Not only that but they seem to think that it is a good thing that you and I should become poorer. This quote is very illuminating:

"The fact that the overwhelming majority of economists in policy positions failed to see the signs of this disaster coming, and supported the policies that brought it on, did not seem to be a major concern for most of the economists at the convention. Instead, they seemed more intent on finding ways in which they could get ordinary workers to accept lower pay and reduced public benefits in the years ahead. This would lead to better outcomes in their models."

How can this be possible? How can it be that one of the goals of economists is to make you and me poorer? The answer is that this isn't economics; it's right-wing political ideology masquerading as economics. Economics as a discipline has become completely subsumed to the ruling capitalist ideology.

How do we get out of this mess? We have to ditch the “free” market rules all ideology for a start. We need to have governments, which are free from corporate domination and are prepared to intervene in the economy and actively create meaningful jobs. We need a vibrant public sector providing services such as health and education without the profit motive. Most of all, we need political parties and politicians who recognise the need for positive change and can bring these measures into effect. Currently the Green Party is the only party in the UK that has these policies. Come and join us if you want to see real change happen.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The secret policeman's ball

How about this for a job? You get well paid, travel all over Europe, good expenses, false passport and can have sex with anyone you fancy. Welcome to the world of the undercover cop. Now I know that this kind of work can be dangerous, when dealing with real criminals, but I also know people from the environmental movement, and believe me, going undercover with them must be a fairly good gig. This is what Mark Kennedy (Stone?) did for seven years, spying on environmental protestors, at a cost of £250,000 a year - will that be affected by the cuts - I doubt it!

I was only a few weeks ago that I posted about the Metropolitan Police being out of democratic control in relation to their policing of the student protests and other infamous incidents such as the death of Ian Tomlinson. Now we find that the guardians of the state are snooping on people involved in legitimate democratic protest and peaceful civil disobedience. How can this be justified? It can only be justified if you have a police hierarchy which has become a law unto itself, and timid politicians who have neither the guts or the gumption to bring the police back into line. This was brilliantly summed up by Simon Jenkins in a recent Guardian article, please read it - especially the stuff about ACPO.

There is also something else which is sinister and serious here. The police are meant to act in the public interest, but what has become clearer through this debacle is the police are acting in the interest of big corporations. This came out in the policing of the protest at Kingsnorth power station. The police are not supposed to be some sort of rent-a-cop free service for the unelected, unaccountable private sector. This is just another step in the direction of a police state - and it has to be stopped.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The greenest government ever - huh?

So, this is the greenest government ever? I guess quite a few of us are scratching our heads on this one. As the Tory (nasty) Party went thorough it's re-branding with Blairite poster boy and PR man David Cameron, we saw Dave cycling to work, followed by a car carrying his suit and briefcase, installing a wind turbine on his house, and cuddling polar bears at the North Pole (OK, not quite be he would if he could have - no doubt).

Of course, this was all a PR con, or as these things are known these days - greenwash. Lets get down to the facts. The Tory-led government is in thrall to the corporations, and if there is one thing corporations hate its environmental regulation which prevents them dumping costs onto the environment in the form of pollution. It's not difficult to work out that we are going to see a weakening of environmental regulation and a knock down sale of our environmental assets.

So what is the "greenest government ever" doing? Well, its scrapped the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution for a start. It's downsizing the public bodies which protect the environment like the Environment Agency and Natural England. It's planning to sell off our forests, its scrapped the fleet of emergency tugs which are there to protect the marine environment, and it wants to start building new uneconomic and unsustainable nuclear power stations - like the Olkilouto plant in Finland which has been an outrageously expensive botched cock-up.

Behind much of this is the disaster of The Public Bodies Bill which gives the government powers to scrap public bodies at will. The bill is audacious, mendacious and dangerous for the environment. These bodies were created by parliament but parliament will have no say in their merger or removal.

The reality is that this is likely to be the least green government ever with falling environmental standards and failure to tackle our greatest problem - climate change. This won't be a surprise to anyone in the Green Party. It's exactly what we expected. We had the right policies to create a green economy whilst providing a million new jobs and protecting public services. We now have to face five years of going backwards environmentally with nothing being done to deal with the most serious issues that face us.