Category Archives: Uncategorized

LABOUR MUST OFFER REAL CHANGE

The Labour Party’s recent history is as a government of war, privatisation, commerce and attacks on civil liberties.

Just trying to present a slightly different flavour of the Tory Government’s policies will not see Labour back into power. Mealy mouth acceptance of the “need for cuts” or promises confined to adjustments to Tory policies won’t cut it. Under those circumstances, why would anyone think voting Labour would bring anything much better?

Take one example, the promise on VAT. This is apparently to “temporarily reverse” the Tory VAT hike. Temporarily. Was nothing learned from the 10% tax rate fiasco? However much you might explain in advance that a tax reduction is temporary, when it comes to putting it up again, you have raised taxes! Failure to grasp this simple point cost us thousands of council seats in 2008 and massively dented faith in Labour’s willingness to protect the people who we represent.

Yet there is no need to be so fearfully cautious. You could easily pay for VAT reductions, fuel duty reductions, more public spending by collecting just a proportion of the £120 billion lost each year in evaded, avoided, late and unpaid taxes (see PCS analysis).

The electorate expected the last Labour Government to do what the Tories do so well: represent the interests of their tribe. With some timid exceptions, from 1997 Labour wasted massive Parliamentary majorities doing not much more than marking time for the Tories for over 12 years, keeping their policies warm.

The electorate want – they expect – a Labour Government that will change things. And it really isn’t rocket science. The sort of programme the British people want to see is simple:

  • Stop slashing jobs and services
  • Cut vehicle fuel taxes
  • Build low cost housing
  • Utilities, rail and buses back into public control
  • Stop the likes of the bankers and energy companies ripping us off
  • Protect our way of life

Very straightforward. Having seen the sums of money Labour was prepared to commit to bale out the bankers, no one will ever again believe this simple programme in not affordable! So if Labour leaders will not act like Labour leaders, will not make changes in the way the British people expect, what is the conclusion? That they prefer to avoid change, to keep on marking time between Tory governments.

That being the case, Len McCluskey of Unite must be right: time for the cuckoos to be thrown out of the Labour nest.

RECLAIMING OUR FLAG FROM EXTREMISTS

Over many decades, few Union Flags have been seen in public as a matter of course. They may come out for special occasions, but then are put away again.

It has been as if we fear offending people by an outward display of pride in our nation, symbolised by its flag, or might be embarrassed by people finding out we are patriotic.

Many on the Left, certainly, have been uncomfortable with the flag being flown domestically, possibly because of a worry that it might seem to be a celebration of our imperialist past.

Our military do routinely fly our national flag, so is it wrong to be associated with military activity? Does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism?

No, emphatically, to both!

Our military are just that – OUR military. If you don’t approve of our armed forces’ involvement in places like Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan or Libya, this is not the fault of our forces, but the choice of our politicians. And we either elect or tolerate those politicians.

Our armed forces are there to defend us and to protect our interests, so of course we should be associated with that!

I remember the woolly thinking of some of my comrades on the Left in the 1980s, refusing to wear Remembrance Sunday poppies, insisting instead on wearing the white poppies of peace. I had no problem with white poppies, but it was as if some of my comrades blamed our service men and women for wars! Kind of missing the point of remembering OUR fallen and wounded.

So, does nationalism lead inevitably to extremism? No. But lack of public patriotism can.

For decades, the extreme Right has appropriated the Union Flag. Some people will worry its display could be taken as showing BNP (previously National Front) sympathies. And by avoiding positive statements that we are British and proud of Britain, we have allowed that appropriation.

Nationalism may be a bit random, mostly the result of geographical or cultural accidents: countries are not, by and large, assembled on purpose. Most countries are there as they form a reasonably logical geographical or cultural entity, very often both. Britain is one such, with some variations on the theme (politically the UK, geographically Great Britain or even the British Isles). And most British people can identify with that organisational and cultural unit.

To let the Right steal the symbol of our nation – incidentally one of the best known brands in the world, and (because of our historical crimes) the most easily misunderstood – is to allow the world to identify their extremist tendencies with our nation. Our reluctance to declare our identity with our nation, to show our patriotism, can actually encourage extremism.

There is a lot wrong with our country, a lot the Left would want to change. But there is a lot to be proud of, a lot of reasons not to be ashamed of being British. We must not allow the far Right to appear to represent Britain.

With events like the Olympics, the Para Olympics and – yes, I have to admit it – even the Diamond Jubilee, this year has given us a lot of excuses to proudly show our flag, without being misunderstood at home or abroad.

2012 has been a fantastic opportunity to wave our flag, and I hope that continues, so we can reclaim OUR Union Flag for the whole nation.

TIME TO TACKLE THE DISGRACE OF UK SLAVERY

Masses of media time and column inches are devoted to irrelevancies, like a private company not providing the Olympics security it promised, or a young Royal partying without his clothes.

So why is the disgrace of slavery in the UK not a constant news item and crusade for politicians of all colours?

On this day in 1833, slavery was abolished in most of the British Empire. This followed its being outlawed in England in 1772 and throughout the UK in 1807. Slow but steady progress. But, later, that progress faltered.

Occasionally stories do reach the public. A husband and wife were jailed in July for treating destitute men “worse than slaves” (Independent, 12/07/12) at a caravan site near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.

Earlier this year, nine men were convicted of using children from care homes as sex slaves and in government plans to combat this sexual exploitation of children by gangs were published in July. A report by MPs at the time showed up to 10,000 children went missing from care last year (BBC, 03/07/12). And, once out of the door of such care homes, children are easy prey.

A 2007 study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (by a joint research team from the University of Hull and Anti-Slavery International: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/modern-slavery-united-kingdom) found that forms of slavery are common in the UK.

For instance, they found human trafficking into the UK for sexual or domestic labour can involve thousands of women and children. Some children, in particular those from African countries, are trafficked through the UK to other countries.

Bizarrely, the UK has tended to treat trafficking as an issue of migration control rather than one of human rights! As a nation, we can sometimes seem hostile to people who want to live here, so the assumption might be “economic migrants” turn in desperation to illegal entry. But most trafficked people enter this country legally. Criminals can prey upon vulnerable people through a mixture of enforced debt, intimidation, simply taking away their documents or because they do not properly understand their rights.

What it comes down to is money.

The UN (International Labour Organisation) estimates worldwide traffic in human beings is worth at least US$32 billion annually, just under half coming from traffic to industrialised countries. Worldwide, more than 12 million people may be working as slaves, including at least 360,000 in industrialised countries.

Our collective hankering for “bargains” can cause slavery elsewhere in the world:

  • the conditions under which sportswear and clothing, or commodities such as tea or cocoa, are sometimes produced by slaves to keep down costs;
  • some UK-based companies, knowingly or not, rely on people working in slavery to produce goods which they sell cheaply.

And here at home, as a nation, we pretty much look the other way:

  • we like to think we care about children, yet there are at least 5,000 child sex workers in the UK;
  • children placed in care homes outside their home boroughs, no doubt to save money, often disappear from sight and can become prey to “child sex rings”;
  • each year a third of a million people go missing in Britain and, whilst most are found, those lost and destitute can end up in forced labour – as slaves.

I would say there is something wrong with a society that allows its own to be preyed upon and causes others to be preyed upon, all for the sake of money or an unwillingness to act?

As with so many social ills, they will persist if there remains a demand.

Surely it is about time we carried on the progress made 129 years ago, as the British Empire formally found its conscience?

Is the end nigh for social/affordable housing?

A recent article in a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors publication described how there had been a workable balance in house building, post WWII, between private and public sectors, at around 100,000 each a year.

That balance was broken around 1980 by the Thatcher Government, and not subsequently restored. Since then, the relative numbers of annual completions have been in the order of 100,000 by the private sector to 20,000 by the public sector.

This imbalance is due to political interference, not market forces: the private sector has continued to build what the market supports; social/affordable housing is not viable as far as the private sector is concerned, so it was never going to take up the slack.

In fact, as councils try to get the private sector to make up some of the shortfall, by requiring a proportion (30%, perhaps 50%) of house building schemes to be “affordable”, developers decide the profit margin is insufficient so schemes are not brought forward at all.

Politicians decided that councils would no longer be allowed to borrow as they had (which was at very low rates of interest), as this showed up on the PSBR, which had become unacceptable. Additionally, councils were not (are not, although this may be relaxed a little) allowed to use the billions of pounds in receipts from selling off council housing (Right to Buy) either to build replacement stock or against which to borrow cheaply to build more.

As an aside, there is a further, hidden, cost here for you and I. Depletion in council housing stock through Right to Buy has made it more difficult to match suitable properties to the right people/families, making duties to house certain people more expensive. Which we all fund.

And it can only get worse. A huge proportion of council housing stock has been transferred out of public ownership, most going to housing associations. Many saw as acceptable at the time, but analysis described by the Institution of Revenues, Rating and Valuation late last year is ominous.

Pilots of the Government’s intended Unified Benefit (involving three housing associations), where benefits (including what is now Housing Benefit) are paid to claimants (tenants), rather than directly to the housing association,  saw rent collection rates drop from 83% to 57%. If housing associations’ rent collection drops below 70% they will lose their “AAA” credit rating, making borrowing more expensive, and will “go bust”!

So who then will be building social/affordable housing?

Watering down shareholder control of executive director pay

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, announced last week that proposals in March 2012 to give shareholders more say on executive director pay in listed companies are to be watered down.

At that time, the proposals were thought to be “virtually certain to take effect” after 1 October 2013, and would have a significant impact on executive director remuneration.

But key points on “these [now less] radical proposals” are:

  1. A binding annual vote on future remuneration policy will now be every three years
  2. Increasing the threshold of support required to approve future remuneration policy was originally to be as high as 75%, but now a simple majority
  3. Advisory annual vote on how remuneration policy has been implemented will be retained
  4. Originally there would be a binding vote on termination packages – now no requirement at the time of departure to obtain specific shareholder approval of payments to directors in excess of one times salary

The Government has bowed to pressure from companies, who want to be able to do what they like. Yet even during the consultation period, attitudes have shifted, with once-timid shareholders now wanting greater controls.

I bet you won’t find this controversy over the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill debated in many places where the general public might end up forming an opinion!

 

Health and Safety gone mad? Hardly.

It’s a funny thing about Health and Safety regulations. Sometimes what is deemed “healthy” or “safe” seems more likely to be what is “cheap” or “convenient”.

Take asbestos as an example.

Asbestos is a truly pernicious substance and can cause people to die in horrible ways. Particles are invisible, you can’t smell them, taste them or – once in your lungs – get rid of them.

It is also widespread, producing appalling statistics. Asbestos is currently responsible for some 5,000 deaths a year in the UK, and this is expected to rise to 10,000 a year. Compare this to around 3,000 people killed in road traffic accidents each year.

So you might think that asbestos is being sought out and removed? No: economics gets in the way. Imports of asbestos were banned in 1999 and the big plan is to know where it is and leave it alone as long as possible. Inevitably it is sometimes disturbed or has to be removed.

You might then think the most extreme precautions are taken over this most extremely dangerous substance? No. Economics again.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations set acceptable standards for the amount of asbestos particles in the air; this just so happens to be the same amount most asbestos removal contractors can achieve during cleaning, and just so happens also to be the same amount most asbestos inspectors can measure with their usual equipment.

Certainly not a case of “Health and Safety gone mad”!

 

One law for us, another law for them

The Government is planning a new law that could “bring about a revolution in corporate crime enforcement”. That means letting off their mates if they play ball.

They claim the present justice system is “inadequate for dealing effectively with criminal enforcement against commercial organisations in the field of complex and serious economic crime (fraud, bribery and money laundering)”.  It is true that very few cases are brought against offending companies through criminal or civil proceedings is relatively low.  Cases can be extremely complicated, and corporate criminals can be very good at tying investigators in knots.

A possible solution would be for state prosecutors to employ enough experts to analyse and present corporate crimes to juries in such a way that doesn’t require lay people to become accounting and corporate law experts. It is not acceptable to take decisions on these sort of crimes away from the British people, who should be the decisive factor in all criminal cases not dealt with by Magistrates’ Benches.

But the Government proposals mean there would be no criminal cases to consider in the first place!

Proposals for Deferred Prosecution Agreements mean criminal charges would not be brought as long as corporate offenders agreed to things like:

  • payment of a financial penalty;
  • restitution for victims;
  • giving up profits from “the offending”; and,
  • measures to prevent future offending (just monitoring or reporting requirements).

And all of this would be agreed between offender and prosecutors “without prejudice”, so if it didn’t work out a prosecution would have to start from scratch.

Can you imagine a burglar being allowed to escape like this just because it is too much effort to prosecute? Or an art forger? A con man?

Gordon Brown failed to act on the then general consensus that corporate duties should include some social/environmental responsibilities as well as making profits for shareholders, which was bad enough.

Now the current Government is pressing the advantage of this “business can do no wrong” attitude to make corporate criminal acts far less risk for their chums.

Happy Crimbo everybody!

In yet another fantastic show of how completely out of touch with the real world the millionaires who populate the Cabinet really are, they have decided to rename “Asbos”.

In future, ne’er do wells will compete to see who can collect a “Crimbo”, and all the little children will be happy. But if you are a rich twit who spent the Festive hols singing carols around the grand piano with mumsie and pater, or fagging at some elite school, you probably don’t know “Crimbo” is a name children associate with Christmas.

But, then, the millionaires who govern us thought it OK to

  • put more tax on pasties
  • cut top taxes and take the money off pensioners
  • keep energy prices high to pay big profits to nuclear power station operators
  • cut police numbers
  • and the lst goes on…

They would be funny, if only their policies weren’t so devastating to the peopleof Britain, hundreds of thousands of which are losing their jobs and having their incomes slashed.

Private sector – not enough jobs!

On 9th May 2012 I went to an economic debate arranged by “Insider Wales”, who provide news on business in Wales.

I asked, “Do you think the private sector [in North Wales] can provide enough jobs to make up for the cuts in public sector empl;oyment?”

Panel responses were illuminating.

  • Institute of Directors North Wales Chair: “Of course not! And why would you want them anyway? They were from the public sector, would you really want people like that in your organisation?”
  • Deeside Enterprise Zone Interim Board Chair: “No, that was just wishful thinking, it was never really possible.”
  • Watkin Jones Group Managing Director: “No. In the private sector we believe we can do the work with fewer people, so of course not.”
  • CBI Noth Wales Chair: “No, but There Is No Alternative [remember Thatcher’s TINA mantra?]. But if we improve the business environment there may be more jobs.”

It would be a funny old world if anyone actually swallowed that line in the first place!