Three cheers for the courts and mental health activists, O for the politicians and the DWP. Two days ago 3 judges ruled – as we all knew, but it required the courts to make it the law of the land – that the Government’s prescriptors, regulations and guidelines used to assess whether disabled people were eligible for ESA disadvantaged people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism. What prompted this to happen? Not a change of heart by Atos Healthcare – heaven forbid – but a judicial review brought by two anonymous claimants who were victims of mental ill-health. The case revolved round how the notorious Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is undertaken to decide if someone is fit to work. At present the judgement of a professional such as a GP or social worker is generally not taken into account unless provided by the persons being assessed themselves. This means that assessments are usually based on a very short interview, often just 15 minutes, with a stranger who may have no mental health training at all and no knowledge of what your GP, psychiatrist or community psychiatric nurse might have to offer concerning your illness. This is now going to have to change.
It was a shocking, abominable murder. But the fear remains that this may not be the action of hatred-obsessed psychopaths, but the beginnings of a long-drawn-out saga of Muslim revenge. The words that the murderer used have already gone round the world: “we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. It is terrible that this happened on a British street, but that is precisely why this location was chosen. One of the killers added: “in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you”. It’s not only Iraq that he was probably referring to, where between 100,000 to a million died, overwhelmingly civilians, but also the on-going war in Afghanistan and the continuing escalation in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen where Bush had launched 60 strikes but Obama already at least 350, where the ‘collateral damage’ in civilian deaths has been huge. (more…)
In the 1960s banking assets accounted for some 50% of GDP. By the late 2000s they had risen to about 200% of GDP. In the case of Britain with its grossly over-extended international banking sector, they had risen to 500% of GDP. The reasons for this were partly to enable large companies to start doing business in ever more countries, but largely because of the de-regulation of banks and markets by Thatcher and Blair/Brown together with egregious financial innovation. The latter were not only mortgage-backed securities drawing on sub-prime markets (the posh financial phrase for basing these securities on households with no hope or intention of repaying these loans), but also designed mainly to allow banks to circumvent regulation and take on more risk with (ultimately) taxpayers’ money to increase profits. Basel 2 also purported to calculate precisely the capital reserve required to be held against the probability of loan defaults, but thus unwittingly categorised vast quantities of assets (e.g. exotic derivatives) as ‘risk-free’ which (predictably) turned out to be the opposite. But what is most significant of all is the way the banks deliberately inflated the size of their own balance sheets to increase their own power and profits on a mega scale. (more…)
Everyone is saying that Labour now urgently needs two or three key themes which will resonate with the electorate and will be recognised by everyone as the party’s distinctive goals. I believe those three key themes should be (i) reversing austerity by kickstarting the economy and putting a million or more unemployed back to work – which is also the most efficient way to cut the deficit, (ii) recreating a public NHS by repealing the Lansley bill and restoring the ethos of public service, and (iii) launching a major house-building programme to tackle the housing shortage scandal, generate jobs, offer genuinely affordable housing, and hold down house prices and rents. The last of these has received far too little attention, but all of them pinpoint drastic government failure. (more…)
‘Make the multinationals transparent about the money they make here, how they move cash round their corporate structures, and the justification for the tax they pay, as well as their responsibilities for the kind of society we want to create’. Ed’s admirable sentiments with which the vast majority of the electorate would concur. But the real question is: what are the mechanisms which will be used to ensure that these objectives are brought about? They should be at least four. First and foremost, the UK-controlled Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands, among others – should be closed down if they fail to offer complete transparency to HMRC, and this should be enforced by regular checks and inspections. The sanction if they fail to comply is that no financial transactions emanating from them would be recognised as valid by the British authorities. (more…)
If there’s one thing that haunts Labour, however much the Tories are determined to commit hara kiri, it is the accusation that ‘Labour was responsible for all this mess in the first place’ by gross over-spending. Since this is not true, why doesn’t Labour refute it at every opportunity? Just before the crash in 2007-8, the UK budget deficit stood at just 3% of GDP, low by contemporary OECD standards and tiny by historic standards. At the end of the Napoleonic wars government debt was over 250% of GDP. Just before World War I it was about 30%, rising to 175% by 1918. It was still 125% at the start of World War 2, by the end of which it stood at 230%. It then fell to no more than 25% by 1990, but since then rose to almost 70% by 2010. Following the banking bail-out it has risen now to just under 90%. (more…)
Universal Credit (UC) was officially launched, on a very small scale, at the end of last month in Ashton-under-Lyne. It merges several benefits and tax credits into 1 monthly pay-out, not let it be noted weekly. IDS is keen to tell the public that 3 million people will gain, though for some reason he forgets to add that on the government’s own impact assessment 2.8 million people will lose. Somehow he’s also forgotten to tell you that the cuts have taken place even before UC starts – cuts to housing benefit, the bedroom tax, cuts to working tax credit and child tax credit, and the replacement of Council Tax with local schemes that often involve people losing £200 a year. That’s just for starters.
2 Applications for UC can only be made online, and it takes 20-40 minutes to complete the online form. But according to the Office of National Statistics 7.6 million people have never used the internet and in some rural areas people who can use the internet don’t have access to broadband. Also the NAO says only 37% of people are happy to provide personal details on government websites. (more…)
The Tory party is obviously going through one of its regular hissy fits over the EU. My experience is that it is best not to intrude in toxic family feuds, so I will confine my remarks to the economy.
Support for the Chancellor’s policy has totally evaporated. His intellectual ballast, provided by Reinhart and Rogoff—namely, that growth rapidly declined once a threshold of debt of 90% had been reached—has been blown out of the water. The International Monetary Fund, the citadel of neo-liberal capitalism, has deserted the Chancellor. The British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and even the CBI are now openly criticising from the sidelines. The only austerians who are still full square behind the Chancellor are those in the eurozone. I hope he takes comfort from the fact that that paragon of economic virtue is now his last remaining ally. Contractionary fiscal expansion—his policy—is, to use the words he used today, a totally busted flush. It is an absurd oxymoron, as it always was. Once the rate of growth has slowed below the expansion of debt, the policy is doomed, and that is exactly where we are. Given that, it is so counter-productive now to continue with a policy of semi-permanent stagnation that one has to wonder what the Chancellor’s real motives are—apart, of course, from his own personal survival. (more…)
Banging his fist with the smack of firm government, Cameron warned the energy companies yesterday that those who engaged in oil price-fixing will face the “full force of the law”. Oh yeah? They must be quaking in their boots. Just 4 months ago when there was a huge public outcry at the surge in petrol prices, OFT ruled out a full investigation into petrol price-fixing after it concluded that competition was “working well” and there was “very little evidence” that petrol prices ‘rise like a rocket and fall back like a feather’. Why should it be different this time? It’s just Cameron once again blurting out a promise he has no intention of keeping, just to get out of a tight corner. Just like the EU referendum bill debacle. (more…)
Lord Young, one of Thatcher’s Business ministers, got himself sacked 10 years ago when he made a deeply callous and insensitive remark. He has obviously not lost the knack because he’s just been reported making comments again of similar ilk. Reminiscent of Jo Moore sending round an email on the day of 9/11 which said “today might be a good day to bury bad news”, Lord Young circulated his message that a recession was a good time to increase profits. Apart from the offensive distastefulness of trading profits on other people’s misery, Young has really let the cat out of the bag about the government’s motives for the austerity programme. It has always been difficult to explain why Osborne & co. have persisted with a programme of semi-permanent stagnation when it was manifestly failing. Young has given us a clue that suggests that in the last analysis this is not a deficit reduction policy at all. Its real target is not only shrinking the State and squeezing the public sector into the farthest recesses of a fully privatised regime, it’s also to push down wages so far that it creates a bonanza for profits. (more…)
Tomorrow it must be one of the most bizarre votes that the Commons have ever seen. Here we have the PLP whipped to support the government in rejecting an amendment put down to the Queen’s Speech by the Tory Right which Cameron is now supporting being tabled against his own legislative programme. This pantomime reflects the determination of Tory hysterics (sorry, eurosceptics) to force Cameron into a binding commitment to hold an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017 to pave the way for an exit which Cameron himself has pledged to resist to the limt of his powers. This is the tail wagging the dog again in the Tory party exactly like ‘the bastards’ did to Major after Maastricht. It is a delight to behold this fight-to-the-finish ferment engulfing the Tory party on an issue which only 10% of the electorate think a most important issue while 65% think the economy and the cost of living are vastly more important. UKIP has succeeded in dragging the Tories into the further extremities of the Right and exposed the depths of their divisions as nothing else can. But does Labour just lie low and watch the spectacle? It should not. (more…)
It takes quite a lot of gall to be accusing the unions of trying to fix Labour parliamentary selections when you yourself have been engaged on doing exactly that for the last 20 years. When I first joined the PLP in the 1970s, it was composed very broadly of 40% on the Left and 40% on the Right, with the remainder not particularly one or the other. Once Blair had established New Labour after 1994, he and Mandelson set about consolidating their parliamentary base by using every device in the book – and quite a lot outside it – to ensure that members of the New Labour faction overwhelmingly predominated in the PLP. By the end of the 1990s some 60-70% of the PLP could be classified as part of the Blairite faction, with the Left confined to only some 10-15%. Corresponding to this the composition of the PLP changed from a rough balance between working class and middle class representatives to one which has become overwhelmingly middle class. The working class represents half the population, but only 10% of the PLP. (more…)
It is staggering that, according to the recent Annan report, Africa loses twice as much each year from tax avoidance, offshoring company registration, financial transfers, and corrupt mining deals secretly hidden, than the total it receives as a continent in aid. The most recent scandal concerns the concession deal extracted by a FTSE-100 company, the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, in the Congo whereby it bought 5 mining stakes which were State assets at far below their true value. Clearly there were corrupt officials involved as well as scheming and greedy corporate executives, but the loss to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is estimated at $1.3bn. What puts that in perspective is that that is the equivalent of their total health and education budgets combined. Given that Annan calculates that the loss to the African continent each year from financial skulduggery of this kind is of the order of £25bn, that indicates that scandals of the ENRC kind are multiplied up to 40 fold. (more…)
Progress, which favours professionalising the Labour Party, held a surprising seminar today with the above title. It deserves to be discussed since Parliament is packed with lawyers, accountants, businessmen, PR executives, academics, ex-Students Union careerists, and men (the vast majority white) – but extremely few representatives of the working class. Since 57% of people, according to one recent poll, self-label themselves ‘working class’, yet of the 650 MPs little more than 5% come from these origins – virtually none in the Tory parliamentary party and less than 10% in the PLP – class misrepresentation in the seat of government is quite an issue which should be addressed. Labour has tried to counter the paucity of women by all-women shortlists, but what about the far greater paucity of working-class activists? (more…)
The tilt towards blocking immigration as the main theme of an otherwise colourless Queen’s Speech, plus Cameron’s speech immediately afterwards rubbishing Labour as the scroungers’ party, clearly sets the tone for the next two years. The Tories have clearly decided, now that Osborne’s stubbornness has clearly poisoned austerity even beyond what the IMF can bear, there is nothing left for it but to go for broke by a no-holds-barred populist blitz of the most mendacious prejudices conjured up from the extensive armoury of Lynton Crosby, Cameron’s imported Australian pit-bull. With Osborne determined to pursue his objective of shrinking the State and whittling down the public sector even at the price of sacrificing growth, the Tories have obviously concluded that the next election cannot be won on the economy and can only be pulled out of the fire by smothering Labour in a farrago of lies. (more…)