Do we want predatory capitalism or an economy geared to the common good?

Despite the predictable whines of some FTSE-100 bosses reported yesterday about a post-election Labour-SNP pact, Ed M should flesh out more about his vision to replace ‘predatory capitalism’ both because that is what a majority of people want and also to put paid to the ignorant mantra that self-interested executives like to propagate that anyone who says business practices could be improved is somehow ‘anti-business’.   The real truth is that they are anti-public interest.   Britain has some world-class industries and many thrusting, innovative small businesses, but our economic performance is still marred in places by exploitation (the energy sector), failure to meet need (house-building), lack of investment (utilities), short-termism (City of London), profit-driven misconduct (Big 4 banks), as well as by dysfunctional structure (lack of stakeholder commitment) and perverse ideology (the market uber alles).   So what should be done? Continue reading “Do we want predatory capitalism or an economy geared to the common good?” »

Cameron’s bad day: with more ‘victories’ like this, he’s sunk

Any objective person watching the Cameron-Miliband TV duel (although it was faux because Cameron was too frit to submit himself to a direct face-to-face contest with Miliband) could be in no doubt that Miliband won.   Unlike Cameron, he didn’t get flustered or rattled, and he projected himself more strongly both in personality and on policies.   So   bang goes one of the only two factors that the Tories count on to win this election.   The other, the economy, didn’t survive Cameron’s mauling by Paxman: how could he claim that the government’s economic policy was working when he’d been forced to borrow an extra £500bn beyond what he planned, and the deficit was still stuck at nearly £100bn and was no longer coming down because Osborne had imposed semi-permanent austerity which reduced government tax receipts?   Not the best way for the Tories to start the election campaign.   But another incident on the same day worked out even worse for Cameron. Continue reading “Cameron’s bad day: with more ‘victories’ like this, he’s sunk” »

Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed

No section of the population has suffered worse abuses from the government over the last 5 years than disabled people – those who are least able to bear it.   They are subject to assessments about their capability to work, enforced by Atos at the behest of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which in thousands of cases grotesquely ignore the patent inability of many severely disabled people who cannot conceivably find work in their current circumstances.

They can then be deprived of all benefit income for at least 4 weeks (and for 3 months the second time round) and thus made destitute if they have been late for appointments or are considered by Atos/DWP not to be making enough job searches or for what are clearly trivial infringements of draconian DWP rules.   In many such cases  claimants do not understand why they’ve been penalised.   If as a result of being deprived of all income they experience severe financial hardship, to the extent of being unable to feed themselves or their families or to pay the rent, they then claim hardship payments, they are told in all but a very few cases that they don’t qualify.   So what should be done? Continue reading “Labour should make clear rules for disability benefits will be radically reformed” »

NHS staff in England are being treated worse than any other public sector workers

It was Nigel Lawson, I think, who once opined that the NHS was the nearest thing the British had to a religion.    If so the government has treated its priestly acolytes uniquely badly.   The average real pay of NHS workers has fallen by over 10% since 2009.   No less than 40,000 are paid below the living wage, and many NHS workers have to have second jobs to survive and some even have to use food banks.   Effectively NHS staff donate £1.5bn a year in unpaid overtime.   The government’s decision to refuse to pay even the 1% cost of living increase recommended by the Pay Review Body for 2014-5 added insult to injury.

Now the government has taken its provocative stance still further.   The Health Pay Review Body (PRB) is currently taking submissions on 7-day working in the NHS.   Whilst Agenda for Change sets out unsocial hours rates for NHS staff working evenings, weekends and bank holidays, the Department of Health’s submission to the PRB argues that even unsocial hours payments should now be cut through changing the times defined as ‘unsocial’, paying them plain time rates on Saturdays and lowering rates for Sundays and bank holidays.

These are execrable terms and conditions for devoted personnel so gratefully lauded by patients.   But this is the public face of what is now being done to the NHS.   Spending on the NHS peaked at nearly 8% of GDP in 2009; it’s now just above 7% and is projected to fall to just over 6% by 2021.   That represents £30bn less being spent annually on the NHS compared with 2009.   For comparison France and Germany spend nearly 10% of their GDP on their health services and the US spends 17%!

Other unwelcome pressures are are now exerting themselves on the NHS.   As a result of cuts in local authority social care services because local authority budgets have now been reduced by up to 40%, people either turn to A&E thus increasing the overload so marked in this last winter or are forced to remain an in-patient for longer (bed-blocking).   Again, when NHS Direct was closed down – a serious mistake when it made nurses more accessible on the phone – the new 111 service that replaced it does not have call-handlers with the same level of training, so that people are jamming up A&E to get a medical opinion.

Although the 5-year Forward Review document recently promoted by NHS leaders including Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, demanded £2bn extra to meet health needs, hospital trusts faced with relentlessly increasing savings targets continue to reduce these very same services.   Thus several trusts are currently targeting district nursing services for significant cuts, yet with more than a third of district nursing staff over 50 years old and with community nursing marked as an essential service to reduce inpatient stays, this is totally counter-productive.  Now the government is proposing to implement a mutualisation model for the NHS: this is what existed before the NHS was created in 1948 – a patchwork of provision with no consistency in access to services, care quality or employment arrangements.   As the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has himself admitted, “mutualisation is a form of privatisation”.


Corruption, secrecy, non-accountability are rampant in Britain: how that should be put right

So today the Independent Police Complaints Commission has cleared armed police officers of any wrongdoing over the killing of Mark Duggan over 3 years ago, following an inquest verdict of lawful killing a year ago.   However the police officer who fired the fatal shots refused to be interviewed by the IPCC; why could he not be compelled to answer questions?   A week ago it was decided that no further action would be taken after the child sex abuse victims in Rochdale were repeatedly let down by police officers, one of whom retired to escape prosecution; why is retirement allowed to preempt prosecution?

For 40 years, it is now alleged, investigations into a high-level paedophile ring in Westminster were halted and evidence suppressed to protect senior MPs and police officers.   For a decade industrial-scale phone-hacking at the News of the World was brushed aside by the police for fear of Murdoch.   Still no-one has been held to account for  the illegal shooting of Jean-Charles Menezes in July 2005, or for the calculated deception used by undercover police officers against environmental activists, or even for the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 football fans died because of policing errors.   But of course it’s not just the police. Continue reading “Corruption, secrecy, non-accountability are rampant in Britain: how that should be put right” »

Last day of Budget debate in Commons exposes Osborne’s boasts as lies

The truth finally came out.   Osborne claimed that the deficit was being cut this year when in fact that is only due to the exceptional delaying of tax payments till the end of the fiscal year by the super-rich in order to take advantage of the reduction in the top income tax rate to 45%.   Without that, which will never be repeated, the deficit would have risen this year, as on present policies it will rise in future years.

He promised “the biggest increase in real spending for a decade in 2019-20″, but that’s only because of a boom-bust roller coaster after massive spending cuts in 2016-18, which any Whitehall mandarin will tell him is a crazy, not to say utterly irresponsible, way to manage public services.

He claimed that the national debt would begin to fall in 2019-20, but that is only because he’s planning to pocket the £20bn windfall from selling off the proceeds from the bank privatisations, not because the fundamentals of debt inflation have in any way improved. Continue reading “Last day of Budget debate in Commons exposes Osborne’s boasts as lies” »

Parliamentary reform should be major objective for next government

Parliament is currently not fit for purpose.   It isn’t just the corruption – the expenses scandal, the recent Rifkind-Straw venality, the link between life peerages and party donations reported yesterday.   More insidious and even more damaging is the way that Parliament presently operates fundamentally undermines any serious degree of  democratic accountability.   Tribalism (my party right or wrong) and careerism (keep in with the Whips if you want ministerial preferment) are rampant, and often override objective assessment of the issues.   On government bills at report stage MPs frequently vote without knowing what they’re voting for, but just blindly follow the Whips.   On non-government business which often reflects electors’ intense concern, the government simply ignores any vote they lose.

Lords Amendments, which are often very sensible, are dismissed peremptorily and almost with disdain, thus destroying the benefits of better scrutiny in the second chamber.  Lobbyists for the big private interests operate secretly with access to Ministers often denied to MPs, leading to under-the-counter deals which make a mockery of parliamentary elections.   Private Members’ Bills are railroaded into submission by the government majority or by the Whips’ shenanigans.   Where MPs badly fail their electors, there is at present no effective channel for electors to remove them. Continue reading “Parliamentary reform should be major objective for next government” »

Tectonic plates shifting in world power structure are signs of a new world order

Something has just happened which got hardly any attention in the media, but which is very important.   The recent setting up by China of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank may not seem likely to excite the passions, but it should.   For this is clearly an intention by the big Asian powers to challenge the World Bank and the IMF which have been the cornerstone of Western (for which read US) domination of the global economy since Bretton Woods in 1944 and the main deliverers of the so-called ‘Washington consensus’.   It is equally significant that several of Washington’s European allies, led by Britain, have signed up to become founding members of the new bank, despite vigorous US  lobbying to stop them joining.  France, Germany and Italy have also now joined up, and Australia and South Korea are also now thought likely to join.   This unprecedented desertion of the US approach by its key allies has left Washington scrambling to recover from a major setback.   But the immediate signs are that it’s not succeeding. Continue reading “Tectonic plates shifting in world power structure are signs of a new world order” »

Who is saying there should be NO benefit cuts in the next Parliament?

There is an auction taking place on the size of the welfare cuts to be imposed in the next 5 years.   The Tories are arguing for £30bn cuts in the first 2 years to 2017-8 via no tax rises, £12bn in welfare cuts, £5bn in extra corporate tax evasion revenues, and bigger departmental cuts (up to £17bn).   The LibDems accept the overall £30bn target set by the Tories, but propose to reach it by £6bn in higher taxes, £6bn by clamping down on corporate tax evasion, £12bn in departmental cuts, and £3.5bn in welfare cuts.   The Labour party has not explained in detail how it would reach its target of eliminating the structural deficit by 2019-20, though the cuts would be less than under the Tories and confined to current expenditure, not capital expenditure.   Nobody is saying that there should be no welfare cuts in the next 5 years.   But they should be, for several strong reasons. Continue reading “Who is saying there should be NO benefit cuts in the next Parliament?” »

Osborne fiddles the figures – again – on living standards

In a budget speech spent firefighting against his opponents’ attacks, Osborne’s most eye-catching claim was that household incomes are now higher in 2015 than in 2010.   However like everything else this slippery chancellor does, nothing should be taken at face value.   And once again the spin he has put on the facts is wildly misleading.   He chose as his measure ‘real household disposable income per capita’ which he said is expected to show at the end of 2015 a marginally higher level than in 2010.   Apart from the fact that it is a forecast, not a fact, the real question is whether it is the right metric for measuring living standards in the first place.   It is badly flawed because it includes items that people wouldn’t consider as income at all such as ‘imputed rents’ (i.e. the rent that homeowners might receive if they did not live in their own home!).   It also includes, bizarrely, the incomes of charities, universities and trade unions! Continue reading “Osborne fiddles the figures – again – on living standards” »

Osborne’s claim of a let-up in austerity in next 5 years is a lie, as Treasury Red Book shows

George Osborne didn’t deliver a budget yesterday.   He delivered a party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory party in which analysis of the macroeconomic state of the economy, which is the real purpose of budget statements, was almost totally absent.   Osborne’s speech yesterday had two aims.   One was to give the impression that the worst of austerity was now over and the sunny uplands beckoned if you vote Tory at the election. The second was to shoot as many Labour foxes, i.e. Labour’s successful attack lines, as he could squeeze into an hour on his feet in the Commons.   Careful analysis of the figures after the speech was over showed the magnitude of his failure on both counts. Continue reading “Osborne’s claim of a let-up in austerity in next 5 years is a lie, as Treasury Red Book shows” »

The fossil fuel divestment drive is gathering momentum

The growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion ground to a halt last year for the first time in 40 years without the presence of a full-blown economic crisis.   In that year the global economy grew by more than 3%, but the amount of carbon dioxide pumped out remained at the 2013 level of 32.3 gigatonnes.   One main reason is that China has cut its use of coal, one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and installed more hydro-electricity, wind and solar power.   At the same time electricity consumption, which had been growing at about 10% a year, has fallen to 3-4% as China imposes energy efficiency standards for industry, shuts older factories, and shifts away from heavy manufacturing which has driven its economic growth.   But there is a further reason which is likely to consolidate these pre-existing trends even if global growth takes off again. Continue reading “The fossil fuel divestment drive is gathering momentum” »

Osborne’s budget message: government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich

Osborne’s shamelessness knows no bounds.   Having generated the most polarised society in class terms since the Edwardian era, he has the gall now to be focusing  Tory electoral appeal on a brazen tax giveaway confined to the extremely rich.   It’s an outrage that with only 50 days to the election he’s now giving notice that, if re-elected, the Tories will cut the inheritance tax bill on properties worth up to £2 million by £140,000.   This will be overwhelmingly concentrated on estates in London and the South-East, when at the same time there are now a fifth of the population living below the official poverty line of around £240 a week (depending on household size).   For Osborne it is the southern propertied middle classes that matter, not the northerners who have been forced out of their homes in which they may have lived for 30 years or more by the hated bedroom tax. Continue reading “Osborne’s budget message: government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich” »

What the 3 main parties aren’t telling you: a radical way out of austerity

On budget day this Wednesday (18th) I and 16 other contributors are launching in the House of Commons our book ‘What the Three Main Parties are not Telling You: A Radical Way out of Stagnation and Inequality’ as a counter-blast to Osborne’s demand for another 5 years of austerity.   Mariana Mazzucato refutes the conventional idea that the role of the State is simply to redress market failures; rather it funds not only the rate of innovation but also generates its direction.   Ha-Joon Chang notes the tide of public opinion is steadily moving against privatisation and in favour of renewed public control, and he cites many international examples to confirm this.

Michael Burke argues that with the continuing strike by private investors and the failure of the banks to lend to industry, public investment is now critically needed to kickstart the economy on the path to sustainable growth (not the temporary uptick now fading which is all that Osborne has conjured up).    David Blanchflower sets out a medium-term plan to cut the deficit and a short-term plan to boost growth driven by tax cuts to firms focused on job creation, especially for the young.   John Mills demonstrates that with the balance of payments deficit spiraling upwards to probably £80bn this year, while net borrowing by consumers is still limited by falling wages and business investment remains flat, the government deficit (the balancing item) can hardly reduce and may well get higher.  Continue reading “What the 3 main parties aren’t telling you: a radical way out of austerity” »

Osborne’s budget giveaway for pensioners: never have so many lambs been so ripe for fleecing

We are now being presented with yet another almost unbelievable example of how ruthless the Tories are prepared to be in their own interest at the expense of the gullible and vulnerable.   Already last year Osborne ruled that 320,000 savers a year with ‘defined contribution’ pensions would no longer have to buy an annuity – they could take the cash in their pension pot and run with it wherever they liked, whether buying a car, taking a world cruise, tapping into the buy-to-let market, or whatever feelgood bonanza took their fancy, and whatever the long-term consequences of running out of money.   All for Osborne to cash in on the pensioners’ vote.   Now he’s proposing to go much further in next Wednesday’s budget giveaway day.   He’s now intending that any of the existing 6 million pensioners who missed out on last year’s offer because they were already locked into annuity contracts should now have the opportunity to escape these agreements.   The rush for the exit has already started, even though taking out and spending capital reserved for lifetime income could well disqualify such a person from free social care later. Continue reading “Osborne’s budget giveaway for pensioners: never have so many lambs been so ripe for fleecing” »