Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?

The news for nuclear gets worse every day.   The latest news today is that the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset, the government’s flagship nuclear project is near the point of collapse.   After Ed Davey, the LibDem secretary of state (there was a time before they joined the government in 2010 that the LibDems were solidly against nuclear) waved through the most expensive power station in history, and then the EU Commission suspiciously decided that the huge financial concessions (bribes?) offered to EDF did not mysteriously constitute an illegal state aid, it now looks as though Areva, the French designer of the reactor and the only company that can provide the equipment, is in a state of free fall.   Areva was already building two reactors, one at Olkiluoto in Finland and the other at Flamanville in France.   Both have been a disaster, massively behind schedule and over budget.   As a result Areva has been forced to suspend all its profit predictions and its shares have crashed nearly a quarter.   Can Hinkley Point C survive?   If not, the government’s whole energy policy is in deep trouble.
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Why haven’t there been riots about endless austerity? That may be about to happen

One of the most remarkable facts about the British public’s attitude to prolonged austerity is the lack of the kind of open revolt which has been seen in so many other countries.   In Greece it has led to the dramatic rise of Syriza under the dynamic leadership of the radical Tsipras who now has a poll rating ahead of all the other parties, including the government.   In Spain the resistance led by originally the indignados has crystallised into a new party named Podemos which was formed only 10 months ago, but now is equally challenging the government.   In Italy the prime minister Renzi has achieved the highest rating for his Democratic Party (39%), but second is the party of the comedian Beppe Grillo in the mid-20s%, well ahead of Berlusconi’s Forza Italian on 15%.   So where is the equivalent in the UK?   UKIP hardly counts as a serious alternative to government, though both the SNP in Scotland and the Greens in England could be seen as in the initial stages of a challenge to the main parties, significantly both from the Left like Die Linke in Germany.   The dramatic rise of almost all these movements have been sparked by deep public resistance to austerity.   So why not in the UK?  It may be about to happen.
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Cameron tries to blame foreigners for UK ‘recovery’ fizzling out

It’s a bit rich for Cameron, in his statement toriseday from Brisbane, blaming the world out there, particularly the eurozone, for the fading UK recovery when those countries are pursuing almost exactly the same economic policies as he is.   That is relentless and unending austerity, which he conspicuously failed even to mention.   Now that the blip in UK economic growth between Q2 2013 and Q4 2014 is manifestly deflating (was this part of the long-term economic plan that Cameron-Osborne continually talk about?), the prime minister needs an alibi.   It’s easy to pick on the eurozone which has indeed only avoided falling back into recession because of a surge in the French government’s public spending (please note, Mr. Cameron), but the reason the eurozone is in such a bad way is that Merkel has enforced unrelenting fiscal austerity – exactly the Osborne programme.   That euro-austerity has crippled the euro southern periphery and has now undermined the German economy itself which depended on that same euro periphery for its export-led growth.
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Privatisation of energy risks lights going out this winter

The effects of the UK privatised energy system are now becoming clear, not only in cartelised pricing and poor service , but also, critically, in loss of energy security.   As a result of the latter there are real risks of blackouts this winter.   Because of the Big Six privatised companies’ failure to invest on a scale that matched the performance of the industry when in public ownership, the UK’s spare electricity generating capacity has tumbled from 17% three years ago to just 4% now as winter approaches.   As a result the government has been forced to take emergency measures over the next 3 years to try to keep the lights on during the winter months.   They plan to keep three power stations on standby and are actually proposing to pay businesses to use less electricity.   In other words taxpayers not only have to put up with rocketing energy prices to fund unprecedented dividends to shareholders and bonuses for top executives, but now have to subsidise the companies’reluctance to invest in ordedr to keep the lights on.
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The case for abandoning austerity is a no-brainer, mathematically, financially and politically

Labour needs a game-changer to settle the result of the next election once and for all.   As it happens it has the perfect opportunity ready to hand.   Osborne is foolhardy enough to announce 6 months before the election that he intends to impose further cuts of £25bn to get on track to eliminate the structural deficit by 2019, which an FT analysis suggests may have to be nearly double that, or around £48bn.   This is an utterly reckless pledge which Labour should be exploiting for all its worth – as opposed to the actual silence with which it greeted this faux pas.   There are 4 powerful reasons for Labour to go on the attack.
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The Osborne forked tongue is already cranking up for the Autumn Statement

The Chancellor’s response to the £1.1bn windfall handed to him by the fine on the banks is a classic in Osborne double-speak.   We’re told the money will be “used for the wider public good”.   He means tax cuts as an electoral bribe.   He says “today we take action to clean up corruption by a few so that we have a financial system that works for everyone”.   Today?   Why not when the corrupt manipulation of the £3.5 trillion a day foreign exchange markets was uncovered years ago?   “Taken action to clean up corruption”? – almost nothing has been done to prevent another banking crash and the foreign exchange market remains, breathtakingly, unregulated.   “Corruption by a few”? – the truth is the whole industry was (and still largely is) rotten to the core as the chatroom exchanges between the traders of all the main banks clearly reveal.   “A financial system that works for everyone”? – one can only wonder at Osborne’s gall in spitting out a lie with such bravado, which he knows is a lie, and probably knows too that everyone else knows it’s a lie.   The bankers’ bonuses, overseas speculation, contrived tax avoidance, and mortgaging of prime property in central London works works in no-one’s interests except their own.
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Labour still odds-on not only to win election, but overall majority too

Now that the storm-in-a-teacup in the PLP, orchestrated by 3 ne’er-do-well malcontents and gleefully inflated by the Tory tabloids, is over, it is as well to assess the state of play before another bout of self-indulgent hysterics blows up.   Before the PLP gets afflicted again with a turn of the jitters, look at the evidence.   The latest poll puts Labour on 32%, the Tories on 31%, UKIP on 14% and the LibDems trailing at 11%.   This 1% Labour lead is dismissed as wafer-thin and fragile – and of course a 5-10% lead would be much more reassuring – but the significance of that 1% is widely misunderstood.   If there were an election now with that polling distribution deployed across the country in a uniform swing, Labour would now have 55 more seats than the Tories and with 321 seats would be just 5 seats short of an overall majority.   Not a bad position from which to start an election campaign!   Nor is this just a polling freak.   Just 6 months ago in the May elections Labour ended up with a virtually identical spread of votes across the country – actual votes, not responses to pollsters – which left the party just 4 seats short of an overall majority.   So despite the roller-coaster of the last 6 months, Labour remains in a potentially commanding position.
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Shameful that building societies taken into State ownership evict tenants like worst of private sector

When because of the bankers’ crash RBS, Lloyds, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley went bust and were taken over by the State, one of the worst indictments of the Blair-Brown governments – copied and exacerbated further by this current Tory government – was that the losses were borne by the taxpayers, but they continued to be organised and managed as though they were still in the private sector.   That was the rule operated when RBS and Lloyds were taken over in 2008-9, at a direct hit for taxpayers in bailing them out at £68bn (let alone the subsequent hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money disbursed on loan guarantees, special liquidity schemes and asset protection schemes).   But rather than treat them as State-purchased assets to be managed in the national interest, an artificial quango was appointed under the title of UK Financial Instruments to act instead as executors in their commercial interest until they could be returned at the earliest possible moment to the private sector.   And who did the managing of this strictly commercial transition?   Who else but members of the senior banking class who brought about the crash in the first place, plus senior mandarins from the Treasury who had failed to see the warning signs to prevent the crash from happening in the first place.
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May evades vote on all-important EU arrest warrant to prevent Tory party from splitting

May’s shenanigans today in the Commons over the European arrest warrant is the perfect example of how far relations with the EU are being treated as an outpost of internal Tory party politics.   Any same person knows that the European Arrest Warrant and other key parts of EU cooperation, like criminal record checks and joint cross-border investigations, make sense because they catch criminals and increase safety for citizens across the EU.   May promised a vote in Parliament on this today, but astonishingly has been ducking and diving to avoid one at all costs because the government is running scared of the fanatically anti-EU Tory Right.   The motion due to be voted on in today’s business in the House doesn’t even mention the European Arrest Warrant.   Instead it refers only to a document that includes 11 of the 35 measures requiring to be transposed into domestic law in order to meet the UK’s obligations, but again it doesn’t include the European Arrest Warrant.   The Home Secretary’s opt-out and then opt-back-in has been a game of Eurosceptic hokey cokey for the sake of internal Tory party management – brazenly putting party interests before those of the country.

There are around 3,600 organised crime groups active in the EU and involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation, and theft.   Cross-border crime is a reality, and to dispense with the European Arrest Warrant and cross-border EU cooperation to deal with it is deeply irresponsible, especially when it is pandering to back-bench ideological prejudice.   The urgent need for this measure is shown by the fact that last year over 1,000 foreign criminals were deported under the European Arrest Warrant, mostly for drug trafficking, murder, fraud, child sex offences and rape.   Senior police officers have made clear how important it is in enabling them to deport foreign criminals without going through a lengthy extradition process.

There are many recent examples to prove this.   In 2005 an EAW enabled the UK to quickly extradite from Italy a fugitive bomber, Hussain Osman, who with accomplices had tried to carry out a terror attack in London.   In 2012 Jason McKay was extradited from Poland within 2 weeks for murdering his partner, when under the old extradition arrangements it would have taken several years.   Altogether the UK has deported over 4,000 criminals under the EAW, 95% of whom are foreign criminals removed from the UK.   One such operation tackled a Romanian gang that was trafficking children into the UK, and resulted in the arrest of 126 suspects for human trafficking, benefit fraud, money laundering and child neglect, including the identification of 272 trafficking victims.

Playing political party games with police controls against crime on this scale and with such sickening human consequences is unforgiveable.

 

Osborne’s 3 Big Lies

In the last week Osborne has staked out three positions which show the character of the man – duplicitous, machiavellian, dishonest.    First he claimed that he had turned the £1.7bn EU budget bill into a triumph by factoring in Britain’s budget rebates in Europe which halved the amount due.   This canard unravelled almost as soon as Osborne uttered it.   Several other ministers at the EU meeting insisted that no-one, including Osborne, had actually contested the £1.7bn charge and that no discount had been awarded.   What actually happened is that Osborne rushed out of the meeting, immediately made his statement to the press (which the BBC sycophantically, but wrongly, repeated almost verbatim) , and then left to return to the UK without taking any questions.   The truth is that Britain’s automatic rebate on gross contributions to the EU budget, which have operated since 1980, would have been granted anyway and had nothing to do with Osborne’s arguments – or rather non-arguments since he never raised any objections anyway.   The whole exercise was simply an Osborne ploy to pretend that he had fought and thwarted the dire plans of the EU.

Second, he made a disingenuous announcement that he was improving tax transparency by letting taxpayers at different income levels know what the tax they paid was spent on.   It looked like an innocent attempt to extend useful and relevant information to the public.   He would issue an ‘annual tax statement’ to every household showing where their taxes went.   Thus someone earning £30,000 a year will be told that £1,663 goes on ‘welfare’ and £892 on ‘health’, i.e. nearly twice as much on ‘scroungers’ as on health.   What Osborne does not say is that welfare lumps together expenditures of a wholly different kind.   No less than 46% of it goes on pensions which pensioners have earned by paying national insurance contributions throughout their working lives.   Only 3% goes to the unemployed.   Osborne’s vaunted ‘transparency’ is in reality a cynical pre-election ploy to win support for further cuts and to turn voters against Labour.

Third, he reiterated yet again the need for still deeper cuts to pay down the deficit.   What he didn’t say is that as a result of the very deep cuts he’s already made the deficit this year is not falling at all, but actually going up because falling household incomes have meant that the government’s tax take is now being eroded.   What he also didn’t say is that if the rationale for austerity is to pay down the deficit, there’s no point in continuing with austerity if it’s now causing the deficit to go up.

Never take anything Osborne says at face value.

 

The market is not a fair arbiter of incomes

What is an employee worth?   Whatever the market pays is the conventional answer.   But the market is not based on merit or justice, it’s based on power relations.   Those who have the power will exert it to get more and more, while those who have little or no power will get squeezed and pushed down even further.   Against that background the fact that a thousand companies (out of 4.9m in Britain), including 18 FTSE-100 companies,  have now committed to pay the living wage or above is seen as seen as a triumph.   The chief executive of Ogilvy and Mather, the global communications company, chanted “We will wear our badge with pride”.   Really?   The living wage is all of £7.65 an hour, £8.80 in London, and not paying it before now should be a badge of shame.   Nor with this minimum hike in wages will the ratio between top and bottom incomes in big companies like Ogilvy and Mather alter much: it will still be at least 185:1.   The distribution of wages is still desperately unfair.

Just how unfair it is is shown by how that ratio has changed in the last half century.   Today chief executives of the FTSE-100 companies take home on average total remuneration of £4.5 millions, or £86,540 a week.   An employee in those firms getting the living wage would take home £283 a week.   The ratio therefore between the chief executive and his living wage employee is 306:1!   Half a century ago it was 40:1.   The near 8-fold increase in that ratio has nothing to do with a more brilliant performance by the chief executive, since capitalism has performed notably less well in the last forty years compared with the preceding forty.   It has all to do with the dramatic growth in corporate power, matched tragically by the big decline in collective bargaining and the suppression of trade union activities.

Nor are the excesses confined to the corporate world.   In soccer, at the top end of the Premier League, players are now earning in the region of £180,000 a week, or £9.36 millions a year, and that is before sponsorship and image rights are included.   Even the most average of players in the league take home more than £1 million a year, as do the coaches.   How does that compare in merit or justice with 21% of all UK workers being paid below the living wage, including 85% of bar waiting staff, 43% of part-time workers, 72% of 18-21 year olds, and 27% of women (compared with 16% of men)?   Yet all these latter jobs are important – otherwise the workers wouldn’t have been taken on at all – but that doesn’t stop them being paid 643 times less than top footballers.   That cannot be justified on any conceivable rationale.   Before inequality explodes with riots in the streets, we need a public debate on what the limits of greed at the top and misery at the bottom should be.

 

Cameron versus Miliband: who would you choose?

Cameron at least has one special skill – to hold together an ungovernable party which is irrevocably split.   He does not appear to have an ultimate belief in anything – only to sustain his own position and his party at whatever cost to the country at large.   That explains his early embrace of driving an anti-climate change sleigh and hugging a hoodies to de-nastify the Nasty Party, only to be unceremoniously junked as soon as he got to No.10.   It explains his latest gyrations over the EU and immigration, promising what he can’t deliver in order to deflect the UKIP rampage, putting Britain at risk of real isolation to score points for personal and party advantage, and alienating the whole of the EU (and the US too, behind the scenes) for the sake of short-term electoral gain.   When tasked about this at PMQs he never answers any questions, but uses the occasion (and his unique privilege in having the last word) to smother his opponents with clouds of party political rhetoric and partisan propaganda.   His Bullingdon Club toff self-confidence (or overweening arrogance whichever way you look at it) is well-suited to this abuse of parliamentary procedure.

But the current chatter isn’t about Cameron because the Tory tabloids (whatever they really think about Cameron, which is often unprintable) are remorselessly determined to retain power for the Tories at all costs.   The talk is about Miliband because the Labour Party is less resolute under fire and, in some quarters at least, panics quickly at the potential loss of their own seats.   The real problem for Labour at this time isn’t Miliband.   It’s Labour’s bizarre economic policy, promising austerity and spending cuts all the way to 2020, exactly the same as the Tories, which is counter-productive and a massive voter turn-off.   What Labour voters need, and indeed the whole country, is HOPE when at present they feel only insecurity, abandonment, alienation.   What is needed is not idle and destructive chatter about a change of Leader (which is frankly inconceivable anyway), but focusing relentlessly on a commanding narrative – restoration of the NHS, reversing austerity via public investment in sustainable economic expansion, Living Wage plus a relentless assault on inequality and tax avoidance, rebuilding public services, restoration of collective bargaining and trade union rights, etc.

Miliband himself has some priceless qualities which his party should be talking up, not bad-mouthing in dark corners.   He has integrity, honesty and vision, none of which Cameron has, and he has courage – he took on Murdoch over BSkyB, the Tory tabloids over Leveson, and Cameron over a missile onslaught on Syria and yet another Middle East War, and won in each case, which no previous leader of Labour in Opposition has ever achieved – certainly not Blair.   The sooner Labour members recognise and promulgate the assets of their leader, the quicker

they might learn to stop throwing the election away.

Study finds migrants pay in £20bn more than they take out

Migrants from the EU have a lower rate of unemployment than the UK-born population, according to an analysis of 201 census data just published by ONS.   They also make a net contribution to the British economy whilst the UK-born population involve a net cost to the economy.   This is a stunning conclusion when the prevailing ideology, persistently promulgated by the Tories and the right-wing tabloids, is that EU migrants are largely ‘benefit tourists’.   What however detailed analysis of the figures shows, as opposed to anecdotes, is that migrants from the 10 Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 contributed nearly a net £5bn to the UK  in the decade to 2011 whilst those from the original 15 EU members generated a net gain of £15bn over the same period.   The analysis further showed that EU 15 migrants contributed 64% more in taxes to the UK than they received in benefits, and migrants from the Eastern European EU members (Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania) contributed 12% more than they received.

However both migrants from the EU and the UK-born population had a higher rate of employment than migrants from outside the EU, and it is the latter who make up two-thirds of the England and Wales non-UK-born population, about 4.2 million out of 6 million.   Polish people were the most likely to be in work: 81% were employed compared with 69% of the UK-born population.   The lowest employment rate was for Chinese and Bangladeshi migrants, though 76% and 40% respectively were students.

The research also found that EU migrants are significantly younger than the average UK-born resident and also more likely to have a degree.   Significantly also, it was found that Britain tends to attract far more skilled immigrants than other EU countries.   Polish immigrants to the UK, for example, had much higher levels of education than those in Germany.   The study also found that a greater proportion of recent migrants are highly qualified.

It was striking however that the researchers calculated that, as opposed to EU migrants, the non-EU migrants between 1995-2011 involved a net cost to Britain of £118bn, partly due to the higher numbers of children and lower employment rate.   By comparison the EU migrants over the same period brought a net gain of £4bn.   That certainly highlights how far the UKIP argument about EU immigration has falsified the evidence and given a slant to prevailing views which is wholly inaccurate.

 

Race to the bottom on immigration won’t work

The Tory programme on immigration is set to get the worst of all worlds, with disastrous consequences for Britain over the EU.   The Tories now want to restrict benefits to immigrants and to make citizens from future EU member countries wait longer before they are allowed to work in Britain.   Now Cameron is going further still with rhetoric about ‘fixing’ immigration to Britain from the EU, and has even floated the idea of an ‘emergency brake’ on immigration beyond a certain level from even existing EU members.   But an ‘emergency brake’ is doomed to fail both ways round.   It’s unlikely to placate UKIP supporters since UKIP will always go further in extreme promises about keeping out foreigners.   It doesn’t even get to the heart of the problem since immigration is clearly a scapegoat for wider economic disgruntlements.   That explains why London, the city most changed by immigration, is generally relaxed about it, whilst several of the areas most determined to keep out immigrants have actually seen very few.   An emergency brake will not calm anxieties in the latter areas even if Cameron could deliver it, which he almost certainly won’t be allowed to by the rest of the EU as Merkel has not made adamantly clear.
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Why has the recovery from the crash 6 years ago been so slow and feeble?

The ‘new mediocre’, as the response from the deepest recession in post-war history is now often called, is an anomaly that cannot be accounted for by the factors that mainstream economic models normally consider important.   One explanation which is gaining currency is that excessive inequality is to blame.   Even Lagarde, IMF Director, admits that inequality is casting a ‘dark shadow’ over the world economy, on the reasonable grounds that the rich and particularly the super-rich tend to save a larger proportion of their income than the poor, so that the huge increase in inequality, at least in the G20 and OECD countries in the last 30 years, is not just a source of social tension but also a major drag on demand.   That then invites the further question: why has inequality increased so much in the last 3 decades?   Probably the most powerful underlying factor is the rise of the neoliberal Thatcher-Reagan ideology which via untrammelled markets, deregulation of finance, widespread privatisations, and deep limitations on trade union rights which then allowed the rise of excessive corporate power to dramatically expand its share of national income.
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