August 31st, 2007
Payment of £14bn in City bonuses this year, according to Office of National Statistics data just published, exposes just how decadent this country has now become in the huge and growing rift in inequality between rich and poor. The great divide opened up in the 1980s under Thatcher; now New Labour has made it a lot worse – and that’s official.
City bonuses rose 30% in this last year from an already enormous £10.9bn in 2006. Average total pay for FTSE 100 Chief Executives increased last year by 37% to £2,875,000 a year, that is £55,288 a week. That’s 98 times their employees’ pay, 276 times the national minimum wage, and 658 times the basic State pension.
Inequality is now becoming the No.1 top political issue in Britain today. When nurses on low pay are being told they can only have a 1.9% increase this year and when prison officers and other public sector employees are smouldering over pay restraint as well as other issues, Bob Diamond of Barclays took home £23 million last year and Bart Becht of Reckitt Benckiser walked off with £22 million. It is shameful that in New Labour Britain such pay obscenities have been allowed to happen, indeed been encouraged by their let-the-markets-rip philosophy. As Peter Mandelson put it so charmingly: “We are quite relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. What about the 12 million people in Britain today who are so poor that they have to subsist on Income Support? Since wealth and poverty are two sides of the same coin, where does that leave the poorest under the current neo-liberal economic agenda? Out of sight.
Several policy changes are needed:
The divide between top pay and average and low pay has now become so cast that it cannot be justified under any conceivable rational system of incentives. We need a Pay Commission to be established to set down guidelines (with tax sanctions to back them up) for a reasonable pay range between top and bottom which offers incentives that are consistent and fair throughout the range.
Bonuses, performance payments, so-called fringe benefits, and stock options are now so extensive and so concentrated on the richest in society that for this 1-2% or so at the top there should be a super-tax on these super-rich for their very large extra payments over and above basic salary, perhaps 50% on the first £250,000, 60% over £1 million, rising to 70% over £5 million.
We need an early Parliamentary debate and wide-ranging public discussion on this issue when it is stoking house price inflation, generating deep resentment among badly done by employees in key public sector services, and undermining all sense of any balanced social cohesion throughout the country.
August 4th, 2007
The test for the Government with the new foot and mouth outbreak will be whether the lessons of the last, disastrous, episode of February-April 2001 have been learnt. There were basically three.
The first, and most important, is that speed of response is at a premium. Last time, the disease was discovered late when at least 57 different sites had already become infected, and then the reaction was slow and dithering. As a result, 7 million cows, sheep, pigs and goats were slaughtered, about one in every 8 of all farm animals, 10,000 farms were stricken, 30 counties affected, and all at a final cost of some £8.5bn. In addition, the images of burning pyres on television put off the tourists as the whole countryside appeared to be shut down.
This time the Government is very conscious of the need to act quickly, and is trying rapidly to identify the strain of virus which might indicate its origin and where it may have spread. Last time the contagion had already spiralled out of control before it was detected, and from its discovery at an abattoir in Essex had already spread to Cumbria, Holland and France. This time the fear is that the disease may have been in the Guildford herd for several days (though so far there is no evidence to prove that), and may have spread from a market or illegal imports of meat (an increasing risk in a globalised economy).
The second vital requirement is that, once the strain of virus has been established, vaccination within the 10 kilometre protection zone should be carried out swiftly. Last time it was rejected because Tony Blair buckled under pressure from the National Farmers Union which feared losing its valuable beef market in Europe (under EU rules vaccinated animals cannot be sold for export). Inoculation is vastly better than mass slaughter. This time the NFU must be faced down.
The third lesson is that, following the strong criticism in the Anderson Report of 2001 that the Army was brought in far too late when the epidemic had already been rife for 4 weeks, the Army should now be involved much earlier if the disease has not been contained around the Surrey farm.
This is a critical test for Gordon Brown. There are already some hints that farmers in the infected area were not told about the original discovery on 2 August till a day later, and some only learnt about it from television. If that is true, a much more open and honest approach is going to be needed at each stage on the way ahead.
August 4th, 2007
Des Browne’s sneaked out announcement that Britain is to provide part of Bush’s Missile Defence System sends out all the wrong messages as Gordon Brown tries to demonstrate that under him things are now different. I suspect that this is only the first of many cases that show that in terms of New Labour’s fundamentals they are not.
Putting out an extremely contentious statement by written answer on the last day of Parliament is certainly back to the bad old days that Jo Moore made famous: latching on to a good day to bury bad news. Nothing new or better here. And it spoils GB’s proclaimed wish to foster greater transparency and involve Parliament more. What is the point of offering Parliament a debate every time the police say they need to hold a terrorist suspect more than 28 days, yet denying Parliament the right to decide whether we should consign our nation to the risk of nuclear attack in a new hyped version of Star Wars?
The central reason to oppose allowing the communications base at Menwith Hill to become part of the US missile system, together with upgrading the Fylingdales radar for the same purpose, is that it will increase our vulnerability, not decrease it. It will put the UK on the frontline in future wars, opening up this country as a prime target at the start of any future Big Power hostilities.
US missile defence is provocative, since it allows the US to launch nuclear first-strike attacks without fear of retaliation. Russia is boud to devise its own counter-system, and after 20 years of building down nuclear stocks, the nuclear arms race will be relentlessly ratcheted up again. the Russians are already known to be developing the RS-24 inter-continental missile which is specifically designed to overcome missile defence systems.
Nor should we ignore that this new space race will be stupendously expensive, and without any guarantee of success. As one military analyst put it, Star Wars is like trying to hit one bullet travelling at 17,000 mph with another bullet also travelling at 17,000 mph. The idea that our security should depend on 100% success at every such encounter is, frankly, sheer madness.
It is outrageous that Parliament has been repeatedly informed that there was no plan to use RAF Menwith Hill for missile defence, and is now abruptly told that a deal has been done with the US behind the back of Parliament and it’s now too late to do anything about it. The truth is, it isn’t. Parliament must insist on a debate and vote on this as soon as it reconvenes, and that vote should be the final say on whether the UK participate in Bush’s Star Wars, not a secret behind-the-scenes Government deal.