Without a word being said, British householders and businesses are about to be forced to pay for a French nuclear loser. The two German energy companies, RWE and E.ON, announced a month ago that they were withdrawing from building new nuclear power stations at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire after the German government opted for early closure of its remaining reactors. The UK company Centrica, which has an option of 20% in any new build at Hinkley and Sizewell, has a weak balance sheet and is unlikely to proceed. That leaves two French nuclear power companies, EDF and Areva, who the Tory government want to build two new reactors at Hinkly Point in Somerset and two at Sizewell in Suffolk. But they will only do so if they are guaranteed a high enough price for the electricity generated and if the risks in building the reactors are transferred to British households and businesses. And those risks are huge. (more…)
The Sunday Times Rich List, published today and compulsory reading for anybody who wants to understand Britain’s power structure today, holds three extremely significant conclusions. One is that the 1,000 richest persons in the UK have increased their wealth by so much in the last 3 years – £155bn – that they themselves alone could pay off the entire UK budget deficit and still leave themselves with £30bn to spare which should be enough to keep the wolf from the door. The second, even more staggering, is that whilst the rest of the country is being crippled by the biggest public expenditure and benefits squeeze for a century, these 1,000 persons, containing many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators who caused the financial crash in the first place, have not been made subject to any tax payback whatever commensurate to their gains. This is truly a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. (more…)
What if Cameron refuses to refer the Hunt case to Sir Alex Allen, the independent adviser on ministerial interests? Not for the first time Parliament is hamstrung by the fact that under current procedures it is accepted that only the Prime Minister is empowered, whether on the conduct of a Minister or on a policy issue of national importance, to make a referral to an independent inquiry. It is bizarre that this is tamely accepted by the House since what is at issue is nearly always the actions or the policies of the Executive itself, and it is a clear conflict of interest that the decision on whether to mount an inquiry into those actions or policies should lie with the head of that Executive who has every reason to block it. It is time Parliament got off its knees and took the lead in holding the government to account which has always been, or should always have been, its main raison d’etre. This could still be done on Monday before the House prorogues. (more…)
Last night Jeremy Hunt had the gall to declare “the public will see that I conducted this process with absolute objectivity and scrupulous fairness”. In that case the best way to test that would be to do what clearly and unequivocally the current situation calls for since Hunt has prima facie broken the Ministerial Code – refer the matter immediately to the independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, Sir Alex Allen. Significantly Cameron has refused point blank to do that. Why? Answering that puts another piece in the jigsaw that is beginning to form around the role of No.10. (more…)
The news that Britain is now in the grip of a double-dip recession for the first time for 37 years and struggling with the slowest recovery from slump for 100 years is grim. What makes it intolerable is that there is an alternative way out staring us in the face, but no leaders in politics or business or finance have either the courage or the vision to demand it or promulgate it. Osborne is fanatically fixated on his endless and self-defeating austerity package, and Labour, while relishing the political throwback from a disastrous economic strategy, is still stuck on the mealy-mouthed mini-version that the government should cut less far, less fast. As a plan for avoiding the gathering collapse, that is a show-stopper. (more…)
In typically British Establishment manner Adam Smith, chief of staff to Jeremy Hunt, fell on his sword but not before uttering the the ritual words required to exculpate his master: “the content and extent of my contact (with News International) was done without authorisation from the Secretary of State”. Pull the other one. For over 6 months from 24 December 2010 when Hunt took over formal responsibility for dealing with the BSkyB bid until 11 July 2011 when the bid collapsed, the emails between Smith and Frederic Michel (the anglicised Frenchman acting as chief lobbyist for Murdoch) were ceaseless. It is inconceivable that the passing of such intimate details of every twist and turn of the saga faithfully transmitted to the Murdoch camp could have been done without Hunt’s knowledge, and almost certainly in most cases at his express instigation. Michel explicitly confirmed as much to the Leveson inquiry: “It was my understanding that when they told me something, it was always on behalf of the Minister and having conferred with him”. (more…)
The 1st round Socialist victory in the French presidential elections on Sunday, the collapse of the Right-wing Dutch government on Monday, the probable demise soon of the Right-wing Czech government , and the likely election on 6 May of an anti-Merkel government in Greece point conclusively in one direction. Across Europe the democratic backlash against extreme deflationary policies is now unmistakeably gathering force. It has now brought down 7 EU governments in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Finland, Slovakia and Italy, and is set within two weeks to claim 3 more – France, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. By far the most important country where the tumbrils are rolling is France, and by far the biggest loser is – Germany. The Merkel attempt to impose a hard-line monetarist straitjacket on the Eurozone is fast unravelling, and the Hollande socialist programme will administer, if not a coup de grace, certainly a dramatic change of direction in favour of growth. That is the right policy. Can a Miliband Britain be far behind? (more…)
Thereas May is apparently minded to order a fresh public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence on the grounds that a secret Scotland Yard report questioning the conduct and integrity of a police chief involved in the Lawrence case was not given to the Macpherson inquiry in 1998. She is anxious that confidence in the police should not be undermined, and quite right to be so. But those are the very same grounds that she should also now establish a public inquiry into recent allegations that the police and/or MI5 supplied information through the last decade which led to the blacklisting of 3,200 workers.
The blacklist was discovered after staff working for the Information Commissioner raided the offices of the Consulting Association in 2009. There had been claims that a blacklist was operating in the construction industry over the last decade, but no action was taken by the police – reminiscent of John Yates’ declining to take any action over Murdoch phone-hacking in 2006. What the ICO raid uncovered was that the vast majority of the blacklisted workers were trade union members and that 44 construction companies had funded the Consulting Association and used it to vet potential employees.
Denial of employment for discriminatory reasons such as trade union membership is of course illegal and blacklisting is prohibited un the Employment Relations regulations 2010. What is particularly poignant is that much of the information alleged against the victims may well have been false or malicious, but by being kept secret from them they were denied a chance to defend themselves.
Now there’s evidence that the police/MI5 were party to the conspiracy. David Clancy, an ICO investigator, gave evidence at a recent industrial tribunal which showed conclusively that details in some of the files could only have come from State security sources.
That’s why we now urgently need a public inquiry as to why no action about allegations of blacklisting was taken for a decade or more, why the police/MI5 appear to have passed secret information to an illegal blacklisting organisation, and whether the 44 construction companies that used it should now be prosecuted. Over to you, Mrs. May.
It’s almost incredible that after public spending and benefit cuts of £109bn went through with scarcely a murmur of rebellion, the reform of the Lords now look set to be the issue that splits the Coalition in two. It’s incredible because no-one in their right mind can make the argument that with 92 hereditary peers still there and the prime minister of the day using patronage to appoint huge numbers at will (Cameron has already appointed 117 in less than a year), reform isn’t necessary. It’s incredible because all three parties committed in their manifestos before the last election that they would do just this and finish reform of the Lords left unfinished by Blair. And it’s incredible because the only argument being voiced against it is that it is not a priority and would be time-consuming and complex – it would be, but so are most important bills, and if it’s not a priority but still has to be done, the mid-term period of a Parliament is the best time to take it. So why has it suddenly become a Coalition-breaker? (more…)
Ed Miliband’s espousal of bulk purchasing of electricity and gas as a way of bringing down fuel bills is valuable as an urgent relief measure, but it is not the long-term answer. Banding together to fight market power has always been a good trade union practice, but the real solution lies in restructuring an over-dominant oligopoly. The Big 6 energy utilities command 99% of the market which gives them far too much control of a crucial market affecting everyday living standards, and that excessive power needs to be tackled at source. (more…)
Britain’s involvement in rendition is, like the early stages of the Murdoch hacking scandal, a vital issue where the evidence initially is sparse, but there is enough to suspect that this is a far bigger scandal here than has yet been admitted. The claims of Binyam Mohammed that he was abducted and tortured in one country after another were at first dismissed, but are now found to be true. Another rendered terrorist suspect, Rangzieb Ahmed, had his fingernails torn out, but though a British citizen his claims have not yet been investigated in court. Other British ex-inmates of Guantanamo tell similar stories of questioning under torture in rendered destinations such as Syria, Jordan or Morocco where it is claimed British security officers worked closely with the actual torturers. And now we know by chance, from discoveries in government buildings in Tripoli after the fall of Gadaffi, that Abdel Hakim Belhaj
It is good to know that the government is considering modifying its ill-informed intention to limit tax reliefs on philanthropic donations. If the Big Society meant anything substantive whatever, it would never of course have been mooted in the first place. Now Cameron is thinking again after a ComRes survey found that 90% of Coalition MPs questioned said the government “should do all it can to use the tax system to encourage charitable donations from wealthy donors”. What a good thing it was wealthy donors whose tax privileges are at issue: if it had been poor families whose survival was being put at risk, it might not have elicited the same concern. Nor is this just a rhetorical point. (more…)
So even the tin ears in the City are now railing against excessive pay at the top. A study by Share Centre found that 95% of institutional investors now believe pay is too high across all leading companies, not just the banks. Very observant of them. The real question is what should be done about it which will bring stratospheric reward packages down to the real world of fair pay and prolonged austerity. Here is a 9 point plan: (more…)
So now we know. The Treasury have finally published figures they’ve been sitting on for years but never revealed (always keep the rich on side – a good Treasury motto). It shows there are 10,000 UK taxpayers paid (‘earning’ is a bit of a euphemism) £1-5m (i.e. between £19,230-£96,155 PER WEE), and 1,000 of them pay just 30-40% in tax, 500 pay 20-30% in tax, and 300 pay less than 10%. It also shows that there are some 400 taxpayers paid £5-10m (i.e. roughly between £100,000 – £200,000 PER WEEK), and 20 of them pay less than 20% in tax. Much more modestly, if you’re only paid between a quarter and a half of a million (i.e. a mere £4,800-£9,615 PER WEEK), then about 100,000 persons in your category are paying less than the higher rate of income tax of 40%. The question is: are these gigantic sums, up to 415 times the national average wage, justified and if not, what are we going to do about it?
First, let all the facts be known. Let the fresh breezes of transparency blow through the income scale at the top. It is significant that the only reason we know about these figures quoted here at all is not because of any new doctrine of openness (you must be joking), it’s because the Government were trying to put up some defence of their gross miscalculation in limiting tax relief for the rich, by showing that the super-rich get away with avoiding far too much tax.
It blew up in their faces because the Tory press (Telegraph, Mail and the usual suspects) all ganged up to complain this was an unfair tax on philanthropy – not that they care about philanthropy, only about not limiting tax avoidance in general since the vast amount of tax avoidance is not about philanthropy at all. Significantly almost the only intervention that Tony (Tory-boy) Blair has made in UK politics since his demise 5 years ago was his call yesterday for the government to “think again” about limiting tax relief. But we should be grateful for small mercies – it’s always important to remember that the general population of us plebs is only vouchsafed information about the secret doings of our rich rulers when there’s an almighty bust-up within their own ranks.
So to avoid all this unseemly shenanigans amongst our super-rich exemplars, why don’t we require HMRC to publish the tax returns of all those paid more than £150,000 a year (i.e. the 300,000 persons getting more than £3,000 a week)? That would only affect 1% of the population, and could be guaranteed to play a big role in reducing tax relief across the board, exposing the multiple use of tax havens, and even (heaven forbid!) reducing some of this financial obesity flab altogether. (more…)
How can Cameron believe that anyone takes seriously his claim that he runs the greenest government ever? If that’s not meant to be a rancid joke, he must be even more out-of-touch than we thought, even after the budget, the No.10 dinner parties, jerry pans and pasties. The Tories have now abruptly halved the feed-in tariff rates, cutting off the burgeoning solar power industry at the knees. A published letter from over 100 Tory MPs demanded that wind energy subsidies be curtailed. The failed attempt to launch a government competition to fund CCS (carbon capture and storage) to extend the life of fossil fuels compatibly with declining climate change targets was resurrected, but then faded again. Worst of all, Osborne made his view known brutally that the government wasn’t going to throw any more money at environmental targets which were unaffordable in austerity (of his own making of course). Now even the Green Deal, launched only days ago by the Tory climate change minister, is in danger of being ditched. Green? – more like dirty brown.
What all this means is not just some disagreement about the extent or pace of green policies, but rather a fundamental, or indeed fundamentalist, repudiation of anything to do with green objectives at all. Just as the Tories don’t want just to tinker with the Welfare State but rather to dismantle it altogether, so here they want to eliminate every vestige of environmentalism and instead concentrate on unabashed wealth creation.
Now the last straw is that the Big Six energy utilities and supermarketeers like Tesco and M&S, who had previously been lined up as major advocates of the Green Deal, are backing away because they perceive the government as at best lukewarm and at worst as downright hostile. For months they have been calling behind the scenes for government leadership, but in despair at the listless lack of strategy many of them didn’t even attend the launch for fear that, without a strong government lead, the Green Deal simply wouldn’t work.
And with Cameron as flip-flopper in chief, always blown about by the latest currents among the deeply reactionary diehards on his back benches, the whole environmental project is in jeopardy, egged on by the flat-earthers in the Lords led by Lord (in denial) Lawson. As Tacitus said with some prescience: solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.