Andy Coulson’s arrest for alleged perjury in the Tommy Sheridan trial isn’t just an embarrassment for Cameron. It raises a much wider and more difficult issue: how can a deeply insidious, unhealthy and toxic relationship between politicians and media proprietors – specifically the Tories (Thatcher), New Labour (Blair), the Tories again (Cameron) and Murdoch – be prevented from developing to the point where it contaminates politics and secretly corrupts the whole democratic process? Of course it is routinely denied by the politicians. Blair at the Leveson inquiry stated there was no compact, express or implicit, between him and Rupert Murdoch – another of his frequent evasions of the truth which, even if not overtly lying, is deliberately misleading. There was no ‘compact’, nothing as naive as evidence that could be uncovered and used against them, but unquestionably there was a clear understanding between them which significantly affected policy in a manner kept hidden from scrutiny. The same applied in the case of Thatcher over the takeover of The Times and in the case of Cameron over BSkyB. (more…)
Can you believe a single word they say? The government’s new Energy Bill published last week was proclaimed as enabling the UK to “move away from high carbon technologies” (i.e. coal, oil and gas). The Bill says that to meet the government’s statutory commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, electricity plants must be largely decarbonised by the 2030s. That is impossible without the widespread deployment of CCS – capturing the carbon from power stations and storing it underground. Yet the government clearly doesn’t believe this is going to happen, not surprisingly since no prototype exists anywhere and its development is riddled with problems. What that means is that the government is talking green technology, but actually giving the nod and wink to all the dirtiest fuels – coal, oil and gas. (more…)
One cheer (but not three) that Ken Clarke has been forced to back down in his Justice and Security Bill over inquests being held in secret which would mean that information held by MI5 and MI6 and GCHQ could be heard only in secret. But the principle of secrecy is still deeply embedded in the Bill and thoroughly flawed. It still remains the government’s intention that evidence and claims made by the security agencies would be presented to the court, but not disclosed to individuals seeking damages or making complaints. Consequently they won’t be able directly to challenge the agencies except through ‘special advocates’ who have been vetted. This defies the principle which has always been enshrined in English law that the accused must be presented with the evidence adduced against them. Indeed many of the special advocates have themselves taken exception to the proposed legislation. (more…)
One thing the Right is really good at is turning a blind eye as diaster steadily builds up and then blaming everyone else when it happens. Osborne is a past master at this, ignoring the riskiness of deregulated banks and then trying to make the victims pay (‘We’re all in it together’). But Lagarde at the IMF really takes the biscuit. Saying that the Greeks should pay their taxes is a saloon bar absurdity. The truth is that avoiding/evading taxes has become a cancer in politics everywhere, including Britain and her own France, but that’s not the root of the Greek problem at all. That derives, first, from the eagerness of the Eurocrats to wave Greece into the fold without any serious checks of its capacity to withstand long-term competition with German industry, and secondly from the equal eagerness of French and German banks to pour billions of euros into Greece without any proper assessment of the creditworthiness of the recipients. (more…)
Why isn’t Labour shouting from the roof-tops against the blatant injustice of forcing people to work for nothing, under threat of losing benefits if they don’t, when the jobs are simply not available, largley because of the government’s own policies? There are currently about 400,000 vacancies, but 2.65m unemployed, so with 6 peopole chasing every job on average, 5 can’t succeed whatever they do. Yet already the government has stipulated under its mandatory work programme that the jobless must accept an unpaid work placement for a month to keep their benefits, and now it’s being proposed that they must actually work for 6 months unpaid in order not to forfeit their benefits. (more…)
The whistleblowers who have revealed serious deficiencies in an out-of-hours GP service run by a large private health company which is believed to be putting patient care at risk have performed an important public service. This concerns the contract in Cornwall run by Serco, a private operator which provides services for government in defence, prisons, and education, but is now trying to break into health as well, with its prospects of lucrative future contracts. Whilst this initial evidence is confined to Cornwall and only covers a small part of the health service, it is likely that the failures and weaknesses exposed here will be replicated elsewhere in the country under Lansley’s Act and will apply across the wder ambit of the health service too. The complaints based on unannounced inspections by the Care Quality Commission reveal deeply worrying flaws. (more…)
It was Private Eye which surmised that the LOL sign-off by Cameron to Rebekah Brooks actually meant “lots of lies”. Presumably meant as a joke, it was in fact quite prescient, as the latest sheaf of emails pouring out from Leveson clearly shows. In November 2010, one month before Cable was removed from responsibility for the media, we now know that Hunt sent a brazenly prejudicial memo to Cameron indicating he was hugely partisan in favour of the BSkyB £8bn bid and demanding that Cameron should seek to control Cable to ensure the bid got a smooth passage. The fall-out from this incriminating memo is lethal in terms of his prejudicial stance, his demeaning role as a message-boy for James Murdoch, his apparent lying to the Commons Select Committee, and what it exposes about the judgement of both the PM and Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell. It is a vignette of how the power brokers around No.10 conspire to suborn the public interest and weave a tissue of lies to protect themselves at every step. (more…)
Ultra-rightwing Tory MPs, calling themselves the Free Enterprise Group, have today issued a manifesto which comes close to the ultimate demolition of UK employment rights. It includes the freezing of all benefits, the winding down of TUPE (Transfer of undertakings, protection of employees), and no-fault dismissals – i.e. if your employer doesn’t like you for some reason, he can dismiss you without giving any explanation. All of this is alleged to be about getting the economy going again, as though treating workers like dirt, kicking them out whenever you feel like it, will somehow spark a great economic revival – as though employment rights were holding the country back rather than, very obviously, the lack of aggregate demand. The whole idea is insane, but nevertheless politically lethal because Cameron is such a weak leader and tossed around by all the prejudices of his far-right Tory fringe. (more…)
So even Christine Lagarde, Osborne’s neoliberal capitalist ally now ensconced at the IMF, has turned against him. Even she is now uttering the words that will not escape his lips – words that no Tory MP is permitted to utter – namely that the need for Plan B is now overwhelming. It is now perfectly clear even to the IMF, the cheerleader of deregulated finance and marketisation uber alles, that Osborne’s policy of obsessive austerity, has not worked, will not work, and needs to be changed. Otherwise it risks, indeed is, dragging down the economy into a self-reinforcing spiral of recession where jobs and growth are choked off without even the policy of cuts succeeding. Osborne is already admitting he will have to borrow far more at the end of this term than he originally announced. So where should policy go now?
When the IMF, the champion of monetarist deflation, actually recommends in place of cuts (88% of which according to the IFS still await to be implemented in the UK) aseries of “policies to bolster demand”, in effect the game’s up. The IMF would never publicly pour ordure over the policies of a friendly Western government, particularly since Osborne was the one who ardently promoted Lagarde for the IMF post which destroyed Brown’s chances ( a double whammy he must have felt), but that in officialese code is exactly what the IMF is now saying – without of course a hint of apology for the disastrous misjudgement they made two years ago in backing Osborne’s spending cuts to the hilt. Osborne’s comment however is breathtaking: he said that the IMF reports ‘showed that the government was on the right track’. He is simply in a state of denial.
So what should be done? The IMF recipe is pretty feeble. Cut interest rates, but they already on the floor at 0.5%. Launch another round of quantitative easing, but that won’t increase aggregate demand which even the IMF now recognises if the heart of the problem. Jonathan Portes of NIESR has a better idea. Borrow £30bn for a public works programme since the annual cost at current bargain basement interest rates would be a mere £150m a year. I have an even better idea: tax the richest thousand persons in the UK on their capital gains over the last 3 years and that would raise even more money (£43bn) for a public works programme at the cost of no borrowing at all.
The latest government manoeuvre to rig the market for nuclear is being confirmed today with the publication of the Energy White Paper. The UK’s existing nuclear power stations, all of which bar one were due to close within the next decade, are to be kept open to continue the operation of nuclear until new nuclear stations are built. Bearing in mind that the timescale for building a new nuclear power station is likely to be 10 years, and given that the only two nuclear stations being built at present in the West are both 2-3 years behind schedule, this decision could extend the life of some existing nuclear stations by 5 years or even conceivably by up to 10 years. The Nuclear Installations Inspector has allegedly stated he is “content for the plants to continue to operate”, which must be seen as a de minimis form of approval, but by any standards this is taking a very grave risk. And this is only the last of a long list of shenanigans adopted by the government to keep nuclear open. (more…)
Cameron’s refusal to hold a proper UK inquiry into the conviction of al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie atrocity on the grounds that “there was a proper process, a proper court proceeding” simply doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. The most crucial evidence concerns the metal coatings and the circuit board of the timer fragment used in the bombing which was different from the timer which the Libyans believed was made exclusively for them. Then there was the extreme unreliability of the only witness who claimed to identify Megrahi, the Maltese shopkeeper Tony Gucci, whose evidence was profoundly compromised by the fact that the US offered him a reward of $2 million and that he changed his story many times. Then there was the security guard at Heathrow who challenged the court’s conclusion that the bomb was transferred from a flight from Frankfurt by revealing that there had been a break-in to Pan Am’s baggage 17 hours before the bombing. Hardly any of this has been tested in court, so Cameron’s sweeping aside a full inquiry is either naive or is concealing information he would rather not see exposed. But there are still more questions which need to be answered. (more…)
There are already 5 million households in the UK in fuel poverty, i.e. they are forced to spend more than 10% of their income on soaring electricity and gas bills. Yet the Government is now proposing to put a levy on power bills which will increase them by more than half again in order to bribe EDF, the French power company, to build a fleet of nuclear reactors. Government energy policy is now reliant on three pillars – nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and renewables, all at risk of failure. No CCS plant is operational anywhere in the world, and both the functional capability and cost implications of this technology are unknown. Renewable sources of energy are being developed so slowly that they are certain to miss the mandatory EU targets for 2020 by a wide margin. And given the consequential reliance on nuclear, EDF is now blackmailing Britain into paying it a colossal subsidy which the government swore blind they would never agree to. (more…)
Robert Chote, the OBR chair, is normally a serious and measured man, but to say, as he did, that the UK would suffer ‘irreparable damage’ from a Greek default or that the UK ‘may never recover’ is grossly overdoing it – more reminiscent of the saloon bar than the forum of the Government’s leading economic advisers. His remarks are also seriously misleading. It’s not the ‘Grexit’ (as it’s now being called) which is the root of the problem for the UK, it’s the excessive and irresponsible lending to Greek banks and enterprises by UK banks which is now so threatening. But this time round there must be no question of bailing them out to rescue them from their own foolishness and bad investments. (more…)
It is almost incredible that faced with the very real likelihood of a slide into world slump, as Obama is now warning, Merkel continues to parrot the reactionary monetarist mantra that “there can be no growth through borrowing”. There can certainly be no growth through prolonged austerity, though she didn’t admit that. But leaving that aside, she totally fails to recognise that there is all the difference in the world between on the one hand borrowing to increase consumption, which is unwise at the best of times and utterly reprobate at the worst of times, and on the other hand borrowing to generate public investment which will create jobs and sustainable growth. That is what private business does all the time, borrowing on the basis that the investment is soundly based and will create jobs and growth. (more…)
The sexual abuse by the gang uncovered in Rochdale is horrific enough, and made worse by the abject failure of the police to respond to pleas for help from the teenage victims over several years, but questions have naturally been asked about how such young girls could have been preyed on so extensively when they were in care. The answers now beginning to emerge cast a frightening light on the breakdown of social care for children, which parallel a similar breakdown of social care for the elderly in the case of Southern Cross last year. What links both cases is the manner in which private equity exploited its financial interests with complete disregard for its caring responsibilities. (more…)