Category Archives: Accountability

There’s nothing wrong with People’s Quantitative Easing

It’s fashionable among the economic scribes to deride Corbyn’s advocacy of what he calls People’s Quantitative Easing (PQE) as though it were somehow illiterate.   In fact it is an entirely sensible policy.   Conventional QE operates via the central bank buying bonds in the financial markets, thus transferring newly-created money to banks, hedge funds and other investors.    The effect is therefore to boost the prices of bonds, shares and other assets, making the rich richer.   The theory then is that this wealth effect should stimulate the economy as the investors who have been enriched by selling assets at high prices to the Bank of England spend some of their profits on the high streets or employing servants or investing in new businesses.   It is clearly a very indirect and extremely inefficient way of  stimulating an economy.   Both Tory and Labour governments have spent £375 bn in using this device with very little to show for it since we still have the slowest recovery for over a century.

A better alternative – though not the best – would be ‘helicopter money’.   Or slightly more realistically, send cheques of £20 a week to every man, woman and child as a sort of reverse poll tax.   Technically, if £375 bn were spent this way, these cheques could continue to be sent out every week for nearly 6 years since £375bn is roughly £6,000 per head when equally divided among the 64 million people of Britain.   That would indeed be a far, far quicker way of stimulating economic activity.   Since neither dropping money from helicopters or sending cheques every week to every household in Britain is very practical, a third alternative is to bypass the banks and, after full and detailed consultation with the CBI ansd TUC, invest directly in key industrial or manufacturing projects.

251,417 votes. Wow!

With 4 contestants in the running, to achieve 60% of the leadership vote in the first round is an outright landslide.   Jeremy Corbyn has secured a higher percentage than Blair got in 1994.   Even more significant, Corbyn’s electorate at 554,272 was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76% of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair got.   And another pointer to the overwhelming inspiration that Corbynmania achieved – no less than 160,000 volunteers were recruited to the Corbyn campaign – far, far bigger than in any similar campaign in the past.   This is a seminal day in British politics, marking the coming together of the two great conditions needed for transformational change – radical new ideas and a burgeoning social movement on the scale required to push through major change.

Why did it happen?   The defining moment for today’s denouement was the catastrophic crash of 2008-9, from which 7 years on there is still no sustainable recovery in sight.   It represented the unambiguous bust of the free-wheeling unfettered capitalist business model which had prevailed in the Western economies over the last 3 decades since Thatcher and Reagan.   The essence of this dominant ideology was: leave it all to the markets and let government get out of the way.   It was supposed to be self-regulating and efficient; it was neither.    Worst of all, when it did crash, the Tories imposed all of the pain in remedying it on to the squeezed middle and the battered poorest while letting the bankers, the real perpetrators, off scot-free.   The roiling resentment of the public at this monumental injustice has finally burst out, and Jeremy Corbyn was the right man to articulate this at this moment.

The central demand is for an end to austerity.   Quite apart from the immiseration it has caused, it is the wrong policy for reducing the budget deficit and is being pursued for the wrong reasons (to shrink the State, as Osborne himself has told us).   The right way to cut the deficit is by expanding the economy, creating sustainable well-paid jobs and real sustainable growth, not by contracting the economy, and that steady expansion towards full employment is what Corbyn has made clear he stands for.   Alongside this major revival of British manufacturing industry, which is the only means to pay our way in the world and preserve our living standards, there needs to be tighter regulation of the banks to prevent another crash, a halt to privatisation of our public services, and an end to suppression of the trade unions.   All of those are very powerful reasons why an unprecedented number of people voted for Jeremy Corbyn – ane they were absolutely right!

Cameron misleads the Commons again

There are three big holes in the government’s defence of the drone killings of 3 British citizens in Syria in this last month.   One is the legality when under Article 51 of the UN charter every country has the right of self-defence, but any armed attack would have to be “imminent or actual”.   More specifically the need for pre-emptive self-defence must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”.   That does no conceivably fit what happened.   Cameron told the Commons that Khan and Hussein, the two British jihadists killed, had been planning to attach public commemorations in the UK, and No.10 later specified VE Day in May and Armed Forces Day in June, long before the two men were killed in August.   On that basis the killing was clearly not within the law.

Second, there is the much more blatant fact that these killings defy the unambiguous vote of the Commons in 2013 rejecting UK bombing in Syria.   It is clear that Cameron intended at the end of July this year to recall Parliament which had just gone into recess in order to win a vote to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria, but at the last minute pulled back.   Then by September the abrupt rise of Jeremy Corbyn made it unlikely, or at least uncertain, that such a vote could then be won, so Cameron and Fallon decided to make the issue a prior settled one in order to get their way.   But this is a blatant abuse of Parliament for which the government should be expressly censured.

A third very serious gap in the government’s handling of this episode concerns the legal advice received by the PM and National Security Council from the government’s Law Officers.    Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, has been keeping a very low profile, and it is crucial that that advice, and the reasons for it, should now be fully disclosed, both regarding these drone killings already executed and any that might organised in future.

Cameron never answered any of these charges in the House, but concentrated instead on his own agenda (as he always does, irrespective of the questions asked).   That was to try to demonstrate his readiness to take tough action against ISIS and to win plaudits from the more bloodthirsty parts of the press.   But above all, he should not be allowed to get away with operating drone killings as a matter of policy without any parliamentary sanction.

Cameron puts party before country

Those of us who have had the (dis)pleasure of watching Cameron at PMQs know he never answers a question.   Whatever subject is raised, he has a prepared brief which selectively explains how brilliantly the Tory government is doing on that issue, even if it has nothing whatever to do with the question.   It is of course a complete abuse of Parliament which is to hold the government of the day to account, but he gets away with it because the PM always has the last word.   However, when he doesn’t have the last word and has to see an issue through to the finish, he is exposed as the weakest flip-flopping party-driven prime minister in modern times.   At every move organised by the Tory Right over the EU referendum, he has humiliatingly caved in.

He conceded a referendum he never wanted, in order to keep his Right at bay, then promised sufficient negotiating gains in Brussels to see off his rebels by the time the referendum came, only to find Merkel, his only real potential ally in Europe, adamantly blocking any change in the rules governing the free movement of labour.   He then tried to give himself more wriggle-room by announcing that treaty changes could be postponed till after a deal had been hatched some time in 2016-7, only to be mocked for accepting a post-dated cheque.   He then caved in again to his diehard eurosceptics by agreeing not to have the EU vote on the same day as the devolved and local elections, having already made clear his view that he could see no reason why the public couldn’t decide two things on the same day.   To cap it all, he told his anti-EU ministers that they would have to toe the government (i.e. his) line, then turned turtle and said they were free to campaign as they  wished.   So much for leadership, so much for putting the nation’s interests first.

Now he’s made a further concession – having said that purdah (which bars significant official announcements in the campaign) would now be imposed, flatly contradicting his previous stance that purdah would harm British interests.   The success of the Tory Right in pushing him all over the place can only encourage future rebellions.   The claim to be able to wrest the repatriation of major powers seems doomed before it starts since Britain under Cameron’s continuous vacillation has already shot its diplomatic bolt in Europe.   This is the feeblest leadership that Britain has had to endure since the war, and it will pay the price.

Umunna’s partial olive branch

In his speech yesterday Chuka Umunna appeared to be offering from the Blairite faction of the PLP an olive branch of reconciliation.   If this is the correct interpretation, it is a useful and welcome one, although he made it conditional on Jeremy Corbyn showing flexibility on EU, NATO, Trident renewal, and tax (unspecified).   I don’t remember Blair, when he won the leadership in 1994, offering flexibility on policy in order to gain support from potential front-bench members of the PLP, having won.  My memory is that, come 1997 in particular, we were all told to knuckle down and loyalty was the order of the day.   But let that pass.   The key point is that he emphasises solidarity and agrees, what is obviously true, that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who have joined Labour in recent weeks are not entryists, but have done so because they are animated by Labour values.

That is helpful, and if Corbyn wins, we should certainly respond in kind, though not by acceding to veiled threats of non-co-operation as though certain persons are  indispensable, though certainly not either with intimations of a purge – even if again that is exactly what Blair and Mandelson organised via consolidating control of parliamentary selections and making huge efforts behind the scenes to replace large numbers of centre and left MPs with preferred Blairite alternatives in the run-ups to general elections.

But Umunna still does not quite get it.   Defending New Labour, he argues that “It is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability”.   He seems not to recognise that New Labour actually did the precise opposite.   It increased inequality, restricted civil liberties, centralised power, and prioritised wealth-creation over sustainability.   He doesn’t seem to grasp that it was for reasons such as these that the country does not want New Labour back.   And that’s quite apart from the Iraq war, paving the way for the almighty crash of 2008-9, the despised culture of spin and manipulation with which Blair poisoned political communciation, and Blair’s rancid love of money-making.

Umunna still can’t get it that this Blairite agenda is really not wanted.   It’s a failed and busted business model which, given Labour’s unprecedented majorities between 1997-2010, was a massive wasted opportunity.   If Corbyn wins and Umunna and his Blairite friends show reliable loyalty to the new leader, then the party can co-operate well.   But nobody is indispensable.

 

Blair is living in a state of deluded denial

There never was a truer example of ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging’.   His article in the Observer today is a gift to his opponents, but it does even more damage to himself.   He reveals himself as increasingly deserted even his previous closest followers, an utterly broken man watching everything he stood for swept away before his eyes.   He has gone from opposition to delusion, from hysteria to denial.   But what is perhaps most disturbing of all is that he can’t, as he himself candidly admits, understand why the Corbyn earthquake is happening.   He just blankly refuses to acknowledge the passionate resentment which he and New Labour created by laying the foundations for the financial crash of 2008-9 and making the squeezed middle and brutally punished poor pay for it, by taking Britain without any constitutional approval into an illegal was with Iraq, by introducing into politics the hated regime of spin and manipulation , by indulging now his squalid lust for money-making, and by clearly having no more overriding desire than to strut the world with Bush.

He describes his opponents as trapped “in their own hermetically sealed bubble”, when that applies exactly to himself.   If what he says were really true, why has the Labour electorate swelled to over 600,000, 50% larger than he managed even at the height of his pomp when so many were glad to be rid of the Tories on 1st May 1997?   Why is he so unfeeling and unapologetic about aligning the New Labour alongside the Tories in pursuit of austerity from 2010 onwards, especially since Osborne’s policy (to shrink the State) has been so dramatically unsuccessful in reducing the deficit?   Why did he urge the Blairites to support the government’s welfare bill which opposed every tenet of the real Labour Party?   Why did he push for privatisation of the NHS and other public services?   Why did his acolyte Mandelson say “New Labour is “relaxed at people becoming filthy rich”, and proved it by letting inequality balloon to even highe heights than under Thatcher?

So after doing all those things, how does he expect Labour members and the country to treat him?   After a 20-year temp;orary iruption of hi-jacking the party down a route utterly alien to its founders, in order to ingratiate himself with corporate and financial leaders on their terms, how can he imagine that anyone wants him back?   He has a lot to learn, less egoism, more humility.

Packing the Lords has become plaything for patronage & consolidating power of PM

Cameron’s decision to toss another 45 peers, mostly party hacks, into the Lords is really shameful.    The motivation is to remove any obstacles to the swift and easy transmission of government business.   Since the whole purpose of Parliament is to hold the Executive (the government) to account, it is truly scandalous that the leader of the Executive has untrammeled tights to appoint whatever number of new peerages will defeat this purpose.   This is a serious source of corruption at the very heart of government.   I certainly strengthens the case for an independent Parliamentary Ombudsman who could make a formal statement, as presidents do in other European countries, condemning what he/she believes is a constitutional abuse designed to sidestep the proper working of Parliament, as well as giving MPs and indeed members of the public the opportunity to make a formal protest.

There are several other aspects too to this sordid affair.   Of the 45 new peers, 32 are former politicians and 7 used to work in the party machines, making a total of 85%.   Moreover, of the 189 peers created between the two elections of 2010 and 2015, no less than 68 had been elected politicians and 26 had been political staff – that is fully half of the new intake.   The Lords is increasingly becoming a repository for Westminster bubble insiders, including those most recently rejected by electors at the polls just 3 months ago.

It’s also becoming a repository for donors to the Tory party.   Of course it has been accepted ever since the time of Lloyd George, the arch peerage salesman, that the selling of honours was illegal.   But is there much difference between an outright sale and making a large contribution to Tory party funds and then waiting for the Tory party hierarchy to reward such generosity?   It doesn’t always happen of course, but an academic stidy has shown that giving large sums of money does have a remarkably positive effect on the donor’s talents being recognised.

Then there the numbers.   There are now 828 members of the Lords and if MPs are added there is grand total of Westminster legislators of 1,476.   Cameron said before the election that he would cut both the number and cost of parliamentarians.   What he has done in practice is the exact opposite – he has appointed new peers at a faster rate than any PM since life peerages began in 1958, even more than Blair.

Packing the Lords with cronies is a shameless way for the PM to extend his patronage and secure compliance as well as smoothing the way for an uninterrupted legislative programme.   Having lost votes in the Lords over devolution, the EU referendum and EVEL (English votes for English laws), Cameron is determined to stop that happening again.   That he has the idiosyncratic power to do so only exposes how drastic is the need for radical Lords reform.

Parliament should have power to force Duncan Smith to resign over WCA deaths

The report that in just over 2 years up to  February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking.   It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society.   But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story.   The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks.   On both there is at present a vacuum.

Iain Duncan Smith by any measure of integrity ought to resign, but he almost certainly won’t.   And Parliament should have the power to trigger an immediate emergency debate, in this case demanding the policy be suspended until there had been a rapid inquiry into the work capability assessment with recommendations (if that is the result) that the policy be stopped or drastically changed, and the government if it lost the vote should be obliged within (say) 3 months to implement the recommendations in full.   Neither of these power currently exists, and it would require an almighty change in the whole process of government accountability for these powers to be granted, or rather forcibly extracted from the Westminster establishment.   A few of us however are laying plans for a Commission on Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Reform to bring this about.

There is another ugly side to this story.   Some of us have been demanding these figures for a very long time.   I myself initiated a debate in the House 3 years ago in response to the death of a constituent in just these circumstances.   The DWP refused in answer to PQs to give the figures, almost certainly at the instigation of IDS.   It is highly significant that we only now know the figures as a result of a Freedom of Information request which the DWP rejected, but the Information Commissioner to his credit overruled that block.   The DWP then had the gall to argue that they had always intended to publish the figures anyway!   Moreover the Information Commissioner’s ruling was delivered in April, and still it has taken the DWP 4 months to implement it, no doubt waiting till the dog days of August to release the information to try to ensure its minimum impact.

This is a terrible shameful example, not only of human cruelty to the severely disadvantaged, but of the complete breakdown in morality of the Cameron/Osborne/IDS government.   We now need that Commission on Parliamentary Democracy very badly.

Iain Duncan Smith demands that same proportion of disabled people work as able-bodied

As part of the government’s plan to extract £12bn from social security benefits, IDS has announced his latest target is “the disability employment gap”.   According to analysis of official ONS figures, this represents the difference between the number of disabled people who are in employment (48%) and the figure for the general population (73%).   The implication is that IDS expects the same proportion of disabled people to work as those who are able-bodied!   Just what does he believe disability means?   There is a long and aggravated Tory history behind this latest announcement, beginning with Thatcher’s attempt to conceal the true unemployment figures by switching applicants en masse to the category of disability and making them subject to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment benefit.

This legerdemain was prompted by unemployment spiking at 3.1 million in 1986.   It led to 1.6 million claimants being badged as incapacitated rather than jobless.   As soon as the unemployment crisis passed, the Tory government changed course and did all it could to cut back the numbers who could be classified as disabled.   The Blair continued the action, but did not get far.   The really big cutbacks only took off with the Cameron government which took on the big French IT firm, Atos, to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ on a systematic and relentless basis to force disabled persons back to work by declaring they were fit to work and therefore if they failed to get work they would be liable to loss of benefit for anything between 4 weeks and 3 years.   This infamous system generated massive complaints, but the government carried on regardless.

The objections were mainly that the examinations by Atos were often perfunctory and the questions asked largely irrelevant, and leaks from DWP staff indicated that the government had set targets for the removal of claimants from the benefit lists.  DWP of course denied this, but that can be taken with a pinch of salt from a department so desperate to conceal the truth as to now being found out using invented stories from fictional claimants, not just once but at least twice, to pretend that benefit sanctions were actually positive and beneficial!   In fact the Information Commissioner has now overruled attempts by DWP to withhold statistics of the number of claimants of incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance who died after being declared fit for work and then had their benefits stopped.   DWP then said it had always intended to publish these figures!   It seems impossible for a government department to stoop any lower than these constant lies, subterfuges and chicaneries, and since they are all politically driven IDS, if he had any integrity, ought to resign.  But of course he won’t.