Category Archives: Public services

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!

It’s about the fundamentals, silly

The basic reason that the leadership election has been so disappointing, until Jeremy Corbyn came on the scene, was that it was stuck on issues (insofar as it was stuck on any issues at all) that, while certainly important, did not have the makings of a vision.   Even when Corbyn prompted the others to produce some actual policies, they were not the real thing.   Andy Burnham was right to praise land value tax and above all the need to integrate social care within the NHS, and Yvette Cooper was absolutely right to demand that Britain takes its proper share of Syrian refugees where the government response has been callously dehumanised.   Bully for her.   But these are not the fundamentals, and only Jeremy Corbyn seems to have grasped what this election is really all about.

it is about how the world (because it concerns far, far more than just Britain) should respond to the most momentous event since 1945.   That is the biggest financial/economic crash for nearly a century, the slowest recovery since the Great Depression, and the longest run of prolonged austerity (and far from over) since the 1870s.     The City, the corporate business elite and the Tories (and to a lesser degree the Blairites from Blair downwards) regarded this as a glitch from which business-as-usual should return as soon as possible.   They believed the underlying structure was sound, the ideology was right (i.e. de-regulation of finance, unfettered capitalism, glorification of the market, privatisation of all industries and services wherever possible, and suppression of any counter-force and in particular the trade unions), and removal of governments from the action was the best way to promote efficiency and growth.   But not only did they believe it then, they still believe it when the evidence against it is now overwhelming.

The ultra-liberal business model has manifestly failed.   It has led to an intensely fragile global economy, indeed to secular stagnation as Lawrence Summers has rightly termed it, and over six years of grinding austerity have produced neither sustainable growth nor much deficit reduction.  We need some new ideas about the fundamentals, and only Corbyn seems to be offering them.   He opposes further austerity on the grounds that continually contracting the economy is incompatible with lasting growth.   He wants to rebalance the economy by large-scale public investment in industry and services, with the serious goal of full employment, paid for either by mandating the publicly-owned banks to prioritise investment in British manufacturing or by a direct injection of QE funding into industrial investment rather than via the banks or by requiring a fair contribution of the costs from the extremely rich, none of which would require any increase in public borrowing.   Instead of pursuing privatisation and outsourcing which has turned out wildly expensive and wasteful, he would seek to create a new settlement between State and markets where private markets have clearly failed, particularly in sectors like energy, housing, rail, water, pensions and banking, in a manner that optimised the public interest rather than just maximised money-making.   And much more.

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.

Anti-austerity should be clincher of Labour leadership contest

Austerity is the wrong policy on every count.   Over-spending was not the cause of the financial crash,  so austerity is not the right policy for dealing with what did cause it which was the bankers’ arrogance and irresponsibility triggering the global recession.    When the massive bank bail-outs led to huge budget deficits, austerity was the wrong policy to cut the deficits because prolonged contraction of the economy makes deficit reduction far harder to achieve than systematic growth and expansion.   And all that still leaves aside the cruel torture of impoverishment and hopelessness which endless austerity imposes on the innocent victims of the crash whilst letting the guilty perpetrators go free.

In the Labour decade before the crash the average budget deficit was 1.4% of GDP, half the average under Thatcher and Major.  Moreover Labour inherited a national debt from the Tories in 1997 which stood at fractionally under 40%, but reduced it to 36% by 2007.   So there was no Labour over-spend, though there certainly was substantial Tory over-spend.   In neither case however was austerity justified as a counter-measure when the true cause was external and the real motive for its imposition was, and still is, Osborne’s desire to shrink the State rather than primarily to cut the deficit.

The bail-outs did produce a peak budget deficit of £157bn in 2009-10.   The stimulus of Alastair Darling’s last two expansionary budgets cut this by £40bn by the end of 2011, but the Osborne austerity budgets then kicked in which slowed deficit reduction by two-thirds. That’s because continuous contraction of the economy flattens growth which then enforces a slowdown in deficit reduction, which is exactly what happened in 2012-3 and which now seems likely to recur if Osborne imposes his £12bn further cuts in benefits plus another £29bn cuts in public expenditure.

Most wicked of all is the Tory indifference to the merciless battering inflicted on the squeezed middle and the helpless 20% at the bottom of society.   Over 150,000 elderly and disabled persons no longer receive help with washing and dressing because Councils are now so cash-strapped that they can only afford help to those with the most extreme needs or none at all.   Councils now, because they cannot fund alternative accommodation, regularly every day at 700 different locations break the legal requirement that children should not be forced to stay in bed-and-breakfasts or shared hostels for more than 6 weeks at a time.   And to sidestep the opprobrium arising from austerity increasing child poverty, the Tories have cynically changed the definition of poverty to avoid any measure based on lack of money and instead to focus on ‘life chances’.

Why Blairites are going hysterical

In 1994 Blair took over the Labour party and made it safe for British capitalism.   Which is why so many top companies and banks were content to contribute large sums to the party in order to hedge their bets – they gained whichever party won the elections.   Up till now they have dominated the Labour party for the last 20 years.   Blair’s abiding legacy, apart from the Iraq war, was to abandon the fundamental principles of the party and to assimilate it instead to the Thatcherite ideology of ‘let the markets rule and the State get out of the way’.    When Mrs. Thatcher was later asked what was her greatest achievement, she replied without hesitation: ‘New Labour’.   And the Daily Telegraph 6 months into Blair’s premiership published a half-page photo of Blair standing in front of a large picture of Thatcher in No.10 with the inscription underneath: ‘To Thatcher, a son’.   By accommodating the ruling corporate class the Blairites used the Labour party as their avenue to power, and it’s hardly surprising now that they are in such a state of denial and disbelief at their abrupt fall from power over the last month.

Of course the Blairite faction is sincere in believing that they alone know how things should best be run and that, as Blair himself has constantly reminded us, any millimetre departure from his prescribed course will bring chaos and disaster.   Not only does that show their unwillingness to listen (the party was virtually disbanded under Blair into a press release and door-knocking organisation), but it also exposes a deep arrogance about their own invincibility and their contempt for any radicalism from the Left.   The writing was already on the wall in Greece, Spain, and Scotland, but still they thought they could muffle dissent and ignore it.   It is a lesson in political nemesis.

Of course the Blairites will protest that they, and they alone, won three elections in a row.   The truth however is that the Tories threw away the 1997 election rather than that Labour distinctively won it, the second election was marked by stasis after an undistinguished 4 years, and the third saw the loss of 4 million votes after Iraq.   They will also appeal to the huge investment in health and education.   But a large part of the former was spent on building (fine for the construction industry rather than the essentials of health) and on outsourcing and privatisation (again good for the corporates rather than patients), whilst in the case of the latter there were huge building programmes inaugurating academies and free schools which have never proved their worth and have never been popular.

 

Blairites still don’t get it over public ownership

So the latest Blairite plan to derail the Jeremy Corbyn steamroller is to try to label him as rewriting clause 4 when it is perfectly clear that what he is really trying to do, rightly, is to re-start the debate about public ownership which is now so badly needed.   Thatcher’s dominant ideology was ‘let the markets run the whole show and the State get out of the way’ .   That was the route to the efficient allocation of capital underpinning a strong economy, offering big rewards for innovators and entrepreneurs and a trickle-down of prosperity for all.   Blair if anything took it even further with privatisation of public services and regulation-lite hands-off the City of London.   So was it a phenomenal success?   Unrestrained free-market capitalism led directly to the biggest financial crash for a century, the banks massively abused the power of de-regulation as we keep seeing day after day in the papers, and the privatisation of energy, water, rail and the Royal Mail have even Tories demanding the restoration of public ownership.   And even that’s without the scandals of behemoths like G4S, Serco, A4E, Atos, and Capita.

With the dominance of corporate power has come unrestrained market greed and a collapse of accountability.   Private markets have proved a bonanza for shareholder dividends and executive bonuses, but a millstone round the neck of (to use the uncomfortable cliche’) ‘hard-working families’.   The housing market has reduced owner occupation by 12% over the last decade and has made home ownership a no-go area for millions of young couples.   The energy cartel has exploited its pricing power ruthlessly till Ed Miliband threatened to impose a price freeze and to restructure the industry.    The pensions market abounds in steep hidden charges which enrich the City of London and impoverish millions of public sector workers who are reduced in retirement to penury.   The fragmentation of rail in the precipitate and ill-thought-through privatisation of 1996 has been seen as a costly mistake even by most Tories.  And part-privatisation of both health and education is rejected by a majority of the electorate.

Corbyn’s opponents bluster against public ownership as a ‘throwback to the past’.   But in truth what they’re advocating is a throwback to the private market heyday economics of the 1920-30s – and where did that lead to?   The real point has nothing to do with purity or ideological dogma: it’s about what works best, and the record of private markets in the last 30 years of the Thatcher-Blair imperium has not exactly excelled itself.   Moreover the record does not, or at least should not, turn on money-making and profit, but rather on quality of output, service to the customer, and benefit to the wider community.   We badly need a public debate on how public and private markets perform under those criteria as well as efficiency, and how sometimes co-operation serves the public better than mutually destructive competitiveness.

5 good reasons why Osborne’s selling off RBS and Lloyds is wrong

Osborne as usual is taking advantage of Labour’s distraction at this time to sell off RBS and Lloyds to the private sector at a huge losses to the taxpayer, to accountability of the banks, and to the future of the British economy.   This is motivated by his ambition eclipse even the Thatcherite privatisation boom of the 1980s and to oversee the biggest ever sale of publicly owned corporate and financial assets in one year, as well as of course elevating his prospects for the coming Tory leadership race and premiership.  But what may be good for his party and for him will certainly not be good for the country.

First, it is a thoroughly bad deal for the taxpayer.   Osborne has agreed to cut the public shareholding in RBS from 79% to 73%, but at a loss to taxpayers of £1bn.   The scandal of this unnecessary sale is one main reason why it was announced in the summer recess when Parliament wasn’t sitting so that he could avoid hard questioning about its implications.   The £2.1bn of RBS shares were sold at 330p per share, far below the average of 502p per share that the helpless taxpayer was forced to purchase them.

But that is not the real reason why Osborne’s policy is downright misguided.   The banks’ overmighty arrogance, recklessness, and incompetence were the prime reason behind the worst global financial crash for a century, and there not a jot of evidence that they have accepted their responsibility, shown any remorse, or are committed to any serious reform. Indeed they have fought tooth and nail against reform, have extracted major concessions from a weak Osborne like his caving in by reducing the bank levy in response to their lobbying, have pushed back the time limit for any statutory changed to 2019, and are demanding a very early return to pre-crash business as usual.

Moreover there are 5 specific reasons why the banks should NOT be returned to the private sector.   Their deregulated lending – for overseas speculation, for deployment of artificial tax avoidance devices on an industrial scale, for exotic derivative financial constructs which were highly lucrative but were at the heart of the crash, and for for prime property sites in central London – do not benefit British industry, but only their own selfish interests for profit maximization.   Only 8% of their lending last year went towards productive investment in Britain.

There has been far too little reform to prevent another massive crash, mainly confined to increasing the capital reserve ratio and setting up ‘Chinese walls’ between the retail and investment arms of banks.   They are still ‘too big to fail’, so that the implicit taxpayer guarantee is still in place.   There is no structural reform: Britain needs smaller, regional, specialist banks that helps Britain in the same way as the German Mittelstand.   And the dark forces of the next crash – the rise of shadow banking and a re-run of the most dangerous derivatives  – are not being countered.

 

The reason Corbyn’s winning is that he rejects the Tory austerity ideology, and so do a majority of the public

The arrogance and intolerance of the Blairites is breathtaking.   Faced with the prospect of a runaway victory for Jeremy Corbyn who has come from repudiated outsider to front-runner in scarcely more than a month, their sole response is to prepare a coup against Corbyn if he is elected leader under the section 47 procedure of the Labour Party rules.   It is hard to exaggerate the folly and selfish indulgence of such a move.   For the Party to spend 3 months in continuous debate and hundreds of hustings in accordance with the legitimacy of Party democracy, and then have an insider palace coup seek to overturn it via back-rooms intrigue within the PLP would be utterly disreputable.   It would split the PLP and likely also the Labour Party as a whole.   Maybe that is what they want: if they cannot get their own way, they would prefer to bust the Party rather than accept democratic choice.   That has always been the way: the Right has always used the Party as a base for its own domination and access to government, while the Left has always remained loyal to the Party it seeks to represent.
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The macro-economics of the budget are truly awful

This is an edited version of my speech in the House of Commons on the Chancellor’s Summer Budget:

All the hoo-hah about the Budget has centred on the £9 so-called living wage in 2020, even though the living wage in London is already £9.35. It is therefore not a living wage at all, but a slightly revamped minimum wage. Nevertheless, it is the macroeconomics of the Budget that really matter and those are unreservedly depressing. If this is such a wonderful economic recovery, as we are constantly being told, why are average wages still 6% below their pre-crash level seven years ago? Why was the growth rate in the last quarter—the first of this year—just 0.4%, with an annual rate of just 1.5%? Why has productivity been flat for the past five years?

We all regard productivity as crucial, but the UK’s investment as a percentage of GDP is now among the lowest in the world at barely 14%. By the time depreciation is netted off the growth figure, we are actually down at just 2.5%, which hardly even keeps up with our rising population.
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