One of Jez’s first tasks must be to frame his project, and to de-frame Osborne’s

If there is one single reason why Labour lost the election, it’s that Osborne realised the critical importance of framing his project in a way that made it acceptable in the eyes of a majority of the electorate.   The fact that it was a string of lies didn’t matter as long as people believed it.   This was Osborne’s line: the Labour government left a terrible economic mess, we’ve cleared it up by the only means possible, it’s been painful but we’re all in it together, we’ve succeeded in our recovery and should stick with it.  Every statement there is false, but in the absence of Labour refuting all these lies, it was the only tale in town.   Labour lost because Ed Miliband, though he won a lot of support for his policies on energy freeze, living wage, house-building, etc., nevertheless neither exposed the Tory mantra for the utter falsehood it was, nor, even more crucially, produced a commanding narrative which framed his own project in a manner which grabbed the electorate’s attention.

Labour didn’t cause the economic breakdown, the bankers did.   The Tories didn’t clear up the collapse in the only way possible; they chose to impose austerity when they coul dhave continued with Alistair Darling’s policy of expanding the economy and generating growth and jobs to pay down the deficit quicker.   We were not all in it together when the top 1% have continued to increase their wealth while the squeezed middle and pummeled poorest have paid the price for the bankers’ recklessness and arrogance.   Osborne has not produced a proper and sustainable recovery , only a weak and irregular upturn trapped in prolonged austerity with no end in sight.

Why Labour didn’t say this loud and clear between 2010-15 must remain one of the unaccountable mysteries of modern politics.   But Labour didn’t, and it allowed Osborne, lies and all, to dominate the political landscape right through to the election.   Now he will try to do exactly the same again, and paint Corbynomics into a corner even before it’s got off the ground.   Labour must now urgently do two things.   It must tell the truth about Osborne’s total misrepresentation of the political record, even if it means apologising for letting down the country by not pronouncing the truth before.   But above all, Jeremy Corbyn should quickly begin to draft his own project.   It might run something like this.   The Tory bankers allowed their greed and incompetence to capsize the British economy.   The Tory government chose to deal with this by imposing austerity which hits the poorest hardest and lets the bankers off the hook.   It hasn’t worked because hard-working families are still worse off, companies are not investing and household borrowing is at dangerous levels.   We need a fundamental change, and growth and jobs is the answer to austerity.

Tory trade union bill is spiteful, ideologically-driven & irrelevant

The Tories’ trade union bill, which had its second reading today in the Commons, is a bill of naked discrimination against the trade unions designed to severely cut funding for the Labour Party to try to entrench the Tories in power, as well as to make it virtually impossible to strike in certain industrial sectors.   However it’s worth quoting the two main purposes of the bill which the government itself pretends are its motives.   The first is: “to pursue our ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030”.   That is beyond satire.   The truth is that 7 years after the Great Crash averages wages are still 6% below pre-crash levels, productivity is flat, the FTSE-100 companies are not investing, and household debt is tipping £2 trillions.  The idea that after this bill we’re going to overtake the US and Germany within 15 years after a record like that is daft.

The government’s second reason for this bill is “to ensure hard-working people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action”.   The truth is, the number of days lost to strike action now is on average less than one-tenth of what it was during the 1980s.   Of far greater impact on the economy is the UK’s chronic under-investment in skills – something the unions themselves want to work with the government to fix.   The bill, while obnoxious, is irrelevant to Britain’s real problems.

The tube workers aside, only the teachers and firefighters have caused any real national concern since 2010, and even then they usually did so for just a day at a time.   And frankly, even the RMT’s resistance against plans to keep the Underground running all night isn’t that unreasonable.   Night shifts are unsociable, unhealthy and potentially dangerous where they lead to over-tiredness.   And it’s worth noting that private sector workers were responsible for more stoppages in 2013 than those working in the public sector.

But the central point here is that the government seems to believe that whenever a strike occurs, it’s always the fault of the workers irrespective of what the employer does.   The majority of employers may well be decent or reasonable, but there’s still a distinct minority who are intransigent or behave badly.   The last thing that workers want to do is go on strike, but when they have genuine, reasonable and pressing demands over such essential issues as job losses, safety problems and pay, and those demands are swept aside often with little or no negotiations, they have no alternative but to take industrial action, and then to pillory and penalise them rather than bad management, as the Tories and the Tory press automatically do, is utterly wrong and unfair.

The worst feature of the bill is making it almost impossible to take industrial action even in such conditions.   If for example 1,000 members are entitled to vote, the bill would require 400 members to vote in favour, but if the ballot achieved a 50% turnout, then it would require the sup[port of no less than 80% of those voting members.   That is frankly prohibitive, as it is intended to be.

Corbyn forces the Tories to take him seriously

After all the slurs about unelectability, the Tories have very quickly changed their tune and acknowledged that they are now facing a very real threat that they’ve not encountered for the last 30 years.   At a meeting of the political cabinet last Tuesday they decided to focus on the idea that they offer a better future through lower taxes, a higher minimum wage, more jobs, and better public services, while a left-wing agenda would deliver insecurity through higher spending, higher taxes and more borrowing.   If that is their plan, they have a real fight on their hands since almost all of their claims are downright wrong.

Taxes have been lowered for the top decile and for multi-national corporations, but the severe cutback in tax credits in this next Tuesday’s Finance bill will increase taxes for the bottom third of the population, even after the increase in the personal allowance is taken into account.   The £9 an hour minimum wage, which will not be reached till 2020, is actually unlikely to exceed by much, if at all, the uprating that the minimum will have reached by then.

As to more jobs, there are still 1.8 million people unemployed and the jobless figures are already starting to rise again.   Moreover, the quality of jobs created over the last 2 years has been poor: 40% self-employed on a pittance wage and most of the rest insecure, low-paid, and on zero hours contracts, and even then 11 out of 12 jobs created have been in London or the South-East.   As to better public services, are they serious?   The NHS is being outsourced and privatised strongly against the wishes of the public, education is being made to fit Tory ideology, and legal aid is being drastically pared back.

A left-wing agenda that produced growth and better-paid and more sustainable jobs could be generated at minimal higher spending while interest rates remain at 0.5% which will be for some long time yet.   But it would produce the opposite of what the Tories claim – higher income and greater security than the Tory option of prolonged austerity.   Again a left-wing agenda would certainly increase taxes on the very rich who are holding the country to ransom by their industrial scale tax avoidance, but it would lower taxes on the poorer half of the population.   As to more borrowing, the Tories have a cheek at throwing that at Labour when they themselves are forcing the 13 million households in poverty in the UK, half of them in work, to borrow more because of the £12bn welfare cuts about to be imposed.

 

 

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!

The European future that faces is

It is fairly clear, even among Europhiles who want to stay in, what most people object to about the current state of the EU and what they would like to see changed.   The membership fee is uncomfortably large, some £11bn every year.   Free movement of labour works well between countries of similar living standards, but not between countries at very different levels of economic development.   The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy still take 40% of the entire EU budget, and cause considerable resentment in many countries, including the UK.   Most people, including most businesses, support free trade, but doubt whether the Single Market is worth the bureaucracy it generates.   It is widely felt that the EU is too regulatory and too protectionist.   Not many people in the UK want to see Britain becoming part of a federal United States of Europe, but that’s the direction favoured by many of Europe’s leaders.

Are these aspirations likely to be achieved in the current negotiations?   It seems very unlikely.   There may be a declaration that the UK is not fully tied into the EU goal of ‘ever closer union’.   The benefit entitlements of migrants from the EU to the UK will be restricted further.   There are proposals to strengthen the sovereignty of national parliaments and for the role of the City to be safeguarded against discriminatory EU financial regulation.   But none of this is likely to impact significantly on the concerns that most people have about EU membership, and particularly at a time when the EU is running into deeper difficulties.   The austerity policies to maintain the single currency leave EU living standards, as in the UK, still well below 2007 levels.   The way the Germans treated Greece has heavily undermined the perception of the EU as a force for tolerance and fairness.   Far right parties are on the march across much of the EU and will increasingly put at risk unpopular policies needed to keep the single currency from collapse.

This may explain why the latest polls suggest that 43% of people in the UK wish to leave and only 40% to stay in.   So how is a policy to remain within the EU, which most Labour Party members want, to be combined with renegotiation aims that meet the objections of the majority of British people?   Cameron and Osborne seem only interested in achieving the minimum changes that will persuade a majority of the electorate to vote to stay in.   Nor has the Labour party so far offered a vision much beyond this minimalist goal.   Once a new leader is elected, this must become a top priority.

Cameron’s declared bombing aims in Syria are ridiculously vain

We have all learnt that Cameron routinely makes up policy on the hoof, but he has really outdone himself by his explanation of his case for bombing Syria.   First of all as he states it, his military case is the defeat of ISIS.   This is risible since the contribution that he is planning for Britain to make to that end would be marginal to the point of invisibility.   It would not only be wholly ineffective, it would also have the perverse effect of making the streets of Britain less safe as ISIS or its affiliates sought to take revenge.   But most important of all, it is easy to enter a war by some vainglorious posturing as Cameron is intending, but very difficult to exit a war as Iraq and Afghanistan make all too clear.   There is the other inconvenient problem for Cameron that if Jeremy Corbyn wins on Saturday, his chances of winning a Commons vote are far from certain.

Cameron’s second declared goal is the political objective of strengthening the Iraqi government.   This is equally fanciful thinking.   UK participation in a few bombing raids in Syria will not have the slightest impact in achieving a more secure government in Iraq.   It is a cliche’ that everyone understands that no war can be won or country saved from defeat by bombing from the air, only by boots on the ground.   The protection of Baghdad is entirely a matter of the resolution and discipline of the Iraqi army, reinforced as it already is by heavy weaponry supplied by the West.   The truth is that adding a few UK bombing sorties in Syria is far more likely to spur extra recruitment for ISIS/al-Qaeda  than consolidate the government in Iraq.

Cameron’s third goal is to help to lead a new diplomatic initiative in Syria which with the support of Russia and China would install a government of national unity in Damascus.   This again is a preposterously bloated ambition.   The idea that Russia or China will take any notice of Britain’s minuscule participation in Syria in modifying or reversing their deeply held positions on the Middle East is again absurd.   The proposal also rather arrogantly dismisses the far more important role of the US, EU and UN which are bound to be the key players in any wider initiative alongside not only Russia and China, but also the regional powers of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.   Who does Cameron think he is?

 

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.

Now they’re aiming to go back to non-prime (not even sub-prime) mortgage securities which caused crash

If you want evidence of how reckless and desperate bankers and investors have now become in search of higher yields, look no further than the widespread decision to return to a variant of the mortgage-backed securities which precipitated the 2008-9 crash.   Then it was sub-prime securities which were knowingly sold to households handicapped by low pay and insecure employment who predictably could not maintain their mortgage payments in a volatile labour market.   Now it’s simularly financially disadvantaged individuals who are lured to take on non-prime mortgage-backed securities, those that do not meet even the minimum legislative standard.   But of course they do offer high yields, and if the bankers can dispose of enough of these financial vehicles laced together with other dodgy securities, the risk has been passed on to some other half-witted investor.

Quite apart from the very real risk of paving the way for another crash, this latest trend reported in today’s FT is very revealing in where we are in bank and hedge fund regulation -hardly anywhere at all.   It is almost incredible that the very financial instruments which triggered the colossal 2008-9 crash, from which the world has still not recovered and for which the innocent victims are still paying the heaviest price, have not been either banned or so tightly regulated as to prevent any further damage.   It reveals how puny and superficial has been such reform as there is – mainly an increase in capital ratios, but not till 2019!   The dark heart of the City of London remains intact, namely the exchange-traded funds, the ‘dark pools’, the rise of shadow banking outside regulation, and now a return to the exotic derivatives which triggered the global crash 7 years ago.

That’s why the Labour leadership election should have been about the fundamentals, the real factors that are causing the dire condition of our economy and society at the present time.   The whole finance sector needs to be tightly regulated.   There needs to be a major industrial/manufacturing revival over the next decade or more as the only means to pay our way in the world and to achieve real genuine sustainable full employment.   There needs to be a determined attack on corporate pay excesses and industrial-scale tax evasion/avoidance as not only obscene, but holding back growth as even the IMF has now admitted.   And the private market failures in housing, rail, water, pensions, energy, banking, to name but some, must be addressed, including a public sector role in reform.

 

 

Just what is Cameron for?

Watching Osborne this morning on the Andrew Marr show answering questions on whether Britain should bomb Syria and other foreign policy matters, one did wonder where exactly Cameron fitted.   Increasingly Osborne, arguably the most formidable politician in the House at the moment, has already assumed the premiership he has coveted for so long.   All the detailed policy-making is now already in his hands, and that may suit Cameron quite well since he, like Blair, has never been one for detail (as PMQs exposes relentlessly week after week).   He prefers to be the front man, running with whatever is the latest story, even if it turns out to be the opposite tomorrow.   There is no-one so slippery as Cameron so as to be able to somersault every day as though that was the most perfectly normal political routine.   But he is no longer the hard man behind it all.  And he’s not even able to perform his diminished role very well.

Cameron’s botched attempt to reconcile a net immigration target of below 100,000, when the actual figure today has reached 330,000, with even a smidgeon of humanity towards the huge and rising death toll in the Mediterranean has earned him nothing but contempt, almost made worse when he was forced abruptly to change his mind, but then only to the minimalist degree ignominious by comparison with the German example.   Again, over the EU referendum strategy, Cameron has boxed himself into a corner largely of his own making,    He’s already had to give up demanding British opt-outs from EU employment regulations because Berlin and Paris predictably wouldn’t grant it, and now he’s being told that Britain should take in more refugees if he wants a hearing for its ‘catalogue of demands’.   At home too he’s been told he has to reverse his plan to put the machinery of government at the service of the In campaign.

Europe was always the Achilles’ heel of the Tory party, and it looks like being so again.   Eurosceptic Tory MPs are demanding to be allowed to campaign for the anti-EU side and already planning to use their conference later this month with criticisms of Cameron’s renegotiation tactics.   Cameron’s post-election honeymoon is over, and his room for negotiation over Europe is shrinking fast.   If in the event the vote over Europe does go against him, it will not only diminish Britain but wreck his legacy.   But Osborne will survive, untarnished.