Friday, 24 December 2010

Are The Cuts Necessary?

As Britain faces the biggest ever assault on the main planks of the welfare state – benefits, the NHS, education and local Council services, not to mention legal aid – a remarkable proportion of the public still think the pain is needed. The opinion polls disagree on how citizens are reacting to the October spending review. KPMG/Ipsos Mori, for the Times, found that two in three people agree that there is a need to cut spending on public services (59 per cent) compared to a third who disagree (32 per cent), a higher pro-cuts majority than in September. However, a Guardian/ICM poll in late October found that more people now oppose coalition plans for cuts than support them, with 48% of voters saying the cuts go too far, 36% thinking the balance is right and 8% wanting them to go further. That’s 44% pro cuts, compared to 47% in September and 55% in July. But, commented the Guardian’s Julian Glover, ‘there is no full-scale revolt against the coalition measures after last week's comprehensive spending review, with Labour slipping behind the Conservatives for the first time in the Guardian polling series since July.’ Unfair in the choice of what to cut, but overall, inevitable, is the public verdict according the pollsters. (They may be wrong if they fail to speak to those in crisis, the disabled, the homeless, and those who work 60 hours a week to pay their debts – but does the coalition care about those who often don’t vote ? Or indeed about anyone until they face the music in 2015, by which time the limited gains of two generations of the left will have been smashed ?).

But cuts are not necessary, says Caroline Lucas’ latest pamphlet, ‘Cuts, A Callous Con Trick’ (see http://www.financeforthefuture.com/TaxBriefing.pdf - co-authors are Colin Hines and Richard Murphy of Finance for the Future, which works to combat tax avoidance and evasion). The alternative to cuts is a fair, efficient, progressive tax system. By recouping unpaid and avoided tax, by closing many concessions and loopholes for the rich and the big companies, and by restoring rates of personal taxation on high incomes to what they were in the late 1970s, cuts could be avoided. Some of these proposals were already in the Green election manifesto; this pamphlet and a parallel one by Compass (‘In Place of Cuts: Tax reform to build a fairer society’ – see http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/item.asp?d=1533 ) comes up with quite a few more.

And the spectre of the suspicious bond markets – or the gnomes of Zurich, as we used to call them in the 1970s ? Well, Lucas et al. note that 90% of British government bonds are held by companies and individuals IN BRITAIN. They probably include your pension fund and mine. And as Lucas shows, the level of UK debt, or the deficit (annual spending minus tax revenue) is not that large by historic or international standards.

The reality of course is that the Coalition just wants to scrap the welfare state. That’s including the right wing of the Lib Dems, who deceived many by preparing for a Tory alliance and Tory policies behind the scenes. The crisis is just a convenient cover and excuse. Britain is just one more instance of the ‘shock doctrine’ described by Naomi Klein in her book of that name – the use of an economic crisis by corporate lobbyists and free-market ideologues to manoeuvre a government into emergency measures that kill off the public sector.

So what to do ? By 2015 the NHS will have been dismembered, managed in effect by the big private healthcare companies and the SERCOs, Capitas, etc which will probably run the commissioning consortia for GPs. Several universities will have been starved into closure. Another generation of school kids will have grown up in poverty with shrinking family benefits, to become as workless as their parents became in 2008-10. Growth, yes, but of drug dealing and prostitution in the streets and parasitic private contractors taking over town halls, hospitals, and job centres. Can we afford to wait another four and a half years for an election ? ‘Building for the next election’ – national or even local – is inadequate; we need to find other and faster ways of stopping the institutional bonfire that is taking place.

Greens have jointed with other forces of the left in the Coalition of Resistance, which drew over 1400 people to a conference in Camden on 27th November (see http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2010/11/video-from-saturdays-coalition-of-resistance-conference/) . Trade unions, residents’ and health campaigns, and activists from several political parties came together to discuss how to stop the ConDems’ attack on the welfare state. Marches and occupations are becoming the order of the day and John McDonnell, MP drew applause when he suggested that the recent demonstrations to demand Vodafone pay their ‘excused’ tax bills of up to £6bn could be repeated for each of the worst 100 tax-avoiding companies.

Local Councils can play a key part in the resistance. Our Councillors need to be pushed by their workforce and by local residents to refuse to cut services. Thanks to a change in the law in 2000, they can no longer be surcharged as individuals for refusing to follow government directives on Council budgets. (See The Socialist, 18-24 November 2010, on http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/). As that article wisely argues, and as many activists said at the Coalition of Resistance conference, Councils can decide to spend more than the government ‘settlement’ permits, using their reserves and their borrowing powers to buy time and force central government to reconsider. Haringey for example has reserves of over £57 million – larger than the cuts they say they ‘have’ to make. But the reaction of the Coalition should not be under-estimated. The Tories abolished the GLC and other metropolitan councils for continually opposing what they did. Since the millennium, central government has acquired new powers to take over ‘failing councils’. Just as primary health care trusts (though never democratic and not particularly to be mourned!) are being abolished at the stroke of the Secretary of State’s pen, who knows what might happen to local government itself ? This is a struggle which will inevitably go beyond the everyday ‘democratic process’ because that process is itself liable to come under attack.


The danger is that ‘stop the cuts’ will become too vague and general a slogan unless we tell councillors clearly what we want. For a start, we can tell them:-

1) to avoid cuts by using Council reserves and by prudential borrowing. (We can also call upon all opposition forces to support a national position that 'if we are elected, we will work to eliminate debts incurred as a result of this borrowing')
2) to refuse to evict those in rent arrears because of Housing Benefit cuts and take appropriate action against other landlords who do so
3) not to reduce Council Tax Benefit if and when the ConDems’ new welfare proposals are enacted and permit this
4) to use their powers to 'call in' and refer local NHS re-organisation proposals, including GP commissioning consortia, foundation hospitals, cuts in important treatments, preventive services and hospital facilities
5) to reduce wasteful and/or ecologically damaging forms of spending; in short, to review use of energy and fuel, paper, advertising, and procurement generally. The important thing is to save jobs, and to invest in technologies which will create jobs and save the planet

Written by Anne Gray
Haringey Green Party

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Usual Pathetic Response to Snow at Heathrow

Well, I said that I wouldn’t be blogging for a month or so, but my travel plans have been severely disrupted by the snow at Heathrow Airport on Saturday. I was due to fly out on Sunday, 19 December, but am still here at home in London.

I should say, this being a green blog, that my addiction to flying has been considerably moderated in recent years, once I understood the effects of flying on climate change. But people shouldn’t avoid flying altogether, sometimes it is acceptable, to see loved ones etc. This trip was to celebrate 25 years with my partner, and had been planned for some time, and factored in with a fair amount of abstinence from flying over the last couple of years.

Anyway, we have now been rescheduled to fly from Heathrow on 27 December, a full eight days after our original booking. We had the offer of a bus to Paris and perhaps a flight from there, but my confidence that we wouldn’t be stuck there for days has been dented by the events of recent days.

Firstly, the airline, I won’t mention them particularly because I don’t think they have been any worse than other airline. On Sunday we couldn’t get any information at all from them on when we might fly. On Monday we got through to the telephone number we had been given, but no news. Tuesday was the offer of a bus ride to Paris and onward flight. Today, nothing new, except we noticed that they were still selling flights for 27 December, and enquired if we could be rescheduled for then? After much argument with the call centre, this was agreed, so hopefully we’ll be away then.

The travel agent seems to have closed down, because they never answer their phone. But I put the most blame for this fiasco on the airport authority at Heathrow. British Airports Authority (BAA) who own Heathrow, have been a complete shambles. The excuse is that we don’t get these weather conditions regularly in the UK, but it’s been this way for the last three winters.

The bad weather was forecast days in advance of Saturday, but no plans appear to have been put in place. Heathrow is still running below full capacity as I write on Wednesday night, but for two days hardly any aircraft moved in or out of the airport. Why they were able to get one runway working and not the other for two days is a mystery.

We had three inches of snow and the premier airport in the UK was completely shut down for days, and will take over a week to clear the backlog. Other countries manage perfectly well in these adverse weather conditions, but they put investment and planning into the operation, which BAA has clearly failed to do.

Perhaps a more pertinent example of how crap BAA has been is to compare it to Manchester Airport. Hardly any flights from Manchester have been cancelled, except those flying to an airport where they couldn’t land, like Heathrow. Manchester Airport is publically owned, by the local authority, and seems to have managed much better than the privatised, Spanish owned BAA. Manchester must have fall back equipment and plans that BAA just thought weren’t worth the investment, and would interfere with their main function, making profits.

This is like a microcosm of everything that happens in this country these days. The majority of the country is run by spivs, and everything about publicly owned services is derided as old fashioned and inefficient. Take a look at the fiasco at Heathrow and tell me how much better this is than a publically run airport like Manchester.

Photo from Sky News

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happy Xmas to all our Readers


I will be travelling for the next month or so, and will not be posting for a while. Hopefully, my local party colleagues will post some stories in the meantime.
Happy Xmas and New Year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Government Cuts Grants to Urban Local Authorities


The Coalition government has announced the level of grant funding to be given to local authorities in England for the next two financial years. You can see the full council by council list here courtesy of The Guardian newspaper.

The figures for ‘revenue spending power’ are the amount each council will receive minus a local authority’s other income, mainly council rents. The ‘formula grant’ figure is how much (compared to this year) councils will get in direct grant from the government. Why the figures have been presented this way, is an interesting question, and the cynics amongst you may well conclude this has done to muddy the water somewhat, where drastic cuts in grant are being imposed.

With Council Tax being virtually frozen over this period, cuts in local services are inevitable. What is striking from even a quick look through the figures, is that local authorities in urban (generally Labour voting) areas will be cut by much more than rural (Tory and Lib Dem voting areas). Indeed somewhere like Dorset for example, will get a small increase (0.25%) and others such as Wokingham, Richmond upon Thames and Buckinghamshire, all get a less than 1% reduction. This is quite clearly a political move, and does fit in with the ConDem government strategy of encouraging comfortable areas, where they expect to win votes, and poor areas which they do not give a damn about, as they know they will never vote for the ConDem government anyway.

And so, to our own fair borough of Haringey in north London. Haringey is a fairly typical inner city area, certainly for London, but also reminiscent of many urban boroughs in England. Haringey will receive 11.30% less grant in 2011/2012 than it did this year, which is calculated as reducing the council’s ‘revenue spending power’ by 7.9% over the same period. This is in line with most urban areas, and will mean that the council here and in similar areas will need to cut front line services, and with it jobs. Talk of efficiency savings and the like are nonsense, to make cuts this deep something has to be sacrificed, and it seems likely that adult care and childcare sectors will bear the main brunt, and those workers doing very important work, will lose their jobs.

Haringey council is the largest employer in the borough, which already has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, so a cut of maybe 1 in 8 in its workforce, will have a devastating affect on employment in the area and of course the services that are being provided by the council. Even before the scale of the cuts were announced, Haringey council leader Claire Kober is quoted in the Hornsey Journal as saying, “It is not possible to remove upwards of £50million from our budget without significant job losses.”

Moreover, the fact the bulk of the cuts are to be ‘front loaded’, that is, will come in the next financial year, means a sharp reduction in the services Haringey currently provides, and is guaranteed pretty much immediately. This will prolong the economic recession, because the private sector is in no shape to make up the difference in employment in the short term, if at all.

The short term prospects for jobs and local services is therefore pretty grim, unless the people can force a change in government policy, or better still, throw them out altogether and elect a more compassionate and less reckless alternative government.

Rise up people, and overturn their plan (thanks to Captain Ska for the inspirational line).

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tuition Fees Protest Gives Inspiration to Resistance Campaign

This is a video of a speech by fifteen year old Barnaby to a Coalition of Resistance meeting in Camden, after the recent anti tuition fees protest. The Green party fully supports the Coalition Of Resistance, and co-sponsored the meeting.

He makes the point, that contemporary thinking is that young people are not interested in politics, but demonstrates that this is not case.

The student protests have lifted the whole anti cuts etc movement, and gives us something to build upon. Well done to the students, this is just the beginning of resistance to this disastrous government programme of ending the welfare state.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The University Tuition Fees Vote in Parliament

MP’s will vote in Parliament on Thursday 9th December on the ConDem coalition government proposals to raise university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 per year, per student. This hike in tuition fees is bound to deter many people from taking up studies, at a time when work is scarce and we are constantly told that we need to have a high skilled economy and workforce, once the up turn does materialise.

The Green party would scrap these fees altogether, believing that higher education is a social good which benefits society as a whole, but the main political argument surrounding this issue has been the position adopted by the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dems campaigned against university tuition fees at this year’s general election, in quite explicit terms, with Nick Clegg their leader amongst them, even going as far as publicly signing a pledge to scrap the fees. Although reports have surfaced in the press that months before the election, the Lib Dem leadership had already decided to ditch this policy; so claims that this was a necessary compromise of coalition government is particularly dishonest, and quite frankly, shameful.

Students from wealthy backgrounds will be financially unaffected by this rise in fees, because their parents will cover the costs, and those from the poorest families will be exempt from paying, although the proposals will also end Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16 to 18 year olds from these backgrounds, which reduces their chances of going to university in the first place.

It is students in the lower to middle income category that will be most directly affected, with the prospect of starting out in working life with something like £40,000 to £50,000 in debt, which is a daunting enough thought for anyone.

Will Lib Dem MP’s back these proposals, given that only six months ago they were completely against tuition fees? Some of these MP’s have said they will vote against the proposals, but the twenty that are government ministers have said they will vote in favour, and this should be enough with most Tory MP’s sure to vote in favour for the proposals to get a majority in the House of Commons, sadly. But, the arithmetic is pretty tight so it will be interesting to see the result on Thursday.

I think if the proposals are passed, it will be extremely damaging to the Lib Dem party, and this might just convince enough of their MP’s that they could save their own necks by voting against. The public at large, when politicians make explicit pledges to do something or not do something, then do the complete opposite when the votes are bagged, tend to punish these same politicians at the next electoral opportunity. Many unhappy voters will be students, and ex students, who thought they were voting against tuition fees, votes the Lib Dems can ill afford to lose. And quite right too, politicians bending the truth is one thing, telling barefaced lies, is quite another.

Photo from the NewStatesman

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The London Bombings - The Need to Know the Truth

The ConDem government has failed in its attempt to have part of the evidence at the inquiry into the London bombings of 7 July 2005, held in private. The High Court backed the decision of the coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, to allow bereaved relatives of the attack, to hear all the evidence. The government is expected to appeal the decision, claiming that it will compromise national security, which is the fail-safe argument used by the authorities when they want to cover something up.

At the time I was working close to Edgware Road tube station, where one of the four bombs was detonated, and it was at the usual time I arrived at the station. That I wasn’t there at fateful time is a matter of luck really. I arrived at my local Piccadilly line tube station at about 8.15am, only to find the station closed. An underground worker informed me that there was a ‘power failure’. I took an overland train to Finsbury Park station, intending to get onto the Victoria line to Kings Cross, but found the Piccadilly line was now working, so took that to Kings Cross.

As I was ascending the escalator at Kings Cross, to make my connection onto the Circle line to Edgware Road, the emergency sirens sounded, with instructions for everyone to evacuate Kings Cross station. This must have been around 9am. On exiting, I milled around with hundreds of other passengers at the front of the station, waiting for an all clear to continue my journey. At about 9.10am, a police officer rushed towards us, waving his arms, shouting ‘get away from the station’.

I decided to complete my journey to work on a bus, and managed to get onto one going to Marble Arch, where I could walk the rest of the way. I arrived at work at about 10.15am, and my colleagues there were still talking of power failures, but I had noticed a cloud of black smoke hanging over Edgware Road station. Then news started to come through of the bombings.

I feel extremely lucky that I wasn’t caught up in any of this, but have also reflected that the events I witnessed were suspicious. Why was the Piccadilly line closed at 8.15am, but open again around 8.45am? Why did the emergency alarm sound at Kings Cross some ten minutes before any of the explosions? And why was the story of a power failure put about by the authorities? Also, why have we seen so few photo images of the bombers on the day, when the London Underground has hundreds of CCTV cameras?

It has now come to light that at least two of the bombers were known to MI5 to be in contact with terrorists nearly a year and a half before the attack. This is not a conspiracy theory rant, indeed the holding of evidence behind closed doors only fuels these type of rumours. But we need to know what the security services knew and when, and why they failed to stop bombers. Not only the relatives of those killed in the bombings need to know the truth, but the public at large needs to have confidence in the security services, so this inquiry should be conducted in the open, for all to see.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

Council Tax Benefit Goes Local

The ConDem government has announced that the amount of Council Tax Benefit (CTB) from 2013 onwards will be decided by local authorities. This is being ‘sold’ by the government as part of its localisation agenda, allowing local councils to decide more policies for their areas. The Green party has long advocated transferring political power to its lowest, local level, but this policy is an extremely damaging one, and the government has another, barely hidden agenda in wanting to facilitate it.

Like everything that comes out of the ConDem government, this policy shift is all about saving money at the expense of the poorest people in the country. CTB is paid to the unemployed, and workers and pensioners on low incomes. This is how CTB will change if the ConDems get their way.

At present CTB is administered by local authorities but the entire funding comes from central government. The proposed changes will see local authorities getting a ‘grant’ from central government, similar to the present arrangements, but this grant will be 10% less than that which they currently receive. From there on in, it is down the local authority to pay this benefit.

Clearly, if local councils want to maintain payments at current levels, then they will have to find the money elsewhere in their budgets. This is not a realistic proposition for councils at present (or in 2013) as pressure is on them to make savings in all service areas, as part of central government’s budget deficit reduction programme. So it is pretty much nailed on that CTB will be reduced in most areas by at least 10%.

I say at least 10%, because it is likely to be reduced further in some local authorities because the change proposal also allows councils to set the amount of CTB that they pay to claimants. They can even pay no CTB if they so decide, and you can imagine Tory and Lib Dem run councils thinking that they can pass on savings in CTB by setting a lower Council Tax. Thus, yet again money will be transferred from those on the lowest incomes to those on higher incomes. It will make Tory and Lib Dem voters happy, and those on CTB who will suffer, well, they probably vote Labour or Green anyway, so who cares?

It is also likely to add to the social cleansing agenda that will reduce Housing Benefit (HB) which I blogged about previously here, with CTB claimants being forced out of areas that do not pay CTB, and into (poorer) areas that may continue to pay the benefit at anything like its full rate.

This very important change to the benefit system has gone hardly reported in the media, although admittedly there are many important benefit changes being proposed by the ConDem government, but these fundamental changes to a vital benefit must be opposed by all fair minded people. If they get away this, our nation will be divided and into comfortable areas and poverty stricken ghettos.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Anti Cuts Music Video, Liar Liar

This is a fabulous video/song from Captain Ska (twitter page here). It feels like we are back in the 1980’s, Ska and reggae bands making political songs, Specials, The Beat, UB40 etc.

Let’s hope that the people do indeed rise up and stop these terrible cuts which will impact on the poorest in our society.

Monday, 8 November 2010

We’re All In It Together (Not)

At a time when public and private sector final salary pension schemes are under attack, see my previous post here for an example, The Guardian newspaper reports that teachers in private schools such as Eton and Harrow, are having their pensions subsidised by the tax payer. Teachers at the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister’s schools all benefit from this public subsidy to their pensions.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request from the Green party to the Department for Education (DfE) reveals that more than 62,000 teachers, including 1,600 at the country’s top private schools at a cost of around £40m per year at the top 100 private schools to the public purse. The DfE deems it necessary to give this subsidy because private sector money purchase pensions are less reliable than public sector final salary schemes, as they are reliant on the vagaries of the financial markets. The taxpayer therefore has been topping up private school teacher’s pensions by around a 6% contribution per year.

Noel Lynch, Chair of the London Green party who initiated the FOI request said: “It’s scandalous that taxpayers are unknowingly paying towards the pensions of teachers at schools like Eton and Harrow. It will come as a surprise to a lot of people that these elite, private sector employers have access to the government’s Teachers’ Pension Scheme to the tune of over £40 million.

“It’s unfair that these schools are exempted from the risks of stock market fluctuations while other similar sized organisations must suffer the consequences of a volatile market.”

So, not only will teachers at the top private schools earn more but they also have a comparable pension to public sector teachers. On top of this, private schools such as Eton are allowed charity status, and so are exempt from paying tax, when by anyone’s estimation Eton is not a charity but an extremely privileged institution. This makes it easy for private schools to attract the best teachers and perpetuates the class divide in our society. At a time of public spending cuts, how can a tax handout from ordinary people to the teachers of children of the most wealthy people in the country be justified?

For most workers, there is trade off between higher salaries in the private sector or a potentially more secure pension in the public sector, but teachers in private schools can have it both ways, without ever having to work even a single day in a public sector school, all at the expense of the tax payer. Claims by the government about the financial crisis that ‘we are all in it together’ and ‘those with the broadest shoulders should carry the heaviest burden’ and such like are not borne out by government policy.

The Green Party believes that this money should be ploughed into more urgent areas within the education budget such as building new local schools in deprived areas and employing more teachers in the public sector to reduce class sizes.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Greenest Government Ever Claims Are Pure Spin

Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim, that his would be the greenest government ever, are proving to be all words and no action. In the recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had its budget slashed by 30%, considerably more than the government department average of 19%. Around 8,000 jobs will be lost.

Further savings will be made by reducing spending on flood defence by around a third and consideration is being given to the selling off of National Nature Reserves. The government has also announced that a review of the regulation of food and farming. This could well lead to less regulation in this industry, which has a history of damaging biodiversity and water pollution. Look at what less regulation did to the banking industry and our economy. Environmental standards need to be strictly enforced, or firms will neglect their duties to protect our natural environment when it suits them.

The ‘Warm Front’ initiative, which provides money to people for energy efficiency measures like home insulation, on a means tested basis, is to be ended after next year. By doing this, the government is turning its back on the poorest in our society, not for the first time, and condemning them to a future of fuel poverty. At the same time, they are cutting thousands of jobs of the workers who have been carrying out this work, at a time of mass unemployment. These energy efficiency measures would eventually pay for themselves as well as reducing the country’s carbon footprint, but the ‘greenest government ever’ is more interested in cutting the budget deficit, than expanding or even continuing this sensible policy.

Transport policy comes off no better in the CSR. From 2012 the cost of rail travel will increase by 30% over the next five years. Commuters will be particularly badly hit by these increases, with for example, a rise of £1000 per year for someone commuting from Brighton to London over this period. Bus fares across the country will also rise as there will be a 20% cut in the fuel subsidy that bus companies get by 2015. In London, bus and underground fares will rise by 2% above inflation, meaning a single bus fare will rise by 10p per journey from next year. This at a time when we should be encouraging people to use public transport, and so reduce traffic congestion and our carbon emissions.

So, how can Cameron make this ridiculous claim of being the greenest government? Well, its pure spin. A kind of feel good factor for the public, if you say you are green often enough, then people will think it’s true. The facts on the other hand, tell a completely different story.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Lib Dem U-Turn on Nuclear Power

This video of Chris Huhne, Lib Dem MP and ConDem Coalition Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, outlines the Lib Dem policy on nuclear power BEFORE this year’s general election.

He now supports nuclear power, along with the rest of the coalition government, and this video has been removed from the Lib Dem’s website. But you can still see it here on this blog, in all its breathtaking duplicity.

How can you trust whatever the Lib Dems say in future?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Social Cleansing in London


Boris Johnson, Tory mayor of London, has been courting controversy again with a comment he made in a radio interview about the coalition government’s proposed policies on Housing Benefit. Johnson said that he was not prepared to tolerate a ‘Kosova style social cleansing in London on his watch’. It is not the first time that he has made controversial statements in the media, but this time he has provoked outrage from government ministers, who have accused him off ‘making inflammatory remarks’.

It is perhaps a rather over the top comparison to cite Kosova, but he sure knows how to capture the attention of the media, and he is highlighting a very important issue. He may have been more accurate to compare government Housing Benefit changes to the enclosures and clearances of land in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain, where huge amounts of rural land was cleared of inhabitants who were forced into the burgeoning urban areas by wealthy landowners.

Make no mistake about it, these changes to HB will cause profound social upheaval. The particular policy of capping the amount of payments to a third of ‘market’ value (down from a half) from next year, was what Johnson had in mind. In wealthy parts of London, HB claimants will be unable to afford private sector rents, and so will be forced into cheaper areas of the capital or outside of London altogether.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Haringey will suffer from an exodus in the wealthy western parts of the borough and an influx into the cheaper eastern areas, from claimants within Haringey and from outside more expensive boroughs. All this will lead to more pressure on other services, such as hospitals, schools and social services in the east of the borough, not to mention housing overcrowding, making these parts of Haringey more deprived than they already are.

Another change to HB which will cause social problems is the twelve month rule. HB claimants will automatically lose 10% of their benefit after twelve months, whether they are on Jobseekers Allowance or in low paid employment. How are these people meant to make up the difference when they are already on the breadline? Inevitably, this will lead to evictions and homelessness which in turn will lead to health issues and probably an increase in crime, at a time when police numbers, prison places and probation officers are all being cut.

Clearly huge sums are being spent on HB at the moment, but why punish the claimants when the problem is caused by a lack of affordable social housing and astronomical ‘free market’ rents in the private sector, in London particularly?

We are moving towards the kind of problems we saw in the 1980’s with poor ghettos becoming increasingly unsettled and a powder keg which exploded into urban riots in these areas in the end.

This is the ConDem government future, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The End of the Universal Welfare State


The announcement by George Osborne at the Conservative party conference this week, of the ending of Child Benefit for those paying higher rate income tax (earning of just under £44K), signals a break with the post war consensus of universal benefits in the UK.

On the face of it, why are people earning £44K getting handouts from the taxpayer, when savings need to made in public spending? Well, even leaving aside the anomaly that two parents earning £43K will still be allowed to claim this benefit, but a single wage earner on £44K will be disallowed, which raises questions of fairness, we also need to look a little deeper into this policy.

It is no coincidence that Child Benefit is paid at the same the rate to all parents, regardless of their income. The fact one partner, almost always the man, is earning a good wage, is no guarantee that this money will find its way to the child(ren). It has long been the view that direct payments to mothers is the surest way to get money to children, as unfortunately, fathers are not always reliable in this department. The problem of middle class child poverty is not uncommon, and this has been recognised in the universality of Child Benefit, ever since its inception.

Of equal importance though, is the very concept of universal benefits. If welfare benefits are seen by the middle classes as something that they have to pay for in tax, but are never going to claim, it undermines the whole basis of our welfare state. Prior to the second world war, what benefits did exists, were means tested, and therefore stigmatised, as a hand out from the wealthy to the poor.

The founders of the British welfare state in the post war period understood that the middle classes had to feel that there is something in the welfare state for them to want to continue contributing to the costs, and so designed welfare around the universal principle.

This is not the first time that Conservative and Labour governments have chipped away at universality, since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979. It is hard to imagine, for example, that before this, unemployment benefit was paid at 55% related to earnings for the first twelve months of a claim, a situation which (although even better) still exists in France and other European countries. And, it will probably not be the last time, as the spotlight falls on free public transport and winter fuel payments for the retired, for example.

Considering the measly savings to be had by ending universal benefits like Child Benefit (around £1b savings), the price of tearing our society apart into haves and have nots, is too high a one to pay. Why not just tax the rich more, and make the banks pay their fair share of the costs to get us out of this borrowing crisis, that children in particular, had no part in causing.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Local Campaigners Slam Government Threats to Dismantle the NHS


Open Letter to Secretary of State for Health about the NHS White Paper

Andrew Lansley MP
Secretary of State for Health
Department of Health

1st October 2010

OBJECTIONS TO THE WHITE PAPER

Dear Mr Lansley

We are writing in response to your public consultation exercise, which ends 5th October 2010, to express our alarm and deep opposition to the health reforms proposed by the White Paper.

The NHS is society’s most universally valued public service, and there is overwhelming support for the principle that it is publicly owned and provided, fully tax funded and available to all.

The profound organisational changes proposed by the White Paper represent the most serious threat ever to the existence of the NHS.

Despite the rhetoric of fairness, equality and mutuality, these proposals advocate a widespread privatisation of the health service, introducing a world where hospitals become businesses and where private companies compete in a potentially irreversible NHS market, effectively destroying the 1946 NHS Act.

From a patient’s perspective these proposals are truly frightening, resulting in extreme disruption, fragmentation, increasing health inequalities and extortionate administration costs, in place of patient care. It is clear that the public do not want consumer variety or a postcode lottery; just a seamless service across all regions.

From a GP’s perspective, we find it ominous. These proposals, which would force GPs to form consortia to commission local services and allow unlimited provision of private medicine, do not fit neatly into a GP’s mainstream workload. The majority of GPs are neither in favour of private sector involvement, nor do they possess the necessary skills for commissioning. It is likely that the chosen GPs will become token clinicians within a corporate monstrosity and that “unelected bureaucrats” will eventually be replaced by unelected global bullies.

From a health worker’s perspective the loss of tens of thousands of jobs is inevitable, massively increasing the workload of remaining staff, whilst employment rights across the NHS would be completely eroded, ending national pay agreements including sick pay and pension entitlements, and changing standards and terms of employment beyond recognition. Restrictions on GP commissioning budgets also present a serious risk of bed and ward closures, and of hospitals going bankrupt.

From the general public’s perspective we find the lack of consultation abhorrent, and the discarding of our national treasures in this way completely unacceptable.

With no evidence that the proposals would produce financial savings, public money for health would end up in the pockets of shareholders rather than being spent on patient care, whilst billions of pounds of tax payers’ money would be transferred to private companies, including huge multinational health corporations, many from the United States, with no public accountability.

It is clear to us that the changes you advocate in the White Paper are so profound that they represent nothing less than the dismantling of the NHS as we know it, developing a U.S.-style market-based health system and leaving an NHS only in name.

Yours sincerely,

Signatories

Shirley Franklin (Chair, Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition)
Andy Bain (TSSA President)
Ivy and Alan Beard (Save Chase Farm)
Sarah Boden
Emma Dixon (Islington Green Party)
Mick Gilgunn (Secretary, Islington Trades Union Council)
Katy Gold (Treasurer, Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition)
Sarah Cope (Haringey Green Party)
Gary Heather (Joint Chair, Islington Hands off Our Public Services)
Kathryn Dean (Haringey Green Party)
Jem Lindon
Dr Robert MacGibbon FRCGP
Kieran McGregor (Save Chase Farm)
Rich Moth (Deputy Convenor, Social Work Action Network)
Mike Shaughnessy (Haringey Green Party)
Steve Parry
Ian Shacklock
Angela Sinclair-Loutit (Islington Pensioners Forum)
Alasdair Smith (President, Islington National Union of Teachers)
Sean Wallis (Branch Secretary, University College London, Universities and Colleges
Union)
Kate Wilkinson (Save Chase Farm)
David Wilson

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Coalition Government Doesn’t Have a Mandate

As the Conservative party gathers for its Autumn conference in Birmingham this week, I think we can expect a torrent of self righteous speeches on the need to cut immediately and deeply into public spending. No doubt the unions will come in for lectures on not standing in the way of the democratically elected government, by mounting demonstrations and strikes.

Protests across Europe against cuts in welfare and public services are spreading, and although they have not in the main been supported by large majorities of union members and public, they are gaining momentum, before the cuts have been introduced proper. It is crucial that the unions carry the public with them, so they need to be careful about exactly what action they take, although to an extent strikes will be unavoidable, given the government’s rhetoric so far on the matter.

It is perfectly democratic for unions or anybody else to protest against these cuts, the government has so far been keen to liberalise on civil liberties, so they should not be hypocritical about union members exercising their rights. But more to the point, this government doesn’t even have a mandate to introduce cuts at the pace they are proposing. The Tories only received 36% of the popular vote at the general election, which did not yield an overall majority for them, so they are reliant on Lib Dem MP’s for a majority; but the Lib Dems did not propose cutting so quickly in their election manifesto, and have had to do a U turn since.

The excuse that is being used to justify this change of heart, is that events have changed, particularly in Greece, so a re think became necessary. But the same re think does not seem to have been demanded by events in Ireland, where their economy has slipped back into recession, and the government’s policies here, are in danger of causing our economy to double dip too.

Of course, this is all just spin. Politicians argue whatever suits them, and it suits the Lib Dems to be in government, ministerial limos and all, so they will say whatever justifies them continuing being in government. If the coalition had any honour, it would call another general election, and try to obtain a proper mandate, but this would decimate the Lib Dems in particular, so pigs will fly before any election is called.

So, just remember when you hear all those pious speeches from Tory delegates, that this government doesn’t have a democratic mandate for their reckless and ruthless cutting agenda.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Ed Miliband Elected Leader of the Labour Party


So, Ed Miliband just managed to edge past his brother David and win the contest to become the leader of the Labour party.

The media are already focussing on the fact that it was the votes of trade union members that finally proved crucial in Ed getting over the 50% line, in the complicated electoral college voting system used for electing Labour leaders. The Sun newspaper, Murdoch owned, has been running stories during the election referring to ‘Red Ed’ and I think we can expect more of this from the right wing press, which amounts to most of the UK papers. Ed Miliband, despite being raised in a communist household, is probably not even a socialist, but we can confidently expect this kind of line from the forces of reaction in the coming years.

My feeling is, that Labour party members (and affiliates) wanted to draw a line under the new Labour period, and with David Miliband being seen as the continuity candidate, firmed up by support from the likes of Tony Blair and Peter Mandleson, suffered from this desire for change. Ed, on the other hand, skilfully positioned himself in the role of change candidate, talking a more social democratic language than we have had from a leading figure in the Labour party since John Smith died.

Of course, candidates often talk to the left in progressive party elections, only to swing rightwards once elected, so we will have to wait and see how Ed Miliband positions himself on a variety of policy issues, not least the question of budget reduction. I expect him to follow a pretty soft left pathway, but even so, this is still preferable to the Blair/Brown years of relentless right wing policy initiatives. Incidentally, Caroline Lucas since becoming Green party leader, has to her credit, remained true to her principles, to the extent that some say, she has moved further to the left.

And what does this all mean for the Green party and wider politics in Britain? Well, I argued in a previous post, that I thought a David Miliband victory would be in the best interests of the Green party electorally, as he represented the new Labour brand. It could be, that Ed Miliband will garner votes from people who have in recent times voted Green in protest at the worst excesses of new Labour. But in terms of potential cooperation between the Labour and Green parties it certainly has possibilities. We may be in for a period where coalition government at national and local level is more of a reality, and I for one would be happier cooperating with an Ed Miliband led Labour party, than what Labour became over the last two decades.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Lib Dems are not a Party of the Left


Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is reported in The Observer newspaper as saying that his party is not a party to the left of Labour and shouldn’t expect those voters to back them in the future. Under the leadership of Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell, it was to some extent the case, that disaffected Labour voters backed the party. The Iraq war, Trident renewal, and attitudes to taxation of the wealthy, were central planks in the advance of the Lib Dems over recent elections, but Clegg appears to have a different strategy in mind.

It is true that the Lib Dems have never really been a party of the left, their free trade ethos, hostility to trade unions and a desire to privatise public services, such as Royal Mail, have also been at the forefront of their policy ideas recently. Labour left an open goal for civil liberties to be exploited, so much so, that even the Tories managed to appear more progressive than them, but the Lib Dems also benefited from appearing as less authoritarian the Blair/Brown governments.

Now, you could say, with plenty of justification, that it hasn’t been difficult to be to the left of Labour in recent times, but electoral results do indicate that this stance has been successful for the Lib Dems. Watching Clegg’s speech to his party’s conference yesterday, I was minded of Tony Blair’s speeches to Labour party conferences, lecturing the party that if they wanted power, this is the way that it had to be. Admittedly, Clegg is not in Blair’s class as a conference speaker, or election winner, but the message was all too familiar.

The Labour party swallowed this line, those whose stomach allowed them to remain as members, for the power and privilege that it delivered, and for the short term, I expect the Lib Dems to do the same.

But longer term, elections can be lost, members can be lost and morale can generally sag, all of which happened to new Labour. I know some Lib Dem members and they are not the type of people to be comfortable with cutting welfare benefits and the like, and many of their voters in Haringey will feel the same way. Clegg was only really stating the obvious, when he said that left voters will have to go elsewhere in the future.

The Green party is the natural home for these members and voters. We are democratic and socially liberal, and we are on the rise politically. Caroline Lucas has made the breakthrough into Westminster as an MP, and we are gaining ground generally at local authority councillor level. If you care more about principle than power for its own sake, come and join a truly progressive party.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Haringey Councillors Urged to Fight Cuts in Services


Union members joined together last night to issue a ultimatum to Labour councillors in Haringey – reject government cuts or stand aside.

A demonstration was held outside Haringey Civic Centre calling for an end to cuts in the borough, and demanding councillors stand up against financial pressures from central government.

Jenny Sutton, a University and Colleges Union rep from the College of North East London was one of the leaders of the demonstration.

She told the Haringey Independent: “This is a Labour council and we are demanding they don’t impose Tory cuts – refuse to implement the cuts or stand aside and let people get elected who are going to fight.

“They cannot co-operate with these cuts because they have been elected to represent the people, not to do what the government tells them to do.
“What is being proposed is really savage and we have got to fight it where ever we can.”
The protest, ahead of the first cabinet meeting after the summer break, brought together a host of union representatives and activist from across the borough under the banner of Haringey Alliance for Public Services (HAPS).

The movement has been growing throughout the summer and organisers are hoping it will attract support from residents and councillors from across the political divide.
Richard Willmsen, a leading voice in HAPS, called on Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, to break ranks from the coalition government and impose the austerity agenda being pursued.

He said: “Lynne Featherstone was not elected to take the kind of decisions she is being asked to take.

“She is supposed to be the Equalities Minister but the disproportionate impact of cuts on women is something she needs to look at.

“This borough has a proud history of resisting Tory cuts, and the Labour council needs to remember that and start acting for the people that elected them.”

Pamela Harling, the Green party campaigns coordinator for Haringey who attended the protest, said afterwards, “The coalition government’s plans for cutting public services will devastate service provision in this area and across the country. The Green party put forward a fully costed alternative proposal at the General election to reduce the deficit sensibly and at the same time to invest in green jobs, which would strengthen the fragile economic recovery. The government’s plans threaten to throw us back into recession and to make those least able to, foot the bill. The Green party fully supports this campaign in resisting these damaging cuts”.

Bulk of the report and picture by Tristan Kirk from the Haringey Independent

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Is AV Much of an Alternative?


Green party autumn conference, which is being held in Birmingham over the next few days, will debate whether or not to back the Alternative Vote referendum in a session on Monday 13 September. In the Green party, conference actually makes policy, unlike the main parties where conferences are little more than cheer-leading events for the leadership, where votes can be disregarded. Anyway, side swipe delivered, back to AV. Under an AV voting system, voters get to rank candidates 1,2,3 etc, and a winner needs 50% of first preference, or first and second preference votes to be elected.

I think the prevailing mood will be to back AV, recognising that this system is not proportional in any way, which is the kind of electoral system that we would like to see introduced, but on the basis that it will be a small step in the right direction, and will help the Green party elect more MP’s. Indeed, I am expecting one of my local party colleagues to make the case for AV on this blog at some later point.

I have to say though, that this is not my personal view. I can see that it will probably benefit Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion, with Labour voters likely to second preference the Green party, but I can’t see it doing us any good electorally anywhere else. To take the example of the London mayoral election in 2008, which is an AV type election, as guide to what might happen is instructive. The Green party candidate polled 23% of second preference votes, but these were useless as she only achieved 3.7% of first preference votes. In effect, the second preferences were wasted votes. Only the top two candidates in first preference votes, gain from second preferences.

The danger is, I think, that with the coalition government we have at present, the tendency of first preference Conservative and Lib Dem voters will be to second preference their coalition partner’s party at the ballot box. Labour voters will probably, by and large, second preference the Green party, but because we don’t get enough first preference votes in most constituencies, these will be wasted votes again. The AV system, coupled with boundary changes, could keep the ConDem government in power forever, which is why the Lib Dem leadership in particular, are so keen to move to this system. In my view, this is a highly undesirable outcome, saddling us with a reactionary, free trade neo liberalism, at a time when Labour is talking a more social democratic language in its leadership contest, than it has for a generation.

So although AV on the face of it seems a more democratic electoral system, it has the potential to build in a permanent government coalition of the right, with even less chance than under the present First Past The Post system, of getting the kind of radical changes that are needed to deliver the social and ecological justice that I would like to see.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Strange Case of Popular Austerity


A recent poll commissioned by the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11181833 showed that 60% of British voters are in favour of severe cuts to public spending now, to reduce the country’s budget deficit.

It does amaze me that the ConDem government, has managed so easily to focus public attention away from the causes of the budget deficit and onto public spending and general belt tightening. The Labour government did contribute to unnecessary public spending such as, PFI’s and PPP’s, but this was pioneered by John Major’s last Conservative government in the 1990’s. And, the huge sums spent on military adventures and retaining an out of proportion nuclear arms capability, were both supported by the Conservatives. The main reason that the public finances are so in the red though, is because the banks were, well bankrupt, and this debt fell onto the taxpayer. The Conservatives were advocating even greater liberalisation of the financial services industry than the then Labour government, so I can’t see how a Tory government would have avoided this recession, and the resultant loss of tax revenues that this caused. Nevertheless, the tactic of putting all of the blame on Labour seems to have worked so far.

But there you go, they appear to have convinced the public that this recession was all the fault of too much government, when in reality it was caused by too little government intervention in the private sector, which is now envisaged as rising phoenix like from the ashes to save the nation in its time of need. A strange kind of logic indeed.

Interestingly, the same opinion poll registers public hostility to cuts in public services, particularly health, education and defence, at the same time as approving of sharp reductions in spending. This hostility will surely grow as the actual cuts are made, because 25% spending reductions in services cannot be made by cutting ‘waste’. Frontline services will suffer severe cut backs, and when people feel these, in their day to day lives, I think the mood will change.

These cuts will be extremely damaging to our public services and to service users, but perhaps even more importantly, spending cuts at the pace advocated by the coalition government, endanger the fragile recovery in the economy. It has come to something, when the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has questioned the fairness of these cuts, with the heaviest burden for budget deficit reduction falling on those least able to shoulder it, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggesting that spending reductions should not be implemented too quickly, as they might throw us back into recession. These organisations are hardly bastions of left wing thinking, and I read today that even Boris Johnson, Tory mayor of London, is quoted as saying the government should be careful not to make spending cuts at the speed the coalition is demanding.

I expect this return to the Thatcherism of the 1980’s will lead to exactly the same outcome. That is, underfunded and extremely poor public services, which in turn will lead to wide scale social unrest. At least Thatcher had the foresight to increase police numbers and pay, in readiness for the unrest, but this government wants to cut the police force too. Turbulent times ahead, I think.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The War on Benefit Claimants


Benefits & Work Publishing Ltd report that the policy of hiring private sector 'bounty hunters' to catch 'benefit cheats' from the private sector was actually implemented by New Labour before this year's General Election.[1] The idea of extending the use of Experian services to catch Incapacity Benefit fraudsters came not from the ConDems but from Experian.

It struck me when Parliament went into recess and the war against ‘benefit cheats’ was ratcheted up by way of the bounty hunters to catch bogus Incapacity Benefit claimants story, that the ‘silly season’ was perhaps the most apt time for ratcheting up smear campaigns — not only poetically, but also in terms of media barons’ deployment of staff.

Actually though, my experience as a successful ESA tribunal appellant has told me that ‘bounty hunters’ already existed, although they themselves should — in my view — be charged with benefit fraud. I’m talking about the ATOS Healthcare ‘Approved Healthcare Practitioners’ who conduct Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the DWP.[2]

None of the physical tests recorded on the report by Dr Ratnam Ramayana [sic] of my Work Capability Assessment took place.

Further, in the ‘Occupational History’ section of his report on my Work Capability Assessment, he failed to include reference to my more than two decades of jobseeker benefit claimant status before my last waged work. Further, he failed to record that that last waged employment had only been so part-time that I still claimed JSA while doing it. I had also told him that I only stuck it out for 11 months because I learned through experience in it that I was more likely to go destitute in doing six hours cover duties per week at £7.81 per hour — and only £5 per week ‘earnings disregard’ — than get adequate in-service training to get more than 16 hours per week as a regular worker with own allocation of service users.[3]

Thus the omissions in the 'Work Capability Assessment' report on me conspired to make it look as if I was one of those people whose citing of mental health issues as reason for claiming Employment & Support Allowance was questionable. I had actually been looking for waged work as a lifelong disabled person, while government was pretending that Incapacity Benefit claimants were the only disabled people 'of working age' on 'out of work' benefits.

Like I say, in 2005-2006 I was only allowed to pocket the first £5 of my weekly earnings of £7.81 per hour. (That was except for the one Christmas week when covering for colleagues on Christmas hols netted me over 16 hours work.) Five pounds per week is less even than the hourly national minimum wage. Due to DWP understaffing and the ridiculous and demeaning admin burden of such measly ‘earnings disregard’ for JSA claimants, though I had conscientiously completed and submitted part-time earnings forms, the DWP had erroneously reported to my local council that I was not eligible for JSA. So the council wrote me saying that I would have to re-apply for Housing Benefit & Council Tax Benefit. (I wish the Government would ease up on giving me so much work to do!) Only when I gave up that paid work did I get time to get through to DWP to sort it out.

Government's failure to protect benefit claimants from hardship does not make tabloid headlines

Yet I was not the only one to suffer from DWP admin meltdown. In 2004-2005, JobCentre Plus failed to answer 21 million incoming calls to its helplines. Claimants affected sometimes experienced destitution as a result, reports Community Care magazine. (‘JobCentre Plus: Poor service continues’.[4]) That is 44% of all incoming calls. Meanwhile, only 5% of calls to the DLA/Incapacity Benefit helpline were answered.

Napoleon said: “Attack is the best form of defence.” Similarly, the moral of my tale is that criminally negligent government with a mass media that is constantly vigilant against the wrong targets finds that smear stories against those it has let down the most are its greatest self-defence.

But social workers and social care workers who defraud their service users face the risk of criminal prosecution. ATOS, while, gets more work at taxpayers’ — and especially vulnerable people’s — expense. (Even benefit claimants pay VAT, so we are all taxpayers.)

Alan Wheatley
Green Party Disability Spokesperson
And member of Camden Green Party

NOTES
[1] Benefits & Work Publishing Ltd 6 Sepetember Newsletter
http://tinyurl.com/2bbt8vz.

[2] See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10159717 'New benefit system labelled unfit',
http://tinyurl.com/2fy7uad Community Care magazine search for 'ATOS', and you will see that my own experience of a quack service was not uncommon.

[3] The £5 per week 'earnings disregard' for JSA claimants aged 25+ has remained so low since 1988. See http://tinyurl.com/2eqk5dg
'Why people work informally while claiming benefits'.

[4] Published 16 November 2006. Search find link at www.communitycare.co.uk website currently not fully operational.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Are the Lib Dems Finished?


The latest YouGov opinion poll shows support for the Liberal Democrats at only 11% of the British public. This is the lowest level of support for the party since Menzies Campbell was bundled out as leader in October 2007.

This blog has forecast a slump in support for the Lib Dems ever since party leader Nick Clegg and his Orange Book acolytes decided to prop up David Cameron’s minority Tory government in May this year. I’ve spoken to many voters who backed the Lib Dems at the general election in May, and almost uniformly they say that they won’t be making that mistake again.

In between elections the usual excuse for poor opinion poll ratings for the Lib Dems is that they don’t get the same level of media coverage as Labour and Conservative, except at general election time, when some sections of the media at least, give them something approaching equal air time. The Lib Dems can’t use that excuse anymore though, as their party has been at the forefront of media attention, now that they are part of the government.

The problem runs much deeper than relative publicity, it is a problem of voter perception. They were viewed by the public as not Tory, and also a nicer type of Labour party, centre left politically. All of this is now out of the window, and the perception from their left leaning voters, probably more than half of their support, is of betrayal. Whilst those more on the right who supported them, are thinking they may as well vote Tory, and stop messing about with the Lib Dems.

Make no mistake about it, this spells trouble for Lib Dems and particularly Nick Clegg the leader who brokered the coalition government agreement. As stated above, the last time they were polling so poorly the then leader’s head was demanded by MP’s and party activists alike. I wonder what the odds are on Clegg being Lib Dem leader this time next year? Pretty long I image.

One theory is that if the Alternative Vote referendum is won, Clegg can claim he has secured a historic victory, and particularly if they manage to rig the constituency boundaries in the coalition’s favour, the Lib Dems will be part of government for a long time to come.

I’m not sure the public will back AV though, and opinion polls show a slight majority against a change to this electoral system, which I think, will harden as Labour and Conservatives will, in the main, campaign against AV in the run up to the vote.

When the massive cuts in public services and the hike in VAT start to bite, the Lib Dems may be down to single figure vote shares, and heading for electoral oblivion. Then perhaps members of this most opportunist of political parties, will finally see the writing on the wall. By this time though, it could well be too late, and all the electoral progress that they have made since the 1960’s will be reversed, and Nick Clegg can go off and join the Tories, rather David Trimble like.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Iraq – A Byword for Failure


The Western military occupation of Iraq has officially ended, with the withdrawal of tens of thousands of US combat troops from the country, after nearly seven and a half years of bloody conflict. Fifty thousand US soldiers will remain until next year at the earliest, but the majority national security role has now passed to the Iraqi army, with US military forces staying only as long as the Iraqi government requests them to stay.

This arrangement immediately becomes problematic, as Iraq doesn’t actually have a government, and hasn’t for several months, as rival factions in the parliament have been unable to agree to form one. Corruption is rife amongst the new ruling elite in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone, as hundreds of Iraqi civilians are murdered every month in sectarian attacks. Hardly a success story, but financial, as much as political, considerations in America have driven the rush to exit the country, as claims of victory have become more muted.

In fact, the failure of the mission is staggering, when even a cursory examination the outcome is considered.

For example:

The US alone has spent $750bn on the war and its aftermath.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead and millions injured and displaced.

Over 4500 Western troops dead, and over 50,000 wounded. Thousands more suffering combat related mental illnesses, with a high proportion of suicides.

Iraqi oil production is still below what it was under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Homes in Iraq enjoy fewer hours of electricity supply than under Saddam.

Trade unions in some sectors are banned in Iraq, and activists are harassed or worse.

The freedom of Iraqi women is much reduced compared to before the invasion.

Al-Qaida, which was non existent in Iraq under Saddam, is now thriving in the country.

Iran is now the regional power, and flexing its muscles in Gulf, much to the consternation of the supporters of this war.

Turkey has been unsettled by the autonomous area of Iraqi Kurdistan, which promises to be another running sore in the region for years to come.

We all know about the lies that were used to justify this war in the first place, but even in the post WMD no show shifting reasons, like we had to free the people, free the women, make them rich, brutal regime etc, the whole Iraq war and its subsequent fiasco, has been an unmitigated disaster.

The real reason for the war was to increase western, particularly US, corporate interests, by exploiting Iraq’s natural resources and opening up a new market for Western products, at the same time as making Israel feel more secure. It is a measure of the failure of this operation that even these more cynical goals have at best, been only partially realised, despite all the military might of the US.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Something for Nothing Big Society


The Conservative Lib Dem coalition government has announced plans to shrink the power of the state and increase the voluntary sector to cover the shortfall in provision of public services. The rhetoric is all about removing central government control and empowering local people to shape their own communities.

In principle the idea has some merit, local people are well placed to decide what local services they need and how they should be provided. The feeling is though, that this project is more about reducing the financial resources from the state that sustains public provision, and replacing this with private, charitable and voluntary sector input and thus saving money from the public purse.

The previous Labour government ran some pilot schemes to try and increase public involvement in running local NHS trusts, but found lamentably low turn outs in elections for these posts. Things like healthcare are very complicated services to deliver, and to think that members of the public can just turn up at a meeting and suddenly transform service delivery in a positive way is somewhat fanciful.

The charitable sector in the UK is around 40% funded by government money, and all the indications are they will be amongst first in line when spending cuts are made to reduce government borrowing, at the break neck speed the coalition government demands is necessary to get the economy onto an even footing.

So, with less money going directly on public services and cuts in grants to charitable organisations, how will public services be maintained, let alone be improved? The for profit private sector will not be interested in any of this unless they can make money out providing services, so it’s not easy to see how they will fill the gap and make savings at the same time. Social enterprises or cooperatives and mutual societies have been mentioned by the government, but it has not been made entirely clear how they would be funded, though logically they will receive less money than is being spent on services now. A National Service programme has been mooted, in which sixteen year olds will be forced to do community work, presumably unpaid, but can this really replace work done by qualified professional workers? Which leaves purely voluntary action, which of course costs nothing or very little, but will this really be able to provide high quality and efficient public services?

The whole idea is reminiscent of Victorian era welfare practice, which existed out of necessity, before state welfare replaced much of this admirable, but desperately under funded action, in the twentieth century. The real purpose of the Big Society is to destroy the welfare state and reverse a hundred years of social progress. It would be amusing were it not so serious a matter, to see those right wing politicians and commentators who are the ones foaming at the mouth about people on state benefits, wanting a ‘something for nothing society’. Well, this is the something for nothing government, where if you want public services, you have to provide them yourself.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Labour Leadership Contest



Ballot papers will be sent out this week in the contest for the leadership of the Labour party. Five candidates are running in a complicated electoral system, where those entitled to vote can endorse a first and second preference, for leader of their party. The system uses an electoral college format. Whereby, one third of the votes goes to MP’s and MEP’s, a third to affiliated organisations such as trade unions and the co-operative society, and a third to ordinary members. There are anomalies, like MP’s being able to vote in all three constituencies, should they fulfil the criteria, so it is a strange system of democracy.

The election has not grabbed the attention of the media or public at large, perhaps because there is so little to choose between the candidates ideologically, but it is an important contest, with the winner a possible prime minister, maybe in the not too distant future given the cracks that are appearing in the ConDem coalition government.

So to the candidates on offer.

Diane Abbott, struggled to get the required number of MP’s nominations to get onto the ballot and has David Miliband, the front runner candidate to thank for asking his supporters to nominate her, which is rather humiliating really. It does highlight though the extent of rightward drift in the Labour party, that someone with Abbott’s views, which were pretty mainstream Labour a generation ago, has so little support in the Parliamentary Labour Party now.

Ed Balls has run a pugnacious campaign, attacking the ConDem government at every opportunity, but seems to have no significant support in any of the three constituencies. In my view, he is too Gordon Brown like, his mentor, when Labour wants to put behind them the Brown years, because of his lack of popularity.

Andy Burnham always looks like a schoolboy when I see him on television, and he seems to have not much support in the Labour party either. Likely to finish in fifth place, I think.

Then we have the Miliband boys, David and Ed. One of these two will be the next leader of the Labour party, although apparently their mum will be voting for Diane Abbott. David, the former Foreign Secretary, flies the standard of New Labour, the don’t frighten the horses with anything too social democratic tendency. He is also it would appear, complicit in the rendition and subsequent torture of terrorist suspects on his watch at the FO, but is portrayed as a vote winner with ‘middle England’.

Ed Miliband’s pitch has been to try and recapture those voters (and members) who deserted Labour over the Iraq war and anti civil liberties policies, and maybe more. He is talking a more social democratic language than his older brother, and is hoping to pick up more second preferences in the process. Both are good communicators, although at this stage, David has more gravitas.

From a purely Green party electoral point of view, it would probably be best if David Miliband becomes Labour leader, because that would leave the largest electoral gap on the left in British politics. We have done well out of standing to the left of Labour over recent years and this would continue best I think, with David Miliband leading Labour.

If I had a vote in the election, I would probably vote for Diane Abbott, and give my second preference to Ed Miliband. It will be interesting to see the result, as it will be a barometer of how Labour sees itself for the next few years.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Great Pensions Robbery



The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government have announced that all public sector pensions will in the future, be increased annually by the percentage figure as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), rather than has been the case for nearly 100 years, by the Retail Prices Index (RPI). It also seems that private sector pensions which have previously risen in line with RPI, will be allowed to move to the CPI measure.

The RPI and CPI have different ways of calculating the rate of inflation in the UK economy. They calculate inflation by using a ‘basket’ of products and services and tracking the price changes in these commodities, but the CPI uses a larger sample than the RPI . Crucially though, the CPI excludes housing costs, which by anyone’s definition is surely an essential indicator of the cost of living? Also, the CPI excludes rises in Council Tax, which is something that we all have to pay.

You can see from the diagram above, that for the past 21 years the CPI has invariably been running below the RPI rate, on average by about 2%, except in the early 1990’s and the current recession. The periods where CPI has run ahead of the RPI can be largely explained by collapsing house prices which has occurred in the last two recessions. When the economy has been growing, CPI has always been below RPI, and instead the talk was of a separate ‘house price inflation’, as though that was somehow a special case, when in truth it was what was growing the economy in the first place.

What all this represents, is a proposal to cut the amount of pension increase for everyone either paying into these pension schemes, when they come to retire, and for those drawing these pensions now.

The vast majority of people in these schemes are on modest incomes, which will over time become even more modest. Welcome to another chapter in the coalition government’s determination to make those least to blame and least able to pay, foot the bill for the present economic crisis.

There is though hope, that this proposal can be stopped in its tracks. The trade unions will be against it, as will pensioners groups, and there must be millions of people in pension schemes like these, both in public and private sector employment, as well as those who are now retired. We should remember, that at the time of the pension agreements being drawn up and agreed upon, it was a central point, that RPI would be used to calculate inflationary increases in the pensions. This was a contract made in good faith by members of pension schemes, and the present government wants to break that contract, which is grossly unfair. If people had known that they would be ripped off like this at the time, they might have made different financial choices.

A huge amount of people could be mobilised against the change to CPI, probably larger than that gathered for the successful challenge to the Poll Tax in the 1990’s which spelled the end for Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. Could this attack on pensions see the back of David Cameron as Prime Minister? It certainly has the potential.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Democratic Deficit in Haringey (and almost everywhere else)


The pie chart above illustrates the percentage share of the vote in Haringey at the council elections in May this year. The parties scored like this, Labour 41%, Lib Dem 33%, Conservative 15.5% and Greens 10.5%.

Under our ward by ward first past the post electoral system, this result gave Labour 34 and the Lib Dems 23 councillors, of the 57 seats on the council. The combined total vote share of 26%, gave Conservative and Green voters zero representation in Haringey. On a purely proportional basis, these voters would have been represented by 14 or 15 councillors, and we would have had a fair reflection of what the electorate actually wanted see in terms of political representation in the borough.

The Green party is fully committed to moving towards a system which delivers ‘fair votes’ at all levels of government, and obviously we stand to gain by a change in the system. The Conservatives, who locally would also have gained from proportional representation (PR), in the main, are against such a change. But this is linked to how the Conservatives benefit from the status quo at national, Westminster elections, and no doubt in some areas at local level.

The Labour party, who also do well locally and nationally out of the present electoral system, are also against change, and from a purely cynical stand point, it’s easy to see why.

The Lib Dems as is their way, get themselves into something of a tangle when it comes to electoral reform. Under a PR system, they would have gained fewer seats in Haringey (19 as apposed to 23), but are long standing proponents of PR for elections, at least at national level, but here in Haringey, it would cost them representatives, and they seem to be not principled about PR when it doesn’t favour them. When was the last time you heard a Haringey Lib Dem councillor calling for PR at council elections? Hell is likely to freeze over first.

Of course, all this feeds into the national proposal for a change to the Alternative Vote for national elections, which is likely to be put to a vote, at a referendum next year. Under this system, candidates are ranked in order of preference, 1, 2, 3 etc. AV is not a PR system, and is little better than the current system at delivering a fair reflection of the votes cast, but has its advantages to the main parties.

The AV proposal for national elections is nothing to do with making elections a fairer expression of the votes cast, but all about the big parties trying to get the best advantage for themselves, particularly with the Con Dem coalition wanting to gerrymander the constituency boundaries in their favour.

Some kind of PR system would take away the opportunity of the bigger parties to gerrymander in this way, and produce a fairer result for the voters. But this is the last thing the main parties want to happen, as it would remove their opportunity to force through policies which significant parts of the electorate are against. So much for democracy!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

UK Politics is a Whole New Ball Game


The Green Party made steady electoral and membership progress over the New Labour government years, but with the election of the coalition Tory/Lib Dem administration this year, the party faces new challenges to keep this momentum going forward. For sure, there are new opportunities, particularly with some disillusioned Lib Dem members and voters likely to take a fresh look at the Green Party, with our radical ecological and social agenda comparing favourably with the coalition government’s attack on the most vulnerable in our society.

But, what about the so called ‘Next’ Labour Party? If this doesn’t exactly hint at a complete break with the past, it does suggest some change in Labour’s approach to politics, although, then again, it could just be another marketing slogan.

I expect Labour to drop some of its more draconian civil liberty policies, but it is highly unlikely that there will any fundamental change in its economic policies. Despite the abject failure of global capitalism over recent years in even the narrow definition of economic success favoured by the business and political establishment, I foresee no real change to the neo liberal orthodoxy pursued over the last thirty odd years by all UK governments, coming from the Labour Party.

Labour perhaps doesn’t really have to make changes here to regain electoral popularity, as they can just sit back with a new leader and watch the coalition government become more and more unpopular as the savage spending cuts ruthlessly target lower and middle income voters, whilst the better off barely notice the difference. The novelty will soon wear off the new coalition government, and Labour will say you must vote for them, as they are the only realistic alternative government, so if you want to get the Con Dems out…

The most recent opinion polls show a marked fall in support for the Lib Dems, with Labour and strangely, the Tories up. This fall in support for the Lib Dems is surely going to continue, and the Green Party has to try and take advantage of this as much as we can. Locally, in Haringey, we have much to gain from disaffected Lib Dem voters, who tend to see themselves as left leaning and green. But we also need to show ourselves to be distinctive from Labour to stem the flow of support their way.

The next planned elections in London are the Mayoral and Greater London Assembly ones, which in the GLA’s case has a proportional element, in 2012. At present, the Greens have two Assembly Members and the Lib Dems three. We should aim to turn these figures around and win more representatives than the Lib Dems, by campaigning hard here in Haringey and across London. At the same time, we should put as much weight as we have behind getting a change to the voting system that makes the outcome more proportional, and fairer, for local authority and Westminster elections.

I attended the inaugural meeting of ‘Haringey Campaign for Democracy’ in that splendid public house The Salisbury on Green Lanes last week. One of the proposals up for discussion was an idea to lobby Labour run Haringey Council to sponsor a bill through the ‘London Local Authorities Act’ at Westminster, to introduce proportional type elections to local authorities like Haringey. As I pointed out at the meeting, the Green Party got over 10% of the Haringey wide share of the vote in the elections this May, under very difficult circumstances, and gained not a single representative to the Council. There were other ideas suggested at the meeting, such as that the Haringey Strategic Partnership main board should include one resident representative from each of the Council’s area assemblies and that the public should be able to attend and participate in the Council’s Constitution Review Working Group.

There was though a bit of an anti local Labour Council feeling about the meeting, and given central government attacks on local services in the coming years, we could well need to ally ourselves in campaigns with the Labour Council locally to defend our communities and public services.

The Green Party will continue to embed itself within our communities, and this is how we will continue to grow, not by lecturing policies from above, but by involving ourselves in campaigns and issues that affect people at the grass roots.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Lib Dems Turn Blue

It’s true to say that the Green Party in Haringey had a disappointing result in the general and local elections, you can see the results here http://www.haringey.gov.uk/election-results.htm

With the general election being held on the same day as the local elections here, we were swept away somewhat, by voters with a change of government on their minds. Even so, in percentage terms we had a small gain in our target ward of Stroud Green, which is testament to all the hard work put into the ward. It augurs well for the future when over 1200 people voted for us at an election such as this.

Moreover, the decision of the Lib Dems to go into a coalition government with the Tories at national level, also opens up possibilities for us Greens in Haringey. All the Lib Dem voters, (and members for that matter) that I know, will be horrified that voting Lib Dem, has got us a Tory government. These voters tend to be on the left politically, and voted Lib Dem on the strength of their opposition to the Iraq war, and other political positions associated with the left, not to prop up a minority Tory administration. Of course, many of these voters will now return to the Labour Party fold, but it is our job to persuade them that a Green vote is the only viable progressive one in town. Interesting times ahead, I think.

It is also interesting to watch what happens to this coalition government over the next year or so. The right wing of the Tory Party is not at all happy with what it sees as a watering down of their manifesto commitments, such as tax breaks for married couples, and a softening of the stance on the European Union. At the same time, the left wing of the Lib Dems will not be happy at the expansion of nuclear power or the decision to update the Trident nuclear weapons system, and must be generally uneasy about being in government with characters like Michael Howard and Ian Duncan Smith.

All the talk of being responsible and putting the national interest above party politics, is just a cover for a few Lib Dem bums getting to sit in ministerial limos, and rake in ministerial pay checks. The logical extension of this sort of thinking is not to have elections at all. Although, as this blog observed, Nick Clegg’s leadership has taken the Lib Dems to the right politically, and so this coalition is ideologically rational. It’s just a shame that the voters didn’t realise this before casting their votes for a Tory government, in effect, by voting for the Lib Dems.

We will now have to suffer the ‘savage’ slashing of public expenditure that this government will bring. Hopefully, it will tear itself apart before too long, and all those left leaning Lib Dem voters will get a swift opportunity to put right their mistake.