Wednesday, 31 December 2014

One in the i for teachers!

Whilst it`s good to see a major newspaper`s editorial admitting that the country has recently witnessed the "largest improvement in standards in schools for decades", it was disappointing to read that the government`s Teach First programme was apportioned some of the responsibility for this. (Letter from the Education editor,29/12/14) Whilst not denying that many excellent young teachers have been recruited under this system, it still makes more sense for graduates to receive the proper training on the PGCE university courses. They still get plenty of time in the classroom to practise their techniques, but they also get opportunities to learn from experts, discuss with fellow students, and reflect on the many ways children learn. They are then much less likely to find the stress and workload too demanding, and more likely to stay in the profession long-term.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

How patronising can this government get?

Few will fail to remember the advertisement the Tories put out after the March budget earlier this year, about how cutting the Bingo tax and taking a penny off the price of a pint of beer would "help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy". The condescending attitude of the coalition has continued unabated, and now we read how "smug ministers" are telling the people on whom they have inflicted austerity and imposed poverty, that they should "celebrate" because "dodgy government statistics" suggest inflation is so low, down to 1.0% from 1.2% last month, it is below average wage increases. According to closet Tory, Danny Alexander, an "early Christmas present" for us plebs! How stupid does he, and his patronising pals, think we are?
 Firstly, the 1% figure is based on the consumer price index (CPI), which is obviously lower that the more accurate retail price index (RPI), at 2%, which includes housing costs. Rising rents or mortgage costs are not included in the CPI!
  Secondly, the figures used by this government for wages take into account the huge increases in pay received by those at the top of the pay scales, and we all know how their pay has risen exponentially under this government. With the majority of the country`s workers having their pay frozen, and millions on the paltry minimum wage or less, to hear government ministers taking credit for the success of their "long term economic plan" is simply sickening!

 With Tories` condescension closely allied to their duplicity, it comes as no surprise to read of Tory MP Nadine Dorries voting with the government, despite her publicly siding with the Fire Brigades Union for a photo-shoot. Labour`s policies may be too moderate for most of us, but at least voting for them will see the end of this odious, diabolical government.

Tax avoidance: a reason to stay in the EU

Labour`s vague promises on closing a few tax "loopholes" and collecting an extra few hundred million, have not proved themselves vote-winners, but all is not necessarily lost; there is still time for policies to be improved.
       Does anyone really believe this Tory-led government really wants to get rid of the scourge of tax avoidance, which Margaret Hodge has described as now being an "industry" in this country. A recent poll surprised us, not with its findings that only one in five of the electorate believes political parties have done enough to ensure companies and rich individuals  pay their fair share, but that 20% of voters actually think sufficient is being done! It`s difficult to see where there is any evidence to suggest the government is serious in its intent, despite the rhetoric about avoidance being "morally repugnant", and that all tax avoiding companies like Amazon and Starbucks would soon be "smelling the coffee".
        In fact, there is plenty of evidence supporting the opposite thesis, that this government has never taken the subject seriously, despite Osborne`s announcement about a so-called "Google tax", which is designed to be benefitting the Treasury by only £355m a year by 2019, barely denting the current "tax gap" of at least £35bn. The most obvious evidence is the fact that thousands of jobs have been cut, with more to come should disaster befall us and the Tories form a government next May, at HMRC. How can it possibly make sense to reduce the number of tax inspectors when supposedly trying to collect more tax?  No logic either in allowing the government`s tax agency to make "sweetheart deals" with companies like Vodaphone and Starbucks, excusing them from billions owed in tax bills. Similarly, Cameron and Osborne can hardly complain about the creation of "aggressive tax structures"  as have recently been uncovered in Luxembourg, by the "big four" group of accounting firms when their government uses advice from those same firms for tax policy. Such advice led to the adoption of the "patent box" device to encourage firms to invest in Britain, as opposed to other EU countries, because this particular scam could see firms paying as little as 5% in corporation tax on their vast profits. Interestingly, Osborne has been forced to amend this recently because of German opposition. Quite clearly, countries in the EU are getting fed up with what John Cridland, the director-general of Britain`s business organisation the CBI, called Britain "going it alone", at a time when the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy are stressing that the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning". In other words, until all countries in the EU work together, their Treasuries will continue to be deprived of billions.
     This need for co-operation did not deter the coalition government from relaxing the so-called "controlled foreign companies" laws, another scam for the world`s unprincipled companies to exploit, or from its recent announcement in the autumn statement that Northern Ireland would be allowed to set its own level of corporation tax, presumably as low as 12.5% to match that of the Republic. After all, who cares about  "tax harmonisation" when support from Unionists might be needed in May for another Tory coalition? Even if this obviously provocative action by Osborne is not deemed illegal regional aid, as tax expert Richard Murphy believes, does the government expect other EU countries to sit back and watch quietly as businesses up sticks and move their headquarters to Belfast?  Relations with the US have hardly improved with the government`s reduction of corporation tax rates to 21%, fully 18 points lower than those in the States, leading to senators threatening legislation preventing take-overs of foreign companies for tax reasons, the so-called tax "inversion" deals.
    So what should a Labour party, with hopes of forming a government in six months time, be advocating? Supporting "tax harmonisation" might be a good start, as clearly the huge variation in Europe`s corporate tax levels invites trouble from the "big four" and their clients. Only when all EU members co-operate fully, agree tactics, and avoid "advice" from the "big four" accounting firms, will tax avoidance be reduced.Then there`s the possibility of a Business Rate Supplement, for tax avoiding companies, as well as the adoption of the Fair Tax Mark as a government award for firms actually managing to pay the correct amount, and a firm commitment that any tax avoiding individual, or boss/director/CEO/ of any tax avoiding business will return all Honours, and be in receipt of none in the future.
   By stressing such specific proposals, Labour would at least be demonstrating to the electorate not only that they are serious in their intent to reduce the "tax gap", but that they really are different from the other parties. Forcing individuals and corporations to pay up would mean policies would change, and reasons for austerity disappear, something the voters are desperate to hear.


Monday, 29 December 2014

Guardian letter on Greece and democracy

 Owen Jones`s excellent article on the political situation in Greece was, sadly, too optimistic.(Greece`s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU,22/12/14) The prospect of the first "radical left-wing government assuming power in the EU" is, I fear, only a remote possibility, not because Syriza`s policies do not attract sufficient support in Greece, but because austerity in Europe is now clearly judged to be much more important than democracy; the chances of an imminent general election taking place in Greece are remote. Only if Greek MPs fail to elect the government candidate as president will an election be called, and as the Greek prime minister equates this failure with "political turmoil", everything possible is being done to ensure the candidate becomes the new head of state.(Greek election uncertainty fuels concern over eurozone stability,18/12/14)
      Bribes of up to 2-3million euros are being offered to ensure votes are cast "correctly", seven leaders of the  neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are being allowed to participate in the election, even though they have been imprisoned for using their fascist group "as a front to run a criminal organisation", and as Jones reported, veiled threats are being made, both to Greek politicians and people, by the president of the European commission,Jean-Claude Juncker. The fact that the likely victor of the election is a party committed to ending austerity and to ruling Greece on behalf of its people, not its banks and financial interests, explains why, in Jones`s words, "a democratic challenge to economic madness" is being "strangled to death".

   Ironic, isn`t it, that when politicians attempt to justify their needless wars, the "threat to democracy" is viewed as having paramount importance, but when democracy in Europe is threatened because it could result in a national government favouring anti-austerity policies, no mainstream politician bats an eyelid?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Lib Dem duplicity knows no bounds!

The duplicity of the Lib Dems knows no bounds! Not only does Osborne`s "loyal ally" and right hand man Alexander suddenly realise how near is the election and turn on his boss, the party leader suggests, according to the Independent (24/12/14) their record of a "stronger economy" and "a fairer society" will prevent Labour taking his Sheffield seat next May. With the recent data from the Office for National Statistics challenging  the extent of the economic recovery, and everyone`s common sense disputing any existence of fairness in coalition policies, Clegg`s desperation is obvious. Who will forget that it was Clegg, two and a half years into his unprincipled alliance with the Tories, who said that it was time to "hardwire some fairmess" into government policies?
     He has even resorted to blaming Labour again  for the economic "mess", when only a few months ago, in efforts to display his statesmanship, he stated that it had been "greed" which "brought a banking collapse and misery and hardship"! Under his leadership, there is little chance of the party regaining the trust of young people after their notorious tripling of tuition fees, and hopefully the election will see their total collapse, necessitating a complete overhaul. 


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Observer letter on co-operation with EU over tax avoidance

Will Hutton writes that "arguably the state is paying part of what should be workers wages".(Yes,we can reshape the state- if corporations pay more tax,14/12/14) There is no argument! Taxpayers are now paying an extra £900m in tax credits to ensure the  low-paid survive. How ridiculous is it that this happens so that companies can maximise their profits, pay executives huge bonuses, and collect "yet more cash for dividend distributions" to shareholder, especially when those same companies do their utmost to avoid paying their fair share of taxation. Adding to the absurdity, companies in the UK get rewarded for their greed by this government, with corporation tax being reduced  to 21%, a full eighteen points below the rate in America. 
     Hutton is optimistic about the effects of the recent "Google tax", despite it being targetted to collect only £355m a year by 2019, barely denting the current "tax gap" of at least £35bn, but he omitted to mention Osborne`s announcement regarding Northern Ireland. Despite the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy stating that "the lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning", yet again we see, in John Cridland`s words, another example of Britain "going it alone" by apparently allowing Northern Ireland`s corporation tax to match that of the Republic at 12.5%.
    Does not the "variety of tax regimes" in the "international system" play into the greedy hands of tax avoiding companies and their advisers in the "Big 4" accounting firms? Is it not time for action against tax avoiders to be taken in concert with our EU colleagues,rather than in opposition to them? Sensible and similar rates of corporation tax would be a start!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Morning Star letter on London`s apartheid

The news that "low-income families are being forced out of central London" because of "soaring rents" and "benefit cuts" comes as no surprise, just as there can be no shock to discover a pledge by the duplicitous mayor Johnson, that "families would not be evicted", to be worthless. (Morning Star,15/12/14) The London Assembly Labour spokesperson was right to say that, if this continues, "central London will become the reserve of the privileged", because that, clearly, is the Tory plan. This form of economic apartheid has been evident since the departure of Livingstone who at least attempted social mix, with his "pepperpot"policy of social housing mixed in with other accommodation. Workers are obviously using public transport to reach their low-paid cleaning, maintenance, service, nursing, caring and teaching jobs, reminiscent of the black workers being "bussed in " from their shanty townships in the days of apartheid in South Africa.
    How disgraceful that such policies are evident in the 6th richest country in the world! Labour has to promise more than rent caps if such practice is to be eliminated!


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How Labour can balance the books

With Ed Miliband now committing a Labour government to continue the austerity programme, albeit on a slower scale than the Tories, now is clearly the time for some proposals to be considered which make that awful prospect less harmful. By the way, a warning: Anyone who thinks that ten directors of the failing taxpayer-owned bank, RBS, should be paid £5.5m this year in allowances, or the CEO of Easyjet deserves £7m, look away now! This is about a bold Labour government transforming the way the economy is organised, not tinkering with it so that nothing actually changes fundamentally. How can it be sensible to have a situation where taxpayers subsidise the low wages paid by tax avoiding firms, thereby creating a deficit, which entails job and welfare cuts? That is simply nonsense!
   Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence suggesting the strong links between inequality and growth. In fact, the OECD has stated that inequality actually "hinders growth", and that if the gap between rich and poor had not widened since the 1980s, the UK`s economy would be more than 20% bigger now.
    It is well documented how Osborne, in his autumn statement, had to confess to the existence of much lower tax receipts; the OBR estimates that the total collected by the end of the 2014-5 financial year will be £646bn, £54bn less than Osborne predicted, and by 2017-8 receipts are still likely to be £23bn lower than previously thought. The chancellor also professed yet more determination to rid the country of what he called "morally repugnant" many years ago, tax avoidance. But like all Tory chancellors when facing the financial results of their mismanagement, Osborne chose to ignore the obvious and fair ways of solving the problem.
      The amount of income tax being collected is below the government`s expectations because so many working people are earning so little, they pay very little direct taxation, although why the chancellor and his advisers did not expect this, in view of how much is paid out in housing benefit and such like, beggars belief. Another reason is that so much tax is avoided, by rich individuals paying unscrupulous accountants to use the latest loopholes to divert their money from its rightful destination at the Treasury, and by businesses using similar methods to avoid paying their correct share of corporation tax. Without concerted action by all members of the international community, the end of such avoidance, not to mention the more obviously "illegal" tax evasion, appears unlikely in the imminent future.
 If companies simply refuse to accept their responsibilities to the countries where they do their business and make their profit, the government has to resort to more extreme measures. If businesses refuse to pay the correct amount of corporation tax out of their profits, the money has to be paid before it becomes the company`s "profit". The method is simple; raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour or more, with immediate effect, rising further if corporation tax continues to be avoided, and collect the tax as income tax from the workers. That way, much less tax is avoided, and furthermore, the workers would no longer be requiring state subsidies, so government expenditure could be reduced. What is really important, of course, that such a boost in pay would increase demand for goods and thereby stimulate the economy. Yes, demand for Bentleys might fall slightly, but the economy as a whole would benefit hugely. Companies with very small profit margins and few staff could apply for exemption, but the multinationals and such like would face massive fines if they failed to comply. The role of trade unions would be enhanced by the need to ensure the new rates were being paid to all staff.
    At the top end, the so-called "Laffer Curve" has been well and truly de-bunked by the economist Piketty, so there is no reason not to raise income tax rates for the obscenely rich to 60-70% for incomes over £200,000 per annum. A top rate of 60% existed for most of Thatcher`s time as PM!
   Profiteering private landlords would see, with wages rising, opportunities to add their vast wealth and increase rent, so that would have to be prevented; setting up an Ofsted-type government agency to inspect and grade all rented properties, so that the rent charged would have to be within set limits, would be vital if the current levels of tenant exploitation are to be decreased.
   The role of Britain in the world would need to be re-examined. Which is more important? The need for Britain to maintain, at vast expense, a huge military capacity, so that we can patrol the seas, police the middle east and interfere in other countries` business, or develop a society where all inhabitants can have equal choices and opportunities?
The mansion tax idea must not be dropped, whatever the "cash-poor" millionaires might say, and stressing how anyone connected with tax avoidance schemes in any way will never be awarded, or allowed to keep their honours by a Labour government, can only benefit the Treasury.
 At the moment Labour plans to raise the minimum wage by 2020; this is unsatisfactory both electorally and economically. Yet again bolder policies are the only answer if the electorate are to be won over; tinkering is no longer an option when the country cries out for transformation.

Culture-change needed at Ofsted too!

Whilst the Guardian editorial rightly says it is not part of the "Ofsted culture" to acknowledge the ways schools are getting better, and "thank everyone involved for their efforts", perhaps it is time for a culture-change?(Academy or community school , structures don't matter but support for good leadership does,11/12/14) Constant criticism of teachers and teaching, which has been the norm ever since the first Ofsted reports were published in 1992, does nothing to rejuvenate already overworked staff, or to encourage new entrants into the profession, at a time when "recruitment is becoming a serious challenge". Is it surprising that so many qualified teachers leave before completing five years in the classroom?

          Wilshaw acknowledges that "academy autonomy" can lead to dangerous isolation, but then names and shames local education authorities with too many under-performing schools, when many of the problematic schools are academies or free schools. It seems he takes every opportunity to criticise when a more sensible route of praise and advice is ignored. Teachers would appreciate much more some guidelines on marking expectations and progress monitoring; parents need to be informed by Ofsted that it is not essential for every piece of work to be corrected, and given five line comments on how improvement can be attained; sixty hour weeks for teachers are simply counter-productive!
      After an "unsatisfactory" verdict of a school by Ofsted, a Training day for the staff, with the same inspection team giving advice on how lessons could be improved, must be a way forward. If standards have indeed, "stalled" in secondary schools, Ofsted should surely be calling for smaller class sizes, more classroom assistants, more units for the badly behaved and more hi-tech facilities? Not every school can simply appoint a new "superhead" to come in and immediately expel sixty or so pupils as a method of improvement; some may see such action as strong leadership but others might simply regard it as "passing the buck".

Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Big" government is essential

With the recent American election results showing Republican gains, television screens were briefly dominated by the sight of preening politicians predicting the imminent return of "small" government. On similar lines, in this country, we remember the recent pledges of Cameron and Osborne to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s. Even worse is the revelation that, following Osborne`s autumn statement this month, government spending will be akin to that of the 1930s. This, of course, means the rich associates of the Tories end up paying low income tax, and very little inheritance tax, whilst low corporation tax enables profit-making companies to enrich further their CEOs and shareholders. 

     With little government interference in the lives of people, and in the practices of businesses, the return of the 19th century idea of laissez-faire is made possible. Students of history will need no reminding that, in practical terms, it meant not only the rich getting richer whilst the poor`s suffering increases, but the virtual abrogation of responsibility by the state for hunger and deprivation; the workhouse was the result!  When Gladstone practised the doctrine in his 1868-74 administration, it ended disastrously, with its replacement, Disraeli`s government, having to invent the "One Nation" idea, and to pass reforms to improve housing and food standards, and even increase trade union rights. How "shrinking the state" can end up any different, widening the wealth gap, and increasing the problems for the less well-off, defies logic, and Labour should be shouting about the dangers from the rooftops!

   To reduce the role of the state further in the 21st century would lead to increased inequality and suffering, decreased regulation and more privatisation. Only those few who stand to benefit from the privatisation of the NHS are in favour of it, the rest of us want it firmly in state hands, and the same now applies to energy companies and railways, which since going into private hands, have continued to raise prices and exploit customers, despite their huge government handouts. At least when nationalised, such companies paid their proper share of corporation tax!
       The rich don`t welcome the concept of "big" government because it means increased rules and regulations, and fines imposed when they are broken.Of course, we have them now, but how many people believe the recent "record" fines imposed on the banks for manipulating the foreign exchange market will lead to improved behaviour in the banking sector? The fines, anyway, only amounted to a few days` profit for the banks involved. More regulation is needed if the various "cultures", like those in the banking and tax avoidance industries, and amongst profiteering private landlords, are to be forced to change. Without it, as history shows us, slums flourish and exploitation is rife.  "Big" government also means more tax inspectors employed to ensure as much tax is collected by the Treasury as possible, and it means those who can afford to do so paying rather more.
     With "small" government, the reverse is true; help for the needy is reduced, the welfare state is cut, and foodbanks multiply. It also means more complaints from the rich when ambulances they need in emergencies are late because of funding issues, when the police can do little about the spate of burglaries in their area for the same reason. Strange, too, that a reduced role for government does not always lead to less; "small" government inevitably is accompanied by increased surveillance, as we know from news relating to the growing role played by GCHQ, the government`s spying department.
    The majority of the British electorate do not want the state shrunk back to these ridiculous levels; indeed, what would many think of reduced scrutiny of our borders? Fair-minded folk want more tax inspectors not less, more help for the less fortunate not less, and more government departments and agencies well staffed to ensure the return of "government for the people", not simply for the rich.
      It is Labour`s responsibility to make certain that the voters are aware of the consequences of voting Tory or Ukip, and that they do the right thing, come May,2015.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

letter to i on minimum wage

How ridiculous is it that taxpayers are having to pay "an extra £900m in tax credits" because firms are paying such low wages, especially when many of these businesses pay huge amounts to accountants so that they can avoid paying their proper share of tax.(Fall in wages means government`s tax credit bill rises by £900m,12/12/14) With the government having a much lower level of corporation tax than the rest of the EU, making co-operation to prevent tax avoidance unlikely, the obvious solution is to raise the minimum wage exponentially. Taxable profits would be much lower, but at least the tax would be paid, in the form of income tax!

Defending now too risky! Time to attack

The recent by-elections have a clear message for Labour: there have to be major changes to avoid embarrassing results next May! The time is ripe for an attack by Labour on their opponents; defending narrow leads in the opinion polls could lead to disaster.
     One of the most original analyses of the Labour conference was provided by the Observer`s Andrew Rawnsley, who compared the party`s performance with a football team, ahead 1-0 in the match, but hanging on for dear life until the final whistle, not looking like a government-in-waiting at all. Not too surprising, perhaps, in view of the fact that every proposal Labour leaders make is criticised by their opponents and press; even moderate reforms of the private rental system were viewed as similar to those of Hugo Chavez! However, Rawnsley has a point. As every fan knows, the team which defends a one goal lead too early is asking for trouble.
     After the Tory conference, and the sudden appearance of £7bn, even the not-so-astute Lib Dems pointed out that the Tories had created an "open goal". But the truth is that the Tories` downright selfishness and cruelty have provided an easy target for years.The real mystery is why Labour doesn`t shoot! With seven months still to go before the election, a Labour offensive now, even an all-out onslaught, could provide them with the mandate needed to transform our socially immobile society.
      What should be attacked? For starters, the Tories cannot be allowed to continue their nonsense about Labour being the "borrowing" party, and so getting the country into even more debt. Recent research has shown that coaliton borrowing in the last 5 years has totalled £572.5bn, compared with £442.7bn borrowed by Labour over 13 years! Remember, too, how the Tories started the 2010 administration by claiming above all else that the deficit had to be reduced, so that debt would not be a burden for the next generation? Then they, and their complicit Lib Dem cronies, tripled university fees to ensure that burden was massive for tens of thousands!
     As for their claims about their "long-term economic plan"!! Whereas the public sector net debt stood at 57% of the Gross Domestic product in May 2010, by the end of June, 2014, it was 77%, despite their brilliant plan to cut 350,000 public sector jobs, with more to come, including, unbelievably, at HMRC. We all know, too, how unemployment figures have been skewed by zero-hours contracts, increases in the number of self-employed and by those disqualified from gaining JSA. But where are Labour`s protests about how the public is being tricked by these Tory con-men? 
     Attacking the coalition`s record on welfare should be a no-brainer for Labour, but despite Andy Burnham`s efforts, and notwithstanding the media`s failure to investigate the sale of much of the NHS, do the majority of voters believe that the privatisation of the health service has begun? So-called "benefit scroungers" have been castigated by this government since day one, but no-one mentions the £85bn given to the corporate sector every year? The working poor are increasingly reliant on taxpayers` subsidies, so why aren`t firms forced to pay substantially more? How about the Tories` broken promises? Don`t the Labour policy-makers remember promises like "no frontline cuts","no rise in VAT" and "no top-down reorganisation of the NHS"? Did the Tories tell the electorate that state schools would be put under huge pressure to academise, or that free schools would eat into the education budget at alarming rates? We were told how tax avoidance was "morally repugnant" but not that thousands of tax inspectors would lose their jobs, or that well-known tax avoiding firms would continue to get government grants and contracts! Why should anyone believe a word the Tories say?
    As for the future!! Tory domestic policies like the "low tax-low wage economy", or the aim to shrink the state to levels last seen in 1948, or further tax reductions for the well-off are there to be shot at. Similarly, Ukip`s proposals for tax  need to be scrutinised and made public . Miliband`s encouraging stance against "predatory capitalism" seems to have disappeared, and the general approach now is much more conciliatory to big business at a time when a large majority are feeling the pinch because of the greed of banks, energy companies, private landlords and such like. Advice from Blairites about being tougher on immigration has to be ignored, as Labour, as Diane Abbott rightly says, can never go to the right enough to sate the demands of Ukip followers.
   Sitting back, waiting for the polls to magically improve, will not do; millions of taxpaying voters have had enough, but are being forced into political lethargy and Ukip`s welcoming arms because Labour isn`t proving to be as different as once promised. It`s still not too late.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Letter to Observer on tax receipts

The fact, reported by Andrew Rawnsley, that the decrease in "the cash flow into the government`s coffers", despite the existence of the "fastest growing economy in the developed world", is confounding Treasury officials, begs many questions about their competence.(George Osborne only has some very scrawny rabbits in his hat,30/11/14) It`s hardly rocket science! When a government simultaneously raises the tax threshold for the low-paid, refuses to increase the minimum wage by any meaningful amount, drives the workforce into zero-hour contracts, part-time work, or emergency self-employment, and reduces the income tax rate for the richest, is it that difficult to analyse the reason for low tax receipts?
      When millions of workers are not being paid the living wage, having to rely on benefits to survive, whilst bosses squirrel  away their obscene bonuses and salaries in tax havens, and the government describes tax avoidance as "morally repugnant" but reduces HMRC`s workforce by thousands, further clues should not be needed.
With the officials "perplexed" and their boss unsure of what eight times seven is, it`s not really surprising the government is so "far adrift from its original target to clear the deficit"!

Winning the teachers` vote

With Tristram Hunt`s feeble attempt to attack the privileges enjoyed by the private education sector, presumably trying unsuccessfully to develop policies showing respect for ordinary people, Labour clearly is in need of rejuvenation, even radicalisation, in the area of education. His bungled effort ended up insulting all involved in state education, with the implication that teaching in private schools is so much superior!

      There is, without doubt, a desperate need to display more respect for working people, and education provides Labour with many opportunities to do just that. For starters, it has to be accepted that Gove "conned" the country; his reforms were unnecessary, examinations were not too easy, and the improving GCSE and A-level results were because of hard work by students and teachers, and improved teaching methods. Imagine how disappointed proud parents and their offspring would have been when Labour failed to challenge Gove`s ridiculous assertions. That failure merited the description,  'Disrespect'!
Schools generally were improving back in 2010, and did not need 'freedom' away from local authority interference. Gove and the Tories were worried because state sector results were beginning to match, even better, those of the private schools, which explains why they concentrated on destroying the more even "playing field", that experienced and expert educationalists had developed over many years.That`s why Labour should propose the repeal of all of Gove`s assessment reforms; coursework, modules, and resits should all be returned at once.
On the subject of private education, the exemption of school fees from VAT is an obvious target, if the suspicion that the Labour party favours the well-off more than the ordinary people is to be challenged. The bias universities show to applicants from private schools must be on Labour`s agenda too. With only 7%  being educated at private schools, the fact that some of the so-called 'top' universities have up to 50/60 of their undergraduates from the private sector is disgraceful, and will only change with bold legislation.How about a simple 7% cap for all universities on privately educated undergraduates?
Perhaps even more obvious is that the teaching profession is not in need of the patronising "TLC" approach of the new Education secretary, but, along with much needed  praise. Labour should be offering pay increases, and sensible pension provision. Working to the age of 68 is obviously wrong, as is the current 60 hour working week; parents and heads need to be told that teachers simply cannot be expected to mark every single piece of work the pupils do, or write innumerable lesson plans as well as termly reviews etc. Hunt`s teachers may have managed it, but class sizes and students` abilities and attitudes are somewhat different in the real world! Ofsted and Labour should be stressing how at least 90% of our state school teachers would have no trouble whatsoever teaching in a private school, instead of the obvious implications being made of the shadow secretary`s outbursts.It`s time to see whether his license should be renewed!

Guardian letter on Parthenon marbles

The British museum`s attempts to improve the "frosty relations between Russia and the West in the wake of the invasion of eastern Ukraine" would have had more impact if the works of art loaned to the Hermitage museum actually belonged to Britain.(Part of Elgin marbles leave UK for first time,05/12/14) Lending the Parthenon marbles, instead of, for example, some Turner landscapes or samples from the royal family`s vast collection, is simply provocative, and will do nothing but cause resentment in Greece, and display our hypocrisy to the world. How quick we are to offer judgements when Jewish owned artwork is discovered in ex-Nazis` homes! (Modernist art haul,"looted by Nazis", recovered by German police,04/11/13)
Jonathan Jones has rightly argued that British museums must "face up to reality" and that "cultural imperialism" belongs in history`s dustbin, but clearly his passionate plea fell on deaf ears.(The art world`s shame: why Britain must give its colonial booty back,04/11/14) How can anyone justify, in the 21st century, the looting of Greek treasure by a greedy, profiteering British aristocrat, two hundred and ten years ago? The return of the marbles is long overdue, would provide a welcome boost to an impoverished Greek economy, and would display some British acceptance of guilt for its imperial past. Lending some of the pieces to Russia is simply shameful,and questions must be asked about the role played in this by the Secretary of State for Culture.

Any political party with a  sense of decency would include a promise to return the marbles to their rightful home in its election manifesto!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Respect shown through tax avoidance policies

Labour`s recent statements regarding the need to show respect to the working people are accompanied by its standard policies, including those on reducing tax avoidance. Trouble is vague rhetoric about closing loopholes convinces no-one; its been heard many times before, and the tax gap keeps on growing. If the practice of having representatives from the Big 4 accountancy firms,which make billions from advising on tax avoidance, on Treasury tax committees, continues loophol├Ęs will never close.Osborne`s autumn statement was similarly vague, whilst his giving Northern Ireland freedom to reduce its corporation tax will only add to the confusion.
      What better way is there for Labour to show its respect for the people by having policies to ensure every individual and every company, with no exceptions, pay the correct amount of tax? There are a number of initiatives which Labour could introduce which would not only clearly illustrate to the electorate on whose side they really are, but also have instant election-appeal to effect the opinion polls. For instance, a business rate supplement to be paid to the government, in addition to the standard  local rate levied on firms, including the likes of Amazon and Starbucks, which insist on doing their utmost to pay as little tax as possible, despite their businesses flourishing from benefits paid for by the rest of us. Many of these companies would inevitably threaten to leave the country, but is their departure likely when they make so much money here? How many voters would actually disagree with making these unscrupulous firms pay their fair share?
     Labour can show its respect for working people by ensuring that not just them but everyone, individuals and businesses alike, has a responsibilty to pay taxes, as they provide the necessary security and transport so essential in a 21st century civilised state. Rich people`s wealth has been acquired not only because their firms have made profits, nor even because of the hard work done by employees, but because taxes others paid provided for the health and education of their workforce. Notwithstanding this duty to pay, firms could also be encouraged to pay up by the award of the Fair Tax Mark, which could be the firms` notification to the public that they are acting responsibly, and aiding the economy as a whole.
  At the moment only one FTSE 100 company, SSE, has qualified for the Mark, but with additional publicity from leading Labour politicians and bigwigs in the run-up to the election, it could become the must-have company logo in the next five years. Accompanied by a Fair Pay Mark, awarded to businesses paying at least the living wage to all those directly and indirectly employed by them, and increased public awareness, leading to more selective consumerism,  Miliband could soon be proclaiming to have stemmed the tide of 'predatory capitalism'! Eighteen of the top 100 companies currently pay a living wage, but who knows which ones they are?
    Then there`s the simple matter of honours, issued by governments to people whose efforts benefit the nation as a whole. Doesn`t that rule out all bankers and tax avoiders? If their companies cannot play by the rules shouldn`t CEOs forfeit their right to both past and future honours? It should apply to so-called celebrities and sports stars too. What could be a cheaper, more beneficial policy than that? A culture change is needed with regards to tax, and the idea that we would all avoid tax if we could afford the accountants needs immediate de-bunking. There will be no change, however, as long as the country continues to "honour" those who have deliberately deprived the Treasury of millions of pounds.
     What about the professionals whose expertise is needed to collect the correct amount of tax from individuals and corporations? Coalition policy has been to reduce the number of workers at HMRC whilst trying to convince us all tax avoiders will soon 'be smelling the coffee' because of their "morally" reprehensible behaviour. A Labour commitment to reinstate tax inspectors  is hardly rocket science, when each one is responsible for the collection of taxes at least three or four times their salaries.
       Closing loopholes and using the General Anti-abuse Law may well prove difficult in reducing what is an obscenely large tax gap, but these proposals could prove electorally fruitful for Labour, in an area which epitomises the coalition`s indifference to inequality. Many critics have suggested that Labour` current election  pledges do not go far enough, needing more detail and radicalisation. The electorate have clearly heard enough meaningless rhetoric on the subject of tax avoidance; some straightforward policies would go down well! Whilst not disagreeing with German and French finance ministers who think the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning", until the European countries agree policies, Labour can still use tax avoidance initiatives to their own electoral advantage.

Guardian letter on autumn statement

The autumn statement will have done nothing to change public opinion regarding the government`s commitment to reducing tax avoidance. With "just one in five believing political parties" have done enough to ensure companies and rich individuals pay their fair share, Osborne`s arrogant rhetoric on the subject will have changed very few opinions. (Osborne on the offensive over tax and deficit,03/12/14) Nothing was said which contained even the simplest of deterrents, like hugely increasing business rates for tax avoiding companies, or removing all honours from their CEOs. Instead, giving more freedom for Northern Ireland to set its own level of corporation tax, presumably at 12.5% to match that of the Republic, will cause more problems, especially when the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy are stressing that the "lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning",(Pressure on Juncker grows despite vow to fast-track EU tax legislation,03/12/14) Tax expert, Richard Murphy, has pointed out anyway, that under EU law, this could well be deemed illegal regional aid, whilst the "Google tax",only likely to raise at most £355m a year by 2019, is another example, as John Cridland admits,of the UK "going it alone".(Political capital, little revenue,04/12/14)

        The last time Osborne tried to create tax advantages for companies investing in Britain with the "patent box" scam, Germany forced him to back down. It seems he never learns! Are other countries in the EU expected to sit back and quietly watch businesses move their HQ to Belfast, thereby depriving their Treasuries of much needed revenue? Only when all EU members co-operate fully, agree tactics, and avoid "advice" from the Big 4 accountancy firms, will tax avoidance by the multi-nationals be reduced.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The student vote could be vital

With university occupations mushrooming across the country, as students call for a return to free education, unsurprisingly the duplicitous Tory chancellor continued on his path towards shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s.  With up to a million more jobs still to be cut in the public sector under his plans, and years of enforced austerity and poverty for most of the workforce, Osborne claimed to be encouraging students into postgraduate study. However, what he was doing actually was the opposite; allowing postgraduates yet more loans of £10,000 to study for a master`s degree would mean many students starting their careers with debts of over £50,000, and is not likely, as the UCU general secretary said, "to attract the brightest and best into further study". Let`s hope students use their votes in May, and that Labour increases its efforts to ensure all students are registered to vote; students have an important role to play in the election.
         Quite rightly, duplicitous Lib Dem MPs, including their leader, are in danger of losing their seats in next year`s election because they reneged on their promise to campaign for an end to tuition fees. Hopefully, students will not forget, either, how the Tory Education Secretary insulted them by stating that the GCSE and A-level examinations, for which they worked so hard in order to gain top grades,were, in his opinion too easy and needed more "rigour". Let`s hope they remember how Gove`s reforms meant for many of them changes in course details, assessment procedures and even in their subject teacher! Driving good teachers out of the profession has been one thing in which this government has excelled, and for which they will surely pay, come next May! Students will recall how these reforms went through parliament with the full backing of all Tory and Lib Dem MPs.
      As for Ukip, students will be aware of their preference for grammar schools, and how they simply result in 75% of all pupils getting an inferior education; they don`t even pretend that everyone should have a chance to show their true abilities. Many of today`s university students will no doubt have been late developers and would not have been able to show their true talents in secondary moderns, and gain the qualifications necessary for university entrance. Anyway, what is likely is that students will be aware of the other even more sinister Ukip policies, and reject them out of hand!

       A party wanting to win the student vote will not only be considering reducing the fees, and therefore the ridiculous amount of debt with which postgraduates are saddled, but also proposing to restore the even "playing field" to which Gove objected so much. That would require the wholesale repeal of all things Goveist. Furthermore, students are part of Generation Rent, and any party, in the run-up to the election, which ignores how people living in private rented property are being exploited by profiteering landlords, does not deserve their support. Tinkering with this problem is not an option; the formation of an Ofsted-type unit to assess the condition of all rented property before then setting an appropriate and affordable rent is, and students would show their appreciation at the ballot box!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Morning Star letter on Hunt and private schools

The editorial on Tristram Hunt`s feeble attempts to let the electorate know how cool he is with with Labour`s desperate efforts to show 'respect' to the working class was spot-on.(Morning Star,26/11/14)The idea that private schools will sacrifice business rate relief unless they improve their partnerships with state shools by doing such things as helping 'disadvantaged pupils from the state sector navigate the quicksand of university entrance' is again indicative of the fact that Hunt is in the wrong job.
       The so-called 'top' universities are taking 50-60% of their students from private schools, not because state school applicants lack ability or qualifications, but because universities are biased. There is plenty of empirical evidence available showing that state school educated undergraduates perform better than their counterparts from the private sector, but with only 7%  privately educated, the universities still are refusing to give state educated applicants a fair deal. If the latter do not meet the demands of the application process, it`s that procedure which needs changing, and as universities have refused for years to change it, legislation is needed. Hunt should be proposing that a Labour government would pass a law banning any university taking more than 7% of its applicants from the private sector.That really would be proof of a government wanting to give everyone a fair chance, a principle that Labour used to be proud of, equality of opportunity!

Bernie Evans

Klass warfare and Miliband`s advisers

Another week, more lost opportunities for Labour, and yet another situation where defeat is grasped from the jaws of victory! Questions have to be asked about the suitability of Miliband`s advisers.  Instead of there being a "major public postmortem in the wake of the loss of Rochester and Strood" to embarrass the Tories, we have the Labour leader having to affirm his "respect" for the "working people"!
     It started with the Klass debacle and Miliband`s obvious unsettling over one of Labour`s flagship policies. What on earth are the advisers being paid to do, if it`s not to practise and rehearse the Labour leader before he faces the press or television cameras? They should have known with whom Miliband was appearing on the programme, done their research and discovered Myleene Klass was an experienced television "performer", articulate, rich, and, above all, living in London; it does not require a degree in rocket science to guess accurately what might be her favoured topic of discussion!  Perhaps even worse was the eventual response! Is there anyone in the country who thinks that tweeting twelve hours later with the words from a Klass hit song, "Pure and simple", made Miliband appear more prime-ministerial?
     As for the furore over Thornberry`s tweet, there would be no problem with Miliband never having "been so angry", even though potential Labour voters would probably prefer for that sort of reaction to be reserved for callous coalition policies and growing inequality, but going public was always going not only to please an already hostile media, but to deflect attention from a Tory party haemorrhaging MPs to Ukip. Presumably the advisers` private sector education taught them nothing about molehills and mountains?

Labour`s lack of respect

Labour had been haemorrhaging votes long before the misguided Thornberry tweet, arguably because the party`s policies revealed the lack of respect for the working people which Miliband suddenly deems so important. Policies designed to tinker rather than transform are demeaning in themselves, especially when opinion polls have made it glaringly obvious that the electorate strongly favours punishing bankers, re-nationalising railways and energy providers, and more progressive taxation.
     Why didn`t the awful situation in the New Era estate, where tenants look likely to be evicted if they fail to agree to a 25% rise in their rents, or the fact that thousands of families are being forced to live in "temporary accommodation", designed for single nurses or students, for five years or more, make Ed Miliband angry? What could show more disrespect than a promise from a potential prime minister that further rent rises will be capped, but nothing will be done to prevent private landlords continuing their massive profiteering, at the expense of the people already suffering the most because of coalition cuts? Even the establishment of an Ofsted-type rented property inspection unit would show some concern, as would the determination in government to concentrate on the provision of social housing.
      Was Labour`s ire aroused by Gove`s education reforms? Why not? As Education secretary, he decreased social mobility by removing modular assessment, coursework and resits, all designed by experts over many years to create a more level playing field, so vital in promoting equality of opportunity. In his opinion, students from working class backgrounds were doing so well in ever improving GCSE and A-level examination results, not because true abilities were being allowed to flourish, pupils were working harder, or even the fact that teaching had improved, but because exams were too easy. How many people, who had been so proud of their children`s achievements, felt abandoned when Labour`s response was tacit agreement? Such disrespect, but no anger from Labour!
     Gove even allowed, with next to no argument from Labour, "free" schools to be set up. They certainly weren`t free in the sense of costing nothing, as Gove diverted millions to his pet project, away from their intended destination, the state sector.The fact is these schools, planned by middle class parents, were designed to be educational havens, free from working class interference and, above all, free from children seen to be hindrances to learning and high achievement. Writers for the Sun newspaper might well have referred to them as "pleb-free". Was the Labour front-bench up in arms at such class--divisive reforms, was Miliband angrier than ever his colleagues had seen before? Even now, the privately-educated shadow education minister, Tristram Hunt, has voiced no plans to close these schools, and transfer their resources to the state sector, and even Gove`s outrageous examination reforms look likely to avoid repeal, should there ever be another Labour government. Isn`t it deeply insulting that a party claiming to be the party of the working people do nothing to prevent the so-called top universities recruiting the majority of their intake from private schools, when only 7% of children actually attend them? If it makes me angry, why doesn`t it have the same effect on politicians who say they want a fairer society?
     If Labour really was the party of the working people, which it likes us to believe, would not its representatives been present at the days of industrial action, taken by civil servants, teachers, nurses, midwives and all those other groups having their standard of living reduced so that the Tories can reward their friends in the City with tax cuts? Did rage reverberate around the corridors of Labour HQ when the Tories announced they would change voting laws making strike action almost impossible? No it didn`t! We can`t have Labour supporting the people against callous coalitions or greedy bosses, can we?  After all, what would Cameron say about  it at PMQs?
       Getting mad with a colleague over tweeting a photograph of a house decorated with English flags is, almost certainly, too little, too late; the fact that Labour`s anger was far from obvious when the coalition government was waging a class war, enforcing austerity and poverty on those least able to defend themselves whilst enriching the well-off, speaks volumes. Only now that the Labour leadership and their inept advisers finally realise that working people are deserting them in droves do they find the need to "show respect"; it will be a case of putting the bolt in the door of an empty stable unless policies receive immediate radicalisation.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Tories cannot be trusted with the economy

Isn`t the Prime Minister`s warning of "red lights" in the economy simply a case of buck-passing? Blaming Ebola and events in Ukraine and the Middle East is a sure sign of Tory panic, with the election looming. With the chancellor claiming to have halved the recent EU surcharge of £1.7bn when everyone knows he simply factored in Britain`s rebate, the question has to be again asked: why do people trust the Tories more on the economy than Labour? 
Opinion polls reveal this to be the case, but that must tell us more about the inadequacy of the Labour propaganda machine rather than about Tory economic success. What has the Tory-dominated coalition done in the last five years to suggest that a Tory government would manage the UK`s economy in a way  that would be remotely effective or competent?
       Of course, the Tories` well-oiled propaganda devices did an excellent job in 2010, when they blamed the Labour government for the economic crisis, and stressed the subsequent need for deficit reduction and the imposition of austerity, and it seems the opinion polls reflect its effectiveness. However, some simple  facts suggest that the Tories` propaganda works more smoothly than their economic policies.
      Remember how the deficit had to be removed immediately? Living beyond one`s means was wrong, and failure to act would mean lumbering the next generation with massive debt. The country fell for it. There were no other arguments or alternatives; Labour was in limbo without a leader, and supporters of a Keynsian solution, blaming bankers and the recession, and proposing government spending to speed up the economic recovery, had little chance. Facts and evidence have rarely played significant roles in Tory narratives, with Lib Dems complicit in everything, as long as they could claim a share in government, but the fact is that the Tories were spinning the nation a yarn. Reducing the deficit was neither as essential nor as urgent as they claimed, especially as quantitative easing would soon re-capitalise the banks to the tune of £375bn.and kickstart the economy. It did give them, though, the excuse they wanted to make savage cuts in government spending, which meant at least 350 thousand job losses in the public sector, and huge reductions in benefits to the less fortunate; their real aim was a low wage economy for the people and a low tax regime for corporations and the rich. They wanted to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the previous century, and their stated aim now is to shrink it further, back to levels last experienced in 1948. With their "economic wisdom", the economy flatlined  and still the deficit  did not disappear! Back in 2010, Osborne predicted the effect of all the cuts would be to reduce the deficit to £40bn by the end of this year, but it is likely to be near £100bn.So much for Tory expertise!
         What about their point of it not being fair to lumber future generations with debt? Strange how this didn`t figure at all in their thinking when they tripled the fees university students would have to pay! The argument was, of course, that with their university qualifications, they would earn large salaries, and easily pay off their debts. But in their low wage economy, with its reduced social mobility, many graduates would fail to earn enough even to start paying off debts. The so-called Tory economic experts did not expect that either!

      Notwithstanding, Labour gets the blame because of all the borrowing its Blair and Brown governments had done. But when the figures are examined, which party deserves the criticism? In the last five years, the coalition has borrowed £157.5bn, with billions more on the cards, compared to the £142.7bn borrowed by Labour in its thirteen years in government; a much vaunted long-term economic plan which fails to balance the books and leads to exponential borrowing, needs to be seen for what it is, a complete failure!
      Reducing the tax  paid by the rich when they`re meant to be lowering the deficit? Exactly! Sacking workers ar HMRC when they`re meant to be ending tax avoidance and closing the tax gap of £40bn plus? Having representatives from the "Big Four" accounting firms on Treasury tax committees so they can sell their avoidance scams to companies like Greene King? Selling off prized assets like Royal Mail and sections of the NHS at reduced prices, ignoring state-owned successes like the East Coast line, giving £85bn in grants and subsidies to  private corporations? The list goes on. So much for Tory economic sagacity!
     And still more needs consideration! Is the economy really safe in the hands of Cameron and Osborne? Wonder what Cameron`s Oxford tutor thought when his ex-student suggested everyone should pay off their credit card bills to boost the economy? Did history graduate,Osborne, expect the economy to get the kick start it needed back in January 2011 when he increased VAT to 20%, thereby reducing expenditure and cutting the demand for goods? Not knowing what 8 times 7 is, he can hardly be expected to understand that if you drive record numbers of workers into low pay employment, income tax receipts will decrease. And still, we are told, because of Osborne`s shrewd handling, the economy has recovered. Really? National income is higher now than it was in the first quarter of 2008, but population has grown by 3.5m, so in actual fact, income per capita is down 3.4%, and real wages for most are down 10%. CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies earn 143 times that of their average employees! Oh but unemployment is down to 6%, they will say. But, we all should say, take zero hours contracts, record 15% self-employment, many out of necessity or desperation, plus all the part-time work, and they do not add up to an economic recovery.
     As Cambridge University economics lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, recently wrote, the country is experiencing a "bogus recovery, largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and finance, with stagnant productivity and falling wages". And the electorate is supposed to put their trust in them to manage the economy? I don`t think so! Now they are promising £7.5bn tax cuts, without actually knowing from where the money will come. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts spending cuts of another £50bn under a Tory government.
    It is abundantly clear that one of Labour`s most important of the many tasks it has to perform in the coming months is to ensure the voters know the facts.The myth that the Tories are able economists, and that the UK`s economy is safe in their hands, is one which needs serious de-bunking. Voting for an over-cautious and reticent Labour party may not always appear an attractive option, but the alternatives are much, much worse.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Landlords` profiteering morally and economically wrong

The Tories may want to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s, but the private rental sector, as exemplified by the New Era situation, is ripe for state intervention. How much longer can governments allow the exploitation of millions of tenants in this country? Forcing them to sign "contracts increasing rents by 25%" will not be a practice restricted to one housing estate!
      Not only is it morally wrong to allow profiteering by "predatory landlords" to flourish at the expense of innocent victims of poverty and austerity, it is economically ill-advised, when so much money could be better spent rejuvenating local economies, than fattening already bulging bank accounts. Furthermore, with months to a general election apparently "too close to call", shouldn`t political parties be vying with each other to attract the votes of "Generation Rent"? Admittedly, Labour has proposed increased regulation, but nothing that will actually reduce exhorbitant rents, making renting more affordable.

    With numbers living in rented accommodation unlikely to fall in the immediate future, would it not be sensible for government to  develop an Ofsted-type inspection body, to check all rented properties, and band them according to size, condition, safety and situation? Rents could then be set according to the band, and increases, annually, determined by the government. If landlords didn`t like having their profit margins reduced from the double figure levels as at present, they could always sell to councils or housing associations, thereby increasing the much needed social housing numbers, and decreasing the amount of tax avoided!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Labour`s education policies too moderate

An article by Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star recently concentrated on the influence of the Blairite Progress group on Labour`s policies, with mentions of  Tristram Hunt featuring strongly. Speaking at their rally, Hunt declared himself "delighted to be with Progress", and although his "jokes" may not have gone down well, his policies for education certainly will have.  
      That means, of course, that under a Labour government, teachers cannot expect very much in the way of improvement. Whilst understanding, to some extent, that his appointment had much to do with meeting the Gove challenge at the despatch box, it is evident that now he must be moved on. He clearly was taken in by all of Gove`s nonsense about assessment changes being necessary because results were so good; he still fails to acknowledge that teaching now is better than ever, and teachers must be told to work less, not criticised for poor discipline, or whatever. Ofsted, and heads who fear the inspection regime, have managed to force sixty hours of work a week out of teachers, a situation which inevitably will lead to recruitment problems, and future standards. Has Hunt attacked this ludicrous state of affairs? Of course not! His own idiotic suggestions for re-licensing and a teachers` oath are testimony to the fact that Labour would do well to replace him before the election with someone with knowledge and experience of the state sector, who can empathise with the teaching profession. Labour cannot pretend the problems with pay and pensions do not exist, or that the decrease in social mobility is not part of the education remit. How long will the so-called "top" universities be allowed to take the majority of their students from private schools?

 With Progress behind him, Hunt may think he has bigger fish to fry; Labour needs someone in the post who realises nothing is more important than the education of our children, and that equality of opportunity is still a principle worth defending!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Labour and an electoral pact

It is becoming increasingly clear that the 2015 election is, as the pundits would say, "difficult to call". Almost anything can happen in the six months remaining, and millions of votes are still up for grabs, as are most of the seats. Are there any "safe" Tory or Labour seats any more?
 There are many similarities with the 1906 situation; the Tory government had made itself extremely unpopular with the ordinary people, with gaffes like the Taff Vale case, divisions were appearing in the ruling party over tariff reform, and a new party was emerging, grabbing support from all sides. With the resignation of the PM, an election loomed, and  the Liberals, unsure of victory, played it safe by making an electoral pact with Labour, agreeing not to oppose them in thirty constituencies. The result was, of course a resounding defeat for the Tories, twenty-seven seats for Labour and a huge majority for the Liberals.
     In 2015, the Tory party also will command little support from the ordinary people, after five years of unfair austerity, tax cuts for the rich and unbelievably callous legislation directed against the weakest members of society, but there still remains huge questions about where their votes will go; undoubtedly the Tories will lose votes to Ukip, but so will Labour, and the Opposition`s problems don`t end there, as there is the possibility of losing almost all their seats in Scotland. Labour`s projected moderate policies have failed to prevent support haemorrhaging to its newest rivals, and it seems unlikely there will be a much-needed shift to the left to regain lost votes.
     No-one can predict with any accuracy the election result, but what is certain is that every seat will count in the formation of the new government, and coalitions are likely. As Labour could not possibly think of joining up with the duplicitous Lib Dems, even though for some unknown reason they will still have some representation in parliament, some pre-election thinking is required, especially as resources will inevitably be tight. Does it not make sense to spend the most money in constituencies where the main rival is Tory or Ukip rather than a party whose policies might be judged by some to be similar to those of Labour? 
       Could a pact be made with the SNP so that Labour could at least hold on to a dozen seats in Scotland? Unlikely, as polls suggest an SNP whitewash, with the Labour vote down to 20% in some, unless some of their people could be guaranteed places in Labour`s cabinet. A Green deal is more of a possibility; two of Labour`s target seats are Brighton Pavilion, whose current MP is the excellent Caroline Lucas, the Green party`s only MP at the moment, and Holborn and St Pancras, where the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett is standing. There will undoubtedly be other seats where a split Labour /Green vote could let in a Tory or, more likely, a Ukip candidate. The policies of the Green party are radical and to the left of Labour, so much so they like the description of themselves as "watermelons - green on the outside, red in the centre". Not only do they prefer re-nationalisation of the railways, but the 50% tax rate applied to all those earning £100,000 plus, a minimum wage at 60% of the national average, and the ending of university tuition fees and Trident. In Wales, too, Plaid Cymru`s domestic policies aim for social justice and a fairer distribution of wealth.
     Would it not be sensible for Labour to think now of making electoral pacts with parties prior to the election, rather than trying, and perhaps failing, to do deals from a position of weakness after the votes have been counted? What happened after the 2010 election, with the result being five years of Tory-inspired austerity, should be a salutary lesson for Labour. If the same were to happen again, but this time with Ukip as the Tories` partner in crime, heaven help us. Opposition groupings would have to be re-aligned and who would bet against one of them being a left-wing party with policies also aimed at protecting the environment? A Green Labour party! 

    One of the worst scenarios after the election is a Labour party struggling to form a majority government, aiming to ally with parties with broadly similar views, but being shunned because of pre-election animosity. Those differences should be ironed-out now!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Government`s hypocrisy over tax avoidance

After the verbal chicanery delivered by Osborne recently over the EU`s demand for £1.7bn, it`s not surprising to see that being forced to scrap his tax reducing enticement vehicle, the "patent box", is somehow "a great deal for Britain".  The "incentive" was designed to encourage companies to Britain, as they would only have to pay a maximum of 10% corporation tax, so avoiding higher tax elsewhere. As its gradual removal has been brought about largely by Germany "arguing that it encouraged artificial shifting of profit", could we ask the Germans to complain too, about the behaviour of this country`s "Big Four" accountancy firms? Used by our government  on Treasury tax committees, they then find ways for companies and individuals to avoid tax, with their payment being a percentage of the taxes saved. Deloitte, one of the "Big Four", issued a pamphlet last year which stated that for every £1m of income in the UK, £165,000 of cash tax can be saved! Yet, the government continues to award these firms massively lucrative contracts, and doesn`t even insist on the return of honours from CEOs of companies found to be tax avoiding.
        Our  government is also responsible for not only another avoidance scam, the relaxation of the so-called "controlled foreign companies" laws, but also the cutting of thousands of jobs, including those of tax inspectors, at HMRC, where "sweetheart deals", made with companies like Vodaphone and Starbucks, have caused so much public disquiet in this country, let alone in the corridors of power of Europe.They have done next to nothing about tax havens where trillions are squirrelled away; the British Overseas Territories, according to "War on Want", together "rank as the most significant tax haven in the world, ahead of even Switzerland".
        How can we criticise Jean-Claude Juncker for the "tax avoidance schemes that were rife in Luxembourg during his premiership", when we have a government doing similar here?  Can we  really expect there to be an effective agreement on closing international loopholes and ending tax avoidance, involving all the members of the G20 group, when the British government`s hypocrisy is clear for all to see?

"Best people" conspiring against the public

How many times have we been told that big bonuses are necessary to keep the "best people" working in our banks? How often have we heard that bankers have learned their lesson and were "putting ethics before profits"? In a recent Guardian article, Jill Treanor informed us that, according to the City Minister, it was even time "to move away from banker-bashing"! At the same time, the outgoing chairman of Barclays was ridiculously stating that "big fines were making it harder for the industry to win back public trust". 
     The truth is clear for all to see: the banking industry is rotten to the core, and has been protected by politicians, many like the minister, ex-bankers themselves, for long enough. Conspiracy theorists have, no doubt, already noticed how strange it is that the manipulation of the foreign exchange markets had been going on for over five years before action was taken, and that the recent record fines, amounting to little more than a few days of banks` profits, are to be used to finance a pre-election autumn statement for the Tory chancellor?  After all the bullish talk about "clawing back" bankers` bonuses, the Prudential Regulation Authority decided it would only apply to bonuses paid after January 1st, 2015!
     What comes as no surprise, in view of his own recent "manipulation" of the facts, is that Osborne thinks it`s all part of his "long-term plan" to have a "financial system that works for everyone"! Nice try, George, but we`ve heard enough! How many times did you take yourself off to Brussels to argue in favour of bonuses and against the EU`s financial transaction tax? Promising "resources for action by the Serious Fraud Office" brings to mind horses and stable doors! 
 On the other hand, what a wonderful opportunity for Mr Miliband to announce his government would transform the 81% state-owned RBS into a People`s Bank, with lower profit margins, trusted staff, and that curious notion about the customer coming first!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

CBI`s idea on making a difference!

So Miliband`s answer, when faced with massive doubts about his ability to lead the Labour party to an election victory, is to show his party would be little different from the Tories if elected. Joining Cameron and Clegg, the two people most responsible for the imposition of callous austerity policies, in paying homage to the CBI, could well have done as much damage to the party`s election hopes as his pro-Establishment visit to Scotland in referendum week. Labour`s proposal for a minimum wage of £8 an hour by 2020, with "CEOs earning 257 times the average worker`s salary", is so feeble as to beggar belief. And they wonder why votes are haemorrhaging elsewhere!!
   The CBI, representing business leaders who are sitting on over £500bn which they have "refused to channel into the economy", in a recent report,"A Better Off Britain", suggested ways to improve living standards. Instead of advocating that all companies should  pay at least the living wage to all employees, or end their tax avoidance policies. currently costing the country at least £40bn a year, or even bosses taking a cut in pay, the report called for an increase in the National Insurance threshold to £10,500. Also recommended was the extension of free childcare and extended maternity pay, both funded presumably by the taxpayers. The CBI`s director general, John Cridland, thinks these proposals "would make a difference". No, Mr Cridland! What would make a difference is the CBI acknowledging both the debt business owes to workers and their families and paying them accordingly, and the role taxation plays in allowing companies to function; and of course, having a Labour party remembering where its priorities lie! 

 By saying that business leaders have been "at the sharp end of the most difficult times", and that his government would provide a minimum wage of £8 an hour but not until 2020, Miliband demonstrated exactly why Labour is floundering in the opinion polls.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guardian letter on Labour`s problems

Your editorial on the leadership of the Labour party rightly states that Miliband needs "to be more proactive and more focused about pushing his key policies", but ignores the possibility that these "key policies" may be causing the problem in the first place.(The message from the polls is that Labour needs to raise its game, not change its leader,11/11/14) Your statement that there are "no easy fixes for centre-left parties in modern politics" overlooks an obvious option, which Miliband would be well advised to consider, to move further from the centre. When he has done this in the past, as with the energy price freeze pledge, his support in the polls has increased. On the other hand, having policies which merely tinker, and change little, there can be neither vision nor transformation, and the UK after five years of a Miliband government, would be pretty similar to what it is now, something the electorate clearly understands.
    Joining the other two main party leaders queueing up to pay homage to the CBI, similar to his actions in Scotland in referendum week, will only enhance the view that there is little to choose between them. An £8 an hour minimum wage by 2020 suggests exactly the same. "Left"-leaning policies, like ending the privatisation and making the City institutions pay their fair share at last, properly regulating rented property so that tenants do not pay inflated rents to profiteering Rachman-like landlords, and allowing the gradual re-nationalisation of railways to proceed when franchises become available, would at least indicate voters were not totally being "taken for granted".
    The adoption of transformational policies which aim to re-shape society, so that it works for the common good, and not just for the financial sector and the 1%, would actually show Labour, not before time, was "raising its game".

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Labour still doesn`t get it: pt 2, education

Labour still doesn`t get it! Gove`s reforms were unnecessary.
Labour`s policies on housing and the minimum wage have been criticised recently for being too moderate, for lacking ambition and for failing to appreciate the fundamental problems. Sadly the same criticism can be made of the party`s education policies.
   The main reason for this appears to be the same one which explains Labour`s acceptance of the need for austerity: it is Labour`s failure to understand that the policies of the Tory-dominated coalition government are ideologically driven. The Tories are not so much concerned with reducing the deficit as with carrying out their aim of shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the middle of the last century. We only have to examine the borrowing figures for the coalition in the last five years, £572.5bn compared with the Labour government, in thirteen years borrowing £442.7bn. Deficit reduction was essential, we were told, to prevent lumbering the next generation with huge debts, but the government almost immediately lumbered thousands of university students with mountains of debt! Banks in need of re-capitalisation were given £375bn via quantitative easing, no mention of deficit causing funding problems there!
Similarly, to enable Gove to have carte blanche powers over education, the Tories led the people to believe that reforms were necessary, because as GCSE and A-level results had improved so much, examinations had to be made more difficult, the attainment of top grades made more arduous, and the division of the assessment procedure into manageable chunks called modules ended. Labour`s immediate response was negligible at best, failing to challenge the basic precept that the success of the state comprehensive schools, with results on a par with many expensive private schools, had more to do with other factors, and that Tory reforms would give an unfair advantage to children from well-off homes. Tories do not want either level playing fields or an increase in social mobility, and the immediate removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance should have reminded the Labour party of those facts
 Had teachers been asked to explain improved results, they would undoubtedly have emphasised facts like increased pupil effort, increased teacher expertise, the inevitability of results improving with previous mistakes being rectified, mark schemes scrutinised, and coursework problems resolved. Television programmes might well highlight unruly behaviour and ill-discipline in the classroom to improve viewing figures, but focussing cameras on the students concentrating on their learning, absolute silence during tests, essays being discussed, and evaluation techniques examined would provide a more accurate picture of everyday life in most state schools, and also explain the recent improvements in examination results. Then there`s the increased availability of technology being used, bringing learning and lessons to life, in a way which was well nigh impossible a few decades ago.
      If some pupils gained top grades even though their spelling and grammar were rather wayward, changes to mark schemes, with the highest levels only available to accurate users of language, would have done the trick.
 Instead Gove proceeded with wholesale reforms which took educational assessment back to the last century, with their emphasis on long,essay-based examinations, the need for factual recall rather than skills in analysis and evaluation, the ending of modular assessment and coursework, and the teaching of nationalist, imperialist, British history. Top jobs were to be for Oxbridge graduates, with state school applicants still having less chance of gaining places in the so-called top universities than those from private schools. Without the repeal of Gove`s changes, it is likely schools will have to develop different curricula for different abilities, with the inevitable consequence being different types of schools. Without changes introduced by law, in student recruitment, universities will continue to give preference to the privately educated, even though only 7% attend private schools. 
      But what does Labour, now with the privately-educated , history expert, Tristram Hunt at the helm, do? At first out-goveing Gove was the priority, with support for free schools, Performance Related Pay, re-licensing of teachers, and most recently, a teachers` oath. Notice how all of these proposals imply the inadequacy of the teaching profession and the need to improve. Hunt has supported the return of AS levels and the need for all teachers in the classroom to be qualified, but he clearly does not get it. Gove`s reforms were introduced, not because of inadequacies on the part of pupils and teachers, but because of their success, and this is why Hunt and the Labour party should be promising to support teachers and to repeal every single measure Gove placed on the statute book. Gove was criticised because he would not listen to the education experts, the ones with expertise and experience, but is there any evidence to suggest Hunt is any different in this respect?

Bernie Evans