Saturday, 28 February 2015

Letter to Independent on OECD

Your editorial on the healthcheck given to the British economy by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was a trifle selective and optimistic.(Independent,25/02/15) Should Britain really be feeling "pretty smug about economic life", when there are so many people working on zero hour contracts, when so many companies are failing to pay the minimum wage, let alone a living wage, and when pay is so low for so many an extra £900m had to be found recently for the extra benefits needed to enable them to survive. The "collapse in inflation" has indeed led to increased spending power, thereby helping to sustain some growth in the economy, but back in 2010, didn`t the government insist wage freezes were the answer? The same government described tax avoidance as "morally repugnant", but proceeded to cut staffing at HMRC by 20%!
     You recommend a "more imaginative approach to paying" for infrastructure, but ignore the possibility of government borrowing at what are in effect today, zero real interest rates, to pay for the huge amount of houses now needed, so that supply can catch up with the increased demand brought about the "Help to Buy" scheme.

     Even more surprising is your failure to mention the OECD`s warning about rising inequality, and the damaging effect it has on economic growth. Angel Gurria, who presented the report, actually said that had inequality not increased since the time of Thatcher`s government, the economy could be as much as 9% bigger today. Osborne, of course, is keen to view the report as praise for his "long-term economic plan", but that began with legislation to cut taxes paid by the rich;  it does not need an expert economist to realise the effect that would have on inequality! 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Tories and MPs` outside interests

Surprising to see the adverb, "astonishingly" used, in the article on the latest "cash-for access scandal", to describe Cameron rejecting Miliband`s "call to limit MPs` outside income".(Morning Star,24/02/15) His leadership of the Tory party is under such extreme pressure from the right-wing back-benchers, any agreement from him to "rein in their extra-parliamentary activities" was never on the cards. No doubt, he will be spouting forth about the necessity for MPs to have experience of the real world, so that they can empathise with the needs of their constituents, and serve them more effectively? Cameron and the Tories frequently say things like this, because they take us for mugs.
    They expect us to believe their support for an increase in wages, when their so-called "long-term plan" is for a low-wage economy; they expect us to accept that they really are determined to end the "morally repugnant" tax avoidance, even though they have cut the workforce at HMRC by 20%, and their much-vaunted "Google tax" is only intended to raise £355m a year, and then, not until 2019; Tories even consider it likely that people living north of  the Midlands will vote for them because of their support for creating "northern powerhouses", despite the billions spent on London and the south-east in the last five years. Voters must, presumably, forget the fact that the Tories ignored their manifesto promises after the last election, and still proceeded with top-down reform of the NHS and increases in VAT, and that Gove and Duncan Smith are just two of the front-bench who have been frequently reprimanded for their "economy with the truth". Tories are still attacking Labour as the "borrowing party" because it borrowed £142.7bn in its thirteen years in office. Voters are too dumb, in their eyes, to remember that they have borrowed £157.5bn in their five years of coalition government.
         Now they suddenly care about good governance? Probably as much as Rifkind does for the well-being of the poor, or the inflated rents charged by the profiteering private landlords, in his constituency!
        This isn`t the first time Miliband has called for MPs to be "banned from directorships and consultancies". Presumably, he realises, like the rest of us, that being on a British company`s board of directors in the 21st century, with agendas which include pay renumerations worthy of only one adjective - "obscene", dealings with accountants to discover new tax avoidance scams, discussions of "efficiency" which can only mean cutting jobs, and methods to maintain the "profit-at-all-costs-forget-ethics" ethos, is so far removed from the real world experiences of the average constituent, it is more of a hindrance to good governance than benefit. 

         What a shame Miliband didn`t see the need to insist that all Labour MPs and candidates reveal their tax details prior to the May election! This would have been embarrassing for some, no doubt, but it would have put the onus on the Prime Minister, Farage, and the other party leaders to follow suit. The fact that Labour`s response to Cameron`s failure to fulfil his promise on tax transparency, made back in early 2012, was a deafening silence, speaks volumes! 
     Nevertheless, Miliband has shown a degree of determination on the latest scandal, and it is to be hoped that his colleagues on Labour`s top table will show him more support than they have over his attempts to reduce student fees!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Guardian letter about EB sufferer

The G2 article on the epidermolysis bullosa sufferer, Lucy Glennon, should be compulsory reading for all those rich individuals and company CEOs, who think it clever to pay massive fees to accountants rather than paying their fair share of taxes.("You can`t twerk in a wheelchair",18/02/15) Essential reading, too, for politicians who think cutting welfare benefits for people like EB sufferers, who experience so much pain and suffering in their short lives, is the correct way to run the economy of the sixth richest country in the world, at a time when borrowing rates are at an all-time low, quantitative easing can raise £375bn for banks, the minimum wage is so low tax receipts are falling, and when cutting jobs at HMRC increases the likelihood of the tax gap staying at around £40bn a year. "Bullies in power", Lucy wrote, and who can argue?
      How ironic that Lucy should feel so strongly about the "cruelty" of the "work capability assessments" when they are carried out by Atos, a firm renowned both for its tax avoidance and government contracts. Hopefully, the next government will not only possess the compassion the coalition so obviously lacks, but the wherewithal to fund research for a cure for this most cruel of diseases.
More info:

Guardian letter on Ukraine

What a refreshing change to see commonsense written about the Ukrainian crisis! (Russia`s "sinister" long-term plan? A stable Ukraine,19/02/15) Dejevsky is right to say that sanctions against Russia, and the sabre-rattling by the west, "will only make matters worse".The greeting of last week`s ceasefire deal with "pessimism laced with cynicism" was only to be expected, especially as the UK and US were not involved in the Minsk agreement. We can expect more of "diplomacy`s wrongheadedness" from London and Washington, especially as the Tories will be eager to impress on the British electorate their unwillingness to pander to Putin`s insecurity, acting tough, but exacerbating the problem. Accepting that some of the blame for the Ukraine problem lies with the west would be a far more sensible approach. After all, it was the west who reneged on the promise made to Gorbachev in the various talks which preceded German unity. With West Germany being a member of NATO, and the east a member of the Warsaw Pact, the need for Russian agreement was imperative, and only when Baker, President Bush`s Secretary of State, said that there "would be no extension of NATO`s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east" was Gorbachev persuaded!
     Your editorial opines that "making the most of Europe`s and America`s economic advantages" is one way forward, but strangely omits the possibility of long-term economic agreements over the supply of gas and oil.(Cheating and bad faith, but still a chance the ceasefire will change the nature of the conflict,19/02/15) With Russia providing around a third of the EU`s oil, and nearly 40% of its gas, wouldn`t a deal to continue to take the same for the next ten years at an affordable, but considerably higher price than today`s, improve matters, and reduce the possiblity of further military conflict?


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Arrogant Tories taking us for mugs

Yes, Andrew Rawnsley, the arrogance of the Tories does appear to know no bounds, with their “black and white balls” and attitude towards tax avoidance revealing them as “the champions and cronies of rootless, unpatriotic tycoons”.( If one thing will cost the Tories this election, it is their arrogance,15/02/15) However, arrogance is not the only “thing that will lose this election for the Tories”, as there is another, equally damaging Tory trait, and that is the contempt they have for the electorate. They really do take us for mugs!
 Will the average voter really be so impressed with the Tories` obviously close ties with the obscenely rich, that they will think they are the party well “equipped to run the nation`s finances”, or believe their ludicrous claim that they have shown more determination than any previous administration to reduce tax avoidance? Is the electorate not expected to know that this Tory-led coalition has borrowed £157.5bn in its five years in office, compared with the £142.7bn borrowed by the previous Labour government in its thirteen years, despite all their rhetoric about Labour being the “borrowing party”? Is the voter really so ignorant not to comprehend the significance of jobs being cut by 20% at HMRC by a government which describes avoiding tax as “morally repugnant”? After all, it has recently been shown that for every pound spent by HMRC`s business section, the return is £97!
    Even when  Ken Clarke suggests the need for the Tories to “loosen the hold of rich men on the financial survival” of the party, he actually “feeds into the distrust” of British politics.(Ken Clarke: Tory party must shun wealthy donors to avoid scandal,15/02/15)Voters are expected to trust them and accept the idea of a “donation cap” without being given any reassurance that the former single donor would be unable to rope in his family members to donate on his behalf.
Sadly, the arrogance is not confined to the Tories. The Lib Dems clearly think the electorate should ignore completely its role in passing such laws as the Bedroom tax, and tax cuts for the rich, whilst shadow ministers are obviously not being instructed to have aide-memoires with them when doing important media interviews. As if they would ever forget something important! Why, they even think a pink bus and conversation “around kitchen tables” will win them the female vote!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Miliband is not the problem

For months now, the British public have been inundated with press releases about Labour`s problems, generally focussing on Ed Miliband`s so-called "weirdness" and his lack of prime ministerial credentials. Steve Richards, for a change, has highlighted the Labour leader`s energisation as a "national figure when challenging orthodoxies and taking on powerful interests". (Only when Miliband is shaking things up is he at ease with leadership,17/02/15) Miliband may well be an "expedient insurgent", choosing his targets with care, but isn`t that not only a requirement of good leadership, but the very reason he is attacked so much by the Tories and their allies in the media? By promising to take action against the tax avoidance and evasion of rich individuals and companies, Miliband is again showing the determination denied to the electorate by the present government, keen as ever "to turn a blind eye"; Cameron`s five years in power have seen the staff at HMRC cut by 20%, when it has been shown that for every pound spent by HMRC`s business service, it collects £97, and £18 is the return on a pound spent by its local compliance unit.
       With the UK still the "equivalent of a rotting, run-down castle", the election is there to be won by Labour, but perhaps its problems do not lie with the leadership? At the launch of its industrial strategy, when speaking about dealing with hedge funds, Miliband remarked on the "clarity of view right across the shadow cabinet", as if such unity was rare.(Our focus is on hedge funds not hedge trimmers,insists Labour,17/02/14) Could it be the case that there are some on the election team a little too close to the City for comfort? After all, a pledge to join with the EU`s Financial Transaction Tax, when it comes into force next January, would seem an obvious source both of much needed revenue and electoral support.

       Richards is right to stress that Miliband`s "hunger for change" can win him the election, despite some lack of uniformity in the ranks; the problem is not with him, as the pro-Tory press like to insist, but there are certainly questions to be asked about the advisory team. What is the point of spending thousands on the likes of Axelrod for strategic advice, when crass decisions are made to send arrogant  members of the shadow cabinet into interviews without notes at hand, and attempt to attract female support by means of a pink minibus? There is much work still to be done!  

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

"Bus" and "Business" errors from Labour

Elections, which pundits describe as "too close to call", are often decided by defining moments in the parties` campaigns. Those of us old enough to remember still cringe at the memory of Neil Kinnock`s "rush of blood" a week before the 1992 election at the Sheffield rally". Then, of course, there`s Gordon Brown`s "bigoted woman" faux pas in Rochdale in 2010!  A repeat of such carelessness, one would have thought, would be the last thing Labour, with its team of advisers and American election-aides, would tolerate.
     Emily Maitliss on "Newsnight" is a worthy successor to the overrated Paxman, keen as she is to weadle out of politicians the information most of the public require. So when the shadow chancellor is due to appear on the programme, at a time when the Labour party is under the media`s cosh for an apparent anti-business stance, it is not rocket-science to guess successfully what the questions` focus might be, and to prepare accordingly. "Need business leaders worry should Labour win the election?" "Will a Labour government help or hinder investment?" "Are there any business leaders actually supporting Labour?" " Can you name them?"
      Why do arrogant Labour leaders think they can manage without aide-memoires? Wasn`t Miliband`s gaffe at the conference an example for them all to avoid at all costs? Do they really think the voters are impressed when politicians want to show how clever they are by using no notes? Memory lapses happen to us all, but lack of preparation smacks of carelessness and hubris. However, provided such things don`t occur on a regular basis between now and May, it shouldn`t do too much damage to Labour`s election hopes, and at least, Miliband is being "practised" for the TV debates.
       Sadly,however, something worse has already happened, and this time, there can be no excuses whatsoever, as presumably the decision to run with it was taken after much group discussion and debate? This could well cost them the election; it has certainly dented my faith in the leadership, and I am a staunch Labour supporter who wants desperately a Labour victory to see off the most callous of governments in modern times. Goodness knows what effect it has had on those considering giving Labour their vote, perhaps for the first time!!
      How could any politician, or anyone calling him or herself a political adviser in the 21st century, actually think for longer than a mini-second that female Labour MPs touring the country in a pink minibus was anything other than downright patronisation of women? They even compounded what was already a massive problem by saying it would enable them to discuss politics with women "around the kitchen table"!! They`re not even joking! "Grease" came to our cinemas in 1978, for goodness sakes, and even then, it was about a society in the 1950s in which it was cool to be a member of the "pink ladies". Didn`t anyone on Labour`s top table realise what an idiotic decision it would be to have a mini-battlebus anyway, without it being pink? One can only imagine what damage has been done, and what delight there would have been if the Tories had done it, confirming how out of touch with the ordinary people, and reality, they are. Is the electorate really expected to believe that Labour is different from the other parties? Boy, have they got an awful lot, both of work to do and manifesto changes to make, if this wrecked campaign isn`t going the same way as Kinnock`s. At least, his "rush of blood" was his alone!
 Questions have been asked about whether the Tories actually want to reduce tax avoidance and collect more revenue, because it would almost force them to improve public services. The question about Labour is even simpler: do they really want to win this election?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Revenge is rarely the answer

The despicable actions of Isis, reaching new depths of depravity recently with the execution of the Egyptian Christians and the burning of the Jordanian pilot, Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh, after tormenting his family by raising their hopes with talk of a prisoner exchange, have led to both Egypt and Jordan carrying out  air attacks against Isis targets. Whilst it is easy to appreciate the desire for revenge, the view that "revenge rarely works" has to be both supported and used to guide future actions. Did it serve any real purpose at Dresden seventy years ago? If the enemy uses barbaric tactics, is it necessary to do the same to defeat them?
       History has so many examples to show us how, even after wars where hatred and cruelty have reigned supreme, the creation of a lenient and sensible treaty has led to long periods of peace. For example, the Boer War, despite the suffering on both sides, media-fuelled hysteria, and the use of concentration camps and guerilla tactics, ended in 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging, which not only promised self-government to the "enemy", Transvaal and the Orange Free State, but granted three million pounds from the British to repair the damage done to their land. As a result, South Africa fought as an ally of the British in World War One. Had a vindictive treaty been imposed by the British victors, would that have been likely, or indeed, even possible?
    Revenge must have been desired by most of the British population after the horrors of World War Two, even after Dresden`s destruction, but the granting of financial aid to Germany through the Marshall Plan, and the now well-known cancellation of German debts, resulted in both economic recovery for West Germany and a new ally for Britain. Of course, there was the anti-Russian propaganda being stirred up by Churchill making the situation rather different, but even so, a knee-jerk reaction to Germany`s defeat was rejected.
     When revenge was enacted after the First World War, and the wishes of the right-wing British press to "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked" were granted, the infamous Treaty of Versailles, with its "punishment" of land losses, demilitarisation, "war guilt" and massive reparations, simply created a climate of resentment. No reconciliation, dialogue or peace-building in 1919, and look where it ended. Had the French and British politicians used more restrained language, and given some thought to the likely consequences of their actions, explaining to their respective peoples why leniency had to be considered, how different would 20th century history have been?
     History must not be allowed to repeat itself with the Isis problem. Recent events demonstrate how difficult it is in modern warfare to inflict defeat on the enemy: America could not defeat the Vietcong, despite huge military supremacy, and it was the same with the IRA and the Taliban. Indeed, these latter examples surely must give our politicians some clues about their next steps. Even an enemy using the most abhorrent of tactics like Isis cannot  be bombed out of existence, and attempts to do so are pointless and morally wrong. Deeply held beliefs and convictions do not disappear in the face of hostility; indeed, they often become more deeply entrenched when attacked.

      There are other ways of dealing with violence and trauma, and these alternatives have to be explored and attempted. Wars only end when there have been conciliation and talks, and despite Jordan`s anger now, the demand for revenge should be overruled.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Observer letter on need to show more support for Labour

Your "In Focus" feature pointed out that the Tories and Tory press are more worried than their "relentless anti-Miliband tirades suggest", with the previous day`s Times questioning why Cameron`s party was not ahead in the polls.(Pilloried by the press, beaten up by business and beset by inner turmoil. How come Labour leads in the polls?08/02/15) Yet the Observer, presumably part of the 15% "of the press" not "behind the Tories", repeatedly has not only questioned why Labour leads in the polls, but highlighted divisions, Blairite disloyalty and policy confusion. John Prescott was criticised for describing Blairite has-beens as "Tory collaborators", so, with only a few months to the election, isn`t it time the only remotely left-wing quality Sunday newspaper started working for an end to this most callous of Tory-dominated governments?
    Why not focus on the much-vaunted "long-term economic plan" of the Tories and question its very existence, illustrate how many targets have been missed, and point out  that this government has borrowed £157.5bn in five years, whilst Labour borrowed £142.7bn in its thirteen years in office? Then there`s the issue of tax avoidance, which despite all the government rhetoric about "coffee smelling" and moral repugnance, has continued to rise, largely unabated, and hardly surprisingly in view of the huge job cuts at HMRC and the continued involvement of the Big 4 accounting firms in tax legislation. Perhaps, too, Miliband could find an ally in the Observer over his supposedly anti-business stance? Why shouldn`t the leader of the Labour party get angry over businesses when so many low paid workers have to rely on benefits to survive, whilst the CEOs of the FTSE 100 firms typically earn 143 times the amount paid to their average worker, and still complain about the level of corporation tax which is 5% lower than in any of the G7 countries? The angrier the better!
    In fairness, Will Hutton has frequently reminded readers of the UK`s abject 28th position out of 34 so-called developed nations in the equality league table, but unless the paper takes a more obviously pro-Labour position, it could be assisting in another five years of government by a party intent on more privatisation, increased inequality and decreased social mobility.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Whatever happened to fairness?

How ironic that, at a time when right-wing politicians are suggesting that values such as belief in liberty and democracy are solely "British", our society appears to have lot sight of the principle of fairness. Sadly, the recent banking scandals are not alone in providing the evidence for this judgement. The news of the disgraceful attitude of the Premier League in its rejection  of "calls for clubs to pay the living wage to stadium staff despite their average £50bn windfall" was made much worse when the League`s CEO,Scudamore, justified the action by claiming paying a decent wage was "entirely for the politicians to do, not us". Presumably clubs would still be using slave labour if only those politicians hadn`t passed that silly law back in 1833? Yet the clubs still have the audacity to claim they are delivering "economic benefit to communities"!
        Perhaps, such "obscene" greed is not unexpected in the culture of Premier League football, but when the country`s judges fail to grasp that complaining about salaries at least five or six times the national average for work deemed "rewarding", the element of fairness seems to have vanished completely. Should they not be comparing their pay to those other oft-quoted "rewarding" jobs, teaching and nursing? Saying that becoming a judge was now seen "as a less attractive option" than staying in private practice simply refers to the money, not the responsibility, privilege or position in society.

     Having a government intent on transformation of society might well be one answer, but the forthcoming election, unless I am doing Mr Miliband a huge disservice, doesn`t appear to be one which will provide it!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Guardian letter on Community Shops

It is shameful that one of our leading cross-party think tanks, Demos, is so bereft of feelings of fairness that it supports the idea of "food banks converting themselves into Community Shop-type operations".(Could supermarkets for poor people tackle the UK`s chronic food poverty?11/02/15) What an indictment of our society, where in the sixth richest country in the world, giving poor people "the chance to be consumers" by selling them food otherwise destined "to go to landfill" is viewed as worthy.Presumably "low income customers" only deserve the surplus no-one else wants?
      It is to be expected that the right-wing, would-be Tory leader, and Churchill sychophant, Boris Johnson, and his "food policy adviser", Rosie Boycott, "are understood to be fans" of the idea, but far more sensible "practical solutions" would be to increase the minimum wage, so that low-paid workers could survive without relying on benefits, for exhorbitant rents to be reduced, and for the survival of the welfare state to be given top priority, above tax reductions for the rich and such things as Trident renewal. At least  Jack Monroe is not fooled, and sees that campaigns for all to be paid the living wage are much worthier of our support.(These stores are no good if you don`t have any money,11/02/15)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Pay back time for the banks

Last week`s revelations about PwC promoting "industrial scale" tax avoidance and now, HSBC`s "Swiss skulduggery", illustrate quite clearly how the financial sector has been ripping off this country for years, largely with little hindrance or objection from the government of the day. The coalition has been reminded of this by Hodge`s committee for years, and has done nothing to stop PwC or any other of the Big 4 accounting firms from making massive profits by advising on how to deprive the nation of much-needed revenue. The coalition has even cut thousands of jobs, approximately 20%, at HMRC, and we`re still expected to believe all their nonsense about "smelling coffee" and moral repugnance? They really do take us for mugs.
      With £375bn provided by quantitative easing clearly insufficient for the banks to do anything to kickstart the economy back in 2010, other than to line pockets of these so-called "best people" with obscene pay and bonuses, and with scams like mis-selling insurance, fixing Libor and foreign exchange rates, and laundering drug money continuing uninterrupted despite CEO rhetoric about putting "ethics before profits", and nurturing a "culture of ethical and purposeful business", it is time for Labour to promise action. Two pledges appear obvious, and certainly would not adversely effect election hopes. As it is clear that "normal rules of society" are being ignored, legislation is needed, and what could more appropriately display Labour`s determination to address the problem of the City`s arrogance than a financial transaction tax. If this was followed by inclusion in their manifesto of the proposal to nationalise fully RBS and convert it into a People`s Bank, with sensibly-salaried staff paid to care more about customer service than the super-rich`s greed, fear of losing customers might actually change the banking culture. Let`s face it, appealing to their sense of decency is pointless!
    As Margaret Hodge said, HMRC "may go easy" on HSBC, but parliament,on behalf of the public, will not", which is encouraging, but is embarrassing tax officials, bankers and ministers in cahoots with the City actually enough? Certainly nothing has succeeded, including unsurprisingly, fairly unsubstantial fines, in reducing bankers` arrogance, which was well illustrated by their emails congratulating each other over Libor and Forex rate fixing. Now their conceit and duplicity is shown to have no bounds with HSBC`s selling of a tax-avoiding "vehicle" which created for their greedy customers "corporate accounts with no genuine trading activity" and no tax bills, and to which they "wittily" gave such names as "Alter Ego Ltd".
 With Dave Hartnett, who "played a key role in shaping HMRC`s handling of the Swiss data|", going on to work as a consultant to HSBC in 2012, with the bank facing "no criminal investigation", and the £375bn banks received from quantitative easing in 2010 not being used to kickstart the economy as intended, pay-back time has surely arrived?  The EU`s Financial Transaction Tax comes into force in 2016, so it has to be sensible for the Labour party to pledge a commitment to it as early as possible. Dare any fat cats suggest the banks don`t deserve it?

Monday, 9 February 2015

3 letters to i on tax avoidance

The "launching of an urgent enquiry" to which HSBC will give evidence is to be applauded, but it appears the banks have to be taught a sterner lesson if they are to start working for the benefit of the economy as a whole. (MPs launch investigation into how HSBC helped wealthy to avoid tax,10/02/15) A financial transaction tax would not only increase revenue appreciably, it would signify an end to governments being in hock to the City. Similarly, a proposal to nationalise fully RBS and convert it into a People`s Bank, with sensibly-salaried staff paid to care more about customer service than the super-rich`s greed, might actually succeed in changing the banking culture, something that is long overdue!

Andrew Grice, when writing about Miliband and business, admits that the Labour leader "gives a token nod to growth" and then adds in the same sentence, "but emphasises the need to build a fairer economy". (Ed Miliband`s Mr Angry act may cost him votes, 07/02/15) Why the "but"? Isn`t a "fairer economy" exactly what the country needs, and the electorate want? Why is it an "act" when a leading politician is angry about the situation where tax avoidance costs the country at least £35bn a year, when millions are paid such low wages they have to rely on benefits to survive, when £375bn of quantitative easing was used to recapitalise banks and fund their obscene pay and bonuses, and when businessmen complain about paying a level of corporation tax which is the lowest of any in the G7 by 5%?
       The leader of the Labour party should be angry, the angrier the better!

How disingenuous of HMRC to say it has "brought in £31bn additional tax" since 2010, when the gap between what is meant to be collected and the amount actually going into Treasury coffers is still around £35bn every year and rising! (PwC promoting "industrial scale" tax avoidance, ministers warned,06/02/15) This government has been reminded of the "industrial scale" tax avoidance by Hodge`s committee for years, and has done nothing to stop PwC or any other of the Big 4 accounting firms from making massive profits from advice on how to deprive the nation of much-needed revenue. The coalition has even cut thousands of jobs at HMRC, and we`re still expected to believe all their nonsense about "smelling coffee" and moral repugnance? They really do take us for mugs.

Advice from fat cats for the country??

Whatever next? We`ve had advice on the country`s needs from tax avoiding millionaires like Stefano Pessina of Boots, and CEOs of banks guilty of interest-rate rigging and mis-selling, like Antony Jenkins of Barclay, so presumably, we can now expect similar words of wisdom from one of the energy companies` bosses, who have deprived the British public of millions,especially since the fall in oil prices? They will be keen not only to advise us on how we can all tighten our belts so that we can manage to pay the extra £114 next year, but also how we would be wiser to vote Tory in May, just in case a Labour government actually did listen to the wishes of the electorate, and nationalise their companies.
    The likes of the Yo! Sushi founder, and Tory donor, Simon Woodroffe, who wants "enormous profits" which can be "shared out later", and who thinks Labour are listening to the "masses" rather than business, have to be resisted, and it should not be difficult. Company bosses clearly are in need of a reminder of the meaning of democracy, and then challenged to explain why an extra £900m has had to be paid by taxpayers to enable low-paid workers to pay their rent, why tax avoidance by corporations and rich individuals has caused an annual tax gap of around £40bn, and why the FTSE 100`s CEOs typically receive in total renumeration 143  times that of the average employee in their firms. Are they happy with Britain`s 28th position out of 34 developed nations in the equality league table? Can they justify the £500bn businesses have hoarded away and refused to invest in the economy, or the £375bn the banks received from Quantitative Easing to kickstart the economy back in 2010?

        What a shame they all don`t all act in the interests of the country and pay the correct amount of corporate tax, and insist on a change in their culture, so that profit-at-all costs is no longer their raison d`etre, and that the needs of their customers are their priorities. The arrogance of our banking and business leaders beggars belief! 
         Rafael Behr rightly says that "Labour`s infantry will struggle to be heard" whilst the fat cat Tory donors are flying their "anti-Miliband jets", and the right-wing media are "foretelling apocalypse" if Labour win the election.(Guardian,04.02.15) The activists on the ground need support from Labour leaders who must not only attack the Tories for their anti-EU policies but have the bottle to challenge these so-called "wealth creators" whose profit-at-all-costs attitudes have led to soaring inequality, and the only wealth created their own!
      Miliband`s rebuke of the right of any tax avoider like Stefano Pessina of Boots to interfere in British politics was an encouraging start, but much more will be needed as the Tories continue to "weaponise" business. 

      Rachel Reeves`s warning that taxpayers will be forking out over £14bn by 2020 for housing benefit for the low paid is timely, but unless Labour`s top table start shouting such things from the roof tops, the efforts of the "foot soldiers" may well be in vain. Success in war is always more likely when the generals lead from the front!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Observer letter on Blairite interference

Andrew Rawnsley may well criticise John Prescott for his "mindless abuse", which he thinks "is only to be expected" of the former Labour deputy prime minister, but it is increasingly difficult to defend the Blairites "blasting bullets at their own side".(This is not the time for Labour to indulge in a scrap in its own navel,01/02/15) If the likes of Milburn, Lord Hutton and Mandelson wanted a victory for the Labour party in the forthcoming election, they would be concentrating their attacks on the Tories for their callous and unfair policies, and reminding voters of how much this coalition government has borrowed in its five years in office, £157.5bn and rising, compared with the £142.7 borrowed in  the previous thirteen years by Labour. A speech to this effect by Blair, as Rawnsley suggests, concluding with a wholehearted endorsement of Miliband`s leadership, could well swing the election result Labour`s way.
   However, these Blairite attacks might well have more to do with more personal considerations, such as connections with the private healthcare industry, through, in Milburn`s case, AM Strategy and WellDoc for instance, and Circle Holdings with Hutton. Then there are the worries Mandelson has for himself and his millionaire neighbours about the mansion tax, not to mention the rumours circulating regarding the Blairs` tax affairs. It`s not as though any of Miliband`s main critics within his party would exactly suffer under another Tory-dominated government destroying our public and welfare services, whilst simultaneously further enriching the wealthy.
   So no, Mr Rawnsley, Prescott was right, and his description of this traitorous Labour branch as "Tory collaborators" is spot-on. Any more outbursts from them would provide Miliband with an excellent opportunity to display his leadership credentials and ability to make tough decisions, by expelling them from the party!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Non-published Guardian letter on education

If, as I suspect, Zoe Williams is correct, and there would be a need for 17,000 new headteachers by 2017 if the Tories are allowed to wage their "war on illiteracy and innumeracy", the damage done to schools would be enormous.(It is time ministers realised that teachers do want to teach,02/02/15) Presumably these new leaders will currently be deputies or high flyers in the classroom, so their promotion would leave gaping holes in staffing, in need of urgent filling, and yet more recruitment problems for the profession. Forcing some less successful schools to academise also seems ludicrous when the evidence suggesting academies have the best results is as dubious as Morgan`s "misleading" remarks about "one in three" being unable to "read or write by the age of 11"; however, being reprimanded for misleading the House of Commons seems to be a prerequisite in this government for ministerial posts! 
 Increasing the number of tests at the age of eleven sounds extremely suspicious, coming as they do from a political party with an ideological agenda to return education back to the 1950s; it`s only a short step to using these test results to determine the nature of secondary education each child should follow. 

   Developing educational policies on the basis of very spurious "international comparison tables" should be a last resort for any government, especially as these Pisa tests are themselves flawed, not even based on a common test, but on different students in different countries answering different questions! They have as much value in determining the success of education in a country as asking each country`s chancellor of exchequer, or equivalent, what eight times seven are!

Recent Churchill-mania does history a disservice

The recent spate of Churchill-mania, particularly in the right-wing media, which these days includes the BBC, has yet again illustrated how history can be done a huge disservice when an individual`s reputation is determined by opinion and bias, rather than actual evidence.
 Much fuss has been made, recently, over Jeremy Paxman`s regret, expressed in the Radio Times, that in the present political climate Churchill "would never be elected today", because "Westminster is so dominated by spin and PR polish". The fact that we have already far too many right-wing candidates in this year`s election, with views which outrage the majority of the electorate, was ignored, whilst Churchill`s anti trade union views are being duplicated by at least two of the main parties. His views on other races, the female sex, and chemical weapons are probably too extreme for public airing.
    Why would the British people want to cast their votes for the man, who almost singlehandedly created the idea of a Russian threat with his "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946, which led to the Cold War, and its accompanying nuclear arms race? At a time when foreign policy needs to be based on compromise and caution, when the threat of terrorist attack has to be met with conciliation rather than armed conflict, the last thing Britain needs now is Churchillian aggression.
 Then, of course, there`s the new "biography" of Churchill by would-be Tory leader, Boris Johnson, and even the review of this book in the Morning Star was surprisingly generous.(12/01/15) Sadly Churchill is still revered by the majority of people in this country, often winning accolades like the "greatest Briton" in populist polls, which, of course, is why Johnson has written the book, hoping the creation of political association, and supposed similarity between author and subject, will advance his career. The fact that the book will reach the bestselling charts, and earn for the author yet more obscene amounts of money, which Johnson will no doubt describe again as "chickenfeed", I suspect, was a minor consideration.
 The book`s content has elsewhere come under attack for its "negligible contribution to knowledge" and bearing as much resemblance "to a history book as a Doctor Who episode", but the trouble is that by describing Churchill`s racist ideas as "frankly a bit whacko", Johnson does nothing to correct the mistaken vision held by many. Until a "celebrity" book, or TV series, focuses on events like Churchill`s attempts to control the BBC during the General Strike, his sending of troops to end the strike at Tonypandy, his infamous racist comments, including the ones ensuring the death of three million during the Bengal famine of 1943, and even his encouragement of the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East, the myth will be perpetuated. 
  What a shame that the opinions of generations are being formed, not by historians who have studied all the evidence in depth, evaluated and analysed it, but by Tory buffoons and biased television presenters. It`s not as though either Johnson or Paxman have studied 20th century history in any detail, with Paxman having an English degree, and Johnson studying Classics! The fact that Johnson makes government by Tories sounding like "fun" at Greyfriars hides the underlying truth that Churchill is far from deserving the heroic status given him by fawning Tories.
       Paxman seems to have forgotten that Churchill was "unelectable" in 1945, and the millions, who have benefitted from the NHS and the welfare state since then, have reason to be grateful for the wisdom of the postwar voters. In 1945, the Tories thought putting the Beveridge plan into action could not be afforded. Where have we heard that one before? In the election campaign, Churchill, in his first radio election broadcast, accused Attlee of wanting to behave like a dictator, despite his loyal service in the war cabinet. In order to put its plans into operation, Labour would, according to the Tory leader, "have to fall back on some form of a Gestapo"!
       Even many returning soldiers failed to vote for him, disgusted as they were by Churchill`s habit of smoking expensive cigars in front of them, when they hadn`t had a richly-deserved cigarette for days. Its not as though Churchill was the most careful of politicians when it came to reducing the number of casualties, either. In World War One his Gallipoli campaign ended after eight months with over 50,000 French and British deaths. His failure to warn the Lusitania in 1915 of the proximity of a German submarine led to its sinking and the death of 1198 passengers and crew. In the second world war, as the Guardian recently reported, his "shameful decision to turn on Greek partisans" who had fought so bravely on our side, led to the death of 28 and 100s injured on 3 December,1944. His plan to return the Greek king to power meant a switch back to arming previous supporters of Hitler! Yet the British still revere him as a hero!
 What, it seems, no-one dare dispute is his inspirational leadership during World War Two, and whilst it is impossible to deny that Churchill helped maintain morale and give people hope, other factors were at work, and who is to say that Attlee or other contemporary politicians like Bevin, could not have had a similar impact. It is a well-known fact in history that civilan bombing, whether it be on innocent targets in the Blitz, or in Vietnam or modern-day Gaza, does not reduce the will to fight on, or decrease determination to resist. In fact, it has the opposite effect!
            What is worrying is that Johnson`s book will become another in a long list of "history" books being used to mislead, perpetuating dangerous ideas about war, nationalism, racial superiority, sexism, and even trade union activity. With so much being written and presented, it all sounds a little like election propaganda, with the electorate expected to believe that Churchill and his Tory acolytes have some sort of God-given right to rule. How far from the truth can you get?


Business model in need of change

What a shame that the likes of Tony Blair and tax avoiding Peter Mandelson don`t concentrate on helping rid us of this callous coalition of austerity-obsessed Tories and duplicitous Lib Dems, instead of criticising Miliband for not being sufficiently pro-business. It beggars belief that so much of our current business model is allowed to continue largely unchallenged and unregulated, and even when Miliband did show true leadership qualities, and give his party a boost in the polls by attacking what he rightly called "predator capitalism", Blairite criticism continued. 
     The fact is that most people in this country are fed up with the antics of profit-at-all-costs British business, and disgusted when they see politicians cosying-up with multi-millionaire, capitalist fat cats, who not only maximise their own massive pay by cutting their workers` jobs and wages, but display extreme arrogance, shamelessness and, of course, a refusal to accept that taxation is necessary for a civilised society, where all pay their fair share. They even refuse to acknowledge the debt their companies owe to the taxpayers` funding of their workers education and health, not to mention the benefits corporations get from the security and transport facilities paid for by the Treasury.

     How typical of this wealth-obsessed society of ours that, when a company like Tesco has what the media calls a "collapse in profitability", the previous CEO blames, in his words, the "failure of leadership" under his successor.  Also nothing to do with Leahy, of course, was the huge reputation Tesco gained for its use of aggressive tactics in acquiring land and/or planning permission, its apparent lack of concern for the thousands of local small companies it put out of business, its bullying of farmers and suppliers, shareholder revolts over the obscene levels of executive pay, and the company`s failure to pay a living wage to its employees. Then there`s the small matter of how Leahy, for the majority of his tenure, did not have the stiff competition of discount supermarkets waging a price war against his company.
     But, of course, as the Star told us last week, Leahy is far from being alone in his arrogance and blamelessness.(Morning Star,28/01/15) Having forced most of the workforce to become "self-employed contractors", founder of the Better Capital investment firm that owns City Link, Jon Moulton, not only refused to take any responsibility for the small contractor companies` staffing costs, but also denied Better Capital ever intended to provide further funding. Happy to see taxpayers picking up the bill for up to £4m in statutory redundancy payments, Moulton, naturally, and his firm, are based in Guernsey, thereby avoiding paying taxes to the British treasury.
     Such arrogance and hubris clearly underscore our business system today,and explain, too, the glaring inequality in society; the problems of pay which is so low it leads to tax receipts falling, and increased reliance on in-work benefits, and the increased poverty caused by zero-hours contracts have much to do with this business model, where the size of the obscene bonuses for the top jobs rely on increasing profits. As they know, the easiest way to do this is to lower labour costs, regardless of the pain it causes. Commentators like the Guardian`s Polly Toynbee have suggested "restoring power to unions" as a solution, but why not go further and follow the German example of co-determination, which involves workers` representatives in the running of companies, including the determining of pay levels? It`s certainly a way to avoid the situation like we have today in this country where excessive pay, with CEOs in the FTSE 100 earning 143 times the average amount paid to their workers, is far too commonplace. It is rather disingenuous of the director-general of the CBI, John Cridland, to be saying that the business community understood it had a "responsibility to help people earn more". Yet more arrogance!  Are we not expected to know that he oversees businesses which are refusing to invest the £500bn they possess in the economy, and that in his end-of-year report, Cridland said his hopes for the EU included less "lifestyle regulation such as the working time directive", which translates into bosses having  free rein to increase the length of the working day. What a pity he doesn`t concentrate on emphasising how all companies should be paying at least the living wage to all employees, or ending their tax avoidance policies, currently costing the country around £40bn a year. They already pay a corporation tax 5% lower than in any of the G7 countries, and eighteen points lower than in the United States.
           Then there are the bankers! Banking`s reputation is deservedly at an all time low: profit the prime motive, scams devised to trick customers and rig interest and exchange rates, highest pay to those employed in the least socially valuable aspect of the business, with obscene bonuses and payment their reward, lowest pay possible to those responsible for the daily running of the company and scant regard paid to trade unions and workers` rights, increased "efficiency" equating to thousands of job cuts, and, of course, yet again, maximum effort utilised to ensure as little of the profit goes to the government in the form of taxation. Such  "irresponsible capitalism" may lead to many declarations by CEOs intent on transforming the culture, but "ethics" remain way behind profits in the pecking order, even lower than customer satisfaction. Indeed, one such practitioner of bad practice has been forced to admit, if its recent advertising campaign is evidence to judge it by, that its role as football league sponsor is more likely to win new customers rather than its damaged reputation as custodian of savings. Despite such practices of "predator capitalism", the public is constantly, and has been since the 2010 election, inundated with propaganda about "private" being superior to "public", and that this business model is the one to follow! What was it again, which caused the economic crash in the first place? Owen Jones recently quoted a Bloomberg editorial which said that behind every "irresponsible borrower" is an "irresponsible lender", and we all know who the latter are!
          State education, whilst imperfect in many ways, was enjoying examination success, with  results in many schools even rivalling, sometimes surpassing, those of the private sector; universities were accessible to pupils from all levels of society, because the A-level examinations were structured, with coursework, modules and resit availability, all designed to maximise potential and opportunity.Yet changes came, not only with widespread assessment "reforms", but also with the organisation of schools mirroring "big business" of all things, with pay for the headteacher four or five times the level awarded for classroom expertise, union rights and pensions reduced, and the totally inappropriate Performance Related Pay mooted for state education. At university level, more of the failed banking business model; even in times of government enforced austerity, vice-chancellors receive massive boosts to pay, whilst their institutions` student intakes are falling, lecturers` rates frozen, and student fees trebled. Yet the people whose work ensures university life continues as normal, the cleaners,cooks and such-like, are exploited to such an extent, industrial action is often their only option.
      Even the BBC, once the world leader in television and radio programming, lauded for its outside broadcasts and universally acclaimed for its creativity, is now subjected to similar business methods, cost-cutting whilst simultaneously over-paying at the top, over-generous golden handshakes, muddled management structures, and largely unimaginative in its output.
     So no, Blairites, we do not want a Labour party in hock to big business and in cahoots with fat cat tax avoiders, but one which pledges to change the country`s business model into one respecting the rights of workers and trade unions. As the Greek election showed us, people do not want to be ruled by politicians intent on maintaining the status quo, or even on tinkering at the edges, but by those advocating wholesale change.

5 ideas for Labour to win support

A few newspapers have done their best to persuade Labour to adopt more radical economic policies, but it seems there is little chance that Miliband and co. are going to risk further upsetting the CBI. Challenging tax avoiders to keep their noses out of Britain`s political affairs seems about the limit. The best hope is that they can set up some form of government after the election, and that the left-wing Green party and the SNP don`t take too many votes away from Labour, thus  enabling the Tories to continue with their plan to take us back to the 1930s.
 However, there are still a number of actions Miliband can take before the election to enhance his party`s chances of victory, despite their insistence on maintaining austerity policies. With the right-wing media obsessing about Churchill, and totally ignoring the dangers attached to Tory plans reaching fruition, Labour looks like it needs a few ideas. Here are five:
      The re-nationalisation of the railways, for argument`s sake, can come under the auspices of a Labour transport policy, which could prove to be the vote-winner the party desperately needs. As Owen Jones recently wrote, the opinion polls show that such a pledge could win over "well-heeled Tory commuters and Ukip voters alike", and it has the added benefit that it needn`t break the bank, happening gradually as the franchises become available. Too many of Labour`s policies are not sufficiently different from those of the Tories, so this could be the "silver bullet" they so desperately need.   
      Despite the recent vote, its not too late to come out against wasting £100bn on Trident renewal, either. As the Star reported, even the Tory MP, Crispin Blunt, who worked at the Ministry of Defence, could not find one scenario when Britain using a nuclear weapon could be necessary or justified, not to mention the argument that the weapons can only be used when the Americans give the okay. On the subject of what clearly needs to be a more ethical foreign policy, there is no argument in favour of Britain`s retention of the Parthenon marbles. What a wonderful opportunity to display to the world the Labour party`s intention to be different from its predecessors, and the return of the artefacts to their rightful owners would provide a massive boost to a beleagured Greek economy! How can the actions of a greedy British aristocrat, stealing sections of another country`s magnificent heritage, have been defended by governments for over 200 years?
      Thirdly, with Tristram Hunt still blathering on about the lack of "character" and "resilence" in state schools, not to mention his insistence on promoting Performance Related Pay, a sensible move on Miliband`s part would be to transfer him to a post more suited to his abilities. The teacher vote is too important to lose, but the longer Hunt displays his ignorance of the excellent work being done in the state sector, the nearer that defeat comes. There must be someone on or near Labour`s front benches who can empathise with teachers` problems, and formulate ways of reducing them. Even ex-corporate lawyer, Nicky Morgan, is making a show of her "concern" for the teachers` workload!
    The ignorant jibes from Cameron and Osborne about Labour "taking orders" from their "paymasters", the trade unions, will continue regardless, so the Labour leadership should do everything in its power to win the support of the 6m trade union voters. They won`t vote Tory, but there is a danger that they won`t vote Labour either. Labour should be proud of its union roots, and not open to attacks from the likes of Leanne Wood, that it is "embarrassed" by its history. (Morning Star,20/01/15)  Defending the right to strike, and lambasting the Tories for their plans to restrict union rights, would be a start; for too long Labour`s timidity has prevented them from supporting justifiable strike action, and look where it`s got them!
         Finally, Labour still faces a problem at the polls because of the leader`s image, one which can be improved simply by him not appearing as a carbon copy of the Tories. He is never going to be as "cool" as Obama or the Syriza leader,Tsipras, but looking less like a City-gent, ditching those awful shirt collars, and maybe trying  button-down ones instead, would be a start. Is a tie always essential? Young voters, especially, will appreciate a politician looking as though he actually lives in the 21st century, but that does not mean denims! Please remember what an idiot Clarkson looks! Using social media will help, and why not accompany each tweet with a different Miliband photo, in casual gear? The Tory media machine will ridicule, of course, but only because they fear him, and realise Miliband has the intellect to keep the Tories out of government for years.

      Five ideas to help Labour oust the most callous government in modern British history, and take steps to restore fairness and justice to our society; if only one was adopted, chances of election victory would increase dramatically!!