Thursday 30 October 2014

Don't Be A Dope

At least, and at last, the debate on drugs is now open in earnest.

We need a single category of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on.

There cannot be a "free" market, but not in drugs (or prostitution, or pornography).

Therefore, there cannot, there must not, be a "free" market.

The Stomach For It

I am delighted that stomach tissue has been grown from pluripotent stem cells.

I am told that, albeit not by name, I now appear in medical textbooks. I had the most ulcerated colon ever seen in one who lived to tell the tale.

Pluripotent stem cells are generated directly from adult cells. The progress being made in this field is one of the great marvels of the age. But it struggles to secure funding.

By contrast, embryonic stem cell "research" has yielded absolutely nothing. Yet it is permitted to cost any amount of money, purely on account of whom it annoys.

That is not science.

Science is what works.

Now The Defining Characteristic

Michael Meacher writes:

The Tory government’s decision to withdraw from the search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean where tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing their war-savaged homelands is an act of pitiless inhumanity. 

Already this year alone some 25,000 people have arrived in Italy, and similar numbers from Eritrea, with thousands more from Iraq, Nigeria and Somalia.

The numbers who never got there and drowned on the way are not known, but they certainly run into thousands.

To back out of this humanitarian mission is callous and despicable, especially when the motive is plainly to compete with Ukip in being hostile and harsh to migrants.

It is made even worse when the Home Secretary hides behind the disingenuous pretext that saving lives only encourages more persons to risk this treacherous escape route.

It is a shameful indictment to Britain’s reputation as a haven to the persecuted that the UK has resettled less than a tenth of the number of Syrians taken by Germany and Sweden and is now washing its hands of a fundamental humanitarian duty.

Tragically this hard-heartedness has also been played out across the whole spectrum of domestic policies too.

It is displayed in sanctioning – now affecting a million persons a year – whereby a recipient of job-seeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance have their allowance withdrawn in full if, for example, they are 5 minutes late for a job interview or are in hospital when they’re supposed to be on a work programme.

And for a second infringement they’re deprived of all their income for 3 months, and for a third the loss extends to 3 years!

No wonder so many are forced to steal, especially when they have dependants, and then are given a fine which they cannot pay when they only stole because they had no money in the first place.

It even leads to the penniless deliberately stealing expensive items because then they’re sentenced to a few months in a warm cell and are fed 3 meals a day.

Then there are the further million a year – not the same people, but with some overlap – who are forced to use foodbanks.

Plus the hundreds of thousands of disabled people subjected to flimsy work capability assessments and signed off as capable of work, which often their GPs deny, with a halving or more of their benefit – supported by the Tory welfare minister, the ineffable Lord Freud, who told us the disabled weren’t worth £2 an hour anyway, and that the spread of hundreds of food banks was because people liked a free meal.

Then there is the freezing of pay for public sector workers (when MPs are being offered an 11% rise by Ipsa), the extension of the waiting days (before any benefit is paid) from 3 to 7 days implemented last Monday, the housing benefit cap, the increase in social rents to private rent levels, the bedroom tax, and on and on it goes.

Most of these impositions will save little money and make a minuscule contribution to paying down the deficit.

But what they all share is a gratuitously punitive attitude towards to the poor and downtrodden.

Inhumanity is now the defining characteristic of this Tory government, and Labour should nail this on their electoral coffin.

Solidarity and Hope

Mark Serwotka writes:

Austerity has hit the poorest hardest, increasing inequality and poverty. Homelessness is up under this government and nearly a million families needed to use food banks last year.

These horrific trends are set to intensify in the next parliament whatever form the government takes, with Labour signed up to Coalition spending plans in year one and promising further austerity to balance the books by 2020.

It is in this grim political context that Class will be meeting on Saturday to discuss ‘What Britain Needs’.

Austerity won’t balance the books, as George Osborne is currently finding, because the books can’t be balanced on the backs of the poor – austerity will only inflict more pain.

Any serious economic analysis is not a necessary part of the austerity agenda. It is simply the cover for implementing a ruthless free market agenda that would not otherwise be possible.

Part of achieving that agenda has necessitated shifting the debate from one about inequality, unaccountable and deregulated financial institutions to the alleged flaws in the public sector and the people who rely upon it.

The logic is inescapable.

If you concede the ground on austerity, as Labour has, then as sure as night follows day you must capitulate too on scapegoating the poorest and least electorally potent.

Any political party seeking to impose austerity on the scale envisaged will seek to justify its attacks – and that inevitably leads to the demonisation of those on austerity’s receiving end.

With no structural analysis of the UK’s economic failure and continued fragility, politicians offer no structural solutions. Instead they pander to the simple politics of hate.

Tory minister Michael Fallon mis-speaks about our towns being “swamped” and “under siege”, while Labour’s frontbenchers have, even in this Parliament, described people on welfare as “shirkers” – a language echoed and magnified by the Conservatives.

But it is UKIP which articulates this agenda in its crudest form – blaming the EU, migrants, and welfare recipients with visceral divisive and dishonest attacks.

Their propagandist rhetoric goes further than the other parties and so they are seen by those who have been duped by the narrative as being the more genuine.

While the Conservatives and even Labour say it, UKIP really means it. They appear authentic, the others like they are simply trying to buy votes.

When David Cameron described UKIP as “a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” in 2006, he did not foresee that he would be talking up migration and welfare as the problem, to distract people from his dismal economic performance and the privatisation and cuts in the public sector.

Cameron has unleashed a political force that more authentically articulates the concerns he espouses. His achievement in shifting the political debate post-crisis is now his Achilles heel.

New Labour tried the same tactics and it ended similarly badly. Rather than confront prejudice and ignorance it often sought to harness it for electoral gain.

David Blunkett as Home Secretary talked about the UK being “swamped”, he never claimed to have mis-spoken and this week backed Fallon’s use of the term.

Similarly, James Purnell ratcheted up the rhetoric on welfare claimants.

All they did was shift the debate onto the Tories’ agenda.

Austerity not only drives the growing inequality in our society, it drives the divisiveness that demonises the migrant, the welfare claimant or the public sector worker.

This cynical, cowardly and dishonest politics is the reason why so few have any faith in our political class.

The Class conference on Saturday will be about building a positive vision of a better society for all, shifting the political debate from one of hate and fear to one of solidarity and hope.

The TTIP of The Iceberg

Lee Williams writes:

Fresh starts are great, aren't they? They fill you with hope for a better future.

So it’s wonderful that we have a new European Commission coming in, especially one that is avowedly committed to greater transparency about the revolving door between EU politics and big business.

This is good news especially in light of recent fears about the transparency of arguably the Commission’s greatest task ahead – the negotiation  of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

However just as you begin to feel the faintest stirrings of hope something comes along which quite simply knocks you down and makes the terms "European Commission" and "transparency" about as likely bedfellows as Nigel Farage and an Afghan kitchen with HIV.

I’m referring to the appointment of former oil baron Miguel Arias Cañete as the new European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy.

That’s right, in case you’re worried one of your colleagues spiked your coffee, you did read those words correctly - a former oil baron, dubbed by the The Times ‘Senor Petrolhead’, has been put in charge of sorting out climate change.

Cañete was the president of two companies handling petroleum supply in Spain.

He held major shares in both companies until this September and his son was also a board member until recently. His brother-in-law is now the president of both.

What was that about the new Commission and a commitment to greater transparency about revolving door politics?

When Cañete became the Spanish minister for agriculture and the environment in 2011, he immediately enacted reforms to the Spanish coastal law.

Cañete had links to real estate and construction companies which could benefit from the reforms – he was a former board member of one, his wife the sole representative of another and his brother-in-law was the president of the national cement manufacturer’s association!

Don’t check that coffee, this is all still reality.

Cañete’s political path is as littered with potential conflicts of interest as a shark on lifeguard duty.

In his time as a member of the European Parliament between 1988 and 1999 Cañete sat on the Agricultural and Rural Development Committee where he fought for the inclusion of bull breeding in the list of agricultural activities that receive payments from the EU.

His wife, Micaela Domecq Solís, is the heiress and co-owner of a bull breeding business.

New commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, has been a member of the Maltese parliament since 1976, a period of time which saw UK gambling company, Betfair, granted its first overseas licence in Malta.

Vella was a non-executive director on the Betfair Maltese board.

He was also chairman of Orange Travel Group, which specialises in cruise ships and outbound travel to Malta or at least he was until 13 March 2013 when he stepped down.

It was the same day he was appointed Maltese minister for tourism.

More coffee?

These are only two names out of half a dozen new European Commissioners who have been singled out as having potential conflicts of interest by Corporate Europe Observatory, a campaign Group for greater democratic accountability in the EU.

We really shouldn't be surprised.

The EU has a long history of revolving door politics, reaching perhaps its hallucinatory peak in 2013 when the Commission re-appointed an ex-EU official turned lawyer for Big Tobacco – someone who had already been through the revolving door – to head its ethical committee advising on… guess what?... that’s right, revolving door reforms.

Or was that the peak?

Maybe it’s just the coffee we drink nowadays or maybe we’re peaking right now with a new Commission that is supposedly dedicated to greater transparency but which contains a handful of Commissioners who could just as easily be viewed as insider lobbyists for big business than as disinterested politicians.

We Need More People, Not Fewer

Rossa Minogue writes:

Sometimes it’s easy to allow yourself to think that Malthusianism, the idea that human populations grow like a virus devouring the earth, is only the preserve of buffoons like birdwatcher Bill Oddie and the Duke of Edinburgh.

A few weeks ago, Oddie told BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live that British families’ breeding habits had to be ‘contained’ to stem overpopulation.

The press and social-media users met Oddie’s statement with the ridicule it deserved.

And back in 1988, Prince Philipwas similarly lampooned when he said he hoped to be reincarnated as a lethal virus so that he could kill off some of the glut of humanity.

But something comes along every now and then to show that such odious ideas are not confined to the ramblings of clueless old cranks like Bill and Phil.

This week, the Malthusians once again reared their ugly baby-hating heads with a new study published by two professors, hailing from the largely unpopulated country of Australia.

Even by the standards of apocalyptic, Malthusian scaremongering, this report was something special.

Professor Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide and Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania, who both specialise in studying animal populations, argue in the report that the ‘growing and over-consuming human population, especially the increasing affluent component, is rapidly eroding many of the Earth’s natural ecosystems’.

They see many positive social developments as major problems, namely longer life expectancies, lower infant-mortality rates and increased living standards.

They argue that these have put an incredible strain on resources and that, if humans are anything like every other species on earth, we’re heading for trouble, perhaps even extinction.

The panicked tone of the report was reflected in some of the coverage, with a write-up in the Guardian stating: ‘Bringing children into the world is an act of such environmental destructiveness that it requires mitigating.’

In his 1992 book, The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey outlined how the aloof, intellectual elite has fantasised about world wars and global pandemics coming along to thin the herd since the Victorian era. 

However, this new study warns that even if such Malthusian fantasies were to come true they would do little to slow down the ‘inexorable’ growth of humanity.

The authors also lament that even a globally enforced one-child policy would do little to stabilise human populations before the end of the twenty-first century.

Their answer to this perceived problem is to attack humanity on all fronts: female fertility must be curtailed globally, they argue, and for those of us already born, we must rein in our consumption habits.

They believe this will lead to ‘hundreds of millions fewer people to feed’ by the end of this century.

Like so many Malthusians before them, Bradshaw and Brook mistake the problem of underdevelopment for the problem of overpopulation.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, media coverage of overpopulation in the West is often adorned with images of foreign-looking poor people in very cramped environments.

Pictures of people clinging to clapped-out, overcrowded trains are particularly popular. Such images show perfectly the flawed logic of population panickers.

When a Malthus-minded individual looks at such an image they see too many people, not too few trains. And so it goes with the Australian professors’ desire to have ‘hundreds of millions fewer people to feed’.

They do not see the problem of food shortages in some parts of the world as a problem of implementing the development necessary for a modern economy and modern agriculture, but rather one of too many mouths to feed. 

Followers of Malthus, like members of a doomsday cult, have predicted the end of civilisation every generation for two centuries, only to be disappointed every time.

Far from there being impending mass starvation, in reality things are getting better for the vast majority of human beings.

Today, the kind of cataclysm Malthusians have always predicted seems less likely than ever before.

Despite massive growth in human population in recent decades, the standard of living for the world’s poorest people has been rising.

In 1981, half of all people living in the developing world lived in absolute poverty; in 2010 it was 21 per cent and falling.

This is despite a 59 per cent population increase in the same regions over the same period. In other words, more people have not led to more hunger.

Observations of the animal kingdom can tell us little about the future of humans. The misapplication of theories used for monitoring animal populations to humans is why Malthus’ predictions about societal breakdown have never come true.

The approach fails to take into account the fact that, unlike animals, humans have a far greater ability to adapt to their circumstances and produce what they need themselves, using an ingenuity that no other species on earth possesses.

While the population of monkeys on an island may grow to a point where there is not enough fruit to feed them all, this is unlikely to happen to human populations spread across continents that can produce or import more of what they need and no longer have to rely on the fickle beneficence of nature.

And through ever-more ingenuity and invention we can increase productivity, creating new resources as we go to provide for the exponentially growing population that Malthusians so fear.

The growth of humanity is not something to be feared, but something to be celebrated.

More people means more minds, more ingenuity, more creativity to deal with any problem that humanity may face.

Far from being to our detriment, population growth has accelerated human progress.

Malthusians do not see this; they do not see that the mass of humanity is made up of individuals, each with something different to offer the world. Instead they see a virus whose only purpose is to consume and reproduce.

It’s time to reassert a more positive view of humanity.

Who That Leader Might Be

Seumas Milne writes:

Where is the end of history now?

Across three continents, conflicts are multiplying. An arc of war, foreign intervention and state breakdown stretches from Afghanistan to north Africa.
In Iraq and Syria, the so-called Islamic State – mutant offspring of the war on terror – is now the target of renewed US-led intervention.

In Ukraine, thousands have died in the proxy fighting between Russian-backed rebels and the western-sponsored Kiev government.

And in the far east, tensions between China, Japan and other US allies are growing.

British troops finally finally ended combat operations in Afghanistan on Sunday after 13 years of disastrous occupation.

The bizarre claim, despite al-Qaida’s global spread, is that the mission was “pretty successful” — in a country where tens of thousands have been killed, the Taliban control vast areas, violence against women has escalated and elections are a fig leaf of fraud and intimidation.

The Afghan invasion launched what would become the west’s war without end, encompassing the catastrophe of Iraq, drone wars from Pakistan to Somalia, covert support for jihadi rebels in Syria and “humanitarian” intervention in Libya that has left behind a failed state in the grip of civil war.

The Middle East is now in an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis.

More than any other single factor, that is the product of continual US and western intervention and support for dictatorships, both before and after the “Arab spring”, unconstrained by any system of international power or law.

But if the Middle Eastern maelstrom is the fruit of a US-dominated new world order, Ukraine is a result of the challenge to the unipolar world that grew out of the failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

It was the attempt to draw divided Ukraine into the western camp by EU and US hawks after years of eastward Nato expansion that triggered the crisis, Russia’s absorption of Crimea and the uprising in the Russian-speaking Donbass region of the east.

Eight months on, elections on both sides look likely to deepen the division of the country.

Routinely dismissed as Kremlin propaganda, the reality is the US and EU backed the violent overthrow of an elected if corrupt government and are now supporting a military campaign that includes far-right militias accused of war crimes — while Russia is subject to sweeping US and EU sanctions.

Last week at the Valdai discussion club near Sochi, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, launched his fiercest denunciation yet of this US role in the world – perhaps not surprisingly after Barack Obama had bracketed Russia with Ebola and Isis as America’s top three global threats.

After the cold war, Putin declared, the US had tried to dominate the world through “unilateral diktat” and “illegal intervention”, disregarding international law and institutions if they got in the way.

The result had been conflict, insecurity and the rise of groups such as Isis, as the US and its allies were “constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies”.

None of which is very controversial across most of the world.

During a Valdai club session I chaired, Putin told foreign journalists and academics  that the unipolar world had been a “means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries” – but the emerging multipolar world was likely to be still more unstable.

The only answer – and this was clearly intended as an opening to the west – was to rebuild international institutions, based on mutual respect and co-operation.

The choice was new rules – or no rules, which would lead to “global anarchy”.

When I asked Putin whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine had been a response to, and an example of, a “no-rules order”, Putin denied it, insisting that the Kosovo precedent meant Crimea had every right to self-determination.

But by conceding that Russian troops had intervened in Crimea “to block Ukrainian units”, he effectively admitted crossing the line of legality – even if not remotely on the scale of the illegal invasions, bombing campaigns and covert interventions by the US and its allies over the past decade and a half.

But there is little chance of the western camp responding to Putin’s call for a new system of global rules.

In fact, the US showed little respect for rules during the cold war either, intervening relentlessly wherever it could.

But it did have respect for power. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that restraint disappeared.

It was only the failure of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Russia’s subsequent challenge to western expansion and intervention in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine – that provided some check to unbridled US power.

Along with the rise of China, it has also created some space for other parts of the world to carve out their political independence, notably in Latin America.

Putin’s oligarchic nationalism may not have much global appeal, but Russia’s role as a counterweight to western supremacism certainly does.

Which is why much of the world has a different view of events in Ukraine from the western orthodoxy – and why China, India, Brazil and South Africa all abstained from the condemnation of Russia over Crimea at the UN earlier this year.

But Moscow’s check on US military might is limited. Its economy is over-dependent on oil and gas, under-invested and now subject to disabling sanctions.

Only China offers the eventual prospect of a global restraint on western unilateral power and that is still some way off.

As Putin is said to have told the US vice-president, Joe Biden, Russia may not be strong enough to compete for global leadership, but could yet decide who that leader might be.

Even Obama still regularly insists that the US is the “indispensable nation”.

And it seems almost certain that whoever takes over from Obama will be significantly more hawkish and interventionist.

The US elite remains committed to global domination and whatever can be preserved of the post-1991 new world order.

Despite the benefits of the emerging multipolar world, the danger of conflict, including large-scale wars, looks likely to grow.

The public pressure that brought western troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan is going to have to get far stronger in the years to come – if that threat is not to engulf us all.

Profession: None

Jim Murphy has no degree to show for his nine years at university collecting student union sabbatical positions.

He followed them up with a year in some party non-job, leading into a parliamentary seat at the grand old age of 29.

Wikipedia (I know, but even so) lists him as "Profession: None."


Wednesday 29 October 2014

The White Man's Burden

I have never missed Telegraph Blogs more than I do today.

Zambia has acquired a white President.

There would have been delirium below the line.

And above it.

Monkey Business?

Would Gibraltar, the only British Overseas Territory in the European Union, have a say in any referendum on withdrawal?

It would be a guaranteed Yes to staying in.

Indeed, its main complaint, echoed by the British Government, is that Spain is limiting the free movement of its residents as EU citizens.

Now, that would be a debate worth televising.

The Kippers would go bananas.

On The Right Track

By 196 to 38, MPs have voted to allow Andy Sawford's Bill to proceed. Second Reading will be in the New Year.

No, this Bill itself stands little chance of becoming law. And no, merely repealing the ban on public sector bids for rail franchises is not sufficient.

But things are clearly heading in the right direction.

För Sverige I Tiden?

Support for joining NATO is higher than ever before in Sweden.

They would be welcome to take Britain's place in that wretched relic.

Peace Pledge

I must admit that I am not convinced by the white poppy.

The red poppy was initially, and is still properly, anything but a glorification of war.

The white poppy message to "remember all victims of war" is already included, and the red poppy no longer features the name of Haig.

White poppy money goes to the Peace Pledge Union, a campaigning organisation for absolute pacifism (a cause to which I do not subscribe), rather than to a welfare charity of any kind. 

Wear your red poppy with pride. I am wearing mine as I write. Because of what it really means.

Constituent Nations

It is telling that even a Scottish Nationalist, nay even the very Nicola Sturgeon, now describes Northern Ireland as such a thing.

Even to the extent of having to approve any withdrawal from the European Union.

How the world turns.

The Lanchester Review: For Stability and Pluralism in Parliament

Two political parties exist specifically in order to provide the Government of the United Kingdom. They are organised to that end.

Other parties, and we Independents, have a different role.

The failure of the present electoral arrangements to take account of this distinction looks likely to be thrown into sharp relief next May. A Bill needs to be introduced in the first Queen’s Speech of the next Parliament.

It would need to be made clear from the very start that the Parliament Act would be invoked if necessary, and that there would be absolutely no question of a referendum.

The United Kingdom would be divided 300 constituencies, each containing as near as possible to one third of one per cent of the electorate, with the requirement that constituency boundaries straddle the United Kingdom’s internal borders wherever possible.

Each constituency would return three Constituency MPs.

On the first Thursday of a month-long process, it being quite a recent phenomenon that a General Election was held on one day everywhere, each constituency would elect two MPs.

The Labour Party and the Conservative Party would submit their respective internal shortlists of two to run-off ballots of the entire constituency electorate.

On the second Thursday, there would be a contest between the previous week’s Labour loser and the previous week’s Conservative loser.

One may, and people do, join both of those parties in Northern Ireland. They probably ought not to contest Assembly elections there, but that is something else.

On the third Thursday, each of the 99 lieutenancy areas would elect two County MPs, one from between two candidates submitted jointly by the Co-operative and Labour Parties, and one from between two candidates submitted by the Conservative Party.

And on the fourth Thursday, each of the 12 European Parliamentary regions would elect 12 Area MPs, six from lists submitted by other parties and six Independents, with each elector voting for one party list and for one Independent candidate, and with the highest scoring six in each category being elected.

Parties that chose to contest these seats would not be eligible to contest any other election.

This would give a total of 642 MPs.

This system would give a voice to smaller parties and to Independent candidates from all parts of the country.

It would give everyone direct representation within both the governing party and the Official Opposition. It would give the two main parties direct representative responsibility for every community.

Simultaneously, it would guarantee that there would always be either a Labour or a Conservative majority government. Only the extreme unlikelihood of a dead heat would ever deliver a hung Parliament.

The lowering of the voting age to 16 might also be included in this, although with the strict conditions that under-18s (indeed, under-21s, and perhaps even slightly older people) would be ineligible to serve on juries.

Far more urgently, there is the need to reduce the parliamentary term to four years, or, as would be even better, to abolish the fixed term altogether.

May Just Be Right

Rafael Behr writes:

Even the finest political insights congeal into received wisdom over time. Then they rot into banality.

When James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, first pinned a reminder in his office to focus on, among other things, “the economy, stupid,” he could not have known that this morsel would still be reheated and served up on Westminster menus 22 years later.

Carville’s aide-memoire gets an outing whenever politicians are losing an argument about something that isn’t the economy and want to pretend it doesn’t matter. It’s the first commandment: thou shalt have no other issues before me.

It’s what senior Labour people were saying at the start of their conference, when the Tories were broadsiding them with demands for English votes for English laws in parliament.

Let Cameron waste his ammunition on the West Lothian question, Ed Miliband’s aides said. The voters want to hear us talk about the scourge of low pay.

Carville’s dictum also comes out when the Tories face Labour accusations that they can’t be trusted with the NHS.

The riposte is that the health service needs money that can only be generated in a growing economy, for which only Conservatives have a credible plan.

So really, it’s the economy, stupid.

Obviously voters will tend to prefer a party that secures their financial interests. Or, more precisely, they will avoid one if they think it might ruin them.

But that doesn’t help a leader build a winning campaign if no one can agree on which part of the economy it really is, stupid.

For the Tories, budget discipline is paramount.

They have successfully written their version of events into the national economic story, with the first test of a sound government set as its stomach for austerity.

This isn’t quite the same as success in reducing the deficit or national debt, on which measures George Osborne’s record is flimsy.

Government borrowing in September was £1.6bn higher than the previous year. The chancellor gets away with it because so few people think Ed Balls would have done a better job.

Miliband’s hopes instead rest on polling in which voters say they are unimpressed by a recovery that isn’t showing up in their payslips.

The Treasury insists this is a standard feature of the post-recession landscape and that wages will pick up.

Miliband says it is a deep structural flaw in the economy that, if unaddressed, will blight the prospects of British workers for a generation.

“We’ll hammer the Tories on wages,” a Labour strategist told me earlier this year, although so far the attack has had all the impact of an occasional prodding with a foam mallet.

Downing Street takes comfort from opinion polls that put Cameron and Osborne well ahead of Miliband and Balls on who is better trusted to run the economy, but, given the double-digit scale of that advantage, the question really ought to be why the Tories aren’t also miles ahead in party preference.

One explanation, put forward by Tory liberals, is that Cameron has been dragged off course by his party’s rebellious Eurosceptic fringe and sucked into an unwinnable anti-immigration arms race with Ukip, when he needs to get back to the economy.

Conservative strategists say he will do just that when the time is right.

Treasury attack dossiers are being compiled to show that Labour numbers don’t add up. Accommodating business leaders will be lined up to warn of the perils of wealth-crushing “Red Ed” leftism.

The one explanation for polling stagnation you never hear from Tories is that Miliband’s account of a recovery that bypasses the majority may just be right.

The ineffectiveness of Labour’s campaign doesn’t disprove the analysis that underpins it.

There are many reasons for the growth of Ukip support, but surely a big one is resentment at the unfair allocations of reward in the boom years, and pain after the bust.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying Marxist to see that a crisis of confidence in the political establishment may have its roots in economic dysfunction.

Cameron himself came close in 2009, when he went to the World Economic Forum in Davos and warned of “markets without morality”, “wealth without fairness”, “a disconnection between capitalism and people’s lives”.

But that was a different Cameron incarnation.

This was around the time that he was talking about the “big society” as a civic, voluntary alternative to state intervention.

The idea flopped and the phrase is now banished from the Tory lexicon.

It wouldn’t in any case look very appetising suddenly regurgitating five years later, but the insight that lay behind it was sound.

Elections are never won by a kind of crass Carvillism – the view that voter behaviour tracks national economic indicators – and certainly not by Conservatives who must always battle the perception that they accept social decay as a price worth paying to balance the books.

Notably, in 2012 Carville himself revisited the old slogan in a book – It’s the Middle Class, Stupid – arguing that the new electoral battleground was insecurity and income stagnation, which rob mainstream America of attainable dreams of a more prosperous future.

The book was co-authored with Stan Greenberg, Clinton’s pollster, who has also advised Miliband.

Tory majorities from Macmillan to Major have been won when enough voters feel the party offers them ladders to climb, removing obstacles to their advancement into an expanding middle class.

Cameron sometimes talks in those terms. He fiddles around the margins of unequal opportunity – offering soft loans for first-time property-buyers, for example.

But his favours have been more conspicuously bestowed on people for whom the great recession was an minor inconvenience, or no inconvenience at all.

The Tory quandary is all the more severe now that British politics has fragmented into a multiparty melee. Labour’s share of the vote is shrinking, but Cameron is not yet the beneficiary.

He may be cooking up a campaign to crush Miliband, but his isn’t the only restaurant in town and it has been serving up the same economic argument for nearly five years.

If voters are turning up their noses, it could be because they aren’t stupid.

People Need Hope

Ha-Joon Chang in The Guardian is right that “the country is in desperate need of a counter narrative” to the Tory story on the economy.

I believe it should go like this.

First, Labour did not leave behind an economic mess; the bankers did.

Labour was not profligate: the biggest Labour deficit in the pre-crash years was 3.3% of GDP; the Thatcher-Major governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 of their 18 years.

So who was the profligate? It’s a no-brainer.

Second, the Tories have claimed that the reason for enforced austerity is to pay down the deficit.

Yet, after six years of falling wages, private investment flat, productivity on the floor, and fast-rising trade deficits, the deficit is £100bn, when Osborne promised in 2010 it would now be next to zero.

To cap it all, the deficit will almost certainly rise this year because income from taxes has sharply fallen as wages are increasingly squeezed.

Austerity is now a busted policy that has turned toxic. It should be dropped.

Third, Osborne’s so-called recovery is bogus because it is too dependent on a housing asset bubble, too dependent on financial services rather than manufacturing, and has no demand to sustain it.

It is already fading as growth slows.

Fourth, the only way now to get the deficit down is by public investment to kickstart sustainable growth via housebuilding, upgrading infrastructure, and greening the economy.

Funding a £30bn package at interest rates of £150m a year would create 1.5m jobs within two/three years.

Or it could be financed without any increase in public borrowing by printing money, or instructing the publicly owned banks to concentrate lending on British industry, or taxing the 0.1% ultra-rich whose wealth has doubled since the crash.

People need hope.

The Tories are continuing with austerity because their real motive is to shrink the state and public services, not to cut the deficit.

The alternative offers investment desperately needed, growth in the real economy, genuine jobs, rising wages – and really will pay down the deficit.

Face Challenge

Andrew Gibson writes:

Over the years, governments have defended plans to replace the ageing Trident weapons system by reference to unspecified future threats.

In the foreword to a 2006 White Paper advocating the principle of Trident replacement, Tony Blair wrote:

“We believe that an independent British nuclear deterrent is an essential part of our insurance against the uncertainties and risks of the future.”

Similarly, in an interview with the Daily Mail, David Cameron said:

“How can anyone be confident that the global security environment will not change in the next 10 years? This is not the time to be letting our guard down.”

Despite these appeals to vagueness, the continuation and replacement of Trident is likely to face challenge on at least two fronts.

Firstly, Scotland does not seem to like nuclear weapons. The latest British Social Attitudes report shows at least the balance of opinion in Scotland is opposed to UK nukes.

Plans to replace Trident, which assume its basing at a facility on the estuary of the River Clyde, will continue to be politically contentious in Scotland and may be impossible to accomplish in the event of another independence referendum (in, say, 10 to 20 years).

Secondly, many non-weapon states are impatient with our phallic exhibitionism.

Last week, over 155 states released a statement expressing their ‘deep concern’ about the ‘the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons’.

These states are being encouraged by a group of NGOs, such as the ICRC, ICAN and Article 36, whom believe a treaty (similar to the cluster munitions ban) could be developed to outlaw nuclear weapons.

Such a move would be tricky for the UK: a ban would not require the acquiescence of the nuclear-armed states but would have diplomatic, legal and political effects on them.

Despite its commitment to Trident replacement, Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) appears to acknowledge the possibility and even value of such change in International Humanitarian Law. In its latest (and last pre-election) report, the NPF stated that Labour:

“… recognises the success of past international bans on weapons of mass destruction such as landmines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons. The Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference 2015 will be a key moment for a Labour Government to show leadership in achieving progress on global disarmament and anti-proliferation measures.”

These developments imply Trident or its successor will face challenge.

The future, it seems, is uncertain.

Durée Determinée

The French Prime Minister has revived the idea that the French labour market is overly protective of permanent employees. However, international comparisons show that this is not the case, argues Duval Guillaume, translated by Tom Gill:

The functioning of the labour market is not satisfactory because it is not creating enough jobs, it generates significant inequalities between highly protected employees on permanent contracts and very precarious workers on fixed term  and agency contracts. We need to take action on this.”

So French prime minister Manuel Valls told France’s weekly magazine Nouvel Observateur on 22 October.

That the French economy is not creating enough jobs is unfortunately  not in doubt, but contrary to what our Prime Minister seems to think, this is much more to do with inappropriate macroeconomic policy currently being pursued in France and Europe, combined with major structural problems of the French economy such as education, innovation, and the access to credit by companies than a supposed rigidity of the labour market.

And it is certainly not in any case down to the excessive protection of permanent employees.

Manuel Valls is of course right to emphasize the very significant difficulties for casual workers in the labour market, including ever shorter term contracts routinely offered to them.

However, it is wrong to assume that when they are in employment, employees on fixed-term contracts are less protected than permanent employees.

This is exactly the opposite: fixed term contracts (CDD, Contract Durée Determinée) offer significant protections in France.

The OECD is an institution that brings together the leading rich countries to produce analysis and comparative statistics on major economic and social issues.

It takes a very neo-liberal stance on the labour market and we really cannot imagine a particular fondness for the “French social model”.

It regularly compares the laws of all the rich countries and major emerging economies with respect to labour market rigidity and protection against dismissal and provides a composite index to measure this protection.

Of all the countries it monitors, France is the country where short-term contracts are the most protective of employees.

This is also probably not unconnected with the trend towards shorter fixed term contracts offered by companies.

But Manuel Valls is especially wrong to consider that permanent employees (CDI, Contract Durée Indeterminée) in France are strongly protected against dismissal (whether individual or collective dismissals).

According to the OECD, French permanent employees were certainly much better protected in 2013 than the US and the UK, but they were barely better protected than in Denmark – which is considered the ultimate in labour market flexibility, with their famous flexicurity – and on par with Korea.

And the French permanent workforce is significantly less protected than in the currently fashionable Germany, despite the Schröder reforms, and in the Netherlands which is also often seen as a particularly strong model for the organization of the labour market.*

Protections are also weaker than in China and India, contrary to popular belief.

In addition, these findings date to before the entry into force of the so-called job security law adopted in mid-2013, which further reduces barriers to collective redundancies.

In short, there really is very little to expect from these reforms, at least for those who are not blinded by ideology and the employers propaganda.

* All these countries, by the way, enjoy significantly lower unemployment than France.