Sunday 31 May 2015

Kipper Wars

I always said that UKIP would find it even harder to accommodate Douglas Carswell than the Conservative Party did.

For all practical purposes, Carswell is now out of UKIP, and UKIP is thus out of the House of Commons.

All that remains is to complete the paperwork.

From Austerity-Lite To Far Right

Andrew Fisher charts the Labour Party's post-Election turn, not back to Blairism, nor even to the position of David Cameron and George Osborne, but to that of John Redwood and beyond, even scarily far beyond.

The Dark Side of Buddhism

Important stuff, and not Radio Four's first on this increasingly pressing matter, long a recurring theme of this site.

Wrong To Buy

Ken Clarke is of course absolutely right. David Cameron is not seeking the return of any powers whatever from the EU.

One might add that all that would be necessary would to take them back, by means of primary legislation. Ed Miliband was committed to doing that in respect of industrial and regional policy. Whereas Cameron has never had any such commitment in respect of any policy area at all.

Add that to the total absence of any intention to change the Human Rights Act in any way.

Meaning, not only that Cameron has no intention of expecting anyone to seek to enforce his latest anti-strike laws, but also that he has none of trying to requisition and flog off the housing stock that belongs to certain charities.

Why did anyone ever fall for this rubbish? How did anyone ever fall for this rubbish?

Oh, well, they did. So here we are.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Major Horror

Raise A Glass

Ian Lavery MP
Jon Trickett MP
Jo Stevens MP
Roger Godsiff MP
Marie Rimmer MP
Angela Rayner MP
Pat Glass MP
John McDonnell MP
Grahame Morris MP
Ian Mearns MP
Harry Harpham MP 
Rachael Maskell MP
Ronnie Campbell MP
Dave Anderson MP
Richard Burgon MP
Stephen Hepburn MP
Alan Meale MP
David Crausby MP
Dennis Skinner MP
Clive Lewis MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Jess Phillips MP
Liz McInnes MP
Kate Osamor MP
Kelvin Hopkins MP
Louise Haigh MP
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
Paula Sherriff

What a splendid list of the most consistent critics of the CBI-EU, even before we see the terms brought back by David Cameron, of all people. "Workers' rights"? Where are they? "Minimum standards"? Minimal, indeed!

And what a joy to see Lanchester's finest, Pat Glass. Indeed, the showing by the North East is particularly impressive, considering that this is not the biggest of places.

Tonight, I shall raise a glass, so to speak, to Hilary Armstrong and to her preferred successor, Neil "Cut The Link"/"The Iraq War Was Right And Just"/"Britain Ought To Join The Euro"/"Shotley Bridge Was A Tip And Deserved To Close" Fleming.

Raise a glass, and laugh my head off.

Friday 29 May 2015

Encouraged In Their Endeavours

There has been much discussion in the wake of the disastrous general election result about the future direction of our party.

A full and frank conversation must take place, involving all parts of our party and country – that includes the millions of people in trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

The trade union link is the umbilical cord connecting a party of a few hundred thousand to a coalition of trade unions with a membership of over six million.

The whirling cesspool of some of the British right-wing media continues to smear trade unions, their leadership and their links with the Labour Party.

While millions of people in the UK face huge hardship, the gutter press keep the stories off the front pages, replacing them with crackpot tales of ‘Red Him’, ‘Red Her’ or ‘Red Anyone’.

Shamefully, there are many in our own party who see the aims of the unions as alien to their own and hurl around the lexicon of our enemies willy-nilly.

The phrases trade union ‘barons’, union ‘bullying’ or ‘sabotage’ should have no place in the vocabulary of Labour politicians.

Perhaps some of those from the nouveaux wing of the Party should read their history and understand that the unions created the Labour Party and not the other way around.

We can never forget our responsibility towards working people, the people that the Labour Party was created to represent.

It is trade unions that give a voice to those people, and it is our obligation to respectfully engage with them and their elected representatives.

Unions will participate in the leadership election under rules agreed just last year to broad approval. It would be ludicrous to suggest any further revisions at this stage could be warranted.

Our affiliated trade unions should be encouraged in their endeavours to engage and sign up their members as affiliated supporters of our party, and to treat this with suspicion is absurd. 

We must also be clear that elected union leaders have a right and a duty to express their views on policy and on candidates on behalf of their unions.

Those who seek to silence such contributions to open debate within our party only create an impression of intolerance and a desire to limit discussion to a charmed parliamentary circle.

Ian Lavery MP
Jo Stevens MP
Roger Godsiff MP [a particularly notable name here]
Marie Rimmer MP

The Great Dilemma of The Age

Ed West's terminology is still off (he needs to read the Popes more, for a start), but he is getting there:

Numerous commentators have noted how the Irish marriage referendum was influenced by big business, especially Californian-based companies like Google.

It’s one of the curious trends of recent years that big business, once considered the enemy of ‘the Left’, is now its greatest proponent; or at least the dominant strain of Leftism, social justice liberalism.

Silicon Valley is the most extreme example of this, an industry that is young, dynamic and universally socially liberal; but elsewhere most politically interested billionaires in the West tend to be more liberal than the population, whether it’s George Soros funding various social justice causes or other Democrat-supporting moguls.

In contrast, with the exception of the Bangladeshi Fazel Abed, most billionaires in the Muslim world seem to be conservative; this may be one cause of the growing moral chasm between the west and the rest.

But why is big business so interested in left-wing politics? Why is it that ‘neoliberalism equals social justice’, as Ben Southwood of the Adam Smith Institute suggests.

One of the key reasons behind this is what is often called the conservative dilemma; that is, economic liberalism as favoured by conservatives tends to drastically change society and uproot all the things conservatives hold dear. 

Often this is quite positive, such as in the way that the free market tends to break down prejudices by encouraging people to trade, and because bigotry is unprofitable.

But political activism by billionaire corporations seems to be rather different altogether, and a recent phenomenon.

One reason has to be that, being newer and younger, such corporations are probably less politically diverse; in a youngish environment dominated by secular left-liberal people, minority conservative and religious voices quickly get drowned out and social justice politics become the norm.

But promoting social justice is also a cheap way for businesses to get some easy PR while also diverting attention from their own, often ruthless, business practices.

Never mind our tax affairs, let’s talk about how awful racism is!

Virtue signalling is cheap, and ‘tolerance’ is easy when it costs you precisely nothing; as long as you give lip service to diversity and equality, much of the Left will overlook how you actually behave [you really do need to get out more, Ed] and will concentrate their rage on small bakeries, whereas in the past they might have focused on wages or the treatment of producers.

In fact, instead of being costly to big business as socialism would be, social justice actually profits them, the most prominent example being mass immigration, which big business is universally in favour of, supported by many Conservatives for economic reasons; even though, from a Burkean point of view, mass immigration makes absolutely no sense – short-term prosperity over posterity.

But specifically in the case of sexual politics, there is possibly another reason, in that the interests of big business conflict with those of the nuclear family.

‘Traditional’ families take women out of the workforce to have children, and anything that reduces the availability of workers is going to damage business interests.

There could also be an argument that people in nuclear families, who are more stable but also burdened by greater living costs, are less likely to consume and borrow.

How pro-business conservatives square this circle is the great dilemma of the age.

To Die For

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. … We can give them training, we can give them equipment; we obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”

Thus did Defense Secretary Ash Carter identify the root cause of the rout of the Iraqi army in Ramadi.
Disgusted U.S. military officers say the 1,000 ISIS fighters who overran Ramadi were outnumbered by the defenders 10 to 1.

Why did the Iraqi army run? And what motivated the fighters of ISIS to attack a city whose defenders so vastly outnumbered them?
According to battle reports, the assault began when dozens of captured U.S. armored vehicles and trucks, laden with explosives, were driven by ISIS volunteers to blast huge holes in the defenders’ lines.
Why do all the martyrs seem to be on their side? And why is it our side that, all too often, shows “no will to fight”?

Iraqis are not cowards. From 1980 to 1988, their fathers died in the scores of thousands defending their country against Iran.

But if Iraqis would die for dictator Saddam Hussein, why does today’s Iraqi army seem reluctant to fight for the democratic Haider al-Abadi?
And the story of Iraq is the story of Syria.
Four years into that civil-sectarian war, the al-Qaeda Nusra Front has carved out a sector in Idlib, as have the Islamic State terrorists in Raqqa. Bashar Assad’s army, though bleeding, is still fighting.

And the Free Syrian Army we backed? Defunct. Some fought, but others defected to the jihadis, fled or sold their weapons.
In Yemen, the Houthi rebels came down from the north to seize Sanaa, drive the president into exile, occupy Aden, and capture huge stockpiles of American weapons.

The U.S.-backed army crumbled.
Again, why do these rebels seem willing to fight for what we see as antiquated beliefs, but all too often our friends do not fight?

Perhaps the answer is found in Thomas Babington Macaulay: “And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods?”
Tribe and faith.

Those are the causes for which Middle Eastern men will fight.

Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists will die for the faith. Persians and Arabs will fight to defend their lands, as will Kurds and Turks.

But who among the tribes of the Middle East will fight and die for the secular American values of democracy, diversity, pluralism, sexual freedom, and marriage equality?
“Expel the Crusaders from our lands!”—there is a cause to die for.

Go back to 1983. A jihadist of the Amal militia drove a bomb-laden truck into the Marine barracks in Beirut.

In 2000, two suicide bombers steered a tiny boat up alongside the USS Cole in Aden harbor, stood, saluted and blasted a hole in the hull, almost sinking the warship.
Nineteen young men volunteered to ride those planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers on 9/11.

The “underwear bomber” and “shoe bomber” were prepared to go down with those planes.

Murderers and would-be murderers all.

But according to a new Al-Jazeera poll, the warriors of the Islamic State have many Muslim admirers.
In Afghanistan, we have fought the Taliban for 13 years. Yet still they fight.

And many fear the Afghan army we trained and armed at a cost of tens of billions will disintegrate when we go home.

Why do the Taliban seem to have in abundance a will to fight that appears far less present in the Afghan army units we have trained?
These questions are highly relevant.

For they are about the ultimate question: Can the West win in the Middle and Near East?
In almost all of the wars in which we have been engaged, those we back have superior training, weapons, and numbers.

Yet, for whatever makes men willing to fight and die, or volunteer for martyrdom, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban have found the formula, while our allies have not.

To be a martyr for Allah, to create a new caliphate, to expel the infidels and their puppets, these are causes Islamic man will die for.

This is what ISIS has on offer. And the offer is finding buyers even in the West.
What do we have on offer?

What do we have to persuade Iraqi Sunnis to fight to return their Anbar homeland to the Iranian-backed Shiite regime in Baghdad?

Of our Arab allies, the Qataris, Saudis, and Gulf Arabs are willing to do air strikes. And the Kurds will fight—for Kurdistan.
But if the future belongs to those willing to fight and die for it, or to volunteer to become martyrs, the future of the Middle East would seem fated to be decided by Sunni tribesmen, Shiite militia, ISIS and al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

In the Middle East, the time of the True Believers appears at hand.

To Connect Culturally

David Goodhart writes:

When Labour loses an election  there is a tendency on the left to first indulge in the wisdom of hindsight, and then to project the party’s failures eternally into the future.

As I put money on an overall majority for the Tories and have the William Hill betting slip to prove it, I cannot be accused of the first.

But the conviction that Labour can never win again is harder to resist. Just because it was so wrong in 1992 does not mean it is wrong now.

There is plenty of space for a social democratic party in Britain capable of speaking for two-thirds of the country or more, and able to appeal to both aspirational and left-behind voters.

It is just very hard to see how Labour, with its current activists and MPs, could ever be that party. For it is the party’s inability to connect culturally with most British voters that lost it the election.

Leaving aside the issue of economic competence and Ed Miliband, it simply had no answer to nationalism in Scotland, Ukip English populism in the Midlands and the north (which in those areas gave it nearly 17% of the vote and 44 second places, a pitiful percentage after all the hype, and someone always did come second in those seats), and the free-market modernity of southern England.

Labour is a self-consciously progressive party dominated by highly educated people who tend to believe they see the world more clearly and understand people’s interests better than they do themselves – the default instinct of both the educated and the centre left.

But this top-down political temperament and the wider worldview and language of the Labour activist barely overlaps any longer with the average voter.

That voter has a hotch-potch of sometimes conflicting political feelings about the world, which might be summed up in Matthew d’Ancona’s phrase “individualism plus the NHS”.

He or she has a left or liberal side: most people oppose unjustified wealth and hierarchies (though might disagree about the definition of unjustified), are suspicious of authority, are comfortable with “abroad” and support equal rights (including for women and minorities).

But he or she also has a conservative or communitarian side: most people are suspicious of change, want to live in stable communities, think people should take responsibility for themselves (and think today’s welfare system discourages them from doing so), want to live in relatively traditional families and, without being flag-waving nationalists, think that national citizen preference matters.

As the left v right spectrum has partly faded, commentators now talk about political views lining up along a libertarian v authoritarian, or an open v closed spectrum – but the latter distinction is just self-serving liberal propaganda.

Nobody believes in a closed world.

Most people (including ethnic minorities) do want immigration to return to more moderate levels and think EU citizens should have to work for a few years before qualifying for tax credits or social housing, but they are modern “easyJet” people: socially conservative on some things and sort-of liberal on others.

A more relevant spectrum would highlight different emotional attitudes to change, mobility and belonging.

Educated progressives and liberals tend to welcome change, are comfortable with mobility (their own and other people’s), and not especially bothered about belonging, indeed are suspicious of most group allegiances.

Yet most voters are more likely to see change as loss and – without being sentimental for the often oppressive communities of 1950s Britain – want to live in relatively stable places with a high level of trust, low crime, and a degree of neighbourliness.

And most people place the interests of fellow members of the local or national club before outsiders. This is the spectrum which finds most voters in a very different place from today’s Labour party.

On social mobility too, Labour’s graduate professionals seem to be saying: climb those ladders as we did.

Of course, Labour should be on the side of ladder climbers, but it has been insufficiently sensitive to the shadow they cast over those who cannot or do not want to climb with them.

Just as London can make the rest of the country feel inconsequential, so those who get to university and into the top part of the labour market can make those millions of decent, responsible people doing ordinary jobs feel like failures.

This is the dark side of meritocracy, and Labour should have thought far harder about how to mitigate it.

As it was, the party had far more to say about universities than the continuing mess that is non-university post-school education and training.

As Labour MPs Gloria De Piero and Jon Ashworth wrote in the Times after the election:

“In the election, it looked like – so far as Labour was concerned – aspiration was just about going to university, hence our promise to cut tuition fees. But aspiration is also finding your children a place in a good school; getting your foot on the housing ladder; or starting a business or learning a new trade. These are becoming harder not easier, but Labour was not talking enough about them, let alone persuading people we had the answers.”

A country with a large group of strivers, but also decent pay and status for those who stay put and do basic jobs, is something that is becoming harder to achieve – both financially and psychologically – as the labour market and the education system increasingly divide into insiders (mobile professionals/graduates) and outsiders (immobile people without A-levels doing often basic jobs).

This is a problem for all advanced countriesand for all political parties, but Labour should have made this aspect of inequality central to its story instead of fixating on the super-rich.

It is, however, no use just having the right policies to connect the aspirational and the left-behind.

In several areas, such as welfare and immigration, Labour did have quite socially conservative policies – milder versions of the Tories’ own policies – but did not really believe in them or embody them.

Embodiment is vital in today’s politics.

As left v right arguments become more blurred, Labour needs a leader and a critical mass of activists who can embody social democracy with a provincial, socially conservative accent.

The election was a decisive vote against metropolitan liberalism – against mass immigration, further European integration, and the high-churn society that discomforts so many people.

It was also a vote against London – the city that most represents those things. United against it were not just SNP and Ukip voters but many Tory and Labour ones. Yet London is Labour’s new heartland.

There has recently been much use of the famous Bertolt Brecht quote about dissolving the people and electing another.

Labour has to do something similar – if not dissolve its current membership, then at least find a new set of leaders who connect culturally with the country it aspires to rule.


But did the metropolitan liberal elite hold every seat in County Durham? Did it deliver 81.3 per cent of the vote at Liverpool Walton, 78.12 per cent at Knowsley, 75.57 per cent at Liverpool West Derby, or 74.46 per cent at Bootle?

Few of the Labour-voting 77.57 per cent at East Ham will have identified, or will have been identified, as belonging to any liberal elite. Had they been so identifiable, then they might not have voted in such huge numbers, and not for the first time, for Stephen Timms.

And why does anyone even bother to mention UKIP after it went from two seats to one and began a very public falling apart, reduced to staging stunts with Harry Cole and suspiciously rapid policemen in order to gain attention?

That said, yes.

This Moral and Historical Outrage

Ian Sinclair writes:

They must have known, mustn’t they? How could they not? Perhaps they chose not to know.

With the world commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi-run death camps the question of what ordinary Germans knew (and did) about the genocide their government was perpetrating has once again been in the news.

Of course, the assumption behind much of the coverage of the liberation of Belsen and other camps is that we, living enlightened lives in contemporary Britain, are lucky to live in a society where horrendous crimes do not happen.

And if they did, they would be quickly reported by our free and stroppy media and quickly halted.

But what if our own government has been responsible for genocide-level suffering, without the media raising the alarm and therefore leaving the general public in a state of ignorance?

What would this say about our political class? What would it say about the media? And what would it say about us?

Unfortunately this isn’t a hypothetical debate but the cold, brutal reality.

To understand this distressing fact we need to return to February 1991 when the US-led coalition kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, which it had illegally invaded in August 1990.

According to John Hoskins, a Canadian doctor leading a Harvard study team, the US-led air assault “effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq — electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and healthcare.”

Purportedly to compel Saddam Hussein’s government to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, which lasted until the 2003 invasion.

The sanctions regime was enforced by the US and Britain which took the toughest line on compliance.

“No country had ever been subjected to more comprehensive economic sanctions by the United Nations than Iraq,” notes Hans Von Sponeck, the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in his 2006 book A Different Kind of War.

“Communicable diseases in the 1980s not considered public health hazards, such as measles, polio, cholera, typhoid, marasmus and kwashiorkor, reappeared on epidemic scales.”

In 1999 the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died because of a lack of medication, food or safe water supplies.

To counter some of the worst effects of sanctions, in 1996 the UN set up the Oil-For-Food Programme, which allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for food, medicine and other goods.

However, the programme was far from adequate.

“At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food Programme”, Von Sponeck notes in his book.

In 1998/99, each Iraqi received a food allocation of $49 (£32) — 27 (19p) cents a day – for a six month period. In contrast, the dogs the UN used to help de-mine Iraq each received a food allocation of $160.

In protest at what 70 members of the US congress called “infanticide masquerading as policy,” Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq who ran the sanctions regime, resigned in 1998.

Noting the sanctions were causing the deaths of up to 5,000 children a month, Halliday bluntly stated:

“We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”

Speaking to journalist John Pilger, Halliday later explained:

“I was instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide — a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

Halliday’s successor Von Sponeck resigned in protest two years later, asking in his resignation letter:

“How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?”

Later he told Pilger: “I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

Making a hat-trick, Jutta Burghardt, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq, resigned two days after Von Sponeck, describing the sanctions regime as “a true humanitarian tragedy.”

With a few honourable exceptions such as Pilger, Tony Benn and George Galloway, the response of the British political class and media was either to ignore or dismiss the fact sanctions were killing Iraqis on a mass scale.

According to the media watchdog Media Lens, in 2003 Halliday was mentioned in just two of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq. 

Von Sponeck was mentioned a grand total of five times in the same year.

Von Sponeck’s book on the sanctions has never been reviewed in the British press, and has been mentioned just once — by the veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk.

Echoing the denials of new Labour ministers such as Peter Hain and Robin Cook, in 2002 Observer Editor Roger Alton responded to a reader challenging him about the sanctions, stating: “It’s Saddam who’s killing all the bloody children, not sanctions. Sorry.”

The highly respected Middle East specialist Professor Fred Halliday was equally dismissive, rubbishing “claims that Iraq still lacks the means to provide a basic supply of food” in a book review in the Independent in 1999.

The governing elite, assisted by a pliant media and the silence of much of academia, have carried out a magic trick of epic, sinister proportions.

In a world of 24-hour news culture they have effectively managed to bury the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a direct result of British foreign policy.

The lack of coverage, concern or discussion today about the sanctions shows how shockingly successful they have been in this endeavour.

As Harold Pinter sarcastically noted in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

No conspiracy is needed.

“The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban,” George Orwell argued in his censored preface to Animal Farm.

He provides two reasons for thought control in democratic society — first, the owners of the British press, socially, politically and economically part of the governing elite, “have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.”

And second, he explains:

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it.”

As always, it’s up to those who care about the lives of people regardless of their nationality or skin colour, who care about truth, who take their responsibility as world citizens seriously, to raise their voice and remember this moral and historical outrage.


Being the new word for what is going on there.

The District of Tendring includes Clacton-on-Sea, and the 22-strong UKIP Group on that Council has split between nine "Tendring UKIP" or "TenUKIP" supporters of Douglas Carswell who seek closer ties with the 23 Conservatives, and 13 Farage loyalists who will be having none of that.

With its already meagre Commons representation cut in half as David Cameron secured an overall majority, UKIP is falling to pieces before our very eyes.

Carswell's creation of a separate Group of his own acolytes on the District Council covering his constituency makes his departure from the party, and thus the party's departure from the Commons, not only inevitable, but imminent.

Carswell is the caution held up before the eyes of the Conservative Right. Do as you are told, or you will end up like him.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Turn Again?

I am quite disappointed that George Galloway is standing for Mayor of London.

I had been hoping that the first visit to the present Parliament from the Grim Reaper or the Old Bill would result in a by-election at which Galloway, Ed Balls, Esther McVey, Vince Cable, Natalie Bennett and Nigel Farage were all candidates.

Galloway will be a genuine miss from the Commons on the day of the Chilcot Report. He will be on Newsnight and on the following morning's Today programme. But even so.

Still, the two much younger Muslim women who have at different times removed him from Parliament, Rushanara Ali and Naz Shah, ought to seize that opportunity to step up.

I remember him when he was undeniably very controversial, but he was not ridiculous.

Meanwhile, can someone please explain how the 67-year-old Derek Hatton is still a figure of the slightest controversy? Will everyone who seeks to join Labour after having been a Lib Dem throughout the lifetime of the recent Coalition be treated in this way? Or after having been a Conservative? Or after having been a Conservative into this Parliament, perhaps even as a Member of that Parliament?

At A Cost

Neil Clark makes a powerful case that the Queen's Speech seeks to complete and surpass Thatcherism on anti-trade union legislation, the selling off of social housing, the tax lock that will leave no way of reducing the deficit except by cuts to the provisions on which the ordinary and the vulnerable depend, the unwanted extension to GP surgeries of Thatcher's and Major's transformation of Sunday into just another shopping day, the consequent creation of a "need" for private companies to step in and take over, and the chilling Extremism Bill and Investigatory Powers Bill.

As Neil puts it, "We can be sure two neocons arguing for the bombing of Iran won't be called 'extremist content' — and that this new measure, if passed, will be deployed against foreign-owned television stations that challenge the dominant Establishment narrative."

He concludes, "We've been left with a government that doesn't run the railways, or own our airports, but which wants to spy on us and criminalize those who express the 'wrong' views. The old Thatcherite argument that greater economic freedom means greater personal freedoms has proved to be false, as the Queen's Speech clearly demonstrates."

But hope springs eternal.

Jonathan Ashworth reminds us that the Government only needs nine rebels in its own party in order for it to be defeated.

"In the last Parliament, government MPs rebelled in 35 per cent of divisions. In those votes where the opposition defeated the government we won often because Tory MPs – many of whom have just been re-elected to the Commons – routinely voted against their own side.


"In the last Parliament four Tories voted against boundary change while another seven were absent while 51 MPs rebelled on the EU budget debate. On the PubCo vote, 17 Tories broke ranks to vote against their own government, while on their final defeat of the last Parliament, that shabby last-minute coup to oust Speaker Bercow, 16 Tories rebelled and voted with Labour and other Opposition MPs.

"Tory whips will be hoping that their slender majority will instil some discipline. Far from it – already we’re seeing Tory MPs squabbling over the abolition of the Human Rights Act [dropped, in fact, because there was no possibility of a Commons majority for it], over boundary reform and the EU referendum. David Cameron's authority in the Commons will become more and more precarious with every reshuffle that passes over increasingly truculent backbenchers."

Jon concludes:

"It is entirely feasible that the Tories could win the support of the Liberal Democrats, Unionists, UKIP or, when they eventually grow tired of trying to stop Dennis Skinner sitting in his usual place, the SNP – but every vote bargained for comes at a cost.

"David Cameron should enjoy his glass of claret today. But for the man who spent an election campaign shouting "chaos" in every stump speech he gave, I suspect in this Parliament that's exactly what he’s going to get."

Moreover, with the Human Rights Act still in force, any attempt to enforce the anti-strike aspects of the Trade Union Bill in any specific case would never stand up in court even in the wildly unlikely case that the Tory-hating Police might ever seek to give them any effect, while the much-mocked Ed Miliband has already rendered redundant the parts relating to Labour Party funding, with the impending Leadership and Deputy Leadership Elections to be conducted according to a system that has been reformed far beyond the legislative aspirations of David Cameron.

Terms and Conditions

On today's Daily Politics, even Tristram Hunt would not say whether or not Labour would campaign for a Yes vote.

It would depend on the terms. The terms agreed by David Cameron.

This referendum would be on Cameron's renegotiated terms. The 1970s Eurovision dream is dead.


Restraining Influence

Michael Meacher writes:

The latest figures on executive pay are so preposterous that they should provoke uproar.

It is now largely hidden from public scrutiny but an example recently published concerns Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, who was given a total remuneration package of $15.2m in 2014: his basic salary was ‘only’ $1.8m, but his deferred bonus and other share awards totalled $9.8m, up 64%.

It is through devices such as these that pay at the top in business has escalated into the stratosphere in the last two or three decades.

Chief executives at the biggest UK companies, according to Incomes Data Services, took home 120 times more last year than their full-time employees, yet in 2000, just 14 years earlier, they received 47 times more.

In the US it is even more extreme: between 1978-2013 the remuneration of chief executives rose 937%, more than double the level of stock market growth, and enormously more than the 10.2% increase in the average US worker’s pay over the same period.

All the devices used to restrain executive pay have failed abjectly.

Partly this is because their remuneration has become overly complex, with too many cash and share-based awards, long and short-term targets, and a profusion of measures of success, ranging from earnings per share to total shareholder return to return on equity.

Share options were supposed to ensure that managers were incentivised to make shares perform well over a long period.

But too many executives sold their shares as soon as they exercised the options, thus encouraging excessive risk-taking as executives tried to boost the share price when the options cam due.

Disclosure of top pay also had the unintended effect that it ratcheted up remuneration levels as chief executives demanded that their pay be competitive with their peers.

It wasn’t really about money, but rather the status.

And consultants hired to tell remuneration committees what best practice was elsewhere only produced greater complexity and opaqueness.

Even non-binding ‘say on pay’ votes in the US and Vince Cable’s binding 3-yearly votes on pay policy in the UK has had little or no effect, despite sporadic shareholder revolts.

It is said that business leadership has become an international market and that globe-trotting chief executives deserve far more than sports and entertainment stars.

But the latter’s rewards are not determined by a committee of their peers who, like those whose pay they decide, are part of the corporate elite.

Footballers’ and rock stars’ pay is determined by the stadiums they fill and the albums they sell.

The same principle can be argued that employees as well as shareholders should have a direct say in determining their bosses’ pay, and the restraining influence would be a lot more effective than any formula tinkering by the chief exec’s chums.

At Community

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the Community trade union, writes:

David Cameron went all out at his first cabinet meeting this month to portray the Conservative party as the ‘real party of working people’.

Yet the first act of this government, shown in the queen’s speech, is to restrict the rights of working people and bring in the most regressive union laws in Europe.

This is true blue, not blue collar.

I say it is not on the side of working people to threaten the United Kingdoms’s membership of the European Union [well, we shall have to see the terms that Cameron brings back], or to abolish the Human Rights Act [he has dropped that one, anyway].

Most of all, it is without doubt against working people to deny them action when they face job insecurity, weaker terms and conditions, or lower pay.

Under these new laws, strikes affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would have to be supported by 40 per cent of union members and for all other sectors, industrial action ballots would be required to return a 50 per cent response of all eligible union members.

At Community, we believe that the right to strike should be used as a last resort.

Working in constructive partnerships with good employers to negotiate terms and conditions is always preferable.

It means that the employer is more likely to be upfront about their thinking and have open discussions with us.

It means we are round the table to negotiate change in the best interests of our members.

But there are always occasions when an employer refuses to negotiate further or simply tries to impose its will and we have no option but to ballot our members for industrial action.

It is those employers that will benefit from these new laws.

Not the ones that already treat their staff well or employ decent and fair terms and conditions, but the ones who get away with it.

The bad employers will exploit these new laws to get away with even more.

And on those occasions, when there is no other option than to withdraw labour, when our members are otherwise powerless and in some cases potentially jobless, it is our legitimate right to do so.

These back door moves are despite trade unions calling for measures to enable us to return higher turnouts. The trade union movement has for many years called for electronic voting.

The Tories do not want greater participation as they say. If they did they would allow us to modernise and update our the way union members can express their views.

The Tories should not be allowed to dominate the discussion on what is ‘legitimate’, particularly when they do not even reach the thresholds themselves that they are enforcing on the working public.

They won 37 per cent of votes cast, but only 26 per cent of registered voters. Who then is illegitimate?

That is a double standard that people should not stand for.

The Blood From His Hands

Robert Fisk writes:

Tony Blair’s time as Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU has finally come to an end.

Eight years after he took up the role, Blair tendered his resignation and left one question: how come a war criminal ever became a “peace envoy” in the first place?

The people of the Middle East – and much of the world – have been asking this question ever since Blair was appointed the Quartet’s man in Jerusalem, solemnly and hopelessly tasked to bring “peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

Was his new mission supposed to wash the blood from his hands after the catastrophe of the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as a result?

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – Blair’s appointment was an insult.

The man who never said he was sorry for his political disaster simply turned up in Jerusalem four years later and, with a team which spent millions in accommodation and air fares, managed to accomplish absolutely nothing in the near-decade that followed.

Blair appeared indifferent to the massive suffering of the Palestinians – he was clearly impotent in preventing it – and spent much of his time away from the tragedy of the Middle East, advising the great and the good and a clutch of Muslim dictators, and telling the world – to Israel’s satisfaction – of the dangers represented by Iran.

The more prescient he thought he was, the more irrelevant he became in the eyes of the region he was sent to protect.

A Blair supporter once defended him on Channel 4 by recalling how he had travelled to the Middle East almost 100 times – without realising the essential irony: that Blair abandoned the region almost 100 times for more rewarding destinations.

Blair was supposed to produce more than the easy panaceas that slipped from his lips, the most outrageous of which was his contention that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be easier than ending the Northern Ireland crisis.

But the Palestinians have much more in common with the Irish Catholics cleansed from their lands by the Protestant planters of the 17th century than with the pitiful historical battle in the province, whose resolution proved to be Blair’s only lasting accomplishment.

If only he had resigned more than two years ago, after Palestinian leaders had themselves characterised his job as “useless, useless, useless”.

Israel, of course, would never have described him as this.

Stoutly condemning the campaign for Israel’s “delegitimisation”, Blair talked about this as a form of bias which was “an affront to humanity” – a choice of words he never used about the massive civilian casualties inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians of Gaza.

The Arabs will now wait to see if the Quartet will repeat its folly by appointing an even more unsuitable candidate – a truly difficult task – although many in the region think the whole panjandrum must be abandoned.

Eight years ago, there just might have been the slimmest chance of bringing a Palestinian state into being.

Today there is none.

A More Sustainable Relationship

Oliver MacArthur writes:

Since the global financial crisis, the media regularly accuses the financial industry of placing profits before people.

In the face of this criticism, the finance sector has continued to innovate and socially conscious investors have demanded new investment products that explicitly consider environmental, social and governance impacts.

Social impact investment provides a great opportunity to change society for the better by combining financial sustainability and investment returns with explicit positive social outcomes.

Social investments and the social enterprises they support deliver benefits to the disadvantaged and actively seek to employ the socially and economically marginalised, including ex-offenders, the long-term unemployed and disabled people.

At a recent interactive policy discussion held by the Young Fabians Finance Network, attendees came together to discuss how the finance sector could help to solve social problems.

It was argued that social investments, business collaboration with charities and greater transparency in pension investment were important to help achieve these goals.

The panelists included Lord Andrew Adonis and senior figures from Big Society Capital and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment; this was the first in a series of events within 2015 to promote the role of finance and business in delivering greater social returns.

In recent years, the coalition government has been leading the way in the development of responsible investment solutions and social investment with the launch of Big Society Capital in April 2012.

More recently in the chancellors budget, the Cabinet Office announced the launch of seven new social impact bonds with a focus on, disadvantaged young people and those with long-term mental illnesses.

Alongside the focus on social impact bonds, the government has also announced the creation of the Access Foundation.

Described as a sister organisation to Big Society Capital, the charity has been given £100m of funding to support capacity building initiatives to help charities and social enterprises to access social investment.

However, the growing policy momentum surrounding social investment has been met with caution and criticism.

Some quarters of the left may suspect that social investment is a stalking horse, and hidden amongst its ‘social innovation’ is a veiled mechanism for the withdrawal of the state from the provision of public services.

This is wrong – no party has the monopoly on good ideas and social investment should be viewed as a complement not a replacement to traditional state-led interventions.

As a result, financial sustainability, profits and social justice are not diametrically opposed but partners in progress.

Whilst the values of fostering strong communities, social justice and decency are perpetual, the methods must continue to change and adapt in a dynamic and ever-changing country.

In a recent study of the asset management industry, the professional services firm PwC estimated that worldwide assets under management by investment firms would exceed USD $100 trillion by 2020.

Given this enormous amount of capital is due to be committed to the financial markets, it is clear that even a few basis points of this figure dedicated to social investment will have a material and positive impact in our communities.

Following the unfortunate results for Labour in the recent general election, it is essential to put forward new ideas and challenge old certainties.

A renewed enthusiasm for social investment would be a natural extension to the Labour narrative on responsible capitalism and these innovative methods can help foster a more sustainable relationship with enterprise and wider society.

Whilst social investment is not the silver bullet to the problems of poverty and deprivation, it would be unwise to underestimate its power to help build a better Britain.

Rich Man, Poor Man: Two Nations

Prem Sikka writes:

The Queen’s Speech has launched the new Conservative government’s policies.

Prime Minister David Cameron described the legislative programme as ‘the bold first step of a one nation government … for working people that will bring our country together’.

So what are the policies?

The government will legislate so that people working 30 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage will not pay income tax.

In addition, there will be no rises in Income Tax rates, Value Added Tax (VAT) or National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for the next five years.

A related government press release says that annual income tax personal allowance will increase from the current rate of £10,600 to £12,500 by 2020.

The above sounds populist but the details are not what they seem.

The current minimum wage of £6.50 per hour is due to rise to £6.70 per hour from October 2015.

Anyone working a 37 hours a week would earn about £13,000 a year, not enough to survive, but would still be liable to income tax and NIC.

There is no commitment to a living wage.

The higher tax-free personal allowances may help the middle-classes, but will do nothing for 44 per cent of adults, including pensioners, whose income is already too low to pay any income tax.

The freezing of the top marginal rate of income tax, currently 45 per cent, would no doubt be welcomed by wealthy elites and will do nothing to reduce inequalities.

The poor pay VAT at 20 per cent, the same rate as the rich.

The most recent government statistics show that the poorest 10 per cent of households pay nearly 47 per cent of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes, whilst the richest 10 per cent pay 35 per cent of their income in taxes.

The freezing of VAT means that the poorest would continue to be subjected to a regressive tax.

The doubling of free childcare to 30 hours a week for three-and-four-year-olds would be welcomed by many, but leaves a vacuum either side of those ages.

The new provisions are to be partly funded by a reduction in the tax relief on pension contributions by those earning £150,000 or more, but precise details are not yet known.

Local authorities will bear the brunt of the costs and have complained that the existing scheme is chronically underfunded.

This forces the local ratepayers to absorb the cost.

No doubt, local authorities would carefully scrutinise the new funding settlement which could burden local residents even more.

The Conservative manifesto had promised to raise at least £5 billion a year from a clampdown on tax avoidance, but the Queen’s Speech was silent on this.

In the 2010-2015 parliaments, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee produced six reports on organised tax avoidance and urged the government to punish the designers and marketers of the schemes (big accountancy firms).

Such matters do not appear to be on the government’s agenda.

The government is committed to reducing public expenditure by £12 billion a year.

The first target is to reduce household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000. Charities have said that this would hurt families with young children, especially those living in major cities.

During parliamentary exchanges, the government was supported by acting Labour leader Harriet Harman who said that she was ‘sympathetic’ to the cap as long as ‘this doesn’t put children into poverty, increase homelessness, or end up costing more than it saves.’

There is no commitment to control house rental costs.

The UK workers’ share of the gross domestic product has declined to 50.5 per cent (see Table D), compared to 65.1 per cent in 1976. This is the lowest ever recorded.

A major reason for this is weakness of institutions that can support workers claims for a higher share of the wealth.

In the absence of workplace democracy, such as the employee directors that Germany and Scandinavian countries have, the only effective tool available to workers is to withdraw their labour and bring intransigent employers to the negotiating table.

The law already requires compulsory balloting of trade union members for strikes.

However, a new Trade Union Bill would require a 50 per cent voting threshold for union strike ballots, and additionally 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must back action in essential public services.

In contrast, there are no constraints on the withdrawal of capital.

Companies, even those funded by taxpayers, can shift production, fire employees and dilute pension rights without any ballot of shareholders, employees, local communities, creditors or taxpayers.

Contrary to the spin, it is hard to see the legislative programme as the policies of a one nation government.

The government is pursuing partisan policies that will do nothing to tackle poverty and inequality, or promote social justice.