Sunday 11 December 2022

Serious and Persistent

The Financial Conduct Authority, which it takes an awful lot to wake up, fined the British arm of Santander almost £108 million for "serious and persistent gaps" in its measures against money laundering. The Senior Managers and Certification Regime turned out to be no regime at all. And bang on cue, Jeremy Hunt proposed yet further deregulation of the banking sector. Right at the time that Rishi Sunak was proposing yet further anti-trade union legislation, and the useless Official Opposition was refusing to commit to repealing it, meaning that there will presumably be no Labour whip to vote against it. Wes Streeting is promising to go even harder against the unions in the National Health Service that he openly intended to privatise. No trade union should still be funding the Labour Party. We need to mount serious challenges for leadership positions at the earliest opportunities.

Incorporated into British law as Tony Blair's Human Rights Act, David Maxwell Fyfe's European Convention on Human Rights is proving as useless as ever, precisely as was intended in May 1948 by the attendees at Winston Churchill's pompously self-styled Congress of Europe. Subscription to the ECHR is a condition of membership of the European Union that Maxwell Fyfe had wanted Britain to join at the start, and the EU, too, has never been either any kind of bulwark against Thatcherism, nor any kind of force for peace. Which privatisation did the EU prevent? Which dock, factory, steelworks, shipyard or mine did the EU save? Did the EU prevent the war in Northern Ireland? Or in Yugoslavia? Or, from 2014 onwards, in Ukraine? And how did workers' rights in the Britain of 1972 compare to those in the Britain of 2016? 

Still, the debate is now open. Therefore, let it be joined in earnest. We need to build on the statutory right of every worker to join a trade union and to have that trade union recognised for collective bargaining purposes, by giving every trade unionist so recognised the statutory right to take industrial action. Including strike action, and including solidarity action of a clearly secondary character, such as a work to rule in support of a strike, within a single industry or corporation. All of this would be considered utterly moderate, if there can be such a thing, in economically successful countries. There has been only one entirely political strike, with no industrial aspect whatever, in the history of the United Kingdom. It took place between 15th and 28th May 1974, and, in its own terms, it was a complete success. Jeremy Corbyn would not have approved of it, and no doubt did not. The people behind it kept the Conservative Party in power from 2017 to 2019.

Withdrawal from the EU, including from the Single Market and the Customs Union, provides a double opportunity, both to reorganise the British economy under State direction, and to begin to develop a fully independent British foreign policy, including in relation to the United States. On that basis, Britain could be entering a new pro-business age. The pro-business tradition came down to the Attlee Government from the ultraconservative figures of Colbert and Bismarck, via the Liberals Keynes and Beveridge, and it held sway in Britain until the Callaghan Government's turn to monetarism in December 1976. That tradition corresponds closely but critically to the Hamiltonian American School as expanded by the American System of Henry Clay, a pro-business tradition that between the 1860s and the 1970s worked to make the United States the world's largest economy, with the world's highest standard of living, culminating in the glorious achievements of the New Deal, which in turn made possible the Civil Rights movement.

With a strict division between investment banking and retail banking, large amounts of central government credit, over a long term and at low if any rates of interest, would build great national projects, notably enormous expansions in infrastructure. Those would then pay for themselves many times over, ably assisted by pro-business tariffs and subsidies, and by a pro-business National Bank to promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation. A sovereign state with its own free floating, fiat currency has as much of that currency as it chooses to issue to itself, with readily available fiscal and monetary means of controlling any inflationary effect. Those means therefore require to be under democratic political control.

For the good of business, we should implement Theresa May's original Prime Ministerial agenda of workers' and consumers' representation in corporate governance, shareholders' control over executive pay, restrictions on pay differentials within companies, an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme including greatly increased housebuilding, action against tax avoidance including a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, a real cap on energy prices, a ban or significant restrictions on foreign takeovers, a ban on unpaid internships, and an inquiry into Orgreave.

For the good of business, the approval of the House of Commons should be required for changes to interest rates, a strict Glass-Steagall division should be introduced between investment banking and retail banking, the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to the City of London, its municipal franchise should be conformed to that of local government in general, all tax havens under British jurisdiction should be closed, non-domiciled tax status should be abolished, the Big Four accounting firms should be broken up, auditors should be banned by Statute from selling extras, they should have unlimited liability, Crown immunity should be abolished, and Limited Partnerships and Limited Liability Partnerships should be required to have at least one member who was a natural person resident in the United Kingdom.

For the good of business, the State should buy a stake in every FTSE 500 company, large enough to secure Board-level representation, for the exercise of which both the First and the Second Lords of the Treasury would be accountable to the House of Commons, so that after any investment in public services, the dividends would be distributed equally to everyone by the Treasury. And for the good of business, public bodies and public contractors should be required by Statute to buy British wherever possible and to buy local wherever possible, while employment rights should begin with employment and apply regardless of the number of hours worked, leading to a four-day working week as soon as practicable.

This programme is far from exhaustive, and it would be hugely popular. Yet instead, Streeting has once again declared the Labour Party to be the political wing of this country's infinitesimal private health sector, which is a major donor to him. Only trade unions give money to politicians and a political party in return for absolutely nothing. Everyone else buys something specific for each and every penny, and Streeting is giving private health its money's worth.

Since 2010, private sector involvement in the NHS has gone up by 93 per cent, and waiting lists by 200 per cent. But we should not blame Streeting for his advocacy of yet further NHS privatisation. It did not start in 2010. It started in 1997. NHS privatisation in England, though tellingly nowhere else, was the signature domestic policy of the only Labour Government in the lifetimes of more than half the population. Before then, the very concept of it had been confined to the outer fringes of the think tank circuit.

New Labour, eh? Well, yes and no. Before Streeting was born, and beginning in the month of my conception, the last Labour Government before 1997 had imported the monetarism of Pinochet's Chile. Margaret Thatcher's sex was the only notable thing about the result of the General Election in 1979. There was no ideological shift. That had happened in December 1976. For 71 years and counting, the Labour Party has dined out on a mere six years that did not impress the electorate at the time. It is true that Churchill lost the 1945 Election while the War was still going on, that he lost again in 1950, that he barely scraped a victory in 1951 having lost the popular vote, and that his own party had to remove him before the one in 1955. But it is equally true that once the Attlee Government had a record on which to be judged, then it was barely reelected in 1950, and it lost office in 1951.

At the heart of its myth is the NHS. But even that had been in all three manifestos in 1945, so that it would have happened anyway. The Conservatives who voted against the legislation on technicalities never had any intention of repealing it, and in the 1950s they never did. It was rather more recently that the process of privatising the NHS, but only in England, was begun by Blair, Alan Milburn and Paul Corrigan, when Labour had an overall majority of 179. Streeting is in that tradition, and why not? Just so long as the rest of us do not have to vote for the party that would make him Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. We need to make our own arrangements instead.

Loony Right hegemony is not inevitable. Following the election of Stephen Flynn as Leader of the SNP at Westminster, Stewart McDonald has resigned as the Spokesperson for Defence. Ferociously pro-NATO and so spooky that he is even allowed on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on which Graham Stringer would seem to be the token non-spook, McDonald is a supporter of the discredited neoconservative propaganda site, Bellingcat. He is even a donor to it. In September 2020, The National, which is for all practical purposes an official publication of the SNP, reported that McDonald had promised an independent Scotland a Navy larger than the Royal Navy. That would have been perfectly possible, at least in terms of manpower. At that time, there were 32,760 Regulars, 3870 people in the Maritime Reserve, and 7960 in the Royal Fleet Reserve. Scotland could easily have found more than 44,590 Naval personnel. It still could. If it conscripted them. Pointedly out of loyalty to Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford, the man who had threatened that has resigned his frontbench position. Loony Right hegemony is not inevitable.

Remember that as you observed the sorry spectacle of a Labour Party whose only policies were the privatisation of the NHS in England, the maintenance of whatever anti-union laws that the Government might have imposed, a ban on Virtual Private Networks, and the implementation of a 40-point plan for constitutional change, cake-icingly written by Gordon Brown. Try and contain your excitement that, almost entirely in pursuit of that plan, Keir Starmer's Cabinet would itself contain both of the Balls-Coopers and both of the Miliband brothers. And for what? To enrich and empower yet further the culturally Nationalist Scottish nomenklatura, the crachach, the hard men of Ulster Protestantism, the IRA, the Tory county set, and the right-wing Labour municipal machine. As well as running their bailiwicks with little or no accountability, those are to determine the composition of a second chamber relations between which and the House of Commons would be adjudicated by a Supreme Court that would be made Supreme over Parliament itself. That chamber would differ from the House of Lords mostly in having lost the Crossbenchers and the strong trade unionists while having gained, if that is the word, the Scottish Nationalists who currently declined peerages and the Irish Republicans who were presumably not offered them.

Anyone expecting Labour to impose VAT on private school fees, which is in any case a questionable idea, need look no further than yesterday's carefully arranged selection for the target seat of Lincoln, to which he had no previous connection, of one Hamish Falconer. 25 years ago, his father, Charlie Falconer, applied for the safe Labour seat of Dudley North, but he was rebuffed because he refused to take his children out of private school. His old flatmate, Blair, gave him a peerage and put him in the Cabinet, anyway. He remains a Shadow Minister to this day. And here we are. Meanwhile, Starmer's union-busting financial base for his party, such as that base is, makes the abolition of non-dom status no more likely than the taxation of school fees. Just in case, since Starmer is a highly inexperienced politician, David Miliband is being bought back, to wait in the wings. He is on hand lest anyone ask who had authorised the deployment of American-made drones to bomb a nuclear weapons facility in Russia, further from Moscow than Moscow was from the Ukrainian border. He would also have been so in case Starmer might have realised that trade unionists were as British as anyone else, making the "Which side are you on?" question as pertinent to the Conservatives as it was to Labour, but there is no risk of that.

In three years, Labour has gone from a long list of fully costed policies, including the universal free broadband that will be introduced in numerous comparable countries well within the next 10 years, to wanting to ban VPNs, thereby proving that it had no idea what they were. Mercifully, Labour's poll lead is down to nine points, with two more years to go before the next General Election. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.