Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘anti-capitalism’

THE TRASHING OF YORKLEY COURT FARM

In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.

SUPPORT:

Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.

WHAT NEXT?

At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


WHO’S BRIAN BENNETT?

BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).

BENNETT INTERESTS:

Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.

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MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The dwindling world of local newspapers

dinosaurWhat’s been happening in the world of local newspapers? Once they were the lifeblood of their communities. The means whereby folk found out what was going on, or kept in touch. They were the local heartbeat.

But sadly no more. Over the past few years they have been going down like ninepins. Many long established papers have folded, others have been sold on. Some local dailies have even found themselves relegated to weekly publication.

There’s one simple reason. They’re no longer as profitable as they used to be. Once they could be a licence to print money. Advertising poured into their columns. But no more. That precious revenue is going elsewhere – and some like the Daily Mail group (which owned amongst many other titles, the Gloucester Citizen), started to cut back. There were rumours that the Citizen was to be put up for sale. But then finally three years ago it passed to consortium called “Local World”, in which the Daily Mail still kept an interest.

 

But cutbacks have been made. Local news coverage has been pruned, to the point that the Forest now only has a couple or so pages of coverage once a week. Local columnists have all but disappeared.

In more confident times, the Citizen had taken over our own local weekly, the Forester – once a broadsheet owned by the Bright family. Later, as profits started to shrink, it was sold on, to the Tindle group (which owns our weekly freebie, the Review).

Now, though, more change seems to be afoot in the consortium that controls Local World. As we on the Clarion slowly go to press the news is that the Trinity Mirror group is to buy (possibly) a controlling interest in the Local World group.

Well, at least it isn’t Rupert Murdoch.

A special prize for dictators?

Who’d have thought it? A small news item caught my eye which stated that this year’s “Confucius Prize” (described as China’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize) has been awarded to… wait for it … Robert Mugabe.

I just wondered what the qualifications were to win what I presume is regarded as such a prestigious award? Longevity, perhaps? I’m sure Confucius would have had something pithy to say about it.

Tough being rich:

What is it with money for some people? That inner drive to accumulate more and more millions despite the fact that you end up with far more than you could ever spend in one lifetime?

Something like one per cent of the population now have more dosh than most of the rest of us put together. Yes, I know, most of us would like a bit more cash to ensure the security of a decent home, enough to spend on food, clothing, and what I believe are called utilities. With, of course, some extra for such things as holidays or leisure activities. But most of us don’t really hanker after the millions that pour into the coffers of the uber-rich. Do we?

But it seems that even these multi-millionaires have their problems. Call it conscience, if you like. Many have become aware of their privileged position and have become troubled by it.

Well, fear not. There are now psychologists who are only too happy to offer therapy, counselling, and the whole package, to help such people get over their guilt. (Or as it’s now labelled, “wealth fatigue syndrome”). At a price naturally.

Of course there’s one simple solution to the problem. Give all your surplus millions away. Try indulging in a bit of wealth re-distribution. I expect there are plenty of accountants willing to help out, and I’m sure the wealthy can afford the fees.

Meanwhile I can rest assured knowing that whatever problems I may have, at least I don’t suffer from “wealth fatigue syndrome”. If only.

Dinosaur

REVIEW: A MASTER CLASS IN ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS

In John Wilmot, Reviews on December 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm

The Global Minotaur, by Yanis Varoufakis – with a foreword by Paul Mason. Published by Zed Books.

This is an updated edition (brought out, I suspect with the Greek financial crisis in mind) of a book first published in 2011. The author is an economist of world repute. He has taught in numerous universities in the UK and became an MP for the Syriza party in Greece. On its rise to power he was appointed Minister of Finance.
When the crisis occurred, and the Government finally bowed to pressure from the IMF, Varoufakis parted company with his party – and the deal that was imposed over his head.
Now, any book on economics poses difficulties for the lay reader – and I’m no exception. There’s the terminology used by economists for a start. And this volume, by necessity, is quite dense.
But Yanis Varoufakis writes well, and has a lively turn of phrase which helps the reader over the difficult bits. He has been described as an “opponent of austerity”, which is true – but he’s more than this. He can also be described as a critic of capitalism, noting its lurches from boom to slump – a pattern that can be traced back to its birth when it replaced the old feudal order.
Some slumps, he suggests, are major, like those of 1929 and more recently that of 2008 – capable of turning the established order on its head. But he mentions other lesser slumps – such as that of 1847 in Britain. It ended the railway boom abruptly with  stocks and shares going into a nosedive, and a consequential collapse in a number of banks.
In 1873 there was a similar crisis in the USA, again caused by a stock market collapse in railway shares. This led to a six year depression.
THE WALL STREET CRASH:
Fast forward to the roaring ‘twenties and we see the great crash of 1929. By the end of the year, 40 billion dollars had been wiped out on Wall Street, and banks went to the wall. In America 2,293 of them closed permanently. The crisis went global, reaching Europe like a financial plague, affecting heavy industry and the financial markets alike. The “Gold Standard”, which was meant to regulate commerce and the relationship between currencies, collapsed. Despite the good intentions of the “New Deal” in the USA, it took the Second World War to lift the economy out of slump.
At the end of  the war came the Bretton Woods talks, with the USA now the dominant economic power. With the Gold Standard now dead in the water, American economists brought in a new plan to replace it with the US dollar. The “yankee dollar” was to become the currency on which the capitalist world relied. And so it was to remain until the economic collapse of 1971.
2008:
We remember the crash of 2008, of course. Much of the population of Europe and the USA are still feeling the effects. This was another collapse caused by bankers’ greed and lack of foresight. According to Varoufakis, it saw the banking industry go into damage control mode, “desperately trying to stem the popular demand for stringent regulation of their institutions.”
Their argument was that too much regulation would “stifle financial innovation”. As if this “innovation” hadn’t already caused enough damage!  Of course we’re all aware of who’s been responsible for the crash seven years ago. In popular parlance it was the “greedy bankers”, paying themselves massive bonuses regardless of whether the economy or their own part in it warranted these pay-outs.
In Britain of course the “damage control” (sic) worked. Banks continued to operate without the regulation needed to keep them in line, and the champagne continued to flow. A few heads rolled and then it was back to business as usual. Big bonuses are still paid out regardless. And the rest of us still have to put up with conditions of austerity introduced in order (ostensibly) to deal with a crash that we were in no way responsible for.
In his final chapter (“A world without the Minotaur”), the author decides to re-evaluate his position in order to put it to the test. This chapter is an addition to the first edition of the book, published a few years earlier. And here his analysis becomes complicated!
But just to summarise a few points:  the slump of 2008 resulted in a break in America’s pattern of trade deficits, which had relied on the USA absorbing the surplus production and capital from Europe and elsewhere. To put it simply, after 2008 this inflow of capital and goods slumped. Without this global flow of capital etc., profits could no longer be maintained. Once again it was the banks and financial institutions that went down like ninepins.
As for solutions to the problem, Varoufakis comes up with no simple formula. But he does suggest that neither of the responses put into place in Europe and the USA would work.  European countries opted for austerity – or in some cases had it forced upon them. America tried “quantitative easing”, which he says failed to have any positive effect (though, as I see it,  it had less damaging impact on people’s lives than “austerity”).
LACK OF SELF RESTRAINT:
In conclusion, he suggests that both governments and private capital had been guilty of a lack of self restraint in their dealings in the decade leading up to 2008.
Governments had failed to regulate financial institutions, whilst the banking and financial world had thrown caution (and sanity?) to the winds in its greed to make bigger and bigger profits.
But, as I see it, that is what it will always do unless it’s held in check. Meanwhile this book by Yanis Varoufakis is an interesting guide to both the development of a volatile capitalist system and the roots of its crises in the last century.
JOHN WILMOT

THE IMF: the biggest loan shark business in the world?

In A.Graham on September 2, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Most of us must surely know by now of the dubious activities of the International Monetary Fund (the IMF) and its twin body, the World Bank.  But fewer will  have heard of the Bretton Woods agreement, reached towards the end of the war, back in 1944. It was then that the IMF came into being.

Those leading economists who met at Bretton Woods did so to plan a new world economic order. Their aim was to try to bring order from the chaos created by the war – and also to try to ensure that the world economic collapse of 1929 through the 1930s would not happen again.

No doubt they had the best intentions – particularly the British delegate, John Maynard Keynes. He wanted to ensure a level of economic stability, in which the weaker nations would not be penalised or end up going to the wall.  Keynes was arguably the most influential economist of his day – at least in the UK and Europe – and his influence continued to hold right up until the the virus of “monetarism” arrived on the scene in the 1970s and ‘80s.

HOW KEYNES SAW ROLE OF THE IMF:
But back in 1944, the IMF set out its main objectives as the promotion of international economic co-operation, ensuring full employment (sic), and exchange rate stability. Keynes himself saw it as a kind of co-operative fund that member states could draw on, particularly during times of crisis, in order to maintain their economic activity.  He also argued that to focus merely on those countries with economic problems would only create more hardship and more problems for those involved.

But the view from the USA was slightly different – and of course the Americans had far more clout at Bretton Woods. Thus the views of Keynes were largely over-ruled.

DIRECT INTERFERENCE:
Sadly, Keynes died soon after the Bretton Woods conference – though it wasn’t until the 1970s that the role of the IMF began to shift significantly towards direct interference in the governance of client countries.

It started to play an active role in managing the economic policies of those seeking financial aid. There were (and are) to be strings attached to any aid given. For example, the removal of price controls as well as state subsidies, the privatisation of state-owned enterprises – and “enhancing the rights of foreign investors.”

From then on the IMF would unashamedly promote market capitalism, which all too often meant blatant interference in the domestic policies of national governments.  Today, we may look at the example of Greece, and the valiant attempt by a left-wing government to oppose a strict austerity imposed by the IMF – with the German government  acting as cheerleader. No doubt in the eyes of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the upstart campaigners in Greece have now been taught a lesson.

But there have been previous examples of how countries have suffered as a consequence of asking for IMF support. One example was that of Argentina, in 2001 which suffered economic collapse following the IMF’s intervention. There has been a continuing impact on public health and on the environment as a result.

Of course it’s never those with money who suffer. They can shift their capital elsewhere. It’s the ordinary people who feel the impact in a country driven close to bankruptcy as the IMF lays down its conditions for  further bail outs.

John Maynard Keynes must be turning in his grave.

Blood Money: CATCHING GREECE IN THE AUSTERITY TRAP

In A.Graham on September 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm

During those boom years, before the economic collapse of 2008, Greece seemed to be riding high. It had hosted the Olympic games (and Athens gained a shiny new tramway system to go with it). Tourists and foreign investment flowed in to what seemed like a money trap. But in a country where tax evasion is a way of life amongst the very rich, the Greek government’s coffers failed to benefit.

Then came the domino effect of the economic collapse, and suddenly Greece found itself facing mounting debt, and no means to pay it back apart from borrowing more money from such creditors as the IMF and the European Union. At the beginning of the year, both the economy and the Greek government collapsed under the strain.

In the ensuing election, the left wing Syriza Party under its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras gained victory, promising to end the enforced austerity that was crippling the country. Despite early optimism, it failed.

HUMILIATION FOR THE GREEK PEOPLE:
There’s no doubt that the EU knew what it was doing when it set about bringing the Syriza government to heel. In the new addition of The Global Minotaur*, Paul Mason writes in the introduction that at the beginning of February, the European Central Bank abruptly withdrew its regular loan facility to the Greek banks, and left them to bleed to death.

At the end of the day, Tsipras was backed into a corner and was faced with either agreeing to the demands of the country’s creditors – or, effectively defaulting, which would have meant Greece would be forced to leave the eurozone (and presumably return to the drachma as the country’s currency) – or even leave the European Union altogether.
Such a move would be an enormous leap into the dark. Whilst many in the Syriza party advocate a default position, and a return to the drachma, it was not something that Tsipras felt he could support.

When a hastily-called referendum convincingly backed the rejection of austerity, Tsipras found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He chose to capitulate to the demands of the IMF and the European Union. The Greek people had been punished for their temerity in challenging their financial masters.

Meanwhile,  the Greek banking system had reached the point of virtual collapse. It was running out of money, pensions couldn’t be paid, whilst some banks were technically bankrupt.

The international Monetary Fund was insisting on its pound of flesh, and was backed by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Indeed, she went further, suggesting that there should be no further bailouts for Greece until repayment of debts were made. One reason for her obduracy may have been that the Germans had invested heavily in Greece during those profligate years before the economic crash – and she wanted that money back. Some critics, however, have made the point that past German governments have had a poor record in paying back their own debts!

RELUCTANCE:
So, reluctantly, the deal was signed and equally reluctantly endorsed by the Greek Parliament. Tsipras was forced to rely heavily on opposition parties to push the measures through. His own Syriza party split on the issue, with its former Finance Minister, Yanis  Varoufakis, voting against.
It may be a done deal, but there are now warnings that things are likely to get worse for the Greek economy before getting better (always assuming that they do). According to one influential Greek “think tank”, there is likely to be a sharp drop back into recession. Meanwhile, since this article was written, Alexis Tsipras has resigned as Prime Minister, a move that may well provoke an early general election.

So, it looks like there are more hard and uncertain times ahead for the people of Greece – but there’s only so far one can go in punishing an entire population for “crimes” that they never committed. It’s also a sad, sour, reflection on attitudes within the European Union, where one of its own members is treated like a pariah state. This attitude was not meant to be part of the vision of those who came together to form the bonds that led to the founding of the Common Market as it was initially known.

*Footnote: “The Global Minotaur”, by Yanis Varoufakis   (Zed Books, £8.99), has just been re-published in an updated edition. We hope to review it in the next Clarion.

the threat to our future: BETTER OFF WITH TTIP? BETTER OFF WITHOUT!

In John Wilmot on June 25, 2015 at 12:04 pm

They like to keep it a secret, but the looming menace of TTIP (short for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) poses a threat to us all.

It’s a concept first unveiled by the American administration back in 2013. This so-called “free trade” deal sounds harmless enough – until you read the small print of course. And those backing it want to keep this as small as possible.

It may “free up” trade, as its supporters claim, but who will benefit? In fact it’s a cunning plan to shift power to transnational capital, freeing up the markets for globalised capitalism (much of it American based of course). The instigators of TTIP want to spread this octopus-like “partnership” first through Canada and then Europe.

WE HAVE BEEN WARNED:

According to Mark Dearn of the charity “War on Want” “TTIP ushers in a massive shift of power to transnational capital. This will lead to job losses, the privatisation of our public services (and the blocking of any attempts at re-nationalisation), the erosion of social health and environmental protections and the eradication of equality before the law through a system of corporate courts for suing states.” (From the Morning Star, April 18th).

When it comes to negotiating the deal, this is in the hands of the EU, acting on behalf of its 28 member states. But as far as we’re concerned in the UK, David Cameron has already given it an enthusiastic welcome. And even the Liberal Democrats (before they were slaughtered in the election) greeted it warmly, claiming that it leave Britain £10 billion a year better off.

The reality will be very, very different. There will be those who’ll get even richer from its implementation, of course, but for ordinary workers, our social services and our social infrastructure, the impact could be dire. Perhaps it’s no wonder that it’s received so little coverage in the mass media. There have been no documentaries on TV or radio, and nothing much in the mass circulation newspapers, leaving any coverage of what’s at stake to what’s become known as “social media”.

Already in Canada there has been repeated legal action to prevent the passing of moratoriums on fracking or revoking patents on drugs with unproven benefits.

But in Europe, the fightback is beginning.  There have been mass petitions (gaining some 1.65 million signatures at the last count), and demonstrators have taken to the streets in protest. Again, there has been little coverage in the UK media.

As Mark Dearn of “War on Want” says,  “we are fighting to retain some control over the fundamentals of our own lives: what we eat, whether corporations can control and profit from our education, healthcare… our working conditions and the ability of democratic government to enact social, health and environmental legislation without the sanction of litigation in corporate courts.”

JOHN WILMOT

VOTE GREEN – GO BLUE

In T. Chinnick on May 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm

An on-line Clarion special for the General Election 2015 by Monmouth Labour’s Tyler Chinnick, in between canvassing for Ruth Jones in Monmouth.

On Shamocracy yesterday Brogan Morris took exception to the main parties urging the electorate to vote tactically.  I understand amidst the noise and blackmail it can be easy just to think ‘Fuck it’ and vote for the party that most closely represents your own views, but that would be a mistake.  Let me explain why.

I came of political age under New Labour and to a large extent I defined myself in opposition to it; to its policies of war and privatisation, of ID cards and 90 day detention.  I loathed its rightward lurch and felt absolutely no affiliation to it.

As my political education continued my opposition to New Labour quickly became indistinguishable from my opposition to neo-liberalism and American imperialism.  During this time I flirted with a number of groups – TUSC, the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the People’s Front of Judea… the Judean people’s front…

Prior to the last election I organized a hustings to which our then Labour candidate was invited alongside Plaid, Green, Communists and others.  When confronted with a semi-hostile left-wing audience* the Labour candidate’s default argument as to why we should vote Labour was ‘to keep out the Tories’.  This struck me as being horribly negative.  I hated that they had nothing positive to offer and I resented the implied blackmail.  And so at the last election, knowing that Labour were certain to lose and living in a safe conservative seat I felt no regret about casting my vote for the most left-wing party on the ballot – The Greens.

I presumed that even though my vote would make absolutely no practical difference Labour would at least register the discontent that I and many others felt.

In 2015, however, you absolutely should fear another Tory government and it isn’t illegitimate to point out that the only way to stop it is by voting Labour.

Nonetheless, I fully understand that that isn’t enough.  People have the right to demand something to vote for; luckily in Ed Miliband’s Labour we have it.

When the financial crisis hit a few years previously I had naively assumed that everyone would more or less instinctively see the error of their ways and, with the exception of a few free-market fundamentalists declare neo-liberalism dead.  The political parties could then begin in earnest to decide what would replace it.  This would be remarkably propitious to the left in general and the Labour party in particular.

Skip forward to the Labour leadership election.  On the BBC Parliament channel Ed Milliband is giving a speech to the Fabian society outlining his assessment of Labour and the country and his vision for our future.  His basic contention is essentially this: like the post-war consensus before it the Thatcherite consensus is now dead, Labour has alienated many of its core supporters, shed thousands of members and been reduced to its second worst election result since 1918.  It is time to reconnect and forge a new path.  I’m sold and although not a member I’m rooting for him.

A battle between left and right ensues.  That his brother, an unreconstructed Blairite should embody the other pole of Labour opinion and also be Ed’s main rival gives the contest the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy. What’s left of the New Labour machine is mobilised for David and the media have more or less crowned him winner before the battle proper has even begun.  So as well as having the right prescription Ed is also the anti-Blairite candidate – suddenly I feel that it is even more important that he should win.

A year later Ed Milliband gives his first speech as leader at the Labour conference.  By anyone’s standard it’s not good.  Propped on the lectern is a voluminous manuscript from which he reads like a particularly uncharismatic politics professor.  The content is very similar to the speech given to the Fabians that so impressed me a year earlier, but overly academic and lacking the common touch it fails to connect with the audience.  The verdict from the commentariat is damning.  The right wing press wrongly interpret his attempt at left-wing populism as a return to 1970‘s style ‘old Labour’.  That he lacks the rhetorical skills of a Thatcher or Blair is evident but the content for me is more important.

The calls of having chosen the wrong brother intensify and treacherous Blairites crawl out of the woodwork to sniff and sneer; people begin to talk about getting rid of him “before it’s too late”.

In fact the reaction becomes so hysterical, so over-the-top, so nasty and personal that I decide to join the party in the hope of bolstering his leadership credentials in whatever small way I can.

Miliband’s time as leader since has been characterised by challenging conventional wisdom and taking on powerful vested interests, and winning.

He has broken the neo-liberal consensus by championing market interventionism, opposing privatisation and proposing some re-nationalisation, albeit limited.

He defied both Rupert Murdoch and conventional wisdom when Murdoch tried to take over the remaining shares of bskyb.  He followed it up by vowing to implement Lord Leveson’s findings in full, which would, amongst other things break up Murdoch’s press monopoly.  It’s no wonder the ‘dirty digger’ harangued his journalists a few weeks ago for not doing enough to harm Miliband.  The sound of the gutter press in full attack mode combined with Lynton Crosby’s shameless smear campaign (it seems British politics is now overrun with venomous antipodean reptiles) should be enough to elicit your sympathy for Mr. Miliband if nothing else.  The fact that he has faced all this with a commendable humility and resilience should – if people really do want politicians of principle and decency – consider awarding him their vote on Election Day.

Consider this also – if Ed Miliband becomes prime minister tomorrow it will mean the end of the toxic stranglehold that an unaccountable foreign national has held over our politics since the 70’s.  The British press and British democracy will be infinitely healthier as a result.

By voting for the recognition of a Palestinian state and refusing to support the bombing of Syria he defied the assumption that Britain will always support the U.S.  But this still won’t be enough for some people.  He doesn’t want to scrap Trident and has no aim of disbanding the army like the Greens.  But if he does become Prime Minister we will see the most significant shift in British foreign policy since at least the 1970’s.

I probably don’t need to remind readers of Shamocracy of the legacy of this government but quickly: 700,000 people on zero hours contracts, at least a Million people forced to rely on food banks, the worst rate or underemployment in the E.U, 3.5 million children living in poverty, the bedroom tax, a huge onslaught on welfare which has led to people dying, large scale privatisation of the N.H.S, privatisation of the Royal Mail and probation services, rising energy prices, a cost of living crisis, disability hate crime up, homelessness up.  We have the ability to end all this tomorrow.  But only if we vote Labour.

If elected Miliband will end the bedroom tax, ban zero hours contracts, take action on food banks, reverse the Health and Social Care Act, start a million new house builds, raise the minimum wage, take action on energy prices, ensure a fair deal for private renters, introduce a mansion tax, hire 20,000 more nurses, end the free school program and the list goes on.

The Labour party supports TTIP.  I do not.  I share the Green position. But this is one issue out of many and I would much, much rather spend my energies fighting a Labour government on that one single issue than a Conservative government on everything.

Even then, Labour has pledged to ring-fence our most valuable public service – the NHS – from TTIP.

So, since on more or less everything else the Greens and Labour are in agreement – the only question is the extent.  Greens want a minimum wage of £10 by 2020; Labour £8.  Greens want to bring the railways back into public ownership by waiting for the contracts to expire; Labour want to set up a state rail company to bid for contracts and gradually bring the railways into public ownership that way.  The Greens want to raise the top tax band to 60p; Labour want 50p.  The Greens want a complete end to privatisation in the NHS; Labour want to reverse Tory privatisation and cap profits on contracts already awarded.

The main difference between Labour and the Greens is that the Greens don’t have to worry about either large-scale electability or whether their ideas are practical.  Labour on the other hand doesn’t have the luxury of being a minor party; they can’t throw out ideas and see what sticks. If they commit to something chances are they’ll have to implement it.

Throughout the dark days of New Labour I encountered various hard-left groups, such as those mentioned earlier who insisted that Labour weren’t left-wing enough.  But I recognised that their prescriptions – basically an unreconstructed Socialism – were completely unelectable.  There was surely a path to be trodden between ‘New Labour’ and out and out Socialism (however desirable that may be) that was both properly left wing and electable.  At last in Ed Milliband’s Labour we have such a party.

Meanwhile we now have more insurgent groups who are not only insisting that Labour isn’t left enough but are taking Labour votes.  How tragic would it be that given the opportunity to vote for change – real change unlike we’ve had in years – a section of the left should deny us that opportunity by voting for the Green or SNP?

Brogan regards the first past the post voting system as “absurd” but burying your head in the sand and voting as if we have a proportional system is even more absurd.

I’m not saying under no circumstance don’t vote Green, far from it.  If you live in Brighton or a super safe seat then by all means obey your conscience.  But if you live in a Labour-Tory marginal please vote with your head not your heart, and put your cross in the red box.

Don’t #Votegreenandfeelblue #VoteLabour

*it was at this meeting that the Green party leader in Wales Pippa Bartolotti claims to have got her political awakening

REVIEW: ‘The Establishment – and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones

In R.Richardson, Reviews on March 5, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON (‘The Establishment’ is published by Allen Lane).

Who’s in charge?

Owen Jones is one of our most able young political journalists. Aged just 30, he is a regular columnist in the Guardian, as well as a former contributor to the Independent, the New Statesman and other publications.

owen_jonesJones’ first book, in 2011, Chavs: the demonisation of the Working Class, was acclaimed both in the UK and elsewhere. Now he has published a searing account of the all-powerful network of the real people with power – the Establishment.

Systematically, chapter by chapter, Jones gives his account of the workings of those at the top of our society – the politicians, the media bosses, the financiers and the big businessmen. He shows how they are interconnected, bound by a common mentality, a set of ideas that helps  to rationalise and justify behaviour directed at maximising wealth and power.

THE “REVOLVING DOOR”:

The Establishment is cemented by a “revolving door” culture – ie, powerful individuals moving between  political, corporate and media worlds, and sometimes managing to inhabit these worlds at the same time.  Political debate is largely dictated by a media controlled by a small number of extremely rich owners,  whilst political parties are funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. Many politicians and top civil servants are on the payroll of private businesses, and personal contacts and family connections often make for even closer ties.

THINKING ALOUD:

Jones first chapter is on the “Outriders” – a term with which I was unfamiliar. The Outriders are political “think tanks”, non-accountable bodies which shape political theory and give validity to policies.

He gives a brief but interesting history of the setting up of such think tanks. Immediately post-war, workers in Western Europe demanded far-reaching social reforms at the expense of big business, and the policies that emerged were perceived as mainstream until the 1970s. Meanwhile in !947, the Mont Pelerin Society was born – a think tank of forty academics, economists and journalists. They aimed to turn the clock back to a supposedly “golden age”  of laissez- faire politics at home and free trade  abroad.

The Institute of Economic Affairs was founded in the 1950s, promoting similar ideas. One suggestion of theirs was the privatisation of the telecommunications industry – a notion that was considered totally mad. But the Institute was doing an excellent job disseminating free market ideas, particularly in universities.

ADAM SMITH:

The Adam Smith Institute  was set up in 1977, and following the wave of strikes and the “Winter of Discontent”, in the late ‘seventies it began a relentless campaign of agitation.  The Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs joined with other free marketeers to form the St. James Society. They would meet regularly with senior members of the Tory shadow cabinet, such as Keith Joseph. They helped to make acceptable policies that would soon become the cornerstones of Thatcherism – privatisation, de-regulation and slashing taxes on the rich.   When Margaret Thatcher came to power, much of the hard work of laying the foundations  of her policies had already been undertaken.

To be an outrider in modern Britain is to wield considerable power.  Corporate interests, links with the media and political connections can all be exploited. Exactly who funds right-wing think tanks, such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Policy Exchange is not always clear. “We have some donors who would cease giving us money if their name was to be put out in the public domain,” said the  director of Policy Exchange.

The outriders have laid the intellectual foundations of radical right-wing ideas, and then popularised them to a mass audience. They connect together the worlds of business, politics and the media, and are a crucial part of Britain’s ruling elite.

“GREATEST  ACHIEVEMENT”?

In 2002,  the Tories held their party conference in Southampton. Only eighteen months before, Tony Blair had won a second landslide victory and Tory morale was at rock bottom.

But Margaret Thatcher was not daunted. She declared, “Our greatest achievement was Tony Blair. We forced our opponents to change.” “New Labour “ in office was keeping the flame of Margaret Thatcher’s beliefs well and truly burning.

Although Blair was happy to embrace free market principles wholeheartedly, others in the Labour Party were not.  When Ed Miliband was elected leader he was labelled “Red Ed” by the media and portrayed as being in the pockets of the unions.

Miliband made three commitments in 2013:

  1. To take action against firms which hoarded land waiting for its value to increase.
  2. A tax hike on big businesses to fund tax breaks for struggling small businesses.
  3. A temporary freeze on energy bills.

DANGEROUS EXTREMIST?

The Establishment’s response was to paint Miliband as a dangerous extremist. Yet opinion polls showed that three quarters of voters backed the proposals.  And an earlier You-Gov poll showed  60 per cent of the population backing a 75 per cent tax band for millionaires. Polls like these, says Jones, show how out of touch with ordinary people the Establishment is.

Jones touches on many events in recent political history – such as the miners’ strike, the events at Wapping,  the rise of UKIP, and the 2008 financial crisis. The power of the Establishment is highlighted throughout.

POSITIVE POLICIES:

Jones final chapter is entitled “a Democratic Revolution”  He ends on a positive note – that with collective action we can create a new and  fairer landscape for Britain. He sets out a number of policies that could lead us there.

Trade union laws should be reformed and democracy in the workplace put in place (such as workers’ representatives on company boards). Rail franchises should be brought back into public ownership as each comes up for renewal.  There should be public ownership of utilities involving both service users and workers. Banks that were bailed out could be turned into publicly-owned regional investment. Financially more capital controls should be put in place which should shift economic sovereignty from corporate interests to elected governments. The top rate of tax should be raised, and there should be an all-out assault on tax avoidance.

MPs should be barred from taking a second job and former Ministers should be barred posts that operate in their areas of interest and “expertise”. The revolving door should be firmly shut.

“Change is not won through the goodwill and generosity of those above but through the struggle and sacrifice of those below,” says Jones in conclusion.

R.R.

READ MORE OWEN JONES HERE: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/owen-jones

OBITUARY: JOAN LEVINE: thinker, campaigner and activist.

In C.Spiby, Obiturary on January 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

One of the universal symbols of peace is the white dove.

When I met Joan Levine she seemed to me an ordinary little old lady, a tiny sparrow of a woman.

But I soon realised that Joan was a formidable thinker, an immensely important local campaigner and a tireless activist. And she had for much of her adult life been active in the Communist Party.

cpb_flagThroughout her life she fought continuously for justice and human rights in the name of the voiceless and the poor of the world.

FACTS AND EVIDENCE:

I discovered that her world view was built on the meticulous gathering of facts and evidence. File after file organised by topic – “campaign against the arms trade”, “Palestine”, “nuclear power”, “Yugoslavia”, “Trident submarines”, “Iraq”, and so on. Together they represented a register of the many concerns which shaped her life.

The files held clippings with references and notes, sections highlighted, paragraphs under-scored. There was endlesss campaign correspondence, newsletters and briefings. Most revealing were letters of frustrated replies from successive MPs. From Paul Marland and Diana Organ to our current MP, Mark Harper. How dare this little old lady from Coleford hold us to account with her endless facts and sound moral reasoning?

Joan’s husband, Maurice, fought in the Spanish Civil War. She spoke of her husband’s commitment with quiet pride, yet would only do so when invited. To her it seemed the most natural thing in the world.  To Joan a life of holding the powerful to account, of fighting for the rights of the many, was just as natural.

DEBATE WITH ACTIVISM:

I remember that Joan was often the last to speak during meetings. It was then that her formidable mind revealed itself.  Her incisive views always made our wandering debate seem like mere waffling, but she was never condescending.  Instead her logic enabled the rest of us to catch up, while she moved on to propose an action. To her, all debate was pointless without action and, in her heart, Joan was all about activism.

So together we stood in the rain. We marched around US military bases under grey skies and paraded past the Houses of Parliament in the largest march in British history. Joan and the late Ralph Anstis got themselves thrown out of the Co-op collecting signatures for a petition against the invasion of Iraq. And, with the late Wendy Corum, Joan was a key part of Forest of Dean CND. She campaigned for pensioners’ rights. But more than anything she was against war.

iraqbadgeCND:

I am sure that you all know the purpose of CND. Joan’s archives reveal that this campaign is the one she saw as the most pressing. And rightly so, in my view. While the Cold War may be over, Joan was acutely aware that the world still has more than 15,000 nuclear missiles. What could be more despicable than the targeted killing of millions of innocent civilians in nuclear war?

Joan remained an activist for as long as she was able. This little sparrow may have flown. But her legacy is the sum of all the good she did in her own time, and the new generations she inspired, of which I am proud to have been but one.

CARL SPIBY
a version of this was read by Diana Gash at Joan’s funeral

“23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang

In John Wilmot, Reviews on July 7, 2014 at 8:55 pm

CAPITALISM UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: a Review by J. Wilmot

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism”, by Ha-Joon Chang. Penguin edition published 2011.

This is a rather strange book. The author was born in South Korea, but is now based at Cambridge University. His brief here is to expose the kind of claims made by ardent supporters of the free market capitalist model, from Adam Smith onwards.

But he’s no Socialist. Indeed, he hardly mentions Socialism – or that other alternative model, the co-operative movement.  He does, though present a critique of the kind of central planning imposed within the Soviet Union which he sees as distorting priorities.  Writing within a capitalist framework, he’s simply there to debunk a range of assertions made by those who go over the top in praise of the system, and perhaps to bring them down to earth. But in his introduction, he writes: “Being critical of  free-market ideology is not the same as being against capitalism.  Despite its problems and limitations, I believe that capitalism is still the best economic system that humanity has invented”.

Hmm. Well, we’ll have to agree to differ on that point won’t we?

THE FREE MARKET: DOES IT  EXIST?

His opening gambit is a scrutiny of the monetarists’ much vaunted “free market”. Only when markets are free can the economy flourish, they would claim.

But the author asserts that there’s no such thing as a “free market” (certainly not in latter-day capitalism). For example, there is always some level of control over the economy by governments.  And there are restrictions on the use of child labour in what’s euphemistically called the developed world.  There are controls over what we can buy or sell – such as drugs that are deemed to be harmful. We have environmental controls over such things as creating pollution (OK not as many as there should be) – and all these are accepted by those who espouse the “free market”.

Of course it’s been the task of such “freemarket” supporters as Thatcher (and now the dynamic duo of Cameron and Osborne) to reduce such regulations and legal restrictions to the minimum. But there’s a limit to what even they could manage. And financial regulations (such as fixing bank interest rates) are constantly being imposed in order to influence the direction of the economy.

A SHAREHOLDING SOCIETY?

The days when any big firm could be owned by a single individual are, of course, long since over. We’re now in the age of the public limited company, or “plc” for short. In other words a company is ostensibly owned by its shareholders.

Anyone of course can buy shares. Indeed, Thatcher actively encouraged it when she flogged off such public utilities as British Gas. And a host of others. But in practice shares are usually held in large blocks, often by those who buy or sell simply to make short-term profit.

The orthodox view is that as shareholders own companies, they should be run specifically in their interests. It’s an assertion that Ha-Joon Chang is critical of.

Shareholders, he argues, are the “stakeholders” who are likely to have the least interest in the long-term future of the company they’ve invested in.  Their interest is in making a swift buck. Thus they favour strategies based on making higher short-term profits rather than the long-term interests of the company.

After all, if the company’s not making a swift buck, the shareholder can pull out his/her shares and invest the cash elsewhere. As the writer says “running the company for the shareholders often reduces its long-term growth potential.”

He suggests that this state of affairs came about with the growth of  the public limited company, particularly in the 19th Century. The word “limited”, he says, stands for “limited liability”.  Rather than a businessman risking his home and everything he owns including the clothes he stands up in, he merely stands to lose the value of his shares in the company.

But of course, as a mere shareholder, you don’t want this to happen. You don’t have the long-term interests of the company at heart so at any sign of risk, you sell your shares and take your money elsewhere.

MANAGEMENT:

Now we’ve seen the emergence of a powerful managerial class, who (at least in theory) guide the company, and are rewarded for its success with high salaries and whacking great bonuses. Indeed, its been the emergence of the bonus culture that’s marked capitalism in recent decades. Provided that they keep making the profits, they are the masters now.  And, because the power of the shareholders is so dissipated, even if management doesn’t deliver the goods, it’s often difficult to get rid of it.

There is, of course, much more in this book, indeed too much to cover in a relatively short review. Just to dip in, for example, his argument that, contrary to popular belief, the invention of the washing machine changed the world more than the development of the internet.

He suggests that the development of the internet and the changes in information technology have been over-rated. But the development of household technology such as the washing machine and vacuum cleaner transformed the home – and in middle class homes it did away with the need for servants, thus practically eliminating a whole social class.

As for the internet, he claims that this is merely a continuation of earlier forms of communication – such as the telegraph and telephone. Before these were put in place it would take weeks or months to deliver a message across the Atlantic. But with the telegraph it shrunk dramatically to minutes and then seconds.  Can the internet beat that?

There are a whole lot of other points he makes about the disparity in wealth distribution (particularly between rich and poor nations), the notion that if rich people get even richer we all benefit through the “trickle down” effect,  and ends up with his own conclusions on how to rebuild the world economy.

WHAT TO DO:

These could possibly be summed up by saying “yes” to capitalism, but a resounding “no” to unrestrained free market capitalism.  He makes a number of points on how to reform the system. For example, financial innovations should be tried and tested before being put into practice (though he doesn’t spell out the criteria to be used).

We should aim for a system that brings out the best in people rather than the worst. Material self-interest is not enough. Perhaps “social need not greed” could be a motto here. After all, the NHS when it was first founded was capable of bringing out the best in people (and hopefully still is).

We need, he says, to end the belief that “people are always paid what they deserve”.  They’re not.  And we should emphasise the need to manufacture more. The notion of a “post-industrial knowledge economy” is a myth.

We must get away from “short-termism” and aim for a longer view of social, technological and financial development. And contrary to the views of politicians today, we need more active government, not less, prepared to regulate markets and restrict the greed of those doing well in an unequal, divisive society.

And lastly, we need to give sympathetic help to third world countries, particularly those that have suffered the ravages of free market policies imposed by such bodies as the IMF and World Bank.

JOHN WILMOT