Friday, 31 October 2014

How Labour`s housing policy could be more radical

Despite some encouraging figures from Labour following on from the recommendations of the Lyons report, notably by 2020 a commitment on building 200,000 houses a year, there are still doubts whether the party`s policies on houses and rent controls go far enough.
     Too many questions remain unanswered, even when the usual Tory ones concerning methods of payment are omitted. How many of the houses to be built, for example, are to be part of the social housing fabric needed to provide homes for the low-paid? If the others are to be aimed at the buyers` market, how many are to be "affordable", and, inevitably, what is meant by "affordable"? In the private rental sector, rent rises are to be capped, which begs the "horse and stable door" comment! When rents are already too high, and demanding huge proportions of earned income, and when profiteering landlords are behaving like modern-day Rachmans, will Labour`s policies make a significant difference?
Rents in the private sector have "ballooned by more than 8% in the past year". One of the reasons for landlords raising their rents is because they can, with the government doing nothing to stop them. Even when outrageous cases of profiteering are discovered, the judicial system does little to discourage repetition. Yaakov Maron, having charged £420 a month for a rented room accessed by a staircase with 2ft 3 inches of headroom, and already having been banned by Barnet council from letting out the room, was fined, with costs, around a mere £3000! What sort of deterrent to profiteering landlordism is this? One in three of rented properties in the private sector is officially classed as "non-decent", whilst one in five present a health or safety risk to the occupier. Such appalling data cries out for a more radical  policy from Labour. 
      Landlordism is an industry of which this country should be ashamed. Not only has their share of housing benefit risen by a massive 51% since 2008, many landlords use tax avoidance as another source of income. One tax evading landlord managed to deprive the Treasury of £84,000, yet received only a one year suspended sentence as punishment!  A think tank recently went on record as describing BTL (the government scheme, Buy To Let) as "Big Tax Let-off", with "tax breaks" for landlords amounting to £5bn a year! An obvious target for Labour then, or at least, that`s what we would assume. Surely, Labour leaders are not worried about offending the 25% of all Tory MPs who are landlords, or even the 12% of their own MPs who rent out property?
       Fairer rents now are key, both to finding house deposits in the future, and to distributing more cash into the economy, away from the grasp of unscrupulous landlords. A more sensible approach, therefore, would be to set up an Ofsted-style organisation, given the task of inspecting all rental property and banding it, according to size, condition, location, facilities, safety and such like. The rent to be charged would have to be within the confines determined by the band, with increases decided by the government. 
       On the question of the housing shortfall, is it not possible that the building companies are playing too important a role in the type of housing being built? Whilst it is clear that a significant number of "new" homes can be provided by refurbishing and renovating old properties, it is also evident that some radical thinking is required if homes are to be built which can be properly afforded by young people eager to take their first steps on the property ladder. A law stating that new homes must be lived in by the purchaser,and not rented to tenants, would be a start. Cannot modern technology provide alternative and cheaper materials for home construction, perhaps akin to that used for mobile homes? Are not two or three storey buildings feasible, with each floor comprising a two bedroom flat, and the ground floor having the garden? Not all "affordable" housing has to be in the form of tower blocks. A ministry for housing would seem eminently desirable and sensible, so why isn`t it in the Labour manifesto? If permission is granted to replace old and unused property with flats, should not all of them, not a small proportion, be "affordable", in the £80-175,000 range?
 Labour is in need of a serious boost in the opinion polls, and the country needs a fairer system of home allocation. It`s not a case for rocket scientists!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Corporate auditing looks corrupt

 With Tesco overstating its profit forecasts by £250m, despite having the accounts audited by PwC, even more doubts arise about the integrity of our current system of "shareholder capitalism". Their "cosy and lucrative relationship" is reminiscent of the recent tax avoidance case involving Greene King and their auditors, Ernst and Young. The schemes were described by Tory MP Richard Bacon as "purely artificial", having been bought from Ernst and Young for 8% of the tax saved, and marketed as "Project Sussex". The fact that Ernst and Young, one of the "Big Four" audit firms, along with Deloitte, PwC and KPMG, is allowed to "market" such devices and be paid according to the amount of tax avoided, is deplorable, and any government with an ounce of morality would declare it illegal. 
        Even worse, the success of the scam depended, according to the QC representing HMRC, on "certain accounting treatments", and Greene King`s accounts were signed off by auditors from, of course, Ernst and Young! Should we be surprised by this, especially when representatives from the so-called "Big Four" sit on Treasury committees advising on ways businesses can be lured into Britain by schemes such as the "patent box" scam, which result in lower corporation tax being paid, often as low as 5% instead of the required 23%? No, any more than MPs earning £7.1m from their "second jobs and outside interests" comes as a shock, even though a minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change earning £100,000 from "three firms in the energy sector" does beggar belief! How could it be possible for him not to use "privileged information learned as a minister"? Strange how one of the firms involved, Vitol, recently only paid 2.6% global tax on profits of £846m, and its CEO donated £550,000 to the Tory party!
       As the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency says, MPs` "paymasters are the public" and we have the right to know not only about the details of all the income received by candidates in the forthcoming election, but of their taxes paid too. A party pledging that really would be different!


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Labour still doesn`t get it (pt 1: deficit)

Austerity wasn`t in the 2010 election manifestos of either the Tories or the Lib Dems, but as soon as they clinched their deal in the Downing Street rose garden, it was imposed on the country. It was thought imperative to get rid of the huge budget deficit left by that irresponsible Labour government, which had been showering its skiving supporters with large increases in social benefits, rewarding laziness and not hard work. Or at least, that`s what we were told by a media in cahoots with their Tory allies.
 Remember too, how the deficit had to be removed immediately? Living beyond one`s means was wrong, no question, time was of the essence and failure to act would mean lumbering the next generation with massive debt, and that simply was not the British way; it would not be fair.
    The rest, sadly, is history. The country fell for it. There were no other arguments or alternatives; Labour was in limbo without a leader, and supporters of a Keynsian solution, blaming bankers and the recession, and proposing government spending to speed up the economic recovery, had little chance. Facts and evidence have rarely played a significant role in Tory narratives, with Lib Dems complicit in everything, as long as they could claim a share in government, but the fact is that the Tories were spinning the nation a yarn. Reducing the deficit was neither as essential nor as urgent as they claimed, especially as quantitative easing would soon re-capitalise the banks to the tune of £375bn.It gave them the excuse they wanted to make savage cuts in government spending, which meant at least 350 thousand job losses in the public sector, and huge reductions in benefits to the less fortunate; their real aim was a low wage economy for the people and a low tax regime for their allies. They wanted to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the previous century, and their stated aim now is to shrink it further, back to levels last experienced in 1948, though, of course, that`s not in the 2015 manifesto either!
 What about their point of it not being fair to lumber future generations with debt? Strange how this didn`t figure at all in their thinking when they tripled the fees university students would have to pay, at a stroke ensuring that all but the richest students would start their working lives with massive, mortgage-like debts, of around £40-50K. The argument was, of course, that with their university qualifications, they would earn large salaries, and easily pay off their debts. But in their low wage economy, which reduced rather than increased social mobility, many graduates would fail to earn enough even to start paying off debts!
Similarly with rents. If the government was serious about preventing the young being hindered by debt, why has it done nothing to prevent private tenants being exploited by modern-day Rachmans, the profiteering landlords? Why has it shown, until an election looms, little interest in raising the minimum wage to levels where earners could live reasonable lives? Even the much vaunted rise in income tax exemption levels has been shown to benefit the well-off more. Lack of regulation of the loan sharks like Wonga prove yet again all the fuss and hype about debt-reduction being paramount back in 2010 was simply nonsense.
     It`s hard to believe many of the electorate want to go back to having a government with 1948 levels of interference. It was Attlee`s government which provided the country with the NHS, and few want to see it privatised, any more than they want the welfare state destroyed or education for profit. Labour `s propaganda machine has a job to do.
   Even after all the cruelty and callous cutting, the coalition`s so-called plan has failed, getting further off track by the month. The latest figures show how government borrowing rose to £11.8bn in September, an increase of £1.6bn compared with a year earlier, whilst the deficit has only been reduced by a third, and in fact, increased by ten per cent in the last year. Coalition borrowing in the last five years has totalled £572.5bn, compared with £442.7bn borrowed by the Labour government in its entire thirteen years in power! What matters more  to the Tories than deficit reduction is having an excuse to privatise and cut, to shrink the state, with laissez-faire more important than collectivism. It`s up to Labour to put the country straight!


Monday, 27 October 2014

"Time to end banker-bashing"-really?

The news that there is now "a record five million working people driven into low pay jobs" is hardly surprising in view of the mixed messages coming from the from the Bank of England. Despite the somewhat encouraging words from Carney to the TUC last month about the need to reduce inequality, and a deputy governor this week warning that bankers are paid too much and "should expect a pay cut ...because of falling profits", there is Andrew Bailey, another deputy governor, expressing dismay that the debate on bonuses "is so divorced from the heart of the matter which is appropriate incentives"! Well, if he was referring to the working people`s need for "appropriate" pay at a time when real wages continue their downward spiral, he would have a point, but of course, like his friends in government, epitomised by Osborne`s frequent trips to Brussels to contest the bonus cap, he is arguing for the continuance of the ludicrous lie that the top paid will only work hard if they have a financial incentive to double their already obscenely-high pay. The City minister may well say it`s time to "move away from banker-bashing", but her case is weakened when the outgoing chairman of Barclays ridiculously says "big fines on banks were making it harder for the industry to win back public trust"! Presumably such things as mis-selling insurance policies to customers, fixing Libor rates and money-laundering drug money weren`t relevant?
    Bailey is the same deputy governor who recently complained that those fines  were making it difficult for banks to re-capitalise, expecting us to have forgotten that £375bn was created by Quantitative Easing for that very purpose. It will be interesting to see whether the European banks do actually lend to businesses the £790bn created for them by the European Central Bank, rather than hoarding it, like our banks.
     It appears that Bank of England managers may be ignoring the Bank`s founding charter which stated that its purpose was to "promote the public good and benefit of our people". The Bank`s website even states that its aim today "reflects that vision"! You could have fooled me! Any chance of Labour promising to change things?


Friday, 24 October 2014

On Ofsted and superheads

 Certainly those "closest to the coalface", as Zoe Williams says, "find it hard to trust the impartiality of Ofsted`s findings".(The entire schools inspection culture is the problem,20/10/14) Probably, like me, they have witnessed some accurate assessment of lessons by individual inspectors, but also spectacularly wrong judgements of schools and leaders; agreement, therefore, with Williams`s description of "the slavish respect for a handful of experts" as "preposterous" is likely to be widespread. Outperforming other schools does become a little less problematic when, having advance notice of the "specific date" of the inspection, "educational" trips can be organised for those pupils less inclined to see Ofsted inspections as an opportunity to impress!
     The arrival of the "superhead" as an educational phenomenon coincided with the relaxation of the dogged adherence to the  inclusion dogma, which had prevented previous heads suspending or expelling  troublemakers. Having the power to remove sixty or so of the worst behaved pupils in a new head`s first week undoubtedly will have had a calming influence on behaviour, but did not signify superior expertise or prowess.Turning schools around is never achieved by strong leadership alone, but involves the co-operation and commitment of the teaching and auxiliary staff as a whole. Clearly it wasn`t only the concept of "average" with which Gove struggled!


Tristram`s time is up

     Tory nonsense on education, without any thought of implication or even practicalities, is bad enough; 1500 super teachers forming a "National Teacher Service" would leave 1500 teacher places to be filled, presumably by applicants with less expertise! But similar knee-jerk responses from Labour, seemingly still refusing to accept the  fact that excellent work is being done in state schools all over the country, every day, cannot be acceptable. Following Tristram`s well-publicised soundbite of aiming to have a "world class teacher in every classroom", a remark clearly made without any thought about training, experience, expertise and knowledge, we hear about the oath! For goodness sakes,  how an oath can be "part of a commitment to professional development" beggars belief, when it is so insulting to tens of thousands of conscientious and committed teachers. This is not the first time Hunt has shown his ignorance of the state school system and its work and success; enough is enough! Not only is he an embarrassment, he is now a liability, the reason why so many teachers are losing faith in Labour. 
     His appointment was dubious from the start. Able to match Gove at the dispatch box, perhaps, but only by attempting to out-Gove him rather than argue against Goveism, Hunt has made a viable case against unqualified teachers, but other policies have been little other than disastrous. Privately educated and with opinions on state education based on accepting government propaganda and watching television programmes highlighting bad behaviour, he has made no effort to win back teachers` support.
    His support for Performance Related Pay for teachers revealed ignorance of how children learn and achieve. For example, is the teacher who taught a sixth form history group, which achieved 10A*s, necessarily the person who inspired the students` interest and ambition, or the teacher who improved their literacy and analytical skills, or even the teacher who taught them at GCSE and enabled the advanced study to take place?
     Given the number of internal and external inspections in schools, Hunt`s idea for the re-licensing of teachers not only was unnecessary, it would actually add to the administrative burden in schools.
     Similarly, his analysis of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission`s report was flawed. The report did not show that "the coalition was failing on social mobility". On the contrary, a government which, immediately on coming to power, scraps Education Maintenance Allowances, then triples university fees, passes school assessment reforms which disadvantage children from poorer homes, cuts funding for Sure Start Centres and libraries, and appoints the majority of its Cabinet from the likes of Eton and the Bullingdon club, has succeeded in achieving its objective. As the Report says, this "social engineering" has created the "elitism so embedded in Britain today".
           Then there was the crossing of a picket line of outsourced and underpaid university workers and the outrageous suggestion that "character and resilience" were only the product of private schools! Anyone with knowledge and experience in a state school would know that state pupils display the ability to "bounce back from setbacks" by the bucket-load, and show resilience in the face of assessment "goalposts" being constantly moved, and their excellent examination results being criticised by politicians from all parties. Then there`s the Education Maintenance Allowance being removed, 6th form courses dropped because of lack of government funding, university fees being hiked, and the preference shown by so-called top universities for students from private schools. If some lack the confidence of their wealthier peers, it will hardly be a surprise, but Hunt`s implication that private schools "teach" character and resilience better smacks of a combination of bias and ignorance.
    Did he speak in favour of the industrial action taken by teachers recently? Will he even send his own children to state schools? When asked about this, his reply, "Never rule out what takes place", reeked of obfuscation at its best!
       At the helm of education in a Labour government has to be a state-educated person , who can empathise with the teaching profession, and discuss with union representatives the best ways of solving problems. His recent conference speech, according to one teachers` union leader said "nothing"! Hunt`s failure to promise a wholesale repeal of Gove`s changes indicates it`s time for change! He is an embarrassment to the thousands of hard-working teachers who do not need an oath to prove their dedication to their jobs or their pupils; he could even cost Labour the election! Moving him sideways now would tick a number of boxes, and perhaps rescue Labour`s hopes of attracting the teacher vote; replacing him with someone more attune to the needs of the teaching profession would be a sensible move by a leader too often criticised for his indecision.



Monday, 20 October 2014

Coalition cuts endangering lives

Recent headlines about the suicides of people so depressed by the thought of living in poverty and despair any longer, deprived of the support their particular condition previously warranted, have shocked and saddened millions, and the Bedroom Tax is now seen not only as a Tory mistake but an electoral millstone. The truth is, however, that the full effects of this Tory-dominated government`s cuts are not being publicised nearly enough, with the danger to all of us of another Tory government shrinking the state back to 1948 levels largely being ignored by the media, and by the Labour party. Such dangers should form a cornerstone of the party`s offensive in the run-up to the election. Many examples exist, and three will be examined more closely here.
       The damage being done to the NHS by the government`s policies of dismantling, outsourcing and increasing "competition" is obvious as is the danger to the health, and even lives, of thousands of people. Lengthening waiting times and delays in ambulances and referrals are featuring already, despite government claims to the contrary, but imagining what a fully privatised health service would be like, if a Tory government was elected, is not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, it has to be done, and the public has to be made aware that "free care at the point of delivery" is not a principle Tories support. Luciana Berger has recently reported how self harm and suicide attempts in 29 of the NHS mental health trusts has increased by 56% between 2010 and 2013. News that party rebels aim to pressure the Lib Dem leaders to back a repeal of the NHS reforms should not deter Labour leaders, merely remind them that the reforms would not have reached the statute books without duplicitous Lib Dem support.
      Worrying news, too, on the food front, with the official report into the causes of the horsemeat scandal being shelved, encouraging the view that government cuts are having damaging effects on the inspection and enforcement of food safety standards. The Guardian newspaper has been informed that publication of the report would "frighten the public that criminals were still able to interfere with their food".(Guardian,16/08/14) The adulteration of burgers, mince and ready meals with horsemeat "on an industrial scale" happened because of the lack of regulation, making the food industry a "soft touch" for criminals. By stripping the Food Standards Agency of overall responsibility for the integrity of food, and introducing elements of self-regulation, the government must take responsibility, too, for the recent scare over the contamination of chickens with the food-poisoning bug, campylobacter. Such lack of consumer protection is scandalous, and again, Labour should be making an almighty fuss to get things changed. No matter how big the deficit will still be in 2015, Labour leaders should be committing their government to increased regulation to guarantee food safety.It`s again clear that this is not a priority of this Tory-led coalition
    A third example which receives insufficient publicity from a compliant media, but which also reveals the callous nature of this government, and, indeed, of the two parties responsible for the joint policies, is the state of our prisons. With 18 being closed, cuts in the region of 30% to prison staffing levels, and the number of inmates rising to just under 86,000, is it any wonder the Chief Inspector for Prisons recently went public on his concerns? It is not only his view that there can be little doubt over the link between government policy and the rise in prison suicides: in the year up to last March, there were 88, up from 52 in the preceding year, with self-harm increasing to 23,478 cases.The most recent calculation suggests an increase in prison suicides in one year of 64%! Often prisoners are locked in their shared cells with one chair and unscreened toilet for 23 hours a day, leaving no time for education, exercise or even showers. Handing over responsibilty for many prisons to private companies with, to say the least, dubious records, like Serco and G4S, only exacerbate problems.
   Prisons, of course, are yet another example where cutting costs not only leads to no solutions, neither long or short term, but increases  problems, and ends up reducing regulation and endangering lives. Labour has to accept this, and devise its strategy accordingly. Miliband, Burnham, Sadiq Khan and the rest must attack the government`s appalling record on the NHS, food safety and prison service, but they can do more. Reducing the state`s involvement to 1948 levels, the Tories` stated aim, would take the country back to standards of public service and safety totally unacceptable in the 21st century, and the electorate needs to be told loudly and clearly that fact. Too many lives are being endangered already!

Electronic voting would only benefit Labour

With Tory MPs and Boris Johnson recently arguing for higher thresholds for strike ballots, impervious to various counter claims about the very low turnouts in elections for police commissioners and MEPs, the TUC has very sensibly asked the government`s business department to bring forward plans for electronic voting. According to the Guardian, however, there has been "little progress" even though a year has passed since the request was made; there couldn`t be political motives behind this stalling, could there? If electronic voting was allowed for union ballots, the next obvious step would be to extend the principle further.
      When electronic voting was suggested to Cameron as an idea for all elections, his response was along the lines that voting in a general election was too important to be left to the push of a button. If his point was that it was too risky, open to tampering or whatever, the TUC`s talks with the Electoral Reform Society show that electronic voting would be as safe, "if not more secure than postal voting". (Guardian,04/09/14) 
      However, voting security probably was not the prime minister`s main concern, as changes to our outmoded electoral system would undoubtedly increase voter participation, and that would not be in the interests of the Tory party, or its leader. An increased turnout in the general election would benefit the Labour party, and its leaders would do well to consider trumpeting such changes in the build-up to the election next May. 
     Whilst Tory policies are aimed at the people who, historically, are more likely to vote, like the wealthy, pensioners and middle class females, they tend to ignore, or at best treat with disdain or scant regard, the less well-off and the young. This would explain why old age pensions are still inflation linked, but public sector workers, rarely the most avid Tory supporters, endure year after year of pay freeze. The rich get a tax reduction, the low paid get falling real wages. The VAT exemption on public school fees can be compared with the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, whilst there is little doubt that only a few of those suffering from the detestable Bedroom Tax would have voted Tory anyway. Austerity policies from the Tories and their compliant, unprincipled allies, have been targetting those in the lower sections of wealth levels, but doing little to upset the lifestyle of the comfortably well-off. How many fair-minded people in this country do not think those taking home between £80,000-£149,000 a year, earnings around four to six times the national average, cannot afford to pay more income tax, or deserve taxpayers` help to pay for childcare? But they escape the wrath of Tory austerity measures because of their propensity to vote!
      Labour, on the other hand, have the policies already in place which would undoubtedly help the less fortunate and impoverished, the young, the so-called Generation Rent who are forced to pay extortionate rents to profiteering landlords, and people generally who find the task of walking perhaps half a mile to a polling booth too much bother, so it seems strange that Labour`s policy makers have not come down more strongly in favour of electronic voting. The idea of extending the vote to 16 year olds has been mooted, but making the voting system more accessible to adults might be the policy with more electoral advantages.

       The present Tory-dominated government may loudly claim to be the defender of democracy, when it comes to foreign policy,and also insist that schools promote so-called British values like "democracy", but its quite clear that it does not want to see  it properly enacted in Britain, with the lower the turnout the better, as far as it is concerned. Having everyone involved in government creation has always been a problem for Tories, ever since the days of Peterloo and the later Chartist demands. Even relatively small-scale changes to the electoral system, like having polling booths in town centres, shopping precincts, supermarkets and university campuses, and voting spread over weekends, are too radical for Tories, but such changes, leading inevitably to electronic voting as a further option in the short-term, should be on Labour`s agenda. After all, what have they to lose by advocating such policies? The more "ordinary" people, from less privileged and well-off backgrounds, and the more 18-30 year olds, who can be persuaded to vote in general elections, the less chance there will be of having to endure five years of Tory governments, lacking fairness, justice and compassion.
        Just as history shows us how the rich in the 19th century did not trust the working class to vote sensibly, and denied them the right to vote for as long as possible, so the Tories in the 21st century, for the same reasons, refuse to make voting as simple and as accessible as possible. Only a Labour government can rectify that situation, and Labour leaders should be adding electoral changes to their manifesto as soon as possible. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Letter to i re Johnson`s book on Churchill

Oh dear!  Chris Blackhurst`s review of Boris Johnson`s book reads like it`s been written by a fifteen year old taught history by Michael Gove. (Why we owe Churchill everything,17/10/14) So "all our leaders" since have "fallen short". Really? Not only did the people of this country vote Churchill out in the 1945 election, they elected Attlee, who most people see as Britain`s best PM. Johnson`s "objectivity" will undoubtedly ensure the exclusion of chapters devoted to Churchill`s attempts to control the BBC during the General Strike, his sending of troops to end the strike at Tonypandy, his infamous racist comments, including the ones ensuring the death of three million during the Bengal famine of 1943, and even his encouragement of the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East! 

Observer letter about Bono

So the gospel according to Bono says tax avoidance is fine, as long as everyone knows about it; the "sneakiness is when you don`t know what`s going on"(The plan wasn`t to be controversial,12/10/14) Presumably, the fact that it deprives countries of money owed to it by its citizens, and means that the other residents have a bigger burden of tax to pay, or that the services the government is able to provide are less than they would be otherwise, matters not a jot. Irish people should be grateful that the transfer of U2 Ltd from Ireland to the Netherlands, to reduce the group`s tax bill, took place!
    Bono`s justification of Ireland`s "tax competitiveness" is equally disingenuous; very low rates of corporation tax, aided by scams like the "Double Irish", have, according to him, brought "the only prosperity" the country has ever had. Again, simple points that this denies other countries much needed revenue and allows companies like Amazon and Apple to be so dominant in their spheres, they can undercut rivals` prices and put them out of business, escape him. As Bono enjoys formulating "new theories", it`s a shame he doesn`t spend some time contemplating the need for a system which entails all individuals and corporations paying their fair share of taxation to the treasuries of the countries where salaries were earned and profits made. Perhaps then, we all would benefit from having "more hospitals and firemen and teachers"!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Labour`s priorities now

Despite the usual denials, it is clear the byelection results have caused some panicking in the Labour ranks, so, whilst all policies need some polishing and radicalising, all spokespersons, MPs and candidates should be aware of their priorities, and speak with one voice. With Miliband`s polling problems, a sign of firm leadership is needed, also.
  Dealing with the last point, with one report suggesting 85% of teachers against Tristram`s oath idea, a sideways move now might tick a number of boxes, and perhaps rescue Labour`s hopes of attracting the teacher vote. The oath is the most recent in a long line of gaffes by Hunt, and replacing him with someone more attune to the needs of the teaching profession would be a sensible move by a leader too often criticised for his indecision.
    First and foremost in the policy debate, Diane Abbott is right to say that Labour can "never move far enough to the right to suit Ukip voters".What are the Blairites on the right of the party thinking when they say Labour has "to be stronger about our messages on immigration"? They clearly still don`t get it! Voters will support Labour when it shows itself to be different, as Miliband once promised, and here`s Jack Straw encouraging the Toryisation of policies to be more like Ukip! The benefits immigration has brought to Britain have to be stressed, whilst insiting on no radical changes nor targetted crackdowns. 
 The young need to be persuaded by Labour that it is the only party worth voting for. The low turnout and narrow Labour victory in Heywood and Middleton suggest most of the 18-35 brigade did not bother to make it to the polling booth, so Labour`s policies have to be more in tune with their aspirations. Most live in rented accommodation , so more radical policies preventing their further exploitation by profiteering landlords are essential; the existing ones obviously do not go far enough. It`s not just in London,where exhorbitant rents are being pocketed by greedy landlords, and where these high rents are subsidised by housing benefit, and Labour would be ignoring an electoral boost if it were not to pledge "a cap on rent". It should be considering, also, a return to 2010 rent levels,whilst an Ofsted-style inspection team is set up to ensure properties are well-maintained, equipped with safety alarms and such like. Generation Rent including all students need government protection. The pledges on housing must continue but there needs to be more emphasis on social housing, and ensuring "affordable" means exactly that. Governments and councils should determine the sort of homes needed, not greedy building firms.
   Education is another area to be prioritised. Sadly, recent Tory policies about parachuting in "super teachers" were accompanied by even more ridiculous announcements from Tristram about oaths.Carpet and brush spring to mind, so that more emphasis can be placed on removing the majority of Gove`s reforms which are having the sad effect of reducing social mobility even further. Time to focus on equality of opportunity!
     The NHS, of course, must maintain its prioritised position, with better explanations of how it will be funded. Voters will love the idea of a government intent on introducing a financial transaction tax and a system of progressive income tax, which increases the amount to be paid by those who can afford it; that means everyone earning over £80K, three times the average! By doing this, and insisting at least that the living wage must become the minimum wage, and ending zero-hours contracts, Labour might actually be taken seriously in its aim to reduce inequality, especially if there was a real intent to end tax avoidance and evasion.
   Britain all too frequently goes to war to protect democracy, yet for years, governments have done nothing to achieve the real thing at home; in other words, get everyone to vote. Labour would be the party to benefit from larger turnouts, so why not advocate voting reforms? Polling booths in city centres, supermarkets, university campuses, with a commitment to investigate the possibility of electronic voting for the 2020 election. Trade unionists would welcome its immediate use in their ballots, too
   Last priority is to ensure every single voter knows and understands the implication of all Tory and Ukip policies, including shrinking the state back to 1948 levels and tax reductions for the rich. Experts know their raising the starting tax threshold has little effect on ending poverty, but do the voters?
  Hammering home these prioritised messages might just turn the tide; the right-wing vote is divided, and the emphasis of these policies on fairness is what the majority want. A "different" is one which is prepared to stand up to the City and the banks, but there`s only six months or so left to persuade the electorate!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Letter to Guardian re Tristram

In view of the huge gaffe Tristram Hunt made with his idea for all teachers to swear an oath promising to work hard, and of the previous ones he made with regards to supporting Performance Related Pay for teachers and for free schools, the re-licensing of teachers every five years, crossing a university workers` picket line, failing to support teachers with their industrial action, claiming "character and resilience" did not exist in state schools, and replying to reporters` questions on his children`s future schools with "Never rule out what takes place", would it not be sensible for him to attempt to make amends? Resigning would be an option, but he could at least speak out against "the ideological vandalism" which is cutting the funding of universities` PGCE courses.(PGCE course:big cuts expected today,14/10/14) There`s a lot to be done if teachers are to be persuaded to vote for his party, with him as Secretary of State for Education.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Observer letter on Ebola outbreak

With the media already besotted by an event seven months away, it was good to see the Observer`s editorial concentrating on something more relevant to the world today.(The world must unite and act quickly on Ebola,05/10/14) With the possibility of "1.4m new cases" by the end of next January, the Ebola outbreak, as you rightly say, is "a matter of truly international concern".
   The truth is that the world`s commitment to the possibility of a global pandemic "spiralling out of control" has been practically non-existent, with even sums like the £125m given by the UK to Sierra Leone looking totally inadequate, when compared with money spent on air attacks in the Middle East, or given to enrich the wealthy, in the form of tax reductions. Isn`t it funny how money is often no problem for governments intent on winning elections or making war, but when health problems erupt in poorer parts of the globe, the national deficit suddenly appears too problematic to enable sufficient financial support to be sent? When vast sums are needed, for example to give the American economy a boost, or to re-stabilise British banks to the tune of £375bn, quantitative easing is seen as the solution, so why cannot the same method of money creation be employed to provide the WHO with all the required experts, medicine and equipment? The usual German objection to such measures, about fears of repeating 1923`s hyper-inflation, would have even less relevance than normal, and it would be an opportunity for politicians to prove that there is more to their world than hypocrisy and duplicity, bribing voters and election victories.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Labour can learn from Tories

As the general election approaches,and with worrying news from by-elections, Labour must not panic,and resort to idiotic attempts tp please Ukip voters with tougher immigration rules. In fact, it can learn an important lesson from the Tories! No, not on policy, duplicity, arrogance and self-interest, or any of the other hallmarks of modern Conservatism. There is one aspect, however, of the typical Tory`s DNA, which the Labour politicians would do well to emulate in the build-up to the 2015 election; its confidence! Not just confidence in Miliband as leader, but in winning the election with policies which will transform our society. Yes, those policies need some radicalisation, but if change after the election is not on the cards, why should people vote Labour? 
     Caroline Flint defended Labour`s energy initiatives strongly in a recent radio interview, but then said, "If labour win the election...". Similarly, Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore , respectively the chairperson and director of Labour`s general election strategy, wrote an article for the Observer, in which they said they are "confident the Conservatives are beatable". Of course they are, as are Ukip, but the statement does not inspire the reader with the belief that the writers have confidence; the statement is shrouded in doubt. Even the shadow business secretary said in his Campbell interview on an election victory, "I don`t know if we will, but we can, if we make the right calls", words  hardly symptomatic of a party confident of its own destiny.
      After four years of the Tory-dominated government`s cruel austerity policies which targeted the weakest and most vulnerable, whilst benefitting the richest and putting Britain into 28th position in the equality league table, selling the country`s assets at rock bottom prices, and taking education and welfare back fifty years, Labour should be displaying rather more optimism than that! The more confidence the politicians reveal about their victory in the election, the more likely it becomes that the voters will believe in them and their policies.Why do so many people still believe that the Labour government brought about the economic crash? The Tories repeated it again and again, Goebbels-like, and with no doubts; the fact that they had no evidence whatsoever never stops them making such claims. Farage does it too, while Labour leaders exude timidity.
     The electorate will not only remember the full effects of the Tory-dominated coalition government, they will fear what a Tory government might do over the next five years if given the chance, provided, of course,
Labour frequently reminds them. Tories have admitted their aim is to shrink the state back to 1948 levels, whilst having started already to dismantle the welfare state, take education assessment back to the 1950s, and privatise the NHS. Do fair-minded voters approve of such ideas, or do they want their beloved NHS retained, albeit better funded, and big businesses paying employees a living wage, and the tax gap reduced? Do they want prisons so overcrowded suicide rates rise frighteningly, energy prices so high many go without food to keep warm, or private rents so high as to make thousands of lives a misery? Do they want thousands attending food banks every week?
    With Tory-like confidence shown by all Labour shadow-ministers, MPs and parliamentary candidates, voters themselves will be more likely to be convinced that Labour can deliver on its policies. When Cameron and Osborne smirk their way through parliamentary questions and television interviews, Labour`s response should be to repudiate, not accept. Ed Balls`s prediction of soaring unemployment will be mocked, Miliband`s so-called "weirdness" will be ridiculed, so Labour leaders should retaliate with facts, confidently delivered. Tory claims of job creation can be explained by agency work and zero-hours contracts, and 540,000 resorting to self-employment. Shouldn`t Labour be shouting this from the rooftops?
Even with their appalling record, Tory politicians still expect voters to believe their lies, because they repeat them with so much confidence, as with their "long-term economic plan". But that plan is for a low-wage economy, which means the majority do not share in the profit, and a low-tax economy, with welfare services reduced even further; the "Tory lie-machine" and Ukip`s racist nonsense can be challenged with confidence, and when Labour leaders do it, there will be knock-on effects in the constituencies and on the doorsteps. Let`s have no "ifs" and a lot more "whens"! 


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tory policies are a godsend for Labour

With only seven months or so to go until the general election, and the government parties trailing in the opinion polls, Cameron`s holidays took far more news space than any of his policies. The truth is, of course, that Cameron should have stayed out of the way in Cornwall, because back at Downing Street, he would be asked questions about those policies. This is probably the reason Lynton Crosby does not want television election debates. The less the electorate know about Tory policies, let alone understand them, the better! Rafael Behr in the Guardian rightly said that the Tories are attempting to "confound anyone trying to understand what would happen" if they won the election, but the reasons he gives for this omits one important point.(A race neither Labour nor the Tories are fit to win,03/09/14) How can they possibly hope to win the support and trust of the electorate, if the latter are made fully aware of the consequences facing them in a second Cameron term?
   The much vaunted "long-term economic plan" is based upon establishing and maintaining a low wage economy. Tories have deliberately encouraged zero-hours` contracts and part-time work, and done next to nothing to prevent the payment of wages below the amount statutorily required. A living wage for all is not on the Tories` agenda. Six million voters are members of trade unions, so there will be little election publicity given to restricting their rights to take industrial action, going back to pre-Disraeli days.
   Also part of the "plan" is a low tax economy, but how many voters will have seen their taxes fall? Contrary to their last manifesto, VAT was raised almost immediately, whilst, of course, the rate of income tax was reduced only for top earners, and despite the rhetoric flowing like water, tax avoiders are yet to "smell the coffee", the tax gap has risen to over £35bn a year, and inspectors are still being laid off at HMRC. Voters will have noticed, too, that if there ever was a Tory policy to rein in the behaviour of our banks, it certainly has neither been visible nor effective. Tory friends are in the City, not in the cities.
   It is certain that voters will have noticed that the Tory policy of austerity has largely been imposed on the poorest and most vulnerable, ostensibly to cut the deficit, but, despite the suffering and food bank dependency, with little success. The government cutbacks have had the most damaging effects on the welfare state, the NHS and the conditions of our prisons. Outsourcing services has not led to increased efficiency, the cost of living crisis is worsening every day as the cuts dig deeper, and there are plenty more in store. Both Cameron and Osborne have admitted their aim is to shrink the state back to 1948 levels - hardly an attractive election slogan!
    One successful policy of the Tories has been related to social mobility; they have reduced it, as their policies intended, and top jobs are more than ever the preserve of privately educated, Oxbridge graduates! Gove`s assessment reforms have removed the pre-2010 level playing field devised by examination experts, and no mention is made by the government parties of reducing university fees, which they tripled, or of restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance, which they callously removed.
       Do the Tories intend to continue the same policies if given the chance? Of course they do. Will life, or even life chances, improve for the majority of ordinary people, and their children, under another Tory-dominated government? Of course not, and much of Labour`s election strategy should be devoted to ensuring that the voters fully comprehend what`s in store for them with another five years of Tory rule; it certainly won`t be the Tory strategy!

Guardian letter on Lib Dems and Labour

Polly Toynbee is far too lenient on Clegg and his cronies in the Lib Dem party.(Start telling the hard truth, Nick - there is no free lunch,07/10/14) Having sacrificed any liberal principles they might have had at the Downing St altar, and been complicit in everything, as Toynbee admits the most "extreme" government "since the war" has conspired to inflict upon the ordinary and less fortunate people of this country, they deserve neither sympathy nor advice. Totally swallowing the Tory line about how ignoring the deficit would leave the next generation with a mountain of debt, Clegg then allowed the tripling of university fees, ensuring all but the richest students had their own personal Everests! Their duplicity clearly knows no bounds; the fact that they now are reaching out to "soft Tories who are fiscally responsible but do not like any hint of a nasty party" beggars belief. .(Brutalise Tories over tax pledge, Clegg tells Lib Dems,06/10/14) Presumably, they regard such people as the only voters likely to be so daft as to forget that the Tory-dominated coalition government was only able to pass "nasty" legislation because of Lib Dem support. 
    What we are still waiting for is a response from Labour, who still insist on defending a risky lead with seven months to go, instead of providing "something different" which could give them the mandate to transform our socially immobile society. How can working people relying on benefits be expected to tighten their belts further, when their employers are receiving £85bn a year in taxpayers` subsidies? (Cut benefits? Yes, let`s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout,07/10/14) Even the Lib Dems spotted that the Tory conference had left an "open goal" for their opponents, but the Tories` downright selfishness and cruelty have provided an easy target for years.The real mystery is why Labour doesn`t shoot!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

i letter on NHS funding

The i asked for ideas on the NHS funding problem, so I wrote this, which they printed but edited out details!

The answer to the NHS`s funding problems, with a "£30bn black hole in the health service`s finances", must be clear to all of our politicians.( Medical professionals warn health service is at breaking point,06/10/14) The trouble is that it involves the well-off paying more taxes and none of our political parties and their leaders have the bottle to say so.
 Bearing in mind the fact that average earnings are around £26,000 and that the less fortunate have borne the brunt of the austerity measures, those earning above £80,000 have practically totally escaped the effects of the cuts, designed apparently to reduce the deficit. So an increase in income tax rates is an obvious starter, with a new 45% rate on incomes £80-150K, 50% on those between £150 and 200K, 55% on £200-250K and so on, with  a financial transaction tax for good measure. Even in Thatcher`s time a top rate tax of 60% existed, and recent evidence has suggested that the Laffer curve argument is nonsense. The 7th richest country in the world can afford wars at the drop of a hat, and tax reductions for the rich, so the blame for the NHS`s underfunding has to be politicians` fear of upsetting potential voters and "big business"!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Response to Andrew Rawnsley on Labour conference

Whilst it is difficult to disagree with Andrew Rawnsley in most aspects of his Observer article on the Labour party conference, comments like it 'lacked the tingle you'd expect from a party striding confidently towards power', and 'playing like a team with a dodgy 1-0 lead and 20 minutes to go" are somewhat derisory.(Labour is playing like a football team hoping for a dodgy 1-0 win,28/09/14) Has the Labour party introduced any policies, no matter how fair, no matter how moderate, which have not been slated by the press and the Tory hierarchy. Even the private rental proposals, far too lenient on greedy landlords, received the Hugo Chavez comparison!
Now, with Cameron enjoying his 'Falklands moment', are there any reasons for Labour optimism, other than the fact that Conservative domestic policies are so abysmal, Tories fear mentioning them; shrinking the state back to levels last seen in 1948 is not exactly the proposal to win over the wavering voter.Whatever Labour pledges, media criticism will be widespread, which leads many to conclude the policies should be much bolder.
So the 1-0 analogy is misleading, as a much more appropriate comparison would be with Liverpool, having gone 3-0 up, but having 2 players sent off, leaking 2 offside goals, and the match refereed by Alex Ferguson!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Guardian anti-war/air strike letter

 So Cameron has his Falklands moment at last. With only months to the election, and with no domestic policy to speak of, apart from shrinking the state back to 1948 levels and matching Ukip on immigration, he is forced to resort to war. Yet again, as Simon Jenkins says, Britain will demonstrate “our incompetence in trying to recast” the politics of the Middle East. Is Miliband so frightened of the rightwing media he cannot offer the obvious anti-war argument? Hasn’t history given us enough examples of the disastrous effects of US and UK interference? Anyway, since when has the indiscriminate blowing up of bodies been less medieval and barbaric than beheading?