Thursday, 31 December 2015

3 unpublished letters to Guardian

With the Tories` much-vaunted "long-term economic plan" now clearly in disarray, and "deficit reduction targets" about to be missed, one would have thought that such news would at least make the front page of a newspaper claiming to be left-of-centre (New figures reignite fears that Osborne will fail to hit his budget surplus goal,23/12/15). Having won the May election by convincing the electorate that only Tories can manage the economy competently and reduce the deficit, and that Labour governments borrow too much, this administration has already borrowed £66.9bn in eight months, when its twelve month target is £68.9bn.
     Billions of pounds are being denied to the Treasury every year, money which, if used sensibly, could transform our health and education services, as well as providing finance for much-needed improvement of our infrastructure. So when "some of the biggest and most profitable investment banks in the City of London" are found to have paid "little or no corporation tax last year", shouldn`t this be headline news, too (Outrage as top City banks pay almost no tax on £3.6bn profit,23/12/15)? The Tories, after all, supposedly think such tax avoidance is "morally repugnant", and promised years ago to make greedy businesses, like these banks, "smell the coffee".
     The opposition parties in parliament do have a duty to challenge the actions of the government, but arguments and elections will not be won by them as long as the more liberal elements of the press fail to highlight government failures like these. Brilliant editorials are all very well, and it is right to criticise the government for "redefining poverty out of existence", rather than attempting to abolish it, but this government cannot be allowed to brainwash, again, the public with its "competence" and "caring" nonsense. (Christmas illustrates a truth the Tories ignore: money matters,23/12/15).
     Of course it is right, too, to highlight humanitarian issues like the plight of the refugees, but there is a lot of news space on a front page; it is not only Labour`s anti-Corbyn brigade in the parliamentary party who are hindering Labour`s chances of election success in 2020.

Your editorial on the prime-minister concludes that "it is time for Mr Cameron to show some steel", but ducking confrontation has, as it admits, "served him well" in the past, and the likelihood of a change in policy in 2016 is slim (The price of party unity has been a loss of strategic purpose,26/12/15). The reason is simple: there is no "steel" to be shown, either by him, or his leader-in-waiting, George Osborne. The latter talks frequently of having to make "difficult decisions", but is it really painful or awkward for a Tory chancellor to cut benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, whilst shielding his party`s key supporters from the effects of austerity? Claiming tax avoidance by companies and rich individuals to be "morally repugnant", and warning that they will soon "smell the coffee", is easy, when there is no intention of taking effective action, and the Treasury continues to be denied billions of much-needed revenue (Outrage as top City banks pay almost no tax on £3.6bn profit,23/12/15).
    Cameron is an ideal Tory leader, because he has no backbone, and refusing concessions to opponents within the party would, indeed, "be out of character". Deferring a Tory "civil war", whilst he and his chancellor reduce the size of the state, and enrich supporters with cut-price privatisations, is his only strategy. As long as so many voters strangely view this procrastination as "prime-ministerial", there is no reason for a "steely" pretence, especially when myopic opposition parties fail to see the open-goals offered to them.
Bernard Jenkin is right to say that "people in politics" should not be denied an honour "just because they give public service", but what on earth does this have to do with the highly paid Australian, Lynton Crosby (Knighthood for Tories` election strategist undermines honours system, say critics, 28/12/15)?

 Bernard Jenkin is right to say that "people in politics" should not be denied an honour "just because they give public service", but what on earth does this have to do with the highly paid Australian, Lynton Crosby (Knighthood for Tories` election strategist undermines honours system, say critics, 28/12/15)?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Holding business to account

"Illegal or unethical practice at the expense of the consumer" is all too common in the corporate world, so it was edifying to see a whole editorial devoted to the subject (It`s time we held big business to account, 20/12/15).Of course, you are right to say that businesses should play a greater role "in calling each other to account", and it would make a pleasant change if the CBI started to take action against its companies failing to pay decent wages, giving obscene bonuses to overpaid executives, or avoiding tax, rather than criticising the government for its apprenticeship plans, and blaming hard-working teachers for employees lacking skills.
     Better information about companies` behaviour, like the European parliament`s "fair tax kitemark", is clearly needed. When the USA faced similar problems of unpatriotic, greedy businesses during the 1930s, Roosevelt came up with "Blue Eagles", which, after a presidential explanation via a "fireside chat", companies could display in their advertising, provided their practice was in line with government policy. To encourage economic growth, and stimulate spending, decent wages, shorter working days and trade union recognition were all deemed essential. If something similar was adopted here, it would not not only provide much needed information for public consumption, and guidance before purchase, it would help provide a more even playing field for business, giving the more ethical companies a better chance of survival in the face of unfair competition from the tax avoiders and low wage payers.
   That "handful of bad companies"which you mention, is fast becoming a "wheelbarrow-full", and the sooner action is taken, the better. With Osborne more often in cahoots with the City than not, few of us will be holding our breath!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mandelson still wrong!

"Arch-Blairite" Mandelson, rightly described by Momentum founder, Jon Lansman as "desperate", claims 30,000 "real members" have left the Labour party since Corbyn was elected leader, even though membership overall has risen by 180,000 (Morning Star,18/12/15). His definition of "real" clearly veers away from any known dictionary! What he means is that people who never should have been in the Labour party, whose right-wing views saw substance in the Blair years, when huge opportunities were missed to regulate industry and the financial institutions, and when inequality soared, now disapprove of Corbyn`s policies.
 Mandelson is the one who infamously declared that his version of the Labour party was "intensely relaxed" about people getting filthy rich, with results which have been disastrous for our society and economy. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has now provided results of its research, which shows that high pay for chief executives demotivates the rest of the workforce, which then is reflected in productivity levels. Hardly surprising when the High Pay Centre`s research shows that CEOs are being paid 183 times more than their average employee, compared with 47 times in 1998. Median pay for CEOs in FTSE100 companies has risen from £1.4m in 2003 to £3.3m in 2014.

   What the country clearly needs is for the ratio between average worker and boss`s pay to be limited by legislation, and for all boards of directors of companies above a certain size to include workers` representatives, a system good enough to be imposed on West Germany after the war, but seemingly inappropriate for 21st century UK! Over to you, Mr Corbyn.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Oxbridge colleges` intake

The fact that that many Oxbridge colleges still fail to "accept even half of their intake from state schools" is appalling, and, given that both universities have been encouraged to enrol more undergraduates from the state sector for years, legislative remedial action is required (Oxbridge colleges named and shamed for failing to admit disadvantaged students,13/12/15).
      One obvious solution would be to legislate to ensure universities could not take in more than 7% of their intake from private schools, matching the national average. It would mean all universities would be forced to accept more candidates from the state sector, and inevitably, more students from poorer, working class backgrounds. There would be some objections, with some universities complaining about a fall in standards, but there is plenty of research already done, showing how undergraduates from state schools tend to achieve higher degrees, and make more academic progress, than the cosseted, and rather spoilt, students from the private sector. 
      Of course, not all state schools are the same, with some of the selective ones in the more prosperous areas being able to provide a much more "privileged" education than others in less salubrious districts. Television programmes on the subject, with their fly-on-the-wall approach to filming, (or so we are led to believe) have not served the cause of state education well. Whilst they have shown the caring and dedicated side of the teaching profession, and, probably to the horror of Tristram Hunt, the abundance of "character and resilience" amongst the pupils, the cameras never focus on the hugely successful teaching and learning which take place on a daily basis, often enabling 60% plus of the students to gain 5 A*-C grades, and go on to sixth form studies. The programmes give the impression that in all state schools, lessons are constantly disrupted by poor behaviour, and that is simply not the case.
   Undoubtedly, however, examination success is much more difficult to achieve in some state schools than others, often for a variety of reasons. The more "challenging" schools often find staff recruitment a problem, which can lead to the appointment of unqualified teachers, and "promotion" of classroom assistants. In such schools, staff often leave mid-course, which can be particularly damaging at sixth form level, where the subject may have to be dropped at the end of year 12, if no replacement tutor can be found. A-level results may well be affected, which  then impacts on university application success.
Shouldn`t all universities be forced, as so few do it willingly, to take in a certain percentage of their undergraduates from such schools? If pupils can achieve grade Cs and Bs after teacher upheaval, poor leadership, and compulsory cutbacks at their schools, they at least deserve the opportunity to continue their studies at the university of their choice. It might mean university tutors having to spend a little more time in tutorials, and even the end of one-to-one tutorials, but it would also bring some meaning back to the concept of "equality of opportunity"!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Beatle song titles

Funny how at least 15 Beatles song titles can come together in a brief G2 article yesterday. (Science papers - another cite of Bob Dylan, 16/12/15). Don't ask me why but for no one to notice is something else!
      It is correct, is it not? A second time, consecutively, in the Letters page on the same topic is well nigh impossible, or so they tell me (Letters,17/12/15). Why is this? All I`ve got to do is imitate what you`re doing, yes?
       It is, apparently, something you can`t do. That there`s a place for hiding Beatle song titles in a newspaper is incontrovertible, and I want to tell you it`s in the readers` contribution section; in fact, I will. If you want help in this, there`s no need to act. Naturally, I want to be your man, and that`s that! It`s not the end, as if!
     I fell foul of the readers` editor the night before last. I should have known better than to have suggested such a revolution!
      Now here`s a quiz you can do any time. 
 At all Christmas gatherings I`ve got a feeling it will go down well, some joy, some misery. Why?As Tesco nearly always says, because every little thing helps at Christmas. Something to indulge in.
My life history shows many festive occasions need  such party-starters.  I would love you to try to find as many different Beatle song titles as you can, all together, now, or on your own.
    Thank you and good night. That`s all from me.
To you a very happy Christmas.

New Statesman letter on Tory democracy

George Eaton appears surprised by the Tories` "battery of measures to weaken the opposition and to reduce executive responsibility", especially as they entail an all-out offensive against democracy (Politics,11th December). Just because Cameron churns out his mantra about democracy being a "core British value", and its protection abroad being a key reason for intervention, does not mean his government and party give it anything other than token and perfunctory support. Indeed, history reveals how the Tories only ever accepted the 19th century expansion of the suffrage when it was clear that reform acts would reduce the threat of revolution, as in 1832, or possibly benefit them in the polls, as in 1867. Cameron, with his constituency boundary changes, reduced "Short money" and a "new system of individual electoral registration" is simply carrying on a long-held Tory tradition.
     By contending that the government is not repeating Labour`s "error of inaction", Eaton ignores another Tory anti-democratic device; doing nothing to utilise modern technology in the voting procedure also illustrates their desire to limit the level of democracy in this country. When millions use their phones or tablets to vote every week for ballroom dancers or whatever, and when billions of pounds safely change hands in internet deals, government refusals to experiment with online voting, claiming it to be too insecure, beggar belief. Even moving polling booths to city centres, supermarket car-parks or university campuses appears to be too risky, when the only danger clearly is that many more will be incentivised to vote. Democracy, it seems, is only an aspiration for countries under dictatorships, but what does a country effectively become, when its government is intent on limiting democracy, and encouraging only its own supporters to exercise their statutory rights?

Monday, 14 December 2015

Morning Star letter on Saudis and Syria

Of course, the British monarchy and Tory party`s "appalling long-standing" relationships with the Saudis are hindering the government from "pressurising rich Gulf rulers into cutting off funding Isis", and, as Lord Ashdown says, stopping those funds would be more effective than bombing campaigns (Morning Star,25/11/15). Ashdown is also correct to question why Saudi and Qatari plane are not involved in the bombing campaign; he has often asked how will we destroy Isis "by killing more Muslim Arabs with Western bombs"?  The question about why Corbyn has received so much criticism from his own MPs for saying that our recent record of intervention in the Middle East, not to mention our historical one, has "increased the threat to the UK" can only be answered by examining both their motives and their inability to read political opportunities correctly! 
    Labour MPs should be focusing their attention on the Tories, and in particular, Cameron`s refusal to publish a report on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, because it did not find it a "terrorist organisation" as the Saudis had hoped. The MPs should be asking why the PM ordered the review in the first place, when it was obvious that democracy, that so-called "British value", which led to the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired government was crushed by the Egyptian military. Nothing to do with arms deals, by any chance?

     It is obvious diplomacy has to be the first resort in the Syria problem, especially as the usual justification given for violent jihadism is the foreign policy of the west, with its repeated invasions, interference and killing. The UK and its government should not only learn from its recent actions in the Middle East, rather than repeat the mistakes, but also remember how peace finally came to Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Turkish foreign policy

Norman Stone is right to say that Erdogan`s recent "adventurism" does, indeed, "amount to an extraordinary departure" for Turkish foreign policy since 1923, but he strangely failed to mention how the events of the late 1870s substantiate his argument about Turkey`s dangerous provocation of Russia (Erdogan`s dreams of empire are perilous for his country,07/12/15). The role of principal thorn in the side of the Turks, then, was taken by Balkan nationalists, particularly after the obscene mistreatment of the Bulgars which brought about Russian intervention to protect fellow Slavs, a situation not too dissimilar from that of today. Russian victory in the ensuing war in 1878 meant Britain, under the Tory Disraeli, sticking her imperial nose in, especially when the San Stephano peace did not suit her own territorial ambitions, and when an international affair looked as though it would be settled without the involvement of the British. Disraeli may have returned home from the Congress of Berlin a hero, but his misreading of the political situation, and understimation of the strength of opposition to foreign intervention, led to the early 20th century Balkan wars, and ultimately the first world war. Historians say how Disraeli "backed the wrong horse", but the lesson, surely, is to stay well away from the betting ring!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

New Statesman letter on IS

Quentin Sommerville tells us that after the battles for Sinjar and Kobane, "the absence of IS dead was striking", protected by their "network of tunnels and hideaways" (Into the terror zone, 4th December,2015). This must surely tell us that the bombing of IS-held towns, without massive military support on the ground, can be little more than political posturing. Bombing oilfields in IS-held territory is less effective, too, than punishing those who are buying their oil. What has to be attained first is international and local agreement on the removal of Assad; without this, any action is likely to spawn more hatred of western values.
      An ideology, as it has often been said, no matter how barbarous, cannot be bombed out of existence. Urgently required is for its bloodthirsty and psychopathic aspects to be exposed as essentially non-Islamic, for the ideology`s attraction to decline, and the best way history has shown to achieve this is by putting it on public trial, with worldwide publicity, Nuremburg style. Leading figures of IS need to be captured, and for maximum effect, all lawyers and judges involved should be Muslim. Whilst it is vital that this barbaric monstrosity is revealed to all as a perversion of the Muslim faith, it is also increasingly evident that every delay in the removal of Assad  hinders all possibilities of peace.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Morning Star letter on BBC`s Spoty

Kadeem Simmonds raised some excellent points in his article on the different reactions in the press to Vardy and Fury, the former a "goalscoring, abusive narcissist" and the latter a world champion, bigoted homophobe (Morning Star,03/12/15). Simmonds strangely made no reference to Fury`s inclusion in the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, or to the possible effect his homophobic comments will have on the public`s voting. No matter how good the sporting achievement, the award does explicitly stress it is for "sports personality", and it`s about time, especially considering how prestigious and coveted the trophy has become, that the media provided us with rather more pertItinent details about all those on the shortlist.
       It would certainly be helpful to know about which of the twelve love their country so much, and are so grateful for the support of their British fans, they live abroad, and pay little or no tax to the Treasury. How many say they owe so much to the time and patience of their teachers, but who nevertheless contribute to the £40bn of unpaid, avoided taxes every year, money which could ensure the provision of better facilities and coaching for millions of young people in this country?  Perhaps the Morning Star could help by publishing the BBC`s shortlist, providing readers with details of the names of the non doms and known tax avoiders? Such action by the press would surely have altered the final result last year!


Monday, 7 December 2015

Criticism of the Observer

So "Labour is trapped", and its "aghast parliamentarians are powerless to do anything about it" (There is no obvious escape route from the party`s agonies,29/11/15). When our politicians rush their decisions, without thinking of the consequences, political writers can`t wait to criticise the absence of what they refer to as "joined-up thinking", but isn`t this the crime of which supposedly left-wing commentators like Andrew Rawnsley are now guilty, especially since Corbyn`s election? What did they expect to happen in the Labour party, when, in column after column, they have ridiculed him for having slightly radical principles, and rubbished his policies as "hard left", for actually threatening to reduce inequality?
      What is the point of the Observer, year after year, brilliantly exposing huge profiteering and exploitation, massive tax avoidance and evasion, and untold suffering endured by the millions of less fortunate people here and worldwide, when it greets the election of a politician, with proposals to transform society, with derision? For months, Rawnsley and his ilk have encouraged the Blairite faction, and others with similar Tory-lite policies, to distance themselves from Corbyn and those with a similar "ideological complexion", and now wonders why "his own shadow cabinet" cannot be persuaded by his "unconvincing argument", even though it happens to be the same argument supported by your editorial (The PM failed to make a convincing case for Syria strikes.MPs should say no,29/11/15)!
     Wouldn`t it have been more sensible, especially for a newspaper with such a reputation as yours, to have welcomed Corbyn`s election as an opportunity to present the country with a realistic, alternative government to that of the Tories? Of course, inexperience of leadership would cause problems and, at times, embarrassment, but instead of providing encouragement for MPs to unite, and make the most of Corbyn`s huge popularity in the party, political writers urged rebellion. The fact that the same rebellion could lead us into another disastrous and unnecessary military engagement presumably escaped them!
     How will change and transformation ever come without someone like Corbyn leading the charge? Do the rebels in the shadow cabinet, and their supporters in the media, really believe a moderate Labour can win elections? If Corbyn is forced out, History will most certainly judge 2015 as a year of missed opportunity for Labour, and it won`t be the politicians who are solely to blame.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Morning Star letter on Labour MPs

Of course, as Friday`s excellent editorial said, every MP "should be expected to face peaceful protest", but "personalised abuse or threats" have no place in our political system (Morning Star, 04/12/15). The latter point really does need to be stressed; disappointment at many Labour MPs` voting in favour of the bombing of Syria was shared by all of us, but tweeting abuse and threats only plays into Tory hands. Notice how quickly the mainstream media publicised them, never failing to add to the government`s propaganda about the unelectability of the current Labour party.
    Corbyn`s policies, as the Oldham victory shows, can resonate with a general public, which is clearly and increasingly fed up with the obviously unnecessary austerity measures of the Bullingdon boys, and the 2020 election is there for the winning. The task of winning over the electorate, however, will be difficult enough, without an impression spreading that Labour is divided between Blairites and hot-headed extremists.
     A small number of the right-wing Labour MPs are probably in the wrong party, but the majority can be won round to Corbyn`s way of thinking, and a united front can be in place long before the 2020 election. With the Tories finding it hard to break their habit of U-turning, but refusing to change their main proposal to shrink the state, with the least fortunate bearing the brunt of the effects, Corbyn and his allies must concentrate on analysing the details of every government policy and statement; too often, ministers are allowed to make, and usually repeat, outrageous claims which have not a shred of evidence to support them.
 Far too many opportunities have been missed by Labour in 2015, but there is still a chance for the party, united around its leader and policies, to offer a real opposition to this most duplicitous of governments. Tristram Hunt wrongly moaned about the lack of "character and resilence" shown by pupils in the state sector, but if ever there was a time for Labour MPs of his ilk to display those characteristics, it has to be now! Even worms can turn, especially when they realise how their leader is far more in touch with the voters than they are.


Friday, 4 December 2015

0sborne`s "hard choices"

Whilst your Leader did describe Osborne`s "hard choices" as "increasingly self-inflicted", and rightly argued that the austerity policies are "political choices" rather than economic necessities, it failed to make the obvious point (Leader,27 November,2015). The so-called "hard choices", which he boasts are now "paying off", are, in fact, the easiest decisions a Tory chancellor can make. Cutting benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, shielding his party`s key supporters from the effects of austerity, refusing to make the wealthiest pay their fair share, and ignoring the need for financial institutions to be strictly regulated are all default positions for Osborne. What was difficult about selling RBS shares a few weeks ago for £1.1bn less than their real value, just to benefit his hedge-fund friends?
   What would be really "hard choices" would include ones which increase fairness in the taxation system, like a "modest land tax" or an increase in income tax for the wealthy, and which deal effectively with tax avoidance by increasing co-operation in Europe, forcing multinationals to file a single European tax return, and thereby offending the eurosceptics in his own party. How can protecting pensioners, the majority of whom vote Tory, from austerity be possibly thought of as a difficult decision? Joining the majority of EU members in imposing a Financial Transaction tax next January might be judged a difficult decision for him, but only because it would offend many Tory donors. "Hard choices" for Osborne would entail commitments which have the potential to upset Tory voters, something that he is clearly reluctant to do; imposing austerity measures on people traditionally regarded as Labour supporters, or non-voters, cannot be described as such. 


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Guardian letter on Spoty

 Sachin Nakrani is, of course, stating the obvious when suggesting that Tyson Fury`s remarks about homosexuality and abortion "could count against him" in the voting for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, provided, that is, the public knows about them (Gloves are off as Fury and Murray enter fray for BBC Sports Personality award,01/12/15). As it is "widely recognised as being the most prestigious honour" outside the "sporting arena", the BBC`s selection panel, who drew up the shortlist for the award, should ensure it goes to a worthy winner.
     For a start, it would be helpful to know about which of the twelve love their country so much, and are so grateful for the support of their British fans, they live abroad, and pay little or no tax to the Treasury. Perhaps the Guardian could help by publishing the shortlist again, but this time placing asterisks by the names of the non doms and known tax avoiders?