Monday, 13 February 2017

Tory duplicity: 3 letters

As "about £17bn of tax rises are planned" by 2020, so that the tax share of GDP will be "above 37%  of national income for the first time since 1986-7", it is worth remembering that in that particular tax year, higher earners paid between 40% and 60% income tax (Tax burden "will hit highest level for 30 years",08/02/17). In fact, in those days of progressive tax, unsurprisingly it had been Thatcher who had reduced the top level to 60%, from 83%.
    The chancellor would do well to remember that, instead of planning "large giveaways in the form of a higher income tax personal allowance" at the higher rate, it is possible, both to tax fairly, and to accept that the Laffer Curve was a right-wing invention to justify low taxes on the wealthy.
    At a time when the NHS, the care system, schools and prisons are in desperate need of proper funding, it is immoral to consider cuts, when the rich get off so lightly.

What is it with the memories of Tory politicians? Last week George Osborne was suddenly worrying about the state of schools in the north, forgetting that his austerity programme`s cuts had intensified poverty in the area, increased the gap in spending per pupil between schools in the north and south, and frozen teachers` pay (Osborne seeks action on brain drain from the north,03/02/17).
Now we have Ken Clarke explaining the Brexit vote with the anger felt because of "London and the south-east having a booming economy", with "nothing happening" in the cities of the north, generously adding that "some blame" lay with Conservative governments (Ken Clarke: referendum a result of UK`s failure in tackling equality,06/02/17). Admittedly, Crossrail was given the green light in 2007 by a Labour administration, but since then, Britain`s inequality has been compounded by Tory decisions on HS2, the Heathrow runway, the western section of Crossrail, and in all probability, a ridiculous Garden bridge. Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research released figures showing that the Department for Transport will spend just £280 per person in the north, over the next four years, compared to £1870 per person in London.

Tories are responsible for so many of the country`s current problems, it beggars belief that two of their leading lights appear oblivious to the fact!

I noticed with despair that the Labour amendment to the EU Bill, which was "designed to stop the UK becoming a post-Brexit anti-tax haven", was defeated by 336 votes to 289 (Amendments: How the MPs voted, 09/02/17). Isn`t the idea of Britain becoming even more of a tax haven, where the rich can squirrel away their abundance of assets from the prying eyes of the taxman, contrary to the speech May gave at Downing Street, on becoming prime minister? "When it comes to taxes, we`ll prioritise not the wealthy", she said then, just another example of how Tory rhetoric cannot be trusted.
    At a time when the NHS, schools, the care system and prisons are all in urgent need of more funding, it is disgraceful to see Tory MPs acting so duplicitously.

Northern powerhouse? As if!

How generous of government ministers to promise to make the Government Art Collection "more accessible" (Government framework: vast art collection to go on public display, 10/02/17). With only "a limited number of works" currently viewable, Labour`s previous calls for the collection to be open to the public were well-founded.
     The problem is, however, that the "display place" for the artworks will be in London. Ken Clarke recently acknowledged that there is huge anger in the country, because of the wealth centred on London and the south-east, yet when there is an opportunity to put meat on the bones of the so-called "northern powerhouse", it is shunned. How easy it would be for the government to house the display in an existing gallery or museum north of Birmingham, or even better, build a new one. Hasn`t London got enough attractions and government investment already?

     It just proves the point that the idea of a "northern powerhouse" was simply an election wheeze, dreamt up by Osborne, who never thought the Tories would win outright, and that they might actually be expected to put their money where their mouths are.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

May needs no sympathy

Andrew Rawnsley suggests the need for some sympathy for Theresa May, our "accidental prime minister", who just happened to be "in charge when the music suddenly stopped" (Mrs May discovers you can`t be a bridge builder and a bridge burner, 05.02.17). There was nothing "accidental" about May`s arrival at Number 10; she deliberately kept a low profile during the referendum campaign, and did not gain from her colleagues the nick-name, "Submarine May", for no reason, though it appears particularly prescient, in view of the new depths to which May has taken British foreign policy!
   The idea that she is a "victim of her baleful circumstances" also beggars belief. May applied for the Tory leadership after the Brexit vote, and whilst Trump had not yet arrived at the White House, political and economic expediency would have demanded some arrangement with America. "Circumstances" did not demand an obsequious approach to the new president, nor a visit to the torture-practising Turkish ruler, nor even a rebuff for John Kerry`s description of Netanyahu`s administration as being the "most right-wing" in Israel`s history.
     At home May has overseen the continuation of the totally unnecessary austerity polices, suggested the return of outdated grammar schools, blamed GPs for the NHS crisis, caused by bed shortages, and done nothing to back up her own rhetoric about helping the "just about managing". Yes, Britain is "in such a precarious lonely place" at the moment, which some might describe as a "hole". The prime minister needs to stop digging, and, indeed, to stop treating both the leaders of the EU countries, and the British people, as mugs. Cameron and Osborne did that for long enough, and look where it`s taken us!

Friday, 10 February 2017

May courting Trump will misfire

As John Bew wrote, there is a serious "danger of overestimating" the UK`s "importance as a moderating influence" on Trump (Politics, 3rd February, 2017). It will not be long before America`s misogynistic and racist president tires of being criticised by a country which sells arms to the Saudis to use against Yemen, whose record of helping refugees is limited, which is fast becoming one of the world`s biggest tax havens, and whose leader incredulously claims that it "recognises its responsibilities to the world"!
       Bew, however, does rather miss the point when writing that, on the "prospect of a US-UK trade deal", May had an "easier brief", when visiting the White House. There is no way that such a deal will not involve the use of secret courts by America`s biggest companies to overturn other countries` laws that hinder profits, in the ways both that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) threatened, and that tobacco firm Philip Morris challenged plain cigarette packaging in Australia. Ally this with the danger US healthcare companies pose to an underfunded NHS, and the fuss caused by an over-hasty invitation for a state visit, and a US trade deal looks increasingly toxic.

       May might well be renowned for the "care with which she chooses her words", and the "deep thought" going into her "every next step", but her rush to visit Trump looks likely to backfire in so many ways. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

2 letters: Teachers know best!

Having spent most of my 40+ years of teaching in Knowsley, I read with horror that the area "is to be turned into a laboratory" of educational experiment once more (G2, Knowsley now has no A-level teaching at all, 30/01/17). The idea that politicians in London think they have a solution to the undoubted problems that exist in Knowsley is laughable, and compounded by the fact that their "solution" is "a new grammar school in the borough".
       As Ian Cobain says, Knowsley has been the object of sufficient experimentation this century already, when teachers` protests were ignored, and "wacky warehouses" the result, so using the borough again to test another shot-in-the-dark method of improving the national problem of low white working-class attainment, is simply appalling. Dare one ask what would happen to the pupils not selected for the grammar school, or from which schools the grammar`s teachers would come?

      Cobain`s report omitted the fact that Knowsley`s education has not always been quite so error-strewn, and when heads and teachers were acknowledged to know what was best, results did improve; even with many of the GCSE high-achievers leaving for 6th form education elsewhere, some schools continued to send students to universities, including Oxbridge. The lesson is clear: leave the teaching and organisation to the professionals. Ignore Gove`s nonsense about shunning "experts", and listen to people like the two heads interviewed in the article, Walker and Gowan, who have the experience and expertise to give Knowsley`s children the education they deserve.

If George Osborne seriously wants to narrow the "growing north-south divide in England`s schools", he needs to learn from Knowsley`s recent experience (Osborne seeks action on brain drain from the north,03/02/17). By all means increase the funding for the schools in the north, especially those in the most deprived areas, but most definitely do not leave important decision-making about organisation, and types of schools, to politicians.
      The idea that politicians in London think they have a solution to the undoubted problems that exist in some of the north`s schools is laughable, especially when their "solution" for Knowsley was, first, the "Building Schools for the Future", which led to the "wacky warehouses", and now, apparently, is "a new grammar school in the borough" (G2, Knowsley now has no A-level teaching at all, 30/01/17).       
          The lesson is clear: leave the teaching and organisation to the professionals. Ignore Gove`s nonsense about shunning "experts", and listen to people like the two heads interviewed in Cobain`s article, Walker and Gowan, who have the experience and expertise to give Knowsley`s children the education they deserve.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Principled stance needed

John Bew suggests that "Britain will have to pick carefully those issues" of American policy with which it disagrees, because of the "stakes being so high" currently (The eclipse of the west, 27th January, 2017). Yet, if Britain is to act, as Bernie Saunders hopes, as the US`s "moral conscience", she must protest vociferously when Trump`s policies cross our red lines, as they have already done, and doubtlessly will continue to do. The very fact that May embarrassingly "bumped herself up the queue" to get to the White House displays a deal-at-all-costs mentality, illustrated quite clearly by her initial refusal to condemn Trump`s refugee ban, which incidentally, omitted people from countries where Trump has business interests!
     With her crass remarks about how "opposites attract", and holding hands, May betrayed all the millions who marched against Trump. Yes, the "choice facing Britain might be stark", but Bew is wrong to suggest there "is no choice at all": either we adopt policies with a distinct moral compass, which entail a principled stance against the likes of Trump, or we lose all credibility in the world, and rely on arms deals and tax haven status for our existence. Let`s start with parliament banning Trump`s state visit!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Labour and Article 50 (2 letters)

Marshajane Thompson argued that "only huge mobilisations against the politics of hate" can "stop the rise of the far-right" (Morning Star, 01/02/17). Of course, demonstrations and marches are essential in protesting against right-wing actions and policies, but what history showed us in the 1930s is that strong opposition parties are necessary, to provide the electorate with a viable alternative.
     Labour, as Thompson stated, "does not have the power to stop Brexit", but it must oppose any Tory government policy, which is likely to lead the country into economic hardship. That`s what its MPs were elected to do, not to support Tory action which leads us to base our economy on tax evasion, de-regulation, and arms sales, and to treat people immigrating here with Trump-like scorn. Whatever happened to the principle of supporting free movement?
    The recent surge in Labour membership was brought about by the party`s principled approach, different from the greed and profit-at-all cost policies of the Tories. Corbyn`s Labour was clearly not the same as the other political parties, so to be seen voting for Article 50 betrays thousands! The idea that it has to be supported because it`s been democratically decided is nonsense, as it ignores the falsehoods on which the Brexiters based their campaign; anyway, who voted for job losses and inflation? If the Labour leadership cannot devise suitable arguments to crush Ukip criticism,  the question should be asked about their suitability for politics!

      Brexit does not simply mean "Brexit". It means "May`s Brexit", and that cannot augur well for the future of British workers, or their rights. It should be challenged at every opportunity.

Justin Gest argued that Labour must build "a social vision and economic future that transcends ethnic divisions, not reinforces them", and one would have thought that, in Corbyn, it had the principled leader to do just that (Labour is moving close to disaster. How can it reconnect with its roots?29/01/17). Being placed in a somewhat difficult situation because of the Brexit vote, the Labour leader, however, like many of his predecessors, has "backed the wrong horse". Brexit may mean "Brexit", but its May`s Brexit, and should be opposed.
      With Johnson alienating potential allies in Europe, and May obsequiously rushing to head a non-existent queue to visit the White House, Jeremy Corbyn`s three-line whip on Article 50 has wasted a wonderful opportunity to challenge the government. and must be viewed as a mistake. Not only does it give the Tory government a far easier ride that such a traumatic decision should entail, it suggests that Labour is more worried about losing seats to Ukip, than in acting as an elected opposition and protecting the people from economic hardship. Perhaps worse, on a personal basis, Corbyn has shown himself prepared to sacrifice principle for votes, and to be similar, therefore, to the vast majority of politicians, from whom he is meant to differ! 
       By aiming to prevent the country falling into economic ruin, and having to rely on selling arms and welcoming tax evaders, Labour could regain some ground in the polls for its patriotic stance. By acting as a true opposition, it could even, as the true effects of a hard Brexit reveal themselves, force a general election. Labour might not win, but it would have the chance to unite against Ukip`s obvious racism, to defend the NHS and comprehensive state education, and attack the government for its immigration and austerity policies. A few million Brexiters must realise by now they were told lies ; for example, were they told about the effects of leaving the single market?

      If the only way Labour can win the forthcoming by-elections is to out-Ukip Ukip, it sadly is not worth voting for anyway!