Monday, 31 March 2014

A three-pronged attack on our country from within.

Conservatives are fundamentally and permanently driven towards lower taxes. To them, it makes sense that they should pay a lump sum for something if they need it and not a small amount from their pay packets in case they do. Which is fine for them: they can afford it. If their poorly-paid staff end up unable to clean their brandy and truffle-infused shirts because of cuts to their poverty wage subsidies, or inability to get healthcare, then fine - they'll get someone else to do it. After all, there are literally millions of people across Europe who are fit and desperate to do their dirty work.

When in power, the Tories are able to wage a war on public services from both sides. On the one, more obvious side, they claim there's not enough money in the treasury to pay for "failing" and "inefficient" services. So they cut them. On the other side, they exert even more pressure on the treasury coffers by reducing income tax for the top earners and taking the lowest paid out of it altogether. The result being, of course, that there really isn't enough money coming into the treasury to pay for the extra low-pay subsidies (in-work benefits) that they themselves are creating. So one project makes the other necessary and also true at the same time. You almost have to marvel at the audacity and disregard shown by this latest bunch of nasty Tories.

There's a third prong, too. The wealthy business-owners, shareholders and other sundry wealth-stealing Tory supporters and donors are dragging wages ever lower with more minimum wage part-time jobs, zero-hours contracts and forcing employees to become self-employed and in doing so, stealing rights from them such as sick pay and holiday pay. The more this goes on, the less taxes are being generated. And of course, this is without mentioning tax avoidance, which has not been dealt with at all.

The Conservatives and their cash-guzzling throng are shafting this country from all sides. And at the moment, it does not look like we have an opposition who will do much to change it.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Tory plan is right on course.

When Ed Milliband introduced the 'cost of living crisis' debate to parliament, it seemed like a good thing - and it kind of was. It was a handy catch-all phrase that helped to bring a discussion about the financial troubles of working people alongside the constant strivers vs scroungers rhetoric. However, what it also did was to bury discussions about who and/or what caused the recession even further down the agenda and the problem is, it isn't being dealt with at all.

The deafening right-wing crowing about the deficit fails, as of course it would, to mention that the last conservative government had a higher deficit than the pre-bail-out labour government. And the argument from the right about the collapse of the economy is that the last government spent too much on wasteful things like giving the poor enough money to feed themselves. The idea being that if the last government had been more frugal while the economy was good, the country would have been able to cope with the recession.

What is wrong with this argument? I'm fine, in principle, with the idea that a government might run a big surplus in case they need it - provided of course that the economy is strong enough to do that (which it isn't at the moment). What's wrong with the argument is that it suggests we should always expect recessions of this type to happen, rather than discuss what went wrong and how to fix it. What the tories want is to cut spending right down so that the city can carry on being greedy and reckless, safe in the knowledge that when it all falls down, the taxpayer will bail them out again. The handy by-product of this is a far smaller state, which is very much on their most-wanted list anyway - the recession is just a very handy excuse to do it.

Labour do not want to be seen as the anti-city party. Ed Milliband and Ed Balls have talked about bonuses but felt that they couldn't turn the discussion from 'strivers vs scroungers' into 'how to get our money back and stop the banks from failing again' because the city is too powerful and influential to mess with and would not want to have to change their ways. Labour's talk of a tax on bankers bonuses is probably safe enough; they know that the banks will either find clever ways of avoiding paying the tax or just increase salaries and reduce bonuses accordingly.

The labour party could keep quiet about fixing the banks until they get into power. Then, bring in tighter regulations, bonus caps (on top of the bonus tax they've already mentioned) and perhaps even dissolve the corporation of the city of London. Surely the public would be pleased with the new government acting to fix the cause of the recession and and helping to fix the leaks in our economy. And provided there are no more Iraqs or other major mistakes, vote to keep them in for a second term, thus allowing enough time to see some of the benefits of gaining control of the capital.

I do this sometimes: I get these ideas and hopes that labour might do the right thing but then I come to my senses. They won't.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Yes, London is great. But this can't go on.

Last night I watched the BBC programme Mind the gap: London vs the rest. This was part one and I'm itching to see part two.

Part one came across mostly as an international sales video, putting a positive spin on the over-crowding and barely mentioning the poverty that exists in the capital, or the poor living conditions, cut-throat culture, short-termism and any number of other negatives.

Perhaps part two will be more sensible. Maybe it will pose the issue of how long this can last and ask the following questions:

1) Where will people live? Already people on good salaries can't afford to buy homes or even rent within a reasonable commute of their place of work.
2) What about health? The stress, the daily crush onto public transport, the air quality, the hours spent in offices, underground or in carriages is not good for mental or physical health. Trying to cram in exercise to busy schedules exacerbates and is exacerbated by points 1) and 2).
3) What about the environment? The air quality around London is already a major concern. Water is also a worry. Over-crowding of this level is not compatible with green values, particularly when profit is the sole reason for London's growth and success: companies and corporations seeking to maximise profit will not invest in green solutions.
4) How do we expect low-paid workers to exist there? The cleaners, nurses, care workers, shop assistants etc need to be able to live close enough to serve the city's ever-growing population. But if well paid people struggle to afford it and traditional lower-end estates are being torn down and replaced with high-end penthouses and super-modern living spaces for overseas investors, what chance have those on low incomes got?
5) What about children? People already work long hours to compete and impress - or just to survive. For many people, the commute to an area they can afford to live means they're spending hardly any time with their children. Perhaps the rest of the UK will be the breeders and send their children to board at corporate training centres just outside the M25 where they will compete for graduate jobs. Although surely the "excellence" and "talent" drain to London will end up meaning that those not already in London will not be of the appropriate quality to result in good enough off-spring to keep London great? (I'm being facetious of course but the question needs answering).

Now one glaring omission from all of this - is 'the rest'. Perhaps the second part will focus on all of the areas outside of London that are ignored.

London receives UK tax payers' money to fund the sort of infrastructure projects that the rest can only dream of. Meanwhile, other regions have high unemployment and even if they had many opportunities, people from nearby towns would struggle to get there because of the lack of investment in public transport. The government and Boris Johnson claim that the whole UK benefits from London's success. But how? In what way are people in other regions benefiting from being ignored? How much of that profit finds its way beyond the M25 or the ever-expanding commuter belt? We can be sure of one thing: the rest have not recouped the money ploughed into saving those oh-so-precious banks. Will we ever? I'd like that answered before I'd be willing to consider the benefit the rest of the UK gets from being London PLC.

The whole UK bailed out the banks because they had screwed up on a catastrophic scale. The same assistance was never even considered for the manufacturing industry, which apparently wasn't worth saving. I can understand the idea that cheaper labour overseas meant we could no longer compete but that doesn't explain the motor industry in Germany. How can BMW, Audi and Volkswagen do it in what is a more affluent nation than our own? The British motor industry went into a rapid decline and the government cut it loose. What if we'd done that to the banks? At least the decline of the motor industry - unlike the cock-up that lead to the financial crisis - wasn't likely to cause a massive recession that affected everyone living in the UK (and of course when it did collapse, those responsible would have felt it too - unlike in our financial sector).

I realise some of my arguments may be over-simplified. But this programme ignored or glossed-over the most pressing questions. When will the realisation hit that tipping point is either just around the corner or has already arrived? And when will people realise that London will suffer too when the rest of the country is left ill-equipped to ease the strain?