Thursday, 10 December 2015

Not trusting Labour is not a good reason for voting Tory

Voting is not just important because you might get the party you'd prefer in power. Many of us can go for long periods without having a good option on the ballot paper.

I have a strong suspicion that many people vote Conservative not because they want to see the poor repeatedly kicked and trampled on by Tory policies, or because they want to see our assets sold off to the private sector, or because they want the rich to get richer, or because they want to bomb Syria or somewhere else, or because they think the Saudi Arabian rulers are great and we should suck up to them. I think some people vote Conservative because they think the country is in safer hands with them than with Labour. Whist I think you'd have to be a total moron to believe that (regardless of the current perceived state of the Labour party, they'd still do a better job than the Tories), I can understand why people do when virtually all media outlets tell them that is the case and hound the opposition whilst letting the government completely off the hook.

However, there is another reason to vote against the Tories, regardless of whether you think the country is in safer hands with those born to and schooled in how to rule and that is the moveable political mood.

With the Tories in power, they can do what they want. And we all know what that is: to feather their nests and the nests of their chums and associates. Conservative policies breed divisions and distrust and fear and loathing. They breed selfishness and greed and promote money over everything else. And the longer they are in power, the longer the media report everything they do and say as gospel, the more people will become used to living in a country where the poor are made to pay a huge price for the mistakes of the rich and to keep making them richer. The longer the Tories rule, the more people will become brainwashed that the way to peace is war and become convinced that value can only be measured by it's financial cost and benefit.

Most people don't want to live like this but recent decades have allowed them to believe there is no other way and many keep on voting Conservative like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

John Cridland is completely deluded

The BBC seems to think the annual CBI (Confederation of British Industry) gathering of business people, politicians, journalists and other sycophants is incredibly important to anyone watching the news. Their coverage was dominated by it.

They interviewed the Director General, John Cridland in what came across as a big Tory love-in. He couldn't have come across more pro-Tory if he'd been personally shoving cash into their pockets whilst his lackeys fed them caviar and champagne.

But he is completely deluded. What the Tories have been doing to this country is massively anti-business and the subsidies, privatisation, tax cuts and protection against the EU don't make up for it. So let's look at what businesses want/need for them, their workers and their customers (in no particular order):

  1. To pay cheap wages to maximise profit
  2. Healthy, fit workers
  3. Roads
  4. Public Transport
  5. Affordable housing
  6. Policing
  7. Waste services
  8. Customers with disposable income
The Tories' ideological austerity measures are affecting all of these things:

  1. In order for workers to survive on poverty pay, they need in-work benefits, which the Tories are cutting.
  2. The NHS is being starved of the resources it needs to keep us fit and healthy for work and in-work benefit cuts also makes low income workers unhealthier, with people more stressed, having to live further away from work where they can afford to live and choosing cheaper, less healthy lifestyle choices.
  3. Councils pay for existing roads to be repaired and for new roads to be built. Their budgets have been crushed.
  4. Ever-more expensive trains and cancellations to planned improvements only serve to make our public transport worse.
  5. Since 2010, fewer houses have been built than at any time since the 1920s. Prices are still rising and most people cannot afford to live somewhere convenient for work. That means longer commuting times, more working time lost in traffic, more stressed workers and generally, a lower quality of life which affects morale.
  6. Businesses need security and yet cuts have also forced front-line police numbers to be reduced.
  7. Councils have had to cut waste and recycling services, meaning that some businesses in some areas may have to pay extra for private contractors to deal with their requirements.
  8. The UK is experiencing the longest real-terms fall in living standards since Queen Victoria was on the throne. That means that fewer people have less disposable income and who suffers most from that? Businesses who sell products and provide services that people don't really need but like to spend their money on if and when they have it. 

John Cridland spoke of some kind of boom in Britain. But are the employees and potential customers of the businesses he represents seeing that?

It never ceases to amaze me how the dangled carrot of a little tax break can blind highly-paid and supposedly very successful businesspeople to the reality of what economically-illiterate Tory governments mean for productivity and profit.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Tristram Hunt is sorely mistaken

Tristram Hunt has spoken to the Cambridge University Labour club to tell them that they need to be dissenters in the Labour party and that: “You are the top one per cent. The Labour Party is in the shit. It is your job and your responsibility to take leadership going forward.” More on this story here.

Tristram Hunt seems to be very confused. The Labour Party was founded because no political party spoke for the working people of this country (at the time, there were a couple of working class Liberal MPs, known then as 'Lib Labs' but they all toed the party line and that usually meant supporting employers and opposing trade unions). It was set up and led by ordinary working people who understand the issues faced by the vast majority of the public.

Hunt is now disappointed that the leader of the Labour party is not an Oxbridge graduate. Now, I have absolutely no problem with the Labour leader being an Oxbridge graduate, provided they also understand and represent the majority of the public. What Hunt is saying is something different: he is saying that the leader of the Labour party MUST be in the "top one per cent", meaning graduates of one of the top Universities. But why? There seems to me to be a great deal of evidence to suggest that many - though not all - Oxbridge graduates are protected from normal life in this odd world of antiquated social systems and hierarchy, ornate and historic oak-panelled rooms in buildings often dedicated to religious figures and, of course, a far higher-than-normal level of wealth among the students and staff. Others have pointed out the similarities in the halls of top public Schools, Oxbridge and Westminster. It's as though the future of these students is carved into them from an early age like the faces of unelected leaders of old in the houses of parliament.

Of course I know that there are plenty of Oxbridge students who are not from public school backgrounds and many who are inclined to avoid the rituals of the self-appointed ruling classes and get through University without being part of some special group. But those people, who go to Oxbridge as a route to an excellent degree and a good career are not who Hunt was speaking to. Hunt was talking to the next generation of Tristram Hunts. Those who feel they want to be in power but either have reason to be a little more compassionate than the Conservatives, or don't feel they have the right connections to reach a senior level in that party and think they might fare better as a Labour politician.

Hunt is ignoring the opinion of the majority of Labour members by encouraging these students to act against the Leadership. I'm not aware of this ever happening against Tony Blair, who had a smaller majority than Jeremy Corbyn and who turned out to be far more conservative than many of those who had voted for him hoped. And even if it did, it would at least have had history on side, unlike what Hunt and his ilk are doing, which is an attempt to appropriate Labour on behalf of the privileged at the expense of those the party was founded by and in the interests of.

Tristram, take your too-posh-to-brush hair and set up your own party. Or join the Tories. Labour - that is REAL Labour - don't want you.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

So much for being a "striver".

I worked in the private sector for ten years before the recession put paid to my career and since then have worked in Universities. This is the story of me, as the "striver".

Early 'career': Private Sector.

I left University in 2000 with a graphic design degree and started work the same year in the private sector, supposedly hired for my graphic design skills but in reality I was no more than a print room skivvy. I was stuck in that job for nearly three years. I had no payrise for years (despite the company doing rather well), working conditions were awful and I had to be nice to people who treated me like shit. I hated it. I was very depressed (although it took a long time to realise it) and eventually my mood got the better of me: apparently it was ok to swear and throw things if you sucked up to the boss and were part of his clique but I didn't and I wasn't. I was sacked. I could have contested the dismissal because there were no proper disciplinary procedures in place. But I was glad to be out - even though it meant months of scratching around for freelance work and occasional moments of despair when trying to make a meal out of a couple of budget items in my cupboard (some rice and a tin of chopped tomatoes on one occasion). It was a very low period in my life.

I needed whatever work came along and managed to get a bit of envelope-stuffing and data entry work at the University of Manchester. It didn't pay enough to live off but I was treated like a human being: despite the fact that a chimp could have done the work.

Eventually I managed to get a 'proper' job as an artworker (creating designs from brand guidelines or the concepts of creative designers) in an advertising agency. It was ok: the pay was a little better and I was treated somewhat like a human although the expected additional hours for no extra pay were unreasonable. Then a bigger advertising agency came along and the owners were happy to sell. I was the newest staff member and first out the door. I hadn't been there long enough to get a decent amount of notice and so I was informed on Monday at 5.45pm that I would be leaving on Friday at 5.30pm. As it turned out, on Friday I didn't show up: I had two interviews and before the end of the day, I had a new, better job. I wouldn't be starting for a month but the company who'd made me redundant still needed me to do my job for another two weeks: I charged them double my previous hourly rate. That's private sector short-term-thinking for you.

The new job was ok. It was a very small agency and I had a little more input and more responsibility. They paid quite well and gave me a decent payrise the first year, too. I rewarded their decency with my loyalty and was there for over three years until the economy began to collapse. It was clear long before the recession actually happened that things were going wrong. Most of our clients stopped giving us work and my employer had no other option but to let me go: they could do the work I was doing themselves now that there was so little of it and they couldn't afford to pay me any longer.

This time, I was given a months' notice and a small but not unreasonable amount of severance pay. But this time it was different. I now had a mortgage and the oncoming 'credit crunch' as it was then called was giving everyone the jitters and there were very few jobs around: particularly in my line of work. It was a rough time. There were jobs advertised and I got interviews, even second interviews but my recruitment consultant's despair was indicative of the time: employers seemed to be advertising jobs but not hiring anyone. I spent time and money having my suit drycleaned, printing work out and preparing a portfolio and getting trains, trams or buses to job interviews only to get nothing.

I was scratching around again and managed to get some freelance work. I'd had to price myself very low to get it and I had to travel a distance to work, which cost money. I'd get that off my tax but of course I still had to pay it out and wouldn't 'get it back' for nearly two years, so I was really out of pocket. The hourly rate I was charging was nowhere near enough to pay for sickness leave (which fortunately I didn't need) or time off and the work I was doing was desperately uninspiring.

In another sign of the times, my being there actually helped to make most of their employees redundant. Part of my work was to train some staff how to use design software more effectively. Their employees didn't have the skills to do their jobs, presumably because people with those skills would have cost more. Now they were paying me a pittance to train them up. Once I'd trained one of them, they got rid of four people. It had dawned on them that if they worked harder themselves and got one person to do the work of two or three, they could sack all but one of their employees. For a few weeks whilst I finished off work on their website, it was just me, the two owners talking big shop on the phones, and their solitary employee who had been to University and was now making them coffee and cleaning the toilets as well as using the new skills I'd taught her to work three times as quickly. One positive thing I can say about them: when I invoiced them, they paid me more or less straight away, unlike a lot of companies who employ freelancers.

Before redundancy, I'd been slowly building up some savings that I had intended as the start of a pension pot: of course, most private sector companies don't offer pensions so I didn't have one. Now, that had all been spent on getting to the end of our fixed-term mortgage and, you know, food and electricity. I had no money and no job. I was 31 years old.

New career: starting again and getting out of the private sector.

My girlfriend was offered an opportunity in Edinburgh. I had no reason to stay in Manchester, so we moved to Scotland. I again suffered the same old routine of being ignored by employers even when I'd had two interviews with them. Eventually, I managed to get some temp work at the University, working in their pensions department. I desperately wanted a permanent job at the University - or any University: in the private sector I'd been made redundant twice and had to sell myself at a bargain basement price to get some freelance work. I wasn't needed there very long but soon after I was asked to go and work in another University department.

There was a week in between these two temporary jobs: it just so happened that week was the 2010 general election. I stayed up all night watching things unfold and wished I hadn't bothered. The following week I cried when I saw Gordon Brown leaving Downing Street with his family: I wasn't his biggest fan but any Labour Prime Minister is preferable to any Tory Prime Minister; my working class upbringing had taught me that.

In the new temp role, I was out to impress. I had no reason to suspect that it would lead to anything permanent and I had competition anyway: three other temps in the same office who were all victims of the recession one way or another and all had been there longer than me. One day, a staff member was asked to leave and I was asked to take her role. I had no idea what I was doing: I'd never done proper admin work in my life but the only answer was "yes". I was still on a temp's wage and still only 35 hours a week. But I worked a lot more than that to make sure I was doing a good job: and I had a lot to learn. I knew that soon, someone would return from maternity leave and I'd be out of a job but in fact, the department were able to keep me on doing the same work: although I was shunted from a proper desk to a side-table which barely held the weight of the pc and the paperwork I had to deal with was in piles on the floor.

My line manager kept on making extra demands, knowing I'd say "yes" and that I'd get it done, too. I was working really hard, long hours on a temp's wage. Eventually, my efforts were rewarded: I was given a 6-month contract with the University on a standard secretary-level wage. I kept toiling; it got extended. I kept toiling, expanding the role I was doing and I was given a permanent contract. By that time, I'd taken on a lot more responsibility and after I'd been a University employee (not including my months as an agency temp) for a year, my line manager and two more senior staff members managed to get my job re-graded to a senior secretary position. At the age of 33, I was back on the same salary I'd been on before the recession.

Since then, I'm back in Manchester, working just as hard as ever. I've moved up one more pay grade. I'm now 37.

The future: do I have one under Tory rule and permanent austerity?

Universities have been forced to cut costs due to budget cuts. My last two salaries have been downgraded from what they would have been just a few years ago and every time a senior staff member moves role or leaves, their position is left unfilled or a reorganisation happens that saves chunks of money. Soon I will take on extra work due to the forced redundancy of a senior member of staff and my salary will not increase. This morning, we were informed that in the next few months, further structural changes will be agreed: it was not said but the mood made it clear this would not be good news for some University admin staff.

I don't deal with any administrator who doesn't have too much work to do. And yet it seems certain there will be fewer staff this time next year and with no end to the Tory ideological crusade against public services and institutions, I can only imagine the squeeze continuing for the foreseeable future.


After Thatcher, her ideology continued under Major and then Blair and Brown. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Trample on the weak; look after yourself. Yes, Labour were in power the days leading up to and including the crash but it was Tory ideology and the unregulated City of London created by Thatcherism that caused it. It is the Tory SELF that makes so many private sector bosses so relentless in their pursuit of short term gains for themselves.

After a long, hard struggle to get back to the position we were in before the recession, and having escaped the nasty, crushing treatment doled out to private sector workers, I may have "strived" only to get myself into another career with a doomed future.

**** the Tories. **** New Labour. Save us, Jeremy.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

What does David Cameron believe in?

In recent weeks, newspapers and other media outlets have been informing their readers/viewers of some of the things Jeremy Corbyn believes in. The level of untruth and spin in such lists varies depending on the political opinion of the outlet or individual reporter.
So in the interests of balance, I thought I would write a list of some of the things David Cameron believes in. This is a work in progress but these are the things I thought of whilst rocking my baby back to sleep in the early hours:
  • Supporting Rebecca Brooks who can't be the "I knew nothing" incompetent that her defence suggested because she's just been rehired
  • Having dinners with private company bosses to discuss political issues which affect their businesses
  • Not meeting with unions who represent millions of workers
  • Receiving huge donations from people and companies who then benefit from his policies
  • Peerages for MPs who failed or worse, were corrupt
  • Giving honours to Tory party donors
  • Waving cash in the faces of staff and trashing restaurants (bullingdon club days)
  • Supporting Aston Villa - or is it West Ham?
  • Supporting Israel as they continue to mercilessly destroy the Gaza strip
  • Being the greenest government ever. No wait, sorry: cutting the green crap
  • Walking away at the end of a statement so that journalists can't ask questions
  • Making the poorest and most vulnerable pay for the mistakes of the richest with welfare cuts
  • Cutting more funding to councils in poor areas than affluent areas
  • Giving tax breaks to the wealthiest in the country
  • Handing over huge subsidies to big private sector profiteers
  • Doing nothing about tax avoidance
  • Making money from tax avoidance (his Dad's company made a fortune which lucky Dave and his siblings have inherited)
  • Fighting against the EU on behalf of his chums in the city
  • Letting Quadrilla frack under YOUR house
  • Signing a trade deal (TTIP) that will allow private companies to sue governments if their policies harm their potential profits: e.g. the NHS for harming the profitability of private healthcare providers
  • Forcing the BBC to pay for free licence fees for OAPs whilst ensuring the big private energy companies still get the winter fuel allowance paid for by taxpayers
  • Shrinking the BBC whilst allowing Murdoch to increase his UK media monopoly
  • Selling off state assets on the cheap to his chums and party donors e.g. Royal Mail and RBS
  • Selling arms to Saudi Arabia who fund ISIS
  • Unfair legal system: the Tories have crushed legal aid so now people can only get legal representation if they can afford to pay for it, meaning if they are unfairly dismissed or suffer due to their employers' negligence, it's just tough

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The absurdity of right-wing views on borders

Britain is an island nation in north western Europe, far from the land mass where our distant ancestors came from. Even if you're religious and believe the bible or other religious text, show me where Britain, or the UK, or any area which became our country is mentioned. You can't, because it's not there. So it's clear then, none of us are originally from Britain.

That being the case, I'd like to know at what point in history you think we should draw the line. Would it be after the Romans invaded? After Irish workers came over and built our roads and railways? Or more recently, like perhaps after you yourself were born here?

Britain is as guilty as any nation of marching into lands already occupied by other peoples and taking over. We have made our fortunes from the fat of other peoples' land and now our government and many of our brain-washed, selfish people want to stop desperate people from finding refuge in the UK.

You have no stronger claim on the area you live in than any person from any other part of the globe. Men, women and children are dying trying to leave oppressive and dangerous nations. They are not coming to steal your job or live off your taxes; they are merely trying to survive. Though we may not feel it, we are fortunate and wealthy and we cannot close our eyes and ears to this desperate crisis. And we absolutely should provide refuge to many, many more people.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Dan Jarvis' analysis is steered towards his desired narrative

Dan Jarvis has released findings that says Labour need to defeat UKIP, and that Andy Burnham is the man to do it. He's right and he's also very wrong.

Actually, I don't really agree at all: UKIP did take votes from Labour in May and Labour need to win those votes back but tackling them head on by making immigration an even bigger topic is not necessary or right. People are concerned about immigrants taking their jobs or increasing the benefits bill and in doing so forcing austerity on us. But that's not because it's true, it's because almost all of the media and most politicians are as good as telling them that it is. 

Labour's failure for the last few years has been to win arguments. They did not cause the recession but people think they did. Austerity is not the only option but people believe there is no alternative. Failure to win an argument doesn't always mean you're wrong, it just means your opponents managed to convince people that you are.

Jarvis' analysis hinges not only on the idea that Labour need to address the concerns popularised by the Daily Mail and UKIP but that Andy Burnham is the only candidate who can do that. Apparently Burnham is the only one who has talked about doing so but I guess I couldn't make that out, since I now tune out all disingenuous populist soundbites. 

In truth is - and Jarvis will know this all too well - that the candidate most likely to appeal to people in the way that Nigel Farage has is Jeremy Corbyn. Of course he is towards the opposite end of the political spectrum to Farage but a lot of voters don't read much into what they are voting for, concentrating instead on who. Farage as the everyman is inaccurate - if you know anything about politics and politicians beyond the superficial - but it is nonetheless the reason for his success, and that is acknowledged by pretty much everyone. 

And herein lies the flaw with Jarvis' contrived take on Andy Burnham being the one to win over UKIP voters. Burnham, and his advisors, have cultivated his image. He speaks in sound bites and shifts his position to the tune of whatever seems currently pressing. He wears a pristine suit and tidy hair at all times. He exudes the sort of sincerity that no one really believes. How on earth will people be turned by this? I like Burnham as Shadow Health Secretary (and hopefully as health Secretary) but few of the voters who have turned to UKIP in search of something different to the Westminster conveyor belt of 40-something clones will be won over him, no matter how much he talks about his modest upbringing in the Northwest. It is ironic that it is Burnham's attempt to be more popular, talking about every popular issue with as much conviction as the last, that will in fact turn people off him. 

Corbyn has never attempted to garner mass appeal and as such, has never muddied his messages by trying hard to make sure no one can take anything he says the wrong way. The appeal of someone who clearly means what they say and isn't trying to be everything to everyone is almost universal. The ill-fitting suit and imperfect hair just add to it. While Burnham will twist himself inside out trying to talk tough on immigration while appealing to ethnic minorities who are used to that sort of talk having a rather bitter 'them and us' aftertaste, Jeremy Corbyn will be trying to convince the public that the real figures don't support the right-wing agenda and explaining how positive immigration has always and will always be to the UK. And if they've got any sense they'll believe him. And frankly the idea that those who don't would vote for Andy Burnham rather than Cameron or Farage is fanciful.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Labour need more voters but they are the people being turned away!

Labour are shooting themselves in the foot. And probably the face.

Huge numbers of people wanted to join the party or become an affiliated member to have a say in the Labour leadership election. And this appears to be something Labour don't want! Here are some quick points:

  • The Labour powers-that-be are only worried about this because they don't want Corbyn as leader. If anyone else was leading the polls, this wouldn't be an issue.
  • People signing up to vote will get to vote for a candidate who has been NOMINATED BY THE PARTY to stand as leader. No one will get to vote for a conservative or a communist.
  • If people who do not share "Labour Values" had tried to get a vote, they would be more likely to vote for Liz Kendall, who has made it clear she is much more concerned with winning over people who believe what the Tories said before the last election is right.

Jeremy Corbyn's popularity is embarrassing for the other candidates. And Labour don't want that? He's a Labour MP and has been for longer than any of the other candidates and he's both bringing new people to the party and bringing people back to the party. In their THOUSANDS.

My last, huge, glaringly bloody obvious point is this:

Labour need to attract more voters to the party so that they can defeat the tories. But they are asking some people who have signed up as new or affiliate members who they voted for at the last election and presumably rejecting them if they say anyone other than Labour!

It's a complete farce.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Cost of living

This is something of a departure from my usual posts which tend to be directly about politics. This one is indirectly about politics.

The cost of living crisis became a topic of conversation in the media as Labour's polling improved in the build up to the election. Funny how even inaccurate polling can affect what gets published. But it's pretty much vanished since the Tories won their slender majority and recent talk has been mostly about how Jeremy Corbyn is bringing lots of new people towards the Labour party and how unelectable he is (the contradictory nature of those two subjects was intentional). 

I consider myself lucky. Despite being an early victim of the recession (December 2008) and having to find myself a totally new career - which was far from easy and brought some incredibly difficult times (without the emotional support of my now wife, I can't be certain I'd be here to write this) - I now have a good job with a moderately impressive sounding job title (unfortunately it comes with a less impressive salary). My wife has two doctorates and works for the NHS as a Clinical Psychologist. We now have a baby and own a house with a garden. 

All good. But the sacrifices we have made would belie our job titles. First, we had to put off getting married and starting a family as I wasn't in a secure job and then, once I was, my wife was only temporary and part-time. Once we were finally both in more secure jobs, we started looking for a house. We couldn't afford a house in the area we've lived for the last decade, so looked at other areas. Many other locations were unaffordable too until we compromised on an area where we could afford a small house with a garden and with a train station no more than a mile away so I can get to work. It's not close to where our friends live; it lacks nice shops, cafes, bars, restaurants; the streets aren't very well kept; the nearby primary school does not have a good Ofsted report; public transport isn't great. But it seems safe enough and it's just about big enough for us and our baby, and the occasional staying guest. And it's the best we could afford.

Since our son was born and with my wife on maternity pay, we've struggled financially. Fortunately, family have been able to buy nursery furniture, a pushchair, clothes etc and friends with older children have donated things too. I'm ashamed to say I never passed my driving test. I really need to be able to drive so that my wife doesn't bear the burden of long journeys to see family and friends (many of whom live between 150 and 230 miles away) but at over £20 per lesson and about £60 for the practical test, I simply can't afford it. One of my work shoes is split: I put off buying new ones and five weeks later, I'm still wearing them. I bought myself a new shirt at the weekend for the first time in a long time - it was in the sale and cost me £6. My beard trimmer no longer works (and replacement parts no longer exist) so I dug out some razors (still in the cupboard from when I did 'movember') and shaved my beard off. When I run out of razors, I'll grow my beard back and see if I can afford a new beard trimmer then. My wife doesn't complain at all but I know she has been worried about money and probably doesn't want to worry me more by talking about it. Our next challenge is paying for childcare. My wife will be going back four days a week (on 0.8% of her full-time salary) and I'm going to be squashing 35 hours into four days (starting early, finishing later, skipping lunch breaks etc) so I can look after him for one day without losing pay.

If we, a Clinical Psychologist and an Administrative Manager, are having financial difficulties like these, how on earth are other people coping? As I say, I know we're lucky to have houses and full time jobs. I really worry about people on lower incomes, in insecure jobs, possibly with debt (which we don't have, apart from our mortgage and my small old-style student loan). Apparently the economy is growing and pay is rising. I'd like to see the stats on these 'facts'. I would imagine that house price increases are causing slight growth in the economy and I would put money (if I had any) on the vast majority of wage rises going to only the top earners. I certainly don't know anyone getting any kind of rise over the rate of inflation.

The biggest challenge in our economy is getting wages and tax revenue up. Anything else is tinkering around the edges, and I have a little flow chart that shows how low-pay is holding back growth and increasing the need for benefits which in turn, causes our economy to stagnate.

I'd like to make one final point: many people rely on hand outs from their parents for deposits on houses, buying furniture and appliances, repairs to homes and cars etc. Some people still rely on this even into their 40s and beyond. Those people are very unlikely to be able to do the same for their children. So who will help them? Wages must start to rise, urgently. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Labour cutting off its nose

I'll try not to go over ground well-covered by journalists and commenters from the left but some of their points seem so bloody obvious it's insane to think that so few people realise what a catastrophic error Labour are making.

This leadership election is supposed to be a democratic process. Members and affiliates - all who have paid in some way to have a vote (either via a regular membership fee, small fee direct to the party, or via their Union fees which also helps to fund the party) - will decide who they want as the next Labour leader. Some will agree that their choice might not be the best to win the next election but will choose that person based on how closely the candidate shares their own political views. Others will firmly believe that the candidate they have chosen is the best person to lead Labour to victory at the next general election. Whatever their reasons, they have a right to vote and the winner will have won fair and square.

Some in the party suggested that there should be a discussion about Labour's direction before any leadership election but the powers that be decided to go straight into deciding the next leader. So if those who have been running the party for the last 20 years don't like the direction the most popular candidate might take the party, then that is just tough shit. Get behind them or get out. Instead of discussing sensibly why each candidate is more or less popular, certain dinosaurs (and their feathered, Tory-lite offspring) are already causing the very rifts they claim will happen if they don't get their way.

What is even more disturbing and worrying for Labour's future is the way they are handling new memberships and affiliate registrations. Mark Steel who, like me is a life long Labour supporter, has been barred from voting in the leadership election and hasn't been given a reason why. I can understand the party wanting to make sure that right-wing party supporters don't get a vote but Mark Steel campaigned with the Labour party before the election in May! He's not a member of any other political party or organisation, so the only reason he could possibly be excluded is because his articles have been critical of the direction of the party, and he has written about his support for Jeremy Corbyn. Many many people have left the Labour party in recent times and may have joined other parties such as the Greens, or Left Unity. But those people did not leave Labour, Labour left them when they began to tear up their history: backing austerity which makes the poor poorer and the rich richer; distancing themselves from people who can't find work and agreeing with benefit caps; blaming immigration; cutting ties with unions who built and support the party. I could go on.

Many of these people are former Labour members, or family members of former Labour members who want to come back to the Labour party if they will once again support the many against the powerful few. If this is how Labour treat people who want to get involved with the party and engage with politics, then people will give up on them again and this time, they will not return.

If Labour want to permanently reduce their membership numbers and never again be the party of working people in Britain, they are going the right way about it.

I continue to be baffled

I'm continually astonished and baffled by the ideas of people who claim to support the Labour party and yet who seem aggressively negative about Jeremy Corbyn. They have been brainwashed by the right and just can't see that other ideas about how to run our country are valid.

There are all sorts of claims being thrown about, that Labour would spend decades in the doldrums if he is elected; that the Lib Dems would take so much of Labour's vote that Labour would end up the third party; that he is "wrong, on many, many things" (with no explanation of what) etc. And yes, these are coming from people who claim to support the Labour party.

Corbyn's politics would not have been considered particularly radical 20 years ago. And 40 years ago, even many Tory MPs also believed in some principles such as nationalised industries, welfare, building social housing etc. It was only when the strikes and mismanagement of certain industries in the 1970s gave the free-market zealots writing policies in thinktanks a window of opportunity to hand over public assets to the private sector and found a willing underlay of Tory MPs that any of these ideas came under attack. Now the majority of the UK population seems to accept that we can never again afford to control our rail network without private profiteers creaming millions in profit whilst leaving us with shit public transport, or that we will only ever have smaller councils without sufficient resources to repair the roads, provide decent local authority housing or expand crowded schools.

However, there is another side to this: despite this general resignation, most people want nationalised rail and energy, even a national bank, and they want the NHS to go back to being state-owned and operated. A number of studies by a range of different groups have found these things - even amongst Tory voters. Socialism dragged the UK out of the post-war slump and rebuilt Britain for the many, but we have been conned into believing that even though it's what we want now, it is somehow no longer possible.

We have had our hope taken from us by three decades of rampant capitalism and politicians and the media convincing us there's no alternative. If even Labour supporters think this, maybe we should just hand over all of our cash, possessions and our freedom to Serco and perform frontal lobotomies on each other.

Or move to Scotland.


Jeremy Corbyn is a reluctant leadership candidate who would probably be a lot happier backing another left-wing candidate. But there aren't any. I watched the debate on Sunday Politics and Burnham and Cooper particularly looked as though they were giving a very carefully written presentation on the merits of a new financial software system they want your workplace to invest £2m in. Liz Kendall sounded like someone who at the last minute had been asked to stand in for someone who couldn't be there because they were busy destroying children's dreams.

Corbyn, meanwhile, sounded genuine. He believes in what he says and always has. He might get flustered when someone takes a quote out of context or deliberately misunderstands what he says because he doesn't come from the school of presentation politics: to him it actually matters and he doesn't waste time crafting soundbites that can't be taken the wrong way. He's too busy being active in politics to do any work on his image.

I think people will be pleased to see a normal person talking passionately about things he genuinely believes in and has campaigned on for decades. Hopefully if he doesn't win, he will come close enough to spark a resurgence of the left within the Labour party. At the very least, having a left-winger in the debate will shift the 'overton window' a little back to the left after so many years of rightward drift. The fact that there are already rumblings of concern from some MPs who leant him their nomination and even rumours of a possible coup should he win suggests he is doing very well indeed.

But what of the 'other way'? So many dismiss his ideas as impossible, or keep banging on about the need for Labour to be seen as economically 'credible' and so far, very little airtime or column inches have been given over to discussing what the alternative to austerity is.

Essentially, it's speculate to accumulate: ironically, the very thing that the government expects the public and small businesses to do, and the very thing that they adore the City for doing so recklessley and destructively. Spending money on infrastructure not only improves peoples' lives (better transport, homes, schools, hospitals etc), it provides work which boosts the economy. A living wage (a proper one, not a re-badged minimum wage) would benefit the country via much lower in-work pay subsidies, low paid employees would be paid more of course and businesses would get more custom as disposable incomes rise. Tougher tax policy tidying up avoided and evaded tax and new ways of getting additional tax from the wealthiest (e.g. a higher top rate of tax, removal of the allowance for buy-to-let landlords, a banking levy etc) would also make a huge difference to our economy.

Austerity is only one way to 'balance the books'. It's also the most painful for the most vulnerable in society. And as a final point, it's worth noting - again - that it wasn't until one thinktank pointed out that the recession was a good excuse to shrink the state and hand over public money to private profiteers that the Tories changed their tune from one where they backed Labour's spending (which they now claim was ridiculously extravagant). At that time, the shadow chancellor was one Gideon George Osborne and the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. The fact that 'making tough decisions' and Labour needing to accept austerity to be seen as 'fiscally responsible' is now the only idea in town is an enormous success for right-wing propaganda. If failing banks should stop automatic bonuses, surely writers and editors in the sun, the mail, the times, the telegraph etc should have huge increases because what they have done is brainwash an entire nation and turn sound economics into a complete joke. It's incredible.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A message to all Labour MPs

Since Jeremy Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership, there have been a lot of Labour MPs talking about being "credible" and the likelihood of Corbyn leading Labour to an election victory. I would very much like at least some of those MPs to read this.

Labour have lost the argument. We need to win it.

The other candidates so far have been falling over themselves to talk about "aspiration", being "on the side of the wealth-creators" and are desperate to be seen as pro-business. But why? The answer seems obvious to me: they think Labour lost the election because Labour were not strong enough in these areas. Why do they think that? Maybe their constituents are telling them that but why do their constituents think that? Because it's all over the majority of the media and much of what they see on tv and hear on the radio. And finally, why is that? Because the Tories and the right won the argument with the help of their media backers some time ago. Is the winner of the argument always correct? Absolutely not. It's all talk: the Tories claim to be the party of working people whilst legislating to remove the bargaining power of Unions who speak up for working people. 

It all smacks of desperation: if our business are so great, why do we need to constantly talk about being pro-business? Why do they need so much special treatment if they are truly the wealth creators? It is not true to say that our government needs to be more pro-business. The last few governments have been pro-business enough and now it is time to stand up for the vast majority of the public who don't own businesses but who support them by paying taxes and with their custom. Being excessively pro-business and shrinking the state with ever more outsourcing and privatisation has made this country what it is today: a struggling economy and one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. 

Now is the time to be pro-business and pro-public by investing in better education and better public services to keep our towns in better shape and working people in better health. 

Now is the time to invest in building council homes, which will provide work for thousands of people. The initial outlay will require borrowing but the alternative is to keep the status quo: private landlords making big profits at the expense of the renters and the taxpayer. We will benefit financially in the long run (and it probably wouldn't take long) from a big home building programme.

Now is the time to bring the railways and energy companies back into public ownership. Instead of our taxes paying for infrastructure improvements which currently helps to top up the offshore accounts of shareholders, we will see the benefits of those improvements and the profits they make can be used for further improvement and to pay back the investments we've made. That makes economic sense too. 

Now is the time to enforce a National Living Wage so that people can afford to live without government handouts and that is pro-business too: if people have more disposable income, they will spend it on products and services provided by the private sector.

These are just a few examples of the arguments that Labour needs to make. Polling has shown that the public - even Tory voters - actually want nationalised railways and energy companies so why are so few Labour MPs making this sort of case? Why did these people join Labour if not to argue for an alternative to the Tory ways of a small-state, austerity for the many and low taxes and big subsidies for the few? And tinkering around the edges with small differences that are unclear to the majority of voters will not win votes.

Only 24% of those able to vote voted Tory this year and the vast majority of those will always vote Tory. So why chase a tiny, tiny few who might switch to Labour in 2020? There are millions of disillusioned people sick of the same type of policies from clones in suits who don't seem to care about what they want or need. I think many Labour MPs are concerned about moving too far from the mainstream. But that worry fails to acknowledge how far the mainstream has moved to the right, and how it is the arguments of politicians and media commentators (often driven by the arguments given by politicians) that sets what the mainstream is. As I've already mentioned, polling shows traditionally left-wing policies are very popular with the public, so moving back into that space would do Labour no harm at all.

Jeremy Corbyn is a reluctant leadership candidate. Maybe he won't win and if he does, maybe Labour won't win the next election. But he is standing because he believes in a different way that isn't out-of-date or irrelevant in today's world that no other leadership candidate is making. Labour need to win the argument for a better society, driven by investment (investment that will pay off financially in the not-too-distant future) in public services and policies that benefit everyone in this country.

If Labour MPs are happy with a shrinking state, inequality and privatisation, they should join the Conservatives and be done with it.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Tories are lying about austerity: it's obvious isn't it?!

The public have been convinced that austerity is necessary to secure the country's economy. Apparently, it's desperately urgent that we need to cut essential support to the poorest and most vulnerable and to cut council budgets down to the marrow. So if that were true, you'd think it would be absolutely crucial that selling off public assets would be a great way of bringing in some funding. Seemingly not.

We already know that the government sold off the Royal Mail on the cheap, with the taxpayer missing out on a huge amount of money. Now RBS is being hurriedly sold off too. With the Royal Mail, George Osborne's best man got quite a few million for himself out of it (maybe he bought George a very nice birthday present with some of his winnings?) and with RBS, the Tory donors and ministers' chums in the City will make a packet too.

So it seems that it's really important to wring as much money out of the poor in the name of austerity, but in the name of making the rich richer, publicly-owned assests are absolute bargains.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

How on earth can we compete with the right wing's media dominance?

I haven't written anything on here for a month, which is surprising, given how our political foreground has changed in that time. I've been stunned into silence, save for a few short dog-like bursts of noise on twitter. I can't think what to say because there's far too much that needs saying. I think I'll start slowly.

What the hell has happened?

Somehow, the Tories got a majority. Labour were destroyed by the SNP in Scotland. The Lib Dems were destroyed in both England and Scotland. Labour won hardly any of the marginals they needed. Surprisingly, UKIP actually lost a seat to the Tories and ended up with only one.

That's the what. How is a much bigger question. First, Labour lost the economic argument - or rather, they totally surrendered to the lie that they caused the recession. But that on it's own isn't really enough: people still needed to believe that tax cuts for the rich, taking money from disabled people and the poorest in society and decimating public services in the name of 'balancing the economy' was a better option than a Labour government who might, from what we could tell, stick with what had already been done by the coalition government.

The rich clique

It seems that in the UK these days (and in the US too, from what I gather), no matter what your various thoughts are on the nuances of economic or social policy, if you're rich and want a government that acts in your interests, you stick together. Some believe we should stay within the EU; some think we should get out. Some feel the NHS should not be privatised; others want bits of it to make profit from. Some know that we need to spend more on public services than we currently do; others would like to see no state-funded services at all (the less money spent on ordinary people, the more there is for millionaires' tax cuts). Despite these and other big differences of opinion, the richest few in society support the Tories with big donations to the party, printing lies as fact in their newspapers, and have a resolute determination to guffaw and scoff when asked about anything that the conservative party wouldn't (now) do as though it's a ridiculous idea only communists would consider.

How to compete?

That is the main reason why I've been so quiet. I don't think we can. Big money pays for think-tanks to come up with policies that benefit big money. The richest few give fat handshakes to politicians in return for favouritism and perhaps a cushy advisory role or directorship when they leave (or are kicked out of) government. The very wealthiest own newspapers and con the voting public into voting for the Tories with stories about scroungers, Labour's economic ineptitude and rogue union leaders.

The rest of us have a voice but it's so quiet we can't get heard. And some of us, unfortunately, are conned by the right-wing's media dominance.

It's so depressing but I just don't know how to gather the left into a huge group in the way the right have. That would be the only way to get heard.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The UK Economy. Part three: the race to the bottom

Thatcherism and the meteoric rise and total takeover of the free market has resulted in much larger and wider-reaching changes to the economy as a whole than even they could have dreamed.

Free to grow as big as they can by whatever means possible: huge companies have become so powerful they have changed almost everything. Suppliers have no power and are routinely shafted by the big retailers until they can barely afford to exist. Consumers think they have power, and occasionally they do, but they are manipulated and conned by the retailers into spending more and getting less. If you boil down retail to it's basics, it is basically someone selling something that someone else has produced. The producer, in my opinion, should hold the power: they have the skills and the expertise to produce what people want and they should be able to make money out of it. But in most cases, this is just not the case any longer, unless they too are vast and can shaft their own suppliers in the way the retailers shaft them.

Milk is now cheaper than water. Farmers producing all kinds of food are being driven out of business by the supermarkets' never-ending race to be the cheapest and because the supermarkets have all but killed the high-street bakers, butchers, greengrocers etc, if they're not selling to supermarkets, they're not selling to anyone. Quality is suffering and the environment and animal welfare is bottom of the agenda. Slavery is back with workers being paid for far fewer hours than they've worked and being subjected to chemicals which cause lung and skin diseases. All to put cheap produce on UK shelves.

It's ironic that some of the biggest players are now the victims of what they themselves have created. Tesco have announced a £6.4bn loss. They led the way in the big four supermarkets' land-grabbing, high-street-closing, town-takeovers and at their peak, were able to force all suppliers and consumers to make bigger and bigger profits for their shareholders. But once austerity hit the UK after the financial crash, and with the economy flatlining and bills rising, people saw their rising shopping bills and wanted cheaper: after all, that's what Tesco and the other supermarkets had taught them to seek. Step into the fray Aldi and Lidl. What is behind their cheaper prices, I'm not sure: I suspect in some cases, produce is lower quality but their overheads are also smaller (although interestingly, they pay their staff higher wages than their bigger rivals) as they haven't gobbled up prime land and don't have the huge stores whose shelves must always be full. In response, the big guns have lowered their prices. In some cases, this is not entirely true: look more closely and you'll see that many of the products which have been reduced in price have also reduced in size/weight. In other cases, the producers have been shafted even further.

Britain has become so used to everything getting cheaper and cheaper and being able to buy more, newer, more frequently, that they've become anaesthetised to the consequences: mass deaths in Bangladeshi factories; children being forced to work producing our clothes and technology; animals being kept in terrible conditions for ever cheaper meat; all sorts of unknown additives making our poor-quality food taste better and last longer; piles of last year's unwanted goods being shipped to West Africa where it's not illegal to produce toxic fumes by burning plastics and metals. And there are other consequences of cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, such as low wages. The profits still being made (even Tesco's losses have only been very recent and have followed year after year of massive profits) should be reflected in the staff wages, but they're not. The state has to top up low pay with in-work benefits just so that people can afford to live.

The free market almost ended manufacturing in the UK, with cheaper labour from abroad being used instead. It has made ghost towns of our high streets. It has massively increased inequality. It crashed our economy; it leeches off the state; it holds back environmental and animal welfare issues.

It is bad for society and bad for the planet and we need to reign it in. NOW.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The UK Economy. Part two: the minimum wage and top earners' pay.

Before the last Labour government introduced the national minimum wage, the media and the conservative party were up in arms. Employers wouldn't be able to pay it and people would go out of business, they claimed. It didn't happen. Now, many people are calling for a living wage. That basically means a wage that is enough to live on. Surely that should be the minimum wage? Instead, the benefits system is topping up low wages where they can't afford to keep a roof over their heads or food on the table.

The cost of living keeps rising, despite the best efforts of a few huge supermarkets driving more and more suppliers to bankruptcy in their pursuit of the cheapest price in town (more on this in part three). Housing in particular is so expensive that only a small percentage of people trying to get onto the housing ladder are currently able to. In some areas, even people on significantly higher than the average salary can't afford to. So that leaves renting, and landlords are raking it in, all over the country but especially where homes are in shortest supply. Many Tory MPs are landlords and many of their donors are too. So why would the Tories ever want to build enough affordable homes?

I do think that the way things are for many smaller employers in the UK (and employers generally, although larger ones are much to blame for 'the way things are' - again, more of this in part three) means that some will struggle to pay a living wage. I would suggest a system whereby new employers and very small companies (1-10 employees) wanting to expand could apply for temporary relief which would be paid to them to help them cover the living wage. These applications would be assessed based on the companies' overall pay structure and finances in general. It would be rejected if, for example, management were seen to be taking huge salaries for themselves, or making unnecessary purchases (e.g. overly expensive premises or company cars) to bring their finances down and thus necessitating the state assistance. This way, instead of the state subsidising low pay permanently, they would help companies into a position where they could afford to pay the living wage without help.

Flying in the face of claims that companies can't afford to pay the living wage, is the increases in executive pay over the last decade and more. Senior salaries are now so out of control that even some right-wing economists are calling for companies to be forced to have employees sitting on boards of directors (the idea being that they would be able to veto large salary increases for the top earners if the lowest earners see very small or no increase in their wages). I would add that the amount of money being siphoned out of the UK into shareholders' off shore bank accounts is another piece of evidence that certainly large employers can afford to pay the living wage.

The final point in support of increasing wages, and one that I have made before, is the Henry Ford philosophy. Ford realised that he would make a lot more money if his employees could afford to buy his cars. So he raised his employees' salaries considerably. Not only were they happier and more productive, they bought his cars and Henry Ford made a huge amount of money. What blinds today's big companies from seeing that if more people could afford their products and services, the more money they would make? The answer might be in Part Three.

The UK Economy. Part one: individuals' incomes and the taxes they pay.

It's easy for the right and even many so-called centrists in the UK to reduce tax. Once people have paid income tax, national insurance, council tax, VAT, other duties (e.g. on fuel and alcohol) etc, their pay is significantly lower than the raw sum at the top of their payslip. So tax cuts always go down well and the public don't seem particularly enraged if the highest earners are those benefiting the most.

So what do we pay for?

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulance Services
  • GPs
  • Community Nurses and Care Workers
  • Police
  • Defence
  • Education
  • Roads
  • Transport*
  • Energy and Water*
  • Child Protection
  • Street Cleaners, Environmental Health and Waste and Recycling Services
  • Benefits such as the state pension, job seekers' allowance, child benefit, incapacity benefit etc.
  • Ministers who decide on how to manage the above

*These services have been privatised but infrastructure and upkeep always requires more public money.

The above list is not exhaustive: it costs a lot to run a country. In the UK we pay lower taxes than the majority of developed countries and as a result, we often have good reason to complain about the services we receive. But still, people just see the bottom line of their pay slips and the added on taxes elsewhere and feel ripped off.

But we need council workers making sure shops and takeaways are selling us food that won't make us ill. We need people to clear up after unscrupulous companies who fly-tip their waste to save a few quid. We need benefits to help anyone out of work (I've been there; it's not all shirkers despite what the media try to tell you) to eat and continue paying their bills until they find a job. We need the police to prevent crime and Schools to teach us skills to give us a good chance of a decent life. We need to fork out for improvements to railway lines and power networks because the companies making huge profits providing these services can't reach into their pockets (because their pockets are in far-flung tax havens). We need care workers to look after us if we need help with everyday tasks. And what is so important is that we need to pay good money for all of these things, otherwise standards will fall.

Too often, councils can't afford to clear up the mess left by lazy, cheap people (I walk through woods every morning past tonnes of dumped rubbish). And Schools are too often falling into disrepair. Right now, waiting times in A&E are as bad as they've ever been. Care workers are paid so little, it's really difficult to get good people to stay in the job. Pay generally is too low in the public sector and perversely, in-work benefits top up their wages to they can afford to live in the area they work. Where's the sense in that?!

So we need to pay taxes and the government's overall tax revenue needs to be higher than it currently is. But this government has cut tax for the lowest earners and the highest earners. Why? The highest earners have a great deal of influence over government policy. And the highest earners often employ the lowest earners so if the government reduces the tax the lowest paid earn, the influential employers needn't worry about increasing the poverty wages. Simple. So, in this way as in so many others, the state is effectively subsidising the big profit-making companies and individuals who often help to fund the 'think-tanks' who tell us the state is bloated and needs to be reduced!

If only people knew more about why some parties are so anti-tax and who really benefits, they might be happier to pay it and be more critical of their employers than they are of the 'tax man'.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Either way you look at it, more Thatcherism can't fix our economy.

Some people will insist on believing that the last Labour government are to blame for the UK's current economic climate. It's no wonder: the Tories and most of the media claim this too. Let's look at the conditions that created economic collapse.

What happened

  • Thatcher's Tories were responsible for deregulation of the UK financial industry. 
    • This was very popular with wealthy and influential businesses, lobbyists, much of the media and right-wing and centrist politicians and was successful in bringing a great deal of wealth to the capital (albeit mostly in just a few hands).
  • New Labour continued financial deregulation in the late 90s and early 2000s.
    • They had to. It was seen as the driving force behind the boom in the City of London which is still considered to be (although figures don't actually support this: the service industries and manufacturing are both larger) the basis of the entire UK economy. And even if they wanted to re-regulate the industry, the power and influence behind big trading would have proven too much.
  • The Tories, in opposition, approved of Labour's continuation of financial deregulation but also said further regulation was necessary.
  • Deregulation allowed very risky and highly dubious practices to go unchecked and after a period of unbridled success, the pressure of unstable international markets (notably the US which was using the UK system for its own dodgy practices) brought it all crashing down.

So the Tories began and championed deregulation of the financial markets that caused the crash and meant that the government had to bail out the banks, spending around £1.5 trillion pounds doing so. Had the Tories been in power, this still would have happened and they would have also bailed out the banks and the UK's budget deficit would be in the same position it is now (in 2007/8 before the crash, the Tories promised to match Labour's public spending plans).

A much more simple argument

If you still can't accept that the above facts mean the crash would still have happened if the Tories were in power then how about this:

Margaret Thatcher herself said that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour. "We forced our opponents to change their minds." New Labour continued Thatcherism and virtually all of its free-market policies. This being the case, how is what New Labour did any different to what the Tories would have done?

And more urgently: if New Labour's Thatcherite economic policies did nothing to prevent the crash, how would yet more Thatcherism from the current Tories ever be able to fix the problem?!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

"Welcome to your ASDA"

I don't tend to shop in Asda. I've been put off whenever I've gone in there: it's usually incredibly full of rude and aggressive people! And their stock control is very poor. I also don't like the use of red and yellow labels and the fact a huge amount of their products seem to be rounded up/down to the nearest pound. How can that be an accurate figure of costs + a bit of profit?

However, I walk past the local Asda twice a day and sometimes need something urgently and don't have time to go to the next nearest shop that sells whatever that is. Last night was such an occasion and whilst there, I spotted this:

The cynic in me scoffed and thought it would be mildly humorous to try to leave the store with lots of things I hadn't paid for, pretending I believed this meaningless bullcrap. Then I thought I could express what MY Asda would actually be like, if I suddenly ended up owning the ruinous behemoth.

So here are a few of the things I would change if Asda really was mine:

1) Stop shafting producers. Sell cheap produce if you must but label it as such and also have a different range where producers are paid a decent amount - and label that as such too. Then shoppers will make an informed choice: some will only be able to afford the cheap option and many who can afford the better product will choose to continue shafting farmers etc. But some will choose the more producer-friendly option.

2) Offer good-quality meat. For example, very few people these days buy barn eggs but most still buy standard, intensively-farmed chicken. It's often very difficult to get hold of free-range alternatives but some people are willing to pay the extra. Again, label it as such - perhaps even with photos of where the meat comes from.

3) Stop offers on very unhealthy food and have some offers on more healthy, fresh and less processed options. Healthy options cost a lot more and people will inevitably choose the cheap, salty, sugary processed products anyway so there is no need for extra offers on top.

4) Work with and promote local shops. I've seen Asdas that have taken over whole towns. Inside, you can find banks, shoe shops, key cutters, charity shops, chemists, opticians, even GP surgeries, and all sorts of things that should be on the high street instead of hidden inside these huge hangar-like beige and grey monstrosities that blight the view from streets away. I can see our local Asda from our bedroom window, even though it's a mile away and has many streets of houses and churches in between - and it's not even a big Asda store. If it really was MY Asda, I would want to keep the local community alive with proper shops, amenities, pubs/bars etc rather than the betting shops, pawnbrokers and payday lenders, charity shops, takeaways and one or two other struggling businesses that aren't starved out of existence.

Yes, MY Asda would quickly lose profits but it would still make money, and contrary to popular thought, you don't have to be the biggest at what you do. If it really was my Asda, it would be really quite different.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Surprise truth: making people poorer doesn't reduce the benefits bill

One of the biggest bees in the Tories' collective bonnet (it's surprisingly easy to picture them in bonnets, like Little Lord Fauntleroys) is the benefits bill. They feel very strongly that too many people are getting too much money from the state but their answer to this isn't to look at why the benefits bill is so high, their answer is just to cut it.

The tories' demented stuck record constant claims that their "long term economic plan" is working because more people are in work than ever and unemployment has fallen struggles under scrutiny. Just because less people are claiming unemployment benefit, that doesn't mean fewer people are out of work. They're probably just horribly ashamed and why wouldn't they be? The TV, newspapers and politicians all tell them they should be. Employment statistics also don't show how many hours people are working or how much they're being paid. If the "long term economic plan" is working, how come 500,000 more people are now claiming housing benefit than under the last government? Forgive me if I'm being thick but that would be a massive increase in the benefits bill, wouldn't it? And surely if the tories' claims were true, there should be fewer people claiming housing benefit?

The tory figures and the truth, as usual, doesn't add up.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

People in the private sector are constantly trying to con us

People representing the private sector (very much including the current government) are always trying to convince us that the private sector is great and wealth-creating whilst the public sector is bloated and useless.

Here are a few examples of how some in the private sector are trying to con us:

1) Constant retail sales and offers which aren't worth the bright paper and expensive adverts they're broadcast on. Most of the time, so called reductions are based on the cost in one part of the country which may well have been set just so the retailer can later have a nationwide sale.

2) Excessive small print and superfast babbling of terms, conditions and figures relating to credit agreements on anything from cars to credit cards. They're trying to confuse you and bore you to tears until you just buy it anyway.

3) 'Umbrella' companies. Huge invisible behemoths hover over large companies, dipping their fat fingers into anything that will make them profit and they don't want you to know. They'd rather you were unaware that the failed care provider you heard about in the news is also running your unreliable local train service and the immigration centre (which has also been in the news for ill treatment of its inmates). They'd prefer you didn't realise that the huge company manufacturing those ubiquitous crisps also make the ones you think are a bit less big and mean and the 'healthy' drink branded as though it's made by a small, ethical company.

4) 'Separate' arms of one large company where one part supplies the other at a massive loss so they can cut the company's total tax bill by millions (or sometimes even billions).

5) Avoiding tax by claiming their head office is in Luxembourg or some tiny island somewhere, when in fact all that's there is a P.O. Box or one person with a phone and a locked door who knows nothing (or won't tell).

6) Pretending that all of their orders are placed through Ireland or somewhere else in the EU which charges less tax when the order was placed, stored, packed, shipped and delivered within the UK.

7) Trying to get out of giving staff contracts until they absolutely have to, just in case they want to make you redundant (this happened to me).

8) Cutting corners when it comes to cleanliness and public safety.

9) Using ingredients nobody has heard of to make production cheaper and shelf-life longer and then changing their names when people become wiser to what they actually are (do  you ever see E numbers anymore? Do you think those ingredients are no longer used?).

10) Avoiding expensive UK recycling costs by shipping off waste to places such as India and West Africa (where they become places of work for poor children who end up breathing in toxic fumes and melting their skin as they rummage through, looking for something with any kind of value).

11) Avoiding expensive manufacturing costs in countries with health and safety and other regulations designed to protect poorly-paid manual workers by using third-world factories where pay and conditions are terrible.

12) Lying to us about the 'health benefits' of their product or scheme.

13) Lobbying governments to keep their products and services legal or free from regulation in the face of studies which show it is harmful or that malpractice is at play.

I could go on all day but I need to get on to the 'bloated' public sector: why might it be that councils and other public sector organisations have to be quite big? Could a large part of it be because of all of the above?! Laws and regulations constantly have to be refined and tweaked so that loopholes etc are closed. We also need big teams of people keeping checks on all of these bad practices.

Constant checking on private sector practices costs us a lot of money. Meanwhile, big companies' profits are hidden away from the treasury in all manner of schemes. Is that fair?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The kind of coalition that might work - and could save the UK

An obvious idea occurred to me yesterday, inspired by party leaders' different warnings. Cameron was warning that a vote for Labour could let the SNP in and how that would break up the UK. Meanwhile Miliband was warning Scottish voters that voting for anyone other than Labour, including SNP, could land them a Tory government.

The SNP appear to be on course to win the vast majority of seats in Scotland. If Labour are in a position to form a coalition and the SNP are willing to join it, that could be a great deal for the UK, couldn't it? Nicola Sturgeon appears to be moving the party on from Salmond's big speak and bluster approach. He spent his time in power trying to get as much for Scotland as possible seemingly  without having any other clear direction. Now I get the impression that Sturgeon feels many people were put off voting yes in the independence referendum because they weren't convinced that Salmond could really pull off his bold claims. What I hear her say speaks more about direction and ideals than separation although separation is necessary if the direction the Westminster government is taking the UK is far removed from what the Scottish people want. She wears her working class roots on her sleeve and suggests that the SNP provide the alternative option that Labour used to.

A coalition of Labour and SNP could deliver two things. If the largest Scottish party is part of the UK government, that could bring post-referendum stability. And in tandem with a party whose leader (like her predecessor) cites Harold Wilson as the greatest UK prime minister, Labour could have a reason to move back to the left.

Of course the Tories and UKIP and their chums in the media would cause a huge fuss, claiming that Scots who wanted out are now making policies for England. But Labour and the SNP will have five years to make life better for the majority of the population.

I would vote for that.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Why and how do our ideals change?

YouGov research (see this i100 article) suggests that young people are more concerned about the environment and the living wage than immigration and other results indicate similar differences between what they care about and the policies the main parties are offering. If only we could age them to see what their answers would be as older people (if we waited for them to age naturally, other factors come into play).

The popular belief is that people become more right-wing, or at least more conservative with age. In theory, we are more likely to support austerity, lower taxes and policies that are seen to slow down the rate of change a country might go through as we get older. Some of this makes sense: we want to conserve what we have because we've earned it and we're used to it. But I wonder whether there are other reasons. Do we change our opinions, having been bombarded with conservative, right-wing messages for longer? Do we just become less tolerant and a little more selfish as we become - and sadly though I wish it weren't, I think this is true - less important to society?

My own belief development hasn't quite followed this route. When I was younger, I was much more judgmental and felt that there were far too many people who could get a job but didn't want one and that most people committing crime did it because they were bad people. I probably would have also said we pay too much tax. Now I know better: I'm much more well-informed and look up facts for myself online, rather than accepting common opinion as fact. I now think that the majority of people do want to work and even those who don't aren't necessarily to blame, because employment hasn't been the 'norm' in their families or social groups since the end of the traditional working-class industries. I now think that most people who commit crime do it because they have to to get by, or because they've had such a shit life they need to take it out on something, somehow, or simply because they have nothing else to do and have been left so bereft of opportunities that nothing else occurs to them. I also know that countries with higher taxes and higher public spending tend to have a better quality of life. Good salaries in public sector jobs push up private sector salaries too (they have to compete) and higher salaries means everyone pays more income tax and if spending rises too, everyone gets better public services which improves everyone's quality of life. The less tax we pay, the poorer our public services are and the poorer our quality of life. And private sector salaries stay low because they can. It's pretty much as simple as that.

I'm probably a bad example and I would still guess that people tend to become more conservative as they get older. But does it have to be this way? Judging by this research (admittedly not exhaustive but polling rarely is), most young people voting now would not vote conservative or UKIP but here we are with the conservatives running the country (and Lib Dems mostly toeing the party line when it counts) and UKIP all over the news. What if that weren't the case and more left-wing policies were discussed on the BBC and in the papers? If people were more informed about the other side of taxation (it's not bad: it pays for good things we all need and want) and of the roots unemployment, poverty and criminality than they were about immigration, 'benefits scroungers' and problems in the NHS, might they be more inclined to stick to the more caring, progressive ideals of their youth?

There is a chance, of course, that today's young people might not become more conservative with age. The environment and caring for it is something they've been brought up with and equality and diversity are, hopefully, concepts that hardly occur to them because they're less likely to think any other way. The internet provides a far broader perspective on politics than the mainstream media ever have and with actual facts at your fingertips, it's easier to find the truth behind the spin.

We can live in hope.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

PFI - the Tory policy Labour ran with that describes them all.

This excellent article by Ian Martin in the Guardian has reminded me of a time in the early 00s which sums up privatisation with all its excesses.

I left University in 2000 and scratched around doing temporary work for a while. I was initially looking for a job in or closely-related to Graphic Design and I thought I'd got one at a reprographics company in Manchester. The job itself wasn't as important as the opportunity to expand my social horizons. This was my chance to get out of the insular town that ridiculed me and made me feel totally unwelcome and experience a 21st Century city with bars and clubs that didn't demand you wore smart clothes to get horrendously drunk and into needless fights (I didn't want to do any of these things but in places like Chorley or Wigan in the 1990s, it was mandatory if you were young and wanted to socialise). It was great: the best decision I ever made.

The job did turn out to be crap, though. A sweaty, cramped space on a busy road with far too many big, hot, frequently broken printing and copying machines and very little ventilation from the polluted street. The clients giving us the most work were the big building contractors and their mysterious parent companies and clients. This was the New Labour boom years and Manchester's regeneration was still in full swing.

In the above paragraph, I carefully chose the rather clanging phrase "The clients giving us the most work were the big building contractors..." because it accurately describes the situation, much more so than saying "The biggest earners were the jobs for the big building contractors..." because these huge companies spent a lot of time and effort avoiding paying anything at all. There was one printing company who we sent a lot of large jobs to who were so infrequently paid by their largest client that they closed down three times in as many years, only to open again shortly after under a different name. This was the days when few people paid their debts (have they gone away?).

Around 2001/2002, our biggest client became a company called Catalyst Healthcare (I think this happened because my employer poached two sales reps from a rival company who had held the contract - because that, depressingly, is the way things work). Catalyst were the PFI arm of Bovis Lend Lease (and may still be) and whenever public money for a new hospital was up for grabs, they threw millions at it.

Catalyst were throwing so much money at us that whenever they were preparing a bid, they basically took over the company. We switched from 8am - 7pm opening to 8am-8pm and 8pm-8am shifts 7 days a week for fortnights at a time, The night staff just worked for Catalyst; the day staff were meant to do just as much for them but everything else too. Catalyst staff stayed in the nicest hotels they could find nearby at short notice and hung around the already-overcrowded printrooms, hooked up to caffeine drips and occasionally disappearing out for meals and drinks. They proudly told stories about corporate excess, such as the guy who told us he'd recently bought a new Audi TT, taken it to a race track for a spin and promptly blown the engine whilst doing doughnuts. They had us putting together and printing masses and masses of bid documents, only to then change a bit which meant a complete reprint. This happened again and again and again and each time, they paid for what had been produced and subsequently binned (as far as I know, anyway).

The wasted money in the bidding process that I was aware of was shocking; I wouldn't even like to guess at how much each bid cost in total. Just thinking about the money spent on bids they didn't win...the bids they did win must have been so worth it for them.

I worked there far too long and was eventually fired for losing my temper (within earshot of the shop) when, under immense pressure, another printer broke on me. I could have appealed: no kind of proper disciplinary process was carried out, but I was only too glad to leave and I have the great pleasure of being able to say I have never since had to work on behalf of such free-market wastefulness ever again.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

BBC Tory Bias

I'm not much of a fan of Jack Straw and yes, what he has done is wrong and if he wasn't retiring anyway, Labour should make him stand down. But the BBC have really done a number on him.

"I charge £5000..." I saw that bit a dozen or so times on the BBC before seeing Channel 4 news and the part where he says that he would not do it whilst standing as an MP. That's crucial. That shows that, whilst he's clearly looking to use his past positions of power to improve his already healthy finances, he is at least waiting until his is no longer an MP before he does so.

However, with their Tory editor and clear Tory bias, the BBC are looking for as many reasons to attack Labour as they can in the run up to the election and their selective editing has done just that.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tory free labour will devalue already undervalued jobs

The Tories have again fallen short of reintroducing workhouses - something I'm certain many would dearly love to bring back. What they have pledged to do, however, is to force young unemployed people to work 30 hours per week to earn their benefits.

My cynical, Tory-hating brain jumped to the conclusion that these jobs would be in profitable retailers, taking (poorly) paid jobs from people but apparently, they'll be charity jobs and helping to care for elderly people. Let's assume for now that this is true: it may be. Is it such a bad thing to have more charity workers and more people caring for those who need it? Well no but it will seriously devalue certain types of job which are already terribly poorly paid (many under the minimum wage where staff are taken on as 'self-employed' and travel time between jobs is not covered). Care workers need to be paid more, not have their jobs done by young unemployed people.

The second, larger point is: what's the point? Well the young people working certainly won't benefit, unless they had envisaged a career in charity work or elderly care. What it will do is massage the unemployment figures because the Tories won't include them, even though they'll be on an equivalent benefit.

And I would also return to my first point: what right-minded Tory wouldn't jump at the chance of providing free labour for a donor or business chum? And how many Tory donors' businesses would branch out into areas where they could get free labour?

When ideas like this are bandied about, I always consider what the ultimate conclusion would be and whether that would be a good thing or not. In this case, the ultimate conclusion is free labour for the rich and well below minimum wage for the rest. Which sounds like a great nasty Tory policy to me.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The conservatives are LIARS

Who voted for the NHS top-down re-organisation?
Or to sell off Royal Mail?
To cut to the top rate of tax?
To increase VAT?
To cut disability benefits?
To cut expenditure on cancer treatment?
To close Accident and Emergency departments?
To close walk in clinics?
To decimate Citizens' Advice?
To decimate Legal Aid?

Nobody. None of these things were in the tories' 2010 manifesto and in fact some of these things, such as cutting disability benefits and cancer treatments were outlined as areas to protect or even increase and they've done the opposite. Some tories might say that they had to completely revise their pledges following the pact with the Lib Dems but were any of these things in the Lib Dems' manifesto? No, they weren't.

Read the conservatives' 2010 manifesto key points here.
Read the lib dems' 2010 manifesto key points here.

Monday, 12 January 2015

History tells us the Tories are bad for this country

In the late 1970s, the Tories managed to convince the public that the Labour government had broken the country and won a majority in the 1979 general election. 

Thatcher believed wholeheartedly that people should be able to look after themselves and be rewarded for success - regardless of how that success came about. Ironically, in order to promote this, the government did lots to help the rich to help themselves, they slashed the top rate of tax, sold off public assets cheaply to their friends and donors, introduced tax breaks for big businesses and in 1986, the biggest change which would have the largest long-term effects: the deregulation of UK financial markets.

In the 1980s, there was "no such thing as society", greed was good and manufacturing in the UK was left to rot. Everything of any commercial value was up for sale and helped along with tax breaks and anything of little or no commercial value was left to fend for itself.

Stripping away regulations which protected the UK from dodgy, risky dealing and the ability to launder money from the US and other countries through London brought a huge boom in the sector and brought London to the forefront of world markets. This culture continued throughout the New Labour years. Labour had made the Tories' failed experiment work with much-needed public sector investment but the speculators kept on taking bigger and bigger risks (well, who can blame them when they received bigger and bigger bonuses for doing so) and eventually, it all came tumbling down.

In the late 2000s, the Tories managed to convince the public that the Labour government had broken the country and received a big enough percentage of the vote to call the shots following the 2010 general election. 

Thatcher's children believe wholeheartedly that people should be able to look after themselves and be rewarded for success - regardless of how that success came about.  Ironically, in order to promote this, the government did lots to help the rich to help themselves, they have slashed the top rate of tax, sold of public assets cheaply to their friends and donors, introduced tax breaks for big businesses and are now proposing to shrink the state down to levels last seen in the 1930s before the welfare state or NHS.

Thatcher's Tories brought about the changes to our economy that, with the help of their greedy chums, caused the financial crash. If people believe that this same party, with the same principles, standing up for the same people who caused the crash are the party to bring us a proper recovery, then they deserve all they get. But what a shame that will be for the rest of us.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Labour Party are trying to have it both ways and it will be to their detriment.

Even some conservative voters want to see a change in the way our economy is handled. I would hope that a few of the people who voted conservative in 2010 will realise they made a mistake, but just for argument's sake, let's assume that the conservatives get the same amount of the vote as they did last time: 36.1% from a turnout of 65.1%. That leaves 76.5% of registered voters who might want something different. Again, for the avoidance of doubt, let's assume that some people are happy with kicking the poor and dining with the rich but want something more bloke-with-a-pint-and-a-fag-outside-the-pub-being-racist-when-he's-tired. UKIP are only aiming for 25 seats at the next election but let's be really, really generous and imagine they might get 30% of the vote. That still leaves a whopping 46.5% of registered voters for Labour to target.

That imaginary 46.5% - and probably more - are tired of spin. They're sick of lies. Most people can't see through the bullshit and non-answers and smoke and mirrors to get at what the parties might really do if they won a majority. If Labour had a clear message and honest, soundbite-free policies that set out what they will do differently in order to improve the lives of the majority of people in the UK without harming our already-stretched public services, they would surely be on to a winner.

It's astonishing, then, that they seem unable or unwilling to use this tactic. Instead, Ed Balls and the rest of the party are answering the other parties' and media's claims about Labour's poor economic record with a tough-sounding message of more austerity. Labour say they would reduce the deficit with cuts but also say that the conservatives have an ideological crusade against the state and would take us back to the 1930s before the NHS and welfare were created. People are understandably wondering what exactly Labour would do differently if their overall message is broadly the same.

The devil may be in the detail. The last Labour government used spending to stimulate growth, and it worked. The problem was that they hadn't planned for anything to go wrong and when it did, there was only just enough slack in the economy to get through it without total collapse, and if they'd stayed in power they might have had to change their methods to reduce the debt (although in fact, Brown and Darling had already returned the UK economy to growth in the months prior to the election in 2010). Perhaps Labour are hoping that if they pick and choose certain areas to make less, or no further cuts, it may be enough to bring sufficient growth for them to spend a little on ideas to bring in bigger growth and start reduce the deficit a little that way. But they daren't say it because the guffawing from the press and the other main parties will ruin them.

Labour need a clear message to counter the austerity mantra. The current government have managed to amass more debt in four years than Labour did in thirteen and that is a powerful counter-argument. In December, the former governor of the Bank of England said that Labour were not to blame for the economic crash. He said that pretty much everyone across the political spectrum shared the same view of how to run the economy and that it would have happened whoever was in power at the time. Is this not a perfect time then, for Labour to change the message? They need to shout this at every opportunity and convince the public that they won't let it happen again. It will require tight financial regulation  - which very few people will be against - and a more steady growth of the economy that would allow for an emergency fund to be put away should anything catastrophic happen again. That fund could gain interest whilst it's not being used, and the interest could pay for additional government spending. It would take a while but the alternative is massive and permanent reduction to public services we all (mostly) rely on. And that is a key point: the people who don't rely so much on public services are in the Tory or UKIP voting bracket that Labour shouldn't be trying to target anyway.

Labour are unlikely to win over many people to their alternative if the differences are marginal. And given the public's opinion of their leader and their economic credentials, they need more than a narrow margin to work with.

I should also add that the Lib Dems are trying to squeeze themselves between Labour and Conservatives by "cutting less than the Conservatives and borrowing less than Labour." Good luck with that one, Cleggy.