Thursday, 21 April 2016

We're being robbed and respond with a despondent shrug

Owen Jones has written a great article here basically covering what I'm about to say: but I need a rant, so I will say it anyway.

It seems that the Tories and the shady, wealthy characters with whom they associate have begun to realise that they can pretty much get away with anything. They have most of the media onside (owned, of course, by shady characters who are well-engaged with similar practices that defraud the British public) and the public these days feel powerless to defend themselves against systemic corruption.

In some cases, this now means that instead of flat denials in the face of concrete fact, we are instead offered reasons why despicable behaviour is normal, acceptable and necessary. The top earners keep getting sickening payrises whilst leading their companies to massive losses that mean ordinary workers' pay stagnating - at best - and often redundancies. The wealthiest people keep using tax havens and using various UK-based schemes to hide their vast amounts of money from HMRC whilst the rest of us pay for the public services which keep their staff educated, fit and healthy, their produce/services/staff mobile and their homes and businesses safe.

We're told that competition means mind-boggling salaries are necessary. We're told that tax avoidance schemes are something everyone does and it's all fine.

And there's nothing we can do. Mass demonstrations are barely mentioned in the media, expect for detailed and exaggerated accounts of the minority who get a bit too angry and break something. The Tories seem untouchable and the Labour MPs who most resemble their supposed opponents across the chamber are doing all they can to prevent discredit their leader and in doing so, make it much harder to hold the government to account.

And so it is that 65 million people in Britain simply shrug and haul their dejected carcases through another day.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Tories will get away with this, but if they didn't?

I am certain that the Tories will spend the next couple of weeks lying in parliament and in the media, pretending that tax avoidance schemes which are now under more scrutiny are normal and that no one has done anything wrong. And the furore will die down, with the help of a complicit media (owned, in the main, by very wealthy people who also use offshore accounting to avoid tax) or once the government announce a "quick: look over there" policy that diverts attention away from it.

But what would happen if it continued? If the media picked up their game and did what they should do, which is holding the government to account, and if Corbyn and the SNP keep up the pressure in parliament on Cameron, Osborne and their chums, could Cameron resign? He might want to, but I seriously doubt it, and here's why.

Cameron is of course, the focus of this as the Prime Minister responsible for crippling austerity that is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Lately, talk has been of only two potential Tory leaders: Osborne and Boris Johnson. Osborne certainly has his hands dirty in this too: his family business, of which he is one of the owners, uses similar tax-dodging schemes and have got away with avoiding huge amounts of tax too. Johnson has made his feelings about tax quite clear over the years (stating in 2015 that "people have a legitimate right to minimise their tax obligations if they can" and also saying that the Boots boss has "a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to minimise their obligations") and I would be astonished if he didn't also have some involvement in one or more tax avoidance schemes.

Teresa May has seemingly come out of this scandal ("what scandal?" -all Tories) squeaky clean - so far at least. I suspect recent narrowing down of the contest to a Johnson Vs Osborne battle is in no small part down to the nature of the right which is permanently clinging to the past. It struggled with gay marriage; it struggles with the idea of opening our borders to people fleeing war zones and it still struggles with women, despite (and in the case of some journalists and commentators possibly partly because of) Thatcher's success. The papers have never talked about May as seriously as the two male contenders. Her popularity may have faltered over the last year with even some conservative supporters feeling her policies on refugees and public data privacy go too far.

Any others? Bookies currently have Michael Gove ahead of Theresa May and of late, he has managed to keep himself out of the limelight in his roles as  Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. If he continues to keep a low profile, he may become a real contender although I feel where Osborne, May and even Boris Johnson have a considerable edge is with their image. Gove has the sort of smug, posh, grin that Armando Iannucci would have deemed too much of a caricature for a 'Thick of It' character. His attempts to impress with language and his fondness for very old-fashioned-sounding policies make him equally as absurd a character as Johnson but without the strangely-popular buffoonery of his scruffy colleague.

Three others are also currently rated by bookies. Sajid Javid has come out of the steel industry crisis ("what crisis?" -all Tories) with less credibility than he had before. And I think some of those closer to the far right might struggle with a candidate whose name doesn't sound "British". Stephen Crabb, hasn't been around front-line English politics (Tories don't really care about Wales) long enough and is currently only really known as the MP involved with a company who apparently think they can "cure" gay people. The image-conscious spin-machine will have trouble with that one, even if they feel the LGBT vote isn't theirs to lose. Finally, there is Priti Patel, who as well as having the same problem Sajid Javid has in appealing to the far right of the party as someone with a non-British family history, also has the ignominy of being one of the most expensive MPs in the country. The increase in her expenses claims has been huge and as one of the loudest small-state, pro-cuts Tories, she would find it hard to come across as anything other than a massive hypocrite. She also has the smaller issue of her family connections to UKIP.

So the Conservatives find themselves in a position where, certainly at the moment, they would much rather have a leader known to be a hypocrite and a liar when it comes to matters of tax avoidance, than possibly any of the contenders.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, with most of the media on-side and Corbyn likely to move on to other important issues, the party will probably ride this out. Sadly, the next general election is so far away the Tories have plenty of time to bombard the voting public with more lies and false promises and after last year and with almost 100% of the media kicking lumps out the Labour leadership all the time, I wouldn't be surprised if they won another majority in 2020. By which point, we'll have nothing left to fight for anyway.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Having morals makes shopping tricky.

Last week I attempted to buy some trousers for work. Being under 50, M&S hasn't got much for me, so I wandered the city shopping centre past Burton (tax avoider Philip Green's Arcadia group), Next (whose Chief Exec Simon Wolfson is a Tory peer who voted for - amongst other things - tax credit cuts which will affect his own poorly-paid retail staff), Topman (Arcadia again) and then New Look (owned by super-invisible Brait SE who own chunks of a number of large companies yet don't even have a Wikipedia page - you can guarantee they're up to no good). There's no point trying H&M because they only do trousers for tall skinny men (sadly I am below-average height and stocky build....or fat, if you prefer). The department stores just sell the brands I don't approve of and other brands for older or wealthier men. And I'm not going near Primark.

I tried again a few days later, this time I did try H&M (there were none in my size) and M&S (their 'slim fit' looked ridiculously baggy on me).

Both times, I came back empty-handed and I still need new trousers for work.

Another issue is supermarkets. I don't like Tesco because of the way they led the land-grabbing, business-closing takeover of UK supermarkets and fiddle their figures to fool who everyone into thinking they were still doing great despite suffering the obvious consequences of opening massive stores too close to existing stores. I don't like Asda because they're part of Walmart and don't seem to care about fair trade or animal welfare (there are NO fair trade coffees in our local Asda and barn eggs are given much more preferential position than free-range, plus there appear to be no higher welfare meat that I've found, let alone free-range options). We used to shop at Morrisons but now they've done a deal with Amazon (tax avoider who treats warehouse staff and presumably other workers like scum) and recently their advertising agency sent out a casting call for actors "...not at all like the characters from Benefits Street....And nobody from Liverpool, please.” Presumably such instructions must have come from the client or be representative of their preferences at least. That just leaves Sainsbury's and that means travelling further and polluting the environment along the way.

I could go on to mention specific food and drink brands I've boycotted for various dirty deeds but I simply don't have the energy.

Why do so many of our retailers have to be such shitbags? And why don't more people care enough to vote with their feet?