Labour should champion a wealth tax

by Michael Meacher

It is worth remembering that the most popular item in Francois Hollande’s manifesto which propelled him to the French presidency was imposing a high rate of tax on the very richest in the country. Admittedly his popularity has nose-dived since then, but that is for totally different reasons to do with France’s economic straitjacket within the Eurozone.

Taxing the small category of excessively rich people still remains popular in France, as it is in the UK. A recent YouGov poll found that 74% in the UK favoured it, with only 10% against, and actually the the rich were slightly more in favour than the poorest groups. Vince Cable on behalf of the LibDems has been pushing the idea of a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 millions, but Labour has yet to indicate its support either for that or, preferably, a wider tax on the generality of wealth. Continue reading →

Private pension markets are not working

by Michael Meacher

Thatcher ended the best pension scheme the UK has ever had, and pensions have never recovered from the consequent decline as constant mis-selling scandals continue abundantly to demonstrate. Barbara Castle’s SERPS schme in the 1970s was generous particularly to the low-paid and to women, highly popular, and provided universal protection against poverty in retirement. Thatcher reduced its generosity by cutting the accrual rate, gave individuals an incentive to opt out of SERPS into personal pensions which turned out to be much poorer quality, broke the link between earnings and the basic State pension, and allowed individuals to opt out of occupational schemes which had previously been a key element of the social wage. These opt-outs led to a great mis-selling scandal as commission-hunting salesman persuaded many to shift to poor defined contribution (money purchase) schemes. The State retreated from guaranteeing earnings-related retirement income to merely providing a low means-tested safety net, and as the State basic pension steadily declined relative to earnings it inevitably led to a large rise in pensioners subject to means-tested benefits. Continue reading →

Holding public figures to account must lead to prison in worst cases

by Michael Meacher

Once again it is instructive how they do things in the US, the citadel of capitalism, which is so very different from the secretive British State which protects its elites even from their worst wrongdoings. The Bank of America has just been fined $16.7bn for misleading investors in its mortgage-backed securities, a colossal sum which vastly exceeds any penalties imposed on UK banks which were paltry by comparison, even though they were guilty of exactly the same malfeasance.

But there were two other codicils attached to the Bank of America settlement which have been singularly absent from the UK. One is that the bank is now required to pay $7bn in consumer relief to communities still struggling to recover from the housing crisis the bank caused. It is required to reduce the mortgages of homeowners in negative equity and to reimburse some who incure higher tax bills as a result. Why is the same not being imposed on the Big 4 UK banks – HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds? Continue reading →

Time for Labour to speak out on corporate governance

by Michael Meacher

8006883_sWhilst the economic debate surges around austerity, recession and claims of recovery, it’s remarkable that next to nothing is being said about the flaws of corporate governance. As a result the dominant theme of shareholder value is accepted almost without question. Yet it is deeply compromised both in theory and in practice. Most obviously it isn’t only shareholders who bear risks or supply important inputs: both taxpayers and the workforce do. But the fundamental problem with shareholder value is short-termism. The average time that a share is held for is now measured in days.

There are several reforms needed that could diminish or eliminate the blight of short-term churning of shares or the short-termist outlook of senior managers obsessed with enhancing the share price above all else as a means of boosting their bonuses. Directors’ legal duties should be reformed so that they are required to promote the long-term success of their company as their primary aim. Ending the requirement for quarterly reporting would remove one of the key pressures that makes for a very short-term perspective. Capital gains tax should be changed to encourage long-term share ownership. Corporation tax breaks should be used to favour investment and penalise companies sitting on cash surpluses. Continue reading →

UKIP’s general election prospects

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

enoch powell & nigle farageOur Nige is standing in South Thanet (at last!). The party’s pledged to take minimum wage earners out of income tax (and, whisper it, cutting the top rate for the very richest too). Prominent kippers gaffe, gaffe, and gaffe again. Admiring Hitler’s demagoguery? Calling a Thai supporter “ting-tong“? It’s so much water off a racist duck’s back. Yet whatever they try, this silly season just isn’t that interested in the doings of UKIP. With a low profile, some might be tempted to rule them out of contention for next year completely. After all, it’s a rule of electoral gravity that protest voters happy to lend their vote to populist rabbles inbetween general elections return to their homes when ballots really matter.

Will that be the case with UKIP? They topped the European polls in May with 4.4m votes (27.5%) and record an average score in the range of 11-15.5% in local council by-elections. The polls tell the same story. When asked explicitly about general election voting intentions, 17, 18, 19 – even 21% are not unknown. How reasonable can we expect a vote collapse and an exodus that would disproportionately benefit the Tories? Continue reading →

Obama wants jihadi cancer to be halted, but how?

by Michael Meacher

obama-2It is extraordinary that after an 18 month ISIS rampage of beheadings, torture and executions across northern Iraq and Syria, and after the killing including crucifixion of 500 Yahidi men because of their Christian faith, the brutal murder of one man has now aroused such passion in the West. But that of course is because he was an American. It even brings Cameron scurrying back from his holiday to take charge – but to do what? This is a real turning point in the West’s confrontation with the international jihadism that was unleashed by the illegitimate and disastrous Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq a decade ago.

The jihadist movement is now far stronger in the territory it holds, in its related clusters in Nigeria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, in its resources from kidnapping, control of oilfields and smuggling, and in its tactical capacity to disrupt the West. They face Western nations in the mirror reverse of uncertain response, bruised by a decade of war weariness in Iraq and Afghanistan, hobbled by the veto on boots on the ground, and rather lamely having to appeal to allies in the Middle East to take a leading role. Continue reading →

What to do with British IS fighters?

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

Isis recruitment videoThe execution of James Foley by a British-accented Islamic State (IS) fighter is utterly sickening. The murder of non-combatants is a war crime, but for ISIS, ISIL or whatever this bunch of barbaric thugs are calling themselves today, killing for mere propaganda underscores their nature as the world’s most socially regressive movement.

Historical parallels with the Nazis often obscure more than they highlight, which is why I avoid them as a rule. But I cannot help noting the similarity between IS and the brutality meted out in Russia by the Wehrmacht and the Einsatzgruppen following in their wake. The only real differences are IS are less efficient, and will spare “apostates” and “heathens” should they convert at gunpoint. Apart from that, an identity exists between the death squads of yesterday, and those running amok in Syria and Iraq now. Whether the black uniforms of the SS or the black flag of ISIL, this is humanity at its very worst, at its most appalling. Continue reading →

Time for Labour to lay out how it will re-set energy markets in 2015-7: here’s how

by Michael Meacher

Big-six-energy-companiesCurrent UK energy policy is a colossal failure. It is supposed to (1) deliver cheap and affordable energy to consumers, (2) provide security of supply, and (3) shift from carbon fuels to renewable energy as a key part of tackling climate change. But under the current privatised regime the UK is monumentally failing on all 3 counts.

On affordability, the most recent figures for domestic electricity prices show that despite its wealth of natural energy resources, the UK has the fourth highest prices in the EU (excluding the new East and Central European accession states). Other studies over a number of years have consistently concluded that UK electricity prices are consistently higher than they would have been without privatisation. At the same time the UK has some of the worst statistics in Europe for fuel poverty. What is most shocking of all is the number of UK pensioners who die from extreme cold every winter at a rate double that of Finland despite the latter’s much colder winter climate. Indeed the UK rates are also far higher than for countries with similarly severe winter weather like Sweden and Germany. Continue reading →

March for the NHS

by Grahame Morris

MARCH for NHSThe NHS is firmly on the Road to Privatisation.

The promise to protect the NHS and to halt any top down reorganisation lasted up until the point David Cameron became Prime Minister. Without any mandate David Cameron undertook the largest top down reorganisation since the foundation of the NHS, laying the framework for the whole scale marketisation of our health service.

A group of mums from Darlington concerned about the attacks on the NHS have decided to fight back, and wanting their voice to be heard are marching to Parliament following the famous path of the Jarrow Crusaders, who nearly 80 years previous marched against poverty and unemployment.

I was in Jarrow on Saturday to walk the first stage of the protest that will conclude on the 6 September in London after marching 300 miles and collecting information and evidence of the NHS break up from the 23 towns and cities they will visit on the way to Parliament. Continue reading →

Labour executive elections: best Left result since 1980s with 55% of members’ votes

by Jon Lansman

NEC electionsThe results of the elections for constituency party (CLP) representatives on Labour’s national executive were a triumph for the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) slate which won 55% of the popular vote and four out of six places on a 14% swing to the left from right-wing and independent candidates, on a 15% higher poll. It is the best result for the Left since the mid-1980s.

Peter Wheeler was replaced by left-wing Unite activist, Kate Osamor, and the Left also secured both runner-up positions and, for the first time, Islington councillor and centre-left national policy forum member Alice Perry won one of the two places reserved for councillors for the Left, deposing Coventry council leader Ann Lucas.

Independent candidate Johanna Baxter slipped one place to sixth position in the CLP section and was elected by fewer than 1,000 votes over Campaign for Labour Party Democracy secretary, Peter Willsman. She did receive the backing of the right-wing party-within-a-party Progress and the even more shadowy Labour First (neither of which she had sought – see her comment below) but it is possible that she suffered as a consequence of their backing. Her voting share rose slightly but this is explained by the reduction in the number of candidates rather than any swing in her favour.

Trade union lawyer, Ellie Reeves, was the only Labour First-backed candidate to be elected — both Progress-backed candidates trailed badly reflecting the low level of grassroots support for the Blairite faction. Ellie Reeves will have benefitted from some trade union and centre-left support (she is married to left-wing MP, John Cryer) and probably for the lack of support of Progress who only reluctantly agreed to back her (even though they did eventually support independent Baxter as well as her two fellow Labour First candidates). Continue reading →

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