Labour views economy through the wrong end of a telescope

by Ann Pettifor

imageslookingtelescopeThere is no path to growth and prosperity for working people which does not tackle the deficit”. So said Ed Milliband last Thursday.

The Labour leader has finally succumbed to a baying media pack that insisted he commit himself to an economic goal set by Labour’s opposition: namely “tackling the deficit.”

I am no politician, but such capitulation to  economically illiterate commentators, is surely both politically unwise as well as economically nonsensical. The reason it is politically unwise is that Mr. Milliband is succumbing to the Chancellor’s flawed and frankly dishonest framing of the public deficit as the biggest challenge facing Britain’s economy. But while Mr Osborne must be delighted at luring his opponents into a debate that cannot be won, he is plainly very, very wrong. Continue reading →

Tristram Hunt and Churchillian True Grit

by David Pavett

Tristram things can only get betterAfter every new speech by Tristram Hunt a friend used to say to me “things can only get better”. Now, he’s not so sure.  After the Shadow Education Secretary’s vaunting of Disraeli as a “working class champion”, his refusal to commit to ending selection at eleven and his suggestion that private schools should keep all their privileges and tax breaks if only they would agree to sprinkle some of their magic dust on state schools, we have to wonder just how much further this line of thought can go.

The lack of will to make a radical break with the educational landscape created by the Coalition (largely under Michael Gove’s leadership) is so far from being on the cards that it is not even a vaguely defined future intent. Given the poll-confirmed wish of the general public to reverse the process of converting state schools into state-funded independent institutions this is not great electoral politics. In terms of building a political career, on the other hand, it is certainly a protection against a backlash from high expectations. Tristram Hunt’s speech to the Character Conference organised by Demos on 9th December added a few more nails to fix those expectations firmly to the floor. Continue reading →

The killer argument against PFI

by Michael Meacher

privatisation, pic by Banner TheatreWe have always known that PFI was a con trick (i) to take construction and management costs of hospitals and other public buildings offline so they don’t appear in the national accounts, and (ii) to secure the extremely lucrative privatisation of yet another public service at taxpayers’ expense. But the evidence of how the new outsourced authorities manipulated this fiddle has not hitherto been made so blatantly transparent as in the latest case to come to light.

Six months ago the Treasury approved a PFI for the £360m Midland Metropolitan hospital in Birmingham. As a result the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust will be forced to pay out £18m for 30 years, i.e. £540m in total – an extremely bad deal for taxpayers. So how was it ever justified in the first place? Answer: the NHS Trust Development Authority, that is the hospital’s regulator, opined that “income growth assumptions are significant”. With the NHS in its near-bankrupt state plus the intention to move care out of hospitals over time, this is not just a heroic assumption, it’s fantasy. Continue reading →

Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale win the election but not the popular vote

by Jon Lansman

Jim Murphy accepting the Scottish leadershipThe media and the bookies predicted a Murphy and Dugdale victory and that is what they eventually got, by a margin that, on the surface at least, looked comfortable. What they appear not to have won is the popular vote – I say appear because no figures have been released on actual numbers voting nor even turnout – but I shall justify my claim below.

It is of course a very disappointing result for those of us who see Jim Murphy as part of the problem rather than as the solution, but it is nevertheless a result for which Neil Findlay deserve credit. The result shows above all, how unrepresentative of the Scottish labour movement their elected representatives have become after two decades of the corrupt manipulation of selections under New Labour – we unfortunately know polls what regard they are held in by the electorate. It was in this section where the 79 parliamentarians who voted each had a vote worth as much as those cast by over 120 party members or 250 trade union levy payers. And it was their shortfall in this section which Neil and Katy always had to make up in the trade union and individual members’ sections.

The detailed results are as follows: Continue reading →

How far was the UK complicit in CIA rendition and torture?

by Michael Meacher

cia emblemThe report published today by the US Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Dianne Feinstein,  makes horrifying, even disgusting, reading.   The tactics used against prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay or foreign CIA  black sites (i.e. torture chambers) included water-boarding (simulated drowning), ‘rectal rehydration’ (leading to anal fissures and rectal prolapse), sleep deprivation for a week or more imposed on those shackled, forced to stand and naked, hooding, iced-water immersion, slamming against walls, and threats of sexual and physical violence against prisoners’ families.

The Senate committee also notes that at least 26 of the detainees were ‘wrongfully held’, and the evidence used against them was often based on hearsay or mere rumour. In extreme cases Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times, and Abu Zubaydah 83 times who emerged an utterly broken man – maybe the aim of the exercise. This was justified by the CIA on the grounds that the information extorted by torture ‘saved lives’ by revealing future plots. The Senate committee after years of investigation stated it could find not a single case of this kind, only that torture revealed false information (anything to stave off further torture) or information already gleaned by more traditional forms of intelligence gathering. Continue reading →

Market socialism: oxymoron or just plain moronic?

by Phil Burton-Cartledge

KFCThese days the ‘99%‘ and ‘Another World is Possible‘ are slogans fluttering atop many a radical social movement. Yet on those occasions activists’ deliberations turn to what a post-capitalist future might look like, there will be a lot of talk about participatory democracy, community networks, the decentralisation of power and so on. The state might (might!) occasionally get a look in as something that can facilitate the building of the new society, but what definitely will not are markets and market-type mechanisms. And it’s entirely reasonable why they should not.

Ostensibly, the world economy has had 35 years worth of free market fundamentalism. The tearing down of tariffs and protectionism has been accompanied by an orgy of privatisation, speculation, and offshoring. Markets are the only political game in town. They have been introduced by hook and by crook into public services. In country after country, tax payers cash have been thrown at markets to lubricate them. Continue reading →

Osborne decimating the State will finally trigger the resistance

by Michael Meacher

Osborne no cuts collage by CounterfireOsborne’s central objective, he would have you believe, is to cut the deficit. He has failed: the deficit he predicted would be £40bn this year turns out to be £100bn and, worse still, it is actually now rising because of the fall in the government’s income (tax receipts) brought about by his own policy of squeezing wages. His other key concern is holding down and reducing taxes. In this he’s succeeded: such reduction in the deficit as there has been is almost exclusively the result of cutting public expenditure and benefits, the only exception being the rise in VAT which hits the poor far harder than the rich. In Osborne’s parallel universe the State is the residual item: it has to make do with what the first two principles leave over. Indeed I would argue that the shrinkage of the State as a result of the first two strictures is not just an unfortunate side-effect, but the real latent objective of the whole exercise. Continue reading →

Iraq – it could take years

by Mike Phipps

Ten weeks after Parliament voted to bomb IS (Islamic State) in northern Iraq, US Secretary of State John Kerry has admitted that it could take years for them to be defeated.  Since Parliament’s vote in September, other European countries have lined up to take part in the campaign – but it remains uncertain whether these actions will materially alter the balance of forces on the ground.

The murderous nature of IS is not in question. Three months ago they kidnapped hundreds of women from the Yazidi sect and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse, slavery and forced marriage.

In Iraq, there are reports of former election candidates being hunted down and publicly executed in areas now under their control. In Syria, children are being recruited, given religious training and sent off to fight.  Continue reading →

Osborne’s been caught red-handed – when’s Labour going to take him down?

by Michael Meacher

George Osborne greenish hueOsborne over-reached himself badly last week, what with bare-faced lies, twisting of the figures to save his own skin but which no independent expert can validate, childish responses to well-placed questions which left him rattled and blustering, concealing his real underlying motive to take Britain back to the enfeebled state of the 1930s, insisting in every other breath that he has a long-term economic plan which is true only in the sense that it’s the wrong one, and now to cap it all taking on the BBC with accusations of ‘utter hyperbolic nonsense’.

Yet he continues to dominate the landscape because the Opposition still does not have a recognisable alternative macroeconomic policy, their appeal to cutting less far and more slowly over a longer period does not present a convincing shift away from austerity, and above all does not go for the jugular that Osborne has handled the deficit disastrously with maximum pain to the country and minimum benefit because he’s fixated on decimating public services rather than generating sustainable growth (which his ‘recovery’ soon to fizzle out certainly isn’t). Continue reading →

The real chill in the Autumn statement

by Dave Watson

Parliament Fence & Big Ben by Jay Fergusen at Flikr A budget package in December may not be Autumn, but it certainly had a real chill for those least able to afford its consequences.

This was a classic Osborne budget statement. Massive real cuts, sugar coated by handing back a few pennies in the form of announcements on the NHS and infrastructure. Yes, Scotland will get £129m of Barnett consequentials from the NHS announcements, but this goes nowhere near making up for the real cuts ahead. This chart from the Office of Budget Responsibility makes it perfectly clear where public spending is going. Continue reading →

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