Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Lanchester Review: To Speak The Truth To Those In Power

Dr Clive Peedell on the impending Stevens Report into the National Health Service.

Exiled To The Republic?

It says a very great deal indeed if that was, and quite conceivably still is, the IRA's view of the 26-County State. No spiritual home, that.

Did and do Loyalist paramilitaries, or Loyal Orders, or what have you, exile miscreants to Great Britain? That would ring no less true.

Northern Ireland is its own very special place, and neither side there is ultimately loyal to anywhere else.

The Evidence Is Their Silence


The evidence piles up that the private sector auditors of banks have manifestly failed in their duties.

All the major banks received unqualified audit opinions from Deloitte & Touche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and Ernst & Young. Private sector auditors have a history of silence and are immersed in too many conflicts of interest.

The evidence is their silence at Barings and Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), as well as at other debacles.

Accounting standards for banks are set by the International Accounting Standards Board, but astonishingly this is a private limited company in London funded by the Big 4 accounting firms who audit the banks and major corporations – a nice cushy cartel whereby the accountancy companies control by their funding the body that is supposed objectively to set their standards.

The rules have enabled banks to publish opaque annual accounts, and vast amounts of assets and liabilities have not been shown on their balance sheets.

Accounting firms have shown no concern for serving the public or the national interest. As a result many toxic assets have continued to be shown on bank balance sheets as good assets.

Despite the higher risks and falling credit-worthiness they have been able to inflate their profits with spurious adjustments such as debt valuation adjustments.

That means that markets, investors, savers and regulators have been misled, with serious consequences for the economy.

Clearly urgent reform is needed to ensure that accounting standards for banks are set by a body independent of the financial sector and the accounting industry.

The rules need to be set by the regulator and approved by the Commons Treasury Committee.

The audits of all banks should be carried out on a real-time basis either directly by the regulator or by a public agency specifically created for that purpose.

This would enhance the regulator’s knowledge base and capacity for timely interventions, since in the era of instant movement of money ex-post audits are of little use.

Banks will of course resist this, and have proved very adept at lobbying to resist legislation. Much of their lobbying power remains hidden from public scrutiny.

All banks should be required therefore to publish the names of the lobbyists used, the public officials lobbied, the precise details of the lobbying pursued, and the amounts spent on the lobbying.

Meeting Patients’ Needs

Owen Jones writes:

There are two certainties about prime minister’s questions, that weekly screeching ritual that makes you makes you want to weep for those who fought for democracy in Britain.

First, David Cameron will at some point turn a shade of crimson; and second, when scrutinised over his government’s NHS record, he will immediately launch into a savage counter-attack on Welsh Labour’s handling of Wales’s NHS.

The state of the Welsh NHS “is a scandal”, bellows the prime minister; adding that the English border with Wales is the “line between life or death”; and – as his health secretary Jeremy Hunt puts it – the Welsh NHS is “second class”.

It makes perfect political sense, of course. It is “look over there” politics at its finest. Think we’re cocking up the NHS here? Check out what our critics are doing in Wales!

And it helps confront one of the only stubborn leads the Labour party has on any issue, which is the NHS. 

And so we stop considering the staggering fact that the Tories’ top-down privatisation – a policy voters weren’t consulted on, and which came with what Labour claims is a £3bn price tag to boot – has been disowned by the party’s senior figures as their biggest mistake in government.

Apparently they didn’t understand it: it was “unintelligible gobbledegook”. Alas, we all make mistakes: it’s only the institution keeping many of us alive, after all.

Competition laws created an expensive mess in the NHS, according to its former boss Sir David Nicholson. A million patients are now stuck waiting for more than four hours in A&E – a level unseen since 2003/4. 

The longest real-terms squeeze on NHS funding in its history, privatisation, an ageing population, cuts to local care budgets: all this is heaping more and more pressure on a creaking NHS.

It’s not just the Tories, though.

In the last few days, the Daily Mail has subjected the Welsh NHS to a relentless battering. There will be far more to come in the runup to May.

Picking on the Welsh NHS might seem a bit peculiar. Surveys show that 91% of Welsh citizens are satisfied with the last appointment they had at a NHS hospital.

According to a study by the Nuffield Trust earlier this year, none of the UK’s four countries were consistently ahead of each other in NHS performance.

The number of “avoidable deaths” in Wales was broadly the same as anywhere else.

Yes, Wales has more specific challenges than England which make a fair comparison hard: a population with more needs, including a higher proportion of older citizens, at a time of cuts to local care services.

There is the issue of cuts.

According to the King’s Fund last year, NHS spending in Wales was projected to have fallen by 8.6% between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

But Wales has been left with an extreme lack of room to manoeuvre.

The coalition has slashed the Welsh government’s budget by 10% or £1.5bn – since the government came to power.

Given that around 40% of the Welsh government budget goes on the NHS, in practical terms the NHS has been given relative protection, and now Cardiff is spending an extra £425m over two years. 

According to the Welsh government, Wales is still spending more per head on health than England is.

But the substance of the Daily Mail’s attack has received a strong counterblast from the Welsh government. 

The Mail’s claims that about half of Welsh cancer sufferers have to wait six weeks or more for many scans and tests, compared to less than 6% in England: not true, says Cardiff.

Some 87.4% of Welsh cancer patients on the “urgent suspected cancer route” received treatment within 62 days after a GP referral earlier this year, compared to 84.1% in England.

And 98.1% of newly diagnosed cancer patients “not via the urgent route” began treatment within 31 days, compared to 97.8% in England.

Rather than Welsh patients fleeing to English hospitals, in areas such as Powys, patients were simply using their local hospital provider, which is across the border.

Does that mean turning Wales’s NHS into some sort of glowing utopia, a privatisation-free idyll unlike a disintegrating English NHS?

No, and those of us who believe in the NHS should always advocate reform, as long as it is not a synonym for “privatisation” and “cuts”, but rather about meeting patients’ needs.

But while the Welsh NHS is certainly not perfect, the Tories cannot get away with using it to avoid being scrutinised over their own disastrous record.

See also here.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Radical At The Routes

Here.

Warmly welcomed by the next Secretary of State for Transport, Mary Creagh.

Good stuff.

Low Wages = No Tax Revenue

Who knew?

Well, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not know, for a start.

Obama Is A Republican

As Bruce Bartlett explains, "He's the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky."

The Last Days of Telegraph Blogs

Even Daniel Hannan is now posting his important stuff somewhere else.

And the Twitter account no longer exists.

Not The Chiltern Hundred

A fascinating exchange today with an old associate who has gone on to greater things.

Among the topics covered were today's by-election to succeed Lord Methuen and today's ennoblement of Sir Andrew Green, of which latter I should disapprove strongly, were it not for the annoyance that it has caused to David Aaronovitch and Oliver Kamm.

According to my interlocutor, very serious consideration is being given to a scheme whereby the elected hereditary peers would be replaced with 100 members elected for six-year fixed terms by the members of the House of Commons.

Each of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and other MPs would elect five Labour, five Conservative, five Liberal Democrat, five other party and five Crossbench Senators, or whatever they would be called.

The intention had been to use STV, and AV for by-elections, but I seem to have made the case quite well for voting for one candidate and the requisite number being elected at the end.

My friend and I have both counted STV elections the final results of which have been identical to those of the first preference count.

The eventual intention would be for this 100 to comprise the sole second chamber.

That is this week's word on the street, anyway.

Congress of the New Right, Indeed

An email from one of my friends on the inside, concerning my long-running call for legislation to disapply in the United Kingdom anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs who had been certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

My sympathetic, and very well-placed, correspondent would like to know if this would mean that we should now be subject to the legislative will of Robert Iwaszkiewicz, thanks to a note to the Speaker from Douglas Carswell.

Quite.

Not for nothing did Janusz Korwin-Mikke, the Holocaust-questioning opponent of women's suffrage (but admirer of Margaret Thatcher) and advocate of wife-beating who founded and leads Iwaszkiewicz's party, call that party the Congress of the New Right.

He was an underground translator and circulator of Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom. He met Friedman, who praised him in his memoirs. From such roots have grown the view that the public ought not to see the disabled on television. Of course.

Thanks to the EU, such people are our legislators. Thanks to UKIP, such people are our legislators with the support of at least one member of the House of Commons.

The Truth, Of Course

Owen Smith writes:

It may be an uncomfortable exercise, but brace yourself and try to imagine for a moment that you are Jeremy Hunt.
Now, in your new role ensconced behind a desk at the Department for Health, it’s not difficult to imagine the huge pressures that are heaped on your shoulders at the moment.
The English NHS is undergoing the worst year in A&E for a decade, with almost a million people waiting over 4 hours, elderly care is in crisis as budgets for social care have been slashed and people are finding it harder to see their GP since the Tories scrapped Labour’s 48-hr appointment guarantee.
You’ve even got senior cabinet members going around telling the press that the top-down health reforms are the Government’s biggest mistake – and let’s face it, there have been a few.

But given that the reforms cost £3bn, have caused “profound and intense” damage according to the BMA and proven deeply toxic with the public, you can see why NHS reforms top the list.

So what do you do if you’re Jeremy?  Do you roll your sleeves up and try to turn around the growing crisis in your own department, or do you desperately cast around for a diversion from it?

You only need to pick up this morning’s Daily Mail (or indeed yesterday’s or tomorrow’s or Thursday’s) to spot which option Jeremy plumped for.

Following the scurrilous lead set by the Prime Minister, who shamefully described Offa’s Dyke as a border ‘between life and death’, the Daily Mail has been peddling a series of half-truths and downright lies about the state of the NHS in Wales.

This campaign has diminished any standing they might have left as an objective observer, just as David Cameron destroyed his own as a Prime Minister for the whole of the UK.

Yesterday’s attack suggested that there were systemic failings in the quality of care in Welsh Hospitals – despite the fact that only a week ago an independent investigation into just such care found the opposite was the case.

Today, the Daily Mail warns, in typically understated terms, of an ‘exodus’ of patients from Wales to England, prompted, they say, by the differences in cancer care between the two countries.

They further allege, this time in direct collaboration with Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Misinformation, that the Welsh Government refuses to investigate their claims and is ducking a comparative study of healthcare in England and Wales.

The truth, of course, does not bear out these claims.

Firstly, it is not true to say, as the paper does, that 15,000 Welsh patients were treated for cancer in England last year. The real number is 2,000, as the Daily Mail/Tories have counted appointments not patients.

In fact 16,000 Welsh patients were treated for cancer last year, the majority within Wales, as you would expect.

Those who were treated in England are largely patients who live along the populous Welsh border (where 25% of the Welsh population and 5% of the entire English population live) and whose primary hospitals have traditionally been in England.

Some will have been treated in England because Wales, with under 3 million people and 17 major hospitals and one specialist cancer centre, does not have specialist clinicians in every field, unlike England with its 60 million population and 250+ hospitals.
Overall, the number of patients from Wales being treated in England is actually falling – but the number of patients crossing the border in the other direction is rising, with over 8,000 English men and women coming to Wales last year, up on previous periods.

Secondly, it is not true that cancer care in Wales is falling behind England.

The reality is that in Wales 87.4% of people start their cancer treatment within 62 days of a risk being flagged by their GP, while in England it’s just 84.1% (April to June 2014).

The Secretary of State for Health demeans his office by using groundless scaremongering on cancer in a bid to deflect from his own failings.

Thirdly, it is nonsense to suggest that the Welsh Government has evaded scrutiny on this issue. For a start, the Prime Minister himself has raised it over 30 times in the House of Commons.

But more importantly, Welsh Health Ministers have acted swiftly to institute investigation, review and reform in every instance where allegations of poor or dangerous care have been made.

Furthermore, there is a mandatory review of case notes for every death in Welsh hospitals – a level of scrutiny that does not even exist in England.

Nor does the Welsh Government fear comparative UK wide reviews. In fact, a detailed independent Nuffield Trust report found that across the UK’s four health systems no one country is consistently ahead of or behind the others.

Indeed, it found that that the performance gap between England and the rest had narrowed in recent years, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland improving faster.

But the reality is the Tory Party and their cheerleaders at the Daily Mail aren’t interested in the facts of this debate.

We all know that you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS, now it’s clear you can’t even trust them to speak the truth about it either.

They have realised that their monumental mismanagement of the NHS, our most prized institution, will come back to bite them in May 2015 and in Wales that can’t come soon enough.

All good stuff. Again I say that no one cares tuppence, and that most people will never even find out, what the Conservative Party or the Daily Mail says about the NHS.

Trouble and Strife

At least Sir Nicholas Mostyn has initiated the debate.

Never having needed to be consummated, civil partnerships ought not to be confined to unrelated same-sex couples, or even to unrelated couples generally.

Furthermore, any marrying couple should be entitled to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 with regard to grounds and procedures for divorce, and any religious organisation should be enabled to specify that any marriage that it conducted should be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly.

Statute should specify that the Church of England and the Church in Wales each be such a body unless, respectively, the General Synod and the Governing Body specifically resolved the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses.

There should be similar provision relating to the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

Entitlement upon divorce should be fixed by Statute at one per cent of the other party’s estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, with no entitlement for the petitioning party unless the other party’s fault were proved.

That would be a start, anyway.

This would all have passed, if anyone had bothered to propose it, as  part of the same-sex marriage legislation that was mandated by the outcome of the 2010 referendum on whether or not Gordon Brown ought to remain as Prime Minister. He had explicitly ruled out the introduction of any such legislation.

Whereas Cameron and Clegg both said that they would at least look at this, which could only have meant one thing. If you voted for either of what became the Coalition parties, then you voted for same-sex marriage. The Conservatives are already campaigning specifically as the party that introduced it.

As an aside, it was also UKIP policy at the time, as it is again now. But none of the above is, or ever has been.

Conservative Mainstream, Indeed

"Clear off to UKIP," says Ken Clarke.

"Why were you ever in the Conservative Party," say I?

Was it in order to get the Accession legislation through, in 1972? Was in order it to prevent a referendum, not once, but twice, in 1974?

Was it in order to campaign for a Yes vote, in 1975? Was it in order to campaign to stay in, in 1983, the second referendum on membership?

Was it for the free movement of goods, services capital and people negotiated and enacted by Margaret Thatcher in the teeth of unanimous Labour opposition?

Was it to keep the pro-euro Clarke as Chancellor of the Exchequer, rather than replace him with the anti-euro Gordon Brown, in 1997? That was the single currency referendum, in which I, for one, voted to save the pound. Did you?

Then why, exactly? Why did you ever even so much as join the Conservative Party? Why?

The Lay of the Land

It looks as if this silly recall business is not going to get anywhere.

But what if there really were to be these "lay members"?

We had thought that in this context, those were called MPs, just as in certain other contexts they were called jurors, or magistrates, for example.

If the MPs are the problem, then change the MPs.

But what if there were to be these others? Who should they be? How, and by whom, should they be chosen? And why?

Similarly, who should replace Fiona Woolf, and why?

On The World at One, Simon Danczuk stated the blatantly obvious: Leon Brittan is being protected. He might have added that Brittan was Nick Clegg's political godfather.

Was there anyone who was closely associated with Margaret Thatcher and who was not engaged in the sexual abuse of children?

Walking The Walk

A paralysed man is now walking following the transplantation into his spinal cord of cells from his nasal cavity.

By contrast, embryonic stem cell research has never yielded anything. Anything at all. Ever.

However, funding continues to be poured into it.

But science is what works.

Even if it does not annoy the Catholic Church for having dared to educate the practitioners, or the wrong sort, or both.

Healthy Politics

As for the Daily Mail's campaign against the NHS in Wales, no one believes a word of that.

As much as anything else, appearing in the Mail does not in itself affect the vote of anyone, or at least of anyone who might ever have considered voting Labour.

That paper wanted it, and wants it, to be taken up by the BBC. It hasn't been. It won't be.

Labour wins on the NHS simply by existing at all, simply by being the Labour Party. Likewise, the Tories lose on the NHS simply by existing at all, simply by being the Tories.

Them's the rules. Always have been. Always will be.

With the deficit up again, it is anyone's guess what, if anything, is the corresponding strong point for the Conservative Party. Frankly, there is not one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Total Recall

Anyone who secured a recall election ought to be required to pay for it. Much better to have no such provision in the first place.

We most certainly do not need recall elections. Those would be nothing but a charter for nuisance. Mostly by Liberal Democrat activists, and these days possibly also UKIP and the SNP.

Although not exclusively so.

Think of the MPs who voted against DRIP. Think of the MPs who voted against war in Libya, and against the recent bombing of Iraq.

Party machines, quite possibly by means of each other, would mobilise to recall MPs like that. Having to pay for the elections would be no deterrent there.

We must not go down this road.

Relax

Time was when buying a record, or a book, or whatever, meant that you owned the copy to which someone else might have been listening, or that someone else might have been reading, or whatever.


The most offensive thing about Mike Read's UKIP calypso is that he has adopted an imitation Jamaican accent. Calypso is from Trinidad.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse know what they have to do. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet for Christmas Number One, say I.

A Qualitative Difference

Kevin Meagher, who ought to be an MP and who may yet become one once the round of last minute retirements commences after Christmas, writes:

“When the facts change” John Maynard Keynes famously remarked, “I change my mind”.

No such intellectual pragmatism informs the thinking of outgoing EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

He has been in valedictory mood, telling a gathering at Chatham House today that David Cameron’s wish to reform the EU’s provision for the free movement of people – partly responsible for Britain’s three million extra immigrants over the past decade or so – is “illegal”.

Moreover, an arbitrary cap on EU migrant workers coming to Britain “can never be accepted.”

Given all political change involves altering laws, he is technically correct on the legality point; but he’s also being obtuse.

For Eurocrats like Barroso, free movement is an inviolable principle and he will brook no dissent. His mind is closed to the possibility of change – and that there is even a problem to address at all. 

(Although I dare say it helps that he comes from a country like Portugal, not particularly noted as an economic powerhouse sucking in migrant workers).

It certainly used to be a benign enough principle, in the days when it meant handfuls of Belgian architects could go and work on French hydro-electric projects.

It was an affordable sop to Euro-integrationists in a union of 12 or 15 countries with economies that, while different, were not wildly so.

Not to the point where millions of people used to up-sticks and move countries to better their lot.

But in a union of 28 states, including many former Iron Curtain basket cases, the right to move and work anywhere within the EU is a cast-iron guarantee that millions will abandon the cold, prospect-less East and move West for a better life.

They can’t be blamed for doing so, especially when they get to access free healthcare, housing and social security payments, far beyond the standards of their countries of origin.

But Western Europe is now dealing with the consequences of failing to understand and respond to this overwhelming demand for self-improvement.

And Britain is more impacted than most.

Our (too) liberal economy, (over) generous welfare system and (relative) lack of racism – certainly compared to pretty much anywhere else in the EU – sees us bear the brunt of a policy now disastrously out of control.

Just like US gun nuts defending their “right to bear arms,” there is a qualitative difference between the original intention and the modern manifestation of this “freedom”.

Just as a single-shot musket is not the same thing as an automatic assault rifle, the pace and volume of migration in the EU over the last decade is not what the signatories of the Treaty of Rome and the Single European Act intended, or envisioned ever happening.

Our EU partners need to be reminded of this and David Cameron is absolutely right to seek to do so.

And a Labour government will face exactly the same dilemmas, so there is little for Ed Miliband to gain by seeing Cameron fail in his bid to restore some sanity to the free movement regime.

Of course, Cameron may be motivated because he feels Nigel Farage’s beery breath on his neck, but Labour should be concerned about defending the contributory principle on which our welfare state is based and about free movement underpinning a neo-liberal labour market that uses migrant workers to undercut our own.

Perhaps Senhor Barroso’s remaining time at the Commission would be better spent urging other Member States to improve the lot of their own people and offer them something more than life as a cheap export?

Around The Oversight of Responsible Lending

Carl Packman writes:

The payday loans industry has been on top of the news agenda again.

We have recently found out that the UK’s biggest payday lender, Wonga.com, had been in discussions with the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to establish a debt write-off, affecting 330,000 of its customers, and a freeze on interest and charges for a further 46,000 other customers who with new rules on responsible lending would not have been given such an expensive form of credit.

In the same period Wonga.com had drawn a profit loss, going from a record high of £62.5 million in 2012, to a relatively modest though still enviable £39.7 million in 2013, while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also announced it would bring greater transparency to the market by introducing a price comparison website to help consumers.

In short, while the industry will not become extinct in the UK, it will change rather dramatically – and for good reason.

Before the creation of the FCA, the consumer credit market was regulated by the Office of Fair Trading. While strict rules and regulations about responsible lending practices existed in print, they were rarely put to use.

Save for some ‘mystery shopper’ exercises and strong words in the media, the regulator simply did not have the adequate capacity to monitor the behaviour of a relatively small, but controversial new sector.

The FCA came in promising to show “teeth” with the industry, and regulate it properly. To a degree it has done this.

A cap on the cost of credit, which for the first time will set a price limit on how much a payday lender can charge per loan, will be introduced and a good deal more oversight will occur – the upshot of which is that firms will have to abide more closely to the rules on responsible lending, which does mean a number of lenders will leave the market (playing by the rules is not quite so profitable).

But if international evidence on payday lending is anything to go by, we know that industries such as payday lending that are very often wedded to predatory practices will find ways to circumvent regulatory strictures.

In my new book, Payday Lending: Global Growth of the High Cost Credit Market, I’ve highlighted what I call a lenders’ strategic interaction with national policy.

What I mean by this is the extent to which payday lenders internationally have been able to subtly run rings around the oversight of responsible lending.

In Australia for instance, when only a few states and territories had interest caps of 48 per cent, lenders in Queensland and New South Wales avoided state regulation by including contractual terms to avoid the statutory definition of a credit contract and requiring borrowers to purchase additional goods as a precondition to obtaining a loan. These included the obligation to purchase “financial literacy” DVDs.

In the US, research by Brian Melzer found that the number of shop locations is almost 20 per cent higher in zip codes close to payday-prohibiting states.

This suggests that lenders are opening shops on borders to serve borrowers in states where payday lending is prohibited. Further still, a significant proportion of online payday lenders in the US are partnering with tribes in order to benefit from tribal immunity, and in that way sidestepping existing state-level laws on lending.

Closer to home in some EU states, notably Poland and the Netherlands, there have been instances of lenders who would adhere to interest rate caps but recoup “lost earnings” by charging substantial fees and additional charges.

To a degree all of the above, the UK included, have been caught unaware by the potential reach of the payday lending industry.

It occupies a relatively small part of consumer finance, but contributes a large part of the financial harm felt by people who would be better served with a more responsible lender, like a community bank or a credit union.

What the UK regulator must ensure is that we don’t ignore the small gains of payday lending again, because extinction is not an option the industry will take lightly.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

New Nats

The SNP has experienced a huge increase in members. By definition, those people have no prior history in it. Mostly, they are well to the left of what has always been its internal norm.

The SNP is also determined to pick up a number of Labour seats that voted Yes to independence. Whereas the old Liberal or, especially, Unionist citadels that it already represents at Holyrood, at Westminster or both, voted No to independence. Swings and roundabouts?

Especially with Alex Salmond gone, the SNP is becoming a new party. And it is a very different party.

Obviously Outrageous

Robert Fisk writes:

So who is winning the war? Isis? Us? The Kurds (remember them?) The Syrians? The Iraqis? Do we even remember the war? Not at all.

We must tell the truth. So let us now praise famous weapons and the manufacturers that begat them.

Share prices are soaring in America for those who produce the coalition bombs and missiles and drones and aircraft participating in this latest war which – for all who are involved (except for the recipients of the bombs and missiles and those they are fighting) – is Hollywood from start to finish.

Shares in Lockheed Martin – maker of the “All for One and One for All” Hellfire missiles – are up 9.3 per cent in the past three months. Raytheon – which has a big Israeli arm – has gone up 3.8 per cent.

Northrop Grumman shares swooped up the same 3.8 per cent. And General Dynamics shares have risen 4.3 per cent.

Lockheed Martin – which really does steal Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers quotation on its publicity material – makes the rockets carried by the Reaper drones, famous for destroying wedding parties over Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by Iraqi aircraft.

And don’t be downhearted. The profits go on soaring.

When the Americans decided to extend their bombing into Syria in September – to attack President Assad’s enemies scarcely a year after they first proposed to bomb President Assad himself – Raytheon was awarded a $251m (£156m) contract to supply the US navy with more Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Agence France-Presse, which does the job that Reuters used to do when it was a real news agency, informed us that on 23 September, American warships fired 47 Tomahawk missiles. Each one costs about $1.4m.

And if we spent as promiscuously on Ebola cures, believe me, there would be no more Ebola.

Let us leave out here the political cost of this conflict. After all, the war against Isis is breeding Isis. For every dead Isis member, we are creating three of four more.

And if Isis really is the “apocalyptic”, “evil”, “end-of-the-world” institution we have been told it is – my words come from the Pentagon and our politicians, of course – then every increase in profits for Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics is creating yet more Isis fighters.

So every drone or F/A-18 fighter-bomber we send is the carrier of a virus, every missile an Ebola germ for the future of the world.

Think about that.

Let me give you a real-time quotation from reporter Dan De Luce’s dispatch on arms sales for the French news agency.

“The war promises to generate more business not just from US government contracts but other countries in a growing coalition, including European and Arab states… Apart from fighter jets, the air campaign [sic] is expected to boost the appetite for aerial refuelling tankers, surveillance aircraft such as the U-2 and P-8 spy planes, and robotic [sic again, folks] drones… Private security contractors, which profited heavily from the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, also are optimistic the conflict will produce new contracts to advise Iraqi troops.”

This is obviously outrageous.

The same murderous bunch of gunmen we sent to Iraq are going to be let loose to teach our “allies” in Syria – “moderate” secular militias, of course – the same vicious tactics they used against civilians in Iraq.

And the same missiles are going to be used – at huge profit, naturally – on the peoples of the Middle East,  Isis or not. Which is why De Luce’s report is perhaps the most important of the whole war in the region.

I’ve always argued that the civilian victims of these weapons manufacturers should sue these conglomerate giants every time their niece or grandfather is killed.

In Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinians used to keep the bits and fragments of US-made missiles that killed their innocent relatives, with the idea that one day they might be able to take the companies to court. Lebanese civilians did the same.

But they were given “compensation” – with whose blessing, I wonder? – and persuaded not to pursue the idea, and so the armaments manufacturers, made so palpable in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, got away with it.

There are many lawyers in New York ready to take up these cases – I’ve met a few of them in the US – on a pay-if-you-win basis.

But so far, no takers. It’s time there were. Why should the merchants of death get away with it?

In the meanwhile, the Pentagon can keep pushing the bills through. “It’s awfully hard to say no when you’re at war,” a guy with “links” to the weapons industry said last week.

You bet it is.

He says, by the way, that BAE Systems is doing pretty well out of the current crisis.

Think about that.

And pray, of course, for the 200,000 dead in the Syrian war.

Home, Family, Community

Jon Cruddas writes:

There are two sources of energy that are currently firing up our broken political system.

The first is the popular anger toward the political class as immigration and rapid economic change threaten peoples’ sense of belonging and security.

And the second is the powerful desire for greater self-determination played out in both individual and national terms.

The insurgent forces which embody these two sources of energy are the independence politics of the SNP in Scotland and of UKIP in England.

They are also present in Wales and in the growing political confidence of English cities in  for greater autonomy.

They are driven by a politics of identity and belonging, and by people’s desire to transform their powerlessness.

Our political settlement is exhausted and Labour’s Policy Review has spent two years rethinking what Labour stands for as we build a new model party.

In our pamphlet, One Nation: Labour’s political renewal, of which I am a co-author, we argue that Labour’s renewal and electoral victory is best rooted in a radical and conservative politics of earning and belonging.

Labour’s traditions are conservative in valuing relationships, work, family and community.

And they are radical in defending the labour interest, and sharing out power, resources and opportunities between members of society.

At the heart of the labour interest has been a deep conservative instinct for the preservation of society and people’s mutual dependence.

Robert Blatchford’s Clarion Fellowship is an example of this conservative and radical tradition.

It was a big influence on English working class life at the end of the Nineteenth Century. It mixed of entertainment, sport and socialism.

The Clarion Fellowship brought people together to organise cycling clubs, rambling associations, glee clubs (choirs), theatres, socialist scouts, arts and crafts, and the local Cinderella Clubs that provided food and entertainment for children living in the slums.

Blatchford was an English patriot and a William Morris type of socialist who preached cooperation for the common good.

He was also a man who understood that politics was about people actively making their own culture and sense of identity.

He summed up his politics with the comment: ‘We were out for Socialism and nothing but Socialism and we were Britons first and Socialists next’.

Socialism was inseparable from love of country.

In his new book, How to be a Conservative, the philosopher Roger Scruton begins with his father’s socialism and  love of England.

But for Scruton, English liberty led him in another direction. He describes his Conservatism as a love of home.

By which he means the common life and inheritance that belongs to “us”, the people, and which grows out of everyday life.

Home is our customs, habits and language, our neighbourhoods and the landscapes we live in.

It is also the generations who have been and those to come, the history of our country, and our memories.

It is not ethnic in its origins, but it requires integration into its membership.

Scruton argues that the binding principle of society, “is not contract but something more akin to love”. 

It cannot be made by the state or by politics. It is made in the ordinary life of friendship, family, community and  love of place.

He believes the market has a corrosive effect on human settlement.

Global capitalism is a “kind of brigandage in which costs are transferred to future generations for the sake of rewards here and now”. Society, he says, should place constraints on the market.

Scruton is a Conservative, but he is describing the instinct of socialism.

However conservatism and socialism part company in their responses to politics, power, and the money interest.

For Scruton, society is a “true spontaneous order”, and so the constraints on markets are already there in the form of customs, laws and morals. If these decay, there is no way that legislation can replace them.

Scruton argues that we cannot escape from the “commodification” of life that prosperity has brought to us. 

All we can do is strive to discipline it through good taste, the love of beauty and the sense of decorum. We should acknowledge our losses, the better to bear them.

Confronted by the power of money and the destructive impact of the market, the Conservative response is to turn to libertarianism and aestheticism.

The response of socialism is democracy.

Creating power with people to resist and check the power of markets to commodify their labour and turn it into thing valued only by its price.

For Scruton, conservatism is a philosophy of attachment. But in life nothing stays attached forever, and so inevitably conservatism is a politics about loss.

It is a kind of pragmatic rearguard action to preserve and protect what it considers to be social and human value. It retreats, makes a stand, retreats, holds its ground, retreats.

Can there be a settled life when everyone and everything is in motion?

It is a question that also goes to the heart of socialism.

The politics of socialism is about self-determination. It is a philosophy of human action based in relationships and subject to reciprocity – the give and take which establishes a sense of justice.

Its conservative instinct raises the question of equality because each individual is irreplaceable in our mutual dependence.

Equality of worth is the ethical core of justice. It is the necessary condition for social freedom which is the basis of a settled life.

Edmund Burke describes it as “that state of things in which liberty is secured by equality of restraint”. In the past, we called it fraternity.

The Left has followed the liberal philosopher Friedrich Hayek’s disparaging view of conservatism in his essay, Why I am not a Conservative.

Conservatism, with its fear of change and timid distrust of the new, is dragged along paths not of its choosing, constantly applying the “brake on the vehicle of progress”.

But the destructive impact of liberal economics over the last 30 years requires that we reassess our prejudice and recognise the enduring presence and value of the conservative instinct in society.

It will allow us to better understand the importance to people of home, a sense of belonging and a love of country.

Labour built its history organising working people to defend the integrity of their family life, to struggle for fair wages and a decent home, and to create a better future for their children.

It was an aspirational politics about bread and butter issues. It is also about creating power together for individual freedom.

Our traditions of English liberty – say what you think, live as you will – run deep in our country.

They are conservative and radical in their origins, and this paradox is the source of Labour’s renewal as a political force in England.

The Government's Economic Fairytale

Ha-Joon Chang writes:

The UK economy has been in difficulty since the 2008 financial crisis.

Tough spending decisions have been needed to put it on the path to recovery because of the huge budget deficit left behind by the last irresponsible Labour government, showering its supporters with social benefit spending.

Thanks to the coalition holding its nerve amid the clamour against cuts, the economy has finally recovered.

True, wages have yet to make up the lost ground, but it is at least a “job-rich” recovery, allowing people to stand on their own feet rather than relying on state handouts.

That is the Conservative party’s narrative on the UK economy, and a large proportion of the British voting public has bought into it.

They say they trust the Conservatives more than Labour by a big margin when it comes to economic management. And it’s not just the voting public.

Even the Labour party has come to subscribe to this narrative and tried to match, if not outdo, the Conservatives in pledging continued austerity.

The trouble is that when you hold it up to the light this narrative is so full of holes it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese.

First, let’s look at the origins of the deficit.

Contrary to the Conservative portrayal of it as a spendthrift party, Labour kept the budget in balance averaged over its first six years in office between 1997 and 2002.

Between 2003 and 2007 the deficit rose, but at 3.2% of GDP a year it was manageable.

More importantly, this rise in the deficit between 2003 and 2007 was not due to increased welfare spending. 

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, social benefit spending as a proportion of GDP was more or less constant at about 9.5% of GDP a year during this period.

The dramatic climb in budget deficit from there to the average of 10.7% in 2009-2010 was mostly a consequence of the recession caused by the financial crisis.

First, the recession reduced government revenue by the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP – from 42.1% to 39.7% – between 2008 and 2009-10.

Second, it raised social spending (social benefit plus health spending).

Economic downturn automatically increases spending on many social benefits, such as unemployment benefit and income support, but it also increases spending on things like disability benefit and healthcare, as increased unemployment and poverty lead to more physical and mental health problems.

In 2009-10, at the height of the recession, UK public social spending rose by the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP compared with its 2008 level (from 21.8% to 24%).

When you add together the recession-triggered fall in tax revenue and rise in social spending, they amount to 5.6% of GDP – almost the same as the rise in the deficit between 2008 and 2009-10 (5.7% of GDP).

Even though some of the rise in social spending was due to factors other than the recession, such as an ageing population, it would be safe to say that much of the rise in deficit can be explained by the recession itself, rather than Labour’s economic mismanagement.

When faced with this, supporters of the Tory narrative would say, “OK, but however it was caused, we had to control the deficit because we can’t live beyond our means and accumulate debt”.

This is a pre-modern, quasi-religious view of debt.

Whether debt is a bad thing or not depends on what the money is used for. After all, the coalition has made students run up huge debts for their university education on the grounds that their heightened earning power will make them better off even after they pay back their loans.

The same reasoning should be applied to government debt.

For example, when private sector demand collapses, as in the 2008 crisis, the government “living beyond its means” in the short run may actually reduce public debt faster in the long run, by speeding up economic recovery and thereby more quickly raising tax revenues and lowering social spending.

If the increased government debt is accounted for by spending on projects that raise productivity – infrastructure, R&D, training and early learning programmes for disadvantaged children – the reduction in public debt in the long run will be even larger.

Against this, the advocates of the Conservative narrative may retort that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that the recovery is the best proof that the government’s economic strategy has worked.

But has the UK economy really fully recovered?

We keep hearing that national income is higher than at the pre-crisis peak of the first quarter of 2008. 

However, in the meantime the population has grown by 3.5 million (from 60.5 million to 64 million), and in per capita terms UK income is still 3.4% less than it was six years ago.

And this is even before we talk about the highly uneven nature of the recovery, in which real wages have fallen by 10% while people at the top have increased their shares of wealth.

But can we not at least say that the recovery has been “jobs-rich”, creating 1.8m positions between 2011 and 2014?

The trouble is that, apart from the fact that the current unemployment rate of 6% is nothing to be proud of, many of the newly created jobs are of very poor quality.

The ranks of workers in “time-related underemployment”, doing fewer hours than they wish due to a lack of availability of work – have swollen dramatically.

Between 1999 and 2006, only about 1.9% of workers were in such a position; by 2012-13 the figure was 8%.

Then there is the extraordinary increase in self-employment.

Its share of total employment, whose historical norm (1984-2007) was 12.6%, now stands at an unprecedented 15%.

With no evidence of a sudden burst of entrepreneurial energy among Britons, we may conclude that many are in self-employment out of necessity or even desperation.

Even though surveys show that most newly self-employed people say it is their preference, the fact that these workers have experienced a far greater collapse in earnings than employees – 20% against 6% between 2006-07 and 2011-12, according to the Resolution Foundation – suggests that they have few alternatives, not that they are budding entrepreneurs going places.

So, in between the additional people in underemployment (6.1% of employment) and the precarious newly self-employed (2.4%), 8.5% of British people in work (or 2.6 million people) are in jobs that do not fully utilise their abilities – call that semi-unemployment, if you will.

The success of the Conservative economic narrative has allowed the coalition to pursue a destructive and unfair economic strategy, which has generated only a bogus recovery largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and finance, with stagnant productivity, falling wages, millions of people in precarious jobs, and savage welfare cuts.

The country is in desperate need of a counter narrative that shifts the terms of debate.

A government budget should be understood not just in terms of bookkeeping but also of demand management, national cohesion and productivity growth.

Jobs and wages should not be seen simply as a matter of people being “worth” (or not) what they get, but of better utilising human potential and of providing decent and dignified livelihoods.

Ways have to be found to generate economic growth based on rising productivity rather than the continuous blowing of asset bubbles.

Without a new economic vision incorporating these dimensions, Britain will continue on its path of stagnation, financial instability and social conflict.

Offside

Let us confine ourselves to the undisputed facts of the Ched Evans case.

He and an associate had sexual intercourse with a heavily intoxicated stranger, while other persons filmed the proceedings on their smartphones.

Even if his girlfriend is convinced that that activity was consensual, is it not ever so slightly odd that she is still his girlfriend at all, never mind that she is prominent in the campaign to clear his name?

But that is a mere trifle compared to the fact that that campaign is being bankrolled by her father!

This whole business is an insight into a world in which the rules are totally different from those which would be recognisable to anyone else.

Normal Service Is About To Be Resumed

Peter Hitchens is rehearsing his strange little theory that Labour wants to lose the next General Election. In fact, insofar as it is true that it is not trying terribly hard, then that is because it does not need to.

2010 was the first meaningfully contested General Election since 1992. From September 1992 (when only political obsessives had ever heard of Tony Blair), there had been no need for Labour to fight the three in between, and no point in any one else's bothering to do so.

Based on the very consistent polling in the key marginal seats, that normal service is about to be resumed. But without Blairism or the Blairites, the only people anywhere on the political spectrum who truly want David Cameron to win next year, and with the Conservative Party hit even harder than it was in 1997.

Yet still with about 200 MPs. Like Labour, that is its floor, its guaranteed bare minimum. It is about as many as it can expect any time before 2030, but even so. Next year will also show us where the Lib Dems' floor is. At least 25 seats, and possibly 30.

That latter is five times even the most unrealistically extravagant estimate of the number of UKIP MPs. UKIP would not be holding the balance of power even if there were a hung Parliament, which there is not going to be. It may even end up with fewer seats than the Greens, who have a far more concentrated electoral base. UKIP could quite plausibly have no seats whatever, even with over 20 per cent of the vote.

People who dispute any of this do not understand how First Past The Post works. Complaints about its unfairness are aired for a couple of days after every General Election. They have been so after every one for as long as David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage, who is far younger than he appears, can have had any political consciousness. Come the Monday, the world has invariably moved on. So it will be again.

The story of next year will not be the Labour win itself. Everyone always knew that whoever won in 2010 was bound to lose in 2015, 2020 and 2025, with a proper fight again in 2030. In hindsight, the same thing applied in 1992 in relation to the subsequent four General Elections.

No, apart from the fact that the UKIP representative will end the Election Night coverage with no more right to be there than any of half a dozen other people, and quite possibly with less, the story of next year will be the Labour win having stood explicitly against the Blair legacy, by then quite possibly including the findings of the Chilcot Report.

That, and the extraordinary tenacity of the Lib Dems. Followed, in 2020 and 2025, by easy Labour wins without the slightest suggestion of any "Tory threat" such as is sometimes claimed to be necessary in order to get the Labour vote out.

No wonder that the old Blairite ghouls, most of whom are retiring and none of whom will ever again hold office, are so anxious to plant toxic matter in the media. The present drivel about Alan Johnson is of the same species. But Peter Hitchens really ought to know better than to feed such weeds.

When Labour easily wins an overall majority, then will anyone in the media be sacked? No one was when the Conservatives failed to do so last time, another prediction that could only have been made by people who could not add up.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

See No Synod

No one in my normal (well-informed, fairly middle-class) parish was talking about the Synod last week, or will be talking about the Synod tomorrow, or would have been talking about the Synod if it had said anything different.

Did anyone at parochial level notice Vatican I? Hardly anyone would have noticed Vatican II if the Liturgy had not changed. To this day, any number of people think that it said or did nothing else. The Council did not in fact change the Liturgy, but that only goes to show.

The inhabitants of certain ghettoes, not all of them in the Catholic Church at all, clearly have no idea how She works or operates.

But If Freud Goes...

If Lord Freud were forced out, then Iain Duncan Smith's position would be untenable.

And with Gove already sacked, what, even in its own terms, would then be the point of this Government?

What would it be for?

Neil Clark I: The Big Issue

Our ubiquitous Leader writes in the Morning Star:

It’s general election night. Labour are on course for victory, with a small majority. The Labour leader is asked by the BBC interviewer if the size of the majority will hinder his party’s legislative programme.

“We shall carry out our programme — our manifesto,” the Labour leader replies. “We shall give priority of course to putting on the statute book all those things that we have said, like the public ownership of land…”

That exchange took place exactly 40 years ago after the election of October 10 1974. Public ownership was a topic that cropped up a lot in that election, but fast forward to 2014 and it’s a very different story.

The annual conferences of the four biggest British parties have come and gone, and while we’ve heard plenty about Europe, Isis, tax cuts, tax rates, mansion taxes and immigration, the issue of public ownership — except in relationship to the NHS and the privatisation of the British government’s stake in Eurostar— has hardly featured. 

This is despite opinion polls showing that a sizeable majority of people would like to see the railways and other privatised utilities, such as water, renationalised. 

We the people want to talk about public ownership and how we can end, once and for all, the great privatisation rip-off, which means we pay far more for basic services than we need to, but it seems our political elite would rather talk anything but.

The Conservative Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin told his party’s conference “Britain deserves a transport system that works” — implying that the current one doesn’t work.

Nevertheless he thundered: “Only Ed Miliband could look at the success of our railways today and say, ‘you know what, all this growth, trains busier than any time since the 1920s, more punctual, safer…forget it … let’s go back to some version of state command.” 

“Take East Coast trains,” he continued. “Our plan: a new private operator from next year running more trains to Leeds, faster services to Edinburgh, new routes, new trains, growth. His (Miliband’s) plan: letting the RMT call the shots and leaving that route stuck in state hands.”

The Conservatives’ obsession with privatisation could be seen not only in McLoughlin’s speech but by the decision announced on Monday to sell off the remaining 40 per cent publicly owned stake in Eurostar. 

The public thinks our railways, easily the most expensive in Europe, should be renationalised — the Tories think they aren’t privatised enough. 

Which brings me to their coalition partners.

The Lib Dems did vote in favour of a party policy paper which called for allowing public bodies to bid for rail franchises and for the ending of the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in health, but there was no commitment to any form of re-nationalisation of the railways or any of the utilities. 

Not that we could really have expected one from a party which, while in government, has presided over the sale of the Royal Mail. Having flogged off the company for around £1.5 billion below its real value

It wasn’t too surprising that party leader Nick Clegg didn’t mention the words Royal Mail once in his speech, but instead gave us conceited waffle about his party being the “only party who says no matter who you are, no matter where you are from, we will do everything in our power to help you shine.”

At the Labour Party conference in Manchester one of the undoubted highlights was Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, declaring: “I am clearer about this than anything in my life — the market is not the answer to 21st-century health and care.”

In a stirring speech, Burnham went on to say: “We will free the NHS from Cameron’s market and, yes, repeal his toxic Health and Social Care Act. We will ask hospitals to collaborate once again and reinstate the NHS as our preferred provider. The public NHS, protected with Labour. Not for sale. Not now, not ever.”

It was great to hear such an unequivocal  commitment to a publicly owned NHS from Labour, but alas, on other public ownership issues the party’s line is still remarkably timid. 

Shadow secretary of state for Transport Mary Creagh rightly attacked Britain’s rip-off bus services, noting that while services had been cut, fares were up by an inflation-busting 25 per cent since 2010, yet didn’t call for them to be brought back into public ownership. 

On the railways, Creagh admitted that a “big change” was needed and reaffirmed that Labour would “allow a public-sector operator to be able to take on lines” but that public-sector operators would be competing to run francishes with existing train companies, showing that Labour remains committed to the flawed neoliberal franchising model. 

On energy, shadow spokeswoman Caroline Flint reaffirmed the party’s commitment to a 20-month freeze on household energy bills but again, didn’t mention the one thing which would reduce bills in the long term — public ownership. 

It was a similar story in relation to the water industry.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle lambasted the profiteering of the privatised water companies, but only recommended “reform of the industry” and  a “new deal” for consumers, and not the replacement of private companies with a publicly owned English Water.

Now on to Ukip. We all know the party’s line on the EU and immigration — and also its opposition to Blairite wars of “intervention” abroad, but its views on privatisation/public ownership are not so clear.

The party’s health spokeswoman Louise Bours did pledge at Ukip’s Doncaster conference to work with the Unite union in opposing the pro-privatisation Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP (a stance which led the party to be attacked by the Lib Dems’ Vince Cable), while Ukip leader Nigel Farage did criticise in a recent interview the outsourcing and privatisation of NHS services and PFI. 

But the party officially hasn’t said much about railway renationalisation or renationalisation of the utilities.

Nevertheless, despite that omission, the meteoric rise of Ukip can be seen as good news for public ownership campaigners. And here’s why.

It’s clear that the 2015 general election is likely to be a close-run thing. 

That last week’s two by-election results — in Clacton and Heywood and Middleton — showed was that Ukip could cause significant damage to the chances not only of the Conservatives but also to Labour.

To hold off the Ukip challenge in its heartlands, and indeed parties like the Greens and Respect, Labour clearly needs to up its game and adopt more populist economic policies. 

Making a commitment for the whole-scale renationalisation of the railways and the formation of a publicly owned English Water body to replace the profiteering water companies would be two very popular policies which would help win back traditional Labour voters who have become disillusioned with the party and who may be considering voting Ukip. 

In other words a commitment to renationalise could well make the difference between Labour forming a government next May or falling short.

The leading figures of Ukip may be ex-Tories, and the party’s first MP, Douglas Carswell, may be an uber-Thatcherite, but the party’s supporters are most certainly not neoliberals and are strongly in favour of public ownership. 

A poll in November 2013 showed that 73 per cent of Ukip voters wanted to see the railways renationalised, while an even bigger proportion, 78 per cent, wanted to see the energy companies renationalised. 

Support for public ownership among Ukip voters is actually stronger than support for it among Tory and Lib Dem voters. 

That should tell Ed Miliband that one of the most effective things his party could do to counter the Ukip threat is to embrace public ownership. 

Whether he does or does not will be highly significant.

For it will tell us whether Labour really has moved away from Blairism, or is merely offering us a slightly more “people-friendly” version of neoliberalism than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. 

Getting back to October 1974, the very fact that the public ownership of land was the first policy mentioned by prime minister Harold Wilson in his post-election interview tells us that those were more democratic times.

The hope is that the political changes currently occurring in Britain and the widespread disillusion with the neoliberal and neo-con Westminster elite can bring to an end an era in which genuine democracy is in retreat and put public ownership back to the top of the political agenda.