Thursday, 10 March 2016
Follies great and small.
The Conservative government has now been in office for ten months and there seems to have been something in the papers at least once a week which has filled me with alarm, despondence or despair. Unfortunately I am not sufficiently well organised to keep a detailed list but here, in no particular order, is a selection:
1. The Squeeze on the BBC. This continues apace, with finding cuts resulting in staff reductions (30% in the television division), the removal of BBC 3 to "on-line only" and threats s to Radio 5 live and local radio. The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale has suggested that BBC1 should be "more distinctive" (ie less popular, and so attract a smaller audience and weaken ready for privatisation?). The Conservatives, supposedly so concerned with Britain's international prestige, seem determined to destroy what is is possibly the only remaining British institution that is still "the best in the world and the envy of the world."
2. Local Environmental Record Centres (LERCS). No, I hadn't hear of of them either, but there are 40 of them, funded by Natural England, for whom they act as "eyes and ears." Their 128 paid staff, 500 volunteers in offices and tens of thousands of outdoor volunteers who record changes in the occurrence of insects, plants, wild life and habitats in their spare time. Just the sort of thing a wealthy and civilised country should be doing, even just or interests sake, but vital for proper records of the effects of climate change. The cost to the public purse is a mere £205 000 but that will not be renewed next month.
This, I suspect, is just one of dozens of other organisations doing worthy things which are being strangled by a government that pretends to believe in "the big society."
3. The Denuding of the North. The government was not directly involved in the Science Museum's decision to transfer the internationally important photography collection from Bradford to London, but the above-mentioned Mr Whitingdale has refused to intervene. The move has been described as "cultural vandalism." The government is, however, directly responsible for the closure of the Sheffield offices of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in order to create a "combined central HQ and policy centre in London." So much of the "Northern Powerhouse."
4. The Green Investment Bank, one of the major Liberal Democrat achievements in the Coalition (even though its funding was very modest) is to be privatised and permitted to look for profit-maximising opportunities in other countries rather than concentrate on the greening of Britain.
5. (Failing) attempts to "balance the books" by privatisations. Our 40% stake in Eurostar has been sold to a Canadian consortium. the publicly owned and successful East Coast was not even allowed to bid to continue running the trains on the east coast main line. Our shares in Lloyds Bank and RBS are being sold to the private sector with the alternative of retaining at least one of these banks in public ownership with the remit to provide investment funds at at reasonable rate of interest to small and medium enterprises being ignored. The OBR estimates that in the period of this parliament £32bn of public assets could be sold.
And still the books don't balance. And, when assets are sold abroad, the already yawning gap on the current account of the Balance of Payments is made even worse.
6. Our democracy is threatened by the reduction in the Short Money available for the finance of opposition parties, and the Trade Union bill to reduce the powers of employees representatives and to force union members to opt in rather than out of the political levy. The shameless bringing forward, against the advice of the independent Electoral Commission, of the new method for voter registration, will, without careful safeguards, disenfranchise thousands of mainly young and less affluent voters (who are less likely to vote Tory). This latter mover is presumably to distort the size of constituents by number of voters in them and so skew the coming boundary revisions in favour of the Conservatives.
7. The shortage of affordable homes continues, but the government's answer of "Help to Buy" with a 5% deposit and 20% equity loan will simply inflate the bubble in house prices and generate the house-price inflation on which much of our so-called economic recovery is based, rather than lead to an increased supply of houses.
8. Outsourcing. Government contracts worth billions continue to be given to private conglomerates of proven incompetence such as G4S (failure to provide security for the Olympics, so the public service army had to be brought in to do the job) and Serco ('Doncaster prison branded inadequate two years ago remains "very poor".'- BBC yesterday) Why, oh why?
10. Sham devolution to Local Government. What is really being devolved is perceived responsibility for the effects of the cuts, and that, paradoxically, only on condition that we have an elected mayor, which the public of Greater Manchester have voted against and our leaders in Yorkshire are adamant that we don't want.
And all the while the government ploughs on with grandiose follies such as HS2, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station (to be built by the French and financed by the Chinese), a replacement for Trident (last week the government committed and additional £450m to this even thought the Commons vote on whether or not to go ahead has yet to be held), disruption the NHS as a preparation for further privatisation and operation an illiterate economic policy which inhibits recovery while rewarding the rich and punishing the poor.
And instead of debating these issues as a mature democracy should, we are sidelined into a pointless debate on membership of the EU, on which David Cameron has gambled the future of our country in order to save his party.