Tuesday 28 January 2014

Outrageous bias by the BBC

The letter below is self-explanetory:

                                                                                                   26th January, 2014

The Editor,

Dear Editor,

I wish to object in the strongest possible terms to the biased nature of your introduction to your feature on the economy last Friday, 24th January..

You introduced some discussion on a speech to be made by Ed Balls with a comment that it was "Labour who presided over the financial crisis"; mentioned that Labour had a "problem of economic credibility"; illustrated the financial crisis by showing a car crash;  and then said the government could respond to Mr Balls's speech by asking  "Do you want to hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car?"

It is shameful, and presumably contrary to your Charter,  that the BBC should present without reservation an account of events so biased in favour of the Conservative Party.

It is true that a Labour Government was in power in Britain when the international financial crash happened, but by using the phrase "presided over" it you imply that they were mainly responsible for it.  The main responsibility for the crash lies firmly with the irresponsible behaviour of the international (not just British) financial sector made possible by the deregulation policies introduced by and still then supported by  the Conservatives. 

Suggesting, without any qualification, that Labour were "the people who crashed the car" compounds the bias.  In fact it is widely held internationally that,  far from his being responsible for the "crash" Gordon  Brown's prompt actions in 2008 helped avert further collapses in the international financial system.

I should like you to regard this as an official complaint and forward this to the responsible body (presumably some equivalent of the PCC) for it to receive formal adjudication.  If this is not the correct method of making a complaint I'd be grateful if you would advise me as to what is.

I might add that I complain as an independent citizen.  I am not a member of the Labour Party (in fact I am an active supporter of another party) but I complain as a member of the public who believes that our democracy can function effectively only if the media, and particularly the public broadcasting system, resolutely pursue the truth.

Yours faithfully,

The introduction can seen until the end of this week on iPlayer. 

Do look, see what you think and perhaps put in a complaint yourself.

The sad thing is that even the Labour Party leaders themselves seem more inclined to apologise for their economic record rather than defend it.

Friday 24 January 2014

The skills they lack?

The comments of Anonymous (on the previous post):

"It's not skills they lack"
Disagree - given the constant chorus of complaint from employers about people with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills for starters.
Far fewer jobs for unskilled people than when Keynes was doing his stuff. If I recall correctly he favoured paying people to dig holes and fill them up again - how soul-destroying to be doing something with no purpose. There's a load of stuff which NEEDS doing but needs people with appropriate skills to do it!

deserve a full post in response rather than a brief reply.

There are tricks of the trade (you could call them skills) in even the most humble occupations.  My paternal grandfather died long before I was born but I understand from one of my uncles that he, my grandfather, was road sweeper, who demonstrated to him, my uncle, that short sweeps of a brush were more effective than long ones.

The point of this family anecdote is that many skills, even higher level ones, are learned, or at least honed, on the job.  As Anonymous concedes, “ [t]here’s loads of stuff that NEEDS doing” and I’m sure that it is this type  “stuff” that Keynes had in mind: digging holes and filling them up again was a last resort. Unfortunately, whilst consumer and investment demand remain low, much of this “stuff” is in the public sector: street cleaning, mending and maintaining the roads, adequate provision of care to the sick and elderly, sprucing up our parks and public areas, maintaining an adequate supply of decently-kept public lavatories.   

Until we have political parties prepared to campaign for a vibrant public sector and admit that if we want it we need to be prepared to pay for it, we shall  have to continue to live with “public squalor,” and be lacking in jobs.

The irony is, of course, that expenditure in the public sector, as Keynes explained  and which should now be as obvious as the effects  of gravity, would, through the multiplier, cause private sector demand to revive.  Instead our government, with Liberal Democrat connivance, cuts public expenditure.

Since many skills are acquired “on the job” it is a sad indictment of Britsh industry and commerce that they devote far fewer for their own resources  to training and skills development than do their counterparts in many other countries, and particularly Germany.  Much easier to farm the responsibility onto the public education, use  clever accountants to make sure they are “tax efficient” and so pay the minimum towards it, and then complain.

 Nor am I impressed by the “constant chorus of complaint from employers about people with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills.”  Just to take literacy for an example, from the owners of corner shops to international conglomerates employers never fail  to mangle our language when they think it will increase their profitability: the greengrocer’s intrusive apostrophe, or no apostrophe where one is needed (Lloyds Bank); ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ (beanz meanz Heinz);proper nouns beginning with  lower-case letters, (not least the masthead of the guardian, oh dear oh dear oh dear); merged names with intrusive capitals inthe middle ( PricewaterhousCooper); and the ubiquitous management speak at every level of production – both upstream and downstream And then they have the cheek to complain about literacy.

And, of course, when 47% of recent graduates are either unemployed, underemployed or employed in occupations well below the level of their qualifications, it really is a nonsense to blame them for “lack of skills."  Rather this is to fall for  the Tory con of blaming the unemployed for being unemployed, in the same way as right wing  perception management has succeeded  in convincing more than half our electorate that people on benefits rather than the bankers are responsible for the economic crisis. 

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The "Western" economic problem in tweny minutes flat.

 Robert Reich was US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton and is presently Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. In a brilliant Lecture,  given apparently without notes in July 2013, he tells us all we need to know about what's wrong in the British and US economies, with some strong indications as to how to put things right.  His analysis and solutions are far from the received wisdom of the right, or, for that matter, Britain's Labour Party.

Here's a brief outline of  four of his essential points:

1.  Government debts/deficits are not (my emphasis) the cause of our current problems but a symptom. The cause is the fall in the share of national income going to wages (in the US the median wage has fallen in real terms by 8% since 2000). This has led to a lack of demand, leading to unemployment and underemployment.  (Whoopee for Keynesian analysis)

2.  All government expenditure is not (my emphasis) the same.  Public expenditure on  investment in the infrastructure, both physical and intellectual, is vital for future prosperity. And it is stupid to neglect it while interest rates are so low.

3.  On Tax Policy , the wealthy are not (my emphasis) job creators: consumers are.  Thus pandering to the super-rich by believing that they'll stop trying if we tax them at a reasonable level is a convenient (for them) nonsense.  Unfortunately political parties indulge them by providing low tax regimes and failing to tasckle tax avoidance and evasion.

4.  It takes a great deal of ambition to be an immigrant.

If I knew how to do it I would put this lecture on a loop and show it continuously at the Liberal Democrat  Spring Conference in York.

If I were not a very law abiding citizen I'd kidnap the entire cabinet (or at least the Liberal Democrats in government) and force them to watch it.

Please take the necessary 20 minutes (you can ignore the rather tedious introduction.)

Use the link to You-tube above or this URL:


PS  Sadly, after watching it myself I turned on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 and heard Rachel Reeves, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, banging on and on  about giving the unemployed "the skills they need."  It's not skills they lack, M/s Reeves, it's jobs, and for there to be jobs there must be demand for the products.

Friday 17 January 2014

The Elliott Manifesto

Larry Elliott, the Guardian's economics editor, concluded his article on "Benefits Street and the real problems of breadline Britain" (Monday 13th January) with the following paragraph:

Here, then, are some alternative suggestions. An all-party consensus to tackle poverty rather than simply tactics for rewarding "hard-working families". Macro-economic policies geared to full employment. A higher minimum wage. Legislation to make it easier for trade unions to organise. A mass programme of house building.    And, an industrial strategy to rebuild Britain's manufacturing base, including the nurturing and protection of sectors seen as crucial to future growth. Additionally, a full-blooded assault on the tax dodging activities of the feral rich, and tougher price curbs on oligopolies.

There's the basis here for the economics section of the  Liberal Democrat manifesto to guide our hoped-for share in post 2015 government.  

An all-party consensus to tackle poverty rather than simply tactics for rewarding "hard-working families." 
Yes indeed: an end to the rhetoric of the 1% which divides the rest of us into the deserving and the undeserving, and a determination to create a social security system (not welfare) under which "no one shall be enslaved by poverty" and in which we really are "all in his together."  We shall need to recognise that the many of us who "have" will need to pay more in taxes to make this a viable proposition.  The resulting gain of a cohesive society will be well worth it.

Macro-economic policies geared to full employment.
Keynesian expansion, and about time too, starting with housing and the infrastructure.  Vince Cable has achieved a little and can probably take much of the credit for the modest recovery of the economy in 2013.  Let's build on that and abandon the pretence that Plan A is working 

A higher minimum wage.
A not too gradual move to the living wage.  The resultant savings in working tax credit will help to finance other aspects of the expansion programme.

Legislation to make it easier for trade unions to organise. 
Liberal democrats would prefer to approach the achievement fairness for employees via employee participation rather than fuelling the "us versus them" atmosphere generated by organised labour versus capital, but the principle of increasing the share of national prosperity going to wages is one of ours. 

A mass programme of house building. 

So obvious. And on brown-field sites made usable and guaranteed by local authorities so as to take away the perceived advantages, from the point of view of builders' profitability , of green-field sites.  And while we're about it remove the exemption from capital-gains tax of increments in the value of  "principal private residences" so that houses became merely machines in which to live rather than cash cows.  Oh, and a land tax to release the land banks held be builders in the hope of even more jam tomorrow. 

An industrial strategy to rebuild Britain's manufacturing base, including the nurturing and protection of sectors seen as crucial to future growth.
 Green energy, especially tidal power, but not forgetting service sectors such as higher education, the arts  and tourism, and moving away from over reliance on armaments, big pharma and finance.

Full-blooded assault on the tax dodging activities of the feral rich.
 Starbucks, Amazon, Google  et al, and the property speculators in  London and other hot-spots.

Tougher price curbs on oligopolies.
 And taking many utilities back into public ownership, particularly the rail franchises as the private contracts expire.

Well there's plenty there for our manifesto compilers to get their teeth into.  And, while I firmly believe we Liberal Democrats should  fight the election on our own distinctive  manifesto, I think it is important for our leading lights to be putting out feelers to other parties in preparation for the next rounds of coalition talks.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Political sea-changes

1.  If it were not for the Liberal Democrats all branches of the media would now be palpitating with frenzied speculation on "When will it be?"  Will Cameron call it in March, to take advantage of apparently good economic news and before any bubble bursts? Or try pulling a fast one and calling it it February ?  Or will he choose the same date as  the Euro elections and thus hope to stymie Ukip, who will not, he hopes, fare so well in the higher turnout that a general election will produce (again, he hopes)?

For the first time in our history, and thanks to the Liberal Democrats who insisted on it as part of the coalition agreement, we have a fixed term parliament and, barring unexpected events, we know when the general election will be.

Persuading any prime-minister to give up the trump card of the historic right to call the election when he best thinks he can win it is a triumph akin to persuading turkeys to vote for Christmas, and the Liberal Democrats should do much more to publicise this substantial advance in democratic fairness..

2.  In the early days of the coalition Nick Clegg said that Liberal Democrats must "own" all the government does.  Happily at the beginning of this week, when George Osborne announced that a further £25bn worth of government spending cuts are still necessary and that half of these should come from the welfare budget, Clegg unequivocally  described this as a "monumental mistake" and recognised that the Conservatives were " remorselessly paring back the state for idealogical reasons." 

Well some of us have been yelling that at the top of our voices ever since 2010, but it is good that the scales have at last fallen from Mr Clegg's eyes and we can now hope for a more distinctive Liberal Democrat voice on the economy as well as on Europe, Human Rights, and other areas of difference.

This is not to argue that the coalition should be brought to a premature end: the prize of a fixed term parliament is far too  important to jeopardized.    I believe we should remain  in government until parliament is dissolved, but need, as I've argued before, to adapt our understanding of collective responsibility during  coalitions so that on those issues where we differ with the senior partner, with their 305 seats to our 57, we should have the right to indicate our own preferred policy without actually bringing down the government.

3.  From 2010 onward Labour supporters berated Liberal Democrats for an alleged betrayal by getting in to bed with the Tories.  This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.  Not only did leading figures in the Labour party show no inclination join us in coalition, and some of their "big beasts" openly derided such a possibility, the parliamentary arithmetic made a Lab-Lib coalition unviable.  Even with the support  of all the nationalists and the one Green, such a coalition would  have had a majority of only one and, even barring other accidents, every time an MP died (which an average of four do every year) the government would be fighting for its life.

As Simon Hughes put it at the time "Politicians must  play the cards the electorate deals."

Unfortunately the concept of a Liberal Democrat betrayal has gained credence, even among many of our own members.  One of our  major accusers  was Labour's "big beast" Ed  Balls, who declared himself "shocked" at Clegg's decision to take the Liberal Democrats into government with the Tories.  Now however, he has seen the light, and in this week's New Statesman says that he "understands" Clegg's decision, and can even envisage working  with him the future.*

4.  Vince Cable caught the public's imagination when he noted the transformation of the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown "from Stalin to Mr Bean."  Poor Nick Clegg's descent from the heady days of "I agree with Nick in the first Leaders' Debate to a rather sad figure of fun has been equally dramatic and equally unjustified. However, this could now be changing:  former troy MP and now Times columnist Matthew Parish says of him:

 I've seen [Clegg] as brave and resolute and capable of surprising.  I've seen him as ideologically not too far  from the Tory moderates, but viscerally  repelled by British class-based politics, and by a strand in the Conservative Party  that's simply nasty.  There's a generous anchorage  available in our politics for such a view. . .but it would entail defying the many Liberal Democrat soft-socialists. ( The Times 21/12/13)

Naturally I take issue with the last part of the last sentence.  Socialists believe in centralised rule by state diktat: Liberals (soft or hard) believe in trust of the people and devolution of democratic power to the lowest possible level.

But if we can put behind us pointless diversionary scaremongering about immigrants and referendums on the EU and concentrate on the lines outlined above we could be in for an uplifting  and profitable 18 months.

*Reading between the lines it appears this conversion took place after a conversation  as they stood side by side in the parliamentary urinals.

Friday 10 January 2014

Meadowcroft on migrants

I did not see the  BBC 2  programme  on Immigration last Tuesday but my friend Michael Meadowcraft did and has given me permission to reproduce his letter to the presenter Nick Robinson.

I am particularly struck by Michael's suggestion that the opinion polls should pose the question:
“Would you be in favour of being prevented from living and working in other EU countries?” which, of course they never do. 

I have personally taken advantage of freedom of movement to work as a migrant in three different countries: Papa New Guinea for most of the 1970s, Malawi in Central Africa for a couple of years at the end of the 80s and France for a year in 2004/5.  I have no doubt that these experiences have widened my perspectives considerably and made me a better teacher, and I like to think that some of the people I have taught in those countries have benefited too.

So migration/immigration is, as Michael points out, very much a two-way affair.  Here's his letter


Dear Nick Robinson

I suspect you “turn off” responses longer than a sentence or two but I hope you will find a minute to read this e-mail which is based on over half a century in politics, much of it engaged in race relations both here and overseas, not least as an elected representative in Leeds, a city with significant tensions arising from immigration  .

I am writing this following your excellent programme on Immigration on BBC2 last Tuesday. It is by no means a complaint but rather an expression of frustration!

I do not believe that it is either possible or profitable to hide away from the issue of immigration and, therefore, I applaud the fact that in the programme you tackled a number of difficult and sensitive issues in a more rigorous way than is usual.

My concerns are as follows:

[1] the argument - as was the case with your programme - is currently entirely one way, ie on people coming to Britain, when it is two-way, with considerable opportunities for British citizens to emigrate to other EU countries - including Bulgaria and Romania - and to prosper and have a rewarding business and cultural life. Nor is the emphasis on countries with a lower cost of living than our own so significant. By definition such countries provide an equal opportunity to set up businesses at lower costs than in Northern Europe.

The global figures are around 2.4 million individuals in the UK from other EU countries and 1.4 million Brits in the other countries. And that without any advocacy for emigration! It would be interesting if the opinion polls asked the equivalent question that is never asked: “Would you be in favour of being prevented from living and working in other EU countries?” (emphasis added) Why isn’t it asked? Is it not a relevant question in the debate? There is a key issue of reciprocity.

[2] the opinion poll evidence is, of course, significant, but it is not necessarily indicative of voting intention, nor, indeed, of an informed opinion. There has been hardly any rigorous effort to promote the benefits and reciprocal advantages of EU freedom of movement (or, I might add, of the huge broader benefits of the EU. Does anyone appreciate, for instance, that we have had the longest period of peace in Western Europe in human history?) My experience on the doorsteps of what we now label “white working class” electors is of a group struggling to survive, and keen to blame “immigrants” who are accused of a series of wholly erroneous actions. These are not refuted in any consistent way. On the other hand, I hear nothing but praise by local employers for the assiduity and work ethic of European immigrants.

Further, in the case of immigrants from outside the EU, I cannot recall a single case of an asylum seeker threatened with deportation who has not been forcefully defended by the local community. (We had an appalling case in Leeds where a man, very much involved in the local church community here, committed suicide in Harmondsworth, in front of his 13 year old son, in order that that son would be able to stay in the UK). In other words, the public oppose immigration in theory but not in practice when faced with its reality.

[3] I take the view of the splendid jurist, Patrick Devlin, who in his book The Enforcement of Morals asserted that the electorate did not, in fact, vote for its prejudices but for what it perceived as “right thinking views”. He therefore argued that it was vital for the politicians to treat the electorate as a giant jury - juries being quite remarkable in their rationality and rejection of prejudice - cf Clive Ponting, Randle and Pottle, and, for that matter, yesterday’s inquest jury in the Mark Duggan case. Just like the opinion polls on immigration, I have no doubt that opinion polls on slavery would, at the time, have produced similar percentages; but they are not determinant of what voters do in reality. The opinion polls still show huge majorities for bringing capital punishment back, but there is no actual pressure to do so - the Birmingham Seven, the Guildford Four, Stephen Kisko etc are overwhelming, quite apart from moral arguments - and we need to be very conscious of the “safety valve” nature of the polls.

[4] we need to look urgently and very sensitively at those areas of our cities which have been almost wholly “taken over” by immigrant groups. I am very disturbed to find that this has happened in at least one previously solid and vibrant working class area in South Leeds, which had its lively working men’s clubs which have now all closed, with the buildings up for sale. This has happened without great public angst though it will have caused immense misery and despair on the part of the previous community. Community buildings are now mosques. I have no problem with this presence but it cannot simply be ignored.

I am very much struck with the similarity with the Jewish communities in Leeds 130 years ago. Poor Jews came from the Russian empire, took over a neighbourhood, spoke an alien language (Yiddish) and established their own places of worship (Synagogues). Even though they were “white” they were identifiably Jewish and suffered as a consequence. Immense efforts were made by Jewish leaders and by the city to transform the situation. This was, over time, immensely effective and the Leeds Jewish community today  is a formidably successful and accepted part of the city.

I hope you have read thus far! If so, thank you for doing so. If I can help at all with the developing debates, do please let me know.


Michael Meadowcroft

Monday 6 January 2014

“When is a horde not a horde”?

This post is contributed by my friend John Cole, who is also writing a letter of complaint to the Press Council.  I hope he is one of many and shall publish their response.  It is a source of constant regret and surprise to me that so many of my acquaintances, all seemingly decent people, continue to  buy the Daily Mail.  I do wish they would cancel their orders  and write  to the Mail and tell them why.

“When is a horde not a horde”?  

The Euro-phobic right-wing media have been running a series of scare stories regarding the UK about to be swamped by a huge influx of economic migrants from Romania and Bulgaria. 

From the start of this year workers from those two countries have been free to come to our islands to find work – all as part of the “single European market”.   UKIP has seen this as an opportunity to stoke up anti-immigrant feeling and the Conservative Party (reverting to “nasty” type) feels obliged to follow and engage in the narrative for fear of losing more of its core vote.  

The  right-wing tabloids plus the “Telegraph” have seen fit to give the pot a good stir and at the same time toss in a few lies for good measure.  The following is a classic example – for which I am indebted to Jon Danzig, formerly an investigative journalist with the BBC.

On December 31st the ”Daily Mail” ran a headline:  “Sold Out!  Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK” .   Under the headline the Mail reported that

ñ  one airline had doubled its flights to meet demand
ñ  such was demand that tickets were selling at £3,000 each
ñ  buses from Bulgaria to London were fully booked until January 9th

Jon Danzig made enquiries and was able to establish the following:

ñ  Easyjet reported that traffic from Romania and Bulgaria was “nothing out of the normal”
ñ  WizzAir reported: “The claims of the Daily Mail that we doubled our flights and that no low fares are available ...are complete rubbish”

The bus operator Balkan Horn told Danzig that:

ñ  seats were available on the bus for Friday 3rd January from Sofia to London
ñ  “most of the passengers are returning back to the UK following the Christmas break.  We actually have less bookings than this time last year”.
ñ  Danzig found he could book a seat from Bucharest on the 7th January for 157 Euros.

Thanks to Jon Danzig we can see that the Mail story is a tissue of lies.  It is all part of a media frenzy to set the agenda.  Sadly the BBC collaborated in this by making the influx of Bulgarians and Romanians its lead news item on  Radio 4 throughout New Years Day.   But it was a non-story.  It was confected.  

The first plane into Luton Airport from Romania in January 1st had a capacity of 180, of which 40 seats were empty.  The vast majority of Romanians arriving were those returning to existing jobs  after  spending Christmas in Romania.  One of the few exceptions was a new arrival, Viktor who was set upon by the large media scrum.  Viktor apparently exhausted himself in giving countless interviews.

Conclusion?  The only horde was the media pack.

(if you Google “Jon Danzig” you can access his blog  - this item is under the EU ROPE side-heading)