Monday 25 July 2022

What the Tories have done to us.

 As the two contenders for the Tory leadership engage in a race to the bottom in terms of honesty, relevance and decency, my friend John Cole, a fellow former teacher of Economics who served for 14+ years as a Liberal Democrat on Bradford Metropolitan Council, and I decided to put together a list of mistaken Tory policies which have  been implemented in our lifetimes.  We started with an aim of about a dozen, but the list grew longer and longer.  My apologies, therefore, that this post is somewhat longer than usual.  John is relatively youthful so the first item was not in his lifetime.

  NHS. Bitterly opposed its creation in 1947. They were not, of course, in power, but it’s worth remembering this when, now that it is a “National Treasure,” they claim to support it while looking for ways to privatise more and more of it.

EUROPE.  Failed to participate in the setting up of the Coal and Steel Community in 1952, and then the EEC in 1957.  There were lengthy delays before we joined the ERM and when we did so it was at an unrealistic rate, leading to our being humiliatingly forced out on Black Wednesday in 1992.

SUEZ.  The ignominious failure of this venture in 1956 was a clear illustration that Britain was no longer a 19th century- style Great Power capable of independent international action.

MAU MAU UPRISING (KENYA).  The brutal treatment of Africans fighting for independence demonstrates that the empire was not always the avuncular institution  we like to pretend.  In particular the failure of the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox- Boyd, to take responsibility for the Hola Camp Massacre (1959) and resign from his post, was an early breach of the constitutional conventions which have become so frequent in recent years.  Maybe the beginning of the end of the “good chap theory of government.”

BLUE STREAK.  Untold millions were spent on this attempt to build an intermediate range ballistic missile to deliver Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent.  After its cancellation in 1960 we’ve borrowed an American one: how independent is that?

PRIVATISATION.   The selling- off of public assets at knock-down prices in the hope of creating a share-holding (and Tory voting) democracy.  Most of the shares are now in the hands of hedge-funds etc. and many of the utilities are now owned by foreign companies, even some governments.

RIGHT TO BUY. Similarly, the selling of the social housing stock to tenants in the hope that they became Tory-voting owner-occupiers.  Over 40% of the stock sold is now in the hands of buy-to-let landlords.

DEREGULATION.  Regulations are rules it is the duty of any government to make to protect us from chancers, charlatans and bullies. Here are just two consequences. The abolition of the Parker Morris standards for houses in 1980 means that typical newly-built dwellings in the UK are barely half the size of new Greek or Danish homes. The failure to supervise and check on such standards as still exist has contributed to such tragedies as the Grenfell Fire (2017) and 71 deaths.

THE BIG BANG AND TAX HAVENS.  Financial deregulation has opened the door to increased tax avoidance and financial opportunism.  Londongrad has become a repository for funds from questionable sources.

THE FALKLANDS WAR.  The withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic gave a signal which the Argentine government took to mean the UK would no longer defend the Falkland Islands.  The ensuing war (1982) cost nearly 900 lives, mostly semi-trained young Argentinians.

SECTION 28. This series of laws across Britain prohibited the alleged  "promotion of homosexuality" by local schools and authorities.  It was in effect from 1988 to 2000 in Scotland and from 1988 to 2003 in England and Wales. 

THE POLL TAX.  An attempt to ensure that everyone paid for local services, even if they hadn’t any money.  It was introduced in Scotland  in 1989 and England and Wales in1990.  It proved unpopular and unworkable, led to the defenestration of Mrs Thatcher and was replaced by banded council taxes in 1993.  Since then no government has dared to re-evaluate the bands.

EMASCULATION OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES.  This has continued steadily under both Conservative and Labour governments. UK government has become more centralised and local authorities increasingly merely agents of the centre with very limited powers to act or raise taxes independently.

AUSTERITY.  Since 2010 the reduction in real terms of expenditure on all public services, including the NHS, leading to lengthy hospital waiting lists, a backlog in the courts, a barely functioning care service for the elderly, and the services provided by local authorities, including child protection, pared to a minimum. Spending on social security for those in poverty has been cut by 25%. The Bedroom Tax and the Two Child Limit indicate a vindictive attitude to struggling families.

THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT. Refugees from discrimination, persecution and torture are entitled in international law to apply for asylum in countries they consider safe.  The hostile environment created by Mrs May when she was Home Secretary,  continued since then and now including deportation to Rwanda,  is callous, inhumane and probably illegal.

FAILURE TO TAKE CLIMATE CRISIS SERIOUSLY .  Former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson has been a leading climate change denier.  Of the two current candidates for the leadership of the party, Rishi Sunak reduced the VAT on petrol and Liz Truss proposes to drop the Green Levy.

HOUNDING OF THE BBC. The BBC is almost universally  respected as  “the best in the World and the envy of the World” but the Tories are constantly sniping at it and threatening its financial independence.  Funding has been cut by some 30% since 2010.  The commercially funded public service broadcaster Channel 4 has also proved highly successful in providing investigative news and adventurous drama and is now also under threat.

LIES IN THE REFERENDUM FOR ELECTORAL REFORM.  The Coalition Agreement of 2010 gave the impression that the Conservatives would remain neutral in the referendum campaign, but in fact they campaigned against it and poisoned it with misinformation.

ACADEMISATION OF SCHOOLS.  (ongoing since 2010).  In practice, privatisation. Among other abuses, hectares of playing fields have been sold off for private profit.

BREXIT.  (Referendum 2016)  An abrogation of our opportunities to develop peace and concord in Europe, a reduction in our abilities to influence world politics, and the ability effectively to fight a trade war against ourselves.

EXIT FROM THE CUSTOMS UNION AND SINGLE MARKET.  (January 2021) The Leave Campaign implied that this would not happen, but the ERG faction of the Tory party forced the government to the hardest and most damaging form of quitting the EU.

CUTS IN OVERSEAS AID.  Abandonment of the pledge, written into law, to maintain overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP.  Lest we forget, Rishi Sunak , a candidate for the Tory leadership, was the minister responsible

TWO THREATS TO BREAK INTERNATIONAL LAW.  The Internal Market Act (2020) and the abrogation of the Northern Ireland Protocol (pending). Both smear the UK’s reputation as a pillar of the law-abiding liberal democratic world.

HUMAN RIGHTS.  Respect for these is pilloried as being “woke” and they are now under threat. Our democratic  right to  protest is being seriously limited and our trade union movement has been severely constrained. 

MISMANAGEMENT OF THE COVID PANDEMIC.  (2020 and continuing); following the failure to implement the key recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise (2016) on how to be prepared for a predicted health pandemic.  

INTERFERENCE WITH THE FRANCHISE.  Second preference voting, where it existed, removed, and pictorial evidence needed for voter identification.  The Electoral Commission made subject to government control.


If that's not enough this earlier post examines in more detail the myth of Tory  economic competence.




Thursday 21 July 2022

Tory leadership: Thatcher-plus or Johnson-lite

 David Steel once said of Margaret Thatcher: " I wish I were as certain of just one thing as she is of everything."  

 Liz Truss is from the same mold and doesn't even have to pretend.  In her interview on Radio 4 this morning she confined herself to slogans.  She will "Hit the ground running," "Get things done," "Get the economy moving."  

 What she's actually "got done" is short on detail. She claims "the Australian trade deal," though on "Farming Today" earlier we were told that Britain's farmers are up in arms about it and  feel they have been sold down the river.  She also claimed to have the "Led the West" in organising  support for the defence of Ukraine, though her boss  P.M. Johnson also claims that role, and  what the rest of the world thinks about British leadership in anything other than boasting is not known.  (Since Suez we have mostly cravenly followed the US, the main exception being Harold Wilson, who kept us out of Vietnam)

 Like Mr Johnson, M/s Truss  has an uncertain relationship with the truth, as her trashing of her Roundhay School, which has a highly respectable reputation and serves one of the poshest parts of Leeds, for having such low expectations that all she achieved was a place at Merton College Oxford.

It is said that, traditionally  when Tory Constituency  Selection Committees were   interviewing potential parliamentary candidates they were really choosing young men who would make good sons-in law.  Rishi Sunak fills this bill: he is highly personable, of presentable  appearance, smiles a lot and can string two sentences together without too many ominous pauses.  Although his style is different, he offers  the same as Mr Johnson: persuasive communication skills.

 However, as an earlier post argues, his record as Chancellor of the Exchequer is a poor one.  His furlough scheme was later, shorter and less generous that those of the French and Germans. His "Bounce Back" loan scheme was subject to massive fraud (and M/s Truss claims she told him) and his help to the poor was niggardly and too soon abandoned. 

Although he had the sense to raise taxes to pay for his carelessness and profligacy, he chose the wrong ones; in particular the NICs, a tax on employment, the last thing one should tax when we need to to stimulate an economic recovery.

M/s Truss remained  a wiling collaborator in the Johnson debacle to the end, and Mr Sunak to the last forty-eight hours (or was it twenty-four?)  They are both complicit in the years of Tory misrule.

 Historians  might be able to pinpoint a time when the nation was faced with an even  greater poverty of choice, but I think we have plumber the depths.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Has Labour a death wish?

Amid all the contrived excitement of the competition for the Tory leadership (which doesn't really matter becasue they're all Tories and they're all wrong) yesterday's most important political development seems to have escaped most of the media's notice.

it is, in a small item on page 2 of the Guardian, that Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out any deal with the Liberal Democrats. This is interpreted as no coalition after the next election, and no "confidence and supply" arrangement  either.  Nor with the SNP.  

Labour will go it alone, or not at all.

Starmer's reasoning is easy to understand.  Without such a committed declaration he fears the the Tory PR machine will use the threat of a "coalition of chaos" to defeat Labour.  it is understood that a similar ruse helped prevent Labour under Ed Milliband from winning in 2015

I believe Starmer is profoundly wrong.  Again and again Labour die-hards  believe that they can win on their own and so won't sully their precious ideals by compromise with  others.  Maybe that made sense in the last century, though I doubt if serious history would support it.  The Wartime three-party coalition had its faults but it did its bit towards wining the war.  The much maligned Lib/Lab pact arranged between Jim Callaghan and David Steel achieved the only period of government in the 1970s era in which both the level of inflation and unemployment fell together.

Even in this century, the 2010-15 Coalition, though profoundly  misguided in its economic policy (see contemporary posts on this blog|) filled the bill that was thought to be necessary at the time.  In 2010 it was widely (though in my view wrongly) believed that the country desperately needed a stable government with a working majority, or there would be a run on sterling.  So we got the stable government, largely but understandably on Tory terms (they had 300+ MPs, we had 57).  

And  since 2015, without the moderating influence of the Liberal Democrats, Tory governments  have been profoundly worse.

Current opinion polls show Labour in a modest lead over the Conservatives, but for Labour to be confident of victory that lead needs to be 20 percentage point or more over a sustained period.

The Tories, with their massively sportive press and slick PR machine, are good at recovering.  Witness their victory under Macmillan in 1959 after the Eden's Suez disaster, and John Major's unexpected victory after the Thatcher years.   They have not lost the knack.  

What ever the result of the leadership election, the new leader will be burnished as a combination of St Peter, or the Virgin Mary, with the Archangel Gabriel (despite the male name I think angels are gender neutral) and the appalling  errors of the May-Johnson period will be nothing to do with the new and oh- so- wonderful management team.

And, Sir Keir, they'll probably get away with it.

But there remains a "progressive majority" of voters.  We are highly unlikely ever to get a government as incompetent, dishonest  and corrupt as the present one.  We should seize the moment,combat predictions of a "coalition of chaos" with the rejoinder  that nothing could be as chaotic as Johnson's Tory-UKIP coalition,  and, leaving all post-election options  open, allow the progressive parties to campaign  with minimum hindrance in the areas where they can prevail.

Monday 11 July 2022

Tory Hopefuls: none of the above

I am currently stricken with COVID and haven't the energy to keep bang up to date with the latest developments, but understand the number of contenders for the Tory leadership is now in double figures.  

Rishi Sunak is currently the "bookies' favourite."  He's certainly a very personable chap and could easily win, just as Mr Johnson did, by displaying a personality that appears attractive to Tory MPs and party members.  But, although Mr Sunak's character is probably not as flawed as Johnson's (a difficult man to beat on this rating)  his performance in office as Chancellor was very weak.  He raised taxes to pay for social care, which was honest and necessary,  but the tax he chose, National Insurance, was about the worst possible, in that  it is both a  tax on employment (a "good" which we want to encourage) ant takes demand out of the circular flow at  a time when we want to encourage it.   

He is praised  for his "furlough scheme" but I believe it was less generous and more short-lived than some continental schemes which were introduced earlier and lasted longer.  Its administration was subject to significant fraud, dwarfed only by  the fraud surrounding his £47bn "Bounce Back Loans" scheme, much of which went to non-existent  "business."   An his "eat out to help out" was a silly subsidy to those who  were able to afford to eat out anyway, which probably helped to spread the virus.

Be that as it may, the competition seems to centre round which of the contestants can make the most credible offer on tax cuts.

Are they mad?

Did they not live through the pandemic.(some of us are still living through it, with perhaps more to follow).

What has happened to the increased realisation the pandemic  engendered that we really are "all in this together," that we need to care for, help and take responsibility for each other, and that the state is the instrument best  equipped to administer that care.

It is significant that the one success for which the government can legitimately boast in the pandemic, the vaccine distribution, was carried out by the public sector state-funded NHS.  The bungles, the £37bn spent on the ineffective Test and Trace system , the belated purchasing of personal protective equipment, to name but two , were  all the responsibility of the private sector.

In our society,  still one of the richest in the world, one fifth of our people exist in poverty. Even before the predicted inflation reaches its zenith, many families are unable to cope with essential expenses for housing , energy, warmth  (though today that is on free offer) and food..  At the same time four fifths of us, including me, are materially living the life of Riley, taking former luxuries for granted, with not a financial care in the world, and the top tenth are receiving, though not necessarily enjoying,  incomes beyond eventhe most avaricious dreams. .

This is intolerable.

We need to pay more tax, not less.

The IFS tells us that in Britain the percentage of GDP taken in tax is 33%, below the G7 average of 36%, and way below that in our neighbours Germany (39%) and France (45%)

We need to redistribute our  national income and wealth in such a way that  no-one (no-one, not even the feckless) falls below  a minium civilised level of physical existence, and adequately  fund the civilised essentials : our health service, our care service, legal service, education  and  our local government services.

We desperately need some politicians with the courage to tell us this. (Are you listening, Sir Keir and Sir Ed?)

 The chosen tax increases should be those  which  least affect affect current economic activity, which we want to encourage.  There are plenty options: inheritance taxes, capital gains, profits, land, financial transactions, to name just some

 Do not be deceived by the convenient idea that cuts in taxes will somehow generate enterprise  and growth, which will obviate the need for the comfortable to pay just a little bit more. That is a nonsense, described in a Guardian leader (11/07/22) as " an elaborate ruse to benefit the rich."*

Yet that is the comfortable myth the Tory contenders are trying to sell, and I suspect it will go down well with their well-heeled MPs and members.

 For the record, at present I'd go for Tom Tugendhat as the nearest to what's left of the "One Nation" tradition.

But it won't much matter if the progressive parties have the courage to grasp the nettle of what we stand for and proclaim it loudly and clearly.

*Added 13/07/22

Thursday 7 July 2022

Cracks in the Constitution

 As I write (7am on Thursday 7th July) the morning news says that Mr Johnson is still in 10, Downing Street clinging to the premiership in spite of the fact that that key figures in his cabinet have told him that he should resign " for the good of the party and nation" and 46 (and counting ) ministers have resigned from his government.  (That still leaves around 100 in it.)

Johnson claims, with some justification, that he led the party at the last general election, won a stonikng majority of over 80, and therefore is entitled to  remain in office for five years, or until he deicides to call another election.

In other words, Johnson is claiming that the UK has a presidential system, he is "in charge" come what may, "The British People" (he loves claiming to speak for  "the British people, and does so at nearly every Question Time) have chosen him to "get things done" and the Tory MPs who clambered into their seats on his coat tails should jolly well back him.

And it is true that, in the 60+ years I have been studying British politics, our system has become more and more presidential, in spite of bleats of protest from constitutional purists.

However, the truth is that Mr Johnson was not elected by "the British people," but by      25 351 voters in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.  To his "credit" he is one of the minority of MPs who actually received more than 50% of the vote: 53% in fact.  But 22 816 voted for other candidates, and over 22 000 who could have didn't bother to vote for him or anyone else.

Hardly enough to make him Emperor of England, still less World King.

I expect that, very soon, maybe not today and maybe not even this month, the normal convention of the constitution kick in.

 The prime minister is not elected by "the people" but appointed by the monarch, who doesn't have much choice.  She or he must appoint whoever commands a majority in the House of Commons.  Clearly Mr Johnson no longer does.  It will be interesting to see which former sycophant  the Tory MPs and then the  party members choose for her/him (should that be Her/Him?) to appoint.

 We "progressive alternatives" are torn in two ways.  Do we want a less-incompetent government to be appointed as quickly and efficiently as possible, or do we prefer to sit back and enjoy watching  the  Tories tear themselves even further apart?

Sunday 3 July 2022

Is hard--line Labour seeing the light?

 A "progressive alliance" of the centre-left parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, maybe some Nationalists) to defeat the Tories is flavour of the month amongst many political columnists, (see, for example, here) though less so among the  loyalists of all these parties.  One of the major obstacles to a formal alliance is a clause in the constitution of the Labour Party which insists that their party must (must) field a candidate in every parliamentary constituency in every  election.

The reasoning behind that is perfectly logical.  Labour purists believe that they are fighting a class "war"  for  the workers against the capitalists.  This belief may be backed up by adherence to the teachings of Karl Marx and the inevitability of the success of the proletariat, or, les pedantically, the Fabians, or Social Democrats such as Anthony Crossland in  "The Future of Socialism."  Theirs is  a "cause" which must be fought for in every corner of the land. 

  With equal fervour the Greens believe, quite rightly, that life on the planet is endangered if we carry on behaving as we are, so their cause must be prosecuted in every corner of the world.  We Liberals believe that Liberal Democracy itself, the battle to achieve the greatest possible measure of individual freedom compatible with the freedom of others, is on the back foot (as in the US, UK, Hungary, Russia and China, to name but some) and needs vigorous protection where it exists and proselytation where it doesn't.

 Although neither the Greens nor the Liberal Democrats have clauses in their constitutions demanding that they fight every seat, where groups of dedicated loyalists exist they are reluctant to stand aside. So the Tories, lacking any fundamental beliefs other than that they are the best rulers (and some believing that they are actually born to rule) grab, under our primitive electoral system, the reins of power more often than not in spite of their minority status.

 Fortunately, although a formal progressive alliance is for the moment not on the table, there are increasing signs, highly visible in the recent by-elections, that the parties least able to challenge the Tories, are wiling to to run low key campaigns and give the main challenger an almost free hand (as in  Wakefield, for Labour, and Tiverton and Honiton for the Liberal Democrats) 

 However these are by-elections: they may shake the government but will not change it. So habitual Tories are more likely to "lend " their votes to the challenging party, or deliberately stay at home.

 The big question is, will this "flexibility" extend to a General Eection, when there is the possibility of changing the party in power.

 Fortunately, there are signs that it might.

 An article by Paul Mason in this week's "The New European" appears under the headline "Only a progressive alliance can rid us of these morally bankrupt liars" and concludes:

"Even an informal electoral pact  could wipe the Tories out for a generation.  A short parliament, delivering PR and re-entry into the single market without any recourse to referendums, could be followed  by the first general election in which everybody's vote counts."

This is important becasue Mr Mason is not just a journalist  nor an academic philosopher in an ivory tower such as A C Grayling, but a left-wing Labour candidate.

 An article in last Friday's Guardian (1st July) which discusses accusations that  Sir Keir  Starmer is operating a purge against left-wing candidates, claims  that his defenders point to: 

 ". . .the  longlisting of avowedly left wing commentator Paul  Mason for Stretford and Urmston  in Greater Manchester, as proof candidates from that wing of the party  are not all being vetoed."

 Assuming it's the same Paul Mason, bring it on.