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Archive for June, 2011

Don’t be deterred by Osborne’s trap – strike today!

Today will see schools, prisons and courts employees, represented by trade unions, take strike action against the government on the grounds that public sector workers will work longer while contributing more towards their pension pots.

Union leaders have responded ahead of today explaining their positions. Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has called the action “regrettable” but “due to the position that the government has taken, unavoidable”. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber pointed out that pay has been frozen for two years despite high inflation, and that the feeling is public sector workers are being punished for a poor economic outlook they had no part in creating.

Strike

It is beyond despair that Ed Miliband has dismissed the strike out of hand, given that he is the leader of the Labour party. More depressing is he’ll gain nothing for it; David Cameron will continue accusing him of being in the pockets of the unions, while the laughing tabloid press continue running headlines to suit.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has hardly pledged undivided support for mass action, but what he has said is of interest. Commenting on Osborne’s strategy, he called on public sector workers not to fall into the chancellor’s trap. The trap being laid out is one, not too dissimilar from the bad snow episode – where if recovery appears slow, Osborne can raise the alarm that public sector workers are the cause.

It would seem that if Balls is saying this he knows it to be dishonest – therefore him and his party should not be giving undue credence to Osborne’s trap by withdrawing strike support.

To be sure Balls knows, and opposes, Osborne’s plans (he calls Osborne joining the Treasury another “fork in the road moment”). At a speech given at the LSE earlier this month (seen to counter the chancellor’s speech at Mansion House the day before) Balls noted that Britain’s slow recovery could cost families £3,300 by 2015, as well as leaving Britain £58bn worse off. The economies in America, France and Germany have all returned to pre-crisis levels, whereas Britain is still below that by 4%.

Commenting on recent ONS figures for growth, Balls said “These final figures confirm that in the six months since George Osborne’s spending review and VAT rise the economy has flatlined and the recovery has been choked off.”

The former children’s minister can see the risks, has been keen to point out that this is ideological (or what William Keegan calls Osborne’s “political straitjacket”) and so should respond in turn by supporting strike action, while preparing to brush aside excuses given by the chancellor for possible poor economic recovery.

What Recovery?

Esther Armstrong writing for Interactive Investor yesterday said “This was supposed to be the year economies the world over got back on track.” In fact George Osborne was hoping the whole mess would be sorted by now, but his inability to change tack through fear of looking weak has meant the British economy is shooting below target (indeed Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the cabinet office, was reported saying “you do not gain credibility by sticking to a strategy that isn’t working”).

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBS) has downgraded UK growth projections for 2011 three times now, while we also face a wave of what Duncan Weldon has called “consumer recession”.

Osborne himself admitted that recovery will take longer than he expected, but this has also been compounded with the flatlining of many low and middle income earners. In fact real wages have fallen for the last 17 months and are likely to do so until 2013 – earnings falling below inflation does nothing for consumer confidence, and as Chris Dillow noted (as one of the differences between 1981 and 2010) the ability for people to run up personal debt through loans, in turn offsetting the decline in public spending, is a privilege (if you can call it that) we cannot enjoy today while banks are reluctant to lend.

If Osborne wasn’t so stubborn about saving face, he might have listened to Ed Balls’ idea for a temporary cut to VAT, which would instantly lower inflation, increase real wages, be as easy to implement as to reverse while the cost to do so is way under borrowing forecasts (the former being around £12-13bn versus the latter of £40bn). But alas the horrible show must go on.

What do we have to lose in striking?

In spite of proper Labour support, strike action is necessary. Unions are the only bargaining chip available to the workforce, and the government have been very clear they are not listening.

The damage being done by the cabinet of millionaires (whose pensions, along with other MPs, even after changes “will be among the most generous in the country“) must be challenged. As a Labour party member I’m loathe to say this; but we cannot wait for the opposition any longer – this fight will come from the bottom up, from those most affected by Tory/LibDem bullying, and it is high time this battle was won. This country will no longer be walked all over by the undeserving rich.

The oddness of the Labour Party General Secretary job description

Sunny, Sunder, Jon and others  have posts up about what may or not be some murky going on in relation to the appointment of the Labour Party General Secretary post. 

This reminds me of a blogpost I had in mind, but then forgot about, when I looked at the job information with a view to applying for the post myself.

I didn’t apply in the end as, though I meet the person specification well enough and could do the job very well, it’s based in somewhere called London, not Bickerstaffe.  However, what also put me off was this aspect of the role, which stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the other perfectly sensible requirements:

The identification of potential political leaders of the party from the 250000 membership.

This seems a very odd, highly political task for what is essentially a   head of adminstration, compliance and business/organisational development role. 

What, if anything – I felt bound to ask myelf- would I as General Secretary do once I had identified these potential political leaders? I mean, I certainly wouldn’t be expected to agree secret parliamentary parachute lists and that kind of thing, would I, under the new regime?  Surely not.

And what measures would I use to decide such people are in fact potential political leaders?  Generic leadership? Intellect?  Political organisation skills?  Subservience and capacity to toe the line? Capacity to buy me beer at strategically important points?

And why, I thought, is this a new aspect of the overall role, which wasn’t in the job description last time the post was advertised, in 2008?

Who drew the job description up, and what is their thinking behind it? Who signed it off in this form?

Anyone know?

 

Categories: Labour Party News

We can never excuse antisemitism

While taking a cursory glance at the Lenosphere I came across an odd looking post by The Angry Arab News Service, run by As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University.

The paragraph long post, called Zizek visits Israel: he is now an expert on the Middle East too, reads as follows:

“He proceeded to say that Zionism is not the worst evil in the world…After establishing the deep-rooted vitality of antisemitism, he mentioned that he has no patience for those who excuse Arab antisemitism; that even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being antisemitic.” What do you suggest that we do with the most oppressed and poor Palestinians who express anti-Semitic views? Kill them? Occupy them again? Double occupy them? (thanks Wardeh)

I wanted so much to comment, but the ability to do so has been disabled. Instead I’ll state my very short reply here: Zizek states quite clearly what to do with antisemitism – refuse any patience with it, refuse to tolerate it. How do you do that? By not excusing it as common practice of poor Arabs (which it’s not).

What to some might appear like Zizek withholding sympathy for Palestinians, is in actual fact highlighting the paternalism and snobbery of some pro-Palestinians, who believe those who are lesser off than them should be pitied, left to their own devices, and if they express antisemitic views, well, who can blame them, ‘eh, after all they don’t know any better do they, they’re poor – and as all people know poor people are stupid and don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong to blame the Jews for their plight.

Implicit to this post is the justification that the anti-semite is excused of all hate crime on the grounds that the State of Israel exists. ” What do you suggest that we do with the most oppressed and poor Palestinians who express anti-Semitic views” AbuKhalil asks, giving exaggerated answers that Zizek has not alluded to. Well, I’ll tell you what to do: don’t treat people as though they’re not adult or sane enough to be told they’re wrong; don’t look down your nose at people you feel aren’t capable of properly analysing and addressing political situations; don’t snub the idea that antisemitism, in whatever form it comes and from whomever it comes from – should be rejected and fought under all circumstances, even from “the most oppressed and poor Palestinian”.

To typify Arabs in the way that AbuKhalil has done is racist.

No matter what anybody tells you, we can never excuse antisemitism!

The legal campaign against Lancashire care cuts: an update

I said I’d give an update on my legal campaigning work against Lancashire Tories’ cuts to adult social care provision, so here it is in the form of a press release to my local media.

Basically it’s good news so far, as we’ve been granted leave to go to ful Judicial Review, and ‘interim relief’ on the cuts in the meantime. 

PRESS RELEASE

There was good news for disabled people in West Lancashire last week, as the courts provided an initial ruling on recent cuts imposed on their care by Lancashire County Council.

The courts ruled that there is a case against the Council’s decision to cut adult social care services in two ‘test’ cases, and granted leave for full Judicial Review hearing. This hearing is likely to take place in mid/late July.

Following this decision, ‘interim relief’ was also granted for other cases raised against the Council by specialist solicitors Irwin Mitchell. This means that care packages and payments which had been cut in April, following the Council’s decision to slash budgets, must now be returned to their former level pending the full Judicial Review hearing.

Ruth Hunt, a Burscough resident who had her care payments cut in April before getting in touch with Irwin Mitchell, spoke out about the court decision:

The cuts to my care package took no account whatsoever of my daily living needs, and have put immense pressure on me and my family. It’s great that the courts have ruled in my and others’ favour for now, and we look forward to the full case being heard in July.

Paul Cotterill, a local campaigner who has been helping affected West Lancashire residents like Ms Hunt to initiate action through Irwin Mitchell, said of the ‘interim relief’ ruling:

 This is a good first step on the road to justice. There is a strong view that the Council acted unlawfully in imposing cuts to services on some of the most vulnerable people in our community, without due regard for the impact upon these people’s quality of life.

Frankly, I’ve been shocked at the impact the cuts have had on some people’s well-being, even in the short time since they were imposed, and I’m just grateful we’ve been able to team up with Irwin Mitchell to try and make sure people who need it have proper access to the law.

There is still an opportunity for West Lancashire residents to get involved if they feel they or their family have been adversely and unfairly affected by the recent cuts to social care. People interested can contact Paul Cotterill on xxxxxx or [email]  in the first instance.

 

More on Chavs

A review I penned of Owen Jones’ book Chavs went up on the LSE blog yesterday – read it here.

Categories: General Politics

Kill Your Heroes!

Recently A.C. Grayling and some other notable academics got it in the neck for their role in setting up a private university with fees double the price of other university courses – immediately putting those students who are lesser off at a disadvantage. In so doing, the “telly dons” put paid their commitment to an education, in the words of Grayling himself – “provided free of charge to all those suitably qualified for it.”

Now a number of academics will take part in the London Critical Theory Summer School at Birckbeck, which can set students back the hefty fee of £750 for just two weeks.

Surprisingly, one of those academics planning to take part in the school is Slavoj Zizek.

By consequence of my observing the Hegelian-Lacanian-Contingency Paradigm, I am a fan of Slavoj Zizek’s. I’ve written a great many blog posts and articles using his name and texts, have written about him at length for pop philosophy publications, and the academic journal which bears his name.

(I also do a cracking impression of him, as anyone who knows me can attest to).

But my devotion to his deed does not keep me from raising criticism, where it is due – and here it is due (please do, incidentally, take the name of this blog post with a generous pinch of salt).

Around the time Edward Woollard threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ in Millbank, people were bending over backwards to level criticism at the young man, including and especially leftists and fellow student activists. Zizek, however, had the following to say about the Millbank protests, at a lecture in Birkbeck:

People saying you could have delivered the same message without violence. F*ck them! Of course you can deliver the message. But nobody would hear the message. This is what they like, that 100 people gather and write a message and then you don’t even get the bottom note in the day’s paper… You have to break some windows to get the message through.

Zizek has always been very vocal about what education should be about; the reintegration of people in the public sphere, where space is open  – organising proper, unhindered free debate, away from the corporate’s who want to reign in radicalism and dissent. In 2009, to promote this very cause, the independent student initiative for the right to free education started a peaceful occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia. Zizek, in a letter of support to the occupiers (who lasted 35 days), wrote:

Those among us who are old enough remember “specialized further education”, the last attempt of the Communist regime in the old Yugoslavia to streamline education to “social use” and narrow the space of dissent. Western Europe is now rediscovering it – it is called the “Bologna reform of the higher education,” a new attempt to subordinate higher education to the needs of social control and regulation. We need a cultural revolution to fight this dangerous tendency with all means available, violent civic disobedience included. You, students who occupy faculties, are doing not only the right thing, but the necessary thing. Go to the end, persist – no compromise!

There’s no doubt Zizek – a dying breed who still qualifies the term Communist in a positive way – is faithful to radical theory, but his participation in Birkbeck’s critical theory summer school implies an acceptance that radical education should come with a price tag.

And he has been stung before. On being questioned about writing the text accompanying Bruce Weber photos in a catalog for Abercrombie & Fitch, Zizek replied “If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!”

At the time this was an isolated incident, and could be ignored, but Zizek may fast be becoming an odd sort of communist.

*

The following video has been produced by Bloomsbury Fightback

(see also the Q&A with the Guardian he did in 2008. To the question “What is the worst job you’ve done?” he answered: “Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.” The irony here now slightly damaged).

Labour must make this a resigning matter for Pickles

June 26, 2011 3 comments

Ben Goldacre uncovered a massive scandal the other day, but as far as I can see no-one has picked up on its political importance (as opposed to Ben’s media slant).

It concerns a press release from Pickles’ Department, which announces:

New, cutting edge analysis of council spending data by procurement experts Opera Solutions has revealed that greater transparency coupled with improved analysis is the key to unlocking massive savings by driving down costs.

The report gives the highest estimate yet of potential savings that could be achieved if councils secure better value for the £50 billion of public money they spend on procurement every year. The £10 billion figure is equal to £452 per household every year and equivalent to the salaries of almost half a million bin men or 650,000 dinner ladies.

This “cutting edge analysis” turns out to be a six page glossy advertisement from a consultancy firm touting for work.

It also turns out that the “research” consists of a single table showing figures, for three councils, for three small procurement strands, only one of which (mobile phones) has an estimate of 20% reductions through improved procurement. 

Further, there is no evidence whatsoever for these reductions; they are simply claims that the consultant might help you achieve these.  The figure is then extrapolated, with no justification whatsoever, to the whole of the UK’s local government procurement annual spend of £50bn.

Pickles uses the press release to bang his drum:

Let there be no doubt whatsoever – today’s figures show that there is significant scope for councils to make taxpayers’ money work even harder…….. There’s no excuse for cutting the front line when there are so many savings to be found in the way back office services and run and paid for.

The press release, which is essentially a lie, has been dutifully picked up by the Express and the Mail, both of whom quote the £452 per household figure.  The fact that the whole thing is simply a lie goes conveniently ignored.

So what will Labour do?

What it should do is call for Pickles resignation, on the basis that he has misled millions of people via his Department’s press release into thinking they can get something for nothing, and that he can reduce council budgets by a further 20% without affecting frontline services.

Or more simply, that he is a lying cheat, who has corrupted his own Department.

For my part, I’ll be putting together a draft motion to send to Labour groups around the country, calling for the Chief Executive to write to the Department to demand that an apology be issued, and to Pickles himself with expressions of no confidence. 

This will be an opportunity, especially in Tory-led areas, to bring Pickles’ lying out into the open in the local press, and one local Labour groups shouldn’t miss.

Update: In view of demand, I offer a first draft of such a  motion to Councils up and down the country, though of course I recognise that all Councils have their different motion styles and conventions:

a) That this Council notes that the press release‘Shining a light on council spending could save up to £450 per household’, issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government on 17 June 2011 and subsequently widely and uncritically reported in the press, is based on what is effectively than an advertising brochure from a procurement consultancy, rather than the“cutting edge research” claimed in the press release.

b) That this Council deplores the publication of this press release by the Department, considering it to be willfully misleading to the public, in suggesting without any basis in fact that savings of up to 20% can be made by local authorities without any effect upon frontline services.

c) Further, that this Council believes that this press release amounts to a calculated and cynical insult to all hard working, loyal, and professional local authority procurement staff, including in this authority, in its suggestion that they are not working efficiently to find appropriate procurement savings where they exist.

d) That consequently this Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Department requesting that the press release be withdrawn, and a public apology issued by the Department for the issuing of false information which is potentially highly damaging both to the integrity of public services and the reputation of local authorities.

e) That this Council notes within the press release the direct quotation, in support of the false assertions made, of the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles.

f) That this Council believes that in giving such explicit support and commendation to the views set out in the press release, the Secretary of State has compromised the integrity of his Department in the interests of his ideological ends, which he appears happy to pursue at the expense of the Department’s integrity and with total disregard for the normal conventions of evidence-based research.

g) That consequently this Council instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Secretary of State setting out the Council’s disappointment in his actions, reuesting that he make a public apology for those actions, and asking him to consider his own position as a Minister of the Crown given the seriousness of the way in which his Department has misled the public on this matter.

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