Archive for November, 2011

To November 30 #nov30

November 30, 2011 2 comments

Joking or not, the jibes heard by Jeremy Clarkson tonight are not unlike the sort of jibes I, and I am sure many of you, will have heard on the trains and buses, in the workplace and on social networks tonight.

Clarkson said:

I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living.

He might be trying to wind us up, but he’s also a hard-wired twat who says things that he knows will tap into popular or unsure sentiment.

Recently Owen Jones published a blog on LabourList blowing these accusations right out of the water:

the average pension of a civil servant is about £4,000 a year; more than 100,000 earn less than £2,000 a year … Public sector workers do the equivalent of 120 million hours of unpaid overtime a year … [average pension of] 346 directors from 102 of the UK’s top companies … was worth £201,700: about 25 times higher than the average worker.

Though this is not to say the private sector has never had it so good. A recent TUC report entitled A Race to the Bottom noted that two out of three private sector workers get no employer support for their pensions, whilst also saying that rather than being vengeful, private sector workers should be angry about the higher rate of tax relief on pension contributions that wealthier people are entitled to.

Talking up the Dutch model for pension schemes, David Pitt-Watson said in 2010:

Today our pensions, particularly those in the private sector, are provided in individual accounts, with no employer guarantee. Again, the employer and employee both contribute to the scheme, but the benefit is unknown. So they are known as defined contribution schemes.

It is not that public sector pensions shouldn’t be raised through general taxation, but that employers should feel duty bound to ensure pension contributions are guaranteed – because after all employers depend on those employees for their company to function, and that gratitude should be felt through retirement.

The opinion that public sector workers are lazy is one that the government has made no efforts to hide. That is until strike action reminded them just how necessary their work is. But consider to what extent this hard work is rewarded today.

As Duncan Weldon said today, “Over the course of 2010 to 2015 the average growth in real household disposable income (RHDI) will have been just 0.5% per annum.”

Furthermore according to figures by HM Revenue & Customs, reminded by Richard Murphy, in his new book The Courageous State, between 1976 (the end of the “Keynesian era”) and 2003 (the last year which HMRC publish data) the top 10% wealthiest increased its share by 29% to 34% while the top 1% increased its share from 57% to 71%.

The bottom 50%, however, saw its share fall from 12% to 1%.

Incomes and wealth of half the country has seen massive falls over the years, while the top strata have seen rises. Of the former, there exists both public and private sector workers, for whom a shared sense of anger should be directed, not each other, but, towards the rich.

They, after all, are the ones with real gilt-edged pensions.

To many more November 30s.

Is this Cameron’s biggest PMQs whopper yet?

November 30, 2011 2 comments

Today at Prime Minster’s Questions, Cameron said:

It is this Government who have taken 1.1 million people out of tax, who froze the council tax, cut the petrol tax, introduced free nursery care for two, three and four-year-olds (my emphasis).

This is incorrect. 

The Nursery Education Grant, which provides free early years education (not care, that’s the whole point!) for three and four year olds, was introduced*  in 1997 by the incoming Labour government.

This ‘mistake’ is reflective either of Cameron’s inattention to basic policy, or of a generally cavalier attitude to the truth.

Or both.


* From this academic paper:

Mrs. Thatcher, announced that nursery education would be expanded to cover all 3-4 year olds by 1982. However, public expenditure restraints were imposed from 1974 onwards, and as a result the duty of the Department of Education to pay attention to the need for nursery education was abandoned in 1980, as was any commitment to making cover universal for 3 and 4 year olds.


It was the stated aim of successive Conservative government in them UK to ‘roll back the state’ in favour of provision by the family, the voluntary sector and the market…….

A number of Government policies were then introduced that could be seen to be addressing inequalities in employment as well as encouraging the use of formal (privately provided) childcare…..


[T]he major initiative….. took the form of a voucher scheme for nursery school education, introduced in 1996. The case for vouchers was based on Government’s belief that more provision by the independent sector would increase competition and provide more choice for parents…..

The experiment was abandoned by the incoming Labour Government in 1997, which translated the voucher into the Nursery Education Grant, paid to providers rather than parents.

Categories: General Politics

The shoe is on the other Foot – It’s not Labour’s left that’s stuck in a time warp

November 29, 2011 4 comments

This is a cross-post by James Bloodworth


Julian Petley, co-author of the book Culture Wars, once observed that the British press had ‘perfected a way of representing the ideas and personalities associated with socialism as so deranged and psychotic that they presented a danger to society.’

It’s no secret that New Labour was evolved in part to counteract Labour’s image problems in the 1980s. The order of the day became finding the centre ground and sticking to it, rather than attempting to operate outside it and running the risk of remaining ‘unelectable’.

While many of us on the left did not necessarily agree with the political trajectory taken during the New Labour years, we understood that there was no inherent shame in trying to look like a credible party of government. The political landscape in the ‘80s and ‘90s was undeniably bleak for socialists, and reflected something the outgoing Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had said several years earlier: ‘You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.’

As if by prophesy, 30 years later we are again at a moment of profound political change. The certainties that have shaped political discourse for so very long are again being challenged, if not by the political class then by workers and students right across Europe and beyond. Questions many of us have long been asking about our economic system are today routinely being raised by those with little history of political struggle – people whose sense of injustice has developed as they’ve seen living standards fall and prospects for the future become increasingly bleak.

The right’s response to the crisis has thus far been defined by a willingness to take the easy way out at every juncture. In place of solutions they’ve clung to ideology. Instead of compassion they’ve hacked away at living standards. Their plan for the long-term consists only of a global race to the bottom. In summing up, their response has been to dig in and entrench themselves further in the failed orthodoxy of laissez-faire capitalism.

Through it all, much of the media has portrayed murmurings of dissent not simply as illegitimate but as disorderly and threatening. They have casually dismissed the Occupy movements and thrown handfuls of mud at any figure who has evoked the most basic right every working person must have – the right to withdraw one’s labour – and, as if looking admiringly at the authoritarian capitalism of the east, called enthusiastically for further restrictions on this right at every given opportunity.

Yet, in the face of this torrent of hostility the public mood toward the economic policies of the right has hardened. The latest opinion poll published by the BBC finds 61% believe Wednesday’s public sector strike is justified, a total that includes almost four in five 18 to 24 year olds. This is on the back of a YouGov poll from a few weeks back which found that 44 per cent of Londoners supported the aims of the Occupy LSX group, with 30 per cent opposed and 25 per cent answering ‘not sure’.

Rightly or wrongly, many inside the Labour Party routinely go along with the evocation of right-wing policies when doing so brings electoral gain. As someone on the left of the party, I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that my ideas would make the party ‘unelectable’ if adopted – as if the sole purpose of politics was the abandonment of all principles in exchange for political office.

I have previously accepted, however, that at times they might have had a point: the outlook for the left was, for many years and for a number of reasons, downright depressing. Resentfully, I bunkered down and grudgingly toed the line.

Today however, things are different. If nothing else, the above-mentioned figures should make it clear that it will not be crass characterisations of the ‘looney left’ that will eat into Labour’s support at the next election, but an unwillingness to properly stand up for the rights of working people in the face of this unprecedented onslaught of austerity.

The Conservative Party rarely needs reminding that it is the party of capital; yet far too often the Labour Party seems intent on forgetting that it is the party of labour.

There has indeed been a sea change in politics. This time, however, the boot is on the other foot: it is most certainly not the left that is acting as a drag on Labour’s electoral chances.

Why has Osborne uprated benefits by 5.2%?

November 29, 2011 3 comments

At first sight, the most surprising statement of Osborne’s Autumn mini-budget is this:

I also want to protect those who are not able to work because of their disabilities and those who, through no fault of their own, have lost jobs and are trying to find work, so I can confirm that we will uprate working-age benefits in line with September’s consumer prices index inflation number of 5.2%.

Why would the government be so keen to protect those on benefit when they are content to batter the ‘squeezed middle’ by freezing most elements of Working Tax Credit?

I think the answer may lie on the Tory backbenchers. Here’s Harriet Baldwin MP.

The economics of being on benefits varies across the UK. With median weekly earnings of £432 in Jarrow and median earnings of £733 in Chelsea, the benefits of working relative to one national rate of benefit is much clearer in Chelsea. Localising Universal Credit to a labour market’s median average wage could be a sensible next step.

But Baldwin is just the messenger, and is behind the times anyway.

As I set out in some detail here, the recent coming into law of the Localism Act now provides the perfect platform for the localisation of benefit rates and eligibility.  By localisation, I mean driving down.  This is something the right of the Tory party has been committed to since at least 2009, when the leader of Kent County Council was canvassing support in eight regions on England.  Patrick Wintour said at the time:

Similar proposals to take responsibility for setting benefit rates from the Department for Work and Pensions have been made by Essex County Council….. In a paper tabled this week, the council proposed that councils be given powers to set eligibility criteria and payment rates for all working-age benefits within the county, including income support, jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance.”

I have no proof of what’s afoot yet, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that Tory councils are planning to drive down benefit rates and restrict eligibility just as soon as they can.

I suspect this is all part of a Tory-wide plot to create further destitution, while enabling Osborne and co to distance themselves from the scene of the crime.

Be wary.  Local benefit cuts could be hitting your area sometime very soon, whatever Osborne says about “protecting” people.  I suspect he can afford to play the compassionate Conservative today  because he knows the savage cuts are due to come from elsewhere in his party.

14th Dec 2011: Sticking my flipchart where my mouth is

November 28, 2011 3 comments

I will be in London on 14th and 15th December and have put my flipchart stand where my mouth is, by offering on the #occuplylsx ‘Bank of Ideas’ submission page to facilitate the workshop outlined below .

I’ve not been told yet if my services are required (and if they’re not it’ll be interesting to know why), but assuming it does go ahead, I’d be delighted to see any TCF readers who may want to show up and take the piss.  You’re a capable bunch, so if you feel you might want to co-facilitate, let me know.

You will see that the proposed subject matter is line with stuff  I have covered on this blog.  The submission is a bit wordy as it was bashed out at high speed.

You will also see that I seek to organise it in a way which abides my recent presciption for the betterment of leftwing conferences and events, in particular setting as a specific workshop objective that I should come away with an achievable set of futher support tasks.

Well you have to try.


14th December 6-8pm (but can be on 15th)

1) Proposed title:

Localising resistance, localising change

2) About me:

Leader of a labour group of councillors until May 2011, with extensive knowledge of local government practice and legislation, and a keen understanding of the Coalition agenda for localising its assault on the 99%, especially the most vulnerable, in a way which enables central government to distance itself from the impacts of its policies through the use of the ‘localism’ mantra.

I am a lead contributor on economics and social policy affairs at leading political website Liberal Conspiracy (, and also write extensively at my own blog Though Cowards Flinch (

3) Objective of the session:

That activists currently at #occuplylsx, whether full or part-time:

a) gain some legal and institutionally-focused understanding of how, at a local level, the government is seeking to target the most vulnerable, and be in a better position to research the matter in the local areas to which they have ties;
b) gain some legal and institutionally-focused understanding of how activists might i) work with others to resist the Coalitions agenda for the localisation of its attack on the most vulnerable; ii) work with other seek to promote and organise solidaristic/cooperative activity which makes life better for the 99%.
c)discuss in a welcoming environment tactics and ideas on how to effect local resistance/change, and come to agreement on positive and concrete ways forward (either at this or at follow-up events)
d)agree on a reasonable (in terms of time and resources) set of requests of myself as facilitator, whereby I (and others with whom I can engage beyond #occuplylsx)can further support the #occupy movement in this area of its work for change.

4) Subject areas to be covered:

This will need further preparation, but from a legalistic point of view the main area of coverage will need to be the provisions of the new Localism Act which has just received Royal Assent (and its forebear the Sustainable Communities Act 2007) .

This is a massive bill and contains both provisions which are very inimical to the most vulnerable as and when implemented, and provisions which can be used intelligently to subvert the intentions of the Coalition. 

Provisions to be covered include the Power of General Competence, the duty on councils to draw up list of ‘assets of community value’ and the neighbourhood planning provisions.   In addition reference will be made to the more obscure Local Government Act 1972 provisions for local referenda(used effectively in some places both in support of Greenham Common and against the spread of GM foods).

All this technical detail will need to be set in the wider context of how, under the UK’s constitution, central government exploits its relationship with local government, and how this plays itself out at local level, thus creating opportunities to apply pressure at the most appropriate junctures between central and local administration.

It is likely that in the course of debate the way in which anti-cuts groups have operated to date, and how they might be best supported and their effectiveness potentially enhanced by creating a link between civil protest, the local democratic process, internal political party and trade union/trade union council processes, and areas ripe for well-judged civil disobedience where appropriate.

5) Facilitation and organisation:

I am happy to facilitate a session alone, but also happy to co-ordinate with others.

6) Timings:

I have given a time above but I am flexible around this evening slot, and can also do 15th December early evening if that is more convenient.  I am coming from Lancashire and would appreciate a space to stay over, though this is not essential.



Categories: General Politics

“Farage Fever” – a Labour opportunity in disguise?

November 28, 2011 12 comments

The Tories have always had Labour on the argument about the EU.

Knowing which side of the fence a good majority of Tories sit on, regarding the European Union, they are able to draw political capital both from crises within the eurozone, but also look like the fighting party on getting a referendum put to parliament (and because the majority of the British public want a referendum and support leaving the European Union this doesn’t play havoc with the Tories one bit).

According to YouGov polls in October (pdf), if there were to be a referendum the next day 71% of those who voted Conservative in 2010 would have voted for the United Kingdom to leave the EU (compared with 41% in Labour). Further, 69% of those who intend to vote Conservative in the next election would vote the same (compared to 39% Labour).

There is a lot resting on the Tories to provide the right line on Europe to those who intend to vote for it next time – but this will come after a European election in 2014 where, let’s be honest, Ukip are going to do quite well.

This has sent Farage’s babes round the twist with excitement. One such member, Michael Heaver, wrote during one blog post:

According to the latest YouGov poll, some 11 percent of 2010 Tory voters now intend to switch to UKIP. And that’s only since last year. A smattering of highly credible 2010 Tory candidates such as Janice Atkinson-Small and Andrew Charalambous have switched sides as has Lord Hesketh, former Tory Treasurer and perhaps the biggest defection to UKIP in the young Party’s history.

For people like him, 2015 is set to be marked by “Farage Fever” – that is where the Liberal Democrats and their 7% polling “boom” will seem timid in comparison.

Yesterday, I was reading through Jon Worth’s article on LabourList, where he praised his Ukip interlocuteurs for, basically, not being mad and actually bringing some good information to the fore. This got me thinking.

Ukip are able to have a go at the Tories because they look lightweight on Europe and left-leaning in comparison with the political make-up of the general public as gleaned from polls. To Labour, the Tories will always be right wing, but more so because of their fiscal conservative rhetoric. So, Labour have the opportunity to do the unthinkable: split the right by saying something like “Ukip are wrong, but they look even more reasonable than the Tories these days” – or something to that effect.

Expect more backhanded complements to the Ukip now that they are actually a threat the Conservative party, but remember that they are at best unreconstructed Thatcherites (i.e. blind to the causes of today’s crises).

Seven questions about Osborne’s infrastructure plan?

November 28, 2011 2 comments

As I’ve already set out, I’m not averse to major infrastructure projects being brought forward through the use of pension funds, as is now being announced by the government.  Indeed, I was arguing the case in March 2010.

The excellent Jim Pickard of the FT points out that Australian and Canadian pension funds put 8-15% of their funds respectively into infrastructure investments, while in the UK it’s only 1%.  I’d much rather see pension funds invested in bricks, mortar, railways and green technology than in asset bubbles.

But all this only really matters if it actually happens, and I have increasing doubts whether this latest announcement, to be confirmed in Osborne’s statement tomorrow, is anything more than a delaying tactic while the government continues to scratch its head about how to meet its key political imperative of keeping capital investment ‘off balance sheet’ at all costs.

If I were on the Labour frontbenches tomorrow (and of course by rights I should be), I’d be looking to ask the following questions. 

1) How does the proposed investment, in the next parliament, of around around  £25bn of the total  £30bn annnounced, help us deal with the economic flatlining/recession right now?

2) How much of this year’s announcement is actually a repeat of the National Infrastructure Plan published on 25th October 2010, in which the government states:

We plan for UK infrastructure investment to be some £200 billion over the next five years. We will help make that happen through smarter use of public funding, improving private sector investment models, encouraging new sources of private capital and addressing the regulatory failures that stand in the way of greater private sector investment in our country’s infrastructure (p.3-4).

3) An essential factor in bringing forward pension fund investment is to establish exactly how pension funds get a return on their investment. 

In 2010 the National Infrastructure Plan noted that the Regulatory Asset Base (RAB) model for investment, currently used by regulated utilities companies to generate investment, for example, might be extended to other areas of capital investment.  The plan stated:

The guarantee that the regulated company’s investment will be remunerated over time by consumers, at such a level that the regulated company is able to meet its financing commitments, contributes towards making investment in the regulated utilities an attractive, low risk proposition and is typically associated with a lower cost of capital. Extending the RAB model to assets and/or sectors which are not currently the subject of economic regulation may create a similarly lower risk environment to which investors are attracted to commit funds and may result in a lower cost of capital relative to alternative financing models (para 3.18)

Why has no mention been made of the need to pass on costs to the consumer through this model, and what implications does this have e.g. for road tolling? 

4) The 2010 National Infrastructure Plan also said:

[T]he Government will conduct an internal review, supported by external experts, to consider extending the use of the regulatory asset base model. The review will report in spring 2011 (para 3.20)

Why was this review never carried out/published?  

 5) The Treasury Select Committee recommended in July 2011 (para 121):

The Treasury should consult on the possibility of using other financing models, including the Regulatory Asset Base (RAB) and Local Asset Backed Vehicles (LABV), as a way of financing capital projects in competition or in preference to PFI.

Why is the government announcing with such confidence that pension funds will be used to deliver capital projects BEFORE any such consultation takes place?  Is this is why the main infrastructure invesment is put back into the next parliament?

6) According to the FT, four pension funds institutions have signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ about the proposed investment.

What commitment to invest does a memorandum of understanding involve?

7) Danny Alexander tells us:

We’re putting in place a new arrangement with private pension funds – which is the first time this has been done in this country – to try and unlock pension fund money to go into infrastructure.”

Many of the pension funds being asked to invest are associated with public sector workers (e.g. two signatures to the memorandum of understanding are the Greater Manchester Pension Fund and the London Pensions Fund).

Why are these pensions deemed to be a matter of  public spending when public sector workers defend their pension rights, but become ‘private’ when the government seeks to use them?




Categories: General Politics

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