Tag Archive: libdem


What Labour’s energy price pledge says about Britain

The VOAG is everywhere - The VOAG is watchingBy Julie Hyland (for WSWS), September 2013.
The howls of outrage that greeted Labour leader Ed Miliband’s timorous suggestion of some mild reforms starkly illustrates social reality in Britain.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference, Miliband pledged that if elected in 2015, his government would freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. The pledge is hardly the return to “old-Labour-style” policies of “tax and spend”, much less the full-blooded “socialism” claimed by Miliband’s media critics and supporters alike.

Amounting to an average household saving of just £120, it is a drop in the ocean when compared to the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition’s austerity measures, which have produced, as Miliband acknowledged, the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s.

For his conference speech, however, Miliband had to come up with some headline grabber. He is, after all, a man with his back against the wall. Miliband leads a party that is all but destroyed by its long period of association in government with rampant free market speculation and colonial-style wars of aggression. Labour’s vote collapsed to just 29 percent in the last election, and there is little sign of a revival.

Membership has fallen to just 180,000, and the most recent opinion polls give the Conservatives a slight lead on Labour despite the widespread hostility to Prime Minister David Cameron and his government. Almost half of voters think Labour would be better without Miliband, and nearly two thirds think he can’t win an election.

With such odds, Miliband had to make some pitch for support, even if only to save his own leadership. Surrounded by images of the union flag, he again advanced Labour as the “One Nation” party, where “rich and poor alike” have “responsibilities to each other”.

Pointing out what everyone knows—that the so-called economic recovery has only been for the super-rich—he complained that this was the result of Conservative support for a “global race to the bottom” at the expense of wages, conditions and rights.

Miliband barely referenced the role of the Liberal Democrats in government. With little likelihood that Labour could win election outright, the Labour leader is banking on a coalition with the Tories’ current partners—whose own poll ratings have fallen through the floor and whose membership numbers are below 50,000.

Miliband claimed that Labour stood for a “race to the top”. What this consists of was not spelt out, but it was accompanied by promises of minimal reforms such as energy decarbonisation, overturning the coalition’s tax break to big corporations in order to cut business taxes on small companies, breakfast clubs for primary schools, and a “look at whether there are some sectors where we can afford” a rise in the minimum wage. Such a rise would only take place in agreement with business, Miliband stated.

His pledge to freeze energy prices for a period was also directed primarily at providing savings for small businesses, in keeping with his One Nation mantra. It was not possible to have a “dynamic market economy when one section of society does so well at the expense of others,” he said, urging the energy giants to cooperate with his plan.

Miliband made clear that these limited measures were entirely within the framework of Labour’s commitment to austerity. Being in government would be “tough,” he said. Labour would have to “stick to strict spending limits…we are not going to be able to spend money we don’t have.”

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls stressed the same message, making clear there would be no reversal in the coalition’s cuts and that Labour would have to make more of its own. To underscore the point, he had written to the Office of Budget Responsibility requesting that it audit the party’s manifesto commitments to prove its fiscal discipline.

Their statements underscore that the energy price freeze pledge is a mere reshuffling of a hand that will see working people lose every which way. Nonetheless, the response from the major corporations and much of the media was hysterical. The Financial Times decried what it called the “whiff of Poujadiste populism” in the proposal—a reference to the 1950s French right-wing populist demagogue, Pierre Poujade.

For their part, the major energy companies threatened darkly of power blackouts and of pulling out of the UK altogether. Centrica’s chairman, Sir Roger Carr, described a price freeze as a “recipe for economic ruin,” claiming that it would no longer be “economically viable to continue” in Britain.

Amid threats of an investment strike, Neil Woodford from the fund manager Invesco Perpetual denounced the plan as “economic vandalism.” If the energy corporations “cannot make any money supplying electricity to the retail market then they won’t supply it. The lights will go off, the economy will shut down,” he said.

In reality, energy bills have almost doubled since 2000, with households spending an average of £1,339 on gas and electricity. According to the consumer group Which?, households have been paying £3.9 billion a year over the odds for their energy. Meanwhile, the annual profit made by the UK’s big energy firms rose by 73 percent in the three years to 2012.

The Guardian ’s environmental blogger, Damian Carrington, also pointed out: “Coalition policies to deliver new generation capacity will remain unchanged, which means the government will guarantee the price energy companies will be paid for 30-40 years. That’s an extraordinarily good investment in an uncertain world.”

In other words, while complaining about frozen prices for customers, corporations are more than happy with decades of frozen prices for themselves. This is a ruling elite that will not accept a few crumbs being tossed to working people, even if such a move is intended to help them keep plundering the economy for their personal enrichment. Max Hastings summed up their attitude in the Daily Mail, when answering Miliband’s rhetorical question as to whether it was satisfactory for “a country to be working harder and longer for less?”  The “fact is”, Hastings stated, “all Western societies must do exactly that.” Any politician who pretends that this can be avoided by “loading more tax on banks and millionaires, is either a fool or a liar,” he wrote.

The angry response to Miliband’s feeble attempt to gain some popularity testifies to the total grip of the major corporations and the super-rich over the entire political system. Absolutely nothing must be allowed to infringe on their interests and wealth. Even while billions of state funds are given over to maintaining their obscene lifestyles, the financial oligarchy openly declares that the maintenance of their system depends upon destroying the living standards of the mass of the population.

The continued existence of this parasitic layer is incompatible with the needs of society. But as events of the last days have underscored, its economic stranglehold will not be broken by appeals to its non-existent conscience, much less by its political lackeys in the moribund Labour Party.

It can only be achieved through the mobilisation of the working class in a revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist profit system, and the fight for a workers’ government based on socialist policies.The VOAG is watching, the VOAG is everywhere!

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Even fellow Tories distance themselves from this “crazy fascist”

Yesterday, The VOAG re-published a story about John Butcher, a Conservative Surrey County Councillor for Cobham ward. He has worked out a brilliant scheme for pushing up property values in the county – by driving out everyone who is fat, takes recreational drugs, gorges on junk food or has ‘self-inflicted’ health problems of any kind. As a member of the council’s health committee, he has sent an email to staff suggesting a two-speed NHS in which “patients with self-inflicted morbidity, (mainly smoking, alcohol, narcotics or obesity) or an injury through ‘dangerous activities’ are placed in a much slower-moving queue”. https://suacs.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/john-butcher-surrey-heath-tory-councillor-health-committee-nhs
In a response to the Elmbridge Guardian, which first broke the story, John Butcher added: “If sports can ban performance-enhancing drug use, then entertainment etc. should ban narcotics and alcohol abuse”.

“Everyone in, or aspiring to, a position of public responsibility and everyone in a position to influence the public, including entertainers etc, should be asked to sign a voluntary pledge not to take illegal narcotics or consume excessive alcohol, or drive when so affected”.

“Anyone who fails to sign that pledge, or who signs it and breaches it, should be excluded from positions of public responsibility and influence. All public organisations, including regulated broadcasters etc, should agree to impose this exclusion”.

Fellow Councillor, Karen Randolph was also quoted in the paper. She  said: “The views expressed by Councillor Butcher challenge the very credibility of Surrey County Council’s Health Overview Scrutiny Committee, of which he is a member. It is highly disturbing that the Conservative administration at SCC has deemed it appropriate to appoint to this committee a councillor who clearly does not support the NHS and who holds such extraordinary views about the responsibilities of the state to its citizens.”

Cllr John Butcher also sits on Elbridge Borough Council, where he lists his chief concerns as “Challenging wishy-washiness” and “nebulous do-goodery”.

Simon Cook, a Conservative councillor in Cullingworth, Yorkshire called John Butcher “a real deal health fascist” and blogged yesterday: “So if you smoke, drink, drive fast cars round a track or climb rocks (not sure whether Cllr Butcher’s ‘dangerous activities’ includes horse riding and playing rugby) you’ll be made to wait longer in the hope that you’ll move away from Surrey. Indeed, it seems that Cllr Butcher thinks that, by doing this, all these people with “self-inflicted” illnesses will move to places where the authorities believe in equal treatment”.

The real question is: How would John butcher’s proposals push up house prices in Surrey, and to whose benefit would it be? John Butcher’s argument is that people with illnesses will be repulsed from Surrey, whilst “healthy people will be attracted to the better healthcare that Surrey could afford, having been freed from the burden of treating sick people”.

What the councillor is really saying is drive out the poor and less affluent from Surrey (the sick, disabled, smokers obese et al, who are by-and large the less well off) to make lebensraum for his wealthy friends. Bring on the concentration camps.

But let’s give the councillor a chance. Let’s take his comments on face value. There are 1.08 million residents in Surrey. According to Surrey County Council, one in four adults in Surrey are smokers. Surrey NHS estimates there are 455,000 “hazardous”, “harmful” or “binge drinkers” in Surrey. http://www.surreydaat.org.uk/pdf/Alcohol%20Needs%20Assessment.pdf

The Obesity rate in Surrey, lower than the national average, is estimated by Surrey PCT to be at 20% of the population. http://www.guildford.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=569&p=0 As for drugs use, there are no statistics for Surrey, but in the South East, according to the ONS, 8.6% of the adult population took illegal drugs last year, with 3.3% of the population described as frequent drug users. http://data.gov.uk

The councillor extended his attack on the unfit and unwell to people engaged in “risky past-times and sports”. It’s plainly obvious that this is just a smoke screen to hide his real agenda, which is to chase the less affluent, who have a propensity to be less fit, out of Surrey. I can’t believe the Councillor is thinking of his horse riding, rugby playing chums when he talks of “dangerous sports”. However, taking Cllr Butcher at his word again, we have to take account of horse riding, rugby, perhaps even motor cycling, and a host of other recreational pass-times that might be considered potentially hazardous.      

For example, according to Surrey County Council’s 2007 Rights Of Way report, there are 20,000 horses in Surrey. A 1998 Gallop poll found 6% of Surrey residents had gone horse riding in that year. http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/176058/ROWIP-main-text.pdf

Where’s all this going, what’s the point of all these statistics? Well, by my reckoning, if the Councillor had his way, they’d be no-one left in Surrey. His policy certainly wouldn’t produce the rise in property prices that he and his chums so desire.     

As an aside to these arguments; according to the ONS, Excise duty & VAT raised by the UK Drinks industry amounts to £22bn annually, whilst alcohol consumption costs the nation, through the health service, crime, lost production etc £20bn.

Estimates of the costs to the NHS from smoking varies greatly, one study estimated an annual cost of £610m. Another study (Allender, S- The burden of smoking-related ill health in the UK) estimates the cost to be £2.7bn – whilst the Centre for Health Economics estimates the cost to be between £1.4bn and £1.7bn.  According to the HMRC (Revenue & Customs) Tobacco tax revenue last year amounted to £12.1bn.

Another argument, developed by the University of Public Health, Rotterdam indicates that smoking may even save the NHS money. Their study shows that since smokers on average die younger, they do not incur the costs of a lengthy old age or the costly diseases that are associated with it. Their study concluded that the average health cost of a non-smoker was $83,400 whilst the average health cost of a smoker was $72,600.

These fiscal arguments, which clearly show the tax payer incurs no cost from smoking and alcohol consumption, can be equally applied to the sporting activities Cllr Butcher appears so against. In each and every case revenue exceeds the costs.

It’s not the first time John Butcher has hit the local headlines. A council employee lodged an official complaint against him in February 2010.

Council proceedings start with a prayer, during which no one is allowed to enter or leave the council chambers. Cllr Butcher arrived late to the 2010 February council meeting- and finding that prayers had already begun, and the door to the chambers closed and guarded by an attendant- he lost his temper. He aggressively forced his way in to the chambers, thrusting the door in to the face of the attendant, injuring him and bruising his face.

An eye-witness told the Surrey Advertiser: “During prayers I became aware of someone attempting to gain entry to the council chamber, through the door being ‘guarded’ [by the officer], using his body to keep the door shut. It quickly became apparent that this someone had not been deterred by the efforts and they again tried to enter the chamber in a more forceful manner. I then recall [the officer] turning his head towards the door as if to indicate through the frosted glass to the person on the other side that prayers were still ongoing. A very short time afterwards I recall hearing something of a thud as the door hit [the officer] on the side of the head and I witnessed John Butcher stumbling/forcing his way into the chamber through the partially opened door.”

After the incident John Butcher refused to apologise to the attendant and denied injuring him, even though there was a council chamber full of witnesses.

Not only are John Butcher’s views abhorrent, but as I hope I’ve shown, they don’t even make sense or stand up to any kind of reasoning. Rather than exile the less-well-off, the sick and the disabled from Surrey, it’s time to kick John Butcher out of Surrey. Do not re-elect John Butcher to Surrey County Council or Elmbridge Borough Council.
John Butcher
18 Bramble Rise
Cobham Surrey
KT11 2HP
Tel: 07899 891685
jbutcher@elmbridge.gov.uk

End the Workfare Programmes now!

Picket stores in the West End on May 1st after the May Day Parade.
Meet Up At Clerkenwell Green 12 Noon May 1st.

From the Solidarity Federation
As part of the ongoing campaign against the five government-endorsed work placement schemes (commonly known as Workfare), the Solidarity Federation has called for a series of lightning pickets throughout the West End of London to mark the end of the traditional Mayday Parade from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square. join the parade, join the pickets!

 The organisation claims that its actions will focus on three of the largest businesses that have signed up for the Workfare scheme – Holland and Barrett, Greggs the Bakers, and McDonalds – and one of the Workfare service providers, A4e. There are currently five workfare programmes being run by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in conjunction with a number of private and voluntary sector companies. The five programmes are: The Work Programme, The Community Action Programme, Mandatory Work Activity, Work Experience and the Sector-based Work Academies.

The Con-Dem government, and the previous Labour government, have borrowed these “payment by results” re-employment schemes from models previously in place in Australia; schemes which failed in their intent to reduce government subsidy and led to tighter control of the schemes. (1) Here in the UK we have now witnessed six arrests on suspected fraud at the workfare provider A4e and calls in Parliament for the DWP to release all the incidents of suspected fraud within these programmes. (2) Perhaps they have just realised that Ingeus UK is 50% owned by the long-term Australian workfare provider Ingeus… (the other 50% is owned by the accountancy firm Deloitte who have frequently been fined for failing compliance issues).

The A4e scandal, the embarrassing questions raised by companies such as Argos and Tesco about the mandatory elements of these schemes at the highly publicised meeting between the government and business using workfare staff on February 29th, and the continuing campaign by Boycott Workfare, have raised the issue to such an extent that a recent Freedom of Information request has shown that three of the five workfare programmes have had the mandatory sanctions – the delay or removal of benefit payments – “temporarily” suspended. (3) What that doesn’t reveal is that claimants are now being shunted onto one of the schemes where it is still in place, with Mandatory Work Activity placements. (4)At a conference on 18th April 2012 the Con-Dem think-tank, Policy Exchange, who boast the reforms in the NHS amongst their successes, revealed the true intent behind the move towards encouraging the private sector into workfare: the reform of the Jobcentre Plus to be wholly run by private and third sector organisations (under a new scheme called “Community Link”), where the employees are also paid by performance targets – “National pay bargaining should also be ended” – increased individual claimant data-collection and profiling, the introduction of smartcards to claimants to prevent them from purchasing unnecessary items with their benefits and the increase in job-search requirements to become equivalent to the regular 35 hour working week. Claimants will continue to be means-tested, but will not be able to make a claim until they can prove they have already sought work for two weeks from the start of their unemployment. (5)

The Workfare programmes are unsuccessful re-employment schemes that continue to blame the young, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and the recently imprisoned for the incompetence and failures of successive governments to face up to the economic basis of laissez-faire capitalism. It has become acceptable to blame the vulnerable individual for their lack of employment opportunities, rather than recognise the imbalance between the need for so-called “austerity measures” and the requirement to prop-up business profits.

In continuing to believe the mythical “Big Society” will allow private enterprise to furnish the unemployed with new jobs, the government continues to fund a series of privately-owned companies with taxpayer monies despite the failure of these companies to meet their contracted targets. It is a way of making profits from the unfortunate and the impoverished. The limited numbers of “third sector” groups involved in Workfare – charities and other voluntary organisations – are usually specialist groups who are already being squeezed out of the market in favour of global providers like ATOS and Ingeus.

“The only way to halt these policies is to make them more expensive to enforce than to drop,” Song continued. “This means discouraging businesses from adopting these schemes and exposing the providers who benefit from Workfare.”

Potential sites for protest can be viewed at the following Google Map at: http://g.co/maps/wx93f


END NOTES

1.)   http://www.redpepper.org.uk/a4e-a-scandal-so-big-it-could-be-seen-from-2008/

5.)   “Personalised Welfare: Rethinking employment support and Job Centres”; Ed Holmes, Policy Exchange, 2011 pp71-3. (ISBN 978-1-907689-10-9); “No Rights Without Responsibility: Rebalancing the welfare state”; Matthew Oakley and Peter Saunders, Policy Exchange, 2011 (Hand out, headed “Summary May 2011”).

For a background to the government’s Workfare programme See:
https://suacs.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/anti-workfare-demonstration-march-3rd-2012