Thursday 24 December 2009

The Worst Government in living memory…

…applied to Blair and Brown’s tenure in Government, might be a title that sticks in the craw of us lefties; we remember Thatcher’s destruction of the miners, her attacks on manufacturing, Major’s ERM debacle, Tory sleaze, their moral crusades, their little-Englishness; no government, even one that we had some doubts about, could be worse than the previous 18 years…and yet; when we look back at the 12 years of incompetence, arrogance, and gross mismanagement that have characterised the Labour government - hopefully, soon to draw ignominiously to its end - it’s one we can’t ignore. We should have another glance at a selection of the lowlights, lest we forget…

First up has to be the war in Iraq. The illegality, lying – to Parliament and the people, the hundreds of thousands of dead – and look here if you can, to see some images of what this Government have reaped, particularly if you were one of the head-in-the-sands who still voted for Labour in 2004, and feel ashamed that it was in our name and with our blessing - the enmity engendered across the world, the financial cost, have all been well-documented and analysed; we should just remind ourselves that we had a Prime Minister who would have, by his own admission, used any means to prosecute that war; equally we have a current Prime Minister who supinely, and quietly, agreed with and financed everything, either because he agreed with the action or, infinitely worse, was keeping quiet in order to ensure his climb to power.

The economy;
even by Labour’s figures, it was healthy and growing when they took it over in 1997; now it is the worst in peacetime history. Whilst Gordon still bleats that it’s ‘not his fault’, we remember
• a Chancellor who used light-touch regulation – much lighter than the previous Government – with the aim that the UK become the financial centre of the world; thus extremely attractive to sharp practice and short-term gain, we’re now the last major economy to emerge from recession, and with the greatest debt as a proportion of GDP.
• PFI and Public Private Partnership initiatives that have cost billions more than if they were funded via the public purse alone, and which will cripple taxpayers for 30 years; they have recently been declared ‘off-balance sheet’, so that they don’t appear in the country’s debt figures.
• that Brown talked up, hundreds of times, a housing bubble that was widely predicted to be unsustainable, and claimed, against all historical precedent, that growth would continue in perpetuity under his guidance, from "Under this Government, Britain will not return to the boom and bust of the past." (Pre-Budget Report, 9th November 1999)…right through to "And we will never return to the old boom and bust." (Budget Statement, 21 March 2007).
• a Chancellor who took around 100 billion out of the retirement funds of hundreds of firms when he removed tax credits on share dividends, forcing them to wind up their final-salary schemes. It took two years of Freedom of Information requests to find out that the Treasury Advisers were telling him at the time that *The lower paid would be worse off under the new rules *Pensioners due to retire would lose out immediately *It would cost pension providers £4 billion a year *Pension benefits would be cut *The value of existing pension funds could fall immediately by £50 billion *Local authority schemes would need topping up, leading to higher public spending. He ignored them, now hundreds of thousands will retire to live in penury. Good luck.
• that Brown sold off the gold reserves – again, against Bank of England advice - at a knock-down price in 1999, to fund short-term growth; since 2000 the value of gold has quadrupled, losing us just under £5bn, and the UK is horribly exposed to the gilt markets, hovering in the wings to take us down sometime next year.

If the spend has ever been justified, it’s been in the pursuit of social equality, righting the disparities of the Tories; however, we have actually experienced a rise in inequality between the rich and the poor, widening all the time, and set to increase in the austere times ahead – so, that didn’t work. The investment in education and health has been real, but misguided and ineffective; for example, around £950million has been spent on anti-truancy initiatives since 1997 with targets continuously set and missed, yet the number of actual truants now totals the highest since 1997 (for a lovely summation of the debacle, see this BBC site); a vast increase in middle management across all sectors, target-setting, initiatives (the latest is ‘transformational Government, see my blog below, now being rolled out across the departments), with a minimal impact on outcomes – which will anyway now be nullified by the forthcoming swingeing cuts. Even if some figures are exaggerated, it’s worth reading this book to fully appreciate the hundreds of billions wasted. That’s hundreds of billions.

There has been massive mismanagement of the public purse, with my favourite recent example, because it’s so beautifully emblematic of the many others, being the NHS IT programme. Despite been told at the outset that it would be costly and ineffective – enriching private companies and consultants, whilst delivering negligible benefits for the patient - the original 2.3billion estimated cost has, six years later, risen to 12billion. Brown said 11 months ago, in response to a Tory criticism of it, ‘it is essential; you may not care about the health service - I do’; and so…it’s just been quietly abandoned, with Darling saying that in the light of the present economic situation, it is no longer essential. So, we can only conclude that Brown is either a liar, or a charlatan, or that he now doesn’t ‘care about the Health Service’ – there is no other conclusion.

The Post Office and Royal Mail
, profitable when Labour came to power; now, due to a policy of market liberalisation under an appointed cabal of ex-supermarket managers and, I kid you not, ex-premier league executives, it’s an absolute basketcase; its social purpose destroyed through ‘streamlining’, closures, exorbitant pay for said executives, and political undermining. Just to underline, this was a successful state service for over 150 years, offering a truly country-wide service, now buggered.

If that was one of the social services, one of the other – rail – has been fully ‘set free’ to compete in the marketplace; a 1997 manifesto commitment to renationalise the railways was dropped soon after, and massive investment has since been used to bolster the shareholder dividends, and underwrite the losses, of largely foreign-owned corporations. One example; FirstGroup Rail made £51m profit in the first six months of 2009 -10. This was entirely funded by the taxpayer.

We can look at the international dimension again – Afghanistan; I was against the original invasion, but more importantly there were experts – and of course an entire history – who counselled against the ‘unwinnable war’. By a combination of a supine public – even the left largely failed to see that ‘imposing democracy’ was just another bloody imperialist adventure – and a gung-ho government, we now have a corrupt administration in Afghanistan, supported by those poor fuckers who are returning home, in bits, in increasing numbers.

Family breakdown
, now endemically tragic for so many struggling on estates across the land; the promotion of an entirely correct drive for equality unfortunately manifested itself into a push to get women out to work – to have worth, one had to be working, aspirational, not a ‘burden’ - to be replaced by an army of childminders. Every study shows that children grow up more stable, and loved, by the close presence of at least one parent (Leo Abse, an ex-Labour MP who bravely fought for the legalisation of homosexuality and against illiberal divorce laws, brilliantly dissects the disastrous impact that Labour has had on the family unit in his book ‘Fellatio, Politics, Masochism and Love’), yet there are now hundreds of agencies and thousands of people employed to engage with and help ‘problem families’; unfortunately, but predictably, for the latter - and unlike the alternatives on offer across Europe, yet sadly so like the economic model that Blair and Brown subscribed to, imported from the United States - unfettered capitalism and laissez-faire economics have offered us a poignant example of how to utterly cock something up, and then spend billions, and decades, trying to cope with the fallout.

Do you remember the ‘war on drugs’? We’ve spent – yes, you’ve guessed it – billions trying to police people’s habits, rather than adopt a sensible legalisation policy. As a result we have increasing use of all drugs across all sectors of society, a high acquisitive crime rate that exists to feed the habits (themselves a reaction to the atomisation of family and society) of desperate individuals – and how can we begin to accumulate the misery for perpetrators and victims alike – and – at once hilarious and profoundly depressing - the sacking of a Government Adviser for stating the bleedin’ obvious.

The expenses scandal; all parties had many individuals who were coining it in – although rather lost in the hubbub, as it broke just previously, was the fact that Labour had four Lords who were prepared to act as secret paid advisers to lobbying groups, for up to £120,000 a time. They were Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, Lord Moonie, a former defence minister, Lord Snape, a former Labour whip, and Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company. It was Gordon, Jack Straw and Harriet Harman who spent years fighting disclosure of the expenses claims, despite having many Lib Dem-inspired parliamentary opportunities to come clean. Beyond the sometimes petty and even humorous abuses of the regulations, what the scandal shone a light upon was the creation of a political and managerial superclass – because here, without going all Daily Mail on yo’ ass, we have to include the higher-paid public sector workers and the BBC – utterly divorced from the public, both in terms of the service they offered, and the money they get for doing it.

And it’s worth, finally, mentioning the MP’s resignations (as, of course, the Lords mentioned above can keep their seat, whatever happens). The Tories had Archer, Aitken, Hamilton, Parkinson, Yeo and Mellor – how evil they were! – Labour had Peter Hain (lying about donations to his Deputy Leadership campaign), Stephen Byers (lying to Parliament), David Blunkett (lying about fast-tracking visa’s for his ex-lover’s nanny), Peter Mandelson (lying about a mortgage and visa applications for friends), Beverley Hughes (mismanagement of, and lying about, immigration claims), Jacqui Smith (lying about her second home), David Chaytor (lying about his mortgage claims), and Hazel Blears (lying about capital gains tax), and of course we had Blair lying about the war (and how quaint Thatcher’s lying about the Belgrano looks in comparison to Blair’s slaughter) but he went before he was pushed.

Intent is one thing, but effectiveness much more important; whatever those of us optimistic souls who voted Labour in 1997 thought, by just about every measure Labour have been worse than the previous Tory administrations - mainly by being more right-wing than the Tories. One might say, hypothetically, that the Tories would have been even worse; my contention is that they couldn’t have been because we – a coalition of unions, progressives, the person in the street – would have demonstrated, struck, agitated, complained, and watered down their extremes. Instead, we have let Labour get away with it, because it was ‘our lot’; we failed to see that, precisely because they were unchecked, and had goodwill behind them, they would be more power-crazed, more corrupt, and more useless.

So socialists like myself have to accept that our hope – that a Labour Government would – at least ‘under cover’ – implement a progressive socialist programme, was based on a tragic optimism; we confused a vague feeling – that Labour were ‘nicer’ than the Tories – with actual political change. Indeed, in the absence of any coherent critique or policy whatsoever (try and name one, it’ll be a good parlour game over Christmas), Brown is hoping that we’ll forget the last 12 years and falling back on that very feeling, in a desperate bid to retain power…’the Tories are evil…they just want to cut…they don’t care about the ordinary person’ – frankly if the last 12 years have been about caring, then I want someone to punch me on the hooter, then fuck me up the arse – ‘they’re only in it for their rich friends…’; if you fall for it again, then only pity or resentment are appropriate responses from me.

So what now: the best I can hope for is either that there is a hung parliament – whereby at least the wilder follies of the Tories and Labour might be tempered by an economic straitjacket and parliamentary stasis – or that Cameron gets in with a small majority, makes a complete horlicks of governing – and he’d have to work hard to be as bad at it as Brown – and the left uses the next five years to redefine what it is to be ‘left’, and comes up with some decent arguments against the right. This won’t – can’t – mean the usual ‘increase taxes/spending and it’ll all be ok’ mantras, because we don’t have any money left, and should dispense with the unions - no matter how many times Labour shafted them and no matter what horrors they committed, the unions kept on bankrolling them, their heady closeness to power blinding them to what might be good for the country or their members - but might include a left critique of unfettered capitalism.

And just to make us all feel good at Yuletide, please bear in mind that our Government is currently detaining children in atrocious conditions at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre – some are having psychological care to counter the trauma they’ve experienced, and one young formerly detained boy suffers nightmares and is too scared to leave his mother's side for fear he will be returned to detention - and has now denied them the small joy of receiving Christmas gifts this month…Happy Christmas!

And as for Labour – their MPs, past, present and future – fuck ‘em; they can rot in hell.

Friday 29 May 2009

The End is Nigh...

As we near the end of new Labour, a handy new initiative hoves into view to sum their 12 years up; the Learning Transformation Revolution is, apparently, upon us. Launched by Secretary of State John Denham, and contrary to the generally accepted usage of the word 'revolution' - which might normally relate to the Bolsheviks in 1917 or the French at the Bastille - this one is going to offer 'opportunities to signpost and connect different experiences' and 'opportunities to learn in a much wider variety of ways'. It is a new strategy, following a White Paper, which is supposed to encourage funding applications from organisations who offer adult education courses and training.

The application document sums up, in so many ways, what new Labour is about; over-bureaucratic - think of all those thousands of laws (see earlier post) which gum up police time and fill up the prisons - fussy, excruciatingly overbearing, and prone to linguistic complexity in order to a) create a language that only a political and administrative class can understand and respond to and b) hide the banality of what they are (not) achieving.

Bear in mind as you read this document that the organisations that need this funding are already overstretched, and that the vast majority are delivering very effective training, in difficult financial and social circumstances; and, crucially, that they are generally staffed by people of far greater capability than the politicians and civil servants that invent this garbage.

The Introduction by Mr Denham himself is almost worth the read alone, but the full horror only reveals itself as one scrolls down and sees the ridiculous hoops that the poor applicant has to jump through, right down to 'signposting', 'overarching principles' and 'The Pledge'.

Go on, treat yourself, then weep, and don't forget to vote...

Monday 2 February 2009

Tuesday 27 January 2009

More Power to their Elbow!

Since I last posted - disappointed that the death of new Labour wasn't imminent, I lost energy and motivation - we've had an apparent Brown Bounce on the back of the credit crunch (which of course was none of his fault...), but now thankfully the polls are showing him plummeting again. And, just in case we feel bad about sticking the boot in, the Government has come forward with a timely reminder as to why we have to get them out, as soon as possible and by any means...

The Coroners and Justice Bill, going through parliament at the moment, is surely enough to rouse any sane person into disgust and hatred for this Government. It has two chief impacts which we should be concerned about here:

* It provides for inquests to be held in secret, for 'security reasons'. This is in the light of the Oxford Coroner criticising the Government's lack of provision for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, which led directly to a number of deaths, and were the subject of obfuscation and delay by the Ministers responsible (hello Geoff 'Buff' Hoon!). They now want the option to disqualify the public attending, and press reporting of specific inquests, at the Justice Secretary's (hello Jack 'Last' Straw!) or other Minister's discretion.
* 'to amend the Data Protection Act 1998'; the 'Protection' here is to be summarily turned on its head. The state will be able to share any and unlimited data with anyone - from minor public official to private company - in any country, 'in furtherance of any Government policy'; your health records, tax returns, DNA, internet visits, family status and also allows the few restrictions on data sharing in the ID Card Bill - no, they haven't dropped it yet - to be summarily overridden.

If you're not terrified at what this incompetent, unprincipled, devious bunch of charlatans could do with the powers in this bill, then think what would happen if somebody even less savoury was in power...

Sunday 18 May 2008

Wishful Thinking?

In a blog I posted in January I predicted - wished? - that Gordon Brown would implode, and that there would be a General Election by May.

I was wrong. Things didn't move as fast as I'd have liked. He looks beat, but he's going to hang on for a while. Instead, May will see the Crewe and Nantwich bye-election, which is in turn seen as a test of his viability to continue. Tens of ministers and Labour MPs are being bussed in to get their vote out, which is a sign that Labour is going to lose. And - as if the party hasn't sunk far enough this past few years - the local Labour Party literature says that 'the Tories want to stop foreign nationals being given Identity Cards'; so here we have Labour finally, desperately and despicably, playing the race card, exploiting base fears - as they well know, the Tories want to stop everybody having an ID card - in a bid to retain power.

I can't understand how anybody with an ounce of decency would vote for a party that endorses this sort of low politics, especially as many Labour voters have, over the years, rightly hated the Tories for pulling similar stunts. But some have said to me 'Labour is all we can vote for - you don't want the Tories in, do you?'. And it's a fair point. I hate the Tories.

But here's a thought. Those of us vague lefties, who like to think we support progressive, enlightened politics, supported New Labour because we thought 'they' were vaguely on 'our' side. In turn, they have managed to

* prosecute an illegal, unjust war, and kill hundreds of thousands of people.
* finance NHS, education and housing services by enabling private companies to run them, thus piling up crippling public debt for the future.
* brought in ID cards, and are now using subterfuge and disgraceful underhand means to implement it (see the No2ID link on the left for the full story).
* Legislate to bring in extended incarceration for 'suspected terrorists', a move that takes our legal system back to the Dark Ages.
* Garnered the cheapest of tabloid headlines by reclassifying cannabis - against all of the expert advice, and regardless of the criminal, social and financial costs of doing so.
* Brought in a punitive legal structure - , hundreds more laws, ASBOs, 'tougher sentencing' and the like - which means we lock up more of our population than any other European nation.
* And now, as I mention, are whipping up scare stories about foreigners.

So my question is: would us 'progressives' - indeed, would the UK population - have allowed the Tories to have achieved the above, were they in power? Could they have got away with this litany of horrors? Or, more pertinently, could they get away with it if returned to power?

My tentative answer is 'no', and this is based on the fact they they never achieved any of them when in power; Thatcher mooted ID cards, but couldn't even get it past her own backbenchers; Major started PFI, but faced too much opposition from the unions and the general public to push it through to the extent that Labour has done; Thatcher did, yes, prosecute a war, but it was arguably justified, and she would certainly never have had the backing to invade a country and attempt to impose democracy on it; Michael Howard proclaimed 'prison works', and was widely derided for it, but was not in actualite as 'tough' as he claimed to be; they tried playing the race card, and all right-thinking people moved away from them in their droves, to the point where they have now moved 'to the left' on this issue.

And so on; my point is that, if the Tories are in power, the wilder elements of their thinking are reined in, and a great coalition of interest bodies, unions, think tanks, and a majority of the population are able to check, and to an extent manage, their policies. When Labour are in, the closeness to power of some of these bodies, alongside the split in the 'progressives' as to whether we should focus on the 'bigger picture' - 'at least it's not the Tories' - and not split over individual policies, means that ever more right wing policies are followed.

So, am I saying that, if we want a more 'left' society, that we should hope that the Tories get in; indeed, that we should vote for them, knowing that if they get in there are enough of us - on the 'progressive side' - to ensure that they can't move too far right; or at least not as far right as new Labour is? Maybe, I am. Sticks in my craw to say it though...

Thursday 17 April 2008

The Smoking Gun?

As I mention in a previous blog, I distrust the type of people who want to ban smoking in any 'public place', but have never really examined the claims about the dangers posed by 'passive smoking'. Luckily, someone has; the musician Joe Jackson spent years looking into the claims made against tobacco - the supposed harm that derives from smoking (active and passive), the role of the pharmaceutical companies and governments, and the zealotry of anti-smoking campaigners - and has published his findings on his website (see the link on the left).

Suffice to say, I can't make the case better than he can. Please read his findings; I find them unarguable, but feel free to start an argument with me about them. But please read them, it's important - socially, politically, economically, and for our own health - that we know the risks (or lack of them) of the drive to ban smoking.

Thursday 3 April 2008

The poor get poorer...

I have to get something for my blood pressure...

The Institute for Fiscal studies has produced a report that shows child poverty and inequality are rising (in spite of the Government's commitment to halving child poverty by 2010). It's also estimated that Gordon Brown's decision last year to abolish the 10p lower rate of income tax will hit 5.3 million low paid families the hardest. Gordon says that 'no one' will be worse off.

The Office of National Statistics has also produced a report demonstrating that, despite all new Labour's intentions, the gap between the top 10 per cent of earners and the bottom 10 per cent has not closed. The same organisation also publishes the yearly national poverty statistics, normally in March; however this year the Department of Work and Pensions is delaying the publication of the statistics until the 2nd May, the day after the local and mayoral elections, citing a need for 'additional validation and quality assurance'.

Now, one would hate to accuse them of wanting to 'bury bad news' - the very phrase conjures up the crudest political machination of our time, Jo Moore's e-mail the day after 9/11 - but it does seem suspicious that they will be released on a Friday, when all of the news coverage will be on the elections. I may be a tad cynical but I cannot believe, were the figures positive, that the Government wouldn't publish them in time for the elections; or that - if there is a genuine delay, and the news was good - they're not holding the publication until the following Monday; surely they'd want all of us to know of their success?. No, they know what's coming all right; Friday 2nd May it is, and another nail in the coffin for those who hope for a semblance of open, honest government.