Monday, May 7, 2012

Layer 536 . . . Hollande's Victory, Clegg's Nonsense, and a Web of Privilege

Brilliant news yesterday from France - every bit as uplifting as the day Berlusconi was booted out of power in Italy -
French president François Hollande promises 'a new start' for Europe
After victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, Socialist says he will fight back against German-led austerity measures

François Hollande has won the presidency of France, turning the tide on a rightward and xenophobic lurch in European politics and vowing to transform Europe's handling of the economic crisis by fighting back against German-led austerity measures.
The 57-year-old rural MP and self-styled Mr Normal, a moderate social democrat from the centre of the Socialist party, is France's first leftwing president for 17 years. Projections from early counts, released by French television, put him on 51.9% and Nicolas Sarkozy on 48.1%.
His victory is a boost to the left in a continent that has gradually swung right since the economic crisis broke four years ago.
From the town of Tulle in his rural heartland of Corrèze in southwest France, Hollande declared victory. "May 6 should be a great date for our country, a new start for Europe, a new hope for the world," he said. "I'm sure in a lot of European countries there is relief, hope that at last austerity is no longer inevitable."

Meanwhile, here in Poundland, we have the Guardian giving column space for Nick Clegg to make himself look as big a dickhead as he undoubtedly is:
Local elections: this coalition is stable and the centre will hold
The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition isn't about to lurch to the left or the right. We spent two years on rescue. Now it's reform

This is a classic, as are the dozen or more pages of comments beneath it. Enjoy.


The wonderful Gary Younge wrote this superb column today:

A web of privilege supports this so-called meritocracy
On both sides of the Atlantic, the social ties that bind our political, legal and corporate forces lie exposed
Class privilege, and the power it confers, is often conveniently misunderstood by its beneficiaries as the product of their own genius rather than generations of advantage, stoutly defended and faithfully bequeathed. Evidence of such advantages is not freely available. It is not in the powerful's interest for the rest of us to know how their influence is attained or exercised. But every now and then a dam bursts and the facts come flooding forth.
The Leveson inquiry has provided one such moment. It was set up last year to look into the specific claims about phone hacking at the News of the World, alleged police corruption and the general culture and ethics of the British media. But every time it probes harder into the Murdoch empire it draws blood from the heart of our body politic, telling us a great deal about how Britain's political class in particular and ruling class in general collude, connive and corrupt both systemically and systematically.
Issues of alleged criminality will eventually be determined in the courts. But while illegality would be more damning, much of what we now know that is legal is no less corrosive. The evidence has laid bare the intimate, extensive and insidious web of social, familial and personal ties between the political, corporate and legal forces that govern a country: a patchwork of individual and institutional associations so tightly interwoven that to pick at one part is to watch the whole thing unravel. The "sit downs", pay-offs and class camaraderie on display owe more to a cross between Downton Abbey and the Sopranos than the functioning of a 21st-century democracy.
Now that Brooks has agreed to hand over her text messages to Cameron, we are about to learn whether rumours that they exchanged as many as 12 texts a day are true.
Brooks was arrested both on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption last year. She was arrested again this year with her husband, Charlie Brooks, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. Charlie went to Eton with Cameron – as did the Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Such is the incestuous nature of the British ruling class and the gene puddle from which it draws its stock. Such is their brazen venality, complicity, contempt and mendacity. Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, Westminster – if you're looking for a tiny minority who are struggling to integrate, look no further than the cabinet.
The issue here is not class envy but class entrenchment. The fact that they were born rich is irrelevant. They had no choice in the matter. But the fact that they appear to want to give even more to those who already have a great deal while denying much to those who have little is unforgiveable.
Rocked in the cradle of power from birth so that its rhythms become second nature, these people imbibe their sense of entitlement with their mother's milk. But the personal tutors, private schools, the most expensive universities do not, somehow, suffice. As though the benefits of wealth were not enough, they apparently feel the need to game the very system they already control.
Which brings us to the manner in which these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation's illusions are based. For the meetings, lunches and visits showcase a parallel, unaccountable universe where actual decisions are made and deals are done. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Layer 535 . . . May Day, May Day . . . and News Corp

It's May 1st, and once again we celebrate International Workers' Day - except in the UK we do no such thing. How could such a celebration possibly happen - in a country that's still ruled by a monarchy and a parliament of toffs and spivs? No, we do things differently here, and we prefer to have a quiet May Bank Holiday on the Monday that follows May Day, when we enjoy a little Morris dancing and a some skipping round maypoles. On May Day itself our workers just keep on working.
International Workers' Day (also known as May Day) is a celebration of the international labour movement and left-wing movements. It commonly sees organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labour unions throughout most of the world. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries. It is also celebrated unofficially in many other countries.  -  Wikipedia*
Just to rub in the message of how we prioritise our affairs in Britain, this is the week when the Sunday Times publishes its annual Rich List - a magazine crammed full of information about the richest individuals in Britain and Ireland. It's clear that the poor are getting poorer in our society, and of course the rich are getting richer.
"The combined wealth of the 1,000 richest men and women in Britain has reached Olympian heights in the past year, setting a Rich List record of more that £414 billion. The figure represents a 4.7% rise on the 2011 total . . . 
The wealth of those with between £750m and £330m (ranked 101 to 250) is up 7.8% this year, with those worth £328m to £151m (ranked 251 - 500) seeing even greater gains of 9%".
So all these millionaires and billionaires are sharing the pain of the recession? Hmmm. And what do all these people actually do with all that wealth? Put it to some good use? No, they use it to make even more money of course. These people ARE the 'money markets'. If all else fails they will lend us a bit of their money, but they'll expect to get back a hell of a lot more than they loaned.

The thing with our UK taxation policy is that everybody supports the idea of a graduated income tax policy from zero to 45% (or so) top rate. And this is fine as long as everybody starts out on a level playing field. The problem is - we don't have a level playing field. Therefore there has to be a separate wealth tax to take into account the fact that it's far easier to make money when you already have money - that's if you believe in a fair society. And even George Posh Boy Osborne now realises that many of our richest citizens use clever accountants and tax lawyers to avoid paying even their basic income tax, let alone anything on top of it.

As George Galloway said in his Guardian interview yesterday, speaking about what he would do if he woke up and found he was Prime Minister, "We would bring all our soldiers home from foreign wars – thus saving billions of pounds. We would scrap the renewal of Trident submarines. And we would pursue what Vince Cable said was the £100bn-a-year-plus tax avoidance and tax evasion industry. Thus, we'd have no deficit. If you do the maths, if we did those three things we not only would have no deficit, we'd be quids in. We'd be £80bn up."

So that's Vince Cable, who's as middle of the road as you can get in politics, saying that Britain has a  £100bn-a-year-plus tax avoidance and tax evasion industry.

Imagine what the country could be like if we achieved an increase in the national budget ( and also greater equality) through a wealth tax? How come no-one's talking about a wealth tax on this side of the budget?


Thinking about our Parliament, it was interesting watching the entire hour of Cameron answering questions in the Commons yesterday. I've often wished I had the wit and the intelligence to become a politician - the speed of thought, the breadth of knowledge, the smooth command of language, the ability to communicate with confidence, eloquence and nuance. And yes there are many such people in Parliament. On the other hand, there are many - particularly on the Conservative side - who appear to be witless, ignorant, bigoted ranters who simply stand up when called upon by the Speaker and shout out their planted questions and their stupid tirades. So now I'm thinking - I can do that! I can stand up and rant with the worst of them! Gizza job!


Congrats to Ed Miliband for doing an excellent job yesterday - word-perfect in his delivery, speaking with passion and conviction, and saying all that needed to be said about the Prime Minister's determination to avoid investigating Hunt's improper behaviour as a Minister, lest it also reveal his own improper behaviour as Prime Minister.


Other articles worth reading in the Guardian today:
Most Israeli citizens don't want a war with Iran
Binyamin Netanyahu and western hawks who seek an early strike are ignoring Israel's security experts and people

David Cameron must make the Conservative party look like the nationby Neil O'Brien

This one's a hoot. O'Brien is another of these creepy young men that hang around the political scene who has a first class degree in PPE at Oxford and yet knows jack shit about anything important. He's the director of a creepy right-wing think-tank called Policy Exchange.
Cameronism meant that middle-class people no longer felt guilty voting for a party that had previously looked homophobic, bigoted and old-fashioned. This was a big achievement, made in the teeth of opposition from the right. But there was a whole second thrust to the modernisation project that has made less progress. The "blue collar" dimension of modernisation was about giving ordinary working people a reason to vote Tory. It was about reviving the party in the north, and shaking off perceptions that the Tories were just a party for the rich. However, in polling we carried out in February (long before pastygate or the changes to the top rate of tax), two-thirds of voters still thought the party "looks after the interests of the rich, not ordinary people". Even a quarter of Tory voters agreed.
Their problem is specifically in the great northern cities, which remain Tory-free zones. Despite the party's revival elsewhere, there are still no Tories on city councils like those of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle.
Firstly, the Conservatives need to look more like the nation as a whole. A new YouGov poll for Policy Exchange asked people how the Tories need to change. Voters want the party to field more candidates who are working class, and have business experience outside politics. Tory swing voters in the north also think the party urgently needs more northern voices. This matters, because if you take people doing identical jobs in the north and the south, our poll shows that people in the north are much more likely to describe themselves as working class. Voters now think even Labour is too middle class, and that problem is even more acute for the Conservatives.
As we observed yesterday, Baroness Warsi has the advantage of being a black woman who speaks with a slight northern accent, and for this reason, as well as her sheer ability to waffle and bullshit, she keeps getting wheeled out by the Tories to speak for them whenever they have a problem (which is most of the time) - even though she's never been elected to Parliament.
Policy needs to change too. Voters' most important priority is to get the economy moving and get people off the dole. One popular way to reduce unemployment would be to increase work requirements for welfare claimants.
Higher unemployment in northern cities explains a lot of the north-south divide in voting patterns. So getting dole queues down is also the key to the Tories doing better in the northern cities.
The Nazis had a similar problem with their economy and unemployment, and look how well they did with compulsory work for the unemployed at (what shall we say?) . . . very low wages.
Ask people about their own lives and the number one issue is the cost of living – particularly for people in the north. People are gobsmacked by soaring electricity and fuel bills, and think politicians don't understand the pressure they are feeling. 
And who was it that privatised our national utilities so as to make huge private profits out of providing basic energy supplies? - oh yes, Thatcher and her pals. Still unforgiven for that, amongst many other things.
How could the government tackle poverty when it has no money?
Er - excuse me? See Galloway's comments above on money wasted on unusable weapons of mass destruction, on fighting useless and counterproductive wars, etc. Let alone the money we've allowed the rich and the super-rich to take out of the country and into tax havens. Let alone the money that could be brought in through a wealth tax and if necessary earmarked for directly tackling poverty. And of course that would also boost tax revenues because the poor are more likely to spend their money immediately, and in so doing generate more tax receipts through extra VAT on all goods and services. And that's before we even get to the fact that employed people don't need dole payments or as much additional support such as housing benefit.

So what else does Tory Boy propose?
Voters overwhelmingly think the real way to fight poverty is to tackle the root causes, like educational failure, rather than spend more on benefits. The government should pilot a successor to Labour's Sure Start programme. 
The 'real way'? The 'root causes'? Which are nothing to do with greedy and corrupt bankers or useless politicians? So let's just re-start the Labour Early Years programme that was slashed by Cameron and Osborne, with a little help from Cleggie and little Danny.

And finally -
How about introducing much tougher penalties for hate crimes? After all, when there is disorder and crime it is not the rich or strong who suffer, but the weak, the poor, and those who are "different". It would be tough and fair. These are the values that should shape the next phase of tory modernisation.
Same old, same old. And that's all, folks. Of course we need punishment for those who commit hate crimes. But what about education and rehabilitation for those who vent their anger and frustration through ignorance and bigotry and sometimes violence? And what does this Tory muppet propose we do by way of meaningful education to tackle the ignorance and the bigotry before it becomes embedded in children's hearts and minds? Nothing?

As for the 'disorder and crime' that impacts so strongly on 'the weak, the poor, and those who are "different"' . . . have we learned nothing at all from last year's riots? Do we still not understand that it's poverty and hopelessness and gross inequality that breed disorder and crime in the first place? (Disorderly and criminal bankers excepted.)


Dammit - I was intending to write about -
Pay teachers according to performance, MPs propose
Schoolteachers' pay should be tied to the value they add to pupils' performance, MPs are to recommend

Bollocks to that. You can read about it for yourselves. You can bet they won't be rewarding those teachers who are responsible for raising young people's levels of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. When politicians talk about 'performance'-related pay you know very well that all they're interested in is attainment in timed tests and examinations. Fucking outrageous. Thank goodness there are decent people in the teachers' Trades Unions who are speaking out against this bullshit on this grey and grim May Day.

* Right-wing governments have traditionally sought to repress the message behind International Workers' Day, with fascist governments in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain abolishing the workers' holiday, the official May 1st holiday in the US being Loyalty Day, and the Conservative party in the UK currently attempting to abolish the UK's annual May Day Bank Holiday.  -  Wikipedia


Rupert Murdoch 'not a fit person' to lead News Corp - MPs

"If at all relevant times, Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindess to what was going on in his companies and publications.
"This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International.
We conclude therefore that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company".
'That description of Mr Murdoch by the British parliament as "not a fit person" is likely to have significant consequences.' - Robert Peston