Sunday, November 30, 2014

The pre-election contract the Tories want you to forget


In 2010 David Cameron and the Tories unveiled a 16 point "contract" with the electorate which stated "if we don't deliver our side of the bargain, kick us out in five years".

If you search for this "contract" on the Tory website, all you get is a desperate plea for you to tell them your salary and give them your email list so that they can send you targeted political spam. This suggests that they Tories have realised how badly they have failed to deliver their side of the bargain, but rather than accept that they should now be kicked out by the electorate, they've decided to hide the contract and hope that everyone has completely forgotten about it.

Here's my annotated version of this Tory "contract".




If you want a higher resolution version of this image, I have uploaded a copy to my Flickr account.

In this article I'm going to go through the promises made in this so-called "contract" providing a little more detail than space would allow in the infographic. I'll also provide a number of links to back up the claims I've made in my responses.

   
"Changing Politics"

1. Recall

              
"Give you the right to sack your MP so that you don't have to wait for an election to get rid of politicians who are guilty of misconduct"

The right to recall MPs has still not been delivered, and the current proposals are terribly watered-down, meaning that MPs will have the final say on whether recall proceedings go ahead, because the decision will be made by the Parliamentary Standards Committee which is heavily dominated by current MPs (and other members of the political class). The proposed system has been described as a weak imitation of the Recall systems used in other countries like the US.


2. The Number of MPs, and MPs expenses
        
"Cut the number of MPs by 10%, and cut the subsidies and perks for politicians"

The number of MPs has not been cut by 10% and the amount claimed by MPs in subsidies and expenses is still enormous. In fact the £103 million claimed in expenses by MPs in 2014 is higher than the amount claimed at the peak of the MPs expenses scandal in 2009!

3. Ministers' pay

"Cut ministers pay by 5% and freeze it for five years"


Cameron did cut ministers' pay by 5% but then he outsourced all future decisions on MPs pay to a quasi-independent body which then decided that MPs should get a whopping 11% pay rise while the rest of the country suffers ideological austerity. The justification for this huge pay hike was quite extraordinary and relied on the assertion that if MPs weren't given such a big pay rise, they'd just steal it for themselves by scamming the expenses system even more!

4. Local Communities

"Give local communities the power to take charge of the local planning system and vote on excessive council tax rises"

Local government budgets have been ruthlessly slashed, especially for Labour voting authorities and the Green Party administered Brighton council and the Tories in Brighton colluded with Labour in order to shoot down a proposed referendum on council tax rises (so much for letting people vote!). The Tories are now planning to severely limit judicial reviews, which are one of the only means left for local people to hold their elected representatives to account.

5. Transparency

"Make government transparent ..."

The Tory led government have fought a long legal battle to maintain the veil of secrecy over interference in government by Prince Charles. They've also repeatedly refused Freedom of Information requests over issues like Workfare and disability deaths.

The Tories have also strongly opposed proposals to make private outsourcing companies subject to Freedom of Information legislation requests relating to government contracts.

          
"Changing the economy"


1. Wasteful government spending

"Cut wasteful government spending so we can stop Labour's jobs tax, which would derail the recovery"

Fearmongering about Labour "killing the recovery" was extraordinarily hubristic stuff, since it was George Osborne's ideological austerity experiment that caused the recovering economy to flatline for several years. Ideological cuts in government spending crashed the economic recovery and caused the "double dip recession", which did immeasurable long-term damage to the UK economy. Some of the "wasteful government spending" that was arbitrarily slashed by the Tories included flood defence schemes in places that suffered heavy flooding between 2012 and 2014, one of the prime examples being Kendal in Cumbria.

What is more, the Tories have done a hell of a lot of wasteful government spending of their own.

2. The national debt

"Act now on the national debt so that we can keep mortgage rates lower for longer"

Despite their promises that ideological austerity would have completely wiped out the budget deficit by now, the government is still borrowing £billions a month. In fact Cameron's government has now created more debt than all of the Labour governments in history combined!

The stuff about keeping mortgage rates lower through fiscal policy is a perfect illustration of the economic illiteracy of the Tories. Low mortgage rates are caused by the Bank of England setting the interest rate at an all-time historic low of 0.5% and keeping it there for six long years. If there was any correlation between increases in the national debt and mortgage rates, we should expect mortgage rates to have skyrocketed in the last four years as a result of George Osborne increasing the national debt from £811 billion to £1,452 billion. Instead they remain extremely low due to the monetary policy of the Bank of England.

The fact that the Tories printed such abject economic gibberish that confuses fiscal policies with monetary outcomes just goes to show how unfit they are to be running the economy.

3. Green economy

"Reduce emissions and build a greener economy, with thousands of jobs in green industries and advanced manufacturing"

After pretending that they were going to be "the greenest government ever" Cameron soon U-turned. He cut spending on green energy infrastructure and research, he began promoting fracking, and he even instructed his aides to "cut out all the green crap".


4. Benefits

"Get Britain working by giving unemployed people support to get to work, creating 400,000 new apprenticeships and training places over two years, and cutting benefits for those who refuse to work"

The Tory led government haven't just cut benefits for "those who refuse to work", they've also slashed the in-work benefits used to top up the poverty wages paid by their corporate chums, and overseen the longest sustained real terms fall in wages since records began.

The bit about apprenticeships is just guff, most of them are on unpaid forced labour schemes, designed to extract the labour of the individual without recompense in order to distribute it to favoured corporations, and paying another bunch of corporate parasites thousands of pounds per victim for administering the scheme.


Like so many Tory pronouncements on the social security system, this statement is soaked in Orwellian language. The Tories have been blatantly exploiting the unemployed as a source of free labour for their corporate chums, whilst telling anyone daft enough to listen that they are "helping" them. Other examples of Tory "help" for the unemployed include the use of sanctions league tables to drive vulnerable people into absolute destitution (unlike the severely uneducated and the mentally unwell the hardcore benefits claimants know exactly what to do to avoid getting sanctioned) and herding them onto corporate schemes where they are treated with such contempt that the people who are supposed to be helping them refer to them as "lying thieving bastards". 

5. Immigration

"Control immigration, reducing it to the levels of the 1990s - meaning tens of thousands a year, not the hundreds of thousands under Labour"

Without reforming EU Freedom of Movement legislation this was always a completely impossible promise. Net immigration rose 39% to 243,000 in 2013-14, despite Cameron's government deliberately discriminating against British families with arbitrary and draconian income requirements that apply only to British citizens with non-EU spouses, whilst citizens of other EU countries with non-EU spouses can come and go as they please with their non-EU partners.

This shocking discrimination against British families has barely been mentioned in the mainstream press, and after introducing these rules designed to deliberately break up thousands of British families (or force them to live in exile) the rate of net migration to the UK has actually risen.


"Changing society"

1. The NHS 


"Increase spending on health every year while cutting waste in the NHS so that more goes to nurses and doctors on the frontline ..."

Despite lots of Tory trickery trying to prove otherwise it is absolutely clear that spending on the NHS has not been increased every year, 4,000 senior nurses have been sacked since 2010 and frontline staff have endured years of below inflation 1% pay increases.

It's also worth noting what they didn't mention about their plans to impose the biggest top-down reorganisation in the history of the NHS designed to carve it open for privatisation.

Since their NHS "reforms" went through, over £1.5 billion worth of NHS contracts have been handed out to Tory party donors.  The former Tory leadership candidate Michael Portillo explained this failure to mention their NHS privatisation plans saying "They did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do because people are so wedded to the NHS".


2. Families

"Support families by giving married couples and civil partners a tax break, giving more people the right to request flexible working and helping young families with more Sure Start health visitors"

The UK continues to have levels of maternity and paternity pay that lag far behind other European countries, we have by far the most expensive childcare in the developed world and since the Tories came to power in 2010 the number of children growing up in poverty has risen by 300,000.

Sure Start funding has been ruthlessly slashed, resulting in the closure of some 600 Sure Start Centres. The "tax break" for married couples represents a tiny fraction of the financial losses due to the longest real terms decline in wages since records began, which has been going on since the Tories came to power in 2010.

3. Schools

"Raise standards in schools by giving teachers the power to restore discipline, and by giving parents, voluntary groups and charities the power to start new schools"

The opening part about restoring discipline is empty rhetoric about which nothing has been done, the concluding part is just jargon for their giving away £billions worth of public property to unaccountable private sector pseudo-charities (over 3,000 schools have been simply given away since 2010, many of them to businesses run by major Tory party donors).


4. Pensions

"Increase the basic state pension by re-linking it with earnings, protect the winter-fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel and other benefits for older people"

The basic state pension has been re-linked with earnings, however this isn't any kind of victory for pensioners given that this government has overseen the longest real terms decline in wages since records began. The winter fuel allowance was cut in George Osborne's 2011 budget.

When the Tory party cut the link to earnings in 1980 the basic pension was worth over 25% of the average wage, by the time the link to earnings was restored it had slumped to well below 20%. The UK continues to have one of the stingiest basic state pensions in the developed world.


5. Police

"Fight back against crime, cut paperwork to get more police officers on the street, and make sure criminals serve the sentences given to them in court"

Over 34,000 police jobs have been cut since 2010. Slashing the number of police working and imposing huge cuts on police budgets would seem like an extremely odd way to "get more police officers on the streets".
The part about "cutting paperwork" could be considered a success, as long as you consider the police simply not bothering to record some 20% of all reported crimes as an exercise in "cutting paperwork", rather than an exercise in "juking the statistics" so that the Tories can pretend that crime is falling by ignoring all of the reported crimes that the police didn't bother to record.

Sentencing has not been reformed, so sentences handed out in court are very rarely served in full.

       
6. National Service
     
"Create National Citizen Service for every 16 year old, to help bring the country together"

National Service for every 16 year old is a terrible idea, so at least in this litany of broken promises, the last one of the 16 is a broken promise that nobody in their right mind would have wanted fulfilled anyway.

What Cameron has introduced is a voluntary scheme called National Citizen's Service (NCS) for 16 year olds, which is not something that can be described as "national service" (it's voluntary) nor "for every 16 year old" (there were only 30,000 places in 2013).

Aside from the fact what has been promised hasn't been delivered, the scheme itself is extremely dubious too. It costs £1,400 per participant, and in the later weeks of the scheme these kids are expected to work for no wage doing jobs like cleaning streets and underpasses, maintaining parks and restoring old buildings.

In my view there would be two much more useful ways of spending this money.

It could be used to give the kids £1,400 worth of vouchers to help towards their education costs, or to be used to establish a small business.

The money could also be used to create jobs (with wages and labour rights) to do the work that these kids are doing for free. The wages would add to demand in the local economy, and unemployment would be reduced.

The problem with this "lets create real jobs" approach is that the unemployment statistics are so badly doctored nowadays, that all of the kids working for free on these schemes are classed as "in training" and therefore excluded from the unemployment figures in the ONS Labour Market Statistics. Thus if the money was actually spent providing paid jobs, the real level of unemployment would obviously fall, but the government unemployment statistics would go up, because £1,400 pays for far more wageless 16 year olds in "training schemes" than it pays for real people doing real jobs.



Conclusion

Given the shocking failure to deliver on promises in this "contract", is it any surprise that the Tory party have purged this document from their website in the hope that everyone will forget what they were promising back in 2010?

Perhaps the Tories imagine that simply deleting this "contract" from their website will be enough to ensure that everyone forgets the promises they made, and the fact that David Cameron put
"if we don't deliver our side of the bargain, kick us out in five years" into writing.



 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.





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Friday, November 7, 2014

Why do we keep voting for "more of the same"?


Since 2010 the working people of Britain have suffered the longest sustained real terms decline in wages since records began.


Since 2010 the number of families dependent on social security payments like housing benefits in order to keep their heads above water has grown exponentially.

Since the global financial sector insolvency crisis people who have spent lifetimes saving and investing in pensions have seen their investments eroded away as a consequence of policies like Quantitative Easing (designed to save the reckless bankers and selfish property speculators from the bankruptcies they so richly deserved).

In November 2014 just a tiny proportion of MPs bothered to turn up to a debate on the living wage (see picture), a clear illustration of the fact that the vast majority of the wealthy establishment class really don't give a damn that millions of working families are living in poverty and benefits dependency in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.


So why do we keep voting for the same establishment class who created this mess in the first place by allowing speculative financial practices get so insanely out of hand, and then imposed ideological austerity on the public instead of jailing the people who crashed the economy and confiscating their ill-gotten gains? 

Why don't we vote for something different?

It's hardly an excuse that the mainstream media won't let us know of the alternatives anymore. There is a world of information out there on the internet, all we need do is bother to look for it.

The exponential growth of the Podemos movement in Spain to go from nothing in March 2014 to the second most popular political party in November 2014 shows us that real alternatives are possible, especially given that the Spanish media and political classes are just as biased and corrupt as our own, if not even more so.

Maybe it's just that us British are far more complacent and apathetic than the Spanish? I don't want to believe that this is the case (racial/ethnic/national stereotypes are bad OK?). Perhaps it's just that we haven't had it bad enough yet (youth unemployment in Spain is over 50%) that people are willing to throw their support behind a new party with very limited experience of running things, rather than continuing to support one of the establishment parties that have extensive experience of running things extremely badly?

Perhaps it's trite to reduce things to one of the most over-used Einstein quotes of all, but he was absolutely right when he said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

If we don't vote for real change in 2015, we'll only have ourselves to blame when the privileged political establishment continue serving their own interests (and those of their wealthy backers) and more-or-less completely ignoring ours.


What you can do:
  • If you would like to find out more about the Living Wage campaign click here

 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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How I became a successful political writer


In November 2014 I was invited to give a couple of presentations to organisations in London about how, as an individual, I've managed to build up a social media reach that dwarfs the reach of so many worthy activist causes that each employ dozens of people and call upon hundreds of volunteers.

I was perfectly happy to give away some hints and tips on how to achieve a large following of politically engaged people, because I have no interest whatever in hoarding my secrets to prevent others from achieving what I have. As far as I'm concerned, I want to be at the crest of a wave of new, alternative media. An inundation of independent citizen journalists and social activist organisations to erode away the edifices of the establishment friendly corporate media.

By advising people on how to use social media more effectively in order to spread alternative political messages I hope I can play a part in helping more and more people assert themselves as individuals and present distinct analyses to the recurring narratives pushed by the corporate press, the BBC and the Westminster establishment. The only way we can prevent these institutions from dictating the spectrum of political discourse is if those of us who think differently have the means to express ourselves and to be heard.

The first event went really well, especially considering it was my first effort at public speaking since I said my wedding vows over 10 years ago. It consisted of a speech, a questions and answers session and a short workshop on how spectacularly easy it is to create powerful infographics. I thought it went well, and the feedback seemed to be very positive.

As I was making preparations for my second event, it occurred to me that the process of becoming a successful writer began a long time before the day I decided to set up a political blog, eventually settling for the name Another Angry Voice simply because I couldn't be bothered wasting any more time trying to think of anything better!

At the time I set it up, I obviously had no idea of how much time and effort I would end up putting into it, or that one day it would provide me the power to spread my political views into over 3 million Facebook news feeds per week! At that time I just had something I wanted to write, and I quickly cobbled together a blog to write it on. However, the process of becoming a political writer didn't actually begin there.

For me, the story is incomplete without an explanation of my previous efforts to become a political writer. I've decided against "naming and shaming" the three organisations in the following section, because I don't actually feel any ill will towards them over what happened at all, and I wouldn't want to give them any unnecessary bad publicity.

Rejection

My first effort to become a political writer in 2004 manifested as an effort to seek out an alternative media website and attendance of one of their meetings, which took place in a pub around a number of small tables. For someone like me, even getting to the stage of going to a room full of strangers was a monumental effort. Gradually, as the evening progressed, people shifted around to talk to each other, so that at one point everyone around me was sitting with their backs to me. If that happened now, I'd simply relocate myself to the centre of the meeting, drawing attention to myself in the process. Back then I suffered quite serious social anxiety, so I just sat there on my own feeling ignored. At the end of the meeting I plucked up the courage to make one last effort to speak to someone, but they were not interested, so I went away feeling bitter and defeated and never went back. In the week prior to publication of this article over 100,000 people had engaged with (liked, commented or shared) my work on Facebook, whilst fewer than 100 people had engaged with the work of this particular organisation.

After that failure I gave up for several years, during which I slumped into several prolonged periods of depression. In 2007 I contacted another organisation who were campaigning on an issue I felt very strongly about, however my efforts to contribute to their campaign were also fruitless. Once again I gave up, feeling defeated and unwanted. In London I had the honour of meeting one of the leaders of this campaign. I told them how I'd tried to volunteer my services with their organisation, and they explained that (as I suspected) they were simply so busy and so short staffed at the time, there was no way they could arrange to meet everyone who emailed to volunteer their services. This didn't stop me feeling rejected at the time though, so once again I ended up setting aside my ambitions to write about political issues and spent the next few years slipping in and out of depression. 
This organisation continues to do incredibly good work in a field I am passionate about, and I will continue to promote their work.

My third effort to become a political writer manifested as a concerted effort to reach out to a mainstream news website in 2009-10 in order to submit an article about a specific political issue that was adversely affecting my family life at the time. Once again my efforts were rejected, and once again I gave up my ambitions to write about political issues.
              

Why am I telling you this?

The reason I'm explaining this is not about self-pity, nor about gloating that I'm now over 1,000x more successful on social media as the organisation that rejected me ten years ago. It is about consideration of the way rejection works. In my view this is useful for two purposes:

Firstly I want to help individuals understand how important it is that we do not let rejection destroy our confidence and our will to make a positive difference. This is particularly important for people like me who live with conditions such as 
social anxiety, depression, stress, and obsessiveness. We must never give up our ambitions in the face of rejection. The success of my Another Angry Voice project is a perfect illustration of the fact that information technology and social media now allow all manner of "outsiders" and neuro-atypical folk to reach out to huge audiences as individuals, without the need to work through the prism of collective organisations. If your efforts at political engagement have proven fruitless, there can be no harm whatever in trying, as I did, to set up your own political blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel, Buzzfeed profile, or whatever. 

It took me almost two years to pick up my first 1,000 followers, but now I've got so many that hundreds of people tend to start following things when I draw attention to them on my Facebook page. In order to help people with a quick blast of new followers I'll gladly consider giving people a helping had with shares and retweets if the content is really high quality and intersting, so don't be afraid to Tweet your work at me or spam posts on my Facebook wall if you think I might be interested in them. I'll gladly give people a bit of a head start with a few hundred new followers if I think their work is really good stuff.

The second issue my experiences of rejection raises is that it may be useful to those who work within activist organisations to consider improving their engagement strategies. After all, the painfully shy bloke sitting at the back not saying anything may actually have turned out to have been the greatest asset you ever had, but because nobody spoke to him, he went away feeling rejected and defeated and never came back. In my view, effective first engagement and retention should be absolutely critical issues to any activist organisation. If your organisation does not have a good first engagement strategy, perhaps you should consider taking the initiative to establish good practice, so that nobody who wants to join your organisation ends up giving up and walking away because they feel unwanted.

Why I'm no longer bitter

At the time I experienced these rejections I had very low social confidence and I took them extremely badly, but in hindsight I retain none of the bitterness and negativity of the immediate aftermath. I've come to realise that these experiences were absolutely crucial steps towards the process of building myself a political platform where I have complete liberty to discuss whatever topic I like, and 
achieving the mind-bogglingly large audience I have today.

Had I had the social confidence to persist, and keep attending meetings at the alternative media organisation until I was accepted, it is certain that I would not have ended up where I am today. Had I badgered them until they let me write for them ten years ago, I would have learned to write within the paradigm of their organisation and gone forward on a completely different path in life.

It was only because I experienced such rejections that I eventually decided to do it all by myself, belligerently ignoring the norms and conventions of political writing style, graphic design, website layout, social media strategy and moderation policy, and developing my distinctive independent semi-anonymous status as a writer.

In my view the fact that I've ignored so many of the conventions I would have learned had I been accepted by any of these organisations, is actually one of the key factors that has driven the exponential growth of my audience, so I hold no grudges whatever. We are defined by our experiences in life, and without these experiences of rejection I wouldn't be who I am today.

Conclusion

Whether you have experienced rejection from campaigning organisations or not, I would advise anyone with strong political views to try to write them down and publicise them on social media.

Whether we do this through the prism of an established campaigning organisation, or as an individual blogger, it is really important that we at least try to spread awareness of the issues that are important to us.

The more of us who take the time to express our own political views, the bigger the alternative media tide will become, and the harder it will be for the mainstream media and the Westminster establishment to continue their near complete domination of the political debate.


 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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