Saturday, April 30, 2016

More blacklist victims receive compensation


Several of Britain's biggest building firms have agreed to pay £millions in compensation to 420 workers for destroying their careers through the use of an illegal blacklist designed to deny jobs to workers who did things like get involved in trade union activity or complain about safety violations at work.

This settlement follows on from a £5.6 million payout to 71 blacklisted construction industry workers in February 2016.

Another 90 construction workers look set to take their case to court in May rather than accept out-of-court damages. Hopefully this case will go all the way to court so that the appalling facts of the case can be given the full public investigation they deserve.

The companies who made use of the illegal blacklist (including Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McApline, Skanska UK and Vinci) have implicitly admitted their guilt by handing out compensation to many of the victims, however to hear an explicit guilty verdict declared in a court of law would be much more satisfying to the thousands of men who had their careers destroyed and their lives blighted as a result of this blacklist and it's widespread use across the UK construction industry.

The existence of this illegal blacklist has been known about since 2006 when a construction industry manager called Alan Wainwright blew the whistle. Since then, like so many whistleblowers before him, Wainwright has suffered severe repercussions for doing the right thing. It's hardly surprising that an industry that denied work to thousands of workers though a secret illegal blacklist now appears to be denying work to the manager who blew the whistle on these illegal practices.

It is incredible that it has taken ten years for these workers to get the compensation they deserve from the companies that colluded to deny them work. In fact, it's taken so long that the guy who profited from maintaining the illegal list (Ian Kerr) has long since died.

    
Astonishingly the companies responsible for this campaign of illegal discrimination tried to gloss over their culpability with absurd language, even referring to the compensation payouts as "fair and reasonable" and saying that they want to "draw a line under the matter"!

How these companies imagine that there has been a line drawn under the matter when they're facing court proceedings in May is anybody's guess, and I'm pretty sure that no amount of financial compensation would be enough to console the many workers who lost their families as a result of the severe financial stress caused by their inability to find work due to their name being on a secret and illegal construction industry blacklist.

Hopefully the 90 others will hold firm in the face of lucrative out-of-court settlement offers and ensure that the criminal behaviour of these construction companies is fully revealed in the courts.
    
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Image credit: Daily Mirror

Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive workfare legislation was unlawful


It seems a long time ago that Ed Miliband's Labour helped Iain Duncan Smith rush a load of retroactive changes to his unlawful Workfare legislation through parliament as emergency legislation by whipping Labour MPs into abstaining on every vote in the process.

Iain Duncan Smith's plan to retroactively rewrite his own botched legislation came about after the courts had found that the rules he was using to force unemployed people into working for corporations like Poundland for no wages were unlawful because they were neither intelligible nor approved by parliament.

The idea was to get around a court judgement that their own legislation is unlawful simply by rewriting the legislation and then applying it retroactively so that it would have been lawful had it been written in the new way in the past. To most sane people a plan like this seems more like it should have been the plot to an absurd Kafkaesque story than the behaviour of our actual government, but unfortunately it wasn't some menacing and disorientating plot from a Kafka inspired satire, it was what the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition actually did.


Just a few dozen Labour MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner) defied the Labour Party whip to vote against Iain Duncan Smith's appalling plan to retroactively rewrite his own botched and unlawful forced labour legislation.

Even after three years it's still staggering that Ed Miliband allowed Iain Duncan Smith to write himself a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card instead of nailing him to the wall over his abject incompetence. If the Labour Party had any strategic nous whatever they would have drawn the process out as much as possible in order to drag Iain Duncan Smith over the coals of his own incompetence and unlawful behaviour. Instead they openly colluded with him, presumably because they approved of the tactic of removing the labour rights of the unemployed and forcing them to work for no wages at major multinational corporations so strongly that they preferred to help Iain Duncan Smith to defend the tactic rather than using the situation to their own political advantage.


In April 2016 the Appeal Court upheld a previous High Court ruling that Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive changes to the workfare legislation were incompatible with human rights legislation, and therefore unlawful. 

Padraig Hughes of Public Interest Lawyers said "The court of appeal has now confirmed what the high court made clear in 2014 – that the government’s cynical attempt to introduce retrospective legislation, after it had lost its previous case in the court of appeal, is unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act ... .It is yet a further example of the reckless approach this government continues to take towards the constitution and the rule of law".

It's not surprising that so many people have forgotten about, or were completely unaware of, this extraordinary display of unlawful behaviour from Iain Duncan Smith's DWP, and Ed Miliband's utterly bizarre collusion in helping him to introduce even more unlawful legislation in order to cover up the first batch of unlawful legislation. The mainstream media barely covered this shocking story the first time around, and subsequent coverage has been minimal to say the least.

The Appeal Court ruling is a truly damning indictment of the utter Tory contempt for the rule of law, however this hugely important story has flown almost completely under the news radar because the bulk of the corporate mainstream press are clearly more interested in doing everything in their power to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's growing popularity, than cover the unlawful behaviour of the actual government.

In my view there are two very important things to note. The first is that the Labour Party is now led by some of the genuinely left-wing Labour MPs who refused to participate in Ed Miliband's ludicrous collusion with Iain Duncan Smith in allowing him to rush through his human rights denying retroactive workfare legislation back in 2013. This means that the current Labour Party would be far more more likely to hold the Tories to account, rather than collude with them like their strategically inept New Labour predecessors did.

The second thing is that this case is a perfect illustration of the real reason that the Tories want to scrap the Human Rights Act and abandon the European Court of Human Rights. The Tories hate the fact that our pesky human rights prevent them from doing whatever the hell they want. They don't want to have to ensure that the legislation they push through parliament is compatible with our human rights. It would clearly be much easier for them if they scrap our human rights so that they can do whatever the hell they like



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Friday, April 15, 2016

Criticism of Israeli policy ≠ anti-Semitism


In April 2016 I was accused of having anti-Semitic views after posting a clip of the Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talking about Israel.

The sheer irony of getting accused of anti-Semitism by an Israel apologist for daring to share a clip of a Jewish man (Bernie Sanders) criticising Israel's deadly bombardment of Gaza in 2014 is quite staggering. 


If I really was an anti-Semite would I really be so impressed with Bernie Sanders' mediating language that I'd share it on my Facebook page? Would a bigoted Jew-hater really approve of Bernie Sanders so much that they'd like to see him become the first ever Jewish President of the United States (as I would)?

Here's what Bernie Sanders said in the clip I shared:

"If we are ever going to bring peace we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity ... I believe it [Israel's bombardment of Gaza in 2014] was [disproportionate] ... We had in the Gaza area some ten thousand civilians who were wounded, and some 1,500 who were killed."
If I'm apparently an "anti-Semite" simply for expressing agreement with Bernie Sanders' views, does that mean Bernie Sanders is an anti-Semite by extension? Will partisan Israel apologists call him a "self-hating Jew" because he dares to express an opinion that not everything the Israeli state has ever done is perfect?

In my view the only way the Israel-Palestine conflict will ever be resolved is if the US government stops supporting the worst excesses of the Israelis, and accepts the proposition that Palestinians are people too. Bernie Sanders apparently shares this view, and I applaud him for it. As a Jewish man his sympathies are obviously going to be drawn towards the people of the Jewish state, so it obviously takes a great deal of humanity for him to be able to see things from both sides of the conflict, and to want to mediate in an even-handed manner.

If that kind of approach makes Bernie Sanders a "self-hating Jew"  
in the eyes of some, and me an "anti-Semite" for agreeing with him, then so be it. I'm not going to shut up and say silent simply because some highly partisan Israel apologists are going to smear me for daring to express an opinion they don't like. 

It doesn't seem to matter how often it is pointed out to "anti-Semitism" wielding Israel apologists that


Criticism of Israeli policy ≠ anti-Semitism

they keep on using this outrageous "anti-Semite" smear to try to shut down legitimate criticism of atrocities committed by the Israeli state.

It doesn't matter how legitimate or even handed the criticism of Israeli policy, time and again these people - who know no better debating tactics than slinging ugly smears in order to try to silence dissent - turn up to spew their ugly partisan bile.

The really awful thing is that this disgusting bad faith debating tactic is very effective. Fear of being hit with this kind of toxic smear is enough to scare off a lot of people from expressing their opinions on the Israel-Palestine situation, because nobody ever likes to be called a disgusting bigot on a public forum (even if the accusation is completely unfounded).

This tactic of using "anti-Semite" smears to scare moderate people away from contributing to the Israel-Palestine debate is very effective in polarising the debate so that in many cases the vast majority of people left contributing are people expressing extremely partisan views in favour of one side or another, which is absolutely no recipe for a mediated settlement to be achieved.

I'm not sure if keeping the debate as polarised as possible in order to diminish the chances of a fair negotiated settlement is the objective of people who use these "anti-Semite" smears. I guess probably not, most of them probably just see it as a convenient way of shutting down legitimate criticism that they don't want to hear. However, whatever the intention of this kind of appalling smear tactic, it's clear that by hounding anyone who expresses anything other than undiluted praise for Israel, extreme polarisation of the debate is a logical consequence.




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Sanctions against low income workers for the "crime" of not earning enough


It's never difficult to find examples of the shocking contempt the Tory party have for the general public, and especially for the working poor.

A particularly clear example can be seen in the way they have built extremely harsh sanctions into their (ridiculously delayed, catastrophically mismanaged and massively wasteful) Universal Credit flagship policy in order to fine working people for the "crime" of not earning enough money.

Conditionalities

Universal Credit has been developed with a number of conditionalities on low-paid workers, especially for those in part-time work. If the DWP decide that the claimant is not earning enough through their job, they can be compelled to search for other jobs and attend interviews. Non-compliance with these rules is already being dealt with by the imposition of harsh economic sanctions.

Universal Credit claimants in low-paid jobs can be forced to skip work to attend job interviews or Jobcentre appointments at 48 hours notice. If they don't comply then they can be forced into destitution.

The vast majority of new jobs created during the Tories' so-called "recovery" are insecure low-paid part-time positions, which means that millions of workers in the kind of low-paid insecure Zero Hours contract jobs that the Tory party favour will be under threat of destitution.

The threat to jobs

One of the worst aspects of this humiliating nanny state policy of harassing low-paid workers is the way that it clearly endangers the job that they do have. If people are forced to take time off work to attend job interviews and into setting up online profiles "to draw attention to their availability", it's not beyond the realms of possibility that their boss might take offence at them searching for another job, especially if they're skipping shifts to do it.

It seems an awful lot like this policy of harassing people in low-paid jobs has the potential to cost low earners the jobs that they actually have!


Evidence-free policy

Another consideration is the fact that this policy of harassing low-paid workers with threats of destitution through economic sanctions is yet another example of vindictive evidence-free Tory policymaking. The stated objective of Tory benefits sanctions regimes is that slashing people's incomes (often for utterly trivial reasons) incentivises them to look for work. The problem is that there isn't actually any evidence to support the proposition that benefits sanctions lead to improved work outcomes.

In fact, a common sense approach to the effects of sanctions tells us that they're actually likely to lead to significantly worse job outcomes. If people are reduced to destitution (for the "crime" of being five minutes late for an appointment for example), then they're obviosly going to be less likely to be able to do things like buy smart clothes and maintain a smart appearance for job interviews, pay travel costs for getting to interviews, print CVs or afford to pay for their telephone and Internet connections to contact potential employers.

Common sense tells us that reducing people to absolute destitution is likely to lead to significantly worse job outcomes, but once again evidence-free Tory ideology trumps common sense.

Sanctioning low-paid workers is even more nonsensical. Not only do the sanctions make the task of looking for another - more highly paid - job harder, it also makes them less likely to be able to hang onto the job they already have. Employers are unlikely to look kindly upon their employees turning up in unwashed clothes and lacking in concentration because they've been cutting back on food to make ends meet. Neither are they likely to have much sympathy for "I can't come in to work tomorrow because I can't afford the bus fare".

Tory ideology

The nanny state harassment policy for low earners stinks of the age-old Tory philosophy that the way to incentivise the poor to work harder is to make them poorer (wage repression, slashed in-work benefits, sanctions), while the way to incentivise the rich to work harder is to make them richer (pay rises, tax cuts, massive bonuses).

Allowing employers to pay poverty wages, and manufacturing an "economic recovery" built on a foundation of insecure low-paid part-time jobs, then enforcing an economic sanctions regime against people who are unfortunate enough to end up in such jobs is an absolute masterclass in vindictive Tory class war politics.

The Tories are always on the side of the bosses. This is true to such an extent that rather than taking steps to encourage employers to offer stable well-paid full-time jobs, they've taken to economically sanctioning low earners for the "crime" of having the kind of crap jobs that it is Tory policy to promote in order to create the illusion of an economic recovery!

Conclusion


This Tory policy of harassing low-paid workers is a perfect illustration of their utter contempt for the working poor. The fact that they impose policies like this whilst trying to dress themselves up as "the workers' party" and harping on endlessly about how they're supposedly "making work pay" just goes to prove how much contempt they have for the general public too. They clearly believe that we're all gullible enough to mindlessly accept their propaganda that they care about working people, when their actual policies demonstrate beyond doubt that they don't.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why prohibitionism fanatics should stop obstructing research into psychoactive substances


Occasionally in life you get to meet one of your heroes. For me one of the great moments was the time I had the opportunity to meet Professor David Nutt, who is a neuropsychopharmacologist from the west country who was thrust into the media spotlight back in 2009 when the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson forced him out of his job as the government's leading "independent"* drugs advisor for daring to point out that certain prohibited substances like MDMA and cannabis are much less harmful and addictive than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.

I admire David Nutt for the fact that he was prepared to stand up for his scientific research even though it cost him his job. Aside from his obvious integrity I also admire him because he's a leading expert in neuroscience, which is a field of study I'm fascinated by.

I remember Professor David Nutt decrying the massive obstacles put in the way of research into psychoactive substances by the ideological driven prohibitionists and their "war on drugs"
He said that trying to conduct research into the brain without using psychoactive substances is like trying to conduct research into the cosmos without telescopes, or research into microbiology without a microscope.

Research findings

The astounding results of research that David Nutt and other scientific experts have conducted into substances like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ketamine and MDMA (in spite of all of the prohibitionist barriers to such research) provide a compelling case that Professor Nutt is absolutely right that psychoactive substances are vitally important tools for understanding the human brain.

Here are some of the fascinating findings over the last few years.

  • University College London conducted brain scans on people using LSD. The results were incredible. David Nutt compared the findings to the discovery of the Higgs Boson in scale of importance.
  • Modern meta-analysis of old LSD studies (that were carried out before the great purge of scientific investigation following prohibition of the drug in the 1960s) has found that there are good signs that LSD could be useful in treating alcohol addiction.
  • Scientific research has shown that prohibited psychoactive substances like LSD and ketamine be used to effectively treat depression.
  • Research has shown that the drug Ibogaine (derived from the traditional medicinal plant iboga) is effective in treating opioid addiction. It has the added benefit of lessening the painful withdrawal symptoms too.


The effect of ideological prohibitionism on scientific research

There are several ways that ideological prohibitionism interferes with scientific research into psychoactive substances. In many places research into proscribed drugs is simply banned. In other places like the US and the UK hugely expensive and time consuming bureaucratic barriers have been erected to deter scientific research.

Another way that the prohibitionist mentality obstructs legitimate scientific research is that most scientific funding organisations won't dare touch such research out of fear of the hysterical shrieking of the right-wing press damaging their public reputation. In a culture in which the drugs debate is dominated by those with the most hysterical voices, it's no surprise that the majority of scientific research into proscribed substances is reliant on the limited funds available from the likes of the Beckley Foundation.

Another way in which the political class are obstructing scientific research into the use of psychoactive substances as mental health treatments is the absurdly anti-scientific and unworkable Psychoactive Substances Bill that was voted into existence in January 2016 and will render all substances that produce a psychoactive effect illegal, even if they haven't even been discovered yet!

Now that we have a growing body of evidence that a large number of currently prohibited psychoactive substances have potential mental health benefits for millions of people who suffer conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD, it becomes obvious that a political ideology that continues deliberately obstructing research into these substances is deeply immoral.


It's bad enough that the political establishment continue pushing a morality-not-science based mentality that if people ever begin using substances to have fun, those substances have got to be banned as soon as possible (whether there's evidence that they're harmful or not). But the real kicker is that the political establishment are not just denying people's liberty to have fun, they're preventing people with serious mental health conditions from accessing substances that could really help them.

Conclusion

Instead of concluding with my own opinion on the negative effects of the regressive anti-scientific ideology of the political establishment on legitimate scientific research into psychoactive substances, I'll leave the last word to a scientist who has conducted several of these fascinating research projects, despite all of the barriers put in place by the ideologically driven prohibitionism crowd.

"It would be nice if the government based their policy decisions on scientific evidence, and if they gave that primary consideration rather than secondary. Now they try and fit scientific data into their policies." - Robin Carhart-Harris

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* The reason I put the word "independent" in inverted commas is that if the government advisor can be forced out of his job for saying something that contradicts the prevailing ideology of the government, then they're clearly not independent at all.

David Cameron the innocent victim!


It took a few days of excruciating floundering from David Cameron and his party, but it's now clear that the Tory narrative on the Panama Papers has been set.

The ludicrous story they've concocted is that the Tories and the super-rich people caught up in the Panama Papers leak are the virginal innocent victims who have done nothing wrong, and the real villains in all of this are any ordinary members of the public who think they have a right to question the conduct of their Lords and masters!

The dodgy Tory donors

The Panama Papers have revealed that a whole host of major Tory party donors had links to offshore companies listed on the books of Mossack Fonseca these included:

  • Anthony Bamford: £4 million in Tory donations, made into an unelected Tory peer in 2013.
  • David Rowland: £3.8 million in Tory donations, former party treasurer.
  • Fleming Family: Over £400,000 in Tory donations, including direct donations to David Cameron
  • Juniper Equities Trading: £250,000 loan to the Tory party from an offshore fund with an opaque ownership structure. It is still not known who was behind this donation.
  • Tony Buckingham: £100,000 donation to the Tories.
Cameron the "victim"

The Tory MPs and the right-wing press stumbled around for a while without a narrative to deflect criticism, leaving David Cameron to get backed into a corner. Following days of evasive answers and extraordinary press releases about how his offshore dealings during his time as an MP were supposedly a "private matter", Cameron eventually had to admit that he held a five figure stake in his fathers' dodgy offshore business which he never declared on the Parliamentary register of Members' Interests for nine years as an MP.

After all of this excruciating floundering, Tory party HQ eventually settled on the quite extraordinary story that David Cameron and the Tories are somehow the innocent victims in the Panama Papers scandal, and the villains are any ordinary members of the public with the temerity to complain about it. Here is a short selection of some of the ludicrous statements that Tory apologists have come up with:
"You often hear of people being trapped in poverty, but it's also possible to be trapped in wealth. This is David Cameron's fate" - Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
This is shockingly offensive drivel to anybody who understands the deliberate upwards redistribution of wealth that has gone on as a consequence of Tory ideological austerity and how it has resulted in ordinary people suffering the most severe income declines since records began, reduced to food bank dependency, hit with ludicrously harsh benefits sanctions, unfairly thrown off disability benefits, rendered homeless (homelessness has risen dramatically since 2010) and even in death.

Poverty is a trap that can, and does, result in premature death. Wealth is not a trap.

David Cameron isn't under fire because he's wealthy. He's under fire because he deliberately hid his shareholding in his father's offshore business off the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests and then spent four days obfuscating about it before finally admitting it. The problem isn't that he's rich, it's that he's dishonest.

"Shouldn't the Prime Minister’s critics snap out of their synthetic indignation and admit that they hate anyone with a hint of wealth in their life?" Tory MP Alan Duncan - Parliamentary question
This is an almost perfect example of the sanctimonious Tory "class war" ideology, where the Tories and their super-rich backers are always beyond reproach, and anyone who dares complain about anything they do must be vermin from "the lower orders" who are just filled with petty jealously and should damned well know their place.

According to Alan Duncan's smug Tory "logic", anyone who does have "a hint of wealth" who also feels entitled to be angry that David Cameron failed to register his significant offshore shareholding on the MP's Register of Interests for nine years must be a self-hater who is bitterly jealous of their own wealth!

Another thing to note is Alan Duncan's use of the term "synthetic indignation", which is quite extraordinary given the performance of Tory MP Charles Walker who gave a ludicrous display of synthetic indignation on BBC The Daily Politics show, painting David Cameron as the innocent victim of a "bullying" campaign, only to give the game away completely at the end by getting caught by the camera aiming a triumphant wink at his fellow Tory MP on the panel.

It's absolutely extraordinary that the Tories have simultaneously decided to cynically play the synthetic moral indignation card in defence of David Cameron, then smear anyone still asking questions about his failure to declare his offshore shareholding for nine years as an MP as being guilty of "synthetic indignation".

Following on from his broad-brush smear against anyone with the temerity to question their Tory betters, Alan Duncan went on to claim that non-millionaires are "under-achievers" which is a perfect example of the foul-minded Tory fallacy of natural economic justice (the idea that rich people are rich because they're virtuous, and poor people are poor because they're worthless scum).

"May I tell the Prime Minister that he should not be ashamed that he had the good fortune to be born into a well-off family" - Michael Fabricant, Parliamentary statement
This one is just absurd. It must surely be one of the weakest and most obvious straw-man fallacies ever uttered in parliament. Nobody at all is saying that David Cameron should be ashamed of being born into a wealthy family. The complaint is that he deliberately hid some of his assets off the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests when he couldn't possibly have imagined that nobody at all in Britain could have reasonably have thought that such a shareholding might "influence his actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament". It's completely obvious that he refused to declare the interest precisely because he thought people would think that, which means he was in clear breach of the MP's code of conduct.

The straw-man tactic (deliberately mischaracterising your opponents argument as something utterly facile and then criticising that, in place of what has actually been said) is truly one of the weakest and most contemptible debating tactics known to humanity.

It just goes to show how far the standards of public debate have fallen that Tory MPs think that they can get away with such blatantly fallacious debating tactics, and how much utter contempt they must have for "the lower orders" that they think we'd all just mindlessly accept such drivel and stop complaining.

Conclusion

The Panama Papers leak has revealed that the Tory party are funded by people with proven interests in a load of dodgy offshore companies and that they're led by a guy who cynically concealed his own offshore interests by deliberately omitting to mention them on the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests for nine years. However, the Tory party are riddled with such utter contempt for "the lower orders" that they're trying to spin this situation to claim that they're the innocent victims and the any ordinary members of the public who dare to continue complaining are a pack of bullies motivated by nothing more than jealously!

The big thing isn't the fact they're trying to lie. distort, mislead and spin their way out of this situation. That's to be expected because the establishment class are trained to do this from a young age. The issue is the shocking level of contempt that these people clearly have for "the lower orders" that they think that they can fool us into thinking that they're the poor innocent victims and that ordinary members of the public are the contemptible bastards for daring to continue asking questions of their betters.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Isn't it amazing what people choose to forget?


It's amazing how public perceptions can be manipulated by the mainstream media to accept completely ahistorical narratives about fundamentally important issues.

Take the EU referendum debate as an example. Anyone who mindlessly absorbs their political opinions fro the corporate mainstream media would probably end up believing that the EU debate is between anti-EU "common sense" right-wingers vs pro-EU "do-gooder" lefties.

The strange thing is that last time there was a referendum on membership of the European community, by far the most vocal opponents of EU membership were left-wingers like Tony Benn, while the right-wing fringe of the Tory party were the most vocal champions of the European project. This right-wing pro-European stance was exemplified by Margaret Thatcher's pro-European jumper (see picture above). This was at a time when Thatcher represented the extreme-right fringe of the Tory party, while most Tories were still of the "one nation Conservative" ilk; content with the prosperous post-war consensus that there should be a mix between state socialism and regulated capitalism. Meanwhile the left-wing of the Labour party provided by far the strongest opposition the the European project.

Nowadays the polarity of the EU debate has been completely switched. The figureheads of the anti-EU movement are people like Nigel Farage (who gets the votes of millions of working class people despite describing himself as "keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive"!) and Michael Gove (the arch-Thatcherite who oversaw the privatisation of thousands of English schools into the hands of unaccountable private pseudo-charities), while the more left-wing elements of the British political spectrum (Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru) are taking a more pro-European stance.

It's interesting to consider how this complete reversal of British political polarity has come about.

Back in the 1970s the right-wing fringe saw the European project as an excellent opportunity to push their extremist right-wing economic dogma onto the whole of Western Europe, and in many ways they were successful. Take the EU competition rules that prevent member states from renationalising public infrastructure (no matter how abysmally it is run by the private sector), the anti-democratic European Central Bank, the free movement of labour within Europe or the brutal socially and economically destructive austerity ideology forced on Greece. In many ways the EU has been an absolute triumph for right-wing economic fanaticism.

The problem for militant right-wing fanatics is that the EU is a collaborative project, so for every bit of fanatically right-wing economic dogma they've managed to force onto the entire European community, there's always some pesky left-wing and liberal rules too, like the Working Time Directive, environmental regulations, animal welfare laws, curbs on bankers' bonuses or assertions of the human rights of EU citizens.

The extreme-right fringe of the Tory party (and I include UKIP in that definition) have given up on the European project not because they haven't managed to force right-wing economic dogma onto the rest of Europe (because they undeniably have), but because the structure of the EU means that they're constrained from pushing the even more militant right-wing agenda they want in the UK.


If the Tories get to quit the EU and become the first country ever to tear up the European Convention on Human Rights, they'll be liberated to create the most extreme-right authoritarian government in Europe since the fall of fascism, and they'll do this without the slightest regard for the fact that their ideological figurehead (Margaret Thatcher) was one of the most vocal supporters of the European project back in the 1970s.

The situation for the left is perhaps even more bamboozling. The EU is clearly completely riddled with toxic right-wing economic dogma (look at the deliberate annihilation of the Greek economy to serve the interests of German and French banks and the circling pack of multinational vulture funds), yet it's absolutely clear to the left-wing parties that continued membership of the EU is far less bad than jumping out of the frying pan of the EU technocracy and into searing fire of unconstrained Tory economic insanity.

The best the left seem to be able to come up with is the idea that the EU is deeply flawed, but that the solution is to fix it from within, rather than to fire the ejector seat and land in a putrefying ocean of unconstrained Tory fanaticism.

There are signs of hope that the EU can be reformed from within (the rise of left-wing parties in Greece, Portugal and Spain), however the EU technocrats have demonstrated their abject fear of democratic socialism through their treatment of Greece and their insistence on continuation of their negotiations towards the TTIP corporate power grab, despite the fact that pretty much everyone in Europe who has actually heard of it thinks that it's an unspeakably awful idea to allow corporations to completely over-write sovereign democratic and judicial institutions with secretive unaccountable transnational corporate tribunals.

As far as I'm concerned, the EU stinks. However unconstrained Tory fanaticism stinks an awful lot more. I guess the debate boils down to whether you have more faith that the EU institutions can be shifted away from the promotion of fanatically right-wing economic dogma, or whether you think there is some way of stopping the even more fanatically right-wing Tories should they be handed absolute power through a vote for Brexit.

I think I've made it pretty clear in this article that I don't want to tell you how to vote. As far as I'm concerned it's a choice between a rock and a hard place. I just hope that my explanation of the complete polarity shift in the EU referendum debate since the last referendum gives you some idea that the majority of contemporary opinion on the subject is politically partisan rubbish (which is nothing less that you'd expect from the billionaire sociopaths who own most of the UK media).



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Sunday, April 10, 2016

The rip-off PFI fiasco continues


The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has proven to be a disastrous policy for pretty much everyone apart from the profiteering corporate beneficiaries and the consultancy firms that rake in cash by helping them draw up their rip-off one-sided deals to extract vast sums of money from the taxpayer.

The idea of PFI is that instead of the government funding infrastructure projects directly (using their access to very cheap finance) they get the private sector to borrow the money at much higher market rates, then rent the infrastructure off the private sector on long-term contracts that end up costing many multiples of what the thing would have actually cost to build.

PFI is like the government turning to those parasitical Hire Purchase companies to buy things slowly at five times the price, rather than getting a low interest loan to pay a realistic upfront cost for what they're buying.


In 2011 The 
Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee finally got around to admitting that PFI is as an "extremely inefficient method of financing [public infrastructure] projects", yet one government after another has continued using them because, although they are a rip-off, they provide a means of hiding public spending off the public balance sheet by loading current infrastructure investment costs onto future generations.

The Tories began introducing rip-off PFI deals in the early 1990s and New Labour continued rolling them out because it helped them hide chunks of public spending off the public balance sheet in order to stick to Gordon Brown's absurd and arbitrary "Golden Rule" that public borrowing shouldn't exceed 40% of GDP (a rule the was quickly forgotten about when they found £1.5 trillion to bail out the banks that had gambled themselves into insolvency).

One of the recurring themes with PFI is that the opposition parties criticise it, then as soon as they're in power they begin using it to their own advantage. When the Tories introduced it in the early 1990s Labour politicians like Harriet Harman and Alistair Darling condemned it as a form of stealth-privatisation that burdens future generations with the costs of current investment. When New Labour took power these concerns were instantly forgotten about. Towards the end of New Labour, when they were signing up to one rip-off PFI contract after another, the shadow chancellor George Osborne began whinging on about PFI being a rip-off. When George Osborne and the Tories were enabled into power by the Lib-Dems, he simply re-branded PFI as PF2 and continued using the same kind of rip-off financing deals to load current infrastructure costs onto the shoulders of future generations.


Another recurring theme with PFI is the procession of disastrous projects. From NHS trusts crippled under the financial burden of servicing their PFI debts to local councils being forced to pay £millions in rent and service charges on completely empty PFI schools, PFI keeps proving to be a disaster to everyone but the corporate profiteers.

The latest in this long line of monumental PFI cock-ups is the closure of 17 PFI built schools in Edinburgh over safety concerns, which has left some 9,000 students stranded. The decision to indefinitely shut the schools came after the PFI consortium that operates the schools admitted that they couldn't ensure the structural safety of the buildings after serious structural issues were uncovered during repair work to Oxgangs Primary School where a huge section of wall collapsed in January 2016


The Edinburgh Schools Partnership consortium (Amey, Miller Construction & Bank of Scotland) who are responsible for this fiasco released a public statement that made it sound like they were doing the public a favour by investing why the schools they built are so structurally unsound that they have a tendency to collapse! They shouldn't just be accepting "full financial responsibility for investigating and resolving these issues", they should be accepting full financial responsibility for the alternative childcare arrangements made by the parents of the 9,000 kids who can't go to school because the profiteers who built and operate their school buildings have no idea if they're going to fall down or not.

It's easy to blame New Labour for this situation in Edinburgh because all of those buildings were built on their watch as part of a £360 million PFI, but it's important to note that the SNP government in Scotland has done their own huge splurge of PFI spending too:

The Aberdeen western peripheral route: Capital cost £469m, cost of PFI payments £1.45bn 
City of Glasgow College campus: Capital cost £193m, cost of PFI payments £604m  
Scottish Blood Transfusion Service HQ: Capital cost £33.3m, cost of PFI payments £100m 
● Anderson high school, Shetland: Capital cost £41m, cost of PFI payments £102m
The Tories invented PFI; New Labour created far more PFI debt legacies than any other party during their 13 years in power; the Lib-Dems enabled the Tories back into power and helped them continue using PFIs; and the SNP have signed up to all kinds of rip-off PFI deals since they came to power in Scotland too.

It turns out that the Green Party are the biggest political party in Scotland to actually oppose these appalling rip-off PFI deals. The Green candidate for Lothian Andy Wightman is calling for a full review of all PFI contracts in Scotland. Here's what he said:

"The Edinburgh school fiasco opens up a massive can of worms as to what the true legacy is of years of private financing of core public services. That is why Green MSPs, in the new parliament, will be demanding a root and branch review of all PPP/PFI contracts."
The SNP look set to win a landslide victory in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, so it looks like PFI will be there to stay. Given their pro-PFI histories it seems very unlikely that the Tories, Labour or the Lib-Dems would be able to effectively hold the SNP government to account on PFI, so if I was a Scottish resident I'd definitely be looking into who my local Scottish Green candidate is at the very least.


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