Tuesday 31 December 2013

UK to surpass Germany - they're having a laugh

As we say goodbye to 2013 I think it's a good idea to see in the new year with a bit of a laugh. The right-wing economic think tank CEBR were obviously thinking along similar lines when they published an absurd piece of "research" which (via the process of churnalism) provided numerous corporate press headlines claiming that the UK economy would overtake Germany to become the largest in Europe within the next 20 years.

Before I get to picking apart their absurd claims, it's first important to give a bit of information on who the CEBR are. On their website they claim to be an organisation providing "independent economic forecasting and analysis". They also claim that they have a "
strong track record of forecasting accuracy".

Both of these claims are extremely dubious. The client list on their website reveals that they have a number of government contracts, meaning that their independence to freely criticise the UK government and their policies is severely curtailed. They also boast about providing services to many of the biggest banks and insurance companies in the UK as well as the nation's "largest property portfolio". Given their reliance upon the financial sector and the property market for income, it seems unlikely that this organisation has the "independence" to criticise structural flaws in the financial sector or even bonkers property price inflation subsidies like George Osborne's idiotic "Help to Buy" scheme.

When it comes to their
"strong track record of forecasting accuracy" perhaps it would be useful to consider what they were predicting at the back end of 2012 and judge how accurate they were?

In September 2012 the CEBR predicted that wages would exceed the rate of inflation in 2013. Not only did they predict that the campaign of wage repression would be reversed in 2013, they also predicted that the poorest would benefit the most, with the poor experiencing a 1.5% above inflation income gain, the middle classes bagging a 1% rise and the richest minority getting just 0.7%.

This prediction has been proven completely wrong because wages have continued to fall in real terms every single month throughout 2013, as they have ever since the Tory led coalition came to power. Not only was their prediction of rising wages completely wrong it also betrayed a shocking lack of political nous. Would anyone with the slightest understanding of what the Tory party is and how it is funded ever conclude that the Tory party would run the economy in a way that would benefit the poorest the most and the richest the least?

When we look at the facts, we find that the poor and ordinary suffered more real terms cuts in their incomes during 2013 (as well as bearing the brunt of harsh austerity measures like cuts in in-work benefits and the hated "Bedroom Tax" too) whilst the wealthiest minority bagged massive above income wage rises yet again (as well as benefiting from George Osborne's cut in the top rate of income tax which was worth an average £100,000 per year to the 13,000 income millionaires in the UK).

Here's my prediction: If this Tory campaign of wage repression is to end, it will happen around six to eight months before the 2015 General Election, in the hope that taking the boot of economic repression off the necks of the masses and allowing them to breathe properly for the first time in over four years will create an election winning feel good factor, even though people will still be significantly worse off than they were before the Tories came to power.

Returning to the CEBR and the "strong  track record" of predictions they like to brag about, one of my key tests is whether the individual or organisation managed to predict the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown. Economists like Steve Keen and Nouriel Roubini that successfully predicted the global economic crisis get the AAV seal of approval and the vast majority of economists that not only failed to see it coming, but also tried in vain to talk down the seriousness of the crisis once it had actually begun, get all their future predictions and forecasts buried in salt.

The fact is that the CEBR didn't see the 2007-08 financial crisis on the horizon, and on the eve of the meltdown they were still predicting huge rises in property values between 2007 and 2010 and claiming that "
The underlying fundamentals of the housing market continue to support prices". Well we all know what happened next. If they didn't see something as big as the global financial sector meltdown coming, just months before it happened, they certainly shouldn't be trusted on their predictions that span decades into the future.

So now they would have us believe that the UK economy is in such healthy shape that it will grow at an average 3.3% per year between 2014 and 2028 to surpass Germany as the biggest economy in Europe sometime around 2030.

The first and most obvious criticism is that they are using a number of critical assumptions to generate this prediction, most notably their refusal to consider the possibility that Scotland will depart the Union after the 2014 referendum on independence. Should this happen, and the UK declines in population by over five million and loses the massive North Sea oil revenues, there isn't a snowball's chance in Hell that the UK will rocket past Germany to become the most powerful economy in Europe.

Even if the massive uncertainty over the Scottish independence referendum and a potential 2017 referendum on membership of the EU are discounted - the "research" still doesn't seem to have taken any account of hugely important issues such as:

The balance of trade: Soaring trade deficits in the UK and huge trade surpluses in Germany provide strong indicators that Germany is a far healthier economy from a long-term perspective.

Short-term analysis
: From a short-term perspective the prediction of a 15 year period of sustained economic growth more rapid than anything seen since the "golden age of capitalism" in the 50s and 60s looks like some kind of absurd fantasy. The idea that such a robust and prolonged period of growth is going to propel the UK above France and Germany is ludicrous given that the UK still hasn't even managed to rebuild to the size it was before the 2007-08 economic meltdown (the one that the CEBR failed to predict) but both Germany and France have recovered and exceeded pre-crisis levels. The idea that the most sluggish economic recovery in UK history is suddenly going to transform into the most rapid and sustained period of growth in over 50 years is more than wishful thinking, it's absolutely crackers.

Capital flight: The German economy is benefiting as capital flows from struggling Eurozone economies (Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Ireland) into Germany. It is true that the UK (mainly London) is also benefiting from capital flight as foreign money flows into the City of London and the London property market, however this still isn't enough to counterbalance the enormous trade deficits the UK is running. The main point is that it is unwise to omit the effect of capital flight from the periphery Eurozone economies into Germany in order to make sweeping statements that Germany is going to be surpassed by the UK and would be better off out of the Euro - as the CEBR report clearly did.
The effects of Quantitative Easing mania across the major economies: Currency devaluation was hardly a success when Japan tried it in isolation through the 1990s (the Japanese "lost decade") - now that all the major economies are simultaneously trying the same fiat currency devaluation trick it's hardly likely to work any better for the UK. If magicking up hundreds of billions and holding interest rates at the all-time record low of 0.5% for five long years hasn't produced 3.3% growth yet, when and how is this remarkable period of growth going to begin?

Uncertainty: Economies are extremely complicated things which are almost impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. Just a tiny miscalculation (of say 0.01%) in one of your parameters is more than enough to completely wreck your predictions over the course of 15 years. Then there's the uncertainty of events. Given that they couldn't predict the 2007-08 crisis, who is to say that there isn't another enormous economic catastrophe just around the corner that the CEBR are totally (or willfuly) blind to?

The idea that the UK is going to ride a wave of almost unprecedented prosperity for the next 15 years to soar past Germany and become the biggest economy in Europe is as assumption laden as it is laughable. This brings us to the question of why they have produced such a ludicrously over-optimistic report.

The answer is quite simple: The CEBR see it as in their best interests to produce reports that their clients approve of, and they clearly consider the Tory party to be valuable clients.

The over-optimistic endorsements of Tory policy from the CEBR have been through many stages, all of them closely matching the economic narratives being pushed by the Tory party at the time.

After initially endorsing George Osborne's catastrophic ideological austerity experiment, the CEBR changed tune to claim that a further decade of austerity would be necessary (a move expanded upon by David Cameron in his "austerity to infinity" speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in November 2013). Now the CEBR are determined to help bolster the Conservative's utterly misleading "economic recovery" narratives with absurdly optimistic projections seemingly designed to provide the right-wing press with feel-good "UK to be better than Germany" headlines.

If that's not enough to convince you that the CEBR busy themselves producing reports that are little more than propaganda for the Tory party, then perhaps their ludicrous 2011 report clearly designed to help George Osborne justify cutting the top rate of income tax might be enough?

With this wildly optimistic report and their claims that Britian will soon surpass Germany as the most important economy in Europe, the CEBR are clearly attempting to reinforce the Tory narrative that the UK economy has recovered and that we are on the brink of economic utopia. The most obvious problems with this are that only 2% of the UK public believe that the economy is recovering and that they are feeling the benefit; and that their growth predictions for the next 15 years are so ludicrously over-optimistic that nobody in their right mind would take them seriously.

The problem for the rest of us is that there are an awful lot of delusional Tory tribalists that believe the economy is in great shape after three years of ideological Osbornomics and that we are on the verge of utopia, meaning they will continue voting Tory.

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Saturday 28 December 2013

Review of the Year 2013

If 2012 was a year of remarkable financial scandals (Libor rigging, HSBC fined for laundering £300 billion for Mexican drug cartels) 2013 has been a year of remarkably scandalous governance which culminated in David Cameron giving an absurd "austerity to infinity" speech in a gold encrusted room in November and the Tories openly laughing at the "lower orders" for fighting over discounted food during an emergency debate on food poverty in December.

In early January 2013 I came across a scandalous piece of debt fearmongering entitled "The End of Britain" published by the financial magazine MoneyWeek. Over the course of 2013 the demolition job I did on their "End of Britain" article has become by far the most popular article on my blog, bringing many new followers from those that immediately scoured the Internet for a critique of an article that concludes by advising the reader to allow MoneyWeek to help them to become a tax avoider.

January (like most of the rest of the months of the year to follow) was a bad month for Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP. One of the many low points was the revelation that staff at one of the outsourcing companies administering Iain Duncan Smith's corruption riddled and hopelessly inefficient Work Programme had been referring to the unemployed clients they were supposed to be helping as "Lying Thieving Bastards". I made the case that the real LTBs could be found in Westminster.

One of the biggest economics stories of 2013 was the decision by the credit rating agency Moody's to downgrade the UK economy from the top rating AAA to the lower rating of Aa2 in February. The fact that the UK was hit by their first downgrade since the 1970s under the Coalition government is a damning indictment of George Osborne's extremist austerity experiment, especially given that the previous Labour administration managed to keep the AAA ratings despite being hit by the biggest global financial crisis in economic history.

Another hopelessly botched Iain Duncan Smith scheme hit the headlines
in February 2013 when his unapproved and unintelligible "Workfare" mandatory unpaid labour schemes were declared unlawful by the courts. Even though the ruling was very specific in criticising the "Workfare" rules as unintelligibly written and in criticising Iain Duncan Smith for exceeding his powers by bypassing parliament, the DWP incredibly tried to spin the ruling as a victory (one wonders why they chose to appeal a ruling they presented as a vindication of "Workfare" if it was the glorious vindication they dishonestly presented it as). I ruthlessly picked apart one particularly nauseating Iain Duncan Smith performance in defence of "Workfare" shortly after the ruling.

Iain Duncan Smith was quick to show the courts that he is in charge and can do whatever he likes, no matter the courts say, by pushing through a ludicrous piece of legislation to retroactively rewrite the "Workfare" rules so that they would have been intelligible at the time, had they been written that way. For some unfathomable reason the Labour hierarchy decided to let the bill be rushed through parliament as emergency legislation and whipped their MPs into abstaining on the vote. Here's a list of the minority of decent Labour MPs that defied the party to vote against this appalling piece of legislation. For me this delivery of a "get out of jail free" card to Iain Duncan Smith by the Labour hierarchy was one of the most spectacularly ill considered political blunders of the year. Had they fought Iain Duncan Smith every step of the way on this, they could have repeatedly exposed him as the callous and incompetent intellectual lightweight that he is. Having been let off the hook by the Labour leadership, IDS has skulked around in the political shadows to the extent of putting up the hopeless Lib-Dem Steve Webb to defend Bedroom Tax and the appalling Esther McVey to spout her repulsive rhetoric during the debate on Food Poverty.
David Cameron was caught out lying to the public on numerous occasions in 2013. Perhaps the most notable was his outright lie that the government has been "paying down Britain's debts" during a Party Political Broadcast, when in fact the government have borrowed an extra £400 billion since they came to power in 2010. It is now estimated by George Osborne's own economics quango (the Office for Budget Responsibility Recklessness)  that by 2015 the Coalition government will have borrowed £242 billion more than they said they were going to borrow in 2010.

March also saw a massive Tory assault on the justice system passed into law. The United Kingdom was condemned by human rights groups and legal professionals across the world for their introduction of Kafkaesque Secret Courts.

Thanks to this appalling bit of legislation (that shockingly few people even know of) it is now possible for a defendant to have their fate decided in a courtroom that they are not allowed to enter on charges that they are not allowed to know based on evidence that they are not allowed to see. Even their lawyers won't be allowed to enter the courtroom, know the charges or see the evidence. Instead the accused will be appointed a so-called "special advocate" by the state. Judges don't even have to consider whether it is in the public interest to use these new powers.

Defendants are not the only people to be hit by this. The legislation also applies to civil courts. This means the government can conduct secretive behind closed doors cases against the undercover police agent provocateurs that wormed their way into the lives of female activists, got them pregnant and then abandoned them completely as soon as their undercover assignments were over, and the victims and the general public will never know who authorised these appalling schemes.

In a rare foray into fiction on the AAV blog I wrote a short story about secret justice.

Just a few short months after using their parliamentary votes to pass Secret Courts into law (despite fierce resistance from the legal profession and the normally docile House of Lords) the Lib-Dem leadership decided to change position and begin opposing the Kafkaesque Secret Courts they had only just voted into existence.

One of the funniest stories of 2013 culminated with the conviction of former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex wife Vicky Price for perverting the course of justice by lying about a speeding ticket. Turning one speeding ticket into two eight month prison sentences is an impressive  indicator of extreme stupidity. After his release Huhne was snapped up as a columnist by the Guardian making him the Neil Hamilton of the Liberal Democrats.

The first few months of the year saw a large grassroots campaign against a keystone Tory amendment to their 2012 Health and Social Care Bill, designed to do nothing less than enforce mandatory privatisation of NHS services with no consideration at all for standards of care or continuity of service. Despite an almost total media blackout on the issue, 375,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition to stop the legislation (which got barely a mention across the entire BBC network). It was too little and too late to stop the bulk of the NHS privatisation reforms the coalition government have been pushing through, but it showed that the alternative media is capable of explaining a rather complex situation to hundreds of thousands of people and influencing them to support a petition against it.

38 Degrees weren't the only independent organisation opposing the Coalition government in 2013. Numerous religious groups, trade unions and charities have been dogged in their criticism, where the New Labour party and the mainstream media have been resolutely silent (or even complicit). A coalition of churches criticised the brutality of ongoing welfare reforms and the right-wing propaganda war against the working poor and the unemployed and the Trussell Trust (the largest food bank group in the UK) repeatedly stated that welfare reforms and benefits delays were two of the largest contributory factors in the rise in food poverty.

It is no wonder that the Coalition have put forward legislation designed to silence these few remaining pockets of dissent. With Orwellian finesse the Tories have drawn up a package of measures designed to repress and censor charities, social activist groups, religious organisations and trade unions and dressed it up as a bill to regulate lobbying. In reality the bill will allow the vast majority of lobbying to continue behind closed doors (since in-house corporate lobbyists have no obligation to join the register or declare their activities). If the bill had been given an honest (rather than overtly Orwellian) name it would be known as the "Silencing of Legitimate Political Debate and Protection of Corporate Lobbying" Bill.

The Tories have repeatedly claimed that these new rules are not designed to silence political dissent but their true intentions were made absolutely clear by Iain Duncan Smith's rhetoric against the Trussell Trust in December.

April 2013 was probably the most symbolic month to date for the Coalition government. In the same week that they introduced the hated "Bedroom Tax" and inflicted severe cutbacks on welfare support for the working poor they also cut the top rate of income tax in order to give an average £100,000 a year tax cut to the 13,000 UK based income millionaires. The combination of outright malice towards the "lower orders" whilst Cameron and Osborne lavished their own kind with tax cuts shows their outright determination to make the poor and vulnerable suffer the weight of austerity, whilst enriching the wealthy (including the reckless bankers that drove the UK economy off a cliff in 2007-08).

Yet another Tory attack that hit home in April 2013 was their massive defunding of the legal aid system in order to price "the lower orders" out of the courts and make courtrooms the near exclusive preserves of the rich and powerful, as they always were until legal aid provided a small amount of balance (even though the courts have remained absolutely packed with the privately educated offspring of establishment families). The element of fairness that legal aid provided was badly undermined in April 2013 and remains under further threat of attack.

There were three hugely significant deaths in 2013. Just weeks after gleeful right-wing celebration of the death of Hugo Chávez (the left-wing populist leader of Venezuela) the right-wing ideologue Margaret Thatcher died. My views on her toxic legacy are here and my article about the tide of right-wing "mustn't criticise Thatcher or her policies" political correctness is here. The other political titan to pass away in 2013 was Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa to freedom from Apartheid, but in so doing opened the pariah state up to the neoliberals, which has resulted in the continuation of mass poverty, only now enforced on economic rather than openly racist lines.

In April I came across a document produced by the American bank JP Morgan outlining their upbeat perspective on the erosion of democracy in Europe. Here's the piece I wrote comparing their current plans for Europe with their financial support for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party during the 1930s. Later in the year the bank were fined a record breaking $13 billion for the fraudulent selling of dodgy mortgage backed securities.

In May 2013 Iain Duncan Smith suffered another courtroom defeat in which the Atos administered Work Capacity Assessment was found to discriminate against those with mental illnesses. Here's my article entitled "Can the Atos administered WCA assessment regime be considered psychological torture?". IDS then wasted a load of taxpayers' money by appealing the decision, but in December 2013 the courts once again ruled that the WCA regime is discriminatory. Iain Duncan Smith has stated his intention to ignore the ruling and carry on regardless.

May 2013 also saw David Cameron capitulate to the UKIP lobby by announcing a simple in-or-out referendum on membership of the European Union by 2017. It is not difficult to see that such a move is just a ploy to slow down the growth of UKIP, which has come about largely at the expense of the Tory party.

The fact that the Tories announced a referendum in four years time (conditional on them winning the 2015 election) exposes the brazen hypocrisy of their criticism over the timing of the Scottish independence referendum. David Cameron claimed that "the
uncertainty about this issue is damaging to Scotland and Scotland's economy". It's odd how in the Tory worldview this economic uncertainty criticism applies to a two year wait for a referendum on Scottish independence, but somehow doesn't apply to a four year wait to determine the UK relationship to the EU.

In July 2013 the Daily Express reported that "a
nation celebrated the arrival of their future King after the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her and Prince William's first son". Well I certainly wasn't celebrating, in fact I took the opportunity to dissect the pitiful monarchist argument that the "Royals make us richer".

Fracking became one of the big issues during the summer after George Osborne announced a huge tax break for fracking companies. Much public anger was aimed at George Osborne's father-in-law David Howell for his comments about the north-east of England being "desolate" and "unpopulated" in the House of Lords. My criticism of him was more along the lines of "what the hell is a paid lobbyist for the fracking industry doing advising the Tory government on energy policy and using his place in the anti-democratic House of Lords to propagandise for the fracking industry?"

The Tories launched a sustained attack on trade union funding of the Labour party in the Summer of 2013 with David Cameron doing a lot of grandstanding during the fallout over the Falkirk debacle. The response from the Labour leadership was pitiful as usual. Instead of responding by exposing the dodgy characters that fund the Tory party (as I did in my rogues gallery of Tory donors) the Labour leadership decided to cave in to the Tory pressure and distance themselves from the Trade Unions. It is quite remarkable that Labour have decided to abandon funding of the party via millions of small donations through democratic organisations, whilst raising barely a criticism of the extremely dodgy crowd of tax dodgers, reckless bankers and corporate fat cats that fund the Tory party, nor their countless financial conflicts of interest.

As if the ongoing plans to silence legitimate political debate with the Gagging Legislation weren't enough, in the summer of 2013 David Cameron announced his plans to roll out a mandatory Internet monitoring and censorship firewall. The right-wing narrative is that it is necessary to monitor every Internet connection in the UK and censor perfectly lawful material in order to combat pornography, but the reality is a lot more sinister. Here's a serious look at the possible consequences of David Cameron's Internet Firewall and here's a satirical look at the issues.

In August 2013 the Tories sold off the NHS blood plasma supply to Bain Capital providing me with the opportunity to pen my best tabloid style headline of the year, which was "Tories sell UK blood supply to vampire capitalists".

In September 2013 the Tory front bench and the right-wing media conducted a rush to war. William Hague was one of the most vocal advocates for a UK intervention in the Syrian conflict, and he churned out a load of appalling war propaganda. He tried to claim that the only options would be to bomb Syria or to do absolutely nothing and derided anyone that dared doubt his interpretation of events as conspiracy theorists. That there have been atrocities committed in Syria is unquestionable, but anyone trying to paint one side as "the goodies" and the other side as "the baddies", as Hague and the Tories did, is guilty of grotesque oversimplification. The idea of British military personnel fighting alongside the Al Qaida backed rebels in Syria whilst fighting against Al Qaida in Afghanistan was enough to turn most people against the Tory plans for a war in Syria. Eventually the rush to war was put to a vote in parliament, which Cameron lost by a 285 to 272. This defeat made David Cameron the first UK Prime Minister to lose a war vote since 1782. 

The biggest story of the year came about after a private sector subcontractor for the NSA in the United States called Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents which revealed the astonishing scale of government surveillance by the NSA and their British counterparts GCHQ. These revelations resulted in one of the most appalling speeches ever made by a British politician, in which the foreign secretary William Hague trotted out the Orwellian "nothing to hide - nothing to fear" argument to justify the vast scale of data theft by GCHQ. As the leaks kept coming it became more and more apparent that the Joint Intelligence Committee (the panel of MPs charged with overseeing the intelligence services) had little or no idea of the scale of secret service activities, and that many of GCHQ's data stealing programmes had been initiated without the slightest veneer of parliamentary approval or oversight.

The extent to which David Cameron would go to protect the interests of the secret service spooks became clear when he intimidated the Guardian into destroying their hard drives containing their copies of the leaked Snowden documents, an extraordinarily hypocritical thing to do given his rhetoric about wanting to protect the freedom of the press. He then went on to call for an inquiry into the conduct of the Guardian newspaper, rather than for an inquiry into the conduct of the secret services and the appalling lack of democratic oversight into their activities.

David Cameron's assaults on the Guardian newspaper were indicative of a wider Tory campaign against the evidence. When the Trussell Trust used the "reason for referral" section on food bank referral forms given out by Jobcentres in order to show that welfare reforms were creating food poverty, the Tories unilaterally removed the section. When an alarming rise in the annual death rate was announced, the collection of the official death rate statistics was abandoned. The Tories have also spent the entire year battling against Freedom of Information rulings that they must make public the companies benefiting from "Workfare" unpaid mandatory labour schemes. One of the most high profile examples of this war on evidence was the Tory decision to purge their website of all pre-2010 speeches and pre-election promises, and to use a special script to prevent the Internet Archive from keeping a record of what they used to say.

If the Guardian deserve credit for their coverage of the Snowden leaks, the Daily Mail deserve condemnation for several things. They led the campaign against pornography that David Cameron has used as a "moral trojan horse" to justify his plans for a Chinese style Internet Firewall, despite the Daily Mail featuring the "sidebar of smut" on their website. A website that uses overtly sexualised language to drool over stolen pictures and paparazzi shots of underage teenagers calling for a clampdown on adult pornography is simply beyond hypocrisy. In 2013 the Daily Mail were also guilty of politicising child killing in order to attack the social safety net and then they launched an outrageous smear campaign against Ed Miliband's deceased father. The Daily Mail have really earned the description I coined for them in 2013. They're not a newspaper they're a "fascist hate comic".

The Daily Mail smear campaign against Ralph Miliband was quite clearly provoked by Ed Miliband's announcement the Labour Party conference that Labour would introduce a 20 month energy price freeze in 2015. The right-wing press weren't the only ones to react with outrage against Ed Miliband's populist socialism-lite policy - the Tory party went ballistic too.

It didn't matter a jot to the Tories that 68% of the UK public are to the left of Ed Miliband and support the outright renationalisation of UK energy infrastructure, they went into attack mode accusing Miliband of "price fixing" and "government interference in the market". Amazingly just a few weeks after this barrage of price fixing rhetoric from the Tories about Ed Miliband's plan to set a maximum price for energy for 20 months, the Tories announced a 35 year energy price fixing deal with the (85% owned by the French state) energy company EdF. In return for EdF constructing an new nuclear facility at Hinkley Point B, the Tories have agreed to pay them double the market rate for electricity for 35 years and ensure that all the financial risk of the project are borne by the UK taxpayer. 

One of the blog posts I enjoyed writing the most was the one in which I highlighted the Lib-Dem energy minister Ed Davey's disappearing press release from 2006, in which he stated "A new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and customers tens of billions of pounds", which contrasts starkly with the pro-nuclear rhetoric he has spouted since becoming a coalition energy minister. No wonder he had it deleted from his website as soon as I started directing web traffic towards it.

In October 2013 the Tory led government sold the Royal Mail off on the cheap. I had a lot to say about it at the time as you can see in my "12 things you should know about the Royal Mail sell-off" article. It is worth noting that in the following months it was revealed that the Tories accepted a shockingly low valuation of the Royal Mail by Goldman Sachs, and that Goldman Sachs and their clients made enormous profits as the undervalued shares rose from their floatation price towards their true value.

October 2013 was a good month for Another Angry Voice. I passed 20,000 followers on the AAV Facebook page and smashed through the 100,000 page visits in a month for the first time, but it was another month of humiliation for Iain Duncan Smith
. First it was revealed that the DWP had wasted £40 million on botched IT procurements for his flagship Universal Credit scheme, then IDS was forced to admit that the real value of IT "write downs" was more like £130 million. Later in the month he was humiliated again when his "Workfare" mandatory unpaid labour schemes were once again found unlawful by the courts as his appeal against the ruling in March was thrown out by the Supreme Court.


In November 2013 Russell Brand hit the headlines after his interview with Jeremy Paxman in which he spoke about revolution and incited voter apathy. Here's my analysis of his much debated comments.

Later in November 2013 there was the energy expenses scandal. It was revealed that dozens of coalition MPs that had loudly condemned Ed Miliband's plans to cap energy prices had been getting their energy bills paid by the taxpayer through the expenses system. One of the worst offenders was the millionaire Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi who claimed £5,822 to heat his mansion and stables on his country estate. It's no wonder they're not enthusiastic about plans to combat energy price inflation given that they get their energy bills paid by the taxpayer.

In November 2013 David Cameron made his absolute contempt for "the lower orders" perfectly clear in his speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet. He decided that a room full of gold encrusted objects and filled with members of the establishment was the ideal setting to announce his plan for permanent austerity for "the lower orders". The contrast between the wealth surrounding him and the poverty he was wishing to inflict on the poor and ordinary couldn't have been clearer.

The theme of wealthy Tories sneering and laughing at "the lower orders" continued into December. During the emergency debate on food poverty the Tory benches laughed at revelations that the desperately poor had been fighting over discounted supermarket food. Many Tories (including Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey) walked out of the debate, only to come back at the end in order to vote down measures to make it a government priority to combat the exponential growth in food poverty. The sight of wealthy Tory MPs laughing at the desperate poverty their policies have inflicted on "the lower orders" was a glaring demonstration of how out-of-touch and callous they have become.

The Tories and the right wing press have been desperate to create the narrative that 2013 has been a year of economic recovery for the UK, so before I get to the AAV awards I'd like to present a few facts to show how the Tory economic recovery is a complete fiction (unless you're lucky enough to belong to the super wealthy economic minority that Tory governments serve).

The Tories have been ever so keen to talk up the fact that the economy is growing again, although they are silent about their 2010 predictions that growth would peak at 2.9% of GDP in 2013, because the actual rate of growth that they have endlessly been bragging about is absolutely certain to be much lower than that.

The fact that they are bragging about such a low rate of growth as some kind of vindication of their policies would be bad enough on its own, however this weak economic growth illustrates how catastrophically inaccurate their economic forecasting has been (they were miles off on their predictions for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and remained inaccurate in 2013).

Another subject the coalition government have remained silent on is the fact that they have been borrowing billions more than they said they would every single month in order to produce this anemic level of growth.

It is also worth remembering that after over three and a half years of Tory rule, the economy has still not recovered to the size it was before the 2007-08 economic crisis!

The Bank of England have explained the 2013 growth figures as caused by a boost in consumer spending. However, given that wages have been falling in real terms every month since the Tories came to power in 2010, this boost in consumer spending can only be explained in two ways. Either people are accumulating even more private debt to fuel their spending, or they are extracting equity from their homes as their values are artificially inflated by George Osborne's insane "Help to Buy" house price inflation subsidies. Neither of these are good for the long term health of the economy, the last thing the UK needs is even more private debt and the inflation of an even bigger housing bubble than the last one.

The Tory led government have been bragging about how they have "reduced" unemployment, but what they have failed to mention is how they have managed to achieve this slight reduction in the headline rate of unemployment. Some 400,000 people have been stripped of their benefits under harsh sanctions regimes that target the mentally ill and the less intelligent, whilst leaving committed benefits fiddlers untouched. Then there's the tens of thousands of people a month that are being deliberately hidden from the unemployment figures because they are being compelled to do mandatory unpaid "Workfare" schemes, despite the fact that they are still receiving unemployment benefits.

As is the way with government announcements it is always necessary to look a bit deeper to understand what is really going on. To get a better understanding of the long-term unemployment catastrophe that this government is deliberately obscuring with talk of the grotesquely manipulated headline unemployment rate, it is useful to take a look at the official Labour Market Statistics. These official stats tell us that 106,000 youngsters (aged 18-24) have been unemployed for over 24 months, that's a 5,000 increase on the same period in 2012 and and increase of 55,000 since the December 2009 Labour Market Statistics were released. The same statistics tell us that long-term unemployment for all adults (24 months plus) has risen from 332,000 in 2009 to 444,000 in 2013.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the coalition government is the fact that wages have shrunk in real terms every single month since they came to power in 2010, whilst the super wealthy minority have seen their incomes soar way above the rate of inflation (and bagged a lucrative cut in the top rate of tax too). The directors of the FTSE 100 companies enjoyed an average 14% pay hike in 2013 (on top of 27% in 2012, 49% in 2011 and 33% in 2010) whilst the average wage rose by less than 1% for the rest of us. The deliberate policy of wage repression in the UK have led to the longest sustained period of wage devaluation since records began and the wealthy minority have continued getting richer than ever against a backdrop of George Osborne and the Tories telling us that "we're all in this together".

It is absolutely clear that 2013 has only been a recovery for the rich. The Tories and their Lib-Dem enablers seem delusional when they brag about a recovery that the vast majority of people are unable to see, however it is perfectly understandable. These people are trapped in their Westminster bubble of wealth and privilege, meaning that as long as they feel richer (11% pay hike) and the businessmen and establishment figures they surround themselves with feel richer, they couldn't give a damn that everyone else is still getting poorer, in fact they quite clearly think that it's funny.

 The 2013 Another Angry Voice Awards

Hero of the year: Edward Snowden 

Given the personal risk he took in order to reveal the shocking scale of surveillance programmes in the United States and United Kingdom, there is no other candidate for hero of the year.

Villain of the year: Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith's callousness towards the most vulnerable members of society is matched only by his shocking lack of intellect. In 2013 alone he has been rebuked several times for misusing official statistics, been defeated in the courts over and again, squandered tens of millions on botched IT projects and continued his campaign of psychological torture against the disabled. There are plenty of repulsive characters within the Coalition government, but none of them come close to Iain Duncan Smith. One is left wondering what dirt he's got on David Cameron to save him from the sacking he so thoroughly deserves.

Politician of the year: Caroline Lucas 

Caroline Lucas (the only Green MP in parliament) has been absolutely tireless in her fight for social justice. She has been one of the leading voices of dissent on countless issues from the backdoor privatisation of the NHS to fracking. You only need to look at her voting record in parliament to see that she has been consistently on the side of social justice.

Best publication of the year: Private Eye & The Guardian 

If you don't subscribe to Private Eye you should. They are never afraid to expose corruption and 2013 has been no different.

Even though the Guardian have been hogtied by their support for the Liberal Democrats, meaning that other mainstream papers like the Mirror, the Daily Record and the Independent have been stronger in their criticism of the Tory led government, they deserve recognition for having lead the way on the Edward Snowden revelations, which undoubtedly became the biggest story of the year on either side of the Atlantic.

Worst Publication of the year: The Daily Mail

The award of worst publication is richly deserved. Even if the Daily Mail hadn't been relentlessly pushing their anti-immigrant anti-welfare propaganda and their sidebar of smut, the sheer hypocrisy of the declaration that a man who volunteered to defend Britain from the Nazis was "unpatriotic" in a newspaper that openly propagandised for Hitler in the 1930s and now owned by a man who deliberately lives abroad in order to avoid paying tax on the profits was more than enough to earn them recognition as the worst publication of the year.
Best blog: Johnny Void

As the sole judge in these awards I've excluded my own blog from contention.

I've been a fan of Johnny Void's blog for years and his blog was one of the inspirations in the establishment of Another Angry Voice. Johnny had another cracking year in 2013 and I encourage you to check out some of his work.

Resignation of the year: The Pope 

In February 2013 Benedict XVI became the first Pope to quit in over 600 years after God "told him to resign". I'm normally sceptical of people that do things because God told them to, however in this case it was clearly for the best. His involvement in the paedophilia coverups made him an extremely unpopular moral authority figure. His successor, Pope Francis (the first Latin American pope) has made a number of impressive pronouncements, including one in which he described unfettered capitalism as a new form of tyranny and appealed to global leaders to fight against poverty and inequality. The Catholic church has a lot of crimes to atone for, but Pope Francis at least seems to be making baby steps in the right direction.

U-turn of the year: The Illiberal Democrats

In March 2013 dozens of so-called-Liberal Democrat MPs used their parliamentary votes to undermine the justice system by introducing Kafkaesque Secret Courts despite a chorus of protest from the legal profession and countless international human rights organisations. Just a few months later Nick Clegg announced that the Lib-Dems would no longer be supporting the Secret Courts his MPs had already voted into existence, and that they would be campaigning against Secret Courts at the next election, illustrating once again that there's nothing quite as flexible as a Lib-Dem principle.
Best legislation: Legalisation of cannabis in Uruguay

The highlight in terms of UK legislation was the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which was approved in July 2013, however in my view it was far too late in the day for recognition as the best piece of legislation. The UK were beaten to legislating gay equality by more than a dozen countries, many of which had to overcome the strong influence of the Catholic church (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Spain and Portugal), so it was somewhat disappointing that the UK followed rather than led the way on the gay equality issue, especially given the fact that the UK Quakers have been endorsing the validity of same sex relationships since 1963 (4 years before homosexual acts were decriminalised in England, 17 years before they were decriminalised in Scotland and 50 years before same sex marriage was finally legislated).

Latin America led the way on gay equality and they're now leading the way on another important issue. In December 2013 Uruguay became the first country to fully legalise cannabis. The cannabis market in Uruguay will now be run as a nationalised industry and people will be allowed to grow a limited number of plants for personal consumption. It is absolutely clear that prohibition causes many more significant harms than the drugs themselves, especially when it comes to non-toxic drugs like cannabis, so this dramatic abandonment of "the war on drugs" by Uruguay has to be seen as one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the decade so far.

Worst legislation: Secret courts

The 2013 Justice and Security (Secret Courts) Bill must be one of the worst pieces of legislation ever to make its way through the British parliament, let alone this year. I've already discussed it in the body of the article so I won't dwell on it too much here other than to say that the Lib-Dems that used their parliamentary votes to push through this piece of overtly totalitarian legislation (in the face of fierce resistance from the legal profession and the House of Lords) have lost all rights to refer to themselves as liberals from now on.

Seven of the best

Here are seven of my favourite articles from the Another Angry Voice blog from 2013:

Asset Stripping "Bankrupt Britain"

What is ... Universal Basic Income?

What is ... a scrounger narrative?

Common sense and neoliberal pseudo-economics

George Osborne's "All in This Together" fallacy

Problem Solving with Iain Duncan Smith

The Tory "War on Justice"

Monday 23 December 2013

Iain Duncan Smith's tirade against the Trussell Trust

For once the mainstream corporate media has picked up on the appalling behavior of the Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and actually condemned him for it. The criticism was provoked by the contents of a letter written by Iain Duncan Smith to the food bank charity the Trussell Trust, in which he made clear once again his inability to string together anything remotely resembling a coherent argument.

Iain Duncan Smith's arrogant and downright dishonest rejection of an invitation to meet with food bank bosses in order to discuss strategies to cope with the exponential rise in food poverty is yet another demonstration of his refusal to take the issue of food poverty seriously. 

His outright refusal to meet with the charity that has fed over 500,000 people since April, and expects to feed over one million next year is just another example of his absolute contempt for the desperately poor. Just a few days previously he made his total lack of concern perfectly clear by putting forward the atrocious Esther McVey to make one of the most nauseatingly partisan and dishonest speeches ever made in parliament, sniggering away behind her for a while before ducking out of the debate entirely.

One of the most ridiculous parts of Iain Duncan Smith's ranty letter was the part where he accused the Trussell Trust (a charity) of only raising the issue of food poverty in order to boost their "business model". Using the term "business model" to describe the activities of a charity that receives charitable food donations and distributes this food aid for free to the needy as a "business" is a clear attempt to create the fiction that the charity is only interested in raising awareness of food poverty due to their own self-interest. He is an absolute cretin if he thinks anyone but the most hard core Tory tribalist is going to unquestioningly accept his transparent efforts to undermine the good faith of the Trussell Trust directors, the hundreds of volunteers that work for them and the tens of thousands of people that provide the charitable food donations.

Another absurd part of Iain Duncan Smith's diatribe was the part where he chastised the Trussell Trust for supposedly "scaremongering". The audaciousness of accusing others of scaremongering over the subject of food poverty is made absolutely clear by the contents of the appalling Esther McVey  food poverty speech I mentioned earlier, in which she repeatedly used the tired Tory tactic of fearmongering about the national debt in order to justify the exponential growth in people reliant upon food banks since the Tories came to power in 2010.

In defence of his decision to snub the charity that is doing so much to help the desperately poor - and their children - to avoid malnutrition, Iain Duncan Smith wheeled out a DWP spokesperson who claimed that "There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks". 

This is quite an extraordinary assertion given that in April 2013 the DWP unilaterally changed the food bank referral form used by jobcentres in order to remove the section detailing the reason for referral. The Trussell Trust had been using it to collect statistics that clearly demonstrated that significant percentages of Jobcentre food bank referrals were being made due to changes in the welfare system and long delays in processing claims, so the DWP just deleted their source of "robust evidence" in a blatant attempt to obstruct the truth.

To make such a brazen attempt to hide the evidence is bad enough, but to then falsely accuse the Trussell Trust of lacking "robust evidence" is truly shameless stuff. To their credit the Trussell Trust have continued gathering evidence about the reasons for referral despite the deliberate obstruction of the DWP. If this independently gathered evidence is not "robust" enough for the DWP, perhaps they should reinstate the reason for referral section on the forms that they use to send those rendered destitute by Tory social security cuts off to their local food bank?

Another factor that should be considered when the DWP claim that the evidence presented by another organisation is not "robust" enough is Iain Duncan Smith's claim in July 2013 that he doesn't need to present evidence to support his (false) assertions about the welfare system as long as he claims to believe them to be true. If Iain Duncan Smith doesn't require evidence to back his own assertions, it is stunning hypocrisy for him to chastise others on the basis that their evidence isn't good enough.

The confrontational attitude adopted by Iain Duncan Smith towards the Trussell Trust is indicative of his deep psychological problems. It is clear that he sees anything that is not an outright declaration of support for his attacks on the social security system as personal criticism, which he cannot abide.

The tactic of the compensatory narcissist is to resort to outright attack against anyone that is perceived to be a critic, even when the source of the perceived personal criticism is a charity which is clearly acting in good faith.

As bad as it is, Iain Duncan Smith's aggressive and confrontational attitude towards a charity that has helped hundreds of thousands of people put meals on the table for their kids isn't even the worst of it. There's a very sinister undertone to the letter which has been completely missed by the mainstream press.

The parts of the letter that are of such concern are the points at which he criticised the “political messaging" of the Trussell Trust. He claimed that they are politically partisan because they link the growth in food poverty to Tory "welfare reform".  Here's a quote:

 “I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I’m concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear"
In the context of the Tory attempts to use their so-called lobbying bill to censor what can be said by charities, voluntary groups, social activism sites, trade unions and religious organisations, this kind of language is deeply concerning stuff.

The Tories and their Lib-Dem sidekicks have attempted to claim that their "Silencing of Legitimate Political Debate and Protection of Corporate Lobbying" Bill will not be used to silence charities and other independent non-profit organisations, however it is absolutely clear from Iain Duncan Smith's wording that he is determined to create the narrative that the Trussell Trust are pushing a political agenda when they talk about food poverty, or present evidence that the rise in food poverty is linked to Tory welfare reforms.

This kind of language demonstrates that Iain Duncan Smith is eagerly anticipating the passage of "the gagging law". He's already building the narrative that the DWP will be using to silence criticism once the gagging law comes into effect. Once this rotten piece of legislation is passed, the Tory party will be able to use it to intimidate charities like the Trussell Trust into remaining silent on welfare reform, no matter how strong their evidence of a link between that Tory "welfare reforms" and rising food poverty. If they dare to speak out about it, Iain Duncan Smith will try to use the gagging bill to silence them.

The worst thing about this Tory attack on the free speech of charities and other organisations that Iain Duncan Smith is eagerly anticipating is that legitimate evidence based criticism of charities will be deemed "political interference" and stifled, yet corporate media outlets like the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Murdoch rags and the Express will be allowed to overtly support the Tory party, and to continue publishing outright lies about the welfare system (many of them originated by the Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP and other members of the Tory government).

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