BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NOT AN OPTION!

Following the result today of the Scottish Referendum – 55.3% against Independence on an 84.6% turnout – the government has reiterated its commitment to bringing forward draft legislation on more devolution for Scotland in January. If the government and the Labour opposition think that all that’s needed is transfer of some modest tax raising powers for Scotland and some restriction on Scottish MPs voting on English matters where these have been devolved to Scotland, they will be sadly disappointed. The list of constitutional and fiscal matters in the UK that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency is legion. Here are just a few of them:

• The EU. Powers continue to drain away to the unelected European Commission. The latest example of this is the secret negotiations now under way on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTiP) which, when signed up to by the EU, will strip elected governments of the power to resist further privatisation of our public services.

• The unrepresentative nature of the Westminster Parliament. The House of Lords is a retirement home for clapped out politicians. The House of Commons is a sham of democracy, elected every five years (who agreed to that?) on a derisory turnout, peopled by over-paid party hacks and appointees who are elected on the strength of a barrage of propaganda from the capitalist press and a cowed BBC.

• Our enfeebled local government democracy. It’s stripped of revenue raising powers and run by over-paid apparatchiks. The relatively more democratic model provided by the Committee System is opposed by the large parties as it would not support the big salaries for councillors aproportion of which is diverted to financing future elections.

• The absence of democratic control of the NHS which is being privatised piece by piece and which, for us locally, is threatening the existence of Croydon University Hospital.

• The continuing attacks on trade union right and the almost total absence of workplace democracy. The government is even threatening to make illegal strikes and other industrial action that fails to secure a workplace majority of those entitled to vote. Even the decisive vote of No in the Scottish referendum only attained a 46.8% majority – i.e. it would have been inadequate for industrial action.

These and many other issues including education, housing and climate change will be discussed at the inaugural meeting of the Croydon Assembly convened by Croydon TUC on 15 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. To register your place, go to http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/croydon-assembly-tickets-9351064285?aff=eac2 .

So what happens after the Scottish Referendum?

The principal reason for hoping that the Yes campaign will not prevail in the Scottish Referendum on Thursday is the need for the working class to stay united in the face of the attacks it is undergoing at the hands of those with wealth and power. The panic in Westminster following the YouGov poll putting Yes in front and the speciousness of many of the arguments clearly intended to frighten Scots into voting No does not engender much confidence that this will happen. One thing is, however, clear from the panicky responses of Cameron, Miliband, Brown and Clegg: very little thought has been given by our rulers about what happens after the referendum. If they think that we will all return to business as usual and that Rump-UK will sink back into a passive, Little England conservatism permanently electing a Conservative (or occasionally a New Labour) government, they are very much mistaken. Here are just a few of the issues that will have to be addressed following a Yes vote:

The inappropriateness of such a large military for so small a county.
The unsuitability of an unelected House of Lords at a time of constitutional change.
The need for a written constitution including adequate provision for workers’ and trade union rights.
The undemocratic nature of the current Westminster parliamentary system.
The likelihood that Wales will follow suit.
The unwillingness of local government in England to remain totally tied to Westminster apron strings.
The need for a stable tax base in R-UK, especially as an independent Scotland dominated by the SNP may well seek to compete in a tax race to the bottom.
The unaffordability of (and absence of a home for) the nuclear deterrent for R-UK.
The bloated size of the Royal Family when the Scots no longer contribute to their upkeep.

The only issues temporarily reprieved by Gordon Brown’s promised Devo-Max solution following a No vote would be the last two. All the others will remain to be dealt with.

None of these issues will, however, be resolved in our favour through the beneficence of the ruling class. They all require hard work from the bottom up, albeit with guidance and organisational expertise from the Communist Party, and it may well be best to start with more ‘bread and butter’ issues such as health, education, housing and opposition to further cuts in services. An excellent starting point will be the inaugural meeting of the Croydon Assembly on 15 November. Be there and help start to get the ball rolling.

Diplomats and confused retired generals

Innocent people are dying in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Gaza. Enough problems for world leaders to worry about? Yet when Britain’s former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, gave his carers the slip this week and found himself in a BBC studio, he informed the startled interviewer that the current situation in Ukraine is not just a return to the Cold War, it’s a return to the 1930s with Putin playing the part of Hitler. Rather than being told by the interviewer to stay calm – the nice men in the white coats are on their way to take you back to the home, he was listened to in respectful silence. The BBC is, after all, adept at peddling nonsense to which its current paymasters subscribe – it’s been repeating ad nauseam this week the briefings emanating from the US government (or just the hawks in Washington?) that democratic governments in Europe need to cut their social spending and apply it to military spending and meeting their commitments to NATO. As if our social spending had not already taken a beating as a result of the financial crisis triggered by corrupt US banks!

Military spending in general and NATO in particular are not the solution to the problems in Ukraine, they are the problem. NATO ceased to have a purpose following the end of the Cold War and should have been wound up then as part of the peace dividend  – whatever happened to that?  Instead NATO has been allowed to grow, vacuuming up former soviet states as if there will be no tomorrow (as there may very well not be with this policy!) and is now threatening to put its tanks (sorry, our tanks) on the very borders of Russia. The best thing those attending the NATO summit this week could do would be, after reminding themselves that Russia is still a nuclear state, to wind up NATO and instruct our diplomats, not our confused retired generals, to broker a solution to the problems in Ukraine.

WHEN IT PAYS TO SETTLE

Earlier this month, Bernie Ecclestone was able to terminate the prosecution for bribery against him in a German court by agreeing to pay £60 million. His lawyers insisted, of course, that this payment was not an admission of guilt.

 

£60 million is a lot of money to pay when you are innocent. It is, however, considerably less than another out-of-court settlement this month:  that by Bank of America following a charge by the US Justice Department of “misconduct in the production of mortgage-backed securities”. This was for $16.65 billion. Like the settlement of the German court case, it is intended to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and forestall any further prosecutions or claims for damages. As in the Ecclestone settlement, there was no admission of guilt.

 

We will probably never know whether Bernie Ecclestone’s payment of £60 million represented value for money for him. As he risked a jail term if the prosecution was successful, perhaps, it did. After all, he is not a young man and he might have been required to serve his sentence in one of our grubby, under-funded and over-crowded prisons rather than in a more humane German lockup. We do know, however, that Bank of America’s settlement of $16.65 billion represented a real bargain for them. According to the US Government Accountability Office, the 2008 Financial Crisis triggered by the mortgage backed securities scam cost the US economy alone $22 trillion. The cost to the world economy must be a multiple of this huge sum.

 

Crises are endemic in capitalism. While Marxists have a good understanding of this phenomenon, capitalists and their advisers tend to ignore it until it happens. Even if they are interested in anything beyond mere personal and family accumulation, the economists to whom they listen fail to see beneath the surface of the economy and mistakenly conclude that the system can be managed and boom and bust avoided. The snake oil remedy they invariably peddle is ‘more competition’ as, for example, did John Vickers in his report on UK banking. It would be more honest to admit that capitalism is a casino for the rich who must get out of the market before the bubble bursts.

 

If the Bank of America had not decided to peddle worthless mortgage-backed securities, another trigger would eventually have kicked off the recession. Thus the real remedy is for ordinary working people to own the banks and all the other major undertakings in the economy, not the other way round. Until that day dawns, however, let’s kick up a fuss about the inadequacy of the fines and penalties, such as they are, on those banks whose reckless behaviour triggered the financial crisis.

BBC: jumping before being pushed?

The BBC has recently announced plans to scrap quotas for in-house production. John McVay, the Chief Executive of the independent producers’ trade body described it as an “historic moment” and said that the BBC had “jumped before it was pushed”. BBC insiders have commented (off the record) that it is “a short hop, skip and jump to the BBC becoming a publisher broadcaster.”

To assess the significance of this move, we need to ask ourselves what exactly the BBC is for. When founded, the first Director General, Lord Reith, considered that it was there to inform, educate and entertain. As the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ row between the government and the BBC demonstrated, frequent reviews of the Charter, the power to appoint the BBC Board and Director General and the dependence on the license fee give the government of the day tremendous influence when it comes how it ‘informs’. In a recent survey for the BBC by Ipsos MORI in February, the BBC scored an average 6.5 out of 10 in response to the question of how impartial it was. To give this scale some meaning, that great fabricator of misleading information, the Daily Mail, scored 4.1! The BBC’s pitiful ‘balanced’ reporting of the Israeli attacks on Gaza can only have further depressed the BBC’s impartiality rating. The contempt with which the BBC’s flagship political programme, Question Time, is now held by a significant proportion of its potential audience (just look at the tweets than accompany this pitiful programme) is tangible and demonstrates how our confidence in the BBC has slipped.

On education, the BBC continues to play a useful but minor role. Its nature programmes are generally good and its coverage of science is sound if uninspiring. But surveys show that even on information and education, it is now treated with less confidence than Wikipedia.

On entertainment, the role played by the BBC is essentially to set a minimum quality standard that commercial stations have to take into account. In this it has been quite successful, prompting both ITV and even Sky to raise their games in drama and comedy and not to rely exclusively in cheap imports from the USA. Whether this leadership can be retained when the BBC is no longer constrained by an in-house quota is problematical. The BBC could indeed be on its way to becoming a “publisher broadcaster” and, from there, oblivion.

What is the way forward for the BBC? Obviously, it should not be handed over to Murdoch or Sky as many on the right would like to see. Its modest independence from the government of the day needs to defended and strengthened. The license fee needs to be retained, but an element of progressivity included. While it is not realistic to think that a public broadcaster can be truly independent of the capitalist interests that control everything else in our society, we should continue to press for a fair hearing for the left and progressive causes. A good place to start would be for the BBC to respond at last to Early Day Motions in parliament calling on it to include the Morning Star in its coverage of the UK press.

Stern Stuff

In a significant but little reported letter published in the Financial Times last week (7 August), Lord Stern, Head of the Government Economic Service between 2003 and 2007, revealed that, in addition to his celebrated reports on climate change and for the Commission for Africa, he had been responsible for a report on tax reform. This report had, however, gathered dust in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s in tray and even its existence has been kept secret. What did it contain that so scared the government?

Enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act may now enable the report to be extracted from the government. Whether the effort will be worthwhile remains to be seen. According to Lord Stern, his report called for:

a. value added tax to be applied at the standard rate to a wider range of goods, including food and energy. The poorest could (Stern’s word) be compensated;

b. higher taxes on congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – again with a suggestion that the poorest losers could be compensated;

c. more tax on the financial sector; and

d. reform of property taxes with a tentative endorsement of Land Value Tax.

Some of these proposals may be contained in the forthcoming report from the Communist Party on taxation, but it’s hard to believe that the Communist Party would endorse higher direct taxes without much firmer protection for workers and their families than Stern appears to think necessary. The surprising fact, however, is what the report does not contain. Stern makes no mention of the need for a return to progressive taxation of income and capital.

The recent book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century, has deservedly attracted much attention for demonstrating that inequality of income and wealth is even worse than we had suspected. His data show that we are returning to levels of inequality not seen since the early 1900s. While his analysis lacks the clarity of Marx, his conclusion echoes that of Marx in predicting that inequality will continue to grow under capitalism. We are rapidly heading for, or have already become, a plutocracy in which the bottom half of the population subsist and the top 1% are super-rich. Piketty sees a return to progressive taxation of income and wealth as essential if capitalism is to survive. Communists would support this but would conclude that capitalism won’t survive. It won’t, however, fall by itself. This will take organisation and political work.

Morning Star Marks World War 1 with Unique International Collaboration

Get your copy of today’s Morning Star, which has published an international pullout this weekend to mark the centenary of World War 1 with views and analysis which break with the establishment consensus and a socialist perspective on the bloodshed, which puts the record straight. It is a unique collaboration with three socialist newspapers: Arbejderen of Denmark, junge Welt of Germany and Zeitung vum Letzebuerger Vollek of Luxembourg. The pullout will be published in all four countries during the centenary week.

The special edition has eight pages of hard-hitting feature pieces and pictures on “the war that didn’t end all wars”, led to slaughter on an industrial scale and a legacy of imperialism and conflict which continues to this day.

As Prime Minister David Cameron eyes “The Great War” as a PR opportunity for the election of the Conservatives in 2015, and with the mainstream media slavishly following his lead, the Morning Star supplement tells it like it is, from the Left.

Acting Editor Ben Chacko said:

“I know of no newspaper in Britain which is joining hands with others in Europe, and especially Germany, to tell the truth about the carnage of the first world war, why it happened, and who profited from it.

“We were then, as in many respects we are now, a nation of lions led by donkeys. We will not let David Cameron and his media cronies hijack history and portray this centenary as a patriotic exercise for the election of a Tory Government.”

The special souvenir edition offers analysis and historical insight on a range of issues related to the war, from how it affected women and their position in society, to those voices of courage from the Left who opposed it to their personal cost.

Writers from the four publications will appear in the pullout. They include:

- Andrew Murray, deputy president of the Stop The War coalition, applying the lessons of the war to today’s conflicts;

- Selina Todd of Oxford University on the women who emerged from the munitions factories and elsewhere to build new lives and help elect the ’45 Labour Government in a land fit for heroes;

- Martin Hedlund Fink from Denmark looking at war profiteering in his own country, capitalist opportunism and the so-called “goulash barons”;

- Arnold Scholzel from Germany on how workers and their organisations across Europe reacted to the inexorable move to conflict; and,

- Wayne David, Labour MP for Caerphilly, on how his forerunner, Morgan Jones, opposed the war to his huge personal cost, with imprisonment.

Ben Chacko added:

“This is a unique and fruitful collaboration between four major newspapers of the European Left. It is not a one-off, and we intend to come together again to offer working people of our countries a socialist perspective on the issues that matter to us all.”

The souvenir edition is free in today’s 32-page weekend Morning Star (Saturday and Sunday 2/3 August), which sells for £1. It is available at all key retail outlets. Or you can subscribe at: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk. After that you can buy copies of the souvenir edition from the Morning Star online shop or by calling 020 8510 0815.

CROYDON TUC CONVENES A CROYDON ASSEMBLY on 15 NOVEMBER 2014

The government has been trumpeting that economic recovery is under way: according to figures published by the Office of National Statistics, unemployment in the UK fell by 121,000 in the three months to May; the rate of unemployment fell to 6.5% from 6.6% in the three months to 31 March, l the lowest level in nearly six years; the number claiming jobseekers allowance has fallen to 1.04 million; and more than 78% of men and 68% of women are now in work.

The Tories are desperate to persuade enough of the electorate, or at least enough of the electorate who can be bothered to vote, that the economic crisis triggered by the bank collapse in 2008 is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

After four years of austerity, government borrowing remains more or less where it was following the banking collapse. But reducing government borrowing was never what the coalition’s continuing austerity programme is about. It is an attack on the living standards of working people and it is succeeding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after inflation, the real, hourly pay of workers under the age of 30 has collapsed by 11% since 2008; and their household incomes are down 15%. Meanwhile, rents are up and the property market for buy-to-rent is soaring.
Every capitalist state requires a large pool of unemployed workers in order to subdue the rest and keep profits rolling in. This could be achieved with an even lower unemployment rate than we are currently experiencing – provided further measures are put in place to cow workers. This is why Cameron is threatening to further restrict trade unions and workplace rights and why there will be further tightening of unemployment and other benefits. These measures ensure that workers can be pressed into employment at rates of pay that scarcely provide for their subsistence and ensure that their kids will never be in a position to enjoy even this modest level of subsistence or have families of their own.
The solutions are obvious. We need the government to promote trade unions, not attack them. We need solid financial support for our young people before they enter employment, not student loans. We need a living wage, not the derisory minimum wage. We need security of tenure for tenants and a huge council house building programme. Only with a bedrock of social housing will the private sector curtail its exploitative behaviour. We need generous social security benefits and an end to attacks on claimants. We need a media that doesn’t attack the unemployed and foreigners, not one owned by billionaires who fund the Tories and yet don’t themselves pay tax.

The Labour Party, or at least a significant element within it, once supported all these measures. These days they believe in “equality of opportunity” and seek to appeal to upwardly mobile “hard working families”. Don’t they understand that for every family on the way up, there is one on the way down, and that working class families have kids and these kids won’t be in a position to start families if nothing is done?

If enough pressure is brought to bear on the Labour Party, it could be brought round again to progressive policies. This is the idea behind Croydon TUC’s recent decision to launch a Croydon Assembly, bringing together workers, special interest groups and local activists in the area. A meeting of the Assembly has been called for Saturday, 15 November at Ruskin House, South Croydon. The Communist Party gives this initiative its full support. Whether Labour can be shifted from the secure middle ground that offers it the prospect of winning, or at least sharing, power at the general election in 2015 as the ‘least worst option’ remains to be seen. One thing is clear. This is the last opportunity to attempt this. If Labour takes power and continues with further austerity and more neo-liberal policies, or indeed, if it loses the election having stood on a platform of such policies, we will have to conclude that, as they say, the party’s over.

Academies and Free Schools: the cracks begin to show

The Guardian reported today (18 July) a leaked draft report commissioned by Gove before he was sacked as Education Secretary into the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists. The draft report was confirmed as apparently genuine by the BBC. It is written by a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command, Peter Clarke, and predictably finds a “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” to introduce an “intolerant Islamist ethos” into the schools. Perhaps little else could have been expected given Clarke’s expertise and perspective, but, displaying an unexpected objectivity, he calls on the Department of Education to “review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status” and comments that “in theory academies are accountable to the Secretary of State, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect”.

Whether these comments are removed from the final version remains to be seen. Presumably whoever leaked the draft feared that they might be excised by Gove or his successor. If, however, even a counter-terrorism policeman can conclude that academies are unfit for purpose, perhaps the penny will eventually drop with the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in a further serendipitous link between the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Education, we learnt this week that South Norwood police station will be gifted to a new ‘free’ school in Croydon – a form of school also responsible to the Secretary of State for Education but under even less control than are academies. Labour policy on free schools is to retain them and call them “parent-led academies”. If this is intended to reassure us, it has failed!

The key to improving education is to get Westminster politicians of both major parties to end their continuous, we-know-better-than-the- professionals meddling and sucking up to business interests keen to leech on public money. What’s needed is a statutory framework for comprehensive education and restoration of democratic, local authority control, managed by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) staffed by teachers and other appropriate professionals. Oh, and as a forthcoming report by the Communist Party will recommend, let’s end charitable status for public schools and charge VAT on school fees!

Martin Graham

The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.