STRONG AND STABLE?

We are used to right wing bias in the capitalist press. The hysterical response of the Daily Express to news that we would not be putting up candidates in the forthcoming general election was an extreme but not untypical example. Tory MPs were quoted by The Express as warning that our support was a sign of how extreme Labour had become under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Amanda Milling, the nervous Tory MP for Cannock Chase (majority only 4,923) bleated:

“Let this sink in: Jeremy Corbyn has been endorsed today by a party who want   to close down businesses, leave the protection of Nato and hike up  taxes to a level never seen before in this country.”

One and a half out of three, Amanda!

Yes, we do want to quit Nato whose original purpose was to contain the former USSR and whose purpose now is to confront Russia by rolling our tanks and missiles up its borders. Yes, we want to hike up taxes on the likes of Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, who employs trusts and holding companies located in Guernsey to avoid paying UK tax. No we don’t want to ‘close’ businesses, but we do want to see their employees treated fairly and with respect, represented by trade unions with negotiating rights and given a say in the running of the business, with public ownership as an option where the so-called ‘business’ is actually a public service.

Jeremy Corbyn is a decent, principled politician with deep socialist convictions, but he’s not obviously a Marxist; and he’s certainly not a communist. Our programme would go much further as it’s aimed at creating a society run by those who do the work, not those whose families have accumulated the proceeds of other people’s work. Corbyn may not share our entire world-view; but compared with a prime minister who wants to starve state education while promoting grammar schools, privatise the NHS and who confesses to being willing to commit mass murder by launching a retaliatory nuclear attack, he’s well worth supporting.

Strong and stable government under May? For the few, perhaps, but not for the rest of us.

Saving capitalism

While the Tories would like to see the NHS destroyed and replaced by a US-style insurance-based system (all those lovely profits just waiting to be extracted) and, aided by the Lib Dems, they have done everything they can to facilitate this (GP commissioning, sub-contracting and partial privatisations), the current crisis in the NHS has a single cause: the 2006 financial crisis. In order to save capitalism, the government had to save the banks, or, more precisely, the speculative capital invested in banks, and to do this they:

  • froze the level of funding for the NHS (ignoring increasing demand);
  • froze the pay of NHS staff and worsened the terms of employment of junior doctors (ignoring the need to recruit and retain staff); and
  • slashed funding for local government social services for frail and elderly patients (ignoring the need for such services if patients are to be discharged from hospital).

The current crisis in the NHS is the consequence. But it is not the only one. The bank bailout and the way it was financed depressed economic growth for at least a decade, increased inequality by underwriting the earnings of the financial elite and destroyed social services beyond those supporting patients discharged from hospital. Furthermore, it yielded no return on the government’s investment in the banks – like Lloyds Bank, they are returning to 100% private ownership and yielding not even a notional profit to the government.

Despite the cost of this bailout, the government has failed to ensure that the banks won’t ask to be bailed out again. Yet the risk of losing our money transmission services and that individual depositors could call on the government guarantee could again allow banks to blackmail governments into bailing them out when their speculative activities collapse. The report by John Vickers in 2013 looked at the “too big to fail” argument but failed to call for a complete separation of simple banking activities – money transmission services and lending against deposits – and the banks’ speculative activity. Vickers, a neo-classical economist with, as his track record as a former Director General of the Office of Fair Trading demonstrated, a misplaced faith in more competition as the remedy for every economic problem, accepted that (his words) “some risk of failure” had to be tolerated and opted for ring fencing and a capital reserves regime. Notwithstanding monitoring by the Financial Conduct Authority, this “risk of failure” is real and will materialise when the banks’ speculative activity next comes off the rails, as it surely will.

But at least we will know what to do next time. Saving capitalism won’t be the priority. We will insist that the government truly nationalises the banks without compensation, not give them what were, in effect, interest free loans until their share prices recover. They must then remain in the public sector to be run in the interests of working people on whose labour their existence depends. These interests will include not pauperising the NHS; they don’t include saving capitalism.

Follow the Cuban Model

In the posting last week I suggested that resistance to antibiotics should be added to the threats facing humanity. This has been confirmed by the Final Report to government from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) published today. In the preface to this report, Lord O’Neill, now a government minister, accepts that routine surgeries and minor infections will become life-threatening once again and that the hard won victories against infectious diseases of the last fifty [surely sixty plus] years will be jeopardized. Unless action is taken, the report concludes, the number of deaths each year from AMR could balloon to 10 million, at a cumulative cost to global economic output of $100 trillion. On this basis, by 2050, the death toll could be a staggering one person every three seconds and each person in the world today will be more than $10,000 per annum worse off – quite a problem when the world average income is currently less than $18,000 per annum – but such distributional matters tend not to concern Tory ministers.

Some of the report’s recommendations are obvious, including restricting doctors from prescribing antibiotics until they have confirmed with tests that they are actually required. Others are conspicuous by their absence and reflect the prejudices of the government of which Lord O’Neill is a member. These include the need to block TTIP so that US factory farming methods dependent on intensive antibiotic use are not forced on us when this agreement with the  EU is signed. Leaving the EU is the best, possibly only, way of stopping TTIP  – what a shame that the official Brexit Campaign, dominated as it is by right wing Tories, is so reluctant to point this out.

The report concludes that remedial action can be financed from existing NHS budgets. That will generate a huge sigh of relief from a government unwilling to provide an adequate level of funding for even current services. It depends, however, on the assumption that the drug companies can be made to pay. The key recommendation is a new settlement with Big Pharma, a so-called ‘pay and play’ requirement: pay for the investment in new antibiotics and inoculation in exchange for continuing their privileged position as monopoloy suppliers to governments. Given Big Pharma’s record of dodging taxes and ripping off governments, this has all the prospects of a snow ball in hell. The knee jerk reaction from the trade body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was, as would be expected,  immediate rejection.

Big Pharma is the epitome of capitalism and the illusion that if we give the rich and powerful everything they want, the welfare of everyone else will be enhanced. The truth is that, as with global warming, international, profit driven enterprises cannot be trusted with the fate of humanity. They will always put the interests of the elites who own them or feed off them as managers first. They must be cut down to size, stripped of their monopolies and, in the case of Big Pharma,  replaced with democratically controlled research institutes. If the impoverished Cubans can do it, so can we!

The Future of the NHS and the role of the Independent Left

The news, suppressed until the Tory Party Conference had ended, that NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months did not come as a surprise to the Communist Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public who have been waiting for the figures. Make no mistake, the Tories intend to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US style private insurance based scheme, not stop at merely tendering out services. The outsourcing of Croydon University Hospital’s A&E service, now shambolically and expensively run by Virgin, is just the start. As a step to achieving their aim, the Tories, naively supported by the Lib Dems for the first five years, engaged in a programme of inadequate funding and enforced ‘efficiency savings’. But these alone will not enable them to bring their plans to fruition. For all their bluster, they know they lack enough support across the country to enforce a complete privatisation of the NHS. Not even the backing of the capitalist press and sympathetic coverage by a BBC cowed by the prospect of charter renewal will be enough to force it through. They need a TINA argument – There is No Alternative. They are looking for continued membership of the European Union and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to provide this.

From where will the opposition to the Tories’ plans come? Jeremy Corbyn deserves our support following his election as Labour Leader, especially in his struggle with a sullen Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – many Labour MPs resent the power exercised by new members and supporters in electing him and will seek to oust him as soon as they can. The NHS cannot, however, be saved by parliamentary opposition alone; nor should everyone on the independent left, especially those in the Communist Party, tear up their membership cards and pile into the forthcoming internal struggle inside the Labour Party. It will take time to clear out the PLP (assuming it can be done) and, meanwhile, we need to organise independently in the trade unions and trade union councils, support what’s left of our free press (the Morning Star and the internet) and campaign on the streets and in our community groups. Even more important than the next meeting of Croydon Constituency Labour Parties is the next public meeting of the Croydon Assembly. This is a genuine, bottom-up democratic initiative by Croydon TUC and will take place on Saturday 7 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Confirmed speakers include John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Such grass roots initiatives, conducted independently of the current struggle within the Labour Party, are essential if continued membership of the European Union on unsatisfactory terms and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both essential steps in the destruction of the NHS, are to be opposed. We cannot rely on an internally divided Labour Party to do this for us. We must do it ourselves.

BIG PHARMA

The threat to the NHS is not confined to the way it is being slowly privatised by the Tories and their Lib-Dem stooges – a process which was shamefully initiated by the last Labour Government and about which Labour remains largely silent in the run up to the General Election. The other threat is of even longer standing and relates to the way the big pharmaceutical companies, Big Pharma, operate. This was illustrated this week by two news items. First, it was announced that NHS England is to delay the introduction of Sofobuvir, a drug that can save the lives of people infected by the hepatitis C virus because the manufacturer, Gilead, is charging too much. In the US Sofobuvir costs $1,000 a pill. Gilead want to charge the NHS a still exorbitant £35,000 for a twelve week course or £75,000 for the 24 week course many patients will require.

The other news item is the report from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that the price of life-saving vaccines has skyrocketed leaving some countries struggling to fully immunise children. MSF say there has been a 68-fold increase in prices between 2001 and 2014 and it  accuses Big Pharma of overcharging, especially developing countries.

When accused of over-charging, the response by Big Pharma is always the same: they say that their pricing reflects the cost of research and manufacture. These businesses are, however, almost completely opaque organisations, depend on states to afford them extended patents, research what is most profitable and spread this highly secret research, and their manufacturing and marketing, internationally, enabling them to play off one country against another and to take full advantage of tax havens. Essentially they charge whatever they can get away with.

A partial remedy would be provided by the tax reforms and more transparent accounting called for in a recent discussion pamphlet from the Communist Party From Each According to Their Means[i].Reform of the tax system and more transparent accounting would, however, not be a complete remedy. Capital will always find a way to secure its own interests, whether by buying the politicians or by outright deception. What’s wrong with the pharmaceutical industry is what’s wrong with capitalism as a whole: it’s run without consideration for the wider good and to benefit a small group of shareholders, especially those with significant amounts of capital at their disposal. It is not run in the interests of people who need the products and services generated, whether they be poor people in developing countries or the working people in developed countries like the UK.

The complete remedy is a democratic society in which investment, including pharmaceutical research, is organised and planned in order to meet the needs of ordinary working people, not the interests of the capitalist class – essentially the 1%. What’s this system called?  Socialism! Or, as we prefer to call it when it has been fully developed, Communism.

[i] Available from the Communist Party, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. £2.50 including postage.

BRITISH VALUES

Following Ofsted investigation into Birmingham schools and the resulting undignified spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May, David Cameron was forced to intervene and explain what Gove meant by the “British Values” he wants to see taught in English and Welsh state funded schools. Apparently these “British Values” are freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.

This list is loaded with class implications and is worth picking apart. Taking them in order:

Freedom – a term always banded about by those on the right but never properly defined by them. They mean, of course, freedom for those with wealth and power to enjoy these with as few constraints as possible.

Tolerance – this means a relaxed view to the views of others provided they don’t impact on those with wealth and power. Ownership and control by the rich and powerful of the mass media does, of course, ensure that really dangerous views such as socialism can be not so much tolerated as safely ignored.

Respect for the Rule of Law – this means rigorously enforcing those laws that protect property and generally disregarding those laws which protect the rights of ordinary working people. To ensure this, the judiciary is drawn from the powerful and wealthy sections of society and can be relied on to protect their class’s interests.

Belief in personal and social responsibility – this means that ordinary working people should not anyway expect “rights” under the law. They must take personal responsibility for their own welfare, just like the rich and powerful do.

Respect for British institutions – this means we should not criticise or question those institutions that prop up the ruling class – the police, parliament, the army, royals etc. Such unquestioning respect need not, however, apply to those institutions that actually serve ordinary working people such as the NHS, our trade unions and those schools that have not yet been sold off to business interests.

It is quite easy to think of a more wholesome set of values. The list could include solidarity with fellow workers, opposition to sexism and racism and treating other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. The problem with these from a Tory perspective is that they are not exclusively “British”. How strange then that Cameroon and his Tory chums appear to have overlooked that it would only take one more clumsy intervention from them in the debate in Scotland on independence and the term “British” will become an historic relic.

Martin Graham

Croydon Communists and defence of National Health Service

John Eden

I am contributing a draft to a leaflet for the Croydon Communists, it is to be the basis of our intervention in the area by the party,it’s been many years since we have done this type of work.

In my previous blogs “Croydon and beyond” I have emphasised the world capitalist crisis as being the central driving force behind the “riots” in Britain and the “Arab spring”

In South West London including Croydon, a NHS review published this week says one of four accident and emergency departments and a maternity unit in the area will close, with the aim of saving £64.6million by the end of March 2013. How can you put a price on life  and health? but the capitalist system does. The NHS was part of the welfare state set up after the war, to prevent the  conditions that previously existed, where if you did not have the money, common diseases or accidents often meant death or being permanently disabled. In a civilised society health care should be an area of ever-increasing budgets as new cures are found.  In the last two or three decades with the acceptance of the neo-liberal agenda by all the main political parties including the Labour party, the NHS as become an internal market, where if you live in the wrong postcode, you may die because the local NHS trust as used up its budget, and now they are proposing to increase the internal market even further,which will drive down patient care, as lower tenders are excepted. It is said that nothing  exemplifies Britain like the NHS, all politicians have called it a national treasure, it’s what the people of Britain was prepared to accept in 1945, capitalism with a welfare state, Labour and the Con-dems all  say the NHS is save in their hands, but all agree on the need for market lead reforms. Andy Burnham Labour shadow Health secretary has criticised the present Tory-Lib coalition Health and social care bill, and if it helps to prevent it’s introduction good, but it should be remembered he  introduced GP commissioning in the NHS. His opposition as more to getting back in power and diverting attention from  Labours role previously of being the  main conduit for marketing of the NHS, just as they were for student tuition fees, they have become a stalking horse for the capitalist class. they are the means by which the profiteers get their foot in the door to public services. Here is what John Lister a leading campaigner in the defence of the NHS and against it’s privatisation, in an interview with Tomasz Pierscionek of the “London Progressive journal” 18th June 2010:

TP “There seems to have been a big expansion in PFI contracts (Private Finance initiative), in recent years, What is the reason for this?

JL: Well, PFI never happened under the Tories. The Tories devised the policy but they were never prepared to go as far as New Labour to placate the private sector and allow them to sign these deals with no risk to them whatsoever. The only piece of legislation New Labour passed in 1997 that pertained to the NHS, was short act : the National Health Service (Private Finance) Act 1997 which stipulated that in any PFI scheme that went broke, the debt would be picked up by the Secretary of State for Health” that is you and me the taxpayer, Labour bent over backwards to introduce the market to the advantage of the profiteers.