Austerity

It is perhaps not surprising given the power and reach of the Neoliberal uber-rich that in the UK, the EU and USA Austerity has become the orthodoxy.  In the UK it is taking on an extreme form in our political life.  So much so that the neoliberal Tories are regarded by many voters as a centre party. They have been bamboozled by the idea that the finances of a country are best managed like a household budget. Margaret Thatcher famously started the idea but George Osborne and Cameron are the real practitioners. Prof Steve Keen in an interview explains the absurdity of such theories. It is not surprising that his views and similar views of other serious economists are hidden under a blizzard of spin and invective by the powerful uber-rich who stand to lose if austerity is abandoned.

This has resulted in Labour becoming a right of centre party also enamoured of austerity which they dare not refute. That is the case with all their leadership nominees apart from Jeremy Corbyn. He is being taken apart by the neoliberal main stream media, not surprising in view of who owns them, and there is a desperate campaign to stop his bid for the labour Party leadership.

However, there are growing signs of at least some of the electorate realising the fact that they have been hoodwinked. Jeremy Corbyn is the popular candidate of the grassroots of the party, Greece elected a left wing party, Syriza, and there are movements in Spain and Italy.

Prof Steen mentioned the economic policy of the SNP in Scotland as going in the right direction.

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The State of the Parties

I am amazed at the shambles of the Labour Party. Surely losing Scotland should have been a wake-up call. However what is happening does probably fit a wider picture. Neoliberals have taken over the lunatic asylum. The Labour Party would do well to read Richard Murphy’s book the Courageous State which can be ordered through the blog. There is an alternative to Austerity. More and more respected economists and financial institutions including the IMF have come to that conclusion.

Jeremy Corbyn could win a general election. That is why the neoliberal elite have mounted such a fierce, violent and scurrilous attack, going to the extent of calling in Tony Blair. It smacks of Gordon Brown’s intervention in the Scottish referendum. Except that up to that point Gordon did at least have some credibility. The present anti-left campaign within the parliamentary Labour Party has the same provenance as the anti SNP campaign which incidentally shows no sign of abating. It is the deadly dread that the English electorate might wake from its slumbers as happened in Scotland and actually realise that, in spite of the rhetoric about the working people, the Tories are totally focused on furthering their neoliberal objectives. And it would seem there are enough fellow travellers in the parliamentary Labour ranks especially amongst the leadership contenders to make sure that no alternative economic plan is given credence.

The upshot is a parliament which is made up of two major neoliberal parties. In some countries both parties would be regarded as right wing. This leaves the SNP’s 56 MPs as the only substantial party with opposing views. And they will be vilified at every turn.

We are in five years of neoliberal mayhem and major negative campaigns against any alternatives.

Hardworking MPs?

For many years we have been fed the line that the paucity of MPs actually visible in the HoC chamber is because they are all so frantically busy elsewhere looking after the concerns of their constituents. As the blog Ripped Off Briton points out the vast majority of MPs sit for safe seats and as their official voting record shows that 36% average do even not turn up to vote, are we being fed a line of misinformation?

I don’t know anybody who has ever consulted their MP. As a volunteer for a party a long time ago, I don’t recall any frantic MP surgeries or concern over the constituents’ problems. The new SNP MPs are managing to spend a lot of time in the Chamber. As newbies might they not be finding the burden of all their other duties too time consuming to also sit for long hours listening to the debates or are they exploding the myth?

Better Together?

Anybody who thought that with the Smith Commission and the new Tory government Scotland would somehow get a Christmas hamper of devolved powers must be very naïve.  At last Iain MacWhirter in the Sunday Herald http://t.co/8zBWeFrJ4j has brought it to the fore. I first used the words “poisoned chalice” in relation to the devolution of taxes in August 2014 where I said that devolution of all taxes might be acceptable. Nobody should be under any illusion that the established parties, Tory, Labour and Lib Dem, will forego any opportunity to ambush the SNP.

Tommy Sheppard MP in his maiden speech set out the SNP position in a nutshell and it should be referred to at every opportunity. The video also highlights the very few members of other parties who bother to attend debates. A key weapon in the SNP 56’s armoury should be be their attendance. If they can keep up that level of attendance sooner or later discontented voters in other parts of the UK will begin to ask where their own MPs are? The SNP contingent must stick with it as a key ingredient of their Westminster campaign. Sweet reasonableness is another weapon. They should also always bear in mind that they have no friends in the House except just possibly Speaker Bercow if you listen to his remarks at the end of Tommy Sheppard’s speech.

Where Do We Go From Here? #GE15

The 2015 General Election result did not feature in any of the pre-election scenarios so the rhetoric of the various campaigns becomes in some ways redundant.

A Tory majority gives Cameron a free hand. An SNP landslide could constrain him but will it? Best for Scotland would be some form of compromise which would allow the SNP Scottish Government wriggle room to pursue some of their anti-austerity agenda. This would give the SNP some credibility and pave the way for electoral success in the 2016 Holyrood elections. Would that suit the Tories? At worst they could hand Scotland a totally poisoned chalice of an imbalance of powers which if they are used will make the social and economic climate worse but if not used will leave the SNP with a loss of credibility.

So what should the 56 MPs and Nicola Sturgeon be negotiating for?

First and foremost the approach needs to be entirely pragmatic. Bandstanding on issues such as Trident will get them nowhere. Even the emasculated parliamentary Labour Party will not support that. We need to reduce the poverty and  dependence of a significant proportion of the Scottish population. Not as Iain Duncan Smith would wish to do it. It will be a slow process but we have to start soon and somewhere. We need better education, not the academic variety but cultural and life-enhancing. Every young person leaving our education system should be kitted out with the skills to make a positive contribution and to be employable. It is a disgrace that we have so many young people unemployed or under employed. A decent society should have as a given that youngsters are able to find work when they leave education or training. Apart from their own well-being, leaving them unemployed for any length of time risks them becoming a permanent burden on society. Our population is getting older. We cannot afford not to make certain that all young people become usefully employed. It is in the self-interest of the older members of our society. Succeed with this and it follows that we can reduce the total costs of  some benefits.

Tax Credits are a subsidy to employers not the benefit recipients. Scotland needs to control its own minimum wage. The money not spent on tax credits can be used to attract socially useful employers and to keep them in Scotland. Essentially we need manufacturing industries in the broadest sense; industries that produce goods which can be sold. It is clear that financial services do not bring benefits to the whole population and can cause havoc.

We need powers to make sure that we can gather all taxes due. We need to be able to close the many loopholes that allow the uber-rich and international corporations to avoid taxes.Some may depart abroad but if they are not paying taxes we might be better off without them.

We should be addressing our chronic housing problems. Cameron mentioned One Nation Conservatism. MacMillan, a true one nation Tory, oversaw the building of 200,000 houses per annum.

We need powers to protect the NHS from the effects of TTIP. In a Tory regime it is certain that the NHS will become entirely privatised and insurance based. What is more it will cost more. Our present NHS is not an expensive health service but it needs to be protected and nurtured.

Recent governments have played havoc with the pensions of many workers. We need the power to make certain that on retirement nobody falls into poverty. In a decent wealthy society such as Scotland there should be no need for any individual to be without shelter and food. In particular anybody in full time employment should not need a subsidy from the state to provide for their own and their family’s needs.

None of the above is unobtainable or unreasonable. However our new MPs must make certain that the powers granted under new Scotland Act actually allow us the freedom to achieve them.

GE15 Election Myths and Misinformation

The main political parties are all in the business of frightening voters about the dire consequences in post election Britain which will result from a vote for another party.

If the Tories form the government they will continue their ideological mission to downsize the public sector and allow the private sector free reign to milk the public finances. They are the party of neo-lib policies based on the free market model of the Chicago School of Economics as highlighted by Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine (2007). Ann Pettifor in Just Money refers to our present financial elite as “robber barons” and they are the ones manipulating the finger puppets within the Tory party. They are however really worried by the SNP and the effect they are having on the campaign, hence the several headless chicken scenarios going on.

If Labour forms a minority administration on a “confidence and supply” basis with the smaller parties one would hope for an orderly conduct of business over the next five years. Trident should be at least maintained with Conservative assistance while a budget compromise with some slackening of austerity is on the cards. The UK debt and deficit is being blown up as a scare tactic. National good housekeeping is not the same as your average family’s. Tweeter @buddy_hell explains the fallacy well. So whether we have a small continuing deficit or a small surplus at the end of the parliament is neither here not there in terms of a trillion pound total debt. Better economic management of money could well reduce the percentage deficit faster than the austerity model of deficit management.

However I fear the worst. The present Tories will stop at nothing to get back into power. They will never support a Labour government vote even to save Trident but will pursue every means fair or foul to bring down the government at the earliest opportunity. In this they will have the whole of the right wing press to help. The blatant scaremongering in the election campaign will be as nothing. If it damages the country’s credit rating so much the better; the quicker the Labour government will collapse. Why do this? Because in the immediate aftermath of the election only the Tories will have the money to fight another election and they will do anything to seize that chance.

And what of the Union? Pushed into another referendum with that sort of turmoil in Westminster, the Scots will almost certainly vote for independence. So much for all the smarm pre last year’s Independence vote about how much Scotland means to Tory hearts. Not as much as the riches of Croesus.

Who to Vote For in Election 2015

This general election 2015 is being fought by two major parties on spurious grounds because it is not in either’s interest to speak of the real issues. Superficially Labour and Conservatives seem to have only marginal differences in policy and plans.

The electorate should be focusing on an entirely different and ideological difference between them. The current Tory hierarchy are firmly in the Chicago, Milton Friedman, School of economics. They are not pursuing austerity as a means of reducing the deficit. They are intent on rolling back the state and public sector and passing as much public provision of services into private ownership as possible. Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine (2007) documents many instances of this ideological takeover of the public sector from South America to South Africa. One characteristic is that the Chicago School often take advantage of catastrophic events to move in; hence the excuse of the2007-8 financial crash was an absolute godsend to the Tories. Against that background the austerity is immaterial. What matters is privatising the state and reducing state funding of benefits and handouts. The squeeze on benefits by the present Department of Work and Pensions ministers will not be relaxed by them if they are still in power after the election even if there is an economic upturn. We are also largely ignorant of the true nature of TTIP and the dispute resolution mechanism. The present Conservative administration would never obstruct any piece of this Treaty that impeded the easy takeover of UK services by American and other foreign global corporations. The ultimate prize is the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland. Privatisation is of course well under way in England and Wales.

What does surprise me is that the Civil Service appear to be aiding and abetting this process as if they do not realise that their own jobs are already on the privatising list. It may be a bit farfetched but our armed forces could readily fit a privatised model much as private security companies came to dominate Iraq. The new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth could become HMS Serco Queen Elisabeth.

So a vote for Conservatives in May is a vote to hand Britain into the laps of the global corporations.

What of Labour? Well they should be socialist, even if only with a lower case s but their record when last in government was almost anything but. It was much more a continuation of the Thatcher years than the John Major interregnum. Both Blair and Brown played to the corporate gallery more than the working class stalls. Ed Balls has promised if he becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer to honour the recent Osbourne budget. What a contrast with the new Greek government who would sweep austerity away. It should be remembered that some of the elements of Tory austerity such as a clamp down on benefits, the laissez faire attitude to the financial sector, privatisation of some NHS services and the encouragement of the private sector generally were all started under Gordon Brown’s Chancellorship and of course Ed Balls was then his right-hand man. It could be that Ed Milliband is really much more of a socialist than New Labour but so far there is not much evidence of this. At best a vote for Labour might be a vote for Tory Lite.

So for Scots to vote for either main party might land them with a government which goes against the grain of Scottish ideas of a fair and caring society. While many voters might not agree with SNP aspirations and ambitions, they could be the only party to take cognisance of Scottish concerns and interests when voting in the Westminster parliament. So the bigger the bloc of SNP MPs the better will the Scottish perspective be kept on the agenda. For many English voters unaware of the true nature of the main parties a moderate left party with the people of Scotland as their main focus might also rescue English politics from the current Neoliberalism.

That the SNP tail might wag the English dog is of course pure scaremongering. Both Labour and the Conservatives saw how effective this tactic was in securing a No vote in the September referendum and so are using the same weapon again. The Liberal Democrats had but a marginal effect on the Tory juggernaut during the Coalition years. If Alex Salmond were the leader of an SNP bloc he would be more effective than Nick Clegg but he would wise to bend with the wind in many negotiations. At best he would be able to modify any extreme policies to protect Scottish interests. Jim Murphy on Politics Now (BBC 22nd March) told Andrew Neil that the SNP might oppose their policies eliminating zero hours contracts, an increase in the minimum wage etc. That was a ludicrous desperate suggestion. And don’t for one minute think that either main party would not get into bed with a big enough SNP bloc. In spite of what the leaders may now say they will understand that real politik will create strange bedfellows. They have to at least be seen to make a genuine attempt to run a 5 year parliament. The party that calls a very early election by rescinding the Five Year legislation will be slaughtered at the polls That piece of bravado might yet come back to bite David Cameron.

With the possibility of a hung parliament and looking at the present manifestoes of the main parties it is very much in Scottish interests to vote for SNP. There is a likelihood of this leading to Independence but, if Westminster politics does not change, that may happen with or without SNP help. There is much more of an appetite for Independence in Scotland than just within the SNP ranks. The Unionist parties did more to hasten that during the referendum campaign than anything the SNP did. Their actions brought home to many people quite how perfidious the political spin and in some cases downright lies and scaremongering has become. Many politicians seem to have no morals when it comes to saving their own skins.