Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Ed Milliband calls for tighter takeover rules

The BBC reports that Ed Milliband, writing in the Financial Times, has called for tighter takeover rules to defend the long-term interests of Britain.

Although this would be of help – if possible to achieve, it seems likely that any legislation aimed at restricting the activities of global corporations to be, at best, a slight hindrance to them achieving their aims.

Whereas, when we humans desire to change our behaviour to stop smoking, take more exercise or reduce our alcohol intake – there is the possibility of a long-term change in our the way we live our lives. However, what seems to be lost sight of when dealing with the activities of these monsters, is that making as much money as possible is the very purpose of their existence. They are not going to change their purpose because of legislation that makes it more difficult to achieve their aim any more than a fox will give up trying to steal chickens from the hen house.

The problem with trying to restrict any commercial organisation from acting against the interest of a nation state is their size. The larger they become – the more sharp minded individuals are employed to overcome or get round existing legislation and the more opportunities exist to achieve this end [most window cleaners do not set up a tax haven as have the majority of FTSE 100 companies].

In December 2011, the Guardian reported that “HMRC hid ‘sweetheart’ tax deals for big business“. This was the case where the Commons public accounts committee found ‘specific and systematic’ failures at HRMC when they investigated deals made with Vodafone and Goldman Sachs. As the Guardian reported:

The committee chair, Margaret Hodge, accused HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) of making a “policy decision” not to disclose information and using a “veil of secrecy” by citing “taxpayer confidentiality”, which denied accountability to the public or parliament about whether deals provided good value for money.

She said it was “crazy” that the panel of MPs had been forced to rely on leaked information from a whistleblower and the satirical magazine Private Eye.

Hodge told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “At a time when it’s hugely important that we maximise the revenue that comes in, when it’s absolutely imperative that everybody is treated equally in front of the law, whoever they are, however big or small they are, I think it’s very, very important that the public are satisfied that there’s equity here, and that HMRC are working on our behalf to maximise revenue that ought to come in to the Treasury.”

Clearly, it is the very size of these corporations that makes ’specific and systematic’ failures a possibility. As the Guardian also reported:

Hodge also pointed out the imbalance between big corporations’ tax experts and the small number of tax experts in HMRC, likening it to a “David and Goliath” situation whereby big companies use very expensive advisers and lawyers while HRMC “by their own admittance, have very few people who have deep knowledge of tax affairs”

Herein lies the problem, if the resources of a nation the size of the UK is not equipped to deal with the tax expertise of these global corporations – then nor will the authorities of the majority of nation states where these giants operate – and of course, because of the huge amounts involved, corruption of officials is a much greater possibility.

It has to be accepted, if attempts are not made to exclude these global giants from our shores – then they will, in time, have enormous influence on every aspect of our national life – and it appears that this outcome is already much advanced.

It is as if the Labour Party had never existed!

The revelation by the BBC yesterday – that the share of all income in Britain, by the richest 1%, is on course to return to the same level that it was when Keir Hardie and others established the Party just over a hundred years ago – is depressing, not only for the lower paid, but even for those on above average pay!

Some of the quotes in the article, from Professor Danny Dorling, are disturbing:

“Even within the richest 1%, inequalities are now enormous.

At the lower end of this tiny group of high earners, Prof Dorling says you find people earning £120,000 a year.

But the richest thousand individuals leave them far behind.

They saw their wealth increase on average in 2010 alone by £60m. That was a 20% gain, following 25% the previous year.

In November, the revelation of the size of the increases enjoyed by chief executives of the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange triggered the most political anger.

The High Pay Commission reported that these executives’ total pay had risen by 49% during the previous year alone, compared with average increases of less than 3% for their employees.

The rise left the chief executives with average pay of £4.2m. That was 145 times the average pay of their employees and 162 times the British average wage.”

There are of course many other achievements that have been made by the Labour movement during that time. These remain through employment and other laws. However, these too are gradually being eroded by Cameron and Osborne.

That said, as far as the majority are concerned it is their take home pay that is of most importance.

Although Cameron has promised to move against undeserved pay awards, few expect this to have any real effect – for most recognize that this surge in executive’s pay is a direct consequence of our ruling elite’s eagerness for Britain become fully engaged in the global free market. Whilst this is the case the gap will continue to increase rapidly.

The movement is back where it started and, unfortunately, cannot use the threat of demonstration or strike action as before because the free global market allows employers to move jobs to Poland, or another former Soviet state, where wage rates are lower than in Britain and worker’s rights less well established – or if this is not viable – to a nation in the Far East, where incomes are even lower.

Ed Milliband may be able to tiptoe to the next General Election in the hope that, by then, the voters will have become fed up with Osborne’s harsh medicine. Particularly as it is unlikely to have made much of an indent in the structural deficit. Too few British companies are competitive in the global market and high unemployment, with its attendant costs, will further increase our need to borrow. However, the Party’s growing reputation for causing the economic crisis through lax financial controls will make it very hard for it to return to power in the short-term.

Long-term, whilst we are so heavily committed to the global free market, the gap between the rich and poor will continue to grow with job security being eroded and unemployment remaining high – unless wage rates are cut. Milliband may as well bite the bullet, now, and introduce those policy changes that are necessary – if full employment is to return along with a greatly reduced gap between the highest and lowest incomes.

We need to reduce our exposure to this global market by discouraging the global monsters from trading here. This requires high tax rates for the very highly paid and an incremental scale of corporation tax. Both of these measures will encourage these corporations to site their main EU offices outside of the UK.

We must leave the EU and the single market, where our exports fall so far short of our imports, if we are to escape these monsters – so that we can introduce some import controls to give UK industry a chance to recover before it has to face impossible competition. We also need to cut immigration to the bone to prevent employers taking advantage of cheap and compliant economic migrants to keep wage rates low.

Some form of direct democracy is also probably needed to ensure that future governments consult the people before invading other nations or international treaties, like the Lisbon Treaty, are ratified.

A different ‘Third Way’ is needed

Writing in the Telegraph, Peter Oborne tries to make the case that the liberal left is losing the argument, because of the disastrous consequences, for the nation, of the premiership’s of Blair and Brown. Although accurate about the outcome, he seems to overlook the fact that this had little to do with these governments being either liberal or left wing.

Vying for the title of the most damaging act during this time are Brown’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the banking crisis. Given that it was the Conservative leader, Ted Heath, who took us into the European Economic Community in 1973 and Cameron, although well placed to take us out of the EU now, has chosen not to take this course – this disaster can hardly be blamed on the liberal left.

The banking crisis, although generally viewed as stemming from lax financial controls can also be laid at Brown’s door, but was created by capitalism, red of tooth and claw, not by liberal left wing policies. This is also true for the running down of the UK manufacturing base, as a result of both prime ministers accommodating the desire of Bush and Cheney’s for a global free market.

Today globalisation is the greatest obstruction to a UK economic recovery because of the fierce competition faced by our manufacturing as a result of low labour rates particularly in the Far East. The global free market is supported far more strongly by the Tories and the right generally.

In terms of social issues, Blair’s lifting of the controls on immigration together with the increase caused by our membership of the EU has caused more social unrest than any other issue. These have caused net immigration to rise from an annual 50,000 during the early nineties to more than 200,000 a year by the time Labour was removed from office in 2010. Although Cameron has promised to return net immigration to the tens of thousands, because he is determined to stay in the EU, and his Party’s commitment to the global corporations on movement of labour, it seems very unlikely that he will be able to achieve this target.

The lifting of immigration controls had little to do with liberal left policies, in hindsight it seems more to do with importing a cheap and compliant workforce aimed at undermining Union power and the employment laws that had been developed over time. Today with high and rising unemployment and the high birth rate of immigrants compared to those who originate from the UK – this is almost certainly an issue that will cause the greatest divisions in society and it is an issue that has no simple solution.

Blair’s poodle like support of Bush on his ‘War on Terror’ was not based on the policies of the liberal left, nor was the determination of his ‘Scottish Raj‘ to introduce devolved government in the UK to accommodate what was hardly a pressing issue in comparison to the many other demands at that time - this did, and has, added unnecessary complications to the governance of the nation at this extremely critical time.

Whereas it is true that the policies of the liberal left have been shown to be inadequate and had they been followed religiously, by Blair and Brown, the nation would have declined during their time in power. However, in broad terms, it is the extremes of the liberal left and Thatcherism that have caused the nation to zigzag in direction as one ideology takes over from the other. A new force is required that occupies the centre ground – one whose object is to benefit the people rather than the largest donors of the two main parties.

A new ‘Third Way‘ is required, but not that devised by Clinton and Blair.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Where is the Outrage?

Rowena Mason and Robert Winnet, reporting in the Telegraph, suggest that Cameron will face a ‘backlash after a millionaire businessman jailed for fraud, a former drugs dealer and a controversial Conservative Party donor’ appear in the New Years honours list – but will he?

Gone, it seems, are the days when a single corrupt act by our political elite, or public servant, creates a backlash, public outrage or an immediate resignation. Since the MP’s expenses scandal, and the many others that have come to light in recent years, it seems that the public have become accustomed to corrupt practices from what were once described as the ‘great and the good’. It also seems that we lack a body of upright elder statesmen to condemn the actions of those who have followed in their wake.

It is true that modern technology has made it far more difficult for those in the public eye to act in a dubious fashion without being caught. Mobile phones with cameras and voice recording facilities being perhaps the most devastating to those carrying out these dark acts. However, when the motives of the Prime Minister, in giving these honours, becomes so clearly corrupt and biased – one to a a hedge fund manager who profited from the collapse of Northern Rock, who happened to contribute half a million to Tory Party funds and another to a crook who served six months in prison – we must begin to question how low the standards in public life will fall.

Until Major became Prime Minister, male occupiers of this position had usually had some kind of war record – since the twentieth century had been dominated by two world wars. The behaviour of individuals who faced death on a regular basis does give a clear indication of their inner worth, no doubt many an aspiring politician’s career was wrecked because of weak behaviour when facing the enemy throughout this time.

Major also started the trend of more youthful PMs. At 47, when he came to office, he has been follow by the election of Blair and Cameron, both aged 43 and both the youngest holder of the office since Lord Liverpool in 1812 – nearly 200 years ago.

There was little doubt that Blair’s youthful appearance was a great asset in helping him win a landslide victory in 1997, along with the poor record of the Tories by that time. However, we must ask if such relative youth, compared to the usual age of his predecessors of 50+, 60+ or even 70+ is really an advantage.

For most men, this is the time when they have a growing family that must preoccupy them to a significant degree. They are still developing in terms of their career and to hold the highest office at that age does fly in the face of the view of previous generations, that with age comes wisdom and that youth is inclined to act impulsively in its eagerness to achieve success.

Their is little doubt that Blair did not apply wisdom when committing the nation to the Iraq war, or reducing financial controls that allowed the banking crisis, or enabling such an increase in the number of immigrants that has created such racial tensions and a rapid increase in the population and his enthusiasm for the EU has been proven misplaced. The combination of these impulsive, rather than wise, decisions has created so many intractable problems that only the most carefully plotted course can hope to see the nation to return a bright future.

So far impulse and a distinct preparedness to act corruptly have marked out Cameron’s premiership – two qualities that bode ill in such high office and for the nation. Blair was a disaster for the UK – the signs are that Cameron will be even worse.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A Return to Kinder Ways

800,000 vulnerable elderly adults are being “robbed of their dignity”, a report by 60 government advisors warned today. Their houses are being sold and their saving ravished to pay for spiralling care costs, while some are subject to fatal neglect and horrific abuse, the report goes on to declare.
The unprecedented coalition of advisors, charity directors and experts will heap pressure onto the government to bring fundamental change to a failing system that leaves the elderly feeling neglected and ‘lonely’. The solution will almost inevitably be to prop-up council budgets, insist on more rigorous training regimes and more stringent CRB checks – but will this really win the fight against elderly neglect and ‘loneliness’?
From first-hand experience of working in private care homes, I can confirm that even if statistical ‘neglect’ is banished, real-term neglect will be rife. The elderly want compassion, dignity and respect and they get this through emotional attachment – in short, they want their families.
Alzheimer’s and other degenerative afflictions make elderly nursing homes essential. They provide assistance with basic functions, assistances that cannot be realistically provided by family members, but care assistance does not tackle the problem of emotional neglect.
The majority of care assistants I have worked with have been foreign nationals. I have worked at three different care homes and this has been typical of all three. The cultural, linguistic and sociological differences between carer and resident prevents the formation of close bonds and mutual understanding.
Moreover, the typical demeanour of a care assistant is one of subdued acceptance. There is a paradox – being that if a carer was to offer the compassion and attachment required to help alleviate the emotional isolation felt by the elderly, they would be condemning themselves to a life of suffering and grief.

When we are born, we inadvertently sign a contract with life whereby we agree to suffer the pain of losing our loved one’s, namely – our grandparents and parents. Losing close, personal friends on a weekly basis slowly grates at the soul until apathy overrides all other emotions by way of a self-defence mechanism. Those who can be bothered to care, can’t afford to care.

So although a coalition of experts in the field of elderly care are demanding fundamental overhauls of the system to prevent quantifiable neglect and indignity – neglect and indignity cannot be fully combatted until families take responsibility for the emotional care of their elderly members and stop regarding it as a commodity or service that can be purchased.

Story after story of greed, corruption and elitism remind us that the top 1% hold all the cards of power in western society. Whether it be bankers’ bonuses, council chief’s pay packages, footballer’s salacious shenanigans or dodgy MP expenses – we, as a society, are continuously subject to gut-wrenching double standards and economic asymmetry.

The ethical mandate for Capitalism used to be the ‘trickle down affect’ – meaning that as those at the top of the heap got richer, the quality of life for those underneath improved as a result. This hasn’t happened and certainly isn’t happening. Instead, as the elite reduces in number and becomes more concentrated, so the money osmoses upwards to compound the imbalance.

What has trickled down from the mentality of Capitalism is that of a culture of greed and selfishness; where material wealth is the value of life and buying things it’s reason.
Caring for an elderly relative requires patience and sacrifice – but sacrifice is not consistent with the philosophy of greed and selfishness – meaning more and more are unprepared to make it.
Prior to the rise of the care home, tradition had it that, as a rule, elderly relatives would move in with their immediate families or to a nearby residency where they could retain a degree of independence as well as receive support from their loved one’s. It was the housewife that spearheaded this support, with a strong family unit to back her up.
Ever since a steep increase during the 1970′s, divorce rates have virtually flatlined. The number of marriages has significantly dropped however, meaning that at present there is roughly one divorce for every two marriages, compared to about one to three during the mid-70′s and a fraction of that prior to 1960.
Added to this, the percentage of working mothers has risen from 23% to 29% in 15 years – a 25% increase.
A larger number of single parent families coupled with an increase in families with two working parents has engendered a situation where finding time to spend with their children proves difficult, let alone the time to visit and care for their own parents.
A report issued earlier in the year announced that working mothers only managed, on average, just over an hour a day with their children. An item in the Telegraph earlier this week reported that half of the over-75 population live by themselves and can expect only one visit a month from their families. A shockingly sad state of affairs.
Ironically, the culture from which a significant number of care assistants come from see it as a responsibility to care for their elderly relatives. They are taken into their homes and treated as harbingers of wisdom and as objects of reverence.
Although today’s call for political action will probably reduce the number of elderly seen as neglected on paper, the true neglect and abandonment felt by a growing number of vulnerable adults will only reduce when families take an active role in supplying the care, compassion and kindliness that their parents did for the previous generation.