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Sending naked negotiators into EU conference chamber

Now we know. Brexit campaigners won the referendum by lying and dissembling but had no idea what they were asking people to vote for: no vision of a future outside the EU. And they had no leadership capable of working out and articulating what they wanted to happen so they have outsourced the job to the people who wanted to remain.

Tomorrow we will see a woman Remain campaigner — albeit a less than enthusiastic one — become our prime minister having promised “Brexit means Brexit”. The trouble is that we have no idea what she thinks Brexit means and I doubt if she has either. And how can we trust Theresa May who has so readily switched sides in  a fortnight — it is like the old joke about the politician who was challenged and said: “If you don’t like my principles I have others.”

There is no vision. There cannot be a realistic one because we do not know how the various members and organisations of the European Union will react. At one extreme there is possibility of being outside the EU relying on World Trade Organisation rules to conduct our business. At the other, we could be offered something like the Norwegian deal which would include associate membership of the Shengen area.

We will be sending negotiators into the conference chamber naked. The referendum result throws away our leverage for change.

The position is not so far removed from that Aneurin Bevan faced in 1957 when he addressed the Labour Party conference on nuclear disarmament:

I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. … And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.

Whoever accepts the post of foreign secretary in the May administration will know that quote from one of the most memorable political speeches in post-war Britain. George Osborne is being tipped for the post — if it is him we can celebrate a brave man.

With the Labour Party dysfunctional, failing to provide opposition, May has adopted policies put forwards by Ed Milliband before his failure to win the last election led to his resignation. The Guardian reports today that she has also adopted his slogan about a “country that works for everyone rather than a privileged few”.

For her proposal about workers in the boardroom we need to dig further back in labour history. The system which supported German post-war industrial resurgence was put in place with the help of British trade unionists led by Vic Feather, later General Secretary of the TUC.  The Tablet, in a 1987 article, commented:

… it is one of modern history’s crueller ironies that the reconstruction of the West German system, on the ruins left by Nazism and war, from which its excellence today derives, was carried out with the help of British TUC advisers led by Vic Feather.

If May succeeds in this ambition she will have done something which has not been done by any of the post-war British labour governments.

Jeremy Corby has accepted May’s policy of Brexit means Brexit (“We have to respect the decision that has been made“) as, seemingly, has a majority of the parliamentary labour party. His stance on the  importance of maintaining the free movement of people, now seems to be the most fruitful area for opposition to the new government.

But would even that survive the removal of Corbyn as  leader? The opposition can hardly survive a new leadership battle at a crucial time in British politics. Even with the summer recess coming up the opposition needs to be hard at work on its strategy not squabbling: the new government will certainly be doing its preparation.

At present the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens are providing real opposition but they cannot fill the vacuum created by a fractious (and irresponsible) labour party.


Corbyn faces fierce battles with those who benefit from inequality

The Labour parliamentary establishment is squealing like Footsie 100 executives whose bonuses are being taken away. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as his party’s leader has exposed the gross inequality in policy influence which has developed in recent decades.

Go back to the 1970s and 80s and the annual conference debated and decided policy. Since then conference has become a jamboree and power centralised. This policy grab has followed a similar timeline to to the increasing pay differential between the well paid and the poor which has risen faster in the UK than in most western countries.

The reaction of some of the Labour figures who have chosen the back benches above support for the new leader is likely to be as nothing as Corbyn moves to reduce the “gross inequality” of income in the UK, his first priority. In 1986 the top 10 percent in the UK earned eight times more than people in the bottom 10 per. By 2008 this figure has risen to 12 times, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

I believe one of the reasons why pay inequality has grown so much faster in the UK is the emasculation of the trade unions under Margaret Thatcher which Labour failed to roll-back when in power. Working as a industrial reporter I saw how, in the 70s, unions used pay inequality as a bargaining tool: companies were restrained in raising top pay by the knowledge that information in the annual accounts would be used by the unions to energise their members.

Giving power back to the unions which has to be a part of Corbyn’s attempt to reduce income inequality will unleash vicious attacks from the wealthy.

It is not just the left that sees this as an issue. The OECD sees rising equality as a threat to encomium growth and social stability. This video uses average figures fro OECD countries.

The situation in the UK is worse. The tables below are from a 2014 OECD report.

The first table shows that the wealthiest one percent’s share of UK income is second only to the United States and has risen more than any of our European competitors. Some countries have seen no or relatively small rises.

income surgeincome surge

The second table shows how the top 10 per cent have grabbed half of the total income growth in the UK.
income growth



A call for the next government: reduce carbon emissions and boost the economy

The only organisation to send me a copy of its manifesto is my electricity supplier. It arrived in my email inbox yesterday.

Ecotricity, the green power company, has produced its vision of Britain as a low-carbon state in 2030 and outlining policies for the next government to make this happen.

It is also in the commercial interests of Ecotricity and its founder Dale Vince, said to be worth £100m, that this should happen. I also think it is a valuable vision as we are already seeing the benefits, both for our finances and comfort, of converting our 1960s bungalow into an eco house.

The policies called for are:

  • Creating a Minister for Carbon – to set carbon limits across all sectors of the economy
  • Ensuring Britain’s power generation is 80% renewable by 2030 – saving £11.7bn in fossil fuel costs
  • Implementing ‘Quantitative Greening’ – deploying quantitative easing by the Bank of England directly into the renewables sector
  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies – all government support for fossil fuels cut off by 2025
  • Increasing support for electric cars – including scrapping VAT, helping to ensure all new cars are electric by 2030

Unlike many political manifestos it is accompanied by a detailed analysis — by Cambridge Econometrics — which, in part, concludes:

It is evident that a commitment to a low-carbon future could lead to substantial growth opportunities in the renewables and motor vehicles sectors and their supply chains. Around 150,000 jobs could be created in the power sector and associated supply chains, with a further 50,000 jobs relating to the motor vehicles industry.

I do hope that our next government recognises that a drive for a low-carbon economy would create more jobs, help re-build the country’s manufacturing industries and be good for our health.

Put MPs on zero hours contracts. ‘It’s clearly not a full-time job,’ says Tory mag writer

Putting MPs on zero hours contracts is an idea which has a certain mischievous appeal. That it should come from the Conservative Spectator magazine owned, along with the Daily Telegraph, by the Barclay brothers is a surprise.

Of course, they would not be called “zero hours” which Ian Duncan Smith told Sky News this morning should be rebranded as “flexible hours contracts”. They are good for your “work life balance”, the Work and Pensions secretary is reported as saying by The Independent.

Journalist Ross Clark expands on the idea in the Spectator’s Coffee House blog under the headline. “It’s time to put all our MPs on “flexible hours contracts“.

He explains…

IDS would have a much easier job of convincing the electorate on this had he gone further and recommended that one particular group of workers was switched to the contracts: MPs. I am not trying to belittle the job of being a parliamentarian, nor try to assert that it is on a skill level with shelf-stacking. Scrutinising legislation is a skilled activity which deserves to be paid well. A rate of £100 an hour would be appropriate, I think.

But being an MP is clearly not a full-time job. How could it be when 100 or so of them combine being MPs with ministerial jobs and many others continue to work on outside careers? There is a fairly obvious answer: only to employ MPs when they are required: when there is business to debate in the House of Commons or legislation to scrutinise on one of the committees.

Sounds like a good idea but getting the necessary legislation through the house would be a lot harder than the protracted business of forming a government we are expecting after the election.

But perhaps the bill could be introduced in the House of Lords whose members are already only paid when they turn up. Lords who get a ministerial salary are not allowed to claim the daily attendance allowance according to the Parliament website.

“A serious national evil” that politicians are not addressing

“At no point since the regularisation of employment law in the 1840s has the power imbalance between employer ad worker been so extreme,” Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel 4 News wrote in his Guardian column yesterday.

I have been waiting for a politician to make the case for workers in our 21st sweated labour as part of their pitch for election. No hope. The three main English parties scrabble for the middle ground and are afraid to offend “business”.

If you think Mason’s views can be dismissed as radical nonsense, listen to Winston Churchill speaking on the Trade Boards Act of 1909 (Wikipedia).

It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions. It was formerly supposed that the working of the laws of supply and demand would naturally regulate or eliminate that evil. The first clear division which we make on the question to-day is between healthy and unhealthy conditions of bargaining. That is the first broad division which we make in the general statement that the laws of supply and demand will ultimately produce a fair price. Where in the great staple trades in the country you have a powerful organisation on both sides, where you have responsible leaders able to bind their constituents to their decision, where that organisation is conjoint with an automatic scale of wages or arrangements for avoiding a deadlock by means of arbitration, there you have a healthy bargaining which increases the competitive power of the industry, enforces a progressive standard of life and the productive scale, and continually weaves capital and labour more closely together. But where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string, his feebleness and ignorance generally renders the worker an easy prey to the tyranny; of the masters and middle-men, only a step higher up the ladder than the worker, and held in the same relentless grip of forces—where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.

Mason, in his column, was telling politicians to get out of their pristine photo-op high vis vests. Keep the vest on, take the tie off and try hailing a cab, he suggests. And while they are about it, go to an ATM and withdraw £48.75, the sum a maid in London earns for cleaning 17 hotel rooms in a day.

It is no wonder that voters are looking for alternatives, Green and UKIP. The alternative vote for the SNP is out of the reach of the English electorate. We see Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems imprisoned in the central corral.


Rattled government blames Trotskyists and Anarchists over work placement protests

You know the Government is panicking when a group of people is described as Trotskyist and Anarchist within a couple of hours.

David Cameron, in the Commons, defending eight week work placements for the unemployed, urged businesses to “stand up against the Trotskyites”.

A little later on the BBC’s World at One, the work and pensions secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, said it was the anarchists who were opposing unpaid work placements. A BBC report appears, from its Google summary, to have originally included this reference to anarchists but later changed to remove it. But I heard him say it.

I realise that many politicians have scant knowledge of political history but anarchists and Trotskyists are unlikely bedfellows.

But it was the sneering tone of IDS suggesting only extremists were against the schemes that really annoyed me. I think work experience is great. People taking part should also be given worthwhile things to do and should learn from them. If the work they do is of real value to the company, after the costs of supervision and support, they should be paid.

I cannot believe that eight weeks of stacking shelves in a supermarket is not replacing paid labour, so work experience people doing that should be paid.


Is Suffolk failing to look after the pennies…

Evening Star front pageThe front page of the Evening Star yesterday was dominated by a picture of a kettle with the single word headline Steaming above it. The story was about the County Council spending £59,095 on tea and coffee for employees in its offices.

Today in the East Anglian Daily Times there is a report, based on figures from the Taxpayer’s Alliance (TPA), saying that Suffolk County Council’s bill for mileage is the seventh highest in the country at £6.3m.

First, the bill for tea. Probably about half the employers in Britain pay for tea and coffee at work and across all the employees who benefit it is going to be a very small perk.

The council says it it is financed from the £3 a day employees pay for car parking. That is sophistry. Many people have to pay for public car parks when they go to work and an all day ticket for the Portman Road car park around the corner from Endeavour house is £4.50.

In the normal scheme of things such spending on drinks would go unremarked, but the council appeared mean-minded when it cut school crossing patrols across the county to save little more than twice the tea and coffee bills.

Many business do cut small perks when they have the need to make savings, although they can be counter-productive if they further damage already low employee morale. However, it often has to be done partly because of the message it sends to the customers/taxpayers.

Cutting back on mileage can also hurt morale especially if managers are forced into questioning every mile on an expenses claim. Trust can be seriously damaged.

Suffolk is a large, rural area and mileage is naturally going to be relatively high. A note on the figures given by the Taxpayer’s alliance suggests that some action has been taken with the stopping of lump sum payments at the end of October last year.

The more significant thing to emerge from the TPA figures for 2008/09 and 2009/10 is that some authorities cut mileage spending while others did not.

In Suffolk county we see a rise of £168,000 which would almost have paid for the school crossing patrols for a year.

Forest Heath, Ipswich Borough, Mid Suffolk and Waveney councils all managed to reduce their mileage payments in the same period between them cutting their bills by around £87,000.

Both stories cast further doubt on Suffolk’s spurious claim to be one of the most cost-efficient councils in the country. While both can be delicate labour relations matters (does Suffolk County Council have the skills to manage such issues well?) the overwhelming impression is that the council is failing to look after the pennies….

And that leaves us worrying about their ability to manage the pounds.

Councillor says Tories “riding roughshod over democracy”

Caroline Page, the Lib Dem Suffolk County Councillor for Woodbridge, today accuses the Tories of “riding roughshod over democracy”. The issue is consultation over the future of care homes which she rightly describes as “a sham”.

She describes a meeting last week at which borough and district councils were invited to to “Have Your Say on the Future of Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) residential care homes”. It opened with the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services saying:

We have made a decision at cabinet level that we will no longer pay for care homes. So if you have come here wanting us to continue running care homes, you’re wasting your time. The decision has already been made.

Read Page’s post. It provides a good example of the lack of democracy at the heart of the county council’s cost-cutting new strategic direction.

A document described as “The New Strategic Direction Explained” uses a meaningless diagram of overlapping circles in an attempt to suggest democracy is at the heart of there scheme.

Under the heading “Democracy” it says:

In the future, the council will continue to make important decisions and as such democracy must remain at the heart of the council. The council’s emphasis on local solutions for local areas places an added importance on the role of all elected members as community leaders. Councillors will be encouraged and supported to work closely with their community to facilitate solutions to local problems and mobilise community involvement.

The diagram does say a lot: Divestment and something called Community Capacity have equal space with Democracy. And the policy for care homes is all to do with Divestment, not Democracy.

I am certainly do not support a policy which has at its heart reducing the pay of care workers. Andrea Hill, Chief Executive of SCC, this week gave as example of the ways in which this policy would be cheaper — while council care homes paid care staff overtime, private ones did not.

Hill herself of course refuses to take a pay cut.

High paid council chief seeks ways to cut pay of others

On Monday I went to the nearby village of Winston, Suffolk, to hear Andrea Hill, chief executive of the county council talk about local government in an age of austerity.

She is paid £218,000 a year putting her among the best paid council bosses in the country. Not much austerity there then, although she has passed on two pay rises which would have taken her pay to £229,000.

It would be very interesting to know what her total package including allowances and pension contributions is worth. Perhaps that is something the East Anglian Daily Times (EADT) which today called on her to take a pay cut whould like to investigate.

One of the things that surprised me at Winston was that she said one of her tasks was to find ways of transferring staff to other organisations without them taking their county council terms and conditions of employment with them.

Not surprising that this is something she is trying to do, but surprising that she should say so in a public meeting.

Finding ways to cut other people’s pay must be a reason why she is paid so highly. It is also a horrible reflection on the society in which we live: talk about building a “big society” while screwing others.

The “strategic direction” (aka cutting costs) at Suffolk County Council involves contracting work out to charities, social entrepreneurs, parish councils and using volunteers to do work which has been done by honest paid men and women.

The EADT wants all of the 250 or more people working for the council on salaries of more than £50,000 a year to take pay cuts. I suspect that many of them will have no choice if they are forced out to work with some of the new organisations which will provide the contracted-out services. Ms Hill is determined to see people who are transferred to other employers, move on less favourable terms.

Kathy Pollard, a Lib Dem county councillor points out in her blog that the bill for managers earning over £50k has gone up from £6m five years ago to £16m last year.

Local daily bids to reverse ciculation decline

A ring on the doorbell today took me back to my early days as a reporter. A pleasant young man from the East Anglian Daily Times arrived to tell me that the paper was doing a editorial supported circulation drive in the area.

He said that they had done research earlier this year and had found — would you believe it! — that people felt there was not enough local news in the paper. So they were going to base a reporter in the area and would I buy a ten-week reduced rate subscription at £1.75 a week?

I was immediately taken back to my days on the Western Daily Press when under editor Eric Price it was building circulation. It went from around 11,000 to nearly 75,000 in a few  years. With that experience in mind, I suggested that the EADT would need to maintain the better local coverage if they hoped to keep an circulation gains.

They certain need gains with the figures down from 44,755 (ABC) in 1999 to 30,332 in the first half of this year. On a rough calculation they have lost a third of sales in a little over 10 years.

I just hope there has been a change of heart at Archant, owners of the EADT, who I recorded cut a further 20 jobs from the East Anglian Daily Times and its  sister paper, the Evening Star, in January last year.

Ever the optimist, I signed up for the reduced rate subscription.