Devo Mad?

Power to the Regions! Pop the Westminster bubble! Strangle the Whitehall beast! Yes friends, localism is all the rage. Devolution is the word on everyone’s lips. By crying ‘all power to the councils!’ we’ll seem a little less London-centric. By promising to give billions and billions to local governments maybe we can pretend to have a radical agenda, rather than the timid programme we actually propose.

We’re told devolving power will make government more efficient. That it’ll cut down on waste and improve the delivery of services. Devolution will mark the end of big-state centralisation. Suddenly, prosperity for all will blossom.

Is this it? Rather than a legally enforced living wage or the end of the franchised railways, we get devolution. Instead of a genuinely radical programme, tackling unemployment, low pay, inequality and a myriad of other problems, we are given to sell on the doorstep ‘Your council will have more money’. Let’s be serious, this can’t be a pillar of a Labour manifesto.

To highlight the problems with this new fad for localism, let’s start with Scotland, it being the centre of attention for quite a lot of things recently. If our cousins up north decide to stay with us, Labour is promising further powers for the Scottish Parliament to raise tax, namely, the power to vary the income tax set at Westminster by 15p to each pound, as opposed to the 10p per pound that it can vary at the moment. There are three main problems here. The first, and probably most important, is the worry over tax competition within the UK. Yes, the Scottish Parliament will not be able to change the ratio between different bands of tax, but different levels of taxation, especially of income tax, could mean a severe de-balancing of our economy. We would have, in effect, a tax war between the two nations, as each one tries to outdo the other by lowering tax. We’ve seen this on an international level in Europe, as countries like Ireland lower their corporation tax to bring in revenue from tax dodging companies. This brings me on two the second problem of devolved tax, evasion. How can Revenue Scotland, responsible for collecting tax in Scotland, ever be able to compete against tax evaders when even HMRC can’t stop them? Revenue Scotland has fewer resources and less authority than it’s British counterpart. Such a small agency would be easily outmanoeuvred by the tax-dodging giants and their accountancy firms. Only a beefed-up HMRC, along with cooperation with it’s European counterparts, can ensure that all tax is paid. The final problem with devolved tax is far more moral. Taxation is supposed to be progressive and universal. The second principle has been true since the French Revolution. No one deserves to be exempt from the laws of tax. So why then are we allowing tax to be different according to geography? Why should someone living just above or just under the border have to pay a smaller or larger sum to the state purely based on where they live? Obviously this sort of situation exists between nation states, and there is very little we can do about that. Difference in taxation between regions, however, spits in the eye of universal tax, just like the flat tax degrades the idea of progressive taxation.

This isn’t just shown north of Berwick. Let’s take a look at council tax. Why is it that an average resident (band D) in Westminster pays only a few pounds more in council tax as the very poorest (band A) residents of Newham? This is completely against the principle of redistributive taxation. This trend is seen all over the country. Tory councils tax their often richer residents less, providing fewer services for, and ignoring, their less advantaged inhabitants. Meanwhile Labour councils in poorer areas, in an effort to ensure higher standards of living through well-funded public services must raise their rates. Add to this the fact that Labour councils are worst hit under cuts to local government grants and we see that poorer areas must pay more for their council services. Moreover, these areas are the councils that often need these services more. Richer people are paying less council tax, is that how a modern state raises money? I haven’t even mentioned the fact that council tax, much like a mansion tax, is not progressive, not taking into account the rate-payer’s income.

Clearly all tax must be the same across the country. Is it maybe time to start looking at an alternative to the council tax? We do make £26bn off it every year, so anything that would replace it would need to be far-reaching and able to generate enough revenue. Why not a nation-wide property tax, whose rates were not just calculated by the value of the property, but also on the payer’s income? The value of the property could be calculated by how much the owner bought it for or for how much it is being rented for. This would mean that high rates of tax would only fall on those with the means to pay them, circumventing the ‘grannies in mansions’ problem.

Tax cannot be devolved, so what can?

Areas of policy that vary from region to region are ripe for devolution. A prime example is policing. The response to crime needed is different in every part of the country, and there is no need for a large national strategy for local policing. Local government will know how to deal with crime in their area far better than Whitehall. Housing is another perfect devolvable power. Building need, both in terms of quantity of housing and type of housing, varies from area to area. Again, local government is in the best position to build what is necessary (although any new garden cities, which we may need, would be a project on such a scale that only central government could provide). Similarly with local transport. There is absolutely no reason why local government cannot be in complete control of their buses, trams and light rail. However, inter-city lines, which criss-cross the entire nation, should be the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

However, when talking about education and health, we must accept that central planning is needed alongside local control. Especially with talk of integrating health and social care, and with the needs of an ageing population with more chronic illnesses, there is a real need for central government to provide a national strategy for fighting long-term and far-reaching problems such as obesity. The responsibility of individual trusts or hospitals should be the delivery of whole person care, ensuring that patients are treated as humans. Central government should take care of the statistics, trends and numbers and local healthcare should take care of the people. Much the same applies to education: local authorities should focus on teaching, and let the Department of Education worry about targets. To let either parties take control of both aspects, either through excessive localism or excessive centralisation, would mean a lack of resources and knowledge for whoever had the monumental task of administration. Teachers, doctors and nurses know how to work with patients and pupils and Whitehall is in a better position to draw up national policy.

Then we reach the big issues: inequality, poverty, environmental catastrophe. Can local government tackle these? Clearly not. Even national governments may be too small to deal with them. We must retain enough power in high concentrations to fight these problems, along with working together internationally to eradicate them globally. Could local government bring in something like the minimum wage? No, it doesn’t have the reach and authority. Can it bring 2.3 million children out of poverty, like national government did from 1997 to 2010? No, it doesn’t have the resources or the scope. Can local government ensure that public services are right for the community and of a certain, expected quality? Of course, it’s in the best position to do so.

We can’t keep on crying ‘devolution’ for the sake of it. It’s not a healthy way to decide how to share power through the country. Giving money to Local Enterprise Partnerships, which are purely voluntary and under no obligation of accountability to the public, is a sloppy waste of public money. Throwing money at ‘the Regions’ is not going to balance the economy away from London.

Why can’t we seriously look at what the local does best and what the central does best and assign powers accordingly? Why do we have to run scared at any mention of central control? Stripping national government of authority and resources, either through de-regulation, privatisation or devolution can only end in large international vested interests walking all over our democratic sovereignty, one of the worst cases being tax fraud.

Devolution won’t make us look radical, nor will it make up for the absence of certain policies, nor will it appease the Scots. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to accusations of being ‘big-state’. It will simply strip any progressive government of the tools of social justice. So what will it be? Localism or progress?

Losing our ‘Ed

No surprise, I was at the People’s Assembly march yesterday. I had my fair share of chanting, booing and rubbish far-left newspapers. Being rather near the front, I had a little chat with Caroline Lucas MP. I usually have a distaste for Greens: their ‘holier than thou’ and their ‘we’re the alternative’ narrative. However, talking about Ed Miliband’s plan to cut unskilled under 25s’ benefits, she mentioned the same thing that I’ve heard from a lot of people, even in Labour circles: ‘out-Torying the Tories’, ‘a race to the bottom’, ‘playing to the right-wing narrative’. After his fairly radical shift towards decent rent regulation and banning zero hour contracts before the European elections, this piece of wonkish policy seemed to be a great leap backwards.

Ignoring the fact that the policy is a) targeting some of the most vulnerable in society b) in direct clash with the Future Jobs Guarantee c) something the Tories would do, it is not worthy of a major policy announcement. It’s a policy written entirely in Whitehall wonk. It’s tinkering. Who can honestly get excited about wonk? How are we supposed to get out the vote when they give us rubbish like this? All it has done was to massively annoy the activist base.

The announcement was clearly trying to do two things. The first being the bane of the Labour party for a good 5 years: ‘economic credibility’. ‘Labour ruined the economy’  goes the Tory lie, and by trying to prove that they can run the economy, the Labour front bench has capitulated to that lie. Yes it would’ve been a better if the banks had been regulated, yes it would’ve been better if we’d not spent billions on Iraq, but we have nothing to apologise for our record of economic governance. An American banking collapse, something that the British government had no control of, sent shockwaves around the world and we had to bail out british banks to ensure that millions upon millions of ordinary people still had their life savings. Over the 11 years of Labour government before the crash, the national debt of this country fell. Before the ConDems took over, unemployment was falling, wages were rising and living standards were rising. We don’t need to show that we can manage the economy, because we’ve done it before.

Secondly, it is clear that there is a part of the Party that wants to win the anti-benefits brigade’s vote. These are the people that believe the whole ‘scroungers – strivers’ narrative, that think young people ‘have never had it better’ and, guess what, these are the people that most venomously hate the Labour party. There is no way we can be seen to dislike the welfare state more than the Tories because, newsflash, the Tories do. Surprisingly enough Labour can’t pretend to be more like the Tories than the actual Tories. Why not go for the real thing? The party that founded the welfare state will never be seen to want to slim it down.

Ed Miliband needs a narrative. He can’t talk about responsible capitalism and ‘sharing the weight’ while planning to cut benefits for some of the worst off. He has played the appeaser for a good 4 years now, which has helped to keep the Party untied. But now as he must prepare for government, his views must be consistent. This policy seems out of character and against his views, just like posing with the Sun. As a free agent he wouldn’t have done it and as the Leader of the Labour party, he shouldn’t have done it. It seems to be a half-arsed attempt to combat youth unemployment. It won’t get young people into work because the jobs aren’t there. Rather than finding the deep and dark roots of the problem and dealing with that, the Labour policy unit has decided they’d rather cut off a few leaves and call it a day. If there was a labour shortage, by all means get people into training, but that won’t happen anytime soon. Instead of being radical and providing a plan to change Britain for the better, the opposition would rather tinker.

He and the entire shadow cabinet need at all costs to lose the wonk. That’ll be hard given that almost all of them speak only in a Whitehall jargon which confuses even the most seasoned politicos. But Miliband does best when he’s sincere and acts like himself: geeky, yes, but also extremely clever and compassionate. If he always acted like he did when he took on Murdoch then he’d waltz into Number 10. The cries of ‘he’s not prime ministerial material’ or ‘can you imagine him leading our country?’ can be silenced. Easily.

We’re at a strange intersection of political culture. We want our politicians to be statesman-like but at the same time not smoozy and not too slick. Ed Miliband can show that a normal person, even someone with no great media stature, can become Prime Minister. But only by ignoring the New Labour mantra, still stuck in the early 2000s, will he manage. Only by setting out on a course of real modern socialism: democracy, fairness, equality in all areas of our society, will he manage. Only through a radical programme of hope, not blame, will he win back the 5 million votes lost since 1997. Only through a radical programme of alternatives will he counter the rise of UKIP and their neo-fascist cronies. And only through a radical programme of real change will he ensure that any Labour government that comes to power in 2015 will do the right thing.

Which will hopefully involve owls.

Vote 2014: Round 2, the Euros

Europe has decided. Scratch that, just over a third of Europe has decided. The largest pan-continental election in the world has, like every 5 years, been woefully under-attended. Like every 5 years, no one can really be bothered to go out and vote and like every 5 years, the far-right and the protest parties have slowly edged forward in the polls.

In the UK, roughly 30% of the electorate decided that UKIP were the best group of people to represent us in Europe. Who’d have thought it: after intense media saturation, UKIP won the largest share of the vote and the most MEPs. Labour came second, winning MEPs here and there and the Tories, for the first time, came third in a national election.

Again, take this moment to pray for/ridicule the Lib-Dems.

So I guess we should just bend the knee and bow down down to our new lord, King Nige the First? Looks like a hundred-odd years of British democracy is coming to an end. Well it was fun, but this vast amount of UKIP MEPs is clearly a sign from the electorate that it’s time for 1000 years of fruitcakes. Pack up guys, shows over.

Well, no. An election with 30% turnout does not prove much, if anything. The people who can be bothered to vote are those who care about the European Parliament, or who want to register dissent. I expect the former outnumbers the latter quite heavily. Yes, UKIP did win in terms of the national vote this year, but they came a decent second in 2009. The BNP won MEPs back then too and yet that certainly did not convert to seats in Westminster. The European elections combine two things that allow small, extremist parties to thrive: poor voter turnout and proportional representation. UKIP can do well in these polls because the constituencies fought for are quite large. Their support is (relatively) evenly spread out across the country. But when we talk about Westminster UKIP don’t have geographically concentrated votes, vital for winning MPs.

Looking towards the whole continent, it is true that the far left and the far right increased their share in the vote and in MEPs, but the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists together still hold a sizeable majority of MEPs. Europe will still go on as usual. The two groups will still compromise and haggle to make sure that the EU continues to do its job. The most interesting and unpredictable part of these elections will be the appointing of the new President of the European Commission. The decision, made by the Council of Europe with the result of the European elections ‘in mind’, is still being fought on. Neither of the two outward candidates, Juncker and Schulz, are, in my opinion, going to become President. The Grand Coalition of the EPP and the S&D normally means that the Presidency gets bounced between the two parties, meaning the Socialists should get it this time round. However neither David Cameron or Angela Merkel want Martin Schulz to ‘lead’ Europe. Moreover, Juncker is not looked upon favourably by Cameron, Hollande or Matteo Renzi. Clearly some sort of compromise will have to be reached. My money would be on Enrico Letta, the former centre-left Prime Minister of Italy. Not only is he liked by David Cameron and Angela Merkel, but he is acceptable to Hollande and more importantly, Renzi is in his debt, since being ousted from power a few months ago. Letta is a known negotiator and coalition-builder. In the volatile world of Italian politics, he managed to keep a diverse coalition together. All the signs point to a Letta commission.


Rubbish, the EU will continue on the same course: it takes a lot of energy to divert such a massive institution. It’s not glamorous, but it’s vitally useful. It will continue to work silently doing things like sending Europeans into space, supporting art and culture throughout the continent and keeping the longest period of peace Europe has ever known intact. In the end, I’d like to say with a straight face that the European elections mattered, but really, they don’t.

Vote 2014: Round 1, the locals


Reading the above collection of quotes from papers such as The Times, The Telegraph and The Mail, one would think that Labour had flopped completely, failing to take councils, losing wards and votes not only to UKIP but also the Tories, despite the unpopularity of the current government. You would think that cracks in the Labour Party, expected and historically prophesied, would start to appear. Of course, Labour’s destiny of sinking into in-fighting and quarrelling would finally be fulfilled.

Shall we take a little look at the results then?

Results locals 2014

Target councils won? Check.

Vote share increased in target constituencies? Check.

Winning the most seats and having more councillors than the rest put together? Check.

Let’s be clear here, these local elections have been won by Labour. Evidently hampered by UKIP, but won none the less. If this has been a savaging, all I can do is quote Dennis Healey, because it is a savaging by a dead sheep. The only knives out for Milliband are the knives to cut cakes to celebrate the utter crushing of the Lib-Dems and the Tories.

Let’s not be complacent though. UKIP took votes away from Labour and prevented us from winning councils, especially in places such as Swindon and Thurrock. Without UKIP, our councillors won would be well into the 500s. Clearly a more head-on approach is necessary, exposing the vile ideas that hide behind a facade of cleverly crafted rhetoric and character. Privatising the NHS, a flat rate of income tax, a full repeal of worker’s rights are all UKIP policies. The message that UKIP are hard line thatcherites and worse is not getting across to the voters who, after a media frenzy, think of UKIP as only a way of registering disgust, rather than knowing them to be a vehicle of respectability for ex BNP, National Front and EDL members.

Despite the UKIP EARTHQUAKE, the party thankfully still hasn’t won a majority in any council. Being a ‘new’ party (even though it has been around for a good 20 years), the people they fielded for councillors weren’t terribly professional. This will hopefully mean that there will be a year for the few hundred newly-elected UKIP councillors to make complete fools of themselves, as many already have. This may be the peak of UKIP support, their only taste of power before they show themselves to be utterly incapable of leadership.

Anyone who has studied the history of the Labour Party will know that we were once in the same position as UKIP. But British politics is harsh on new parties, as it took Labour a full 45 years from winning it’s first MPs to a full-blown majority. The early ILP also had the full might of the Trade Union behind it, providing activists, policies and money. UKIP has none of this. 20 years of its existence has brought no MPs, no councils, only MEPS. Only in the past few years, spurred on by a popular rejection of the normal political landscape, have they been gaining attention and votes. The Labour Party thrived in the early 20th century because it capitalised on the working class’s lack of representation after they had been given the vote. It found a gaping hole in the market. There is no space large enough in British politics for UKIP to do well in. In a lot of ways it is like the Tories’ SDP. Just like the SDP, UKIP has no fixed geographical support, vital in the FPTP system. Like the SDP, it will hamper other parties, rather than do well itself and more importantly like the SDP, it will probably merge into another party, or at the very least, be in an electoral alliance. This will obviously be the Tories, and some of them have even started calling for an pact with UKIP.

The Tories would probably gain the most out of such an arrangement, surrendering a few of the most at risk seats for the knowledge of no vote-splitting anywhere else. A merger would have profound impacts, as the Tories would be swung massively to the right, although they might lose their ‘posh boy’ image somewhat. Given this elections poor results, especially in Hammersmith and Fulham, Tory backbenchers, anxious and jittery, will start calling for a rightward shift. Osborne’s already done it. They may, to Labour’s advantage, take the gamble and, instead of addressing the cost of living debate, they’ll try to win back UKIP voters.

At this point, please take a moment to laugh at (or feel sorry for) the Lib-Dems.

So what about Labour? Evidently UKIP has hampered us in these elections, but we still won resoundingly, especially in London. And what about in 2015? Who knows. Strangely, we’ll be fighting with ourselves then. Not in the factionalist sense, but the fact that we will have to distance ourselves from the unpopular Labour government before us. We have to be a different party and the same party simultaneously. That will be the only way of winning back Labour>UKIP voters. Being a member of the Labour Party, I like to think I know what happens in it. Certainly there are no grumblings against Milliband. No one is thinking about getting rid of him, especially now. Then again, no one is expecting a Labour majority at this rate. Reversing Labour’s historic inability to sort itself after an electoral defeat is remarkable, and I respect Milliband for that although I doubt his ability to lead the country. The part I do question though is David Axelrod’s vast salary which, so far, hasn’t translated into much. We have a lack of a coherent message, unlike UKIP, which really holds the Party back nationally. What is Milliband’s vision for Britain, the far-reaching changes he wants to make? Defining and creating the Britain he wants is the leadership this country needs, not just tinkering. Will that be delivered by next May? That’s something only the very top of the Party knows. I’m optimistic, though currently I’d only put money on a Labour minority government.

The political landscape of this country has definitely changed, but it changed in 2010, not 2014. The question is not the rise of UKIP, but the way the electorate has reacted to recession and the age of austerity. Now, we’ll need to see the results of the Euros, not just domestically, but continently. Expect part two of this post sometime over next week.

Any Recovery Must be Forged in White Heat

I’m sure most of you are familiar with Harold Wilson’s most famous speech, an extract of which is below.

In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the White Heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.


Said at Party Conference 1963, the ‘White Heat of technology’ speech outlined Wilson’s idea of Socialism: one built around using scientific knowledge and execution to increase the prosperity and happiness of the people. Wilson wrote later that his aspiration was to ‘replace the cloth cap [with] the white laboratory coat as the symbol of British Labour’. The Ministry of Technology (known as MinTech) was set up by the Wilson administration and Tony Benn was its Minister for a period of time. Under Wilson, research and development (R&D) funding was beefed up enormously. Not all was rosy, as ideas about the scientific revolution were confused and differed wildly. While the country saw MinTech as a scientific institution, Wilson and Benn meant it as an industrial organisation, and operated it as such. In the end, MinTech was merged with the Board of Trade to create what we know now as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It was a sad fizzling out of a red hot scientific endeavour that had never really gotten off the ground in the first place.

But I’m not here to dwell on the past, although the present is rather gloomy. We have some of the worst R&D spending as a percentage of GDP in the developed world. Want to know how bad it is? Belgium spends more in terms of GDP than we do (our 1.77% to their 1.99%). In 2010, the annual science budget was frozen at £4.6bn. That’s about 0.17% of government spending. Vince Cable calls it ‘generous’. We fall short of the R&D target the government has set and the target the EU has set, and quite badly in fact. As Europe’s third largest economy, we contribute peanuts to the European Space Agency, while France and Germany make up about 50% of ESA’s budget. For a country that was not even very long ago at the uttermost forefront of scientific research and discovery, our neglect of R&D is shocking.

The people that do the research, that push the boundaries of human knowledge, the scientists, how are they treated? Well, the average salary for a research scientist in the UK is about £29,000. Just above the average wage. Now obviously this varies from field to field, but even the most highly paid scientific disciplines will earn you about £50k. Which incidentally, is the starting salary for a stock broker. A starting salary. I don’t even want to contemplate at what level the wages peak for them, and that’s not even including bonuses.

It’s time to prioritise, people. Who do we care more about: the people who ensure human progress towards a brighter future or what are essentially glorified gamblers?

Strangely, this attitude was fostered by Margaret Thatcher, a scientist by profession. As Secretary of State for Education and Science and then as PM, she forced government spending to be a monetary investment, with full returns and all. Combine this with an absolute adoration of the financial sector and soon a culture for ignoring science and long-term thinking in general develops. Science won’t always give you short-term monetary returns, but its benefits in the future are more fantastic than any micro-second stock trade. Thatcher, as a scientist, should have known that.

Such blatant disregard for science and research cannot be allowed to continue. We will never solve any of the world’s major issues, from climate change to overpopulation without a solid dedication to R&D. Imagine if only a fraction of the money used to bail out the banks or fight in Iraq was used for scientific research. We’d be halfway to Mars by now. Closer to home, we will never achieve sustainable growth without a healthy manufacturing sector, and we will never foster a healthy manufacturing sector without a flourishing (and more importantly) well funded scientific community. Our space sector employs 29,000 people and is growing at 7.5% a year (fun fact: 80% of fridge-sized satellites are built in the UK), but a report by the Department for Business says that the British Space Agency is not funded well enough to provide support for a flourishing and prosperous sector of our economy. The furnaces of Britain, having lain dormant for decades, can be re-kindled once more by the White Heat of technology.

A scientific community doesn’t spring from pure money though, so as well as investing with cash we need to invest with education as well. Let’s be honest, our education results are pretty poor, especially in maths and the sciences, and Michael Gove’s re-writing (although I hardly think writing is the correct word, since it implies consideration and thought) will not help that. Science lessons need to be fun, engaging and most importantly, inspiring. How will we ever smash the darkness of human ignorance without enthusiasm?

Michael Gove, Vince Cable and the rest of this shambles government does not have the determination to do anything but build a shaky recovery built on debt. The question is, will a Labour government be Wilsonian in thought (not in execution hopefully) to bring about this scientific revolution? We can only hope (until they give us a decent policy process).

Unions! O Noes!

What is a Union? A dreadful vehicle of class warfare and revolution? The ‘enemy within’ holding the country to ransom? Run by ‘Union Barons’ who have millions of drones to do their bidding? I hear that Bob Crow’s cruise ship is actually rowed by a few hundred RMT members, and that they’re getting £50k a year funded by the taxpayer!

Silly right-wing press, a Union is a collection of workers who have gathered together to protect their interests using the power of collective bargaining. Of the employees, by the employees. Their General Secretaries are elected by the members and are accountable to the members (less than can be said of Paul Dacre and Lord Rothermere).

And what are strikes? When Union Barons hold a country by the bollocks and demand more money? When lazy, public-sector workers with gold-plated wages can’t be bothered to work? I hear that the RMT’s strike fund is £50k a year plus overtime!

Silly Grant Shapps and the rest of the old folks home that is the Tory party, a strike is a last-resort, when the bosses are not going to give in to reasonable demands or will not even come to the negotiation table (cough cough Boris Johnson) and a Union is left with no other option to protect their members’ wellbeing and livelihoods. Striking is, according to the UN, the EU and our own laws, a basic human right. Most industrial disputes never even get close to strike action, but instead are a frank negotiation between Union and the employer, ending in a reasonable consensus between both parties.

A strike is never called without a) consulting the members of the Union and b) making sure no possible alternative action exists. So when a unbalanced, unfair and biased press says that the Tube strike is ‘Shameful’, fill their pages with varied biased drivel from the ‘Business community’ and hardly provide a second opinion, it is clear that lies are being repeated and stereotypes are being reinforced, all wrapped up in hypocrisy and preachy self-interest. A strike to protect nearly 7,000 jobs, as well as safety and service on the Tube is a travesty that will ‘hamper the economy of the city’. Because long-term economic patterns are disrupted by a 48 hour travel inconvenience.

The press and the Right need to grow up and develop a serious attitude to Trade Unions, instead of a caricature of the 70s that frankly, isn’t coming back anytime soon. Trade Union general secretaries are not ‘barons’. The last time I checked, barons are not democratically elected.

Trade Unions have fought for and won so many basic human rights: fair wages, fair working hours, safe work environments and so many more. They ensure our labour market works for ordinary people. The countries with the highest Union density, Sweeden, Finland, Denmark and Norway have some of the highest standards of living in the world, as well as some of the most stable economies. Unions are not only good for workers, but good for business, if treated right.

For decades in this country business have treated Unions like the scum of the earth. They have been vilified and smeared in the press, as well as having their power undercut by various laws since Thatcher. If only we took a more cooperative attitude to Unions, treating them as the mouthpiece of the employees instead as an enemy, negotiating instead of repressing, we would have a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, less likely to call in sick or skip work. Isn’t that worth something, or is a quick buck the only thing that an ‘entrepreneur’ needs to think about?

London Property Cannot Be an International Reserve Currency

House’s ‘Earn’ Us More Than Jobs‘ was the Evening Standard‘s front page two days ago. It told us that on average, London house prices have risen by £50,000, more than the average London wage: £37,000. House prices in London have risen by 11.6% last year, 18.1% since their pre-recession peak in 2008. While our economy stagnates and prices continue to rise faster than wages, the surge in house prices point only to one thing: a bubble.

And what do bubbles do? They burst.

We’re falling for the same trap we fell into in 2008. The stupidity is almost palpable. While house prices skyrocket, wages stagnate. People who can’t pay for their mortgages are buying houses. It’s all happened before.

However, this time, the government is even more deeply involved. If a Help To Buy borrower defaults on his mortgage the government will either lose their 20% interest-free loan or have to guarantee 15% of the loan, or possibly both. (I’m not sure. The Help to Buy website is so vague and positive that there isn’t even one mention of default of bankruptcy.)

Let’s do some maths. Estimates state that 180,000 people will take out a mortgage using Help To Buy. The average house price in the UK is roughly £244,000. So, how much debt is the government covering?

Value of property mortgaged with Help to Buy≈  180,000*244,000
                                            ≈  £43,920,000,000
Amount of debt guaranteed by the government ≈  £43,920,000,000*0.15
                                            ≈  £6,588,000,000

So the government in the end will cover about £6.5 billion, probably more given the fact that Help To Buy is mostly used in London and the South, where house prices are higher. As if a housing bubble was bad enough. When (not if) the music stops not only will the government have to again spend billions on bailing out banks ‘too big to fail’ but it will also have to pay back directly the mortgage lenders whose loans they have guaranteed. Plus the economy will slide back into another deep recession.

Oh won’t we look foolish. As Europe slowly climbs out of economic stagnation, London’s big banks collapse again and jeopardizes any chance of continental growth for another few years at least.

The situation has come to head like this because of a) we aren’t building enough houses and more importantly b) London (and South Eastern) property has become some sort of reserve currency. London is a great city, of course, and so house prices are always going to be higher. The problem is the fact that the property is not being bought by Londoners, or even British people for that matter. Wealthy individuals, hedge funds, investment banks etc. all see London property as an amazing investment. They’re not wrong. What other investment gives yearly returns of sometimes 16%, while at the same time being extremely stable and safe? Luxury developments are springing up all over London, even in neighbourhoods that are in desperate need of affordable housing, then promptly being sold abroad and lying empty.

So instead of a mansion tax that would bite hard those who are asset rich but income poor and which would be absolutely awful for London, how about a foreign property tax? Those who are not British citizens would have to pay higher stamp duty when they buy property.

This would mean that foreign demand for London houses would die down. This in turn would lead to the housing bubble deflating and economic growth being saved. It would also stop the gentrification and social cleansing that London is currently in the grip of, as prices would fall (or at least slow down) and normal people will once again be able to live in London comfortably. Along with building new homes and potentially, entire cities, this brake on house prices would allow us to solve our housing problem.

The government is trying however. Their cunning plan is, by gradual impoverishment of the population and erosion of public services, Britain will become a 3rd world nation, thus lowering prices and saving us from another recession. It’s all part of the plan, you just can’t see it.

That’s sarcasm. If you hadn’t realised.

Mark Duggan’s Killing May Be Legal, But It Certainly Wasn’t Right

Police are civil servants, much like doctors, teachers and firemen. They are servants of the state, specifically, it’s laws. They are not however, the law. Their duty is to stop crime from occurring and detain criminals for future trial. They are (supposed to be) neutral. In Mark Duggan’s case, this wasn’t the case.

The shooting was legal, as the police thought Mark Duggan posed a threat and so took action, which under the law, was allowed. This doesn’t make this action morally or pragmatically right. It opens up sores in communities all across the country and damages relations between people and the police, who in reality are no different from teachers or doctors.

However the police tried and punished Mark Duggan, independently from the judicial system, and did not even punish him as the law dictates. If Mark Duggan had simply been arrested with a handgun in his possession, he would’ve gone to jail for 5-7 years, not received several sniper’s bullets to his torso. The police overstepped their responsibilities: instead of bring Mark to justice they brought justice to Mark, in the form of spinning cylinders of metal. This is why the killing was morally wrong.

The reason why the killing is pragmatically wrong is more long-term. The harsh sentences for the Great Train Robbers convinced many robbers to carry guns on heists, as the difference in penalty for unarmed and armed robbery had become minimal. The killing of Mark Duggan will convince gangs to carry higher calibre’s of weaponry, as the difference between being shot carrying a handgun and being shot carrying a machine pistol, or even an assault rifle, is frankly, non-existent, but at least with an Uzi you can defend yourself better.

That’s not even talking about the further antagonisation of communities, especially poorer ones, towards the police. This brings us, as it has brought many, to the debate about our police. Yes, I agree with more BAME officers, especially at high levels. I agree with the need for the police to stop stop-and-searches and for the police to be closer to the community they serve. Nothing new here. But another policy we need to set straight is where the local policemen live. Policemen should live in the area they serve. The public should know who their local bobby is, and that he lives round the corner. A lot of people easily vent their anger on ‘the police’, an organisation, an idea, but most people find it difficult to spit at their neighbours, just for doing a job. Having policemen recruited from the local area, especially young and BAME people, humanises the police and makes it seem less of an occupying force.

In the end, I take the extremely petit-bourgeois (and possibly naïve) view that 90% of the police are hardworking, ordinary people and that there are a few violent black sheep (especially in the riot police) who bring the organisation down. However, until these black sheep are sorted out and, eventually, given prison sentences, unfortunately and detrimentally to everyone in civil society, I don’t think the police can ever claim to be pillars of our community.

2014: What to Expect

As we say goodbye to the last, fleeting shadow of 2013, we must naturally look to the year ahead. With the general election just over 17 months away, the temperature will certainly rise in 2014, not least helped by the potential breakup of the UK in September. Certainly next year will not be boring, nor without the need to door-knock. So what can we look forward to?

Euro and Local Elections:

In May, nearly exactly a year away from the general election, we’ll go to the polls to elect our MEPs and councillors. Certainly the preparation will start in January, with a gradual build up in activity until the fateful day, the 22nd of May. Getting out the vote will be imperative, as European elections have famously low turnouts. The last one, in 2009, sported a dismal 34% representation of the electorate. The polling is favourable: the last Survation/Daily Star poll in November shows Labour with a 7% lead over UKIP, probably as the Farage aura of appeal wears off and is replaced by a smell of stale cigarette smoke  and BO. Another friendly positive is the likely departure of Nick Griffin from Brussels/Strasbourg as the BNP implodes around him, as well as the home coming of Nigel Farage, as he prepares for his ascent to Westminster. Although I don’t see Labour returning to pre-1999 levels, when we commanded 62 of  British MEPs, I certainly imagine we will make gains at the expense of the Tories and Lib-Dems, just like UKIP. We also must challenge UKIP’s record in office as the laziest party in Europe, cashing in their paycheques and expenses, but turning up to minimal votes or debates and, when they do, being extremely racist and/or sexist. Hopefully the council elections occurring at the same time will raise turnout and prevent any more Griffin’s from representing us in Europe.

These local elections seem also to be favourable. In London, Labour should make gains in swing councils, preparing the way to win the constituencies. The Metropolitan Boroughs seem in safe hands. Again gains will be made by Labour and UKIP at the expense of the Con-Dems. However, there is the looming implication that voters will punish Labour councils for cuts in local services, as Labour councils have been worse hit by cuts handed to local government by Whitehall. Whether this will actually happen, or, as I hope, these fears are unfounded.

Whatever happens, these elections will be a dry-run for the general election, and the party that comes out on top will definitely receive a sizeable morale boost.

Scottish Referendum

September the 18th Scots will go to the polls to vote for independence or union. Alex Salmond has set out a confusing and muddled plan for an independent Scotland, with black holes in the budget and constitutional issues yet unsolved, such as the currency of the new People’s Republic of Salmond. It would also spell a one thousand year Tory Reich, as the loss of Scottish seats will mean that Labour will no longer be able to win a majority. Thankfully the polls have consistently showed a two digit No lead, although there is plenty of room for a so far ineffectual Pro-Union campaign to ruin this. Better Together must put forward not only a practical but a principled argument for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom.

Party Conference

When conference season comes around in September, there will be just over half a year until the general election, and the intensity will certainly be heightened. This’ll mean that the parties will be unveiling cornerstone policies in their leader’s speeches. Hopefully Milliband will announce a Labour party commitment to railway nationalisation (please) or banking regulation (pretty please). In all cases, 2014 will be the (relative) calm before the storm of May 2015, when Lynton Crosby will ensure that this general election will be the dirtiest, nastiest and most unscrupulous campaign in British history.

The Grangemouth dispute crys out for industrial democracy

Now that the Government has launched an inquiry into the ‘intimidating tactics’ allegedly used by Unite in the Grangemouth refinery dispute there is a need to evaluate who is the aggressor and who is the victim. The victimised party has had its officials intimidated, threats issued towards it and its members very livelihood and families menaced. It is of course the workers of the Grangemouth refinery, and their union, Unite. The persecution of Stephen Deans, Unite convener and chair of Falkirk CLP was disgusting. Deans had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Labour party, yet INEOS, the company that the run the refinery, continued their ‘investigation’ into Deans’ political activity. When, inevitably, Deans was fired, 72% of all refinery workers voted to strike. Next, INEOS suddenly decided that a survival plan was necessary, with wage freezes and pension cuts included. After Unite did not accept the plan, INEOS, in a show of aggressive might, said that the plant would close. Unite had no choice: the strike had to be called off.

This all shows how we must reconsider industrial relations in this country: how employers and employees conduct themselves in regard to each to other. It is clear, and has been clear since victorian times, that self regulation by employers cannot possibly work. It has given us child labour, 15 hour days and underpayment. It is also clear that the unions are no longer a fighting force in this country, since being all but destroyed by Thatcher and since they can no longer compete with business, who is more profit-hungry and more aggressive than ever, as INEOS has shown with its neglectful and irresponsible threat to close the Grangemouth refinery.

So what is the solution? Obviously I would gladly have a strong trade union and labour movement, but the problem with that is a union is a reactive force: it agrees or disagrees, through ballot of its members, to the decisions of the management. And anyway, industrial warfare is not the answer. In 2012, 250,000 working days were lost due to industrial action (in 2011 it was 1.4 million). I am not implying that industrial action is not a human right, nor do I think that striking is immoral, merely an inefficient way to conduct employer-employee relations.

For a solution let’s turn to Germany, as we should for many of our problems. In 2012 86,000 working days were lost to industrial disputes there, in a country with a bigger population and a much more unionised workforce. Germany manages this with a not so little word: Mitbestimmungsgesetz, or Co-determination. Every company with over 2,000 employees in Germany must have a supervisory board, which elects and scrutinises management board. The supervisory board, however, is half employee elected and half shareholder elected, including specific seats for union representatives. The result? Germany has a happy, skilled, well-paid workforce, there are no executive excesses such as the ones found here in the UK and equality is high. Conventional, neo-liberal thought would dictate that Germany should be a floundering economy, ruled by militant unions and on the verge of collapse, yet we know that isn’t the case: Germany is the engine room of Europe, and shows no sign of stopping.

The truth is that employees know more about the running of their company than the senior management. They provide a different view to the running of the company, and they can stop the bosses from making unpopular decisions and make sure that the workers best interests are represented on the highest levels of management. This improves industrial relations, improves productivity, and empowers workers.

This is what needs to happen in the UK. As the Mitbestimmungsgesetz act was being passed by the Bundestag, the Bullock Report on industrial democracy was commissioned by the Wilson government. It concluded that a German Mitbestimmungsgesetz system was indeed a good idea. However, before it could be implemented, Thatcher came along and crushed any thought of worker empowerment, through the unions or otherwise. Think how the Grangemouth dispute would have unfolded, if half of INEOS’s board were workers. It simply wouldn’t have happened. The banks wouldn’t have given out such obscene bonuses and the Cooperative, for all it’s cooperation, wouldn’t currently be circling the drain after years of mismanagement of the Coop Bank by Paul Flowers. The recession has given us the opportunity to re-examine the way our economy works so that we can build a fairer, more equal, and better society. Mitbestimmungsgesetz is a simple, elegant way of achieving this.