It`s raining stones again…

Nora Connolly

Image © Tmaurizia

When will UK interest rates rise?  Pundits recently suggesting an increase likely prior to the next general election, a scenario which would allow the Coalition to spin the policy as a by-product of economic recovery. Given that any decision made in this regard by the Bank of England must be linked to an economic upturn. This introduces a potentially nasty paradox, as economic recovery, either real or illusory (the latter more likely) could have dire implications for many UK households currently struggling to make ends meet at this time. All things considered, it might be prudent to avoid household debt at the moment, a view which is shared by those now running the British economy, not the Treasury but the Bank of England, after yesterday’s very British coup.  The recent announcement by the Bank of England to withdraw the funding for lending scheme had an immediate impact as “shares in construction companies plunged”.  But more significantly the financial stability report leaves Treasury policy undermined, while at the same time cleverly placing future responsibility for any UK housing bubble at the door of number 11 Downing Street. Read more of this post

How many neo-liberals does it take to change a light bulb?

Nora Connolly 

Image © CharlesJshapr

We are all neo-liberals now. You might not like it but an insidious political metamorphosis has taken place, those in denial akin to the misfortunate frog unaware that it’s getting boiled out of existence. We are shedding our social democrat identity for an ugly neo-liberal form and the political implications for this are profound. Recently, I wondered why the economic meltdown of 2008 hadn’t undermined the neo-liberal project, a prescient query. Answers now provided by Professor Philip Mirowski in his recently published `Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Verso 2013)`. His thesis a pessimistic one, although it provides the Left with a much needed counter narrative to reconceptualise their collective notion of markets.   Read more of this post

The economic consequences of Mr Greenspan

Nora Connolly 

Image © IMF Photograph/Stephen Jaffe

Dedicated to David Wright who is about to celebrate his 50th birthday.

Alan Greenspan the former chair of the Federal Reserve has just published a book an occasion that allows time for reflection. In his pomp he was known as Saint Alan and the economic consensus he helped shape, today appears unruffled and widespread. The austerity programme followed by the UK government recently commended by Greenspan, a supporter of George Osborne. One of the important ingredients for economic success according to Mr Greenspan (speaking several years ago) is the need for `growing worker insecurity which reduces pressure for compensation and decent working conditions` the UK government is following that piece of advice to the letter. Meanwhile in the USA wealth resides in the hands of a tiny fraction of the population a `section so small that the census doesn’t even pick it up…a tenth of a percent of the population`. This has political implications because power is held in limited hands and helps explain the ideological hinterland of Barack Obama, a centrist amid a right wing consensus. Unsurprisingly there has been no Obama New Deal. Given this situation, one need not wonder why adherence to the market continues unabated. Even though the crash of 2008 is considered worse than 1929, but in the 1930s a new consensus emerged, while today a conservative orthodoxy dominates.   Read more of this post

Love Will Tear the British Union apart…

Nora Connolly 

Image© The Scottish Government

The SNP`s commitment to the principles enshrined in the British post-war settlement appear to be the motivating factor propelling Scotland toward independence. The party which oscillated between the left and the far right during the 1970s is now the party of consensus, promoting a benevolent nationalism whilst campaigning on a progressive social democratic platform. This seems reasonable and persuasive, especially given the SNP propensity to campaign in the poetry of Burns, whilst governing Scotland in the prose of Keynes and Beveridge. Bevan is also close to the SNP leadership’s heart, the Welsh architect of the British NHS. This is then, big tent inclusive nationalism, seemingly devoid of any racial component, anti-English rhetoric or sentiment. After all there is an estimated 400,000 people of English origins living in Scotland with a projected 10% of this cohort supporting the SNP. Of course Scotland is no egalitarian utopia. And while the country may exhibit more social cohesion and solidarity than other parts of the UK, it’s far from perfect and it would be naive to suggest otherwise. If you have ever attended an `Old Firm` game then you will quickly appreciate my point. Read more of this post

 Book Review: The Great Tax Robbery by Richard Brooks

Frederick Cowell 

Image© DS Pugh

Simon Hoggart’s diary column in a recent edition of the Saturday Guardian, whilst not referencing Richard Brooks’ detailed book, captures its essence

“Suppose you got a letter from HMRC saying: “Your tax bill of £3,258.47 is now overdue. If it is not paid immediately further action will be taken.” At the end is a scrawled note, saying, “but if you buy me lunch, and give me a job when I leave, we can call it quits for £105.”

That’s not a joke – that’s actually a reasonable summary of what the Inland Revenue actually did. As Richard Brooks details in exhaustive depth in Chapter Eight of The Great Tax Robbery the Inland Revenue has form in this area – in 2011 they negotiated what can only be called a sweetheart deal with the authorities in Switzerland which simply wrote off billions of pounds in evaded and avoided taxes. Only last week the heads of government at the G8 seemed to be waking up to the scale of tax avoidance which is astonishing given that just five years ago it was still a fringe concern of a few left-wing campaign groups and a handful campaigning writers. Read more of this post

A recession is a good time to start a business and a trade union…

Legal Eagle 

Image © Roger Blackwell

The recent comment by Lord Young, an adviser to the Prime Minister, is worth considering, especially if you happen to be looking for work at the moment. Although, his report written for the Prime Minister`s Cabinet of millionaires, may not be that useful to the average job seeker. However, just in case you’re interested, the current recession we are told, has an optimistic aspect, making it conducive to business and entrepreneurial activity. This is because of the prevalence of low wage levels and other factors. It seems, it`s an ill wind that doesn’t do someone some good at sometime. At last the Coalition of millionaires has a rationale for following its stringent austerity programme. Sadly, this gives working people few reasons to be cheerful. So, if you’re looking for a job with a living wage your quest may be a disappointing one. Not that anyone in David Cameron`s Cabinet need worry about this – although they may be looking for work soon enough. Read more of this post

The trouble with billionaires (book review) by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Left Central Book Review 

Image© Andy Mitchel

I am indebted to the British Welfare state; the very one that Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, the safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major`s government, was there to break the fall…J.K. Rowling… Cited in `the trouble with billionaires`

This book is a fusion of rigorous academic analysis and sharp, witty journalism. The humour a necessary antidote, given the unconscionable economic detail outlined. Facts linked to the rapacious appetite of the super elite, gorging on tax avoidance. Aided and abetted by supine legislators in the UK and USA. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks explain how the political right, adroitly undermined the post-war consensus of Beveridge and Keynes in the UK, the same result achieved in the USA with the gradual destruction of the New Deal consensus. Criticism articulated by Frederick Von Hayek who feared that benevolent government intervention would lead us down the road to serfdom. A ridiculous idea, predicated on the notion that social security; full employment, legal aid, economic growth and an NHS somehow reduced liberty. As this book points out, when Hayek required assistance from the social security system, he was not shy about utilising its collective provisions. It is indeed a strange sort of serfdom, which provides a hospital bed for the sick, a bizarre understanding of liberty that disregards the need of a safety net, when boom turns to inevitable bust. All those tens of thousands of post-war Higher Education students benefitting from free education in the UK or through the GI Bill in the States – hardly resemble serfs. But their counterparts today do; a bizarre twist on the Hayek model. The exchange of correspondence between Hayek and Charles Koch outlined in the text, makes for illuminating revisionist reading. Read more of this post

The Left and Margaret Thatcher

Frederick Cowell

Image©Gingerblokey

Margaret Thatcher’s death has resulted in many a hagiography, some national reflection and an almighty attack of political amnesia. Her pursuit of an agenda of ideological radicalism which either, saved or savaged Britain (depending on your viewpoint) created an ‘ism’ but was not done in vacuum.

Margaret Thatcher had long nursed radical ideologies but contrary to the right wing narrative of ideological triumphalism in her ascendency to power, her first election victory in May 1979 was on a very pragmatic and cautious ideological platform. The Conservative manifesto was, as the historian Andy McSmith notes, only little more radical than their 1970 manifesto and Margaret Thatcher had agreed to follow the generous recommendations of the Clegg Commission on Public Sector pay which had been set up after the winter of discontent – hardly the stuff of union smashing Tory fantasies.  Ken Clarke reflected that the election focused on bread and butter issues such as prices, inflation and the state of the national finances – many of the same concerns had encouraged the electorate five years earlier to replace Edward Heath with Harold Wilson. Nigel Lawson remembered she was preoccupied with “not frightening the electorate” and in the late 1970s she went out of her way to distance herself in public from more radical policies on spending cuts and privatisation and in office was even prepared to give in to the miners, delaying pit closures. It was two years from her election until the first full monetarist budget in 1981 and many of the largest privatisations and assaults on the unions took place later. The ideological zealotary, which she had always had, emerged openly in 1981 as the infighting on the left meant that it was unlikely that there would be any meaningful opposition to the Thatcherite agenda.  Read more of this post

The UK is hungry for change…

Legal Eagle  

Image© Derek Harper

You will eat by and by, in the glorious land in the sky, way up high, work and pray and live on hay, you`ll get pie in the sky when you die…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of EP Thompson`s The Making of The English Working Class, which Phillip Dodd recently described as a formidable account of class development. This is rather ironic, given that in 2013 we are witnessing the pauperisation of this very same, once proud class. Last Saturday, the Guardian ran an excellent piece on `The human cost of recession` by Chris Menon and Sophie Robinson-Tillett. The article dealt with the seemingly paradoxical situation of comparatively low UK unemployment levels coinciding with a drastic drop in the standard of living for many in work. People it seems are in employment, though frequently engaged on temporary contracts, usually part-time with sporadic adjustments in hours. Workers are increasingly denied a contract of employment. If an individual is paid an income which barely meets their needs, what are they expected to do if they are denied further support? Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland Episode 4 FAMINE

Nora Connolly 

Image© illustrated London News, December 22, 1849

 It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry…

Robert Kee focuses on the emotive issue of the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849. Explaining why the population in the West and South West depended on this food for nutrition, outlining the organisation of land and tenancy arrangement`s. Other crops abundantly produced sold to pay rent, encapsulated by the following contemporaneous observation reported in Hansard, `not a bit of bread have I eaten since I was born, nor a bit of butter. We sell all the corn and the butter to give to the landlords [for rent] yet I have the largest farm in the district and am as well off as any man in the county`. The population which increased to eight million was linked to the peculiar organisation of land tenure in Ireland, `land was divided into smaller and smaller plots – the number of those depending on the potato grew larger and larger`. In Kee`s written history he demonstrates an in-depth understanding of issues i.e. the impact on agriculture post Napoleonic Wars such an analysis not always possible in a fifty minute television overview. Read more of this post

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