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

Thatcher and Thatcherism – by Eric J. Evans

LeftCentral Book Review 

© Image rahuldlucca`s photostream

This is a bantamweight text, which packs a super-heavyweight punch. And Evans, whose first edition was published fifteen-years ago, has revised his view; granting Mrs Thatcher more significance than he initially credited her with. Thatcherism is not considered a coherent ideology; Evans along with others believes it was (is) an amalgam of neo-liberalism and authoritarian conservatism. He charts Thatcher`s rise and fall, while placing her leadership within a political and historical framework (Peel and Disraeli). He includes a more contemporary analysis of Major`s administration, as John Major suffered from her back seat driving, as the Tories ripped themselves apart over Europe. Margaret Thatcher, who in 1986 signed the Single European Act, paradoxically became the standard bearer of European sceptics, illustrating what a funny world British politics is. As Evans points out the “Single European Act accelerated the process towards wider European integration, ultimately leading to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the establishment of a single European currency in 1991”.

The New Labour project was not immune from Thatcherism and comparisons between Blair/Brown and Thatcher are made. Evans gives credence to a quote from the Spectator that “Margaret Thatcher begat Tony Blair”. Ireland is ignored by Evans and an interesting policy contrast between Blair and Thatcher was lost. Thatcher was viewed by many as a strident Unionist but she did sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and without this later initiatives by Major and Blair would have been impossible.  Read more of this post

A Tale of Two Contracts

Legal Eagle

Contracts

Copyright JK5854s photostream

Fergal:

Fergal is an IT professional with in-demand technical skills; he agreed to tell me about his industry. He spoke to me about `contractors` who are deployed in the IT industry with a contract of employment. The IT industry has for many years recruited `contractors` and they are not entitled to sick pay, paid holiday or pension. However, they enjoy a lot of flexibility and secure excellent wages.

Fergal (who has never worked as a `contractor`) told me `contractors` typically spend between one month and several years working on projects. The number of hours worked is usually in line with permanent staff around 37 hours per week but overtime pay is common.

I asked Fergal about the wage a `contractor` can secure:

A `contractor` undertaking the type of work I carry out (in my permanent role) might expect a daily rate of £350-£500 per day. But some could earn in excess of £1K a day. This would typically be London based and only if the `contractor` has very high in-demand skills, a `contractor` with comparable skills to myself could make excellent money though rates have declined in recent years.  Read more of this post

The Strange Death of Liberal Europe

John Curran

Image © BrotherMagneto

The Greek electorate have spoken and, borrowing a phrase from former US President Clinton, it is not clear what they have said. Although we have a decision, can it be described as a mandate? New Democracy winning by a mere 3% ahead of anti austerity socialist party Syriza, the majority party automatically gaining fifty extra seats thus placing them in the driving seat of a coalition government.

 As in the UK after the 2010 election, conservative politicians in open necked shirts make electoral agreements with minority parties with phoney liberal credentials. The political horse-trading in Athens was conducted in the Greek language but the narrative is one shaped by London, Berlin, and Brussels.

There has always been a liberal dilemma at the core of the European project. This is evident in the decision making process which is undemocratic and dominated by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. However, since 1979 the Parliament has grown in authority via the ballot box and the Single European Act. Despite this there is a problem in the governance of the EU, a quandary now thought key to understanding the crisis.  A predictable debate has begun with calls to abandon the EU project or establish a Federalist system.

The unprecedented interference from external influences in the Greek election is a worrying intrusion into the democratic workings of a sovereign state, justified by the ‘memorandum of understanding’ made on the cusp of the first Greek election this year. A document that binds future administrations to adhere to cuts of billions of Euros.

The interference in the Greek election are numerous, springing from comments made by European leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany and George Osborne in the UK. Larry Elliott in the Guardian on 16 of June reported on comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker:

If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.

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Greece and the euro

Osmi Anannya

Image © Yiannis Baboulias

Greece has been entangled with large-scale debt, for many months now. Off late, prominent voices in the European Union have stated that it’s looking increasingly likely that Greece will leave the Euro zone. Some have added that it’s probably in the best interest of the country to in fact do so. This is because all those in favour of the exit believe there is a possibility Greece could reach a time when long-term of interdependency on foreign nations and banks is widely active; significant shares of the nation’s finances and economy are already under the reign of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission, and the European Central Bank [3].

If Greece does choose to exit the Euro zone, it could then start the journey of recovery by having its own currency, the drachma, once more. The currency could then be devalued to make way for cheap exports and high rates favouring imports [1]. It is quite difficult to grasp, however, how expensive imports are going to be beneficial for the country, because an increase in the rate of import stands to most likely increase the prices of goods, merchandise or commodities available in the country.

In an economic crisis it would be an unwelcome request to ask people in Greece to spend more on their daily purchases. Widespread problems in the Greek political system have already left the nation’s people frustrated about daily life, about the lack of jobs available tailored to their skills, about the inefficiency of many public services, for months on end now. This has given rise to a growing lack of faith in the government, cumulating to the recent riots and revolts and protests in Greece, one after another in a locomotive fashion.

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Politicians should be wary of vested interests in the economic debate

Tom Bailey

Image © Alan Chan

On Monday the 2020 Tax Commission final report was published. Other websites have picked over the bizarre elements, the major problems and highlighted certain strengths better than I could. This blog will not discuss all of the report itself but instead use it to raise a broader point. These reports are productions by groups of self-interest and must be treated as such. Think tanks such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance often lack transparency about funding. I can’t find such information on their website and emailing to ask who funds them has not led to a reply (nor did it for George Monbiot). Polly Toynbee wrote a good piece a while back that articulated the problems of that think tank in particular. The TPA supports the self-interest of large business owners and leaders in lower taxes, regardless of the consequent costs for everyone else. What is more annoying is that they are sought whilst many intelligent economists without such evident self interest are ignored. Business leaders and their stooge think tanks seem to be given a preferential place in all economic debates.

This is a cross-party phenomenon that has been going on for far too long. Sure, business support is all well and good, but it should not be the be-all and end-all in economic debates. Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs that he knew Labour had lost the 2010 general election when business came out in support of the Conservatives. He wrote that once you lose chief executives, ‘you lose more than a few votes. You lose your economic credibility. And a sprinkling of academic economists, however distinguished, won’t make up the difference.’ (681) Given Blair’s obsession with courting business support, it seems it was more than just another cheap shot against Gordon Brown. The Conservatives have had a more established deference to business. Appeal to business authority was one tactic used in 2010 by Osborne trying to make the case for deeper austerity than Labour favoured. He said in his Mais Lecture in 2010 that his view was supported by ‘many leading business figures and crucially by international investors’. Both reveal an the misplaced confidence that credibility is primarily derived from business, a theme constantly repeated by journalists. For instance, in January the ever critical Dan Hodges welcomed Labour’s declaration that they could not reverse cuts as a demonstration that ‘Labour “flat-earthers”, who argued for no retreat in the face of the coalition’s austerity measures, or an electorate that views them as a necessary evil, have been routed.’ It has been a common critique of Labour despite the slowdown since the election of the Conservatives in 2010. Personally, I think credibility should be what works rather than by default with what business vested interests support. Business lined up behind Tory levels of austerity arguing that it would support recovery. As we have now gone into a double dip (or if the figures are off, are still flat lining at best), can we be a little more sceptical about their wisdom on all economic matters?

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Guest Blog: What the French election means for the Left

Jasper Cox

Image © The Prime Minister’s Office

If, as is expected, François Hollande wins La Présidentielle this weekend, it provides a boost for Ed Miliband and Labour party: a sign that perhaps the Left in Europe is, unlike the economy, on the road to recovery. In the United Kingdom, from the marginal Occupy movement to disgust over bankers’ bonuses, there is emerging subtle dislike of unregulated neoliberalism (even if most people don’t know what the term means). Meanwhile, Miliband leads in the polls, by perhaps 11%,  despite being unpopular personally with voters. However, there is a danger that the correlation between the French election and the state of British politics today is overstated.

Firstly, when faced with criticism over their handling of the economy, David Cameron and his government have been able use two simple excuses: our economy is heavily affected by the Eurozone crisis; and over-spending by Labour makes austerity necessary. Sarkozy cannot do this. Sarkozy came into power in 2007, before France’s GDP fell, before France lose its AAA rating and before public debt rose significantly. He has been a key figure in determining Eurozone policies. Going further back, he was an interior minister under the last government, and the Right has been in power since 1995. This means neither he nor the Right can be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’, and so he has a harder challenge defending his economic policy in the presidential election.

The gripes with Sarkozy are not (just) about austerity, whereas anger in the United Kingdom at the centre-right administration is directed at cuts and public sector reforms predominantly. Sarkozy has introduced some reforms to the state but has also indulged in anti-immigrant rhetoric (the link is but one example) and “Countless voters have told pollsters that Sarkozy’s personality and style turned them off”. As The Economist, which has generally been supportive of the UK coalition government, despairs:

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France’s General Election: Whoever wins, it won’t be for the right reasons.

Daniel Crump 

Image © Nicolas SAL1

For a time, it appeared as though someone was benefitting from the 2008 financial crisis. A perception that the political left cannot be trusted in times of recession meant that voters across Europe unseated left of centre governments in favour of the centre right. Put simply, it appeared as though the advocates of small government and austerity had won themselves at least a decade of uncontested control.

A mere two years later, it has become clear that this picture was never going to be as simple as it once appeared. Most opinion polls in Britain place the opposition Labour Party ahead of the ruling coalition. In Spain, strikes are as common as siestas, due to a widely unpopular €27 Billion austerity package. In the Netherlands, a major cheerleader of Merkel’s austerity drive, the government has lost majority support in parliament due to disagreement about budget cuts.

In further contrast, it is almost certain that the centre right will be the ones who are defeated in the second round of the French Presidential election a week today, in favour of a self professed socialist. If Mr Hollande does what many are expecting him to do and unseats Sarzoky, he will be bringing with him a radically different set of policies from ones we have come to expect in times of economic stagnation. He has promised a 75% top rate of income tax, a reversal of Sarkozy’s rise in the retirement age and a separation of retail and investment banking to curb France’s dependency on the financial sector.

To make matters a little more complicated, the perception of economic credibility does not appear to be translating into overall public support. The unpopular British Conservative party continues to lead Labour on questions about economic competency. They score 44% in opinion polls as opposed to Labour’s 31%. A similar picture is found in France where the otherwise trailing incumbent leads Hollande by 14% in terms of ability to make difficult economic decisions.

The French election gives some insight into why such a confused picture has blanketed Western Europe. Several economic commentators, including the Economist, have been arguing for some time that the Presidential contenders were all doing a brilliant job of avoiding the existential problem that France is facing. France’s public spending accounts for 65% of GDP as opposed to an OECD average of 43%. Public debt is slowly reaching 90% and could conceivably reach 100% by next year. Once one takes into account France’s lack of competitiveness, in terms of exports, social charges and youth unemployment, it becomes utterly baffling that perceived economic competency is not translating into votes for France’s centre right President. Instead, they prefer to see a reversal of Sarkozy’s modest economic reforms and yet more public spending, paid for by taxing 75% of the earnings of the wealthiest few.

Put bluntly, Europe’s politicians are failing to convince their electorate of the long term necessities for economic reform. Their chosen economic philosophy, which they presumably believe in wholeheartedly, is failing to persuade citizens. As a result, far too many European elections are becoming either referendums on personality or unnecessary, unhealthy and divisive squabbles over class or race.  Read more of this post

It wasn’t supposed to be like this

Daniel Crump 

Image © Que Comunismo

Initially, South America’s near continent-wide economic expansion meant great advantages for the rest of the Western world. In the opening decade of the century, with Argentina largely at the mercy of the IMF, South America was led mostly by governments that the West could do business with. For better or worse for the people of South America, this meant that the West had stronger trading partners, a decline in drug related violence and yet another example of liberal, free-market economics becoming the default setting for any nation that wished to exist within the international community.

This was also a time when we knew how to differentiate the good guys from the bad. Across the border from Colombia, and 90 miles off the coast of Florida, lay Latin America’s answer to the Axis of Evil. With the menacing prospect of further international terrorism following September 11th, US President George W Bush was able to maintain a healthy distance between Pro and Anti US Latin America. Nowhere was this more evident than between neighbours Colombia and Venezuela. The Bush administration was able to manipulate this relationship by placing US military bases on Colombian soil which were, in the US’s own words, designed as a launch pad for military operations against Anti US Latin American Governments.  South American politics seemed to fit so neatly into the US world-view.

Fast forward to the present day and something rather unexpected seems to have taken place; South American governments are increasingly beginning to think for themselves. Last month’s Organisation of American States (OAS) Summit was the biggest indication yet of the diverging paths taken by South and North America. At the discussion table were measures such as the legalisation of the drugs trade, British claims over ‘Las Malvinas’ and Cuba’s absence from the summit talks. With better relations between Colombia and Venezuela and an increasing desire to settle internal matters through UNASUR rather than the OAS, South America is speaking with its own voice and making its own decisions. The most significant development of South American integration is surely the growing contribution of the Continent’s left-wing bloc.

South American Integration

During the Bush Administration it was clear that the OAS took the majority of decisions affecting the American region. The Organisation was largely designed to satisfy North American goals such as the fights against terrorism and the illegal drugs trade. Cuba was suspended from talks between 1962-2009 and there appears to be no pressing need to reinstate them.

Since then, both the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) have gained a more influential voice. ALBA stands for a rejection of trade liberalization and free trade agreements, preferring to project a vision of mutual economic aid transfers, bartering and social welfare. UNASUR is becoming ever more effective at curbing the influence of the US in South America by resolving the Colombian Venezuelan conflict and agreeing to prohibit US military bases in Colombia being used for military purposes outside of Colombian soil. Read more of this post

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