Category Archives: Government
Extracts from a blog written by africanherbsman 1967* now living in Jamaica, who spent years working in Whitehall
When Boris Johnson first became Mayor of London in 2008, I was dismayed. Imagine my disbelief now that he is the UK’s new prime minister. Undeserving.
Boris has been around UK media circles for decades. His clowning made him a popular figure around the London social bars. As a journalist Boris was never scared of throwing incendiary remarks in his articles. But his appearances on shows such as Have I Got News for You gave him the kind of street cred few Tory supporters – even today – could ever achieve. He was indeed different from his political allies. Some of the liberal media mob also found him infectious. Now today Boris is indeed the PM. Unbelievable.
As Mayor of London, Boris was really good at surrounding himself with personnel who had solid skills in planning, administration, organisation and communications. Boris’ transport adviser, Kulveer Ranger, was a perfect example of this. The weak link was always Boris. But his bumbling personality was a great decoy to some of the political scraps he got into as mayor.
As foreign secretary (2016-2018) in Theresa May’s government, Boris was a disaster of the highest order. Back then he showed little interest on the issue of BREXIT. Despite such a dreadful performance Boris’ main supporters were still lining him up to succeed May as PM.
First Cabinet as PM: the first thing that struck me about PM Boris’ cabinet appointments was who will be gone before Christmas? Or even Halloween?
Some of Boris’ cabinet appointments defy common sense.
Especially the appointment of one Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Just cannot see Patel lasting that long at HQ’s Peel building. Patel as International Development Secretary (2016-2017) ruined the reputation of her department. She was eventually fired by Theresa May over unofficial and undisclosed 12 or so meetings she held with leading Israeli government officials. Yet Boris has given Patel oversight of crime, policing, immigration and (most worryingly) national security. To me Patel is the John Bolton of the cabinet; an accident that will happen. She can’t help herself . . .
Some of the leadership of the security and police services have long had serious misgivings about Boris from his time as mayor. Just think back to the Damian Green incident in 2009 . . . .
(For thumbnail sketches of the promoted Michael Gove, Stephen Barclay, Matt Hancock, Nadine Dorries, Amber Rudd and James Cleverly see the full article)
How Boris and Cleverly handle the surge of islamophobia within the Tory party will test whether the appointment of a BAME chairman was superficial. But Cleverly is right on one thing when he states: “Jeremy Corbyn has said that only his Labour party can be trusted to unlock the talent of minority ethnic people. Yet it is the Conservative party that has appointed twice as many BAME people to the cabinet than Labour has ever done.”
Boris is bound to get a positive bump in the polls. His media friends and contacts will ensure that he sucks up all the positive publicity in the lead up to October 31st. Boris’ braggadocious belief that deal or no deal the UK is leaving the EU is based on a belief that Donald Trump will come to the rescue with a promising trade deal.
One option for Boris would be to call a snap general election for early October to see if the Tories would win more seats. They could also rely on Nigel Farage’s BREXIT Party taking seats from Labour in the north of England.
But I will not be surprised that when the 1st November comes round, the UK will still be in the EU and then those sharp political knives will be out for Boris. From all sides.
*Spent three decades in working in Whitehall mainly for Customs and Excise, Cabinet Office and Home Office. Worked for public sector bodies in the UK, EU and US. Ex-London tour guide. Loves photography, reading, arts, music, sports and farming.
In the Financial Times, noting that Conservatives and Labour are ‘neck and neck’ in the polls, Jim Pickard – formerly a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn – wrote today “With British politics in a state of acute flux, there is increasing interest from business leaders about Labour’s policy proposals”.
At the launch of the annual Living Standards Audit by the Resolution Foundation, an independent think-tank that focuses on low pay, the Independent reports that shadow chancellor John McDonnell (right) will announce details of Labour’s commitment to ending in-work poverty over the course of the next parliament, due to cover the years 2022-27 unless brought forward by a snap election.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said last year that ‘in-work poverty is the problem of our times’ and McDonnell will make a commitment to ending this modern-day scourge, eliminating it by the end of Labour’s first full Parliamentary term.
In September it was reported here that the Financial Times appeared to have left the anti-Corbyn/McDonnell media caucus, somewhat warming to the shadow chancellor. Following Jim Pickard’s first respectful report on any aspect of Labour policy, an article, by Jim O’Neill, chair of the Chatham House think-tank and former Treasury minister, had the headline, “The UK opposition steps into an economic void left by a government grappling with Brexit”.
The second sign was the FT’s comment in a December article that the UK lacks the kind of community banks or Sparkassen that are the bedrock of small business lending in many other countries adding: “When Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, calls for a network of regional banks, he is calling attention to a real issue”.
As a paragraph in his address today says: “As Chancellor in the next Labour Government, I want you to judge me by how much we reduce poverty and how much we create a more equal society, by how much people’s lives change for the better. Because that is our number one goal.”
A Corbyn government will need support from openly selected MPs and a mass members’ movement to bring about beneficial change
An editorial by Ben Chacko opens with a reference to civil servants apparently briefing the press against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a further sign of the strain a truly radical opposition is putting on our political system.
Chacko (right) predicts that this will intensify if he enters office:
“Labour’s radical programme will face parliamentary sabotage, which is why open selection of Labour MPs to improve the character of the parliamentary party is essential.
“It will face legal challenges from corporations with bottomless wallets, institutional interference from the judiciary and the EU if we haven’t left the latter, economic warfare, meddling by foreign powers such as the United States, perhaps even the military putsch mooted in 2015”.
John McDonnell has often said that when Labour goes into office we will all go into office – and Chacko stresses:
“We need to build a mass movement of trade unions, campaign groups such as the People’s Assembly and community organisations fighting for change in every workplace, every town hall and every high street to make those words a reality”.
Only by building up united and determined pressure ‘from below’ will the political-corporate grip on power be broken.
Read the Chacko editorial here.
“The savage rules of the almighty Market have created the conditions that are speeding us to destruction”: Paul Halas
Paul Halas: “As we approach the 2020s there’s a growing awareness that we need change and we need change now. Running the country according to the savage rules of the almighty Market has created the conditions that are speeding us to destruction”.
In the Western Daily Press (26th April) Paul describes the Conservatives’ genius in persuading millions of long-suffering voters that the national economy operates like a household, so in order for the nation to “live within its means” we all have to tighten our belts.
But this concept – invented by Margaret Thatcher’s think tanks – was directed only at the 99% who always “suffer the destructive effects of austerity” as Halas points out.
The cuts to health, education, transport, disability benefits and other sectors go un-noticed by the I% who can afford to opt out of these systems – symbolised here by one of her ministers.
The household economics concept, Halas continues, ”echoed by every administration since . . . (is) easy to understand yet utterly meretricious”.
He refers us to sources such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, so the writer obediently found the latest report, which certainly did not confirm “the impression that everything in the garden is rosy”. Tax receipts have risen, but there is no indication that “lashings of money are flowing into the Treasury” as had been stated in the same column on 23rd April.
OBR: damned with faint praise?
- The economy ended 2018 growing a little less strongly than we expected in October. In recent weeks survey indicators of current activity have weakened materially, in part reflecting heightened uncertainty related to Brexit.
- The Government’s stated ‘fiscal objective’ is to balance the budget by 2025-26 and past forecast performance suggests that it now has a 40% chance of doing so by the end of our forecast in 2023-24.
- One risk to the public finance metrics that we do expect to crystallise over the coming months is an improvement in the accounting treatment of student loans . . . we estimate that it could increase the structural budget deficit by around £12 billion or 0.5 per cent of GDP in 2020-21.
- Net trade and private investment were markedly weaker than expected, weighed down by a slowing global economy and Brexit-related uncertainty. Business investment has fallen for four consecutive quarters – its longest continuous decline since the financial crisis.
Halas expands on tax issues and the misdirected quantitative easing adventure:
Although the prime function of tax is to regulate the economy and keep inflation under control, the failure of many of the richest individuals and corporations to pay their dues, thanks to absurdly flabby fiscal legislation, has helped fuel the UK’s runaway inequality and damaged society immeasurably.
It is estimated that 80% of new money created (by the government, via the banks) ends up into the coffers of the financial institutions and their clients, rather than funding investment and welfare as it should.
And ends: “The only sustainable way forward is to invest massively in greener forms of energy and greener transport, to create a greener infrastructure and a greener environment. This won’t be possible without a vast reduction in inequality, more public ownership, more localism, and a far more cooperative approach to economics – all policies the Labour Party is adopting. All those with vested interests will doubtless raise a billion objections, but the consequences of keeping our heads in the sand and trusting the Tories to come up with solutions would be catastrophic”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s statement: “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government” is followed by video evidence of those atrocities – lest we forget.
The Times’ misleading headline (left), its stock-in-trade, has been echoed by others, though not borne out by the following texts. These report only that Assange shouted – to give his point of view in a noisy crowd – and did not co-operate with the placing of handcuffs. No doubt if he had remained silent and passive, that would have been reported as evidence of shame and guilt.
Hansard reports faithfully – how long will that be permitted?
The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott said: “I thank the Home Secretary for his account of events. On the Labour Benches, we are glad that Julian Assange will be able to access medical care, treatment and facilities, because there have been worrying reports about his ill health. Of course, at this point that is all a matter for the courts.
“We in the Opposition want to make the point that, even though the only charge that Julian Assange may face in this country is in relation to his bail hearings, the reason we are debating this this afternoon is entirely to do with his and WikiLeaks’ whistleblowing activities.
“These whistleblowing activities about illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale have put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US Administration. For this reason, they have once more issued an extradition warrant against Mr Assange . . .
“We have a precedent in this country in relation to requests for extradition to the US, when the US authorities raise issues of hacking and national security. I remind the House of the case of Gary McKinnon. In October 2012, when the current Prime Minister was Home Secretary, an extradition request very similar to this one was refused.
“We should recall what WikiLeaks disclosed. Who can forget the Pentagon video footage of a missile attack in 2007 in Iraq that killed 18 civilians and two Reuters journalists?
“The monumental number of such leaks lifted the veil on US-led military operations in a variety of theatres, none of which has produced a favourable outcome for the people of those countries.
“Julian Assange is being pursued not to protect US national security, but because he has exposed wrongdoing by US Administrations and their military forces”.
Richard House draws attention to a letter by Ruth Steigman published in the Independent this week. She writes
In the 2017 general election, Labour gained 40% of the vote, and the largest increase in its share of the vote since the 1945 general election.
Jeremy Corbyn, who started the campaign 20 points behind in the polls, achieved this result following two years of attacks from all sides, and, in the words of the BBC, “in the face of a brutal onslaught from the print media”.
He had, again in the BBC’s words, “changed British politics” and “showed, amazingly, that Labour did not have to move to the centre to win votes but could do so from the unashamed left”.
Does this totally unexpected result explain the extraordinary escalation in the onslaught from the BBC and other establishment institutions since then?
Do the countless absurd smears stem from the fact that Jeremy Corbyn and his policies are now seen as a clear threat to the establishment in this country?
The Labour MPs opposing him see their power base in the party, established over the past 30 years, under attack, but know that with half a million party members behind him, a further challenge to his leadership would fail.
They do not understand that the era of submission to Thatcherite policies is over.
Anyone standing outside a polling station in May 2017 could see what these Labour MPs cannot: instead of the usual trickle of elderly voters, large groups of enthusiastic and optimistic young people turned out to demonstrate that they were not fooled by many of the unfounded smears of antisemitism, espionage etc, and that they understood the Labour leader was under attack from all sides because he stood outside the establishment, and because his policies threatened the political dogma that had prevailed since Margaret Thatcher won power 40 years ago.
Those who hold power naturally want the status quo to continue untroubled: power never cedes without a fight. But the people are eager for change, and want a government that serves the public, not powerful vested interests.
Jeremy Corbyn’s policies articulate their anger at the failed privatisations of public services, and widespread deregulation. Ordinary Labour Party members want MPs who will not undermine the party’s democratic processes, or sabotage their efforts to achieve a Labour government.
A Labour MP from the left of the party brought us our most treasured institution, the NHS.
Now that the country is suffering in every sphere under Tory austerity – from poverty to knife crime to slum housing – Labour has the policies to prove the BBC correct in their assessment that British politics has indeed changed, and moved, with the Labour Party, to the left.
This prompt led to the discovery of Ms Steigman’s signature below the following testimony in the Islington Tribune
Full text here: Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Make UK conference (EEF Feb. 19)
Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, is the representative voice of UK manufacturing, with offices in London, Brussels, every English region and Wales
Manufacturing is the beating heart of our economy. For those employed in the sector, manufacturing doesn’t just offer a good job that pays well, it offers creative and satisfying work. But manufacturing needs the right environment to flourish: high quality infrastructure, a skilled workforce, and open and stable trading relationships.
A government prepared to invest in our economy and pursue an active industrial strategy could bring about a renaissance in manufacturing. The next Labour government will start with infrastructure. Our dilapidated transport, communications, and energy infrastructure is desperately in need of an upgrade.
Labour will unleash a massive programme of investment with a National Transformation Fund delivering £250 billion of direct capital expenditure on infrastructure and R&D, benefitting every region and nation of our country, not just London and the South East.
And we will establish a National Investment Bank to make available a further £250 billion over 10 years in the form of patient capital lent to small and medium-sized enterprises in line with the priorities of our industrial strategy, providing funding for green industries and the technologies of the future.
How can we mobilise industry to help avert the destruction of our climate?
Let me give you an example of the change we need. To avoid climate catastrophe we have to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. That’s not going to happen by itself. It requires large-scale public investment into renewable energy and home insulation, which will in turn create new opportunities for private enterprise.
This is not a burden. It’s an opportunity to kick-start a Green Jobs Revolution.
Labour’s plans will create at least 400,000 skilled, unionised jobs and bring about a seven-fold increase in offshore wind, double onshore wind, and triple solar power. These new manufacturing and engineering jobs will bring skills and opportunity to parts of the country that have been held back by decades of neglect.
Technology and manufacturing don’t have to be a threat to the environment. Our responsibility is to develop the next generation of technology that will help us preserve our natural world.
Labour is committed to investing on a scale that will transform our economy. Those policies won huge public support at the general election 18 months ago. I’m disappointed that a small number of MPs yesterday decided to take a different path.
But university fees, the scrapping of grants, and cuts to training have made education less accessible just when we need a highly skilled workforce more than ever. So today I am proud to announce the appointment of our Commission on Lifelong Learning to help make the principle of lifelong learning a reality.
The Commission will bring together 14 experts from across education – top names in their fields – including Make UK’s very own Chief Economist Seamus Nevin. It is co-chaired by the former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, and the General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, Dave Ward. Lifelong learning will be available to everyone no matter their background. It will make detailed proposals on how to integrate qualifications, introduce a credits system to make qualifications transferable and make it as easy as possible for people to pick up or pause their studies at times that work for them. Under a Labour government workers will never again be left feeling discarded because there will be an industrial strategy creating good, well-paid jobs and training to help workers learn new skills.
I strongly believe there should be genuine parity between vocational education and academic education.
We have to end the outdated grammar school mentality of looking down on someone who does a vocational course and looking up to someone who does an academic course. I see the skills of electrical work of computer work of design work learned through vocational courses as just as valuable as academic courses taken at university. We need all of those skills in our society. In Germany, where they really value engineering, they say: “You’re a clever kid – get down the metal workshop.’’
We ask employers to step up to invest in their workforce too.
Last week I visited the gear manufacturer Beard and Fitch in Harlow, and met Carol, a supervisor who is partially sighted. She was doing the final checking and polishing of the gears, and she had been provided with big screens to help her do her work. That’s a sensible employer who has made an investment in someone who was very good at her job. And it was paying off.
Earlier this month I wrote to the Prime Minister laying out Labour’s alternative plan based around a permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals, a strong relationship with the single market and full guarantees on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections. Later this week I will travel to Brussels to discuss it with Michel Barnier and others. Labour has consistently advocated a comprehensive UK-EU customs union to deliver frictionless trade and protect supply chains that stretch across the continent. Disrupting those supply chains would threaten good businesses and skilled jobs that we can’t afford to lose.
Concerns about a ‘no deal’ crash go well beyond the car industry. Take food and drink, which is actually the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It needs frictionless trade for perishable goods, where time is of the essence. Or steel. Half the steel we produce is exported most of it to the EU. A disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit would mean trade restrictions on virtually all steel companies’ export markets. And while the big household names get all the media attention, it’s the small and medium-sized manufacturers who will find it most burdensome to adjust to new customs arrangements.
Brexit has crystallised a choice about the kind of economy we want. On the one hand, the harsh economic environment fostered by the Conservatives: low investment, low productivity, low growth and a damaging trade deal with Donald Trump. On the other, Labour’s investment-led approach, underpinned by a close relationship with our European neighbours, in a rebalanced economy that no longer privileges those who lend and speculate over those who make things.
These are anxious times for manufacturers. But the future doesn’t have to be one of decline. With a government that believes in and supports industry, manufacturing will be the engine of innovation in the green economy of the future. Infrastructure, skills, certainty. That’s what manufacturing needs. That’s what only Labour will deliver.
Though deploring the situation, Gideon Rachman writes in the Financial Times (extract):
The race to be the next Democratic nominee for the US presidency has begun. Most of the energy in the party seems to be on its “progressive” wing, exemplified by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
These are politicians who attack the rich and privileged in a way that used to be taboo in mainstream US politics.
The populism of the left has an important Latin American branch. The election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico in 2018 was greeted enthusiastically by the far-left all over the world. Mr Corbyn, once an enthusiastic fan of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, is an old friend of Mr López Obrador and was a guest of honour at his inauguration.
In Britain, the post-Brexit blues could easily present Jeremy Corbyn with the chance to become prime minister.
A Corbyn victory in Britain would inspire left-populists around the world, much as Brexit persuaded rightwing populists (including the Trump campaign) that history was moving in their direction.
*Rachman is a writer I usually avoid, finding his views on many subjects distasteful. However his work is widely praised. The only quotable clue to my aversion is in this review:
“His first book, Zero-Sum World was published in 2010 in the UK. It was published under the title Zero-Sum Future in the US and translated into seven languages, including Chinese, German and Korean. The book argued that the thirty years from 1978–2008 had been shaped by a shared embrace of globalisation by the world’s major powers that had created a “win-win world”, leading to greater peace and prosperity”.
Your chilling, but hardly surprising, front-page revelation that one in four Europeans vote populist was long on excellent analysis, but lacked any solutions. Reversing this trend and its fallout, including Brexit, will require tackling the reasons for its rise:
- widespread concerns about inadequately controlled migration
- and the economic insecurity now rife among both the employed and unemployed.
Tackling the latter will require spelling out a “project hope” agenda which reverses austerity and instead invests in the rebuilding of Europe’s social infrastructure, while also funding a massive green infrastructure programme for transforming the energy, energy-saving and transport systems continent-wide.
Europeans should take inspiration from the US, where progressive new congresswomen and men are now pushing the Democrats into adopting just such a “Green New Deal”.
They realise that a “jobs in every part of the country” programme is central to defeating Trump.
Here, Jeremy Corbyn could play a central role by capitalising on the present parliamentary chaos and asserting that Labour supports a people’s vote, but with the “remain and reform” agenda for Europe, similar to that he “campaigned” for in the run up to the referendum.
Putting rebuilding local economies at the heart of such reform would gain support from leave-voting areas and could be a rallying call for those fighting rightwing populism across Europe. It could also have the domestic payoff of forming the core of Labour’s next and hopefully successful election manifesto, whenever required.